Holiday Horror: A Collection of Horror Short Stories
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by Marie Prato
Description: Escape into an alternate universe with each horrific tale. Leave the weariness of Christmas shopping, holiday meal planning, cleaning and all the "company" preparations behind in the real world. Believe us, you'll find worse fears in this collection of horrific short fiction.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2007 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: February 2008
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [137 KB]
Reading time: 93-130 min.
A ROAD TO NOWHERE
Christmas Eve, 2002
"Where's Santa Claus' sled?" whispered Steven. Looking like he was ready to bolt, the child peered nervously through his Coke-bottle glasses at the dark woods.
"Santa's sled is right behind those trees," I answered, pointing to the dim outline of a clump of Alaskan pines about 20 feet from where we stood. "Come with me. Then you can pick out a whole bag of toys."
"Are you sure Santa won't be mad?" asked the five-year-old. Chilled mist poured out of Steven's mouth as he ran his tongue over his lips.
"Juneau, Alaska is Santa's last stop before going back to the North Pole," I answered, repeating what I had told him yesterday. "The elves put a lot of extra toys on Santa's sled just in case they forget someone. Santa will be happy if we take the toys you want off his sled so he won't have to carry all those extra presents back home."
"Are there footballs and bikes still on the sled?" asked the kid, waiting expectantly for my answer.
I nodded my head. "But remember what I told you yesterday. If you tell anyone, anyone at all, that you are meeting me and where we are going, you'll have to share the toys with them."
"I didn't tell anyone," replied the boy. "Not even Billy."
A greedy child. Mother hated greedy children almost as much as she hated imperfection and holidays. Mother said that gift giving and partying was the work of Satan. Taking Steven's hand, I led the boy into the woods. * * * *
From my sheltered area provided by the low hanging branches of the pines, the city of Juneau looked like a snow-globe. Through the gusts of wind and thrashing snow the few lights from the main street seemed to flicker in and out. Even though I could not see the streets from my wooded vantage point, I knew they were deserted. No one would be out on Christmas Eve. For that matter, once tourist season ended and the majority of the merchants packed up for sunnier shores, the capital of Alaska closed up tighter than a clam's shell by dinner time every night.
Looking down, I prodded the boy's inert body with my shoe. His broken glasses lay next to him. Where the offending glasses had sat on Steven's face, the kid's skin was pale and puffy.
Stooping down, I wrapped a blanket around the boy's body. For a second my fingers brushed lightly against his thigh. I quickly pulled my hand back. I had made Steven do things to me but I had not done anything to him. Never touch yourself or anyone else. That had been one of Mother's rules. "I've been a good boy," I said, raising my eyes reverently toward the sky. Then I slung the child over my shoulder and hurried deeper into the woods.
July 3rd 2003
Just before the road curved on the way to town, I stopped walking. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath of the fresh morning air.
"Hi, Bob," said a slurred voice.
Startled, I opened my eyes. "Hi, yourself, Beverly," I answered as she walked toward me, hugging her bag of groceries. As the bag tilted up, I noticed there were a couple of bottles of gin in it.
"Going into town?" asked the stout, elderly woman, leaning toward me on the uneven back road. Next to Beverly stood her ten-year-old deaf and dumb grandchild, Jessica. A pug, looking more like an inflated football than a dog, clung to Jessica's leg.
As Beverly leaned closer, the stale smell of gin assaulted me. It was common knowledge that the old widow did more than her share of drinking, especially on holidays when she would pine for her deceased husband.
"I felt like having a good breakfast in town this morning," I said. While the woman shifted the bag of groceries on her ample hip, I stared at the girl standing beside her. Brown hair framed her big brown eyes and then cascaded to the girl's thin shoulders. Jessica had come to live in Juneau only a month before.
As we stood on the side of the road, another neighbor drove slowly by in his beat-up Chevy.
"Hi, Lou," I yelled as Beverly turned to waive to him. Ignoring us, he kept his eyes straight ahead and drove on.
