Here is the second of this year’s three Christmas short stories–“An Inconvenient Christmas”. In keeping with the theme I chose to honor my late mother, a huge Santa Claus fan, this tale features Saint Nick facing an ecological disaster with somewhat dark and humorous consequences.
AN INCONVENIENT CHRISTMAS
Santa Claus rolled over in his bed, a difficult task beneath the half dozen thick blankets, and looked at his wife.
“What the hell was that?”
Mrs. Claus’s eyes were wide and shifting back and forth as though the cause of the noise might appear within her limited field of vision.
“There it is again,” Santa said. “What is that?”
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Claus said. “Why don’t you get up and find out?”
Santa nestled down into the covers. “No. It’s cold out there.”
Mrs. Claus was surprisingly strong and showed it now. Planting her feet in the small of his back, she pushed her husband out of the bed onto the cold, wooden floor. Even a belly like a bowl full of jelly did not help him as he landed on his stomach, the wind knocked from his lungs.
“Dammit, hon,” Santa grumbled, breathless, “that hurt.” He stood up, pulling on the blankets as though to climb back into bed, but stopped when an electric cattle prod appeared from beneath, its tip sparkling with blue lightning.
“I said,” Mrs. Claus said from beneath the covers, “take your ass downstairs and see what made that noise.”
“Where did you get—?”
“You shouldn’t have left your sack on my side of the bed.”
Santa still held the lip of the bottom blanket in his hand and considered trying to climb into bed anyway. He knew his wife loved him and would never, ever do anything to hurt him.
Then, the cattle prod sparked, the blue arc lighting the dark room, and he dropped the blanket.
“What? You think someone’s breaking in? Nobody can find the place.”
“You heard it, too,” she answered. “Now, go.” Her tone was commanding, daring him to protest further. It told him, without saying it aloud, that one more comment like that would draw her out of the warm bed and then, fat man, there would be hell to pay.
“Okay,” he said, “I’m going.”
Cold floors are a natural hazard of winter. Anyone with hardwood in a bedroom, or who has risen from a hospital bed to make that all-important walk to the restroom, knows the pain that comes as the cold seeps into the joints of the foot, climbing the ankles and calves like ivy, until it settles in the knees like a bundle of razor wire.
Then, there are cold floors at the North Pole. The cold there did not seep up slowly, attacking the joints one at a time in its steady progression. Instead, the cold Santa felt seized his legs like a mass of clutching, clawed hands. He lost the feeling in his feet immediately and the numbness rose like an elevator, not just to his knees, but all the way to his hips, making it hard for him to walk. He stopped long enough to put on his robe and slide his feet into his slippers, then hobbled out into the corridor, headed for the stairs.
This time, the sound was accompanied by a tremble in the large house, as if the building itself was shivering from the cold. Santa stopped at the foot of the stairs, trying to determine the source of the sound and the shake, but after several seconds, it did not repeat itself, so he continued on, wincing as his sore hips navigated the steps to the ground floor. He emerged into a large, airy room with expensive-looking chairs and sofas surrounding a massive flat-screen television that took up nearly one whole wall. The television, tuned to Fox News, showed two men arguing.
“Global warming is a hoax—“
“That’s just absurd.”
“—a hoax thought up by liberals to make it harder for American businesses to make money.”
Santa stopped in the middle of the room, turned off the television, and listened again. He knew the crew of elves working third shift in the workshop were busy putting together the Playstations and Blu-Ray players and other gifts he would be delivering in less than a week, some of them on the phones asking questions to Japanese technicians at Sony or yelling at suppliers in Hindi. Most of his staff, though, was asleep at this time of night.
Hearing nothing, Santa moved into the kitchen and flipped on the lights. He opened a cabinet, pulled out a mug, and set it down under the spout of his Keurig coffee maker before spinning his large rack of single-serve brew choices. He selected a dark Brazilian roast and popped the small cup into the machine, smiling as the aromatic steam began rising from his mug.
This time the house shook with such violence that Santa nearly fell to the floor. His coffee mug, half-filled, toppled over and spilled across the stainless steel countertop. Santa reached for the dark fluid with his hand, hoping to keep it from spilling onto the floor, and recoiled as the hot coffee scalded his skin.
“Shit!” he spat as he looked for a towel to clean the mess.
Another noise drifted to his sensitive ears. Something was happening outside the house. Someone, in the distance, was screaming.
Santa sighed and turned away from the spilled coffee, ignoring the patter of the brown drops against the Italian tile. He threw on his red coat over his robe, slid his bare feet into his black boots, and opened the door to go outside.
The Campus, as Santa called the assortment of buildings that made up his operation at the North Pole, was awash in the soft, yellow glow of the streetlamps that lined the streets of packed snow and ice that served as the thoroughfares through Santa’s domain. Normally a place of understated serenity, the buildings were decorated with all manner of lights and tinsel. Evergreen trees—grown in the large greenhouse a half mile or so from Santa’s house—lined the sidewalks, their limbs heavy with ornaments. The elves, like their human counterparts to the south, enjoyed decorating for the holidays, but by the first week of January, exhausted from the mandatory overtime and in need of vacation, were sick of all things Christmas, including the fat son of a bitch that took all the credit for their hard work. The administrators of the local chapter of YULE (Yeoman’s Union of Laboring Elves) had their hands full keeping complaints to a minimum.
