Monday, January 1, 2018

Christmas Takeover 2017 6: Brian Knight


I can't think of a better way to begin 2018 than another short story Christmas terror.  Can you?
            Today, for your reading pleasure, I offer you a short tale from author Brian Knight titled The Christmas Corpse.  Clowns, Santa, and a police detective.  Oh the places this one can go...




The Christmas Corpse
By: Brian Knight

Seattle PD Detective Flynn was aggravated going on angry, and Lisa Compton understood his frustration, even sympathized, but that didn’t make his attitude with her easier to take.  She was frustrated too.  Horrified, traumatized, frazzled, and frustrated.  She’d taken her children, Janet, Jake Junior, and Janet’s friend Chloe to Northgate Mall to see Santa and and do some Christmas shopping done while her husband wasn’t there.  It was hard enough shopping for the man, he bought anything he wanted throughout the year, but she hardly ever got out of the house on weekends without him.  He was entertaining his mother that Saturday, giving Lisa a golden half-day to find his present without him staring over her shoulder.
            Witnessing a multiple murder was an unexpected hiccup in her plan for the day.
            She looked across the crowded food court where another uniformed detective was entertaining her kids, then back down the nearly empty mall to where a half-dozen patrol and forensics officers took pictures, made notes, and looked confused.  She could just see the red-coated corpse laying at the foot of Santa’s throne, tangled in the red ropes used to control the flow of kids waiting to meet the big man.  She couldn’t see the worst of the mess from her seat at the other end of the mall, but she didn’t need to see it.  She’d been in the middle of it.  She was sure she’d see it clearly again that night when she finally managed to sleep.
            The man they’d handcuffed was nowhere to be seen now.  He was either locked in the back of one of the responding cruisers, or already at the station.
            The mall rent-a-cop had arrived too late, found him covered in blood and holding the knife, and had held him at gunpoint until the real cops arrived.  Neither the rent-a-cop or the responding officers had listened to her, or any of the other hundred witnesses.  
            They had arrested the wrong man.
            “Mrs. Compton,” Detective Flynn said.  “Are you positive this is the statement you wish to give?”
            “It’s what happened,” she said.
            He rifled through his notebook, skimming the pages rather than re-reading them in their entirety, then closed the book and and dropped it on the table between them.
            “A clown?”
            “Yes,” she said.  “A clown.”
            He glanced around the room, and she followed his gaze to the other detectives currently interviewing witnesses.
            He sighed.
            “I’m going to walk over to the subway.”  He hooked a thumb back over his shoulder toward a couple of teens in green caps looking mildly freaked, standing behind the Subway counter, waiting for somebody to tell them to go home, or order a sandwich.  The shops nearest the crime scene were closed for the rest of the day, but the food court was still open, though no one seemed to have much of an appetite.  “Gonna get a cup of coffee, take a short break.  When I come back we’ll go over it one more time.  Maybe you’ll remember something while I’m gone.”
            Or forget something, his tone said.  
            She said nothing, only watched him until he sighed again and left her alone to reconsider her official statement.
            There was nothing to reconsider.  Lisa knew what she saw.
            She picked up his notebook and flipped it open, rifling the pages until she found the beginning of her statement, then she read what he’d written.


***

Janet and Chloe enjoyed the noise and chaos of the mall in the Christmas season, but Jake, a year younger and without a friend on this trip to boost his confidence, was on the ragged edge of a nervous tantrum.  Too much noise, too much activity, usually put him on edge.  Janet’s tendency to ignore or tease him when she was with her friends only made it worse.  They’d bickered in the car on the way over, Chloe looking uncomfortable seated between them in the back of the van, and now Jake wasn’t talking.  Lisa didn’t like it when he went silent and broody.  It reminded her too much of his father.
            She clutched his hand, almost dragging him along as the girls ran ahead of them through the crowd to the northwest entrance.
            “Get back here, Janet!”  Lisa shouted at the girls, saw Chloe slow and begin to turn her way for just a second, and then follow Janet inside.
            Lisa sighed, then sped up.
            “Come on, Jake, before she gets lost.”
            She saw a brief, twitching smile appear and vanish on Jake’s face, probably at the prospect of losing his sister in the mall, but he walked faster, pausing for a moment when he saw how packed the short hallway beyond the entrance was.  Inside, he pressed himself so close to her that he was in danger of getting underfoot.  
            She found the girls at the window of Just Cozy.
            “Mom, they have Christmas leggings.”  Janet pointed at a headless, armless tween-sized mannequin dressed in festive, skin-tight green and red.  “Can I get some?”
            “I’ll think about it,” Lisa said, though she had no plans to buy Janet leggings of any kind.  She didn’t get the point of them.  Skin tight and whisper thin, you might as well go out into the cold naked.  Worse, she though, they made girls who wore them look like little street-walkers.  She’d observed too many grown men ogling little girls in belly-shirts and leggings to be comfortable dressing her own daughter in them.  “Lets get in line before it gets too long.”
            Santa wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another half-hour, but already the line stretched from Santa’s throne halfway down the mall’s main corridor to Nordstroms.  She wanted to get in line before it went all the way to the food court.
            They were nearly to the end of the line when Jake stopped dead and yanked on Lisa’s hand.
            “Jake, what...?”  The words died in her mouth when she saw his face.  He pointed at a small alcove by Sky Jewelers, a short hall to the restrooms, and the man standing there.
            Lisa’s heart seemed to stop for just a moment, then raced in her chest. She felt her muscles tighten, her limbs go rigid as adrenaline dumped into her system, felt an urge to turn and run, and knew her sudden paralysis was the only reason she didn’t.  The man, dressed in a clown’s colorful motley, his face painted a sinister parody of good cheer waved at Lisa and Jake, then winked.  He danced an uncoordinated jig as they stood and stared.
            Lisa had never liked or disliked clowns until the recent plague of aggressively sinister clowns sighted and filmed threatening and stalking people around the country.  Now they unnerved her, and this one, standing barely twenty feet away and dancing for her, terrified her.
            Jake’s opinion of them was far definitive.  He’d hated and feared them since one visited his kindergarten class a few years back.
            “Come on mom, hurry up!”  Janet shouted back to her in irritation as another large group joined the line.
            Janet looked back at the alcove and found it empty.  The man, whoever he was, was gone now, probably back into the men’s room.  He’d played his little prank, startled a few people, and decided to change into normal clothes before his little prank pissed off someone who didn’t scare as easily as she did.
            “Mom!”
            “I’m coming,” Lisa shouted back, drawing frowns from an old couple passing her going the other direction.
            She checked the alcove one last time as she passed it.  It was still empty.  The clown was gone.

