A new author to the JFB list (his terrifying horror novel Blood Cruise will be out in 2018), Mats Strandberg indulges us with his unique memories of Santa Claus – take it away, Mats!
One of my first memories is from Christmas, and it’s not a merry one.
In Sweden, Santa comes to visit on Christmas Eve. He’s a jolly big show-off, often expecting to be treated to cookies or porridge or mulled wine, asking in a booming voice if there are any ’nice children’ in the house. Only after assurances from the parents that the kids are well-behaved does he dole out the gifts. It’s all very unlike the UK Santa, who sneaks in unseen at night and then politely leaves.
In our house, Santa usually showed up after dinner, meaning that the huge meal that my mother had prepared for weeks was ruined for everyone by a hellish choir of whining, impatient children (I might have done a few solo numbers). This particular year, it was my uncle’s turn to get the sudden urge to leave the house to ‘get the newspaper’.
Moments later, a shadowy figure could be seen in the dark outside the windows. Vaguely bear-like, it huffed and puffed its way out of the forest – a forest that, I might add, had a mass grave from a cholera epidemic in the 1800s. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, and I had of course not yet seen Pet Sematary, which really fuelled my imagination. I just knew that it was spooky, and that monstrous things almost certainly roamed that forest. And while the other kids screamed that Santa was finally here, I felt the first tingling of fear. When the shadowy figure came closer, I could see that his bag of presents looked promisingly heavy. Also, the bear-look was only a fake fur coat that looked a lot like my mother’s. Soon, we heard heavy knocks on the door. I hid behind my father’s legs, still sure that he could protect us from anything. The door opened, and I could hear a familiar ho-ho-ho. My father pushed me towards him. In the end, greed won out over fear, and I ran to Santa to get my presents. And I stopped dead in my tracks.
Bending down to assess whether I fit in the ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ category was a tall creature in a rubber mask, eternally frozen in a huge grin. The cut-out holes for the eyes were like dark pools of pure evil. Imagine Leatherface, with a cotton beard, in a home invasion movie. And worst of all, my parents had gladly invited him in. Offered me to him like a lamb for slaughter. And to think I had trusted them just seconds ago!
I screamed like a five-year old scream queen, ran through the house for a place to hide and finally locked myself in the bathroom. I refused to come out, refused to listen to their begging and pleading and promises that Santa was gone. In the end, my father had to get his tools and lift the whole door from its hinges. My uncle had come back, and he looked almost as shaken up as I felt.
I still see those cheap rubber masks in supermarkets and gas stations every December, and I always think that each of those masks is a childhood trauma waiting to happen.