Christmas Takeover 36: Grant Hinton: Something Came Down My Chimney & It Wasn't Santa

Something Came Down My Chimney
& It Wasn’t Santa

A Short Story by Grant Hinton
1,813 words

I sat bolt upright, a cold sweat covered my brow. It wasn’t the dream, I was sure of it even as it faded from his mind. A scream pierced the night. The same noise that had infiltrated my restless slumber. Not knowing what it was, I got out of bed and stumbled to my parent’s room. As I pushed the bedroom door open, my mother shot from the bed and elbowed me out the way, my cry of pain startled my father awake. The familiarity of the scream resonated in my head for a brief second.

“TILLY!”

My dad pushed past me and we ran to my sister’s room bumping into mum at the threshold of my four-year-old sister’s door. Pink wallpaper with unicorns gave the walls a fairytale look as did her fluffy pillows, and armies of teddy bears, but the princess of this room wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Another ear-piercing scream splits the early morning and we ran for the stairs. Dad burst through the living door a moment before me and mum. Our grey sofas were overturned exposing the ripped canvas underneath, the Christmas tree laid destroyed to one side; the decorations and broken bubbles scattered across the floor. I don’t think my parents saw the desolate state of their living room because Tilly was slowly disappearing up the chimney backwards. A long, black appendage clamped over her shoulders pulled her up as she continued to scream. The half-full stocking trailed in one of her hand disappeared after her. Dad leapt to the fireplace desperately trying to grab Tilly’s hand as mum sunk to the floor in a heap of devastation. Damian, My sixteen-year-old brother sleepily entered the room in his bed shorts and T-shirt. He looked at our mother sunk against the door and then to dad laying sprawled by the fireplace in confusion.

“What’s happening? What’s going on?”

“My baby.” Mum wailed and sobbed into her hands.

Dad scampered as far up the chimney as he could. A sticky black substance coated the carpet and lead up the interior bricks blocking his progress.

“Quick Dom. Grab my torch from my bedside.”

“What?”

“Just do it. Now! Quickly!”

Damian darted from the room and thundered up the stairs. Moments later his heavy footfall announced his return and he gave Dad the torch. Dad shone the light up the chimney and was greeted with blackness, the redundant smell of mouldy food and something else clung to the brickwork and his bedclothes.

“The roof. They’re on the roof.” I heard him call from within.

Damian and our father ran from the house and stood on the snow-dusted lawn looking up to the equally white roof as I stopped in the doorway.

“There nothing there, Dad?”

Confusion clouded dad’s face in the predawn light.

“It’s in the roof.” He gasped.

Damian watched confused as Dad darted back passed me into the house.

I’ve never seen Dad move so fast as he raced up the grey carpeted stairs to the landing, taking two steps at a time. He jostled the pictures of our happy family lined the stairs in brown wooden frames. At the top, he jumped for the roof hatch and pulled the trap down. Stairs descended in a fluid motion. Damian finally bumped his elbow as dad placed a foot on the first run.

“Dad?”

“Dom, I need a weapon.”

“What is it? What is happening?”

“Something’s got, Tilly.”

“Dad?” I called from the foot of the stairs. I was really scared.

“Not now, Billy!”

A muffled scream echoed in the roof space and Damian’s jaw fall open, I ran up the stairs and joined them.

“Dom! Focus. I need a weapon.”

“Ahh, yeah, one second… wait there.”

Damian opened his door and disappears inside. Seconds later he handed Dad a large knife that gleamed in the faint light coming through a window.

“Really? In your room? After this we’re gonna have a serious talk.”

As Dad ascended the stairs, Damian followed, I took up the rear. Dad clicked a switch and a single bulb illuminated the attic in shards of cold blue light. A black mass shifted at the back of the roof. I gasped as Dad shone the torch, Tilly’s laid under the beast frightened as the spider’s eyes shrunk from the light of the torch. It hissed a warning.

“Dad! What the fuck is that?” Cursed Damian.

I stood dumbstruck as Tilly’s fingertips clung to a dusty roof beam.

“Dad… please.” She wailed. It’s white stringy web entwined Tilly’s body and the large spider pulled at her – her fingers buckled one by one.

“Just hold on, I’m coming.”

Tilly disappeared into the darkness and Dad frantically tried to follow – the torch swung from side to side illuminating the edges of the attic space. Dad and Damian stepped cautiously across the spaces between the beams making sure not to step on the fluffy insulation. The spider extended four black spindly legs and knocked rapidly on the wooden supports – a loud chattering noise fills the attic. Tilly’s last finger slipped from the beam and the beast shot back to a black hole in the side of the chimney. Dad leapt forward desperately and hit a beam hard losing his breath. He pulled himself over to the broken brickwork and looked down the hole. Mum’s screams reverberated throughout the house.

“Dawn!”

Damian bumped his head on the wood support and cursed as he turned back to the attic hatch. Moments later we all raced back through the front door into the snow scattered lawn. Our breaths bellowed out in the crisp morning air.

“Where?” Dad glanced around as Damian shouted to us.

“Dad. It’s in the trees.”

My father bolted forward and brandished the knife between the spider and Damian.

“Come here you mother fucker and give me back my daughter.”

Dad picked up a loss rock from the shrubs of our garden and threw it at the creatures head – it bounced off its thick hide with a thud. The chattering noise became angrier and the creature slowly started to morph. I clung to the door frame petrified. Dad looked at me in a state of shock as a black, head-like thing resembling a deflated balloon extended from the bulbous part of its body. It rose up on a boney black skeletal like neck. Damian looked from the numerous flashing eyes on the spidery body to the ascending eyeless head. The thing we thought was a spider hissed again as it continued to morph into something hideous.

“No way. Are those wings?” Damian gasped.

A rib cage exoskeleton popped out of the body with a slouching sound and followed the head as two skeletal wings with sharp boney points fanned out behind it. The spidery body shook like a rattlesnake as the chattering noise grew louder. The balloon-shaped head towered above Dad’s six-foot height. As he looked up a barbed tail extended over the creatures winged shoulder, threateningly. Tilly’s muffled screams split the air and her hands became visible under the beast’s boubous body. Tilly’s petrified face pleaded with our father as twelve small humans-like hands gripped her shoulders from underneath the spidery body.

“Dad! Help me!”

Tilly screamed and frantically pulled at the loose ground trying to free herself. Dad dodged the thrust of the creatures spiked tail and tried to get within striking distance.

“Dad, watch out!”

