Christmas Takeover 13: Wendy Vogel: Do Not Open ‘Till Christmas

Do Not Open ‘Till Christmas

A Story by Wendy Vogel
832 words

Martin stood in the garage, looking through the pile of discarded cardboard boxes. His wife Gina always fussed about his refusal to throw anything away, but today he nodded in satisfaction. That one would be perfect. It once contained Meggie’s new soccer ball, ordered online as a surprise when she joined the neighborhood’s team. The ball was blue and white, and matched the uniform and knee pads she was so proud of. The ball itself was probably buried in the bottom of her closet, but the box was just right.

He turned on a Christmas music station as he trudged through the house with the box. Gina always kept the wrapping paper in the guest room closet, and he paused in the doorway, considering the options. Hello Kitty in a Santa hat? Dora the Explorer at the North Pole? He settled on Disney princesses, and chose matching ribbon and a stick-on gift tag.

Bing Crosby sang about silver bells. Martin sat at the kitchen table, cutting the paper to size. Meggie hated crumpled paper on her gifts. When Gina let her help wrap presents, Meggie’s little face would always crease into a scowl, her fingers struggling to make the crisp creases her mom made with ease. The presents hadn’t looked as nice last Christmas without Gina there to wrap them. This year would be different.

Martin taped up the box and smoothed the sides of the paper, using his fingernail to stick the cellophane around the edges. White ribbon tied into a bow. Curl the excess with the blade of the scissors. The gift tag said, “Do Not Open ‘Till Christmas,” and he labeled it To Meggie from Dad. There was so much more he could have written, but she would understand. She’d been waiting for this.

He set the box on the back seat of his SUV next to his gym bag and backed out of the driveway. Across the street, the Mulligan house was dark. Old Jack Mulligan had been so helpful during Gina’s illness, watching Meggie while Martin drove back and forth from the hospital. And after Gina died, he’d continued to babysit after school, never asking for a penny. Such a good neighbor. Martin would never forget the night old Jack had walked shoulder to shoulder with him, calling into the fields behind the subdivision.

The streetlights blinked on as Martin drove, turning in past the high stone wall, Santa on the way to deliver a Christmas treat. He pulled off into the grass and grabbed the gift and his gym bag, locking the car door behind him.

There was never any doubt in his mind. When the school called to ask why Meggie was not in class, an icy grip grabbed Martin’s spine. Every night for a week they combed the fields and woods, searching in vain for a six-year-old in a blue and white soccer uniform. When the dry days of autumn made streams dry up and lakes recede from their banks, a hiker noticed a flash of white under a submerged log, and Meggie Sternham joined her mother beneath the landscaped, manicured grass of St. Martin’s Cemetery.

The lawn was brittle and brown now, and the old oak tree bare of leaves. Martin stopped at Gina’s grave. He pulled his phone out and set it to play Gina’s favorite Christmas song, the Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

“Hi, honey.” He pulled a wrapped bouquet of carnations from his gym bag and laid them on her headstone. “I brought Meggie a present. Wrapped it myself.”

The stone next to Gina’s was engraved in the same font as hers. Megan Sternham, November 12, 2013- May 14, 2019. Beloved daughter. Martin set the wrapped gift on top of the stone, and sat on the dry grass in front of it, cross-legged and facing it.

He’d thought he was doing such a good job, wrapping it so carefully. But the plastic inside must have slipped when he flipped it upside-down to smooth the paper. Martin pulled it off the gravestone. It left a dark stain on the pale granite. He set it beside him instead, and swiveled to lean his back up against the stone.

It hadn’t taken much. Old Jack needed less convincing than Martin expected. “The truth will set you free,” he murmured, running the curled ribbon through his fingers.

He sighed. Not much time now. “Meggie,” he said, “I’m here, baby. Daddy’s here. And Daddy brought you a present.” He could smell it now, the metallic smell that clung to him for hours after he crossed the street with Meggie’s gift secured in plastic wrap under his arm.

“It’s done. It’s over Rest easy, little princess.”

Don Henley sang that there would be no more sorrow. No grief or pain.

Martin pulled a pistol from his bag and set the barrel against his bottom teeth.

“Merry Christmas, sweet girl.” He whispered the words around the barrel, and squeezed the trigger.

D.W. Vogel is a veterinarian, SCUBA diver, cancer warrior, marathon runner, and game designer. She is the author of the bestselling Horizon Alpha sci-fi series and Super Dungeon Explore: The Forgotten King from Future Home Publishing, along with Flamewalker, a feminist fantasy available from Amazon. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and cats.

Horizon Alpha 1: Predators of Eden
Horizon Alpha 2: Transport Seventeen
Horizon Alpha 3: Homecoming
Super Dungeon 1: The King’s Summons
Super Dungeon 2: The Forgotten King

Christine Takeover 12: Christine Morgan: The Elf

The Elf

A Story by Christine Morgan
3,638 words

It started last Christmas, that must have been it. Weirdest thing that ever happened to me in my life – or so I thought at the time.

Now, this Christmas, I know a little better.

My name’s Belle, Clayton Belle, and I always hated this time of year.

I blame it on my folks. Sure, everybody blames their problems on their folks, but you should have seen mine.

My dad’s name was Jim Belle, but from after Halloween until round about New Year’s, he told everyone to call him Jingle. Dressed in red and green every chance he got. Decorated the house like you wouldn’t believe. My mom was just as bad, and she had no excuse… her given name was Carol.

They wanted me to swap “Clay” for, can you guess? Sleigh. No joke. I tell you, it was enough to drive a kid crazy. Here I was trying to be normal

That was why, as soon as I was old enough to get out on my own, I gave up on Christmas. No, that’s putting it too lightly… I went out of my way to avoid the whole thing.

Maybe that’s why it happened. Maybe it was some strange message, some sort of off-the-wall Christmas revenge. Like in the story about Scrooge, except I didn’t get three ghosts. Didn’t even get one.

What’d I get? Some little freak with rabies…

I’d done pretty good at getting away from it all. I’d finally saved up enough to move out of the apartment into a house, tiny but my own. I had a telecommuting job, which spared me the yearly hassle of office parties, Secret Santas, holiday music over the intercom, and all that.

So, for the first time in years, I was expecting a nice, stress-free December.

Then it happened. Christmas Eve.

That was when I heard the bells.

Jingle-jingle-jingle, clanging and grating on my nerves, bringing back all my tension like it had never been away.

I shot to my feet, fists curled. If this was the preface to a spontaneous outbreak of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from trespassing carolers, I was going to blast them with the hose and 20-degree temperatures be damned!

Stalking to the door, I yanked it open. But already, the sound was receding, dwindling into the distance… and even then I remember thinking that it almost seemed to be receding upward… but of course I didn’t give that idea a moment’s serious consideration.

Not then.

The people across the street were the Jaimesons. I’d seen them come home a week or so ago with a tree lashed to the roof of their car, but they were good about it, and kept their stuff private. If they wanted to be as looney as my parents in the privacy of their own home, that was their business, and they didn’t try to inflict it on the rest of us.

But now, something was hanging on their door. Even at midnight, every house on the street dark and sleeping, I couldn’t miss it. The full moon and the snow conspired to make it almost as bright as day, and the wreath that now hung on the Jaimeson’s door was twinkling with tiny red and white bulbs, like holly berries amid the shiny green leaves.

And there was something on the porch… from here, it was a bump of scarlet and white in an uncertain shape.

I couldn’t help it… anger set in. Some nerve the Jaimesons had, sneaking out in the night to put up that wreath, thinking no one would notice. Before I fully knew I meant to, I was striding down my walk, slippers crunching through the crust of the snow. I crossed the icy street and marched up their lawn, driving deep tracks. They’d see, they’d know, but I didn’t care.

The crumpled shape was recognizable now, a stocking. A plush cranberry-red velvet stocking with a ruff of white fur. It was lumpy… it was moving.

