Judgment Day

“Christmas Initiation”

by Alex Schwab

 

Montgomery pulled back on the reins, causing the reindeer to pull the sleigh up through the clouds that blocked his view of the stars. Referencing the map against the night sky, he steered the reindeer towards the next group of houses. It had been an uneventful Christmas Eve so far, as Montgomery expected it to be. The grave looks on the faces of the others, however, had made him uneasy.

He looked up and to his left. Santa Claus had a glazed look in his eyes and a slight frown on his red-cheeked face. This Christmas Eve was the first time he had seen Santa Claus up close. Very few elves did. Montgomery learned, as every elf learns when they finish their primary education, that Santa had become increasingly reclusive. By the time Montgomery had been chosen, only a handful of elves ever spoke with or even saw him.

Not one of the elves warned him about the scars.

There were many, but one stood out in particular. It started by his right ear, came down across his cheek, over his chin and continued down his neck. Montgomery did not dare to ask and tried not to stare. He could have just as easily been staring at the man’s uniform, which seemed to be made out of scars too. Different shades of red cloth were held together by red thread. The stitching was decorative, but only in a few spots; most of the stitching had an ugly practicality about it. The cloak was frayed at the edges, dotted with holes and cuts in them that could only be described as clean. His beard was white as snow and closely cropped.

Montgomery turned back to the task at hand, knowing he needed to focus. If he was reading the map correctly, they were close enough to start descending. An elf named Seymour was in the back of the sleigh, sorting the presents for the next group of houses.

Seymour was one of the two elves who kept the company of Santa Claus and always traveled south with him on Christmas Eve. Montgomery couldn’t understand why Seymour had been chosen to begin with.. Seymour was different from the other elves.  He was rude and vulgar, always picking fights with the others and cursing as Montgomery knew humans were prone to do. He also indulged in something called smokes and hooch, which made him smell terrible and act even meaner than when he didn’t drink that stuff.

When Santa Claus became in need of a new partner and chose Montgomery, Seymour paid him a visit with a bottle of brown liquid. Seymour said it was a test from Santa. Montgomery could only join if he was able to drink it in under a minute. Montgomery drank it fast as he could, and it just as quickly came back up. There was vomit all over the floor and he had a terrible burning sensation along his throat. Seymour laughed. From that day until his first Christmas Eve, Montgomery knew he didn’t like Seymour.

Montgomery called back to him in aggravation, annoyed that he needed the elf’s help.

“Seymour, it’s time to descend. Is Santa sleeping?”

“Of course not. He’s just in his thoughts. Tap him on the shoulder.”

Montgomery reached up. His finger had barely touched the man’s shoulder when Santa came alive and, screaming, grabbed Montgomery by the neck. He beat on Santa’s gloved hand as he felt leather covered fingers close around his throat like a vice. Before Montgomery could black out he was dropped on his backside. Santa was now looking at Montgomery in a way he had never seen before. Later, he would learn this look was called a ‘glare’. And it was never a good thing.

“Never touch me when we’re flying, Montgomery.”

“I’m sorry, sir. Seymour said…”

Santa quickly turned to look at the back of the sleigh.

“Gods damn you Seymour! Did you want me to kill him?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I only thought…”

“Shut the fuck up! You pull some shit like that ever again, especially on Christmas Eve, I swear you’ll spend the next year working the stables! And I will personally feed the reindeer so much that you will never get any sleep!”

Seymour went quiet.

Montgomery thought he could feel Seymour’s anger through the seat. Montgomery looked straight ahead, holding the reins tight. His knuckles were white, and he very much wished to be back in his bed..

“What is it, Montgomery?” said Santa Claus.

“We’re almost at the next house sir.”

Santa snatched the reins out of Montgomery’s hands as they made their approach. They suddenly came to a sharp stop. Montgomery went flying off the seat and banged his head on the sleigh floor. As he clambered back up, he saw Seymour had climbed into the front seat. He expected some type of snide look, but Seymour was looking over the other side of the sleigh with Santa. Santa reached under the seat, pulled out two black rectangular devices, and handed one to Seymour.

“Go down there, radio what you see.”

