Asleep and Without Peace
By: Jason White
In the distance, the jingling continued. It carried on the freezing snow-filled wind that blew at his face, threatening to turn his cheeks to ice. He wanted to lie down, to go to sleep, but he couldn't. Not yet. There was the jingling to think of, to feed warm hope into his veins, into the muscles of his legs that miraculously continued to propel him forward.
He wasn't sure how he even got here.
He just knew that he had to go on. His family was waiting for him. If he were to stop and lie down like he wanted to, then that would be it. He'd never get up.
And so he pushed himself forward, forcing himself into the snow and wind that threatened to push him back onto the ground where only death waited.
He was surrounded by walls of white that reached out with pins to stab at exposed flesh. He was shivering and gasping. He wished he had worn a warmer coat. Did he even get the choice? The last he remembered, he'd been on the train. It was Christmas Eve and he was on his way home from a business engagement down in the city. Only...
The jingles grew louder and then softer, then loud again. How long had he been walking? and how was it that he wasn't getting any closer to the jingles? The sound reminded him of Christmas, of his family, and at first it had brought joy and a warm spot in this soul. Now it annoyed. he'd been walking for days, it seemed, and he still wasn't any nearer to anything. The landscape never changed, but then he was blinded most of the time by the blizzard.
Certainly he'd come across someone's house, a cabin, or a town at some point? He could not be that far removed from society. Could he?
He didn't want to know the answer, so he focused on the Jingles and thoughts of Beverly's warm arms around him and the sound of Heather's and Joey's laughter, when they weren't fighting over something trivial.
He stepped on something hard. The fact that he hadn't stepped in anything but snow for so long snapped him out of his daydreams. He stopped, looked down. His foot stood on something almost cylindrical sticking out of the snow. Its edges were rough, the snow almost looking as though someone had painted it on.
He bent down and tugged on the thing. It moved, but refused to come out. It was a clue to this empty wandering, he knew. An answer to whatever mysterious hell he was stuck in. So he pulled harder. And harder. Finally the thing let loose, but he'd been pulling so hard that, with the wind pushing him at his front, he fell back onto his rear.
For a moment he just sat there, staring into the great white abyss that stung at his face and beckoned with its siren song of jingling bells to sleep, to join the abyss forever. Yes. Sleep. It wasn't that far away. It would end his suffering.
Yessssss, a voice whispered. Laughter followed, and Allen remembered himself.
His hands curled around the alien thing he had removed from the snow. Stiff and frozen, cold and dead, the fingers of his left hadn't curled around what had to be another set of fingers, a thumb, a palm and wrist.
Trying as he might, he just couldn't see what it was. There was too much snow in his face. Eventually the item did begin to appear out of the white, whether his eyes just needed to adjust or what he didn't know.
His suspicions were true. He held a severed arm.
Yelping, he tossed it onto the ground before him. The snow on top of the sleeve was red. Stringy things, no doubt meat, sinew, and veins, stuck out where the arm should have been attached to a shoulder. The fingers were long and thin, the finger nails smooth and painted a dark blue. A woman's arm.
When he looked back up, it stopped snowing. Just like that.
The vision before him now, however, was a boot to the stomach. He retched at the woman's arm before him, but nothing came up.
The woman's limb was only the first. The field before him was an open and naked wound. Body parts lay strewn amongst clothes and opened cases of luggage. Bulks of what could only be ruined cars of a train lay smoking and destroyed. Large black birds feasted on the gory vision, their beaks ripping strings of flesh and greedily gulping them down their gullets.
The only sound remaining without the blowing snow was the jingling. As he noticed this, he also became aware of movement to his right.
The thing was human-shaped, but as inhuman as possible. It wore a large red coat made of cotton. The coat was covered in little bells, the source of the noise. The thing held its arms out as it hopped about. It was dancing, he realized. Dancing on hooded feet and legs thick with muscle and hair, the knees too large to be human.
It faced the other way, this beast, so that he could not see its face. But he could see its horns, as black as the rest of its flesh, curled and rising to the sky like inky flames frozen from the cold.
And then it did turn around. Its black eyes stared into his, its long nose and mouth opened to show blunt teeth as its jaw jutted up and down. It was laughing at him, the sound of it the most horrible sound he had ever heard.
Pain forced him to curl into himself. His hands reached for his belly, touched the hot wetness there. He looked down just in time to see the thick blue-red ropes of intestine fall from his stomach and splatter onto the ground.
He screamed and fell to his knees.
The hand, he realized in a moment of horror, was no stranger's hand. It had beloved to Beverly, his wife.
"No!" he screamed.
The goat creature continued to dance, it's bells jingling, it's god-awful laughter cutting deep into Allen's soul.
"No!" he screamed, his eyes opening.
His heart was pounding, his entire body was covered in a thick sheet of sweat. The seat in which he sat on swayed and rocked with the car.
The dream held him in its grips, but reality was coming back to him and the dream, a nightmare really, slowly sank into the depths of his unconscious mind. He wiped at his face, his fingers coming back damp from the sweat.
He was on the train, he remembered, heading home for Christmas Eve. Only his family was with him, not waiting for him as he had thought they were in the dream.
"Are you okay?" It was Beverly. She was holding his arm, her eyes looking intently into his. She wore blue nail polish. Heather and Joey, their kids, slapped and pushed at each other in the two seats before them as though nothing at all had gone amiss.
"No... I mean, yes. Everything's fine," Allen said. He took in a deep breath and blinked his eyes. He laughed.
