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"When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before."

- Cliff Fadiman


In this short story by Melvin S. Brackman, Santa gets a fright before Christmas, battles a vampire, and uncovers the secret of Polidori Castle.

Falcon Berger is pleased to reproduce the story here in its entirety, with the permission of the author, as a free gift to readers everywhere.

 

SANTA VERSUS VAMPIRE

Copyright Melvin S. Brackman 2010

 

'TWAS THE NIGHT before Christmas, and Santa's sleigh had just overshot the Carpathian mountains. It screamed through the air like a sleek red bullet, leaving a long white trail of vapour in the sky.

"Ha ha! Just look at that view!" laughed the pilot.

He banked sharply to the right to get a better look. The snowy peaks were like mashed-up Viennetta.

"Can't beat it," he said happily.

The pilot, of course, was Santa Claus himself. His gloved hands held the U-shaped yoke that steered the magic sleigh. Once upon a time, he would have been holding reins, but the famous reindeer had been put to pasture many years earlier. For old times' sake, a single very old one with a glowing red nose sat in the front passenger seat, wrapped in an enormous fleece to keep him warm. His rheumy eyes shone over the hem of the blanket, taking in the view.

Santa whistled softly, admiring the snowy peaks.

"I tell you what Rudolf," he said at last - returning them to a level path. "I'll never get bored of this job. Never."

The night hadn't been without incident however. With so many children in the world, there were bound to be one or two mix-ups during the present run. For instance, in New York, Santa had let himself into one of the addresses on his nice list, only to find that a Rabbi lived there with his family. To make matters worse, he'd already helped himself to a glass of bourbon and some iced biscuits by the time he realised his error. He blushed through his bushy white beard, remembering how he had topped the whiskey up with tap water before legging it out of the apartment.

He was disturbed from his thoughts by a flashing light on the dashboard.

"Ho, boss!" called an elf from the rear.

Elfred was a tiny man with a thin grey face, silvery whiskers, and aviator's goggles under his cap. He was sitting in the back with the enormous sack of presents, looking at a little laptop.

"We're getting a hit on the nice list," he reported. "Address of Polidori Castle!"

Santa scowled and pulled a roll of paper from inside his coat. It was covered in tiny microscopic writing that he could only read through his magic bifocals.

"Well I can't see it here," he announced at last. "I tell you what, Elfred, I don't trust that computer. It said the Rabbi was on the nice list, and look where that got us. I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm sure he is nice - but I bet he got everything he wanted for Hannukah, and didn't appreciate me popping in to steal his biscuits like that."

"And whiskey," added Elfred.

Santa blushed at the memory.

"Yes, well. Don't remind me. Anyway - I can't find a Polidori Castle on my list."

He scanned it a second time, double-checking that it really wasn't there.

"Still," he admitted - "my eyes aren't what they were, and it's been a long night. And I'd hate for a child to go without presents, just 'cos I'm getting old. I suppose that's why we got the computer in the first place, isn't it? What do you think, Rudolf?"

Rudolf just looked at him and shrugged.

"That settles it," agreed Santa. "Down we go."

And he pressed the yoke forward, making them dive abruptly like a roller coaster car.

 

It was impossible to miss Polidori Castle. It rose unevenly from the plain, hunched and crooked like a giant stone scarecrow. It had a central column with two dark turrets on either side, like hands thrown up in despair or surrender. Here and there, torchlight flickered through the narrow slit windows.

Santa couldn't believe it. The mere sight of the castle made his skin crawl. He levelled out briefly to get a good look at it.

"This is on the nice list? This castle? You're pulling my leg."

Elfred consulted his laptop.

"No joke boss. It's right here. Polidori Castle, Transylvania. Boy called Anton."

"Are you sure you aren't looking at the naughties?"

"One hundred percent," replied the elf. "There's no surname though. Maybe it is a mistake."

Santa shrugged and took them down to land. It was far better for him to waste his time on a wild goose-chase, he reasoned, than miss a single well-behaved child-although he had a nasty suspicion that, with so many children in the world, he never got all of them. He could only do his best.

The sleigh landed with a jolt on the Transylvanian plain, causing stocking-fillers to fall from the sack of presents. Elfred sprang to his feet and went to retrieve them. As he did, Rudolf looked around, then buried his antlers in the blanket and went straight to sleep. There was no call for an old reindeer to leave the sleigh.

