Christmas Takeover 38: Rebecca Besser: The Magic of Christmas

The Magic of Christmas

A Short Story by Rebecca Besser
3,468 words

“Hammond, where is everyone? Only half the elves are here today.”

“They’re sick, Santa,” Hammond said with a heavy sigh, as he too looked out over the workshop floor. “Ever since Royce came back from cutting down Christmas trees with a strange bite, more and more elves are getting ill.”

Santa crossed his arms and frowned. “Will we still meet our quota for toys? I can’t have children going without presents.”

“If we work longer shifts we should be able to make it,” Hammond said, looking at a spreadsheet on his clipboard. “It’s going to be close. If anyone else gets sick we might fail.”

“Failure is not an option,” Santa said sternly. “Do what needs done—after Christmas everyone can rest.”

Hammond watched as Santa walked away. He hadn’t mentioned that the illness was the strangest he had ever seen. Santa didn’t need the extra stress right now, as he was still going over the Naughty & Nice List.

Turning toward the workshop, Hammond got on the intercom and announced the shifts that would be needed to ensure Christmas came on time.

“Hold him down!” Dr. Jim screamed. “If he bites anyone, they’ll get sick, too. We already have too many of these biters!”

“I’m trying, sir,” Milly said just before the patient broke loose and took a chunk out of her arm with his teeth. She screamed as blood shot everywhere, her eyes huge with pain and shock.

Dr. Jim growled and grabbed the patient’s arm, slamming it down on the table and securing it with tinsel rope. “Milly, go get that bandaged and then admit yourself to the Holly Wing. You’re now infected with the disease.”

Milly took a deep, shaky breath with tears in her eyes. She had seen what happened to the infected and didn’t want it to happen to her. Her eyes pleaded with Dr. Jim, begging him to let her stay, to say she wasn’t infected.

He took a deep breath and softened his tone. “Maybe we’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll be able to stop it. But you know as well as I do that you’ll try to infect someone else once it takes hold. We have to be careful. Go and get looked after. I’ll come check on you when I get done here.”

Milly nodded, her tears sliding down her round, cheery cheeks that were already starting to pale. She scurried out through the brightly painted red and white striped doors.

As they swung shut, Dr. Jim bowed his head and said a quick prayer, asking God to save them all. He knew this was a hopeless cause. There was no stopping the infection. He pulled up his sleeve and looked at the pussy teeth marks that were turning his arm purple. Soon he would be one of the flesh eaters, one of the walking dead.

The room started to spin and Dr. Jim clung to the table that held the elf who had already turned. The gnashing of the patient’s teeth and the incessant moans began to fade as Dr. Jim fell to the floor.

Two days later, Santa sat in his office, staring out the window. He watched white, fluffy snowflakes float down from the grey, overcast sky without really seeing them. He had finished the Naughty & Nice List yesterday. Today, he had read the medical report from the hospital. Ninety-eight percent of the elves were sick or dead. He feared after delivering presents tonight he would come back to nothing. This might be the last Christmas ever, but at least there would be gifts this year.

Hammond knocked on the door before entering. “Santa, we’ll be ready on time. There were enough of us left to load the sleigh. We’re exhausted, but there will be Christmas for the children.”

Santa sighed. “Yes, for the children.”

Hammond caught the melancholy in Santa’s tone. “We’ll figure something out, sir. Maybe things will be better by the time you return.”

Santa shook his head and rubbed his forehead. The pictures he had just examined flashed through his mind. Pictures from inside the hospital, were the walls had been drenched with blood. The red liquid had been everywhere, dripping off the ceiling and candy cane railing, puddled on the floor. It looked like a sadistic butcher shop. The worst thing was no one was there. Bones and severed limbs had littered the halls and rooms, but no living or moving thing was left. Everyone was missing. The only indication that the missing elves had been able to walk away was the trail of bloody footprints in the snow, leading into the woods.

“The sleigh will be ready in an hour,” Hammond said and left, closing the door behind him.

The reindeer munched contentedly on the hay that was laid out in front of them while they waited for Santa. The sleigh sat behind them, loaded down with merrily wrapped packages. The joyful colors of red and green added a festive and exciting accent to the otherwise drab, brown shed.

Prancer was just bending down for another mouthful of hay when he saw a movement to his left. He froze as he sniffed the air. It smelled like an elf, but it didn’t. Looking at the strange creature, Prancer let out a warning bleat.

