Terror One My Christmas Immortal
I felt a gentle shake—one accompanied by the jingle of silver bells. I knew they’d be silver because they had been every year before.
“Merry Christmas, Willa.”
His voice, which carried with the depth of the cold night sky, carried my sleeping brain the tiny stretch needed to break free from slumber’s hold. “Santa!” I hurled my pajama-clad body into his arms.
“Shhh, Little One, we do not want to wake your parents, now, do we?” I shook my head in answer, keeping my voice locked inside.
That year marked my tenth Christmas, and on every year I could remember, Santa had come to visit me, waking me in the middle of the night so he could personally wish me Merry Christmas. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone at school or even Mommy or Daddy, but I didn’t mind. Most kids my age didn’t believe in Santa anymore, but I knew better. When one of the boys on the playground made fun of the younger kids for writing letters to the North Pole, I could giggle behind my mittened hand, secure in the knowledge they were wrong. I’d always imagined those kids must have been very naughty during their brief lives since Santa had failed to reveal himself to them. Sometimes, I gave the younger believers a knowing wink, as they obviously shared the same special relationship with the man in the red suit as I.
“Did you get my letter, Santa?”
“I did, Willa. Let me see; you asked for one last doll this year, is that correct?”
I could feel joy animate my face, my cheeks aching with the magnitude of my smile. “Yes, please! Mommy said this would probably be the last year for dolls since I’m getting older.”
“Always so polite, Willa. I delight in bringing you whatever your heart desires. Your mother is wrong, however. A girl never grows too old for dolls.”
“We don’t?” I felt confusion push its way into my expression. Mommy had told me when I made my Christmas list I had nearly outgrown them.
“I know many girls who continue to receive a special doll at every occasion…not just for Christmas. Someday, you will have a doll unlike any other for every Christmas the world knows.”
“Every Christmas of the world? But someday I’ll get old and die. Will you bring me dolls to Heaven?”
“That should be completely unnecessary, My Dear.” It must have been snowing outside, because the finger he touched to my nose was cold, even through the layer of red mitten. “Now, Willa, do you have something for me?”
In my house, my dad ate the cookies and drank the milk. Santa didn’t desire those offerings. I smiled up at him and laid my hand, its pale surface seeming to glow in the dimly-lit room, in the soft chill of his mitten.
“What did you get, Willa?” Mommy looked like she might be as excited as I was as I tore into the glistening blue-and-silver surface of the paper surrounding my new treasure. “It might not be that doll you asked for, but Mommy thought you might enjoy this more.”
I’d already guessed the package wouldn’t contain a doll—the box was far too small for that to have been possible. I recognized the object, not just because of the box proclaiming it for what it was, but also because nearly all my friends owned one of these objects.
“Oh, an iPod.” I hadn’t meant for my voice to come out so flat, so devoid of appreciation. Although I did enjoy music, I preferred to play the songs myself on our well-worn piano which had once belonged to my mother’s mother. Never much of a techie, my laptop—purchased for schoolwork by my mother—lay untouched while I handwrote math problems and essays. As did my e-reader. I’d take up a print book any day, something I could touch and smell. But my mother could never be convinced she didn’t know best.
She did, however, seem a little doubtful at present. “Oh, I suppose it could have waited one more year.” It felt strange to hear her sound so unsure of herself.
“That’s okay, Mommy. I didn’t open the one from Santa yet.”
“Oh Willa, I thought we talked about Santa this year…” She’d told me I was too old for Santa to come anymore. Of course, I knew better. I was already on my hands and knees under the tree, my footed Christmas pajamas from the year before straining, pulled tight at the ankles by a year’s worth of growth. I dug through the remaining presents, but it didn’t take long for the bounce and sparkle of tree-lights off the blood-red foil paper wrapped with gold ribbon to catch my eye. I snuck a finger under a shining strand to snag the package from its casual lean against the wall behind the tree. I bumped my head on a branch during my hasty retreat, sending a couple of ornaments flying free from their carefully hooked assignments.
