The flames of the fire pierced the darkness outside the small cave entrance. The light dusting of snow outside twinkled
in the cheery orange glow. Inside the cave two beings warmed themselves on the embers.
What we need is something new, something different, something, diabolical. The voice was deep and mocking.
Like what? Said another voice, several octaves higher than the first.
Some kind of gimmick, a new angle or trick. Pass me that book. There was a small rustling sound, followed by a thud.
Not that one!
No master, not that one, not THE BOOK.
Yes, THE BOOK, lets see if we can stuff him up a little more.
Good point, youd better read it to me out loud.
There was a low soft mumbling sound, punctuated
by little whimpering sounds.
Hold it there, read that last bit back to me again.
Again the small cave was filled with harsh
So let me get this right. These three blokes travelled hundreds of miles bearing gifts, what were they trying to do?
Bribe the little bugger?
No master, they did it because Well, actually it doesnt say why they did it.
Its an idea though isnt it?
What do you mean?
free stuff each year to the darling little children. There was an evil deep-throated laugh that frightened away several animals
that had moved closer to the warming glow of the fire. You know I think we can work on that.
* * * * *
me to introduce myself, the names Elf, Axel Elf, PI, and Im a dark elf detective working out of a scummy office in downtown
Fairyland. Me, Ive solved many cases, one of them being the Nursery Rhyme murders. Humpty Dumpty had been pushed and no one
had owned up, the sparrow had been fitted up for the murder of Cock Robin, and some evil bastard had planted a tripwire near
the well where Jack and Jill walked every day. Turned out to be a set of brothers, yeah you know the ones, sure it was one
of my greatest cases, but look at me now. A half empty, cheap bottle of scotch hidden in my desk drawer, sitting here waiting
for my next case, surviving hand and mouth with dodgy surveillance, divorce work mostly, and serving notices. But you dont
want to hear about that do you? You want to know about my greatest moment, one of my most famous cases, and it all began a
long, long time ago
I was sitting at my desk a bottle of Dopeys
Special open and a generous amount had been poured over a couple of ice cubes. The ice cubes made a soft chinking sound as
they rattled around in the crystal glass. So there I was resting on my laurels, enjoying a quiet drink when there was a knock
at the door. My secretary, Lisa, nice looking for a human poked her head around the door.
a Miss Goldentress to see you.
I raised my eyebrough slightly at this unusual breech of etiquette.
And does she have an appointment?
but I thought seeing as how things were so quiet She let her voice trail off, somehow reminding me at the same time that I
owed her several weeks worth of wages.
Sighing I turned round in my chair to look at her, Ok show
She disappeared back around the door, and then escorted the
visitor in. I heard the door shut slowly, and I turned round to face the newcomer. My jaw nearly hit the deck, she had curves
in all the right places, and legs that went all the way up and then some. Piles of ash blonde hair spilt around her shoulders,
even for an elf she was attractive. And when she walked, it was enough to make any mans head turn, and my eyes followed her
as she walked across the room. I stood up and motioned towards a chair. Miss Goldentress.
please. And her voice was light and musical, her name tripped along my tongue like a chorus of angels. She settled herself
down in a chair opposite me. Slowly she crossed her long tanned legs, and from then on I was lost.
May I smoke?
And those tiny pointed ears, oh how I loved the ears.
said nonchalantly, to me it sounded like my voice was no more than a strangled squeak. And then she unleashed one of her most
dangerous weapons, she smiled at me. Reaching into her handbag she pulled out a small packet of cigarettes and a box of matches.
She lit one slowly, pursing her lips to blow out the match. And that was when the last vestiges of sanity fled me, and I knew
I would do anything for this woman. She inhaled deeply, blowing out a small plume of smoke. I pushed an ashtray across at
her and she tapped off a small cylinder of ash.
Well how can I help you? I asked sitting back down in my chair, slightly disappointed that the desk hid most of those
shapely legs I had seen before me.
She looked at me for a few minutes as if deciding how to start.
Youre going to think me mad, but its about Santa. And she paused to study my reaction.
I gestured for her to carry on, not trusting my voice to speak.
In my head a voice was screaming, this was all I needed another nut. And something on my face must have showed because she
stood up and got ready to leave.
my last hope. And she stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray, shrugging back into her jacket. Then she looked at me her
eyes full of sorrow and tears.
I said, standing up. Please, sit and continue, forgive me, I mean you must admit its not everyday somebody walks into your
office to talk about Santa.
I suppose it isnt. She sat back down. I dont really know where to begin. Its kind of a long story.
