Yesterday Derek Elkins got us started with some strong action. Today, it is my turn. This story first appeared as a plot idea in a blog in which I was making fun of Hallmark Christmas Movies. I argued they needed more Zombie.
Well, here we are. I hope you enjoy this bit of frivolous fun. Remember, we are just trying to entertain you a bit with some free stories from the Fondue Writers Club. No paywalls, no credit card numbers, no email lists. Just read.
Drool ran down the corner of Santa’s mouth and onto his beard. He only did that when he was bone-tired, and he was only bone-tired two days a year. July 16 always found him exhausted beyond measure, because July 15 was elf bath day. As the Chief Elf, Santa’s primary responsibility to the elf community was to make certain all one hundred or so elves who lived at the North Pole got their annual cleaning. It was by far the hardest day of the year for him and it took weeks for the bite marks to heal.
The second hardest day was, of course, December 24. Delivering toys to every good boy and girl on the planet wasn’t as easy as it once was. Back in the old days, there just weren’t that many children, but now with human population nearing ten billion, Christmas Eve was becoming exceedingly difficult. The result was December 25th always found Santa in his favorite recliner with drool oozing out of his windburned lips and puddling onto his white whiskers. If he was lucky, a pile of cookie crumbs would bounce up and down on his belly as he snored.
On this particular Christmas Eve, he’d already achieved a level of R.E.M. sleep, so he didn’t hear the door buzz. He did hear the shout, though.
“Father Christmas, we’ve got to get you to the safe room.”
It was Dropsy, chief of security. He was a competent elf who had inherited his position from his father, Popsy.
“Safe room,” Santa roused himself out of the chair. “What on earth for?”
“We don’t know exactly, but something is wrong with some of the elves.”
“What do you mean, wrong?”
“No time to explain, Nick. We gotta get you to the safe room.”
Dropsy escorted Santa from his recreational room and out into the darkness of the North Pole. “Where is my wife?” Santa said.
“She is en route as well,” Dropsy said. “Sopsy, is taking her there now.”
The wind blew fiercely. Snow swirled around in the darkness. Santa’s brilliant, timeless mind began to wake up as the cold slapped his synapses. His mind reviewed the previous day. It had been a near perfect Christmas, executed flawlessly. What could have gone wrong? He had successfully avoided the Jihad in the Middle East and the sad dark peninsula of North Korea. New York was navigated without difficulties. He couldn’t figure out what the problem could be.
Dropsy reached out his hand and halted his boss.
“Do you see them?” he said. They had just rounded the bend in the trail that went around the Egg Nog Cistern.
“Yes, I do,” Santa nodded. “It looks like Raspy and Daspy. Maybe they will have some answers.”
“I don’t think so. Look closer, sir.”
Santa squinted. His impish eyes adjusted to night vision. He saw the two people he recognized, but their faces were gaunt. The pupils of their eyes glowed red. Cobalt puss oozed down their cheeks.”
“They’re sick,” Santa shouted. “We have to help them!” Santa lunged away from Dropsy and rushed toward his friends. “What happened to you?” He shouted as he neared.
Dropsy yelled, “No, wait!” but Santa was too fast to be thwarted.
Raspy and Daspy growled at the giver of gifts and opened wide their mouths to chomp on the pink flesh. Santa was caught unawares. They grabbed him and pushed him to the ground and were ready to tear him from limb to limb. Just before they sank their teeth into him, Dropsy, fired two shots from his service revolver, exploding both of their heads.
Mrs. Claus rushed toward her husband when he and Dropsy entered the safe room.
“Step back, ma’am,” Dropsy said. “I don’t want to break the two of you up, but Papa Noel here is covered in, well, whatever is now pumping through the veins of about thirty of our elves.”
“Thirty?” Santa whispered.
“Probably more like fifty by now,” said Smartsy.
Smartsy was the chief scientific officer of the North Pole. Usually, that meant he developed toys of a scientific nature. His most successful enterprise of the last half century was the iPhone. He developed it in the late 1980s, but it took almost three decades to find someone to manufacture and market the device. Even then, Steve Jobs almost ruined the whole thing with his perfectionism and insistence upon Apple Music.
Mrs. Claus turned to Smartsy, “What is going on?” She raised her hands, palms up. “We haven’t had to come to the safe room since those Heaven’s Gates fanatics stopped by on their way to the comet.” She said comet in air quotations with her long and perfectly manicured fingers.
