Dalila’s Journey: A Story of the Ndegi

Dalila walked across the scorching sands. Her taloned feet were wrapped in a light cloth that did little to keep the harsh burn of the sand at bay. She looked up at the red sun beating down on them and wondered what it had been like to fly.

A clothed hand firmly bopped her on the head bringing her back to the ground. She rubbed her head and looked up at Marjani.

“Ow, that hurt.”

“Keep your eyes down. Looking up at the sun will disorient you,” Marjani said with her eyes forward.

Dalila looked ahead and saw the long line of her people making their way across the sands. All were wrapped head to talon in dusty cloth. She peered behind her and saw the line was just as long. All of the Elfu faced forward, none looked around or behind them.

“Marjani do you remember flying?” Dalila asked.

Marjani cursed and let out a shrill squawk. “Silence. Do not speak of what we have lost.” She never turned to face Dalila her head and eyes firmly set ahead.

“I never flew, but my mother–”

Marjani gave her another bop on the head, this time hard enough to really hurt. “Do not speak of what we have lost,” she said with her beak clenched tight and eyes forward.

Dalila rubbed her sore head as tears began to fall. She hated Marjani. She was cold and strict not like her mother and father. They had been loving and kind. Her mother told her of flight, of the time before the iron sickness, before the Iron Skins brought war to their shores.

Her mother told stories of the beauty of her people. Finely feathered, graceful aerial acrobats and expert fishers. Now their feathers were mostly gone. They were lost to the iron sickness. It spread down the coast and turned the tide a sickly red-green. It first wiped out the fish, petrifying their scales and flesh. Then quickly spread to the Ndegi people.


On the night the sickness claimed her mother, Dalila had made healing waters by calling on gia. Once all Ndegi could move gia, but that too was lost to them. The tiny bit that Dalila did was the most any had managed in a long time. Her mother was proud, but it just made Marjani angry. She sent Dalila out of their hut as she always did. Not wanting the girl to see how far the iron sickness had spread.

Wanting to see if the water would help Dalila watched from outside the cloth door. Peering in as Marjani carefully removed her mother’s wrap. All Ndegi wore the wrap now. It was supposed to prevent the iron sickness from spreading, but Dalila new, as her mother told her, it was because they were prideful, and did not want to be reminded of what they had lost.

When her mother’s wraps came off she almost shrieked. The petrified grey patches of skin, that killed of feathers and prevented flight, were not new to her. She had several patches. But on her mother, they were everywhere. Her entire right arm was covered. It was dark grey, almost black, and curled against her body. The sickness spread across her shoulder and her chest where it was a lighter ash-grey. She watched as Marjani tried to move the arm in the warm water, but her mother just shook her head.

“It is too late Sister,” her mother said, “the arm is solid. Don’t let it spread further. Don’t let me become some half-dead stone.” Her mother gripped Marjani’s arm tightly. “Please, take care of Dalila. She is my sky.”

It was the only time Dalila could remember seeing sadness in Marjani’s eyes. “Go then sister,” Marjani said as she held her mothers head under the water, “It is time for you to join your husband.”

Dalila cried as she watched, unable to look away until it was over. Then she ran far into the desert. She ran until her legs could turn no further and spilled across the cold sands. Tears ran down her face as she curled into a ball and lost herself to grief.

She dreamed of flying. Soaring through the sky with her mother and father. The sun was warm, and the air was cool as it whipped over her full feathers. Her mother and father zipped by her and flew high towards the sun.

“Keep up silly tamuga,” her mother called playfully as she flew past.

Dalila tried to fly faster but her wings became heavy. Her bright yellow and blue feathers began to molt, revealing petrified lesions. She began falling from the sky.

“That’s it. Now you’re keeping up.” Her mother turned to look at her with sad tearful eyes. The rest of her was stone.

“No. Mother!” Dalila screamed.

She woke up in Marjani’s arms as they walked back to the camp. Looking straight ahead Marjani said, “The sickness took your mother. We do not speak of what we lost.” That was all she said, and she would say no more.

