by The Other Katherine Harris
Jan 1, 2009
NORTH POLE – On each year’s visit to formerly ice-bound Kringleshire, I find there’s less of it. Lately there’s so much less that rescuing animals from the encroaching waters has become part of daily life. When I arrived by ferry (quite a change from the sled treks of yore), the famously philanthropic Kringle clan chief S. Claus was guiding a group of polar bears to safety. Some had been swimming for days, he said.
Claus looked as exhausted as the bears, so I helped beach his little rowboat, the HOHO, puzzled that no elves ran to assist. Equally surprising were the many drilling platforms that had sprung up in the vicinity. These developments turned out to be connected.
“Must be crazy-busy in the factory now,” I remarked while we were walking to the house next door to it.
The comment was meant to be rhetorical, but Claus shook his head grimly. “Everybody under 500 is in the oil business now. Or the tourist trade. Or merchant shipping.”
“Not the elves!”
“Evolved from gnomes, elves did. Show them a pile of gold and they revert.” Opening his front door, Claus added, “Careful. You’d better hold the hand-rail.”
To seize rails lining the hallway ahead, we bounded through the foyer as the house swayed, being buoyed on pontoons installed a few seasons previously. Obviously the ice was softening fast.
“This’ll be a houseboat by summer,” Claus predicted.
“Maybe sooner,” I ventured from the floor, after tumbling in my lurch from the corridor into his study.
With a half-hearted “ho-ho” (more of a “hah,” really), Claus hauled me up and installed me on a chair.
“It takes a while to get your sea-legs, Dear,” smiled Mrs. Claus. Presiding over a trolley cart with bumpers around the top, she poured cocoa, then set one steaming mug into a cup-holder bored into my armrest and another within a sort of corral at the corner of her husband’s desk.
A look around showed all their furniture had been bolted down or otherwise adapted to maritime usage and, through the window, I saw thick chains extending from the house to the factory, warehouse and barns, which I knew were also on pontoons. When everything broke loose, at least it would be tethered.
As if reading my thoughts, Claus indicated a new red phone at his elbow. “Hotline to the tugboat company.”
“Are you ready to say where you’re moving?” I asked. He’d promised me the scoop, once a decision was made.
“We’re going tropical,” laughed Mrs. Claus from the sofa — only half-kidding. While Claus rummaged for a map and pointed out a tiny island off the north of Iceland, she explained that the North Atlantic Current brings warm Gulf Stream water into the area. Its moderating effect on the weather results in summer temperatures approaching 80 degrees.
“We’ll save a bundle on heat,” Claus forecast, “and we can mechanize the plant with cheap geothermal power. Actually it’s a pity we aren’t there already. We’re frantic for help and the Icelanders need work.”
“About Iceland, did the speculators really take it down?”
“With a little help from Gordon Brown and the EU.”
“A whole country deliberately ruined!” I marveled.
“Not the only one, is it? With these swindlers, it’s another day, another outrage. Don’t even get me started,” Claus growled.
“Lumps of coal for our financial manipulators, then?”
“I’d planned on it. Laid in plenty for the traitors running most national capitals, too. And for that homicidal World Bank / International Monetary Fund crew. But they’d just spin it. Off they’d trot to the media, waving their stockings as ‘proof’ I’m for more coal-mining. Liars! Thieves! Killers!”
He broke off as the room began to heave crazily, then howled, “Tankers!”
“It’s like an earthquake, whenever those go by — or the ice-cutters they’ve turned into cruise ships,” Mrs. Claus said, fastening her seat belt. “Buckle up,” she advised.
I did. Claus, however, pushed himself to his feet and continued fulminating against transnational banksters, associated tycoons and their paid enablers in government. He shook his fists in a display that reminded me of King Lear raging on the heath, invoking redress of evil from the unnatural tempest.
When the undulation calmed, he started pacing, still muttering under his breath. Mrs. Claus sighed, leaned close to me and whispered, “Kris has been this way all year.”
“Me, too,” I admitted, then said more loudly, “There’s a lot of cold fury going around.”
“Not nearly enough!” Claus barked.
“Please, Darling,” his wife appealed. “Remember, you have a rare gift for knowing who’s naughty. That doesn’t come as easily to everyone.”
“I don’t see how it could be any clearer!” he snarled, handing me a sheaf of posters. “It’s been a 30-year stickup! Bubbles, busts, bailouts; they’ve cleaned up all along the way! Now they’re grabbing every crumb that’s left. They’ve even stolen Christmas!”
“Yeah,” I groaned “That’s the bitch of it. Er, sorry. It’s just — I so wanted this holiday season to be merry. It’s been so long! We expected better this year, so it’s especially hard to see the crimes magnified, opportunities lost, nearly a billion people hungry, families forced onto the streets and workers laid off every day by tens of thousands –”
Claus cut in. “I’ll tell you what the real bitch of it is — that they want the people they robbed to blame themselves!”
“Shameless!” his wife agreed, “and we’re not having it. One of these posters is going out with each delivery, as long as they — and the toys — last.”
Looking at the first, I felt my stomach clench and then went queasy. There they were: Shrub, Darth, Helicopter Ben and Paulson, the latest monster from Golden Fleece. Further versions featured Brown, Blair, Harper, Berlusconi and other top functionaries of the world’s band of jolly marauders. “Why did you put them in elf garb?” I asked.
“Same sensibility,” Claus sniffed. “Oh, all right, the elves aren’t that bad,” he went on after registering his wife’s you-know-better look.
“Thank you, Sir, but we are,” said an elf ancient enough to look ancient, who toddled in and morosely collected the cocoa things, adding, “If it’s any comfort, my great-great-grandsons have been pink-slipped off the Kapitan Khlebnikov. They were pool boys,” he explicated for my benefit.
“Comfort! What nonsense, Mustardseed.” Mrs. Claus sat him down and continued. “I want you to tell the lads they’ll always have a home with us.”
Mustardseed gulped. “Would that, er, also apply to those fired from the oil rigs and hotels?”
After a reflective pause, Claus gave his verdict. “We’ll take back anyone except financial industry refugees. They will have picked up too many vicious habits.”
“Oh, you’re too good, Sir! What about real estate?”
“Case-by-case basis,” Claus granted. He tried to look severe, but wore the hint of a smile, until his house began pitching wildly again. “Tankers!” he bellowed.
“No, Sir! That would be the Kapitan Khlebnikov in from Murmansk,” said Mustardseed, after checking his watch. “Quite a few pink-slipped elves aboard. Do you think we might — just possibly — save Christmas?”
“We can but try,” Claus concluded. Picking up the elf, who squealed happily, he strode to meet the ship, with the first heartfelt “ho-ho” I’d heard out of him all day.
Happy Holidays with Love,
The Kapitan Khlebnikov, a polar-class icebreaker turned cruise ship. This is incredible, but real.