"By the bells of my jingles, that's the final straw!" said Santa Claus, standing up from his lounge chair and throwing down a copy of The Arctic Times. Plastered across the front page was a giant photo of a plain red Starbucks cup. Just above it, the headline: WAR ON XMAS CONTINUES.
He stomped into the kitchen, where Mrs. Claus was baking gingerbread.
"I've stayed patient for years while these savages spit on the good name of Christmas," he said. "First, school Christmas parties became holiday parties. Then ABC Family started airing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone during their '25 Days of Christmas' marathon. Now they've taken the Starbucks Christmas cup--that dependable annual symbol of Yuletide cheer--and desecrated it. Stripped it of snowflakes, ornaments, reindeer. Now it's nothing more than a red paper cylinder I could drink out of any damn time of year."
"Eat a cookie dear," Mrs. Claus said. "It will make you feel better."
Santa picked up a gingerbread man with a white frosting bow tie and angrily bit off his head. Crumbs tumbled down into his beard as he declared, "I won't have it! It's time to finally take action."
Word quickly passed throughout the North Pole that Santa would be holding a press conference at 12pm Eastern. Come noon, elves, reindeer and snowmen alike gathered in front of Santa's Workshop. Everyone was there: Sam the Snowman, the Winter Warlock, even the Grinch. A stage had been erected before them, a podium in the center. As the crowd drew thicker, a small elf ran up on stage and spoke into the microphone.
"Testing, testing, 1-2-3. Hermey doesn't like to make toys, Hermey doesn't like to make toys, testing."
He gave a thumbs up to the sound booth and scurried off. A few seconds later, Santa burst forth through the workshop doors, resplendent in his ironed crimson jumpsuit. Instead of his standard plush hat, he wore a red and green general's cap. Mrs. Claus followed behind him in a thick fur coat, settling in beside him as Santa approached the podium. He cleared his throat and began.
"Dear citizens of Christmas Town, Whoville, all seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, and residents of the greater North Pole metro area. It is with great dismay that I announce that this November--a month which will live in infamy--the entire concept of Christmas was suddenly and deliberately attacked by a Seattle-based coffee chain. Starbucks revealed their so-called Christmas cups, naked of any and all festive adornments, plain as a blood-red sun."
A collective gasp passed through the masses. One elf let out a strangled sob. Mrs. Claus bowed her head and placed her hand on Santa's shoulder.
"Indeed, this provocation is more symbolic than physical. But my countrymen, this is no new development, no fresh batch of cookies. Like black ice, this affront toward our fine holiday has been lurking below the surface for some time. And I, for one, am sick of it. Just plain sick! The time to act is now. They say there's a war on Christmas. Well here's what I have to say to that: CHRISTMAS is declaring a WAR on THEM. Who's with me?"
A cheer erupted from the hordes in front of him. Hands, hooves and arms made of sticks waved in the air with enthusiasm.
"Christmas is coming early this year!" shouted Santa, feeding off the energy of the crowd. "See your commanding elf for equipment and battalion assignments. We ride at dawn!"
With that, Santa swept down off of the stage and through the thick oak doors of his workshop. Before the press conference he'd conducted a small cabinet meeting with his most trusted advisors to get the ball rolling. He turned down a tinsel-lined hallway and entered the hangar where his sleigh was stored. Inside, elves bustled around the giant sled, passing each other power tools and rectangular panels of sheet metal.
"Twinkles--have you made any progress?" Santa asked.
A studious looking elf with reading glasses and a clipboard emerged from behind a reindeer harness.
"Yes, Santa. We've outfitted the sleigh with two M61 Gatling-style rotary cannons, one on each side, parallel to the sled runners. Each is capable of firing about 6,000 rounds per minute.They're equipped with semi-armor piercing high explosive incendiary charges, and should be able to hit targets from about 1000 meter out."
Santa nodded in approval, then pointed to some elves applying what looked like black paint to the sleigh's underbelly.
"And what's that?"
"That, sir, is a veil stealth coating," Twinkles said. "It should help you avoid being spotted on radars. We're also fitting all the reindeer with night vision goggles. Each has a custom saddle, as well, which will be ridden by elves with sniper rifles."
"What sort of transportation arrangements do we have in place for the troops?"
"We have over 1,000 elves on construction duty building cargo planes. Given, they're a bit more complex and take a tad more time than your standard Jack in the Box or toy train set, but I've put our best people on this. They're not going to be jets or anything fancy, but they'll function. The transports are coal-powered, so I've got teams down in the mines working double shifts. Everything should be ready to sail by morning."
"That's jolly good news, Twinkles. Someone has their glittery little eyes set on a promotion."
