MERRY DYSFUNCTIONAL CHRISTMAS!
A story by
Mrs. Claus 2.0 slowly sashayed across the floor. Every elfin eye was on her. A bright pink sports bra peeked out from beneath a red tank top, and her black bicycle shorts were skin-tight.
“Holy frostbite!” Elf Lenny muttered.
There were a few not-so-subtle chuckles from his fellow worker elves, and a glare from Supervisor George, who, here at the top of the world, was considered to be...well, you know that totally overbearing, asshat boss everyone gets stuck with sooner or later? Yeah, that. On a good day. But tonight the elves ignored those laser beam eyeballs of his. They were too excited (downright giddy, in fact) to be intimidated.
After all, it was Christmas Eve.
Comet and Cupid watched from the glass-enclosed walkway overhead. They were arguably the cutest furry couple in the history of furry couples, technically still in the closet since there had never been any big announcement, but really, who at the North Pole didn't know?
“Seriously, why would the NPCFD send out an inspector tonight, of all nights? They know how busy we all are. Do you think they've heard something? Is it about Santa's temper? Blitzen getting blitzed guzzling those little airline bottles of Jack? The whole Dasher thing? Is it just rumors, or did somebody drop a dime?” Comet wondered.
“'Drop a dime'? Have you been watching old 'Dragnet' reruns while I'm at spin class?” Cupid said, laughing. “Sweetie, it's the North Pole Christmas Fulfillment Department. When have they ever known anything about anything? They only show up at The Pole to collect their big fat paychecks, and bonuses, and of course gifts from toy manufacturers' lobbyists. He's probably just here to get an eyeful of the new Mrs. Claus.”
That did seem a possibility, since the inspector looked like he might have a stroke when Mrs. Claus leaned over to re-tie her boot, her shapely behind pointed in his direction. She knew exactly what she was doing. There was no way she was going to let this little pipsqueak screw things up for her. Who knew what he was after, but whatever it was, it wasn't good. That's why she was basically doing a hooker stroll through the toy factory as the middle-aged, balding, suit-and-tie, clipboard and pocket protector inspector's eyes almost popped out of his head.
The new Mrs. Claus knew her strengths, and used them to her advantage. Now, the previous Mrs. Claus (Martha, to her friends) had been wonderful, in a very different way—all sweet and nurturing and encouraging, bringing cookies down to the toy factory floor and soothing hurt feelings whenever Santa went on one of his rants after a line of toys ended up not quite right (It's not like anyone planned to give those Bestie Betsy dolls four eyes. Stuff happens). She didn't get involved in the business end of the business. She was more like Leave It To Beaver's June Cleaver, wearing pearls and a frilly apron while basting a turkey.
No one knew all the details about the breakup, although rumors flew around the North Pole almost immediately after plump, rosy-cheeked Mrs. Claus 1.0 walked into the office of the most prestigious divorce elf at The Pole. Word had it that she took Santa for everything but his big red suspenders. The mansion went with the job, so Santa didn't have to move to a Motel 6, but the bank account, stocks, real estate investments, and everything inside the mansion were up for grabs. So, yes, Mrs. Claus took it all, including their poodles, Nog and Nutmeg. Santa secretly delighted in that. He hated those little yapping furballs.
The divorce went through in record time, and less than a month later, the future Mrs. Claus 2.0 (who insisted everyone know that, yes, her name was Brandi with an i, but the i stood for intelligent, so don't even think about underestimating her) moved into the mansion. You couldn't help but wonder how long Santa had been boffing Brandi-with-an-i before Mrs. Claus #1 figured it out.
Mrs. Claus 2.0 was twenty-seven years old, built like the proverbial brick outbuilding, and had her own career as a personal trainer. Her clients were local business people, elf wives, some of the reindeer (and didn't those spin contraptions look strange), and a few elf men, as well. Being so into fitness, you'd think she would be concerned about Santa's weight, but she'd married the top banana at the North Pole, and she knew that here, tradition was paramount. Chubbiness was a flat-out job requirement for her new husband. She knew what she was doing, and that she could have them living in luxury if she played her cards right. Santa had always been too passive about the politics of Christmas, but she planned on being monumentally proactive. Screw the previous Mrs Claus & her attorney. Let the old geezer think she'd won. As if anyone with style would ever want to live with that furniture. Ikea? Seriously? The stuff lost in the divorce wasn't worth keeping. From here on in, Brandi-with-an-i planned on designer everything, and summer vacations in Hawaii.
So, the inspector got his jollies watching Mrs. Jolly Old Elf, and then continued on with his inspection tour. His next stop was the Transmo lab.
