It was late Christmas morning when Igor woke up.
First a cold chill brushed over his cheek. Then an uncomfortable churning grew in his stomach. The acid taste of peppermint liqueur burned his lips. A pressure behind his eyes. A buzzing in his ears… Giggling? Bed springs? A tickle fight perhaps. Distant but not too far, just in the other room.
“Which room?” Igor wondered, groggily.
A loud thump rattled the floor beneath him and Igor shot to his feet.
He forced his eyes open through a flood of blinding daylight. The thumping… footsteps… seemed to be coming closer.
“Where the fuck am I?”
Igor stumbled backwards, his feet not yet fully up to the task. He tumbled over a pile of empty nips of liquor and his head hit a gift wrapped box with a thud. He quickly got back on his feet, the footsteps now just outside the door on the other side of the room. Igor looked at the shiny presents under the tree and his eyes grew wide.
“It’s Christmas morning” He whispered to himself and he whipped his head toward the door. He searched for cover through one bloodshot eye. “its Christmas morning”, he repeated to himself. He dashed behind the leg of a writing desk and sucked his gut in to fit unnoticed.
The door burst open and laughter rolled and crashed into the room like waves. Igor peaked from behind the desk as two sets of feet stomped into the room and plopped under the tree. He ducked into the shadows.
“It’s Christmas morning,” he said to himself again, this time realizing the gravity of the situation. He clenched his teeth and swallowed hard. Carefully, he peered around the corner to get a better read on the situation. Two run-of-the-mill looking humans. The man, Igor thought, looked like a chump. He was fat, and his nose was too big for his face. The girl was easier on the eyes, but oh that voice! It reminded Igor of the wailing and groaning he would hear in the walrus mating season. She must be a real pain in the ass to be stuck with a chump like that.
Igor's stomach gurgled and bubbled up the back of his throat and a belch forced its way through his mouth. The sound was drowned out by the tearing of wrapping paper. Igor cringed at the sound, squoze his eyes shut for relief…from all of it.
“This is bad, this is bad, this is bad.”
Like a dirty and tattered road map, Igor traced his memories as far back as he could. He remembered having shot gunned that beer for courage when Captain Button ordered him to join the Sleigh Team. He remembered the first break in Amsterdam, when Santa-- following his tradition-- turned a blind eye while the elves threw back a shot of honey bourbon. And while the old curmudgeon had his back turned, Igor slipped into a bar amd found a round of scotch, and that cute bartender slipped him a shot of absinthe before he hopped back on the sleigh. He remembered Orful dragging him out of the wet t-shirt contest in Cancun, too, but not quite as clearly. He mostly remembered dropping off presents for that stripper’s kids in Vegas. He'd spent a bit of time digging around in her undergarments and found some bourbon their too.
“Am I in Vegas?”
His stomach growled and a familiar smell brought him back to the room.
“Is that bacon?” He peered around the corner and his mouth watered as the man walked in with a plate of eggs and bacon.
“Well I sure as hell didn’t make it out of America.”
Igor watched as the man handed the woman a plate and settled on the couch next to her. Igor suddenly realized that with them now on the couch he was quite exposed. His first instinct was to huddle deeper into the shadows but as the woman turned to kiss her man, Igor saw a moment of opportunity, and in a hiccup of courage, he took it. He exploded out of the shadows, dashed through the open space and as their lips parted he barreled under the couch.
There was a pause in the room and Igor wheezed quietly, “she saw me” he thought, sure that at any minute the man’s fat hands would come dig him from his roost. He stared at the sliver of light between the couch and the floor in alert anticipation, but as time passed he became distracted by his aching, hungover body and his more immediate needs.
“What am I doing?! Focus! 1. Eat. 2 Drink. Drink water. 3. Take a shit. 4. Find Santa.”
Igor tried to sift through his options, all of the possibilities, any chance he might have. But the smell of that bacon was too strong. The chump had clearly burned it, but burnt bacon was better than no bacon.
Huddling there, alone and hungry in the dark, Igor closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. Before he could finish, the plate he had been greedily eyeing descended, landing just inches beyond his shroud of darkness. "I should pray for bacon more often" Igor noted.
The fat chump wasn't likely to leave food lying around for long, so Igor knew he had to make a move quickly. He dragged himself on his belly toward the shadow line, tentatively peeking from under the couch to assess the situation.
Would he dare expose himself for a salty, greasy chunk of bacon?
Fuck yeah he would.
Igor stretched one stubby arm beyond his reach, snatched the bacon, and slithered back into hiding. He savagely chomped it down. “One down. 3 to go”, Igor said, and was interrupted by a deep gurgle in his stomach.
What happened next was an act perhaps best left unnarrated. Suffice to say, Igor found a particularly dark corner and continued to work through his list.
