Category Archives: Issue 2: Creepy Christmas

Issue 2: Creepy Christmas

Welcome to the Creepy Christmas Issue. We’ve got some really twisted yuletide tales for you. Sit back, light the fire, make a cup of hot chocolate, and load the shotgun…Santa’s coming, that fat bastard, and some of us are tired of getting coal!

You’ll like the stories this month. These are stories that dare to ask the hard questions, like: ” If that’s not bats in the belfry, what the hell is it?” or “How does that Angel really feel about being on top of the tree?” and we’ll discover how Santa and the gang has managed to do it all these hundreds of years, and why it’s best NOT to try and catch a glimpse of the jolly fat man on Christmas Eve. As promised, these stories are creepy and at least one of them is both creepy and hilarious. That’s my kind of story, one that can blend horror and humor to such a degree I’m not sure whether to run or laugh.

Happy Holidays from your horror elves at The Were-Traveler!

Issue 2: Creepy Christmas

Up on the Tree Top, by Larry Kollar

Crimson Christmas, by Raven Corinn Carluk

Secret Santa, by Daniel Ritter

All Broken Up, by Amber Keller

I Heard the Bells, by Ramsey Lyons

Christmas Eve, by Amber Keller

Oh, Christmas Tree, by Daniel Ritter

Advertisements

Up On the Tree Top, by Larry Kollar

A gentle poke. “Saaaaaaantaaaaaa…”

“Mmf?”

“Santa. Wake up.” Another poke, a little harder.

“What… oh. Hello, Angel. Is something wrong?”

Angel held up her soft glowing light, making Santa squint as she darted back and forth above his head. “Not at all. Everything’s going to be perfect! Come on, Santa; I want to show you something.”

Santa eased out of bed; Mrs. Claus’s soft snoring paused, but only for a moment.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“I’ll show you.” She lighted the way to his front door, where his red jacket and black boots awaited. Flitting back and forth before the door as he dressed for the long Arctic night, she seemed eager, impatient for him to be ready. At last, he opened the door and she slipped through before him.

“This way!” she laughed, flying back to circle around his head then leading him onward.

Santa took a deep breath, savoring the pure, cold air. The only scent was his own jacket, the comfortable smells of wool and sweat. *The missus will want to clean it soon*, he thought, following Angel into the night. The snow squeaked under his boots, a familiar and happy sound.

“We’re here,” said Angel. In the glow of her light, he saw branches.

“The Tree,” he said with reverence. The true father of all Christmas trees, it soared a hundred feet straight up from the North Pole. In a way, it *was* the North Pole — its roots anchored the world in place. Here, all directions were south. Angel flew away, leaving him alone in the months-long night. He could not see The Tree at all now, yet felt its presence.

Suddenly, The Tree blazed with thousands of tiny lights!

Santa gasped — “Angel… we’re supposed to light The Tree tomorrow!” — but a part of him was pleased. His only vice, as he reckoned it, was a somewhat proprietary feeling toward The Tree. He and it were joined, in a way, as two of the most recognized symbols of Christmas. He was tempted to do this very thing each year — to slip out and light The Tree early, by himself and for himself. He gazed upon its eternal beauty, looking up and up and up. He heard and felt Angel return, but paid her no mind.

“Beautiful,” he breathed. “It’ll be even better tomorrow though —”

A huge hand seized him and jerked him upward, making him dizzy. The hand turned him to face Angel; now she was nearly as tall as The Tree, and her eyes blazed with icy white fire.

“Tomorrow?” she snarled, her face contorted in rage.

Santa, as shocked as he was, could feel her rigid fingers, wanting to crush him but holding back… but for how long?

“Tomorrow? When you stick me onto The Tree?” She laughed, and the sound chilled him more than Winter ever could. “Not this year. We’re going to have a new tradition!”

In mute horror, Santa felt something poke his backside, felt the draft as her sword-sharp fingernail ripped open the seam of his pants.

“This year —” Angel gave him a monstrous grin, big enough to swallow a reindeer whole — “we’ll see how *you* like being The Tree topper!”

"NOOOOO!!!!"

Crimson Christmas, by Raven Corinn Carluk

"Did you think you could get the drop on me?"

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.

Secret Santa, by Daniel Ritter

It happens every year.

One blazing, skin burning trip around the planet. One stop at every single house, home, cardboard box. Gifts for everyone; some wrapped and placed, some given in spirit only. Some actually appreciated; many, less so.

