Death Takes Saves A Holiday
Originally published on Kendall Reviews December 2018.
Santa wrapped thick, calloused fingers around the edges of his mug and breathed in the rich aroma of steaming hot cocoa. With a grimace of pain, he leaned back in his chair and peered out the frosted windows arrayed along the main factory walls. Outside, fat white flecks streaked past the panes almost horizontal in the storms fury. In the distance, a low rumble, more felt than heard, was matched by a sudden prismatic flash of yellow-orange brilliance scattered through the factory panes.
“So, Hermey.” Santa’s voice echoed through the vacant factory. “How bad is it?”
The workspace was empty except for rows of workbenches and shelves. It was always empty these last days before Christmas, the long tables cleared, the shelves devoid of toys as every elf busied themselves with the task of prepping the sleigh.
Santa shifted his gaze to the elf standing before him. “Well?” he asked laying a finger aside his nose.
The elf had the appearance of a child, no more than ten years old, yet his bright eyes were wrinkled in their corners and flecks of grey peppered his temples giving him an appearance of great wisdom.
He cleared his throat and glanced down at an iPad he held with trembling fingers. “It’s bad Santa. Real bad.” He coughed, wiping a hand across his soot-stained face. “They took out the entire north factory and most of the sleigh warehouse. Emergency crews have the fires under control, but we’re going to lose most of the warehouse.” Ice pellets clicked against the glass as a gust of wind howled through the eves.
“The good news,” Hermey said, “is the sleigh was being loaded when the missiles hit. So it and almost all the reindeer were in the assembly area when the walls collapsed.”
Santa leaned up, groaning with the effort and placed a hand against his side. The flat of his palm came away coated in blood. He glanced at his hand and rubbed it against the flat of his thigh. “What do you mean, almost all the reindeer?”
“It’s Rudolf,” Hermey said. “He’s lost another leg.”
“Damn those ISIS bastards!” Santa’s fist slammed onto the wooden table toppling a tray of Christmas cookies and sending sparkle coated wreaths and snowmen skittering across the surface.
Hermey glanced uncomfortably at the pile of cookies, fidgeting with a sleeve that was ripped to the elbow exposing a torn silken blouse and a bloody gash beneath.
Santa took a sip from his mug. “Sorry, Hermey. I haven’t been this mad since Hitler blocked all the chimneys in Poland in thirty-nine.”
“Perfectly alright, Santa.” A bright smile crossed Hermey’s lips, not quite touching his somber blue eyes. “It’s been a new low for Christmas.”
“Can the doctor’s fix Rudolf before tomorrow night?” Santa asked.
“The last update I received said ‘yes’,” Hermes said. “They can fashion a replacement leg for this most recent amputation from the leg we built for him after we clipped that 747 in 95’.”
Santa nodded and took another sip of cocoa, a dark brown smudge left on his moustache when he set the cup down. “I don’t envy Rudolf’s treatment from the others once they install the replacement,” Santa said. “The other reindeer were rough on him before. Now with only one real leg, the other reindeer have started laughing and calling him names; especially Prancer, he’s such a douch.”
Hermey tapped on the iPad’s screen and slid it across the table. Santa picked it up, his lips pale thin lines above his singed white beard.
“What’s this?” he asked pulling a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and perching them on his cherry-like nose. He tried to squint through the cracked lenses then huffed in frustration before returning them to his pocket. “Just read it to me.” He slid the iPad back across the table.
Hermey lifted the device as it pinged in his hand. At the same instant, the lights dimmed and a shadow seemed to pass over them. “We lost another one,” Hermey said with a shake of his head.
“Who was it?” Santa asked.
“It was Pepper Minstix,” Hermes said. “She was crushed when the wall collapsed. We thought she’d pull through, but I guess her injuries were just too severe.”
Santa wiped a tear from his eye. “Who else have we lost?”
Hermey considered the iPad. “Sugarplum Mary was killed in the firefight, and we lost Holly Leaf in the initial explosion. Jingle Bells was shot up pretty bad. Doc said he was holding on by a thread. There are several minor injuries but nothing serious.”
“I need to check on everyone and make sure the sleigh will be ready for tomorrow,” Santa said. He tried to rise but slumped into his chair with a groan.
“Santa, the worst news is about you.” Hermey dragged a chair across the flagstone floor and plopped down beside his boss. “Doc said you’ve got to have those bullets removed… right now.” He shook his head, the bells jingling on his cap. “Even with a healthy dash of Christmas spirit, you won’t be able to guide the sleigh until December 26th.”
“Then Christmas is lost,” Santa said. He picked up a Christmas tree cookie and nibbled along the edges. “What will we do?”
For several minutes he sat crunching one cookie after another. Finally Santa said,“Who could we contact on such late notice? Who would have the power to fill in?”
“I don’t know,” Hermey said. His bright blue eyes twinkling with tears. “Maybe this will be the year without a Christmas.” As he said this, the iPad chimed once again. He glanced up with a not so jolly a tear rolling down his cheek. “It’s Jingle,” Hermey said. “He’s dead.”
