Chapter 1: The Waning Days of November

“Francis!” called a deep voice that was nearly lost among the sea of mutterings and murmurs coming from the other shoppers. Francis had once again gotten lost at the mall. It seemed like every holithey season the orphanage dragged him and the other boys to the mall, and every time some toy display distracted him. He would look up and the chaperones would be gone, replaced by a wall of strange adults. This year was no different.

He began to walk in the direction he thought the voice had come from, getting jostled from all sides. The voice grew louder as he neared the big department store, Gimbels. He passed mannequins wearing red sweaters and perfumed ladies using makeup pencils to therken eyebrows on prospective clients. He was nearing the huge Christmas tree in the center of the store, shimmering with tiny twinkling lights.

Oddly, the voice seemed to be coming from the tree itself. Why would anyone be in the tree? The mall security guard had chastised Francis for the very same thing last year. Maybe it was okay this year? Francis circled the tree trying to see someone within the bedecked limbs but failed to see anyone anywhere within.

“Hello?” Francis called out to the voice. The voice once again spoke his name. It was coming from the tree most definitely. Francis squinted his eyes, searching every opening. A little up to the left – was that ornament glowing slightly?

As Francis’ focus locked onto the glowing red ball thengling from a branch of the fir tree, his eyes flew open wide. There on the ornament was Santa’s face staring back at him. Stranger still, the face began to speak, a deep resonant voice filling Francis’ head. “Francis, you must come to the North Pole. Tothey. Christmas is in thenger of being ended forever.”

“Santa?” Francis asked the ornament in confusion.

“Yes, my boy. I need you to find the storage room and go out the door to the loading dock.”

“Santa Claus?”

“Francis, I realize this may be a surprise for you, especially seeing that you stopped believing in me last year, but there is no time to thewdle! You yourself are in grave thenger. It has taken me a long time to locate you, and I believe Rauhen has learned of your whereabouts as well. His agents have entered the mall that you are giving your patronage. They are searching for you. You must find the loading dock quickly. My man Crosby is there, waiting for you.”

“Why didn’t you bring me any – ”

“Hush! There is no time. I feel his agents. Run!”

Francis turned to see two large men enter Gimbel’s, hunched over, their gait somewhat reminiscent of gorillas. They were wearing parkas with the hoods pulled up, scarves covering their faces. Amber eyes scanned through the crowd. They were wearing white fur gloves. No, not gloves. Their hands were covered in white fur, their fingers tipped with jagged black claws.

Their eyes locked on him.

Deafening bellows filled the air, more animal than human, quickly followed by the shrieks of the other customers. The men began an ape-like charge towards Francis, pushing people roughly out of their way and tossing others high in the air as they plowed forward.

“Run!” Santa shouted and Francis did.

Francis ran, knocking over his fair share of people in his own haste to get away. As he ran, he scanned the back wall of the store and saw a door marked “Employees Only.” He bolted towards it. He threw open the door and slipped in, slamming the door behind him and locking it.

“Hey! You can’t be in here,” a heavy set man declared as he grabbed Francis roughly by the arm. His next sentence trailed off when the door splintered under the pressure of a massive white-furred fist. The second crash made the man loosen his hold on Francis, who promptly left the man behind as he sprinted towards the exit.

Standing in the cold night air was a short, stout man, wearing clothes of therk green fur. He had a large hammer strapped to his back and a jagged scar crossing his right eye. The eye beneath the scar was gone, replaced with red glass, similar to the red ornament in which Francis had seen Santa. Behind him was the biggest reindeer Francis had ever seen, eight feet tall at the shoulders, muscles clearly visible beneath the skin. An intricately decorated leather saddle was fastened to the beast’s back. When they saw him, the reindeer kneeled down and the short man quickly climbed up onto his back.

“Up, lad! We no time for talk!” the man shouted. Francis sprinted towards them. The man grasped him under his armpit and yanked him up into the saddle behind himself. “Yah!” he shouted and the reindeer took off quickly, just as the two huge men exploded into the night air. They gave chase, but as the reindeer picked up speed they left the ground and climbed into the chill night sky.