You are an intelligent person. Everyone says so. You know the answers to lots of hard questions. Like what is the currency of Venezuela? Or, how does one calculate the length of the
hypotenuse of a right angle triangle?
Or, just where is Waldo, anyway? The answers to these questions are
contemptibly simple for an intelligent and educated person like you.
someone were to ask you a really difficult question; say, where is the busiest
post office in the world? Would you
know the answer? And if you did not
know, could you make an educated guess?
Would you guess that it must be in one of the great cities of the world,
like New York or London or Tokyo?
Any of those
places would be good and clever guesses.
would all be wrong.
busiest post office in the world is not located in a great or populous
city. It is in one the most remote,
lonely and cold places on Earth. The
busiest post office in the world is at the North Pole.
letters arrive at the North Pole every day, and nearly a billion pieces of mail
arrive in December alone. However,
unlike most every other post office you might name, such as the main post
offices of New York City, London and Tokyo, every piece of mail that arrives at
the North Pole Post Office is addressed to one person only: Santa Claus.
So, it was
an occasion of some uncommon excitement when a small pink envelope arrived,
addressed in a delicate cursive hand, not to Santa Claus, but to Iggy, Yugo and
Sam, General Delivery, North Pole.
and Sam were Christmas elves and had been employed for many years in the
toymaking division of the Santa Claus group of companies. Iggy was the tall one, though he was only
tall in elf terms. By any one else’s
terms, he was quite short. He had dark
black hair, which he could never comb right.
He had pointed features: a pointed chin, pointed nose and, of course,
pointed ears. He wore shoes with
pointed toes, but then all elves did.
Yugo was stocky,
with dark eyes and a thick black moustache.
He was the clever one, a craftsman among a species of craftsmen. He had invented almost all of the toys,
which are the staple of Christmas. He
had even invented staples. And
staplers. But his greatest creation was
a red snowmobile, an amazing vehicle that could travel anywhere and on any
surface, even snow.
shorter and stockier than either Iggy or Yugo.
Indeed, he was stockier than both Iggy and Yugo standing side by
side. He had curly red hair, bright
green eyes and a bad attitude. Sam
loved to eat, he loved to sleep and he loved to complain. He was so good at complaining that he even
won an award for it once from the Omaha Complainers Club, Local 42. He put it in a thin gold frame and hung it
up in his bedroom.
and Sam were certainly an extraordinary trio, but among elves they were nothing
that special. There were plenty of
tall, clever and grumpy elves who lived at the North Pole. To be sure, Iggy, Yugo and Sam had saved
Christmas more than most of the other tall, clever and grumpy elves, but even
so, among elves of the North Pole, they were generally regarded as
ordinary. Maybe even extremely
So, it was
most extraordinary indeed that any mail should ever arrive at the North Pole
addressed to them. And the arrival of
this particular letter on a dark October afternoon was the cause of great
consternation in the North Pole Post Office.
person to notice this anomalous correspondence was Speedo, an elf in tight
fitting shorts who worked in receiving.
He passed it along to one of the mail sorters, a male sorter named Expo,
who took it directly to his supervisor, a female mail sorter named Bimmbo. She handed it to her boss, who gave it to
his boss, who studied it carefully before she, in turn, took it to her
boss. He immediately sent the letter to
the security department where it was x-rayed, sprayed with germ-killing
chemicals and placed under a large heat lamp for several hours, which turned
the edges of the envelope brown and curly.
passed through security, the now slightly toasted letter was taken to the first
executive assistant to the senior vice president of the Post Office, who routed
it to the senior executive assistant to the executive vice president, delivery,
of the North Pole Post Office.
executive vice president, delivery, formed a committee of other executive vice
presidents, including the executive vice president, postmarks, the executive
vice president, stamps and labels, and the executive vice president, Arctic
operations, to discuss this most unusual letter and what they should do about
it. They met each Thursday afternoon
for a month and finally agreed (the executive vice president, stamps and
labels, dissenting) to pass the letter on to Dingo, the Postmaster of the North
Pole Post Office himself, for further handling.
one look at the letter, shook his head and grumbled something to the effect
that anything he wanted to get done around there had to be done by
himself. He rose from his desk, lifted
his blue leather Postmaster’s cap with the gold trim from its hook and placed
it on his head, then left his office to walk the three blocks south
to Elves Barracks B, where he would deliver the letter personally.
spread throughout the North Pole Post Office that the Postmaster himself was
going to deliver The Letter. A small
group of excited executive vice presidents, security personnel, lower echelon
bosses and male and female mail sorters scrambled out of their offices and
cubicles to follow him, curious to see this most unusual delivery for
open the brass doors of the Letters to Santa Sorting Station™ and led a stream
of elves out into the street. They
marched past the General Store,™ and turned the corner at the Reindeer
Spa.™ A few elves kicking a ball back
and forth on the sidewalk took notice of this assembly and ran along after it,
shouting and laughing as they went.
Outside Santa’s Hat Inn,™ they passed a small band of elves playing
Christmas carols and they too, joined in the procession. Some other elves crossed the street to join
the parade, banging trashcan lids together and cheering.
the road wound downhill, past a frozen waterfall and domes of white snow that
glittered green and gold under the Northern Lights. An elf selling hot dogs from a pushcart left his wieners behind
to join along. The peppermint candy
cobblestones snaked through a forest of twisted fir trees, where three more
elves, who were hanging tinsel dropped the sparkling strands in the snow to
tumultuous gathering grew still larger as it climbed back up a hill and past
the Poinsettia Palace™. A wedding party
cascaded out of the big sugar cookie doors to join the throng, throwing confetti
and flowers along the path. One elf
juggled snowballs as he ran beside the group and three others turned cartwheels
with synchronized precision. By the
time they reached Elves Barracks B, there were nearly five hundred elves
merrily skipping along behind Dingo, singing, laughing and jingling all the
and Sam were engaged in a furious argument about a reality television program
when they were interrupted by the clatter of their mail slot. They turned to see the small, slightly toasted
but still pink, envelope slip through their door and flutter gently onto the
floor. Iggy walked over and picked it
up. He turned the envelope over. One of the burnt corners broke off and
drifted slowly to the ground.
it?” asked Yugo.
letter,” said Iggy. “It’s for us.”
blinked. Then he blinked again. And once more. And again. He had never
heard of an elf receiving a letter before.
Nobody had ever heard of an elf receiving a letter before. He glanced over at the mail slot flapping in
the door and wondered vaguely why it was there at all.
the door open to see who had left the letter.
He was stunned to see almost five hundred elves crowded in the hall,
singing and stomping their feet. At the
center of the crowd, Postmaster Dingo stood grinning, his official Postmaster’s
cap clutched in his hands.
open the letter now?” asked Dingo eagerly, his head bobbing up and down
rapidly. Sam involuntarily nodded along
with it. Then he shook his head and glared
at the gathered elves. “Don’t any of
you have jobs?” he grumbled. The elves
in the hallway just stomped their feet a little harder and sang a little
louder. One of them blew a few notes on
open the envelope and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. It was written on coloured stationery, which
might have once been pink, but was now badly stained from the various
treatments, which had been applied by the postal security division. These treatments made the letter entirely
free of any bacterial agents or other pathogens, but rather difficult to read.
stationary was decorated with discoloured unicorns and butterflies. Iggy recognized it even before he started
reading. “It’s from Jody!” he shouted.
grinned, “read it!”
clamped his hand over his eyes and shook his head. In the hallway, five hundred elves leaned closer to the door, a
thousand ears straining to hear what the letter said:
Yugo and Sam,
I hope that this letter finds you all
well. I can’t believe that it has been
almost a year since you came to visit us.
I think of all three of you often.
Stig and I are planning to cook a special
Christmas dinner and, if you are not too busy that day, we would be very
pleased if you could join us. It will
just be a few friends and some family.
Grampa Les will be there and maybe Stig’s mother, too.
Jody P. Noles
Things have been a little strange around here lately. I’m really worried about Stig. I could sure use your help.
looked up from the letter and smiled.
In the hallway, hundreds of elves cheered, stamped their feet and sang.
we are not too busy?” sneered Sam.
“Christmas is two days away and we are hopelessly behind schedule. We’ve never been busier. There is no way we can go.”
to Yugo, “what should we bring?” he asked.
eyes bulged out and his mouth opened and closed like a hungry guppy.
Jody sat at her
kitchen table leafing
through her copy of Christmas Dinner For Dummies. Jody was around thirty with dark auburn hair
that tumbled in frothy curls around her shoulders, a crooked smile and sparkly
eyes that were sometimes gray and sometimes blue. And even though she was tall and slender and pretty, she always
felt that she was a little too plain, a little too short and a little too
had that bad feeling in her stomach again; the one she always got before
something terrible happened. Jody had a
sixth sense; when her stomach ached like this, she knew for a certainty that
something terrible was going to happen soon.
Unfortunately, she lacked the much more important seventh sense;
the one that would have told her just what the terrible something would be.
tried to forget the elusive premonition gnawing at her belly and concentrate on
her book. Christmas was just two days
away and she still did not know what she was going to make for dinner. She wanted to try something new and
different, but every recipe in Christmas Dinner For Dummies was some
variation on the theme of stuffed turkey.
She wondered what stuffing birds full of breadcrumbs and vegetables had
to do with Christmas. There was baked
turkey stuffed with sourdough crumbs, raspberry glazed turkey, stuffed with ham
and cheesecake and broiled turkey stuffed with spinach and rhubarb leaves. It all sounded good, but it was not what she
then, an awful thought crashed into her awareness. Could the terrible something she foresaw have anything to do with
her Christmas dinner? After all, Stig’s
mother was coming, and things did not always go well when Mrs. Hawkins was
as suddenly as it came, this dreadful fear washed away from her. Her clairvoyance never warned her what might
go wrong, only that something surely would.
The fact that she had considered, even for a moment, that her Christmas
dinner might go poorly only meant that it would undoubtedly go well. Still, there was something out there. Something terrible. And Jody had no idea what it was.
only Iggy, Yugo and Sam were here,” she thought. “They would know what to do.”
had met Iggy, Yugo and Sam a year earlier when they had arrived in their
amazing snowmobile, rescued her from a friendly dragon and saved
Christmas. “It’s what we do,” said Iggy
wrote them over two months ago, but she had heard nothing in reply. No letter.
No telephone call. No
e-mail. Not even a note sent by carrier
pigeon. She had no idea that her letter
had spent several weeks rebounding throughout various departments of the North
Pole Post Office before it was finally delivered, a delivery that was, in fact,
happening at the very moment Jody read about a recipe for Christmas Turkey
Stuffed with Cauliflower and Orange Peel Ragoût.
recalled the day she had sent it. Just
after Amazing Man arrived. Just after
Stig began acting so strangely ….
Jody wrote her
letter on a sunny Monday
in late October. Amazing Man appeared for the first time on the rainy Friday
night the previous week.
people to meet Amazing Man were Howie and Dirk, a couple of kitchen supply
salesmen in town for a convention, who found themselves in the Howling Coyote
Bar in the Old Quarter. The Howling
Coyote was smaller, darker and dirtier on the inside than it looked from the
outside, and from the outside it looked like a small, dark and dirty
hovel. But nobody inside noticed the
stained concrete floor, the unfinished wood panelling or the missing door to
the men’s washroom. It was duelling
accordion night and the place was jumping.
Two middle aged men stood on the stage, stomping their feet while their
instruments wheezed out a squealing version of ‘Hit Me Baby One More
Time’. The crowd was pressed up against
the stage and somebody threw their underwear up onto it. It was a large pair of men’s boxers, slightly
soiled. The accordion players were used
to this sort of thing and did not miss a beat.
Dirk cheered them on enthusiastically.
They were both a little drunk and were having the time of their lives.
Quarter is where the tourists go at night.
It is a tangled few blocks of restaurants, bars and cheesy, overpriced
souvenir shops. Music blasts out onto
the streets from various clubs and the tourists walk slowly up and down the
crowded road, sipping drinks from large, overpriced novelty glasses. One night in a hundred, someone falls in
love there. One hundred nights in a
hundred, almost everyone falls in lust.
morning, hundreds of people wake up and immediately fall out of lust. They gather their things quickly and sneak out
quietly to the street below, which bears the scars of the night before. The street is a landfill of broken bottles,
empty cups and vomit. Seagulls peck at
discarded bits of pretzels and rank puddles of stinking slop. A small disaster relief team works its way
up the block, hosing down the pavement to make it ready for the next evening,
when it all begins again.
Dirk staggered out of the Howling Coyote and wandered down the narrow road,
looking for their next drink. They
found it a street side bar that did not seem to have a name. A man with tattoos all over his face passed
them each a movie theatre sized cup of beer.
Howie and Dirk sloppily toasted each other with their enormous lagers
and continued down the road.
guides assure visitors that the Old Quarter is safe, if a little rambunctious,
as long as they stick to the Tourist Trail.
The Tourist Trail is easy to find, it is marked with a red dotted line
painted down the centre of the street.
Red signs labelled ‘Tourist Trail’ are located at fifty-foot
intervals. The Tourist Trail is well
lit and helpful policemen are always nearby.
even a block removed from the Tourist Trail, the streets and the people who
walk them are both dark and crooked.
That is where Howie and Dirk were walking now. They were neither dark nor crooked, they were just looking for a
good party. They were looking in the
a man in a dark black coat leaning against the wall. Howie turned to him and said, “Hey buddy, do you know where we
can find some girls?”
The man in
the dark coat smiled. His teeth were
small, sharp and completely yellow. The
knife in his hand was large, sharp and completely silver.
Dirk took a cautious step backwards.
“We’re not looking for trouble,” stammered Dirk. The man in the dark coat sneered. “Ya don’t have to be, you’ve already found
in a black sweater stepped out of the shadows.
If anything, the knife he held in his hand was even bigger than the one
brandished by the man in the dark coat.
money,” said the second man. The first
one just smiled his obnoxious yellow grin.
into his pocket and pulled out the battered leather wallet he had made in high
school. He hated to part with it, but
there were other things he hated to part with more, like his blood.
He held out
the wallet. The man in the dark coat
swept it from his hand and pulled it open, while the other man held them at
knife point. “You too,” he growled at
Dirk dug his
own wallet out of his pocket. The man
in the dark coat pulled the wrinkled pictures of his children out of the wallet
and threw them on the street. He
stuffed the few dollars that were there into his coat pocket.
“Is this all
you got?” he demanded.
nodded. He was terrified. He thought he might wet his pants. Howie already had.
tourists,” growled the other man. Howie
and Dirk stood like a pair of quivering statues. The man in the dark coat nodded.
He threw the empty wallets on the ground and they both turned away and
walked back up the street.
crooks had traveled about twenty feet, when a pair of red Wellingtons landed
heavily in a puddle in front of them.
The Wellingtons were filled with a pair of size 14 feet. The man who owned the feet, and the
Wellingtons, rose up slowly in front of them.
He was wearing orange tights, and a tight orange spandex shirt with a
red J on the front, which rode up slightly, exposing his soft pale belly. He also wore what appeared to be a pair of
red briefs on top of the leotard. A red
fanny pack hung from his hip, and a loop of thin rope hung from his belt. He swept a long red cape behind him with his
red gloved hands. His face was
concealed by an orange and red bicycle helmet and ski goggles.
the man called in a tight voice. “Stop
in the name of the law!”
The man in
the dark coat burst into laughter.
be kidding,” said the other man.
Dirk watched in petrified astonishment as the man in colourful leotards and
Wellingtons confronted the muggers. He
had leapt down from a fire escape on the side of one of the buildings. He seemed to have twisted his ankle, because
he walked with a pronounced limp.
“Captain Justice does not kid,” said the man in leotards. His cape flapped softly in the breeze. It looked like it was made of leather. It must have cost a fortune.
Justice?” snorted the man in the dark coat.
“You look more like Captain Jerk-wad to me.”
man chortled and then pulled out his knife.
“All right, Captain Jerk-wad,” he said sarcastically. “Gimme your money.”
weapons, Captain Justice commands it,” the caped man barked sternly. He raised his red gloved fists.
The man in
the dark coat looked at the man in the sweater. They each raised their knives and stepped forward.
been warned!” the caped man shouted. He
threw a punch at the man in the dark coat.
He ducked under the blow and the caped man stumbled forward clumsily. As he staggered past, the man in the sweater
drove his knee into his stomach.
grunted. The man in the dark coat
pushed him over and he curled onto the ground.
The man in the sweater kicked the caped man in the ribs. He gave a pained gasp and rolled over. The two muggers laughed.
over at Dirk. “We should do something,”
man struggled back to his feet. He let
out a soft whimper. “Captain Justice
will not yield!” he shouted. Then he
spun with surprising speed and threw another punch at the man in the dark
coat. This time his fist
connected. The man in the dark coat’s
head spun to the side. A single pointed
yellow tooth flipped out of his mouth.
The caped man ducked down while the man in the sweater reached for him,
turned and leapt back up. His red
Wellington connected hard with the mugger’s groin.
eyes opened wide and he fell to his knees.
His knife fell from his hand and clattered on to the pavement. The caped man wheeled around and punched him
in the side of the head, knocking the man to the ground.
The man in
the rain coat spat out blood and charged at his opponent, swinging his knife
viciously in front of him. The caped
man stumbled to the side and then brought his elbow down hard on the back of
dark coat man’s neck. He stumbled
forward and his face slammed into a steel green dumpster. He collapsed into a stack of empty beer
cans, which clattered into the alley.
The caped man limped up to him and stamped his big red boot on his back.
“Let all who
prey on the good citizens of New Bedlam know this,” he pronounced. “Captain Justice will not abide it. Captain Justice will hunt you to whatever
dark corners you hide in and bring you out before the light of justice! Captain Justice will never rest until you
and your felonious kind have been defeated for good and for all!”
hobbled down the street and disappeared into the shadows.
Dirk walked carefully up to the two criminals, lying unconscious in the
street. Howie reached into the man’s
dark coat and retrieved his money. Dirk
stood beside him.
amazing,” said Dirk.
out of here,” said Howie, standing back up and shaking his head. He sniffed and made a face. “I think one of these creeps wet his pants.”
Jody heard about Amazing Man for the first
time at breakfast the next morning.
Grampa Les was already into his fourth pancake when she joined him at
the table. It had been a year since she
had moved in with her sister Rhonda and her family, which was made up of
Rhonda, her often drunk and always obnoxious husband, Les, their three boys,
Ronnie, Donnie and Little Jack and Grampa Les, Les’ grandfather (or maybe even
great grandfather, no one really knew for sure).
She had long
since worn out her welcome with Rhonda.
She knew she should really find her own place, but she had come to like
living there. It was close to work and
she could help look after Grampa Les.
Even though Grampa Les had recently been somewhat rejuvenated, he was
still about a hundred years old (maybe more) and he needed a little, for want
of a better word, management.
liked living next door to Stig. She had
been seeing Stig for almost a year now and had put off finding her own place,
in large part, because she kept hoping that Stig would want her to live a
little closer than just next door. She
scattered hints like wildflower seeds whenever they were together, but so far,
none had taken root.
held that morning’s newspaper about four inches from the end of his nose as he
pushed a large forkful of syrup soaked pancakes into his mouth. His eyes darted from the newspaper to a
small television on the corner of the counter.
The volume was set at an uncomfortably loud level, but Grampa Les seemed
to have to strain to hear it.
jumpin’ stumpin’ apple maker. Git a
loader ‘dis cackter,” he cackled, spraying droplets of maple syrup on the
tablecloth. “We gots oursells some
sorts of a super duper guy.”
and sat down across the table from him.
Grampa Les spoke in a dialect of gibberish and curse words, which was
almost impossible to understand. A
mouthful of pancakes did nothing to improve his clarity of expression. Jody just nodded and tried to avoid looking
anywhere near his mouth, and the partially chewed pancakes that were trying to
escape it, while he spoke.
hee,” Grampa Les giggled. “Sez right
here’bouts ‘dis super duper be givin’ out some ol’ fashion butt cleanin’s to a
couple o’ yer thugs what had some o’ that a comin’ to ‘em. Lookee!”
the newspaper in Jody’s face. It was
far too close for her to make anything out except for maple syrup spots. She pushed the paper back until she could
read the short account of how a man in tights and a cape had broken up a
robbery in the Old Quarter. The article
went on to describe the robbers’ injuries (severe), the social dangers posed by
vigilantes (plentiful) and concluded with a series of questions (unanswered),
such as, who was he? Would he ever be
seen again? Was he single? And how does he feel about certain recent
celebrity marriages? There was an
accompanying ‘artist’s rendering’, which depicted an athletic and heavily
muscled man in red and orange tights, his face hidden by a gleaming visored
aside the newspaper and Grampa Les shouted, “turn it up! Turn it up!”
artist’s rendering of a man in red and orange tights filled the television
screen. The graphic faded to a somber
looking reporter. Jody reached over and
turned the television volume to its highest setting. Her ears burned. Grampa
Les leaned back and smiled.
