"Come on, kids! We're going," called Billy's dad. It was the 23rd of December, and Billy's dad had taken the family to a big shopping centre in Leeds, over 20 kilometres from their small village in Yorkshire, to do some last minute present shopping. He shifted the heavy shopping bags he was holding and looked around. "Where's Billy?" A quick glance around the area revealed the ten year old Billy to be talking to a large man in a red suit.
"We came here from Holford to do some shopping," Billy told the man. "Hey, what's that gold thing around your neck?"
"It's the key to my magical sleigh!" said Santa Claus, for it was he.
Billy thought for a moment. "Like the key my dad uses to drive the car?"
"That's right," said Santa. "I can use it to fly all over the world and deliver presents to children like you."
"Can I hold it?"
"Ho ho ho! I'm afraid not," Santa replied quickly.
Billy heard his dad's voice drift over. "Come on Billy! It's time to go home. Last one in the car's a rotten egg!" Billy paused a moment, and then suddenly snatched the shining key from Santa's neck and sprinted off after his family.
In the back of the car, Billy showed the key to his brother Sam, who was one year older than him. Beside them, their teenage brother Charlie was playing with the PlayStation Portable he got for his birthday.
"Where'd you get that?" asked Sam.
"I took it from Santa," whispered Billy.
"You shouldn't steal!"
"Why not?" asked Billy. "Dad steals from work." Sam pondered this and said nothing. As they drove off, Santa ran out of the shopping centre and waved his fists at them.
"The little bastard nicked my sleigh key," Santa said, sucking on a cigarette. "What the hell are we going to do now? It's only two days till Christmas."
"I might be able to hotwire the sleigh," suggested Rumpling the elf, who was the head sleigh mechanic and accompanied Santa every time he travelled. "Then we can chase after them and get the key back. Do you know where they went?"
"He said he was from Holford," replied St. Nick.
"Never heard of it," stated his companion.
"Oh well, I'll just Google it."
Two hours later, having found a map of the area around Leeds and Holford, Rumpling was rummaging through the electronics of the sleigh. One might wonder why a reindeer-powered sleigh would need a key or electronics, but this is the 21st Century. Animal-powered flight has been revolutionised by steering guidance systems, flight stabilisers, GPS navigation and things of that nature. There is also security to think about. In fact, Santa had recently purchased a brand new sleigh security system.
"OK, that should just about do it." Rumpling twisted two freshly stripped wires together, and with a magical sparkle in the air the sleigh hummed to life. "The steering might be a bit shaky, but it should hold up fine for now."
"Brilliant, Rumpling!" exclaimed Santa. "This is why I promoted you to head sleigh mechanic!"
They gathered the reindeer, mounted the sleigh, and with a jolly "ho ho ho!" rode off into the sky.
That afternoon, Billy and Sam got their snowboarding gear and headed down the street. The Mayor of the tiny village of Holford had recently decided to have a half pipe installed, and Billy and Sam, despite their age, were able snowboarders. As they approached they could hear, and shortly afterwards see, Charlie and his friends on the half pipe, doing 360s high in the air.
"Get lost, you two!" called Charlie, before Billy and Sam had even reached the half pipe.
"I said piss off!" Sam sighed as they realised they couldn't win, and they started to walk off. They dumped their snowboards on the side of the road. In a small town like this, nobody would steal them.
"I guess this is it," said Rumpling as Santa guided the sleigh down toward the village of Holford. It was an odd village, in some ways. It had a population of only about two hundred, yet it had been chosen as the site for several large office buildings, including the new head office of the H2G2 Corporation. This had, in fact, boosted the population to about 250.
"Marvellous! We made it. You were right about the steering though. It is shaky." Suddenly a hiss was heard, and steam started to shoot from under the bonnet. The reindeer grunted as the steering guidance system malfunctioned and messed with their movement. "Shit!" yelled Santa. "I can't steer!" Rumpling, despite being an expert sleigh mechanic, was not good in an emergency and simply shut his eyes and whimpered.
Billy's dad, having been called back to work soon after getting back from Leeds, gazed out the window of his office, situated in the village's tallest building. This was located very close to the H2G2 building, and his window afforded him a brilliant view of it. He thought it was a brilliant piece of architecture, shaped like a giant letter H. However, today his gaze was caught not by the giant letter H, but by something red on the distance, flying through the air. As it approached, he was surprised to see that it was six reindeer erratically pulling a red sleigh. He was even more surprised when this sleigh plowed into the H2G2 office building.
Despite everyone's post-9/11 expectations, not much damage was caused to the sleigh or the building. The point of impact was the middle section joining the two halves of the giant H. This joining section was quite strong and did not take much damage. It also did not support the structure in any way, and therefore did not pose a threat to the safety of the building. Once the building's handymen examined the damage, they declared the building safe and work resumed as normal.
It was in fact a fairly minor crash, and drew little attention simply because hardly anyone noticed it. Santa would quickly hide the sleigh before the smoke cleared. Billy and Sam heard it, but by the time they got there, there was nothing much to see and they quickly lost interest and left. The police would later be absolutely baffled as to what had caused the damage, and put it down to a gas explosion.
The crash was, however, sufficient to further damage the sleigh's systems. One system it did not damage was the new security system, which detected the impact and automatically put the sleigh into lockdown.
It was fortunate that, along with the security system, Santa had also had several safety measures installed. In his old age he felt this increasingly important. One such feature was ejector seats with built-in parachutes, which had proven very useful as the magical sleigh plummeted towards the H2G2 building.