"Sometimes Lou can be as friendly as a pup," said Beverly. "Other times, he won't even look at you."
"I know," I said.
"Lou's odd," continued Beverly, "but he's a good neighbor all the same."
"That he is," I agreed.
That is what had initially drawn me to Alaska. People here tended to like their freedom. Disliking authority, Alaskans were more tolerant of their neighbor's idiosyncrasies. While Beverly lowered her head to wipe her eyes, I looked at Jessica and raised my finger to my lips. The child put her tiny finger to her lips and nodded back. I smiled. "Good girl," I mouthed. Our meeting tomorrow night was our little secret.
"Stop that!" ordered Beverly.
Thinking I had been caught, my eyes snapped away from her granddaughter's face.
"That dog is such a pain," said Beverly, wagging her finger at the pug. Low growls emitted from the dog's pushed-in face as the animal's bulging eyes stared directly at me.
"She probably smells my Rex," I said, lowering my voice and sagging my shoulders forward. "Dogs can sense when another animal is sick."
"Come to think of it, I haven't seen you walking your dog this week," said Beverly.
"Rex seems to be getting weaker," I lied, looking at the little girl and speaking slowly so Jessica could read my lips. "I can't afford a vet so if he doesn't improve soon, I'll probably have to put him to sleep."
The child's eyes filled with tears. Reaching down, she touched her pug's head. The dog stopped growling at me but continued to keep its eyes on my face as it planted itself guardingly on Jessica's foot.
Mother always said dogs were filthy animals. But kids liked dogs, especially big dogs like my Golden Retriever mix. Beverly had told us locals that her granddaughter was coming to live with her and that the disabled child had always had a "thing" for animals. That is when I went to the local pound and adopted Rex. Yesterday, when Jessica had gone to the mailbox in front of their house to get the mail for her grandmother as she did every day, I had been waiting nearby. Signaling from the woods, I motioned Jessica to come to me. I showed her the picture of Rex, looking sick and drawn because I hadn't given him food or water in over two days. Then I told her I believed she could help my poor dog and that she should meet me on the Fourth of July at 9:00 p.m. That was when the firework show was due to go off. I also told Jessica it had to be our secret because if her grandmother found out she might worry about her grandchild getting bit or hurt helping a sick animal and not allow her to come. Jessica had nodded her head.
"Did you see the story about Steven in yesterday's paper?" asked Beverly, breaking in on my secret plans for her grandchild. "They did an article about the black bear hanging around town last week and ran a piece on that poor boy."
"People know they aren't supposed to feed the bears or leave out garbage so the animals won't start associating people with food. But with so many tourists around..." I let the sentence hang.
Steven's body had been found in a bear's den this spring. After being mauled and used like a rag doll by the cubs, not much was left of the kid.
"I can't imagine what made Steven wander out of his house on Christmas Eve," Beverly said, slurring her words, "or what possessed him to crawl into a bear's den."
"It's these movies that are to blame," I said, sounding angry. "They show bears adopting kids and letting them play with their cubs."
"Well, it does happen sometimes in this part of the country," replied Beverly. "Two boys were found safe and sound in a bear den, playing with the cubs."
"Well, cubs might not be prejudiced," I replied, "but I bet mama bear wasn't awake or the kids' fate would have been different."
"Bears do sometimes take to kids," Beverly rambled on. "Another little girl wandered off from a remote town here in Alaska. She was found playing with two cubs in the water. Nearby the mother bear was fishing while keeping an eye on all three youngsters."
"You are a fountain of bear knowledge, Beverly," I said, flattering her.
"I've lived here for years so I guess I know about bears," said the elderly woman, "and I'll tell you what my husband told me when I first moved here. There is a bear every 300 square yards in Juneau. Even if you can't see the bear, that doesn't mean one isn't there. And, even though some people don't believe it, black bears are every bit as dangerous as grizzlies."