The barbed tail struck again and Dad jumped out the way, narrowly missing the wicked sharp point. The creature’s lower face split open above Tilly’s head and circles of serrated teeth chomped like a woodchipper. A puff of green smoke spread from the jaws and my father staggered forwards coughing. As his eyes glazed over, he drops the knife to the cold ground.

“DAD!!” I screamed.

A split cracked opened in the creature’s deflated head revealing a mouth devoid of teeth.

“No!” Damian screamed, the warning never reached our father. The creature struck with brutal speed and clamped over his head. Mum screamed beside me and fell to her knees as dad’s convulsing body hit the floor. The deflated head puckered and then with a ripping sound tore dad’s head clean off. Lights from the neighbouring houses flicked on. The creature shuffled back with Tilly still underneath. Damian grabbed the fallen knife and lunged for the creature narrowly missing the barbed tail. He plunged the knife through the thick hairless skin, and it rears up revealing a scared Tilly.

“Dom… Dom. Help me.” She whimpered.

My brother reached down to rescue Tilly but suddenly went stiff. Blood spilt from the corners of his mouth. Tilly screamed again. A cracking sound filled the air. Damian’s body shook as the barbed tail pushed through his torso with a sickening crunch. Tilly screwed up her face as green puss and blood fell from our fallen brother. A gunshot echoed off the houses. The spider thing shrieked and skittered back. Another gunshot hit the creature square on its hind legs making them buckled. Shrieking, it scrambled upright as Tilly crawled from underneath. A man walked toward the beast brandishing a well-used shotgun. Brian, our neighbour, and seasoned hunter fired the weapon again, the creature’s grotesque torso collapsed back into its body.

“Get back!” Brian gruff voice barked.

Tilly scrambled past Damian’s dead body toward our cowering mother as a fourth gunshot echoed off the building. The creature’s greenish blood poured from a crack in its tough skin. Shuddering, it slowly withered. Brian pulled his dressing gown tight and walked over to the creature with his gun pointed – he smiled a toothless grin as the beast laid still. Damian’s open mouth silently moaned to the broken night as his swollen body turns greenish-grey, pus leaked from his eyes and nose and trickled to the desolated snow.

“Ah. Man. That’s disgusting,” Brian looked over to the porch and the three us there. “You all ok?”

I nodded stupidly as Tilly cuddled mum, they were crying together as the creature jerked and curls up tighter. Tilly murmured and rested her head against our mother’s chest as mum thanked Brian with a small nod. Suddenly mom’s eyes went wide as saucers as the barbed tail shot out and pierced Brian’s chest. The old hunter reached over his shoulder as he shuddered and buckled to the floor. The shotgun falling from his loose fingers, the gun hit the floor and sent one final shot into the spidery beast. The tail slowly retracted back into the body and finally laid still. Tilly and my mum consoled each other as more of our neighbour’s lights turn on. Neither of them saw the small spider-like creatures pouring from Damian’s body, thousand of them scurrying away to the trees in a thick black line. but I did.

The End

Grant Hinton is the wifi password to the world of horror. His technological knowledge mixed with the grasp of the human condition results in devastatingly chilling results. Not only that, this bestselling author is hauntingly gifted in all things to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, all the ways to quickening your heartbeat, and leave you with a lesson that stays long after your eyes have left his words.

There are great things on the horizon coming ahead, stay tuned for more soul gripping content.

Grant Hinton – horror author, writing advocate, teacher and family man.

Christmas Takeover 35: Catherine Cavendish: Swallow Lodge

Swallow Lodge

A Short Story by Catherine Cavendish
2,828 words

I should have known the house would be trouble. After all, anywhere that is on the market for over £150,000 less than all the neighboring properties must have something wrong with it. Apart from being virtually derelict of course.

Swallow Lodge. The name captivated me. The moment I first laid eyes on the empty dwelling I knew I had to own it. Strange really because in its current state, it certainly wasn’t habitable. In fact, the estate agent wanted me to look at the more suitable house across the road. But no, I had to have this one, and the more she tried to dissuade me, the more determined I became. Eventually she caved in and a couple of months later Swallow Lodge became mine.

Maybe it was the unusual shape that appealed to me. The central section towered upward, tapered to a narrow pinnacle and housed the two upstairs bedrooms. To the right and left of this, the building was single story. Judging by the sorry remnants of peeling paint and ripped wallpaper, Swallow Lodge had once been decorated traditionally, with care and taste. What would poor Miss Frobisher make of it now? I attributed the chill that enveloped me, when I thought of its last owner, to an unseasonal nip in the air.

The house had been empty for ten years following the old lady’s death on Christmas Day. When I asked about her, the estate agent knew very little. A care assistant had found her and been too traumatized to go into detail. Dorothy Frobisher owned the house for sixty years and died in it at the age of ninety.

On the day I took possession of her former home, I took photographs and emailed them to my daughter in Australia. Unfortunately, even the warm summer sun pouring in through the windows could do little to improve the sorry state of the place and Carol didn’t share my enthusiasm. Her face wore an incredulous expression when I Skyped her that night.

“Mum, whatever possessed you? It’ll cost you a fortune to put that place right. Half the roof’s down for a start!”

“I know,” I said, as waves of ecstasy washed over me. “It’s going to be perfect. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to decorate the way I want to without your father chipping in and insisting on white walls and fitted carpets. I can have hardwood floors, themed rooms—”

“And an overdraft the size of a small African country.”

I sighed, seeing Carol’s lips set in that familiar thin line. Just like her father. But she could say what she wished, I would have my Swallow Lodge and I would have it my way. After all, my daughter lived in Sydney. She could hardly do much about it, even if I decided to paint the walls shocking pink which, of course, I wouldn’t.

With hindsight, I suppose the difficulty I had in finding builders to work on my new pride and joy should also have told me something. They were all perfectly keen at first, until I told them the address. Then, mysteriously, each one of them seemed to discover they had a big job somewhere else that would keep them occupied for the next six months. I was unfamiliar with the area, as I had lived in the city – thirty miles away – until my husband George died. That’s when I decided on a change. My move to Swallow Lodge represented the first step on the path of my new life. How naïve I was. How reckless.

I eventually found a builder. He wasn’t local and gave no reaction when I told him the address. Together we drew up plans and he set to work. Meanwhile, I carried on living in the small flat I’d rented since I sold my house, and dreamed of the day when I could take my furniture out of storage and move into my perfect home.

