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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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…