Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to Day Twelve of our Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2022! It was touch and go there for awhile, but with pluck and persistence, a lot of caffeine and an intravenous drip of liquified Shitmas spirit we've finally reached the stunning conclusion of this year's program. Last time we brought you a pair of festive fables featuring merry marionettes, one full of frenetic slapstick mayhem, the other a quiet meditation on the compassion and kindness the Christmas season is meant to bring. Today we scrape the absolute bottom of the bottom-most barrel to bring you the single cheapest and most amateur production ever to grace the hallowed halls of Million Monkey Towers, a program so cut-rate, pinchpenny and threadbare it makes public-access programming look like Paramount Pictures. In a celebration full of impossibly low standards and incredibly low bars today's special stands out for the depths we've scoured to find it and the outrageous quantities of supplements we've had to ingest to fortify ourselves to watch it all through. It's a genuine Shitmas miracle that it even still exists to be seen today, so all things considered it's as perfect a choice as any we could ever imagine to top off the fourth year of our annual Christmas Spectacular.

My data analysis indicates that Shitmas is almost at an end.

We've posted a brand-new review of a holiday special every other day since December 3rd, and now we're ready to party hard with the worst of the bunch this Christmas Morning. If you've been following along (and why wouldn't you?), you've doubtless already enjoyed eleven scintillating editions of our Crouching Elf, Hidden Santa feature, where photos of an Elf and Santa Claus are cleverly hidden inside two random screenshots somewhere in each review. Much like Pokemon, pop flies and STD's, you've gotta catch 'em all, lest Santa and his minions swoop down your chimney with switches of holly, pull down your pajamas and administer your punishment.

You also won't want to miss the thrilling conclusion of our Tales from the Northside story anthology, featuring a dozen original true stories from the turbulent wastes of Santa's North Pole empire. I won't give spoilers here, but this one's a stunner. It's the final, heart-pounding chapter that will completely pull the rug out from everything you've ever believed about the Elves, the reindeer and Santa Claus himself.

The Christmas Computer Caper stands apart in a number of ways from the forty-eight other specials, three Christmas features and the handful of short subjects I've reviewed over the past four years here at MMT. First, it's a locally-made program, broadcast only once by the station that produced it. Second, it is an utterly amateur affair, filmed at an elementary school and almost exclusively featuring actual teachers and students who worked and attended classes there. Third, it's really fucking cheap. We're talking no-budget, seat-of-your-made-in-Paraguay, knock-off-Jordache-jeans cheap. It was clearly made to exploit the then-exploding interest in the wondrous new technology of the home computer, when anything seemed possible with a Commodore keyboard, 128k of memory and a couple of floppy disc drives. This was a time when films like Tron (1982) and War Games (1983) were creating the myth of the genius hacker and when the ultimate capabilities of the budding technology seemed limitless despite how little the available consumer hardware and software could actually do.

The Christmas Computer Caper is unusual, too, in that it comes down to us through a single known copy, recorded during the original broadcast and complete with interstitial bumpers, promos and commercials. It was posted to YouTube on December 5th, 2010, and the kind and blessed soul who preserved it also provided the only information I could find regarding its history.

It was filmed at Sabal Palm Elementary in North Miami Beach, and narrated by a longtime Miami newscaster named Ed O'Dell. The credits list the students who appeared in it, too, but I'm not going to dox them by revealing their names here. I wouldn't want my name connected with it, even nearly forty years later, so I think it's better if we let them remain anonymous so they can leave the past where it belongs and get on with the rest of their lives.

We open with a montage of scenes from Santa's office, where his forced child labor...uh, where a bunch of Elves are busily skittering about aimlessly, trimming a scratch-and-dent plastic tree they got from the clearance rack at K-Mart or fiddling about with presents and toys. Our narrator, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (whom we've previously established does not actually exist) tells us, in a pale imitation of Foghorn Leghorn's signature voice and cadence, that our story takes place in December, the very busiest time of year for his boss, the jolly fat fellow himself, Santa Claus.

"That's a nice, I say a nice dot matrix printer you've got there."

We cut from Santa, his PC and the barely-obscured kitchenette behind his desk to the classroom used by Saban Palm's computer club (which my sources tell me is the opposite side of the same room used as the Santa's office set we've just cut away from), where a bunch of kids huddle around their own PC and printer (which the evidence of my eyes tells me is the exact same PC and printer from the previous scene but without the fancy bow).