"Kind of you to say, sir. There is, however, one additional matter I did want to discuss with you..."
"What's that?" Santa asked.
"You see, it's Rudolph. I know he's the emotional leader of the reindeer squad and everything, but if we're trying to be discreet. It's just his nose, sir. It..."
"You can say it," Santa said. "It glows."
"That's right, sir. And with all this new technology we're installing to make this a sneak attack, I'm just afraid he'd give away your position."
"I hear you, Twinkles. It's a good point. Rudolph can sit this one out."
"Sir, couldn't we just ask him to cover it up with a layer of dirt?" Twinkles asked "Maybe some shoe polish?"
"Unfortunately not," said Santa. "Flying through a nimbus cloud would wash the mud right off. As for the shoe polish, Rudolph has terrible eczema. Even the slightest skin irritant makes him break out all over his body. His fur falls out."
"Oh holy night!" Twinkles said.
"Holy night, indeed. I know Rudolph can be sensitive about the whole red nose thing, so I'll break it to him myself. Don't worry your head about it," Santa said. "You're doing good work here. Keep it up."
With that he left the hangar and walked down a concrete walkway to the stables. In the first stall, Blitzen, Comet and Dasher sat around a small table playing Gin Rummy and drinking whiskey. They looked up as he passed and nodded in acknowledgement.
"Don't hit it too hard tonight, boys," said Santa. "We'll need to be sharp in the morning."
"Don't worry about us, boss," said Comet. "We'll be ready."
In the next stall down, Dancer was doing pushups by the gate. Nearby, Prancer squatted a large bale of hay while Cupid acted as spotter.
"Push it, push it, push it!" Cupid yelled at Prancer, as he struggled to straighten his knobby deer legs.
In the final stall, Vixen and Donner were cuddled under a horse blanket, watching Fred Claus on a flatscreen TV mounted to the wall. Vixen and Donner were the only romantic couple of the bunch, and frankly, Santa always felt like it made for an awkward dynamic with the rest of the team. But this wasn't the time nor place for that conversation--there was important work to be done. Rudolph sat on a couch on the other side of the stall, hooves crossed, reading A Christmas Carol, his illuminated nose acting as a reading light. Santa unhitched the gate and entered the stall.
"Haven't you read that one a dozen times by now?" he asked.
Rudolph set the book down and looked up at Santa.
"Nearly two dozen. I enjoy it just as much every time. I enjoy it, Santa, because I believe in karma. What goes around comes around. So they say."
Santa never knew what to make of Rudolph. He was useful, for sure: In the years before headlights, his shining nose had been, quite literally, a light in the dark. He had a sixth sense for navigation, guiding the sleigh from Munich to Miami with ease. But he always seemed to have this edge--a raw, pent-up energy that tended to make Santa uncomfortable. But the other reindeer seemed to feed off of that energy, flying harder and faster with Rudolph at the helm. Which would make this particular trip harder without him. Harder, but necessary.
"Vixen, Donner, would you excuse us for a moment?" Santa asked. "And really, Fred Claus? Paul Giamatti is so neurotic and bug-eyed. I'm more of a Tim Allen fan."
Vixen just shrugged as the two deer exited the stall.
"Now Rudolph, I have something to tell you, and you're not going to like it. But I'm just going to come right out with it. You're not coming with us on the offensive tomorrow morning. You do good work, but your nose is just too bright. I need you to stay here and help boost moral. Maybe help Twinkles plan our next assault."
"You're cutting me out of the mission? Rudolph THE Red-Nosed Reindeer? You realize I'm the heart and soul of this team, right? Without me this crew is dead in the water. Prancer would've been hit by a car years ago without me watching out for him. Blitzen couldn't navigate his way out of a bag of deer feed."
"Now Rudolph, we're not even going to need your navigation skills on this mission. Twinkles is outfitting the sleigh with GPS."
Rudolph laughed and rolled his eyes.
"A GPS he says! Well, let's just see how accurate that thing is at 3,000 feet. You know what, Santa--screw you and your stupid war. I hope you all crash land somewhere over Winnipeg."
Rudolph stood up and grabbed his book.
"Remember, Santa. Karma."
And strolled out of the stall without a second glance.
Santa stood abruptly and kicked over a footstool. Idiot deer. They'd be just fine without him.
Santa left the stables and walked toward the back of the Workshop, where the Department of Communications was housed. He turned a corner and entered an office with a placard by the door that read, "Sprinkles, Minister of Propaganda."
"Sprinkles," Santa boomed, "what have you got for me?"
An elf with a tie and slicked-back hair sat behind a desk, rifling through papers. Startled by Santa's sudden entry, he jumped to attention.