The Transmo was operated and maintained by elf Max T. There wasn't a soul at the North Pole who wouldn't agree that Max was an effin' elfin genius (rumor had it that Stephen Hawking occasionally called him for advice), the most recent in a long family line of geniuses who have maintained and enhanced the mysterious gadget that gives Santa the mystique of being all-powerful, swooshing through the night sky all over the entire globe in a mere few hours.
Nothing frustrated Max more than seeing some snide, consumption-oriented yuppie-type on TV or some bratty older sibling who wanted to ruin Christmas for the younger ones, insist that Santa Claus isn't real, just because it seemed impossible to circle the globe & drop off all those gifts in one night.
It not only can be done--it is done, every single year. But it's not Santa magic. It's the Transmo. The size and shape of one of those huge cathedral pipe organs from the olden days, it flashes and beeps and boops, and defies the laws of physics whenever it's operator (and, yes, that's Max) damn well pleases.
Way back—wayyyyyy back—when the gizmo was first introduced by one of Max's ancestors, said ancestor had only recently arrived at the North Pole along with a few dozen other “elves,” all of whom were the first to have those pointy ears. The ears are now ubiquitous, of course, what with all the inter-marriages. Some said those early pointy-eared elves arrived by moose cart. Others said it was a silver, cigar-shaped vehicle that dropped them off, then zoomed up toward the stars. You should probably take both with a grain of salt. There was a lot of mead guzzled back in the day, and it could knock you on your ass faster than a 6-pack of malt liquor.
The Transmo doohickey itself is there in Max's lab, with the receiver in the bright red sleigh. This enables Santa to stretch time, stretch space, hell, to stretch himself into any shape necessary to fit through chimneys, keyholes, or under doors; to makes seconds last hours, and minutes last days or even weeks. And you wonder why he gets himself so fat all year long? You try spending all that time zipping through a stretchy universe, slogging through snow on rooftops, hauling that bulky bag full of pointy-cornered boxes, scooping up reindeer poo (nobody ever mentions that chore, do they?), and bending over a zillion times with an arthritic back, to leave toys under trees.
Is it any wonder that when his ancient eyes start to glaze over as he stares at his iPad list, he occasionally leaves the wrong toy, or electronic gadget, or (god forbid) underwear? It's not bad enough that kids these days are so specific and the elves have to stamp “Made in China” on the bottom of everything to convince them they got the real stuff? By the end of the bizarrely long night, Santa always looks like one of those bony runway models who should eat a damn cookie already. And on Christmas day, the fattening-up process starts all over again.
Anyway, back to the inspector.
“I have to admit, the technical aspects of this amazing machine escape me,” he told Max, “and I'm sure a detailed explanation would go right over my head. But, just basically, what powers this gadget?”
“Reindeer shit,” Max replied.
“Dude, it's organic, recycled, and do you think the poo of flying reindeer doesn't have extra special properties?”
“Well, I hadn't...uh...”
“Hey, I didn't get this thing at Radio Shack, you know. AA batteries are just not gonna get the job done.”
“But...I don't detect any odor. Not even this close to the machine.”
“What can I say? Febreeze.”
The inspector left Max's lab no more knowledgeable about the true intricacies of The Sleigh than he was when he walked in, and that was by design. The mystery of Max's machine would remain just that: a mystery.
Next on the tour was a visit with the reindeer, who were in their locker room. Had the inspector known the turmoil in there, he might have just walked on by and checked it off his list. He had towered over the elves, but reindeer made him feel elfin himself. He barely came up to their shoulders, which were broad, their bodies long and muscular, and those antlers...from his vantage point, it was like looking up at a forest of bare, wintry trees with pointy branches everywhere.
“Guys, the NPCFD Inspector would like to chat a little,” elf Wendel said.
“We're a little busy here, CFD-man. We're on a countdown like a NASA space shuttle in the pre-'hitchhike to the International Space Station' days.”
“Of course, of course. I understand. Just a few questions, that's all. About working conditions, morale, assessments of Mr. Claus' abilities, suggestions...”
“Take a flying leap, dorkface.”
“Yeah, kiss my furry behind.”
“Wait, I like the suggestion idea. I have a suggestion,” Prancer said.
Groans from the others. They knew where this was going.
“How come we don't have elections? I mean, really, why is Rudolph automatically the lead reindeer? Nothing personal, Rudy. But a whack-job country like Iran can have elections, yet we can't? What's up with that?”
“Well, it's not...I mean, is the role that important? No offense, Rudolph.” The inspector backed up as huge, furry bodies surrounded him.
