It wasn’t my intention to be here. I stumbled upon this rough and tumbly brothel by accident. I needed somewhere warm to sit and knock the frost off my body, but on this particular night, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time…..
My wife Sherrie never had a white Christmas growing up in Opa Loka Florida, and being the daughter of a short order cook and a mom that left her at age 3, travel was never in their yearly itinerary. Sherrie didn’t see snow until she was 24, and to this day she still claims that moment was the most beautiful event of her life. More so than our wedding day or the birth of either of our 2 sons.
She wanted to give our children a different view of the holiday season, a blissfully chilly white Christmas. So this year, just like the previous 7 years I have spent as a father, our holiday was spent in Longyearbyen, Norway.
Sherrie is an “all out” kind of gal when it comes to this time of year, she wants to get as close to the magic as possible. Longyearbyen happens to be the closet “city” to Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, not to mention a white Christmas is all but guaranteed in this frigid town of 1000 people. So I give Sherrie what she wants. Every year we rent a small 2 bedroom house in the hills and hole up for 7 days to celebrate a holiday that meant very little to either of us as children. While I understand her want to pass down a positive experience to our boys, tonight I told Sherrie this was the last year I could do it. Yesterday was the last Christmas day I could spend in Longyearbyen. She cried.
I usually break when she cries, I cave in and give her what she wants, but truthfully, I hate this place. I hate that we come here every winter to put a band aid on our relationship. Sure, there are good memories in this village, but the last 4 years of our relationship have been a downward spiral and the one constant point of contention is Longyearbyen.
I left the cabin in haste, inadequately dressed for this 10 degree evening. I couldn’t have another argument, so I put on my boots and coat and wandered. The snow was really coming down now, and the glow of the lit town was dim behind me. I looked forward into the darkness, took a deep cold breath, and started following my tracks back. The wind had picked up, and my wandering mind was oblivious to the fact that my face had become numb. I walked towards the nearest light, the town watering hole, Tomte.
I opened the door to almost immediate relief. The small all wooden tavern had a large fireplace to the right of the bar that was dispensing far more heat than the 6 table establishment needed. I stomped the snow off my feet, threw my coat across the bench beside the door, and took a seat on the barstool closest to the blaze.
The bartender was an older gentleman, heavy set, thick grey mustache with a matching ring of grey hair circling around the side of his head. He wore a black stocking cap.
“What can I getcha?” His English was without accent.
Only 2 other people were here, a couple, happily sipping wine together. I was envious. They looked like they really loved each other.
A rush of cold air came in behind me as someone else blew in. I didn’t budge.
“Excuse me, do you have any snacks?” I asked.
I looked up.
The bartender had removed his hat and was clutching it to his chest exposing a bald head underneath. He stood stone faced, mouth agape, looking past me at the door.
At first glance I thought it was a child. He was wearing a green one piece snowsuit with a red cap, red boots, and matching red mittens. Then I realized this child had the stubbly beginnings of a beard. I turned back around to prevent myself from staring.
“It’s the 26th.” The bartender stammered “Y-you are not supposed to be here until the 28th.”
I looked left and noticed the happy couple had ended their conversation, and both sat staring at the new patron. They were holding each others hands across the table.
A surprisingly gravelly voice came out of the little man, “This year is going to be different Alcott.”
“Alcott” I thought to myself, “I know that name”.
Another rush of cold air hit me in the back and Alcott stumbled in front of me, losing a grip on his hat, and placing his hands on the counter behind him.
I turned to see at least a dozen tiny green suited men with matching red hats, boots and mittens standing silently facing the bar.
They walked in unison to various empty chairs and slid into their seats with acrobatic precision.
I was making no attempt to stop staring at this point.
One of them quietly whispered “Drinks”.
I glanced over this tiny army, one face to the next unable to distinguish any real differences between them, when I accidentally locked eyes with one.
“What the fuck you looking at stretch?”
“Nothing, sorry.” I spun back towards the bar, “Oh……fuck…..me.” The words fell out of my mouth. I felt stupid for not realizing it immediately, but these were THE elves, Santa’s elves.
My eyes grew wide as I tunneled my vision to my drink.
I knew the history of Santa’s elves, Sherrie has an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Christmas, but her knowledge did not prepare us for what we learned our first year in Longyearbyen.
Santa’s elves are portrayed as happy toy building creatures, efficient and almost without needs of their own. While this is true the majority of the year, it is not true for 1 night. 364 days a year these tiny men build presents for all the people of the world. Their job only increases in demand as world population booms, but they don’t ask for anything in return, they just sing and build, sing and build. On Christmas day the elves bask in the joy and happiness all of their hard work has given, and aside from free room and board, this world jubilation is their payoff. December 26th comes and it’s back to work. However, one day every year the elves do not build. They do not sing. They go out and do whatever the fuck they please. Santa’s elves have made a stand, they have unionized, demanding one day of complete unbridled freedom. If anything stands in their way they will “burn Santa’s workshop to the ground”, ruining Christmas for everyone, forever. This day had traditionally been the 29th of December, meaning the night of the 28th is mayhem in all North Pole adjacent towns, especially Longyearbyen.
Apparently the calendar has changed, unbeknownst to me or anyone in this town, and we are all stuck in the kill zone.
Alcott was mixing drinks furiously, his bald head now forming beads of sweat.
“Hey,” I said under my breath, “you want me to get the cops?”
Just as I finished this sentence a voice spoke directly into my ear.
