“He just marched in and fell down on his bunk,” Tili the elf began. “Hasn’t said a word. He’s been staring at the wall.” Rili thanked him and opened the door to the worker’s dorm. Gili sat, his legs curled up to his chest, rocking back and forth, staring at the wall in the half-lit room.
“Hey Gili,” Rili said. He stepped inside the dorm and pulled up the blinds. “Heard you weren’t feeling too good. What’s wrong?”
Gili said nothing. He continued staring, his elvish eyes a shade of absence, black circles hanging beneath them.
Rili stepped forward and put a hand on Gili’s shoulder. “I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me, Gili,” he said. “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
Gili turned his head to Rili, as if noticing him for the first time. The light slowly returned to his eyes. “What’s wrong?” Rili asked again.
“You won’t believe what I caught Santa doing…” Gili whispered.
Rili stormed out of the dorm, Tili chasing his heels down the shoddy hallway to the creaky elevator. “Well?” Tili asked. “What did he say? I heard him whispering.”
“We need to get a hold of Rudolph. Now,” Rili said.
“What? Rudy? What’s the matter?” Tili asked, the nervousness building in his voice.
“Do you still remember how to use a cane spear?” Rili asked.
“A cane spear? We haven’t used one of those in a thousand years…”
“I want every able bodied elfman and elfwoman out in front of the workshop, armed with a cane spear at sundown.” Rili smashed the elevator call button repeatedly.
“That’s crazy,” Tili said. “What’s happening?”
The elevator doors opened and Rili, foreman and village chief of the Northern Elves entered it. “Santa’s dead,” he said. “And the Cold has claimed him.”
The elevator closed. Tili collapsed to his knees. “My god,” he whispered out loud. “It can’t be.”
The darkness of the hallway terrified him. Indeed, it seemed to call to him. Begging him to wander inside of it. Tili, for the briefest moment, heard a sound that, despite not seeing it, instinctively conjured an image into his mind. Of a skull, laughing.
Rudolph drew the arrow, firing it into the target. It flew straight enough, but landed just outside the rim. He swore, trying to load the bow again. But the booze was rising hard, now. And he stumbled the arrow and it landed on the snow. “Damn this piece of shit,” he mumbled. “God damn elvish piece of shit.”
“Suppose it’s not a good time,” Rili said, wandering in from the frost clouds of the Northern Plains. “Not happy with our trinkets?”
“An elf couldn’t make a proper train or sleigh, let alone a bow and arrow.” Rudolph spat on the ground. “What business have you with me, little one?”
“The Cold has returned,” Rili said. “It’s consumed Claus. The wife is missing as well. Darkness settles upon the city.”
“And you expect my help?” Rudolph asked, lighting a cigarette. “You think the deers have any skin in this game?”
“I do,” Rili said, fixing his boo-bit-y cut-sy red hat against the frigid arctic winds. “I’ve called my elves people for the fight. Ordered them out in spears. We’re storming Claus’ manse at sundown in hopes to catch him off guard. He’s consuming us, Rudy. Eating elfmen and elfwomen both. Like little gingerbread people.”
“Yeah, well that’s not my problem.” Rudolph picked up his bottle of vodka, staring at the picture of his long dead deerwife. “It’s yours.”
“What happened to you, Rudy?” Rili asked. “You used to be something. A leader of your people. And now look at you. Lost in grief over a deer that cared for you not.”
Rudy guzzled more of the vodka, his red nose beginning to illuminate a hint of a red light. “What do you know?” Rudy shouted, his eyes narrowed in anger. “What does an elf know about love?”
“Enough to fight for it, Rudy. We need you. We need you and the deers.”
“The deers…are gone.” Rudy looked away, chugging the vodka and wandering off into the snow.
“I know you, Rudy!” Rili called after his old friend. “And this isn’t you!”
Rudy hesitated, his outline fading against the coming snows, before running off. Rili followed him as far as he could before the snows consumed him.
The burnt orange sun sank lower in the darkening sky. Mrs Claus wiped a gloved hand across her protective goggles. The snow was getting thicker by the minute. She hoped her husband would forgive her for leaving. She carried on, her boots leaving deep impressions in the snow. She felt a tug on the rope around her waist and stopped, turning to face the elfwoman closest to her.
“Mrs Claus, how much further?” Rala’s voice was masked by the dense snow.
“We’re nearly there, I promise.” The truth was, she didn’t know how much further they had to go, or if they would get there at all. She was relying on blind faith and a little Christmas spirit.
Bells jangled around the small party, they all stopped warily. A deer emerged from the trees. “You shouldn’t be here!” Dasher shouted.
“I had no other choice.” Mrs Claus called.
The last light of the day sunk beneath the horizon, plunging them into darkness.
“We’re out of time.”
The Cold swept across the dark Northern Plains of the Arctic. Like a festering rash it spread from Elf to animal, threatening to consume them all. Gili’s frozen form repeatedly walked into the locked doorway of his bunk room. Tili’s lifeless eyes wandered the empty halls of the elfmen’s dorms. Ice travelled the length of the corridors, only affecting those who were still alive.
Santa Claus stood motionless in the rotunda. Blood trickled down his chin, staining his beard like a candy cane. Piles of broken bodies lay scattered around his feet. His head tilted as the entrance door opened.
A battle cry sounded as Rili fired his crossbow at Santa’s head. As it sailed through the air the lifeless corpses on the ground twitched; the army of Elves and Deer standing outside braced themselves.
The Village Chief watched as his arrow missed its mark. He muttered swear words that even Rudolph blushed at. The drunken reindeer raised his cleaver with a grin, a fresh cigar between his teeth.
“Let the games begin, little one?”
Rili bristled at the insult but lifted his cane spear. “Northern Elves, Southern Elves, Deer and Mrs Claus. Tonight we defeat the Cold and save Christmas! Again.” He shouted, muttering the last word to himself.
The corpses re-animated, rising up on the dias, their limbs turning in jaggard angles. The elves with beating hearts brandished their cane spears and charged for the army of dead.
“I can’t believe you convinced me to fight.” Rudy shouted to Rili across the melee.
“I can’t believe I didn’t accept that drink.” Rili hacked the head off an elf he knew from Tinsel Town.
Mrs Claus stood at the back of the company, her hand protecting her unborn child, the heir of the Claus dynasty. Dasher stepped closer to her. If the tide turned for the worst she was prepared to leave, to secure their future.
The bells chimed as the reigns whipped in the cool breeze. Mrs Claus cast an eye on the bundle on the back seat, not the sack of presents, but the newborn baby. This Christmas was different for sure, but that wasn’t going to stop the world's children receiving gifts.