The other reindeer looked up at Prancer’s warning of danger, stepping back and forth, they tried to break free of their harnesses.

The creature ignored the animals and instead headed for the sleigh. The little, pale elf sniffed at the velvet interior and liked the scent. She climbed in and burrowed underneath the packages.

Prancer snorted and looked at his teammates. He cocked his head as if to ask, “What was that thing?”

The others snorted and tossed their heads.

Santa’s solemn face stared back at him as he pulled his shiny, black leather belt tight over his paunch, securing his red velvet coat.

“This is it, old boy,” Santa said to his reflection. “Time to deliver all the Christmas cheer.”

He was still staring at his reflection, as if he could find all the answers in his mirrored self, when Hammond came in.

“It’s time, sir,” he reported to Santa. “The sleigh is loaded, the reindeer are ready, and it’s time for Christmas Magic!”

Santa inwardly winced at the false cheer in Hammond’s voice.

“Christmas Magic, indeed,” Santa mumbled, turning and putting on his hat. “Let’s get this over with.”

Hammond was close to tears as he watched Santa walk out of the room. He may be a three-hundred-year-old elf, and had cried maybe two times in his adult elf years, but this was the saddest thing he had ever seen. Santa was depressed about Christmas and nothing could be done to pull him out of it.

Moving to the window, Hammond watched Santa board the sleigh that had been pulled outside. The snowflakes danced, the reindeer pranced, and thirty elves who weren’t sick tried to cheer. They fell flat and looked dead on their feet.

Santa cracked his magic whip, the silver and gold strands glinting in the gas street lights, and with a half-hearted “Ho! Ho! Ho!” they were off.

Hammond watched them take off. It was perfect as always. At least some things stay the same, he thought with a sad smile, watching Santa until he couldn’t be seen any longer. When he looked back at the village, his eyes fell on the condemned hospital. He shuddered. Despite the new snowfall, the blood on the ground in front of the main doors was still visible, now showing pink instead of bright red.

Turning from the window, he set about straightening the few items Santa had used while getting dressed. He was placing the last item, a silver comb, on the dressing table when he heard the first scream.

Rushing back to the window, he looked down on the quaint village that was nestled in the arctic glaciers of the North Pole. What he saw made him gasp in shock as fear gripped his heart with its icy fingers.

They had returned.

Santa went through his duties, and that’s what they felt like to him that night, duties. Normally it was a pleasure for him to give gifts. This year he didn’t care. He knew unless a miracle happened Christmas would cease to exist. What he couldn’t understand was, why wasn’t Christmas Magic helping now? Why hadn’t it stopped the outbreak? Was he failing in some way?

With a heavy heart, he left beautiful dolls for good little girls and skateboards for good little boys. Thinking of the delight in their eyes when they ran down the stairs in the morning to find their special gifts, made just for them, brought a faint smile to his lips and a rose tinge to his waxy cheeks. He decided right there, right then, this was going to be the best, most beautiful Christmas ever, even if it killed him.

With renewed vigor, he stood tall and marched to the chimney with determination. Yes, Christmas was going to be wonderful, illness and death would come, but not until after he had made sure Christmas would shine in the memory of every person, in every house, that he touched that night.

Hammond stood frozen, not quite believing his eyes. Elf-zombie after elf-zombie came pouring into town, moaning and waving their arms. It was like some circuit in their festering brains remembered they were supposed to be there for something. In fact, they were supposed to see Santa off, but they were too late, and it was now too late for the elves that had arrived on time.

The hungry horde fell on the tired, weak, healthy elves like they had never eaten before and needed sustenance so badly that they couldn’t help themselves. Flesh was bitten and torn off with cruel hands, claws, and teeth. Pale faces and foggy eyes contrasted with bright red blood as it shot through the air, spraying everyone. Some of the elf-zombies were cackling and catching blood drops on their tongues, just like small children do with snowflakes.

He shuddered. The gore was unimaginable. He had never seen such violence. That was something reserved for humans, not elves. They were supposed to be happy, peaceful beings. This wasn’t their way.

A gleeful moan sounded behind him. Hammond whirled around to see five of the elf-zombies standing in the doorway with sadistic grins on their rotting faces. Blood still speckled their cheeks from the feeding frenzy in the courtyard.

