The Santa Claus Apocalypse

The Santa Claus Apocalypse

“The cards are yours to shuffle,” D’Angela reminded Kyler, who looked dourly down at the deck in his hand. When everything started happening they had found shelter in their traditional boiled-egg-and-tea spot in the forest behind the house — an idea that perhaps, D’Angela considered, had not been the best of all possible ones. Still, things felt safe enough for now, nestled among the Rubra and Rhombofolia, underneath the all-encompassing parasol of a grand Douglas Fir. A Christmas tree, of sorts.
Their charming spot had soon been carpeted with ashes, falling like snow until the ground was powdered in gray, becoming perversely more comfortable even as the low roar from the west increased. D’Angela sat, legs tucked underneath her, winning each hand by hook or crook.
She played the eight of dogfoot and said, “I fret for tomorrow.”
Kyler languidly laid down a card. “I’m not fretted.”
“Then I must fret for the both of us.” She followed his six of diamonds with a nine and scooped up another trick.
“Tomorrow can wait for tomorrow,” Kyler answered. “We’ve never worried before and look where it’s gotten us.”
Now and then D’Angela tried to focus on whatever was happening. The last time she had looked up, the sky had held a veritable menagerie: A cloven foot, a crowing elephant something with either bull-horns or handle-bars, three bearded men wearing upside down bottle caps on their heads (“You mean the Three Kings?” Kyler had cynically replied without looking up). Now there was only a single sky-blocking cloud, as if all the minion stratocumuli had ironed themselves out by ominous mutual accord.
But D’Angela kept getting lost in the Deck of 40 (the 3’s, 5’s and 9’s buried deep in the backyard, so as not to infect the true cards). “If the house goes, where shall we sleep?”
Kyler scowled. “Are you going to play a card or are you going to sit and gossip?”
“You’re awfully sour just before dark.” D’Angela slapped down the 14 of Blood Spats (for sevens always had invisible twins), and announced, “I have a Theory of The End.”
“Which no one wishes to hear.” Kyler glumly reshuffled the deck.
“We’ve been waiting so long for something to happen. Perhaps this is it.” Then she ventured, “Are you certain He will come tonight?”
“Of course. It’s Christmas Eve. Yes. But I must clear a path. You have to actually do things sometimes, you know. It doesn’t all happen by magic.”
“Pretty rich from someone who hasn’t left the ground all day.”
At that Kyler got up and began tidying the forest floor, gathering handfuls of leaves and laying them in peculiar spots, his bare feet raising little puffs from the ash.
“I fear He won’t get through the cloud,” she said.
“It shall pose no trouble,” Kyler said without looking up from his work.
She had never spied upon Kyler’s Christmas-time machinations before and did not watch now. His ways were not always her ways. “He’s not The Easter Bunny,” she ventured. “He is only a jolly human.” But she had never been able to make Kyler see common-sense.
“If you believe He will come, He will.” Kyler emphasized the contingency with a baleful stare over his shoulder.
“I am Dealer,” she warned, doling out cards, then looking dolefully down upon her fresh hand. Oh well, perhaps Kyler’s mood would brighten if he won just once.
Then the filthy sky cracked apart in noisome shards of lightning. “Hark! Hark!” Kyler gesticulated, his habitual smugness evaporating into instant joy.
She sat up, smiled just a moment over the abandoned cards. Time had stopped for their little game, which meant she would never lose.
With a burst of jangles, Santa arrived, precisely within the impressions Kyler had left. Santa’s sleigh was less fanciful than Currier & Ives had led her to believe. A box, really, about the size of two-million matches stacked together. Santa climbed awkwardly down, brushed himself off, and took in the scene, with Kyler and D’Angela as foreground against the blazing orange and black horizon. “Ho ho ho, this is an interesting Christmas.” Santa mounted the hump of pseudotsuga menziesii and turned to Kyler. “Now I know you’ve been a good boy.”
Kyler waved back passionlessly. “Glad you could make it.”