Drink? I asked her, and the grateful look she gave me made
my spine tingle. Tea? Coffee? Or something a little stronger?
what youre having. She said nodding towards my empty glass.
I smiled and stood up walking over to the small fridge in the
corner of my office. Grabbing a clean glass, I groped around in the freezer compartment, then after locating the ice cube
bag I dropped a couple in each glass. I thought about the bottle of Dopeys Special in my desk drawer, then sighed to myself,
that cheap raw stuff would not make a good impression, so with a what can only be described as an almost physical pain I took
out the bottle of Prince Charmins Single Malt. Breaking the seal I let the fumes wash over me. I had been saving this for
a very special occasion, when I was on my own and I could enjoy the bottle by myself. I took the drinks back over, handing
it to her as I sat down, our hands touched and I felt what can only be described as an electric shock, and I knew that she
could feel it as well, as she looked back at me in cool calculating kind of way. Then she sipped her drink and nodded in appreciation
as the smooth liqueur slipped its way down her throat.
Ok so tell
me, Santa, what gives?
She gave a sigh. I dont really know where to begin, its all
kind of strange. See this Christmas every thing seemed normal. The Christmas tree was up, decorations hung from the ceiling,
stockings hung over the fire, my kids had left out some stuff for Santa, a mince pie or two, a small glass of sherry, and
a few sticks of carrot for the reindeer. You know that kind of thing.
appreciatively and motioned for her to carry on.. My own idea of Christmas is slightly different, an old bottle of port, vintage
cheese, that kind of thing.
a single elf you see, and she blushed slightly, taking a large sip of her drink, before carrying on. Well we rely on Santa
a bit, just to bulk up the presents a little, I do the best I can but. And her voice trailed off, shaking she reached for
her cigarettes again. Lighting one with a slightly shaking hand. Christmas morning arrives and my kids are up at the crack
of dawn, I always put a stocking in their room for them to open, that way I get a bit of a lie in you see, anyway the sun
was just beginning to shine over the rooftops. And in bound my kids Channi and Keith.
me, I said taking notes as she spoke. How old are they?
them are still young, Channi is only twenty three and Keith is just coming up for his thirtieth, they were showing me what
they had in their stockings, and of course I pretend I dont know, its just the usual stuff, chocolates, a pack of crayons,
a little paper, plastic soldiers for Keith and a small doll for Channi. You know just little bits. So then I make the suggestion
that we all go down and see what Santa has bought for them. So all smiles and laughter we head off downstairs. I light the
fire to give it a more a homely look, and watch their faces as they take everything in.
Again she pauses to hand him some photographs that at some
point she must have taken out of her handbag. There the normal kind of thing you expect to see, happy smiling faces, eyes
wide open, chocolate smeared mouths, the daughter looks a little like her mother, but Keith, hes got dark hair, and a kind
of face that I can only describe as broody. I look up at her.
more like his father, She explains. Then carries on. Everything was fine, there were more presents under the tree than I could
ever remember, there was even a couple of small things under there for me. Nothing large, just a little make up, and some
moisturiser, you know womans stuff. Anyway we have a kind of ritual, I go to the tree and give them their presents one by
one. That way it lasts longer, in all theres about fifteen or so presents for the kids, gifts from relatives and that kind
of thing. But this year Santa really outdid himself. See Keith wanted a new mountain bike, you know the kind of thing, and
Channi wanted this doll. It cries, walks, talks, eats, and it, well you know, wets itself. Why a child would want a doll that
does that, and she shrugs those finely shaped shoulders before carrying on. Anyway the children disappear to play with their toys and I start getting ready for Christmas dinner, theres veg to prepare, a Soya turkey
to roast. You know the full works, with my parents coming over everything has to be just so.
She pauses, allowing
me to catch up as my pen scribbles furiously across the page. I cant understand why vegetarians, have to have meat flavoured
Soya, it tastes like meat, looks like meat, so why not eat meat. At the end of the day whats the difference? As I finish catching
up I look up at her, and nod for her to continue.
have been about an hour later, I was just preparing the chestnut stuffing. When there was a cry from outside. So I stopped
and opened the door just to check on Keith, and there he was sprawled out on the road, at first I just assumed that he had
fallen off his bike, and so I went outside to see if he was ok. There were a few cuts and a lot of bruises but nothing serious,
and then he pointed towards his bike, he had been trying to pull what I think they call a wheelie, when the front wheel had
fallen off. He was lucky that he was going fairly slowly, it was his first big boys bike.
surely, I interrupted her.
so at first as well, because after my Dad had tightened up all the bolts and things it was ok. But later on the doll, that
horrible doll. She paused to wipe a tear from her eye. Shuddering at the memory.
