All the Creatures Were Stirring

by Thomas Scopel

First seen in Slay Bells Ringing

Author's Note:

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love just about everything surrounding Christmas. However, that never seems to eliminate my dark side from the invading. This tale made it into “Slay Bells Ringing – A Killer Christmas Anthology by Macabro Xtreme Publishing. Although the book itself took some criticism, the Fangoria review of the tale was quite good.

The tiny gray mouse squeaked with excitement when spying the substantial cookie crumb lying on the floor beside the large, heavily padded brown leather chair and it quickly sprinted. With little paws clutching, it sat back on its haunches for a content and grateful nibble.

Tiedo, elf number six hundred sixty seven, only because the red man didn’t like the number six hundred and sixty six and skipped the number completely, sat comfortably in the chair still tightly gripping the wood mallet, which now harbored a moist red hue. Hearing the gleeful squeak, he glanced over the side of the armrest and watched as the mouse savored the moment. Grinning from ear to ear, he leaned forward ever so

slightly and brought the mallet down onto the mouse’s head, creating a bloody splattered blotch. Giggling, he reached down, grasped the lifeless tail and tossed the carcass into the roaring fireplace in front of him. He watched it landed on top of a burning log and within moments began to sizzle and then bubble. Beaming with demented pride, his pointed ears wiggled as he recalled the evening’s events.

The hustle of the holidays was in full motion and everyone had a job to do.
“Do I get to ride this year?” Tiedo excitedly asked not missing a beat and tucking the brightly wrapped package into the large red bag nestled at the rear of the century old sleigh. He finished and turned back. “I’ve been waiting such a long time for my turn to come about,” his high and somewhat nasal squeaky voice pleaded.

“Not this time Tiedo,” the plump fellow replied, standing alongside the sleigh overlooking the process. Tossing in a couple of “Ho, Ho, Ho’s,” he reached up and playfully patted the elf on the back. “Lempti is going this time.”

“LEMPTI!” Tiedo cried out. “But…but…he’s only been waiting twenty seven years or so. That’s not fair at all,” Tiedo protested. “I’ve been waiting much longer.” He stopped what he was doing and looked into the jolly fellow’s red rosy cheeked face. “And besides,” he reminded, “last year you said I would be the one to go this year.”

“I know Tiedo and I am truly sorry. But, in all honesty, Lempti is considerably smaller and to be frank, we need the space. Stay away from the cocoa and cookies and maybe next year….”

Tiedo cut him off, “but you’re the largest of all,” his tone grew stronger, obviously angered by the latest revelations. “And…I might tell you the same thing,” he turned to sarcasm and added, “Mr. Cookie Man.”

Expecting the elf’s response, with a couple more ho, ho, ho bellows, the big bellied man heartily laughed, turned away. He waved a white gloved hand in the air. “Just keep packing Tiedo, Ho! Ho! Ho!”

It had been the same answer the elf had heard from the king elf himself for the last few years. But, this year the anger was considerably stronger. As it boiled inside, temperament changed and no longer did he view the giver of gifts with reverence. He was a tyrant who made toys and nothing more.
He tossed the package he held aside and felt his heart sink into black oblivion.
Every year he changes his mind, he thought. A wicked smile crossed his face as he reached into the dark green jacket pocket.

If I can’t go…THEN NOBODY WILL GO!

He gripped the wooden mallet firmly at the handle and pulled it out. Through gritted teeth he cried out loudly, “NO MORE WAITING!” and he leaped from the sleigh leaving a trail of freshly fallen snowflakes fluttering behind.

Coming down on the old fellow’s back, he was already cocked and ready to swing and the mallet came down hard across the back of his boss’s head in one swift swoop. Clinging to the man’s white, furry collar with a clenched fist, he continued swinging. With each blow, a new cracking sound rang out and by the time the jolly man was collapsing, the sound had added a sickening slosh.

The man landed with a thud in the new fallen snow, tossing Tiedo, who flipped once and landed on his back above the man’s head.

Scrambling to his feet, Tiedo left a corrupted looking snow angel and he stood over the motionless, face down body clasping the mallet with both hands. He drew it high over his head and with all mustered strength, swung it down hard on the base of the skull. The hammer stuck tight and Tiedo saw the man’s white beard turn crimson. Working the mallet handle back and forth, he giggled and with a hard tug, it came free, sending him tumbling over backwards. He stood up and looked at the face of the mallet. White hair, blood and tiny pieces of flesh littered and filled the old scratches and without bothering to wipe it away he returned it to the pocket.