A nasty spear of fright jumped through me before I realized that the movement was due to nothing more than a toy, a child’s wind-up toy that had been jogged by the fall to the porch.

I could see it easily in my mind – Hank Jaimeson in full Santa regalia, smuggling in the sacks of goodies he’d had hidden in the garage, but dropping a stocking as he paused to put the wreath on the door.

My intent was to pull it down and pitch it, maybe onto the roof, maybe into the bushes, I don’t know. But as I reached for it, I heard a high mewling sound from inside the stocking.

My first thought was that it was a kitten, that old Hank had gotten his daughters a kitty but didn’t notice when it fell from his bag.

My second thought was that it would serve them right, a nice gruesome Christmas surprise to find frozen solid on the stoop.

But I may have been a Scrooge, I may have been a Grinch, I may have been a sour old jerk, but I wasn’t a total bastard. Couldn’t leave an innocent kitten to freeze to death in the night.

I bent down and scooped up the stocking. It squirmed in my grasp, and yes, there was something warm, something alive, in there.

“Hey, kitty-kitty,” I said.

I reached in, meaning to pet the soft bundle of fur.

Instead, my fingers found skin.

And an unbelievable explosion of pain.

It was like a spring-loaded beartrap of needles, sinking into the tender web between my thumb and index finger.

I screamed or cursed, or both mingled, and flung the stocking away from me. It flew off into the snow, but the biter held on, dangling at the end of my arm. My flailing motions made it clamp down tighter, and now rockets of pain were shooting up my arm to my head, where they burst like the Fourth of July – a holiday I’ve never had a problem with.

But I did have a problem with what I was seeing. A major one.

An elf was battened onto my hand.

An elf, yes, that’s what I said.

He was about eighteen inches high, maybe two feet, it was hard to tell. Built like one of those pudgy little gnome you sometimes see on the lawns of people who should know better, but light as a feather. He was wearing short pants (winter-white), a red vest, and those dorky curled-up shoes with bells on the toes. If he’d had a hat, it had fallen off, because his pine-green hair was blowing free around a set of ears that would have made Mr. Spock blush.

His eyes were the huge winsome adorable eyes of a cartoon character, but no cartoon character’s eyes had ever glittered with such a hard and flat hatred. A snarl, muffled by his mouthful of my hand, issued from the back of his throat.

screamed again, this time more in horror than pain, though there was still pain, plenty of it. With my other hand, I grabbed him around his potbellied middle and tried to tear him loose.

It didn’t work. Those fangs were embedded like a snake’s. But abruptly, the elf let go of his own accord. He scrambled up my arm, headed for my face.

My third scream broke decibel records. I reeled and staggered, trying to knock this deranged thing off of me. The backs of my legs hit the Jaimesons’ planter and I toppled over backward, feet flying. My breath was jarred out of me in a huge frosty cloud.

The crazed elf skittered onto my chest, his impish face twisted in pure madness. I didn’t know what he was going to do, and suddenly had a bizarre vision, one that might have been funny if it hadn’t been so hideous – my disembodied head impaled on the top of a Christmas tree in place of a star.

The Jaimesons’ door banged open, throwing a fan of light onto the snow. The elf hissed and was gone, springing from my chest in a bound that carried him into the concealing bushes.

The next thing I knew, Hank Jaimeson was there, in a robe, his eyes puffed from sleep and wide with shock. His wife and kids crowded into the doorway, all babbling at once.

Calls were made, to the police and to an ambulance. I was taken to the hospital because they thought I was having some sort of a breakdown. They had to think that, because I wasn’t wounded. The bite-mark on my hand was gone, except for a semi-circle of tiny white scars that almost looked like snowflakes.

I did some time under observation, and more time in court-ordered therapy. The consensus was that I must have snapped under the holiday strain. When I finally got home, the neighbors treated me with caution and even more distance than before.

The Jaimesons moved out that spring, the whole turn of events having been so traumatizing for their kids – waking to my panicked screams on Christmas gave little Amber Jaimeson nightmares for weeks.

But eventually, things got back to normal. Or so I thought.

I was fine until around October.

That was when I started to feel restless. Itchy, almost. Impatient, dissatisfied. I didn’t know what I wanted, but something was missing. Something I needed.

A few days after Halloween, as I was lugging the shells of my jack-o-lanterns out to the trash, I caught myself humming.

Humming a Christmas carol.

Appalled, I stopped then and there with my feet buried in a drift of leaves and a slightly mushy pumpkin sagging in my grip. I silently asked myself if I’d really been doing that, but I’d heard me. I could even Name That Tune – it had been “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

About a week later, I saw that they’d stocked the shelves in the dairy section of the local market with the first eggnog of the season, and my heart took an unprecedented and distinctly unwelcome leap of joy.

When I got home from my errands and started unloading my groceries, I found a carton of eggnog.

I wasted no time but raced right back to the market. The cashier who’d checked out my purchases was still there, and I stormed up to her, not sure if I meant to apologize for taking the eggnog by mistake or to berate her for mixing it in with my order.

But she told me that I had bought it, and had even remarked on how glad I was that they finally had some in the store. And that when she had replied with something to the effect of how it seemed the holiday season started earlier and earlier every year, I’d said ‘good!’


I had no recollection of that at all, and would have never said such a thing! Not me! Not Clayton Belle!

I decided she must have been having fun at my expense, and put it out of my mind. I planned to dump the eggnog down the sink and forget the whole matter.

I drank it instead.

I didn’t mean to… I just took the carton out of the fridge – and only then did it occur to me to wonder why I hadn’t returned it to the store and gotten my money back – and opened it.

And the scent hit me in a great rolling wave of creamy, nutmeggy temptation… and before I knew what was happening, I was guzzling it straight from the carton with such gulping greed that overflows were running in rills down my chin.

I leaned over the sink, nauseated and afraid, wondering if I was going to bring it back up. But it stayed, a thick liquid weight in my stomach, and I imagined I could feel it spreading out in there, sending out tendrils of itself, into my veins, coating my organs, being carried to every cell of my body.

Another week passed, and I was cranky all the time, missing something, needing something, not knowing what it was. Little things kept happening, distressing little things. Nothing big, nothing like the Great Eggnog Experience, but upsetting ones all the same.

Being at the drugstore, having to walk down the seasonal aisle to reach the pharmacy, and lingering over the cards and garlands that had begun to creep in among the turkeys and harvest decorations.

Shopping a catalog for some new clothes and only realizing when my order arrived that some of the things I’d bought were eerily familiar – winter-white pants, a red cardigan vest. And a green knitted cap, where had that come from?

Waking in the middle of the night with the most terrible craving for cookies, not just any cookies but specific kinds. I had to have the butter-shortbread ones crusted with colored sugar… I had to have gingerbread.

Then things started getting worse.

I bought a box of candy canes and ate them all in the car, the entire sticky red-and-white dozen of them, until my tongue and lips were bright pink and the taste of sweet mint seemed to permeate my entire being.

I found myself taking long aimless drives around town to look at the holiday lights and decorations… I even went to the mall and stood amid a smiling crowd as little kids waited for their turns on Santa’s lap.

I was humming again, and then singing low, and finally singing aloud, whenever I heard the carols… and I knew every single word.

I had been flipping channels and happened across a Christmas movie, the one about the boy who wanted a BB-gun. And, telling myself that nothing else good was on, wound up watching it. And then, worst of all, realizing it was a marathon, 24 hours of that same movie, and I stayed up all night watching it and fell asleep in my chair and woke up and kept watching it, until noon the next day.

The day it all came crashing down on me, I was at the park. It was December 22nd and I’d gone for a long brisk walk, hoping that the cold air and exercise would snap me out of this constant state of alternating trance and terror.

A woman said ‘Merry Christmas!’ to me, and I said it right back at her.

She passed without looking back, which was good, because my expression would have horrified her. It horrified me and I didn’t even have to see it; I could feel it. That was the first time those words had passed my lips in almost twenty years, but I hadn’t just been saying them.

