The Christmas Wish
by Crystal Connor
He thumbed through the list on the screen of his phone one more time just to be sure. It was confirmed. An emergency addition. He looked again at the naughty list and sighed. It seemed to get longer and longer with each passing year. And this year, there were more girls than boys. Tonight, all of the gifts for the good children had been dispensed before the hour of the night had reached double digits, the fastest time on record.
The problem with Christianity was forgiveness, but rest assured, there would be none of that here tonight. The moon was already halfway between the zenith and the western horizon, and he still had almost a million children to deal with before the sun rose.
The wide-eyed little girl he had tied up and put in front of the fireplace had black ringlets that hung just past her shoulders. Her big brown eyes were just a shade or two darker than her skin. She looked like an angel. He ignored her tears, walked into the kitchen, and helped himself to another cookie.
The little girl was scared, but there was nothing she could do to free herself from her nylon imprisonment, so she just glared at the intruder while he ate the cookies that she and her little brother had left out for him.
She knew this man was Santa, because she had seen the sleigh against the backdrop of the moon, heard him coming down the chimney, and watched him step out of the fireplace. She knew he was Santa, even though he was like no other Santa she had seen in pictures, at the mall, or on TV.
He wasn’t fat, and the last thing he looked was jolly.
He wore a metal helmet. His long red hair had gray in it, and so did his beard, but he wasn’t old enough to have all-white hair. He wore a black nightgown with a wide red belt tied across his flat belly, but she could see what he had on underneath, because it didn’t cover his sleeves, and it wasn’t very long. The gown was worn over black pants, a black sleeveless shirt, and black boots. The man eating cookies in the kitchen looked more like Thor than Santa.
The big red symbol on his chest was the same symbol that was on his shield: one line going up and down with five slanted lines drawn across it. The word above the symbol said “AUTHORITY,” and the words under the symbol said “and OBEDIENCE.” The words formed a circle around the strange symbol. The only thing that was the same as with the others she’d seen were his eyes … They were blue.
Santa ate the last cookie. Overlooking the glass of warm milk sitting next to the cookie-crumbed saucer, he went to the refrigerator and drank straight from the carton. With his thirst satisfied, he returned to the living room and took a seat in front of the bound girl. Even when seated, Santa loomed over her. The girl’s eyes flickered. Her breath was labored, and he knew the small child was going to pass out. At six years old, she was the youngest child on the list, and without a doubt, the most frightened child he had seen not only tonight, but also in a long while.
He grabbed the little girl by the collar of her pajamas that displayed a little black princess holding a frog, and removed the ball gag that was entirely too large. She took a long, deep, relieved breath.
Unlike the other children on this list, she did not shrink from him.
“You’re not really Santa. Santa’s nice; he would never do this.” A large tear slowly fell from her eye. “You look like him, but you’re not really him. Are you Santa’s son?”
He leaned forward and, with a calloused thumb, roughly smudged the tear from her face.
“My name is Kris Kringle, and these,” he said as he licked his thumb, “are not going to help you. I do not have a son. I am here because you’re on the naughty list … for the second year in a row.”
“Well, I got a dolly last year!” she stated with an indignant huff.
“Last year, you were too young to be disciplined.” The child’s eyes drifted from the angry orbs of ice down to the third word blazed upon the front of his tunic: “OBEDIENCE.”
She took a deep breath and tilted her head in thought. She held the gaze of his ice-blue eyes once more. She tried stretching her shoulders, but with her hands firmly tied behind her back, she couldn’t move them very far.
“It’s Christmastime; you’re supposed to be nice.”
“Really? Says who?”
“Says Jesus!” Clearly, the young girl was outraged by Santa’s ignorance.
“Hmmm.” Santa leaned back and crossed his legs. “After all that you’ve done, now you want Jesus?”
She thought about it for a moment and decided that she didn’t. Santa read her internal dialogue like an open book. She was trying to think her way out of this. Santa was no longer surprised that the child before him was an emergency addition to the naughty list.
“So then, am I getting a spanking?”
Santa laughed. He was sure that if she had locomotion, she would have asked that sassy question with a hand on her hip.
The rod had been spared in this household, and they were well beyond the niceties of corporal punishment. The behavior of this child demanded a return to the old way of things. Tonight, this babe would be reborn upon the altar of dutifulness.
Father Christmas and his young hostage looked up in response to hoof stomps. The animals on the roof were growing restless, and the old saint was behind schedule.