“I’ll pick them up in a minute, Mommy.” My dark eyes became transfixed by the elegant curl of my name across the tag, the letters in the ‘From’ space, set down with an equally calligraphic flourish.
“Who’s that one from?” I heard my father whisper so loudly one could hardly call it whispering.
“I don’t know…Santa?” Didn’t my mother remember that this same conversation, following my same knowing search, played out every year? After I’d show them my extra-special gift, they’d always seemed to forget about the whole thing altogether, almost immediately.
My presents from Santa always turned out to be something my parents hadn’t been keen on purchasing for me. A leather-bound copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a real ruby set in a small ring that currently only fit my pinky finger, a little red-oak sapling I could plant in the backyard when spring arrived. My father never seemed to see the tree when mowing the grass, always bumping into it and peering around as if he had no idea what stood in his way. But he had dug the hole for me. I’d gone out to plant my special tree, toting Mommy’s garden trowel, only to find the hole waiting for me. Daddy had looked so funny when I’d thanked him.
That year’s present was the best of all! A beautiful porcelain doll…who looked almost exactly like me. Her dark eyes were set deep in her pale face, a headful of black ringlets falling to her waist. She wore a velvet dress the color of my blood with shoes and a bow in her hair to match. She came with a metal stand which allowed her to stand in a revered spot on the night table next to my bed, where I could stare at her for hours before losing myself to sleep.
After thoroughly looking her over, I leapt from my spot on the floor so I could thrust her in front of my parents’ eyes. “Look, Mommy! Look, Daddy! Isn’t she beautiful?”
My mother had a funny look on her face. Like when we went to the store and she couldn’t remember the items we’d gone to buy. “Oh yes, but she looks so much like…” She bent slightly at the waist to lean forward, peer closer…
The oven buzzer sounded from the kitchen, and both my parents blinked rapidly as if both were just waking up. “Well, there’s the cinnamon rolls. Who wants to help me ice them?”
“Me! Me, Mommy!” I took my doll to my room and stood her carefully in the spot I’d picked for her inside my mind, before rushing off to the kitchen.
“Willa, wake up. Ahhh, there you are! Merry Christmas, My Girl.”
“Merry Christmas, Santa,” I said sleepily, wiping the sleep from my eyes, along with a few crusty bits. Four years had passed, and I was the only kid left in my class who believed in Santa. Most of the little kids I’d winked at conspiratorially in previous years argued with me at present, alerting me to the fact they no longer shared my secret and leaving me to wonder if I might be the only child—at least in my hometown—to whom Santa had shown himself. Most days, the encounters felt more like dreams than memories…
Yet, here he was…
His image from the year before had already grown fuzzy in my imagination. I found myself focusing more on his details to better remember them. The deviations from popular myth. His beard was blonde, stopping several inches above his chest, the same color as the hair falling past his shoulders. The moonlight streaming through my window turned both from gold to silver. His eyes were large pools, the shade of the snow found in shadows under the moon. I couldn’t find the shape of his upper lip, shielded by the golden tendrils of facial hair, but the lower was not overfull…perfect.
“Santa…” The word came out weakened whisper in my not-fully-awake state. “Aren’t I a little too old for you now?”
“On the contrary, My Dear. You move more every year toward being old enough.”
His words confused me, made cobwebs in my head. I blinked lethargically as my eyes tried to focus on his own. My hand rose to lie against his smooth cheek of its own volition. “You’re cold, Santa.”
“Yes, My Dear, well, it is snowing. Would you like to see?”
“See the snow?” I was confused again.
“And my reindeer. Come to the roof with me? Perhaps even, take a ride?”
Even at thirteen, flying reindeer were a mystery I couldn’t resist setting my eyes upon. “Really? In your sleigh? But I’m too old, aren’t I?”
