The Santa Conspiracy
High in his luxury suite the big boss scratched his white-bearded chin as he surveyed the employee listings. Just who was he going to ship off to the annual company-wide conference this year? Scowling at the list as he crossed off another name, he wondered again just what kind of an idiot would plan a must-attend conference over Christmas anyway, for crying out loud! The 12... what was it called, now? The 12 Days of Christmas? He snorted; he could tell where his mind was. No, the 12 Days of... of... No, that wasn't it. The 12 Ways ? Ah, The 12 Ways and Days to Success. Yeah, that was it. But what kind of a dumb title was that, anyway? Obviously the board must have had too much eggnog the day they dreamed that up. Oh, well, back to the list. He sighed. It was mandated that two employees attend and he was the one stuck with the dirty job of selecting the poor SOBs from this branch of the company.
Hmm, he grinned evilly, pausing over several names. Perhaps in all seasonal fairness he could consider just who'd been naughty and who'd been nice this year... and ship the naughty ones off to the conference. Hah! He chortled gleefully. You're getting nuttin' for Christmas! Nuttin' but a boring weekend at a boring conference in a fleabag motel.
Then his eyes reached the end of the list and lingered on the last two names there. What if, he thought, shifting his ample girth in the too small office chair, what if instead of a punishment I make it a gift? A wide smile creased his face and his rosy cheeks fairly glowed as he circled the last two names and scribbled a quick note at the bottom of the page. A single push of a button on the fax machine and the note was on its way.
"Ho, ho, ho. We Err, the company wishes you a merrrrrrrry Christmas... at the conference," he hollered as he raced up the stairs to the rooftop.
Carrie sighed. What a blue Christmas this was going to be, stuck at a company conference. What kind of a moron schedules something like this over Christmas anyway? She grumbled. Maybe it's time to start some serious job-hunting. When employers start thinking they can get away with things like this God alone knows what kind of liberties they'll be taking next.
Well, if it had to be, I suppose better me than most of my coworkers, she sighed philosophically. Most of them have husbands and wives and children to go home to and I have no one to go home for the holidays to, so why not spend it at a really boring, really stupid conference anyway? Surely it'll be more fun than staying home and cooking Christmas dinner for the cats. Not!
A really boring, really stupid conference that's apparently 40 billion miles out in the middle of nowhere, she thought, glancing down at the clock in the dashboard. It felt like she'd been driving forever.
Up ahead she could see a single light high on top of a pole and what looked like an intersection. Maybe they were almost there at last. She slowed the car down so she could glance at the map. Gee, we sure have driven far enough. Over the river and through the woods... No, make that over three rivers, around one state park and there are enough trees around us right now that surely this qualifies as more woods.
"Hey, Steph, wake up." She prodded her coworker who was asleep in the passenger seat, allowing herself a moment to glance appreciatively at the other woman's stretching figure. Stephanie Brewer, the newest addition to their office and the only other unattached employee in this branch. If I still believed in Santa, I know what I'd ask for for Christmas, she grinned for a moment.
Unfortunately she'd seen the other woman around town with a tall, handsome man so it wasn't likely her secret crush would come true even with Santa's help. Ah, why do I always fall for the straight ones? Sighing, she made a right turn at the intersection and announced to her coworker, "I think we're almost there."
"Mmph," Steph mumbled and straightened up, scrubbing at her eyes and running her fingers through her dark hair. "Almost there? About ti..." Blinking she stared out the car windows at the trees that surrounded them. "I don't see anything that looks like a town... or a motel. You sure you've been reading that map right?"
"Here, see for yourself." Annoyed Carrie thrust the sheets of paper out. "We just made a right down Santa Claus Lane; Hickoryville and the motel shouldn't be too much farther."
""Shouldn't" is a relatively vague word," Steph said, glancing up at her with a raised eyebrow. "I hope it's not too much farther but this map doesn't seem to be very accurate distance-wise." She glanced out her window at the dark woods that surrounded them, the trees and underbrush coming out almost to the edge of the highway. What a creepy place. And it sure didn't feel like Christmas, or even December with all that greenery around. And a Santa Claus Lane? In a place like this that had probably never even seen snow?