As the man and woman digested through light banter and Christmas cartoons, Igor began to grow a bit claustrophobic in his hiding place. Pieces from the night before continued to slowly come back to him and his physical hangover was now accompanied by a moral hangover to match it. His drunken fumble had caused the sack of gifts for Detroit to fall off the sleigh and felt a horrible guilt that the children there wouldn’t have presents again this year. He had pissed off Dasher and pissed on Dancer. “It was an accident!” he whispered as he relived the memory. And poor, poor Orful had finally walked away with a split lip and vomit on the bells of his shoes. “Peppermint liqeuer makes me angry”, Igor thought. He made a mental note of this, as he’d done before with cocaine and tequila.
Igor began to feel claustrophobic and anxious, trapped in a narrow place with no exit strategy and no end in sight. He felt like the world was caving in on him, and when his nose suddenly touched fabric and he felt springs press against his stomach, he realized it was.
The sound of panting and moaning accompanied the bouncing of cushions and springs. Igor scrambled and rolled trying not to get crushed, 4 sets of legs blocked his quickest exit like shaky prison bars. Igor crawled toward the wall and used the curtain to pull himself out, climbing up it with a spurt of unusual strength that took him by surprise. He pulled himself on to the window sill and hid behind the curtain. He leaned against the window, gasping for air. “Fucking nightmare”, he said to himself.
He turned to look out the window, and sulked as he saw the sky was already darkening. “Where am I?” he whispered desperately and dropped his head against the glass. The man and woman soon settled into a snuggle on the couch. The man grabbed a glass pipe from the side table. Igor took a deep breath and tried to compose himself; at least by the window he’d be able to see Santa when he came back for him.
Yet he was restless. Had he brought that bottle of scotch with him? Or had he found it in this house? Was he going to lose his job over this shit? A trip to HR for sure. Igor chuckled. “Meh. What’s one more trip.” Perhaps he had fallen asleep under the tree while the rest of the team brought the presents. Understandable, present missions are swift and they’d been behind schedule. Perhaps he wandered off to find that scotch and missed the whistle. Maybe he’d fought them all and quit in an enraged blackout and decided to stay behind. He wasn’t above that behavior, and Staff Sergeant Nutkins would have been happy to maroon him. But in a residence?
“That’s not funny”, he whispered to himself; but he continued to chuckle none the less. Igor gazed across the room, amused at his own amusement. A thick cloud of smoke lifted as the man passed the pipe to the woman. Igor sat in the fog and watched it dissipate around him. “Oh! I’m high!” he thought. He felt a brief moment of alarm before relaxing into it. “Might as well” he thought, “God knows how long I’ll be stuck here.”
Time crept by as Igor sifted through the myriad possibilities. The more he thought about it the less he understood how it was possible that no one on the team noticed he was gone. He was the life of the party! Surely they’d have noticed the silence. Orful definitely would have noticed. Could it be that he was angry enough to not mention it? No! Orful was too much of a do-gooder, and loyal as a dog besides. He’d surely have mentioned it to Santa, if not he’d be as much to blame!“
Night had arrived already. The horizon had disappeared behind a dense wall of fog and beyond his window, Igor watched as a lovely city full of hills started to turn out it’s lights. The man sat up with a snort; it wasn’t that drastic of a gesture, but Igor realized now that it startled him because neither the man nor his woman had moved a muscle for at least an hour. She still hadn’t and, Igor realized now, she was sound asleep. The man (half asleep) yawned and scratched his balls. Igor (¼ asleep, ¼ baked, but now coming back to his sober senses with urgency) also scratched his balls, and prepared to move again.
Igor had read the situation correctly. The man leaned forward and, in one swift motion, rose to his feet with the woman in his arms, carrying her like a stupid baby. Igor poked his head out from behind the curtain just in time to see the door close behind them.
He stepped out onto the window sill, sighed a deep breath of relief, and loosed a lengthy fart. Deciding not to stick around and see how it turned out, he took 3 quick steps and leapt and tumbled into the soft couch cushions below, still warm from a loving snuggle. Another leap, this time followed by a roll, and Igor had made his way to the floor.
Igor did a quick lap of the room. He had seen it all day in stolen glimpses from a variety hiding places, but now he could take it all in. The room was still strewn with wrapping paper and dirty dishes, and he could already hear the slobs snoring in the room from which they first came. There was one door, and it was closed. No apparent mouse holes. Igor took note of an air vent as he surveyed the room, and tried his best to recall anything he could from Introduction to Incursion at Kringle University. But he’d never expected to find himself on the Sleigh Team, nor did Professor Bubble, so it had been easy to sleep through class.
As he tried to cobble together dusty relics of useful information, he found himself once again ascending the curtain to higher ground. He got back to the sill where he’d spent the last few hours hiding from a slumbering chump and his snoozing floozy. Now he stood out in the open, gazing into the darkened room and putting together pieces of a puzzle. He paced the long cold stretch of wood. He turned to the window and stared deeply into the darkness, looking hopelessly for the North Star through the fog.
His lower lip began to tremble so he pressed his hand tightly over his mouth, but it too was trembling. He sealed his eyes shut with all his strength and slowly, Igor came to realize what had happened.