Derek, my builder, worked long hours all through summer and beyond. Every time I went along to have a look at how he was getting on, I came away more excited than before. With my approval he engaged a gardener to sort out the wilderness at the back of the house, painters, a plumber, a glazier and, of course, a roofer. It took practically all my savings, but I was getting the house I had always wanted and didn’t begrudge one penny.

Finally, two weeks before Christmas, the day came when all their combined efforts were complete. Derek handed over the keys.

“It’s all yours, Mrs. Steadman. I hope you’ll be very happy in your new home.”

“I’m sure I will, Derek. You’ve done a wonderful job. Thank you. It’s exactly how I imagined it would be.”

He hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s… well… I suppose it depends how you feel about them, but I think you may have bats under your roof.”

“Bats? Are you sure?”

Derek shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Not entirely, no. I’m only going by the sound, you see. I’ve been up there and saw nothing. Pete, who did the roof, said he couldn’t see any sign of them either. It’s a bit of a mystery how they could have got in really. Mind you, they’re crafty little buggers. Doesn’t take much.”

“You say you’ve heard them?”

Derek nodded. “A few days after I started here, I heard scratching noises. I ruled out rats and mice straightaway. Definitely not those little blighters. No, I’ve heard them before and I’d say you’ve got bats. Trouble is they’re a protected species, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with them. Hope that’s not too much of a nasty surprise.”

“No, no.” I sighed. Did bats do any harm? Hopefully not. “I’ll learn to live with them. I’m sure they’ll keep away from me and I’ll return the favor.”

When I closed the door behind him, I leaned against it and took in my new surroundings. My mother’s grandfather clock finally had the home it deserved, in a hallway where it provided a focal point and a welcome. Its steady, rhythmic tick-tock felt familiar and reassuring. It no longer chimed the hours, since its bells had been removed years earlier. I also had the peaceful library I’d always craved, where I could sit in the evenings, lit by lamps and surrounded by books. And, when sleep overcame me, I could drift upstairs to my cozy bedroom with its dark oak furniture. So in keeping with my Edwardian home.

I couldn’t wait to Skype Carol. I carried my laptop around the house and showed her the rooms, transformed from the ‘before’ photos she’d been so horrified to see. I had even erected a Christmas tree and strewn garlands of artificial holly and pine, bright with shiny red berries, around the walls and doors. With its decorations and twinkly lights, my tree looked festive and gave my home a seasonal finishing touch.

Tour complete, I sat in the library, with my laptop on my antique partners’ desk.

“It all looks lovely, Mum.” Carol smiled. “Not really my taste, but you always preferred old-fashioned stuff.”

I smiled back. “You’re just like your father. He always thought modern was best.”

“Only in Dad’s case, modern meant circa 1980.” Carol laughed, but then stopped abruptly. She stared closer into the webcam, her face wide-eyed, mouth slightly open.

Goose bumps rose on my arms. “What’s the matter?”

“I… don’t know. I thought I saw…” She shook her head. “Don’t worry. It’s gone now. Probably a technical glitch.”


That night, I fell asleep straightaway and awoke before dawn. I needed the bathroom and the chill in the bedroom had me reaching for my dressing gown. Moonlight shone through the landing window, illuminating my way.

I reached for the bathroom door handle. Invisible fingers stroked my hand. I jumped back. Spun around. No one behind me. No one either side of me. The moon withdrew behind a cloud and now I couldn’t see anything in the gloom. Where was the damned light switch? I fumbled around the walls and my fingers made contact with the hard plastic. I pressed. The bright light made me blink. Still nothing there. But something – or someone – had touched me. It couldn’t have been cobwebs. An insect maybe? The house was so quiet, except for the clock downstairs. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Above my head, in the loft, scratching, scrabbling. Bats, Derek had said. Then why did the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention? A loud groan echoed around the walls. A woman in pain. I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door, locking it. I hardly dared breathe as I strained to listen for the slightest sound in the sudden cold, still, silence…

Finally, I dared open the door and peered around. The light from the bathroom shone out, illuminating part of the landing, but casting shadows where I didn’t want them to be.

At the opposite end for where I stood, the dark void of my bedroom awaited me. There should be another switch to brighten that area, but when I found it, nothing happened. In desperation, I flicked it a few more times but still darkness where I so needed light.

From nowhere, cold, invisible hands pressed down on my shoulders, forcing me back against the wall. The face – if it was a face – loomed in front of me. Hollow sockets for eyes set in a gray, twisting, amorphous mask that might once have been human, or could have emanated straight from hell. I pushed hard against an unyielding mass that pulsated and throbbed. Panic rose in waves, coursing through my body. But when my muscles ached and trembled, some inner reserve of strength, borne of terror, powered me and I wrenched myself free, hurling myself down the landing into my bedroom. I locked the door and huddled on the bed, hugging my knees to my chest. My heart thumped and my breath came in gasps. I had to stifle them. Too much noise and it would find me again.

Above me, more scratching. I clapped my hands over my ears to drown out the noise. What was happening to me? Had I gone mad?

I swore I heard a female voice whisper my name.

‘Vivien… Vivien…’

For the first time since I was a child, I prayed, as the hours ticked by and night eventually gave way to dawn.

I waited until the sun was fully risen before I dared unlock my door. Downstairs, my confidence trickled back as I saw nothing untoward. My tree twinkled merrily. In the library, I switched on the radio to the sounds of Nat King Cole roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Outside the window, a solitary robin hopped from branch to branch on the sycamore tree, each move dislodging a shower of snowflakes. The sky looked as if it would deposit more of the white stuff anytime, all adding to the feeling of Christmas right around the corner. My grandfather clock gave out its familiar low tick-tock as Nat King Cole gave way to Mike Oldfield’s take on In Dulce Jubilo.

Maybe I’d imagined last night. Perhaps I’d dreamed it and been in a half-awake, half-asleep state when I awoke to go to the bathroom.

But then I opened the kitchen door. And stared.

Sugar, flour and smashed eggs covered the floor. Ketchup smeared all over the worktops. Two bottles of white wine, unscrewed and emptied down the sink. Glasses and plates lay smashed on the draining board, cooker and floor, and someone had written on the newly painted walls, in bright red letters:

Veni, mi domine Lucifer!

My mind sped into overdrive. Burglars. It had to be. Well-educated burglars who had studied Latin? Unusual, to say the least. Besides there were no signs of a break in. When I checked, all windows and doors were locked from the inside.

I picked up the phone and called the police.

The attending male officers looked barely out of high school. It didn’t take long before I realized they thought they were dealing with a dotty sixty-year-old – bordering on senility -who had probably created this chaos herself.

