It is sometimes said that a story should end with a wedding or a funeral. If you think so too, then maybe you should stop reading this story now, because it does not have a wedding or a funeral in it at all, and it ends with Christmas.
It is less clear where a story should begin. A story that starts with a wedding or a funeral will begin too late. The stories in the Bible start in the very beginning of all things, and that worked out fairly well. But, that is too early for most stories, which begin somewhere in the middle; after the universe has been created, yet still some good while before the hero gets married.
Some stories do not seem to know where to begin and they stumble through a few false starts before they find their way.
This is one of those stories.
This story starts on a chilly morning in late September, 1858, in the study of a young biologist named Alfred Wallace. Most people have never heard of Alfred Wallace, but those who have recognize him as the other guy who figured out the theory of evolution.
He was born on January 8, 1823 near the village of Usk, which is not much of a place now and was even less of a place then. He worked at a number of different jobs, like janitor, surveyor and teacher, before he settled on the thrilling vocation of science. He was perfectly suited to be a scientist; he had a quick mind, was fascinated by all living things and had the beginnings of the long, bushy beards that all scientists wore in those days.
By the time he was 35 years old, he was a well-respected naturalist, with a beard that rivalled that of Santa Claus himself. He had made many trips around the world and had found many rare and exotic animals, which, in accordance with the scientific method, he arranged to have killed, stuffed and mounted in handsome display cases.
He had captured and stuffed so very many different birds and snakes and monkeys that he began to wonder how they had come to be so different from each other. It occurred to him, while recovering from a fit of malaria in a grass hut in Indonesia, that maybe the whole thing could be explained by natural selection: that the strongest, fastest and smartest animals will survive to have offspring which are also strong, or fast or smart and so, over a long period of time, animals can change or ‘evolve’ into different species altogether.
It was a stunning and original idea. Only one other person in the entire world had ever thought of it. His name was Charles Darwin, and he was just putting the finishing touches on a very long book called The Origin of Species, which outlines the theory of evolution and the process of natural selection in exhausting detail. It had taken him 20 years to write and it was a masterpiece of scientific thought. It was certain to cause a sensation when it was published and Charles Darwin would be regarded, not just as a scientist with a beard so thick that a badger could live in it, but as one of the great thinkers of human history.
He was just about to send his lengthy manuscript to the printer when he received a letter from Alfred Wallace, postmarked from Indonesia, which explained the whole theory Darwin had spent his life developing in a few pages. Darwin tore at his tremendous beard in anguish, then determined that he and Wallace would present the theory together and share the credit, which is exactly what they did. On July 1, 1958 Darwin and Wallace jointly presented their theory of evolution to a meeting of the Linnean Society, a group of very esteemed and very heavily bearded scientists.
Darwin soon published his book and was hailed as a revolutionary and Wallace was more or less forgotten. Had you ever heard of him? I did not think so.
Then, on September 27, 1858, Alfred Wallace dipped his pen in the inkpot on the right side of his desk and wrote a brief monograph, which was even more sensational, and even more quickly forgotten, than his writings on the theory of evolution.
Of and Concerning the Evolution of Elves
Much has been written lately of the origin of species, and particularly the species homo sapiens. Homo sapiens is a bipedal mammal now presumed to have evolved from lesser primates such as the orang-utan (pongo borneo), baboon (simian hamadryas) and, of course, the gibbon (hylobates agilis).
Little however, has been written of other, rarer bipedal mammalian species, such as the hobgoblin (hobo globiuus), the troglodyte (trogo dyteria) and the elf (homo elvis). These species are so rarely sighted in the fossil record that many scholars are dubious of their very existence. For example, Professor Twaddle wrote of elves in his treatise, The Taxonomy of All Living Things (Volume 3) in the following terms:
“Elves, pixies, fairies and the like have no place in any serious work of scholarship. I would as soon believe in Santa Claus, as I would believe in elves”
Let me say that I stand second to no man in my admiration for Professor Twaddle and his magnificent beard, but with the greatest of respect his views are outdated and, dare I say it, unscientific. One has only to travel to forests of the blacker variety to encounter fairies and goblins in abundance. Troll habitats are found under many stone bridges and gigantic men are often sighted in the upper reaches of large domestic beanstalks.
Elves, of course, reside in the high Arctic. Other creatures known to reside in these areas, such as the abominable snowman or yeti, with their heavy layers of fur, seem much better adapted to extreme winter climates. It remains probable, nonetheless, that elves have evolved from these larger, hirsute animals. Both are comfortable in cold weather, each have pointed ears and all species of yeti and elves are endowed with unexpectedly large feet.
It is posited that during some early geological age, when northern temperatures were much warmer, a smaller, hairless form of yeti made its first appearance. This smaller animal, a cross between elves and yeti, or elfin yeti (elvis yetis) was cleverer than its ancestor, and gifted with much smaller, more dextrous hands. This allowed it to begin using tools to build basic structures and even some rudimentary toys.
This species was soon succeeded by a line of even smaller, cleverer species, such as proto elf (elvis prezli), with its swivelling pelvis, cro magnon elf (elvis costello) and neanderelf (elvis shmelvis) who were characterized by progressively smaller stature, larger, more twinkly eyes and much more refined craftsmanship. The toys these prehistoric elves built had more elaborate construction, colours and some moving parts. The ‘rock-em sock-em mastodon’ is a particularly notable example of the toy making abilities of these early elves.
When colder weather returned in recent millennia, the separation of yeti and elf became complete, with the yeti moving into higher, mountainous territory and the elves migrating north to moving to more hospitable habitats, to occupy adorable little cottages, workshops and toy factories.
In the 150 years that have passed since Alfred Wallace wrote his celebrated paper on elves, elfish evolution has continued apace. Elves have grown smaller, with even more clever hands and even twinklier eyes. They still build toy dinosaurs, but now those dinosaurs are plastic robots with artificial intelligence.
Some elves are more evolved than others. Take for example, Samwidge Q. Butterberry, Associate Elf, Second Class. He is a rotund elf, with curly red hair that frames a round face with an almost permanent scowl. Sam is perfectly adapted to his environment, which most of the time is a plump leather reclining chair positioned squarely before a widescreen plasma television, with a big bowl of salty snacks within easy reach. Unfortunately, his 42 inch, 310-pound frame is less well adapted to other activities, like running to slot car detail in Toy Factory G because he was late for work. That was where he was when he was stopped by two officious looking elves in officious looking uniforms.
And that is where this story really begins.
“Values and Standards,” said the first officious looking elf. He raised an officious looking badge that hung around his neck on an officious looking string.
“This can’t be good,” Sam muttered to himself.
“Stand up straight,” said the second officious looking elf. Sam shuffled and adjusted his posture. It would not do to slouch in front of a pair of Values and Standards officers.
Evolution is going on all around us. Given enough time, an amoeba can become a walrus. But living things are not the only things that can evolve. Like amoebae, organizations can evolve, too. And given enough time, an organization can evolve into something a lot like a walrus: big, ugly and smelling of dead fish. The North Pole Values and Standards Office is just such an organization.
Santa Claus established NVPSO after he attended an expensive course on managing the workplace in the 21st century. It was such an expensive course, that Santa Claus was sure he had learned something from it. He even had a framed certificate of completion to prove it.
One of the dreadfully expensive things he learned was that for a modern workplace to succeed as the most modern of modern workplaces, it must have a standard brand. Every part of the work environment should have the same look and appearance. Every desk in every office should be the same size and colour. Every letter and e-mail should use the same font and every worker, from the smallest elf to the tallest, should wear the same neatly pressed red and green velvet tunic.
Like a lot of bad ideas, it seemed like a good idea at the start. Santa Claus put two elves in charge of Values and Standards and they got to work, measuring desktops and doorways. Soon they hired a couple of assistants and then a few more and then they relocated to a big office on the 16th floor of the Santa Claus Tower. They issued a formal charter and published a comprehensive list of values and standards and then they hired a few of the meaner elves to enforce them.
Before long, the amoeba had become a walrus. New values and standards were issued on a weekly basis, detailing rules for everything from the size of the bells on the tip of a pointed elfish hat to the shape of the bells on the tip of a pointed elfish boot. And every one of the new rules was strictly enforced by duly appointed officers of Values and Standards.
That very morning, Values and Standards had issued a 300-page volume of new rules and guidelines concerning health and fitness. Within the thousands of new rules detailed in standard type on the hundreds of standard sized pages was the requirement that every elf have a body mass index of between 18 and 25.