His familiar mittened finger chucked me under the chin. “Dear Willa, are any of us too old for magic?”
I shook my head, hoping in earnest I never would be.
“Then, come with me, Child. You are a teenager now. You have graduated to the next level.”
There was, indeed, snow. It covered the roof, providing little purchase for my feet. Without the ironclad circling of Santa’s arm about my waist, I would have gone for a dangerous tumble. But then we crested the slope of asphalt shingles…and what came into view surpassed every imagining I’d ever called forth. The reindeer were gargantuan in size, the rise of their front legs into muscled shoulder occurring a full inch or more above my head. Perfect health exhibited itself in the shine of their coats and the rich glint of each eye. How my parents didn’t hear the thunderous stomp of their hooves on the top of the house, I’d never know.
“Come, meet my lead, Comet. He flies just as fast as his namesake.”
“Hi, Comet.” I had to stretch my arms and toes all the way up just to touch the velvet between his fawn-colored eyes. The harnesses encircling their massive bodies were red and gold—gold like the shade of Santa’s hair. Golden bells on red velvet. Comet vibrated when I stroked his head, making the golden globes on his harness sing. The massive reindeer beside him dipped his head hoping to score a head-rub for himself, and I granted his wish.
“See there? They love you already.”
“Yes, I hope that we will all be spending a lot of time together in the future.”
“Why can’t we right now?” I breathed, captivated by the firework shower raining down again and again in Comet’s eyes. Santa whisked me off my feet and into arms covered by luxurious fabric I would later learn was called vicuna wool—Santa stabled a herd of his own, stabled within the indoor barns alongside the reindeer since theirs was the only wool ever used to create his signature suits. His coat was like silk against my cheek.
“Let us go for that ride; shall we?” He set me gently on the seat next to him. “Hold on tight,” he cautioned, fastening the straps of a three-point harness with grip handles over my budding chest.
I nodded, my fingers quaking around the iciness of the metal grips. But my fear was soon forgotten, even after the streak of lightning that was our departure, when the lights of Vancouver came into view beneath us. A crowd of boats parked across the water skirting the city’s edge boasted drapings of mostly blue, some adorned in multicolor, the multitude of lights captured by the bay’s surface cast back in splendor to every onlooker’s eye in an eruption of sparkling hues. The heavily-muscled team dipped close enough to the water to send spray, twinkling with every shade of the rainbow, flying in all directions around their hooves the size my head. I laughed, and the magic encapsulating the sleigh turned the sound and heat escaping from my lips into snowflakes of a size which allowed me to see every sparkling facet of silvery-blue detail, the icy tendrils reaching out like pale fingers of the dead. When they fluttered away, I felt the spell holding me in its grip crack slightly, enough for me to ask, “Aren’t you worried someone will see?”
“My pow—magic allows us to traverse a plane where no time exists. The veil is thin enough to allow us to see and step through, but I assure you we are quite safe within.”
“Is that why you can get all the presents delivered in one night, too?”
“You are one smart cookie.” He reached his mittened hand into a compartment inside the sleigh and produced just that. A gingerbread girl with caramel strands for hair and edible silver buttons down the front of her dress. I took a bite and hummed, “Mmmmm,” appreciatively.
“The elves are excellent bakers.”
“Way better than Mom.” I giggled.
“Ready to go home?” We made one last swoop over the tree in Jack Poole Plaza wrapped in thousands of blue-and-red lights and topped by a 4-dimensional star constructed from reaching arms of blue light. Several people huddled together on the surrounding benches, sipping at hot chocolate, waiting on their own brand of Christmas miracle. I nodded my assent, even though it wasn’t complete truth.
When the slick black runners of the sleigh had settled into the mound of snow on our roof, Santa leaned in, his nose millimeters from my own. The icicle-blue of his eyes transfixed my gaze as he murmured, “Would it be acceptable to give you your special gift here? Would it be too much of a disappointment to give up finding one wrapped up under the tree?”
