Santa’s Odyssey: The New Year

On Christmas morning, as Santa Claus and two of his helpers returned to the North Pole, they came under attack by a group of holiday Icons angry that Claus was monopolizing the holiday glory. This year, stranded in the human world with no way home, Santa will be forced to take on the tasks for every other holiday — the Icons are on strike.

Previous Installments: Prologue-Christmas Day

One: The New Year

Edgar stood alone, staring at the empty chair. A week out from Christmas Eve and he didn’t want to move. The others had done everything they could to snap him out of it: hot cocoa, sugar cookies, Christmas crackers… nothing. Edgar, as North Pole Chief of Operations, had been the one in communication with Santa’s sleigh when they lost contact. If he lived to be thirty thousand, he’d never forget what he heard over that radio. Screams. Blinky shouting that they were under attack. Static. Then, a gut-churning eternity later, eight reindeer returned to the barn, their reins fluttering behind them, tattered ends that looked like they had been pecked through. Everyone turned to Edgar then, as he was technically in charge when Santa was gone. But he’d never had – nor wanted – the responsibility for this long.

Traditionally, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve was one of celebration at the Pole: parties, gatherings with friends, subversive meetups under the mistletoe, and one mega-blowout on the 31st before the whole Pole went on vacation for the month of January. Not this year. The past week had been chaos. Elves running everywhere, search parties scouring every corner of the Pole, trainers trying to get the reindeer to retrace their steps. All they had uncovered were a few chunks of vine and brown feathers stuck in the reins.

Now, as midnight hit Greenwich Mean Time, the rest of the senior staff was gathered with Edgar in Santa’s office, looking at his enormous green chair. Nobody had touched it in a week. Nobody wanted to.

Finally, a silver-haired elf from the licensing department cleared her throat. “Edgar?” she asked. “What do we do?”

He cleared his throat, wet his lips. He didn’t know if he was parched or just stalling, unwilling to say the only thing he could say.

“Cancel leave,” he said. “All of it. We need to keep looking.”

The other elves nodded, one at a time. It wasn’t the answer anyone wanted to hear, but it was the one that made the most sense. Nobody was particularly in the mood for a vacation anyway. How could anybody justify a month at the beach or riding roller coasters when Santa, Blinky, and Eleanor were missing? Everybody wanted to keep looking. The trouble was that nobody knew where to look.

“He has to be in the Real World somewhere” said Dale, the elf in charge of preadolescent surveillance. “We can keep up the search.”

“Of course you can,” said Jamie from Reindeer Care. “You guys watch the entire world. How hard can it be to find Santa?”

Dale shook her head. “We’re equipped to surveil children,” she said. “Our equipment is trained on them. We’ve got a computer system that analyzes the footage and alerts us if the kid does something naughty. Other than that, we never actually see them. We’re actually going to have to start combing through film, looking for some sort of trace of him. In footage of every child in the world. Even if we had a specific region to look in, some way to narrow it down–”

“Just do what you can, Dale.” Edgar put a hand on her shoulder and she nodded. He looked at the faces of the rest of the senior staff, their eyes pleading with him for some sort of guidance. He didn’t want this, he reminded himself. He never wanted this.

“What if we don’t find him?” Jamie finally said. “What if it’s February first and it’s time to start getting ready for next Christmas and there’s still no Santa Claus?”

Edgar nodded. It was exactly the question he’d been asking himself since he realized he was the one in charge. “Then we do our jobs,” he said. “Whatever it takes, we make sure that Christmas happens next year.”

December 31, 11:45 p.m.

New York City was cold. Oh, it usually was when Santa visited. They might not have a white Christmas every year, but it was usually at least chilly when he came through. Despite being open-air, his sleigh had precision climate control, and it never bothered him. Today it bothered him. It bothered him a lot.

Santa and Blinky had hitchhiked to Manhattan after they finally found the road outside of Rochester. It only took them two days to make it, with Santa using a tiny bit of his magic to make people treat them with good cheer along the way. In a way, Santa felt lucky they’d crashed in New York state. It wasn’t home, but no place in North America loved Christmas as much as New York City. His magic drained rapidly after Christmas was over, but he felt certain this was the one place he could cling to as much of it as possible.

But that magic was dying quickly. He’d managed to generate enough goodwill amongst his fellow men to get them some new clothes and a pair of cots at a shelter. But here it was, New Year’s Eve. No home or food, no sign of Eleanor, no sign of rescue.

At a quarter to midnight, Santa and Blinky were out on the street, miles away from Times Square and all the lunacy that gripped that piece of real estate on this day, still able to see the glittering ball from a distance. Santa sat down on the bottom stoop of a building, arms folded over his knees. Blinky was on the top stoop, making him eye-level with Santa. Across the street, with the shimmering ball above, a bar was loud and raucous with celebrants ready to bid farewell to the old year and welcome in the new.

“Well… happy new year, Santa.”

“Would that it were, Blinky,” he said. “In all the years we’ve been in operation, I’ve never felt as lost as I do right now.”

“There’s nobody you can call or something?”

“Like who? There aren’t any mortal telephones that can dial the North Pole, and that’s by design. Can you imagine the hassle if children could actually contact us there?”

“Anybody we can recruit to get us back? A non-holiday Icon like Sandman? Tooth Fairy?”

“The Icons only serve children. We couldn’t summon them, even if I punched your tooth out of your mouth.”

“NORAD?”

Santa shot his elf a dirty look, and Blinky shrugged. “Hey, if you’ve got a better suggestion…”

Santa sighed. “All I’ve got is a headache. I wish everyone would just be quiet.”

“Aw, the bar’s not that bad from out here, boss.”

