The world is in crisis and only Santa Claus can help.
|The List - Extended
By Stephen A Abell
Number Of Words: 2997
Aleksander Dammen sat on the corner of the bed and stared at the costume in the wardrobe. For the last twelve years he had donned the outfit, which consisted of a soft deep red jumper, dark forest green trousers, long dark tan boots with a turn down top, a dark red cap with white fleece trim, and the essential long dark red woolen topcoat with matching white fleece trim; and every year he sat on the edge of the bed and pondered his decision.
At an early age Aleksander had shown a greatness that the authorities would never overlook. The reigning Norwegian government had pulled him out of school, and with his mother, out of the village they lived in, when a local paper ran the story “Five-Year-Old Saves Hundreds”. The story told the tale of a boy who could see the future. His premonition had saved a local bridge from collapsing and killing pedestrians and drivers alike.
They were rehoused in a small village outside of Oslo, where Alek was enlisted at a school for gifted children, and his mother was set up within an administrational role. For the rest of his school life Alek was taught, not only the usual academic curriculum, but how to hone his power.
Upon leaving the school he and his fellow pupils were placed in colleges, most to be educated in psychology. Rumours of new laws and legislation's being passed, and of a world regime being formed were ripe. Unsure of their part in the up coming future, they were sure of one thing; it had to be about the increased world population.
That was the one issue you could not get away from. Everywhere you turned there were people. The short time he’d spent in the village outside Oslo he had watched the village double in housing and people, then double again. One day a proclamation had come through, the small village was now part of the city. The countryside, which he had enjoyed on the twenty minute journey to the cities outskirts, had been devoured by buildings, and roads. Something had to be done.
And fifteen years ago it had been. All the continents of the world banded together to try and solve the ever-growing problem. The rumours were right, new devastating laws were brought to force. Prison populations was slashed by two-thirds in the first year, as the death sentence was instantly enforced on murderers and perpetrators of lesser crimes, such as manslaughter, rape, grievous bodily harm, and more. There were no appeals, as appeals were banned. Millions world wide were executed. The good side was that their blood and organs were harvested, as organ donation became mandatory.
People found guilty of a serious crime only had one hour to say farewell to loved ones, after the judgment was passed, before being executed.
After the enforcement of the new laws, families were given the right to one child per household, unless they chose to adopt.
Then came the ludicrously named Santa Claus Act. Up to the age of ten-years old, every pupil would have to meet Santa in his grotto. This was the governments sly way to measure the children and their psyche.
This was where Alek and his training came in.
“Hey Julenissen,” a voice thundered up the stairs, “are you ready yet?”
“I’m just getting changed, Brynjar,” Alek replied as he hoisted his large frame off the bed towards the wardrobe.
“Well, don’t be too long, you know how Jarl gets at this time of year.”
“Yeah, as nervous as a forty-year-old virgin on his stag night! He’s only the mayor of Iveland, I’m the one making the real decisions today.”
“More you than me, Alek,”
“Well, all I ask is that you and your men keep any angry parents off my back, I don’t want another black Christmas.”
“I concur, one a millennium is too many. We haven’t let you down yet, and we wont. Now get a move on.”
As Alek changed, his mind wandered back to the first year the Santa Claus Act was put into action. Luckily for him he still had two years of education left, so was in college when the protests started. Even though they were spread worldwide, he remembered the story his mother related to him.
In the part of the city that had once been his little village there had lived a little girl. Her name had been Ylva Fosse and she had been naughty. Throughout the year she bullied her classmates and other pupils; and no matter what the teachers did she did not stop. Her Social Studies teacher reported she found the girl to be of an individual nature, preferring her own company to any other, and lacking in any moral conscious.
Social Studies had been newly placed on the curriculum of every school on Earth. It was “taught” by a trained psychiatrist and was in fact a way to keep tabs on the children and spot any potential troublemakers. In Ingeborg Dokken’s opinion Ylva Fosse was a major troublemaker.
So when Oddmund Whalberg, that years Julenissen, sat down on his throne to await the children of the area, he had an idea of what to expect. Ylva was the first student to take his knee. As soon as the contact was made between their bodies, Oddmund’s mind was full of visions. Not only could he see a little into the future, he could see more of the past. The girl on his lap was ten-years-old and as pretty as a picture. Her blue eyes gleamed in joy and her smile radiated. The girl was evil.
In his mind, Oddmund saw Ylva beating a little child, who had bumped into her. She had taken a brick to smash the boys skull, though a teacher had stopped her. There was a pram with a crying baby inside, sat unattended outside a shop. She had wheeled the pram and baby away. Quickly pushing the pram down to the a rivers edge and straight over the banking. The crying had stopped instantly as the baby went under the water. Ylva skipped away, singing. Then they were in this very school. She had somehow locked the entrance doors, in his mind he saw a gas leak in the science lab, he smelt the gasoline on the hallway floors, splashed on the classroom doors and in the cloakrooms. He saw Ylva in the lab, next to the broken gas line, a match ready to be struck...
