My Annual Christmas Eve Ghost Story

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This is possibly the closest I’ve ever cut the holiday ghost story here! Kept you in anticipation though, didn’t it? Not only for the story itself but to see if the author is still capable of hitting deadlines. Barely, but yes! Go me!

For many years it was customary to tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. It’s a custom that I feel should come back into style! Here is this year’s installment. Enjoy.IMG_1085

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Snow Angel

It could feel like they were the only people on Earth if she thought about how isolated they were, but it was beautiful here. The little cabin was clean and warm and had a composting toilet, so no outhouse was a big bonus. The wood stove kept the small space toasty, sometimes a little too warm and they had to prop open the door. There was a generator that the owner had started before they got there and a single string of Christmas lights twinkled along the roofline to welcome them. Chris shut it down during the day and booted it up for a while at night so they could use the lamps inside and enjoy the Christmas lights outside.

It was everything Chris said it would be and she found herself able to relax for the first time in several weeks. The little cabin was a popular spot in the Alpine ski area, and they had booked the stay almost two years in advance.

It had been a dry winter so far, and even on Christmas Eve there was little snow on the ground, and Chris had decided they should take a walk. The woods were quiet, the only sound was their feet crunching the thin layer of frozen snow on the ground. On the way in, the ranger had warned them that there was some weather moving in and she could see the dark purple clouds rolling over the peaks when the valley below was visible from where the trail meandered close to the edge.

“You doing okay?” Chris asked over his shoulder.

“I’m good. It’s beautiful here,” she said.

“One of my favorite places. I’m so happy to share it with you,” he turned and hugged her with one arm and patted her lower abdomen with his other, “and this little guy.” Chris had grown up in the little ski town of Nevar, originally the Spanish term for ‘to snow’  but now pronounced without the ‘r’ roll, less than fifteen miles from where they were now.

Joanna giggled, “Who said it’s a boy?”

Chris shrugged, “I don’t care what it is. I’m just happy!”

A brief wave of panic washed over her. They’d been here before. Many times.

“I’m still a little cautious. I hope coming out here doesn’t turn out to be a problem.”

Chris put both hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Nothing is going to happen. This time the doc said your hormone levels are good. We’re fine.”

She smiled, “You’re right.”

“Of course I am! God showed us this path, he’ll see us through.”

Joanna nodded. They had taken an entirely different route with this IVF try. Chris had heard about a group that adopts frozen embryos no longer needed or wanted by the bios. It seemed like the perfect thing for them, morally and medically. Chris was convinced that if they did the greatest good with their desire for a child, God would bless it.

She wasn’t as convinced. She loved Chris for his faith, but she didn’t share it. Still, she couldn’t deny that there seemed to be something to it because this embryo had implanted, unlike all the others. She was almost to the magic fourteen-week marker and the risk for miscarriage would drop even more, but she wouldn’t let her guard down until she held a breathing, crying, squirming baby in her arms.

A strong gust of biting wind assaulted them whipping her hair straight up and into Chris’ face. They laughed, and he leaned in and kissed her. She thought that the world could not be more perfect and her heart swelled with love.

“Come on! There’s a waterfall just over this hill. This time of year it should be frozen and spectacular!” he said.

His enthusiasm won out over her cold nose, and she followed him up the trail. Tiny flakes of snow had begun to fall, and the icy blasts of wind made them twirl and dance, making it look like a winter wonderland.

Chris’ boot prints led the way up the small hill for her. She put all of her concentration on her feet, not wanting to slip. She had on excellent winter hiking boots, but she wasn’t going to take a chance of tumbling down. It wasn’t a big hill, but steep and she could not see past the summit. The drop to one side in a small area she would pass looked precarious, and she could hear the river rushing down below. She had to keep her small passenger safe.

Joanna had been thinking so hard about where to put her feet she hadn’t realized that the trail was suddenly virgin. She looked up to find Chris was not in front of her. He must have crested the hill before her, but when she reached the top the trail leading down was empty and the snow untouched.

“Chris?”

Tree branches breaking off in the distance answered her.

“Chris!” Joanna turned every direction praying to catch a glimpse of his red down coat. She turned to go back the way she had come. Maybe he’d stepped off into the trees to pee, and she had missed him somehow.