"Sir! Welcome. We've managed to accomplish a lot in the past few hours. We're currently broadcasting Die Hard marathons to every home within 300 miles of the North Pole in order to boost morale and subliminally desensitize the elves to violence."
"That's smart. How about our PR campaign?"
"Well, we've issued a statement calling Starbucks an 'espresso-fueled atheist cult,' and I've booked an appearance on tonight's O'Reilly Factor to further demonize them on national TV. Right now we have some focus groups testing the buzzwords 'Cupgate,' 'Cupocalypse' and 'Cupageddon' to see what gains the most traction. We've also made contact with the campaigns of current GOP presidential candidates, threatening to pull funding unless they get behind our cause. Trump is already publically suggesting a Starbucks boycott."
"Donald--always a good man. You know, we used to go skiing together back, in the day," said Santa. "So, any concern all this attention will alert people to our blitzkrieg tomorrow morning?"
"None whatsoever," Twinkles said. "My research indicates that most people think of you as a 'right jolly old elf' who is 'not capable of mass violence.'"
"Good to hear, Sprinkles, good to hear," Santa said. "Maybe that was the case 10 years ago, but when someone shakes your chimney long enough, it's bound to come tumbling down eventually."
Sprinkles didn't quite understand the metaphor, but nodded enthusiastically anyway.
"Well," Santa continued, "when you appear on O'Reilly tonight, you should say that we denounce the gross omission of traditional Christmas symbolism from this year's coffee cups. That it's just another example of the erosion of traditional American values. But be sure to emphasize that Christmas will be taking place as planned this year. That should give everyone a false sense of security."
"Yes sir, I can do that," Sprinkles said, jotting down notes as Santa spoke.
"OK, I've got to get going," Santa said. "I've got a flak jacket fitting in my personal quarters, then want to catch some winks--allow sugarplums to dance in my head for a few hours--before dawn arrives."
Santa turned to leave, then stopped abruptly.
"Oh, one more thing."
He pulled a piece of paper out of his inner pocket and handed it to Sprinkles.
"Tomorrow morning, as the attack is taking place, I want you to send this to every major news outlet in the world. It's our official Declaration of War."
"You can trust me," Sprinkles said. "I'll make sure it gets out."
But Santa was already out the door.
The Kevlar fitting took longer than expected. Santa had gained some weight since last Christmas, so the elf tailor had to take new measurements. Mrs. Claus had switched him to skim milk a few months back, but his sweet tooth abided, which meant his waistline had yet to shrink. Afterward, he brushed his teeth, combed his beard, put on his flannel PJs and climbed into bed, quickly falling into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Loud banging on the door jolted him awake. Santa peered over at the clock on his bedside table, next to his snow globe. It was 2:15 a.m. He wasn't supposed to be awoken until 4:30. The banging on the door continued.
"What's all that noise?" Mrs. Claus said sleepily.
In a grumpy rage, Santa sat up and trundled over to the door. He opened it to find Dimples, his chief of security--a burly elf with a square jaw.
"Sir, I'm sorry to bother you in the middle of the night," said Dimples, "but you'll want to come see this."
"What is it?" Santa asked irritably.
"It's Rudolph, sir. One of my men caught him trying to call Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz collect from the stables. We think he was trying to warn him. He's committed treason, sir."
Santa ground his teeth and narrowed his eyes.
"Where is he now?"
"I'm holding him in the Workshop dungeon."
"OK. I'll get my coat."
Santa stood in the snow outside of the dungeon, flakes gently falling on his broad shoulders, a lit cigar smoldering in his hand. He brought it to his lips and inhaled deeply. It was all he could do to keep his entire body from quaking with rage. As he was struggling blindly in the dark to get dressed he wasn't able to find his pipe, so he'd pulled a cigar from the humidor in the hallway--a gift from Jimmy Stewart--before leaving the house.
The dungeon door opened and Dimples walked out.
"He's ready for you, Santa," he said.
Santa walked into the dungeon, down a flight of stone stairs and into a windowless room. In the center, chained and dangling from the ceiling, was Rudolph. Two bulky elves stood off to the side, their arms crossed. Rudolph's eyes were closed, and a thin line of blood trickled down his chin. Electrical wires were clamped to each of his four nipples.
Santa slowly approached, took a drag of his cigar and blew the smoke into Rudolph's face. Instantly he started coughing.
"I always knew there was something off about you, Rudolph. Too much ego. Convinced you're special, just because a song was written about you. You know, there are a dozen songs written about me. Thought you could sneak one past me? I have eyes everywhere. I see you when you're sleeping. I know if you're awake. And you can bet your little tuft tail that I know when a duplicitous rodent is in my midst."
