's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" A Christmas Peril "

Submitted by Vague1

"A Christmas Peril" -

It's a quiet Christmas Eve, tonight. I don't really have anywhere to be, no family members to spend it with. My friends are probably off at parties, exchanging tacky presents and getting drunk on rum eggnog, or something.

I've never really celebrated at Christmas. I'm no Grinch; I just don't get into it. I used to open presents when I was a kid, sure, but I don't do much else. I hate the huge crowds that block up the stores weeks before the snow even comes, I don't understand the whole deal about Santa, and I can never decide on anything I want as a gift. I don't care much for the social events, either. I'm comfortable just relaxing at home, maybe sitting by the fire, or watching TV with a nice mug of hot chocolate. That's what I'm thinking about, looking out the window into the night as snowflakes slowly drift down, catching the light of my neighbor's rooftop Reindeer light display. I can see a tree through their window, festooned with showy glass ornaments and strung up with tinsel. Most of the suburbs are like that this time of year. I pass about two dozen jolly little inflatable elves on the way home from work every day, and you can barely find a single roofline not covered in glowing plastic icicles. Other than mine, that is. The only things I put up that could really qualify as "decorations" would be some fake candles in the windows and a green plastic wreath on the door that I got from my mother last Christmas.

The snow falls on the wind and I think about opening up one of those little packets of cocoa mix that I bought last month, and wonder if they're as good as the real stuff, and whether I should add mini marshmallows or the big ones if I still have them, when something catches my eye. I can see several people at the far end of the street. It's pretty cold out, so I wouldn't expect anyone to just be taking a walk. It's a small group, about four people. Two of them I think are children, because they look shorter than the others. They walk side by side, marching down the snowy road. They turn and walk up to a doorstep. Are they carolers? I've lived here for several years now and I can't remember ever seeing any before. They aren't very common around here in any case. I can't hear what they're singing. I don't really care for Christmas music, anyway. It's probably just because of overexposure, because they play the same few songs practically everywhere you go this time of year, but I'm tired of a lot of it.

I turn around and walk to the kitchen. Opening the cupboard, I scrounge around in the back for a few minutes, and eventually come up with the cocoa mix and a handful of stale marshmallows. I select the cleanest mug I can find, conveniently my seldom used winter snowflake-pattern cup; and dump one packet's worth of mix in. After filling it with water and putting it in the microwave for a few minutes, I stir it and add a few of the marshmallows. It tastes alright, but probably not as good as it could be. I walk to the living room to flip on the TV, wondering if that one Charlie Brown special I sort of like is on, but the window catches my eye again.

Something is different.

That house's lights are off. The carolers are still on its doorstep, but all of the displays are shut down, the post lamp is off, and even the inside looks dark and empty. I wonder what would have caused it. After several minutes of standing in apparent silence, the carolers turn away and move on, walking further down the street, to another house. They turn here, too. I can see them more clearly, now. They look like they're wearing thick black fur coats. They all have hoods and scarves, too. The tallest of them is wearing a top hat, so I now assume that he's male. They look a little Victorian-era, actually. The storm has picked up slightly; I can see the bare branches of the trees swaying in the wind. I have to sort of admire them for pushing through it. Now gladder than before that I have nowhere else to go, I settle down by the fireplace with a blanket, lighting the gas and watching the flames begin to dance around the fake ceramic logs. Drinking my hot chocolate again, it feels nice to be warm and indoors. I like being alone here. I sit and think, watching the storm through the window. The snow starts to come down more heavily, fast icy flakes piling onto the already considerable snowfall. It's a white Christmas indeed.

Though they are only just visible through the falling snow, I can see the carolers through the window, still walking from door to door. The other houses they visited have also turned off their lights, though the snow makes it harder to tell. They go house by house, down my street. At this rate, they won't be too long before reaching this one. I never saw anyone actually open their doors, though, which strikes me as odd. Isn't that what you're supposed to do with carolers, open the door and let them sing for you? Maybe they just didn't want to let in the cold, which is understandable, because the storm is pretty intense now, but it still strikes me as rude.

It's very quiet here now. All I can hear is the wind whipping against the siding, the windows buckling slightly, the fire burning. There is something else, too, very low, very quiet.

I can feel it.

It's unlike anything I've ever heard. It is a loud, but distant tone. An odd harmony, like the howling wind, like the waves crashing. Like the world flowing. The sound of decay, a long low note that pierces the skin and flows into the bones and vibrates, squirming sickeningly as a festering wound into the back of the mind where it takes root and grows black with rot, a low droning resonance like a sustained scream of agony twisted into music that pulses and writhes, seeps and dims the lights and aches with nausea, so high pitched that it can barely be heard. It is louder and the lights flicker, the fire dies, the snow blinds the windows and darkens the world, the cold takes root over the body and all warmth flows out replaced with screeching pain. Numb, the blanket falls off, four figures on the darkened doorstep. The door is locked, but opens inward and the sound increases and grates bleeding, louder than before. Four figures, darkness and ice, veiled in fur. Four perfect, smooth faces, four inhuman fleshy parted lips in perfect toothless ovals, no arms, shut lids show no impression of eyes behind hoods peel back revealing deep sunken folds and veins of flesh across an earless head scarf uncoils to a wide thin skin arm removes hat shows strange flesh opens gestures my hand lifts mug viscous limb distends accepts takes shape opens beneath thorns hands faces fingers pulls inside corners close folds returns my arm retracts scarf replaces hat recoils lids snap open darkness.

I wake up, hard darkness beneath me. I cough. My throat aches, it tastes warm and metallic. I lift my hands to my face; my fingers come back wet. I am lying on the floor, in front of the closed front door. I am cold and stiff, I feel nauseated. I try to move, and realize that I can't hear. I struggle to my feet, fighting a throbbing headache. Limping, I drag myself over to a couch and collapse again, the feeling leaving my legs. What the hell was that? It hurts my head whenever I try to remember what happened now. Glancing around the room, everything is as I remember leaving it, aside from the carpet, which is now stained with blood. Actually, no, that's not completely right. Something else is wrong.

The winter mug is gone.