Saturday, December 24, 2016

Santa vs. the Neighbor




"The damn neighbor again," she said. "As if wearing red underwear on the outside of that awful blue spandex wasn't enough, flying supersonic over the North Pole again? At this hour?"
Ah, so it had been a sonic boom. That was getting old. Half the elves were frightened by them and the other half cheered enthusiastically when he flew by. The reindeer herd was skittish at best with the big day less than a week out and they needed their sleep between training runs.
"Not very neighborly, is he?" Santa said, rolling over in hopes of ending the conversation.
"Gonna be a rough Christmas if the herd can't get a decent night's sleep."
He could read between the lines. They'd had this discussion several times since the alien-posing-as-super-human built (no, grew) his house (make that a fortress) next door to 1 North Pole. Missus hadn't taken to his manner of dress, activities at all hours, or the crowd of misfits he associated with. She expected Santa to do something, confront the guy. He wasn't exactly the confrontational sort but a courtesy call was at least in order.
"I'll pop over there in the morning."
"Mmm-hmm."
Santa sighed at his wife's skeptical response. What could he do? He was jolly by nature, so jolly it would have to be.

#

Following his team's training run, Santa made a stop in front of 2 North Pole. He'd visited once, when the neighbor first moved in, but things had changed a little bit since then. The structure - all massive columns of clear and white crystal set at angles - was both beautiful and intimidating, and apparently still growing. Fortress was certainly a good word for it, though it was unlikely to ever face a siege up in these parts. Even the polar bears had the good sense to stay away. The other difference was the addition of a junker out in the front yard up on blocks.
Santa's team pulled up alongside the eye-sore and he scoffed with a "ho" while disembarking and tromping up through the snow to the front door. There was no doorbell or knocker, not even a handle, on the thirty-foot tall monstrosity, just a single massive keyhole halfway up.
Summoning up his mighty voice, Santa boomed out, "Jingle, jingle!"
Almost immediately the door opened and there stood his neighbor. The man was tall, statuesque, and handsome to a fault. His hair was black, combed back save for a stray curl that dipped across his forehead. He was dressed in his usual working costume - blue body suit that left little of his muscled bumpiness to the imagination, red boots, cape, and aforementioned trunks, and yellow highlights, including the conspicuous logo on his chest that was most certainly not a letter despite the uncanny resemblance.
"Greetings, neighbor!" Santa couldn't help but sound cheery. And, since he knew all the good deeds this man had done for humanity, he couldn't rightly be too upset at the odd minor indiscretion.
"Hi Santa." The man said and shook Santa's hand with a grip like steel. "What brings you over?"
"Oh, was just out with my team on a training run this morning," Santa said. "Been meaning to drop in and see how you were getting settled in."
The man shrugged. "Getting along alright, I guess. It's quiet. I like the solitude."
Santa jumped on the best passive-aggressive opening for which he could have hoped. "Speaking of quiet, I've been meaning to ask you about those occasional fly-byes you've been doing over my place."
The man cringed apologetically. "I know, the sonic booms are a bit much, aren't they? I'm really sorry about that."
Santa chuckled in a low voice that was almost sub-sonic. He knew the man to be sincere.
"Yes, well, I don't mind them so much, but it is spooking my herd." Santa thrust a mittened thumb over his shoulder toward the reindeer hitched to his sleigh. "What with Christmas only a few days away, they need their beauty rest."
The man held up both hands. "Say no more," he said. "I'll do what I can to avoid buzzing your place, especially at night. But, you know when a sweatshop in Bangladesh is fully engulfed, well, every second counts. You know how it is."
Santa nodded, then realized by doing so he'd more or less just conceded that his neighbor's motives took precedent over the Christmas operation. Santa couldn't rightly call him out on that because, well, it was Christmas and there was nothing more important to his own very nature, but he wasn't blind to the ethical dilemma. He was irritated at himself for so easily giving up his point.
"Right, thanks," Santa said, managing not to grumble. In a brief moment of pique, however, he turned things back on the neighbor. "Oh, and I noticed that wreck out in your yard. You know, my elves could come over and salvage it for scrap. Wouldn't take them more than an hour to have it stripped clear."
Take that, he thought. Yeah, I called you out on it.
"That's very kind of you to offer," the man said, non-plussed. "But that's the spaceship in which I crashed on Earth as an infant. My adoptive mother was tired of my enemies poking around the farm for it in hopes of extracting technological secrets or that sort of thing. I just brought it up here, but the new room to store it in hasn't finished growing yet. Shouldn't be more than another day or two and that...eyesore...will be out of the way."
Santa’s rosy red cheeks flush further. Now he felt like a complete tool. He should have remembered that tidbit about the man, having brought him gifts since he was a wee little thing.
"My mistake," Santa said, trying to salvage some face. "Had no idea. Sentimentality is a precious thing."
An awkward silence hung between them for several shakes of a jingle bell.
"Well, I hope I haven't kept you from saving the world again," Santa said, hitching up the belt on his belly. "I should be off to finish the day's training with the team. Breaking in a new reindeer this year. You know how that is."
The man nodded in polite agreement. "Stop by any time."
Santa waved farewell and started back for his sleigh when the man called out.
"Oh, I've been meaning to stop by and thank your wife for the new outfits. I really appreciated the gesture, but I'm not sure it'll work out."
Santa caught his step as he flushed with humiliation. Missus had sent the guy a new costume? Or costumes? And hadn't even mentioned it to him? That was bold and could've been construed as rude, depending on what she'd sent.
He turned back. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize she'd sent you anything."
The man just shrugged like it wasn't any big deal. "I liked the one that replaced my red trunks and boots for a solid blue look, but the media raked me over the coals for the change so I went back. And the all-black look... Yeah, I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet."
Santa nodded, unsure what he could even say.
"Anyway, I really appreciated her gesture and I'll pop over to thank her in person as soon as I can. Unfortunately, there's a chemical spill situation breaking in Uganda that I should probably go lend a hand with."
Santa said, "I'll let her know and please go, don't let me get in your way."
The man saluted with a couple fingers from his brow and launched into the air, his red cape whipping in his wake.
Santa couldn't believe how such a nice, wholesome man could invoke such irritation in him. Most of it was directed at himself and his wife, not the neighbor.
"Peppermint sticks!" He grumbled all the way back to the sleigh, decidedly not looking forward to speaking with Missus over his afternoon hot cocoa.