Body mass index is way of measuring how fat or skinny a person is. It was developed in the 1800s when there was not as much food around as there is now and people were, generally, a lot skinnier than they are today. A person’s body mass index is determined by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in meters. A person who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighs around 220 pounds has a body mass index of 28.24. This entirely hypothetical, and roguishly handsome, person works out regularly and is trying to eat more vegetables. He looks pretty fit, but is considered ‘overweight’ by this measure. If he were an elf, he would be in violation of the new Values and Standards respecting health and fitness.
Sam has a body mass index of 123.54. On most body mass index charts, a rating of 123.54 is described as either ‘severely obese’ or ‘dead’. And although his pointed cap was tipped to a precise angle of 43° and his 15 weight velvet leggings had been pressed with a number two flatiron, all as prescribed is the Dress Code For Elves, Volume 2 (Update 11), it was the number123.54 which brought him to the attention of two officious looking elves in the hallway of Toy Factory G on a windy winter morning.
And that, finally, is where this story really begins.
Both officious looking elves were dressed in standard issue navy blue uniforms with creases that were pressed so sharply that you could cut a cheese with them. They each wore standard issue reflective sunglasses and had neatly trimmed moustaches, which were also standard issue for the North Pole Values and Standards Office. The first officious looking elf lifted his officious looking badge and waved it in front of Sam’s face. “Officer Wimpty Values,” he said.
“Officer Biggle Standards,” snapped the second officious looking elf, who also flashed his officious looking badge.
Sam snorted so hard that green stuff came out his nose.
“Is there something funny?” asked Officer Wimpty.
Sam shook his head while he struggled to stifle a second snort. “Are you serious?” he asked.
“We are always serious,” said Officer Biggle.
“We are Values and Standards,” said Officer Wimpty.
“Your name is really Values?” Sam asked Officer Wimpty, who just nodded smartly in reply. He turned to Officer Biggle. “And you’re name is Standards?” The second officious looking elf just sniffed.
“So you’re Values and you’re Standards,” Sam pointed to each of the officious looking elves in turn. He grimaced to hold back the snort he knew was coming, and then continued. “And you’re both from Values and Standards?” asked Sam.
“Yes,” said Officer Values.
“So you’re Values and Standards from Values and Standards?” said Sam.
Officer Wimpty Values narrowed his eyes and stared at Sam with absolutely no expression. His face looked like this: T_T
Sam could not hold back any longer. He snorted explosively.
Officer Biggle Standards pulled a standard sized handkerchief from his blazer pocket and dabbed at the green blobs spattered on his lapel.
“I fail to see what you find so funny,” said Values.
Standards folded his handkerchief gingerly and carefully tucked it back into his pocket. “This is a matter of the utmost gravity,” he said.
Sam closed his eyes and nodded, but he could not stop laughing. He bent over and tried to catch his breath, but it was no use. He collapsed to his knees, laughing so hard that tears poured down his cheeks and formed a puddle on the floor. He collapsed into the puddle, cackling and gasping for air.
“He is profoundly obese,” said Values.
“Clearly in excess of Fitness Standard W17(42),” added Standards.
“He has soiled his tunic, rolling on the floor like that,” said Values.
“A gross violation of Hygiene Precept J11,” said Standards.
“And he seems to be a jibbering fool,” said Values.
“We do not have a standard for that,” said Standards.
“We should take him in, anyway,” said Values.
“Indeed,” said Standards. “He is plainly in need of reconditioning camp.”
Sam lifted his face from the puddle on the floor. “Reconditioning camp?” he gasped. Then he started giggling again.
“Yes, reconditioning camp,” said Officer Values. “Your condition does not meet or exceed acceptable published Values and Standards.”
“It needs to be reconditioned,” said Officer Standards.
Officer Values reached into his jacket pocket and drew out a long sheet of pale pink paper. There was a red wax seal at the bottom of the page with two ribbons hanging from it. It was a most officious looking paper, indeed.
Officer Standards kicked Sam in the ribs. “Stop your buffoonish cackling,” he commanded. “And stand up.” Sam slowly climbed to his feet. His jacket was stained with his own tears and his pointed hat was askew.
Officer Values shook his head in disgust and then read from the pink paper. “Samwidge Quincival Butterberry,” he intoned officiously. “You have been cited for breaches of Values and Standards as promulgated by the North Pole Values and Standards Office, to wit, you have violated Health Value 223(9)(b)(ii) and Fitness Standard W17(42) for having and maintaining a total weight, mass and overall girth as is in excess of Code Value 11.”
“Do you understand this citation?” demanded Officer Standards.
Sam shook his head. He did not speak legal gobbledygook.
“It means,” said Officer Values slowly, as he rolled up the pink paper, “that you are a fatty.”
“A big fatty,” added Officer Standards.
“A fatty fatty two by four,” said Officer Values.
“And it means that you are coming with us to be reconditioned.” Officer Standards grabbed Sam by his thick arm and marched him down the hall towards the exit of Toy Factory G.
“But I’m already late,” squealed Sam, kicking his chubby legs and squirming to free himself from Officer Standard’s grasp. It was a futile effort; Officer Standards was using Standard Arm Grip 12. Sam would never be able to wriggle out of that.
“It does not matter,” said Officer Values, “you can not attend at any toy making activities in this condition.”
Sam stopped kicking his legs. “You mean I’m too fat to work?” he asked.
“Precisely,” said Officer Standards.
Sam fell into step alongside the two officers. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place,” he asked, shaking his head. “I’d have come along quietly if I had known that.” He followed the two officers out of the door. Neither one noticed that Sam was skipping as he walked.
Iggy set the little red Dodge sports car on the workbench and looked up at the clock. Yugo picked up the toy car, flipped open the hood and quickly slid a tiny high performance air filter into place alongside the little electric motor. He clicked the little hood shut.
“What did you do?” asked Iggy.
“Just a little modification,” explained Yugo. He gently pushed the rear bumper of the toy car. Sparks squirted from the miniature exhaust pipes and it rocketed down the workbench, scattering dolls and action figures in its wake. It flew off the end of the table and crashed into the far wall. It fell to the floor and turned a wide loop before it screamed back towards Yugo. He reached his hand down to the floor as the final sparks guttered out of the exhaust pipe and gently picked up the little Dodge. He grinned, “goes like stink now, doesn’t it?”
Iggy shook his head in wonder. Then he said, “speaking of stink, where’s Sam? He’s late.”
Yugo shrugged. “He probably lost track of time again while watching his soaps,” he said.
Iggy, Yugo and the missing Sam are all elves, who live and work at the North Pole. Their work involves carpentry and small mechanics, exclusively in the field of toys. Iggy is the tall one, for an elf. He has a long face, with a long pointed nose. His long dark hair is never tidy, no matter how often he brushes it. Yugo is the thick one, with thick black hair and a thick black moustache. This is not to say, however, that Yugo is thick headed, for he is, without question, the craftiest of all of the North Pole elves. Yugo builds things that other elves can only dream of, and even then only after eating too much rum fruitcake.
And then there is Sam. We have already seen that Sam is a fusby elf of considerable girth, with little patience for the business of actually building the toys. Indeed, Sam has little patience for much of anything aside from his leather armchair, his big screen television set and the refrigerator where he keeps his selection of tasty and fattening snacks.
Neither Iggy nor Yugo could fail to notice Sam’s absence. There was a lot more room for each of them at the workbench without Sam beside them, squeezed onto a bench made for three. It was also a lot quieter without Sam’s persistent grumbling about the noise from the ceiling fan or the whereabouts of his hammer or whichever other minor annoyance attracted his ire at the moment. It was quieter in another sense: Sam’s diet of greasy snacks would pose a challenge to even the most robust digestive tract. As such, his presence was usually accompanied by a symphony of toots and honks that were a strain on the eardrum and the nose drum alike. So, while Sam was missing, he was not missed, in the fullest sense of the word.
Iggy nodded his agreement with Yugo. Sam hated to miss his soaps for something as dreary and mundane as work. Iggy swiftly assembled another little sports car and turned it over to Yugo who clipped on a set of glow in the dark spinning rims.
“I took the fitness test this morning,” said Iggy, idly, as he passed another finished car to Yugo.
Yugo installed and tuned a tiny FM radio into the dashboard and then replied, “which fitness test is that?”
“The new fitness test from Values and Standards,” replied Iggy as he pieced together another miniature automobile frame.
“Yes, but which new fitness test? Values and Standards keeps changing the test.”
“Fitness Test 11,” said Iggy. “They said I got the top score.”
