Neville

Once upon a time, yet not so long ago, there were a pair of oversized elves nee wresters named Thug and Brawl. On this day, their first of court ordered community service, they met poor Neville who was plagued by ennui.

“That’s poor Neville,” said Sister Anne, “he’s plagued by ennui.”

“Ennui?’

“Yes, ennui. We hope he doesn’t die.”

No one wanted Neville to die, so much they loved the little boy. His mother was consumed by a fever, his father succumbed to the chills. With no one to care for him, the state deeded poor Neville to The Unfortunate Sisters of Misery, where he sat in his room and stared out his window. After a week, Doctor was called, but there was nothing he could do.

” I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do,” said Doctor, “the boy is plagued by ennui.”

“Ennui?”

“Yes, ennui. I hope he doesn’t die.”

“Sigh,” heaved the child.

Sigh. That’s what he did in his room, by the window. He sighed. All the time, except for the odd occasion, that rare night, when he’d come down from his room to join the other children for bread and gruel, when Neville would squeak out a “Whatever” or a “Who cares” twixt snivels. But for the most part, he sighed. It was a sure sign of someone plagued by ennui.

“So wait a minute,” said Thug, “you’re telling me that’s all the kid does? Just sits, stares and sighs?”

“Yes,” said Sister Anne, “it is a sure sign of someone plagued by ennui.”

“Jeez, Sister, haven’t you ever, you know, tried to cheer the kid up?”

“Well….no.”

Which was and was not true. An ever-rising tide of damaged children threatened to drown the Unfortunate Sisters in misery and misfortune. One boy, even one plagued by ennui, was still just one boy. Try as they might, there was only so much the Unfortunate Sisters could do.

“We Unfortunate Sisters have seen much misfortune and misery,” said Sister, “what would you we do?”

“A real ray of sunshine there, ain’t you, Annie?”

“Mr. Thug,” whispered Sister, “he’s only one boy.”

“Plagued by ennui.”

“Yes, ennui,” she remembered and quickly amended, “I hope he doesn’t die.”

“Well, no, none of us want that, but still…”

And for a moment, Thug stopped. Stopped as the faintest twinkling of an idea flickered to life. He paused and pondered; paced and pulled at his elfin stick-on ears. He worked the angles and the bulb brightened. This here idea was a go.

“Here’s an idea,” said Thug, “let us give it a go.”

“You?”

“Yes, us.”

“Us,” Brawl protested.

“Yes Brawl, us. Who better to cheer the child.”

“I don’t know about this, Thug. The kid’s plagued by ennui. He could die on us.”

“I hope he don’t.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t either, but still, ennui…”

It was a tough sell, but sell Thug did. It was clear to all that the boy, Neville, needed cheering and who better to cheer a child than a pair of oversized elves nee wrestlers. They entertained on a nightly basis, big arena-sized entertainment. One boy plagued by ennui would be a walk in the park. Plus they were due a Grand Adventure.

“Besides,” Thug concluded, “we’re due for a Grand Adventure.”

“On top of the one that landed us here.”

“That? That was more of a Splendid Romp than a Grand Adventure. And, yes, this definitely calls for something grand. I mean, what could be more grand than easing Nelson’s…”

“Neville’s”

“…Neville’s ennui.”

In fact, nothing would be grander than to ease Neville’s ennui, but how? Grand Adventures, like all of life’s journeys, begin with a single step and this adventure had no where to go. Thug thought it through and came to a conclusion. There was but one place to begin.

“And I,” smiled Thug, “know where to begin.”

“You do?

“Yes, and its so simple its scary.”

“It is?”

“Yes, it is. It’s the whole reason we’re here.”

“Court ordered community service?”

“No, Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus?”

“Santa Claus.”

As part of their court ordered community service, Thug and Brawl had been remanded to the Santa Gang, where, dressed as oversized elves nee wrestlers, they accompanied St. Nick from orphanage to nursing home, shelter to soup kitchen, doling out gifts and handing out candy. For their part, Thug and Brawl flanked K. Kringle, keeping the kids in line and Santa (public drunkenness) on his feet. Mr. Claus would be just the ticket.

“Sure,” said Thug, “he’s just the ticket.”

