📅 Published on December 15, 2021


Written by Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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Her shoes were too tight. The coat was too itchy. And by god, if Zoe heard ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’ one more time, she’d go postal on everyone here. That would be a memorable visit to the mall’s North Pole- seeing one of the Christmas elves take out the other elves and then strangle Santa with his fake beard.

But it was money. It was money for Christmas presents and money for herself to add to her meager college funds. She was graduating next year, and that ever-looming shadow of student debt was starting to make her sweat… and this was the only job she could get that wasn’t fast food. Which. Uhg.

The ringing of a fellow elf’s shoes brought Zoe out of her moment of self-pity, and she glanced up to see a coworker she didn’t recognize. “Um… hi?” She waved awkwardly.

“Heelllllooo!” The elf waved, and Zoe immediately cringed at the other girl’s high-pitched voice. “Isn’t it a wonderful day to work for Santa?”

“You can chill for like, three seconds. There’s not any kids around,” Zoe gestured to the empty winter wonderland. “Erm, who are you again? I don’t recognize you.”

The elf cocked her head to the side. “Why, I’m Cocoa! And how can you not be cheery in a place like this?” Cocoa spun around on the tips of her belled toes, jingling enough to trigger a migraine in anyone too close. “We were hired after the last elf agency… errr, not to be a gossip or anything, but they’re out of business. Whoopsie!”

Uh-huh. Zoe nodded before taking a long sip from her lukewarm cocoa. “We?” she repeated.

“Yup yup yup!” Cocoa gestured to the other elves. “Me, Figgy, Ginger, Garland, and a few others, but they won’t arrive until the Christmas party next Friday.”

Wow. Zoe glanced at the other elves, and whaddya know… they were all new faces. And honestly, they all had way better costumes than her and the last elves they were replacing. They even went the extra mile with fake pointed ears, and Cocoa had literal glitter spread across her bright pink cheeks. “There’s going to be a Christmas party?” Zoe asked.

“It’s part of the package deal. Hire us, get a fully catered party at a discount! For the kids, of course. Oh, I love kids, don’t you?” Cocoa squeezed herself in a tight hug. “We’re going to give them the best Christmas ever.”

All right then. Zoe focused back on her mug. “Well, word of advice from someone who started this gig the moment it opened- you’re way too peppy, you’re going to burn out real quick. And careful not to twirl too much around anymore. You uh… got a real short skirt.”

Cocoa cocked her head to the side. “Why is that a problem?” she asked.

Before Zoe could answer, up came ‘Santa’- named Zac. He wasn’t anywhere near old enough to be Santa, but the managers were cheap, and Zac was the best they could get. He tugged his fake beard down over his real scraggly one and grinned at Zoe. “Hey, Zoe! How’s that cocoa today? Any chance it’s sweeter than you?”

Ew. Zoe turned away. She heard Cocoa’s shoe jingle, likely to turn towards the interrupting Santa. “I think she’s a bit young for you, Santa,” she said, her tone becoming suddenly quite cold.

With a murmur of ‘mind your own business,’ Zac balked and stalked back to his throne in the North Pole. Zoe waited until he was out of earshot before sighing with relief. “Thanks. I’ve told him like five times that I’m only seventeen, and he doesn’t seem to give a damn,” she said, looking up at Cocoa.

Cocoa beamed. “Anything to help a little elf friend of mine!” she reached down and booped Zoe on the nose. “Now, cheer up! It’s Christmas! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Why? Zoe groaned as Cocoa did a little jingly dance before skipping back to her Christmas coworkers. Yes, Christmas was a great time of year… when you were a kid. Now, instead of believing in Santa and shiny new toys under the tree, receive your questions from relatives. The ones like ‘so what are you going to do when graduating next year and ‘how’s college applications going’? For god’s sake, let her enjoy her last year of high school before she was thrust into the horrible world of adulthood.

At least the rest of the shift passed quickly enough with minimal sexual harassment from Santa Claus. Home, sweet home. Zoe practically collapsed in bed after throwing her elf costume in the corner of her room and putting on some of the most comfortable sweatpants she owned.

