Time for Christmas tales 

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Here are the stories to share with friends, family — or just by yourself as you sit next to a decorated tree. The season brings reflection, longing and reminiscing for us all. We hope you enjoy these crafted gems — and we wish you the best of the season.

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Some good

By Cathryn Atkinson

Oh, duuuude!"

And with that, Maggie knew exactly what was happening behind her in the back seat of her Honda Accord.

"I've got barf bags back there!" she cried.

"Cheers, dude!" was the reply.

But they weren't necessary; the Dude-Whisperer's buddy opened the door and puked abundantly into the snow. Guts empty, disaster averted and they were ready to go home.

It was Maggie's third year in Operation Red Nose and she'd had more than a few shitfaced office workers hurl a really fun evening onto the car floor. And the seat. And on companions sitting next to them.

She'd never quite gotten used to it, but she did learn enough to buy a lot of cleaners, a wet vac, and a box of airsick bags. They'd helped most of the time, though not always.

It was 2 a.m. on the Saturday before Christmas and Maggie was at the tail end of the late shift. After a dangerous start, there was nothing else to worry about, apart from loud talking from two young guys trying to figure out A) how old Maggie was; B) If she was available and interested; and C) If she was rich.

"If I were rich, do you think I would be driving drunk guys home?" she said.

"You might. You might be a nice, sexy, rich lady," Dude Whisperer said.

Maggie laughed.

"I'm no more rich than I am attracted to you," she said.

"I'm definitely sexy, though."

Dude Whisperer laughed, too. Then frowned. Then looked out the window. To his annoyance, Buddy was lulled to sleep by the car's motion and leaned on his shoulder.

When the car stopped in front of their condo, the two young men poured out. Dude Whisperer came over to the driver's side and offered Maggie two $20s. She explained it was a free service.

"Why do this? Did you get hit by a drunk driver?" he asked as he returned his wallet to his pocket.

Maggie shook her head.

"It gets me out of the house and I'm doing some good," she said. "Merry Christmas!"

Buddy, who'd been swaying nearby, started puking into the snow again, and she left them to it. It was coming up to 3 a.m. and time to go home; she'd gotten 11 people home safely and would be able to sleep at last.

The Accord turned a corner and Maggie immediately spied the woman. She was wearing a long dress, a coat and boots, clutching a carpetbag and running haphazardly down the slippery sidewalk.

Maggie couldn't see anyone pursuing her so she pulled over a few metres ahead and got out to show she wasn't a danger.

"Are you all right?" Maggie asked. "Do you need to be somewhere?"

The woman pulled up. She was young, not made up. She looked old-fashioned, almost, as if the era of easy porn and entitlement and opiates had passed her by; in fact, the two drinkers Maggie had just dropped off had more artifice about them than she did. She seemed more real than reality and observed Maggie with clear, sober, very deep eyes.

"Yes," she said.

* * *

The car was quiet. They sped along, still some distance from Marine Drive, which was where the woman asked Maggie to take her.

Maggie looked into her rearview mirror, trying to puzzle out the situation but also trying not to pry. There was no need for a barf bag, but what the woman needed instead was also unclear.

She saw the woman staring right back into the mirror. Maggie cleared her throat.

"Are you OK?" she asked.

The woman smiled.

"I am now."

Maggie told her her name.

"I'm Ariel," the woman replied.

Maggie came out with it:  "Who were you running away from? You had me really worried. I expected some huge goon to come up to us. I had enough of those tonight...."

Ariel laughed, a kind of vocal clinking, like ice-on-ice.

"I was worried, too. But I wasn't running away, I was looking for someone and there you were."

Maggie said: "I don't understand. We could go back for them. I can give them a ride, too. I'm a volunteer driver, it's what I do."

Ariel reached over and touched Maggie's shoulder.

"It's fine, it's fine," she said.

Maggie flinched.

"I'm sorry!" Ariel said. "Are you OK?"

"Not really. Please don't touch me," said Maggie.

Ariel asked: "Do you want to talk about it? I can listen forever."

"No, thanks," Maggie said.

Then, from nowhere:

"My daughter, Iris, ran away on Christmas Eve four years ago. I haven't slept so well, since. I know she is probably fine, but I wasn't there when I needed her. She was doing stupid things... drugs, partying. She found a loser who offered to take care of her and because she thought I was only able to yell at her and tell her she was wrecking her life, I guess she went for it.

