Volume 15, Number 01, Winter, 1997


“For goodness’s sake”

By Fran Van Cleave

Ding! Mrs. Claus hurried to the kitchen, opened the oven and removed the pan of Christmas cookies. Done to a turn. Crispy golden brown around the edges, soft in the centers.

“Mmm,” she said, sniffing the sweet lemony scent of finished cookies. “I think Santa will definitely appreciate a few of these.” Adding green sugar sprinkles as a finishing touch, she arranged three on a small plate, which she carried to Santa’s office.

Santa Claus sat at his computer with his back to the door, his blue eyes fixed on the monitor screen. Displayed there was a tall, funny-looking curve.

Rather like a bell, Mrs. Claus thought. “Time for your mid-morning snack,” she said gaily.

“Great,” said Santa, his fingers flying over the keyboard. After a minute, he hit Save. The computer made a faint groaning sound.

“How’re the updates coming?” asked Mrs. Claus, setting the plate on the desk next to the optical drive. His suspenders hang loosely on him—too loosely, she decided. The week before Christmas was no time to be losing weight.

Santa stared blankly at the monitor until she repeated her question twice more, then uttered a gloomy sigh and shook his head. “It’s one thing to know when people have been bad or good, and quite another to see all the stats in black and white.”


“I’ll say.” His brow furrowed, he picked up a reindeer cookie and nibbled on it. “People are in a down-trend, and it isn’t leveling off. As far as overall goodness is concerned, we’ve got your basic Bell curve. Being good isn’t nearly as common as I'd thought.”

“How sad,” murmured Mrs. Claus. “Almost the end of the millennium, and still no peace on earth. People don’t behave as they should, and they’re not properly grateful for what they've got. Finish your cookies, dear.”

Santa dutifully picked up a tree-shaped cookie, devouring it in two bites. “Santa’s memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can see from my files that I’ve been listening to the same hype over and over about how good people are. To think I believed them!”

“You should put your foot down.”

“What do you mean?”

“Insist that people show a positive upward trend. Make them be good.”

Santa gave her a quizzical look over the tops of his round glasses. “You mean, use force? That would be wrong.”

Mrs. Claus tucked a few loose hairs into the bun in the back of her head. “‘Force’ is such an ugly word. I prefer to think of it as ‘dynamic persuasion.’ ”

“But what good is good if not done for its own sake? A few presents, the spreading of good cheer…”

“And look at your results!” Mrs. Claus drew herself up, her eyes flashing. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. If Santa Claus can’t make world goodness a reality, then who else can?”

His cherry-red nose looked even redder than usual. “I don’t know if I could…” Distracted, he munched the last cookie.

“Leave it to me,” said Mrs. Claus briskly.

Santa gazed up at her, his eyes adoring. “You’re so good to me, Mrs. Claus.”

* * * * *

T’was the night before Christmas at a Phoenix shopping mall, and six-year-old Billy Mulligan wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. Mrs. Mulligan, a frowzier version of Billy, looked as if she wanted to sit anywhere.

“Don’t get your hopes up, kid,” she sighed. “Santa knows everything.”

Santa beamed. “Come here, Billy.”

The boy hopped in his lap. “How’d you know my name?” “

It’s a talent Santa has. You’ve been a bad boy this year, haven’t you?”

“No.” Billy swiped a cookie from the tray next to Santa and stuffed it in his mouth. “My teacher said I was the best kid in the whole school!”

Mrs. Mulligan rolled her eyes.

“Don’cha wanna hear what I want for Christmas?” Billy stared at his fingers, where flecks of green sugar appeared to be…squirming.

“Hey, what's this?”

Santa’s eyes twinkled merrily. “That’s Mrs. Claus’s elf sugar. Actually, that’s the only present you’ll need this year. You’ll have millions of tiny elves inside you, helping you be good all year round. Isn’t that the best present any boy could ever have?”

Billy began to howl. As the first morsel entered his stomach, countless nanotech robots began penetrating nerve endings for their brainward migration.

Santa winked at Mrs. Mulligan, who stood mouth agape. “That makes more than three billion served! Ho, ho, ho!

Fran Van Cleave is a writer who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Stan Schmidt’s Analog recently bought her libertarian short story, “Second Chance.”

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