"You better make sure Jessica understands that," I said, putting a concerned look on my face. "I know you said before she came here that she has a way with animals but bears are not pets. They are wild beasts."
"Jessica has a pretend grizzly for a friend," said Beverly, swaying slightly as she leaned down. Cradling her granddaughter's face in her hands, she spoke slowly into the child's face. "But the grizzly is only make believe, right?"
Jessica lowered her eyes and nodded her head.
I clenched my hands tighter. Maybe God had just gotten sloppy when he created Jessica. Or maybe it was something her mother ate, smoked or drank while she was pregnant with the child. Either way, as Mother always said when she whipped me, there was no excuse for imperfection.
"Poor Stevie," I said, wanting to hear more about my handiwork. "Even though the mother bear was hibernating when Stevie must have crawled into her den, look what the cubs did to him."
"Bears don't hibernate," said Beverly.
"What do you mean?" I asked, remembering the way I had crawled into the bear's den on Christmas Eve and put the boy's body next to the sleeping animal. "Bears crawl into their den in late fall and don't come out again until the weather breaks."
"It's not true hibernation," stated Beverly. "Bears are in a deep sleep but they can wake up."
I felt my face drain. I had been sloppy and I hadn't even known it! I had spotted the large den during the previous summer. In the late fall, I had gone back to make sure the den was occupied. I had thought my plan was perfect and that I had covered all contingencies. Instead, I had been sloppy, very sloppy. Suppose the bear hadn't been in deep hibernation when I had put the boy's body next to it? If the animal had awaken it would have killed me!
"I took Jessica to the St. Therese shrine last week," said Beverly, skipping to another subject. "The chapel is on a tiny island. It is really beautiful."
"Did you take a boat out of Juneau?" I asked, pretending I was interested so I could be near Jessica for a little longer.
"No," explained Beverly. "The Shrine of St. Therese is near Juneau's city line."
"Who is St. Therese," I asked, hoping to get in more comments about my sick dog to make sure Jessica didn't change her mind about meeting me tomorrow night.
"St. Therese died in a convent when she was just 24 years old," said Beverly. "Before she died St. Therese said that she would send a shower of roses down to earth."
"Well, with the price of roses in Juneau, that could be expensive," I answered, smiling indulgently. Mother always said that religion was just another word for cult. And everyone knew that cult members did dirty things to each other.
"I prayed at the shrine that my only grandchild would be cured," said Beverly, brushing a tear from her bloodshot eyes. "I asked St. Therese to send me a rose as a sign that she was watching over my Jessica."
"Maybe I should go to the shrine and pray that someone comes over and helps poor Rex," I said, staring at the child and speaking slowly. "But I'll have to ask St. Therese to forget about sending me roses. I'm allergic to them."
"We better be getting home," said Beverly.
"Happy Fourth if I don't see the both of you before then," I said. I forced myself to walk away and not look back. Soon, very soon Jessica would be mine.
As I continued walking toward the main part of the city, I thought of the past winter. With most of the merchants and the part-time residents gone, it had been easy to integrate myself into what was left of the community. Besides, unlike places like Maine and the Ozarks, almost everyone who lived in Juneau, or for that matter almost everyone who lived in Alaska, came from somewhere else. Like one old-timer said, in Alaska a person was either born here or running for one reason or another from somewhere else--and very few people were actually born here.
With the money Mother had left me and from what I had gotten from selling the farm, I was able to live comfortably without having to work. That left me plenty of time to wander into town for breakfast and to help out the locals when they needed a hand. By the time the snow fell, I was on a first name basis with everyone in the business section of Juneau and surrounding areas.
As I approached the sprawling harbor, I saw that two cruise ships had already docked. Surrounded by fishing boats and small sailing vessels, the cruise ships looked like floating hotels. Slowing my pace, I walked past the small stands and buildings with knots of people standing outside waiting to book tours.