One trip back to the North Pole; back to the barn with one big empty sack. Nine reindeer, spent, sweaty, huffing out white clouds of exhausted beasty breath.

Santa falls out of the sleigh, drags the empty bag behind him, and collapses into his squeaky chair behind an ornate wooden desk. The shiny brass nameplate always has a little puff of tarnish across “Kringle” when he returns; he always notices that. The bottle is already there, opened. The glass is there, too, polished and ready.

Manny peeks in past the half-open door, “Sir…”

“What.”

“Both arrangements have been made, sir. Everything is set.”

Santa says nothing.

“So, then, I’ll just give the word?”

“Do it.”

“Once it’s done, sir, services begin at dawn.”

“As always.”

“Will you attend, sir?”

“Not this year.” Santa reaches past the glass, grabs the bottle instead, takes a long pull on the clear liquid.

“Very well, sir. Sir?”

“What.”

“I’m here, sir.”

“Not for long, Manny.”

“I’m proud to have served, sir.”

“Manny. I’m proud of you.”

Manny’s throat went tight. His eyes welled and poured over with tears. The door closed behind him as he left.

The dirty business of Christmas. This year, he just could not stomach the doing of it, the pretending that a greater good comes of it. This time, it’s just the dirty business of Christmas.

The single toll of one giant bell sounded, and Santa’s shadow fell harsh across his desk. In the window behind him, thousands of elves shot into the sky on blazing trails of light, arcing toward every sleeping soul.

The darkness left behind was deafening and lonesome. Santa took another deep, deep drink.

In all the distant corners of the world, a tiny little elf arrived at every home of every name listed on the Naughty List. Each of those elves tiptoed in, snuck through the homes, finding the sleeping little jerks, and quietly pulled back the corners of blankets.

All at once, thousands of little syringes were plunged into the necks of sleeping souls, children and grown-ups alike. They all twinged from the pain and rolled over; snorted and settled back into slumber.

A flowing rush of shooting stars sped simultaneously back to the North Pole. Their work finally complete for the year.

At dawn, they all gathered, all the elves, in rows and columns, quiet and somber, performing their final ritual.

The elves in the first row dug into the snow, down into the permafrost, and deep into the ground. They lay themselves then down, and expired. The second row elves covered them, and began to dig. The ritual rolled through the ranks until all were done, and Manny came across the back, covered the last of the ranks.

Soon, the new elves would arrive to take their places, to pay the price of having been Naughty, by making toys all year long which would then be delivered to those on the Nice list.

At last, Manny began to dig. When his work was done, he returned to Santa’s office and knocked.

“It is time, sir.”

It happens every year.

All Broken Up, by Amber Keller

The house was quiet, but Thomas couldn’t sleep. It was Christmas Eve, and he was determined to see Santa Claus tonight.

His parents had come in to check on him a few times already, and each time he had pretended to be asleep. You definitely did not want to get caught staying up to see Santa on Christmas Eve.

He had tried to do this last year, but fell asleep. This year, he was going to do it. His best friend, Chris, had been giving him a hard time at school, saying there was no Santa. He was determined to prove him wrong. He had taken his older sisters camera earlier that day and now he gripped it tight under the covers.

Thomas knew there was a Santa Claus. He knew he was real. Seeing him was the real treat, but getting pictures of him would be an added bonus. Thomas imagined how famous he would become when everyone saw the pictures. His little mind spun at the thoughts.

A scraping noise above him caught his attention.

Thomas sat up in the bed. Another noise.

This time he jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

The moon was full and high in the sky, lighting the night with a silver glow. Thomas could see shadows moving on the lawn. There was something on the roof.

His heart pounded in his chest, and he held his breath, temporarily.

It had to be Santa.

Thomas went to his door and peeked out. There was no one moving around. He crept slowly out into the hall, clutching the small camera. Making his way toward the living room, he saw a multi-colored net cast on the floor from the Christmas tree lights. It was empty and Thomas felt uncomfortable.

The fireplace, which was usually so warm and inviting, now seemed like the mouth of some strange animal. Open and waiting.

As he watched, small streams of soot began to fall. Thomas’ eyes opened wide. Now he would get to see Santa!

More and more soot fell, and the sound of something coming down the chimney was getting louder.

Thomas readied the camera, holding it in front of him, looking at the fireplace through the small digital screen.

