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.
- Prologue-Christmas Day
- One-The New Year
- Two-Valentine’s Day
- Three-St. Patrick’s Day
- Five-Mother’s Day
- Six-Father’s Day
- Seven-Independence Day
- Nine-Labor Day
Across the rest of the Pole, spirits were subdued in mid-November. Across the rest of the Pole excitement was low, the air was vacant of song, and holiday cheer — which in normal times would have been bubbling over into an explosive pitch — was virtually absent. Across the rest of the Pole, that is. In Mrs. Claus’s house, it was a brilliant, colorful, energetic time. Elves were wrapping gift and secreting them in their own homes. In the kitchen, cookies and cakes were being turned out in record time, pots of hot cocoa bubbling on the stove, all of it to keep the workers happy and motivated. And through it all, Mrs. Claus and Penny wandered around, supervising the proceedings, and taking careful note of where each bundle of toys were hidden, along with their contents. Mrs. Claus carried a red binder where she secreted all of their hiding places, which elves had what, and where each toy was destined to be delivered.
“The ledger is the most important thing here, Penny,” Mrs. Claus told her when she asked why they were documenting things so closely. Some day — and some day soon, I promise — Santa is going to be back, and he’s going to need these toys to make his rounds. It won’t do us any good if we don’t know exactly what is hidden where so he can make his deliveries.”
Penny nodded and followed along. It was her role, and she was good at it, but Mrs. Claus had been impressed by the strength and loyalty in the little mail elf. She had taken the lead on the job of organizing the hidden toys, was coordinating the production lines so the elves in the factories all knew exactly how much they needed of each toy, and even diverted things in the mail room to try to prevent Edgar from figuring out exactly what they were doing.
Two days before Thanksgiving in America, things were perfectly on schedule. The elves had made — and hidden — almost enough toys to cover the entire order. If anything, they were more productive when working to get out from under Edgar’s yoke. The pockets of hidden toys across the Pole would be easily gathered and brought together in the days before Christmas Eve, and by the time the children woke up on the morning of the 25th, all would be well.
This, of course, was the plan.
On Chanticleer’s birthday, as everybody finished up a little celebration with a break from work, Mrs. Claus looked around with pride. “You know,” she said, “Maybe it’s time to put out the Christmas decorations outside.”
“Really? Before Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, I know it’s a few days early, but considering the circumstances, I think we could all use a little decoration break. What do you say, elves? Who wants to Kringle up the place?”
There were cheers from throughout the home, and they rushed to the attic to get the boxes of decorations. There were dozens of them, of course, but Santa’s elves were the most efficient workers on the planet. Within minutes they were outside stringing up lights, driving candy cane markers into the ground on either side of her walkway, and setting up the blow mold nativity scene in the front yard.
“Um… what about this, Mrs. C?” asked a young elf named Luke. He opened a box and pulled out a wad of fabric she recognized as her inflatable Santa Claus. It looked just like her husband — red cheeks, jolly smile, and a big belly. It was her favorite decoration. He hated it.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Front and center. It gets a place of honor this year.”
Luke plugged “Santa” in, staked him at the bottom, and the assembled elves and Mrs. Claus watched as he slowly floated up to stand, smiling, proud. It was almost as if the real Santa was back, watching over them, promising that somehow everything was going to be all right.
Until his eye was gone.
There was a snapping sound, like something being fired from a bow, and the fabric in Santa’s face suddenly had a gaping hole. The inflatable fell down faster than it went up, and soon it lay on the ground, inert. In the wall of Mrs. Claus’s house, a wooden shaft quivered, with a chunk of fabric pinned to the house.
“Oh, so sorry about that. I should have warned you.”
Edgar stood beyond the fence that separated Mrs. Claus’s yard from the busy North Pole street. He had a few elves with him — a few that she recognized as being unflinchingly loyal to their new leader for some reason or another. But beyond the elves, there were wooden soldiers, full-sized, armed with…
“No,” she said, her eyes burning.
