Tag Archives: Christmas

The Christmas Helmet

Watkins made the final adjustment on the final component. It was the crowning achievement of his career–the Christmas helmet. It was not a merry helmet. Quite the contrary. The helmet had the effect of blocking out any and all Christmas cheer.

No A Christmas Carol could penetrate the helmet’s sanctity. No holiday music, no tinsel, no Christmas tree… nothing. The user could put the helmet on sometime after the leaves turned brown and could function in American life, but without the distraction of all the holiday cheer. The helmet edited that all out.

Christmas decorations, advertising, music, TV specials–which screamed at him from billboards, newspapers, television, the radio–were all replaced by the music, videos and album cover art of REO Speedwagon. Christmas sweaters, when Watkins looked at them via the helmet’s visor, became REO Speedwagon concert t-shirts. Steve and Edie’s version of “Sleigh Ride” became, via the helmet’s noise blocking software, “Can’t Fight This Feelin’.” The Charlie Brown Christmas Special became a video of REO Speedwagon’s performance at the Indiana State Fair in 1997. The Christmas tree in Watkins’ office became a glowing karaoke machine filled with REO Speedwagon hits. His co-workers were puzzled to see him standing by the tree, helmet on, singing, “Roll With the Changes,” while holding an invisible microphone.

The helmet transformed what was once a painful time of the year for Watkins into a joyous celebration of his favorite band. Instead of seeing Santa Claus in the mall, he saw Neal Doughty sitting in a chair, surrounded by children, playing a Farfisa organ.

In his 35 years of life, he couldn’t remember one Christmas that he enjoyed. Watkins’ parents died on Christmas morning in a fiery car crash coming home from a party at a friend’s house.

At the orphanage, the director put on a massive Christmas pageant every year in an attempt to generate cash. The director demanded military precision from the children, and had them start drilling on the final sequence… a Busby Berkeley-inspired, high-kicking dance of the elves, in which most of the children performed an elaborate can-can while one unlucky child tap-danced as jolly old St. Nick singing “Joyeux Noël” in the original French (“Le Père Noël viendra du ciel, C’est le Réveillon!“… with feeling), the elves joining Santa on the ding-dong-ding-dong chorus… for six grueling months in advance of the show’s opening the day after Halloween. Two performances a day for two months led to their final pyrotechnics-enhanced performance on Christmas eve. If the show didn’t go off exactly the way the director envisioned it, and it never did, the orphans were cut to half rations for Christmas day. Most often, it was Watkins whom the director blamed during his annual Christmas morning rant in front of the assembled children. Watkins had no sense of rhythm and was often a half-step behind all the other children. Those children all turned on him after eating their half-cup of thinned-out gruel for Christmas dinner, beating him with towel-wrapped bars of soap Full Metal Jacket-style, chanting, “We could have had ham! We could have had ham! We could have had ham!” By the time his broken body healed, it was time to start practicing for the next production.

Watkins studied hard and aced all of his college entrance examinations. He got an engineering degree, got a job, and married a quiet woman. The two of them spent their Christmases at his in-laws’ place. Every year at the in-laws’ home was like a reenactment of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

His wife was called away shortly before Christmas for a work assignment overseas. He sat alone at his in-laws’, watching the couple unmerrily stabbing away at each other with words, when his cellphone rang. “Have you seen the news?” one of his co-workers asked. He stepped around his battling mother-in-law and father-in-law and turned on the TV. The aging jumbo jet that his wife was on had cracked open at 10,000 feet, discharging all of the passengers into the Atlantic Ocean before exploding. The in-laws stood staring slack-jawed at the TV for a moment, before his mother-in-law turned her rage and grief upon Watkins. “It’s all your fault!” his mother-in-law informed him. “How is this his fault?” his father-in-law asked her. And the two of them continued their squabble, now with renewed venom. He sat in the snow alone outside, Christmas decorations and lights mocking his grief, and silently wept.

