“‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring…”
This was not entirely true, thought the Angel, reciting the poem as he prowled through the magnificent, but decaying, old building.
“I am stirring!” His manic shout echoed through the hallways and corridors. “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future.”
He laughed inwardly, the silent laughter seeming to resound around the spacious stone hall. His perambulations brought him to the attic; the room he was looking for. His hand touched the doorknob, caressing it, cherishing it, before he went into this special room, his creative effort, his shrine.
The room was candle-lit and almost perfect. The Angel looked proudly upon his handiwork. The light from a thousand candles danced about and illuminated the walls. The scene was set. By morning, it would be complete.
Moving to the turret window, he looked through the leaded glass. Snowflakes had begun to flutter and fall in the soft evening light. The Angel pressed his nose to the glass and took solace in the elemental iciness of the window against him. His eyes searched the snow-clad town square. As pretty as a Christmas card.
Across the square, the carollers were beginning to gather.
Tom and Alice were the first to arrive. They came up Leversfield Central Street, throwing snowballs at each other and laughing like young children. Tom, his striped scarf flying, took pleasure in knowing that his witty college humor both amused and irritated Alice, a serious undergrad, dark-haired, intelligent and beautiful.
“Hey Alice,” Tom called, “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”
“What are you talking about, you jerk?” The way Alice tossed her hair aside from her face had conquered many a heart, but Tom was not prepared to show that his was in any way affected by her throwaway gesture. However, he was affected. Greatly.
“It’s the way snowballs bounce off you without melting.” His tone was earnest, his eyes laughing.
“What?” Again, there was a touch of irritation in her good humor.
“It’s because you’re an ice queen that snowballs just don’t melt on you.” The punch line delivered, Tom moved in.
“You’re a jerk-off, Tom,” she said, taking the insult to heart.
“Hey Alice, it was a joke, for Chrissakes.”
“Implying I’m frigid is your idea of a joke?” She spat at him.
“So, show me it’s not true, Alice,” he taunted. “Never mind the snowballs. Melt me instead.”
She shot him a look of disdain, and then in an apparent change of heart, came up, put her mittened hands around his neck and kissed him fiercely on the lips.
“Hey you two, break it up. Break it up,” Joe Blue said as he shuffled up Main Street towards them with his brother, Brad. “We’ve come to carol, not canoodle.”
Brad Blue was the taller of the two twins. Needless to say, in the youthful circles of Leversfield, Joe and Brad were known as the Blues Brothers.
“Anyway,” put in Alice, “Tom was merely demonstrating how to melt an ice queen. Weren’t you Tom?”
The Blues Brothers whooped, yelled, nudged each other and fell apart.
“Ouch!” said Tom. “You’re going to let me smart on that forever, aren’t you?”
“Yep!” she replied smugly.
Joe, practical as ever, started dishing out the carol sheets, and Brad lit the lanterns.
“We’re still waiting on Mary and Sally to come,” Joe said.
The Angel looked at the gathered company. There were two missing. Two girls. Not that gender mattered. It was what he did with them after their death that was important. As soon as all the carollers were assembled, it would be time to get into his outdoor costume. It was cold, even for Angels. This Angel in particular needed to be snug and warm. He liked to hear his own blood singing in his ears and vital organs as he deprived mere mortals of theirs.
Sally Groom, a diminutive blonde with doll-like features, approached them from across the square. She lived in the house nearest to the dreaded Peavey Mansion. The mansion stood shuttered and desolate for ten years or more, ever since the horrible happenings there shocked the town. Leversfield citizens had come to terms with the dreadful matricide and the institutionalisation of Terry Peavey for slaying his mother, but the building stood as a grim reminder. Some thought the building should be demolished. Others believed it might stir too many ghosts.
“I don’t know how she can live next to that creepy place,” Alice commented as they watched Sally draw nearer.
“She doesn’t have a choice. It’s her home. Her parents’ home. Why should they move?” Tom’s voice of reason niggled Alice.
“Well, I would,” she snapped. “I’d make my parents move. I wouldn’t live next to the house where that creepy kid killed his mother at Christmas, just because she made him sing carols.”
“Hi guys!” Sally shouted breathlessly as she approached. “Mary rang. She can’t make it. ‘Flu and all.”
“That’s our alto missing then,” Joe complained.
“That’s all right,” said Alice cattily, “Tom will sing alto. He seems to be able to do anything tonight.”
“Mary did say to call in on our way round town,” Sally said. “If we sing for her, she’ll provide some liquid refreshment.”
“I think we’ll be needing that by the time we finish,” Brad said, looking up. “There’s going be some snow flying tonight.”
They looked up at the lowering sky that hung threateningly above the streetlights of Leversfield.
