Friday, December 30, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 29: Glenn Rolfe


Veronica's Christmas aka Welcome to Paradise
By: Glenn Rolfe

Another lovely Christmas and not a drop of blood to be spilt.  For Veronica Newton, the doldrums finally arrived to her shady side of town.  The Lucky Lounge in Fenton, New Jersey welcomed each and every deplorable lowlife, every misfit, every anarchist, and every unencumbered criminal passing through or looking for a good place to cut loose, cut coke, kill yourself, get fucked, or strangle someone you shouldn't have fucked.

            She stood before the bathroom mirror applying red lipstick.  Jet-black hair touched down on bare shoulders poking out through her tattered Clash t-shirt, so worn and loved you could easily make out the round maps of her areoles beneath the threadbare fabric.  The winter cold in stiff competition with the ratty baseboards of the Lucky Lounge Motel kept her nipples at constant attention.  Victoria applied a fresh layer of black eyeliner and moved to the bed.  The floppy mattress squeaked beneath her ass as she strapped combat boots over her black leggings.  Not the most weather appropriate attire, but practicality had never been her strong suit.  Besides, she spent too little time in the sleet and snow for it to matter.

            You could triangulate her winter vacation life from the motel to Micky's Diner next door, to the EZ Mart on the corner of Hill and King, and back to the Lucky Lounge.  Exposure to the wintery conditions was at a bare minimum.  After spending eleven months as an inked-up punk rock model in Corona, California, Veronica longed for her Fenton, New Jersey Decembers.  Four weeks to kill, fuck, and chill.  Welcome to paradise, motherfuckers.

            And tonight, Christmas Eve, was always her last hurrah.

            She loved damage.  She loved scars.  She loved anything beautiful and broken.  The Lucky Lounge Motel served as the feeding ground for her biggest passion... murder.

            She nodded, glancing around the dim-lit room, from the 80s model mini-fridge that sounded like a generator, to the ultra-bulky, pre-smart TV flat screen featuring 20 crappy cable channels and HBO, resting atop a K-Mart Special bureau filled with what clothes she brought.  A nice and shitty waiting was at a slight tilt on the wall featuring a boat on an ocean that looked like something a beginner practicing along to a Bob Ross video might have crafted.  Or crapped out.  The lumpy twin size bed became comfortable after a few Jack and Cokes, and the cigarette burned pea green comforter matched the putrid, thin carpet beneath her feet.  A far cry from the beachside bungalow she shared with Jenny Pollack back in sunny California.  But she liked it this way.  It would feel wrong to do the things she did here in a better room.

            Tonight's goal was simple: Find a good-looking fella, or good-enough-looking fella, over at Mickey's, get him alone, bring him home, and kill the shit out of him after a good, drunk fuck.  She checked her lips and tits in the bathroom mirror before snagging her leopard print peacoat.  She slipped into the jacket, tickled her chin with the coats frilly cuffs, and gave her best Billy Idol snarl to the hot dish in the mirror.  Good to go, she headed into the night.

            Light snow glided down under the street lamps as she made her way across the deserted street.  King was slow as hell most times, but good as dead after midnight.  She stepped inside Mickey's and shook the flurries from her hair.

            "Evenin', kitten," Mickey said.

            "Hey, Mickey.  What's the good word?"

            "Just another day of breathin' and cookin'," he said.  He wiped his thick, black-rimmed glasses on his spotless apron.  "Coffee and a burger?"

            "Aw, you know me so well."  Veronica unbuttoned her coat and took up a stool at the empty counter.

            "I never forget what the pretty girls like."

            "Charming and attentive, Mickey.  If you were twenty years younger..."

            "Ain't you just the sweetest thing?" he said.  He placed a plain white cup before her and poured a steaming cup of the best joe in Fenton.

            She picked up the sugar container and dumped an unhealthy amount into the dark depths.  She cupped the hot mug and inhaled the inviting aroma.  Mickey disappeared behind the counter before reappearing in the peek-a-boo window in the kitchen.  He started singing an old Elvis song she couldn't recall the name of, swaying as the sizzle of the patty slapped against the grill.

            She didn't turn when the door to the diner opened.  A young guy in a leather jacket took up a stool, leaving one between them.

            "I don't bite," she said.

            He pulled his earbuds out, letting them fall to his chest, and tucked a loose strand of long brown hair behind his ear.  He had soft features, bright hazel eyes, and nice lips.  He looked like a long-haired, 30 Seconds to Mars, pre-Joker Jared Leto.  Despite her proclamation, she wanted to gnaw on him.

            "I might," he said.

            She reached a hand out and patted the red cushion of the stool next to her.

            He smiled, nodded, the hair behind his ear coming free, and saddled up next to her.

            "I'm Veronica."

            "Pete."

            "So, Pete.  What's your gig?"

            "I suck at sleeping."

            "Welcome to the club," she said.

            "Hey there, young fella," Mickey said from over the grill.  "I'll be right with ya."

            "Sure thing.  Whatcha cooking up back there?"

            "Burger for the beauty next to ya."

            "A burger, huh?  Can you throw one on for me?" Pete said.

            "Sure can."

            Veronica sipped her coffee, studying young Pete.  The guy could have been in a nineties band.  He had the hair for it.

            "So, you hate Christmas?" he said.

            "No, just Jesus."

            "Never believed in him."

            "I did."

            She let him chew on that while she finished her coffee.  God's clout vanished when she lost Amy.  Staring into the bottom of the empty mug, she felt the tears well up.  Amy was only eight when the cancer devoured her.  Veronica picked up her napkin, turned away and dabbed the corners of her eyes, careful not to fuck up her mascara.

            Micky came out whistling with two steaming burgers in hand.  He placed the plates of juicy meat before them.

            "Thanks, Micky.  You're the best Santa in town."  She stood, leaned over the counter, and gave the cook a peck on the cheek.

            She gazed at Pete from the corner of her eye and noticed him checking out her ass.

            "Anything for you, darling," Micky said.  "Now eat up.  Gotta keep some meat on them pretty bones of yours."

            She plopped down on the stool, picked up the burger giving it a squeeze, and watched the ketchup and mustard drip out the back.

            "You like condiments, huh?" Pete said.

            "I like a lot of things."  She gave him a wink and took a mouthful of the hot burger.  After swallowing, she said, "You gonna eat?  Or just stare at me all night?"

            He picked up his burger.  "What are you doing, you know, after this?"

            Ah, and the fly is caught.  She smiled at him and took another bite.