“No,” he said, raising his arm to protect himself as they advanced toward him. “No!”

As his back hit the wall, his hand came in contact with a silver-reindeer-topped cane. Lifting it high over his head, he let out a wild war cry and slammed it into the head of the lead zombie. It whimpered and fell to the floor to bleed out.

Hammond was shocked with himself, and with the fall of the elf-zombie. Renewed hope warmed his heart. He would go down fighting. These creatures weren’t taking Christmas away that easily. They would pay with their lives.

“You can’t have Christmas!” he yelled and battled the four remaining foes.

They weren’t fast and they weren’t smart, so it didn’t take him long to dispose of them. With a crocked grin and a cocky swagger, he left the dressing room, dispatching every zombie that was unlucky enough to cross his path. A few other healthy elves saw what he was doing. Taking up arms, they followed, and they fought.

Santa was on the last leg of his journey. He had one country left to deliver toys to. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the children would awaken and the true Magic of Christmas, joy and love, would be spreading all over the world. That was his gift to the masses. It was the only thing that gave him the strength to go on.

He returned to the sleigh after delivering a train set and a teddy bear, after yet more milk and cookies, when something in the back caught his attention. A couple of the packages shifted and he thought he saw claws. Frowning, he didn’t think there were any puppies being given out this year, due to the outbreak they weren’t taking any chances by delivering anything live that could possibly carry the disease.

Leaning down into the backseat of the sleigh, he moved a couple of boxes aside, not finding anything. He was about to turn away when a female elf-zombie shot out and grabbed ahold of his arm. She hissed threateningly and climbed up onto his shoulders in the blink of an eye.

Santa swung up at the little beast, trying to knock her off. After a full minute of swinging and spinning, he got a handful of braid and yanked as hard as he could. He was horrified when he looked down to see that all he held was hair and scalp. It dripped with slimy, dark red blood and veins. Frozen for a moment in shock, he was brought back to reality as the zombie bit into his neck.

Screaming with pain and cursing the little demon, he threw himself backwards onto the roof of the house. He was big enough, and heavy enough, that the action dislodged the zombie. She went rolling and tumbled off the roof, her head hit a fence post, impaling and killing her.

For the first time, Santa noticed the reindeer were agitated. He had been so preoccupied with what was going on at the North Pole, and his personal hang-ups, that he had ignored the warning signs they had been trying to give him all night.

Clutching his neck, he got up on his knees and then stood. Walking over to the reindeer, he patted them gently to calm them down.

“It’s all right now,” he said in a soothing voice. “The little biter is gone. We’ll finish up and head home—everything is going to be okay.”

Despite his words, he wasn’t sure. Even now, just a few minutes after being bitten, he was already starting to feel weak from the loss of blood, and from a fever. As he climbed back into the sleigh, he grabbed the reins and they were off again, for how long, he didn’t know.

Hammond and his army of three follower elves fought their way outside. They stood in the double doorway of the workshop and surveyed the carnage in front of them. Altogether they had killed a total of thirty-five zombies. They were tired from working long, hard shifts and they wanted to lie down and sleep, but that wasn’t an option. Fear and anger were fueling their bodies with overwhelming amounts of adrenaline, which seemed to grow stronger with each passing moment.

They looked at each other, smiling and grinning with a mad delight in getting revenge on these Christmas assassins. With a whoop and a holler, they charged into the fray, swinging their weapons in a craze of joy.

It took the feeding zombies awhile to realize what was happening. Hammond and his band took out twenty more zombies before their presence was noticed.

The zombies gathered in a shuffling, moaning, disgusting crowd and shambled toward their attackers, now intent on enjoying some fresh, hot meat.

“Hold rank,” Hammond barked.

The warrior elves stood in a straight line across the street, bloody weapons dripping on the snow-covered ground. Their breaths came out in thick, puffy clouds. Eyes blazing, stances set for the onslaught, they waited for Hammond’s signal.

“Forward,” Hammond yelled. “No mercy!”

Charging forward into the horde, Hammond and his band fought valiantly. Clubs met heads that gave way with moist thumps. Blood sprayed and splashed on the warriors and on their surroundings, but it didn’t slow them at all. The hungry mouths of the zombies were everywhere, gnashing, chomping, and biting. Two of the band fell to their foes; the others fought on.

