How a Fender Bender Inspired a Terrifying Book Series with Author Richard Crofton

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Browsing some horror titles, looking for my next read, this cover caught my eye. I don’t usually read series because of time constraints and a very long “to read” list, but I bought it. Boy, am I glad I did! A terrifying premise and superb writing hooked me.

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Would you believe that a secret group with dark powers to control your mind are at work to take over the world? If you don’t, you just might after reading this book. What’s the most terrifying aspect is that the members of this group could be anyone, including that friend or lover that you think you know so well! Richard Crofton gives you just the right amount of story to keep you guessing and wanting more. I’m dying for the rest of the story and I apologize to others on the “to read” list but you might get bumped.

I’m super excited to tell you that I reached out to Richard Crofton and he agreed to share some insights about himself and his books!

Richard, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, I currently reside in Florida with my wife and our three children. I taught English Language Arts for ten years but now work as an instructor in the art of Shaolin Kempo Karate. I’m an avid lover of animals, backpacking/camping, bowling, chess games, baseball, and homemade Italian food (also love my Philly cheese steaks!). However, creative writing and martial arts are my two main passions, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to pursue both avenues.

Teacher to Karate and Writer! That’s quite a career range. What led you to become a writer?

It’s always something I’ve enjoyed. I’ve been writing stories off and on since I was a kid, but I never held onto any of my work. When I was a school teacher, I used to create short, silly stories and turned them into grammar exercises for my students. I only recently became more serious about writing to publish when I came up with the idea for The Keepers of White series about four years ago.

Here’s something I get asked all the time and I’m always curious how other horror writers respond. Why do you write in the horror genre?

For some reason, I get drawn very deeply into the movies I watch, as if it’s real for me when I know it’s now. Therefore, in truth, I hate horror movies (except a select few of the classics). They actually still scare me, especially the stories in which the conflict is not resolved. The characters are desperately trying to stop the evil entity, but in the end, they fail and usually die. Or they think they win, and then there’s a twist at the end where we see that they actually failed. Then after it’s over, I still can’t stop thinking about it. But when I write horror, I have control over what happens. And with the horror stories I write, there is usually a powerful and evil supernatural entity, just like in the films, but I also like to create a character who is equally powerful to fight against it. In my mind, there has to be a balance of power between the things that cause fear and the things that cause hope. And having characters brave and strong enough to face that evil head on kind of helps me feel better about the not-so-pleasant outcomes of all those scary movies that freaked me out as a kid.

As a horror writer, I’m always thinking about what scares people. Besides being helpless against evil, what else scares you?

In books and movies: The intense music, tiny whispers and/or giggling sounds, and mostly little girls dolled up in dresses with blank expressions on their faces (It all started with The Shining).

In real life: Old, abandoned, haunted-looking buildings, snakes, flying (well, only the part right when you first land), and nuns. My two biggest fears are drowning, and most of all, someone stealing or harming one of my children.

Something happening to my kids is a big one for me, too. Thanks for sharing. I will file these away in my ‘how to freak out readers’ file!

Many writers have rituals unique to them. Do you have a writing ritual?

For some reason, I cannot work at home. When I was an English teacher, I could not focus at home to grade my students’ essays. It’s like that with writing as well.

My only ritual: Sitting with my laptop at a table at Dunkin’ Donuts with a large hot coffee.

Yuunmm! Donuts!

Your book The Keepers of the White, Book I: Agents of Shadow has a very spooky premise. Where did you get the idea for your story?

I’m actually working on my next blog article about this. I still can’t explain it. In the fall of 2010, I wrecked my car in an accident, so for a few days, I drove a rental to work. I had forgotten to transfer my I-pod from the wrecked car to the rental, so for the first time in years, I turned on the regular radio on my way to work (who listens to local FM stations anymore?). As soon as I hit the power button, “Black Magic Woman” was playing (I can’t remember if it was Santana’s or Fleetwood Mac’s version). Listening to the lyrics and the tune, my imagination suddenly created the character Diana Palmer from my
book, who, as readers will see in the upcoming second book, is the most ruthless of the Agents of Shadow. A woman so wicked, but also so beautiful, enchanting, and seductive, that no one can resist her powers of manipulation. From there it just grew, and the entire story just started forming in my head.

What’s next for you?