Yugo nodded. This came as no surprise to him as Iggy had achieved the best score on Fitness Tests 1 through 10 as well. Iggy was one of those elves who did not seriously exercise, but who could complete a triathlon, decathlon or even an icosathlon without breaking a serious sweat. His score on Fitness Test 7 had been submitted for consideration to the Guinness Book of World Records. The publishers rejected it because they only keep track of human records, and not elfish ones. Iggy was very disappointed.
“I wonder how Sam made out,” Yugo said. He gently screwed a luggage rack on top of the little sports car, and then strapped three tiny suitcases and a pair of water skis to it.
Iggy chuckled. “Sam never took his fitness test. He told me that he had a doctor’s note that excused him from taking it.”
“His doctor says he isn’t fit enough to take a fitness test. It could kill him.”
“I see,” said Yugo. He wrapped a thin thread of glowing purple lights around the license plate of the next toy car that Iggy handed to him. “At least he didn’t fail it then.”
“That’s good for him,” agreed Iggy. He was working on a little police car, now. “I shudder to think what the Values and Standards Office would do to someone who failed their fitness test.” He passed the police car to Yugo.
“It would be awful,” said Yugo. He pulled out a little screwdriver and set to work on the police car. A moment later, its roof lights began flashing and the siren howled.
Sam was not, in fact, watching his soaps. While Iggy and Yugo pondered about his whereabouts, Sam was being ushered to a small airplane with the letters NPVSO emblazoned on the side, alongside the golden seal of the North Pole Values and Standards Office.
Officer Wimpty Values guided Sam up a metal stairway that led to the door of the airplane. Sam reached the top step and bent over to catch his breath.
“Hurry up,” said Officer Biggle Standards. He nudged Sam towards the door.
“Just a sec,” huffed Sam.
Officer Values gave him another shove and Sam stumbled into the doorway and stopped.
“Get in,” grumbled Officer Standards.
“I can’t,” Sam grunted. He was stuck fast, wedged in the hatchway by his capacious hips. Officer Standards leaned on Sam, but he did not move. “I’m stuck,” Sam pleaded.
Officer Values joined his partner and pushed with both hands. His arms sank to the elbow in the folds of Sam’s ample bottom. He pulled them back with a blubbery slurping sound. He took Officer Standards aside and whispered in his ear. The other elf nodded.
The two officers walked back down the stairway, turned and then ran back up to the top, driving their shoulders into Sam’s back. He squealed and edged a little further into the airplane. The two officers ran back down the stairs, and up again, each time inching Sam an inch further. Finally, on their 11th sprint up the stairs, they collided with Sam and he broke though the doorway, tumbling across the entrance. Officers Values and Standards fell on top of him, and together they rolled across the entrance, bounced off the far wall where they lay in a heap, sweating and gasping for air.
Sam rolled onto his knees and slowly stood up. He wobbled from side to side for a moment, then wriggled to the front row and flopped into a pair of seats. He took the seatbelt from either side, tied them together and rested the knot on his belly. For the first time he looked around and saw that the rest of the airplane was filled with other elves of varying shapes and sizes. That is, their shapes varied from round to oblong and their sizes varied from XXL to XXXL. Many of them were, like Sam, strapped into a pair of seats.
Sam turned to the two officers, who were just getting back onto their feet and smiled. “When do we take off?” he asked. “Will snacks be served?”
Officer Values shuffled up to front of the airplane and tapped on the cabin door. “Let’s go,” he said. A moment later, the engines whirred to life and the airplane rumbled down the snow swept runway and lifted up into the dark afternoon sky.
Sam watched out the window as the cold, black North Pole disappeared behind them. Before long, the sun rose in the south, and Sam the white Arctic ice cap gave way to the mossy green tundra of the north. They flew on, over forests and plains and then they turned out over the deep blue ocean. It was another four hours before Sam saw land again. A small island appeared on the horizon and the airplane descended towards it.
It flew low over a wide white beach and touched down on a bright sun bleached airstrip flanked on either side by rows of palm trees. The airplane rumbled to a stop near a small grass roofed terminal building.
Officer Values strode to the front of the airplane and swung open the door. “Welcome to reconditioning camp,” he announced to the portly group of elves. Sam untied his seatbelts and waddled up to the front of the airplane.
Officers Values and Standards exchanged a glance, and then Officer Standards said, “how are we going to get him out?”
Sam never did arrive for slot car detail, and he was not in his usual chair when Iggy and Yugo returned to their little apartment in Elves Barracks B that evening. It seemed empty without Sam, and not just because he usually filled up most of the room by himself. His big television set was quiet and the sandwich bar he had installed in their little kitchen was dark and unused.
Iggy and Yugo learned of Sam’s trip to reconditioning camp the next morning when they read about it in the North Pole Values and Standards Office newsletter. The newsletter arrived at Elves Barracks B each day, and was filled with pages and pages of new standards for elfish dress, demeanour and decorum. On the last page before the lengthy index, Iggy found this announcement:
The notice went on to list over twenty elves. Iggy recognized all of the names as elves who might be politely described as ‘big boned’ or who might be impolitely described as ‘big all over and not just in their bones.’
Iggy passed the announcement to Yugo. “What do you make of this?” he asked.
Yugo studied the list of names and raised one bushy black eyebrow in thought. “They’ve sent Sam to a fat farm,” he said.
“There are farms that grow fat?” asked Iggy incredulously.
“Not that kind of farm,” said Yugo. “More like boot camp. They’re going to force all the elves on that list to go on a diet.”
Iggy shrugged. “The elves on that list could stand to lose a few pounds.”
“Don’t be so sure about that,” said Yugo. “Who can say that any of them really need to lose any weight at all. The ‘few pounds’ you think they should lose might actually be good for them.”
“You can’t be serious,” said Iggy. “Everyone knows that it’s not healthy to be fat.”
“It’s not healthy to be really fat,” agreed Yugo. “But it’s okay to be a little fat, and in fact, it might be good for you. Fat people live longer than skinny people. And they recover from illness and injury faster than thin people.”
“Really?” said Iggy.
“Really,” answered Yugo. “There is even one study where researchers injected mice with fat, and it turns out the fatter mice were healthier than the others,” said Yugo.
“Ouch. I wouldn’t want to be a mouse,” said Iggy.
“Me neither, I like being an elf,” said Yugo.
“I’m sure the Values and Standards Office means well,” said Iggy. Iggy was the sort of elf who always assumed the best in others. He could make friends on death row.
“They might mean well, but this is all wrong. It’s unnatural to try and change evolution.”
“Evolution?” asked Iggy.
“Sure,” said Yugo. “Elves are evolving all the time. We’ve been getting fusbier for generations. We’ve evolved to be a little on the chubby side. We live in a very cold place and fat helps keep our bodies warm. But Values and Standards wants us all to be the same. If they get their way, evolution will stop. If Alfred Wallace could see this, he’d pull his beard out.”
“Who’s Alfred Wallace?” asked Iggy.
“Never mind,” said Yugo. He picked up the newsletter again and flipped through it. “We’ll just have to go and get him back, you know.”
“I suppose so,” said Iggy. “The place really isn’t the same without him. Where do you suppose this reconditioning camp is?”
“I have no idea,” said Yugo. “But I’m going to find out.”
A week passed, and then another. The week following that also passed, as did the week after that. Then another week passed. And then still one more week passed.
Six (6) weeks passed, in all. There were six weeks that passed, in sum, and the passage of the weeks totalled six. And in all those many weeks, which were six in number, Yugo did not find out where Sam had gone. His chair by the big television set stayed empty and his snacks and deserts remained untouched.
It was not that Yugo did not try to find Sam, for he surely did. He spent a frustrating morning on the telephone with the North Pole Values and Standards Office during which he was placed on hold repeatedly and transferred to seven different departments before he was ultimately transferred back to the person who answered the phone in the first place. He completed standard form 37-G in triplicate, but it was returned to him for failure to check the required box on page 53 and then returned again because he checked the required box on page 53 with an ý and not a þ.
Yugo even built a device for locating Sam, which he called the ‘Sam Locating Device’. It was designed to detect the smell of Sam’s socks, but all it found were eleven socks crumpled under Sam’s bed and another behind the dryer. Wherever Sam was, it was beyond the range of the Sam Locating Device. Given the utter smelliness of those socks, that meant that Sam was very far away indeed.
