Two days before Christmas and Jonathan’s mother had been crying. Even with his door shut and her bedroom at the other end of the hall, he heard her sobbing. First the phone call, dreaded but not unexpected. Then the sobbing. Then... and then what?
Then I woke up here.
He woke up in the cave with the other children. He was lying on some sort of cot. It wasn't exactly dark. There was a little light everywhere but no real light anywhere. The first thing that struck him was the sound. He’d awakened to a low, electric throb that seemed to be coming from the floor, felt as much as heard.
"Mom?" It came out soft and raspy. His throat was dusty dry and made soft clicks when he tried to swallow. "Mom?" A little louder this time. The word came back as a soft echo, a chorus of other pleas accompanying it.
"Where am I?"
Jonathan sat up, taking his first good look around the room. It was large and roughly circular. His first impression was that it was more of a cave than a room. The walls were natural stone and glistened with condensation. If it was a cave, it was a heated one.
Several other cots were evenly spaced along the wall. Jonathan could make out a child on or next to each cot, some sitting up, others lying down. He could make out few details in the dim light, but the others appeared to be eleven or twelve years-old.
The only other object, placed in the center of the room, looked like a large, horse drawn carriage. Mostly shadow, it looked black, menacing and strangely familiar.
Then there were the chains. A thin iron chain manacled Jonathan's foot to the bed. About 7 feet long, it allowed him to stretch and move a bit, but not reach any of the other children. The sound of metal dragging across the floor hissed throughout the room and he guessed the other kids were also chained. A small voice croaked from the cot on his left.
"I'm thirsty." It belonged to a girl. She wore a large t-shirt that came down to her knees. Her legs were bare and she was wearing slippers. "What is this place?"
Jonathan started to answer, but again it came out as a whispered rasp. He was parched and had to work up enough saliva to start talking. It was thick and gritty.
"Don't know," he croaked. "How did you get here?"
"I -- I don't know. I remember being in bed. It was early. My dad had sent me to my room because.... “ He sensed the embarrassment in her voice. “Because I was fighting with my brother. I went to bed and then, and then I woke up here."
Jonathan gave a half-hearted tug on his chain. It was thin but strong enough.
"My name's Jonathan."
"Susan. Listen, how long have you…"
A section of cave on the far end slid open and bright red light spilled into the room. Two children entered the cave carrying buckets. Walking in opposite directions, they made their way around the room, stopping at each cot and pouring whatever was in their buckets into small bowls, handing them to each child. They swayed from side to side as they walked, reminding him of Oompa Loompas in that dumbass movie. It took him a moment to realize he wasn't looking at children.
One of the misshapen dwarves came to Jonathan's cot. He wore a filthy green robe and what looked like an old "dunce cap" that one only saw in bad cartoons. His teeth were stained dark yellow/brown and long, matted hair hung over his eyes. A thin scar ran from the left side of his mouth almost all the way up to his ear. He dipped a wooden ladle into his bucket and poured out a thick, yellowish liquid into a bowl.
The dwarf placed the bowl on the floor and started walking to the next cot.
"I'm not going to drink that! Where's my mom! What's going on?" Jonathan shouted at the dwarf's back. He kept shuffling toward the next cot.
"Everyone drinks it. If you don’t drink it, we'll bleed you until your dead."
Jonathan sat on the cot, stunned. What the fuck was happening to him. He was chained to a cot in a cave, and a dwarf was threatening to murder him if he didn't drink eggnog?
In the end, they all drank the eggnog.
Sometime later the cave opened again and another dwarf entered the room. He couldn't tell if this was the same dwarf he'd seen earlier. It shuffled into the center of the room and climbed onto the carriage. The eggnog was probably just eggnog, but Jonathon felt a little woozy.
'Sleigh. It's a sleigh.' Jonathan's eyes had adjusted to the dark and he could make out the running boards where wheels should have been. There was something in the driver's seat. He couldn't be sure but it looked like a body.
Not without some difficulty the dwarf climbed onto the seat, taking a moment to catch his breath. He held a single piece of paper in his hand. Another dwarf entered and began collecting the bowls, checking to make sure each was empty.
The first dwarf raised the paper in front of his face and began to read out lout.
