My final story of 2020: DIE HARD meets Hallmark (kinda) in this crazy, tongue-in-cheek holiday mashup.
Content warning: contains profanities, PG13.
This story is copyright. Except for the purpose of fair review, no part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. No reproduction may be made, by any means, unless a licence has been obtained from the author or publisher. ©️ Tabatha Wood 2020
Dear Diary, today I met my future husband, dressed up as one of Santa’s elves. His sparkling, green eyes matched his felted tunic and his golden, blonde hair was like waves of spun silk. And let me tell you, from what I could see of his red and white, candy-cane pantyhose, it’s not only Santa who stuffs stockings.
I caught his eye as I —
She was standing behind me, peering over my shoulder. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise to attention and I hid the notebook with my arm.
“Hey, Becca,” she replied. “Working on one of your stories?”
I grinned and flipped the notebook shut. “Something like that. How was the journey over?”
“Eh. As well as can be expected. The snow was already pretty deep at the pass. You?”
“I’ve been here a couple of days, not much to keep me occupied at home.” I looked past her into the kitchen. “You came alone?”
She sighed and gave a slight shrug. “You know how it is. Small town stuff, you know?”
I knew. Rosenback residents weren’t always kind to those who were in any way different.
“Sorry, sis,” I said, putting a hand on her arm, as the back door was flung open with a bang.
“Ah, look! My babies! Together at last!” Our immaculately dressed, bottle-blonde mother sashayed her way into the kitchen and put her handbag on the island countertop.
“How was the journey, dear?” She planted a wet kiss on Carol’s cheek, marking her with a crimson stain.
“Fine, Momma,” Carol replied, wiping the lipstick off her face.
“You beat the snow then? No problems coming over?”
“Barely. The Sheriff said the pass was filling up fast. I might have to stay a few days.”
Momma clapped her hands in glee. “Well, now. I can’t see a thing wrong with that. Your room is yours for as long as you want it. It’s just such a shame Gabe couldn’t make it. Imagine, having to work over Christmas!”
Carol made sure not to meet my eye, knowing well what my expression would be.
“It’s a real shame,” she agreed.
Momma spied my notebook on the kitchen counter.
“Oh, Becca! Are you writing your stories again?”
Carol snickered and said, low-voiced, “Something like that,” and I wondered how much she had seen.
“So, are you girls ready for the parade tonight?” Momma asked, taking a bottle of sparkling water from the fridge and pouring the contents into a glass.
I groaned and Carol raised her eyebrows in warning.
“Of course we are, Momma,” she said. “We wouldn’t miss Dad’s float. What has he decided to do this year?”
Momma sipped her water and stayed silent.
“Momma?” Carol prompted and Momma huffed.
“Well, you know your father, he likes to be unconventional. Stir people up a little bit.”
I rested my elbow on the countertop and put my chin in my palm. “Oh no,” I said quietly. “What’s he done?”
“I mean, I don’t even understand it, but if your father says it’s a Christmas thing, I guess I have to go along with that.”
“What’s he done?” Carol echoed.
Momma pursed her lips and gave a wry smile. “He’s dressing up as someone called John McClane.”
“Die Hard John McClane?” Carol asked, incredulous. I couldn’t stop myself from sniggering and I tried to hide it with my hand.
“Apparently so,” Momma said, taking another sip.
I hardly dare look across at Carol, she was suspiciously quiet. When I finally braved a glance, I saw her, eyes closed, shaking with silent laughter. She swallowed hard and composed herself.
“That’s certainly an interesting choice.”
“Hmmm,” Momma agreed. “He has a replica skyscraper attached to the float, and one of the local boys is going to fly a remote-control helicopter around it. It should be quite impressive really. I even helped him with the blood spatter on his vest,” she said, proudly. I saw Carol out of the corner of my eye losing control again.
“I’m sorry, Momma,” I said. “But I’ve got to ask; why John McClane?”
“I’m not really sure. He said there had to be some benefit to being as bald as a coot at forty-nine and he was sick of all the Santa Clauses and Snow Queens.” She looked a little wistful for a moment. “I did rather like being a Snow Queen.”
She crossed the kitchen and put her empty glass in the sink. “Anyway, the parade starts at six o’clock from outside the Town Hall, so we should get down there early to avoid the crowds.”
