Jingle Wheels: Another Christmas Story.

It was Christmas eve, & Santa’s workshop was a flurry of activity. The last of the presents were being wrapped in shiny paper with glittering ribbons, & loaded onto the sleigh like a festive game of Tetris. In the corner the reindeer were being fed & groomed, & Rudolph was standing still patiently as an elf helped him into his high-vis vest, which was only marginally brighter than his nose. On the back of the vest were emblazoned the words;

Service Reindeer. Do Not Pet.

In the bedroom Mrs Claus was helping her husband into his boots.

“Have you got everything?” she asked him as she stood up.

“Yes dear,” her husband replied.

“Snow tires?”

“Yes dear.”

“Ramp?”

“Yes dear.”

“Wheelchair bag?”

“Yes dear.”

“Wheelchair charger?”

“Yes dear.”

“Plastic straws? You won’t be able to drink all that milk with those horrible paper ones, they just dissolve.”

“Yes dear.”

“And don’t forget you have an appearance at the children’s hospital.”

“Yes dear.”

“Does this pinafore make me look funny?”

“Ye – no dear,” Santa quickly corrected himself before landing himself in hot water.

Mrs Claus bent over & kissed her husband on the forehead, smoothed down his infamous red hat, & opened the door. Santa wheeled forwards into the chaos of the workshop, & Rudolph trotted to his side instantly. Together they crossed the floor towards the sleigh, Rudolph ensuring the path was clear of obstacles & elves. They came to a halt as the final present was loaded onto the sleigh.

Rudolph didn’t need prompting; he trotted forwards & nudged a button on the back of the sleigh. With an electric whine the back of the sleigh slowly folded outwards into a ramp. Santa drove forwards in his powered chair, which was decorated with shimmering lights, tinsel, & sleigh-bells, & locked the restraints onto the tethering points on his chassis. Rudolph nudged the button again, & the ramp folded upright into the back of the sleigh, making the sign requesting at least 2 metres be left clear behind the sleigh visible.

Rudolph trotted to the front of the pack of reindeer to act as their navigator, but wasn’t harnessed to the sleigh like the rest as he would be accompanying Santa on the ground. The elves rushed to open to workshop door, & a gust of cold, arctic air ruffled Santa’s beard.

In a loud, clear voice Santa called to the rest of the reindeer;

“Now Roller, Now Whirler, Now Wheeler & Turner!

On Sitter, On Glider, On Access & Sloper!”

Mrs Claus & the elves watched as the sleigh moved forwards, accelerating & rising into the air as dusk fell over Lapland.

***

After a matter of minutes they reached their first stop, Toronto in Canada. They came to a rest on the top level of a multi-story car park in the North of the city; roofs were no longer an option as Santa had a tendency to tip his wheelchair to the side if he wasn’t careful. Rudolph deployed the ramp & joined Santa as they crossed to the lift by the staircase. To their dismay, a sign that looked as if it had been up for months said “Out of Order.” Both reindeer & man rolled their eyes simultaneously & returned to the sleigh, where to their dismay they saw a van parked inches from the back of the sleigh.

“Excuse me, sir?” Santa called to the driver who had his window half rolled down, with a cigarette dangling from his hand.

“Yeah?” the driver said lazily.

“The sign on the back of my sleigh says not to park so close!”

“I’ll only be here a minute,” the driver shrugged.

“But you could have parked anywhere else!”

“I’ll be here longer if you argue,” the driver made the effort to look down briefly at Santa.

“I really don’t have a minute to spare,” Santa said.

“Oh what? Like you’re the real Santa? In a wheelchair?” the driver had a mocking tone.

“Fine,” Santa sighed. Rudolph gave the driver a contemptuous snort before trotting to the front of the sleigh & guiding the rest of the reindeer forwards. The ramp was deployed & Santa seated on his sled as the van driver watched with something approaching interest. They left & headed to another car park, where fortunately the lift was still working.

Santa’s wheelchair bag was bulging with gifts & Rudolph carried the temporary ramp as they traversed the city, going from house to house. It was hard to be stealthy when everywhere you went, you were accompanied by an electronic whine, but Santa managed to avoid any awkward interactions with confused children, unlike the year before. Several hours of hard work later, & now with an empty bag, Santa returned to the sleigh.