On Christmas eve, safe in a soundproof room in his house, Watkins merrily hummed “Keep the Fire Burnin'” while making the final adjustments on the helmet. He’d created a video of the helmet, uploaded it to the web, and received thousands of comments on the page from potential customers who each wanted one customized to their tastes. He had the schematics ready, and an investor was willing to front him enough cash to retool a plant in Longhua, China so they could go into mass production.

A fly buzzed by his head and he swiped at the air. It landed nearby, and Watkins noticed that it was made of metal. Industrial spies were all over the industry. Watkins stealthily picked up a hand laser and blinded the tiny drone. He snatched it up and studied it under a magnifying glass. “Nice piece of tech,” he muttered, turning it over with a pair of tweezers. He shorted it out and placed it in a glass jar.

The elf piloting the mosquito drone let go of the joystick and headed over to the command suite. After enjoying a cup of cocoa and a gingerbread cookie in the outer lounge, he was called into Santa’s well appointed office by the secretary–a dead ringer for Nancy Reagan. One wall was covered over in electronic screens with all the sports betting action from Vegas constantly updated. Another showed NFL games on big screen TV’s. The elf shut the door behind him. It was no secret that Santa fixed games by appearing in players’ bedrooms at night and kneecapping them with a lead pipe Nancy Kerrigan-style. “Only the naughty,” Santa would remind anyone who questioned him. Sports betting was one of his cash cows, along with selling precision factory parts to the Chinese. “What’s the case file code?” Santa asked.

“One-seven-seven-alpha-romeo.”

Santa swiped around on his tablet. “This one is a threat level charlie.”

“We’ll have to upgrade it to delta.”

“It’s just one helmet. One man. We can allow that. Treat him like a Jew, a Buddhist, or a Muslim.”

“He’s about to take the helmet to mass production. He has investors, the whole nine yards. And he just grabbed one of our stealth drones. With that kind of micro tech, he could make the helmet into a pair of contact lenses and in-ear headphones. By this time next year, we could have thousands of people blocking out Christmas. In the years after that, who knows? Millions? Billions?”

“How’d he get ahold of the stealth drone?”

“I… uh…”

“I see.”

“Santa… I was taking all the precautions in the handbook!”

Santa pressed a button. Two members of his Internal Security Service entered. “Tool and Dye,” Santa said.

“Santa… I’m sorry! Anything but Tool and Dye!”

“Take him away.”

The ISS boys popped a festive cloth sack over the elf’s head and shackled his arms and legs. They took him to a waiting helicopter.

“If you want a job done right…” Santa muttered aloud.

Bone tired, but satisfied with his work, a helmeted Watkins crept into bed, visions of Gary Richrath dancing in his head. He awoke to Kevin Cronin shaking him by the lapels of his pajama top, furiously shouting, “Heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you been messin’ around!”

The helmet flew off and clunked onto the floor. It rolled over to a man in a suit, who looked familiar, and not in a pleasant way. Santa had most of Watkins’ pajama top balled up in his fists. He lifted him out of bed without any effort.

“This isn’t torture,” the unpleasantly familiar man said. He was studying the helmet.

“Is that Dick Cheney?” Watkins asked Santa.

“He does special projects for us,” Santa said. “Worked his way off the naughty list by setting up Tool and Dye Works in the Aleutian Islands after the Reg the Elf incident. The magic of Christmas keeps his heart beating.”

Watkins’ legs dangled uselessly below him. “Do you want me to halt production of the Christmas Helmet? Is that what this is all about?”

“That ship has sailed,” Santa said. “Your competitors already have stolen your plans. Naughty!”

“Naughty indeed, Mr. Claus,” Cheney said through his trademark smirk. “Shall we enhance this interrogation with a little H-Two-Oh?”

“Not just yet, Dick.” Santa’s eyes twinkled and a threatening ho-ho-ho rumbled from his jelly-belly and ejected out of his beard-encircled mouth. “What we need you to do, Mr. Watkins, is develop countermeasures.”

“Countermeasures?”

