For a man who personally stood heartbroken upon Golgotha’s hill, he’d certainly seen a lot. From the Black Death to the near demise of the Jews, his observations of personal tragedy extended a mile deep. And yet, this moment was as daunting as any he could remember.
The hallway was quiet and long. Every seventy-five feet stood another door where a bearded, but comely man took note of each number on his way past. Apartment 5116 caused John’s eyes to change. He stopped between potted trees, near a golden knob.
The gentleman had something gripped in both hands—gently setting the fine wood over the welcome mat. Pulling a silky sheet off the top, the baby inside was content, lifting its feet and fingers with a smile. The newborn loved the bearded gentleman holding the hand carved cradle—one with trains carved out each end—used as carrying handles.
Kneeling on one knee over the hospitality carpet, John looked past the classy door—as if able to see right through it. He was in a meditative state, absorbing every second of the clearly difficult task.
Pulling out a glass ornament from underneath his coat, he nestled it into the blanket as a ding from an elevator caused the man to turn. A laughing couple in fancy dinnerware exited through the parting doors. They should have taken note of John and the baby both, but on their way for an ensuing hall, acted as if they weren’t even there.
“Are you sure this is it?” the man now had his eyes tilted up, as if gazing through the ceiling, and into heaven itself. If he received an answer to his question, it didn’t come verbally. “Take care of this one, then,” John whispered with a submissive tone, suggesting he couldn’t shake all of his doubt.
But following one final coo, the teary father forced his gloved index finger over the doorbell, vanishing ever so quickly.
The control room was black, only glimmering buttons and monitors adding light to the darkness. Faces with headphones were corresponding. They were focused, though far from overwhelmed, clearly having performed this task many times before.
“Tell the crew to clear the dock,” said Isaac.
“Clearing, now,” another retorted below. Hoods with mink trim were pulled overhead in the exterior night. There was a frosty glow on the outside with colorful flare lights outlining the runway.
“Sleigh Bell number 327 now ready to launch. Is Kris ready?”
“Ready,” the response was relayed via a small microphone underneath the furry hood and through the headphones of those inside.
A tall, steel door slowly lifted to bridge the interior and exterior portions of the runway with reindeer bobbing their heads in the now-brisk air.
“Prepare to deactivate the Wall,” came Isaac’s order. “Oh, and Cross,” added the Chief of Staff.
“Yeah,” Blaine’s bright red sideburns stood out between the sides of his hood as he performed one last sleigh inspection, merely as a precaution to satisfy Isaac’s overbearing attention to detail.
“Did you …?”
“What?” he retorted with a smile. “Double-check the power head? Of course.”
“Test out the exhaust nozzles? Yeah. Did that first.”
“Thanks,” Isaac hated to ask, but knew it was his job to pester people at such an important time of the year.
“Deactivation complete. Wait ... now ... complete,” a third voice interrupted their exchange from his control room cubicle; this one a geek with stringy bangs. Blimm reached up to a higher board to pull one final red lever.
Isaac approached a sheet of glass with a handful of others to observe the ensuing moment of truth. A streaking hum was heard until it gradually faded. A flash of pink accompanied near the edge of the invisible wall as a beating windstorm—once contained—suddenly swept in with fury over the runway. Elves at snow level were covered head to toe in fresh frost as they waited, the anxious reindeer more than ready to elevate.
“The countdown begins at ten ... nine, eight, seven.” All eyes watched alongside Isaac with routine fascination, as if relieved the culminating day was finally here. “Three, two ... Sleigh bell launch.”
Bells chimed as the glistening runners slowly moved out into the open runway before morphing into an incline.
“Penetrating Wall,” Blain sounded from below. “Penetration complete.” Despite their protective gear, those outside could hardly stand the extreme temperature, anxious to retreat indoors.
“Activating,” a few hand strokes of a keyboard sent the red streak the other direction as the suffocating climate was once again trapped by a protective, yet unseen bubble.
A jubilant clasping of hands erupted inside the control room to celebrate the annual success of the launch. And just like that, unsure what to do next—following a grueling, year-long cycle, all Isaac could think to do was breathe. His traditional, two-week-long vacation had finally begun.
High above in the twinkling night, a relaxed Claus watched dots shuffle around a digital dashboard. They morphed into images at his command. A row of hot green playing cards—Santa’s biggest vice, were spit over the wide screen to set up a fresh round of Solitaire to pass the time—all as the reindeer casually provided their transport. But down below, the only elf scheduled to remain inside the control room was rarely content. “Alright, it’s been long enough. Say something. Even so much as a grunt—whatever—I’ll take it,” a fidgety voice, whose job it was to monitor the sleigh routes, eventually radioed up. Blimm naturally twitched over his polka dot overalls and mismatched socks pulled up well past his knees.