Before long, all the zombies were down. Hammond looked around for his friends, to no avail. He was the only survivor, or so he thought.

As he stood bent over, breathing heavily, a door to a small cottage across the street creaked open. He spun, raising the reindeer cane high above his head, ready to be charged by yet another enemy. When he saw that it was just a young elf and his mother standing in the doorway, he laughed and lowered his weapon.

More and more families started pouring out of their homes, where they had been hiding. Female elves with their children. He hadn’t thought of all the young elves…that stayed safely at home during everything. They had survived the illness with their seclusion.

Hammond fell to his knees. Their race would go on, the little ones would grow, and Christmas would continue. Laughing hysterically, letting out all of the tension and despair that had been plaguing him, he realized Christmas was truly magical.

Santa wasn’t feeling too good. Every time he stopped to deliver gifts, he vomited. This didn’t worry him at first. All the milk he had drank, and a fever, would cause vomiting, so at first he just ignored it. But as he began to get dizzier and starting throwing up blood, he knew he was done for. He had to get home, and soon.

Weaving, he made his way back to the sleigh.

Santa passed out on the way back to the North Pole. Luckily the reindeer knew their way home. They were still nervous and flew faster than normal. They needed the security and safety they knew they would feel when they got into their stalls.

The smell of blood reached them, even in the air. The reindeer jerked so hard, and rocked the sleigh so violently, it woke Santa. He moaned and took the reins, guiding the reindeer down the best he could.

He passed out again, just as they halted in the bright red snow.

Hammond had seen the sleigh land and had come out to meet it. As he approached, he noticed how pale Santa was. Rushing to him, he shuddered as he saw the festering wound on Santa’s neck and the blood that dotted his coat.

For a moment he just stood there, not knowing what to do. He wasn’t sure if he should waste his time by having Santa dragged inside or if he should just slam something into his head now, before he turned.

The choice was taken away as a young female elf saw Santa. She screeched with joy and tugged at her mother’s skirt, yelling, announcing his return.

Soon the remaining elves were surrounding the sleigh. The adult’s eyes took in the situation and they looked to Hammond with panic and concern.

“Take the reindeer to the barn and see to them,” he instructed a small group of elves. “The rest of us will get Santa inside. Sprinkles, why don’t you take all the little ones to your house while we get him inside?”

Sprinkles nodded and took charge of the small children.

The remaining elves helped him get Santa inside. They removed his belt, boots, hat, and coat and put him in bed.

Hammond stayed with Santa. He could hear the nervous chatter of the other elves in the hall. There was no hope for Santa. He was going to become a zombie, too.

Hammond bowed his head to pray, and jumped when the door to Santa’s room flew open and an elf, no more than five-years-old, came dashing in giggling. Her blonde hair was coming free from her long braids, looking like woven gold in the candle light.

“Santa!” she squealed and hopped up onto the bed.

Hammond jumped up and tried to grab the child, but she was too fast.

Santa’s eyes shot open; they were cloudy. He hissed and sat up, grabbing the girl as she wrapped her arms around his neck. His teeth were merely an inch away from her tender flesh when she spoke.

“Merry Christmas, Santa!”

Zombie Santa froze, and a blinding flash of light flashed between him and the little girl.

Hammond raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare. Blinking rapidly, he waited for it to fade. It only took moments.

When he could see again, he looked at the girl and Santa. He was normal. He looked cheerful and healthy. The girl was sitting on his lap, rattling off all the presents she had gotten like nothing at all had happened.

Speechless, Hammond turned and left the room. The Magic of Christmas had come through for them after all. Everything would be fine, and there would be more presents next year.

Rebecca Besser is the author of Nurse Blood. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization. She has been published hundreds of times in magazines, ezines, anthologies, educational books, on blogs, and more in the areas of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for a variety of age groups and genres. Her nonfiction article on skydiving was picked up by McGraw-Hill for NY Assessments. One of her poems for children was chosen for an early reader book from Oxford University Press (India). Her short story, P.C., was included in Anything But Zombies! published by Atria Books (digital imprint of Simon & Schuster).

Rebecca’s main focus has been on horror works for adults. She writes zombie works, suspenseful thrillers, and other dark fiction related to the horror genre/community. She has also edited multiple books in these genres.