“Let’s go then,” Joe suggested. “Let’s do as much of the town as we can before the weather heads us off at the pass.”
Somebody else was looking at the weather. The Angel decided that it might be as well to wait for a while. Poor visibility might prove to be an asset. Besides, if Mary Loomis had decided not to join the carol singers, then she must be at home, having a cosy evening in. It could prove extremely profitable to pay Mary a visit. As he left the house, hooded and defended against the December weather, he caught sight of the carollers just turning off the square into Linter Avenue. The strains of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ came drifting through the cold rarefied air.
Mary Loomis was entirely pissed at the situation. Her mother and father had gone out for Christmas drinks with friends, her younger sister was sleeping over with a school pal and Mary was housebound, the victim of a heavy cold, verging on influenza, which prevented her from joining the carol singing.
In any event, she felt terrible. She ached all over, her throat hurt so much that every time she swallowed, it was like ingesting razor blades and her head throbbed with the ache of the damned. She was currently swallowing a hot lemon and paracetamol drink and looking at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her pretty brown freckled face was flushed and puffy, her eyes looked rheumy and distant and the space between her mouth and nose was red and sore.
In short, Mary Loomis looked a mess. Which was a bigger reason for not going carol singing than the way she felt.
The front doorbell rang, making Mary’s heart leap with anticipation. They had come to persuade her to go after all. And do you know what? She might just forget her illness and go out with them. Anything was better than being under house arrest, feeling miserable.
She bounded down the stairs and yanked the front door open.
There was nobody there. The front step was empty and snow swirled mockingly around the porch light.
“Guys?” she called. “What are you playing at? You are supposed to sing me carols. ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ might be appropriate under the circumstances. But don’t try to spook me. My evening is going to be bad enough without your stupid tricks.”
A thin reedy voice that she didn’t recognise began to sing to her.
“In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan…”
She stepped out from the house on to the porch. Gusts of icy wind made her pull her cardigan tighter around herself. She shivered, not entirely from the cold.
“Tom? Is that you singing in that stupid voice?”
It didn’t sound like Tom. It sounded somehow… hollow and ghoulish. She walked onto the path, steadying herself by placing one hand against the porch strut.
She never even saw the Angel as he came like a bat out of hell, robes flying, from behind the hedgerow. She didn’t feel the steel of the sharp knife slice through her. There was just confusion, and darkness. Her cold symptoms ceased to bother her. She collapsed into the Angel’s arms, her eyes wide and pointlessly staring; the rest of her body limp.
The Angel held his prize, amazed at his own efficiency as a killing machine. He would like to have felt her life ebbing away after he killed her. He would have liked to see her eyes questioning, pleading; to have seen the words on her lips, “Why have you done this to me?” However, there was no time for reflection. Mary Loomis would be the first to join the party. He had to get her back to his place and then go in search of the others. As he carried her effortlessly through the freezing night air, a trail of blood in the snow followed him every step of the way. He smiled.
The carollers were not meeting with a large amount of success. Only two doors had opened to them so far.
The first was Lieutenant Briggs, who had known them all since their births. His cheery words and the festive drink he gave them uplifted their spirits and made them feel it was worthwhile carrying on.
The feel-good factor was not destined to last long.
When the second door opened, the blood froze in their veins. Standing there was Crazy Davy, a one-time sidekick of the ill-fated, mother-killing Terry Peavey. The carollers were mesmerised by the grotesque sight of Crazy Davy, his staring, wayward eyes, his cadaverous complexion and the saliva that dribbled from both sides of his mouth.
“You know about carols, do you?” Davy strangely emitted a voice that had lost both its communication and reason.
“The holly and the ivy…” sang the small choir.
“He can hear you a-singin’ them carols. He don’t forget.”
“When they are both full grown…”
“You know who I be talking about don’t you?”
“Of all the trees that are in the wood…”
“Terry Peavey is back in town! Why don’t you go and sing your carols to him?” he shouted. He then addressed himself menacingly to Sally. “You need to watch yourself, girlie,” he said in a malevolent whisper. “You’re little. You’re the same sort of size and frame as his mother was. That puts you in danger. That makes you like her.”
Crazy Davy retreated into his house and slammed the door. Moving curtains suggested that he was still watching them.
Sally threw herself headlong at the closed door and beat her tiny fists against it. “Weirdo Freak!”
“Hey Sal.” Joe approached her and she collapsed in tears, enveloped in his big arms. “It’s O.K. That’s exactly what he is. A weirdo. A freak. The time he spent with Terry Peavey turned his mind. He became obsessed with him. Like his slave or something. Or so my old man says.”
“Where’s Brad?” asked Tom suddenly.
