Friday, January 12, 2018

Christmas Takeover 2017 17: Chris Kosarich

Eh... I changed my mind.  Let's do one more... just for fun.  
            This particular story, A Sanguine Christmas Tale, was originally posted on Chris Kosarich's blog last year, but he decided to share it with us again here this year.  Which is awesome... especially since I loved the story.
            Sit back and enjoy... and I'd leave the lights on for this one.

A Sanguine Christmas Tale
By: Chris Kosarich

Santa Claus knew something was amiss the moment he coasted the gifts-laden sleigh down to the snowy ground next to the quiet subdivision. Well, of course, it was quiet, being so late on Christmas Eve night and everyone—young and older—tucked safely in their beds. But his keen senses, not to mention his trusty crew of reindeer, had immediately detected the strangeness in the air. At first, it hadn’t been a smell, just a sense, like that feeling of charged electricity in the air right before a violent thunderstorm.
            As the sleigh skidded to a stop, the reindeer fidgeted, jostling their harnesses and making agitated sounds. The red suit-clad Saint Nicholas stood up and surveyed his surroundings. His round nose twitched above his full white beard, and a frown creased his forehead beneath the trademark cap.
            While not a supernatural being, he did employ magic (and technology, too, he wasn’t stupid) to make his annual gift-delivering task to all those good boys and girls possible.  But Santa had experience with supernatural creatures, some good and some bad. A few years ago, he’d encountered a man cursed with being a werewolf, and because Santa had been able to tap into that man’s basic goodness, he was able to enlist his help after one of his reindeer, Rudy, had fallen ill.
            Ironically, that had been not far from where he was now.
            Santa strode with careful black-booted steps through the snow to the front of the line of reindeer, running his gloved right hand over brown-furred flanks, comforting them, murmuring soft words to ease their sudden discomfort.  His eyes scanned the snow-flecked line of trees bordering the perimeter of the subdivision. 
            He didn’t see it, yet, but his nostrils widened as the pungent scent invaded his sense of smell.  Barely there, just a waft of it on the icy air, but it was ripe with rot and death.
            To Santa, it meant only one thing, one word for what the source of that horrid odor was: vampire.
            “Oh, dear God,” he muttered.
            As someone who was accustomed to various forms of magic and, to a degree, the supernatural, Santa knew what this meant. And none of it was good. In fact, it was nothing short of horribly disastrous.
            He walked back to the massive red sleigh and reached one hand into the pocket of his white-fur-trimmed red coat. He pulled out his smartphone, and after tugging off the glove with his teeth, swiped the touchscreen to unlock it. Deftly, Santa tapped the address book and scrolled through until he found the name of the one person who could help.
            After he dialed the number, pressing the phone next to his ear, it rang several times until a gruff voice answered. The man sounded either half-asleep or drunk…or both.
            “Lupo, this is Nicholas,” he said. “I need your help once more. And it’s far more serious than last time.”
            “That’s not my real name,” he replied sarcastically. “I’m sure whatever the emergency is you can handle it, Nick.”
            The man coughed, clearing his throat, before he spoke. “Listen, I’d love to help. But I’m not the same man you once knew. My wife divorced me, took the kids and left. Said she couldn’t deal with my, um, problem, any longer. Not sure I can anymore either, to be honest.”
            Santa hesitated before responding. What the man told him made him feel very sad, but there wasn’t time for this. If he didn’t get Lupo over here and fast, a bunch of innocent people—families…children!—would be killed at the hands of these ruthless, blood-thirsty monsters. Maybe after it was all over, if his old friend agreed to help him, Santa would see what he could do to improve his situation. However, getting the man’s wife to change her mind about her husband was one Christmas miracle he might not be able to make happen. But he would try, and he told him as much. 
            The man chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s not going to change a thing,” he said coldly. “My wife just thinks I’m crazy. She believes that I’m a werewolf as much as she believes…you’re real.”
            As Santa held the phone to his ear, he walked up to the proud reindeer at the head of the line of special, magical creatures, and worked at Rudy’s buckle with his free hand. Rudy’s signature nose flared red off and on like a bright, slow-strobing beacon on the frigid Christmas Eve night.
            “I’m sending Rudy to you,” he told him. “Get yourself sobered up and ready to ride him back here. By my estimation, thankfully, you’re not too far. Maybe an hour away, at most, and I need you here as soon as possible. Or plenty of innocent folks will die this very night.”
            “What are you going on about, Nick? Who is threatening to kill people?”
            “Not who, but what,” Santa said with deadly seriousness. “Vampires, and while I haven’t seen them yet, I can smell them. And there’s more than one. When Rudy reaches you, just get here post-haste! I’ll do my best to stall them!”
            Once Rudy was freed of the harness, Santa patted him on the head, murmuring a few hurried, stern commands, and the famous red-nosed reindeer kicked his strong back legs, his forelegs grabbing the night sky, and he leapt upwards.
            Minutes later, Rudy was gone.