Books II and III of The Keepers of White series have already been written. I’m currently working on Book IV. I’ve also been writing a few short stories here and there, and when I have enough, I will compile them into an anthology. Further, in the future, I’d like to try my hand at non-fiction and write a light-hearted and humorous memoir about my experiences as a middle school Language Arts teacher.

I’m so glad to know the rest of the story is waiting for me! Working in Middle school certainly gave me lots of laughs as well. I’ll look for that one, too!

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

Best place is my blog: https://richardcrofton.wordpress.com/ I blog three different categories. One is “All About The Keepers of White,” where I talk about the background, the inspirations behind, and the characters of my series. I also write book reviews for other authors. But the third category is called “The Little I’ve Learned,” in which I write about my experiences as a writer, a father, and a teacher. I think that’s the best way for readers to get to know me as a person.I can also be followed on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/richardcroftonauthor/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterCrofton
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16367519.Richard_Crofton
Amazon: Richard Crofton’s Amazon Page

Thank you so much for your time, Richard. I truly enjoyed reading your book and look forward to the rest of the story!

And thank you, dear readers! Check out Richard’s book The Keepers of the White, Book I: Agents of Shadow if you dare! I promise you will be thinking about it long after you close the cover. Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights!

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Announcing Ghost Light Stories

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By LouisHeon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17896781

I’m a firm believer that you can never get enough scares in your life! That’s why I’m so excited to introduce a new feature to this site: Ghost Light Stories. Once a month you’ll be treated to a spooky tale either from myself, a guest horror author or from readers just like you!

A Ghost Light is a single naked bulb left burning in an empty theatre. For practical reasons, this light keeps someone from accidentally walking into to the orchestra pit or off the side of the stage, but it’s also surrounded by superstition. There is a widespread tradition that most theaters are haunted. One story goes that the Ghost Light allows the spirits to take to the stage in otherworldly performances when the living actors have left the building. In a little darker version, the Ghost Light keeps the spirits with evil intentions away from the theatre ensuring safety and success. Either way, you may wish to fire up your own Ghost Light before you hear these creepy tales!

If you have a story of your own you’d like to share with us, please email it to info@joyyehle.com  Fellow authors encouraged to play! You can also follow Ghost Light Stories on my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7yz0LWLYNbdv-02mUvq0Aw

Enjoy!

Easter Bunny. Friend or Foe?

Easter weekend is upon us again. I’ll be dying eggs tonight with my family and preparing to host everyone for a meal on Sunday after sunrise service at a park here in my town. We will have an egg hunt or two and hopefully, we can find all the eggs. There have been a few years when some of the eggs disappeared into a different dimension and were never seen again. Pretty typical Easter.

My kids have made sure we have carrots for the Easter Bunny. I don’t know about you, but I think he might be the strangest Easter icon of all. You might believe he came about because he’s a symbol of new life and pagan in origin, but he might be more German than pagan.

German immigrants brought the tradition of Osterhase or Oschter Haws, a colored egg-laying rabbit, to America with them. As the tradition spread so did the gifts the bunny drops off on Easter morning to include chocolate, games, and other goodies.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute. A rabbit. That lays eggs. Colored eggs, no less.

Then the little freak, or mutation, or whatever he is, also leaves chocolate. Sometimes in the shape of HIMSELF. I don’t even want to know where the chocolate comes from!

I think there’s more weirdness going on here than first meets the eye.

I know what you are thinking. It’s a cute little furry bunny who brings nothing but happiness. But check this out. If you look at this one just right, it looks likes an alien skull. AN ALIEN for crying out loud! animal-1934328_1920

Yes, you say. But they are cute and furry. Oh? Really? He looks pissed. And look at those claws! I dare you to touch his eggs. Those things aren’t easy to lay, you know.easter-eggs-2009530_1920

That’s not even a bunny, just a bear impersonating a bunny. Okay, what do you say about this guy? What is that sticking out of his mouth? Antenna? Feelers? What, I ask, WHAT?DEARLORDBUNNY

I’m not being fair to the bunny you say? Okay, how do you explain these guys? It’s a whole dang army. Those are not bunny buck teeth. They are FANGS! I can see the bloodlust in their eyes.bunnies-151390_1280

Look at more traditional Easter Bunnies? Oh, all right. These guys look like specters haunting the woods ready to curse you or eat your soul.decoration-1557661_1920

Too commercial? Homemade bunnies are better. Really? easter-bunny-7253_1920

Oh, and look! Another unholy bunny army! You might want to eat them before they eat you. I think I see some black-eyed bunnies in there!easter-bunny-7255_1920

Come on, Joy! You are shouting at me now. Kids love the Easter Bunny, you say. Yep, looks like love all right. I’ll bet this poor kid is still in therapy.WEREBUNNY

Hey! That’s over the top now, you object. All I can say is, it’s better than this guy showing up! HALLOWEENBUNNY

Okay. Would you rather have this show up? easterbunnywagon

Now that we have examined the Easter Bunny, I’m not so sure I want him to come by.

