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.
Three: St. Patrick’s Day
Edgar felt a weight in his chest. It wasn’t bad enough that nobody — even three months later — had the slightest idea what had happened to Santa, Blinky, and Eleanor, but now the news from the mortal world was trumpeting the fact that Toys R Us was going out of business. Although the North Pole operation was responsible for a large amount of the manufacture and distribution of childrens’ gifts throughout the world, for much of the 20th century they had begun to lean on some of the larger retailers to help pick up some of the burden. Parents who didn’t believe anymore would buy some of the gifts their children wanted and place them under the tree, and Santa would mix his own gifts among them. Somehow, the parents never seemed to notice extra gifts they had nothing to do with.
Now he stared at his spreadsheets, his manufacturing reports, the reports from Toy Fair letting him know which items were likely going to be in the highest demand… and he shuddered.
Chanticleer knocked on the door, carrying — as always — a raft of papers to share with his temporary boss. “How’s it going, Edgar?”
“Well, we haven’t burned the place down yet. I suppose there’s that. Any news?”
There was no need for him to specify what type of news he was hoping for, but the way Chanticleer’s face fell made it obvious that there would be nothing to report. “I don’t think Mrs. Claus has slept in two weeks,” he said. “She’s really taken point on the search, but it’s not doing any good.”
Edgar shook his head. “She should just give up at this point. He’s gone.”
“Come on, don’t you think Santa would have been back by now if he could? I don’t know what happened to him, and we may never know what happened, but we can’t keep pretending he’s going to walk through the door and make everything okay.”
“That’s not a very cheery attitude to have.”
“Have you watched the news? It hasn’t been a cheery year.”
Chanticleer sighed and placed the papers he was carrying on Santa’s desk. “More reports from the game division. Fans seems to be pretty angry at Electronic Arts this year.”
“What else is new?”
Chanticleer walked to the door, but peeked back. “Or what it’s worth, you look good behind the desk.”
As he was left alone, for the first time since Christmas Eve, Edgar felt a smile at the corners of his lips.
March 17, 9:02 p.m.
“Another drink, Nick?”
“I’d be obliged, Gary.”
The Elf picked up the nearly-full mug in front of him and tipped it. “I’m good.”
Gary, Santa, and Blinky were crowded around a table at a pub called Finnegan’s Wake. It wasn’t a huge place, but on this of all days, it was bursting at the seams. Every available space was filled with warm bodies wearing green clothes, green hats, green sunglasses. They sported green temporary tattoos of shamrocks, tied green ribbons in their hair, ate green mozzarella sticks and drank green beer. At a generous estimate, Santa guessed maybe five percent of them had Irish blood.
Gary picked up the empty mugs he and “Nick” had drained and made his way to the bar. “Bill” sipped at his beer. “It’s going to take forever for him to get back.”
“So what? We’re not going anywhere.”
Blinky started to protest, but stopped himself and turned back to his drink. What would be the point of arguing? Santa was right. Three months in the mortal world and they were no closer to finding a way home, no closer to finding Eleanor, no closer to anything except Gary, who had turned out to be a delightful host. The two of them had even offered to chip in on the rent with the money they made from the part time jobs they had found, but he refused. Instead, they bought groceries and kept the cupboards full. Since Gary rarely went out in the evenings, especially after the Valentine’s Day disaster, it was handy.
“Is this seat taken?”
Someone placed a hand on Gary’s chair and started to pull it out. “Yeah, someone’s sitting there,” Blinky said, but the hand continued on its journey, and its owner hopped around into the seat. The smiling face was fringed with red hair and a red beard, with red cheeks and a red nose. His clothes, of course, were all green.
“Well, if it isn’t Lucky the Leprechaun,” Blinky said.
“Pat,” he said. “Just call me Pat.”
“I wasn’t sure if we’d see you tonight,” Santa said. “I mean, I knew that St. Patrick’s Day had an icon, but the more I thought about it, the harder it was to figure out what your job was. There are no gifts, no candy, nobody falls in love… In America, at least, it’s pretty much an excuse to go out drinking in the middle of the week.”
“It’s Saturday!” Pat snarled.
“Sure, this year.”