I’d meant them!

I uttered a rusty screech and ran for home. Something was happening to me… I had to get help… there had to be something they could do…

I reached my yard and the strength ran right out of me like water through a sieve.

Lights sparkled along the eaves and around the windows of my house. More lights, string after string of them, wrapped the fence and the tree in the front yard. A red ribbon had been wound around the post that supported the mailbox, giving it an effect that could be construed as barber-pole but I knew better! A plastic reindeer with a red lightbulb for a nose stood beside the walk, and a wreath hung on the door.

It was the wreath that pushed me over, because it was practically identical to the one that had been on the Jaimesons’ door last year. Their house had sold but the current owners were spending the winter in Arizona with their grandkids, and thus hadn’t seen the terrible thing that had taken place across the street.

Someone had decorated my house!

No… I had done it. And couldn’t remember doing it.

Haltingly, scared to death of what I might find inside, I went up to the door. The wreath seemed to stare at me like a big round eye, laugh at me like a big round mouth.

I wanted to rip it down, rip all of it down. What would people think if they saw this? What would they say?

I steeled myself and plunged inside.

If I could have drawn breath, it would have been last year’s business all over again, for I would have screamed and screamed until the neighbors called 911. But my breath was stolen from me by the sight of the interior of my house.

It was a nightmare made real. That’s all I’ll say. I can’t bear to describe how tall the tree was, how many garlands festooned the stairway banister, what horrors awaited me on the mantle. I can’t stand to think of the candles, the presents, the three-tiered tray of cookies and fudge and divinity.

Even the bathroom wasn’t safe, because the shower curtain, the towels, even the toilet-lid cover, had been replaced by new ones in a poinsettia pattern. But despite that, the bathroom was still the least objectionable place in the house, and it was there that I collapsed in a dead faint.

I woke over twenty-four hours later to unbelievable pain in my hand and arm. Dimly sure that I must have been laying on them, I pushed myself up and looked.

The scars… the tiny semicircle of snowflake-shaped scars… they had faded nearly to invisibility over the year but now they were back. Standing out in vivid relief, almost seeming to wax and wane in time with the throbbing I felt in every nerve.

And yet, even with the throbbing, even with an ache that seemed to burrow into my bones, I felt full of a hectic, wild energy. Mania, almost. No, not almost… it was mania. I wanted to do something, had to get up and get moving, but I didn’t know what.

I tried to rise, shakily got as far as the sink, and caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror.

But at first, I didn’t know it was me… I had never in my life worn a silly little pointy cap with a bell on the end.

I cried out, thinking it was a stranger, an intruder, that I’d surprised in my home. My reflection reacted along with me and then I knew, but that knowing was untempered with relief.

I looked… different. It wasn’t just because of the cap.

My hair looked wrong. Longer.

My eyes were huge, but I attributed that to shock and fear.

My ears…

I didn’t want to see any more, and fell back onto the bathmat.

The ache intensified. I could hear the radio playing in the other room, tuned to the nonstop holiday music station.

I felt as if I was being crushed, slowly crushed under an impossible weight. I imagined I could hear my bones crunching, feel myself being squashed, compressed. An appalling, stretchy sensation tugged at my ears.

A dark corner of my mind knew then what was happening to me, but the rest of my mind rejected it. Ignoring the pain and the horrendous things that were going on in my body, I got up to splash cold water on my face…

And couldn’t reach the sink.

I was standing, but I was on eye-level with the cabinet where I kept the cleanser and spare rolls of tissue.

Very, very slowly and very much against my will, I looked down at myself.

Yes, I was standing… assuming those were my feet in the curly-toed shoes about eighteen inches below my head. Assuming that was my torso I was seeing, pooching out into a potbelly.

A wavery, uncertain noise came from my throat. I started to bring up my hands, to explore my head, but paused and let them drop. I had to see.

With strenuous effort, I clambered onto the toilet, and from there onto the counter. I edged out around the basin, keeping my eyes on my shoes – my horrible curly-toed shoes – until I was there.

Then I looked.

An elf looked back at me.

It had my blond hair, only grown long and silky. My brown eyes, cartoon-character cute. My features… changed and made sharper, fairer, more… elfin.

I opened my mouth to finally voice the scream that would rouse the neighborhood, maybe even the town. But before I could finish drawing my breath, my gaze fell on what was also shown in the mirror, the reflection of my dining room beyond the half-open bathroom door.

The table was covered with things. With tools, and paint-pots, and lengths of wood, and stuffing, and wheels. Half-finished toys were scattered all over the table, and a box of finished ones rested underneath. The mania that had been surging in me now came roaring up full-force.

Because time was short! Time was so very short! Tomorrow was Christmas Eve!

Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and I was behind in my work!

I yipped in alarm, sprang down from the sink in a sprightly hop, and rushed to my workbench.

And I knew, as I picked up my paintbrush to apply rouge-spots to the cheeks of a dolly, what I was. I knew what would happen to me this time every year, not ruled by the phases of the moon but by the seasons, when the change would set in.

Helpless to resist, caught in the grips of the dreadful transformation, compelled by my hungers and driven to do unspeakable things… with no folklore, no gypsy woman, no one to help me or tell me how to break the curse…

The terrible curse of the were-elf!

Christine Morgan grew up in the high desert and moved to a cool rainy coast as soon as she could. Though anything but the outdoorsy type, she loves trees and water … preferably viewed through a cozy window or from the deck of a cruise ship. Alaska, Norway, Scotland, and Germany/Austria are her vacation destinations of choice. Seeing the Northern Lights in person is on her bucket list. She’s currently three cats toward her eventual fate as a crazy cat lady; yes, she does talk to them, but don’t worry, she draws the line at knitting them little sweaters (because she can’t knit).

Christmas Takeover 11: Mark Reefe: O’Tannenbaum


A Story by Mark Reefe
2,300 words

The old man looked to have a couple of years on Methuselah. He snorted and then spit out a tobacco-infused loogie, leaving a dribble of brown juice on his unkempt beard. “You won’t find a better tree for less’en three times the price, so don’t try bargaining with me, boy.”

Craig Dowers knew the tree was a steal. It was at least eight feet tall and lush with needles soft to the touch. It looked like a fir but was much greener, almost emerald. He was more concerned with the shifty roadside operation than the merchandise. But he had already been to three nurseries and one Home Depot, and the junk they had left wasn’t fit for the likes of Charlie Brown. Plus, it was two days before Christmas. So what if the old coot sawed down some trees that weren’t his to saw down. Who was he to judge?

“You said twenty, right?”

The old man winked at him and flashed a yellow smile. “I’ll help you tie’er up.”

The strangest thing about the transaction was the old man’s parting advice. “After Christmas is over, burn’er up. It’s bad luck tossing a Christmas tree out to rot. Nope, you need to light’er up and let’er burn.”

The burning part didn’t bother Craig – living in the country he had a burn pile in the back of his property and used it frequently – but the old man’s use of the word her when referring to the tree struck him as creepy. His repeated instructions to burn her did little to lessen the creep factor.

Christmas ended up being a huge success, and everyone agreed it was a beautiful tree. Even Craig’s stingy father-in-law nodded his approval when informed the specimen had cost just twenty dollars. The only one not a fan was Tiger, the family’s black and brown Burmese. The cat hissed at it when they first brought the tree in the house and refused to enter the room where it was displayed. Fortunately, Tiger didn’t have to avoid the room for long. By New Year’s Day the tree was out of house and sitting on the burn pile, where it remained until spring.

Fierce winds rolled into the valley with the arrival of March, and soon Craig’s property was littered with branches from the surrounding pines, maples, and willows. He was out back tossing the splintered limb of a maple tree on the burn pile when he first noticed it. The fact that the old Christmas tree looked as green and full as the day he had purchased it wasn’t unusual – he knew evergreens could retain their color for months on end. But its vertical position did strike him as peculiar.