Seymour attached it to his belt, and then climbed into the back. Montgomery stood on his toes, looking over the seat. He watched as Seymour took a length of rope and tied it off to a peg on the side of the sleigh. Montgomery climbed into the back and looked over the side. Seymour was now in front of an upstairs window of the house. In a blink he was gone. The window slid shut.

“Santa, what’s going on?” asked Montgomery, as he climbed into the front seat.

Santa said nothing, giving the elf a look that he should be doing the same.

“LIttle Helper One to Big Red, over.”

“Big Red copy, over.”

“There are six adult males carrying guns. They’ve tied up the family that lives here and are keeping them in the parents’ room. Two thugs in the upstairs hallway, two downstairs, and two in the parents’ room. They must have a safe. This family looks pretty loaded.”

“Damn it. Okay. Do you think you can sneak past and get to the parent’s master bathroom, over?”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, over.”

“Okay. When you get there open the window and hide in the bathtub. Pull the shower curtain all the way. That is it. Understood, over?”

“Yes sir, over.”

Santa reached under the seat again and retrieved a knife, a handgun, and a black metal cylinder. Montgomery had seen toy versions of guns in the shop before, never really knowing what they were for. Santa attached the cylinder to the handgun before sliding it into what looked like a glove made for guns on Santa’s hip. He slid the knife into his boot and stood up.

“Follow me, Montgomery. Do exactly what I tell you. Understand?”

“But Santa, what…”

“Montgomery, this is your one chance. You can stay in the sleigh, and then I can place you in one of the other departments when we get back in the morning. Or, you can follow me down, not question me, and see things few elves have ever seen. There will be terrible things, but also great things. Your choice.”

As Santa positioned the sleigh so he could climb down into a newly opened window, Montgomery made his decision. From that night on, it would be the first of many he would question.

He followed Santa Claus down the rope. Somehow, Santa slipped through an opening just big enough for Montgomery. Montgomery climbed onto the ledge and into the bathroom. He was alone until a black gloved hand came out from behind the shower curtain and pulled him in. Seymour was about to speak when they heard the door open. Santa held a finger over his lips, and reached down to pull the knife from his boot. The door clicked shut. They heard the sound of water trickling. Santa quietly slipped out from their hiding place. They heard a muffled struggle, and then a dripping sound. Montgomery followed Seymour out of the tub, and would have screamed if Seymour hadn’t covered his mouth with his hand.

Santa was kneeling over a man’s body, using the dead man’s shirt to wipe the blood from the knife. The man’s throat was cut. Montgomery had never seen so much blood. He looked fearfully between the body, Seymour, and Santa, around and around, until he fainted. A foul smell hit his nostrils and he woke with a start. He had forgotten about the body, and again Seymour stopped him from screaming.

“Montgomery, you fucking pussy, calm the hell down.” hissed Seymour, before he slapped him.

Montgomery rubbed his cheek, close to tears.

“All I can tell you is, these guys are all on the naughty list. Let’s just say they deserve more than a lump of coal for what they’re on there for. Understand?”

Montgomery nodded, not understanding at all but also now wondering why he never asked what happened to Seymour’s partner. He followed Seymour into the parents’ room. The first thing he noticed was the aquarium in the wall. Montgomery couldn’t count all the fish in one glance, and from the size of the coral he knew there had to be even more. When he looked up, he saw a diamond chandelier. It hung from the middle of the ceiling. Montgomery thought it looked distasteful, too big for the room even though the room was quite large. He looked down. There was another body on the carpet; this one bleeding from a hole in it’s head and one in it’s back.

Santa was against the wall next to the doorway, holding his knife. Montgomery followed Seymour to the incredibly large bed. Four humans were on it, two females and two males. Montgomery assumed this was the family. The husband and wife were in matching blue and white striped pajamas. The children’s had feet on theirs. The little girl’s pajamas had a blonde girl wearing a rainbow outfit, the boy’s had pictures of a black car and the words ‘Knight Rider’.   They were all tied up and trying to scream despite the shiny tape covering their mouths. Montgomery followed Seymour and hid behind the side of the bed, but he stayed near the edge. He crouched, peeking around the mattress.

“Guys? You in there?”