“All is good,” he heard Santa in a voice both calm and content. “Off to the Marshall Islands we go.”
There was a reluctant pause. “One thing we might … you know, consider.”
“And what is that, Brother Blimm?” Kris was a little annoyed by the never-ending extra whip of caution.
“I know you want to avoid military surveillances, but we're receiving reports ... credible ones,” he rustled through some notes spread about his cluttered desk. “That the Southern Pole is undergoing a period of hostile visibility. It might be worth, you know, shortcutting through the Outback. We could initiate the drone wave frequencies to avoid detection.”
“Don't be silly. There is no need to teach this old dog new tricks. We'll cut across the southern oceans as we've done the last 150 years on our way for Micronesia.”
“As you wish,” Blimm relented with a thread-like mic dangling near his mouth. “Let's hyperflight then, just to make sure we arrive at House One on schedule. The storm could slow you down by as much as thirty percent at the pace we're on now.”
“Hyperflight ready,” Santa's white gloves pulled up on a small lever near the dash. Additional flames shot out the back of the glistening sleigh as the reindeer were excited to pick up the pace.
With darkness having since been replaced by murky, gray light, Blimm had his eyes glued to a monitor. The blue oceans had turned into thick ice with visibility now nothing but a blockage of fog. The sleigh lowered, though the fog remained.
“Everything still cheery?” asked Blimm. He knew the rough conditions on their own were no reason to panic, but even semi-bad weather naturally made him nervous. But as he leaned back in his chair, he received no response. “I said, everything still … OK?” He was forced to test his mic with a tap.
Only the wind now howled through his ears, but it wasn’t the lulling rustle he was so used to. Blimm instinctively hopped to his feet to size up the very nightmare he’d often lost countless hours of sleep over. The mere thought of it had caused him great anxiety over the decades. In fact, several times he’d nearly quit his demanding job as Launch Operations Engineer, only to get drawn back in by the decent salary.
It wasn’t uncommon for Kris to ignore Blimm out of habit, but not after a string of repetitive pleas that would usually force him to break from his game of cards. “Please talk to me!” the elf mumbled with a nervous tick. “’Cause if this is merely another attempt at getting a rise of my neurotic disorder, I’m warning you. I simply cannot stomach it!”
The red button on Blimm’s desk was big and blaring, and yet it had never been pushed—until now. The elf didn’t have to think about sounding the alarm, as Santa, already more than 9,000 miles away was unintentionally veering for a thick slab of ocean ice. Blimm couldn’t make out the details from his station monitor, but the live audio feed was more than enough to paint a picture. It was the terrifying sound of a plummet, as the man on the other end could only cry and nothing else through the muffled drop.
Lit with a red glow on the opposite side of the Mayday, the reindeer tried to pull up, but the sleigh wasn’t cooperating as the runners abruptly cracked hard against the frozen surface. The towering sack of presents, all carted and neatly harnessed, suddenly tipped, as did Kris with a jolt and a smack.
And then, the ensuing quiet haunted the mess of an elf as a wide flash of hot green, much like the wondrous aurora borealis, magically shot over the surrounding ice. Penguins dispersed from the impact, while the startled reindeer were forced to abruptly touch down in a barren arctic wilderness, void of any thought as to what to do next.
Staring aimlessly into the glowing machinery, a numb Blimm now sat curled up in a helpless ball under his desk. He nibbled at his already sawed-off nails, with the crash now just a sour moment of the past. The screaming alarm continued to beat across his shocked temples before a door suddenly split open—a taller figure barreling through in little but a colorful robe.
“Blimm!” Isaac was in no mood to have to find him. But the twitching elf didn’t answer with his arms wrapped around his scrunched kneecaps. Isaac had the wherewithal to know where he might be, urgently crouching down. “Blimm, tell me,” Isaac asked softly, as not to frighten him anymore than he already was. All the while, he could only hope the warning was some big, innocent mistake. “Why did you sound the alarm?”
The damaged elf remained speechless, though slowly tilted his gaze up to stare into Isaac’s commanding, dark brown eyes. Unable to take one more second of silence, he whipped his hand across Blimm’s pale cheek to slap him back into the moment.
“It appears as if we've had a terrible accident … sir!” Blimm finally revealed, with a surge of fresh guilt.
Isaac finally froze himself, as if needing a second to process the worst-case scenario; one he so desperately feared every step of the sprint in from his warm bed. His gaze finally left Blimm’s to aimlessly pan across the quiet control room, before issuing one last instruction. “Deploy a rescue unit. And emphasize this is no drill.”
Isaac took a deep breath to gather himself before exiting back through the doors.
“Chief,” Blimm caught him before he could go. “Is this … you know. The end?”
Isaac’s handsome face was clouded over by uncertainty, choosing to ignore the question he had no answer to.