Stomping over brush and kicking through brambles, he reached for the tree, intending to lift it from its wedged position and lay it down in its initial resting place.

The tree refused to budge.

Craig took a knee and cleared away the rotting branches and weeds from its base.

“What the hell.”

The tree was planted in the ground.

Craig ran his fingers down its trunk and felt roots buried in the earth. He stood and brushed his grimy hands off. “I’ll be damned.”

He once heard a story about someone getting their Christmas tree to grow roots by planting it in Miracle-Gro, but he was pretty sure that was a bunch of crap. Regardless, he didn’t plant the damn thing. Was somebody messing with him? Did they sneak onto his land in the middle of the night, steal his old tree, and plant a new one? It was a ludicrous thought.

He marveled at the apparent Christmas miracle, but his smile died when he recalled the old man’s words. You need to light’er up and let’er burn.

It was such a strange thing to say.

He wanted to share the oddity with someone, but with the kids back at college and his wife out of town on business, it was just Tiger and him. He was pretty sure the cat didn’t give a rat’s ass about the tree.

He was wrong about that.

He woke to Tiger’s hissing at 2 am. Craig had a pillow in his hand and was half a second away from chucking it at the Burmese when he peered beyond the cat to the bedroom window. The pale moon cast a shadow over something large just outside. It moved.

Craig was quick to his feet and the loaded shotgun he kept in his bedroom closet. He was out the front door and on the porch in seconds, but by then whatever had been spying on him through the porch window was gone. “Come back here and I’ll put a few holes in you, you son of a bitch!”

He felt silly shouting. Crime was rare in the valley, and his property was several miles off the grid. Whatever animal was out there would have no clue what he was saying. He cocked his head and listened to the rustling of branches. Something was scampering off in the dark.

The morning sun revealed no paw prints or hoof marks in the fine layer of dust resting on the porch floor. Instead, a path swept clear of dirt led up to the window. In its wake, a speckling of needles trailed off the porch and to the yard. Where the needles disappeared in the lawn, a path of crushed grass about three feet wide emerged and continued around the house to the burn pile.

After retrieving his shotgun, Craig spent the better part of an hour poking and prodding through the dead vegetation looking for fur, scat, or any signs of a nest. From what he remembered of the previous night, whatever was watching him was probably too large to live in the burn pile. Still, he had been startled awake, and it was dark out. Might have been something smaller was perched on the windowsill.

It didn’t matter. Whatever may have been hiding in the pile was long gone, and as soon as it dried out a little, he would move the brush away from the tree and light it up.

Light’er up. The words echoed in his mind.

By the end of the day, he had forgotten all about his visitor, and for the next couple of days, he set about getting the necessary supplies for the bathroom remodel he was planning while his wife was away. It wasn’t until he was elbow deep in mortar he noticed the full bowl of kibble in the kitchen. The cat was damn good at reminding him when it was mealtime, but the food in the bowl had been sitting there for at least a day – maybe two.


A quick sweep of the house proved the cat was nowhere to be found. That wasn’t unusual. The cat loved to roam the property and had full access in and out of the house thanks to cat doors he had installed. Still, Tiger never missed a meal. He looked for the cat the rest of the day, only giving up when the sun set.

He set out early the next morning with the intention to expand his search into the surrounding countryside and forest. His wife got the cat from a shelter three years ago and loved him dearly. She would be devastated if something had happened to him, and Craig would be the target of her well-earned fury for months.

He was passing the burn pile on his way to the woods behind the house when the tree caught his attention. Something was wrong with it. He stood staring at the evergreen for several minutes before it struck him. It was in a different spot. As absurd as it sounded, the damn thing was at least a couple of feet to the left of where it had been firmly planted just two days ago.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He reached out and touched its wet bark. He shook it. The tree was rooted firmly in the ground. He pulled his hand back and noticed the red on it. Holding it up to his face, he ran his thumb across his slick scarlet fingers. Blood.

Craig stumbled out of the pile as he wiped his blood-smeared hand on his jeans.

Better light’er up. The words haunted him.

A dark thought bubbled in the back of Craig’s brain. His heart pounded as he approached the tree once more. He knelt near its base tearing brush and branch away as his heart hammered. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he continued until there was nothing but a patch of damp earth before him. He let a sigh slip as his heart slowed. Whatever he was dreading to find was not there. Unless…

He ran a shaking hand across the charred soil. It was loose. He hesitated before pushing his fingers into the dirt. Something was there, something wet and furry. Craig’s heart kicked back into overdrive as he parted the soil to reveal its terrible secret. The mud-caked face of the Burmese stared at him with unblinking eyes.

“What the hell!”

Craig scrambled to his feet. Reaching the same blood-covered hand out, he touched the tree again. Though it had been a cold night and was now but fifty degrees, the tree felt warm. He closed his eyes. Something pulsed beneath the bark. He opened his eyes and, with a quivering hand, plucked a small twig from the tree. He examined the wound and watched as a droplet of red sap oozed out.

He looked down at the desiccated remains of the cat and noticed the tree’s roots running through it. The fucking thing was feeding off the corpse of his cat, sucking it dry. He leaned closer and spied a tiny green sapling sprouting out of Tiger’s mouth.


Craig ran to the shed, returning moments later with an ax. With a wet thunk he landed the first blow deep into the tree’s soft base. It shuddered. Sappy blood oozed out of it covering the ax head in a viscid mix. It splattered on his face as he heaved the weapon up for another blow. He licked his lips tasting the coppery tang of blood mixed with pine.

Again and again he swung. With each blow more blood ushered forth until he was drenched in the unholy fluid. Finally, he stood over a glistening red stump. Fighting the urge to retch, he stripped down to his boxers and threw the polluted clothes onto the burn pile.

Better light’er up. He knew what needed to be done.

He doused the pile of bloody wood in gasoline before setting it ablaze. Firelight danced across his blood-slicked face as he watched the abomination burn. Craig swore he could hear a low-pitched moan beneath the hiss, crackle, and pop of burning wood. He waited for hours adding more fuel to the fire until nothing was left but ash and a few cat bones.

After burying the remains of Tiger in a shallow grave, he went inside to clean himself up. He scrubbed his arms and face raw and used an entire bottle of olive oil to purge the bloody sap from his hair.

Craig woke the next morning to a blurry world. He wiped globs of crusted up dirt from the corners of his eyes. Putting a finger to his nose, he smelled the residue. Pine. Apparently traces of the prior day’s slaughter still clung to him. He stood slowly, stretching taut leg muscles. A deep, hollow yawn escaped his mouth. He was getting a cold. Craig plodded toward the bathroom at a sloth’s pace in hopes that a cup of coffee and some decongestant would help right him. He scratched an itch on his neck and felt something long and thin protruding from the skin. A hair maybe?

Placing his hands on the vanity, he leaned in close and gazed at the tired figure before him. He pinched the stray hair between his thumb and index finger and pulled. A sharp pain like that of a hot nail piercing flesh shot through him, causing him to shout in surprise. A tiny droplet of blood oozed out from the wound left behind. He looked at the hair and noticed it wasn’t a hair at all but a tiny evergreen twig.

“What the fuck?” The words came out sluggish.

His stomach began to cramp, and he felt a sudden pressure in his bowels. He shuffled over to the toilet and squatted just in time. A half dozen plunks soon followed. Breathing a sigh of relief, he cleaned himself and stood. Curious about the loud deposit, he glanced down. The turds actually looked like little pinecones. He snorted in disbelief and flushed.

He yawned again. It was stuffy inside and too dark. He needed a little fresh air and sunshine to clear his head and get the gears moving. It took five minutes for his stiffening legs to carry him out of the house. The air outside was invigorating and the warm sun felt wonderful on his skin.

Craig stepped off the porch and onto the lawn with bare feet. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and curled his toes. The sensation of grass and soil squishing between them sent shivers through his body. The coffee could wait. He would stay here – just for a few minutes – enjoying nature and warming up his stiff body.