Rudolph tells us the kids are working on their final project for the year, which involves some kind of weather-related database. The music here is from Herbie Hancock's highly influential, Grammy-winning instrumental hit "Rockit," which had been released earlier that year. It's the MC-scratch intro played in a loop, edited right before the instantly-recognizable hook, and was doubtless used without permission, because there's not a libtard snowflake's chance at a Trump rally in hell they coughed up the scratch to use it legally.

Rudolph muses as to what all these kids and toys and computers might mean, then tells us to stick around to find out, because this was the year his boss got tangled up in Christmas Computer Caper!

Prelude complete, we get a commercial break, featuring a spot touting the many key advantages ro settling down in Miami rather than, say, Tampa or Boca Raton. The ad touts it as a vibrant, friendly community and a great place to raise your kids, a rosy image the blockbuster drama Miami Vice (1984-90) would swoop in to explode the following year.

Is this the Miami you want for your children?

Next we get a self-serving promo for the news team at WTVJ Channel Four, the station where the special was made, then it's back to Santa's office to begin our techno-centric adventure.

It seems Santa only recently purchased his new PC and has been painstakingly programming it to keep track of the shift schedules for his North Pole workshop, the toys he has on hand and the route he'll be taking to make his deliveries. He calls over the three child-Elves he has with him to show them how the wonders of modern technology will help them streamline their operation this year.

The labor laws are pretty lax up there.

Santa brags that he's tied his system in with a big mainframe computer in Washington, DC so he can instantly access information about the various cities he'll be visiting. The Elves dance around in a circle and sing as Santa laughs disingenuously and grasps his belly as though he's experiencing another bout of his infamously epic constipation.

Back at the school computer club, the instructor Mr. Sanchez is explaining to his group of proto-nerds that he also has access to a big mainframe computer in Washington, DC. Hmmm...

Mr. Sanchez, by the way, looks like an aging Austin Powers if he gave up spying and became a science teacher.

"Smashing, baby!"

He walks over to the chalk board to remind his students of their personal access codes, each based in some way on their names. First up is "N-I-C" for a kid named Nickerson.

Nice haircut. Was that done with a hedge trimmer and a mixing bowl?

Next is "N-A-U" for Naughtley.

He's all ears.

Then "P-E-R" for Percy.

"King of the 20-piece McNuggets."

Then, using her initials, it's "R-E-I" for Rhonda.

She's actually 32, has three children and works as a court stenographer.

And also using initials is Eva, whose code is "E-L-F."

Contrary to 80's protocol, she's not the only token black character. There's also a black Elf.

Sanchez uses the code "S-A-N," and you can probably see where this is heading. Sure enough we cut back to Santa's office where he's sharing his own access codes with his little Elf pals. "N-I-C" stands for the children who have been nice, "N-A-U" stands for the children who have been naughty, "P-E-R" is for the percentage of children who've been good and the percentage of toys they'll receive, "R-E-I" stands for the reindeer schedule, "E-L-F" tells the Elves how many toys they need to make by Christmas Eve, and "S-A-N" of course stands for Santa, and serves as his own master login for the entire system that will control his entire operation for that year.

Now I know what you're thinking. That sure sounds tedious and dull, right? On the contrary, I can assure you it was absolutely riveting, in much the same way that flare-up of gout or shingles might also demand one's full and immediate attention. Just to make sure we noticed, Rudolph goes through the first couple of codes again, pointing out the fact that Santa and the Computer Club have chosen identical letters What he's saying is they're the same goddamn codes, people. Every one of the Computer Club's codes matches every one of Santa's codes. The codes fucking match, okay? Do we really need to spell this out for you? Because it sure seems like the assholes who made The Christmas Computer Caper think we do.

"So, about those codes..."

Sanchez explains that their big project will be to research historical weather information for various geographical areas and to collate that information into a central, printable database, which he will then evaluate for how accurate, organized and mind-bendingly boring it is. Then he shrugs his shoulders and heads off to listen to some space-age bachelor pad music and shag one of the lunch ladies, leaving the tots to their work.

