A short horror story.
|Another Christmas had come and gone.|
In the living room in front of his television, Stephen Harrison was disheartened. The evening of Christmas was almost always one of the most depressing moments of the year. He hated the idea of a holiday going away as quickly as it came.
He took a sip of his coffee and stared at the television, watching a score of holiday commercials. He always felt like yelling at the television for still showing Christmas commercials despite the fact that the holiday was coming to a close. He flipped through the channels and found a repeat of one of the bowl games from earlier in the week.
He lived in the house that had belonged to his parents. He was only sixteen when they had died in a car accident, but they had already written out their will by then, and they had left him, their only son, their house. He always kept it clean, knowing that his mother would want it that way, and every year he set out the same Christmas decorations.
His wife Tabitha was very understanding, for she too had lost her mother at a young age. She helped Stephen with everything that he wanted to do in memory of his parents. She kept the crucifix above the fireplace gleaming, as Stephen’s father had always done. She would listen to the same story every year, the one where Stephen recalled how his father would dress up as Santa Claus and tell the manger story. They would sit and watch the same old television shows that Stephen had watched with his parents as a child. It was tradition, Stephen would explain, looking a bit embarrassed, but Tabitha had never asked why they did these things because she already understood.
Stephen looked up from his mug and stared at the tree, still decked out in all of its holiday regalia. “We’ll keep her up till New Year’s Eve.” That was how it had always been.
Barking sounded outside. The neighbor’s dogs were always making more noise than they were worth. Tabitha was rummaging around in their closet, humming a carol to herself. On the television, cheerleaders clapped their pom-poms together while chirping “Go Team!” in their childish voices.
Tabitha had stopped humming. The football game took a commercial break and started showing a holiday beer commercial. The neighbor’s dogs continued barking. Stephen stared at the clock, showing it to be 9:45 p.m., and wondered when the neighbors would finally bring in their dogs for the night.
“Honey, look what I found,” Tabitha said, her voice slightly muffled in the other room. “Come here, Steve.”
“Bring it out here,” Stephen replied, sipping at his coffee and watching a jock itch commercial. “A game’s on and I’m comfortable.”
He heard his wife sigh and ignored it. She came from around the corner, holding a small but significantly dusty wrapped gift in her hand. She gave it to him. “The little label says that this gift was for your father.”
Stephen set his coffee aside, intrigued. He looked at the label. It was indeed addressed to his father, and the person to which it was from was somebody named “Mr. Kurten”. He rubbed his chin, wondering how a gift to his father could have remained hidden for so long. He peered again at the label, which had a cheery elf hiding a wrapped package behind its back. The name of the giver was oddly familiar.
“Are you going to open it?” Tabitha asked, her voice distant as Stephen drifted into thought.
Stephen’s father, Albert, was a portly man with a gleaming bald head and a silver mustache. He had worked as a high-school principal for over thirty years. Every year he held a Christmas celebration in the high school auditorium for the staff. Every year he got scores of gifts from his fellow educators. His father normally threw away the impersonal gifts.
He never kept much. Albert hated the idea of people being pack rats.
“Why is this name familiar?” He tapped his lower lip with his index finger.
One long Christmas ago, when Stephen was fifteen, he stayed up and waited for his dad after the celebration. Normally his dad would come home in a pleasant mood and they would talk for a bit after the party. But this particular year, his father had come home in a quiet mood, and when Stephen asked him how the party had been, he appeared angry.
Later that evening, his father came to him and gave him a simple message. It was clear and serious. “If you ever meet a man named Kurten, walk away. There’s something wrong with him.”
Stephen later found out from his mother that one of the new teachers, a man named Mr. Kurten, had come to the celebration and done nothing but make the partygoers miserable. He would tell tasteless jokes and even made a few of the female teachers cry. He gave insensitive gifts, including a gay pornographic magazine to a teacher that had always been suspected of homosexuality. Albert had been furious.
But if he hated this Kurten guy so much, why would he have ever kept this gift?
“Open it, Stephen.” Tabitha was smiling. The glowing light from the television flashed on her cheeks. “I never knew your father. It will be interesting to see his gift.”
Stephen rolled the package around in his hands. It was small, hard, and boxy. “I don’t know. This is sort of like dad’s personal business, you know? I don’t think it’s right to open his gift. It’d be like opening his mail or something.” He handed it back to her. “Just put it back where you found it. Or you can throw it away, I don’t care.”
The dogs were barking like crazy now. Stephen glanced at the windows. “Goddamn mutts. I can’t believe they‘re still going at it.”
Tabitha was staring at the gift. She glanced at Stephen. “Well, can I open it then? If you don’t want to, I will. It’s just a present, after all.”