Not long after they heard the voice, a man came through the door. Two steps past the threshold, and Santa slid his knife up the back of the man’s skull. He drew his gun and aimed down the hallway. Montgomery heard him fire twice.  Montgomery slowly moved to the door as Santa left the room. He made it to the doorway, and looked down the hall. Santa was descending the staircase.

“Ho, ho, ho!”

Doors slammed and the now familiar sounds of weapons cocking came up through the stairwell, followed by voices.

“What the fuck? Drop it!”

Montgomery crept to the balcony railing in time to watch Santa drop his gun and raise his arms.

“Now now, Tommy Stephens,” said Santa, “is that any way to talk to Santa Claus? You used to write to me until you were fifteen years old. I can’t imagine what I did to make you stop, or what life has done to you in the past thirteen years. And I wouldn’t laugh if I were you, Billy Williamson. I seem to remember a plucky eight year old who asked me for a Barbie. What happened to you boys?”

The two men looked at each other, dumbfounded. They both looked back to Santa, but he had already launched himself off the stairs. He came down from the air and planted a boot in the face of the man on the left. As the other man turned to aim at him, Santa grabbed the hand that held the gun. There was a pop as Santa twisted his wrist. The man’s limp hand dropped the gun to the floor.

“Merry kicked you the in the Dickmas!”

Santa placed a steel-toed black boot tip in the man’s crotch. Montgomery could hear the man’s testicles being crushed. The man fell to his knees. Santa took the man’s head in his hands and quickly snapped his neck. The body dropped to the ground as Santa turned to the man he had kicked in the head. He had begun moaning.  Montgomery thought it was a miracle the man was still alive. Santa shot the man in both knee caps and propped him up against the wall before heading back up the stairs. .

Montgomery backed away as Santa came up the stairs. He stopped at the body in the doorway to retrieve his knife.

“Seymour, erase their memories, tuck them all in, then pull the sleigh around front. Quick as you can. Montgomery, come with me.”

Montgomery followed Santa down the stairs. They both stopped in front of the man who Santa had kneecapped. The man pleaded for his life until Santa broke his jaw.

Santa turned towards Montgomery and held the knife out for him, handle first.

Montgomery took it, not understanding until Santa pointed at the man.

“My naughty list is never wrong, Montgomery. Remember what I told you. You’ve already come this far.”

Montgomery was grateful for all the blood that came from the man’s throat as he slit it. He hoped the blood would cover the tears he was sure were streaming from his eyes by now. The knife hit the ground with a clatter. Montgomery exited the house without a word to Santa.

Seymour was climbing out of the sleigh as Montgomery approached it. Montgomery waited for some sarcastic comment, but only received a confusingly humbled nod. Montgomery climbed into the back of the sleigh. Once the bodies were loaded, they were off.

###

Later, after all the bodies from the night before were sunk with care to the bottom of the arctic ocean, Montgomery was standing alone on a balcony. His arms rested on the railing. The sun was rising; the glacier Montgomery fixated on gave the rays a prism effect. Seymour appeared next to him with a bottle of the foul smelling brown liquid and his even smellier smokes.

“I think you could use a smoke and a drink.”

Montgomery turned to look at Seymour. It was the first time he really saw his partner.

“So do I.”

 

 

 

“The #$@!# Bicycle Boys Save Christmas, Again!”

aka (The #$@!# Bicycle Boys! – Adventure #46)

 by Alex Bernstein

 

 

Santa Claus has been #$@!# kidnapped!” exclaimed the President of the United States.

“Christ!” said Flip.  “Again?  He was just kidnapped last year!”

“I’m afraid so,” said the President.  His image, replete with panic sweat, on the HD Etherlogic Hollerphone made the situation all the more urgent.

“The #$!@ FBI and military are baffled,” he continued.  “And frankly, time is running out!  This is a crisis only The #$@!# Bicycle Boys can handle!”

“Understood, sir,” I said.

“I’m forwarding all the information we’ve got, boys.  But it’s slim.”

“Not a problem, sir.”

“Thanks.  Gotta run!”

***

It had been a long, stressful year and we were pretty $#%!@ tired.  Flip and I had just gotten back from our annual Thanksgiving adventure – The Case of the Punk @$$ Pilgrim – and before we could even sit down, our latest case had started.

