Humans think they know the legend of Santa’s reindeer, but they don’t know the true story …
I was just a fawn the night my father died in Santa’s infamous sleigh accident. The crew had already made the Christmas Eve delivery around the world, but somewhere over Northern Russia the weather went sideways. Wind and fog set in so heavy that the reindeer couldn’t see, and they clipped a mountain peak. Santa lost control of the sleigh, and there was a terrible crash. Blitzen Sr., my father, didn’t make it. My mother, Vixen, and I were devastated, along with the rest of the North Pole. My father had died, but he had still completed the delivery. The kids had gotten their Christmas. That was the most important thing, the oath the sleigh reindeer swore to uphold. My father was a hero.
I was young, with massive hooves to fill. I was Blitzen now, the youngest sleigh-reindeer in Santa’s history. I loved my job. The colorful lights of the human world, the bells, the gingerbread cookies the kids left out for Santa—he always shared them with us. But every time we flew through storms or fog my stomach seized up, my anxiety always getting the best of me.
The rest of the year, while the other reindeer played and frolicked, I devoted myself to my studies, specifically science and technology. I studied legends about humans named Edison and Tesla. Most reindeer scoffed at human science as nonsense. Our lot was small and set in their ways. Most of the North Pole lived by fire and candlelight.
But I persisted and developed my own hoof-blown glass bulbs. They gave off the tiniest glimmer at first. As they got brighter, the North Pole began using them as streetlamps. Soon my lights grew much larger, projecting intense beams. My inventions would ensure there was never another accident like the one that claimed my father. I was ready to show it to Santa.
That’s when Rudy with the red nose showed up.
Rudy hobbled into town, spinning a sad tale of being an orphaned reindeer. He tried to conceal himself at first, but then his nose flared, a bursting red glow lighting up the gloomy afternoon. Everyone backed away at first, skeptical of whatever danger this could be. But Rudy didn’t look dangerous; actually, he began crying, tears streaking his brown fur. He claimed everyone in his life had bullied him, made fun of his nose, and cast him out, leaving him with nowhere else to go.
Whispers filled the growing crowd around Rudy. Donner and Dasher stepped forward, consoled the young reindeer, and welcomed him into the North Pole. They gave him reindeer porridge, put him up in the Candy Cane Inn, and asked nothing in return. Reindeer lined up to meet him, to be in the presence of the red nose. They brought Rudy graham cracker pies, hand-knit blankets, and other gifts. The entire North Pole began worshipping him like some young messiah.
Yet, my mother seemed skeptical of the new reindeer. She told me to stay away from Rudy but refused to tell me why. It was a secret constantly dangling off her lips. One day she was in the kitchen having peppermint tea with Mrs. Claus. I overheard them talking about Rudy’s secret. Something about dark red magic. They noticed me eavesdropping and the conversation halted abruptly, and I was put to bed without reindeer pudding.
On a bitter-cold October night, I waited in the shadows outside The Rain-Deer Lounge. After his fifth carrot latte, Rudy finally left but, curiously, didn’t head home. I followed him at a distance as he trotted far out of town to the deserted western edge of the North Pole. Large caves and ragged shards of ice reached towards the clear sky. There were stories about this place, stories we had all heard but seldom believed. But being out here made my legs wobbly, and all the stories suddenly seemed plausible.
There was a monstrous crack in the ice, a glowing river of hot crimson flowing through the frozen landscape, steam rising off the rippling waves. Rudy moaned and lowered his antlers to the river. I stood behind a small pyramid of ice, peeking as Rudy stuck his nose into the red river. The air crackled with static electricity, my whole coat stood on end. Rudy lifted his pulsating snout to the sky and let out an awful howl, red mist steaming from his mouth. The ice splintered beneath me and my hooves slipped. I corrected myself, looked up, and saw Rudy glaring at me with milky yellow eyes, his nose a fire that temporarily blinded me. I turned and galloped home as fast as I could.
I was desperate to tell everyone what I’d seen, but my mother begged me to stay silent. The others didn’t like criticism of Rudy. It had become socially taboo to criticize Rudy in any way for fear of hurting his fragile feelings.
A chill lingered in the air every time I stepped outside, like something watching me. My only respite was my workshop. I had made serious breakthroughs. My lighting systems were getting brighter yet smaller. Compact enough to attach to Santa’s sleigh with ease.
Mrs. Claus came into my shop one day while I was hard at work on new reflective lenses. Her chubby cheeks were more blushed than usual. I could sense her hesitation, but she confided her fear that Santa was being brainwashed by Rudy and his growing posse of followers. I lowered my safety glasses and asked her what she expected me to do about it, but at that moment my mother walked through the door. Mrs. Claus took a seat, a worried look cemented on her face. Vixen told me to lie down, and I always listened to my mother. Pacing back and forth, she told me about the night my father died. How, after consoling me to sleep, she had dashed away in tears to the caves at the edge of the North Pole. How her grief almost overtook her, but she was comforted by a warm red force that split the ice into a river. But the comfort turned to pain, to confusion, to a pulsing bulge inside her white belly … her pregnant belly. I couldn’t lie down anymore and jumped to all fours, in disbelief. She told me she tried to run home, but her insides were melting. After agonizing hours of laying on the ice, she gave birth to a demented baby reindeer with a lump of hot coal for a nose. It didn’t have fur, just a rotten skeleton and yellow eyes. Before she could decide what to do next, a wave of black fog carried the baby reindeer away and into the night. My mother and Mrs. Claus were in tears as the story finished.