The kids put their oversized, geeky brain-boxes together and plot out what kinds of weather they're going to include, a debate we get to enjoy at great length and in minute detail. Since Nickerson has the worst hair he gets to be in charge. He starts ordering the others around, assigning weather and data-entry-related tasks based on their personal experience and qualifications.

Rhonda just thinks he's dreamy and likes to watch him type.

Back at Santa's place he's just finishing up reading the letters he's gotten from the children that year, with many of them asking specifically for "Thunder Bikes," which probably would have been the Huffy "Pro Thunder" model bicycles that defined the 1980's cycling experience for many a pastel-wearing tot and tween. Perhaps you've seen them in films such as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) and The Goonies (1985), or modern nostalgia-drenched programs such as Stranger Things (2016-22).

When Santa enters the code "T-H-U" to track how many bikes he's manufactured, however, he gets a list of incidents where thunder was listed in weather reports for various places around the United States. They try to look up the Christmas list of a kid named "Hurndon," by typing in "H-U-R" and end up with a list of Florida hurricanes. While looking for wind-up toys using "W-I-N" they get a list of wind conditions!

I'll bet Santa's suffering from a little wind, himself about now.

Santa realizes he has a big problem, and tells his Head Elf Jingles that if they don't solve it, they won't be able to deliver the presents on Christmas Eve.

Then we cut to commercial.

Is that a threat or a promise?

The ads this time include a plug for the Activision game system, featuring the blockbuster side-scroller Pitfall that was a personal favorite of mine in its Atari 2600 variant, and Keystone Kapers, a cops and robbers, multi-level chase game I never had myself but remember playing at friends' house when I was twelve or thirteen. Ads for an upcoming local South Florida New Year's parade and for the Junior Achievement trade school program follow, then the Bee Gees show up in matching t-shirts to tell us how to get tickets to their next gig. Then it's back to the show.

I guess it was a threat and a promise.

When we return to our regularly scheduled program we catch up with a very worried Santa and his three panicked Elves trying desperately to get back into their toy and reindeer databases.

Meanwhile, back at the computer lab, Mr. Sanchez returns to congratulate his moppets on how efficiently they've entered and collated the weather data onto their diskettes and uploaded it to the Washington, DC mainframe. Then he cheeses it back to the cafeteria to get the sportscoat he left there and have sex with the lunch lady again.

"She shags like a minx!"

Once he's gone the kids try to pull up their data but get lists of children's names and toys instead. They type a message to dirty Sanchez to show him the info they got when they tried to pull up their Hurricane stats, but when they hit send it goes to Santa instead.

With the line of communication now open between the two crossed parties, things start to become clear for Santa, who realizes that someone has been using the same codes he created for some kind of project about weather information, which I'm only telling you again because Santa is telling us again. Apparently he thinks we all have the short-term memory of a mosquito.

He types a message detailing the entire code/toys/weather debacle again and sends it back to the kids. After school the next day when the rest of them arrive at the lab, Percy is already there reading the note out loud so we can all hear the entire fucking plot of the entire fucking special one more fucking time.

"I don't have time for this. I've got to drop my youngest off at lacrosse practice."

The kids notice the log-off "S-A-N" is followed by the name "Santa" in parentheses, and Rhonda suddenly realizes the magnitude of what they're dealing with. The others are skeptical and insist it must be some kind of joke, and Naughtley is particularly vehement, telling Rhonda "I want you to know I have serious doubts that there even is a Santa Claus," because that is exactly how ten year-olds, particularly those with ears like sattelite dishes, talked in the 1980's.

"I furthermore find it highly unlikely that there even is an Easter Bunny, and the existence of the Tooth Fairy is beneath all serious consideration."

Naughtley suggests they let the terminal rest overnight, like it's a colicy baby or some shit, and maybe it'll fix itself. Then he heads off home because that Activision console ain't gonna play itself.

As soon as the he's gone Rhonda leaps into action, using her hot cougar-mom stenography skills to log back in and try to recover Santa's data. Unfortunately, she can't get the access codes to work and the processor goes haywire.

Santa is getting gobble-de-gook on his end, too, which sends the Elves into a panic. Santa tells them to calm the fuck down because their whining isn't helping recover the files, and it's sure not helping his bowels any, either.

"Maybe I should fire them and bring in an I.T. specialist."

Santa gives a little pep talk to the mysterious messengers on the other side of the inter-webs, telling them he knows they can fix the problem on their end if only they believe hard enough, and now I'm skeptical that long-distance wishing is how computers really work.

