Monday, January 3, 2011

The Gift

The Gift

It was Christmas Eve at the North Pole and Santa’s elves were busy packing the sleigh for his yearly ride. The sleigh was stuffed to capacity but somehow they always seemed to find room for more toys. Dolls, bears and whatknots of all kinds kept threatening to spill over the side, yet magically they all managed to stay within the sleigh.

The elves were well practiced with loading Santa’s sleigh and as they worked they listened to weather reports from around the world. Mother Nature was doing her part and as long as Santa’s reindeer stayed on schedule and Father Time adjusted his clock right, they should avoid every snow, sand and rainstorm throughout the world, making it back in time for Christmas breakfast. It should be another good year.

But what should be and what would be were two very different things. There was something in the air this, something dangerous, and as the elves worked, their usual excited chatter was replaced by nervous whispers; their usual Christmas cheer having turned to dread.

Something was about to happen, though what they didn’t know. The air seemed to be filled with currents of fear and hung heavy around them as they continued to work. None of them spoke about the horror that was pounding within their elfin hearts. None wanted to put voice to the fear they all could feel, as though putting their terror into words could make the worst happen. So they continued to work, whispering and jumping at even the slightest of sounds.

Snee, Santa’s head elf, having just finished checking the sleigh and assuring himself that the contents were secure, was on his way to get Santa when the doorbell to the workshop rang. All the elves froze, then as one, turned to stare at the door.

A visitor on Christmas Eve? This had never happened before. Everyone knew that Christmas Eve was Santa’s busiest night of the year. Christmas Day there would be visitors. Mother Nature, Jack Frost and Father Time ALWAYS came by for Christmas breakfast. Frosty would be there too, along with Abe, the Abominable Snowman. But no one ever stopped by on Christmas Eve. It was unheard of!

The doorbell rang again and the elves to a step away from the door. This couldn’t be good. Whoever …. Whatever, stood on the other side of the door was the source of the tension. The air that hung heavy inside couldn’t even compare to the suffocating fog that seemed to be seeping in beneath the door. Insanely, the elves considered that if they didn’t answer the door, the evil on the other side might go away.

The Bell Rang Again.

Evil Never just went away.

“Ho Ho Ho!” Santa said, coming out of his room as he pulled his suspenders up over his shoulders. “Isn’t anyone going to answer the door?

“The sound of Santa’s voice seemed to wake Snee from out of a daze. Horrified, the head elf realized that Santa Claus was going to open the door.

“Danger Santa!” Snee yelled, trying to block the door. “Danger out there! Don’t open it!”

“Ho Ho Ho, don’t be silly Snee.” Santa said, taking the last few steps to the door. “This is Christmas Eve, not All Hallows Eve.”

The bell rang…

The Elves all shrank back….

Santa OPENED the door.

“It’s about time!” a voice squeaked. “Do you know how cold it is out here?”

The elves all blinked at the strange man standing there. He wore a purple suit with pink pinstripes and a yellow bow tie. On his head was a bowler hat with the words NETHERWORLD DELIVERIES on it. The man himself was almost as short as the elves and very round in the middle. He resembled a penguin in so many ways that at first Snee thought it was a penguin wearing clothes.

“I have a delivery for Santa Claus, AKA Kris Kringle, AKA Father Christmas.” The delivery man looked up from the card he was reading and looked Santa up and down. “Would that be you?”

“Ho Ho son, of course it is me.”

“Son? Cute You know, you sure do have a lot of names. I guess you never know when a new one might come in handy, especially way up here in the middle of nowhere. Sign here please.”

“No, Santa, no!” Snee pleaded. “Don’t sign for it! Send him away, send him AWAY!”

“Snee, calm down.” Santa laughed. “It is only a Christmas present…and for ME! I wonder who it’s from.”

“Uh, I don’t know.” The man from Netherworld Deliveries said, glancing at the card. “I only deliver and there’s no name on here. Just says to OPEN BEFORE CHRISTMAS.”

“Ho Ho Ho, I can’t wait to see what’s inside.”

“Well, if you step aside big guy, I can bring this in from the cold so you can open it up.”

“Santa, don’t!” Snee pleaded. “He’s bad I tell you, real bad!”

“Snee, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so jumpy before. What’s gotten into you tonight?” Santa looked around at the other elves, all of which were trying to hide behind various work tables and added, “What’s gotten into all of you? It’s Christmas Eve! You should be excited! Ho, Ho! Maybe it’s a good thing this package came tonight. Maybe what’s in it will cheer you all up.”