#

The remaining days in the lead-up to Christmas Eve had been blessedly quiet. The neighbor, whether intentionally or not, hadn't done a supersonic flyby over 1 North Pole and preparations for the big day had gone smoothly. Santa's unsettled instinct, however, proved prescient, and everything went sideways with about six hours to go before Christmas deliveries were to get underway.
Santa was outside, giving his sleigh its final inspection with a team of elvish mechanics. The sky, perpetually dark this time of year, exploded with brilliant yellow and orange fire, turning the winter wonderland into a hellish landscape. Concussions that made the neighbor's sonic booms pale by comparison rocked the region several seconds later. The reindeer herd began bleating in panic and Santa had to rally extra handlers to get them under control.
Smoke and flame obscured what was going on in the sky, but Santa's assistant Ginger was by his side within moments, anticipating his questions.
"Looks like some extra-dimensional warship, about four miles long, has engaged your, uh, neighbor, in some sort of grudge match," she said, gazing into her snow globe. "They're going at it right over his fortress."
The heat rising in Santa's veins could have roasted chestnuts. He watched simultaneously in person and through the elf's snow globe as the scenic peak of the nearby Frosty Mountain was obliterated in the crossfire. Chucks of molten metal and slabs of dislodged granite rained down on his property, where they changed into harmless snowflakes via the protective Christmas magic. Still, his defenses didn't help against the noise and shaking, and everyone was in disarray. Had this battle been joined six hours later, Santa's magic would have reached a peak where he could intervene with a miracle. For now, however, he could do little but stand by and watch.
"What should we do, Santa?" Ginger sounded as worried as he'd ever heard the elf. That tone brought him back into the moment.
"We prepare for Christmas, just like always," he said, the jolly gone from his voice. "Make sure everyone stays on task."
"And that?" Ginger nodded toward the neighbor's property.
"Won't be a problem." Santa tried to sound convincing. It shouldn't be a problem, he thought, as long as they didn't let it be a distraction.
"Got it, boss."
As Ginger hurried off to carry out his wishes, Santa excused himself from the last bit of the sleigh inspection. He trundled back to his office where he pulled out the final versions of the nice and naughty lists. Dipping his quill in a pot of ink, he scratched out one name from the nice list and added it to the naughty.

#

There had been some rough Christmases in the past, but this one was certainly among the bottom ten. All the gifts were delivered, the cookies and milk consumed, and Christmas cheer spread to every corner of the world. Nothing technically went wrong. The entire vibe, though, between him, his team of reindeer, and the support crew of elves back at the North Pole, was off. Santa, in a rarity, was glad to be done rather than disappointed that the holiday was already over.
Over, that was, except for one last delivery.
Santa guided his team to land in a scorched patch of ground in front of the heavily damaged remains of 2 North Pole. The neighbor's fortress hadn't fared particularly well in the battle, but it had survived more intact than the interloper's flying warship which was now in rubble spread across several dozen square miles. The smell of burnt plastic and molten metal assaulted his nose.
The fortress was empty. He could sense that much as he slipped in through the shattered door. Inside, massive columns of crystal had fallen amongst the various trophies and mementos from the hero's exploits. It was a mess.
Without a stocking in sight, Santa produced one and magically affixed it to a relatively intact, bare stretch of wall. Into it, he stuffed a handful of coal. Deep in his heart, he knew the alien meant well. He even knew the guy had probably just saved the Earth. In spite of all that, though, the passive aggressive part of him felt good about sending this not-so-subtle jab for the incessant unneighborly behavior everyone at 1 North Pole had been forced to deal with recently.
With a twinkle in his eye, he let out a final ho, ho, ho to mark the end of the season.