So Rhonda brilliantly and decisively types in the DOS command "Stop," instantly causing the feedback loop of bad data to cease.

They're not out of the snowdrifts yet, however. She still needs to find Santa's lists so she can print them out and re-enter them. She types in the code that started all the trouble, "H-U-R," and after a dramatic pause the North Pole database is finally recovered!

And there was much rejoicing.

Now Rhonda types a message back to Santa confirming that they have his information and he has theirs, and the codes were the same so they got mixed up, and how they're going to reenter his lists from their hard-copy printout, and if I have to hear about all this shit one more time somebody's gonna get fucking hurt.

You're first in line for a smackdown, fat boy.

The data transfer, I'm pleased to inform you, is a rousing success. Santa gets his data and the kids get theirs, and Santa sends another message, promising to leave a little something extra for them in their Classroom when he makes his deliveries on Christmas Eve.

Rudolph takes the story from here and ties things up in a neat little bow. We jump ahead to the kids' first day back to school after Christmas break, where we see that all of the Computer Club nerds are wearing Santa-red custom t-shirts with the words "Computer Club" on the front and "Rudolph is #1" on the back, which if you ask me is a lame fucking gift considering they just saved Christmas and kept Santa from falling flat on his fat ass.

The kids disagree, saying they found them in the Computer Lab just like Santa told them, and that they can all now be counted as true believers...even dumb-ass Naughtley with his big-ass ears.

The End.

So that's The Christmas Computer Caper, the cheapest, dumbest, most boring Christmas special I've ever watched. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it, and I hope to never see anything like it again.

Merry Shitmas, indeed.

Shitmas Bonus!

Tales from the Northside:
Take Back the Pole

When Dongle the Elf had finished the first part of what would turn out to be his final tale he took a moment to fortify himself with a huge plate of mozzarella sticks and another pint of Guinness. Between bites he elucidated for me some of the finer points of what he had just relayed.

"Santa didn't fully understand the cost of the bargain he was making in giving the Polekeeper his heart, nor did he grasp the magnitude of the Polekeeper's evil. It was something terrible, ancient and incorporeal, living on a scale of time unimaginable even to the long-lived inhabitants of the North Pole. It had played a long game with him, teasing out aid to him over time in a way that made it seem to him that he was still in control of his own destiny.

It needed Santa's heart but couldn't take it, so it gained his trust by giving him a little bit of power and holding it for him as collateral. Once Santa freely gave his heart the Polekeeper could use it to fulfil the desire it had held since the beginning of time, to rid the Earth of all its other inhabitants forever."

I. The Four Armies

Rasputin the polar bear knew from the lore of his people exactly what the Polekeeper was and exactly what it wanted. He knew there would be a war for the North Pole and he understood the consequence of losing it. "We have four armies to send against Santa's three, but we'll still need every ounce of our strength to defeat him."

Jangle Jim, proud, strong and eager to fight for his people, spoke for the Army of the Elves. "We shouldn't wait for his Three Armies to assemble, we should attack now, stealthily, and decimate their ranks before they can organize their attack."

"I admire your spirit and your courage, Jim, but it's patience and prudent use of our forces that will win the day. The Three Armies are even now ready to fight. They will be assembled on the plains between the Great House and the Workshops before we arrive, but for all their strength they won't be able to attack us all at once. They will doubtless march in ascending order of their strength. If we expend ourselves too early, we won't be able to maintain our advantage.

It's the Polekeeper's most sinister power that for each battle he wins he will gain another army. His slain enemies become vessels for his hate, just as Santa Claus has become his vessel by handing over to him his heart."

Every one of the thousands of brave warriors assembled there, Walruses, Reindeer, Polar Bears and Elves, shivered at the thought that they might become flesh-parcels for the Polekeeper's rage. That they might suffer death they had accepted when they had taken their oaths, but it was something far worse than dying to lose their very identities to the evil Santa had ignorantly unleashed.

Taft the Walrus broke the silence. "My friend Rasputin has spoken well. He knows what we face better than any of us. It's an army that feeds on its victories, that fully absorbs and reanimates what it defeats. Such a force will grow exponentially as it rolls across the Earth, and as it conquers each nation it will become ever stronger, ever more strongly positioned to conquer the next.

