DISCLAIMER, THE FIRST: Here it is, over a year later, and no matter how many jolly old fat men's laps I've sat on, Wizards of Waverly Place and its characters still belong to people who aren't me! (Just between us, I'm starting to suspect that at least some of those guys weren't Santa, after all...)
AUTHORS NOTE: A direct sequel to my previous story Wizards vs. Christmas, though you don't have to have read the first story to enjoy this one. (In fact, fair warning: if you read and enjoyed the first one, there's a very good chance you may actively dislike this one, as it's pretty wildly different in tone.) The spell that's central to the plot here is the invention of my friend and fellow Jalex writer jlxology, and comes from his brilliantly crack-tastic WoWP/Battlestar Galactica crossover, In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream, which you can find on the justin_alex community on LiveJournal.
(And yes, Virginia, I'm aware that I'm posting a Christmas story almost a week late, on New Years Eve, but I honestly did start it before Christmas. And given that Wizards is (sadly) ending in a week, I'm concerned that if I wait to post it a year from now, there might not be anyone left around here to actually read it. Look, it's still the holiday season. Just think of it like leftover turkey, OK?) :P
And suddenly, with a bright flash of light and a light tinkling noise, they appeared on a snowy hillside in the forest. Startled by their sudden arrival, squirrels, raccoons and all manner of furry woodland animals were sent scurrying for cover behind the brightly-decorated evergreens. Clad only in a short little elf-girl dress, with pointed hat and shoes to match, Alex was surprised to find that she wasn't shivering from the cold this time, despite being somewhere north of the Arctic Circle at the end of December. Standing next to her, almost knee-deep in the freshly fallen snow, similarly dressed in a blue elf-boy get up, Justin grinned at her as he lowered his wand.
"Hey, cooooool!" he said breathlessy, holding up his hand in front of her face and waving it jerkily back and forth. "Check it out! We're all stop-motiony! Isn't it neat?"
"Knock it off!" Alex growled, slapping his hand away. Grimacing, she looked down at herself and snorted in disgust. "Ugh, would you look at this? I haven't worn this much pink since my Quinceañera. Why do I keep letting you talk me into this crap? I ought to have my head examined!"
"Hey, don't look at me," Justin said, his mouth oddly out of sync with the words coming out of it, as he tucked his wand back into his blue tunic. "You're the one who researched the spell and gave it to me for Christmas."
"Yeah, so that we could do cool stuff with it, you moron! Like grab Christian Slater from Heathers, drop him into the middle of High School Musical 2, and let nature take its course! Not lame stuff like this!"
"It's not lame, it's a tradition!" Justin said indignantly, crossing his spindly puppet arms over his chest. "Every year, on Christmas Eve, we use it to correct an injustice. To put right what once went wrong. Like Quantum Leap, but with eggnog."
"Oh, tradition, my cute little half-latina ass," Alex snapped back. "We've done it once, egghead."
"Well, this year will make twice, won't it?" Justin sniffed. "Traditions have to start somewhere. Lao-tzu said that even the longest journey begins with a single—"
"Yeah, nobody cares but you, dork," Alex cut him off. Shaking her head, she grabbed the hem of her dress and held it out and away from her. "Seriously, would you look at how short this thing is? And I'm not even wearing tights or anything underneath, either. I mean, I know I've got the legs for it, but we're at the North Pole for Christ's sakes! I could catch the death of ammonia or something!"
"Pneumonia," Justin corrected her, in that overly-patient, 'my-sister-is-an-idiot' voice he had. He blushed fiercely and looked away as Alex twisted around to look over her shoulder at her rear, inadvertantly lifting the hem of her skirt a few more crucial inches in the front in the process.
"Look, knock it off, would you? You're not going to freeze to death. We're Christmas elves, remember? I imagine we're conditioned to endure the harsh elements up here."
"Then why aren't you half-naked, too?" Alex sneered, finally dropping her hem. "Why do you get to wear leggings under your goofy little jacket, there? Not that I'm not happy you're hiding your shame from the world, and everything, but seriously dude...sexist much?"
Pink spots appearing on his cheeks as he blushed even deeper, Justin rolled his eyes and inwardly counted to ten. "Alex—"
"Er, excuse me there, elf-folk," a strange (yet familiar) third voice broke in just then, "but if I might be permitted to interrupt for a just a, heh-heh, small moment or two..."
"AUUUUUUGGGHHH!" Justin screamed, leaping about a foot in the air as though he'd been scalded. He threw himself at Alex and wrapped his arms around her tightly, spinning her around and nearly smothering her in the process, as he shielded her body with his own. She grunted and scowled in response...but didn't move to push him off. Instead, she jerked her head to the side to look around his shoulder, and raised both eyebrows apologetically at the kindly old stranger who'd addressed them.
"Sorry about that," she said, her voice slightly muffled by his sleeve. "He's a little jumpy."
The stranger cocked a bushy eyebrow at this, and harrumphed through his snowy white mustache. "What's the matter? Hasn't he ever seen a talking snowman before?"
"Actually, he has, which is part of the problem," Alex said, snickering a little at the memory as she disentangled herself from Justin's grip. "Although those were more of the 'zombie snow goon' type, really. I was ten, see, and my powers had just come in that winter, and Justin was entered in this snow sculpture contest thingie about a block from the Sub Station. And I totally loved Calvin and Hobbes, right? So anyway, long story short: it's a whole big 'post traumatic stress' thing for him, and I'm not allowed in Washington Square Park from October through May, anymore. Justin, would you calm down and let me go, already? I swear this one isn't going to try and eat our brains!"
"That's exactly what you said about the last one," Justin grumbled. He reluctantly released his grip on her, but kept himself between her and the large, animated snowman in the derby and gold waistcoat. Just in case.
"Relax, my young friend! I wouldn't know what to do a brain even if I had one," the snowman said kindly, chuckling at his own joke. "Say, are you and your girlfriend new to Christmas Town? Can't say I've ever seen you before, and I know just about elf-rybody who's anybody here at the North Pole."
"No!" Justin said, a little louder than absolutely necessary, both his cheeks flaring pink again. "I mean, yes. No wait, I mean...yes, we're new around here, but no, she isn't my girlfriend."
"What's it to you anyway, Frosty?" asked Alex. "You a census-taker, or something?"
"No, but I am kind of the unoffficial keeper of Christmas Town's oral history," the snowman said, as he tipped his hat at them with the handle of his umbrella. "Folks 'round these parts call me Sam. Frosty's the other fella, but a lot of people make that mistake."
