As Christmas creeps closer, we present a festive tale by Diane Arrelle, "Feast of Stephen".
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has sold more than 250 short stories and has two published books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories. She has a new collection of horror stories due out in late 2017. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Having recently retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she is co-owner a small publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink LLC. She resides with her husband and her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).
Feast Of Stephen
By Diane Arrelle
*originally published in 13 O Clock Christmas Anthology 2016
Stephen studied himself in the bathroom mirror, touched his swollen, bruised cheek and grimaced. “I hate Steve Arbuckle,” he hissed at his reflection. “He’s nothing but a nasty bully.”
“Stevie, honey,” his mom called. “Come have some dessert and then off to bed with you.”
Stephen laughed and ran downstairs to hug his mother. “Have a good time,” he said and kissed her cheek. He hated the fact that Mom and Dad went out every Christmas Eve, but it was tradition.
“What do I do if Santa stops by?” he asked, just like he asked every year.
“Why, offer him milk and cookies, of course!” Mom replied.
“And it wouldn’t hurt to ask him for a black belt in Karate, either,” Dad added with a laugh and gently touched Stephen’s battered face. “That or a new next door neighbor who isn’t constantly beating on you.”
Mom sighed. “Now, David, you know those boys are just wild because they’re unsupervised all the time. What do you expect, with the revolving door parents that they have? I mean, there seems to be a new stepfather every few months, not to mention the long string of uncles.”
“At least we never have to worry about that here,” Stephen’s dad said as he got their coats. “Behave and be sure to watch for Santa Claus,” he called as they left.
Somewhere along the long boring evening Stephen fell asleep.
Suddenly he was awake.
There was a light on downstairs and he heard noises. Someone was downstairs, but who? Stephen curled into a small ball and pulled the blanket over his head. What if it were robbers, or worse, killers? He kept perfectly still and strained to listen to the noises. The floor creaking; a chair scraping. Although he didn’t want to, he started crying. Silent sobs shook him as tears ran down his face and onto the pillow.
Finally, when he couldn’t take another moment of it, he heard the refrigerator open and dishes rattling. He sighed with relief; a robber wouldn't stop by for a midnight snack. Stephen decided it was Mom and Dad home early and he looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.57. He tiptoed down the hall holding his phone, crept down the stairs, and very, very slowly worked his way toward the kitchen, avoiding all the creaky floorboards. He’d surprise Mom and Dad by taking their picture as they raided the refrigerator. “Aha,” he yelled and set the phone to camera.
He stopped. Dead.
It wasn’t Mom and Dad. It wasn’t anyone he’d ever met before.
“Well, it’s about time, Steven,” the strange, red-faced man in the Santa suit said as he sat at the table, swigging beer from the bottle. “I certainly made enough noise, what were you doing, hiding from me?”
Stephen felt his mouth hanging open, as he struggled to comprehend what was going on. Finally, he stammered, “How… how… how do you know who I am?”
"No, not how, how, how,” the stranger said. “It’s ho… ho… ho… and then he ho, ho, hoed, his big belly shaking like the proverbial bowl of jelly and his face growing even redder.
Stephen gaped in fearful amazement. He knew he should be terrified, but he wasn’t, he was filled with curiosity. He knew Santa wasn’t real, he always knew, so who was this creep?
The stranger took a huge swallow from the long necked bottle, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and belched. “Wondering who I am?” he asked in a conversational tone.
Stephen nodded, unable to make his brain and mouth work together.
“I’m Santa Claus, the real Santa Claus.”
Stephen found his voice again. “No, you’re not,” he snapped with little boy impatience and indignation surging through him. “I know Santa isn’t real. So, who are you and what do you want?”
The man laughed again. "Well, Steve, I’m Santa Claus and I’m here for you." The Santa smiled and Stephen suddenly felt cold. He blinked back tears and forced his knees to hold him up. Santa’s teeth were filed to vicious little points like a mouthful of fangs. It looked like the teeth in a slasher vampire movie, but Stephen was sure these weren’t fake. They looked very, very real and very, very sharp.
“Me?” Stephen squeaked.
“You,” the Santa agreed. “I know you’ve been a very bad boy this year, in fact for quite a few years, but I’ve had other Steve’s to contend with. I know you have a ton of excuses, nobody really loves you or understands you; you’re having trouble in school, not as smart as the other kids, blah, blah, blah. Look, little boy, I know who’s naughty and nice and I’ve heard all the excuses. I don’t care, I’m here to warn you.”
