Vol. 1, Issue #24 Dec. 22nd - Jan. 4th, 2006
The reindeer’s hooves touched down on the roof without stirring a snowflake. However, the brightly dressed, albeit grumpy, Santa could have cared less.
A few months ago he had gotten in deep with some major players. The way he saw it, it wasn’t really his fault. If that bitch, Mrs. Claus, would have given it up more than once every half century he wouldn’t have had to resort to the hookers.
And, by his reasoning, if he hadn’t had to turn to them to get laid, he never would have gotten in so deep with the ponies. Now, he was forced to spread more than a little good cheer with his Christmas tradition. He slipped out from behind the reins and grabbed two small bags from the back of the sled before tromping his way over to the chimney.
He sighed and wiped the sweat from his brow despite the cold weather. His cheeks may have been as red as cherries, and his smile permanently plastered to his face, but that was just a side effect of the job.
As he waited, Donner snorted and stomped his hoof.
“Oh, just cool it, would you?” Santa snorted back, looking into the charcoal black eyes as if he expected an answer. After a brief staring contest, he turned his attention back to the chimney and muttered the chant that would magically transport him from the roof to the living room.
The inside of this home wasn’t that different from the millions of others. The tree was well decorated, stockings had been hung on the mantelpiece, and a tray of milk and cookies sat on the coffee table. He could even feel the presence of the children asleep in their beds. Janey had been a near angel that year, while her brother Joey had been something akin to a demon, but according to his rules of operation they would both get at least one gift; Joey’s would just be smaller.
He hadn’t been able to leave coal for children since the late nineteen hundreds when some idiot child had decided to use the coal he’d gotten to bludgeon his younger sibling. The higher ups had decided that incident was too much bad publicity for Christmas and had immediately forbid him from handing it out anymore.
They only spoke up when they were reprimanding him or changing something, he never heard from the big bosses when they were happy. Hence, any letter arriving with their special seal only caused him immense worry and stress.
Much like the deed ahead of him.
After he took a couple of the cookies and poured the milk down the drain since he was lactose intolerant, he made his way to the staircase; the second bag weighing heavily in his left hand.
The door to the master bedroom was ajar and he pushed it open without so much as a squeak. Not that it mattered much; when he entered a house the occupants were put under a trance by the same chant that transported him into their midst. They couldn’t wake up while he went about his duties. It was one of the reasons the mobsters he owed had chosen this task for him.
He hadn’t meant to get into so much debt. He was only allowed two weeks of free time a year, and somehow he had lost so much money he knew there would be no way for him to reclaim it for the bookies in the time they demanded.
Sure, he could have robbed a few houses with his powers, but he wasn’t allowed to use the sled or cross thresholds unless it was in the predawn hours of Christmas Day, and they hadn’t been willing to wait that long without upping the ante.
He ran his hand across his brow again and was somewhat surprised when his white glove was immediately drenched by his outpour. Looking around the room, he noticed that it was covered in family photos and mementos that spelled out what a caring father this man surely was.
“It’s not my fault, really, if it weren’t me, someone else would be sent to deal with you, and they might hurt everyone.” Santa whispered as he set the bag on the dresser and pulled out a small vial. Inside was a silver powder that, when placed over someone’s eyes, would call the ferry master to curry their spirit back to the island from which all life begins and ends.
He’d won the vial from Death in a card game two centuries ago. The best thing about the powder was that it was a direct contract between him and Death, leaving the higher powers completely out of the loop. It was a small vial, eight grams at the most, but it must have weighed at least ten pounds. Part of that was because so little dust was needed. He could kill someone every year and it still wouldn’t be enough to drain his supply for a few more centuries, if he and Christmas survived that long.
The father may have been wonderful and supporting, but as in most things, it had been the wife that had messed everything up. According to the man who had made the arrangements, the mother, Andrea, had once worked for the bookie as a money runner. One day she had simply disappeared with the profits, walking away with over half a million dollars right before a major game.
They hadn’t been able to find her using traditional methods, but apparently when he’d been drunk one night with the girls Santa had divulged the fact that he knew where everyone who was living was, no matter what name changes or plastic surgery they’d undergone. It all came as part of the package. After all, he had to have a list of all the naughty and nice girls and boys. Most people thought that ended at some predetermined age, but in truth he kept up with them right up until the point of their deaths.
He sighed as he looked down on her sleeping face, knowing that he could walk away right now and that nothing would happen. In all truth, the mobsters he owed money to would never be able to find him, and he had all kinds of magic at his disposal. It wouldn’t take much to hide himself from them until long after their deaths. But that would mean he couldn’t use his vacations for the kind of pleasurable activities he enjoyed for another half a century or more.