Once Elfred had returned the presents to the sack, Santa blinked twice at it through his magic bifocals. In a flash, it became as small as a lady's purse, with only a faint whiff of magic to give the game away. Santa picked it up and popped it in his pocket, then waved for Elfred to follow him towards the castle.

The path led through an old archway, and from there to the enormous double-doors of Polidori Castle. As they drew closer, a cold wind blew across the plain, making the bare trees knock like old bones.

Santa shuddered and pulled up his hood.

"I don't like this place," he told Elfred.

"Tell me about it," the elf muttered darkly.

Then they had reached the front door, and it was time for them to enter.

 

Naturally, Santa Claus didn't hammer on the daunting double doors. Nor did he use the knocker, which was shaped like a wolf with a ring between its fangs. Santa was the kind of person who went into people's homes unannounced - but unlike a burglar, he was entitled to enter all homes by virtue of the ancient magic that made him who he was.

He took off his magic bifocals and polished them on his sleeve. Then he donned them, held Elfred firmly by the wrist, and blinked five times at the door. The minute his eyes closed the fifth time, the wood became as flimsy and insubstantial as jelly. The gloomy hall was visible beyond, and the door wobbled lightly as the wind blew across it.

Santa prodded it with his foot. As he did, the toe of his boot slid right into it, like a soapy finger piercing a bubble without popping it. Satisfied, he pulled Elfred through the door and into the castle.

The moment they were inside, the door became firm and heavy behind them. The long hall was lit by flaming torches, each of which looked like it was about to go out.

Elfred shuddered and rubbed his face.

"I hate it when we do that," he complained.

Before he could elaborate on why, Santa shushed him very firmly.

"Now now," he reminded him. "It wouldn't do to wake anyone!"

"Oh," whispered Elfred - covering his tiny grey mouth. "Of course. We're here on business, aren't we?"

"We are," replied Santa - but as he peered down the gloomy hallway, he wasn't sure what had worried him more: the thought of waking someone, or the thought of who might wake up.

Then he shrugged to himself and waved for Elfred to follow him deeper into the castle. They tiptoed nervously down the long hall and up a spiral staircase, praying that the flaming torches wouldn't go out, and wondering who would have lit them so late on Christmas Eve.

After a while, Santa paused to inspect one of them through his bifocals.

"Ah. Now these aren't normal torches," he announced. "They're bewitched. They'll burn for eternity. Strange indeed. I wonder what sort of boy Anton is, to live in a house with magic torches?"

Elfred didn't like the sound of bewitched. Even Santa's magic gave him the heebie jeebies from time to time, and his was just about the whitest magic there was.

They emerged from the staircase into a maze of dark corridors with doors leading off them. As they explored, they found whole suits of armour standing to attention, moth-eaten wall hangings, and portraits of Romanian nobles, whose severe faces were obscured by gloom.

"Transylvania is spooky," whispered Elfred unhappily.

"It most certainly is not spooky," said Santa sternly. "It is a place of rich history and incredible natural beauty. We just happen to have found one spooky castle in the middle of it! Now let's find Anton and give him some presents."

Suddenly, a door creaked open right around the corner. Loud footsteps were coming towards them, like horse's hooves on the cold stone floor.

Santa rolled his eyes in annoyance. Then he gripped Elfred's shoulders and closed his own eyes very tight. In a flash, he glowed briefly blue, shimmered like a mirage, then vanished entirely.

Invisibility was something that Santa always tried to avoid. It was the most draining of his powers, and the least pleasant to experience. Walking through solid doors made your skin itch and feel sticky, but being invisible was like plunging yourself into chilled syrup.

The footsteps stopped, and a young voice chuckled.

"It's no use closing your eyes," he assured them.

He had a rich Romanian accent that echoed down the long hall, seeming to bounce around in the suits of armour.

"Your elf-magic is wasted on me," he said dismissively. "I can see you perfectly well. Now stop cowering and greet your illustrious host."

Santa opened his eyes in surprise. He saw a young boy with a very pale face, old-fashioned clothes, sunken cheeks, and dark lips.

"By the North Pole! Who on earth are you?" he asked the boy.

"My name is Anton Bela-Lugosia," replied the strange child. "I have lived in this castle for many hundreds of years. No living man could see or find it, but I see a half-elf such as you is immune to my spells. Just as I am immune to yours."

