Santa’s Odyssey: St. Patrick’s Day

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:

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. “For 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


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…



Santa’s Odyssey: Valentine’s Day

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:

Two: Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day at the North Pole was usually a time of celebration. After a month off, elves gathered together at massive parties and talked about how they’d spent their vacations, shared tales of adventures in the four corners of the holiday landscape, and exchanged coy little cards and messages. In truth, elves rarely needed much of an excuse to celebrate. This year, though, when they probably needed it more than ever, nobody was in the mood.

In Santa’s office, Edgar sat in front of the desk, a few phone books stacked up on the chair he’d pulled up to work. He was doing Santa’s job as best he could, but he still refused to sit behind the desk. That wasn’t his place, wasn’t his right. It wasn’t where he belonged.

Instead of vacations, they had formed search parties. Instead relaxing with beach reads, they had poured over intelligence reports from all over the world. Nothing had helped them figure out where Santa and the missing elves could have gone. Remarkably, trying to find a chubby older gentleman with a white beard was not the challenge. Finding the right one was. It was like looking for a needle in a stack of needles — men matching that description were practically omnipresent. Cross-referencing the search with a pair of little people had turned up some interesting matches in San Francisco, but nothing that was really useful.

A knock at the door prompted Edgar to close the laptop he’d been working on. It wasn’t doing any good anyway. He slid off the books and opened the door, admitting a sluggish Brownie named Chanticleer, one of the heads of the manufacturing department. He had a raft of papers held together with a clip, and a hangdog expression stained his face.

“Any luck?” he asked.

“Did you hear me screaming with joy and going on a hot chocolate bender?” Edgar snapped.

“No.” Chanticleer sighed. “I didn’t really think so, but… an elf has to hold out hope, right?”

“What do you want, Chant?”

He held out the papers. “Projections for this year. Toys, clothes, video games, candy. Orders haven’t started coming in yet, but based on the popularity of certain items and the demographic that we service, we’re trying to estimate how many we’ll need to make of everything.”


“We’re already behind.”

Edgar’s shoulders slumped and he felt an ulcer spontaneously begin carving a hole in his stomach lining. “Of course we are,” he said. “How bad is it?”

Chanticleer pulled himself up into the chair where Edgar had been sitting, perching atop his tower of phone books and laying the pages out on the desk. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. “We’re already a couple of weeks behind schedule.”

“Anything we haven’t overcome before?”

“No, but… it was different then, you know?”

Yes. Edgar knew.

“But I think I’ve got a few ideas that could help us streamline things and get back on schedule before things get too out of hand. Want to take a look?”

Edgar stammered for a second. He’d need to climb up and sit at the desk to see the papers, but Chanticleer was already in his spot. There was only one other place to sit in the office, and he didn’t feel right about it.

“Edgar? Are you okay?”

He blinked for a moment, then shivered. This was silly. It was just a chair.

“I’m fine,” he said, pulling himself into Santa’s seat. “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got going.”

February 14, 7:30 p.m.

It would happen tonight, Santa was sure of it.

He and Blinky had been thrust into their situation very abruptly, unceremoniously and he hadn’t exactly been given a primer on what to expect. Not every holiday even had an icon, exactly, to bear a grudge against him, so there was no visit to be had. Still, on Martin Luther King day he had felt a rather stronger-than-usual urge to stand up for the oppressed, and on Super Bowl Sunday he had a compulsion to add all NFL referees to the naughty list. Today he was feeling the odd effects of a mild hangover that he could only attribute to the fact that yesterday had been Mardi Gras.

Valentine’s Day, though… that was one of the big ones. Decorations in the stores, cards in the mail, overpriced flowers lining the streets, and chocolate/peanut butter hearts that inexplicably tasted better than the traditional cup shape of the candy. Most importantly, this day had its own icon, someone Santa knew, and knew well, and was expecting. So Santa did something a man who has to manufacture toys and plot out a delivery route that encompasses the entire world has to be able to do: he got ahead of the problem.