“Is there an echo in here? Yes, little man, countermeasures! You’ll be working for me now, under the supervision of my number one contractor.” A glowing, rainbow-colored portal swirled in the wall. On the other end, Watkins could make out a massive workshop. An acrid odor wafted out, like metal flakes, acid and grease had all mixed together. The tinkling of Christmas tunes echoed through the vortex, sending chills up Watkins’ spine.

“Tool and Dye!” Cheney sang out.

“Tool and Dye!” Santa sang out. And he tossed Watkins into the vortex.

Watkins tumbled head over heels and landed at the feet of a shivering and half-starved elf. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut and do all the work that Santa requires of you,” the elf said. His face was scarred and his teeth half-rotted out of his mouth. “Name’s Reg, by the way. I ran a meth empire at the North Pole until Santa shut me down. I was once a king.”

“We were all once kings,” Cheney said. “Now get back to work.” They turned their heads upon hearing a hideous scream. “Great! Another elf fell into the gears. Probably will take half a day to scrape his corpse out of there. In the meantime, I have Red Army Industries crawling up my ass, demanding their machine parts yesterday. Show him his workstation, Reg. I’ll be back to check on you. I want progress reports filed on the hour.” Cheney handed Reg the Christmas Helmet.

“Nice work,” Reg said to Watkins, turning the helmet over in his elf hands. Watkins noticed that he didn’t have any fingernails. “Come with me.”

Watkins followed Reg across the factory floor, horrified by the work conditions, frightened for his future.

Reg said, as if he’d read Watkins’ thoughts, “Don’t worry about the future. You don’t have one anymore.”

“Oh good golly have a holly-jolly Christmas this year!” trilled the canned music coming from the speakers overhead.

Five years later, Watkins awoke in a dark alley in New York City, wrapped in rags, a rat gnawing off the flapping sole of his scuffed wing-tips. “Where am I?” he asked, his memory permanently wiped. He stumbled out onto the sidewalk and looked up at all the glowing light as dawn broke on a new day. “What day is this?” he shouted to a man on a fire escape, who was outside smoking a cigarette in the cold.

“It’s Christmas Day, you bum!” the man shouted at him. He tossed him a tangerine.

Watkins fumbled the tangerine and chased it into the street. He caught up with it and quickly peeled and ate it, the sweet juice making his scraggly beard sticky. “Christmas!” he said. A post-hypnotic suggestion released dopamine into his bloodstream and he was happy for just a moment before the crosstown express bus slammed into him.

He walked through a blue tunnel into a bathing light and was embraced by a gentle giant. “My name is Dale,” the giant said. “Welcome to paradise, where it is Christmas every day.”

Serenaded by Bing Crosby, the two new friends walked into the glorious winter wonderland that is the afterlife, to forever celebrate Christmas. Yes, forever and ever.

And ever.

And ever.

Putting Christ Back in Christmas

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Dale was born with a heart that was two sizes two small. It was a congenital defect that turned the undersized youngster into a virtual shut-in… the boy who stared out the window at other children while they played and laughed and played. Dale was limited to sedentary pursuits, the kind of play that involved sitting still for long periods of time. He never knew his father. The old man took off when he was three due to the stress of raising a special needs child.

When he was seven, and still sickly, his mother took him to the mall to meet Santa. She chain-smoked the entire way there… having a sickly child was stressful, and cigarettes gave her some comfort, as did her cranberry juice and vodka cocktails. She told herself while drinking them, “Cranberry juice is good for my urinary tract.”

Dale got winded a few times on the way from the car to the mall entrance and then again in the mall itself. He was rarely around this many people, too, so the whole day was turning out to be stressful. They were sitting on a bench in front of a mall church run by Reverend Jimmy, whose kindly face grinned from the sign out front. “Have you met Jesus?” the electronic billboard asked. “Christ is the reason for the season.”

Dale took it all in. His mother sat with him on the bench, puffing away on a Virginia Slim until a mall cop told her to put it out.

Out of nowhere, Reverend Jimmy himself appeared. “This is America!” Reverend Jimmy said. His voice carried across the mall, from end to end. “Can I get an ‘Amen, Jesus’?”