On second thought, it’s worth it to get some treats! Hi, my name is Joy and I’m a chocoholic.

We had some fun with our dear rabbit. Take a moment to consider the most amazing icon of this holiday, the tomb is empty. Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights!

p.s. a special thanks to Pixabay for providing many of the fun images!

Top 5 Reads and Flicks for a Spooky Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day will soon be upon us and fans of romance everywhere are rejoicing. Hearts, flowers, sweet chocolates, and sparkly cards will be flowing. But there is absolutely no reason that us horror fans should feel left out. Here are my top five things you can read or watch to keep your Valentine’s Day spooky.

To Read:

1. The Monk: A Romance by Matthew Gregory Lewismonk

Don’t let the fact that this book was published in 1796 put you off. Star-crossed lovers, pregnant nuns, cross-dressing monks, murder, rape, incest, ghosts, demons, and sorcery rule the twisting plot and subplots. Oh, did I mention Satan himself is one of the characters?

2. The Witching Hour by Anne Ricewitching

A story of a matriarchal family of witches with varying talents and powers. The newest head of the family, Rowan and her lover Micheal Curry, have a deep and touching romance. Rowan used her skill as a doctor and her powers of psychic healing to save his life. But the Mayfair family’s personal demon Lasher wants Rowan for his own and there is little he won’t do to get her. Now that’s a messed up love triangle. At over 900 pages it’s a longer read, but totally worth it.

3. Salem’s Lot by Stephen Kingsalems-lot

Writer Ben Mears returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s lot after losing his wife in an accident. He plans on writing a book about his boyhood there. Love is a powerful healer and he strikes up a passionate romance with a local young woman named, Susan Norton. Their picnics and canoodling is interrupted when a local boy goes missing. Then the townsfolk start dropping one by one, converted to the undead by a mysterious vampire, Mr. Barlow. Leave it to a vampire to suck all the fun out of a new romance.

To Watch

drac4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker; Screenplay by James V. Hart; Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Lovers torn apart by duty. A man who gave all for the Church only to see his love condemned for eternity. A vow of revenge with a price to be paid until the end of time. And that’s just in the first ten minutes. When the Count finds Mina and realizes she is his beloved Elisabeta reincarnated, redemption is near. Too bad everyone else wants to drive a stake through his heart and cut off his head. This movie closely follows the original novel by Bram Stoker more than some other Dracula films. It’s quite sensual and visually beautiful. You’ll find yourself disgusted with the Count one minute and cheering for him the next.

41irodztwxl-_sx342_5. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.

This creepy story takes place in the fictional place of Bad City, Iran. Just like the name implies, it is a place of crime, drugs, and hopelessness. A lonely skateboard riding female vampire stalks the inhabitants, preying on the most depraved residents. She meets a young man Arash and they begin to fall in love. Too bad Arash’s father is one of the most depraved citizens around. Shot in black and white this tale of love is weirdly fascinating!

It’s no surprise that three out of the five on my list are vampire stories, right!? Enjoy your Valentine’s Day. If you need some card ideas, check out my blog post Valentine Cards to Die For. It will keep the spooky Valentine theme going. Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights!

Exorcists Take Over

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I always wanted to read The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I wanted to know how scenes from the movie looked in written word. How did he use vocabulary to express the sights and sounds and smells? When I found an audio version, read by the author himself no less, I snatched it!

I will tell you that there is no other way to delve into a book about demon possession other than with an audio version. I got chills from the places of the text where the demon speaks. At one or two points I felt like I should pull my earbuds out and douse them in holy water! Weirdly, this book became my soundtrack as I trained for a 10K and anticipating the next installment served as wonderful motivation to get that next workout in.

