The Night of Merry Massacre
Work resumed exactly 15 minutes after the lunch buzzer sounded. Cheery was returned to his station by one of the guards. In a way, Cheery had been lucky tonight was Christmas eve. Mistress Claus liked taking her time punishing elves for their mistakes, but even the dreaded Krampus Claus couldn’t get out from under the weight of the deadline. The Alphabet blocks Cheery had been assigned had to be crafted and that meant Cheery had to be at his workbench, carving them.
It seemed Mistress Claus had made up for the lack of time with viciousness. Cheery was hardly recognizable. His face was puffed up, his lower lip split and bleeding. The guard elf returning him was holding on to Cheery’s arm, less to prevent him from getting away and more to help keep him upright as he stumbled back to his workbench. The only part of him Krampus had spared, were his hands.
After frantically carving for hours, Yule wiped the last bit of wood shavings from the last block and placed it on the little cart next to him. He collected his food voucher from one of the guard elves, only to be disappointed when he got to the mess hall.
“Sorry Yule. We’re not serving food until the sleigh has taken off. Mistress Claus’ orders,” one of the elves in the mess hall told him apologetically.
His stood there with his useless food voucher clamped in his fist. Nothing to eat until Santa left, hours from now. Yule suspected this was Mistress Claus’ way of taking revenge for being denied the time to torture one of them at her leisure. Instead, with one small change in routine, she could torture all of them. And there was not a damned thing anyone could do about it. Defeated, Yule strolled into the great hall to wait for the call to get back to work. Slowly, the hall filled up with elves who had finished their shift.
The great hall was festively decorated, as it always was. The bows and candles seemed to taunt the exhausted elves. In the the middle of the room on a pedestal stood the very first Christmas fruitcake, carefully removed from the brandy soaked linens it was usually kept in. The one slice that had ever been removed from it, with one singe bite taken out of it, artfully arranged as if it had been sliced off this morning. No one really knew how old it was. Mold didn’t dare touch the cake. Yule had seen it many times before, and still marveled at the sight. Santa, who was able to stomach the worst burned cookies made by well meaning four year old girls, had not been able to eat more than a single bite from this confection. That made the fruitcake awe inspiring.
As Yule was looking at the first fruitcake, Cheery stumbled towards him. The poor elf looked absolutely miserable. He lost his footing and would have fallen into the cake display, had Yule not caught him at the last moment. Cheery clamped his hands around Yule’s arms. “Please, food,” he begged, lisping due to his busted lip, “I need something to eat or I will pass out. Do you have any gingerbread left over?”
Yule shook his head. He hated to see Cheery like this. There was just nothing he could do for him. “I wish I could help you. I don’t have anything.”
Cheery looked at the other elves around them. They all shook their heads or pretended not to notice Cheery, shifting uneasy on their feet. Tears were forming in the elf’s eyes. “Please,” he whispered, to no one in particular. “I need food.” Yule saw Cheery’s glance shift from the crowd to the fruitcake on display behind him. A faint hope flickered in his eyes, along with a huge hunger.
A bad feeling started in the pit of Yule’s stomach, when he realized what Cheery was thinking. “Don’t do it, Cheery,” he said urgently while he withdrew his hands from the elf. “I know things look bad, but we’ll eat in a few hours. That cake is not edible.”
“I won’t survive a few hours.” Cheery responded as if in trance. He had found his last bit of strength to push Yule aside. He grabbed the slice of fruitcake and brought it to his mouth.
Yule turned and ran. He was going on instinct. Santa himself had not been able to stand the fruitcake when it had been fresh, and Santa was magic. He didn’t know what horrible thing was going to happen to Cheery after eating the cake, but he knew he didn’t want to be around when it happened.
For some reason the direction he had chosen was the doors to the workshop. Before he got to there, elves started screaming behind him. Panic and fear took hold of Yule. His run turned into a sprint. He sped past elves who were staring to whatever was happening behind him with a mixture of confusion and horror. Only when he reached the doors to the workshop did he turn around and got a look of the chaos unfolding in the great hall.
It was much worse than he had thought.
Yule thought he saw Cheery — what was left of Cheery — hunched over and snarling at an elf who was slowly backing away from him. His skin had turned a revolting shade of greenish gray. It looked to be rotting at high speed, ripping and flaking off in places. Blood was dripping from his mouth down his chin. As Yule was staring the figure that used to be Cheery launched itself at the elf, knocking him down. It was only then that Yule saw the changes weren’t limited to Cheery. There were a handful of elves with the same discolorations. All of them with gaping wounds on their body somewhere. And all of them attacking elves around them. More screams. Elves stared running away from the center of the room.
“Hurry up, get in here!” Yule yelled at the elves standing near the doors to the workshop. A few of them responded and hurried to help Yule close the big, heavy doors.
“What about the others?” one elf by the name of Plum yelled right before the door closed. Yule threw one last look into the hall. There almost were no ‘others’ left. Any elf not under attack or already changed must have fled to a different room.
“Too late!” He said and pushed the door shut. He grabbed the first long object he could find, which turned out to be a broom, and shoved it through the door handles, locking the doors shut.
“What the hell is going on?” Someone shrieked.
Yule stared at the hand full of elves in the workshop with them. What could he say that wouldn’t sound completely insane? He decided on simply stating the truth. “Cheery ate from the fruitcake.”
The other elves where quiet for a moment while they considered Yule’s statement. It appeared he was not the only one who had felt the awe looking at the old fruitcake because after a few seconds, one of them said softly: “Oh, shit.”