Then, at the end of those many weeks (six in the aggregate), there came a knock at the door. This was not any door. It was a door at the end of a long hall on the 24th floor of a glass and steel office tower that stood right at the North Pole. The gleaming brass plate on the door said:
The door burst open before Santa Claus could rise from behind his enormous desk to answer it. Two officious looking elves dressed in navy blue suits and wearing reflector sunglasses stepped inside. “Values and Standards,” said the first officious looking elf. He lifted the gold badge that hung from a chain around his neck. “Officer Wimpty Values.”
The second officious looking elf raised his badge and said, “Officer Biggle Standards.”
Santa stopped in mid stride and chuckled a soft “ho, ho, ho.”
“Yes, we’re Values and Standards from Values and Standards,” snapped Officer Values.
Santa Claus guffawed loudly.
“I really do not see what is so funny,” said Officer Standards. “This is a grave matter of the gravest gravity.”
Officer Values drew an officious looking pink paper from his pocket. He looked up at Santa Claus. “Santarius Nicolas Claus?” he asked.
Santa Claus wrinkled his nose, and then nodded slowly.
Officer Values read from the pink paper. “Santarius Nicolas Claus, you are hereby cited for violation of those certain Values and Standards as promulgated by the North Pole Values and Standards Office, to wit, you are in breach of Health Value 223(9)(b)(ii) and Fitness Standard W17(42) for having and maintaining a total weight, mass and overall girth as is in excess of Code Value 11.”
“Beg pardon?” said Santa Claus.
“You have exceeded acceptable levels of mass and volume. Our specialists have estimated your body mass index to be 37.3, which exceeds the maximum permissible standard by a factor of nearly 50%.”
“Excuse me?” said Santa Claus, shaking his bearded head.
Officer Values sighed. “You’re too fat,” he said.
“You been assigned to reconditioning camp,” said officer Standards.
“But I’m Santa Claus,” stammered the jolly old elf, himself. “I’m supposed to be like this. Everyone knows that. Nobody wants a skinny Santa Claus!”
“Rules are rules,” said Officer Values.
“And the rules say you are to be reconditioned, effective immediately,” said Officer Standards.
“But Christmas is in two days! I can’t be going off to reconditioning camp,” cried Santa Claus. He backed towards his desk as the two officious elves drew closer. Officer Values lifted a billy club from his belt, gave it a quick twirl and slapped it against one palm. Officer Standards drew out a pair of handcuffs.
Santa Claus scampered to the corner of his office, and Values and Standards from Values and Standards sprinted after him. For a big man, Santa Claus is rather lively and quick. Officer Values dove at him, billy club raised, but the old man sprang to the side. He winked his eye at Officer Standards, and then gave a twist of his head, before scooting in the other direction.
Officer Standards was completely taken in by Santa’s head fake, and threw himself at Santa Claus, only to crash headlong into Officer Values. The two elves tumbled together across the thick red carpet in an officious looking tangle.
Santa darted to the door and pulled it open. He turned back to look at the two Values and Standards officers as they struggled to get back on their feet. Then, laying a finger at the side of his nose, he stepped out into the hall.
There were only twenty feet between him and the elevator, but those twenty feet were filled with twelve other Values and Standards officers, each one dressed in standard issue navy blue uniforms, with standard issue sunglasses, badges and moustaches.
“Oh bother,” Santa Claus muttered. He swivelled to his left and took three quick steps to another door. The gleaming brass plate on this door said:
Santa opened the door and the sound of jingle bells rang out. Santa cursed himself for installing a jolly alarm ring rather than a good proper, and very loud, siren. He ran through the door and barrelled down the bare concrete stairs, taking two and three steps at a time, the sound of sleigh bells gently ringing in his wake.
At the bottom of the first flight of stairs there was a bare metal door with the number 23 on it. Santa Claus turned from the door and ran down the next flight of stairs. He could hear the patent leather boots of a dozen Values and Standards officers clattering down the stairs behind him. He turned at door 22 and carried on down past doors 21 and 20. The footfalls were getting closer and Santa Claus wished that he had spent more time on the stair machine in the health club on the third floor.
By the time he reached door 19, his legs were burning like a yuletide fire and he was panting for breath. Door 18 was even worse and door 17 was completely unbearable. He struggled down to door 16 and tried the handle. It was locked from the other side.
Santa realized he was never going to make it to the bottom of the stairwell this way. He was completely out of breath and his legs were cramping up. The Values and Standards officers were almost upon him.
He grimaced, and then took as deep a breath as he could and muttered, “this is really going to hurt.” He leaned forward, the jumped up into the air. He wrapped his arms around his knees and rotated slowly in the air, before landing halfway down the stairs with a heavy “oof!” He bounced into the air, like a giant red velvet medicine ball. He rolled down to door 15, rebounded off of it and then tumbled down the next flight of stairs, grunting with each bounce.
The next dozen floors were a blur of bruised hips, knees and elbows. Santa spun from stair to stair, each time trying to land on something soft that he had not landed on before. Somewhere around door 11 he hit the ground so hard that both of his boots fell off. He lost hold of his knees somewhere around door number 7, and flipped and flopped down the stairs like a rag doll after that. He finally skidded to a stop at the bottom of the stairs in front of door number 1. He could still hear the Values and Standards team a few floors above him. He slowly lifted his aching body to his feet and leaned on the door.
It swung open and Santa Claus shuffled outside into the snow in his stocking feet. Red and blue flashing lights lit up the dark mid-morning sky. Emergency worker elves, who had responded to the jingle bell alarm dashed to and from the building.
Santa Claus staggered over to a small group of police-elves. His velvet coat was torn in places and a thin stream of blood trickled down from a cut over his right eye. A young fire-elf, dressed in a reflective green canvas raincoat walked up beside him and placed a blanket over his shoulder.
“What happened here, sir?” asked one of the police-elves.
Santa gasped for breath and said, “I’m being chased by a group of … a group of … crazy men.” He paused to catch his breath and waved towards the stairwell. “They’re coming for me.”
“We’ll see about that,” said the police-elf. She walked to the fire exit as a dozen Values and Standards officers streamed out of it, with Officer Wimpty Values leading the queue. He marched officiously up to her and saluted smartly.
The police-elf just nodded warily. “So, what’s all this then,” she asked.
Officer Values drew out the pink paper with the officious wax seal and red ribbons. “We have a warrant for this man’s apprehension,” he said.
The police-elf accepted the pink page from Officer Values and studied it carefully. Then, she folded it in half and returned it to him.
“Well, everything seems to be in order then,” she said. She turned back to the emergency elves gathered around Santa Claus. “Take him away.”
The Values and Standards officers marched up to Santa Claus, grabbed him by his bruised elbows and gave them each an officious tug. Santa Claus bowed his head and then shuffled along with them, away from the building, away from the North Pole and away from … Christmas.
Iggy and Yugo did not have to wait to read the Values and Standards newsletter to learn about Santa Claus’ sudden departure from the North Pole. News of his arrest spread through every workshop, bakery and tinsel mill at the North Pole faster than a flying sleigh. From the Polar Pizza Place, to Hatly Hall and all the way to the reindeer stables, every elf wanted to know what happened to Santa Claus, and how they could possibly get along without him:
“Where has he gone now, does anyone know?”
“Is he taken away on an ice flow?”
“He’s not in the town, he’s not at the Pole.”
“Has he been buried in a deep dark hole?”
“What did he do, rob a bank with a gun?”
“Did he shut down the moon, turn off the sun?”
“He broke the law, or did something real bad.”
“He’s let us all down, made everyone sad.”
“Who is in charge now, which elf is the boss?”
“How can we ever make up for this loss?”
“What about the toys, will they still get made?”
“And what about us? Will we still get paid?”
“Christmas is over, it can’t happen now.”
“It will, as soon as I figure out how,” said Yugo, firmly. He and Iggy turned from the group of other elves and headed to their apartment in Elves Barracks B.
“What are we going to do?” asked Iggy. “You still haven’t found Sam. How will you ever find Santa Claus?”
“I have an idea,” said Yugo. “It’s a long shot, but it just might work.”
“Oh, I am sure it will. Long shots come through almost every time,” said Iggy.
Yugo stared at him, but Iggy only blinked happily in reply. Yugo just shook his head. In Iggy’s optimistic view of the world, long shots did come through more often than not. They stepped into their little apartment and Iggy followed Yugo into his study.
There was a tidy desk in one corner of the room with several plasma screen video monitors arranged on it. Beside the desk, a large metal box hummed softly. The box housed a supercomputer of Yugo’s own design. Every year, scientists at some university or another announce that they have built a computer which is faster and smarter than anything that had been built before, but these computers are all imbeciles compared to Yugo’s Mark XLV super-duper-pooper-computer 3.10. The Mark XLV super-duper-pooper-computer 3.10 is the nerdy brainiac of supercomputers. It counted all of the angels dancing on the heads of all of the pins in the world in a little under 50 picoseconds. It discovered the egg that came first, and the chicken who laid it. It knows the sound of one hand clapping and can play it in perfect stereo.
