Did you ever have a thought so sinister, you just couldn’t share it with people? Not me...
THE REST OF THE YEAR
By Dan Dillard
Rain pitter-pattered on the rooftops of all the houses in the small town of Bloomington, Indiana. The noise might have reminded a person of the light footsteps of a small dog—its toenails in need of a clip—tapping happily across a hardwood floor. The sun had gone down hours before. It was unseasonably warm there in the dark. The trusses groaned underneath the old man’s weight and he paused for a moment before continuing on.
His reindeer stood stoic and quiet, well-trained over the centuries to do as they were instructed. They were grey with age, but thick with muscles, and covered in scars from many a close call ducking in under cover of night, and escaping the eyes of third shift workers and the naughty children who peek. Jagged antlers poked out from their heads, most of them broken. Not quite the show animals from books and movies.
The crimson sack clutched in his vice-like, black-gloved hand, he dropped down through the large chimney landing in the open fireplace with a thud. He paused, waiting for hushed gasps and whispers, a growling dog, the jingle of a collar or for a light to flicker on somewhere in the home, but none did. All was quiet. Not a creature stirred. A smirk peeled across his bearded chin. One more step, ducking out of the fireplace, and he looked around, his smirk widening into a rotten-toothed smile.
On the wall, there was a panel with glowing buttons. An alarm. Santa pulled off his glove and held his hand up to the box. He concentrated, closing his eyes. After a moment, the state changed from ARMED to SYSTEM IS READY TO ARM.
Nice furniture, expensive tastes. It was a good house he had chosen. He tipped his stocking cap back on his balding head, the little white ball of fluff dangling down between his shoulder blades. A much thinner man than the world envisioned stood in that living room and surveyed the lay of the land. The kitchen was to the left and that was always his first stop.
He opened the refrigerator, pulled out a white carton—take-out Chinese—and left the door open. Flicking open a few of the drawers, Santa located the silverware and plunged a fork into the swirled and congealed mass of cold lo mein, shoveling until the box was near empty. After a satisfied belch into his fist, he tossed the box into the sink. The fork stuck up like the main mast of a tiny ship.
Rain knocked a little harder on the windows and walls of the home. He glanced up with a thought for his animals. They were tough, ancient things and they would greet their reward with gratitude. They always had.
More investigation led him to the staircase and then up to the hallway that was lined with bedrooms. There were five in all, a master and four smaller rooms. Only three were occupied: a teenager, two young twins sharing a bunk and the parents, all snoozing, snug in their beds. No doubt dreaming of lovely things and not wicked things stalking them in the night. Not in small-town America. Not in such a neighborhood.
Parents were first. They always had been. It wasn’t the fight that worried the old man. He was stronger than any man. He feared not bullets nor baseball bats nor butcher knives. It was the hassle he had learned to preempt. The act was whittled down to as few steps as possible, honed to a perfect edge by centuries of experience.
Quietly, he stood over the mother’s side of the bed and placed his sack next to her sleeping body. A lovely woman with dark hair that flowed across her pillow like the angel her husband thought she was. Chris Cringle knew better as he touched her forehead. She did things with her best friend’s mate while that same husband was away on business. She sent the children to their friends’ houses for the evening and snuck him in. She made love to him in that very bed, performing in ways she had never done for her man, to have and to hold, to honor, cherish and obey.
Once, she had gone next door to ask her neighbor a question, another good friend. The woman hadn’t been home, but her nineteen year old son had. He answered the door with his shirt off and his hair mussed in that sleepy way. He was young and full of surprised energy when she seduced him. Santa could see all of that. He sees you when you’re sleeping, you know. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, the song says. It doesn’t only apply to children. No, that channel is open to the wide, wide world, folks. Full volume all the time and the fat man in the jolly red suit has a fucking headache.
He stuck his free hand into the sack and retrieved a small vial made of amber colored crystal. Practiced dexterity removed the stopper with his thumb and forefinger while he waved the bottle under her nose. The smell of gingerbread filled her nostrils and she sighed in her sleep, breathing in the magic. Her sleep would be unbroken for six to eight hours.
The husband had no fewer secrets. A receptionist, one of his partners in the firm, a cocktail waitress from one business trip, and on one particularly lucky flight, he met a flight attendant with an interesting talent. Santa chuckled, a deep rumble that was barely audible. He waved the vial underneath the man’s nose as well before moving on to the teenager’s room.
A girl of sixteen slept in a tank top and panties, her blanket kicked to the floor. She dreamed of her boyfriend, the one her parents didn’t know about. The nineteen-year-old next door had made love to mother and to daughter, but mother was just a lucky bonus. The daughter he had strung out on pain medication, but that was all about to come to an end because during the weekend that just passed, he had provided her very first taste of heroin and she had loved it. So many drugs had already gone through her system, Santa didn’t feel his usual pang of guilt for feeding her just a little of his magic potion. She smelled the gingerbread and smiled, sighing just like her mother. They were so much alike.
The old man picked up the blanket from her floor and covered her young body with it, then he turned with a nod.
In the last bedroom, he found the twins resting peacefully. Children always did once they gave in to sleep and drifted off, once the shudders and flip-flops of youth had settled in and the REM state had passed. Their breathing was a soft, rhythmic sound that reminded him of listening to the ocean from a distance.
“Perfect,” he said.
One by one, he dosed them and stuffed them into his bag. Then, for fun, he toppled some things over and dragged their sheet into the hallway. He set a chair over in the downstairs and opened a window on the back of the house, tearing out the screen. As a final touch, Santa turned on the TV, leaving the volume low.
Back upstairs, he grabbed his sack and slung it over his shoulder. Eighty-five or ninety pounds of children didn’t tax his large frame.
He had time for one last look around before getting on with the business at hand. The reindeer would be pleased. Human flesh always pleased them...and Santa, too. It was a grim way to remain immortal—an addiction—a need that was every bit as strong as his need to give back. Over the years he had never grown weary of the joy he could bring on Christmas morning. It was the one day of the year when most people—most, but not all—seemed to feel goodwill toward each other. It was the one day of the year when people stayed with those they loved, even when it was painful. It was the one day of the year when people more often than not did the right thing.
But it wasn’t Christmas. It was an early Tuesday morning in August. It was like almost any other night of the year when Santa Claus lurked in the shadows of homes all over the world, stealing children from those who were unworthy to have them. Those parents who were naughty enough to catch his attention. Their children who would feed his ever-dying magic and fill it back up with hope so he might carry on. It was part of the horror that Santa had to endure—horror he had grown to love—so that he might have that one day of peace at each revolution around the sun.
He climbed aboard the sleigh and lay his sack down in the rear compartment with several others, some starting to wiggle and stir. The reindeer snorted, eye’s wide and teeth bared. They licked their lips. Santa popped his whip over their heads.
“Not yet, boys. Be patient just a bit longer,” he said.
With a flourish of his hand, they rose into the air and darted into the night. A feast night was upon them, and they had several more stops to make.