“That’s a fucking great idea,” a green suit stood on the stool next to me,”do it, see what happens.” A big smile grew on his face, and a quiet maniacal laugh went through his throat.
I edged off my seat.
“No, stay.” His tiny Chiclet teeth were jagged and discolored. “Red Bull and Vodka Alcott. Chop, fucking chop.”
“Yes, of course Alabaster. Bushy, Pepper, I have your drinks, I have drinks for everyone.” Alcott’s whole body was trembling as he set a tray of beverages down on the bar.
The elf next to me grabbed the libations, hopped down from the stool, and distributed accordingly.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Alcott whispered to me as he continued mixing drinks “this is their first stop, hopefully they will move on.”
The longest 20 minutes of my life passed as I sat silently on that barstool. But all was not silent behind me. These tiny men were crushing drinks and popping pills while a steady dust of cocaine filled the tavern.
One elf wandered over to the couple at the table on the other side of the room. Like me they had been sitting like stone for the past half hour. The elf hoped right up on the woman’s lap.
“You know what I want for Christmas?” He asked. She sat trembling, her head shaking as if to say ‘no’, but nothing audible came out of her mouth.
“Well, let me show you.”
He stood up on the table between the two of them, danced a couple beats while he hummed a song, and then, like a flash, jumped up and spun a rear mule kick into the man’s neck crushing his windpipe. The innocent man fell over in his chair, gagging. The woman sprung up and raced to his side, but there was nothing she could do. He struggled for a minute or two as the elves watched quietly, then he was gone.
“Guys, I got my first Christmas wish!” The murderous elf exclaimed “Thanks Santa!”
All the other elves cheered and laughed, jumping from table to table smashing glasses against the wall.
I dropped off my stool to the ground and covered my head. Surely this was the tipping point, I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I suffered the same fate.
Another cold gust of wind, and a loud voice filled the room.
The elves stopped celebrating, and all was quiet.
I peered out from behind my forearm and saw everyones attention back toward the door. I slowly stood to see a tiny bearded man, shorter than any of the elves, donning an outfit that was not dissimilar to a gay pride flag. He surveyed the room with his one large eye.
“Tomte!” Alcott whispered in excitement, “He is real!”
Of course I knew why Alcott’s bar was called Tomte, but no one had ever seen the actual man, the myth. No one believed he was real.
Tomte is essentially the Scandinavian version of Santa Claus. Like Santa he is known to be a gift giver. However, unlike Santa, Tomte is known to be easily offended and does not like change. He is also known to have immense strength, possibly a shapeshifter, possibly magical, but the only thing I could confirm thus far was that Tomte is a cyclops.
Tomte walked to the bar silently and popped up on the stool next to me. Alcott immediately presented him with a bowl of hot porridge, one pat of butter on top. Tomte smiled.
From under his colorful jacket, Tomte pulled a wooden spoon attached to a string around his neck.
I stared in awe.
Just as Tomte was about to dig in one of the elves slid down the bar, kicking the porridge across my body and into the fire.
“Fuck you fake Santa!” said the sliding elf as he pointed at Tomte.
The elves began howling again, laughing hysterically.
Tomte threw his hand around the elf’s neck like a rubber whip, and squeezed. The elf’s head popped off, up into the air, and before it could hit the ground Tomte opened his mouth wider than the circumference of his entire body, caught the spinning head, and swallowed it whole.
“Tomte!” Alcott exclaimed in a whisper.
I slid around the corner of the bar, knowing what was about to ensue.
The elves looked back and forth at each other with confusion and anger on their drugged out faces, and then they charged.
I couldn’t help but watch the carnage. It was the most terrfyingly grusome thing I have ever seen. Tiny severed limbs were flying across the bar, tables breaking, high pitched elf screams I will never be able to unhear, and when the storm was over, Tomte stood calmly in the middle of it all. His colorful cloak now soaked in blood.
“Stupid fucking elves” he said as he surveyed the room.
Alcott placed another bowl of porridge on the bar, one pat of butter on top. Tomte walked over and began to eat.
Tomte reached into his bloody cloak and pulled out a book, ‘Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas Treasury’.
“My great grandmother!” Alcott said in shock.
“Yes,” Tomte replied, “and now you tell the story of me for all to read. I am magic, I am a shapeshifter, I will save Christmas and everyone will love ME!” Tomte spoke as if he were drunk with power. I knew I recognized Alcott’s name, but now I was weary of the man that just saved me. “Santa needs elves, ha! I can do anything! Now I will be the one making the ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ list, I will visit houses, I will respected and feared by all. I AM T..O..M……”
A gunshot rang out, Tomte fell.
“Agent Graves SSP, Santa’s Secret Police.” It was the woman from the original couple. She came strutting over from her significant other’s lifeless body. “Tomte has been trying to take over Christmas for quite some time, steal it from Santa and the elves. We are sorry you had to be here for this. It was a sting, and these elves were unknowingly pawns.” She stood above Tomte’s tiny corpse and put in one more slug for good measure, ‘BANG’.
Both of us stood there blankly, not knowing if we should thank her, or run.
“As for your story Alcott, it can never be told.”
Agent graves put a bullet through the back of Alcotts head, he dropped to the floor.
I stood frozen, lock eyed with the agent of SSP, unable to wrap my head around anything that had happened this evening.
“Wrong place, wrong time.” she said with a smirk as she shook her head. She raised her weapon in my direction.
‘Fucking Norway’ I thought to myself as I closed my eyes,’Fucking Longyearbyen’.