Prancer insisted, “Damn straight it's important, but for different reasons these days. I mean, I'll concede that in the past there was a dire need for Rudy's brilliantly glowing nose, absolutely. And he always found his way to where we needed to be, yes indeedy. But we have LED lights now. And GPS.”
“Really, the lead reindeer's main job is to make sure we don't run into a 757 up there. There have been some close calls, though you probably haven't heard about them.”
“But shouldn't that sort of thing be in the annual reports?”
“He's exaggerating,” Dancer replied. “Honest, no biggie. Max's Transmo takes care of that.”
“In what way?”
“Well, for one thing, when the sleigh's collision alarm goes off, we're far enough away to easily avoid the plane. Of course, these days all the passengers have cameras in their smartphones, but that's okay, 'cause the Transmo instantly projects the image of a giant silver disk instead of us.”
“UFO, sheesh, whaddya think?” Donner said. “It's freakin' hilarious when those humans' photos of 'alien space ships' end up on the cover of The Globe.” The reindeer all laughed.
“Yeah, there you go,” Prancer said. “But that equipment functions no matter who the lead reindeer is. So again, my question is: Why don't we have elections to choose our leader?”
“Bite me,” Rudolph said to him.
“Kiss my ass, Santa ass-kisser,” Prancer responded.
Elf Wendel said, “This is not heading in a good direction. Why don't we move on to the sleigh bay and get a look the famous vehicle itself?”
When they did, the reindeer all breathed a sigh of relief. Their job had been to keep him distracted and get him the hell out of there, quickly, and they'd succeeded. He'd had no time to get even a faint whiff of the Dasher situation.
Not that Prancer hadn't meant every word he'd said.
The reindeer with its back to the group, at the far end of the lockers, was Dasher...wasn't it? Well, the Inspector was supposed to think so, but now that reindeer turned around.
Big doe eyes. Thinner, less muscular body. Nervous smile on lovely reindeer lips. Mrs. Dasher. Sunny, to those who knew her.
“Don't worry, Sunny, it'll all work out,” Donner told her.
Her small hooves clicked on tile as she left the locker room via the far exit.
The lives of Santa's reindeer are cushy. There is adoration from virtually everyone at The Pole (you couldn't pay for a drink in a bar if your life depended on it), a hefty paycheck every other week for these employees who only worked one day a year, and one helluva retirement package.
There was only one rule: Don't screw up.
Embarrass the perfect, Christmas-y world of Santa even once, and the Jolly Old Elf would not be jolly. He would, in fact, rip you a new one.
Get out of shape leading up to December, and you would be placed in the care of elf Igor, who would make you wish you were at Marine boot camp instead.
But, NOT show up on Christmas Eve?
Do that, and you were gone.
No discussion, no pleading, no promising never to do it again.
Amazingly generous retirement package: gone.
You knew that, going in.
There were always a dozen or more flight-capable reindeer waiting in the wings, hoping for their chance. Screw up, and they'd get it, and become the new (permanent) Dasher or Donner or whoever.
Dasher had been only hours away from losing it all.
But he was a likeable, respected fellow despite a gambling addiction so powerful, he'd bet on whether a dropped slice of toast would land butter-side up or down. And so his teammates had been doing everything they could to cover for him.
Now, though, it was approaching Zero Hour.
The search for Dasher didn't take long. There were only so many gambling establishments—legitimate and otherwise—at The Pole. This place, Leo's Lair, was not top-of-the-line. Or even next-to-bottom-of-the-line.
“Sleazy” didn't begin to cover it. Also, “cliché.” From the slide-open peephole-box in the door for the tattooed and muscle-bound bouncer to check you out when you knocked, to the cheap knock-off decor from Rick's in Casablanca, to the tuxedoed guys spinning the roulette wheels and dealing the cards.
Of course, here, the door needed a paint job and the peephole creaked, the lamps were cockeyed, the huge potted plants were plastic and had a half-inch of dust on them, and the employees' tuxes were frayed at the cuffs. But if you were drunk, you were probably impressed as hell.
Dasher, however, was stone-cold sober. Gambling was his only vice. Well, that and binge-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Netflix.
Randolph the reindeer (Rudolph's second eldest son) was not surprised to find Dasher at the blackjack table. He'd never been known as a roulette or craps sort of 'deer.
“Piss off, Randy.” Dasher didn't take his eyes off the cards as he said it.
Randolph stood there silently as Dasher said, “Hit me” and snorted loudly (as only a large animal with a long snout can) at his twenty-five points. He pushed more chips from his quickly-shrinking pile. “Don't mess with me, kid. Really. I'm not in the mood for it.”
“No problem, Mr. Dasher. I'll be quiet. We can talk after you lose the last of those chips.”
“Or hit it big and get the hell out of this frozen hellhole.”
