I wrote this little story last week while I was procrastinating on something else. Since I can think of nothing else to do with it, I thought I’d share it here. A silly and cynical festive tale…
“Piss off, sad act.”
Blitzen sighed. It wasn’t fair. Out of all of the other reindeer, he was the one who loved Rudolf best. He knew he was. It wasn’t right that Rudolf spoke to him this way, after everything that had passed between them. Yet somehow he couldn’t bring himself to turn and walk away from the stable door. Gingerly he extended a hoof and nudged it open.
Inside, bathed in the glow of firelight from the stove, Rudolf sat resplendent,his head held high beneath his prodigious antlers, his pelt glossy and his nostrils delicately flared. He was surrounded by three females – Donner, Vixen and worst of all Dancer. Dancer. Dancer who, only last Christmas, had been all over Comet and had left him a broken reindeer. The sight turned Blitzen’s stomach.
“Thought I told you to piss off,” Rudolf snarled. “Does this look like it’s open invitation?”
Blitzen’s every instinct was screaming at him to run back to the communal stable, hide in his stall for a good cry and not come out until Christmas Eve. But he couldn’t. Someone had to do this. “Sorry to intrude,” he replied as casually as he could. “I need a word.”
“Make an appointment.”
Rudolf glared at Blitzen, his dark eyes smouldering in the ruby light cast by his crimson nose. Blitzen gulped. His nerves couldn’t stand much more of this, he knew. He was not a naturally confrontational reindeer. Nevertheless, he stared right back, hoping Rudolf could not see the slight tremble in his back leg.
“Right then,” Rudolf sighed theatrically. “Sling your hook, love. You too, Vixen. And you, Whatsyername.” The three females obliged, slipping past Blitzen and out into the yard. Only Dancer had the nerve to look him in the eye, chewing suggestively on a long piece of hay as she sashayed out. Rudolf reared up, perhaps just stretching, but really, Blitzen knew, to show off his sinewy body. He pushed a nosebag in Blitzen’s direction. “Oats. Imported from Scotland. Try them.”
“I’ve tried them before. In this very stable. Right after you moved in. If you remember.”
“Ah, yes. Right. Sorry babe, it just seems so long ago. Been a busy year. So what do you want?”
Oh, the things that Blitzen wanted… He hadn’t set hoof in this stable for over six months. Being back here, surrounded by the warm dark wood, the gentle fragrance of pine and eucalyptus from the adjoining sauna, the soft straw underfoot and the unmistakeable scent of him… He forced himself to focus. “You’ve noticed the time of year, right? You’re to report for training. Santa’s orders.”
Rudolf snorted. “Tell Fatboy he can get bent. I’m in tip-top fucking condition, mate. Plenty of the old cardio-vascular exercise. As you would know. You and the girls, right?”
“Rudolf, please. I’m worried about you. We all are. Yes, you look good just now. You look… amazing, quite frankly, but you and I both know it won’t last. It’ll start to show before long.” He took a few tentative steps towards Rudolf. “Look, I don’t claim to know what you’re going through, ok? All this extra responsibility, sudden fame, the pressure… I’ve never had that. I’ve always just been me. Part of the team. Good old Blitzen, just an average, boring sleigh-puller. I’m not special like you. I can’t claim to understand.”
“No,” Rudolf whispered, “you can’t.”
Blitzen ploughed on. “But what I do know is that ketamine isn’t the answer. That and whatever else you’re taking. You can’t survive on nothing but oats and tranquilisers, Rudolf. You’re going off the rails. Soon it’ll start to show, and then what? You’ll get thrown out of the team and -”
“Like hell I will!” Rudolf bellowed, kicking the coal scuttle across the room. With a wordless roar of fury he thundered towards Blitzen. Their antlers locked with a crash. “They’ll never kick me out of the team. Never! You lot are nothing without me.”
Blitzen screwed his eyes shut, the only way to avoid Rudolf’s look of rage. “He’s already talking about it. Santa. Thinks it’s all too much for you, going straight to the head of the team. Says last year was a fluke and we should all just forget it ever happened.”
He waited for Rudolf’s heavy hooves to come crashing down to pulverise him. Instead, he felt their antlers unlock. He opened one eye. “Rudolf?”
Rudolf turned away. “You tell the fat man from me,” he rasped. “You tell him I will be pulling the sleigh on Christmas Eve. You tell him I’m fine.”
“Then you’re coming back to training?”
“Just tell him.”
“All right.” Blitzen limped towards the door. He paused on the threshold, desperate to comfort Rudolf, but he knew from bitter experience that these dark moods could only be endured, never brought to a conclusion. His duty done, Blitzen crept out.
Alone in his solitary stable, Rudolf stood by the window. He did not look out. He only listened. From the distant training ground he could hear laughter and cheers as the others practised their take-offs and landings. The bag of lichen lay nearby. He took a despondent mouthful. A year ago the concept of a whole bag to himself would have blown his mind. Now he barely even registered the taste. Of course, a year ago he’d been comfort-eating to deal with long day of exclusion and mockery.
No-one treated him that way now. No-one would dare. It had been a long time since he’d had to endure jokes about tomatoes or traffic lights. Now he not only joined in the games, he was the centre of them. He always won, by fair means or foul. When he stopped playing, the games ended. And when he wanted another reindeer excluded, the others would drive that reindeer out and Rudolf would watch him slink miserably away.
It sickened him. If anyone had told him a year ago that he would find their love even harder to endure than their hate, he wouldn’t have believed them. Yet here he was, the most famous reindeer of all, with nothing but contempt for anything around him. This – the glory, the luxurious stable, the groupies – was what every reindeer was supposed to want. This was success. Yet he felt nothing.
His stash of ketamine hid in plain sight, little heaps of white powder passing for fake snow on the roof of a historically dubious nativity scene. Rudolf ran his infamous nose along the roof of the miniature stable, feeling the flurry in his nostrils as he inhaled. Soon, in the dissociated peace of the ketamine realm, even the bright red glow would be beyond his awareness.
“One last time,” he promised himself, “then I’ll get back to training.” His long tongue darted out to lift some fallen ‘snow’ from the Christ child’s face.
“I will go down in history. I will.”
The stable began to dissolve.