"Vicky Ressler." Jonathan heard a small yelp from somewhere in the room. "June 13, 2010. Poisoned the neighbor's cat."
Ignoring her, the dwarf continued, "March 2, April 12, April 15, May 7 and 8, 2010. Skipped school to drink with friends."
Another squeak echoed off the walls. "How did…?"
"Susan Howard," the dwarf continued. Jonathan heard a soft gasp from the girl he had spoken with earlier. "December 14, 2010. Set younger brother's favorite stuffed animal – also known as 'Tigger' -- on fire.” A short pause. “In his room, while he was sleeping"
"It was an accident..." Jonathan heard the lie in her words, even as she cried.
The dwarf read out all ten names, listing their offenses, including Jonathan’s.
"Congratulations to you all. You are the top ten." He began to climb down from the sleigh, again not without some difficulty. "It is December 24, 2011, 11:58 p.m. As it has always been, since before the great thaw -- damnit!" The dwarf's boot caught in the sleigh's runner and sent him sprawling to the ground. "Godfuckingdamn sonofabitch shitass that hurts!"
The other dwarf looked up from collecting the last bowl. "Harry! It's almost time!"
Harry picked himself up and started running toward the door, still speaking.
"...Since before the great thaw," he huffed, "the wicked shall sacrifice and the spirit of Christmas shall dwell among us again! As it is written, there shall be --"
"It's midnight! It's midnight!" The other dwarf screamed.
"Bloody hell!" Harry didn't bother to finish his sentence. The door slammed behind him.
Jonathan tugged at his chains with renewed vigor. He didn't know what was going on here, but he knew he didn't want to find out. How did they know about that night at Cliff's house? No one knew about that! The things the other kids had done almost made him glad they were all chained to their beds.
I'm going to get out of here. I'm going to get out of here and find mom. Things will be different. I promise. I'm going to get out –
"SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT..."
The music blared into the room, painfully loud. Jonathan instinctively hunched his shoulders against the audio onslaught. At the same time, the ceiling erupted in a riot of color as thousands of Christmas lights began blinking on and off.
Then the thing in the sleigh began to move.
With the crazy new light, he could see it clearly. A skull peeked out from a filthy, rust-stained hood. It was dressed in torn red rags that hung loosely around its body.
Except there isn't any body. All bones. All skin and bones.
The music blared and Jonathan felt himself being pushed back on the bed with the force of it.
"ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT"
He covered his ears and fell to his knees. The corpse was on the ground now. In one skeletal hand, it clutched what looked like an empty potato sack. Jonathan could see its jawbone rising and falling, but the music drowned out any words.
"YON YOUNG VIRGIN, MOTHER AND CHILD"
The thing started walking toward the other end of the room.
Thank you! Thank you!
Jonathan drew his knees to his chest and backed up against the bed. He watched the corpse shamble toward one of the children.
HOLY INFANT SO TENDER AND MILD”
The kid's mouth opened in a soundless scream, and then the corpse fell upon him. It buried its skeletal fingers in the kid's neck.
"Bryce Kaplan, November 23, 2010. Took mother's car. Crashed into neighbor's garage, killing the cat."
Jonathan had time to notice that walls turn transparent. On the other side, hundreds of dwarves jumped up and down, silently cheering.
But they're not dwarves. Not really. They're elves.
Blood sprayed from Bryce's neck and then the corpse leaned in and bit. It bit and it chewed and it drank and it bit, until Bryce was a puddle.
"SLEEP IN HEAVENLY PEACE."
The corpse, dressed now in clean rags and slightly bloated from its first meal, moved on. The potato sack turned to red velvet with white wolf fur trim, and it wasn't empty. He could see there was some weight to it. By the time it visited Jonathan, its blood stained teeth were framed in a snow white beard, and Jolly ole' Saint Nick was filled with the Christmas spirit -- almost filled. If Jonathon screamed, no one heard it.
After, when all the presents were delivered to all the good little girls and boys, and all the cookies eaten, Santa returned with his sleigh and the elves set upon him with their small carving knives. There was a great feast and by mid-afternoon, the only thing in Santa's sleigh was a skeleton dressed in rags.
There's 30 more where this came from, although not all of them are as cheery :).