Amazon Author Page

Christmas Takeover 37: Carol Schaffer: Christmas at Hotel Parq Central

Christmas at Hotel Parq Central

A Short Story by Carol Schaffer
3,799 words

Cinnamon colored landscape smudged behind swollen drops of water on the passenger side window, mesmerizing Chloe as the black Escalade slipped and swayed under the loose gravel and sand on the lonely New Mexico road.

Julian and Chloe were half way through day one of a two day road trip to the Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque New Mexico. When Julian’s sister, Felina pitched the idea of a family Christmas in what she called, “a neutral location,” Chloe’s first instinct was to make up an excuse that was fairly believable, and get out of dodge. She hatched a plan to hide out with her handsome fiancé; in the small apartment they had just rented in the Hills of Hollywood. But in the days following Felina’s initial invitation, Chloe came to the realization that she would not be spending Christmas Eve in a fort made of pillows drinking egg nog, blissfully tangled with her love, in their new place. As Christmas grew near, Felina became intensely committed to getting everyone on board with her plan. She made car rental arrangements. She booked the best rooms at the resort. Each day Chloe woke up to a new group email, outlining additional details of the upcoming family Christmas retreat. Chloe had to hand it to Felina, the girl was tenacious. And by the looks of the hotel’s face book page, she also had good taste. Chloe remained resolved to spend Christmas in a fort made out of pillows with Julian, but thanks to Felina, the pillow cases would be fifteen hundred thread count, and they would all be in New Mexico.

Life in California was rushed and abbreviated for the newly engaged couple. There didn’t seem be enough time to connect intimately, much less have a deep and meaningful conversation. Chloe knew that she and Julian were long overdue for a heart to heart about why he stayed away from his family for most of his adult life. She could feel that he was hiding something from her. Whatever it was, it would now have to wait until after they spent Christmas with them. She just hoped it wasn’t too awkward. She reasoned that it could be just what was needed to break the ice after all this time. The reality was, they now lived only a few miles away from Julian’s mother and sister. This was all the family he had, and at times, Chloe sensed a heavy sorrow surrounding her husband to be, when it came to his background. She was curious about it, and pissed that he wouldn’t let her in. In the weeks since Felina reached out to them, she felt like things were coming to head, and that it wouldn’t be long before she knew exactly what had happened to separate Julian from the women that should have been the most important to him; until she came along that is. She just wished she was more prepared for what she might find out. But she knew she had little room to complain, so she didn’t dare. She was the one who wanted to move to Hollywood, back to the lair.

When Chloe first met Julian, he told her that it had been over twenty years since he last spoke with Felina; maybe even longer since last speaking with his mother Ruth. Even back then, Chloe hadn’t detected any indication that anything would change when it came to his family. Less than two weeks after she and Julian were engaged, Chloe was offered a job she had applied for over a year before meeting Julian. She wanted with all of her heart to accept the job offer and move back to Los Angeles. She reluctantly brought up the topic over dinner one night. Julian didn’t say much but promised they would talk about it soon. A couple of days later he surprised her with the deed to the tiny apartment with the gorgeous view that Chloe had fallen in love with during a recent visit.

Before she knew it, she and Julian were moved into their new place and loving every minute of it. They hadn’t fully settled in yet, when a call came in from a private caller on Julian’s cell phone. After a minute or two, Julian wrote Felina’s name on a napkin, letting Chloe know who was on the other end. Even more surprising to Chloe, was how easy Julian was on phone with Felina. He didn’t miss a beat while talking with her. It was like they had been talking every day. After about ten minutes the call ended. Julian didn’t offer an explanation, and Chloe didn’t ask. At least not yet.

Chloe blinked hard several times forcing the blurred lines of the burnt orange and coppery red landscape to become sharp and defined. She quietly focused on resetting her thoughts and gently pulling her mind to a calm quiet place where things always move in ways to please her. This trip was not one she wanted to take, but she gingerly agreed to the road trip, and they were soon headed to a place she had never heard of. She gave in easily to Julian’s playful demand that they go along with his sister’s wish for a family holiday. Julian had a lot to explain, but she gave in to what he wanted for now, in return she was rewarded with his oh so sexy boyish smile that spread across his smooth tan face whenever he got his way. She hoped with all of her heart that spending Christmas with Julian’s family would start to chip away at the wall she felt growing between them since they had moved back to Los Angeles. She wasn’t sure what was going on. She just knew that she wanted to make it better. Her relationship with Julian was the one non-negotiable in her life. And she was ready to fight for it. The combination of heavy thoughts and the warm car heater air blowing in her face, made Chloe suddenly feel very tired. She reluctantly allowed her sleepy eyes to shut. Just as she slipped into the dark room of her first nightmare, glassy flakes of snow began to fall.