They all looked around. There was no sign of Brad Blue. The street was empty
“It’s a hell of a time for him to be playing practical jokes,” Alice whispered bitterly.
“Now hang on just a minute, Alice. It’s not Brad’s style to play practical jokes like this.” Joe defended his twin brother. “Equally, it’s not like him to run out on people.”
“You’re right, that’s more in Tom’s line,” Alice returned brightly.
Tom said nothing in retaliation. He was too disturbed by Brad’s disappearance.
“I suggest we quit needling each other and look for Brad,” Tom suggested. “He can’t have gone far. Joe, you and Sally go back up the street and Alice and I will carry on down. Let’s meet outside the Peavey Mansion in twenty minutes.”
Alice started to reply, but a sudden gust of wind-borne snow took the words from her mouth. The weather was beginning to deteriorate. It was important to get moving. She grabbed Tom’s arm and they set off.
Brad was so easy, thought the Angel. Who would have thought a big strong lad like that would have offered his throat to be cut so easily? He owed it all to his old friend, Crazy Davy of course. That diversion was just what the Angel needed. While they were all concentrating on the antics of the ‘weirdo freak,’ Brad had been standing in the back. The Angel had attracted his attention by some insignificant little gesture and poor Brad had come to investigate. The Angel took him from behind, forcing his head back with his strong wrists. Brad’s neck might have been snapped before the knife sliced through his carotid artery, but no matter. The warm blood spurting over the Angel’s hands had been highly satisfying. Wasn’t it the Blues Brother’s father, Matthew Blue, who was so outspoken at the trial? Brad deserved what he got because he was the spawn of that man. And it would not be long before his brother Joe suffered a similar fate. As for that miniscule little bitch Sally Groom… well, Crazy Davy was right. She did put you in mind of his darling mother. That gave her a very special role to play.
Joe Blue and Sally Groom reached the intersection of Essington and Arlington and were undecided which way to go. Then Joe saw the blood in the snow.
“Come on!” he yelled at Sally, grabbing her hand. They set off at full pelt down Essington Avenue. Alas, they misjudged the conditions. Sally’s shoes, sensible as they were, met an icy patch on the sidewalk and down she went onto an ankle, knowing as soon as she landed that she had sprained it badly. Sobbing with pain, she called out to Joe.
“Leave me, Joe. Find Brad. But call my folks.”
“I will.” Joe scooted off up Essington Avenue, as fast as he dared on the snow and ice.
Sally’s eyes followed him.
Suddenly, a hooded figure stepped out in front of him. Sally stared in disbelief. Something slim, shiny and sharp was reflecting off the snow and the streetlights; something that seemed to penetrate Joe from just below the diaphragm and lift him off the ground. Something that caused strangled choking sounds to emerge from his mouth.
Finally, he fell to the ground and the shiny object changed color. It was now the color of Christmas berries. Drops of red fruit juice dropped from it into the snow. Joe stopped making noises and lay silent and immobile, the red stain spreading rapidly around him.
The hooded figure made its way down the street towards Sally. She whimpered to herself, unable to rise from the position in which she had fallen.
The scene was set. There were just two more imbeciles to come. The pompous Tom and the superior Alice, delivering themselves right into his hands. They would find the door of Peavey Mansion open, and there would be something to entice them in.
Then let the carolling begin in earnest!
“The… the doors are… open,” Alice said cautiously. “This place is supposed to be shuttered up. My father says…”
“Sssshhh! What’s that on the step?” Tom approached the doorway, holding Alice’s hand. She held back, frightened.
“Tom, I can’t, I don’t want to set foot inside that place.” She was shivering from cold and fear.
“Terry Peavey is in an institution for the criminally insane,” Tom reminded her. “He’s been there for ten years. Yes, he did slice his mother up for making him sing carols, which was a pretty irrational thing to do. It blew his mind and he went berserk. But he’s not here now. The place looks deserted.”
Tom pulled his hand free of Alice’s and stepped onto the porch. He picked up the items.
“Do you want proof that the others were here?” he asked, holding them up to the light of Alice’s lantern. “Look. Three carol sheets and Sally’s glove. That means they’ve been here. I don’t know why. Perhaps they were following Brad, but we’ve got to look. Don’t we, Alice?”
Again, Alice pulled back.
“You look!” she shouted. “I’m not going in. I’ve seen the horror films.”
“Well if you’ve seen the horror films, you’ll know the heroine always goes into the house. Why should you be different?”
“I want to live!” she screamed. “I want to live, Tom.”
“Go home!” he snarled unreasonably. “I’ll call you.”
Reluctantly, looking back at him, Alice trudged through the snow away from the mansion.
Tom watched her go, turned and went into the dark house.
