Christmas Takeover 40: Edmund Stone: The Gift

The Gift

A Short Story by Edmund Stone
1,497 words

The stockings hung by the chimney with care. Tinsel glistened, glowing in the white lights on a small tree in the corner. Bobby worked on it for hours while his mommy slept. The nice lady at the Salvation Army gave him the supplies, along with warm cookies. He only hoped it would make mommy happy. She lay on the couch, an empty liquor bottle beside her. Her pipe still smoldering on the nightstand. If she’d known he went out today, she would yell at him, like she always did.

Bobby popped up when he heard the noise of mail falling through the shoot by the door. He’d sent a letter to Santa a month ago and was waiting for a reply. He shuffled through the envelopes until he found it, a gold one, addressed to him personally, from the North Pole! He ran down the hall to the living room.

“It came! It came!” he shouted. His mommy rolled off the couch.

“What the fuck is all this racket?!” she hissed. She raised her head and blinked her blood shot eyes at the shining lights on the little plastic tree. “Where the hell did that come from?”

“Do you like it, mommy? The lady down at the Army gave it to me. I put it up for you. It’s Christmas Eve!”

“What?! You ain’t supposed to go out when I’m sleeping! And you ain’t supposed to talk to strangers, especially those self-righteous assholes! Now, throw that shit away!”

“But, mommy.”

“Don’t but me, mister. Go to fucking bed!” she said, kicking the box the tree came in across the room. She stumbled into the kitchen, returned with a fresh bottle of vodka, took a swig, and plopped back on the couch. She reached for her pipe and took a drag. She blew the smoke in the air. Smiling with a mouth full of black teeth, she said, “You know, Santa’s not real. Now, go to your room!”

He turned, sulking away. “Is too,” he said under his breath.

He opened the bedroom door, hesitated, looked at his mommy, and sighed. Bobby jumped onto his bed, laying on his stomach. He opened the letter. It was gold and embossed with black letters; the print large and fancy. His fingers touched the lettering as he looked it over. There was one line printed in bold type:

Hi, Bobby. Have you been a good boy this year?

Bobby raised up, blinking his eyes. He considered the question. There was the time he hid his mom’s liquor from her. Bobby still felt the sting of the slap. He only tried to help. After she found it, she drank the whole bottle, and slept for a day. So, in a way he did make things better. She didn’t scream at him next morning. “Yes,” he said. Then, words began to appear on the letter.

Good to hear. I’ll be visiting soon. Think of something very special you want this year and write it here.

He thought about it. What would he like best? The possibilities are endless. But as he opened the bedroom door and saw mommy on the couch, her outstretched arm clutching the vodka bottle, he knew what he wanted more than anything.

Bobby’s mommy woke from her drunken stupor. Her head pounding, she reached for her pipe. Not there. He did it again.

“Bobby?! Give me my fucking pipe, or I’ll slap you into next week!” she said, her back cracking as she rose. She stumbled through the kitchen, pulled open a cabinet and grabbed a fresh bottle. Turning for the couch, she stopped, noticing a plate of cookies on the table. One or two had bites from them.

“The fuck?” she said. Did she buy cookies at the liquor store? As fucked up as she was yesterday, she wouldn’t have known. She shrugged, then saw a piece of gold paper near the cookie plate. She snatched it and started reading. It looked like a letter to Santa. What the hell was the little shit up to? The words, written at the bottom in Bobby’s handwriting, gave her pause.

I want a new mommy, it said. She snarled, crumpling the paper.

“Bobby?! Get out here now!” she bellowed. She’d had enough. He’d pay for this shit.

She started towards his room when she heard a knock on the door.

“Who is it?!”

“I’m here for the boy. You said come over Christmas morning,” a muffled voice came from outside the door.

She flung it open. A man stood there with a wad of cash in his hand. He considered her for a moment, then handed her the money.

“This is the right apartment? You told me to come for the boy. The deal is still on?”

She looked him up and down. His greasy hair was slicked back so tight, you would need a spatula to flip it to the side. His face was full of pock marks, and he had a gold tooth which gleamed from the light above the hall.

“Yeah, come in,” she said, stuffing the money into her dirty bra.

“Where is the boy?” he said.

“I don’t know, couldn’t find him, probably in his room.”