Santa blinked. “Well, I’m glad to be here.” After a puzzled squinting moment Santa pivoted to D’Angela. “And hello to you, young lady!”
D’Angela surveyed the tall, wiry man in the droopy red hat. The bags under his eyes could hold an acre of toys. “Why, you act like as if you’ve never seen a Santa Claus before,” Santa said with rapidly souring cheer, his smile becoming less merry by the moment.
“I haven’t,” she answered. “I imagined there would be more girth to you.”
“And I imagined you’d be more polite to a man bearing gifts.” His tone would have scuttled the birds from the branches, if they hadn’t previously departed in panic. “Well, let’s do this then.” Santa’s cheer had devolved into a businesslike growl. He groped into his big red cottony bag and hauled out a dully gleaming chunk of chrome. “Here’s a new bike for the boy who never doubted.”
An unflattered Kyler casually sidled up and gripped the handlebars. “A shame the roads are too jammed to ride it.” Indeed, by stretching her toenails D’Angela could just glimpse the roads jammed with humanity, hear the frantic toot and frap of car-horns below the larger roar from above.
“Well, excuse me for trying. Perhaps I’ll move on to this lovely little girl. Let’s see what else Santa has in his big old sack.” He winked as he reached deep down into it, far deeper than the visible dimensions of the sack allowed, and pulled out a rectangular pink box embellished with unnecessary ribbon. “How about a nice assortment of chocolates?”
“Hmm.” D’Angela was trying to be polite, but all she could think of was the candy melting in the heat of the spreading flames. The scent reminded her of toasting gingerbread men. “Lovely.”
“Really?” Santa stood akimbo in annoyance. “You get candy every year. You ask for it. Every Single Year.” He pivoted. “And what’s this new grief against bikes, my boy?” Not angry, just disappointed, as Kyler continued to trace the deepening ash with a stick. “You got a bike for your 6th Christmas, your 9th, your 12th….Well, it’s too late to go back. I have a list, you could say.” He spared a baleful glance to the horizon. “Well then, how about a pretty little doll for the pretty little girl?”
“Oh my, it looks just like me! But she’s so fragile. And there are no longer any shelves on which to keep her safe.” D’Angela wiped soot from her eyes as she began sobbing for the doomed little doll.
“Oh cut that out!” Santa shouted, dragging the next item out of the sack — a shiny white cowboy hat, embellished with spangles — and spun it wordlessly toward the boy, who examined it critically before nodding muted approval. “It would keep the confounded ashes out of my hair, at least.”
Grimly, silently, Santa unpacked the remainder of the sack. “I don’t suppose you want this music box with tiny ballerina?”
“It’s charming, but…” she gulped.
“But what?”
“Wherever would I keep the key?”
“Oh, I can think of a fine place.” Santa jammed the package back into the sack. Timidly, she raised her hand. “Santa?”
Santa brushed fallen ashes out of his inquisitorial beard. There was no more sun, but D’Angela could make Him out by the honeyed amber glow of the sleigh, by the burning houses and flaming trees. “Yes, my dear?” He sighed, beaten into a suffering simulacrum of patience.
“What’s the magic of the sleigh? The ability to visit each domicile in a single day? All the houses in a single night? The extrasensory perception that matches toy to recipient?” She could feel Kyler getting more smug by the minute as he twirled his stick, but time was running out and she wanted to hear it straight from the unicorn’s mouth.
Santa sighed resonantly, like a fat man: “I fear I’ll have to pass on that one for this evening. It’s a tedious subject, and I’ve still got my rounds tonight.” He looked sourly toward the horizon, at the wall of water that resembled a wall of earth, as if shifted by Heaven’s own rumbling bulldozer. Things seemed to be wrapping up.
“Remind him he has a lot of ground to cover and not much time,” Kyler hissed into her ear.
“We can’t tell him that,” D’Angela snapped back. “He may never return! Actually, sir,” she piped up, “a sturdy bike or two could come in handy. To navigate between the stalled cars and perishing passengers.” Thank goodness one of them was practical.
“There’s a point!” Kyler chirped.
