After all the fun we had bringing you scares from Prospero all October long, we couldn't resist concocting this series of festive flash fics of fear.
So check back with us throughout the season for fresh, bite-sized of holiday horrors!
Previously On... Holiday Horrors: Black Friday, What the Movies Don't Show, What's Eating Mall Santa
By Matt Carter
“I don’t think we should be looking,” I said.
“Oh come on, Jacob, don’t you want to see what she’s getting us?” she said, setting aside another stack of family photo albums.
I really did. Gran always got us the best Christmas presents, and it would’ve been cool to see what she got us this year, but something about finding out early just felt wrong.
“Can’t we just wait until Christmas morning?” I asked. “You know so then we can be surprised and mom and dad can get the great pictures of us?”
“Oh stop being such a baby,” Olivia said, pulling a straw doll wrapped tightly with chains and an old hat from the cabinet. “There’s nothing in here. Come on, let’s keep looking.”
She got up to leave, which meant I had to put everything back. Stupid Olivia.
My older sister hated surprises, and if there was ever any reason to be getting presents she’d always found some way to find out what they were before they were supposed to be opened. She’d ruined pretty much every birthday and Christmas that mom and dad ever tried to hide anything from her for. The only person who’d ever hid stuff from her good was Gran, and that was probably because we didn’t go to Gran’s house that much, which was usually fine by me because her house was old and weird and I think had animals living in the walls.
But mom and dad needed to do some last minute Christmas shopping, and Gran wanted to join them, so we had to spend the day at her house. Alone.
At least Olivia wasn’t calling me stupid for wearing my Santa hat. At least I got to feel like I knew what Christmas was about.
She was walking out of the basement Gran always told us to stay out of when I caught up.
“Wasn’t that locked?” I asked.
“Not very well,” Olivia said. “Gran’s getting old. She only turned the lock, like, halfway.”
Against my better judgment, I asked, “Find anything?”
“Nah, it’s just empty down there. The only thing I found was like some chalk circle on the ground and a bunch of weird writing around it. And a box of Christmas decorations she hasn’t got to putting up yet. And it stinks, too,” she said.
“Stinks?” I asked.
“Like the time Mr. Whiskers crawled into the crawlspace and died and dad couldn’t find him for a week,” she said.
“Ew,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” she said, waving a hand in front of her nose. “You’d think for all this nice stuff she’s got she’d have a nicer basement.”
She was right about that. Gran’s house, like the stuff she always got us for Christmas, was nice and expensive-looking, though the stuff she got us wasn’t covered in dust and looking real old.
“Where do you think she got the money for all of it?” I asked Olivia as she started walking to Gran’s bedroom. I startled when I heard something in the wall. Fast and scrabbling, some rat with inch long fangs and claws like swords, no doubt. I could’ve sworn I saw it moving beneath the wallpaper, but maybe it was my imagination.
It had to be my imagination. Olivia didn’t see anything, say anything.
“From Grandpa, I think. He made a lot of good investments after the war, mom says,” Olivia said.
“What war?” I asked.
“One of those ones where people died; does it matter?” Olivia said. We were in Gran’s room now. All doilies and dust and perfume, so much perfume, from those bottles on her dresser. Bottles of gold and green and blue and some so red they looked like blood. A tall Santa decoration made out of a dressed up paper towel roll stared at us, so at least we knew Gran remembered some of her decorations.
“Whatever war it was, it was one where people back here had to hide things away because they were afraid they’d be invaded and wouldn’t be able to have stuff anymore, so I think that’s why Gran got so good at hiding things. Then Grandpa got sick and all the money was hers,” she said.
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Something bad, it, like, made his body rot off his bones. She’s got an album with, like, day by day pictures of it happening,” Olivia said.
“Ew,” I said.
“Yeah, tell me about it, she’s got all sorts of messed up pictures in her albums,” she said.
“I thought they were just baby pictures,” I said.
“Those too, but they’re kinda mixed in with a bunch of pictures of people in hoods standing around bonfires,” she said.
“Old people are weird,” I said.
“Tell me about it. See if she’s got a safe or something hidden behind that painting,” she said, motioning me to a bad painted landscape hanging on the wall.
I pulled the painting off. There was no safe, just some badly-drawn picture of a goat’s head inside an upside-down star, surrounded by weird writing.
“Nothing,” I said, putting the painting back.
“Damn,” she said. “Guess we’ll have to check her closet.”
Gran’s closet was an impassible mess of shoeboxes and clothes packed several feet thick. She knew there couldn’t be presents in there since most of that stuff hadn’t been moved in years, but there were shelves up top that could easily be used to hide gifts. Olivia climbed the pile, higher and higher so she could reach the upper shelves. When she got most of the way up, I could only see her legs.
“Hey, I think…”
“What?” I asked. I wanted to see my presents on Christmas morning, I wanted to wait for the surprise, but I could feel a thrill when she said that.
“I found, I think, where she’d keep something. There’s a hole high up in the wall up here, it’s pretty big,” she said.
“Is there anything in it?” I asked.
“I’m reaching, I’ll see… oh,” she said.
“What?” I asked.
She wasn’t saying anything. Her legs started to jerk like she was trying to dance, and it looked like she was going to fall, but then they jerked upward and disappeared like she just flew away. I could’ve sworn I’d heard something crunching.
“Olivia?” I called out. No answer.
“Olivia?” I called again. “You find anything?”
There was a heavy breath from up there, then she talked again.
“Jacob, you have to come up here, you wouldn’t believe the presents she’s got for us!”
Her voice sounded a little weird, choked and heavy, like it was her but not her. Still… there were presents.
I wanted to be good. I wanted to wait until I saw the presents beneath our tree to know what we got for sure. I wanted to be the good one, not like Olivia, not going out of my way to break the rules of Christmas.
I wanted to be a lot of things, but the call of presents was too strong.
“Coming!” I said, climbing up after her.