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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Supernatural · #2263643
Paganism, Covid, and an evil boss conspire against Christmas...
"I can't taste my curry or beer," said Max. He was speaking over the telephone to his boss, Fran, who was at the factory where he worked. "The doctors did a PCR and they said I had Omicron."

         "Oh bother," said Fran. She had this cool public school accent that always sounded downright sexy to Max. Being from Newcastle he had a Geordie accent himself. Even Martha, Max's wife, had smiled when she heard Fran talk on speakerphone once. Fran continued, "I guess that buggers up Christmas for you then. You are not the only one. It looks like half the people on your shift have it including your friends Jack and Sarah. Did you wear your masks?"

         "Yes, we all took precautions, we had our coffee breaks outside at staggered times..." said Max,

         "Sorry, I was not blaming you, I just have to write the dam report to Mr. Clarkson," replied Fran.

         "Well, you could always blame him. He ignored your suggestions about social distancing on the production line, opening windows, shutting off the ventilators, implementing the vaccine certification checks. As I remember it he said, 'No that will cut my numbers too much - carry on!'"

         "Right, you know how to get a girl fired, don't you?" Fran snorted.

         "You should be the big boss, you would have kept the numbers up with your night shift idea and you would have saved us all from this illness with your health and safety proposals. Not to mention all the downtime in production that comes with it. Regarding Christmas, we already have trees and lights up. In fact, the wife and I have gone a little overboard with holly, mistletoe, and the tree. We do not have a spare bedroom and the rest of the family are not infected so they stuck me in the lounge with all the Christmas stuff. Everyone hopes I will get better in time for Christmas so they can get back in here. I have a French window onto the garden also, so I am surrounded by green and growing nature. Martha and the kids have bird feeders out there and I have about twenty different species to keep me company."

         "Well watch out for the Triffids?"

         Max laughed, then looking out of the window, he added, "I was meant to do some pruning before Christmas but then I got sick. It is looking a little wild out there."

         Fran continued, "I can see you have a holiday booked for Christmas so I guess we will not see you 'till the 10th of January. How do you feel?"

         "Yes 10th January, at the moment I do not feel so bad, I have a bit of a fever, feel very drained but as I said the worst of it is that I cannot taste curry or beer."

         "Oh good to know, I will drink a few beers for you then, I am sure the taste will be fabulous," said Fran.
Max loved her sense of humor and laughed in response.

         "Yes do that and do not forget the curry, so I will see you in January."

         "OK see you then, get well Max, we need you back here."

         The phone clicked off. Max looked around the lounge. Every decoration possible filled the room. They really had gone overboard to make it look as festive as possible so that it was ready for the whole family to enjoy. But now it was all for him. He hoped he could let the rest of the family in by Christmas day. He just had to get well by then. In fact, that was all he had to do until then. The big red couch had been pulled out and made into a bed and he was lying on it in his pajamas. He had the TV open in front of him with a fully lit and decorated Christmas tree next to it but he had no energy to watch TV. His eyes wandered to the Christmas tree. He noticed a new decoration that Martha had received as a gift last year from her pagan sister Greta, or the "Witch," as he preferred to call her. It was three interlocking triangles and he remembered that it was a symbol associated with the god Odin. Greta had spoken of some kind of wild hunt associated with the Yule season. He wondered why Martha had put that on the tree. He turned over and spoke a command to Alexa, his Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker was right by his improvised bed.

         "Alexa lights off. Alexa close blinds." All the Christmas lights were on smart plugs and the lights were also. So by the time the blinds finished closing the room was completely dark. Max fell into a deep sleep soon afterward.

*Horse* *SwordR* *BabyBoy*

Max was staring at the Christmas tree. He realized with a start that he saw a face staring back at him. It was like Father Christmas with a grey beard and the reddened skin of a man who had drunk too much wine. The face smiled and Max laughed to himself, the kids would love to hear about how he had just met Father Christmas in the lounge. But as he stared the face changed and darkened and the tree fell away from his vision.

         Now he saw a horseman that was terrible to behold. The man wore a crown with Hebrew writing on it. His beard was black and his eyes also and seemed to stare with a malevolence too big for the corporeal form of the black-cloaked rider. Why does this face remind me of the factory manager, Mr. Clarkson? he thought to himself. The rider's horse was black and wild, and as Max watched it went up onto its hind legs, its front legs kicking in the air, giving out a sharp and piercing whinnying neigh. The rider raised his sword to the heavens and as the sword touched the sky it was as if the black night itself came alive with lightning bolts. They lit up the tangled trees and blue glades all around. A pack of black dogs circled the rider and each was as ferocious as the rider they followed. Like hounds from hell with the intent to reap murder and mayhem wherever they went. Their mouths were full of sharp teeth and a sickly yellow sulfurous cloud issued forth each time they made a sound.

