A modern Christmas carol, with a twist
| Inside a ramshackle house, before a dying fire, a weathered armchair stood.
The man once called Santa was staring into the flames, nursing a half empty whiskey. His white beard was stained, red robes were faded and his signature hat was currently heating the chilly room.
He nudged the remains of his furry cap, attempting to stir the embers back to life. Eventually, he gave up. Throwing the poker away, Santa took a healthy swig of liquor. The whiskey burned his belly, warm tendrils spreading.
Santa peered owlishly at the little elf standing in the doorway. "Ah, Bernard." He slurred. "Did you bring the list?"
From a tiny pocket, Bernard pulled out an even smaller book. When he handed it to the drunken saint, the minuscule manuscript expanded into a massive tome with gold lettering.
The not-so-jolly man ran his hands over the cover with reverence. "Thank you. This is just what I needed."
Opening the magic book, Santa ripped out some sheets and tossed them into the fireplace. Bernard winced with each torn page.
"Will that be all, boss?" The elf grimaced as flames consumed the ancient list of names.
Crumpling a handful of paper, Santa grunted.
Bernard trudged away. Pausing at the door, his long ears twitched. "Santa, this will be the last year I stay."
The fat man gave no reply as he continued to dismantle the list.
Bernard swallowed and continued. "All the other elves have gone with Mrs. Claus. She's still trying to keep the magic alive, you know."
Santa laughed bitterly.
"There hasn't been any Christmas spirit in years." He punctuated the comment with a swig of liquor.
Biting his lip, Bernard blinked back tears. "We could migrate to another holiday, like New Year's or Easter?"
Santa threw the rest of the book into the fireplace. The flames roared as he glowered darkly. "I will never bow to another holiday. If you want to paint eggs for that rodent, so be it. Christmas dies with me."
Bernard wiped the grief leaking from his eyes. "Then I have nothing more to say." His voice quavered. "Goodbye... Santa."
Removing his green hat, the former head-elf softly placed it on the dusty floor and walked into the howling storm outside.
Santa started to call him back, but it was too late. Now he was the only one living soul left in that frozen wasteland.
He celebrated this hollow achievement with another mouthful of whiskey.
Visions of previous years swam before him, bright elven faces beaming with joy as they created toys for good children. He recalled the adrenaline, soaring over cloudy mountains with his trusty reindeer. The satisfaction he'd felt, placing the last present under a sparkling tree.
It all felt so real.
"Get out of my head." He growled, shaking his bald noggin.
The apparition drifted in front of the crackling hearth, sighing wistfully. It was the figure of a chubby little boy with golden hair. A holly wreath crowned his transparent head, while a lit candle glowed in his hands.
"Why do you torment me?" Santa glared with bushy eyebrows.
The Ghost of Christmas Past shrugged. "I have no one else. We are relics of a forgotten age, you and I." It gently placed a hand on the fat man's shoulder.
Swatting the gesture away, Santa bristled at the touch. "Leave me be, I didn't ask for sympathy."
"No, but you asked for company. We heard your silent cry and so we have come." Grinning, the boy flew around the room. Dust swirled and cobwebs fluttered as he whistled through the air. From the spinning cloud of particles, a form took shape.
It was the figure of a woman.
Cobwebs created ragged clothes; dust bunnies twisting into dirty hair which obscured her face. Brushing it aside, the skinny woman peered at Santa with sunken eyes. She smiled, bony cheeks caked with layers of filth.
He groaned, returning the greeting. "Hello, Present."
She looked around the room for something to eat, finding nothing but disappointment. Her eyes became fixed on the whiskey bottle. "Share some of that with me?" Christmas Present asked hopefully.
Santa hesitated before handed it over to her.
Gratefully, the ragged woman gulped the amber liquid. "Ahhh." She sighed. "I needed that."
The chubby boy shook his golden head disapprovingly.