Yugo looked into the monitor in the center of his desk. His face appeared on the screen, rendered in three dimensions. A moment letter, the phrase ‘Welcome, Yugo’ appeared in a friendly font. Yugo typed rapidly on the keyboard and a series of different images appeared on each of the video monitors.
“What are you doing?” asked Iggy.
“Looking for Santa Claus,” answered Yugo, curtly.
“How can you find Santa when you could never find Sam?”
“Sam was outside of the range of my Sam Locating Device,” said Yugo. “That means he was far away from the North Pole. If they have taken Santa to the same place, they will have to travel by airplane.”
“If Values and Standards is traveling by air, they have to file an international flight plan.” Yugo tapped a few more keys and lines of data streamed across the monitors. He looked up to one of the screens and pointed. “There,” he said.
Iggy leaned forward and looked at the screen more closely. “I don’t see anything.”
Yugo rolled his mouse over one line of data, which read:
NVPSOAir Flt 37 Nor Po – Wat Ba Dep 11:50 NPST, Arr 19:15 NZST
“That’s them,” he said.
“How can you tell?” asked Iggy.
“Simple,” said Yugo. He ran his finger along the row of type, “North Pole Values and Standards Office Air, flight 37, North Pole to someplace with the abbreviation Wat Ba, departs 11:50 North Pole Standard Time, arrives 7:15 PM New Zealand Standard Time.”
“They’ve taken Santa Claus to New Zealand?” asked Iggy.
“No, they’ve taken him to this place, Wat Ba, which is somewhere in the same time zone as New Zealand,” said Yugo.
“But where is that?”
“Just a second,” Yugo punched a few more keys and a satellite image appeared on the center screen. He zoomed in on a white dot on the left side of the screen. The image expanded until the dot took the shape of an airplane, viewed from above. “There they are,” said Yugo, with a triumphant smile.
“But where are they going?”
“It looks like ... oh no, it can’t be,” said Yugo. He turned to Iggy, the colour draining from his face. “They’ve been taken to Watugonnado Bay.”
“The old prisoner of war camp?” asked Iggy. “I thought that place was shut down years ago?”
“It was,” said Yugo. “Terrible things happened there. Prisoners were tortured and treated horribly. Some of them didn’t survive their captivity.”
“And now Values and Standards is using it to on elves,” said Iggy.
“And Santa Claus,” added Yugo.
“We have to go and get them,” said Iggy.
“Oh yes,” said Yugo.
The fastest way to travel from the North Pole to Watugonnado Bay is by snowmobile, although not just any snowmobile will do. It requires a snowmobile powered by a lithium fission nuclear reactor, with a pair of ten thousand gigajoule rocket engines. A snowmobile that can skim the bleak Arctic frontier at supersonic speed and that can turn into a boat or a submarine with the flick of a yellow switch or the touch of an orange button. A snowmobile that can fly.
There is only one snowmobile in the world like that. Yugo built it one summer to get around to places where his old snowmobile could not and, occasionally, to save Christmas. He stood before it now and pulled off the velvet tarpaulin that covered it when it was parked. The lights of the hangar reflected off the polished red roof. It did not look like a snowmobile at all. It was rather more like a gleaming red armoured car on skis, with several odd mechanical contrivances protruding from each side. Iggy was sure that one of these, which he took to be a small satellite dish, was really a converted vegetable steamer.
Yugo pressed a red button on his key fob. There was a soft chirp, and the driver’s side door lifted open slowly on smooth hydraulics. The two elves slipped into the front seats and pulled their seat belts down over both shoulders. Iggy looked behind. The back seat was empty, except for an crumpled potato chip bag.
“It’s not quite the same without Sam, is it?” he said.
Yugo adjusted a few controls and replied, “No, it isn’t.”
“I almost miss his complaining,” Iggy remarked absently.
“Me too,” said Yugo. “But it’s just as well. Sam used up all of the air sickness bags on our last trip and I haven’t had time to restock them.” He pressed a flashing blue button and the two rocket engines growled to life. He turned an orange dial, and Last Christmas by Wham! chimed from the snowmobile’s icosophonic sound system. Iggy hummed along as Yugo guided the snowmobile out of the hangar. He turned carefully down Santa Claus Lane and followed it until he passed the last humble cottage on the road. Then he stomped his foot down on the accelerator and the snowmobile roared ahead, bashing through the mounds of drifted snow that surrounded the North Pole.
Yugo glanced down at the instrument panel and pushed a flashing blue button. The afterburners kicked in and the snowmobile bounded up a steep drift and arced through the air before touching down again. He turned a black knob and a pair of stubby red wings extended from either side. Yugo pulled gently back on the steering column and the snowmobile rose steeply into the midday night. He levelled off and made a slow turn south, the only direction which he could turn from the North Pole, and switched on the autopilot.
He flipped a purple toggle switch and a small keypad extended out from the dashboard. Yugo logged into the onboard internet server and searched for information on Watugonnado Bay. Iggy leaned forward and peered at the display monitor as Yugo’s fingers danced across the little keyboard.
“It says here that Watugonnado Bay is located on the eastern shore of Christmas Island. I never knew that,” said Iggy.
“That’s right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” said Yugo. “I guess that’s why they built a prison there. It’s so remote that no one could ever escape from it.”
“How are we going to get into it?” asked Iggy. “It’s heavily guarded. There are landmines everywhere and the beaches are lined with anti-aircraft cannons.”
Yugo smiled slyly. “As long as they don’t have anti-snowmobile cannons, we’ll be fine.” He turned to the navigational computer and keyed in the geographic coordinates for Watugonnado Bay. Then, he reclined his plush leather seat and closed his eyes. “We might as well get some rest,” he said. “It’s a long way to Watugonnado Bay.”
Iggy nodded and leaned back in his own seat. The digital music player clicked over to the next track, Last Christmas by Hilary Duff, as the snowmobile soared high over the Arctic. It rocketed ever closer to Watugonnado Bay with each succeeding cover of the old Wham! Christmas standard.
They flew over a herd of charging musk oxen to the strains of Last Christmas as performed by the Rubber Band. They listened to Last Christmas by Crazy Frog as the northern snow gave way to ruddy brown fields and then bright green pastures. ABBA’s version of Last Christmas was playing when Yugo swung the snowmobile out over the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.
They were listening to the fifty seventh cover version of Last Christmas when the hills of Watugonnado Bay appeared on the horizon. Yugo turned the music off and dropped the snowmobile down through the clouds. As they reached the ocean surface, he pulled it out of its dive and they skimmed just above the waves towards the sparkling white shore.
A small hole opened on the dashboard and a little flashing red dome light rose through it.
“Trouble,” said Yugo.
“What sort of trouble?” asked Iggy, tightening his seat belt.
“Anti-aircraft cannons,” grunted Yugo.
Iggy blinked. A large missile appeared in front of them, rapidly expanding to fill the entire viewscreen. “You said those wouldn’t be a problem,” he squealed, and tugged his seatbelt even tighter.
“Hang on to something,” said Yugo. He pulled the steering wheel hard to the right. The snowmobile tipped sideways and flew perpendicular to the ocean. One of its stubby wings dipped into the water and sliced a foaming furrow in the sea as the missile shot past them.
“That was close,” gasped Iggy. Yugo levelled the snowmobile off again. He looked into the rear view mirror and groaned. The missile made a broad arc behind them and headed back towards the snowmobile.
“Heat seeking missile,” said Yugo. He pulled back on the steering column and the snowmobile rocketed back up into the sky. The missile followed closely behind.
The dome light began flashing again. Iggy looked down and saw a second missile rising to meet them.
“Oh bother,” said Yugo. He weaved the snowmobile from side to side as the two missiles closed in. He extended his right hand and fumbled along the dozens of coloured buttons and switches on the dashboard. He stabbed at a purple button. He missed it, but it lit up with a faint purple glow anyway.
There was a low hum and Iggy felt the snowmobile getting warmer inside. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I put the air conditioner in reverse,” explained Yugo as he zigged away from one missile and zagged to avoid the second.
“That’s just making it hotter!” cried Iggy.
“Only in here,” said Yugo. “Out there, it’s freezing.” He tapped the driver’s side window. Iggy could see a rime of frost forming on the other side of the glass.
