“Hey, kid, I don't care if you don't get any presents or not, but no matter what you say to Santa Claus, if Mom and Dad don't find out what you want for Christmas, you won't get anything!” With Christmas less than two days away, Joshua was trying to reason with Winston, his younger brother.
But Winston held his hands up, covering his ears. “Nope. Santa Claus is the only one who can handle a list this big. ”
“Hey, Nitwit! . Do you really think you're going to get everything on that list anyway? It must be eight pages long”
“Nine,” Winston snapped.
"What Ever!” Joshua shouted, pulling out his I-phone. After a few flicks and clicks he quoted stridently: “Do you realize that if each child in the world gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set at 2 pounds net weight, Santa’s sleigh would be carrying 321,300 tons, and that’s not counting Santa himself. Conventional reindeer in the Ukraine can pull no more than 300 pounds. So we'd need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Just for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.”
“Oh why don't you just take your facts and go text them to somebody!” Winston snarled.
“.... Just sayin’ “ Joshua taunted back.
It was THE DAY OF. . . Winston had eluded his family's repeated entreaties to please let them know what was on his Christmas list. These now-wrinkled pages were Winston’s most carefully guarded possession. “For Santa's Eyes Only”.
His parents were frustrated to the point of anger. “It would probably teach them all a good lesson if nobody got anything this Christmas.” Winston's father said loudly his mother, in hopes of being overheard by the children.
But now, it was three o'clock, and deployment of The Plan commenced right on schedule. In scripted moves that he had been rehearsing for weeks, Winston jumped into his parka, grabbed the neatly-folded list, threw on his gloves, jammed on his helmet, and stormed out through the kitchen into the garage. Through his head was racing the theme song from “Robot Rangers”, his favorite Saturday morning show. Winston was a card-carrying Robot Ranger. He was well-versed in the techniques and strict training the Rangers used to "Keep the World Rolling by being Ready".
He punched the garage door opener button - he adjusted his helmet as the door rumbled up. Then he pushed the “down” button, meanwhile jumping on his all-terrain bicycle and streaking out of the garage before the door closed, missing his rear fender by fractions of an inch.. His bicycle was a specially modified Robot Rangers Turbo Cycle. It gave him a feeling of independence to be able to ride the half-mile down to the mall whenever he wanted to, without asking his parents or his brother or sister for a ride.
Winston spoke through his imaginary helmet microphone to an imaginary control tower as he shot out the driveway. “Robot Ranger Winston leaving exit hatch for completion of Operation ‘Giftwrap’ Fifteen Hundred Hours - over!”. His first burst of energy propelled him to the top of the hill. Once he had crested the hill, it was time to deploy “Turbo Warp Velocity”. Head down, Winston pedaled as hard as he could downhill to achieve as much speed as his trail bike could safely handle, the bike frame nearly disintegrating from the demands of Turbo-Warp Velocity.
Winston glanced up - INFORMATION OVERLOAD! The first thing he saw was that he was fast approaching a completely blocked road. A stopped truck entirely blocked Winston's downhill lane. A car approaching uphill completely cut off hope to escape to the left. At his present “Turbo-Warp Velocity”, the brakes on his Robot Rangers Trail Bike were incapable of stopping him before he either hit the stalled truck or put himself head-on with the oncoming car.
Snap decision - his adrenaline-pumped system gave him a lucid picture of what must be done. Winston jumped the bike over the shoulder and up the curb - a Robot Ranger was capable of making lightning-fast life-and-death decisions! As Winston began to congratulate himself on his quick thinking, he tried to bring the two-wheeler to a halt. Although the bicycle had hit the ground on both wheels, still Winston lost his balance. Bike and rider slid on their sides to a skidding halt in the muddy brown grass, stopping halfway past the truck’s right side, muddy but intact.
