's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" The New Santa "

Submitted by Immutatus

Looking back on it now, I don't know how it could possibly have seemed normal.

I mean, not just that there was a new Santa. Yes, Mr. Roland had been playing Santa at the town mall for as long as I could remember, and the Santa in the mall that day definitely wasn't Mr. Roland, but hey, things change. This guy, though... well, the only thing he had going for him that made him look like Santa was the long white beard, and even that wasn't all white; it had a big streak of black down the middle. And he was wearing a Santa costume, I guess, though one that looked like it had been sitting in a moth-infested closet for a few years. Aside from that, he could hardly have looked less like Santa. He was thin and bony, and the Santa suit hung loose on him like a raincoat on a stripper. He had probably about three or four teeth, or maybe I should say three and half, because the teeth he did have weren't in great shape. He had mean, piggy eyes and sallow, dirty skin, and it looked like he hadn't cut his nails in months. And his voice sounded like a dying blender.

At least I'm pretty sure the beard was real. He had that going for him.

Santa wasn't the worst of it, though. Oh, the big plastic house behind him was pretty shabby too, and the decorations on the roof and window looked more like they were made of bones than frosting. And even the fake snow was dingy and I swear in places was actually yellow. (Who would put yellow snow in a Christmas display?) But no, the worst thing was the elves.

Santa was ugly and disgusting, but at least he looked human. The elves didn't. I mean, they weren't "little people"; they weren't people at all. Either the outfit supplying this Santa had blown their entire budget on a Hollywood-level makeup artist and had had to find a Santa and set decoration for the dollar thirty they had left, or these were some kind of monster. Yellow-green skin, big brows, a mouthful of teeth like needles, and they moved like their joints were put together wrong. And could swear there was another pair of eyes mostly hidden by the brims of their hats. I'm sure there were other things hidden by their hats, too. Oh, wait, and they had four arms. You'd think that would have stood out more.

But you've got to understand, I'm saying all this with the benefit of hindsight. Somehow, when we were there, nobody questioned any of this. Oh, a new Santa. How nice.

In fact, every kid wanted to sit on Santa's lap. Seth and me included. Yeah, we were way too old for Santa; it had been years since we had any interest in seeing the Santa at the mall, and even longer since we'd believed in Santa, but this year for some reason it was important. We weren't the only ones; I swear there were people in line who had to be at least eighteen. Our parents didn't put up any fuss; in fact, they seemed as determined for us to see Santa as we were. Like I say, looking back this was all very, very weird, but at the time... well, at the time, that's how it was.

Seth and me were in the middle of the line, with our sister Sarah right behind us. Close enough we could clearly see and hear what happened with all the kids in front of us, but far enough that we were going to have a bit of a wait.

Ben Hardy was the first in line, and the elves hoisted him up into Santa's lap.

"So what do you want me and the elves to make you this Christmas?"

"I want Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U."

"What's that, one of them video games?" Santa growled. "No electronics. Santa doesn't do electronics. Santa and the elves, we're old fashioned."

Ben was a little put out, but he wasn't entirely deterred.

"Okay, I want a Pablo Jill action figure."

"What the hell is a Pablo Jill?"

"He's from Star Wars. Episode 2."

"Santa doesn't watch that Star Wars junk. Especially not the prequels. Anyway, no brand names."

"No brand names?" "Yeah, kid. Santa and his elves make their own toys. We could make you, I don't know, some other action figure--"

"No, thanks..."

"Well, make up your mind on something, kid. You're holding up the line. How about a train? We could make you a train."

The elves were looking impatient, and more menacing than usual. I think one of them actually bared its teeth at him.

"What about a football?" Ben asked, though I think at that point it wasn't so much because he really wanted a football as just to satisfy Santa.

"Sure, kid. We'll make you ten footballs."

"I don't need ten footballs..."

"Ten footballs. Next!"

The elves lifted Ben out of Santa's lap and pushed him along.

Before the next kid got there, Santa stood up and faced the whole line.

"Now, look. Santa doesn't want to take more time than he has to, so I want to make sure everyone heard that. No electronics, and no brand names. Santa doesn't do that. You ask Santa and his elves to make you a train, or a dolly, or a teddy bear, that's fine. That we can do. But don't ask me for anything electronic, or anything from a movie. You want junk like that, you ask your fucking parents."

Yes, he actually said "fucking", in front of a queueful of kids. That fact that none of the parents objected at all is just another thing that in retrospect shows something was very wrong.

After Santa's announcement, the line went a little faster, though not much. It was the same procedure for every kid. The elves lifted the kid into Santa's lap, and Santa asked his question.

"So what do you want me and the elves to make you this Christmas?"

Oh, there was another thing that was the same for a lot of the kids. Whatever they asked for, Santa promised multiple copies. Like Ben and his ten footballs. Mary Norwood asked for a new Barbie doll, and after Santa bellowed at her that Barbie was a brand name and she said she'd accept a doll like a Barbie doll, Santa said he and the elves would make her a dozen. Eric Li, having learned from Mary's mistake, was careful to ask for just "an action figure of a robot that transformed into a kind of alien tank", and Santa said he'd make him twenty. Jim Derris asked for a toy samurai sword, and Santa said he'd make him eight. Not all the kids got that, though. Lucy Merrigan asked for a big dollhouse, and Ramona Ladd asked for a bicycle, and Tom Lilly asked for a puppy, and none of them got offered multiples. (Thinking back on it, now, we should have thought more about Santa's response to Tom: "All right, kid, Santa and his elves will make you a puppy.")

