Imagine the scene, just like the poem,
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and ‘you know who’ had been very busy up there in the north. It was frosty, crisp and the fur trees were laden with snow, and all around Santa’s Big Igloo there were lanterns dancing and tracks of activity.
There were beaver, snow hares, deer, elk, moose, elves and the like and they were all milling about helping. And at the centre, there he was, big and larger than life in his red suit with the ermine trim, real gold buttons, black leather belt, gold buckle and lush leather boots.
Mr. C was busy, he was:
“Makin’ a list and checkin it twice
Trying to find out who was naughty or nice.”
And everything was almost ready.
The reindeers were restive in their stalls. They’d been out for a test spin and they were eager for the real thing. They could smell Christmas! Mr. C could hear the faint tinkle of their bells as they stamped and snorted and ate their last hearty meal.
The big heavy sleigh was gleaming. There were the big comfy cushions for Mr. C, new reins, and all the paintwork was fresh and bright. The silver runners were polished and gleaming on the snow. Mr. C still upset about the discrete new GPS Mrs. C had insisted he have mounted, as if he couldn’t find his way! And the new cell phone was charged and making an uncomfortable lump in his pocket.
Hrrrrmph, he’d never needed one before, and certainly didn’t need it this time, but Mrs. C had chided him gently, and kissing him sweetly, said it made her feel safer as she made her way back to their home, twinkling with lights in the snow.
Mr. C watched as the last of the heavily laden animals and elves staggered under piles of prezzies to the back of the big sleigh and then they all stood back. Mr. C could see Henry the Chief Elf, resplendent in his conical hat, his fingers flying as he checked off the final items on his lap top. Then Henry looked up, and with a smile and a flourish, blew on the silver horn.
It was time to go. Mr. C made his way to the front door. It was open, and in the pool of light he could see his darling wife, dabbing at her eyes.
“I’ll be all right… ho, ho, ho!” he said.
“I know dear, “ said Mrs. C., “its just that I worry! You’re not getting any younger… or any thinner…” and she laughed, and offered up a little wooden casket and her cheek for a kiss.
“Oh thank you m’dear.” Mr. C twinkled. How he loved this good woman, and as they kissed he tucked the casket under his arm. He knew it had a flask of tea and his favourite maple syrup cookies.
“I’ll be careful”.
“You make sure you are”, Mrs. C managed, dabbing at a tear, “now my phone is turned on, and charged, so you just remember to call!”
“Yes m’dear.” He smiled, suddenly anxious to go. Mrs. C tugged the red woollen scarf she’d knitted around Mr. C’s neck, blew him another kiss, and then urged him away.
It was with a light step that Mr. C made his way back to the sleigh where Henry was organising the Elves. There were the reindeer to settle in the traces, and of course all the toys to tie down so nothing would be lost.
Rudolph looked magnificent, his glowing nose bright and cheerful. They were all set.
Mr. C was excited, his breath frosty, as he heaved himself into the high seat, let off the hand brake, checked the Hi-Spec LED lanterns, fired up the GPS for the first stop and waving to Henry and loosely shaking the reins asked:
" Ready Rudolph?” There was a flash of red and then Mr. C shouted the time honoured words:
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
With his free hand Mr. C clamped his big Santa tuque firmly on his head and adjusted his feet in the big black boots. With a pawing and stirring and a jangle of bells, the nine reindeer took the strain and the gleaming silver runners slid easily on the crisp frozen snow. While Mr. C laughed and waved goodbye, his scarf trailing, the big sleigh gathered speed with a roar and then in spray of snow, began to magically climb and then circle above the workshops and suddenly way down below, Mr. C could see his dear partner, in the light of the doorway, waving, and he waved back.
It was long night and a long list as Mr. C and the big sleigh with its nine reindeer chased the moon about the world, and it was with a cheery heart and a much lighter load that Mr. C tapped the GPS to enter the final country, his favourite.
Low on the horizon he could just make out the great river as he urged the reindeer on. Almost home! It was about an hour later, with lots of presents delivered; over Brockville that things began to go wrong. Mr. C had just had sip from the flask of tea Mrs. C had prepared, and with one hand on the reins, he used his free hand to extricate one of the fabulous maple syrup cookies with the little silver buttons while he checked his messages. The little silver cup with the big handle to accommodate his gloves, had just begun to slip and mindful of the hot contents, Mr. C had foolishly tried to grab it and save the day with his right hand, the hand that held the reins, the reins that guided those incredibly deft reindeer.
It was ever so slight and ever so light, but at that speed any minor correction took space and so it was that to his horror Mr. C saw that they were now on a collision course for the highest building in Brockville, a new tower with a great winking light on it.
“Oh noooooooooooo” he cried, his heart thumping in his chest. He immediately tucked away the phone, mug and cookies. Suddenly alert, Mr. C called out again, after all, he had the best trained team of reindeer in the world, all was not lost.
“Rudolph! We need some height, please” trying to keep his voice calm as he gritted his teeth.
Flawlessly and effortlessly the power poured on, Mr. C could feel the extra ‘G’s’ as they pulled skyward. It would be just enough he thought, and at almost the same time he heard the sound, a heart rending tearing sound as the offside back silver runner snagged the top of the tower. The big heavy sleigh jolted and slewed as the reindeer already on full power desperately clawed the sky. The load, with straps loose, shifted and the sleigh twisted.