Carol clearly didn’t trust her voice, so I answered for the both of us.
“Of course, Momma. We’ll be there. You want us to walk down together?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I’m going to meet Jemima Hardcastle and Emily McAlister from my Bridge group. We’re going to take Jemima’s Corvette.”
That caught Carol’s interest. “Jemima Hardcastle has a Corvette?”
“Yes! Her ex-husband gave it to her in the divorce so she wouldn’t tell everyone about the terrible scandal he got involved in. Oh… Oops.”
“The Mayoress, Jemima Hardcastle got divorced?!”
Momma waved her hands dismissively and tutted. “Yes, yes. Anyway… We’re taking the Corvette and we’ll see you in the town square.” She swept through the kitchen and headed for the hall. “I’m going to take a bath and get changed, my babies. I’ll see you both later.”
When she was gone Carol turned to me, a wide grin on her face.
“John McClane!” she whispered, and we laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks.
I’d gone out for a walk, sick of being cooped up inside, when I bumped into her on the corner of the street. She was small and hunched, her skin so wrinkled it draped in layers on her face. She wore a blue cotton dress with mismatched knee-socks and a raincoat several sizes too big.
I apologised immediately and asked if she was okay. She looked up at me, muttering something under her breath, and I saw her irises were mismatched too.
“He’s coming, you know?” she told me, her voice like a bicycle riding through gravel. “You’d better watch out. He’s almost here.”
“Who’s coming? Santa?” I asked her with a smile.
She glared at me then and made a complicated movement with her hand. “Santa!” she growled and spat into the road. “Idiot girl! Santa isn’t real!”
“Well, yes, I know that, but…”
“He’s real, though. Oh yes, you’ll see he’s real. He’s coming and he will take your eyes!”
She turned and shuffled away down the street, mumbling as she went.
Behind me, Gerry Morley came out of the hardware store. My high school ex-boyfriend, Gerry Morley.
“Hey, Becca. How you doing?” He nodded at the woman’s stooped back. “I see you’ve met Agnes then.”
“I have indeed. Is she okay?”
Gerry hummed noncommittally and shrugged. “Who knows? Recently, she’s been tearing down all the posters for the Christmas parade, telling everyone to stay inside and stay away from the windows.”
“She seems to think someone’s coming. Someone dangerous, I guess?”
“Yeah well…” he said, turning his palms to the air. “She says a lot of weird stuff. So, how are you, anyway? It’s been a while. You look good.”
“I was here last Christmas, Gerry.”
“Like I said, it’s been a while.” He grinned and I saw the boyish twinkle in his eye. Remembered how much I used to love that.
“I’m good. Very good in fact. I just sold another book and sales are doing well.”
“Ah, yeah, you write that… err…” I was enjoying watching him squirm. “You write love stories, don’t you?”
“Reverse harem supernatural romance mostly,” I said.
“Right…” he tugged at his ear, clearly uncomfortable. “Well, that’s cool. Yeah. Good that you’re doing well with that.”
“I can give you a signed copy if you’d like?”
“No! No, that’s okay. I don’t have much time for reading. What with managing the shop and all.”
“You own it now?”
“Yeah. Pop decided he’d had enough, so he passed it on to my brother and me. Carl doesn’t care for it much, says he’s happy working at the school, but I do okay.”
“That’s great, Gerry. Good for you. And how is Carl?”
Gerry’s face darkened and a sudden frown drew ridges on his forehead. “He’s okay,” he said curtly.
There was a reason why Gerry and I had broken up, not long after we both turned nineteen. That reason was Carl. And tequila. I changed the subject swiftly.
“So, will you be at the parade tonight?”
“You kidding? It’s the highlight of the year. And I wouldn’t want to miss your dad’s float,” he said, winking.
“You heard about that, huh?”
“I helped him with the materials for the build.”
I sighed and gave a wry chuckle. “Of course you did.” The Town Hall clock struck the hour and the giant bell tolled four times. “I better get back to my parent’s house. Get dressed up for the big event. Good seeing you again, Gerry.”
We hugged and he held onto me just a little bit too long, yet to my surprise I found I didn’t mind so much. It had been a while since someone had hugged me like that. Not since Ethan had moved his business overseas.