“It’s not the bar, it’s everyone else.”

“What are you talking about? There’s nobody else here.”

Santa looked around, realizing for the first time that he and the elf were alone on the sidewalk. “If there’s no one here, where are the voices coming from?”

Not for the first time since the crash, Blinky looked worried. “What voices, boss?”

Gotta be better than last year…

…gonna lose weight, go back to the gym, give up the fast food…

…this year, I swear, I’m going to get a new job…

…he doesn’t propose by Valentine’s Day that’s IT, it’s OVER…

…has to be better than last year.

“Blinky?” Santa asked. “What’s happening?”

A slow tapping sound echoed down the street. Santa looked up to see an old man – an ancient man, in fact – staggering down the sidewalk, cane in hand. They saw this man just a week ago, but already he looked so much older than he had then. “Ah, Santa Claus,” he said. “I told you we’d meet again tonight.”

“Santa, who is that?” Blinky asked.

“It’s the Old Year,” Santa said. The old man laughed.

“Only for another eleven minutes, Claus!” he said. “Then I become the New Year all over again. Or, more accurately, you will.”

“What’s he talking about, boss?”

“Like we told you, little elf, this year your master is taking on the duties of each of us Icons. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Santa, you’re already hearing the prayers.”

“Prayers? For what?”

“For the New Year, of course!”

In his head, the voices started to get louder. Pleas for money, for health, for children, for love. One woman’s voice swore that this was the year she would visit Europe, another was begging this year to be the one when she found a job in which she could finally afford day care. A man asked if this year he would get a new car, a young one swore with all his might that he was going to buckle down this semester and study, dammit, because he was lucky not to have been thrown out of school already, and if he didn’t fix things it would break his grandmother’s heart. One girl wanted a puppy this year. A boy promised to make the baseball team. A man said he’d try to go vegan, while his wife anxiously promised to get him to stop spending so much time on the internet. More than one voice, more than one chilling voice, asked that please could nobody else die this year, because they couldn’t take any more.

Santa grabbed Blinky’s arm trying not to tip over. He looked up, gasping, while the Old Year’s face continued to grow more wrinkles, longer whiskers, eyes sinking into their sockets and cheeks hollowing before their eyes. “What are you doing to me?” he asked.

“Nothing I don’t endure every single year,” he said. “You’re lucky I come first, Claus. You still have a good deal of your power. Christmas technically lasts until January 6, after all, so your residual magic is probably making this easier on you. Can you imagine if you had to listen to these voices in June?”

“Boss, what’s happening to you?”

“Prayers… cries… people pleading… people everywhere.”

“Prayers for the New Year, Claus.”

“It’s overwhelming,” he said, squeezing Blinky’s arm even tighter. “Everybody wants something. Everybody needs something.”

“Boss, you hear people ask for things all the time. It’s your job!”

“I hear children, Blinky. This…”

“Yes, adults are quite different, aren’t they, Claus?”

…going to learn to speak Mandarin this year…

…this glass of champagne and then that’s it, I’m done drinking…

…just so tired of being alone…

“They’re all in pain!” Santa shouted. “They’re all in misery!

“Oh, not all of them,” the Old Year said. “Just the loudest ones.” In the distance people in Times Square were howling with joy. The countdown had reached one minute to midnight. He looked down at Santa, his face almost skeletal now as the skin pulled taught against his leering skull.

“I don’t understand!” Santa slumped forward, grabbing the Old Year by his cloak. “Isn’t anyone happy tonight?”

“Of course they are,” the Old Year said. “But they don’t need us, do they? That’s the incredible thing about the New Year, Claus. As a marking of time, it’s really quite meaningless. It’s arbitrary. The mortals could have decided the year ended any time they wanted – the beginning of July, the day the crops were planted. It doesn’t mark someone’s birthday or a historical anniversary or any of the things some of the other holidays do. Closing one calendar and opening the next is irrelevant. But they’ve placed so much emphasis on it, haven’t they? They pretend that things are ending, that it’s a time when everything else can start over.”

The countdown was happening. Santa could almost hear it over the voices in his head.

…this is it…

…it all starts now…

…thank God it’s over…

“Don’t you understand why you’re hearing from people in misery, Claus? Because nobody needs a New Year more than someone whose Old Year was agony.”

He closed his eyes as the voices behind them turned into an incomprehensible din, a sickening miasma of prayers and hopes and grief. Screams and cries of celebration broke – from Times Square, from the bar across the street, from all directions. Santa thought that the voices would stop, but if anything, they got louder.

show them some real fireworks at the office…

…dammit, I knew she’d kiss somebody else at midnight…

…last glass of ch—ah, but I’m still AT the party, right?

“Why isn’t it stopping?” Santa asked. “Why isn’t it stopping?”

“Santa?” Blinky asked. “Where’d the Old Year go?”

Santa opened his eyes and looked down. The Old Year was, in fact, gone, his cloak lying on the ground in front of them. Lying in front and… moving. Santa reached down and pulled the cloak aside. On the ground, wearing a smirk that one would never have expected in one so young, was a newborn baby.

“It’s not stopping, Santa, because it’s not over yet.” The newborn rocked up onto his bottom, smiling up at Santa and Blinky. “People don’t stop asking at midnight. It takes a few days, even weeks sometimes before they stop asking the New Year to be different than the old one.”

“But… all of those cries… all that pain. What are we supposed to do?”

The infant looked surprised. “Do? Santa, you’re already doing it. You’re hearing them.”

“Aren’t I supposed to help them?”

“They’re not kids, Santa. They don’t want dolls and candy. How are you gonna help them? Give Tory Kittridge a new job? Find a way to make Edna Carson’s son call her for a change?” He stood up, grabbing Santa’s beard and pulling it down until they were eye-to-eye. “You got a cure for cancer in that sack of yours, Santa?”

