It’s not Christmas time right now, but I think the world could use a bit of silliness in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’m gonna post this one and let the world read it. It has never been published, but it’s gotten some really nice rejection letters.
I hope you enjoy it!
HOW THE OLD ONES SAVED CHRISTMAS
©2019 by Richard S. Crawford
All rights reserved
Santa looked… different than Jimmy was expecting.
Jimmy was hiding behind the sofa. It was where he hid whenever anything scary happened, like when the monsters showed up on Doctor Who or when kissing happened in one of the movies his parents watched. But this time wasn’t scary. This time he was hiding because he didn’t want to be seen when Santa arrived.
He’d seen Santa at the mall, of course, though he was still unsure whether that was the real Santa or just one of his helpers. But he knew what Santa looked like: a big, fat guy with a long white beard, and wearing a red suit.
But when Santa appeared in the living room, he didn’t look like Santa at all. He was tall, for one thing, so tall that he had to stoop to avoid hitting the ceiling. And instead of being dressed in red, he was all dressed in yellow. He wore a long yellow cloak that reached down to the ground, and a pale yellow shroud hid his face entirely.
“Santa?” little Jimmy said.
“Uh oh,” Santa replied. He looked down on the child, but Jimmy could not see any sign of his face. “You weren’t shuposhed to shee me.” His voice slurred, like Daddy’s did when he’d had too much eggnog. He lifted up his hand, and sparks began to shoot from it. “What ish the polishy in thish shituation?”
“Do I deshtroy you now, or wait until you have resheived your giftsh?”
NEITHER, boomed a voice. It seemed to come from all of space and time at once, more of a feeling than a voice, but it was mostly focused on the chimney. THE CHILD MUST LIVE.
“I do not understhand, Nodensh.”
DESTROYING THE CHILD WOULD BE AGAINST THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS.
“Ish thish true?” the tall figure asked Jimmy.
Jimmy nodded enthusiastically.
The figure lowered its hand, and the sparks disappeared. “Chrishtmash is very confushing,” it said.
But before that…
Doctor Evergeen sipped his peppermint tea and made another note on his clipboard. This was such a sad state of affairs. He almost could not bring himself to lift his candy cane pen.
“How is he, Doctor Evergreen?” It was the nurse, Jenny Cupcake.
Doctor Evergreen sighed. “It’s worse than before. He’s started screaming in his sleep. I’m afraid he’ll never recover his sanity.”
Jenny’s face screwed up, and Doctor Evergreen thought she might break into sobs. “It’s so sad,” she said, her voice tremulous. “Poor Santa.”
“Indeed. And I’m afraid he is unable to perform his duties. We may have to cancel Christmas this year.”
The two of them watched Santa. The Big Guy was strapped to a gurney, writhing and wriggling. He burbled and gibbered, but nothing came forth from his mouth but utter nonsense. Doctor Evergreen had tried to make sense of the words, but so far he’d been unsuccessful.
“What did he see?” Jenny Cupcake asked. “What happened?”
Doctor Evergreen shook his head. “He talked about a giant monster in the Atlantic Ocean. A moving mountain miles tall. Utter nonsense.”
Jenny turned pale. “Did… Did he mention any names?”
“No. Only nonsense words that I could not make out. Why, what do you know?”
“Nothing. There are things that elves aren’t supposed to know. You told me that yourself. But I have an idea. I’ll be right back.”
When she returned a few minutes later, she carried with her a small black book which had the eldritch word “Eibon” inscribed on its leather cover. “There’s a chant in here that just might work. If we can bind the proper being, we might have a replacement Santa for this year.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We can summon and bind an Old One. Only they have the power needed to go all over the world and visit each home during the night. Some ancient writings suggest that Santa himself is an avatar of Nodens, guardian of the Dreamlands.”
Doctor Evergreen shook his head, afraid that little Jenny Cupcake’s mind had gone, just like Santa’s. Was there an epidemic of insanity affecting the entirety of Christmas Village?
“Sector 7-G is abandoned, right?”
“Has been since 1922.”
“Great! I’ll perform the ritual there. Just wait for me here and keep an eye on Santa.” She scurried out of the lab, her jinglebells ringing merrily as she did so.
Doctor Evergreen looked back at Santa, who writhed and gibbered on the gurney. “I hope she knows what she’s doing.”
Not now, but not quite back then either…
The smoke alarm did not go off, nor had it gone off for centuries, not since Hastur had cursed it, and it probably should have given the amount of smoke in Hastur’s kitchenette right now.
BEHOLD, said Nodens. THE COOKIES ARE DONE.