Felina carefully pointed her left foot outside the driver’s side door of her new Mercedes Benz. With a slight swivel of her hip, the petite attractive thirty-year-old found herself balancing precariously on the six- inch heel of the most festive gold sandals she could find in her closet. Her left hand quickly grabbed the frame of the open window as she brought her right foot down. Felina tugged at the hem of her dress and looked up. She was staring at The Hotel Parq Central. It was a monstrous building with sharp edges and square shaped appendages that wrapped around the entire structure.

From what Felina remembered, she had read that this very building had stood tall and stark against the pastel colors and rounded mountain ranges of the New Mexico landscape since 1926. The five-star resort opened its renovated doors in 2010. It was well known for its rooftop cocktail lounge overlooking miles of Albuquerque city lights. Travelers and tourists are easily infatuated by the luxury of this grand hotel. What Felina didn’t know, is that it wouldn’t take long at all, for their infatuation to turn to cold terror if one of them were to take a closer look at the background of the historic landmark. As a matter of fact, they would hardly consider spending the night enclosed and tucked away in what was once home to some of the most tragically haunted souls ever collected in one place.

Felina felt a cold chill as she stood beside her car. She looked up in surprise when snow began to collect on the bridge of her nose. She hadn’t noticed the snow until that very moment and now was feeling every bit of the cold in her bones. She wondered if the navigation in her new Benz was working properly when there weren’t two or three valets vying for the chance to drive her new Maybach. She got back into her car and circled for a minute until she found a secluded parking spot. Felina pulled on her leather gloves and opened her door, bracing herself for the cold bitter air that she knew would be there to meet her, as soon as she stepped out. The sky had grown dark, and she hesitated. There was no trace of the pink and purple desert pallet she had envisioned when she set out for the family get-together. Felina grew suddenly still and she felt very confused. Her mind tried to trace the events and conversations that led them all to agree on The Hotel Parq Central for their first family Christmas celebration in many years. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t remember why it had been so important to come together here of all places. She could taste the fear in her mouth and it was making her ill. She leaned her head back to try and collect her thoughts, when she caught a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror. She was shocked to see that there were black tears streaming down her cheeks. Felina realized that she was sobbing uncontrollably, but not making a sound.

“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays. Cause no matter how far away you roam.” Ruth sang along to her favorite Christmas song, her hands firmly fixed at the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions on the steering wheel. She carefully released the grip of her right hand to feel around for the windshield wiper controls. She quietly scolded herself for not allowing the rental agent to show her where everything was. For as many years as she had been driving, she wasn’t a fan of going long distances. Open highways and freeways had never been favorites of hers either. Yet, that is exactly what she was doing now. She wondered what had possessed her to make this drive alone. She could kick herself, but she thought it best not to entertain negative thoughts. At least not while there was still a long lonely way to go. There would be plenty of time for that later. For now, she knew that she needed to keep her eyes on the road, and her mind on happy thoughts.

As determined as Ruth was, to get herself in the Christmas spirit, negative angry thoughts showed up seemingly even more determined to take over. There was no mistaking the sense of doom that had moved in and was now riding shotgun. The festive thoughts brought forth by the Christmas music, were now completely replaced in Ruth’s head, by unspeakable images of death and torture. As her anxiety grew more intense, so did the new snow fall that was beginning to blanket her windshield. As she fumbled with the wipers to get them set up just right, she drove passed what looked like a big black blur on the shoulder of the road. She was able to take a long enough look to determine that it was a large vehicle, maybe an SUV. By now, steady snow fall had made it impossible for her to see if there was anyone inside it. She quickly moved her gaze back to the road. Ruth suddenly took a sharp unexpected breath. The next breath to come was a little deeper, but still not relaxed. She recognized that she was beginning to manifest physical symptoms in response to the painful knot taking root in the pit of her belly. Before now, she had allowed herself to believe that what she was feeling, was excitement mixed with a touch of nerves. If she had only allowed herself to think about it long enough, her instincts may have had enough time to warn her that something had been off since she left Los Angeles. Hundreds of miles later, she was feeling outright stalked by the feeling of dread.