Not long after an emissary of the Queen visited the Elfu. She told them the Queen offered hope, the last hope for a dying people. Revenge.

It was made clear that the time of the Ndegi was ending. They could die out slowly suffering until the end. Or the Queen could transform them into a new people. A people capable of taking revenge against the Iron Skins that brought the plague and war to the Ndegi. They were a prideful people and accepted the Queen’s offer. The Elfu had packed up what was left of their encampment and started the long trek to the Queen’s castle.


It seemed like they had walked forever through the torrid desert. Marjani told her it would be another couple weeks, but the desert would provide them safe passage.

“Marjani, if we will no longer be the Ndegi, who will we become?” Dalila asked.

Marjani let out a huff of exhaustion. “Your mother always had questions.”

Dalila looked at her surprised. “She would always ask of what can’t be answered. We will never be the Ndegi again. We will not be better than what we were. But we will be better than what we are.”

Dalila was confused. Marjani’s answers didn’t make her feel any better, or any surer of her tribe’s decision.

“They say several tribes have meet with the Queen of Swarau and accepted her gift. Those tribes have returned to the sky,” Marjani said.

She looked up at Marjani. Her head faced forward never wavering from their path. “We will fly again?” Dalila asked.

Marjani didn’t answer. Dalila noticed her eyes drift up at the sky for a brief moment, before falling back down. After that Dalila stared ahead too. She never looked back, and she never spoke of what was lost.

Crossposted at The Midnight Bards.



Flash Fiction Challenge: Holiday Horror Extravaganza!

Place me on the naughty list cause I’m a day late and 100 words over on this bit of flash. The challenge comes from the Terrible Mind of Chuck Wendig.

The Christmas Box

by Jonathan N. Bray

An alert tone plays in my ear and a voice says Camilla calling. My assistant, this can only mean more work.

“Answer,” the line picks up, “what?”


“Jesus Christ Camilla I don’t need sorry, just tell me what the issue is.”

I push past a family making their way through the crowded station, the mom gives me a dirty look, I almost tell her where to shove it, but its Christmas.

“I went to track Lila’s gift, and I found out why it wasn’t delivered.”

“Did you get it fixed and have the goddamn idiot fired who caused the delay?”

“Ah, that’s the thing, the reason it didn’t ship is because the order didn’t go through.”

I come to a dead stop in the center of the walkway, being one of those jerks I hate. The foot traffic behind me starts to back up and I hear people complaining.

“What do you mean you ordered it on Monday didn’t you?”

“Yes. No, I guess I never completed it. We we’re super swamped, that was the 18-hour day.”

“You’re fired. Terminate call.”

The line hangs up and I catch just a brief bit of Camilla’s begging. What the hell am I going to do now?

I checked my watch, barely 20 minutes before the last train comes. Where the hell was I going to get a gift?

“Move it lady.” Some rude idiot calls from behind me. He pushes around me and I start moving at the same time and swing my luggage into his knee.

“Ow!” he yells.

“Sorry. Have a merry Christmas.”

The crowd is so dense it’s hard to run, but at least I know where I’m heading, South Entrance right around the corner is an old Odd Shop. The type owned by the family that lives in the back of the shop. It’s mostly junk curated from the garbage bins at the Good Will, but that’s the best I got.

As I make my way down the steps from the South Entrance I hear the sound of multiple men fighting. I catch just a glimpse, but it looks like a gang of homeless men versus two members of a Christian Boy-Band, the boys are not all right. Not my problem, I cruise on into the shop, noticing a sign that says 24/7.

Inside an old man waits at the counter awkwardly. He kind of glances out the door, but mostly doesn’t a good call. On the tall desk they use, as a counter there is an ornate box. It is laced with rich gold and velvety, with looks more fitting of Tiffany’s and Louis Vuitton than unofficial train station gift shop.

“I’ll take it.”

He shakes his head, “Reserved.”

“By the boy-band?”

He smirks.

“They aren’t coming back. I’ll pay you triple what you’re asking.”

His eyes light up. “You don’t even know how much it is.”

I grab the cash from my purse and hold it out, “Is it more than 500 dollars?”

