Jack was stirred from his slumber by the gentle ringing of small bells. He sat bolt upright on the couch, his favourite blanket sliding off his knees and fluttering to the floor. As Jack rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he heard the faint jingle of the tiny bells again, this time accompanied by what sounded like a hard scraping, not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard. Jack covered his ears and looked towards his father’s bedroom. He hoped the scraping sound, whatever it was, didn’t wake his father. Jack knew he would be in trouble for sneaking out of bed to wait for Santa in the living room. Jack didn’t want to spend Christmas morning locked in the crawlspace under the stairs.
The scraping continued getting louder, quickly drowning out the ringing of tiny bells that had originally roused Jack from his sleep. As soon as Jack realized where the sound was coming from, however, his trepidation gave way to unbridled excitement. The bells and the scraping were both coming from the chimney! Jack rushed over towards the fireplace; all thoughts of his father and the cruel punishment he might have to endure flew from his head.
The grating, scraping noise coming from the chimney halted abruptly as a figure appeared from the flume, crashing into the soot and ash of the fireplace with an ear-
As the ashen cloud began to clear, Jack could make out the outline of…something. It was larger than any man Jack had ever seen, but not round and jolly, as Santa Clause should be. Instead, the creature was lanky and tall, with long sinewy limbs. Once Jack could see the thing clearly his heart began to pound in his chest, for it was far from the jovial old man he’d seen in picture books. In place of a red suit, it was covered in greyish-
A long chain wound around the creature’s waist and trailed behind it on either side. At the end of the chain were heavy metal cuffs, the sort Jack had often seen in movies, used to bind the hands and feet of prisoners. Attached to each cuff was a single golden bell, the source of the ringing Jack had heard, no doubt. The beast had a large bag slung over its shoulder, but it resembled a potato sack more than it resembled Santa’s fabled bag of gifts, and it was empty besides.
Jack stepped forward tentatively. The creature was truly a frightening thing to behold, but it was Christmas Eve, and it had come down the chimney. Jack’s teacher, Mrs. Morgan, often reminded him he should never judge a book by its cover, and he knew that she was right. What did it matter what he looked like, as long as it was Santa Clause?
The creature snorted. The sound was loud and terrifying and not at all like when Suzie Berkinshire snorted from laughing too hard in class.
“I am not he,” said the creature in a raspy baritone, its voice dripping with disgust. “He comes for the good ones. I come for the bad.”
Jacks eyes widened and he took a step back. “B-
The beast snorted again. “Not according to your father.” It narrowed its eyes and a slight smile began to creep across its goatish mouth. “I have it on his authority that you are troublesome, disrespectful, disobedient and that you frequently cry when you, and I quote: ‘have nothing to cry about,’ end-
Jack collapsed to his knees and began to weep. “No, please,” he said between sobs, “It’s not true. None of it!”
The creature stamped its foot hard on the floor prompting immediate silence from Jack, who had to hold a hand over his mouth to keep his sobbing in check. “Enough,” said the creature as it began opening its bag, which Jack now realized was perhaps large enough to hold a person, and most definitely large enough to hold a 9-
Jack took another step back. “W-
The creature snorted once more and shook its head from side to side, like a bull about to charge. “Don’t start making up stories,” it said. “That’s the sort of behaviour that led to this in the first place.” It opened the bag wider.
“No!” cried Jack, rising from his knees. “It’s true! He makes up stories about me and tells everyone I’m bad, but I’m not. He drinks too much and he hits me sometimes and he punishes me for no reason. He locks me in the crawlspace under the stairs for hours, and there are spiders and it smells bad and… and…” Jack collapsed back to the floor, out of energy, and with nothing left to say. Surely this monster would never believe him anyway. Instinctively, Jack reached out to where his blanket had landed on the floor, taking it and holding it closely, as though it might shield him from the monster’s wrath.
But the creature stayed its hand, slinging the bag back over its shoulder. It narrowed its animal eyes and regarded Jack very carefully for almost a minute.
“Your words,” it said at last, growling under its breath, “have the ring of truth about them.”
Without answering, the goat-
Less than a minute later, the creature returned to the living room. Jack believed he now had nothing to fear from the beast, yet he could barely stand to look at it. When he did look, he saw that the sack slung over the thing’s shoulder was no longer empty. The sack was now full; inside it, Jack’s father writhed and struggled like a kitten caught in a plastic shopping bag. Jack couldn’t help but start sobbing once again, contemplating what horrible fate now awaited his father. He longed to be free of the parental tyranny that had held him hostage for so long, but surely this was not the way; it was just too cruel.
The creature looked at Jack, still weeping on the floor. “A pitiful sight,” it commented, mostly to itself. “But Merry Christmas, I suppose.”
And with that, the great beast gave a sharp nod and disappeared up the flume as quickly as it had appeared, its horns scraping loudly against the brick walls of the chimney as it went.