“Whoa, there! Whoa!” Jack Skellington brought the sleigh to a clattering halt, sack full of danger and wriggling leggy things on one shoulder. “Have we been good boys and girls this year?” he chuckled gleefully, straightening the beard dangling beneath his chin.
He was finally getting the hang of Christmas. After the first disaster and Sandy Claws’ injunction that he stick to Hallowe’en, Jack had adopted a surreptitious approach. Dr Finklestein had been an unexpected ally and ingenious creator of unusual gifts, and he had suggested they reward the good boys and girls of Organization XIII. Jack wasn’t sure who they were – a scout troop, perhaps, or a glee club? The thought of happy shining faces and glad little voices raised in festive song filled him with a warm glow. “Here, Zero! C’mon boy!” he called, pushing his way through the gates.
It was nearly midnight. By now the inhabitants of the castle would be sleeping in their beds, dreaming of the morning’s surprises. Quietly opening the heavy door, Jack tiptoed through deserted corridors. The place was a labyrinth, and dark, and very soon he was lost. “They must be tucked up tight, Zero!” he whispered, shushing the dog with an elaborate gesture as they came to a door marked XII. “I wonder who lives here, boy?” Jack pushed the door open, just a crack. The dog slipped through the gap and suddenly reappeared, ghostly tail between insubstantial legs. “What is it boy?” Jack pushed the door a little further.
The glare of an unshaded bulb made the scene anatomically brutal. A young woman lay spreadeagled on a table, whisky bottle in one hand, glass in the other, both spilling their contents into a reeking pool. She was barely conscious, and had clearly been crying, mascara and lipstick smeared across her cheeks. As the skeleton king stepped backwards away from the wreckage she began to struggle and moan. “agzl at yu,” she mumbled, “basd’d.” As he hurriedly pulled the door shut, Jack heard the glass shatter against it.
A puzzled look crossed his face, and for a flicker of an instant his smile faded. Who could that horrible woman have been? Not the kind of good little girl that deserved toys at Christmas!
Across the corridor, a gale of laughter came from behind a door marked X. Jack turned towards it with a grin. Good humour! And song! This, surely, was where the boys and girls were playing.
Four were seated at a table, cards spread before them, three in various states of undress. A fifth opposite them, naked, and pleading for mercy.
“The maelstrom of avarice is once again your undoing, Demyx,” the only fully clothed member chuckled.
“But… I’ve nothing left to take off!” the boy cried. “What can I do?”
“I can think of something,” a shirtless dreadlocked man flexed broad shoulders and glowered at the boy. His companions – one with electric blue hair, the other an eyepatch – sniggered. Hurriedly, Jack closed the door.
This wasn’t at all what he had expected. Hurrying through the corridors, Jack stopped by door VIII, but the room was dark, cold and empty, a litter of snuffed candles and the cold ashes in the grate the only signs of fire. XIV was boarded shut, and from behind XIII came the sound of sobbing and something hard hitting something soft.
“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all, Zero?” Jack wondered, sadly. The dog gambolled around his legs; danced up against door XI. “Here? You think this one?” The dog barked silently.
The room was filled with golden light and flowers’ scent. By the bed, a very nice looking boy knelt, head tipped back towards the ceiling, an expression of concentrated rapture on his graceful face, hands folded in his lap. He was speaking quietly, but Jack couldn’t hear what he was saying, other than the occasional muttered ‘God’.
“Look, Zero, the good little boy is saying his bedtime prayers. What do you think he’d like for Christm…”
“Oh, God!” the nice little boy shouted suddenly, collapsing forwards into a shuddering heap, and Jack realised that his hands hadn’t been folded in his lap at all, and that he certainly wasn’t praying.
“Come on, Zero,” Jack said sadly. “If we want to see that we can visit Lock, Shock and Barrel.”
A faint light illuminated the head of a stair descending into darkness. In a small room at its foot, a giant was asleep on a sofa, a much smaller figure beneath a mound of blue hair slumped amongst dishes at the table. Beyond, an archway opened into darkness, and someone, very faintly, was singing.
Jack turned to Zero, eyes glinting with joy. “Carols, boy! We’ve found them!” Jack pushed open a final door.
Not even in his nightmares of Oogie Boogie had he imagined this. A blond blindfolded boy was strapped spreadeagled against the wall, and it was a much older blond man who was singing to him. Jack didn’t want to hear the words because he could see what the man was doing, but the crooning cut through his revulsion. “I think you know,” the man was intoning. “I think you can show me. I think you can take this pain. How encouraging.” And he would twist with one horrible implement, or sear with another, before turning away to heat something or sharpen something, crooning all the time under his breath “I think you know…”
Jack never found the door marked I. Behind it, curled up in his bed, thumb jammed in his mouth, the only good little boy in the whole castle dreamed quietly of Christmas, and of what Santa might have left for him when he woke up.