Now, however, the usual calm of a December night at the North Pole had given way to absolute pandemonium. Elves ran up and down the streets, crashing into each other and over each other. Many of them looked as though they had been roused from sleep, sprinting about in their pajamas, but a fair number had the bleary-eyed look of too much eggnog. Even the elves that normally worked third shift down the street at the massive workshop were in the streets, running and flailing their arms and looking terrified.
An elf ran into Santa at full speed, bounced off into a double somersault, and landed hard on the ice. As the dazed elf started to get up, Santa recognized him.
“Kleebert,” Santa said, kneeling down to the elf’s eye level, “what the hell is going on?”
Kleebert looked up at Santa, his eyes gradually sliding back into focus, then widening with the same look of terror on the faces of the other elves running like water around them.
“The ice, sir,” the elf began. “It’s—“
What the ice was doing, Kleebert never got to say. As he was about to finish his explanation, the ice beneath where he knelt split open and the elf, with a high-pitched scream, fell into the black water welling up from beneath the hole.
“Shit,” Santa said again. He dove for the elf, his beefy arm sliding down into the water and finding, to his great disappointment, no elf.
The ice all around the hole cracked like window glass, spidery lines stretching out in all directions. One wound its way across the street to where a large mass of elves, the merger of two smaller masses moving in opposite directions, were trying to get past each other. Without warning, the ice beneath them gave way, dropping two dozen more elves into the freezing sea. Their screams, like Kleebert’s, died with a sudden finality that drilled into Santa’s overloaded brain.
Santa stood up slowly and backed away from the hole where Kleebert had fallen. The ice beneath him groaned and popped, but held his prodigious weight as he nearly moonwalked his way to safer ground. All around him, elves were vanishing with tiny splashes as the ice opened up beneath them like a great, hungry mouth and swallowed them whole.
Falbut, Santa’s second-in-command, was sprinting toward him across the ice. He had obviously picked up the wrong robe in his haste to get outside, the bright pink velour waving behind him as he approached.
“Santa,” the elf asked, out of breath, “what do we do?”
“Hell if I know,” Santa said. “How did this happen?”
“No idea,” Falbut answered, “although I did hear Bloktin mention something about ‘global warming’ right before he fell into a hole.”
At the far end of the street, a building Santa recognized as The Naughty Elf, the Pole’s only strip club—its neon sign displaying a male elf being spanked by a buxom, scantily-clad female –trembled, then began to tilt to one side. Santa first thought he was imagining the effect, that the stress of what was happening was too much, but as he continued to stare, open-mouthed, the building listed until, with a great slurping sound, it slid out of view into the ocean.
“We are in deep shit,” Santa said to Falbut.
“Every elf for himself,” the elf said. He turned and dashed off the way he had come.
“Get back here you little bastard!” Santa yelled. He was about to tell Falbut that he was fired, but as he opened his mouth to speak, a great hole opened up before the elf.
Falbut, seeing the hole in time, skidded to a halt at the very edge of the jagged wound in the ice cap. Leaning back, he reached up to wipe his brow in relief just as a walrus shot out from the water, snatched the tiny elf in its maw, and dragged him into the black depths.
Santa had seen enough. There was nothing he could do to save the elves, the buildings, or the thousand of toys in the warehouses adjacent to the workshop. Everything he had spent centuries working for was going to ruin, sinking into the Arctic Ocean like some failed luxury liner. He might, however, save what mattered the most.
Santa turned and ran back for his front door. He could hear the ice splintering beneath him and, in some places, it gave way completely and only his forward momentum kept him from falling into the water. He reached the front door just as the building across the street, an Italian restaurant that he particularly enjoyed, shivering and plunged into the ocean like a person in a dunking booth.
Sprinting back through the kitchen, Santa could feel the floor of the building beneath him shifting and heaving as the ice below cracked. He had no idea how long his house would stay above the surface, so he took the steps three at a time, knowing that each second placed him closer to an icy depth.
“What is going on out there?” Mrs. Claus asked as Santa burst into the room. She was sitting up in bed now, the covers pulled up around her neck.
Santa ignored her question. Instead, he dove for his sack lying on the floor next to the bed.
“What are you doing?”
Santa again ignored her, too focused on the task at hand to lose precious time answering. He rummaged around in the bag, his arm inside to the shoulder, groping blindly and hoping that he was right, that the item he needed was still in there.
The house seemed to jump, throwing Mrs. Claus on top of Santa as his fingers settled on what he had been searching for. The two of them rolled in a heap to one corner of the room as the house, having jumped, had come down crooked and now leaned hard to one side.
Santa, sore and battered, refused to let go of what was clutched in his hand. With a hard pull, he managed to throw his wife off of him while removing from the bag a large, folded pile of yellow rubber.
“You better tell me what—“
Santa reached around the yellow mound until he found what looked like a loose piece of rope hanging from it. This he grabbed and pulled. The thing in his hands hissed and expanded, its various folds unfolding until a large rubber raft lay in their bedroom.
