Miss Cordelia’s Christmas By James Goodridge

Christmas time in the West Farms section of the Bronx. The year nineteen forty five.Three teenage friends run down 177th street playfully firing snowballs at each other, only stopping to mold new white weapons.Laughter echos under the old New York & Boston railroad bridge, but once out on the other side the teens become quiet.

Stopping in front of the old chestnut Victorian house on the corner of 177th and Wyatt street, the teens tried to imagine what sinisterness goes on behind the closed gate and the front door beyond it. Trees striped bare of leaves from Winters windy push and pull with Fall helped give the front yard of the house a sense of foreboding.

” I bet you a quarter Nate you wouldn’t go up to the witches door and knock on it,” said Tony Aponte, a stout boy wearing John’s bargain store black high top sneakers,blue jeans,and a navy pea coat covering layers of sweaters.A Yankee’s cap helped Tony retain his body heat. Wet wool gloves helped him mold a new snow ball with a rock in the center.

” Show me the quarter and I’ll do it. Don’t make me no mind,” countered Nate Duncan the tallest of the trio. Brown skinned in a lumber jack hat and coat, jeans and dark boots, Nate was fearless but knew of the stories about the old out of place house. ” In fact give the quarter to Herbie to hold cause I don’t trust you Tony,” said Nate.

” Guys I don’t think this is such a good idea ya think ?” asked Herbie Smoltz. Surplus army olive green parka, black Converse sneakers,his lumber jack hat sporting flaps, an inch or two shorter that Nate, Herbie a mild mannered teen tended to think things out much to Tony’s I’m a teenager this is part of my job title annoyance.

” One time Johnny Fitzpatrick swore he saw the witch turn into an alligator one day honest. He was peeking in the window,”said Tony.The three of them were now standing in front of an iron and paint chipped horizon blue gate, the front yard had patches of icy snow. Beyond that a porch and a thick evil looking front door. The house was dark with no signs of anyone home.Tony with one wet glove fished a quarter out of his jeans pocket.

” Hey. Why don’t we take the quarter and go over to Southern Boulevard and get a few pickles from Meyer’s delicatessen,” Herbie wanted to get away from the house. His mother said the house dated back to when Starlight Amusement Park still operated across 177th street back in the 1920’s.

” Your scared to do it Nate. Aw you just think she’s going to grab you put you in a frying pan cook you up and eat you.Herbie if the wind blows or the sun rises you get scare golly but you get scared.”

” I don’t see you making any moves Tony.” Nate shot back.

” Don’t have to I got the quarter and if you two won’t I’ll…” Tony was about to deliver his snow ball like Vic Raschi and brake a window when a gray leather glove grabbed his arm. Tony dropped the snow ball.

” And if you two won’t you’ll do what young man?” Came a cheerful voice laced with a Floridian accent from behind them. Startled the boys turned a round and came face to face with an attractive older woman, skin like smooth caramel candy. Large but quiet eyes,soft mouth, her aquiline nose gave her a regal look. ” What are you young men doing ?”  the woman asked. Impeccably fashioned from halo hat to her dress to high heels the mysterious woman was dressed in gray like the over cast afternoon. A gray fox wrap covered her shoulders and in her hand a gray clutch bag. ” I live here.” One long jet black braid of hair ran from under her halo hat half way down her back.

” Sorry Miss we mean no harm. We were just joshing a round. You know goofing it.Our friends said a witch lives here,” when ever they got in trouble Herbie  was the one to talk their way out it.

” My names Miss Cordelia. Do I look like a witch to you ?” Miss Cordelia moved pass the boys to unhitch her gate in a fashion model like strut as if to prove the rumors false.Nate was feeling the first pangs of teenage infatuation.

” No.” they answered in unison.

” I tell you guys what. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, how about coming over for some hot chocolate with marshmallows on top or maybe some Ovaltine. Nate you like biscuits covered in Karo syrup right ?” Miss Cordelia offered.

” Yes ma’am.” Nate was bedazzled.

