A Story by Adam Davies
Ah, Christmas. Festive cheer, overindulgence, and kissing under the mistletoe.
What do you know about Mistletoe? Probably nothing beyond its puerile festive kissing connotations. Well let me educate you.
It’s a parasite. That’s right. It attaches itself to a living host tree and leeches the water and nutrients it needs to survive. It thrives and flourishes whilst slowly killing its unwilling host. Long before it became associated with festive fumbling it had a much darker and more sinister history. In Norse mythology it was an arrow made of mistletoe that killed Baldur, one of the most beloved of Norse gods. In ancient Celtic Britain, mistletoe was an integral part of rituals that involved the sacrifice of bulls – and certain human body parts – to improve fertility. But you can google all of this and more for yourself, suffice to say there is much more to mistletoe than you probably understand or care about. One thing a cursory google search won’t find is a reference to black mistletoe.
But black mistletoe is only part of this story. This is a story about love, about a boy and a girl. Me and Tilly.
You don’t know me, but you know someone like me. You would have called me a loser at school, and you wouldn’t have been wrong, but you would have been an asshole for saying it. The fact that you and your friends said it to me over and over and over again – for so many years – means that you share the blame for what I did, what I’m going to do.
You made me. I used to be a loser, but now I’m something worse, much worse.
I live near Leeds in Yorkshire, it’s in the North of England if you don’t know. I “live” with my grandmother, but I don’t think many of you would call what I have a life. I never knew my dad and my mother passed away from lung cancer when I was fourteen, so I moved in with Nana into her bleak, isolated old farm cottage back then.
It’s hard for me to talk this way. To be so honest about the broken, wretched horrible human being I am. I need to tell you. I need you to understand what it’s like to be me, to help you understand what happened last Christmas, and why.
I’m overweight, chunky, obese. No, I’m fat, a disgusting fat pig. No careful words or phrases can diminish what I see in the mirror. Since puberty, I have suffered with a medical condition known as Hyperhidrosis – excessive sweating to the uninformed – so I smell constantly of stale, sweaty body odour. What makes me so angry is that I’m obsessively clean. I know I smell, and it makes me feel sick. I shower three or four times a day and the constant drying of my skin and use of soaps means my pale, veiny blubber is covered in painful, angry red sores and eczema. My breath is rancid. No matter what I do to clean my teeth and tongue, and no matter how much or what brand of mouthwash I use, my breath plain stinks. Lank, greasy, shoulder-length hair of a dirty brown completes the pretty picture.
But I’m not just ugly on the outside. Years of name calling, abuse, occasional violence and the subsequent self-imposed isolation means I have a cruel and venomous tongue to complement my utter lack of social skills. I pretty much hate everyone I come across, you are all such mewling, self-obsessed fools, and you’re all so god-damn stupid. It’s like you people know nothing. I, on the other hand, know so much. I haven’t had anything you would call a friend since my mum died eight years ago, so books and the internet have been my constant companions. I’m clever. I read, I study, and I learn.
I fought my destiny for years. I tried so hard to do something about my appearance, my smell, my increasingly unpleasant personality. I would buy clothes, use deodorant and cologne to try and become a little bit more normal. I craved the acceptance of fools. When I was twelve, I spent a few years as part of a role-playing group who would meet every week to play Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest and the like. Even then, surrounded by nerds and losers, I was the outcast. I was unliked and unwelcome, but it kindled my interest in the esoteric and occult. I became fascinated by magic and rituals and started looking out for any material I could get my hands on. There was a rare bookstore on the outskirts of Leeds city centre, and I began to visit it at age fourteen looking for books that could give me some secret power or arcane knowledge. I would spend hours in the solemn, dusty quiet of that store with its crowded dark aisles formed of floor to ceiling bookshelves. The fragrant haze of incense gave a dream like quality to the dimly lit store and time obeyed its own laws inside. A whole day could pass in an instant, then at other times an eternity of trawling through the shelves might pass just a single hour. I never saw another customer, and the owner, a distracted old Methuselah, would flash me a toothless grin when I squeezed through the tiny entrance, so nondescript you could sometimes miss it from the street and walk straight by.
