A/N: This short holiday tale was written for Christmas 2014, and was inspired by the eerily obvious juxtaposition of elements between Slenderman and Santa Claus. It was also somewhat inspired by the idea of the Krampus, a Christmastime demon in some European countries that works for the Claus and drags naughty kids off to Hell. Yeah, if you're a bad kid in Austria, Father Christmas sics a demon on your ass that drags you off to be eternally tormented. So of course, the parallels there with Slendy are obvious. I hope you enjoy this odd little holiday tale, and have a very merry Christmas and happy holiday season.
The Christmas Proposition
"Mr. Claus, there is a Mr. Birchman outside looking to speak with you."
The Jolly Old Saint lifted his alarmingly youthful eyes from the computer at his desk, so engaged as he was in his annual list of naughty versus nice. The crows' feet around his eyes crinkled in interest behind his wireframe bifocals as he shifted in his chair.
"A Mr. Birchman…?" He inquired, voice a friendly bass rumble of curiosity. "Is that the name he's using now?"
"It's the name he gave me sir, yes." The diminutive pixie boy looked up at his boss expectantly, with a child-like anxiety in his green eyes. Instantly, it was clear to Nicholas Claus that the elf was afraid, afraid of the visitor outside… as well he would have expected the poor dear to be, not all were so fortunate to have such an approachable, friendly boss as himself.
"I see…" Nicholas stroked his snowy beard in thought as he sat up. "Send him in immediately when you leave. Do you need anything to calm your nerves before you go, Jingle? One of the Missus' cookies perhaps, some egg nog?"
"Do…" The elf looked up expectantly, the namesake silver bells on his cufflinks jingling gently, "Do you have any snickerdoodles?"
"Of course, of course!" laughed Nicholas, pulling three large snickerdoodle cookies off the plate prepared by his wife and handing them to the tiny faerie. The cookies were nearly as big as the boy's head, the Missus always did make such wonderful cookies, her and her helpers alike… "Now then, off you go, dear; send him in… He never was the type that liked to be kept waiting…"
The elf gave a joyful little squeak upon receiving the sugary snacks, and proceeded to devour them almost instantly before turning to leave for the door. He paused briefly, glancing back at the boss he had come to know almost as a father figure for all the centuries he had lived, as if trying to gain some sort of courage to actually walk back out of the room.
"Don't you worry, Jingle," said Father Christmas, smiling warmly, "His bark is much, much worse than his bite…"
This seemed enough to allay the elf's fears, and so he crept out of the door of Santa Claus' office, leaving to inform the visitor.
Nicholas' face fell from its warm smile as the sprite left the room. So… the Birchman had come to the North Pole, to his own base of operations… why would such a rival step into his domain, particularly one so focused on the protection of innocent mortal children the world over? The saint had never much cared for the Bogeyman, as so many children called it. It was no more than a common predator, a wolf amongst sheep, kidnapping and destroying lives before they even had the chance to live. A necessary job with a purpose for existing, he had to concede… but one that directly caused harm to his own clientele, the very clientele he had sworn to protect all of these long centuries. Not once had the Birchman ever crossed paths with him in a favorable situation, nor he with the Birchman, and now it had come to the North Pole? Why?
Nicholas clicked the save button on his document and calmly bit into another snickerdoodle. He sipped his egg nog thoughtfully, mulling over every possible reason in his head as to why something so anathema to his own moral leanings would risk such an intrusion.
He had barely taken his second bite of spiced sugary goodness when the lights suddenly began to flicker on the Christmas tree, the computer screen, and the desk lamp, leaving only the fireplace for a source of light. The oaken door carefully creaked open, sending a wave of chill air into the otherwise warm room, and in strode the Birchman, tall, slender, and intimidating in its powerful presence and noiseless footsteps. Its fine black suit and tie belied the darkness behind its faceless stare, and its many branching limbs curled and retracted about itself, sensing the world around it busily. Its gaze was fixed firmly on Saint Nicholas, who stared back at it calmly, as if awaiting its explanation for intrusion.
It was a full five seconds before Nicholas spoke, calmly lighting a nearby candle for light as he did so.
"Must you always enter so dramatically, Mr. Birchman? It frightens my employees, you know."
|Good,| the being mouthlessly replied, having now approached the desk faster than the eye could have blinked. |It means I am still well-practiced.|
"I must admit, I was not expecting the visit," Nicholas murmured, taking another bite of cookie thoughtfully. "Would you like anything? Cookies, egg nog, perhaps some candy?"
|Amusing,| responded the Birchman bluntly, tendrils curling in vague distaste, |But no.|
For all the vast, untold centuries it had lived, the Bogeyman had never cared for Saint Nicholas. If it wasn't his irritating trend of always turning up and interfering with the child it was attempting to capture and frighten to death, it was his obnoxious way of hiding targets from it, or of distracting his associates from a target. The Birchman despised setbacks, and despised setbacks caused by magic users even more. It did not like decreased productivity, especially from a direct competitor sabotaging its business model. But it had no choice… times were becoming tough now, and it was getting far too old for this. No, better to swallow its pride and speak with its rival on this issue, lest it fester like an oozing sore left to become infected.