"I try to be there for her now, through other people. I'm taking you to the shelter on Marine, right?"

Ariel nodded and said: "It's OK to be angry when you're frightened. I get it. I ran away, too. Travelled the Earth. My... family hasn't seen me in a long time. I've learned a lot, but I get frightened. My... father has a world-famous temper. He's paternalistic. He demands a lot."

Maggie pulled the car over and turned around to face Ariel.

"You seem like a nice young woman. Could you make me a Christmas promise? Do some good and call your people. If your dad's a jerk, you don't have to get too close. But there must be people there who love you."

Ariel thought about it. There was the tinkling of ice again.

"OK."

She put the car into drive and they carried on quietly, until Ariel said:

"I wish I could give you something."

Maggie replied: "There's only one thing I want and, well.... Knowing that your people will connect with you again is enough."

* * *

Maggie threw her keys onto the table and for the first time in many months poured herself a whisky. She sat down and sipped it, her eyes full of thought.

When the phone rang, she looked at it for a moment, alerted by the sound but not having it immediately register.

She looked at the clock. It read 4:28 a.m. Was it a very early call or a very late one? Maggie never let calls go unanswered to the machine.

"Hello?"

There was a silence, then...

"Mom? I'm at the bus station."

And before the joy and the questions hit her, Maggie had picked up her keys and was out the door.

 

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Away in a manger: A true (mostly) Christmas tale

By GD Maxwell

The first chill of dread stabbed at my gut when I reached the front door. The Christmas decorations were up, the bags of unused decorations finally removed, the whole entry unburdened of its accumulation of miscellany.

That dread became resignation when I entered the house.

"You want a drink?" Came the voice from the kitchen.

" I need a drink... I think."

"Tough exam?"

"No. But I'm seeing a clean house, your mother's hand-me-down crystal wine glasses on the table, and, if my sense of smell hasn't been completely overwhelmed by the scented candles and, ugh, potpourri, I believe you've been busy preparing beef bourguignon. That can only mean one thing, your mo..."

"Mother's coming!"

"...thers coming. Make it a double."

"Don't be like that. She's had a fire at her house and asked if she could come stay with us for a few days."

"Days?"

"A week... maybe longer."

"Sweet Jesus."

Her mother hated me. Hated the student-poverty in which we lived. Hated the rambling, OK, ramshackle old adobe house we lived in. Hated the menagerie of cats that had stumbled in like hobos and made themselves at home. Hated my disdain of her newfound wealth.

Her husband had died of a heart attack at work two years earlier, lucky man. She'd embraced the gaudy rewards of being nouveau riche in advanced middle age with no restraints, graciously bequeathing us her well-worn collection of Danish Modern furniture and replacing it with fatuous knockoffs of Louis Quinze rococo crap.

But worst of all...

"She's bringing Princess."

... was Princess, her pimped-out Persian show cat. As cats go, Princess was as phoney as her furniture and even more tortuous to be around. Princess looked like a science experiment in static electricity gone bad. Her most endearing quality was horking up hairballs the size of lemons with disgusting regularity and her inclination to think outside the box... the litter box.

"Oh, sweet Jesus."

"Be nice."

"How'd the fire happen?"

"A luminario lit its bag and something caught fire. The house didn't burn down but the water damage is extensive."

"Oh my god," a thought struck me like a body blow. "She'll be staying in the bordello! We'd better..."

"Stop worrying. I threw the animals in the washing machine and put on a new bedspread. There's lots of potpourri and candles in there."

The bordello was the second bedroom, the "guest" room. We'd renamed it the bordello when we discovered Nutsack, a randy male tabby cat with emerald-green eyes in flagrante delicto, having his way with, well, all of the stuffed animals lying in repose on the bed. Yes, it was kind of disgusting but it seemed better to let Nutsack get his rocks off with the pandas and ponies than the sofa cushions or our pillows. At least the damage was contained.

"And I shut the door to keep Nutsack out."

In addition to Nutsack, our menagerie consisted of Mouse Breath, a manic-depressive, pregnant, tortoiseshell cat the size of the beachball, threatening to deliver kittens any day; Spook, a formerly grey, pure white cat we found atop a power pole alongside the driveway who turned out to be white once he'd moved in and cleaned himself; and Fartin' Franklin, a tuxedo male whose only show of affection — or tolerance of humans for that matter — consisted of walking into a room and releasing the most foul gas a small animal consuming a reasonably good brand of kibble could possibly produce.