Looking down the trail, she saw where the double tracks ended, and the single track began. No directional change. Chris’ footprints just ended right at the area with a steep drop, the spot she had been so worried about. A shot of ice went through her heart.

“Chris!” She tried to strain her ears against the growing wind.

She inched back down to where Chris’ footprints ended and peered down the embankment. The snow was disturbed as if someone had sledded down it. She peered harder and saw a glimpse of red through the thick trees.

“Chris!”

“Joanna!”

“Oh my God! How did you get down there?”

“The wind. A big gust knocked me right off my feet!”

“Are you, okay?”

“Well. My ankle is screwed up, and I ended up in the river.”

“The river?”

“Yeah, my feet are wet.”

She wasn’t as avid an outdoors person as Chris, but she knew what that meant at this temperature. Panic threatened, and she placed her hand over her womb.

“Okay. What do you need me to do?” Joanna asked trying to sound calm and in control.

“Don’t try to come down here. I’ll try to come up to you.”

“Okay.”

She could hear him grunting and see trees being pulled and snapped. Suddenly, he shouted out in anguish.

“Chris? Oh my, God! Are you okay?”

He let out a frustrated growl, “It’s my ankle, babe. I don’t think I’ll be able to climb out on my own.”

“What?” a lump in her throat kept it to a squeak.

“Go back to the cabin, babe. Call 9-1-1.”

“No! I can’t leave you out here!”

“You have to.”

“Chris, are you sure? Can’t you find a way up?”

“It’s not that, babe. I think I broke my ankle and I can’t put any weight on it.”

She choked back a sob.

“You can do it, babe. Go back and call 9-1-1.”

“What if I come down and help you up?”

“Jo. Baby. It won’t do any good if we are both stuck down here. You have to call 9-1-1.”

“Oh, God. Okay. I’ll be right back! Right back, honey!”

“Okay, babe. I’ll be here!” he chuckled.

The snow had picked up and was falling in large continuous clumps. In places, their footprints were beginning to be covered over. The wind slapped her face and pushed back against her progress. Her heart was racing, and she thought about the tiny being in her womb. Could he feel her panic? Was she scaring him? She was scared enough for the both of them. Please, little baby, hang on!

By the time she reached the cabin, the snow was coming down like a blanket, and she had to lift her knees to step through the new powder. Snow had built up around the door, and she had to struggle to pull it open.

“Why does this freaking door open the wrong way?” she shouted to the forest. Grunting, she yanked hard feeling the muscles in her back, thighs, and abdomen strain.

Wait. She wasn’t supposed to lift anything. Did this count as lifting? She managed to get the door open wide enough for her to slip in. She tried to pull it closed, but the snow had clogged up the threshold, and she left it.

She yanked her wet gloves off as she ran to the little couch where she thought she had left her cell phone. When she realized it wasn’t there, she shrieked out of frustration and desperately began throwing couch cushions onto the floor.

Trying to calm her mind she chanted, “think, think, think.” She tried to visualize herself and when she had last had her phone. “Oh yeah!” A mental picture of her rinsing a coffee mug at the sink popped into her head.

Joanna rushed to the little kitchenette. The phone was sitting next to the sink just where she had left it. She pressed the button to wake it up and stabbed in her security code. The phone vibrated in response, wrong code.

She screamed at the phone and tried again. This time it came to life, but wouldn’t be for long. The battery was showing only ten percent life left. Thanks to the ski resort of few miles away, she had three bars.

She dialed 9-1-1.

A ring.

Another ring.

“This is 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

Sobs strangled her voice.

“Hello? This is 9-1-1,” the woman sounded friendly as if this were the neighbor calling to invite her for coffee.

“My husband has fallen down an embankment and broke his ankle,” she choked out.

“Okay, Ma’am. Who am I speaking to?”

Blood roared to her head, nine percent life left.

“We are at Devil’s Gate. We rented the cabin here. He’s fallen and got wet in the river. He can’t get up the hill alone! My phone is gonna die, and I don’t know how to start the generator to charge it!”

“Okay, Ma’am. I’m dispatching Mountain Rescue now. Is he conscious?”