Finally, Seth and I were at the front of the line. Seth was ahead of me, so one of the elves lifted him into Santa's lap first.

"So what do you want me and the elves to make you this Christmas?" Santa asked.

"I want a deluxe set of Legos, to build--"

Santa glared at him dangerously. "Legos? Isn't that a brand name?"

"Uh... sorry. I guess it is."

"Santa and the elves can make you building blocks, but they won't be Legos."

"Will they be able to fit together with Legos?"

"Sure, kid. Why not?" He nodded to the elves, and they lifted Seth off his lap.

I expected the elves to come for me next, but instead Santa stood up.

"All right, that's it. Santa's going home now, and having some good, strong eggnog, and then he's going to bed. Have a Merry Christmas, you fuckers."

A lot of kids whined and complained at this. I was one of them. It seemed especially unfair to me at the time that my twin brother would get to talk to Santa and I wouldn't. (Not that it was obvious we were twins; I mean, we weren't identical twins. We didn't look alike.)

But Santa just stood there are stared us all down while his elves started dismantling the display.

"Look, kids. Santa can't make all of you what you want. If he did, there'd be no kids left to give presents to!"

I wasn't sure what to make of this, and I don't think any of the other kids knew either. But there was nothing we could do; Santa and his elves seemed determined to pack up and leave. It was over.

I think it wasn't till the drive home that the spell wore off, if you want to call it that, and it started to sink in just how deeply wrong all of that had been. Even then, I think we were all too disturbed to say anything. Seth mentioned that Santa had smelled like burnt meat, but nobody responded, and we really didn't talk about it. I think we all just were trying to forget it had happened.

At least by Christmas Eve, we'd more or less put the strange occurrences out of our minds. Seth and I went to bed early that night, the better to get up on Christmas morning. We talked a while before falling asleep... we shared a room, me in the top bunk and Seth in the bottom. But I don't remember what we talked about. It wasn't really important.

In the middle of the night, though, there was a noise that woke me up. It was a clicking, clattering noise that sounded like it was coming from underneath me.

I quietly made my way to the edge of the bed and looked down. The curtains were open, so though there wasn't much light there was enough to see by.

I saw was two of the elves from the mall, leaning over Seth's bed. They had a canvas bag by their side, actually not too different from the kind of bag they always show Santa carrying in cartoons. I craned a little further to see what the elves were doing.

Seth was there, lying in his bed, or most of him was. But most of his face was missing. There was no blood leaking out, though, and as my eyes adjusted to the dark I could see why. Seth wasn't made of flesh anymore. He was made of little plastic blocks, and the elves were methodically taking him apart, brick by brick, putting each piece into the bag.

That would have been bad enough, but there were two things that made it worse. The first was that he wasn't just solid flesh-colored all the way in. I'm no expert in anatomy, but as far as I could tell the part the elves had uncovered was about the right color for the internal organs that should have been there. There were bright red bricks for the muscle, and purplish-white for the brain. It was like his whole internal structure had been reproduced, as faithfully as possible, in Legos. Excuse me, in non-brand-name building blocks.

The second thing that made it worse was that he was moving. Most of his face was gone, and the elves were working on dismantling the rest, but he was still trying to struggle and push them away. Even his half-dismantled jaws were still opening and closing, like he was trying to speak, or scream. Finally one of the elves apparently had enough of his arm getting in the way, and started to take it apart, while the other elf continued with the head.

I'm not sure exactly how long I kept watching, but I didn't see the whole thing. The elves hadn't looked up and seen me yet, I didn't think, but it occurred to me that at any moment they might. I moved away from the edge of the bed and huddled under the covers and tried to convince myself I was dreaming. I think I even succeeded, and eventually I fell back asleep.

In the morning, though, when I climbed down from the top bunk, Seth wasn't there. I tried to tell myself maybe he'd just gotten up before I had, but the main problem with that idea was that his pajamas were still there, right there on top of the rumpled sheets. Maybe, I thought, he'd already gotten dressed, though if he had, it didn't really make sense for him to have put his pajamas back on the bed.

Still, I didn't want to believe I'd really seen what I thought I'd seen last night. I'm not sure whether this was some remnant of the spell from the mall, or just good old-fashioned denial. But anyway, I went downstairs to the tree.

There were five presents under the tree that hadn't been there the night before, all with a tag scrawled in hen-scratch handwriting, "From Santa". Three for me, and three for Sarah.

I supposed I ought to have waited for my parents and my sister, but I couldn't stop myself from opening Santa's presents for me. Not because I was eager to see what was in them, but just the opposite: I dreaded what I would find, and wanted to get it over with.

The first present was a football, that looked like it was made of human flesh. It shuddered a little when I touched it, and even after I put it down it twitched and looked like it was trying to move its way along the floor. The second was a toy samurai sword. There was a design on the hilt that if you looked at it a certain way looked like a human face. Jim Derris's face, though you probably already guessed that.

And yes, the third present was a box of off-brand Lego-type bricks. Only a small box... I guess the building blocks were parceled out to a lot of kids.

When I touched a dark red brick, I could sort of feel a pulse.

I was feeling pretty sick by then, and needless to say I didn't feel like playing with those toys. I started to get up to go back to bed, when I saw one more thing. There had been writing on the inside of the wrapping paper, in the same scrawl as the tag on the outside. I steeled myself to read it, expecting maybe some horrible message, but what was written there turned out to be pretty banal... though I wasn't entirely happy about the implication. "Merry Christmas! See you next year!"