A Christmas Story by Richard Bleil
It was such a cute little town. Hammerfest was in the northernmost part of the region of the world that would come to be known as Norway, although even the nation would not be recognized for another five hundred years. It was three hundred years earlier that three wise men celebrated the birth of a child in Bethlehem when our story takes place.
See, Hammerfest had one very well-known citizen. Nobody knows from where he came, or even how long he had been there, but he was famous for his generosity. He was a toy maker as long as anybody could remember, and he always celebrated the birth of that child on December 25 by handing out his toys to the children. He never charged for them, and they were truly miraculous gifts, the most beautiful, the most intricate, the cleverest toys ever made. When anybody would ever ask why, he would simply reply that it was in remembrance of the gift given by the child.
Through the years, he would use his talents to build a workshop for himself, and tools for making toys like none had ever been before. At night, he would retire and spend time with his lovely wife, Martha, for an evening meal. They would spend the evenings sipping hot cocoa, eating cookies, and visiting.
“It’s becoming too much,” Martha said one evening.
It was an odd start to the conversation. Every marriage has friction, but it was rather rare that Nicholas and Martha had such problems. When they did, they would work it out, together, and build a stronger marriage from the problem, but today, Nick couldn’t imagine what the problem might be.
“What’s that, Martha?” he asked.
“You’re becoming too famous,” Martha said. “There are too many children coming to ask you for what they wish. The town is becoming overrun. We have to do something.”
Nicholas sat back, looking at the fire warming his feet. “We’ve already traveled as far north as possible. This is the most northern city in the world.”
“But they’re still coming.”
Nick knew that Martha was right. There weren’t the accommodations, or food for the travelers. Some children would run away from home to visit him in person, and Martha was spending her entire days writing the lists for the children who would visit.
“We can move again, I suppose,” Nicholas said with a sigh.
“But where?” Martha asked.
“Further north,” Nick replied. “As far North as North goes.”
“You know,” Martha said nibbling a sugar cookie she had made that day, “it’ll be another thousand years before people realize that the world isn’t flat.”
“Yes,” Nick answered. “That’s why it’ll work. The northernmost north possible is the North pole. People won’t look for us there for fear of falling off of the earth. But, how will the children let us know their fondest desires for toys?”
“Well,” Martha answered, “maybe they can write their own lists in letters and mail them to us.” Martha looked around the charming home the two had built, with a living space that is minuscule in comparison with the workshop, and yet generous for the time. “It’ll take a little magic, but that won’t be a problem.”
“A lot of snow as we move further North. We’ll need a mighty sleigh,” Nicholas said. “I can take a little time away from the toys tomorrow and build one. But, how will we pack all of our belongings, and my wonderful tools?”
Martha smiled. “Leave that to me.”
It was a mighty sleigh, more beautiful than any on the Earth. Painted red with gold trim, soft velvet padded seats, delicate curves, and roomy. Nicholas stood back and admired his work. This created an odd sound that reached the ears of Martha, the sound of a pause in the pounding and sawing. Silence.
She stepped into the workshop and saw what Nick had created. “Oh, my!” she exclaimed loudly. “It’s…BEAUTIFUL!”
“Thank you,” Nick said. “But as beautiful as it is, and as large and roomy as I made it, I still don’t know how we are going to fit everything into it.”
Martha grinned broadly. “I think I can help,” she said. “I have a surprise for you.”
To this point, Nicholas had failed to notice the red bag that Martha was carrying. Made of felt with a gold colored chord to close it, it was a wondrous thing to behold. “Why, Martha, this is beautiful!” He slung the empty sack over his shoulder. “And just the right size! But I don’t think it’ll be big enough!”
Martha laughed. “Of course it will,” she replied. “I used my magic when I made it. Try it out.”
Nicholas took the sack off of his shoulder and opened it. He looked inside, but to his eyes, it looked like a normal bag. He took one of his toys and put it into the sack. He looked inside again and saw the toy. He looked up at Martha, but she just laughed. “Keep going!” she insisted.
Santa put another toy in it, and another, and another. He looked inside for the toys, and saw each toy, but the sack didn’t seem to be filling up. The two of them together put the toys Nick had been making all year into the sack, and it just never filled up! Whenever he wanted on of the toys, it was always there on top, but the sack never filled.
“Martha, this is wonderful!”
“We can put all of our belongings into the sack,” Martha explained, “and enough wood and paint and anything else we need to build a new house, and workshop, and anything we could possibly need at the pole.”
That was marvelous, but Nicholas looked at the sleigh. There was still something missing.
A few days later, a man came to the residence of Nicholas and Martha. It was an unusual visit, as was a young man without children in tow. The way he was clenching his hat, though, made clear that he was in need of help.
Martha opened the door as Nicholas was, again, working on toys in his workshop. “Hello?” Martha said, “Can I help you?”
