The Christmas Button
This is an updated version of a story previously published on Googirl dot love, my former blog. This was first published August 27th, 2016. All rights reserved, Margaret Gel, 2016-2022, into perpetuity. Characters Hwinnien and Merryweather, mine.
The Christmas Button had always been a big affair, even before it was a button. Years and years ago, it was a magical lever, built out of the heart of some great tree. You look at it now, and, if you’ve never seen it, the first question people always ask, is— Does pressing this button make it Christmas? And, if so, how?
The first is easy to answer: Why, yes. Yes it does. The second…
The second, and the first, are why it’s so securely guarded. Right now, as I speak, it sits in an ‘undisclosed location’— but we all know it has to be around.
Some of the other elves think it’s in Santa’s room, where we all fear to go. It’s not a reasonable fear, mind you; the big man, he’s kind and jolly, and his heart is a mile wide, but… in the back of all our heads, we’re all kind of scared. This has never happened before, yet we’ve all seen it a thousand, thousand times.
Don’t get us wrong: we’re not scared of him; but, rather— of disappointing him. He’s not our father. We all know that. But he’s been father enough to us, and so kind to take us in, and…
… so when he says, “Don’t go looking for the button— it’s too dangerous for yhou little ones,” we listen. Or… well. It’s not like anyone disobeys. He says we shouldn’t look; so, we won’t look. We daren’t go look for it; if only because we don’t ever want to see his fragile smile, turn back into a frown.
Humans are strange. So fragile. So sad.
I suppose we’re all like humans: we don’t know where we came from, and we don’t know what we’re meant to do.
The button is a bit like the meaning of life. Like, where we all came from. Where did that button come from? Where did we all come from? Where did Santa come from, before he was Santa?
And where is the button, when it’s not on the pedestal?
The button itself, it seems to exist as an incongruent entity. Discongruent. Disconnected, from all form. It is a thing made of only function. It’s produced from a sleeve; hidden in an envelope, flatter than the button itself. He comes from a room; it’s inside something else. And when he takes it out, it’s bigger than whatever he took it out of.
I, myself, have questions. How does he— or whomever has it— make sure that it doesn’t get accidentally pressed? Once, I saw it transmogrified into the key of a computer. Why that, of all things? Isn’t that terribly unsecured? Couldn’t someone just walk off with it?
The only thing I know, is, every year, a new elf gets to press it. I say a new elf, because— it’s always a different one. It should have always been a different one. How many times have I seen it? How many times has this happened? I’ve been here less than a year. We’ve all been here, less than a year. So this will be the first time that it happens. And yet, I’ve seen it, thirteen times before.
It works like this: a week before Christmas, we have a big raffle— or, should I say, a lottery. You get your ticket; it has numbers on it; and you sit in the big dining hall, on the first floor. Sometimes there’s a draft; sometimes, it’s been fixed. The lottery machine, this big, bobbly contraption, is placed right in front of the fireplace: with a bunch of different capsules in it, like a UFO machine. It’s all a bit like musical chairs, really; only it’s done in a 3D space. And there’s only one chair.
The bobbles fly up, moved by the waves, like from the place we were, before.
So maybe not like musical chairs at all, really.
The elf who gets picked, goes away. Something that looked like a human once said something about a ‘boiler room’; its scalp shifting, blonde hair roiling above something hollow. But she had to be wrong. We’ve always seen the elves go outside, through the front door. I’ve watched Hwinnien walk away, four times, down the Path. Over the driveway; through the front gate; over the road, to the edge of the hill. And, when she reaches the horizon, there is nothing.
What is after the horizon, its eyes leering at you? Is it magic? Santa won’t say. The only magic we know has more to do with frosting cookies, and making people happy. There’s something wrong. This isn’t the story, how it’s supposed to be.
Once, in the future, there was a woman, her eyes gleaming green, seafoam. That lady wasn’t a human being. Things moved underneath her flesh. And yet, I wasn’t afraid. That woman was like us. I don’t understand why.
When we were born, we were all helpless. We had no mothers. We came from a place like the waves: the endless ocean. A place where he stood above us. Like a nursery. A dark room, with no sun. That man was our sun.
I saw her standing there, when we were all born. Like a midwife. A green woman stood beside her.
This isn’t the story I wanted to tell.
In the future, we’ll all be happy. But, right now, time is like the cards of a rolodex. I’ve never seen a ‘rolo-dex’. The blonde woman said that everything was going to be alright: that time was a little ‘fractured’. That this would happen fourteen times, though she did not know if this first time counted.
