Reindeer Games

📅 Published on November 28, 2022

“Reindeer Games”

Written by Michael Paige
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
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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Something is wrong with Sleigh Town—Roni knew that much about it.

During the pre-covid era of twenty-eighteen, I was hired as a night security guard for a park in our town, right on the cusp of December.

Since its grand-opening in the seventies, the acres were established as a Christmas theme park scaled for locals and out-of-towners. Once nothing but a spread of wilderness along the Adirondack Mountains, now a scenic village where it was always holly and jolly.

A place called Sleigh Town

From beyond the frosty gates, old iron lampposts guide you along a narrow path until you’ve reached a picture-perfect view of the nineteenth century: Crossroads glazed with Cobblestone. Shops with busy dormer windows. Icicles hanging from powder-bleached roofs. Smoke curling out of the chimneys.

Cheery music pipes through the park’s speakers, accompanied by a few carolers with warm mittens and blood-flushed faces.

A horse, black as soot, clomps down Candy Cane Lane with a carriage of parents and happy, laughing children.

Hot coco and gingersnaps in the air.

And every night as I pulled into the lot, the park had already fallen back to a brisk, winter stillness.

Despite the attempts to condition myself with day naps and black-out curtains, I always arrived feeling unrested.

A plaque welcomed me at the gate, adding in frozen, peppermint letters, Mix & Mingle, Jingle & Kringle!

Hands buried in my jacket, I entered the gate and crunched up the rimy cobbles.

I took a slow stroll past all the closed shops, only stopping to pick up a crinkled bag of candy left either by a child, or an apathetic adult. From the souvenir shop, I am watched by a set of fiberglass reindeer and lonely-eyed elves.

As I reached the office building, I walk the short hall to my office, where I will be spending most of my time. When I am not making the periodic checks around the property, I am bodying a chair and desk, focused more on my college work than I am the cameras.

In the front lobby, a framed news article sits between two landscape paintings celebrating Sleigh Town’s opening day, Christmas comes early for the Dacks! the old ink reads.

On a large monitor, different screens show what the parks security cameras are picking up. The pale streak of the parking lot, the lifeless booths and eateries, and of course, the many sculptures of Whimsy Way.

That was the focal point for Sleigh Town—a trail that cut through the overlapping pines and curved back to the park in a horseshoe pattern.

Along the mile-long foot path, large and small sculptures practically danced out of the thickets in a yuletide merge of wonderment and nature. Ice carvings dazzled with LED lighting, Gingerbread cottages the size of sheds, Polyresin elves clasping hands together, and naturally, who could possibly forget the reindeer.

Nearly life-sized, the bucks emerge from the growth in cast-iron bodies and recycled scrap, hand-sculpted from a Brazilian artist.

Due to the widening spread of homeless encampments around the vicinity, and far too many incidents of drifters sleeping in the decorative cottages, the park hired out to a security firm to keep them out. Especially during the colder seasons.

On the desk of my little office, I kept a note from Roni, the previous security guard. A sort of study-guide he’d left me before his sendoff.

Admittedly, my impression of him wasn’t the best when we first met. He was pale-faced with a curly, grey-flecked chin, had eyes with as much life as an ashtray, and his gums, in a matter of speaking, were on the scurvy side.

Despite the off-putting start, he ended up being a pretty nice guy all sunny and full of talk all the time. Boy, did he like to talk.

When I told him how this was my first security gig, he gained permission to stick around a few shifts to show me the ropes. It was likely to make sure his replacement was up to snuff, but I felt that he also thrived on some new company

His list consisted of a checkpoint system he’d made for night patrols around the park, most notably all the problem-areas outside of camera surveillance.

As we walked and talked those few times, I’d sometimes catch the secondhand whiff of oily breath and body odor.

Personal hygiene did not make it onto Roni’s list.

At 2 AM, it was time for patrol.

I grabbed my thermos and walked the usual route around the park, factoring in a piss for when I reached Whimsy Way (always hit there for some reason).

Santa’s Out! The sign outside the workshop read while an anorexically thin Santa stood next to it, carved out of six-foot mahogany. Both of its eyes were too faded to see these days and its once rosy cheeks were scuffed with black dots closer to tooth plaque.