“Amen, Jesus!” Dale said.

“Don’t encourage him, honey.” His mother put out her smoke on the heel of one of her flats and pocketed it. It was expensive raising a special needs kid.

“Don’t start with me, Jimmy,” the mall cop said. “Thanks for putting out the cigarette, ma’am.”

“No problem,” Dale’s mother said. She freshened up her lipstick and then asked the mall cop if he could find a wheelchair for her son.

“Allow me to lay hands on the boy,” Reverend Jimmy said.

“Knock yourself out,” Dale’s mom said.

The reverend placed his hands on Dale and prayed loudly to the Lord to heal him, to take away his infirmities, to make him a whole child so he could walk in the Lord’s Light. And, what do you know, it worked. Dale felt his undersized heart grow in his chest. He stood up, feeling better than he ever had in his life. “Thank you!”

“No, don’t thank me, son. Thank your Savior, Jesus Christ!”

“Thank you, Jesus!”

“Dale, cut that out. You’re only encouraging him,” said his mother. The mall cop arrived with the wheelchair. “Get in the chair, Dale. We’re going to see Santa.”

“Santa!” Reverend Jimmy hollered, incensed. “Idolatry!” The Lord moved within in him and he spoke for a few moments in ancient Mesopotamian, which sounded to the lay people surrounding him like gibberish. “Hum-min-a-hee! Hum-min-a-ho!”

“He’s having a fit,” Dale’s mom said to the mall cop. “Do something! Shove your wallet in his mouth.”

“Naw,” the mall cop said. “He’s speaking in tongues is all.”

“I can do push-ups, thanks to Jesus!” Dale knocked out twenty push-ups and rose to his feet.

“Praise Jesus!” Reverend Jimmy said, returning to American English.

“There’s no scientific explanation,” Dale’s mom said.

“Science and the Lord don’t get along,” Reverend Jimmy said.

“I pledge myself to the Lord’s service!” Dale said.

“Amen and alleluia!” Reverend Jimmy said.

Dale walked over to a handrail and looked down on the lower level of the mall. Hundreds of children were lined up to see the man dressed as Santa, while no one was lined up outside the church of this man whose dedication to the Lord’s work had led to his miraculous recovery. It was, indeed, idolatry.

As Dale grew older, he grew taller and stronger, and he cast a fearsome shadow on the earth wherever he walked. He went to school and found that the other kids didn’t have his zeal for Christ. He could hear them mocking him out in the hallways, but once he came around the corner, they shut their mouths and trembled, because they could see that he was righteous and the Lord was with him. Plus, he was six-foot-five at 14 years of age and played on the varsity football and basketball teams. The only problem with basketball was that every time he stuffed the ball into the basket, he’d drop to both knees and praise the Lord and not play until his prayer was concluded. This wasn’t as big a problem on the football field, where he played a combination of quarterback and fullback. The offense had only one play: Hike the ball to Dale and watch him run 15 to 20 yards, while he shouted out, “Alleluia! Praise Him! Praise Him!”

His mother didn’t share his commitment to the Lord, or to Reverend Jimmy, or for picketing abortion clinics… but she did nothing to hinder him either. Every time she saw him on the football field she could hear cash registers ringing in her head. According to a documentary she’d seen on ESPN, the first item all professional athletes bought was a house for their long-suffering mamas. If anyone had suffered, she figured, she certainly had. First Dale was sickly, then he was nuts.

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When Dale disappeared on his 18th birthday, having grown to a monstrous six-foot-eight and 280 muscular pounds, she immediately went to the mall and accosted Reverend Jimmy, who came back at her with some sort of hooey about how the Lord had beckoned Dale to a higher calling.

“What’s a higher calling than being quarterback for the University of Florida?”

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said, and then started up with that humminah-humminah business that was kind of like his way of saying, “End of discussion.”

She tried sending the cops after him, but Dale had reached the age of majority and was free to turn down all the free college education that was being thrown at him.