"Snkt!" Alex snorted, and elbowed Justin in the ribs. "You hear that? Keeper of oral history..."
"He just means he's a storyteller, Alex," Justin sighed, rolling his eyes. "Get your mind out of the gutter."
"Not just a storyteller, son, but the storyteller," Sam said indignantly. "Why, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better yarn-spinner this side of Hudson Bay!"
"Ohhhhh that's right, I remember you now," Alex said with a snap of her fingers. "You're the annoying narrator dude. Good, maybe you can do us a solid, here."
Sam stared at her blankly. "Excuse me?"
"Lend us a hand, she means," Justin explains, with a sidelong glance at his sister. "Help us out, maybe. See, we're looking for—"
"Well, I can certainly try, young lady," Sam nodded. "Anything for a friend. And I've always said that a stranger's just a friend you haven't met!"
And then Alex and Justin both jolted in surprise as, seemingly out of nowhere, an unseen orchestra began to play the opening bars of a jaunty tune, heavy on the string section. As if on cue, the furry woodland creatures that they'd sent scurrying with their arrival all came running back, suddenly unafraid. They lined up to either side of Sam in single file, swaying and apparently humming along in unison. And as Alex groaned and rolled her eyes, and Justin broke out into a wide grin and started bobbing his head in time with the music,the snowman burst into song:
"You see, once 'pon a time Even your bosom-est buddy And dearest of friends Were simply nobody Special to you In the days before you ever m—"
"HOLLLLLLD IT!" Alex shouted at the top of her lungs. "KNOCK IT OFF!"
Halting suddenly in mid-verse, Sam stood blinking at her in shock, but the humming and music continued. Annoyed, Alex pinched her thumb and forefinger together, brought them to her lips, and blew so shrill and loud a whistle that the animals went running for cover again, while the invisible orchestra cut off with an audible record scratch.
"Ow!" Justin complained, wincing as he lowered his hands from his pointed ears. "What'd you go and do that for? I was enjoying that!"
"You would. Look, we are so not doing the whole song and dance routine, you get me?" Alex said. "Turn me into a reject from Moral Oral? Fine. Make me wear a stupid pink dress? Not cool, but I can deal. Musical numbers, though? Oh hell, no! Musical numbers are where I draw the line."
"Hmph," Justin frowned, crossing his spindly elf-arms over his chest. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
"Bend over and I'll show you," Alex shot back.
"Ah-hem," Sam cleared his throat, uncomfortably. "Sorry about that. You live around here long enough, you tend to get into the habit of breaking into song roughly every five-to-seven minutes. It gets to be that you can't even have a, heh-heh, proper bowel movement without singing about it."
"Oh, ew!" said Alex, as she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Seriously? Dude, that was way TMI..."
Sam shrugged his shoulders by way of apology. "You said there was something I could do for you folks?"
"Yes, actually," Justin nodded, suddenly all-business. "We've come to see the reindeer games. Could you point us in the direction of where they're being held?"
"Ah, that's what I thought it might be!" Sam said, with a wide grin. "Big day, y'know...Santa inspecting all the new foals, scouting them for possible inclusion on his sleigh team someday. Vegas has odds on Blitzen's son, Fireball, being the number one draft pick. But me? I'm putting all my silver and gold on Donner's little buck. He's the one to keep your eye on, mark my words. Even if he is a longshot."
"That's exactly what we're here to do," Justin said sombrely.
"Yeah, great, let's hope they spread the cover, or whatever," said Alex, as she pushed past Justin. "Look Frosty, we're kind of on a tight deadline here, so if you could make with the directions, already? Are we at the right part of the DVD, or what?"
"Alex, he doesn't have any idea what a DVD is," Justin hissed under his breath. "This special first aired in 1964, for crying out loud! And also, in case you haven't noticed, he's a magically-animated snowman who hangs out all day in the woods with squirrels and raccoons!"
"Actually son, that's where you're wrong," Sam said, a little haughtily. "I happen to be very aware that we're on DVD, actually. You see, being an omniescent narrator who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience lends me a certain amount of...genre-savviness, I guess you might say. You know, the whole greek chorus deal."
"Ahhhhh, see...even as a little kid, I always thought you looked Greek!" Alex said, nodding smugly, then looked over her shoulder at Justin and pointed at her own face. "It's the mustache and the little goatee."
"No, Alex, that's not what he's—look, just forget it." Justin huffed impatiently, then clasped his hands together as though he were pleading with Sam. "The reindeer games, sir? If you could please just tell us where they are?"
Sam gestured with his umbrella, pointing with the tip towards the crest of a distant snow-covered hill, dotted with fully-decorated Christmas trees.
"Up over that ridge yonder. Donner's boy ought to make his entrance in about ten minutes, or so. Assuming, of course, that a certain pretty brunette doesn't pause us to pretend to go to the bathroom, only to take the opportunity to spike yet another glass of eggnog with irish cream when she thinks nobody's watching..."
"Hey, you really can see what we're doing through the TV!" Alex said, grinning in amazement. "Wow, that's creepy. Do Justin, now! Have you noticed how he always starts to tear up when Santa realizes he's been wrong all along at the end, and gives his little speech from the song?"
"For the last time, I'm allergic to pine needles," said Justin, as a perfect circle of bright pink reappeared on each of his cheeks. He grabbed Alex by the wrist and tugged her away towards the ridge. He looked over his shoulder and tipped his pointed blue hat at Sam with the other hand as they made their way through the snow up the hill. "Thank you, sir! Merry Christmas!"
"And to all a good night!" Sam called after them, waving until they'd disappeared over the crest of the hill, out of sight. Then, letting out a small sigh, he lowered his arm, and shook his head at no one in particular.
"Of course, being one of those omniescent, greek chorus narrator types, I happen to be quite aware that none of us are actually in a DVD like they think we are," he said, also to no one in particular, "but are in fact characters in a wholly unauthorized piece of crossover fanfiction between two rather disparate intellectual properties, which has been posted on the Internet. I wasn't about to tell them that, though. Why make their pretty little heads explode, as I'm sure they would?"
And then Sam leaned forward, furrowed his eyebrows over his beady little eyes, and shook the handle of his umbrella so hard that, had he been standing in a room instead of in the outdoors, it might very well have broken through one of the four walls.
"Because as cute and fluffy as this one is, I've gotten a pretty good look at some of the other stories on this page, and let me tell you: some of you people deserve an industrial-sized lump of coal in your stocking this Christmas! Tsk, the naughty things you make those two kids do to each other! And on Christmas, no less! That's right, you know who you are! Naughty, naughty, naughty!"