Summer was a busy time in Alaska. The season was short and the cruise lines and merchants scrambled furiously to grab every tourist dollar they could. Three more cruise ships were scheduled to dock later this morning, bringing another 8,000 or so strange people to our city. Tomorrow was the Fourth of July. That meant even more tourists would be descending upon us.
Rounding the bend in the road, I walked past a tiny pond and up a slight incline until I came to the business section of Juneau. From where I stood, the town reminded me of a giant ant farm. On each side of the city's main street shot out winding arteries. Flowing through the crammed streets, like lava from a volcano, poured tourists scrambling into pastel-colored shops filled with souvenirs, jewelry, and food.
"Hi, Ed," I said, walking into my favorite store.
Raising his eyes from the register, the owner nodded back. In front of his counter stood a line of people pulling out cash and waving credit cards as if they were in a rush to part with their money. Looking at Ed, I extended three fingers on my right hand and bent the fourth finger in half. He smiled at me. Three and a half more months and he, like most of the store owners, would close up shop and head toward Florida or other places with mild winters and water that you could actually swim in.
That is what I missed the most. Even though Juneau was in the Temperate Zone and the winters here were sometimes milder than in New York, the water never got warm enough to swim in. Images of children in dripping bathing suits rushing out of the water floated through my head. The beach in the Hamptons had extra-special memories for me. Still wet, a group of children had sat in the sand. Then one sand-encrusted little girl with a huge birth mark on her leg had wandered off on her own.
"You look happy," said one of Ed's salesman. "Did you get the ballot?"
"I'm voting against it again," I stated, saying what I knew the majority of residents in Juneau wanted to hear. "The politicians weren't able to threaten us into voting for roads and they won't slip it through this time either."
Juneau was the only state capital in the United States with no roads leading in or out of it. Several times the government had threatened that unless the townsfolk voted to connect Juneau to the rest of Alaska, they would move the state capital to Anchorage. Each time the bill came up, however, the people in Juneau voted no to roads and the capital of Alaska hadn't been moved yet.
"We have our little ones to think about," said the man. "What if someone kidnaped a kid?"
"God forbid," I interjected, putting a shocked expression on my face.
"The police would sit themselves on the end of the roads and the Coast Guard would patrol the shore," said the salesman. "That's what would happen. The kidnapper couldn't get away without roads. That's why our crime rate in Juneau is so low."
"You're right," I said, pretending to agree. How stupid someone would be to take a kid to another town, or let the kid go so it could identify their abductor later! A guy that dumb deserved to be caught.
"Hello, folks," Ed said from the front of the store as another batch of tourists entered. "Let me know if I can help you."
Slipping back through the crowded aisle, I made my way outside. Standing on the corner, I waited to cross. At the circle in the middle of the main street was a couple who lived on the other side of town. I noticed they were in a ratty-looking car. Last month their SUV had been totaled when it collided with a moose. Now, as if it were some conciliation, they were minus their new SUV but eligible to be part of Alaska's Moose Lottery. If their number came up they could get a moose hunting license.
The wife spotted me standing on the sidewalk. Shrugging her hunched shoulders at their old car and the tourists crossing in front of them, she smiled and waved to me.
I waved back. A few of the locals resented the tourists. Others tolerated them. But most of the people in Juneau genuinely enjoyed the diversion and life the tourists brought to their city. I looked at all the tourists as potential suspects--suspects who, in case something went wrong before I decided to leave here, would take some of the heat off of the locals long enough for me to disappear. Deciding to eat breakfast in town this morning, I entered a small caf´┐1/2.
"Why, hello, handsome," said the scrawny waitress, walking toward me. "Hurry in and sit down. There is only one table left."
"We have to take care of our own," I said, smiling at Jeanne. Despite her reference to my being handsome, I knew she was only being polite. After Mother touched or beat me she always told me how imperfect I was. And Mother never lied.
"A buttered roll and scrambled eggs," Jeanne said, pouring the steaming coffee into my cup before heading toward the kitchen.