His smile is huge like I just flashed a million dollars, it almost makes me smile.

“It is 500 dollars,” he says like it’s an amazing coincidence.

Back on the street the homeless guys are giving the final beating to the boy-band, when one of the dirty bastards says, “Hey, she has the box.” and points with what I think is a hand, but is so covered in filth I can’t be sure.

A big guy, fresh from some deep garbage dive, stalks toward me, he smells rancid, like rotting meat. I step back for air and positioning. He steps, I round house kick his head in, literally.

It caves like an old pumpkin meeting a metal bat. Blood spurts on my leg and back, and I almost do that sickening shudder dance, but maintain some composure. Please don’t let that bastard be contagious. Maybe I’m a horrible person, but the thought of is he dead doesn’t cross my mind.

The garbage gang is stupefied, but their boss says, “Kill her and bring me the box!” He sounds like Batman if he picked up a 30 year chain smoking habit and suffered a deep neck wound from Joker.

“Sorry, guys. This is a gift for the one person that actually maters on this shit heap. So just back off an we’ll all go home.”

It doesn’t work. They move towards me with slow, sluggish steps like their ratty shoes are stuck in mud. That smell becomes unbearable and I realize the alley is full of these bastards; it’s a goddamn hobo filth cult.

The smell almost makes me toss my dinner, just as one of them lunges at me with an impossibly long and wobbly arm. I duck and then fly up smashing my hardtack shell travel bag right into his mangy face. A kettle bell swing my CrossFIT coach would be proud of.

This guy must have the same disease, cause his face damn near explodes all over the sidewalk. I wouldn’t mind sticking around and beating the crap out if these degenerates, and God knows it would be good to get some punches out before I have to see my brother Leon, but holy-fucking-Christmas I don’t want what ever flesh eating disease these psychos have. So I run.

I can hear them right be hind me, but growing fainter, Tracheotoman is yelling in Latin. I can’t quite make out the words.

My feet are flying and I can no longer hear them, but I can still smell them ever so, oh goddamn it. Slowing enough to lift up my luggage and sure enough, the smell is coming from the sick splattered all over the case. I’m burning everything when I get to Mom and Dad’s.

An alarm bell dings in my ear; the last train is departing soon. I’ll make it though. The turnstiles are just ahead. No time to slow down, I smash my way through, hoping to knock off some of the goop.

“Easy lady,” the ticket agent says as he closes up the booth. He sniffs the air and makes a gross face like I shit my pants.

This is the worst Christmas Eve ever. Running again I hear the ticket agent yell, then scream, but the heavy squeal of the train arriving drowns it out.

I board quickly trying to hide amongst the crowd, but nobody wants to be around me. The smell is pushing people away. The crowd starts to head for the two connected cars, as they would rather squeeze in than smell the funk I rolled in with.

Well that’s just fine, I’ll take a seat all to myself on this Christmas train.  Just a few people remain in the car, sitting as far away from me as possible. One man is lying across multiple seats with a free-weekly covering his face, probably passed out drunk.

As the train pulls away I see the Garbage Gang and Tracheotoman. I give them the finger and sit back in my seat glad this weird night is over.

The few people in my car pack into the other ones, finally giving in to the smell. It’s just the passed out drunk and me. His hand sways with the motion of the train. Then it twitches, just a little, then faster and again like he’s having a full on seizure.

Slowly the hand melts to a black waxy goop that looks more tentacle than hand. The man sits up the weekly falls from his face, he’s dirty, like the garbage dwellers from the alley.

This is not happening.

He grabs the emergency brake line and pulls it. I have to get out of here, but the two cars are so packed I would be stuck in the doorway. I consider pushing my way through when the man removes one option by breaking the door handle of the car closest to him.

The windows explode in as dark slug like shapes pile into the car from the cramped tunnel. They pool all around me and spire upward twisting into the people I thought were men. Now it hits me, I’ve gone insane. Cracked, broken under the enormous pressure of work, but that feels like bullshit. Work is rough but I eat it up. It must be something else. Maybe an infection from earlier? Oh god, I bet whatever disease they have turns your brain to mush too.

