It was a tough run, but we made it, we finally made it. With five minutes to spare, but time runs funny up here.
The boss promised me that this would be my final one, take one last load of Unbelievers up North and I’d be out, with a new identity and a fat bank account. Half a mile more and I’d be done.
As the train passed slowly through the city, the kids yammered on about elves. Elves and the Big Guy, all they ever thought they wanted to see.
They didn’t know.
I felt bad about what was going to happen to them, but that was the price of Unbelief. I knew all about that, I’d paid it myself. To look at me, I was in my fifties, but on the calendar, I wasn’t even seventeen. Heck, by Easter these kids will be in their early thirties. How else do you think the Man in Red can make all those presents in a single year?
“Ellllvesss!” For a moment I hoped that the kid had just seen some of the loaders. Older workers looked a bit like elves; decades of hard labor and a diet of nothing but reindeer meat and hot cocoa did funny things to the body. Elves, on the other hand, were bad news. I’d seen one once; it had gotten in through the sewers when I was about forty. They finally captured it, but at a cost. At the next roll call we all had to watch as it literally shredded seven of the flightless culls before being hosed down with napalm. And that was after it had been de-fanged. That demonstration had ended any talk of escape.
For obvious reasons, Mrs. C (yeah, she handled the dirty work. Surprised?) always gassed the sleigh loaders last, but these weren’t redshirts, these were Elves, real Elves, a mob of them boiling up one of the side streets. Must have breached the Wall. I heard a reassuring thump from overhead, and knew that my partner had seen them too. “You: four-eyes!” I barked.
“My name’s not four-eyes, it’s –“
“Don’t care. You know who Ma Deuce is?”
His eyes lit up behind his glasses. “Yes, sir! The M2 Browning fifty caliber machine gun is a heavy –“
“Thought you would. Ghost is setting one up on the roof. Now get on up there, he’ll tell you what to do. Pigtails! You’re pretty smart, think you’re smart enough to work a flamethrower?” She stared, uncomprehending. “It’s like one of those super soaky squirt guns, but it shoots fire. There’s one in the last car. Get to the platform on the back and hose down anything that gets close.” She gaped again. “For the love of Mike, GO!”
Who else? The kid from Edbrooke was already toast, curled up on the floor in a puddle of his own piss, but where was the other one, the troublemaker?
Smart kid, he was right behind me. “Listen, young man,” I said, taking one of the M4 carbines down from the concealed overhead rack, “we’re in some serious jelly, but we’ve got to protect this train. This,” showing him the gun, “kills Elves. Help is on the way, and if we’re lucky, we’ll live to see it.”
Of course, if the Elves didn’t get him, the little Unbeliever would spend the next decades of his year-long life in the Workshop, but the least I could do was give him the chance of a painless death. “If not, don’t try to be a hero, boy. Those things out there will make you wish you’d never heard of Christmas. If they get on board, save the last one,” I ejected a single round and dropped it into the pocket of his robe, “for yourself.”
Me? I locked myself in the cleaning closet. Didn’t get out of the Workshop and into the Conductor job through self-sacrifice now, did I?