As I was deep in the midst of my unique routine, I heard that FOX was making a television series based on The Exorcist. I was very curious to find out how the writers of the television series would develop their storylines. On the premier evening, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch. My men were out at an overnight campout, and I was alone with my girls. It might sound weird, but it was the first time I found myself without my spouse overnight since my home security system, a large German Shepherd named Carmen, passed away. What if I freaked myself out and in turn scared my girls? As is true most times, my need to know won out.

I tucked them into the family room with a Disney movie and crept up the stairs to my room. I wanted to turn the volume low on the TV, I didn’t want them to overhear it, but it was stormy out, and the wind was howling through the eaves of the house. I adjusted the volume so I could hear and hoped the sound wouldn’t carry over the happy sounds of Disney.

The opening scenes with the lone priest walking through a ghetto, dark things scurrying in the shadows, and screams in the night had me expecting to go through the house turning on all the lights. Just when I thought I was going to be fine, the final scenes from the attic rolled across the screen. It takes a lot to scare me, and I was not disappointed!

It would have been easy for this show to be a rip-off of the movie, but it forged its own path into terror. As the story went on it got deeper, twistier, and scarier. The way the story intertwined with Blatty’s original tale was brilliant

Towards the end of the season, Ben Daniel’s character, Father Marcus, said the most profound line to ever be uttered on television, IMHO. Satan’s allies were torturing him, and all he had to do to make it stop was join them. He refused. The head baddy expressed his disbelief that Father Marcus would rather die for the Church that had excommunicated him than be a part of the evil that would welcome him. To this Marcus replied, “I’m not dying for the bloody Church, I’m dying for Him.”

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There is something terribly appealing about a character who reveals that his principles are deeper than you thought. He walks the talk to the bitter end, a man of integrity who knows where his true devotion lies.

These tales intrigue me, and maybe many of you, because they are scary to be sure, but deeper. Not just shock and jumps. They explore the ancient human question of what faith is and how hard it can be to hang on to that faith. It challenges us to ponder what exactly is it that we have faith in? And why. It begs the question, what is the purpose of suffering? They show us the power of mercy, sacrifice, and service to others. Most importantly, they tell us that we are not powerless against evil. Contact with evil will change us, but we can fight back. There is hope that we can overcome it.

William Peter Blatty passed away on January 12, 2016. I’m glad I got to hear his classic novel read with his intended character inflections and tone. It was fantastic. I let his word usage wash over my brain, I hope something stuck!

bookcoverexorcismJust when I was about to move on from this theme of possession that organically emerged in my life, my library app told me that a new addition to the collection might interest me. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. I loved HorrStor by this same author, so of course, I borrowed it! Not as chilling as the tales above but still good. I was a teen in the early 80’s like the characters, and it brought back some delicious (can you say TCBY) and cringe-worthy memories. It’s a coming of age story with the added challenge of a terrifying chain of demon-inspired chaos. Check it out!

I’m still open to this theme of possession! I’d like to read some Indie authors on the subject. I’m taking suggestions! I just watched Hostage to the Devil, a documentary about real-life exorcist Father Malachi Martin, and so now I think I’ll have to read his book by the same title.

What have I learned from all this? Well, if you happen to see someone you love speaking with an imaginary friend, acting strangely, and speaking in strange voices…you might need a Father Marcus. Or maybe…just maybe…they are a writer!

Until next time Never Turn Off the Lights!

What a Year

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What a year. 2016 had ups and downs, losses and gains, twists and turns. I don’t know about you, but I feel a little sea-sick! I’m hoping 2017 is a little less crazy. A girl can dream, can’t she?

It’s been a good writing year. I finished writing and revising DREAD and published! I’ve sold some copies, and not just to my family, LOL! Some of those readers even left five-star reviews. Weirdly, I miss my characters a little bit. I spent almost every day with them for over two years, after all. I’m sure they don’t miss me but are enjoying new life every time they spring to life in a reader’s imagination. I *heart* you Nate, Garrett, Sophia, and Lindsey!

I stretched out of my writing comfort zone and wrote a short story in the Dystopian Horror genre. Dystopia always felt overwhelming to me. Seriously, how in the world do you create a whole new world…out of your words? I spent a large part of my summer working on Code Yankee Sierra 7 so I could enter it in the  Pandora’s Box of Horrors Challenge. Guess what? It tied for the win. Pretty exciting!

I’ve made amazing writing friends and connections this year. Their stories captivated, spooked, entangled, and encouraged me. Thanks, guys!