“Except ours is a drunk.”

“Well yes, but there are others. We’ll take him to one of them.”

“A road trip with the Ennui Kid?”

“A Grand Adventure by anyone’s reckoning.”

And so it was that Thug and Brawl took possession of Neville for the day, and began what would be a Grand Adventure indeed. Sister Anne zippered Neville’s coat, wrapped a scarf round his face and pushed his hat down low on his head. She kissed his cheek and beseeched him not to die. Neville, for his own part, sighed.

“Sigh,” said Neville.

“Not a very auspicious beginning to a Grand Adventure,” offered Brawl.

“But a beginning none-the-less,” Thug enthused.

“But still…”

“’But still’ nothing. Let’s get this show on the road!” Then to the child, “What do you say Nellis…”

“Neville.”

“…Neville. Ready to go see Santa Claus?”

“Sigh.”

Brawl lifted Neville onto Thug’s shoulders, where he remained until they approached the first of the Mall Santa’s. Brawl bullied a path through the crowd, teeming with angry, impatient parents and children on candy cane highs. Onward they pushed, until all that stood between them and the Man In Red was a $6.00 an hour Rent-a-Elf, who wisely considered his options and stepped to the right. Now no one stood between them and HIM, ‘him’ being Santa Claus.

“That’s him,’ announced Thug, “Santa Claus.”

“Sigh,” sighed Neville.

“What’s wrong with you people?” Santa demanded, “Those children were here first! Get to the end of the line!”

“Hey, we got a sick kid here.”

“Ennui,” offered Brawl.

“Ennui?” asked Santa.

“Ennui, Mr. C.,” answered Thug, “It plagues the boy. We’re hoping he don’t die.”

“Well, that would be terrible indeed.”

“Yes, it would,” offered Thug, “So help us out here big guy. What say you throw a little holiday cheer the kid’s way. You know, rosy nose, ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’, Jelly Belly’s….”

“That’s ‘…Like a bowl full of jelly’.”

“Well, whatever. Do what you do and make the kid better.”

“Better? Who do you think I am?”

“Why, you’re Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus? My name’s Phil.”

“C’mon Phil,” pleaded Brawl,” The kid’s plagued by ennui. He could die.”

“I don’t think I can help.”

Which was the wrong thing to say. Brawl reached across Thug, took Phil by his fuzzy white trim and pressed him over his head. A quick power-slam followed, then a leg-drop, an arm-bar and a drop-kick. Phil writhed in pain. Brawl, tired from his assault upon Father Christmas, took a breather.

“Whew,” exclaimed Brawl, “I need a breather.”

“Help, me,” gasped Phil.

“Oh pipe down.”

“Well this was bust,“ said Brawl.

“Now, now. That’s not the Grand Adventure spirit. There’s something that needs to be done here, and we’re the ones that need to do it. We just need something else.

“Like what?” said Brawl as he smacked Phil again.

“Like another Santa.”

“Another Santa?”

“Yep. Another Santa. Grab the kid and smack that elf. We’re off to the Crosstown Mall!”

And it happened all over again. Danny Claus, a retired machinist, couldn’t do anything for poor Neville, plagued by ennui as he was, and went so far as to tell Thug and Brawl what they could do with the boy and where they should go. So Brawl broke his nose and his wrist and his ribs and had to help him apologize to poor ennui plagued Neville, who seemed to slip further into his funk. Undeterred, they set out again…and again and again, bouncing from mall to mall, enclosed and strip, hunting for Santa’s and the cure for ennui. Unfortunately, their Grand Adventure didn’t get much beyond that. Jimmy Claus failed to lift Neville’s spirit, as did Santa Carl, Eddie Claus and Scotty Claus. Santa Al was no help, nor was Curtis Claus, Sammy Claus or Santa Dan. Now out of malls, the boys hit the streets.

“We’re out of malls, Bwana” remarked Brawl, “now what.”

“We hit streets.”

“Street corner Santa’s? You’re kidding. Those guys are a bad day away from living in the gutter.”

“Yes, but perhaps one of them knows the cure for ennui. We’ll never know til we find out.”