#

Santa oversaw the unhooking of his reindeer team, thanking each for their good effort. The elves swarmed over the sleigh and pressed him for stories about how the deliveries had gone. His spirits lifting, he indulged them all, putting off his own desire to settle into the recliner in front of his fireplace.
When he finally got away and let himself in the front door of his house, Santa realized something was amiss. They had a guest.
"Welcome home, dear," Missus said, wiping her hands on her apron as she hurried over to give him a big hug. She was in remarkably high spirits. "Everything go well?"
"Well enough," Santa said, looking over her shoulder and feeling that Christmas cheer fade as he saw the neighbor sitting at the dining room table, still in costume, eating cookies and drinking a mug of hot chocolate. The man raised the mug in a toast while his eyes twinkled good-naturedly.
"Hello Santa."
It was impossible for Santa to be anything but a gracious host, no matter how uncomfortable that might be, so he nodded and greeted their neighbor. Had the guy opened his stocking yet?
Missus guided Santa to the dining room by his elbow. "Our neighbor just came over to apologize for all that mess yesterday," she said cheerfully. Santa couldn't believe this was the same woman who'd decried their neighbor almost daily since he'd moved in.
"And I'll have it cleaned up as soon as possible," the neighbor said.
"He even asked me if I'd help him landscape the place, afterward," Missus said, practically tittering. "Some pines with Christmas lights, maybe some winter flowers, it'll be beautiful when we're done with it."
We? Santa just nodded. "Sounds lovely."
"Oh, and you have to try these snickerdoodles he brought over," she said, handing Santa a cookie as if he hadn't just eaten upwards of a billion of them last night.
"They're my mom's," the neighbor said. "I made a quick trip down to Kansas so I wouldn't show up empty-handed."
Santa nodded. He munched on the cookie, remembering that he'd had this very recipe, baked by the neighbor's mother no less, many times before. They were good.
"Empty-handed, hardly," Missus said. "He also brought this. Which he made himself. Such craftsmanship!"
Missus picked up from the table a small snowman figurine, each of the body pieces a singular, perfect diamond. Santa knew, instinctively, just where those diamonds had come from - crushed into existence from a certain stocking full of coal. Touché.
Shamed, Santa gave up. He couldn't hold grudges or be angry, not in the face of a gift and gesture of goodwill on Christmas. "Thank you," he said. "It's beautiful."
"You're most welcome," the neighbor said, standing such that his cape swayed dramatically behind him. "And thank you, Mrs. Claus, for your hospitality. I should be off to start cleaning up my mess. Merry Christmas to the both of you."
Santa shook his hand and stood beside his wife as they watched the neighbor fly off.
Missus sighed, leaning in to her husband. "He sure can fill out that costume. Looks better up close, in person."
Santa cast a sideways glance at his wife, which she completely missed as her gaze lingered on the vanishing speck.
"Wouldn't hurt you to work out once in a while, huh?" She nudged his bowl full of jelly and returned inside.

Santa grumbled a few things about keeping up with the neighbors under his breath before sighing and finally closing the door.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Leftover



Third consecutive year for writing a Christmas story. I think that official makes it a tradition. Different feel from the last couple years. Hope you enjoy it.



Christmas Leftover

Santa took a long, deep breath of the salty Pacific air. Ordinarily, these last couple deliveries in American Samoa marked a pleasurable end to a long night’s work. Something was off tonight, however, and he couldn’t quite place his finger on it.

His team had done its job remarkably well and the post-Christmas evaluations would be nitpicking. That wasn’t it. The weather had been cooperative, aside from a few dicey moments in the northeast Pacific and that spot of hail in Uruguay. That wasn’t it, either.

Santa climbed into his sleigh and sent his team off to the very last house on his route. When he reached back into his pack to fetch the young girl’s gift, he discovered two packages there. That was it.

“Peppermint sticks!” Santa’s curse drew wary glances from his reindeer.

When was the last time something like this had happened? In the early years, it had been a regular problem until his wife convinced him he really did need to check his list twice. Then the elves put together a quality control program—the department of redundancy department, he liked to call them—and there had been nearly no miscues since. It felt like a breakdown in the system and left an otherwise fine season on a sour notes.

Santa dropped off the young Samoan’s gift and then took a look at the wayward package. It was addressed to Kristi. The address, in elvish script invisible to human eyes, said she lived in Rockham, Oregon in the United States. That would make it nearly dawn, if he wasn’t mistaken. At least there was still time to make the delivery before its absence was noted. He set his team on the course with all due haste.