” So its a date then. How about six in the evening you guys. Is that good?”

” Cheewhiz I don’t know about that,” Herbie said.

” Herbie’s scared again Nate,” Tony taunted.

” No I’m not scared.Alright I’ll be there Miss Cordelia.” Herbie surrendered to Tony’s peer pressure.

” Six in the evening then it is. I’ll see all of you then.” The boys waved goodbye and resumed their running snow ball fight up Wyatt street then back onto 177th., where they turned and waved one more time at Miss Cordelia. Facing them she waved back while out of their view Miss Cordelia’s braid stretched itself  , reached into her gray clutch bag took out her house key and unlocked the thick evil looking front door.

***

         The boys met up at a quarter to six. Even though it was Christmas Eve  none of them had a problem getting out the house. Tony’s family was so big he would not be missed, plus his lush of a dad didn’t have any gifts for him and his six siblings anyway. Nate’s father a Pullman porter, most of the time got payed late so Nate and his mother didn’t see any gifts until the 26th. And as a domestic she spent the holiday  in a bone tired sleep. For Herbie Christmas was never the same for his mother and him after his father died  during the invasion of Normandy.After one year of staring at the vacant place setting for his father at Christmas dinner; Herbie preferred to be outside.

” Hey Nate how she know you like Karo syrup loaded on your biscuits?” wondered Herbie. Opening the gate to Miss Cordelia’s front yard path as if they were regular visitors. All of them had on the same play clothes from yesterday, except Tony’s gloves were dry and he had a few drops of  vitalis in his dark hair.

” I don’t rightly know,” said Nate rapping on the evil looking door.From an opened to an inch window the scent of Strawberry incense met the boys.

” Come to thing of it how she know our names?” Herbie was getting uneasy and nervous.

“She probably heard our moms yelling our names in the neighborhood,” said Tony.

” How she going’ to hear my mama holler at me from way over on Southern Boulevard Tony?!” said Nate turning away from the door and what could be a wrong idea about having hot chocolate with Miss Cordelia. Suddenly the evil looking door opened as if pushed by a gust of winter air. Standing before them was Miss Cordelia barefooted and in what only could be described as a Santa Claus red and metallic green dress Gibson girl in its style. The long jet black braid loosened, Miss Cordelia’s hair cascaded down around her shoulders.Quiet brown eyes replaced by glowing intense red ones.

” Come in my little loves, come in,” Before they could dash off her porch Miss Cordelia made a movement with her arms reminiscent of a belly dancer at the boys levitating them off their feet.Guiding them inside to a door under a stairway in a house that seem larger in dimensions inside then one saw outside, to a door flung open she guided them  floating head over heels down into the basement. Tony screaming while Herbie and Nate struggled in silence.

” Now my loves I have to tend to the oven, but trust me I WILL BE BACK,” laughed Miss Cordelia. Her bare feet scratching against the wooden steps up to the kitchen. Each young man was stationed in a corner of the dimly lighted basement unable to move. Hexed into speechlessness they could only move their eyes. Herbie in his corner powerless, saw something that brought hopeless tears to his eyes. Along the wall near him were gaudy painted advertisements dating back to 1901, the kind one sees in circus sideshows,amusement parks,or carnivals : Cordelia The Belly Dancing Wonder from the East!,Cordelia The Fortune Telling Sorceress!, Cordelia The Alligator Woman! Each was an different incarnation of Cordelia from the beautiful to the hideous.In Nate’s corner a Crone hat aka conical black witches hat rested on a wooden stool, while Tony just stared at a brick basement wall.The terror pounding in Herbie’s head joined the footfalls of Miss Cordelia coming back down the stairs.

” You first Tony my little mischief maker.” She guided Tony hiccuping tears up the stairs. Minutes later the sound of an oven opening and closing could be heard.Herbie tried to talk to Nate but words couldn’t form in his mouth. Footfalls came downstairs again. Beyond the footfalls the aroma of spiced meat cooking, hovered at the top of the stairs.