The combination was too much, and Mr. C was forced to grab the rail as the force in the turn slid him across the seat and hard against the far side of the sleigh. Mr. C heard a snap like a ricochet and then they were falling out of the sky. He hung on for dear life as the valiant reindeer struggled to regain their equilibrium but they were fighting a losing battle over miles of snow and ice and trees as the damaged sleigh slowly lost height and then speed and then trim and then finally, hurtling south, only feet above the ground, narrowly skimmed some old pitch pines. With a final desperate spurt, the reindeer staggered and the lumbering sleigh cleared and then dropped with a heavy thump and they were on the ice and sliding. There was more noise, a terrible rendering sound as the sleigh slewed across the frozen ground and came to an abrupt halt.
Mr. C unfastened his grip from the rail, and breathing heavily, climbed down to survey the damage. He took off his cap and scratched his head. He could feel the cold. Rudolph looked mournful, pawing his feet, as his frosty breath sparkled in the night. The other reindeer looked shaken and they too were breathing heavily.
“Its all right, it’ll be okay, it was my fault. I’m so sorry” he managed, and Rudolph looked relieved.
Mr. C didn’t quite understand why the big sleigh could fly so fast and so high with its nine reindeer, but he did know if anything was adrift or damaged, it couldn’t fly as well, and it looked like one of the silver runners was askew. That was trouble. Serious trouble. What to do? What to do?
Mr. C was really good at his job, but his job was delivering presents at Christmas. He didn’t have a clue where to start when it came to mending magic sleighs. He looked up quickly, sure that he could see the dark night sky lighting behind him. Not much time. He tapped the GPS and the place name came up quickly: St. Lawrence River nr. Brockville . Mr. C looked around. He could see a small cabin on the shore and looking through the trees he saw houses he remembered. It was a place where they did Christmas well. He patted his pockets, and slipping off a big red glove, extricated his cell phone.
He pushed the one button and the display lit up and then he heard the voice of the wonderful woman he loved.
“What’s happened dear? Are you all right?” Mr. C explained and Mrs. C was quick to say;
“You’ll have to get help.” Mr. C looked around. It was pretty quiet. His heart sank.
Not far, in a snug little house, someone went to the window to have a look.
It wasn’t long after that, Mr. Claus heard a door slam and whirled to see a man with a winter coat over pajamas and ski-doo boots walking across the ice towards him.
“I heard the noise. Can I help?” was the offer. He glanced solemnly at the big sleigh and pawing reindeer. It was quite a vision! The broken silver rail hung forlornly, and there was a trail of brightly wrapped parcels flung across the gleaming ice.
“ Yes please”, said Mr. C decisively as he said goodbye to his bride, “ I’ve had a bit of a prang” and turned off the phone, “and I’m a little late already.”
Mr. C leaned against the sleigh with a worried sigh and while he munched one of Mrs. C’s maple syrup cookies, looked at Rudolph. Rudolph winked and then smiled, and Mr. C knew it would be all right.
It wasn’t long before the man was back. Mr. C had just enough time to re-load the last of the scattered prezzies.
With Mr. C’s help, the man was able to push the gleaming silver runner back into place and with some tools and some bolts, quickly had it securely fixed. It was but a matter of moments before a very grateful Mr. C had thanked him and was clambering back into the sleigh.
“Oh kind stranger, I almost forgot, a little gift!” Mr. C said with a smile, as he reached into his pocket, “Take these and plant them for me please”.
And into the man’s hand tumbled half a dozen seeds. Mr. C waved, tapped his next stop into the GPS and shook the reins and called out:
"Ready Rudolph?” and with the flash of the red light it was:
“Now Dasher! Now Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! On Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the trees! to the top of them all!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
And with a whoosh and fierce tinkle of bells the Big Sleigh slid across the snow gaining speed and then height and then with a spray of snow and a distant Ho ho ho, and
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
it was racing across the sky toward dawn, a small red light flashing at the front.
“It's freezing out here!” the man said as he watched. He could see the lights going on over on the shore. “No one will believe this” he said, removing his touque and scratching his head.
No one did believe the man, not even his neighbours. Everyone else thought it must have been a dream. But every Christmas after that, when the man told the story about the time Santa crash landed on the ice off Brockville and they all smiled indulgently, the man would look across the ice to the little island, and there just to the right of the pitch pines, were six perfect blue spruce Christmas trees.
And the man would smile indulgently too.
By Charles MacLean Cochand
Chas Cochand was born in Montreal and raised in the Laurentians at his family's ski resort Chalet Cochand. At 14 he went off to school in Switzerland but returned to the University of Western Ontario in London, ON for a degree in English & History. He attended the Inns of Court School of Law, London UK, and was called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1978 and has been practicing criminal law in England ever since. He lives with his wife Judy and three adult sons in the New Forest, Hampshire U.K., but comes home every summer for a month at Judy's family cottage on Lake Simcoe.
Photographs: Clip Art illustrations as well as photographs by Ian Corisitine adapted by fotosketcher.