While the reindeer blazed out across the open water, Santa shook the snow globe on his sleigh’s dash. Within moments, Ginger, his most trusted elf, appeared among the swirling flakes.

“What’s up, Santa? All done?”

“Not exactly,” Santa said.

Ginger’s demeanor changed from playful to profession in the blink of an eye. “Problem?”

“Route’s done, but I have a spare gift in the bag,” he said. He gave her the details. “I’m en route now, but I want you to check the delivery schedule and see if you can’t figure out why it wasn’t on there.”

She nodded somberly. “Get back with you shortly.”

Courtesy of Santa’s own reality, the trip across the Pacific was brief and uneventful. He spent the time recalling up the young Kristi’s gift request. It was a disc golf basket, uncommon but nothing particularly noteworthy.

The address was out in the countryside, just high enough in elevation to have enjoyed a light Christmas snow. Colorful lights illuminated the home and a wisp of smoke rose from the chimney. The eastern horizon was revealing its first hint of pre-dawn gray.

As the team came in for a landing, Rudolph flinched and then banked abruptly. The others followed suit and the sleigh was whipped around roughly. Santa was about to chastise his team lead when he felt it—a powerful aversion to the house itself. It wasn’t cold or evil in nature, just adamant. What in the North Pole was going on?

He directed the team to land just in a clearing just off the property line. They pawed nervously at the ground, but otherwise ignored him. He couldn’t blame them, sharing their agitation.

The snowflakes in his dash globe began to swirl and Ginger’s image returned. He hoped she had an answer for him.

“Sir?”

“What’d you find, Ginger?”

“I can’t explain it. She’s on the master list, clear as day, but not on the delivery schedule. This kind of thing shouldn’t be able to happen.”

He bit back his retort. It wasn’t her fault and she didn’t need to be on the receiving end of his tongue-lashing. Even if someone else had screwed up, it was ultimately on him, and he had a feeling there was more to this than just the delivery schedule.

“I can’t set foot on the property,” he said.

“You…what? Like unholy ground or something?”

Santa stared at the house for a bit. Something nagged him in the back of his mind.

“Does Kristi have a sibling?” Once, long ago, he probably would have been able to remember off the top of his head. He’d gotten lax in recent centuries, relying too much upon his support system.

“Just a sec.” Ginger vanished for a minute and then returned. “Yes. Trevor, age eight.”

That made him three years older than his sister. Santa knew, instinctively, that Trevor was on his good list this year. But he only had a present for Kristi. He would have remembered trying to deliver one here for Trevor.

“He doesn’t have a delivery scheduled,” Ginger said.

No, he didn’t. It all came back to Santa like a kick in his bowl full of jelly.

“Santa?”

He shook his head and ho-ho-hoed. “It’s okay, Ginger. I know what happened.”

“You do?”

“This is an old job.”

Ginger frowned. “I don’t follow.”

Santa grinned. “Pull up Trevor’s file. You’ll understand. In the meantime, I have a gift to unwrap.”

#

Trevor awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed. He’d heard a clatter outside. When the sleepiness cleared his head, he decided it had actually been more of a thump. His room was still dark, but the clock said three minutes to six, which was close enough to his school wake-up time that he wouldn’t get in trouble for getting up. He slipped out from beneath his sheets to see what was the matter.

Pulling aside his curtain, he could just make out the shadows of bushes and trees against the brighter snow on the ground. There were still stars in the sky, but those on the eastern horizon were fading. Nothing immediately struck him as being out of the ordinary until he spotted something dark and circular laying in the snow just beneath his window. A ball? It was too dark to tell for certain. What he did know was that it hadn’t been there when he’d gone to bed. It had been snowing lightly at that point and would have covered whatever it was.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Trevor crept out of his room and down the hall. Kristi, his sister, must have already been awake, as her door cracked open and she poked her head out.

“Where are you going?”

“Outside,” Trevor said in a whisper.

“Why?”

“I think something just hit my window. I want to see what it is.”

“I’m coming, too.”

Trevor didn’t want her tagging along because it meant having to help her into her boots and coat, but if he refused she would probably wake their parents. Christmas morning or not, that wouldn’t go over well.

“Fine, just stay quiet.”

Once they were properly dressed, they crunched through the snow around the side of the house over to Trevor’s window. He peered around again, but saw no one. Aside from their footsteps and Kristi’s breathing, it was also silent.

“Is that it?” Kristi pointed to the dark circle. From here, Trevor could tell it wasn’t a ball.

“Yeah,” Trevor said, bending down to pick it up.

It was a dinner-plate sized disc of heavy plastic with a lip around the circumference. He recognized it as a disc golf disc, like a Frisbee but used for throwing into the metal baskets rather than playing catch. Their parents had introduced them to the game last summer while camping.