“Or blow us all up.” Snee muttered, trembling as Santa began opening the brightly colored wrapping paper.

Santa was very curious about the package and more than a little excited. In all his years of gift giving, no one, with the exception of Mrs. Claus, had ever given him a gift. Truth be told, he had never felt the need for one and had certainly never missed having one. His gift was in the joy children received when they opened their gifts. The sparkle in their eyes, their happy smiles, and the laughter their joy brought was all he ever needed. He’d always thrived on the love they’d given him in return. But now that someone had given him a present, he felt curiously excited. He was perplexed as to why the elves all seemed so terrified of the gift.

The package itself was rather large and as Santa ripped away at the gift he tried to guess at what was inside. It stood slightly taller than he was and was twice as wide. He laughed at the thought that he could fit inside of it and wondered if maybe it was a storage chest for his gifts. Then the last of the wrapping paper fell away, his fingers shaking with excitement as the paper fell to the floor. As the elves all peeked out from their hiding places, Santa stood back to examine the gift.

Standing before him was a cabinet made of dark wood and stained with some kind of a substance that to Santa’s horror resembled human blood. Pictures of Santa were carved into the wood, looking disturbingly lifelike. What were most troubling were the images these Santa carvings portrayed. They depicted a Santa that was angry, even frightening. A Santa capable of cruel acts.

One of these images showed Santa with a whip, thrashing a female elf, her clothing torn away, revealing her breasts. The Santa in the picture was laughing, a cruel smile on his face as the elf screamed as her flesh was flayed from her body.

Another image showed Santa standing over a small child, a bloody knife in his hand as he cut away the flesh, the child’s eyes filled with pain and terror.

Another showed its Santa sitting at a table preparing to eat a feast of brains and eyeballs, still gracing the decapitated heads of his victims.

Behind Santa, Mrs. Claus sucked in her breath, horrified at the images.

“Well,” Santa said, the laughter fading from his voice, replaced by disgust and confusion. “It certainly is, uh, interesting.”

“It’s not interesting!” Mrs. Claus said, “It’s disgusting! Get it out of here!”

“Tell him to take it back!” Snee pleaded, adding his voice to that of Mrs. Claus. Behind him the other elves pitched in, begging Santa to send the gift and the disgusting man from Netherworld Deliveries away.

“You haven’t even looked to see what’s inside.” The delivery man said, indicating the doors set into the offensive cupboard, a gold key hanging from one of the knobs.

“I’m not sure I even want to see what’s inside an abomination like this.” Santa said, disgust evident on his face. Inside his stomach was churning. There was something familiar about these carvings and as the memory tickled the back of his mind he struggled to take his eyes of the horrifying images.

“Oh come on!” The delivery man coaxed, his voice as oily as an experienced con man. “Just a quick peek. Maybe what’s in there will tell you who sent this.”

“I can’t imagine who would send me anything as vulgar as this.” Santa said, as a distant memory whispered in his ear.

”We’ll be back. You can’t escape us forever. When we find you, and we will, we will destroy all you have done.”

”You couldn’t destroy me then, you won’t destroy me know.” Santa thought, though he didn’t know who he meant.

“Well, suit yourself.” The strange man said. “I only deliver. I’ve done my job, so I will just go.” But despite his promise, the man just stood there, looking at Santa, his hand out.

“Oh, ho, ho, yes, yes, here you go young man.” Santa said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a few coins, his picture stamped on the front of each. He glanced at them as he handed them to the delivery man, assuring himself that the images on the coins were his.

“Make him take it with him!” Snee said as the man pocketed his tip.

“Oh no, I just deliver. I don’t do returns. That’s Alfie’s job. I can send for him, if you like.”

“Yes!” Mrs. Claus said. “I want this…this thing out of my home.”

“Very well then,” the man from Netherworld Deliveries said. He bowed to Mrs. Claus, pulling off his hat, revealing a bald head underneath. Then he replaced the bowler hat on his head, gave it a twist, spun around and to the amazement of everyone in the room, began to grow. As he grew, his body thinned out and his face changed, taking on a lean, hungry look. His eyes, which had been blue, turned to green and his nose changed from a pug style to one that was long and narrow. When he was done with the transformation, he removed the bowler hat one more time, stuck a fist inside, giving it a couple of quick punches, creating a stove pipe hat, which he promptly returned to his head.

The elves all stared at this new man before them. Being elves and elves employed by Santa Claus, they were all familiar with magic, but this magic was something they had never seen before. Sure, Santa could change his shape, allowing himself to travel down even the narrowest of chimneys, but he had never transformed himself into an entirely different person before, despite his multiple names.