Oh, what do you care if it feels like Christmas or not, she snarled at herself. You don't have anything to celebrate or anyone to celebrate with... Okay, okay, enough with the morbid thoughts already, she scolded. Let's move on to other things. "Just doesn't feel right," she said, gesturing out at the woods.
"What?" Carrie flashed her a rather confused look.
"All the green, just doesn't feel right for this time of year. And a Santa Claus Lane, where it never snows?"
Carrie laughed. "Oh, a winter wonderland child, are you? Longing for a white Christmas?" She flashed a brilliant smile at Steph. "Well, I'll have to agree with you this time. It's just too weird seeing Christmas decorations when it's 80 degrees outside and everything is still green. Ought to be against the law!" She laughed again and stuck one hand out the window in a gesture of command. "Gods of nature, right this wrong and let it snow!"
Steph laughed so hard tears came to her eyes. "Yeah, I grew up in Minnesota, a white Christmas was pretty much a guarantee. But would you really wish snow on all these poor, unsuspecting folks down here?"
"Well," Carrie hesitated, "Santa in his sleigh sitting in the middle of a flower bed just doesn't do it for me," she laughed. "But you're right, I wouldn't really be that cruel. My brother was stationed down here for a while and he entertained people for years with his stories of how, when they got one inch of snow one year, they had to call the National Guard out to clean up after it. They closed all the schools, shut everything down."
Steph laughed again, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, all those poor folks. They just can't function." She paused for a moment but then forced herself to continue the conversation. You're stuck here all weekend, so make the best of it. Be nice and friendly and don't take your ire out on her, she's stuck here, too, and certainly didn't ask to have grumpy old you as her partner. Besides, here's your chance to get to know her better, which you've been dying for ever since you started this job. "But it still just doesn't seem like Christmas to me without snow," she paused. "And just how do you usually celebrate Christmas? Err, assuming you do. Celebrate Christmas, that is."
"Oh, you know, the usual, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, stuff like that," Carrie shrugged casually.
Steph gave her a funny look. "Um, you consider roasting chestnuts usual?"
"Well, when I was a kid, yeah," Carrie said, flashing her a grin. "Now it's just me and the cats and well, we don't do a whole lot. Have some turkey, a new catnip mouse, you know, that sort of thing." She grinned kind of sheepishly at Steph. "But when I was little it was this big thing my grandma had us all do. Made a really big deal out of it, you know. Oh, Christmas tree, silver bells, a Yule log, the holly and the ivy. Just decorations everywhere really deck the halls, grandma did. Went all out, roast Goose for Christmas dinner, that sort of thing." she laughed. "It was really excessive. Grandpa was always saying he wished Grandma'd get run over by a reindeer, like in that song, so all the nonsense would stop. Which was kind of funny cause he's the one that did most of the work. Hauled the stuff down from the attic, strung the lights, climbed the ladder to hang everything Um " Carrie stopped, suddenly rather self-conscious about sharing all that goofy stuff with a virtual stranger. "How about you?"
"Oh, I'm afraid my Christmases were rather tame compared to yours," Steph laughed. "So, this chestnut thing, how, exactly, do you roast chestnuts?"
Carrie giggled. "Oh, well, you sit in front of the fireplace and you sort of lay them on the hearth really, really close to the flames. And when they get hot enough they sort of crack or sometimes explode open and then you eat the roasted nut. And then there was some sort of a silly game the older girls played. I was kind of young and don't really remember the specifics of it. Somehow, after the nut exploded you were supposed to be able to figure out who you were going to marry. I think you looked for their initials in the shape of the nutshell or, no wait You wrote their initials on a nut and if it exploded to bits, that was a definite no. Yeah, I think that's how it goes."
"That's kinda cool," Steph said, wondering if Carrie'd ever seen anyone's initials in a chestnut. "Well, like I said, mine were pretty tame compared to yours. Christmas Eve we'd always have Chinese takeout," she laughed, "and then we'd all retire to our respective rooms to wrap our gifts in pretty paper. And then the next day we'd just do the usual. Open gifts and have a quiet dinner, traditional stuff this time, not Chinese. My mom was a pretty good cook although I hated turkey and that was what we always had for Thanksgiving and Christmas." Steph made a face.
