The room was empty. Moonlight streamed in through the large arched windows and illuminated the brick walls adorned with unlit torches. There was an iron chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a dead fireplace on one wall, and a wood-paneled door on the opposite wall.
The door flew open and in floated a white ethereal humanoid with a flame-like head. The chandelier lit up, and the fireplace and torches roared to life, bathing the room in a sinister fiery glow.
It was the Ghost of Christmas Past.
As he moved to the center of the room, he was followed by his cohorts, the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Yet to Come.
The Ghost of Christmas Present was a very tall, broad human who wore a long green robe trimmed in white fur and a crown of holly on his head. He had long, curly chestnut hair with a beard to match. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come wore a black hooded robe that exposed only the skeletal remains of his hands. He seemed to glide on air, as did the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The Ghosts of Christmas were followed into the room by a demon covered in brown fur and wearing a green hooded cape trimmed in grey fur. Krampus, the shadow of St. Nicholas, carried a bag, chain and flail. After Krampus came an enormous black cat with a candle on his head. He wore a red collar with a sprig of holly and festive bell under his chin and arched his back on the side of the doorframe as he entered the room. It was Jólakötturinn, the Christmas cat.
“Mew,” he greeted the others. Krampus chucked him under the chin, and he began to purr loudly.
“Why has he called us here?” Present asked.
“Ich weiss nicht,” Krampus said.
Present looked to Past. “What did he say?”
“I don’t know.”
“I really wish he spoke English,” Present said.
Past rolled his eyes as a small plastic elf in a plush blue onesie with white trim and gold applique and a blue Santa-style hat marched into the room. Elf that Helps ™ was on a mission and everyone’s attention turned to him. He stopped in front of the wall and a projection screen unrolled behind him.
“Yet to Come, if you will.”
Yet to Come slowly raised his arm and pointed at the screen. A collage of Christmas images appeared on it. They included a Nativity scene, a decorated tree, hot cocoa, candy canes and a family seated around a fireplace, presumably enjoying one another’s company.
“Christmas.” Elf whipped out a retractable pointer and hit the screen. “A time for kindness and generosity. A time for love and family and friendship. All of the things Christ himself embodied. The most wonderful time of the year. At least it used to be.”
The collage disappeared in a graph, showing in red and green how appreciation for Christmas had gone down in recent years.
“Over time,” he continued, “many people have lost interest in the true spirit of the holiday. Some are even starting to resent Christmas in general.”
“They are tired of what it has come to represent. Consumerism, greed. Another stress-filled obligation. They think there is no more magic and compassion in the world.”
The situation was even more dire than Elf let on. If they didn’t get at least one person to believe in and personify the true spirit of Christmas again soon, all the spirits would start to vanish. He didn’t want to alarm his companions, so he thought it was best to keep that part a secret for the time being. He just had to get them to do the job. If they succeeded, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
“So sad.” Present shook his head.
“Yes, very sad. Which is the reason I called you here.” A giant red box with a green question mark at the center appeared on the screen to replace the graph. Elf hit the box with his pointer. “In a moment, a database of all the people in the world will appear and one will be randomly selected. That will be our first project – to spread love and get that person to embrace the true spirit of Christmas again. Yet to Come, if you’ll do the honors.”
Yet to Come shook his outstretched finger and the question mark inside the box turned into pictures of people. The pictures flashed inside the box, eventually slowing down and landing on one of a woman, half-smiling. She was about 30 years old with long, dark hair and green eyes. She was average height, perhaps a little overweight but not obese. At the bottom of the picture, black text read:
Whattown, Minnesota, U.S.A.
“Aah, Eliza Smith.” Elf put his pointer back, pulled a list from his pocket, and began to scroll down it with his finger. “Here you are! First year on the naughty list but not completely lost. Only a little jaded. Perfect candidate for us to help celebrate Christmas the right way.”
The screen began to retract and Yet to Come slowly lowered his arm. Elf rolled up the list and put it back in his pocket.
“No. She just bought a new pair of socks. You can’t eat her.”
“Mew.” Jólakötturinn never got to eat anyone anymore.
“Ich könnte sie in die Hölle ziehen.”
“Dragging people to Hell is not the answer to everything, Krampus.” Past rolled his eyes as Krampus shrugged and began teasing Jólakötturinn with his flail.
“Yes. Too extreme in this case,” Elf said.
“I could show her how her family and friends are celebrating this year,” Present suggested.
“She won’t care. Besides, it’s been done.”
“Maybe if I helped her remember how Christmas used to be.” Past brightened at the opportunity to get out and do what he did best.
“Yes, but you can both only be on Earth for a limited amount of time and it might take longer than that. We need something more. Something unique. Something…”
Yet to Come pointed at the floor and carved a tombstone with Eliza Smith inside.
“Why do you want to kill her?” The drawing disappeared as Elf swiped the air above it and turned to Krampus, who was still playing with Jólakötturinn. “Are you two paying any attention?”
He stormed over, grabbed the flail out of Krampus’ hand and threw it out a window.
Ever the predator, the festive feline sailed out after it.
They all watched and stood in silence as they heard a clink followed by a louder splat.