When Ruth stepped out of her house that first morning, there was a surprise chill in the air. She flipped on the car’s heater, as she sat stopped in the bumper to bumper traffic that her beloved ‘City of Angels,’ was well known for. Winter had finally made its way to southern California. It was only natural for her body to need some time to adjust to the change in temperature. Once out of the traffic and on the mostly deserted road, the chill intensified. This made no real sense to Ruth since she had the car’s heater cranked to keep it at a comfortable seventy degrees.

She got to the first night’s accommodations, a budget motel, after driving over ten hours. Her nerves were shot, and her emotions uncharacteristically raw. She checked in and walked across the parking lot of the motel, to the over-decorated, but warm and inviting dive bar. All she could think was that it was whispering her name. The thought lifted her mood and she looked forward to the hot sting of whiskey doing its magic to lift her spirits.

Ruth ungracefully plopped down on the only empty bar stool she saw. Once she figured a safe place for her purse, and neatly arranged her black leggings and oversized bright red Christmas sweater, she took a look around. It was obvious to Ruth, that she wasn’t the only sixty-something in the room. As a matter of fact, she would have bet, that she was one of, if not the youngest person there. This didn’t bother her in the least bit. She was there to eat enough to cancel out her hunger, and to drink enough to erase the terrifying images that came to her while she drove the last ten miles to the motel. She wasn’t sure that there was enough whiskey in the bar to help her with the tricks her mind played on her. But she was desperate to try.

As Felina slowly opened her eyes, she found that she was once again looking at herself in the rearview mirror. It began to register that she heard Julian’s voice calling out to her a moment before opening her eyes. She felt out of sorts, frantically grasping to get up to speed on what the hell was going on. She blinked and could feel the tight sensation of dried tears in the corners of her eyes. She leaned forward just enough to have a better look at herself, and instantly she felt her body stiffen. Jet-black mascara was caked on her cheeks, forming a bizarre stripped pattern down the front of her face. Her eyes were swollen and red, and her hair was matted as if she had been sick and in bed for days. Before she could think one thought, she flung open the door, and jumped out of the sedan in a singular motion. She had not dared even take a breath, before her arms were wrapped tightly around her tall muscular brother. Her mind reassured her that she was safe now.

Julian was two years older than Felina, and was about a foot taller. He had jet black hair to match hers, and the square jawline of a roman warrior. He had been his sister’s protector, and best friend since the day she was born. Knowing he was there with her helped to put things in perspective for Felina. She felt the fear, that just moments before held her captive, suddenly dissipate. Her body relaxed in his embrace as she breathed in the scent of his expensive cologne. Felina allowed herself to be comforted by her big brother. She had missed him so very much in the last twenty years. She longed to hear his voice, especially his laughter.

Felina leaned in closer to Julian, resting her full weight against him now, she turned her head slightly towards the hotel. For the first time she noticed thousands of Christmas lights strung up from one end of the hotel to the other. The entire building was lit with strings of warm white lights giving the illusion that some unknown creatures where crawling up and down the walls, making them glow and vibrate. To each side of every door, and along the enormous balconies, sat extra-large cement planters holding huge crimson poinsettias. The large plants cascaded down from their branches in such a way that it looked like blood was running down the outer walls of the building, ending in a splash where the wall met the stamped cement below. If only the festive décor wasn’t causing such confusion in Felina’s already fragile mind. She knew if she could find a way to break free from the despair that was closing in around her throat, she could get a grip on herself. She felt somehow gutted to her core. She wasn’t sure where the pain was coming from, but it was close to taking over every nerve ending in her body. Something was missing. Hurried enthusiastic holiday conversations were missing. The people were missing. There were no cars, no traffic. There was nothing but dead silence. She needed to see her brother’s reassuring smile.

