Working on that anthology is going to occupy most of my time for a week or so. Therefore, in the absence of the usual drunken ranting, I’ll put up a few Christmas themed stories from the past.I have a new one for this year but I’ll save that for Christmas day. It’ll be in the anthology too.
Here’s one from ‘Fears of the Old and the New‘, and which was originally published in a (sadly no longer active) e-zine called ‘From The Asylum’. It’ll start getting you all in the right frame of mind for Christmas, I’m sure.
Harry scowled into his beer, ignoring the merriment of the revellers in the crowded bar. There was still a week to go before Christmas but it felt like it had been running for a year already. The shops had been filled with tat and tinsel since Halloween, and the town’s flashing lights had been going since late November. He had even seen, in one supermarket, a pack of Christmas mince pies with an expiry date of November 30th. What was that all about? How many Christmases was he going to have to deal with in one year? Harry ran a hand over his head, brushing back imaginary hair.
Seven days to Christmas day. Six to the anniversary of his wife’s departure. She had left him on Christmas Eve last year. Harry had never mourned her loss, indeed part of him was glad to see the back of her. It was the manner of her leaving that rankled. Christmas Eve, presents under the tree, turkey defrosting in the kitchen, visits from their children planned for the next day. She had sneered at him as she packed her bags, laughed as she dashed through the front door to the waiting car. A red car, old-fashioned, he remembered. Harry hadn’t recognised the make or model.
The sight that met his eyes, of the man sitting behind the steering wheel, had finished Christmas forever for Harry. The man had worn a red suit and a big white beard. Harry’s wife had run away with Santa! At least, with someone who looked like Santa. Of course, it would have been some guy working as a store-Santa, just finishing his shift, but that didn’t matter to Harry. The sight had snapped a hinge, somewhere in the moving parts of Harry’s mind.
Christmas was over. Forever.
He bared his teeth, gripping his beer glass and glaring into the white froth. It reminded him of Santa’s beard, mocking him with each bursting bubble. He downed the beer quickly, afraid it might go “Ho ho ho” at any moment, and walked unsteadily out into the freezing night, pulling his worn coat around his short, square frame.
Harry turned into the darkened alley that he used as a short-cut home, and saw something that made his mind spin faster. He stopped walking and stared in silence. A small man-like thing, about eight inches high, was crouching on the ground as though looking for something. The little man was dressed in green, with a long pointed green hat and green curly-toed boots. Harry tried to add up the number of beers he’d consumed before leaving the pub. Not enough to be seeing this, he was sure, although the final tally eluded him.
The tiny man had his back to Harry and was engrossed in his searching. Surprising himself with his deftness, Harry bent quickly and grabbed the creature around the waist. The little man shrieked, a sound that managed to simultaneously express surprise and fury. The doll-sized creature felt soft and warm and real in Harry’s fingers as he lifted it, wriggling, to his face.
“Put me down,” the little man said. “Put me down at once.”
“No.” Harry wondered if his find could be converted into cash. Which could in turn be converted into beer. His eyes peered through their alcohol-film coating, while his brain groaned with the effort of firing long-dazed neurones in an attempt to work out what he had in his hand. “You’re an elf,” he said at last.
The elf stopped wriggling. “Well, hooray for Mister Bright,” he said. “What are you, an envoy from Densa?” The elf scowled through his sarcasm.
Harry’s shrubbery-like eyebrows lowered, almost obscuring his vision. “You’re a Christmas thing. I don’t like Christmas.” He considered crushing the offending monstrosity, this living proof of the existence of festivity, this agent of the hated Santa, but a random thought paused to remind him of the cash-equals-beer equation and he held back. Harry belched, causing the elf to raise a hand to cover the disgust on his little face. “You’re coming with me,” Harry said.
“Wait.” The elf’s tone was more cautious than before. “I dropped something. I have to find it.”
“Is it valuable?”
“Well, yes. At least to me.”
“What does it look like?”
“It’s green, and it’s about this big.” The elf held up his hand, showing a space between thumb and forefinger.
Harry squinted at the elf’s hand. A green thing, very small. He took his little flashlight from his pocket and half-fell to his knees, keeping his grip on the elf as he flicked the flashlight’s switch. Harry threw the light from side to side, trying to follow the rapid movement of the beam with his eyes.
“Slow down, you won’t find it like that,” the elf said. His voice relaxed, turned low and sweet. “Why don’t you put me down so I can look for it while you hold the light?”
The idea seemed reasonable to Harry’s beer-hazed mind. His hand moved, lowering the elf to the ground, when a stray remnant of reason surfaced.
“You’ll run away if I let you go,” he said. “You can look from where you are.”