Most people neglected to remember the dark origins of the holiday and therefore failed to realize the consequences of being on the naughty list, which was reviewed and edited several times a year. Santa did more than just bring gifts and eat cookies. Children, like their parents, forgot or did not know that, above all else, Santa was a disciplinarian and that clumps of coal were useless tools when it came to child behavioral modification and teen attitude adjusting.
He reached for his bulky bag.
Santa laid the contents in a neat row at the feet of the ill-behaved princess and gave his watch a quick glance. Looking at the items placed before her, the child began to cry.
The pear of anguish was not sugar coated, and the mere illumination from the night-light made the metal gleam. Men using enhanced interrogation techniques would have protested the horrors. What was a little girl to do?
“Santa,” she said with terror-filled awe, “I have to go potty.” As Mr. Kringle slowly stood to tower over the child, a trickle of warm liquid ran down her legs to form a puddle that pooled around her small feet.
He turned his back to her tears and began to pace while being careful to not walk through the blood. Even with this carnage, this savagery, he pulled out his phone and checked the list once more. Just to be sure. Using his thumb and pointer finger, he enlarged the image on his screen. The picture he was looking at was a mirror image of the little girl crying behind him.
Santa returned to the kitchen, took a plastic cup from the cupboard, and filled it with sweet liquid. He grabbed the towel from the handle of the refrigerator and knelt before the young girl he had come to punish.
He allowed the young one to soothe her dry throat with the cool juice from the forbidden fruit that had caused the fall of man. He removed the rope that held her wrists behind her back and clamped a strong grip to the back of her neck. He marched her into her bedroom, found a fresh pair of pajamas, and then led her to the door of the bathroom.
“Go clean yourself up.”
When he heard the running water, he returned to the living room to stand over the dead. Chills ran down his spine as he tried to come to terms with how a six-year-old child could kill a man the same size as he or how one so young could kill her own mother.
He didn’t hear her, but he knew she was there, because he could smell her. He turned to face the strawberry-scented child. The depth of the detachment with which she regarded the deceased was alarming. The only emotion she displayed was reverence when she looked up to Santa’s face.
“Do I still have to get a spanking?” she asked again on the brink of tears. Rustling behind the couch commanded Santa’s attention, and he tossed the furniture aside to reveal a boy child, smaller and younger than the girl. The boy fled from his hiding place, stood behind his sister, and gawked up at Santa through a mask of bruises. The bridge of his nose was red, under his eye was purple, and the color of his cheek was blue. Santa watched the movement of the girl’s eyes as they drifted over the decaying with contempt.
“Do you know about Santa’s helpers?” he asked as he glared down at the children. The boy was nodding yes while his sister spoke for both of them.
“They’re the elves who live with you in the North Pole and work at the toy shop.”
Santa swore. In days of old, children were afraid of elves, and rightly so, for they were vicious deities responsible for nightmares, diseases, and death. It was the elves that kept track of those who had been nice and those who hadn’t.
It sickened Santa to think that when people thought of elves, the image that came to mind was that of colorful, diminutive, playful things of children’s cartoons. It was no wonder that people were astonished to learn that being on the naughty list was a way of illustrating that actions had consequences, that those consequences required penitence, and that the debt had to be paid in blood.
The true assistants of Saint Nicholas were demons dispatched to avenge injustice or insult, descending from long and amazing family trees, which included gods of the north, who flew through the sky with the help of horses, reindeer’s, and goats.
With Belsnickel, he had a judge; with Zwarte Piet, who was personally in charge of the naughty and nice lists, he had a jury. With Lapland the Wildman, who bashed in children’s skulls and drank from their necks as soon as he delivered gifts to the undeserving, he once had an executioner. Le Père Fouettard, who killed children, cut them up and put them in a stewpot, replaced Lapland, but like the Wildman, Le Père Fouettard was no more.
Santa was gently lured from his thoughts as he noticed how the child protecting her brother lustfully eyed the cat-o-nine tails. The sparkle in her eye matched the glint of the razor-sharp barbs. Her eyes lovingly caressed the manacles before they fell so assiduously upon the bastinado cane, a tool used to inflict a particularly brutal and cruel form of punishment in which the soles of the feet are whipped. She slowly took a visual inventory of all the instruments that would be used for the implementation of acceptable behavior, and smiled.
Santa had been mourning the loss of Fouettard for thousands of years, but Santa would yearn no more. This girl child who stood before him would replace Le Père Fouettard just as Le Père Fouettard replaced Lapland the Wildman.
Santa’s Christmas wish had been granted. Once again, after all these years, Santa had an executioner.
It was time to return to the old way of things.
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