‘Twas the Snatching Before Christmas

This story takes place twelve years before the events in Assassins! Accidental Matchmakers. The events happen before but are loosely related to those in  Night of the Sisters, Stuck in a Cabin for the Holidays, and Making that left turn at New Albion

Monday the 24th of December, 1990 – Westmeath, Ontario

There it was, the sound of hoofbeats on the roof, followed by gentle jingle bells. For any other child on December twenty fourth, that noise would bring joy. Not so for the fourteen-year-old Jason Johnson. He knew it wasn’t Santa, and he was ready.

A little over a year ago, he’d developed powers. Like his father, he could manipulate shadows and he could also travel inside them. Hiding his powers from everyone but his best friend and his father, at night he became The Phantom. His one goal was to find and save the people who were being kidnapped from his Community. 

His father was the leader of the Aetherborn of Oldtown in Westmeath, Ontario. Aetherborn are people created from the chaos of magic with the help, mostly accidentally, of the human imagination. It meant there were a lot of pop culture and mythological people, and regular humans weren’t very accepting. 

They found safety in Oldtown, but something had been preying on the innocent Aetherborn and they’d been disappearing. Jason had heard rumours of something taking kids around Christmas. He’d spread some rumours that he’d been misbehaving and was waiting up in his all-black Phantom suit for something to happen.

He heard the noises and waited; nothing happened. Then in his mind, he heard his sister scream for help. Mindspeak was something Aetherborn could do with family.

Zoey, what’s wrong?

She didn’t reply. Either she was already too far away or unconscious. 

Jumping out of bed, he scrambled to his window and climbed the trellis to the roof just in time to see something horrible; A half goat demon with a large basket. He could see several heads poking out, asleep.

The demon didn’t fly or leap into the air, it melted into shadow and reappeared on another roof. Jason stood in shock and almost lost sight of the creature. The air left behind had an awful smell, like meat that had been in the heat too long.

The smell was incongruous with the frigid cold air. Jason regretted not having a coat under his black outfit.

Knowing there must be more kids in the thing’s lair, Jason decided to follow and save them all instead of fighting it on the rooftops. He’d have a better chance on even footing than on the snow and ice covered roofs.

Travelling by shadow was draining and Jason had never gone this far. He followed the thing across Oldtown and into the downtown core. To his surprise, the last trip had the thing land on the top of one of the new skyscrapers that housed a tech company. He’d expected a dark cave or abandoned warehouse, not the top of a shiny new building.

On the roof, he realized how new the building really was. It had a state of the art camera system and keycard lock. Jason tried the door and was pleasantly surprised that no alarms went off; it seemed nothing was hooked up yet.

The heat was thankfully on, and Jason tried to be both quiet and stay loose. His martial arts teacher had told him that he needed to be ready for a fight at any time. 

“Boo!” a loud voice said just behind him. He punched toward it but it was gone. Stumbling down the stairs, Jason reached the top floor, which was one large open office with no furniture yet. Another, “Boo”, and failed punch and he knew he was being herded.

“What do you want?”

“Krampus wants to snatch the naughty little boys and girls.” Its voice, high and nasally, came from a dark corner of the room. It looked like he was perched on a chair or a rolled up rug.  “I want to eat them too, but Beast says I cannot. Sad for me, but still fun to snatch.”

“Why’d you let me follow you?” Jason could see dozens of children asleep on the floor. He needed to stop this thing, but didn’t know what he could do if it kept disappearing every time he tried to hit it.

“You didn’t fall asleep like the others. You play with shadows like me. I wanted to have some fun.” The Krampus disappeared and reappeared right in front of Jason. He tried to punch it, but the thing was already travelling in shadow. “Ho ho. Not very fast are you? Maybe you’re not much fun.”

It was trying to make him mad. It wasn’t going to work. Zoe was an expert at making him mad and she was unconscious here somewhere.

The room was flooded with shadows from the lights outside, this should be his environment. This should be where he was in control, but he couldn’t tell when this thing was going to move.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe he could feel the shadows and they could tell him. Reaching out, he felt his senses expand, and just like that, the room was as bright as day for him. The Krampus was still perched, but Jason could see his perch was an old man with a grey-white beard.

He could also see that the Krampus was wearing an amulet of pure shadow. It didn’t travel naturally.

This time when it said, “Boo,” Jason faked a punch and grabbed at the amulet while it travelled through shadow. It ripped off the thing’s neck and Jason smashed it. A black smoke came out and tried to fly toward Jason, but a ball of glittering energy contained it first.

As he watched, the Krampus transformed, writhing into a man. It was old man Dulac, one of the Oldtown Council members. 

The former perch wiggled his eyebrows and whole body before flopping to his side, trying to get free. Jason rushed over and cut the ropes holding the man and helped him up.

The old man straightened and reached out to the shimmering ball. He waved his hands and the ball turned into a stone with the smoke hidden deep inside. The man put it in his pocket and said, “Well, well, if it isn’t little Jason Johnson.” The man’s dark brown skin looked almost grey in the shadows, and Jason could feel power emanating from him.

“Are you…?” Jason couldn’t finish. Was this just some wizard or was it Santa? With enough belief and magic, it could be.

The man laughed, he was thin and not round like on television, but it was a sound of pure pleasure. “I have been called the S word a few times.” Changing the subject, the man said, “However, now it looks like I need to deliver the children to the presents and not the other way around.”

“What about Mister Dulac?” Jason asked.

The old man walked over to the council member and poked him gently. “A small transmutation spell stored in the amulet. Nasty piece of work. I bet someone gave it to him, and he won’t remember a thing.”

Jason hoped that was true and the Council members weren’t involved in the abductions.

“Do you know everyone here?” the man who might be Santa asked. Nodding, Jason recognized them all as Aetherborn from Oldtown. “Good good. Here’s a map.” A flick of the wrist and a three dimensional overhead map of Oldtown appeared on the wall. “When I’m done with one, you point out their house.”

“Done? What are you going to do?” His tone was challenging, but the other man was an unknown wizard, and Jason was worried.

In a calming voice, he said, “It’s okay, Jason. I’m going to give them all a small freckle. Inside that freckle will be a spell that will help prevent them from being kidnapped again. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.”

Each child was marked and Jason would point out the house, then the man would pull open a blue portal and place the kid on his bed. The portal would snap shut and they continued on with the next child.

They’d returned all the other kids and Mr. Dulac with only Zoe and himself left. As Santa, maybe, put the freckle on the back of Zoe’s neck, Jason burst into tears. “Thank you!” he said.

The man’s eyes were blue, soothing, and so sad. He hugged Jason and said, “I can’t give you one. It would change too much.” 

Through the hug and the crying, Jason said, “That’s okay. You got Zoe. She’s safe.”

Jason carried his sister to her bed and turned to see the portal closing. The old man placed a finger next to his nose and smiled. 

The boy was never sure if it really was Santa, but decided it didn’t matter because there was a man who looked like Santa out there and he helped protect Zoe. That was the best present he could ask for.

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