“I sure hope so, Mrs. Claus,” the man replied. “My name is Father Bennigan, I’m a new priest at the church. There’s been an accident, and I was told that your husband might be able to help.”
Warm by the fire sipping milk and eating a cookie, Father Bennigan waits for Martha to return with Nicholas. Before long, they walk in.
After Martha makes the proper and polite introductions, Father Bennigan wastes no time before getting to the point. “I was told that you might be able to help,” he explained.
“Help with what?” Nick asked.
“There’s been an accident, can you come right now? We must act quickly.”
“Do you see?” Father Bennigan asked. “The reindeer ventured onto the water, but the ice was too thin. He’s half submerged, but I fear he may drown.”
Nicholas and Martha look at the scene. “The ice is cracked all the way to the shore,” Martha says.
“Hmm, we can’t venture out to get him,” Nick said with concern in his voice.
“I was told you might,” Father Bennigan never finished the sentence. “I guess there’s no hope.”
Nicholas let out a deep laugh. “I think we can do something,” he said. The reindeer struggled, kicking and trying to climb back out of the ice, but every time it did, the ice cracked and broke underneath its weight. Nick shouted out, “What’s your name?”
The reindeer responded with nothing but a reindeer noise, almost a cross between a horse grunt and a bark. Father Bennigan looked at Nicholas. Looking back, Nick answered the unasked question. “He said Dasher.”
“You understood?” Father Bennigan asked. “Are you a saint?”
Again the reindeer grunted its noise, and seemed to be slipping under.
Nick let out a laugh. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to eat you.” Nicholas took off his hat and reached inside. He made a motion as if throwing something from the hat towards the reindeer. “Give it a try now,” he said to the reindeer.
The reindeer barked again.
“Try what?” Nick asked, “Try flying!”
For a moment the reindeer kicked again, then gave a look of determination. Martha and Nick watched as if it was nothing, but Father Bennigan’s jaw dropped as the reindeer flew out of the lake, and over their heads. “You ARE a saint!” he exclaimed.
“Dasher is watching again, Martha,” Nick said as the two look out of the window.
“Ever since the lake,” Martha explained. “It’s like he’s trying to decide something.”
“Whether or not to trust us,” Nick replied. “I can’t blame him. Humans have been hunting and caging reindeer for a very long time. I don’t think he knows what to make of my act of charity.”
“But he’s getting the hang of flying,” Martha said. Laughing she continued, “He’s not running into treetops anymore!”
Nicholas smiled a bit but continued to play with the supper Martha had made. “What’s on your mind, dear?” Martha asked. “Is it the move next week?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Nick replied.
“But we have everything we need, don’t we?”
“Everything except,” Nicholas looked at Martha. “We don’t have a way to pull the sleigh.”
Because it was such a nice day, Nicholas was working in the shop with the bay doors open. As usual, he was too busy with his toys to be paying attention. The vegetable tray Martha had given him was barely touched, and he was so focused on the toy train’s gears that he didn’t see Dasher timidly walk to the bay doors.
With a reindeer grunt, Nick looked up to see Dasher. “Hello to you, too,” he answered. For a moment, the two looked at each other, both staying perfectly still, neither uttering a sound.
“Don’t be rude,” Martha said from the door. “Offer him a carrot.”
She laughed as she tried to decide whether Nick or Dasher jumped higher at the sound of her voice. Tension broken, Nicholas laughed, as Dasher bobbed his head up and down and pawed at the ground with his hoof in mirth.
“Well,” Nicholas said, picking up a carrot, “WOULD you like one?”
Dasher, still a little bit timidly, allowed Nick to approach. He took the carrot, when he enjoyed very much.
Martha came over to join them and joined Nicholas in petting the fur on Dasher’s neck. Dasher finished the carrot and huffed.
“You’re welcome, Dasher,” Martha said.
Dasher again barked.
“Help? With what?” Nicholas asked.
Dasher responded with a series of huffs and barks.
“Yes, I understand,” Nick said. “But I don’t know how to help you and your seven friends. Hunting is just part of the chain of nature. Every animal has to eat, even the humans.”
“I, I just can’t think of any work I would have for you all,” Nick answered.
“Well,” Martha said. She motioned towards the sleigh and didn’t even have to finish her thought.
“Interesting,” Nick said. “Would you and your friends be interested in a job that requires work just one day each year?”
If reindeer could smile, Dasher would have. The next day, he and his seven friends showed up to the workshop where Nick and Martha had completed packing and loading the sleigh. Nick hooked the eight up to the sleigh harnesses and given them the gift of flight.
“This solves a lot,” Martha said, “but I’m still worried about you working alone. It’s getting to the point that you will need help.”
“Well, Martha,” Nicholas laughed as they took to the sky, “there’s always next year to solve that problem!”