November 30

There was no way he could have seen it coming. Who would ever attack him? Especially at this time of year? There are two kinds of people in the world: those who don't know about him, and those who think of him with anything from nostalgic fondness all the way up to adoration. Well, except for a few individual curmudgeons. But certainly nothing along the lines of a country or a tribe. No one who could hurt him.

Or so he had assumed.

Hard at work in the final hours before the calendar flipped over to December (and the real work began), he was roused from his concentration by a jangling of the bells at the workshop door. Without a second thought, he rose from the table to answer it. Anyone else would have been puzzled to be receiving a caller so late at night, but he just assumed that the annual mail delivery had come a little early.

"Just a moment!" he said, picking his way around all the half-finished projects that littered the floor. Some of them were still being worked on by members of the night shift, who danced nimbly out of his way as he passed, their attention never wavering for an instant. After so many years, decades, centuries, the rhythms of the place were second nature to them all.

The ringing came again, more insistent than before. Whoever the visitor was, they were probably freezing their butt off out there. He picked up the pace a little. "Almost there, almost there! Hold your reindeer!"

He opened the door. The visitor stood there in a red winter cloak, their face obscured.

"What can I do for you?"

"Please, sir…I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…"

"It's customary to put your wishes in a letter, you know. Where do you live? If your latitude and altitude aren't too low, I can probably arrange it."

"Actually, I came to arrange it myself."

The hood was thrown back. He gasped in recognition.

"Hello, Santa. I've been such a good boy this year. Won't you come to my house and give me everything I've ever wanted?"

Before he could even formulate an answer, the visitor—the intruder—sprang like a panther.

It was over in minutes, leaving only a workshop in disarray, a handful of traumatized sprites, and snow drifting in through the open door.

After a while, the clock struck midnight.