Crimson Christmas, by Raven Corinn Carluk
The grandfather clock chimed half past three, waking Ned. The fire still crackled, the TV showed an infomercial, and Santa had yet to visit. Sitting up, he adjusted the shotgun and forced himself to wake all the way up. Jolly Saint Nick wasn’t going to make it past this visit.
All Ned had to do was stay up through the old man’s magic.
Sleepiness pulled at him again, lowering his defenses. Ned’s chin drifted to his chest, and he sat up straight with a snort. You’re not getting away with it this year, he promised himself. Keeping the shotgun in hand, he hefted himself out of the recliner and headed for the kitchen. Even as he poured himself a cup of coffee, he kept his ears open. The sneaky elf might show up with his reindeer at any moment, drop off the coal, then scurry away.
Thirty-three years of coal, and the newly married man was tired of being shafted. There was a baby on the way, and Ned refused to allow his child to feel the same pain he had for the majority of his life.
Stirring in the sugar, Ned couldn’t believe he was being punished for curiosity. He’d been four, too young to understand babies couldn’t breathe under water. While his parents never blamed him, Santa had known, and made sure Ned knew Santa knew.
Bells jingled outside, and he stiffened. Santa was here.
Ned racked the shotgun, holding it across his chest. Tipping his head, he crept back to the living room and the hearth. No sounds yet of the descent, but the chimney would soon be invaded. For the final time.
The power blinked out, and Ned’s heart jumped to his throat. Adrenaline filled his veins, and he brought the shotgun to his shoulder. Narrowing his eyes at the fire, Ned wondered if Santa knew what waited for him down here.
His breathing was ragged as he waited. Time grew heavy, and he even began to perspire. Where is that fat prick? How long does it take to grab a lump of coal and bring it down here?
Jingles sounded outside the big bay window. Ned pointed the gun that direction, biting his lip. One of the reindeer snorted near the back door, and something clattered on the front porch. Gripping his weapon hard, Ned trembled as more snorts and creaks told him the reindeer surrounded his house.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ned hissed, moving toward the window. The fire crackled cheerily, as if there weren’t an assault about to happen. His wife snored softly in the master bedroom, but the reindeer had fallen quiet.
Moving the curtain outside, Ned saw nothing but fresh fallen snow. No tracks, no signs of the beast he’d heard. Where are you? Why are you waiting? This white Christmas would very soon be a crimson Christmas.
“Don’t you know I know when you’re sleeping?”
The jolly question caused Ned to jump and spin around. Santa was plopped in the recliner, nibbling at one of the cookies as he smiled at his host.
Ned’s finger stiffened on the trigger. Here was the antagonist that had ruined three decades of Christmases. Accusing lumps of coal. Big black chunks of retribution and guilt. “I never meant to kill him,” he whispered to Santa.
Hooves clomped in the kitchen, but Ned didn’t turn away. Santa held his gaze, taking a sip of milk. “Do you think that’s all it takes to get off the naughty list, Little Edward?” He gave a small ho-ho-ho, and started in on another cookie.
Ned targeted the fat man’s head, stilling his breath. One shot. One little squeeze, and there would be no more Santa.
Pain shattered his concentration. Blood suddenly filled his mouth, and he glanced down. The end of an antler poked through his breast bone, dripping with gore. Gagging, Ned collapsed to his knees.
Santa ate another cookie, Rudolph shaking free of the dying human. Ned tried to lift the shotgun, but hadn’t the strength. “Oh, Little Edward, did you think you could get the drop on me? You’re not the first to attempt such treachery.”
Ned collapsed to his side, vision dimming. He wanted to tell Santa about the poison, but couldn’t form the words. The jolly old elf would find out about the arsenic soon enough.