Someone is killing Santa's elves, but Santa seems more concerned with decreased toy production than their deaths. That changes when his wife discovers a horrific murder.
Desperate for explanations, Santa asks his nemesis, the elf leader Amak to investigate. Initial evidence suggests a polar bear killed the elves, but Amak remains skeptical when he finds conflicting clues.
Amak pursues the murderer, all the time combating the struggles of the Arctic icebox, a girlfriend who deplores his opposition to change, and those wishing to usurp his authority.
Can Amak solve the case before it's too late, or will this Christmas be covered with blood?
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)|
Read an Excerpt
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS
By michael i bresner
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Michael I Bresner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHe shifted his weight from one knee to another and then back again. The movements were not an attempt to combat the falling temperaturehe was used to this extreme coldbut rather it was the anticipation of the event that he hoped would soon occur.
Crouched behind a high mound of snow, he watched the polar bear devour the freshly killed seal. It had taken more than twenty minutes to simply sneak up on the bear, to get within thirty yards without being detected and attacked. Now, waiting for the right time to act was taking an eternity. The bear's meal had been small, so he assumed the massive predator would soon be searching for additional nourishment. However, to the concealed spectator's surprise, the bear started to play with the carcass. It used its front paws to push the remains back and forth over the ice until the seal accidentally slid into the hole through which it had recently emerged. Only seconds passed before an icy slush engulfed what was left. It would be a short time more until solid ice would provide a permanent tomb.
The witness to this activity remained still and hidden. He rested one knee on the edge of a burlap sack he'd laid on the ground and readied himself to act should the animal detect his presence. He admired the Arctic's most efficient killing machine. Here was an animal that showed no fear, for there was nothing in this environment that offered any real natural threat. The bear was the top of the food chain. Death from a bear was usually quick and decisivea rapid blow from the animal was enough to crush any opponent. The observer envied its efficiency.
The animal lumbered around the hole watching what was left of its meal bob up and down on the surface of the underlying glassy black water. The bear appeared tired, and the onlooker surmised it probably wanted to burrow into a protective snowdrift to rest, but he also knew the requirement to fulfill its hunger was more important than its need for sleep. A new hunt for food would soon commence.
A shift in the wind's direction carried an unfamiliar scent to the bear. It rose onto its hind legs to investigate; but when it saw the small figure stand, it lurched forward, landing on all four legs, and began to give chase.
The distance between the two adversaries rapidly diminished, and just before the bear launched its final charge, it encountered still another scent. It paused its attack to identify the odor. Unlike the first, this one was familiarthe scent of fresh blood.
The bear approached in steady, measured strides; its quarry remained immobile and continued to face his attacker. The animal's front legs swung out to the side, and its huge paws folded toward the body until, just as they were set down, they flicked forward. The arc of the longer back legs seemed to nudge the front ones forward. The wedged-shaped animal was not afraid of its next meal, but it was confused. Rarely would something this small dare to turn and fight.
Its prey kept eye contact.
The bear couldn't detect any fear in this small two-legged creature, one that moved sideways and even slightly forward, but never backpedaled.
The enormous animal was only a few yards from its next meal when the figure threw the blood-scented sack. The hunter moved its head to easily dodge the bundle, which sailed harmlessly by. Striking the hard packed snow, the bag's drawstring broke, and the sack opened to allow a strong odor to stream out. The bear's front paw swiped at the cloth covering, and its sharp claws easily ripped through the flimsy material.
The now destroyed sack offered up its contents of a severed body: torso, arms, legs and a mutilated head.
The bear was too engrossed with its new meal to see the figure fleeing to safety across the snowy landscape.
Chapter Two"Yes, I am concerned. It's been a week since he was last seen." Amak, the village's elected mayor, defacto law enforcement officer, part-time toy manufacturer, and unsuccessful labor organizer, was an unexpected visitor to Knute Brulog's home.
"Maybe Norved just took off," Mr. Brulog replied.
Trying to fight the cold, Amak paused to rub his hands together. "No, Knute. We searched his home, and he seemed to have left all his belongings in place. He even had food set aside for an evening meal."
Like most of the villagers, Knute was only slightly concerned. This time of year, it was common for someone to suddenly decide to abandon the village and return to their birthplace.
"Anyway," Amak said, "I'm just going around again, asking everyone if they remember anything that might shed a light on Norved's disappearance." He paused and glanced at Mrs. Brulog who was busy preparing the food. He hoped for an invitation to share the morning's meal, but none was voiced. Disappointed, he walked to the door and continued, "I'm sure he'll turn up sooner or later."
A blast of frigid air greeted Amak when he opened the door. He hesitated at the opening, not wishing to leave the warmth of the house, but, realizing he must, he stepped into the cold.