In moments, the snowmobile was covered in a layer of ice and snow. The two missiles ditched and dodged without direction and finally homed in one the only heat source nearby: each other. They collided with an explosion so big and loud and orange that it would have made a Hollywood special effects artist gasp with professional envy.
Yugo poked the purple button again and the temperature inside the snowmobile dropped as the snow began melting off of it. He made a slow turn and then dropped back down towards the island. There was a large gray cannon near a stand of palm trees that pointed up at them, preparing to fire yet another missile.
Yugo flipped a black switch. A small panel on the left side of the snowmobile slid open and a stubby black tube with a cork in the end poked out. He pressed a yellow button and the cork blew out of the tube with a loud pop and a puff of smoke.
“What are you doing?” asked Iggy. “That thing is shooting missiles at us and all you’ve got is a popgun?”
“Just wait,” said Yugo. The two elves watched the cork expand in the air as it raced towards the anti-aircraft cannon. It stuck tightly in the barrel. The cannon fired again, but with the cork imbedded tightly, it backfired and exploded with such a bloom of flames and smoke and noise that any Hollywood special effects artist who saw it, would just give up the job forever.
The snowmobile descended gently and landed near the ruined anti-aircraft cannon. Two doors lifted up on either side and Iggy and Yugo stepped out, blinking in the bright tropical sun.
“Told you we didn’t have anything to worry about,” said Yugo as he clapped Iggy on the back.
Iggy smiled queasily. “A cork gun. You really do plan for everything, don’t you?”
“I try to,” said Yugo. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two pairs of sunglasses. He slid one pair on and passed the other to Iggy.
“We go get Sam,” said Yugo. “We’ll need his help to get Santa Claus out of this place.” He opened the rear hatch of the snowmobile and pulled out the Sam Locating Device. He powered it up and it pinged hopefully. He fiddled with the knobs on the device for a while and then stared at it, perplexed. He gave it a slap and then shook it hard. It pinged a little less hopefully.
“Have you found him?” asked Iggy.
Yugo shook his head. “I can’t lock onto him. Something must be terribly wrong. Sam’s socks should be easy to find at this range. They’re some of the most distinctive hosiery in the world.”
Yugo shut down the Sam Locating Device and put it back into the snowmobile. He pressed a button on his key fob and the doors all locked with a cheery pip pip.
“Well just have to find him ourselves, then,” said Iggy. Yugo nodded. They looked out from the palm trees and into a clearing. On the far side of the clearing there was an array of squat white buildings, surrounded by a chain link fence topped with razor wire.
“Watugonnado Bay Prison Camp,” breathed Yugo.
“Let’s go,” said Iggy and he stepped into the clearing.
Yugo grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Not so fast,” he said. “There are land mines out there.”
“Are you sure?” asked Iggy.
“Pretty sure,” said Yugo. He pointed to a yellow sign at the edge of the field. It said:
He picked up a stone and tossed it into the middle of the field. There was an enormous boom and a column of fire and smoke shot into the air.
“How will we get past it?” asked Iggy.
Yugo got down on his hands and knees and filled his pocket with stones. “Lots and lots of rocks,” he said.
They both gathered as many stones as they could carry. Yugo tossed one onto the ground in front of him. Nothing happened and he reached his foot out and carefully set it on the spot where the rock had landed. He tossed another stone in front of him. He bounced harmlessly on the grass and Yugo placed his other foot on it.
He threw a third stone. The ground exploded the moment the stone landed, spraying them with dirt. Yugo wiped the mud from his face and said, “this might take a while.” He threw another stone out beside the crater in front of him. There was no reaction and he moved onto that spot. In this fashion, Iggy and Yugo slowly wound their way across the minefield, occasionally detonating a mine, but eventually making it to the other side safely, although their green and red velvet jackets were badly tattered and covered with dirt.
Iggy reached up to lean on the chain link fence at the edge of the clearing. Yugo grabbed his arm and said, “Don’t touch that. It’s electrified.”
Iggy pulled back his arm. “How can you tell?” he asked.
Yugo pointed to another yellow sign:
“Now what?” said Iggy.
Yugo unbuckled his belt and pulled it free from his pants. He gestured to Iggy to do likewise. Iggy passed his belt to Yugo and the crafty elf twisted the two belts together into an elaborate knot. The two silver belt buckles stuck out from either side. Yugo held the knot carefully and slowly set the two buckles against the metal fence.
There was a spray of sparks and the fence crackled loudly. The links around the belt buckles began glowing red. Yugo took the knotted belts in both hands and scraped the buckles along the fence in a big circle. He whistled softly as he traced around the circle a second time, leaving a glowing red trail behind. Soon the links closest to the point of contact started to melt and drip onto the ground. A few moments later, Yugo stood in front of a melted opening in the fence.
He unwound the knot and passed Iggy’s belt back to him. The buckle had mostly melted away.
“How did you … ?” Iggy sputtered.
Yugo shrugged. “The silver in those belt buckles is an excellent conductor of electricity. They made a short circuit that created enough heat to melt a hole in the fence.”
Iggy grinned. “Let’s go get Sam,” he said. The two elves stepped through the hole in the fence and scrambled quickly to the side of the first building. They inched along the wall until they reached a door. They looked around, and then ducked inside.
They found themselves in a long hallway with doors lining each side. At the end of the hallway, an officious looking elf sat behind an officious looking desk.
“Can I help you?” he sneered.
Iggy tried to rub some of the grime off of his tattered jacket and stepped up to the desk. “Can you tell me where to find Sam?” he asked politely.
The officious looking elf glared at him. “What business have you with this Sam?” he asked, most officiously indeed.
Yugo stood forward. “We’re with the medical team. Sam is in need of urgent hospitalization for an extremely contagious virus.”
Iggy stared at Yugo in shock. “Yugo, you know that’s not tru -- ” he blurted before Yugo stopped him with an elbow in his ribs.
The officious looking elf glanced at Iggy, who was bent over and gasping for breath. He flipped through the papers on his desk. “I was not told anything about thi -- ” he blurted out before Yugo stopped him with an elbow to the side of his head. The officious looking elf fell forward onto his papers.
“You have to stop doing that,” said Iggy. “It really hurts.”
“We don’t have time for etiquette,” Yugo explained. He pushed the unconscious elf aside and opened up a large notebook in the middle of the desk. He ran his finger down the page and said, “There you are.”
He slammed the book shut and turned back to Iggy. “He’s in Room 20. Let’s go.”
The two elves ran down the hall, skidding to a stop in front of a plain white door with the number ‘20’ painted on it in neat black numbers. Iggy knocked.
There was no answer, so Yugo knocked on the door. He used his hammer to be sure to get Sam’s attention. In a moment, they heard some muffled steps and the door swung open. Sam stood there, dressed only in tight black briefs and a pair of sandals. They had not seen their friend since he had been taken away to reconditioning camp over six weeks earlier. Still, Sam looked just the same as he always had. If anything, he was a little heavier than before.
“Oh, it’s you,” said Sam. “I figured you’d show up sooner or later. I’m surprised it took so long.”
“Sorry,” said Yugo. “It was really hard to find you.”
“But we’re here now,” said Iggy, smiling. “So get dressed and let’s get out of here.”
“Forget it,” said Sam. “I’m not going anywhere.” He slammed the door in their faces.
Iggy and Yugo stood in the hall, their noses scarcely an inch away from the suddenly closed door. To say they were flabbergasted would not fully explain just how gasted their flabbers were. But be assured that both of their flabbers were entirely and utterly gasted to their very core. They were flabbergabberjabbergasted.
Iggy pounded on the door. “Sam, let us in!” he shouted.
“Go away!” Sam shouted back.
Yugo tapped Iggy on the shoulder and pointed down the hall. Two new officious looking elves had entered the far end of the building and discovered their colleague slumped over his desk. They were now making their way officiously down the hall.
“Stop right there, you two!” called the first officious looking elf. The other was speaking into a radio clipped to his uniform.
Iggy looked over at Yugo. “What are we going to do?” he asked.
Yugo gripped the doorknob and pushed the door open. He pulled Iggy past a surprised Sam and into the room.
“Quick, lock the door so that they can’t get in,” said Iggy.
“This is a prison camp. That door only locks from the other side,” Sam said smugly.
Yugo slammed the door and quickly slid a chair under the door knob, wedging it closed. They could hear officious knocking and pushing from the other side.
“Those guys will be through that door any minute,” said Iggy. “We need to get out of here.”
“I told you, I’m not going anywhere,” said Sam. “I like it here.”
