A Christmas Story by E. Dobbins
The North Pole’s cable television system wasn’t the best.
Designed mainly for Eskimos, it didn’t exactly enthrall Santa. Sure, he’d watch TV now and then, but there were only so many Orca races, so many polar bear recipes and seal hunting matches he could endure before growing bored. He’d quickly turn them off.
Which was just as well. There was always so much to do.
This year was different, though. One summer day, around 2:00 a.m., daylight poured into Santa’s living room as he read a magazine. Elfin Times was the title. Santa absently flipped through until an ad caught his eye.
The best satellite TV system ever, said the ad. All he needed was southern exposure. Santa had plenty of that. Every direction, in fact. He read on about all the channels his local cable system didn’t provide that PerfectTV did. He was sold.
The technician installed the satellite dish the next day, and Santa watched immediately. He was hooked.
One station in particular tickled his fancy. The Paranormal Channel. Santa watched for hours on end, it entertained him so. Months flew by. He’d waste days at a time taking in episodes about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, UFO’s, ghost stories, and ESP, just to name a few.
Santa didn’t believe in any of them, of course. That’s why they amused him so much. One evening, just a few days before Christmas–how many he wasn’t even sure–Santa found himself watching a special about the Yeti, and whether or not it existed.
A knock at the door disturbed him. Grumbling, Santa stood up from his chair and backpedaled over, never taking his eyes from the TV. He opened the door.
“Yeah?” he said, eyes still glued to the show.
“Boss?” he heard.
“What?” he snapped. “Can’t you see I’m watching this? It’s about a mythical creature called the Yeti. It’s hilarious. People actually believe this stuff!”
“Boss,” the voice repeated. “It’s important.”
Santa finally turned away from the TV, and towards the door. Herbie, his lead elf, stood in front of him. Santa’s focus returned to the show.
“This better be good, Herbie. What’s the problem?”
"Everything, Boss. Christmas is only two days away, and we’re way behind schedule. I’m starting to think…”
Santa ignored him, concentrating solely on the TV. It displayed the Yeti’s alleged photo. Grainy, of course. “Ho, ho, ho,” laughed Santa, merry. “People really believe this junk! Ho ho ho,” he repeated, his belly heaving up and down, jiggling, like a bowl full of jelly.
With a wink of his eye and a nod of his head, Santa turned back toward the elf. “Oh, I’m sorry, Herbie. You were saying?”
Herbie balled his fists now, seething. The quintessential Christmas color display, his angry red face contrasted perfectly with his Kelly-green coat and curly shoes. Herbie’s long tubular nose and pointy ears only exaggerated the evil-looking expression he wore.
Wow, he almost looks like a gargoyle, marveled Santa. A three-foot tall puppet-y one, at least.
“Boss, I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of this situation!”
Santa raised a snow-colored eyebrow. In over a century, he’d never seen his lead elf this angry. Or angry at all.
Herbie continued. “I’m doing the best I can, but I can’t handle everything on my own, Boss. I’m just an elf! You’re the head honcho, the main man, the big cheese. You’ve always called the shots. But you haven’t done a thing this year. I’ve had to do it all myself.”
Santa hrumphed, his attention returning to the TV.
Herbie wasn’t finished. “Sure, I can give a rough estimate of how many toys to make. But I don’t know exactly who’s been bad or good. For goodness’ sake, Boss! What if our production numbers are completely off? What will we do, then?”
As the elf continued his tirade, Santa heard bells outside. An unusual discordant sound, not like the normal pleasant jingling.
“Oh yeah. The reindeer,” said Herbie. “Right, I’ve never saddled them before, either. I didn’t know what kind of bells to get them, Boss. That noise you hear? My best effort. I tried.”
Santa crinkled his rosy brow, thinking it over a moment, but again, like a Siren calling from shore, The Paranormal Channel lured his attention back to the television. Against his will, Santa found himself drifting towards his comfy chair.
A blizzard-y wind gust slammed the door shut. Santa didn’t care. He was too engrossed by what he saw.
That night, as often happened the past few months, Santa fell asleep while watching TV, the last thing he remembered seeing a pseudo-documentary about alien abductions. It was a repeat, actually – he’d seen it three times before – but it still amused him, nonetheless.
Aliens, he remembered thinking before drifting off. Heck, people might as well believe in the Tooth Fairy. Or the Easter Bunny.
Soon he snored softly, his great bearded head flopping backward over his armchair.
He awoke with a start.
Santa looked down and found himself floating above his house. At least a hundred feet in the air. And rising.
