Santa Claus was running late. His black boots bounced and his stomach wobbled as he hustled to his seat. He almost tripped on the red carpet before the large wooden chair, but managed to keep himself upright. Exhaling, he took a seat, while ignoring the rum on his breath. Though his duties had been downscaled in this day and age, he was a man who still worked with pride. He patted the head of one of the reindeer in front of him and shifted in his seat; comfortable, he indicated to one of his helpers that he was ready.
She rang a bell.
An army of kids invaded the Christmas themed spot in the mall from every direction. Santa Claus, or Torben Gunderrson as he was known when not in the role, pressed a button at his side which activated a red light on one of the plastic reindeers’ noses in front of him. He cleared his throat, hearing the familiar jingle bells track play on the store’s tinny-sounding speakers.
“Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas” he boomed, straightening the fake beard which caused his chin to itch.
A boy in a yellow hooded sweatshirt broke free from the horde. He made his way along the red carpet and stopped a few feet from Santa’s chair. Torben leaned forward, his back creaked. “Come closer, little one.”
The boy took a step forward, but Torben could not see his face with the hood covering it. “Don’t be shy, tell good old Santa Claus what you would like for Christmas?”
The boy ignored him. Torben looked around, something was off. He noticed that all of the children wore clothing to cover their faces and that none of them were accompanied by adults. Trying to remain calm, he looked back at the boy. “Tell me, young one, what would you like for Christmas?”
“You,” the boy whispered.
“Sorry, I must have heard you wro—”
Torben heard a muted scream. Looking to his side, he saw a member of the store’s staff that had been assigned to assist him being dragged behind a large snowman. He couldn’t see the persons face, but he caught a glimpse of the blue vest over white shirt uniform that the staff wore. Crimson blood streaked across the white floor in their wake. Swinging his head from side to side, he searched for any of the other assistants, but located none. Even the lady who had rung the bell alongside him had vanished. The bell, however, was lying a few feet from him. Blood splatter now its keeper.
“What the hell is going on?” Torben said, standing.
The boy in front lowered his hood.
It was not the face of a boy, but rather a man. Torben felt his blood turn solid and cold like steel in winter. He recognized the pointy ears and a sharp nose. The realization of what he was looking at hit him like an unwarranted slap to the face. These were definitely not the friendly, beautiful images of the myth he had read in books during his youth.
The elf smiled, yellow canine-like teeth appeared. “No more ho-ho-ho?”
Torben screamed, falling back into his seat. His whitened knuckles gripped the sides of his seat as his face resembled one transfixed by horror. His breathing quickened, the short bursts of air were not sufficient and he felt the dizziness clog his thoughts.
The sounds of chains being whipped against the hard floor stopped Torben’s panic. The elves had all moved back, almost in rows. Looking up, Torben saw something move between some of the Christmas displays leading to him. The large pitch black creature shifted between rows of Christmas trees, taunting him. Torben would have run had his feet not felt as if they had been weighed down by anchors resting on the ocean floor. The creature then jumped out from the displays, only a few feet ahead of Torben, who had at first though it was a bear. But he was wrong. It was something worse, much worse.
The creature had long curved horns reaching into the air, just missing the golden tinsel that hung above it. Thick, wild, black hair grew all over its body. It had the eyes of a dangerous old man and a large red tongue hung out its mouth. Its cloven hooves clacked as it took a step forward.
Torben moved back, only to feel the back of the chair preventing him from retreating any farther. The horror pained within like metal rods being inserted into his veins. The elves were but a distant memory, even the fates of the staff around him no longer concerned him.
The creature leaped forward, and spat out a black substance that splattered all over Torben’s face. Torben being too slow to react panicked as he tried to remove the substance. His hands clawed at his face like rats in a hot bucket. The substance would not come off. It had the consistency of warm honey, only stickier. Torben, needing to inhale, braced for a foul stench. The substance however, was not unpleasant in smell, but rather had a fruity and alcoholic aroma.
Torben felt his skin burn, then contract. The world around him shuddered and he shut his eyes, trying not to scream. But the pain and discomfort did not last long. He opened his eyes, feeling his face. The substance was gone, but something was wrong. Torben climbed off the chair, only to topple forward, tripping over himself.
Standing up, Torben realized he was now the same height as the elves that were drawing close on him like a noose.
“Take him to the Black Forest for reconditioning. He will serve out his days in servitude for playing this false God,” the creature said.
The elves obeyed and grabbed Torben. Torben shut his eyes, praying that this was all some bad dream. But he knew better. He had simply been performing a job, a job he had done for many years. The frigid truth of who and what this creature was dawned on him. This year, a dark myth now proven true, the Krampus had endured enough and had sought revenge. Some of the other Santa’s that it would hunt down would surely just be killed.
Torben realized his punishment would be less merciful.