THE SECOND BLOODIEST CHRISTMAS THERE EVER WAS
by Ethan Gibney
I remember the first time I saw Santa Claus. The walls had just fallen in the East of the country. The deep waters had taken New York. The world was drowning.
Those days, I was nobody. Eighteen years old. Fighting ‘cause I had to. No parents, no home, no nothing left, you do what you can to make sure you can do the same thing tomorrow, know what I mean?
Raiders are two kinds of people. The first kind tasted violence once and never gave it up. They’re the cruel ones. Quicker to fight than to think, and it takes just about nothin’ to piss ‘em off.
Second kind of person joins the raiders ‘cause they don’t really have another choice. They don’t like guns, don’t like violence, don’t like blood, but they’ve got a whole lot of empty in their life, and they need some kind of kinship and safety. I’m the latter. Good news is, those folk tend to do surprisingly well in these gangs - as trigger-happy as raider bosses may be, they know they need somebody to cook the food and keep track of the treasure.
That’s how I got in good with the Wolverines, a gang out of A2. Their HQ is in a giant stadium they call the Big House, some old stadium that people flocked to for entertainment before the world moved on.
I kept my head down, I didn’t get in trouble. I had to kill on occasion - I ain’t sayin’ I’ve never killed - but I never wanted to, and I always did it as easy as I could. Hard to be polite when you’re throwing a slug through a man, but I’d do them as many kindnesses as I could.
More important, I’m very good at numbers. Not just money, but all sorts of things. The Grand - the man in charge of the Wolverines - realized that I could tell him who was bein’ wasteful, and he liked that. I told him who was wastin’ ammo on raids, who wasn’t usin’ enough, how much money he brought in, how much went out. And I ain’t a terrible cook, which means I'm better than the guy I replaced.
That’s how I worked my way up to be a Marshal - the highest rank you can get in the Wolverines without being a complete sick psycho-fuck. And frankly I had no desire to get a promotion.
Story I’m layin’ down today begins in the height of December. Roads frozen over, so the only way to get around was in old automocars with no engines, pulled by slaves, or animals if no slaves are available.
Story begins in the high office at the Big House. Huddled in an office with the other Officers, Marshals, Generals, and the Grand himself was there with us. A fire goin’, all of us crowded around it. Another Marshal, an ancient fucker by the name of Scratch Kady was tellin’ us tales from before the world moved on. Scratch is older than time, so I got no trouble believin’ he was there for half these stories.
See, Scratch’s job was to entertain. He was the keeper of the history, but when it was too cold to go murder and pillage, he kept up morale by tellin’ stories.
This night he was tellin’ us of Santa Claus.
That was the first time I’d ever heard of the man Santa. Scratch told us all about him. An old fat man in a fluffy red coat
“What kind of shit armor is a red coat?” some Officer asked.
“Ain’t need no armor when nobody hates ye!” Scratch responds. Laughter all around, except from the Officer that asked the question.
Scratch told us all about how the Santa would go from house to house, givin’ out presents.
“Bull-fuck!” the Grand said. The Grand had a big voice, so deep you could hear it from across the world when he was whispering. “Nobody just gives shit out,” he said.
“Ah but Santa did!” said Scratch Kady. Scratch gets his name from the scars on his throat that muddle up his speech. You can always make out what he says in the end, but sometimes it takes some effort. “Santa Claus was a philosopher!”
“Philanthropist,” I said.
Most of the time, I don’t say anything, so people kind’ve looked at me funny when I said that, but I just shrugged and said “I read that in a book. Philosopher’s a thinker. Philanthropist does stuff for people even though it don’t help him none.”
Nobody responded to that - everybody just looked back to Scratch, who kept on with his story. But Grand, he put a stop to the story all of a sudden.
“This ain’t true,” Grand said. “If this was true, Santa Claus would still be around, doin’ the thing you say he did. Unless he died, but you’re saying he’s some kind of elf with eternal life, right? So why ain’t he around?”
Scratch shut up. But the Grand wasn’t letting him off. He stood up from his armchair and walked over to Scratch. Scratch closed his one good eye and waited for Grand. Grand put a two-fingered hand on Scratch’s shoulder.
“You’re meant to keep the history, Kady. So keep the history and toss the bullshit. Or I’ll toss you.”
Grand pulled at Scratch’s shoulder, real hard, made it look like he was about to throw the crusty old bastard over the edge of the House. But he didn’t - just dropped him to the floor.
I still don’t know why I said anything. But I saw the failure on Scratch’s face. The defeat. I looked up at the Grand.
“You say the tale’s a lie ‘cause no Santa brings us gifts no more?”
“That’s right,” said the Grand. He had a little smirk, like he couldn’t wait to teach me a lesson, since he hardly ever had reason to do violence against me.
“What if it’s just that nobody’s worth givin’ gifts to? I mean what if we’re all just bad folk?”
What surprised me is the look on Grand’s face. He looked really hurt. Like he’d never considered that.
“You callin’ me a bad person?” he asked me.