“Say the word boss,” Blinky said, “And I’ll see this little runt out of the place. It’s not often I get to throw down with somebody smaller than me.”
It was true — as short as Blinky was, compared to Santa and the mortals all around them, Pat was even smaller. His eyes barely rose to the level of the table, and he’d have to stand up on his chair to face Santa eye-to-eye. Nobody in the bar seemed to notice anything unusual at all.
“Back off, Stretch. I don’t have much, but this is my day of power.”
“It’s fine, Blinky. Let him do what he came for and let’s get this over with. Er… what did you come here for?”
The tiny man waved his hand over the table. Blinky’s mug and the one he’d brought with him both instantly filled to the brim. After a second, he snapped his fingers and another full mug appeared in front of Santa. “I guess that’s what for,” he said. “The frustrating thing, Santa-boy, is that you’re right. St. Patty’s Day doesn’t actually mean anything here. They throw a parade and they throw a bunch of dye in their rivers and they pretend to be Irish for a day, and it’s so damn depressing I can’t even stand it.” He picked up his mug and drained it with a single chug, then twirled his other hand and filled it again.
“So what am I supposed to do?” Santa asked. “When you all started this, you told me I’d have to do your jobs. What’s your job?”
“This is it. I show up. I drink. I drink with friends. Hey, friend!” he waved wildly as Gary came up to the table, holding a pair of mugs.
“Um, Nick, it looks like you’ve already got a drink.”
“Gary, this is my old friend Pat. We bumped into him while you were gone.”
“Pat?” Gary laughed. “Kind of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Pfft. You’re just jealous there’s no Garyday.”
Gary pulled up a chair from a nearby table and the four of them returned to their drinking. Around them: cheers and shouts, carousing and howls. In the corner, someone broke into an Irish shanty and Pat mournfully joined in. He leapt up and stood on the table, waving his arms wildly. Once the tune shifted to “Danny Boy,” he fell into Santa’s lap and began crying.
“It’s all a bloody joke!” he screamed. “They put on a pair of shamrock sunglasses and say ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish!’ They’re not Irish, Santa. They’re not Irish!”
“Is he okay?” Gary asked.
“He’s upset that people don’t show St. Patrick’s Day the proper respect,” Blinky said. “Can’t you tell?”
Pat, eyes now as bloodshot and redder than his beard, got back on the table and grabbed Gary’s lapels. “You think this is bad?’ he howled. “You should see what they’ve done to Cinco de Mayo!”
“Okay, maybe we should head home, Pat,” Gary said. “I think you’ve had plenty.”
“I can’t, bubba, not until the day is over.”
“Gary, why don’t you go home?” Santa said. “I’ll help Pat get to where he’s going.”
“Are you sure?”
“We’ve got catching up to do anyway. We… um… used to work together.”
“All right, then. Nice meeting you, Pat.” Gary tipped his drink and finished it, walking away.
“That’s a nice lad, Santa. Where’d you pick up an Elf like that?”
“He’s mortal,” Santa said. “That’s why we needed to get rid of him before you really started spilling the beans.”
“Beans? Beans!” Pat launched into a spirited rendition of “Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit,” and Blinky drained another mug.
“You know, for someone who does this every year, you’d think he could hold his liquor better.”
“It’s not his fault,” Santa said. “I’m starting to get the hang of this. Remember on New Year’s Eve, when I started to feel everbody’s wishes?”
He nodded at Pat. “I’ll bet he’s feeling the effects of everybody’s drinks.”
“What makes you think that?”
Santa smiled. “Because I’m feeling it too”
He stood up and put an arm around Pat’s shoulder — possible only because the Leprechaun was standing on a table again.
“Hey, Pat, I’m curious. Is it true that there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?”
“Only when I can’t find a better pot to piss in!” he yelped. The two of them began laughing maniacally, and Blinky found himself looking around. If anybody thought the behavior was odd, they were too busy engaging in their own wild carousing to notice. A pair of women in the corner were aggressively flirting with the bartender. By the dartboard, a bald man wearing a green eyepatch was tossing darts into the ceiling. None of it was truly disturbing to Blinky until an old woman who resembled his own elfin grandmother locked eyes with him and blinked in a manner he could only assume was intended to be seductive.
