Flash forward to Christmas Day:
“I said I was sorry,” Ambush Bug says. “What more do you want?”
“Sorry? Sorry?!” Santa is livid. “15,396 reported kidnappings in one night… ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t cover that.”
Ambush Bug tugs on his antennae. “You told me no witnesses.”
“You moron,” Mrs. Claus says. “The policy is to try to leave the presents without being seen. That is a very far cry from kidnapping a bunch of children who may or may not have seen you.”
The would-be Santa’s helper looks shame-faced (but just marginally). “OK. So, maybe I did overreact a little. Maybe we are all overreacting a little.”
Santa’s voice is low and even. “Where. Are. The. Children?”
Ambush Bug touches his pointer finger to his lip in thought. “Oh, yeah. They’re all at the castle.”
“What castle?” Santa asks.
“You know. It’s that famous one in Bulgaria,” Ambush Bug says. “Or was it Romania? Whichever one it is, the babysitter said he could make them forget about seeing me.”
A look of horror appears on Sugar-tush’s face. “Do you mean Transylvania?”
“That’s it,” Ambush Bug says. “The babysitter there is apparently a big fan of the Batman; he’s got a cape and everything.”
“You know,” Santa tells his wife, “this looks like a job for…”
Ambush Bug interrupts. “Superman?”
“Not quite,” Santa replies. “I’ve got others in mind for this job.”
“Others? A team? I’m with ya, big guy. Good thinking. I’ll assemble the team. Be right back.” And before anyone can stop him — POP — Ambush Bug is gone.
Santa looks at his wife. He is about to speak when Ambush Bug returns… and he isn’t alone. Santa groans.
Ambush Bug is wearing an army drill sergeant’s uniform over his costume; he snaps to attention. “OK, I’ve assembled the troops. Time for roll call.”
“Give me strength,” Santa whispers.
“This,” Ambush Bug says, indicating a very large and stockily built old woman, “is Granny Goodness. She must be good with kids, because she runs an orphanage, and her last name really is ‘Goodness.'”
The woman’s voice is like gravel on a chalkboard. “Who is this cretinous insect, and where in the name of Darkseid am I?”
Sugar-tush whispers in her husband’s ear, and the color drains from his face. “Send her home,” he says. “Now.”
She taps a small box on her belt, and a portal opens up behind her. “Bah. I need no one to send me anywhere.” She steps through the portal, and it closes behind her with a loud boom.
“She seemed so sweet,” Ambush Bug says with a shrug. “Oh, well. Next, we have Aquacow, just in case we have any rivers to cross. Hey, ain’t that a song?”
“Please, don’t,” Santa begs.
“Aquacow, just in case,
“A big fish bowl covers his face,
“He’s got flippers on his cow feet,
“He’s one tough cow with no tender meat,
“Aquacow, oh Aquacow…”
Ambush bug,” Sugar-tush says, thankfully ending his song. “Please send this poor cartoon cow back to where he came from.”
“Sometimes, I absolutely hate the multiverse,” Santa mutters.
In two POPS, Aquacow is gone, and Ambush Bug returns.
“Where am I?” the third member of Ambush Bug’s team asks in Japanese.
“Ambush Bug,” Santa says. “We need to talk.”
“Hang on, big guy,” Ambush Bug says. “I need to explain something to Sunburst in his native language.” He turns to the Japanese hero. “Wasabi. Fuji Godzilla tsunami kamakazi sushi spring roll chimichanga.”
Everyone (and I do mean everyone) groans except for Ambush Bug.
“OK,” Sunburst says in perfect English. “Make that where am I, and who is this clown?”
Before Santa can respond, Ambush Bug shouts, “Awesome! I can understand Japanese fluently.”
“Does he know that chimichanga is a type of Mexican food?” Sunburst asks.
“You idiot,” Sugar-tush says to Ambush Bug. “Sunburst is speaking English.”
“Cool. I can understand English fluently, too,” he counters.
Santa approaches Sunburst. “I apologize for your abduction at the hands of this moron.”
“Him or the writer?” Sunburst asks.
Santa grins. “Take your pick. They’re both on the fast track to the top of the naughty list; they may even knock my mother-in-law out of the number one spot.”
Sunburst nods. “Serves them right.”