Elfred tugged at Santa's sleeve.

"I don't want to alarm you boss," he whispered, "but I think this kid might be some kind of vampire!"

Anton threw back his head and roared with laughter, revealing, for the first time, his gleaming white fangs in all their glory. Eventually he stopped, took out a mouldy grey hanky, and dabbed the corner of one eye.

"I am indeed a vampire," he admitted. "But you aren't mortals either. What brings a half-elf and an elf to my house in the dead of night? Come to steal my treasure, have you?"

Santa's eyes widened.

"Nothing of the sort!" he assured the boy. "The truth is, I'm Santa Claus. As in Father Christmas. You were on the nice list, so I came to have a mince pie and leave some presents."

Anton's face lit up and looked suddenly hopeful. For a second, he seemed almost like a normal boy. Then his features hardened.

"I have lived here for hundreds of years," he sneered coldly, "and I have not once been on the nice list. Presents indeed! I have grown accustomed to a life without presents. If you have brought me a present, it is surely nothing more fancy than your blood. I have never dined on the blood of a half-elf before. I wonder if it will make me more powerful...?"

He licked his lips hungrily, and that was more than enough for Santa. The old man picked Elfred up like a Rugby ball and ran off down the corridor, knocking over a suit of armour as he went. Anton hissed like a cat and went after him, his eyes shining with the thrill of the hunt.

"What are we going to do?" squeaked Elfred in fright.

"What are we going to do? I'll tell you what we're going to do!" boomed Santa angrily. "We're going to take Polidori Castle off the nice list! That's what we're going to do!"

Despite being old and fat, Santa was faster than the young vampire, and soon lost him in the maze of corridors. However, no matter how far they went, they could hear him laughing not far behind them.

Then Santa ground to a halt. They had reached a dead end. The corridor stopped at an enormous wooden door, locked with a big iron padlock. Worse still, evil-looking spells had been daubed on the wood in glowing green paint.

"Can we get through?" wondered Elfred.

Santa quickly scanned the spells.

"I think so," he said. "By half-elf standards, his magic is pretty second rate!"

He blinked five times, turning the door to dark jelly. The spell didn't work as well as normal. When he took Elfred through, it was like trying to squeeze through a very narrow gap, and he had to suck his belly right in.

Finally, he popped out on the other side, and the door went back to normal. The pair of them paused to get their breath back. A moment later, Anton arrived outside. He paused, then kicked the door impatiently.

"What elf magic is this?" he fumed. "Where have you vanished to, old man? Beat my spells, did you? I'll get my key. Then we'll see how clever you are!"

They held their breath as the young vampire stormed out of earshot. At last, they both relaxed, exhaling noisily with relief.

"I'm sorry boss," said Elfred at last. "This is all my fault. I must have done something wrong with the laptop. There's no way that boy is on the nice list!"

Santa pulled out his own copy. As he scanned the microscopic writing, his eyes widened with surprise.

"I wouldn't be so sure!" he told the elf. "Here, I've found it. It's on my copy too. Anton Arcos, Polidori Castle."

Elfred pulled a face.

"Anton Arcos? I though his name was Anton Bela-Lugosia? It just said Anton on the computer," he reminded him.

Before Santa could reply, someone cleared his throat behind them. The old man and the elf turned in fright.

"Hello!" remarked Santa in surprise. "Who are you?"

He said this because he could see an unhappy-looking boy in the corner of the room. The boy had rosy cheeks and bright eyes, but other than that, he looked remarkably similar to the young vampire.

"I'm Anton," replied the boy. "Anton Arcos. And that crazy vampire has been keeping me prisoner!"

 

That was all Santa needed to know. Moments later, he had solved the riddle of Polidori Castle.

"Anton Bela-Lugosia is a vampire," he explained to Elfred. "In other words, dead. His own body rotted long ago. He's been doing a nasty kind of spell called a doppelgänger spell, which is where you kidnap someone with the same name as you. As long as you keep them prisoner, you can duplicate their body for yourself. This Anton is the one on the nice list. Not that horrible brat of a vampire."

As he spoke, he rummaged around in the top of his sack. He had returned it to normal size and was hunting for something that might help them defeat the vampire. Anton Arcos watched in amazement, still digesting the fact that Santa himself had come to rescue him.

At last, the old man found and unwrapped a child's cricket set.

"Perfect," he announced.