My curt responses to their inane questions were met with their exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. No, nothing like this had ever happened to me before. No, I wasn’t on anti-depressants, or being treated for any psychological condition.

One of the officers took notes, while the other examined the writing on the wall.

“It means”, I said, “Come, my lord Lucifer. I suppose whoever wrote it is into devil worship, or wanted to scare me.”

The officer, who had introduced himself as PC Workman, turned back from examining the graffiti. “The old lady who used to live here dabbled in that sort of thing.”

“Who? Miss Frobisher?” Surely not. I’d built up an image of a kindly old soul although, admittedly, I didn’t have any evidence to go on.

The other officer – PC Ramsden – scoffed. “Daft rumors. Just because she lived on her own, people made up all sorts of stories.”

His colleague remained adamant. “Oh, she was up to something, that’s for sure. Three local men went missing over the preceding three years before she died. Always at Christmas time too. The only thing they had in common was that they’d all come here to do casual work for Miss Frobisher. One was a handyman, another an electrician and I think the third was a decorator. It got so no one would come near this place.”

An icy shiver shot up my spine. “But you never found any evidence linking her to the disappearances?”

The police officer shook his head. PC Ramsden chortled. “Not likely to either. She was well into her eighties by then and hardly a match for three burly blokes.”

“But these men have never been found?”

“No,” PC Ramsden said. “But people go missing all the time. It’s not that hard to do if you’re determined enough.”

They didn’t stay long after that, merely gave me a crime reference number, promised to look into it and left. They told me I could clean everything up, so clearly there was to be no fingerprinting. They simply didn’t believe me. I suppose I was lucky they didn’t arrest me for wasting police time.

I sighed and set to work sorting out the mess, wishing I had some sort of explanation. I found none, except the crazy notion that, somehow, Miss Frobisher was behind it all.


Carol Skyped me at our pre-arranged time of eight o’clock on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t told her what I had experienced and, as the days passed and nothing more happened, I calmed myself. I sat in the library, my laptop on the desk and, when I answered her call, her cheerful smile made me ache to be with her.

“Happy Christmas, Mum.”

“Happy Christmas, love. Are you enjoying yourselves out there in the sun?”

She started to answer. Stopped. Stared hard at the screen. “What the hell?” She pointed behind me. Her hand shook. Her face a mask of horror. “I don’t know what that thing is, but for God’s sake, Mum, get out of there. Now. Just run!”

I twisted around to see what had scared her so much. A black shape swirled and morphed into a caricature of an old woman. It opened its mouth in a hideous parody of Munch’s most famous painting. From the laptop, Carol screamed at me, again and again. “Get out, Mum. For God’s sake, get out.”

But I couldn’t. The swirling mass, with its black holes for eyes, paralyzed me with its hideous stare.

Deep voices chanted in the echoing distance. A hymn to their Master. “Veni, mi domine Lucifer! Veni, mi domine Lucifer!

Carol’s hysterical cries screamed out from the laptop. “Mum listen to me, you have to get out. Just leave everything and go. Mum please!”

A rapier stab of pain in my side knocked me to one side. I clasped my head in my hands, willing it to stop. Cold fingers invaded my mind. Violating. Searching. Infecting my spirit and my soul with floods of hatred and despair. Pure evil.

I cried out. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

The laptop shot off the desk and smashed on the floor. That brought me to my senses and broke the hold on me. I sprang to my feet and ran. Behind me, I heard the sound of splintering wood and shattering glass. The grandfather clock chimed.

I ran. Out of the house, down the path. I ran and never looked back.

A year later, I’m still running. I hear the chanting. It’s in the wind. And in my head.

“Veni, mi domine Lucifer…”

It’s Christmas.

END

Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. These include (among others): The Haunting of Henderson Close, The Devil’s Serenade, and Saving Grace Devine.

Her new novel – The Garden of Bewitchment – is out from Flame Tree Press on February 10th 2020.

Cat lives in Southport, in the U.K. with her longsuffering husband, and a black cat, who has never forgotten that her species was once worshipped in Egypt.

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

Christmas Takeover 34: Jeff Parsons: The List: Naughty

The List: Naughty

A Short Story by Jeff Parsons
1,674 words

“The end is near,” Alec’s grandmother cackled behind him. She was the only one of his family members he couldn’t see in the living room.

“It’s only a storm,” his Dad droned, sitting next to his mother to the right on the old large print flowered couch.

For no certain reason, an awkward silence followed.

Alec’s brother Brett and sister Diane sat on another couch to the left – they were two and three years older than him, eyes vacuous and bored as hell.

Suddenly, the fireplace popped with a firecracker sounding snap of rising sparks. A quick, cold draft in the flue sucked up the air in the chimney as if the outside air couldn’t abide its surprising burst of warmth, seeking to overwhelm it.

Alec didn’t look up. He lay on his belly on the carpeted floor, facing the television between the decorated Christmas tree and the fireplace. One more section of red to fill in, Alec thought, delighted. There! His coloring book page had a fully colored Santa Claus standing near an evergreen tree full of multi-colored ornaments. Just like their real tree.

His mother a-hemmed and said, “See, mother, the banner on the TV says there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”

Alec looked at the television. There was a red banded strip on the bottom of the screen. Words scrolled, too fast and complicated for his four-year-old mind to grasp. Above that, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was talking with a small group of sad toys. They weren’t loved anymore. Even though they were just toys, Alec could relate completely. He used to be the center of his parent’s love. No longer. Slowly but surely, everything had changed.

“It’s fimbulvinter,” Grandma grumbled with a toothless Nordic accent often difficult to understand.

Alec giggled. “What’s fingle fingers?”

Grandma’s chair creaked as she said, “The beginning of Ragnarök. The end of the world as we know it.”

“That’s blasphemy,” his Mom retorted, on the verge of going into a Pentecostal tizzy.

“Shaddap about the religion, already,” Dad said. He took a long a long swig of canned beer. Third can so far this evening.

“You two don’t believe in anything,” Grandma retorted.

Mom asked at Grandma. “Mother, don’t be vulgar.”

“Why not say the truth? Your choices got you where you are today. With him.” The old woman’s voice dripped acidic contempt. She didn’t like Dad. She always said Mom got married to a poor loser because she got knocked up. Whatever that is, he thought.

Dad went scary quiet, then said, “I provide for her. What has all your wealth done for you? All gambled away by your dead cheating husband. Now you live here by my leave. Guess you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say after all…”

More silence. Stronger this time. Heavier.

