‘Twas nowhere near Christmas,
Yet all through the House…
Sconces flash by on walls decorated with Midwestern Native American iconography as he plunges down the endless hall. He chances a look over his left shoulder, frantically shoving his fake white beard to the left out of his vision.
He doesn’t get a chance to confirm if the insane guy dressed as a ringmaster is still chasing him because he steps on one of his unlaced boots and spills his entire heft forward to faceplant sharply on the hexagon pattern of the carpet. He smacks the floor hard enough to knock his stocking cap free.
Not risking a pause to register the pain erupting from the center of his face, he pushes himself back up to his feet, tugging on the black plastic belt to tug his red pants back up over his hips. Without thinking about it, he swipes his right sleeve across his nose before breaking into another run. The blood doesn’t stand out there until it reaches the white furry cuff, which is now matted against the back of his black glove.
Just a few hours(?) ago he’d been cheerfully dressing in the rented costume in the Starcourt Mall employee restroom. He’d been walking through the security hallway toward his village display, ready to spend the evening posing for Christmas cards for excited parents while holding terrified, crying children, when he felt the entire world explode inside his head with a white starburst behind his eyes.
When he awoke, he’d found himself on his knees in… a hotel hallway? A very tall man dressed as a circus ringmaster was uncoiling a strand of LED lights and, judging by what he felt around his wrists, was going to use them to bind his ankles together as well.
Coming to his senses in a panic, he’d jolted to his feet and darted past his captor. Along the way, he’d managed to free his hands and discard the festive restraints. Since then he’s been frantically searching for the exit. He’s lost count of how many floors he’s descended, but he has yet to reach a lobby or foyer that might lead him outside. There doesn’t seem to be any windows and most of the doors are locked.
Every few minutes, as he turns a corner, he catches a glimpse of the crazed maniac still following him, and he gets another burst of speed, but he’s beginning to flag. Let’s face facts, he wasn’t hired by the mall just because he was a great actor; he fills the suit more or less suitably. At this point, he’s running on fear alone, and the tank is nearly empty.
He notices a door ahead is ajar, and he puts on one last lunge toward it. At this point, he’s praying to at least find something to bar the door and buy some time to rest. He slams into the door hard enough to bruise a shoulder and jam three of his fingers, but he manages to slam it behind him and lean against it, dragging great lungfuls of air into himself. When he’s done gasping, he opens his eyes.
His blood runs cold as his mind fractures trying to make sense of what he’s seeing.
All around the room, arms held above them by Christmas lights hanging from hooks on the wall, eight other Santas are on their knees in various degrees of abuse and distress.
He slides down the wall to a sitting position, finally appreciating his doom as all hope of escape exits in an instant. He doesn’t even register when the heavy thumps that will eventually force the door open begin…
“Hello, Mr. Claus…”
Two people were shrieking,
A man and his spouse.
The #3 Escalade barrels down the highway, it’s wide frame narrowly missing the other cars on the road as it weaves in and out of traffic. Jaclyn Pierrot has a clear Blender Bottle in one hand and the steering wheel in the other. Instead of her usual dress and boot combination, she has opted instead for a full devil costume, complete with pointed tail and horns. Montague sits in the passenger seat, his hand clutching the ‘oh shit’ bar which matches the ‘oh shit’ look on his face as the SUV comes within inches of the front bumper of a massive Wal-Mart 18-Wheeler. The horn blasts behind them.
“What’s that guy’s problem?” she asks and her terrified passenger slowly turns his head.
“What kind of protein shake did you say you had?”
“Mostly eggs,” she takes a swig. Another narrow miss as the vehicle takes the shoulder to pass. He eyes the bottle in her hand.
“Nog, whatever the fuck that is?” She reaches the mostly empty bottle out towards him and he can smell the overwhelming aroma of bourbon before he even opens the top. “You can have the rest, I’ve already had a fifth.”
His eyes once again turn back her way.
After convincing Jacky of the need to stop for more drinks, Montague Cervantes is able to persuade her to let him drive. She now sits in the passenger seat, a forty ounce in one hand.
“What kinda of powers do you think he has?” she wonders, her face far too close to his as she speaks.
“That’s precisely what I intend to find out.”
“How do you think he controls all those minions?” she asks. He starts to answer, but she continues on, excitedly, “I just love them with their little pointy ears…”
He nods in agreement.
“...and little pointy tails!” she gleefully pulls at her tail and waggles it right in his line of sight. He holds an arm up to sweep her away.
“Elves have tails?” he asks.
He turns towards her, her face that of absolute confusion. He looks her over: devil horns, a demon tail, a full red leotard and a cape. “Where is it you think we are heading?”