Felina positioned her left foot to move behind her so that she could put arms distance between her and Julian. She was ready to face him after all this time. As she stepped back, she felt a familiar sensation grip her calves. It was the feeling of free falling backwards. She remembered the feeling from dreams where she fell off a cliff or a tall building. In her dreams she always managed to wake up before she hit the bottom. She wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t hit the bottom this time. As she turned her head to face Julian, she heard the scream of a child. A pre-teen boy possibly, she thought. He sounded familiar. The boys scream sounded very much like Julian, like that one time when they were kids and something very bad and scary happened. Suddenly, a sharp stabbing paid shot through her chest causing her to bow over. The pain was unbearable for a moment and then she was numb.

Felina was lying as still as a ten-year-old could manage, under the circumstances. She was trying her best to fall asleep quickly so Santa would come put everything she had asked for, under their tree. She was dozing off when she heard Chloe’s piercing screams. She didn’t think too much of it at first. Chloe cried a lot. Ruth patiently explained to Felina that babies cry, and her sister was no different. After another outburst by Chloe, the house went silent. Felina closed her eyes and relaxed. As she slowly drifted to sleep, she was jolted to attention by a loud shriek that didn’t sound human. It was the most sickening heart-wrenching scream she had ever heard. Felina believed that only a mother could bring forth such concentrated misery from her body. Then she heard her father yell for Julian. He was calling his name, but she didn’t hear Julian answer. Julian always answered when their dad called. He wouldn’t dare not, until this night. Her dad’s calls for Julian became so loud and distorted, she decided to get up.

She walked to the back bathroom since it seemed that is where all of the noise and commotion was coming from. As she approached, she could hear her father on the phone. He was giving someone their address. Felina carefully made her way to the door way of the bathroom she shared with Julian. She noticed that the room had taken on a festive red glow. She hadn’t remembered Ruth hanging red Christmas lights in their bathroom. She was sure her mom hadn’t dared put any lights in there because their neighbor put the fear of God in her about electrocution and accidents in the home. As she came to the end of the carpet, and the start of the linoleum, she saw splashes of red paint on every surface in the tiny bathroom. Her mom’s screams now made perfect sense. Julian had finger painted all over the bathroom walls. And on Christmas Eve of all nights. Surely, he made it on the naughty list this year. As Felina turned to head back to bed, she caught sight of what she thought was one of her dolls. But it wasn’t. She knew it wasn’t, no matter how badly she wanted it to be just one of her broken dolls that she had neglected to pick up and put away. She didn’t even mind ending up on the naughty list right along with Julian this year. Anything for it not to be what her eyes were telling her she was seeing. Chloe was in her mother’s arms, still and silent. They were both soaked in blood. Just as Felina summoned the courage to look at her sister’s face, she was lifted off the ground and taken back to her room.

Julian was committed to Memorial Psychiatric Hospital for Children and Teens. It just so happened that a couple years before the bad thing happened, their dad had worked on the crew that helped transition The Santa Fe Hospital into the psychiatric hospital. The rest of the family moved to Albuquerque the following month. Felina moved back to Los Angeles a year after Julian was admitted to the hospital.

Every Christmas Eve, Felina has the same nightmare. She is standing in front of the hospital that Julian died in. Only it’s not a hospital anymore. It’s a hotel and it’s decorated so beautifully for Christmas. In her dream, Felina invites Julian and his beautiful fiancé to meet her and their mother at the hotel. They drive up in a big black car fit for a king and queen. Even their mom agrees to make the drive from Los Angeles so they can all celebrate Christmas together. Each year, Felina prays that her dream will have a different outcome. But each year, at the same point in the dream, dread washes over her as the sky turns an ashy grey. Each year, when Felina looks up at Julian, she sees that his face is twisted and contorted by screams that no one can hear. His entire face is covered in scratches with unexplained origins, just like it was when he was a patient there. And when Felina turns away from her brother’s tortured face, she can see Ruth, swinging from the second story window, a bedsheet wrapped tightly around her neck, looking just as she did on the night of her death, when Julian swears, he saw a man push her out of his bedroom window. The man was never found.


I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and stayed there until after I was married and had my first baby in 1989. I have lived in Riverside California for almost thirty years now, and I am still surprised by how small it feels. I have been in sales for a long time, and I love it. I consider what I do an art form. I am a gifted writer of stories, poems, speeches. The time finally feels right to share my writing with the world, or other interested parties. I adore the ocean, and the forest. I have a son and two daughters who I love to the moon. I once had a close encounter with a real werewolf.

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.


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.”


“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.


“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.


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.


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.


“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.”


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.