“Yes. But he’s wet and broke his ankle. It’s snowing hard here and cold!”

“Yes Ma’am, I understand. What’s your name?”

“I’m Joanna.”

“All right, Joanna. I’ve got to make a few other arrangements. Can I call you back at this number?”

“Yes, but like I said, it’s going to die.” She began crying.

“It’s going to be all right. Stay calm Joanna.”

“I…I’m pregnant,” she didn’t know why she blurted that out.

“How far along?”

“Almost fourteen weeks.”

“Are you having contractions or bleeding?”

“No. No, please just hurry.”

“Okay, Joanna. Help is coming. Stay calm.”

The line disconnected. Seven percent.

She could not just sit here. She could lower blankets, dry clothes, and a hot thermos to Chris. She put a pan of water on the stove and began bundling some of his clothes in the tartan blanket off the back of the leather sofa.

Her phone rang. Six percent.

“Joanna, this is Alpine County 9-1-1,” the same neighborly woman. “I have Alpine County Search and Rescue on the line.”

A new voice broke into the conversation. “Hi, Joanna. My name is Robert. We are getting a crew together right now. I don’t know if you are aware, but we are in the middle of a major storm here. It might take us some time to get up there, but I have some guys on snowmobiles that will be headed your way shortly. You said he got wet?”

She could hear Christmas music and kids in the background. Robert must have been celebrating Christmas Eve.

“He fell in the river. I’m sorry to take you away from your family,” her voice broke on the word family.

“It’s no problem.”

“I was going to lower blankets and dry clothes to him.”

“Are you at the cabin?”

“Yes.”

“How far to him?”

“Um. I don’t know. Maybe fifteen minutes.”

Silence.

“Joanna, I think it’s best if you stay at the cabin. It’s getting dark, and the last thing we need is to have to find you too. Wait there for my guys, all right?”

“But he’s wet!”

“I understand that. The best thing you can do for him now is to get dry clothes ready and wait for us, okay? For now, we better get off the line because I know your phone is almost dead. Just hang tight.”

They disconnected. Five percent.

She slumped down on the couch cushions. The wind whipped in through the open door, and she shivered. If she was cold, how much colder was Chris? How long before hypothermia set in? She walked across the little room and yanked the door the rest of the way shut. She’d give them ten minutes, then she was going back to him.

She paced from the couch to the front door. Helplessness began to take root in her heart. It had taken them at least twenty minutes to drive from the main road to the cabin. No one was coming. Not anytime soon.

She put her hand over her womb, “We are going to go get Daddy.”

Using the word daddy made her think about the couple they adopted the embryo from. The Parker family had a rough go. The husband was diagnosed with cancer only two years into their marriage, and his treatment would likely leave him infertile. They had chosen to freeze several embryos for future use with the hope he would survive his diagnosis. He hadn’t, and the wife decided against using the embryos on her own. Mrs. Parker couldn’t destroy them, however, and donated them to the embryo adoption group.

Joanna squeezed her eyes tight. Chris’ God would certainly not let this little one loose two daddies, would he? Surely He wouldn’t let this little one who had waited so long to be born not make it. She bit her upper lip and thought about that for a few seconds. No, she was sure He wouldn’t, at least she hoped so.

She opened the small closet by the front door and began yanking out all the items to see if there was something that she could use. It was almost as if God approved of her plan because she found climbing ropes and a harness. She put the items in the blanket with the clothes and used the climbing ropes to tie it into a bundle.

The little pot of water had almost boiled away, but she poured what was left into their big green thermos and dropped a tea bag in before tightly twisting the lid shut. Digging in a kitchen drawer, she found a notepad and paper and scribbled a quick note. She rifled through the cupboard under the sink and found a working flashlight and a big garbage bag to keep her couch blanket bundle dry. With all of her finds she was more convinced that God was directing her rescue mission, she would not fail.

Joanna put on heavy ski gloves that she had found in the closet and slung her pack over her shoulder. It was almost ten pounds at least.

I’m not supposed to be lifting. Please God, if you are there, help us. Don’t bring us this far to leave us now.

