Present Day

Nick sat, staring at the dust. The light from the small window made the motes glow as they floated across the prison cell. They reminded him of snowflakes. This made him sadder, which he didn’t think was possible. He thought he had hit rock bottom months ago, after his people tried, and failed, to break him out of this place. The memories had been buried, but clearly too close to the surface. His once broad shoulders slumped, and silently he cried at the loss of everything.

It had been almost a year now. The messily scraped marks on the wall told him that much. Almost a year since he had been shot down during his mission, whilst flying over the desert, somewhere out in the middle-east. He hated this place. It never snowed here, and Nick loved the snow. It made him feel somehow complete. The first few months in the cell, he bellowed through the small hatch they used to send food, there must be some kind of mistake, he shouted over and over again – his voice naturally carried, so he knew someone out there must hear him – but nobody ever replied. After that he just wept instead. Openly and unashamedly cried at the injustice. Not just his own, but all those that relied on him. People needed him, his children needed him. Instead he rotted in a prison cell.

After the failed rescue attempt, Nick had changed. Part of him died inside, just as outside his people had died, screaming. He could still hear their cries for mercy and the rifle’s abrupt replies and when he closed his eyes, he could picture their broken bodies slowly piling up against his prison door, each one had died for him, and for nothing.

His silent crying ran its course and stopped. He lifted his bloodied hands from his face and scratched at his filthy, torn underwear. The sweat rashes itched – his body wasn’t used to this heat, and he had quickly become thankful that when he had first came to and entered this nightmare, he had found himself stripped of his uniform and left in just his underpants. Of course the hot, dry days were always followed by freezing, bone-achingly cold nights, but Nick had a few pounds on him, and was now used to sleeping curled up in a ball, his blood-stained beard covering his knees. He had lost a lot of that weight now, of course, His diet here was sparse, at best. Once a day the hatch on his door would drop open and the same small, used, plastic cup of goat’s milk would appear next to a savoury pie sat on a dirty paper plate. He knew it was a sick joke, but it was sustenance and he needed it – his appetite before had been legendary. He never saw who gave him the food, the hatch was too small, never even heard anyone approach the door, one minute there was nothing, the next, food. That too was a sick joke, he soon realised.

He finished his scratching and glanced across to the wall with the markings. He hadn’t left one today, and although it hurt to do so, part of him was determined that, if nothing else, he would always know what day it was. He got up and moved to the wall. He examined his fingers, trying to find the one least bloodied, settled on his left middle finger and began scraping at the wall slowly and methodically.This was the three hundred and sixty fourth mark. He became so engrossed, he hardly noticed as the prison door slowly opened for the first time since his captivity.

A tall, heavily bearded, dark-skinned man stood and watched from the door, the contempt obvious and bright in his eyes. It was the draft coming from the corridor outside that Nick noticed first, his scraping stopped and he turned his head toward the door. Their eyes met and recognition dawned on Nick’s face.

“Jesus Christ!” Nick said, his voice low and weak from under-use. The man smiled and nodded.

“The great Santa Claus,” he replied and took a step into the cell. His face contorted as the smell in the room assailed his senses. “You stink, by the way.”

Nick slowly backed away from the man, crawling towards the corner of the room.

“Hardly my fault,” he whispered, still moving, “I’ve been locked up here for months now, reduced to shitting in a hole, should have known you’d be behind all this, but why?” His back hit the wall and he stopped.

“Why? You honestly ask me why?” The tall man towered over the prisoner, “You stupid fool, isn’t it obvious. It was my birthday, it was supposed to be about me, and you come along with your stupid fat face, and your fucking stupid reindeer, and they all forget about me.” The tall man was shaking now, anger on his face, ” Oh, all I did was save everyone from sin, feed a few thousand and make the blind see, hardly even worth a mention, not when the great Saint Nick can come along and stick a knock-off ipod down the bastard chimney. All hail Santa!”

The tall man suddenly slapped Nick across the face.

“I strip you of your sainthood, you piece of shit,” he slapped him again, ” Did you die on a cross surrounded by fucking sarcastic romans with pointy sticks, well did you?” Nick didn’t answer, instead tried to shield his face with his arm, ” No. You did not,” another slap, “you sit in your silly little snow world, surrounded by godless elves, you don’t make the toys anymore, you outsource it all to china, ” this time he kicked Nick in the ribs, ” and what do the people do, they worship you, and forget about me.”

Mention of the elves made Nick look up, tears in his eyes. “Did you have to kill them?” he croaked, “they were only trying to help me”

“I didn’t kill them, old man,” the tall man replied, “my disciples did that for me, you aren’t the only one with people, some at least still follow me.”

It was then that Nick noticed his uniform. The man was wearing it. It didn’t fit properly, the arms were too baggy and the belt had new holes in it to accommodate its new owner.

“ suit,” he managed before the tall man slapped him again.

“My suit now, you don’t need it anymore, I will the one wearing it from now on.” The man examined himself, “I’m sure after a few million mince pies this will fit nicely, did you like the pies I’ve been feeding you, by the way, I wanted you to feel at home, you know.” He laughed, “well, you might as well, seeing as this will be where you live from now on,” he leaned over to nick and smiled, ” forever,” then slapped him a final time.

The tall man turned to leave and noticed the markings on the wall.

“Ahh, I see you have been keeping track, good.” He started to walk to the door, “you’ll know then why I have to be off soon, so much to do, so little time. Be assured, though, you will not be missed by the little children, I’m going to dye my beard white, gain a few pounds, and give the little shits everything they deserve.” He stood now at the door and turned, ” The bad ones though, well lets just say I have a plan for those ones too, and coal is just a part of it”

Nick wept openly now and the man laughed.

“Merry Christmas, Santa,” he said.

And with that, Jesus slammed the prison door shut, forever.






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