I waited a few
moments for her to compose herself, taking a small sip from my drink. Looking discretely out of the window rather than at
her tear stained face. She took out a small compact from her handbag and freshened up her make up. When I turned back to look
at her all traces of the tears were gone, and another cigarette was clenched between her fingers the grey smoke trailing up
towards the ceiling. I made a motion to her glass and she nodded gratefully, continuing when I bought the glasses back to
the table and had settled myself back down.
was a travesty, she slipped and fell while she was carrying it, and, and the head came away, there was this huge spike sticking
out of its neck, if she had fallen on it. And she shuddered visibly.
again that was a designers fault. You cant be blaming Santa for that? Again I interrupted her.
time no. And of course I took the toy away from her, but Mum and Dad bless them, had bought them some other bits and pieces,
so her mind was taken off the lost toy.
follow you. Surely just these two incidents, are just simply that.
what I thought, but it was just afterwards, when I was taking them to Cinders Primary School. I was talking with some of the
other parents outside, and there was all kinds of talk, rocking horses that threw the rider, spell toys that misspelled, one
child even got a My Little Voodoo Doll, but the Adams have always been a strange family, and it may have been given to her
on purpose. A monopoly board that instead of saying go straight to go, said go to hell, spinners that when they moved quickly
enough a blade shot out of the side, threatening to sever anyones hand that it hit, or anyone that tried to stop it. Cap guns
that fired real bullets, Im surprised that there werent more fatalities. And the link, all the stuff was supplied and delivered
by Santa. All of it. And she stopped to look at me. Judging my reaction to what she had just told me.
And I must
confess that at the time I suspected that her elevator might not have been going all the way to the top. So what can I do
you to investigate it, obviously. Santa cant be allowed to get away with it. I bought some proof with me. Want to look? I
left the bag in your reception.
I nodded and paged Lisa on the intercom, Ive no doubt that
she was listening at the door anyway, and she came in a few moments later with a large bag. Putting it down cautiously on
the desk where it began moving of its own accord. She gave me a strange look before leaving. One that I couldnt interpret,
but then Ive always had that trouble with women.
it. I cant
Hesitatingly I reached for the zip, and a primordial dread
began to fill me. Dont ask me what it was, but the way the bags side moved on its own. Well, to be honest it gave me the shits;
there was something vaguely obscene about it. Plucking up all the courage I could muster plus the glassfuls I had already
downed I opened the zipper. Slowly the gap opened with a metallic ripping sound and I took a peek into what I can only describe
as a childhood nightmare. A conglomeration of detached heads and limbs greeted my eyes, disembodied plastic soldiers, dolls
with only one eye, teddy bears leaking sawdust, all manner of horrors. I put my hand inside.
Alyessa nearly left her chair as I dug my hand into the open crevice. I clutched hold of something and willed myself to pull
it free of the bag. I stared on in horror at the monstrosity before me. In my hand I clutched a head the size of a small melon.
Its eyelids opened, and I gazed at the pale blue orb. The other was a dark black hole, and again I was reminded of childhood
said, still looking at me and I nearly dropped the thing in disgust. There was an evil glint in its eye as it stared up at
me from the desk. Again I placed my hand into the bag from hell, pulling free the body of this appalling creature. A two inch
long steel spike poked through its neck. And placing it carefully on the desk, it began to walk towards the edge of the table
with dreadful intent.
the head again, its voice full of malice. Then the body quite deliberately peed all over the carefully waxed top of my desk.
And it took all my self-control not to punch the thing in the face. I took another lucky dip into the little bag of horrors
and pulled out a plastic tank, it sat there on my desk, waiting, I pushed it with my finger and it quite happily rolled forward,
I looked up at Alyessa.
red button on the top. And she pointed towards it.
Nervously I leaned forward, making sure that the barrel pointed
away from us both. There was a small rasping sound from inside and a steel dart some half an inch long buried itself into
the wall opposite.
army type toys do that. And just wait till you see the cap guns!
I shuddered to
think what they could do if the tank was anything to go by. One by one the horrors were paraded in front of me. Snakes that
had steel for teeth, their mouths just big enough for inquisitive fingers, flavoured crayons that contained strychnine, mercury
sipping straws, the horrors just got worse and worse. I looked up at her to see that she was watching me. Im not sure what
I can honestly do to help you.
down, find out just what is going on. This. And she pointed a shaking finger at the toys from hell. This cant be allowed to
carry on. Im willing to pay.
a question of money, I mean do you any idea how long this investigation could last, and I dread to think just where its going
to take me. Besides I cant stand the cold. And were quite busy at the moment. Politely she ignored my empty in and out trays.
your normal fee for a days work?
a day, plus expenses. Behind the door I could hear Lisa cough as I named the outrageous amount.
pay you eight hundred a day, plus expenses. But you have to start now. There was a soft thud as Lisa collapsed. And I had
to take a long sip of my drink.