I spent hours in that store. It looked tiny from the outside but was labyrinthine within. I never truly mastered its layout. A left turn at the end of a familiar, dark aisle might open up a new, unseen shelf or even a stairwell down to a previously unvisited basement. That was were I found the book that fascinated me and became an obsession. It was a nameless, old leather-bound tome filled with gruesome illustrations. It described ingredients, rituals and methods. It was clearly translated from an older tongue and the stilted Olde-English lent it a morbid tone. I felt something when I touched that book, a pulsing, malevolent feeling of power and life. I asked the old store keeper how much it cost.
“I can’t sell that book to a child,” he told me his voice thick with accent, German perhaps, or eastern European?
“Are you kidding? I need to be eighteen to buy a book,” I snapped.
“You need to be… ready,” he said by way of reply.
Fine, I could wait. The book called to me, sang to me. I flicked through its leathery, waxy pages countless times over the next few years. I became fascinated and obsessed by it’s dark content. I would try to memorise the words and rituals but they would slip from my mind as soon as I was away from the store. My dreams became dark enactments of the spells it contained. I became popular and loved each night, only to have salvation taken from me each morning upon waking. I was in high school and the book fuelled my resentment and hatred of my classmates.
You’re probably reading this thinking “Yeah, I get it. You were the smelly fat kid at school who got picked on. Get over yourself, everyone can make friends and there is someone for everyone.” You’re an utter moron if you think this, you can’t begin to imagine the torment and pain of being constantly shunned and reviled, knowing that every snigger you ever heard was directed at you. I was a virgin at 23 and hadn’t even come close to kissing a girl… until last Christmas.
Everything can be traced back to me being sixteen at high school. Already a loner and ostracised, I was about to have the most humiliating experience of my wretched life. It was the last week of the Christmas term – twentieth of December – a date painfully etched into my memory. As I walked down the main corridor and turned into a classroom to spend my break in seclusion, Tilly, and a group of her friends were walking out.
Let me tell you about Tilly, Matilda Sipsmith. She is…was, the most beautiful and perfect creature in all of creation. She was willowy with delicate features and luxurious brown shoulder length hair that framed her picture perfect face. She was the typical “most popular girl in school” being stunning, clever and had a look that exuded purity & innocence, but when she wanted, there was a wicked glint in her eye.
I tried to step back out of her way but one of her friends called out.
“Oh Tilly, you’re going to have to kiss the freak,” she was cackling whilst she pointed to the mistletoe hanging over the door frame.
I was frozen, desperate to get away but the flow of bodies in the hall had me trapped. Time slowed and everybody in the hall stopped and turned to stare at the horrible farce that was about to play out before their eyes. Tilly looked at me and in her smile, I thought I saw compassion, and maybe just a little pity.
“It’s OK,” she whispered and slowly started to close her eyes and purse her lips.
I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was just because of the mistletoe, but this Angel, this object of so many of my most frustrated desires was willing to kiss me. So, I did the same and closed my eyes.
The sting of the slap on my cheek shocked my eyes open but the impact of that slap, that betrayal, on my soul broke something inside of me that can never be fixed.
“Oh my god you actually thought I would kiss a disgusting pig like you,” she sneered. I remember the laughs and jeering, howling faces.
After school I went to college and after college the best I could manage was to hold down voluntary roles in charity shops and the occasional few months of paid work before my personal hygiene and acid tongue would find me back in my bedroom in Nana’s cottage, jobless. Money wasn’t an issue I had a life insurance payout from when mum had died so I never worried about my lack of a real job. I spent more and more time on the web exploring darker and darker content. I would order occult books from specialist book dealers but none of them scratched the itch created by that one book. I was depressed and began to self-harm. I turned my emotional scars to physical ones as a way to find some release.
I went back to the bookstore on my eighteenth birthday. To my horror, I could not find the book.
“Have you sold it?” I asked the storekeeper.
“No,” he told me.
“Then where is it?”
“You can only buy it when you are ready,” he told me again.
