This time last year, I posted this story on a friend’s website, Seakay’s Guide to Storytelling, and it was blessed with a lonely like and an even lonelier, single view. Aww. Nonetheless, it’s not as bad as the stats suggest; in fact, it’s quite good. Probably. Hopefully…
I was leaving the cafe, searching for the last of my candy cane coffee with a straw, when the Mall Manager phoned me.
“Hello, Damien speaking,” I said.
“Damien,” the Mall Manager replied. “We’ve been receiving complaints about the Santa Claus in the grotto. Apparently the children are unhappy with the gifts he’s handing out and he’s being aggressive towards the parents. Would you mind going over to take a look?”
“Absolutely,” dreams of a quiet Christmas on the job now in ruins. “I’ll head over shortly.”
I was greeted by a disgruntled parent, face red as a robin redbreast, teary daughter by her side.
“How has this happened?” she said.
“How has what happened?” I replied.
“This,” she said, shoving a black plastic box into my hands.
I studied it, rather heavy for something no bigger than a Christmas pudding, and there was a faint ticking noise coming from inside.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I have no idea – we can’t get it open. Poor Sarah’s upset and so are the kids over there.”
Another adult came over. “Who is that man?” he said. “He’s not Santa.”
“Well obviously,” I said, “Santa’s not real.”
Sarah bore a frozen face of disbelief.
“Of course he’s not real.”
Then she turned into a blizzard of anguish. Her mum shook her head at us before trying to console the wailing child.
“I mean he’s not the Santa from the poster,” the father continued. “He looks nothing like him. And have you seen the presents he’s handing out? A chunk of meat fell out of mine.”
I unpinned a nearby poster and took it with me to the grotto. Daddy was right, the Mall Santa hadn’t a snowy beard but one of sleety grey, his red robes were white rags and his brandy warm smile had iced over.
“Excuse me,” I said to him as a child left his lap. “I can’t help but notice you look a little different to the Father Christmas on here.”
“Listen, buddy,” he said. “It’s been a difficult few years for me. Work’s been hard to come by since his death.”
“Since whose death?”
“Bin Laden,” he replied. “Since he was killed, everyone’s forgotten about him. There’s no demand for Osama impersonators anymore.”
“Was there ever a demand for Osama Bin Laden lookalikes?”
“I’m not a lookalike, I’m an impersonator. I don’t just sit cross-legged with an AK propped up beside me, I do his whole repertoire.”
“What, like shitting in a bucket and living in a cave?”
“Wow, real original, great joke.”
The next child in line sat on his knee.
“Not as bad as your outfit,” I said, “that’s the real joke. You could’ve at least bought a Santa costume.”
“Like I said, work’s been hard to come by, so I’m reusing all that I can.” He sighed, apologising to the young boy. “I’ve barely got enough money for rent, I’ve been living in a cave for a while now.”
“And it’s okay for you to make that joke, is it?”
“It’s not a joke, it’s the truth.”
“Is it now?”
“Do you think I’d lie to you?”
“Yes. I’m talking to you because you’ve lied to everyone here. You’re the worst Father Christmas impersonator there’s ever been.”
“But I make a great Bin Laden, don’t I?”
“I don’t know, sure you’re a lookalike but I haven’t seen much impersonating.”
Osama Bin Santa shoved the kid off his lap, launching him into the queuing children. Two toppled down, smashing their heads against the floor tiles and erupting in tears.
“It’s the Twin Towers!” fake Father Christmas cried. “Hear the screaming infidels as I strike terror into their lives.”
“They’re not towers, they’re children. What the hell do you think you’re doing, throwing kids about?”
“Ooh, what do you think you’re doing, being angry in front of the little ones? Are you trying to ruin their Christmases?”
“I’m trying to save their Christmases from you.”
“I’m only here to spread joy.”
“You haven’t spread joy, only little boys.”
“A rapist? I’m not a rapist.”
“Not like that, you’ve been hurling them around. They’re not bloody rubber balls, they’re people.”
“It was just the one, officer.”
“That doesn’t make it any better.”
“And it doesn’t make it any worse.”
“Well… No… No it doesn’t. But that’s not the point.”
“Point is these greedy, little bastards want mountains of toys from me and I can’t even afford to buy one for myself.”
“You buy yourself Christmas presents?”
“Who else will? I’ve no family, nobody to give me one or smooch me beneath the mistletoe.”
“Right, I’m sorry to hear that. But you’re not helping yourself here, you know we’re not paying you for this.”
“Why? I’m doing my job.”
“You’re doing someone else’s job, and not very well. What happened to the real Santa anyway?”
“Nothing, he doesn’t exist.”
“Yes, I know that–”
“So why did you ask?”
“I meant what’s happened to the Mall Santa who’s supposed to be here instead of you?”
“He doesn’t exist-”
“What do you mean, doesn’t exist anymore?”
“Well, I tell a lie. He still exists. Somewhere. But he’s not very real, as in his body’s still about, probably, although his spirit or soul or whatever is gone. I think.”
“Are you saying he’s dead?”
“Yeah, if you want to shout it out in front of the kids, I killed Father Christmas.”
