In the grey mist of slo-time the team of reindeer jingled and jostled, their great splayed hooves thumping on the banks of nothing-in-particular as they charged through the air, splashing it about as though they were running across a frozen lake.
Santa was feeling pretty good.
His workload was getting bigger and bigger every year. Not only was the population increasing, but standards were changing. Time was, you wouldn’t have worried too much about ending up on the Naughty List for some things – you would have burned screaming for the long march of eternity in a lake of molten faeces for them. Now, they were a misdemeanour at worst, a cool and quirky hobby at best. Actually at best, HBO made TV shows about some of them. Yes, standards were certainly changing, and it meant that fewer and fewer people were even qualifying as naughty in the first place. Plus, of course, it wasn’t just Christians getting in on the act anymore, or the last holdouts of the old Roman winter solstice. People were dropping the politics and the agendas for a little while and just enjoying being nice to each other and giving gifts, and the lines in the sand were getting more and more blurred, and that was just fine. Heck, these days even atheists got a free pass for what Boze, the foreman of the toy workshop, called “massive hypocwitty-titties”.
 Short for Bozeman-Feldton-Putnum-Ramsay-Ranfurley. Elf names were silly.
Santa didn’t mind having the extra work. It wasn’t as if two billion customers took up many more yoctoseconds than one-point-five, not in slo-time. And he had to admit, in this modern age of clean energy and fuel shortages, it was nice not to have to carry quite so much coal.
In fact, he was feeling so good about this year’s rounds that he decided to take his customary meridian break. It was time to cut through the mince pies, cookies, sherries and other offerings with a nice plate of curly-fries and a pint of bitter. He edged the team sideways a little until Rudolph’s steady blue light picked out the Diner’s cheerful sign. A few subjective moments later the reindeer were clopping into the dooryard and Santa was straightening the kink in his back with a grateful sigh.
 It was only red when you looked at it from the front.
His satisfaction only lasted a few seconds, until he realised another team was hitched up at the posts. He recognised them immediately, just from the horses – but he didn’t need to, since the crew were gathered around them, arms folded, looking like a sheriff’s posse out looking for someone to string up.
“There you are, Kringle,” War dropped his sodden cigar into the mist and crushed it beneath his sandalled foot. “Been waiting for you for however-the-fuck long.”
“Lads,” Santa said cautiously.
“Death’s navigator crapped out on him,” Famine said, jerking a knobby thumb back at the dark-robed rider whose horse – yes – seemed a little paler than usual. No way you’d find your way through the mists with that.
“I see,” Santa opted for a neutral tone.
“So we have good news and bad news,” Conquest unfolded his arms and looked at his watch. Unlike the rest of his team, he’d updated his image a bit over the centuries. He’d stopped in 1980s Wall Street, which was a bit disconcerting, but Santa had to admit that it served its purpose. And you didn’t want to call him Pestilence. “What do you want first?”
“Which do you want first,” Death growled from the depths of his hood. He got pedantic when he was annoyed.
“Alright, alright,” Conquest rolled his eyes conspiratorially at Santa. “Which do you want first, then?”
“I don’t suppose you could see your way to just giving me the good news twice?” Santa tried to be jolly – usually pretty damn easy, actually – as he climbed out of the sleigh and began unhitching the reindeer, avoiding the eyes that were fixed on him. Dancer and Dasher were a little bit static-y, so he bustled back for the grounding blanket he usually kept in a roll on his seat for his lower back.
Conquest smiled. “Sure,” he said. “The good news is, you’re not going to need to finish your round tonight,” he stepped forward. “Need me to repeat that?”
How delightfully ominous and christmassy. Is this the kind of story you tell Little Miss Hatboy just before Christmas?
Now, if the ending means what I think it means, which meridian did Kringle stop at, and are only those to the west of it screwed, or will everybody who’s already got their presents also end up crying?