Christmas arrived. The fog was dense and threatening—déjà vu of the night my father died. But I strutted out of my workshop with an air of confidence, hauling my spotlight rig in a metal cart behind me, eager to show Santa, eager to help save Christmas, to make my father’s legacy proud. But as I arrived at the icy runway, I saw the sleigh had already been altered. An extra reindeer attachment up front … for Rudy, his nose glowing madly. He shot me a smirk that made my stomach queasy. I approached Santa, tried to show him my lighting gear, but he threw his head back and bellowed:
We don’t have use for lights now that we have Rudy Red Nose!
I saw Mrs. Claus approaching through the fog, her long dress dragging across the ice. She pulled Santa aside, whispered desperately in his ear, but he shook her off, laughing. He climbed up on his sleigh and raised his burly arms.
Rudy, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
Rudy grunted and nodded, his nose exploding in a brilliant flash that flooded the horizon of the icy runway like a red sunrise. Elves peeked from the town’s rooftops, wearing their work goggles to shield their eyes. I reluctantly dropped my lighting gear behind me and took my place in the reindeer line. I slid into my harness and glanced over at my mother, who forced a smile. She whispered to me, Santa will appreciate you, in your own time. We galloped down the runway with heavy minds and took off. I watched Rudy spread his red magic glow, making it possible for us to deliver presents all over the world despite the worst fog storm ever recorded. Rudy was a Goddamn hero.
The North Pole celebrated for months as the story of Rudy spread. A statue was raised in his honor. A day was set aside to honor the young reindeer. Soon there were whispers around town … whispers that the red-nosed-reindeer deserved more control over Christmas.
On a bright August afternoon, Rudy climbed the arctic mountain overlooking the town square and stood tall, the sun at his back. His antlers had grown and spread high and wide over his skull. A crowd gathered below … people, reindeer, elves. Rudy looked down on us and began speaking:
Why do we let Santa treat us like this? We do all the work. We build his toys. We pull his sleigh. And he gets all the glory and all the cookies! The world’s children worship him. They barely know us! Does that seem right to all of you?
The reindeer looked at each other. The elves looked at the people. Some looked confused. Some looked angry. Some booed. Some cheered.
It’s time to end Santa’s oppression. Until I’m put in charge, I am officially boycotting Christmas. No children will get their toys this year, not until I am recognized as the official face of Christmas.
The crowd gasped. Some of the reindeer cheered. Donner, Dasher, and Comet nodded along in support of Rudy. Others, like Dancer, Prancer, and Cupid, slunk back to the edge of the crowd where my mother and I stood. We didn’t speak to each other; we didn’t know what to say. The elves scurried back to their workshops, furiously shaking their heads.
If Santa tries to go through with Christmas without me, there will be a price to pay!
The fault lines cracked along the reindeer community. Some praised Rudy, donning fake red noses around town to show their loyalty. Some scoffed at Rudy and his followers. Who did they think they were? Besides, they wouldn't even need Rudy if the weather was clear on Christmas. Still, tensions ran high in the North Pole that year. A violent confrontation at the Rain-Deer Lounge left two reindeer in medical care. Speculation raged … would Santa go through with Christmas or yield it to Rudy?
On Christmas Eve the sky was crystal clear, and the bells in the cathedrals rang out in song, signaling it was soon time for takeoff. There was a growing crowd around Santa’s front lawn as he stepped out of his house, wrapped in his red and white suit, and announced that he was going through with Christmas despite Rudy’s threats.
I watched from across the street, away from the crowd. I heard the sound of galloping hooves behind me and saw Rudy taking off into the air, his nose firing thin streaks of red lightning out into the sky. Enormous pitch-black clouds appeared, twitching in the sky, relentless snow began pouring down. Santa looked up at the massive blanket of doom overtaking Christmas and fell to his knees. Rudy’s cackles echoed like thunder as he disappeared into the storm.
I galloped through the crowd and rubbed against Santa’s broad shoulders. He looked up into the wind and snow, tears welling in his big, doughy eyes. I used my nose to wipe a tear from his rosy cheek. He took hold of my shoulder and got to his feet, patting me on the back.
We fled the crowd, and I led Santa into my workshop and out of the storm. His tears dried, but his defeated expression still sat heavily upon his flushed face. I showed him my light system, perfected to fit his sleigh and brighten the night up to a half-mile ahead. A twinkle of hope glistened in Santa’s eyes. But he shook his head—half the reindeer were following Rudy now. There wasn’t enough power to pull the sleigh. I told Santa I would pull the sleigh my damn self if I had to, to make sure the children got their Christmas. To honor the oath I had taken, the same as my father before me. Santa nodded, washed with fresh determination.