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Dale was in Freeport, Indiana, living in a makeshift barracks, surrounded by the men and women of Christ’s Army, a tax-exempt church who during the day walked door-to-door selling Bibles manufactured in Cebu, Philippines by orphan children and by night trained for the End Times, which were surely coming soon, considering the state of the world and the people in it.

Dale thought of his own mother, who, he discovered at the breakfast table the morning he left, was having sexual relations with the mall cop who’d told her to put out her cigarette the day the Lord found him. Yes, the mall cop was sitting at the table, slurping the milk out of a bowl, an empty box of Rice Krispies on the table next to him. He was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a white undershirt, tapping his bare feet on the linoleum floor to the sound of REO Speedwagon coming out of a transistor radio on the kitchen sink. “Hello, son,” the man had the audacity to say.

Dale said nothing. He picked the man up like he was a child’s toy and ejected him from the house. Dale shouted after him, “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death! Leviticus!” He slammed the door shut.

“What have you done?” his mother asked. She was holding one of those pee-on-it pregnancy tests in her hand. The little plus sign was showing.

“Behold, she is with child by whoredom! And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt! Genesis!”

But now he was among the righteous, performing the Lord’s work.

At night, on the night fire range, Dale was in his element. All of the stillness that he practiced when he was young and sickly… The Lord’s Plan made so much sense now! He watched the bullets flame from the barrel of his rifle and strike the glow-in-the-dark Santas set up in the field… solid and true!

Dale was in town selling Filipino Bibles the day the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms came to call at the compound. He stopped to eat at the Chik-Fil-A when news came that the Feds were barreling down the road toward the compound in five converted MRAPs accompanied by a black helicopter, more than likely part of the One World Government that sought to convert everyone to either Atheism or Islam (take your pick). He walked over to the adjacent department store and watched it all happening live on a 48-inch flatscreen with surround sound speakers. He handed his unsold Bibles to the patrons milling around and walked down to the hunting department. He bought two rifles, a pistol and enough ammunition to bring down a herd of reindeer. But it wasn’t the reindeer he would be after. Oh, no! It would be their master, the one who sought to turn CHRISTmas into “The Holidays.” The one who sought to replace the legitimate story of the Bible with a made-up fairytale.

Dale was going to bring down every Santa in every mall in America.

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After his fifth Santa… struck dead center in a mall in Boca Raton, Florida… the heat became too hot and Dale escaped to the woods of North Carolina. He hid in the forest for two years, continually pursued by those defenders of idolatry, wickedness and the One World Government… the FBI. He’d learned to hide from them using techniques he’d picked up by watching reruns of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone movies on TNT on pirated cable TV in a hunter’s cabin. Of particular interest were the Predator and Rambo movies.

They tried to trick him. First, they flew overhead and broadcast his mother’s voice, begging him to give himself up. “Nice try, harlot!” he shouted at the treetops.

Then they had someone do a very clever impersonation of Reverend Jimmy. Fake Reverend Jimmy called out, “Please come out, Dale! Please! They set me up! You know I would do nothing like what they said I did! And the hooker? Okay, big mistake! I’ve prayed on it and God forgave me!”

After two years, and a very poor hunting season, Dale ran out of bullets and jerky and made his way into town, a limp version of his old hale and hearty self. His clothes were ragged and a putrid stench followed him as he stumbled into the convenience store, intent on leaving with as much jerky as he could steal or swallow. He would pray for forgiveness later out in the wilderness. As he stuffed his pockets, a brown man, an obvious Muslim-Atheist type, shouted at him in an incomprehensible tongue. It reminded him, for a moment, of the Reverend Jimmy when the Holy Ghost took hold of him. But then he saw the shotgun in the man’s hands.

“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass! One Samuel!” He surged toward the man, but the shotgun went off and down he went, his blood and viscera hitting the floor before the rest of him came down. He looked up and saw a cardboard cutout of a girl in hot pants. A speech bubble from her mouth asked, “Who wears short-shorts?” She brandished an obscenely shaped pink razor.