***

They waited for fifteen minutes before Janet and Chloe convinced her to let them go to Forever 21.  Janet had no more than twenty dollars of pocket money, and she didn’t think Chloe could have much more than that, so she supposed they couldn't do too much damage.  They returned a half hour later, when the line had finally started to move.  The young couple standing behind them with their pudgy, wailing toddler groused about people cutting the line, but shut up when Lisa turned to regard them.
            A few minutes later the young mother left the line herself, and Lisa watcher her drag her screeching progeny into the alcove by Sky Jewelers.
            She resisted the urge to call the woman back, remembering the clown that had teased her and Jake before vanishing into one of the restrooms, but held her tongue. 
            Jake seemed to have forgotten all about their earlier scare, and was actually smiling now, stepping out of line and jumping in place to catch a view of the jolly fat man.
            “Don’t be a spazz,” Janet said.
            Lisa sighed and waited for the bickering to start again, but Jake only ignored his sister, then cheered when Santa stood up for a moment to stretch. 
            A small group left Santa’s staging area, a throne wide enough to accommodate the big man and three or four children, surrounded by stacked faux gifts with a Santa’s Workshop backdrop and managed by a pair of suspiciously tall elves.  Another small group moved in to take their place, and the line moved forward again.
            They were nearly there, only a few families between them and, Lisa had to admit, a convincingly jolly Santa, when the man behind them screamed.

