In my early twenties when I had recently started working at a junior high school, the holiday season hit, and everything was hectic, people trying to be jolly and festive and overtly social, you know how it goes.
I was eating lunch in the staff break room, surrounded by coworkers, and suddenly a terrifying disguised figure came slinking through the door.
It was dressed in a full-throttle Santa costume with red pants, red coat, big buckle, big shiny black boots, mittens, big fluffy Santa hat, and with its face almost completely obscured by lots of white beard. Only its mouth and cheeks could be seen, and just a hint of its eyes below big fake eyebrows. But none of these small details gave any hint to the person beneath the costume, because heavy makeup had been applied to the lips, cheeks, and eyes.
"HO HO HO!" It shouted in a husky stage voice, as it minced down amongst the tables where we sat, trying to eat. Its hips swayed, an obviously fake big belly twitching from side to side. Its red lips smirked. It ran its gloved hands across shoulders and arms, even pinched a few cheeks.
Reactions throughout the room were mixed. Some laughed gamely, making valiant efforts to make it seem normal. Some stared at their food and continued grimly eating.
I sat frozen in wide-eyed terror.
Santa simpered and capered through the room, coming nearer and nearer to my table. Touching, pinching, slinking...
Its movements were not graceful, though. It was disjointed and weird, like a film being run backwards. Herky-jerky.
In a sickening reversal of natural order, Santa slithered into a man's lap and demanded with those hungry red lips, "And what do YOOOOOOU want for Christmas, LITTLE BOY?"
I panicked. I was sweating and trembling, the room suddenly shrinking, bringing that wrong Bizarro Santa even closer. Why was this happening? Why were they allowing this to happen to us?
One of my table mates noticed my panic and whispered, "What's wrong?"
"I... I have to get out of here!"
"Oh, don't be silly. It's fun! It'll be over soon."
I panted, gasping for air. "I don't want it to touch me."
My coworker started losing patience with me. "Oh, come on. You're scared? Of Santa Claus?"
"YES." I hissed. But now the coworkers on either side of me were trying to get me to stay, both of them holding my arms, telling me not to be silly.
Santa loomed closer, lurching and swaying, big stiff belly jutting out, red lips pursing like a sphincter to blow another fierce volley of HO HO HOs.
I thought, "If that thing sits on my lap, I will die. My heart will stop in my chest."
I broke free of my coworkers' hands and darted out the back door.
I later found out that "Santa" was actually our school psychologist-- an alarmingly weird woman we'll call "Nora." Nora always wore too much makeup, and had tics and twitches that made me think she might have some minor neurological disorder(s). She was skinny to the point of gauntness, and had a severe short and choppy haircut dyed a deep wine-red that was not flattering to her weathered features. She was fond of pantsuits and high heels.
I feel perfectly justified in fleeing the scene, as obviously that was the wrongest Santa ever seen. But for years my coworkers teased me about running away from Santa.
A few years later...
Nora was in a pretty severe car accident, and had to have some reconstructive surgery done on her face. She also suffered some body trauma that gave her a limp, and even more tics and twitches. I felt bad for her. She meant well, and seemed like a nice person.
But then she had to go and wear another goddamn costume at Christmastime.
This time she was a gender non-specific ELF, in green leggings and curled-toe boots and jingling hat. But the worst part was the mask. I guess because of her accident-scarred face, she chose to wear a full face mask. But it was one of those clear plastic masks with rouged cheeks and lips, and a suggestion of blurry eyebrows. The kind of mask that makes a scary blur of the person's features, and muffles their voice. 100% serial killer.
She had added a long weird misshapen elf nose, which jutted out rudely and reminded me incongruously of that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy uses a lump of clay to make a fake nose to disguise herself in front of William Holden and then she ends up smooshing the nose until it looks weirder and weirder.
This time, instead of a husky low "Santa" voice, Nora was using a loud squeaky "Elf" voice. And she was kind of a tall woman, so there was really nothing elf-like about her.
Her raspy elf squeak was so muffled by the serial killer mask that I couldn't understand one single word she said the whole time she capered about the room, mincing and flitting in what must have seemed an "elf-like" fashion to her.
And did I mention that the accident had given her a hitch in her get-along? It was a horrifying ballet of awkwardness, watching her twitch and lurch around the room in those green leggings and curled-toe boots. I think in her mind she was probably "prancing," but it didn't play that way.
This time I stayed in the room longer, though. I felt bad for Nora, and at least I knew who it was under all that fucking weirdness. But that clear plastic mask, man...
That's the detail that still haunts me.