On the face of it, Sleigh Town was like every other Christmas-oriented Park where your parents brought you to gaze at warm lights, make snow angels, and meet Kris Kringle himself.

But as you linger just a little bit longer in this place, you begin to notice all the irregularities it has, the pint-sized creases in its image. The way particular lights always stuttered in and out but seldom ever got fixed. The ever-thickening rust forming on the play area equipment every season. The squeals of the carriage growing worse as the tortured screws struggle to keep the wheels in place.

According to Roni, it was no secret that the park was experiencing non-stop financial troubles. In fact, since gaining traction from the late seventies to the early nineties, Sleigh Town had gone from a subtle decline, to a slow and steady bleed-out in the 21st century.

Although there were still the families that came back every year to purchase their souvenir mugs and take-home trinkets, sustaining a park in a remote part of the state was becoming less feasible. Inaccessibility from further out city areas had limited the parks outstretch for newcomers and even as it attempted to remain open as a year-round resort for mountain bikers and horse riders, ends were still not being met. Because bills are expensive, and Santa’s stockings were thinning.

But despite the location factor, the biggest hurdle in its path were the incidents that kept occurring.

On November 19th, 1997, a scream had erupted from the line of guests waiting for their picture with Santa Clause. The disturbance had come from Norma Redding, a woman in her seventies just a few spots away from it being her granddaughter’s turn.

Out of the blue, she’d thrown her body back in terror, jostling the family behind her and letting out an ear-splitting shriek. The color draining from her face.

When finally calmed down enough, she claimed that the sacks behind Santa’s chair were not full of toys or sprawling letters, but of bones. Human bones, all stacked and tumbling out of the bag’s contents. She stated she could smell the dark, dry blood flaking off of them. That she could hear the clackety-clack of their hollow bodies rattling against one another. But the worst of it, she mentioned, was the raw skull that replaced Santa’s face, gnarled and grinning toward her.

The complaints, however severe, did not hold much water to them and were deemed as an old woman’s eyes playing tricks on her—Concluded with a free photo and discount voucher for the gift shop.

Then, in 2005, December 15th, another disturbance happened, this time earning Sleigh Town a new spot in the paper—Child Suffers Seizure in Santa’s Workshop.

Max Barrett, one of the many children who’d visited the park that day, was in a section of the workshop where kids could occupy a seat and write a letter to Santa, hand delivering it to him as they had their photos snapped.

As he sat at the desk and put the finishing touches on his letter, he would later tell the EMT that he felt something strange, like a cold, rasping breath run down his neck. Then, as he looked up and toward the front room, he saw his name on the wall.

HI MAX, scrawled in wet, bleeding letters.

His parents rushed to his aid, and when the episode had passed, he was checked over and cleared by a paramedic. Another unexplained occurrence, and although a potential lawsuit had nothing to sink its teeth into, the damage to the parks image was done.

It makes you wonder how many others had seen something in this place, a slight terror in their peripheral they chose not to double-take or speak up about. Something that made them not come back again.

Which brings me to the most particular note from Roni’s list.

Always count the reindeer.

“What’s the deal with this one?” I asked him as dawn arrived to conclude our final time together.

“Something you should do every shift, just in case.” He answered, pausing a moment to pull on his coat.

“In case of what?”

His response was short as he beamed those ulcered gums, “Reindeer Games.”

On the way back to the parking lot, I asked what he meant by that and surprisingly, the man so full of talk had little else to share.

A wrought iron gate presented the entrance to Whimsy Way, standing eight feet tall and glassed over with ice. A lonely sprig of mistletoe hanging from its span.

Beyond it, the fleecy white trail narrowed and vanished into the dark bulk of woods, where imagination was waiting.

After a quick piss, I trudged on, whistling out in foggy puffs.

The trees, once taut in the spring, now sagged drunkenly downward by the snow gripping their branches.

From out of the covered pines, the first work of art emerged with a series of white snowmen heads stacked over each other in totem-like fashion. All graced with glassy eyes and black pebble smiles.

Slightly further down, there was a row of Christmas trees shaped out of corrugated metal and sprayed with a dark-green finish.

Near them, a larger-than-life nutcracker stood tall with an axe in its hand and a frosty beard hanging from its articulated jaw.

