It has been a devastating winter. The last of the elves left in late October, forced by the declining polar economy to migrate south in search of better work. Gravely, Santa Claus lashes his eight tiny reindeer to the sleigh and prepares for what will probably be the most difficult Christmas of his career. For the first time in as long as he can remember, he is completely alone.
As he checks and re-checks the harnesses, he feels a sharp pain in his foot. The hard ice has daggered a hole through his left boot, and he can see one of his frozen, purple toes. It will probably have to come off. There is no time to worry about it now.
“Looks like you could use some help,” a piercing voice says from somewhere in the cold night. It is Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and current candidate for the presidency of the United States. Some polls even say that he is the frontrunner, and yet, inexplicably, here he is at the Workshop.
“Personnel problems can be crippling to solutions-oriented endeavors like yours and mine,” Newt says. “I lost most of my campaign staff this past summer, but I soldiered on, and now I’m favored to win. I’d be willing to lend you my considerable acumen and experience, if you like.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind,” Santa says.
“For a small consulting fee, of course.”
“Of… course,” Santa says. He supposes it is only fair. And there is really no way he will be able to finish the work on his own. “Could you help me tighten these reins? We’ll need to be on our way soon if we’re going to make all the stops on time.”
“Great. Perhaps I could make a minor suggestion first?”
“Well, certainly,” Santa says.
“Reindeer have always struck me as a profoundly stupid means of transport. I mean, how much does it cost to feed and house them? Not to mention flight training, and selective breeding programs. And I’m not sure they can speak English. Why not let the children themselves do the reindeer's job?”
“I’m confused,” Santa says. “You want me to make children pull the sleigh?”
“Well, no. Just the poorer children. It will keep them out of trouble, and teach them a habit of hard work that their degenerate parents cannot.”
“I don’t think you understand how dangerous flying through the sky is.”
“Fine,” Newt says testily. “Let them be assistant reindeer. Whatever.”
“I’ll have to think about it,” Santa says. “Here, help me load the presents.”
Newt assists Santa with the arduous task of loading several billion presents into the bottomless sacks that make worldwide gift distribution possible.
“I’ve noticed a lot of these don’t have price tags,” Newt says. “Is that something we add en route, or do we just bill the children later?”
“Bill them? These are presents. We’re giving them away.”
Suddenly, Newt drops his armload of boxes into the snow, his eyes wide with terror.
“My God,” Newt whispers. “They’ve gotten to you, too.”
“The socialists,” Newt hisses.
“I’m Santa Claus! Don't you know anything about me?”
“I think I’m beginning to find out,” Newt says. He picks up the presents and continues loading, periodically shooting suspicious looks at Santa as he makes the final launch preparations.
Once everything is in order, Santa and Newt climb aboard. The reindeer run a few yards and leap into the air, impossibly light, and the white tundra falls away below them. Santa watches his empty home growing smaller and smaller. His wife is buried somewhere down there in the snow. Pneumonia. There had been a time when he could have afforded the best hospitals in the world, but the elves in accounting had chosen a particularly shitty HMO, and his wife’s coverage had been repeatedly declined.
Sensing Santa’s grief, Newt clasps him warmly around the shoulders.
“I too have loved deeply,” Newt says. “I too have lost a dear woman to illness.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Santa says.
“The main thing,” Newt advises solemnly, “is to trade up.”
“I know, I know,” Newt says. “It sounds very expensive, and it is. I’m up to my ass in Tiffany’s bills, but in the end good pussy pays for itself.”
“All right, that’s enough.”
“You feel me, Nick?”
They fly on in cold silence. Newt searches through the bags of presents for a warmer coat and a pair of frost-resistant gloves. He does not ask permission, nor does he bother to check for whom they were intended. Finally, Santa has had enough.
“Oh, dear,” he says. “We seem to have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“It’s the reindeer, they’re buckling under the pressure. We’re too heavy. Yessiree, we’re going down.”
“We seem to be flying pretty level to me.”
“Well, yeah, it looks that way to a novice. Believe me, we’re dropping like a stone. We’re going to have to shed some weight.”
“You mean like the presents?” Newt asks.
“Well, the presents are sort of the whole point, wouldn’t you say?”
“Well, yeah, but that only leaves…”
Newt looks over the side of the sleigh at the ground crawling along in the moonlight thousands of feet below.
“Well, if I jump out, your Christmas magic will carry me gently to the ground or something, right?”
Santa hesitates for a moment.
“One might assume so,” he says.
“Well, I guess it’ll be worth a little inconvenience to thwart the radical Islamo-atheist war on Christmas.”
“Indeed,” Santa says. “I hate those guys.”
Newt climbs shakily out onto the runners, holding tight against the wind. “So I can assume I have your endorsement?”
“Your endorsement for president. The election is less than a year away, and an endorsement from Santa Claus himself would really put me over the top.”
“Well, I make it my business never to refuse a reasonable request from a well-behaved child.”
“That’s all I needed to hear,” Newt says, releasing his grip on the sled and letting the terrible rush of air carry his body limply away.
A long time later, somewhere over the North Atlantic, Santa reaches into the back of the sleigh.
“Almost forgot,” he says. He pulls a fist-sized lump of coal from one of the bags. Scratched into one of the facets is the name “Newt.”
“Not that you’ll need it where you’re going,” Santa says, tossing it over the side. “But Merry fucking Christmas, all the same.”