This shouldn’t be happening. I only wanted to be with Hwinnien. I didn’t want any of this: the eyes in the sky, leering down at us all. I just wanted to be happy.
The big man knows some tricks. I remember times when we were happy. When the sky wasn’t red. When the sky didn’t have eyes. It seems like a nightmare, or a dream. History keeps changing. I think we’re the only ones who notice. The humans don’t.
When you’re picked to go out, you come back in a new set of clothes. They’ve always looked weird to me. They always look awkward. There are never any clothes that are ‘built’ for us. They always dress the victim like they’re a human. Sometimes, it’s a disguise. A little pin, like a broach. Technicolor. Flashing.
Over the last 400 years, I’m told, the disguises have changed. Mrs. Claus tells me. Sometimes they’re married; sometimes, they’re not. The times and days seem to change every time I blink my eyes. When I’m conscious, every moment I can calculate, reality changes. We know the costumes. I’ve seen them more than any of the humans we’ve seen, have. We’ve all been through this 400 times before.
The Blonde appears the most.
Last year, a thousand thousand decades ago, it was a suit. Like normal, for what would’ve been the past few decades, in a reality where we were never born. There, Santa was alone.
One year ago, a thousand thousand decades of felt time, it was a space suit; some sort of thing, like for going into outer space.
A few times, I’ve seen uniforms with big red plus signs, on the front. That was before the eyes. When time was normal, again. But I don’t think we’ll ever be normal. I don’t think we ever were. Nor were we meant to be.
I don’t know what the plus signs mean. I don’t know what any of these things mean. The symbols change from day-to-day; what is year-to-year, for people who are not like we.
I used to see symbols for peace, in different cultures. Then, one day, they simply stopped.
I’ve heard them tell her protocol. But you get in trouble for telling others what you’ve been told in private. A few times, I’ve gotten her to tell me. I always try to ask her, before she goes. I have long since forgotten the fear of getting in ‘trouble’. It is a pain much more slight than watching her go away.
Have you ever witnessed as the yelling voices in your ears start to curdle? They break down, into their constituent parts. Like the barking of a dog.
But I like doggies.
I think he’s protecting us from something. Somedays, he can’t see the eyes. Other times, when he can, he doesn’t know what to do.
He reminds me of the one from the nursery. The blackened arms, taut and loose at the same time; made of sinew, like the strings of many Christmas lights. A face so much more comforting, when there aren’t any eyes, glaring down at you.
When I was born, I believed the world was a nice place. It’s a nice place, isn’t it?
Sometimes, I wish it would stop by itself. But I know it won’t. I’ll have to go after her, and I’ll have to fight it. How do you fight eyes in the sky? How do you defeat the horizon? I don’t know, and I don’t care.
The ceremony is about to begin.
It’s Christmas eve, now. And, every year, on this day, at 11pm, we all gather in the sun room. And that is when the biggest, youngest, strongest elves, are picked; and they’re told to move all the plants out, first. And there, we wait, in that hollow, like the sky.
Mrs. Claus comes and reads from some book she won’t let us touch. At one point, it was comforting. Now, I cannot bear to hear the words. I couldn’t understand them in the first place. I cannot stomach hearing something a thousand times; not being able to change my reality. Watching the same horrible nonsense happen, again, and again, and again. Powerlessly.
It was supposed to be random. And they say it all is.
But she’s always picked. Every single time.
It’s been this way, for the last thousand iterations.
The chosen elf is called up— Hwinnien— and, the button is brought to bear. It’s placed on that little pedestal, big from far away, small up-close; and, where only Mrs. Claus and Hwinnien can see it, Mrs. Claus says a few of the same meaningless words, and the elf— Hwinnien— presses it.
Somehow, someway, pressing the button brings forth Christmas. There’s a bright light, in the sky; like the sun is out at midnight. Which, it often was, before. The light is so bright that even the eyes blink, as if it hurts them. It is brighter than all the suns and moons and stars I have ever seen, even above.
Suddenly, the light bursts— it pops, like an overfilled balloon— and it flows across the world, like a great little tidal wave. And it flows through you: and that’s when you feel it. The Christmas Spirit.
I don’t know what it does. I’ve never been exactly sure.
It used to make me feel good. They say it brings out the best in you.
It only reminds me of what comes next. Like the tweeting of the little golden birds, that reset everything.
It only reminds me of her.
