A tiny Santa writhed on the floor, rustling its tinsel nest as it squealed its Christmas Eve agonies.
“Josh,” Maureen whispered, “see what the Santa’s bringing you!”
Her son gripped the controller tightly, eyes set on his PS35. “Mum! Shhh!”
His screen beamed, Congratulations! Level 3! As he thumbed the middle button in just the same way he’d done a thousand times before.
Behind him, the foot-long pudgy-pink Santa, partially clothed in its red woollen coat, grunted and strained.
“Come on love, it’s tradition.” Maureen squeezed Josh’s shoulder and stepped back, as though he were a particularly venomous snake. She wore a reindeer jumper whose nose no longer lit up since her son had purloined the battery for his headset weeks before.
Josh flinched at her touch, but deigned to glance over just as the Santa went rigid and something grew with unnatural speed in its belly. It hoo-ed and haa-ed, it’s little face scrunching with effort.
Josh rolled his eyes and returned to ‘Insect Wars II’.
The Santa made a noise like a rutting deer and Maureen sighed. “It’ll be dead in a few hours, love. You can play your game later.”
A high-pitched ‘whooooo!?’ shot from the Santa’s nest.
Josh eviscerated a giant cockroach with his Deathsabre and his avatar ascended to level 4. “I’m busy!”
On the carpet, the smooth corners of something cube-like stretched the limits of the Santa’s stomach. Its tiny hands pushed desperately at the expanding object, forcing it down from under its ribs and towards its Present Sphincter. The scream rattled the ill-fitting windows of their small terraced house.
“Aaah!” Maureen cooed. “The Magic of Christmas. Look, Joshy, it’s a big one!”
Josh cursed as his avatar was eaten by a Dreg-muncher, but he turned to look all the same. The square package, recently ejected from the Santa’s lower orifice, lay drying in a puddle of gelatinous pink goo. It glistened next to the panting Santa who, even now, was staring with a mixture of horror and fascination as a new gift started to form in it’s miniscule gut.
Mother read the label:
“Have a great Christmas, Josh! Love Santa.”
“Gross.” Josh waited for the present to dry then, picking it up between finger and thumb, tossed it under the tree with the others. Twelve presents glimmered against the fairy-lights.
He returned to the screen, as the Santa started squealing once more.
Maureen returned to the solace of her room. She didn’t bother turning on the light, but sat in the darkness and thought of her own – happier – childhood christmases.
‘Santa gives its life for us and every year the same,
If Santa doesn’t visit, then there’s only you to blame,’
She remembered her mother teaching her that rhyme when she was barely four. You had to want a Santa to come, or it wouldn’t climb out of its burrow. You had to keep traditions alive, her mother said.
But what had become of tradition? The turkey worship, the December fir tree hunts, the shaming of the virgins? These days, you could barely tell it was the festive season – children got presents whether they had a Santa or not, and she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had been divorced under the mistletoe.
A blood-curdling scream rattled through the house.
She smiled. At least you could rely on the Santas. They still crept out of the mud on Christmas eve, they still blinked wide-eyed into their one day lifecycle.
She sighed, stood up and went back to the living room.
“It’s gone wrong.” Josh didn’t look up, simply shrugged one shoulder towards the Santa. “It spoke.”
Maureen laughed. “Don’t be silly, love, they don’t -”
“Make stop!” A rasping voice whispered up at her.
“But they can’t -”
“Please, make stop.”
“Yeah,” Josh mimicked, “make stop, make the stupid Santa stop talking.”
Maureen stared in disbelief. “But Santas don’t…, they just… Santas don’t…” She peered into the tinsel nest now sweaty with blood and goo. The Santa lay panting, beaded in sweat, yet another present forming under its skin. It’s eyes were red; were those tears? As she leaned over, it peered up and reached out a tiny hand.
Those eyes, they were so soft, so appealing.
“Help?” She reached in and wiped its brow with her finger.
“Oh for…” Josh ripped the cord out of the wall and snatched up his games system. “If you’re going to keep talking I’m going!” And he flounced out, kicking a present at the wall.
“Food.” The Santa’s little hand grasped at the air.
“Santa’s don’t… eat. You, you’re full of presents.”
“Give food, we stop. Bread. Pleeeeaaase. Aaagh!” The next present was still growing. “Noooo!!!”
Mother ran into the kitchen and flung open cupboards, the larder, the fridge. Santas could feel?? It was too horrible to contemplate. She threw things onto a plate – tomatoes, bread, cheese – and started out of the door. In the distance she could hear ‘bread, bread, hurry…’. She faltered.
Christmas morning, was just the same as always. Mother woke early, freed the fairies from the fairy-lights, gutted the pudding and, at ten o’clock, she buried the remains of the Santa in the garden. As usual, it’s little body had exploded with the pressure of bigger and bigger presents.
It’s tradition, she had told herself as she collected the bits of body that had flown farther afield. It’s tradition.
She said it once more when Easter approached – as she stuffed eggs into the bunny and prepared the guest room for any dead relatives who rose again; on Mayday she mumbled it into her chest as they prepared to hang the pleading Morris Dancers; by Hallowe’en she could barely whisper it, as she rampaged through the graveyards with the screaming townsfolk.
As Christmas eve came round again, the house remained undecorated. She left Josh to his video games, filled a plate with food, and waited in the garden for the Santa to emerge.
This story was chosen for our Christmas countdown and the author wins a 1-year Community Collaborator membership
About the author: Jen Rowe lives in Hassocks with her husband. She writes, teaches improvised comedy and is occasionally allowed on stage.