I wrote three other short stories. One was originally posted as a Thanksgiving story, but I revised it to a Christmas story (All Through the Night) and popped it up on WattPad for fun. Another one is also a Christmas story (The Kalli-Who) that was published on this blog as a playful holiday share with you, the readers! Lastly, just for grins, I reworked a story I wrote a very long time ago (Best Night Ever) and also shared that on WattPad.

My current WIP Shiver is coming along. I’m still getting to know the characters, and so far, I like them. Too bad I’ll have to terrorize, burden, and maybe knock some of them off *evil giggle*. What?  I’m a writer, it’s what I do.

A writer. You’d think I’d feel perfectly fine calling myself a writer by now, wouldn’t you? But it still feels awkward. When I think writer, I think of Anne Rice, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and the like. When I say I am a writer, it seems arrogant and like a big overblown fishy tale. Despite the list of accomplishments above, it feels like I am the biggest poser in history, play acting a childhood fantasy and hoping the world buys it. I wonder if the people I mentioned before ever feel that way.

For 2017 my resolution is to own it. To boldly submit works and laugh in the face of rejection letters! To shout, I AM A WRITER! Well, maybe just say it in an inside voice.

Here’s wishing you an adventurous, thrilling, spooky, joyous, own-your-truth new year. I hope you get some of that through reading something I wrote for you.

Until next year, Never Turn Off the Lights!

Scary Christmas!

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Welcome back! I know, I know, I almost missed our Christmas tradition of posting a Christmas horror tale! Trust me, this one was worth the wait! Read on, if you dare!

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The Kalli-Who

Lenny squinted his eyes at the Christmas tree. If you did it just right, it looked like tiny fireworks exploding from every branch. He could lie right under it and look up the branches now that the presents were all opened and it was amazing. He aimed his prized brand spanking new nerf gun up the trunk of the tree, pretending to zero in on a shiny blue glass ball.

His finger jerked. The ball shattered sending tiny shards down on him. Lenny rolled over, jumped to his knees and brushed off the debris.

“What was that?” his mother called from the kitchen.

“Nothing,” he called back.

“Didn’t sound like nothing,” she said, her footsteps stomping his way.

She came around the corner, wiping her wet hands on a dishtowel. He put the gun under his shirt.

“Leonard James Doukas, what have you done?”

“Nothing,” he said, his eyes wide.

She held her hand out. “Give it over.”

“No, Mama! The ornament fell on its own!”

“Uh-huh. Give it here.”

He groaned and gave her the gun. She set it up on top of the mantel.

“You can have it back tomorrow. I told you not to point it at anything but the target that came with it.”

“But Mom!”

“Don’t ‘but Mom’ me. I told Santa not to bring you that! Get the hand-vac and clean it up then off to bed.”

He started to protest again. The adults were settling in around the dining room table, and he wanted to listen in to the stories they would tell about Christmases past and ‘the old country.’ Lenny’d never been to Greece, but it sounded like a magical place to go. His mother gave him the look and he knew better.

“You never know, maybe the kallikantzaroi knocked it down. It’s the first day of the twelve days,” his father said as he walked through the room. Lenny could smell the cinnamon and cloves from the cookie he was holding.

“The kalli-who?” Lenny asked. Maybe he could still get out of this.

His mother glared at his father. “Don’t fill his head with that stuff. It’s bad enough that the baby won’t sleep through the night, I don’t need him up, too.”

A broad mischievous smile cracked his father’s face. “Clean up your mess, get ready for bed, and I’ll come tuck you in. I’ll tell you all about the Kallikantzaroi.”

“Nick, you jerk! You can stay up with the kids tonight then,” his mother said.

Nick strolled over to her and covered her in a bear hug, picking her up off her feet. He nuzzled his face into her neck, and she shrieked with laughter. Lenny wrinkled his nose at their giggles and smooching sounds. He got started on the clean up.

As he knelt down under the tree, he looked up at the mantle and could see the tip of his gun hanging over the edge. His heart swelled. He’d gotten a lot of gifts, but that one was the best. Maybe heading to bed wasn’t so bad. That meant tomorrow would come sooner and he could have his treasure back.

Face washed, and teeth brushed, he slid his bare feet down the cool smoothness of his sheets. His father pulled the blankets up and smoothed them around his thin body. Lenny pulled the soft comforter up under his chin.

