Assault on Workshop 13 – Part 2
Part 2 – It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
“Who’s back?” I asked.
“It’d better be Facilities,” Egg Noggin said as he wandered to the window where Rooster continued to peer into the night. No one else in the room had picked up on Hermey’s unease, which had me genuinely unsettled. No one got scared in the North Pole. At least not if the Reindeer weren’t wandering nearby with leering eyes. “Gotta get these darn lights back on pronto. Can’t see diddly-squat in here.”
Rooster slapped him on the back of the head. “Shut up!” Noggin cowed under the harsh glare from his trainer, who turned back to the window, his eyes straining to pierce the darkness outside. “It ain’t Facilities,” he whispered. “Them boys don’t go sneakin’ around outside except when the Boss’s lookin’ for someone to clean out the reindeer stables.”
I suppressed a shiver. The messes those cat-eating, antlered freaks left behind after dinner could have come right out of the climax of a horror movie. But that wasn’t all that had me shaking. I took a tentative step toward the window, only to feel a hand grab me by my purse strap and haul me to the ground.
Before I could protest, deafening pops filled the air. Wall panels splintered, raining hundreds of tiny wooden needles onto my face. The cacophony died down in an instant, leaving my ears ringing and my head swimming. I rolled over onto my hands and knees, finding only the dead-eyed visage of Noggin staring back me, his body riddled with bullet holes. A scream formed in my lungs and raced up my esophagus, only to be rudely suppressed by a wrinkled hand wrapped over my mouth. I looked over to see Hermey, a finger pressed against his lips.
I scrambled away, wanting some space to process what I’d just seen, only to plant my hand firmly into the red, minty goo pooling next to Noggin’s body. Another scream came, but this time I slapped my own hand over my mouth and stifled the shriek of horror that came from within my tiny, marshmallow-shaped lungs.
“You’re okay,” Hermey reassured me. “You’re okay. Shhhhhh.”
Okay? OKAY? Dead is never okay!
I thought of a thousand different retorts for the wrinkled little elf, but then a muffled voice blew up outside, it’s owner sounding like he was talking into a tin can in front of a 1940s microphone.
“Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way!”
Hermey’s head perked up at the sound.
“We take the North Pole from the corrupt! The jolly! The oppressor of generations who has kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the elves. The North Pole is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Santa’s slave plantation, and freeing the oppressed!”
Raucous applause and high-pitched cheering broke out all around the exterior of the workshop. Hermey’s hand dropped away from my face, but I was too terrified to scream anymore.
“Shit, Hermey,” Rooster said. I whipped my head around to see him sitting in the corner, a bloody hand pressed over a bullet hold in his side. “It’s him.”
The old elf nodded as the applause died down and the voice continued.
“Don a beard, elves. Step outside those who would serve. For an army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nest, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Court will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The Facilities Management will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great village… it will endure. The North Pole will survive!”
A massive boom shook the ground and rattled the windows. Orange light flared across the windows on one side of the workshop. I curled into a ball on the middle of the floor, Noggin on one side of me, a pile of curly white beards on the other.
“Let us not stand on ceremony, elves,” the muffled voice boomed. “Join us. Take up the beards and be one of us!”
“What is going on?!” Spray Tan nearly shouted. “Who’s shooting at us?!”
Hermey hushed her, which had zero effect.
“We’re going to get killed! I have a hair appointment tomorrow!”
“We have to wear the beards,” Snowed In said hurriedly. “If we wear the beards they’ll let us live.”
“I took this job so I could pay the insurance on my Jeep,” Spray Tan continued, oblivious to everything around her. “Not so I could get shot at!”
“What the hell does that even mean?” Feliz asked, looking at Snowed In, who cowered next to him. “Why do we have to wear beards?”
“Because the guys with guns out there just told us to!”
That sounded like the dumbest thing I’d ever heard, even in a place where Rice Krispy treats sometimes doubled as currency. But what did I care? I crawled over to the pile of beards and flicked through the whole lot, searching for the cutest one. If I was going to defect, I’d defect in style.