“Nice tree,” he said looking at the tinsel covered twig in the corner.

“Yeah, I’m trying to get into the Christmas spirit,” she said, plopping on the couch. “Go get your business done. If he screams, duct tape his fucking mouth shut. I don’t want the neighbors calling the cops.”

The man gave her a tepid smile and started for the bedroom. He returned a moment later.

“That was fast. You get your rocks off already?”

“No. There’s nobody in the room,” he said, his shoulders turned in.

“What? Bobby?! Where the fuck you hiding?!” she screamed, making the man wince.

Suddenly, they heard a noise coming from the chimney. Bobby’s mother smiled. She crept toward the fireplace opening, the man close behind. Pieces of soot fell onto the fireless hearth. She reached into the chimney, her arm buried to the shoulder. Feeling nothing, she sat on her bottom to extend her reach. She fished her arm around inside, trying to grasp Bobby’s feet.

“Bobby, you little shit! You’re gonna be sorry when I get a hold of you!”

She pulled her soot covered arm out and shook it. Her back turned to the fireplace, she couldn’t help but notice the expression on the greasy man’s face. His mouth open and eyes wide, looking just above her head. She gave him an indignant expression.

“What?” she said, then turned to the fireplace. What she saw made her want to scream, but in her shock, she was unable to breath. A creature stood there, slime dripping from its large fangs onto a forked tongue. Its face resembled a hideous elf with an elongated chin and pointed ears. The thing had disjointed arms. They were long and nearly touched the floor. Its fingers snaked down with jagged nails at the tip. It wore an old ragged Santa suit with a red toboggin hat. The tongue protruded from its mouth like an appendage and wrapped around her throat. In the split of the tongue, small needle-like protrusions dug into her flesh. It squeezed, and she began to make gurgling sounds as her hands went immediately to her throat

The greasy man found the voice she couldn’t. A low sound, between a grunt and a squeal, came from him, as he began to back pedal for the door. He turned but before he could move, an arm shot out from the creature, grasping him on his collar and jerking him backward. He screamed, as he landed on his back, the air released from his lungs. The jagged fingernails of the creature’s hand found purchase and dug into his nostrils. He tried to yell but couldn’t find the breath. The elfin-thing raked the man’s nose from his face. He made gurgling sounds, as blood filled his throat.

Bobby’s mother coughed blood from her mouth. The veins protruded from her neck, as the forked tongue continued to squeeze. Her eyes bulged, the ocular vessels burst, and blood mixed with clear fluids ran down her cheeks. She lost her grip on the piece of gold paper in her hand. The creature considered the letter and smiled. The tongue pulled her closer. Its mouth widened, and the fangs chomped into her face.


Bobby opened the door humming the hymns sung by the carolers at the Army. The aroma of eggs and bacon met his nose, wafting from the kitchen.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, dear?” a female voice answered from the other room.

Bobby stepped into the kitchen. A lady stood there, young and beautiful, smiling ear to ear.

“Good Christmas morning, Bobby! I made your favorite.”

Bobby shook his head, trying to take this in. He noticed the gold Santa letter lying on the table. He picked it up and read.

Merry Christmas, Bobby.

He smiled.

Edmund Stone is a writer and poet of horror and fantasy living in a quaint river town in the Ohio Valley. He writes at night, spinning tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives with his wife, a son, four dogs and a group of mischievous cats. He also has two wonderful daughters, and three granddaughters, who he likes to tell scary stories, then send them home to their parents.

Edmund is an active member of The Write Practice, a member only writer’s forum, where he served as a judge for their Summer contest 2018. Edmund’s poetry is featured in the Horror Zine, Summer 2017 issue and in issue #6 of Jitter by Jitter Press. He has two poems in issue 39, one poem in issue 41, and a story in issue 42, of Siren’s Call ezine. He also has three short stories in separate anthologies, See Through My Eyes by Fantasia Divinity, Year’s Best Body Horror anthology 2017 by Gehenna & Hinnom, and Hell’s Talisman anthology by Schreyer Ink Publishing. Most of these stories can also be read in Hush my Little Baby: A Collection by Edmund Stone.

