Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 18: Matt Hickman


The Naughty List
By: Matt Hickman

Christmas is a magical time.  Children from all over the world open their hearts when the season of good will arrives.  They love the whole package; the decorations, the carols, the nativity at school.  One thing makes Christmas the most enjoyable time of all for children; the prospect of the jolly fat man with a white beard in a red suit littering their living room with a sea of presents, early on a Christmas morning.

            Parents understand that, at this time of year, their children will become more excitable than normal.  Waking up on Christmas morning to find that the jolly fat man has been busy during the night, leaving them the list of their desires, fills their frozen little hearts with greed and expectance.

            Gone are the days of traditional Christmas gifts; beautifully hand-crafted wooden toys and bikes are replaced with mass produced, cheap electronic devices and expensive mountain bikes.  Parents spend a fortune on their little darlings, willing to risk financial ruin to keep up with the Jones' and witness a half-hearted look of joy and gratitude upon their children's faces.

            There are many traditions and beliefs that are instilled by parents into their children.  We've already mentioned Father Christmas.  Considering most kids are extremely incessant, their questions come thick and fast all day long, endless - continuous and relentless.  Yet, they seem totally willing to accept that the jolly fat man will drop down their non-existent chimney.

            A child that questions the number of hours in a day, whether the earth revolves around the moon, or even the number of blades of grass in the front lawn, will ask the questions and simply accept that on Christmas Eve, a herd of airborne reindeer pulling a sled sledge will deliver their surprises.

            I digress.

            One of the most famous Christmas traditions is Father Christmas' naughty list, and anyone that makes this list will not receive their Christmas demands.

            In recent years, due to the mass production of the aforementioned electronic devices, parents are able to manipulate their children's mind with further deceit.

            Mobile phone applications can be used to give the child the impression that Father Christmas is calling, to check up on them.  Another ingenious invention allows the parent to send an email - yes, please stay with me - from the North Pole and from the jolly fat man himself, informing the child whether or not they have made the correct list.  Most parents will actually orchestrate a message to their child, letting them think that they have been assigned to the naughty list, in a feeble attempt to keep their little ones from bouncing off the walls during the advent period.

            It's all good, harmless fun... Isn't it?

            No.

            What if I was to tell you that there is a naughty list?  The naughty list is very real, and the truth is much more sinister.  The man who controls the names on this list is actually doing the world a favour.

            For the sake of this story, he could be a jolly fat man.  For the sake of this story, he could have a big white beard.  He could even have several flying reindeer and a magical sleigh.  He doesn't, but what's more important; he has a list and he has a Christmas gift.  His gift is that he has the ability o look into the hearts of children, ignoring the mild petulance and naughtiness.  He can spot the really mean ones, the ones with real darkness in their hearts, and the ones with tainted souls, long before they flourish.

            He is often misinterpreted, but, as I have previously mentioned, he is actually doing the world a favour.  He is taking care of these evil souls before they have the chance to do any real damage.  For the sake of this story, we could call the jolly fat man Santa, but the correct spelling is slightly different.

           It's actually spelled Satan.

***

Little Jimmy Paskin was twelve years old, one year away from reaching an all important milestone in his life; becoming a teenager, a defining moment in any boy's life.

            Jimmy was naughty.  He wasn't naughty in the respect of running on the grass where the sign prohibited, or kicking a ball through a church window.  Jimmy was naughty in the respect of bashing his pet mice's heads in with his dad's ball-pean hammer, or stealing the collection money from the plate when having to attend church.

            Despite his obvious bad behavior, his parents treated him like the little prince that he wasn't.  Jimmy was a gift from God in their eyes, as, thirteen years ago, his mother was told she would never be able to bear children.

            A little miracle.

            During his initial stay at the hospital, the midwife had joked that she could change his admission number to six-six-six, due to his continual squealing and crying when most of the maternity ward were attempting to sleep.  She had also joked that she'd not laid eyes on such a sick child, not since watching that film about a young girl that becomes possessed by a demon.

            We were just waiting for his head to spin.