Stephen sighed with exasperation. “Come on, I said just put it away or throw it away. It’s not our business.” He paused. “I swear I’m going to call the cops if those idiots can’t keep their dogs quiet. I’m giving them ten more minutes. This is ridiculous.”
Tabitha had her hands on her waist, looking at him with the sort of glare that harbored no argument. “Don’t be silly, it’s just an old Christmas present. You would have seen it anyway. If you don’t like it, we can throw it out.” She started to pull at the wrapping paper.
“Don‘t.” He reached for her but she darted back, laughing and daring him to stop her. He got up, jabbing a finger at her. “I said not to. Why are you being so difficult?”
“Stop me if you want to,” she cooed, moving away and revealing part of the gift. Stephen noticed big yellow block letters and plastic wrapping. Tabitha turned and ran down the hall, chuckling. Stephen followed her, not laughing at all.
“Put the box down! I don’t want to know what it is!” He reached out, but she ducked and swiveled away, back out toward the living room, and he heard her rip the paper away. He cursed silently and chased.
By the time he finally caught her, she was laughing and panting, and the gift was unwrapped.
It was a daily calendar, covered in tight plastic seal. “1989: MONSTERS” was written in a scary script. “365 Days of Pure Scary Fun!” Tabitha gazed at the calendar curiously. “Your dad was into monsters?”
“Not really,” Stephen griped. “I told you not to open it.”
“Oh well, too bad, I opened it.” She winked at him. “It doesn’t hurt for me to see what your dad was into.” She pulled away the plastic seal, and smiled as she opened the box. “It’s a 14 year-old calendar. Big deal. You can throw it away after I’m done looking at it.”
Stephen ran a hand through his hair, sighing. “Why do you even want to bother looking at it?”
“Ooh, big scary monster,” she said ominously, flashing the image at Stephen. It was a large, furry beast with glowing yellow eyes and a maw full of jagged teeth. He assumed that the crudely drawn image was supposed to be some sort of werewolf.
She flipped through the pages, tearing the pages away and letting them flutter to the floor. She paused briefly, and her smile faded. She stared and her eyes widened. She let out a little gasp. Tears came from her eyes and she threw down the calendar.
“Tabby?” Stephen watched as she began sobbing in the middle of the living room floor like a child having a tantrum. He went to her and touched her, but she flailed an arm at him and screeched for him to get away. He edged away from her.
He almost tripped over the calendar.
He picked up the calendar, then turned to look at the image. It was dated January 27th. The image was that of a hospital room. There was a woman lying on the bed, her chest open and bloody. The werewolf was standing beside her, munching on what looked something like a very pink steak. The woman’s head was that of a photograph, and she was smiling. It was a disturbing image.
Tabitha sobbed uncontrollably below him. “My mother,” she whispered softly. “That picture is my mother.”
“What?“ Stephen couldn’t believe her at first, but suddenly he saw the resemblance in the woman in the picture and his own wife. They might have been sisters. The monster wasn’t chewing on a steak. It was a lung. Tabitha’s mother died of lung cancer.
“She died,” Tabitha said between sobs. “She died on J-January 27th.”
He dropped the calendar.
He hugged her tightly, despite her protests, and she finally sat up and hugged back. He brushed her tears away and assured her that everything was okay. “That’s too scary. Throw that terrible thing away. Burn it. Do something to get rid of it.”
“It’s going in the trash,” Stephen confirmed, and he gathered up the assorted pages and calendar and moved toward the garbage can.
Halfway to the trashcan, a weird sensation passed over him. He stopped at the dining room table and set down the calendar. He flipped through the pages, ignoring the terrible pictures of the monster and focused on finding a specific date.
He got to the date, looked at the picture, and inhaled sharply.
The picture was of a tan and white station wagon, on an old stretch of highway that was surrounded by pastures. The monster was on the hood of the station wagon, his claws raised and his teeth bared in a snarl. There were two people in the car, both of their faces replaced by photographs of smiling people.
The pictures were of his mother and father.
He kept flipping through the pictures. He came across the image of two of his high school buddies who had died in a bad drug deal in the summer of his sophomore college year. The date on the calendar was July 12th, and the werewolf was standing over both of them, his jaws bloody.
He got to October 17th, and recognized the picture of his 4th grade teacher, who had been beaten to death outside of a bar when Stephen was nineteen. The werewolf was mauling the image of his teacher, but Mr. Collins just kept on smiling.
“What the hell is this thing?” His voice was strained and tight.
Tabitha moaned. Stephen realized that the dogs had stopped barking. “I’m sorry, honey, I really am. This is going in the trash and out of our lives right now. This thing is a perversion, a sick, twisted perversion and nothing else.”