She smiles brightly over at him: “Satanville!”
Realization sets in. Montague’s eyes turn back towards the road and he swallows deeply. He flicks on the radio and scoops the Blender Bottle up, finishing what remains. He can feel the rush of heat begin to wash across his chest, helping steady his nerves as the vehicle passes a sign that reads: ‘Santaville: 53 miles’.
Someone had hung them,
By the length of their hair.
“You’ve got to be fucking joking…”
Santaville is, in a word, impressive. It resembles nothing less than a fantastical village plotted along wood plank paths through groves of thick alpine trees, all of which are laden with twinkling, multicolored stars. Clearings open up after long, snowy treks, and in each one is a new whimsical attraction.
After leaving the live reindeer petting and feeding area, you go around a huge curve to reach a roller coaster that looks like a massive flying sleigh, complete with antlers and a glowing red nose on the front car. From there, you follow a curve around the opposite direction to find a candy shop so extensive that there’s even a wall covered floor to ceiling with glass jars containing a gummy version of every animal you can name in five minutes. A zig-zag walk from the store brings you to a drop ride situated on a 70 foot chimney. There’s a maze that seems to be made entirely of fairy lights which, once solved, deposits you at a carousel with polar bears, giant arctic hares, dainty doe, and great wooly moose. Mooses? Meese? On and on it goes, with trains that look like the Polar Express, an exotic, winter animal exhibit, a gingerbread man scavenger hunt for the kiddos, an hourly parade of nutcracker soldiers throwing candy around, a little drummer boy drum circle, a bakery churning out the kind of sweets you’d expect to only find in a place like Hogsmeade, a climbing “wall” made up of a giant plaster fir tree with ornaments forming hand and foot holds, and countless interactive elf workshops where guests can create personalized souvenirs and one of a kind handmade gifts to take home with them.
A ticket holder could easily spend an entire day here from the time the gate opens until the time security ushers them out late into the night. At any point during the day, however, families can detour off the main path and take a trip to the center of the park where Santa’s Castle is situated. Father Christmas and his kindly wife receive guests here day in and day out, surrounded by an army of helpers. Needless to say, the longest line of the entire park remains in front of the palace for the span of the operating hours.
Outside of the gates of the wintry theme park, a soccer mom type leads her three toddlers away from the exit and toward the parking lot. They’re obviously coming down from a sugar-and-overstimulation high from their day, dragging their feet as their shoulders lump under their tiny parkas. The maternal instinct causes the parent to suddenly jerk her head up. She grabs for the smallest tyke, yanking him bodily into the air and out of the way. An Escalade careens down the wrong side of the road and plows through the space that was being trudged only seconds ago by an exhausted toddler.
Brakes squeal, and the bumper pegs a festive crisscrossed set of candy canes with a marzipan 'Entrance' arrow, sending it flying hard enough to embed itself into the wooden fence around the park. Montague spills out of the driver’s seat and composes himself.
“Oh yeah,” Montague muses as he looks around with a sort of sick wonder. The bourbon has settled pleasantly in his gut, and he’s feeling a hungry sense of anticipation. “If we’re going to find the real Kris Kringle, it’s going to be here.”
He nods to himself and marches towards the ticket booth. Jaclyn, meanwhile, sits with her arms crossed across her chest. Despite the painted smile, she is not happy.
“You said slay rides….” she mutters as she watches him walk away. There is a bang on her window as the soccer mom has found the courage to confront the would be motor vehicular assailants. The clown’s jaw clutches as the woman's fist hammers once more.
“Excuse me!” the woman says, trying the handle. It doesn’t budge so she takes a step back and swings her purse at the windshield. “Excus-”
The words, and a few teeth, are swallowed as the door flings open straight into her mouth. Her head hits the concrete just as the black Timberlands do. The children scream at the sight of the tiny clown-devil stepping out of the massive SUV. She slams the door shut and steps over their downed mother, following Montague, fresh 40 in one hand and her .44 tucked in her waistband.
By the time she catches up with him, he already has two tickets and a matching set of wristbands. He holds it out, but she walks past, instead working on finishing the bottle. A security guard with a wispy moustache and matching soul patch holds out a hand.
“Ma’am you can’t bring that in here…” he starts and surprisingly, she halts just in front of him. She holds a finger up, then the bottle, swaying gently as she transfers the liquid to a more acceptable container. Another family moves past them, hands pressed over the children's eyes so they cannot learn of the disgust that lies within their parents’.Montague stands just behind her patiently, offering his apology in the way of a smile to the clearly over-it guard.
Finished, she moves it from her lips, letting loose with a loud burp.
“Rude,” someone says. The clown merely smiles as she flips it over then drives the heavier bottom into the side of his face in an explosion of glass. Montague watches, first in shock, then in horror, as she pushes past the turnstile, the ticket still extended in his hand. From the ground, the guard moans and pulls himself into a fetal position, shards from the bottle forming a horrific halo around his battered skull.
In the distance, Montague can hear the ‘Rum Pum Pum Pum’ of the drum as it draws nearer, cut short by the bang of her gun.
“Oh dear…” he says and rushes after.
“And left them, naked,
Just dangling there.”
Christmas was a special time, a time for giving, for sharing, for coming together, and for Jaclyn Pierrot and Montague Cervantes this was no different. She gave the trigger a squeeze and they shared a laugh. They had finally come together to enjoy the holiday for what it truly was: yet another reason to drink.
Their plastic cups full of deeply discounted holiday ale, the two Creeps sat in the engine car of the train that circled around and eventually dipped into Santa’s Castle: the remaining sanctuary safe from the madness spreading below. After interrupting the drummer boy parade, the reports from her gun caused a small panic, leading to a misunderstanding, then a full-blown riot. This in turn had caused the staff to abandon their posts, and the 12$ beer, once so valuable, became suddenly a commodity, and as the seasons are prone, indulgences ran amok and tempers boiled over.
People may have come for a chance to forget their troubles, but Jacky once again gave them something to think about: how to escape a live polar bear. For those in the chimney, this thought plagued their mind as they watched two of the massive beasts, freshly escaped from the exotic animal show, sniffing about the controls, slick and shiny from the butter left behind from it’s operator’s hands.
Roving bands of pre-teens, pockets stuffed with candy, and on a buzz that only a butterfinger could bring, began to bash through any and everything they could find to break. The sprinkler system was triggered and the mooses or meeses, whichever you preferred to scream in horror, began to stampede from the show and around the winding path, their handlers swept away by the fury of the masses. In a desperate attempt to escape, the pens to the feeding zoo have been shoved open and the confused reindeer join the herd.
“I see it now!” Montague laughs as the train rounds the bend, high above it all. The vision, once foggy, became clear through the double-vision. “It’s a giant carousel, come to life!”
Indeed it was, the animals below now mimicked their ceramic counterparts, only now instead of being ridden and controlled, they chased the humans and forced them forwards. On-and-on they ran, and around the bend they went.
Inside Santa’s Castle, news of the chaos below had been kept to a minimum. The line continues to move forward, slowly but surely, however, instead of leaving back through the park, guests are slowly escorted out through a tunnel exit.
“I want a Playstation 5!” the little boy says. He smells like hot applesauce and tuna after it has been partially digested. The man in the costume did his best to fake surprise.
“Oh really?” he asked, only to get no response as the child hopped away. His mother shook her head as they offered to show her the photos, indicating to her phone.
“Next!” The velvet rope was lifted and another child, identical to the last, shimmied forward. Santa did his best not to sigh. Only two more hours, he thought hopefully.
There was a low murmur, and the elves shuffled hastily about to clear the track, unprepared for an unscheduled arrival. Moving faster than normal, they were barely able to get the path cleared before it came sailing into the room.
The screech of the breaks causes the crowd to clutch at their ears.
Montague pulls the cord one last time as the clown rises from her seat. One of the elves begins to protest as she starts to push through the line, but the pistol in her hand gives her pause. The path parts and she steps over the velvet rope, past the child, and plops right into Santa Claus' lap.
“Hiya,” she squeals, the hammer of the gun pulling back.
“Wh…” she leans into his chest, the pleasant smell of walnut raisin cookies hits his nose. Her hand slides up his chest and he forgets his lines.
“Is this where I tell you I’ve been naughty?”
“Wh-what is-s-s it you w-w-ha-haaa—!” he shrieks, the cold steel coming to rest against the bottom of his chin through his fake beard. Montague steps through the now retreating crowd and over the ropes.
“Great job Jacky, now we just bring him with us!”
Her head turns slowly in his direction, the cheshire smile spread far and wide. She snorts: “What are you, stupid? Have you never seen The Santa Clause?”
Before Montague can react, Jacky pulls the trigger. The crowd increases its speed and volume as both staff and guests shove and push their way to be the first to safety. Montague silently looks over at the now still man, his head slumped over his chest. He sighs.
“Let’s grab another…” he says, and walks back towards the train.
They’re sipping frothing mugs of some steamy liquid, and it’s clear from their bleary looks and slurred speech that they’re still enjoying whatever remaining spirits they can get their hands on.
Jacky points out where a blazing star of Bethlehem with half its electric bulbs already burned out is sailing through the air from the top of the massive chimney toward the fairy light maze. They both close their eyes and make a wish.
“A new set of climbing pitons!” Montague yells.
“Unlimited ammo!” Jacky screams.
They both guffaw before Montague addresses the waiting camera.
“I hope a victory at Horizons wasn’t on your wishlist this year, because Santa’s going to be a little too busy to deliver.” he says.
He and Jacky share a sadistic chuckle.
“Sorry to disappoint you. Although, disappointment has sort of become your M.O. hasn’t it? Week after week we listen to the two of you vow that your disappointing showing in UGWC is at an end, that it’s time for the ‘old’ you to come back.”
“And then we wait, visions of your forgotten glory days in Carnage dancing in our heads. And we wait…”
Montague twirls the first finger of his left hand, as if trying to hurry something along.
“We’re still waiting.”
“If you’re expecting that to change just because it’s the last, biggest show of the year, if you think a plump, jolly potato is going to drop a last minute, career-changing triumph down your chimney, then you’ve set yourself up for disappointment again.”
“Don’t misunderstand. We’re fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-lar from bored of roasting you two chestnuts over our hellish fires. Be honest, after all you’ve seen us do, who do you think a deathmatch favors?”
He sips again, looking upward with wistful nostalgia.
“I’ve spent almost every Holiday of my life on the run since I was a teenager. No family. No home. Nothing to feel joyful about except my tenuous freedom, which hung on a thread. Nobody wants to be all alone on Christmas, right?”
“Eventually I figured out I wasn’t ever going to fit into a Norman Rockwell Christmas card painting and chose a different path. I would find my joy in the things others rejected. My home would be the secretive, undervalued, and unappreciated places in the world. My family would be other outcasts like myself.”
Looking back into the camera, Montague continues.
“That’s where I found my truth, and I flourished. Eventually, I found the AstroCreeps, and my family grew. Now, you can go on social media, the UGWC video feed, or any wrestling youtube channel and find any number of estimations of my family’s worth. Everyone has an opinion, but everyone also thinks they’re going to be the one that erases the legacy my family is building. What you won’t find is a tacit admission of our truth: We do what you want to do, say what you want to say, live how you want to live, play how you want to play.”
“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s what we are. We are smart, capable and most importantly, free in all the ways that you are not. You’ve both shackled yourselves to that same homespun, heartwarming Christmas card fantasy, and now you’re trapped. Oh, you keep telling us you’re going to break free “this time.” But you’ll never be free. You drank the flavor aid and poisoned your legacies, and now you’re sinking further and further into an anachronistic golden age that only truly exists in people’s heads.”
Montague turns to Jacky, who adds her thoughts. She skips slightly ahead of him, giggling as she squeals out in a sing-songy manner.
“Dashing through your hopes, what more can I say?”
She leans in close to the camera, tapping the lens.
“Do you still hope, or do you just pray?”
Jaclyn moves back.
“I had hope once. Promise.” Her hands slide across her waist briefly before clutching the cloth at the front of the latex, red leotard. She looks up, a glimmer of a tear. “I had dreams.”
She wipes it away and looks down at the ground. Jacky picks up a discarded toy from the ground, trampled and abandoned in the chaos. She does her best to clean it as she speaks.
“When I was a little girl, I would ask for the same doll each and every year. It wasn’t special or expensive, but I was the only girl at school without one of my own. Each year my parents would tell me the same thing: ‘Sorry Jacky, Santa must have forgotten.’”
Her mood instantly shifts and she smiles slyly, winking at the camera.
“You know what it’s like to be forgotten, don’t you?”
She lifts the doll up above her swirling a moment, before bringing it down against her chest. Jacky squeezes it close, once more serious.
“And still, each year I hoped and each year I felt the sharp sting of disappointment and eventually, Santa forgot to forget. ‘Sorry, Jacky! We just don’t have the money.’” She holds it in front of it, clutching at its lapels as she yells the words, before hugging it again close. Her hand strokes it’s back. “‘But you’ll always be my little doll.’”
It drops silently down onto the wooden planks at her feet, once again abandoned.
“I learned very young what hope was all about, because after all, hope was the rope I hung myself with. Hope was the tightening bond around my throat as I hoped for an escape. I hoped for someone to come and save me and most importantly, I hoped that one day, Santa wouldn’t forget. Not about me. Not this time.”
Jacky shakes her head.
“Not this year.”