Patricia Dowers ended up cutting her trip short when she couldn’t get a hold of Craig. She returned to a house with no cat and no husband. There was, however, a half renovated bathroom and a beautiful evergreen planted in the front lawn.

Raised in Bowie, Maryland, Mark Reefe moved his homestead to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley some years back where he now resides with his lovely wife, two boys, and two devilish dogs. After a quarter century in federal law enforcement catching drug smugglers, money launderers, terrorists, and other nasty fellows, he decided it was time to scratch the itch tickling him and start writing. His Hell Walker Trilogy incorporates his experiences along the southern border with supernatural elements in a haunting yet riveting series that has received numerous accolades and five-star Amazon reviews. The first book in this trilogy, The Road to Jericho, will be rereleased by Three Furies Press in 2020.

When he’s not writing, Mark enjoys woodworking, camping, breaking small appliances when they don’t appear to work, apologizing to his wife for breaking the previously mentioned appliances, and bourbon (not necessarily in that order).

Christmas Takeover 10: C. Derick Miller: Excerpt from Far From Home

Excerpt from Far From Home (Home Series 2)

By C. Derick Miller
6,550 words

A Curse Beyond Comprehension. A Power Beyond Belief. A Girl Far From Home.Katie Liberman is your typical eighteen-year-old college student…or at least that’s what her family thinks. Picking up five years after the events of A Taste of Home, Katie has dropped out of school and embarked upon a dangerous quest to find Kurt Jimmerson, the New York City attorney responsible for her family’s werewolf curse. Unknown to her, the attorney’s grip on the ‘City That Never Sleeps’ is tighter than imagined and she’ll need any and all help available to be victorious. But… where do you find friends when you’re Far From Home?

The bitter cold swirled around the young girl as the reflection of a billion lights glistened on the newly fallen snow. Since her arrival, Katie could only recall a few minutes here and there where there wasn’t some type of frozen precipitation pelting her from all directions. She was slowly getting used to it. Tonight, none of it seemed to matter much. It affected the mission in no way whatsoever. Besides, with her face covered in a light fur, it rarely touched the skin enough to make her aware.

The events of the previous evening had sent her reeling to the point she knew it was time to move on to the next level of the plan. As the day progressed, Katie had gotten little sleep due to the returning blurred memories of a sweaty night involving her new-found friend. Every time she closed her eyes, visions of

the beautiful, odd, young lady beckoned her to hastily conclude. Was this the most disgusting thing that ever happened to her or an experience altering her young life forever? Shaking the haunting visions from her head, along with the accumulated snow on her cheeks, Katie knew now was not the time to think of such things. Revenge and survival were to come first and they were jockeying for position of importance. Regardless of consequence, they were equals.

Her first stop of the evening had unfortunately been the Central Park Zoo. Animalistic hunger finally caused Katie to succumb to the unthinkable. In the early morning hours, subscribers to the local media would be slapped with news regarding the discovery of a slaughtered deer inside of its enclosure. She hated it, but the acts ranking would’ve been nothing compared to that of an uncontrolled transformation and similar treatment of an unsuspecting, innocent human being. It’s not like Manhattan could offer the comforts of home where Katie could just easily walk out the back door and run off into the woods. Necessity was a bitch.

The second stop of the evening had been to Saint Patrick’s Church to speak with Father McCormack again. With all destined to ensue, she wanted to make absolutely sure her soul was clean enough to endure her final moments with confidence and acceptance. Shockingly, he giggled at the misfortunes of the previous night and sent her away with his blessings. As a ghost, it wasn’t the first unexpected lesbian experience confession he’d bore witness to regardless of whether the poor soul offering up the confession knew he was even there and listening. Ultimately, it was the excessive drinking he’d had a problem with and offered up an ‘everything in moderation’ speech which sounded much rehearsed. The priest had become a good ally and an important part of her life. She hoped he’d be a shoe-in reference to the afterlife if things turned increasingly bad.

Finally, she’d stopped by her apartment to coax her mother into attending the night’s stake out. Sneaking around the normal people of this world undetected had become sort of a hobby for Katie, but werewolves were different. Only having to deal with one of them in anger before, she wasn’t aware of how easy or difficult this was going to be. For a fact, she knew all too well how easily she picked up on scents. Katie had also never been successful in sneaking up on her father after he had the curse bestowed upon him. This was a saddening part of her life. Gone were the days of creeping up to him in the shower to flush the toilet or cover him with a tall glass of frigid water. Toby’s senses were way more in tune than hers. More than likely due to age, she guessed. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to include the handbook with the starter package when delivered. Jessica, as a spirit, would have a lot more luck sneaking amongst the unknown. She was a perfect scout for an imperfect situation. Although she’d never tell her, this was one of the main reasons Katie had brought her along to begin with. It was nice to have company from time to time who wasn’t going to wake up naked next to you with fuzzy thoughts about how it happened.

Following a set of familiar tracks around the Central Park lake, she now sat motionless and quiet in the tallest tree she could find a hundred yards from the entrance of Belvedere Castle. In the distance, children’s voices and laughter carried on the wind from the ice skating rink and Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. Unbeknownst to them all as they played carelessly, monsters of the night once thought to be imaginary figments in the minds of Hollywood writers lurked at the edge of the tree line of the darkened park in hopes they would come join them in eternity. If they only knew of the nightmarish fate awaiting them all upon the misfortunes of a nocturnal visit to Central Park. Other than the criminal element, they’d build a ten-foot-tall fence for their own safety. In the end, it was the criminal element who kept them all at bay and they knew nothing of the bloody myth that lay beyond the mental edge of their reasoning. To be young and uninformed was a luxury which no longer belonged to Katie Liberman. She was one of the monsters.

Jessica had been gone for nearly an hour with no sign of return. With little argument, she’d followed the

trail allowing her daughter to assume a more secluded position within the foliage. Ignoring her father’s teachings he’d passed along via the information from Jimmerson, Katie knew all too well any passing werewolf would be able to spot the ghost from a mile away. Jessica had gone invisible, which meant she could actually be sitting beside Katie on the tree branch at this very second. Katie knew there was no way possible her mother could’ve kept her mouth shut long enough to stay hidden for long. Would a passing pack of those like her just pass Jessica off as a random, wandering spirit? Did her mother even possess the stealth to talk her way out of a jam if she were to be discovered? It was a definite chance Katie was taking for sure! Detecting a cold spot in the weather of the evening was a useless gesture. As a matter of fact, with the time that passed in her absence, the once fresh trail leading to the castle had been long covered up by the celestial snowfall. This was going to make things difficult.

Willow mentioned Kurt Jimmerson was interested in the restoration of Belvedere Castle for quite some time, but Katie’s observation gave no signs anyone was there on this night. Research said nothing other than the fact it had been a museum and a weather station in its prime. Its beauty and grandeur was a heavily visited attraction during the hours of daylight. It was even used as a set piece in a few movies. Katie could guess of Jimerson’s obsession for restoration with this in mind. History and tradition seemed to mean more to those with wealth for some reason plus, being a well-known philanthropist would throw off the dogs or gain him sympathy with the media and public if ever his intentions were to be questioned. She couldn’t wait to meet him. For all Katie knew, she already had. She couldn’t wait to kill him. Sheriff Werewolf back home and his odd daughter would be making a return trip to normalcy when she did.

Seeing all was clear with the passing time, Katie closed her eyes in deep meditation. Her unusual abundance of hair began to retract into her body to reveal the image of a young girl once more. Claws returned to nails as a slight tingle of pain twitched throughout her fingertips and she could feel the itch of retracting skin on her ears as they rounded. She’d eventually grown to ignore the pain that went along with a slow transformation. It was the sudden, emotion fueled ones which were still excruciating. Nothing compared to the searing fire that accompanied the very first one that night in the Myrtle County Fairgrounds. Would she miss it when her power was gone? It wasn’t like it made her feel special or cherished among those around her because, unlike her father, she wasn’t allowed to reveal herself to anyone. Repeated reflection upon his reasoning had told her time and again it was indeed the proper thing to do when it came to the general public. Katie obeyed without interrogation. Sure, it was good for the tiny population of Twin Oaks, who couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it, but in a city the size of New York? Katie could easily become a comic book worthy super hero the likes of which had never been experienced in reality. The fear that usually accompanied the unknown easily squashed the delusion quickly. For now, she was Katie Liberman, abused puppy extraordinaire, and it would have to suffice.