A fist hits me in the stomach, as I sit like a damn idiot. Well that’s it understanding time is over. Real or not I’m just going to kick the shit out of all these assholes, right after I catch my wind.

The slimy hand pulls me to my feet, perfect. I slug the man-thing in the ribs with both fists, but it doesn’t seem hurt him. I head-bunt it and it lets go as it falls to the ground. Good to know.

I grab the handrail above me and use its extra momentum to kick the closest one in the head. It pops spraying the car with dark black goo and bits of dead grey matter.

The creeps all lunge for me and I have to dive and roll to dodge them. With a gallop I side kick the next one’s head clean off, and realize the insanity is starting to grow on me.

Tracheotoman is in the car and he’s moving for the box. His goons are blocking me so I ditch the aisle and run over the seats, but I’m too late, he has the box.

The freak starts speaking Latin and I swear that box is glowing. I grab my purse, inside is a Tezla 3000x, the same model that was pulled because it allegedly caused people to catch fire. I successfully defended that company and this high-voltage beauty was a present.

When I push in on the two triggers blue bolts shoot out and connect to Tracheotoman. Sparks are flying and he’s flopping like a fish and screaming. Son of bitch starts to burn too, like a Christmas bonfire. The stench is horrid and he’s screaming in Latin, something about the end of the world as he melts to a flaming puddle. His goons melt back into those puddles of crap they grew from and find any open avenue to slip from the car.

I collect the Christmas box and head toward the front of the car, nobody is happy to smell me. They get the train cleared and moved another comes and takes us on.

As I walk up the steps to my parents’ house it is close to midnight. They must have been waiting cause my Mom opens the door and is about to give me a hug when she smells me and backs up holding her nose.

Lila stands beside her scrunching her face into Mom’s apron. I hold out the Christmas box and say, “Merry Christmas I got this for you.” She takes it with one hand over her nose. By the look in her eyes it’s a hit.

“Kendra finally, oh god what is that?” my Dad says as he joins them.  He shakes his head in disgust and pushes me out on to the lawn. “This is for your own good, and our own good,” he says, but I’m not paying attention. I watch Lila open the box and she smiles so big and looks up at something.

That’s when I feel an icy blast of water hit me in the face. My dad has turned the hose on me! I scream at him that it’s freezing and all he says is, “Sorry, can’t let you come in smelling like that.”

After a cold soaking from the hose my mom has me change in the garage. She brings me a robe and wraps me in thick comforter. Inside she serves up steaming hot mulled wine and I drink a few glasses. Lila comes up to me and says, “Thanks for giving me slug-fairy princess.”

I think I need to see a doctor. “Who?” I ask.

“From the pretty box. Slug-Fairy Princess was inside.”

She looks real cross at the air above her and shouts, “No Slug-Fairy Princess!” and slaps the air, I swear I hear a smack. “We aren’t destroying the world then there would be no more My Little Pony.” She gives it another whack then looks at me and says, “She’s a mean fairy but I keep her in line.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I say, wondering if I handed over a world conquering demon to a seven-year-old girl. Now I know I’m crazy. “Merry Christmas Lila. I’m glad you like the gift.”

Cross Posted at The Midnight Bards.

Granny Makes A Delicious Pie

The grim frost-rot apples barely filled a quarter of the barrel. The sad sight brought a twinge of pain to Granny’s chest and sorrow to her eyes. The frost had ruined every apple, leaving only a precious few salvageable, and of those they were all shriveled shadows of an apple. There were hardly enough apples to make one whole pie, and Granny worried that it might be the first year she lost the Golden Hills Pie Baking contest, to that evil witch Bridle. She hoped Birdie wouldn’t have enough apples either.

An Old Crone cackled loudly behind her. She was bent and old, even to Granny, with one cloudy eye. “Poor Granny, I always did enjoy your delicious pies.” the Old Crone said. “It will be a shame if you don’t have apples enough for even one.”

Granny gave her a sideways glance. “I’m in good company, no one in the lands has apples.” she said with a frown.

