Just when Christmas seems lost
DEATH TAKES SAVES A HOLIDAY
Santa wrapped thick, calloused fingers around the edges of his mug and breathed in the rich aroma of steaming cocoa. With a grimace of pain, he leaned back in his chair and peered out the snow covered windows arrayed along the main factory walls. Fat white flecks streamed past the panes almost horizontal in the storms fury. In the distance, the low rumble of explosions, more felt than heard, fused with a sudden flash of yellow-orange brilliance outside.
“So, Hermey. How bad is it?” Santa’s voice echoed through the vacant workshop. The space was empty now except for rows of workbenches and shelves. It was always empty these last days before Christmas, the long tables cleared, the shelves devoid of toys as every elf busied themselves with the task of preparing the sleigh.
Santa shifted his gaze to the elf standing before him. “Well?” he asked laying a finger aside of his nose.
The elf had the appearance of a child, no more than ten years old, yet his bright eyes were wrinkled in their corners and flecks of gray peppered his temples giving him an appearance of great wisdom.
He cleared his throat and glanced down at an iPad he held with trembling fingers. “It’s bad Santa. Real bad.” He coughed, wiping a hand across his soot stained face. “They took out the entire north factory and most of the sleigh warehouse. Emergency crews have the fires under control but we’re going to lose most of the warehouse.” Outside, ice pellets clicked against the glass as a gust of wind howled through the eaves.
“The good news,” Hermey said, “is the sleigh was being prepped when the bombs went off. So it and almost all the reindeer were in the assembly area when the walls collapsed.”
Santa leaned up, groaning with the effort and placed a hand to his side; the wound beneath throbbed with a dull heat, his palm coated in blood. He glanced at his hand and rubbed away the gore on the flat of his thigh. “What do you mean, almost all the reindeer?”
“It’s Rudolf, Santa,” Hermey said. “He’s lost another leg.”
“Damn those ISIS bastards!” Santa slammed a fist on the wooden table toppling a tray of Christmas cookies and sending sugar coated wreaths and snowmen skittering across the top.
Hermey glanced uncomfortably at the pile of sweets, fidgeting with a sleeve that was ripped to the elbow exposing a torn silken blouse and a bloody gash beneath.
Santa took a sip from his mug. “Sorry, Hermey. I haven’t been this mad since Hitler blocked all the Polish chimneys in thirty-nine.”
“Perfectly alright, Santa,” Hermey said a bright smile crossing his lips but not quite touching his somber blue eyes. “It’s been a new low for Christmas.”
“Can the doctor’s fix Rudolf before tomorrow night?” Santa asked.
“The last update I received said ‘yes’,” Hermes said. “They can fashion a replacement leg for this most recent amputation from the leg we built for him after we clipped that B-1 Bomber in ninety-five.”
Santa nodded and took another sip of cocoa, a dark smudge of chocolate remained on his mustache when he set the cup down. “I don’t envy Rudolf’s treatment from the others once they install that third prosthetic leg,” Santa said. “The other reindeer were rough on him before. Now with only one real leg, they'll be laughing and calling him names all over again; especially Prancer. He’s such an ass.”
Hermey tapped on the screen of the iPad and slid it across the table. Santa picked it up, his lips pale thin lines above his singed beard.
“What’s this?” he asked pulling a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and perching them on his cherry-like nose. He tried to squint through the cracked lenses then huffed in frustration and returned them to his pocket. “Just read it to me.” He slid the iPad back across the table.
Hermey picked up the device and it pinged in his hand. At the same moment, the lights dimmed and a shadow passed over them. “We lost another one,” Hermey said shaking his head.
“Who was it?” Santa asked.
“It was Pepper Minstix,” Hermes said. “She was crushed when the wall collapsed. We thought she’d make it but I guess her injuries were too severe.”
Santa wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “Who else have we lost?”
Hermey considered the iPad again. “Sugarplum Mary was killed in the firefight and we lost Holly Leaf in the initial explosion. Jingle Bells was shot up pretty bad. Doc said he's holding on by a thread. There are several more injuries but nothing serious.”
“I need to check on everyone and make sure the sleigh will be ready for tomorrow,” Santa said. He tried to rise but slumped into the chair with a groan.
“Santa, the worst news is about you,” Hermey said. He pulled out a chair and sat down next to his boss. “Doc said you’ve got to have those bullets removed… right now.” He shook his head, the bells jingling on his cap. “Even with a healthy dash of Christmas magic, you won’t be able to guide the sleigh until December 26th.”
