Dancing In Their Heads

Consider this a late Christmas gift. It is rough around the edges and unedited, but there’s a little coal within, as well as a small gift, it’s up to you to decide which is which. 

 

“You’re not the REAL Santa, you know.”

“Oh, is that the case?” The man with the long white beard pushed the fur trimmed read hat further up on his head and turned away from the mall’s window and towards the little girl speaking to him.

“Yup! You’re a fake. A, a, a ‘poster!”

The old man laughed.

“Well then, it seems you have me pegged, don’t you, little lady? Well then, so who do you suppose I am if I am not Saint Nick?” The man had bent down and had his hands on his knees as he spoke to the little girl in the blue jeans, t-shirt, and cowboy hat.

“You’re some, oh, I dunno, some guy name Mack, or Joe, or Bub. You’re just a, uh, you know fella, an employee. You just work here. You aren’t the real thing.”

“Well little girl, why can’t I work in a store like this one? Or the one across the street, or anywhere in the world? Why can’t I?”

“Mister, that’d be IMPASTA-BOWL! He can’t be everyone at once. He can’t do this job AND make toys and all that. He just can’t. And besides, you just don’t even LOOK like him!”

The old man laughed and stood up straight as a bell chimed in the distance.

Continue reading “Dancing In Their Heads”

I Believe – Christmas Story 2013

Every year I try to write a Halloween and Christmas story. Here is this year’s story.

Enjoy, dear reader.

I Believe

We are taught even as children that magic isn’t real. That the world is made up of math, and science, and reason, and there are no gray areas and no shadows where magic can hide. I never questioned this, never once until I was seventeen years old. Then everything changed for me.

I believe in magic. I believe in the unknown. I believe in Santa Claus. Against reason, against common sense and against everything that the world would tell you I believe. I believe because I have seen past the veil of Reason and know that the shadows between the sciences are very deep and that even in the smallest places there lie things that will never and can never be explained by something as simple as words. Reason is a lie we tell ourselves to keep away those dark, magic places in the world thinking they are full of terrible things and not realizing that the only dangerous things in the dark are the ones that we bring with us.

When I met my husband he had been Father Christmas for over three hundred years. I met him when I was but a girl of eight who had been too curious and too bold and had snuck into the common room at the orphanage and saw him as he was delivering presents. I watched him, fascinated, for ten minutes as he fumbled about the room taking the presents that had been donated to the orphanage and put out by our caretakers and was putting them into his large red sack and then pulling other presents out of the bag to replace them. I didn’t understand what he was doing. It didn’t make sense. He even emptied the stockings one by one into his bag and then refilled them. When he was done he took stepped away from the Christmas tree and surveyed everything. He stood there for another five minutes after he was done, just looking things over and I didn’t understand what he was doing until I saw he was shaking and heard him making strange noises so I got out from my hiding spot and snuck up to him. As I approached him I could smell peppermint, gingerbread, and other sweet smells and he gave off so much warmth I started to sweat. Just being near him made me vibrate and smile and made me feel as if it was my birthday. I smiled. He was real. He was REAL! I was so caught up in how real he was though that I forgot that he was sobbing, that warm feeling left and I felt my stomach fill with lead. Without thinking I reached out and grabbed his mittened hand and squeezed it. Santa spun around, startled, and looked down at me and forced a smile. It was hard to look at him because of his eyes, which were a bright, deep blue and it wasn’t that they hurt to look at but the opposite – there was too much happiness in those eyes. Just looking at him brought every good memory and feeling I had ever had rushing in at once and it took my breath away but it all felt like a lie because while it made me feel good he was crying, crying, crying and I had to look away. I had to. This time it was he that squeezed my hand as he bent down to whisper to me.

“I am sorry little one. I am so sorry. It’s just that I am so lonely. They’re gone you see, they’re all gone and I’m so very lonely now. I…I’m sorry. Merry Christmas”

Santa stood up and turned away from me and wiped at his eyes and looked back at the tree and then was gone. The next morning when everyone opened their presents the kids were all excited and happy but the adults couldn’t figure out what had happened to the presents they had wrapped for everyone. I never told any of them about what happened that night but the feeling of seeing him never left me nor did the sadness that I was left with after he was gone.

