Santa’s Head Elf
All was quiet and still in the dim half-light of the deserted walkways and avenues that swept through the Regent Shopping Centre. The late-night Christmas shoppers had left some time ago, returning to their warm cosy homes and so nothing should be stirring here now at this late hour. Yet the crisp December silence was broken by the tiny jingling sound of a little bell. It was coming from the magnificent Christmas tree that stood resplendent in the centre of the arcade. Beneath the boughs laden with countless decorations and reflected in the sparkling glow of dancing fairy lights, stood a small boy, no older than seven years old. All alone, he was patiently waiting for someone to find him and with such a helpless expression on his young face Evangeline’s heart instinctively went out to him. He stood next to the pile of colourful presents stacked under the tree with one of the multi-coloured boxes clutched in his small hands. On his head he wore a scarlet elf’s hat with a tiny gold bell that tinkled as he moved. To match his hat someone had dressed him in a jolly red and green outfit. Emblazoned across his chest in large gold letters were the words ‘Santa’s Head Elf’.
Evangeline wasn’t the only person drawn by the little jangling bell. Her hand flew to her mouth as predatory figure stalked from the shadows on the far side of the open-planned ground floor.
“Oh no” she breathed. “Please, not again”.
Too late, Sydney Glitter the security guard had seen the child and was circling towards him with a snake-like smile. A buried fear, Evangeline had prayed she would never experience again, quietly stirred beneath the quiet waters of her mind. She had to stop him, it couldn’t happen again. She made not a sound in the hushed stillness of the evening as she quickly glided around the curving walkway towards the escalators momentarily losing sight of the two figures.
Evangeline whispered past sleeping stores whose sales assistants were long gone. The luxurious glow from the festive window displays almost warmed the cold empty avenues. Pools of colourful light spilled out onto the polished cream floor, creating magical stepping stones that only she could enjoy. Spending her time wandering around the shops and walkways in quiet solitude watching people go about their business, Evangeline had got to know every inch of this place over the past year.
As silent as the falling snow she drifted down the now motionless escalators onto the expansive ground floor. Flowing around the large bronze sculpture of some Olympian, she passed the unmanned information desk. Somehow the blank display screens always unnerved Evangeline at night. It was as if they were alive and watching her so she habitually averted her eyes from them. On her left, her previous employer Gap drifted past in a merry blur.
Evangeline still liked to visit Gap from time to time. This time last year, her carefree life had been full of excitement and dreams of one day moving to France. Her best friend Sammi always complained she was a real daydreamer but Evangeline was determined to realise this ambition. She would eventually move to Paris, find a job and meet the man of her dreams. It was when she started that French class at night school that Sammi started to think that this time she may actually follow through on her plans this time. Sammi often nuzzled into her thoughts whenever she came this way these days, bringing with her that tired sense of longing that was so hard to ignore. Evangeline recalled the countless nights they spent trawling the local clubs and bars on the lookout for fit men to chat up. Then, the following day lunch times they would sit in the food court by Subway drinking diet cokes, and complain about the morons that they always seemed to attract whenever they hit the town. Evangeline hardly saw Sammi now, since she left Gap a few months ago. Every day she searched the crowds of shoppers swarming through the centre to see if she could spot her. But her friend, just like her dream of Paris were gone now, swept away from the shore of possibilities leaving her alone and stranded. She was unseen and ignored by everyone with only her grey dreary thoughts for company.
Evangeline had felt this way for about a year now. Twelve months ago tonight she had been at work and running late, again, when she should have been closing up the store. Sammi had phoned up to discuss their plans for that night and Evangeline had lost track of time. When she did finally get off the phone she saw everyone else had left and all the other shops were closed. Even the artificial lights high up in the ceiling had been switched off, allowing long shadows to creep out between the twinkling Christmas illuminations. The busy bustling atmosphere of an hour ago had been replaced by a brittle silence that filled the centre with an almost eerie quality. Evangeline’s clomping footsteps echoed far too loudly around the empty shopping centre and she thought of Sydney Glitter, the security guard. He had been prowling somewhere in the dark but she never even saw him. He had always given Evangeline the creeps and she wanted to close up and go quickly before she ran into him and had to explain why she was still here. She had been standing by the door watching the steel shutters descend when he struck. She never heard him coming and, fortunately, never felt the fatal blow. She was dead before she even hit the floor and her poor ruined body had never been found.
The faint squeak of shoes on a polished floor brought Evangeline back from her morbid pit of despair. The boy seemed not to have noticed Sydney Glitter as he cautiously made his way across the courtyard. He was watching the abandoned boy in the way a hungry fat toad watches a fly innocently buzzing around a pond.