” Nate your such a strong build young man. I wish I had a daughter for you to date. But alas.” blubbering Nate was floated upstairs.Herbie tried to clam himself and think of a way out of this. He was the one who always talked them out of jams. Maybe he could do it now although Herbie figured than Nate and Tony were pretty much in the oven by now. Down came the footfalls,one last time.

” Herbie you seem like the smartest one of the group,” said Miss Cordelia floated Herbie across the basement and up the stairs before he knew it, tears drops spun upward with the teenager.

    ***

         Gaining his balance and freewill Herbie started to swing at Miss Cordelia and run for his life; but the sight in the kitchen stopped him.Sitting at a dark wood kitchen table his lower face stained with cherry pie was Tony intense on finishing his pie slice. A half finished plate of holiday dinner at his elbow as was a warm mug of hot chocolate. At the other end of the table was Nate engrossed in his plate of baked ham with all the trimmings and a side plate of hot biscuits drenched in Karo syrup.

” I… Tony… Nate…Miss Cordelia please let us go!” pleaded Herbie.

” I won’t harm you loves,” said Miss Cordelia eyes still glowing a ruby red. “Here sit down.” Pointing to a middle chair at the table the strange woman beckoned Herbie to sit, hesitant at first Herbie sat down only to jump back up when Miss Cordelia paced a cup of Ovaltine in front of him.

” Sorry that I frighted you boys but I had to make an example of you three. It has been a rather trying time with you neighborhood children and your misconceptions about me. Maybe the three of you can be sought of public relations for me in the neighborhood,” Miss Cordelia was fixing a holiday plate for Herbie, which once she placed it on the table he couldn’t resist sitting down and digging into.

” What’s public relations?” asked Tony whipping his face.

” Just letting people know I’m not some evil witch. But you guys have to got keep my secret. Do not mention what you’ve seen this evening,” she said.

” Are you ? ” asked Herbie. The trio stopped eating and drinking and looked up at Miss Cordelia’s glowing eyes.

” You have to ask love? I tell you guys what. I am of the light not the darkness. Figure it out, now do we have a deal?”

They all nodded affirmative. ” Great! You guys have vitality! Now finish up your holiday dinner I have gifts for all of  you and gifts to take home to your families,then next Saturday I’ve conjured up tickets for the New York Rens basketball team. Don’t know much about the game but it should be fun,”said Miss Cordelia.

“What’s does conjure mean ?” asked Tony.

” Don’t ask love.” Miss Cordelia like a person forgetting to turn off their house lights shook her eyes from glowing red back to quiet brown.

**Note from the Author**

Miss Cordelia is a character that appears in my occult/mystic detective series :Madison Cavendish/Seneca Sue and The Passage of Time. In the Dickerson Affair (1946) a witch/sorcerer who can transform into an alligator, she helps Madison Cavendish(vampire) solve a murder related to a feud between pulp horror and science fiction writers. In The Lovemilk Affair(1976) Cordelia explains her thirty year disappearance to Seneca now Susan Cavendish(werewolf) and Everina Dawson(vampire).
Thanks
James Goodridge 
Advertisements

The Christmas Spirit By Guest Author Brian Barr

The Christmas Spirit

By

Brian Barr

 

Christmas Eve in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, 2016.

The spirit that manifested in Alice J. Black’s den wasn’t expected, but he wasn’t shocking either. Maybe to an author of dark fiction, such a beast couldn’t scare her effectively. Though its fur was shaggy, its claws sharp and dark, amused face long and eyes crimson, the spirit failed to frighten the woman  

“You’ve been naughty, Ms. Black.”

            “Who says?” Alice asked as she lowered the shades from her eyes, looking up from her table filled with notes. Christmas Eve was snowy, even wet, but the night wasn’t colder than her,       

The beast snarled with a fang-riddled smile. “Says the master. You’ve been naughty, and you need to be punished.”

            “Punished for what?” Alice laughed. “For writing stories?”

            “Your stories spread pestilence and disease upon the world.”

            “Oh, really? I never thought the written word could do such things.” Alice snickered. “I can only think you’re coming up with an excuse to take me into your little operation.”

