A Festive Horror Tale
Christmas is a time of tradition, of old power and family. Time when there is joy in the world and everything, at least on the surface, seems good and kind and there is goodwill to all men (I suppose woman and children as well but who are we to disagree with tradition?) There is an older meaning, a time from long before when things should have died. Appear to have die but really slumber.
The older times when the dark and the cold meant death and despair. A time when people huddled in families and were concerned about the way of things to be and what had yet to come. There was no ray of hope that shone through. The presents were not nestled under a tree. They were absent and grim fragments of food and fragments of conversation were scraped together and focused on pure survival. On seeing the dawn.
Their hope, hope that herbs and light would keep the bad nameless things away, magicians performing rites, leaving out things to slake monstrous thirsts. These things worked, became legend as people grew in confidence and ultimately lost power as they became mere decorations. The old ways not understood and laughed at.
Caleb stood, leaning into the warmth of the fire. Flickers of orange tongues dancing up and down his clothes, mirroring the soft reds and oranges of the jumper he wore. An arm rested, nestling on the fake pinecones, steadying himself. In his dominant hand he held a glass containing whiskey or brandy, he could not remember which. The scene looked as something plucked from a Victorian Christmas story. The room softly ebbed and flowed, following the dancing of the flames. Despite the burning logs and the cast iron stove radiating out its metallic heat, no warmth crept into his bones.
He had been alone, forced himself to be alone. There were lights all around, he blazed in light, from the fire, from the ceiling from the tree. It would be to no avail; he had pieced together incomplete parts of unknown rituals.
“Well, merry Christmas,” he said to no one in particular. A good job as there was no one there that he could talk to anyway. The wind was beginning to stir. It was time, in moments he had turned off the halos of artificial light until all he was left with was flames from the fireplace.
He stared deep into the fire, seeing the shapes and the flames lick and consume. That word consumption stirred something within him, something unpleasant. His parents and family, his wife and children. All gone now. Slowly and over time, he was one of the unfortunate ones. He remained. Rich and sad and alone. All had died, all were gone, all consumed. They never found his wife.
His mind flicked back to a previous happier winter. One where they were cold and snowed in at the lodge. They had all been there, happy. Cutting lines in the snow with skis. It had gotten dark and the heavy sound of clothes and skis and equipment being taken off filled the entrance to the lodge. There was the glow of excitement and the knowledge that new memories would be formed from this day. “Go on then, we’ll see you back in the room in five minutes,” his wife Claire said to him. Caleb watched her walk with his sons.
“Alright, I’ll just drop these off then,” he was holding multiple pairs of boots, “by myself, don’t strain yourself.” Claire grinned while she looked over her shoulder and surreptitiously raised a hand at an awkward angle behind her back. The middle finger was briefly raised. He grinned back, turned to the boot room, and walked down the red carpet, sodden in places and looking rust brown where snow had melted. He looked out of the window and shuddered. The wind howled like a banshee as his Grandpa would have said. Huge chunks of snow ran across the windowpanes, like it was trying to outrun and escape the wind and the noise.
“Sir,” the accent made the address sound like Zir. Round glasses gleamed in the light from the doorway. A pleasant looking man stood there, slightly rotund and Germanic looking. Efficient and clipped in speech. The snow kept falling, covering the land, covering a multitude of sins.
Caleb looked into the eyes, was drawn to them, in the faded light of the place the man licked his lips, the shadows fell into a V making the tongue appear serpentine. “She will be seeing you soon.” Almost in a trance he stood there waiting, the man bustled out with a wink and a nod. There were no more words. Despite the pleasant heat from the radiators, it turned cold, piercing shrieking wind howled and raged. As he looked and turned, finally coming to his senses, his feet walked to the rooms he and his family were staying in.
The noise of the wind was maddening. Had he thought to peer again into the gloomy eye of the window into the night, he would have seen the snow, no longer whipping around.
There was nothing to suggest anything was out of the ordinary. No gothic warnings, no portents, not a door opened slightly, no lights dimming or flickering, no stain on the carpet nothing. It was all normal. Everything was fine. Caleb entered the room, the wind howling again.
He saw nothing at first. Fine. No not fine nothing, a feeling those times when we know something is wrong but cannot explain why. He knew something was wrong. He noticed one of the boys. Hands held to eyes weeping. “What’s wrong?” He exclaimed rushing to his youngest. Trying to pull away the hands from his eyes and look him in the face to no avail. The small hands were clamped to the face hard, nails drawing blood from the skin.