The next time I saw Santa I was seventeen and I haven’t left his side since that day, and that was seventy years ago. It wasn’t love, no, it was escape that I was looking for at first but it became love. I was in hell, and I don’t say that lightly. I. Was. In. Hell. And when I saw him again it was Christmas night and my face was swollen and bleeding and I thought my jaw was broken from another romantic night with my boyfriend. I was crying underneath a broken Christmas tree in my boyfriend’s apartment while he was passed out drunk in the bedroom. I was half asleep when Santa found me and woke me. As soon as I opened my eyes I felt safe, I felt home, and he smiled down at me and took my hand and in another instant we were gone and back in the North Pole and I have been here since.

It wasn’t love. It was survival. But it became love.

I am not sure why or how he found me that night but I am glad he did. I am alive because he did. I think it was my loneliness. I think my loneliness called to him like a beacon in the dark and he found me. When I arrived he dropped me at a large, old fashioned barn where he told me his elves lived and worked and that they’d look after me and then he was gone again. I looked over to the barn and saw his elves, little men in long, ornate gowns and stocking caps. By this time there were only five elves left and they were all sweet old men who were frail and spoke not a word of English and none of them was taller than three feet. I couldn’t figure out how it was possible that they were the ones running Santa’s village or making the world’s toys. It just didn’t seem possible no matter what sort of magic Santa had at his disposal. It was only when I met Mrs. Claus that the truth became clear as to who made sure that Santa’s village and Santa stayed on track. Doreen had seen me touring the village with the elves and had come out to meet me. Her eyes weren’t as warm as Santa’s but her smile was genuine and her embrace was warm and even though she couldn’t have been bigger than five feet her personality was bigger than anyone’s I had ever met. I wasn’t the first child he had brought home, she told me, and definitely not the first girl. I didn’t like the way she said that but she smiled up at me and reached up and patted my cheek and told me it wasn’t anything like that at all. He brought in strays out of the cold and tried to find a place in the world for them. And that’s what she called us, we who Santa had found over the years, strays. Doreen excused the elves, who were happy to be able to go back to their home to rest, and she walked me towards a small cottage she said was where she lived and told me it was time to show me the Claus home. The home was lit with sparkling lights that ran the length and breadth of the roof and then slid down the sides, though I saw no cords to connect them. There was a small chimney where smoke rose from and every window had a candle in it. It looked like it was out of a storybook. It was so bright, so warm, and so inviting that I couldn’t stop smiling. Inside I discovered it was much bigger than it seemed, featuring room upon room beds, and storage, and toys, and letters, and trees, and ornate storage trunks of all sizes. It took everything I had to stop myself from running room to room to look for candy and presents like a kid. Doreen lead me into a sitting room and she ushered me to an overstuffed leather chair and sat me down and poured me a cup of hot cocoa.

Doreen was not Santa’s first wife, but then, he wasn’t the first Santa, two things he didn’t know, or didn’t recall, and could never ever find out. She smiled sadly at me. There must have been a first Santa, once upon a time, though she couldn’t say she knew when he had first appeared and where he had come from. She only knew that her husband wasn’t the first by some of the things he would say and dates he’d mention which she traced back to the late 1600s. There were also trinkets throughout the house which traced back well before the 1600s. There was much she didn’t know but she did know she was not his first wife because the wives, as of his third, had left diaries hidden for the next in line to find and add to that told the story of that woman and the story of how they got to the North Pole. It was the only way Doreen knew much of what she did. The rest she would pick up from things Santa would blurt out or half-remember but those moments of remembrance were few and far between now. He would call the elves the wrong name, would forget the time of day, and would sometimes forget to bathe. And on the big things she would guide him towards the correct answer – the day, eating and hygiene, and to keep him on task, but never, never had she corrected him on the smaller things, nor would she ever. Some things, she told me, we just need to do. Not because we want to do them but because someone else needs us to. We lie, she said, because the lie is sometimes protecting someone else and sometimes it is protection against ourselves. She patted my arm and looked deep into the cup before her and wiped away a tear before continuing.

“I didn’t ask for this life, but then, I didn’t ask for the life I had before either and this is a far sight better than that ‘un, let me assure you. It isn’t about what we are given dear, it’s about what we do with what we are given. That man, that man out there tonight matters. He matters more than you and I can imagine, and he didn’t ask to be what he is either but he does what is expected. What was asked. What was needed. And that’s what matters. This was once a night of not love but punishment, of rewarding some and punishing others and he changed that. He made this a night about love, and the magic of love, and he was the first of his kind to do that. And that matters. We matter. We are the last remnants of a world of wonder and magic and we are its last protectors. And this matters. And sometimes, sometimes in order to protect this world we lie. But when I came here I didn’t just find a life here, I found magic, and that is worth any lie in the world.”