He squeezed my shoulder, then. Hard. I tried to look him right in the eye, but his eyes were so clouded and diseased that I never could look at him like that.
This time, though, it didn’t matter, ‘cause I didn’t have to.
All of us were engulfed in light, all of a sudden. Bright light to hurt the eyes, like the floodlights from the choppers - but all our choppers were grounded that night, because of high wind.
The Grand looked up, and so did I, and so did all of us there. There was some kind of flying thing above us, hovering silent, maybe twenty feet over our heads. We didn’t even hear the thing come up.
Somebody inside shouted down to us - almost as loud as when the Grand made some degree. The voice just said one word.
Auto-gun fire opened up below us, in the stadium. Couldn’t tell from where, but it wasn’t our guys - the Wolverines used slugthrowers, not autos. Except the Grand himself, who preferred axes.
From above us, too, bullet-fire.
Right in front of me, the Grand got powdered into a red mist.
I dived to the ground, and grabbed Scratch. Pulled him into the office room, where all the treasure was kept, so that we’d have some cover.
We watched all the other Officers and Marshals get vaporized, up until blood spattered on the windows.
Kady went over to the outside window, looked down into the streets.
“You hear that?” he asked. I followed his gaze, but didn’t hear anything. I followed him to the window, Kady breaking the glass with his arm.
He stuck his neck out. I tried to pull him in, not wanting him to get beheaded with lead, but he wouldn’t let me. He motioned me forward.
Real careful, I looked out the window too.
Hundreds - hell, maybe thousands - of furry critters were walking through the slums of A2. I couldn’t tell what they were, just that they had antlers, and were covered in a dark brown fur. They were running through the streets on two feet, rushing up to folks. This wasn’t a demonstration - it was a fuckin’ attack.
“Reindeer,” Scratch said, but at the time I didn’t know what that meant.
The furry critters were running up to folks in the street - raiders, homeless, just anybody. They’d shine a weird blue light in their face. They’d then either throw them to the ground, or blow their guts out with an auto.
Scratch and I got away from the window when we heard a banging.
The door to the office was thumping. Auto-gun fire still going in the stadium, but this wasn’t that. This was like a foot kicking at it.
“This has gotta be the Pistons from out east,” I said. “They’ve wanted our piece for longer than I can recall.”
“Used to be, down south, there was these raiders that hated the Wolverines. Buckeys they were called, if I remember right. It’s gotta be them.”
A heavy strike against the door.
We turned and face it.
Only way out out of that office was down over the wall. We didn’t even have time to consider taking that option though - the door burst off its hinges.
There, on the other side, a man.
He was damn near seven feet tall, wearing a red fluffy outfit, with white trim - though his big white beard and the white trim were splattered with blood.
Outside, those bright lights shone right on us, ready to pulverize me and Scratch as soon as the Santa said the word.
The Santa pulled a wad of paper out from behind his back, unfurled the little roll, and held it up in front of Scratch. The paper glowed with blue light, for just a second, then Santa put the paper down again.
“Alistair Kady. You have done much wrong. But the punishments you have suffered...they make up for it. Nice.”
Scratch dropped to his knees and cried. I never asked what all that meant.
My turn now, though. The paper shone on me. I was ready for the bullet fire.
“Eleanor Kovacs,” Santa says. “You, too, have done everything you can for atone for what you’ve done. Nice.”
I felt gladder than I ever had at that moment, and it was only a few minutes prior that I’d first heard of this man.
“You will come to no harm,” the man Santa said. “You have been declared nice, so as long as you do not do anything naughty, I will not have anything to do with you. However,” he smiled a big smile, cheek-to-cheek. “If you would like to help me - I have plans you might approve of.”
That’s how I joined Santa’s crew.
Turns out, after the day the world moved on, Santa retired a while. Hid up in the North Pole, in his castle under the waves. But when he saw the walls break down, he knew his time had come. The raider gangs on the coasts were scattered and ruined ‘cause of the water, and he took the chance. Started moving south, through Canada, headed on down.
Along the way, he’s been picking up stragglers. Anyone who wants to see peace and order returned to the world.
So now, I am proud to serve as one of the EL+VES - Extreme Liberty & Volatile Engagement Service. Mostly, I don’t do fighting - just accounting work, running numbers. But when I do have to fight - now it’s okay. Because now I get to hurt the bullies.
I’ve written this down at the request of my Lieutenant - Lieutenant Sparkles. He said that if the fight tomorrow goes bad, we should all record our stories. So, this is mine.
Tomorrow, Lt. Sparkles says we’re taking on the biggest bads in the country. A town called Deecee. Never heard of it, but Lt. Sparkles says that’s where it all began. Where the world first started moving on.
I have to fight tomorrow. But it’s a fight I believe in now.
So whoever reads this, whether we win or lose, I’ve got a simple wish for you:
2016 Dec 23
THE SECOND BLOODIEST CHRISTMAS THERE EVER WAS by Ethan Gibney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.