            Micky returned to the front holding an old Polaroid camera.  "Can I get you two to squeeze in together?  I like to get a Christmas picture every year.  Always an interesting crew to look back on."

            Pete cleared his throat, wiped his hands, and said, "Sure."

            Veronica did the same.  She got up and went behind Pete, wrapping her arms around him, making sure to press her breasts against him, and placed her chin on his shoulder.

            "Your hair smells nice," she whispered.

            "So, after this..." he said.

            "Shhh.  Smile for Micky."

            "Okay, kids.  That looks great."  Micky snapped the picture.  The flash was followed by the mechanical sound of the picture sliding out.  He snatched it and began waving it back and forth.

            Veronica kissed Pete's cheek, letting her lips linger just a few seconds.  He tasted salty.

            "Finish your dinner, then we can go back to my place."

            "Cool."

            She was going to have fun with this one.  She'd fuck him until he was delirious, then slice up the salty flesh one delicate cut at a time.  She licked her lips, feeling a rush of endorphins.  Watching him take his time with his burger made her hornier.  Most of her victims became bundles of anxious, blubbering messes once she extended the invitation.  Pete seemed cool as concrete.  James Dean on ice.  Watching him unravel would add another exciting dimension to the night's activities.  She went to work on her food.

            "Anything else for either of ya?  Piece of pie?  More coffee?"

            Veronica slid off her stool.  "Micky, I think we're gonna go celebrate a little."

            "Oh, okay.  How was the burger?"

            "Great as always," she said, pulling her coat on and fastening the two front buttons.  She reached for some cash, but Micky waved her off.

            "On me, for both of you.  Merry Christmas."

            "That's mighty kind of you, sir.  The burger was delicious.  Thanks."

            Veronica headed for the door.  Pete followed.

            "Goodnight, Micky."

            "Night, darling."

            She stepped out into the falling snow.  The storm had moved in.  Heavy snowflakes were coming down with the wind like rain.  This was gonna be what they referred to as a Nor'Easter.  She loved huge snowstorms.  They never saw anything like it back in Orange County.  Hell, they barely got any precipitation.  It was a major part of the East Coast charm.  Her friends always questioned her about coming out here with no family to be found.  They never bought that she just loved her Christmas with snow.  They knew she thought the Jesus holiday was bullshit.

            Pete pulled out a smoke.

            "Want one?"

            "Sure."

            He placed the cigarette in her lips, his long hair shuffled in the frosty breeze, blocked the wind with his hand, and lit hers before lighting his own.  A well-rehearsed and perfectly executed move.  Allowing the idea that maybe this wasn't your typical loner-type roll through her mind, Veronica's libido stirred.  Experience could be fun.

            She took the lead, nodding for him to follow her across the deathly hollows of King Street.  The stormy holiday resulted in a beautiful and desolate night on Fenton's main road.  Plow trucks would be rumbling along within the hour, but she and her new pal, Pete, would be wrapped up in their own devastation by then.  She bit her bottom lip until she tasted the coppery promise of blood.

            Pete followed in silence, just the sounds of their boots crunching through the snow and ice as they finished their cigarettes, tossed them to the motel sidewalk, and hurried inside.

            Veronica was ready for her big, violent Christmas vacation finale.

            "Wow," Pete said, stepping into the small room.  "Looks like shit."

            Veronica dropped her bag and turned to face him.  Unbuttoning her coat, she let the cheetah print second skin slowly roll from her shoulders as she licked her lip.  Pete's brilliant hazel eyes took her in.  Her spell was cast.  She pounced.

            Their tongues met as she mashed her body to his, rocking him on his heels as they crashed against the door.  He kissed as good as she imagined he would.  Better even.  His hands cupped her ass and lifted her in the air.  She wasted no time in wrapping her thighs around him like a python prepping its next meal.

            "Take me," she gasped, coming up for air.  She'd been with many men and women - the anticipation, the tension, the buildup, had never matched this intensity.  It wasn't her alone; his energy was coalescing with hers, igniting a conflagration of desire they had no control over.

            He stepped forward, growling as his lips found her clavicle.  Just as she thought he was taking her to the bed, he spun and pinned her back to the wall.

            "Uh," she gasped.  His aggressiveness upped the game.  She unlatched from him long enough to get her leggings, doing a hyperactive tap dance to free them from her ankles as Pete slipped out of his leather jacket, undid his jeans, and unleashed a prominent erection that he took no time inserting where it needed to go.  Blood and torment rolled into the back of her head, there would be plenty of time for death and dismemberment.  Her priority had been hijacked by the overwhelming urge to fuck this man's brains out.

            "Yes, yes, yes," she moaned.  He surged, thrusting, hell-bent on breaking her from the inside.  Veronica was in a heaven she seldom gained access to.  This was what she was looking for, this was the fucking shit.  Her shit buried in his rock star hair, she sunk her teeth into his neck.  If he felt pain, he didn't show it.  He hammered her into the wall.  Her orgasm rushed upon her like a wave out of the Pacific, fast and out of nowhere.  Her squeal of ecstasy caught her off guard, as well.  This man knew how to fuck.  It made her duty almost sad, a near-travesty.

            After that first climax, gripping him around the neck, she slammed the backs of her heels behind his knees, dropping him.  She followed him down, the fall knocking the air from his lungs.  She was tempted to press her thumbs through his eyes, but quelled the impulse by sliding back onto his cock.  She wanted to get him good and spent before the real messy part began.

            After getting his bearings, his hands clenched  her shirt, and as she was too wrapped up in riding him, her jaw fell as he tore the flimsy cloth open, releasing her breasts.  She slapped him, leaving a red mark upon his beautiful features.

            His brow creased, anger climbing in his eyes.

            "What the fuck?" he said.

            She continued impaling herself upon him as she replied, "That was my favorite shirt, asshole."

            "Sorry."

            "Don't worry, I'll make sure you pay for it.  Now, squeeze my fucking tits and give me what I want."

            He smiled, reaching up and massaging her breasts in his soft hands.

            Veronica leaned back giving him full advantage of her bouncing tits.  He pinched her nipples between his fingers and clenched her breasts like a hawk snatching its prey.  A whine escaped her mouth as she bit down into her bottom lips.  Blood trickled down, sluicing off her chin, and dripped bloody tears onto his chest.

            "Goddam, you know how to make a guy feel special," he said.

            She felt another orgasm coming down.  She wanted his first.  Tightening her virginal muscles around him, she increased her speed and felt him doing the same.  His moans validated her hunch.

            Leaning back, she clawed for her coat.  She got loud, using the art of distraction as her hound found the switchblade in the coat pocket.  This was going to be for the record books.  A bloody Christmas to remember.