Off they went, up into the night sky, as Santa mused that Einstein’s theory of relativity did somewhat take the magic out of his ability to fly around the world in a single night, even if the rest of humanity hadn’t cracked the time travel part yet.

***

Next Santa flew all across America, making stops at Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas, Washington DC, San Antonio, San Francisco, Miami, Phoenix, Los Angeles & more, before skipping Las Vegas as no one there had managed to avoid his Naughty List.

Then came the South America’s. Rio de Janeiro was one of Santa’s favourite spots, even if the steep hills did cause him some difficulty.

After touring the entirety of the vast continent, Santa hopped across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa, & steadily made his way up to Europe, stopping in Cairo for a short rest along the way.

Europe was always a quicker continent to do, as many of the nations had the custom of opening their Christmas presents earlier in the month. One of his longest stops was actually one of the smallest nations, the somewhat ironically named United Kingdom.

Santa started on the south coast. Portsmouth was surprisingly accessible despite being a location of historical significance, mainly because it was all flat as a pancake. After traversing the island & then Southsea, Santa began to travel north.

Finding somewhere to park the sleigh in London was always a problem, especially as Santa didn’t have a blue badge meaning disabled parking spaces were off-limits to him, not that that seemed to stop other drivers. Still, the Oxford Street displays were always quite the spectacle.

Next came Birmingham. The Aston Interchange, colloquially known as Spaghetti Junction, always confused the reindeer so Santa avoided passing too close to it. Then they were on to Nottingham, then Leicester, & eventually they crossed the border into the north of the country; Sheffield. It was here he would be making an appearance at the children’s hospital.

Santa was greeted at the doors to the children’s unit by a tired-looking nurse.

“Ah, Santa, you’re here! The children are ever so excited!” she said, trying to muster up enthusiasm, before spotting Rudolph.

“Oh, animals aren’t allowed on the ward,” she added.

“He’s a service animal, ma’am,” Santa replied matter-of-factly.

“It’s a hygiene risk, you understand,” the nurse responded.

Before Santa could reply the doors of the ward opened, & out came a woman carrying a rabbit & two guinea-pigs in “Pets as Therapy” vests.

“Err…” Santa, who had been about to reply that he would make an exception given the nature of the medical conditions the children faced, gave the nurse a questioning look.

“OK, fine, but no messes,” she said, holding open the doors.

“He’s a trained service animal, he knows the rules,” Santa reassured her, rolling through the doors. He reached up for the anti-microbial hand gel, only to find the dispenser was so far up the wall as to be out of his reach. Fortunately, Rudolph was able to press the button for him, & the cold gel slopped down into Santa’s palm.

There were gasps of joy & excitement as Santa entered the ward. He handed a gift to each child, stopping by each bed to wish them a Merry Christmas individually.

At the very end of the ward were the individual rooms, for children so ill they couldn’t share a space with the rest. Rudolph helped Santa don the necessary gowns for hygiene before he entered a room where a little girl was propped up in pillows on the bed. To one side of the bed was a powered wheelchair, which was half obscured by the myriad of tubes she was hooked up to.

As he entered the room the girl’s eyes lit up. Santa gently placed a present on the bed, making sure it was within her reach, & wished her a Merry Christmas.

“You’re like me!” the girl exclaimed, nodding to her wheelchair by the bedside.

“Yes,” Santa replied, “I am.”

“I don’t see many people like me,” the girl said.

“I suppose we’re not very common,” returned Santa.

“They said people like me can’t do anything,” the girl added, “but you’re Santa. You go all over the world!”

“Well, having my own personal sleigh is a little easier than trying to get a wheelchair on an aeroplane,” Santa said jovially.

“When I grow up, I want to be like you,” she said.

“I hope you get to be like me too,” Santa was trying not to blush.

A few minutes later, as he was leaving the ward, the nurse who had greeted him piped up;

“She’s not going to get to grow up, you know.”

“I know,” Santa replied, “but she’s still a child. She’s going to dream.”

As he made his way back to the sleigh, he had to wipe away several tears.