(And right about then is when the author of the unauthorized crossover fanfic in question—had there been one—might have decided to transition to another scene. Because dude, seriously? All this metatextual stuff? It would have started to make him feel vaguely uncomfortable. Totally.)
"Justin, what the hell are you doing?" Alex groaned, yanking her wrist out of his brother's grip as he crouched down behind a brightly-decorated evergreen bush at the top of the hill. "Why the frick are we stopping up here when all the freakin' reindeers are all down there?"
"We're doing recon, Alex, duh!" Justin said, kneeling down in the snow, and staring through the branches at the deer milling around at the bottom of the hill below. He glanced over his shoulder at her and clicked his tongue in annoyance. "Would you get down? They'll see us!"
"So what?" Alex shrugged. "We're elves, remember? We're supposed to be here."
"No, we're supposed to be in Santa's workshop, making toys. Not out here in the open spying on the reindeer games. They might suspect!"
"Oh, big deal. They'll just think you ditched work to drag your elf girlfriend into a mistletoe bush for a little ho-ho-ho, or something. Who cares?"
"Naughty!" Sam's voice echoed faintly on the wind, as Justin's cheeks turned a deep shade of red in contrast to his navy blue outfit.
"What's with whole Mission Impossible act anyway, dorkus?" Alex asked, oblivous. "We're here to tell off a bunch of talking reindeers, not bump off the evil dictator of Whateverstan."
Justin snorted as he peered through the branches. "I am not going in half-cocked without a full and complete understanding of the situation, like we did last year. That was very nearly a disaster. This time, we get the lay of the land first, and work out a contingency plan, just in case."
"Yeah, I seriously doubt we're in any danger of somebody pulling a gun on us this time, egghead," Alex groaned, rolling her eyes. "And even if they did, how would they use it? They're reindeers! None of them have fingers for Christ's sake!"
"Magical reindeer, Alex," Justin pointed out. Without taking his eyes off the deer below, he tucked one hand into the front of his tight blue tunic, as though rummaging around for something. "Like you said, they talk. They fly. They reason like people. And has the lack of opposable thumbs stopped that big one down there from putting on a baseball cap, or prevented him from using a whistle? Hmm? I say thee nay."
"What the hell are you—oh!" Alex blinked, then leaned forward and squinted at the distant animals. "Man, that's weird. How does he do that?"
"My point exactly. We must be cautious," Justin said firmly. "Stay sharp. Make good decisions. Account for every conceivable possibility. Failing to plan is planning to fail."
Gritting his teeth in effort, he yanked his hand back out of his tunic with an audible, cartoonish pop, producing a set of black, oversized binoculars. He nodded at them in satisfaction, then brought them up to his eyes and trained them on the scene below. Alex heaved a long-suffering sigh and shook her head, then lazily shrugged one shoulder.
"Fine, whatever," she said, her voice flat. She reached up and reached one hand into the top of her dress, and started rummaging around, just as Justin had in his own tunic moment before. "You think we could hurry this along a little, though? Some of us still have Christmas shopping to do."
"What?" Justin snapped in his breathy, scandalized voice, as he twisted round to glare at her so fast that he almost dropped the binoculars. "Alex, you can't be serious! It's almost midnight on Christmas Eve! How can you not have finished shopping yet?"
Alex snickered at him as she continued to rummage around in her dress front. "Snkt, don't you have to be a Claymation character to ask a question like—oh wait, we are Claymation characters right now, aren't we? Never mind, then. Dammit, where is it? What the hell did I do with that stupid thing?"
"Jesus! Now who's drawing attention to us, idiot?" Alex snapped, as several of the reindeer down in the clearing looked up and around to see where the shout had come from. She ducked down next to him—avoiding getting caught after someone shouted her name having become somewhat of a reflex for her, by now—and elbowed him sharply in the ribs, earning a satisfying grunt in response.
"Would you relax?" she hissed at him. "I've got it all worked out. I'm doing all my shopping online this year. All I have to do is buy everything on , and have them ship it ultra-super-express, so that it gets here before I ordered it."
"You're kidding me," Justin said.
"WPS: when it absolutely, positively had to be there three nights ago," Alex quoted with a smile. "They'll even gift-wrap it for me. Sweet plan, huh? Bet you wish you'd thought of it."
"Do you have the faintest idea how expensive retroactive shipping is?" Justin asked, aghast.
"Pfft, what do I care? I'm not paying for it. This year I'm also giving Uncle Kelbo the valuable life lesson of not falling asleep around me at Thanksgiving, with his Diviner's Club card in easy reach."
"Gee, the gift that keeps on giving," said Justin, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"At least until his credit limit runs out, it does," Alex grinned wickedly. "Merry Christmas to me!"
Glaring at her, Justin opened his mouth to scold her...then apparently thought better of it, shook his head sharply, and turned his attention back to his binoculars as he muttered under his breath. Still grinning at him, Alex tucked her hand back into her dress, then let out a little happy gasp as she finally found what she was looking for. Yanking it out with an audible, cartoonish pop, she produced an oversized silver flask. She nodded at it in satisfaction, then unscrewed the top and brought it to her lips.
"OK, it looks like the coast is clear," Justin said, dropping the binoculars from his eyes and handing them over to her without looking away from the clearing. "You wanna take a look?"
"Sure, what the hell?" Alex gulped, lowering the flask and passing it over to him as she accepted the binoculars. "Here, hold this a second?"
Justin took the flask from her, barely glancing at it as she raised the binoculars to her face, then did a classic double-take as he realized what it was.
"Alex! What the—? Have you been drinking?"
"Well, duh," Alex smirked. "You wanted to know where my Christmas spirit was, egghead. Guess what? You're holding it."
"I don't believe you!" Justin exclaimed, in that breathy scandalized way that made the pleasure centers of Alex's brain light up like a—well, like the bush they were currently huddled behind. "Is this the same flask from last year?"
"What do you think?" Alex asked, as she stared through the binoculars. "You celebrate your holiday traditions, I'll celebrate mine. Even the wildest party begins with a single chug, and all that. Hey, have you noticed how it's only the boy reindeers that are jumping around like idiots for the coach down there? All the little girl deers are just standing off to the side watching. How freakin' sexist is that?"
"The special was made in '64, Alex. Women's lib was still very much in its—look, don't change the subject! We were talking about the contents of this flask!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah...go ahead and have some, if you want. It'll be good for you. Maybe it'll finally put some hair on your chest...among other places."