They weren’t wooden soldiers. They were painted to look like them, with the classic red coats and white X-straps across the chest, but after a few seconds’ examination, she saw that the bodies of the artificial stormtroopers weren’t wooden at all, didn’t even conform with the normal shape of the old-fashioned toy. They were larger, scaled-up versions of the Edgarbots. And one of them lowered an arm which was still reverberating with a “twanging” sound.
“How dare you?” she snapped. “What is the meaning of this?”
“As I said, I should have warned you,” he said. “This is my new security team. The Edgarbot 2.0! I’m really quite proud of how well the basic design works in a full-sized model. And the computer brain is remarkably good at marksmanship, problem-solving–”
“We’ve never had armed security at the North Pole! We’ve never needed it!”
He shook his head. “Oh I know, I know. It’s terrible, isn’t it? Once upon a time, there was simply no need for this sort of thing. But it’s a changing world Mrs. Claus, and the time has come to take some new precautions. To guard against the sort of things that we didn’t have to worry about in the past. It’s a shame, it truly is, but we have to be adults about this.”
“And what about this?” she pointed at the empty shell that resembled her husband, and he shook his head again.
“We have reason to believe that there are certain unsavory elements that want to disrupt things for us this Christmas season. We also believe that they’ll make their move — whatever move it is — while wearing Mr. Claus’s accoutrements. Therefore, I’ve been forced to decree that any and all imagery of Santa Claus, unfortunately, must be banned from the North Pole until further notice.”
“Have… you… gone… mad?”
“I’m trying to keep you safe, Mrs. Claus. You and everybody else here. The Edgarbots are programmed to make sure no Clausian iconography is allowed to infiltrate the Pole.”
“And what happens when the real Santa comes back, Edgar? What happens then?”
“Oh, Mrs. Claus… I know you cling to hope, but we have to be realistic here. You and I both know that isn’t going to be an issue.”
The Edgarbots turned and marched down the street, Edgar and his goons behind them. He only made it a few steps, though, before turning and looking back.
“By the way, I’ve been told about some materials going missing from our factories. It seems as though significant quantities of our building materials have been used, but aren’t accounted for by new toys in our storehouse. It would certainly be a shame if anybody was stealing from your husband’s factory, don’t you think? We may have to do an investigation. Soon.”
He wandered off, and the elves on Mrs. Claus’s lawn exhaled. Kimmie, one of the Elves from the sports equipment department, grabbed Mrs. Claus’s hand. “We can’t let him get away with this,” she said.
“What do we do?” Luke asked. “We don’t have any weapons.”
“Unless a Laser Tag gun is going to help,” Piper from electronics said.
“He’s got us over a barrel of nog,” Luke moaned. “What are we going to do?”
“We fight back,” Mrs. Claus said. “I don’t know how, but we will fight back.”
November 22, 11:45 a.m.
The North Pole In Exile sat around Gary’s apartment on Thanksgiving morning, watching the Macy’s Parade on television. Gary was making a turkey, while Eleanor helped by whipping up mashed potatoes and corn. Blinky made his special pumpkin pie (Santa had never quite figured out how the elf had gotten so good at baking, but he really was a master). Santa, on the other hand, hadn’t done much of anything. It was out of character for him, to be certain. He usually was the first one to pitch in, building things, helping around the kitchen. And over the past few weeks, as they approached the Holidays, Gary had noticed Santa’s spirits rising considerably. He was happier than he had been since Gary had first met him on New Year’s Eve. In fact, for the first time he was acting more like the Santa Claus he expected from years of movies and cartoons and legends. He was happy, he was jolly, and he seemed more certain than ever that his time with Gary was coming to a close. In fact, that’s all he said all week. “Thank you, Gary. You’ve been wonderful. I won’t forget you when I go back to the North Pole. Which will be soon.” Blinky and Eleanor were both as confused as Gary was, but Eleanor smiled wider every time Santa did.