He was hurt badly, but the Lord kept him alive for a bit longer, long enough to see the FBI special agent in charge, another brown man, come walking in wearing a blue windbreaker with an FBI badge stenciled in yellow on his breast.

The FBI man knelt down and whispered to Dale, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. One Samuel.”

Dale could hear the ambulance’s siren coming and a thousand other sirens as well. Dale replied, “And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. Leviticus.”

He saw a blue tunnel stretching out before him. His father was there, the father he never knew… But he knew it was him. “You’ve done enough, son!” his father called out. “Time to come home!” And Dale expired there next to the cardboard cutout whore and the Federal man.

He was buried in a pauper’s grave. Nearby the New Christ’s Army was forming, selling Bibles manufactured by orphans in Liberia, and their children arrived in a procession at Dale’s grave every Christmas eve. There, they would set up little stuffed Santas in a row atop his grave and, one-by-one, shoot them with .22 caliber rifles until the stuffing flew out of their bodies and the Santas were no longer recognizable as such. They were going to carry out Dale’s work, finish it, put the CHRIST back in CHRISTmas… but do it right this time.

Less zeal. More cunning.

Elf of the Year

After his first trip to the dentist as a child, Reg the Elf knew what his life would be dedicated to: the acquisition and consumption of nitrous oxide. He staggered out of the dentist’s office and out into the frosty world of the North Pole, nearly bumping into a polar bear. “Steady on there, tasty little man,” said the polar bear.

“The stars!” Reg muttered. “The stars!”

Though nitrous was his entry point, and his drug of choice, other drugs beckoned to him. He tried out cocaine, but it didn’t last very long, not long enough to suit him. He needed something better. On an expedition to Indiana, scouting out the naughty for Santa, he discovered it behind a strip club outside of Carmel. “You’re a short one, aren’t you?” the stripper said to him. “Nice duds, though.” He handed her a mirror containing lines of some dust he’d found in Santa’s jacket. She took a long snort with a rolled up twenty. She handed him a light bulb and heated up its bottom side, told him to take a long drag. After he hacked his lungs out, he said, “Where have you been all my life?”

“Right here, sugar,” said the stripper. She sat down on the greasy back stoop and slapped her lap. He hopped on. The two of them smoked up some more.

“What’s your name again?” he asked her.

“Shereele Hanson.”

He found her name on the naughty list and scratched it out. “Can you tell me where you got this stuff?”

“Sure, baby.” She drew out a map on the back of an REO Speedwagon concert flyer and then wrote down her phone number at the bottom. “You ever get ahold of any more of that dust, you let me know, squirt.”

“You bet,” he said, and folded up the flyer. He went around the corner to where his reindeer was parked and hopped on the saddled critter.

“You lowlife,” the reindeer muttered.

“What’s that?”

“You heard me.”

He unfolded the flyer and showed it to the reindeer. “Take me there.”

“That’s a meth lab, you idiot.”

“Meth, eh? Anyway, lots of naughty guys there to check out.”

The reindeer turned her head and spat contemptuously. “I gotta make the main team this year. Stop going on these chickenshit runs.”

“No reindeer named ‘Debbie’ is ever going to make the team. Total sausage fest.”

“I’m gonna break that glass ceiling.”

“Sure. Keep telling yourself that, Deb.” From the saddlebag, he pulled out a can of nitrous with a tiny plastic mask attached to it via a clear tube, uncranked a couple of seconds worth of bliss, and put his contraption away. “Let’s hit the fucking road!”

Once he discovered meth, productivity wasn’t an issue for Reg. Sure, he found it hard to sleep, and he was certain that tiny insects were eating away at him from the inside, but he banged out more toys for Santa than any other elf. He made Elf of the Quarter for three quarters running, and then Elf of the Year shortly after that. He had his own parking space, and had Debbie the Reindeer permanently assigned to duty with him.

Debbie spiraled into depression. “I’m never going to make the ‘A’ team,” she said, while taking Reg down to Indiana for the third time in a month.