"I don't want any, Alex!" Justin gasped, as though mortified by the very idea, then winced and shook his head. "Spirits, I mean, not hair on my—darn it, would you stop deliberately missing my point?"
"Fine, whatever. So don't have any, then. More for me." Alex lowered the binoculars and frowned at him, puzzled. "Listen, are you seriously trying to tell me there's no girls on Santa's sleigh-team at all? Like, they're an all-reindeer boy-band, or something? Because with names like Vixen and Bashful, I ain't buying it."
"Bashful is one of the Seven Dwarves, not one of Santa's reindeer," Justin sneered, snatching the binoculars away from Alex, and shoving the flask back at her. "God, I hate it when you mix them up."
"Snkt, I know!" Alex chuckled, toasting herself with the flask before raising it to her lips. "It never gets old!"
"Hey, give me that! Justin growled, grabbing it back from her, and tucking it into his own tunic for safekeeping. "Focus, Alex! Was there any sign of a glowing red nose down there, or not?"
"Jesus, would you calm down? No, he's not there yet!" Alex said, glowering at him. "Which means it's Go Time, already! Let's get down there and get this over with before he does show up, and we have to rewind and do this all over again!"
"Just...just hang on," Justin stammered, raising the binoculars and peering through them again. "I, uh...I wanna make sure—"
"Make sure of what?" Alex asked, throwing her arms wide in exasperation. "Justin, this has been your plan all along! We go down there before he shows up, and you wow all the other reindeers with your whole sappy 'I Have A Dream' schtick, so that they all feel ashamed of themselves and let him play in their stupid little reindeer games, and everyone gets a happy ending! Credits, the end!"
"I know, I know!" Justin said, without looking at her. "I'm just having second thoughts about this, OK?"
"Dammit, Justin, would you sac up and grow a pair already? How dangerous can these things really be? We're in a kids' Christmas special for Christ's sake, not on When Animals Attack!"
"It's not that," Justin said, waving one hand dismissively. "I'm just not convinced we've thought this through enough. I think we need more time to prepare..."
"Seriously?" Alex asked, her chocolate brown eyes going impossibly wide. "Are you kidding me? Justin, you've been preparing for this for a whole year! Trust me, I know. I've heard you rehearsing your little speech over and over and over again, practically every night since last New Year's!"
"Wait, you...have?" Justin asked, with a puzzled frown. "How?"
"How do you think, genius? The wall between our rooms is so thin, it practically might as well not be there."
"WHAT?" Justin gasped, dropping the binoculars and whipping his nose around to state at her in shock, his face as white as a sheet. "Um, what else have you heard?"
Alex rolled her eyes skyward in frustration, then huffed impatiently and took both of his hands into hers.
"Look egghead, I can't believe I'm about to say this, but it's a really good speech, all right?" she said.
"Yeah well, I thought I had a really good speech prepared last year too, and look how far it got us," Justin replied with a snort. "If you hadn't been able to improvise the way you did..."
"That was different. Last year we were facing down one of the evilest old dudes in movie history. This is just a bunch of snot-nosed little jocks and their douchecanoe of a coach!"
"Douchecanoe? What the heck is a—?"
"Never mind what it is! My point is, you can handle them!"
Justin tilted his head to one side, and raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, because I handle those situations oh-so-well in real life?"
Alex blinked at this, understanding beginning to dawn on her pixie-like features.
"They talk, they reason like people," she said, repeating what he'd said only moments before. "I get it: you're not afraid of them hurting you. You're scared they're going to laugh at you!"
Justin looked away, back down the hill, more to avoid her gaze than because anything particularly interesting was going on down there.
"It...may have occurred to me, once or twice," he admitted, in a small voice. "You see, I've been doing some real soul-searching since I messed up last Christmas, Alex. Taken a good long look at myself, evaluated the situation, trying to figure out where I went wrong."
"Oh, brother..." Alex sighed, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose.
"And the conclusion I've drawn," Justin continued, "and you may have trouble believing this, is that certain people...historically speaking, that is actually to say most people...sometimes, occasionally have a slight tendency to...well...not take me very seriously. At all."
It took every single ounce of self-control—what little Alex possessed anyway, particularly after having helped herself to the flask—not to laugh in his face.
"You don't say," she said instead, her voice almost perfectly level.
"It's true," Justin nodded sombrely, as though he could barely believe it himself, forcing Alex to bite the inside of her cheek to keep a straight face. "And the even stranger thing I've noticed? The harder I try to make them take me seriously, the worse it actually gets. It's almost like I'm him, sometimes, yelling at the other reindeer not to call me names. But the angrier I get, the brighter my nose glows, which only makes them laugh harder."
Justin turned back towards her, then, and the urge to laugh died in her throat when she saw the expression on his face. It looked like he wanted to cry.
"It's...frustrating," he said. "I can't fix it for myself, so I want to fix it for him...but I can't fix it for him without fixing it for myself, first. It's a classic Catch-22."
"Sounds to me like it's at least a 23 or 24, dude," Alex sighed, patting his arm sympathetically. "But, look, you're an elf here, right? That means everyone will love you and want to do what you say. And I'm a cute elf, which means all that goes double for me! We've so got this."
"I'm pretty sure we're not those kind of elves, Alex," Justin smiled sadly. "Look, let's face it, we already both know what's going to happen: I'll make a big, indignant speech, and they're just going to laugh it off. Just like everyone always does. And it's not going to fix anything. Heck, it might actually make things worse for him, and I sure as heck don't wanna be responsible for that."
"Alex, stop. I appreciate it, don't try to talk me out of it, OK?" Justin sighed, dropping the binoculars to the ground in front of him. "I've made up my mind. Let's just go back home, and you can get your shopping done."
"No, wait," Alex said. "You want to fix this, then let's fix it. We'll just improvise. It worked for us last year, didn't it? Why not now?"
Justin blinked at her, then turned his head and looked down the hill towards the clearing, where all the little bucks were cavorting and butting heads in front of Coach Comet, trying to impress him, while all the little ribboned does stood by and giggled.
"I did say I wanted a contingency plan..." he said, slowly and thoughtfully. "What did you have in mind?"
Alex dark brown eyes began to sparkle and dance. She broke out into a wide, scheming grin, the one that always made Justin fear a little for his personal safety whenever he saw it, because it usually meant he was eventually going to wind up on the receiving end of whatever she was cooking up.