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Christmas Takeover 39: Andrew Freudenberg: The Boy Who Never Died

The Boy Who Never Died

A Short Story by Andrew Freudenberg
2,421 words

Santa pulled the gift from the sack and sighed. The thing looked complicated and expensive. He had little experience or interest where money was concerned, just a vague notion of its stranglehold on the lives of the living. It was clear to him that this mortal child was near the top of the food chain, his parents either predators or the children of such. These things, however, were largely obscure to him, the symbols of wealth almost invisible to his inhuman gaze. Of course the sack knew all about the ways of the world, and produced the present that it deemed appropriate for the moment. It was one of the ways in which fulfilling the terms of his curse was possible, and for that he hated it.

The things that the sack produced had changed over the years, but their meaningless remained the same. Small human figurines, wheeled models, building bricks and, more recently, intricate boxes that hummed with some kind of innate energy.

It mattered nothing to him what came forth, he knew well enough that these things bought joy to the children that he visited, and that this was a part of his punishment. The gifts were perfectly chosen to maximize their pleasure, and therefore his disgust. That he was the enabler of this joy filled him with such darkness that he had to force back the urge to strike the little sleepers, to tear their soft bodies to shreds. As great as the pleasure might be if he allowed himself to surrender to such urges, it would certainly be extremely short lived, and the end of him.

Once back in the sledge, sweating and gasping for breath, he threw the hated cloth aside. The reindeer growled and pawed, looking back at him to convey their eternal contempt with yellowed gazes. Like him they had once been creatures of the inferno, what the transient called demons. Like him they had undergone the most foul of transmutations. By blade and the application of both banal and magical ministrations, they had been twisted and squeezed into their present forms. The pain had been both exquisite and practically unbearable.

Did he not hate his tormentors so intensely, he might have admired their skills. For supposed creatures of the light they were remarkably sadistic. At least he didn’t have to endure four spindly legs and the stink of the stable, but it was a small mercy. He did, however, have to force himself to clamber up and down narrow chimneys as he entered people’s homes. The lard-ridden body that he had been given was not designed for such acrobatics, nor were the thick red clothes that had been stitched to his pasty flesh. Jagged edges and hot bricks scraped the skin from his face and tore through the material to get to his body. Sometimes the fires were still burning, and the soles of his feet were blackened scar tissue.

The sledge itself had also undergone change in its time. Once it had been part of a mighty weapon, a studded war club that had been a legend for the fear it inspired. Millions had fallen to its blows over the centuries, dousing it in a rarified essence of death and pain. To see it sliced up and reformed as this gaudy vehicle was a constant reminder of his fall. Its screams as they hacked it apart had been pitiful.

“Reindeer away!”

A razor wind cut across them as they rose into the sky, accompanied by a cacophony of clanking chains and groaning boards. Santa frowned as they roared over the monochrome city, wishing that he could lose himself in the shadows below, rather than remain a prisoner above.

“I was once a great warrior,” he screamed to nobody but himself.

As if in answer his nose filled with the smell of Christmas. The stench of pine, the reek of cooked bird, and the abominable stink of fig pudding. His ears filled with the screech of hymns, sickly sweet and nauseating in their insincerity. Snow began to gently fall. Santa looked up into the heavens, entirely sure that he could hear the echoes of angelic laughter from above.

“Oh, how I hate you all.”

When the great armies of Hell had marched forth into battle with the angelic hordes he had pictured several possible outcomes, both of which had been perfectly acceptable to him.

The first, obviously, was that they would stand laughing over the decimated corpses of their enemies, weapons held high in the ruins of heaven. Rivers of blood would have run all around them. His master would have taken the head of the creator and thrown it into the abyss to rot.

The second was that he would have died with his bloodied weapon in hand, a glorious death in the heat of war. He had never considered this third possibility, but then he was not in possession of a twisted imagination equal to the bloody Nazarene and his followers. No martyr’s death for him, no dark heroes end. Instead, this bizarre eternity, this timeless reality, locked into pathetic servitude and humiliation at the hands of those for whom his hatred knew no bounds. Still, nothing infuriated him more than the accursed sack and its infinite gifts.

At the end of every cycle there came a shadow of respite as he visited the last name on his list. It was a mere drip of satisfaction in an ocean of discontent but it was something at least, a beacon in the darkness.

Standing alone in the barren wastes of a dying moor stood a large grey house. A high stone wall blocked it from the outside world, not that there was anyone to see it apart from a few scrawny blackbirds and a couple of emaciated sheep. The sledge landed on its slate roof, perching there in that unnatural manner that it had.

