Five Golden Rings

by

David C. Sobkowiak

            The team was pushing themselves hard that year.  The trip over Greenland was brutal.  Blizzard conditions battered not only the team, but the sleigh itself, tossing me back and forth like one of the dolls that was safely tucked away in the giant sack fastened to the rail behind me.  I had lost toys before, usually having them end up landing in empty fields, found by farmers or their children.  It was a small price to pay knowing that they still brought happiness to those that found them.

            Crossing over the Hudson Bay, the storm was just too strong and I made a decision to skirt the outside and follow the frontal system along the eastern coast of the United States,  Rudolph was still the youngest, but even he was getting on in reindeer years and his nose just wasn’t as bright as it had been in year’s past.  Soon it would be necessary to find a new team lead, a task I knew would be all the more difficult given the way Rudolph made the team. We swooped and slid across the night sky, making stops at all the houses. Despite the stories, I don’t give coal any more.  Kids these days have so much going against them that I think it’s just too low a blow to deliver to any child, naughty or nice, to be excluded on Christmas.  I’m not saying that giving an etch-a-sketch to a gang banger is going to stop gang violence, but gang-bangers aren’t really kids anymore are they? 

            Preparing to leave Manhattan, I headed across Central Park. The lights of the city were beautiful that night.  That’s one of the things that I really enjoy about my flight every year. I get to visit everywhere in the world and see everything that has changed over the year. You’d be surprised at just how much can change in one year’s time.  Enjoying the park’s ambiance, I slowed our progress and let the team fly low, skimming over the Jackie O reservoir. They love to do that, brushing their hooves on the surface of the water like a child holding their hand out an open window, allowing the wind to rush over it like a mini airplane. Riding the wind.  Free.  Freedom is one of the most precious gifts anyone can receive, and unfortunately, not one I can give to everyone.  I’ve helped people out of tough situations over the years, to be sure, and I’ve recently set all my reindeer free during the off season.  There’s no reason to keep them penned in the barn.  Those that want to can come and go as they please.  Those that don’t, stay around and get the same attention they always have.  Comet is one of those. Choosing to be pampered and brushed.  I don’t blame him. He’s a good friend and a valued member of the team.  He’s earned his rest and relaxation during the year.  Coming up on West 86th, I started to pull the team back up. It was then that everything went south for us that night.

            The storm had come up on the city quickly. We were keeping just ahead of it the whole time, but with the short dalliance over the water, we were caught in the first gusts that were to hammer the city under a blanket of ice and snow.

            One of the things you need to understand about the team is that they are all harnessed together as a single unit, by five rings.  Five Golden Rings.  These rings bind the team together linking harness sets at a midpoint between each set of reindeer. I wasn’t worried that the rings would give way, they were forged with elven magic.  What I worried about was the sounds I was hearing coming from the harnesses.  Stretching and straining under the pressure of the gale and the combined effort of the team and me trying to stay on track proved to be too much for the aged leather straps.  One by one I head them pop like guitar strings being plucked too hard after being tightened too much.  Freedom is a wonderful thing until you’re free to fall straight into a grove of pine trees are one hundred plus miles an hour.

            The impact was hard. Harder than any other I can remember over the years.  The layer of ice covering the last snowfall was thicken by recent rain, and one of the rails flew from the sleigh and lodged deep in to a mound of ice and dirt some forty feet away from where we came to rest.  Rudolph was the first to return to the sleigh, prancing gently through the gusting wind as if it were only a breeze.  One by one the others returned as well and I thought we’d be underway in just a short time. The elves were already on their way I knew, the emergency beacon installed in the sleigh allowed them to track our progress anywhere in the world, and also enabled them to find us in situations just like this. There had only been a handful of accidents over the years. No serious injuries, no broken bones, but the elves were always trying to get me in to a new fangled sleigh. One model reminded me too much of the Pope-mobile, and I finally put an end to the development team’s efforts to find a new age replacement for my relic of a conveyance.  I got them to upgrade some systems on board like the emergency beacon, as well as something I liked to call the Elven On-Star which gave me access to a support team anytime, anywhere. 