Mrs. Claus’s face went as white as her hair.
“What’s that for?” she asked in a timid voice.
“We have to get outside,” Santa said.
The house shifted again, this time drawing almost level, but sinking a few inches so fast that Mr. and Mrs. Claus bounced off the floor.
Mrs. Claus grabbed her robe from her bedside chair and threw it on while Santa grabbed his sack and threw it into the raft.
Downstairs, Santa could no longer hear the screaming of elves. The only sound he heard, apart from his and his wife’s panicked breathing, was the rush of water pouring into the first floor of his house. Then, a loud popping noise came from somewhere in the house and the lights went out. A silvery shaft of moonlight came through the window at the far end of the room, providing the barest of illumination.
Fumbling through the darkness, Mrs. Claus climbed into the raft and sat down. Santa, however, continued to stand beside it, staring at its shadowy form as though he was waiting for something.
“Are you going to get in?” Mrs. Claus asked him, the dangerous tone of impatience that he so feared returning to her voice.
“I forgot something.”
“Well,” Mrs. Claus said, “it’s a little late now.”
“No,” Santa said, pulling at his beard in frustration. “How are we going to get the raft outside? It won’t fit through the window.”
There was a moment when, even in the darkness of the room, Santa could feel her anger as a palpable force, a wave of fury that, had it occurred earlier, he would have blamed for melting the ice cap. As it was, he could only stand there and hope that he did not spontaneously combust from her gaze.
“I guess I have to do everything myself,” Mrs. Claus said as the house lurched again. Water had reached the second floor and began pouring through the open bedroom door, pooling around Santa’s boots and lapping against the raft in a preliminary effort to lift it from the floor.
In the sparse light, Santa saw his wife reach for his magical sack again. She reached inside and, a moment later, pulled out a long, cylindrical object. Only when she raised it to rest on her shoulder, did he realize what the thing was and flung himself, headfirst, into the raft.
The rocket-propelled grenade flew from the barrel of the launcher, hissing through the bedroom for only a second before striking the far wall, blasting a hole through it with such concussive force that Santa was flipped out of the raft, end over end, to crash into the opposite wall.
As he lay dazed and upside down, Santa could feel the icy water closing around his head until he could no longer breathe. He flailed his arms and managed to right himself into water almost a foot deep and rising. Little chunks of ice floated here and there, gathering around him like small children at a mall.
“Please get into the raft,” Mrs. Claus said, sounding as though she wished he would do anything except what she asked.
Santa stood on wobbly, numb legs and began sloshing his way to the raft as it started moving away from him and toward the gaping hole still smoking in the far wall. He dove for it just as the small boat was about to float beyond his reach and landed with his head at his wife’s feet and his legs still dangling in the freezing water.
“Stopping goofing off and get in the damn boat,” Mrs. Claus said, not moving a finger to help him.
With tremendous effort, Santa Claus pulled himself into the raft just as it slid out of the bedroom and into the winter night. He lay there in the bottom of the boat for some time, gasping and shivering, before he found the strength to sit up and look around.
All around them, chunks of ice, most no bigger than the rubber raft, drifted through the still Arctic waters. Various debris—bits of wood from the buildings, several toys, even the stiff corpse of an elf floating face down in the water—filled the spaces between the pieces of ice. There was no sign of the centuries old operation that Santa had devoted his immortal life to creating. Everything, from the workshop to the elves, was gone.
“This is all your fault,” Mrs. Claus said from the other end of the small raft. “I said you should build your workshop closer to the equator, but you wanted privacy.” She waved her arms around at the empty night. “How do you like this for privacy?”
“Shut up,” Santa said. He thought of all the elves, annoying but loyal, he had lost. He thought of the reindeer, probably locked in their barn as it plunged into the ocean. He thought of the tons and tons of toys that he would not be able to deliver on Christmas Eve.
“I will not shut up,” Mrs. Claus said. “If you think I’m just going to forget what an idiot, what an imbecile you are, you are sadly mistaken.”
Santa reached out and grabbed the sack away from his wife. Reaching inside, he rummaged about until he found what he was searching for and, with a wide grin, pulled out a steel manacle attached to a thick chain.
“I said shut up.” Santa reached with the manacle as he spoke and, with the final word, snapped it shut over his wife’s ankle.
“What are you doing?”
Santa did not answer. Instead, his smile in place the whole time, he pulled arm length after arm length of heavy chain from his bag until, with a grunt of effort, he found other end attached to a heavy metal anchor.
With a small nod to his wife, Santa heaved the anchor over the side of the raft.
“No—you can’t—I mean—please—“ she was about to say something else, but the chain snapped tight and dragged Mrs. Claus, screaming in terror, out of the raft and into the cold, murky depths.
After several minutes of sitting in silence, Santa reached into his magical sack again and pulled out two oars, a battery-operated ceramic space heater, a flare gun with a box of flares, and a bottle of bourbon. He kicked on the heater, took a long pull of the whiskey, placed the bottle between his legs, and took up the oars, wondering how far it was to Canada.