Lying, she told me, was sometimes the only thing that kept magic safe.

Doreen was shaking as she said all of this, tears in her eyes, but she took a deep breath, forced a smile and settled back into her own chair, a modern recliner with an afghan draped over the back and looked out the window and began to tell me what she knew. The elves I had met were the last of their tribe. The last of all the elf tribes. Something had happened to their race years, and years, and years ago. A sickness had spread through them, a sickness from the air, from the water, and from the earth, a sickness brought by Man and His machines. It had taken generations but it had wiped out all but these last five, who were all dying, and there was no cure. The elves understood their fate and did what they could to help Doreen and Santa but now she just wanted to make them as comfortable as she could before it was their time to go. Santa did not know this. Santa could never know. When the last elf finally died the large workshop and communal home they had all shared would be locked and when he asked about them Santa would be told they were too busy working to be bothered and Santa would laugh and say they were always working and then yell out a booming hello to them and that would be that. Doreen started to cry again and bowed her head as she told me that those cold wastes beyond the village had become a giant graveyard with a lot of graves and a lot of friends buried in them. Through everything she said to me I didn’t say a word, though a million questions were swirling in my head. I just listened. Doreen took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her eyes and looked up at me and she stood and was suddenly Mrs. Santa again and she took my hands.

“This is a lot, I know. It’s all a lot. You feel like you’re swimming through marshmallow right now I’ll bet. Believe me I know. In all of this though don’t forget that there’s a reason that I stayed, that we all stayed – that same feeling you feel now, of being safe, and happy, and home. That’s part of the deal too. And it never goes away while you are here. But, if you’re like me there’s a question that is gnawing at you – You want to know about the toys, I’ll bet, and how they get made. Let me show you.” She gave me a smile that spread from her eyes downward and walked to the back of the house and I rose and followed. She led me out the back door of the house and it wasn’t cold despite the snow.

“Fake snow,” She told me.

“I am too old for all this damn cold so I brought in fake snow. Don’t tell anyone.” She turned back and gave me a quick wink then was all business again.

Doreen walked to a place a few hundred feet from the cottage and I could see that the snow here was disturbed and watched as she bent painfully down and reached into the whitish gray depths. She grabbed onto something and pulled and pulled and slowly rose and as she rose a trap door in the ground was revealed and once it was up high enough she motioned me to come forward and what I saw took my breath. Down a glowing red escalator was an underground warehouse that was lit up by a bright green light from a source I couldn’t see and there were shelves upon shelves upon shelves of brand new toys. I gasped.

“This is Christmas. This is the biggest lie of them all. I have an elevator in the back that will bring things up and I have a way to load the things into his sleigh and I have been doing this for about fifteen years now. When the sickness hit the elves and the toy production went down I knew I had to think of something to save him.”

“Save him?” I asked.

“Yes, save him. They don’t need Christmas anymore, the people of the world. None of them. At least they think they don’t need Christmas. But what they don’t see is that it isn’t about the day, the holiday, or the religion but the magic. That is what this is about – magic. It’s dying in the world and Christmas is one of the last embers of it that still exists. We need magic. Need it, but we don’t know we do. But Santa knows, and he has always known. He knows because he needs it. He needs it desperately. Without the holiday, without the magic he is nothing and without him the last hopes of magic ever returning start to fade away. The world needs as much magic as we can give it, and Christmas, and some other days, and places, and times, and things are part of the last defense it has. We are the only defense he has. And we have to protect this man and this day no matter what the cost.”

“We…?”

Doreen smiled sadly at me and coughed.

“Welcome to the family, my dear.”

And that was the beginning.

I am his eighth wife. He doesn’t know this. He’ll never know this. I am just Mrs. Claus. It didn’t begin that way and I never thought it would become that but I suppose Doreen knew all along. Doreen lived another eleven years after I first met her and in that time she became the mother I never knew, though I can say that he never became a father to me. He was and is still just Santa. He was barely around those eleven years, always off tinkering in his workshop or helping out on what he called ‘other projects’ away from the North Pole. Sometimes we wouldn’t see him for days. To this day I don’t know what he does when he isn’t around and I don’t want to know. I hold enough secrets. I don’t want anymore. Every time I saw him though it was like meeting him for the first time all over again. Doreen would remind him of my name, and who I was and he’d smile awkwardly and laugh and tell us he was just kidding, that of course he knew who I was, and then he’d ask Doreen for some cocoa.