“Not so, not so.” said the Old Crone, “Why I have just passed Birdie’s Bakery and saw, with this good eye, a great many apples Birdie brought in from out of country.”

Granny’s heart sank. Now there was no way she could beat Birdie, with so few apples, not even her superior skills could make up for lacking basic ingredients.

“Don’t fret Granny,” the Old Crone smiled, “I bring you good news. For I have always loved your pies the more and would like to help you, with your apple shortage.”

Granny was intrigued, but eyed the Old Crone suspiciously, for she had never seen her before, and Granny was too old and wise to believe a persons altruistic intentions. “No disrespect to you, my old Mother, but what’s in it for you? I have no extra coin to pay you for this help.”

The Old Crone laughed. “My payment will be a slice of your splendid apple pie.”

Granny smiled and said, “That is agreeable.”

“Excellent, now listen well. There is a cave at the end of the old trail. If you follow the cave wall to where it forks and stay right you will come to a hidden grove of apple trees. There you will find the most delicious apples, big as melons!” she said gesturing with her hands.

“I’ll go, but if I find no apple grove, you shall have not a slice of the paltry pie made with these few apples.” Granny said sternly.

“Humph. To be rebuked by my younger, and after offering only help no less. You shall find a grove. When you do you owe me a slice, and apologies.” the Old Crone said with her nose held high.

The Old Crone turned and walked off in a huff. When she was a good few houses down she let out a deep evil laugh. She began to spin and cackle and transformed back into Birdie. So caught up in her laughter was she that she lost her balance and fell flat on her face.

Granny followed the directions and sure enough she found the hidden grove. However, the trees were all barren. She frowned at the wasted day, but then noticed an odd, large, red rock slumped by one of the trees. Then she saw another and another. “Peculiar,” Granny said and walked over to investigate.

To her astonishment these were no red rocks. No, these were even more peculiar indeed. Great big apples, bigger than any melon Granny had ever seen. The apple’s were so big, that she barely managed to stack all three in her wooden cart. Loaded up she carefully headed for home whistling a merry tune. These three apples were going to save the day and win her another ribbon.

Once home Granny immediately set to work washing the apples in cool bath, as the measly apples from the harvest boiled in a pot with cinnamon and an assortment of spices only known to her. The rich aroma of stewing apples and cinnamon filled the air.

So it was to this horrid smell of murder and mayhem, of ice cold torture, that one Husk Spice awoke to. Granny screamed in horror as the skin of the apple split to reveal two fleshy eyes with seeded iris’ looking about. These eyes were quickly joined by a mouth screaming, “Huh-uh-Aarhhhhh!”

Stems grew and twisted about each other to form woven arms and legs. It then launched itself from the freezing torture bucket high into the air, landing in the slop bucket of chopped and cored sticky apples.

“Aghhhh!” Husk screamed again. This time more stems grew twisting into a woven armor that covered the giant apple.
“You, abomination.” Husk said reaching down and holding onto one of the discarded cores. “Why!” he screamed, “You’ll pay for your crimes witch!”

The two other giant apples began to shake, and sure enough they awoke too. Forming eyes, a mouth and limbs much like Husk. Only one, the smallest of them all, grew stemmed wings with a leathery apple skin. It flapped it’s wings, hovered in the air and took in the grizzly scene.

“Husk why do you…” it sniffed the air, “oh sweet mercy. What foul demon is at work!” the flying one said.

Granny regained her composure and stepped silently to the side, reaching wide for her broom.

“Crow Egg, it is the work of a witch!” Husk called to the flying apple, known as Crow Egg.

Husk leveled a guilty stem at Granny, who had managed to grab the broom. Crow looked toward Granny, just in time to be smacked in the face with the bristly broom. Crow fell from the air and landed on the floor with a thud.

“Alright,” Granny said circling with the broom, “where’s the other one? Eh, where’s your little friend.”

Husk laughed and climbed out of the slop bucket. “You’ll never find Prairie Spy. Master of shadows, travels unheard on any ground.”