As I walked back up the hill, I saw Agnes by the fire station, ripping another poster from a streetlamp.
Momma left for the parade with Jemima and Emily in a red dress the same shade as the Corvette. Silver snowflakes dangled from her ears and she’d draped a cream fur stole around her shoulders. She looked for all the world like a glamourous Mrs Clause, albeit one a little racier looking than might be found on a greetings card.
Carol and I looked less impressive. Me in blue jeans and a soft, green sweater; brown leather boots to match my jacket. She, wearing similar, but in black and white, her short hair teased into spikes. We walked together, arm in arm, crunching through the thin layer of snow that had finally come down to reach us from the mountains. My breath hung in the air like dragon’s smoke, and snowflakes settled in my hair.
“So, I bumped into Gerry Morley earlier,” I told her, trying to sound casual.
“High school ex-boyfriend Gerry?”
“The very same.”
She tipped her head and turned to look at me. “And how did that go?”
“Nothing to report. We talked. We hugged. He looked good.”
“You know he’s never married.”
“Oh, come on! You sound just like Momma!”
“What? It’s true. He’s just rattling around in that big house by himself.”
“What big house?” I asked, curious despite myself.
“His grandma’s old place on the other side of town. It’s got like six bedrooms or something.”
“Eight,” I replied. She cocked an eyebrow.
“And you know this, because…?”
I chuckled but didn’t answer her question.
“Ah. Okay. It’s like that, huh.” She stuck her elbow playfully into my side and we carried on down the hill.
“I don’t know, Carol. Maybe I’m just destined to be on my own, you know? Not everyone can be as lucky as you. Finding the One and falling in love.”
“You think I’m lucky?” she asked me, surprised.
“Well, yeah. Gabe’s pretty awesome.” She smiled and hugged my arm tight.
“That’s true, she really is. But it’s not luck that keeps a good relationship going, Becs. You’ve got to work at it. Sometimes it’s damn hard. You fall out and you make up, and sometimes you don’t agree with each other. But if it’s worth it…” she trailed off.
“You argued about coming here again, didn’t you?” Carol nodded, her eyes glistening as the tears began.
“I can’t blame her. Not after what happened three years ago. That bastard Joe Connors shouting slurs at us in the street, and old Mrs Hepshaw going on about how sad it was I wouldn’t give Momma any grandkids. But I miss her, Becca. I really wish she was here.”
I stopped walking and took my sister in my arms, and we buried our heads in each other’s shoulders. We stood like that, entwined together, until a passing car beeped its horn. My head snapped up, ready to fire back an insult, but it was only Gerry in his dad’s old Sedan.
“Good evening, ladies,” he called out. “Need a ride?”
Carol let me go and nudged me again, replying before I could even open my mouth. “That would be great, Gerry. Thanks.”
We piled in, glad to get out of the cold, and he drove towards the town centre.
We talked a little about nothing much, shooting the breeze together, until he pulled up in the alleyway behind the hardware store, set the handbrake and killed the engine. He put his arm around my back and I flinched, surprised, but he was only reaching for his lumberjack fleece. Carol caught my expression and I felt my cheeks go red.
We got out and began walking to the square. There were plenty of people milling around, wrapped up warm against the biting weather, but with added festive touches. I saw Denny from the coffee shop sporting sparkly, purple deely-boppers and Bobbi-Anne from the pizza place wearing tinsel as a scarf. Even old Mrs Hepshaw had hung a bauble from her hat. I smiled and said “hi” to all those I knew, nodding a polite greeting to those I didn’t. Carol grabbed my arm and pointed to the sidewalk.
“Have you seen this?”
“Seen what?” I began and stopped suddenly, taking in the sight. Curious prints marked the fresh, pale snow. A cluster of marks like two, curved teardrops facing each other, both with one side shaved away. “That’s weird,” I replied. “Is it part of the parade? Maybe it’s supposed to be reindeer hooves?”
“Maybe… But they go right up the side of the buildings and across the roof. How would you even do that? And it’s only been snowing an hour or so. Look… they go all the way across town.” I looked and saw that she was right. The trail ran in a completely straight line from one end of the square to the other. Whenever an obstacle blocked their way, they simply carried on and walked over it.