“Here we are again.”

Santa rubbed his tattered gloves together as he climbed out. His reindeer snorted and regarded him with sullen expressions. At some point over the years the chimney had collapsed internally, but he was still able to reach an attic room with a small fireplace. He squeezed himself out over the rusting grate and onto the dusty floor. Breathing hard he stood up and listened.

This was a peculiar house. It wasn’t a family home; it was a place of evil doings and misery. Now, Santa wasn’t unfamiliar with the stench of despair; the human world had grief aplenty, but this place though, this place, it was something different. He sensed that there was an oddity about its inhabitants, an otherness that he couldn’t quite categorize. They were neither angels nor demons, but they carried with them a stench of other that he couldn’t quite place. Faint screams and groans reached him, along with the creaking and moaning of the building itself. Someone shouted, another howled. It was all most unusual.

Creeping down the stairs in the dim light, he kept his wits about him. Here there was always someone or something awake. He moved carefully in the gloom, retracing his steps and concealing himself if he suspected that he might be discovered. As he passed he couldn’t resist peering through the keyholes or gaps left by any door that wasn’t closed properly.

In the first room two naked men were suspended from the ceiling by chains attached to their ankles. A woman clad head to toe in black rubber shouted abuse as she whipped them with a riding crop. Gags that had been stuffed into their mouths muffled their cries. Santa smirked and moved on.

The second room contained two twirling unfortunates, joined at the tops of their heads. Judging by the patchwork of raw squares on their torsos, skin had been grafted across their skulls in order to bond them together. Occasionally their spinning would stop and they would simply pull and shove at each other, seemingly desperate to be separated again. Santa tugged his beard and wondered once more what the reasoning behind it could be. It could have been some kind of ritual or dance, he supposed, but it seemed more likely that it was a punishment. They had been in that room for the last twenty-eight years. Once or twice he had looked in and they had been fast asleep, forming a right angle on the floor.

Santa looked down over the balcony to the entrance hall at the bottom of the stairs. There was a very dead looking Christmas tree, with half a dozen cracked baubles and tinsel that was little more than string. A gas lamp flickered. Nobody was about.

With trepidation he crept down the threadbare stair carpet, glancing from side to side. When cursed with his task, by the bloody seraphs, they had promised a hefty consequence should mortals ever see him. A drunken father had caught him coming out of the fireplace early in his present delivering career, and his keepers had more than kept their promise. He was extraordinarily careful never to allow it to happen again.

The flagstones in the foyer seemed to make an incredible noise, his footsteps echoing around the empty space. The kitchen was to his left and he rushed towards the double doors. They began to open as he approached. Quickly he flung himself behind them, pressing his burly frame to the wall. A crow-faced man in a butler’s uniform emerged, carrying a silver tray with a red tinged drink on it. The servant crossed to the other side and pushed it open, releasing wafts of conversation and music. As he went in, and the door closed behind him, it faded away again leaving Santa alone, apart from the thundering of his panicked heart.

“I’ll soon be there”, he whispered, “It’ll be my moment again soon.”

The kitchen was a large open space with several rows of ovens and grills. Sticking his head around the door, Santa Claus could see a Chef in the far corner. He was stirring a huge pot with one hand and swigging from a bottle with the other. A tiny transistor radio was blasting out hymns, the melodies straining to be heard amidst the static. The cook hummed along to them, swaying as he did so.

Dropping to all fours, Santa crawled into the room. The smell hit him like a tidal wave, swamping his senses and leaving him drooling. He licked his lips. One didn’t serve for centuries in hell without becoming very familiar with that particular aroma. There were always bodies burning, roasting corpses that filled the air with their essence. That stink and the reek of sulphur and fetid decay had been his everyday companions. The craving to taste that forbidden flesh was so strong that he had to bite his lip. Even if his current feeble body could have digested it, he doubted that it would have gone without a hefty price.

He edged along the kitchen units, hidden from sight. Fragrances continued to torment him. His expertise was far enough advanced that he could pick out the perfume of a smoldering liver or a steaming heart. He could tell the age of the meat and even whether it had come from a man or a woman. How he missed its flavor and its texture.