“I’m not sure about this, boss,” Blinky said.

“I’ve been around for centuries, Blinky. I’ve catered to the desires of billions of people. I think I know what humans want. Here, dry.”

He ran a plate under the water from the sink in front of him and passed it over to Blinky. The elf, towel in his hand, dutifully began to dry it. Although Gary Valechi had never asked the two of them to do household chores in the month and a half they’d been staying at his apartment, Santa insisted that they do something to show their gratitude to their new friend.

“You give train sets to kids, Santa. This is…”

“A wish is a wish, Blinky. And when that chubby little twerp with the wings gets here–”


Cupid’s voice rang out before he appeared. There was a loud “POP” in the air above the sink, and Blinky dropped a plate, smashing it on the ground. Cupid hung in the air, his tiny, aerodynamically dubious wings gently fluttering to keep him afloat. He did, of course, resemble a baby, only he was considerably larger than most of them… and most babies didn’t have a quiver of heart-shaped arrows strapped to their back. “Who you callin’ twerp, Big Boy?”

“Oh come on, Cupid, I didn’t mean anything by it. Anyway, you’re not the only one whose form has changed because of human expectations. I didn’t always look like this, you know.”

“Yeah, but they changed you from a skinny old fart with whiskers to a chubby old fart with whiskers. You look like everybody’s favorite grandpa. I used to be a literal Greek god. I made Channing Tatum look like Mr. Potato Head! Now…”

“Yes, we all know about now.” He nodded towards the elf. “You remember Blinky, don’t you? He was one of the two elves on my sleigh when you shot me down.”

“Right. What happened to the other one?”

“We’ve been looking for her for six weeks,” Blinky snapped. “You don’t know anything about Eleanor, do you?”

“Sorry, can’t help you. My area of perception only extends to lovers. Which brings me to why I’m here.”

“Yes, we know,” Santa said. “It’s Valentine’s Day. You’re here to show me how hard it is to be you. We understand the protocol. But I’ve got news for you Cupid — I’m ahead of your game.”

“What are you talking about?”

Santa indicated the apartment they were standing in. From the clean, modern kitchen, they could see the tastefully decorated apartment, high-end television mounted to the wall between a pair of framed posters for old science fiction movies. “We’re in my friend Gary’s apartment. We met him on New Year’s Eve and he has been kind enough to let us stay here while we try to get ‘back on our feet’.”

“What? In New York, some guy is letting two complete strangers crash in his pad?”

“Well, I’m not really a stranger, am I? Gary is one of those grown-ups who never entirely stopped believing in me. On a subconscious level, I think he suspects who I really am, although he could never admit it to himself.”

“Fine, whatever. You’re living the Lifestyles of the Young and Yuppie. So what?”

“Well, Gary isn’t here tonight, is he?”

“I repeat: so what?”

“He’s out because I got him a date.”

Cupid’s jaw dangled. “You what?”

Santa beamed, terribly proud of the work he’d accomplished. “Oh yes. Down on the corner, you see, there’s this lovely young woman named Carrie. Works at a newsstand. I noticed Gary blushing every time he bought a newspaper from her, so I gave him a little nudge and convinced him to ask her on a date.”

“For tonight?” Cupid said.

“That’s right.”

“A date.”


“A first date.”

“Of course.”

“On Valentine’s Day.”


Cupid glared at him, his wings beating faster, his face growing red.

“You’re even stupider than I thought,” he snapped.

“Hey!” Blinky hopped up on the counter and leaned in, eye-to-eye with Cupid. “You can’t talk to Santa that way!”

“It’s my day, shrimp, I’ll talk however I want!”

“What are you talking about?” Santa said. “It’s Valentine’s Day! I’m helping two people find love! That’s what you do!”