         The rider called to him in the dark. His breath was like a toxic mist in the cold air. His words were like knives that penetrated the soul.
"Join with your King, I, King Herod, command you, come join my hunt."

         Max's heart filled with fear, this king even had the same voice as Mr. Clarkson, but he felt rooted to the ground and could not respond. He felt the call inside him like clawed fingers trying to rip out his heart and drag him into an army of ghosts.

         But what are they hunting? He looked around and saw babies dressed in white hiding in the forest, fear on their faces. Babies that could walk. They toddled along between the trees, running on fat stubby legs that did not seem to have the muscles to support their weight. They dodged and dived behind the tree stems, fear on their faces, desperate to hide. There was one child in particular that stood out for him. The child wore a crown and seemed to shine with a light that defied the night all around. He was not afraid but he watched over the other children. They ran towards him and passed him towards the places that he directed them to. Max knew him to be the Christ child and was convicted that he needed to stop the hunt. But the hell hounds snarled and King Herod pointed his sword and he knew that he did not have the strength to defy the king.

         So instead Max turned and ran, he ran through the tangled undergrowth of the dark forest, the trees like grey smudges on the dark. He wanted to join the Christ child but he was quickly lost. He tripped and fell and felt the thorns penetrate his flesh, he put his hand out to stand and it was pierced by a sharp stick broken by his fall. Another stick pierced his side and he felt the wetness of blood dripping down his face and side. Then he saw a man on a cross bleeding, a crown of thorns on his head, and wounds through his hands and feet, and a spear in his side. The man looked up from his suffering on the cross and spoke to Max.

         "Take the spear and defend the babies."

         Max seized the spear in the side of Christ and pulled it out. There was a rush of blood and water. He heard a sound behind him and saw the dogs on the heels of a running child with the King with them. He threw the spear. It flew true to its target, piercing King Herod through his head, killing him instantly.

*Horse* *SwordR* *BabyBoy*

Max woke with a start feeling stronger. He wondered at how long he had slept.

         "Alexa. Lights on. Blinds Up."

         He got out of bed walked over to the Christmas tree feeling the strength in his legs. His mind was clear. The fever had passed now. He found the wooden pagan symbol of the three triangles and he snapped it in two, removing it from the tree. He felt a warmth spread through his soul as he did so.

         Martha had heard him moving around and he saw her form, through the bubble glass windows of the lounge door, as she approached.

         "Max is that you?"


         "How are you feeling? You must have been asleep for 24 hours, we have heard nothing from you. I checked on you briefly, I wore a mask and checked to hear if you were still breathing. You were fast asleep and snoring away so I only had to open the door a crack."

         Max desperately needed the bathroom which was hardly surprising considering how long he had been asleep.

         "Thanks for checking on me, but right now I need the loo and I am really very hungry."

         "OK, we will clear a path for you, I'll make you some food?"

         "Great thanks."

         After going to the toilet Max remembered that Fran had said Jack and Sarah were also ill. While he was waiting for his meal he What's App'd them on his laptop. Both were available and chatty so they set up a three-way video chat. They had known each other since school, in far more embarrassing and compromising positions than this. They were all in bed with sleepers' hair and they had a good laugh at each other's new looks.

         "I had the weirdest of dreams last night," said Max.

         "Me too," Jack and Sarah both said at the same time.

         "You are not going to top my one. It had a dark huntsman king that looked a little like Mr. Clarkson with a 'King Herod kills the baby vibe,'" said Max. He noticed both Jack's and Sarah's mouths drop at the same time on their separate screens.

         "I had the same dream," said Sarah, "I ended up killing the king with a sharp stake that Jesus snapped for me from his cross. The huntsman was trying to kill a baby."

         "Wow, I did him with the nails that went through Christ's hands. I ran ninja-style across the heads of the hell hounds and leaped up to ram them in the temples of King Clarkson's ugly mug," said Jack.

         "I killed him with the Spear of Destiny that was in Christ's side," said Max, "We all had the same friggin' dream, except for how we killed him. Spooky stuff!"

         At that same moment they all received a text from Fran on their mobiles. They all looked at their phones and then back at each other with shock and surprise on their faces. It was Max who spoke for all of them,

"Fran is now the factory manager! Mr. Clarkson died last night of Covid!...." Then looking at the worried faces of his friends he asked, "Did we all kill our boss last night?"

Word Count and Notes
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