“This is Lou
Sprocker, outside the Convention Hall in downtown New Bedlam,” the reporter
said in grave tones, “with two gentlemen who claim to have met our city’s
panned to show two very excited kitchen supply salesmen. Howie grabbed the microphone and shouted,
making the impossibly loud broadcast even louder.
“It was like
nothing you’ve ever seen,” he gushed.
continued. “This guy, he just came out
of nowhere and it was like smash … ”
“ … and
bash,” added Dirk.
“ … and
“ … and
amazing, man,” added Howie.
amazing,” concluded Dirk.
pulled back his microphone and intoned seriously, “there you have it. Two grateful citizens and one amazing
man.” The clip of Howie shouting “it
was amazing, man” was repeated as the words ‘Amazing Man’ appeared in bold
white letters across the bottom of the screen.
her head. As if there were not enough
strange happenings in New Bedlam without this.
She blotted up some of Grampa Les’ pancake and syrup splashes from the
tablecloth. He was still snickering and
orange juice spilled out of the corners of his mouth.
ther callin’ ‘im,” he said.
“I can see
that,” smiled Jody.
what he’s gotcher some o’ dem super powers.”
doubt that,” said Jody. “I’m sure he’s
just some nut in a cape.”
ain’t neither. Betcher anythin’ yer
like what he can leap yer tall buildin’s and such. Prolly got yer bully proof hide, too. An’ yer strenth o’ ten men.
Mebbe even yer x-ray vision.”
her head. “I just hope that whoever he
is, he doesn’t get himself hurt too badly playing super hero.”
be worryin’ yersell ‘bout ‘Mazin’ Man.
He won’t git hissell hurt,” said Grampa Les. “Not wit’ yer bully proof hide an’ yer strenth o’ ten men.”
rang and Jody rose to answer it, taking a moment to turn down the volume on the
television set as she walked past it.
Grampa Les frowned.
the door and saw Stig standing on the front step. Stig was tall with short brown hair and dark eyes. He had a round head and a round face, which
often showed the beginnings of a beard, but that was just because his facial hair
grew so slowly that he only shaved once a week.
much, how about you?”
you last night, but you weren’t there,” said Jody.
“I was out,”
said Stig quickly.
really? What were you doing?”
of stuff?” asked Jody.
said Stig. “Just stuff.”
stuff,” replied Jody.
sort of stuff,” Stig smiled.
realized that this discussion was going nowhere, but Stig’s smile told her that
nowhere was exactly where the discussion was going to keep going, no matter how
hard she pressed. In fact, pressing
would only speed up their arrival at nowhere and then where would they be?
nothing,” said Jody, looking back up at him.
He was quite a bit taller than she was, with big arms and hands. She liked his big arms and hands.
want to get together later?” Stig asked.
and ran down the steps. He paused at
the bottom and grabbed his knee for a moment.
Then he straightened up and waved at Jody before he jogged stiffly back
to his house.
frowned. Stig could be mysterious at
times. But why was he limping?
Iggy, Yugo and Sam, together with all of
the other elves, were gathered in main auditorium. Throughout the big room, elves whispered, laughed and
coughed. Coughing is something that
happens whenever a large group of people, even a large group of elves,
assembles together in an auditorium.
Whether hearing a formal lecture, watching a touching romantic film or
listening to a delicate piano duet, someone in the room will always cough, usually
at the most moving moment. Iggy wondered
to himself why this was so. Since all of the elves had received their
annual flu shots the previous week, nobody could possibly be sick and there was
no reason for anybody to be coughing.
But someone was coughing, nonetheless.
It was warm
there, and Sam idly fanned himself with a magazine. Another elf coughed.
Finally, Santa Claus strode across the floor to the podium at the center
of the stage. The whispers died down
completely. Santa Claus set his papers
on the podium and began to speak.
coughed. Santa Claus glared in the
direction of the anonymous elf in the crowd, then shuffled his papers and
began, “Good afternoon. I am pleased
that you could all be here. I have some
very exciting news to impart to you.”
filled the room, then quieted down again.
coughed. He did not know why he coughed
then. He did not even know that he
needed to cough. It just seemed that,
somehow, it was his turn to.
continued, “I am pleased to tell you that there are more good little boys and
girls this year than ever before.” He
held up a single sheet of paper with a short list of names on it. “This is this year’s ‘Naughty List’. By far the shortest Naughty List we’ve ever
had in the entire history of Christmas.”
elves gasped. One elf coughed.
beamed from behind the podium. “You can
be sure that this List is completely correct.
Why, I’ve checked it twice. Ho,
ho, ho,” Santa chuckled. “I don’t have
to tell you that with such a short Naughty List this year, that the Nice List
is much longer than ever. There are a
lot of good little boys and girls out there this Christmas and we are going to
have to work extra hard to get ready.
This meeting is therefore adjourned.
All of you, get back to work!”
He chuckled a soft ‘ho ho ho’ and then stepped off of the stage.
stood up and made their way slowly towards the exit.
Iggy. “I never realised how many good
kids there were out there.”
something,” added Yugo. “Last year the
Naughty List filled three bankers boxes.”
pffffted Sam. He pfffffted a lot. “The kids aren’t getting better. If anything they’re getting worse. The old man has gotten soft. It’s almost impossible to get on the Naughty
List these days.”
“What do you
mean?” asked Iggy.
what I mean,” replied Sam.
know what you mean,” interjected Yugo.
what do you mean?” Iggy repeated.
do you mean?” added Yugo.
really don’t,” said Iggy.
either,” said Yugo. “What do you mean?”
know what I mean,” said Sam, nodding.
really,” said Iggy.
you just say what you mean?” said Yugo.
Iggy, “then we would both know what you mean.”
know what I mean,” said Sam.
neither,” said Yugo.
is it that you mean?” asked Iggy.
paused. “I don’t even know what we were
talking about anymore,” he said.
List,” said Iggy.
“The old man
getting soft,” said Yugo.
that,” said Sam. “You know what I
Iggy and Yugo together.
sighed Sam. “I mean that Santa Claus
changed the rules. You know, with his
“No Child Left Behind” plan. You pretty
much have to kill somebody to get on the Naughty List these days, and even then
you might not make it.”
“I know what
you mean,” said Yugo.
flashed back to another meeting in another auditorium the previous spring when
Santa Claus proudly announced his new “No Child Left Behind” policy. He described it is a ‘guideline for the
assessment and evaluation of pre-adult behaviour for the 21st
brass band played a jolly march as he unveiled the new policy and its handsome
logo, though overall it was a tedious presentation with a lot of pie charts,
graphs and coughing throughout the audience.
Iggy remembered Santa Claus explaining that the old rules were out of
date and that a lot of good little girls and boys were not getting their due
because of the ‘too rigid application of an inflexible and archaic
standard’. His new policy was going to
fix all of that. To Iggy, it sounded
like a good thing.
Child Left Behind” policy involved a complete overhaul of the rules that Santa
Claus had used to judge the comparative niceness and naughtiness of children
for generations. Many outdated acts of
naughtiness, like dipping pigtails in inkwells, were removed completely from
the guidelines. Most petty vandalism
was reclassified as ‘good old fashioned mischief’ and no longer reckoned as
‘naughty’. Telling lies or other
deceptions were permitted, so long as they could be categorised as ‘mere
fibs’. Backtalk, temper tantrums and
rudeness were accepted as the ‘free and vigorous expression of ideas’. Perhaps most significantly, Santa Claus
introduced a new approach that placed extra weight on a child’s behaviour
during the first three weeks of December – the so called ‘December Amnesty’. The new standard allowed an extraordinary effort
at goodness in early December to overcome months of prior naughtiness. In
effect, the ‘pre-adults’ affected by the new rules could be quite
comprehensively naughty for 11.5 months of the year, yet still work their way
off the Naughty List with a display of exceptionally good behavior in the last
days before Christmas.
the policy, among them Sam, argued that the ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy was too lax and
that many of the kids who were no longer left behind, should have been. All that the policy accomplished was
to make it a lot easier for some otherwise thoroughly rotten kids to get their
names on the Nice List. These children
were no nicer than they had ever been and, in Sam’s mind, the Naughty List was
the right place for them.
Iggy disagreed. His natural optimism saw the good in
everything, and everyone. “There are no
bad kids, only bad rules,” he said, singing the jingle, which Santa used to
promote his new policy. And anyway,
more good kids meant more toys and more Christmas fun for everyone.
happy with the new policy, too. He was
tasked with designing a more efficient assembly line, and received a large
endowment to research and develop a crew of robot toymakers.
That was six
months ago. Now, with less than three
months left before Christmas, Yugo’s next line of robots were still not ready
and the elves were working harder than ever to fill toy orders for thousands of
children who had never made it onto Santa’s Nice List before. They were pulling a lot of overtime and the
toy plants were working far in excess of their rated capacity.
mean,” said Sam, “is that we are going to be killing ourselves this winter
making toys for a bunch of brats.” His
face lit up with enthusiasm as he spoke.
“We should call the rules No Brats Left Behind.”
Yugo nodded thoughtfully.
Left Behind,” Sam repeated. “Most of
the kids we are making toys for today are rude, ill-mannered slobs. And we are going to be killing ourselves for
the next two months making toys for them.”
sure I know what you mean,” said Iggy.
neither,” said Yugo.
growled and muttered to himself as they made their way back to the workshop for
their first overtime shift of the day.
Another Saturday night with Stig, thought
Jody. Another Saturday night at the Laughing
Ninja Comic Book Shoppe. Jody would
love to go to the Old Quarter, have a meal, maybe go dancing. And they might later. But the first stop on any Saturday night
with Stig, was the Laughing Ninja.
in front of the store window, transfixed.
His face was pressed so close to the glass that it was starting to cloud
over from his breath.
believe it,” said Stig.
I,” Jody sighed.
Planet Masters is out,” whispered Stig.
“Come on, let’s go inside.”
Jody by the elbow and pulled her into the shoppe. As they stepped on the mat inside the door, it emitted a sound
like ray guns made in movies.
past a life size card board image of Mr. Spock and down the narrow shelves that
led to the back of the little store.
Every shelf and countertop was crowded with old comics, movie posters
and small plastic statues of superheroes.
wondered whether she was the only woman who ever set foot in the Laughing
Ninja. She would not have offered
long odds against the possibility.
Saturday night group was there; Alert, Herschel, Lance and Rudy. They were huddled around an ancient card
table, which was covered with dog-eared spreadsheets, reference books, little
metal figurines and multi-sided dice. A
winding map drawn on a curled sheet of graph paper was spread out in the middle
of the table, beside a large bowl of ripple chips. Two litre bottles of coloured soda stood on each corner. They were engaged in a complex game that had
carried on for years every Saturday night in which each assumed the identity of
a medieval character and set upon all manner of noble quests, guided by their
game master, Rudy, and the turn of a number of multi-sided dice.
sat on the side of the table closest to the door. Alert was the owner of the Laughing Ninja. He was about 40 years old, a little bit
bald, a little bit chubby and a whole lot friendly and outgoing. He was called ‘Alert’ because a
typographical error on his birth certificate had rendered him one misplaced ‘B’
short of being Albert. His mother,
always a nervous woman, perpetuated the error because she felt that to call him
‘Albert’ might compromise the official record.
This was a closer brush with the law, and perhaps the child welfare
authorities, than she was prepared to take.
So, Alert he was and, forty years later, Alert he remained. In the game, he was a knight named
‘Albert’. Really, it was all he had
ever wanted to be.
next to him, dressed in a brown hooded robe.
He was also wearing large rubber pointed ears. He claimed this costume helped him to ‘get into character,’ which
in this case was a dwarfish druid from the high plains of Yaähr named
Ånthraxx. He also spoke in a guttural
language, Spyýcrõjzz, which he had invented himself. He cast his die on the table and shouted “eprantlёer
begwongg isk dûra-ash!” The others
nodded thoughtfully and Herschel wrote some figures down on the notepad in
front of him.
suffers forty hit points damage,” said Rudy, who was positioned behind an array
of folded cardboard screens. As the
game master, Rudy did not get to play a character himself, he merely guided the
others on their adventure. Still, he
looked rather like the type of small furry imp the players might encounter in
the world of their game. He had hair
growing everywhere, his face, his arms, his neck and Jody dared not think about
where else. The only place where there
was no black hair growing in abundance was on the back of his head, where a
circle of pink shiny skin grew progressively larger each time Jody saw him.
his dice next. He was a little heavy, a
little pale and had a patchy rust coloured beard that was the source of great
pride to him. Lance Boyle was an
intellectual property lawyer with the prestigious law firm of Padd and Gowdge,
LLP. He passed his days registering trademarks
and patents and carefully recording each moment he spent doing it. On Saturday nights, he was an Amazon warrior
“I’m using my breath weapon,” said
Lance/Jenette. He threw the dice on
the table, scattering a number of little painted metal figures.
some dice of his own. “The banshee
makes its saving throw. Your breath
weapon is ineffective.”
snorted. If only it were that easy, she
thought. Not even extra strength
Listerine would render Lance’s breath weapon ineffective.
shoved her in the side with his elbow, and Jody kept her thought to
herself. After all, these were Stig’s
friends and she was a guest in their … dungeon.
the big guns,” said Alert. He reached
into a velvet bag at the side of his chair and withdrew a small gold
twenty-sided die. He flipped it on to
the table as he announced, “I strike the banshee with Exhedron.” Exhedron was the name of Alert’s sword, or,
more correctly, Sir Albert’s sword. It
was a blade forged from the iron of meteorites by the master smith, Armoured
Hal for the King of Gilead. The King
had bestowed it on Sir Albert for slaying a red dragon in the ruins of
Mistmark. Exhedron had magical properties, which added extra
points to Alert’s roll of the dice.
gamers leaned over the golden polyhedron as it rolled crookedly across the
table. It stopped and Herschel shouted
said Alert, smiling.
down at his notes. He raised his eyes
over his cardboard screen and nodded.
“The banshee is destroyed,” he announced.
cheered and exchanged high fives. Lance
took a deep drink of orange soda from his big plastic bottle, then burped
at Stig and Jody. “Hey Jody,” he
said. “Want to roll up a character and
on Jody, join the dork side,” said Rudy.
tonight, guys,” she said kindly.
disappointment of the four men at the table was so large and so real, it could
have pulled up a chair, called itself Disappointment the Huge, and battled
banshees alongside them for the rest of the night.
said Stig, reaching over and shaking Alert’s hand. “I see you’ve got the new Planet Masters book.”
said Alert. He stood up and walked over
to one of the shelves. Stig and Jody
followed him. “And there’s another book
here that I want you to see.” He pulled
a colourful comic off of the top shelf and held it out for Stig.
said Stig excitedly. “Truman is drawing
Alert might as well have been speaking Spyýcrõjzz for all that Jody could
understand. It had taken her a long
time to realize that ‘books’ were actually comics, and that bigger comics were
‘graphic novels’. She had no idea what
words they might use to describe actual ‘books’ or ‘novels’: the kind that did not have pictures in them.
She cast her
eyes along the shelf at all of the covers, with their images of impossibly
muscled men and implausibly endowed women, each dressed in the most impractical
form fitting and form revealing garments.
Each cover promised action, thrills and soul searing surprises.
stopped briefly on one cover, which featured a hero dressed in red and orange,
under a stylized logo that read: ‘Captain Justice.’ She picked up the ‘book’ and flipped through it. Captain Justice was the kind of big-jawed
superhero who talked a lot about truth and righteousness while he beat up on
the bad guys.
over at her. “What have you got?” he
asked excitedly. He’d never seen her
look at a book before.
him the cover. The three gamers sitting at the table all started making gagging
surprised. “You can’t be serious,” he
said. “Not Captain Justice. I didn’t even know those were still in
print. That guy is the worst.” He took the book from her and placed it
gently back on the shelf.
wrong with him?” asked Jody.
everything,” said Stig. “He isn’t even
super, really. Just a big guy with muscles. His only power is the ‘Power of Truth,’
which was given to him by the ‘Hand of Justice.’ It’s pretty cheesy.”
a super power at all,” added Herschel.
“More of a convenience
than a super power, really,” said Lance.
much of a convenience at that,” said Rudy.
“It’s as worthless as a bolivar.” They all laughed.
Captain Justice,” said Stig. “It’s kid
stuff. Baby stuff even. You don’t want to bother with him. Try this instead.” He handed her a copy of Mutant League No. 137. The cover featured three buxom heroines
shooting yellow beams at each other from their hands. They were clad in costumes that were more like cleverly arranged
straps than actual clothing. It
promised ‘non-stop action’ and a ‘senses shattering’ climax.
reached over, took the book and placed it back on the rack. He retrieved the Captain Justice book and
gave it to her. “Don’t listen to them,
Jody. I know he’s a little old
fashioned, but I’ve always been rather fond of the Captain.”
sniffed. “Does anyone even buy that
stuff anymore, Al?”
no Planet Master,” said Alert. “But he
still has his fans. I have one customer
who comes in every month to get the latest issue. He’s got every book going back to the ‘50’s.”
waste of money,” said Stig. He set the
stack of thirteen books he had accumulated on the counter and asked Alert, “how
Stig and Jody stayed out late. They had dinner at the House of
Lard (Stig picked it). Then, they went to the movies where they saw
a show about love found, then lost and later found again (Jody picked it). After the show, they spent a little time
together. It was private time and it
would be an intrusion of uncommon rudeness to dwell on it here. Suffice it to say, they were both occupied
for a considerable while.
There was no
news about Amazing Man in the next morning’s papers. But that night, he was the lead story on every newscast. Amazing Man had struck again.
the trouble started at Basil’s Chateau.
Basil’s was an old beat up hotel on the edge of downtown. Basil thought the name ‘Chateau’ lent a
certain elegance to the place that a more accurate and truthful name like,
‘Basil’s Hovel’, ‘Basil’s Dive’ or ‘Basil’s Seedy Rat Infested Urine Soaked Dump’
did not. The tavern in the lobby of the
Chateau offered a popular lunchtime special, popular because patrons were
treated to a cheap steak sandwich and a different young lady on the main stage
every 15 minutes between noon and two.
The tavern was usually packed during the lunch hour, even on Sundays,
and this Sunday was no exception.
many satisfied customers that afternoon, were two kitchen supply salesman,
enjoying the last day of their vacation.
Howie and Dirk were seating in the front row, enjoying their discount
steaks and happily giving it up for Candi.
happily giving it up herself, when two large men wearing stockings over their
heads burst into the room, shot a couple of rounds from their very large
shotguns into the ceiling and demanded that everyone present hand over their
valuables. Howie and Dirk joined the unhappy queue of
customers dropping their wallets, watches and gold chains into a bag held out
by one of the bandits.
sucks,” said Howie, as he dropped his wallet into the sack.
replied Dirk. “This has to be the worst
bandits gathered up their booty and ran for the exit. An old Dodge was running outside with another balaclava clad
hoodlum behind the wheel. The two bandits
scrambled into the back seat and the Dodge lurched ahead.
stopped. Standing right in front of it
was a man in very tight orange leotards, a red cape and large red
Wellingtons. His arm was stretched out
in front of him with his palm raised like a Supreme.
blackguards,” he commanded, in a less than commanding voice. “Halt and face
driver poked his head out of the Dodge’s window and shouted “get out of the way
or I’m gonna run you down.” He gunned
the engine for extra effect.
stood his ground, his arm still stretched out in front of him. His other arm reached slowly behind his back
and rooted through the fanny pack strapped around his waist. “The law will not yield this day, nor will
Captain Justice!” he shouted.
grunted the driver and jammed the Dodge into gear. Black smoke rose from the squealing tires as the Dodge shot
jumped into the air just as the Dodge reached him and landed heavily on the
hood. The Dodge accelerated and he
rolled up the windshield, grabbing at the wiper blades as he passed. One of them broke off in his hand and he
tumbled up onto the roof.