But would they find out? For at that very moment, nefarious ne’er-do well’s plotted against them. Gathered in those dark places where the nefarious gather, Santa’s and Elves from all across the city schemed and conspired to bring to an end Thug and Brawl’s perceived Reign of Terror.

“This Reign of Terror,” Tommy Claus called, “must come to an end!”

“Here! Here!” went the cry.

“The names of these ne’er do well’s will top every Naughty List in the land!”

“Here! Here!” went the cry.

“They make break our bodies, but they will never break Christmas!”

“Here! Here!” went the cry.

Duly excited, the Mistletoe Mob, as they’d taken to calling themselves, set out to find Thug and Brawl and poor ennui plagued Neville and, armed with sticks and rocks and chains and bottles, to teach them all about the true Meaning of Christmas. When they came across the Grand Adventurers in the alley behind a Chinese restaurant, the mittens came off and a lesson was learned. Namely, don’t mess with professionals.

“What’s with you guys?” Thug called out over the din, “We’re professionals! We do this for a living!”

“We’ll teach you a lesson you’ll neve……ulcch!” gagged Tommy as he was tossed in the dumster.

“Seriously, this is our job!”

But the Mistletoe Mob, as they’d taken to calling themselves, would have none of it. They pressed on and, despite appalling losses, still held out hope that their lesson’d be learned. That was, all save one tiny, even by elfin standards, elf who stood in the back and hung his head. So many Santa’s and Elves missing the point. This wasn’t Christmas at all.

“This isn’t Christmas at all!” he cried.

“Whatever,” sighed Neville, who came up beside him.

“See, you get it! This isn’t what Christmas is abo…..”

“Step away from the boy!!!” bellowed Brawl, seized by a fit, “Can’t you see he’s plagued by ennui!!!”

“Ennui??!!”

“Yes, ennui! And it’s up to us to see that he doesn’t die!!”

And with that, Brawl clubbed the elf with a sack full of presents, sending the tiny gnome bouncing into the street. The remaining members of the Mistletoe Mob, as they’d taken to calling themselves, followed, tails tucked tween their knees. Thug surveyed the scene, there were Santa’s and Elves everywhere, some stirred, some did not. They had won yes, but Brawl seemed bugged. He stood over the Elf in the street and nudged him with a toe. Something was amiss.

“Hey Thug, come here,” Brawl called, “something’s amiss.”

“More amiss than being assaulted by a rabid pack of Santa‘s?”

“I think so.”

“How?’

“Well, for one, the pointy ears on this guy are real.”

Thug, confused, took to Brawl’s side, where they stood, shoulder to shoulder, over the broken body of the Elf in the street. Brawl picked him up by his ears, which, surprisingly, remained attached to his head. He looked so old, so gnarled. He must have worked at the Upscale Mall, they always hired the best Santa’s and Elves. Brawl spun him around while Thug poked at his clothes. They looked authentic, not off the rack, and the little guy smelled of pine and reindeer, not Old Spice like a cheap shopping mall elf. A scrap of paper fell out of one of his pockets and onto the street.

“What’s that,” asked Brawl, “there on the street?”

“Let’s see,” replied Thug, plucking the scrap from the curb. “It’s a business card.”

“A business card?”

“Yes, a business card. And it reads ‘Biddleborn J. Elf, Esq.’”

“Elf? You mean this guy’s really an elf?”

“Maybe, hold on.”

Thug flipped the card over, there were instructions on the back.

“There’s some kind of instructions on the back. Let’s see….’In case of emergency contact S. Claus, North Pole, Klondike-2000.’”

“North Pole?”

“Yep, North Pole. See right there, ‘North Pole’. Do you know what this means?”

“We got ourselves a wiggy dwarf?”

“No,” replied Thug, “It means the Grand Adventure just got grander.”

“No way.”

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Its a Grand Adventure.”

“No.”

“The kid’s plagued by ennui.”

Neville sighed.

“He could die.”

“Oh man.”

Thus, the Grand Adventure got grander. A simple trip to the mall was now a life-or-death mission of mercy. Biddleborn wasn’t doing so good, he’s breathing was labored and his color was blue. Clearly he had to be returned to the North Pole. Then there was still the matter of lifting Neville’s ennui. So much to do, so much to do, but only after they worked out some details.