Rudolph glared back at Santa, his lip quivering.
"Enough of these reindeer games. I refuse to let this mission get run over by a reindeer. Did you really think Howard Schultz was going to accept a call from a deer? A COLLECT CALL no less? What do you have, scat for brains?"
"I told you," said Rudolph. "What goes around comes around. Karma. You are nothing without me. NOTHING. You're going to lose this war, Santa. You're no military comandante. You're just a fat, old toymaker in a red costume."
With that, Rudolph drew his head back and hocked a loogie right into Santa's face. It caught him by surprise, the deer mucus engulfing his cherry-like nose and dribbling down into his beard. In a fury, Santa took his cigar and pressed the smoldering end into Rudolph's abdomen. The smell of burning fur invaded Santa's nostrils as the reindeer made deep, guttural sounds, his eyes rolling back in his head. The pain made his nose grow blindingly red, like brake lights at night. But instead of screaming, Rudolph began to laugh. Hysterically. Like some kind of maniac.
"You stupid ungulate," Santa roared, "I'll have your head mounted above my fireplace!"
He threw down the cigar and stomped it out.
"I've had enough of this beast."
As he walked to door, he called back to the elves, "Amp it up to 10. For our victory dinner tomorrow evening, we'll be serving venison."
He could hear Rudolph's laugh echoing down the hall behind him as he ascended the stairs back to the surface.
Santa couldn't go back to sleep. Instead he went to the Workshop gymnasium and spent the next hour pounding on a candy cane-striped punching bag. By the time Mrs. Claus entered, he'd developed a substantial sweat.
"It's time," she said.
As Santa stepped out onto the tarmac in a special camouflage version of his standard suit, early morning sunlight spilled over swarms of elf, reindeer and snowmen soldiers lined up as far as his eyes could see. He saw an Abominable Snow Monster with a spear and a Nutcracker with a sword. Towering above them were a dozen cargo planes--a beauty to behold, as finely crafted as promised. To his right stood Mrs. Claus. To his left, Twinkles, Sprinkles and Dimples.
"Here's the item you requested, sir," Sprinkles said, handing Santa a brown paper bag.
"Thank you," he murmured.
He turned and gave Mrs. Claus an impassioned kiss.
"Be safe," she whispered.
"I'll see you in a few hours, my fruitcake," said Santa.
With that he climbed up into his sleigh and stood upon the wide bench seat. A shush came over the crowd. He fished his gloved hand inside the brown paper bag, grasped what he was searching for and pulled it free, holding it up to the sky like a beacon. It was the red cup.
"This," Santa boomed, "is why we're gathered here today, my brethren. This is why we fight. You want to know what Christmas is all about? It's about standing up for what you believe in. It's about presents and stockings and roast beast. It's about Weenie Whistles and Red Ryder B.B. Guns, John Tesh on the radio and the Yule Log on the TV. This cup--this stupid, plain red coffee cup--is a small symbol. But it makes waves. If Christmas Spirit is Clark Griswold's holiday bonus, then this cup is our Jelly of the Month Club. And I won't stand by, I refuse to stand by, while Christmas is transformed into vague winter greeting cards and non-specific holiday carols. After today, the people of the world will rise up. After today, we will all say Merry Christmas again!"
With that, Santa crushed the Starbucks cup in his fist and threw it over his shoulder, out of the sleigh.
"Now we ride," he shouted to the crowd. "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen!"
And that was the night that Santa Claus died.
As it turned out, Rudolph was not working alone when he'd tried to call the Starbucks CEO. King Moonracer, the winged lion who ruled over the Island of Misfit Toys, had been a staunch pacifist since Vietnam. Disturbed by Santa's warmongering, he'd agreed to help sabotage the dawn invasion after being approached by his longtime friend Rudolph. Following Rudolph's abduction by Dimples and his thugs, Moonracer knew he had to take matters into his own paws. He departed his palace immediately and flew nonstop to Seattle, where he managed to alert both Howard Schultz and the appropriate authorities. Thus the FBI were aware of Santa's arrival hours in advance.
Also, despite their impressive weaponry, Santa had greatly underestimated the value of soldiers actually trained in combat. With brittle sticks for fingers, it's awful difficult for a snowman to pull the trigger of a submachine gun, and the reindeer were easily lured into custody with a pile of fresh carrot sticks. Elves, as it turns out, are naturally obedient to men in uniform. Surrounded by Seattle PD in full S.W.A.T. gear, they became almost instantly docile. As for Santa, well, he didn't even see it coming: He was blasted into Christmas confetti by a drone strike over the Puget Sound, in what would later be referred to as the Jingle Bell Massacre.
Some heard him exclaim, before he burst into a ball of light, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."