“Well, that was unfortunate.” Elf turned back to the other Christmas spirits. “Now, an idea that doesn’t kill Eliza.” He looked at Krampus.
“Ich bringe sie in die Hölle.” Krampus threw the side of his cape in the air, turned, and disappeared. Past’s eyes widened in horror while Elf and the other Ghosts of Christmas stared in shock at where Krampus had been standing.
“Where’s he going?” Present whispered to Past.
“He’s going to find Eliza and bring her to Hell.” Past was staring, stunned, at the empty spot.
“Well, we should stop him.”
Past turned slowly and looked at Present with a raised eyebrow. The word Yes was etched into the wall where Yet to Come pointed.
“His obsession with Hell is just…” Elf made a fist and began pacing. “I don’t even know why I invite him anymore.”
“Too late now.” Present always was the helpful one.
“How are we going to stop him? He’ll find her sooner or later and she’ll be dead if we don’t do something.”
As if on cue, Krampus appeared in the same spot he had been standing minutes before. He had a woman thrown over his shoulder. Her face was covered by a curtain of long, dark hair. Yet to Come etched Oh, no into the wall.
“He got her.” Present was dumbfounded.
“That was quick,” Elf said.
“Put me down!” The woman kicked and punched Krampus as much as she was able.
“Die Hölle würde sie nicht nehmen.”
“So you brought her here?” Elf was surprised. They’d never had a human visitor before.
Past floated behind Krampus and moved the hair to get a look into the woman’s eyes. “Of course they wouldn’t take her in Hell. That’s not Eliza.”
“Eliza?” The woman stopped struggling.
“Scheisse.” Krampus dropped her on her feet. She brushed herself off.
“What is going on?” she demanded, looking at each of the spirits.
“This must be Eliza’s cousin Jackie. On the nice list, of course. I’ve been told they look a lot alike.” Elf turned from the Ghosts of Christmas as Yet to Come etched Hi on a brick in Jackie’s line of vision. “And you, Jackie, are in the headquarters of the Christmas spirits.”
“Christmas spirit headquarters. Okay.” Jackie nodded and pinched herself while whispering mantras to wake up.
“Ich werde jetzt Eliza bekommen.”
“No, you’re not going to get her now.” Past grabbed Krampus’ cape just as he lifted it to disappear into oblivion again. Krampus huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Krampus seems to have made a mistake. He was searching for your cousin, Eliza,” Elf told Jackie.
“Uh-huh.” Jackie wasn’t buying it.
“Really. She’s on the naughty list. He wanted to bring her to Hell, but…got you instead.”
Krampus shrugged. What can you do? Accidents happen.
“Oh. Then I can wake up now or something?”
“Well, what? This is a dream, isn’t it?”
“Not exactly.” Elf said, shifting his weight from side to side.
“Uh-huh.” Jackie tapped her foot. “I just want to go home. Do I click my heels together three times or what?”
“Well…um…it’s not that easy. See, you’re…uh…well…actually…you’re…”
Yet to Come carved a tombstone with Jackie Miller written on it. Jackie’s eyes widened in horror.
“Yes.” Elf looked meekly at Jackie.
“Oh my God. OH MY GOD!” Jackie began hyperventilating.
“Don’t worry!? I’M DEAD!”
Elf sighed. “Yes, when Krampus gets a hold of someone their soul leaves their body. That’s true…but we still have your soul.”
“Oh.” Jackie looked anxiously at Elf. “So you can put me back in my body?”
“And I’m supposed to stop worrying?!”
Past floated up to Jackie and put his hand on her shoulder. Her breathing slowed and her body slackened a little. Her eyes glazed over and a gimpy smile filled her face.
Elf continued explaining the situation. “Your soul needs to go into a different body. Living or unborn, your choice. But it would be too much of a shock for others if your body was resurrected.”
“It happened once and they started a religion,” Past said.
“Living body?” Jackie was confused. Didn’t every living being already have a soul?
“Yes. Think of it as a soul transplant for a broken soul,” Elf said.
“Oh.” Jackie considered this for a second. “What do you think it’s like to be a cat?”
Past looked at her with a raised eyebrow and removed his hand from her shoulder. She seemed calm enough. That’s when Elf got an idea. He knew exactly how to motivate the rest of the spirits to help Eliza without telling them they’d disappear if they didn’t.
“Krampus, you want to take Eliza to Hell, right?”
“Ja!” Krampus lifted the edge of his cape and Past grabbed it again, his gaze never leaving Elf.
“We’ll let you.”
“What?!” Past, Present, and Jackie gasped in unison. Yet to Come carved out an Edvard Munch painting on the wall.
“Yes. We’re going to let Krampus take Eliza to Hell. If she doesn’t remember the true spirit of Christmas by Christmas Eve.”
“And how are we going to make her remember the true spirit of Christmas?” Present asked. “You haven’t liked any of our ideas.”
“Maybe you should go to her yourself,” Past suggested to Elf. Yet to Come wrote Yes on another brick.
“No, she doesn’t own one of my portals. I can’t just show up.”
As Elf pondered, the large wooden door creaked open. In the frame stood Julbok, a white goat with red and white striped horns that looked exactly like candy canes.
Elf’s mouth twisted into a grin. “But he can.”