“Seems like we never get a $%&*# break,” said Flip.  He printed out the reports from the #$!@ FBI.

“You’re just stressed,” I said.  “Our last adventure was pretty exhausting.”

“And we just got back from that one!  Boy – for five minutes I’d just like to have The Adventure of the *%&$# Kids Who Parked Themselves in Front of the $#%!@ Tube and Ate #$@!# Pizza!”

“Yes, and it doesn’t help that we have to walk everywhere.  We really should fix our bikes.”

“Our $%&!@ bikes!”

“Yes,” I said.

Our bikes had gotten flat tires three adventures ago and we’d been so distracted that we hadn’t had time to fix them.  Of course, this actually made the titles of our exploits misnomers since Flip and Chip, the celebrated #$@!# Bicycle Boys (Junior Detectives) no longer had ride-able bikes.

It also didn’t help that we had grown a backlog of unsolved cases, especially The Quandary of the Missing %$@#& Cash.  Recently, almost 90% of the world’s cash had completely disappeared.  Some suspected it had been funneled down a massive hole to the Underworld.  But we hadn’t had time to investigate with the holiday-related crimes keeping us so busy.

“We really should look into the missing %$@#& cash when we get a chance,” I said to Flip.

“Yeah, whatever,” said Flip, sifting through the President’s download.  “This data is complete horse #!@&#!”

“Well, it is from the government,” I said.

“Yeah.  We better find Bixby.”

***
Bixby the Boy Genius lived in the house next door to us.  Bixby was the sweet, innocent five-year-old who supplied us with all of our high tech gadgetry.  His lab was fully $%*&# loaded.

“What concerns me,” said Bixby, in a quiet, unassuming voice, “is all this stress.  The world’s stress levels are unprecedented this year – ”

“Tell us a-$%#!#-bout it!” said Flip.  “We started the year on Adventure #9 – and we’re already on Adventure #46, for $%#@ sake!  Y’know how far behind we are on our regular $@#& schoolwork?!  Forget about it!”

“Would you like me to whip up a device to do it for you?”

“Sure,” said Flip.

“No, no,” I said.  “Thanks, anyway.  Listen, Bixby – ”

“I’ve been doing stress experiments here in the vault,” said Bixby.  “It’s very interesting.  If you’d like to – ”

“We really have to focus on Santa, Bixby.  We’d be happy to look at your stress vault later.”

“Yeah, in our next $%$#@ adventure,” said Flip.

Flip!” I said.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.”

Typically, in our adventures, Flip was the headstrong, aggressive one, while I remained thoughtful and agreeable.  Although I certainly had my moments.

“I’m running the feed on Santa now,” said Bixby.  “The list of possible suspects is wide:  Pink Freud, Cyclopatra, The Crooked Man –

“Ricky the Rogue Elf, Count Oobleck, The ReGifter,” added Flip.

“The Gwim Weeper, The Bird Flipper,” I contributed.

“Tommy Chugalug, Joan of Noah’s Ark,” piped in Bixby.

“A is for Arsonist, The Outgoing President,” gargled Flip.

“Rhoda the Exploda,” interrupted Bixby.  “Jack B. Quiche – ”

“Mm – he only committed quiche-related crimes,” I clarified.
“Right,” said Bixby.

“It could’ve been The Splintererer,” I suggested.

“The Splintererer?” said Flip.  “Was it the Splintererer or the Splinterererer?”

“The Splinterererer was the grand-nephew of the original Splintererer.  He added the extra ‘er’ to differentiate himself.”

“Look,” said Flip.  “It’s gotta be Count Oobleck, right?  I mean – it was him last $%$#@ year!”

“Yes, that would make sense,” I said.

$%!@& sense,” Flip corrected me.

“Yes,” I said.

“According to this,” said Bixby reading off his monitor screen, “Count Oobleck is still locked away at Atticazkabananaramastan.”

“Not to mention Oobleck hates to repeat himself,” I said.

“According to this,” said Bixby, “Santa was last seen at the North Pole two days ago.  Looks like you’re headed there, boys.”

Oh crap!” said Flip.  “Crap crap crap crap crap!  I $%!@$ hate the $%!@$ North Pole!  It’s $%!@$ freezing!”