***

“Is this yours?”
            It was the clown again, standing beside the young man and holding out the toddler who had been blatting behind them not too long ago.  Lisa remembered the child’s mother taking him to the bathroom, her brief spasm of shock and her suppressed desire to call the woman back.  The woman was absent, and a wet splash of blood across the clown’s colorful blouse and the toddler’s white bibs suggested she wouldn’t be rejoining them.
            The clown held the child, awake but silent, passive, out and pressed him into his father’s arms.
            The young father screamed again, clutched his child and backed away until his back hit the wall.
            Laughing, the clown pulled a long, bloody blade from under his belt and held it up.
            More screams, the line to see Santa broke apart and scattered.  Janet and Chloe were already halfway to the food court, but Jake seemed rooted to the ground next to his mother. 
            The clown made a half-hearted jab at them with the knife as he walked past, screamed with laughter as Jake flinched back and tripper over his own feet, then made his way to Santa’s Workshop.
            One of the elves tripped and tangled himself in the red ropes and chrome stanchions trying to get away.  The other picked up a large, decorative candy cane and held it like a baseball bat, ready to swing as the killer clown closed in.  Santa himself seemed unable to rise from his throne.  He stared at approaching death with wide eyes and a gaping mouth.
            “Ho, ho, ho!”  The clown screamed as he crossed the threshold into Santa’s Workshop. 
            The elf with the candy cane, a young woman, Lisa saw, only a teenager, took her swing.  The giant candy cane broke over the clown’s face, smashing his bulbous nose flat across his cheek.  Blood sprayed, but the clown seemed not to care.  One more stride took him to her, and he planted the knife in her gut, lifting her off the ground by the hilt, over his head, casting her back over his shoulder.
            “Don’t go anywhere,” he said to Santa, pointing the knife in his direction.
            “Ahhhhhh!”  Santa said.  “Hnnnngh!  Hrrrgh ... ahhhhhhh!”
            Laughing, the clown started kicking and stomping the other elf, still on the floor and tangled in red rope.
            A man from the crowd closed in from behind and grabbed the clown around the middle, pinning his arms to his side.  He was short but widely built, and Lisa could see chorded muscles bulge beneath a tight-fitting shirt.
            “Someone call 911!  Someone call 9-fucking-11!”  The man screamed as she struggled to pull the clown away from his bleeding victim.
            The thing that happened next was a problem, not for Lisa, who was there and knew what she’d seen, but for Detective Flynn, who thought she’d lost her goddamn mind.  The clown’s head spun around until it faced the man holding him, and suddenly, like a good special effect in a horror movie, the clown’s back became his front.  The clown, taller by a head than the man holding him, bent over, his face darting downward, and bit the man’s nose off.
            The man let go and ran away screaming, blood flowing from the new hole in his face.
            The clown spit his nose out, cackled mad laughter, and went back to work on the groaning elf.
            Santa had found his guts and his feet.   He charged, bellowing, at the clown.
            Lisa finally regained her senses, then her voice.
            “Run!”  She shoved Jake behind her, heard him hit the ground with a cry.  “Run!”
            The clown looked up at her, directly into her eyes, and grinned.  His grin was inhumanly wide.  His teeth little white arrowheads of bone, like shark’s teeth.
            Santa hit him from the side, knocked him to the floor, and began to punch.
            The clown only laughed, then rammed his long blade up into the underside of Santa’s jowly chin.  Rammed it all the way to the hilt, then a little beyond.  Blood gushed down over the clown’s hand and ran in smaller streams from beneath Santa’s cap.  The clown stood, lifting Santa’s twitching body up by the handle of the long blade stuck in his head.  Lifted him as if he weighed no more than a large rag doll.
            Without realizing she’d meant to do anything but run away, Lisa found herself picking up a broken chrome stanchion, lifting the wide, weighted end above her head like a club.  She brought it down on the clown’s head.  Brought it down with a scream of horror and rage. 
            The clown stumbled, but kept his feet.  He cast Santa aside, knife and all, and focused on her.
            “Would you like a balloon animal, little girl?”  He patted the crotch of his baggy clown coveralls, and a moment later something inside them inflated and bulged against the cloth like a long balloon.  “I’m quite good with it.”
            Lisa backed away, then her feet tangled in the red rope, and she fell backward.
            She saw the clown’s clutching hand reach for her and miss as she tumbled backward, and for a moment she knew only pain and panic as the impact blasted the air from her lungs.  When her breath returned and her vision cleared the clown stood above her, bent almost double at the waste, his face inching closer to hers.  His mouth was open, pointed teeth bared, blood running from his split scalp over his face.  He wiped it away, and she saw that the white pancake makeup didn’t run or smear, as if it were not makeup at all, but his real skin.
            “Or maybe I’ll just eat you.”
            Lisa screamed, and though she didn’t realize it until later, wet per pants a little.
            Then the clown grunted and paused his sharp downward lean.  His mouth closed, and he looked down to consider the length of sharp steel that protruded from his chest.  No more than an inch or so, Lisa saw, but when he stood upright again and turned toward his newest attacker, she saw the blade he’d used on Santa now plunged to the hilt in the center of his back.
            The clown took one stumbling step toward the man who had saved Lisa, fell to his knees, then pitched forward onto the floor next to Santa.
            The man bent and quickly yanked the knife free, held it ready in case the clown got up again.
            But the clown was gone.  Nothing left but a smear of blood where he’d landed.

***

Detective Flynn returned with his coffee and regarded Lisa.  The notebook was back where he’d left it.
            “Anything you’d like to add?”
            Lisa shook her head.  She was tired and wanted to go home.  Wanted a long, hot bath and a change of clothes.  Wanted to begin the long and probably futile process of trying to forget this day ever happened.
            “We’re sticking with the clown story then?”
            “You have my statement,” she said, and a thought occurred to her.  Something she would have thought of much sooner if she’d been in a better frame of mind.  “You can’t tell me this mall doesn’t have video surveillance.  You probably have the whole thing on film from a half-dozzen angles.”
            Probably just as many cell phone videos too, she thought, but didn’t say.  She’d be surprised if this wasn’t already uploaded to the Internet. 
            Detective Flynn nodded.
            “There are, and we have a detective reviewing them now, but we still have a problem.”
            “And what’s that?”
            “No fucking clown,” he said.
            Lisa grinned a little at that, but there was very little humor in it.
            “He was my problem when he was here and stabbing people,” she said.  “He’s your problem now.”
            Detective Flynn conceded her point with silence, gathering up his notebook and coffee. 
            “Are you finished?  Can I go now?”
            “You can go now,” he said.  “Expect to hear from me again.”
            “I’m sure I will,” Lisa said, and left him.
            She had her own shit to handle before retiring to a long, hot bath.  Jake and Janet were going to be nervous wrecks, and she’d have to tell Chloe’s mother what had happened.  The parking lot was bound to be a riot of reporters and looky-loos, and if she didn’t get on the road quickly she was going to hit rush hour traffic.
            And she hadn’t even managed to get her husband’s Christmas present.


About the author:
Brian Knight lives in Washington State with his family and the voices in his head.  His favorite things include coffee, writing outdoors on warm summer nights, and Hawaiian shirts.

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