Well, actually, he wasn't a reindeer. He was a giraffe. This did not deter him from pursuing his dream. Not one bit. All of St. Nick's old reindeer had retired with a pension of hay and hot chocolate. He had heard from an unidentified source that Santa was recruiting new talent for the annual run, so Conrad stole a rack of reindeer antlers from a hunting shed in Siberia while the hunter concentrated on eating his borscht with a bent spoon.
The journey northward seemed endless, but at last he found the fabled village. Billows of brightly-colored sparkles belched from the stacks of the toy factory. Elves scurried and hustled about their business. The Day was only weeks away. Conrad's blood pressure rose as he waited in line nose to rump behind a long line of other smelly butts outside the staging shed where the jolly old elf housed his sleigh.
The line stretched across about a hundred yards of freshly fallen snow. "How long you been standing here?" he asked the mammal ahead of him. He blinked when the animal turned its head. The other applicant was not a reindeer.
"A couple of days… weeks… hours… I don't know." The yak stomped a hoof in a mound of something that smelled vile. Wisps of steam rose from the pile. "The old guy is kind of… slow." He slung his heavy rack from side to side, dislodging a few tenacious flies. "Name's Formaldehyde. But you can call me Al."
"Conrad. But you can call me Con."
"Nice to meet you." The yak studied Con's outfit. "What's with the spandex?"
"Oh, this. Well…"
"Hey, if it's personal—"
"No. It's just… Okay, I ran away from the circus—"
The yak melted into fits of laughter. "Oh man, that's rich. You ran away from the circus? Why would you leave a good gig like that?"
Con cleared his throat, loosening the phlegm. "Well, there was a little problem with dynamite and an elephant—"
"Whoa, buddy. Did you dynamite an elephant?"
"Of course not. I swear I never touched the elephant." Con tried his best to look offended. "No matter what that clown says I never laid a hoof on her."
"Well, if you did, I wouldn't blame you. Elephants are kind of—"
"Hey!" said a rather large pachyderm while turning a malevolent eye on Al.
Conrad stepped back from the menace. He'd seen enough of elephants to last him a lifetime.
The yak turned his back on the elephant and continued his probing into Con's embarrassment. "What happened?"
"Okay, you got my attention. Why would you swallow dynamite?"
Conrad puffed out his cheeks. "It really wasn't my fault. Lion Tamer was standing in the door of Pretzel Woman's trailer. You know, he was always talking to PW. I think he had an itch for her. She could do this thing… Never mind. It's not important." He cringed and shook his head at the memory. "Knife Thrower stopped throwing knives after the… um… accident, so he threw fireworks that looked like sticks of dynamite. Made for an exciting show. Well, we had a new guy in the manager's office, and he got mixed up. Ordered real dynamite. So when Knife Thrower was passing her trailer, Pretzel Woman sneezed, and the Lion Tamer got a face full of spray. PW is known for her bad breath. Lion Tamer backed into me, I tripped Knife Thrower, and Pretzel Woman knocked the dynamite out of Knife Thrower's hand." He looked hard at his audience. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"
Several animals nodded.
By now the waiting hopefuls had gathered around them to hear Con's sad tale of woe. Most of them stared at Con with wonder and awe reflected in their eyes. After all, it's more customary to run away to the circus, than from the circus.
"Go on," urged an elk.
"But I'd had a lot of hay for supper, and you can imagine the gas build-up—"
"Oh, yeah, man," said an alpaca. "That can be murder."
Con stared at the alpaca. How much did he know?
"I belched, the dynamite flew out of my mouth, and the elephant… It wasn't pretty."
"That's awful, man," the yak said.
"I had to leave. No one could be sure if I'd expelled all the TNT yet." Con felt a familiar rumble in his gut. "Guys." He backed away from them. "This can't be good."
A collective look of horror spread across the contingent of would-be Christmas Eve replacements.
They don't call it the North Pole any more. It's more like… the North Crater. And Con? There was no room on the team for someone with such a ghastly gastrointestinal disorder. Word is that operations might resume in time for Christmas next year.
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