Snee remembered hearing stories as a child about shape shifters, creatures that were neither human nor elf, capable of changing their shape at will. Was this one of those creatures? He had always thought they were bedtime stories to keep curious little elves in their beds.

“No, I am not.” The new visitor said, looking directly at Snee. “I am just what you see. I am Alfie.”

“How did you know…” Snee began.

“What you were thinking?” Alfie finished for him. “I know many things.”

“Well where did, um, the other guy go?”

“Arnie? I don’t know. We are never in the same room at the same time. He does deliveries. I do returns.” With a sly, almost cunning smile, Alfie added, “Everyone always wants to return at some point. You, however, are a little early in your request. I know many things, but I do not understand this urgency.” He said this last part to Santa, his green eyes seeming to bore into him, looking for some information not seen.

Santa gestured at the cabinet, careful to keep his eyes turned away from it. “It is a desecration.”

“Pish posh!” Alfie said, examining the cabinet. “It is a fine work of craftsmanship. See how detailed the carvings are. How lifelike, as though they will spring into motion at any moment.”

“I see,” Santa said, instinctively glancing at the images, then immediately regretting it. He tried to look away again, but his eyes seemed unable to obey his brain and he found himself being drawn into the details of the carvings, as horrific memories teased his mind. Santa flinched as an imagined whip struck his back.

”Who do you think you are brother? You’re just like us. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re any different. You aren’t. You… are… just…like…us!”

Santa felt the imagined whip in between every word and found himself taking a few steps backwards, away from the cabinet. What was happening to him?

Alfie stared at Santa, fascination in his eyes. Then he spoke to Santa without saying a word, but instead, projecting the thought into his mind. ”You’re afraid of it? How interesting. Yes, I can feel your terror..” Alfie closed his eyes, as though he were enjoying Santa's pain. Snee and the other elves looked on, uncomfortable, knowing something had just happened, but not sure what, since they hadn't heard Alfie's words projected into Santa’s head.

"Just take it away." Santa said, closing his eyes.

"Gladly. Once you verify the cabinet and its contents are not damaged."

"What?" Santa croaked, opening his eyes.

"You need to verify that the cabinet is not damaged. For insurance purposes."

"I...I can't open that." Santa said, stammering.

"I can't take it back until you do."

Santa and Alfie stared at each other, apparently at a standstill.

"I...I," Santa said, trying to find his tongue. The thought of opening the cabinet elicited such fear in dear Santa’s heart that for a moment, he thought it would burst. But the thought of keeping the cursed thing was even more terrifying. He would have no choice. He would have to open it.

Santa reached for the key to the cabinet door and paused, giving Alfie a thoughtful look. Alfie's eyes had grown coal black and his tongue hung halfway out of his mouth as he stared hungrily at Santa. He seemed to be thriving on his terror and suddenly Santa recognized Alfie for who, or rather, what he was. Gathering his resolve together, Santa took the key in his hand and shoved it into the lock.

“Santa, don’t!” Snee pleaded.

“It will be alright Snee.” Santa said, confidence in his voice that he really didn’t feel. He glanced at Alfie and said, “I believe we are in the presence of a psychic vampire. The fear we are feeling is being caused by his presence, so he can feed off of the energy that is created.” As Santa spoke, his voice became stronger as he realized the truth in what he was saying. “I’m not even sure the images we are seeing are real, but instead are being projected into our minds by this creature.”

Alfie smiled, his voice sly and calculating. "Well done Santa. You are very perceptive, but as insightful as you are you are really naive. Imagined fear brings me no satisfaction. I hunger for real terror. The kind of terror one feels right before they die. I'm not going to get that projecting something imagined into your feeble little mind. Listen to your memories Santa. They are talking to you. You know what lies inside this box is your coffin."

Santa glared at the creature, appalled at the nerve of the parasite. "We will see about that!" Santa said, turning the key and unlocking the cupboard doors. "Once we have a look in here, you and this cursed box can be gone and I can get on with Christmas. The children are waiting."

"All snug in their bed," Alfie said, "Waiting for dear Santa to be dead, dead, dead." Alfie laughed, and the elves all shook in their shoes, the air thick with Alfie's hatred.

Santa trembled at the malevolence being projected from the creature. He had never, in all his years, come across anything so terrifying as Alfie. But Santa wasn't about to be intimidated in his own home, and on Christmas Eve no less! He had a job to do and it was going to get done. Pulling himself up to his full height, Santa took a deep breath, checked his resolve and opened the cabinet door.

