Snich was beginning to discover a flaw in his plan after watching the first few houses he had visited. The children got to enjoy none of the whiskey he had left for them; that enjoyment was stolen by the adults in their lives.
“Don’t they understand the whiskey isn’t for them?” he asked the red deer. “They are ruining it for the children.”
“We’ve been thinking,” the lead deer said, ignoring Snich’s complaint. “We need human names. Having you point at us and say, ‘Uh, you,’ is getting old.”
Snich looked at the deer. “Say what?”
“Names,” the deer said. “Focus, human.”
“Fine,” Snich said, “but remember, I have a name, too. Just being called ‘human’ hurts my feelings.”
“Okay… Snich… we are sorry.”
Snich smiled. “I know the perfect names for you. There was once a group of men that could have ruled the world had they chosen to. Instead, they chose to bring joy to the masses.”
The deer looked at each other and nodded.
“From this day forward, you shall be Nick, Kevin, Brian, Howie, and A.J.,” Snich said. “I’ll let you decide which name you want.”
The lead deer (who chose the name Nick) spoke. “Now, back to whatever you were prattling about.”
“I was saying the adults are commandeering all the whiskey, and the children’s lives are still hopeless,” Snich said.
“We have noticed this,” Nick replied, “and we have come up with two possible solutions.” The rest of the deer began to nod.
“Go on,” Snich said.
“Our first option is to round up and deliver all the children to the Factory so they are in one place,” Nick said.
“Or…?” Snich added.
“Or, we kill all the adults so they can’t steal the whiskey from the little humans.”
Snich put his hands behind his back and began to pace. After a couple of moments, he began to nod. “And if we do both,” he said, “we can guarantee the children will have plenty of whiskey.”
“And,” Nick broadcast to the other deer, “with the adults out of the way, we are one step closer to domination.”
The other deer began to snort in amusement.
“All we need now is a plan,” Snich said.
Nick began to nod his great head. “I believe I have one.”
A silent signal from their leader sent A.J. and Howie away at a quick trot. Once they were gone, Nick explained his plan.
“There are certain plants in the forests that can steal the life of a human,” the deer explained. “If we add these to the whiskey, then leave it for the adults, it will be easier to collect the children and deliver them to the Factory.”
Eager to put Nick’s plan in action, Snich hurried off to start the next batch. It would be wonderful to finally bring hope to the children.
With the human gone, Nick spoke to the two remaining deer. “It is a wonder humans lasted as long as they did. Once the adults here are dead, we should have no problem convincing Snich to spread his poisonous hope to other cities.”
Kevin and Brian exchanged glances and snorted again.
“Come,” Nick said. “Let’s keep an eye on the human, lest he inadvertently ruin our plans.”
With the deer now gone, a small figure separated itself from the shadows of the rafters and made his way to the roof. Free of the building, he collected his belongings — a leather cap, goggles, leather leg-guards, and a steam-powered pack — and prepared for his return journey to the north. After strapping the pack across his shoulders, he donned the cap, leg-guards, and goggles.
The elf performed a quick pre-flight check before adjusting a pressure valve and launching himself from the roof. If he couldn’t make it to the North Pole in record time, there would be a new name at the top of the naughty list.
The Krampus Squad was the stuff of nightmares. In centuries past, this elite squad of five elves relied on masks and costumes to provide their frightful appearances, but at the dawn of the nuclear age things changed. While undertaking a training exercise on Rudolph Island, they were caught in the mutating radiation of a Russian nuclear missile test. Their hair began to fall out in great clumps for the first month. It was only after they were completely bald did their hair begin to grow, covering their entire body; it had the coarseness of that of a wild boar. Their faces began to contort, their skin shriveled and cracked, and their jaws began to elongate, filling with razor-sharp teeth, and large tusks pushed out from the corners of their mouths. Worst of all, their bodies were no longer able to tolerate the taste of sugar plums.
When Santa Claus was put into the stasis chamber at the beginning of the Third Great War, they were as well, for he was the only one who could control them. Their revival went no better than Santa’s; most of those present were treated and released from the North Pole Medical Center.
It took the presence of Santa to bring things under control.
“Boys,” he said, “we’ve got a major problem brewing down south, and it needs to be taken care of immediately.”
Snarls, howls, and growls were the only responses he received.
“It appears someone calling himself ‘Snich’ is trying to take over Christmas,” Santa continued. “The sleigh is being prepped, and as soon as it is ready, we are heading to Belgium to put an end to the problem once and for all.”
The Krampus Squad leaped in anticipation.
A grim-looking elf approached the group. “Everything is ready for your departure.” He was bowled over as the savage crew ran from the room, heading to the sleigh. Santa was hot on their tail, reminding them — loudly — not to injure any more elves.
The steam-powered sleigh and automaton reindeer sped through the evening sky. Rather than a sack full of toys for the good little boys and girls of yesteryear, Santa and the Krampus Squad flew with a vengeance. For the briefest of moments, Father Christmas almost regretted bringing the whole squad, but quickly brushed such sentiments away. Snich and those confounded red deer were trying to steal his holiday; he was going to show no mercy.
Snich was adding the last of the poison to the whiskey when he and the deer heard a clatter from up on the roof.
“Finish mixing that,” Nick said. “We will investigate.” He glanced at A.J. and mentally added, “Make sure he doesn’t make a mistake.”
The four red deer made their way through the brewery, constantly watching the skylights. Reaching out with their telepathic powers, they tried to pick up the thoughts of any intruders. All they could sense was what appeared to be the jumbled thoughts of a pack of feral beasts.
“Probably mutants,” Nick said, “but we need to make certain.”
