Little Kasey Sampke rubbed his sweaty palms together and stared at the group of presents that sat underneath the tree with hungry anticipation. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes ranging from the tall and thin one to the house-shaped one buried in the corner. One he even noticed appeared rather soft.
It bothered him slightly that they were all wrapped in either one of two different designs of wrapping paper. One was blue and showed a happy snowman on it. The other was a plain dark red color with no happy elves or reindeer designs; just obnoxious gold diamond shapes plastered all over. He much preferred the snowman one better, if he had to choose.
Kasey glanced over to the table next to the tree and reached for one of the chocolate chip cookies he had laid out for Santa the night before. He crushed it in his sweaty palms, but it didn’t really bother him.
He noticed that all four cookies he had set out last night were still there, untouched, right next to his Mickey Mouse cup that was half-empty with milk. Even though, he was still sure that Santa came last night. His mother had said he was a fuckin naïve idiot for doing it, but he was pretty sure that Santa would like chocolate chip cookies and milk. That is what he was told at school and by all his friends. Whatever, it didn’t matter; maybe he just wasn’t in the mood. Looking at the other three cookies sitting there, and the milk getting gross and thick, Kasey figured that he was wrong.
Guess the commercials might be right, he thought. Santa probably prefers 7-up and Oreos.
Whatever, he convinced himself that Santa was grateful for the offer, even if it wasn’t what he liked. Four cookies that you didn’t like were better than nothing, right? Yeah, that’s right. It was the thought that counted. Why else were there presents beneath the tree? His mom sure didn’t put them there. No way.
His left foot began to tingle, and he started to feel the needles. He tried hard to move quietly, slowly and sure, as to not wake the mother, but he ended up kicking the leg of the coffee table. Pain shot through the needles in his toes and he bit down on his lip hard. He glanced at the couch across the room through his squinted eyes. His mother was buried under blankets, not moving. Her right leg hung off the end and her arm was cocked over the edge. Her face was under a mountain of blanket.
Gotta be quiet.
He knew what would happen if she caught him near the tree, making noise, waking her up early, making noise. A red cheek and no Christmas, that’s what. A real loud “What the FUCK are you doing?”, and he would be in his room in tears like all the other times.
He killed the pain in his leg with a bloody lip, fresh from his teeth gnawing down to stifle the gasp, and soon all that was left was the salty taste in his mouth and a dull ache in his mouth and leg. He heard the floorboards creak under him and down the silent sun bleached hall. For a second, he noticed the lack of deafening snores that normally filled the house were non-existent this morning. There were times when Kasey wondered how the heck his mother could be completely oblivious to the sounds coming out of his father as he slept. Even in the living room, two walls and a door away, it seemed to rattle the windows. Yet the slightest squeak of the fridge door opening was justification for yelling out through make-up caked shut eyes. Scolding and throwing and hitting. Unbelievable. Yet those sounds were not there. Not this morning. Whatever.
He looked back to the gifts. Scanned them over with the precision of a doctor, or a hound sniffing for the score. One came to his attention, and the others seemed to blur out of focus. Not the long one he imagined to be a long rifle; it lost focus. Not the huge flat one against the wall he thought was a mirror or a painting; it was already blurred. The only one in focus, and only one he was dying to open was in the back, hiding.
Kasey couldn’t really tell why it was so fascinating. It wasn’t really anything special; it wasn’t large, or even too small. It wasn’t really noticeable at all, really. It was square, hiding under pine needles and other gifts. The tangle of Christmas lights was under it, propping it up crookedly.
After staring at it for a moment, he realized what it was that distinguished it from the rest of the ordinary gifts: the wrapping paper.
