Sulfur and Sleighbells

As outside, the moon shone clear and pavements frosted over
I dozed warm and fitfully, alone, upon the sofa
My dreams a flick’ring cavalcade of festive imagery
A vision of how Christmas Day tomorrow was to be

Below me, scattered strips of paper, scissors, scraps of tape
Created such a scene as would have left my wife agape
Above me, with our tiny son wrapped tight and sound asleep
That very lady lay, just finished counting Christmas sheep

My own nap, although pleasant, had reached its appointed end
And not because I’d realised there were presents yet to tend
But rather that a nearby sound did make me start with fright
And as I lifted eyelids I beheld a wondrous sight

Although still sleep and dreamstuff did enfog my waking mind
I made out rich, red ermine covering a man’s behind
And running from above his boots to the collar round his throat
A trim of snowy fur adorned the length of that great coat

There was but one conclusion, though I’d only viewed his rear
I know my festive myth and saw the implication clear
And so I whispered throatily, after a baffled pause:
“Excuse me sir, but might it be that you are… Santa Claus?”

The figure, unexpectant of my salutation, froze
And slowly from his former hunched position, then, he rose
And gradually rotated until I beheld a face
That to my naive sentiment seemed greatly out of place

Rather than the white beard I’d expected on his head
The whiskers of a billygoat were there emplaced, instead
And rather than two kindly eyes and a cherubic grin
I beheld a wicked gaze and crushed, red-leather skin

The creature smirked as it observed the widening of my eyes
And addressed me in a tone intended only to derise:
“Such shock has grown so boring that it brings on nowt but yawns…”
As he drew full back his Santa cap, to reveal his hook-ed horns

“Come now, just how obvious must the connection be?
Between ‘Saint Nick’ and ‘Old Nick’ is a linkage clear to see
And if you take the time to read with an unbiased eye
It’s apparent that ‘Santa’ is ‘Satan’ spelled awry.”

From there, in simple sentences he made the striking claim
That Lucifer and Father Christmas were one and the same
So evident was his enjoyment of my shaken state
That he decreed I’d ride with him that night, as his first mate

Now reader, even when you find me in my finest fettle
I’m really not a man of stout and true heroic mettle
So when the Devil stated I would join him on his round
I meekly went along without the first defiant sound

He clicked his claw-like fingers: in a cloud of brimstone, *poof*
I found we’d been transported and stood now upon my roof
And there, sprawling, chaotic, all across the tiles it lay
A twisted, darkling mockery of a cheery Christmas sleigh

Striding forward, Satan clapped his beasts upon their flanks
And made his way toward his mounting through their sordid ranks
Reindeer, I assure you gentle reader, they were not
But twisted works of sculpted flesh, all but consumed by rot

Their faces looked like unto dogs, with muzzles pulled too long
Their limbs like knotted leather, decayed but wiry-strong
Upon the ends of each were shaggy, ape-like hands
Their sightless eyes had gazed too long on barren, burning lands

“Mount up!” the Devil shouted, as he beckoned with a wave
I took up my position with a countenance most grave
He lashed his reins, long ropes of skin: the vehicle took flight
And that bone-sleigh drawn by monsters dashed out into the night

“The two jobs are well-suited,” he yelled o’er the wind to me
“‘Tween presents and perdition, there’s a certain synergy!”
To point one out, with childish glee, he then could not resist:
The book of sinners overlapping with the ‘naughty list’

Then we began descending and our first visit was made
By a humble fireplace the children’s gifts were laid
That stop was quickly followed by another just the same
And I realised that mayhap, I’d misjudged the Devil’s game

For, zig-zagging the globe, the prince of sin flew far and near
And left behind a mountain of unopened Christmas cheer
Parcels large and parcels small he placed beneath the trees
And his monsters drew him onward with all-too-apparent ease

I helped him in through windows; lowered him down chimney-pipes
For rather than just teleport, the dark prince earned his stripes
Hefting high upon his shoulder the present-laden sack
He got into the spirit and kept Christmas Eve on track

Suffice to say, my admiration for Satan had grown
By the time we’d left the final present and the sleigh had flown
Back out into the night, for what he called ‘one final stop’
Although the parcels all were gone, he would make ‘a special drop’

At last we curled out of the sky to land in virgin snow
The moment was so portentous, the wind had ceased to blow
I looked upon the grand old face of a darkened country house
Whose master surely dressed in tweed and shot the local grouse

As I turned to question him, the King of Demons rose
Approached the front-most of his monsters; touched it on the nose
Whereupon, to my alarm, for the gesture had seemed warm
The thing unleashed an awful shriek – then started to transform

The skin-rope reins first fell away, as it writhed and it convulsed
Great shapes moved, wild, beneath its skin; its bones twisted and pulsed
With a sound like raw meat tearing, did a smaller form emerge
Spewed forth in the monster’s dying breath, onto the snowy verge

I started forth to see what lay there, steaming, on the ground
But I was halted in my tracks by a quite familiar sound
Weeping; it spilled forth from what I realised was a child
I turned to face the Devil – and in the dark, he smiled

“Go now,” he called past me, “Once more, boy, you are free
You’ve paid your penance now for having laid your eyes on me.
Your parents long have prayed that you’d return to them some day
That day is now: you’ve served for twelve long years before the sleigh.”

Panicked – and yet grateful – the boy did as he was told
And as I watched the child flee, my own blood ran ice-cold
For twelve numbered the beasts who gave the bony sled full flight
I realised I must pay for fixing Satan in my sight

Thus, without more words I let him fix me to the reins
And felt the tearing in my flesh, the burning in my veins
Accepting with an eerie sense of total resignation
That I must take the mantle of his slave-abomination

Now I must draw forth his sleigh to the barren, burning lands
But first I’ve scrawled this note with sightless eyes and ape-like hands
Convey it to my wife – tell her I never meant to leave
But the darkest lord has claimed me on this frosty Christmas Eve

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