And the thought of living with nothing but that frigid woman he called wife for fifty years before he was able to have wild, rampaging sex, was more than he could bear. He called up the face of his favorite girl and held it in the front of his mind as he sprinkled a small amount of powder on Andrea’s eyes.
She sneezed, sighed, and rolled over just as he heard the faint ding of the ferry’s bell. Death wouldn’t be instantaneous, but she would be gone before the New Year was celebrated in this house.
Her spirit had been promised to his colleague, and there was nothing he could do now.
Wiping his face once more with the back of his hand to keep the sweat out of his eyes, he packed up his supplies and headed back to the tree.
It wasn’t until he was halfway down the stairs that he realized Janey was awake. He could feel her staring at him from beneath the Christmas tree like Cindy Lou Who from that children’s book about the Grinch.
“Whatcha doin’ Santa?” she asked, stepping toward him. He shook his head and tried to think. She wasn’t supposed to wake up, the chant was supposed to keep her asleep until he was on the roof.
When he didn’t respond, she took another step.
“The tree is down here, and you were up there.” She pointed at the hallway just behind him, and in his mind he could feel the others stirring, waking up from their magically held slumber.
“Just spreading Christmas cheer, my dear.” He replied as he closed his eyes and whispered the words that would carry him back to the sleigh. He counted to ten and then opened them again, but nothing had happened. One of the rules to using the chant was that he had to be in a certain proximity to the tree before he could transport back to the roof, and apparently he was not close enough now.
He ran down the last few steps, nearly knocking over the little girl that had worked her way so close to him, skidding to a stop just between the tree and the coffee table. Once more he chanted the words he’d used for so many centuries, and once more nothing happened.
Now the entire family stood in front of him on the stairway. Plus one, that had joined them from the shadows.
“I always thought the scythe was a little much, you know?”
Death laughed, his dry cackle vibrating through the air. “It was never my idea, you know that.”
“What are you doing here?” Santa asked, all thoughts of escape lost in the bizarre circumstances.
“That’s what I asked you.” Little Janey answered, giggling. “But you were trying to kill my mommy. Bad Santa.” She said, putting her hands on her hips and wagging her finger at him.
“What the fuck?”
“Language! We are, after all, in the presence of children.” Death scolded, his red eyes glaring from underneath his cowl.
Santa was so stunned by this new development that he couldn’t think of a reply. The silence was finally cut by Janey’s shrill laugh.
“I mean it, what is going on?” Santa asked again, his voice shaking.
“You’ve been promised to me, and it’s time we take a ride.” Death replied, reaching for Santa’s gloved hand with his own skeletal one.
Santa jerked back, “Not me, her. I put the dust on her.” He pointed up at Andrea, who also broke out laughing.
“Of course, and she’s promised as well, but not now, not until her time. That was the deal that the higher ups brokered with her when they realized what you were going to do. Unfortunately, you didn’t make that same promise.”
“But I didn’t put the powder on myself.”
“Oh, but you did.” Death reached up and pointed to Santa’s sweat-glazed brow. “And it still sits on your skin.”
Santa pulled back as he realized what had happened, how he had transferred the powder from his hand to his brow and how the sweat must have carried it into his glands.
“But you can’t take me, who would do the job?”
“They already have a replacement. He’s in the sled right now, delivering the gifts you neglected.” Death replied, moving forward even more until the entire house seemed to be swallowed by his darkness.
Santa tried to pull away, but when he looked down he realized that they were already in the ferry, the isle of souls ahead of them.
“At least that bitch won’t be here.” He sighed.
Since he couldn’t really smile without lips, Death was fond of using his fingers to draw out a smile on his face, which he did now.
“That’s what you think. Where you go, she goes, that was always part of the deal. Hence, when you died, she died with you.”
“You mean she’s here?”
He nodded, “I picked her up shortly after you left, and boy was she pissed about you screwing up her immortality.”
For a moment Santa looked over the boat’s side and into the inky water, knowing that if he threw himself overboard he would be completely eradicated from the land of the living and the death, lost forever to the darkness. He thought about jumping, but knew he couldn’t do it.
“Hell has to be better than nothing.” Santa mumbled to the water.
“I guess you’ll have to let me know.” Death said as they docked the boat, Mrs. Claus was already approaching them from across the beach. “Remember, if you find you can’t take it, you can always wade into the surf.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Santa said as he got out of the boat, her high-pitched voice already reaching his ears as she half-ran, half-waddled, toward them.
“I’m sure you will.” Death laughed, pushing his boat away from the dock and back out into the open waters, “I’m sure you’ll think of it often.”
©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.