            I set about gathering the presents which had been tossed about in the snow and ice to make the time go by while I waited for the elves to arrive. Once finished, I began to round up the team.  Dasher made his way to the sleigh with a bit of a wobble in his walk, but it didn’t appear serious enough to need attention.  I pulled an extra set of reins from the sleigh, bracing myself against a strong gust and ambled over to where the team had huddled together, beside a grove of trees.  Working with these reindeer all their lives has been a blessing. They are truly wonderful creatures.  They aren’t pets, don’t get m wrong. They are headstrong, determined animals who don’t do anything they don’t want to, but they want this yearly ride, almost as much as I do.  We are of the same mind that way.

            Seeing me approach, they began to settle in to a rough formation.  I began swapping out their broken reigns for the newer pair.  Two by two by two I made my way up the line from the rear of the group until all that was left was Rudolph and then to reconnect the team together and wait for the elves. I can’t do this sort of work with my mittens on, so by the time I finished unfastening and refitting all of the team, my hands were raw, numb and stiff.  Arthritis isn’t something I’ve had to deal with much over the years, but the sheer strength of the storm and the bite of the air gnawed at my joints and chilled me to the core.  All those years at the North Pole, you’d think I’d be immune to these sorts of things, but some things affect everyone the same.  A human is a human, mythological or not.

            From a distance I heard the familiar jingling bells of the S.N.O.W. The Santa’s Next Option Wagon.  I waved to them as they made their approach and slowly made my way to their sleigh, which was much larger than mine, and offered shelter from the cruelest of elements.  I was greeted by Timothy, the lead elf of the S.N.O.W team.  As I informed him of the damage and circumstances of the crash, his team set to work straight away.  The Reindeer lined up immediately at the approach of several S.N.O.W. elves, and waited for their final bridle adjustments while other team members began the rapid repair work on my sleigh. It’s really an amazing site to behold.  Little blow torches sparking in the night air, hammers pounding out the dents.  By the time they were finished the feeling had returned to my hands, I had spoke with Mrs. Claus over the Sat phone, and I was ready to hit the skies again.  As I left the comfort of the sleigh, Timothy approached me with grave intent written across his boyish brow.

            Santa he said. We have a problem.

            Making my way back to the team, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  All of them were missing. All five of the golden rings which bound the team together were gone.  The S.N.O.W. elves began a rapid fire list of options for the completion of the night’s run, but I knew that without the rings to hold the team together, any solution offered would only be a temporary fix, requiring the S.N.O.W. team to return for more repairs in a matter of hours. Those five rings, forged of elven magic centuries ago, were the lynch pin to the entire flight.  They didn’t give the Reindeer their ability to fly. They didn’t provide extra lift to the overloaded sleigh.  They only served one purpose and one purpose alone.  They hold us all together.  They make the flight possible through their strength and their symbolism, something even the Reindeer seemed to understand. Each ring worked in unison with the others, and each one had a specific place in the team’s configuration.  There were more back at the North Pole, but given the storm, the distance and the fleeting time, that wasn’t our best option.

            After a brief consult, the S.N.O.W. Team split up to search for the rings. Time was of the essence, and the situation was growing dire.  Even in the heart of Central Park, in the middle of the night, on Christmas Eve, someone would be about.  It was only a matter of time before we were seen.  Occasional glimpses aren’t a big deal, especially by children. I rather enjoy the the astonishment and beauty that lights up their face when they realize who they’ve just seen.  Adults are a little trickier, but most of them keep the sighting to themselves or their immediate families.  Being found, broken down and grounded in New York City was just a problem I didn’t want to try to work my way out of.  It’s not that I don’t like the city. I love it there.  I just don’t want a news team rolling up on me in a situation like that.

