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I don’t hide the fact that I hate Christmas. Call me a proverbial Scrooge, insult me to no end, but every year I feel a dread greater than anyone who hates the holiday season could ever claim.

If you know me personally, you’d assume it’s because of my younger brother’s disappearance, and you’d be right for the most part. It happened one Christmas morning when by all rights, the two of us should have been sitting by our tree opening presents and making treasured childhood memories. Instead I was treated with a day of police frantically searching our house and neighborhood while questioning my distraught parents.

They questioned me too of course, but as a ten year old girl I didn’t have much to say. I told them that he and I had gone to bed, excited for what the next day had in store for us, and that was the last I saw of him. He just never came down to open his gifts, and that’s when my mother discovered his room was empty.

But that was a lie. I do know what happened to Chris. I know who took him away. And I know that if I told the truth no one would believe me, then or now.

Santa kidnapped my brother.

Please don’t laugh. I know how it sounds – and you’re right – it sounds ridiculous! He can’t be real, and even if he was, he’s supposed to be nice to children. But I know what I saw – and it wasn’t some lunatic in a Santa suit either. That man was as real as a winter wind that chills you down to the bone.

I suppose I should start by telling you how all this started. Before the holiday was ruined for my family, that Christmas Eve we all left out cookies for Santa, talked about what we hoped he would bring, and then our parents read The Night Before Christmas to my brother and I; all of them cheerful, mundane traditions for our family. What was different that final year was I was noticeably less enthusiastic about the whole process.

It was the first year I had openly stopped believing in Santa Claus. I was a strange and cynical child, much to the concern of my parents. To tell you the truth, until that fateful night I had never really been a believer in Santa Claus. I mostly just played along to please adults, but that year I was tired of all the acting.

That’s one of the many ways we differed so much, my brother and I. You see, Chris was a young, energetic, and curious boy. I remember the year he was taken was also the one where he had found where our parents were hiding our unwrapped gifts weeks ahead of time. He refused to tell his own big sister what she was going to be getting though. Figures, I guess.

More importantly however, being three years younger than me, he was still very much a believer. My flat denials of the existence of Santa Claus only served as a challenge to him, and he was determined to prove otherwise.

We were heading up the stairs to bed when he got my attention.

“Stay up with me!” he said as he tugged at my pajama sleeve. “I’ll show you, he’s real. We’ll catch him in the act! I bet we’ll be the first ones to have ever done it! And I’m sure he’ll give us all kinds of stuff when we do.”

I sighed.

“I’d rather just get some sleep Chris,” I told him. “You can go on believing if you want, but I don’t have to just to have a good Christmas.”

I always tried to avoid being such a damper on his spirit, and I thought convincing him to forget his harebrained schemes would be better than waiting up half the night just to see his disappointment.

“Oh, come on sis!” he cried. “Do I always have to make you have fun? If it weren’t for me, you’d turn into a boring old lady just like Mrs. Henderson.”

I must have made a disgusted face, because Chris laughed, gave a mischievous grin and said, “Well, what’s it going to be Mrs. Henderson? Are we gonna catch Santa in the act or not?”

Mrs. Henderson was my 4th grade teacher and I despised the old crone with a passion. Chris knew how to push my buttons.

“All right short stuff, you’re on,” I said with more bravado than I actually felt. “First to fall asleep has to wait till New Year’s to open their gift from Santa.”

Chris’ eyes flashed with excitement at the wager. “I’ll take that bet!”

So we went to our rooms to wait for our parents’ turn to go to bed. After the lights downstairs went out, I waited about a half hour just to make sure they were asleep, and I crept out of my bed and sneaked my way downstairs. I saw that there was a light on in the living room. Chris was sitting casually near the fireplace.

“What took you so long?” he asked. Always the confident one.

“I waited for mom and dad to get to sleep, idiot,” I replied. “They’re not going to be too happy if they find us here.”

With an unceremonious plop, I sat down on the couch, directly in front of the fireplace.

“So how do you expect to stay up the entire night?” I asked.

“I imagine I’ll figure it out,” Chris said.

I’m not sure how long we waited there for the so-called St. Nick to appear, but Chris looked almost ready to doze off when we were shocked awake by something that must have been large and heavy hitting the roof. After a short pause there was a sound of shuffling and the scraping of feet. I was sure I heard the ringing of little bells.

“Oh man!” Christ whispered in awe. “It’s really him!”

For a moment I wondered why mom and dad weren’t awoken by any of this, all this racket was enough to wake the dead, but that train of thought stopped when chimney soot started sprinkling down into the fireplace. Chris dashed over to me and shook my shoulders.

“What did I tell you? He’s real! He’s real!”

Unlike Chris, I didn’t think there was any supernatural explanation behind this strange occurrence. I was convinced it was a burglar finding their way in through unconventional means. I sat, stiffly staring at the fireplace for a few moments unsure of what to do, until I rose and dived underneath the couch to hide.