"Yeah, this is going to be a great Christmas," I said as the doorbell rang.

"Dahlings," she said, sweeping into the room, carrying matching Prada bags — an oversize, pale-grey tote of "the softest calfskin," and an even larger cat carrier in which Princess mewed manically.

"Do you have luggage? Go get Mama's bags out of her car, would you?"

The evening progressed like Dante's Inferno. A dismissive nod to the attempted housecleaning and seasonal decorating, lefthanded compliments on the beef bourguignon and unsolicited nutritional advice, a desultory deconstruction of all our personal and professional shortcomings and a tedious verbal slideshow of her most recent extravagant exercises in mindless consumerism.

We were saved from the gruesome details of the conflagration that had brought her to our doorstep by a loud crash... followed by a bloodchilling banshee wail we didn't recognize and immediately concluded must have come from Princess.

"Princess! Princess!" she screamed.

Princess was lying entangled beneath the Christmas tree. Spook was, well, spooked. He had a habit of climbing up into the tree and sleeping in the crotch of its branches, the higher the better. This time he'd apparently gone too far and brought the whole thing crashing down on poor Princess. Mental note: an extra treat for Spook.

"Oh dear," I said, trying to sound concerned, while taking my time freeing Princess from her tinsel tomb.

"There, there, Prinny," Mama cooed in baby babble.

Once freed, Princess showed her appreciation by coughing up a hairball and scurrying behind the sofa. I poured myself another glass of wine.

"I'm sure she'll be alright," I lied.

Returning to the recitation of our shortcomings, Mamabear suddenly remembered her latest, prized, soon-to-be-forgotten acquisition.

"You must see this bracelet I picked up today. It's divine," she said, sweeping from the table, heading toward her bedroom.

Her scream startled even Princess, who shot out from behind the sofa, horked up another hairball and wedged her furry bulk under a side table, upending it and knocking off its lamp.

We hurried to the bedroom door, where Mama stood frozen, hand to mouth, just in time to see Nutsack conclude his blissful coitus with Mama's Prada handbag, which was lying on the bed where his harem of stuffed animals should have been. Oh well, any port in a storm.

"Oh dear," we exclaimed in unison.

"Mama, I'm so sorry... I don't know what's come into him. I thought we'd closed this door."

Or out of him, I thought, silently, assuming Mama had left the door open when she encamped.

Nutsack jumped off the bed, unperturbed by the excitement around him, and wandered off, tail in the air, the male cat equivalent of lighting up a cigarette. Mama grabbed her purse, whipped out a Wet One and daubed gently at... let's just leave it at that.

"I think I'd better put this in the closet," she said.

"And we'd better keep the bedroom door closed," I added.

"Aaaiiiieeeee!" she screamed, staring down at the closet floor.

"What!"

"Oh dear."

It was Mouse Breath. Like Mary in the manger, Mouse Breath had delivered herself on the cusp of the eve of Christmas. Eight gooey little kittens... all over Mama's very chic, very expensive, very impractical but apparently quite comfortable suede boots.

"Oooh, look... they're so tiny, so cute."

"They're disgusting," offered Mama. "They've ruined my $400 boots."

"Hakuna matata. The circle of life," I said, knowing how sappy she was for The Lion King.

"Look, there are eight of them, just like Santa's reindeer. Let's name them after them," said her daughter, innocently.

"You want one, Mama," I offered. "We'll give you Nixon. You voted for him, didn't you?"

"That's Vixen," she replied, icily.

"Whatever."

"What are you doing?" asked her daughter. Mama was gathering her bags, which fortunately she hadn't unpacked.

"I'm getting out of here," she said. "I'm going to a hotel."

"You don't have to do that," I lied.

"I can't stay in this madhouse."

"Well, if your mind's made up."

"It is!"

I helped her carry the suitcases to the car, half-heartedly suggested she could have our bedroom, knowing she'd never get either down or up from the waterbed on the floor, and went through the motions of pretending to be contrite.

"Mama, you don't have to leave."

"It's alright, darling. I should have known better."

"But you'll come for Christmas dinner?"

"I'll think about it."

"OK, call when you get to the hotel. And Merry Christmas."

"I will. Merry Christmas, dahling. And Merry Christmas to you," she said nodding my direction.

"Indeed," I replied, trying not to sound too happy. "Merry Christmas indeed."

