As Christmas draws closer, snuggle in front of the fire, roast some chestnuts, and sink your fangs into this week's festive tale: Regifting by Rebecca Daff.
Rebecca writes dark fantasy and horror. Regardless of genre, it's gonna get weird. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccadaff1
By Rebecca Daff
Wyatt’s body caught fire fast. His arms and legs proved to be effective kindling, the flames spreading down his limbs to the length of his fingers. From there, they lit the bodies beneath. And as the pile burned hot in the December chill, the victims stoking the inferno were occasionally prodded, readjusted so all the pieces—flesh, clothes, wallets—would disappear.
But one part, one small piece of ash, escaped. Wyatt’s pupil sailed high into the air and caught a current that carried it far down the lane to the neighbors. Up and over their rooftop it drifted. Then the cold breeze dropped it unceremoniously down the chimney. Wyatt’s pupil stared at the dirty bricks, thinking about nothing in particular. Other pieces of ash gathered round, attracted to the newcomer. And like a small ball of snow pushed along, the mass grew.
The man known as The Yuletide Slayer was born Elmer Christopher Meeger. The Yuletide Slayer seemed more fitting, though. More aggressive. Elmer was a beast, five-foot-eight-one-hundred-thirty-pounds of homegrown hatred. He jabbed the pile of bodies again with the garden rake, really putting some feeling into it, stepping forward into a lunge. Hyah!
He was still wearing his hunting clothes: black sweatpants and sweatshirt, black tennis shoes, gloves and ski cap. As soon as he’d gotten home he made sure to get this batch burning. He knew if he didn’t, the work would just keep piling up, and he didn’t want to get too far behind. It was Christmas. The busiest time of year.
He put the rake down and practiced his roundhouse kick. He was still as flexible as he’d been when he first learned karate. Life was no good before martial arts. Those boys were mean. So he’d gone home to ask his father for the money to join the local dojo. His Pops, bleary-eyed and stubble-faced, looked around the one-room hovel and laughed, his beer gut jiggling.
“Son, we poor as dirt. Can’t you tell nothin?”
“Maybe Santa will drop the money.”
His father barked a laugh then got quiet. Elmer knew it was going to be bad. Whenever his Pops got really still that’s when it came.
“Come here,” his father said, voice low.
Elmer walked slowly over, eyes never leaving his father’s. The grown man’s grip was strong when he gathered up his son’s fraying t-shirt, balling it in his fists. He pulled the boy’s face close to his, so close Elmer smelled the fumes.
“That fat man don’t come to this house. You got it?” He shook a nod out of Elmer. “Won’t nobody save you from being poor. Now get outta here before I knock the fire out of you.”
He released Elmer, and the boy ran all the way to the dojo. That was the year he started. He hid outside, watching and following the moves he saw through the window, dedicating himself to the art he hoped would save his life.
It was some kind of magic that squished the bits of debris together in that filthy chimney. Old skin cells, some fluffy white dove feathers, and accumulated carbon combined with Wyatt’s right pupil, fusing together all in one night to form a fetus. It stuck to the chimney wall, growing fast. It expanded and morphed into a man with a gray pallor. White, feathery tufts of hair sprouted haphazardly from his head, and a soft, full beard erupted from his cheeks and chin. Finally, Wyatt’s pupil fused onto the moist right eyeball, and his new body detached itself from the brick. He slid down the last few feet and landed on top of a cold log.
He crawled out of the fireplace and took his time standing. The body wasn’t familiar yet. And everything out of his right eye was blurry. He had to rub it with the palm of his hand, then poke it with his index finger to get it to respond. Finally, the room came into focus: the Christmas tree, the lights, even the little boy in Spiderman pajamas staring at him in open-mouthed wonder.
“Are you Santa Claus?” the boy whispered.
Wyatt tilted his head to the right, and as he did, ash fell to the floor. Was he Santa? He couldn’t remember. He grabbed a red housecoat draped over a nearby recliner and coughed out soot.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Cody,” the boy said. “You have to be Santa.”