“What are you doing?” Chris cried in bewilderment. “He’s coming!”

“Get down!” I whispered fiercely at him. “We don’t know who that really is!”

Chris opened his mouth to protest but a voice let out a grunt from the chimney, and it spooked him enough to find a spot of his own. He hid behind dad’s large leather lounge chair in the corner.

A few moments later a final, loud thump came, and the front of our fireplace was obscured by all the soot rushing out into the air. I covered my mouth and nose trying desperately to prevent myself from coughing. When it finally settled, the sight gave my cynical mind a serious shock.

The old man that stood before me really was someone dressed as Santa Claus, and he looked every inch the part. His body was the perfect size, he had the long white beard, and his outfit was a beautifully made red jacket and pants. His face contained the soft, loving features of an old man enjoying the moment.

What surprised me the most about this strange man was even though he had just entered through our musty chimney, there wasn’t single speck of soot on him. It was almost as if anything that could mar his perfect appearance was naturally repelled.

I was finally convinced he was the real deal by what came next. Throwing his sack of presents over his shoulder, Santa stepped away from the fireplace and a short elf-girl emerged to follow him. The elf had pointed ears, a glistening green suit, and was so short she only came up to Santa’s knee. Unlike the jolly old man, she seemed terrified to take a single step into our home. She looked all around as if there was some terrible threat in the room, and seemed only slightly relieved when she mistakenly thought it was empty.

Santa noticed her fear, but rather than reassure her as would be expected, for a fraction of a second his kind face changed into a look of pure, horrifying malice. It was like the kind old man had been replaced by an insane, merciless master only to return a nanosecond later.

The elf’s mood changed on a dime. In short order she was filling our stockings with small toys and candy with a smile plastered onto her face that seemed ready to crack at any moment. Being so short, she had to use some kind of magic to levitate so she could get within reach.

With purposeful, yet quiet footsteps Santa made his way to our tree. Taking two presents from his bag, he placed them in the proper spot and went to where we had left his traditional snack. The elf was done with her job too, but Santa wasn’t inclined to share with his companion. Now that she was towing the line, he barely even acknowledged her presence. She just stood there next to him, waiting for him to finish, wringing her hands in nervous movements.

On its face this whole scene like something ripped straight from a Christmas television special, but even at my young age I could tell that something more was going on. What I’m trying to say is it seemed like they where attempting to appear whimsical for whimsy’s sake. Like it was all one big act they were putting on. The little elf barely passed as a convincing actress, and Santa’s momentary lapse only cemented my suspicions. It was something I was unable to articulate fully at the time, but I can now: it looked like a ruse.

Chris fell for it right away though. He must have been too young to notice the sinister signs that I had been able to pick up on. From my angle on the floor I could see him clearly in his own hiding spot. The look on his face told me everything I needed to know. He was completely enamored with these two people. To my horror, he slowly crept out from behind the chair.

I wanted to call out to him, to tell him to stay right where he was, that these two were strangers, that there was no way to tell what would happen once they knew we were there, but that would have given us both away. It’s not like he wouldn’t have listened to me either. How many kids out there can’t help but trust Santa Claus?

“Wow…” he whispered to our bizarre intruders. “It’s really you!”

At this both Santa and his elf turned to find Chris standing in the middle of the room. Both had this faux expression of surprise that only served to unsettle me further.

“Waiting up for us I see,” Santa commented with a warm smile.

“Yeah!” Chris said cheerfully. “I wanted to prove that you were really real and everything!”

“And it seems you have.” Santa replied with a chuckle. He sat down in my father’s chair and motioned to Chris to sit with him, to which he obliged.

“Oh man, I’ve got so many questions!” Chris exclaimed. “Are the reindeer on the roof? Can I see them? What’s it like living at the North Pole? Oh, I wish I could see it someday!”

“All in good time,” Santa said grinning at his remark. Maybe to some it would have looked like a friendly expression, but to me it was a smile that seemed to contain the self-satisfaction of winning a game.

As for the elf, she had lost all color in her face. She made no move whatsoever as the two sat together, but her expression was enough to tell me that something horrible was about to happen.

“I knew you were real! I just knew it!” Chris said. “And all the big kids at school give us such a hard time about it. Even sis was loosing it too! Just wait until everyone hears about this!”

“They won’t Chris,” Santa said, clasping his gloved hand over my brother’s shoulder.

“Huh? Why not?” he asked confused. “Do I have to keep it secret?”

Santa laughed a deep, evil laugh that was too much unlike his fabled ‘ho, ho, ho.’

“Do you honestly think that you’ve been the only one to ever see me? That throughout history, the many little children of the world haven’t done the same as you?”

Chris shifted uncomfortably in the man’s lap. “I guess not.”

