He led her down the stairs. Bright tinsel snaked its way along the balustrade, and people were already gathering in the Christmas wonderland below. They were all waiting for her. It was Christmas Eve, and Rudolf had chosen this day specifically.
Her anxiety grew as they descended. She focused on the large
overly adorned Christmas Tree in the corner but looked away with a shudder of
revulsion when her eyes fell on the fat Santa shadowed in the corner of the
room. His ruddy cheeks and twinkling eyes were strangely at odds with the fear
that rippled through her at the sight of him.
She hesitated on their downward spiral, and Rudolf looked at her
with slight annoyance.
Inclining his head, he softly said “Come now Noelle, this will
be a Christmas like no other.”
She looked up at him, unsure of his meaning, and saw that the
momentary flicker of irritation had been replaced with his charming smile. She
must have imagined it. She could still not fully rely on her fragmented mind.
At least the fog was starting to clear now, and she was finally
getting stronger with each passing day. Her frustration at the slow progress
was eclipsed by the constant dread that gnawed at her, particularly as
Christmas Eve had drawn nearer. Perhaps just fear of the unknown?
Even her own life seemed like a shadowy cavern right now.
The faces below swam before her in a sea of bright Christmas
reds and greens, and the realization that she was not yet ready sank heavily
Not ready to face a group of strangers she was supposed to know.
Not ready to face the wicked world.
Not ready for another Christmas Eve Ritual!
That sudden thought brought her to an abrupt stop. Ritual? Why
had that flashed into her mind?
Rudolf sensed her falter and held her arm a little tighter. He
glanced at her, and then bowed to the waiting crowd.
Sweeping his arm out as if to present her at a Royal Court, he
theatrically announced “Behold Noelle – my beautiful wife and a blessing to us all –
alive and well, and ready to join us on this special occasion!”
A fleeting vision flickered through her mind of being presented
in the same way at a real Royal Court of Lords and Lady, court jesters, and other
members of the gentry, dissipated before she could fully grab onto it.
The silence was shattered by jarring applause. Noelle had a
sudden memory of walking down the same wide staircase with another man and the
same feeling of helplessness. She shuddered again, but the vision was gone as
quickly as it had appeared.
She shook her head slightly. This was her loving husband next to
her, tightly holding her arm and leading her back into the world that she had
known and loved.
At least that is what he kept telling her.
He had been preparing her for this special Christmas Eve for
weeks now, reminding her of how much he loved her, and how much she loved him.
How her family was missing her. How her friends gathered each Sunday evening
for their weekly vigil, willing her to recover and re-join them in time for the
How could she not be grateful for this man who called himself
Rudolf had lovingly nursed her back to health, but she knew his
patience had been running thin with all her recent questions, and she had
caught him looking at her quizzically a few times. Somehow, she knew this was
dangerous. Perhaps it was time to just accept his explanations - and guarded
Why was she feeling so fearful, though? Why did she feel the cold
prickle of dread creeping over her, every time he came near?
Rudolf had told her over and over about his bedside vigil as she
lay unconscious for weeks after the accident, holding her hand and begging her
to return to him. His tight lips and narrowed eyes, however, contradicted his
tales of his patience at her lack of recognition when she finally returned to
Her lack of affection. Her inability to accept him. She was
grateful, but try as she might, all she could feel when she saw him, was this
heavy sense of foreboding. She had tried so hard to conjure memories of their
life together, and while his name was familiar, his face was not. His cold eyes
held no warm memories for her at all.
She mentally shook herself and stood a little taller and
Smiling she softly said, “Hello everyone. I am so happy to see
you all and be here with you today. Merry Christmas.”
But the shocking truth was, she did not see one person she
How she had hoped Rudolf would be proven right tonight. He had
felt it would be better to see everyone together to melt the lingering mists
away in one lightning flash. He had prepared her well with the stories, names,
and connections - but refused to let her see any photographs.
He had painted a colourful picture of their life together but
was always vague with her questions about children. They obviously didn’t have
a family, but had they spoken about it? Did he want children? Did
she?! His stranger’s eyes would slide away from hers every time she
wondered out loud.
Sitting on the window seat in her room for hours at a time, she
would watch the mothers on the street below pushing their prams, always feeling
a sad tug in her belly and a twinging sensation in her chest. She could almost
feel a soft, warm bundle in her arms. Almost hear an angry cry from a tiny face.
But then the mists would roll in again and sweep the sensations away.
Why was Rudolf so evasive on this topic, when he had such
detailed stories for everything else?