“Eh. It’s probably just a prank or something,” I said. “Local kids messing about. Come on, we don’t want to miss the parade.”
She looked sceptical but allowed me to take her arm in mine and we joined the throng heading for the Town Hall. I saw Momma and her friends up ahead. They looked like they were having a great time.
I smelled Agnes before I saw her. The sharp tang of urine hit my nostrils like a brick, and I saw her squatting by the side of the road. Gerry must have seen her too.
“Jesus Christ,” he muttered. “That’s a new one, even for her.”
“What’s she doing?” Carol asked, and I snorted in amusement.
“What’s it look like? Taking a leak, I guess.”
“Is that Agnes Custer, the Preacher’s widow?”
“That’s her,” Gerry replied. “She’s not been right in the head for a while. She made herself homeless. Lives on the streets. Wait… Where are you going?”
Carol slipped my arm and went towards the woman.
“Agnes?” she called. “Are you okay there?” Agnes didn’t respond. The crooked woman finished her business and straightened her skirts, looking oddly satisfied. “Agnes Custer?” Carol called again. “Are you alright? Do you need any help?”
Those two odd-coloured eyes fixed upon her, like a raptor might fix upon its prey, and I felt suddenly compelled to run to my sister’s side.
“It keeps him away,” Agnes grumbled. “He doesn’t like the smell, you see?”
“Keeps who away?” I asked. She snapped her gaze from Carol to me and I saw her top lip curl.
“You again. The idiot girl. Huh!”
“Idiot girl?” Carol asked me. I rolled my eyes and sighed.
“You’d better watch out, girls,” Agnes told us, raising both hands to the sky. “He’s coming. He’s coming now!”
“Who’s coming?” I began and was drowned out by the Town Hall bell. I heard the crowd shout out as one in excitement as the Christmas parade began and watched as the first float began to rumble down the high street. I turned, and Agnes was gone.
“Come on,” Carol said. “Forget that. Let’s go and cheer on Dad.”
The floats crunched their way through the dusting of snow, led by a beaming Santa Claus and his contingent of pointy-eared elves. My father’s entry was six floats down. I could see a small drone circling in the sky. Most likely Dad’s ‘helicopter’.
The elves waved and smiled and threw glitter at the crowd, and it shone like a myriad glistening stars as it caught the evening light. Like everyone else I was enthralled by the parade. I didn’t notice the creature until it jumped on the float. Until Santa started shrieking.
I thought it was a large dog or a wild animal at first. It was sleek, black and quadrupedal, with a mane of thick hair that cascaded down its back. I saw a tail protruding from the base of its spine, far longer than that of any canine, and the end of it hooked into a bony point.
Its feet clattered and skittered on the wooden boards, and I realised with a jolt that it was not claws, but hooves that were making such a racket. In seconds I couldn’t hear anything else over the panicked screams of Santa’s elves as they hurled themselves off the edge of the float. Santa himself was writhing in agony as the creature ripped at his throat. His thick, red tunic hid most of the blood, but his white beard bloomed like a poppy.
The crowd watched in horror as the creature whipped its tail and plunged the sharp end into Santa’s eyes. It plucked the first orb from its socket, swung it around and delivered it into its open mouth. A dark maw edged with two rows of teeth, it sucked the eyeball as if it were a Martini olive, rolling it around in its jaw. Then it swallowed and growled, perhaps in delight, before going in for the second course.
It was Gerry who brought me to my senses.
“WHAT THE EVER-LOVING FUCK IS THAT?!” he yelled, no doubt echoing the thoughts of every other person present. “What is it? WHAT IS IT?” I could hear the hysteria mounting. “It’s like a mountain goat fucked a Doberman then they both got fucked by a bear. Jesus, it’s got no eyes!”
Then Carol grabbed us both and dragged us away from the crowd. “Come on, we have to get out of here.”
“Wait! What about Momma and Dad?”
“We can’t…” she began and was cut off by more screaming. I turned back in time to see the creature leap from the float into the crowd and the sea of people parted and divided as they strove to get out of its way.
I saw a hat with a bauble on it get knocked down, and that terrifying tail flick in the air.