“I won’t run, I promise. I’ll just look.”
“Don’t believe you,” Harry said through another belch. The light glinted on something. “What’s that?”
Putting the torch on the ground, Harry picked up the tiny object.
“That’s it.” The elf reached out a miniature hand. “Give it to me.”
Harry considered for a moment, then pocketed the tiny object. He picked up his flashlight, switched it off and replaced it in his pocket then, with some difficulty, stood up.
“Hey. That’s mine.” The elf’s little fists beat against Harry’s thumb.
“You’ll get it later, when I’ve worked out what it does,” Harry said. He’d look at the thing in the morning; it was too small to focus on now. He had the feeling that this little object was important to the elf and as long as he had it, the elf wasn’t going anywhere. He headed home, the elf clasped inside his coat.
A long time ago, Harry had kept tropical fish. The tank was now empty but clean and easily accessible in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry dropped the protesting elf into the tank and closed the lid, then carried the tank through to the kitchen. Ignoring the elf, he took a beer from the fridge and poured it into a tumbler.
As he raised his beer, he noticed that the elf had fallen silent. Harry looked at the tank, where the tiny elfin features pressed against the glass, staring at the beer.
“What’s up, elf? You never seen beer before?” Harry held the glass close to the tank.
“That’s Santa’s drink,” the elf said, the awe in its voice discernible even through the glass of the tank.
“Don’t mention that name in this house,” Harry said. “He’s not welcome here.”
The elf looked confused. “Santa’s welcome everywhere.”
“Not here.” Harry took a deep swallow of the beer. “And what do you mean. ‘Santa’s drink’? You mean to say you sit and drink beer, up there at the North Pole, when you should be making toys and feeding reindeer?”
“Of course not,” the elf said. “We work all the time. We elves aren’t allowed any of the special drink. Only Santa drinks the special drink. And his wife of course.”
Harry sprayed a mouthful of beer across the kitchen. Santa and his wife? Santa and Harry’s wife, boozing together and laughing, laughing at him?
On an impulse, he took a sherry glass from the cupboard and poured a little beer into it. He slid back the lid of the tank just enough to lower the glass inside.
“Try it,” he said, glaring in at the elf. “Try Santa’s bloody special drink. Try it for yourself.”
The elf stared at the glass. “We’re not supposed to,” he said. “It does terrible things to elves.”
Harry snorted, taking another mouthful of beer. “Who told you that?” he said, beer dribbling over his chin. “Santa, I suppose. Trust me, he just wants it all for himself. And his wife.” He half-spat the last word. “Drink it.” Harry banged his fist on the lid of the tank.
The elf approached the glass as though it was a nest of vipers. He dipped a finger into the liquid and carefully tasted it. Then he grinned and lowered his head to the glass, tilting it to drink. Harry’s mouth fell open as the elf drank. It was the equivalent of him draining a bucket in one swallow.
“Wow, you guys can put it away,” Harry said. “No wonder the hairy fat fool won’t let you at his stash. You’d drain it in a day.” His brow tensed as an idea fought its way past his doped brain cells.
Of course. If all the elves developed a taste for beer, they’d wipe out Santa’s supply. That would be Harry’s revenge. Santa could shiver away his nights at the North Pole, beerless and toyless as his elves went on a wild binge. It was brilliant.
The elf in the tank let out an enormous belch and grinned. Harry noticed the pointed, sharp teeth. Were they like that before? He wasn’t sure. Lucky the thing hadn’t bitten him. The elf’s face had changed, he was sure of that. The grin was evil, the eyes slanted and darting. The little fingernails were growing, too. Suddenly concerned, Harry placed the kettle on top of the tank lid to hold it down. The elf snarled at him through the glass.
“I think maybe you’ve had enough,” Harry said.
The elf threw himself at the glass wall of the tank. “More!”
“Okay, okay. Say, how about you take some for your friends as well?” The elf was looking dangerous, and Harry was getting tired now. He wanted it gone before he fell asleep, and he wanted to put his idea into action before he forgot about it, which could happen at any moment. Harry opened the fridge and took out a six-pack of beer, placing it on the shelf beside the fishtank.
“For me?” The elf was pressed to the tank wall. Teeth scraped against glass, making Harry shudder.
“For you and your friends,” Harry said, “Can you carry it yourself?”
The elf looked at him. “My transport,” he said. “You have it. Give it back.”
“In your pocket. You found it in the alley. Give it to me.”
That small green thing? Harry fumbled in his pocket and took out the little object, picking a cluster of pocket lint from it. It didn’t look like any kind of transport to him, it looked like a tiny cell phone. He held it up. “This?”