“If the boss says he’s got a plan, he’s got a plan,” she said.
On the television, balloons and bands marched down the streets of New York City, as they did every year. Gary peeked in, watching as they went. “You know, my mother took me to see the parade in person a couple of times when I was little,” he said. “It was the best. I saw Garfield and Spider-Man and I listened to the band… did you know I joined the band in high school because of the parade? I played the sousaphone. It was amazing.”
“Did you now, Gary? That’s wonderful. Were you any good?”
“Eh, I was high school good. I couldn’t go pro or anything.”
“That’s a shame. I hear professional sousaphone players get all the girls.”
The two of them laughed together, Santa’s eye twinkling, but never leaving the television.
“What was your favorite part of the parade, Gary?”
“The end, of course. The part where Santa Claus came down the street in his sleigh. It’s like that’s the moment where Christmas really begins.”
“Oh yes, indeed. I know what you mean. That’s my favorite part too.”
“Always about you, right?” A burst of feathers flew into the air, swirling, finally coalescing into the form of a fat little turkey. It was bigger than any turkey Gary had ever seen — three or four feet tall, even, and with every syllable that came out of its beak, its wattles shook like they were caught in the wind.
“Tom!” Santa said. “I was wondering when you would get here! What took you so long?”
“It’s my day, Kringle! My time of power, but even today, you have to make everyone’s favorite part of it about you!”
“You know, Tom, I never tried to take anything from you. You’re supposed to be the symbol of a day for thanks. I’m the symbol of a season for giving. We should go together. Why don’t you see that?”
“Because it’s my day! Everybody just rushes through dinner and watches football or starts in with their Christmas shopping now! It’s like I don’t even exist! But I’m going to show you Santa Claus. I’m going to teach you the meaning of Thanksgiving.”
Santa laughed, a deep, guttural sound that was different than than the laughs Gary had grown accustomed to. It wasn’t “Ha, ha, ha.” It was a sound that could only be described as “Ho, ho, ho.”
“Tom, you silly bird. Everybody knows that Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. It’s there in the name. And can I tell you what I’m thankful for?”
The turkey blanched, confused. “What?”
On the TV, the announcer suddenly grew animated, exuberant even, and there was an uproar from the crowd. “Here he is, folks, the star of the season! Making his annual appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the man himself, Santa–”
Before the name was finished, Santa’s eyes flashed — not twinkled, flashed — with a blinding light unlike anything Gary had seen before. Tom’s face looked like he’d just been escorted to a deep fat fryer, and with a gobble and a gulp, he vanished.
“Santa? What’s happening?” Gary asked.
“Right now, my friend, million of people all over the world are watching this parade. Millions of children are watching this. Believing in this. Believing in me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It may only be Thanksgiving, son, but my time of power begins now.”
To demonstrate, he snapped the fingers on each hand. From the right hand, a dazzling spray of sparks shot up and into the ceiling, the sprinkler system in the apartment glowed, even shivered for a moment, and then a light snowfall appeared inside the house. From the left hand, a burst of red light exploded, cascaded around Santa Claus, and outfitted him in a very familiar crimson and white uniform.
“You’ve been wonderful to us, Gary. I’ll never forget your kindness to an old man and his bizarre friends, but it’s long past time for me to put things right.”
“You’re leaving, Santa?”
“You’re the best, Gar,” Blinky said, giving the human a hug. Eleanor hugged him too, lingering a moment.
“I’ll miss you, Gary. Thanks for being our friend.”
Gary smiled, and a tear rolled from his eye. “I mean… you’re a friend to everybody. How could I not?”
Santa came up last, hugging him. “We’ll see you again, Gary. Expect a special visit on Christmas Eve.”