            Despite his bad behaviour, Jimmy was a child.  When Christmas season arrived, he looked forward to it like the rest of his year.  I would have said like the rest of his friends, but Jimmy was pretty much a loner.

            He was a loner through his own chicle; he just didn't interact with other children well.  The fact that he would often berate or freak his peers out with his behavior just added to his solitude.

            Jimmy sat outside the school assembly hall at the little wooden desk, scratching his name into the surface with a compass.  The sound of joyful children's voices singing Christmas hymns filled the air from inside the hall.  Jimmy had been kicked out of the service by the head teacher, when he had pulled a stunt on stage that resulted in the back row of the fifth year male choir collapsing backwards, resulting in a heap of twisted arms, legs and cheap choir dresses.

            Sitting at the desk, and for no other reason than morbid curiosity, he decided to stab his finger with the point of the compass.  He cursed at his stupidity and thrust the tip of his index finger into his mouth to soak up the drops of blood that followed.

            With the hymns still filling the air from within the assembly hall, his thoughts once again turned to Christmas and the conversation with his parents that had taken place about a month ago.  Mother had called him down from his bedroom.  After being called another four times, he shuffled his way into he living room where his parents were sat.  "What do you want, Mom?  I'm busy," he snapped.

            "Well, your father and I are just discussing what you would like for Christmas."

            He shrugged his shoulders.  "Dunno."

            "Well, surely there must be something that you would like Santa to bring you?"

            The boy huffed.  "Santa?  Come on, Mom, I'm twelve years old.  I know that Santa isn't real."

            "Well, if he's not real, who brings you all your presents on Christmas Eve?"

            The boy looked at the woman before replying impassively.  "Whatever.  Can I have an air rifle?"

            The woman looked towards her husband nervously, recalling wen she had found the dead mice in his room.  The boy had offered no explanation and claimed that he had found them that way.

            "Sweetie, what do you want with an airgun?"

            "You know?  Shoot stuff."

            "I think perhaps you're a little too young for an airgun this year," his father added.  "Perhaps we could get you a new laptop, or a new mountain bike since yours was stolen?"

            Jimmy thought back to him reporting his missing bike to his parents; in reality, he had sold it a few months ago so that he could have some cash.  He totally expected his parents to buy him a new one.  With Christmas around the corner, they had refused.

            "I want an airgun," the boy hissed.  "If you don't get me an airgun, then don't bother getting me anything at all."  He then turned and stormed out of the living room, back up to his own bedroom.

            Lo and behold, Jimmy smiled in satisfaction a few weeks later when he spied his father signing for a delivery of an item that had been sent from a company called "Big Boys Toys."

***

The school bell rang, signaling the end of the day, and the beginning of the Christmas holidays.  Not hanging around to speak to the head teacher about any further form of punishment for his pranks, he pulled on his coat, sprinted out of the doors, and out of school.

            The following day, Jimmy was being dragged around town centre by his mom, insisting the the needed to do some last minute shopping.

            "Mom, couldn't I have just stayed at home?"

            "No, sweetie," she replied.  "Besides, I told you that I wanted to take you to see Santa."

            The boy groaned.  "Oh, Mother, I'm twelve years old.  I don't want to see Santa."

            She ignored the boy's plea and marched him on to the department store.  Despite the store being extremely busy with the flurries of last minute shoppers, the crowds of people seemed to subside as Jimmy and his mom approached the grotto at the rear of the store.  As they walked down the last corridor towards the grotto, the overhead lights dimmed and they spotted the entrance in the distance.

            They realised suddenly that there were no other people around at all.  In the subdued light, the scene which had been made up to resemble a beautiful winter wonderland had more the appeal and look of a haunted forest.  Life size wax models of elves and other Christmas animals stared back at them as they walked.  Their dark, lifeless eyes leering like evil, macabre sprites.  As they trod through from the artificial snow that littered the ground, on the approach path to the grotto, the hustle and bustle from the store seemed to have disappeared into a distant background noise.  Jimmy breathed and noticed that he could actually see his breath.  He looked at his mom, who also appeared to be a little unnerved.