As he had been trained to do, he masked his emotions and asked his seemingly insignificant questions. He watched her face for any signs of falsehood. Waited for her to fidget with signs of tension or apprehension. Everybody has tells. As young Miss Fosse answered his questions her body told Oddmund what he needed to know to make his decision.
She was the first to be sent to the playroom. Later, after the commotion had died down it was learnt that Ylva Fosse had been the first child, in the entire world, who had been sent to the playroom.
The playroom was a specially constructed prefabricated room. At the push of a button it became air tight. With another push the air was expunged.
It was in this room, under the illusion they were on the Nice List, that the children on Santa’s Naughty List were gathered. The room was filled with all the latest games and Christmas goodies, like julekake, kokosmakroner, and smultringer. While they played, ate, and drank their parents were allowed to say their goodbyes and spend one last hour with their children.
For this first year security had been strong and noticeable, though most of the soldiers were in plain clothes. There were a lot of strangers in every town and village that first three years.
When they pulled out the three little black body-bags from the playroom the parents of the children erupted with loss and anger. There had been too many onlookers for this first year. Most of these grew incensed at the procedure, and fearful that next year the child in the bag could be theirs. Suddenly, talking rose to shouting, anger grew and violence followed.
By the time the day was over seventy-eight civilians were dead, summarily judged and executed by the soldiers, three of which were themselves killed. Among the dead were Oddmund and Ingeborg.
This had not been the only outbreak of rage and violence, nearly every other township around the globe had a similar situation and outcome.
The following year, more outbreaks came, though less than previously. By the fourth year the people had come to know their lot. Any uprising would not be allowed. All traitors to the cause were executed.
With his Santa costume on Alek strode from the bedroom, with a heavy heart. It wasn’t just Santa’s Grotto and the Playroom that took lives, the damned job did also.
Christmas was meant to be a time of love, celebration, and giving of thanks. In his soul Alek believed in his calling and the work he carried out. All you had to do was look at the crime figures, which were now nearly nonexistent. He helped to remove the negative from life so people could enjoy the positive. Once the Naughty Children had been vanquished, their victims flourished, and became less self-conscious and introverted. They became better people and the community grew strong because of it. With a strong community and better outlook, peoples morality and helpfulness returned; and every year less Naughty Children were sent to the Playroom.
Over the twelve years Alek had played Santa he had only sent ten children to the Playroom. Here in Iveland the children seemed to be more extroverted, many were friends out of school. Lots worked with their parents on the farms in the area, and others were hired for Saturday jobs to make earn some pocket money.
He loved this part of the Kristiansand Region. And so had his wife Linda. They had loved to canoe lake Ogg and visit some of the three-hundred plus islands and islets. In the storage cupboard in the kitchen, their skis rested against the back wall awaiting the snowfall. This year, only one pair would be required.
Linda had been a beautiful and intelligent woman, who unfortunately had been unable to bear children. Though on many a winters night, by a stoked and blazing fire, they had tried. When Alek had suggested adoption she had flatly refused. He had not needed to press her for a reason, she was always open to discussion.
She had an unbreakable idea of a rogue gene which controlled temper, violence and unjustly tendencies. She was frightened that an adopted orphan, especially one from a criminal element, would turn out nasty, no matter how hard the parents tried. On this matter she couldn’t be moved. At nights she cried herself to sleep believing she had let her husband down, no matter how much Alek told her otherwise.
Then as if to prove her theory, he came across Tollak Gard, who was the adopted son of Otto Gard, the wealthiest man in the region; thanks to his mining the minerals of the area.
Tollak, it was later found, was the son of a killer and rapist. Though he was only months old when his father had been executed, it seemed this apple did not fall too far from the tree. In the past Alek had informed the Social Studies teacher of Tollack’s “ambitions”. These were then related to Otto at parent - teacher night, with the aim of changing the child. Most of the time this endeavor paid off.
As the ten-year-old Tollack sat on Alek’s knee and told Santa about his Christmas present wishes, and answered Santa’s questions, Alek saw Tollak and Tyra Thoe - they were the best of friends, in the worst way. In the vision Alek heard Tyra telling Tollak how to cut the brake line on the school bus so it wouldn’t be able to stop. This was Tyra all over. She had the ideas and Tollak would carry them out. And in the vision he did. The bus crashed through a busy crossroads and over the pavement into a restaurant. There was blood and bodies everywhere. At the top of the road he could here Tollak and Tyra laughing.