“Flip’s pretty stressed out, Bixby,” I said.

“I can see that,” said Bixby, yawning.  Bixby still took naps during the day, and hadn’t had one in hours.  “Maybe my stress experiment could – ”

Not now!” said Flip.

“Would it help if I fixed your bikes?”

“If you have something that could keep us warm at the Pole,” I said.  “That would be terrific.”

***
Getting to the North Pole was the easy part.  After 46 adventures Flip and I had quite a number of options.  There was The Mystical Basement, The Dream Sewer, The Fantabulous Tool Shed, The Nexus of All Realities Construction Site, The Hyperbolic Port-a-San, The Infinite Drainage Ditch, The Interspacial Doghouse, The Improbable Empty Refrigerator Box, The Overflowing Time Puddle, The Next-Door Neighbor’s Closed-for-the-Winter Pool Paradox, The Physics-Ignoring Pup Tent, The Completely Irrational Large Recycling Container, The Miraculous Moped (with sidecar), and of course, The Remarkable Abandoned Minivan.

Of course quite a few had broken down or were one-shot deals.  The Mystical Basement and Improbable Empty Refrigerator Box couldn’t be used more than once, The Overflowing Time Puddle only worked during heavy rains, and The Interspacial Doghouse had collapsed in a fit of poorly constructed obsolescence.

But the Remarkable Abandoned Minivan – or RAM for short – worked just fine.  Unfortunately, we had left the Minivan in an athletic field three miles away after our Thanksgiving adventure.  And, of course, our bikes still had flats.  So, we started walking, Flip complaining all the way.

***
When we arrived at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus was distraught…and squinting quite a bit.

“He finished his last shift and went to bed,” said Mrs. Claus.  “And in the morning, he was gone!”

“And no sign that he’d grabbed a @!#&% sled and went off on his own?” asked Flip.

Flip!” I said.

“Well, maybe he was stressed, too?” said Flip.

“There was nothing,” said Mrs. Claus.

“What about Ricky?” I asked.

“Oooh, I don’t like to think of him at all,” said Mrs. Claus, squinting nervously.

I pressed a button on my two-way watch.  Bixby sent a quick response.

“Hmm,” I said.  “Bixby says Ricky’s still in BED.”

BED – the Bad Elf Detention center – was the North Pole’s reformatory for delinquent elves.  Not too many people even knew the North Pole had a reformatory.  But some of the elves were exceedingly naughty.

“Maybe we should pay Ricky a little @!#&% visit,” said Flip.

“Would you like the elves to build you new bikes, boys?” asked Mrs. Claus.

“No time,” said Flip.  “Maybe on the #$!@ rebound!”

“Thanks, anyway,” I said.  “By the way, is something wrong with your vision?”

“Oh, it’s my @!#&% – oh, excuse me!” she said, blushing.  “It’s my spectacles.  I’ve misplaced them again.  I hate them, but can’t live without them!”

“Well, when we’re done with the next few adventures, we’ll add that to the #$!@ pile,” said Flip.

And with that we were off.

***
BED was on the dark side of Kringle Mountain.  The detention center didn’t have a huge population, but the inmates weren’t the kind you’d want to find yourself next to in a dark chimney.

Ricky, especially, was a nasty piece of work with razor sharp ears and a long snaggletooth.  Though seeing him in his cell, I noticed that his long, gnarled tooth was actually gone.  Perhaps BED had acquired some decent dentists.

“If it isn’t The #$@!# Bicycle Boys! ” snarled Ricky, in a cute, yet belligerent squeal.  “Well, whatever y’want – I don’t know nothin’!”

“You knew a lot last #$%@ year when you helped Count Oobleck snare Santa!” said Flip.

“That was last $#@!@ year and this is this $#@!@ year, smart guy!” said Ricky.

Ricky seemed particularly stressed.

“If I remember correctly,” said Flip, “you used to be pretty $!##@ proud of your work, Ricky.”

“What’s it to ya?” said Ricky.

Flip held up a Historical Dames doll – a popular toy that Ricky had worked on before he’d gone rogue.  Flip bent the doll’s right arm backwards.

“Hey!  Hey!  Don’t do that!” cried Ricky, agitated.