And that was life.

I lived with the elves in their barn home those first few years and took care of them as they died one by one. It was wonderful living with them because even in their illness they would whistle, and sing songs in their tongue, and would make me the most beautiful dresses and toys and leave them wrapped on my bed. We found a way to communicate and I will always cherish the time I had with them. But within those first five years I was in the village all of them were gone and when the last of them went Doreen had me move into the house with her and Santa and we locked the Elf home and we buried the bodies way out in the snow and he never asked about them after that. Not once. He would look over at their barn and would stop for a moment as he looked but then he’d move on to another destination, a little slower than before, and with his head down, but moving on. It was like he forgot about them, and I guess maybe he did, though I think deep down he knew they were gone, felt them gone, but just wasn’t able to pull himself out of the auto-pilot he’d been stuck in for so many years. You could feel their absence though and with their passing a little more magic was gone from the world. Over time I started to see things as Doreen did and the longer I was around Santa the more I realized that something was very wrong with him – he was losing something, not necessarily his mind but I think it was the magic. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that the less magic there was in the world, the less of him there is and if he ever disappears I’ll know that all the magic of the world is finally gone for good. But something is wrong with him. I remember one night when he called Doreen another woman’s name and I saw this woman I had come to love tear up, and her hands start to shake but she forced a smile and answered to that name knowing that he hadn’t said it out of cruelty, or a lack of care but because he just didn’t remember that the woman he was calling for was long dead. We cried together later when he was in the workshop, and I held her, and she had become so frail, and so tired, and I knew it was near the end. And I think he knew it too.

At the end Santa was around every day for at least three hours to visit and take walks with his wife. It was very painful for Doreen to make the rounds but she did it for him, leaning heavily on her thick wooden cane as she did and smiling and laughing as they talked. Even at the end she was strong for him and he was there for her. He as there with her until the end, but the day she died he didn’t come by and I didn’t see him for a month after, though I knew he was in the village because I could hear him in his workshop. Some part of him must have known she was gone and he must not have been able to deal with it, or whatever powers guided him wouldn’t let him deal with it. The mission was the important thing. The mission and the magic. Doreen died in March and I mourned alone and buried her far out beyond the village’s border where the real snow is and I buried her just as we’d buried the elves and she had buried so many others that had once lived there. After she died I began reading all of the diaries that I could find in the hopes of learning what came next. When Santa finally reappeared I was his wife. I was Mrs. Claus. We have never once even kissed or held hands and he sleeps out in his workshop or in his chair in the cottage but as far as he knows I am his wife. I dress the part. I act the part. And I tell him to eat more, and to work less, and we joke about whether we will ever get to take that Bahamas vacation one day, and once in a while he calls me by another woman’s name.

This is my life.

Doreen left me three things before she died – the key to the toy room, something she called a travel stone which would allow me to travel to get new toys when they were needed, and a secret that I will never tell. The last secret. A secret that haunts me to this day but which gives me comfort just the same because all of this means something, even if I will never live long enough to fully understand what that meaning is. I will say this – it involves magic, and that no matter how dim its embers, it is never, ever really gone. The travel stone she showed me how to use once but it was enough. You take the stone in your hand and concentrate on where you wanted to go and then you would say that place three times and you would be there. That was how I would get supplies, food, drink, clothes, whatever I needed but above all it was how I would get new toys. While the world may not think it needs Santa he still serves a purpose and he keeps a little more magic alive in a world where magic has long been thought dead. With the elves gone it was now Mrs. Claus’ duty to make sure that he gave out gifts that were wanted and relevant and that meant something. I didn’t get that at first, initially getting everything loud and electronic that I could find but realizing, as I watched moments of Christmas through a Seeing Stone, that the things I was getting children, while flashy, were not the things that made an impact on them or fed their imaginations. And for children imagination is the key to magic. The only key some will ever have. With some planning and work I changed my tactics and am finally starting to see some positive results in my work. When we are in need of new supplies I go into the toy room where there is a small chest of money which I use for spending. The chest works like the Travel Stone and all I need to do is concentrate on how much I need and what currency I need and when I open the lid the money is there. I take the money, I use the Seeing Stone to find what I need, I use the Travel Stone to go where I need, and when I am ready I have everything packed together and I take it all back to the village. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. It’s worth it for them. It’s worth it for him. The toys that Doreen had gotten that became outdated I took and donated them to homeless shelters or day cares. It feels good and it means something to those kids. I have some other ideas, some things I want to try out but I have to tread lightly because this is his night. Not mine. But together, together we make magic.