Amazing Man as he scrambled with his right hand to get a grip on the window
trim. His other hand was still
struggling in his fanny pack. He slid
down the back windshield on his stomach, his tight orange shirt rolling up to
reveal his belly button to the rear passengers.
his hand free from his fanny pack. He
held up a large black suction cup with a rubber handgrip. He slammed the suction cup down hard onto
the back trunk and then grabbed it with both hands. His feet were dragging on the asphalt, leaving curled ribbons of
red rubber behind.
weaved from side to side trying to shake him lose, but Amazing Man held
on. He worked one hand free as the car
accelerated and reached down to his waist.
He unclipped a small wooden club from his belt -- it was actually a
Little Stubby Fish Wacker™, the sort of thing fisherman use to send freshly
caught trout to a better place, but this one was painted red and orange.
the back window of the car, but the club glanced harmlessly off the glass. He tightened his grip on his handhold and
pulled himself up the trunk, closer to the window. The three goons inside shouted at each other. He swung the club again and this time the
rear windshield exploded in a shower of tiny glass fragments.
The thugs in
the back seat leaned forward to protect themselves from flying glass and the
wildly swinging fish whacker. The
driver turned around frantically, swearing and imploring Amazing Man to perform
a number of anatomically impossible tasks.
heed these suggestions, Amazing Man threw the fish whacker at the driver. It bounced off his headrest and back out the
shattered rear window. Amazing Man
ducked and the fish whacker skittered along the trunk and then bounced onto the
road. Amazing Man reached back down to
his belt. “Stop … in the name … of …
justice,” he grunted. The driver just
laughed and sped up. Amazing Man pulled
a coil of metal wire with a hook on the end from his belt and cast it clumsily
at the driver.
loser!” the driver shouted.
Man had not missed at all. The hook was
looped around the steering wheel.
Amazing Man pulled on the cable and the Dodge swerved hard to the
right. The driver’s head slammed
against his window. The car spun around
in big looping circles down the middle of the street, then it bounced up over
the sidewalk, and slammed sideways into a big tree.
finally lost his grip and flew off the trunk.
He tumbled three or four times on the adjoining lawn before he landed in
a small flower garden. He got up
unsteadily, brushing lumps of dirt off of his costume. Pulling his spandex shirt down over his
belly, he limped off into an alley just as two police cars sped past Basil’s
Chateau and pulled up alongside the wrecked Dodge. The three thugs emerged slowly, their hands raised.
outside the Chateau cheered wildly. “I
love this town!” shouted Howie, and clapped Dirk on the back.
it,” Dirk agreed. “This is the best
Jody watched Howie and Dirk cheering on
the evening news program while she was making dinner. She was making spaghetti and tofuballs for Stig, but he was
late. She scooped the last of the
spiced tofu from her metal bowl and rolled it into a ball. She set it on the counter with the others
and then brushed her dark hair out of her eyes. This was a completely ineffective effort, because her hair fell
right back into her face, only now it had lumps of tofu in it.
scrutinized her handiwork. Two dozen
little tofuballs arranged in a row like shiny ping pong balls.
going to love this,” she grinned.
the tofuballs in a wine sauce, glancing over at the television from time to
time. She added tomato sauce to the
mix, let it simmer and put a big pot of spaghetti noodles on to boil. She sat back in her chair as a concerned
looking television reporter interviewed a police officer. In the background, a smoking Dodge lay
curled around a big tree.
nodded seriously as the policeman spoke.
“No, we still don’t know who this Amazing Man fellow his, but we would
very much like to speak with him.
Riding around on the top of moving vehicles is very dangerous. It is also a very serious crime.”
officer?” the reporter asked, straining to make his expression as serious and
concerned as an expression could hope to be.
“Just this.” The policeman held up a small battered
wooden club, painted red and orange.
“And what is
that?” the reporter asked, in a grim, grave voice.
policeman looked at the reporter for a moment.
But the reporter just nodded, so the policeman said, “well, it seems to
be some sort of painted wooden club.”
There was an
uncomfortable pause before the reporter said, in a voice which was somehow even
grimmer and graver yet, “yes, I see.
And … ?” he nodded again.
policeman swung the club gently. “It’s
you know, a little wooden club. The
sort of thing you might whack a fish with.”
said the reporter, and then turned to the camera and said, in his grimmest and
gravest voice yet, “There you have it.
‘The sort of thing you might whack a fish with.’” Then another lengthy pause before he
concluded, “from the front lawn of Basil’s Chateau, Lou Sprocker, Channel 7
transfixed. She knew she had seen that
little wooden club, or one very much like it, somewhere before. Perhaps in the summer, she thought. Yes, she was sure of it now, a sunny day,
she could almost see it now, she had it, it was in her grasp ….
slipped away from her when the chime of the doorbell interrupted her
come to me,” she thought and she walked to the door. She opened it and Stig was standing there, with three flowers in
his hand (which looked like they had been picked from the front garden) and a
Stig, offering her the flowers. “Sorry
I’m late. What’s for dinner?”
fully intended to give Stig an earful and then some for (a) being late and (b)
not calling about (a). However, she now
found herself face to face with (c), a swollen purple shiner. This left her with the difficult choice
between (d), which was that (c) cancelled out (a) and (b) or (e), where (c)
only made (a) and (b) that much worse.
She leaned briefly toward (e), but decided to go with (d), while
remaining ready to return to (e) at any time.
happened to you?” Jody asked, a little more loudly than she meant to.
eye? What happened to your eye?”
black and puffy,” said Jody.
not,” said Stig.
“Yes it is,”
said Jody, tempted to move straight to (e) again. “Did you get into a fight?”
“Me? A fight?” Stig looked shocked at the
suggestion. “What ever made you think
have a black eye.”
do. It’s right there.” Jody poked Stig’s eye with her spaghetti
Stig. “What did you do that for?”
Jody had now
left (d) completely behind and was totally onside with (e). “What’s going on, Stig?”
his eyes away from her. “What do you
mean? Nothing’s going on.”
are you so late? Why didn’t you call? And how did you hurt your eye?” Jody had
passed (e) and was on to (f), all of the above.
like a rabbit about to be run over by a fuel truck. “I don’t know,” said Stig, “I’m just clumsy I guess. And I’m sorry I’m late. The day just kind of got away from me. You know how I can be.”
smiled his sideways smile. The one that
made his dimples show. Stig was working
the dimples pretty hard, and they were having an effect. “But I’m here now,” he said. “And I did bring flowers.” Jody smiled herself, and pulled back a
little bit towards (d).
said, even though it was not. Not
really. “Come on in then. I’ve made you a real treat, spaghetti and
slightly, but he kept smiling. Having
made it most of the way back to (d), he was not going to let go of the
dimples. Not even for a second.
He was still
smiling when Jody put her flowers in a bottle in the middle of the table, when
he sat down and when Jody spooned out a steaming mound of spaghetti and tofuballs. He stabbed one of the gleaming white
tofuballs with his fork. He carefully
carved off the thinnest slice he could and raised it slowly to his lips. He closed his eyes, popped it in his mouth
and swallowed quickly.
nowhere near as bad as he was expecting.
They sat for
a while, swirling noodles and sipping wine.
Then Jody said, “have you thought about Christmas?”
up a tofuball. “Christmas? We haven’t even had Hallowe’en yet!”
“I know, but
it’s never too early to think about these things.”
a little pale. “What things?”
“Everything. Christmas will be here before you know
it. There’s presents to buy, things to
bake. I was thinking we should have
we’ll have dinner. We have dinner
“I mean that
you and I should have dinner. Christmas
dinner. We could invite your mom.”
dinner? With my mother?” Stig was turning pale. Even his black eye faded to an unhealthy
shade of grellow. “Are you crazy?”
“I think it
will be fun,” said Jody. “We could make
it really special. Have a few friends
over. I bet Al and Rudy don’t have
Christmas dinner plans. And Grampa Les
would love it.”
like he was about to have a seizure.
“Grampa Les? Have you ever seen
laughed. “Only every morning. Come on Stig.” Now Jody was working her dimples. She also threw in some work with her eyelids that made Stig
pretty much helpless.
sighed. “If you really want to.”
her hands. Stig smiled weakly, and
choked down his last tofuball.
going to be great,” she said. “We’ll
make a big turkey. Or maybe a
goose. And we’ll have Christmas
pudding. And cranberry sauce. And we’ll roast some chestnuts.”
stopped. As soon as she said the word
‘chestnuts,’ she remembered where she had seen the little wooden club
before. The sort of thing someone might
use to whack a fish. It was also the
sort of thing someone she knew might use to crack nuts. Just like the one Stig kept in his kitchen drawer
as an improvised nutcracker.
down the next morning to write a letter.
There was something going on with Stig and she did not like it. She decided to extend her dinner invitation
to three extra friends, who might be able to help her.
While Jody was writing her letter, a
tall man stood in a basement room, reading the morning newspaper. The front page was filled with stories about
how Amazing Man had broken up the robbery at Basil’s Chateau.
Man,” snorted the tall man and he slammed the newspaper onto his desk. “It’s supposed to be Captain Justice. It can’t be Amazing Man. It just can’t be.”
the desk beside the newspaper was a red bicycle helmet and a pair of ski
goggles. A red and orange spandex suit,
smudged with dirt, hung neatly on a hanger along the wall beside a red pleather
cape, which must have cost a fortune.
Beside that was a small bookcase with a large fanny pack stretched out
on top of it. The shelf was arrayed
with a number of unusual tools and gadgets:
a black suction cup with a handgrip, a length of thin metal cable with a
hook on the end, a flashlight, flares, bandages and half a dozen little wooden
clubs, each painted orange and red.
the opposite wall was a narrow table.
On the table, neatly arranged in chronological order and sealed in mylar
bags, were stacks of Captain Justice books.
In fact, the table held all of the Captain Justice books; including an
extremely rare copy of Captain Justice No. 1, issued in 1952, in which the
Captain battled the Spider-Dwarves, Mistress Halo and the Doom Triplets for the
first time. There was a mint copy of
Captain Justice No. 27 (1956) which introduced the Captain’s trusty sidekick,
Justice Lad; the first appearances of Justice Girl (issue No. 67, 1959), of Justice
Beagle and the Canine Crew (issue No. 81, 1961) and, of course, the
Justicemobile (issue No. 121, 1965).
Obviously, the collection contained some sadder moments in the saga,
including the most tragic issue of all, Captain Justice No. 334 (1980), in which
Justice Lad was murdered by a villain in a black and navy blue costume. A villain who called himself ‘Amazing Man’.
walked over to the table, pulled the copy of Captain Justice No. 334 from the
stack and threw it across the room. It
slid underneath a desk that had a police scanner and a computer on top of
it. The computer was hacked into the
notorious NBCCVS, the New Bedlam Closed Circuit Video System. Images from security cameras located
throughout the city scrolled across the screen. The scanner squawked a bulletin about an 11-98. The man walked over to the computer and
clicked the mouse a few times. A
speeding police car raced across the screen.
pulled the coloured suit from the hanger and quickly slipped into it. He pulled the belt from the book case,
clipped it around his waist and reached for the red helmet and ski
goggles. He pulled the cape from its
hook and fastened it around his neck with a theatrical swirl, then turned and jogged
up the stairs.
The day that Jody wrote her letter was a
typical October day at the North Pole.
Which means that it was cold and it was dark. Days at the North Pole are six months long and the nights are
the same. But, when the sun sets at the
North Pole for it’s long winter’s night, the little city starts to come to
life. Dusk at the North Pole means
Christmas is just a few weeks away and there is still much work to be
done. There will be plenty of time for
rest, when the spring sun brings a new dawn.
and Sam spent most of that morning
on the Railroad Line. This is not
nearly as dangerous as it sounds. The
elves were not sitting on actual train tracks or anything like it; they were
working on the assembly line where little toy trains are made. Even though trains are the most backward and
outmoded form of mass transportation on Earth, and there are hardly any
children who have even been on a real train, toy trains remain inexplicably
popular at Christmastime. To children,
trains are as exotic as spaceships.
the afternoon in the branch office, fashioning the miniature trees and bushes
that line toy train tracks. They also
dropped in at the lawn division, where artificial grass is made for model
railroads; the steam room, where they attended a course on the physics of steam
locomotion and finished the day at the tie rack, stacking little wooden ties on
Every day is
a long day, when they last for six months.
Even so, some seem longer than others.
This winter, with Santa Claus determined to leave no one behind, there
were a lot of those days. That evening,
Iggy made popcorn and three exhausted elves settled in to watch a new
television program together. It was also
the night of The Bet.
was ‘The Audacious Odyssey’, a televised competition in which 10 teams of three
people each had to make their way around the world by any means possible,
including such unfashionable conveyances as trains and blimps.
said Sam. “If this show is a hit, we’ll
be building toy blimps next.”
aired every night from Monday to Friday.
On Monday, the teams were given a destination which they had to reach by
the following Friday. The last team to
arrive on Friday night was out of the competition. Along the way they were also required to perform a series of
pointless and often dangerous tasks.
were comprised of the usual groups of people who participate on these sorts of
programs; there was a team of three beauty pageant winners, two teams of three
waiters/bartenders, an old team, three brothers, three sisters, a set of
triplets, a team of three old friends of indeterminate gender, three swimsuit
models and one team made up of a very tired looking man competing with two of
get on this program,” said Iggy.
said Yugo. “With the snowmobile, we’d
be a cinch to win.”
put elves on shows like this,” said Sam.
“The producers are all way too speciesist
for a while. The ten teams were running
through a busy city street carrying heavy backpacks and looking for a man in a
bowler hat and moustache who was to provide them with directions to their next
not that difficult, if you ask me,” said Yugo.
pretty hard to me,” said Sam. “There’s
an awful lot of running.” He patted his
prodigious belly. “I’m really not that
fond of running, myself.”
going around the world the easy way, from side to side,” explained Yugo. “If they wanted to make it really
interesting, they’d travel from top to bottom.”
both poles?” asked Iggy.
said Yugo. “Now that would be an
certainly be interesting to see a blimp flying through town,” said Iggy.
what would make this interesting?” said Sam.
“If we had a
little action on it.”
if we put some money on the winners.
Some sort of a bet,” said Sam.
of a bet?” asked Iggy. Iggy was the
sort of elf who did not easily part with his money. He considered gambling to be broadly similar in enjoyment and
outcome as running cash through a paper shredder.
know. Enough to make it interesting,”
said Sam. “Maybe a hundred bucks?”
a little pale. A hundred bucks was a
lot of money.
staring at the television screen.
“Sure, I’m in,” he said.
grinned. Now he had Iggy where he
wanted him. “Iggy?” he asked. “Are you in?”
started to pink up again. His natural
optimism was overcoming his fear of losing his stake. The more he thought about it, the more attractive Sam’s proposal
became. A hundred bucks was a lot of
money, but 200 bucks was twice as much.
And, if he won the bet, that is how much more he would have. That was far better than the rate of return
he was getting on his North Pole Savings Bonds, which were only paying 4.5%
that quarter. With over 400,000 bucks
in his portfolio, he decided he could risk this small amount of capital on such
a speculative venture, particularly given the potentially high rate of
return. There was some risk that he
could lose it all, but Iggy decided that if he just studied the competition
carefully, he should be able to pick the winner.
his confidence growing by the second and said, “ok, I’m in.”
said Sam. “Here’s what we’ll do. Every week we’ll pick a winner and a
loser. The elf who gets the most
correct guesses wins the pot.”
fair,” said Iggy.
on it, then,” said Sam and the elves each reached out their two hands to the
others, forming a little elfian knot of tangled arms.
turned back to the program, watching it more intently than ever.
morning, Yugo prepared a chart to keep track of each elf’s weekly picks and
running score and hung it on the refrigerator.
Each night afterwards was the same.
After completing their toymaking tasks, Iggy made popcorn and the elves
sat down on the edge of the couch to watch the Audacious Odyssey.
tick marks on a spread sheet he had developed, Yugo took notes on a small
handheld computer and Sam made frequent trips to the refrigerator to get more
and Iggy was delighted when the Sullivan Sisters of Storm Lake, Iowa were the
first group to arrive at Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan. They hugged the genial host of the program,
who informed them that the prize for reaching the weekly destination first was
an all expense paid trip back to Stanley Mission when the Odyssey was over. The celebration that followed involved more
hugging, some fist pumping and more than a little jumping up and down.
There was no
celebration however for the Stubing Triplets, of Nogales Arizona. They chose to travel to Stanley Mission by
kayak, finishing last. The genial host
appeared sincerely saddened to tell them that they were the last group to
arrive and, unfortunately, they had been eliminated from the Odyssey.
two points, Yugo got one and Sam got nothing.
Jody watched the Audacious Odyssey alone
that night, and found the Friday episode disappointing for two reasons. First, she was sorry to see the Stubing
Triplets finish in last place as she was rather fond of their playful banter
and devil may care ways. As soon as
they elected to take the kayak across Lac La Ronge instead of the ski plane,
she knew that they were in trouble.
and most disappointing aspect of the Friday episode of the Audacious Odyssey
was that Jody watched it alone. Stig
was supposed to be with her, but he had begged off at the last minute, claiming
that he had to attend to a personal emergency.
When Jody asked about the nature of this emergency and whether there was
anything that she could do to help, Stig just said “no, thanks,” and hung up.
Audacious Odyssey ended with some clips from next week’s shows (in which Mr.
Gonzalez and his two ex wives were seen trying to steer a dog sled with limited
success) and Jody switched channels.
She flipped past a football game, an enthusiastic British man selling
knives, a rerun of some bumbling cartoon dad and a documentary on seals when
her finger froze on the remote control.
7 Live News Team was at the scene of Amazing Man’s latest appearance. This time the costumed vigilante had tackled
a thief who had robbed an ATM customer at gunpoint. Amazing Man had disarmed the gunman with some sort of red metal
boomerang with sharp edges and subdued him with a kick to the jaw.
intoned that Amazing Man had disappeared into the shadows again, without a
trace. But that was not entirely true. The camera panned to a shot of the thief
being pushed into a police wagon, the tread mark of a large Wellington boot
still visible on his face.
There was a
‘tsk’ from the doorway. Jody turned to
see her sister Rhonda standing there, her arms crossed and with a sly smile on
Rhonda,” said Jody.
on a Friday night, are we?” asked Rhonda smugly. “What happened to that knight in shining armour of yours? Stan wasn’t it? Or was it Stu?”
it’s Stig, Rhonda. He had to go
out. Some sort of an emergency.”
“Oh, I see,
I see,” said Rhonda, in the fakest sympathetic voice she could muster. Then she added, “since you’re not doing
anything anyway, can you do me a favour?”
they lived in the same house, Rhonda seldom spoke with her little sister. Rhonda only had time for Jody when she
needed a favour, usually one involving any or all of her three oversized,
rambunctious boys, Ronnie, Donnie and Little Jack.
shrugged. Rhonda was right. She was not doing anything else anyway. “Sure, what is it?”
pick up the boys from kick-boxing class?”
said Jody in a resigned voice. Rhonda
had enrolled the boys in a martial arts class so that they would be able to
protect themselves from neighbourhood bullies.
What Rhonda failed to recognize in her maternal myopia was that Ronnie,
Donnie and Little Jack were the neighbourhood bullies. Their martial arts training had only
empowered them to greater feats of violence and thuggery than even they could
have previously imagined.
sis,” said Rhonda, flipping a set of car keys to Jody. “Class is done in ten minutes.”
her purse and made her way to Rhonda’s lime green minivan. She started it up and then recoiled as
Rhonda’s country music radio station loudly blasted some lamentation of love,
trucks and agony at her. She fumbled
with the radio knob, reducing the volume so that her ears no longer felt like
they were bleeding and then searched for that station that played the cheesy
Chee’s Kickboxing Studio was located on the East Side, about thirty blocks
away. Jody drove and hummed along with
the New Kids, who were pretty old kids now; the Bennetts, a husband and wife
duo, who sang about staying together forever and ever but whom had since
divorced and each remarried three or four times; and a song about how it was
better to die before getting too old, sung by Raging Ricky, a hard drinking
guitar player, who had died in 1992, long before he ever got too old.
the minivan in front of the studio and went inside. Ronnie, Donnie and Little Jack were just finishing their
class. Jody spent a few moments
watching them slash through wooden planks with their hands. “Isn’t that great,” she thought, “now the
boys are not only highly trained bullies, they are highly trained vandals as
well.” Donnie spun around and shattered
a plank held out by Ronnie and Little Jack.