I hated when Flip did things like this.  But some villains required tougher actions.

“Was it Oobleck?  Tommy Chugalug?  The Crooked Man?” barked Flip.

“If I tell ya,” whined Ricky, “this place won’t be safe for me no more!”
Flip grabbed Ricky through the bars.

Safe?!  My bike’s got two flat tires!  Y’think that’s safe?!”

“Flip!” I yelled.  “Enough!”

I pulled Flip off Ricky.  The good boy detective/bad boy detective routine wasn’t working.

“If we get Santa back,” I said, “we’ll see what we can do.”

“I heard,” said Ricky, “that The Crooked Man was up to something.  Didn’t think he ever got ‘round to it, though.”

Flip and I looked at each other and headed out.

“Hey!  Hey!” called Ricky.  “What about me?!”

Flip tossed the doll into the cell.

“Baby!” said Ricky.

***

Flip and I made our way to the minivan while Bixby shot me The Crooked Man’s co-ordinates.

“#$@!# elf,” Flip grumbled.

“Flip,” I said, “look – how about if we take a break from all the cursing for a couple hours?”

A couple #$@!# hours?!

“An hour and a half?  One hour!”

“Fine – alright.  I’ll take one for the #@ – for the team.”
“Thanks,” I said.  “I appreciate it.”

I plugged Bixby’s coordinates into the van’s console, while Flip surveyed our gadgetry.  A second later the van BLIPPPED out of, and then back into, existence – right outside The Crooked Man’s lair.

***
The Crooked Man, as you can imagine, had a particularly frightening hideout.  A crooked house at the edge of a crooked cliff amidst gloomy, crooked mountains.  Even the sky itself –

“Yeah, yeah, we get it,” said Flip.  “Can I start cursing again?”

“No,” I said.

But as we exited the minivan we were both dumbstruck.  We were on a lush mountain road leading up to an ordinary, white picket fence house.  The trees looked like trees.  The sky like sky.

“Nothing’s crooked,” said Flip.

“Hmm, I said.  “Maybe The Crooked Man went straight?”

“Ba dum bump,” said Flip.  “Don’t forget to tip your waitress.”

***

We snuck up to the house, our 390 Magnum Auto Vapor Nets at the ready.

“Better to go around back,” said Flip.

“Agreed,” I said.

What we found behind the house was startling:  a beautiful garden with a normal, little old man pulling weeds.  We crept over, quietly.  Malevolently, the man sprang on us.

The #$@!# Bicycle Boys!? Whadda you want?!”
“Who the $#%!@ are you?” asked Flip.

“Flip!”

“What?!  It’s been an hour!”

“Not even!”

“I’m The $#!@& Crooked Man!” said The Crooked Man.  “Who d’ya think?!”

“You’re not crooked,” said Flip

“I was.  Every inch of me was crooked until last night!  There I was – sitting by my crooked fireplace with my crooked cat and crooked – ”

“Yeah, yeah!  We got it!” said Flip.

“Planning the perfect way to ruin Christmas!  But when I awoke this morning everything was $#!@& straight!  Look at this!”

He held up the most beautiful, perfect cat.  It mewed.

“Nice,” I said.

“Bah!” said The Crooked Man, flinging it away.  “Now look at me – reduced to planting weeds!”

“Planting?” said Flip.

“You did this!  You!” he shouted, holding up the gardening spade, threateningly.  “Give me back my crooks!”

“We don’t have ‘em, y’goat!” said Flip.

The old man began flinging topsoil at us.

“C’mon,” I said to Flip.  We headed back to the van amid a hail of dirt.

***
“Well, now what?” said Flip.  “We’ve got no clues.  The whole thing’s a bust!”

“Oh no,” I said.  “We’ve got plenty of clues.  Think about it.  Santa disappeared.  The Crooked Man’s crooks disappeared.  What else?”

“My free time?”

“No, really – ”

Flip thought about it.

“The cash.”

“90% of all the world’s cash.”

“Think it’s related?”

“Bixby,” I spoke into my watch.  “I’m sending you data.  See, if you can – Bixby?”

“What?”

“He’s not responding – “

I went to the van’s console and plugged in the information.  A minute later, a set of numbers appeared.  My eyes lit up, stunned.