“Wrong!” Cupid reached into his quiver and pulled out a handful of arrows, shoving them under Santa’s nose. “That’s what these do! And they screw up more often than not! That’s not what Valentine’s Day is for, Egg Nog Breath!”

“I don’t understand. The cards, the flowers–”

“Yeah, yeah, and the candy and the jewelry too, right? It’s all crap, Santa. It’s all different ways for humans to cash in on something that should have a deeper meaning. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”


“Exactly. How long has your buddy been on his date?”

“He was supposed to pick her up at 6 o’clock.”

Cupid glanced at the clock on the wall. “Nearly two hours. Perfect. Why don’t we go take a look, see how things are going? Because unless you got lucky, crazy lucky, million-to-one winning the Powerball lucky, I think we’ll be able to see just why first dates on Valentine’s Day are a terrible idea.”

Cupid waved his bow over Santa’s head and the two of them were caught up in a swirl of white, pink, and red mists. Blinky and Gary’s apartment vanished, and Santa felt a sensation of movement. Very soon, they weren’t there anymore.

“You’re in for a rude awakening, Nicky,” Cupid said.

“I think you’re the one who’s going to be surprised,” Santa said. “You don’t know Gary like I do. He’s a good man, kind and generous. He’s got a good job working at a toy company, he takes care of his mother, he…”

“He’s blowing it.”

The mists cleared a little, and in the haze Santa saw Gary and Carrie, sitting at a table in a fine Chinese restaurant. Each of them had a bowl of soup and an egg roll in front of them. Carrie also had a phone out, casually tapping on her screen as she ate.

“How’s your soup?” Gary asked.

“Oh,” Carrie said. She lifted a spoonful to her mouth and sipped it. “Good.”



She turned back to her phone and Santa looked at Cupid. “I’ve heard more lively conversation from a pack of snowmen.”

“Well what did you expect? The humans put so much stupid pressure on themselves for this holiday. They have to find someone, they have to fall in love. Then the slightest thing goes wrong and they decide the entire thing is a disaster. How can you possibly live up to those expectations? Hell, I knew Zeus in his prime and even he would have had trouble performing under those circumstances.”

“But what happened? What went wrong?”

Cupid twisted his arm in the air and a phone appeared. He grinned. “Let’s find out.”

“How, you’re going to call them?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “She’s been live-tweeting the whole date.” He tapped the screen a few times and brought up Carrie’s feed. Scrolling back to a few minutes after six, he found what he was looking for and laughed.

“What? What’s so funny?”

“Here it is, Santa. The genesis of romance.” He held the phone out to Santa could read what she’d posted.

“This guy got a taxi instead of an Uber. #AuspiciousStart.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Santa said. “She checked out on Gary for not using Uber?”

“You think that’s the stupidest reason anyone has ever given up on a date?”

“Well… I guess not, but… is that really the only problem?”

“Naw. She was also bothered that he ordered an unsweetened tea because ‘Hashtag Who Drinks That?’ And he put hot mustard on his egg roll — ‘Hashtag Nasty Sauce.’ Oh, and why are they sitting so close to the kitchen?”

“What? But that’s not even his fault!”

“Once a human gives up, it doesn’t really matter.”

“Well what about Gary? What’s his side of it?”

“I dunno, he hasn’t been tweeting. But look at him, Santa.” Cupid adjusted the point of view of their image so they were looking straight at Gary. He wasn’t on his phone, but he was slumped over, not making eye contact, chewing on his egg roll with hot mustard. He looked, Santa realized, the same way he did when he left the party on New Year’s Eve.

“Your friend is smarter than you are. He knows this is all donezo, and he can’t be bothered to put in any more effort than she is, even if he’s not going to be rude about it. And then, once this date is put out of its misery, he’s going to go home alone and be even more depressed than he would have been if you hadn’t done anything in the first place.”

“I don’t understand. What went wrong?”

