Title: “Christmas at Hostage Canyon”
Author: James Stoddard
Format: Short Story
Pages: about 16, but in a small page format
Published: in the January/February 2011 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Reason for Beginning: A Christmas fantasy story – should be good, right?
Reason for Finishing: It’s a goofy kind of awesome, that takes one outlandish premise and gives it some respect.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: On Christmas Eve a young boy is terrorized by a demonic elf, but finds strength through an unlikely savior.
Story Re-readability: Yeah, sure, though it doesn’t require rereading. The story’s pure entertainment, nothing significant beneath the surface going on. I could see myself reading it again at Christmastime, maybe even to my little nephews!
Author Re-readability: Yeah, I’d try another story of his. He’s funny, has a lot of sympathy for his characters, and seems to revel in the sheer possibilities of fantasy storytelling, even the somewhat ridiculous ideas.
Recommendation: Yes. It doesn’t rise to amazing heights of greatness, it only tugs at your heartstrings a little, and it’s not a “classic” or any other hyperbole. But if you get a chance to read it, it’s lots of fun!
–I decided to include the major spoiler (clearly marked) below because I liked talking about it so much. There’s a unique pleasure in figuring out the story’s secret by yourself, but if you don’t care for that and prefer to read on and learn it, I still think you’ll enjoy the story just fine.–
The story follows a young boy named Eric as he and his family visit his aunt and uncle at the town Hostage Canyon for Christmas. He is confused and a bit disappointed in his older brother Daniel, an awkward pre-teen who isn’t sure if it’s still cool to be nice to his kid brother anymore and is more likely to tease Eric for his innocence and naïveté. But Eric is robust in his cheerfulness, a quality I found charming in him, and nothing grouchy Daniel can do will diminish his joy at seeing wonderful Christmas light displays and thinking of all the cool gifts he expects Santa to bring. But on a night before Christmas Eve, as the family drives in their minivan through Hostage Canyon, admiring all the bright lawn displays at each house, Eric catches a glimpse of a grotesque elf who grins horribly, whispers “Death…,” and scratches on the van window. Nobody else can see the elf, of course, and it remains Eric’s private horror as Christmas Eve itself approaches and begins. But when the elf invades his very home (or, rather, his aunt and uncle’s home, where he is staying), something must be done…
HERE BE SPOILER
Which leads us to this magnificent quote/spoiler:
“But this wasn’t the Santa of the old stories, with a belly that shook like a bowlful of jelly. He was big, but there was nothing fat about him, and his suit wasn’t felt, but crimson body armor polished to an exquisite sheen. Not Santa Claus at all; Saint Nicholas come to slay dragons.”
There you go. Isn’t that a beautiful little paragraph? You now know everything you need to know about this story. Do you think the above quote sounds crazily, goofily awesome? Or ridiculously dumb and not worth your time? I, for the record, am of the former party. This story is about Santa Claus slaying a demonic transdimensional elf in a young boy’s family room on Christmas Eve. Apparently, that’s what he does every Christmas Eve: travel the world fighting off transdimensional demons who are trying to invade our world through the thinning of worlds that happens on that particular night. He doesn’t deliver presents to good little children, though – that really is just a story told by parents. As is Rudolph. I mean, come on, a glowing red nose? This Santa scoffs at such a fantasy. Now a glowing sword powered by selflessness in children? *shrug* That’s just the way things are.
“Christmas at Hostage Canyon” is a fast enough read for its length, with some sharp and convincing characterizations. The father in particular, despite having little page time, comes across as genuine and intelligent: of course he doesn’t believe that Eric’s story of being threatened by a demonic elf is literally true, but neither does he dismiss his son’s concerns. Even Daniel, the often rude big brother, is not a mere cliché. These little extra touches of depth are pleasant surprises in such a short story.
If I have one criticism of Stoddard’s style, it’s that his narration doesn’t get near as epic as it should for the climactic fight, considering what’s going on. To accentuate the natural humor that comes from Santa Claus beating the snot out of a demonic elf, the diction should have been more bombastic, a little more overwrought. The word “smote” should probably have been used.
Yet despite that minor nitpick, I had a lot of fun with this story.