Todd H.C. Fischer
The wind howled through the night's darkness, sending snow dervishes dancing across the frozen plains. The sky was half covered by heavy clouds that were just beginning to dump their loads of fresh snow. The tiny flakes were grabbed roughly by the rushing wind, spun in circles, and then dashed to the ground where they shattered into icy fragments.
Through this barren countryside moved a small figure, bent against the cold, a sack slung across his back. He was wrapped in red, black and gold plaid blankets over his green jumpsuit. A red three-pronged hat, each prong hung with a silver bell, was snugly pulled down onto his head. A blue scarf had been tied around his head to protect his pointy ears from the arctic chill. The figure silently walked up to a red and white striped sign post. One arrow pointed back the way he had come, back to Santa's Workshop. The other pointed in the direction he was going -- The Forest of Bad Thoughts.
Last chance, Scampy, he thought to himself. Last chance to turn back. Last chance to go back and be nothing more than a common line Elf, sticking the arms onto Barbies for the rest of your long, long life.
He narrowed his almond eyes and trudged towards the Forest.
Before long he came across another sign. This time it was a warning, set up by the Klaus many years ago. The wooden planking had somehow begun to rot, even under its shroud of ice. The bold red lettering said:
Under the message there was a picture of a skull-shaped Christmas ornament over two crossed candy canes.
Scampy stared at the sign for a moment, the years of conditioning making him pause, but he was irresolute. As he walked past the sign the contents of his sack began to moan and move sluggishly about. Without a thought, Scampy smacked the bag into the sign post until it was quiet again.
The frozen forest of black pine trees stretched out before him. He noticed that the snow, which was falling heavy now, refused to land on any of the ebony trees. He hitched up his sack and walked down from his perch on a snow dune, towards the silent forest. As he drew closer he could see that the trees were decorated with bones: tiny bird skulls hung from tangled bits of twine, animal femurs formed crude wind chimes that rattled in the wind, and spinal columns had been strung like garlands. But what really made him shiver was the small elf skull rammed upon the top of each tree.
A voice tore him away from his horrified scrutiny.
"Who goes?" it said.
Scampy turned to find himself confronted by a Dusigar, a Dark Elf, twisted by the Forest of Dark Thoughts into a shambling abomination. This Dusigar stood twice as tall as Scampy, and resembled some mad cross between a crocodile, a bear and a goat. An Elf Bell, strung on a tattered piece of yellow ribbon, still hung around its neck.
"M-m-m-my name is S-s-scampy," he stuttered, his teeth clattering in fright. "I-I've come to see the, the Krogs."
The Dusigar eyed Scampy distrustfully. "No one comes to see the Krogs," it said in its deep, bassy voice. "The Klaus has forbid it. Any who come do not leave. They become like me. Do you wish to become like me?"
The creature laughed at the look of horror that sprang unbidden to Scampy's face. "Flee, little one," it said when its mirth had been exhausted. "Go now and I will let you. Just be thankful that none of my brothers caught you, or you would be twisted before sunrise."
Scampy's feet took a few unconscious steps back, but then dug stubbornly into the black pine needles littering the forest floor. "No," he said. "I need to see the Krogs. I've brought a gift." He hefted his sack in emphasis.
The Krog narrowed its eyes, then said, "Very well. But those who disturb the Krogs become worse than we Dusigar, if what you have to say does not please them." With a wave of his hand, the Dusigar beckoned Scampy to follow him deeper into the forest.
After what seemed like hours, Scampy and the Dusigar stood before a large rustic cabin. The cabin was old, and slumped under the weight of its years. It was also, Scampy discovered upon closer inspection, made entirely out of candy.
A second Dusigar stood guard before the cabin's irregularly shaped door. This one had a large cyclopean eye sprouting over its fang filled mouth. Its body was covered in green slimy scales, and instead of legs it had a mass of squirming tentacles. It leered evilly at Scampy. "Food?" it asked.
The first Dusigar shook its furry head. "Visitor. For the Krogs."
The cyclops looked up disbelievingly, then smiled wickedly. He turned and knocked on the gingerbread door, which was opened from within a few seconds later. Scampy found himself being shoved into the house. Before he knew it, he was inside a hallway, the front door banging shut behind him. Standing before him was a wraith-like figure with glowing red eyes. The wraith floated down the hall, then stopped and turned back towards Scampy. The Elf realized that he was meant to follow this ghostly porter, and hurried to catch up.