“Tell me the story, Papa.”

“What story?” Nick said, and the mischievous smile returned.

“You know! The Kalli-kontz-aroo!”

A deep rolling laughter came from Nick. “Your mother won’t be too happy.”

“Please! You promised!”

“Okay, okay. But you have to promise to be a big boy and not get scared.”

“I promise! I promise!”

“You know that big oak tree in the front yard?”

“Yes,” Lenny said.

“Well, there’s one just like it only much bigger that grows underground, and it holds up the whole world, it’s the world tree.”

Lenny scowled. “Papa, that sounds like make-believe.”

“Do you want to hear the story or not?”

“Yes!”

“Okay, then. Shush,”

Lenny giggled.

“The Kallikantzaros are hairy little monsters who spend all year trying to cut the tree down.”

“Why?”

“Um, because they are bad. They spend all their time sawing away at the trunk. But on Christmas day, they can come up from the ground and run around for twelve days. On the day of Epiphany-“

“Oh, I know what that is. That’s a special church day,” Lenny said.

“Right. On that day the kallikantzaroi have to go back under the earth. They get real mad because the tree has healed its trunk and they have to start all over with the sawing.”

“That’s the whole story?”

“Well, yeah,” Nick said feeling disappointed at his son’s reaction. “But while they run around on the surface they do naughty things, like break furniture and pee in the potted plants,” he said, hoping to win his son’s approval.

Lenny laughed. “That would make Mom real mad!”

“I suppose it would! Now get to sleep.” He leaned in and kissed Lenny’s forehead.

“Dad, could the kallikantzaroi come here?”

“Oh no! They only go to Greece. Now go to sleep,” he said.

Lenny drifted off to a sound and satisfying sleep.

Lenny blinked his eyes open and stared at the darkened ceiling. Something had woken him. He stayed as still as he could and strained his ears. Nothing. Just the night noises. His door was partially open, and the light from the bathroom nightlight almost lit the space.

Lenny sat up on his elbows. A shuffling sound on the carpet in the hallway. Maybe his parents were still up. He sat up a little further.

A longer-than-it-should-be arm reached in to grab the door handle. Stringy, black, rough hair hung down from the arm. Sticklike fingers curled around the knob and pulled the door shut slowly. It clicked, and Lenny threw his blankets over his head. His heart hammered in his chest, and his breath came in short gasps.

When he tried to holler for his parents, no sound would come out of his mouth. He clutched the blankets around his body and curled into the tightest ball he could like a roly-poly bug.

Lenny couldn’t be sure how long he stayed like that, but somehow he had fallen back asleep. He woke up in the same tight ball. His little legs and arms were sore, and it was hard to get out of bed.

He heard his mother.

“Lenny! What did you do?”

He came around the corner and saw what she was talking about. Several of the glass balls from the tree were smashed in front of the television. The screen to his father’s most prized possession was cracked.

Nick came stomping down the hallway. “What’s the matter, Laura?” His breath was sucked from him in a gasp when he saw the damage.

Lenny stood shaking his head. “No! I didn’t do that!”

Nick spun on him. “Go. To. Your. Room.” His voice shook with something Lenny had never heard before.

“He’s gotta have breakfast first! Then you go clean up this mess!” Laura shouted at Lenny.

“I didn’t-“ he started, but tears took over.

“I’ll give you something to cry about! Go eat!” Nick shouted at Lenny.

His dad had never yelled at him like that before. Lenny’s little body shivered against his thin pajamas.

Nick’s face softened. “I didn’t mean to yell, but son this is terrible. I can’t believe you would behave like this. Like an animal,” his voice rose slightly.

A light clicked on for Lenny, and he remembered the long hairy arm that closed his door the night before.

“I saw them! They did this!” he exclaimed.

“Who?” his mother said.

“The killy-can monsters!”

Laura gave Nick a stare so cold that winter was jealous.

“I told you not to fill his head with that stuff!”

Nick scoffed and stalked to the breakfast table. He dropped hard into his chair, and it splintered to tiny shards under him. He hit the floor with a loud bang that made Lenny jump.

“What the hell?” Nick said, shock on his face. “Damn, cheap furniture!”

“Ugh, seriously Nick? Clean it up!” Laura said.

The baby began to wail in the other room.

“Great. Thanks a lot, guys,” she spat and headed down the hallway.

