Chapter 1. Immortals Out of Balance
IT HAD BEEN the best Christmas ever.
Never had his deliveries gone with greater efficiency, in hovel and manse, by modest sprig or beneath towering Douglas fir. His reindeer, never flagging, sprang straight into the air, every takeoff smooth and belly-tickling, every landing soft and on point. And in each house, the living room air was infused with parental love—at times begrudgingly bestowed, grown-ups being what they were—for the children.
Headed home at last, Santa sat high in his sleigh and cracked his whip over the glistening backs of his reindeer. Form’s sake only, those whipsmacks, for his team longed for home as much as he did, eager to be led to their stalls for a brisk rubdown, a well-deserved meal of aspen shoots, willow buds, and berries, and a long regenerative rest.
“Look lively there, Comet, Cupid,” called Santa, casting a kind eye upon them. “Well lit, my lad, well lit,” said he to his lead reindeer. Lucifer’s tail flicked proudly, the branchwork of his antlers glowing lightning-white in all directions.
As they neared the North Pole, stepdaughter Wendy’s sleigh emerged from a cloudbank on the right. Spirited Galatea of the milk-white fur and beacon-green nose pounded her hooves against the darkness, bringing Wendy even with Santa as they glided in swift tandem through the gathering dawn.
“Morning, sweetheart,” said Santa, his loving words carrying effortlessly to her ears. “How did the visits go?”
Then her face brightened.
“They were wonderful,” she said. “The kids woke, as always, a little disoriented and confused. But they quickly came around and hopped on board to join me in flight, asking question after question as Galatea drew us on. Each had at least one talent; several, scads of them. But all were delighted at what I showed them of their future triumphs. One little girl, Bethany Zander from North Spokane, clapped her hands and said, ‘That’s me all right, that’s me all over.’ She’ll be a gifted physicist.”
Santa’s bold round laugh boomed out. “Bethany’s pure gold. She’s got extra stars beside her name on my niceness list.”
Thus did Wendy unfold the highlights of her hundred visits to good little boys and girls, her words dancing over the crisp jingle of sleighbells.
Ahead, Santa spied the protective bubble that enclosed their community in the mildest of winters. “Thar she blows, darlin’. Home, sweet home. Magic time, off with you.” Santa’s gesture brought them out of the expandable time that allows millions of visits in a single night, a time used as well by the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman.
Fierce floods of snow flew scattershot against his team.
Galatea lowered her antlers into the storm, her nose’s powerful gleam transforming the flurries into a mad scatter of emeralds.
When they pierced the protective bubble, the snow turned at once random and feathery. Wendy pointed ahead in wonder. “Look, Daddy. We’re almost home!”
Their runners brushed the treetops, raising mist-clouds of snow dust behind them as they flew. A swirl of dark dots in the commons resolved into individual elves. Over the mica sheen of the skating pond Santa and Wendy passed, then over the elves’ quarters, the periwinkle-blue stables, and the workshop’s fire-engine red, swiftly eclipsed by the gingerbread house and the cottage where Santa and his family made their home.
Rachel and Anya waved excitedly from the porch.
Santa felt such love for them, Anya his mate since their mortal days in Myra, Rachel only newly come into their lives. Though he took much joy in his annual trip around the globe, to be parted so long from his beloved helpmates tempered that joy.
Santa yielded the lead to Wendy, coming in. One final sweep above his helpers, their shouts rising in fountains of elfin delight, and the runners swept down to kiss the snow and bring them to a smooth stop.
Swarming in, the elves lifted him and Wendy on a surge of hands. Thrice about they carried them, high above their heads, then wrestled them good-naturedly to the ground and at last brushed them off and delivered them to the fond embraces awaiting them on the porch. This, thought Santa, was surely heaven on earth.
Yet something nagged.
Something was out of place.
Try as he might, he could not fix upon what it might be. He reviewed his deliveries. Everything was in order there, no child overlooked, no gifts switched or omitted.
What was ever so slightly off?
Consternation bedeviled him.
Could Wendy have—?
But Santa suddenly found himself overwhelmed by visions of his darling children the world over, snug in their beds and being so perfectly behaved it sent wave after wave of giggles rippling through him. How blessed he was in his task of making them happy!
His momentary upset no more than the shadow of a memory, Santa surrendered to the sea of mirth that surrounded him.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish