A horrible little story about what happens to bad children at Christmas time.
|It was the night before Christmas, and little Peter and Clarissa were tucked into their beds. Peter was a pretty good little boy, who hoped to get a new Wii console for Christmas. But Clarissa was a perfectly horrid little girl who teased her little brother and stole his lunch money at school. She hoped to get a new iPhone for Christmas.|
“Peter? Are you awake?” Clarissa whispered.
“Yes,” Peter whispered back.
“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”
Peter paused for a second. “Y-yes. Don’t you?”
“There is no Santa, you little moron! It’s just Mommy and Daddy!”
Peter started to cry. “No! There is a Santa! You’re lying!”
“Let’s find out,” Clarissa said. “We’ll hide downstairs, and you’ll see!”
And so the children crept downstairs and hid behind the sofa, and waited. Peter kept falling asleep, and Clarissa kept waking him up. Finally, as midnight approached, Peter started fidgeting.
“Stop it, Peter! You’re making too much noise!”
“But I gotta pee,” Peter whined. “I can’t hold it. I’m goin’ to the bathroom.”
And he did. But while he was gone, Clarissa heard a noise, of little hard bits of creosote tumbling down the chimney, and then a loud WHOOSH, and then there he stood, Santa Claus, brushing soot off his suit. Clarissa’s heart leapt to her throat, and she could hardly breathe from excitement.
Santa muttered under his breath as he pulled presents out from his sack and put them under the tree. He turned to go back up the chimney, then stopped and sniffed. “I smell a child,” he growled in a low, un-Santa-like voice. He followed his nose to the sofa, and pulled it away from the wall; there huddled the trembling Clarissa.
Clarissa tried to scream; she opened her mouth, but was unable to make any sound except a hiss.
Santa snorted, “Ah, a smelly little girl!” and grabbed her and stuffed her into his sack, and back up the chimney he flew!
When Peter came back to the living room, he saw the presents, and his eyes opened wide. He ran over to the couch to see if Clarissa was still there, but she wasn’t. “Darn it! I missed Santa!” He went upstairs and Clarissa wasn’t in bed, either. “Stupid Clarissa! She’s hiding somewhere, waitin’ to play a trick on me!” So Peter got into his bed, and soon he fell asleep.
Meanwhile, on the sleigh, Santa pulled Clarissa out of his sack, and with an evil-sounding laugh said, “This is a fine specimen,” and he put her into another sack, which was already occupied by a number of crying children, and closed the top securely.
“What is Santa going to do with us?” Clarissa asked in a small, frightened voice.
“We don’t know,” answered another terrified child.
“Ho Ho Ho!” Santa guffawed. The children heard the crack of a whip, and they lurched off amidst a great jangling of sleighbells. “Merrrrrry Christmas!” he shouted.
And they disappeared into the night.
After all the presents were delivered, and more children gathered into the sack, the sleigh made the long trip back to the North Pole, and landed on the roof of Santa’s castle. The children were released from the sack, and they looked around in wonder.
“Santa’s Village is just as I imagined, Clarissa exclaimed. “Look, gingerbread houses and candy cane light posts, and elves scurrying about wrapped in long striped mufflers!”
But just beyond the village, huge chimneys belching black smoke poked up from the frozen ground.
Santa disappeared, and the children were herded inside by tough-looking elves. They went down a long, twisting flight of steps to a chilly reception area.
A wrinkled old elf with rosy cheeks, a long white beard, a potbelly, and skinny arms and legs, seemed to be in charge, and he barked out instructions. “You children, be quiet and stand up straight!”
One boy continued to talk, and the old elf nodded his head toward some tough-looking elves. They grabbed the boy roughly. “Leave me alone,” he blubbered as they dragged him away. Shortly thereafter, the crack of a whip was heard, followed by an agonized scream. Then another. Then another.
“That’s what happens when you disobey an order,” the old elf barked. The children were grimly quiet, and some of them were crying. The elf passed out little booklets. “Here are the rules. Learn them and obey.” As the sound of the whip cracking and the screams of the disobedient boy continued in the background, the old elf then sorted the children by size and gender, and Clarissa found herself with a group of girls all about her age.
Nearby a group of boys stood, and the old elf now addressed them: “All right, you there,” he pointed with the stick that he carried. “You will work in the coal mines. We have some very tight shafts that only little boys like you will fit in. Stand over there,” he pointed. “And you,” he said, pointy to a very small and skinny boy, “you will go with the chimney sweep. You look like you’ll fit down a narrow flue pipe! And you, there,” he pointed to a fat boy, “you’re going to the butcher shop.”
The fat boy smiled. “I’m going to help the butcher?”
The old elf walked up to the boy and struck him sharply with his stick. The boy yelped. “What is Rule Number One, boy?”
The fat boy opened his rule book with trembling fingers. “D-don’t speak unless spoken to.”
“Right.” He struck the boy again. “And what is Rule Number Two, boy?”
The boy, now blubbering, looked at his book. “Don’t ask questions.”
The old elf then looked out at the entire group of terrified children. “THAT’S RIGHT!” he shouted. “Do NOT speak unless spoken to! And DO NOT ask QUESTIONS!
The trembling children stood there as silent as mice, as the sounds of the whipping in the background continued, the boy’s screams growing weaker and weaker.
Clarissa was sent to the kitchens to be a scullery maid. She and the other scullery maids were the first ones up in the morning, and the last to go to bed at night. On her first day, they showed her a pile of potatoes twenty feet high.
“Here you are, my girl, a nice sharp paring knife. Get to work,” said the ugly old elf woman who was in charge of her. She had a stringy white hair, a potbelly, and huge pendulous breasts, but skinny arms and legs, and big feet, like all the other elves.
Clarissa kept her eyes averted when the elf-woman spoke to her, in accordance with Rule Number 3: “When you meet an elf, you will avert your eyes, and stand aside if the elf wishes to pass by.” When she finished with the paring, Clarissa was given a bowl of soup, which was rather watery, and seemed to contain potato peelings and some bits of meat, and a piece of black bread that was so hard, that all she could do was put it into the soup to soften it. She wondered what sort of meat was in the soup, but kept her mouth shut, remembering Rule Number One and Rule Number Two.
The days passed by in silence and drudgery. She never knew what time it was, because there were no clocks, and did not even know if it was night or day, because there were no windows. She was so tired at the end of the day that she didn’t even have the energy to cry. She slept in a dormitory, which was patrolled by a matronly elf-woman with a stick, with hundreds of other children. They were mostly too tired to do anything but sleep, but any child who dared to try to speak to another child was taken into another room and beaten while the others trembled in their hard narrow bunks as the beaten child’s screams echoed through the halls.
In the months that followed, Clarissa gradually pieced together a picture of what was going on. The smokestacks she’d seen when she first arrived belonged to the underground factories where human slaves provided the labor to manufacture all the toys and other goodies that Santa delivered on Christmas Eve. The coalmines provided the fuel. The elves who lived on the surface, in the village, practiced their traditional crafts of wood carving, shoemaking, fine tailoring, candy making, clock-making and fine jewelry, while the human slaves worked in the underground factories and kitchens, and never saw the light of day.
For Clarissa, life was endless mountains of potatoes to be peeled, dishes to be washed, and pots to be scrubbed. One day, as Clarissa struggled down the hall with a bin of potato parings, she saw two men carrying what looked like a body on a stretcher. They were the first grown-up humans she had seen since she arrived at the North Pole. She looked up and down the hall, and no elves were in sight. “Hello,” she whispered to the men. “What are you doing?”
The tall man looked around, and then said, “We’re taking this man to the butcher.”
“The butcher! Why?” asked Clarissa.
“He worked in the mines all his life, and now he’s worn out and useless,” said the tall man.
The short man said, “What do you think that meat is in your soup?” The tall man elbowed him, “Oh, ah . . . “ But he couldn’t think of any way to take back what he’d just said. “Well, she would’ve found out sooner or later,” he said lamely.
Clarissa felt her stomach tighten into a knot. The man on the stretcher opened his eyes, from deep within hollow sockets, and looked at her. He tried to speak, but could only make weak croaking sounds. “But, he’s still alive!” she cried in alarm.
The tall man said, sadly, “Not for long.”
Just then, the butcher and two assistants appeared in the doorway. The butcher was a big, burly elf, almost as big as Santa. He was wearing a bloodstained apron and carried a large, bloody cleaver. He scowled at the humans. “Get back to work, you three, or I’ll have you beaten,” he snapped.
Clarissa and the two men quickly averted their eyes, and resumed going about their business, while the butcher’s assistants took the worn-out man into the butcher shop.
Clarissa went back to the kitchen, where a fresh mountain of potatoes awaited her. But first, she was given a bowl of soup and a piece of the hard black bread. After what she had just seen and been told, Clarissa had no appetite, and left the table and went back to work. From then on, she refused to eat, and threw her food away when the old elf woman wasn’t looking. Humans weren’t allowed to refuse to eat—that was Rule Number Four.
A few weeks later, she saw the two men with the stretcher again.
“Hello, Clarissa,” whispered the tall one.
“You look like you’re getting thin,” said the short one.
“I just can’t eat anymore, after what you told me last time.”
The two men looked at each other. “That’s not good,” said the tall one. “If you stop eating, they’ll take you to the hospital.”
“Yes. In the hospital, you’ll be strapped down and force fed six times a day, until you’re fat and round,” said the tall one.
“And then you’ll be sent to the butcher shop,” said the short one.
Clarissa began to cry. She thought about the fat boy who was sent to the butcher shop the day she first arrived. And she shuddered as she thought about the delicious smell of roasting meat, prepared for the elves, that came from the huge ovens in the kitchens. “I thought that Santa loves children.”
“Oh, he does—properly cooked, and served up with heaps of mashed potatoes and gravy,” said the tall one.
“This place is so horrible! How long have you men been here?”
The tall man said, “Well, I’ve been here since I was eight, and I reckon it’s been thirty-five years now.”
And the short man said, “And I’ve been here over forty years.”
“Has anyone ever escaped?”
“Not that we know of,” said the tall man. “Some have tried, but they don’t get far. Santa’s wolves run them down and eat them. This is what happens to us,” he said, nodding toward the corpse. “The skinny, worn-out old ones and the sick ones go into our soup. The fat, juicy young ones are fed to the elves.”
“Why? Why? This is so unfair. Some children are so lucky, and get presents, and live in nice houses—why is life so unfair to us? Why?”
The two men looked at each other and shrugged. They had no answer.
“But don’t cry, Clarissa. You’re a pretty girl,” said the short man. “If you mind your P’s and Q’s, Santa will probably take you into his harem, if you can catch his eye.”
“His harem? What’s that?”
The two men looked at each other. “You’ll find out,” said the short man.
“It’s better than working in the kitchen, I think.”
“Yes . . . well, maybe . . .” They looked at each other again.
“Santa is an elf with strong appetites,” said the tall man.
In his study, Santa looked out over his village. Plump happy elves scurried about their business, while the young ones sledded down the Big Hill or skated on the Silver Pond, and others drank big, steaming mugs of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and stirred with candy canes. Santa smiled with satisfaction. He had just finished counting his money and had carefully put the strongbox full of gold coins safely away. He poked at the fire blazing away on the hearth. Mmm—that fat girl was mighty tasty, he thought as he picked his teeth. Made good gravy, too. He filled up his long churchwarden’s pipe with some good Dutch Cavendish, lit it, leaned back in his big comfy armchair with a snifter of fine old brandy and his laptop, and checked his inbox. There was an email from Clarissa’s brother Peter:
Thanks for the great presents last year. The Xbox is awesome. I got my sister’s iPhone, too, also awesome. I know that you took Clarissa away. I was a little surprised—I know that I asked you to take her away, but I didn’t think that you would really do it. Now I have my own bedroom, and my parents are extra nice to me since she disappeared. Anyhow, there’s this kid Billy Petrofsky who lives down the street? He picks on me, and he told me that you don’t really exist. Do you think that you could take him away this Christmas? I would really appreciate that.