He let go of the beard and Santa rocked back onto the stoop, staring up into the sky. His stomach was curdling, despite the fact that there was relatively little inside it. As he gasped, the voices continued, although they started to settle a bit.

“Here’s the harsh truth most humans don’t want to admit, Santa. No matter how much they want to believe it, the year doesn’t control anything. If something is going to change, it has to come from them. But who wants to hear that? It’s not my fault I’m broke! It’s not my fault I’m lonely! It’s not my fault I’m sick! No! It’s just this crummy year.” The cynicism coming from such a young face was almost comical. Santa may have laughed if he weren’t trying to prevent the conflicting voices in his head from driving him mad.

“Nah,” New Year said. “There’s nothing you can do to help them, Santa. They have to help themselves. All you get to do is listen to each and every prayer they have.”

He patted Santa on the cheek, smiling. “Well, I’ve said my peace. Have fun on the next holiday. Someone will be there to hold your hand then, too.”

Santa watched as the New Year, still waddling around in a baby’s body, gathered up his cloak and toddled away. As he did so, the voices, the prayers, the pleading in his mind continued.

“Boss, are you all right?”

“It’s too much, Blinky. It’s just too much.”

He put his head down on the stoop, trying not to allow tears to break his eyes. Across the street, the doors to the bar had been thrown open and people were cheering in the fact that they all had to buy a new calendar, and nothing else. Santa rolled his head and looked up at the stars in the cold January morning.

“How am I going to do this? How can I handle an entire year of this? We’re lost, we’re alone, we…”

“Hey, are you all right?”

Santa tilted his head and looked at the man approaching them. He was coming from the direction of the bar, a few chunks of confetti fell from his shoulders as he walked, but he didn’t have the joyous expression that most of the revelers wore. He was a bulky man, with deep brown hair and a tiny scar in his upper lip, which was pulled down into a look of concern.

“It’s nothing that should worry you, young man,” he said.

“Are you sure? You sounded pretty downbeat.” He reached out and Santa realized he’d heard this man’s voice before, only moments before. He was one of the many, many people who was pleading for a better year.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Come on, pal, it’s Christmas.”

Blinky frowned. “It’s January First.”

“Yeah, and like my grandmother always told me, Christmas lasts until the sixth. Epiphany. You’ve heard of the twelve days of Christmas right?”

Santa looked the man in the eye, and for the first time since his sleigh went down, a small smile crept onto his face. “Have I met you before, son?”

“Could be. It’s a big city.” He held out his hand. “Gary Valechi. You?”

“Nick. And this is Bill.”

Gary Valechi. Nice list. Asked for a Super Nintendo when he was seven years old.

“Look, the party across the street turned out to be… not what I wanted. I was going to go get something to eat. You guys want to join me? My treat.”

Santa and Blinky exchanged a look, and Blinky shrugged.

“All right, Gary,” Santa said. “Maybe there’s a little Christmas left out here after all.”

*   *   *

In Central Park, Chuck Parker listened to people cheering all over the city. Must have been New Year’s Eve again. Eh. December, January, Christmas, New Year… out here, it was pretty much all the same. The only thing about the holidays ending was that people got a little less generous with their spare change. Whatever, he made it through last year, he’d make it through this one.

He shuffled down to a bench, one of his favorites, and pulled his coat tight around him. Someone had left a pile of newspaper on his bench, filthy animals in this city, and as he lay down to stretch out, he kicked at the paper to clear it out.

“Ow! Watch it!”

A hand grabbed at the paper and yanked it away. Beneath was a small, angelic face fringed by silvery golden hair. Her face was dirty, but unwrinkled and unmarred, and the green hat atop her head was cocked at an angle.

“Kid, what are you doing out here?”

“I’m no kid,” she said.

“Well I ain’t seen you around here before. You lost?”

She looked up into the sky, staring as if she were looking for something. “Yeah,” she said. “I am.”

To be continued…

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Santa’s Odyssey: Christmas Day

For many years now, it’s been my tradition to write a new story to share each Christmas. Despite how crazy this year has been, I didn’t want to break with that. However, one story was stuck in my head, the only one that could come out. It’s not just a Christmas short story. It’s something… larger…

Prologue: Christmas Day

“Do you see him yet?”

“Nay, not yet.”

“Well he’s got to come in soon. It’s almost morning! Are you sure he’s going to come this way?”

“Pretty sure. We use basically the same routes, so he should cut through here on his way North.”

“If you are wrong, I swear, I’ll skin you alive and hang your feet from my fingertips as a warning to any who would dare deceive me.”

“Oh, stop being so dramatic, son.”

“Leave the boy be! Let him express himself!”

“Would you all be silent? Look, in the skies above! He approaches!”

“Wonderful. Light it up.”

*   *   *

Despite the way it is frequently depicted in the media, Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve run is not as simple as hopping in a sleigh and flying south. There is a reason that nobody, no airplane or spacecraft, no weather balloon or dog-drawn bobsled has ever been able to locate Santa’s Workshop. Santa’s home is not, technically speaking, on Earth. Not Earth as we know it, anyway, but in a sort of otherworldly shell of Earth, in a place where those anthropomorphic personifications of the things humans cling to tend to spend their time, and where the veil between their world and ours only grows thin when the humans’ need for such a creature is great. Were a human to ride in Santa Claus’s sleigh on his way home after making his deliveries, they would see the ground beneath them become a snow-covered plane, frozen and unbroken for what seems like thousands of miles, before finally being punctuated by the glorious, colorful workshop from which Santa Claus does his good deeds. It would not be a journey they could replicate, however, and they would have no hope of returning home without the aid of Santa or another such anthropomorphic personification such as Mother Nature, Jack Frost, or Amy the Arbor Day Arugula. All this is to say that it’s particularly difficult to move from our world to theirs when it is not your time of power, and it is for that reason that the plot to eliminate Santa Claus was almost successful.