“We just rode those out,” Smartsy said. “This time will not be that easy. This will be more like the unfortunate Soviet Incident of 1972.”
“I wasn’t here for that,” Mrs. Claus said. Smartsy winced. He’d forgotten Santa gets a new wife every twenty-five years.
Smartsy, demonstrating his smarts, changed the subject by punching up a display on the computer panel that formed the long backwall of the safe room. “It took me and my team a while to go through all the data, but if you will look carefully at this video feed from the rear skid on Santa’s sleigh, you will see just as you took flight over the housetops in this Louisiana swamp, Junior Assistant Elf Flappsy was bitten by what looks like a rabid politician. That politician has since been diagnosed with Zombie and was, as is the custom in the United States for all Zombies, immediately sworn in as United States Senator. It seems like the disease has spread to our peaceful habitat here in the Arctic.”
“What can we do about it?”
“I have a couple of options, but Dropsy, why don’t you present your plan The Big Guy first?”
Santa and Mrs. Claus looked at Dropsy, eyes wide with hope. Dropsy pushed a few buttons on his own communications device and the screen turned to a layout of Santa’s compound. “We have gathered fifty-three of the elves who are positively not infected with the Zombie virus in these four holding rooms. Each one is guarded by one of my children. The rest, those wandering the perimeter the way we found Raspy and Daspy, well, they are expendable.”
“Expendable?” Santa shook his head. “You mean killed?”
“Yes, in about thirty minutes I can take them all out. It is unfortunate, but it might be the only way we can save everyone else. It is fast, efficient, and one-hundred percent effective.”
“You’re talking about killing almost half the elves?” Mrs. Claus brought her hand to her mouth. “Half.”
“Yes, that is true, but Smartsy and I have talked about it, and we can recruit cobbler elves to take their positions and have them trained for toymaking by mid-summer. The following Christmas might be a bit smaller than previous years, but we will survive. Survival is what matters.”
“Isn’t there any way to save them?” Santa’s head drooped.
Smartsy began, “We hypothesize sunshine will do it. Political Zombieism cannot survive the light of day. It is what has cured every other batch in human history. The problem for us, of course, is we will not see daylight here until June. We can’t survive and hold them off that long without killing them, and likewise, they will not survive that long out of doors without shelter or food. At some point they will turn on each other and their death would be horrific.”
“I will not let them suffer.” Santa said.
“There is one more option,” Dropsy said. He pointed to Smartsy. “Tell him, Smartsy. Tell him what you told me.”
“There is another way.”
“I took the liberty of calling Suzie to confirm it.” Smartsy looked at the ground and then finally at Santa. “Just as I suspected, Suzie Snowflake tells me there is one person who has continually and constantly dealt with this kind of disease that infects the soul as well as the body.”
Santa stood up and put his hands over his ears. “No, don’t say it.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Smartsy said. “But it is true. He can freeze it out of them. Just as light exposes the virus, cold can, like truth, eradicate it.”
“Okay,” Santa nodded, “I accept that logic. But can’t we generate enough cold around here, I mean, this is the North Pole for crying-out-loud, can’t we get them cold enough to heal them? We don’t need him to do it, right?”
“All we can do,” Smartsy said, “is make them cold from the outside in. He, and to our knowledge, he alone, can freeze them from the inside out. That is where it has to start. All change, and you know this, sir, all real change starts on the inside. And only he can do that.”
The “Him” Smartsy spoke of was Jack Frost. It was no secret The Man In the Red Suit and Jack Frost were on bad terms. Once upon a time they had been close. Rumor has it they are cousins, but no one has ever come up with definitive evidence or a family tree. As far as any of the elves know, Santa has no mother or father and he and Baby New Year are sui generis. It is accepted fact, though, amongst the elves that Jack Frost is himself elfish, but from a different line of elves who experimented with magic and the taboo elements of nature. Modern elves disdain magic and opt instead for hard work, peppermint, and cheap electronics from China.
Another rumor is that Jack Frost had an affair with the thirteenth Mrs. Claus, the one who preferred everyone to call her Veronica. Santa found the two of them in flagrante delecto on a New Year’s Eve where too much holiday wine was shared. The rumor goes further that Santa banished that Mrs. Claus to sell low-grade jewelry on QVC and Jack was never invited back for another party. The rumor further goes that Santa caught them in the Slinky warehouse which is why no one gets a Slinky for Christmas anymore.