"Ugh," grunted Santa as he heaved his aching frame off the ground.
"I think I broke my leg," moaned Rumpling.
Santa thought fast, and despite his bruises from the unskilful parachute landing, dashed off to drag the sleigh somewhere out of sight.
"What should we do now?" asked a bored Billy.
"I dunno. Hey," Sam said suddenly, "what did you do with that key?"
"I got bored of it and threw it on top of a truck," replied Billy. But Sam, known for his short attention span, didn't hear this, as he was busy grabbing some snow from the ground.
"Snowball fight!" he yelled and threw the freshly formed snowball at Billy.
They ran laughing down to the park, which was regarded as the best location for a snowball fight.
In a quiet spot behind some nearby igloos, they examined the sleigh. After a quick check by the still sore Rumpling, it became apparent that the security system had the sleigh's other systems in total lockdown, and could not be unlocked without the key. Any attempt to disable the security was met with a painful 20,000-volt zap from the system's automatic theft deterring device.
"So we need the key?" asked Santa.
"Yeah," replied the elf. "The crash tripped the system, and it's impossible to unlock it without the key. We can't even call for help, the communication system has been disabled too. And the North Pole doesn't have telephones."
"I knew I should have gotten a satellite phone for the workshop. So we need the key or we're screwed."
"And the kid, Billy, has the key."
Santa paused. "So, why wasn't the security system tripped by you hotwiring the sleigh back in Leeds?" he asked, confused.
"Because you bought the cheapest security system you could find."
"Let's go find Billy," Santa said quickly.
In the park, just down the road from the half pipe, Billy and Sam were frantically making snowballs flinging them across the park at each other. The park provided plenty of places to hide and ambush opponents with barrages of snowballs. Unbeknownst to Billy, Sam had built up a large pile of snowballs and was ready for an attack. Santa, hearing them laughing, had made his way to the park. He peered over and saw Billy making a snowball near the road.
At the same time, a trucker named Rob drove his truck along that same road. He had just been delivering the last of the office furniture to the new H2G2 building, a job which had been delayed slightly by the mysterious crash half an hour previously. As he drove, he ran over two snowboards that had been left on the road. Hearing the wheels snap the boards, he looked around to the left.
Billy, being unexpectedly hit by one of Sam's snowballs, stepped back onto the road. He grinned and started to throw a snowball.
Suddenly Santa called out "Billy! What did you do with my key?"
Billy paused and looked over at Santa, surprised. "I don't have it any more," he said.
In his truck, Rob turned his eyes back to the road, to see a small boy standing on the road ten metres ahead. He stomped down the brakes, which simply caused the wheels to lock up, and the truck slid along the icy road. He slammed his palm on the horn.
"BILLY!" screamed Sam as he ran towards his brother.
Billy was barely able to react before he was taken under the truck. As the ten-wheeler passed over him and finally skidded to a halt, Billy lay on the ground, motionless. A pool of blood spread across the road.
Sam knelt beside his brother and wailed and sobbed. Charlie, hearing the commotion, stepped onto the road, saw the scene, yelled and ran towards them. Rob stepped out from his truck, grabbed his mobile phone and called an ambulance, trying to stay calm as tears ran down his face and a terrible feeling wrenched his gut. Santa looked around, then made himself scarce.
That night, Billy's family stood in Leeds hospital, as a grim-faced doctor gave them the news. They had waited for hours as skilled surgeons did their best to save Billy. Tear-soaked tissues littered the seats around them.
"Billy is alive and in a stable condition," the doctor said. "He is, however, in a deep coma. We did all we could, but due to high levels of brain trauma there is a high chance that he will spend the rest of his life in a vegetative state."
Meanwhile, in an old unused house Rumpling had broken into while Santa had been looking for Billy, Santa gave Rumpling the news.
"Billy didn't have the key. I don't know where it is."
Billy's mum looked at the doctor in horror. "Veget-" she burst into tears and cried on her husband's shoulder.
Rumpling looked at Santa in horror. "But how will we get home? How will we deliver the presents?!"
Santa sighed and said, "I think we'd better start applying for jobs at supermarkets."
Two days later, on Christmas morning, Sam came down the stairs. He had spent the majority of the previous day lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He had barely responded when his dad tried to talk to him. The whole family was in shock, but Sam was the most traumatised. He had seen his brother go under the stuck, had kneeled in his blood, looked into his lifeless eyes. His current technique of dealing with it was to block out the whole world. He did not know how he would be able to visit his still comatose brother - he could not bear to think of it.
But this morning, a small part of his mind told him that Billy would want him to enjoy Christmas, the one occasion they had been excited about since the first snowflakes had fallen on Holford. He remembered them counting down the days, happily helping their parents put up the elaborate Christmas tree in the living room, trying to guess what Santa would bring them, but it all seemed so long ago now.
As he walked into the room he saw his parents standing by the tree, with the same expression on their faces he would soon have: one of confusion. His first full sentence for days was one uttered by children across the world that day: "Where are the presents?"
His dad sighed and turned around. "I don't know, son. I don't know."
That afternoon at the Leeds truck depot, Rob cleaned his truck for the last time. He couldn't keep driving it. Not after what happened. Snow cascaded to the ground as he brushed it off the cab. He did not notice the glinting, golden key as it tumbled into the gutter and down the drain.