The sound of children crying en masse was beyond the torture any self-respecting Islamic extremist could inflict, except for Osama Bin Santa of course, who quite enjoyed the inferno of anguish and the equally raging parents. He wore a big grin when a mother slapped his face and called him a ‘fucking shit-licking monster’.
“Listen,” I said. “This is serious now. Did you kill the actual Mall Santa?”
“Does a Sikh wash his hair or his turban?”
“Huh? What the fuck does that mean?”
“The answer is both.”
“He is dead and alive.”
“No he’s not, he can’t be.”
“If you insist.”
“I insist that he must be one or the other.”
“How can you be so sure? We can’t see him – he’s Schrodinger’s Santa.”
“And he’s locked in a box with poison and some radioactive shit, right?”
“Could be. But how do we know the box is locked if it’s not before our very eyes?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe you remember?”
“Hmm, you know what? I don’t actually.”
“Then perhaps you and the police could piece together this mystery.”
“No need. The box is unlocked and I didn’t kill him.”
“Earlier you confessed that you did kill Santa.”
“And now I’m confessing that I didn’t.”
“It doesn’t work like that, you can’t be innocent and guilty for the same crime.”
“Not unless I did the crime while locked inside an opaque box.”
“Did you kill him while locked inside an opaque box?”
“No, just before he got into the mall this morning, I rammed a candy cane down his throat and choked him to death, a taste of his own medicine – you can’t even walk with them.”
“And where’s the poor guy now?”
“He wouldn’t fit in the dumpsters so I had to cut him up and hide bits of him around the mall.”
“Bits of him?”
“Uhuh, shoved a leg inside one of the golf bags in the sports shop, hid his fingers in the café’s coffee beans, arms in the bakery – they looked like big, meaty baguettes–”
“You put his severed fingers with the coffee beans?” I retched. “Jesus Christ.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, had to conceal them somewhere, didn’t I? Couldn’t chuck body parts around like they’re human confetti.”
“No, I guess that would’ve been much worse than killing a man and mutilating his dead body. Where’s his torso, his guts? And where’s his head?”
“See that clothes shop? I stuck his melon onto one of the mannequins in the window. Can’t wait until it opens and the shutters rise to reveal such a beautiful display.”
“And the rest of him?”
“These presents of mine, not all of them tick,” he said, gifting me one. “The ones that contain human body parts don’t tick, a human heart doesn’t actually tick like a damn clock, it’s just called a ticker because every beat brings you closer to death.”
I opened the box, revealing this awful, slimy, brown lump that looked more like the stuff you’d find inside the insides.
“Ooh,” Osama said, “you wouldn’t make a face like that if it was torn from a chicken’s belly, mushed into a pâté and served on toast, would you?”
“It’s not that bad.”
“It’s human offal and it’s repulsive. Why on earth would you give chunks of a dead man’s organs to children?”
“I don’t have much money, do I? What else was I going to give them?”
“How about a pack of swords, a glass of mercury, a goat’s hoof or a horse with a gaping, great hole in its head?”
“I see, a funny man.” Bin Santa mimed a phone call, “Security. Yes, we’ve got a funny man down here, a real Joking Johnny. That’s right, looks like a memento of his mother’s vicious rape. Can you remove him, please? He’s spraying laughter around like it’s a bukkake bash down here.”
“And that’s not funny, or…?”
“It shouldn’t be for you.”
“Good. Because it’s not. I’m not going to let comments like that bring me down.” I dialled for security, using an actual phone. “Martin, it’s Damien. The parents are right, he’s not the Mall Santa we hired, he’s an absolute scrotum of a man who’s confessed to a murder and is pretending to be Osama Bin Laden. That’s right, looks like the contents of a dung beetle’s stomach. Call the police, I’ll hold him.”
“Get the police to fight your battles for you?”
“It’ll be less of a battle and more of a walkover, you’ve already confessed to your crimes.”
“I could shoot them before they arrest me.”
Sure enough, from beneath his robes he pulled out an AK-47 and peered down its barrel. “Yep, still got bullets in it.”
“I suggest you put that down.”
“You’ll shoot me with it.”
“Yes, maybe I will. Or maybe you, the grown-ups and the kids will form a big, protective circle around me right fucking now. Hold onto your presents and keep close together, we don’t want any baddies getting in.”
“Do as he says. The police will save us soon.”
The crowd formed a ring several metres wide, Osama alone in the centre.
“I thought you were going to save their Christmases?”
“I didn’t think you could ruin it this much; you’ve destroyed their entire lives, you’re an eternal Scrooge.”
“Well, excuse me for having a gun, pushing children over, butchering a man and sharing portions of his sumptuous meat with everyone, not to mention the other gift of mine.”
“What other gift?”
“I’m not going to say.”
A squadron of officers stormed through the main entrance. “Police, don’t move!”
“What other gift?” I said.
“Shh, or you’ll miss it.”
Explosions and flashes of light ran around us, bang, bang, bang, a million Christmas crackers ripped apart at once, becoming a circle of smoke and a ring of fire.
As the cops closed in, there was nothing other than smouldering bodies and fragments of the ticking boxes, silent as our hearts. Osama Bin Santa too was gone, no trace of him left behind, apart from the carnage he’d caused. Somewhere he exists, but whether dead or alive, I just don’t know.