“How did it know, Stephen?” she sobbed. Her eyes were glowing, tears streaking down her cheeks. “Just how the hell did it know?”
He heard scratching at the door. It was accompanied by a low growl. Tabitha gave a start at the sound.
Stephen turned toward the door. “Get out of here!” he bellowed, assuming that one of the dogs had managed to get out of the neighbor’s backyard. He turned to Tabitha. He tried to look reassuring, knowing somehow that he was desperately failing. “I don’t know, baby, it’s just a stupid calendar, we’ll burn it in the fire.”
The pages of the calendar tickled at his thumb. He looked down, oblivious that he had somehow marked a place far back in the calendar.
At the door, the scratching grew louder. So did the growling.
He looked down, and realized that his thumb was placed on Christmas Day.
The scratching was louder. The growl grew menacing.
He pulled away the pages and looked at the image on Christmas Day. He stared in horror. He would have thrown the calendar away if he could but his fingers gripped the calendar tightly, as if in a vise. His eyes couldn’t avoid the image.
It was the picture of their very own porch, crudely drawn, and a werewolf was pawing at the door. Stephen’s face was at one window, smiling, and Tabitha’s face was at the other window, smiling as well.
Something outside the door howled. It rose in the air, higher and higher, echoing in the night.
“Tabby, get out of here now.” She looked at him blankly, not knowing what he knew. Stephen gestured at her frantically. “Go now. For Chrissakes! GO!”
The door exploded inward, chunks of wood flying through the air. One of the shards struck Stephen on the forehead. He stumbled backwards and fell. The calendar fell from his hands.
A massive creature was in the mangled doorway. It was covered in brown-black fur and staring with malevolent yellow eyes. It was some kind of wolf, but it was the size of a large horse. It growled angrily. Its fangs gleamed.
Tabitha screamed, her hands rising to her throat.
It pounced forward and Tabitha was suddenly under its massive girth, and the wolf was grinning at her, spittle flowing down in ribbons. She thrashed and kicked. It was ineffective. It snapped its jaws menacingly, enraptured at the sound of her screams.
Stephen was up, rushing at the beast, and he dove into it with all of his weight. The monster grunted and barely staggered, but it was off of Tabitha. She rolled to the side, still screaming.
Stephen punched and kicked with all of his force. It was more effective than when Tabitha had tried, but it had little effect. The wolf swung a paw around, striking Stephen in his ribs, and he felt stinging pain rush across him. His breaths came hot and difficult. The wolf snapped at him and barely missed.
A wild thought occurred to Stephen.
“The calendar!” Stephen roared. “Tabby, the calendar! Throw it in the fire!”
She barely heard.
Stephen tripped over an ottoman and tumbled backward. The wolf leapt upward, its head brushing against the ceiling, and landed with crushing force. It broke Stephen’s pelvis on impact. His left arm was searing with pain. He cried out, his voice quaky, unsure of how he could even manage to speak. “Tabby, for the love of God! Throw it in the fire!”
She was up and staggering, and she took the calendar.
The wolf bit down into Stephen’s clavicle and tore away a massive chunk of flesh and bone. Stephen took a deep, whooping breath, swinging his right arm around, trying to ignore the pain from his shoulder and hips.
His fist connected with the wolf’s face, and it let out a surprising yelp, as if stunned. Smoke began to rise from all around the beast. It was whimpering, and it sagged away, in obvious pain. For a wild moment Stephen thought his last punch had outdone the monster, that he had struck it in some weak point. But then he heard the screech of his wife over his shoulder, her words full of malice.
“Burn! Burn and die!”
The wolf slinked away, and Stephen could see bits of flame poking out all around the creature. It lurched towards the door, stumbled, and fell. It raised its massive head and howled long and deep, and then it disappeared in a puff of fiery smoke.
He woke to the sounds of his wife talking to someone with a lilted accent. He was in the hospital, tubes all around him. The bearer of the lilted voice was a young Indian doctor named Dr. Raghoo. Stephen learned later that he had lost a significant amount of blood. He would need physical therapy for his pelvis, which had broken in four places. The therapy was intense and excruciating, but after a year and a half, he was able to walk again, but only with the aid of a cane.
Stephen and Tabitha Harrison sold their house not long after his departure from the hospital. They moved to Vermont.
Six months after being on the market, Jim and Annie Swanton purchased the Harrison home. It had been remodeled after what the previous owners had claimed to be “juvenile delinquents gone out of control” and had all the charm of a small southern town.
In their first Christmas in their new home, Annie Swanton found an old, dusty package in the bedroom closet. She opened it and gave a surprised grunt at what was inside.
“Jim, you gotta see this!” she called to her husband. “There’s a calendar in here! From ’89!”
Just outside the front door was a low, low growl.