The carving board hit the floor and Granny spun around, wielding the broom like a martial master. With keen old eyes she noticed the butchers knife was missing. Her ears perked up when she heard the scamper of little feet. From the dull shadows beneath the big block table, the butchers knife flew for her neck. She caught it with a deft hand and winged it back into the shadow, it struck deep into the floor.

“Ha,” Granny laughed, “you don’t think I’ve been in more than a few kitchen knife fights? You know nothing of competitive baking! One way or another, my bad apples, you’ll make a good pie!” When she turned to the slop bucket Husk was gone, and Crow too.

Husk, Crow and Prairie listened to Granny’s rant as they hid in the pantry, peeking through the smallest of cracks in the door.

“We’ve dealt with witches before, we know how to take care of this one.” Husk said tightening the five stems of its hand into a fist.

Through the crack in the pantry door they watched as Granny slid knifes and a rolling pin into her apron, then placed a colander on her head like a tin-helmet soldier.

“She appears to be more formidable than other witches.” Crow said.

“Agreed. We haven’t even tested her magics yet and already she has come close to killing us.” Prairie added.

Husk looked contemplative, for an apple, then said, “Don’t fear. We were on the defensive. Surprised and off guard. Now we are aware of the witchly threat. She’ll be the one to die.” Husk looked at Crow and asked, “Can you get the top hinge off this door?” Crow nodded. “Prairie, I’m gonna need you to get us weapons, the sharper the better.” Husk said.

Prairie nodded and disappeared. Husk moved to take out the bottom door hinge and pointed up to the top, signaling Crow to take it out.

Granny held out the big roller like a club looking for those audacious apples. A funny scratching sound came from the pantry. She smiled and silently stepped toward the pantry door.

“Oh where, oh where could my little apples be? Are they still in my kitchen?” she said. “Are they still in their grave!”

Before she could pull the door open there was a loud THUMP from the other side. The heavy wood door angled sideways and fell upon her, knocking her to the ground and the rolling pin from her hand. She was trapped under the door. Crow flew above her and out of sight. The big one, Husk, hopped up on the door and took loud, heavy, stompy steps, that smacked the door painfully into her. With each step Granny groaned in pain.

“Get off me you red devils!” she cursed.

Husk just grinned down at her. Crow landed beside Husk, barely managing to hold the big roller with both hands. Husk took the roller, easily holding it in one stemmed hand, and slung it over the shoulder. “You like pies witch?” Husk asked with a malicious smile.

“Nope. Never made a pie in my life.” Granny said with a sheepish grin.

“Well,” Husk began with a sick grin, “you’ll make a fine one in death.”

Granny heard two knives running together, the sharp edge grinding along the dull. The source of the sound appeared right before her eyes, but she could not recall seeing Prairie Spy approach. Husk let the big roller fly and knocked Granny out in one blow.

Later that day, Birdie came by to see if the enchanted apples had taken care of Granny. She peeped in the window and saw a delicious looking pie cooling on the counter. Birdie was about to curse when a strange voice called to her from the kitchen and invited her in.
Birdie entered with caution. To her splendid horror she found the apples, doing an abysmal job of impersonating Granny. They stood on each others shoulders, wore her dress and apron, even her crudely scalped hair. But that big red apple face couldn’t be hidden.

“Don’t go stealing that pie now, it’s a special pie.” Crow said, in a comical attempt at an old lady voice.

“Of course not, Granny.” Birdie said with a placid smile. “What type of pie is it?”

“Why my dear it’s Granny’s Own Fresh Meat Pie.” Crow said, with an evil guffaw.

Unable to control their mad merry, Husk and Prairie burst into malicious laughter from beneath Granny’s dress. The evil laugh was too infectious and now Birdie joined in, thrilled that Granny was still in the pie competition.

Later that evening, Birdie wasn’t laughing when Granny’s Own Fresh Meat Pie won the Grand Prize.


*Crossposted at The Midnight Bards.


The Santa Nik – Flash Fiction

Chuck Wendig is having a flash fiction contest. 1,000 words on the “War on Christmas” could win you free swag. Writer’s swag!
Here’s my entry. Hope you enjoy it!


