Santa Claus is at his wit’s end. Christmas Eve is less than a day away, and every reindeer at the North Pole is in the infirmary.
“Mrs. Claus,” he says to his wife, “what are we going to do?”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she says as she removes a batch of sugar cookies from one of her many ovens.
“Do what?” Santa asks.
Mrs. Claus hands the hot cookie sheet to an oven-mitt-clad elf named Ernie. “You keep calling me ‘Mrs. Claus,'” she says. “You never call me by my first name.”
Ernie carries the fresh cookies into another room; he smiles at Santa as he passes. Once he is gone, Santa whispers to his wife, “You do know he has been stealing your recipes and selling cookies out of a tree, don’t you?”
Mrs. Claus gives her husband a conspiratorial grin. “Who do you think holds the mortgage on the tree?”
Santa’s eyebrows shoot up, and he points at her. “You?”
She nods. “Now, about my name…”
“Do you even know what your name is?” the currently not-so-jolly old man asks.
“Are you sure you want to dig this hole any deeper?” she asks.
“Hey,” Santa says in his own defense. “I even checked it out on the internet. There are a dozen names listed as your possible first name.”
“And…?” Mrs. Claus asks.
Santa looks nervous. “And, uh, and I’ve decided to give you a pet name. As long as we’ve been married, I should have done this years ago.”
The look she gives him is skeptical, but Mrs. Claus does not speak. She chooses, instead, to wait.
I could call her my Aurora, Santa thinks, because she is beautiful and lights my world. Maybe my Noel, because she is always in my heart. A dozen other such sentiments run through his mind, yet when he opens his mouth to speak, the pet name he blurts out is, “Sugar-tush.”
Mrs. Claus looks at her husband, shakes her head, and mutters. “Mother wanted me to marry that nice inquisitor. ‘He works in the church,’ she said. ‘He has a couple torturers working under him,’ she said. ‘He has a future ahead of him,’ she said. ‘No,’ she said. ‘My daughter wants to marry a glorified delivery man.'”
“That’s why she’s at the top of the naughty list,” Santa reminds her. “Permanently.”
Rather than continue their “discussion,” Sugar-tush changes the subject. “So, what do you think is wrong with the reindeer?”
“I’m not sure,” Santa says. “The vet says it might be aquataopolarosis.”
Sugar-tush shakes her head. “When it comes to the reindeer’s health, I wish you would talk to their doctor and not the vet. Ever since the Yeti wars of 1923, when that moose kicked him in the head, he hasn’t been right.”
Santa nods. “Well, he said he had seen this kind of thing before. Anyway, I still have the problem of no transportation for Christmas Eve.”
Sugar-tush thinks for a couple seconds. “Why don’t you see if you can get a hand from those super-friends of yours?”
Santa mulls the suggestion over for a moment, thinking about the possibilities, and a huge grin appears on his face. The twinkle in his eyes tells his wife that another fight is on the horizon.
“Well,” he says, innocent as a newborn babe, “I suppose I could always ask Zatanna; she’s a sorceress.”
“Wait a minute,” Sugar-tush says. “Isn’t she the dark-haired girl with the tuxedo jacket and fishnet stockings?”
“But… she’s magic,” Santa says.
Sugar-tush puts her hands on her hips. “Yes, and I’ll just bet you would like to experience her tricks firsthand. Choose someone else.”
Santa tugs at his collar, and then offers another suggestion. “Power Girl. She’s strong, she can fly, and she could easily carry the sleigh.”
His wife’s head begins to shake, and her look becomes stern. “She also has the ample bosoms and a peek-a-boo outfit. Not going to happen. Try again.”
“Vixen? She can channel any animal.”
“Former fashion model in a skintight, low-cut jumpsuit with flawless mocha skin? I don’t think so. This is your last chance.”
Santa takes a deep breath. “Wonder Woman?” He doesn’t even have a chance to justify his choice.
“Body of a goddess in a down-to-here, up-to-here patriotic swimsuit? Oh, H to the E to the double-hockey-sticks no!” Sugar-tush says. “Now, we are going to do this my way.”
The old man looks worried. “How… how do you want to do it?”
Sugar-tush looks at you. “We are going to let the readers decide… and if any of you choose someone he’s already mentioned, I’ll make sure even the mere mention of Christmas makes you cry like little girls and wet yourself.”
“How are we going to do this?” Santa asks.
