's 2013 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by C. Lonnquist

                Every time I drive home, I reach a stoplight on the corner of Division and Main. Out my passenger window is a house; a nondescript off-yellow block thrown together in the Ď70s and left untouched as it looks as a house should. The paint isnít peeling, there arenít bodies in the yard, cruel eyes donít stare out of windows, and human remains donít surreptitiously sprout from the trash bins.

               Still, I really hate driving past that house in the winter.

               Iíd take another route, but this is the fastest and it just goes right down the hill to my apartment, and not the windy hill that gets slick in winter but the straight-shot that takes you right to the parking lot. The one thatís always plowed.

               I donít think Iíd hate the drive half as much if it were during the day, but the one-way out of the lot just dumps me out on Madison, and itís an easier route up Thompson Ravine.

               The problem with the drive home is that Santa.

               Youíve probably seen exactly what Iím talking about; an inflatable Santa about seven feet tall, lit from the inside and anchored to a fan so that it moves around a little in the wind. They juke back and forth, twisting a little from side to side, one hand permanently raised, the other affixed to their belt. Black dots too small for normal eyes rest above a cheery, bulbous nose, and the cheeks are rosy from imagined frostbite.

               But the smileÖ

               A death mask strapped to an innocuous face, lips slightly agape, and a clean, white line of teeth above and below a red space. A grin, a gasp. I swear it turns against the wind as I drive by.

               The first time I noticed was two weeks ago, as the wind forced itself through a crack in the lining on the driverís side and blew against my ear. The stoplight at Division and Main takes forever to change. Iíve seen people get out of their cars and hit the button on the crosswalk to make it go. The wind on my ear was bugging me, so I clambered out the door and began to walk to the light.

               I noticed the inflatable Santa seemed closer. It rocked back and forth in the wind, mouth open just a little, smiling, right hand forever waving. I held my finger next to the button and stared at it. It stopped moving as the wind died down momentarily, but when it picked up again, it leaned forwardóagainst the windóas if struggling to hop. I hit the button on the crosswalk and trotted back to my car. I looked back at the Santa when the light turned green a few moments later.

               It had to have been closerÖ

               A few nights later, I was at the light again. I couldnít keep myself from looking towards the inflatable Santa, who waved cheerily at me and lilted back and forth. I glared at it, and it seemed to wobble back and forth dismissively. I was beginning to hate that stupid thing. The light changed quicker that night, and as I passed through the intersection, I looked into my rearview. The Santa had rotated ninety degrees and was leaning to the side to watch my car.

               I almost went off the road, sliding on the ice as I slammed on my brakes. Surprised and annoyed, I looked over my shoulder. The Santaís back was to me, and it wobbled harmlessly in the wind. I cursed under my breath and started driving, looking up at the rearview again. The Santa was looking back, smirking. I cursed again and drove home.

               The next few nights, nothing happened. I forced a friend to ride with me, not giving a reason as I didnít want to tell anyone I was getting freaked out by a lawn ornament. After a couple drives without incident, I braved another trip home by myself. When I got to the light, I was happy to see that that Santa was gone. Perhaps it had found another lawn to terrorize. The light was green, but I stopped anyways since a cat was wandering across the intersection. Fat, tabby, and cold, it picked its way across the pavement and towards the house with the Santa. The light turned red as the cat trundled across, and I rolled my eyes at the cat as it gazed up at the light and then at me, as if trying to remind me of what a dick it was.

               As the red light dragged on, I watched the cat wander across the Santa-less yard. It passed by the edge of the house as the light turned green, and if I hadnít noticed the sudden glow of illumination from around the corner of the house, the next few nights would have turned out differently.

               The Santa leaned out from behind the house, both hands suddenly free. Still somehow only moving as if the wind were blowing it, it toppled forward and fell onto the cat, rising up again momentarily. I would have probably screamed if I had processed the fact that it was choking the cat. I didnít hear the snap and stared dumbly as the luminous Santa plucked the catís head off like it were twisting the cap off a beer bottle. Blood splashed around its mouth, and it leaned back to the ground, ruffling in the wind. When it came back up, there was red on its hands and face, and the garish yellow light inside of it shone a bit more orange through its blood-stained nylon beard.

               It looked at me, its expression never changing, the white teeth of its little smile now as red as the lips around them.

               Slowly, almost nonchalantly, it leaned back behind the house, dragging the cat with it

               I decided to screw the red light and floored it.

               Now, hereís the thing; why would I take that route again? Easy; Iím not crazy and that thing was a stupid inflatable Santa. So what if it did kill a catówhich it didnít, because Iím not crazy? I could end it with a fervent stab from a pen. I forced myself to drive home the next night along the same route. Thankfully, there were no cats.

               On the other hand, there were now three Santas standing in a ring in front of the house. They bobbled back and forth, and their heads seemed to alternate between nodding and looking over their shoulders at me. The stupid things were plotting. I knew it. I didnít even stop at the red light.

               The next night, I sharpened a bunch of pencils at work and taped them to my ice scraper, which I left in the passengerís seat. I would not be food for a balloon. Not that night, not any night.

               When I got to Division and Main, I stopped at the red light and looked out the passenger window, surprised to see exactly zero Santas. All the same, I clutched my ice scraper in my right hand, glaring into the darkness. The light stayed red for a minute. Three minutes. I narrowed my eyes, peering through the night for the ugly yellow glow of the Santa. Nothing. Nothing at all.

               I sighed and set the scraper down, noticing that the inside of the car was suddenly lighter.

               Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I turned to look out the driverís window.

               The Santaís face was mashed against it, deformed and glowing through the fingers of ice that picked at the edge of the window. Its eyes were inches from mine, never blinking, never turning in their nonexistent sockets. The wind moved it, dragging its face back and forth across the glass. I noticed that the glass by its mouth was fogging up.

               It smiled wider, and its mouth opened into sucking blackness despite its interior illumination. A sound like flies filled the air; like a thousand gnats or a swarm of wasps. The buzz rose higher, pitch changing until it was a static screech; nails on a chalkboard, white noise as high as the volume goes. I thought I saw a hand in there in a warm, green mitten.

               There was a loud crack. The Santa jerked to the side, towards the hood of the car. The buzzing kept going, but lower now; almost pained.

               I noticed something move in my taillights and looked back. A man walked behind the car, shotgun in the crook of his arm. He looked completely normal, if not a bit elderly, with a scarf around his neck and a stocking cap embroidered with reindeer on top of his head. He walked past the driverís door without looking at me and stooped down over the Santa. With a grunt, he slammed the rifle but down onto the thing, out of view. It made a strange, whimpering hiss like when someone opens a new bottle of pop.

               The man slung the now deflated Santa over his shoulder and walked around the hood of my car, still not even acknowledging my presence. He meandered back to the house that the Santa was always in front of, and wandered to the garage, dropping the Santa in a heap next to him as he bent over and pulled the garage open.

               Thousands of pairs of black, empty eyes stared out at me. Thousands of black, open smiles emitted angry buzzing noises as the glow of many, many deflated Santas emanated from the garage. The pile seemed to stretch up past the door, and the man struggled momentarily to cram the newest deflated Santa in with the rest of them. He gave the pile of Santas a good kick before dropping the door back down.

               The man placed his hands at his hips and stretched his bent back straight, elbows behind him. Picking up his shotgun, he turned to go back in the house. He must have noticed me staring out of the corner of his eye and turned, a bored look on his face.

               Before he went back in the house, he flashed a tired, understanding smile and gave a little, unimpressed shrug.

               I take a different route home in the winters.