The elf was trying to raise the lid of the tank, thrashing his tail. Harry frowned. He hadn’t noticed a tail before. Harry put the tiny green object on the six-pack, removed the kettle and pushed back the lid. The elf leapt out, landing on the six-pack and grabbing the thing he had called his ‘transport’.
“Merry Christmas,” Somehow, the elf made it sound like a curse.
Before Harry could react, the elf had flipped the object open and poked his finger into it. There was a brief hum and then both elf and beer vanished.
For what seemed like eternity, Harry stared at the tank and at the space where the six-pack had been. Finally, the world faded around him.
Someone must have rummaged through his brain last night and left it in a terrible mess. Harry peeled open one bleary eye and recognised his living room. So he had made it home. That was something. His head rattled as though everything inside was loose as he clambered off the sofa and headed for the bathroom. His whole body felt as though it wasn’t his, as though he had borrowed it and wasn’t properly qualified to drive it. Having dispensed with what seemed to have been most of the fluid in his body, he staggered into the kitchen for a glass of water. He was on his second glass when he noticed the fishtank.
Harry frowned at the tank. What was that doing there? He had a vague memory of finding something on the way home, something he had put in the tank. He groaned. He hoped it hadn’t been a rat. Well, whatever it was, it wasn’t there now. He shrugged, downed another glass of water and stumbled upstairs to his bedroom, sliding against the wall to keep his balance. He flopped onto his bed, thankful that he didn’t have to go to work today, and slept.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, Harry had forgotten his drunken night entirely. He scowled through his window at the gaudy Christmas decorations of his neighbours, determined to finish his half-bottle of whisky before going to bed. He knew that, seen from the outside, his house was an anomaly in this festive season, a pool of darkness among the fires of light that danced and flickered outside and inside the other houses. No dead tree wilted in his living room, no wasteful lights twinkled in his windows. His lawn was free of ridiculous wire-framed reindeer. He rubbed his head into a pink shine.
That fat buffoon, with his jolly red suit and his excess of white hair almost obscuring his face had no place in this house. Harry was hairless and dressed in black tonight. He was the Anti-Santa, sitting his house of dark misery among the festive frivolity outside. He grinned at the thought and poured another whisky.
It was midnight when he heard the first scream. He jolted awake, staring at the TV. What was he watching? The ‘Sound of Music’? A scream again, not from the TV, but from outside. Harry jumped from his seat. Another scream took him to the window. A third made him peer through the curtains.
There was nothing unusual out there. Nothing to see. Harry stared along the street, pushing the curtains back to get a good view. More screams sounded. Harry looked up and down the street. It sounded as though someone was being attacked, but he couldn’t see anything. He was considering calling the police when a door burst open further along the street, on the opposite side. A woman in a nightgown ran out, pursued by a host of small creatures. They looked to be about the size of rats, but they ran on their hind legs. She was brought down before she reached the road, the creatures swarming all over her as the screams abruptly halted.
More screams split the night, more doors burst open. Children and adults alike ran from houses, to be brought down by waves of the little creatures. The howls of pain died, replaced by the crunching and slurping of hundreds of tiny, feeding mouths.
This was definitely a job for the police. Harry turned from the window, heading for the phone, then stopped dead. A red suit, topped with an abundance of white beard and a long red hat, stood beside the fireplace.
So the crazed old idiot was real.
“Ha!” Santa said.
Harry frowned. Shouldn’t that have been ‘Ho ho ho?’
As he watched, Santa melted. Struggling rivers of flesh ran from his sleeves, over his boots, from the neckline of his jacket and between his jacket and trousers. Soon the red suit lay empty on the floor. A mask of torn skin, with a beard attached, rested on the pile, and Harry stared at the throng of twisted, taloned and fanged elves that stood before him, staring back.
Something stirred in his memory. Something about a fishtank and a tiny green cellphone. He couldn’t quite place it.
One of the twisted creatures moved forward, its tail twitching. Harry stood perfectly still, terrified. The creature stopped, a yard away, then performed a low bow.
“You are our creator.” Its voice was slurred. “You are our Santa now. We do your bidding. All over the world, we are doing your bidding. Christmas is not welcome.”
Harry fell to his knees, his memory reminding him of the details he had forgotten. The elf. The torch. The tiny green cellphone. The fishtank. The beer. It flooded back, a cerebral accusation from which he could never escape.
A year ago, Christmas had been ruined for him.
This year, he had ruined Christmas for everyone. Forever.
The corrupted elves collected their Santa suit and disappeared into the chimney as Harry fell forward to cry into the carpet.
There’ll be more of these throughout the month. Some are not quite as upbeat as this one.