"Then what brings you, Darkstalker?"
|Business and business only.|
Nicholas' snowdrift brows raised at this, intrigued, and he adjusted the wireframe glasses.
"Business, you say…" It had all the soundings of suspicion, and he was not interested in warring tonight, not on the day before Christmas Eve. "Do explain this… business."
He steeled himself for the inevitable, the declaration of war on his place of work, and took another bite of the snickerdoodle.
|I seek a truce.|
Nicholas nearly choked on the bite of cookie, but stopped himself just short of spitting the treat out. A truce? A truce? Such a boastful, prideful creature, a creature that did not stop in its relentless chase until its target had suffered every horrid thing possible, the Birchman itself desired a truce?
It gave a dark chuckle, tilting its blank head back in a vaguely expressed mirth, and observed the saint's response in amusement.
|Oh, my Jolly Good Saint Nicholas, do not act so surprised! After all…| the being's gaze shifted pointedly to meet Nicholas' eyes, |It is almost Christmas.|
"I see…" The saint composed himself, glancing the tall being over in suspicion. "Explain this truce. Why now? What benefit could such a thing possibly serve you? There is a catch, and I know it…"
|Ah, but you see… that is the beauty. There is no catch, all I want is a simple truce.|
"And how do you propose such a thing, beast?" Nicholas asked, wiping cookie crumbs from his beard. "You are not the type to surrender…"
|That is true, but I do not come to surrender. I come as a business associate with a modest proposition, nothing more…|
Santa glanced the Birchman over dubiously once more, seeking anything in the creature's unnatural body language that suggested a fraud, but found none.
"Very well," the merry old elf replied. "Tell me this… proposition."
The being's tendrils swirled in thought as it sat in the chair before the saint's desk, its blank face curved downward as it mulled its words over and its body as abnormally stiff and motionless as ever. Then, it lifted its gaze to Nicholas', and spoke.
|There is a dearth of children who believe in us. The both of us. I am not as powerful as I once was, and neither, I suspect, are you, Mr. Claus. That coupled with the… to be quite frank, nastiness of this century's children… I am sure you have noticed it yourself…|
Nicholas nodded gently, absorbing the being's words. Yes, of course… he had indeed noticed many more children on the naughty list than in centuries past. It worried him. He dearly loved those children, of course, and simply wanted to help them learn right from wrong as was his desire… But how could he do such things when their parents would not enforce that behavior? The thought deeply troubled him…
"Yes, there is a problem, and to be quite frank I'm rather astonished it's you who would bring this issue up, of all beings." Nicholas sipped at his egg nog, and folded his hands before him. "Too few believers, and many naughty children… I'd be surprised if it didn't provoke a sense of injustice in even the blackest of nightmares' hearts. And I do know that you, like myself, deal in children…"
|A nightmare with a black heart am I?| The Birchman's head tilted inquisitively, its voice edged with sarcasm. |You are too kind. But before I continue allow me to ask you this, Saint Nicholas. What is the most… significant burden on your workplace since these changes have come into effect?|
"And why ask me this?"
|I believe I may have a way to reduce one of your burdens, should you agree to… negotiate.|
Nicholas glanced out the window of his office, into the howling winter snow beyond, past the mountains to the former coal mines he knew resided there. Resources were scarce, this he knew… and the health of his employees suffered for it. He very well knew what the Birchman was hinting at, as sickening as the thought was to him… but to see his dear elven workers suffer, coughing from black lung, sickened and in danger from the demolition tools they used… it tore his merry heart in two.
"Go on, Mr. Birchman…" Nicholas did not look at the being before him. "Go on…"
|I… understand this must be a very difficult decision for you to make, Mr. Claus,| the Bogeyman responded, tendrils drawing back. |Fossil fuels are… dwindling. The coal you use powers both your factory as well as being a gift for the ill-behaved. But there is little left now, what you do have is hazardous for my own homestead… and I understand you have taken to giving the spoiled little brats nothing for Christmas if they are ill-behaved. Now how, I ask, how does any of this teach them to behave themselves?|
"It doesn't," Nicholas responded hastily, turning back to the Bogeyman. "It doesn't at all… but of course… you are a nightmare made flesh, told as a story to children to make them behave… I do not at all doubt you have a reason for being worried about the state of the children…"
|It is my purpose, you know this.|
"Yes, but why now? Why ask now?"
|Because I am old, and tired, and done with this silly rivalry…|
"And," Nicholas murmured with a wry smile, "You are desperate."