He had not noticed the light had turned off and the shadows stretching to meet him. The elongated fingers turning into cruel talons.
There was a clattering noise that caused him to look away from his son, he was about to form a question. Caleb noticed a flicker of something long and sharp and serrated. He was left clutching his son. Just not all of him. The howling intensified as he added his own wails. The emotion and the pain-wracked through him.
He noticed another pile of something, organic. There were soft noises, feeding noises, the wind had ceased howling. In the corner of the room, nails peeled flesh back, baring the things people should not see. It retreated into full shadow and the noises continued, making it worse, not seeing not knowing but hearing. The room span. Caleb fell to his knees. The coldness returned.
This thing of teeth and danger made it impossible to carry on. His world shattered into pieces. Bile coming and burning out his other senses. He did not black out, just could not move, as his brain furiously processed and tried to hide what was going on.
He did not move for hours, through all of Christmas Eve. The next morning he was found, rocking among the remains.
Through blood and suffering she took them all. It would be revenge for something he had no control over. But she would eliminate his line from history.
This is how Caleb came to be alone. He had read and researched and thought he knew. This was dangerous, this was so dangerous, to be armed with certainty when you are wrong. Nativity during the nativity. His phone screen read:
“Little children who went to run on the Dane Hills, were assured that she lay in wait there, to snatch them away to her ‘bower’ where she scratched them to death with her claws, sucked their blood, and hung up their skins out to dry.” A report from a paper in 1874 ‘Black Annis’
Naming is important, but she changed hers, changed it like the others with the passing of centuries.
Caleb sipped the liquid, trying to shut out the memories of that pervious winter.
Things were wrong, slightly out of place. The liquid was being drunk out of the wrong sort of glass, a more careful study revealed a bare foot next to its twin that was covered in a sock and shoe. The trousers covered in a myriad of dark ruddy hues that were hard to discern in the muted glowing light. His eyes did not catch the fire at all, they gave the effect of tunnels, no reflected light from the wetness of damp eyes. The effect was deeply unsettling.
A creature of some kind observed, small and hidden in a darkened corner of the room, its eyes taking in the scene, it knew something was deeply amiss. It blinked and the man was gone, trails of his existence showing he had been pulled, silently but violently away.
The eyes stayed still and impassive. It knew the layout of the house. Sharp nails suddenly dug into its side. The eyes widened, it did not even waste the time to shriek to cry out, it knew, on an animalistic level, that it would not escape. The fire continued to crackle and burn, smoldering. As the logs burned away to ash, there was the explosive sound of crackling logs, made louder and more guttural, a sucking noise.
They knew of the old things that were dangerous. The things that took children and animals and left behind the wet remains. The one thing that clawed through windows as the smoke curled through holes in rushes and reeds, then chimneys. The festival of midwinter was taken over by the men in robes who spoke Latin and chanted and cast out the old demons, made them safe. So, they thought.
She had wakened at times in history, she had cursed Richard III at Bow Bridge, she had taken children from the men and woman who huddled in round houses made from mud and shit and wicker. They had tried to keep her out with herbs. When she homed herself in Leicestershire, they made small windows so only one arm could snake through it. She had fond memories of terrorizing certain areas. Leaving behind the things that people did not want to see.
She had existed a long time the commencement of WW1 had awakened her, the suffering, and the smell of blood, so much blood, a shark in the waters of humanity. She awoke to rage and hunger. Her nails fixed and were like bone swords, ragged and rasping, that would curl flesh like butter from a block as they dragged across skin. She was not out for children anymore but for revenge. She could taste it.
In midwinter people expect the wind to howl and shriek, they put up light to combat the darkness, sang in chanting voices, not realising that these wards offer a measure of protection. Not much, but a measure. She would shift with the movement of the wind, finding those who would nourish her.
Outside the house Caleb had brought to bring up a family the wind had ceased moving. A little man with round glasses smiled in the dark, things were coming together. Just as he knew they would, he licked his lips, a reptilian tongue flicking tasting the death on the cold night air. The man thought even he could stand in the way now. He had manipulated her, Annis, she had served her purpose and would no doubt slumber away, full and satisfied until she withered into rage again. But one could never be too sure.
Snow would fall again, covering the sins of the land.