Reg smuggled the meth back in hollowed-out candy canes. “You used to dream big, Deb,” he said while picking at an invisible bug in his cheek. “You gotta dream big. Dream big!”

Reg’s big dream was to make all the elves as productive as he was, and the only way for the acne-scarred and yellow-toothed elf to make that happen was with his own meth lab. On a tip from a meth-head in Gary, he made his way to Hackensack, New Jersey. Buried underneath a monument to Wally Schirra was a lifetime supply of Sudafed. He paid a long-haul trucker to bring it north to him and set up in an old NORAD quonset hut near a no-longer-functioning radar array.

Soon, nine out of ten of Santa’s elves were smoking up before work, turning out amazing amounts of toys, and Reg was rolling in cash. He hired some Russian mobsters from across the polar ice cap to handle protection and to squeeze elves who owed him money.

It all came tumbling down the day Benny the Elf picked up his tiny wooden hammer and bashed his own brains in. During the autopsy, the coroner elf discovered that several of Benny’s toes had been snipped off with pruning shears. Santa’s Internal Security Service soon picked apart the network, and after a prolonged gun battle with the Russians in Reg’s employ, overwhelmed the quonset hut’s defenses and dragged Reg away.

Debbie was butchered into reindeer cutlets for being his accomplice. Santa invited over the reindeer and made them eat the cutlets with apple sauce. They were slow-roasted with a special sage rub and were delicious. Santa isn’t a monster, after all.

Some say Reg was fed to the polar bears. Others say that a hole was cut in the ice and he was tossed in and consumed by a narwhal.

“Two in the hat!” Blitzen was fond of saying when he was in his cups. The other reindeer would try to shush him, but he’d shout, “I was there, man! Were you there?”

Whatever Reg’s fate, the repercussions for North Pole operations were long-standing. Urine and blood tests became the norm. One failed test and an elf could find himself in Santa’s Gitmo, a tiny island off the Aleutian Islands, the tool and dye plant where many elves entered but few left.

Children, oh children! Remember: There is a terrible price for the presents you enjoy on Christmas morning! Don’t let that stop you from enjoying those presents, but keep that cost in mind when you tear off the wrapping and groan in disappointment because it isn’t exactly the present you wanted.

Nostalgia

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“Merry Wenceslas!” the old man shouted. He’d been at the tavern all afternoon, getting tanked up on cheer.

“You’re dragging in mud,” the old lady muttered, to no effect. She suffered. How she suffered.

Me and my sister sat near the tree, dry pine needles prickling our tender bottoms, attempting some x-ray eyes shit on the poorly wrapped packages. We willed them to be good toys, but they’d end up being socks, underwear, and plastic toys that would quickly break. But on Christmas Eve, those packages were tabula-rasa-full of possibility.

The old man heaved on the rug. The old lady sighed. The dog made a beeline for the pile of semi-digested peanuts and bits of pickled egg that had been simmering in bottom-shelf whiskey and Carling Black Label deep in his guts.

“Every year,” the old lady lamented. “Every year!” She was busy cooking a goose until the fat dripped over the lip of the pan and set the kitchen on fire, which she put out with a box of Arm & Hammer. Tradition! You can’t beat it.

Father Hubert awaited our attention for Christmas eve mass. We put on our itchy clothes, rode in the back seat while the old man weaved all over the road, lip-synced a bunch of nonsense at the church, and left.

Driving home from church, we looked out the window at all the homes, with the lights strung up, the blaring of fire engine sirens stirring the Christmas spirit inside our tiny souls.

After some rawhide-tough goose, soggy stuffing, and Campbell’s soup-enhanced vegetable matter, we retired to the den and opened one present apiece, killing one bit of hope in the process.

“Socks.”

“Mittens.”

“More eggnog,” said the old man.

“Get it yourself,” said the old lady.

Happy fucking holidays to one and all. Christmas is all about Jesus, not your fucking presents. Got it? Good. Move along now. Nothing left to see here.