's 2013 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Alexis Feynman

"Make sure that you're in bed when Santa comes, or you won't get any presents."

That's what my parents always told me. That's what everyone else's parents told them. Hell, I'm sure that's what your parents told you, right? Everybody knows you have to be in bed for Santa to bring you presents.

At least, they think that's the case. They think that by tucking us in extra-early and promising us wonderful things, they're making sure that our gifts and goodies are delivered without interruption. What they think they do, and what they're really doing, is trying to make sure that Christmas morning dawns pleasant and joyful.

If only they knew how important that work was.

When my brilliant plan came to me, I was eight. Old enough to start wondering what the real reason was that we had to stay in bed. Surely, I thought, my parents were hiding something. Maybe Santa couldn't fit through the chimney and had to come in the front door, and they didn't want us finding out. Maybe he'd gotten tired of going house-to-house on Christmas Even and hired some moving vans to deliver presents for him. Or maybe...

Maybe he wasn't even real.

I had to know. That's why I climbed into my bed without a fight and dutifully went to sleep. Or, at least, I pretended to well enough that my parents left the room. They didn't know that I'd stowed a flashlight under my pillow along with my watch so that when midnight came and Santa arrived, I'd be ready.

I only had three hours to wait.

The first hour was okay. It was long, and boring, but I was still excited enough about the fact that it was Christmas to stay awake. I thought about what I was going to find out and what I would do about it. Would I call my parents out on their lies? Tell my sister? Tell the whole world? I imagined myself being a hero to the world. Katie the whistle-blower, who showed everyone the truth about Santa. Everyone would call me a hero. My birthday might even become a holiday. Imagine if people gave each other presents on MY birthday! That would be awesome.

About ten, I started to question my resolve. I had run out of fantasies to entertain myself, and I could hear my sister gently snoring in the next bed, resting up in preparation for tomorrow's festivities. Tomorrow... would be awesome. Christmas. I didn't want to wait for it. It would be easier just to go to sleep and let it come. So what if I didn't find out about Santa? I could always try again next year. The clock on the wall ticked monotonously, soothingly, trying to lull me to sleep. I almost gave in...

No. If I didn't do it this year, when was I going to do it? I pulled myself awake, slapped myself a couple of times, and turned my flashlight on so I could concentrate on the yellow, circular light.

Still, the hour ticked by with maddening slowness. Even when the hand finally passed eleven, I felt like I was going to be trapped here for hours. Alone in the darkness, staring at my watch, waiting and waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

I thought about getting up. But now it was past my bedtime, and the world had transformed. The dark bedroom that I normally found safe and comforting seemed suddenly foreboding. Why aren't you sleeping? the darkness seemed to ask. Santa won't come unless you're sleeping.

He'll come, I thought to the darkness. And I'm going to be there.

The night grew colder, and I piled on another blanket, pulling them both over my head so that I could light up the cavity with my flashlight. That was better in a way - my world was now bigger than the face of my watch. But now I felt like I was in the faintly glowing maw of some otherworldly monster. My legs trapped in the creature's throat behind me, I lay on what I imagined to be its, warm, wet, floppy tongue and waited to be swallowed.

OK, maybe this wasn't the best idea. I threw the blankets off my head and went back to staring at my watch.

Twenty minutes after eleven. Just forty more and Santa would be here. Should I still be in bed? I couldn't hear my parents anymore; they must be sleeping by now. But I should wait for a while to be safe. How long? Ten minutes? Twenty? And what if one of them woke up and went to get a glass of water? No, I would wait as close to midnight as possible. They wouldn't dare be up then.

I wondered what Santa would bring me. I had informed everyone repeatedly that I wanted a Game Boy and tried to imply that if I didn't get it a ruckus would be raised. Really, I would be happy with a nice Lego kit and some warm pajamas. My nightgown just wasn't enough on these cold December nights. Although now that I had another blanket on, it was warm enough that I was starting to feel really drowsy. This was the kind of night I liked best - freezing cold outside, but me warm and snug in my bed, ready for a good night's...

I awoke with a start and checked my watch. Five minutes to midnight. I breathed a sigh of relief - then turned off the flashlight and bolted out of bed.

Slowly, clumsily, trying not to wake up my sister, I made my way to the door and grabbed the handle. Why couldn't Mom have left it ajar like I like it? No, she always insisted on pulling it shut, and now it was going to make a lot of noise. I turned the knob as slowly as possible, wincing with every groan and click until it was finally unlatched and I could pull the door open.

The hallway was dark save for the glow of Christmas lights coming from the living room. I pulled the door nearly closed and crept into the room. What time was it now? Was it midnight yet? What if Santa was already in there and I'd missed it?

There was no one there when I came into the room. The world was deathly silent, the glow of the lights ethereal and yet warm in the darkness. It must be nearly midnight now. Santa would be here.

And then I heard it. A faint scraping in the chimney that grew louder and louder. It scared me at first, but I reminded myself that it was just Santa Claus and there was nothing to be afraid of.

And then I saw the fingers.

There were three of them. Long, black and spindly, they gleamed in the glow of the Christmas lights. Emerging from the shadowed chimney, they reached out and grasped the mantle, and I saw the wrist: impossibly thin, wrapped in a furry white cuff, attached to an arm that started out small but quickly gave way to a bulging appendage that worked its way out of the chimney and brought the rest of the creature with it.

Its clothes - or its skin - were bright red. The body and arms were fleshy and loosely thick, and it perched atop equally thick legs that ended in thin, clawed feet. Its back bulged with strange shapes, and as it reached back to pull out a giftbox, I realized that the lump was a pouch of blackened skin that covered its back. The only hair on its body was the white fur that cuffed its wrist and made a ridiculous line down its front, serving no purpose other than terrifying decoration.

Then it turned, and I could see its face.

Six black eyes, shining like glass, protruded from the mass of white hair that grew down into its front stripe. The same hair covered everything but two cheek patches that protruded on either side like two swollen cherries. I thought it had no mouth, but I was wrong - a black void emerged from the mass of hair, and shortly a misshapen, brown tongue emerged, hollow at the tip, and through it hissed a series of faint syllables in some unrecognizable language.

I froze, praying that it hadn't seen me, but too obviously the creature faced my position - and then, to my mounting horror, began to approach. One arm had already reached back into its pouch, and it soon produced a box wrapped in some red fleshy paper, which it pushed toward me with horrifying insistence. And it hissed again, in words that were almost intelligible:

"mmmriiiee kkkkrrrristmuuuussssss...."

It pushed the box at me, and I blacked out.

I woke the next morning to my mother's stern shouts. She was wanting to know what I was doing up so early, and yelling at me about waiting for my presents. I had no idea what she meant until I realized I was lying on the living room floor, arms around a giftbox wrapped in red.

Screaming, I dropped the present and told my mother everything that had happened. She didn't believe me, but convinced that I been sleepwalking under the influence of some nightmare she merely scolded me for staying up so late and told me to go change for breakfast.

As I left the living room, I looked back toward the present. There was nothing skinlike about the wrapping paper - just glossy and red, even friendly in the morning light. But then I looked toward the mantle and saw something that would scare me away from presents forever.

Three long, narrow scratches, clawed into the wood as if by some alien hand.