After that, the friends and the family of the elf, gather, in the dining hall, alone; no one who isn’t close to them, is ever let in. It’s all so fucking tiresome, now. I’ve watched this happen more times than I have blinked. It always happens the same way, and I can do nothing. I can only watch as she walks through that door; down the driveway; through the gates; over the road; to the horizon. And when she walks past the horizon, my sun goes with her.
We’re not supposed to know about what they talk about, in there. A few times, I’ve made my way in. They all go silent, staring at me, stockstill, until I leave. But I’ve heard all of it before. These good long ears of mine are more a curse than anything, these days. They will grow back the next time this happens, no matter how low I cut them short.
There’s talk about leaving. No one has ever left. Not in a million times that this has happened. The ‘parents’ seem to be in on it, with the big guy, himself; the Blonde stands over me, her ethereal form swaying in the breeze. The waves. They all seem to know what’s going on; but they can never tell anyone.
The ‘mothers’ don’t think the lottery is truly random.
I know now that it isn’t.
They used to think that he just calls whomever he thinks is the ‘best fit’ for this ‘mission’.
More of them curse him every single day.
I know why now.
And I know it isn’t even his fault.
The mothers are crying, now. My tears have run dry. There is only pallid horror left in my breast. The sort of terror one feels when they have the same nightmare, over, and over, and over again. Watching your legs, sawed off, by the people you love. You wake up, and it’s over, again. It doesn’t matter.
Only one thing matters.
Only she matters.
I have to get her out of here.
That’s all that matters.
Once, we asked Santa, where our friends were going. At the time, he said that no one had left. He wasn’t lying. I used to think that the Blonde wasn’t lying: that, maybe, he was butchering and eating us, somewhere beneath, or beside, the ‘boiler room’. There is no boiler room. He never eats.
The peace symbols on our vests were meant to be a sign that humans shouldn’t shoot us. Now, I fear there are no humans left. That they all died, in some grand apocalypse. The sky has eyes in it. There’s nothing good, happening, outside.
The sky is filled with blood. The clouds are made of it, I think. There’s skin up there, somehow.
‘Santa’s smile dimmed. He once told us about his philosophy: that he felt that the world could be made into a better place, if you only tried.
I have tried a thousand, thousand times, and I get no closer.
Before, it was a suicide mission. That’s what it had to have been. He thought that we were powerful enough to survive whatever Humanity threw at us. Now, I’m not sure there even is a ‘Humanity’, left.
The pills are gone. I have the only set that I think exists, anymore. I once tried to take all of them, to do what you think I was trying to do. It didn’t kill me.
It’s the coward’s way out. But, for a while, there, I thought I was the only one cognizant of the loop. That everyone else was dead— or, worse, stuck in their own little loops. Sometimes, Hwinnien almost knows what we’re going through.
It takes me even a while to remember. That’s the only thing that’s important, now — remembering.
I think it’s better that she doesn’t. Maybe… not knowing, is God’s last comfort, afforded to me. Or, to her.
Tonight, I’m going to do something that I have never done before. It is the last possibility, before I try to use it on myself, once more. Hopefully, if it does not work, I either stay dead this time, or, this all ends. This torment. This Hell.
I’m going to do the one thing that will destroy everything that ever made me feel safe.
It makes my skin crawl. But it is the only way I can think of, to save her.
“You, like others before you,” Mrs. Claus begins, “have been entrusted with showing Humanity, the spirit, the meaning—”
I’m not even listening. I am fully numb, now. The only thing keeping me from crying is the horror in my brain.
The great doors open, and Mrs. Claus steps aside, as Santa stands before Hwinnien. That stupid girl: she flashes me a big, toothy grin— like always. It melts my heart.
I wonder if she’ll hate me.
Santa lays that wreath, that magickal garland, across her chest. Hwinnien wears it beautifully, looking like a fully-decorated tree.
The music inside my head, stops.
“Wait.” I implore them, raising my right hand. Santa hardly wants to; but, like every other time, he humors me. I walk up to them both, casually, because I know what’s about to happen is going to destroy everything. I am enjoying the love everyone feels for me, before I ruin everything, forever.
“Let me go with her.” I beg Santa.
He simply looks down at me, closes his eyes, and shakes his head. When his eyes open, I know.
I turn to Hwinnien. She smiles at me.
“Do you want me to go with you?” I ask her.
She nods fervently, nearly bouncing up and down, smiling happily. “Ya!”
I shoot Santa in the thigh.
The chaos that follows is not something that I want to think about. I switch the safety on the pistol, something called a 1911, and I grab Hwinnien, and I run. Not like a football, silly— we run together, and she’s almost crying.