“Are you insane? This place is a prison,” said Iggy.
“Not to me,” said Sam. “I have everything I need here. I get three square meals a day with all of the gruel I can eat. Sure, it’s an acquired taste, but after 6 weeks I’ve acquired the taste. There’s nothing quite like a big bowl of gruel with some grilled rutabagas on the side. In fact,” he patted his prodigious belly, “I’ve even managed to put on a few pounds.”
“You’re supposed to be losing weight!” exclaimed Iggy.
“Don’t be foolish,” replied Sam. “If you lose weight, they send you back to the North Pole. You’d be crazy to lose weight here.”
“But don’t they force you to exercise?” asked Yugo. He knew how Sam felt about exercise.
“Sure they try,” explained Sam. “Every morning they get us up early to go for a jog on the beach. But I’m not much for jogging, so I just take a stroll. There are a lot of worse things in the world than watching the sun come up every morning while walking down a beautiful sandy beach. In the afternoons, we get taken to a pool and ordered to go swimming. As if I have to be told twice to jump in a pool in a place like this.
“And that’s another thing. It’s warm here. Hot even. The sun comes up every day, not like at home where it’s dark all day long. There’s no snow, there’s no cold and there’s no toy making. I lounge around in my underpants most of the time.” He wiggled his toes in his sandals. “I haven’t worn socks for over a month.”
Yugo nodded, “that explains why the Sam Located Device didn’t work.”
Sam crossed his arms and smiled. “Yessir, things have finally worked out okay for old Sam.”
“But we need your help,” said Iggy.
“Santa Claus has been arrested. He’s being held here somewhere,” added Yugo.
Sam shrugged. “You’re just going to have to save Christmas without me this time,” he said.
The commotion on the other side of the door was getting louder. Iggy and Yugo looked around for another way out.
“Forget it, guys,” said Sam. The only other way out of this room is through that window. And it’s made of unbreakable plexiglass. You aren’t going anyplace.”
“We’ll have to find something heavy to break it with,” said Yugo. The two elves cast frantically about the room, but the furniture that was not bolted to the floor was all small, functional and light. Then, Iggy looked at Yugo and smiled. Yugo winked back at him. Together, the two elves grabbed the heaviest thing in the room and threw it through the window.
“Hey!” shouted Sam, defenestratedly. He hit the window full on and went through it as if it were made of wrapping paper. Iggy and Yugo scrambled out the window after him.
“That’s just great,” said Sam. He had fallen into a flowerbed that ran alongside the building. He got up and brushed dirt and carnations off of his bare arms. “Now we’re all in trouble.”
Shouts rang out from around the far corner of the building, accompanied by the barks and growls of what sounded like very large dogs; perhaps even wolves.
“Those sound like very large dogs,” said Iggy.
“Perhaps even wolves,” said Yugo.
Let’s get out of here,” shouted Sam. He took off like an Olympian sprinter. Three officious looking elves emerged from around the corner, led by three large and angry looking hounds. As soon as they saw the three fugitive elves, they dropped the leashes and the dogs loped after them.
“Hey, wait for us,” shouted Iggy, as he and Yugo ran after Sam.
“Not a chance,” said Sam.
“Come on, Sam, you’ll never out run those dogs,” said Yugo.
“I don’t have to out run them,” Sam called back over his shoulder. “I just have to out run you.” He picked up the pace, and opened a larger distance between himself and Iggy and Yugo. For a chubby elf who loathes exercise, Sam is remarkably fast. He is always first to make tracks at any sign of danger, not to mention first in line at the buffet table.
The dogs were nipping at their heels when Iggy and Yugo caught up to Sam at the hole in the chain link fence. Sam was squeezing through when Iggy and Yugo crashed into him, causing him to pop out on the other side and roll to the edge of the minefield. Iggy and Yugo clambered through the hole and stood beside him. The three dogs stayed on the other side of the hole, whimpering.
“They don’t realize the electricity has been shorted out,” gasped Yugo.
“They will soon enough,” said Iggy. “How are we going to make it back across the minefield?”
Yugo leapt out into the clearing. Iggy and Sam turned their heads, squeezed their eyes shut and covered their ears in anticipation of an explosion. When nothing happened, they slowly turned to see Yugo standing about ten feet away in the middle of a crater. He waved to them.
“Come on,” he said. “We detonated quite a few mines on the way in. There are no live mines where those explosions happened. As long as we stay in the craters we made, we’ll be perfectly safe.” He jumped to the next crater.
Iggy shrugged and jumped out to the hole that Yugo had just departed. Sam shook his head. “No way,” he said. “I’ll take my chances on this side of the minefield.”
The three dogs were sniffing at the fence. One of them started climbing through the hole. It bared its fangs at Sam and growled.
“Yeeaah!” shouted Sam, and he leaped to the first crater. He landed with an earth shaking thud and then bounded to the next. He passed Iggy and Yugo before they were halfway across the clearing and kept hopping until he reached the stand of palm trees at the other side.
Iggy and Yugo followed close behind and the three elves raced to the snowmobile. Yugo pulled his key fob from his pocket, but the snowmobile’s doors were already lifting open before he could press the little red button. He looked at the key fob, shook his head and stuffed it back in his pocket.
The three elves tumbled into the snowmobile and the doors slid closed on their smooth hydraulics. Yugo fired up the lithium fission engines and the snowmobile slowly rose into the air and hovered at the top of the palm trees.
Iggy turned and looked to Sam, who was exploring the empty chip bag on the seat beside him. “All right, where are they keeping Santa Claus?”
Sam fished out a single broken potato chip and popped it into his mouth. “They put him in the Hole,” he said.
“The hole? What’s that?” asked Iggy.
“Not the hole,” corrected Sam. “The Hole. It’s pronounced with a capital ‘H’.”
Iggy blinked a few times. Then he said, “all right, what’s the hole?”
Sam shook his head. “You’re still saying it wrong. I’s not hole. It’s Hole. Try it again.”
“Hole?” asked Iggy.
“Now you’ve got it,” said Sam.
“Where is this Hole?” asked Yugo, making sure to carefully enunciate the capital ‘H’.
“I’m not sure,” said Sam. “I haven’t actually seen the Hole. I’ve only heard about it. It’s where they keep the ‘problem elves’.”
“What’s a problem elf?” asked Iggy.
“It’s ‘problem elf’,” repeated Sam. “You forgot to pronounce the quotation marks.”
“Beg pardon?” said Iggy.
“It’s ‘problem elf’ in quotation marks. Try it like this: ‘problem elf’.”
No, it’s ‘problem elf’.”
“That’s almost it. Try again. ‘Problem elf’.”
“I give up,” said Iggy.
Yugo interrupted. “Can you just tell us what ‘problem elves’ are and where to find them?” he asked, taking deliberate care with each word.
“The ‘problem elves’ are the crazy ones who try to escape,” explained Sam. “They put them in the maximum security wing, also known as the Hole. It’s locked up tight with extra guards. You’ll never get Santa Claus out of there.”
Yugo gently pressed on his foot pedal and the snowmobile glided silently above the minefield. “Only if we don’t try,” he said. He logged into the onboard computer and typed in several lines of code. A series of blueprints appeared on the screen.
“What’s that?” asked Iggy.
“I’ve hacked into the main security system.” Yugo zoomed in on one of the drawings. “This is the building where they are holding Santa Claus. That’s the hole.”
“That’s Hole,” interjected Sam. “Don’t forget the ‘H’ is capitalized.”
“Right,” said Yugo. “It’s on the far side of the compound. We’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
“Do you have a plan for rescuing Santa Claus?” asked Iggy.
“I haven’t quite figured one out yet,” said Yugo. “We’ll just have to go with the usual plan.”
“You mean the one where we bust into a place where we don’t belong, run around like mad and hope for the best?” asked Sam.
“Yes, that one,” said Yugo.
“Why not? It’s always worked before,” said Iggy.
“So we’re agreed,” said Yugo. “I’ll figure out how to bust into the place.”
“I guess I can run around like mad,” said Sam.
“And I’ll hope for the best,” said Iggy.
Yugo circled the snowmobile above a squat one room building on the edge of the compound. It was ringed by a wide moat, with gray shark fins occasionally pointing out of the surface of the water. Two officious looking elves, each armed with a large automatic machine gun, stood guard beside the front door.
The snowmobile dropped silently from the sky and disappeared from view at the back of the building. Yugo pressed a blue button and two pontoons extended from the bottom. The snowmobile splashed down softly and bobbed on the surface of the moat. Yugo unclasped his safety belt, opened his door and stepped down onto one of the pontoons. Three triangular fins poked out of the water and converged on him.
