The Best Santa
by the Wolf
Janet sat cross-legged in the little faux building at the center of the mall labeled “Santa’s Workshop”, surrounded by a hanging Santa suit and the elf costume she wore when working. It was after closing, and technically the blond twenty-two-year-old was trespassing, but no one would really kick up a fuss. She wasn’t up to any mischief or vandalism, just a somewhat warm place to sleep for the night. And she knew the times to slip in when no one would check the place looking for a girl on a cheap inflatable mattress under a ratty blanket.
This time of year, it was easier for Janet. She may not have had a home, but she knew all the tricks of the street to get cleaned up and presentable when she had to. Most of the time her petite, pretty looks could be a curse. Guys on the street thought she would be easy to take advantage of, and she seemed to incite something in them, some desire to get from her what they normally couldn’t easily from other girls. Even shelters weren’t really a safe haven for her. Not at night when supervision was sparse at best. The one way she’d avoided some truly horrible situations was enough awareness to know when to grab her backpack and get gone before some of the men started truly prowling.
December was different for the past few years though. As soon as December rolled around in whatever city Janet was staying in, there was always some kind of mall or shopping center or someplace doing a Santa display that would gladly hire her temporarily to play an elf or some form of Santa’s helper to help move the line along. That was when her already elfin features and size paid off, when they were glad to hire a reasonably clean girl to play the part. Even when she’d been a drifting teenager, it hadn’t been much of a problem, especially when one manager in Boston realized she could pay her less under the table without worry. And she’d always been good with little kids. It meant a place to sleep and some extra money to get through winter if she was smart.
Though she’d still had to be careful. Some night security had found and hassled her for a power trip in previous years, and had to be begged to let her just sleep there as long as she wasn’t hurting anything. Some were just nice about it. A few had offered to look the other way … for certain favors. Those times, she’d usually given them as long as it wasn’t too horrible. Even so, it was better than some alternatives. It was one thing if she chose to have fun with a guy, or even to trade some part of herself for a way to stay out of the cold. It was another to live in fear of being taken. Being hurt. Janet shivered just at the thought.
Still, the current mall was pretty nice. A smaller shopping center with mostly mid-level department stores and a few specialty shops. There wasn’t even a night guard, just locked gates and sturdy shatter-proof glass doors, and Janet just had to get in at the right time and stay quiet inside the “Workshop” until the place was completely emptied out. She could even turn on a small flashlight she had and read a used paperback she’d picked up to tote around in her backpack. Her little escape from the rest of the world, secure in the knowledge that no one was coming into the mall again tonight.
Thus, she was completely unprepared when the door to the little decorative shack began to open. Panicking, Janet leapt up from the bed and backed into the corner of the shack, instinctively pulling herself away from danger. It wasn’t until a second later that she realized she’d just been in a bra and panties under the old blanket, trying to keep her other clothes as clean as possible. Whoever had just opened the door and was looking in with a keychain flashlight could see plenty, and she’d be in definite danger if it was someone up to no good.
Some bit of relief washed over Janet when the beam of her own flashlight had cast just enough illumination to reveal Mr. Corsetti’s kindly, older features. He was the man who played Santa for the mall, and she’d always had a good feeling about him. He wasn’t really elderly, but was tall and did have gray-white hair and enough of a beard to look like a natural Father Christmas. Corsetti was great with the kids and always nice to her, and Janet never got the creepy, pervy vibe she’d gotten off one or two other faux Santas she’d seen at malls. Standing there in his faded t-shirt and jeans as she’d seen him after-hours before, he didn’t really look as much like his role though. Especially without the belly he usually wore. When he looked like that, Janet even had a little bit of a crush on him, in a sexy-daddy, older man sort of way. Not enough of one to completely lower her guard though.
“Janet,” he said in surprise as he reached and flicked on a little lamp in the place used for getting into costume. “I’m sorry, I forgot my wallet. Didn’t mean to startle you. What are you … doing here…?” As he spoke, Mr. Corsetti’s eyes went down and clearly found the mattress and blanket, then moved to the wall and the backpack that Janet always carried around.
She relaxed just a little more. Clearly his first thought was not how to take advantage of her, so that was something, but you never could fully tell with people. Janet wasn’t sure if she should go with a lie as the seconds began to stretch out. She could see from the look on his face though that Mr. Corsetti wasn’t dumb and was already figuring things out. And she was still stuck standing there in just her underwear, but he wasn’t leering at all. Maybe she could trust him.
“M-Mr. Corsetti, I—”
“Please, call me Nick.”
Janet nodded. “Of course. Mis—Nick. I … really don’t have anywhere else to sleep. I’m not hurting anything, I swear.”
The look on his face was more of concern than anything when he looked at her again. “Really? You have nowhere to go?”