“What went wrong is that you went Hallmark, Chubbs. This isn’t what Valentine’s Day is. It never should have been. Good grief, it started by commemorating a guy who got executed for trying to give comfort to persecuted Christians under the Roman empire. How the hell we went from that to a 64-count box of assorted chocolates is beyond me.”

“Fine then. Enlighten me Cupid. What is this supposed to be about?”

Cupid looked deeper into the mists, glancing around the Chinese restaurant. His eyes fell on a table across the restaurant and he grinned.

“Try this one on for size, Santa.”

Their perspective changed again, and Santa found himself looking at another couple. Steven Morten. Gayle Abrams-Morten. Married six years. Two children. Their first night out together in nine months. Each of these facts clicked into Santa’s head the same way the prayers for a New Year had on December 31. As he watched them, Santa could feel how each of them was feeling. It was love, deep love. But it was… cool.

“Check the phone,” Cupid said. Santa realized that he was holding the phone now, and that it was open to Gayle’s Facebook page. He scrolled down. Three pictures of her with the kids. A post asking where to get an oil change. Another picture of the kids. A tag from someone asking if she remembered some music video from high school. Two more of Gayle and the kids. A Spongebob meme.

“Where’s her husband?” Santa asked.

“Click the other tab.”

He did. Steven’s page was more of the same. Him with the children, expressing how much he loved them, he loved them, he loved the Rangers even if this wouldn’t be their year to hoist the Stanley cup, he loved the kids.

“What’s wrong?”

“They’re tired, Big Guy. Day in, day out. Nobody is mad here, there hasn’t been a fight. They’ve just been together so long and done so much that they’re… tired.”

“This is almost as sad as Gary and Carrie.”

Cupid rolled his eyes. “Do you hear it when you say it out loud? ‘Gary and Carrie?’ Man, what were you thinking?”

“Forget them for a minute. What about Steven and Gayle? What do we do?”

“Well, that’s what you have to figure out, isn’t it?”

“I… fine. Give me an arrow.”

“Nope. Arrows spark passion. There’s no shortcut to reheat it. You’re gonna have to work for this one.”

Santa reached out into the mist. As he did, he felt sparks of memory. Their first date. The day Steven asked Gayle to marry him. Their wedding. The births of each of their children. The big moments, the huge moments, the moments that are etched into the DNA of any relationship. What was he supposed to do? Remind them of their children? Pointless, the children never left their minds. Recreate their first date? It had been to a Chinese restaurant — this one, in fact. What else was he going to do? Play the song from their wedding dance? Santa pictured himself standing outside the restaurant with a boom box on his shoulders, then immediately pictured himself getting a restraining order.

He reached again, brushing aside the big moments. He saw smaller ones now: birthdays, Mae’s first day in preschool, Arlen’s first cold. He saw Steven taking Gayle’s car in for new tires, saw Gayle picking up Steven’s clothes from the dry cleaners, saw Steven washing the dishes even though it was Gayle’s turn because she’d had a bad day at work, saw Gayle making Steven hot chocolate when she woke up before him on a snowy morning in January.

He saw something small, something sweet. And most importantly, something that was already in Gayle’s purse.

The waiter approached their table as they finished their meal, smiling. “Would you care for any dessert?”

Steven was about to say something, but Gayle held her hand up, shaking her head. “No thanks, just the check.”

The waiter nodded and lay a black folder on the table walking off. Steven looked at his wife, puzzled. “No dessert? Not even those pineapple tarts they make?”

“Eh, those are okay,” she said. “I have something better.” She looked in both directions, surreptitiously, and reached into her purse. From within, she drew two small tupperware containers, and slid one across the table to her husband.

“What’s this?”


He popped open the lid of the container and smiled. “You made creme brulee?”

“It’s not hot, but I know it’s your favorite.”

His smile got wider, then shrank a little. “Sorry I’ve been so busy lately.”

“I’ve been busy too. It’s not your fault. Maybe we should get your folks to babysit a little more often.”