"It was only a dream," he said. "A real humdinger of one, too!"
But he was safe now. The thought sent a warm tingle of comfort up and down his spine. He laughed again. He'd never had a dream so vivid, so real, before. It was like he had actually been out there in the cold.
Outside, the grey skies that had promised snow began to deliver. Small, dart-like flakes began to descend from the sky in swirls of painful-looking cold wind.
It was too much like his dream. The treat of a bad snowstorm must have influenced the dream. It was all people were talking about before they got on the train.
"Krampus will get you!" This was from his son, Joey, in the seat before Allen. "Krampus gets all the bad kids! He's a Christmas demon and loves to eat bad people!"
Where did he ever get that from? Allen wondered.
The snow mixed with his son threatening his daughter with a Christmas demon was all to much. He took one last look at his wife, who was beginning to doze herself, and stood up.
"You two be nice to each other," he said, his voice much more stern than what he felt.
He moved past Beverly's knees, trying hard not to touch them and, in turn, wake her. Successful, he headed down the aisle, toward the next car that lead out of coach and to where they had a small restaurant with a bar set up. There were also bathrooms, small cabins that were impossible to move around in. The car was nearly empty, so he headed for the bathroom first where he splashed some water on his face and looked in the mirror.
His eyes were bloodshot. His cheeks red. He could swear that he still felt the cold of the wind from his dream.
When he was done, there was a man in a long black coat and thick-rimmed black hat at the bar, his back to Allan as he approached.
"Can I get you something, sir?" the bartender asked.
"Two fingers of scotch, please."
There were no stools at this bar, just a tiny counter to order drinks. The man with the coat and hat had chosen to stand there as though he were sitting.
"Ahhh! Another with my taste," the man with the hat said. His voice was a rough, deep snarl. "Only the best will do."
"I'm not sure I understand your meaning, sir," Allen said.
"Oh, you can bet that I am no gentleman."
The bartender handed Allen his drink. He paid for it and gulped it down, then requested another.
"Excuse me?" he said to the man with the hat.
The man turned around and faced Allen. His cheeks were pitted with holes, suggesting a long drawn-out battle with acne in his adolescence. He was somewhere in his fifties, his eyes blue, his crooked, yellow teeth jutting every which way in a disturbing smile.
"I said that I am no gentleman," he repeated. Something inside the man's eyes sparkled then. A silver light with the blue. Allan wasn't sure if he'd imagined it or not, but the overall presence of this man made him feel uncomfortable, made him feel sick to his stomach.
What's wrong with me?
He was seeing phantoms where none belonged.
It was because of that damned dream.
The scotch warmed his belly. When the bartender handed him the second, he downed it as fast as he had the first. He relished the burn of it going down.
"Okay," Allen said to the man with the hat. "I'll see you later."
He had to pass the man to head back to his own car where his family waited. The man smelled of farmer's manure. Laughter stopped him short from the exit. The laughter was too much like the laughter he had heard not that long ago.
"Oh you will be seeing me again," the man with the hat said.
Allen turned. The man was staring at him and this time there was no confusion about the silver glow behind his eyes.
The man's laughter grew louder and louder. The bartender wiped the counter as though nothing odd were happening.
"You're kind taste the best, and do you know why?" the man said with an impossibly loud voice.
He answered before Allen could respond. "Because you don't deserve it at all. You're too kind. You can't imagine how happy I am that our paths crossed. There's many souls on this train, but yours is the one I'll keep."
Allen's blood turned to ice. He hurried out and back into the car with his family. Only, he was alone. The seats were all empty. Even where his family had been remained alone and without the company of warm flesh.
"What's going on?" Allen said, real worry in his voice now.
Was he going mad?
He ran to the general area where his family was supposed to be. He checked and double-checked the seat numbers. They were correct. But where were they? Where the hell had they all gone?
He felt sick to his stomach with confusion. With fear.
The laughter of the man with the hat returned, filling the car with its evil, overwhelming sound, and when Allen looked back at the seats one final time, there rested a newspaper where Beverly should be sleeping.
300 Dead in Collision the heading read. Below it was a blurry picture of train cars strewn upon a snowy landscape, luggage, garbage, and what very easily could have been bodies filing the gaps between.
"No!" Allen cried. The picture, had it been clearer, would have been like something right out of the last part of the nightmare. Only now the nightmare was real.
His back touched the chairs from across the aisle. The cabin went dark so that the too white canvas of the windows forced his attention. The train of which he had been traveling was turning in a long bend to the left. And in the distance, but approaching fast, was another train.
Why was this happening? Was this another dream? The man's laughter piercing his ears suggested that it wasn't. His racing heart told him that this was no mere dream at all. He was damned. And there was nothing he could do about it.
The train collided and Allen was thrust forward into a blinding white light.
Laughter filled his world, but it was not his own. When it stopped, the jingling of Christmas bells echoed, carried by the needle-like wind.
How he knew they were Christmas bells, he didn't know. He also didn't know how or why the world Krampus repeated in his mind, spinning and spinning, caught in an eternal loop.
The laughter returned, as though in response to his thoughts, but died soon after. The world was bitterly cold. It was white. And there was nothing for Allen to do but to walk into the wind and snow.
His family was waiting for him.
About the author:
Jason White lives in Central Ontario, Canada with his wife and son, their two cats, and one dog. he has over fifteen short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and is the host and producer of The Darkness Dwells Podcast. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, watching horror movies, and tasting beers and red wines.