The many-limbed beast squirmed, almost imperceptibly, bristling.
|I seek only to aid you, and perhaps receive aid from you in return. I cannot make it plainer, Mr. Claus.|
"Very well then." Nicholas relaxed, eyes becoming once more the warmth in the harsh cold of winter. "Let's hear your proposal."
|I propose this, Mr. Claus. You and I both know your employees suffer in the mines, put in unnecessary danger. I propose you shut some of the coal mines down, and place the employees from them in work as toy-makers…|
"Shut them down?" Nicholas blinked in confusion. "Shut down the one source of fuel I have?"
|You did not allow me to finish, Mr. Claus. You know as well as I that gifting coal to the ill-behaved must eat a significant chunk of your entire coal supplies. And thus the second part of my proposal.|
|Simple, my dear Kris Kringle.| The Birchman's fingers laced upon its lap gently, bony digits tangled with each other like dry twigs. |Leave the naughty children to me.|
"Mr. Birchman!" the saint rumbled, standing in his outrage. "You would have me abandon so many of the world's children for your devious ends? Blasphemy… I am absolutely insulted…"
|Once more, you have not allowed me to finish,| the Birchman murmured soothingly, holding up a spidery, pallid hand. |I did not ask you give all the misbehaved children to me. I merely asked that you allow me to handle them. Allow me to scare them into obedience, and in return I will not touch those you deign I am not allowed to. I will concede those children to you, if you allow me to run my business with the misbehaved ones… I am certain you can agree, O Giver of Gifts, that a scare tactic is one of the best ways to punish an ill-behaved child… and besides all that, there is always the minor detail that you do give the coal as a reminder of hellfire, yes?|
Nicholas' outrage slowly cooled to a shrewd distrust, and he narrowed his eyes behind his wireframe glasses as he sat back down.
"You are… correct, Mr. Birchman," he murmured, eyeing the being with suspicion once more. "In that, I suppose, we are not that different at all… But asking I allow you to handle the naughty list… that is a rather tall order…"
|Yes, it is, Mr. Claus,| the Bogeyman conceded. |It most certainly is. But considering what good you would be doing – for your employees and the environment especially – you must agree that doing so would allow us both to prosper, yes?|
"It would indeed," Santa conceded, nodding. "But you are still asking me to simply let you take all the naughty children as your own?"
|No, not at all,| the Birchman responded, shaking its head. |No, the idea would be that I pay the naughty children a visit, frighten them into being good, and then leave. No harm shall otherwise come to them.|
"There is a catch," Nicholas muttered, an eyebrow raising. "There is always a catch with you."
|There is one,| the gaunt ghoul said, eyeless gaze looking over the jolly fat elf's red suit. |I would like to keep a small percentage of the naughty children for myself. Perhaps no more than five percent or so, I do not require many for… my purposes…|
"You wish me to allow you to simply have five percent of the naughty children in the world for your own…?"
|Is this problematic? I can change the percentage down if you wish.|
"No, no it isn't that at all, Mr. Birchman," Nicholas replied, looking down at the desk. On it lay a paper hard copy of the naughty and nice list. The naughty list was at least twenty pages longer than the thousands of pages that made up the nice list. "Five percent is an acceptable loss… But, I do ask one thing of you."
|Very well Mr. Claus, name your price.|
"You will not, I make this very clear, nightmare… you will not harm the children on the nice list. You will leave them be. I protect those children, do you understand? And I will not allow them to come to harm. Not ever. Is that clear, Mr. Birchman?"
The many-limbed beast's head inclined in thought, and it fell silent for the moment, thinking. Many seconds passed, and not once did Saint Nicholas' gaze waiver from the Bogeyman's slender frame.
Then, after some time, the Bogeyman raised its head, and met the saint's eyes.
|I will concede you that.|
"Very well." Nicholas stood, offering his hand and a slight smile. "It's a deal, then."
|It has been a pleasure to do business with you,| the Birchman responded, taking Nicholas' hand and giving a firm, cold handshake. |Shall I see myself out?|
"If you would rather do that," Santa responded, blowing out the candle on his desk. "Farewell, and have a Merry Christmas…"
|Good evening, Mr. Claus, and the same to you.|
All was silent for a moment as the Birchman stood, moving away from the chair. The darkness around them pressed against both, and the chill was almost perceptible… and then, as quickly as a blink, the Birchman simply had vanished.
As the lights began to flicker back on, one by one, Santa Claus could not help but give a small, warm smile.