For Gene Autry,
With all due respect.
The anger swelling in Rudolph's heart was the most dangerous kind of anger, born of disappointment in people he had once looked up to, people he wanted to be. He watched the elitism and disdain that had kept him on the outside turn to sycophantic appreciation. He'd suffered so much at their hands, but now that he could be of use, now that they could use the very thing they had so mercilessly ridiculed, now he could join their exclusive little club, their inner sanctum. They were practically begging him. And the old man, the jolly old elf, that gin-reeking tub of guts was the worst of all. The great giver, the kind benevolent saint of charity was an alcoholic, adulterous lout who, nine months out of the year was the living manifestation of
torpor, inert as an iceberg and twice as cold, and the other three months a ruthless, fascist slave-driver with no concern for anything but his inflated reputation. And what of next year? If the weather were clear would they let him ride with them? Would they give him the place of honor at the head of the team? Somehow he doubted it.
The phone rang. He lay motionless on the couch and let the machine get it.
"Rudy, buddy, howyadoin? It's Dash. Look, I'm having a little get-together. Mostly just the guys but I think some babes may be there. Stop by if you get a chance. And hey, great work last night. You're the greatest man, I mean that. Okay, hope to see ya there. Bye..... Did I say this was Dash? Okay buddy, bye."
He didn't move, pressed into the couch beneath a blanket of hatred and disgust.
Dash was one of the worst offenders. When it became obvious that Rudolph was going to be accepted by the team Dash, without missing a beat, had turned his vicious attention on another young buck with a harelip named Otto. During their smoking breaks on some of the rooftops Dash had done impressions of Otto that had caused both lines to laugh so hard the big man had threatened to whip the whole team. Rudolph remained facing front, unable to speak and hating himself for it. It was this same self-loathing that was fueling his present rage, and the knowledge that he would go to the party and try to belong to this group he was quickly coming to hate.
He lay on the couch and wept.
Rudolph arrived at the party high as a kite with his nose a brilliant red. It was an open secret that the whole team frequently used cocaine, but Rudolph was new to the team and new to the drug. They had finished late last night and were stopped over in Iceland for what Donner called, "the old man's once-a-year thing," when Vic had passed Rudolph the small envelope.
"There's plenty where that came from, just don't let the old man see you with it."
As he was leaving for Dash's party he saw the envelope on the coffee table. He picked it up and, thrusting his nose into the white powder inhaled the whole amount. He had never felt so powerful, so limitless, so ready to take on those eight smug, self- important, glorified pack-mules.
Blitzen answered the door of Dash's apartment as high as Rudolph was.
"Whoa, Rudy, turn down the beak man, you're blinding me."
Rudolph's hoof went instinctively to his nose before he realized Blitzen was making a joke. Too often in the past he had heard the same kind of joke thrown at him like a knife, looking for blood.. Now Blitzen was trying to break the ice by admitting, in his own indirect way, that he had taunted Rudolph before as an outsider but would now tease him as a friend. Given time he would come to discover that Blitzen jabbed at everybody as a sign of affection, lacking the tools or the courage to express his feelings in any other way, but for now it only served to remind him of the humiliation he had been forced to endure. Rudolph lowered his hoof as Blitzen shifted his weight nervously.
"Sorry buddy, just a joke. No hard feelings right? Look, you really came through for us last night and that was cool. You are super-cool," he said as he put his arm around Rudolph and gave him a brotherly squeeze. Rudolph broke from the embrace silently and moved into the party.
Throughout the evening wherever he went, whatever cluster he approached, the circle was immediately enlarged to include him. They listened when he spoke and laughed at his jokes. Women looked into his eyes and held his gaze, some even declining their head and staring at him in a way he was unaccustomed to. In short, he was a celebrity. He had finally gained access to this social circle and done so in such a resounding way he felt as though he was not only lighter that air, he was air, the stuff of life and inspiration. He was in their lungs, in their blood and brains. He had become them.
He was off in the dark corner of a dark room with a young Doe named Dondi when he heard laughter coming from somewhere in the apartment. He thought at first the laughter was directed at him, having so often been the victim of it, but it soon became obvious that a group had formed in one of the front rooms and was laughing at something out there. Dondi tried to pull him back into her embrace. He looked at her, her eyes large and soft in the dull red glow of his nose, her eyes an invitation to the dance, and yet the laughter drew him away from the warmth of her breath. He stumbled through the dark hallway and out into the larger room where most of the group had gathered to watch Dash, standing in the center of the room doing a cruel imitation of Otto, the harelip reindeer. When Rudolph entered the room Dash glanced in his direction and winked but didn't stop the show. To Rudolph it was the clearest signal yet that he had become a member of the group. He had a sudden impulse to vomit. Here was Dash mocking poor Otto in the same way he must have mocked Rudolph at countless parties before. And Rudolph was expected to join in, to laugh along with the group as though he hadn't once been victim to its derision, as though a lifetime of scorn could be forgiven with a nose full of fine Blue Flake and the warm and willing arms of Dondi . There came a howling Rudolph thought was the frozen Arctic wind, but when the room became silent and shifted its attention away from Dash, Rudolph realized the howling was coming from himself. The silence stretched tight across the room like the head of a drum while Rudolph looked from face to face searching for a ounce of shame, embarrassment even, but finding none. Then the laughter started, slowly at first, like a dribbling faucet, nervous and unsure. Building in intensity and confidence, the room was soon stuffed and overflowing with it, pressing on Rudolph like the jaws of a vice. He made a move for the door but was stopped by a hoof on his shoulder.
"Where ya' going Rudy," Prancer said.
Rudolph shook his hoof loose.
"Fuck off Prancer," he said, and shot out into the black-ice Arctic night.
Rudolph wandered with no destination for the better part of an hour, his tears falling in frozen shards and crushed beneath his hooves while his mind tried to free itself from the effects of the alcohol and cocaine. The cocaine made his synapses fire at a much faster rate but the alcohol served to cloud and misdirect them. By the time he arrived at Santa's a course of action had cemented itself in his mind he was powerless to redirect. He slipped silently into the workshop and moved to the large mahogany case on the far wall. He opened it quietly and pulled down the Remington 20 gauge, single barrel pump-action shotgun. With great care he loaded the six shells into the magazine and put six more in the pouch around his neck. He would start with the jolly old elf and then, when they were sure to have partied themselves out, he would go back to Dash's place and visit the herd. He pumped the gun to load the first shell.
He'd go down in history all right. Yeah, he would.