This is not an easy life, and it is not an easy love, but it’s a good life and a great love. It is a love of a world I once hated. When I came here I was finally able, thanks to Doreen, to see a longer, wider view of the world and humanity. Thanks to him I see magic in places where I never thought any existed. Some days the nastiness in the world feels like an unbearable weight but all I need to do is to look into his eyes and things clear again. He still gets confused and lonely, even with me here, as if the haze of the years has cleared momentarily and he suddenly recalls all of the friends and loved ones he has lost along the years but when that happens it doesn’t last long and the times it has I slip him some special cocoa we have in the cupboard and soon he forgets his troubles and the twinkle in his eyes returns.

As a little girl Christmas was different for me. I grew up in an orphanage, grew up with an ever revolving cast of strangers, and grew up in a world where that one present at Christmas, whatever it was, made me feel like I was special and that someone loved me. Even if they were a stranger they loved me enough to donate something for me. I needed that. It wasn’t about the greed of having, no; it was about that blind love you have to have to give your time, your money, and yourself to someone. Something I had never truly felt before and never did until I met my husband. This night is about him…but it’s about us too. It’s about the frail bridge between loneliness and love and the often barren landscape of generosity that lies within the human heart. Santa is one of the very last links to a world we once welcomed into our own, a world of magic and wonder where one man can change the world for good or ill. A world where there is more than what our senses tell us. A world that still holds a little mystery. There is a world beyond our own that I dreamed of, I wished for, and I prayed for and now I am a part of it, even in the smallest of ways I am a part of it, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I am a part of the last defense that magic has and if I have my way I intend to start pushing against the world and bringing a little more magic back. I have my ideas, and I have some allies I am making and if it doesn’t infringe on his duties, I will take this war to Reason’s door.

This is not a perfect life, and it is not a perfect love, but it is magic, and it is real.

And so is he.

And I believe.

– 12.2013

www.meepsheep.com

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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To Those In Need–a story

To Those In Need

    The snow was falling. This wasn’t the first snow of the season but this was the most significant snow, the first real snow. The city was huddled together against the cold and spreading darkness but passed in silence, defenses up against forced holiday cheer. As the snow falls the darkness seems to take on a life all its own and the masses move closer to one another, bumping against each other and grunting in response, angry at the closeness but loathing the dark and what it brings. And in the dark things begin to move. They come from the shadows, from between the walls, from behind dumpsters, from under cardboard castles, crawling out into the night and stretching like children as their days begin. The scavengers. And as they emerge the people on the streets purposefully ignore them, actively ignore them so as not to be infected with the sight of them. In the distance the tolling of the church bells. First one church, then another, as if in competition, then finally, distantly, a third and last church awakens to toll the birth of a new hour. One of the scavengers climbs from out of a dumpster and watches the people as they march by outside of the alley, hustling back and forth, some with packages, some with briefcases, some with purses and all of them actively ignoring him and as they do he smiles, smiles beneath a thick black beard that flows down from his face over his throat and across his chest. He reaches down absently and pulls his pants up with a hand as the other hand scratches in the nest of his beard. Suddenly he feels new eyes on him and turns to see one of the others staring him and his smile drops. No need for façade with these. He narrows his eyes and sees the heat coming off the woman and can smell her. She smells like rot and waste. The scent makes him sick. He stares at her and she stares back, wavering, after a moment she speaks.

  “I don’t like you.”

He smiles at her, his mouth spreading open as he leans forward towards her. The woman frowns takes a step back, then another and her eyes look away from the scavenger in the dumpster and out to the alley’s entrance and the people there. To get there she’d have to walk past the scavenger too close to him and she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t like him. He reminds her of a sick dog her grandpa had had down south. The woman looks over her shoulder to the back of the alley and sees more of the scavengers as they too stretch from waking. Beyond them is another alley entrance and more people passing by. Her skin is crawling. She doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like it here. She doesn’t like it here. She is cold, and her feet hurt, and her belly is empty and she wants to be away from these sick dogs and back onto the streets amongst the people. She turns back and the scavenger stands before her still smiling, smiling with so many teeth, so many teeth. As he opens his mouth all she can think of is that dog, that sick red dog and the way it would look at her from under her grandpa’s porch, how it would growl at her from a cloud of flies, how it was sick, was very sick until her grandpa took a gun and made it better. She stepped away from the scavenger but he was faster and on her in a moment and after that she is cold no longer.