“I last saw Momma with her friends near the clock tower,” she said. “They’re probably halfway to Jemima’s Corvette by now. Dad was a few floats down, but I don’t know if we can get to him without going past that… that thing.”
“We can if we go around the front,” I said. “Slip down the other side of the street.”
She didn’t even need to reply. The three of us set off back towards the parade and crossed the street away from the chaos. We were almost at our father’s float when I heard the gunshots.
“Holy shit, that’s Dad!”
Our father, dressed in jeans and a wifebeater top stained brownish-red with fake blood, was standing on the edge of his Die Hard float aiming a rifle at the crowd. He squeezed the trigger and another bullet hit the street.
“DADDY!” Carol shouted, running to the float. “What the Hell are you doing?” He spun around and grinned as she scrambled onto the platform, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips.
“You’re smoking?!” she admonished, and he shrugged.
“It’s just for the character, Peanut!”
“And why do you have a loaded gun?!”
“Hey, open carry laws say …” he saw her face and changed gear. “It was just for the character too. I didn’t load it until I saw that thing.”
“But you had the ammo with you?”
“Always be prepared, huh, Peanut?” A shriek rang out from near the coffee shop, and he put the rifle to his shoulder and took aim. “Damn bastard creature,” he muttered. “Where the fuck are you?”
I watched the crowd scatter in a hundred different directions leaving a wide space around the monster’s current victim. It used its front limbs to pin their shoulders to the ground and tore chunks of flesh from their neck with its teeth. Whoever it was tried their best to escape, jerking and kicking out with their feet. But they were no match for the sheer viciousness of the creature, and soon they lay lifeless in the snow as the beast removed their eyes. Our father swore loudly and took his shot.
If he hit it, the creature showed no signs of being hurt. It galloped down the street towards its next target. It paused for a moment, as if sniffing the air, although with what I had no idea. Gerry had been right, it had no eyes, but it didn’t seem to have nostrils either. It shook its head back and forth, the wind caught its mane, and for a moment it looked quite spectacular. It put its face to the floor and licked the sidewalk and made a noise like nothing I’d heard before. A lion’s deep roar mixed with a vulture’s screech, the sound gripped my spine and made my bowels feel loose. I felt a trickle of liquid spill down my pant leg. Felt the flush of embarrassment burn my cheeks.
The creature seemed disgusted by whatever it had tasted. It retched like a cat trying to cough up a furball before sidling away from the spot.
Gerry put his hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay, Becca?”
“I… Yes… Yes, I’m okay.” I slapped the side of the float to get Carol’s attention. “We should find Momma and get out of here.”
“Eh. Your Momma’s fine,” Dad said, taking a final drag of his cigarette. “I called her as soon as everyone started screaming. Made sure she got herself safe.” He dropped the butt on the floor and ground it under his heel, wincing when he remembered he was barefoot. “For the character,” he said, by way of explanation, and slung the rifle onto his back.
“So, do any of you kids have a car parked around here?” Carol and I pointed to Gerry.
“I’ve got my dad’s Sedan parked behind the shop, sir.”
“Good. Shall we?”
The streets were much clearer now most people had fled, and we made it to the alleyway without issue. We didn’t say much as we bundled into the car, nobody really knowing what to say. Gerry was shaking like a greyhound in the winter. My father took the keys from him and made him sit with me in the back. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it, trying to offer him some comfort.
Sirens and blue lights were heading for the square as we turned off the high street and headed home. I watched the snow through the car window come down in gentle flurries, covering the town in a dusting of white, turning pink when it landed on the dead.
Our father finally broke the silence. “So, what was that? Wolf? Bear?”
“Get real, Dad,” Carol scoffed. “Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t natural.”
“So, what are we thinking? Some kind of Christmas monster?” Gerry started giggling beside me. A nervous, high-pitched laugh that he tried to stifle before it turned into a sob.
“I think it was whatever Agnes was warning us all about.”
“Shit!” Carol spun in her seat to face me. “What about Agnes? Do you think she’s safe?”
“I don’t know. I mean, she’s probably the safest out of all of us. She certainly seemed to know the most about it.”
Carol put a hand on our father’s arm. “We need to go back, Dad. We have to find Agnes.”
Dad chewed his cheek and kept his eyes on the road, then slowed and turned the wheel.