No stranger to heights, Santa felt less afraid than confused. His body lay twisted in the same position in which he’d fallen asleep, in a state of levitation now, although his chair was long gone, still safe and warm inside. Nonetheless he continued to ascend.
Santa glanced around as he rose. Nothing appeared to pull him. No ropes, harnesses, pulleys, or reindeer as far as he could see. He just continued to inexplicably rise into the sky.
The moon was abreast on the new fallen snow, and beamed like a beacon above. It grew closer and larger the higher Santa went. Is that where I’m heading? he thought, contemplating the great circular shining light. Instantly, nursery rhymes sprang to mind. Memories of men in the moon, of cheese, dishes running away with spoons, and little dogs laughing.
The stuff of bedtime stories. Of dreams.
Of course, thought Santa. That’s what this is. A dream.
Yet it seemed so real. If this was a dream, it was by far the most realistic one Santa ever had. He literally could feel the air growing colder and thinner the further he rose. He shivered and labored for breath.
Soon Santa realized the moon wasn’t the only light in the sky. It veered off to the left as he approached a second one now, an eerie blue-gray glow in the shape of a flying saucer.
Okay, this is getting ridiculous now, thought Santa. But it makes perfect sense. I guess that’s what I get for watching alien abduction shows before bedtime.
Amused at the increasing absurdity of the dream, Santa found himself ho-ho-ho-ing at the hilarity his subconscious provoked. A hatch opened in the saucer’s belly, and closed behind Santa after sucking him inside.
He glanced around at the steel-gray room. Little green men with big eyes and large hands stood in an oval around him. They held otherworldly-looking devices, attaching wires and suction-cup-like discs all over Santa’s body, and to his head. They spoke in strange-sounding clucks and wisps, their faces betraying no appearance of emotion.
Santa still couldn’t move. As entertaining as this all may have been, that part of the dream still bothered him. No matter how he tried or concentrated, Santa couldn’t get his body out of its twisted formerly sleeping position. Locked in the same chair-bound posture from hours ago, he couldn’t budge even an inch.
An unusual sensation began to swim within his head. If Santa didn’t know better, he’d think the aliens read his thoughts now. Images of good little boys and girls, of presents and stockings hung by the chimney with care, all appeared. Memories of sleigh bells and reindeer and mistletoe and caroling, of yuletide cheer and peace on Earth, goodwill to men.
And then there followed darker images, grainy ones. Images swathed in guilt, more recent. Memories of days and nights spent watching TV when he should have been planning for Christmas. A final elfin image, a door slamming shut behind.
Then, suddenly, a twinge of pain.
“Ow!” yelped Santa.
Another twinge. Another. They grew in intensity.
Santa’s chest heaved as sweat poured from his brow. It darkened his formerly white beard, which acted as a sponge sopping it up.
This isn’t a dream anymore, lamented Santa, wincing. It’s a nightmare!
More stinging agony – poking, prodding, lingering, burrowing, spreading all over his body. On and on, the aliens went about their business, the only sound (besides Santa’s piteous screams) their intermittent bizarre clucks and wisps.
There has to be a logical explanation, thought Santa, in between intense bursts of pain. This can’t be happening. Aliens don’t exist. They don’t abduct people. They…
“Aaaaarrggh!” bellowed Santa, the torment resuming.
Through tears, though, he still refused to believe. No, I know what this is, he thought. “Sleep Paralysis”, yes, that’s what they call it. I’m having a waking nightmare, that’s all. It can’t be real. It can’t be happening. It can’t be…”
“Aaaaarrggh!” he repeated.
Miles below, Herbie the elf crawled into bed, next to his wife, Eleanor.
“Hey, did you hear that?” he asked.
His wife turned over. “What?”
“That sound. Like someone screaming.”
Eleanor tut-tutted, her face furrowing beneath her kerchief. “Herbie, you’ve been working too hard. Get some sleep, dear. You need a break.”
“Wait. Shhh. There it is again!”
“Okay, dear,” said Herbie. “You’re right. I have been working too hard.” He leaned over and pecked her cheek. “Good night.”
Before falling asleep, Herbie swore he heard the same agonizing scream again, but eventually thought better of it. Yes, he was simply working too hard. Eleanor was right. That was all.
Early next morning, Santa awoke in his armchair, bathed in sweat. The sun still hadn’t risen. In front of him, eerie theme music blared from the television. The Paranormal Channel repeated its episode on alien abductions from the night before.
To his relief, Santa found himself able to move again. Letting out a grateful sigh, he immediately grabbed the remote control from the nearby end table and muted the TV.