“What is it?”

I looked at Flip, gravely.

“We need to get back.”

***

By the time the minivan returned to our block, a throbbing, interspacial vortex had enveloped Bixby’s house and was consuming everything in its path.

“This is his $%!#@ Stress Experiment!?” Flip yelled over 120 mile per hour winds.

“We’ve got to get in there!” I shouted.

We fired our 490 GPG Turbine Vortex Disrupters at the maelstrom but they ricocheted off.

“We’ll have to use the van!” I yelled.

“To get inside the vortex?!”

“Yes!  Into the lab!”

“That’s $%#!@ crazy!”

“It’s our only chance – and technically, we did something very similar in Adventure # – ”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever – just do it!”

Dodging debris, we climbed into the minivan and set the controls for inside the lab.  The van rocked violently, buckling inward from the pressure.
“It’s collapsing!” called Flip.

“She’ll hold!” I yelled.

And she did.  A moment later the crushed minivan had BLIPPED itself inside Bixby’s lab.  Bixby was there, unconscious on the floor.  Nearby, the heart of what had been his experimental vault pulsed and writhed.  We roused Bixby to his feet.

“Bixby!  Can you shut it off?!”

“I tried to stabilize it but it’s absorbed too much – !”

Inside the vault a miniature universe thrashed and wriggled.

“What is that thing, anyway?” Flip yelled.

“Well, my Mum and Dad were always arguing about money – in fact, I realized everyone was always arguing about money – ”

“So, you built a device to suck it all up?!” said Flip.

“To reduce things to their component atoms,” said Bixby, “and then suck it all up, yes.”

“Everything that causes stress?” I yelled.

“Basically,” said Bixby.

“Bixby!” yelled Flip, angrily.  “Removing all the stuff that causes $%#!@ stress causes even more $%#!@ stress!  Now, there’s nothing but $%#!@ stress!”

Would you please stop cursing?” I yelled at Flip.  “It’s not helping!”

“I’ve tried to put things back,” called Bixby, “but I can’t do it fast enough!  I’ve already put back all the credit reports and military weapons and personal digital devices and that’s when I got hit by the feedback!”

“Did you put the cash back?” I asked.

“Not yet – ”

“Put that back now, Bixby!”

Bixby pressed a button and the vault heaved.  Suddenly, it was smaller but still pulsing.

“Alright!” said Bixby.  “I’ve redistributed the wealth!”

“Oh $%!@# perfect,” said Flip.

“But it still won’t shut down!”

I went over to the crumpled van.

“We’ll use the minivan’s engine to move the vault – ”

“Where?” said Flip.

“Where it can’t hurt anybody!” I said.  “Into the sun!”

“Well, that’s pretty $%#!@ contrived!” yelled Flip.

“Sorry!” I yelled back.  “No time to be more $%#!@ creative!”

“What about the people still in there!?” said Flip.

“The engine should just move the vault,” said Bixby.  “Everything else will stay here!  But we’ll have to restabilize as much as possible, first!  I think I’ve gotten most of the elected officials out!”

“I’ve set the controls on the minivan!”  I yelled.  “Brace yourselves!”

“I $%!@# hate this!” shouted Flip.

Bixby and I hit our buttons.  There was an earth-shattering BELCH!

And then everything went black.

***
I awoke soon after lying in the street, a block away from Bixby’s.  His house was gone, and the vault’s explosion had spewed hundreds of reintegrated people and objects in a wide radius:  cars, boats, swimming pools, telemarketers, bank employees, airline and travel representatives, offshore technology companies, mortgage brokers, dieting manuals, tons upon tons of jewelry, gold, silver, oil, and dozens upon dozens of celebrities.  (Later, we also discovered Ricky’s snaggletooth, numerous crooked artifacts, and Mrs. Claus’ spectacles.)

Nearby, Bixby and Flip were bruised but recovering.

And wandering down the street, in an absolute daze, was Santa Claus.

***
Within an hour, Flip, Bixby, and I had escorted Santa back to the North Pole via The Hyperbolic Port-a-San (which no one was particularly keen on using).  Mrs. Claus and the elves were elated to have Santa back and she served us hot cocoa in his office.

“But why did the vault suck me up?” asked Santa.