I hesitated. Finding the extraordinarily-wrapped packages under the backmost part of our tree was my favorite part of Christmas morning. But his expression was so hopeful…
“No!” I cried, not wishing to disappoint him. “Here is fine. Here is great.”
He smiled, but I’d caught the flash of hesitation in his eyes. He reached inside his coat, embellished with gold-embroidery, to withdraw a glint of silver and blue. A snowflake, much like the ones generated by my laughter, hung suspended from the chain he held out to me. I extended a finger to spin the charm, so it caught the moonlight from every angle.
“You like it?”
“Love it.” I turned my back and lifted my waist-length hair so he could fasten the necklace in place. Santa had asked me long ago never to cut my hair short.
“Now, do you have a Christmas present for me?” My cold, uncovered hand fell, in familiar fashion, into his mittened, colder one.
Under the tree the next morning was still the most exquisitely-wrapped package. And both my mother and father seemed to forget about my beautiful new necklace from Santa as soon as they’d each taken a good look at it.
“You may be eighteen, but you have still only just begun to turn away from childhood, “ were the words to which I awoke five years later. “I fear, if I do not take you this year, all will fall to ruin yet again.” That revelation tore me fully from sleep.
“What? Take me where? Are we going for our ride again this year?” At eighteen, I was most definitely the only ‘child’ who still believed in Santa Claus.
“We most certainly are.” He picked me up as easily as he’d done when I’d been five.
That trip was much longer than any of the others. That year I saw the magnificent light show above New York City in addition to the splendor spread out across Los Angeles.
Santa touched the sleigh down upon the sand of a deserted beach and gifted me enough time to roll up my fleecy pajama pants and splash my way through the tide’s periphery. Content with watching me for a long while, he moved toward me as I ran away from the water, giggles rolling up my throat as I approached him. The pale glow thrown by the moon rebounded off the sadness to his eyes. “Do you want to go home, Willa?”
“No! I want to help you deliver all the presents! I want to fly around the whole world and then go back to the North Pole to meet your elves and see the toy workshop.”
“And I would love for you to do all those things. But know that if you come with me, you can never return to your childhood home.”
“You were always destined to be mine, Willa. I could have taken you away at any time of my choosing, but I always wanted the choice to belong to you.”
“I-I don’t understand. “
“A long time ago, Willa, you were my soulmate.”
My brain struggled with that possibility. A long time ago, I’d only been a small child. I took an involuntary step backward despite our history together revolving around that one day of the year—since my infancy, he’d once told me.
“Do not fear me, my dear Willa. In another life… Not this one. This century is not the first that the soul within you has found this same predestined body. You look the same as you did nearly six centuries ago.” I found truth behind his words comingled with the sorrowful light in his eyes. My legs lost their ability to hold me upright, and I felt my knees sink into the coarse mush of sea-soaked sand.
“I am born of Viking heritage, born to a clan who’d settled in Greenland long years after the raids had ended in the eleventh century. I became a toymaker by trade, as my father had before me. I loved children, though I hadn’t yet married and been blessed with any of my own. The children in my village played with an abundance of toys, thanks to my family’s love of our trade…and the children as well. But when a poor family passed through our hamlet, I realized not all children outside our borders were so blessed. Neither of those two small children had owned a toy between them, and so, the joy I brought to their eyes with only a few simple objects made me realize I must extend my reach. To bring play and happiness to children who would never find their way to my village.
“I travelled across the continent, stopping to set up temporary shop in villages along my way. My mother made a coat just like this one for me to keep me warm on my travels, as well as the matching red bag so I could carry my wares with me more easily. I booked passage on a ship sailing to Denmark so that I could make my way across Europe. Eventually, I made my way to Wallachia, during the reign of Vlad Tepes…where I met you for the first time.”