It was neither the happy snowman nor the crappy red one with the gold diamonds. It was a new one, very clumsily wrapped too, from the looks. The paper looked warped in areas as well, almost as if it had been wet recently, but had dried. It was black paper and printed all over the blackness was a chalk drawing of Santa. But not happy Santa from the cartoons and pictures and stories. No no, this Santa had a face that resembled a skull, with no real eyes in the sockets and with sharp, jagged teeth. He did manage to have a beard in the drawing, however it was not the full thick beard of a healthy eating Santa, rather it was a ragged looking mess of tangles scribbled over the bony jaw line.
Kasey didn’t want to look at it any more. He knew for a fact that Santa was real and that he was one of the good guys, like Superman and Jesus. It made him mad in an odd way to see someone portray Santa in this manner. It would be like making the Easter Bunny into some hideous monster that ate the bones of children and drank their blood. No way.
Kasey glanced back to his mother. She hadn’t yet stirred. He wondered why she liked to bury her head in blankets like that. He imagined that it would be hard to breathe with her mouth and nose inhibited like that.
He looked back to the gift. The urge to reach back there and shake the heck out of it was great. The urge to tear the hideous paper from the box and rip it open was even greater. His eyes were wide in wonder. A single bead of sweat ran down his forehead on in his eyes.
He leaned in closer for a better look at it. His curiosity burned in his chest.
He saw the tag was labeled “Santa” in a hard scratch that looked like it was carved into the card as opposed to written. He noticed also that there were dark red colored spots splattered over areas of it. Small beads began to run further down his neck, and he carefully sat back. Kasey looked out the sliding glass door to his left and saw the gray clouds had darkened since he awoke. The blackness of the clouds hid the burning sun and small raindrops began to pelt the cement in the backyard. He turned his attention back towards the tree.
Should I wait till they get up? he thought. Maybe I could get them up.
No. No way.
He imagined himself walking into his father’s room and shaking him awake to open presents on Christmas Day. To open one really odd present under the tree that he didn’t think they put there. Yeah right. He almost felt the cold hard fist fly through the air and nail him on the arm, or worse, in the cheek. Then the, “Go back to fuckin bed.” that would follow.
No, he couldn’t go wake them up for that. He had to think of another way.
His eyes wandered to all the tags that were taped to the gift, next to the bow. All of them were written in the same fine script that he knew to be his mothers. Some read “Dad”, or “Mother”, or “Mom and Dad”. One even said “Your Parents”. But not the one in the back.
Maybe just one? he wondered. Sure that would work. Could we be a little more selfish?
He could see his mother darting up the second he put a finger on any of the presents. He could see her ripping it from his grip and tossing it across the room. Why? He would cry. To return it! She would yell. Where? He would ask. To the fucking North Pole! She would yell at him.
He kept staring at it.
Nah, forget it.
Kasey stood up, intending to walk back to his bedroom, when he stopped, dropped, and almost dove for the gift in the back.
Almost, but not quite. He quietly sat back down, reached for it and ripped it from under the tree, as quietly as he could muster.
Realizing the noise he made, he looked over to his sleeping mother.
Not a movement.
Good, he thought.
He slid under the tree and reached back behind it. The pine needles poked his short stubby arms and his sweaty hands gripped the box. He felt a cold moistness in his palms, and ignored it. He pulled and slid it along the carpet towards him. He noticed at the bottom of the box, the wrapping paper was wadded in a knot, and looked as if it had been gripped there.
As he was pulling it near him, the bedroom door to his father’s room slammed shut.
He froze into place and was unable to do much of anything but tremble. His chest was hot, waiting.
He waited a moment longer before relaxing. His body felt cold momentarily, sweat pouring down his chest. He waited, waited, half expecting the shoe to come flying from the hall and hit him in the head.
Nothing. The silence was overwhelming. He debated again.
Should I? he thought. He almost felt the fist at the thought.
No, just forget it. The curiosity burned, and ate at his soul.
He looked at the wrapping paper, looked at the evil Santa glaring at him, daring him to open it up, find out what’s inside, no big deal.
He reached out for it and picked it up. He could feel a single weighted object inside, felt it roll from side to side as he tilted the box. It was a little heavy. He shook it near his ear. He felt a moist slosh as it bumped against the side of the box.