It was October of last year when I took an IT support role at a small insurance firm that needed some short-term cover, and there she was, Tilly Sipsmith, working in the main office. If she recognised me in anyway it didn’t show, but I recognised her. She was as beautiful as ever, more so. Her girlish charm had blossomed into a true and perfect beauty. The sight of her made my chest constrict and I struggled to breathe. Painful, humiliating memories of that horrible day in school seven years earlier sprang unbidden from my memory.
Over the years I have tried many things through desperation, pheromone sprays, hypnosis tricks and even spells to try and change the wretchedness of my life. My mind was reeling when I got home that night and my restless sleep was punctuated by strange and vivid dreams, dark dreams of revenge of blood and a shining silver moon that turned completely black as I gazed upon it. It those dreams I could I hear the book calling to me, its too sweet whispers of power and vengeance still echoing in my head. I rushed out after work and went to the store.
“The book,” I demanded when I say the grinning old fool.
He pulled a pre-wrapped package from beneath his counter and I paid him an extortionate sum of money without hesitation.
I hurried home and went to my bedroom – sweating and breathless – to study the tome. I opened it at random I found a simple page that I swear had never been there before on any of the countless times I had read this book cover to cover. There were no illustrations and just a few words.
Black Mistletoe: A ritual to compel a lover to your bed.
On the night of a full moon, at exactly midnight, bury something beloved of the object of your desire amongst the roots of an Oak tree where mistletoe grows. On the night of the next full moon, at midnight on that same tree, a black mistletoe berry will grow. Eat it and harvest the bough it comes from. Under this cursed bough take a kiss and the ritual is complete.
You have to understand, my whole life has been a succession of misery and abuse, and Tilly became the focal point for all of the hatred and anger that had built up inside me. I had tried “magic” before, but nothing had ever worked. But I was desperate enough to try anything and the only thing holding me back was that I didn’t know or have access to anything she loved. I spent the next day constantly finding reasons to walk past her desk in an attempt to find some clue as to what I could bury. I had almost given up when I caught a glimpse of the screen saver on her mobile phone showing her cuddling her pet cat.
My IT role meant I had a fair degree of systems access, so it was easy for me to get into the personnel system and pull her home address. I drove to her house under cover of darkness for the next three nights to watch her and find out her routines. Her cat, whatever the stupid creature was called, seemed to slither out of its cat flap when she retired to bed at eleven o’clock.
On the third night, I came armed with a towel, a kitchen knife and a pouch of cat food.The greedy, trusting fool came straight over and even rubbed against my legs as it became aroused by the vile, fishy smell of the bait. I hesitated, could I really plunge my knife into this innocent feline? I heard the book whispering to me of vengeance, and the chance to be with Tilly. I closed my eyes and pushed the knife in. It felt exhilarating as the blade sliced through the thin resistance of skin and slid deep into its flesh. I pulled out the knife and watched the blood drip from its wicked edge. A frenzy seized me, and I stabbed again and again unleashing my fury on this wretched symbol of Tilly’s cruelty.
The cat was a bloody ruin. I wrapped the body in the towel and stashed it in Nana’s unused coal shed at the back of the house.
There were two more nights until the full moon and I had already located the tree I was going to use. It was about a half-mile into some seldom visited woods just off a lay-by in the nearby countryside. I had no belief at all that this would work, but it hardly seemed important. I had chosen this dark path, or had it chosen me? Regardless, I knew that I would see it through to the end. I buried the cat’s stiffened and stinking body on schedule on the seventeenth of November and spent the next month on tenterhooks waiting for a visit from the police to answer questions about a murdered cat. I was paranoid that some nosey neighbour must have seen me, but the police visit never came. The month passed, and on the seventeenth of December I went back to the tree. I was panting and breathless from the short hike. It took me twenty minutes of searching by torchlight, but there it was, the single black mistletoe berry. I eat it there and then, half expecting to get sick and drop dead from eating the poisonous thing, but I had come too far now. I swallowed it whole and harvested the vine, then returned home in the cold, darkness.