Mrs. Brulog had added nothing to the conversation between her husband and Amak. She had silently stood by the sink readying and packing her husband's lunch, but as soon as the door closed, she spoke. "Isn't it odd that all of Norved's belongings were left behind? Do you think something bad has happened to him? I don't know; it doesn't sound right about him going missing. I just don't know."
Her husband seemed preoccupied and did not answer.
The day began the same as yesterday, dark and bitter cold, but Knute thought this day seemed a bit darker and a bit colder. The blackness was not going away and there would be no sun burning through. That great globe was vacationing on the other side of the earth and would not return for months.
The delicate crystals of frost united to create an opaque blanket on the window. Using the long, curved nail on his little sixth finger, he scraped a circle large enough to view the thermometer attached outside. The light from within the house passed through the circle and created a beam that illuminated the column of quivering mercury.
"Minus thirty-eight already. It's getting colder every day."
"Why complain?" his wife questioned. "You know as well as I do that last week's milder temperature was a fluke."
"The cold may be normal, but nobody says I have to like it. I'm the one who has to drag my tired body to the workshop every day, and when I arrive, there's no guarantee they'll have the heat turned up. I might as well be working outside."
He tried not to argue, it was typical of their relationship that if they disagreed about anything, especially work, they simply avoided the subject. The anger that had arisen so rapidly when he looked at the thermometer retreated just as quickly when he turned and looked at his wife calmly working at the sink. He watched as she shuffled back and forth between the sink and the stove.
The cottage was one of the smallest in a village of small homes. The largest of the three rooms, twenty by twenty feet, included the kitchen area, a dinner table with three wooden chairs, a worktable and two stuffed lounge chairs. The stuffing in both was in desperate need of replacement. An unmatched patchwork of worn cloth covered the chairs, the latest piece of fabric obtained from a shirt recently discarded. It was an accumulation of furniture that would have remained unsold and unclaimed at the end of a daylong flea market.
She absentmindedly looked up towards the broken clock on the wall but assumed the time was nearing for him to leave and that she should serve breakfast. A small pot of meat and barley soup in a large blackened pot simmered on top of the stove. The aroma from the morning meal easily overpowered all other smells in the small cottage.
He lumbered to the kitchen table, sat down, and watched as she ladled out two bowls of the same soup they had eaten for the past three days. He hoped that today would finally deplete this, her favorite meal. His tolerance for the monotony of the weather and of the menu had grown thin.
His wife also had to go to work. He knew this. During this season, their boss expected everybody in the village to work. Mrs. Brulog, too, had to suffer the cold, but she chose to be the stoic, never complaining aloud. He thought of this but decided his work was far more demanding and stressful. Thus rationalizing, he again felt he had the right to voice his anger. "Damn it all!"
They had been married long enough for her to understand his moods, so she ignored the comment and changed the subject in an attempt to arrest his rising frustration and rage. "By the way, when are you going to fix the clock?" she asked with a smile. "You're the great handyman. Maybe you've some mystical ability to know the exact time without a clock, but I don't."
"I'm really sorry. Really I am," he answered. "You know I don't have a spare minute right now." Guilt replaced his anger. "After the holiday, I promise, I'll get to everything that needs repair."
"Only the clock is broken," she said, almost apologizing for the fact that they owned little else, and that, more than anything, kept breakdowns rare. "Anyway, who cares what time it is? Nothing ever changes here. There's nothing that can't wait."
"Nothing but work, and I have to get going," he replied. He gazed at the window hoping that, somehow in the few minutes since he had last looked, the weather might have changed.
She gathered some crackers from a ceramic cookie jar meant to look like a laughing Santa Claus and carried them and the two bowls of soup to the table. He delayed eating until she sat, placed the napkin on her lap, and took her first spoonful. They finished the meal quickly, without speaking, but there was no silence. The wind had increased and howled steadily. A groan from outside that sounded like a voice in pain interrupted his thoughts of work. In unison, he and his wife asked each other, "What did you say?"
"I thought you said something, honey."
"I thought I heard you asking me something," he replied.
A muffled creak on the roof drew their attention. They looked at the ceiling, again acting in unison.
"Just the wind," he said.
"But the voice?"
"Just the wind," he repeated. "Nothing more."
Staring at the ceiling, she stood, and slowly backing away from the origin of the noise, she bumped into her husband's chair. She turned to apologize and noted that he still was staring at the ceiling.
The room was in shadows except for an area surrounding the nearby workbench. There, the husband had long ago suspended two bare light bulbs from long electric wires looped then hung from the thick, wooden rafters.
Wherever his wife stepped, a small cloud of dirt mushroomed into the air; but even these inert particles seemed cold, and they soon floated down to huddle in neat piles.
"I have to first drop off some things in Tooten before going to work. Nothing like taking an extra hike in the cold. Of course, then I get to travel two more miles back to the workshop. Gosh forbid they'd give me a sled and some dogs to make life any easier." He looked at his wife as he continued. "If I reach my quota, maybe they'll let me come home at the end of the scheduled shift. If so, we'll play cards and talk some before bedtime."