That was a lot of dough, and I couldnt see where Alyessa was
going to get that sort of cash from, she drew out a thick envelope from the recesses of her handbag and placed it on the table
in front of me. I at least had the good manners not to grab it although every sense was screaming at me to do so.
just over eleven thousand in there. Two weeks pay in advance, this time next week therell be another one exactly the same.
me if Im being rude, but how? I mean you cant exactly be overflowing with cash.
and a few of the parents got together, had a bit of a whip round, and we started PACT.
you all made a promise like?
it stands for Parents Against Cruel Toys. And the way she spoke I could hear the capital letters in her voice.
me make a few phone calls first. Try and get an idea of just how wide spread this thing is, or if its just a local thing.
It might be that someones got a grudge against the area. Do you mind if I keep these for a while? And I pointed towards the
malicious congregation of toys in front of me. Also can you give me the names and addresses of the other parents affected
She said nodding her head. And she handed me several sheets of paper.
back to you as soon as I have some news. Oh and youd better give me a number I can get you on, and an address where I can
send written reports to.
Again she nodded, and she quickly scrawled down some details
for me. I took a glance at the address. Flat two, Necromancy Way, not one of the nicest areas. It was always a little on the
dark side for me. Not enough street lighting. She leaned forward to touch my hand, a note of pleading in her eyes.
And she stood up getting ready to leave.
I nodded in response, wondering just how I was going to start
this one. I mean Santa, Shesh, that was like finding out the Easter Bunny was doping up the chocolate eggs. I watched her
walk out of my office, the door banging into the unconscious form of Lisa where she blocked off the exit. And after giving
it a hard push she left, knocking Lisa deeper into unconsciousness, she turned back to face me before leaving, small smile
playing on her lips.
call me, thats my home number, you can get me on that virtually anytime. And with that she walked out of my office.
Of course I watched her dodge the traffic in the street from
my office window, and was surprised to see her stop when she reached the street window. She turned round and waved, and it
was as if she was looking directly at me. Almost by its own violation I felt my own hand rise and wave back. As she disappeared
around the corner I sat back down at my desk wondering how I was going to start on this. Glancing at the unconscious form
of Lisa I chucked an ice cube in her direction, when that failed to elicit the desired response I chose the most expedient
Lisa spluttered as the drops of ice cold water hit her face,
and she looked a little on the angry side. I countered this by waving a wad of money under her nose, and then explained to
her what I wanted her to do. She looked at me long and hard, so I peeled off several of the notes, fortunately it was all
in hundreds, and after placing the five notes in her hand, she looked at them curiously. It was a bit more than I owed her.
Its a bonus.
I said smiling. Treat yourself.
She nodded and got up from the floor, then went to her desk
to carry out her instructions. Me I sat back in my chair and pondered at the implications. This was a real mess. And I had
no idea where to start. I doodled on the piece of paper that Alyessa had written on. Purposefully the headless doll walked
back across the table and sat down in front of me.
the head, looking up at me with its single malevolent eye.
With grim determination I reloaded the tank and pointed it
at the headless torso.
Then I pushed the button when the barrel was aligned with the
torso. There was a flash of sparks, and the thing flew backwards. Dripping fluid and trailing wires, looking for all the world
like a strange set of intestines. Then with no small measure of pleasure I poured what remained of my watered down whisky
into the things head. There was a burst of sparks and the thing let out a long drawn out Maaaaamaaaaa. The voice slowing down
as it came to the final vowels. I cleared my desk, chucking the malicious little buggers back into the bag, and then locked
them in the safe for good measure. At least that way no one else would be subjected to these horrors. It wasnt long before
Lisa walked back into my office a sheaf of papers clutched in her hand.
want to take an early lunch? I asked her. Paid of course. And I grinned up at her in an easy manner.
She looked shocked. In all the years that she had worked for
me, never had she heard me offer a free lunch. Well generally theres no such thing.
Meekly she walked out, and I studied the papers spread out
before me. It looked like it wasnt just localised, Lisa had made quite a few calls, and it looked like this was global. I
sighed, I was starting to get a headache. Well it wasnt hard to work out where I had to start and I booked a flight for Toyland,
Santas domain. I left a message for Lisa, then went home to pack all my warmest clothes, it would be cold there, the place
was permanently covered in snow and I shivered at he thought.
