Merry Christmas, 2005

It was a cold winter day at the north pole. The elves were happily working away, Mrs. Claus was warming some diet-cocoa for her jolly, slightly overweight, husband. He never noticed the difference in the cocoa in the thousands of Christmas's he had brought to the world. Saint Nick himself, he was looking over the reindeer flying records, seeing who wasn't up to par. Christmas was coming, and Nick needed a top team to pull the sleigh.

"Hmmm," Mr. Claus said, "Dasher's doing well this year, but he has been gaining a bit of weight. Rudolf's nose finally lost its shine, and Blitzer's has gone to seed."

"What's that, dear?" Mrs. Claus asked kindly.

It was the same every year, Good Old Nick had to find the worst reindeer of the bunch and kindly ask him to step down for that year. The reindeer would accept this, and would work harder for the next year. It was an excellent system. Sometimes. There was a bit of hazing at the Reindeer Academy, but nothing got out of hand. Heck, with a army of elves large enough to occupy a small country, no one wanted to get out of hand.

"Nothing," Mr. Claus said smiling, "Just trying to find this year's scapegoat."

"Anyone in mind, dear?"

"Well," Mr. Claus said heavily, "I think it is finally Rudolf's time. His scores have been falling ever since that one time he 'saved Christmas.'"

"Merciful Lord," the kindly old woman said, shaking her head, "The one time we let reporters near the Pole."

"Don't worry," Santa said gently, putting a hand on her shoulder, "This will do Rudolf some good. It might even set an example," he said hopefully. It was a business he liked, blackballing his steeds.

"I know," Mrs. Claus said softly, "You should get back to work. Only a few more days till Christmas."

Santa smiled his trademark grin, and gave his trademark laugh while his patented belly shook like jelly before he marched out the door to the freezing cold and to his workshop.

The elves happily tinkered away, working hard to make all the children of the world happy. Santa cast a benign smile over his helpers and moved to the back room.

He worked had for several hours before his finished his work. Dolls, rocking horses, wooden swords, practice forearm blades, coloring books, and all sorts of other fun things for the children. All for the children.

After his work was completed, the jolly slightly overweight man returned to his list, trying to find a way to remove Rudolf from his lineup.

Thanks to the 20th century, Santa was able to get weather forecasts, making Rudolf obsolete, much like the elves. Like the elves, however, Santa kept Rudolf for past services. So taking him off the lineup was a hurtful task. And there was no one to delegate the task to. The elves were hard workers, but they were a bit slow, unlike their cousins the dwarves and hobbits. No unicorns this time of the year either.

Sighing, Santa paced his workshop. He knew Rudolf would not give up his spot on the lineup, he would just flat out refuse. And when he did, Santa would have to set an example of Rudy, something Santa could never do. It went against his grain. If people found out…

Santa's stomach rumbled. It was nothing new to him, but it gave him an idea.

He fetched his red coat and leather boots and walked over to the Reindeer Academy. Rudolf was giving a your deer flying lessons, and was doing so badly. Santa had a brief word with Donner about the young deer Rudy was teaching. Donner promised to correct Rudolf's faulty instructions. Feeling slightly better, Santa walked over to the red nosed reindeer.

"Hey, Rudy," Santa called.

Rudolf turned his antlered head and nodded slightly in Santa's direction. He told the young deer they would finish up later, and turned to his boss.

"What's up, Santa?" Rudolf said nervously. Santa could see Rudy knew what was up. So the slightly overweight man did the unexpected.

"Not much," he said, "I've decided not to blackball anyone this year. Everyone is doing great."

Rudolf couldn't believe his ears. Was it possible the slightly overweight man was losing his touch?

"To celebrate," Santa continued, "I'd like to for you and me to a bit of a bonding trip down by Maple Sugar Woods."

"That sounds good, big man," Rudolf said relieved, "Work on the game plan."

Santa smiled, "That's right. Game plan. I'll see you down there in about an hour or so. I'll just go tell the missus where I'm going first."

"No problem, big man."

Santa smiled. He did indeed go home, he told his wife where to go, and told her what he would like for dinner. She was constantly complaining about him not eating enough. She seemed surprised about his choice in food for that night, but didn't say anything other than the meal would be ready.

Santa smiled once more and went to his private shed. Sitting in the shed was a large axe and several blocks of wood. Santa reached past the axe and wood for the gift he had received long ago from a man named Picos Bill. He wrapped it carefully in his coat and walked out of the shed. Mrs. Claus saw him leave, and started preparing the meal. She added potatoes, beans, a dubious amount of lard, and finally added what seemed to be a-

Santa walked slowly down the slope that led to the Maple Sugar Woods. He didn't want to make too much sound, he wanted Rudolf to be surprised.

Rudy was waiting there, in a small clearing. Trees surrounded him, and Santa carefully hid behind one of the furry branches.

When Rudolf was looking the other way, Santa sprang out from behind the tree with a speed that would have startled a cat.

Hearing then noise, Rudolf spun around on his hind feet, lowering his antlers in preparation to attack. The encounter with the Abominable Snowman had left mental scars on the red nosed reindeer, even after years of therapy, he still had nightmares. Even though he still saw Melvin on a weekly basis, he never forgot what the fear had been like. Almost losing his family, his love, everything that mattered.

Seeing the slightly overweight man, Rudolf calmed down. He knew the red suited man, had known him for years. There was nothing to fear from him.

"You gave me quite a scare, Santa," Rudolf said quickly.

Santa smiled his legendary smile and walked over to Rudolf. The red nosed reindeer met Mr. Claus halfway, and when Santa held out his hand, Rudolf sniffed it obligingly. And when Santa held out a cube of sugar, Rudolf ate it. And when Santa brought a black tube, Rudolf sucked on it, trying to find the sweet reward. And when Santa squeezed his hand that held the tube, Rudolf did the thing he had been trained to do. He did what Santa wanted, and fell down.

The reindeer's mouth closing, but the back of his head remained open. As his eyes glazed over, the snow around him turned the crimson color of his nose. His leg twitched slightly, and as Santa looked around, trying to find someone, anyone, who had seen the deed, Rudolf lay still on the ground. His leg twitching…twitching…finally that too stopped.

Hours later, Santa returned home for supper. In his private shed, his old friend hung, letting the blood and urine trail out of his body. His body was cut open, from chest to belly, and his intestines were on the ground below him.

As Santa seated himself for supper, Mrs. Claus quietly asked, "So does this mean your back on the Atkins Diet?"