            “So you know?”

            “Yes. I’ve been researching you for some time now. I know what you do to people. What you’ve been doing for centuries.”

            “Oh. My, how technology sure has changed things.”

            “Drastically. A few searches in a browser engine, and poof. Santa Claus, Krampus, Black Pete, the reindeer… it’s all there.”

            “Most people think we aren’t real.”

            “I was one of them. A part of me still doesn’t believe.” Alice shook her head as she walked from her table and towards the creature. “I didn’t really want to think any of it was real, or that my paranoia was correct.”

            “And now?”

            “Now, I know that you want me. That I’m to come with you, or face the consequences for resisting.”

            “Smart woman.”

*

            My name was Alice. Alice J. Black.

            That was the first memory lucky enough to come back into Alice’s head, after months and months of slaving away at the North Pole, in that cramped toy factory. The other elves told her that she had always been there, that they were always there, but she knew better. This wasn’t her home, and she came from another place way before this. As she toiled with her striped red and white stockings snug against her legs yet always too thin, always too weak against the cold, she shivered in her jolly green skirt and vest. The winter winds there were always so cruel, and they freezed her pointed ears, ears she swore weren’t always hers, and made her perfect pixie-formed nose wiggle with displeasure.

Around Alice, the other elves rarely talked, and they kept those smiles on their faces. Alice wore her smile, too, with the same fear as her comrades. None of them wanted the head elves to bark at them again, to slap them around and beat them for being rebellious, or worse…

I wasn’t always a nameless elf, slaving away in Saint Nichola’s cruel toyshop. I was a human, and I had a name. It was Alice, and I did something I really enjoyed, something that made me happy.

            Making toys didn’t make Alice happy in the least bit. Perhaps, if she were making toys out of the joy of her heart, she may have liked doing the task. Instead, she was forced to make playthings by a belligerent, ancient fat slob who rarely showed himself. Santa was sadistic, despicable. The last time Alice saw him, he dangled a querulous elf from the high roof of the toy factory and forced all of the other elves to watch his descent towards the cold, icy, hard snow below. Alice never knew snow could be so resistant to force, hardly caving in when the elf’s body finally splattered against it. His limbs broke free from his torso, and that head rolled, battered with crushed eyes and chin, towards Alice’s feet.

My hobby. What was it?

            The thing she enjoyed. She didn’t remember it being a full-time job, but it very well could have become one, one day. Only if she weren’t taken away, stolen from where she came from. Alice didn’t know how Santa did it, but she knew he kidnapped her, probably like he’d done for many years. He’d taken all of those elves from some part of the world before, and they were probably all ex-humans: ex-mothers, ex-fathers, ex-uncles and ex-aunts. Most of them probably had families waiting wherever they came from, or knew friends who now missed them. Instead, they forgot everything, wore those ridiculous outfits, worked with fright in order to not become like the others.

Alice looked to the floor that was covered in sawdust and broken bones. The half part of a skull looked at her from hollow eye sockets. She wondered who once possessed that fractured, cracked bone, left behind as nothing more than rubbish.

Writing. I was a writer.

Yes. She knew who she was now, what Santa stole away from her.

*

            The Krampus stood over her, eyeing the writer with great amusement.

            “You won’t resist your fate?”

            Alice looked back at the demon with angered eyes. “If this is what you want, fine. I just want to know what I really did to deserve this. There must be more than just a story I wrote or a fantasy I concocted.”

*

            “A writer?” the male elf sitting beside Alice whispered back with caution.

His accent was American, possibly, some old fashioned mid-Atlantic; how long had he been here? Most would have thought him ugly, even polite Alice, with his heavy head, matted brown hair, and melancholy eyes with baggy bottom lids. His remade pointy ears and pixie nose did nothing to save his looks.

“Are you mad?” he asked, looking quite uncomfortable with how Alice was looking at him.

“I”m more sane than I’ve ever been in my life,” Alice answered, though her tone was less wary. “I wasn’t born here, and I haven’t worked here forever. I would bet you haven’t either, or any of these damned elves.”