* * * * *
The plane flight was fairly uneventful, and the food up to its normal standard. Inedible. Although I did have a bit
of fun with the sick bag, what you do is stick the proverbial salad in it, make vomiting noises, then eat the salad from the
bag. Yeah its childish, but at the same time its kinda fun. Toyland is a strange place. Its certainly not the place I would
want to live. Sure its always Christmassy, snow lined streets that kind of thing, but hey remember what happened to those
kids with the wardrobe. Sends shivers down the spine to think about it. There are all types walking the street, clockwork
soldiers, humans, trolls, you name it, they have probably trod on these cobbled streets at sometime. I have been here before,
but a long time ago, way back when I was a kid, and to tell the truth I cant remember an awful lot about the place. After
scouting round for a decent hotel, and booking in I tried to find one of the seedier bars, not one of the regular tourist
traps. After all there wouldnt be much chance of getting much info from there. You need a place where the scum meet, people
who hear things, people who talk after too many drinks and the sight of a little easy cash. The bar was just off the main
drag, set back in the street as if trying to hide, the windows were a dirty grey and the doorway was a tiny wooden affair
covered with peeling paint. Of course it opened with a creak, unoiled hinges seem to be almost a ritual kind of thing with
these places. And after pushing it open I stepped into the warm. Again it seems to be almost a ritual, a wall of silence hit
me, as everybody turned round to look. And I sauntered over to the bar. The bartender was huge, even for a troll, and a variety
of creatures were propped up against the bar. I spotted two worker elves. Their bright green costumes and pointed shoes a
dead giveaway amongst the black leather jackets, denim and chains. I stood at the bar next to them, and ordered my drink,
the two seemed to be having quite an animated discussion, and trying to look casual about it I tried hard not to look like
I was listening.
are way strange at the moment. Said the tall thin one. He had a look of simple honesty about his face.
know, I dont know who this new lot are that Santa has got in but, well you know. The other one was the complete opposite.
Large and overweight, with a moustache draped beneath his nose.
hear what happened to Mary?
The voices dropped down to a conspiratorial whisper, and the
other elves face took on a look of horror and revulsion. No? Really?
to close the machine down for weeks, there still finding bits in the ribbons.
Hi. I said
cheerfully, and the two spun round to look at me. You work for Santa right?
what thats got to do with you. Said the fat one with a look of hostility.
want to get you a drink. Say thanks on behalf of my daughter. She really likes the doll.
A look of simple-minded shock settled on his face.
Yeah, look. And
I pulled out the photos of Alyessas kids.
but they dont look much like their father.
step dad. Lovely pair of kids they are.
their real lucky. Look Rosewater I gotta be going, the wife will be wondering where I am.
thing. I wont be far behind you. Get a good nights sleep ready for an early start and all that.
The big elf nodded then picked up his glass and swallowed the
last few dregs of his drink. Then with a small nod of his head he made his way out of the bar.
a fresh one? I said pointing towards Rosewaters empty glass. He nodded morosely. And I motioned towards the bartender. Another
beer for me, and one for my friend here.
The bartender slammed down two bottles of beer in front of
us, the white froth spilling out over the neck to add to the myriad of other stains on the wooden surface, and I peeled off
a tenner from the wad of notes in my pocket. Keep the change. I said.
the big spenders huh? Growled the troll.
So, I said
turning towards the elf. How goes it down at the plant?
fun working for Santa, all those toys.
Rosewater picked up his bottle and sipped from it thoughtfully.
It can be. He said after downing half the bottle.
whats he really like to work for. It must be a jolly place to work in.
He gave me a long hard look. Santas all right, most of the
in November and December things get a little hectic.
I can imagine,
all those toys to make, check see that their safe.
His eyes narrowed, What do you mean? And he took another long
swig at his bottle.
got to make sure all the presents go to the right places, make sure their safe for the kids and so on.
He swallowed down the rest of his drink in a single hurried
gulp. Look mate, he said. I gotta go. And he hurried out of the bar glancing left and right nervously.
I took a long swallow of the beer, watching him leave. Then
I noticed the big guy get up as well, he had been hiding in the shadows, and the furtive glances left and right made me suspicious.