“You came down the chimney, you’ve got white hair and a beard, and tomorrow’s Christmas Eve.”
Wyatt tried to remember, tilting his right ear to his shoulder, but nothing came. He was hungry. He didn’t have to think about that. A growing rumble started in the base of his gut and worked its way to the top of his stomach. He was craving something. Something particular. Nothing else would satisfy, but he couldn’t quite get a hold on what it was.
Cody ran over to the end table, grabbing an enormous book. He returned to Wyatt’s side, and Wyatt could feel the warmth emanating from the child’s skin. He was particularly interested in the heat wafting from the top of Cody’s skull.
“This is you.” Cody showed him the picture of Santa, but Wyatt’s hunger was overwhelming now. Despite the gnawing he felt all the way to his spine, something inside restrained him, keeping him from doing what he truly wanted. Cody’s head looked like a pastry to Wyatt, his skin the pliable crust, his hair the fluffy topping, his brains a delectable fruit filling. Wyatt struggled against his internal chains like an animal, ravenous, delirious with hunger.
He broke free.
Cody was delicious. Wyatt licked the blood off his fingertips and stepped over the body. Something inside, something primitive, the part that dwelled in the darkest caverns of his mind, told him there was more to be had upstairs.
The Yuletide Slayer sat in the mall parking lot, twilight approaching. It was Christmas Eve, and instead of being home with their families, instead of taking care of their children, loving their children, these people were shopping. They weren’t reading their sons The Night Before Christmas. Instead, they were at a mall opening their fat wallets, smiling at each other with those perfectly straight and white toothy grins charging it all, the ledger of their lives deep in the red. Little did they know that Elmer was the city’s Collections Department. He watched out the window as a group of women huddled together against the wind, loaded down with bags. Elmer had a part to play in all of this. He was nothing but a humble public servant when it came down to it.
He felt a stirring in his lap when one of the women bent over to place her bags in the trunk of a car. Yes. Tonight he’d get one of those. But then he’d have to wait until next year. He didn’t know why that was. It would be so much fun to do it year round, but he just knew there was a rule that this was the only time permissible. He felt it in the back of his skull. And it was a law as firm as granite.
It was hard sitting in mall lots scouting for prey. He found himself staring at the Santas outside the doors, ringing their bells, ho ho ho-ing. Shoppers would smile at them and drop money into their red buckets like they didn’t need it, like there was plenty more where that came from. The whole thing was the wrong way round. It had always been the wrong way round. And he was the only one who saw it.
Elmer waited while the sun set. The light above him in the parking lot had never been replaced, and he sat in a cone of darkness. He imagined he was a predator, something fur-covered and feral, crouching, waiting for his prey.
He tracked her as she locked the door and she crossed the lot’s expanse. It was now very late. The mall had closed a while ago. It was just this woman. He moved fast, pulling his van to a stop feet from her. He savored the look in her wide eyes. The way her body twitched and spasmed with electricity. He hefted her bulk into the back of his van then wiped his hands together, feeling accomplished. The last parcel of the season.
Wyatt decided he wasn’t Santa Claus. The combined gelatin of brain matter in his stomach nourished his cells, feeding them not only much needed vitamins and minerals but information. For example, Cody wanted a remote control car under the tree in the morning. So some of it was useless. But Wyatt started to think there was someone he was forgetting. And it had nothing to do with food.
He nudged Cody’s mother out of the way so he could pace the floor, which was difficult because his bare feet kept slipping in puddles. He was filling out, still gray, still feathers for hair, but getting that paunch that seemed so important to the kid he ate. Indeed, moment by moment he was looking more like Santa Claus. His stomach began to churn and rumble again. He contemplated eating the rest of the bodies, but instantly wrinkled his nose in distaste. That was just gross.
A thought occurred to him: maybe there were more morsels to be had in other houses. Maybe there were children in other houses. Cody’s brain tasted so much better than his parents’ had. It was still soft, unencumbered by the hard wiring of adulthood.