Alec didn’t dare look at Grandma. Instead, he watched Santa carrying gifts on the television. Why can’t I have Santa for a Dad? he wondered, feeling guilty about the random thought.

Grandma began to sob.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Mom griped at Dad, angry and exasperated.

“Don’t worry about me.” Grandma stopped crying abruptly. “People get what they deserve. What goes around comes around.”

Brett and Diane were quiet, indifferent, entranced within their own insulated cell phone worlds. Tap-tap tap-tap.

A question rose in Alec’s young mind. He had to know. The gifts, bow-topped and brightly wrapped, stowed beneath the tinsel, ornament, and blinking light festooned spruce pine tree. “When can we open presents?”

Mother sipped from her wineglass, then said, “On Christmas eve. Not before.”

“Is that when Santa comes?” he asked, confused.

“Santa comes the night after. When you’re asleep.”

Huh? His eyebrows knitted together.

“I’d better get what I want,” Diane warned, fingernail daggers stabbing at her cell phone.

The wind rattled the frost-feathered window panes. The storm was getting worse.

Alec’s lips pursed together. His knees were bent in the air, ankles interlocked, slowly rocking back and forth. He realized his coloring book picture was missing something. Santa needed to be delivering something, not just posing by the tree. He began to add gifts, sloppily drawing square bow-wrapped boxes, beneath his tree. In the boxes: for Mom and Dad, a divorce, they always talked about it and said they wanted one, whatever that was; for Diane, a boob job, which caused him to shiver because girls, and especially his sister, were weird; for Brett, a full mustache, huge, long, and curly, to replace the dirt-lip he constantly touched; for Grandma, he wasn’t sure, perhaps like she once said, “peace and quiet”, or maybe what his parents thought she wanted, “to have her way”; for himself, he began to imagine…

“Can we change the channel?” Brett whined. “Claymation cartoons are so lame. He’s not even watching it.”

“Am too watching!” Alec cried, making a point of looking back at the television. He’d been listening, not watching. A song was playing. He liked the words and music, but preferred action.

Mom responded, “Let him watch his show, Brett. You’re busy with your cell phone anyway.”

“Worlds gone to hell,” Grandma grumbled. “No respect for life or common decency whatsoever.”

Dad frowned, shook his head slightly, then took a long gulp of beer. Finishing it off, he placed the empty next to the other ones on the nightstand and cracked open another fresh one.

The Santa and Rudolph show blipped off the television screen. Replacing it was a serious looking man in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. He looked up from a sheet of paper and said, “We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report,” and so on.

No!

“Make it come back! I want my show!” Alec protested.

His Dad answered, “We can’t. It’s a news cast.”

“That’s not fair,” Alec huffed.

“Get used to life, farty pants,” Diane sneered, then went back to her phone world.

Alec stuck his tongue out at her, to no avail, she wasn’t even watching him. He went back to looking at the television.

The newscaster was saying that people were disappearing throughout the country and more of the blahblahblah.

Alec took his red crayon and gripping it in a tight fist, colored Santa’s face hard and fast with red fire, not even staying in the lines, almost tearing into the page. Looking away from his frustrated coloring, he noticed that the newscaster had stopped babbling and a video feed was playing on the television screen.

Everyone watched the footage in naked fear and silence. Maybe even Grandma, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the newscaster said with great difficulty, “I’m not sure what we’re seeing here…”

Alec saw a snowbound city street, with glaring streetlights, being faded out by an approaching dark cloud, like a hazy vortex of ice and snow. There were things coming from the darkness, grabbing people who were running for their lives…and the things, large as an old truck, were ugly with long arms…they were hurting people…killing them. He watched, fascinated with what was happening and, more so, with how people died in such interesting ways.

“Ragnarök. Told you so,” Grandma said with a hint of smug satisfaction.

His Mom had had enough. She said, “Mother, knock it off with that crap! Alec, no more watching this. Go to your room. Now!”

“Diane and Brett get to watch. Why can’t I?” he asked.

His mother pointed to the hallway stairs. “Go! NOW!”

They always treat me like I’m a baby! He threw down his crayon and took his time getting up off the floor, walking to the hallway, and stomping up the stairs to his room.

He threw himself onto his bed and looked out the nearby tall window into the thick snowstorm. Nose pushed to the chilly window pane, his eyes adjusted to the dark; he could barely see the furthest edge of the roof clearly, about as far away as he could throw a rock. He thought he saw movement within the shadowy darkness beyond.

A blaring screech erupted from the television downstairs. Then words: “This is the emergency broadcast system. A nationwide curfew is in effect. Combatants of an unknown origin are attacking citizens throughout the country. Remain calm. Stay in your homes. The military has been activated and is responding to this threat.”

What are com-bats? Really big bats?

Alec blinked in surprise when a flying shadow landed with a thump before his window. His throat constricted. He couldn’t cry out, let alone move. He froze in place.

The nearby darkness receded. A young boy looked back at him. Not much taller than Alec, the boy was dressed like a scantily-clad person from a Renaissance Fair, in brown clothe pieces crudely sewn together, but far dirtier. There was nothing fancy about this boy. He had light-brown, longish mousy-brown hair. His ears pointy at the top, with a button-sized nub of a nose and large almond shaped eyes with deep black irises. Unblinking, they saw everything within their vast, unblinking depths.

Then, the whole house shook. Alec almost peed his pants as he gasped.

His family screamed as a cacophony of wood and glass splintered and shattered below.

The faerie-boy cocked his head to one side as he watched Alec, then gestured for him to come outside into the deadly freezing cold.

“NO!” Alec yelled.

He heard the front door crash in downstairs. Heavy, thunderous footsteps plodded into the house.

“What do you want!?!” Alec shakily demanded at the top of his little boy voice. He had never been so frightened.

The faerie crooned, “Come with us.”

The screams below became mindless raw shrieks.

“You’re going to kill them! Why?” Alec asked.

The faerie shrugged. “They’re not worthy.”

What?

Alec thought about his options.

“Okay, I’ll go with you, but only if-” he hesitated.

The faerie’s right eyebrow lifted slightly.

A wicked smile crossed Alec’s face. “I’ll go with you if you let me watch them getting killed.”

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

Christmas Takeover 33: Jeff Parsons: The List: Nice

Jeff Parsons has presented us with two versions of the same story. Today is the NICE version. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the NAUGHTY version.


The List: Nice

A Short Story by Jeff Parsons
1,700 words

“The end is near,” Alec’s grandmother cackled behind him. She was the only one of his family members he couldn’t see in the living room.