I was kinda looking forward to opening box #3 of my company calendar this morning…
Oh, like I’m going to tell you where he stopped (as if Christmas Eve physics are even translatable to the real world and “meridian” refers to Greenwich…). I learned from “Gant”, thank you very much.
Wait, you got your calendar already? God damn office-office workers…
All I wanted to know is who dies!
And, not to nitpick, but a meridian is any line of longitude. Greenwich is the prime meridian. So my inquisitive concern about the location was perfectly valid, thank you very much. It could’ve been Finland, for all I knew. (I actually had to double-check “meridian” on Wikipedia. That’s how seriously I take posting replies on this blog!)
Yes, the same old Fazer calendar. I also have an extra Kismet bar, if you want it. I’m apparently fatter than I was a month ago, and it’s not even Christmas yet, so I cannot eat it. Why is the world so full of tasty, tasty calories?
Btw., I very much liked the mixing of Santa and the Horsemen. Weird imagination you got.
Please don’t insult your own intelligence, let alone mine, with your “not to nitpick”. We all know perfectly well who and what we are, here. You must revel in it!
Anyway, I know, I looked it up too. I actually did a lot of wikipedia-surfing for this one. Like I said, “AS IF … ‘meridian’ refers to Greenwich”. It’s just an arbitrary space-time line at which Santa takes a break from his mythical trip around the sleeping world. I’m not telling you where because, like I said, the Diner doesn’t even exist on the planet where lines of latitude and longitude have any meaning.
And it’s the Apocalypse. Do you think maybe it’s hemisphere-specific?
It could be! Apocalypses usually only hit the US and certain prominent cities around the world (Paris is often the first to go). I’ve never seen Finland destroyed, for example. Plus the Horsemen seem quite human, so they may be equally arbitrary and unreliable.
On the other hand, good point.
Bahahaha, but I like the idea. I’ve noticed that when they want to show Australia being wiped out, it’s always the Sydney Opera House that gets it in the face.
LOL, I could care less what happens next! (you’re welcome, I likes it when you twitch.) I won’t reveal the real-life person upon whom your elf foreman is based but I bet dreameling already knows. Awesome. And I object! Atheists can celebrate Winter Solstice all we want, as you well know! After all it was our (pagan) holiday first!
And, I’ll pedant right back at you on your pedant point. “What” is perfectly fine there. Observe: “what” instead of “which” implies a question of what you generally prefer to hear first, right? Good news or bad news? Whereas “which” refers to the current situation and statement. That’s the basis of the pedantry?
Well, I have observed, in myself and others, that we tend to be either the sort that chooses the good news first, or the bad news first, and we rarely deviate.(1) Therefore on this particular sort of inquiry, “what” is just as fine a question as “which”!
(1) except for witless loobies who don’t care either way and therefore pick one willy-nilly. Silly bastards.
Death was feeling peevish. If Conquest had said “which”, Death would have corrected him with “what”.
You’re … familiar with this behaviour.
Oh I am slandered! But, so this means you’ll change “pedantic” to “peevish” in your story then, right? dreameling back me up here. ;D
Maybe I’d change “annoyed” to “peevish”, since those are the synonyms. The “pedantic” stays.
And “slandered” isn’t the word you want there. You want “described”. “Slandered” is when it’s not true.
It seems to me that, between me and dreameling, you must feel like a woman who is giving birth all the while the family around is criticizing her facial expressions whilst pushing. Which surely has been done in some comedy or other, or if not, totally should be done ASAP.
Which is why I’m really starting to feel a bit guilty here.
Honestly, I got no idea who the foreman is supposed to be. I figured it could be a thing because it was so specific. Then again, the author also does weird random details, so, yeah, clueless.
Oh, and I object as well! Pagans are religious, and I’m an atheist, so not a pagan. But I’ll take the winter solstice anyway.