The boys tossed the splinters aside and laughing, made their way into
the change room. The adult class was
about to begin.
what are you doing here?” Jody spun
around at the sound of a familiar voice.
It was Rudy, the Saturday night game master. He had just walked into the studio with a gym bag under his arm.
“What am I
doing here? What are you doing here?”
shrugged. “Al and I have been coming
here for a couple of years now. You
know, once you reach a certain age, you have to start taking care of yourself.”
around. “Is Al here?” she asked.
his head. “Nope. He couldn’t make it tonight. I’ll just have to work out twice as hard, I
laughed. Then another tall man pushed
past them into the studio.
that?” asked Jody, after the big man entered the changing room.
Mr. Hastings. I have no idea what his
first name is. He’s one of Master
Chee’s best pupils. Fast hands. Kicks like a mule.”
Donnie and Little Jack poured out of the change room, exchanging high fives and
marched straight past Jody and out into the parking lot. Mr. Hastings came out of the change room
right behind them and began working over a punching bag. Jody could not help but notice how big his
feet were. She also could not help but
notice that while the other students were dressed in white uniforms, Mr.
Hastings wore an orange jacket, secured with a red belt. His hands were a blur, and every once in a
while, he spun around and delivered a ferocious kick to the bag.
about it,” sighed Rudy. “I have to spar
with the guy. I wish Al was here
tonight. He’s pretty good, too. You’d be surprised.”
nodded. “Well, enjoy your class,” she
said. Rudy gave her a little wave and
made his own way into the changing room.
She returned to the minivan to find her three enormous nephews leaning
out of the windows, taunting passersby and laughing uproariously.
guys, knock it off,” said Jody as she climbed into the driver’s seat.
do what Auntie Jody says,” said Donnie.
she’ll give us a spanking!” shouted Little Jack, who, truth be told, would not
have minded a spanking from his Aunt Jody one little bit.
it’s Amazing Man!” said Jody, pointing out the front window. The three boys stared out the window in
smiled. “Ha! Made you look,” she said.
Jody backed out of the parking lot and turned onto the street. The boys looked at each other in confused
silence; a silence that thankfully lasted the rest of the way home.
A week passed, and then another. The Audacious Odyssey played out much as
Iggy anticipated it would. The Gilbert
Brothers were the first to arrive at Key Largo (by airboat) and the first to
reach Machu Piccu (by llama).
Unfortunately, the beauty pageant queens got lost on the Overseas
Highway and were the last group to make it to Key Largo where, unfortunately,
they were eliminated from the Audacious Odyssey. The three waiters from Minnesota, Jeff, Bob and Tank, were the
last group to make it to Peru, but instead of journeying to Machu Piccu, the
lost city of the Incas, they mistakenly traveled to Pachu Miccu, the city of
lost Incas. Once they arrived, they
tried to get directions out, but all of the people there, being lost
themselves, were no help at all.
Yugo both collected three more points.
Sam did not get any.
miles away in New Bedlam, Jody found herself watching another episode of the
Audacious Odyssey by herself. She was
not surprised when the Gilbert Brothers finished first again. They always seemed to know where they were
going. “Imagine that,” she thought,
“men who really did not need to ask for directions.”
She was also
not surprised to be watching the program alone. It was how she had spent the last three Friday nights. Stig was working late at the record
store. Or so he said.
to the news right after the Audacious Odyssey ended. Most nights the news led off with whatever amazing thing that
Amazing Man had done that evening. One
night an old lady told the story of how he tripped up a purse snatcher, another
night an old man related how he had chased off a couple of those darn kids what
was making nothing but tribble. At
least, that is what it sounded like.
story this night was different.
Tonight, as the old man might say, there was tribble downtown. This was not particularly unusual for a
Friday night in downtown New Bedlam.
Tribble was usually pretty easy to find there.
the tribble began with an alarm at Krazy Freddie’s Stereo Sales and Service, a
brick store on the corner of Main and Event.
Three hoods, wearing hooded sweatshirts, were carrying electronic
equipment through a shattered storefront window, when Amazing Man stepped out
of the shadows and called out to them, “stop thieves! Stop and surrender yourself to Captain Justice!”
Captain Justice?” asked one of the hooded hoods. The hooded hood next to him shrugged, while balancing three DVD
players in his arms.
he was supposed to be Amazing Guy or somethin’”, said the other hooded hood,
who was, by far, the biggest hood of the three.
lowered his fists for a moment. “No,
blackguard, not Amazing Guy, Amazing Man.
It’s Amazing Man,” he said. He
raised his fists again.
right,” said the first hooded hood.
“It’s Amazing Man.”
this Captain Justice?” asked the second hooded hood, the one with the DVD
players in his arms.
said the third hooded hood.
doesn’t matter,” said Amazing Man.
“Just surrender yourselves, okay?”
hooded hoods looked at each other and then they all looked over Amazing Man’s
shoulder. They saw something there that
Amazing Man had not seen. A fourth
hooded hood, returning from loading video game consoles into the gang’s
truck. Not only was this hooded hood
bigger yet than the other three, he also had a crowbar in his hand. A crowbar he swung with devastating force at
made a cartoonish THWUNK! sound as it struck Amazing Man in the torso. Amazing Man let out an involuntary
cartoonish OOF! sound as he fell to the pavement. The hooded hood swung the crowbar again. Another THWUNK! another OOF! and Amazing Man
rolled over in agony.
sounded from some distance away. The
hooded hoods ran to their truck with their ill-gotten goods, stopping to kick
Amazing Man as they passed.
slowly rose to his knees, groaning with every movement. A thin trickle of blood ran down the sleeve
of his shirt and dripped onto the pavement.
The sirens were drawing closer and Amazing Man struggled to rise to his
feet. He carefully pushed one
Wellington forward, wobbled, and then took another step. He reached the street corner and fell down.
were drawing closer and he had only a few moments before they would
arrive. Sweat poured into his eyes and
he pulled aside the ski goggles and bicycle helmet. He threw off his cape, reached into the pack on his waist and
pulled out a thin nylon jacket, which he pulled over his blood soaked spandex
shirt. He crawled across the street,
leaving his cape, helmet and goggles behind.
He collapsed in the middle of the road, unable to go any further.
his head and noticed a manhole cover just within his reach. He struggled to pry the cover off, then
rolled into the manhole and dropped out of sight, just as a police car pulled
up to the looted store. Two eager
members of the NBPD leapt from the car and began investigating the scene.
minutes later, a white van with a satellite dish on the roof arrived, and a
grim looking Lou Sprocker of the Channel 7 Live News Team climbed out, looking
for a face he could shove a microphone into.
It only took a moment to find that perfect face. One with short dark hair attached to the
body of a police officer with a red pleather cape in one hand and a helmet and
ski goggles in the other.
waved to his camera man and a moment later, the young police officer was
staring at a bright spotlight and Lou Sprocker’s microphone.
what is that you’ve got there, officer?” asked Lou Sprocker grimly.
policeman held up the cape, “Well, I really can’t comment on an ongoing
investigation,” he said.
like pleather, wouldn’t you say, officer?” pressed Lou Sprocker.
policeman looked down at the cape. “I
really couldn’t say, sir. It’s still
been expensive,” said Lou Sprocker.
“Wouldn’t you say this is a very expensive garment, officer?” He flipped the microphone back to the
policeman, who shrugged helplessly.
“And these …
items … were all abandoned at the scene of the crime, were they?”
shouldn’t comment any more. I’ve only
just arrived myself,” the policeman said.
Another policeman knelt down and took a photograph of a bloodstain on
eyes bulged out for an instant, but he pulled them back in with grim
professionalism. He waved at the
cameraman, who zoomed in on the bloodstain, then panned to follow a trail of
blood drops into the middle of the street.
stepped into the shot to block the camera’s angle, but Lou Sprocker smoothly
slipped in, faced the blazing spotlight and in the grimmest voice he could
muster, concluded, “There you have it.
An expensive pleather cape. A
helmet and some goggles. And the man’s
own blood on the ground. Tonight, a
hero has been defeated.”
The words “A
Hero Defeated” appeared in large white letters across the bottom of Jody’s
television screen. She turned off the
television and picked up the telephone.
rang eleven times before Jody gave up and hung up the phone.
The man struggled down the stairs and
fell onto the floor. He was soaking wet
and his clothing reeked of sewage. He
lay there for several minutes, breathing heavily. Somewhere, a telephone was ringing.
rose to his knees and shrugged off the thin nylon jacket. He touched his side gently, then grimaced
with pain. He caught his breath and
carefully pulled the orange spandex shirt over his head. The shirt was torn in places, and stained
with blood and muck. He dropped in onto
the floor in a sodden heap.
I’ll be staying in for the next few days,” he grunted to himself. He slowly crawled to the table where the
stacks of Captain Justice books lay in neat rows. He pulled one from the top of the nearest stack
and slipped it out of its mylar sleeve, taking great care not to mar the cover
with mud. “Might as well catch up on my
the book and stared blankly at the single panel illustration on the front page
for several minutes. Then he slowly lay
back onto the cement floor and slipped into blissful unconsciousness.
Nobody saw Amazing Man during the next
three weeks. Millions of people did see
the next episodes of the Audacious Odyssey, which was growing in popularity with
each passing day.
Piccu, the seven remaining groups made their way to Tiera Del Fuego, stopping
to ride a mule cart in Bolivia and to snowboard at the La Hoya Resort in the
Andes. The Gilbert Brothers made a
wrong turn in Paraguay, which allowed the three swimsuit models from Anaheim to
finish in first place. They won a small
cash prize, which they celebrated with a good dealing of hopping, hollering and
hugging. The Gilbert Brothers were able
to get back on course, and slipped across the finish line just ahead of the
beleaguered Mr. Gonzalez and his two ex-wives, who unfortunately, were
eliminated from the competition.
expected the Gilbert Brothers to finish in first place for a third straight
week. He did pick the Gonzalezes to
finish last, so he still collected a single point. Yugo also collected one point.
Sam forgot to submit any picks and his score for the week was entered at
of the Audacious Odyssey were the talk of the workshop each morning. Every episode was hashed and rehashed by
elves as they fastened wheels to mule carts or polished snowboards. A female elf from the mailroom reported that
toy blimp requests were up 313%. This
was generally attributed to the daring blimp ride the Odyssey contestants had
taken over the Devil’s Throat at Iguazu Falls (la Gargantua del Diablo).
and Sam were deployed to the newly established ‘Blimp Team’. Though Yugo considered that blimps were, in
principle, archaic, Iggy welcomed the change from making trains. Sam just blew up blimp balloons and thought
about his lunch break.
built throughout the week, as the six remaining Odysseans journeyed by steam
liner around the Cape of Good Hope, and then crossed Madagascar in dune buggies
they had to build themselves. From
there, they hired speed boats for the final sprint to Zanzibar, where Odyssey
was scheduled to end for the week on Friday.
found Iggy, Yugo and Sam seated in front of the big 78 inch plasma television
in the common room of Elves Barracks B, joined now by thirty or forty other
elves, each cheering on their personal favourites in the Odyssey. Quite a few wore T-shirts with pictures of
the swimsuit models from Anaheim. They
roared as the Gilbert Brothers overtook Jordan, Pat and Terry, the three
friends of indeterminate gender, and watched in silent horror when the speed
boat carrying the old team capsized.
In the end,
Lou, Hans and Lena, the bartenders from Toledo, scrambled up the beach in first
place. The elves cheered the arrival of
each group, reserving respectful applause for the tearful appearance of the old
team, Agatha, Betty and Morris, who never could recover from their boating
accident. Unfortunately, they were the
last group to arrive, and, it is sorry to say, they were eliminated from the
Yugo each collected another point. Sam
It was mid
November, and weekend shifts had begun at the work shop. The work shop is not, as many people thing,
a cozy snow covered cottage with smoke drifting lazily from a small brick
chimney. The work shop is actually a
great number of cozy snow covered cottages, each serving a different function
in Santa Claus’ toy manufacture and distribution empire. New specialized buildings appear each year,
such as the Porcelain Building Works™ and the Board Games Factory™, resulting
in a sprawling maze of little workshops, with busy elves scurrying back and
forth among them.
and Sam were pulling a shift in the fruitcake bakery. They mixed candied fruit and brandy into the thick dough, pressed
it into square pans, then stacked the finished products like bricks along the
back wall of the bakery. Sam liked
working in the bakery because of the easy availability of thick dough, candied
fruit and brandy. Most elves sweated
off a pound or two during a shift in the hot bakery, but Sam, who frequently
sampled the cakes at each stage of their production, always left the bakery
fuller and fatter than when he entered it.
think you’ve had enough?” asked Iggy, as Sam scooped a big spoonful of sticky
brown dough into his mouth.
“It’s just a
taste test,” said Sam, between chews.
“We can’t be shipping out unpalatable fruitcake, can we?”
supposed to be unpalatable,” said Yugo.
his head. “Not on my watch. Every cake that leaves this bakery will be
Sam approved.” He sprinkled some
candied fruit onto one of the cakes, and then flipped a red one into his mouth.
“Do you even
know what that is?” asked Iggy.
think,” said Sam.
snorted. “You wish. We can’t keep cherries fresh at the North
is it?” asked Sam, eyeing a green one for a few seconds before eating it.
rutabagas soaked in sugar and food colouring,”
explained Iggy. “They keep forever.”
asked Sam. “I never knew that.” He turned a piece of coloured rutabaga in
his fingers a few times and then tossed it into his mouth. “Tasty though,” he said.
the elves worked double shifts, making airplanes, doll houses and
fruitcake. Each night they gathered to
watch the progress of the Audacious Odyssey.
On Monday, the remaining groups departed Zanzibar by dhow, making a
rocky ride to the Tanzanian coast. On
Tuesday, they drove old rusted jeeps through the Savannah, where they had to
milk a zebra. On Wednesday, they
travelled up the Nile by reed boat and rode camels through the pyramids on
Thursday. On Friday, the elves were
joined by the largest crowd yet, who assembled in Elves Barracks B to see which
group would win that week’s stage.
liked the chances of the Sullivan Sisters.
Yugo had picked the Gilbert Brothers.
Sam chose the swimsuit models.
Sam watched the program from the biggest chair in the room, with a large
bowl of popcorn on his lap, and a smaller bowl of candied rutabagas on the
table beside him.
journey across the Mediterranean ended at the ruins of the palace of Knossos,
on Crete. The palace is an enormous
building with twisting hallways that lead into and out of hundreds of rooms. The genial host walked in front of the ruins
of the old building and explained that it was once the location of the
legendary Labyrinth, which housed the dreaded minotaur, and which was slain by
the great Greek hero, Theseus.
snorted Sam. “Theseus was nothing
special. You want a real hero? Give me Perseus any day.”
asked Iggy. “What was so great about
everything,” replied Sam. “He was the
guy who took on Medusa. Tricked her
into looking at his polished shield and turned her to stone. Now that’s using the old bean.” Sam tapped his temple with his pudgy
still pretty good,” interjected Yugo.
on,” said Sam. “Theseus was a
moron. Don’t you remember that on his
way home from Crete he was supposed to put up the white sails if he was okay,
but he forgot and when his old man, Aegus, saw his ship return flying black
sails, he was so grief stricken he threw himself off a cliff. Some hero.”
nodded. “You’re right. That was pretty dumb.”
a better hero,” agreed Iggy.
A group of
other elves shushed loudly. “Can’t you see we are trying to watch the show?”
said the tallest one.
hear a thing with all of your blather,” said the smartest one.
will argue about anything,” said the chubby one.
and Sam sunk sheepishly into the big sofa and stared quietly at the big
television screen. There were no
minotaurs or Greek heroes on this night, but each group still had to work their
way through the ancient maze to the center, where the genial host of the
program was waiting to greet them.
dismay, the Gilbert Brothers reached the center first, followed closely by the
Sullivan Sisters. The swimsuit models
finished last. Iggy collected one point,
Yugo got two, and Sam got nothing, though he finished the last of the rutabagas
before the closing credits rolled.
Jody saw the Sullivan Sisters retake the lead
in the Audacious Odyssey from her usual spot at the end of Rhonda’s sofa. This pleased her for two reasons. First, she was cheering for the Sullivan
Sisters and was happy to see them winning (and taking the prize, which this
week was a life size marble statue of a minotaur). Second, for the first Friday in weeks, Stig was at the end of
Rhonda’s sofa, too.
was resting on Jody’s shoulder. She
looked down on him gently. His eyes
were closed and he was purring softly with each breath. Things would be just right, if it were not
for the fact that Grampa Les was seated at the other end of the sofa.
‘bout them swimmer models,” said Grampa Les.
“They were some o’ yer fine lookin’ lasses.”
too young for you Grampa Les,” said Jody.
know ‘bout ‘dat,” replied Grampa Les.
“This ol’ body, it still got it some livin’ left inner.”
switcher over to yer news pergrim,” demanded Grampa Les. “I wanna see what yer ‘Mazin’ Man be gettin’
hissell all uppin’ to.”
up the remote and flipped to Channel 7, where Lou Sprocker was gravely updating
his viewers on the Amazing Man ‘situation.’
A graphic over his left shoulder read “Amazing Man Missing – Day 21”.
up and rubbed his eyes. “Amazing Man,
eh? I wonder what ever happened to
him?” he said.
tapped his foot on the ground, anxiously.
“It gonna be aright, yull see,” he said. “’Mazin’ Man gonna be jess dandy.”
Stig in the eye. “Do you really wonder
what happened to Amazing Man, Stig?” she asked firmly.
at her blankly. “Doesn’t everybody?” he
her lips and sat thoughtfully. Like
everybody else, she wondered what had become of Amazing Man. His disappearance had been both mysterious
and ominous. Nobody, not the police or
the Channel 7 Live News Team, had any idea who he was or where he had
only seen Stig twice in the three weeks that Amazing Man had been gone. When he finally answered his phone, he told
Jody that he had the flu, or something even worse.
the flu?” asked Jody.
coughed. “I dunno. Pneumonia maybe. Or ebola. I feel
over,” Jody announced.
know. That’s why I’m coming over.”
get sick,” said Stig.
care,” said Jody.
“Well, I do.
You don’t want to feel like this,
believe me.” Stig sneezed for extra
see a doctor then.”
okay in a few days. I just need to
rest. I’ve been working too hard. Doing too much … ” Jody did not know what to
make of that. Stig sounded
delirious. Usually, his idea of working
too hard was watching an entire hockey game that went into overtime.
worried about you. Something is not
right,” said Jody.
worry. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”
But Stig did
not call. So, a couple of days later,
Jody marched over to his house and rang his doorbell until he answered. When he opened the door, he was hunched over
and wearing a worn white bathrobe.
terrible,” said Jody.
said Stig, weakly. “You don’t look half
you soup,” she said, holding a blue porcelain bowl in front of her.
weakly. “That’s great.”
for her to come inside. He shuffled
slowly out of her way and she set the bowl on a table. She turned to Stig and reached out her arms
to hug him. Stig took a step back and
said, “careful, my ribs are killing me.
I was up coughing all night.”
her hand on his forehead. “You’re
freezing cold,” she said.
said Stig. “I can’t seem to get warm
anymore. But it will get better
soon. I’m sure of it.”
really. But I do need to lie down
now.” He slowly guided her back to the
door. “It was nice to see you and I am
feeling a little better, honest. I’ll
call you soon.”
“But … ”
began Jody, but she was already on the front step. Stig waved at her feebly and shut the door.
on the front step for almost ten minutes before she finally gave up and went
home. And although Stig did phone the
next day, and he did tell her he was feeling much better, something about the
conversation left her cold. As cold as
Stig felt when she touched him.
again over the next several days, but it was not until that Friday night that
Stig said he was well enough to come over.
He immediately sat on the sofa and pulled a thick wool blanket over
him. He rested on Jody’s shoulder while
they watched the Audacious Odyssey. He
was still cold, and even with the blanket on, he shivered a little from time to
was still grimly reciting the facts surrounding Amazing Man’s
disappearance. He had, in the last
three weeks, been rumoured to be in St Tropez with any number of nubile young
celebrities, on a secret government mission overseas and recording an album
with his new band. However, none of
these rumours was substantiated in any way, a fact which did not prevent Lou
Sprocker from exploring each one in some detail.
whennat new record o’ his be comin’ out?” asked Grampa Les.
not for quite a while,” said Jody gently.