The crack of a crashing tree branch under the weight of the accumulating snow startled Katie back into her ‘on guard’ state but it all too soon returned to quiet. Since the werewolf’s hair was no longer a luxury to her body in human form, the cold seemed to sneak up on her suddenly. Pulling the hood from her sweatshirt over her wind-blown hair and giving the drawstrings a hard tug, Katie shut out the intruder swiftly. Sniffing the air around her, she detected no hint of anything unusual anywhere nearby. The constant noise of the city around her masked any hopes of catching approaching foot traffic.

“Damn,” she said aloud as she shuffled her butt along the tree limb for a more comfortable seat “Now I’m just bored!”

This was not the adventure Katie was promised in her mind’s brochure when she agreed to endure the burden of this trip.

“Katie…” came the soft voice attempting to remain stealthy.
“Katie…” came the whisper again.
“Kathryn Liberman!” came Jessica’s voice booming directly in the young girl’s ear.

Startled awake from sleep brought on by severe discomfort, Katie flailed her arms in an attempt to regain her balance. Nearly falling from her high perch, the young girl glared at her mother disapprovingly with fire in her eyes.

“Damn you, Mom, I told you to keep it down!” she scolded “I’m trying not to give us away!”

“Oh pipe down,” Jessica replied “Nobody but you has been able to hear a word I’ve said in five years! There’s no need to get all snippy!”

Katie grinned slightly with her head bowed in anger. Sometimes, she thought her mother didn’t completely understand the severity of her situation. The slightest miscalculation could end up in tragedy. Why would she? Jessica was already dead and had absolutely nothing to lose.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Katie continued while brushing the snow from her sweatshirt “The people I’m looking for CAN hear you…maybe. I’m not sure. Anyway, there is a possibility they can hear you and I don’t want to take any risks. From now on, pretend as though they can hear you!”

“Look,” Jessica attempted to retort “You were the one asleep on the job while I’ve been out in the snow looking at footprints for an hour! You’re the one not taking this seriously!”

It was at this point Katie Liberman stopped caring about stealth.

“I’m not taking this seriously?” she stood in anger attempting to keep her balance on the frozen limb “Right now, I have a faceless nemesis who could be ten feet away from me or in the same room at any given time… and I’d never know it! I know he is my nemesis because I never think much about his demise or what he has planned for my ending if he were to ever get the upper hand. I often daydream about the battle, though. If this doesn’t qualify for the title of ‘arch enemy’, I don’t know what does. I’m not taking this seriously? Comic book heroes don’t have shit on me right now, Mom!”

The stinging cold burned her throat as Katie attempted to catch her breath from the argument as the winter steam escaped from flaring nostrils. She’d been trying to keep it together the best she could over the last few days but now it seemed as though the breaking point was in sight. So far, the only two good things that happened to her were soul preparation from a holy apparition and possible soul destruction from a bi-sexual Irish girl who may or may not be the new, proud owner of her virginity. Using those two examples on a sliding scale, the goodness factor was exactly where it started when she first reached New York. She’d gotten nowhere and she was getting desperate.

“Look,” Katie started again to remain calm “I’m not going back empty handed, Mother. I’m either going to be successful in killing this Kurt Jimmerson guy or I’m going to die in the process. I’ve just about blown every bit of money set back for my first year of college to get here, eat, and survive. I’m lying to the people who gave me the money by not telling them where I’m at. I’m too damn old to get grounded but Dad will damn sure try to make life difficult if I have to go back home and live under his roof, especially after he finds out what I’ve done. Most importantly, I refuse to spend the rest of my life cursed as a werewolf. I want to live like a normal girl, work a normal job, marry a normal guy, and have normal

babies. I’m never going to have any of those things if I don’t put a stop to it here and now. If I die trying, so be it. I’m no better off…”

“Oh, listen to yourself,” Jessica came at her “I’m Katie Liberman and I’m a werewolf! I’m Katie Liberman and I’m miserable! I’m Katie Liberman and I’ve got problems!”

Jessica’s mocking was beginning to anger Katie and she could feel the tingle of separating flesh around her fingernails. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to shut a ghost up.

Jessica’s rant continued.

“Regardless of how you may have to live out the rest of your days, at least you’re still alive. That is something I can’t say and will never be able to say again! I miss being able to touch people or speak with random strangers! I miss the taste of food and the smell of flowers! I’d give anything for a freaking cigarette right about now! You’ve got some kind of weird death wish ‘thing’ going on and don’t care if tomorrow ever comes. Baby, you don’t want this. You don’t want to exist this way. At least with the ‘family curse’ as you call it, you have choices in the matter. I have no choices left. My soul is scraping the bottom of the barrel and I’m not even sure how much longer I’ll be attached to this world. One day I’m not going to be able to jump to you when you need me. One day I’ll be gone for good. Your rule book can still be written. You can make yours up as you go. My pen ran out a long time ago.”

Katie couldn’t argue with the points her mother was making. Jessica was right. In the end, it all came down to personal choices on where she wanted her life to go and how she wanted to live it. There were ways around the werewolf issue. It was just going to make things a lot more difficult. She felt sorry for Jessica and everything she’d been through over the years but it was her fault. Most things wrong with Katie and the bad things that happened to the other people she loved were because of Jessica’s actions. With that, Jessica wasn’t going to be able to opt out of the conversation at hand easily. She wasn’t going to be able to play the sympathy card or gain victory in a mother and daughter disagreement. In life or death, Katie had to win. There was no way she was going to give up an ‘I told you so’ in this or reveal the epiphany of a life lesson to her mother’s satisfaction. Something had to be said to stop the direction of the talk. Something had to be said in order to slam dunk the point in a way her mother would treat her like an adult with her own agenda. Something had to be said to shut her up for good.

“Mom,” Katie sang sweetly “I lost my virginity to a lesbian last night!”

Game point.

The awkward silence was broken by the rush of rapid footsteps in the snow below. Jumping to the ground quickly, Katie inspected them closely to reveal they indeed didn’t belong to humans. The shoe prints were too far apart for a normal stride and the clawed handprint in every other indention was a dead giveaway. This was it! There was no time to finish the conversation.

“Mom, get back to the apartment and wait for me!” Jessica flinched, still in shock from the previous statement. “You had sex with a lesbian?”

Before Katie could even tell her to shut up, the ability to use her human voice disappeared and the painfully quick cracking of her tiny bones echoed through the nearby trees. She pursued the pack of fleeing werewolves with determination.

Dodging in and out of the coming trees, Katie flung fallen snow in all directions beneath her feet. The tracks were becoming much sloppier meaning they were now moving quicker than before. Either the pack knew someone was following them or they were getting in a bigger hurry to reach their destination. From what she could tell, there were four of them. Three sets of tracks were all that could be seen by the untrained eye but the middle set was much larger than the ones on the sides. It had been stepped through by the one following making it only look like three. With one in the lead and three following, it was a definite sign there was a leader present in the group. If it were truly the case, he’d be the worst to deal with and the first one she’d have to take out. Once accomplished, the other three would attack in unison or flee in fear of not having a leader anymore. It was a gamble but a gamble she’d have to take.

Slowing her pace, she noticed the prints had gotten closer together. Now, only shoe prints were visible because they’d returned to their human form and walked upright. Doing the same, Katie stood as tall as she could. She looked in all directions to see any sign of their presence. Slightly ahead of her in the distance, she recognized a large green set of shrubs which had no snow covering them amongst the white background. They’d been cleared. As she guessed, the shoe marks led directly to them. Katie snuck through the bushes quietly as they revealed a hillside clearing. Her targets gathered below.