Carrie laughed. "Well, at my place you could always share the tuna with the cats. That's their Christmas present, cans of real people tuna and new toys and the whipped cream off the pumpkin pie."
Steph grinned. "Ah, don't like tuna either," she pouted. "But you know how it is, there's always plenty of other things to fill up on, especially pie and cookies." She rubbed her tummy in remembrance. "And Santa was usually pretty good to us although he persisted in bringing me Barbie stuff when I was much more interested in my brother's GI Joes."
"Oh, yes, makeup and high heels and 40 billion evening gowns," Carrie laughed. "I solved that by ditching Barbie's accessories and stealing my brother's GI Joe's. With knives and guns and pistols we all sat down to play "
"Damn! Wish I'd thought of that," Steph laughed. "I'll bet you had more fun than me."
"Oh, yeah. He had horses and a jeep and a pickup truck, lots of Western stuff, too. Really cool. And there was like a jungle scene with animals and cages, a white tiger, big snake A spacesuit Sure beat the dream house by a long shot." Carrie laughed.
The night grew darker and darker and the time passed in the quiet laughter and sharing and still the town and motel didn't appear. Carrie began to break off her conversation to stare frequently at the gas gauge, which sank lower and lower. Finally both women ceased speaking altogether and simply watched the road with one eye and the dashboard with the other.
The bright glaring red of the empty tank warning light came as no surprise and shortly thereafter the car sputtered and died and Carrie eased it off to the side of the road.
"Sure could use a couple of them reindeer now," Steph grumbled, not looking forward to either a long walk or a night spent sleeping in the car.
"Run, Rudolf, run," Carrie laughed, cracking an imaginary whip. "Get us to our meeting on time."
Laughing, Steph pulled out her cell phone and started to dial but then she stopped and just sat there staring at it. "Oh, hell, I dont even know where we are so how can I call road service?"
"I haven't seen an intersection since we turned onto this road, or even something like a farmhouse." Carrie shook her head. "And it's not like this is a highway with regular mile markers."
"Oh, just how I wanted to spend my Christmas Eve," Steph groaned, stuffing her cell phone back in her purse. "Guess we ought to be glad there's no snow here or come morning we'd look like Frosty the Snowman's relatives."
Carrie laughed. "Well, reach back behind you for my bag. There's a couple bottles of water and some snacks in there. At least we can have supper."
Scrunching down in her seat with a chocolate bar in each hand Steph turned to study the landscape. What little of it she could see in the dark, gloomy night. Funny, she thought, but she could almost swear it was lighter down the road a little farther and off to the left. Sitting back up she elbowed Carrie. "Hey, look down there. Is that what I think it is?"
Squinting, Carrie peered off into the night for a moment and then climbed out of the car. "Yeah, I think you're right. It's lights of some sort. Maybe that's our missing town. Or at least a farmhouse."
"Anything beats sleeping in the car," Steph said. "It doesn't look too far so let's check it out."
"Well," Carrie hesitated for a moment but she didn't really want to sleep in the car either. "Okay, I guess we can't really get lost if we stay on the road." She snatched her purse out of the car and then locked everything up tight before they started down the road.
After a short walk in the silent night with nothing but their faint footsteps echoing off the asphalt they reached the outskirts of a small town. "Hick-or-y," Carrie spelled out slowly, straining to read the sign in the dark. "Looks like this is it."
"It looks awful small," Steph said. "I wonder where our motel is?"
Slowly both women turned, scanning the streets for some kind of sign but nothing was obvious. Sighing, they started walking down the nearest street, occasionally stopping to giggle over the Christmas decorations.
"Aw, look!" Carrie ran up into the nearest yard to examine the figures closer. "The little drummer boy." She bent over and peered into the face of the little boy with the drum standing in front of a beautiful, lifelike Nativity.
Not quite as bold as Carrie, Steph admired the decorations from the street. Funny, but it looked like almost every house on the street had something up. "That must be I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus," she grinned at the little kid peeking out from behind the Christmas tree, spying on the adults, "But what's this?" she asked, pausing in front of what appeared to be a group of cowboys, complete with horses and a couple cows standing around a Christmas tree. "Christmas for Cowboys? I don't think so." She stepped back and scowled at the nearest cow, which was no way! She stepped back up and peered at it. A wreath! "That cow, it has a wreath around it's neck!" she turned to look at Carrie and gestured violently at the offending animal.