Some people in town had tried to pair me up with the waitress. They had mentioned her beautiful eyes and kind ways. But Jeanne's face reminded me of an old boot and her neck would have made any turkey proud.
"Here you go," said Jeanne, putting the coffee and roll in front of me. A few of the tourists, who were here before me, looked my way and mumbled. Ignoring them, I bit into the roll. As I did, flakes fell onto the table. I quickly swept the crumbs onto the floor. Then I put my foot over them. That would fool Jeanne. Mother had been smarter. She always checked the floor under the table during and after each meal.
"So, what have you been doing, Bob?" asked the waitress.
"Getting the old place fixed up mostly," I answered.
"I'd like to see what you've been doing to the house sometime," she answered, blushing slightly.
"I met Beverly on the way down to the harbor," I continued, ignoring her suggestion about coming to my house. "She was stocking up on groceries for the holiday weekend."
"I hope she doesn't get too depressed," said the waitress. "Everyone knows how much Beverly misses her husband."
"I saw a bottle or two of gin in the bag she was carrying home," I answered. "I hope Beverly stays sober enough this holiday weekend to keep an eye on her grandchild. There are a lot of dangerous animals around Juneau not to mention thousands of tourists that no one knows anything about."
"Jessica is really special," continued Jeanne. "That kid should be a veterinarian."
"Too bad she can't speak or hear," I replied.
"Jessica seems to understand everything being said to her and can make her wants known," continued Jeanne. "But it's the way that kid communicates with animals that is really eerie. Beverly says it's as if they are speaking in their heads to each other."
"Sounds like something Beverly saw in a half-empty bottle to me," I said, shrugging my shoulders.
"Now, don't go putting down things you don't understand," chided the waitress. "Remember that nasty parrot I bought last Christmas?"
I nodded my head. "Ed and his wife said they never heard a bird growl before."
"Beverly and Jessica stopped by my house last week," said the waitress, Signaling to a customer that she would be right there. "Jessica walked over to Max's cage and put her finger in.
"Bet she got one nasty bite," I said, taking a sip of my coffee.
"Max kissed her finger!" answered Beverly. "Ever since then that miserable critter has been almost civil to me. He even seems to be watching the door as if he is waiting for that kid to come back and visit."
As the waitress hurried off to another table, I pulled out a five dollar bill and left it next to my empty plate. It was time for me to go. I had procrastinated long enough.
Walking much slower than when I had entered the city, I started toward home. Tomorrow the town would be crawling with tourists. At 10:00 p.m. the cruise ships would leave with the tide. Just before they departed, Jessica would quietly disappear. By the time her grandmother came to the next morning and noticed the kid was gone, the ships would be miles out to sea. That meant nearly 8,000 absent suspects that had to be considered. I liked those odds. A few more hours. That's all it would be.
When I got home I went to the barn instead of the house. After taking off my shirt, I took the cat-and-nine tails that had been Mother's out of the wooden bin.
"I won't be sloppy again, Mother," I pleaded, using one hand and then the other to beat myself. I didn't stop until each strand of the whip was covered with my blood.
Still holding the cat and nine tails, I staggered into the yard. Rex cringed as I entered his pen. "You've been messy again," I said, pointing to the feces left in the corner of the wire enclosure. Raising my hand, I brought the whip down on the animal's thin back.
July 4th 2003
Hugging the edge of the dark road so as to be able to jump into the woods if car lights appeared, I made my way toward the outskirts of town. Inside of my too large shoes, the paper rubbed against my toes. If any footprints were found near the body, I didn't want them to match my shoe size. As I walked, images of what I would make Jessica do to me before killing her floated through my head. Against my will, the Bad Thing as Mother always called it began to rise. At the same time, the cuts from yesterday's lashing and even the scars from previous whippings turned into hot strips across my back. "I won't enjoy it, Mother." I whispered. "I promise." Panicking, I pushed the dirty thoughts aside. Gradually, the Bad Thing went back where it belonged and the burning on my back receded.