Shaking his head and pushing his desires aside, he focused instead on the prize to come., how he would get one over on that accursed sack, just even for a moment. A few seconds was enough to sustain him for another year. A sudden clatter gave him pause, but it was just the Chef dropping his spoon. He carried on.

At the end of the row was an archway that led to some narrow steps. Swiftly passing through it, Santa tiptoed down them. At the bottom was a metal door. Slowly he pushed it open and entered the room.

A filthy faced little boy lay twitching and unconscious on a low bed, a dirty blanket pulled up to his chin. His face was pale and sunken, and his breath rattled and shook. Occasionally he muttered something incomprehensible or simply groaned in pain. Santa Claus had to resist applauding and instead simply grinned.

For fifty years or more he had visited this place. The boy had always been here in his bed, always with the same pallid near to death appearance. He had never aged and showed no sign of doing so in the future. He was someone’s prisoner, someone’s experiment. He was the boy who never died.

“So… once more it’s time.”

Santa pulled the sack from a deep pocket and placed it on the floor in front of him and cackled.

“So sack… fail for me once more.”

He glanced at the piled up presents in each corner of the room. They were unopened, untouched, of no use or interest to this unnatural child. He was busy in his suffering, unable to escape from his unnaturally long stay on this mortal coil. The sack produced more and more intricate offerings year-by-year, desperate in its attempts to impress. It was hopeless and beautiful.

“Go on…”

He leant down to reach into the sack but froze halfway there.

At first the green fumes were gaseous and loosely formed, rising up from the hessian in a mushroom plume. Then they began to tighten, wrapping themselves into an intricately knotted chain. They curved from side to side like a snake rising from a basket. Santa could almost hear it hiss.

“What the…”

It extended, making its way up and forwards toward the sleeping boy. It slithered over the surface of the blanket up towards his face.

“No…”

It glided up over his lips, and into his nostrils. Eventually it disappeared from sight. The adolescent blinked and his eyes sprang open. They were a bright blue. He smiled and then his eyes closed again slowly. He took one deep breath, exhaled, and then his chest was still. He was at peace.

Santa looked down at the unmoving sack then at the child, then back at the sack again. His jaw fell open in disbelief as he realized that there were no victories left in his life. The damn bag had finally succeeded. A stab of pain burst across his chest. He clutched at himself and gasped for air. After a while the discomfort passed and he was able to snatch the sack back up from the ground.

“Merry Christmas”, he muttered, “Merry bloody Christmas.”

Andrew Freudenberg is an English author with a German name. He was born in France.

Despite always having a strong love for the written word, he spent a large part of his 20’s dabbling in the global techno scene. He loves heavy metal.

A number of his stories have appeared in anthologies. My Dead & Blackened Heart will be his first solo collection.

He currently lives in the South West of England with his Ninja wife and three sons.

Christmas Takeover 38: Rebecca Besser: The Magic of Christmas

The Magic of Christmas

A Short Story by Rebecca Besser
3,468 words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Santa sighed. “Yes, for the children.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The others snorted and tossed their heads.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had returned.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Hold rank,” Hammond barked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Weaving, he made his way back to the sleigh.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sprinkles nodded and took charge of the small children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Merry Christmas, Santa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Author Page

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

Christmas at Hotel Parq Central

A Short Story by Carol Schaffer
3,799 words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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

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

Something Came Down My Chimney
& It Wasn’t Santa

A Short Story by Grant Hinton
1,813 words

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

“TILLY!”

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

“What’s happening? What’s going on?”

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

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

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

“What?”

“Just do it. Now! Quickly!”

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

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

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

“There nothing there, Dad?”

Confusion clouded dad’s face in the predawn light.

“It’s in the roof.” He gasped.

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

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

“Dad?”

“Dom, I need a weapon.”

“What is it? What is happening?”

“Something’s got, Tilly.”

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

“Not now, Billy!”

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

“Dom! Focus. I need a weapon.”

“Ahh, yeah, one second… wait there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just hold on, I’m coming.”

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

“Dawn!”

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

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

“Dad. It’s in the trees.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad! Help me!”

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

“Dad, watch out!”

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

“DAD!!” I screamed.

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

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

“Dom… Dom. Help me.” She whimpered.

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

“Get back!” Brian gruff voice barked.

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

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

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

The End

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

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

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