            His load exploded within her, her orgasm teetering on the precipice.

            Not yet, not yet, she told herself.

            She wanted to time it just right, just as the blade penetrated his flesh.  She gripped the cold handle in her palm, hit the switch, and swung her arm in an arc.  His fist rocked her jaw just as the knife punctured high on his chest inches below his collarbone, missing its intended tender mark.

            Stars accompanied her orgasm - a first - as she fell backwards, her shoulders and the back of her head hitting the thin, filthy, pea soup-green rug.

            "Gah," he screamed.  "What a wicked little bitch you are."

            Her head swam as she spat blood, and said, "Fuck you, you fucking hit me."

            He was on his feet, the switchblade lodged in his chest.  His next move would be anyone's guess.  The room finally stopped swooning.  Climbing to her feet, blood drooling down her chin, she let loose her Billy Idol snarl, a rocket queen hungry for sin.  Pete, busy trying to figure out the best way to get the knife out, didn't see her foot come up hard between his legs.  He dropped to the floor with a resounding oomph.

            Veronica skulked around him as he had one hand on his balls, and the other on the handle of the knife.  She dived down atop him, slamming down on the handle with one hand over the other.  Pete howled like a wolf from the pain.  She kissed his mouth and let her lips linger, enjoying herself.  This was her party after all.

            His mouth opened, his head darting forward too quick for her to react.  His teeth clamped down on and through her lips.  She flailed backward, his crimson grin watching her retreat.  Her trembling hands guarded her ruined mouth, blood flowing over her palms and fingers.  She felt the warmth run down her wrists.

            Off balance and matched up against another fuck as sick as she, Veronica scurried toward the bathroom.  She needed to regroup, reassess the situation and figure out how to put this sexy, miserable prick to rest.

            "Not so fast, pretty lady."

            Her head snapped back as he yanked her hair.

            Shit.

            "You got a thing for fucking guys and then stabbing the shit out of them?"

            He dragged her across the room and used their momentum to fling her into the old piece of junk TV and the crappy particle board bureau in the corner.  Her ribs took the brunt of the collision as she fell to her knees.

            Pete snatched up his jacket and pulled a cigarette from the pack in his pocket.

            "You can't shookedat in here," she said through her tattered mouth.

            "Not my room.  Not my problem."

            The cocksucker stuck the cigarette between his lips and lit it.  He exhaled, dropped the lighter, and in one fluid motion, grabbed the handle of the switchblade and wrenched it from his chest.

            "Ahhhh fuck!"

            Blood spurted from the wound like a hellish fountain, bringing a painful smile to her face.  He dropped the blade and threw his hand over the wound, stumbling sideways.

            She couldn't fuck around.  She needed to end this fucking bastard before he decided to kill her first.  She had a Glock under the mattress.  She normally likes to pick her victims apart using less traditional methods, but she had to get this guy immobilized first, then they could play.  She jumped up, feeling the ache in her side, goddam busted rib or two no doubt, and she'd make him pay all right. She managed to pull the gun from its hiding place, but the fuck was on her again.  She wasn't going to blindly shoot, not if she didn't want the police showing up.  She clutched the gun to her side as he collided into her, knocking them both into the bureau.  This time the TV took the fall, landing with a thud in the kitty-corner space behind the furniture.

            "You think you're gonna put a bullet in me, huh?"  He grabbed her wrists and twisted it until the gun fell.  "I was gonna fuck you one more time for good meas--"

            She head-butted him in the nose, bringing a fresh coat of blood to the party.

            "Fucking cunt..."

            She followed up with a knee to his balls and a right hook to his face.  She snatched the gun as he hit the floor, grabbed the pillow from the bed using it as a cheap silencer, though the devil knew it was gonna still be loud as fuck, and popped the asshole in the knee.

            He howled again.  She brought her leg up and dropped her hell onto his already busted nose.

            Naked below the waist, Veronica snagged a bottle of Jim Bean from the mini-fridge, took two big swallows, and slammed it down on the tiny table below the window.  The burn in her wounded lips made her knees weak.  She gritted her teeth and breathed through it.  "This was supposed to be a bit more routine," she said, "but... you have definitely made things interesting, I'll give you that."

            "If you're not gonna off me, you wanna give me some of that booze?  Or are you just gonna try and talk my ear off through that pretty little mess you call a mouth?"

            He was a fierce little fucker, she'd give him that.  Hell, she'd be full of shit if she didn't admit to almost liking him for it.  She grabbed the bottle and walked over to him.

            His shirt was soaked with blood.  His beautiful face looked even better dressed in ruin.

            "You want this?"  She held the half-empty bottle above his disaster of a knee.

            "Yeah, I do."

            She tilted the bottle and let the auburn remedy pour onto his leg.

            It was his turn to grit his teeth.  He laid back, slamming his hands on the ground, grunting, the cords in his neck taught, pushing against his crimson painted neck.

            "Oh,  you're gorgeous when you're hurting.  Here."  She handed him the booze.  He sat up and took it with shaky hands.  Guzzling it down like a man lost in the desert.

             She reached down, grabbing the pack of smokes poking out of his jacket pocket.  She was blindsided by the bottle as it crashed against her skull.

            She dropped down, sprawled out beside him, the world around her disconnected, drifting out ins pace, muffled and muted.

            "You're good, honey, but overconfidence can kill ya."  She heard his voice like it was broadcasting from some far off planet... her ears were ringing, she might have a goddam concussion.  Worse than any fucking hangover.  Her world returned to full color as she managed to roll over on her side.  He took another swig and set the bottle down next to her and nodded.

            She sat up and took it.

            "You're one tough cookie.  You do this sort of thing regularly?  Or is this some kind of one-off-lost-all-my-reason-to-give-a-shit-so-I'm-going-out-with-a-bang type of gig?"

            "It's more of an annual thing."

            She took a swallow, clenched her eyes against the pain, and handed it back to him.

            He pulled out two cigarettes from the crushed pack; they were kind of cock-eyed, but still intact.  He found his lighter on the floor and lit them together, handing one over.

            "You believe in anything?" he said.

            She thought of her sister, bald and fading away.

            "Death," she said.

            He nodded.  "Hard to argue with that one."

            "You?"

            "Might sound stupid."

            "Fuck you.  Spill."

            "True love."

            She was too tired to laugh.  And frankly, she felt it, too.  It wasn't often that the universe, that cruel hard bitch who loved to suck the souls out of the living, threw a set of broken people something fucked up and beautiful to share.

