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A giggle brought Jacob Dupree out of his deep sleep. He didn’t open his eyes right away, but his eyebrows narrowed in curiosity. The laughter came again. When Jacob finally opened his eyes, he wasn’t expecting to see the small smiling face peering back at him. Jacob immediately jerked away from the form. Jacob was lying horizontally on the couch, so the figure’s head was even with his face; a quick estimation told Jacob this small person was only about three feet tall. Jacob felt the miniature face was grinning too broadly. The figure’s teeth were perfectly aligned, each tooth a perfect little square like small white Chicklets gum all lined up in two neat rows.

        “Merry Christmas,” the small figure said.

        “Ah…Merr…Merry Christmas?”

        It was mostly dark in the room, save for the Christmas tree lights and other miscellaneous decorations.

        Jacob blinked and sat up. The small figure was an elf; there was no doubt about it. Jacob could see he dressed in the classic Santa Clause outfit. The only two things that were different were that this elf had no fluffy white beard, and he looked wiry, not overweight like books and movies portrayed the real Santa.

        The elf spun in a circle and threw his hand up in the air with an arm flourish. “My name is…Butterscotch.”

        Jacob began to smile at the movement and announcement. “Hi, Butterscotch. My name is—”

        “Jacob. I know your name.”

        A tinge of fear infected his mind at being interrupted. Something was off about this little guy.

        Butterscotch continued. “I know you…very…well. Do you know why I’m here, Jacob?” The ultra-wide grin came again.

        “Uh, no.”

        Butterscotch snaked a hand into his Santa outfit, withdrew a document, and unfolded it. “This year, you made Santa’s Naughty List. Congratulations.”

        “What?”

        “You are the fourth from the top.” Butterscotch flipped the paper around so Jacob could view the list. “See?”

        Butterscotch tapped the area where Jacob’s name appeared. He allowed Jacob the time to read the names indicated.

        In an elegant handwritten script, Jacob read: Rock Hunter, Violet Whitaker, Rick English. He whispered his name, the fourth on the list. “Jacob Dupree.”

        Jacob noticed that the three names above his already had a single red line through the middle of them.

        There were other names underneath his, but Butterscotch turned the paper back to himself, folded it back up, and slid it away into an inner pocket. Butterscotch clasped his hands in front of himself and let his gaze land on Jacob once more. “Do you know what that means?”

        “Um…no.”

        Butterscotch’s eyes narrowed as his perfect sinister smile broadened once more. “Instead of a visit from Santa, you get a visit from me.”

        Alarm bells were going off in Jacob’s mind. He looked over at his dog, JoJo, who was in a deep sleep on the floor across the room.

        Butterscotch followed his gaze, “Oh, don’t worry about JoJo; he’s fast asleep and having the very best of dreams.”

        Jacob looked to the ceiling and was about to call out to his parents.

        Butterscotch said hastily, “Don’t bother; they won’t be able to hear you either. They’re also in a deep sleep. Visions of sugar plums and all that jazz. With a little help from me, of course.” Butterscotch unclasped a pouch on his belt, reached in, and flicked a pinch of red and green glittery dust that faded and disappeared before it hit the carpet. “They won’t be waking up until after I’m long gone.”

        “What…are you…you going to do?”

        “You and I are going to discuss all the bad things you’ve done this year, Mister.”

        “But…I—I wasn’t that bad.”

        “Ohhh, I beg to differ. Do you remember scaring that stray cat back in September?”

        “Yeah.”

        “That stray you chased for fun? You ended up scaring it out into traffic where a gray Dodge hit it? Remember that?”

        “How did you know about—”

        “Oh, we see everything up there at the North Pole. That was hilarious to me, by the way. But if you hadn’t killed him, he would’ve eventually wandered over to Amanda Jenkins’s house three neighborhoods over where it would’ve become her cat for the next fourteen years. It would’ve brought her a lot of happiness. But no, you chose to be a little asshole and scare it to its death.”

        “But I didn’t know it was going to dart out in traffic. I felt awful about it after it happened.”

        “It still doesn’t change the fact that you did a bad thing. Make that a bunch of bad things. We have so much to discuss. I’m here to right your wrongs.”

        “Wait. No.”

        Butterscotch didn’t wait but stepped over behind the room’s recliner, grabbed the top of his own Santa sack, and dragged it out from behind the chair. “The thing is…you don’t ever really want to meet me. That’s why we always stress being a good little boy. Santa’s the one who brings the great big bag of toys and joy. I bring the little bag of enormous pain. My bag holds all the tools I use throughout the year to make all those wonderful gifts for you children. But on Christmas Eve, just like Santa, I get to have my fun treating all the bad kids to a little pain and punishment for your…bad…deeds. Understand?”

        Butterscotch untied his Santa bag and rummaged through his bag of goodies. Finding the perfect tool, he pulled out a pair of bloody pliers then began to creep toward Jacob ever so slowly and with purpose. “Time for me to go to work. Christmas Eve is my favorite time of the year.” He giggled again.

        As the gap between them diminished, Butterscotch worked the pliers in anticipation as his perfect smile broadened. “Now, let’s have a look inside your mouth. Let’s start with your teeth and go from there.”

        It was suddenly no longer a silent night.