“No. I … I lied when I got the job. It’s just … it’s a better place to sleep than anyplace I can get. You won’t tell anyone will you? Please! I’m not … I’m not trying to mooch or anything, I pay for anything else I get around here, it’s just … I can’t afford…”
Mr. Corsetti held up his hand. “Relax, Janet, I won’t rat you out.” He really looked at her then, and her heart froze for just a moment as he seemed to notice her body for the first time. But when his eyes met her face again, there was just that kindly concerned look. “You really don’t have anyone? No one you can stay with or contact?”
Janet shook her head, biting her lip nervously.
“What about your parents?” he asked.
She snorted. “The first ones were usually too drunk or high to even feed me, as far as I know. I’ve had a few fosters until I was like fourteen, but when the last one started…” Janet shivered at the memory and stopped. And why had she almost opened up so much? She never told anyone about that. Ever. “I’ve been better off on my own,” she ended succinctly. “And I just need a place to stay and a little cash, and I work for it.”
Mr. Corsetti hadn’t responded, and when Janet looked at him, she saw his face was set in hard lines, his hand almost clenched into a fist. “People that use helpless children like that…” he sighed. “You’ve been through so much. I had no idea.”
“Well, it’s not like I spread it to everyone I meet. This is just … it’s how I get by in the holidays. So is it okay if I just stay here?”
That concerned, thoughtful look crossed over Mr. Corsetti’s face, like he was figuring something out. He muttered, “I had no idea it would be you tonight.”
Heart speeding up in her chest, Janet began looking for an escape. Maybe he could be pleaded with. Some guys could, when they thought somehow they were supposed to do things to her. “M-Mr. Corsetti, please don’t do anything. I’m not … I don’t …”
As if sensing just what she was thinking, Corsetti shook his head and looked at her. “Oh, no, no, sweetheart, no. I would never take advantage of you like that. I would never want to hurt you. But … there’s just … how to even explain.” He looked at her, his eyes roving her body again, making her nervous until he shook his head slightly to refocus. He still stood in the one doorway, offering no means of escape. “Okay,” he said. “You notice that I don’t have my Santa belly right now.”
Janet nodded slowly, wondering what that had to do with anything. “Yeah, of course. It’s a great costume though, I thought it was your real belly at first.” She’d spoken before even thinking that it might be insulting and shut her lips quickly.
Corsetti just chuckled. “Don’t worry, it’s okay. Well … the secret is that it actually is real. I don’t know how to say this, but … I’m kind of a freak of nature,” he admitted with a little shrug.
“O—kay. How do you mean? And how could it be real when you’re flat now?”
“Well, I can swallow a lot whole. My body stretches and my jaws open wide. And if I eat enough in a single sitting … I get that huge belly until it all digests.”
Still concerned, Janet just looked at him incredulously. Was he crazy? Where was he going with this? “Seriously?”
“I know you don’t believe me. But it’s true. Maybe if there’s something … ah, there we are.”
Mr. Corsetti looked to the side of her air mattress and saw an apple sitting on a plastic bag. Janet had been planning to eat it as a snack later—really it was the only food she had for the next night and the morning—and almost said something as he leaned over to pick it up. She even thought about rushing him to get out the door, just in case he was as crazy as he sounded. But before she could, he was standing again, holding the apple.
Without waiting for a response or a protestation, Mr. Corsetti opened wide and stuffed her apple into his mouth. Janet blinked as he lips easily stretched around the whole thing and his cheeks bulged. He didn’t chew or crunch it at all, but simply tipped his head up and swallowed. She watched the lump travel down his throat without any discomfort until it was gone. Janet let out a breath. The whole thing was amazing and strangely enticing for its sheer oddity.
“Wow,” she said when he looked at her again with his warm smile. “That’s a, uh, heck of a party trick, Nick.”
“Thank you. And it’s why I’m such a good Santa, because I can give myself such a natural belly like a bowl full of jelly. But to do that … takes a special meal.” The way he spoke was an odd mixture of regret and anticipation.
“What kind of meal?” Janet asked cautiously.
Mr. Corsetti sighed. “I think you’ve already got an idea. When I play Santa, every night I swallow someone. A whole person. By morning, they’re the perfect consistency for a good, jolly appearance through the day. By next evening … they’re gone.”
Janet blanched as she realized what he was saying. “Oh … oh God, you’re a murderer! And now … now you want to…”
“No, no, no, Janet, it’s nothing like that. You see, I don’t look for random people to meet this need. Yes, I do get hungry, and I do enjoy the meals. But … each night during this time of year, something sort of guides me. I can never be sure, but it brings me to someone. Someone who has no one or who’s in unending pain or who, for whatever reason, has nothing to look forward to in the coming year.”
Still shaking, Janet tried to listen. And of course, she fit that description to some extent, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be eaten alive.
“I don’t take life indiscriminately,” Mr. Corsetti continued. “I follow this guidance to those who are finished in this life. Who don’t mind the idea of their last act being to make children happy in some way. Then I am as gentle with them as possible, taking them from their pain. And tonight … I’ve clearly been led to you.”
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