"Then we must defeat its armies here and now!" cried Blitzen the Reindeer, "but how?"

"By using our forces wisely," Rasputin explained, "by using our strengths strategically, like against like. We are the last, best hope, not only for the North Pole, but for everything that lives on Earth. Our time is short to make our battle plans. Even now the Three Armies are assembling."

II. The Battle of the Tin Soldiers

General Leadfoot beheld the snowy wastes between the Great House and the Workshop and was well-pleased. "Open ground and a long distance between ourselves and the enemy means time to aim and fire. My men are marksmen, first and last. They're not built for combat at close quarters. This is a battlefield designed for victory."

Santa looked out at the broad, wide ground with the broader, wider vision of the Polekeeper behind his eyes. He was not so sanguine as his General, but he acquiesced to his plan to arrange his thousand men in a two-tier firing line, one line kneeling in front, the other standing behind, where they could fire their muskets at will and keep pounding the enemy until only a few scattered strays remained standing. Even if the enemy breached the line, he reasoned, they'd be so depleted that the next of his three armies could swoop in and take them down.

"Our weapons are far better, to be sure," Santa replied, "They have nothing at all they can use at long range, but if they reach us with any numbers it will be a long, messy slog to bring them down. It's likely to be a battle of attrition either way."

"Look at the horizon! They're on the march! Draw in the lines, men and make ready to fire at my word!" Leadfoot handed Santa his spyglass and pointed at a tiny dark cluster of figures in the distance. "Such a paltry force, my Lord. Perhaps the bulk of them are cowards and have refused to fight!"

Santa peered through the spyglass and extended it as far as he could reach. "I see only the army of the Walruses!"

"Then they will hand us our first, sweet victory!" General Leadfoot's cold, metal hear leapt with joy and anticipation. How perfect, he thought, that the first clash of the day was between the old enemies whom he had fought to a standstill nearly a hundred years before. He'd long dreamed this day would come, when he could defeat them utterly and restore the honor he had lost when he'd been forced to accept their truce.

"Why not step back up the ridge and enjoy the view my Lord? We'll make short work of 'em this time!"

Slowly the Walruses came across the field, clutching their enormous wrenches on their right sides and something dark like a satchel or bag at their left. They were dressed strangely, wearing long leather smocks that left only their heads and the very tips of their flippers exposed.

"They'll be in range at any moment!" Leadfoot cried to his men, "Raise your muskets and aim for their hearts!"

Leadfoot continued to watch through the spyglass and was surprised to see the Walruses lift the satchels and place them over their heads, obscuring their faces and their tusks completely.

"What are they after, the damned toothy devils? Do they think a leather bag swill stop a bullet? Sergeant!"

A thundering volley shook the frigid plain, and the whistle of bullets filled the space between the armies, but expert marksmen though the Tin Soldiers were, not one of their enemies fell.

"Fire at will! Rain down the fires of hell!"

The line of a thousand Tin Soldiers fired again and again. The noise was deafening, and not an instant passed without the snapping and booming of their muskets, but still not one Walrus went down.

The opposing army was scarcely a hundred yards away now, and though the lines of Tin Soldiers continued their volleys apace the fire had no effect. They could hear the clinking impact of the bullets and saw through the tattered leather of the walruses' smocks the glint of green metal, the same as their wrenches which were so dense and heavy only the strongest of creatures could lift them. The artillery fire was so thick that chunks of leather were falling from the Walrus' smocks now, and General Leadfoot gasped with shock and panic at the battle armor now revealed. It was so hard and dense that none of the thousands of bullets that had hit them had made so much as a dent.

The armies closed ranks now and the fighting became too cramped and chaotic for the Tin Soldiers to aim or fire. The Walruses raised their wrenches again and again, rending and shearing apart the Tin Soldiers' bodies, knocking off their limbs, tearing into their metal flesh to expose the clockwork gears beneath, then smashing those gears into useless fragments. There was no sound of muskets now, but only the relentless clang and thud of metal on metal, and soon even that noise slowed and ceased.

General Leadfoot's head lay in the snow next to his battered body, still shouting out orders to his men, but they were all torn into scrap metal now, and none of them still had ears to hear him.