            "If I come over there and kiss that bloody mouth of yours, are you gonna whack me with that bottle again?" she said.

            "That depends.  You gonna put that gun to my head 'til it goes click?"

            She hadn't even realized the gun was still in her hand.

            "Guess this is our first trust test."

            He made an effort to get closer to her, wincing from his multiple wounds.

            "Fuck off," she said.  She crawled over to him, gun in hand, shoved him flat on his back, and straddled him.  That old Aerosmith song played in her mind.  Back in the saddle again.  He let go of the bottle of Beam, and closed his eyes.

            She put the gun to his temple.

            "Mr. Pete?"

            "Yeah, Miss V?"

            "I think this is the start of the most incredible fucked up love story in American history."

            She knew it was gonna hurt like hell, but she kissed him anyway.

            When the coppery taste of their lips parted, she laid her hand on the unblemished side of his chest and gently traced her finger around the initial knife wound.

            "We're gonna need to get up and get the fuck outta here soon."

            "You got a place in mind?"

            "I'm supposed to be back in California in two weeks.  I was thinking a cold-blooded road trip sounded pretty stellar."

            He kissed the top of her head.

            "To death," he said.

            She closed her eyes and grinned.

            "To true fucking love.  Merry fucking Christmas."


THE END... for now.

About the author:
Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England.  He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King and Richard Laymon.  He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl.  He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.
            He is the author of the novellas Abram's BridgeBoom Town, and the forthcoming, Things We Fear (March, 2016), the short fiction collection, Slush, and the novels The Haunted Halls and Blood and Rain.  His first novella collection, Where Nightmares Begin, was released in March, 2016.
            He is hard at work on many more.  Stay tuned!

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 28: Martin Berman-Gorvine


Festival of Lights
By: Martin Berman-Gorvine

Jeffy doesn't like his new house.  Mom says it is better than the old house on Sycamore Lane across town, which backed onto a fenced-off utility right-of-way that ran out of sight in either direction, the giant silvery towers bestriding the landscape like Martians out of H.G. Wells, only instead of being felled by earthly germs, Mom says they infect people with cancer.  But the old house had a crawlspace underneath where Jeffy, who is eight and puny for his age, used to play alone with his Power Rangers and his Star Wars action figures.  The new house is an aluminum trailer whose outer walls made a crushing sound like thunder if you slam into them hard enough.  Mom won't let Jeffy play in the overgrown grass of the trailer park; she says it's cause she doesn't want them getting cut on the glittering shards of bright green and dark brown beer bottles, though he has an idea she's afraid one of the neighbors will stab him.  They seem harmless enough to him, Mr. Smalls with his grizzled kindly face on the right as you go out the front door, the little old lady on the left who's always in her threadbare navy blue bathroom when she wanders outside to collect her mail mid-afternoon.  True, there's a mean old dog always barking somewhere two or three rows down, but he's no danger to anyone who stays outside the ringing radius of the thick chain he's tethered to a tree with.

            Or maybe Mom is more worried about the woods that spring up just steps beyond the trailer's back stoop, the deer that she says lurk in there carrying ticks that carry Lyme disease, which Jeffy imagines must make your skin break out in enormous oozing green boils.  "I've heard foxes barking back there, and there could be bears," Mom says firmly when Jeffy protests that it's too hot and stuffy inside the trailer, even with the air conditioner running so hard you have to raise your voice to talk over it.  Besides, his room smells of mildew no matter how much Lemon Pledge Mom sprays it with, and his bedspread is old and ratty and printed all over with babyish light blue teddy bears.  But she won't hear reason, Mom won't, and so Jeffy doesn't get the chance to make one single friend all summer, which he knows will result as predictably as the approaching autumn in his getting beaten up every day on his way home from the new school.

            There are only three days of summer left when the Beast starts showing up in Jeffy's room.  When he first sees it, he naturally assumes he's having a nightmare, though he can't remember ever smelling anything in a dream, much less anything like the powerful pungent stink of musk off the beast, the stench so strong that for a moment Jeffy thinks there's a skunk in the room.  But it's no Pepe Le Pew, no, this beast is so big it takes up half the space in his bedroom, snorting and stamping and waving around the tremendous rack on its head so that it keeps banging against the ceiling with a metallic clang.  The tip of one of the antlers is on fire!

            Jeffy sits bolt upright in bed, clutching the blanket with both hands under his chin, his throat convulsing so he can't even scream.  When he finally does, it's a wordless shriek and Mom comes rushing in, terrifying Jeffy with the thought that the Beast will impale her the moment she sets foot in the door.  Instead it vanishes.

            "What is it?  Jeffy, what is it?"

            "M-monster," he stammers, letting the blanket drop, already feeling like a fool.  Of course she fusses over him, makes an exaggerated show of checking under the bed and inside the stand-up wardrobe.  As if the horned Beast could fit in such small spaces!  But it must have been in Jeffy's imagination, Mom says, and Jeffy is forced to agree.  Until the morning, when he sees a dent in the ceiling with a ring of ash around it.  And the next night, when the Beast is back, thrashing around even harder, kicking the blanket right out of Jeffy's hand with one of its sharp hooves.  This time two neighboring antler tips are on fire, both to the left of the creature's head.

            Jeffy's throat spasms just as it did the night before, but this time he swallows the shriek.  What would be the point?  Mom would only disappear the beast again and he would feel twice as foolish.  Worse, she might take him back to see Dr. Hahn in his medicine-smelling office, and the psychologist would smile his fake-happy smile at Jeffy and make him feel like an even bigger fool.  No, Jeffy would rather face the Beast alone, even if it means getting gored.  Which seems like an increasing certainty the more wild thrashing it does.  But after butting the ceiling again, leaving two ashy indentations where before there was just one, the Beast vanished again.  The following morning, when Mom comes to get Jeffy for breakfast, she frowns at the mess.  "Can't you pick up your things, Jeffy?  It's like you don't even care about these toys I buy you!"

            Don't tell her.  DON'T TELL HER!  "Everything WAS picked up, Mom, but the Beast came back last night and it messed up my room!"

            "What beast?"

            He shouldn't have opened his mouth in the first place, but now that he has, he can't get out of it.  "The m-monster that was in the rom the night before last, when I yelled..."

            "Oh."  The lines on Mom's face shift around, and end up mostly pointing down.  "Jeffy, I told you that it was just a bad dream.  You can't blame bad dreams for messing up your room.  This is a small space; you have to keep it neat!"

            "Yes, Mom."