Hermey grabbed my wrist right when I found the one that required the least grooming. “We’re not doing that,” he said, his eyes dead serious. “Nobody leaves.”
“But they’re going to kill us!” Snowed In was shaking like a leaf. He dove for the beards. A single pop rang out, freezing him in his tracks. We waited for the ricochets to die down before turning slowly towards Rooster.
The cowboy kept one of his cap guns trained on Snow. “You heard the man,” he said. “Nobody’s leavin’ except in a perfectly wrapped gift box.”
My heart dropped. The whole workshop was filled with gift boxes. Rooster lifted himself off the floor with a hearty groan and sidled up against the window.
“Who’s out there?” I asked. “Polar bears? Nazis? Zombies?” I shuddered. “Nazi zombie polar bears?”
“Worse,” Hermey put a hand on my shoulder. “Listen, I’ll explain everything, but for now, we need to keep quiet. This workshop is abandoned. They don’t know there’s anyone in here, so we might escape this unscathed if we-”
Rooster drove his elbow through the window, shattering what little glass remained. “Mele Kalikimaka, you pointy-hatted sonofabitch! Come and get us!”
He fired off a few rounds, then retreated back behind the wall. Hermey lowered his head, an exasperated sigh escaping his lips.
“So much for hiding,” he said, mostly to himself.
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” the voice boomed. “One little workshop resists the call. One little misguided workshop does not fear the truth I bring to you all. It welcomes the status quo. For that, its punishment must be severe. Let the rest of you look upon Workshop 13, and see what fate awaits those who resist.”
My eyes widened and I immediately looked for a hole to crawl into. Whoever this maniac was, he was coming for us.
Spray Tan crouched into a ball behind a tricycle-press machine and rocked back and forth, lost in her own thoughts. “Nurse Heidi told me she loved me last week, and I never said it back. I never said it back!”
The gunshots and chatter from outside ceased. The quiet was deafening. Rooster lowered his weapon and tilted his chin up. “Hmph… You hear that? Silent night all of a sudden.”
Spray Tan cautiously looked up from her hiding spot. “Is that good?”
He glared at her, and cocked his gun. “Nope.”
Suddenly, the entire wall blasted apart, sending us scattering. I ran whichever way I was facing, shrieking my head off. Steady hands locked onto my arms and directed me out of harm’s way, setting me down behind a huge wooden crate.
“What’s going on?” I screamed as bullets zinged past my ears.
Hermey peeked around the crate and pulled back suddenly as wood chips splintered off in every direction. “It’s worse than I thought,” he said, spitting out oak shavings.
I wrapped my arms around my head, squeezing myself into the tiniest version of me I could imagine. Pops filled the air, and I saw my dreams of a new wardrobe flitter away, chased by a barrage of bullets. I couldn’t stand not knowing any longer. If I was going to die, I wanted to know by whom. So I waited for a lull in the attack and then peeked my head around the edge of the crate just fast enough to glimpse our attackers. And when I pulled back to my hiding spot, I sat there for a long moment, dumbfounded.
Finally, I accepted what I’d just seen.
“Gnomes?” I shrieked. “The cute little guys who live in gardens?”
“Ha!” Hermey flinched when an explosion rocked the far side of the workshop. “Cute little assholes who can’t take no for an answer.”
That sounded oddly personal. I took a deep breath and stuck my head around the crate again.
Little bearded gnomes in red pointy hats darted between the piles of wreckage left over from destroying the workshop’s entire north wall. In their hands they held oversized AK-47s that sprayed off burst after burst, which sometimes knocked them over backwards, or spun them around in a circle. One caught me staring and aimed his gun right at me. Fear gripped me, turning my legs to blocks of ice. The gnome pulled the trigger, firing off a few bullets that sailed wide left. Then he did it again. And again.
Then something clicked and he paused to examine his rifle.