            I began to review the brief meeting in my head as the others made their way out to begin the search.  Somehow the rings had broken loose from their mounts on the sleigh and the reigns, and had scattered through out the park on our way down.  The team had mapped out the likeliest trajectories based on storm strength, angle of decent and my approximate position at the time.  All quite an amazing thing to complete in the back of an over sized sleigh, even one that was a marvel of technology.  I placed another call to Mrs. Claus to explain the situation and assure her that everything would be alright, but for the first time in nearly a century, I was beginning to doubt that even good old Santa could pull this one off.  I stepped back in to the frigid night air which bit at my face and stung at my eyes and tried to see what direction I could go in that would prove to be the most helpful.  Normally in situations like this, the elves and the S.N.O.W. team in particular would rather that I just stay out of the way.  While I’m nimble on a rooftop, and spry popping up and down a chimney, my size, age and general dexterity do prove to be somewhat cumbersome at times like this.

            I knew that we had to make quick work of the search.  I heard screeching coming from the direction of West 86th and winced while I waited for the sound of impact. Nothing came but the typical cheerful New York greeting of a friendly cabbie wishing some member of the S.N.O.W. team a Merry Christmas in his own way.  I was hopeful that the team had recovered one or more of the rings.  They have a rule about not allowing people to see them, unless there’s some urgent situation.  This was a pretty serious situation, and the cheering from the group reassured me that we were making progress.  As the cabbie drove off to a symphony of horns and shouts, I thought to myself that it’s good that adults don’t generally receive presents from me.  There’d be a lot of disappointed people on Christmas morning.  A few minutes later another cheer broke through the muffling wind from the direction of the Turtle Pond. We might just have the situation under control after all.  There’s a lot of luck to being Santa, and I was beginning to chastise myself for ever doubting the strength of the Christmas spirit.

            After another hour of search however, even the typically jovial S.N.O.W. elves were showing their concern openly on their faces.  Four of the rings had been recovered and mounted back on the team, secured by elven tinsel.  The really good kind.  Timothy had sent out another search party to search in a grid pattern, but we knew that things were becoming desperate.  Without the final ring, the ring mounted to the sleigh itself, there was no easy way to control the team, and no possible way to complete the ride.  To keep from showing my distress to the others, I sung a happy holiday tune and rallied the group as best I could.  Afterward, I decided to go for a walk near Belvedere Castle.  The area was searched pretty thoroughly, so I wasn’t expecting to get anything more from it than a clearer mind for the next decision to be made.  The final decision came down to me of course, and though I was the man in charge, I dreaded what delaying our flight for another two or more hours would mean for the children of the world.  I’ve cut it close in the past. Skimmed over the horizon as the sun began it’s morning climb, but with time flying by, and our options dwindling, there wasn’t much hope in hitting every house in every country without making a spectacle of myself.

            I sat down for a moment on the granite steps to try to fathom how to best handle the situation when a noise caught my attention from an outcropping of trees just to my left.  I shuffled to my feet, and dusted myself off, looking and feeling foolish for the effort and came face to face with a small, waif of a girl. No more than eight, she was bundled up in a Hodge-podge of winter and summer clothing, most too big for her slight frame.  Despite her shivering, her eyes were wide and the most precious smile lit her face. She was a beauty to behold and I opened my arms to her and she ran to me, embracing me with a hug so strong it forced the air from my lungs and had me staggering back to the railing for support.  Through her gasps, I heard her crying.  Joy, surprise, disbelief? All of them I supposed as I gently pushed her back a few steps to get a better look at her.  While I made it my business to know every child, everywhere, I regularly relied on technology to keep everyone straight in my mind these days. I was pulling multiple petabytes of storage these days to keep the “List” in order, but my mind was blank and she could read it in my expression. It broke my heart to see her so crestfallen at that moment.  I removed my coat and draped it across her shoulders to help hold back the wind, if only a little.