Standing in a diamond formation around a park bench, four average looking young men surrounded what looked to be a fifth. Whoever this other person was, they showed no signs of fear or even any realization to the presence of the others. Either they were sleeping deeply or Katie had arrived too late. Patiently, she awaited the next clue looking down on the events about to unfold.

The four creatures of the night moved closer while remaining cautious of their surroundings. All of them seemed to be dressed the same with flannel jackets and torn blue jeans as though a clothing purchase hadn’t been part of their recent activities. Their long, straight hair showed darkness against the pure, white surroundings of the fallen snow. This was a pack like she’d imagined. They could’ve easily passed for quadruplets which was what had more than likely brought them together in the first place. They were moving toward the odd person out like a well-rehearsed team. It was as though they’d been through this ritual a million times before. Katie was starting to get nervous.

Just then, the person on the park bench came to their senses and screamed out in sudden terror. It was a woman! A homeless woman who’d been covered against the snow by newspapers and a tattered blanket now clung to the armrest of the park bench for dear life looking on to the approaching reapers in fear. It was a victim no one would miss, more than likely. This was it. This was how the packs in Central Park survived. Katie was sickened instantly at the realization about to take place.

In the grand scheme of things, this had little to do with the mission. She hadn’t come all this way to be the savior of homeless people. Katie came to kill werewolves. The dilemma banged around in her head until she could almost feel soreness against her temples. This wasn’t her normal line of thinking. No, this was the way of her father and his quest to defeat all forces of evil. Those that surrounded their home at any cost to keep his people safe and sound. Why was this happening? Why at this crucial moment of reckoning was Katie pausing in her efforts? Was her mother right? Was the family curse a gift in disguise? What if she did decide to live with this and use it to help others? What if it was fate?

Shaking her head violently, Katie removed the visions from her head and focused again on her prey. If she waited for them to attack, she could surprise them while they were feeding. But…if she could somehow delay their advance and give the outnumbered woman a chance to escape…

What would Toby Liberman do? What would Kurt Jimmerson do? What would Father McCormack do?

Giving into her final question, she exhaled deeply in disappointment.

Being a girl who never really cared much about the masses or how they perceived her, Katie was hesitant. The last few years, when she should’ve been socializing with other’s her age, she’d pretty much spent all her time caught up in her own little secret world held prisoner in her room for fear of how the public would react. Why would now be any different? Why protect those who would fear or harm her if they got the chance?

Walking up slowly behind the closest member of the greasy pack of men, the soon-to-be victim was the first to catch on to her presence. The homeless lady mouthed two tiny words through frozen lips that made Katie’s blood boil. ‘Help me’. Nodding silently in agreement, the would-be hero pulled the hood from her sweatshirt tight over her head to hide her face. It was time for the festivities to get underway once and for all. She cleared her throat aloud causing all four men to look her way in excitement.

“Don’t mind me, boys. I’m just here to watch the show,” she announced sarcastically “Proceed.”

Fanning out in a straight line in front of their victim as though they were protecting a meal from a stray dog, the leader stepped forward to confront the unexpected challenger.

“Leg it, you manky bitch! This doesn’t even concern you!” the leader spoke with a harsh Irish accent.

Giggling at the curse thrown her way, she began to pace back in forth in front of them in a gesture of taunt. Katie showed no fear. Her body was electric.

“Leg it, you manky bitch?” she inquired “I’ve only been in town for a handful of days and, so far, everyone I’ve met has either been Irish or fell asleep watching ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ too many times.”

“Well then feel free to bugger off, young one, before you find out all too fast what thickness will get you in the wee hours here!”

“Hmm,” she mocked, still pacing “Well there lies the dilemma, boys. I’m all kinds of interested in what my thickness will get me in the wee hours in this city while facing down four leftovers from a 1992 Seattle grunge experiment… so I don’t think I’ll be buggering off anytime soon.”

Shocked at her defiance, the three followers looked on at their designated spokesman in confusion as though they’d never encountered anyone with the nerves to stand up to them. To Katie, this was pure gold. It meant they had little fighting experience underneath their belts and were used to overtaking their adversaries without much resistance.

“What?” she continued the taunting “You’re not scared of a little girl in a hoodie are you?”

Again, the other three looked at their leader for the answer he was obviously having trouble formulating. Finally, he managed to open his mouth.

“Not counting this morsel behind us, lass, I would say you were outnumbered four to one in a place where no one is going to come to your rescue. Why don’t you just go about your business before you get a bad dose of what we’re offering? Run off to your mama before you get grounded for being out past your bedtime?”

The four of them simultaneously broke out into hysterical laughter at the joke fired at Katie’s expense. Just for the sake of joining in, Katie began to laugh as well slapping her knee in delight at the fact a fight

was looming on the horizon. Finally, her chuckling ended and she glared at them seriously. Planting both feet firmly on the ground to prepare for a charge in their direction, she readied herself for the confrontation.

“What do you mean ‘the morsel behind you’?” she asked, “That bitch ‘buggered off’ just as soon as all of you started laughing. I guess she wasn’t a fan and didn’t care to hear the rest of your act.”

The four of them suddenly quieted their jesting and looked around at each other in confusion. The young stranger wasn’t lying at all. In the distraction, the unfortunate drifter had taken the first chance and ran for her life in an unknown direction. Katie could almost feel the sudden anger in the air as the four lined up facing her. These were definitely bottom of the barrel henchmen for a much bigger organization because they were far from being the brightest individuals imaginable. If packs were running unnoticed in a city this size, more intelligent people were calling the shots. Stepping forward from his cohorts again, the elected leader glared at her with eyes aflame.

“You stupid-ass hoor!” he cried in disgust “That piece of slime was ours fair and square and now we’re going to have to take down your scrawny bones instead!”

Fanning out again in a formation to encircle her, Katie knew she indeed had the upper hand. Not only did they not know what they were about to be dealing with, they were unaware their target was well informed of what they were. She’d been waiting for this moment for as far back as she could remember. It was as though a five-year addiction was about to be fed for the first time in ages. Katie remained calm and studied their movement for the precise moment to reveal all. Slowly, the three underlings sprouted their fangs and began to growl ferociously as they circled. A deep feeling of satisfaction came over her and she grinned in excitement. Katie had found her happy place again.

“Oh please, mister,” she mocked “Please don’t sick your puppy dog men on me! I promise I’ll be a good girl!”

“Keep cracking on, little one,” the man dared as he continued to circle with his minions “You’re only going to make things worse on yourself.”

Lowering her head even more and spreading her legs in a defensive posture, she locked eyes with the leader as his face covered itself in a fine, black fur. It was time to move.

“Oh, you think this situation is bad?” she asked sarcastically “Mister, you haven’t seen anything yet!”

As though a bolt of lightning had struck in the middle of the circle, Katie’s alter ego came to life with a deafening howl. Reacting in both shock and pain from the ear-piercing sound, the four of them focused on the spot it originated. It was already too late. The young wolf attached herself onto the neck of the closest adversary and ripped his flesh in a shower of blood with undiscovered strength. He fell to the snow with a deadly thud, lifeless. Readying herself for the inevitable attack of the other three, she spun around to face them with glowing eyes against the darkness of the night sky.

With their defensive formation broken, the other two followers lunged in unison as the leader watched on curiously. Their attack came suddenly from both sides as they attempted to overpower her. Taking a quick step backwards, Katie gripped their flowing hair with her clawed hands and slammed their faces together in a crimson explosion. Katie slashed their bodies with frantic precision as she spun to her knees. As they fell unconscious to the ground beside her, Katie sprang forward like an armed swordsman tearing their skin from bone to reveal the pink of their internal organs. The young wolf flung her arms in a ready

manner sprinkling the pure, white surroundings with fresh blood. She locked eyes once again on the only target that remained. In a gaze of what could only be interpreted as panic, he fled.