“Yeah, maybe we should,” he said. He leaned across the table and kissed her, and she kissed back. As they did, the mists closed around them, and Santa and Cupid found themselves back in Gary’s apartment.

“Boss?” Blinky dropped the dustpan he was using to sweep up the broken plate. “Boss, where did you go?”

“He was learning a lesson, Jingles,” Cupid said. “So what exactly did you learn, Kringle?”

“Fine, I get it,” he said. “It’s the little things that count, right.”

Cupid shook his head. “Man, for somebody who’s supposed to be so good at giving people what they want, you still miss the obvious, don’t you? Look, I’ll spell it out for you. Your day is about the big, ginormous things that kids spend all year waiting for. But focusing on the big things on Valentine’s Day is a recipe for disaster.”

Santa thought about Gayle. About Steven. About creme brulee.

“Sometimes you just need to take the time to celebrate what you already have,” he said.

“Now you’re getting it. I’m sure your missus will be happy to see you taking that approach.”

Santa glowered at him. “My missus is back at the Pole. And I’m missing Valentine’s Day with her because of your stupid little games.”

“Maybe, but you guys can have more Valentine’s Days until the end of time. Folks like Steven and Gayle? If they’re lucky, they’ll get what? Forty? Fifty? If they’re unlucky, this might be the last one.”

“The same is true for Christmases, you know.”

“Sure, sure. But that’s not my department, is it?” Cupid flapped his little wings and bobbed in the air. “Well, I’ve said my peace. Happy Valentine’s Day, Tubbs. Shorty. I’ll probably see you again before this is all over.”

Santa was about to ask him what that was supposed to mean, but a swirl of pink and white made took the cherub away, leaving the two of them alone.

“I really dislike that guy,” Blinky said.

“Hmph.” Santa walked back to the sink. “Come on, let’s finish these dishes. I want to get this apartment in shape before Gary gets home.. I have a feeling his date hasn’t gone as well as we would like.”

*   *   *

“Would you care for any dessert?”

Carrie shot a filthy look at the waitress. “Are you kidding me?” she asked. “The chicken was dry, the egg rolls had so much salt my lips are burning, and the tea may as well have been water. I’m not trusting you people to scoop out ice cream. Just give him the check, twerp.”

The waitress’s eyes grew wide and watered. Her hands fumbling, she put the folder down on the table and walked off without saying a word. Gary’s face was turning red as he reached for the bill.

“Was that really necessary? She didn’t make the food, you know.”

“Then she can pass the message on to whoever did.”

“And what about that last crack? That was unnecessary.”

Carrie laughed. “Come on, what is she? Three feet two? It’s like having a third grader wait on the table.” She chuckled at her own wit and turned back to her phone. Gary put his credit card on the folder and sat in silence as the waitress retrieved it and brought it back. Of the three of them, the only sounds made were Carrie occasionally giggling at something on Instagram. Gary picked up the bill and looked down, trying to do math. A twenty percent tip would have been about twelve dollars. Under GRATUITY, he scribbled “$30” and added it to the total, then wrote “I’m sorry” underneath.

Carrie led the way out of the restaurant, not even noticing that Gary didn’t immediately follow her. Instead, he stopped at the host’s podium, where a kind-eyed man was coordinating the restaurant’s many, many customers. “Excuse me,” Gary said, “are you the manager?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“I just wanted to let you know our waitress was wonderful. Just a charming, lovely person.”

“Oh, thank you sir. Who was your waitress this evening?”

Gary glanced down at his receipt for her name. “Eleanor,” he said. “Her name is Eleanor.”

To be continued…

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.”


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…

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.


“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.


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…

Flash Fiction: Ted and the Form

I did a quick writing exercise today that turned into a little Siegel City story. It’s raw and unedited, but still, I thought I’d share it here.

