This work purports to be fiction.
Once upon a time, I worked for the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Associated Press, covering the House of Representatives. But that was before the House Un-American Activities Committee declared war on Christmas and I wound up as collateral damage.
It all started on December 7, 1955. The sky above Washington, D.C., was overcast, the weather surprisingly humid and muggy for the pre-holiday season. The second hand of the clock on the rear wall of the marble-paneled hearing room where HUAC held its hearings swept past 10 a.m. France Walter, the jowly, crusty, Red-baiting chairman of the committee, pounded his gavel. Conversations in the packed hearing room wound down, although not as quickly as the chairman would have liked.
Recently, Chairman Walter, the scourge of Communists, socialists, pinkos, and other threats to the Republic, had found it increasingly hard to keep his committee and himself in the headlines. But today, he felt, he had found just the way to do it, which was why he was so eager to get started.
To see why the hearing room was packed and the press, flashbulbs ablaze, had returned like swallows to Capistrano, one only had to look at the witness table. Normally sitting there would be some hapless lefty who had attended socialist summer camp or fought for the Republicans – the bad kind, not American Republicans, the good kind – in the Spanish Civil War. But that day’s witness was not a conventional lefty. In fact, he wasn’t even human. He was a caribou or, as generations of children have come to know the species, a reindeer. He raised his right hoof and was sworn in.
“Witness will state his name,” Chairman Walter intoned solemnly, clearing his gravelly throat.
“Rudolph,” the witness said in a slightly high-pitched voice.
“Do you have any nicknames or aliases?”
“No, Mr. Chairman.”
“Are you sure?” the chairman asked. “You’re under oath and perjury is a serious offense.”
“Some of my friends call me Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but only since that song came out.”
“That’s better, Mr. Reindeer. Do you understand why you’ve been called before this committee?”
“Well, to be honest with you, Mr. Chairman, I don’t have the slightest…”
“Playing innocent, eh? What is the color of your nose?”
“Why, it’s red, of course – “
“And what do you do every Christmas?”
“Along with my comrades – “
“Well – colleagues…”
“That’s better, Mr. Reindeer!”
“Along with my colleagues, I pull Santa Claus’s sleigh, bringing toys to all the little boys and girls of the world,” he said. “By the way,” Rudolph asked, fumbling with some note cards, “which of the children at your home last Christmas asked for a French tickler, Mr. Chairman?”
With the force of Thor’s hammer, down came the chairman’s gavel.
“Out of order! The witness is out of order!” Walter said as the hearing room erupted in titters. “If the committee wants to know what you bring and to whom, we’ll subpoena your manifest! Now, how much do you charge for these toys?”
“Money. Moolah. Cash on the barrelhead, Mr. Red-Nosed Reindeer!”
“Well, nothing, Mr. Chairman.”
“Nothing? For free? Why — that’s — socialism!” Walter fulminated. “You’re as red as the nose in the middle of your face!” He started to sputter and a young woman in a white blouse and dark skirt sitting behind Walter handed him a glass of water.
As he prepared to speak again, though, the doors of the hearing room burst open and a scuffle erupted in the rear. Through the phalanx of armed guards lining the back of the room walked a short, white-bearded man in a red suit. He had a round little belly that looked like it would shake like a bowl full of jelly if he laughed, but he wasn’t laughing. In fact, he looked pretty frosted.
“Is that…?” a hushed voice in the crowd asked.
“Who else?” another replied.
“There will be no uninvited witnesses,” the chairman said.
“Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman,” Santa Claus said, making his way down the aisle to the witness table, where he and Rudolph high-fived each other. “Mr. Chairman, I claim a point of personal privilege.” He sat down in defiance of the chairman’s edict. “Since time out of mind, Rudolph and his companions have aided me on one of the noblest quests imaginable – bringing joy to the children of the world. Try to remember yourself on the night of December 24, lo those many years ago…”
“It wasn’t that many,” the chairman said, to the amusement of the audience.
“…Your boyhood room is dark and you lie there alone, staring at the star-speckled zenith. The smoke of incense cedar from the farmhouse chimney down the road drifts through the chill air and you wonder if this whole Santa thing is real or not. You wait and wait for my sleigh to appear in the northern sky, until drowsiness claims you. Next morning you run downstairs, where, to your joy…”
This Claus guy had the audience in the palm of his hand. Walter realized he had to do something fast or he’d lose control of the hearing.
“Mr. Claus,” the chairman interrupted. “Fourteen years ago today, the United States was attacked without provocation or warning. If we have learned nothing else, it is how to protect ourselves from the yellow peril to the East or Reds like you and your friend to the North. The homeland must be secure!
“By the way, Mr. Claus, are you a citizen of the United States?”
“Why no, Mr. Chairman. I guess you could say I’m a citizen of the world.”
“That’s Commie crap. What about you, reindeer?”
“Citizen? I’m not even a human being!”
Walter conferred with the committee’s counsel as the other Congressmen looked on.
“As far as I’m concerned, both of you are Communists and foreign aliens,” the chairman said. “Take them away!”
A burly guard put Santa in a chokehold, while another maced Rudolph. Bedlam erupted and the audience ran for the doors.
“This ain’t ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’” the chairman muttered. “This is the real world.”
Santa Claus and Rudolph were taken to Guantanamo, where, between waterboarding sessions, they were shackled to the walls of their cells. For all we know, they remain there to this day.
The Speaker of the House called the supervisors of all members of the press at the hearing to say they really didn’t want to disseminate any photos or reports about it, and the next thing we knew, we were all out of work. I’ve held a series of low-level jobs on and off since then, and am now a greeter at Wal-Mart.
Why hasn’t Christmas been canceled? In the vacuum left by Santa and Rudolph, a cartel of the major toy companies seized control of it. Only those of you who read this know the truth. Reveal it at your peril.
Jon Krampner’s short stories and flash fiction have appeared in Across the Margin, Eunoia Review, and Eclipse. He lives in Los Angeles and is sarcastic in three languages.