They passed many doors as they walked down the hall. Scampy peeked through the few that stood slightly open.
In one room he saw a fat slovenly figure flopping in its own filth; in another he saw the Dusigar kitchen, the contents of which made him turn away in horror and disgust. In a third he just barely made out two creatures in the darkness, one lying on top of the other, both moaning.
Finally, the wraith stopped before a door covered with what looked like ornate iron work, but was in actuality, licorice. With a low sigh, the wraith opened the door.
Scampy found himself staring into a large round room, seemingly carved out of stone. A candelabra, made entirely of small human bones, hung from the ceiling, barely illuminating the cold room. In the centre of the black and white tiled floor squatted a great crescent-shaped desk. Behind the desk stood three tall, bat-winged chairs, and behind the chairs were three other doors. The room smelled faintly of cinnamon.
"Wait," breathed the wraith as it closed the door behind him. Scampy found himself alone, awaiting the arrival of the Krogs, the masters of the Forest of Dark Thoughts.
I hope I know what I'm doing, Scampy thought. I'm sure they'll help me. They don't like the Klaus, they hate him. He thwarts them by making children act good with bribes of toys. Their influence in the World Outside is wanning, but without the Klaus, it would be rekindled.
His thoughts were interrupted by the creaking open of the three other doors. He stood up straight, trying to look as confident as he could, but he couldn't stop the nervous sweat from collecting on his brow. He could hear the rustle of robes and the clanking of metal as, one by one, the Krogs stepped out of the darkness and took their places at the table.
The first was a fat creature, draped in expensive silks, and aglitter with all the precious stones that hung around its neck, fingers and head. Its face was that of a boar, covered in grey bristles. Two large tusks stuck out of its salivating jaw, the one on the left circled by a band of gold. This, Scampy knew, was Ta'doom, the Krog of Greed.
The second was wide and broad, dressed in a dented and scuffed suit of plate armour. Its head resembled that of a horse with a ragged mane, with the exception of the bull like horns that jutted from behind its ears. A naked sword hung from its belt, and a cloud of flies wreathed its entire person. This was Zatok, the Krog of Hatred.
The last was thin, and easily three times as tall as Scampy. It had six stick-like arms that ended in cruel looking hooks. It wore a simple tattered black robe. It had no head. This was Wortog, the Krog of Spite.
As they took their seats, they all stared malevolently at Scampy, even Wortog, although he had no eyes with which to glare. They sat and waited.
Scampy shivered. He had to do this right, or it was all over for him. He'd end his days as a Dusigar. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the words from that book, the Unasskroglin Klausin, that he had found way in the back of the Workshop's library.
"I humbly bow in the presence of the great and glorious Krogs," he said as he bowed humbly. "I am nothing compared to their power, and I accept that if I fail to please them they may do with me as they wish. In appeasement for interrupting them from their plottings, I bring this gift."
He slowly strode up to the desk, the smell of cinnamon assailing his nostrils. He dumped the contents of his sack onto the table's surface.
"A living sacrifice," he said as he backed away. "The first born of Vixen and Comet," he added.
The small reindeer doe stirred its head and looked up to discover the three Krogs bending over it. It squealed in terror and tried to flee, but one of Wortog's hooks sunk into her flesh, pinning her to the desk. Her shrieks of horror and panic intensified as a burst of flame erupted from Zatok's mouth, burning her alive. Scampy shut his eyes as the reindeer screamed her death cries. When it was finally quiet in the cavern again, he opened his eyes to find the three Krog's tearing apart the seared flesh and devouring it. He watched in fascination as Wortog stuck his hooks, hanging with blackened meat, under his robes, to then draw them out clean.
When the Krogs were done with their unholy meal, they turned back to Scampy.
"You have appeased us with this gift," said Zatok in a deep gravelly voice. "Although I'm sure Ta'doom's appetite could have used a full grown reindeer."
"My apologies," said Scampy as he bowed, his body instantly drenched in sweat.
"But it will do, for now," said Ta'doom in a voice as slick as oil, and as greasy.
"What do you wish of us?" asked the disembodied voice of Wortog.
"I wish," said Scampy, "I wish to bring about the downfall of the Klaus."
