Let me start at the beginning. I was born a few miles south of the North Pole, on the wrong side of the reindeer tracks. Dad was a poor sharecropper, trying to coax frozen peas and broccoli from the tundra for Birdseye. Mom was a sour woman who'd grown up in a small city (I don't mean small like sparsely populated, I mean it was a city of elves, so the streets, buildings, everything was half-scale) in balmy Greenland. As a mail-order bride, she had little love for the old man. And who could blame her? Dad had had her shipped uninsured parcel post.
It's true I was in and out of trouble growing up. Kid's stuff, though. Tipping caribou. Feeding chili to parked dogsled teams (the musher's always upwind, remember). Stuff like that. My only serious trouble came when a couple friends and I got the big idea to drop water balloons on people from a third-story rooftop: We hadn't figured on the water freezing solid on the way down. Concussions -- and juvenile hall -- were the upshot.
There was only one high school in town, so poor kids like me were thrust together with better off kids.
Some of them, like the hoity-toity Arctic Circle branch of the Keebler clan, flaunted their wealth, arriving at school with high-end Sony IceSkateMan CD players, strutting the hallways in Ferragamo curly-toed shoes. Mostly, though, my classmates came from middle-class families whose parents were employed by Santa's Workshop. And, since their lives seemed more attainable, they were the ones I really envied. Envied so much, in fact, that, more often than not, I fell asleep while visions of sugarplums -- wedged tightly in their windpipes and no one around to do the Heimlich on them -- danced in my head.
Somehow, I stuck it out and got my diploma from Hervé Villechaize Memorial High School (lovingly called "4-Feet High" by its alumni). Financially, college was out of the question, so I started looking for work. Problem was, the elfin economy was in the crapper; the only place hiring was Pup Whupper Industries, makers of a popular line of baby seal clubs. But that just didn't appeal to me. I packed my bags and hit the frosty trail. To the Deep South. To Winnipeg. Within a month, I'd landed a job as a lawn gnome.
My years in Canada were lonely, cheerless. Then again, standing stock-still on a lawn eight hours a day gives an elf time to think. And what I thought about was home. About the white outs, the midnight sun and the noontime stars. About roast penguin and stuffing on Thanksgiving. About Santa's Workshop. I just knew a job there and the life it could provide was my destiny. Then, as if in hackneyed parody, I heard through the North Pole ex-pat grapevine (extensive in Winnipeg) that a fire at the Workshop (along with an illegally locked fire exit) had caused the deaths of several of Santa's helpers. That meant job openings. I dashed away home.
For a while, it was everything I'd hoped for. Rewarding work. Unlimited candy. After-work wassail parties. Substantial employee discounts on Workshop merchandise (except Disney products). Unfortunately, as time went on, the world population kept exploding and Santa, always tighter than Mrs. Claus's corset, refused to staff up. Overtime became punishing. Conveyor belt speeds were increased 10, 20, 30 percent. In '82, breaks were discontinued. In '95, lunch was cut to 15 minutes. Worst of all, Santa wouldn't budge on the Dec. 24 deadline. Bastard. The pressure was impossible. Still, I make no excuses.
On the news, my co-workers say I appeared perfectly normal. Me? All I remember is reporting to my toy-making station. Of course, now, thanks to the surveillance video, I know that 83 minutes into my shift, I pulled two automatic weapons from a large gym bag and opened fire. Before I could be subdued, three elves lay dead, six others, along with one reindeer, were badly injured. Leading the prosecutor to ask that I be given the electric chair with the electric booster seat. But let's not think about that. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time. ©
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