The surrounding puddle of red sloshy snow was steaming and Tiedo felt panicky coursing. He had to hurry and franticly looked about for a place to hide the body.

The man was heavy and exerting a good amount of energy, only taking time for a few deep breaths, a tedious Tiedo managed to drag his large body to the edge of the cave mouth where heavy, fresh falling snow immediately began assisting with the veiling and within a minute or two, a light covering had concealed, making the body look more like a drift. There was still the faint appearance of red around the head and Tiedo quickly scooped and covered until the color was no longer distinguishable.

Standing back and inspecting, a wide smile beamed across his face and he started working his way back to the scene, covering and hiding any tell-tale red indications along the way.

Not far from the sleigh, the slushy red was beginning to glisten as it froze. His fingers were sore by the time he had scraped it all into a pile and made the few trips to hide it under the sleigh behind the runners. Using the same technique, he covered the red pile until it was pure white again.

Finished with the macabre detail, he was barely back onto the sleigh pretending to be adjusting packages when Teeneaba, elf twenty seven ninety four appeared.

“Where’s Santa?” he inquired.

“I don’t know,” Tiedo lied.

He stopped what he was doing and shrugged his shoulders while looking down at the elf. “Said something about having some cocoa and was pondering taking a quick nap,” he added in a calm voice. “Wanted to be well rested I guess.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Teeneaba rolled his eyes and chuckled. “I guess when you get to be his age a nap is probably more of a necessity.”

Tiedo, still holding up the edge of the bag turned and looked deeply into it. He reached into his pocket and felt the slick moisture coating the cloth run onto the back of his hand and wrist. Grasping the mallet head tightly, he positioned the handle to stick out between his middle and index finger.

“Come here a minute?” he asked Teeneaba.

The sleigh gently rocked as Teeneaba climbed aboard. Taking a place alongside Tiedo, he bent and looked into the bag. Tiedo swiftly pulled the mallet and using the tip of the blunt wooden handle drove it hard into Teeneaba’s temple. Teeneaba collapsed halfway in and out of the bag and Tiedo saw the deep purple bruise form around the rising knot. He gripped Teeneaba’s pointed green cap, grabbing hair also and lifted. The elf’s open eyes were rolled into the back of his head and Teido watched for signs of breathing. When he was absolutely sure there was none, he tucked the mallet back into the pocket.

This body was considerably easier to lift and he let the elf rumple into the bag. Raising the lip of the bag up around, he tossed packages in on top and completely covered.

Tiedo climbed over the back and sat down on the cold hard wooden seat, a satisfied look on his face. A fresh mistletoe sprig loaded with ripe red berries dangled off the sleigh’s dash. He grinned, reached out and took it, and let it fall into the pocket beside the mallet.

He leaped from the sleigh and went to the heavily worn oak door at the rear of the cave. After a bit of a usual struggle he managed to draw the door open and stepped into the long hall circling the complex and went to the right.

The kitchen door was open and he peered around the corner in. There were trays of baked gingerbread cookies lining the tables with Mrs. Claus busy mixing yet another bowl of ingredients. She lifted the spoon to inspect the brown mixture and he snuck by the doorway unseen.

The next room, a break room where elves took moments for refreshment, had no door and was empty except for the hourglass. Only used on the eve of the most special day of the year to keep everyone aware and abreast of the night’s impending departure, it sat on a dainty table at the center of the room. Red and green equally spaced horizontal lines ran up the bulging glass bottom indicating time. The sand had already collected just above the fifth line and Tiedo quickly deduced it was somewhere near ten fifteen.

He stepped in and went to the large silver pot, lifted the lid and set it aside. A warm mist escaped and waft about bringing the succulent aroma of creamy chocolate. Reaching into the pocket he brought out the mistletoe. With efficient ease he plucked, one at a time, the white and red berries from the sprig, squeezing the juice from each into the gently bubbling mixture and tucking the crushed berry back into the pocket. When finished, he tossed the sprig in and replaced the lid before glancing at the hourglass. It was thirty minutes until the last official break of the year and he wondered if it would be enough time to fully steep.

He turned and suddenly faint footsteps and gleeful voices were coming down the hall. He looked at the lines on the hourglass. The sands were at the sixth, not the fifth as he originally calculated. He had been wrong, very wrong.
With the speed of a mongoose he darted around a table and into a small pantry. The voices were gradually getting louder and he pulled the door closed.

Crouched in the darkness, peering through the door’s wooden slats his pointed ears wiggled and adjusted and listened.