“We’ve always made toys. That’s our job.” The elf looked down at the video game system he was crafting. “Stop talking to me. You’re going to get me in trouble.”

Alice looked down at the gift she was making. A cellphone for Jimmy in Connecticut. What five-year-old boy needed a cellphone? Likely, the elves weren’t using their magic to make such crafty gizmos a hundred, or even fifty years ago. Alice doubted she’d been here longer than the past few months she could remember. Either way, she felt certain Saint Nicholas continued to morph his insidious toy factory to fit the needs of the current times, to fulfill the wants of children all over the world while exploiting his elves for business.

This wasn’t always the way it was, Alice thought with a stubborn anger. We weren’t always like this.

            “Enough of this!” shouted an elf as she stood from her seat, throwing a mechanical dog against a nearby wall and shattering it into little pieces. “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be? Where’s my Harold? Where’s my home on the lake? Harold, honey, I’m here! The baby, did I have the baby?”

“Sit down!” barked one of the head elves, bulky and hairy as his jolly green clothes hugged too tight against his fat stomach and thighs. He held one of those oversized candy-canes, pointing it at the rebellious elf.

For goodness sake, Alice thought as she looked at the woman, sit down. Don’t do anything foolish. Just sit, damn you.

“You robbed my life from me!” shouted the angry elf as she threw her red and white holiday hat to the ground. “My name is Katherine Meredith! I’m not from the North Pole. You kept me here for ten long years! I refuse to do this for another damn Christmas. Take me back! Take me back, now!”

“You’ve seen what happens to all the others, bitch.” The big, horrible looking brute sneered as he looked into Katherine’s face with furrowed brows. “Back to your seat. Be good. Santa hates naughty.”

“Fuck you!” Katherine kicked the elf hard in his testicles.

The candy-cane fell as the elf crotched down, grasping his balls and screaming.

Katherine was quick, running for the door, as other head elves stopped what they were doing to chase after her.

Alice looked around in disbelief. The other elves did their best to look down, their eyes so nervous, their hands remaining diligent in their crafts.

“What are you doing?” shouted another elf, his voice so old and quivering.

Alice turned to see one of the workers standing from his seat, looking at the other elves with rage. His hair was grey, his skin so wrinkled

“This is our opportunity!” the grey-haired elf continued. “Don’t you see what she did? Do none of you remember who you were? I was Albert. A police officer. I protected my community day in and day out, I haven’t seen my home in forty years!”

Though Alice felt a ping of hope enter her heart for a few seconds, it didn’t take long for the same feeling to die out just as fast. Alice looked around to see the elves even more resistant, staring harder at their toys, working their hands faster as they sweat.

“You.”

Alice looked back to the old elf, Albert, the one bold enough to speak, and he saw his eyes were fixed on her.

“You’re listening.” Their gaze was locked. “You know I’m right. You remember, like they all do. But you’re not afraid to listen.”

Alice’s mouth dropped open, searching for the words to say.

Albert hollered like a dog as a harsh crack sounded from his back. The old elf dropped like a log, and the sharp blade of an ax stuck out from the middle of his spine.

Blood oozed on the floor covered in sawdust and bone shards.

“Ho ho ho,” Saint Nicholas guffawed as he stood over his latest prey. “Any more objections?”

*

            The icicle-covered elf corpse “statue” stood in front of the North Pole’s toy factory, its hand raised as if she were waving her hand at newcomers, the jagged red smile on her face carved and defying the logic of her lips.

In the end of her life, that corpse made the deadly realization that she was Katherine Meredith. Well, maybe the realization wasn’t deadly in itself; she just should have been quiet about it. Quiet, and not have made such a desperate, sad attempt to escape. Escaping was futile, of course, and cost her everything.

Now, working in the toy factory, slaving without complaint, Alice’s own realization weighed in her mind, with a wisdom telling her to just continue making toys.

I was Alice J. Black. I wrote a book called The Doors. It was published. It was actually fucking published!

