No. 597

“Mom, I’m way too old to get my picture taken with Santa. This is the stupidest thing ever,” complained Austin Giblin.

“Just go,” said his mother. “Your grandmother will enjoy it.”

They arrived at the front of the line a few minutes later. Austin’s mood had not improved. “Look at him,” he said, loud enough for Santa to hear. “The beard doesn’t even fit right. Jackass. I bet this guy makes minimum wage.”

His mother pushed him toward the display. “It will be over quickly.”

Austin stalked toward Santa and sat gingerly on the arm of Santa’s chair.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Santa through gritted teeth. “Who do we have here?”

“Shut up, and give me Slasher 3,” Austin demanded. “It’s on Playstation. You fight dinosaurs.”

“You say you like dinosaurs?” Santa replied, working hard to make the interaction appear positive.

“Say ‘cheese’,” said the photographer.

Austin and Santa both faced the camera with intensely fake smiles.

There was a blinding flash.

Austin blinked the stars out of his eyes and looked around. Santa was still sitting in the chair beside him, but the mall concourse had been replaced with a very thick, very green forest.

Santa shoved Austin onto the ground.

“What the hell?” said Austin. “What are you doing, you idiot?”

Santa laughed, full and heartily. “I thought you said you liked fighting dinosaurs?”

Austin noticed that one of the green trees was not, in fact, a tree, at all. “Those are teeth!” he yelled at Santa.

“You’re a dick,” said Santa. “Merry Christmas!”

Santa and the chair disappeared with another flash, leaving Austin in the clearing, alone.

He did not last long.