III. The Battle of the Gingerbread Men

To Santa's shock, the Walruses did not continue to advance, but immediately turned and retreated hastily back across the plain. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes were full of fury as he turned to General Nutmeg, commander of the Gingerbread Men, hard-baked and glorious in war. They had watched together as the battle had unfolded below them on the plain, progressing too quickly and too far away for them to interfere.

"I have twice the men Leadfoot could offer you. We have our iron-hard cakes and hollow tortes in our slings. The cakes could knock an elephant on his arse and the tortes are full of acid to dissolve the walrus armor and eat into their flesh. Even better, they'll be half-spent from exertion when they return. Don't despair, my lord. We're bigger, stronger and more numerous, our weapons are more fearsome and better suited to the enemy's vulnerabilities. We must surely prevail."

Nutmeg marched his men to the field and formed a single line in a semicircle, ready to close like a trap around the opposing army when they returned. They watched the horizon for movement on the ground, but were unprepared when a swarm of flying Reindeer appeared in the sky, their bob-tails ringing and their antlers sharpened to deadly points.

"Hurl your missiles, men! Take the enemy down!" cried Nutmeg, but the Reindeer were too deft and agile, and none of the Gingerbread men could score a hit. Soon their ammunition ran out and they turned to run back up the ridge, but the Reindeer swooped in and mercilessly smashed them to crumbs. In the end only General Nutmeg remained standing, and the entire force of Reindeer landed in a dense circle around him. Blitzen stepped forward and smiled.

"I am defeated," Nutmeg lamented, "Smash me to pieces like the others. I cannot face my master for shame!"

"It hardly seems worth my time, especially as the last of your armies is already on the march towards us, but I will grant your my own way."

Blitzen stepped up to General Nutmeg and lowered his antlers to strike. He smashed his arms, his legs and his torso, but left his head intact, propped up against the pile of crumbs that used to be his body, facing the ridge where even now the Nutcrackers were moving towards them.

"When General Walnut reaches this spot, I want you to give him a message to take to his Lord Santa Claus. Tell him Donner has returned to the Pole and will visit him soon. That is all."

IV. The Battle of the Nutcrackers

When General Walnut heard the message and saw the condition of the messenger he immediately marched back up to Santa to repeat it to him. Santa was surprised and utterly baffled. What possible business could Donner have with him after all this time away from the Pole? Why should he return now and what part might he play in the final battle that must soon commence? It was a conundrum that vexed him and made him unaccountably fearful, but he had little time or energy to devote to solving it.

"Never mind Donner now, Walnut. You have work to do for me. You are my last hope to defeat my enemies and march forth with their living corpses into the rest of the world. You must not fail me!"

My lord, I have ten thousand men, brave, strong Nutcrackers, mighty of jaw, stiff-legged and full of fury! Our nuts are like cannonballs flung by titans and our aim is always true. Let the Walruses and Reindeer return, let any army of any kind try to stand against us! We shall mow them down and crunch their bones to the marrow!"

General Walnut marched down to his men and formed them into a crescent, a thousand men wide and ten layers deep, spaced apart with such precision that every one of them might fire their nuts at will and never even graze one of their comrades.

For a long, tense hour all was quiet on the battlefield, then finally the Nutcrackers heard a distant rumbling. It was almost imperceptible at first, but quickly grew louder. Across the plain they could see flashes of green seemingly floating just above the level field of snow. As the sound grew ever louder they could now just barely discern tiny figures, also just above the level of the ground, and as they came nearer, large bulky shapes below them became more and more distinct.

It was the army of the Polar Bears, led by fearsome Rasputin himself, their bodies naturally camouflaged against the snow, and aboard their backs they carried the long-suffering Elves, so eager to regain their freedom, wielding mighty pine trees like medieval lances.

"Fire your nuts, men!" ordered General Walnut, "Fire them now!"

The Nutcrackers opened their jaws and spat their enormous nuts at tremendous speed towards their enemies, but the Elves were strong and quick from their decades of hard labor, and they used the trees to swat the nuts away. Some of them even used the firs as bats, swinging and hitting the nuts back towards the Nutcrackers themselves, and hundreds of them were knocked to the ground with their own missiles in the heat of the first wave.

It wasn't long before the Nutcrackers were overrun, with the Polar Bears stamping them to the ground and the Elves jamming the trees into their maws, pinning them down and rendering their weapons useless. The Walruses and Reindeer came in a furious wave behind the Polar Bears and Elves, smashing with their wrenches and antlers until there was nothing left of the Army of the Nutcrackers but piles of splinters and sawdust, blowing in the polar breeze and scattering across the plain.