He began to breathe harder, every breath echoing down the hall. He wondered where the snoring was.
He grabbed it quickly, finally losing the battle, and ripped the paper apart, scratching away the evil Santa violently. When it was gone, what remained was an ordinary white box.
Kasey looked all over for a name, but found none. He hesitated a moment before attempting to slide open the lid. He noticed more of the same red splotches splattered around the edges, running down the sides and streaking the white. Hand prints were on two edges where it was grasped, by rather large hands.
Paint? he thought, turning the box over. The thing inside squished around.
He quickly looked over his shoulder, waiting for something. Nothing was there. He turned back to the gift and opened the lid.
He pried it with his nails, and noticed that the red was still wet, and it got under his nails. Kasey thought it looked a lot like when his nose bled. He remembered the box of cookies he reached into without asking, and remembered the flash of pain that exploded from his nose when his mother smacked him. He remembered watching the whirlpool of blood as it washed away in the shower water. He didn’t like the look of it at all. Warmness emanated from the box.
His eyes widened, the sight almost taking him back. Putting his hands along the side of the box, he felt it was warm. He flipped the lid completely out of the way and thrust his hands into the box blindly. His hands came onto wet, tangled hair.
He gripped the thing in the box and pulled it out.
Rather than drop what he held in his hands in the complete and utter disbelief he was overcome with, he dug his nails in deeper, gripped it tighter, holding it in a sweaty vice.
Familiar blonde hair tangled in between his fingers, but not clean and soft, rather wet and red, tangled from sitting and crusting. The eyes were open, staring blankly forward, through Kasey’s own, and he felt the old scolding about to come out of her mouth, wanting it this time. It did not come however, and he just stared into his mother’s dead eyes. Red and white ivory pierced the area beneath the mouth, and stuck sharply out, with soft jelly like material dripping into the box. There were claw-like marks on her face and forehead and looked to have been dug all the way to the skull, leaving deep indentations on the bone.
He stared, frozen in place, numb and loose. His body seemed to float away the way it sometimes does in his dreams. The gift in his hands dropped to the floor with an insignificant splash on the carpet, and he drifted back. Turning slowly, he saw the wetness beneath the blankets covering what was left of his mother.
The noodles that were his legs shook away from the couch and he stumbled down the hall, fell, and then crawled, pulling his body forward with his nails. His head pushed the door to his dad’s room open. He clawed his way into the room and pulled his self on to the bed. His dad was face down, a pillow and a large comforter covered him from his knees up. He pulled the covers off and fell away from the mess that lied there.
Above, there came a loud crash on the roof, making the walls shake. He floated away from what was left of his father, knowing, feeling it's presence. He scooted down the hall, pushing his way with his knees. He stopped next to the cracked hall door, and peeked out in to the living room.
It was Santa Claus, the other Santa, the one he didn’t want to believe in. Its face was a pale, shiny white, and its eyes were red. In its left gloved hand, it gripped his father’s head, hanging by the hair on his head, dangling from its clawed fingers. It stared into the hallway, seeing Kasey through the cracked door. Its other hand lifted and the index claw pointed and curled inward. It wanted him.
Kasey didn’t move, however he was pulled inward by something, and his sanity drifted behind him, lost in the hallway forever. He saw its jagged animal teeth as it barred them at him, almost smiling. Santa looked almost happy. Its eyes glowed red, and in the center was a flat, opaque black that led nowhere.
Its hand lowered and the white glove opened, stained red on the palm. Kasey drifted until he was within a few inches.
Santa’s large clawed hands engulfed Kasey’s sweaty palms. Kasey stared forward, void of any thought.
Santa laughed loudly, it’s stomach jiggling in a very un-jolly manner. It tightened its grip on Kasey’s hand, breaking several bones. Its voice growled and the laughter filled everywhere.
Within seconds, they disappeared.