“It’s only a storm,” his Dad droned, sitting next to his mother to the right on the old large print flowered couch.

For no certain reason, an awkward silence followed.

Alec’s brother Brett and sister Diane sat on another couch to the left – they were two and three years older than him, eyes vacuous and bored as hell.

Suddenly, the fireplace popped with a firecracker sounding snap of rising sparks. A quick, cold draft in the flue sucked up the air in the chimney as if the outside air couldn’t abide its surprising burst of warmth, seeking to overwhelm it.

Alec didn’t look up. He lay on his belly on the carpeted floor, facing the television between the decorated Christmas tree and the fireplace. One more section of red to fill in, Alec thought, delighted. There! His coloring book page had a fully colored Santa Claus standing near an evergreen tree full of multi-colored ornaments. Just like their real tree.

His mother a-hemmed and said, “See, mother, the banner on the TV says there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”

Alec looked at the television. There was a red banded strip on the bottom of the screen. Words scrolled, too fast and complicated for his four-year-old mind to grasp. Above that, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was talking with a small group of sad toys. They weren’t loved anymore. Even though they were just toys, Alec could relate completely. He used to be the center of his parent’s love. No longer. Slowly but surely, everything had changed.

“It’s fimbulvinter,” Grandma grumbled with a toothless Nordic accent often difficult to understand.

Alec giggled. “What’s fingle fingers?”

Grandma’s chair creaked as she said, “The beginning of Ragnarök. The end of the world as we know it.”

“That’s blasphemy,” his Mom retorted, on the verge of going into a Pentecostal tizzy.

“Shaddap about the religion, already,” Dad said. He took a long a long swig of canned beer. Third can so far this evening.

“You two don’t believe in anything,” Grandma retorted.

Mom tsked at Grandma. “Mother, don’t be vulgar.”

“Why not say the truth? Your choices got you where you are today. With him.” The old woman’s voice dripped acidic contempt. She didn’t like Dad. She always said Mom got married to a poor loser because she got knocked up. Whatever that is, he thought.

Dad went scary quiet, then said, “I provide for her. What has all your wealth done for you? All gambled away by your dead cheating husband. Now you live here by my leave. Guess you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say after all…”

More silence. Stronger this time. Heavier.

Alec didn’t dare look at Grandma. Instead, he watched Santa carrying gifts on the television. Why can’t I have Santa for a Dad? he wondered, feeling guilty about the random thought.

Grandma began to sob.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Mom griped at Dad, angry and exasperated.

“Don’t worry about me.” Grandma stopped crying abruptly. “People get what they deserve. What goes around comes around.”

Brett and Diane were quiet, indifferent, entranced within their own insulated cell phone worlds. Tap-tap tap-tap.

A question rose in Alec’s young mind. He had to know. The gifts, bow-topped and brightly wrapped, stowed beneath the tinsel, ornament, and blinking light festooned spruce pine tree. “When can we open presents?”

Mother sipped from her wineglass, then said, “On Christmas eve. Not before.”

“Is that when Santa comes?” he asked, confused.

“Santa comes the night after. When you’re asleep.”

Huh? His eyebrows knitted together.

“I’d better get what I want,” Diane warned, fingernail daggers stabbing at her cell phone.

The wind rattled the frost-feathered window panes. The storm was getting worse.

Alec’s lips pursed together. His knees were bent in the air, ankles interlocked, slowly rocking back and forth. He realized his coloring book picture was missing something. Santa needed to be delivering something, not just posing by the tree. He began to add gifts, sloppily drawing square bow-wrapped boxes, beneath his tree. In the boxes: for Mom and Dad, a divorce, they always talked about it and said they wanted one, whatever that was; for Diane, a boob job, which caused him to shiver because girls, and especially his sister, were weird; for Brett, a full mustache, huge, long, and curly, to replace the dirt-lip he constantly touched; for Grandma, he wasn’t sure, perhaps like she once said, “peace and quiet”, or maybe what his parents thought she wanted, “to have her way”; for himself, he began to imagine…

“Can we change the channel?” Brett whined. “Claymation cartoons are so lame. He’s not even watching it.”

“Am too watching!” Alec cried, making a point of looking back at the television. He’d been listening, not watching. A song was playing. He liked the words and music, but preferred action.

Mom responded, “Let him watch his show, Brett. You’re busy with your cell phone anyway.”

“Worlds gone to hell,” Grandma grumbled. “No respect for life or common decency whatsoever.”

Dad frowned, shook his head slightly, then took a long gulp of beer. Finishing it off, he placed the empty next to the other ones on the nightstand and cracked open another fresh one.

The Santa and Rudolph show blipped off the television screen. Replacing it was a serious looking man in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. He looked up from a sheet of paper and said, “We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report,” and so on.

No!

“Make it come back! I want my show!” Alec protested.

His Dad answered, “We can’t. It’s a news cast.”

“That’s not fair,” Alec huffed.

“Get used to life, farty pants,” Diane sneered, then went back to her phone world.

Alec stuck his tongue out at her, to no avail, she wasn’t even watching him. He went back to looking at the television.

The newscaster was saying that people were disappearing throughout the country and more of the blahblahblah.

Alec took his red crayon and gripping it in a tight fist, colored Santa’s face hard and fast with red fire, not even staying in the lines, almost tearing into the page. Looking away from his frustrated coloring, he noticed that the newscaster had stopped babbling and a video feed was playing on the television screen.

Everyone watched the footage in naked fear and silence. Maybe even Grandma, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the newscaster said with great difficulty, “I’m not sure what we’re seeing here…”

Alec saw a snowbound city street, with glaring streetlights, being faded out by an approaching dark cloud, like a hazy vortex of ice and snow. There were things coming from the darkness, grabbing people who were running for their lives…and the things, large as an old truck, were ugly with long arms…they were hurting people…killing them. He watched, fascinated with what was happening and, more so, with how people died in such interesting ways.

“Ragnarök. Told you so,” Grandma said with a hint of smug satisfaction.

His Mom had had enough. She said, “Mother, knock it off with that crap! Alec, no more watching this. Go to your room. Now!”

“Diane and Brett get to watch. Why can’t I?” he asked.

His mother pointed to the hallway stairs. “Go! NOW!”

They always treat me like I’m a baby! He threw down his crayon and took his time getting up off the floor, walking to the hallway, and stomping up the stairs to his room.