"OK, how about this," she began smoothly. "We pull an amazing prank on the coach, down there—I don't exactly know what yet, that's besides the point, but I'm pretty sure it's gonna have to have something to do with his obnoxious little hat and whistle—and we pin it on Rudy. Not in a definitive, 'Mr. Red Nose in the Drawing Room with the candle stick' way, but just vaguely enough so that everybody thinks it was him, without leaving enough evidence that he actually gets in trouble for it."
Justin frowned slightly. "Uh, to what end, exactly?"
"Um, duh!" Alex said, then continued as though explaining it to a very small, very dull child. "It'll make him look like an absolute badass rebel! Especially if everyone knows it was him, but no one can prove it!"
Justin mulled this over for a second, then slowly shook his head. "Still not seeing how that's going to make anybody like him..."
"Like him? Who the hell cares about getting them to like him?" Alex said, with a frown of her own. "Dude, I'm going for shock and awe, here. The whole point is to keep them from teasing him for being different, right?"
"Uh...well, yeah...I mean, that's half of it, but—"
"Well, trust me, sparky: this'll do the trick. People might not like the badass rebel, Justin, but they fear and respect her, especially if they suspect that messing with her will put them next on her hit list."
"Her? Don't you mean him?"
"Oh, her, him, whatever. You know what I'm trying—ooo, wait a second!" Alex snapped her fingers and pointed at Justin, a devious gleam beginning to shine in her eyes. "Santa's a bit of a jerkass to him later too, right? You wanna talk shock and awe? We pull the prank on him, instead!"
"Absolutely not!" Justin exclaimed, his voice pitching a full two octaves higher than usual. "Alex, we are not going to pull a prank on Santa Claus at the North Pole on Christmas Eve!"
"No!" Justin said firmly, putting his hands on his hips. "No pranks. I mean it! Now c'mon, what else have you got?"
"Well, geez, if you insist on tying my hands like this..." Pouting, Alex crossed her arms over her chest, and huffed in annoyance. "I dunno, I guess we could always just use magic to fix things..."
"Oh sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?" Justin said flatly. "You're always so good at that."
"Look, pranks and magic are my go-to's, alright? Do you want my help or not?"
"I'm starting to ask myself that very same question, actually."
"Would you just shut up and listen to me?" Alex stomped one foot into the ankle-deep snow. "It's simple: all we have to do is make him normal."
Justin blinked and recoiled from her as though she'd slapped him across the face. "Wait, what?"
"Make him normal," Alex repeated slowly. "Magic his red shiny nose into a dull black one, just like everybody else's, and then all his troubles are over. No fuss, no muss. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. It's so easy that Max could do it."
"But we can't just make him normal!" Justin protested. "If he doesn't have the red, shiny nose, he won't be able to light the way through the storm, which means Santa and his reindeer will be grounded, and Christmas will have to be cancelled!"
"For one lousy year! Big deal!" Alex shrugged. "If it keeps all those other jerks off his back for the rest of his life, I'd say it's worth it. Maybe they'll just postpone it 'til Groundhog's Day, or something. Y'know, like when a Mets game gets rained out, and they have to make it up later in the season?"
"Christmas is not a Mets game, Alex!" Justin said, straring at her in utter disbelief. "Look, I don't think you understand, here: we can't just change what makes him different, because what makes him different is what makes him a hero."
"So? Who says he has to be a hero? Don't you think if he had the choice, he'd rather be happy?"
"BUT WHY CAN'T HE BE BOTH?"
Alex jolted, caught off-guard by the sudden change in Justin's tone. Even all the reindeer below stopped in their tracks to look around curiously, as his angry shout echoed across the valley.
"Justin..." she began.
"No, Alex! It's not fair! He has this amazing destiny ahead of him, but to fulfill it, he has to spend his entire life being a misfit, different from everybody else around him, never really fitting in no matter how hard he tries to hide it!
"But if he wants to be normal? Well, that means giving up the chance to maybe be a hero someday, to do something amazing for the world that only he could do. What kind of choice is that to lay on a kid, anyway?"
Alex sighed, her eyes going soft at the corners as she tilted her head to one side, and cocked an eyebrow at him. "You sure we're still talking about reindeers here, egghead?"
"Of course we are," Justin snapped. "I just don't understand why he can't be both. Why he can't be different and still have the others like him."
"I dunno," Alex said, lifting her shoulders in a barely imperceptible shrug. "Just not how it works, I guess. People don't like different. It scares them. If you ask me, the best thing you can do in that situation is make it work for you."
"Make it work for you?" Justin parroted her, one eyebrow raised. "How do you mean?"
"Well, if they're gonna hate you anyway, you might as well have fun with it," Alex explained, with a wry smile. Then, off the snort Justin gave her in response, she rolled her eyes and chucked him playfully in the shoulder. "Look, they do wind up loving him later, though, right? At the end of the song, remember?"
"Oh sure, after years of ridicule, they finally give him a token pat on the back after his deformity winds up paying for them," Justin said bitterly, twirling one finger in the air before him. "Whoopie."
"OK, OK...so maybe that doesn't make up for everything he goes through," Alex said, lightly batting his hand aside. "But at least he gets to rub everyone else's nose in it for the rest of his life. That's pretty sweet, isn't it?"
"Alex, that's hardly in the Christmas—" Justin broke off, pursed his lips, and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Although, now that you mention it..."
A sudden wave of distant laughter erupted from the valley below before he could finish the thought. Alex glanced down the hill, but Justin just closed his eyes and let out a sigh that seemed to come from the soles of his shoes.
"Goddammit," he muttered, sounding utterly defeated. "Not again."
"Um, Justin?" Without taking her eyes off the scene below, Alex fumbled for his sleeve and started tugging on it. "I think you'd better take a look at this."
"No thanks, I've already seen it," Justin groused, wincing as the hooting and hollering from the reindeer down below really began to get rowdy. "Look, let's just go, OK? You can get your shopping done, and I can start working on a new plan for next Christmas."
"No, dude, seriously." Alex reached up, grabbed each of his pointed ears and tugged—earning a startled "Urk!" from Justin in the process—using them like handlebars to steer his face towards the valley. "I mean it: you've got to see this."
"Ow! Knock it off!" Justin snapped, jerking his head out of her grasp. "I said I didn't want to..."
He trailed off as his brain caught up to what his eyes were seeing. As expected, all the deer below—bucks and does alike, and even Coach Comet—were standing in ones, twos and small groups around the clearing, reeling and staggering in helpless laughter. But at the center of it all was not a despondant red-nosed reindeer, looking for all the world like he wanted the ground to open beneath him and swallow him whole. Instead, he too stood off to the side, astounded and delighted almost to the point of tears. His nose pulsed bright red as he stared, as wide-eyed as everyone else.