The three spirits of maliciousness sat in silence for a moment.
"You are serious?" asked Wortog, finally. "For if you are not, Zatok will roast you as surely as he did the reindeer doe."
Scampy gulped. "I-I-I'm serious, Lords. We Elves have been exploited long enough by the Klaus. It is time for a revolution. And since my brothers are too blind to see this, I must act alone. With your help, I hope to throw him down." And take his place myself, he added mentally.
"There is nothing we would wish more than to overthrow the Klaus," said Zatok. "But He imprisoned us here in the Forest of Dark Thoughts ages ago. We cannot leave this place, and our powers are weak outside of it."
"I have read," said Scampy, "of a ceremony that could free you. It must be performed tonight, the night of the Winter Solstice. If done properly, you will be free of the Forest, and you and your minions will be able to march on Santa's Workshop."
"Imagine," said Wortog quietly. "To be free again . . ."
Scampy's mind was a blur as he was led back to the boundaries of the Forest of Bad Thoughts by his Dusigar guide. Soon, he thought, soon I will be the Klaus.
"Little fool," said Wortog. "Apparently his book did not tell him that we can read minds."
"We will still help him kill the Klaus," said Zatok. "And all the Elves, including our dear friend Scampy."
The three Lords of Malfeasance laughed as they began to plan.
The wind and snow slipped through the Workshop door with a half-frozen Scampy. He rubbed his mittens together and stomped his feet on the boot mat. He had much to do, and a victim to pick.
"Scampy!" shouted a beefy voice as a heavy-set Elf stepped into the snow room from the hallway beyond. He was an old Elf, with a long wide forked white beard. Scampy sighed. It was his supervisor, Rusty Bells.
"You missed your shift!" said Rusty, glaring through his Coke-bottle glasses. "Where the Dickens were you?"
Scampy looked up at Rusty and a light went on in his head. "I was working on a new design," he said. "In my room. I'm really excited about it. Would you like to see it?"
"If you've been in your room all shift, what are you doing coming in from outside?" asked Rusty.
"I just nipped out for a smoke," lied Scampy. "Come on, I really want you to see this."
Scampy grabbed Rusty's hand and practically dragged him towards his room.
"This had better be good," said Rusty as Scampy guided him into his room. "I'm missing 'The Grinch' for this."
"Oh, this is better than 'The Grinch,'" said Scampy. "The designs are over there. Drawn on the floor."
Rusty walked over to the large pentagram Scampy had drawn on the wooden floorboards. The circle was full of strange sigils. "What is all this?" asked Rusty as he squatted down to get a closer look, his ancient knees popping. "Some sort of algebra? New math? I'll never know why . . ."
He was silenced by a brass candlestick caving in the back of his head.
Have to work fast, Scampy thought to himself as he positioned Rusty's body in the centre of the circle. Before he dies. He lit candles at the cardinal points of the pentagram and kneeled over a cauldron that he had left bubbling over his fire.
"Flth'ag'anu bar'tokl Kroggin," he said as he crunched a gingerbread man in his hand, letting the crumbs tumble into the cauldron. Next, he poured in a cup of holly berry juice.
"Brakannal El'dwitch cyk'lpn," he chanted as he picked up a silver dagger with a sprig of mistletoe tied to its pommel. He used the knife to slice off the tip of his left ear, which he also tossed into the pot.
He continued chanting for a few moments, then, as Rusty's chest began to have trouble rising, he plunged his knife into his supervisor's gut. With a savage twist, he ripped the knife back out of Rusty's soft flesh and shouted, "Gaban'al Frq'uiol b'na'cga Kroggil!"
He sat in silence and waited. Soon, the screams began.
Donder and Blitzen stood in the reindeer barn, gossiping.
"I hear that Comet unt Vixen's doe izt mizting" said Blitzen in his thick German accent. "Und no zign uf her haz been found."
Donder shook his antlers sadly. "Nope. Not a sign. Comet's still out looking for her. Vixen's not taking it well at all. Not at all."
"Can you blame her?" asked Blitzen.
They looked over to Vixen's stall, where the other reindeer stood around her, trying their best to console her.
