This is a short story I wrote this time last year. Bear that in mind when you read it: I wrote it in a different political time. This is story is a fantasy story, so I appreciate there is no chance of any of it ever happening (I did actually get a couple of people telling me the story doesn’t work because it’s not possible!), but I thought it was a cool idea for a story. I’m a bit of a dreamer, at heart.
A Christmas Miracle
For most of the year a small, round table stood in the centre of the Blue Room. Made of the finest mahogany, it sat underneath the two-hundred year old crystal chandelier. Barack lost count of the amount of awestruck gasps he had witnessed over the previous eight years.
With Christmas two days away, the chandelier had been removed in order to make way for a twenty foot high Norwegian pine. This year, Michelle and the girls had insisted on decorating it themselves. In keeping with the decor of the room, Michelle chose a colour scheme of silver and baby blue.
As he stood before the towering Christmas tree, the scent of pine needles filled his senses. He reached out and touched his fingers to the needles; jabs of pain shooting through his hand. Memories of Christmases from another lifetime, when happiness came easily, danced before his eyes.
“Sir, there’s a telephone call on your private line.” He spun around to see his personal assistant, Kiara, standing in the doorway. His cheeks flushed, as he took a moment to recover his thoughts.
“Who is it, Kiara?”
This time, it was she who blushed. “She says her name is Sophia Claus. She . . . ugh . . . she says she needs to you speak about her husband, and that you know who he is.”
“What? That’s a little cryptic. Can’t you get rid of her?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned back to the tree.
“I can’t, sir. I mean, I tried. I hung up the phone and cut off the line, like, twenty times. But she’s still there. She said she can’t go until she’s spoken with you.”
A shiver tickled the president’s spine. Sophia Claus? On the private line? About her husband? No way. A rash of adrenalin spread across his chest. “Okay. Thank you, Kiara. I’ll take it in the Oval Office.”
As he slid into his leather swivel-chair, he took three deep breaths, then hit the loud speaker button on his phone. “Mrs. Claus? It’s Barack here.” A line of sweat formed on his upper lip. There could only be one reason for this phone call.
“Barack? Mr. Obama? Hello, deary. You sound far away. Can you hear me?”
The old woman’s buttery voice reminded him of his Grandma. He smiled as he said, “Yes, I can. What can I do for you, Mrs. Claus?”
“Oh, wonderful. My husband asked me to speak to you. We’re in a bit of a bind. It’s my Fred, you see. The silly man had an accident on the chimney entry practice pad. Truth be told, he’s getting a little old to be shooting himself down chimneys. He could use the front doors, I tell him. But he prefers the traditional approach. Now he’s broken both his legs. He’s completely incapacitated. The most he can do is oversee the elves in the workshops from a wheelchair.”
Barack’s head buzzed as he tried to sort through the barrage of information. He turned and glanced at the Grandfather Clock behind him. The thought of what sat underneath, of the magnitude of this telephone call, sent shockwaves through his body.
“I’m so sorry. I hope he makes a speedy recovery.” Lifting the receiver from its cradle, Barack held the mouthpiece close and said, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
A pause crackled through the airwaves. “Yes, deary, I am. Invoke Operation Rudolph.”
Before he could prevent it, a gasp escaped the president’s mouth. His hands trembled. This was the pinnacle of his career. “Okay. I will need you to give me the password, Ma’am.”
“Of course. The password is sprouts. Good luck, Mr. Obama.”
With that, the line fell silent. Barack stood and faced the Grandfather Clock. Never, in his wildest dreams, did he think he would be the president to push the Rudolph Button.
Every president, when they are sworn in, is told the location of the Rudolph Button. The clock is a replica. It’s made of cheap, light wood: easy to move on your own. As Barack stood before it, searching for a sign of its inauthenticity, he shook his head. This can’t be happening.
Throwing his arms around the clock, he heaved with all his might. He exclaimed as he stumbled backwards. Wow. That was easy. Cream carpet pooled where the clock once stood. You would never guess something so important could be concealed underneath it. Barack crouched down and peeled back the corner. There it is! A square cut into the wooden floor: two inches by three.
Three taps to the bottom, right-hand corner, and the president held his breath. His eyes widened as he watched the wood give way to a scarlet, shining button with the letter ‘R’ engraved above it in diamonds. The force of the movement sent him reeling backwards.
Eyes closed, he pressed the button before he could chicken out. He could only imagine the reactions of his fellow leaders as the Rudolph Alarm sounded in every corner of the world. The next move for him was to gather his own military and political colleagues in the Situation Room. First, though—for the next minute—he had to regain his breath.
“Sir, the switchboard is crazy. Every line is jammed up.” Kiara’s dark ponytail swished as she entered the room. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Yes. Can you patch each line through to the conference call system please? I need to speak with everyone.”