As the trail began its wide loop, I came across a small gingerbread hut nestled just off the paved track. Its roof glossy with decorative frosting and shingled with fist sized gumdrops. Fashioned out of its candy-crusted side was a single bite mark, left by either Hansel or Gretel.

In its small yard, a tall iron reindeer stared blankly toward me, tangles of unlit Christmas lights coiled around its body.

Stepping off the path, I shined a light through the sugar-lined window, saw that no one was home, and plodded further down the trail.

A sharp drift kicked up and scraped my cheeks.

I took a strong gulp from the thermos to warm my throat—Coffee, a bit of cream, and just a tinge of love from my pocket.

There were even more reindeer on this part of the trail. One hunkered under a tree. Two battling with locked antlers. Another bent over to munch some non-existent grass and one more prancing in sheer, cervine delight.

I never bothered to count them as Roni’s list had instructed, as there didn’t feel like any point behind it. Maybe it was just a tip to keep me focused during the shift, to keep all my senses honed in. On the other hand, I figured it was also a way to screw with the new guy.

Then I heard the sound behind me.

My eyes darted back and then all around, seeing nothing but the sculptures and slumping thickets. Probably just some snow clump falling off a branch and slapping the powder below.

I was alone, as I had been dozens of times thumping up and down this trail. So, why was there now a shakiness in my legs, an unmistakable dread creeping around my chest?

I let out a breath, not realizing how long it had been trapped, and began walking faster.

The sound came again, this time with more definition. Something like a whine.

I stopped and looked back again, waving my flashlight around. Still nothing, but that wasn’t true, something was different. Off-kilter.

My eyes wandered to each of the stock-still reindeer, unconsciously tallying them up. Two standing. Two fighting. One prancing.

But hadn’t one been curled up under the tree?

I took a few paces back to check. It was definitely the same spot, but the sculpture beneath was standing high on its legs, facing the trail.

I walked around the tree, checking for the resting deer on the other side, but there was just the one, as though it had just stood up from its patch.

Even the clashing reindeer looked different now, one bowing lower to the ground than it had been before.

The chills were getting to me, making me doubt myself.

Reindeer games, Roni’s voice echoed in my skull which I immediately shoved away.

I felt congested, my throat rubbed raw from the cold, my mouth somehow both dry and slimy.

I pulled back another swig from the thermos, only to hack it all out as the sound returned again. This time much louder and sharper.

A grating, screeching sound much like a squeaky swing at a playground.

The thermos slipped from my grip and plopped at my feet, spreading a dark stain through the snow.

I wiped a glove over my mouth, still coughing and gasping until my lungs settled.

Then, as I ventured another look around, I just as quickly wished I hadn’t. Because there was nothing to doubt what I was seeing out there, all alone amidst the trees.

The scene around me had completely changed.

The happy reindeer was no longer prancing, but holding its head low and toward me like it meant to charge, one hoof raised and looking ready to slam back down.

While one of the two fighting reindeer still held its original posture, the other had adopted a sort of strut closer to the path.

Even the one behind them was no longer in its make-believe forage, but drawing its head high for a loud, wailing bugle.

And to bring the madness to its peak, a new one had joined the fray—The reindeer I passed earlier, the one dazzled with Christmas lights, was now on the path just a few short hops away from me. A single red bulb stuttering in and out over its face.

I strained my eyes shut and forced them back open. The sculptures were all still there, occupying their new spaces.

An urge to run fired-off in my legs but instead came out as a steady walk backwards, my eyes tracing everything and everywhere.

It came again, the screech of disgruntled metal right up my left side. It was so loud, so close, I thought my life had just ended.

From a nearby tree, one of the creature’s metal faces peered out. The reindeer, once resting under the tree, had advanced all the way up the side of the path to here. I’d taken my eyes off it for not even a second before it pulled closer. Was this an attempt to flank me? To block my escape?

That’s what it was—a game of Red Light, Green Light. Simple rules. Unknown stakes.

The sound flared again, making my heart jolt painfully. Had I missed one?

My eyes shot around, running a quick, unthinking check. Then when I shined my light back to the deer peeping out from the tree, I saw its eyes. Not the smooth hemispheres of iron-rich inlay, but wet, reflecting lenses. Round and blued by winter.