Wyatt’s stomach roared. He craved the innocent brain, the simple decadence of youth. He ambled along the road not seeing the joys of life: the crispness of a winter evening, the blinking stars, the first flake of snow as it landed soft on his head. The mind—the life—of another was all he cared about as he moved southward, each shuffling footstep bringing him closer to the faint fire glow that beckoned him, a lighthouse on the horizon calling him home.
It was just as well that killing season was over. Elmer was down to his last bit of yard brush to get a fire started. Even then, he had to add lighter fluid to really get it going. He pulled up his sagging sweatpants. The exercise from the shopping season trimmed him to a lithe 128. And he was exhausted.
He looked at Sara. That was the name on her license. Her body lay sprawled, arms and legs spilling over the edges of the wheelbarrow. She’d fought. Fought like she had every right to live. And as Elmer rubbed down his aching muscles he almost thought she did.
The house with the fire was small. Wyatt opened the door and stepped inside. He hunted. The things surrounding him—the enormous flat-screen television, stainless steel appliances, and the engraved name badge in the bowl next to the door (Elmer Meeger, District Manager)—were unimportant. He was out for blood, and the growing bonfire that shone through the sliding glass doors off the kitchen promised the meal to come.
Elmer wiped his hands on the legs of his pants as he stepped toward Sara, but what he saw emerging from his house stopped him. Firelight flickered across the figure: red suit, white hair and beard, large belly. But he don’t come here.
When he got closer, Elmer saw a version of Santa that didn’t fit. Tufts of hair clung to the man’s scalp and face. He looked like a molting bird. Blood stained his beard a reddish brown, and he was missing chunks of flesh. But there was something familiar about the look in his eyes.
Wyatt could tell Elmer’s brain was going to be super tough, but Wyatt was growing more desperate by the minute. That primitive voice was urging him forward, insisting that Elmer would help him survive. And that was the moment he saw the woman in the blood-glazed wheelbarrow, a white dress crumpled nearby. His right eye burned. He closed it. And saw Candice.
They had just bought a present for his nephew: an IPod. A bit extravagant maybe, but Wyatt had the money. He reached for Candice’s hand in the vacant parking lot. She turned to him, a smile on her face. He closed his eyes as he leaned in for a kiss. There were footsteps, then searing pain coursed through his body and it was dark.
He remembered death, the stillness of it. His right eye pulsed with the memory. With it he saw Candice’s naked body underneath his in the pose of lovemaking, but she was still and cold until the fire caught and they burned together. They burned until their body’s fused in the truest sense, with the exception of Wyatt’s pupil. It bulged in its socket, threatening to burst at any moment.
Elmer saw it. He saw recognition in Wyatt’s face—and fury. Karate reflexes kicked in, and Elmer grabbed the rake. He spun around to attack, but Wyatt was faster. The fat man grabbed the hands that gripped the rake handle, and Elmer felt his own bones crack. He screamed. Before he had time to regain his balance, before he had time to utilize the skills he’d built through years of practice, Wyatt shoved him into the blaze.
Elmer burned. He felt everything, the flames that sloughed off his clothes, his skin. His last sight, before the fire claimed his eyes, was his killer bent over Sara, caressing her hair, his shoulders shaking, before opening his jaw to an impossible width. Elmer could only hear the crunch. Then it was still.
Wyatt was full of memory now. In fact, he had more than he needed. More than he wanted. And it was miles to the next house. He knew, the voice in the cavern knew, it was just as well that the killing was over. He knelt next to the shiny wheelbarrow, ignoring the hunger that had driven him thus far. Sara’s palm was face up, like she was waiting for him to hold it. She wanted comfort in the moments before the sun rose and the world started the day without her. So he stayed. He weakened. Parts of his body flaked and crumbled, falling bit by bit to the ground next to her. He felt none of it. Finally, he could no longer hold her and sank into the mound of ash.
We hope this week's tale has left your monster ready for a food coma. If not, have a taste of our many other stories. Until next week, may your monster never go hungry.
*Regifting © Rebecca Daff