Thursday, December 27, 2012

When Snow Falls

When Snow Falls
When Snow Falls  -  Background Image courtesy of SummitCountyVoice, text and snow added by me


Joe shivered as he entered through the doorway. Not only was the morning freezing cold outside, but also his wife waited for him inside. He knew she’d care not that he’d broken the world record of most letters delivered in an hour. He knew this from her posture: sitting upright on her hardback chair meant she was annoyed. Her gaunt face tightened as Joe approached her.
“Good morning,” he said. “It’s Christmas tomorrow.”
She slowly rose from her chair, her heels putting her many inches higher than Joe’s already small being. She looked at her hand, as if contemplating its capabilities. Her long black nails caressed her palm as she flexed her fingers. Joe knew what was coming. His wife’s eyes squinted, signalling she had worked out her hand’s capability and that she was willing to show it off. She smacked it around his face; the nails left stinging scratches that no doubt shone red against his cold skin.
“Do not say that again,” she spat.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“Very good. Now, be a good husband and get my breakfast; I am growing hungrier by the minute. You should have been back ten minutes ago.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” He hurried off to the kitchen, his feet shuffling along the stone floor she had been so insistent on having. Opening the fridge, he welcomed the cool air on his burning scars. There were no eggs. He felt her moist breath on his neck.
“Why are there no eggs?” She asked.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“You insolent man. Why I put up with you as a husband is beyond me! No eggs. Has it escaped your memory that I have eggs for breakfast every fourth Monday of every month? Perhaps that ginger hair of yours blocks intelligence. You are a despicable being.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
She shook her head. “Why are you still here? Why aren’t you buying eggs?”
“I’m sorry ma’am.”
He hadn’t even taken a full step before she spoke again. “Are you forgetting something?”
“I’m sorry ma’am.” He bent down and kissed her feet. Twice on the right, once on the left. She waved a hand signalling he was ‘free’ to go.


On any other occasion, Joe would have gone to the local supermarket, but his wife insisted that when purchasing, they should be from a specific shop an hour’s drive away. When he arrived, the shop was closed.
He got out of his car and saw a brightly coloured building covered with flashing lights.
A small man jumped out from a window. “Hey, you want to come see Santa?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” Joe responded.
“We’ve got eggs.”
Joe wondered how this man could possibly know about his egg problem. But, with the alternative being a beating from his wife, he had nothing to lose by going with the man.
“That’s the Christmas spirit!”