She pushed the door hard against the snow that had piled up outside of it. Wind and snow blasted into the small opening and stung her face and eyes. The snow had been coming down in a steady stream and she sunk down half-way to her knee when she stepped out into it.

The sun was completely blocked out by the clouds and snow, but she knew it was almost ready to drop behind the mountains to the west. To the east, the sky was already an inky black. She needed to hurry.

The trail was not visible under the snow. She had to guess where it was based on the spacing of the trees and a couple of times she veered off and had to reset. It was tough going plowing through the snow, and she wished she had snowshoes. Her watch told her she had been walking for at least twenty minutes and should be close to where Chris had fallen, but nothing looked familiar. She knew the snow would change the way the terrain looked, but she felt like she was too far from the river. Maybe she had gone way off course and not realized it.

She stopped walking and looked around in every direction, trying to get her bearings. Everything was white. Silent. The snow had stopped. The sky was growing ever darker, and  soon it would be pitch dark. Her breath came in little misty clouds.

“Hey!” a man’s voice called. A man, not Chris.

“Hey! I’m over here! Are you with the Search and Rescue guys?”

“Come this way!”

“Which way? I can’t see you!”

“This way!”

She headed in the direction she thought the voice was coming from.

“Keep coming!” he shouted.

She stepped through some trees and could plainly see the trail. She had veered off by fifteen feet and was headed away from the trail. She would have been hopelessly lost herself if the rescuer hadn’t found her when he did.

She still didn’t see anyone, but she saw a faint light up ahead. Behind the light, she could just make out the silhouette of a man.

“Oh man! Thank God you’re here!” she gushed, and she moved as quickly as she could toward the light.

As she grew nearer the light flickered and faded out. The man must have gone over the side to get to Chris. She realized she was right at the washout where Chris had fallen.

“Chris!” she shouted.

No reply.

“Chris!” she fell to her knees and leaned as far over the edge as she dared.

“Jo! I’m here!” he sounded like he had been sleeping.

“I’m here! The rescue team is here! Are they down there with you?”

“No!”

She looked around and didn’t see any sign that anyone had gone down this way. Maybe they had to find a better route.

“I’m going to lower a pack to you, okay? Will you be able to grab it?”

“I think so.”

She lowered the trash bag bundle to him. He had to strain but eventually got a hold of it.

“I can’t…I wont beable to putadryboot on my ankle,” his words were slurring.

“It’s fine, honey. Can you put on the sock?”

No answer.

“Hey! Hey, you guys! He’s right here!” she shouted as loudly as she could. “Chris!”

“I’m heere.”

Where the hell was that rescue guy?

“Can you put on the harness?”

“I doono,” his words were getting more jumbled.

That could only mean that hypothermia had set in. He didn’t have much time left. She’d have to act, now.

“Christopher! Put that damn harness on and click the carabiner in! Do you hear me? Do it now!”

She heard the jingle of the various clips on the harness, and she knew he was putting it on. She looped the other end of the rope through some trees as best she could.

“Are you ready?  Me and the baby are gonna pull as hard as we can, but you’re gonna have to help us! Do you hear me?”

“I wonletu down,” he said.

After several minutes of yanking, grunting, screaming, and pulling she saw the top of his head over the edge of the trail.

“Keep coming, honey! Almost there!”

“I caan go anymooore,” he sobbed.

“No, baby, no! Just a few more feet! You can do it!” she couldn’t let go of the rope to help him.

Suddenly he flopped up the last bit and lay on the trail, his legs still dangling off the edge.

Joanna dropped the rope and ran to him. She hugged him for all she was worth. He had one dry sock on, and his other foot was bare. The ankle was misshapen and various shades of red and purple.

“I told you you could do it!” tears streamed down her face.

“I dinnnt. Someone pusssshed meee from behind,” he said.

She peered over the edge. No one but the steep ravine and growing darkness.

“Joanna!” someone shouted from a distance.

“Over here! Over here!” she jumped up and looked in the direction the voice had come from.

Four men in black ski pants and read coats pushed up the hill towards her.

“Hey, Joanna! It’s me, Robert!”

“Oh my God! Robert! I’m so glad to see you!” she sobbed.