“But…but I…” I had no memories of any former life…though I realized the strongest memories from my childhood were of the moments spent with him, not my parents, not of school or vacations. It was as though Christmas had always ruled my life. My dad had made me a special shadow box to display my army of collectible Santa figurines. The miniature Christmas tree in my room stayed up all year, as did the lights lining the ceiling of my room. I discovered in that moment just how drawn I was to my golden-hearted gift-giver. He was ever in my thoughts and dreams. I’d marked off all the days on my calendar every year, anxious for Christmas to arrive…
I jumped when the cool surf kissed my heels as it rolled up onto the shore. “Are you frightened? Please, tell me you are not afraid of me.”
I spoke hesitantly, pouring much thought and care for my dear friend into my words before they slipped free. “I’m not scared. I just… This is a lot to take in. You’re telling me I’m not the person I’ve always thought myself to be…” I ruminated again over my life, one ruled by symbols of Christmas. “Well, kind of…” I couldn’t remember ever feeling more confused.
For the first time ever, he removed a soft woolen mitten. “May I show you, Willa?” I didn’t hesitate before nodding my acquiescence. His cooler-than-the-night flesh cradled my cheek. With it came flashes of memory, as though his touch had called them forth from the deepest recesses of my mind…ones I’d never known existed.
Clothed in a dress that nearly pinched off my breath, I stood arm-in-arm with a man cursed by stark, elongated features and cruel dark eyes. I saw my own death in that place, as I fell away from the stone castle where we’d lived. The man with no love in his eyes stood behind me, arms outstretched, as he had been the deliverer of my untimely demise. My golden hero served as witness in the background, his face a mask of horror.
An eye-blink later I was reborn, standing on the grassy bank of a great river beside a red-haired queen. The surface of the water glinted brighter than the jewels set in her crown. At that particular moment before my death, I felt the hands which shoved me from behind, causing me to tumble over the fading green of autumn grass, the orange and yellow rolling along the edges of my peripheral vision as I journeyed toward the hurried cadence of rushing river—the vehicle which would carry me away, as I watched from the future, to my watery grave. And I had died once more…
Until I materialized again, a figure clad in pristine black and white, bearing stewed pumpkin and steamed lobsters to a table filled with new and native Americans alike. It was the same agonizingly-dull garb I left the world wearing a few flashes later, as flames licked painfully at my flesh, as they devoured the wooden stake to which I’d been bound. As the sensory memory of such horror assailed me, I fell away from his touch and the gruesome visions it inspired.
“I-I d-don’t understand…” I managed to stammer.
“The first time we met, you were promised to the King of Wallachia. A marriage you did not desire. The king’s cruelty filled you with fear and rightfully so. He made me into the creature who stands before you today. When I came to the castle to offer my gifts to its servants’ children, we fell in love. When you begged the king to release you from your engagement, he drained you of your blood and flung you from the topmost castle turret. Afterward, he doomed me to an eternity without you, robbing me of my mortality.
“I lingered in this world, cursed with unceasing agony for two centuries…before I discovered you had been reborn again. I realized your soul had returned to this realm when I visited you during your infancy in the castle serving as your home to place a stuffed toy in your crib. As you matured, I returned every year. Even back then, the world had grown large enough to necessitate the limit of my deliveries to one night of the year. Well, the population explosion coupled with the grief which had rendered me immovable for long stretches of time. Eventually, most of society had granted me a holiday of my own since I only delivered toys on the anniversary of your death…meant to be a celebration of peace and love. I chose the date to honor you. As the world continued to expand, the elves and I learned to use our magic to manipulate time, allowing me to gift every child on this Earth who offered me their belief in return. My greatest wish was to ensure ample time to serve those in need on your day, for both myself and those who were cursed along with me.”
“Wait… What do you mean by cursed along with you? Immortal? I don’t understand.” Although, simultaneously, my brain was replaying a reel of collected years, eighteen during which my Christmas miracle incarnate hadn’t aged a single day. Not a single line marred the smooth, pale surface of the skin making up his forehead or surrounding each arctic-blue eye.