She hoped that everyone here tonight would handle her confusion
as well as he had. Sometimes she wondered why he was so accepting of the
situation when she was not. But every time she pushed him for too many answers,
he would say that she was “over-taxing herself” and give her another pink
tablet for her anxiety.
She had a little secret though.
She had begun to realize that these pink pills were causing her
fog to thicken,
and in fact, causing her more anxiety. So, in preparation for this big moment
tonight, she had stopped taking them completely a week ago.
And as she had hoped, the mists had begun to clear.
It started with flashes of the name Rudolf. Then strangely
familiar faces leering at her. And always lurking in the periphery mist – fat Santa
with his ruddy cheeks and twinkling eyes.
Whispered memories of tightening ripples across her swollen
belly left her feeling unsettled, and the confusion conjured by the prams
outside her window also became more vivid causing spasms of sadness that she
could not understand.
She had truly hoped that Rudolf was right, and she would laugh
and fall into their waiting arms as he had promised her. But the reality was
far different. Rather than a cleansing summer downpour of familiarity washing
her winter mists away, she was struck by a dark storm of confusion and
She looked around at the smiling faces again and slowly realized
that she did
recognize some of the men after all. She had seen them before, but their smiles
now seemed menacing.
Noelle glanced at Rudolf and smiled hesitantly. She turned and
walked slowly into the crowd. As they closed in around her, she looked back one
more time and felt a sudden jolt as a memory suddenly formed out of the
now-rapidly thinning mist.
“A Christmas like no other.”
She had heard these words before but by another Rudolf. Someone who looked a
little like this
Rudolf, but with different eyes. She looked back up the staircase and saw an
image of herself walking down just as she did tonight but looking very
Her hair was wrong. It was drawn back into a chignon, and she
was wearing a beautifully extravagant ballgown from a different century. The
tinsel and large Christmas tree were the same, but there were no Christmas
lights. There were no lights at all, only hundreds of candles in elaborate
But there he was again - the fat Santa lurking in the shadows.
Suddenly another memory of a different time took shape. She had
walked down the same stairs on yet another Rudolf’s arm. This time her hair was
cropped in a sleek bob at her ears, and she was wearing a Christmas-red flapper
With a sudden burst of clarity, she realized she had done this
Christmas Eve parade many times before through many different eras in history.
How was this possible? Her fractured mind must be imagining it all.
She saw Rudolf’s chilling smile as she looked into his
stranger’s eyes – and saw fat Santa reflected in them.
She turned away in horror – straight into the crowd of
“Hello Noelle, I’m James. Your younger brother. I am so happy to
“Hello darling, I’m Peter, your oldest brother. You are looking
“Hello, my angel. You look amazing! I am Jonathan, Sam’s
“Oh Noelle, don’t look so terrified! You will remember us all
soon my dear.”
They were all Rudolf.
Now it made sense why she recognized his name, but not him.
Rudolf, her loving husband, had been played by many different men, over many
The last of the mists parted like the curtains of a stage to reveal
the truth with shocking clarity.
Noelle remembered how one night a few weeks ago, she had awoken
from a terrible dream of screaming babies. Creeping downstairs for some
soothing tea she had stumbled upon this Rudolf and all these other Rudolfs talking
in low voices.
“I need to increase her dosage! She’s asking too many
“Keep her under control Max! She is almost ready for the
Christmas Eve ceremony. Double the dosage and make sure she’s ready by then.
It’s been twenty years since the last one was delivered, and he needs another.
Keep her happy ‘til then. We can’t have her remembering anything now, it’s too
close to the conception date.”
“Keep her calm Max. She must trust you! We’ve never had issues
before. Don’t screw this up - he needs another one, and he won’t accept
She’d crept away quietly, knowing she’d overheard something
terrifying but all she’d questioned that night was why they were calling her
Rudolf by a different name.
She had stopped taking the pink pills the next morning.
As the truth settled over her, she turned back in horror to look
at him on the stairs.
The sensation of being pregnant was real! She remembered all the
times she had held her tiny baby before it was ripped away from her - a
different Rudolf with her each time, playing his role perfectly until the first
angry cry of her infant. His empty eyes then sliding away to find fat Santa
waiting in the shadows, moving forward to drag the newly born elf into his
scarlet-clad arms. His twinkling eyes dancing with greedy glee as he looked at
his new addition.
How many elves had she given him through the centuries?
How was this possible? Who were these people?
Who was she?
The questions struck like bolts of lightning. Could Santa be
The realization that it may be safer not to remember anything
else sliced through her horrified haze, and casting her eyes downward, Noelle
moved forward into the comforting unknown.
Her pink pills would keep her shielded in the mist and safe in
her own oblivion once again.