“Actually, Ambush Bug may have had a touch of dumb luck in choosing you as a part of his team,” Santa says. He proceeds to tell sunburst all about the kidnapped children and the Transylvanian castle.
Ever the hero, Sunburst asks, “What can I do to help?”
“I have one more person to recruit for this mission,” Santa says, taking out his cell phone.
“Scott?” Sugar-tush asks.
Santa nods as he searches through his contacts.
“Put him on speaker,” Sugar-tush tells her husband. “I can’t wait to hear this conversation.”
“Hello?” a voice says.
“Hello,” Santa says. “Is this Scott Free?”
“Yes. It is.”
“Scott, this is Santa, and I am in need of a big favor.”
“Sure, Santa. How can I help you?”
Santa takes a deep breath. “Well, Ambush Bug…”
“Sorry,” Scott interrupts. “Wrong number.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Santa pleads. “Just hear me out.”
There is a moment of silence that fills the room. “You’ve got thirty seconds.”
“Do you remember that special present you wanted for Barda a couple years ago?” Sugar-tush adds.
“You’ve got two minutes,” Scott says.
“I need you and your boom tube,” Santa begins. “Ambush Bug kidnapped a bunch of children and dropped them at Count Dracula’s castle for safekeeping.”
“I’m on my way,” Scott says. “Give me a few minutes to change.”
“See you soon,” Santa says as he hangs up.
“You need his boom tube,” Ambush Bug says, giggling.
Five minutes later:
A portal identical to the one Granny Goodness used opens, and Scott Free, clad in his red, yellow, and green costume, steps through. His wife, Big Barda, who is a good foot taller, joins him. Numerous elves gather around the woman and stare up at her blue, gold, and red form-fitting battle armor.
Sugar-tush tries to shoo them away. She ends up resorting to threats.
“OK,” Ambush Bug says. “What’s the plan?”
Flash forward again to Christmas night, Dracula’s castle:
Count Dracula, unaware of what is about to happen, is sitting in his drawing room, one leg draped over the arm of his high-backed leather chair. In one hand, he holds a brandy snifter of Lady Bathory’s O Positive circa 1603. In the other hand is an open copy of the Showcase collection of Sugar and Spike. Suddenly, there is a loud boom as a portal opens, and Santa Claus, four costumed heroes, and a squad of heavily armed polar elves appear in his drawing room.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion?” the Count demands.
“Where are the children, you fiend?” Santa counters.
“Children?” Dracula asks, somewhat confused. “What children?”
“The children Ambush Bug kidnapped and left here for you to babysit,” Santa tells him.
“Mos Craciun,” Dracula says, addressing Santa in Romanian. “Look around. Does it really look like I’ve been babysitting?“
Everyone looks around (except Ambush Bug) and generally agrees that there is no possible way over 15,000 children could have been here recently. Ambush Bug pushes his way to the front.
“Is he another recruit for the rescue mission?” he asks, indicating Dracula.
“No,” Santa says, “he’s the one who has the children.”
“When did he get the children?” Ambush Bug asks.
“When you brought them here,” Santa snaps.
“Could you step back a bit?” Count Dracula asks Sunburst. “You are making me a little uncomfortable.”
“I never brought any children here,” Ambush Bug says.
“But, you said…” Santa begins, and then turns to Dracula. “It looks like we owe you a big apology.”
The Count shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. Actually, I think you might be looking for the castle next door. People often get us confused.”
“Well, I promise to make this up to you,” Santa says. “I’ll tell you what. Next year, I’ll be sure you get a couple pints of vintage AB Negative in your stocking.”
“That would be great,” Dracula says. To the rest of the group he says, “Next time you are in the neighborhood, stop in for… a bite.”
The boom tube opens behind Scott, and the group enters. Once they are gone, Dracula picks up his book and goes back to reading. “These munchkins are hilarious.”
Next door, the scene that just occurred in Dracula’s drawing room repeats itself. When the rescuers step through, they are surprised to see children everywhere. Each child sits at a table eating a bowl of cereal.
“There’s the guy I left the children with,” Ambush Bug says, pointing at the host.
“Good evening,” the odd-looking vampire says, “and welcome to my home. I am your host, Count Chocula.” He calls out to his associates. “Franken Berry, Boo-Berry, Yummy Mummy, Fruit Brute, come and greet our guests.”
And that, dear reader, is how 15,396 children spent Christmas night eating cereal in Transylvania.