It was his large wobbly neck that accentuated Sydney Glitter’s toad-like appearance. It often jiggled as he swaggered around the Regent Centre. Evangeline had always been grossed-out by slimy reptiles. Sydney Glitter was his late forties but had a lecherous eye for the cliques of young teenage girls that swanned around the centre at weekends and school holidays. He carried himself with an air of unquestioning authority and natural suspicion of others. Unlike the other security guards, Sydney Glitter never passed the time of day with anyone. His brooding dislike of his fellow human beings was, unsurprisingly, not just limited to sales staff either. Evangeline used to watch him in bemused fascination and utter disbelief as he paraded around the centre. When he wasn’t hounding and intimidating young people, he would be gambling on horse races from the comfort of the security office. Evangeline had on more than one occasion witnessed him blackmailing suspected shop-lifters in exchange for not calling the police and she had even seen him inviting prostitutes into his office the early hours of the morning. That’s when Evangeline realised she had seen enough and stopped watching him.
Now, however she watched closely as she ghosted across the open floor space between decorative wooden benches. From her angle, she could see the vicious stick hidden out of site behind his back. It was decorated with red and white stripes so it resembled a large candy cane. She couldn’t let him use it again. It was the same stick he had used on her, she realised, shivering at the memory. Swallowing hard and balled her hands fists. She had to stop the monster before it was too late.
“Hey” Sydney Glitter called to Santa’s Head Elf impatiently. “You shouldn’t be here, the Centre’s closed”. Evangeline came up before the security guard, blocking his path before he had chance to get any closer.
“Don’t do it” she pleaded, pathetically. Sammi would have laughed at her uncharacteristically squeaky voice. She cleared her throat as Glitter towered over her.
“Stop it” she demanded more forcefully. But Sydney Glitter had no idea she is there and he trudged straight through her insubstantial form, his bulbous eyes never leaving the boy.
The certainty of what was about to happen churned Evangeline’s ghostly stomach. This could be happening to anyone. What if it was Sammi? Evangeline surged forwards towards the pile of Christmas presents beneath the tree. If she could knock some of them over it may cause a distraction. But it was no use; she had no body and no power in the physical world anymore and the presents did not move.
Meanwhile Sydney Glitter was almost upon Santa’s Head Elf. As Glitter advanced on the boy he glanced slyly to either side, reassuring himself that no one else was around. No prying eyes to witness what would happen next. Evangeline shouted at him, waving her hands at the pair and jumping up and down. Just for a moment Glitter paused and looked in her direction. His puzzled expression suggested he may have seen something from the corner of his eye. But the moment passed.
The colourful box that Santa’s Head Elf had been looking at slipped from his fingers as the black shadow of Sydney Glitter fell upon him.
“Get away from him!” Evangeline screamed frantically but her silent plea went unheard. She circled the two in desperation, chewing her non-existent finger nails as her chattering mind searched for a way to help. Santa’s Head Elf looked upwards, his blue watery eyes slowly taking in the grotesque form of the security guard. It was already too late and Evangeline was out of time. She hurried behind the safety of the Christmas tree and peered between the branches helplessly as the boy reached out a tiny hand, seeking reassurance from an apparently friendly adult who was supposed to help him.
“No” she whispered silently, shaking her head.
“Where are your parents?” Glitter enquired touching the boys shoulder almost tenderly with a large hairy hand. Santa’s Head Elf opened his mouth but, as if sensing something in the security guard’s expression, he stopped and backed away slightly.
“What’s your name, son?” Glitter asked gently, crouching down to show that he wasn’t really a threat. Evangeline wanted to look away but morbid curiosity held her firm. Santa’s Head Elf looked away for a moment but then he glanced up at the security guard again and that’s when Evangeline noticed the change. He was no longer a little boy. His once frightened little face had changed; lips twisted into a malicious grin. Evangeline was the one that cried out as the creature swung the candy cane stick from behind his back. It swished with such speed, as it had done last year. The colourful Christmas treat slashed through Sydney Glitter’s neck, deftly separating his head from his shoulders. The heavy body crumpled to the floor with just the rustle of fabric as the head landed with a wet splat at his feet. Sydney Glitter’s dead startled eyes were staring towards Evangeline and like her; he never saw it coming either. Evangeline shrank back instinctively in case the evil elf could see her decided to punish her a second time. Still unable to flee or even cover her eyes Evangeline watched the macabre performance as the creature bundled Sydney Glitter’s headless body effortlessly into the brown sack and placed the severed head in the colourful box he’d been holding earlier. Then With a joyful laugh he swung the sack over his shoulder as if it weighed nothing at all. Evangeline remained perfectly still as the elf danced merrily down the shadowy corridor with his trophies, past Beales, towards the entrance to the car park. Evangeline stayed hidden behind the Christmas tree for some time afterwards as the sound his little jingling bell could still be heard long after Santa’s Head Elf had gone.