Robert got to her and held his hand out. Behind the headlamp, she saw a  weathered but kindly face and a warm smile. “I thought you were gonna wait at the cabin.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Well, when we got to the cabin we found your note saying you had headed back out, but the wind had blown snow over your tracks and we would have had no idea which way you went if not for your friend.”

“My friend?” she said, shaking her head.

“Yeah, the guy at the cabin. He told us which way you went.”

She had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn’t matter. They were safe now.

They checked Chris over and put a temporary splint on his ankle. Then they loaded him on a stretcher and began to make their way back to the cabin, a man on each corner. Joanna followed behind.

She could hear the generator for the cabin running as they approached and caught glimpses of the string of lights along the roofline through the trees.

“Looks like your friend got the generator going. Oh, yeah, he wanted me to tell you that Parker makes a good first name and you’d know what that meant.”

Her mouth dropped open, and her hand went to her lower abdomen, “That’s the last name of a man that I know of who passed away. My husband and I, well, he left us something really important.”

“Well, your friend thinks it’ll make a good first name,” Robert said.

************

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and get a miracle or two.

Until next time, Never Turn off the Lights!

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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!

killimonster

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.”

***

I have a gift for you almost as awesome as Lenny’s dart gun! The eBook of DREAD is on sale for FREE through Christmas Eve! Have a wonderful holiday! Until next time, keep your fires lit and Never Turn Off the Lights!

Scary Christmas to All!

Christmas traditions are one of the reasons why I love this time of year, they keep the past alive and build memories for years to come. Inspired by the Victorians, a holiday tradition on my blog is the telling of a Christmas ghost story. This one is an overhaul of a short story I wrote way back in 2006. It is based on an experience a close friend relayed to me, enjoy!

Resolution

house-631399_1920Lori’s 2015 New Year’s resolution was to clean out Dan’s things. In a few days, the calendar would roll to 2016, and she hadn’t even touched his attic office yet. It had taken almost a year to clean out his clothes from their closet and his boxes in the basement. It had taken so long because every shirt, tie, book, and scrap of paper brought memories crashing down on her. The memories brought waves of sobbing which led to pounding headaches, which then led to medicinal whiskey, and finally a dreamless sleep.

The last of his personal things were in the attic office; it was one of the reasons they bought the fully renovated Victorian. Lori had fallen in love with the wrap-around porch and updated chef’s kitchen. Dan was smitten with the greenhouse and large yard, but the attic had been the thing he loved most about the house.

Dan spent the first few weeks in the new house working in there to make it just right. He worked late into the evening to put up new drywall and paint. They spent many hours in town shopping for the right lamps, the perfect rug, and the had-to-have accessories.

When it was finished, it was gorgeous. The deep green-gray walls complimented the dark wood floor, the black and green Chinese rug and mahogany furniture came together to create the perfect writing retreat.

That had been Dan’s dream, to leave the newspaper and write adventure novels in the vein of Jack London. For the next three months, everything was wonderful. Dan was writing, and they had never been happier. Then Dan began to change.

It was subtle at first; he became more withdrawn and quiet. Lori gave little notice to it, he always got that way when he was writing. Then he stopped working in the yard and greenhouse. The bushes and lawn became unruly and tender seedlings in the greenhouse neglected to their dry, lonely deaths. Dan spent all of his time shut up in the attic. He came down to bed long after Lori was asleep and didn’t appear to get up until after she had gone to work. Lori comforted herself with the idea it was rational to associate all of these behaviors to the writing, she couldn’t have known otherwise. Could she?

The evening it happened, she knew something was wrong before she walked into the house. The carefully chosen lamp was not burning behind the attic window as it had since the day they bought it. The Christmas lights she hung on the front porch were dark, giving the place a deserted look. When she entered the darkened house, silence, and a deep-rooted dread greeted her.

The dark feelings intensified as she made her way up the attic stairs. The heavy door at the top of the stairs grew larger in her sight as she neared it. She lay a trembling hand on the cold wood and pushed it open. Hinges whined in complaint, or was it a warning?

“Dan?” she whispered into the darkness.

It took several seconds for her eyes to adjust and several more for the sight to sink into her understanding.

The wan moonlight coming in from the window illuminated a bulky dark shape hanging from the rafter. A brown gardening shoe lay beneath the figure on the bare wood floor. The desolate creak of rope against the dry wood of the beam.