            "Now come on, we have to eat quick.  My shift starts in less than half an hour."  Mom's already dressed in a powder blue apron for her work cleaning noms at the Pine Valley Motel.  Which means Jeffy is gonna be stuck till three o'clock watching cartoons in the stuffy, windowless lounge.  He knows better than to complain, though, not if he doesn't want a swat on the behind.  Besides, watching TV in the motel beats sitting around in the trailer wishing t heir on TV got cable instead of only receiving a blurry broadcast picture through an old rabbit-ear antenna.  So he dutifully helps out by making his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on white, bagging it and putting it in the battered old backpack he will have to take to his new school the day after tomorrow.  For a change, their battered old gray Chevrolet Celebrity starts without complaint and deposits them at the motel fifteen minutes later without incident.  Jeffy spends the time staring out the window at stoplights and storefronts, wishing his Nintendo DS hasn't gotten stepped on and broken in the move.

            Shawn, the motel desk clerk, greets them with a scowl.  He isn't the owner and can't fire Mom - Jeffy knows that, but he's still afraid of the fat man in his stained Harley Davidson T-shirt and bushy, uneven ginger-and-gray mustache.  It's his temper Jeffy fears, remembering vividly the screaming rant he let loose back in the spring when he burst into the lounge bellowing that Jeffy had the Disney Channel on too loud.  Mom had come running to rescue him, which was a belief but made Jeffy feel secretly ashamed, so this time he's careful to turn it on real soft, almost too soft to hear the flying robot cars challenging each other to duels.  Jeffy creeps closer to the screen, and closer still, reaching out to turn off the lights so that nothing takes away from his enjoyment of mental shrieking as it crumples.

            With the bright light streaming from the TV screen itself, Jeffy isn't scared of the dark.  He isn't alone in his bed with a fire-horned Beast waiting to strike; he's soaring with those robot cars over a sparkling city.  He doesn't hear the little rustling noises coming from the baseboards, and if he does he assumes it's just mice in the walls - Pine Valley Motel isn't exactly a five-star establishment after all.  The first he knows anything is amiss is when three burning antler tips get between him and the TV screen, with two red, glowing eyes the size of small eggs right behind them.  Jeffy's screams mingle with the Beast's roar and he jumps to his feet, leaping backward as an enormous hoof staves in the screen in a cascade of sparks and a stink of burning insulation.  By the light of the electric sparks, Jeffy can see the thing's teeth.  Long and sharp as steak knives, they are, colored a fearsome shade of yellow with brown stains on them.  He screams again and dodges around the room, grabbing frantically for the doorknob, but his hands are slippery with sweat and he can't get a grip and has to jump out of the way when he sees the three flaming torches heading straight for him.  He's all the way over on the other side of the room when the door bangs open and a voice booms, "What did I tell you about keeping it - What did you do to my TV?"

            At least, afterward, Jeffy figures that's what Shawn the den clerk must have said because he can't say anything anymore, not after the howl he let out when the flaming antler skewers him.  Jeffy almost slips on Shawn's blood, scrambling past, but he makes it as the Beast is tugging hard, trying to free itself from the desk clerk's twitching body and shredded Harley Davidson T-shirt.  He staggers out into the parking lot, where Mom is trudging past with her room-cleaning rig, and then it's screams, flashing red and blue lights, cops nothing like the ones on TV, they at like maybe HE killed Shawn Watkins (who knew, says Mom afterward, that the creep even had a last name?).  Mom is awesome - she screams at them not to be morons; obviously some crazed addict broke in and killed Mr. Watkins, and it was only luck that Jeffy survived, so grudgingly the cops ask him what the killer looked like and he gives them a dead-on description of the bad guy in the detective show he watched last week when Mom was out shopping.

            With all the excitement, he missed the first day of school, and the second, but the Beast never misses a night - four tips burning, then five, the newest one lighting up the right-hand antler.  When there are four tips lit up on that side, for a total of eight (Jeffy is good at math), well then, the entire rack will be alight, and something terrible is going to happen then, Jeffy just knows it - something more terrible even than what happened to Shawn Watkins.  But he's powerless to stop it.  He can't do anything but wait, wide awake in bed, for the Beast's nightly visitations, and dodge clumsily when it arrives, bellowing and burning and leaving those little dents in the ceiling.  Mom seems to sleep through it all, never noticing a thing unless Jeffy comes and wakes her, which he tries not to do because that business at the motel really shook her up and she needs her rest.

            But finally Jeffy does have to start his new school.  Mom marches him to the office on the third day of class, all dressed up in a nice button-down shirt and trousers she ironed specially for him, so of course his new classmates are already sniggering at him by lunchtime and at recess someone kicks him in the butt so he ends up face-down in a mud puddle to shrieks of laughter.

            All that, and Long Division, and the Beast in the night, roaring and stamping and gnashing its wicked teeth from the pain of six antler tips burning.  How can the antlers have been burning all this time, and not have burned up, setting the Beast itself on fire?  It's a miracle - a negative of the sort of miracle Mom says Jeffy had, surviving the attack at the motel.  The other kids at school want to know all about that, but as usual Jeffy blows his chance and they just hate him the worse for it.

            "Come on!  My dad's a policeman, and he was telling my mom the other cops said you were there when a guy got killed!"  The boy saying this is half a head taller than Jeffy,with a wild tangle of black bangs half hiding bulging eyes almost as big as the Beast's.  "They say there was blood everywhere!"

            "I don't wanna talk about it," Jeffy mumbles, his eyes on a dirty streak on the tile floor of the school entrance hall.  If Mom cleaned the school, she would never be so careless.  Overhead, a poster insisted on "ZERO TOLERANCE FOR BULLYING."

            "Whaddya, too stuck up to talk to us?" the bigger boy says, shoving Jeff lightly in the chest while a bunch of other boys and a girl with long blonde hair stand around guffawing.  And they're standing inside the school!  Where are the teachers?  Jeffy knows a moment of incandescent rage before the usual dull hopeless surrender quenches it.  There's been a boy like this at all six school's he's attended in his academic career so far, and he knows in his heart there will always be one waiting for him wherever he goes.  He starts to walk around him to get to class, but the way is blocked.  "I ain't done talking to you!" the bigger boy snarls, bending down hands on knees so he's eye to eye with Jeffy.  "Maybe you didn't even notice nothing?  You some kinda ree-tard?"

            "Yeah, must be a retard, Tommy!" the blonde girl squeals with delight, and that's it, a done deal: Jeffy knows he's been assigned his nickname for as long as he goes to this school.  It would take a miracle to change it.