He threw himself onto his bed and looked out the nearby tall window into the thick snowstorm. Nose pushed to the chilly window pane, his eyes adjusted to the dark; he could barely see the furthest edge of the roof clearly, about as far away as he could throw a rock. He thought he saw movement within the shadowy darkness beyond.

A blaring screech erupted from the television downstairs. Then words: “This is the emergency broadcast system. A nationwide curfew is in effect. Combatants of an unknown origin are attacking citizens throughout the country. Remain calm. Stay in your homes. The military has been activated and is responding to this threat.”

What are com-bats? Really big bats?

Alec blinked in surprise when a flying shadow landed with a thump before his window. His throat constricted. He couldn’t cry out, let alone move. He froze in place.

The nearby darkness receded. A young boy looked back at him. Not much taller than Alec, the boy was dressed like a scantily-clad person from a Renaissance Fair, in brown clothe pieces crudely sewn together, but far dirtier. There was nothing fancy about this boy. He had light-brown, longish mousy-brown hair. His ears pointy at the top, with a button-sized nub of a nose and large almond shaped eyes with deep black irises. Unblinking, they saw everything within their vast, unblinking depths.

Then, the whole house shook. Alec almost peed his pants as he gasped.

His family screamed as a cacophony of wood and glass splintered and shattered below.

The faerie-boy cocked his head to one side as he watched Alec, then gestured for him to come outside into the deadly freezing cold.

“NO!” Alec yelled.

He heard the front door crash in downstairs. Heavy, thunderous footsteps plodded into the house.

“What do you want!?!” Alec shakily demanded at the top of his little boy voice. He had never been so frightened.

The faerie crooned, “Come with us.”

The screams below became mindless raw shrieks.

“You’re going to kill them! Why?” Alec asked.

The faerie shrugged. “They’re not worthy.”

What?

“Please don’t. Please don’t kill them!”

“It’s inevitable. They made their choices. It can’t change. If you stay, you’ll die.”

A tear forming, Alec thought about his family and his options.

“Okay, I’ll go with you, but only if-” he hesitated, voice trembling.

The faerie’s right eyebrow lifted slightly.

“Only if I get to see Santa.”

“Of course,” the elf laughed, “you made the list.”

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

Christmas Takeover 32 Pt 3: Matthew C. Woodruff: Amy's Valentine

Amy’s Valentine

A Short Story by Matthew C. Woodruff
2,366 words

When Maria and her daughter Amy moved into the dilapidated old house, they did so in the hopes of opening a Bed and Breakfast. It had been a dream of Maria’s to do so, and when her grandmother passed and left her a small amount of money, it was just enough to buy the old place in Siena, Florida. It was an exciting time for Maria and Amy and a big change for them. They both had great hopes for the future.

Sadly, due to an unfortunate accident Amy left Maria before any of it could be realized. Amy had been only twelve years old at the time. (This story is told in ’26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions’.)

Maria suddenly found herself bereft and alone in a strange house in a strange town. Sadness and depression claimed much of Maria’s first few months in Siena. She would wake up most mornings with no will to turn this old place into the Bed and Breakfast she and Amy had planned for. In the mornings she felt some small amount of energy to continue but it soon dissipated in the face of the overwhelming amount of things that needed to be accomplished. Completely out of character, poor Maria just couldn’t formulate a plan to forge ahead with.

The holidays were the hardest time. On Halloween, which they both had loved, Maria kept all the lights off all day and stayed in bed crying, refusing to answer the door to all the gaily or grisly or plainly costumed children. On Thanksgiving, Maria felt she had very little to give thanks for and had her normal dinner of soup and toast, having little will to eat.

Christmas felt particularly abnormal to Maria. In Florida there was no snow and no cold. The colorful lights, the Christmas music and the decorated palm trees seemed garishly out of place in the bright warm sunshine. Somehow Maria made it through, though without a tree and without any joy.

Maria’s friend Allison who was still in New Jersey, talked to Maria almost every day on the phone trying to be encouraging and supportive, always listening to and even crying with Maria when appropriate. It helped Maria immensely, probably more than even Allison realized. Allison encouraged and cajoled Maria to get on with her life and plans and slowly Maria started to turn her big old home into the Bed and Breakfast she had always wanted.

Funds were low, so Allison also encouraged Maria to go out and find a part-time job, something hopefully she would enjoy. Finally Maria got a job at the local florist shop three days a week, and Maria did enjoy the work. Maria especially took care in arranging the flowers in the funeral arrangements, which seemed a large part of their business. She wanted them to be just right. She and Amy both loved flowers The many flowers she received when Amy had passed had meant a great deal to her so she wanted to do her best for other grieving people. This helped move Maria toward the healing she so badly needed.

As it does, time passed and a little sunshine reappeared in Maria’s life. She started to make friends, though none particularly close. She started all the things she would need to do in order to open her Bed and Breakfast, and finally just before the end of the 2nd summer since Amy had passed, she opened with her first two rooms ready.

Disappointingly for Maria, in the beginning business was sparse and she struggled to keep everything afloat, but apparently Maria had a knack for hosting and it wasn’t long before a small local paper did an article about Maria’s Bed and Breakfast, which Maria had lovingly named The Lady Amy Inn. This publicity started to bring in some more clients, relatives visiting locals mostly and occasionally as a retreat for a couple’s romantic weekend, etc.

Soon enough, Maria had five rooms open for guests.

The second set of holidays without Amy passed a little less morosely than the first and Maria made it through as well as could be expected. After all, of all the holidays it was Valentine’s day that had always been Amy and Maria’s favorite. Every February 14th, Maria and Amy would spend the day together doing special things. Even if it fell on a school day, Maria would take Amy out of school for the day.

There would be indoor picnics and ice skating, walks in the snowy park or trips to a museum where they would sit together and watch all the couples enjoying their romantic day and make up stories about them. “He had been a great war hero and she the love of his life,” Amy would say looking at a much older couple who was still holding hands, giggling with her mother all the while, or “She had been a busy professional with no time for love until he came along and swept her off her feet,” Amy would invent looking at a stern looking woman and her doting husband.

Maria had never had much luck in the romantic love department and Amy hadn’t yet had her first special friend, so the Valentine’s Days they spent together were perfect for them both.

When Valentine’s Day again approached, Maria felt much of the old sadness returning and decided to close The Lady Amy Inn for that week. Allison invited her to fly home for that whole week, and spend it with her and her husband, both of whom were happy to include Maria. Maria was glad to be taking the trip home, her first since she and Amy had driven to Florida two and a half years ago; but was also feeling trepidation at the prospect. She could go to all the places she and Amy would have went, and knew it would make her feel closer to her lost daughter.