“Then Christmas is lost,” Santa said. He picked up a Christmas tree cookie and nibbled along the edges. “What will we do?”
For several minutes he sat munching one cookie after another. Finally, he said,“Who could we contact on such late notice? Who would have the power to fill in for me on Christmas Eve?”
“I don’t know,” Hermey said. His bright blue eyes twinkling with tears. “Maybe this will be the year without a Christmas.” As he said this the iPad chimed again. He glanced up at the not so jolly elf a tear rolling down his cheek. “It’s Jingle,” Hermey said. “He’s dead.”
When the lights of the factory dimmed, Santa jolted upright, and despite the pain leapt to his feet.
“Grim!” Santa called out. “Grim Reaper. I’d like a word.”
A heartbeat later, Hermey shouted, leaping back in surprise and almost dropping the iPad as swirling mist formed at the edge of the table. The cloud twirled like a black tornado coalescing into a dark, hooded figure. The forbidding form leaned on a long sickle like an old man on his cane.
“Who calls on the name of death,” a voice croaked from the inky darkness of the cowl. Then the figure coughed, raising a skeletal hand to cover its unseen mouth. “Sorry ‘bout that,” Death said his voice melodious and deep. “This arctic air plays havoc with my allergies.” He stuck out a skeletal hand. “So what’s going on big man?” Death asked. “We haven’t spoken in what…a thousand years?”
Santa shook the bony hand and waved him towards a seat. The chair's wooden feet scraping noisily across the stone floor as Death pulled it out and sat down. “Grim, I know you're here to pick up a soul, but I’ve got a problem. I thought you might be able to help me out.”
Death leaned back in the chair, the wooden spindles fading in color, wormholes appearing like magic along their length. “Name it Santa. If I can help I will.”
“Everyone knows It’s my job to deliver toys to all the good children of the world,” Santa said, “and those ISIS bastards put me out of commission until the twenty-sixth. I need someone to stand in for me tonight.”
Death sprang up, the chair collapsing into a pile of dust beneath him. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said waving his hands between them. “That’s gonna take hours." The howl of the wind had slackened and snow drifted past the windows in brush strokes of white. "What about all the people I’m supposed to collect?”
“Can’t it wait?” Santa asked. “What harm could a few hours of life mean?; especially on Christmas eve.”
Death crossed his arms, tapping thoughtfully at a chin hidden in shadow. “Well, I’ve always wondered about that sleigh of yours.”
He began pacing the floor the sickle tapping in time beside him. “And I’d like a closer look at Rudolf. I’ve been after him for some time now, but all I seem to get are legs.”
“So it’s a deal?” Santa asked. Hermey had edged away from them both, throwing quick glances towards the open hallway to his left.
“I don’t know,” Death said. “It’s a little unorthodox.”
“Tell ya what,” Santa said. “You do this for me, and I’ll return the favor. You can take some time off, any time you want; except Christmas eve of course, and I’ll reap the dead for an entire day.”
Death turned, a red glow visible in the deep folds of his cowl. “A day off. I haven’t had one of those in…well, I can’t even remember how long.” He stuck out his bony hand. “Santa, you’ve got yourself a replacement.”
Santa pushed up, wincing at the movement and took his hand. “Great. Then it’s a deal.” He laid a hand across Death’s back and led him towards the hall. “Hermey here will fill you in on all the details.”
Hermey caught Santa’s eye and shook his head, mouthing a wordless ‘No’.
“It’ll be all right,” Santa said waving the elf down the hall. “Show our friend where I keep the spare suit. He can wear it right over the cloak. No one will be the wiser.”
“Where are you going now?” Death asked.
“Doc said he’s got to operate on me,” Santa said. “I’ve got two slugs and a piece of shrapnel that’s gotta come out.”
“Want me to help?” Death asked.
“Noooo, I’m fine,” Santa held up both hands palm out. “The doc’s got it covered.”
“If you say so,” Death said. He tried to lay an arm across Hermey’s shoulder but the elf flinched away. “So, show me this sled I’ve heard so much about.”
NEW YORK DAILY GLOBE Dec 25,2016
CHRISTMAS EVE MIRACLE
Last night, Christmas Eve, doctors worldwide were baffled by a sudden absence of mortalities. Reports from around the globe seem to indicate no one passed away between the hours of 9 PM and Midnight.
Dr. Richard Weingarten of Bellevue Hospital said he’s never seen anything like it. “A statistical anomaly that defies explanation,” Weingarten was quoted as saying.
Heath care experts in all nations are looking into possible explanations for the sudden lack of deaths but so far.....