“Are you kidding?” said Flip.  “No offense, Santa – you’re a good guy and all, but talk about stress!”

“I suppose the holidays can be a bit – uhm – well – ”

“A bit?!” said Flip.

“Nick,” interrupted Mrs. Claus, “As long as the boys are here, why don’t you give them their presents?”  She elbowed him in the ribs, knowingly, and left the office.

“Yes, well, that sounds alright,” said Santa.  “Why not?!”

He went over to a massive, ornate book on a back table, and began flipping through pages.  He rested his hot cocoa on the shelf, above, and lost himself in reading.  Flip and I exchanged bored looks.

“Really, Santa,” I said.  “It’s not necessary to – ”

“Mm…let’s see,” said Santa.  “We’ve put in an order to build Bixby a new house.  That should be easy enough – ”

“Thank you, Santa,” said Bixby.

Santa kept reading.  Then he chuckled, surprised.

“Oh ho!” he said.  “I hadn’t expected this!  It seems Flip and Chip have been cursing up a storm this year!”

“So?” said Flip.

“So, I’ve got both of you on the naughty list!  I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you boys this year!”

“We just saved the $#@#& world!” said Flip.  “Not to mention your sorry – ”

“Flip!” I said.

“Well,” said Santa, “That’s no excuse for a potty mouth.  You’ll just have to do better next year!  Ho ho ho!”

Next year?!” said Flip.  “You want us to try harder next year?!

“Ho ho ho!  Perhaps, if you added a few more adventures – ”

But before Santa could finish that thought, he accidentally bumped the shelf above him, dislodging his steaming hot cocoa, and spilling it all over his back.  He began jumping and screaming, maniacally.

“YOW!” said Santa, surprising us all.  “YOW!  YOW!  YOW!  OH $%#@!  HOLY #$%!@!  WHO PUT THAT $%&!@ UP THERE #$%!@  WHAT ARE YOU #$%!@ NUTS?!  TRYING TO $%&!@# KILL ME!?  $%!#@ THAT $%&*!@ IS #$%!@ HOT!  #$%!@#$%!@  #$%!@  #$%!@  $%&!@# $%&*!@ $%@!#$%@! @#$*&#&$@! #&$%#!@ @#$$$@!! #%$@!@#@##%!”

“Santa – ?”

But Santa was running around the room, flailing his arms and shouting every curse he could think of.  Flip, Bixby, and I watched, flabbergasted.

“Talk about stress,” said Flip.

“#$%!@  #$%!@  Son of a – $%&*!@” said Santa, still flailing.

Flip grabbed the nearby pitcher of water and threw it on Santa.  Soaked, but calmer, he collapsed backwards into his office chair.

“Hoo boy!!” he said.  “Thanks!”

He leaned forward, catching his breath, and nursing his wounded back.

“Wow!  Ooochie!”

Finally, he looked up, realizing we were still there.  His face turned as red as his coat.

“Oh!  Yes.  Well.  Uhm, right.  Flip and Chip – Bicycle Boys – here we are!”  He looked back at his book and quickly rubber stamped NICE! over our names.

“Must’ve been a misprint!” he muttered, and gingerly ushered us to the door.  “There you go.  Thanks, again!  Merry Christmas!  See Elf 287 on your way out – ”

***
Flip, Bixby, and I headed through the toy factory back to the Port-a-San.

“Y’know, Flip,” I said.  “If you think about it this adventure really didn’t have any villains.”

“Oh, please,” said Flip.  “Kidnapping’s a felony for $$%#! sake!  Bixby totally got lucky!”

“Well, anyway,” I said, “I think the best part was when you stopped cursing for almost an hour.  What a relief!  I, myself, stopped cursing quite early on, in case you hadn’t noticed – ”

“I noticed,” said Flip.  “You should go back to cursing.”

Waiting for us by the Port-a-San, was Elf 287 with a large, shiny box.

“Here y’go, boys!” he said, eagerly.

Flip opened it and inside was a beautiful, silver bicycle repair kit, and a pump.

“#$%!@  this!” said Flip, shoving it back at the elf.

“Agreed,” I said.

“You bet,” said Bixby.

And we all went home.

 

 

 

 

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