Lori had no memory of the call to 9-1-1, but the next clear memory is of uniforms surrounding her. Questions shot at her in a blur of grief and disbelief.

She had not been up to the attic since, until now. Perhaps the two glasses of wine and the letter from the bank declaring intentions of foreclosure had given her courage. She argued with herself that Christmas Eve wasn’t an ideal time to do this, but what else did she have to do?

The burden of the same dark feelings from that night pressed down on her as she climbed the stairs to the closed door. Lori gathered all of her courage, took a deep swallow from her wine glass, and pushed the door open. It yawned on its hinges, and a cold, stale odor greeted her.

It hadn’t registered with her on that night that the room was a mess. That’s why the uniforms were so concerned. The beautiful rug was rolled up and leaned in the corner; all the lampshades had been removed and crushed leaving bare bulbs in every light fixture. The cushions from the couch were torn open and white fluffy stuffing was strewn around. Books and papers stacked to form haphazard towers all over the room. Physical manifestations of his deteriorating mental state.

She righted the naked floor lamp and clicked it on. The room lit with a harsh amber light. A ringing buzzed deep in her ears. Where in the world should she start? The large desk drew her attention.

She sat down in Dan’s leather chair and breathed the scent deeply into her lungs. She coughed. The rich leather scent she normally loved and associated with Dan was spoiled now. Lori took the stack of papers closest to her and shuffled through them. Real estate papers from the purchase of the house. She might need them when the house sold and that needed to be soon.

She’d make a ‘to keep’ stack on the floor. A yellowed piece of paper slipped from the stack as she moved it to the floor. The paper felt like an autumn leaf between her fingers. She recognized the photo of her home under the headline: Local Recluse Kills Self, Family. A man who had once lived in her home killed his four small children and his pregnant wife with an ax. He then hung himself in the attic.

Her heart skipped a beat, but she read on.

He was the town store owner and built the house especially for his wife and growing family. They had not lived there long before he stopped opening his store and rarely came out of the house. A neighbor discovered the bodies when the children didn’t show up at school for several days.

Did Dan know about this when they bought the house? Why wouldn’t he tell her this? She recalled Dan telling her something about True Crime paying better than adventure stories. This was his book. This is why they bought the house. Another selfish act leading to the biggest selfish act of all. And now what? No book, no husband, and soon no house.

Her skin flushed, and the ringing in her ears became a roar. She ripped the news clipping into tiny shards and threw them on the desk. Swiping both arms across the desk, she forced the items to the floor in an avalanche. Breathing hard, she shoved over the tallest book tower and threw the naked floor lamp to the ground. The shattering of the bulb drained the storm from her and left the room in the gloom of the gathering night.

Her head pounded. She realized she broke the string of pearls she was wearing, the tiny moons scattered across the wood floor for cover. This had not been a good idea.

She turned to leave the room, but a photo-finishing envelope uncovered by her rampage caught her eye. The envelope was dated two weeks after they moved in. With shaking hands she sifted through the photos. The first few were exterior shots of the house, the yard, the greenhouse. Then, various interior shots. There was a selfie they had taken at the bottom of the attic steps, each holding a paint brush.

A photo created with the timer on his cell phone and an impromptu stand of books of them in the attic pretending to paint each other. Smoke appeared to be swirling around their smiling faces, odd neither smoked. In the next photo of Dan by himself the milky substance was there, but not in the one of Lori alone.

For the last three photos, Dan must have used the same technique with the books and timer. They were of him alone in the office. Dan, grinning at the camera from behind his desk, his image partially obstructed by the same anomaly. Lori could hardly believe her eyes when she looked at the last two photos. Dan was standing next to his desk, and the thick substance began to take shape. In the last photo, it appeared to have the face of a man and arms that ended in repulsive claws wrapped around Dan’s chest from behind in a bizarre bear hug. Grim pinched lips replaced  Dan’s grin as if he sensed the presence.

“What is that?” she asked the empty room.

The heavy door roared shut in answer.