Santa was not mollified. “Where are your parents, anyway?”
“We have none,” Kyler answered.
“You live in the same house.”
“We share the same door,” D’Angela replied.
Santa knocked stink-eyes left and right between them. “And how many beds does this cozy house hold?”
“House-hold?” She giggled. “We’re not married, silly.”
From side view, Santa’s face seemed abruptly aged: A thin gray beard, a chunky leather belt cinched tight. As if time had sprung a leak, or was slowly spilling out of a sack. A wizened, almost wicked look, as if corroded by infinite time. “Perhaps I’ve been barking up the wrong tree.”
Santa went into a smaller black bag D’Angela had only then noticed and began pulling out shiny, stinging contraptions with stiff parts of leather and steel, sharp-edged and squeakily new. His smirk widened with each feel into the bag.
Beastly, she thought, nose wrinkling in distaste. She stayed well back of all the new things.
“Suit yourself.” Santa looked defeated. The implements he had laid out were quickly being covered by the increasing ash, falling from a more turbulent sky; the scene was becoming quickly absurd. “I believe that I have overstayed my time.”
“We hope to see you again, Santa,” she said with false brightness.
“If the fates allow.” He said, non-committal, waving a brusque goodbye over his back. Kyler didn’t look up.
“You were rude,” she told him, as Santa shut the box via keypad and climbed back on top.
“He disappointed me.”
“What will Christmas be like?” D’Angela gestured at the dark wall, rumbling steadily louder. “Santa’s left in a huff, and the sky is so rough.”
“You should write Christmas carols,” Kyler said, and she giggled, even as Santa boarded his sleigh-box. It rapidly colored from eggshell blue to a majestic violet as he heedlessly ascended into the dangerous sky.
“Oh dear,” D’Angela cried, “the storm has become heavy.” Rocks were tearing bloody holes in the vast gray cloud.
Kyler shook his head, watching Santa try to dodge the assault from above. “He’s lost his touch.”
Indeed, Santa’s evasion skills were klutzy, and after taking several hits the box began a rapid descent; Santa remained stoic, standing in a strangely dignified pose, riding the box down to infamy as one might descend an escalator, ending in a strangely quilted, quiet crash.
“Jeepin’ Jillikers!” D’Angela huffed across the field, dodging the wrapped presents and shiny bits of electronica, bare feet sinking to the ankles into the settled ash. She halted to drop a tear over the broken body of Santa Claus, and crossed the entrance. She pressed 13 digits into the stomach of the machine, as she’d seen Santa do. The entrance irised open.
Just like Santa’s sack, it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. She nods proudly. “Magic.” She checks up on the outside from the windows that fill the gargantuan wall; the dark mirrors reflect back a foggy morass, a silent soundtrack of howling and terror, subsiding into nothing at all.
Having a hunch, she notes her pocket watch is halted. Her heart is also stopped. She smiles: A Theory of the Sleigh to accompany her Theory of The End. She finds a Santa hat and fits it upon her head at a jaunty angle.
“Come in, Kyler, what are you waiting for? It’s perfectly safe.”
He frowns, staring at the glowing blue loop of the iris frame. “You’re not supposed to wear other people’s hats.”
“Don’t be grumpy. Besides, it’s my hat now.”
She sets a lever, flicks a switch; the iris seals them into safety and silence. With a tweak or three the flashing lights fade.
She pauses; the blue and green buttons lead to worlds not hers. With the red buttons she conjures cinnamon and pine needles, carving out a vast, cozy space.
Kyler eyes widen as he takes in everything. “Are there still presents here?”
“The best present ever: The big box that all the other presents came in.”
“Is it always Christmas?”
“It’s never Christmas, silly. It’s Christmas Eve, and always will be. Here, come closer.”
They warm their hands at a digital hearth that will never die out and never decrease. The two kneeling each before the other in eternal anticipation, warm gingerbread men splayed out for the imminently arriving visitor, eternally tempting, forever untouched.
She closes her eyes, thinking luxuriously: so much room, time within time, under the twisted trees.

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