She didn’t get the peace of being alone for long, though, as the door creaked open and Zoe heard a familiar set of tiny footsteps approaching her bed.

“Hi, Kailee.”

Zoe’s seven-year-old sister launched herself on the bed. “Hi, Zoe! Where’s your elf suit?” she asked, flopping herself across Zoe’s back.

Zoe grunted but made no effort to move. Moving required energy, she just didn’t have. “At work. What’s up?” she asked, managing to look over her shoulder at the very least.

Kailee was fully decked out for the season- her pigtails were held back with green and red bands, her sweater had a grinning Rudolph stitched across it, and she had her candy cane leggings on. Never mind that her outfit clashed. She screamed Christmas from head to toe. “I have a question. If Santa has elves, why are you an elf at the mall?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

Oh boy. There was no way Zoe was going to drop that bomb on her. “Ummm, well, they’re busy. Making toys. I’m filling in,” she said.

“Is Santa filling in too? I know that’s not really Santa,” Kailee whipped her head from side to side, “Santa has a better beard!”

“I bet he does.” Zoe managed to shove her snuggly sister off of her and sat up. “Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there’s a lot to do before Christmas, you know.”

Kailee pursed her lips in thought. “I gueeesss… but Santa’s magic. Why can’t he be at the mall too?” she asked.

After internally cursing her mom for not being there, Zoe decided to pull a little wool over her sister’s eyes. In the name of the Christmas spirit. “Well, that’s a lot of magic to use. There’s a bunch of malls in our state. He can’t be with everyone… but you know what?” Zoe gestured Kailee to lean forward. “A few of my fellow elves? They’re real Christmas elves. They got some time off and decided to visit a few of the Mall Santas.”

Kailee’s jaw dropped, her eyes sparkling with wonder. “Really?!”

“Yup. Ask mom to take you to see Santa tomorrow afternoon. I’ll introduce you to one that’s… my very best friend.” No way Cocoa wouldn’t be down to entertain a kid’s Christmas dream. Zoe extended her pinky finger. “Pinky promise, short stack.”

Kailee squealed with delight before wrapping her pinky finger around Zoe’s. “Pinky, promise! It means you can’t go back on it! Oh boy, oh boy, I get to meet Christmas elves!” Kailee flung herself off the bed and danced around the room while Zoe shook her head and laughed.

“Yeah. Now go, bother Dad. I bet he’ll order us dinner since Mom’s working late.”

Kailee skipped out the door, and Zoe flopped back on the bed. There. She didn’t ruin Christmas for her baby sister.

The next day Zoe cornered Cocoa in the break room, where she was adding a crapton of sparkly sprinkles to the whipped cream on her hot chocolate. “Cocoa, you can pretend to be a real Christmas elf for a few minutes, yeah?” Zoe asked, sliding in across from the other girl.

Cocoa laughed. “What do you think I’ve been doing this whole time?” she asked before taking a long sip. “Mmm mmm mmm! I love cocoa! I guess that’s why they call me Cocoa, teehee!”

Well, whatever worked. Zoe nodded. “Yeah, whatever, my little sister is coming to visit Santa this afternoon. I told her you were real Christmas elves. She’s starting to have the question of ‘is Santa real?’”

“But he isn’t,” Cocoa pointed out.

“Exactly. You get it. Just uh, don’t tell her that. Don’t break a seven-year-old’s heart right before Christmas.”

Cocoa saluted. “Got it! How old is your sister?” she asked.

“Oh uh,” Zoe rubbed the back of her neck, suddenly a bit unnerved by Cocoa’s intense look. “She’s seven. There’s a huge gap between us, but I was adopted, and she was… a blessing.” That’s what all of her extended family called her anyway.

“I’m sure you’re a blessing too, Zoe.”