Bad pun in five… four… three… two… one…
“Simple. We open the poll.”
“Well, the results are in,” Sugar-tush says.
Santa looks at the old grandfather clock in the corner. “Wow! Those eight hours passed quickly. Seems like we opened the poll just a couple paragraphs ago. So, who did the readers choose?”
Daniel Swanson of the prestigious Lawrence, Hutch, and Wildcat Trust steps from the shadows, somewhat confused, and hands Mrs. Claus a sealed envelope. “Who’s writing this mess?” he asks.
“Drivtaan,” Santa replies. “He’ll probably end up on the naughty list before this is over.”
Sugar-tush opens the envelope, and then looks at her husband. “Are you kidding me?”
“Is it Wonder Woman?” Santa asks, a bit too hopeful.
“No,” his wife says, “it most certainly is not. After eight hours, there was only one name suggested.”
“Who?” Santa and Dan ask in unison.
“Why are you still here?” Mrs. Claus asks Dan.
“I know Driv well enough to know that things are about to get crazy… well, crazier,” Dan replies.
“The winner is Ambush Bug,” Sugar-tush announces.
“I’m out of here,” Dan says as he steps back into the shadows.
“What reader would choose Ambush Bug, of all people?” Santa asks.
“That would be a guy named Irwin Schwab,” his wife answers.
At the mention of his name, there is a POP of displaced air, and Ambush Bug appears. The Clauses are startled.
“Ambush Bug! What are you doing here?” Santa asks.
“I was the big winner in the Who’s Gonna Help Santa and Save Christmas for All the Little Snot-nosed Sock Monkeys Poll,” he declares.
“That wasn’t what it was called,” Santa tells him.
“You were the only one who nominated anyone, and you chose yourself,” Sugar-tush says. “Why?”
Ambush Bug traces circles in the flour on the kitchen floor with the toe of his costume and puts his hands behind his back. “Well,” he says sheepishly, “I’ve always wanted to be written by Drivtaan, so this is my Christmas present to myself.”
“Another reason to put him on the naughty list,” Santa mutters. “So,” he says louder, “how are we going to do this come Christmas Eve? Do you have enough of your little bugs to get you around the world?”
Ambush Bug’s antennae stand straight up. “You mean you don’t know? I thought your little snitches were everywhere. I’ve been able to teleport without my babies ever since Action Comics issue 563. (*) That’s when I helped Superman out — again. If Supes depends on me so much, helping you should be a piece of cake. Speaking of cake, do you have any? With all of these ovens, surely there is cake around somewhere.” He begins popping from oven to oven, looking for cake.
[(*) Editor’s note: Uh… let me check… hey, he’s right, true believers! See “Black Beauty,” Action Comics #563 (January, 1985) — Droolin’ Doc Quantum.]
“There is no cake,” Sugar-tush tells him. “I do have cookies, though. Would you like a sugar cookie?”
“Would I?” Ambush Bug asks. “Would I? … Would I?”
“Yes, you would,” Santa says, nodding.
“Yes, I would,” Ambush Bug repeats.
Sugar-tush rolls her eyes as she leaves the room. “I’ll get you a couple.”
“Sweet. Hey, bring me a couple extra for my sidekick,” Ambush Bug tells her.
“You have a sidekick?” Santa asks.
“It’s no wonder this whole operation is in the toilet,” Ambush Bug says, shaking his head. “Your informants need to keep you up to date on the important stuff, not worrying if little Betty Bedwetter has ruined another set of silky sheets. Say that fast three times. A set of silky sheets, a set of silky sheets, a set of silky sheets… nope, not as fun as I thought it would be, but I could still do it. In your face, Santa.”
Before Santa can respond, his wife returns with a bag of cookies. Ambush Bug teleports to her side.
“Yummy,” he says as he pulls the bag from her grasp. Ripping the bag open, he stuffs a cookie into his mouth. After chewing a few times, he spits the soggy cookie crumbs back into the back. “Tastes like it was baked in a tree — just like Momma used to buy. Dee-lish. I’ll save some for Cheeks.”
Santa tries — sweet mercy how he tries — to regain control of the situation. “So, uh, Ambush Bug, do you think you can handle the stress of teleporting into millions of homes in one night?”
Ambush Bug appears with a POP at Santa’s side. Putting his arm around Father Christmas, he says, “Piece of cookie, Your Jolliness. What could possibly go wrong?”