It was not just the placement of the reindeer that changed, that would be too merciful.

The reindeer on the path, with its blinking red face, was now hunched wickedly forward, its mouth peeled back into a terrible sneer of teeth, sharper than any caribou should have.

The others had changed too, drawing closer in frozen approach. Cirrus clouds airing out of their nostrils. Black, salivating tongues dangling out of their far too open mouths. Their bodies no longer silvery grey, but scarred with yellow-brown rust.

The world was getting smaller, condensing all around me in a slow, but sure pace, like a dark force closing in on all sides. Inching ever closer. Demanding its existence. Feasting on the thing I once considered reality.

In that moment, for whatever reason in the world, I recalled something Roni had asked me during patrol, walking this very route. What do you think this place was back then? I mean like, before Santa came to town. What do you think was here first? I didn’t have an answer for him, and as he asked this, I remember seeing his eyes scan over the tree line, perhaps not just admiring the art.

I was paralyzed, too afraid to even blink, the cold clenching around my eyes as they rolled from one contaminated form to another. If I didn’t move, the sculptures would, primed for that horrible sound just waiting to come again.

Then, before it could, I tore my gaze away and started running.

I hurtled down the trail, swallowing lumps of frigid air and then forcing them back out, the breeze like glass against my gums.

Behind me, I could hear them. Thuds raking the snow. Heavy, hurried gallops. Shrieks of metallic joints never meant for movement.

I felt the impulse to look back, to actually see them coming for me, but instead kept my teary eyes forward.

Just ahead, I could see the trail completing its loop back to the park, ending the Whimsy Way trek.

I pushed toward it, bypassing a glittery mesh of gift boxes stacked up to the heavens in a holly jolly pyramid. From beneath one of the bows, a grey cat sculpture was peeking out, its slit eyes following me as I passed by.

My foot found an icy patch. I shambled forward, kicking up grit and bullets of snow, fortunately recovering without a nose dive.

The screeches were closer than ever, deafening to a wild chatter between the ears. At any moment, I would feel the instant force of antlers ripping through my sternum, or the agony of serrated teeth finally sampling my hip.

When the wrought-iron arch finally became visible, I broke for it with the last stockpile of strength I had left.

My legs did as they were told, pounding through the exhaustion in a mad hope for survival. I was never a runner in life, but in that moment, I swear I could have sprinted with the best of them.

The earth shook beneath me as the shrieks of tormented metal mounted up to an utter shrill of feral, murderous pressure.

Then, as I flailed desperately through the gate, the world went completely quiet.

My lungs were burning. My heart was pounding in hard disagreement. I fell to my knees, holding back the urge to vomit while also peering back down the way. Nothing was coming, no hordes of hellish iron reindeer or anything else tearing through the brush. But there was something I did see out there.

Although the pursuit had stopped, the dark presence that chased me all this way had remained, currently standing on the trail. A tall, shadowy figure rippling like smoke out of a chimney.

It was watching me, a dark blotch over cursed snow. The blackness of it so thick it could only leave the suggestion of a greatly shaggied-head.

Shaky breaths puffed out of me. I squinted my eyes trying to piece together the twitching, murky thing.

From within the roiling darkness, I could just barely make out the faint glows of white, writhing dully in the place eyes should have been.

My own gasp of breath brought me out of it, and when I blinked again, the thing was gone, leaving me there to shiver and stare.

* * * * * *

I no longer work as a security guard for Sleigh Town, and justly, I never plan to be anywhere near it again. Who knows if the future holds a love of my life and maybe one or two kids? But if it does, mean old Dad will never bring them to see the pretty sculptures or ride the happy carriage. At least, not in that place. Never in that place.

All the while, I’m sure the park will continue its copious bleeding until one day it goes terminal and a struggling owner ceases to keep their dream alive. Maybe to be sold off and renovated by new management, or maybe to be left behind as the permafrost sets in.

Whatever happens to it, I am sure what I saw will still be there. Festering like the mold beneath the workshop.

Endlessly waning that cold, Christmas silence.

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

Written by Michael Paige
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Michael Paige

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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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).

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