Fate decreed that our office Christmas party was the twentieth of December, exactly 8 years on from that fateful encounter. A winter chill fell suddenly over the city, as the office emptied for the trek to the nearby pub, snow began to full. I spent the whole time alone in the pub corner nursing a drink and glowering. My co-workers went out of their way to ignore me while they laughed, joked and got drunk. Tilly sat resplendent, the centre of attention worshipped by the men in the office and revered by the women. At ten-thirsty Tilly visited the toilets alone and I knew this was my chance. After a minute, I followed waiting to catch her on the way out. There was a mirrored sign in the small corridor. I caught my reflection. My eyes had sunk deep into black rings, my lips had turned a veiny black. The door to the ladies opened and out she walked. She stopped when she saw me and the alarm on her face told me she recognised me, and that knew what she had done all those years ago. She had brought this on herself.
“Hello, Tilly, remember this?” I said and held the mistletoe vine over her head. Her eyes glazed over and her face became expressionless. I leaned forward, eyes open this time and kissed her. For a second she neither resisted nor joined in, it was like she was frozen to the spot and I could feel my black lips burning. Then, without warning, she embraced me and began to return my kiss passionately. My heart sang.
There was a door leading outside to a smoking patio. I led her through and out into the misty cold of the snow kissed car park avoiding the rest of our colleagues. She got into my car without question and we drove back to my Nana’s house. The icy roads were treacherous made worse by the dense, freezing fog that had settled.
That night was exquisite, and her noiseless tears only heightened the pleasure.
I offered to drive her to the office the next morning, but instead she rang in sick. I presumed that come morning the rituals dark magic would wear off and she would come to her senses. Instead, she was dream-like and detached. I offered her tea and breakfast, but she refused everything. I thought she may have been hungover, but we had left early, and she did not seem too drunk. She said she just wanted to stay in bed. Her lips looked dark and her skin so pale it was almost white.
I expected she would be gone when I returned home but she was still there in bed. She hadn’t even risen to go to the toilet. I had to wash the stinking sheets and change the bed before joining her for another night of pleasure. She rang in sick again the next day, and the one after that. By the end of the second week they told her not to come back. I said nothing in work, and no one had seen us leave together. Who would suspect?
Back at the farm we were together every night, and soon her stomach began to swell. On the night of the next full moon she birthed a white-skinned, shrivelled thing, it looked more like a hairless kitten than a human child with black, sightless eyes and translucent, veined black lips. I threw it in the coal shed and its cries stopped after a few days. There have been nine full moons since then and there is a stinking, rotten mass in the coal shed where the bodies of those blasphemies have decayed.
Tilly is not so pretty now. She is weak, she barely eats, and she hasn’t spoken for more than six months. Her hair has all but fallen out and her skin is so pale and thin I can see the blood flowing through her black veins. She is a living skeleton, little more than bones. I have to dress her each day and clean her when she soils herself. She never eats and only drinks a little water. We are still together at night, but I don’t think she will survive the next birth.
I told you earlier that mistletoe is a parasite.
Tilly’s condition would worry me if I hadn’t met Harriet at my new job. Where Tilly was all lust and hatred, it’s different with Harriet. This time it’s true love. She is plain, but still beautiful to me and she even talks to me from time to time, mostly when I lock her account out of the system, so she has to call me to reset her passwords. She doesn’t have a cat, but she has a 2-year-old son Oscar.
It will be the office Christmas party in a couple of months, I need to start my preparations.
Adam Davies writes thinking person’s horror for fun, and to free his imagination, if he didn’t, all those crazy thoughts would stay trapped in his head and who knows what would happen? Adam has six short stories published across four anthologies and is currently working on his first novel. Adam is an active part of the indie online horror community and founded the NoSleep Writers Guild in 2017 to help improve relationships between internet horror writers and YouTube horror narrators, and combat IP theft. His published works can be found in:
A Cure for Chaos: Horrors from Hospitals and Psych Wards
Monstronomicon: 100 Horror Stories from 70 Authors
Goregasm: Seductively Scary Stories
Sirens at Midnight: Terrifying Tales of First Responders