            A miracle.  The word comes back to him that night, when his eyelids slam open to the sight of the Beast demolishing his room worse than ever before.  Is Mom really going to look at the ruins, come morning, and think it was just Jeffy being messy with his things?  'Cause that's how it's gone every night till now.  It's a miracle too that the whole trailer hasn't gone up in flames, especially now that seven of the antler tips are aflame, four on the Beast's left and three on it's right... Jeffy yelps as he dodges the points on the antlers, the points on the dripping fangs, the huge enraged eyes.  Suddenly he can't take it anymore.  He lurches out of the room and wakes Mom up; she's grouchy, but she holds him and calms him down while the Beast, of course, vanishes back to wherever it came from.  A miracle.

            Next day at recess he sees Tommy standing in a loose circle talking to his buddies, including the blonde girl, Madison, who is on the other side and sees him coming first.  "Hey, Tommy, watch out, the Retard is trying to sneak up on  you!"

            "Was not!" Jeffy says hotly, barely managing to duck a blow.

            "Whaddya want, Retard?" Tommy demands.

            Jeffy pokes him in the stomach.  "You, me.  In the boiler room.  Soon as the last bell rings."

            There is much hilarity at this proposal.  Everyone wants to come see Jeffy get beaten to a pulp.  Of course they do.  And that's fine with him.  He cuts all his afternoon classes - something he's never done before in his life - to scout the place out, hiding when he hears the janitor coming, only to emerge again into the humid, ashy air and resume his search for the master circuit breaker.  He finds it just before the last bell rings and hopes there, his little hand on it, waiting for the bell and the covert stampede down the stairs to begin.  He doesn't have long to wait.  There are muffled giggles and the patter of many feet, sounds that might charm a grown-up who doesn't know any better.  "Hey, Jeffy," Tommy calls out in falsetto.  Madison shuts the door at the top of the stairs, which is just what Jeffy has been hoping will happen.  Then she tosses her blonde hair back and follows the others down the stairs, with Tommy in the lead, shouting, "Hey, Retard!  Come out and fight, you sissy!"

            "He's not coming.  He chickened out," Madison sneers.

            "Yeah," one of the other boys chimes in, "try's make ya look stupid, Tommy!"

            "Let's go find him and kick his ass!" Tommy roars, and turns back toward the stairs.

            Jeffy throws the circuit breaker and ashy, humid darkness descends like a soaking blanket thrown suddenly over everyone's head.  There's a scuffling noise and a sudden shriek, which Jeffy isn't sure came from the girl.  Then a roar, and eight flames in the darkness over two glowing red eyes.

            Behold, the Festival of Lights!


About the author:
Martin Berman-Gorvine is the author of six science fiction novels: Heroes of EarthZiona (as Marty Armon), Save the DragonsSeven Against Mars36, and The Severed Wing (as Martin Gidron), which received the 2002 Sidewise Award for Alternate History (Long Form) at the International Science Fiction Convention in Toronto in 2003.
            His short stories include: "Of Cats' Whiskers & Klutzes," which appeared in Brave New Girls; "Palestina," which was published in Interzone magazine's May/June 2006 issue, and was finalist for the Sidewise Award (Short Form); and "The Tallis," which appeared in Jewish Currents magazine, May 2002.  He is a professional journalist, currently serving as a reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs newsletter Human Resources Report.
            Follow him on social media: websiteFacebook pageTwitter; his musings on books, politics and life can be found on his blog.  He lives in the suburbs of Washington, DC with his wife, a teenage son, three orange tabby cats, to shy kittens, and a sort of Muppet dog.

The Gals 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 27: Jon M. Jefferson


All That Glitters
By: Jon M. Jefferson

Snow.  Fresh snow.  Fluffy, crisp, snow that crunched under his feet as he padded through the yard to his mailbox.  Tendrils of cold wormed their way across his flesh.  He hadn't been prepared for it.  They predicted for weeks that the first snow of winter were still over a week away, nothing to worry about.  But this wasn't the first time the weather stations had been wrong.

            The empty mailbox screamed at him, an effect of the heavy white that covered the road.  Everything had shut down in the sudden onslaught.  Overnight two feet of the stuff had fallen and blanketed the world.  Road crews couldn't keep up.  It still came down.

            He had considered firing up the snow-blower earlier, but he needed gas and two cycle oil.  Both were a hike through the tundra his neighborhood had become.  He had heard all the closures on the radio earlier and even then he considered himself lucky to still have power.

            Gary scanned up and down the street, expecting to see the neighborhood outside, building snowmen, clearing driveways, or even as he was doing, questioning the whole thing.  But no one he could see had joined him outside.  Wisps of smoke rose from chimneys, but no movement other than the gentle susurration of the falling snow.  The quiet, unnatural brooding chilled his bones more than the cold itself.

            He turned with a shiver as he pulled his robe tight against his chest.  The trip back to his porch took longer than the trip to the mailbox.

            The icy wind's fingers scraped across the skin of his legs and belly from the bottom of his robe.  As he shivered through the chill, he gave a soft curse into his robe.  His warm breath brought on a deeper chill and he quickened his pace to the door.

            Once inside, he kicked off his boots and set them on the mat beside the door.  Janine would scold him.  She would go out of her way to remind him that kicking off his boots and the snow like he did would send it further into the living room.

            She didn't allow shoes of any kind on her living room carpet.  Not past the front door and the mat.  The cold and the snow weren't a good enough reason to punish those in the house.  Especially her.  She worked hard to keep the living room clean, keep it ready for presentation to any guest who may drop by.

            Gary chuckled at that.  They hadn't had visitors in quite some time.  Janine's tirades in front of little William's friends had scared them off.  What else would explain it?  The boy spent most of his time away from the house.  It'd been like that for a while now, longer than Gary could remember.

            The boy and his mother had gone at it like feral cats, and neither would give ground to the other.  That last fight, the one a few weeks ago, well, even now it made Gary cringe as he thought about it.

            William was 15.  Probably a typical teenager, rebellion was in their psyche and they couldn't go against their nature.  Gary remembered some of the fights he and his father endured when he was William's age.  Brutal; not quite bloody, but they m ay as well have been.  He never really felt at home till the time he moved out.

            Quiet and stillness had settled over the house.  The steady fall of snow outside pressed on the picture window in the living room.  The soft crackle of the fire's glow was lost to the widow's light.  He poked at the remaining log to adjust it before adding a couple more.  A fresh snap sent a shower of sparks up the chimney.  He turned and allowed the heat to warm the back of his legs.