Lenny crept over and began to help his dad put the pieces of the chair into a large black garbage bag. Tears dripped onto the floor and his hands. They worked in silence.

“Nick!” Laura shrieked from the bedroom.

Fearing something was wrong with the baby, he sprinted down the little hall. Laura stood among a pile of diapers and blankets that appeared soaking wet. She held the baby out from herself with straight arms as if she couldn’t stand for the little one to be close to her. When Nick approached, he could see that his little baby girl was dripping wet from head to toe.

“What the hell?” he said.

“I don’t know. I found her like this! Smell it! I think it’s pee!” she squealed.

“Pee? She couldn’t pee that much!”

Lenny watched from the doorway. He wrinkled his nose against the stench. Hadn’t his dad said the kallikantzaroi liked to pee in the potted plants? Maybe they had mistaken the baby for a plant.

A thunderous racket came from the kitchen, and his parents pushed past him to see what was going on. Lenny followed closely behind, but not too closely. Liquid dripped and splashed from the wailing baby.

The entire refrigerator was tipped on its face. The contents dripping and leaking out like a wound.

“Oh my gosh! What is happening?” Laura shouted.

Nick tried to right the refrigerator, but it tipped over and caught his leg underneath. He wailed in pain. Laura tried to lift it one handed with the screaming soiled baby in her other arm.

Lenny caught movement on the counter out of the corner of his eye. He jerked his head just in time to see two small black hairy shapes dart behind the curtains. Then he heard a crash next to the stove and looked up to see two more figures pushing the butcher block of knives to the edge of the counter, right over his trapped father. Red eyes burned in their bat-like faces.

“Hey!” Lenny shouted. The creatures looked at him.  One of them pulled his lips back in a growl and exposed razor-sharp teeth.“Leave my dad alone!”

Lenny picked up an egg that had rolled out of the fridge and threw it at them. They howled and scattered off the counter.

Laura must have seen them too because she started screaming.

Lenny knew he had to do something. His dad was trapped. It was all up to him.

He sprinted to the living room and shoved the big footstool under the mantle. Standing on his tippy-toes, he could just reach his nerf gun. Before he could grasp it, he felt his pajama bottoms slip down to his ankles. He looked down, and four terrible black faces snarled up at him, one of them had his bottoms in its teeth!

He stretched his little body and got his hand around the gun. Pointing down, he fired a dart at the one with his pants. It squawked and let go. Lenny fell off the footstool and right out of his pants. Clad only in his pajama top and underwear he scrambled to the Christmas tree. The box of extra darts was right where he left it the night before. Lenny grabbed handfuls of ammo and stuffed them into his underwear. The little creatures dove for him.

High ground. He needed to find high ground.

He jumped and ran, springing on top of the kitchen table. In one move he spun and began firing nerf darts at the monsters. It only slowed them down. They were still coming! The next thing he knew, his mother was next to him. She held a small vial high above her head.

“Get out of my house!” she yelled.

She flicked the vial at the monsters. Where the water touched them, their flesh sizzled and smoked.

“Holy water, Lenny!” she said excitedly and dumped some on the darts in his hand.

He loaded up and began shooting again. Over and over. His mother continued to squirt her vial at the creatures. They began to back up.

“Keep going, Lenny!” his mother said.

They got off the table and pursued the kallikantzaros, forcing them to the fireplace.

“Get out!” Laura shouted.

“Leave my family alone you poop heads!” Lenny shouted.

Then the monsters began to climb up the chimney. Hissing and spitting at Laura and Lenny.

“Lenny, grab the lighter from the drawer!”

He dropped his gun and ran as fast as he could back to the kitchen. His dad was still on the floor with the refrigerator on his leg, but he cradled the baby in his arms.

“Go, Lenny! Go get ‘em!” he said.

Lenny’s little heart burst with pride, and he clutched the long-nosed fire starter to his chest. He practically flew to his mother’s side. She was still squirting holy water, and the demons were hanging down from inside the chimney showing their teeth and trying to bite her.

Lenny flicked the lighter and held it to the dry wood in the hearth. Where the holy water had dripped onto the logs it flared like lighter fluid. The monsters went up with a shrill screech, the flames licking after them.

His mother turned her exhausted gaze on him. “Leonard James Doukas, thank God you are a good shot!”

“Thank God Santa didn’t listen to you!”

Laura began to cry. “Thank God.”

***

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