“What is it?” Kristi asked.

“A disc.”

“Santa came! He got my letter!”

Trevor raised an eyebrow. “You asked for a disc?”

“Well, I asked for a basket, actually,” Kristi said. “You know, so you and me could play together while we’re at home.”

Trevor was taken aback by her Christmas wish and found himself ashamed by what he’d asked of Santa this year. What kind of a kid asks Santa to skip over their house? A disappointed and self-centered one, and just because Santa hadn’t brought him what he’d asked for the year before.

“That’s a really nice thing you asked for,” Trevor said. He meant it.

“Wait, is that the basket?” Kristi practically squealed with delight and charged across the yard. Sure enough, Trevor could make out the very thing for which she’d asked. To his eye, it appeared to be set up just outside their property line.

Trevor just twirled the disc in dumbfounded amazement, smiling when Kristi declared that it was indeed a brand new basket, complete with a bow. As the disc turned in his hands, he noticed a dark smear across the back. On closer inspection, it appeared to be handwriting.

He walked around the side of the house to where their Christmas lights provided sufficient illumination to read by. In elegant handwriting were the words, “These things take time.”

Santa had delivered last year’s gift after all, whether Trevor deserved it or not. His sister not only wanted to play with him, but play something they both enjoyed.

Trevor walked back around the side of the house and called out to his sister, “Is there another disc over there?” He was pretty sure he already knew the answer.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Apocalypse




Hysterical-Realms-Alternate-Hilarities-Book-eBook
My short story, Parking for the Apocalypse, will be appearing April 20th, in the Hysterical Realms anthology. It's a story loosely inspired by a work lunch in downtown Austin that involved a good twenty minutes of driving around trying to find a parking space. Humor isn't something I usually strive to write, but in this case it was entirely justified and the story practically wrote itself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Santa's Christmas Nuke



Another Christmas short story I just put together. Two years in a row now...might just become a tradition. Enjoy!



Santa's Christmas Nuke


“Santa?”

Santa, hunched over his broad desk groaning under mountains of paperwork and a mug of no-longer-hot chocolate, recognized the tone in Ginger’s voice. Among the most trusted of his elves, he knew she wouldn’t interrupt him this close to the big day without good reason.

“Come.” He nodded for her to take a seat. The scratching of his quill and the crackling of the fire failed to fill the silence that hung awkwardly while he finished his notes.

“What brings you this way?” he finally said, peering up at the ageless elf over his wire-rimmed glasses.

“There’s a name on your nice list I’d like you to check twice.” She was polite to a fault.

“They’ve all been checked twice,” he chided her gently. “That’s not it, is it?”

She shook her head with a soft jingle and sighed. “I was afraid of that. Maybe thrice, then. We have one Isabelle Rose Armando, age seven, from Oakcrest, Indiana.”

Santa cocked an eyebrow. “She’s definitely on the nice list, that one. Not a doubt in my mind.”

“So nice that she tripped the Saintly Protocol,” Ginger said, letting that hang in the air like the sharp tang of peppermint.

“The Saintly Protocol, eh? That I didn’t know, though I can’t say I’m surprised.”

Santa tossed his glasses on the desk and slumped back into his chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose. The Protocol was something the Powers That Be, those semi-sentient aspects of the universe from which he derived his powers, had insisted on as a condition of his nature. They had the demeanor of lawyers and decreed that there had to be some threshold for good behavior over which a child’s requested gift had to be guaranteed. If Santa could change or ignore any and all requests, then it diminished his magic. In the end, they’d agreed on a bar so high that it was achieved only once or twice a century. And, because such kids tended to be so incredibly good, their gift requests were usually a pleasure for him to fulfill. The last, a young Puerto Rican boy in 1968, had asked for his grandmother’s kidney disease to go away. Christmas miracle fulfilled.

Ginger wouldn’t have come to him if this was such a case.

“Yeah, a Protocol,” Ginger said. “Perfect record of making her bed, brushing her teeth, keeping her room clean, being nice to her brother. She helps the neighbor lady shovel her sidewalk and weed her garden, all without being asked. She even started up a charity that raised nearly a quarter million dollars to help a retired teacher with a bone marrow transplant. But you already know all that and more.”

Santa nodded. “So, what did she ask for?”

Ginger produced a snow globe from the depths of her coat pocket and slid it across his desk. In the glittery orb was a bland, non-descript building. “It was with one of your helpers at the Northgate Mall. Best if you see for yourself.”

Santa gave the globe a good shake, set it back down, and let his gaze slip into the swirling eddies and currents. His perspective shifted from high above the Northgate Mall, though the crowds of gift-laden shoppers, and ultimately to a brilliantly decorated Christmas tree before which sat one of his helpers. Other assistants dressed in unofficial elf attire shepherded a line of children waiting their turns to divulge their Christmas wish lists. Isabelle, dressed in her favorite pink dress and shiny white shoes, was already sitting on the man’s lap.