Just before the day of her departing flight from the Tampa airport, a huge winter storm, the type they call a ‘Nor’easter’, moved up and over the east coast and blanketed it in many feet of snow and ice. Allison’s home lost power for many days and Maria’s flight was cancelled and a regular flight schedule into the area wouldn’t resume for at least five days.

Once again, Maria’s plan was smashed and now Maria found herself home alone for the week of Valentine’s, feeling sad and lonely. At first, she thought she might go do a few of the things she and Amy might have done, but as soon as she saw her first loving couple and knew exactly what Amy would have made up about them, she fled back home to stay ensconced for the rest of the week.

The afternoon of Valentine’s Day, a loud knock and an insistent ringing of the doorbell roused Maria and she went to see who it could possibly be. She walked to the doo rwith a slight spring of hope welling up at the thought that perhaps Allison had come to her, though rationally she knew it wasn’t possible.

Framed in the double doorway, backed by the setting winter sun, Maria saw a lone man standing, but with no luggage. Maria saw that he was perhaps just a bit older than herself. He had dark, straight hair just slightly longer than fashionable. His deep, dark eyes were framed by a clean shaven tanned face, with high cheek bones and a square jaw. It took Maria a moment to realize it, but this gentleman was quite striking to look at- tall, dark and handsome most would say.

“Can, can I help you?” Maria managed, dragging her eyes away from his, being unaccustomed to being over-whelmed with this type of feeling.

“Hi”, he said with a perfect and easy smile and a deep smooth voice with a slight Latin sultriness to it. “I certainly hope so. I’m stranded and need a place to stay. The owners of the drugstore said you might be able to help me. They speak very highly of your establishment. They said it was the best in town.”

Maria was momentarily unable to respond. Several thoughts swirled through her head at the same time. She was gratified to find out what other business owners in town thought about her Bed and Breakfast. The knowledge that her establishment was closed and she was being intruded upon also crashed into her mind. She thought of several snippy remarks, but knew she needed to remain polite. She would politely turn him away, regardless of his need or his deep, brown eyes.

“Of course, come on in,” she stated, aghast at herself, not knowing from where those words had sprung. “Um…,” she again started but was unable to complete the thought.

The handsome traveler stepped forward and Maria had no choice but to step back from the doorway and allow him entry. An aroma of heady masculinity momentarily surrounded Maria. Maria subconsciously ran her hands through her own long dark hair, hoping it looked okay and wishing she had put on some lipstick before answering the knock.

“Where, where is your luggage?” she managed to ask.

“I had to leave it with my car. I broke down just outside of town and walked the rest of the way. I was hoping to find a garage” (He pronounced it the New England way, as gear-age).

“Oh, there isn’t one in Siena,” Maria stated.

“That’s okay, I can call Triple A tomorrow. It’s dark so early this time of year, I thought I would just get a room and maybe a nice dinner somewhere. Do you have an available room?” He asked, with a lift of his brow.

Maria was going to say that her establishment was closed for the week. She wanted to say that, but instead simply said, “Yes.”

After seeing him settled into a room, she returned back downstairs and wondered what had come over her. She had never been the type to swoon in the presence of a handsome man before. As she was sitting in her small office off of the main entryway, he poked his head around the corner of the door. This surprised her so much she dropped the papers she was looking at and involuntarily said “Oh!” She hadn’t even heard him come down the creaky staircase.

He gave a small beautiful laugh and apologized for startling her.

“I was thinking of going out for dinner, and was hoping you would accompany me,” he said with no expectation in his voice but what instead sounded like hope.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, I can’t.” she said rather abruptly, immediately regretting it.

“Oh, of course, I understand,” he said obviously not understanding at all. “Can you recommend a place a single guy might get a good meal then?”

Maria considered what to do next. She bent down and picked up the papers she dropped earlier, lest he see her indecision. She really didn’t want to go out on Valentine’s Day… it was hers and Amy’s special day. But she did feel a strong sense of regret at not saying yes. It had been a long time since someone she found so attractive had asked her out.

“I could cook for us,” she heard herself saying.

In the end, they prepared the meal together, and enjoyed it with a good bottle of wine Maria had been given as a gift. They made small talk throughout and he learned quite a bit about Maria’s life.

After dinner, and after he insisted on doing the cleaning up, Maria was loath to think of him going back upstairs and leaving her alone once again. She was thinking of all the wonderful ways they might enjoy themselves for the night and was trying to think of a way to broach the subject. She had never been good at pursuit, but something about him made her feel like a giddy school girl anticipating her first kiss.

As he came out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel he surprised her by saying, “Maria, I have something for you, something Amy wanted you to have today on Valentine’s Day.”

Maria was totally stunned by this exclamation, especially because she had never mentioned her daughter’s name to him. Before she could object, he left the dining room and ran up the stairs. Maria was unable to explain to herself what was happening. How had he known about Amy? Was this something set up by Allison? Did someone in town tell him of her tragic past? She had no idea how she should react to what he said.

She heard him come back down the stairs and call to her from the main sitting room. She hesitated, wanting to go to him but her better sense telling her not to. He called again. Finally, she felt almost compelled to go in to him. What a strange day this has been, she thought to herself, a small voice in her head wondering why she suddenly felt so calm.

He was standing facing the fireplace when she came into the room. His back was strong and broad looking she noticed, her eyes wandering downwards liking everything she saw. She shook herself, wait this isn’t right, her mind was insistently telling her.

He turned toward her, his beautiful smile flashing. “Maria,” was the lone word that came forth from his lips and she went to him, loving the sound of his voice. He was holding out a smallish square box she noticed now as she moved toward him. It was dark red, the color of blood, a small voice in the back of her head warned her. The box was wrapped in a red velvet bow.

He held it out to her, and she took it gratefully, staring in to his dark eyes the whole time.

“Open it,” he said, “it’s for you from Amy.”

Obediently and hurriedly she unwrapped the bow and lifted the top off the beautiful box and gazing hopefully inside, screamed in horror.

Amy’s small desiccated heart lay within.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” was the last thing Maria ever heard.

The End.


Author’s Note:

I hope you enjoyed these little dark fiction tales.
For a wonderful and unusual experience of dark fiction/dark humor,
read my new book
26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions
available on Amazon.

Inspired by the illustrative works of Edward Gorey, this collection of
26 tales has been described as ‘spectacular’ and as ‘a true work of artistry’
by OnlineBoookClub.

For more information, or to receive a signed copy you may also visit my website.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.