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Fruitcake

By Brandon Barrett

Sometimes, if she tries really hard, Natalie can still remember what her mom's fruitcake tastes like.

It's not an altogether pleasant memory — her mother never was much of a baker — but comforting just the same, in the way that a lot of the simple pleasures of childhood seem outsized and meaningful years later. It was a Christmas staple in her home, and Natalie spent many a winter's night wrapping thick slices in tinfoil to send off to distant relatives who probably cringed when they saw the Whistler mailing address.

Oh great, more fruitcake.

Natalie was abruptly snapped out of her nostalgic haze when a woman dripping in lavish furs and expensive jewelry slid up to the counter, a look of distress spread across her perfectly put-together face.

"Does this godforsaken hotel have Wi-Fi or am I going to be forced to watch the television?" she asked, furiously fingering her smartphone.

"Well, yes ma'am, there is complimentary wireless service throughout the hotel. The network name and password should be on your key card."

"Don't you think I already tried that?" she barked.

"No, I wasn't implying that, ma'am. Just trying to help."

"Oh." A tense pause. "Forgot to put the password in all caps. These glasses, I can barely see," she said, pointing to her $800 Cartier frames. "My optometrist will be hearing about this, you can rest assured."

"Have yourself a commercially fulfilling Non-Denominational Winter Holiday!" Natalie quipped after the woman had already rushed off, her voice registering a-not-so faint hint of sarcasm.

She'll do just fine, Natalie thought, sharing a knowing glance with Mateo, her coworker and fellow conspirator. Mateo was an impossibly outgoing Italian transplant, who, like so many in Whistler's working class, was trying to scrape together enough money to stay in town for another ski season. On the surface, Mateo was the ideal concierge; all charm and hair wax, schmoozing his way into the hearts and wallets of even the most demanding guests. But behind the cheery façade, he could be vicious, never missing a chance to cut down a difficult customer the second they were out of earshot. It was this chameleonic quality that Natalie found so appealing, the ability to fit into — and exploit — any social situation. It also made him the ideal partner in crime.

Since The Great War on Christmas, which we're legally obligated to tell you was sponsored by Chrysler, Natalie had grown increasingly alienated by the relentless consumerism of the holidays. Not that Christmas was ever really free from the grips of commercialism, but at least it came with generations of tradition and warm fuzzies behind it.

For Natalie, the joy of Christmas was never about the presents, but the rare chance to get all the people she loved together in one room, drunk and happy and free from the stress of everyday life.Those Christmas mornings are distant memories now, just like her mother's fruitcake. Now her mom relies on the government-approved, Betty Crocker raisin-bread recipe for her holiday baking, the green and red jellies that populated her old loaf now long since banned. Instead of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, families slopped up Quaker Oats' Winter Gruel in front of the warm glow of the FireLog Channel.

There was no more sitting on Santa's lap either. Instead, wide-eyed kids waited hours in line to see Icy the Inclusive Snowflake's, their gift wishlists a mere formality thanks to the SweetDreams Brainwave Reader that scours children's subconscious while they sleep to figure out what presents they really want before they even know it themselves.

It was enough to make Natalie want to hide in a dark corner until January with a big bottle of bourbon. But here she was, just another cog in the machine, a small part of the system she so despised. She kept reminding herself of this fact whenever a tinge of guilt would spring up before the heists. Besides, she figured they were doing these people a favour, freeing them from the endless pursuit of more stuff they didn't need.

They started small, her and Mateo cherry-picking the wealthiest hotel guests, the ones who were less likely to notice a gift or two missing from under the hologram tree. Then they got more brazen, lifting cash, jewelry and credit cards. Natalie was certain they would get caught eventually, but Mateo was determined to keep the operation going. "We'll just pay off more security guards," he reassured her. "Everybody's got a price."

Natalie wondered what her price was as she slowly crept her way down the hallway, Mateo parked near the elevators as lookout. Here she was, Room 1412. She took a long, stilted breath before knocking on the door. No answer. She shot a nervous glance Mateo's way, who wordlessly urged her along. She slid the keycard in, turned the handle and stepped inside. Jesus, she thought. Look at all this crap.

Boxes upon boxes of neatly wrapped gifts stacked in one corner. She quietly scurried across the room to get a better look before systematically loading the heaviest boxes onto a trolley Mateo had borrowed from the valets. Natalie knew they had hit the motherload.