Inside the building, a large man dressed as Santa sat in an authentic sleigh, which flashed red and green.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” He called. “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time, Joe.”
“How …”
“Do I know your name? Joe, you are famous my dear man.”
“Famous?”
“You are a world-class postman. In the realm of large-scale postal services you are an inspiration.” The man pulled himself to his feet with some effort, and extended his hand to Joe.
Shaking the hand, Joe said, “But I’m nothing special. Just a postman.”
“Bah! I previously held that world record you broke during this morning. That should have been impossible to beat.”
“I only just managed it.”
“I paused time to get that damn record!” He lurched forward and embraced Joe in a bear-like hug. “You, sir, are coming with me.”
“OK, then,” Joe replied. After years with his wife, he knew better than to ask too many questions.
“To the South Pole.”
“OK, then.”
“Aren’t you going to ask ‘why the South Pole’?”
“Why the South Pole?” Joe asked, hoping it would please ‘Santa’.
“We relocated recently—there’s not much North Pole left.”
The little man who brought Joe to Santa stood on a box. “Are we all ready?” Santa nodded, and the man shook a bell stick. Snow fell from the ceiling, coating the three of them. A strong wind kicked in, throwing the snow into a blizzard. As Joe’s vision was obscured, he felt the floor fall from beneath him and a hand grab his arm.
“Almost lost you, then!” Santa said with a hoarse laugh.
Joe realised he was on the edge of a large glacier with icy water below. “Thanks.”
“You ready to start, Santa?” The little man asked.
Santa nodded and the two of them sprinted towards a large factory in the distance. Six large chimneys billowed out multi-coloured fumes that merged into one large sweet-shaped cloud that seemed to precipitate sugar.
Joe hurried after the two men who had already made some headway to the factory. However, the thick snow that never ceased to fall made sprinting impossible. At least for Joe, anyway. Santa and the little man seemed to be doing fine.
After walking for a few minutes, Joe stopped abruptly. He was in the South Pole … with Santa! How that realisation hadn’t come earlier Joe didn’t know, but … the South Pole! “Wow,” he muttered to himself.
Something cold and damp rubbed against his neck. Turning around, he saw it was a reindeer with a blue nose. It nuzzled him in a comforting way, but Joe only had one thing he to say:
“You must be bluedolph!”
The reindeer rolled its eyes and snorted. Whenever he told jokes in front of his wife she’d … the reindeer kicked Joe so powerfully it sent him flying through the air. Screaming like a little girl, he landed in front of the factory at the same time Santa arrived. The little man sighed and handed some coins to Santa.
“Told you he’d say the joke,” Santa said pocketing the money.
“I didn’t think Ralph would be there,” the little man replied in a squeaky voice.
Joe pulled himself up from the ground. Up close, he could tell the factory was made from gingerbread and held together with icing. Santa pushed open the double doors leading into the noisy factory. Walking in, he saw clusters of small people worked round irregularly shaped workstations, making different toys and games. Along the sides small, skinny people wearing glasses worked at computers staring at spreadsheets and databases. These people, Joe concluded, were Santa’s elves. In the centre of the factory, a Christmas tree rose from a hole in the floor. It slowly rotated, allowing an observer to see its magnificent beauty from all angles.
“Welcome to my workshop,” Santa said proudly.
“Thank you for letting me visit, sir,” Joe replied.
“This isn’t just a visit, Joe. I need your help.”
“Whatever you want me to do, I’ll try.” Joe said. His wife had always told him to do whatever he was told to avoid arguments.
“Well, this year I want to cut down the length of time I have to run my TimePauser. The problem is I can’t do that alone, especially now that online ordering has skyrocketed.”
“I didn’t know you took online orders.” Realising how bad that must sound, Joe added, “I’m sorry, sir.”
Santa laughed. “It’s nothing to be sorry about, why would you know? Most people don’t know I even exist! See, I don’t home deliver anymore. Oh no, that’s far too time-consuming. I deliver to the retailers like Amazon and Argos. They can’t physically cope with the Christmas demand, so I help them out. The problem is people are ordering really…”
An elf wearing thick glasses tugged on Santa’s coat. “Someone has just ordered a stethoscope as a Christmas present, Mr. Claus. We’ve never had to make medical equipment for Christmas before.”
“Like I said, people are ordering really obscure things.” He bent down to the elf and whispered something in his ear.
“Oh, thank you Mr. Claus. Saving Christmas one gift at a time!” He ran off to the other elves and started organising them.
“Get down on the ground!” A voice shouted from the doorway in a thick 1940’s New York accent.
All the elves screamed and hid underneath their workstations. Santa pulled Joe down to the floor.
“Very good,” the voice said. “Little Frosty, yous can gets the TimePauser froms the back.”
Joe looked up at the robbers. Six snowmen stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the watery sun. They stood in a triangle, with the tallest snowman at the front. They all wore black fedora hats and striped grey scarves. The two snowmen flanking the tall one carried Colt submachine guns at waist height. The two snowmen in the back corners of the group held Tommy guns and aimed them at the elves and Santa. The smallest of the six snowmen, presumably Little Frosty walked calmly from the middle of the back row.
“Consider it done,” Little Frosty said, sauntering to the back of the workshop. He pulled back a curtain revealing gigantic rectangular frame that loomed over the entire shop. A small cube jutted out from the side. It was this that Little Frosty took and bagged. One of the elves who had been working with the device jumped in front of Frosty in a feeble attempt to save the device. Little Frosty pulled a handgun out of his snow-body and aimed at the elf. The elf whimpered and ran away.
Joe cowered on the ground, watching as the small snowman walked through the workshop. He’d spent most of his life worrying when he’d next be shot down, but by insults from his wife, not an actual gun.
Frosty handed the bagged cube to Big Snowy, who took it with a smirk. “Thank yous Little Frosty.”
Joe tried and failed to suppress a cough.
Big Snowy bent down to him. “Did yous wants to say something to me?”
“No,” Joe muttered.
“I thinks you owes me an apology,” Snowy said with a strong emphasis on the ‘p’.
Joe replied in the only way he knew how, “I’m sorry ma’am.”
The corners of Big Snowy’s pebble lined mouth twitched. “Tell me, do yous know any of these elves? Personally, I mean.”