Ted didn’t know where the money was, only that it wasn’t back in the cab where he left it. He’d gotten out of the car and closed the door, walking only three steps before realizing the hefty envelope had fallen out of his pocket. He spun on his heels and jumped almost directly in front of the car, stopping the driver before he could pull away from the curb.

“Hey, you crazy man?” The driver barked from his window. “I could have killed you!”

“I’m sorry, I just… I forgot something in the back seat,” Ted said. The driver glowered at him, but popped the door lock and let him in. He crawled across the seat, looking where he’d been sitting, looking down at the floor, shoving his hands between the cushions. Nothing.

“Hurry up, pal, I’ve got a business to run,” the driver said.

“It’s not here,” Ted hissed to himself. “It’s not here.” It didn’t make any sense. He knew he’d had the envelope with him when he got into the cab. Jason had handed it to him outside of the office and he was still holding it when he climbed in. He had been in the back seat of the cab when he stuffed it into his coat pocket. It was no longer in his coat pocket, therefore it had to be somewhere inside the cab.

And yet it wasn’t.

Not on the floor, not on the seat. He couldn’t even accuse the driver of having taken it because Ted had been in the back seat the entire time and he’d had no opportunity to get out and hide it.

“Are you sure you didn’t leave it somewhere else, buddy?” the driver asked. “I can’t wait around all day.”

Ted didn’t say anything. Instead, his mind was rushing through all of the things that were going to happen if he didn’t get that money back. He thought about the his boss noticing that it had gone missing in the first place. He thought about being fired and tossed out on the street. Worse, he thought about his boss’s enforcers coming after him. Working for Cary Buchvalt wasn’t on the level of being the henchman of a full-blown supervillain like Dr. Mayhem or Herr Sinister, but in a place like Siegel City even the low-level bosses could afford to place a couple of masks on the payroll. He imagined himself being hunted down by the Tracker or strangled in his sleep when the Form – who could honestly be anywhere around him even now and he wouldn’t know it – suddenly slithered under his bedroom door and carried out the boss’s orders.

“Enough is enough, pal,” the driver snapped. “Get out of the cab or I’m gonna call the cops.”

Cops? Ted didn’t have any fear of the cops, not with the alternative being visit by one of Buchvalt’s goons. How did this happen? How did he get here? He’d come out to Siegel back in ’56, fresh out of college, hoping to get a job at one of the larger firms. Instead he found himself doing the books for a mobster whose claim to fame was that he’d managed to escape Nightshadow on two separate occasions before being locked up for a nickel.

The driver was turned around now, staring him down. “Am I going to have to get physical?”

What about his ma? Would Buchvalt get physical with her? She’d met him once when she came to town for a visit, talked about what a nice gentleman his boss was. Would she say the same when her postman melted away, revealing the Form himself, ready to stuff his pliable fist down her throat and suffocate her with his own flesh?

“That’s enough, buddy.” He hadn’t seen the driver get out of the car, but he felt a pair of meaty hands grab him by the back of the coat, yanking him free and hurling him to the sidewalk. “I don’t know what you’re missing, pal, but I ain’t got all day!”

“The envelope!” Ted shrieked. “I need the envelope!”

“You need your head examined!”

The cabby turned and slid behind the wheel again. It was a smooth, fluid motion, during which he never lost contact with the car, and it was fast enough that the door was already slammed shut before Teddy could pull himself to his feet. He fell on the door, pounding the glass and shrieking. The driver just stared at him.

“Please, I need that envelope.”

“Last chance, pal.”

“Let me back in!”

The driver shrugged. “Your funeral, bucko.”

The door handle suddenly popped out of the frame, swinging back like a switchblade. Ted didn’t feel the pain until he looked down and realized it had sharpened like a blade too, opening his shirt and then his flesh as easily as slicing off a piece of Ma’s shrimp mould. The blade settled in his stomach, then he felt it dart into him, coming out of his back and sending blood spattering against the lining of his coat.