“Alright, Peanut,” he said. “I got ya.”
He turned the windscreen wipers to full speed, but the snow was falling furiously now. It threw patterns on the windscreen like an old analogue TV tuned to nothing but static. The headlamps barely pierced the darkness, he couldn’t see much further than one car ahead. It was no surprise at all when he hit something.
The front of the Sedan crumpled like a chip packet, the engine sputtered and groaned before dying. Carol leaned over and hit the central locking. The doors clunked in unison. Dad turned the key, to no avail. The car made a noise like glass marbles in a blender but refused to return to life.
“Everyone okay?” Dad whispered. We murmured our acknowledgement.
“What did you hit?” I asked, somehow already knowing the answer.
“I think… I think I hit the monster,” Dad replied.
“Is it dead?” Gerry asked.
Dad shook his head. “I don’t know, son. And I’m not so keen on going to find out, but I don’t think we can stay here either.” He took the rifle from the footwell behind the seat and went to open the door.
“Daddy, no!” Carol reached out to try to stop him, but he shook her off. “It’s okay, Peanut. I’m prepared, remember?”
He slid from the vehicle and nudged the door closed behind him. We waited, hearing nothing for several moments, until the silence was shattered by shouts and gunfire.
Carol went for the door, but I held her back, feeling hot tears on my cheeks.
Outside the car it fell quiet once more until we heard a woman’s voice say, “Well, are you going to get out and say hello, or what?”
“Gabe?” Carol exclaimed, scrabbling to release the lock. “Gabe, is that you? What are you doing here?!”
She finally managed to push open the door and I saw a uniformed figure standing on the sidewalk. State Trooper Gabrielle Carpenter, and my sister’s wife.
Carol ran to her and kissed her feverishly, holding her close and tight.
Behind them, I saw my dad grinning happily, his dirty, white vest splattered with what looked like real blood.
“How are you here?” Carol asked, breathless. “Why are you here?”
“I couldn’t stand it, you know, you leaving like that. Us arguing. Especially over Christmas. I had to come and find you. Make it right. When I heard on the radio some shit was going down… Hell, I owe myself several speeding tickets.”
“How did you find me?”
Gabe rummaged in her pockets and held up her smartphone. “Location tracking, duh.”
I heard a noise in the bushes and smelled stale urine. I turned to see Agnes peering at the front of the car.
“He’s dead?” she croaked.
“As a doornail,” my dad told her. “What the fuck – pardon me, ma’am – what the heck was it?”
Agnes made that complicated hand movement again and moved towards the creature’s corpse. She pulled a pocketknife from somewhere about her person and grasped its tail in one hand. With the other she sliced through the muscle and sinew until the sharp, bony point came free.
“Bury it,” she told my father, pressing it into his hand.
“Bury the tail and burn the body. Lest he tries to come back again.”
“What is this?” I asked her. “How do you know so much about this thing?”
“Ah, Idiot Girl, you’re here.”
“Don’t…” I started and she held up a palm.
“You cannot have light without darkness, girl. Good without evil. Love without hate. You know this, yet somehow you forget who told you. Santa! Ha! You celebrate him. A Pagan God made acceptable by capitalism.” She hawked a glob of sputum onto the road. “The wicked forces that lurk below, they use your lack of faith as a weapon. They send their minions through the veil at Midwinter when the barrier is at its weakest. When emotions and tensions are running high. They come to steal any happiness you have. They take your eyes, so your souls cannot see the holy light and must go down with them into the dark.”
She sniffed and grimaced at the bullet-strewn body, blue-black blood seeping into the tarmac.
“You beat him this time though. Maybe some of you remembered the true meaning of Christmas after all.”
With that, she shuffled across the street and was lost amongst the shadows.
We stood in awkward silence for a moment, nobody knowing what to say.
Gerry put his arm around me and pulled me close to his chest. I felt a familiar, comforting thrill wash over me. Glad that he was here. That we’d reconnected.
My dad tapped a cigarette out of the carton, put it to his lips and struck a match.
“Well,” he said, scratching his stubble and exhaling smoke. “I don’t know what the fuck any of that was about, but my feet are fucking freezing. I want to go home, kiss my wife and get myself a strong drink. Which of you kids are coming with me?”
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