“So, my dear, what would you like for Christmas this year?” the helper asked.

In the sweetest, most sincere voice possible, she said, “I’d like you to nuke Pinnacle, Kentucky, off the face of the map.”

Santa could only imagine his own expression mirrored that of his helper. The only difference being that the other man could just laugh it off later that night over a drink down at the bar. Old Saint Nick, however, had a Protocol. His jolly went colder than the wind swirling outside.

“See what I mean?” Ginger said, looking grim in a way unbefitting an elf.

#

Santa stood out among the snowdrifts, his ruddy cheeks angled upward as he looked toward the dazzling aurora borealis. He didn’t need the silent night or the humbling light show to communicate with the Powers That Be, but it always felt more appropriate to do it this way. Unfortunately, they were being about as accommodating as a chestnut-roasting fire was to a snowflake.

“I know the Protocol requires me to take the girl’s request as intended,” Santa said, as if repeating himself would do any good. “But she didn’t know what she meant by ‘nuking.’ She was just parroting the words of her father. And clearly his intent was meant to be figurative. Therefore, it’s only reasonable to say her wishes should mirror those of her father.”

He winced, realizing he’d just implied the Powers were being unreasonable. To his way of thinking, though, it was true. Young Isabelle’s father worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and had fought for most of the last decade to get the entire town of Pinnacle condemned and declared a Superfund site. It was the unfortunate victim of bad geography, with competing contaminants in the water from an old mine, agricultural runoff, and naturally high levels of radon. To add insult to injury, smokestack emissions from Louisville and Lexington frequently precipitated out in a fog common to the valley in which Pinnacle resided. No one of these issues was sufficient to force changes and all were too diffuse for any practical cleanup effort, but in aggregate they were a multi-generational disaster. Most folk who still lived there were too poor to pick up and move, in spite of the obvious health problems their environment had wreaked upon them. It wasn’t that the father wanted everyone there dead, he just wished no one could live there.

We disagree. Whether she knows what she asked for or not is irrelevant.

Santa snorted, shuddering at the uncanny resemblance between his condensed breath and a mushroom cloud.

“I can’t nuke a town off the face of the map,” he grumbled. “It’s not exactly very Christmassy.”

Such a miracle is most certainly within your purview. And upholding the responsibilities attendant to your powers requires that you must.

He rolled his eyes. “So, if I refuse? That’s it? No more Santa? No more Christmas spirit or miracles?”

That’s how the universe works.

That’s how the fine print was written, Santa thought, bristling. For entities so much higher on the metaphorical food chain, they certainly lacked a willingness to exercise anything resembling flexibility with their innate power.

“I’ll think on it,” he said, turning on his heels and tromping back toward home. He sensed something that might have approximated a chuckle from them, had they any sense of humor.

#

Santa cracked the reins and his team of reindeer banked sharply into a thick cloud layer ripe with snow. He tapped into his ability to alter reality in ways he’d never had to do before. Time and space dilation necessary to deliver gifts around the world by way of impossibly small or non-existent chimneys – easy. Intercepting a pair of B-52’s some four miles above the Ohio River Valley – not difficult, but not something they practiced.

“Right on schedule,” Ginger said from her seat on the sleigh’s bench beside him. She was looking between an old pocket watch and a parchment map that flapped wildly in the breeze.

A great deal of Christmas magic, not to mention brainstorming and planning, had gone into making all the arrangements of this endeavor possible. Santa knew what had to be done, but he still took great care in how he handled it. Someone could get hurt or killed, and there were limits to his powers even this night.

He pulled his team up alongside one of the bombers and matched speeds. Through the blowing snow, he could just make out the pilots in the cockpit. In all likelihood, they were oblivious to his presence. NORAD claimed to track him and his team each year, but both knew the truth of that fiction. He felt a pang of guilt for what he was about to put them through.

“Ten seconds,” Ginger shouted to be heard above the winds at this speed.

Santa looked at the bomber, placed a finger to the side of his nose, and twinkled his eyes. Half a dozen one-in-a-million mechanical, computer, and safeguard failures happened simultaneously aboard the aircraft, causing the bomb bay doors to open and two nuclear bombs to cycle through the rack and drop out into the storm like pebbles in a raging river. Through the windows, the pilots could be seen frantically scrambling over the controls.

“Ho ho ho, bombs away!” Santa shouted, allowing himself a bit of a grin.

“Always a first for everything,” Ginger said, rolling up her map.

Santa nodded and cracked his reins again. “Rudolph, light ‘er up!”

The red beacon of his lead reindeer burst into brilliance that both lit up and cut through the storm clouds, dazzling and eerie. That got the attention of the pilots of both planes. To their credit, though, they held their course and didn’t panic. Santa gave his team an extra kick and guided them ahead and then across the bow of the two bombers before vanishing into the night to continue the rest of his rounds.