A cluster of chatty elves entered the room and formed a mini line at the pot. Tiedo hoped time was generous.
After filling a mug each sidestepped to the next container, a large plastic one filled with mini marshmallows. Some added them and some didn’t and moved forward to the silver tray of gingerbread men Mrs. Claus had previously piled high. Each took a cookie and when the last elf had obtained, the cluster headed out the door and back down the hallway with their refreshments.

Well aware that it was only the first of many sporadic break phases, Tiedo took the opportunity, opened the door and headed into the hallway back to the kitchen.

Humming a familiar Christmas jingle, Mrs. Claus was just opening the oven door when he entered. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed him and stopped what she was doing.

“Well hello there Tiedo. How are you this wonderfully joyous evening?” Her voice was excited, yet soft and compassionate. “Why! You must have finished loading the sleigh in record time this year.”

“Almost Mrs. Claus,” Tiedo maintained a sense of normalcy. “I’m just waiting on the next batch of packages and thought I’d warm up a bit.”

She gave him a smile and turned back to the open oven door, bent down and looked in at the tray of gingerbread men perfectly lined on the top rack. Slipping on an oven mitt, she reached in and Tiedo sprang.

The red and green tiled floor was littered with white flour and he nearly slipped and fell, but caught himself in time. With all the force he could muster he slammed hard into her somewhat large bottom. She fell forward into the oven, her face landing partway on the pan and partway on the rack, immediately sticking and searing. She screamed and Tiedo quickly turned the oven’s knob to high. A blue flame flickered large at the bottom of the oven, catching hold of her red hair and began blazing through like a wildfire.

Frantic, she tried to get free but the pearl necklace, last year’s gift from her beloved, was tangled in the rack and held her firm. Moments later, her head ablaze, her movements ceased.

Tiedo grinned as he entered the hallway and passed the break room, the smell of burning flesh, hair and fresh gingerbread still lingering in his nostrils.

The heavy doors closed behind and Tiedo looked about.

“Hi Tiedo!” Piquium greeted loudly from atop the thirty foot pine tree at the center of the workshop room.

Startled, Tiedo looked up.

“Where is everyone?” he asked in a half yell.

“Cookies and cocoa…cocoa and cookies,” Piquium called back with a chuckle, pointing to the large clock on the wall.

“I just came down the hall and didn’t see anyone,” Tiedo questioned, a confused look on his face.

“They all went the other way. Wanted to look at the North Star rising,” Piquium answered, reaching out and straightening a bulb.

Muffled noises came from behind the paint room door.

“Why didn’t they go?” Tiedo pointed toward the door and asked.

“Guess they’re behind schedule,” Piquium answered, scaling to the absolute top of the tree. “Got plenty of helpers in there too,” he added, a bit out of breath.

Struggling, Piquium held tight to the top branch and reached out for the star, unaware that Tiedo had dashed under the tree.

Crouched at the trunk, hidden by a canopy of pine needled branches, Tiedo reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a North Pole issued penknife. With only a flick of his thumb the blade opened. One swift move later the wickedly sharp blade cut through the four stabilizing ropes and he emerged, taking a stance safely away behind a large candy cane decoration, to watch the tree topple.

Piquium, eyes wide with fright, had just finished adjusting the large silver star and clung for dear life as the tree collapsed with a loud whoosh, landing on top of him.

The rushing wind blew, readjusting the floppy point from Tiedo’s cap to the back. Glass bulb decorations shattered as they hit the floor, spewing slivers and pieces across the polished wood floor. The prone tree’s multicolored lights flickered twice and went out.

Still clutching the open penknife, Tiedo approached Piquium, lying in the ruin under the top of the tree. He raised his arm high, but realized the need was mute as the elf lay motionless, a point of the star deeply imbedded in his neck. Tiedo closed the blade and looked to the paint room door.

The loud compressor noise had masked the main room’s recent commotion and continued to run unabated. Tiedo advanced to the door and put his ear against it. Toil slogged and he pulled away, reached up to the small peek door located in the center of the top of the door and opened it slightly.

Rising to the tips of his toes, he painfully stretched to peer in, immediately getting a whiff of pungent thinner and paint odors. Many elves, all wearing red respirators with green cartridges, maneuvered about, some continuing to paint while some removed this and placed that for those waiting to spray again. A haze filled the room and Tiedo felt the burn creep into his eyes. He lowered and closed the door.

Across the room, the roaring fireplace caught his eye and with a wicked grin, he went to it. Taking hold of a pair of long metal prongs, resting in the rack alongside a poker and mini shovel, he stuck them into the blaze and clutched hold of a red coal.

Amber sparks fluttered to the floor as he quickly carried it to the paint room door. Flinging open the little door, he tossed the ember in.

