[Previously: ‘TIS THE SEASON OF JACK RORY]
There was much to do before Jack Rory could depart for the Gluttony Games. Word of his new gig as tribute had spread fast, and it seemed like everyone in the North Pole was lining up to congratulate him and wish him well.
Some even wept with joy as they swept him into firm embraces, gripping him as if it was the last hug they’d ever share. He basked in the glow of their admiration, his heart swelling with pride.
Santa had advised Jack Rory that he should stop by the home of Mitchell, a peculiar old elf who was something of a hermit. Years ago, he too had been a tribute in the Gluttony Games, and Santa thought he might be able to give Jack Rory some helpful tips from an insider’s perspective.
Jack Rory had never before had occasion to speak to Mitchell, but early the next day, he obediently set out across the ice floes to reach the mansion where the older elf led his mysterious solitary existence. He skipped along energetically, humming a happy little tune.
Presently, Mitchell’s princely manor appeared on the horizon, seeming to rise directly out of the snow itself. It was unlike anything Jack Rory had ever seen before.
There was no one in sight as Jack Rory approached the door. He knocked lightly and waited expectantly. No answer. He knocked again, more firmly. Still he heard no-one stirring within. He took a deep breath, and began pounding on the heavy oak door with all his might. Finally he heard dragging footsteps approaching.
“Hell’s rusty faucets! Jacks and gingerade! What’s all this racket, then?” an angry voice croaked from the other side of the door. “There better be a rat-spankin’ good reason you’re banging down my door at the crack of dawn, whoever you are.”
Jack Rory looked up at the sun, now high in the sky and reflecting brightly off the breast of the newfallen snow.
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir,” he said timidly. “Santa sent me. You see, I have volunteered as tribute for the Gluttony Games, and…”
From the other side of the door came a strange sort of choking, snorting sound. Then the door swung open, revealing a grizzled old elf almost doubled over with laughter. “You volunteered as tribute, did you say?” he gasped, holding his stomach. “Well, come in, come in, my clever young donkey! Obviously, you could use a drink.”
Several hours later, Jack Rory sat on a couch in Mitchell’s swanky man cave, feeling frustrated and more than a little drunk, as he watched a pair of scantily clad attendants preen over the old elf. (As it turned out, Mitchell only pretended to lead a solitary existence.) Mitchell had considerately provided Jack Rory with his own pair of attendants, but Jack Rory waved off their attentions, determined to stay focused on the purpose of his visit.
Over the course of the day, he had tried repeatedly to pump the old elf for information, but Mitchell’s only response was to cackle, and demand that he retell the story of how he came to volunteer as tribute. It was an anecdote that seemed to fill the old elf with mirth, no matter how many times he heard it.
“Tell me again how Santa put it to you, how he got you to volunteer?”
“Like I told you, he just asked me to repeat after him and I did,” Jack Rory said, mentally rolling his eyes.
“Oh that Santa, what a card, what a little weasel he is! ‘Repeat after me.’ I love it! I love it! He hasn’t changed a bit,” Mitchell chortled, slapping his thighs in glee.
“So, Mitchell,” Jack Rory said wearily. “How about you tell me about your experience in the Gluttony Games.”
“What’s that? Another drink? You must have a hollow leg, boy! Kimber, Jenny, bring us another round!” Mitchell bellowed at the attendants hovering behind Jack Rory.
Jack Rory shook his head as Mitchell’s well-trained staff produced a drink seemingly out of thin air.
“Mitchell,” he said. “Thank you for all the drinks. But I really need…”
“Oh, so you’re hungry, are you? You kids and your appetites…oh, to be young again,” Mitchell said, heaving a lofty sigh. “Well, today’s your lucky day, son, my girls can cook the pants off a goat! Snap to it, ladies and bring the boy some grub!”
“No, Mitchell, what I…”
“I, I, I…it’s always all about you, isn’t it, you young whippersnapper?” Mitchell roared suddenly. “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’m tired and need a nap. Get out of my house!”
“Wait, what?” Jack Rory looked at Mitchell and was stunned to see the old elf’s face crumpled with demonic fury. He’d seemed positively jolly just moments before. What had caused his mood to shift so abruptly?
“Out, out, OUT! Guards, remove this intruder! Remove him!” Flapping his arms in agitation, Mitchell scuttled off into the shadows of his mansion while two of his attendants gently but firmly guided Jack Rory out the door.
Later, safe at home and nursing a lethal hangover, Jack Rory played back the events of the day in his mind.
Even before Mitchell’s unexpected outburst, it had seemed almost as if he was avoiding answering Jack Rory’s questions about the Gluttony Games. But…why? It made no sense!
He shook his head as if to clear it of such thoughts. Maybe he was just imagining things. After all, he’d had a lot to drink.
He turned off his light and fell into a dark and dreamless sleep.