Claus: Rise of the Miser
The fifth installment in the Claus Universe is coming to town.
It started with a letter.
The boy who wrote it wasn’t much different than other little boys, full of hopes and dreams and puppy dog tails. He took a blank piece of paper and a pencil and, with his tongue between his teeth, wrote in very neat cursive.
Dear Santa, it started. All letters to the North Pole start that way, sure. It’s what followed that made all the difference.
Dear Santa, I hope you are warm. I will leave you a blanket when you stop by my house. I do not want anything for Christmas. Can you bring my mother something? And if it is not too much, could you maybe give me a ride on your sleigh? I understand if you can’t.
Seriously, he wrote that. If I could cry, I would.
How many seven-year-olds don’t want anything for Christmas except for their mom to be happy? I’ll tell you, none. That’s how many.
He wrote that letter in looping cursive letters and sealed it in an envelope before taking it to his mom because he didn’t want her to read it. Not that he was embarrassed. He believed letters to Santa were like birthday wishes. If you told someone, they didn’t come true.
Santa Claus, North Pole, he addressed it, because everyone knew where Santa lived. He gave it to his mom and she put a stamp on it. The next day, they took it to the post office. And that was it.
Well, not entirely.
His mom actually opened it before they mailed it. It wasn’t just her curiosity that got the best of her. He wouldn’t tell her what he wanted for Christmas, so you know what she was thinking.
She ended up bawling.
Of course, Santa didn’t wake him up when he stopped by on Christmas. There were no magic sleigh rides, but his mom did seem happier in the morning, so the boy got what he wanted. Minus the sleigh ride.
I wasn’t around when all of this happened. In fact, I wasn’t anywhere. But I have a copy of the letter. I know what he did and what she did, the details of their memories, the way he sealed the envelope, how he tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve, and how his mother cried.
But like any good iceberg, there’s way more to the story beneath the surface. It started with the letter, but it has a lot to do with a mother’s love.
And a very fat man.
The fat man sat on the chimney.
His belly full of jelly rested on his legs, with an ache in his back. Claus was getting old.
He knew exactly how old he was but refused to ever say it. When the elven gathered around his birthday cake and asked how many candles were lit, he would say something like enough to light all the Christmas trees in the world or enough to guide my sleigh. Didn’t matter what he said, they laughed and cheered. They loved him.
They loved everything.
Born Nicholas Santa, he was now Santa Claus—a man no longer bound to the laws of human nature. Elven magic flowed through his veins. The story on how that came to be was long and convoluted. There were rumors of his existence and how he got to the North Pole, but no man or woman knew everything. There were shreds of truth in their songs and stories. They knew about the reindeer, but not all of them. They knew about his Christmas Eve trip, but not his practice run. They knew about the presents.
But they really didn’t know everything.
Two hundred was impossible for a human to live, but in elven years it was but a handful of snowflakes in a North Pole blizzard. A two-hundred-year-old elven was hardly a teenager. Despite the longevity, Claus’s back hurt. He should lose some weight, but he lived on the North Pole. The insulation was a necessity. Human limitations still held court in his body.
Perhaps it’s time to end the practice run.
For centuries, he’d taken the sleigh out on the first day of December. It was an abbreviated trip, a quick survey of the world. He would make a few stops, see how societies had changed, who was naughty and nice. Radio personalities always announced his approach on Christmas Eve, whether they saw his sleigh or not. But no one knew about the practice run.
This year was no different.
His body, however, reminded him it was two hundred years older and maybe these practice runs weren’t necessary. He could do the routes with his eyes closed. There were years he’d fallen asleep while crossing mountain ranges. The reindeer knew what to do, probably with their eyes closed, too.
Maybe things ached because he hadn’t been paying attention to his posture, like Mrs. Claus told him every time he climbed into the sleigh.
There was a loud snort.
His sleigh was on a pitched roof, the golden rails buried in the frigid fluff. The house was built into a hilltop. In the summer, the grassy earth would cool the house below. In the winter, it insulated the rooms filled with cookies and candles, steaming cups of cider and hot chocolate. He could smell it through the chimney.
So could the reindeer.
His lead reindeer looked up. Ronin’s jaws worked side to side. His wide rack of antlers—the largest of any reindeer—spanned almost as wide as the roof. His most reliable and faithful reindeer was still missing from holiday lore. All of the other reindeer were accounted for by name and gender, but not the biggest and baddest of them all.
No glowing noses in this bunch.
Claus lifted a gloved hand. He needed another minute to rest his bones. Ronin buried his snout in the feedbag. This was their December fodder, a special blend for long hauls. It would allow them to inflate their helium bladders for the jumps ahead.
Maybe Claus needed a special blend.
The town below was nestled between two white-capped mountains. A blanket of snow rested in the valley. The scene was distorted through the timesnapper distortion field. Christmas lights were smudges of red and green and white. Outside the translucent bubble, time had nearly come to a stop. Snowflakes hung like crystal ornaments.
Inside, time marched to its normal beat.
No one could see him inside the timesnapper. He could circle the world before the second hand ticked on Big Ben. It was peaceful and quiet inside the bubble. Only the reindeer’s grinding molars disturbed the silent night. Occasionally, the harness bells jingled. This was still his favorite time of year.
But it had been so much easier when he first started.
The gifts were simpler back then and joy wasn’t as elusive. Technology complicated things. Humankind had almost caught up with elven technology. They were more of a danger to themselves than anything else. This concern grew larger every year. In the wrong hands, elven technology could change the world.
A chorus of bells rang.
The reindeer were restless. Time might be relative inside the timesnapper, but it was not endless. Santa stood up and stretched. He loosened the black belt around his waist. He’d already given up two notches since last Christmas. He would have to pace himself before Christmas arrived.
The night of cookies and milk.
The winter did not affect him like men in the normal world, but he could still feel the cold. At that moment, though, he wasn’t feeling the nip of winter at all. In fact, it was beginning to feel a bit warm.
He wasn’t immune to illness. The year of 1970 was the Christmas that would never end. He had the flu. Despite the protests from Mrs. Claus, he mounted the sleigh at midnight. The world was counting on him. He took several naps inside the timesnapper, shivering with fever. He was beginning to feel hot.
This didn’t feel like a fever, though.
Water was trickling. Snow was melting from the roof and dripping from the shingles.
The timesnapper has malfunctioned, he thought.
Before he could turn, a great and wonderful sleepiness fell over him. Perhaps the flu was back. He reached for the chimney; then he felt the pitched roof on his back. He tingled all over.
Then closed his eyes.
The last thing he heard was the jingling of the reindeer’s harness bells in the distance.