Deck the Halls with Blood & Bodies
By: Carol Schaffer
Deck the halls with blah blah blah blah, fa la la la la la, la la la. Christmas music really gets me in the mood, thought Jackie as she tugged and pulled at the tiny slippery zipper on her painted on jeans. And it certainly was not helping matters that her hands resembled the crypt keeper; dry and cracking, and useless, she thought. It was the swift and sudden change in the weather that brought in especially cold bitter temperatures lately. She was practically living in front of the space heater for the last couple of weeks.
The zipper on Jackie's pants started to give, and all at once her jeans became loose and crumbled to the dark grey cement floor, with her red and white lace Christmas themed thong tangled in with them. She promptly plopped on the cold toilet and instantly felt the warm fluid drain out of her. She tilted her head back, feeling sweet relief after holding about a six pack of beer in her bladder. The bathroom was about the size of a closet, but somehow Bill, the proud, and slightly off owner of The Starfish, managed to decorate it for Christmas. The thought occurred to Jackie that this must be what the inside of Santa's gut looks like. She laughed out loud to herself and stood up to wiggle back into her pants, when she caught sight of shadows right outside of the small dull frosted window of the closet bathroom. It took a second for it to register that the shadows were just falling snowflakes outside the window, but it was long enough to spook her. Jackie had her pants up and zipped in record time, and she practically ran out of the bathroom when she heard the wind pick up and howl, not even stopping to wash her hands.
Inside The Starfish, there were two huge wall size fireplaces showcasing the seductive dance of red and yellow flames coming from the roaring fire blazing inside it, a couple of pool tables, and a dart board. Colored lights framed the fireplace, and just about everything else in sight. If there was one thing that every local, and especially all of the patrons of The Starfish knew for sure, it was how much Bill loved Christmas. Even during the off-season, when the tinsel and Christmas lights were all packed and put away, the place was bathed in a green and red glow that seemed to literally come from behind the walls just behind the glass shelves at the bar. The colorful special effects lighting at The Starfish has always been a secret that Bill says he'd rather die than reveal. Every time Bill says that, a chuckle is sure to follow, but to be honest, the look in Bill's eyes when he talks about Christmas colored lighting year round is one of fear, pure and deep fear. Fear that makes him look the way you would imagine a hostage to look when a kind stranger asks if they are okay, but right behind them stands their abductor, armed and ready to pounce. If anybody has ever noticed the terror in the smiling face of Bill Stewart, proud owner of The Starfish, mysterious bachelor, and obsessed Christmas lover, they never said so.
Walking in a sway-ee sexy kind of way, Jackie scanned the bar for Sara and her seat. They had been extremely lucky to even snag a seat, much less the last two seats in the bar that night, and on the side with mistletoe hanging above it no less. As she made her way down the hall and through the bar, what she saw strangely reminded her of a big adult play room. Everybody seemed so full of holiday cheer. The pub was buzzing with animated conversations, the sounds of glass clinking, and Christmas music in every genre. Couples were making out, while others in the bar were drinking and laughing. The atmosphere was surreal and a little fuzzy at the same time. The fuzziness came from the two shots and pitcher of beer that she and Sara had downed much like you send a greeting card: with love and because you just needed to. Work was especially busy this time of year, making the job that she knew she should be grateful for even more difficult to face, and it was fucking Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year. Jackie spotted Sara at the bar talking to a man dressed in a business suit. If that didn't make him stand out like Rudolph's nose, the uptight, all business look on his face certainly did.
Jackie thought back briefly to why she had decided to come out with Sara in the first place. It was one of those times when the words came out of her mouth before you have the chance to think of how you'll feel when it's actually time to do what you promise to do. But once she said yes, she knew that unless they were abducted by aliens, she had to make good on her promise to her co-worker. That didn't stop her from rehearsing a variety of excuses during lunch, break, and even bathroom breaks. It had to be believable, excusable, and most of all, airtight. The last thing Jackie wanted or needed at work was bad blood with Sara. Jackie was still serving the sixty day probation that all new hires are sentenced to. While Sara had been with the company for ten years, and was very well liked. She had to come up with an excuse worthy of an award for creativity.
