Reins of Terror!

Part One

A fable for Christmas by Adam Acidophilus

A miserable caribou was foraging in the snow one day when it was approached by a second – rather less miserable – caribou.

“Having a good forage?” chipped this second caribou –  “Somebody found an apple here last week.”

The first caribou chewed, sourly.

“No I am not having a good forage,” it answered. “And it’d take more than an apple to cheer me up. There should be very much more to life than foraging and chewing sourly.”

“It’s funny you should mention that,” replied the second caribou. “Because I just happen to have learned that a jolly fat gentlemen, with a long white beard, who is looking for some reindeer to pull his sleigh, is holding open auditions tomorrow morning in the clearing by the frozen lake!”

“Jolly fat gentleman?” said the first caribou.

“Sleigh!” whispered the second.

“Damn!” spat the first caribou. “He wants reindeer and I’m a caribou!”

“Same thing,” smirked the second caribou. “I looked it up: same animal, two names! The difference is merely cultural. We are eligible!”

The following morning the two caribou were at the front of the queue for the auditions. The line of caribou stretched back for miles. Presently, the jolly fat gentleman came out of his igloo and approached them.

“Do you want to try these on first?” he asked – jingling some reins.

The two of them struggled enthusiastically into their harnesses.

“Now, let’s have a look at your antlers … ” he continued. “Just checking for ticks … Very nice. See how you get on pulling that sleigh for a bit.”

The two caribou had a bit of a go at pulling.

“I can see you’re keen,” nodded the jolly fat gentleman – as his elves extracted the sleigh from the undergrowth caribou had crashed into. “You’ll just need a bit of training.”

The jolly fat gentleman with the long white beard auditioned a few more caribou; he soon had a squad of eight. The rest of the many other applicants were turned away; but the elves collected their photographs and demo tapes, and showreels (and burned them later, when nobody was looking).

Then the jolly fat gentleman turned to his recruits. “It’s bloody hard work, you know,” he said. “But a damn sight better than foraging!”

“Where will we be working?” asked the first caribou.

“Well … I’m based up near the North Pole,” said the man. “That will be the main hub for our operations.”

“And what will we actually be carrying on this sleigh?” asked the second caribou.

“Packages,” said the jolly fat gentleman. “Rather a lot of them.”

“Can we take public holidays?” asked another caribou.

“Of course you can’t!” laughed the jolly fat gentleman. “We’ll be busiest in the holidays! Particularly Christmas!”

“Do we get a uniform?” asked another caribou.

“You don’t, no. But I do,” laughed the man. “A red one!”

And the caribou all turned as one, and galloped all night back to the jolly fat gentleman’s home near the North Pole.

“God, I always dreamed of this job,” murmured one to the others.

“Yep. It’s a dream come true,” they agreed.

For many months the caribou hauled away at the sleigh, dragging their many packages all over the north. Huge great boxes of heavy items, great nets full of packets and parcels, and vast sacks filled with letters and tubes and padded envelopes. But all was not well.

For a start, they worked very long shifts. And, as the arctic day is sixth months long (as is the arctic night) it was difficult to judge quite which hours they were working – not one of them had a wristwatch.

And though every now and then the old man said it was night, and time for a rest, or morning and time to start work again – there was no way of checking: and every possibility that he was lying.

Furthermore, they never visited any interesting destinations: such as houses or rooftops or magical towns, but just dumped their packages in hedges or ditches or snowdrifts – where they would, apparently, be easy to find.

And they never flew. They just ploughed through the snow. Frequently being whipped, by the old gentleman, who was nothing like as jolly as he’d been at the auditions.

“Erm, excuse me?” said the miserable caribou one day – after a particularly stinging whack. “Would you mind telling me, oh jolly white-bearded man dressed in red, just who precisely who you actually are?”

The old man sneered at him. “I am an International Courier and Distribution Network,” he answered. “Hence all the international couriering and distributing we’ve been doing.”

“But we never actually take anything to the addresses on the packets,” complained another of the far-from-happy caribou. “That’s not much of a service. We should take the stuff to people’s houses.”

“This is the digital age,” said the old man. “Things have moved on since those days. Come on!” and he cracked his whip.

There was an uneasy kicking of snow, and jingling of reins. But the caribou didn’t move; they were very glum.

“We understood you were somebody else,” one of them said.

“We thought … ” started another.

“We thought … you were Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus?” repeated the jolly fat gentleman. “Santa Claus? Are you taking the piss? There’s no such person as Santa Claus, you idiots! Ho ho ho ho ho!”

Moral: You do it to yourselves.

end of part one

© Adam Acidophilus 2022