Just then, she heard the whir of a blowdryer coming from the washroom. She wasn't alone. Fucking Mateo. He had called ahead to make sure Mrs. Worthington wasn't in her room, but obviously didn't account for the fact she was in the shower. It was these kinds of sloppy mistakes that would land them in jail.

Natalie was scrambling to put the boxes back where she found them when the bathroom door swung out, and Mrs. Worthington emerged in a bathrobe, Egyptian-cotton towel wrapped around her head. Natalie froze.

"Oh, it's you," the woman said. "Lil' Miss Wi-Fi. What are you doing here?"

"My apologies, ma'am. I thought you were at the spa." Natalie was shaking like a leaf. "I just, uh, wanted to drop off this complimentary bottle of champagne for the whole mix-up earlier." "Don't bother. I don't drink," Mrs. Worthington said, snatching the bottle from Natalie's hands. "So, tell me: Does management drop off a bottle of Veuve Cliquot every time a guest forgets the Wi-Fi password? Doesn't seem like a very sound business model."

"Well, um, ma'am, I wasn't satisfied with the level of customer serv—"

"Knock it off. You're ugly when you lie; the lines in your forehead go all squiggly. It's not a good look."

Natalie squirmed, reaching for any excuse that could explain why she had barged into a guest's room without permission. She briefly considered jumping out the window.

"You're here to rob me, aren't you?" Mrs. Worthington asked. "I read about this hotel. Poor, rich saps like me get bamboozled every year during the holidays. Gotta say, didn't expect the criminal mastermind to be a woman. You go, girl."

Natalie stood there, frozen in place, a tableau of shame. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a barely audible squeak.

"Here, you want the stuff? You can have it. I don't need it. Lord knows my ungrateful little shit of a kid doesn't need a virtual-reality player. He has trouble enough with actual reality." Mrs. Worthington unravelled the towel, revealing a beautiful tangle of wavy, brown hair.

"You know, I thought this trip would bring us closer. My husband, I mean. He works at this big-wig hedge fund, manages more money than he knows what to do with. But you think he could manage a marriage? Puh-lease. He'd rather get drunk with a bunch of old guys in suits than spend a minute with his damn wife."

Not knowing what else to do, Natalie sat down on the edge of the bed, champagne still in hand.

"You gonna pop that bottle or just stare at it?" the woman asked. "I could go for a drink. Don't tell my yoga teacher." Natalie warily opened the bottle and filled up two plastic cups of bubbly. Mrs. Worthington downed hers in one gulp and thrust her arm out for a refill.

"And my kid, don't get me started on him. Chase is 15, and I'd be lying if I told you I'd ever seen him crack open a book. He spends all his time living in a fantasy world. Gawking at his phone, playing some mind-numbing video game. It's all bells and whistles with these kids. No depth of emotion. You know what he got me for Winter Holiday last year? An egg beater! What the fuck is that? We have a freakin' maid, I don't bake!"

Natalie took a nervous gulp of champagne, unsure of where this was headed.

"But what about you, huh? Come in here to rob me blind, you're no better than the rest of em." Natalie began mounting a feeble protest, and was interrupted. "You know this stuff isn't gonna make you happy, right? No matter what the damn government tells you, accumulating more crap doesn't make a lick of difference. Look at me! I spend $500 a week on therapy alone. But you know all this, you're not a dumb girl."

"I don't feel too smart at the moment," Natalie weakly replied.

"Well, you did a stupid thing, a very stupid thing. That doesn't make you dumb, it makes you human."

A silence passed between them that felt longer than it probably was.

"Let me ask you, what do you love to do? What moves you? Surely it's not working at this damn hotel."

Natalie hesitated a moment, uncertain if she should open herself up to a woman who she just tried to steal thousands of dollars in valuables from.

"Well, I'm actually a musician,' she replied. "I play bass for this hardcore band called The Fantastic Damage. I only work here to pay the bills, you know? And studio time ain't cheap."

"Is that like, punk music? With all the shouting and bad haircuts?" Natalie let out her first laugh in a long while. "Yeah, pretty much. I had my hair dyed green last year until the feds caught me. They said I looked too much like an elf." Mrs. Worthington let out a snort, spilling champagne onto the duvet. "Guess we'll have to get housekeeping in here now, won't we?"

Natalie smiled back. "I'll tell you what, Miss Wi-Fi. I'm going to give you a choice: I can call the cops right now and watch them lock you up and throw away the key. Or I can give you an ultimatum: You quit this dead-end job of yours and commit yourself fully to your music. I mean, really commit. Life's too damn short not to. And if I walk back into this hotel this time next year and you're still rotting away behind that counter, well the police are gonna be the first phone call I make."