Cocoa reached across the table and gently patted Zoe’s arm. “I’ll help you with your Christmas scam. Just a warning, though, lying isn’t something I do, so if I sound a bit weird…”

“Whatever. Just don’t say the words ‘Santa doesn’t exist,’ and we’re friends forever.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that.”———

Kailee arrived near the end of the shift when Santa had a line out the door, and kids had to hurry to tell Santa their Christmas list. Thankfully Kailee had already come to see Santa when he’d first come to the mall, and she didn’t care to go through that song and dance again with a Santa she knew wasn’t the real deal. She was here for the real-life Christmas elf, and Zoe was determined to deliver.

Cocoa was thankfully just chilling out near the front of the north pole set up, bobbing her head to ‘12 Days of Christmas’ that was currently blasting from the speakers. Zoe called out, “Cocoa! She’s here!” and the Christmas elf turned with a big smile on her face.

Kailee’s eyes were as wide as saucers as Zoe pushed her towards the Christmas elf. “Kailee, this is Cocoa. Cocoa, this is Kailee,” she said.

Cocoa laughed and leaned down to Kailee’s level. “Well, hello there!” She took Kailee’s hand and gave it a warm shake. “It’s so good to meet another good child during this season!”

Kailee didn’t waste time with pleasantries. “Are you Santa’s elf!?” she blurted out, staring at Cocoa with wonder and delight.

Cocoa laughed. “Well, I am an elf, yes. Look,” she gestured to her ears, “you ever seen an elf without pointed ears?”

“Zoe has some, but they’re fake…” Kailee leaned in to get a better look. “But yours look real!”

“The secret is that they are,” Cocoa winked.

“Are you from the North Pole?” Kailee asked.

Zoe held her breath as Cocoa paused to consider the question, mentally begging her not to ruin her little sister’s Christmas accidentally.

“Well, no, but I work at the North Pole!” She gestured to the set behind her. “No, where I live in Winter Land! It’s much, much better. It snows all the time, even in different colors! Every night we have warm feasts that make Christmas Dinner look like nothing at all, and we all danced and sang to pipes and violins. Would you like to go?”

“Would I!?” Kailee squealed, jumping up and down with glee.

“We’ll see then,” Cocoa winked before she got back up. “Any more questions?”

Kailee rapidly fired several questions, all of which Cocoa inventively answered.

‘What’s Santa like?’

‘I don’t deal with him. But I bet he’s all right.’

‘Do you like reindeer?’

’I prefer dogs. I have a whole bunch back home, all with thick fur, and they pull my sled through the snowdrifts!’

‘What am I going to get for Christmas?’

’I can’t tell you that. That’s cheating. But if you come to the Christmas party, I’ll give you the best present you could ever imagine.’

When Zoe’s and Kailee’s mom came to collect them, Kailee burst with the Christmas spirit, Zoe mouthed a quiet ‘thank you’ to Cocoa, who winked and waved goodbye to the pair.

Kailee chattered their mom’s ear off on the drive home about everything Cocoa had told her. Their mom just mostly ‘mmhmm’d and ‘uh huh’d’ to all the conversation while Zoe tuned it out while listening to the cheery music on the radio.

It wasn’t until they got home that Kailee brought up the Christmas party.

“Cocoa said she’ll even give me a present when I go! So can we?! Can we go to the Christmas party!?” Kailee clasped her hands together as she begged. “I’ll never ask for anything ever again!”

This seemed to jerk their mother out of her thoughts, and she visibly winced. “It’s Friday night, isn’t it?” she asked, and Zoe recognized that tone of voice.

“Well… yeah… but your job won’t mind, right?” Kailee asked.

Their mother sighed, and their gaze dropped. Zoe knew what that meant.

“I’m… sorry, I just can’t take any time off right now, Kailee. We can go next year, I promise.”

An empty promise, but it was an attempt to appease a small child. It failed. Kailee deflated like a balloon, sinking in her seat. “But… but… Zoe, can you bring me?”

Zoe stared at the floor. “I’m gonna be real tired after work this week, Kailee. I’m going to need a break,” she answered, and it wasn’t a lie. Being a Christmas elf kicked your ass into the ground.

Kailee’s bottom lip trembled before she flung herself out of the car and bolted inside, tears running down her cheeks. Their mother watched her go before looking at Zoe.