We marched along Main Street towards the long icy runway, our hooves and boots clacking down the street. Candles began flickering in the windows. Main Street ended, and I looked across the vast open runway, towering ice mountains on either side. The soft glow of the town at our backs. I got to work harnessing my lights to the enormous sleigh. I looked back towards town and saw numerous sets of eyeballs watching through the fog and snow. Whispers whirled in the wind. Santa stood on the sleigh and whistled a melody into the night, and soon a swarm of elves scurried out of the shadows, dragging an enormous red velvet sack of presents. Although I had witnessed this many times before, it was a sight so incredible it tingled my flesh as I fastened the last of the lighting rigs.
A violent roar shook the runway. I turned and saw Rudy, his scarlet nose throbbing, chest puffed out, horns growing larger by the moment, a wicked smile streaking his face, showing a mouthful of razor teeth. He reminded us that Christmas was canceled. Behind him was a row of stout reindeer with red noses. They stomped their hooves in the snow. I stood in front of the sleigh, squinting against Rudy’s red glare. I pushed my hoof down and clicked on my lights. Brilliant beams of white light cut through the haze.
Rudy’s nose flickered for a moment. His followers stepped forward, pushing against the high beams of the sleigh. The cathedral bells rang again. It was last call for takeoff; if we didn’t leave soon, we wouldn’t make it around the world on time. I raised my antlers, which had grown quite impressive in their own right. Behind me, a noise rose up … footsteps. I turned and glanced back. A group of reindeer marched through the fog onto the runway. I saw my mother, and Dancer, and Prancer. They marched up to the sleigh, surrounding it, protecting it. I looked at Rudy’s posse and saw Donner, Dasher, and Comet. Rage filled their eyes. If a fight broke out, it was going to be a bloodbath.
I stepped forward.
“This is between me and Rudy,” I said. All the other reindeer stopped in their tracks. Rudy looked me over and motioned for his reindeer to stand down. The young, red-nosed reindeer stepped forward, his eyes a swirling madness of yellow and black, meeting me in the middle of the two groups. I glanced at my mother and saw the worry on her face.
Rudy charged at me, lowering his massive antlers. My hooves slipped, but I managed to dodge at the last moment, my knees buckling as I crashed to the ice. I heard a gasp near Santa’s sleigh. Rudy slid to a stop and leaped into the air, twisting back towards me, his nose absolutely blinding. I lowered my head and pushed forward, preparing for the collision. He crashed against me, our horns tangling, our necks jerking violently from side to side. Rudy gave a guttural growl, and his red misty breath singed my nose. The storm was a tornado around us. He pushed his antlers hard against my skull, one of his points digging in, puncturing my flesh. Hot blood waterfalled across my right eye. My legs were on the verge of collapse when I saw Santa’s sleigh, the reindeer harness sitting empty. I remembered seeing my father in that harness, tall and proud.
I dug my back hooves into the snow and threw my front legs up into Rudy’s jaw. He stumbled back, his antler ripping out of my forehead. His nose flickered for a moment, and blood dripped from his jaw. A patch of fur and flesh fell from his face, revealing a wretched skull. He howled in rage, losing control, and lunged at me, antlers first. I dropped to the frozen ground. As he sailed over me he looked down and our eyes met for a moment. I launched into the air, thrusting my antlers up into his rib cage. Rising through the air, I twisted my antlers. We flew higher and higher. I kept tearing at his torso, hot blood spraying across my face as Rudy shrieked. I pulled back, and he fell forty sixty feet to the ground with a deafening crunch, his steaming blood melting the snow beneath him. His reindeer posse looked on in silence. Rudy grunted and rose. I flew at him; the tip of my right antler was a dagger as it pierced Rudy’s nose. His snout burst into a violent boom of thunder that echoed into eternity.
Rudy collapsed; the remnants of his nose pulsed gently like a dying star and turned to ash. His fur melted away, revealing the hideous skeleton beneath, crawling with maggots. The charred bones of the demon reindeer awkwardly stumbled to his hooves, wobbling and slowly lurching forward. I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Mrs. Claus holding a twelve-gauge shotgun.
Rudy, you’re history, she said and pulled the trigger. What was left of Rudy’s skeleton fell into ashes and dissolved into the snow.
I turned towards Rudy’s followers. They looked at each other, shaking their heads and blinking their eyes like a spell had been broken. They slid the fake noses off and dropped them to the ground. Santa stepped forward and stroked my coat with his white glove. He thanked me and said I could sit this delivery out; I had already done enough. Had already saved Christmas. But, despite the throbbing headache, I took my place in Santa’s harness. Santa motioned for me to take Rudy’s empty space in the front of the pack, the lead harness. But I told him I’d rather fly beside my mother. Santa nodded, patted me on the shoulder, and climbed onto the sleigh. The elves were hard at work, quickly tying and securing the towering sack of presents.
The fog was still thick, but that was okay. The children were still going to have their Christmas. I turned to my mother, she smiled, and we took off across the runway and up into the brightly lit night.
Artwork by Steve Ramer
Check out his website here!