The heel of her boot slowly lowers on the plush head, then grinds it into the wood.
“Well, all these years later, I never forgot what it meant to hope. To dream, but instead of holding onto that feeling I grabbed hold of what I could. I took control of my dreams, and my future and that’s why am I where I am today and you two….well…how’s hope treating you?”
“I bet you hope you win.”
Jacky hops and lands on the doll with both feet.
“I bet you hope you come out on top.”
She walks around herself, listening to the imaginary crowd. Her hand cups her ear.
“You hope to once again hear the crowd sing your praises and scream your names, listen and look and see that those looks of excitement and envy and even entertainment have turned dull and listless.” Jacky lowers her hand dramatically, pantomiming realization, then sadness. Her eyes look up, once more into the camera. “And bored. Bored of hearing about your past. Bored of hearing what you did. Bored of watching you repeat the same old actions only to receive the same old consequences.”
Someone screams in the distance. Montague raises his glass in celebration.
“Hope may have been the rope I hung myself with, but I loosened the knot and set myself free, but you two?” She looks up, her eyes following an imaginary pendulum that rocks back-and-forth, back-and-forth. Montague drinks. “You’re still swinging from the fan - some deathmatch this is gonna be.”
“Two careers, dead long ago, all that’s left now is to bury these bodies.”
The doll is kicked away. Jacky paces back and forth, tapping her temple.
“Let me guess, you’re going to bring something I’ve never seen before? How many times do I have to hit this fucking record before it breaks? Monday Night?” She cracks her knuckles.“We’re gonna find out. We’re gonna see how far you’re willing to go. What you’re willing to do and more importantly what you’re willing to give up. Are you willing to give up your flesh? Aren’t we all, after all sticks and stones, but what about your lives? What about your loves? Are you ready to watch Kyra die right before your eyes? And what about Adina?”
“Is she gonna watch?”
Her fingers force her own eyes wide.
“Will she live this time and time again on repeat, watching as mommy and daddy’s lives slip from their bodies?”
The clown bites down on her lip.
“What a legacy to leave behind.”
Montague Cervantes chuckles from behind her. She continues.
“I guess you could hope. Hope she turns out braver than mommy and stronger than daddy. You could hope that she falls in her own well and see her own bats, just like in the comics. Then she can grow up and come and avenge her long dead mommy and daddy.”
Jacky pauses. Her hands clasp in front of her. She teeters too and fro innocently, shrugging her shoulders.
“Or at least she can hope, but just like them, she’ll find out…”
Her hands unclasp and she once more approaches the camera, picking it up. She leans in close, whispering as she speaks.
“Hope is the rope I’ll strangle her with.”
Cut to black.
Daedalus strolls easily down a grand staircase into the lobby of the Underlook. He wears a pair of felt antlers and a red foam nose, as well as a scarf that looks like it’s entirely made of tinsel. He also wears a self satisfied smirk, as if he’s been imbibing Jacky’s “protein shake.”
He passes Tempest room where the door is open just a crack. He peeks inside. The clown has on a matching fur thong and bralette and is on her knees in front of Tempest. He has a riding crop, likely the same one from the Underlook, in his hand. She bats her eyes back at him
“Help me guide my sleigh…” he says. Daedalus backs away quickly, his eyes going wide from what he nearly witnessed.
Continuing on, he comes to another staircase and descends once more. On the way down, he pauses at a landing where a door opens off to a storage room. Inside, he observes Montague stringing together a wreath out of odd bits and fragments of whatever he can find there.
Daedalus watches as Monty attaches a length of barbed wire by wrapping electrical tape around over and over, then reaches for a series of razor blades strung together on a length of twine.
Daedalus nods in approval and continues down the steps. At the base, he turns left and walks to the end of a corridor lined with doors marked by archaic symbols instead of room numbers.
As he continues his trek, the camera pans down, passing through the floor to the next story down, picking up speed as he passes through the next floor as well. An endless amount of hallways flash by as the camera drops further and further, until the view finally goes dark.
Time stretches out uncomfortably, but after an indeterminable number of minutes, a naked bulb flickers to life. Against the wall opposite the door, the Ol’ Saint Nick who was rudely dragged from Santaville kneels in his jingle bell boxers and stocking cap only.
Santa raises his head weakly, one eye swollen shut and a trickle of blood lining his face from the corner of his mouth down over his chin and halfway down his neck. His remaining eye flutters in the sudden light as he tries to blink away the blurriness that keeps him from making out Daedalus’ face.
Daedalus smiles as he steps further into the room, pushing the door closed behind him. “Hello, Mr. Claus.”
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