“You let them see you.” Ginger was carefully measured, neither accusing nor pleased.

“Seemed the least I could do,” Santa said. “Besides, it’s not against the rules.”

There were rules against making himself known, but there were also sub-rules and provisions. He was intimately familiar with them and had skirted very edge of several with that little stunt, just as a way to thumb his nose at the Powers. He hadn’t vanished in a puff of non-existence, so they’d clearly let it slide.

Santa pulled out his list and drew a line through Isabelle Rose Armando.

#

“’Mister Jose Armando, of the EPA, spoke to the press regarding the immediate evacuation of the town of Pinnacle, Kentucky,’” Ginger said, reading from a half-folded newspaper while her feet were kicked up on Santa’s desk. For once, he didn’t mind the break in decorum. “’He indicated that there had been errors in prior pollution-related lab work and that levels of several contaminants were well beyond acceptable tolerances. All residents both in the town and surrounding areas are being relocated with the assistance of FEMA and the Red Cross. The President has already issued a statement that funds will be freed up to aid in relocation, coverage of current and future medical needs related to the pollution, and compensation for property seized by eminent domain.’”

Santa chuckled. “Funny how that worked out.”

Ginger nodded and continued. “’Mister Armando admitted that the timing of the order on Christmas Day was unfortunate, but that the discovery of the mistake and acting with the utmost of urgency was something of a Christmas miracle. “Lives may be saved by today’s actions,” he said.’”

She tossed the paper on Santa’s desk and laced her fingers behind her head. “Think he has any idea what happened?”

Santa shrugged. “He knows something happened, and that he’s being used as cover. But he’s also smart enough to know it’s in the best interest of everyone living there. The truth will probably come out sooner or later, then he’ll know.”

“Just how deep do you think those bombs went?”

Santa had aimed the pair of bombs for a patch of boggy land just on the northern outskirts of town. They’d penetrated like an Olympic high diver and hundreds of cubic yards of muck had backfilled in their wakes. Safeguards preventing them from arming had remained intact.

“Deep enough that it’ll be easier to cap it with a few acres of concrete, declare it off-limits, and never let anyone near the place again.”

“I saw in another report that the US Postal Service might initiate action to revoke Pinnacle’s ZIP code,” Ginger said. “It’ll officially cease to be a city.”

“Wiped from the map.” Santa nodded sagely.

“Sounds like the sort of thing the Powers That Be would do. Letter of the law sort of thing.”

“That’s how the universe works. Ho, ho, ho.”


Monday, June 2, 2014

Not Dead Yet

Okay, okay. This blog, like many a well-intentioned platform for the sharing of thoughts, has languished a bit. Doesn't mean it's dead, though.

The good news is that I sold my second short story, making me two for two in trying to sell my works (with a third still out for consideration). The slightly less good news is that it won't be published until early next year. So... the long wait. Guess I'll just have to do something to fill the time. Maybe even write some more.

The story is entitled Parking for the Apocalypse. The story was (very loosely) inspired by a work lunch downtown and the hassles involved with finding parking. A co-worker off-handedly suggested I should write a story about it. I politely nodded, never intending to do anything with it, but inspiration randomly struck a few days later and the whole thing was on paper once I had a couple free hours the following weekend. Now if only that could happen a bit more often...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest - Sheldon Turner round

Every now and then, I check back in with the folks at The Writers Store to see what contests they're running. In particular, I've enjoyed the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest with its pre-set loglines. Each round of the contest has a logline provided by a different film producer/writer/director which must be used in the submissions. Where the would-be screenwriter goes with it is entire up to them.

I've taken a few of these loglines in the past and done some brainstorming of ideas. A few were almost workable and I think one got to the point where I started working on the opening scenes. Unfortunately, that's about as far as I've gotten. But as I like the combined challenges of screenwriting and working off someone else's idea, I'll keep going back.

So another round just started, this one's logline provided by Sheldon Turner (BAFTA Winner and Academy Award nominee for Up In The Air, and writer of X-Men: First Class, Law Abiding Citizen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and The Longest Yard per the contest website). The logline is:

A corrupt detective with one month left to live tries to make all the wrongs right in a wobbly road to redemption, becoming the cop – and the person – they always wanted to be in the process.

On first read, I thought it was a bit narrow. The more I think about it, though, the more I like the options. Why only one month to live? What sort of wrongs need to be set right? What happened to the idealistic cop to set him or her down this path in the first place? A modern cop drama is also the first place most people will go, but why not a supernatural thriller or sci fi action adventure? Could easily be a comedy (there's that teasing word "wobbly" in there).

Time to let that one stew for a little bit, see what the imagination comes up with.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa's Weakest Link

Freebie short story I put together in the spirit of the season. Merry Christmas all!



