After all the fun we had bringing you scares from Prospero all October long, we couldn't resist concocting this series of festive flash fics of fear.
So check back with us throughout the season for fresh, bite-sized of holiday horrors!
(Click here for Holiday Horrors: Black Friday)
(Click here for Holiday Horrors: What the Movies Don't Show)
What's Eating Mall Santa?
By F.J.R. Titchenell
Mom’s a pediatrician, needed someone to fill the suit last minute for the children’s hospital, and of course no one who worked there could do it, because the kids might recognize them.
You’d think some of them might also recognize that the guy behind the beard is only a little older than the kid humoring him from the bed next to them, but event planners think kids are stupid, and most kids know how to make the best out of our clumsiest attempts at magic and goodwill.
Other kids are just good at not bursting the event planners’ bubbles as long as those bubbles keep bringing them presents.
And we think we’re fooling them.
Thing is, it grows on you. You feel ridiculous putting it on, but then those first eyes light up when they see you, and you want to be Santa. The best Santa you can be.
So it seemed like a no brainer to try out for the job at the mall the next year, hope to put on the suit again and help make a merrier Christmas for my little brother. Because that doctor’s paycheck? Not all it’s cracked up to be. Not when there are still student loans to pay twenty years later.
I knew it was a longshot, this being an actual paying job with tryouts and all. Maybe they’d tell me I was better suited to be an elf, or maybe afterward I’d go hit up some of the surrounding stores for seasonal work.
I was right about there being a lot of other applicants, plenty with real beards and no need for padding, some already in their own red suits. I was wrong about there being an abundance of promising potential Santas.
I’ve never seen a surlier bunch of people than the men packed into that big back room, all hard-lined faces that were never made to smile.
The friendly mall-shirted folk didn’t seem at all surprised by the odd turnout as they examined us, the small, cheery-faced woman who was clearly the event planner in charge asking each of us to demonstrate our jolliest laugh.
A flash of something like pity cut briefly through her smile when she heard mine. I knew my age showed a little more in my voice, but I couldn’t see how it could possibly be that bad, compared with the snorts, snickers and outright cackles of some of the others.
I’d always assumed it had been my imagination, how terrifying visiting Santa at the mall had been as a kid, half-remembered details thrown out of proportion by my then painful shyness. If these were how the standards had always been though, maybe I’d been on to something.
Without further instructions, the event team disappeared into some deeper part of the mall’s employee maze, leaving the applicants to glance awkwardly at each other for a hint of what to do next.
We’d stood in that fluorescent-lit white room for maybe fifteen minutes when a girl about seven years old stepped inside from the door to the mall floor. She wore a pine green dress and matching shoes with the curly tops Santa’s elves always wear, making me wonder if she belonged to one of the planners. The nervous, uncertain way she closed the door behind her made her look even smaller than she was.
Given my current company, I couldn’t blame her.
“You okay?” I asked, side stepping away from the other Santa hopefuls to try to give her a less crowded space to approach, dropping automatically to one knee so she could see my face better.
The elf girl swept her extra bright eyes across the whole crowd of us before acknowledging me, without a change on her face. When she finally reached me, she gave me that lighting-up face in fast motion before launching herself into my arms.
“Santa! They need to see you in there!” She pointed over my shoulder, further down the employees only hallway.
Without the suit and beard, I looked easily the least like Santa out of the meager competition in that room, and I doubted she would know if I was being asked for in a direction she hadn’t come from, but thinking that she might be looking for help finding whatever family she might have back there, I let her take my hand and lead me down the hall.
A few of the others tentatively started to follow us, maybe belatedly sensing some kind of test, but the girl hurried me down two more hallways ahead of them and slammed the door to another room as soon as it was behind us.
This backroom was full of elves. Men, women and children of every shape and size, all of them dressed in pine green adorned with curlicues. Only the red mall shirt of the sorry-looking planner sitting with her head in her hands in the corner stood out against the forest of them.
Their clothes matched the girl’s too perfectly for coincidence, backing up the theory that she was somehow connected with them, but something about the matching glint of all their bright eyes turned on us at once made me push her behind me at the sight of them.
This broadened all their grins enough that I could see the needle-sharp points of their teeth.
“Only one today, Sprinkles?” A squat man near the front chirped to the girl behind me.
“He’s got oodles of Christmas spirit to go around!” Sprinkles replied excitedly.
The room full of elves all ran tongues over their needle teeth, tasting something in the air that caused them to nod in agreement with Sprinkles.
“The dregs in the breakroom are yours,” the squat elf man called over his shoulder to the event planner, nodding toward the way I’d come from. “Pick a decent one to suit up for the kids this year!”
The elf swarm flooded toward me, just as my hand missed the doorknob and Sprinkles’ teeth found my wrist.