“I said the beast drained you of your blood. He was a vampire, Willa. As am I.”
I shrank away until the lower half of my body was submerged in the gentle roll of the waves, soaking my pajama bottoms and ensuring a most uncomfortable ride home. I forced my gaze upward. “Do your elves know what you are?”
“They do, and they served Vlad Tepes before me. The difference being that the king had enslaved the Transylvanian Wood Elves. Me, they follow for no other reason than love. They all loved you dearly as well and rushed to my aid when Vlad flung you from that castle window. Even though they feared him, the elves were called into motion by grief over your loss—and the loss of my humanity—and turned on their Wallachian master. After their rebellion and refusal to serve him any longer, the cruel king set fire to their forest homeland. Laughing maniacally at their plight, he banished all elves from the castle calling after them in jest, “Go seek out a new master!” And that is just what they did. We fled, all of us together, back across the sea, endeavoring to make the best of our new existences, our forever lives entwined together…and make the world a happier place. And so we strived to do for all those centuries with all the love in our hearts.”
“H-h-how do I know you’re telling the truth?” I shrank further away, submerging myself to my shoulders.
“Willa, do you know me to be a monster? Have I ever taken more than was offered? I asked for your Christmas gift when you were old enough to consent, and you always gave, thereafter, of your own free will.”
He had spoken the truth. I’d offered my wrist and a taste of my blood on every Christmas alive in my memory. I’d never told another living soul as Santa had worried I might be locked away for speaking the truth. But he’d never forced me to keep silent.
He bent to fix his gaze on mine, his eyes bluer than the night-tinged water around us. “Do you trust me, Willa, as you have for all of your life and the ones which came before?”
I laid my hand into the palm of his all-too-familiar outstretched mitten. On that occasion, he merely pulled me free of the water. “I need to take you home with me this year, Willa, or I fear, as with the two prior reincarnations, you will perish before your nineteenth birthday. It took losing you thrice for me to recognize the pattern. With the latter two, you did not make it to your birthday, which falls nearly two full months before Christmas. I feel as though some force works at keeping me from you before that birthday can arrive. I have hoped, even at your tender age, you might possess the maturity to understand…and, I pray, accompany me.”
“Will I ever see my parents again?”
“I am afraid you cannot. Like the gifts you received from me, you will fade from their memory once you are gone. It will be as if you never existed and so much better for them both.”
That truth troubled me, but only slightly. I’d never really felt like I belonged with my parents, and I supposed I finally knew the reason why. All of my time with them had merely been borrowed.
“Can I at least go back and get some of my things?”
He moved the thickly-mittened hand to my shoulder. “I have…my helpers…at the ready in your room to move your things to your new home if you so desire. They only await your consent.”
I stared into his face, the stars, moon and sea our only witnesses. His eyes and expression held nothing but sincerity. But I’d only known him for eighteen days collected from the passing of just as many years…some I hadn’t even been old enough to remember. Could I trust his words to be absolute truth? The problem wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the supernatural. I’d been introduced to far too many demons residing inside other humans not to. He had always known me better than the two with whom I’d shared the other 364 days of each year…
“I will come with you.”
“Then, I will ask you to drink every drop of this.” He produced a small thermos from the deep pocket of his coat and unscrewed the cap.
I didn’t ask what liquid he’d placed inside. I found my trust in him to be unwavering. The stream didn’t burn my mouth as I’d feared—like hot cocoa cooled to the perfect temperature. If I had to describe the flavor, the only comparison that came to mind was pink. Yes, if the color pink had a taste, the drink had captured it impeccably—I’d tasted nothing else in my years on Earth with which I could draw a comparison.
After swallowing the last drop, my body fell with complete abandon against his, where I offered the gift of my slender neck and its throbbing carotid within…
“Wilhelmine…” he breathed icily against my offering of flesh before gently sinking his fangs.