Natalie's eyes welled. She didn't know what to say.

"Why would you do this for me?" she asked.

"I guess, I'm just filled with the spirit of another Non-Denominational Winter Holiday... So, have we got ourselves a deal?"

"You betcha. I can't thank you enough." They shook hands. Natalie quickly started making her way out the door for fear Mrs. Worthington would change her mind.

"Hey, Wi-Fi! Hold up." Natalie's chest tightened. She could hear the woman rummaging through her bag. "Here, take this." The woman dropped a Tupperware container into her hand. "It's fruitcake. Real fruitcake, with the jellies and everything. My maid's secret recipe." She put her finger to her mouth in a conspiratorial gesture.

Natalie stared at the door to Room 1412 for longer than she should have, bewildered at what just happened. She walked home in the cold, absentmindedly, running the past 10 minutes through her head on repeat. When she got home, she put the fruitcake in the fridge, gave her mom a big hug and flipped on the FireLog Channel.

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A Whistmas story

By Dan Falloon

Whistler, British Columbia.

Its mountains hover over you, challenging you to peek forever up until you reach the top, and then your gaze can't help but slide back down slowly until it once again parallels the pavement.

Early November brought high, intense blizzards near the peaks though the valley grew cold and soaked. Even as the rain fell on us walking to and from school — which somehow actually ended up being uphill, both ways, wouldn't you know? — we knew Mother Nature was concocting something special just for us on Whistler and Blackcomb.

And as the rainclouds' grey settled in with the blackness each night, it meant only one thing: Christmas was drawing ever nearer.

Our years were centred on winter; those winters were centred on Christmas, and Christmases, for most of us, anyway, were centred around Bigby's Sports, where we lovingly eyed the wares on display in the windows from the Village Stroll.

Yessir, there she was: the Red Rider 200 Model Carbon Fightin' Air Flyer snowboard. She stood in the display case, lit up like an elegant, sophisticated celebrity.

I shut my 10-year-old eyes and envisioned snapping my boots into her bindings and showing her my world while shredding the snow like buttered popcorn, making the fluffy kernels fly all over the hill. As I raced down the run I'd be keeping an eye out for notorious outlaw Black Bart, as he and his marauding band of buccaneer skiers had been spotted in these parts and only the Red Rider, waxed pristinely, could allow me to keep up with those speedsters. I'd chase them down the mountain, corner them and coolly pull off my 200-shot carbine-action cap gun — they'd surrender instantly and I'd be hailed a hero.

This was about justice. Justice I'd only be able to enforce with Ol' Red.

"Oh, Danny!" my mother's voice broke me from my trance before she touched my shoulder. "It's time to go."

I moved as much weight as possible down into my heels so if she tried to drag me away like a mule hauling a plough through a field, the flashy fibreglass of the board would fill my eyeballs for as long as possible.

My mother, recognizing the item onto which I'd affixed my attention, looked down at me and, dismissively uttered: "You'll break your feet off on that."

Whatever pressure I had been storing in me released and I went limp like a defrosted banana.

I would not break my feet off! I would be graceful like every snowflake fluttering and landing beneath my board.

"So, Danny, what would you like for Christmas?" my mother asked after Ol' Red was out of view.

I was just about to break into my pre-planned spiel like I'd trained myself to do upon hearing that question, but got out only a hard "r" that I rolled to sound more like I was thinking about it.

"Rrrrrrrrrrrrr ... maybe a football or some Tinker Toys?" I said.

I shuddered, not because of the blustery wind, but because I'd sold out my three-week-long dream of owning this board (hey, that's an eternity in kid years).

I slid into bed that night envious of all my other friends, who would receive all the snow toys they wanted for Christmas.

But parents aren't the only ones who bestow gifts on good little girls and boys — there was still Santa! It would be a late request, since he only appeared at Whistler's new Kardashian Hotel three nights before the big morning. But if anyone could get it turned around in time, it was Santa and his crafty crew of elves.

Every day, I would dash home from school and sculpt my pitch. I tuned out the garbled frustrations of my father, the fearless DES fighter of Cheakamus Crossing, the shrill whining of my roommate and kid brother Sandy (who would drink nothing but prune kombucha and would have a flying fit at the very suggestion that he mix in a glass of clean, clear H2O) and the basset-hounding of my mother, who didn't believe the suggestions I'd verbalized but also refused to accept what I desired deep down.