The blade retracted and turned back into the door handle and Ted, horrified, fell back onto the sidewalk as the cab drove away. It was past midnight, there was no one on the street, no one to see the dark pool spreading around his body, no one to jump in the phone booth and call for help.

Right now, Ted couldn’t help but think, he’d even be okay if Nightshadow showed up.

As the cab rounded a corner and rolled out of his sight, the frame of the car began to contract. It shifted, driver and all, turning into a rolling, slate-colored ball before gliding to a stop near a pay phone. The ball straightened up, taking on a humanoid shape. The bulky, blobby man picked up the phone, then produced a coin from somewhere within the folded putty and dropped it in the slot.

“It’s me, boss,” he said. “Yeah, I got the envelope. What do you mean ‘where,’ somewhere around my pancreas, I don’t know. Nah, he didn’t feel me take it, but he noticed it after he got out, so I had to take care of things. Yeah, that way. No, I guess I don’t need to visit his ma now. He learned his lesson pretty good.”

He hung the phone up and his form shifted again. It became smaller now, and his flesh took on a normal tone while a blue uniform sprung up around his body. He was pretty sure Ted was no one’s problem anymore, but the boss was right. Better safe than sorry. “Officer Henreid” would just take a little stroll down the block and make sure things were taken care of for good.

A Christmas Gift: Daisy’s Tree

daisys-tree-1As people who have been with me for a long time know, each year I write a new Christmas short story as a little gift for those who’ve stayed with me this long. This year’s tale came to me as I was on my way to a little Christmas Tree farm in Mississippi with my wife and my sister’s family. It’s about a little girl and  different kind of tree. And as of right now (Christmas Eve) it’s totally free for five days! Roll over to and get this year’s story for your Kindle or Kindle app.

Daisy’s Tree on

Merry Christmas!

NaNoWriMo Kicks Off at Midnight…

Longtime readers of mine know that I’m a big fan of NaNoWriMo, alias National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November. The challenge, for those who choose to accept it, is to write an entire 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. I have participated many times, and all but once I made the 50K mark in time. Unfortunately, several of those attempts fizzled out after the 50K mark and the stories never wrapped, but you can still see some of my November efforts in print. My novels The Pyrite War and Opening Night of the Dead, as well as the title story in my holiday anthology A Long November and Other Tales of Christmas all began life as NaNoWriMo projects.

I know some people — some writers whom I have great admiration for — are very down on the concept of NaNoWriMo. They see it as a crutch, and they think people truly dedicated to the craft of writing should do so without it. While I respect their opinions, I must disagree. I’ve always found NaNoWriMo to be an excellent motivator, a chance to force yourself to action, secure in the knowledge that thousands of others are doing the same. To me, that somehow removes a little of the existential terror that comes with staring at the blank page. Just knowing you aren’t alone makes it better.

This year, however, I have a confession to make. I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo in the traditional sense. While I still believe in it, this year I find myself without a new project ready to work on. I don’t have any ideas fully formed enough to begin work at the stroke of midnight, as I have done so many times. What’s more, I’ve got several other projects in various stages of completion, and it seems almost unfaithful of me to start something new while these other things flounder.

So while I will not be kicking off a new project at 12 a.m., I will be using November to write. Actually, I’ll be using it to edit at first. Tomorrow I’m going to dive into the novel I began last year for NaNoWriMo, a work that I was immensely proud of, but that fell by the wayside as I did rewrites for my play The 3-D Radio Show (and special bonus cool points for those of you who saw those performances last spring) and that I never got around to finishing. And seeing as how that book is intended as the first in a trilogy, it really seems to me that I should get off my ass and get back to it.

Those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this year, more power to you. I’ll be sending out all the moral support I can. As for me, I’ll be diving back into the adventures of Jenna, Ellie, Reggie, Colm, and their many-limbed friend as they try desperately to find something that belongs to them anyway. It’s an interesting story. It’s surprised me several times so far.

I hope I get to share it with you soon.