He stroked his moustache thoughtfully and the top of his head glowed with concentration. Then, he reached into a compartment on the side of the snowmobile and pulled out a hair dryer. Yugo plugged it into an outlet on the dashboard before dropping it into the moat. There was a loud Crack! And the three sharks bobbed up to the surface, floating on their backs.
“You’ve killed them!” shouted Iggy.
“Nope, that shock wasn’t nearly enough to kill something as big as a shark,” said Yugo. “They’re just stunned.”
Then he stepped off of the pontoon onto the pale belly of the first shark. He ran across it, jumped to the next shark and then leapt to the third before finally stepping onto the shore. Iggy dashed across the shark bellies to join him. Sam followed carefully, each shark sinking below the water level when he stepped on it. His sandals were soaking wet by the time he reached the side of the moat. He joined Iggy and Yugo, who were crouched below the window at the rear of the building.
“Now what?” asked Sam. “We made it past the sharks, but we’ll never get past those guards.
Yugo stroked his moustache again. “It would be best to avoid the guards altogether,” he said.
“Then how are we going to get in?” asked Sam. “There is only one door.”
Iggy and Yugo exchanged a glance, and then they quickly grabbed Sam by each of his arms and hurled him up through the window.
“Not again!” Sam hollered as he shattered the shatterproof glass and tumbled through the broken window. Iggy and Yugo scrambled in after him.
Sam lay on a pile of broken glass in the middle of the floor. Santa Claus stood beside him, dressed in a pair of sandals and small black underpants.
“Doesn’t anyone around here ever wear clothes?” asked Iggy.
Santa Claus took his red velvet jacket from the closet. “I never had a chance to pack for the beach,” he explained. “And there’s no air conditioning in the hole.”
“That’s Hole,” groaned Sam, who was still sprawled on the floor in a defenestrated daze.
Santa quickly pulled on his red suit. “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
Yugo walked over to the door. He turned the handle, but it was locked. He drew a small saw from his tool belt and carefully cut around the door knob. When he finished, the door swung open with the handle still firmly locked to the door frame.
The two officious looking elves stormed into the room, but Iggy and Yugo were ready for them. “Ho Ho Ho!” shouted Santa Claus, as Iggy and Yugo threw a befuddled Sam at the two guards. They smashed into the wall, with Sam’s belly molded around their faces. Their guns clattered to the floor, where they were snatched up by Iggy and Yugo.
Santa Claus looked down at the two dazed elves. “Wimpty Values and Biggle Standards,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re fired. And I’m putting both of you the Naughty List.”
The two elves hung their heads. Then Sam threw himself back at them, knocking them both to the ground, unconscious. He got up and rubbed his chubby hands together. “That will take care of those two,” he said.
“Good work, Sam,” said Iggy.
Yugo held the door open for the others, and then followed them outside. They walked around to the back of the Hole, where the snowmobile still bobbed peacefully in the middle of the moat. However, the shark belly stepping stones were no longer floating helpfully nearby. In their place, three very angry looking sharks swam along the edge of the moat, their slashing tails churning the blue water into white foam.
“I’m starting to get sick of this place,” grumbled Sam. He walked to the edge of the moat and looked down at the bubbling water. “Hey shark!” he shouted.
One of the sharks poked its head out of the water and snapped angrily at Sam. The stocky elf stepped away from the shark’s clashing teeth and then drew back and punched the shark right on the nose. It blinked several times and then, whimpering, dove to the bottom of the moat. The others stopped bashing waves with their tails and scurried after it.
“We’d better hurry,” said Yugo. He slipped into the moat and swam to the snowmobile. He pulled himself up onto the pontoon. He knelt there and paddled slowly towards the shore. In a moment, the snowmobile bumped against the edge and the others climbed inside. Santa Claus and Sam squeezed into the back seat, where they were wedged together so tightly one could not have fit a Christmas card between them.
“Promise me you will put some pants on when we get home,” said Santa Claus.
“I’m going to have to. It’s far too cold at the North Pole to be dressed like this,” said Sam.
“I thought you were staying here forever,” Iggy said to Sam.
Sam sat thoughtfully for a moment and then shook his head. “Naw. This really is an awfully officious place. There’s too many sharks and mines and such. The workshop is a lot safer than this. Besides, I don’t think I’m meant for this kind of climate. I’ve evolved for someplace a little colder and darker.
Yugo laughed and hit the launch button in the middle of the steering wheel. The lithium fission engines growled to life and the snowmobile shot straight up into the sky. He turned up the volume on the music player and the first notes of Last Christmas by Savage Garden rang out from the twenty speakers scattered around the snowmobile. Then he angled the snowmobile north, and stepped on the accelerator.
They made it home just in time for Christmas, which was saved after all. The first thing Santa Claus did after they touched down outside the reindeer stables was to disband the North Pole Values and Standards Office and to send the entire officious lot of them to Watugonnado Bay to “think things over for a while.” They may be there still, for they have not been heard from since.
The rest of the elves got on with the business of making toys. And if some elves were big and some were small, and if some wore blue shirts and their hats askew while others wore yellow shirts and no hats at all, that just made things around the North Pole a little more interesting.
As for Sam, who did put his pants back on, he returned to his big easy chair and his sandwich bar no wiser, and no thinner, from his adventure. He thought about the beach at Watugonnado Bay sometimes, but mostly he thought about whether he would like another slice of pie. And he thought that he would.
 Sam is both 42 inches tall and 42 inches around.
 The first stage of organizational evolution is to shorten the organization’s name to an unpronounceable acronym. Since most elves have a hard time saying na●pìv●so, they usually just call it ‘Values and Standards’.
 Among the action figures scattered in the wake of the little red sports car were miniature representatives of almost every occupation imaginable: construction workers, soldiers, doctors and cheerleaders to name only a few. The little sports car did not strike any lawyer action figures. There are no lawyer action figures. Nobody wants a lawyer action figure. Finding a little lawyer courtroom action set under the Christmas tree would be even more upsetting than a stocking filled with coal and reindeer droppings.
 Fusby is an old fashioned word which means ‘short, squat and stout’ and describes Sam perfectly. It is such an old fashioned word, that the Collins Dictionary of the English Language has indicated it will be removing this word and its accompanying definition from future editions. You may write to Collins Dictionary at firstname.lastname@example.org to make your complaint.
 A triathlon is an athletic competition with three events (swimming, cycling and running). A decathlon has ten track and field events. An icosathlon is the most arduous competition of them all, with 20 separate events. Of course, those twenty events include dog walking and spelling, so it is really not as difficult as some people make it out to be.
 The exclusion of elf records from the Guinness Book of World Records is a scandal, particularly considering the obscure and pointless records which are included; such as Longest Eyebrow Hair (3.5”), Largest Cabbage (124 lbs) and Most Rattlesnakes Put In One Mouth At The Same Time (8). The closest thing to an elf record in the Guinness Book of World Records is the Longest Dwarf Toss (11’ 5”).
 It is dark in the afternoon at the North Pole from October to March.
 The North Pole is not like other places, and not just because it is populated by elves. When the sun finally comes up around the middle of March, it rises in the south.
 Flegal et al, Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity, Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 293, pp. 1861-1867.
 Tran et al, Beneficial Effects of Subcutaneous Fat Transplantation on Metabolism, Cell Metabolism, Volume 7, pp. 410-420.
 Yugo had never been good at contriving clever and catchy names for his inventions. His device for making waffles with whipped cream topping is called the ‘Machine For Making Waffles With Whipped Cream Topping.’
 There is a theory held by some people that all events are somehow connected to the number 23. If you look hard enough, you will see the number 23 everywhere, even in Christmas stories. It might be a coincidence that Santa Claus paused before door number 23 on the 23rd of December. Or it might not be.
 A picosecond is one trillionth of a second, or one millionth of a microsecond. The only thing that can measure a picosecond is the stopwatch, which is built into the operating system of the Mark XLV super-duper-pooper-computer 3.10.
 According the website www.last-christmas.com, 371 different versions of the song Last Christmas have been recorded since it was first released by Wham! in 1984. It would take almost 26 hours, and a relentless determination bordering on insanity, to listen to all of them back to back. Happily for Iggy and Yugo, the trip to Watugonnado Bay took rather less time than that.
 Yugo is a highly trained professional who knows an awful lot about electricity and belts. Do not attempt this trick with any electrified fence you may encounter at home. And anyway, there is no way in the world that it would work like that.