“Helper 31729! Please report to Administrator 48, immediately! Bring An Excuse From What You Were Doing form, a From Here To Go There Form, and an Explain Yourself In General form! If you’re not there immediately you’ll need to bring along a What Were You Doing That Was So Important It Prevented You From Reporting Immediately To Your Administrator form! If you heard this message please submit the proper form and raise your hand!”
Helper 31729 filled out the form, raised his hand and turned crimson, knowing that all eyes were upon him, once again. And knowing his department, once again, would not be winning any awards for their efforts this past Christmas.
Administrator 48 was in charge of the What Were You Thinking? bureau at Santa’s Workshop. As in, What were you thinking when you forgot to put string on the yo-yo’s.”
Which is exactly why Helper 31729 was summoned the previous year.
“Three million yo-yo’s with no string did not please the Great Claus," said the administrator.
“Three million cries were heard that night. And the Great Claus heard them all."
“I’m sorry,” said 31729. “But that was last year.”
“I know,” said Administrator 48. “Now it seems we have we have eight million boxes of crayons ready for shipment.”
“Too many?” said 31729.
“Oh, no.” said 48. “There are just enough. Your count was impeccable.”
“Good,” said 31729.
“It’s the colors we’re concerned with,” said 48.
“Oh?” said 31729. “Did I miss any?”
“Only 63 out of 64!” said 48. “We have Eight million boxes of white crayons!”
“No way!” said 31729.
“Oh, yes, way!” said 48. Eight million milky white ways! And the Great Claus is not pleased. No, indeed.”
“I don’t understand how such a thing could happen,” said 31729. “I put the dyes in the machine myself!”
“Do you like it here at the Workshop?” said 48.
“You don’t say?” said 48.
“Oh, but I do!” said 31729. “Really! It’s just that sometimes I wish I was out of the Workshop and doing something else.”
“There is nothing else,” said 48. “There’s the Workshop and there’s the door. Outside the door is the wilderness, wolves and darkness. I don’t recommend it.”
“But there’s got to be something more to life than making toys on an assembly line?” said 31729.
Administrator 48 rose slowly and bit his lip for a moment.
“What could be more to life here at the Workshop other than making toys?”
“I like to write,” said 31729. “Maybe I could write books.”
“About toys?” asked the administrator.
“Not necessarily,” said the helper. “About the human condition. The possibilities of life. People seeing themselves in a different light. To know that they don’t have to suffer through doing something they don’t want to be doing.”
“Like making toys?” said 48.
“Like making toys,” said the helper.
“And who would read these books?” said 48.
“Other helpers,” said 31729. “I know for a fact that they’re tired of reading the same old work manuals and Put-Together instruction pamphlets.
“Really?” said 48.
“Oh, yes,” said 31729. “Nothing stimulating about: apply glue to part A. Attach part A to part B. Repeat until all parts are utilized. I mean, really, it’s like we’re robots.”
“Really?” said 48. “You know I once suggested robots to the Great Claus. But, as usual, he rejected the notion.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said 31729.
“And who would make the toys if everyone went off to write books or . . . “
“Or what?” said the helper.
“Or designed buildings,” said 48.
“You’d always find someone to make the toys,” said 31729. “Just not everyone.”
“So you’d put the burden of building toys for the most important day of the year to an overworked few while the rest went off on book signing tours?”
“No,” said 31729. “I think you’ll always find enough people. You’d only be weeding out the unhappy ones. One’s who would want to be testing other parts of their brains.
“Not only to write books,” continued 31729, “but to teach or paint or, well, to . . .”
“Design buildings?” said 48.
“Yes,” said 31729. “Of course.”
“I’ve designed buildings, you know,” said 48.
“Excellent!” said the helper. “Then you understand?”
“I understand that you’re sounding ungrateful to the Great Claus with words that border on heresy!”
“Heresy!” said the helper. “Isn’t that usually reserved for anti-religious derision?”
“Yes,” said 48. “That’s why I said almost.”
“Understood,” said the helper.
“Good,” said 48. “Careful what you say and to whom you say it.”
“I was only speaking my mind, sir,” said the helper.
“Maybe you’d like to visit one of my buildings some day?” said 48. “No one else seems to appreciate them. It may even give you some inspiration to write.”
“I’d like that!” said 31729.
“Good,” said 48. “Guard!”
“Guard?” said 31729. “Show this helper to the Workshop Playpen. He’s going to be visiting for a few nights of much needed inspiration for his book.”
“Yes, sir!” said guard 33. “The big pen or the little pen?”
“Oh, the Big Pen,” said 48. “Not much inspiration being alone in the Little Pen. It’s the Big Pen for him. Lots of interesting characters for young Tolstoy to feed off of.”
“Understood,” said guard 33.
“This is not a sentence, 31729,” said 48. “I just want you to visit my Playpen and see what non-working thinkers do when they’re not making toys for the Great Claus.”
31729 was immediately placed into a Silence-and-be-Still sack and hauled off, Santa Claus style, on the guards back.
“Make sure he’s got lots of paper and pencils,” said 48. “I want him to write that wonderful book of his.”
31729 was unceremoniously dumped on the ground at the Workshop’s Big Playpen.
“Keep that sack close at hand!” he heard the guard shout. “It’s your sleeping bag and, quite possibly, your future clothing if you don’t watch your back properly. They’ll steal the eyes out of your head, this lot will.”
Then he heard the guards hobnailed boots strike against the stone flooring, and he was gone.
31729 then heard the shuffling of feet and a murmuring that grew louder as his ears adjusted to his surroundings.
"Come out of there, you!” he heard a voice say. “You can’t stay in there forever! Come on! Open up!”
31729 felt the fear and the hot tears as he tried to reference the past for a clue as to what he should do. Then he felt the kick.
“I warned you!” said the voice.
31729 felt the kick first in his ribs, then in his kidney.
It didn’t take long for him to jump to his knees. Only to be knocked down again by the unknown assailant.
His first instinct was to roll and try to wiggle his way out of the sack.
“Ow!” he heard someone cry. “Watch who you’re bumping into!”
Reaching up over his head, 31729 pushed his fingers through the tiny opening in the sack and pulled it down to his waist and wiggled his way out.
“Welcome to the Playpen,” said Malcolm. “So nice of you to drop in.”
The laughter from the others in the pen was deafening, but 31729 managed to retire to a neutral corner as a guard appeared from the rear of the pen, scattering the other inmates to their usual spots when greeting new people.
“Hello 31729,” said guard 21. “Since you’ve committed no real crime, but being ungrateful to the Great Claus, your visit will be relatively short. Though I’m sure you're going to make a lot of friends here. Look at them! They’re all dying to meet you!”
31729 looked around and saw many eyes staring in his direction as guard 21 handed him the Behavioral manual.
“Study it carefully,” said guard 21. “You’re going to need it.”