Hastur waved away the smoke, and it vanished into the void. “I do not undershtand thish,” he said. “Why musht we bake theshe cookiesh?”
I AM EXPERIMENTING WITH HUMAN HOLIDAYS, Nodens replied. THIS ONE IS CHRISTMAS. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MANY HUMANS, AND I MAY INCORPORATE IT INTO THE DREAMLAND MYTHOS.
With one tentacle-like finger Hastur poked desultorily at the cookies that had just come out of the oven. They were black, and shaped like… well, they were shaped like shoggoths. Formless, with protuberances that defied imagination. “They are burned.”
THEY WILL SUFFICE. TASTE ONE.
Hastur did, and spat the cookie out after one bite. “They are burned,” he repeated.
HM. Nodens picked up the recipe and examined it closely. THE RECIPE STATES THAT THEY MUST BE BAKED AT 350 DEGREES BUT IT DID NOT SPECIFY FAHRENHEIT OR KELVIN SO I ASSUMED CELSIUS.
“That asshumption may have been incorrect,” Hastur said.
Just then the phone rang.
I THOUGHT YOU CURSED THAT.
“I did. It musht have reshurrected itshelf.”
The phone rang again. Twice more.
The answering machine wasn’t going to pick it up.
“Damn,” Hastur muttered. He picked up the receiver. “Yesh?”
There was no voice on the other end. But there was a sensation, a feeling that Hastur hadn’t felt for some time. He recognized the sensation, and he hated it. He slammed the receiver down as quickly as he could, but the sensation remained. He sighed then turned to Nodens. “It appearsh we have been shummoned.”
SUMMONED? Nodens said, aghast. BY WHOM?
“I do not know. I rarely know until I arrive at the deshtination.”
Nodens looked thoughtful. BY ‘WE’ YOU REALLY MEAN YOU YOURSELF HAVE BEEN SUMMONED, CORRECT? I AM NOT TO BE INVOLVED?
Hastur hesitated. He did not wish to lie to his friend, but he also did not wish to act alone on whatever task he was being summoned for. “Yesh,” he said at length.
“Yesh, you have been shummoned with me.”
Nodens cursed, damning a civilization that had only just emerged on the faraway Leng Plateau. BUT I HAVE WORK TO DO. A RECIPE FOR GINGERBREAD AWAITS.
“Neverthelessh we are shummoned. Come with me.” Before Nodens could object, Hastur wrapped his tentacled arm around the other being’s wrist, dragging him through the Void to Earth itself, where the call had come from.
A wee bit later…
Jenny Cupcake trembled at the sight of the two smoke-enshrouded beings before her. The first was obviously Hastur, though he seemed to have traded his yellow shroud and robes for a trenchcoat and hoodie. The other she didn’t recognize; it looked like a large human male, though it had pale blue skin and seemed to have kelp for a beard.
Honestly, she hadn’t expected the summoning spell to work. The ancient copy of The Book of Eibon that Miss Candy Cane had given her before their breakup was so dusty and worn that the spells therein were half-illegible. But here they stood, two beings from beyond the depths of time and space.
“I– I only meant to summon Hastur,” she stammered.
The bearded human thing turned to Hastur. BUT YOU SAID… it began in a voice that reverberated through the huge chamber of the abandoned workhouse.
But Hastur shook his enscarfed head. “Hussh,” he slurred, like Santa on one of his benders. Then he turned to Jenny and bent forward so that she could see her reflection in his sunglasses. “Why have you shummoned ush, tiny human?”
Jenny stood up straight, stretching to her full height, all two-foot-five of it. “I’m not a human,” she said proudly. “I’m a Christmas elf.”
“Oh,” Hastur said.
The two of them stared at each other in silence for a moment, neither of them moving. The other Old One twisted his beard in agitation.
Finally, Hastur said, “Sho, why have you shummoned ush?”
Jenny found herself surprisingly unafraid in the presence of the Old Ones, now that the shock of their sudden appearance had passed. “Well,” she said, “it’s about Santa.”
“No, Santa. You know, Santa Claus? He brings toys to all the children on Christmas Eve?”
I AM FAMILIAR WITH THE ENTITY, the other Old One said. HE AND I HAVE SHARED MEAD IN THE HALLS OF THE DREAMLANDS.
“I am not,” said Hastur. “Ish he an Old One? A deity?”
“No,” said Jenny, “he’s none of those things! He’s just the spirit of Christmas personified. You know, cookies and milk and ho-ho-ho.”
Hastur shook his head.