Because cavorting proudly back and forth before them all, head held high, was another reindeer very much like himself, sporting a tuft of curly brown hair between the nubs of his horns...and a massive, brightly-glowing, neon blue rear end.
"What in—?" Justin asked, once he'd regained the power of speech. He shook his head sharply, and gaped at Alex in disbelief. "What did you—?"
"Hey, don't look at me!" Alex said, holding up both hands. "I'd like to think I'm a little more subtle than that!"
"You really think a shiny little nose like his is a big deal? Take a good look at this!" the strange newcomer called out, just loud enough for Justin and Alex to make out from their hiding place on the hill. He pranced around in circles, shaking his behind proudly at all and sundry. Egged on by their laughter, relishing the attention, he reared back on his hind legs and kicked up his front hooves. "And check out what else this puppy can do!"
And with that, he stopped in his tracks, and crouched down on his front legs. Sticking his rear end straight up in the air, he wrenched his eyes shut, scrunched up his nose as if deep in thought, and then...
"Oh, holy God!" Justin gasped, turning his face away from the massive, rolling column of bright blue gas that seemed to explode straight up towards the sky, splitting the air with an echoing thunderclap.
"Jesus Christ!" Alex choked out, her eyes watering as she pulled the collar of her pink little elf-outfit up over her nose and mouth. "Ugh! It smells like...like...like month-old rotten eggs mixed with grandpa's feet!"
"Even grampa's feet never smelled this bad!" Justin said in a strangled voice.
"I meant after we buried him!" Alex amended.
"Ulp! I think I'm gonna be sick!" Coughing and gagging, Justin doubled over at the waist. He gripped his knees so tightly that his hands went white at the knuckles as he willed the contents of his stomach to stay where they were.
He wasn't alone. The scene at the bottom of the hill looked like that famous crane shot from Gone With The Wind with all the scores and scores of Confederate soldiers lying wounded in the fields around Tara, but with vomiting, whimpering reindeer in their place. Several of the foals closest to the newcomer had actually passed out from the stench, and lay twitching. They were the lucky ones. The others farther away—but not far enough—were stumbling around as though they'd been tear-gassed, doe and buck alike, crashing into and puking onto one another, or slipping and falling into the resulting mess.
And in the middle of it, visible through the dense cloud of blue fog only by virtue of his glowing, neon-blue behind, the reindeer responsible pranced back and forth excitedly as he watched the chaos that ensued.
"Awww, yeah! That's right, bitches! Max Russo, the Big Blue-Butted Barf Bomb Reindeer in the house!"he called out, straining to be heard over cacophony of several dozen reindeer sicking up all at once. "Make some nooooooiiiiise!"
Justin and Alex's eyes bugged out in unison, before they turned and stared at each other in what would have been open-mouthed shock, had either of them dared to actually open their mouths.
"Max!" Justin gasped. "That...that thing down there is Max!"
"Yeah, no shit Sherlock, thanks!" Alex snapped, her voice muffled by the collar of her dress. "What was your first clue? When he started farting on everyone, or when he announced his goddamned name?"
"But how in the world is he even here?" Justin asked. "I didn't give him the spell! You didn't, did you?"
"Excuse me? Do I look like an idiot?" Alex blinked, and looked down at her self. "Wait, don't answer that..."
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, Max nodded to himself in satisfaction, then started dancing in place. Gyrating his rear in crazy circles, he paused every so often to fire a plume of gas at one or two of the other deer still standing, knocking them to the ground.
"I. Like. Blue. Butts and I cannot lie," he rapped poorly. "You other reindeer can't deny..."
"Oh my God..." Alex groaned, wrenching her eyes shut and pinching the bridge of her nose. "That's it. I'm adopted."
"He's...he's ruining everything!" Justin sputtered in horror, gesturing wildly down the hill. "Look, even...oh gosh, even poor old Coach Comet is throwing up in his hat!"
"Well, then at least one good thing came outta tonight," Alex sighed, then elbowed her brother in the ribs. "Look genius, you're the one with the wand, here. You wanna just stand here and cry about it? Or do you maybe want to get us all the hell out of here, before Santa notices his reindeer games have turned into the pie-eating contest from Stand By Me, and starts asking questions?"
"Oh, right," Justin said, plunging his hand back into his tunic, and digging out an oversized wand with a cartoonish-sounding pop. He cast a sidelong glance at Alex as he raised it into the air. "And I was not crying. The stench was making me tear up, is all."
"Nobody cares but you, egghead," Alex said, wrinkling her nose at the sound of tiny reindeer dry-heaving onto the breast of the new-fallen snow. "Now shut up and make with the hocus pocus before I throw up in your hat!"
"All right, I'm going, I'm going," Justin groaned, twirling his wand in a tight circle, as the tip began to glow...
And suddenly, with a bright flash of light and a light tinkling noise, they reappeared on a snowy hillside in the forest, again sending squirrels, raccoons and all manner of furry woodland animals scurrying for cover behind the brightly-decorated evergreen trees. Still clad only in the little elf-girl dress, with pointed hat and shoes to match, Alex glanced to her left to see Justin putting his wand away. Then she looked to her right, where Max the Big Blue-Butted Barf Bomb Reindeer was still gryating in place with his eyes closed, oblivious.
"...'cause I'm long! And I'm strong! And I'm down to get the friction on!"
"KNOCK IT OFF!" Alex shouted, snatching her hat off and smacking him over the head with it.
"Ow!" Max blinked his impossibly big deer-eyes at her, then smiled. "Oh, hey guys! Did it work?"
"Did what work?" Justin snarled, stomping through the snow around Alex to jab a shaking finger in Max's face. "You single-handedly destroying my childhood memories? Because, if so, yes, that worked!"
"Um, actually I single-buttedly destroyed them," Max pointed out, "but I can see you're angry, so I'll let it sli—"
"THIS WAS MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, YOU IDIOT! I'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO LOOK AT IT THE SAME WAY AGAIN, THANKS TO YOU!"
"Justin, calm down!" Alex said, quickly inserting herself between her oldest brother and her youngest, before the former could strangle the latter. "I'm pissed at him too, but geez! It's not like he made Beedo shoot first, or something!"
"First of all, it's Greedo," Justin said through gritted teeth, as he backed off a step, "and secondly—"
"Blah blah, nerd babble, blah," Alex cut him off. Satisfied that Justin wasn't about to murder anyone for the moment, Alex wheeled on her other brother, and pinched his left ear tightly in her tiny, pink-mittened fist. "Now, as for you, butt-boy..."
