What happens at the North Pole when the elves are dead, Santa is sick, and Judy Claus is stuck for solutions?  I wrote this story in 2009 for a horror-themed holiday fiction contest, and it got as far as to be one of the finalists.  Enjoy!

Under normal circumstances, the person who answered the front door at Jeff’s knock wouldn’t be smiling.  On this Christmas Eve, Judy Claus beamed at him while exhaling a deep sigh of relief. “Thank you so much for coming so quickly,” she said, ushering him through the peppermint painted workshop door. “Can I take your scythe?”

Instinctively, Jeff gripped the hardwood handle. “Thank you no,” he said. “I have to keep it with me at all times. You know how it is.” 

“Indeed I do.” Judy led him down a short hall, bright with a cascade of tiny gumdrop lights. They came into a sitting room, where two plush chairs stood near a red brick fireplace complete with a perfect fire. Judy motioned to Jeff to take a seat, and then sat down herself. 

Jeff was thinking how the whole place seemed empty and eerily quiet.  Eerily even for him.“Where is Kris?” 

Judy cradled her head in her hands. “That’s why I called you, Jeff. We’ve never had an emergency like this before. Kris is down and out and in bed, and the elves all died last week.” 

“I saw all the little lumps of snow on my way here,” Jeff said. “Elf tombs, if I’m not mistaken. What’s going on, Judy?” 

“It’s the Pig Sick. You must know all about the Pig Sick.  Happy Snappy Elf went down into the world to be in some holiday parade.  He caught himself the Pig Sick. Now Happy Snappy Elf is one of those snow mounds you saw.  He brought the Pig Sick here.  Now Kris is down with the Pig Sick and I’m desperate.”

“Seems an odd time for Death to come to the rescue.”

 “Exactly!  You’re Death. You’re part of this Figmentsphere. You’re the only one I can trust.” 

Jeff might have been a skeleton but his mind remained fleshy sharp. True, he and Kris Kringle and Judy June had all been dorm mates at Figment College.  Jeff had been best man when Kris married Judy.  They had all stayed tight friends in spite of occupational differences. But asking Death to be Santa Claus? Did Judy have any idea what she was doing? 

Then again, what choice did she have? 

Judy led Jeff off to the stables. The reindeer, or what was left of the reindeer—Comet, Blitzen, and Rudolf had all succumbed to the Pig Sick as well—stood at attention when they saw Judy. Then an amazing yowl and the stomping of rhythmic hooves rose from the reindeer, a sound of savage panic and fear. In an instant, they had jumped their gates and bolted for the opposite end of the stable, away from the presence of Death.

“I don’t know how they are for flying, but they run fine,” Jeff said. 

Judy let loose a naughty word she’d picked up back in college and only rarely got a chance to use, usually after four straight hours of Kris practicing his ho-ho-ho. “I hadn’t thought of this, Jeff. The reindeer know who you are. They might be as dumb as fruitcake about most things, but they know all about saving their own bobtails.” 

“This doesn’t bode well.” Jeff chipped at an ice patch with the bottom of his scythe. “NORAD is fine with a sled and reindeer.  I don’t know how they’ll take to Death in a sleigh. Maybe I can take some elves with me?” 

“What elves?”  Shaking her head, Judy explained, “If we had elves I would give you as many as you need. But, you know, the Pig Sick is especially bad for creatures with the immunity of taffy.” 

“So they’re all dead.” Jeff glanced around, listening to the wind whistle through the hollow stable. 

“Every one.” Judy whipped an embroidered handkerchief from her apron and dabbed at her eyes. “We had universal elf care, too. But we were too late. I’d think you would have known about this.” 

With slight indignation, Jeff replied, “Judy, I have enough to do in the human realm. I don’t have time for fantasy fairytale creatures. Now tell me, exactly how am I supposed to pull this off?” 

“All right Jeff, I’m going to let you in on the biggest secret at the North Pole.” Judy leaned into his black cloaked figure and motioned as if whispering into his ear. “That Clement Moore fellow—may tainted plum pudding take him!—got everything wrong. All of it.  Can you imagine circling the globe in one night with enough toys and crap for every little blighter who’s been brainwashed into believing?  It ain’t gonna happen.  Hell, I don’t cook.  I don’t even know what a sugar plum is.  A long winter’s nap sounds more like your usual territory.”


“Anyway, what Kris brings is presence. Presence! Not presents! It’s his presence what puts gifts under the tree. He doesn’t literally bring presents himself. So now here we are, completely distorted by the media. Our dead letter office is the largest on the planet. You think Kris reads all of those thinly-disguised epistles of greed?” Judy let out a long breath. “He used to let the elves do it, if they wanted. But now we don’t have elves.”

Suddenly Jeff appreciated the barbaric simplicity of his own responsibility. A person died, he appeared, he released the spirit, and that was it. He didn’t even have to be personally present, since his effect was so pervasive on the earth. But the Claus clan had some real problems, tied up in the imaginary bureaucracy of an earlier age. The least he could do for these old friends was to get them through this Christmas catastrophe. Afterwords, when Kris was well—if he ever got well—Jeff could help them rebuild their establishment.

“Judy, I love you and Kris,” he said, careful not to touch her. Even Judy Claus might be put off by the touch of Death, however friendly. “I’ve got to be crazy, but I’ll do it.  I’m happy to fill in for him tonight.”