“Almost home, boss,” said Blinky.

“I think I can see our house from here,” Eleanor chimed in. Blinky and Eleanor were, of course, elves, and two of Santa’s best. They sat in the now-empty sleigh, lounging in the empty space that had been previously occupied by an enormous sack of toys, each now in the hands or heart of some child or another, at least until he broke it while throwing it at his sister.

“Not a bad run, eh?” Santa asked, smiling down at them. “Ah, hundreds of years and I never miss a beat.”

“Not too bad. Almost had to put a kid out at the Franklinton house, but he settled back down before I needed to break out the sand.” Blinky was in charge of security – he scouted the home before Santa popped in, ensuring that the children were nestled and not a creature was stirring. Occasionally he would encounter a mouse that attempted to defy this edict. When that happened, Blinky took care of it. Per Santa’s orders, he was gentler with children. If one was found to be awake, he whisked them back to sleep with a handful of sonombula, a sleep-inducing dust provided to them by the Sandman.

“Oh, the Franklintons,” Eleanor said. “I hope Stacy likes the pony stable.” Eleanor was in charge of distribution. She catalogued orders and made certain Santa was delivering each toy to its proper recipient. He used to keep track of such things himself, but as the number of children in the world continued to grow there were too many instances of kids who asked for blocks waking up to socks, toy boats being confused with toy goats, and children asking for action figures of the DC superheroes waking up to find Marvel instead. Since Eleanor took over operations, things had run much more smoothly.

On the horizon, the brilliant glowing dot that indicated Santa’s Workshop grew closer. When it first appeared, a yellow dome in the distance, it was the first sign of light. Now the sun was coming up off to the right and the color of the dome was different. It didn’t look yellow anymore. If anything, Blinky thought, it was turning an odd shade of orange.

“Thirty-seven seconds faster than last year,” Eleanor said, looking over the schedule. “And that with 426 more deliveries.”

“It was a boom year for babies in New Orleans,” Santa said.

“Santa…”

“And the Japanese stops went much faster than usual.”

“Well, cutting over North Korean airspace speeds things up. Don’t tell anybody we did that.”

“Santa…”

“I’m a little concerned about the British, though.”

“Well, they ebb and flow, and it’s been a rough couple of years there. Britain always bounces back, though. They love me better than anyone. Ho-ho! Why wouldn’t they?”

“SANTA!”

“Blinky, what on Earth–”

The security elf extended a green-clad arm, pointing across the snowy waste, and Santa’s words trailed away when he realized why. The glowing dot, the one that they’d thought was the same Workshop they returned to year after year, was no longer yellow. It was quite clearly orange, with tendrils of green light in the mix. What’s more, the soft gingerbread peaks and candy cane architecture they were used to was missing entirely, replaced by a harsh, angular structure that looked like a spiny gothic castle, crawling with pumpkin vines and surrounded, as it seemed, with headstones.”

“Santa, what is that?” Eleanor asked.

“It’s Halloween,” he said. “But what is it doing here?”

As they stared at the castle, there were two bursts of light from the turrets. A pair of missiles – wrapped in red, white, and blue ribbon – shot through the air, brilliant colored sparks streaking the sky in their wake. They watched quietly, but only for a moment. Eleanor lost the ability to remain silent when it was clear that the missiles were headed straight for them.

She shrieked even louder than the missiles on their collision course with the sleigh, but instead of making impact, they blew past them and exploded in the air immediately over their heads, the burst of light dazzling Santa and the elves. When Blinky’s eyes cleared, he saw a pair of turkeys sitting on the reigns, pecking at the leather straps that held the reindeer to the sleigh. They were almost through.

“What’s going on?” he shouted. He grabbed the sleigh’s onboard radio and hit the SEND button. “Blinky to North Pole! Blinky to North Pole! We are under attack! Edgar, send help! Repeat–”

Repeating was not an option. A pink, furry paw swatted the radio from Blinky’s hand. He looked over to see a snarling bunny, larger than the elf himself, yank the radio cord from the dashboard and throw it over the side. Eleanor grabbed the bunny, trying to wrestle it away from Blinky, but it grabbed at a cord attached to his hip and yanked. A brilliant pastel parachute whipped out of a pack on his back and he was jerked up and away from the sleigh. The parachute opened up to reveal its light blue egg shape.

“Eleanor!” Blinky howled. The distribution elf was still holding onto the bunny as it trailed away and drifted into the distance.

“Blinky, hold on!” Santa shouted. The turkeys bit through the last of the reigns and the reindeer continued on their way. The moment the leather was cut, the sleigh’s forward momentum slacked off and it lost all lift. Blinky realized with terror that they were hurtling towards the ground.

“Blinky! CRASH POSITIONS!”

Santa and the remaining elf grabbed one another, eyes closed, Blinky howling all the way down. Santa allowed himself to peek just for a second, just in time to see a bed of clover poke through the snow beneath them. The sled hit the clover and bounced off, cutting a swath through the snow beyond before colliding with a tree, catapulting the occupants through the air and into drifts of snow beyond.

“Santa?” Blinky moaned. “Santa, are you okay?”

Santa sat up, brushing snow from his face with his hat. “I think so. Are you?”

“No injuries to report,” Blinky said “Any sign of Eleanor?”

“We lost her somewhere.”

