None of the adults heard the screams of Santa Claus. That is, after all, part of his schtick. Only the boy woke up, on that cold winter’s night. Outside, the snowflakes fell faster and faster, the white powder several inches thick. The street lay in a dark blue shadow, illuminated by the flicker of Christmas lights.
Braxton sat bolt upright in his bed. His bedside lamp — a garish, miniature pine tree — glowed dim green in the twilight. The cacophony came from below. Thumps, thuds and bangs, from wall to wall. Rattles and the jingles of bells. And screams — those of a man. An elderly man.
“Oh, God! Somebody help me! Sweet Jesus, help me!”
Braxton sprung out of his bed. His bare feet thumped onto the rug. His heart rumbled in his chest like the hooves of reindeer. “Mom? Dad?”
“Oh my GOD! Help! HELP!”
A scream rent the air. “SOMEONE! HELP, HEEEEELP!”
Braxton hit the stairs at a run. He flew down the steps, two at a time. What he found, through the open door to the lounge, was an inferno.
The fireplace — which, he winced as he remembered, was his job to extinguish — was ablaze. Logs on fire had scattered across the floor, scorch marks left on the laminate floor. The tree leaned sideways onto the wall, half of its decorations knocked to the ground. At least that wasn’t aflame.
But the man in the red suit was.
“JESUS, GOD IN HEAVEN! PUT. ME. OUUUUUUT!”
Braxton grabbed the nearest liquid — a glass of milk. Fortunate for Santa that Braxton’s mother had elected for a dairy beverage, as opposed to brandy. Last year, Braxton started the morning of the 25th with one monster of a hangover. She’d sworn never again.
It was a rather splendid stroke of luck. Santa stumbled towards the child, and his movements caused the flames to dampen for a moment. The precise moment that Braxton doused him from head to toe in a glass of semi-skimmed.
The flames hissed and sizzled. Extinguished.
Santa fell to the floor. Plumes of black smoke curled away from his body. He lay there and panted. “Oh, oh,” he said. “Oh, oh.” Over and over again. “Oh. Oh.”
After a few minutes — seven by Braxton’s count — Santa got to his feet. His suit was black and scorched, and several splotches of skin looked red and sore. But other than that, he looked more or less his usual self. He still had a twinkle in his eye, and his cheeks were still rosy. Although, that sheen might’ve been due to sweat.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” He took the boy’s hands and shook them. “I can’t thank you enough! You saved me, my boy! I would’ve been toast, were it not for your quick thinking! So, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Braxton grinned and flushed. He was the hero. “Oh, it was nothing.”
Santa guffawed. “It most certainly was not nothing! You saved me — saved me!” He laughed and the pair danced around in a circle. After a moment, Santa collected himself and knelt before Braxton.
“I don’t know if you know about this, but there’s a special magic code…”
“A special magic code?”
Santa nodded. “Yes, it’s very important. It states that—” Santa did air quotes “—Whoev’r goeth out of their way to protecteth the liveth of the n’rth pole’s denizens during the p’rf’rmance of their annual duties shalt beest award’d one irrevocable Christmas wisheth. Which means that — in simple terms — for saving me, I have to grant you one wish. Now that can be anything — anything.” Santa smiled. “And I cannot say ‘no’, for you have done the most wondrous thing tonight. You have saved my life.”
Braxton looked off into the air and thought. He thought hard. About all the things he’d wanted over the year. The things he wanted most. The things that ached in his very soul.
“Well, there’s this one kid in school…”
Santa perked up. Warm rosiness trickled into his cheeks. “You’d give your only wish to send a present to another child? My, that’s the most selfless thing I’ve ever heard! You really are the most marvellous child I’ve ever—”
“Wait, what?” Braxton frowned at Santa. “Present?” He shook his head. “No, I don’t want to send him a present.” The boy glared at the fat man. “I want you to kill him.”
“And if I’ve understood correctly—” Braxton squared up and pointed a finger into his red suit “—you can’t say no. I saved your life, now you’ve got to do as I say!”
“That’s not how it wor—”
“Would you dare break the magic code?”
Santa shook his head. The bauble at the end of his hat — burnt, threadbare — jingled. “Well, I—”
Braxton broke away from Santa’s grip. He pointed with the air of authority he’d seen the school librarian use. “Then do what I command! Now go, fat man! Do my bidding!” The child clapped his hands. “Chop chop! You’re not getting any younger.”
Jayden woke to the sound of hooves above. His eyes flicked open and a grin sprung into action on his face. He hadn’t gone to sleep. The jar of Stayawake — The Truckers’ Friend! tablets in his bedside drawer had helped with that.
He threw the covers back and snatched the digital camera from the table. This would be the year. This would be his year. This was it. He would get proof — solid, irrefutable proof. He would be rich. No more school, no working all his life until he dropped dead. He could coast from here on out, ride the success of capturing the jolly man on film.
He was halfway down the steps when a rotund figure lurched into view at the bottom. Jayden gasped — it was him!
The silhouette had something slung over his shoulder. A bag of presents, no doubt. He’d make Santa let him take photographic evidence of it all as he’d seen on CSI: Miami.
And then Santa stepped forward. A shaft of light from the window lit his features.
Jayden stopped, breath caught in his throat.
Santa’s skin had blistered and peeled. A wicked sneer twisted the man’s features. “Somebody’s been naughty,” he said. Instead of his usual sing-song tone, his voice growled like a chainsaw.
Santa raised the object. No, not a bag of presents, as he’d first thought. It was a handle.
The handle of a fire axe.
Santa took one exaggerated step up to meet him. His boot thumped down. “Slay bells ring,” he crooned, an evil grin on his countenance. Santa’s eyes glowed — two tiny black coals wedged into the dough of his face. “Are ya listening?”
