Christmas Story 2012 – NAUGHTY

Just whipped this up, because I am sorta crazy like that. Hope you like it. Fresh out of the oven so please forgive any errors.

Naughty

He had only been outside for fifteen minutes but the tears against his cheeks were already frozen. His teeth were chattering and his hands burned from the cold but he refused to go back in. At least he wouldn’t go yet.

Naughty.

He was tired of it.

He was tired of the accusations, of the glares, of being told he was naughty because his mom couldn’t remember who his dad was. Why was that his problem? Why does that make him bad? Oh but they were more than happy to point it out though, weren’t they? It started with the whispers each Christmas when he was little then as he started to get older and his mom had trouble finding a job that stuck or a man that stuck around the whispers got louder, and now that his mom was gone a year, crushed under the weight of the monkey she’d been carrying on her back for so long they weren’t whisperers anymore, they were accusations. His aunt would hush them but she was a widow and to the boy’s family she was just shy of a whore. These were the old guard of the family. The bearers of the family history and all of its dead, which they dragged to every gathering as they huddled together over cold coffee and hot donuts, sometimes whispering, sometimes not, but always talking about how Things Had Changed and how So-and-So would never have stood for this or that, looking ridiculous with their socks and hose piled at their ankles. And they smoked, knowing that his aunt hated smoking, was allergic, but they refused to go outside. The Old Gods – angry and judgmental and pointing with gnarled fingers at the boy to tell him that the future ahead was black for bastards. And did the rest of the family say anything? No, they simply stared at the thick brown carpet or played with cooing babies or talked about football, or groused about this celebrity or that.

Naughty.

He had had enough.

He had been the one to find his mother, slumped forward in the bath, her head submerged and a bottle of pills beside her. He had been the one to try to call her back from the darkness. He had been the one to scream for help in an apartment building that had no ears and no eyes and no mouth. To people who knew nothing of the world outside of their apartments because that was safer. That was easier. But he had been the one to call the police. He had been the one to call Auntie Marie to tell her. And it was he who had to carry forward the knowledge that his mother had died on his thirteenth birthday.

He had had enough.

His Uncle Cort had pointed at him and nodded his head at him to illustrate how the Family Tree was dying and that so was the Nation under a black president and a Godless society.

He had had enough.

The boy stood up on hearing this, smoothed out the corduroy pants he’d worn to his mother’s funeral, the funeral these people had whispered their way through, and he walked slowly over to the group of eight, his family, and he smiled at them, and he looked to his left, where there was a vase that had come from the Old Country, a vase that had been in the family for one hundred and eight years, a vase his Aunt Marge brought to every family gathering because it held the ashes of the great-great-great someone or other’s, and he shot his arm out and in one casual motion he swept the vase and its contents onto the floor and his smiled grew wider.

“Oops.”

Aunt Marge screamed as the vase shattered and Uncle Cort shot up with his fists balled. The boy’s smiled grew wider still. Good. Let’s get this out then. Out in the open. Just as his uncle was about to come at him though his Auntie Marie rushed in to push the boy away and to try to comfort the Great Old Ones but there was no calming them, there was no easing their storm. They all glared at the boy and pointed at him and as he turned from them and grabbed his coat he heard one of them, out of things to say, out of words that would hurt, utter the word Naughty.

Yeah, he was naughty.

He was freezing. He had been out twenty minutes and had heard his aunt calling for him but he had no interest in the holiday anymore, or his family, or any of them but her. She was the only one that had been there for his mother and him. She was the only one that had ever cared. The boy, angry again and happy for its heat, spit into the light snow covering and clenched his chattering teeth. He was just deciding on what he should say when he went back in when he heard a howl from the woods behind his aunt’s house. It didn’t sound like a dog. Or the yowl of a cat. Or anything. Whatever it was, it was different and it gave him something to investigate, and a reason not to go in.