Stephen was puzzled; he wasn’t all that bad. Oh, sure, there was the ink all over the rug from when he trying to fingerprint the cat and the time he’d signed his Mom’s name to a test he wasn’t too proud of, but he didn’t consider himself a bad kid. Not bad enough to warrant a visit from somebody he was pretty sure was a fictional character with unexpected fangs.
“Nothing to say?” The Santa asked getting up, going to the fridge for another beer. “Thinking about the past year and deciding if you were a good little boy or a bad little boy? Believe me, buddy, you were bad. Bad enough to eat!”
Stephen couldn’t stop staring at those teeth. “Eat?”
“Yep, eat. It ain’t easy maintaining this girth but I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you a second chance. I’ll give you until Boxing Day to clean up your act or it’s supper time.”
Stephen was almost dizzy; he didn’t understand a thing this scary freak was talking about. “What’s Boxing Day?”
“It’s the day after Christmas Day, it’s also known as the Feast of Stephen. Cute, huh?”
Stephen just shook his head in confusion.
The Santa sighed. “Look kid. The feast of Stephen is named after Saint Stephen who was probably stoned to death while helping the poor. So you see, the Feast of Stephen is the day when we feed the poor and believe me, after a workout like I get every Christmas Eve, I feel very poor and very hungry. So I like to feast… on Stephens if possible. But I’m also a fair kind of guy so I’m giving you a warning, a very stern warning. Shape up or be dinner." He grabbed Stephen’s arm and rolled up the sleeve of his pajamas. "Now look, kid, this is gonna hurt, but, I need some extra energy to get through the night and you need proof.”
Stephen struggled and squirmed away from this Santa Demon. “Hey, wait, this can’t be happening!” he shrieked and backed away. “You shouldn’t even be here!”
The Santa laughed again. “And why not? Because you don’t believe in me?”
“Tha... That’s right,” Stephen stammered as his eyes darted everywhere, looking for a way out of the mess. He continued backing away until he felt the wall behind him.
“That doesn’t matter, son,” the Santa said. “When I’m though with you, you’ll believe."
“But… but... you don’t understand...” Stephen pleaded.
The Santa sighed. “Look, boy, I’ve got a lot of stops yet tonight, so let’s get this over with. Quickly, tell me what I don’t understand. Remember I know all about you, I have a list."
“I can’t be on it, that’s what,” Stephen yelped as the Santa grabbed him again. “After all, we’re Jewish.”
The Santa stopped moving and dropped his wrist. He looked puzzled for a second and then laughed loud and hard. “HO, HO, HO! You almost had me there, boy. But I have my list and you’re on it, Steven Arbuckle.”
“I’m not Steven Arbuckle!” Stephen screamed. "I’m Stephen Greenberg! The Arbuckle house is right across the street.”
The Santa stared at Stephen. “Really?” He looked both confused and embarrassed.
Stephen nodded his head and sank down to the floor, his knees finally giving out.
The Santa laughed. “Oops, guess I had a few too many beers and those stupid reindeer seem to screw up the numbers every year. You can teach them to fly all right, but they just can’t seem to learn to read all that well."
He got up and headed into the living room. “Sorry, Stephen. My mistake. But remember, you better be good, because I can always come back. Oh yeah, don’t bother to mention this to anyone, because, first of all, no one would ever believe you and second, I can always feast on more than one Stephen you know."
Stephen crawled out into the living room and watched as the Santa ho, ho hoed one last time and disappeared up the chimney. He sat for a few minutes wondering what he should do, but couldn’t think of anything. The Santa was correct; nobody’d ever believe him. Somewhere along the way he fell asleep, too emotionally drained to move. He woke to hear knocking at the front door. The sun was up, Mom and Dad’s car was in the driveway and the clock read 9:25. Stephen got up slowly, feeling stiff and sore and walked to the door. He was starting to remember the dream he’d had, it had been a weird one. He opened the door and was shocked to find Steven Arbuckle standing there.
Steven held out a sloppily wrapped present with his right hand and mumbled, "Hey, I’m sorry I beat you up all the time. I won’t do it again."
Stephen reached for the gift, noticing Steven’s left hand. It was bandaged with tons of gauze and he wasn’t sure, but it looked like there might be a finger missing. “Thanks,” he said and shut the door.
He smiled a little and sighed as he fingered the gift, “Guess there really is a Santa Claus after all!” he said and tore open the present.
We hope this tasty treat has whet your appetite. Check back on the 26th for our Tinsel and Spiders three course dinner. If you're hungry in the meantime you can enjoy our many other stories.
We wish you a Merry Christmas from Feed Your Monster and hope you've been naughty, fiendish, and nice.
*Feast Of Stephen © Diane Arrelle.