###

He still couldn’t believe their luck. They had tens of thousands of dollars in equity the moment they signed the papers. He was sure the inspection of the Victorian beauty would reveal foundation or serious plumbing issues, but the house got a clean bill of health.

“Oh, honey! I love it!” the wife squealed.

“Here let’s take a photo,” the husband said.

He put his arm around her slender waist and pulled her in close. He held his cell phone out with his free hand.

“Say cheese!” the flash clicked in the gloomy attic space.

The wife kissed his cheek, “I can’t believe they left this desk behind. It’s perfect for me!”

The husband opened the photo to post it to the internet. He frowned.

“Hey, honey! We have to take another one. I think the lens was dirty or something.”

The end?

Merry Christmas everyone, or should I say Scary Christmas!

Scary Christmas Everyone!

My how the time flies. It’s already time for St. Nick to drop down the chimney again. It seems like just yesterday I put away the Halloween decorations (ok, it WAS yesterday, but whose counting?).

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. Maybe it’s because I have little people all around to share the holiday with. Their exuberant anticipation is contagious. We have been busy doing all the family traditions that surround this lovely holiday. We baked cookies, we decorated, we visited Santa, we made Christmas crafts, we’ve been watching Christmas movies (the Grinch and Rudolph are favorites), and we’ve been reading Christmas stories. Among the requested repeat reads are, Pete the Cat Saves Christmas, The Fourth Wiseman, and various forms of the story of the birth of Jesus. Tonight we will visit a tradition started by my sweet mother, the opening of one gift on Christmas eve. Amazingly, it is always new pajamas!

Most of the popular and common Christmas traditions in the United States were begun in the Victorian era. Sending Christmas cards, caroling, and roasting a turkey for the feast were all brought into the American mainstream in the early 19th century. Sadly, one tradition that has fallen to the wayside is the gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to tell ghost stories.

In honor of that old time tradition I’m going to tell you a tale based on a ghost story that my Grandma likes to tell us whenever she can. So lower the lights, gather around the fire, and snuggle up.

b5b6e5773f0a623c3997887a68d3036cTomas hadn’t always been bad. He had once followed the church but had long ago abandoned his faith. It wasn’t his fault that he had been born poor. It wasn’t his fault that foolish people left their homes unlocked when they went to Christmas Eve mass. It also wasn’t his fault they left their best silver and other treasures out in the open. They obviously didn’t cherish these items, it was his duty to put the booty to better use.

His haul in the tiny mountain town wasn’t as good as he had hoped. He should have known that with the mine closed there wouldn’t be much available to him. The pack slung over his shoulder was much too light.

He heard that the church would remain unlocked until morning mass for anyone who choose to spend the night in prayer. Churches always contained the best golden trinkets and the people would need to sleep sometime. Tomas had decided to hike through the woods and wait in the darkness behind the tiny stone building. When the coast was clear he would gather what he could and be gone.

The almost full moon was obscured by clouds, making it difficult for him to see but Tomas didn’t mind. It made it difficult for him to be seen, exactly what he wanted. The tall pines and aspens provided even more perfect cover. It was as if nature itself was assisting him.

He settled into a tight growth of pines and sat on a low growing juniper to wait it out. He watched the church,the windows glowing warmly with the candle light within. He knew that the people would return home soon and find their things missing. That would distract them from the church even further. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

A slight rustling behind him startled him. Had he forgotten to cover his tracks in the snow? Maybe they already tracked him here.

He spun around. Nothing but the dark woods. A slight breeze rustling the tree tops and billowing clouds across the face of the moon.

Something heavy snapped branches to his left. He leapt to his feet.

Silhouetted against the faded moonlight was a huge black shape. Protruding from the enormous head were long sharply pointed horns. Tomas recalled tales of the Devil from his youth. Only the Devil would appear to someone bent on such an evil act on the holiest night of the year.

The monstrosity began moving his way. Tree branches splintering in its wake. The Prince of Darkness coming to claim his own.

Tomas felt his chest constrict as the breath was squeezed from his body by fear. The pack jangled noisily to his feet and he collapsed to the cold ground.