Tollak was escorted to the Playroom. Tyra being only nine, had a year to adjust to life without her willing puppet. Alek prayed.
Otto rushed past Brynjar as soon as he spotted his son being ushered through the side doors. “Alek,” he shouted as he rushed forward, “you can’t do this. That’s my son.”
“I know that Otto, but your son is dangerous. We’ve known this for the last six years and still we’ve been unable to help him. I’m sorry to say, we’ve all failed him.”
“Failed him! Are you saying, I failed him?”
“Not just you, Otto, but Dagrun Lunder, the Social Studies teacher...”
“That psychiatrist bitch wouldn’t know it was raining even if she stood naked in a monsoon.”
“...and the community.” Alek continued ignoring Otto’s tirade. Hoping the poor man would calm down. Otherwise things could go bad for him. “I know we tried... you tried.” He placed a comforting arm on Otto’s shoulder. “So, don’t blame yourself. Somethings and some people cannot be changed.”
“Look, I’m a rich man...”
“Is that a bribe, Mr. Gard?” Brynjar asked.
Otto’s misread Brynjar’s tone, “Two million!”
“What, Mr. Gard?” Brynjar queried quietly.
“I’ll donate two million to the school, or wherever you want if you’ll just look the other way. I’ll get Tollak into the best psychiatric care, you’ll never see him again... it’ll be like, well, like today actually happened.”
“You know bribery is a crime and punishable by death?”
“Yes, but remember this Brynjar Clausen I’m a very important man, with influential friends. If you don’t take the money, I could use it to make your life shorter and more miserable,” the harshness of his tone matched the steeliness of his stare, “and yours too Alek.”
Brynjar took Otto roughly by the arm and escorted him after his son. “I’m sorry Mr. Gard, but I’ll have to put this on record...”
“You just do that,” Otto cut him off, “you just do that.”
During the hour Otto spent with Tollak in the Playroom Brynjar and Alek were in conference with the Justice Department. When the time came seal the room, no one told Otto Gard. Two body bags left the Playroom that day.
When he arrived home he found a note from Linda in the living room. It simply read - I’m so sorry but I cannot take the guilt anymore. I will love you forever, L. Taking the stairs two at a time Alek burst into the bedroom. His wife was dressed in her wedding dress, the veil over fer face, arms down by her sides. An empty pill bottle lay on the table.
As Julenissen and his security guard climbed into the backseat of the limousine, his mind turned to the joy of the previous evening.
The recital had been wondrous and the orchestrated scores of the carols was a delight to his ears. Linda would have loved the night, she would have joyously sang along with the choir. Though the reason Alek had been invited sat before the keys of the grand piano. Gry Helseth was a pretty girl of twelve, who from an early age had loved the piano. Her parents worked hard to get her into one of the regions top musical schools. Gry excelled, and always placed in the top three. She was also a survivor of a recent heart transplant. Last year, Tollak Gard, in his misfortune, had saved her life.
Her fingers fairly flew across the ebony and ivory creating harmonious beauty; Alek loved his job.
“That’s better,” Brynjar said, with a voice full of happiness, “finally Santa has a smile on his face. Much better for the little ones to see.”
“Yeah, not bad for a mischievous gnome.”
“Less of the mischief, I don’t wanna send you to the Playroom.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, old friend.”
“Glad to hear it. Now keep those happy thoughts, we’re here.”
The car pulled up outside the rear door of the school where a group of security guards in plane clothes awaited them.
As Alek took his seat on the throne he nodded to Dagrun, who had drawn door duty. The first child for Julenissan’s lap was the troubled Tyra Thoe. Once again Alek silently prayed the girl had changed her nasty ways.
“Are you well Tyra?”
“Yes, very well, and how are you this year?”
“Thank you for asking,” his voice rumbled, a smile hidden deep below. “I’m very well. Are you looking forward to Christmas and your presents, for being a good girl this year?”
“I am, though I’d really like to see my friend Tollak once more. We used to have such fun and laughs.”
“Did you now? It’s a shame he had to go away.”
“Yes it was. But he did tell me one thing before he left.” She smiled sweetly at him as he tried to get a reading from her. All he could see was utter darkness. Seeing the confusion she asked politely, “Would you like to know what it was, Santa?”
“I would indeed, Tyra.”
“He told me a secret, one which I believed to be true.”
“Yes...” Only blackness came from her mind, body and soul.
“He told me there was no Santa Claus...”
The knife flashed in front of eyes so quick he had not time to register surprise The blade sliced open the flesh covering his throat. Death came quickly and as darkness enfolded him, he heard the little girl laughing.
In the growing darkness a voice spoke out, “Hello Alek,” Tollak cooed.
For the "Invalid Item" and the prompt "Christmas."
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