One black boot emerged first, then another. Red legs and a huge belly followed them closely. It almost seemed like Santa was stuck. His legs pointed out of the fireplace and he thrashed to release himself from the holds of the tight chimney.

Before Thomas could help him, Santa’s large body popped out of the fireplace, and he lay sprawled out on the floor.

Thomas thought it was a little strange that it didn’t happen smoother, more easily than it had, but he snapped off the first picture anyway.

The flash lit the room for a second, and Santa lifted his head.

He wasn’t happy.

There was something strange about Santa. His skin was gray, and his eyes were all black.

The odd Santa stood, clumsily, and paused to sneer at Thomas. Next he leaned his head back, looking up at the ceiling.

“Santa?” asked Thomas.

Santa began to tremble. As Thomas watched, his gigantic body started to break apart into pieces. Thomas, in shock, accidentally pressed the button to take a picture.

Another flash.

Now Thomas could see that Santa wasn’t breaking apart so much as separating into small versions of himself. The smaller Santa’s had sharp teeth and claws, and they started screeching at the light.

Falling to the floor, the smaller Santa’s began to run toward Thomas who was still snapping off photos. The tiny creatures screamed and shielded their faces with their arms.

Thomas started to back up, but the creatures had reached him and were quickly climbing up his legs and torso. Their claws dug into his flesh, and everywhere they pierced him it felt like he was on fire. He started to scream and one of them stuffed itself into his mouth.

Thomas fell to the ground, hitting his head hard on the floor. The creatures were all over him now. He was groggy and his vision was fuzzy. He could make out that the smaller creatures had once again joined to make the large Santa form.

Santa reached down and picked Thomas up like a ragdoll, stuffing him inside his big burlap sack.

Thomas could smell ashes and knew Santa was dragging him back up the chimney. He began to get enough strength to start yelling and kicking a little. Santa ignored him.

When they reached the roof, Santa lifted the sack and dumped Thomas out into a dark box. Once he regained his balance, Thomas could see that there were many other children in there with him, some whimpering quietly.

As he sat staring at the others, they began to move.

Thomas strained his neck up to see where they were going, but all he could make out was the night sky with its beautiful, twinkling stars.

Back in the living room, the Christmas tree had been knocked over, ornaments shattered on the ground.

The next morning, Thomas’ family found the room in shambles. As they looked throughout the house for Thomas, his sister found the camera on the floor.

She turned it on and saw that there had been pictures taken. Pictures of strange little creatures, dressed like Santa.

“Ho Ho Ho,” she heard and spun to see who had said that.

There was a strange looking Santa standing by the fireplace, with a small elf that looked a lot like Thomas, except it had very sharp teeth.

They grabbed her before she could scream.

I Heard the Bells, by Ramsey Lyons

Adjusting his scarf around his face, Tim closed the shop door with a tinkle of the welcome bells and locked it, then shuffled down the snowy street making his way against the icy blast of winter wind.

The town square was a bustle of activity, this being Christmas Eve. People were doing their last minute shopping along the streets encompassing the square, and getting set to enjoy the Christmas show. However, everyone seemed to take great pains to avoid one of the side streets.

This street was the home to the old, Gothic-style church that had been home to many denominations over its hundred-and-fifty year history. Currently the Presbyterians were worshipping there, at least until recently. Jeffrey, the church’s official bell-ringer, a boy with more bravery than brains, came tearing down from the belfry two weeks after Hallowe’en, trembling like a wet cat, claiming that he had ‘seen a spook.’

The pastor, Reverend Herlinger, an old man with more contempt than cleverness, sent him straight back to his bell-ringing duties against threats of telling his father: a malicious man given to drink and brutality where his family was concerned, but who was nevertheless a charitable tither.

The boy fearfully discharged his duties, and did so prior to every service from that moment on with nary a complaint, but he was often seen muttering to himself afterward, and casting fearful jerky glances over his shoulder. He became pale and developed dark pouches under his eyes which made him look more like an old man than a mere boy of thirteen.

Then, on the first Sunday of the Christmas season, it happened.

The day started in its normal fashion. Cocks crowed, clocks chimed and people woke up. The first snow of the year had fallen and the ground was frozen hard and glittery-white. Close to 6 am, those who lived in the town awaited the ringing of the church bells to call them to 7 o’clock service.

No bells sounded.

Those townspeople who were awake chewed their eggs and sausages, and drank their juice and coffee, glancing at their wall clocks every three or four minutes.