As the work day wore on, the excuse idea, and any hope of getting out of going to the pre-holiday outing with her co-worker, almost friend, did not seem like it was going to happen as Jackie had hoped it would. Jackie began to accept her fate, embracing it even, by entertaining the possibility that she could meet somebody sexy, interested, and single at the bar. People always say that when you are least expecting it, that's when it happens, and all that mumbo jumbo. Maybe people are right, Jackie thought. And with nine hours of continuous Christmas music listening under her belt, courtesy of June, more endearingly known as "Junebug," the office Christmas fanatic, Jackie was singing in her own knockoff version of Frank Sinatra's voice by the end of the day. To further cement the plans made in the heat of a joint sprint to clock in for work on time, hourly instant message reminders from Sara, complete with Santa emojis and martini glass emojis, streamed steadily in all day. Still, even with all of the push from Sara, and her own conscience, as the time to start her weekend drew closer, Jackie was beginning to wish that she would be abducted by aliens if it would get her out of going out.
Jackie leaned forward from a standing position to check her instant messenger once more before clocking out for the day. When there were no new messages from Sara, hope opened one eye and allowed herself the luxurious, but unlikely, hope that maybe Sara had reconsidered going out. Jackie grabbed her phone to send Sara a text, and at just that moment her phone went off with a text alert. The vibrations startled Jackie so much it made her jump. Jackie hurriedly unlocked her phone to read the text, her heart thumping so fast it felt like it was going to bear right out of her chest. The text was from Sara, a picture of her with her tongue out, an a message that read: See you there. Jackie pulled into the parking space two spaces from Sara. She reached into her purse and pulled out her blood-red lipstick and applied it carefully to her lips. She stepped out of her car carefully, one bare foot at a time, into her black patent leather pumps. The moment Jackie was fully out of the warmth of her car, she was struck with a stabbing chill that took her breath away. She grabbed the car door to keep her balance and fought off the gut feeling to just get back in and drive home. Jackie manage to stay upright in the parking lot and by now was anxious for the fiery feeling of a good strong drink to warm her up from her throat down into her belly. She locked arms with Sara, and just as the two women were about to walk into the bar, Jackie noticed that Sara's eyes seemed to be fixed on something. Jackie followed Sara's gaze to the strings of Christmas lights outlining the words Starfish. She also noticed that all of the red lights on the string were out, or flashing, as if they were about to go out. And then they were inside and the warmth and holiday vibe swept away any thoughts and doubts to someplace they could not be seen or heard.
Sara and business face dude seemed heatedly involved in a conversation that didn't resemble romantic or flirty, Jackie noticed as she walked closer to their spot at the bar from the long hallway leading from the bathroom. It was just as obvious to Jackie that it was not a business conversation either. Even with the bar glowing in Christmas lights and the shadows flickering across the walls from the blazing fires, Jackie could see the tight drawn look on Sara's face. They hadn't had enough to drink to be drunk yet, not even close, but they had put away enough to at least be relaxed, and to Jackie, Sara looked anything but relaxed. As soon as Jackie walked up and took her seat, both Sara and business guy, who was reluctantly introduced as Chad, stopped talking. Both were silent as if they had been total strangers who had never said a word to each other. Now Jackie was officially c curious about this Chad character. No last name was given when he was introduced, and none was needed as far as Jackie was concerned. Chad gave Jackie a bad case of the creeps. Soon Jackie would know why Chad made the hairs on the back of her neck bristle, and why she should have grabbed Sara and thrown her in the car and driven as fast and as far away from The Starfish as humanly possible. But soon none of Jackie's realizations would matter much. Soon enough, Jackie would realize a lot of things, none of which would help her... or Sara.