With the snow as light as it was it made it easy to sneak up on the woods and as soon as he made the treeline he quickly made his way forward, knowing these woods very well and able to slice through them with ease. As he went deeper in he saw a red glow and realized that was where the sound was coming from and his anger was replaced by nervousness and fear and he liked it. No. He loved it. In a few more moments he was near enough to see what was happening and when he did he was no longer cold, he was immediately hot because ahead of him came the warmth of a bonfire, the scent of fresh baked cookies, and a feeling of absolutely happiness which he had not felt since he was a little boy. In a small clearing ahead of him was a great red sleigh that glowed red despite its fading paint. There were ornate carvings in the body of the vehicle and the runners that it sat on were black and smoked. He knew immediately what he was looking at but couldn’t believe his eyes. He couldn’t. That didn’t stop him from staying though.

Beside the great sleigh was a tall man that had to be near to eight feet who was very large but had nothing of the belly that people claimed. The great man’s suit glowed in the same way that the sleigh did and the patterns in it seemed to writhe and move as the boy looked at it. The man was bent into the sleigh, one hand on its side and the other holding a long black staff that sizzled against the cold ground. The man was muttering to himself and suddenly he spun around, as if he heard something and the boy fell backwards to see the man’s face. His eyes were wild and glowed the same color as his coat and the sleigh there was a grin on his face that looked half mad. The man leaned forward and his long unkempt beard fell forward and brushed against the ground and as it touched it recoiled and pulled up. The man laughed and stood up straight again, the beard undulating and crawling up to the throat of the coat then slithered down inside. The man turned back to the sleigh and as he did small hands reached up from within and handed him a large brown sack. The man took it with one hand and leaned down into the sleigh and whispered something before grabbing the staff with his free hand and turning back towards the boy. The man threw the sack forward and the toys that the boy had expected to tumble out never came, though the sack did move, it did shift, and from out of it came that scream he had heard before. The boy took another step back just as Santa stepped towards the sack. He took his staff in two hands and held it above the sack and began chanting, shaking the staff every so often as emphasis for certain words. Over and over the boy noticed the word Krumpus come up and every time the word was spoken the howl would ring out again. When Santa was done he turned and threw the staff back towards the sleigh and several small gray hands reached up from inside and grabbed it out of the air and pulled it deep within. Santa turned back and reached into his pockets. From the right pocket came a black rock and from the other came piece of thick, yellowed paper. He leant down and nudged the bag back around to face him with his thick black boot. Once the opening was facing him he thrust his arms inside of it and when he pulled them out the two objects were gone. He stood up again and nodded to himself then stepped back. The bag began to shake and writhe and as it did the light from Santa’s sleigh and coat grew brighter and the boy realized for the first time that the great man cast no shadow.

Santa lifted his arms into the air and put his lips together and whistled tunelessly and as he did a black shape began pulling itself from the sack. It was a small, hunched form which looked as if it had been carved from wood, its body was so gnarled and twisted. Once it was free of the bag it put what must have been its hands onto the ground and it erupted upwards and was suddenly well over six feet tall. Its head looked similar to a wild dog’s and was all teeth, and as if to match its hands were all claws. Santa reached a mittened hand out and caressed the thing’s cheek and then handed it the staff. It took the staff and a dry laugh came from its mouth. The thing bent down and grabbed the sack and as it was standing back up its head snapped to the side and it was suddenly looking at the boy. From its mouth came the most awful sound ever, it was a voice that sounded like television static, only it came out with a word, one word –

“Naughty.”

It was on him in an instant, falling to all fours and leaping to the boy in three bounds and then it roughly snatched him up and lifted him towards its mouth. It stunk of gingerbread and fire. It opened its mouth and its jaw came free and the boy realized it could eat him whole and, glancing down at its pooched belly, it had probably done similar many times before. The boy felt its teeth scrape against his cheeks and couldn’t tell if it was tears or blood that dripped down its throat. Before it could drop him in though he heard a booming voice from far away say what sounded like ‘No’ and the boy was pulled out and dropped to the ground and dragged back to Santa. The boy was let loose at Santa’s feet and the thing growled and dropped to its haunches and tapped the staff on the ground again and again and again, which made the ground hiss in response.

“Get up.” Santa said.

The boy, on all fours, slowly stood up and faced the giant and marveled as he watched the beard pull itself free of the coat and reach forward to stroke his face. Santa loomed over him and he could feel the heat from him but as he spoke there was only the scent of cookies and the feel of cold air.