    In the streets the growing shadows thin out the crowds and as the bells toll hour after hour even the streets begin to empty. As the streets and sidewalks grow barren though the bars and restaurants fill with the sounds of laughter and talk, the sounds of the season barring out the thunderous sound of snowfall. As the people move indoors the scavengers slink from their hiding places, coming out toward the bright lights and roar of the people. Drawn, always drawn to them, and drawn to the people that they hate as much as the people hate them. They prefer the darkness, the silence, and the company of rats and insects. They don’t even want to be with one another but stick to packs for protection and little else. Some still reproduce, or attempt to, but such as them never do well in the wilds, on the streets, and there is nowhere else for them to go. Not here. Not in this place. This place is too loud, too bright, and there are too many people shoving in on them. It seems as if it’s always been like this. At least since the days when they came here, following the people as they migrated and shadowing them and now, and now they were here, trapped by the people and with them. The bells toll and the scavenger puts his hands over his ears and retreats into the darkness, sneering. So loud. Always so loud. He closes his eyes and can see the reverberations in his head, like great white waves rushing over him. He bends forward and vomits noisily into the alley and as he is bent forward he feels a hand on his back, patting him, comforting him. He turns quickly, vomit and blood dripping from his lips as he does.

  “My, my god, man, are, are you all right? I, I am from St. John’s down the street, I, I am making my holiday rounds, spreading the word of the Lord and giving aid or comfort where needed. You, you…are you alright my son? Do you need aid? Do you need comfort?”

The scavenger looked up at the priest and the smell of him was overpowering. He could smell the detergent in his clothes, the soap from his hands, the remnants of shaving foam and beneath it all the faint scent of cigarettes. The priest smiled down on him but the smile faltered then faded. The priest took a step away from him, then another, giving a sign of the cross as the scavenger licked the blood from his lips and smiled at the man. His teeth were not sharp, his hands were not powerful but he was stronger than this man, and he had learned where the softest parts were, the places where it was easiest to bite and get what he needed. He was hungry. The old woman was full of disease, of rot of the mind, rot of the lungs and that was making him sick. It was making the lights too bright, the sounds too loud. He needed to feed. Needed it now. He still lead his pack, was still the strongest of them but he was getting older, and if he let this disease live him in, let her tainted blood survive in her then they might make their move, might make sure he never saw another night. He saw the blood coursing through the priest and smelled the fear. And fear made it better, made the kill sweeter, made it like the old days, made it like when they were all much younger and the world much less crowded and loud. He smiled and the priest was frozen in his eyes, frozen in his stare. The scavenger could feel the blood caking and freezing in his beard and heard the others behind him, whispering to one another, watching to see what he’d do. He was sick. He needed to feed. He had waited long enough. He was old but even full of poison he was faster than a man and he was on the priest in a moment, too fast for the priest to scream, too fast for him to run. The scavenger stood before priest and looked into his eyes and grabbed his hands and could feel the blood thundering through his veins. His stomach growled. The scavenger looked into the eyes of the priest and saw the fear, the old fear, the fear his kind had seen since the beginning, when the scavengers and the humans rose from the same mud, and suckled from the same breasts before the scavengers chose a life of darkness and the humans a life of light. The scavenger fell to his knees before the holy man and brought his hands to his lips and held them at his lips and kissed them softly.

  “Go, priest, go now, go now and take this gift from a long lost brother, take this gift and go back to your world. Go back and remember why your kind fears the dark. Go and make merry while you still have a chance. Go and live. GO!”

    Screaming the last and shoving the man away. The priest shakes his head, dazed and looks away from the man kneeling before him, past him to the things that are running this way, and there, there is Satan, there is Lucifer, there are the adversaries agents and he is off, he is running, he is away into the lights, into the world, into the safety of the open air where it didn’t stink of blood and filth. And behind him a scream, a scream that will echo in his heart until the end of his days but he doesn’t look back, cannot look back, looking only to the distant church that quickly approaches him and falls on his knees before the savior, thanking him for this night and for every night he may have before him, and cannot help but weep as midnight’s bells sound out through the night.

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