            “I’m sorry my dear. Even Santa can be caught off guard.”

            She shrugged her shoulders at that and simply held my hand.

            “Where is your family tonight? Why are you out on such a night as this? Surely you aren’t here alone.”

            “My family lives in the trees just over there” she began pointing toward the grove from which she emerged.  “My daddy lost his job and now we don’t have anywhere to live.”  She began to cry again and I pulled her close to me. 

            Holding her, my memory cleared and her name, and her family flooded back to me.

            “I understand Anastasia.  Sometimes things can be so difficult, especially for someone so young as yourself.  Let’s get you back to your family and see if there isn’t something I can do to help.”

            She brightened at this and began to pull me along behind her.  I noticed Timothy watching me from the stairs as I was led away.  I held my hand up to him in a reassuring gesture and he nodded. I knew he would be close behind me, no matter where this little girl led.  AS we made our way through the trees, I recognized the shape of a make-shift lean-to, providing minimal shelter to a small yellow tent which was crusted with snow. The flap was open and I could hear noise coming from inside.  Her parents had noticed her missing and were afraid for her well being.

            As we approached the tent, her father, Jacob, stepped from the opening holding a baseball bat.  One look at me, and then to his daughter caused him to falter in his resolve.  I took that time to reacquaint myself with him.

            “Jacob, my old friend. I’m glad i have a chance to see you again after all these years.  I’m sorry it’s under such unpleasant circumstances, but it would appear that your daughter, has a knack for catching me off guard as you did several times as a boy.  We never had a chance to properly talk back then, but I know that you were a good boy, and I expect you’re an excellent father.”  

            He stood, baffled by my somewhat rapid introduction.

            “How, who, What?”

            “It’s Santa Daddy!” little Anastasia nearly yelled to him. “It’s really him!”

            “Go on back to the tent now Anastasia.  Check on your mother and your little brother.  Zachary, isn’t it?” I asked to Jacob, who still stood transfixed by my mere presence.  The sweet girl didn’t want to let go, but with a gentle push I wished her a Merry Christmas and watched her reenter the tent to be smothered in hugs and kisses and tears from her frightened mother.

            “We have some things to discuss Jacob.  Let’s start by getting a warm coat on you.”  Timothy appeared at my side with a parka for him, and stepped back to my side.

            “Any luck with the final ring lad?” I inquired.

            “No sir. I’m sorry.  We just can’t locate the final ring.”

            “That’s fine Timothy.  I’m going to stay here and have a talk with Jacob to see if there is anything we can do to help him and his family out tonight.  You go on back to the team and get ready to set off for a replacement ring.  I’ll make due for now and head off for Chicago when I’m done here, and you can meet up with me along the way.”

            Timothy didn’t argue, and didn’t protest, though I could see in his eyes he was still weary of the Louisville Slugger in Jacob’s hands, even though it was resting on the ground for the time being.  After he was gone, I spoke with Jacob about his present situation and if there what the outlook was for him.  I knew I could give him a warm place for the night and a bright and cheery Christmas morning, but even the best of gifts can’t completely wipe away the sting of reality after the presents have been opened and the carols sung.  He told me of his woes. He cried and I held him as I had years ago as a boy.  He didn’t ask me for anything, not even for a hotel for his family and it broke my heart.  So many families are homeless, in the midst of so much wealth. It was something I just couldn’t understand about humanity, and something I knew would have to change someday.

            As I passed him a gift box the size of a wallet, and a pass key to the Excelsior, he broke down and hugged me again.  There wasn’t much in the way of cash in the wallet, but there were a few gift cards to local restaurants, and a credit card with a sizable limit to hold them over for several weeks.  I also gave him a business card of a local merchant who I regularly did business with.  Give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day, but teach a man how to fish…it was the least I could do for the moment.

            I helped him gather their meager belongings in to their bags and helped his sweet wife Laura with baby Zachary when Anastasia tugged on my coat.