Santa’s knees buckled beneath him and he almost hit the ground. The jolly old elf swayed as the hatred and malevolence that was contained inside rushed out, elated to finally be free. The dark emotions that Santa had felt at the edge of his mind, threatened his sanity as the force of the evil assaulted his mind uninhibited.

Inside, the cabinet was lined with mirrors of every shape and size. Some mirrors were triangular, others round. There were mirrors that were square and some that were shaped like stars. Some mirrors were large, reaching from the top of the cabinet and down to the floor. These seemed to reach beyond the cabinet, giving the impression that if one chose to; he could walk right into the mirror and into another world. Others were so tiny, they might only reflect an eye. In fact, one of these small mirrors did reflect an eye. The damned eye blinked as Santa swayed, ready to hit the ground and Snee jumped as he realized it was Santa’s eye, and yet not the same eye he’d known all these years as Santa’s head elf.

Suddenly all the mirrors reflected their own Santa, each one a horrible representation of the big man in the middle of depraved acts of evil. The assault on Santa’s mind continued as each Santa stopped in the middle of their wicked actions and turned to stare at their double on the other side of the mirror. Smiles, evil, immoral, spiteful smiles, slowly spread across the mirrors. The one eye that glared from the tiny round mirror, twinkled in sinful delight. The largest mirror, reflected Santa from a distance, a large tree beside him, where he had an elf maiden chained. He’d been in the act of assaulting the tiny woman when the door opened. Standing, this Santa pointed at his mirror image and began laughing. Again, Santa heard the voice in his head.

”I told you we would find you! Welcome home brother. Welcome home.”

Then Santa’s doppelganger began walking towards the mirror, growing larger with each step. Santa, frozen, stared in horror at the image of himself as his memory flooded back, recalling how he had once lived in a horrible world, where pain fueled the inhabitants of that world. How he had sought to escape that world and finally found a rift through which he’d fled, leaving behind his own kind, never having enjoyed the brutality that had been expected of him. The new world he’d found was so different. He’d found happiness in giving, seeming to grow strong from the love he received in giving to children. He’d forgotten his previous life. Forgotten that he’d been born a psychic vampire, but so different from the vampires of his world. Instead of fear and pain, which fueled his kind, he’d fed off of joy and childlike faith. He’d been unable to get that in the other world, making himself a target for the monsters that called him brother. They’d enjoyed causing him pain. They received pleasure from his anguish, discovering that fear from their own kind made them stronger, gave them more satisfaction. When he’d escaped, they had vowed to find him, sending out a few of their own into the different universes, in search of their ‘lost’ brother. And now he’d been found.

Santa’s double came closer and closer to the edge of the mirror, his strides getting longer as he began to run, anxious to feast on the fear emanating from the other. Suddenly Santa reacted, coming out of his reverie and moving to close the door. Snee, moved with his dear friend, helping to push the door shut. Just before the doors would have closed, the evil twin reached the edge of the mirror and, his feet leaving the ground, dove through the glass and into our world, knocking the doors open and throwing Santa and Snee across the room.

Santa’s mouth gaped open, his head rolled to the side, dazed. He raised his hands to deflect the blow he knew was coming, but with no success. To their credit, the elves all jumped to Santa’s aid, throwing themselves onto the back of the evil Claus, but were tossed aside like rag dolls. The nasty Santa turned, smiling at the elves, showing a set of very sharp teeth. His eyes fell on Snee, who was hanging onto his leg, trying to pull him away from Santa. Chuckling, the malicious Santa reached down, plucked Snee from his leg and in two bites, bit his head off. The other elves screamed in terror, running for cover.

Then Santa’s twin reached down and grabbed Santa by his suit and hauled him into the cabinet and through the mirror, back into the universe he had come from. Behind them the doors shut and the lock turned. A new carving graced the front of the cabinet. Santa, his mouth opened in a scream, his hands pressed against the doors, reflecting in the wood the horror he now lived inside.

Alfie smiled at the elves, reflecting his own set of vampire looking teeth, then took off his hat, began to spin, transforming himself into the spitting image of their beloved Santa. When he was done, he crumpled his hat, which suddenly took on the appearance of Santa’s familiar cap. Placing it on his head, Alfie laughed. "HO HO HO! A merry Christmas this year? Oh, no, no, no!”

Then Alfie strapped himself into Santa’s sleigh, as visions of little children, scared and crying began to fill his head.

copyright 2010 by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Lisa McCourt Hollar writes under the name Jezri on
The gift was published 2010 in December issue of Suspense Magazine

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