            "I'm not sure about this, mom," he said.

            "Don't worry, sweetie," she replied, putting on a brave face.  "There's nothing to be afraid of.  Look, there's no queue, we can go straight in."

            The boy paused, unsure.  After a few seconds, he followed the woman's lead.  They entered the grotto; the lights were even dimmer inside.  The only illumination was courtesy of a few fairy lights that hung from the ceiling.  They continued slowly down the dark corridor to a piece of green fabric that hung from the ceiling as a make-shift doorway.  Next to it was a cardboard sign with the word Santa, and his creepy looking smiley face scribbled in red marker.

            "They spared no expense on this place, did they?" he said.

            His mother called out, "Hello?"

            After a few seconds, a voice came from the other side of the curtain.

            "Ho ho ho, please... come in."

            They walked through the entrance to a small room.  Illuminated by red and green fairy lights, the sitting man was dressed in an ill-fitting, filthy Santa costume, complete with training shoes.  A fake, fluffy white beard hung from his face, and he wore lopsided glasses that were held together with sticky tape.

            "Merry Christmas," the man bellowed.  "Please, come in and take a seat."  His left hand gestured to two empty seats to his right.  They both sat down.

            "So, what is your name?"

            "Aren't you meant to be Santa?" he replied sarcastically.  "Surely you should know my name by now."

            The man's eyes drew slightly narrower.  "I have millions of girls and boys all around the world.  Sometimes I just get a little confused," he replied, as if reading off a pre-defined answer to the question.  Composing himself, he continued, "So, what are you hoping that Santa brings you this year?"

            Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.  "I'm not sure."

            "Have you been a good boy?"

            The boy shrugged his shoulders again, and lied.  "Yeah, I guess so."

            "Perfect," the man said.  "You may take a present."

            The boy's mother looked on in disbelief at the total lack of effort and time that the man had spent with them.  Still, it was free and what did she really expect for nothing?

            "Thanks, Santa," she said before turning and beginning to duck back out of the room.  Jimmy reached for the black bin liner that contained a pile of presents wrapped in cheap paper.  As he picked one up, the man's hand suddenly shot out and grabbed him tightly by the wrist.

            The boy stared at the man; his features had changed.  His eyes were darker, filled with hate, and Jimmy could feel the evil emanating from the man.

            "Ow," he screamed, "let go, you're hurting me."

            The man refused to let go of the boy's wrist, his grip as tight as a vice.  His dark eyes bore into the boys own.  Jimmy felt terrified.

             In a voice that was unlike anything that the boy had heard before, a noise that sounded guttural and twisted, the man spoke.  A feeling of complete dread filled the small room.

            "You're on the naughty list."

            "What are you talking about?"

            "You, little Jimmy Paskin, are on the naughty list," the man repeated.

            Suddenly, he let go of the boys' arm and Jimmy stumbled, dropping the present.  He began to retreat from the room, taking careful steps backward, not removing his eyes from the man.

            Suddenly, the man spoke; his voice had returned to normal.  He waved.  "Merry Christmas."

            Jimmy turned and ran from the grotto, catching up to his mother in blind panic.  "You look as white as a sheet," she said.  "Are you alright?"

            "Yeah," he lied.  "Let's just go."

***

Three days later, it was Christmas Eve.

            Jimmy sat in the living room watching Santa Claus: The Movie.  It was a family tradition that his parents insisted on for years.  He sat in silence and stared vacantly at the television; the film that he had seen many times before was just finishing up.  He had thought about the incident at the grotto over and over and put it down to his imagination running away with him.  Glancing over to the Christmas tree, he felt a sudden urge of excitement as he imagined waking up the next morning to find his new weapon in place.

            "Right then, son," his dad said.  "It's nine o'clock and time for bed.  If you don't go up now, he may not bring your presents."

            Jimmy rolled his eyes.

            "And don't forget to put out some cookies and milk," his mother called.