So after he left I followed him out. He was a really big bloke, and the green uniform strained to cover the bulging muscles
and stomach. Outside I could see that he was definitely up to no good. He followed
Rosewater with a single-minded intensity. His long steps making up the lost ground easily. Rosewater looked behind him, some
sort of sixth sense I would guess. And then he started to run, his panicked course taking him deeper in the nastier area of
Toyland, and of course I followed. We ran for several minutes and in a panic Rosewater turned into a dead end. Breathing heavily
I only just managed to see where they had gone. The guy had trapped Rosewater and was smacking a piece of wood against the
palm of his hand. I couldnt quite hear the conversation but I could imagine how it was going. And with a scream I launched
myself at the brute in front. Now dont get me wrong, I aint no superhero, nor can I cast spells at the drop of a hat, and
I certainly aint no martial artist, but what I lack in skill I make up for in enthusiasm. I clawed for his eyes trying to
put him off his stroke, and with a rough shake he threw me to the floor. Now heres a simple rule for street fighting, dont
think, do, and anything that can be held in your hand can be used as a weapon. I scooped up a little of the gritty snow beneath
me and threw it in his eyes. Another simple trick, what they cant see they cant hit. Then I got up off the floor and pushed
Rosewater out of the alley, he didnt need telling twice and legged it as fast as his legs could carry him. I aimed a kick
at his kneecap, my boots grazed along his shin, not what I had intended but still quite painful. Then I spotted a brick, and
went for it. The club smashed into my ribs forcing the breath out of me, and I kicked out blindly, and feeling no resistance
I knew I had missed, the club grazed my leg and to me it felt like the bone had been broken, but my scrabbling hand found
what it was after and I slammed the brick down hard on his toes. There was a loud scream followed by a hollow thump of wood
hitting concrete and I scrambled to my feet, the thing was hopping clutching its foot, his back towards me so I did the decent
thing. Kicked him on the back of the knee and ran. Well more sort of hobbled really. Now as I said I aint no wizard, but us
elves are magical creatures and we all have a few innate spells. Its not something we have to learn we just know how to do
it. Me being a Dark elf my magic is shadow orientated, I can manipulate the things, or even hide in them, and this is exactly
what I did. Squatting down in a dark corner I concentrated on simply not being there, I felt a familiar tingle and knew that
I had merged with them. And looking out into the street I smiled as I imagined the look of confusion on the things face when
it came out the alley and couldnt find me. I looked out onto the snow covered street and stared in horror at the little trail
of footprints that led directly to my hiding place, a nice easy trail to follow. So I panicked and ran. Looking behind me
every few minutes to see if I was being followed, hardly slowing down even when I hit one of the more touristy areas. In fact
I dont think I stopped running until I was back at my hotel room the door locked and bolted behind me. After seeing to my
wounds, a large bruise on my left side and a long scratch down my right leg, I worked out what I would do tomorrow, I would
make a visit to Santas workshop and see what I could see.
I woke up fairly early, my side and leg killing me. And after freshening up I swallowed a couple of aspirin to dull
the pain. Then went downstairs for a leisurely breakfast, taking a complementary newspaper I sat down at a table and started
to eat, glancing at the newspaper as I shovelled the food into my mouth. The fork piled with eggs stopped halfway at my mouth
as an article caught my eye. Yeah you guessed it, some elf called Rosewater and his family had been found dead in their apartment.
And I recognised the cheerful face staring out at me. Things were certainly starting to thicken, and I wasnt referring to
the eggs on my fork. And I certainly didnt feel like eating anymore. I left the hotel and headed up the street towards Santas
workshop. It didnt take me long to get there, smoke belched out of the chimney stacks that were attached to the side of the
factory and I could see that things were in full swing. The front of the building was covered in cheerfully waving Santas,
and their electronic Ho Ho Ho, chilled me to the core, as all I saw in my minds eye was the doll. Ignoring them I walked through
the glass double doors and up to the reception desk.
may I help you? My names Mary, Mary Christmas. She spoke in a high-pitched annoying voice, and gave me a grin that was as
false as fools gold.
She punched some buttons behind her desk and I slipped her a fiver, then pocketed both my ticket and the change. The next
tour will start in ten minutes, make yourself comfortable and be a good boy, because you never know what Santa might bring
you. The she smiled her sickly grin again.
I sat down
in one of the overstuffed armchairs, nearby a couple of kids were writing letters to Santa, their parents watched on in boredom
as they waited for the tour to start.