“What’s going on?!” she asks, uselessly. I can see the realization, the cognition, creeping across her face. She’s starting to remember, now.
“WHAT’S GOING ON?!” she asks again, cursed with the burden of knowing.
“We have to run.” I say. Hand-in-hand, down the driveway, through the gates, up the road, down a Path I’ve never traveled before, we run towards the horizon. And, at the top of the hill, I see everything.
There is no ground, anymore. There are no trees.
The only thing left at the North Pole, is Santa’s tiny little oasis. The rest is a barren sea, some sort of wasteland, made out of bloody, red flesh.
Part of me begins to laugh. But, more than anything, I am grateful to know that I was never crazy.
Hwinnien is terrified, to the point of silence. Her hand is covering her mouth, as she stares up at the sky, that stares back at us.
The sky leers down at us, a hundred million eyes, seeing through us.
“Wh… what is this place?!” she screams, taking her hand from her mouth.
I don’t know what to say.
“I don’t know.” I admit. I grip her hand, tighter. I look up at her, and force a smile.
“We have to run.” I tell her, weakly.
“We have to run, or this will never happen again.”
I don’t know how long, or how far we walked. At times, every time I blinked, the World around us, would change. It was feverishly cold, and blisteringly hot, at every step.
The world was no longer our world. That much, I had known. When Hwinnien would scream, after she went past the horizon, it would all reset. I would try to get through the door; break through the window— jump through it. The glass would go through my throat, and I didn’t even care. As long as she was safe.
And, every time, like with the birds— every time, time would reset.
When the Blonde came to me, in my dreams, and she showed me the woman, that green woman, being dragged, to Her death, over and over again, I thought it was a nightmare. That she was just trying to torment me.
“Do you want this to happen to her?” she asked me. “Again, and again, and again?”
Crying, helpless, I would shake my head, no. And still, that wasn’t enough.
“You have to stop crying.” the Blonde said, melting, her mouth nothing but teeth. Red and black. “You have to stop crying.”
“Do you love her?”
I nodded, spoke through my slobber, and tears.
The Blonde smiled.
“Then use this.”
The Blonde forced the gun into my hand. And, when I awoke, from the dream, it was still with me.
The ground, made out of flesh. The sky, pulled taut: stretched, wretched skin. Everything is red, now.
And I don’t know what to do.
I look down at the gun in my hand, as we walk, and I feel more powerless than I did, any day before. At the very least, before she died— I could see her smile. Inside our house, we could be safe. I could smile, with her.
Now, I was taking her somewhere, with something a demon had shoved into my hand.
Right into the red.
Sometimes, I would have dreams. It would try to explain itself to me. Why it had to eat her. Like I cared to listen. Like it was fucking justified.
Sometimes, when she would stand at the horizon, for too long, something would come and grab her. It had to be it. A big, thick, red tentacle— something prehensile. I knew that, well-enough. I thought about all the ways that I could hold it back. Tension— chains— ropes. I could defeat it. I could hoist it up, out of the ground. Pull it down, out of the sky.
Now here I was, ready to face it. And it was nowhere.
And it was everywhere.
A howling. A cry; at first, it sounded positively inhuman. And then, when we drew closer, I recognized it. A human child, crying. Standing there, bathed in white, with its hands balled into fists, at its sides. Wailing, like it had lost its mother.
The sorrow, the fear, the loss, all soon blended into something else. A rage, a fury, unlike anything I had ever seen. And then, the words came. Monosyllabic, at first. And then, something worse.
“I’ll kill you,” it said. This little girl, barely any taller than Hwinnien and I. It was looking into the ground: a gaping portal, like a swell, a whirlpool, made out of timespace, itself.
“I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you, I’LL KILL YOU” the girl of white said, her nails drawing blood, from her palms.
The ground gave way. And as the child began to scream, the wind picked up; the sky, the skin from it, pulled itself down, through the portal. And down, through the portal, as reality gave way, the girl dove.
“I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU“
And everything went white.
When the white goes away, I awake at my desk, sitting there. It is softly snowing, outside. The eyes are gone; but that doesn’t mean anything.
The clock strikes a number. It bongs a few times; maybe four. I have enough time to sleep, before the Ceremony begins, once again.
I look down at my right hand. The gun is still in it. The safety is off, just like always. I turn it back on, again.
I put my head down on the desk.
I love you, Hwinnien.
And I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know how to save you.
ITERATION 1 OF XIV