            Alice’s life was a blur besides her writing at first, so she tried to start there. She could remember that her debut novel dealt with the paranormal, that it had love, and mystery. From there, she could grasp some memories about her life beyond the words she crafted. She could remember that she was Newcastle Upon Tyne, that she liked the dark and macabre, that she…

Why was she here?

“I don’t belong here,” Alice said.

“Careful!” the male elf beside her warned in a low tone. “You know he doesn’t like it when you speak during work.”

“This isn’t where I work,” Alice spat back, not lowering or raising her volume in the least. “This isn’t my world. Not at all. I was a writer! A published author!”

“You don’t think neither of us figure that out sooner or later?” the male elf whispered back, fear in his eyes. “My name was Poe. Edgar Allen Poe. I was a fucking author, too, for Christ’s sake. Look at where I am now.”

Alice’s jaw dropped. God, how had she never noticed before! Those sad, dark eyes, and that unkempt hair, mixed with the sagging alcoholic jowls. This was Edgar Allen Poe!

“No way,” Alice said, shaking her head. “You died. On the streets of Baltimore. Drunk out of your mind, vomiting-”

“I did die. Before those sons of bitches took me here.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Alice crouched over her assembled toy, unable to look at Poe’s face anymore. She must have been dreaming. “Did you even die on Christmas.”

“Late October… and yet, on Christmas Eve, my corpse was resuscitated here. Right in the back of Santa’s toyshop.”

“But… but why?”

“Because Santa declared I was escaping my much needed fate. I was naughty for writing such dreadful stories for people.” Edgar stuck his tongue out, furrowing his brows in annoyance. “Two peaceful months of lying dead in the ground just wouldn’t give me the punishment I needed.”

“So…” Alice had to ask, “live after death?”

“I remember nothing. Nothing other than waking up in this hell. And that’s what this place is, you know… Hell. What was the last announcement those bastards made? Oh, yeah, we’re making toys for Christmas 2020. That’s correct, right? If that’s the case, I’ve been here for… for…”

Alice looked up, seeing the dismay in Edgar’s face. “Don’t think about it.” Alice looked down and bit her lip. She hadn’t been gone for too long. What did her friends think? Did they envision her taken by some crazed lunatic of a serial killer, or that she felt England without a word to anyone, wishing to start a new life elsewhere? “Edgar. You’re one of the most famous authors of all time.”

“Ha!” Edgar smirked. “Since when? Well, you aren’t the first to have told me that. There was Fred, who used to sit in that chair where you sit now, and Ethel, and Jameson… so many people over the years told me that. Sure, I had my high moments every now and then in my life, but never  would I have dreamed that I was so famous after I died.”

If only he knew, Alice thought. This is Edgar Allen Poe… a literary hero!  

The sounds of agonized screams suddenly called from another room, deep within the confines of the toy shop.

“Who do you think that is?” Alice heard some other elf whisper behind her. “How do you think they’re being tortured this time?”

“Oh, god,” said Edgar, looking back down at the parts in front of him. “Back to work.”

Keep making the toys, a more rational part of Alice’s brain pleaded with her. Stop being disobedient. That’s probably how you ended up here in the first place.

            Take orders. Always listen. Santa liked those who were good. Those who weren’t, were punished.

Alice continued to make her toys.

*

            Christmas Eve, 2016

Krumpus loomed over the author, grinning, as he reached for her.

            Alice screamed.

            Soon, she would be madeover from her old, human self. As Krumpus grabbed her face, she felt a scorching heat overtake her entire head.

            Her human ears soon sharpened. Her normal nose became more thin, yet rounded at the tip, her face more angular, cheekbones striking and rosy. Her eyes widened.

            In that small moment, she died.

            Alice’s heart stopped, her pulse nonexistent. As an Elven corpse, she rested in the strong hands on Krampus, who laughed at her as he took her into his arms.

            The monster vanished with a mere thought, taking Alice with him. Soon, they would be at the North Pole.