An I wanna
GI Jon, an a Robosaur that changes into sumfing else, an I wanna computer, an I wanna Mutants Free, an I wanna To my ears
the list sounded never ending. And all the while the parents beamed in delight at the little horror in front of me. Slowly
the minutes passed, each second a torment, seeming to stretch into an eternity, and I slumped deeper into my chair, wondering
if those toys hadnt done some good somewhere. Eventually a crowd of people bustled through a doorway clutching brightly wrapped
gifts, some were laughing and others were talking animatedly among themselves, another young female elf, possibly the twin
sister of the receptionist followed them out. She walked over to the waiting area where we were sitting.
would like to follow me I am your tour guide, and you can give those letters to Santa personally. She even spoke with the
same high pitched, inane voice, a voice that seemed to rub over every nerve, and annoy every fibre of your being. I got up
from my chair and followed the procession of lunatics and horrid children through the door.
I can with complete honesty say that was one of the worst tours
I ever did, a throng of screaming children ooing and ahing, adults that should have known better following the tour with an
intensity that bordered on madness. And of course the final humiliation, photos with Santa, and a present for all. I looked
long and hard at him, he seemed to be the same person, long white beard, red cheeks, jolly face, and he seemed happy enough,
I dont really know what I had expected to find, perhaps a knife wielding maniac, which would have made my job much easier,
I was going to have to find the other elf from the bar and try to convince him to talk to me.
In the end he wasnt that hard to find, I simply went back to the bar I had found him originally. And there he was propped
up against it surrounded by a myriad of empty bottles, stacked up in front of him like a fortress. I had a quick look around
the bar for the bruiser I had met the other night, and when I couldnt see him I sauntered over to the bar, bought a drink
and sat in a corner, watching the elf, and looking round to see if anyone was watching him. Everything seemed quiet, and I
sat there nursing my drink, wrapping a serviette around the neck as a makeshift
bandage. When he got up and left I waited a few moments to see if anyone followed him then went out into the cold after him.
I tailed him for a couple of streets, staying to the shadows, watching to see if anyone had pulled the sae stunt I had. And
when I was sure everything was clear I picked up my pace and caught up with him.
me. I said as I drew level.
I ortta punch yer in the mouth.
Rosewater was about to tell me something about the factory the night he died. I lied. Something that he felt was important.
And I was hoping
mate, just get lost before I pound the crap out of you.
not for truth, justice and a little bit of extra cash, tell me for Rosewaters sake. Help me put the people who did it behind
He stopped and I could see he was mulling it over. Ok sure,
but this is for Rosewater, but of course I also wouldnt say no to a little extra cash.
I nodded sympathetically and took out my wallet.
at the notes in his hand and stuffed the into a trouser pocket, It all began a little while before Christmas, a lot of us
fell ill, and of course thats our busiest time of year, well Santa hired in these new guys, then strange things began to happen,
strange accidents, dangerous toys would somehow get past safety checks, that kind of thing, and anyone, and I mean anyone
that started asking questions, well.
went missing, turning up dead a few days later in strange circumstances?
like that, they were sacked on the spot and escorted off the premises. Sure theres been a few accidents, but thats inevitable
given the fact were working with dangerous machines.
Oh. I said
feeling kind of stupid. look I need to look round that factory, have you got any ideas, is there any back way in?
He stood there thinking for a while, Not that I can think of,
but look take this and go in through the rear door. He passed me a small flat piece of plastic with his photograph on, look
that will open the door for you, after that your on your own.
get you into trouble?
report it as stolen in the morning. Good luck mate. He smiled cheerfully at me as he left, more I think to do with the extra
cash than any attempt at friendship. I watched him leave, then headed off in the direction of the factory, there were only
five or so more hours until daylight and I wanted to be long gone before that happened.
I stood outside
the steel shutter of the factory, in front of me the card reader on the wall glowed an angry red. I ran the card through the
slot, there was a little beep, and the colour changed from red to green. I pushed up the shutter door, just wide enough for
me to roll under and went inside. Securing the door behind me I took a small torch from the depths of my pocket and shone
the light around. I could see that I was in some kind of storage area, there were boxs on boxs stacked in nearly all the available
space. Inching round the room I could just make out a small door and I headed over towards it. I listened carefully before
pushing it carefully open. The corridor was brightly lit and like a heartbeat I could hear the regular thump as the machines
worked on throughout the night. I had no idea what I was really looking for but my first thought was to find the main office
and see what I could find in the company records. I turned left and headed deeper into the bowels of the factory, the corridor
was stark and lonely, two doors on the far wall proved to be the male and female toilets, and just beside them sat a couple
of vending machines, I followed the sound, slowly it got louder as I got closer. Then at the end I could see a set of double
doors, and I cautiously approached them, the noise was unbelievable. I hoped that the doors wouldnt squeak when I opened them,
but then realised that the noise below would probably cover it if they did. I pushed them open an inch, and a wave of noise
assaulted my ears, how those below could stand it was beyond me. Wider and wider it opened, and I gazed down into an image
that Dante would have been proud of, sparks flew, red hot metal bubbled and simmered in vats, and the whole lot glowed a deep
fiery red. I think I may have blacked out for a few seconds when I saw who controlled the machines below.