Wiping her grimy mouth, she hissed at him. "Don't you look at me like that! I've never had the luxury of generous cheer and kind hearts. Everyone is stingy and cold."
Christmas Present handed the liquor back and warmed her frigid hands over the burning book.
"What happened to us, Nick?" She shivered as the saint drowned his sorrows.
"Commershilization." He mumbled, wiping his lips.
"Sorry?" The boy put a hand to his spectral ear.
"COMMERCIALIZATION." Santa roared.
Christmas Present nodded understandingly. "The corporations corrupted the Yuletide message, convincing people the more you bought, the more you cared for your family." She explained the concept to the little boy, his red nose wrinkling at the notion.
"But the children aren't buying anything!" Christmas Past pouted.
Santa spat into the fire and grumbled. "They certainly aren't buying that I exist."
"And whose fault is that?" Cheeks turning red, the boy stomped over to the armchair. The holly wreath on his head looked more brown than green, his candle flame beginning to sputter. Golden hair faded to silver.as he shouted at the disillusioned Saint. "Why have you given up, when you are needed most?"
The old man gave no answer.
Gripping the iron poker, he prodded the half roasted list until a slightly singed page fell away. The smoking paper drifted by the shivering woman. Snatching it up, she read the names eagerly.
"Every name on that list is naughty." Santa said grimly. "I checked it each night, hoping one would change to nice. Even just one kid, would be worth it."
Softly, the ghost of Christmas Present began to weep. Tears left streaks on her dusty face, falling onto the ashen floor. "I knew it in my heart but I hoped it wasn't true..." Sobs racked her slender frame.
Gravely, the boy turned to Old Saint Nick. His once plump cheeks were now sunken and hollow. "It's time we called him." Christmas Past said, wrinkles appearing on his brow.
"No! Please you mustn't!" Eyes wide, he pleaded with the apparition. "It's been decades since we've seen him. Centuries even!" The bearded man protested vehemently, hands shaking.
Snatching the drink from Santa's grip, the aging boy grinned humorlessly.
"One last reunion, for old times' sake?" Cackling, the elderly cherub poured the rest of the alcohol into the fire.
Flames greedily lapped the whiskey, blooming with renewed vigor. A pillar of incandescence erupted with a bright flare, blinding Santa. The heat rose as the inferno raged within the chimney.
Past and Present flinched from the scorching tempest, shielding themselves behind the armchair. Sweat trickled into Santa's eyes, blurring his vision.
With a whisper, the flames vanished. Only the dying embers were left, cherry coals peeking out from piles of ash. A creeping chill replaced the searing warmth, frigid shadows with no flickering light to banish them.
Santa suddenly felt painfully sober.
A cinder snapped.
Something shifted beneath the smoky hearth. Slowly, it emerged from the soot. Powdered remnants fell as the ghost of Christmas Future arose.
Its blackened flesh was covered in glowing red cracks. A horrible smell wafted from the entity, an acrid odor of things that should never be burned. A half-melted gas mask obscured the charred head, which turned to examine the man cowering before it.
With a gurgling wheeze, the figure staggered out of the fireplace.
"Leave me! You aren't welcome here..." Santa whimpered as the cursed spirit drew nearer.
The two other ghosts grabbed his arms, trapping the saint. Past leered, his boyish face now twisted and wizened with countless years. Present wept, dark eyes sinking deeper as tears carved furrows in gaunt cheeks.
And then the dreaded Future was upon him.
It gazed into his soul, choking out a strangled gasp. Crispy fingers ripped off the misshapen mask, revealing a scalded skull. Dried skin clung to it, liquefied features blistered and parched. Cracked teeth gave a ghastly smile, eye sockets holding a swirling void of emptiness.
"Please, stop! Anything but this!" Santa begged as his sanity began to unravel.
The two sightless holes began to show him a vision of the future, an endless journey of hopelessness and horror.
The screams were drowned by the howling storm outside, thick snowflakes burying the little house and what remained of Santa's workshop.