*

            “I remember my old life,” Alice declared. “I mean, more about it.”

“Your old life?” Edgar asked.

“My family, my friends…” Alice looked to Edgar with a sorrowful look. “I have to get out of here, Edgar. I disappeared… in 2016. It’s only be less than four years. I could make it back. People would still remember me.”

“Better you let that go,” Edgar said. “You’ve been remade now. You’re an elf. If anyone did remember you, they wouldn’t be able to relate or interact with you now. The magic that Krampus placed upon you-”

“Krampus!” Alice’s eyes widened, and danced with new life. “Yes, he’s the one that did that to me! But I never see him here, not in this toy factory. Just Santa, and those stupid elf superiors that torture us every day. Oh, and sometimes, that haggardly Ms. Claus comes in, but of them all… the worse has to be Santa.”

“Oh, God, Alice,” Edgar said, his woeful pupils staring back at the toy in front of him. “Don’t you know that Krampus is Santa?”

***

            North Pole, Christmas Eve, 2016

            “Ho, ho, ho,” Santa said as he shoved Alice into her new seat, surrounded by a number of hard-working elves at that factory. “Why don’t you get comfortable, Alice. Everyone else is working very hard with their toys, and even though your products won’t make it out until next Christmas, you’ll have an entire year of practice.”

Alice, still dazed and recollecting her mind, looked at the scattered fragments in front of her. This would be a toy, one that she would make.

“Do a good job,” Santa said. “Or else.

When Santa said else, Alice shuddered, her limbs like jelly. That was the other voice, the other thing that brought her here, that monster with woolly hair all over its body, claws, demonic eyes.

Alice knew he’d do everything possible not to keep that side of Santa from coming out, that deadly, evil thing that would destroy her if she even tried to defy it.

“That’s good,” Santa said as he watched Alice begin to piece her toy together. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back on my route.” With a twinkle of the nose, Santa was gone as his boisterous laugh filled the toy hall.

Overhead, outside, the sound of sleigh bells echoed through the air before they died in a zooming sound, like a launching jet.

The male elf with the oversized head besides Alice shook his head, melancholy eyes glued to his work. “You’d think he wouldn’t have time to bring in new elves, on Christmas Eve of all nights. Heavens, no. He’s so fast in his work, so diligent, and he can do so many things within one hour. You better stay working. Just keep working. Don’t try to think outside of the assembling of toys. And definitely don’t try to escape. You’ll be here, forever.”

Alice’s fingers clutched the toy pieces as if holding on for dear life. This would prove to be a long, long Christmas.

***

            December, 2020

Those four years proved to be longer than Alice would have ever imagined. With the senior elves watching around the clock, she doubted she’d be free anytime soon.

And why try? Whenever an elf did make their foolish discovery out loud, that they were once so-and-so and lived here or there, then tried to make a break for the door, they were killed.

The superior elves were so creative in the ways they could kill rebellious, inferior elves. There was many a frozen corpse statue greeting visitors who would never come to the North Pole, right outside the Toy Shop. There were decapitated heads on spikes right outside of the gates, further sealing the warning for potential rebels.

No one was as creative when it came to death as Santa, though, also known as Krampus. There were severed limbs and organs stuffed inside of private toys that Santa would never deliver, all in his bedroom for Ms. Clause to polish and organize (or so the rumors said). Beyond the rumors, Alice had seen Santa slaughter many an elf with an ax, a machete, a gun. And on the rarer occasions, when Santa got really mad, he’d let Krampus out…

No one wanted to see Krampus. Oh, Heavens no, seeing him when they were abducted was worse enough. Feeling him change them from the inside out, destroying their humanity, had already been bad news. But to watch Krampus kill, to see him devour an elf, rip an elf to shreds, just for the mere thought of escaping…

Just what could Alice do?

“Keep working,” Edgar always warned, “and forget about your old life. Just forget about it. Be a good elf. Be a good, happy elf.”

Alice tried really hard to be a good elf, to fake happiness. She wanted to forget her old life, to keep Santa satisfied.

No other choice would do.