Little naked red skinned, forked tail imps ran between the
machines cackling insanely, hulking horn headed demons, with bulging muscles, clad only in a loin cloth, cracked whips they
held in their clawed and scaly hands. In one corner I could see more of the horrible dolls, row upon row of the things looking
like some sort of small malicious army. I dont know why but I had to get closer to this scene from Hell. I also needed proof
of one kind or another after all who would believe this, and more to the point did Santa know what was going on, he must do,
so hes in league with the devil, who would have thought it, that sweet little old man. But then, I always thought that there
was something strange about an old man who wants children to sit on his knee. By now I was crawling along the gantry ways.
Getting closer and closer to the fiends below. But then something happened, a loose bolt, a tool an engineer left behind,
I dont know, but what ever it was it went spinning to the ground below where it struck an unsuspecting demon right between
the eyes. It looked up in surprise and pain then with a mighty bellow it shouted.
oribble elven scum, wotcher doin up dere? Youse knows you aint supposed to be there.
I felt the bile rise into my mouth and I watched in disinterested
interest as the demons began crawling up the walls and clambering up the stairs. The wave of green, red, and possibly slimy
flesh reminded me of some film I had seen recently. But I did the only sensible thing I could, I legged it.
I dont think that I need describe the following
chase, down long dark corridors chased by a horde of demons and imps. It sure aint my idea of a fun night out though, but
eventually I took a wrong turn, and there I was trapped in a dead end corridor. I rattled at the thick metal chains and padlock
ineffectively, wishing I had paid more attention to pick locking classes, then the two huge elves came around the corner all
muscles and sharp toothy grins. They sauntered over.
av ter take yer ter der boss like. The pair said, wrenching my arms up behind me.
I suppose you mean Santa.
They chuckled throatily, a deep rumbling sound that vaguely
reminded me of phlegm filled chests. Sorta.
They led me through a maze of pipes and bubbling vats, up metal
steps and along gangways, if they were trying to make me confused they had succeeded. Then they came to a plain white door
with two words on the front. They said quite simply The Boss. One of my captors knocked softly on the door, and I felt my
stomach do a flip flop as a wave of fear washed over me. A deep pleasant baritone said, Come in. And they opened the door,
frog marching me inside. The chair had its back to us, and I could just make out the shape of something large, looking out
of the window watching the imps and demons below.
may go. It said.
They said bowing. Then they left me with him.
Silence filled the small room, an oppressive silence that threatened
to overwhelm me.
Mr.Elf. I am so glad that you could join me. And he spun round in his chair as he spoke. I felt my knees turn to jelly as
I gazed into Satans face. It wasnt an ugly face, quite the opposite in fact, one might even say devilishly handsome. The only
real giveaway was the cloven feet, forked tail and two horns on his head, otherwise you could have passed him in the street
and not noticed him, nestled in the crook of his arm was a white cat that he stroked as he talked. The heat of his skin scorching
the fur every time he ran a hand down its back.
how? I managed to gasp.
You dont seem too surprised. How fairly easy, a little magic goes a long way.
Well no, not
really, its sort of obvious when you think about it, you have always been Santa, I suppose its your way of corrupting the
little darlings? Make them all greedy, nasty and wanting once a year. I mean what a trick to pull off. Worm your slimy little
way into their hearts, and then
misunderstand me, it was that lot. He interrupted me, and pointed a scaly, clawed finger at the myriad of imps and demons
working in the pits below. Look a lot of my elves fell sick, and so I brought in some outside help. Now surely, even you can
understand this, every creature, no matter what theyve done in the past, no matter how evil and twisted they may or might
have been, deserves at least one last chance? One final shot at redemption. Anyway towards the end I kind of enjoyed it, Satan
is hated everywhere by everyone, where as Santa. And his voice trailed off.
an over zealous employee, I gave his family a nice send off, and I paid for the funerals. A nice bit of mahogany that was,
and it didnt come cheap.
hard into the face of pure evil, it was sad and lonely, little puffs of steam came from the corner of his eyes. And these
I could only assume to be tears. Then at last it finally dawned on me. I nodded, and left, shutting the door softly behind
me. Everyone is trapped in a prison of there own making, a preconception if you will, and some of us have less choice about
those conditions than others.