Jenny sighed, exasperated. “The point is, I need someone to take over for him. I summoned you, and you are bound by the ancient rituals outlined in the Book of Eibon. So you have to go out and deliver toys to all the girls and boys throughout the world.”
“How ish that posshible?” asked Hastur. “I cannot travel through the ether fasht enough to do thish.”
I WILL LET YOU BORROW MY SLEIGH, said the other Old One.
Hastur sighed, and the scarf around his face wrinkled, and Jenny thought the being looked very annoyed. “Very well,” he said. “But I musht know… What happened to thish being known as Shanta?”
“He… He saw… something. Over the Atlantic Ocean.”
“What did he shee?”
“No one knows. But for sure it was something bad.”
“Very well. I am, ash you shay, bound by the ancient ritesh of the Book of Eibon. Therefore I will deliver theshe toysh for Chrishtmash.”
“Oh, thank you, Hastur!” cried Jenny. She rushed up to give Hastur a friendly holiday hug, but he stepped back from her. She stopped, realizing for the first time that Hastur was easily five feet taller than her, and she would only have been able to hug his leg. That, and the fact that touching his tattered trenchcoat might drive her just as insane as Santa was.
I WILL ACCOMPANY YOU ON THIS JOURNEY, said the other Old One. WE WILL USE MY SLEIGH.
“Is it… Is it pulled by reindeer?” Jenny asked.
NO. IT IS DRIVEN BY EVIL DOLPHINS. BUT RELAX, SHORT ONE. I HAVE TAMED THEM.
“Oh,” said Jenny, feeling faint. “I’ll go get Santa’s sack of toys, and then you can be on your way.”
Back to now…
Hastur looked down on the city below them, and was intrigued.
BEHOLD, said Nodens. THE CITY OF BOSTON.
“How many children are in this shity?”
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF THEM.
Hastur’s shoulders slumped. “How doesh Shanta do thish all in one night?”
HE EMPLOYS AN INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTAL SYSTEM CREATED BY A TEAM OF QUANTUM ENGINEERING ELVES. ALSO HE DRINKS MUCH COFFEE. DO YOU DOUBT YOUR ABILITY TO COMPLETE THE TASK? ARE YOU NOT ENJOYING YOURSELF?
“I find, to my shurprishe, that I am enjoying thish tashk. However, there ish sho much to do, and sho many children.” He sighed. “Come. Let ush deliver shome preshents.”
Millions of children. Billions of presents. So many cities. And that was over what the humans called the North American continent alone.
It was over the Equator and the Atlantic Ocean when Nodens brought the dolphin-driven sleigh to a shuddering halt. BEHOLD, he said. A DISTURBANCE IN THE WATER.
Hastur looked down to the water. He sighed. “I believe I know what hash happened. We musht inveshtigate. Can your shleigh go underwater?”
MY SLEIGH IS PULLED BY EVIL DOLPHINS. IT CAN GO ANYWHERE.
With no more preamble than that, Nodens brought about the sleigh, and dove downward toward the ocean.
The source of the disturbance was a gigantic creature, miles high, sulking on the bottom of the ocean and nursing a scar on its belly.
“Cthulhu,” Hastur said. “I sshould have known you were behind thish.”
Cthulhu looked up at Hastur and grinned. “Behind what?”
HE MEANS THAT YOU HAVE FORCED SANTA CLAUS TO GO INSANE THUS FORCING HASTUR TO DELIVER TOYS IN HIS PLACE.
“Now, would I do something like that?”
“Yesh, you would.”
Cthulhu chuckled. “Now, why would I want to do that?”
Hastur was brought up short by the question. Why, indeed, would Cthulhu drive Santa insane? Hastur had no doubt that Cthulhu had revealed himself to the human. But why?
THE STARS, Nodens said. THEY HAVE CHANGED POSITION!
Hastur looked up at the sky, then back at Cthulhu. “What’sh going on?”
Cthulhu smirked through the tentacles that sprouted from his chin. “Whatever do you mean?”
HE CHANGED THE STARS. I DON’T KNOW HOW, BUT HE DID.
“But that’sh imposshible!”
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” said Cthulhu.
I DO NOT THINK HE DID IT HIMSELF.
“It’s true. Every year at this time, the stars align in just the right way to allow that crazy old man from the North Pole to fly through the world and deliver all those gifts in one night. And every year he defeats me as I attempt to rise. Not this year, though. This year I had help.”
I BET I KNOW WHO IT WAS.
“It wash Yog-Shothoth, washn’t it?” asked Hastur. “You conshpired with him to drive Shanta Claush inshane.”