I was only interrupted in my planning by trembling pangs of worry over whether I deserved my gift or not. I had let my hand mould itself into its first obscene gesture and sold out my best friend for showing it to me even though I saw my father direct it at anyone who said they were "keen" for anything. I made a bully bleed and failed an assignment describing why I needed a Red Rider. (I guess, "So I'll look hecka awesome" wasn't the literary gold I initially thought.)

The big day eventually came and we bore down on the Kardashian Hotel, the brand-new palace of excess in the Upper Village. Sandy held my hand as my parents left us in a line, which seemed to stretch all the way down to Brittania Beach, to tour the site. "Days" passed as we scuttled our way forward to meet the big, bearded man. Just as I was nearly despondent, set to give up, a particularly tall parent stepped aside and revealed the red suit in all its glory.

Santa rested his wrists on two knobs with faces carved into them. One had what seemed to be a hairdo on it while the other was wearing the weirdest-looking goggles I'd ever seen. An elf placed me onto Santa's lap and I looked up into his face. But as I spoke the words, my wish just jumbled together.

"Christmas Red Rider want 200 model air..."

"You'll break your feet off, kid!" said Santa.

With those words I was transformed from human boy to limp banana astonishingly fast.

Every year, I dash down the stairs at the first sign of light on Christmas morning, but not this year. My father, cranky from another DES malfunction, grumbled as he lifted me out of bed and threw me over his shoulders like a sack of yellow onions.

He sat me down as he and my mother sipped coffee, Sandy tore into his gifts while tossing a couple in my general direction when instructed. Nothing good came of the presents, though Sandy did seem to enjoy the fuzzy chicken suit my grandmother had made for him. Little weirdo.

"You didn't get everything you wanted, did you?" my father inquired, elbowing me in the gut.

"Yeah, I did OK, I guess," I said.

"Let me see those feet," said my father.

I was puzzled, but shifted 90 degrees and rested my calves on his lap. He gently bent my right foot forward, and then my left.

"Those seem pretty sturdy to me. Maybe go look in the corner, behind the desk."

I wandered over and pulled out a big box. It looked long enough and felt heavy enough! Maybe, just maybe?

I tore into the wrapping paper, opened the box and found something sitting in the middle.

My father lit up with delight.

"It's a luge!"

features_featurestory1-2.jpg

Merry Christmas, you bastards

By Braden Dupuis

It was Christmas Eve morning — typically the most hectic day of the year at the North Pole.

But something was off.

Santa knew he should be checking his list twice, saddling reindeer and barking orders at elves, but he could only sit and stare at his newly purchased phone.

He couldn't bring himself to actually look at it — he could only watch it vibrate incessantly on his fireside table, and wonder at what vulgar obscenities it was stockpiling now.

The notifications started slowly at first, but before long the sound of ringing bells was echoing nonstop through the cozy, North Pole lodge. Santa was forced to switch the phone to silent after an hour.

For years, Santa had resisted joining the world of mobile phones and social media, opting instead to stick with his legendary omniscient powers to stay up to date on the thoughts and moods of the gift-craving public.

But in recent days he was forced to cave to the pressures of time and technology. His powers were great, and greatly coveted, but they did not afford the luxury of following these newfangled "hashtags."

And after a particularly bad couple of weeks, jolly old Santa, much to his chagrin, had become just another hashtag.

SANTA MEETS THE PRESS

It started, oddly enough, with NASA.

A report out of the renowned space agency found an unusual spike in greenhouse-gas emissions directly over the North Pole.

An investigation revealed horrors the world could not easily comprehend.

A massive, sprawling reindeer farm, stretching farther than the eye could see, reindeer packed body to body without a single inch to move or breathe.

The methane released from this disastrously unethical farm had singlehandedly pushed humanity past the tipping point, NASA confirmed — climate change was now guaranteed to kill hundreds of millions of people in the next two decades.

And it was all Santa's fault.

For the first time in his honourable and beloved legacy, Santa would have to face the press.

"So..." one reporter asked after 10 minutes of pointed questioning, tears bunched up in the corners of his eyes, "does this mean the reindeer we all know and love — Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, and so on — they're not always the same reindeer?"

Santa looked deeply into the reporter's eyes with the wisdom of 200 grandfathers.

