The monster is only comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The monster won’t have tea with the Queen. That’s too normal! So the monster has tea with the gingerbread-house witch. That’s not uncomfortable enough! So they also invite Santa Claus. That makes for some awkward silences!
Santa Claus doesn’t know it’s a monstrous tea party. The invitation says it’s a charity dinner. Santa plans to give a speech. He plans to talk about the endangered toys from the island of broken toys. He plans to deny all ties to Al-Qaida. He plans to read selections of his naughty/nice list as a party game. Santa is a very popular speaker. This isn’t a charity dinner. Surprise, Santa! Surprise!
“Soon, ” cackles the witch, “Hansel will be fat, and I’ll pop him in the oven.”
This makes Santa look uncomfortable. He’s not gotten as far as he has as a saintly figure sacred to children everywhere by endorsing child-eating witches! “He’s a good kid—” Santa says.
“Have a popover, Santa!” exclaims the witch, and shoves one in his mouth. This strongly discourages further speech. You can’t be a reputable saint when dribbling popover onto your beard! The witch cackles.
“Fattened children are tasty,” the monster agrees. He has no stomach to argue taste with the witch! “Still, there are healthier alternatives.”
Hansel’s face lights with hope. Surely, if Santa won’t save him, the monster can!
“After all,” the monster continues, “lean, well-exercised children are the medically preferable diet! If you baste them with molasses, you’ll lose weight and they’ll taste great!”
Hansel’s face falls.
The witch peers at the monster. She’s very near-sighted. She has to lean so close to see him that she’s almost bumping him with her nose. “That’s deranged and wrong,” she says. “Eating lean, healthy children is immoral! I won’t have it in my house.”
“I’d thought this was a charity dinner—” Santa says.
“Have a popover, Santa!”
“It’s his own greed,” the witch says, airily, “that makes him eat the candy I push through the bars. So that’s why I can cook and eat him.”
Hansel looks plaintive. “I’d rather prefer some spinach.”
“See?” shouts the witch, full of glee. “Candy’s not even enough for him!”
Santa swallows. “How about a Tickle-Me Elmo?” he asks. He is desperately grasping at straws in a social situation spiraling out of his control. “Everybody likes Tickle-Me Elmo!”
The monster scowls at Santa terrifyingly. “You bastard! Shut up!” His eyes gleam. His shiny tie gleams. He’s the very picture of an abhorrent fiend!
Santa shrinks back in his seat. He can read those eyes. He can read that tie! No one gave the monster soft cuddly toys when he was a child. That’s what drives him! In a way, it’s all Santa’s fault. If he’d put the monster’s name on the Nice list, there wouldn’t be this horror. He gave him no dolls. He gave him no toys. He gave the monster a chunk of coal, and that’s made its blackened smear on the monster’s soul. That’s the whole problem.
It’s too awful! Santa decides on seppuku. He remembers just in time that he’s not sworn to the code of the samurai. Too bad, Santa! But it’s good for all the little children of the world. A bushido Santa would be dead—that’s how harsh honor is!
“The boy’s a glutton,” says the witch. “Just listen to him. All the candy in the world’s still not enough! But you can’t expect me to punish him. He’s thin as a bone!”
The witch is clearly very image-conscious. The media’s relentless portrayal of thin, fit children as nice has convinced her that they can’t be naughty! Santa knows better, but he’s wrestling with depression and futility. Fight it, Santa! You can be jolly again!
“Some tasty cauliflower!” exclaims Hansel. “Mm, cauliflower. It’s the only vegetable that tastes like chalk!”
“You could still punish him,” the monster says. He’s pinning Santa with his eyes. He wants Santa to commit seppuku, oh yes. “I mean, he’s staying thin. Isn’t that stubborn and obstreperous, when you want to eat him? You can always find some reason to punish a child.”
The witch looks disgusted. She wrinkles her nose—just like one leg in a pair of crumpled leggings! “You can’t do that,” she says. “You can’t make ‘fairy tales’ without ‘fair’! And stuff you find out by determining what words are inside other words is never wrong. Now drink more tea.”
“I’ve had ten cups!”
“. . . you have?” The witch looks very innocent. She wouldn’t eat a fellow monster! “Let me feel your finger.”
The monster is reassured by the witch’s innocent expression. He extends his finger towards the witch. She massages it and thinks. “You’re not jittering enough yet. You should drink more tea.”
Santa opens his mouth to interject.
“Have a popover, Santa!”
The witch looks smug. She’s not only being cruel to Santa, but she stole the popover trick from a rival witch! Recycled evil is the best kind.
“Actually,” explains the monster, “I’ve got to go. I’ve a show to catch!”
“You could let me out,” says Hansel. “I mean, while you’re here and all. I promise I’d be good.”
“Hush, dearie,” says the witch. There’s some sympathy in her eyes. “You’re better off with me.”
“Santa?” asks Hansel, plaintively.
Santa Claus shakes his head silently. He can’t give Hansel his freedom. It’s not Christmas! That would be wrong!
The monster leaps to his feet and adjusts his shiny tie. He’s got a show to catch, just like he said!
“Gretel?” asks the witch.
Gretel resignedly places her shovel under the monster’s feet and heaves him into the fire. Woosh! He flies up the chimney. That’s the preferred exit for monsters. It’s also the preferred exit for changelings, Santa Claus, and smoke elementals! The witch doesn’t use her front door very much.