The snow cleared from his eyes, Santa looked around to get his bearings. As he did, he realized he and Blinky were not alone. Approaching them from the trees were an enormous pink rabbit, a giant turkey, a bearded man in star-spangled clothing, and several others. When a winged cherub landed on the shoulder of a very old man with whiskers down to his knees, Santa felt a tinge of dread.

“I told ye this wouldn’t work,” muttered a small man – about Blinky’s size – wearing all green, with tufts of red hair poking out from under his hat. “He’s still too powerful on Christmas morning.”

“Ah, he’d be too powerful in May,” the rabbit muttered. “I didn’t think we’d actually take him out. Plan B?”

A woman with her hair in a bun came up behind them, looking down at Santa with a scowl of bone-grinding disapproval. “Oh yes. Plan B it is.”

“What is the meaning of all this?” Santa said. “East? Is that you?”

“East?” Blinky said. “Do mean to tell me that rabbit is the Easter Bunny?”

“Guilty,” the rabbit said, grinning. He tossed an egg casually in the air, bouncing it from hand to hand. “But not as guilty as your boss, Elf.”

“What are you talking about?” Santa said. “This is absurd. Why on Earth would you attack us?”

“Attack you?” snarled the cherub. “You’ve been in an all-out assault on us for years!”

“You’ve got your diaper on too tight, Cupid,” Santa snapped. “I’ve never done a thing to any of you.”

As a whole, the group groaned and rolled their eyes. In the back, a clown threw his hands up in disgust.

“Nothing except hogged all of the glory,” the Bunny said. “How many letters do you think kids write to the Easter Bunny, fat boy?”

“People forget their fathers half the time,” said a man in a suit wearing approximately 37 neckties. Even from the back of the pack, Blinky could smell a sickening miasma of different cologne brands emanating from him.

A man in a hardhat slapped a wrench into his hand. “There aren’t even any decorations at all for Labor Day.”

The Turkey scratched at the ground. “Holiday creep, that’s what it is! People waste half of my day buying crap for yours!”

The tallest figure – a slender form with a body made of rotting tree branches and a head carved from a pumpkin – extended a pointy finger at him. “The sales begin even before my time of power. You just can’t be satisfied with your own time, can you, Claus?”

“Here’s the point, boyo,” the man in green said. “For too long now, ye’ve been taking up all the holiday glory for yourself. Every year, your power seems to grow, while ours gets weaker and weaker.”

Santa looked around at the others – icons of Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving… who the heck was the clown supposed to be? Whoever, none of them were in their time of power. Only one was close…

The old man stepped forward. “It’s been too long, Santa Claus. Your time of power is ending, while mine quickly approaches. It will be a long year before you’re back at full power. So it is the informed opinion of us, a jury of your peers, that you spend that year being made to understand what you have stolen from us.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Ain’t it obvious?” Cupid asked. “We’re on strike.”

Santa looked at each of them, bouncing from face to face, his blood growing as cold as the snow he was still kneeling in. “What do you mean?”

“We each have a time of power. One day, for most of us. You seem to command an entire season–”

“YEAH!” the Turkey snapped.

The old man shot him a look, then looked back at Santa. “If you insist on creeping earlier and earlier, then perhaps this year you would like to know what it’s like to take on the responsibilities of those days you usurp.”

“You’re doing our jobs this year,” said the man in the necktie. “All of us.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” the old man said. “We’ll be there to make sure you don’t ruin things too badly. But from now until next Christmas Eve, our responsibilities are officially being handed over to you.”

“This is madness,” Santa said.

“I’m sure you feel that way,” the old man said. “I’ll see you in a week, Santa.”

As he stared at the group, the Turkey vanished, followed shortly by the stick-man with the pumpkin head. The rest of them popped out one at a time.

“One week,” the old man said, fading.

Santa and Blinky, lying in the snow, looked at each other. “Santa? What do we—”

“Wait, wait! I’m haven’t made my dramatic exit yet!” The clown poked his head out from behind a tree, giggling.

“Who are you?” Santa asked.

The clown winked. “I’ll see you when I see you,” he said, vanishing.

“Santa?” Blinky said. “What do we do? Where are we?”

Santa pushed himself to his feet, brushing the snow from his knees. “I can’t get us home,” he said. “Not without the reindeer, not now. It’s Christmas morning, the gifts have been opened. My time of power is ending.”

“Then how do we get home?” Blinky said.

“I don’t know,” Santa said. “I don’t even know where we crashed.”

The two of them stumbled through the snow, going back in the direction they’d come from. As they passed the spot where the sleigh crashed, the patch of clover they’d collided with was gone, although Santa did notice a few shredded green leaves mixed in with the white. They walked for some time, close to an hour, before they crested a dune and saw a long, gray stretch of highway appear. Cars were zipping past, people travelling to spend the holiday with family and friends, while Santa and Blinky were cold and away from home.

“A sign,” Santa said. “Blinky, you’ve got those elf eyes. Can you read it?”

“Elf eyes?” Blinky said. “Where’d you get that from?”

Lord of the Rings. Why, is that not a thing?”

“No, no, it’s a thing. It’s just kind of a stereotype, that’s all.” He squinted and looked at the green sign at the edge of the highway.

“What does it say?”

“Rochester, New York, 60 miles,” he said.

Santa sighed. “Well, at least we know where we are.”

To be continued…

Dad Drain

Hey, all — a quick update. I certainly haven’t forgotten my vow to fill you all in on the tumultuous week of Eddie’s birth, and I’ve got every intention of talking about the ups and downs of parenting (for example, the fact that a loose nipple wound up soaking both the baby and myself in formula at 3 in the morning today.) However, as anyone who has ever had a newborn can certainly attest, those first weeks are draining. Erin and I have been about as tired as we’ve ever been, and even now that Eddie is sleeping a bit better overnight (a bit, I stress), between taking care of him and keeping up with the day job, I’ve been too pooped to pontificate lately. Fingers crossed that this will change soon, because heaven knows I’ve got an awful lot to talk about. In the meantime, all is well.