Joe shook his head.
“Then you won’t mind when we do this.” He clicked his stick fingers. The other five snowmen fired the weapons at the elves. The bullets thundered down on the unsuspecting elves. Blood splattered into the air, staining the wrapping paper and teddy bears ready to be sent out. Screams pierced the air in a way Joe hadn’t even heard on television. He closed his eyes as more bullets whipped around the workshop, ricocheting off metallic work surfaces with echoing clangs.
Then the bullets stopped.
Big Snowy patted Joe on the shoulder as he got up. “I thinks we will be off now. Have a good evening, ma’am
The six snowmen turned and left, leaving Joe and Santa in a workshop full of dead elves.
Santa stood up, his face as pale as the snow outside. He looked down at Joe and shook his head slowly. “And to think I’ve looked forward to this day all year. I looked up to you, Joe.” He faced away. “All you had to do was say nothing. Sit on the floor and say nothing.” He was shouting now. “But no! You had to call him ma’am. What were you thinking? Were you trying to be funny?”
Joe whimpered.
“Get up—you’re coming with me.”
Joe stood. “Where are we going?” He asked with a tremble in his voice.
“We’re going to get the spare TimePauser before the Snow Mafia gets it first.”
Joe looked at the devastating scene behind him. Elves were scattered along the floor, laying in pools of deep red blood that glistened in the sparkling light of the central Christmas tree.
“But what are you going to do about the elves?”
“There is nothing I can do about them. Your stupidity is irreparable.”
Joe felt his stomach sink. He had just allowed hundreds of elves to be slaughtered. If he had just said sir instead of ma’am, or better still not coughed in the first place, then the only problem would be getting the TimePauser, not dealing with grief.
Santa whistled. “Ralph! Come!”
The blue-nosed reindeer trotted to the factory entrance. It gruffed when it saw Joe, who looked down at the ground.
“Ho! Another one of my workforce you’ve affected! Now get in the sleigh, as much as I wish it were otherwise, I still need your help.”
A sleigh had magically appeared to the back of Ralph and Santa was already at the helm. Joe climbed in, careful not to knock any of the fragile-looking embellishments along the sides. The long seat in the sleigh was plush with a deep burgundy fabric over a soft pillow base. Joe sank into it when he sat down, the comfort contrary to the devastation they were leaving behind.
“Onwards, Ralph!” Santa called.
Ralph galloped through the snow, pulling the sleigh behind him with great speeds. They neared the edge of the glacier and then, just before falling into the choppy sea below, they launched into the air. The sea whizzed beneath them as the sleigh flew at almost a seventy miles an hour.
After flying for a few minutes, they flew over a village on another glacier.
“Joe, we need to inform the town that we are activating the spare TimePauser,” Santa said. “We need any technician elves to prepare whilst we get the device. The problem is we don’t have long and I don’t know which houses have the elves we need.”
“I don’t know how I can help,” Joe replied.
Santa handed him a large pile of flyers calling for help. “You need to post these in the houses below as quickly as you can.”
“There must be a hundred flyers here,” Joe said flicking through the pile.
“Exactly. However, there isn’t enough room to take off on the glacier, so I can’t land the sleigh.”
“So I will be on my own?”
“Correct. In order to get to the spare TimePauser before the Snow Mafia get it we need to gone from here in three minutes. Ralph and I will circle the glacier and you will have to jump on the sleigh after you’ve posted the flyers.”
“And if I don’t do it in time—I am only a postman.”
“You broke my record. If you don’t do you will be stuck on the glacier, the elves don’t have anything strong enough to carry a human and it will be a day or two until I can pick you up.”
“OK, then,” Joe said resolutely.
“Away you go then.” Santa pushed Joe out of the sleigh.
Joe screamed as he fell to the ground. He landed on a soft pile of snow with a ‘flump’. He stood up and analysed the village layout. There were five streets each with twenty houses—ten on each side. At the far end of the glacier, Joe spotted an ideal spot where Santa’s sleigh would be relatively easy to jump onto.
He held the pile of flyers in his left hand and had his right hand in position to grab and post. He took a deep breath and sprinted to the first house. Luckily, the letterboxes were basic and essentially consisted of a hole in the door with a single one-way flap—perfect for speed posting. He thrust the first flyer through the letterbox whilst still running. He leapt over the low garden fence into the next house’s garden and shoved a flyer into the next letterbox.
He repeated this for the next eight houses then took a sharp turn to the left. Glancing at his watch as he stuffed a flyer into the first letterbox on that side of the street he saw that he had managed the first ten houses in seventeen seconds—already ahead of his previous record.
At the end of the second row of houses, he was still within time. Rounding the corner onto the second street, he saw the first house had a large Husky dog.
Postmen hate dogs.
Nervously, he slowed down. The dog barked loudly. Joe let out a little cry. He leapt the garden fence and closed his eyes as the Husky jumped up at him. He landed on the ground, holding only one flyer. The Husky had grabbed the other seventy-nine in its mouth. Joe posted the single flyer he had and eyed the Husky. It eyed him back.
Then he spotted a child’s sleigh leaned up against the wall. Joe grabbed it and through the string around the Husky’s body. The dog ran forwards pulling Joe on the Sleigh with it. Joe clambered forwards and managed to pry the flyers from the panting dog’s mouth.
The husky bounded over a picket fence and Joe went with it. As he landed, Joe reached out and just managed to put the flyer through the letterbox. Joe rolled out of the sleigh and jumped to his feet. Within less than a second, Joe had already cleared the next three fences and posted as many flyers and had left the Husky dog behind.
The adrenaline pumped him up and he posted the remainder of both sides of the street within time. He realised as he turned onto the third street that elven houses were closer together and generally smaller than their human counterparts were. Perhaps that’s why he was able to post so many flyers in such a short space of time.
By the time he’d completed that though, he had posted the first five flyers of the third street. As he jumped the next fence, he caught site of Santa and Ralph circling the glacier. He shoved his forty-sixth flyer into the next letterbox with still ninety-eight seconds to go.