“Now lets see,” wondered Thug, “we need to work out some of these details.”

“Like how we’re getting to the North Pole?” asked Brawl.

“Yes, we’ll need a snow cat.”

“And where do we find one of those?”

“At a logging camp.”

“And where do we find one of those?”

“Somewhere with trees,” opined Thug. “Preferably up northways.”

“Northways?“

“We’ll probably need a motor home too.”

“We’re fresh out.”

“Ye of little faith.” Then to Neville, “Whadya think, little buddy, up for a ride?”

“Sigh.”

With such a long trip ahead of them, they bundled up Neville, picked up some sandwiches and made sure everyone who had to go, went, then set out to find themselves a motor home, specifically a motor home heading north. That‘s how they met the Gundersen’s.

“Hiya, there,” said Carl, “we’re the Gundersen’s. I’m Carl, this here’s my wife, Barb.”

“Oohh hello, I’m Barb.”

“Yeah, yeah, great. My name’s Thug, this is Brawl, that’s Neville, he’s plagued by ennui. We saw from the plates that you might be heading north?”

“Ennui…wha…” stammered Carl, “…oh yah, north. We’re from Bemidji.”

“Bemidji?”

“From Minnesota.”

“That’s north right?”

“Oh, you betcha,” offered Barb, “Northern part of the state. Just heard they’re getting some pretty bad weather back home. Feisty cold.”

“Feisty,” said Carl.

“Feisty cold.”

“Feisty cold, gotcha,” said Thug, “But still, its north right?”

“Yah.”

“Yah.”

“Great. Want some company?”

The Gundersen’s, being from Bemidji, and not used to the ways of ordinary folk, agreed that they’d love the company, as long as the company didn’t mind lutefisk. Which was fine if the Gundersen’s didn’t mind ennui or dying elves. Which was fine, the Gundersesn’s were glad to have the company and being from Bemidji, and not used to the ways of ordinary folk, they even let Thug drive. Which, as it turned out, might not have been the right thing to do.

“You know,“ observed Brawl, “this might not be the right thing to do.“

“Nonsense. We’re on a Grand Adventure.“

“Yes, but the Gundersen’s aren’t. They might not have wanted to go to Canada today.“

“Nonsense. They wouldn’t have let me drive otherwise.“

“Yes, how did you pull that off, anyways?”

“Lutefisk makes them sleepy. They were tired, I offered to help them out.”

“They have no idea where we’re going do they?“

“Sure they do,” said Thug, checking his mirrors. “We’re going northways.“

“Oh man.“

“Now keep your eyes open for an exit marked ‘Yellow Knife‘.“

“Sigh.“

Onward and northward they pressed, that is until the Gundersen’s awoke, wherein there arose such a clatter. Evidently they did not, as Brawl had surmised, wanted to go to Canada that day, not that they didn’t think Canada was nice or that Canadians weren’t polite, but it certainly wasn’t on their itinerary. Thug, for once, was at a loss to explain his actions much beyond ‘ennui’.

“But..ah..the boy,” stammered Thug, “ennui. He’s plagued by ennui.”

“Look Mr. Thug,” replied Carl, “That might be true, and gosh, we sure hope he doesn’t die, but the wife and I didn’t really want to go to Canada today, not that it’s not nice and the people aren’t polite. Barb’s got a Ladies Auxiliary meeting and I’m supposed to go ice fishing with the Church Brethren. Ice fishing, Mr. Thug, The Brethren have been planning for this trip all year.”

“Ice fishing? Well shoot, look around Gundersen, there’s ice everywhere. Get a hammer and a pole and go to it.”

“We don’t use hammers, there are no Brethren here, and, most importantly, there’s no lake.”

“What do you need a lake for?”

“Do yah know what ice fishing is, Mr. Thug.”

“Maybe not.”

“Look,” said Barb, “how’s about we turn the motor home around and head southways for a while? Gosh, I ain’t never seen Carl so worked up.”

“Mmmmm,” answered Thug, “I’m going to have to go with no.”

Carl Gundersen was not a violent man by nature, but, on occasion, he could get his dander up. This was just such an occasion. Carl removed his parka, rolled up the sleeves of his red flannel shirt and with much ‘Gosh‘-ing and ‘Darn’-ing got himself tossed into the back of the motor home. Free from distractions, Thug and Brawl returned their attention to Neville, Biddleborn and the Grand Adventure.