When the lights of the factory dimmed, Santa jolted upright, and despite the pain, sprang to his feet.
“Grim!” Santa called. “Grim Reaper. I’d like a word.”
Hermey shouted, leaping back and almost dropping his iPad as swirling mist formed at the edge of the table. The cloud twirled like an ebony tornado before coalescing into a dark hooded figure. The forbidding form leaned heavily on his long sickle-like an old man on a cane.
“Who calls on the name of death,” a voice croaked from the inky darkness of the cowl. Then the figure coughed, raising a skeletal hand to cover its unseen mouth. “Sorry ‘bout that,” Death said his voice melodious and deep. “This arctic air plays havoc with my allergies.” He stuck out a skeletal hand. “So what’s going on big man?” Death asked. “We haven’t spoken in what…a thousand years?”
Santa shook the bony hand and waved him towards a chair. The wooden feet scraping noisily across the floor as Death took a seat. “I’ve got a problem Grim. I thought you might be able to help me out.”
Death leaned back in the chair, the wooden spindles fading in color, wormholes appearing like magic along their length. “Name it Santa. If I can help, I will.”
“On Christmas eve, it’s my responsibility to deliver toys to all the world’s children,” Santa said, “and those ISIS bastards put me out of commission until the twenty-sixth.” He looked along his cherubic red nose at the brooding shadow. “I need someone to stand in for me.”
Death sprang up, the chair collapsing into a pile of dust beneath him. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said waving his hands between them. “That’s gunna take hours,” Death said. “What about all the people I’m supposed to collect?”
“Can’t it wait?” Santa asked. “What harm could a few hours of life mean; especially on Christmas eve.”
Death crossed his arms, tapping thoughtfully at a chin hidden in shadow. “Well, I’ve always wondered about that sleigh of yours.”
He paced beneath the windows, his sickle tapping in time beside him. “And I’d like a closer look at Rudolf,” he said, a wink of crimson visible beneath his cowl. “I’ve had an eye on him for some time now, but all I end up getting are legs.”
“So it’s a deal?” Santa asked.
Hermey edged away from them both, throwing quick glances towards the open hallway to his left.
“I don’t know,” Death said. “It’s a little unorthodox.”
“Tell ya what,” Santa said. “You do this for me, and I’ll return the favor. You can take a day off any time you want, except Christmas eve of course, and I’ll reap souls for you.”
Death turned, a cherry glow pulsing in the deep folds of his cowl. “A day off, huh? I haven’t had one of those in…well not since biblical times. People living hundreds of years and such. It took me the entire middle ages to catch up on my quota.” He took one last contemplative walk around the table before sticking out his bony hand. “Santa, you’ve got yourself a helper.”
Santa pushed up, wincing at the movement and took his hand. “Great. Then it’s a deal.” He laid a hand across Death’s back and led him towards the hall. “Hermey here will fill you in on all the details.”
Hermey caught Santa’s eye and shook his head, mouthing a wordless ‘No’.
“It’ll be all right,” Santa said waving the elf down the hall. “Show him where I’ve got the spare suit. He can wear it right over the cloak. No one will be the wiser.”
“Where are you going now?” Death asked.
“Doc said he’s got to operate on me,” Santa said. “I’ve got two slugs and a piece of shrapnel that’s gotta come out.”
“Want me to help?” Death asked.
“Noooo, I’m fine,” Santa held up both hands and waved him away. “The doc’s got it covered.”
“If you say so,” Death said. He tried to lay an arm across Hermey’s shoulder but the old pixie flinched away. “So, show me this sled I’ve heard so much about.”
NEW YORK DAILY GLOBE
CHRISTMAS EVE MIRACLE
Last night, Christmas Eve, doctors worldwide were baffled by a sudden absence of death. Reports from around the globe seem to indicate no one passed away between the hours of 9 PM and Midnight.
Dr. Richard Weingarten of Bellevue Hospital said he’s never seen anything like it. “A statistical anomaly that defies explanation.” According to Wiengarten.
Health care experts around the globe are looking into possible reasons for the sudden lack of death but…
Award-winning author, Jeff Dosser is an ex-Tulsa cop and current software developer living in the wilds of central Oklahoma. Jeff’s short stories can be found in magazines such as Iridium Zine, Tales of Terror, Shotgun Honey, Bewildering Stories, and Down In the Dirt just to name a few. He’s also been published in the Deadman’s Tome, Mother’s Revenge, Hindered Souls and Bringing It Back anthologies.
His novel, Neverland, was the 2018 Oklahoma Writer’s Federation winner for best new horror. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Writing.Com Quill award for best short fiction. When not writing, Jeff can be found wandering the woods behind his rural home pondering the mysteries prowling the darkness.
You can find out more about Jeff by visiting his official website www.jeffdosser.com
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffDosser
Including the award-winning short, Homecoming, as well as several stories found in popular anthologies and magazines, Velvet Dreams explores the depths of space as well as the depths of the human soul. A hodgepodge collection certain to entertain.