Suddenly, the barn doors flew open, letting the Winter Solstice wind free to run amok among the barn's rafters. Framed in the doorway was a twelve-foot tall creature. It looked like a polar bear with the mad eyes of a Rasputin. Small ropy tendrils hung from its stomach and its hide was stained red. As it strode inside they could see that it was munching on something it held in its right paw.
"Oh holy night!" said Donder. "It's Comet!"
The thing tossed aside the reindeer head it had been eating and ran screaming into the barn, fangs gleaming wetly.
As he sat outside the boardroom, Frosty the Snowman puffed on his empty pipe. I would so like to actually try some tobacco, he thought. But the heat would melt my mouth. It sucks being made of snow. I can't even go inside the Workshop.
A sound floated to his ears from across the compound. What sounded disquietly like screams.
"What the holly?" he said as more screams sounded, closer this time, from inside the board room.
An Elf turned the corner of the building, looking half-frozen from the cold. Even over the screams, Frosty could hear the tinkle of its Elf Bell.
"Hey," said Frosty as he hurried over to its side, "What's going on?"
The Elf turned its face to look up Frosty and the Snowman screamed in abject terror. The black, distorted mouth opened to reveal moving, questing teeth. A belch of fire burst from behind them, melting Frosty's head clean off.
Santa ran down the corridor, splotches of dull crimson staining his red coat. A group of Elves ran at his heels. All were armed with axes and knives. A second group of Elves ran out of another corridor and joined up with them. Their leader, a rotund Elf with a goatee cradling a Red Rider BB gun, moved over beside Santa.
"The place is in chaos, Klaus!" he shouted. "Utter madness!"
"You don't think I know that?" yelled Santa. "You see this blood? It's Mrs. Klaus's. She turned into some sort of snake-Medusa thing and I had to kill her myself! So don't try and tell me about chaos, Rolly!"
"What do you think happened?" asked Rolly as they turned a corner.
"Some fool let the Krogs free," puffed Santa, his face red from exertion. "I thought I had Booky destroy the tome that detailed the ceremony to let them free."
"Booky is two thousand years old," Rolly reminded him. "His mind is not what it used to be."
"What a night for this to happen," said Santa. "Three days to Christmas Eve, and the ambassador from Heaven is here somewhere."
"Mike's here?" asked Rolly, surprised.
"Yes. We were supposed to discuss how we could get the commercialism and theologism of Christmas to coincide more fluidly. We were separated when Mrs. Klaus . . . changed."
Rolly felt helpless. He could see the tears that the Klaus was trying to hide. He couldn't imagine what it would feel like to have to kill your own wife.
They ran into the packing room and found the Krogs.
Scampy wandered through the destruction, a look of detached glee on his face. He peeked into the nursery and observed as the Baby New Year was hung from the ceiling by some Dusigar and used as a piņata, while the Old Year sat tied in a chair, watching helplessly.
After Christmas, he thought to himself, I'll take Easter, then Hallowe'en. There's nothing to stop me from running everything!
He skipped down the hall to the sounds of the baby's screams.
"Klaus," said Zatok as he dropped the squirming Elf he had been strangling. As it tried to crawl away he smashed a horned foot down on its neck, snapping it. Flames danced in his eyes as he regarded his nemeses.
Ta'doom looked up from where he was busy stuffing presents in a sack. Several Dusigar stood behind him, holding already full sacks.
"Klaus," repeated Zatok. "It is time we two finally clashed. A fight to the death. Just the two of us."
With a wave of his hand, Zatok swept all the Elves and Dusigar out into the hall. With another, he closed and barred the door.
"Ta'doom will watch," said the Krog of Hatred as he pulled forth his black blade, dripping with liquid sulphur. "We must have a witness after all."
Santa gripped his axe with his damp mittens. He knew that he didn't stand a chance against the Krog; he was not a spirit of violence as they were.
With a savage grin, Zatok spun in a circle, slashing out with his blade. Santa parried with his axe, barely, receiving a small cut across his right forearm. He grimaced as his maple syrup blood seeped from the wound. Zatok laughed and slashed again. This time Santa stumbled back from the blow, almost tripping over his own feet. Zatok took full advantage of this opportunity and began raining blow after blow upon Saint Nick. Santa fell back against the onslaught, until his back was up against the wall.
"Now, Santa," said Zatok. "You will pay. Pay for sending me away, for sending me to the Forest of Bad Thoughts. Me! You're friend! Your sidekick! Me, Black Peter! Left me to be twisted by those woods."