***

Santa travelled all over the north of the UK, making stops in Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, York, Hull, Ripon, Bolton, Manchester, Liverpool, Carlisle, Newcastle, & then heading up into Scotland. Once complete he flew back across Europe, heading into Asia via Turkey. Santa progressed further east across Asia, trying not to get disheartened at the war-torn middle East, but finding it hard not to be affected by the inhumanity. Even his reindeer were visibly distressed, although like him they cheered up a little as they made it to China, where the staff at KFC were already preparing for the Christmas day rush.

Eventually Santa was headed to Australia. He changed into lighter-weight clothes to cope with the Summer heat, took the snow-chains off his wheels, & charged up his wheelchair on the way. They landed in Canberra, & after working their way around the city headed on to Sydney. They settled on the top of another multi-story car park, & Rudolph trotted around to lower the ramp. About half-way down there was a disconcerting juddering before it stopped dead, still a couple of inches from the floor.

“Drat,” Santa muttered. Rudolph seemed to agree, & pressed the button a few more times to no avail. Santa pulled his phone from his pocket & called his head engineer, an elf who as it happened, had just gone to bed at home in Lapland.

“Hello,” a groggy voice greeted Santa.

“I thought you said you’d fixed my ramp,” Santa said.

“Oh, err…I though I had,” the engineer said.

“Then why has it got stuck again?” Santa asked.

“Quite hard to tell when you’re half-way across the globe,” the elf replied sarcastically.

Santa didn’t grace the comment with a reply.

“Have you tried kicking it?” the elf asked.

“Really?” Santa asked in an equally sarcastic tone.

“Have you tried getting Rudolph to kick it?” the elf corrected himself.

“Not yet,” Santa replied before turning to his companion, “Give it a good whack for me, chuck.”

Rudolph tapped it gently with his hoof. Nothing happened.

“You might need to give it a bit more welly than that,” Santa said.

Rudolph reared up on his hind legs, & with as much force as he could muster slammed both of his front legs down on the ramp. It juddered back into life.

“Well, that seemed to do the trick,” Santa said down the phone, “but you might need to un-dent it when I get back. Have a good night.”

“Alright, I’ll have a look when you get back, night,” the elf replied tiredly before hanging up.

By the time Santa had made it around Sydney & then the rest of the vast continent, he was beginning to get tired, but he knew he still had to traverse New Zealand before the long ride home. Admittedly he could travel even faster now that the majority of the presents had been delivered, but the mountainous landscape & remote towns that were scattered across both islands made matters complicated, which took a surprisingly long time in comparison to the bigger cities.

Finally, the last present was delivered, & Santa made it back to the sleigh for the final journey home. As the sun began to rise, casting a soft golden light across the land, Santa noticed that something was missing.

“Rudolph,” Santa called, “Where is my ramp?” Rudolph went wide-eyed & seemed to blush under his thick fur.

“You left it at the last house, didn’t you?” Santa asked.

“Well, we can’t go back for it now. The children will see me. I guess you’ll just have to get me one as my Christmas present.”

Rudolph looked down & pawed at the ground.

“Come on, let’s go home, we’re all tired,” Santa said.

***

When Santa landed, the workshop door was already open in preparation for their arrival, & the chief engineer held a spanner in his hand as he leant casually against the wall. Upon deployment the ramp got stuck again, but this was rectified with a quick stomp from the engineer.

“You can leave fixing that for another day,” Santa told the engineer, “it is Christmas, after all.”

The engineer thanked Santa before heading off to spend the day with his own family in Lapland city centre.

Mrs Claus came out to greet a tired Santa, who almost immediately went to bed, as was by now Christmas tradition. The reindeers were brushed & fed, going to their own beds shortly afterwards. Rather ironically, the quietest household on Christmas morning was, as always, the Claus household.

***

At around the time that Santa was going to bed, a family in Alexandra, New Zealand opened their front door to see a metal ramp laid out on their doorstep. The woman who opened the door let out a cry of surprise.

“I can’t see a label on it so I don’t know who it’s from,” the woman turned to her wife, “but we won’t ever need to lift Amelia’s wheelchair down the step again!”

An electric whirring grew louder down the corridor, & a little girl appeared in morning light.

“Merry Christmas, Amy,” the woman said, stepping to one side to show her daughter the best Christmas gift they could have received.