From the uphill vehicle, Winston heard the voice of his next-door neighbor shouting at the truck’s driver “Get that heap off of the road if it doesn't run!” and tromped the accelerator to drive away tires squealing and engine revving. He lay for an instant in the grass. Winston’s jangled eyes focused on the “heap” At first he saw it sideways, then upright, but some of the details were hard to comprehend at first. Winston rose to his feet. The truck was black, and old, very old -- an antiquity. Although it resembled a pickup truck it was like no pickup Winston had ever seen. The headlights stood up on mounts by the front fenders, like an old Model T, and the wheels had spokes. There were running boards under the doors, and the cargo box was made of wood. And the truck was undeniably very heavily loaded; it sat very low on the chassis springs. An old yellowish-brown canvas tarp was carefully tied over the entire load, so Winston could not see what the truck was carrying. As he watched, from the front of the truck, the engine groaned like a tired, very old horse, and then was silent. Under the truck, Winston could see the driver's feet as he got out of the truck.
As the driver walked around the truck, Winston got up, and began brushing himself off. The truck's driver was a large, old man with long, curly, gray, almost white hair. He looked at Winston with eyes almost as gray as his hair. “You OK, kiddo?” the driver asked.
“I’m OK, I didn't hit anything. But, Mister - why did you stop right in the middle of the hill? Nobody ever parks there.” Winston said indignantly.
"So Far to Go...."
“She just quit, and now it sounds like the battery's dead, too.” the old man said. There was a weariness in his voice as he said, almost to himself. “And I've got so far to go...”
Winston knew he had to help this man, however he could. You don’t sit through all those Saturday morning shows without learning the Code of the Robot Rangers. It’s one of the precepts by which a Robot Ranger lives: A man's ride is more important than anything else.
“That makes two of us, Old Timer”, said Winston in his best Robot Ranger's no-nonsense voice. “Let's see if we can get this thing started... Allow me.” Winston swaggered over to the driver's door, and, although he was not old enough to drive, opened the door and climbed up to sit behind the wheel. Each episode of Robot Rangers contained a semi-educational theme, and Winston always used this as a justification for the vast amounts of time he spent watching the show. Each week, Ranger Bob would explain some scientific principles that made things work, usually transportation-related. “Don't smell gas, so she ain't flooded” Winston said, sniffing the air. He turned the ignition key. The engine gave a single shudder. WUH -- and nothing more.
Winston paused, as he remembered Ranger Bob’s imperturbable, calm "airline-pilot voice". Panic is your worst enemy in an emergency. Winston thought back to a segment he had seen about Ranger Bob starting an old farm tractor, trying to remember the steps.
Winston said to the old man. “Maybe we can pop the clutch. It's a perfect setup, an old-timer truck, pointed downhill, and all.” Not certain the plan would work, but with nothing really to lose by trying, Winston clicked the ignition key to the right, then got out of the truck. “Now, hold down the clutch” he told the old man, “and I’ll push from behind. When I say NOW!, you let the clutch go. We’re only going to get one chance at this, so everything’s got to go perfect the first time”
The old man nodded, and his sad gray eyes looked trustingly at Winston. The plan was to force the engine to turn, using the truck’s forward momentum to turn the engine, perhaps to start it running. It had worked on that old tractor for Ranger Bob.
The old man climbed into the truck and pushed the clutch pedal down. Winston got behind the truck, and pushed. Nothing happened. Even pointed downhill, he had to rock the heavily loaded truck back and forth a few times until it finally started to roll forward. The truck gradually picked up speed. Soon, the truck reached a speed faster than Winston could run. That’s when Winston yelled “NOW!”
The truck lurched, a low groan of overworked metal, and an explosive backfire. With a low throaty rumble, the engine roared to life. A cloud of blue smoke formed behind the truck, as it roared down the hill. “WOO HOO!” Winston danced a little high-five dance in the road, then suddenly, his face turning to panic, he slapped the pocket of his jacket, and then began running after the truck, shouting, arms waving. “Hey, wait! My list! It’s on your front seat! Stop!” The truck was already at the bottom of the hill. Winston just stood in the middle of the road. His shoulders sagged as he realized that the black truck was not going to stop. The dull red tail lights receded in the light of the fading Christmas Eve afternoon.
I wrote this story about 10 years ago for a Christmas variety show. I've been re-writing it ever since. Hope you can tune in tomorrow for the second part.