“Santa, you guys have had plenty,” Blinky said. “Should we–”
“Have another?” Pat yelled. “Don’t mind if I do!”
They two of them threw back two more mugs and launched into song. Pat’s voice, even soaked in enough beer to drown a whale, was clean and clear.
“When Irish eyes are smiling
Sure it’s like a morning spring
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing
When Irish eyes are happy
All the world seem bright and gay
And when Irish eyes are smiling
MOTHER OF GOD!”
Blinky thought for a moment that this wasn’t how the song was supposed to end, then realized the diversion was probably related to the fact that Pat was howling and grabbing his own buttocks. He reached back and extracted a dart, a tiny red bead dripping from the point.
He turned to the dartboard, where the man in the green eyepatch was bellowing with laughter. Pat pointed the dart at him, eyes burning. “What’s the meaning of this?” he hissed.
“Just a little target practice.” His remaining eye was gleeful, and his lips pulled back to show a bold, toothy grin.
Santa pushed his way forward. “Just who do you think you are?”
Eyepatch straightened up, his full height besting Santa by at least a foot and a half. “I’m Finnegan,” he said. “And this is my place. Is there a problem?”
“Clearly,” Santa growled. “Jerry Finnegan. Tinker Toys, ‘63. You were on the naughty list then and you’re still on it now.”
“What are you talking about.”
“I gave you coal then,” Santa said, “But you know what I think you need now?”
Wordlessly, the jolly manifestation of Holiday Cheer raised his hand and poked Jerry Finnegan in his one good eye.
Finnegan wailed, grabbing his eye with one hand and flailing in front of him with the other. He reached down, but Pat leapt backwards and hid beneath the fold of Santa’s coat. With Blinky rushing ahead to push the crowd apart, the three of them made a hasty exit from Finnegan’s Wake. They staggered down the street, laughing and singing, finally collapsing on the stoop of a tattoo parlor.
“I like you, Pat.”
“I like you too, Santa. I don’t think you’re a big holiday hog like the rest of them said.”
“Thanks, Pat. I don’t think you’re short.”
“Thanks, Santa. That’s the nicest said anybody ever thought about me. And I don’t care what the Turkey says, if people wanna put their tree up on Thanksgiving, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
“Oh, the Turkey,” Santa bellowed. “I could tell you some stories about him.”
They laughed again, loud and hard, until both of them were left gasping for breath. Finally, the Leprechaun put his hand on Santa’s shoulder. “Well what now?”
March 18, 7:15 a.m.
It wasn’t that Santa was unused to alcohol. He liked his wine, he liked his egg nog, and in the United Kingdom a glass of brandy was still was the traditional offering rather than cookies and milk. But he was not used to — hoped to never be used to — an entire nation concentrating a single night of drunken debauchery into his head all at once. He woke up in Gary’s spare bedroom craving a glass of water, four extra-strength Asprin, and an axe to drive into his own forehead, not necessarily in that order. He rolled his head to see Blinky sipping a cup of coffee. He held out another towards Santa.
“Thanks. What happened?”
“You learned the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day.”
“Why does my face hurt so much?”
“Because of the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day.”
Santa frowned at Blinky, realized that it hurt considerably more than it should, and stopped it. He drank his coffee and, still feeling like the bottom of a reindeer pen, stumbled into the bathroom. Blinky quietly sipped his coffee and counted to three.
There it was.
Santa burst back into the room, clawing at his face, then wincing in pain for having done so. “Is this what it looks like?”
“Is it temporary?”
Santa returned to the bathroom mirror and stared in terror. Who was going to tell the shopping center Santas of the world they had to get a shamrock tattoo next to their right eye?
* * *
Sally Mendez looked over the application. There weren’t a lot of references — a few restaurant jobs that had only lasted a few weeks, and nothing earlier than the first of the year. But Eleanor Ivy had a… unique look that made her perfect for Sally’s company.
“I wouldn’t usually take a chance on someone who doesn’t have any recommendations or references or educational records or medical records or a permanent address, but… there’s something about you, Eleanor.”
“I get that a lot.”
I just have one question, then. Do you have any experience with children?”
Eleanor’s smile grew ever wider.
To be continued…