Stig just grunted.
wanna git me one o’ them records fer sure, I do,” said Grampa Les. “Betcher that ‘Mazin’ Man can sing like yer
choir o’ angles.”
Stig, who seemed to be dozing off again.
“Have you phoned your mother yet?” she asked.
popped open. “My mother? Why in the world would I want to phone her?”
Christmas Dinner,” said Jody. “You told
me you’d phone and invite her.”
a little pale. “Oh. Well, not exactly,” he said.
“Um … it’s
like this, which would be, I would say, exactly, that I … ” he paused
and took a long breath. “I haven’t
actually phoned her. Not as such. Not yet.
But I will, I will.”
“Stig! You said you would phone her. Christmas is just a few weeks away now!”
“I’ll call her, I’ll call her,” he mumbled.
Stig. Jody glared at him. “Tomorrow.”
mind, I’ll do it myself,” said Jody, and she reached for the phone. Stig covered his head with the blanket and
moaned quietly while Jody punched in the number.
mother answered before the first ring ended.
“Who is this?” she asked.
Mrs. Hawkins,” said Jody. Everybody
called Stig’s mother Mrs. Hawkins. Jody
did not even know her first name. “It’s
Jody calling…. ”
snapped Mrs. Hawkins.
Noles. You know, Stig’s girlfriend.”
What do you want?” The
temperature in the room seemed to fall a couple of degrees. Jody noticed that Stig was shivering
began Jody. The temperature was still
dropping. “Stig and I are planning to
make dinner this Christmas. You know,
for family and a few friends. We would
both like it if you would come.”
The line was
silent for several moments. Then Mrs.
Hawkins said, “fine”. There was another
long silence. Then she asked, “Is there
that’s everything. I’m glad – we’re
both glad that you can make it.”
Mrs. Hawkins. And the line went
dead. Phone calls with Mrs. Hawkins
were always like that. When Mrs.
Hawkins decided a conversation was over, it was over. Good-byes were an unnecessary formality at that point.
at the lifeless receiver in her hand and then set it down on the cradle. She turned to Stig and smiled. “Good news,” she said. “Your mother is coming for Christmas
from beneath his blanket and moaned a little.
Hawkins is one o’ yer hansome wimmen, she is,” said Grampa Les with a big grin.
for Christmas dinner too, aren’t you Grampa Les?” asked Jody.
“I would ner
misser fer nuttin’, I would ner,” answered Grampa Les. Jody took that for a ‘yes’.
next week, she called the rest of Stig’s friends. Rudy jumped at the idea, as did Alert when she finally reached
him. Herschel declined, he was going to
be out of town at a winter solstice celebration with the Most Honest and
Honourable Brotherhood of Druids. Lance
also sent his regrets, he had about 300 more hours to bill to meet his targets
that year. He expected to be working
right through Christmas.
down at her notes. Her guest list was
shaping up nicely. But, would she ever
hear from Iggy, Yugo and Sam? She
wondered if they had even received her letter.
She wondered what they were doing right now …
Iggy, Yugo and Sam were doing the thing that all of the elves of the
North Pole did in the first week of December.
They were making toys. And when
the toys were made, they made more toys.
With the ‘No Child Left Behind’ rules in place, the work shop was
running far behind schedule and everyone was pulling double and triple
shifts. They made toys all day and at
night, while they slept, they dreamed of making toys.
respite they took from their toymaking duties was the hour they spent each
night in the common room, watching the Audacious Odyssey. Then it was back to the workshop, for more
toys. The Audacious Odyssey had become
the mainstay of North Pole existence.
Toymaking was just how they passed the time after one episode ended
until the next began.
It had been
another exciting week in the Odyssey.
The groups traversed Greece by chariot, took an explosively frightening
bus ride through Iraq and Afghanistan, and then hitchhiked across the Indian
border before finally racing bullock carts across the rocky terrain to that
week’s finish line in Bangalore. Lou,
Hans and Lena arrived first, followed closely by the Gilbert Brothers and the
Sullivan Sisters. Jordan, Pat and
Terry, the three friends of indeterminate gender from Miami, were well behind
and, unfortunately, they were eliminated from the competition.
collected another two points. Yugo
scored one. Sam got nothing.
He tied off the final stitch and lifted
up the orange shirt. “That should do
it,” he said. The bloodstains were gone
and the mud had been carefully bleached from the big letter ‘J’ on the
front. The last rip had been sewn
closed. It was heavier than
before. The sides, shoulders and
forearms were newly reinforced with special padding.
He tugged it
on and then bent over to pull on his modified spandex leggings. He winced and caught his breath. His ribs still ached when he moved suddenly. The leggings were heavier now, too, with
sturdy pads sewn in around the waist.
He had ordered the pads online from a medical supply company; they were
designed to be worn by the elderly to prevent injury, but he was sure that they
would suit him just fine.
into the tights and then stood up straight.
His uniform was a lot stiffer now.
It would take some time before he was used to it. He punched the air a few times, working in
the new padding. It was a lot bulkier,
too. Indeed, the only honest answer to
the question ‘does this outfit make my butt look fat?’ was ‘yes’.
the desk, still in their boxes, were a shiny new red helmet and goggles. A new red pleather cape, very expensive,
hung on the wall. Beneath it stood the
only part of his uniform that was unchanged; his reliable red Wellingtons.
He leaned on
the desk and flipped on the police scanner.
While it warmed up, he pulled the new helmet from its box and placed it
on his head. It felt good there. It felt right. He pulled the cape down from the wall and, with his usual
flourish, clipped it to his neck.
scanner crackled to life. Amazing Man
smiled. He was ready now. It was time to get back to work.
The morning papers were filled with news
of Amazing Man’s return. “He’s Back!” screamed the New Bedlam
Times-Enquirer in the kind of type usually reserved for declarations of war,
moon landings and the birth of celebrity babies. “Our Hero Returns!”
proclaimed the Post-Interloper. Even
the Weekly Coupon Clipper carried the story, under the banner “Amazing Man – Amazing Deals!”
sighting of Amazing Man was by a burglar who was trying to crowbar open the
back door of Hank’s Bait and Tackle on 13th Street. The sighting lasted only a few seconds, as
all the burglar saw next were stars and cartoon birds that circled his head for
over an hour afterwards. The only sign
that Amazing Man had been there at all was a large Wellington boot print.
twenty minutes later, Amazing Man broke up a serious assault. Three young thugs were attacking another
young man. The victim was hopelessly outnumbered
and his assailants laughed with each blow that fell. Then Amazing swung through the middle of the conflict on a thin
rope, scooping up the victim and lifting him from harm’s way. He dropped him several feet away and then
turned and levelled the three attackers on his backswing.
later he was seen downtown, knocking out a car thief. Soon after he was uptown,
breaking up a drug deal. On his way
through midtown, he returned a lost dog to its owners.
citizens throughout the city told of a man in orange and red who appeared, as
if from nowhere, and saved their persons, property and pets. Viewers of the Channel 7 news claimed that
Lou Sprocker even smiled, as he reported the news of Amazing Man’s sudden
Les could not contain his joy over pancakes the next morning. “Didjer see ther papers, Jody? Didjer see ‘em?” he asked, spraying pancakes
and maple syrup across the room as Jody walked into the kitchen and began
searching for the coffee pot.
“Did I see
what?” asked Jody. She found the pot
and began searching for her mug. She
liked to have her coffee out of the same coffee mug every morning. She found it at the back of the cupboard,
the mug with the big sleepy looking dog on it under the words “Me Woof U”. Stig had bought it for her at Walmans one
Saturday night, and now she never drank coffee out of anything else.
be back! ‘Mazin’ Man be back!” shouted
filling her mug and stared at Grampa Les.
“What?” she asked.
“I told you
what ‘dat ‘Mazin’ Man was gonna be jes dandy an’ I was right I was,” said
Grampa Les. “Grippin’ bonnets by Murphy
June ‘Mazin’ Man be back!”
He held up
the front page for Jody to see. “Amazing Man Strikes Back!” the
headline practically shouted at her.
She blinked her eyes a couple of times, then took the paper and stared
at the article.
everywhere last night,” she whispered.
At the same time, she wondered where Stig had been the night
before. She knew he had not been with
her. Working again, he had told
footsteps pounded down the stairs and Ronnie, Donnie and Little Jack ran into
the kitchen. They were not laughing
they way they usually did. In fact,
they looked almost … serious. Ronnie
opened the freezer door.
“Have we got
any ice?” asked Donnie.
filled a bag with ice and held it to his cheek.
night?” asked Jody.
“You have no
idea,” said Donnie. He had a vicious
looking scrape over his eye.
that the paper?” asked Little Jack.
Grampa Les waved it at the boys.
here,” said Ronnie.
glared at the them. Usually when he
glared at them they just laughed and stole his dentures or his tri-focals. But this time they did not even giggle.
Les,” begged Donnie.
Little Jack. “We need to read the want
ads. We’ve decided we need to get
safe,” said Ronnie.
secure,” said Donnie.
said Little Jack.
Grampa Les each stared at the boys in astonishment. The paper fell from Grampa Les’ astonished fingers onto a table,
which, if it could feel anything at all, was experiencing astonishment itself
at that very moment.
pulled out the classified section and ran back up the stairs, clutching their
ice packs in their hands and talking quietly to each other.
butter knuckle fishstick,” cursed Grampa Les softly. “I’m a thinkin’ what my horn jes got rightly swoggled jes now.”
her head in a daze. “Mine too, Grampa
Les. My horn is rightly swoggled, too,”
she said. The newspaper stood like a
tent in the middle of the table. Her
eyes drifted back to the lead article and to the last line, which concluded,
“Amazing Man Busts up Gang … see p.4”
back up the stairs. “I wonder … ” she
said to herself.
Another Friday night at the North Pole,
another gathering in Elves Barracks B for the next instalment of the Audacious
Odyssey. The three groups that were
left had raced from India along the coast of Myanmar, and from there to
Singapore, and then on to Borneo by outrigger canoe. They took a party boat to Bali, chartered a sailboat to Christmas
Island, and then scrambled to hire a hydrofoil for the sprint to Cape Leveque,
Australia, the final stop for the week.
employed only a skeleton staff that evening; which is not to say that the staff
was comprised of skeletons, but rather that only a minimal roster of elves
worked during the hour that the Audacious Odyssey aired. And even they kept an eye on the progress of
the Odyssey on a small television mounted in the corner of the workshop.
Sisters were the first to set foot on the beach, but were overtaken by the
Gilbert Brothers during the long dash to the finish line. The Toledo bartenders, Lou, Hans and Lena,
were the last team to cross the line and were eliminated from the Odyssey.
two more points. Yugo settled for just
one and Sam got none. But he did enjoy
another bowl of candied rutabagas before the show was done.
passed slowly, like the week before Christmas will, with anticipation building
with each passing day. But it was not
Christmas that the elves awaited, but rather, it was the next instalment of the
Audacious Odyssey. Only two teams remained,
the Gilberts and the Sullivans, and this week would determine the winner of the
The elves of
the North Pole were evenly divided. One
half of them, give or take a few, were cheering on the Sullivan Sisters, while
the other half, take or give a few, supported the Gilbert Brothers. By Monday, the elves had abandoned their
traditional green and red velvet uniforms, with those cheering for the
Sullivans wearing pink scarves, caps and pointy toed boots to work and the
Gilbert supporters dressed in blue.
the Odyssey travelled to Wellington,
New Zealand by steamship from Tasmania.
On Wednesday, a fight broke out in the Egg Nog Pub™ when the Sullivans
took a late lead, reaching Tahiti ten minutes ahead of the Gilberts. But, the Gilberts pulled ahead on Thursday,
arriving in Lahaina by whaling boat twenty minutes before the Sullivans.
episode of the Audacious Odyssey aired three days before Christmas. It was an extended three-hour episode,
broadcast live to a worldwide audience.
It would be remembered as one of the highest rated television programs
certainly the highest rated television program in North Pole history. The workshop was shut down completely when
the broadcast began at 8 PM sharp.
never been so many people crammed into Elves Barracks B. The Fire Chief would surely have shut the
place down, except that he was off duty and was sitting on a bar stool pressed
up against the south wall. He was
wearing pink overalls and cheering loudly for the Sullivan Sisters.
and Sam were seated in their usual places on the big sofa at the front of the
room. Iggy was dressed all in pink,
Yugo in blue. Sam was wearing a big
pink button on his vest, a fact which Iggy found vaguely troubling.
For the last
half hour, elves had been steadily streaming into the common room, dressed in
pink and blue. Then, when it appeared
that there was no room for even one more elf, the door was slowly pushed open
and a big man dressed in red worked his way into the common room.
Claus!” the elves shouted with one voice.
“Ho ho ho,”
said Santa Claus. He was wearing a blue
cap with the letter ‘G’ on it. On his
feet he wore an old pair of blue suede shoes with two inch platform heels,
freshly polished for the occasion. He
worked his way to the front of the room.
Several elves got up to give Santa their seats, but he refused them all
with a hearty chuckle. He found a tiny
patch of carpet behind Sam’s big green chair and settled in there to watch the
program. He reached a big hand into
Sam’s bowl and scooped out a large fistful of candied rutabagas. Sam said nothing, but pulled the bowl a
little closer to his side.
The face of
the genial host of the Audacious Odyssey filled the giant plasma screen at the
end of the common room. A hush fell
over the crowd of elves as the host said, “two months ago an odyssey
began. An Audacious Odyssey that took
ten teams around the world by every means conceivable. Tonight, that Odyssey will end. The first team to arrive here, will win the
pulled back to show the host standing beneath a giant road sign that said
“Gilroy, California - Garlic Capital of the World.” Then the scene shifted to an aerial shot taken from a helicopter
of the final two teams, the Gilbert Brothers and the Sullivan Sisters, each
riding Segway scooters and speeding south on Highway 101. They were less than forty yards apart.
began cheering and stamping their feet.
One of them played a trombone.
Another Friday night in downtown New Bedlam. A light snowfall dusted the quiet streets.
Christmas was only three days away.
sat on a rooftop overlooking the East End.
Big fluffy snowflakes swirled around his gleaming red helmet. His orange goggles were slightly
misted. He wrapped his cape around his
shoulders to ward off the chill. He
slowly gazed up and down 13th Street, which normally had one of the
highest crime rates in the city. But on
this night, traffic was light and there was no crime of any kind to be
seen. There were no muggings, no
break-ins. No robberies. All was calm; all was bright.
that,” he said aloud. “Maybe there is
some Christmas spirit in this place after all.”
watching the peaceful streets for another hour before he stood up and shook the
snow from his cape. He slid down the
side of the building and made his way home.
Another Friday night in Rhonda’s Living
Room. Jody and Grampa Les sat
side by side on the sofa, watching the Audacious Odyssey. Jody was wearing her good pink sweater and
had a pink ribbon in her hair. Grampa
Les was wearing his old blue sweater, the one with the holes in the elbows, and
his fishing cap. His fishing cap was
neither blue nor pink, but it kept his head warm.
Donnie and Little Jack sat together on the other side of the room, quietly
eating popcorn. All three were dressed
all staring at the television, transfixed by the spectacle of six people racing
Segways down a California freeway at their maximum speed of 12.5 miles per
hour. They were passing through Morgan
Hill, battling for position with only ten miles to go. The Sullivan Sisters were slowly gaining
ground. The gap had shrunk from forty
yards to less than twenty.
“Go git yer
giddy up and go!” shouted Grampa Les.
giddy up!” shouted Donnie.
shouted Little Jack.
smiled. In the last week, she had not
once found honey poured on her pillow, a mouse in her shoes or ducked to avoid
being struck by a flying ninja star.
She had no idea what had come over the boys, but the change was a
welcome one. She turned her attention
back to the television. It looked like
the Sullivan Sisters were pulling ahead.
With seven miles to go, Bertie Gilbert
could already smell the garlic. He
could also smell the three Sullivan Sisters alongside him. He leaned forward on the handlebars, willing
the little scooter to go faster. His
brothers, Freddy and Ambrose, were only a few feet ahead. It was going to take some fancy manoeuvring
to maintain their lead to the end.
Brenda and Belinda Sullivan leaned into the turn, their Segways humming beneath
them. They were each ‘big-boned’ women,
dressed in matching pink sweatshirts and blue jeans. They had caught up to Bertie, the last of the Gilbert
Brothers. Bonnie reached out and gave
him a shove. He turned away slightly
and then straightened out again. Bonnie
veered closer and pushed him again, this time using both hands while she
gripped her own handlebar between her knees.
Bertie’s Segway spun to the shoulder before he regained control and
straightened it out. Bonnie and the
other two Sullivan Sisters shot past him.
He found himself several yards back, and the gap was widening.
nothing new. Bonnie’s gap toothed grin
and unapologetic pushiness had made her a favourite of Odyssey fans
worldwide. And the Gilberts knew,
better than most, how pushy Bonnie Sullivan could be. Bonnie had pushed past them time and again during the
Odyssey. She had even pushed all three
of them off of an airport jetway in Trinidad.
“Look out, Freddy!” Bertie shouted over the roar of the traffic, “the
pushy one is coming for you!”
down on Freddie Gilbert, flanked on either side by her two sisters. Freddie weaved from side to side to block
their passage, but the Sullivan Sisters were relentless. They matched his every feint and shift in a
dance that wound its way down the highway.
Finally, their advantage in numbers won out. Freddie shifted to his right to block Belinda and Bonnie swerved
around him from the left. She
stiff-armed him on the shoulder and his scooter tipped up onto one of its wide
rubber wheels. Freddie wobbled
frantically before his scooter bounced back down onto the asphalt, but by then,
the Sullivans had slipped past him.
Gilbert was the biggest and oldest of the Gilbert Brothers. He was prematurely balding and, because of
this, was in a bad mood most of the time.
His high forehead and unexpectedly ferocious temper tantrums had made
him a favorite of Odyssey fans worldwide.
He was not one to take being pushed around lightly. The Sullivan Sisters closed in on him, and
he could see Bonnie over his shoulder, flexing her arms to get ready for
another big push.
was ready. As Bonnie approached him
from the right, he leaned back on his Segway, braking slightly. Bonnie reached him sooner than she expected
and Ambrose’s elbow was waiting for her.
It caught her in the middle of her gap toothed grin, widening the gap
there just a little bit. Bonnie grasped
her mouth with her hands, causing her to veer sideways and bump into
Brenda. Brenda bumped into Belinda and
before the three sisters could get reoriented, Bertie and Freddie had overtaken
five miles to go, crowds were lining each side of the highway, dressed in blue
or pink, holding signs and cheering on their preferred team. The six competitors crawled past them,
punching, scratching and clawing at each other the whole time. Bonnie pushed Freddie, Ambrose elbowed
Brenda, while Bertie and Belinda just tried to stay out of the way.
The smell of
garlic was overpowering once they reached the outskirts of Gilroy. The Sullivans had retaken the lead, but the
Gilberts were only seconds behind them.
The finish line of the Audacious Odyssey was not far off, now. The Sullivans reached the Leaversley Road
exit and turned left. The crowds along
Leaversley were ten people deep and cheered madly as the Gilberts entered the
host of the program was standing on a platform in the middle of the parking lot
of an enormous outlet mall. A gigantic
Gap store rose behind him, festooned with pink and blue balloons. A length of yellow tape was stretched
between two golden poles at either end of the platform. The Sullivans made another left, with the
Gilberts in close pursuit. The end was
now in sight for each of them, and they bore down on the yellow tape.
yards to go, the Gilbert Brothers leapt off of their Segways and sprinted for
the finish line on foot. The Sullivan
Sisters each leaned forward, willing their scooters to go faster. Ambrose ran past Bonnie, digging an elbow
into her ribs as he passed. They were
all even now, with only a hundred yards left.
Who would reach the yellow tape first?
It was too close to call.
“It’s the Gilberts!” called Yugo, leaping
from the sofa. He knocked Sam’s candy
bowl from the armrest, scattering the remaining rutabagas across the room. Exactly half of the elves in the common room,
give or take a few, roared with delight.
Even Santa Claus leapt to his feet, throwing his blue cap into the air
and clapping his blue suede heels together.