“You don’t have to bring her, but-”

“Mom, I’m freaking exhausted,” Zoe pressed her fingers against her temples, “on Friday night, I’m going to be asleep. Very, very asleep. Can’t Dad bring her?”

“He’ll be on the road again by then. I’m sorry, Zoe. At least this way, we’ll have Christmas together?”

Sure they would. Zoe mmhmm’d this time before she unbuckled herself and left the car.

There was a decent amount of moping around from Kailee that week, a lot of over-dramatic sighing and ‘letters to Santa’ that begged to let her go to the Christmas party on Friday night. Zoe considered breaking and just taking her sister to the dang party to get that Christmas magic going again.

But by Friday, Zoe was so beat she only left her room once to load up on snacks before returning to bed. Mostly to sleep, but partially to avoid the disappointed Kailee. It was hard standing your ground before an unhappy child who still believed in Santa and wanted presents from a real-life Christmas elf.

She wasn’t sure when she fell asleep during the Santa Clause, but by the time she woke up to her phone ringing, it was rolling the credits. Zoe groaned as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. She felt gross, still dressed in her pajamas and chip crumbs all over her bedspread. She blindly reached for her phone and answered. “Yeah?”


Already Zoe was tempted to hang up when she recognized Zac’s voice.

“Zac, the moment I find out how you got my freaking number, I’m going to report you-”

“Zoe, shut up! There’s something wrong!”

Zoe paused. That was a lot of panic in Zac’s hushed voice like he was trying to avoid being heard, but he was genuinely afraid. “… Zac? What’s up?”

“I think something’s wrong with the Christmas Elves.”

Zoe snorted as she rolled off her bed, brushing crumbs off her sweatshirt. “What do you mean, something’s wrong with the elves? What, did one of them tell you to take a hike when you complimented their legs?”

“Ummm…” Zac swallowed audibly and paused for a second. “… I’m still alone. I’m hiding in the office. Zoe, I showed up to the party, all in my Santa getup and ready to do my thing, and there was already a Santa here. The elves looked pissed when I showed up. I don’t recognize this Santa either. Not to mention a lot of kids are here without their parents.”

Zoe groaned. “Are you saying I could’ve just dropped Kailee off and-”

“You didn’t drop Kailee off?”

Zoe froze, suddenly wide awake.

“No. Zac, are you fucking with me?”

“… No. No, I’m not. She’s here. She’s been here since the party started at six.”

Zoe bolted for Kailee’s room. “Zac, that’s fucking impossible. Mom went to work shortly after two, and dad was not home. There’s no fucking way Kailee is anywhere but-” Zoe swung open the door.

No Kailee. Not a sign of her. But the window was open, the curtains blowing in the breeze and snowflakes lazily drifting onto the floor.

“What the fuck!?”

Zoe ran for the garage, grabbing her coat off the couch and slipping her boots on. “Okay, Zac, get back out there and keep an eye on my sister. I have no idea why she’s there, and she shouldn’t be.”

“I can’t go back out there, no way in hell,” Zac paused again. “… Still alone. Thank fuck, I keep thinking someone’s laughing right behind me. Something’s really off here, Zoe. There were a few parents here at first, but they keep disappearing. I can’t find any other adults here now, other than the elves. It’s getting real creepy. I don’t know what they put in the punch, but the kids are acting really out of it. Keep talking about Winter Land-” Zac cut off suddenly. Zoe knew he was still there because she could hear him breathing.

“Zac, are you all right?”

Not a word, just breathing.


Zac screamed bloody murder, and Zoe heard a smash before the line went dead.


Zoe bolted into the garage and skidded to a stop as she spotted an old crowbar sitting by the door. Only considering it for a second, Zoe scooped it up before running into her car, not even buckling her seat buckle before she turned the key and tore out of the drive like she was on fire.

She couldn’t think about anything but Kailee.

The mall parking lot was unnervingly empty when Zoe pulled into it. She pulled in front of the front entrance and leaped out, bolting to the mall doors and yanking at them frantically to discover they were locked.

“Hey!” Zoe slammed her fist into the door. “Why is the mall closed?! Let me in!”