"Ouch!" Max shouted, kicking up his front hooves and shaking his head back and forth in a futile attempt to shake her loose. "Alex, leggo! I mean it! Let go, or I'll—"
"You keep that thing pointed away from me, Max, or I swear I'll kick you in the sleighbells so hard that you won't be able to jingle them properly until sometime after the Fourth of July! You get me?"
Max stopped fidgeting immediately. "Yeah, I'll be good."
"You'd better, if you know what's good for you," Alex snarled, releasing her grip on Max's ear. "Now what's the big idea? Exactly what the hell do you think you're doing here?"
"I was just trying to help, I swear!" Max protested, wincing in pain. "I came downstairs to check my Santa trap, and—"
"Wait, Santa trap?" Justin asked, before he could stop himself.
"Um, duh! You've never noticed the big bear trap sitting out on the terrace every year?" Alex asked over his shoulder, surprised. "The one baited with gingerbread cookies and milk? He's been putting it out there every Christmas Eve since fourth grade, when Alfred told him Santa wasn't real."
"Sixth grade," Max corrected her. "It's a Christmas tradition. I thought I'd finally caught him year before last, but it just turned out to be Dad trying to sneak a midnight snack without Mom seeing. Man, was he ever pissed when I found him the next morning..."
Justin stared at him wordlessly for a moment, inwardly debating the wisdom of asking him what he planned to do with Santa once he caught him, then shook his head sharply as he decided he really didn't want to know.
"Continue," he said instead.
"Well, anyway, I came downstairs and saw the TV playing to an empty room, and you know how Dad's always bitching at us about how expensive utilities are, so I thought I'd sit down and watch it until you guys came back, so he wouldn't get mad at us for wasting the cable."
Justin frowned at this. "But Max, cable doesn't work like—"
"Let it go," Alex waved him off, having learned her lesson. "Go on, Max."
"Well, that's when I saw you guys on the screen talking to the snowman dude," Max went on. "And I was all like 'Dude, check it out! My brother and sister are, like, autoerotic puppets, and shit!' Except I didn't really say that out loud, because I was all by myself..."
"Um, I think he means animatronic puppets," Justin murmured in Alex's ear, blushing fiercely.
"Ugh, whatever," Alex growled in annoyance, having no idea what either word meant, anyway.
"So you could actually see what we were doing on the screen, Max?" Justin asked, quickly changing the subject. "The DVD keeps playing, even as we're changing the story in real time? I've always wondered about that..."
"Yeah, it was cool!" Max nodded eagerly. "Well, at least at first it was. Then it got boring, what with you guys just standing around arguing about what you were gonna do, and doing your whole weird slap-slap-kiss thing. I mean, no offense, but I've seen it before, y'know? So that's when I decided to jump in and help to liven things up a little."
"But how did you just 'jump in', Max?" Alex crossed her arms over her chest as she glared at him. "That's what I wanna know."
Max tilted his head to the side in the reindeer equivalent of a shrug. "I pointed my wand at the TV and said 'What they did.'"
"What? Are you freaking kidding me?" Alex exploded, so loud that Max actually backed out of arms' reach before she could grab one of his ears again. "I research a spell for a whole freakin' year to get it to work right, and you, of all people, manage to copy it with the lamest make 'em up ever?"
"Well, he wouldn't be able to do that if you'd only submit the spell for certification like I keep telling you to, Alex," Justin pointed out.
"But it's supposed to be a secret! I made it just for us! I mean, you!"
"Wait, wait, wait...so you're telling me you actually worked on a spell for a whole year?" Max scoffed, one eyebrow raised beneath his stubby little antlers. "You?"
"Well, off and on, yeah," Alex said. Then, off of Max's unchanging skeptical expression: "OK, so maybe it was mostly off."
"How 'off'?" Justin asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
Alex ducked her head sheepishly. "Um, I came up with the idea around Boxing Day, then forgot about it again until the day after Thanksgiving?"
Justin exchanged a knowing glance with Max before rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "I should have known."
"What? I still thought about it while I was putting it off, didn't I? I mean subconscioiusly, or whatever. That totally counts!"
"Sure it does," Justin said, sounding entirely unconvinced. He jerked his chin at Max. "So, exactly at what point did you decide to make a complete mockery of my childhood trauma?"
"I told you, I was just trying to help!" Max said, sounding wounded. "You guys couldn't decide how to keep all of the other reindeer from laughing at him and treating him like a freak, so I figured the best way to deal with it was to be an even bigger freak, and make him look practically normal!"
"Seriously?" Alex snorted. "That was your brilliant plan?"
"Well, yeah!" Max said brightly. "Now everytime anyone looks at him, they won't be thinking 'There goes that freak with the shiny red nose.' Instead they'll be thinking, 'At least he's not that other freak with the glowing blue butt that made us all sick and knocked us the fuck out!'"
"Oh, good lord," Justin groaned, covering his face with his palm.
"And you actually thought that was gonna work?" Alex asked, her voice a mixture of pity and utter amazement.
"Well, pardon me for interrupting, young'uns, but it turns out it actually worked pretty well."
"AAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHH!" Justin screamed, jumping almost a full foot off the ground in fright. Stumbling in the snow as he landed, he spun around and jabbed a trembling finger at the sheepish-looking snowman who'd been standing behind him. "QUIT DOING THAT!"
"Er, sorry about that," Sam said, holding up both hands in surrender. "Didn't mean to scare you. I was just standing over yonder, and couldn't help overhearing. I wanted to let you all know that your strange young friend here...heh-heh...well, it seems his rather unorthodox little scheme worked out even better than he might have expected."
"Really?" Max grinned, his rear end pulsing bright blue with delight.
"What, for real?" Alex asked. "Seriously?"
"We're not exactly in the habit of telling tall tales here in Christmas Town, little miss," Sam said gently. "But if you don't believe me, why not take a look for yourselves?"
Sam gestured with the handle of his umbrella back towards the hill that Alex and Justin had been standing on. The three siblings turned around, just in time to see a glowing red nose appear over the crest, at the head of a staggering column of very sick-look reindeer, indeed.
"There!" Rudolph breathed in relief. "I think we're finally up high enough to be clear of that awful blue cloud, everybody!"
"We never would have been able to see well enough to find out way out of it if it hadn't been for your nose, Rudolph!" said Clarice, the pretty little doe who followed closely behind, staring at him intensely.