“But there’s at least twenty people on hold. I can’t put them all through.”
Barack exited the room, and said her his shoulder, “Normally . . . no, you couldn’t. But today is no normal day. Today, Kiara, I think you will be surprised at what is possible.”
Every screen in the Situation Room came to life as Barack entered the room. World leaders from Teresa May to Vladimir Putin, and from Angela Merkel to Xi Jinping, sat in squares on the five large wall screens. The Rudolph List had gathered as promptly as he ever thought possible.
As he began to speak, he steepled his fingers in front of him. “Thank you all for responding so quickly. Time is of the essence. I’ve just finished speaking with Mrs. Claus, and they need our help. We have two days to organise our countries’ aircraft. Christmas Eve deliveries must be carried out as usual.”
The room filled with voices muttering. Barack wasn’t clear whether it was excitement at the challenge, or annoyance at the enormity of the task. He scanned each face, and it occurred to him how foolish he had been. These people had one thing in common: a deep-seated hatred of one another. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and rested his hand on the black, leather chair in which he always sat with his government.
“I appreciate this is a tall order, folks. But we all signed up to be part of the Rudolph List. We can’t back out now just because the button has been pushed.” A silence settled in the air. “Okay. Y’all know where your warehouses are. You all have your bombers on standby at this time of year. The warehouses have lists and addresses. For those of you who finish early, check the main computer log—details will be sent in the next ten minutes—and see if you can help anyone. You know what to do.”
One by one, the screens turned black; save for the solitary face of Ash Carter, the president’s Secretary of Defense. The older man cleaned his glasses without looking up. “You sure about this? You really think we can pull it off.”
“We have to pull it off, Ash. Christmas depends on it. We have our B-2s and Lancers ready to go. There’s even the old B-52s waiting for the signal.”
Ashton Carter shook his head, as he placed his spectacles back on his head. This time, he looked Barack in the eye. “Okay. Let’s do it. I’ll notify everyone from my end.”
Barack sat at the head of the empty mahogany table, with his hands behind his head. All he could do now was wait. His part of the deal was done. Whispers of world leaders pushed to their limits clung to the air around him. If this works, it will truly be a Christmas miracle.
As the day moved along, Michelle joined her husband in the conference room. He wasn’t supposed to speak of Operation Rudolph: it was top secret. But, heck, he had spoken to Mrs. Claus: wife of Santa! The farther away he moved from the enormity of the situation, the more filled with wonder he became.
“She sounded like Grandma Madelyn. You remember her voice, right? The way she always sounded like she was smiling. It was incredible, Michelle. I actually spoke to Mrs. Claus.” A grin spread from ear to ear, and he hiccuped with delight.
Once Kiara set up the data for each country on one of the large screens, it surprised Barack how quickly some of the boxes were checked. It helped that there were varying time zones around the world. It meant everyone could pitch in to help others.
The resulting friendliness and goodwill toward previous sworn enemies was a side effect of Santa’s broken legs no one could have foreseen. Barack felt his heart stop for a moment when he saw Putin video high five-ing Petro Poroshenko. Whoever would have thought delivering millions of presents to children at Christmas time could cast such a unifying spell over the world?
At four-thirty EST on Christmas morning, the last presents settled underneath the tree of Jackson McNally in Alaska. The Rudolph spreadsheet lit up, and an animated Santa danced across the screen. Barack glanced at the faces of each world leader. They had all thought this would be an exercise of great stress and pressure.
In fact, it had the opposite effect. Each leader smiled at him, and their smiles stretched all the way to their eyes. Contentment filled the room. When Barack spoke, he stood and steepled his fingers in front of him.
“That’s it: we’ve done it! Every child will receive their presents this Christmas, and it’s all thanks to us. We worked together, as a world at peace. We helped our neighbours, put our own needs aside. I know I am not speaking only for myself when I say the feeling that fills me is one of pride. Folks, let’s build on this pride. We’ve seen what we can achieve when we come together. Let’s not waste this opportunity.”
Barack moved to his end of the table and loosened his tie. “I propose we safeguard the goodwill that is in our hearts today. No more nuclear weapons. No more wars. No more bombs. These evils are not necessary. We have so much more in common than in opposition. Let’s make this world great. All those who are with me, check the final box on your section of the spreadsheet.”
Tension crackled in the air. Some countries took longer than others to reach their decisions. Barack looked at his wife who was stood in the doorway beaming at him.
The final yes came in twenty-three minutes after Barack’s speech. Every country agreed. Lightness washed over the president’s body, lifting him high into the air. Cheers rang out from every screen. World leaders he had known for twenty years looked happier than he had ever seen them.
“This is the best Christmas ever,” he shouted. “Everyone, pour yourself a drink to toast the occasion. Here’s to a Christmas when peace and goodwill has reached every corner of the world. May it last forever!”