            “What is it little one?” I asked, gazing down in to her deep blue eyes.  So much life and love it was held in her gaze that it filled me with Christmas Spirit anew.

            “Santa. I heard you talking to my daddy before. I want to thank you for everything, but I was wondering.” she trailed off and stared at the ground for a moment.

            “What is it dear. You can ask me.”

            “You talked with the other man, about a ring.  What does it look like?”

            “My darling child.  It’s a great Golden Ring that sits a top my sleigh. I lost it tonight in the storm, and my elves were searching for it in the park, but you need not worry about it. There is another like it back at the North Pole.”

            She smiled then and bounced away back in to the tent to help her mother or so I assumed.  As I was loading up their belongings on to a small skid my elves had brought by for me, I felt her tugging at my coat again, and I heard her giggling.

            “Yes my dear. what can Santa do for…” I stopped in mid sentence, for in her hand she held the final ring.  The great golden sleigh ring we had spent so long searching for was right here. A tear ran down my face and I knew that everything would be alright. Not only for my ride tonight, but for this family as well.  She told me of how it fell to the snow as she was getting up to search the skies for me, and had thought this might be her Christmas gift, though she couldn’t imagine what it was for. I gave her a great hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her that if she would give it to me, I’d make sure there was something special under the tree for her in the morning.  She only smiled when she handed it to me and said Merry Christmas.

            With that, a group of the S.N.O.W. elves led them away toward their new lives, and I made my way quickly back to the team.  The S.N.O.W. sleigh was preparing to leave for the North Pole but I was able to catch them in time.  Within minutes the ring was mounted and secured and I was ready to leave.

            As we made our ascent out of the park, I watched as the little family made their way across Central Park West.  Anastasia was looking to the sky and waving and I found myself crying and waving in return. Such a small gift from such a young child reminded me again of what the season is truly about. 

            A Child is born in Bethlehem…

BIO:  David Sobkowiak is an audio producer and script writer for an online production company with writing and production credits for several audio adaptations and original works.  He is presently finishing his first novel. He resides in Central Virginia. Contact Mr. Sobkowiak by emailing him at dsobkowiak@gmail.com.

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20 Comments »

  1. 1

    There is a Santa, Anastasia!
    What a heartfelt and wonderful story. We really do need to believe! 🙂
    I love the S.N.O.W. “Santa’s Next Option Wagon”. I love it!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura Eno, Sam. Sam said: RT @lauraeno: With the hectic #fridayflash, don't forget Day 5 of the 12 Days of Christmas! http://bit.ly/8F56Rb […]

  3. 4

    Ha! What a fantastic story, David. It’s been a little difficult to get into the mood this year, but this was a touching story with a great message.

  4. 6
    Laura Eno Says:

    Had to laugh at the techie elves and low-tech Santa. Heartwarming story, David.

  5. This is as poignant and beautiful as it is imaginative and entertaining. A truly wonderful and delightful piece.

  6. 10

    Lovely addition to the Christmas stories!

    A child’s gift. Yes, this is what the season is truly about.

  7. 12
    jimcast Says:

    Ah. . . Santa. . . what more do you need in a story than Santa???

    Hey David – thanks for writing this story for the project and being a part of it! This was a great story to have with the anthology.

    Jim

  8. 14

    Great story David, thanks for sharing it with us 🙂

  9. 16

    I love this story. Makes me believe in Santa even more than I already do, if that is possible. 🙂
    Truly a modern day Christmas fairytale, with a happy ending too. Fun, and pulls the heartstrings at the right places.
    Best Wishes for the Festive season!
    – Nishida

  10. 18

    Wonderful story! Creative as can be (which is my my favorite kind). My favorite part is this, “It’s a great Golden Ring that sits a top my sleigh.”

    Well done, David.

  11. […] all the great stories that have been written especially for this project.  My story is entitled Five Golden Rings.  Be sure to stop back here as well for my audio version of the story as well as another from this […]


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