Determined to beat his record, and help save Christmas, Joe completed the next four houses and turned to do the second side of the street in only seven seconds. On this side of the street, however, the fences were much higher. He would never be able to jump the fences. So he did what he had dreamt of doing for years. It was a technique that many postmen had died trying to do due to exhaustion. It was the In-Reverse-Thrust-Out-Twirl-to-Next Postal technique. He had read about it in Advanced Theoretical Post textbooks, but never before attempted it. In all the examples, it discussed using the technique on five houses. Joe needed to use it on ten.
He swapped the flyer pile into his right hand and readied his left hand to grab.      He glanced down the street to make sure all the garden gates were open. They were—presumably, burglary wasn’t an issue when you lived on an isolated glacier in the South Pole.
He took a deep breath and ran to the first door. He stretched his right hand forward and tightened his grip. He approached the door at great speed. His out-reached hand pushed the flyer through the letterbox. He followed through, letting his arm bend at the elbow. Just millimetres before his elbow touched the door, he used the built up elastic energy to propel him backwards. He hit the edge of the garden gate in just the right place and used the edge as a pivot to rotate around. Keeping to the fence, he rolled towards the next house and through the gate.
He repeated the motion again. This time letting his elbow get that little bit closer to the door. The added spring allowed him to gain the energy lost in the slightly slower approach to the door. Again, he hit the edge of the fence perfectly sending him into a controlled spin.
The technique worked perfectly for the first five houses—just as the textbook said it should. But Joe was out of breath. He could feel his throat becoming dry and his muscles seizing up. He couldn’t stop, not now he’d come this far. He glanced down at his watch; he was still ahead of schedule by five seconds.
The textbook had mentioned doing the technique with more than five doors, but it warned that broken limbs were more likely than posted letters. But he had to try. Simply thinking about it had lost his five second advantage so he readied himself for a second bout.
He ran towards the sixth door. In order to have enough energy in his rebound to account for his severely reduced speed he needed his elbow to come less than a hair’s width from the door. Any less and he would hit the fence with too little energy. If it touched … well the pain didn’t bear thinking about.
His posted the flyer and let his elbow follow through. Years of being a postman led to this very moment. This would either define his career or end it. His elbow was less than a millimetre from the door. He continued. A fraction of a moment later and he released the stored up energy and bounced backwards. Hitting the edge of the fence, he spun. If he had done it correctly, the momentum would carry him to the next gate. If he were wrong, he would veer off course, lose precious seconds, and give fatigue time to set in.
That split second felt like hours. He felt himself wobble slightly—a sign he’d gone wrong? He righted himself and twirled through the next gate. He had succeeded.
Then he did it again. And again. And again. He completed the row of houses with five seconds to spare again.
He turned onto the next street and saw to his relief that they had done away with the entire idea of fences and had shared gardens. Using newfound energy, he sprinted the first side of the street, pushing flyers into letterboxes faster than he’d ever managed before. Six seconds to spare. He skidded at the end of the street, spun around, and ran the second side of the street.
One street to go. He could do this. All those years of his wife calling him a useless, good-for-nothing postman were behind him. He could well complete this impossible task.
But.
The final street wasn’t as easy as the last. All the gardens had ponds and water fountains. The letterboxes were at the base of the door rather than just below the middle.
He had an idea. He removed his shoes and socks and placed a flyer between his toes. This would be interesting. He jumped over the garden fence and scooted around the central water feature. He pushed his leg out and twitched his toes. The flyer went through the letterbox and Joe was able to hop whilst it happened. Bringing his leg back in, he leapt into the air. Before he landed, he managed to put another flyer between his toes. He cleared the fence and pond in a single jump and slid his left leg towards the letterbox, letting go at just the right moment.
This technique worked for the rest of the houses on that row. However, it was a far slower technique and he was now three seconds behind. He could see Santa’s sleigh approaching the clearing. Joe had fifteen seconds to complete the final ten houses and reach the sleigh.
He noticed the elves on this row had all opened their windows to watch Joe’s postal escapades. His wife didn’t believe in television and instead made Joe fold paper aeroplanes for her entertainment. Now he thought about it, the entertainment for her was throwing them in his eyes. He folded one of the ten flyers into an aeroplane stack and launched one to the furthest elf on the street. In turned in flight and went directly into the elf’s outstretched hand.
The other nine did the same – Joe adjusting the power of each throw.
Joe turned on the spot and saw the front of the sleigh enter the clearing. He sprinted forwards as fast as he could, but he was behind by a second. The sleigh passed and Joe leapt.
Flailing through the air Joe couldn’t help but scream. He caught the right snow-runner with one hand. Santa banked the sleigh, throwing Joe into it.
“I’m impressed,” Santa said.
“It was nothing,” Joe panted in reply.
“Let’s hope it was worth it.”
They flew for a further three minutes and then Santa landed the sleigh on a long glacier. On the other end they saw the Snow Mafia running towards a shed in the centre.
“Come on!” Santa shouted, running as fast as he could.
Joe could run any more. He was too tired for that. He turned and looked at Ralph. That gave him another idea.
“You really should be called Bluedolph,” he said.
Ralph grunted and rolled his eyes. Then he kicked.
Joe flew through the air, faster than Santa was running. He landed in front of the shed just as the Snow Mafia arrived.
Big Snowy pushed past him and kicked the shed door down. Inside a small cube, like the one from before, sat on a shelf. “With this,” he said to the rest of the Mafia, “we can finally turn back the clock and kill Santa before this Christmas rubbish even begins.”
Little Frosty cackled.
Joe walked forwards, panting for breath. “Give that back,” he said.
“What are yous going to do abouts it?”
He had no response. His vision went blurry. He fell from exhaustion. He reached out for anything to slow his fall, but only caught Big Snowy’s scarf. He blacked out.