The elves who help Santa in the tropical regions, and who never come to the North Pole, tell a different tale. They say Santa won a game of dice against Frost and the wager was the warm weather climates where old Frozen Jack couldn’t encroach. Jack tried to renegotiate, and Santa wouldn’t let him. This, according to the Caribbean elves, is why they are at odds. It was a favor Santa owed to the pirates who rescued him once when he was stranded asea. It was during that time period Santa developed the “Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Christmas” he is now famous for, which is a slight variation on ‘Yo-Ho-Ho a Pirate’s Life For Me.’
No one knows if any of this is true or not, but everyone knows what happened in 1986. The facts of that incident are verifiable and undeniable because of the CCTV. Jack Frost crashed the St. Valentine’s Day party. He brought four minions, Frostbite, Windchill, Hypo, and Thermia with him. It is hard to know if Hypo and Thermia count as one or two, because they are twins frozen at the hip. During the party, Jack Frost drank way too much, started cursing, picked a fight with Yukon Cornelius, and urinated in the fruit punch.
That was when Santa banished him, placing him for all time on the naughty list. It is an oath he swore to never go back on. Indeed, it would take a great team of elfish lawyers to undo the oath. In all of history, only four others have been put on the forever naughty list: Atilla, Henry VIII, Rasputin, and Alec Baldwin.
Santa took five minutes to change out of the soiled clothes. He traded the soiled flannel shirt and sweatpants he’d been napping in and put on the tan Carhartt heavy coat, Wrangler jeans, and Doc Martin boots which were in the Safe Room. He also armed himself with a Kringle revolver, a set of brass knuckles, and a Tanto knife. One never knew what to expect at Jack’s igloo.
“I’ll travel by Magic,” Santa said when he came out of the lav. “No sense taking any chances on sleds, sleighs, or snowmobiles.”
“Do you have any magic left?” Dropsy said. “Didn’t Christmas use it all up?”
“Most of it, yes. My Magic will not be back at full strength until the Ides of March. But I do have a little in me. I can feel it. There is just enough to get me there.”
Mrs. Claus eyes narrowed. “What about getting back?”
“If things go well, that won’t be a problem. If they don’t go well,” Santa looked away, “then it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
“Don’t say that!” Mrs. Claus embraced him, pulling him tight. “I need you. The world needs you. Don’t lose your focus.”
Smartsy cleared his throat, “We will send a rescue sled in that direction as soon as you depart, as a backup.” He punched a few numbers on his keypad. “But I’m sure we will not need it.”
“Good plan,” Santa nodded. “I guess that is why you are in charge of intelligence.”
Santa checked his gear, zipped up his jacket, and then brought his index finger to his nose and wiggled it, while at the same time visualizing in his mind Jack Frost’s igloo.
Frost’s igloo was in Antartica, which was the other side of the world. By sled this trip would take at least two hours. By Magic it took fourteen seconds.
The igloo sat on the rim of the large gaping hole that led to the center of the earth. It was from here that elves emerged eons ago, though no one has ever gone back to explore. Some of Frost’s pixies have, over the years, gone down to try and discover the mystery but they never returned. Frost knows what is down there, but he will not divulge that information. He has made it his sworn duty to keep any humans from entering. So determined was he to protect the secrets of the hole he engaged in what could only be described as a war with the United States Navy in 1946 and 47, eventually forcing Admiral Byrd to withdraw.
Santa emerged from the stretch of Magic into the brightest of light. He shielded his eyes with his hand. The sun’s radiance reflected off the ice cap. He’d remembered to bring his Ray Bans, and he slid them over his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the igloo compound. Frost’s flag, a navy-blue snowflake pierced by a dazzling white icicle, flapped in the wind. Santa sniffed, and he smelled nothing. Just the way Frost likes it. He popped a piece of butterscotch into his mouth to remind him of home.
Claus took a step toward the igloo. The proximity alarm went off. The snow around his feet came to life. It crawled up his leg, freezing him in place as it inched up toward his groin. He kicked and fumed, but it was no use. Santa breathed a sigh of relief when the trap stopped mid-thigh. The wind came from behind him and lifted him into the air and towards the igloo’s roof. Three ice blocks slid aside as the wind brought the not-so-jolly soul onto the ice floor.