6:10. . .6:15. . .6:25 came and went and still no din of bells broke the unearthly silence that enfolded the town like a fog.

“Wonder why the church bells haven’t rung?” Tim’s wife, Dorothy, asked.

“Dunno,” Tim replied. “We’ll find out soon enough, I reckon. Maybe Jeffrey’s ill. God only knows, old Herlinger can’t climb those steep stairs. He ‘aint no spring chicken anymore. All the cluck’s gone right out of the old bugger!” Tim laughed.

They finished breakfast and bundled up, leaving the house at 6:45. The church was less than a ten-minute walk from their house. As they arrived, they saw most of the other worshippers gathered outside of the church.

“Doors are locked,” said Fred Avery, the town’s barber. He looked grim. “Terrible shouting in there.”

Tim and Dorothy looked confused, but soon heard for themselves as a ruckus erupted inside the church.

“Get your lazy behind up those stairs and ring that bell, I said!” Herlinger shouted.

“NO!! And you can’t make me!” came Jeffrey’s voice. People in the crowd looked at one another in disbelief. They had never heard Jeffrey so much as raise his voice, let alone disobey the minister.

Several thumps could be heard and Jeffrey cried out. The preacher was beating the boy.

“Now, get up there!” the pastor yelled. The people waiting outside could hear the sound of Jeffrey’s footfalls on the stairs to the belfry.

“He’s got no right,” Fred’s wife spoke.

“Mind your business,” Fred admonished her.

“I think she’s right,” Tim said. His wife put her arm around him and squeezed him gently in silent solidarity.

Gladys Avery looked up and screamed. “AAAGGH! Look out!”

Everyone scrambled backwards as a dull thud sounded. They tried to shield themselves, but the impact of the body sent blood and fluids splattering in all directions.

Jeffrey had jumped from the tower.

###

Tim made his way across the park. Most of the townfolk were gathered there, as the theater troupe was putting on a Christmas show in the square that evening. Tim found Dorothy seated on a bench. She held out a delicious hot cocoa to him and he gratefully accepted it, giving her a peck on the lips in exchange.

“What’s the word, lovey?” he asked.

She smiled briefly, then her smile froze on her face in a grimace. “They say he’s not likely to live out the night.”

After Jeffrey’s suicide, the pastor went crazy. A few of the men tried to calm him down.

“The curse! Blast it! The curse! It must be time. I should’ve known!” he ranted. Although they tried, no one could get a sane word from him.

Later that night, the pastor attempted to take his own life. He’d dragged himself up the steep staircase to the belfry and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills at the top. The deacon, John Willis, found him there…along with the strange suicide note:

“Harm not another. I give you my life in sacrifice. Harm not the others, I beg. Let my life satisfy the bond…” It went on in that vein for some length, then ended abruptly, no doubt when the pills took hold.

“Anyone been able to determine what the “curse” might be? Did anyone talk to Dolores Gant?” Dolores Gant was the oldest living resident in the town, and she had been a member of the church when it was still St. Michael’s. She was in a nursing home now.

“Me n’ Gladys went over today,” Dorothy said, looking glum. “We asked her if she knew about a curse. Her eyes got big and she became agitated. She said ‘The bellringer! Sunset!” then clamped her hand over her mouth and refused to say another word.”

“That’s very odd,” Tim said, taking a drink of his cocoa.

They snuggled on the bench and watched the performers on the bandshell in the center of the park getting ready for their performance. The streetlights in the park twinkled on as dusk approached. Tim and Dorothy turned in the direction of the church to watch the sunset. Dorothy gasped.

“What is it, love?” Tim asked.

“Where did they go, Tim?” she cried, pointing at the top of the church.

A few miles away, Pastor Herlinger awoke from his coma and motioned for someone to write down his last words.

“Three….three it requires…from All Hallows Eve ’til Christmas Eve. If three it does not get…it will take us all. It will awaken the stone demons as the last of sunlight fades and…and…”

In the square, as the sun set, all who were gathered looked up in awe at the belfry as the bells began to peal. Their looks of shock turned to horror as black shapes flew out of the belfry and from the top of the flying buttresses.

The peace of the evening was disrupted by screams.

Another fifty years had come to pass; it was time for the gargoyles to feed.

Christmas Eve, by Amber Keller

The instruments in the lab clicked and whirred, test tubes were filled with various colored liquids, and beakers bubbled.

Simon was weary. He had been working non-stop for days on this experiment. He was determined not to stop until he finished.