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
Santa raised his hands, glowing scarlet with power that had been absent for almost a year, and the light flooded the room. When it faded, Santa and the elves were gone. Gary slumped into a chair looked around at the empty apartment. And then he went to pack up the turkey and sides so he could go out and find someone to eat with him. It was Thanksgiving, after all, and he had much to be thankful for. It would be a shame to spend it alone.
* * *
The cold wind whipped on Blinky and Eleanor’s faces, almost as if they were back on the sleigh. Instead, though, they were flying through the air, zooming northward, New York vanishing from the skyline in their wake. They went across wooded areas, past a light sprinkle of snow, and finally they were flying over a massive sheet of ice. Eleanor was giddy, Blinky couldn’t contain himself. They were finally on their way home.
Until a long pumpkin vine whipped into the air and snared Santa by the boot.
Once again they fell, screaming, and crashed into the snow below them. Santa held tight onto both of their hands, and neither of them felt real pain in the crash, but the rage in Santa’s face was palpable. Picking himself up, he grabbed the vine and yanked on it. From one of the sparse thickets that appeared across the landscape, the Pumpkinhead stumbled out, dragged along.
“Again?” Santa shouted. “You want to ambush me again? NOW?”
Jack raised his twiggy fingers in a sign of submission. “Santa, please, it’s not what you think.”
“Yeah, Kringle!” The Easter Bunny hopped into view, joining him. Mother and Father were there, Sam, Patty… all of the icons. Even Tom stumbled up from the rear, looking very sheepish. “Calm down! We’re not here to trap you or nothin’.”
“Then what’s the meaning of this? This time?”
They looked around, nerves on their faces. Finally, Cupid rolled his eyes in disgust and fluttered to the front of the pack. “Jeez, you bunch of pansies. Fine. I’ll tell ‘em.”
“Tell me what?”
“Santa, we made a big mistake.”
“No kidding!” Blinky said. “You should have thought of that before all this nonsense started!”
“Blinky, let him talk,” Santa said. “What mistake? What’s happening?”
The Bunny drew an egg-shape in the snow with his toes. “Look, Santa, everybody wanted you to be a little more humble, but nobody ever wanted to ruin Christmas. I mean, we all have the same job, we’re all here to shepherd the humans on their important days… it’s just that we, well, some of us got tired of yours–”
“Would you just spit it out?” Santa shouted.
The Clown stepped forward. “Santa, I was at the Pole a few days ago…”
“Yes, Chanticleer’s birthday. So what?”
“Well… how well do you know your assistant? Edgar?”
Santa and the elves listened in shock as Bonbon explained everything that had been happening at the Pole over the months they had been absent. Blinky’s rage grew, Eleanor’s face was terrified. Santa, however, seemed almost preternaturally calm. Once Bonbon finished explaining about the Edgarbots and how they were targeting Santa Clauses, the genuine article was nodding his head.
“Santa, we never meant for any of this to happen,” Mother said.
“It’s my fault,” Father snapped. “I should have known what good intentions do.”
“Pointing fingers is useless,” Santa said. “I need to get back to the Pole. I need to get past those blasted Edgarbots. I need to stop all of this before Christmas Eve. If Edgar tries to fly my sleigh, there’s no telling what kind of damage he’ll do.”
“Is he that bad at it?” The Year asked. He was no longer a baby, of course, but neither was he the ancient, grizzled figure Santa had met on New Year’s Eve. He looked like someone’s grandfather — strong, smart, but beginning to grow weary.
“It’s not about being bad,” Santa said. “It’s about what will happen when the children see him.”
“I thought children weren’t supposed to see you,” Worth said.
“A few do every year, and that’s by design. It’s how the legend keeps alive. But what happens when children go back to school in January and tell their friends that, instead of Santa Claus, they saw some elf whose face was on that awful robot toy everybody got for Christmas that year? He could do more damage than he ever imagined.”
“What do we do, Nick?” Uncle Sam asked. “We’ll do anything. We’re all terribly sorry.”
“No time for sorry,” Santa said. “We have work to do.”