The trombonist blew a few notes of Three Little Maids From School,
but was drowned out as the rest of the elves joined in the cheering.
downcast, but only for a moment, before he was swept up in the celebration as
well. Sam headed behind the bar, put
two big bottles filled with red and green liquid on the counter and started
pouring. He did not stop pouring until
well after midnight.
One elf sat
down at a piano and he and the trombonist jammed a frenzied medley of Christmas
carols. A conga line formed, led by
Santa Claus himself, and paraded rhythmically around the room.
laughing, cheering and singing. For one
night at least, toymaking was forgotten, while the elves danced and
played. A large stack of piping hot
pizzas arrived from Polar Pizza, with another stack following an hour
later. Anyone looking in the window
from outside would think two things:
first, that it is extremely cold outside, and second that inside there
was too much food, too much drink and too much fun. But for the hard working elves of the North Pole, it was just
“It done bein’ dem Gilbert fellers!”
called Grampa Les. He leapt from the
sofa and danced an arrhythmic jig, his skinny legs akimbo. He looked in danger of toppling over and
shattering one or both hips, but although he teetered dangerously in all
directions, somehow he maintained his balance.
politely as Ambrose and his brothers broke through the yellow tape, the
Sullivan Sisters right behind them, kicking and cursing their Segways. They had been even with the Gilberts, each
leaning as far forward as they could on their scooters, when each scooter
lurched backwards. The sisters stumbled
off for a moment, then jumped back on.
The three Segways, only feet from the finish line, each inexplicably
reversed and the Gilbert Brothers were able to cross the line first.
Donnie and Little Jack also clapped for the Gilbert Brothers, and made
enthusiastic dog barking noises when the Sullivan Sisters stepped onto the
podium to collect their silver medals and a hug from the genial host.
rang and Jody got up to answer it. Stig
was standing there, with a sheepish smile on his face. Although it was not all that cold outside,
he was shivering.
“What did I
miss?” he asked.
An exhausted Iggy
shuffled into the little kitchen in Elves Barracks B, and poured himself a tall
mug of poinsettia tea. He needed
something to perk him up after the late night celebrations that went on after
the end of the Audacious Odyssey. His
head ached. He felt like someone was
still blowing a trombone.
already awake, and was bent over the spreadsheet attached to the front of the
a tie. We each got twelve points.” He stepped back and let Iggy look at the
chart. He was right of course. When the Gilbert Brothers won the Odyssey
and the Sullivan Sisters finished last, Yugo collected the two points he needed
to catch Iggy. Sam, of course, remained
dead last, with a total of zero points.
at Yugo. “So we’re tied. How does that work then?”
shrugged. “We split the pot. We each put a hundred bucks in, for a total
of 300 bucks. You and I get 150 each.”
Iggy blew on
his poinsettia tea to cool it down.
“Sam owes us both fifty bucks then.”
another way of looking at it,” agreed Yugo.
There was a
groan from the other side of the room.
“Speak of the devil,” said Iggy.
slowly into the kitchen. His face was
pale and he had large purple circles under each eye. “ooooooh,” he moaned.
look too good,” said Iggy.
feel too good,” said Sam. “In fact I
feel terrible. I am never, ever, drinking rutabaga schnapps again.”
and sipped his tea.
you got there?” asked Sam.
tea,” answered Iggy.
“Let me try
some,” said Sam. Iggy passed the mug to
Sam who poured its steaming contents down his throat in one long swallow. He passed the empty mug back to Iggy, wiped
his mouth with the back of his hand and burped loudly. “That’s a little better,” he said.
his mug over to the counter and refilled it.
“That was a fun time last night,” he said.
the Audacious Odyssey is over,” said Yugo.
“It’s time to settle the bet.”
asked Sam, insincerely. He looked over
at Iggy and Yugo and blinked a few times.
Even his blinks seemed insincere.
very well what bet,” said Iggy. “The
Bet. It was your idea in the first
bet we’ve been talking about all autumn.
The bet on the Audacious Odyssey,” said Yugo.
bet,” said Sam. “Did I win?”
close,” said Iggy. He passed Sam the
chart with all of the scores on it. Sam
studied it carefully. He traced one
chubby figure along the row of zeros beside his name.
“Iggy and I
are tied,” said Yugo.
Sam. He passed the chart back to Iggy. Then, after a moment, he added, “so, there
was no winner, then.”
there was, Yugo and I both won,” said Iggy.
was no clear winner,” qualified Sam.
“There was a
clear loser,” said Yugo. He was getting
a little annoyed with Sam’s prevarications.
“And that was you.”
nobody won, then there really isn’t a bet,” said Sam. “It’s a push.”
you call a bet that ends up tied. A
push. And that’s what we seem to have
here,” explained Sam.
“The bet is
not tied,” said Yugo, raising his voice.
“Iggy and I are tied, that’s all.
You lost the bet. We won the
bet. And now it’s time to pay up.”
up,” said Iggy.
sighed. “Fine. What do I owe you?” he asked.
“You owe us
a hundred bucks. Fifty each,” said
bucks!” shouted Sam. “No way.”
your idea, too,” added Yugo.
bucks is a lot of money. I never said
we were betting bucks. I thought we
were betting bolivars,” said Sam.
not,” Iggy shouted. He was tired, he
had a headache and he had no further patience for this discussion. “Why would we bet bolivars? Why would anyone bet bolivars? There’s nothing in the world as worthless as
do this, Sam,” yelled Yugo, his face reddening. “Now quit stalling and pay up.”
He took a step towards Sam.
his arms and glared at Yugo. Yugo
glared at Sam. Iggy made no move to get
between them. The confrontation was
sure to come to blows when there was a clatter at the door and a pink envelope,
slightly browned around the edges, slipped through the mail slot and tumbled to
elves broke off their argument and stared at the envelope. Iggy picked it up and pulled out the letter
inside while Sam opened the door to find hundreds of elves crammed into the
hallway, breathlessly waiting to see what was in the envelope.
Jody’s invitation to Christmas dinner.
The elves in the hallway cheered and sang. Sam pressed his hand against his temple and then slammed the door
shut. “Honestly, doesn’t anybody ever
make toys around here anymore?” he grumbled.
back to Iggy and Yugo. “Look guys, I
know it sounds like a lot of fun, but how can we possibly go for Christmas
dinner? Production is way behind. We’ll be working through Christmas this
work through Christmas. We are always
done by Christmas. We have to be done
by Christmas,” said Iggy. “We’ll get
everything finished on time again this year, you’ll see.”
Sam, I’ve never known you to turn down a free meal before,” said Yugo with a
his chin in his hand and pondered this.
Visions of sugarplums danced in his head. These were succeeded by visions of turkey, mashed potatoes, quarts
of gravy and cranberry pie with an enormous scoop of ice cream.
he sighed. “I’m in. But there had better be a huge turkey on the
It will be goose,” Jody thought.
She closed her copy of Christmas Dinner for Dummies. After weeks of indecision, she had finally
settled on Goose Stuffed with Breaded Pineapple Husks and Vinegar
Truffles. She looked through her
pantry, which was entirely bereft of goose, pineapple, vinegar and truffles.
that I had better do some shopping,” she said.
She slipped Rhonda’s key off the hook and stole into the minivan. The traffic was unbelievable. Everyone was either at the mall, or headed
in that direction. Jody finally found a
parking spot three quarters of a mile from the grocery store. She had to wait ten minutes for another
minivan to leave so she could get it.
store was as crowded as she had ever seen it.
Normally polite and reserved people were fighting over the last few
boxes of mandarin oranges and candy canes.
Jody headed straight for the goose aisle, where she saw two kindergarten
teachers grappling on the ground over a free range turkey. Geese were still plentiful in the big cooler,
and Jody wrestled the biggest one she could find into her cart.
She made her
way to the pineapple section, and was idly looking at the nearly empty shelves
of homemade stuffing mix when her grocery cart collided with that of a hugely
muscled man in a tight orange T-shirt.
Jody recognized him at once. It
was Mr. Hastings, the advanced pupil she had seen at Kim Chee’s Kick-Boxing
sorry,” he said. She glanced at her
grocery cart and noticed it had actually been dented in the collision.
back up. “Oh, it was all my fault,
really,” she said.
kind,” Mr. Hastings said. He nodded his
head and then made his way down the crowded aisle.
continued on for a few steps, and then turned to follow him. She watched as he put three TV dinners, some
vitamins and a jug of milk in his cart.
He passed the magazine rack and slowed down. He stopped at the end of the display, where there was a rotating
wire rack with a few comic books on it.
He turned the rack slowly, looking over all of the titles and then
carried on down the aisle, shaking his head.
Jody pulled up to the comic rack and looked at the books on the
shelf. It was the usual assortment of
mighty heroes and heavily endowed heroines.
Even the new Planet Master was there.
Justice, though,” Jody whispered. She
looked back up, but Mr. Hastings had disappeared into the mob.
her purchases to the shortest check-out line which, as always, turned out to be
the slowest one as well. The sun was
starting to set by the time she finally reached the van. She was tired and her feet hurt, but she had
one more stop to make. She still had to get something for Stig for
through the traffic jam in the mall parking lot. Horns honked and fists were waved, but eventually she made her
way to the main road, which was itself much like the parking lot, except that
the traffic was moving more slowly.
minutes later she double parked in front of the Laughing Ninja and ran
inside. The welcome mat made the
familiar ray gun noises as she burst through the door. Then she stopped cold. The mat kept firing sonic laser beams, but
she could not move.
Ronnie was standing right in front of her.
He was wearing a Laughing Ninja T-Shirt and sweeping the floor.
Jody,” he said with a smile. A button
on his T-shirt had a decal of some super being and beside it was his name,
to smile in return, but her face was frozen in surprise. Finally she blurted out, “Ronnie?”
you here?” asked Ronnie. Then he raised
a finger and tapped the side of his head.
“Oh, I bet I know. You need a
Christmas present for Stig. Come on, we
have just the thing.” He leaned his
broom against the wall and motioned for her to follow him down the aisle.
Jody said again weakly. She followed
him in a daze. They reached the back of
the store where Alert, Rudy, Herschel and Lance were engaged in their usual
Saturday night game. Ronnie disappeared
into a back room.
table was arrayed with the usual assortment of papers, reference texts and
snack food. Herschel rolled three
multi-sided die and chanted “Gliggb-nbjuk adu barknaåal!” He sat down and pulled his hood over his
some dice of his own behind his screen.
“The kobolds have metamorphosed into harmless barn owls,” he said. “You collect 30 experience points.”
Herschel clapped happily. Lance
refilled a horn shaped plastic mug with orange soda. Alert Darr looked up and waved at Jody. “Hey, Jody,” he said.
“Have you finally decided to join us?”
stared straight ahead and whispered, “Ronnie?”
and said, “I see you’ve met Ronald, my new employee. That kid is great.”
back with a long box containing a two foot tall statue of a muscular man in a
sleek white uniform. “It’s a Planet
Master statue,” he said, passing it to Jody.
“It’s made from cold cast porcelain and it’s hand painted. It’s a limited edition, too, only 500 in
existence. He turned the box over to
show the base of the statue, which had the figures “213/500” etched in a
delicate hand. “Stig will love it. Guaranteed.”
smiled. “What did I tell you? This kid is just terrific. Hard worker, great attitude.”
“What do you
say?” asked Ronnie. Jody just nodded
“Can I get
you anything else?” Ronnie asked solicitously.
an object off of the cluttered shelf beside him. “Here, slip this one under the tree, too. Stig will get a kick out of it.”
the two items, and wrapped each one carefully in tissue paper. “Hey Mr. Darr, did you see the Audacious
Odyssey last night?” he asked.
his head. “I’m afraid not. I don’t watch much television,” he said.
quite a show,” said Lance.
ŷgmurr insh-fha jyi” added Herschel.
tucked Jody’s purchases into a yellow Laughing Ninja bag and rang them
up. Jody numbly handed him her credit
card. Then she collected the bag and
walked out of the store.
She stood on
the sidewalk for a full minute before she said, “Ronnie?”
She was still in a daze when she got home. She was struggling to get her heavy bags
through the door, when suddenly a pair of strong arms lifted them from her.
Jody,” said Donnie. He took her bags
into the kitchen and set them on the table.
slipped the goose into the fridge and quickly put the rest of the groceries
away. He made a little bow and then
jogged up the stairs.
and shook her head. She unpacked the
bag from the Laughing Ninja, carefully unwrapping the Planet Master
statue. She did not pretend to
understand anything about the Planet Master, but she was sure that Stig would
love it. She started to fold the bag,
then noticed the other toy that Alert had slipped inside. She pulled out it out of the bag and
it in her hand for a moment. It was a
small action figure of Captain Justice.
Christmas Eve. The busiest day of the year at the North Pole. Iggy, Yugo and Sam were up early that
morning. This was because they had been
up the entire night before, finishing the late shift, before they immediately
started the early shift.
were glazed and his fingers were numb.
He screwed wooden wheels onto wooden axles mechanically, then passed
them onto Yugo, who fitted the assembly onto little wooden cars and then onto
Sam, who sprayed them with yellow and red paint before passing them onto the
next elf in line.
RSVP to Jody yet?” Iggy asked vacantly.
another car together and handed it to Sam.
“I sent her an e-mail this morning,” he said.
remember to ask for pie?” asked Sam.
little rude, don’t you think?” asked Iggy.
Christmas dinner be without pie?” replied Sam.
Sam, but I did not make a point of asking for pie.”
done,” said Yugo.
said Sam, and he went back to spraying paint.
Christmas Eve. Jody slept late. When she
finally opened her eyes to check the time, she saw a green-bordered card on the
nightstand, leaning up against her clock radio. She sat up quickly and looked around the room. Her door was closed. There was nobody else there.
over and picked up the card. It was an
e-mail from the North Pole: an
She flipped over
the card. It read:
Thank you for your kind note. Please forgive our delay in replying.
We would not miss Christmas dinner with you and Stig for
anything. We will be heading your way
as soon as we finish up here on Christmas Eve.
Expect us around lunchtime.
Iggy, Yugo and Sam
Then, as she was
reading, another line of type scrolled across the bottom of the card:
PS: I hope that there
will be pie.
Jody smiled. Iggy, Yugo and Sam were coming for Christmas
dinner after all. Now she knew for a
certainty that nothing could possibly go wrong.
She also knew that
she was going to have to make some pie.
Jody arrived at Stig’s
house early on Christmas morning, with a large goose under one arm and three pineapples
and a gallon of white wine vinegar in the other.
be a lot easier if we did not live so far apart, she said, when Stig greeted
her at the door. He helped her bring
her dinner supplies into the kitchen.
you talking about, you live right next door,” said Stig. “We can’t live any closer together than
at Stig, but he just looked back blankly.
“What?” he asked.
it’s something,” said Stig.
Jody. Then flipped the goose onto the
counter and pulled apart its legs. “Now
Stig, and together they set about preparing the exotic breaded pineapple husk
stuffing Jody had read about in Christmas Dinner For Dummies. It involved, first, husking a pineapple, and
then, second, breading it. This was not
as easy to do as it sounds. The
ingredients involved went far beyond bread and pineapples. The recipe required almost all of the
spices, except allspice. It included
basil and rosemary, even though neither Basil nor Rosemary were included in the
dinner invitations. They were wise to
add sage, and ginger only gingerly.
They were both cool to chili, but agreed that some anise would be nice. And thyme, there never seemed to be enough
Jody, as Stig gently tossed the pineapple husks in the bread crumbs. She set to soaking the truffles in
vinegar. This was exactly as easy as it
sounded, and involved dumping a bag of farm fresh truffles into a large bowl of
warm washed vinegar and letting them soak a while.
Stig, and while he waited for that to finish, he started peeling potatoes.
Jody, who was rolling out a pie crust.
Stig. He pulled out a big black pot and
poured flour, sugar and a whole box of Missus Klaus’ Christmas Pudding Mix® into it.
Jody. She spread a bag of nuts on the
counter and pulled open a drawer.
There, sitting on the top of a tangled mess of spoons, ladles and
flippers was an old wooden Little Stubby Fish Whacker™. She lifted it out of the drawer and looked
at it with a bemused expression on her face.
grew quiet for a moment, so Stig said, “Fine,” just to make some noise.
and looked at him with a smile on her face.
“Good,” she said, and slammed the fish whacker onto the counter,
shattering the nuts into little pieces.
conversation carried on in this fashion, with ‘goods’ and ‘fines’ alternating
for the next two hours. In that time,
they mashed some potatoes, steamed some vegetables, cooked a pudding, crushed
some nuts, rolled up a cheese ball, mixed up a punch, laid out a vegetable
plate, heated a roux, put a pie in the oven and boiled some hot dogs for lunch.
way,” said Jody. “Merry
Christmas.” She stood on her toes and
kissed Stig on the cheek.
blinked. His arm was elbow deep inside
the goose. Jody passed him another
fistful of spicy breaded pineapple husk and soaking truffles and he stuffed
said. “Merry Christmas.”
something for you,” said Jody with a smile.
his arm put of the goose and smiled back.
“Giveittomenow,” he said.
Jody. “You didn’t say please.”
replied Stig quickly.
laughed Jody. She ran back to the
kitchen, where all of her bags lay in a heap.
She ruffled through them and pulled out a large box wrapped in pink and
silver paper. There was a satin ribbon
around it with a bow made with red and gold ribbon. Jody had woven little silver ribbons and a bell into the
bow. It had taken her hours to wrap it
presented the package to Stig. He tore
the paper, ribbon and bow off in just under two seconds.
“Do you like
it?” asked Jody.
“I more than
like it,” Stig replied. He was in
awe. He lifted the box containing the
gleaming porcelain statue and stared at it for several minutes. Then he walked across the room and very
gently placed it on a shelf.
going to take it out of the box?” asked Jody.
“Oh no, I
can’t do that,” answered Stig. “It’s a
can’t even see it inside the box!”
“The box is
what makes it a collectible,” explained Stig.
should have just bought you the box then,” said Jody.
his usual blank stare in response.
Every day he was convinced more and more that he would never understand
women, and more particularly, he would never understand Jody. Perhaps that was what made her so
interesting. Perhaps even more
interesting was that Jody was thinking exactly the same thing at exactly the
was interrupted by a low humming noise that seemed to come from the
backyard. It grew louder, until it felt
like it was passing right over them.
They both looked up and saw Stig’s familiar white stippled ceiling. The noise passed towards the front of the
house and then, stopped with a clatter.
In a flash, Stig and Jody
ran to the front window, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The new-fallen snow was lustrous in the
midday sun. And there, in the middle
of the front lawn, before their wondering eyes appeared a miniature snowmobile,
still steaming from its long Christmas journey.
This snowmobile was not
like anything one would find in a sporting goods catalogue. None of those snowmobiles can float on
water, fly or travel through time. And
none of those snowmobiles are driven by elves from the North Pole.
This snowmobile had big
black wheels at the back and burnished steel skis in the front. Above the skis was a fully enclosed cabin
from which Stig and Jody could hear the beat of heavy bass drums. It sounded like a hip hop arrangement of Silent
Night. Small wings protruded from
either side of the snowmobile, with little flashing red lights at the
tips. The lights stopped flashing, the
drums stopped pounding and the low hum of the engine faded to silence.
Doors on either side of the
snowmobile rose up on noiseless hydraulics.
A little driver, lively and quick, stepped out onto the snow. They knew in a moment it must be …
“Yugo!” shouted Stig.
“Iggy!” shouted Jody, as he
stepped out of the passenger side of the snowmobile. They ran out to greet the elves while Sam squeezed his way
out. He did not look well and held a
small paper bag in his hand.
care of this,” said Sam, passing the bag to Stig when he arrived. It was warm. Stig looked inside the bag and made a face.
“I have a
delicate digestion,” said Sam. “And it
was a bumpy flight.”
another face. “I can see that. Smell it, too,” he added. He held the bag at arm’s length and carried
it to a trash can beside the house.
Christmas,” said Iggy. He hugged Jody
around the waist, which was about as high as he could reach. She bent over to hug him back. Jody made her way around, hugging each elf
in turn. Her arms barely reached around
have a good trip?” asked Stig, walking back from the trash can and wiping his
hands on his jeans.
most part,” said Yugo. “We ran into
some rough air coming over the Yukon,”
rough,” said Sam weakly.
than that, it was clear sailing,” finished Yugo.
out a green bottle with a red bow on it.