A cold chill ran through Jayden. All the hairs on his body stood on end. He swallowed hard, a click in his throat.
Santa took another step. “In the lane…” His voice dropped down a notch to a whisper. “Blood is glistening.”
Jayden scrambled backwards and fell to the floor of the landing.
“A beautiful sight.” Still, Santa pressed on. “Don’t put up a fight.” He passed the axe back and forth, from hand to hand. “Stalking in a winter wonderland.”
Jayden scuttled away on all fours. “Mom! Dad! Wake up! Wake up!”
Santa chuckled and tutted. He shook his head. “Dontcha know that adults get put under a spell each Christmas Eve?” He spun the axe around in his fingers. Its blade glinted in the moonlight. “Tonight belongs to you… and me. Just you and me, little Jayden.”
In a flash, Santa sprinted up the last of the steps and swung the axe overhead. He shrieked as he did so. “Merry Christmas from your old pal Braxton!”
Jayden rolled out of the way and the axe chopped through the carpet and into the floorboards beneath. The ground thudded beneath the child as if an earthquake rocked the house’s foundations.
“C’mere ya little—” Santa grunted as he pried the axe from the splintered wood and tattered rug.
Jayden dashed for his bedroom and snatched the tinsel from the picture frame in the corridor. Behind him, the sounds of a struggle as the man tugged at his stuck axe. Jayden looped one end around the doorknob — a makeshift knot he hoped would hold. He strung the rest across the open doorway. Waist height for him, knee height for Santa. Jayden ducked and hid behind the wall, end of the tinsel in hand.
His breaths shook. His heart throbbed at the base of his throat. From around the corner, something cracked and splintered. And then — footsteps. “You’re gonna wish for a stocking full of coal once I’m done with you! The code cannot be broken! God help me, the code cannot be broken!” Santa stomped nearer. “Where are you? You lit—”
His words slipped into a squeal as he tripped over the tinsel. An expert’s trap.
Santa flopped to the floor and the axe flung from his grip.
Now was his chance.
Jaden leapt up and over Santa. He kicked the old red bugger in the kidneys on the way.
The child commando rolled out into the hallway, camera still in his grip. He turned and snapped a photo of Santa sprawled out in the doorway. The flash lit him up in all his prostrate glory.
“NO!” the jolly man cried. “NO!”
Jayden laughed and then scampered down the stairs.
Behind him, Santa scrambled for his axe and staggered to his feet.
Into the lounge, the boy ran. He knew what to do — they’d covered lactic acids and salts earlier that month in school. Jayden slid on his knees to the plug extension and yanked out the Christmas lights.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Santa was on his way down the stairs. He sang a song, low and soft, as he drew nearer. “I see you when you’re sleeping, I know when you’re awake…”
The boy leapt up shoved the tree down with all his strength. It jingled and rattled to the ground in a festive cascade. Baubles and decorations scattered, this way and that. He stamped on a few of the lights. It was sad to do because they were so old — antiques.
A heavy thud in the hallway. Santa was at ground level. “I know when you’ve been bad or good…”
Jayden grabbed the glass from the table, next to the uneaten cookies. Milk again. This time, it was unfortunate for Santa. Had it been alcohol, the man in the red suit would have been fine. After all, alcohol’s a covalent compound with no free electrons. But milk…
The boy smashed the glass onto the upturned tree. Jagged shards and room-temperature milk splattered across the scene. He dropped to his knees and groped for the plug he’d disconnected. After a panicked heartbeat, he found it.
Right as Santa burst into the room. He roared. “SO BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE!”
The red man stomped over the slain tree. His axe swished. The air whistled as the blade cut through the air.
Jayden smacked the plug into the socket.
And lit Santa up like a Christmas tree.
The fat man loosed a squeal and dropped the axe. He began to spasm on the spot. Santa jittered like a dancer from Great Depression-era America. He flashed and flickered, like the very lights whose electricity supply he’d joined.
Jayden squinted at the jolts of light. He could’ve sworn the fellow’s skeleton was visible in those lightning-blue flashes. Santa remained frozen in place. Every electrical impulse and every neuron was ablaze, firing on all cylinders. Santa didn’t so much scream — he couldn’t contract the muscles — he let out a low groan. Drool dribbled out the corner of his mouth. And Jayden didn’t dare stare at the man’s crotch. Let the man keep some dignity.
“Had enough, fat boy?” Jayden grinned.
Santa continued to shake and shiver. If you’d put some good ole fifties rock ‘n’ roll on, he’d have been one cool cat. But there wasn’t any on. So he wasn’t.
Santa’s perpetual groan increased in volume. From a low growl to a high-pitched whine.
Jayden took that as an answer.
He pulled the plug.
Santa stopped his electric boogaloo. For the second time that night, smoke drifted up and away from him. Scorched beard. Cracked and raw skin. Popped blood vessels in his eyes. Blood trickled from his nose. For a few seconds, he continued to cry and grimace.
“Surrender, Santa. You have been bested.”
The man’s shoulders sagged. His head drooped down, beard against his chest. He shook his head. “No more. Please… no more.”
“Victory!” Jayden pumped the air. He flashed another picture of the fabled gift-giver. Although he’d later discover there was no memory card inside.
“And,” Santa sighed, “as you declined to end my life, I must admit you have technically saved me.” The man in the not-so-red-anymore suit growled. “And that means you get one wish.” He added, under his breath: “Although I’m beginning to think we should rescind this offer.”
Jayden grinned. “And I can wish for anything?”
Santa sobbed and nodded.
“Well, there is this one kid at school…”
24th December 2020