“You know,” said Brawl, “this is turning into quite the Grand Adventure.”

“You think?”

“Sure, we’ve got assault, kidnapping, grand theft motor home, and whatever they charge you with for killing an elf. We’ll be doing community service forever.”

“Not so. We’re on a mission of mercy. We’re doing this for poor Neville…and now Fiddle-Faddle.”

“Biddleborn.”

“Biddleborn, right. You know what they say, ‘No good deed goes unrewarded.”

“I always thought that was ‘unpunished.’”

“Whatever. Oh hey, who wears red flannel besides Carl?”

“Lesbians?”

“Yes and who else?”

“Lumberjacks?”

“Bingo,” beamed Thug, “we got ourselves a snow cat.”

Thug pulled the RV to the side of the road and took stock of their situation. They were north, way north, with a dying elf and ennui-plague Neville in a stolen motor home. The next leg of their journey would take them even farther north, all the way to the North Pole. The motor home could carry them no further, it was time to change vehicles. They had finally found a logging camp, and, by good fortune, a snow cat, several in fact. Thug roused the boy and gathered the elf while Brawl scouted ahead. Apologies were made to the Gundersen’s, who, being from Bemidji and not used to the ways of ordinary folk, accepted them and turned the RV around to go home. Brawl, exhibiting an unusually deft touch for a wrestler, managed to hot wire a snow cat and together he and Thug loaded their party inside.

“There we go,” said Thug, closing the door, “Everyone’s loaded inside.”

“Where to next, Bwana.”

“North of course, north…”

“To Alaska?”

“Ha ha. To the North Pole, and Santa Claus!” Thug turned to the child, “How about that Bob?”

“Bob?” asked Brawl.

“Bob? Where’d that come from, I meant Nestor.”

“Neville.”

“Neville. Well, how about that Neville, Santa Claus?”

“Sigh.”

They journeyed ever northward through snow and ice, that being what snow cats were made for, and despite Neville’s sighs and Biddleborn’s rasps, were having a Grand Old Adventure. Were it not for the long winter night they were traveling by, they might even have enjoyed the breathtaking scenery surrounding them, but which remained unseen, shrouded in the dark. Life was good. That is until they had trouble.

“Uh oh,” remarked Brawl, “we got trouble.”

“Define trouble.”

The engine died, the snow cat stopped.

“There you go.”

“What’s wrong.”

“Out of gas.”

“That’s trouble.”

“My point all along.”

“Now what?”

“What are you asking me for? It’s your Grand Adventure.”

“We need help.”

Perhaps Thug was right and no good deed goes unrewarded, for at that moment they heard bells chime in the distance. Sleigh bells to be exact. By the dying lights of the snow cab, Thug and Brawl were able to make out the shapes of two, no five, no wait, eight, eight tiny reindeer. And they were hitched to a sleigh, atop which sat a man dressed in red. Hooray! They were saved!

“Hooray!” exclaimed Thug, “We’re saved!”

“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” said Brawl.

“Neville! Neville wake up! We’re saved! It’s Santa! You’re ennui is as good as cured! Yippee!”

The man dressed in red dismounted his sleigh and came towards the snow cat. His head was ringed with white fuzz and he carried a sack full of goodies. He knocked on the window, Thug threw open the sash….

But something was wrong. This wasn’t Santa.

“Wait a second,” said Thug, “you’re not Santa.”

“No,” replied the stranger, “But I get that a lot. I think its the snowsuit. It makes me look fat, and this stupid hood with the fur. It was a present from my wife, so what can I do.”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, sorry. Manners. My name’s Yubnub. I’m from the Inuit tribe just up the ice. I heard your truck and since we don’t get that many visitors, thought I’d come out and take a look. You guys in trouble?”

“Nah, we’re on a Grand Adventure. What about the reindeer?”

“Traded for them from a Laplander. They’re kind of high strung and fairly high maintenance, but still, pretty sweet ride, eh?”

“Yeah, real nice.

“Say, this here’s a pretty sweet ride too. It got a heater?”