“We brought you this. It’s real
elfwine. Made from grapes grown at the
the bottle and looked at it with a curious expression. “I didn’t think anything could grow at the
North Pole,” she said quizzically.
nodded. “The growing season is pretty
short. Only a few hours every year, so
the grapes are pretty small. But you’ve
never tasted anything like it.”
though,” said Sam, tapping the bottle.
“This stuff has a kick like a Clydesdale.
nice you could come,” said Stig, slapping Sam on the back. The rotund elf stumbled for a moment and
then caught his step. “We’ve been in the kitchen all day, cooking like crazy.”
brightened up. “You don’t say?”
believe how much food we have,” said Jody.
brightened up even more. A trace of
drool appeared at the corner of his mouth.
“Do you have pie?” he asked.
do,” laughed Jody. She took his chubby
hand in hers and led him into the house.
Iggy, Yugo and Stig followed. As
they reached the doorway, Yugo reached back and pointed a small black object at
the snowmobile. The horn honked and the
doors locked with a gentle click. Yugo
stuffed his keys into his jacket pocket and went inside.
The door had
just closed when a suspicious looking man in a dark hooded jacket lifted his
head over the hedge and stared at the snowmobile greedily. He pulled a cell phone from the pocket at
the front of his jacket and pressed a few keys. He whispered into the phone for a few moments and then snapped it
shut. He looked back at the snowmobile
and rubbed his hands together.
“We didn’t know
if we were going to make it,” said Iggy. He picked a carrot from the vegetable tray and dipped it in
dressing. They were sitting in Stig’s
living room, which was decorated with every bit of Christmas bric-a-brac that
Jody could find. There were paper
machier reindeer on the shelves, pine boughs draped on the walls and piles of
artificial snow lay in the corners.
Glow in the dark snowflakes were pasted on the windows. Christmas music played softly in the
seen it so busy at the North Pole,” said Yugo.
He selected a sprig of broccoli and set it on his plate. “We were still making toys right up to the
last minute. Santa was late leaving,
but somehow he got it all done again.”
“All in one
night,” added Iggy.
“At least we
get a few days off now,” said Yugo.
Christmas is not for another year?” said Jody.
said Yugo. “But we’ll be starting on
next year’s presents right before New Years.”
and scooped another spoonful of pie into his mouth. Although he was the third smallest person in the room, Sam had
secured the biggest chair and settled into it quickly. He chewed his pie once and then swallowed
it, pausing only long enough to turn up the volume on the football game with
the remote control before taking another large mouthful of pie.
all seated in the living room, enjoying each other’s company. Enjoying Christmas. Jody wore a green dress with a pattern of
holly leaves underneath an apron with a red nosed reindeer on it. She walked around the room with two large
trays of food in her hands. Stig took a
bite from a piece of fruitcake. “This
is terrific,” he said to Jody. “What
kind of fruits are these?”
think,” she answered.
open a tin of beer and slurped it down noisily.
you had a delicate digestion,” said Yugo playfully.
replied Sam. “So you better not upset
me. You don’t want to see what happens
if my digestion gets upset.”
rang. Jody set down her trays and
answered it. On the other side of the
door stood a severe looking woman in a sensible lavender business suit with the
shoulder pads of a middle linebacker.
She glared at Jody. It was
Stig’s mother, Mrs. Hawkins. Mrs.
Hawkins was a woman of sharp feaures; every part of her seemed to have an
edge. She had a sharp nose, a sharp
chin and sharp piercing eyes. Her hair
was a pointed pile of purple curls.
under her gaze.
breeze blew through the living room.
“Hey, shut that door, will you?
It’s freezing in here!” shouted Sam.
Then he burped. He set his empty
tin on the coffee table and grabbed another one.
Christmas, Mrs. Hawkins,” Jody was finally able to blurt out.
Mrs. Hawkins, pushing her coat, an umbrella and a Tupperware container filled
with Jell-O into Jody’s arms.
Hawkins, you didn’t have to bring anything,” began Jody. Mrs. Hawkins pushed past Jody without saying
anything more and marched purposefully into the house.
son?” she asked.
Mother,” said Stig, leaping to attention.
Mrs Hawkins approached him and leaned forward. Stig dutifully kissed her on her cheek. For a moment, his lips froze there, as though he were kissing a
lamp post in winter. He pulled his lips
free and his head snapped back.
stepped into the living room. She
looked over the end of the room distastefully.
“Stig, your living room is filled with … trolls,” she said, coldy.
stammered, “Mother, they aren’t trolls.
our friends. Let me introduce you. This is Iggy, Yugo and Sam.” The three elves stood up and bowed.
pleased to meet you,” said Iggy.
just looked down at Iggy with her cold sharp gaze. Iggy shivered slightly.
Having lived at the North Pole for a few hundred years, Iggy hardly ever
felt the cold. But he felt a chill,
now. He wondered if he would ever feel
Mrs. Hawkins. Then she turned to Stig
and said, “be a dear and collect Fredda, will you?”
asked Stig, turning a little pale.
Fredda was Mrs. Hawkins’ pet Airedale.
“You didn’t bring Fredda, did you?”
“Of course I
did. It’s Christmas.”
his head and walked out to his mother’s car.
Jody was still standing in the doorway, frozen with Mrs. Hawkins’ Jell-O
in her hands.
Stig as he walked past her.
replied, still frozen.
quite possibly the fattest and laziest dog yet born. Nonetheless, Mrs. Hawkins was completely devoted to her. Fredda made Mrs. Hawkins feel strange new
things she had never felt before. These
new feelings could even be called a primitive form of love. However, ‘love’ is too large a word for such
a new and incompletely formed emotion.
This incomplete feeling is best described with a word, which is itself
incomplete, like ‘lov’. Mrs. Hawkins
was in lov with Fredda.
have ever felt love for an animal, like the lov Mrs. Hawkins felt for
Fredda. Fredda had her own private
bedroom. Each evening, Mrs. Hawkins
cooked Fredda a fresh steak with imported steak sauce and served it on a plate
beside a silver vase with a fresh flower in it. She knitted sweaters and socks for Fredda and had portraits taken
of her by overpriced photographers. She
hired professional dog walkers to walk Fredda every day, however, because of
Fredda’s remarkable girth, she was walked in a custom built and specially
Mrs. Hawkins’ Volvo and opened the rear hatch.
Fredda poured out of it and onto the driveway. Stig reached down to pick up the big dog, but it was like trying
to gather up wet cement. She was heavy
and kept oozing out of his arms. After
several frustrating attempts to pick up Fredda, Stig formed her into a sort of
a ball and rolled her up to the front steps.
But the ball lost its shape when he tried to push it up the steps and he
had to pull her into the house by her leash.
sweating heavily as he worked Fredda past the not yet thawed Jody. “Hey,” he grunted as he pulled Fredda by.
Fredda into the living room, where Mrs. Hawkins stood by the fireplace with a
large scotch in her hand and an unpleasant grimace on her face. As soon as she saw Fredda, her face
Mommy’s good girl. Aren’t you a good
girl?” cooed Mrs Hawkins at the large furry lump at her feet. Fredda looked up, blinked her wet brown eyes
twice and farted.
“What a good
girl!” said Mrs Hawkins. She passed her
empty tumbler to Stig. Stig took the
glass and then turned his head away from the smell.
“Be a dear
and fill that for your mother,” said Mrs. Hawkins, all the while making doe
eyes at Fredda.
Stig did as
he was told and marched into the kitchen to refill his Mother’s glass. As he dropped some ice cubes in the glass,
he saw Jody was still standing in the doorway, shivering.
hissed. “I need your help. Get in here.”
slowly and looked at Stig. Her face was
pale. “It’s so cold,” she
whispered. Stig set the glass on the
counter and jogged to the door to help her back inside.
where’zit yer getting’ at?” said a raspy voice behind them. Stig turned and saw Grampa Les standing at
the door. He was wearing a red plaid
sport coat with a large yellow flower pinned to the lapel. In one hand he gripped his cane, the other
gripped a large bottle of scotch. Stig
reached down and took the bottle from Grampa Les, though not without a bit of a
Grampa Les,” he said. “You’re a life
herself out of her daze, took Grampa Les’ arm and helped him hobble into the
living room. Grampa Les leaned into Jody’s
ear and whispered loudly, “Izzat Missus Hawkins here?”
the beads of spit from her ear and whispered back, “I’m afraid so, Grampa Les.”
straightened his narrow blue checked tie.
“Whadder yer be thinkin’ of my blazer?” Grampa Les asked Jody. “I bin wearin’ this vurry same blazer ever
Crimmas since niney fiffy five. Or
mebbe it was niney fordy five.”
very smart,” said Jody. Grampa Les
smiled and stood up as straight as his bowed legs and bowed spine would let
him. He entered the living room and
bowed deeply. “Good evernin’ and Murray
Crimmas,” he said.
raised her refilled tumbler and replied, “Merry Christmas, Lester.” Grampa Les slowly stood up again, his face
beaming with a wide yellow grin.
over to Grampa Les and extended his little hand. “Merry Christmas, Grampa Les,” he said.
The old man
took Yugo’s hand and pumped it up and down.
“Why if it ain’t the critter wit the fancy auto-snow-bile,” he
said. “How izzat you and yer kinfolk be
keepin’ yer own sells?” Iggy and Sam
both waved at Grampa Les and exchanged Christmas greetings.
Les held his long bony hand out and said, “Wazza old man gotta be getting’ at
to be getting’ a drink ‘round ‘bout herein?”
pressed a full tumbler of scotch into Grampa Les’ spidery fingers. He raised his glass and then took a long
pull from it, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with each prodigious
his nearly empty glass and said, “Thass a finer boy what you got there, Missus
replied, “he is fine enough, one supposes.
Of course, he never wanted for anything. He attended the finest schools and the finest summer camps.”
an eyebrow. “I never went to summer
glared at him icily. “Of course you
did. You went to that camp on the old
lake. Camp Kaninnee.”
his head. “It’s not Camp Kaninnee, it’s
Camp Canine. And Fredda went there, not
me. You sent the dog to camp.”
puckered her mouth and continued, “and I took him to Europe, to see the great
capitals of the world.”
the dog, too,” said Stig.
Disneyland, of course. Every child
should see Disneyland.”
shuffled over and tapped his tumbler against hers. “Don’t you be giving that boy none o’ yer no nevermind. These kids these days, they ain’t got none
o’ yer respeck and none o’ yer proper gratitudinal for the sacrifices what
their elders done made for ‘em.”
shook her head severely. “You are so
right, Lester. You are so right.”
“Oh yes I so
am, I so am,” said Grampa Les. They
both tipped their tumblers back and drained them.
rang again, and this time Stig hurried to answer it. Rudy was there, bearing a platter with a cheese plate to add to
the feast. He greeted the other guests
politely, then sat down and had a long and engaging discussion with Iggy and
Sam about the world of elves. He was particularly
interested in understanding their modes of attack and defence. Iggy just shrugged and explained that they
really was not much call for repelling ambushes in the toy factory. Rudy did his best to hide his
And so it
went, there was good conversation, laughter, glasses clinking and a very large
dog occasionally farting.
running from the kitchen to the living room, filling plates and glasses, when
Iggy, Yugo and Sam caught up with her.
“So, what’s up?” asked Iggy. “In
your letter, you said you needed our help.
You said you were worried about Stig.”
fine to me,” said Yugo.
them aside and whispered quickly. “He’s
been acting weird for months now. I
hardly ever see him. And when I do,
there’s always something wrong with him.
He’s always bruised or limping.”
over to a stack of newspapers by the back door. She dug through them and pulled out a copy of the
Times-Enquirer. On the front page there
was a colour picture of a grateful looking elderly woman holding a cat, which
was obviously struggling to get out of her arms. The caption under the photograph read “Amazing Man Gets The
at the article. “So?” he said.
her voice. “I think that might be
at the picture in the newspaper again.
“This old lady?” he asked.
“No, not the
old lady. Amazing Man. I think Stig is Amazing Man.”
“Stig is a
good guy,” said Sam. “But I wouldn’t go
so far as to call him amazing.”
think he’s amazing. Well, I do, a
little bit, maybe,” said Jody, getting flustered. “But that’s not what I mean.
What I mean is that I think Stig is dressing up as a super hero and
getting into fights with dangerous criminals.
He goes out by himself all the time.
I’m worried he’s going to get killed.”
and Sam broke up in laughter. “Stig?”
hero?” asked Yugo.
laughing too hard to say anything. He
finally pulled up a chair while he struggled to catch his breath.
serious,” said Jody. “I need your
be happy to help,” said Iggy.
make him a whole bunch of great super hero gadgets,” said Yugo. “Grappling guns, laser pens, that sort of
kind of help,” said Jody. “I just want
him to stay home, with me. Before he
gets hurt. Or worse.”
sure?” asked Iggy. “Stig doesn’t really
seem like the super hero type.” But
then he remembered how the year before Stig had put on a homemade suit of
armour and marched into a cave to rescue Jody from a dragon. Maybe there was something to Jody’s fears,
can we do?” asked Yugo.
know,” sighed Jody. “Maybe you could
just talk to him. See what he’s up
to. I never seem to be able to get a
straight answer out of him these days.”
guys.” Jody reached down and took all
three into her arms. For the first time
in weeks, the ache in her stomach had gone away.
If only Jody’s stomach knew what was
happening on the front lawn, it would be aching like it had a peptic
ulcer. But Jody’s stomach did not know
this; and how could it? It is just a
stomach after all. But it did not know
what was happening on the front lawn and for that, it would have been grateful;
if that is something that stomachs can be.
that was happening on the front lawn, and the thing of which Jody’s stomach was
blissfully unaware, was this: Four men,
each dressed in black hooded sweatshirts had gathered behind Stig’s front
watched of the guests arrive. They saw
the glow and heard the laughter from inside this Christmas home, but they did
not care about that. They had their
eyes on a different prize, a gleaming red prize, lying alone and unattended in
the middle of the lawn.
hood looked at his watch. It was almost
the dinner hour. Soon, everyone inside,
the tall and the small, would sit down to a feast. Then they’d feast and they’d feast and they’d feast, feast,
feast, feast. They would not notice
anything happening outside. Not in the
least. It was time to move. He signalled to his associates.
The four hoods
pulled up the hoods on their jackets and scampered across the lawn. They sidled up to the snowmobile and
inspected it closely. A blue light on
the dashboard flashed periodically, signalling the presence of an alarm
system. They would have to be careful.
There was no
place to insert a key anywhere, nor was there any keypad which might accept a
code. There was a thumb pad beside the
recessed door handle on the driver’s side, but it was far to small for any of
the hoods to operate. The smallest of
the hooded hoods pulled a stolen credit card from the pocket at the front of
his jacket. He tried to carefully slide
it into the space between the door and the body of the snowmobile in order to
jimmy the lock, but the vehicle was so precisely crafted that that the card
would not fit.
of the hooded hoods slid underneath the snowmobile, to see if he could force it
open from there. He looked at the
engine from below. It was meticulously
clean, with no trace of grease or oil anywhere. Thousands of cables and wires snaked their way in and around the
engine parts, most of which were completely different than anything the thin
hood had seen before. He traced a long
finger along them, looking for some way to access the electrical system, but he
quickly became confused. The wires
seemed to lead back to each other and try as he might, he could not find their
hooded hood approached the snowmobile from the rear. If he could somehow remove the back window, they would be able to
get inside. He looked through the
window, but all he saw was his own dark hooded face. The window was mirrored and he could not see inside. He tapped it gently, and it made a soft
pinging sound. He studied the window’s
edge, and saw that it was secured by hundreds of tiny rivets. It would be impossible to remove it without
special tools, and while he had all of the tools any burglar could dream of in
his bag, he had nothing nearly small enough to do this kind of work. He was going to need something bigger. He dug through his black bag and pulled out
a heavy hammer. He swung it twice, to
get a feel for its weight, then brought it down hard on the window. It bounced back, vibrating in his hand. The
window did not break, and made only a soft pinging sound.
hooded hood stood at the front of the snowmobile, watching his colleagues with
increasing frustration. They had broken
into cars and houses and banks, but they had never seen anything like this. No matter what they tried, the snowmobile
resisted entry. He felt like it was
mocking him, laughing to itself in some mechanical way.
In a way, it
was. The alarm system was the last line
of defence and would only engage if the hoods actually succeeded in getting
inside. In the meantime, the snowmobile
silently recorded everything they did on its little black box. As they worked beside, behind and beneath
the snowmobile, their fingerprints and photographs were being recorded and
analyzed by the snowmobile’s computers.
working,” growled the smartest hood.
one slid out from underneath the snowmobile.
“Do you want to give it up?”
plenty of other things to steal,” said the smallest hood.
Christmas after all,” said the biggest hooded hood.
“No, I don’t
want to give it up,” said the smartest hood.
“It might be Christmas, but we’ll never find anything else like
this. I’m telling you, I saw it arrive. It flew here. With this thing, there is nothing we couldn’t do. There’s nothing we couldn’t steal.”
are we going to do?” asked the biggest hood.
one put his hand into his front jacket pocket and then pulled it out
again. His fingers were clutched around
a set of shiny brass knuckles. “We’ll
get it. We just need to get a little
hoods smiled at each other. They liked
it when things got proactive.
Stig reached into the oven and pulled
out the goose. It was golden brown and
the smell of pineapple and truffles filled the house. He carried it to the table, which was decorated in red and green
and Jody called their guests for dinner.
was assigned, with booster seats on the three chairs designated for Iggy, Yugo
and Sam. Beside each plate was an array
of stemware, cutlery and a Christmas cracker. The elves looked at the crackers curiously, and then following
Stig and Jody’s example, pulled them apart happily. Soon everyone was wearing coloured tissue paper crowns, except
for Mrs. Hawkins, who could not abide that sort of thing.
at Yugo and laughed. “You look
ridiculous,” he said.
to talk,” replied Yugo. Sam looked ridiculous, too. But, Christmas is like that.
It surrounds itself with all sorts of ridiculous little traditions, like
paper hats and silly stories.
through the contents of his cracker.
Aside from a purple tissue paper hat, there was a tiny Rubik’s Cube and
a slip of paper. Iggy picked up the
paper and read it aloud:
did Adam say on the day before Christmas?”
“I don’t know,” answered Yugo. “What did Adam
say on the day before Christmas?”
“It's Christmas, Eve,” said Iggy. He turned the paper over to see if there was
something more to the joke.
“That’s the lamest joke I’ve ever heard,” said
“It really is terrible, isn’t it,” said
Iggy. “What does yours say, Yugo?”
“What do elves learn in school?” asked Yugo,
reading from his card.
“Same thing as everyone else,” said Sam. “Reading, writing, toymaking.”
“No,” said Yugo. “The answer is ‘the elf-abet.’”
“That joke is even worse!” said Sam. “And it’s not even true.” He grew a little red in the face. Mrs. Hawkins chuckled slightly.
Sam picked up the slip of paper from his
cracker. “What do you call people who
are afraid of Santa Claus?” he read.
Iggy and Yugo shrugged.
“Claus-trophobic,” read Sam. “Oh come on, that is just awful. Who comes up with this stuff?” Mrs. Hawkins snickered a little louder. For a moment, Stig wondered whether she
would smile and just what that might look like.
That was when things got proactive.
The doorbell rang. Stig got up to get it.
“That must be Al,” he said.
“That guy is always late.” He
got to the door and reached for the knob, when it suddenly flew open, tearing
from its hinges and knocking Stig to the floor. Four men dressed in black hooded jackets strolled inside.
“Holy muskrat mother o’ pearl!” cursed Grampa
Stig rose to his knees, but the biggest of the
hooded hoods pushed him back on to the ground.
“Nobody move,” he growled. He spun a crowbar in his hand like a
cheerleader’s baton. Then he swung it
at a curio shelf near the door. The
shelf, a vase, and two ceramic frogs flew through the air and shattered on the
The second hood walked into the front hallway
and kicked Stig to the floor again. “We
don’t want to hurt anybody. Much.”
“But we will, if we have to,” said the
third. He slapped at Stig with the back
of his fist, sending Stig rolling down the hall.
“We just want the keys,” said the last hooded
hood. “So hand them over.”
Stig staggered to his feet, wiped a stream of
blood from his face and then turned and ran to the basement stairs.
