And now, we continue with our story. This being Christmas Eve 'n all, I figured it fits right in with the festivities . . .
“G’night, Gram,” he managed to say, and spied the Santa treats on the mantle. At least if he got hungry later, he wouldn’t have far to go, he thought. After the soup, could Grandma’s cookies and milk be any worse?
He reached down, unzipped his book bag and pulled out his penlight and a dog-eared copy of Fangoria. He clicked on the slim flashlight and began flipping through the pages of the magazine. “Santy Claws,” he said out loud, and snickered. He stopped at a picture of a zombie, covered in gore and stalking a young, obviously frightened female victim, probably as its next meal.
Fango was great. He loved all the newer horror flicks and didn’t care at all for the old stuff. The more blood and guts, the better. The issue he was reading was quite a few months old, as he had to be careful not have too many of them laying around. Mom and Dad thought they were “awful”, even “pornographic”. Jeez, you would have thought they were Playboys or something the way they carried on. They missed the whole point that it was fun to get scared. Anyway, in the middle of reading a DVD review his eyes began to feel heavy and he drifted off to sleep.
The sensation of something scurrying across his blanket woke him up. What the hell was that? he thought, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He wondered if one of the stray cats that Grandma was always feeding had snuck in and camped down on his warm covers. It didn’t feel as heavy as a cat, though. It felt smaller.
He thought he heard a noise, and sure enough, Grandma’s shadow once again showed itself at the fireplace. He couldn’t exactly tell what she was doing this time as the logs had burned down to faint embers and cast little light. He figured she probably had come down to eat the milk and cookies and hang up the stockings. Maybe there was still a part of Grams that was a little normal after all. He conceded the fact that she did try to do what she could to make him feel a little like a grandson. Besides, it was more than Mom and Dad had done for him recently.
She disappeared back up the stairway and what was left of the light stretched a distorted shadow along the wall of the staircase. That is Gram, he thought. Had to be. Nothing moved that slow.
The room soon returned again to near darkness. He focused on the ever-faintly glowing embers in the fireplace. They were making a crackling sound as they slowly burned themselves out.
After a few minutes passed, he thought he heard the crackling sound joined by another, fainter, but no less distinct noise. He listened closer for a second or two as the sound continued, and his very creative imagination decided it was similar to crabs scuttling across rocks, like he’d seen at a recent trip to the tide pools.
Okay, it definitely wasn’t a cat. But what was it?
Soon, the scuttling was combined with a skittering -- yes, just like a bunch of scarab beetles would sound like crawling along a brick wall. This is getting kind of creepy, he thought, and let himself succumb to the shiver that had been pent-up inside him for the last few minutes. With that, he was acutely aware of another noise -- growing louder and more distinguishable now -- that sounded like a chittering, like these things were ... communicating with each other.
This is frigging insane, he thought. Could it just be that the radio was still on? Could it only be that the volume had been turned down and not off, so what he was hearing was just static? He suddenly felt scared, and this time it wasn’t so fun. Still, he was dying to find out what the hell was making all this noise.
“G-Gram?” he called out weakly. “Is that y-you?” His ears were met with more of the noise, now growing in volume and sounding like it was emptying into the room from some vast, gaping hole in the wall, traveling restless, determined.
Okay, Bill, he thought. Time to buck up and grow some cajones. Maybe a couple of squirrels have crawled down the chimney and invaded the living room. But then, squirrels didn’t come out at night. What was it that sounded like this, but comes out at night?
He mustered what there was of his bravery and groped around for his penlight. Probably was Santa Claus. After all these years, he’d finally find out Santa was real. Ah, c’mon, ya moron, that’s ridiculous. Can’t be Santa. Has’ta be Grandma ... or maybe Gramps finally got up and was traipsing around.
“Gramps?” he called again. “Are you there?”
His answer came unexpectedly in the form of still another noise, that of rasping, tiny teeth gnashing away at something hard and brittle. Suddenly there followed a crash of glass and porcelain. This sound he knew was coming from the area of the fireplace.
His blood began pounding at his temples. Beads of sweat erupted into rivulets down his forehead. His fever was now long forgotten. A new sickness was upon him, and it felt frost-cold and ice-numbing ... this was pure, unadulterated, high-octane fear.
“Oh, God, I think I know what you are!” His voice trembled with the realization.
He rose up from the sofa, frantically searching in the dark. “Where’s my goddamn flashlight?” he whined.
He found it, clicked it on, and stabbed it in the direction of the fireplace.
In the quavering light he finally saw them ... and knew he’d been right.
Rats. Dozens of them. Maybe a hundred or so. Everywhere. All over the floor, the furniture, even the fireplace hearth and mantle. The living room had been invaded.
Transfixed by the sudden light, they all seemed to stop and stare back at him, reflecting tiny, blood-red eyes. They seemed impudent and irritated like he’d interrupted them in the middle of something. Then he saw what they had been doing.
If ever he had felt true horror in his life, it was then. He felt his ears uncontrollably rise up the side of his head and he could feel every hair on his body stand on end.
The rats continued staring at him for another moment, then returned to their task ...
... and the scream that had been stuck in his throat finally found its way out.
It wasn’t really the sight of the rats themselves that had sent him bolt upright from the sofa and running headlong for the front door, then howling and shrieking out into the night in nothing more than his shorts. It wasn’t even the fact that they looked scarier in real-life than in any horror magazine. It was what they were feeding on ... and it wasn’t the cookies and milk.
Grandma had come down to hang up the Christmas stockings, except they weren’t the usual, red and white striped cotton stockings, and they weren’t even the homemade, felt stockings with all the glued-on glitter and sparkling sequins ...
... these stockings were tanned, wrinkled, and parchment-dry, almost like a dog’s chew toy -- and there, on one of them that was swinging back and forth from the mantle like the pendulum on an old clock -- was the unmistakable image of a mermaid -- smiling and waving.
[Copyright (C) John Navroth. All rights reserved. Do not copy or distribute without permission.]
SCARY CHRISTMAS TO ALL
AND TO ALL
A GOOD FRIGHT!
AND TO ALL
A GOOD FRIGHT!