"And did you see what happened when it started shine like that?" Another reindeer with a tuft of blonde hair cantered excitedly between them, kicking up his hooves in the snow. "One good flash from it, and zap! Pow! That freak with the glowing blue butt up and disappeared in a flash of light!"
"Uh, I'm still not sure it was my nose that did that, Fireball," Rudolph said. "I mean, at least it's never done that before."
"Now, that'll be quite enough of that false modesty nonsense, Rudolph!" Coach Comet scolded him, as he appeared behind them. "I've been scouting bucks for years, and I know talent when I see it. You're a hero, plain and simple!"
"And how!" Clarice said, a little breathlessly. She fluttered her long eyelashes at Rudolph, making his cheeks burn almost as brightly red as his famous nose.
"And what's more, I intend to make sure everybody knows it," Comet continued, oblivious, "including and especially Santa himself!"
Rudolph gasped at this, even as Fireball and the other reindeer clustered around him murmured their approval. "Really, sir? You don't think he'll think my nose is...well...strange?"
"Strange? Nonsense, my boy, nonsense! You mark my words: you and that magical schnozz of yours will go down in history!" Comet stomped his right front hoof for emphasis. "Now quick, let's hurry back to the workshop. We have to spread the word about that blue-bottomed buffoon, in case he comes back. Why, he could be an even greater menace than the Abominable Snow Monster! Lead the way, boy!"
"It would be an honor, sir!" Rudolph said proudly, his nose pulsing brighter than ever as he turned and began to pick his way down the snow-covered hill, away from Sam and the kids, towards the parapets of the castle that towered over the Christmas Tree forest in the distance. The other reindeer scampered along closely behind, all of them trying to stay close to him, calling his name and trying to catch his attention.
"Wow," Justin said, his eyes shining brightly in the reflected lights of the Christmas trees as he blinked rapidly. "It really did work. They like him. They respect him!"
"And we didn't have to turn him normal to make it happen, either!" Max grinned. "He gets to stay the weird little kid he is now for the rest of his life!"
"Yeah, because they all think he's a total badass, now," Alex added, elbowing Justin in the ribs. "See? Told you my plan would've worked."
"Hey, if anything I'm the badass," Max said, bumping against her with his massive, shining hindquarters. "Did you hear what he said? I'm a bigger menace than the Bumble! Isn't that awesome?"
"Er, I don't think he intended it as a compliment, son," Sam pointed out.
"Trust me, it's still the nicest thing anyone's ever said about him," Justin said. "Listen, you said you're an omniescent narrator, right? Can you tell if we messed anything up by doing this? Changed history so that Rudolph doesn't wind up saving Christmas, or something?"
Sam frowned beneath his snowy white mustache as he looked off into the distance for a moment, then blinked and returned his gaze to Justin with a smile. "No sirree, son. Everything turns out A-OK as far as I can tell. Rudolph still saves Christmas, eventually meets Hermie and helps him get his dentistry practice off the ground..."
"Good," Justin sighed with relief. "For a minute, I was worried, there."
"...and then goes on to star in a series of other TV specials that really aren't as good as this one, and honestly just kind of water the whole thing down." Sam shrugs his shoulders. "Oh well. There's such a thing as too much of a good thing, I guess."
"Ugh, just like the Halloween Sorority Party Disaster movies," Alex groused, rolling her eyes. "None of them are ever as good as the original."
"Yeah, it was the same with The Matrix, or that last Indiana Jones film," Justin agreed, shaking his head. "I despise inferior, completely unnecessary sequels."
"Heh," Sam chuckled, winking at nobody in particular. "It's funny you shoud mention that..."
"Hey, what about the Island of Misfit Toys, though?" Max broke in, before Sam could finish the thought. "That was always my favorite part of the show. Does Rudolph still talk Santa into rescuing all those guys?"
"Hmm, now there's a wrinkle I hadn't considered," Sam replied thoughtfully, stroking his chin. "If Rudolph and his friends never run away from Christmas Town, they'll never visit the island and learn about the plight of all the lonely misfit toys that have been banished there..."
"Really?" Justin asked, taking a step closer to the snowman despite himself, looking crestfallen. "But...but that means none of them will ever find homes...or know the love of a boy or girl who truly wants them..."
"Ohhhhhhh no," Alex groaned, hanging her head without even bothering to look up at Justin's face, then heaved a world-weary sigh. "We're not going home, are we?"
"Not just yet, no," Justin said with conviction. He reached his hand into his tunic and started rummaging around for his wand. "The three of us have to make a stop, first."
"RIGHT ON!" Max shouted, his rear end pulsing brightly with excitement.
"Yeah, I had a funny feeling you'd say that," Alex muttered, shaking her head in resignation. She looked up and poked Justin in the shoulder. "You wanna hand me my flask while you're in there? My Christmas spirit's worn off, and it looks like it's gonna be a long night."
"No," Justin said simply, as he jerked his wand out of his shirt with a cartoonishly-loud pop. Holding it aloft, he turned and smiled at Alex, holding out his hand for her. "Come on, Alex. Please? It'll be quick, I promise."
"Yeah, it better be, egghead," Alex sneered at him, as she tucked one tiny pink mitten into his blue one, then grabbed onto Max's left ear with the other. "Your Christmas presents aren't going to just order themselves, y'know. Ooo, unleeeeeess..."
Justin rolled his eyes and started to twirl the tip of his wand in a tight circle. "Next stop, the Island of Misfit Toys!"
"Island of AWESOME Toys, more like it!" Max grinned, as the tip of Justin's wand began to glow. "That water gun that squirts grape jelly is totally coming home with me!"
Alex looked over at him in alarm, then turned and narrowed her eyes at Sam as she contemplated a future in which her little brother had the ability to wield purple jam as a weapon.
"This is your fault," she sneered. "If any of my clothes get ruined, I am totally coming back here with a sunlamp, you get me?"
"Uh, Merry Christmas to you all?" Sam said, waving hesitantly.
"And to all a good night!" Justin shouted with a wide grin. "Literarium Terrarium Activa!"
And suddenly, with a bright flash of light and a light tinkling noise, they disappeared as if into thin air, and were gone.
DISCLAIMER, THE SECOND: Oh, and obviously the Rankin-Bass animated special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and its characters, don't belong to me either. Which, based on what I've done to them here, is probably a good thing. All those poor, poor reindeer...oh, the humanity!
Anyway Merry Chr—er, I mean, Happy New Year, everybody! Best wishes to everybody in 2012!