“Well, it seems you’ve been quite naughty this year Steven. Shame. You had a good run until tonight. Unfortunately, even without you what you did back at your Aunt’s just seeing us, well, that’s a problem. I see you’ve met my son, the Krumpus, well, you and he will get very close soon. You’ll disappear, Steven, disappear, but you won’t be dead, no, you’ll go where the bad children go, and that’s back to my workshop. The Krumpus will take you, inside his belly. And some day, well, some day maybe I will let you go, if I feel you’ve learned your lesson. Well, Merry Christmas…Krumpus…”

Santa looked over at his son and the Krumpus hissed its satisfaction and was on Steven in a moment. And he didn’t know what to say, he had nothing to say, did he, no. There was nothing to say except –

“Ok.”

Santa took pause,

“What? What did you say?”

“I, I said ‘OK.’ There’s nothing else to say, is there? You’re just like them, my family. You don’t KNOW me, you don’t know anything about me. You just judge me based on an incident. That’s what you do, isn’t it, judge people on incidents and you damn them, and you feed them to, to your son. Well, OK. O-KAY!”

And all he felt was rage now, burning in him like a million homes on fire and everything came out then and in his fury he began to cry and that made him madder still. The Krumpus recoiled three steps and hissed and Santa’s brow furrowed. He pulled one of his mittens off and put his hand out and caressed Steven’s cheek and it was the softest hand he had ever felt but it was gone as quickly as it had come and Santa brought it up to his mouth and licked his fingers, which were stained with blood from where the teeth of the Krumpus had cut the boy. He smacked his lips then put his mitten back on and looked at the boy a moment before a great smile bubbled up from beneath his beard and behind that a booming, joyous laugh.

“Well then, Steven. It seems Our game didn’t quite work with you. I am not sure if we’ve had anything call our bluff in, what is it, son, a hundred years at least. Well Steven, son of Gail, I wish you a Merry Christmas and offer you an explanation – This is indeed my son, and for one night a year, this night, he takes on this form to help me in my duties. You see, mine is not to punish the naughty but to reward the good, but there must be the threat of some punishment because that’s what humans seem to respond to, so, well, I bring my son. And my son finds all the naughty people and puts the most terrible fright into them. He doesn’t hurt them, not physically at least, and most change, most see the errors of their ways and they find a happy holiday (I serve many masters, and Christmas is just one night, and there are many people, believe me), but some, well, some are just blackened to the soul and there is little I can do. But I try. There are no bad little boys and girls at my workshop. No. The elves are there, my wonderful elves, and it is a wonderful place of laughter and smiles. Usually. But this night has grown hard on me, and I find little joy in having to punish people. But it is part of my duty, so I do it. I do it. But, well, perhaps you and I can help one another, Steven. Perhaps you can add a little jolly back to this holiday for me and I can add a little fairness to your life. What say you, boy?”

And just speaking, it was amazing, the great man was no longer fierce, was no longer a monster but was a great, jolly man that the boy felt as if he could sit and speak with for years.

“What do you mean?”

“It seems that you’re naughty, or so says your family. Interesting. I seem to recall quite a few scandalous stories about each of them. Curious how easily they forget. Let’s you and I and the Krumpus remind them, shall we? And when our work is done I would like it if you and your aunt would come spend the evening with me and my son and the day with us and our family tomorrow. Sometimes we need to be reminded what this holiday means, and you and your aunt are the people to do it. What say you.”

The boy was silent a moment then a wicked grin blossomed on his lips and he looked from Santa to the Krumpus, then back to Santa. He put his hand up and stroked his chin a moment and then let out a dry laugh and gave his response.

“Naughty.”

Santa let out a deep, rolling laugh and took Steven by one hand and the Krumpus by the other hand and the three of them started the long march back to the house and a party that was about to get a lot more interesting.

12.24.12

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MEEP!

Author: Chris Ringler

Writer, blogger, reviewer, artist, arts and cultural events coordinator, and semi-professional weirdo. Author of a heap of books from horror to fairy tale to kid's.

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