Jessica would meet me in the wooded area across from her house so we could walk back to my place and she could "help" Rex. After I made her do things to me, I'd use my jacket to smother her. Then I would carry her body to a gully close to the dock. "Poor child," I whispered, mimicking what I knew the locals would later say. "With her grandmother being drunk, she must have wandered off to see the fireworks and fell." As in the case with Steven, I was counting on bears and other wild animals to mangle Jessica's body before it was found.
It was nearly 9:00 p.m. when I got to the spot where Jessica was to meet me. Quietly, I crept into the bushes across from her house. As I moved about for a good vantage point to watch the road from, something dug into my thigh. Pulling the stem away, a red rose came off in my hand. As I stared at the flower, spidery fingers touched my leg.
Dropping the rose, I spun around. Next to me stood Jessica. "You're early," I said, feeling my heart pound. In the dim light I could see her large eyes fixed on my face. Then her eyes scanned the nearby bushes.
"Rex is very weak," I said, stooping down and speaking into the girl's face. "I know a short cut back to my house."
I took Jessica's hand and led her deeper into the bushes. My too big shoes sloshed on my feet as we plodded through the thick underbrush. When we were a good 100 yards from the road I stopped. Clutched between the child's hands was the rose I had dropped. Hadn't Beverly said that she had asked St. Therese to send her a rose as a sign that Jessica would be helped? Snorting at the drunk woman's superstitious belief, I knocked the flower out of Jessica's hand and stepped on it.
"Now, Jessica," I said, taking off my jacket."You've been a bad girl."
A shuffling sound came from the nearby bushes. Putting my hand over Jessica's mouth, I pulled her to the ground and huddled beside her. Then I remembered. Jessica couldn't scream or call for help. All I had to do was keep her still. Flopping her face down on the ground, I threw my jacket over her and dug my knee into the child's back to keep her from moving. For several minutes I stayed there, listening intently for any sound. Finally, convinced it was just the wind or some small animal, I stood up. Reaching down, I pulled Jessica to her feet. Instead of standing, she crumbled like a rag doll. I must have pressed too hard on the kid's back and cut off her oxygen. Jessica had passed out.
Then I heard branches move again. This time the sound came from behind me. Spinning around, I practically collided with a hairy chest. Staggering back, I looked up into the cold eyes of a huge grizzly! With an ear-splitting roar, an arm the size of a beam raked into my shoulder. When I came to I was laying face down on the ground. I tried to get up but my arm was no longer connected to my shoulder. Then I heard a whimpering sound. Looking up, I saw the bear gently prodding Jessica's crumbled body as if trying to wake her up. Hadn't Beverly said something about Jessica having a pretend grizzly for a friend? At the time I had thought it was just another of the drunken woman's silly notions. Now, I wondered.
As if the bear sensed me staring at it, the animal swung its head in my direction. "Jessica, help me!" I yelled, forgetting for a minute that she was not only unconscious but also deaf. With a leap, the bear was on me. Claws raked across my back. Suppressing a scream, I lay still. Play dead. That's what the books had said. Eventually, the bear would tire of mauling what it thought was a corpse. Then it would throw dirt over the supposedly dead body and leave. All I had to do was stay still and not cry out no matter how bad the pain was. No problem, I told myself. I had years of practice doing just that when Mother beat me.
The grizzly raked its claws down my leg. As if I were a rag doll, it battered me around. Finally, snorting as if it was bored with the game, the bear gave one last nip to my side and began to fling leaves over me.
I made it, I said to myself. I made it. Just as the bear turned to leave, the rose fell from the rubble I was covered with and landed on my face. My nose began to twitch. Then I sneezed.
"No," I yelled, as the bear roared and charged. With the rose still plastered on my face, the grizzly's huge jaws clamped around my head. As I took a last look at the rose, I heard bone snapping.