The hoods came down, as they had the last two thousand times.
“Hail,” the gathered creatures said in unison.
Ruprecht took the lead, as he had the last two thousand times. A grizzled man, with a cane, a long beard, and a face that had seen much. It had seen everything. “My friends, we are reaching the end-times. We have barely fifty years left before our glorious work is complete. Come, brothers, and recount the deeds you have performed since last we met to bring about the End of Days.”
Krampus went first, as he had the last two thousand times. He had red eyes, and a long, pointed face, with greasy, black hair and the horns of a goat. “I have taken the Jackson child,” he said. “She will toil in the mines, and never become the prophesied warrior who could have stopped our plans. Our success is all but guaranteed.”
They went around the circle, as they had the last two thousand times. Befana, an old woman with a European accent, had created a protective spell using an ancient amulet. Belsnickel, short and crotchety, with fur trim protruding from his robes, had taken the amulet, split it in three, and hidden the parts across the world, lest it be used to break the spell. Perchta, bright but ancient, her entourage waiting outside the unholy circle, had burned the scrolls of prophecy. Nobody would learn of their weaknesses.
That left one. Sat on Ruprecht’s right. Another old, gnarled man. Another long white beard. But he stood taller than Ruprecht. Prouder. His beard was not stained with soot and he needed no cane and his face didn’t show all the sins of the generations. He looked content. Jolly, even. He opened his mouth to speak. His voice was deep but welcoming.
“I have delivered presents to every little boy and girl in the world.”
“Fuck’s sake, Santa,” Krampus burst out. As he had the last two thousand times. “Why do we even let him come? He’s hardly mythological.”
“You know the rules,” Ruprecht scolded him. “His myth may be corrupted by capitalism. By commercialism. By innocence. But he has more power than any of us. He has earned his right to sit in the circle.”
“But he does this every time. He should be using his power to bring about the End, and he just doles out iPads and Nintendos.”
“Oh come now, Krampus,” Santa said, still jolly even after the outburst. “Do smile. Be merry, and think what becomes of those who get everything they wish for. What kind of people will they grow into? What kind of leaders will their generation have? This generation of petty, spoiled children? How will they cope when the war starts? When that first city turns to sulphur? When it rises? How will they make the decisions they need? How will they fight it?
“You took the Jackson child? Reindeerfeed! There are Jackson children everywhere. Every little boy and girl has the potential to be a hero — do you not listen to me? But if we can make them into jealous brats? We need not mute their power, or contain it. We direct it. Harness it.”
Ruprecht banged his cane on the table. “Enough.”
And the circle rose, without a word. They would meet again, as they had the last two thousand times.
Little Gemma got everything she wanted that year. And the year after that. And the year after that. But she did not get everything she needed.