He peeled open the plastic and handed a white wooden stump to each of his companions. Then he shrunk the sack of presents and returned it to his pocket.

"Now we wait," he said simply - testing the weight of the third remaining stump.

 

Not long after, Anton Bela-Lugosia unlocked the door and kicked it open. When he did, he was greeted by the strange sight of Santa, Elfred, and Anton Arcos, angrily brandishing cricket stumps in his direction.

"Look at these," said Santa - holding one out like a sword. "They're pointy, and they're made out of wood. I'm sure you'll agree they make passable stakes."

The vampire looked alarmed and backed off.

"Now!" bellowed Santa.

All three of them ran at once from the cell, waving the stumps like hooligans. As they did, the young vampire cringed with fright and covered his chest.

"Come on!" cried Santa. "This way!"

They found the spiral staircase and went galloping down it, like children whirling round a helter skelter slide. Then they ran down the dark hall and came to the front door, which Santa quickly turned to jelly. He dropped his stump in order to grab both of his companions. Anton looked surprised and then delighted as he was yanked through the door and out of the castle. That achieved, they ran to the sleigh, where Rudolf was still snoozing under his blanket.

Before they reached it, the double doors of Polidori Castle burst open, and the vampire boy came literally flying out of it. His old-fashioned cape billowed around him as he soared above the treetops.

"Not so fast!" he cried.

Already, the doppelgänger spell was wearing off. His face was wilting like old lettuce, and his teeth could be seen through his fading lips.

"I need that boy!" he howled. "I'll die without him!"

The escapees piled into the sleigh, making Rudolf snort with surprise. Santa turned the key and the sleigh took off, but the vampire managed to grab the rear spoiler with his white bony fingers. As they rose into the air, he rose with them, trying to pull himself onto the back seat.

"Got a situation back here, boss!" reported Elfred.

The brave elf raised his cricket stump, but as he did, the sleigh accelerated sharply. He stumbled awkwardly and dropped the stump, then watched with horror as it tumbled into space.

"Give me your stump!" he told Anton.

Before Anton could oblige, the vampire reached across the back of the sleigh, snatched it from his hands, and threw it casually over his shoulder.

"Santa!" shouted Elfred. "I need your cricket stump!"

"No good!" replied Santa in a panic. "I dropped it when we were going through the door! If we're out of stakes, then what else kills a vampire?"

Their tormentor laughed with glee, still clinging to the back of the sleigh.

"Just the dawn!" he gloated. "And that's three hours off!"

If he thought he had won, then he was mistaken. Something occurred to Santa, and the old man laughed at the front of his sleigh.

"Dawn? Why! It's always dawn somewhere!" he told the vampire. "If there's one thing I know like the back of my hand, it's the progress of night across the world. Three hours away?"

He grinned and put his foot down.

"Then it's dawn already in Peru!"

He laughed as the sleigh began to accelerate - because if there was one thing his sleigh could do well, it was cross the world in the blink of an eye.

The plain became a wild blur. They rose higher and higher until the whole world was a spinning ball beneath them, and they could actually see the stars moving overhead.

"Hold on!" cried Santa.

Within seconds, they had reached Peru. The sun exploded into view like a firework, rising all at once as they overshot the horizon.

The vampire screamed and let go of the sleigh. He tumbled away from them, smoking in the sunlight. As Santa watched in the rear view mirror, he turned in a flash to loose powder, like a snowball coming apart mid-air.

 

It didn't take long to get Anton back to his home in Romania. He waved Santa and Elfred off, happily clutching some presents from the sack.

"Well that was quite an adventure!" said Santa happily. "We rescued a well-behaved boy and killed an evil little vampire. How often does that happen?"

Elfred looked up from his laptop.

"What-on Christmas Eve? Hardly ever," he said dryly.

Santa smiled to himself. Then something occurred to him, and his eyes widened.

"Christmas Eve - blimey! I forgot what day it was! How many children left to do?"

"Millions," replied Elfred in a tired voice. "Absolutely millions."

"Then we better get on with it!" laughed Santa.

He put his foot down, making them race faster and faster. Rudolf stirred in his sleep, dreaming of the glorious sleigh rides of yesteryear. They were heading out across the dark Atlantic, all the way to North America, and the ocean was a dark mirror far below.

"Ho ho ho," chuckled Santa to himself. "Merry Christmas!"

 

THE END