By Ryan Fleming
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the 45th contest was Spies.
He stared off to the horizon, thinking but not really thinking. It was his habit to brood before a flight. That had not always been the case: when he was first promoted to the flight crew he looked forward to each mission with a certain giddiness. Even the onset of War barely a year after he had made his first flight did not dampen his spirits right away. That was ten years ago, and each successive year took away a bit of cheer. It took away from all of them, the way of the world, none more so than the Boss himself.
The Boss had always believed the best in people. He was not perfect, not by any means. He turned a blind eye to the hazing rituals that went on in the flight crew, until he needed the recipient of the hazing of course. Still, he always believed the best in people.
The Nazis had convinced Santa Claus that sometimes you could go on the naughty list and there would never be any coming back.
The Boss was going over the finer details of tonight’s mission with the usual party of suited and uniformed men. Rudolph stood at the head of the flight crew, harnessed to the sleigh, ready for the Boss to grasp the reins. In the years since the official end of hostilities, Santa had turned more and more of his operation over to the Allies: the United States of America along with the remnants of the Soviet Union and the Franco-British United Empires.
Early into the conflict, Santa had tried to oppose the Nazis and their Axis in his own way. A lump of coal for every dedicated supporter of the regime across all of Europe might have seemed a potent gesture, but every single lump wound up fuelling the war effort further. The SS and Gestapo became very interested in anyone who did not receive coal too; the Night of the Long Stockings saw them purged before the year had even ended.
Those actions did not endear the Boss to the Allies, who still knew him as Father Christmas and Père Noël. The Boss had long been persona non grata in the Soviet Union, and the United States had been on frosty terms with him since he had rejected the overtures of a soft drinks company to rebrand in their colours. Neither of them had a dog in the fight, yet, at any rate. Great Britain and France had not wavered in their feelings towards the Boss, until that year. Suddenly, Hogmanay became more important than Christmas.
The Boss continued opposing the Nazis in his own way. People in the occupied countries with their entire household on the nice list soon found themselves receiving radio kits, blank forged documents, and firearms under the tree. It was a marked change from toys, which the rest of the world still received, but the new presents would be the gifts that kept on giving.
It was not enough.
The Boss had been down many chimneys through the years, but none left quite the impression on him than those big ones in occupied Poland. Something of the jolliness died the day he peeked down there. More had to be done. By then the Soviet Union had more than just one dog in the fight; and the United States remained officially neutral whilst giving as much support to the Allies as possible.
Santa Claus made his way to the White House immediately after his discoveries in Poland, a rare journey south outside of December 25th. The ailing President and the Boss immediately struck upon bringing the workshop into the War effort proper. A visit with the Queen, officially the Yorkist Pretender by London reckoning, in Ottawa soon followed. Even the Other Boss, the one that had usually sat in Moscow, welcomed Father Frost back into the Soviet fold; a painting of the two embracing became a defining moment in propaganda for that year.
Santa broke the news to the elves, the reindeers, and the rest of his ragtag entourage soon after he had agreed terms with the heads of the three major allies.
Christmas was cancelled for the duration.
Toy production was abandoned entirely, and the elves set to work making arms for the Allied forces. Santa’s sleigh could perform reconnaissance flights all over the globe daily. Santa even abandoned his traditional green coat for a red one after seeing how it looked in Soviet propaganda. Most distressingly, Santa extended word to his erstwhile assistant in the alps that, until such time as the Nazi government could be removed, that all German children were to be classed as naughty. Krampus was given carte blanche to punish them in whichever way he saw fit.
The tide was seemingly turning. Much as it had a generation earlier, unrestricted submarine warfare finally brought the United States into the War. The Boss himself was given a commission in the Red Army as General Winter and froze German men and machinery where they stood. The Fuhrer’s British ulcer finally turned septic, and they were forced to abandon that island much as the Romans had fifteen hundred years earlier.
After years of falling back, just holding the defences, and morale at an all time low, the tide seemed to be turning from naughty to nice.
The need was now to go on the offensive, but it was one thing to keep the Nazis at bay, quite another to march all the way to Berlin. Much as elves had been dispatched to industrial centres across the globe, more and more scientists began arriving in the North Pole. Suddenly IDs were needed to enter certain areas within the workshop, and the Boss would argue long into the night with men in uniforms and suits.
They had won him over in the end.
When he took the reins that night, appropriately as the 24th of December was turning to the 25th, Santa was a solemn figure. Rudolph could sense it; it brought to mind how he felt himself before the North Pole needed his nose.
On their trips before the war, they had started in the east and stayed several steps ahead of the dawn all through the night. Now, they were making only one stop.
“Now I have an atomic bomb.” Santa muttered bitterly as they approached the German capital. “Ho, ho, ho!”
Rudolph’s nose would not be the only bright thing in the sky that night.
Ryan Fleming is the author of Reid in Braid, published by SLP