            After a lingered moment in the radiant heat, he spun around and used the poker to lift the top of the cast iron pot hanging above the flames.  He dug into the liquid inside with a long handled spoon.  Bits of stringy meat and bacon mixed and swirled in the stew pot, a bean thickened gruel.  He withdrew just a portion of the stock with his spoon and blew on it before he sampled it.  He couldn't contain his soft smile as he recovered the pot.  Janine loved his stews, fresh from the fireplace.  He hadn't made them often enough this winter, supplies being what they were  now.

            "Won't be much longer," he said.  The words were for his benefit, his alone.  The time in his living room was the time to collect  his thoughts and clear his mind before he went to work.  His eyes had locked with the fire, prey to the dancing flames that had overtaken the fresh logs he added.

            "I'm sorry it's so late."  The words, the only ones that still registered after all the times he had played the message.  It had gone on for some time, a conversation between William and Janine.  The apology for the fight.  Gary had forgotten which one blamed the other after all this time.  He wanted them home for the holidays, like his mother and father so many years before.

            The day his father had walked out was a dark day, though Gary's mother had sworn he would always be with them for the holidays.  He couldn't see how.  His dad never even said goodbye.  It wasn't until years later that she shared the family recipe for their holiday stew, the same stew he hung over the fire now, a family tradition.

            He had gone to the basement work room.  Janine had never been allowed in the work room.  He liked the solitude, the quiet, the time away from the fighting.  He had built it himself.  One side of the room had been converted into a freezer/refrigerator.  The other side had been set up with washable walls and a sturdy table that worked as a butcher block and work bench.

            It had taken a few years, but he built up a decent catering business that focused on specialty meats and cheeses.  Recipes that had been handed down for years on his mother's side.  They took their charcuterie seriously and she had taught him well.  He had intended to teach William at one time, but the boy never took an interest.

            And then the fight...

            He couldn't get it out of his mind.  Sometimes people say things they can't take back in a fight, the things that hurt the most.  But he did apologize - he did, didn't he?  It was on the phone message.  Janine had spoken with him for a long time that day.

            Funny thing with that though - Gary's mother had said that his father was sorry too.  She said that he would be with them for a long time even if he was only there for the holidays.

            Now he remembers his father with a smile every time he makes his mother's Christmas stew.  Just like he will remember William.  He will be with them for many more Christmases to come.

About the author:
Jon M. Jefferson writes Speculative fiction with forays into Noir and Bizarro.  His stories have appeared in the 2013 Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology, the Weird Tales Magazine website, and in Siren's Call Magazine.  His work can also be found on Amazon and Smashwords.  Flash fiction stories can be found at his site Misadventures in Strange Places or his anthologies, short stories and novellas can be found at his Amazon Author Page.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Christmas Takeover 26: John McNee


The Tag
By: John McNee

You wake up one morning and don't know who you are.  You lie in bed trying to remember how you got here, but you can't.  You go to the bathroom and stare into the mirror, but the old man staring back at you is no one you recognise.  You wander the house, searching for some clue that will revive your memory, but find nothing.

            You try very hard not to panic.  And then you panic.

            At the hospital, you face a barrage of tests and too many questions for which you have no answers.  The paramedics who attended your home found your wallet and ID.  The hospital has accessed your records and have all your information, but when they show it to you, all you see is a jumbled blur.

            It is more than 24 hours before you speak to anyone who seems able to help.  They call her a specialist.  Her name is Dr. Allahan.

            She gives you a magazine and asks you to read one of the articles aloud, which you do.  She then gives you a card on which are typed two printed words and asks you to speak them.  You try, but you cannot.  The letters make no sense to you.  Whatever the words are supposed to say, it is indecipherable.

            "It's your name," she says.

            You tell her you might have guessed.

            "You appear to have suffered an acute brain event, not dissimilar to a stroke."  She smiles as she tells you this.  "Do you know what a stroke is?"

            You tell her yes.

            "The cause is unclear," she says.  "The way in which it has attacked your memory centres, effectively erasing your identity, and preventing you from relearning it, suggests it may even be psychological.  But the scans do show evidence of... damage."  She hesitates over the last word.  "Are you aware that it was your birthday yesterday?"

            Yes, you say, but only because you were told.

            "Perhaps coincidental," she says, though she sounds unsure.  "I can say that it's a very unusual case, but not completely unheard of.  In fact, I was recently reading about two startlingly similar cases from earlier this year."  She smiles again.  "Perhaps it's catching."

            You ask her if you will ever remember who you are.

            "It's possible," she says.  "There are certain therapies we can try, though I should warn you that they have not proven particularly successful with those other cases I mentioned.  Given time, of course, the brain may repair itself.  However..."  She glances down at your case notes.  "Given your age, time may not be on our side.  Frankly, this may be something you have to learn to live with."

            That's impossible, you tell her.  Impossible.

***

You learn to live with it.

            A case worker accompanies you home and  helps to make some sense of your surroundings.  He leaves once you've convinced him that you can make it from your bed to the bathroom and back without killing yourself, but he returns the following morning.  He visits you every day for the first few weeks, but then his visits become more infrequent, till eventually they cease altogether.  During this period you learn how to complete simple tasks like a trip to the supermarket without making a complete ass of yourself.  Complications prove inevitable.  You have no idea who you are.  But you make a habit of carrying documentation explaining your condition, along with a phone number for Dr. Allahan.

            You get by.

            They put you in a support group for people who have suffered strokes and brain injuries.  You attend twice a week.  The intention is to teach you coping mechanisms, but what you really learn is humility.  There are so many others, it transpires, who suffer with afflictions far worse than yours.  The catastrophes that have engulfed their minds have made things like comprehension, communication, even basic movement almost impossible.  And somehow you struggle on.  They learn to live with it.  Your only disability is you have no idea who you are.  Is that so bad?

            Eventually you come to the conclusion that it is not.  You don't know who this man is whose life was once your own, but you are able to make a few assumptions about him.  At the hospital, they had no record of any next of kin.  No address can be found in your home.  The phone does not ring during your recuperation.  No concerned friends, family or neighbours stop by the house to see how you're doing.  What you infer from this is that there are no concerned friends, family or neighbours in your life.  You appear to be a man who has lived decades without making a single human connection. You wonder how this is possible.

            You are retired now.  Dr. Allahan and others have told you what you used to do for employment, but you can't keep the information in your head.  With no family, friends, and no work to occupy yourself, your days quickly become a tedious bur of TV watching, interspersed with visits to the grocery store and the support group.

            Your memory does not improve.  But at least it doesn't worsen.

            "What you need is a hobby," says Dr. Allahan, during one of your increasingly infrequent appointments.  "Something to occupy your mind.  Something that will get you socialising."