Sara's face looked a little more relaxed once Chad walked away. Jackie was happy for that. She ordered another round of drinks and started to sing to Jingle Bells, trying to get Sara to join in. Sara smiled, but didn't sing. She had a different vibe to her than she ever had for as long as Jackie had known her. And, admittedly, she hadn't known her co-worker long. She did know that Sara was fun loving, hardworking, and friendly. Jackie felt compelled to find out what happened while she was in the bathroom. Sara took the drink that the bartender handed her and finished it in one gulp. She put the shot glass down and began to play with the garland nailed to the bar. This drew Jackie's attention to the lights tangled around the garland that Sara was now more nervously playing with. IT only took a few seconds for Jackie to notice that all the red lights in these trans around the bar were out or were going out. As Jackie looked around, she felt the bitter feeling of panic begin to rise within her as she noticed, one by one, each and every strand of Christmas lights in the entire bar had the same flickering or dead red bulbs. It meant something. Jackie was sure of it. She was also sure of one other thing - she desperately needed to get herself and Sara out of The Starfish as soon as she could.
Jackie looked over to the bar stool next to her to tell Sara that she thought it was time for them to leave. Startled and confused, Jackie's gaze met with an empty barstool. The next thing that Jackie became acutely aware of was the atmosphere in The Starfish. It was no longer a glow-y warm place of goodwill and holiday cheer with Blue Christmas playing in the background. The warm colors of the fires and the sparkly Christmas decorations were muted. The Starfish was now soaked in green fluorescent light. The Christmas cards that were lining the walls of the bar, just moments before, were gone. The once oak paneled walls were mutating from their usual oak to a clear, plexi-glass looking texture that appeared to have internal walls within the space dividing the entire walls into sections, human-sized sections.
Jackie was shaking so intensely it was hard to breathe. She knew she had to get out. She couldn't, didn't have time to look for Sara. She jumped off of her barstool and bolted to the door to try and reach her car, but as she looked back toward the bar, her reflection showed a much different reality. She was still sitting in the very same spot, having not moved at all. As difficult as it was to see clearly with the green lights, Jackie was able to catch her reflection in the last remaining mirror. It could have easily been the light playing tricks on her, or shock setting in, but she would have sworn that her face was flushed a bright red. The shade of red that she recognized, the same red as her lipstick.
The next thing Jackie saw were the faces of Bill Stewart and Chad. They looked really weird. Kind of blurry. Everything was a blur. Maybe she had had too much to drink and passed out for a minute. That must be what happened because now she was starting to see colors again, the beautiful Christmas colors, green and red. Jackie began to relax just a bit and closed her eyes to try and regain full focus.
When she opened her eyes, she immediately wished that she had kept them shut. The human-sized sections that had once been empty were now all filled. The people in them were naked and screaming, a sick silent scream. Some had stopped screaming and just stared with their dead fixed eyes. Jackie saw a dark red fluid leaking, pouring out of each one of them. When Jackie realized it was blood filling the capsules, she felt the warmth of her own creeping up her legs. It felt strangely comfortable.
Before Jackie closed her eyes for the last time, she saw one grotesque eye filled with huge, bulging, yellow veins pulsing, looking at her as if to inspect her. She strained to look closer at the creature staring blankly at her. The creature had one eye. One huge eye in the middle of what looked like a huge head on a long, skinny, slimy neck. It was also wearing Bill Stewart's shirt and the creature standing right beside it was wearing a suit. The one wearing Bill's shirt was humming a familiar tune: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
About the author:
I am a beach loving California girl with an unmistakeable valley girl accent that I never try to hide. My passions are people who aren't afraid to show their raw, authentic selves and writing. I have three kids; a son who is twenty seven, and two daughters, one tenth five and one fifteen. I've always had an obsessive drive to forge new paths and learn about life on my own terms. I am an avid reader of everything from brochures to novels. I've been keeping journals since I was fifteen. My earliest writing hero is Stephen King, and I am his biggest fan to this very day. Now that my kids are older, I have decided to write the books that have haunted and taunted me for all these years. I am currently writing a nonfiction book that will speak to people in a variety of relatable ways about aging and living. My hope is to instill a sense of hope in every person I can. As long as you are alive, you have a purpose. I also have two new books vying for my time: a nonfiction about bullying and how it starts at home, and an alien sensation, that is fiction... or is it?