The Angel had been watching the conversation between Tom and Alice with interest. He was angry when he saw Alice walking away. He wanted them all there and now he had a problem. Tom was walking straight into his lair, ready for the taking. The girl was another matter. If she chose to go straight home, he might lose her forever. So who would be left to appreciate his masterpiece? There was nothing else for it. He would have to take the boy first and worry about the girl later. He cleaned his blade on his robe and emerged on to the landing at the top of the staircase to meet Tom, yet another son of the Town Elders who had accused and convicted him ten years ago of the murder of his precious mother. Revenge was going to be so sweet.
Tom ascended the wide staircase cautiously. However, the whirlwind at the top of the stairs could not have been anticipated. The hooded cyclone that he felt rather than saw came at him slashing and sawing, hewing and hacking, slicing and stabbing. Tom’s eyes went first, then his throat. His clothes were effective protection against the weather, but not the Angel’s manic onslaught.
The hooded figure managed to catch Tom’s flailing body and carry it up to the attic room, where he arranged it carefully with his other trophies.
Alice had reached the other side of the square when she had a change of heart. She had put up with Tom’s joking since they were both in kindergarten together. They had gone through school and into college like brother and sister. Who always called on her when she thought the rest of the world had forgotten her? Who always comforted her and taken care of her when she was a scrawny little kid with grazed knees? Who always encouraged her when she thought her home assignments were below standard?
She let Tom go alone into that house, because of some crazy notion that she was going to be sliced up like those kids in Scream or Friday the 13th. Get a life, Alice. For God’s sake, learn to divorce horror fiction from reality. Go back and help your best buddy find the rest of your friends. Otherwise, you’ll regret your own cowardice for the rest of your life.
And so Alice turned back.
The Angel pressed his face against the window. The girl was coming back. His lips peeled back revealing his teeth and gums, until he truly resembled a living skeleton. His mission was charmed tonight, although he didn’t have time to work on Tom properly. Everything was going his way.
Alice entered the open door and ascended the stairs. The house shuttered in the winter wind as the stairs beneath her feet creaked. A chilling, wicked breeze blew from somewhere above her. The moan of the wind in the eaves resounded around her.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…
The words of the familiar Christmas poem rang through her head. She desperately needed to break the eerie silence.
“Tom?” she called aloud.
“Tom? Tom? Tom?” The word echoed throughout the building.
Then Alice saw a light. Up on the second landing, beneath a door, she saw a thin slit of flickering light. Candlelight, she guessed.
The gang was in there. They were sipping liquor and laughing at Alice’s dumbness. They were waiting for her to burst in so Tom could shout something insulting and pathetic at her. And yet there were no stifled giggles, no one calling for the others to shush, no whispered jokes. Everything was too silent. She had to see what was in that room.
She was outside the door, her hand upon the doorknob.
Well, come on Alice, don’t beat about the bush, turn the knob and burst in there.
The sight was almost beautiful. Only the gore spoiled the illusion.
A group of carollers stood in a candlelit tableau, holding their lanterns and carol sheets. There was Mary, dried blood caked about the middle of her dressing gown, and Brad with two mouths, one on his face and the other adorning his throat. Finally, Joe and Tom, propped against each other, Joe impaled through the middle and Tom a bleeding mess from top to bottom.
Alice’s mouth opened in preparation for a scream, but there was another surprise to come. A door at the far end of the attic opened and a hooded figure emerged, pushing a wheelchair in front of him. Its occupant was a small-boned, wizened creature which Alice at first took to be a little old lady, but on closer inspection turned out to be little Sally Groom, adorned in a wig and drained of blood, making her look pale and old.
Terry Peavey threw off his hood and revealed his lipless face.
“Let the carol singing COMMENCE!” he roared. “You can’t wait, can you Mother?” His question was directed to the cadaver lolling in the wheelchair.
At this point, Alice’s scream gave birth, echoing around the Peavey Mansion from rafters to cellars, from wall to wall, throughout hall and chamber. It echoed out into the square and throughout the town.
Lieutenant Briggs heard it. Crazy Davy heard it, his nose turned up to the moon like a rat. Folks heard it over their Christmas drinks.
And all through the scream which kept on coming, tearing Alice’s throat apart, Terry Peavey, self-appointed ‘Angel.’ sang in his thin reedy voice:
“Hark the Herald Angels Scream…”
Alice realised that she had legs still. She could run. She could escape. She scrambled out of the attic door and threw it shut behind her. Gibbering and whimpering to herself, she skittered down the two flights of stairs. She paused to look back. He was not following her, but she could still hear him singing. The front door was but a few feet away. She made for it.
A shadow appeared in front of her.
“Lieutenant Briggs?” she pleaded.
“Leaving the party so soon?” he leered. “I don’t think so!”