“Stig!” screamed Jody. But he was gone.
Mrs. Hawkins shook her head and rose up from
her chair, every one of her sharp edges gleaming. “That will be quite enough of that,” she said imperiously. “Fredda,” she barked at the heap of fur
pancaked in the corner. “Kill them.”
Somewhere inside Fredda’s mind a feral rage
fanned to life and she dreamed of wrapping her teeth around these intruders and
tearing their throats out. She revelled
in the smell of hot blood splashing on her cheeks and the taste of warm meat,
freshly killed. But as much as Fredda’s
animal spirit was willing, her flesh, all 230 pounds of it, was far too weak. She simply lifted her flabby head and meekly
The hooded hoods laughed and the biggest one
said, “the keys. Hand them over. Now.”
Yugo jumped down from his booster seat,
straightened his paper crown and defiantly said, “No!”
Sam jumped down from his booster seat, put his
chubby hand into Yugo’s pocket, pulled out the keys and said, “here.” He dangled them out for the hooded hoods.
“Sam!” shouted Iggy and Yugo together.
“What?” asked Sam. Yugo snatched the keys from his hand.
The biggest hooded hood strode in towards
Yugo. He raised his crowbar and said,
“give them here, little man.”
That was when things got really
The picture window in Stig’s dining room
exploded inwards with an enormous crash.
Jody and her dinner guests fled from the flying glass. The table flipped over, spattering goose,
pineapples, truffles and elfwine on the far wall.
A man rose from the middle of the
wreckage. A man dressed in orange
spandex and a red cape. He stood up and
faced the hooded hoods. “Stand down,
villains,” he commanded. “Stand down or
face the terrible fury of Captain Justice.”
Iggy looked at Yugo. “Captain Justice? I
thought it was Amazing Man?”
“How many superheroes are there in this town?”
“Not enough,” said Sam. “We could use a few more.”
The hooded hoods were laughing. The biggest one said, “you don’t really want
to mess with us again, do you?”
Amazing Man just stared at them and
nodded. “Oh yes I do,” he put his hands
together and cracked his knuckles. “I
very much do,” he said and then he leapt at them. It was a perfectly executed flying hook kick, one that could have
knocked out a bull. If Master Kim Chee
had seen it, he would have given it top marks.
Unfortunately, Amazing Man flew through the
group of hooded hoods, knocking them aside like bowling pins. His foot broke through far the wall, making
a large hole. Before he could pull it
free, the biggest hooded hood grabbed him by the waist while the others threw
“We have to do something,” said Iggy. “They’ll kill him if we don’t.”
“You’re right,” said Yugo.
“Come on guys, we don’t have to do this,”
begged Sam. “Jody just asked us to talk
Iggy and Yugo had already jumped into the
fray. Sam sighed and then leapt in
himself. The hooded hoods were
surprised to be attacked so viciously, and only around their hips and
thighs. The tall one pushed Iggy away
while the smallest one shoved Yugo aside.
Sam proved to be much harder to move, and the other two hoods had to
pull on him together to get him out of their way.
Amazing Man freed himself from the wall and
renewed his attack. He threw an elbow
at the closest hood, then did a backflip over another before throwing a punch
at the third. He reached down and
picked up the platter with the pineapple and truffle stuffed goose on it. He dumped the goose onto the carpet and
threw the platter, like a Frisbee™, at the fourth hooded hood.
The hood dropped to the floor. The platter flew over him and stuck into the
wall. Amazing Man twirled and drove his
elbow into the midsection of the nearest hooded hood. But then his left Wellington slipped in a puddle of vinegar
soaked truffles and he fell to the ground.
Two hooded hoods were on him at once. Iggy saw a flash of brass knuckles and
rushed to Amazing Man’s aid. He pulled
a drumstick from the goose and swung it like a bat at the closest hood. It had absolutely no effect beyond leaving a
drumstick shaped grease stain on the back of the black hood. Amazing Man rolled onto his stomach and then
pushed himself up to his knees. The two
hoods on his back fell onto either side of him. He stood up and took a couple of steps backwards. He pulled a coil of thin cable from his belt
and flung it at the hoods. The hook on
the end of the cable caught on the china cabinet at the end of Stig’s dining
room. Amazing Man pulled and the
cabinet, together with all of the dishes inside it, fell to the floor with a
Had any of the hoods been beneath it when it
fell, it may well have crippled them.
As it was, nearly one hundred pieces of china, including old Grandmother
Hawkins’ teapot, gave up their decorative existence for nothing.
Amazing Man ran into the kitchen, with all four
hooded hoods in pursuit. He tugged a
drawer from the cabinet, spraying cutlery across the floor. One of the hoods stepped on a corn cob
holder, which pierced the sole of his shoe.
He danced on one foot while he tried to pull the corn cob holder
free. Amazing Man lunged at him and
sent him tumbling into the wall. The
impact left a huge crack in the plaster.
The other hoods chased Amazing Man into the
living room, where the guests huddled in terror. He tore a painting from the wall (it was a portrait of Mrs.
Hawkins and Fredda) and slammed it over the head of the first hooded hood. The hooded head broke through the portrait,
and Amazing Man pulled the frame down around the hood’s arms.
The biggest hood crept up behind Amazing
Man. He raised his crowbar and swung it
with all his strength. It struck
Amazing Man on his padded side then glanced away harmlessly.
Amazing Man spun around. “That won’t work anymore,” he grunted. He ripped the crowbar from the hood’s grip
and flung it aside. It flew across the
room and shattered the kitchen window.
The hood dove at Amazing Man, but he leapt up and grabbed a light
fixture hanging from the middle of the ceiling. He swung back and then forward, leading with his huge
Wellingtons. The light fixture tore
free from the ceiling and the wiring dug a deep groove through the
stipple. Amazing Man knocked one of
the hoods to the ground before the wiring gave out completely and broke,
spraying sparks around the room.
Rudy rushed to put out the little fires that
were starting, but Amazing Man did not slow down. He hopped from one hood to the next, throwing a punch here, a jab
there and all the while dodging the punches and jabs the four of them were
He backed one of the hoods against the
wall. The hood stomped his boot down
hard on Amazing Man’s left foot.
Amazing Man bawled out in agony.
His Wellingtons were the only part of his uniform he had not thought to
reinforce with padding and armour.
Amazing Man threw a furious punch at the hood, missing his beaked nose
by a hair. His fist plunged through the
drywall and splintered the underlying 2x4.
A crack zig-zagged up the wall and spread onto the ceiling, which sagged
Amazing Man pulled his fist from the wall and
the hood scrambled away from him. Two
other hoods jumped into the attack.
Amazing Man reached back and wrapped a red-gloved fist around a lamp stand. He lifted it up and held it in front of him
in both hands. The hoods backed away
as Amazing Man spun, thrusted, twirled and parried with his improvised
quarterstaff. He jabbed, he blocked, he
stabbed. Then Amazing Man planted the
lamp pole on the ground and cartwheeled through the air. He closed in on one hood and poked at him
with the base of the lamp. The hood
ducked and lamp smashed into Stig’s television set. Despite Mrs. Hawkins’ many imprecations to Stig as a child, the
television set did not implode spectacularly.
Amazing Man lifted the lamp pole, now with a broken television set
hanging from the end, and flung it at the hoods. The television flew through the air, turning slowly, and crashed
into a book case. Books, family
pictures and a Planet Master collectible, still in its box, tumbled onto the
“Stig!” Jody shouted at Amazing Man. “You’re wrecking everything!”
Amazing Man turned and looked at her, then he
shook his head and dove back into the melee.
“Stop it Stig!” Jody screamed. “You’re not a hero! You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“No, I’m not,” said a familiar voice behind
her. Jody turned and saw Stig standing
there. Her Stig. And he was not dressed in orange spandex. He was dressed in his ragged, smelly hockey
equipment. His shoulder pads were
yellowing, his stockings were mismatched with holes in them and he had big
black Wellington boots on his feet. He
held a bent aluminum baseball bat in one hand.
Around his arm he had tied Jody’s new blue bra, the one she had bought
from the catalogue he kept in his bathroom cupboard.
To Jody he looked like a knight in shining
“You mean you’re not … ” she started to say.
“Not what?” asked Stig. But she never had a chance to answer,
because in the next moment he had thrown himself into the battle as well.
Iggy, Yugo and Sam were still attacking the
hoods from the fringes, while Mrs. Hawkins continued to exhort Fredda onto some
horrific canine violence. Jody
exchanged a glance with Rudy and Grampa Les.
They each nodded.
“Let’s get them,” said Rudy.
“Less be gittin’ ‘em good,” said Grampa
Les. He hobbled forward, swinging his
“Let’s roll,” muttered Jody, and she waded in
It was madness, of course, and extremely
dangerous. But what would you do, what
could you do, if four thugs broke into your home on Christmas Day, crashing
your dinner, smashing your traditions?
Would you do any less? Could
The four hooded hoods were pushed to the
corners of the room. In one corner,
Iggy, Yugo and Sam wrestled with the smallest of the hoods, in the next, Stig,
Jody and Rudy battled with the tallest hood.
Grampa Les and Mrs. Hawkins stood back to back as they faced off against
the smartest of the hooded hoods and Amazing Man stood alone against the
The four hooded hoods were no longer interested
in securing the keys to the snowmobile.
They realized that they were outnumbered. Now they were only interested in securing their escape.
Stig pressed ahead, using his bat to keep the hooded
hood at bay. The hood tried punching
and kicking him, but the old stinking hockey equipment proved to be protection
enough. Jody had retrieved the Little Stubby Fish
Whacker™ from the mess on the kitchen floor and poked
the hood with it.
“I don’t think you’re doing that right,” said
“How should I do it then?” asked Jody. She flipped the Little Stubby in her hand,
and then delivered a thunderous backhand swipe across the hood’s jaw. Teeth shot across the room and the hood
collapsed in a hooded heap.
“The hood has been defeated,” said Rudy. “That must be worth thousands of
On the opposite side of the room, the smartest
of the hoods was cowering before Mrs. Hawkins’ razor edged stare.
“Does your mother know what you’re doing?” she
The hood shrank back. “N-no ma’am,” he stammered.
“Do you think that your mother would approve of
this behaviour?” she asked.
The hood shook his head.
“You probably did not even wash your hands
before coming into this house and interrupting our dinner, did you?”
The hooded hood was on his knees now. He was crying.
“Show me!” she shouted. The hood spread his hands out in front of
“Just as I thought,” said Mrs. Hawkins,
slapping the back of the hood’s hand.
“These fingernails are filthy.
Your mother would be ashamed.”
The hood lowered his head into his bruised hand
“Oh stop that, you’re making a spectacle of
yourself,” said Mrs. Hawkins. She
turned to Grampa Les and nodded. Grampa
Les swung his cane down onto the weeping hood.
It broke in half with a satisfying crack. The hood fell over, unconscious.
A few feet away, the biggest hood grabbed
Amazing Man’s cape and pulled it. Not
for the first time, the man in orange spandex wondered why he wore a cape at
all. It really was a lot more trouble
than it was worth, and it was worth quite a bit. And yet, it looked so incredibly cool.
Amazing Man had practised what to do if anyone
ever pulled on his cape from behind. He
fell to his back and rolled, kicking his legs straight into the air. He flew over the hood and rotated 180
degrees. He even stuck the
landing. The hood turned around and
found himself face to face with Amazing Man.
“Hey,” said Amazing Man.
“Hey,” answered the biggest hooded hood.
And then Amazing Man knocked him out.
Iggy, Yugo and Sam were in a pitched battle in
the adjacent corner. Though they were
facing the smallest of the hoods, he was still half as big again as any of
them. Moreover, they were toymakers,
not fighters. Their punches fell
ineffectively and the hooded hood only had to push them to send them tumbling
He pushed Yugo into Iggy and the two elves fell
into the wall. The hood slipped out of
Sam’s grip and staggered towards the front door. Yugo pulled the key fob from his pocket. The fob was made of black plastic and had a
number of coloured buttons and dials on it.
He pressed a flashing orange button and turned a dial with his thumb.
On the front lawn, the snowmobile’s headlights
came on. The engine started up with a
soft hum that was almost musical. The
snowmobile pivoted and pointed at the front door. The engine hummed a little more loudly.
“Hold him up, Sam,” he shouted. Sam climbed onto the hood’s back, but the
hood just leaned forward and flipped Sam on to the floor. Sam threw himself at the hood, wrapped his
arms around his leg and bit down hard on the hood’s ankle. The hood bellowed in pain and shook Sam from
his leg. Sam flopped uselessly, trying
to get up. The hood hurried towards the
Yugo pressed down on a yellow knob. The hum from the front lawn grew louder and
even more lyrical. It sounded vaguely
like a choir of carollers.
The hood reached the broken door at the same
time the snowmobile did. Unfortunately
for the hood, they were travelling in opposite directions and the snowmobile
outweighed him by about three tons. The
snowmobile exploded through the doorway, sending plaster, wood and one very
surprised hooded hood flying through the house.
The snowmobile roared down the hall, scraping
plaster and paintings off of the wall as it passed. It broke through the wall and into the kitchen, the last hood
tumbling before it. The sink flipped
from the countertop, and a fountain of water sprayed out. The snowmobile finally skidded to a stop,
but not before it bumped into the refrigerator, tipping it over and dumping
eggs, milk, ice cream and the few beers that Sam had not yet consumed onto the
floor. The hood, covered in plaster
dust, kept rolling into the living room, where he came to stop at last, next to
Amazing Man’s red Wellingtons.
Amazing Man pulled the hooded hood by his hood
to the center of the room and leaned him against the pile of other hoods. He took another coil of wire from his belt
and wrapped it around them, cinching it tightly. Then he touched a finger to the edge of his helmet and said to
Jody, “It looks like my work is done here.”
He swirled his cape and leapt out through the remains of the front
The dinner guests walked slowly back through
the shattered house. The walls were
cracked and plaster dust was leaking down from the ceiling. The kitchen was in disarray, with a
snowmobile parked in the middle of it and food, broken dishes and cutlery
scattered everywhere. The front door
and most of the front wall was piled in the kitchen, too. Wires hung loosely from above, shooting
sparks at irregular intervals. Water
spilled from the broken sink onto the floor.
It spread out of the kitchen and ran down the stairs.
The dining room was a shambles, with goose,
pineapple and truffles heaped on the floor, mixed up with wrecked china, broken
crystal and what was once a fine oak table.
Sam picked up the broken bottle of elfwine. There was still a little left in the bottom and he slurped it out
Stig took off his hockey helmet and set it down
on what was left of the dining room table.
Jody sighed. They were all safe
and unharmed, but her beautiful dinner was ruined.
“Well,” said Stig, struggling to make some
conversation. “Wasn’t that something?”
Jody looked at him and started crying. He put his arm around her to try and comfort
“Hello?” said a voice from what had once been
the front door. Stig and Jody looked
up. It was Alert, with a pot of bean
salad in his hands. “I’m sorry I’m late,”
he said. “Is dinner over already?”
Jody smiled weakly at him. “Merry Christmas, Al,” she said.
Alert stepped over the wreckage of the front
door and set his bean salad down on the only patch of bare floor he could
find. He looked up and then made a
pained expression. They all turned to
see what he was looking at. There, at
the end of the room, were Grampa Les and Mrs. Hawkins. They were standing under the mistletoe,
making goo goo eyes at one another.
Iggy, Yugo and Sam looked at each other. Words failed them. There simply were no words; for what words could there possibly
be? The silence became uncomfortably
Finally, Sam clapped his hands together and
said, “anybody up for some Chinese?”
They ordered take out
from Kim Chee’s Palace, the restaurant next door to the martial arts
studio. They ate it in the remains of
Stig’s dining room, once the police and the reporters had left. The house was surrounded by yellow crime
scene tape, which was decorative in its own way, but not at all Christmassy. Red and green police tape would have been
far more seasonal.
They spread chicken fried rice, ginger beef and
dumplings around the dining room table.
There was no longer any need for booster seats, as the table’s legs had
all been broken off. Iggy, Yugo and Sam
sat cross legged along one side, while Grampa Les and Mrs. Hawkins cuddled on
“More elfwine, Mrs. Hawkins?” asked Grampa
Mrs. Hawkins passed him her chipped and empty
crystal wineglass. “You are too kind,”
she purred in her frosty baritone.
Rudy and Alert shivered uncomfortably. “This bean salad is terrific,” said Rudy.
Alert smiled proudly. “It’s my mom’s recipe.”
“What took you so long to get here, anyway?”
asked Stig. He was still wearing the
old hockey equipment, with Jody’s bra tied around his arm. “You missed all the excitement.”
“Oh you know me,” said Alert. “I’m never on time. I’ll probably be late for my own
funeral. I can’t believe Amazing Man
was right here, though. And I missed
Stig turned to Jody. “And I can’t believe that you thought I was Amazing Man,” he
“Why not?” asked Jody. “You were always disappearing. And whenever I saw you, you looked like
you’d been in a fight.”
“And nobody ever saw you and Amazing Man in the
same place,” added Rudy. “That’s always
“Thanks Rudy,” said Stig. “That was very helpful.”
Rudy raised his coffee mug in a mock
toast. It was badly cracked, and elfwine dripped slowly from the bottom.
“So, what have you been up to?” asked Sam.
“Well, if you must know, I was working another
job,” said Stig.
“What?” exclaimed Jody.
Stig sighed and explained, “I got a job in the
Yummy Foods warehouse. They supply
frozen food to grocery stores. I would
stock shelves with ice cream and frozen pizzas and waffles. I even got to drive a fork lift. But because all of the stock is frozen, the
temperature inside the warehouse is kept at 25 degrees below zero. It’s like working inside a gigantic
freezer. You have to wear a parka and
giant gloves, so it’s hard to move and everything is icy and slippery
inside. I was forever getting
hurt. One time I slipped on the ice and
twisted my knee. Another time a bag of
frozen peas fell on my face.”
“Is that when you got the black eye?” asked
“It really is awful in there. I
almost caught pneumonia and had to take a couple of weeks off.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about any of this?”
“I wanted it to be a surprise,” explained
Stig. “I needed to make some extra
money, so I could buy your Christmas present.”
“What present?” asked Jody. “You never got me anything.”
Stig reached into his stained hockey shorts and
pulled out a small box. He shuffled up
onto one knee and handed the box to Jody.
“I think it’s time we stopped living so far apart,” he said. “I’d like it if you would share this house,
and the rest of your life, with me.
Jody opened the box. Inside was a ring with a diamond that sparkled like Christmas
snow. Her hand was shaking while Stig
pushed the ring onto her finger. She
looked around the ruins of Stig’s house, the broken plaster, the leaking pipes,
the stray wires and knew that there was no where else in the world that she
wanted to be.
“Yes, of course I will,” she replied.
Iggy, Yugo and Sam cheered and toasted Stig and
Jody with their cracked glasses. Alert
and Rudy came around and congratulated the happy couple. Then they all poured more elfwine and sang
some Christmas songs. Even Mrs. Hawkins
joined in. Everyone could feel the lov
in the air.
The party carried on until after the sun came
up the next morning. And even though
the goose was lost in the brawl, they all agreed that Jody’s dinner was the
best Christmas dinner, ever.
The sun rises late on
the day after Christmas, and so does almost everybody else. He did not collect the morning paper from
the front door until late in the afternoon.
He took it downstairs and set it on the table
beside the police scanner. On the
adjacent wall, the expensive pleather cape hung from its hook, with the big red
Wellingtons neatly arranged beneath it.
He poured himself a cup of coffee and then sat down to read the
The front page featured a colour picture of
Stig’s house. Two police officers were
leading four hooded hoods through a hole in the front of the house and into a
white van. Above the picture the
headline screamed, “Amazing Man
He set the paper down and sat thoughtfully for
a while. Then he reached under the
table and retrieved the copy of Captain Justice No. 334 from the floor. One of the corners was a little bent and he
pressed it smooth again on his leg. He
carefully slipped it back into its place on the long table with the other
He returned to his seat by the police scanner
and read through the article. If Amazing
Man was good enough to save Christmas, then maybe he could be Amazing Man. He sipped his coffee. Besides, Captain Justice was kid stuff. Baby stuff, even.
The police scanner buzzed. Alert Darr set down his coffee and reached
for his red pleather cape. Christmas
was over for another year. It was time
to get back to work.
if you are reading this you must have really good eyesight.