Laughing at her Carrie danced gleefully up into the next yard. "Frosty the snowman," she shouted, dancing in and out among the snow people decorating the yard.
"Then what in blazes does that make this?" Steph asked, staring in disgust at the next yard, which was draped with dark cloth and festooned with skulls and other, less identifiable objects, most of which appeared to be broken.
"Uh, Christmas at ground zero?" Carrie offered, making a face. She had no desire to take a closer look at anything in this yard. "Who knows? Maybe they're Goths or something. Or dont like Christmas." She shrugged and moved off down the street, pausing to laugh and dance through most of the yards as she went.
Steph followed a bit more slowly, stopping for a moment to stare at the life-size camels in one yard. We three kings. Gold and frankincense and myrrh. Too bad it's not real gold. We could probably use it considering missing that conference is likely to cost us our jobs. Glumly, she moved a little faster, trying to catch up with Carrie who was approaching the end of the street.
Funny, but she'd seen no sign of a motel or even any kind of a business and yet it appeared the forest started up again shortly past that last house.
Suddenly all of the brightly lit decorations dimmed and everything got deathly quiet. Even the breeze stopped and she could no longer hear the hum of electricity from the lights. Maybe they didn't pay their electric bills, she thought, glancing around at the dim figures that one by one started to go out. Quickly she broke into a jog, catching up with Carrie only because the blonde woman had stopped just short of the last house, peering around herself in confusion.
"What happened to the lights?" Carrie whispered, as she moved closer to Steph and tried not to show her fear.
"Forget the lights," Steph whispered, as the night grew darker and darker, "Do you hear what I hear?" She turned to look out into the forest as the breeze suddenly returned, filled with a strange sound, a loud whooshing and the sound of jingle bells.
"What on earth is that?" Carrie jumped and turned around, searching for the source of the noise.
"Uh," Steph gulped. "Santa Claus is coming to town?" she offered, trying to laugh and lighten the mood but not succeeding as the sound grew louder and louder and seemed to approach them.
"There, over there!" Carrie grabbed Steph's arm and pointed at the last house, "Up on the housetop."
Steph reached up and pulled Carrie's fingers off her arm, clutching her hand tightly in her own. A sleigh was landing on the roof of the nearby house. "I don't believe in Santa Claus," she muttered, trying to back away even as the leading reindeer turned his head and winked at her. She stared in disbelief. He had a large, shining red nose that was illuminating the whole area.
"Look, it's Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer!" Carrie cried out excitedly and dragged her off toward the house.
"Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!" A large fat man in red shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap climbed out of the sleigh and peered down over the edge of the roof at them. "I believe if you ladies will knock at the front door of this house you'll find that it's a bed and breakfast and they have one room left." Santa winked at them and then moved around to the other side of the sleigh.
Giggling, Carrie turned Steph's hand loose and moved closer to the house. "Oh, Santa, what did you bring me for Christmas this year?" The white-bearded man smiled gently down at her.
"Ah, Carrie, I think you know what your Christmas present is this year." Santa said solemnly and then turned back to unloading his sleigh.
As Carrie stood staring up at Santa, Steph felt his words echo and re-echo in her mind. Yes, she knew what her Christmas present could be this year, if she chose to claim it. Reaching out she spun the blonde woman around to face her and took both of Carrie's hands in her own. Taking a deep breath, she stared into Carrie's green eyes and reached out for the gift. "All I want for Christmas is you..."
Songs in Story
All I Want for Christmas is You
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Deck the Halls
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
Home for the Holidays
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Let It Snow
Little Drummer Boy
Over the River and through the Woods
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Run Rudolph, Run
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
The 12 Days of Christmas
Up on the Housetop
Christmas At Ground Zero (Weird Al Yankovic)
Christmas Dinner (Paul Stookey)
Christmas For Cowboys (on a John Denver xmas tape)
Frosty, the Snowman (this one's in there more than once)
Nuttin' for Christmas (don't know who sings this, I have piano sheet music for it. Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett the writers)
O Christmas Tree (just says Traditional German)
The Holly and the Ivy
We Three Kings (writer John H. Hopkins)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Traditional English)