V. The Heart of Christmas

Santa Claus stood alone on the ridge, watching the victorious four armies marching towards him up tor the ridge. Taft, Blitzen and Rasputin stepped forward, each holding the head of the general they'd defeated, which they threw at Santa's feet.

"All of the creatures of the North Pole are now free," announced Jangle Jim, stepping out from the crowd, hand in hand with his beloved Ellabelle, "You, Santa Claus, once sought to do good, to spread kindness and joy throughout the world. You gave up your heart to achieve your goals and now you are a shell and a cipher, full to overflowing someone else's impotent rage."

The only part of Santa that could still feel shame was stung by the words of Jangle Jim. He could feel the light of their truth burning his flesh and exposing his folly. "There's nothing left of me now," he lamented, "not even my Self. Why did I ever yield my heart to the Polekeeper, never again to feel it beating in my chest? For power? For wealth? I sought to do a good turn for the world, but in my ambition I went astray. I am lost, all is done for me, and I must wander the Earth forever as a man already dead."

"Not so, my dear, old friend."

The crowd of many creatures parted, and Donner appeared, with the hero-light of wisdom shining like a second sun from between his antlers. Between his forehooves he carried a gold damask paper-wrapped box with a crimson velvet bow.

"My heart!" cried Santa as the void within him slowly filled with the first warm inklings of his returning identity.

"Only an enlightened being could retrieve it from the Polekeeper. His spirit tried to repulse me but I swatted him away like a cone fallen from a pine. I humbly bow before you, Santa Claus, and I give you back your ill-offered gift, and with it, I hope you may gain the wisdom to make the most of your restoration."

Dongle the Elf and I sat quietly for some time after he had completed his narrative, he wandering through the mansion of his memory and I stunned into silence by what I had just heard. It was late in the night now, just past Midnight, when Christmas Eve turns to Christmas Day, and the pub was empty save for the bartender, Dongle and myself.

"I left the Pole soon after," Dongle finally continued. "Despite all the wonderful changes that would soon take place there it seemed the right time to close that chapter of my life. Santa had his heart back and his old Self restored to him, and all the rancor and greed and scheming evaporated as the Polekeeper's spirit was forced back into his prison beneath the Great House.

Everything became as it was before Santa had gone astray. His beating heart brought back to us his love, compassion, kindness and joy, and most of all his forgiveness. The Elves, Polar Bears, Reindeer, Walruses and all the other creatures of the pole forgave Santa...and Santa forgave himself."

All this time we had been sitting in our chairs by the fireplace, feeling warm and suddenly woozy from the heat of the flames. All at once the fire went out, and we heard a shuffling in the chimney above. I watched tongue-tied as a red and white shape oozed down the flue and out through the grate, forming before my astonished eyes into Santa Claus himself.

"Ho ho howdy folkses! Merry Christmas! Why, if it isn't old Dongle! How's the job at Keebler going for you, my good fellow?"

"I thought I heard Dongle begin to say something in reply, but there was a sudden ringing in my ears and a strange befuddlement in my head. I felt as if I was being pulled backwards through a dark tunnel, and when I slowly awoke, I found myself in my own bed at home, with my wife asleep, breathing deeply and peacefully beside me, and surrounded by my sleeping cats.

The next morning, I found my stocking at the foot of the bed, full of candy canes, some cat-related tchotchkes and a box of fancy tea, plus a remastered Frank Zappa box set I'd had my eye on for some time. I dug out all of the trinkets and eatables, and when I reached the very bottom I found a small slip of paper intricately folded into the shape of a penguin. I unfolded it and found the following missive:

"Dear Mr. Lyndon,

I offered Dongle a promotion and a hefty pay raise and he's going to come back to the Pole to work for me again. He says to tell you Merry Christmas and that he will keep in touch. I know all about what he told you, and frankly you might as well go ahead and publish it. No one will ever believe you, and nobody reads your articles anyway.

Most merrily yours,
S. Claus"

explicitus est liber

All "Tales from the Northside" stories
copyright 2022 Bradley Lyndon

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We'll see you all in 2023!

That's all, folkses!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2022.

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