Eyes blurry and burning , Simon sat on his stool, waiting to add the crucial ingredient to the compound in front of him. His thoughts drifted to the message he had received earlier from his friend inviting him to a Christmas Eve party tonight. He didn’t notice the flask slip out of his hands until it was too late.

In one quick moment, the liquid spilled, causing an explosion that knocked Simon off his stool. He hit the ground hard, head first.

The sounds of breaking glass echoed inside his skull as he lost consciousness. When he came to, he had no idea how long he had been out.

Lifting his head, Simon noticed that things were different.

The lab was darker, and everything was filthy. Simon struggled to get to his feet, and saw that the equipment was strange.

There was an odd noise coming from outside the door. Simon made his way to find the source of the noise.

He opened the door and couldn’t believe what he saw.

There were great crowds of children tied together, wearing nothing more than rags, being led through a vast tunnel system. Large, skinny bug-like creatures were cracking whips at them periodically.

Simon stood still taking in the scene.

At the back of the room there was a giant throne upon which sat a beast dressed in filthy red pants lined at the ankles with what must have been white at one time, but was now a deep gray. His torso was bare, exposing a dirty, round, bloated belly, which didn’t match the long, spindly arms and legs. Sitting atop a scrawny neck was a big head that boasted a pointed chin covered in wiry whiskers, hook nose, and glowing yellow eyes. Occasionally a forked tongue poked out of a crooked mouth, allowing a glimpse at sharp, yellowed dagger teeth. It looked like some deranged Santa Claus.

Both of them saw each other at the same time.

The beast stood and pointed a clawed finger at him.

It opened its mouth and out came a loud, low tone that rattled Simon’s skull. Simon reached up and pressed his palms to his ears.

Quickly the bug creatures started to make their way toward him.

Simon glanced around himself and saw no real weapon. The creatures were slow and awkward, but they were getting closer.

Simon fell to his knees and began to crawl so that he would be harder to spot.

The children cried and moaned all around him. He could see their sore, worn feet. A feeling of rage spread through him. He would have to get the children out of there, but first he would need to take care of the large beast.

He spotted one of the whips that the bug creatures had been using, and crawled over to it, tucking it into his pants.

It was hard to see without giving himself away, so he tried to head in what he hoped was the direction of the beast.

A loud, “Ho ho ho,” rang through the air. It was almost a screech, and he fought the urge to cover his ears again.

This confirmed his suspicions. It was Santa, but no Santa he had ever seen.

The crowd of children parted, and Simon could see that Santa’s gnarled hand was reaching down to him.

He tried to crawl fast to one side, but the hand scooped him up easily. It gripped him tight and he flew through the air toward the giant Santa’s face.

Santa’s eyes looked like they were lit with churning, yellow flames. The long tongue flicked out again and ran across Simon’s cheek, trailing up over his forehead. He shivered, repulsed by the beasts’ breath.

Simon was able to move one of his hands into the pocket on the side of his coat. He felt around for a possible weapon. His fingers wrapped around a large flask. Wiggling around in the beasts’ hand, he was able to free his arm completely as it continued to lick him.

Once it started to bring him in close to its mouth, Simon acted on his fear, throwing the flask hard into the beasts mouth. It hit the back of its throat, and the creature began to choke.

Simon fell from its grasp as it used its hands to claw at its throat.

Simon pulled out the whip, and in one motion, he snapped it out and wound it around the creatures’ neck.

The surprise of the action caused the giant Santa to lose its balance. It toppled over, and Simon couldn’t move out of the way in time.

As Santa fell on him, Simons world once again turned black.

When his eyes opened, he was back in his familiar lab, lying on the floor as he had been before. The smell of chemicals was strong and he could see the damage from the explosion. Simon gathered his broom and started to clean up.

Believing his strange experience to have been a dream, Simon noticed there were slashes in his lab coat. As he examined them, the sound of bells jingling came from somewhere outside. Glancing at the window, Simon watched the snow softly falling. From behind him came the screeching voice.

“Ho ho ho.”

"Ho ho ho"

Oh, Christmas Tree, by Daniel Ritter

Getting home from work after dark was pretty much the standard in the winter months.

He managed the keys in the lock, the front hallway, and the living room expertly in utter darkness, even overstepping the extra garbage sack next to the bin that he’d yet to remove to the garage.

He stopped in front of the Christmas tree, and fumbled around the needles of the lower branches to locate the plug. With a bit of fumbling to find the socket, he plugged in the light string, and his whole apartment lit up in multicolored glow.