Santa’s Weakest Link

 

Santa checked his list. He checked it twice. As much as he hated this part of the job, a botched season five years ago had forced his hand and he’d instituted changes to his operation. Performance reviews.
He stepped up to the reindeer paddock and cleared his throat. From the two hundred strong herd, his team of nine separated themselves. While they approached him at the fence, the others maintained a curious watch from a discreet distance.
“Well, it’s been another good season,” Santa said, dusting snow off his sleeves as he opened with the perfunctory good news. “All deliveries made and no incidents. Always room for improvement, of course.”
The reindeer shuffled, dark eyes flickering back and forth. Donner, the biggest of the team, snorted a puff of vapor.
“Okay, let’s get on with this. Rudolph, we’ll start with you.”
Rudolph’s expression behind that shining red nose was challenging, proud.
“Decent outing last night,” Santa said. “And you were a beacon for the rest when we hit that rough patch over the Ohio River Valley. Can’t say I was too pleased with your off-season work ethic, though. Lack of focus, half-hearted effort at times. Not the sort of example I expect from my team lead. Just because you’re the most famous of the bunch doesn’t mean you’re immune to criticism. I ran with a team of eight for centuries before you were born and I could do it again.”
Rudolph bowed his head, his nose dimming slightly.
“Donner, Blitzen,” Santa said, turning his attention their way. “Again, good job all around. I know I can always count on you two to pull your load. Don’t think I didn’t overhear you two second-guessing my call to hit Italy before Switzerland this year, though. Remember, I see you when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake.”
The two reindeer shared a quick glance before looking back at the ground.
Santa turned back to his list. “Right, Dasher. Excellent off-season, but a little too exuberant when it came to the big night. Take your pace from those ahead of you. Don’t need to keep pulling to the left because you’re in such a hurry.
“And Dancer. Unremarkable all around. No real sore spots, but nothing to set yourself apart, either. Might want to show some initiative and push harder next season. Just getting by isn’t good enough for my team.”
Dancer nodded her head and took half a step back.
“Prancer,” Santa said, pausing to look up and make sure he had the reindeer’s full attention. “Gotta say, I was pretty disappointed last night. Getting your harness tangled up, not once but twice? I don’t know where your head was, but I know where it wasn’t.”
Prancer trembled. Santa didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes, in spite of his claims otherwise, but she’d been losing focus in recent years.
“Slider,” Santa said. “I know you’re the rookie on the team, so I can let a bit of over-enthusiasm slide. Good energy and stamina, but you’ll have to reign it in next season.

“Comet, last year we talked about your tendency to lose altitude on longer hops. This year, didn’t happen once. Thanks for taking that to heart. Good, solid year all around.”
Comet shook her head.
“Ares, gotta say I’m disappointed. Still up to those reindeer games. I let it slide during your rookie season, but I fear I may have been too soft on you. I know Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen were warning you as well. You never know when you might run out of second chances.”
The young buck looked properly chagrined under Santa’s withering glare.
“Look behind you,” Santa said, waving his black-gloved hand toward the herd. “There’s over a hundred others chomping at the bit for the chance, the honor, the responsibility of becoming a member of this team. It’s not a one-night-a-year job. You have to live it, every minute of every day. We’re a team, and we’ll only ever be as strong as our weakest link.
“Prancer, I’m sorry, but this year that was you.”

#

“Have I mentioned how I hate this time of year?” Santa said.
He settled his bulk into a creaking chair at the dining room table. The crackling of fire in the hearth and heady intermingling scents of pine, cinnamon, and baking bread, aspects of home that always made him feel relaxed after a long season, did little to soothe him today. He poured a glass of milk and sighed.
“I know, dear,” Missus said, poking her head out of the kitchen. “You work too hard, sometimes.”
“What? Oh, no, it’s not the work. It’s having to play manager, boss. Performance debriefs. End of year evaluations.”
“Oh, right. That. Well, it was your idea.”
“And it has improved team performance. Maybe even morale, a bit, I suppose. At least among those who were pulling their weight.”
Missus vanished back into the kitchen, but carried on the conversation. “At the cost of adding stress.”
“Stress.” There was stress, and then there’d been the stress of five years ago.
“What dear?” Missus came out of the kitchen, carrying a heavily laden plate that she set before her husband. It smelled divine.
“Just talking to myself,” he said, tucking a napkin into his shirt collar.
“A week from now, we’ll be soaking up sun in Tahiti and you’ll have forgotten all about this.” She gripped his shoulder and gave him a kiss on his rosy cheek.
“Thanks, dear,” he said.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave you to your dinner. You know how I feel about tonight.” Missus gave him a look and he nodded knowingly.
Once Missus had retreated to the kitchen, Santa picked up his fork and knife and assaulted the reindeer tenderloin in lingonberry sauce. A guilty pleasure, to be sure.