“I suppose you deserve that much,” said Santa Claus, dragging a coffee table through the gremlin sludge and resting his behemoth buttocks on top of it. “I take it you all know Dasher and Dancer and –”
“The reindeer, yeah,” said Queen Victoria XXX. “What about ‘em?”
“Well, the ones I flew with obviously weren’t the only reindeer I kept around, and Rudolph … well, he wasn’t the only mutant in the bunch, either.”
“So the Krampus …”
“Is Rudolph’s brother, yes,” said the fat man grimly. “But unlike Rudolph, Krampus was born evil, slaughtering elves and other reindeer almost as soon as he was able to walk. Mrs. Claus, God rest her soul –”
“Which god?” asked Thor.
“– wanted to put Krampus down, but, well, I thought – naively, in hindsight – that he could help me, the way his brother did, that he could put a scare into the naughtier children. I did so hate delivering coal.”
“Awww,” cooed Boudica IX.
“Oh, no, not like that. It was just heavy and dirty and damaging to the planet.”
“Krampus,” continued the enormous old man, “well, he was good at his job, maybe too good. As years passed he started hurting the children, kidnapping them, selling them to various devils and demons when I wasn’t looking. Cults sprang up in his name across what used to be Europe, doing the same things. So, seeing no other options, I locked up Krampus in the deepest sub-basement of the toy factory.”
“You could have killed him,” said Chester A. Arthur XVII.
“And maybe I should have,” said Santa Claus, his cloudy eyes distant, “but … that’s not who I am, I didn’t – I don’t – have the capacity for killing, justified or not, in me. And after Mrs. Claus passed … I was in a dark place. I – I had my own more metaphorical demons to fight, and I forgot about the very real one in the basement.”
“OK, with you so far, but why does he live inside of you?” asked Thor.
“Is that why you’re so giant?” asked Boudica IX.
“You seem really fixated on my weight, Bo,” said Santa.
“Well, there’s really a lot of it.”
“The weight, the … blubber … That was a survival mechanism, Boudica, a natural evolution over the centuries, a way to survive in the Arctic.” Santa Claus exhaled through his nose. “But I still had to … maintain that weight. And given my line of work, who I am … I … I became addicted to cookies, dangerously so. There was a point where I was genuinely worried that I was going to eat myself to death. But no matter what I did, what I tried, I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t find any help that actually helped. So when the opportunity came to blow it all up, to stop being Santa Claus, to distance myself from the cookies and the cold, I did. The Torrent Wars were raging and I realized, if I detonated my workshop, if I got everyone out and blew the reactor, I could stop them, I could end the siege of the Torrenters and my own existence in one fell swoop.
“But … But I messed up,” he continued, eyes on the floor. “The nuclear core of the workshop … I – I didn’t build it, I’m not a scientist, never have been … The explosion was a lot bigger than I’d anticipated. I … I ending up burning down half the world, mutating the elves into those maniacal gremlins, and … and I didn’t die. I can’t die. But, apparently, I can get fused with reindeer mutants, with Krampus, my figurative demons merging with the literal. Depressed and despondent and falling back on old habits, I soon discovered that cookies were the way to release the monster inside of me.
“So I went into hiding, locked myself away. But then those Snow Goons found me, drove me out of my home, trying to kill me because of the Krampus inside.”
“Whoa,” said Thor.
“Whoa, indeed, thunder god.”
“So … what now?” asked Queen Victoria XXX.
“I go back into hiding,” said Santa Claus, lifting his bulk from the now-damaged coffee table. “Maybe retreat to the Whole Foods Wilderness, where there are no cookies, or at least not good ones, with sugar and lard and … and …”
He shook his head. “I should get going. Thank you, all of you, again.”
“But mostly me and Vicky, right?” asked Boudica IX.
The man built like a pair of walruses smiled and waddled outside, snow falling across the plaza. Laughing heartily, he put out his tongue.
“Santa?” asked Queen Victoria XXX, barefoot and hugging herself against the cold.
“Yes, my dear?”
“That’s radioactive fallout.”
“I literally just said that,” said Thor.
“Oh.” The fat man spit a few times. “Right. I knew that.”
With a trilling whistle, the cloaking shield surrounding Santa Claus’s sleigh dissolved, revealing a sled with nine reindeer parked neatly on the brick of the plaza just past the hotel’s doors.
“Is he –” asked Rudolph.
“He’s OK,” said Santa Claus, scratching behind the reindeer’s ear, “but we need to make sure he won’t be coming back for a while.”
Rudolph nestled his glowing nose into the fat man’s shoulder.
And with that, Santa Claus climbed into the sleigh, pulling the reins into his hands. The reindeer stretched and stamped. Then, before he drove out of sight, the man in the red suit turned toward his newfound friends, winked, and called out, “HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL –”
“It’s merry, dude,” said Thor.
“And it’s Holiday Day Week,” added Boudica IX.
The fat man lowered his eyes. “Just turn around, you dopes.”
They did. The lobby was decorated as all get out: the Pagan Celebration Tree was decorated and lit, tinsel garlands and lights surrounded the room. Nutcrackers and stuffed bears and poinsettias stood on tables. There were no gremlin guts, no shattered furniture to be found. And, beneath the tree, all their presents were boxed and wrapped again, along with a few new ones.
“Huh,” said Chester A. Arthur XVII.
“Well, that was easy,” said Queen Victoria XXX. “Maybe we should guilt a magic fat man into doing our decorating every year.”