            You wonder what kind of hobby would suit a man like yourself.  For all you know, you were proficient at many things, but there's no proof of it now.  No memory in the muscles.

            Photography, you think.  One wall in your living room is covered in framed photographs, all landscapes.  No people in any of them.  It strikes you as lonely more than anything, but you imagine you must once have found beauty in it.  Perhaps you even had talent.

            The local college offers evening classes.  The participants are mostly retirees like yourself, looking for something to occupy their minds and stave off the rot.

            Your condition makes socialising difficult, but not as much as you feared.  Conversation flows when you ask people questions about themselves.  You remember their answers.  It's only when you're the subject that difficulties arise, but with practice you learn how to navigate your way through.

            After just a few classes you must conclude you are not much of a photographer.  But you stick with it.  You are making friends.  One in particular.

            Her name is Ruby.  She is divorced, with grown children and a large house on the edge of town that she can't stand to be alone in.  The photography class is just one of dozens she has taken to fill her days.

            You take a shine to each other.  Something about her obvious loneliness attracts you.  It's comforting to be in the company of someone almost as awkward as you are.  But there's more there.  Soon you both feel it.

            After a few weeks, photography class - and the rest of your classmates - fall by the wayside.  You and Ruby relocate to cafes, bars, the theatre.  Romance blooms as autumn leaves fall.

            Then something happens that you can't explain.  You take Ruby to dinner at a restaurant near your home.  Afterwards, you hope to take her back to the house for the first time, but it doesn't work out that way.  The restaurant is not one you've been to before.  You chose it for its location, its closeness to home, but you soon regret it.

            There is something about the people here.  Not everyone, but the staff and a few tables are watching you intently, glaring, as though they can hardly believe what they are seeing.

            You try to hide your distress.  Ruby lets you, but it is clear she can tell something is wrong.  You're halfway through your first course, and thinking about fleeing, when you look up and see a monster.

            He has the body of a man, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, but his head is a whirling sphere of molten flesh.  Rivers of liquid skin churn across his bones, carrying hair, teeth, nostrils, and ears like so much debris in the current.  And his eyes.  They grind against each other in the chaos, bulging and shrinking, but for a very brief moment they hover beneath his bubbling brow and fix themselves on you.  They are furious.

            The monster crosses to your table, points a finger in your face and unleashes a torrent of words you can make no sense of.  Panicking, you try to flee.  You try to take Ruby with you, but the monster is in her face now, shouting more nonsense with its broken tongue.  Incredible as it is, she seems to understand it.

            You pull her from the table and hurry her out of the door.  The rest of the diners and staff watch as you leave, the monster ranting indecipherably at you as you go.  Some applaud.  No one demands you pay for your half-eaten starters.

            You are relieved to make it out to the street.  Ruby stays with you long enough to ensure you'll be okay, then makes her excuses and catches a cab.  You return home alone.

            If ever you wanted to forget a night, it is this one.  But you can't.

***

Autumn turns to winter.  You do not see Ruby again.  You try contacting her, but she makes herself unreachable.  You soon get the message.  You do not blame her.

            The night in the restaurant plagues you.  You wonder about the monster.  What did everyone else see?  Was he just a man?  A man who knew you?  Your mind makes him unrecognisable.  It twisted his words so that they were incomprehensible.  Yet others understood only too well.  You wonder how it is that the mind could do something like that.

            You attend the support group meetings a few times.  You want to talk about the restaurant, but you can't bring yourself to do it.  Eventually you stop going altogether.

            You rarely venture out of the house now.  Even on a trip to the shops, you can feel people staring at you - or imagine you can.

            The nights grow long.

            You take to drinking more.

            In mid-December, you receive a Christmas card from Dr. Allahan.  It is the only one you will receive.

            On Christmas Day, you awaken with a bad hangover, the hands on the clock ticking towards noon.  You drag yourself to the bathroom and splash some water on yourself, then head downstairs, thinking of coffee and trying to decide on the liquor to cut it with.

            You halt when you reach the living room.

            A package sits on the coffee table, wrapped in glittering red paper and tied with a green bow.

            You are perplexed and concerned - how did someone get into your house?  When were they here?  Who would do this?

            But you're curious, too.  You cross to the table and pick up the gift.  It has a tag, but the writing is illegible.  You tear off the bow and the wrapping paper to reveal a small metal box.  You open it...

            ...And you remember.

            You remember your name.  The names of your parents, your brothers, the town where you were born.  You remember your schools and university and the sports teams to which you belonged.  You remember all your workplaces and colleagues.  You remember your friends, your lovers, the woman you married.  You remember the life you shared.

            Glancing around the room at the photos on the wall - you see them, all the people who were a part of your life.  Not landscapes.  The faces, hidden from you for so many months, suddenly resolve themselves into focus.  Finally you can see them.  You remember them.

            You remember it all.

            You remember the abuse, the threats, the brutal wielding of power.  You remember the violence and the repeated assurance of worse to come.  You remember a litany of crimes; the scandals that, when they came to light, brought an end to your career, tore you from your family and left you alone and unloved.

            You even remember the man from the restaurant now.  No one of consequence.  A member of the local PTA you'd met once or twice and knew of your crimes from the papers.

            And you remember the rest.  The scandals that never came to light.  The evil acts the papers never made public.  The secret horrors you managed to keep hidden from the wider world.  All the sadistic terrors you inflicted on those closest to you in service of your petty gratification.  You remember the inexcusable pain you caused others and the satisfaction you took from your own depravity.

            You remember the shame, the guilt, the constant agony of waking up each morning with the knowledge of who you are and all the terrible things you'd done.

            You remember who you are, why you are alone, and why you deserve to be.

            It was your birthday.  You received a package.  You opened it and found a small metal box.  At the time, you thought it was empty and threw it away.

            You know better now.  That box, you realise, released you from the knowledge of all that you are, everything that you were capable of and all the unspeakable acts you committed.  That box was the greatest, most generous gift you could ever hope to receive.

            The one you hold in your hands now is the most hateful.

            You spot the tag on the coffee table.  Its words are suddenly legible to you.  Through tears, you can make out the name scrawled at the bottom.

            And above it, the words: "To Dad, Merry Christmas."

About the author:
John McNee is a writer of strange and disturbing horror stories, published in a variety of strange and disturbing anthologies.  He is also the author of Grudge Punk, probably the only dieselpunk-bizarro-horror-noir anthology around.  His first novel, Prince of Nightmares, was published in January of this year by Blood Bound Books.  He lives on the west coast of Scotland, where he works "in magazines."