Pagans are…religious? Or spiritual? Although I claim to be neither, as a fellow Atheist. And, well met. Do you Love Science! too? ;D
“Pagan” usually means any non-Christian religion. Atheism can qualify, the way some people practice it … but that’s a topic for a whole other blogrant. I don’t think there were that many “atheists” among the “pagans” who originally celebrated the winter solstice. They were generally the ones getting the shit burned out of them. I kid of course, but Mr. dreameling is quite right to ‘fess up to wanting to “take the winter solstice anyway” rather than being one of the remaining pagan holdouts celebrating it legitimately. All three of us fall neatly into the “massive hypoc-witty-titty” category, really. We can’t rightfully claim Christmas or winter solstice, in their holy contexts.
Which is what I wrote. You were the ones who equated atheism with paganism and apparently saw some connection in the story. You really have nothing to object to here. But bless you for trying.
This is too weird, man. Too weird.
Hi, my name is Timo, and I’m a science-loving atheist.
My latest blog post, F1rst, is just for you. Because yay science.
Man, I’m not leaving this blog tonight, am I…
You know how you sometimes hear a person say “he should take his act on the road”? I never really thought about that before, and how “road” probably means “busy highway”.
No, please don’t do that, we’d miss you! And did you post that comment of mine about birthing? Because I could swear I was emailing it to you. But hey, if that’s another way I can post here, cool.
I didn’t post it.
I think we’re going to break the blog soon. I can almost hear the WordPress layout engine going “I’m not a fucking message board!”
Too bad! I just found how to go into my dashboard and reply directly to any comment, and also do blockquotes! The dashboard view has full HTML tags, which – as you know – are my bread and butter.
By which I mean, they always land face-down.
Anyway, doesn’t more comments = more connectivity = more views = more underpants? I rest my case.
All I get is a stupid white text box with zero controls. I looked into the tags when I first started posting here, but can’t remember them anymore.
If I log in, do I get the dashboard thingie? (I don’t have a WordPress account yet. But I might just create one.)
If you’re getting more underpants out of this, then more power to ya. (I have a sinking feeling that that was yet another one of your pop culture references that just passed me by.)
Yeah, I still have your post. You commented back at my first ever blog entry with a bunch of different tags. But in my settings they’re available as a menu, not sure why they’re not available with every comment box. Maybe that would break WordPress.
I assume if you had an account and a blog, your dashboard would enable you to manage comments and replies in this way. But I’m sure that isn’t really necessary, there should be a way to do it from your own perspective.
Or maybe like you say, it’s not meant to be a message board and they keep this functionality for their accounts.
South Park. Underpants Gnomes? Wow, you’re not getting all you could from your Hatstand experience.
Seriously though, I grumble and get snarky about the nitpicking but it is the driving purpose of the blog. If there’s something a reader doesn’t understand, or is so wrong that it pulls him or her out of the story, then it needs addressing.
South Park. Yeah. I stopped watching that show after the first few seasons. Since then it’s just been a few random glimpses here and there. My pop-culture-awareness reaches about as far as “It’s coming right for us!” and “Respect my authoritah!”
And we nitpick because we care — Awwww! — and because your stuff doesn’t seem to have bigger problems. Based on the snippets of stuff I’ve read, from the fragments on this blog to your famous LV emails to Arsebook, it’s obvious that you’re a very good writer with an excellent grasp of words and flow. Most importantly, reading your stuff doesn’t make make me cringe: Your prose doesn’t have any of that awkwardness or floundering or fat that you get with beginners or writers who just aren’t that good. Which is nice, because when I say I like your stuff, I get to be honest. (See, in the end, it’s all about me.)
But. Because of course there’s a but. I’ve yet to see you carry a narrative or sustain your prose in long form (I’m not counting Arsebook for obvious reasons), so I’m gonna reserve some of my judgment until I do. No pressure, though. Just, you know, try not to suck.
Fair, and much appreciated. Because I haven’t put anything out there. I don’t know if short stories count (but then, some of these posts would classify as short stories so I’m going to say “no”), but I’m working on the full stories.
And I greatly appreciate the rest of what you said too!