            Jimmy went into the kitchen and prepared the food on his mother's insistence.  He grabbed a raw carrot for the reindeer from the pantry and placed the food on the dining room table.  Done, he turned to head up toward his room.

            "Good night, sweetie," his mom called after him.

            "His dad warned him on his ascent, "Straight to sleep, no getting back up."

            Jimmy walked into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.  He knocked off the light and jumped into bed.  He lay thinking about the Santa in the shopping mall and what he had said.  He was convinced that it had been his imagination, however his wrist had been sore for hours afterwards from where the man had grabbed him.  After a restless hour or so, his eyelids gave way and he began to fall into a slumber.

***

Jimmy woke up to a sound.  He checked the digital clock on his alarm; it read 01:23.  He listened again, and he heard it again.  It sounded like a footstep on the stars.  His heart rate began to increase rapidly, pounding against the inside of his chest.  Jimmy listened, and another sound followed.

            It was definitely footsteps.

            Whoever it was, they had reached the top of the stairs, and the footsteps were continuing across the landing.  Towards his door.

            "Dad?"

            No response came.

            "Mom?"

            Again, no response.

            From right outside his bedroom door came the noise of someone standing on a creaking floorboard.  Then, nothing - total silence.

            "Hello," he called out.  "Is anyone there?"

            No response came; the house fell into total silence once more.

            Throwing back his bed covers, he swung his legs out of the bed and slowly walked to the door on his tiptoes.  Placing his ear up against the back of the door, he listened intently.  Jimmy heard nothing.

            Slowly, he grabbed the handle and turned it.  He opened the door slowly with a low creak.  As he opened the door fully, he screamed.  Stood before him was a huge figure, standing at least seven feet tall and dress in a dark red cowl that hid his face behind a shadow.  The landing was no longer the landing space in his own house; it was a dark, filthy room illuminated by burning torches.

            Stood swaying behind the figure were dozens of young boys, all about Jimmy's age.  They had been stripped to the waist, no shoes upon their bare feet.  Their filthy bodies were covered with scars and scratches, their skin and lips a deep shade of grey.  Their eyes were devoid of emotion, the skier no longer white, they were totally black.  They waited patiently, like soulless drones.

            The figure held out a scrolled piece of parchment, scribed in red ink.  In the same handwriting as the sign in the grotto, his name was clearly written.

            Jimmy Paskin.

            Without a chance to react, the figure grabbed the boy by the arm and began to pull him into the room.  The boy screamed out in pain as the figure's white hot grip burned through his flesh, immediately making his skin blister and melt.  The door slammed shut behind him.

***

Jimmy's parents awoke before eight on Christmas morning.  His dad pulled on the fake Santa outfit, one he wore every year.  He buckled up his belt and adjusted the fake beard.

            "Ho ho ho," he said cheerily as he led his wife towards Jimmy's bedroom.  When they opened the door, they found nothing but an empty bed.

About the author:
Matt is an avid fan of horror fiction.  He spends a majority of his free time reading books from both established and independent authors.  With a diverse knowledge of the genre, he has now tried his hand at writing horror.  With the support of his peers, some of which are established writers themselves, he now approaches a new career, one that will see him take horror by storm.  His influences lead right back to traditional horror, such as Edgar Allan PoeBram Stoker and William Hope Hodgson through to the more traditional horror writers, such as Stephen KingRichard LaymonDean KoontzJames Herbert and Clive Barker to newer names, such as Alex KavaJ.A. KonrathBryan SmithMatt ShawMichael BrayIain Rob WrightGraeme ReynoldsTim Miller and Ian Woodhead right the way through to emerging writers, such as Stuart KeaneJack RollinsKyle M. ScottAndrew Lennon and Shaun Hupp.
            He currently resides in Tipton, a small town in the West Midlands, with his partner and two children.  He travels the width breadth of the UK on a regular basis as a Sales Manager for a construction company.
            Since his debut release last year, he has been featured in numerous short story collections, as well as self-publishing a novella, two novels, and a novel through Matt Shaw Publications.

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