It was a relief when she saw Cocoa approach the glass door, punch glass in hand, and all dolled up for the season.

“Cocoa! Let me in!”

“Zoe, you have the night off. Why are you here?” she asked.

“Cocoa, I won’t be mad. Just tell me you were the one that brought Kailee here,” Zoe said. Okay, that was a total lie. She’d be pissed. But surely Cocoa wasn’t the enemy here. Right?

“I brought Kailee to the party. Yeah,” Cocoa shrugged, “are you here to party with us?”

Zoe yanked at the door again. “No, I’m here to take her home. I know you meant well, but for fuck’s sake, be glad I’m not here with the cops to arrest your ass for kidnapping!” she snapped. “Let me in!”

Cocoa cocked her head to the side, and a chill ran down Zoe’s spine.

“… No.”

Cocoa waved goodbye before prancing back into the mall.


Zoe swore before storming back to the car. Fine. If Cocoa wasn’t going to let her in, she was going to let herself in. Zoe scooped up her crowbar before bolting back to the door. With a scream, she slammed the crowbar into the door. The cops could arrest her later for vandalism.

The door shattered, and Cocoa spun back around. Her jaw dropped as she saw Zoe hopping through the door. “You didn’t have to go that far!” Cocoa sputtered.

Zoe shoved Cocoa out of her way as she ran into the mall, following the sounds of merriment and Christmas music coming from the center, right where the North Pole was.

She turned the corner only to freeze in her steps.

Clearly, the still body lying face down in a puddle of their blood had been running for their lives when they’d been attacked, and Zoe recognized that cheap ass Santa outfit.

“Z… Zac?”

Zoe slowly approached the body, swallowing the lump in her throat before she turned it over.

Zac’s face was frozen in fear, eyes still popped wide open. One of his hands reached for his neck to stop the bleeding, although it wouldn’t have done much. His throat had been ripped clean out.

Zoe screamed and flung herself back, scrambling to get away from… from that.

“… I really wish you hadn’t seen that, Zoe.”

Zoe whipped her head around to see Cocoa approaching, swishing her punch cup around. Zoe scrambled to her feet, holding the crowbar in front of her. “Stay back! What did you do to Zac?!”

“I didn’t do it.” Cocoa shrugged. “I think that was Garland. He’s got sharp teeth, and he didn’t appreciate him trying to ruin the party. I mean, it’s not like Zac is a great loss to the world. You told me that, with how he’d make passes at you despite you being a minor.”

It was like Cocoa was a new person. Even with glittery red cheeks and still in her elf costume, she seemed much… more relaxed. Calmer. Older.

“You should put that down, Zoe. I won’t hurt you. I like you a lot. You’re very sweet.” Cocoa slowly approached Zoe, tossing her cup into the nearby garbage can. “You could come with us, you know. You’re still technically a child, and you have the bonus of not being baptized. Baptism can make things a bit tricky. I mean, I can work around anything, but we prefer them unbaptized.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Zoe asked. Was Cocoa insane?

“We’re going to Winter Land, Zoe. You know, the place where snow falls in all the colors of the rainbow, where my dogs pull my sled, where I promised to take Kailee.”

“You were making that up!” Zoe insisted.

Cocoa giggled, raising her hand to cover her mouth. “Oh Zoe, sweet Zoe. Didn’t you realize by now? I can’t lie. I’ve never once lied to you. We’re going in just a few minutes. We just needed to… get rid of anyone we didn’t want. Like Zac. And the parents.”

Zoe felt ill. “What… are the parents…”

“I don’t know. I was too busy babysitting Kailee. She never wanted to leave my side,” Cocoa giggled again, “it’s lovely. She’ll make a good servant.”

“What is wrong with you?!” Zoe started inching backward to where the North Pole was. “My sister isn’t a servant-”

“Aren’t you tired of being treated differently?”

Cocoa continued to approach Zoe. With every step Zoe took backward, Cocoa took another one forward.