"Peter," said Santa, "Those woods did not twist you. You twisted them. Your hate and envy."
"SHUT UP!" roared Zatok as he raised his sword over his head. Before he could deliver the killing blow, a hand grabbed his wrist.
"Is that any way to behave around Christmas?" asked a soft, but
Zatok turned his blazing eyes to come face to face with Michael. The angel was wearing a football helmet and some hockey shoulder guards. In his right hand he held a flaming sword. He looked like a winged Mad Max.
"Stay out of this!" screeched Zatok. "It's none of your business!"
"The Klaus is a living Saint," said Michael. "We have a vested interest in his safety."
Silently, Wortog detached himself from the rafters where he had been hiding, and fell upon the angel. He wrapped his long, spindly limbs around him, cocooning him in rotting wool.
Grinning so wide it's a wonder his face didn't split, Zatok turned back to Santa, to discover that the old Elf was gone.
"KLAUS!" he bellowed, waving his sword.
Wortog screamed as his flesh began to smoke. With an anguished cry, he leapt off Michael, flapping his seared arms.
"You're fanning the flames, fool," said Ta'doom from his seat on Santa's sleigh.
Michael and an enraged Zatok began to circle each other, their blades dancing through the air.
Panting, Rolly leaned against the wall. Blood ran down his face from a wicked cut on his forehead. His jumpers were torn and covered with gore. His BB gun had been replaced with a golf club. He straightened up, club ready, as someone turned the corner. He relaxed slightly when he recognized Scampy, an Elf from the Doll Division. The other Elf stopped in front of him, rocking back and forth on his heels and whistling.
"What the holly are you so happy about?" snapped Rolly. "We're being wiped out here! The Klaus is likely dead!"
"He is?" Scampy's face lit up even brighter. "Good."
"Good?" choked Rolly. "What . . ." Rolly stopped talking. He stared at Scampy, who just continued smiling and rocking.
"And now that the Klaus is dead . . .?"
"Why, I'll be the new Klaus!" said Scampy ecstatically.
"That's what I thought you'd say," said Rolly as he swung his club.
Michael was fighting heroically, and against only Zatok, he might have been able to prevail. But against all three Krogs he was doomed to failure. He knew this, and accepted it, as they closed in on him. Ta'doom's tusks glistened. "I've never eaten angel meat," he grunted.
"And you never will," said Santa as he ran up behind the Krog of Greed and buried his axe in the small of his back. Ta'doom squealed in surprise and fell to the ground. Zatok whirled around and ripped the axe out of Santa's hands, and Ta'doom's back, sending it flying across the room. As Michael watched Zatok, Wortog wrapped all six of his hooks around his flaming sword and pulled it out of his hands. He flung the sword over to join the axe, wiping his smoking hooks on his robes.
Ta'doom crawled back up to his feet and the three evil spirits advanced on the Saint and the angel.
Rolly stood in Scampy's room, over the cold body of Rusty. He was busily flipping through the pages of the Unasskroglin Klausin. He found the spell he was looking for and stood in the centre of the circle, book in one hand, stained silver dagger in the other.
"Brk'hagnl Voradi vobk's vop'rt," he chanted. "Xi'tocl Zothik Hdo'ria."
He cut his throat.
The three Krogs suddenly shot bolt upright, looks of intense pain etched onto their features. They screamed as black and blue smoke bellowed about them. Their bodies writhed in torment as their souls were torn and sent back to their prison, back to the Forest of Bad Thoughts.
Soon, Santa and Michael were alone in the room.
The North Pole Intelligence Service quickly pieced together what had happened. The unconscious body of Scampy had been found and, upon awakening, he had reluctantly verified their surmises. The dead, the many, many dead, were buried in a mass service -- Rolly being placed in the Klaus family crypt,
right between Mrs. Klaus, and the place reserved for Santa.
Scampy was brought before Santa for punishment.
"You've been a naughty Elf," said Santa. "A very naughty Elf. And I think I have just the right punishment picked out for you."
A Year Later
Scampy sat huddled under the black pine tree, his tail wrapped around his three legs for the added warmth. He eyed the boundary of the Forest intently, waiting for anyone fool enough to enter.
Created: December 26, 2006