The War On Christmas
“This is WTVU tracking Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve,” It was a typical seasonal fluff story, the kind that the kids just out of J-school usually got assigned. Christine shouldn’t be doing it. This was punishment, especially for a single mom. She smiled, I’ll take their crap and bake a cake. “I’m joined by General Gregory Clark from NORAD control here in Colorado Springs. General, what can we expect?”
“General, inbound bogey!” A voice interrupted. “Southerly track, eastern seaboard.”
Right on time, Christine looked at her watch and smiled. 6:12 p.m., so just after 8pm on the eastern seaboard, almost perfectly timed for the first commercial break during prime time. The kids were going to love this! Christine nodded her approval: This crew was well-prepared.
“Calmly, folks.” The General turned to his men, “We’ve trained for this. We know what to do. Put it on the big screen. Scramble intercept fighters.”
Behind Christine, and perfectly in the frame of the camera, a map of North America lit up, superimposed with air traffic moved steadily around it. One blip far up north was highlighted, flashing.
“Fighters away, sir! CAP estimates intercept over northern Labrador in four minutes.”
Christine turned back to the camera, “Oh, a bit of excitement. Could this be Saint Nick making an appearance?”
Behind her, but still visible on camera, the General opened a flask and took a quick swig. When he saw the camera watching him, he raised the flask in salutation.
“Tis the season,” He winked to the camera and moved off to oversee his men.
“And we’re out.” Off air, the cameraman was frantically gesticulating towards Christine, asking if she’d seen that. She brushed him off. She hadn’t seen it.
The corporal sitting at the second radar station was having a hard time not looking at her. She smiled encouragingly to him. He may be fifteen years younger, but that would just mean that he’d hit puberty during the height of her popularity.
Am I on your bucket list? She wondered. Should you be on my naughty list?
“It’s a seven minute break,” The cameraman interrupted her reverie, as if his words were supposed to mean something to her. She shrugged her non-comprehension. He made an ‘aren’t you stupid’ face and explained, “They intercept before we’re back on air.”
Of course, damn it. She felt frustration at how the world conspired against her. Yes, she’d slept with her producer. Yes, he was married. But why was she the only one being punished? She’d only slept with him to gain the weekend anchor desk. Now she was covering Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve!
The message was clear. She’d been too naughty in a profession that still punished women for the crimes of men.
But she’d also heard that the weekend desk might be opening up at rival WFVT. A good night tonight might raise her audience goodwill rating enough to land that gig instead. Screw WTVU.
Three minutes back.
“General, we have visual!” One of the ground controllers shouted. Christine looked at her cameraman, who was talking through his earpiece to the station. He nodded. They were going to go live – a Special Bulletin. Yeah!
A soft count: three, two, one…
“We’re back at NORAD, where we’ve had some fun developments with the Santa Tracker.” She picked her moment and tapped the shy corporal on his shoulder. “Can you tell us what’s going on?”
He looked startled, from her to the camera, back to her, and then he spoke past her. “Sir! We have confirmed the bogey is real. It’s moving at about mach 2. Heat signatures are confirmed.”
“Very well, tell our pilots to do a close pass. I want a visual.”
“Very exciting,” Christine grabbed the general’s arm, turned him toward the camera. “General, is this how it goes every year?”
“Lady, we don’t know what ‘this’ is yet. Now please keep the camera out of the way.” That wasn’t according to script. Christine had watched the last ten years’ of Santa Tracker coverage. It was always gentle, light-hearted. This felt … tense.
Christine turned back to her camera, deflecting her momentary doubts by tossing her hair. Marketing surveys always said that men loved her hair and women envied it.
“Well, another interesting night!” Time to play up the noble warrior angle. “Our brave sons, brothers, and fathers are working diligently to keep us all safe this Christmas and every night.”
The cameraman was giving her the ‘wrap’ signal. “Now back to A Charlie Brown Christmas already in progress!”
Once they were off air, the cameramen propped his camera against a desk. “This isn’t normal,” he said. “This is my fifth year, and it’s never been this tense.”
Christine wasn’t sure how to address that.
“And some advice,” the cameraman leaned in, “leave the corporal alone. He’s having a bad night.”
* * *
During their downtimes, Christine imagined how she could cut this footage, add it to her highlight reel. In her mind, she was already revising a letter to the News Director at WFVT.
It should almost be time for another check in. She looked at her cameraman who was looking at her and touching his earpiece to let her know that the station was talking to him. “We’re coming back, regularly scheduled piece in five, four…”
He barely had the camera up when Christine started to speak. “Welcome back. NORAD is busy right now checking out what may very well be Santa. Let’s listen in…”
Christine gestured for the camera to come closer, and look over her shoulder. That would look so good on her highlight reel, she smiled as she turned, making sure to keep her hair out of the camera frame.
The information was coming fast, and from multiple servicemen:
“Sir, pilots report that the object is about the size of a private jet.”
“Sir, the craft has no transponder and has not responded to challenges on commercial channels.”
“Sir, the bogey has begun a rapid descent towards Gander!”
Christine turned toward the camera and whispered, “Gander is in Newfoundland, one of Santa’s first stops!” She’d done her research. Tonight she needed to be perfect. She didn’t intend to spend next Christmas away from her sons.
“Description, I need a description.” The General bellowed, rage-pacing behind the radar operators.
“Sir, it’s brown and red. Correction, pilots report that the hull is red with no identifiable markings, no running lights. It appears to be being pulled by a number of brown elk.”
“Yes sir, pilot confirms, elk.”
“Damn those Commies! It’s a bomb.”
Christine spun, barely remembering to wield her microphone, her authority. “Commies? General, surely it’s Santa?”
“My pilot identified elk, not reindeer, elk. It’s those damned Commies trying to sneak a bomb onto the continent.” Christine thought his speech sounded a bit slurred.
“Elk, reindeer,” she tried one more time to be reasonable, “Aren’t they the same thing?”
“Ma’am,” The General looked directly into the camera, his bloodshot eyes dominating the screen, fighting to focus. “My pilots are highly trained at visual identification. If they say elk, then they’re elk.”
“Your pilots can tell an elk from a reindeer?” The General turned his back on Christine’s badgering. He had more important things to do.
With one last swig from the flask, then casting it aside, the General roared, “Weapons go hot. I want that Commie down before he reaches anyone! Engage! Engage! Engage!”
“Engage! Engage! Engage! Aye, sir. Order confirmed.”
Christine, her cameraman, and everyone watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on the Fox Network that night saw the blip disappear from the projected radar screen.
“Yes!” The General pumped the air, turning gleefully back towards the camera. “That’ll teach that Commie bastard to follow FAA regulations!”
“You… just… killed… Santa…?” Christine pointed to the camera, her anger boiling over, “on live TV!”
She bit back tears, even as her inner voice said, screw the highlight reel, this will make me a star. Fox and Friends, here I come!
“Biggest Commie of them all, if you ask me. Giving free toys to everyone. Commie, I tell ya.” The General’s voice trailed out as he leaned on her, his hand reaching down her back for an inappropriate squeeze, “Say, could you introduce me to Bill O’Reilly?”