“That was not a very warm welcome,” Santa said shaking his head at Jack Frost, who stood over him.
“Warm is not my thing,” Frost said. His deep voice vibrated the ice.
Santa’s voice was high-pitched and squeally, and he’d always envied Frost’s resonate bass.
Before Santa could realize what happened, the floor liquified, then refroze around his hands and feet, sealing him on all fours.
“What brings you here?” Frost put his foot on Santa’s back.
The bearded man took a gulp of air. He spoke the words he’d thought through while changing back at the North Pole. “We are in trouble. I need your help. Only you can save the elves.”
“What have you done, old man?”
“About half of them, around fifty or so, are sick. They have a zombie virus that is transforming them into monsters.”
“Just kill them. You can always get more elves. That is what you did with the twenty-eight who became Nazi’s in 1938.”
Santa winced. Yet another old wound Frost never let him forget. It was like Jack was a computer which held all of Santa’s failures.
“We’re hoping to avoid bloodshed. Smartsy says—”
“Smartsy!” Jack shouted. “You still have that nerd around? I thought for sure you’da gotten rid of him after that embarrassing issue with the Segway.”
Santa ignored the jab. The Segways weren’t entirely Smartsy fault. Everyone thought they’d be a hit.
“Listen, Frost. It was hard for me to come here and ask you for help with all we’ve been through. But I can’t do it without you. Smartsy says your ability to freeze them from the inside out is the only thing that can kill the virus. Will you help me? Will you save my elves?”
Frost circled around his captive, then sat down on the ice in front of Santa and folded his legs underneath him. “What’s in it for me?” He looked into Santa’s eyes and the two saw each other clearly. “You know what I want, Saint Nicholas. You know what I need. I can’t keep living this life of exile and isolation. It has gotten so bad that I have started blogging about shaved ice and snow cones. Can you imagine, me, the mighty and powerful Chieftain of Chill reduced to liking and commenting on SallyScherbertsUltimate blog about where to get the best coconut snow cone in SoCal?”
Ice pellets fell from his eyes and piled onto the floor.
“You say you need me, and only I can help. But Kringle, I need something only you can give. Only you can lift the banishment. Only you can bring me home from exile.”
Santa sighed. “I know. And I’ve been thinking about that, too.”
Old Man Christmas wiggled his hands and shook his boots which shattered the ice cuffs. He stood erect.
Surprised, one of Frost’s guards, a fanged pixie named Tundra lurched at Santa. Before Tundra knew what happened, Santa chopped him into cubes with his Japanese blade.
Santa twirled the knife in his left hand and pivoted around the room. “Anyone else want to try me? I’m not in the mood for this and I haven’t had my nap out, so I’m a little spicy.”
The room was silent. Frost knew he was no match for Santa.
Papa Noel sheathed the weapon and knocked more of the ice from his hands and boots. “Jack, I’m prepared to lift the banishment. If that is all you want that is what I will give you. But I am also willing to bury the ice pic completely. I’d like for you to come back as a full member of the Elf Community. I’ll reinstate your seat on the Yule Log. It was wrong of me to banish you. It was a kneejerk reaction. We all need each other, as this recent incident has demonstrated.” Santa reached out an open hand in peace, “I was wrong.”
Jack Frost took Santa’s hand, and they both envisioned the North Pole in their minds.
They arrived just in time. The Elfin Zombies had worked their way into the gymnasium where about twenty noninfected elves had taken shelter. Jack sprang to action and froze them all solid. The zombiecicles were then taken outside and chained together. After they were secured, Smartsy wrapped them all in thermal blankets so they could slowly thaw. It took about fifteen hours, but it worked.
“No sign of infection or any aggressive tendencies” Dropsy reported to Santa, who was playing backgammon with Jack in the Gingerbread Lodge. “There are two unfortunate side effects, though.”
“What side effects?” Santa looked up and sipped from his hot wassail.
Dropsy frowned, “All the rescued male elves are walking with a limp, and the female elves all think they are Jennifer Lawrence. Smartsy says this should clear up in a week or so, but he also adds he doesn’t really know.”
Jack grinned, and Santa saw it. “Jack, did you do that on purpose?”
Frost’s only response was a chuckle so deep the pieces on the board moved.