“Yes,” said Thug sensing something was up, “And a CD player too.”

“Really. My wife’s got all of Enya’s CD’s. She’d love something to play them on.”

“Oh, hey, Enya.”

“Yeah, I’m not real thrilled about it either, but its my wife, what can I do. Mind if I sit inside for a while. It gets feisty cold on that sleigh. Hey, what’s wrong with the kid.”

“Ennui.”

“Ennui?”

“Yes, ennui. We’re hoping he doesn’t die.”

“Well that would be terrible. What about the little guy over there?”

“We’re hoping he doesn’t die either? Say maybe you could help us out…..”

After much haggling a deal was struck and Yubnub got his wife the CD player she always wanted surrounded by a heated snow cat. Thug and Brawl got, to Yubnub’s thinking, the short end of the stick otherwise known as an unheated, open air sleigh and eight highly-strung, high-maintenance reindeer. Even with an empty tank of gas, the snow cab was a monumental step up. Yubnub helped lash Biddleborn to the back of the sleigh and made sure that Neville was nestled in tightly between Thug and Brawl. With a wave they were off. If only they knew where they were going.

“Do you know,“ asked Brawl, “where we’re going?“

“Nope, but they do.“

“Who? The reindeer?“

“Of course. Don’t you know that song?“

“What song?“

“You know…‘they know the way, to carry the sleigh, over the ice and snow.‘”

“You do know,“ said Brawl raising an eyebrow, “that that song’s about ‘Grandmother’s house’ and not Santa’s North Pole hideaway?”

“What’s the difference. Grandma…Santa…they’re both a couple of oldsters doling out gifts. This’ll work. I can feel it.”

“We’re all going to die.”

“Now that, “said Thug as he let go of the reins, “would be terrible indeed.”

Given free reign, the eight highly-strung, high-maintenance reindeer took off. All willy-nilly at first, careening over the hills and through the woods, but settling down eventually. Thug was non-plussed, he had faith that the eight highly-strung, high-maintenance reindeer would get them where they were going. It was what Grand Adventures were all about after all. Brawl was not so convinced. Biddleborn was in bad shape and getting worse, Neville seemed even more ennui plagued than before. And it was getting colder.

“Is it,” asked Brawl, “getting colder out here?”

“Maybe, just a little.“

“You think maybe we ought to turn this thing around and head somewhere warm. I hear Florida is great for ennui. They have spas.“

“But we’re so close. Can’t you feel it?“

“Thug, I can’t feel my toes. I think we’re all going to die out here.”

“No we won’t. Sister Anne would kill us if we died.“

“All I’m saying is……“

Brawl’s words froze to his lips as the eight highly-strung, high-maintenance reindeer rounded the final bend. What they saw was amazing.

“Amazing,” said both Thug and Brawl.

“Sigh,” said Neville.

“’Sigh’? Neville, do you know where we are? We’re here! The North Pole!”

And sure enough, they were. Nestled into the hillsides and snowdrifts was a magnificent village, tiny though it was. Pastel colored homes of gingerbread design lined the smallish streets while a tiny factory cranked away at the far edge of town, churning out toys for good little children everywhere. The eight highly-strung, high-maintenance reindeer drew the sleigh through the streets, where elves gathered to greet these mysterious, oversized strangers. They came to a stop at the steps of a magnificent mansion, and then, finally, did the Grand Adventurers realize their adventure. The man of the hour, dressed in a robe and stocking feet, came down to meet them. The really real Santa Claus.

“Wow,” exclaimed Thug. “Santa Claus. The really real Santa Claus too.”

“Ho, Ho, Ho! What have we here,” Santa demanded.

“Sir,” said Thug, “This is Neville, he’s plagued by….”

“I mean back here. What have you done to my elf?“

“Biddleborn?”

“He looks like he’s been beaten. And you lashed him to the back of a sleigh? He could freeze to death! What’s wrong with you two! Minsky, Imo, fetch a gurney!”

“Um, you see, it’s a really long story….”

“And what’s with this kid? What’d you do to traumatize him? “

“He was pre-traumatized,“ replied Thug. “He’s plagued by ennui.”

“Ennui.”

“Yes, ennui.”

“He could die,” added Brawl.