Katie followed, flying quickly on all fours through the trees and brush of the abandoned park. Leaping gracefully into the nearest set of trees, she listened closely for any signs of movement that would give away the presence of the fleeing monster. She concentrated on the various noises surrounding her with eyes closed. The sounds of laughing children and a thousand passing cars engulfed her senses as though she were standing among them. Blocking them out to the best of her ability, she focused on the direction of the castle on the lake near where she’d left her mother’s side. Momentarily, she picked up on the rustle of underbrush heading away from her current location. Katie jumped and judged the closest tree for strength. She landed with ease, sinking her blood-stained claws deep into the bark. Eyeing others in the area, she made another move…and then another as though she was scouring the woods of Twin Oaks again in search of prey. Was this any different? Smiling from pointed ear to pointed ear, she moved on into the night.

The falling snow had stopped long ago. Due to the circumstances, she’d barely noticed the calm which had taken over her surroundings below the glistening moonlight. She descended from her arboreal perch and landed softly on her feet in a mound of deep accumulation. Fresh, sloppy footprints of an individual running for dear life lay before her. Slowly, she hunkered down again to follow the trail and prepared for any type of trap the desperate man may have lying in wait. She was ready.

Staying to the thick foliage that lined the sidewalk of the park, Katie paused to gain clues to her surroundings. He was near. Heightened and uncontrollable breathing could be heard on the wind from the direction of the frozen lake that normally licked the walls of Belvedere Castle. Sneaking to the shore, a dark figure could be seen scooting carefully along the icy surface of the lake to throw off anyone or anything who would prevent his escape. Standing tall amongst the winter dead reeds which lined the banks of the lake, Katie withdrew her disguise.

“Hey!” she shouted “Where in the fuck do you think you’re going? You were going to teach me a lesson, remember?”

Realizing he was no longer alone and in definite peril, the long haired man quickened his pace in panic. He’d changed into human form from no longer being able to concentrate on his transformation. With an echoing smack against the ice, he lost his balance as his feet were taken out from under him. He laid motionless in agonizing pain and glanced at the approaching girl as she drew ever closer. Katie paused. She was going to draw this out as long as she possibly could to build the fear within. It would make for an easier kill.

“Ouch!” Katie exclaimed humorously “I guess it would explain why you have to eat homeless people in the park at night. The tryout for the all Irish hockey team didn’t work out too well for you, huh?”

“Stay the hell away from me, you gammy bitch!” he screamed as he began to crawl closer to the opposite shore “I’m not slagging!”

The young Texan couldn’t wrap her head around all the slang and wondered how these guys ever made it long in an intelligent conversation. Then again, it would probably explain why they were running in packs and feasting on anyone who didn’t have the good sense to stick to the streets after dark. It was almost as though they were orphans of the darkness with a speech problem. This last one was going to have to be dealt with quickly before he alerted anyone else to his problems or her presence. She was almost certain there were cops in the park at night who would come running to the type of disturbance he was making.

“If you mean ‘joking’ I don’t think there is anything I’ve shown you or your friends tonight that could be confused with anything funny,” Katie informed the frightened thug “I don’t know how long you’ve been involved in the whole lycanthropic lifestyle but you can’t just go around killing people at random to fit your needs!”

“Oh yeah, child?” he called back to her “Then tell me how you stay alive without taking the lives of the scum who litter the streets of this town! Tell me how you stay alive!”

Thinking back to earlier in the evening, Katie recalled the scaling of the Central Park Zoo wall to take down an unsuspecting deer in the safety and quiet of its enclosure. She shuddered slightly as the thought of the animal’s metallic tasting blood flowed down her throat quenching the feelings which had intensified since her arrival.

“That’s none of your damn business,” she told him matter-of-factly “and I would be more worried about my own survival right about now because I’m not really one to leave any loose ends.”

Exhausted and injured from the fall atop the ice, the man halted his journey toward safety and awaited his deserved fate. As Katie reached the edge of the man’s feet, she could tell he knew the end had finally come. She’d witnessed this look once before. This was the silent plea for life Jessie McGee exhibited on the rain-soaked grass of the Myrtle County Fairgrounds on that October night of destiny. She was tired of conversation. It was time to finish the job.

By the light of the moon, she could see the odd twist of the man’s ankle as he stared at her in agony. Breathing as though he were attempting as many as possible, savoring all for fear each one might be his last, he gasped loudly against the quiet of the night. Jerking suddenly as Katie reached toward him, he sighed in relief as he realized she was only going for his wallet chain. He broke his silence and peered at her in disgust… even if it meant his last vocal stand.

“Oh, it’s not bad enough that you’re probably going to off me in a bit but you’ve got to go and swipe my wallet as well?”

Removing the stack of money from its leather shell, she tossed the empty projectile straight back into the man’s face with a pop.

“Hey, gammy bitches have to eat too!” she whispered quietly.

Katie removed the sweatshirt’s hood from around her stringy, sweat soaked hair revealing the remainder of her face to the man in a show of finite. He braced for the worst as he sharply closed his eyes and tightened his body to the point of shivering. Katie finished counting the money and tucked it deep inside her back blue jeans pocket for safekeeping. Three thousand dollars was quite an amount for such a nasty thug and a haul for her. This would keep her afloat a little bit longer in the city and she was sure the remains of the other three creeps had a little bit of money on them as well.

“Wow, money bags!” she spoke surprised “If I knew you guys were rolling in it like this, I would’ve started killing you days ago!”

Her waiting victim found no humor in her discovery.

Without warning, a light came on in the opaque blackness of her head that nearly caused her to laugh

aloud. If she insisted on living every day from here on out as though it could possibly be her last, then she might as well give it a cause. Something to live for, so to speak. Something to strike both curiosity and fear into the hearts of those who were to oppose her. Suddenly, the internal conflict from an hour before faded away. Katie discovered her answer to the questions that clouded her young brain and it contained just enough purpose to keep her motivated to pull it off and keep her enemies guessing. Locking serious eyes with the freezing man one last time, he spoke for the sake of clarity.

“Who are you, girl? Are you the finder of the lost? Are you some kind of wayward hero who just hasn’t been unlucky enough to meet the right villain? Are you the savior of Central Park?”

“Not really,” Katie finally confessed “I’m not even from around here. I’m just a girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’m here to set things right. I know all too well who the villain is and I hope to meet him soon.”

Chuckling in discomfort, the man plead for one final bit of information before meeting his untimely end.

“I just wanted to know why I was lucky enough to fit into your story, love, and was I just in the wrong place at the wrong time as well? What do you call yourself?”

“No,” she replied “You were exactly where you needed to be when you needed to be there. They call me The Howler. You’re going to be my messenger.”

Slamming him hard across the bridge of his nose with her boot, he lost consciousness almost instantly. The board had now been set with its various pieces and the first chess move had been made. Katie’s pawn would soon be informing the other players of her existence.

C. Derick Miller is a dark fiction author, gonzo journalist, freelance A&E journalist, poet, ordained minister, and ASCAP songwriter born in the town of Greenville, Texas. A seasoned paranormal investigator and traveler for the art industry, his influences include Hunter S. Thompson, Kevin Smith, Shawn Mullins, and Del James. He is currently signed with Black Rose Writing and Death’s Head Press. Chad is also an active member of The International Thriller Writers Organization, The Horror Writers Association, the creator of Gonzo Wolf Press, and writer/co-host of both the “Butterflies Make Me Angry” and “American Justice” podcasts. He currently resides in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas, Texas and has a price on his head for his short story “Hell Paso” contained in the #1 Amazon Best Selling Death’s Head Press Anthology And Hell Followed.

Christmas Takeover 9: Adam Davies: Black Mistletoe

Black Mistletoe

A Story by Adam Davies
3,582 words

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