468px-Texas_Longhorn_Steer_RockspringsIn the early Christmas light the people found the thief frozen by death and the cold night. They were unsure if he had been trying to steal the prize bull from the Garcia ranch, a foolish effort at best. Señor Garcia didn’t even know the bull was missing until the animal was discovered a few feet from the dead man, entangled in the underbrush. Everyone was able to reclaim their belongings from the thief’s sack and enjoy a Merry Christmas.

 

From my house to yours – Merry Christmas!

p.s. Grandma Rosie, I love you!

Krampus and other Christmas Terrors

Christmas is a time of light, good tidings, and peace on Earth…mostly. Just like everything else there has to be a balance of light and dark and Christmas is no exception. These strange and scary Christmas traditions may make more than sugar plums dance in your head.

That cute, funny, creepy, unsettling little spy, Elf on the Shelf is a newer tradition. He or she shows up right around Thanksgiving to keep an eye on the children and report behavior back to old Saint Nick. He moves around the house while you’re sleeping for different vantage points from which to narc. He’s watching you. All the time. In your house. There is just something unsettling about a doll that moves around, especially if neither parent can remember doing it.

 

Elf on the Shelf wasn’t the first little Christmas creeper, however. Greece has had the Kallikantzaroi, or Christmas goblins way before Santa even had elves. These half-animal-half-human hairy creatures live underground and spend their days sawing away at the World Tree. This tree holds up the whole earth and when it collapses so will the world. Christmas is the only time these monsters can come up on the surface and the draw of wreaking havoc on humans makes them forget about the tree even though they were almost all the way through the trunk. For 12 days these scary little devils try to sneak into homes to spoil food, tip things over, break things, and pee in flower beds. To keep them out Greek families will sometimes hang the lower jaw of a pig behind the front door or inside the Chimney. Finally on the day of Epiphany (January 6) the Kalikantrzaroi must return to their underground home only to find the World Tree has healed itself and they must now start over. Hard to tell what is worse, little black devils running amok in your house or a pig’s jaw hanging around.

 

Aside from the Christ-child only Santa Claus is a widely accepted symbol of all that is goodness and light about the holiday season. But he too has dark counter points.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas dressed in red bishop-like robes travels from his homeland of Spain by steamship to reward well behaved children. He carries a huge book in which he records children’s behavior. He comes with his helper, Black Pete, sometimes in the plural. Black Pete performs like a jester and takes care of Saint Nicholas’ horse. Good children get a gift from Saint Nicholas’ huge bag dropped down their chimney (some say bad children are in the bag too, what’s with bad children in bags?). According to a traditional holiday song, naughty children get a spanking with Black Pete’s bundle of twigs, and no presents. There is some controversy around Black Pete being a racist symbol but most Dutch parents tell their kids his skin is black from chimney soot. Uh-huh. Let’s not forget he is a total stranger and he gets to spank your naughty kid. Terrifying.

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

Black Pete and St. Nick circa 1948

 

In other parts of Europe Saint Nicholas gets a little more hard core and horrifying. Forget elves, forget joking spankers, even goblins don’t compare. Here Saint Nick shows up with Krampus. He’s a hairy, horned, long-tongue wagging demon looking creature who takes his job seriously. He not only whips naughty kids with birch branches but likes to stuff particularly bad kids into his basket that he carries on his back. Guess where they are going? To hell, of course! Those are not the only punishments in his tool bag. He also has been known to pull ears, rip out pigtails, and drown children in ink. Way worse than coal, right?

Think you’ve outgrown this silly story used by adults to control you, well think again. In Germany they celebrate  Krampusnacht or Night of Krampus. Grown men dress up like the demonic character and descend on entire towns with torches, chains, and large clanging bells. Parents with pre-teen and teen-aged children will sometimes let the Krampuses into the house for a drink and permission to torment the children. Invited. By your own parents. Into your house. Relieved you don’t live in Germany? He’s making inroads into North America with appearances on television and growing Krampus parties. Coal is looking pretty good right about now for some of you.

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

Disturbing Image of Krampus in Action

 

I really hope you have all been good this year. Wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas. Eat lots of treats, read lots of books, be kind, be generous, think about the baby Jesus, and enjoy your family. Keep a watchful eye on that Elf. For some of you, you know who you are, I trust Krampus doesn’t find you. But if he does can you send me some pictures? Thanks!