Seconds later, something cold fell on Joe’s head. He opened his eyes and looked around. A large ball of snow lay on the ground next to him. Beyond that, a larger hunk of snow lay flat. As his vision came back fully, he saw a fedora hat on the ball of snow … and a pebble mouth.
“You’ve killed him,” Little Frosty yelled.
Joe stood up and saw Santa walking up behind the other five snowmen. He pulled on their scarves and all five of their heads fell to the ground. “Well done Joe,” he said. “You’ve found their weakness.”
Santa bent down and picked up two small cubes. “We better get back and plug one of these in.”
He picked Joe up and threw him in the sleigh. Joe blacked out again.

His vision came back as Santa placed him down in the workshop. A group of technician elves were plugging one of the cubes into the large TimePauser frame.
“Why don’t you plug both in?” Joe asked.
“Why would we do that?” One of the elves replied.
“One of you could go back in time and stop all the elves being killed.”
Santa joined in the conversation. “They all died because of you. You’d have to be the one to go back.”
“I’ll do it,” Joe said. “After what I managed to do today, I think I can do it.”
“If you go back,” the elf said. “This future will be erased. You’ll be the only person who remembers what happened. Those memories will be wrong for the timeframe.” The elf pushed his glasses up his nose. “You could very easily go mad.”
“I could have broken limbs or died today, but I didn’t. I did what I thought was impossible.” He’d proved his wife wrong.
“Sorry, but I don’t think it is a good idea.”
Joe shook his head and strode forwards, grabbing the spare cube off the side. He slotted it into the only place it would fit and flicked the only switch on the device. “Set it to take me back.”
The elves looked at Santa, who nodded slowly. “Let him try.”
They busied themselves with preparing the device. Moments later a blizzard formed in the frame.
“Walk into the blizzard and you will be put in the same place you were just before the elves were massacred. You only get one shot at this as your mind can only cope with one trip back in time.”
Joe walked forwards, an air of confidence about him.