“And so what if I did?”
WE’LL FIND A WAY TO STOP YOU. WE’LL RESTORE SANTA CLAUS TO SANITY AND BRING CHRISTMAS BACK TO THE WORLD.
“Oh, but you can’t! It is too late! I have already begun to rise, and soon all mortals in the world shall tremble in fear before me!”
Hastur rolled his eyes. He’d heard this speech from Cthulhu before, and it hadn’t been impressive then. But this time, things looked more serious.
“But Hastur,” Cthulhu went on, “surely you realize that you, too, will benefit from my rise to the mortal dimensions? All Old Ones and Great Old Ones and Elder Ones and… Well, all of us will return to our dominion. Mankind rules now where we ruled eons in the past. Our time has finally come!”
Hastur did not like this idea. He knew what would happen if the Old Ones were to arise. There would be bloodshed all over the Earth. And not just of humans. Human beings had developed impressive weapons of war over the millennia, and if they felt their world was being invaded, they wouldn’t hesitate to use them. And Hastur doubted that even Cthulhu could remain unscathed after a nuclear blast.
More importantly, though, there would be upheaval not just on Earth, but throughout the Cosmos, and that included his home on the tiny planet that orbited Aldebaran. Currently the place was abandoned, except for Hastur’s own apartment, but an upheaval in the Cosmos would mean that his apartment complex would be invaded by Mi-Go, Elder Things, Shantaks, and worse. All he wanted was to be left alone, to live in isolation in his tiny place. And Cthulhu’s rise would bring an end to that.
He had to stop Cthulhu from coming. But how?
“Come, Nodensh,” he said. “We musht find a way to shtop thish.”
“It’s too late!” cried Cthulhu. “Do whatever you can, but the souls of mankind shall all soon be mine!”
Hastur shook his head. “Back to my apartment,” he told Nodens. “Now.”
BUT WHY DO YOU WISH TO STOP THE RETURN OF THE OLD ONES? asked Nodens. SURELY YOU WOULD LIKE TO WALK THE EARTH, DRIVING MANKIND INSANE.
“Why do you want Cthulhu to rishe?” Hastur replied. “After all, then mankind ish driven inshane, then the Dreamlandsh will fall to ruinsh and you will have no more realm to reign over.”
Nodens opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. YES, he said at length. YOU ARE CORRECT. SO HOW DO WE STOP THIS?
“How wash he shtopped before? In the year the humansh call 1928?”
I BELIEVE A STEAMBOAT WAS INVOLVED.
Hastur nodded, remembering; a human steamboat, piloted by an insane crew, had rammed into Cthulhu, injuring him and sending him back to R’lyeh.. “Yesh, that ish correct. But we have no shteamboat at our dishposhal thish time.”
NO. BUT WE DO HAVE ACCESS TO A SLEIGH. AND NINE TINY REINDEER.
YOU FORGET RUDOLPH.
“Then we musht return to the North Pole.”
LET US GO, THEN.
Jenny Cupcake shook her head sadly as she looked down at Santa. He had not stopped gibbering, nor had he shown any sign of sleep, despite the massive sedatives that Doctor Evergreen had given him.
“Do you suppose we’ll have to find a new Santa?” she asked.
Doctor Evergreen shrugged. “Let’s hope not. Finding a new one is always so difficult. I don’t want to contemplate finding a new one at this point.”
“But we might have to, if Hastur doesn’t come through and help us.”
“Yes, I know. And this year… Well, this year we may just have to cancel Christmas.”
THERE IS NO NEED FOR THAT, came a voice from behind them. NOT YET.
“Indeed,” slurred another voice. “We have determined a way to shave Chrishtmash.”
Jenny Cupcake spun around. The two entities that she had summoned had returned. Hastur had a Christmas wreath around his neck, and the other — Nodens — had woven a strand of Christmas lights into his beard.
“I– I–” she stammered. The two beings stood at least eight feet tall, yet, impossibly and improbably, did not have to bend over to fit in Doctor Evergreen’s workshop, nor did the workshop have to expand in size. The sight of it was terrible to comprehend, and Jenny Cupcake started to understand how Santa must have been feeling.
Doctor Evergreen, however, seemed unfazed. “And what is your plan?”
WE NEED ACCESS TO SANTA’S SLEIGH.
“Yesh. And hish reindeer. And toysh.”
“But why?” asked Jenny Cupcake. “You have your own sleigh.”
MINE IS PRICELESS AND ANCIENT.
“So is Santa’s.”