“Isn't that kind of an oxymoron?”
“Oxy this, moron.”
“Yes, sir. I'll wait.”
The cards were not kind. The chips pile got smaller.
The last three chips, a hundred apiece.
“Twenty. Yeah! Let's see you beat that!”
The dealer had twenty-one.
There was some haggling over whether or not Dasher's pocket watch and fob (a gift from his grandfather, back when he was selected to be on Santa's team) was worth much of anything. The assistant manager made a decision. Twenty bucks. Bet. Lost.
Dasher was officially broke.
“Well, that's good timing. There's less than an hour till final roll call,” Randolph said.
“I'll be there.”
“I don't need a babysitter.”
“Of course not.”
“Lend me fifty bucks.”
“Not on a bet. Pardon the pun.”
“Lend me fifty, you entitled brat, or I won't show up till the very, very last second tonight, which will cause Santa to have a shit-fit. And then Prancer will try and pull a coup, the elves'll start running around like Munchkins on speed, and Comet will have a nervous breakdown. Howzabout that for Christmas Eve, cheapskate?”
“Fifty-seven minutes left, sir.”
With no money, no credit, and a bulked-up security guy with absolutely no sense of humor eyeballing him, even Dasher knew it was time to get out of there. Out into the frigid night he went, with Randolph trailing along behind him. Just in case.
After a stop at the reindeer locker room, Dasher headed for the sleigh bay.
“You look a bit raggedy, Mr. Dasher. Lemme shine you right up,” said elf Simon, who stood on his step stool and brushed the reindeer until he looked, well, dashing.
He'd made it. With only minutes to spare, but Dasher had made it.
There was electricity in the air when Santa walked into the bay. This was the moment...the moment...like the one at the Kentucky Derby when the horses are in the gate, raring to go, waiting for it to open and someone to yell, “And they're off!”
Santa greeted each of the reindeer individually, patted them on the shoulder more like old friends than trusted employees (of course, the “trusted” part was a bit iffy lately), and climbed up onto the sleigh. Okay, he had a little help from several of the taller elves who boosted his rounded butt up until he could pull himself the rest of the way.
“My magnificent team, we have the most excellent of duties, which in reality is truly a privilege. We are not perfect, nor telepathic, but we will fulfill every Christmas wish we possibly can, and more beyond that. We will provide happiness, we will hope for family warmth, and we will pray for peace.”
He nodded to his elves, took dramatic pause (and a picture-perfect pose for elf Eugene's camera—for both the North Pole calendar and the newsletter), and shouted, “Take off, dear reindeer!”
And the Christmas Eve trip for this year began, just as jingly and exciting as ever.
After all those hooves were up and out of harm's way, elf Leon picked up a leather pouch from the ground beneath them. The name Donner was in scripted gold on the flap. He shouldn't open it, he knew he shouldn't, but Leon had always wondered at the mystery of what personal or professional items the famed reindeer take along for the ride.
He couldn't resist. He just wanted a quick peek. He pulled at the magnetic clasp (well, let's face it, buckles and reindeer hooves just don't go together).
Leon's eyes got big.
Elf Ramon, ever the curious one, leaned over his shoulder.
“Oh. My. God.”
“Yeah,” Leon said.
“Oh my god. Seriously. Oh my god.”
“I need a drink.”
“I need two.”
Later, in Eddie's Tavern, their butts pretty much glued to a couple of bar stools for the past hour, Ramon finally broke the silence and said, “So.”
“Interesting photos of him.”
“I didn't know they made thongs in reindeer size.”
“You think that pink lipstick glows in the dark?”
“I think you could draw a couple lines down a tarmac with it, and guide in a wide-body jet.”
They sat in silence for a few more minutes.
Ramon said, “You know, he doesn't look half bad, though, I gotta admit.”
“In fact, if I were a reindeer, I might even think he looked hot.”
“I'm so glad you prefaced that with 'if I were a reindeer.'”
“Har har. This place is a freakin' non-stop soap opera, I swear.”
“Always has been.”
Ramon laughed and said, “Yeah. 'The Bold and the Furry.'”
Leon added, “Guiding Light on Rudolph's Nose.”
“As the Snowplow Turns.”
“All My Reindeer.”
Leon scrunched up his face, thinking. Then he smiled.
“The Young and the Aerodynamically Inclined.”
Ramon did a spit-take, wiped the beer off his chin, and said, “You win.”
“Don't I always?”
Ramon lifted his glass and toasted, “Here's to a drama-free Christmas Eve next year. Of course, it'll have to take place in some parallel universe somewhere...”
“For damn sure.”
They clinked glasses.
Copyright ©2014 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.