“Did you wants to say something to me?” Big Snowy asked.
Joe looked around and saw all the elves on the floor hiding. It was exactly like before. All Joe had to do was call him sir not ma’am. But that wasn’t all he could do.
Joe took a deep breath and lunged forward pulling the scarf out from beneath Big Snowy’s head. It fell the floor with a splat. The other five snowmen looked at Joe, seemingly too shocked to fire on the elves.
Joe ran through the group, grabbing their scarves as he did. All five fell to the floor instantly felling the Snow Mafia.
The elves stood up from their hiding places and cheered.
Santa placed a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “You’ve saved us!”
“I guess I did,” Joe replied, surprised by his own actions. “Now, I believe you need some help with Christmas this year.”
Santa flushed. “Yes, yes I do. I knew I was right coming to find you. Mind, I actually need your help for Christmases to come, too.”
“Do you have accommodation?” Joe asked.
Santa nodded.
“I have one thing I need to do first.”

Joe walked into his house with his head held high. Before his terrible wife could utter a word he said, “I’m leaving you.”
His wife’s face grew paler than normal. He turned and left her, climbing into Santa’s sleigh parked outside his house.

And so, Joe helped Santa deliver the presents that year and the next. Together he and Santa took the postal world by storm, breaking every record in the book. To all a merry Christmas, and to all a goodnight!


END


The ending is possibly the worst I've ever written ,but it turned out OK in the end. I honestly don't know what kind of reaction this one will get. My short stories are always experiments with ideas for my novel-in-progress and they will often try things that perhaps should remain unused--but someone has to test them. What did you think to the 1K+ post based action sequence? Also available here.

Thanks

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