The Name Game

20170830_162250Our son, Edward Wallace, was born on August 30. But I’ve still got several “Dadding” blogs written during the pregnancy period. Before I get into the new stuff about active parenthood, I’m going to finish the saga that got us here. Including this post, which I wrote back in February, but that I wasn’t ready to share until now.

Name Game
(In which Erin and I prove that naming your child does not necessarily require an executive order)

Frankly, I don’t know why some people act like naming a child is a big deal. Erin and I did it over dinner. And that wasn’t even the purpose of the dinner, it just happened to come up in conversation while we were waiting for our Copeland’s King Cake Cheesecake (which we highly recommend, by the way). It was probably less than an hour from the time we started discussing it until we had settled on our choices. Already, we decided, we were amazing parents.

It’s odd — when it comes to choosing a title for a story I’ve written, I agonize for days, but naming a kid? No problem! Erin said I was the same way when it came to picking our wedding date. “I just said ‘When do you want to get married?’ and you said ‘How about June 14’?” she said. In fairness, though, once you settle questions of venue and availability, your actual wedding date doesn’t really matter all that much unless you’re choosing it for sentimental reasons, like the day you first met or Stan Lee’s birthday. Picking a name — that’s a more substantial decision.

When my sister was most recently pregnant, she chose a name in a very traditional way. She got a book (To Kill a Mockingbird, I think) and started highlighting all the names she liked, then she gave the book to her husband so he could do the same thing, then she grew increasingly frustrated as it became more and more apparent that he’d totally forgotten the book existed. She finally settled on her baby’s name when a time-traveler from the future appeared and begged her not to name him “Ethan.”

“Why? Will he become an evil dictator or something?”

“No. There are just way too many people named ‘Ethan’ 20 years from now.”

Despite the brevity of our conversation, I know that choosing a child’s name is significant. You’re setting the tenor for their entire life, after all. You don’t name a kid “Jarvis” unless you want to lock him into a future as a butler. “Bambi” has a 79 percent chance of becoming a stripper. Any Wu-Tang name will either land them in jail or on the Billboard charts, so you’re rolling the dice there. All I’m saying, though, is that once we eliminated names we definitely didn’t want, it wasn’t too hard.

The only real point of contention between us came when Erin suggested the name Patrick. It’s a fine name with a proud legacy and it wonderfully represents her family and her Irish heritage, and I would have been fine with it except for the fact that our last name is Petit, and there’s no way in hell I was going to send a kid to an American public school with the initials P.P. Erin said I was overreacting, I said she had too much faith in the goodness of children. She brought up Spider-Man, I pointed out that there may once have been a time when a child could be nicknamed “Beaver” with no repercussions, but today is not that day. She asked if my cousins Philip or Patricia ever had problems, I said that if they did, maybe they just didn’t want to talk to everybody about that time John Harris stole my hat and threw it in a urinal. She said I must have been majorly damaged in elementary school, and I had to concede she may have had a point there.

Any other objections I had were all teacher-based. Every teacher mentally keeps a list of the most obnoxiously frustrating students we ever teach, because we can never give one of our own children those names. It would be like giving a kid the name of your ex-boyfriend, except people are generally more forgiving if you tell them a name makes you want to put their face through a windshield if you say it’s an ex instead of a student.

Finally, again as a teacher, I insisted our kid have a name his or her future educators could pronounce. We’ve all heard of the twins named Lemonjello and Orangello, or the girl with the exquisite name “Ladasha” (spelled “La-a”). I cannot verify that these names ever really existed. Very likely, these children are apocryphal. I’m just saying, based on some of the names you people do give your children, I wouldn’t be surprised. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone named their child “Apocryphal Jones” because they read it in this post and thought it was pretty.

I’m just saying, speaking as a teacher, it’s really frustrating to have to guess what to call a child whose name looks like somebody spilled a bowl of Alpha-Bits just because their parents didn’t want them to have the same name as any other kid in the class. I have no problem believing someone would write “Phr3q’trwilli-HenryKissinger” on a birth certificate and say “But we pronounce it ‘Frank’.” Yeah, I know you like those designer names because they’re “unique.” Well I gotta tell you, naming a child “Adolph” in 2017 would be pretty unique too, but you ain’t finding that name on a novelty license plate at Six Flags either.

All that covered, we started to talk about names that didn’t make us wretch. The girl’s name — which I’m not going to share here because it’s still a little personal — took only mild deliberation. The boy name was easy. I’ve wanted to use my grandfather’s name, “Wallace,” as a middle name for a very long time. Erin wanted to use one of her father’s names, “Deen Edward.” Since her brother is also named “Deen,” I suggested taking her Dad’s middle name to avoid any confusion. Plus, I just liked how the name rolled off the tongue. Sure, “Edward Wallace” may sound like a hard-hitting news reporter from the 60s, but as the world is sorely lacking in those these days, it’s okay with me.

“Did we just pick our baby names?” she asked me.

“I think we did.”

“We are awesome at this.”

And then we high-fived.

While driving.

We still need to work on a few things.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

Hurricane Harvey: Comic Relief

As I write this, my wife and I are sitting in a hospital room with our newborn son (say “Hi” to everyone, Eddie) and she just read me a story about the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox putting aside their legendary rivalry in order to hold a joint Hurricane Harvey benefit auction. It’s a lovely surprise and it warms the heart. It also makes me think about who else could do such a thing to help people in need. In particular, because of the rich veins of nerdery that flow through my body, I’m thinking about comic books.