He stripped off his grease-smudged work shirt and draped it over a nearby chair back. The embroidered tag on the chest read “Chris,” in a cursive script.

Chris looked at the tree, moving his head around slightly to make the lights sparkle between the branches, “Melissa would have liked this,” he said, then kicked the plug from the wall, returning his apartment to darkness.

He went upstairs through the black, navigating by memory alone.

He washed up, brushed his teeth, piled himself into an unmade bed, and fell fast asleep.

Downstairs, the tree stood there in the darkness.

One of the clumps of pine needles twitched, detached themselves, then gathered up and formed into a small spidery shape. The leaf needle spider skittered along its branch, and then down the trunk of the tree to the floor.

“Tsss Tsstssss Tsswishhhh,” the leaf needle spider scurried, and looked up at the tree from the floor.

“Tsswsss TSSSWISHHTSS TSSSHH,” the tree erupted into hundreds of detached leaf needle spiders, and they all skitter-ran to down the trunk, leaving the tree nothing but bare branches and the strings of lights and ornaments.

The leaf needle spiders crawled all over themselves, piling high, and wavering in a tall wiggly tower, “Tsswhssssh, tsswhssssh”. It leaned to one side, then corrected itself, leaned to the other and rested against Chris’ shirt on the chair.

Feeling around, it crawled an appendage over and into the shirt, exploring the name tag, “Trissss… TRISSS,” the leaf needle spiders straightened tall, and piled themselves up to match Chris’s height, and then pushed themselves outward, making legs, arms, and shaping themselves at the head into the shape of Chris’ face. “Triss.”

The tree leaf Chris picked up the shirt and tried it on; perfectly snug, except for the errant needles poking out through the cloth in places. It felt around the branchy Christmas tree and unplugged a bulb from one of the unlit strings, then shoved it into an eye socket. It pulled another and shoved it into the other. It flexed and scrunched its leafy face until the eye bulbs had enough power for the filaments inside to glow a dim orange. It blinked its glowing eyes and tilted its head side to side, stretching things into place.

“Tss Tss Tss,” the tree needle Chris raked its leafy hand across its face, combing out the needles neatly, primping. It grinned with its whole leafy face.

Tilting its head curiously to one side, it could hear the sound of Chris upstairs, snoring. The tree needle Chris walked toward the staircase, “Tsss Whsss Tsss Whsss.”

Trying out the steps, it wobbled and slipped. “WHSSS TSS SSSss,” its whole left leg fell into a pile of disorganized tree needle spiders, which skittered around in a confused pile for a minute. They then crawled themselves up into a pile again, and formed back into the shape of the missing leg. It continued climbing the stairs.

It followed the sounds of Chris sleeping, and wandered into his room, “tss whss tss whss.”

It walked up to Chris’ bed, and leaned over, moving in nearly nose-to-nose with the sleeping man, squinting it’s leafy eyebrows trying to focus the orange glow of its light bulb eyes onto his face, and it studied him.

Chris’ rhythmic breathing fluttered the leafy needles on the tree leaf Chris as it watched him sleep under its dim orange glow.

“Trissss,” it said to him, quietly.

Chris’ breathing hitched, and he rolled to his side.

The tree needle Chris looked around the room. Over near the door were a pair of discarded pants. It walked over and picked them up, noticing the heaviness in the pockets. It dug around in a pocket, finding a thick and folded square of leather. It pulled this out and dropped the pants.

It unfolded the wallet and flipped through the things inside. Squinting an orange glow, it found a single photograph inside of a young woman. “Tsllissaaaa,” it said. It opened its leafy mouth and extended a needley tongue at the photo, then licked it in one slow broad stroke from bottom to top, as if trying to taste the woman captured within.

Behind the tree leaf Chris, the flesh and blood Chris had woken up and had a pistol trained toward the shoulder of the dark outline of what looked like a man in his room.

“Don’t you freakin’ move.”

The tree needle Chris dropped the wallet suddenly and spun its head around at the noise.

“PLAKK-PLAKK” Chris squeezed off two rounds into what would have been the intruder’s shoulder.

“TSS WHISSS TSSWHISSsss sssSSss…” Before the first bullet had left the muzzle, the thing had exploded into a cloud of tree needles, which showered down all over the darkened room.

Two dim orange bulbs fell to the floor among the leaf needles and cooled to black.