“You see Chris,” Santa began, “Children are not to be trusted. They’re the ignorant, greedy, and selfish offspring of humans; a greedy and selfish race to begin with. Over the years I’ve been able to sustain myself on these human qualities, and humans have happily whitewashed my persona in order to satiate their desires without guilt. It’s the perfect season for it; don’t you agree my dear boy?”

The excitement in Chris’ face was all but gone now. He was finally starting to get it.

“The children who seek me out always want something,” Santa said. “More meaningless possessions, satisfaction of curiosity, or simple proof are only a few examples. However, there is always a price to be paid for breaking the rules and finding something that is not meant to be found.”

Throughout this conversation, the elf began to gather the gifts they had brought with a hint of reluctance. She even managed to make the cookies Santa ate magically reappear. She was ridding the house of any evidence of their presence.

Santa’s hand squeezed Chris’ shoulder tightly.

“I’m always looking for more helpers,” he continued. “Children who have seen me, who could never keep such a secret are the perfect candidates.”

My brother’s face turned to an expression of absolute fear. He now realized his fatal error.

“You are not the first,” he said, “You certainly won’t be the last.”

Turning to his elf Santa barked out a command, “Annabelle! It’s time! Change him now!”

“No! Pl-please, I-” the elf stammered. “Please don’t make me…”

Santa gave her a cruel look of disdain and waved his hand towards her in an odd way. I was horrified to see the elf suddenly start clawing frantically at her face, digging her nails into her own skin. She screeched in pain, unable to stop harming herself. Santa waved his hand again, releasing her from her torture. Her face was now covered in scratches and dripping with blood.

Chris screamed and dove off Santa's lap, trying to rush out of the room, but the old man made another strange wave with his hand and Chris stopped in his tracks. As if possessed, my brother turned around to face him, his eyes wide with fear. He was under that awful man’s control.

“Don’t you see? It’s too late for you now!” he said triumphantly. “Accept your fate!”

With a smug grin Santa looked to his companion.

“I should really start having you all wear red,” he said in mocking tone. “At least then the blood wouldn’t show so much. Are you going to do as you’re told now, Annabelle, or do I have to think of something worse for you?”

The elf let out a heavy sob and looked up to my terrified brother.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a sad, high-pitched voice. From where I was I could see her tears mingling with blood as she took a little silver wand hidden in the folds of her clothes. She pointed it directly at my brother, and a blinding flash filled the room.

It took some time for my sight to recover, but when it did I saw the Chris I knew disappearing before me. His whole body looked like it was melting before my eyes; unnecessary flesh falling away and reshaping itself.

When the transformation was over, he was shorter and squatter. His ears came out to sharp points; his nose was round and flush as if he had been out in the cold. Even his clothes had changed to a uniform similar to Santa’s companion-only red this time. His new elf appearance was a caricature of his former self.

He must have been so scared. Looking down at his new form, he could only let out a pitiful squeak. So was I, as I lay frozen underneath the couch clutching the carpet.

As that awful, obese man and strange crying elf dragged my newly turned brother into our fireplace, Chris looked down and stared directly at me, his expression a desperate cry for help. But what could I do? How could I fight off two, magical beings without getting myself into the same horrible situation? So I did nothing.

I still have nightmares about that.

With Chris in tow, they shot up the chimney all together through their strange magic, and that was the last I ever saw of my little brother. For almost the entire night I stayed under the couch, softly crying. In my state of shock I had no strength to do much else, but as I saw the sun slowly rise from the windows, I knew it was safe to crawl out of my hiding place and find my way back to my room. The rest, I guess is history.

To this day I won’t have anything to do with this terrible holiday. I don’t decorate. I don’t give out gifts. I don’t go to parties. I won’t even live in a house with a chimney or fireplace. Hell, I even refuse to visit houses with one this time of year.

Don’t even get me started about the mall or streetcorner Santas; I just keep to my apartment as much as I can. In my paranoia, I really just turn into a cheerless shut-in a month out of the year because I know that somewhere in the world there will be more unlucky children going missing.

I still don’t know why I didn’t meet the same fate as my brother. Has he never told his captors that I was there too? Could he really keep a secret for that long? Could they somehow…pry…the truth out of him? Every year since that night I’ve been terrified that they’ll finally come for me.

Perhaps what keeps me safe is the fact that I’ve stayed quiet all these years, never telling anyone what really happened. I can only assume that Chris has done the same.

Anyone out there must be wondering why I’d say anything about it now. To be honest, I want to because… I’m not sure what that fat bastard could do to me…I mean there’s no way he could turn a fully grown adult into an elf, right? But most of all I want to know what’s become of Chris. It hurts to think what could have happened to him over all these years, and I need to find out.

Maybe if I share my story with the world, somebody out there will give me some answers. Maybe there’s some way I could help him. I’m willing to take the risk. I just hope all the disturbing possibilities I’ve imagined won’t come to pass.

Christmas Eve is coming. Wish me luck.

Credited to Stephenie Selby