LISTEN, TINY MORTAL, WHO SUMMONED WHOM HERE?
“Oh for God’s sake,” Doctor Evergreen said, “just give him the keys to Santa’s sleigh.”
Santa’s coat hung on a hook on the wall near the writhing fat man. Without taking her eyes off Nodens and Hastur, Jenny Cupcake went over to it and took a set of keys from it. She tossed the keys over to Hastur, who missed them entirely, forcing him to bend over and scoop them up, cursing.
THANK YOU, said Nodens. WE’LL TAKE IT FROM HERE.
And with that, the two beings were gone.
“What are they going to do?” Jenny Cupcake asked Doctor Evergreen.
“They’re taking the sleigh and the reindeer,” Doctor Evergreen replied.
“I hope it’s nothing too dangerous.”
“I don’t care how dangerous it is,” Doctor Evergreen said darkly. “Just so long as the toys get delivered in the end.”
HO HO HO cried Nodens.
“What wash that?”
THAT IS THE SOUND THAT SANTA MAKES WHEN HE IS DELIVERING TOYS.
“Oh.” Hastur pondered for a moment. “Pleashe do not make that shound again.”
They had flown over the frozen tundra of the North Pole, down the East Coast, and out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Cthulhu was not where he was supposed to be. Nor could they see the risen city of R’lyeh.
WHERE IS CTHULHU? asked Nodens.
“I do not know.” Hastur did not like this development at all. Had Cthulhu been driven back to the deep by some other force? Had he moved on to another dimension? Or had he traveled elsewhere on Earth, taking his city with him?
LET US TURN BACK. PERHAPS CTHULHU’S RISING IS FOR THE BEST AFTER ALL.
“No. I’ll be damned if I allow Shantaksh to live in my shity in Aldebaran.”
WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST SHANTAKS? I HAD NOT TAKEN YOU FOR A RACIST.
“I wash being figurative. I wish for no one to join me in Aldebaran. It ish my private reshidencshe.”
BEHOLD, Nodens said, apparently ignoring Hastur’s comment, I SEE CTHULHU CROSSING INTO CARIBBEAN WATERS!
Hastur took an eldritch breath, and squared his tenctacular shoulders. “Thish ish it,” he said. “Prepare for ramming shpeed!”
HO HO HO!
Cthulhu turned when he heard Nodens’s shout. He saw the sleigh and reindeer hurtling toward him and cried out. “NOOOOO!”
It was Rudolph that crashed into the ancient eldritch being first, his bright red nose flaring bright against the darkened sky. Then the rest of the reindeer — Dasher, Dance, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem — crashed into Cthulhu.
JUMP! Nodens cried.
Hastur had just had the same idea. He cursed himself for not having brought a backup sleigh to get Nodens back to his home among the Dreamlands. But he did not want to be caught among the wreckage of Santa’s sleigh, so he jumped out of it and landed in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
As Santa’s sleigh plowed into Cthulhu’s massive, blubbery body, a huge fireball lit up: probably the propane tanks or whatever fuel that powered the sleigh. Hastur felt the shockwave and heat of the explosion, could smell burning Cthulhu-flesh hanging in the air around them. Cthulhu sank back into the ocean, crying out all the while, until he was submerged completely, defeated once again.
MY SLEIGH, Nodens wailed. I DO NOT HAVE MY SLEIGH. IT IS AT THE NORTH POLE.
“Yesh, I’m afraid it is.”
WE MUST RETURN THERE TO RETRIEVE IT.
“I am afraid we cannot. The dimensional breach created by the elf’sh shummoning shpell hash disshipated. There is no way back. But come. We can return to my apartment. The gingerbread men await.”
Hastur opened a rift between the Caribbean and Aldebaran and returned to his apartment along with Nodens. It was the end of a long night. Hopefully he would never have to do this again.
LOOK! Nodens cried as they appeared in Hastur’s apartment.
Hastur looked, seeing the damage that had been done. Walls had been broken, windows smashed. The Christmas tree — an eldritch thing, damned and slender and laden with tiny stars — still loomed in the corner, but was pressed up against the ceiling.
In the center of it all, Nodens’s sleigh. And two squeaking evil dolphins.
All tied in a silver bow.
SANTA HAS RETURNED MY SLEIGH!
“Yesh,” Hastur replied, dismayed at the wreckage. “Yesh he hash.”
He peered out the window. He would not see Santa’s sleigh, nor the bright red light of Rudolph’s nose, of course, but he did hear a voice emanating from the heavens:
“Happy Christmas to all! And to all Cthulhu fhtagn!”