Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park just north of Las Vegas in Nevada.

Forest County, Wisconsin Gallery

 

This is where my people come from.

Sheppard AFB, TX Air Show, 1991

I found some old negatives in a box and scanned them. They’re pictures I took with a disposable camera while attending Tech School at Sheppard AFB, TX in the Fall of 1991.

TangoDown

Tango Down: The Last Flight of St. Nicholas

(This is an expanded version of a story I wrote on Twitter today, inspired by this article in the Boston Globe about changes made to NORAD’s popular “Santa Tracker” program.)

The jolly old elf known to many as “Kris Kringle” and to the United States government as “Threat Vector 19″ crossed into American airspace at 0520 Zulu just north of Duluth, Minnesota. A pair of F-22 fighter aircraft silently slid in behind him and maintained station a few hundred meters away. This is new, the Claus thought.

Suddenly invigorated by the presence of high-performance aircraft, he let out a right old laugh as he took the rare chance to perform close-quarter aerobatic maneuvers, thinking the pilots of the fighter craft behind him would relish the opportunity to do the same. It was a fatal error.

Just as the tiny red sleigh completed its barrel roll, the pilot of STARFISH 3 announced to no one in particular, “FOX 1!”

Santa barely evades the AIM-7 Sparrow missile and dives for the ground as the missile’s contrail glistens above him in the moonlight.

Just a few weeks before, the US Government informed Kringle that he had to appear at an FAA facility for inspection of his vehicle and a flight competency test before he would be permitted to fly in US airspace. Always willing to help out the good people at the Federal Aviation Administration, Santa appeared as instructed in his trademark sleigh drawn by eight flying reindeer.

The FAA inspector approached with a clipboard in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Santa was alarmed, but you know, America.

The FAA inspector noticed Santa’s discomfort and smiled as he boarded the magical craft. “Listen, I’m not supposed to tell you this because it’s your test, but,” he nodded his head toward the reindeer,”you’re going to lose an engine in flight.”

It was a joke, but Santa isn’t laughing now as he deftly evades dozens of 20MM rounds zipping all around him. He jukes to and fro in a mad dash for any type of haven from the onslaught, the tracers leaving ghastly after-images in his eyes. The trees whip by in a blur as he increases speed, but Kringle’s mind recalls a fact heretofore never needed: these aircraft are ungainly at low-altitude and low-speed. Santa promptly pulls-back on the reigns, decelerating so rapidly the inertial dampeners can barely compensate. A quick check of his magic sack reveals none of his precious cargo has been lost as the F-22s speed overhead and quickly pass out of sight in a matter of seconds.

The old Saint removes his cap and wipes his brow. He chuckles to himself at the near escape from almost certain doom, but unbeknownst to him a Global Hawk UAV has been monitoring his movements from 60,000 feet overhead and relaying them back to NORAD. Even now, as Kringle speaks comforting words to his frightened reindeer, electronic signals are forming an invisible net around the elf from which there will be no escape.

With a wry smile, Claus snaps the reigns and begins to rise once again into the night just as a pair of Apache helicopters appear above the tree line, their cannon trained directly upon his sleigh. Santa looks over his shoulder to see another pair of Apache approaching from behind. Above, he can barely make out the silhouettes of two armed Predator drones circling overhead.

He briefly considers making another run for it before spying a black cross slowly diving toward him. Kringle’s blood runs cold. It’s an A-10, the same beast that had taken out Jack Frost years before on Alaska’s North Slope. The gig was up.

The pilot of the Apache directly in front of Claus signals him to land immediately as a long line of black SUVs approach. They encircle the sleigh as Claus descends to the ground. Men in cheap suits empty from the vehicles by the dozen, guns drawn just as Santa touches down.

Kringle holds up his hands, but Comet, sensing danger, bolts and makes a run for the treeline. He staggers and falls as his body is riddled with hundreds of bullets. The muzzle flashes from the massive array of small arms fire form a constellation of death in the dark night. With a gargling moan, Comet breathes his last.

An enraged Prancer charges a group of agents directly in front of him and manages to connect head-on with one of the anonymous men as small arms fire again erupts in the night. Though mere inches away from a withering barrage of gunfire, Prancer is a credit to his name as he spins to and fro, kicking here and there with his massive hooves. Viscera hangs from his antlers and human bones crush beneath his bulk during his mad dance of death. A direct shot to the head finally fells the great beast, whose momentum allows him to crush one more suited figure beneath him before he, too, expires. In all, half a dozen men lay dead or dying in a circle around the reindeer.

An inconsolable Santa tries to make a run for it, but without the extra lifting power of Prancer and Comet, he can’t achieve take-off speed. Agents board his sleigh and forcibly toss him from the still-moving craft. As Kringle lands on the ground, he rolls and comes to a stop. He looks up to find a dozen guns pointed at his head.

The government agents, inexplicably wearing aviator-style sunglasses even in the dead of night, strip Claus of his famous red suit and cap, leaving him shivering in just an undershirt and boxers in the snow. He’s handcuffed by an agitated agent who makes sure to tighten the cuffs real tight, restricting blood flow to Santa’s hands. Numb from the cold and likely in shock, Santa doesn’t notice. He winces as a boot hits him square in the back and plants him face first into the snow. The agent grabs the jolly old elf by his magnificent white mane of hair and drags him to one of the waiting SUVs.

Through his tears, Kringle sees his magical reindeer punched, kicked, and rifle-butted, their moans of agony piercing the silent night. It’s the last thing he sees before a black hood envelops his head.

As the black line of SUVs snakes off into the night, they leave behind a scene of utter horror. All that remains are a few tufts of fur and chunks of meat in massive pools of maroon blood against the purest white snow. By morning, the wolves and other carrion will have removed the remaining evidence of slaughter, leaving only the blood behind as silent witness.

Santa is never seen nor heard from again. Rudolph, it is rumored, is an unwilling test subject of the Department of Energy at a secret facility in Utah.

After drone strikes destroy Santa’s workshop, Mrs. Claus and the surviving elves seek asylum in Norway, only to be rebuffed at the last second. At the moment, they are all living in a dacha as guests of the Russian government. Some say they’ve converted to Orthodox Christianity, though many believe it’s just Putin making stuff up again.

The sudden disappearance of Santa Claus causes widespread distress, but American corporations soon fill the void with their own mascots, working in concert with other brands to create synergy.

Coca-Cola’s Polar Bear® Brought to You with Limited Interruption by FedEx Air® is currently the most popular of the bunch, though Nike’s Lebron James in the Just Do It™ Sled Sponsored by Foot Locker is gaining influence out West.

The Waffle House’s “American Jesus” remains a mainstay of the South, even though he was a short-lived promotional tool to celebrate Labor Day.

Tim Horton is popular in Portland.

I’ll now end this tale and leave you with the inspiring words of the Macy’s Holiday Savings Elf®, beloved by children aged 4-8 in desirable demographic households with at least one college-educated parent: Festive Celebration to All and to All a Good Night™ (All Rights Reserved)!

(Sleep tight, America, your nation’s armed forces are awake.)

A Personal Fantasia

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