Written by James McCann
Danny woke up at two in the morning and was momentarily distracted by something he couldn't quite put his finger on. It took him only a few seconds (most of them he was still somewhat asleep through) to realise that Alyssa was not next to him. He thought that she'd probably hidden extra presents about the house and was quickly and quietly putting them under the tree in the living room.
Funny, he thought. Thirty years ago it would have taken me forever to get to sleep, and then I wouldn't have woken up if a bomb had gone off.
That was then. For all the joy and magic of Christmas as a child, it was nothing compared to waking up with Alyssa. Only she'd woken up early and left him alone for the time being, and as good as it felt to stretch out like a giant starfish, he missed her.
'We'll see,' Danny said softly to the dark room as he got out bed. The room was cold compared to the warmth of the bed; Danny found himself reaching for the dressing gown that he hardly ever wore these days, and then headed to the living room.
He was hoping to catch Alyssa in the act of placing the presents, but the living room was cold and dark. The window was slightly open, and in the half-light thrown off by the moon, he saw a slick on the windowsill. There was a new, long present (so he thought) beneath the tree. The further into the room he got, moving slowly and cautiously - and not knowing quite why - the smell of copper crept up ever stronger
'Alyssa?' Danny whispered into the darkened room, not knowing if he wanted her to answer or not. 'You here, hon?'
In a way.
Alyssa was sat in the armchair, facing the window. Here silhouette was still. The closer Danny got, the stronger the smell of copper became, until his feet stepped into a sticky puddle.
Danny slowly reached across her, hoping that she was only sleeping but knowing that she wasn't. He pushed the toggle, lighting up the room. Alyssa had a long strand of tinsel wrapped tightly around her slender neck. Her eyes bulged out above purple bags. Her tongue protruded from pale grey lips like a bloated, dry carpet. Her right arm was missing from the socket, and her stomach had been slashed open.
Staggering back as though having taken a powerful blow, Danny was vaguely aware of a dark red movement from the corner of his eyes, but was unable to take his attention from the corpse of the woman he loved. His mouth was moving, but he was unable to make any sound but for a low whining. His knees felt like water and he knew that he was going to fall over at any moment.
The red moving in Danny's peripheral vision got closer, and this time he was able to tear his gaze from Alyssa's body.
Standing not too far from him, Danny saw a man dressed as Santa-
no no no not a man not dressed as no no no
and holding a hatchet. Both the blade and the red suit were stained with the dried blood of what seemed like hundreds of other victims.
'Who are you?' Danny asked, the world swimming before his eyes. Any moment he knew he was going to pass out, and it couldn't come quickly enough.
'You know who I am, Daniel.' The Santa said, his voice flat and missing any emotion. He continued to move forward, almost stalking Danny. 'You know.'
'She was on the naughty list.' Santa said. There was no malice or hate in his voice, it was just what had to be done to the bad girls and bad boys.
'But...' Danny's voice broke. The tears streamed down his face. He was only comforted by the thought this psycho Santa was going to kill him; that Danny wouldn't have to live the rest of his life without Alyssa, with the pain of having lost her.
'No, Daniel, you made the Good Boys list.' Santa wiped the fresh blood from the blade onto the arm of the chair, and then headed for the door.
As the man in the red suit was leaving, Danny found his voice, and although it was shaky and breaking, he whispered, 'I'll find you.'
Santa paid little attention. He had, over the centuries, heard it a million times. The loved ones who caught him threatened him, and he was sure that at that precise moment they probably meant it, too. However, all any of them had needed to do was behave badly for a year, they'd have made the naughty list, they could have easily seen him again.
Well, he had no time to dwell on what might have been. The hour was growing late, he was against the clock, and there were a lot more names on the naughty list to work through before sun-up.
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