This is embarrassing.
As some of you may recall (stop giggling, Meg) this whole blog has been about my disastrous attempts to gain some credibility with the NYC Midnight people (here) who conduct regular competitions worldwide for aspiring writers.
My results, thus far, have been abysmal. But with my latest effort I believe that I have reached a new low. In round 1 of the annual flash fiction contest this year I scored zero points out of a possible fifteen. Having reread the story I have to concede that the judges have been overly generous.
BUT …. my pledge was to publish ALL these stories in the hope that the resulting embarrassment might spur me onto greater things.
And, as I say, this is embarrassing.
THE DESCENT OF SANTA
Peering out through the eyes of a reindeer. With the snow, soft, white and cold beneath rubber hooves. Rudolf beside me absentmindedly polishing his crimson nose as he stubs out another cigarette. Below us the neon lights of modern religious celebration blocking out the natural glow of the moon and of the stars. Excited children huddled in shivering groups at the base of the run awaiting Santa’s spectacular arrival.
We have been drinking heavily, of course.
What could possibly go wrong?
Santa himself, that crazy fucker, making the final adjustments to the homemade sled and the arsenal of fireworks within. A second sled attached behind, loaded to the brim with colourfully packaged gifts. A nativity scene, complete with plastic cows and sheep, nailed to the front. A manger with real straw. A slightly bemused Mary and Joseph atop and gazing down at the serenely sleeping Jesus.
Dave Harris, antlers under his arm, casting cautious eyes over the home built conveyance. “I’m not so sure that this is going to work you know, Bob. It’s not designed to go down hill. Certainly not at speed, anyway. And this second sled …. unless you keep it right in line it’s likely to destabilise the whole setup . Do you think that maybe we should just tow you down the Main Street like we did last year and you can let off the fireworks there?”
Bob Terry, self-appointed Christmas fire-works display coordinator, speaking confidently through a fake beard, “No way, Dave. I’m really raising the bar this year. Mobile fireworks! What’s the worst that can happen? I take a tumble in the snow and a few fire crackers get snuffed out? Alternatively, if I pull it off, it’s the stuff of legend. So put on your antlers, grab a rein and prepare for launch!”
Taking one final swig from his bottle. Climbing aboard. Pausing for a moment of meditation before loading the first of the fireworks into the launchers and delivering final instructions.
“Right men, here’s the drill. Keep well out in front until I pick up speed then step aside to let me pass. I’m on my own after that. By my calculations the whole show should last about seven minutes. But it’ll light up the mountain,” glancing around the tiny vessel to ensure that sufficient firepower is loaded to fulfil his vision, “once I’m about twenty yards from the crowd it’ll be ‘cease fire’ and I’ll be easing her around to the right and up on to that snow bank where she’ll come to a stop. The elves’ll meet me there and we’ll start distributing the presents to the kids.”
There have been no actual calculations, of course. There has been no trial run. The whole concept of ‘mobile fireworks’ concocted only last week. The sleds hurriedly fitted with the rocket launchers and other attachments before being dragged to the top of the hill this very morning. Ropes now attached to each of the inebriated reindeer as we begin slowly to haul the thing forward towards the precipice.
Santa Claus holding up a hand. A comically solemn lowering of the head, “Merry Christmas to all. And God bless.”
Shouting to his team of reindeer, “keep it tight boys. Easy. Easy. Stop laughing. This is serious!”
The sled edging, under tow, towards its date with gravity. Henry Jackson falling forward and impaling his antlers into the snow. Uproarious laughter.
Over the edge. And he’s away. So far, so good. Santa flicking the cigarette lighter and igniting the first of the fireworks. Suddenly the entire valley awash with noise and colour and the explosion overhead. And then another. This is genuinely spectacular.
Moving faster and faster down the hill. Santa lighting one incendiary after another. The formerly peaceful valley suddenly reminiscent of a war zone.
The launch team – a herd of drunken reindeer – lying breathless in the snow and watching the sled and it’s lunatic pilot speeding away.
And just maybe he’s going too fast.
“Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes!”
A disturbing revelation. Brakes – a vital safety feature. Evidently overlooked in the rush of construction. In all other regards the sled performing brilliantly. Going like a missile. Bang on target. But there are sparks everywhere and the hint of a small fire developing within the straw of the manger.
Over an outcrop of rocks. The rope to the second sled severing. Three wise men turning sharp left and directing an alternative route to oblivion. Christmas gifts aflame.
Santa recognising the seriousness of the situation and preparing to evacuate. Cigarette lighter in hand intending one final defiant display of colour before aborting the mission. Dropped lighter. Fireworks igniting at his feet.
The sled still gaining speed but losing directional control. Veering violently left and right. The bright red crash dummy in the cockpit flaying hands in all directions attempting to subdue the flames.
A Santa suit is not flame resistant, I suppose. And now it is encased in a ball of fire careering down the mountain – the terrified St Nicholas within, standing briefly before being thrust violently back into the seat by the force of another heavy landing. The flames creating a comet like tail behind. Predictions of ‘lighting up the whole mountain’ proving disturbingly prophetic.
Santa Claus is on fire. Frantically attempting to tear off beard and hair. Nylon suit a magnet to the flames. The speed of the descent serving only to feed the fire. Wide eyed nine year olds standing below in hushed silence, still unsure if this might all be part of a scripted show. Horrific screams from the blazing human sacrifice hurtling toward them putting all such thoughts to rest.
Santa Claus is long dead when what is left of his sled comes, finally and fortuitously, to a smoking halt in a snow bank.
Children everywhere sobbing. Charred little pieces of Christmas wrapping paper falling like confetti from the sky.
Christmas will never be quite the same without Bob.