“That’ll be enough of that,” he thought aloud.
He walked over to the phone and dialed, the TV’s silent images still flashing intermittently, illuminating the room.
“Herbie,” he said. “Sorry to wake you. What day is it?”
“Why, it’s Christmas Eve, Boss,” came the groggy reply.
“Excellent,” said Santa. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, my fine elf. Please come immediately. We have a holiday to plan! Ho, ho, ho.”
Santa hung up the phone, the smile on his face widening. His eyes – how they twinkled. His dimples – how merry.
He turned his attention back to the still-silent television. Little green men appeared on the screen. They waved at him.
“Humbug,” he said, reaching for the remote.
He turned off the TV.
It took a great effort on the part of all concerned, but Christmas Eve went without a hitch. Sure, they needed to cut some corners to make sure all the right toys were made for good little girls and boys, but they were still far better and much less dangerous than anything
could produce. All in all, Santa was pleased. China
As he donned the reins for his sleigh that night, Santa reflected on the past six months, and all the mindless TV-viewing he’d done. He vowed to never watch The Paranormal Channel again. For that matter, what did he even need PerfectTV for at all? He’d gone hundreds of years without it before, surely he’d be fine without it again.
He decided then and there to cancel his subscription immediately.
While Rudolph led the way through the sky (even if the deer’s bells rang slightly out of tune), Santa made all the necessary deliveries, and on time, at that. Just before sunrise Christmas morning, he dropped off his last set of toys somewhere over the North American Great Plains. He turned the sleigh north to head home, bound for a big warm mug of hot chocolate with a sprig of mint, just the way he liked it.
He sighed in anticipation and closed his eyes, imagining the scent.
As Rudolph and the other reindeer high-tailed it home, Santa glanced up and saw a strange blue-gray saucer-like glow in the new-dawn sky. It twinkled once, and then disappeared.
Santa scrunched his brow in confusion.
“Was that… No. Impossible,” he mused aloud. Still, he wasn’t convinced.
Santa looked ahead to see if the reindeer noticed, too. Instead of looking up, however, they were all looking down.
Huh? What’s got their attention? he thought.
Santa glanced down, too.
There, across miles of farmland, bathed in burgeoning sunlight, sprawled something Santa saw countless times on The Paranormal Channel. “Crop circles”, they called them. Elaborate designs carved into vast swaths of soil all over the world. Allegedly by aliens, the prevailing thought.
Mostly geometric patterns, they occasionally resembled crude pictures of things like stick-people or even landmarks. But this crop circle was like nothing Santa, or anyone else, had seen before.
Instead of geometric shapes or crude designs, these crop circles were vivid, detailed, three-dimensional. They formed a picture-perfect portrait of Santa himself, right down to his droll little mouth drawn up like a bow. Above this masterpiece, in stylized decorative font, rang a message:
Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night.
At first glance, this appeared to be the end of the message, which seemingly stretched to the horizon. But then, in smaller type, just beneath the elaborately-drawn picture of himself, Santa noticed something additional in the increasing sunlight. It read:
Seeing this, Santa shivered.
Right. Yeah, that hot chocolate sounds real good right about now, he thought, with a quick shake of his head, trying to erase the memory of the image below.
He focused again on the reindeer ahead, and tugged on the reins.
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen!”
And Rudolph, of course.
Within an hour, they all landed, and Herbie approached the sleigh.
“Merry Christmas, Boss,” he said.
“Merry Christmas, Herbie.”
“I’ve got the usual waiting right here,” said Herbie, offering the ceremonial annual cup of hot chocolate.
“Thanks, Herbie,” said Santa, taking the mug. His mitten-covered hands shook noticeably, cocoa-brown liquid spilling over the side.
At last steadying himself, Santa paused before sipping, and glanced up at the elf.
“Em, Herbie, is Happy Harry’s open today?” asked Santa.
“You mean the Elf pub? Yes, I think so, Boss, but why would…”
“Good. I need something stronger,” said Santa, tossing the hot chocolate over his shoulder.
Herbie gasped. He continued staring, astonished.
Stomping away, Santa glanced back at his assistant. “Hey. Care to join me?”
The elf mulled it over a second. He nodded.
“Sure, Boss,” he said. “It’s been a rough season. Not a bad idea at all.”
So, arm-in-arm, Herbie reaching above, Santa stooping below, the two longtime companions walked into Happy Harry’s corner pub. The thick chestnut doors closed behind them.
Hours of laughter and mirth followed, and a merry Christmas was had by all.
Late that evening, far above, a faint blue-gray star twinkled in the night.
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