“You’re adopted, while she is a blessing. I can tell that hurts you deeply, Zoe. You don’t have to go with us. We can just take Kailee. Now you’d be the blessing. But if you go with me…” Cocoa offered her hand. “You’ll never know how to be different. You’ll be one of mine. I treat my humans nicely. You’ll not even have to grow up. Who knows, in a few centuries… you could be me. An elf. Just not one of Santa’s, since he doesn’t exist. But I do. Put down the weapon, and come with me.”

Zoe swallowed as she stared at Cocoa’s offered hand. For a second, she almost took it.

Instead, she smacked it with the crowbar.

Cocoa shrieked bloody murder as she stumbled back, shaking out her hand as Zoe bolted into the North Pole set up.

Zac was right. This place was all sorts of wrong. The new Santa looked far too big for his throne, and his beard was a peppery gray. He didn’t ho ho ho. He only stared out into the party with these dark eyes. The kids were all happy, sure, but their eyes were all glassy, and they were chatting about things that weren’t there like they were hallucinating. Zoe pushed past them as she searched the crowd for Kailee.

Finally, she spotted those familiar pigtails and leaped over a child lying on the floor. Kailee was sitting at a table with a mountain of cookies in front of her.


Kailee snapped to it, her pupils still blown out, but she looked confused. “Zoe? Why are you here? I thought you were tired,” she said. “I got my ride. Cocoa came to pick me up with her dogs!”

“We need to go, Kailee,” Zoe grabbed Kailee by the wrist and dragged her out of her chair. “What did mom tell you about strangers?!”

“Cocoa wasn’t a stranger, though! Why do we have to go?” Kailee whined. “I’m having fun! They’re gonna take us to Winter Land!” Thankfully she was too out of it to fight being pulled out of the North Pole, and the moment she saw a dead Santa, it shocked her out of whatever stupor she had been in, her previously red face turning paperwhite as she shrieked and completely froze up.

Zoe scooped Kailee up and threw her over her shoulder. “We need to go, Kailee. Close your eyes. Don’t look at Zac,” she said.

Kailee whimpered but as far as Zoe could tell, Kailee had listened to her. Zoe made her way for the door, skidding across the linoleum as she booked it, only thinking about how she had to get out of there. She had to get out of there right now-

She came to a stop when she realized someone was in front of the doors. For a second, she didn’t even realize who it was until she realized they were wearing the same outfit that Cocoa had been… but she didn’t look like Cocoa anymore.

Where Zoe had whacked Cocoa with the crowbar had turned black, darker than any bruise Zoe had seen before. Dark veins had gone up to her arm and vanished under her sleeve, only to reappear on Cocoa’s neck and crawl up her face. There wasn’t any glitter, but Cocoa’s ears were still pointed as her skin had turned pale blue like a corpse’s. Her far too black eyes glared at Zoe.

Zoe held up the crowbar. “What. The hell. Are you?” She asked.

Cocoa eyed that crowbar with a healthy amount of wariness before she grinned, revealing a mouthful of dagger-like teeth.

“I’m an elf, Zoe. A wise weapon, that. Iron. I can’t touch you or the little brat now. Too bad none of the other kids have such a good big sister.”

Cocoa straightened up and waved.

“Goodbye, Zoe. Spend the rest of your wretched life wondering just what you’ve missed out on.”

Cocoa snapped her fingers.

There was no flash of light and no sound. Suddenly, Cocoa was just gone.

“… Zoe?”

Kailee squirmed free from Zoe’s arms and stood on the ground. “Where’s the music?” she asked.

Zoe’s blood ran colder than it had yet when she realized it had gone quiet. Too quiet. No more happy children chattering and no more Christmas music.

Zoe bolted back to the North Pole, trying not to look at Zac’s mangled body for more than a second.

Everyone was gone. The elves. Santa. And the children. Not a single one was left.

“Where…” Zoe spun around and around as she looked for any sign of life. “Where did they all go?!”

Kailee took Zoe’s hand, and Zoe came to a stop, looking down at her little sister.

Kailee’s bottom lip trembled, but she said the only thing that could be the truth.

“They went to Winter Land. With the elves.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kitty “The Odd Cat Lady” Olsen

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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