"That would be nice if you could," she remarked skeptically. Both knew that he couldn't. During the last few days of the holiday season, there was no upper limit to the work quota. Reach one level of production and someone immediately raised the demands. No, he wouldn't be home early. She walked over to him and lovingly squeezed his hand.
They gathered the toys from around the room and the workbench, and while he held a cloth sack open below the edge of the old pine table, she carefully began to slide the toys in. As she pushed a small, squirrel-shaped clock into the bag, it bounced off the lip of the sack and tumbled to the floor. The tick-tocking continued uninterrupted. He quickly stooped to pick up his craft and carefully examined each section. "Just my luck," he said wearily. "Part of the tail is scratched and chipped off." The veneer of dust, although thick, had not been enough to prevent the damage.
"Can you fix it?" she asked softly, annoyed with herself for adding to his woes.
He realized he was looking for sympathy when he deserved none and told her all he had to do to repair the damage was to apply a little paint. He placed the clock gently on top of the rest of the toys in the sack, tugged at the two drawstrings to close the opening, and tied a double knot to assure it would not come loosenothing must fall out on his way to work.
His wife walked to the front door and removed his bulky wool coat from the wooden wall peg. "Button up honey," she chided as she handed it to him. "This time of the year would be a horrible time to get sick."
They both turned when they heard a thud against the door. "Who's there?" his wife questioned. No one answered. She assumed it was the wind dislodging a chunk of snow from the roof but again questioned aloud if anyone was at the doorshe didn't want anyone left standing out in the cold. Again, nobody answered. Even the howling from the wind seemed to abate.
"Great day to have to walk to work," her husband again complained.
He took the coat from his wife, slipped it on, and felt immediate warmth from the new covering. Although he knew that pleasurable feeling would quickly disappear once outside, he had no alternative to this second-hand garment since his bearskin and seal hide parka had literally fallen apart last month. The coat sleeves, although shortened, were still an inch or so too long for his stubby arms; and once the coat was on, he always found it difficult to use his hands for any intricate task.
"Dear, I put my hat and gloves on the mantel to dry. Would you please get them for me?" He watched as the dust followed her feet like a vapor trail dragged along by a highflying jet. "Did you pack my lunch?"
"Yes," she replied and pointed to the other side of the room.
They arrived at the sink simultaneously. He took the gloves from his wife and put them on deliberately, not wanting to accidentally poke a finger through the thin material. Like a mother dressing her youngest son, his wife pulled a tassel cap onto his head. She tugged it further down to ensure the cap protected his pointed ears against the outside cold. He, in turn, did not struggle against her help, but was engrossed with wedging his gloved, right hand under the handle of the lunch box embossed with a picture of last year's teen idol. The snug fit would guarantee he would not lose his grasp. He walked to the center of the room, grabbed the cord dangling from the sack with his stronger left hand, and swung the heavy bulk up and over his shoulder. He did not anticipate its full weight and staggered back a few steps until regaining his balance.
"Well I'm off to deliver the toys," and he added mockingly, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
"Now that's the attitude you need," she replied and stood on her toes to gently kiss his cheek. "Why don't you wear a scarf to protect your neck? Let me get it for you," she volunteered. "You'll catch your death if you are not dressed properly."
"Don't bother," he protested softly. "I'll just pull the collar up if I need to. See you later." He wanted to hug her, but both his arms were occupied, so he instead smiled as she opened the front door.
Chapter ThreeThe last flakes from the early morning snowfall fell gently to the already white ground. The unbroken carpet stretched in all directions, interrupted not by colors but by shades. The villagers considered color a treasured luxury in the Arctic vastness. The monotony of the boundless, desolate landscape was deceptive. It was a frozen, but not a dead, world. Although difficult to locate, life forms did exist. In an environment that was so hostile, all species became hunters. Thus, when the circle was completed, the hunters often found themselves victims.
As he did most every day, Knute stepped into this frozen, lonely world. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and straining to see across the open field, he viewed the twinkling of the lights from the village center and the workshop. His broad, flat shoes prevented him from sinking into the new powdery snow as he began the trudge to the neighboring village, Tooten.
A gust of raw wind greeted him as he rounded the front of the cottage. The blowing, frozen snow struck him full face, and even his long, unkempt beard offered little protection from the burning stings that the crystals produced. He turned his back to the needlelike flakes and waited for the tempest to ebb. After a minute without any change in the wind's force, he decided to abandon the planned route across the open area. He chose instead a longer path that would take him through the mounds of ice and snow at the perimeter of the flat terrain. These natural barriers would provide the protection he desired.
Excerpted from ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS by michael i bresner Copyright © 2013 by Michael I Bresner. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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