Hermey dragged me back behind the crate. “Not exactly crack shots,” he said, smiling. “Not like Rooster.”
“Deck my balls, you pot-bellied piss-magnets!”
I peered over Hermey’s shoulder and caught sight of a tweed cowboy hat bouncing around the rubble. Rooster stepped into view, his cap guns spinning on his fingers. The pistols locked into his grip and he fired two bullets, dropping two of the gnomes. They fell away screaming, their rifles popping off a spray into the ceiling.
“Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, motherfuckers!” And then Rooster was gone, tearing around like a wild elf, firing off bullets into anything that moved.
“We need to get out of here,” Hermey said, his eyes darting around the room. Before he could utter another word, though, his gaze stopped on the crate that served as our only protection.
“What?” I asked.
He pointed at the label and his eyes shot open, big as dinner plates. “Eggnog!”
“Praise Santa, I could go for a drink right now,” I said. “Do you guys have like a steamer or anything so I can—?”
“No,” he snapped. He grabbed my arm. “We have to go before one of those bullets blows us all sky high.”
“I’m not following.”
“This isn’t ordinary egg nog!” He started dragging me away and I went with him, just so he wouldn’t scuff my new boots. “This is the good stuff!”
He pushed me behind a workbench, where I almost fell on Feliz and Spray Tan. Snowed In was nowhere to be seen. The floor rumbled under my feet.
“Oh, no,” Hermey said.
I stood and looked past him. Gnomes poured through the wall, fanning out to the sides. Behind them, a vast, black silhouette loomed over the gardens, its mechanical movements slowly bringing it closer.
“Rooster!” Hermey shouted. “Grab Snow and run!”
The cowboy hat paused in mid-bounce. “Dashing through the snow right now!” A few harried moments later, Rooster appeared a dozen paces to our right, ducking behind another workstation, dragging a paler-than-normal Snow with him. Bullets continued to pelt the counters around us.
Spray Tan held up some kind of toy gun in her shaking hands. “Will this help?”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Hermey snatched it from her. “An Austin Magic Pistol. We can use this to blow up the eggnog. It’s a perfect diversion.”
“That old toy can shoot that hard?” Feliz asked. “That’s not safe! How did any kids survive you guys?”
Hermey pulled the cap off the back of the pistol and tapped a grey powder into it. “Safe? Ha! We used calcium carbide to fire the damn thing. Go Google that sometime and let me know if you think it’s safe.”
The old elf handed me the little yellow cap. “It’s up to you, Pumpkin. I’m too slow to make it in time.”
I looked at the cap and then at the elf, my blank stare making it clear what I thought. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Just put it on the ground next to the eggnog crate,” he said, “and then spit on it.”
“Spit? On This? Out there? Oh no.” I snapped my fingers without even thinking. “Nuh uh.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders, jostling me so hard I almost dropped the stupid cap and gross spit powder. “You have to do this or we die!”
“I’ll cover you!” came a shout from across the room. Rooster darted behind a large rocking horse nearby. He whipped his guns around the toy, popping off round after round.
All the while, the slow, rumbling shadow drew closer.
Hermey shoved me away from the workbench. “Go!”
With no other decent options, I ran like the wind, wondering just a little bit how great my boobs looked jogging in my work smock. A much better use of my time than thinking about how close to death I was. I reached the egg nog crate amidst a hail of poorly aimed bullets and slapped the cap down on the floor. After rolling my eyes and checking to make sure no one was watching, which unfortunately, they all were, I drew a tiny bit of spit and dropped it.
And missed. It landed on the floor and made a little dark spot. Gross. I tried one more time and nailed it. Pleased with myself, I stood and flicked my hair back over my shoulder.
“Rooster!” Hermey called. “Shoot the yellow cap by the big crate. It’ll explode!”
I frowned. Explode?
Rooster broke away from his cover right as a group of gnomes rained bullets on him, destroying the rocking horse in a shower of woodchips. The cowboy pointed a pistol my way. He squinted one eye closed.