DC Vs Marvel 1I know both DC and Marvel Comics have said no to doing any future crossovers, but hear me out.

Right now there are hundreds of thousands of people homeless because their homes, lives, and businesses have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. In terms of sheer size, it’s probably going to top Katrina as the worst natural disaster in American history. It may have done so already. I’m honestly not sure. For what I think are obvious reasons, I’ve haven’t been able to watch the news super-closely this week. But what I do know is that rebuilding will take years and potentially billions of dollars to restore the parts of Texas and Louisiana devastated by this storm.

DC Charity CollaborationsBoth Marvel and DC, in the past, have done benefit comics in the wake of tragedy. Marvel put out two different special comics after September 11, 2001. DC teamed up with other publishers after 9/11 and in the wake of last year’s shooting in a Miami nightclub. Over the years, both companies have published special edition comics about things like child abuse, substance abuse, land mines, computer science, literacy, and oral hygiene. It’s not like charity comics are a new thing.

Heroes Marvel 9-11How about a DC/Marvel Harvey benefit book? No huge, universe-shattering event. No years-long buildup or hair pulling over how it effects continuity. Not even any of that stupid, fanboyish, inherently disappointing “who would win in a fight” crapola, since each short story would be about heroes coming together to help people in need instead of seeing which one could punch harder. It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to find creators willing to donate the time to do short stories (between five and ten pages, probably, no more), and you’d put together the biggest characters from each publisher:  Superman/Spider-Man, Batman/Iron Man, Wonder Woman/Thor, and — because you know it would put assess in the seats, Deadpool/Harley Quinn.

It would be the best-selling comic book of the century, AND it would raise a much-needed fortune for people in distress.

It’ll probably never happen, I know, but wouldn’t it be awesome to see the two leaders of an industry that makes its money telling stories about heroes set aside their differences so they could actually BE heroes for a change?

PS – Oh, and the capper? The one thing that could make the whole thing even better for long-time comic fans? If they could somehow just call the book”Harvey Comics.” Just saying.

Early arrival

20170830_081309
Meet Eddie!

People who have been following along with our adventures in pregnancy may be a little surprised by this post. You know that our Little Guacamole wasn’t due to make his appearance in the world until September 20. We thought we still had three weeks to go. We hadn’t put together his bassinet. We hadn’t installed the car seat. I still had three more pregnancy blogs written that I hadn’t posted yet. Oh yeah, and there was a tropical storm going on.

But when it’s time, it’s time.

Edward Wallace Petit was born on August 30 at 8:02 a.m. He weighed in at 7 pounds and was 20.25 inches long. He’s named after his grandfather, Deen Edward Blash, and his great-grandfathers, Chester Edward Blash and Wallace Faucheux Sr.

We’re still in the hospital as I write this, but mom and baby are both doing well. There’s a lot more to tell in this story — so, so much more, which won’t surprise anybody who follows this blog regularly — and I’ll tell it to you soon enough, but that will have to wait.

For now, I’m just happy to spend time with my little family.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.

Showered With Affection

When something good happens to a male — something exciting, something worth celebrating, something wonderful — we have a particular way of marking the occasion: we go out for drinks, eat food that probably would have gored us to death just a few days prior, and call each other names that would make George Carlin think we’d gone too far as a way of showing affection.

Invite For BlogWomen have showers.

Bridal showers, baby showers… I would not be remotely surprised if next week Buzzfeed posted an article proclaiming Menopause Showers the next big thing. Having never attended a shower myself until this weekend, I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between a “shower” and a “party.” Having joined Erin for a shower for our upcoming bundle of joy, it now seems obvious: showers require a terribly low ratio of Y to X chromosomes in order to officially qualify.

This shower has been in the works since mid-March. A few days before we made the official Facebook announcement of our pregnancy (without which our child would be unable to get a Social Security number and lose his eligibility to appear on The Price is Right someday) we went out to dinner with family and told them the joyous news. My sister Heather and sister-in-law Kayla were so joyous about the event they declared the shower their duty and began discussing prospective dates and themes before we even left the restaurant. As Erin and I had approximately 12 million things to figure out, we were more than happy to allow the two of them to handle this one.

Although Erin had a surprise wedding shower, we never entertained the idea of a surprise baby shower. For one thing, we needed to register for all of the things we needed (those registries are still active over at Babies R Us and Amazon, just saying), and for another thing, it seems unwise to startle a woman into premature labor. That said, while the party itself was planned ahead of time, that doesn’t mean there was NO room to surprise Erin that day. Her best friend Natalie, maid of honor at our wedding, lives in Pittsburgh. About two months before the wedding, she sent me a message telling me she was planning to come in for a visit, but she didn’t want Erin to know about it yet.

This was going to be fun.

I don’t often have secrets from Erin, and when I do I can usually grind the investigation to a halt by saying something like, “Don’t look in that box, that’s where I hid your Christmas present.” And she respects my request even as she proceeds to plead with me for the next month to tell her what it is. In this case, though, I had to hide messages from her. Some people might consider this far easier than hiding, for example, a coffeemaker, but when you suddenly snatch your phone from your wife’s hand because you’re afraid there may be a text message from her best friend on the notification screen, you need to be able to think fast.