Up on the rooftop, Santa pointed down at the four red deer and then to his own eyes; four of the Krampus nodded in reply. Santa and the remaining Krampus crept away, knowing the four would continue to watch until they heard Santa’s signal.
Snich and A.J. both received a message from Nick. “It looks like something might be on the roof, but we haven’t been able to get a good look to confirm that. Keep working, but stay alert.”
Moving with the stealthy grace for which he had become known in centuries past, Santa Claus, followed closely by the Krampus, made their way to an old exhaust pipe that led to the kettle room. The old man took a deep breath and concentrated. His body began to contort and reshape itself until he was able to easily pass through the pipe and down into the brewery. The Krampus followed suit.
The pair landed silently, instantly regaining their natural shape. Santa held up a hand for the other to remain silent. After listening for a moment, he pointed to the Krampus. Nostrils flared, and the mutated elf held up two fingers. He raised one finger while pointing at Santa, then a second finger before raising both hands to the sides of his head, imitating a deer.
Santa nodded, raised his fist, and silently counted to three. He and the Krampus stepped into the open.
“Ho, ho, ho, chowder-heads!” Santa bellowed.
Up on the rooftop, Santa’s words reached the keen ears of the four remaining squad members. With filthy claws extended and howls rising in their throats, the North Pole’s elite warriors leaped from the building and onto the unsuspecting red deer.
Kevin was the first to go down, the added weight of his attacker snapping his front right leg. Panic prevented him from mounting any sort of defense.
Howie and Brian also went down, but managed to roll over the Krampus and scramble back to their feet. Howie sustained a vicious rake to his rear left flank; the pain and burning it left was enough to convince him he had just received a lethal dose of unholy poison from the creature’s claw. Brian, on the other hand, managed to land a solid kick to the chest of his assailant. His blow drew wicked laughter from the Krampus.
Nick was the only one who managed a successful counter-attack. He was able to loose a full blast of mental energy at the final Krampus. Knocked hard to the ground, he showed no sign of rising anytime soon. Nick trotted over and began to stomp on the mutated elf’s unconscious body. A grunt from Brian drew his attention to the other skirmishes.
Howie and Kevin were both down and not moving, something neither of them would ever do again. Brian was now surrounded and covered in wounds; Nick knew he was as good as lost. Turning away, he raced into the brewery.
A.J. stepped between Snich and the newcomers. The ugly one looked to be the most dangerous, but the big man in red worried him more. There was something about the way he carried himself that made the deer nervous.
“Consider this your only warning,” Santa said. “Leave my holiday alone.”
It might have been a moment of unexpected courage (more than likely, however, it was the untainted whiskey he had kept for himself), but Snich felt the need to defend himself.
“You look almost like the picture from the book,” he said, “but this is my gig.”
“Son,” Santa said, stepping closer, “unless you are planning to spend eternity at the top of the naughty list, step away from the kettle.”
A.J. bit into Snich’s shirt and pulled him back. “I don’t believe you should antagonize him,” he projected to the human.
“You should listen to your pet,” Santa said.
The deer snorted in disbelief. “You can hear my thoughts?”
“The whole sleeping, awake, good or bad thing,” Santa replied. “Didn’t this idiot share the song with you?”
“No,” A.J. said, “he did not.”
“Hey,” Snich protested, “the idiot is right here… I mean, I’m right here.”
A.J. and Santa exchanged glances, and both rolled their eyes and in unison said, “Shut up.”
As Snich stammered, Santa and the deer continued their conversation.
“So,” A.J. said. “This whole naughty list… does it apply to telepathic mutant red deer?”
“What do you think?” Santa asked.
The red deer bowed his head. “I think I would like to leave.”
“You aren’t going anywhere,” Nick projected. “No one is.”
A.J. looked at Nick, then at Santa. “What do I do?”
“Do nothing,” Santa advised.
“Kill them!” Nick demanded. “Kill all humans!” With that command, he loosed a telepathic blast at Santa and the accompanying Krampus.
The Krampus staggered back, but the man in red stood unfazed. Again and again, the red deer used his mind-blasts against Father Christmas, but to no avail.
“Why won’t you fall?”
Santa shook his head in pity. Looking past the maniacal mutant, he saw the arrival of the rest of the Krampus Squad — all four of them.
Nick craned his head around and found himself surrounded.
“Give up,” A.J. suggested. “It’s over.”
All traces of sanity left the red deer’s eyes as he charged toward Santa. He only made it a few yards before the clawed hands of the squad caught him and dragged him down and away. His cries of madness echoed in the hall until, suddenly, there was silence.
Santa turned his attention to Snich.
The would-be joy-bringer looked at Santa, A.J., and the returning Krampus Squad.
“What are we going to do with you?” Santa asked.
“Let me go?” Snich offered.
“After what you have done?” Santa asked. “Not bloody likely.”
“Then… what are you going to do with me?” Snich asked.
“This doesn’t taste like rat,” Snich commented to the elf.
“It isn’t,” the elf replied.
“Then what is it?”
The elf rolled his eyes. “Does it matter? You’re getting fed; be thankful.”
“But… what is it?” Snich whined.
“It’s sugar plums,” the elf said. “You’re eating sugar plums; and before you ask, you’re drinking eggnog. And it is the same thing you will be getting tomorrow and every day after that for the next two years.”
With that, he stepped back and pulled a lever. There was a burst of steam, followed by a shrill whistle, then a great solid gear began to roll in a track until it came to rest in front of Snich’s cell. Never before had the elf questioned Santa’s judgment, but for just a moment he could understand why the big guy hadn’t just left him to the Krampus Squad.