There was a roar as the ember ignited the room’s fumes and he was unable to close the door before the large plume of flame reached out, forcing him backwards and knocking the prongs from his hand.

The compressors stopped and all was quiet. Tiedo got to his feet and looked back in. Burnt elf bodies lay scattered. Dollies’ faces were melted and unrecognizable, most still harboring tiny dying flames from their seared, bald heads. Wagons, once bright red, were blackened and charred.

Watching for signs of life, other than the occasional toy falling from its burnt through holding rope, there was none. All was destroyed and he closed the door.

The massive faced clock high up on the wall indicated it was well beyond break period. Tiedo crossed the room and headed back into and down the hallway. At the edge of the break room doorway he stopped, listened and heard nothing. Gingerly peeking around the corner with one eye, he peered into the room.Unconscious slayed elves lay about some in former sitting positions now flopped on the tables. Some collapsed on the floor balled up tightly clutching bellies. A few of those having their faces lying in puddles of liquid brown escaped from broken mugs. All had some form of painful look on their dead faces. Unaware of mistletoe poisoning effects, Tiedo was surprised to see it so clearly written across their faces and he laughed loudly and stepped into the room.
Maneuvering through the elfin body obstacle course, he noticed the table move and he froze in his tracks. Chidaz, elf number nineteen seventy four, stood up from his hidden crouching position behind and stared horrifyingly at Tiedo.

A slow motion wide grin spread across Tiedo’s face as he looked back.

“W-w-what have y-y-you d-d-done Tiedo?” The young elf asked through quivering voice.
Not answering, the grin faded from Tiedo’s face. Chidaz saw the change and barely had enough time to widen eyes before Tiedo charged and tripped over Biquenta, the chief doll maker and elf number ninety seven fifty six.

Tiedo tumbled to the floor and Chidaz ran past him and out into the hallway. Tiedo leaped up and gave chase.

Looking back over his shoulder, Chidaz saw Tiedo come barreling out the door toward him and cried out in fear. By the time he was at the workshop door, Tiedo had gained ground.

Heaving against the large double doors, Chidaz entered the room and continued on around the top of the fallen tree. A moment later he noticed Piquium and cried out again. The double doors creaked they’re familiar opening sound and while the terrified elf didn’t have to look to see why, he did anyway and tripped over a toy train. Falling forward, his head turned back forward just as the sharp corner of a workbench caught his forehead, and he dropped to the floor like a rag doll.

Within moments Tiedo was upon him, reaching down and grabbing the unconscious elf by the hair. He lifted and with his opposite hand turned the face toward him. Below the large forehead gash, above eyes rolled back into his head, broken bulb shards littered the side of the little elf’s face. Tiedo watched as blood quickly flowed and flooded before letting go and allowing the head to flop back to the floor with a dull cracking thud. He pulled off Chidaz’s green hat, took out the mallet and gave the head a hard whack, just for good measure.

Alongside the body was a green half bulb and he picked it up and dropped it into the hat, hollow end up. At the fireplace, he prodded with the poker to move a burning log before taking the shovel and scooping out a red, quarter sized coal. Using the broken bulb like a bowl, he dropped the cinder into it and carried it out through the double doors.

He followed the long hall past the break room, kitchen and doorway leading out to the sleigh. At the end of the hall he turned the corner, entered the first doorway and smelled the musky dry stables even before he stepped into the cave.

All eight of the reindeer looked up from their stalls when he came in, but were more concerned with going back to nibbling the fresh alfalfa in their troughs.

Alongside the stables, nestled in an organized stack against the wall was the winter feeding supply tightly baled. Tiedo went to it, crouched down and dumped the ember against the bottom hay bale and tossed the hat aside.

The ember flared once before becoming a small flickering flame. A few moments later the flame, growing ever larger, was working up the side of the stack and Tiedo had to back away to avoid the heat embedding his face.
With one last satisfied look at the fire, he turned and went to the first stall, opened the gate and called for Comet.

Comet obeyed and Tiedo led him out into the hallway. Closing the door behind him, the remaining reindeer were beginning to fearfully whinny and blurt amidst the increasing snaps and crackles, and he grinned, reaching into the pocket for the knife.

The mouse, charred beyond recognizing, began to flake away and fall off the sides of the log in blackened, burnt hunks. The faint smell of burnt hair still lingered in his nostrils as he turned and offered a single glance around the quiet chaos that was once a thriving and busy workshop.

Laughing out hysterically, he turned back toward the fire, tossed the fresh thick venison steak into the heavy cast iron skillet, and listened to it immediately begin to sizzle.

 

End

 

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