FB_IMG_1501380397615Heather and Kayla joined the two of us in a conspiracy that easily could be the subject of a future Oliver Stone movie. Intrigue. Subterfuge. Accidentally going to the wrong Hilton. Natalie’s plan was to fly in on Friday for the Shower on Saturday, then stay with us for a couple of days. Fortunately, getting the house ready for a guest aroused little suspicion, as Erin assumed that people would be coming over after the Shower at Kayla’s house to help us carry in some of the larger gifts. “People” turned out to just be my father, but it was still no problem to get the house cleaner than it’s probably been since we moved in three years ago. In those three years, however, we’d never had a houseguest, so I was tasked with trying to figure out a way to get bedding for our futon without arousing Erin’s suspicion.

“Hey, these sheets are on clearance,” Erin said the next time we went to Walmart.

“Go ahead and put them in the cart,” I said.

I’m just saying, if the President hired me, a lot of those security problems would dry up immediately.

The biggest problem, as it turned out, came from Erin. She scheduled an ultrasound appointment for July 31, the last Monday before her teacher husband had to return to work for the new school year. Approximately twelve seconds later, I got a text from Natalie announcing that she’d booked a return flight on — and people who know how our luck with airlines has gone since Erin and I first met are already ahead of me on this one — July 31. Now I turned to the conspiracy to put our collective brains together and conjure a scheme that would trick Erin into rescheduling her appointment without arousing her suspicion.

“You’re a writer, you’ll think of something,” Natalie said.

I thought about just calling the medical center myself and requesting they change the appointment, but I wasn’t sure how to start the conversation. “Yes, I would like you to call my wife and tell her she needs to reschedule her ultrasound, but you can’t let her know the reason why.” It didn’t seem like a good approach. Even if I talked to someone sympathetic to my cause, I knew it would only take one person at the office who wasn’t in the loop or who didn’t understand what I was asking to call Erin up and blow the whole thing. If my experience with the Illuminati has taught me anything, it’s that the fewer people involved, the easier it is to keep a secret. (NOTE FROM THE ILLUSTRIOUS POTENTATE: Take that line out before you post this, you idiot.) No, I needed to think of a way to get her to do it herself.

The good news is that Erin prefers if I go to these appointments with her, so if I could conjure up my own excuse, she’d change it so I could still be there. I told her, then, that the English department at my school had requested a pre-school year curriculum meeting on the 31st, assuming that she wouldn’t be upset with me if I told her I had to do something for work.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

She got mad, asking me over and over why the other eight people in the department couldn’t change their schedules, going to her own job while still sore because I had to go to mine, and still having a thorn in her paw over the whole thing for the next few days. I kept my lips shut, knowing it would be worth it in the end.

On the day of the party, we walked into Kayla’s house while Natalie hid in my niece’s room, then snuck out behind Erin and said hello. Erin turned and casually said, “Hi,” taking about a beat and a half before she realized she was talking to someone she believed to be a thousand miles away and breaking into a gleeful hug. After Natalie cued her in to our shared deception I stood behind her, smiling, as she turned to me with regret and apology in her eyes.

“I’ll let it go this time, she said.

It’s the best I could have hoped for, honestly.

FB_IMG_1501361551967The shower itself — the first such I ever attended — was nice. Sure, the only other men there were my friend Jason, who came with his wife, and my cousin’s son Lucas, who didn’t have a babysitter available. Heather and Kayla chose a Star Wars theme for the shower, including invitations asking people to help welcome the “little Jedi,” a Yoda cake and Chewbacca cupcakes, and chocolates in the shape of Star Wars ships and aliens. Some of you, I know, may be frowning at me right now. “Blake,” you’re saying. “The Baby Shower should be your wife’s day. How can you take it over with such a nerdy theme?”

The people saying these naive things do not know my wife. My wife, who has already started making arrangements for Aunt Kayla to babysit the weekend The Last Jedi is released. My wife, who bought an Empire Strikes Back poster for our living room. My wife, who — and I swear to God this is NOT a joke — brought a little vial with some of her father’s ashes with us to see The Force Awakens.

I love Star Wars as much as the next American male, but the theme wasn’t for ME.

The food was great and the gifts were terribly thoughtful, including a few that were done specifically in memory of my mother. Mom’s cousin made a “daddy apron” for me, including pockets for a toy, snack, and spare diapers. My aunt crocheted an afghan using the same pattern Mom used for my sister’s son three years ago. A family friend gave us a book that my mom gave to her son when he was born. There were some damp eyes in the room as we read those cards, and I’m not ashamed to admit at least two of those were mine.

chest1My dad got us the stroller/car seat combo we needed. There were pacifiers and diapers and baby supplies, blankets and gift cards and cash. We got a lot of books, because people know us. We got a lot of superhero outfits and toys, because people know us. A few family members put in and got us a baby walker that looks like the Batmobile, because people know us and are awesome. And the coup de grace came from Jason, who wasn’t only at the party so that Lucas and I would have chest2someone to hang out with. He’d told us ahead of time that he and Andrea were going to make a toy chest for the kid, which we found very sweet, but we never expected what we saw when we unveiled it: a three-foot beauty on wheels. It was painted blue, decoupaged with comic book pages on all sides and stamped with a perfect Superman shield on the front. My eyes bugged out so far I thought they’d roll from my skull. Erin is going to have to remind me repeatedly that the chest is for the boy and not me.

When all was said and done, we had a great afternoon with people we care about and came home with a lot of things we really needed (although I feel I should point out once again, just for the sake of scientific completion, that the registries we made at  Babies R Us and Amazon are still active and people are more than welcome to go and browse and buy things and stuff). It’s one of those moments in a pregnancy — particularly a first pregnancy — where you’re reminded that you aren’t in it alone.

At least, not until it’s time to change a diaper.

You may have heard, Blake and Erin have a baby on the way, so he hopes you’ll allow him to remind you he’s got a bunch of books and short stories for sale on Amazon, and suggest you follow his author’s page on Facebook.