The ramshackle sleigh glided over the snow packed lands. It sprayed a powdery mist of snow as it cut over and around the white rolling hills. The horned beasts galloped along letting out small light puffs of foggy breath. Their reins clicked and clacked as the crude bells, made from cans and rocks, jostled with their gait. The man at the reins was tall and thin with a great bushy beard and hair to match judging by the curls that peaked beneath his soiled and sewn cap. He wore a thick, dirty, faded coat, made before the snow fell, and patched from tatters many times since, it matched his pants and cap. If you could describe his suit it would be muck colored with a hint of red. He’s worn it for 6 years, and that makes him the longest one to keep it by his account. A hard trick, being Santa Nik for so many years.

The ground cracked and the snow opened up beneath him. The bottom of the sleigh crashed against the wall of the pit trap where it dangled above sharpened sticks. The beasts that pulled the sleigh lurched and then leaned forward to hold the load. “On!” he screamed as he snapped the reins hard. They called out a wine and step-by-step pulled the sleigh from the pit.

Santa Nik pulled on the reigns and the beasts halted. He hoped off the sleigh to inspect the cargo. Everything seemed in order, tied down nice and tight. “‘ere ya’ go boys, ‘ere go.” He said as he pulled out food for his beasts. “Ya’ did a fine job pulling me out. Guess PTB Bauers knows I’m coming. Right on time as always. We’ll tell the old sod it’ll take more than one trap to keep us from our duty.” He stroked Blitzers mane. “I say we leave him a bit of ye’ own special coal in his stocking.” He winked. Blitzers clomped his hooves in agreement.

Santa Nik resumed his post behind the reigns lashed them twice and cried, “On! We have presents for the good little boys and girls of Carhart!”
He watched the hills of snow for any sign of traps or ambushes. He spotted the tale-tale signs of a bad trapper and broke course away from the area. “Ha, better luck—” a bolt hit him in the shoulder. Three more shooters burst from the snow and fired bolts. They found their marks knocking Santa Nik out of the sleigh. The beasts careened out of control and over the hill.

Santa Nik tried to crawl but he had already lost too much blood, he felt cold. The first shooter walked over to him. He was a young man, he wanted to hate him but he could see remorse and desperation in his eyes. “You have to take it.” Santa said, “take the suit and the sleigh. Give them hope. We can’t survive without a little warmth in this cold world.” He touched the young mans face and left a bloody hand print. He looked down at his chest with bolts sticking out, blood running out of the wounds. “I’ve never seen it so red its beautiful.” Marley nodded he knew what he had to do.

“Looks like Xmas comes early for us!” Grincher said. “The red bloke dead?”
“Yeah.” Marley said. “I’ll get the sleigh.”
“Good, PTB Bauers will want it accounted for. Big pay-day for us. Hell, I could be PTB next term.” Grincher let out a cruel laugh.

Marley ran back over the hill.
“What in the fires of heaven took you so damn long? And where is the sleigh?”
“Sorry Grincher, sleigh hit an ice cavern. It’s gone.”
“Damn. We’ll have to drag this bastard back ourselves. That’s on you for losing the damn sleigh.”

PTB Bauers was over joyed with the news. Finally, that no good Santa Nik was dead. He didn’t need anyone coming into his town and misleading his people. It was all a dirty sham anyway to get their trust and then lead them into the frozen wastes. He’d heard it from PTB Scrooge a wise and prudent man. “String him up in the center of town Grincher let everyone know that Santa Nik is dead. Remind them I’m the only ones who they should believe in. Remind them of the cruel world I protect them from.”

The next morning when the people of Carhart awoke there were gifts by the fire-place wrapped in twine and leaves, fruit and nuts filled their stockings. In an act of defiance they headed toward the town center to pay their respects. Through the crisp air they could hear the clink and clack of Santa Nik’s sleigh gliding over the snow. The crunch-crunch of their steps picked up as they ran for the town center. They gasped in awe and cheered, the body of Santa Nik was gone. In its place hung a board with the message “Happy Xmas to all and to all a good year!”

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