“Well that would be terrible, indeed.”

“We thought so too, so we brought him to you.”

“On the back of a sled in the dead of an arctic winter. How thoughtful.’

“No sir, he rode up front.”

“You’re missing my point.”

Minsky and Imo arrived with a stretcher and unloaded Biddleborn. Santa went over and held the elf’s hand and said a few words. Biddleborn’s whispered reply left Santa scratching his beard. He reached into the pocket of his robe, and took out a list, a very long list that rolled on and on and on. He motioned for Thug and Brawl not to step on it. Checking it once, checking it twice, he tugged at his ear, then motioned for Neville to come closer.

“Neville,” said Santa, “come closer.”

“Sigh.”

“Have you been a good little boy?“

“Sigh,“ Neville shrugged.

“It’s the ennui, Sandy,“ offered Thug. “It’s all he ever does.“

“Back off, son.“

“Yes sir.“

“You miss them don’t you Neville.“

“Sigh.“

“Miss who,“ said Thug to Brawl.

“His parents bonehead. We found him in an orphanage.“

“The Unfortunate Sisters of Misery was an orphanage?“

“What did you think it was?“

“I don’t know, some kind of ward or something.“

“A ward or something?“

“Yeah, all those kids were wards of the state. Neville’s plagued by ennui. I thought it was a hospital.“

“Would you two kindly shut up!“ demanded Santa, “I’m working over here.”

“Jeez, an orphanage, how could I miss that?”

“ZIP IT!!”

And zip it they did. Santa pulled Neville aside and they spoke, such as it was with Neville sighing and all, at great length, until Santa, at his wits end with the boy, tossed in the towel.

“That’s it,” Santa said, “I’m throwing in the towel.”

“What?”

“All he wants to do is sulk and pout and sigh. I checked the list, he’s been a good boy. Whatever he wants is his for the asking. But he won’t ask for anything. Sorry guys, I’m through.“

“WHAT!!!!“

“You try and get him to talk.“

“I…I…can’t believe this! Santa do something!“

“My hands are tied.“

Thug took hold of Neville’s shoulders, “C’mon kid, you can’t do this to us! We came all this way, we broke all those laws all for you Neville. Tell Santa what you want and its yours. Anything, anything at all. Don’t let the Grand Adventure end like this!“

Neville started to sigh, but didn’t. Instead his eyes brightened. Something sunk in.

He could have anything.

“Anything?” asked Neville.

Surprised, Thug replied, “Anything. Yes, anything. Anything you want. Just ask the man.”

Nervously Neville got up on his tippy-toes and, cupping Santa’s ear, whispered what he wanted most in the world.

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” Santa chuckled, “I’m afraid not.”

“WHAT!!” exclaimed Thug.

Neville was crushed.

“The boy wants a family. I’m Santa Claus, not a social worker, there’s only so much I can do. Say Neville, how about a pony instead.”

“A pony?”

“Yes, a brand spanking new pony. How about it?”

“Okay.”

And like that, Neville’s ennui went away. He was cured.

“Wha…That’s it?” Thug demanded. “Give the kid a pony and just like that the ennui goes away??! Poof and he’s cured.”

“Yep,” replied Santa, “that’s it.”

“Omigod! Everything we did, everything we went through and all we had to do was buy him a pony? What a waste of ti…”

“Thug, shut up and come here. What Neville really wanted, you’d already given to him.”

“Okay, now I’m completely lost.”

“Family, Thug. He wanted a family. Sometimes that’s not always the people you grow up with.”

“Meaning?”

“That he wanted someone to care and he ended up with you.”

“So we did good.”

“Very good.”

“’Very good’. Wow, that’s great. Hey, you know Sandy, since we did so good, maybe you could help us out this holiday season. You see, in order to do this whole ‘very good’ thing here, we seem to have wound up on the wrong side of a couple of laws…….

“Ho, ho, ho……”

And so, with Biddleborn returned, and Neville’s ennui in remission, the Grand Adventure drew to a close, and, as it always is with ‘Once upon a time’ tales, they all lived happily ever after. All, that is, except for the pony, which was plagued by ennui, contracted a fever, and succumbed to the chills shortly thereafter.

THE END.

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