"Of course they're not!" he spat in exasperation.

"Reindeer don't live forever — that's just stupid!"

The assembled reporters exchanged confused glances, but nobody bothered with the obvious followup.

Santa sighed.

"Flying around the world in one night is not as magical as it seems," he continued, trying to stay calm.

"It's terribly stressful on the reindeer, and a single Christmas will see us use multiple teams of nine reindeer. And of course, accidents will happen..."

Santa's voice trailed off as his powerful memory took him back to the great disaster of 1969, when a tremendous gust of wind steered his sleigh into the side of a mountain, instantly killing all nine in his team.

Backup team Alpha was delivered to his location immediately, and Santa was back in the air in minutes. But he would not easily forget the sounds of his dying comrades' screams...

He shook himself out of the horrific flashback, back to his new terrible reality.

"The farm is used as a sort of training ground — the strongest reindeer are groomed for flight, and the very best of the best will take on the esteemed titles of Santa's Sleigh," he explained.

"And... and what about the rest?" another reporter asked.

"Oh, we kill them and serve them to the elves," Santa replied. "With a little bit of green dye their skin makes great elf outfits, and the meat can be used to make just about anything."

Most of the assembled press looked as if they might be sick.

"Santa... this is a disaster," one reporter said, not bothering to hide the disdain in her voice.

"WELL WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?!" Santa roared in frustration, cowering the throng of press before him.

Santa's rage was a sight to behold.

"The whole damn world wants their presents, they want 'em on Christmas morning and they want 'em for free! How the hell am I supposed to do that without my goddamn reindeer?!"

A man holding a microphone in front of Santa's face began to sob loudly.

Santa removed his tiny, frosted glasses from the tip of his rosy, red nose and rubbed his temples deeply.

"I'm surrounded by morons," he sighed.

Santa's first press conference did not go well.

#NotMySanta

The backlash was swift and brutal. Within hours, Hollywood celebrities were publicly denouncing Santa and his reindeer farm, and the hashtag #NotMySanta was Twitter's No. 1 trending topic worldwide for days.

Even the Pope spoke out against Santa.

"Santa's treatment of millions of reindeers is totally not cool, #NotMySanta" he tweeted from the official Vatican account.

"Very weak, Santa. Super lame. #disappointed."

Santa's reclusive lifestyle had been respected for hundreds of years. For the most part, the public just let him do his thing. Most people didn't even believe in him!

But once the news broke about the farm, Santa was public enemy No. 1.

Every aspect of his life became a scandal.

Santa was bashed publicly for his rosy cheeks (is he an alcoholic?), his jolly belly like a bowl full of jelly (how many reindeers did he eat to get that fat?), and even the one thing he took the most pride in — delivering presents to the people of the world.

All at once he was hit with millions of lawsuits and charges — hundreds of millions of cases of break and enter, invasion of privacy and even indecent exposure (more than a few little Jeremys had walked in on Santa leaving a Yuletide log in the bathroom when the eggnog became too much to bear).

Santa knew it was over, but he could feel the end coming long before the public turned on him. The trend had been noticeable for some time.

The world had simply become too cynical a place for jolly ol' Saint Nick in the age of social media. It was as if everyone had forgotten what it meant to actually care for each other, and instead spent their time spewing empty outrage into the deep, dark void.

Santa took out his favourite ink and quill, unfurled a sheet of parchment and set to writing one last poem.

"We give gifts, we break bread with each other in warmth, for the world is too often so cold.

We lean on each other, in sickness and health, from infancy right into old.

I brought happiness, hope, brought you kindness and joy, brought you wonder in wonderless times.

Now you're thankless and spoiled, caught up in the toil of arrogance, anger and pride.

You spat and you shat, you egged and hashtagged, you built fires of hatred, and fought.

You alienated each other for years, and yes, you deserved what you got.

Yes the world will soon end, but let's not pretend Santa Claus pushed you out on the ledge.

Your ignorance, laziness, penchant for greed is what put you here, right at the edge.

So you won't see me slide down your chimney this year, your Christmas trees shall remain bare.

No stockings will fill and no milk will be swilled, but I can't say that I really care.

I've got better distractions than your waspy whining, it's boring and I've no use for it.

So Merry Christmas, you bastards, you ungrateful pricks, let's just say I'm too old for this shit."

Santa put down his quill and smiled to himself.

"Merry Christmas, you bastards" he said, as he tossed his phone into the crackling fire.


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