*   *   *

The man who Santa dubbed Lupo many years ago on that late Christmas Eve night (or like now, early Christmas morning) was named Curtis Lockwood. It had been nearly a decade since another late night when, after a drunken get-together with coworkers from the office to celebrate closing a big deal, he’d decided to walk home from the bar. Instead, he’d been attacked by a large black dog, his right arm badly gashed before a passersby stopped with a shriek of brakes and blaring horn to frighten it away. 
            After a brief stay in the hospital, life went along as normal until Curtis began to change. He began to have weird dreams and urges, most of them primal and terrifying. He’d resisted as long as he could, until one evening he told his wife he was going out for a walk to clear his head…and didn’t return until early the next morning. His clothes—baggy sweat-suit and sneakers—had been ripped and dirty, his feet bare and equally dirty. His face had been bloodied but had no apparent wounds.
            Needless to say, his wife had been deeply concerned.
            Years went by and he managed to control his condition through research (mostly online but some old books) and kept his nocturnal activities to just hunting animals in the nearby forest. He swore if he ever killed a human being, he’d just take his own life. 
            Since helping out St. Nick on that late December night many years ago—by pulling the massive sleigh with the aid of some magic spell Santa used after his team of reindeer fell ill—he’d been given a special herbal potion made by Nick’s wife, brewed in hot water and consumed like tea. It had tasted awful but the stuff helped him control the wolf inside. Sadly, though, it hadn’t kept his wife from wanting to take their daughter and divorce him. He’d lost his job the year after he’d saved Christmas, and fell into the trap of booze. While he hadn’t been abusive to his family, his mood had darkened, not to mention the occasional nightly jaunts in the woods.
            Since then, his best friend had been the whiskey bottle. He did managed to acquire a new job, but not nearly as satisfying as his old one. Nor had he made the same kind of money, but he scraped by. At least his current employer didn’t care if he grew a bushy, unkempt beard.
            Curtis stood out in front of his house, the ground white with a few inches of fresh powder—and more reportedly coming overnight—and flipped up the hooded top of his charcoal-gray sweat-shirt. He wore sweatpants that matched and cheap sneakers. The transformation was hell on good clothes but loose-fitting sweats could expand and not be torn to tatters. The shoes would be no great loss and replaceable.
            What the hell am I doing? Curtis thought for the umpteenth time. This is crazy, but vampires…seriously?
            Nick had sounded deadly serious and while he still felt slightly buzzed and would regret the hangover on Christmas Day, he shrugged and peered up into the snow-flecked night sky. He didn’t see anything and considered reaching into his pocket for his smartphone to call or text back the Jolly Fat Man in Red. 
            When he glanced up again, though, he spotted a dark shape gliding down from the darkness, a familiar slowly blinking red light lighting its way. Rudolph—or Rudy as he preferred to be called by his friends—landed with grace and hardly disturbing the snow-covered front yard, his head swiveling around to peer at Curtis with his black eyes. His majestic rack of antlers gleamed under the ashen moonlight.
            “Oh, what the hell,” he muttered and climbed onto Rudy’s upper back and leaned forward, grabbing the antlers (but not tugging on them) like he was riding a bike. He certainly didn’t want to risk falling off when Rudy leapt up to fly.
            And he gasped when the reindeer did just that.

*   *   *

Santa spotted them converging in the large two-story house at the end of the cul-de-sac. He’d been standing in front of his line of reindeer, scanning the snowy sky with his keen, sharp vision, but didn’t see Rudy yet. But it was way too soon yet. Then that awful, rotten smell assailed his nostrils. His earlier sense of black foreboding strengthened. 
            “Oh, no,” he said under his breath.
            As Blixen and a few others stirred restlessly in their harnesses, obviously sensing the imminent danger as well, Santa stepped away from them and peered at the cluster of houses along the dead-end street. Three shapes suddenly appeared moving quickly and fluidly from the forested wooded area to the first house closest to them. They were pale in the moonlight, cadaverously thin but rippling with lean muscles. Even at this distance, Santa saw the red glint of their bestial eyes.
            As they moved to the two-story home like a pack, Nick realized he didn’t have time. He would need to distract them until Rudy and Lupo arrived. As he walked further out into the snow, he plucked his phone from his pocket and hurriedly tapped out a message to Lupo (if he even had his own phone on him): They’re here, hurry!

*   *   *

While being this high up and holding on for dear life, not to mention freezing cold, it wasn’t as windy as he’d expected. But his eyes watered and tears froze on his ruddy cheeks.
            Then Curtis felt the vibration of his smartphone, and he carefully pulled it out with one hand, keeping a tight death-grip on the antlers with his other hand. He read the brief text from Santa.
            As he stuffed the phone back, he leaned forward and said, “We got to fly faster, Rudy!” 

*   *   *

Santa didn't have any weapons, except toy ones, and those wouldn’t do. The best he might be able to do was use some spells he knew, but none of that magic would stop the trio of vile bloodsuckers. And employing magic of any kind would drain him of much-needed energy for the long night ahead.
            So he cupped his gloved hands around his mouth and yelled, “Hey, you three! I’ve got something tasty for you!”
            The vampires halted in their tracks, several feet from the darkened, white-coated house. Three sets of hungry, baleful, blood-red eyes fixed on him, narrowing. 
            Then almost as one, they moved off the yard and headed in his direction.
            Oh shit, guys, Nick thought, referring to Rudy and Lupo. Come on, get here fast!

*   *   *

Suddenly, Rudy dropped into a fairly steep dive and Curtis gritted his teeth as his stomach rolled. He always hated rollercoasters, dammit!
            Below, he saw the wide open field covered in snow and thick forest surrounding a large cul-de-sac and several homes. Some had been decorated with your typical exterior holiday d├ęcor, including the icicle lights and multi-colored blinking ones. Then he noticed off to one side in the field stood the familiar red-and-green-and-gold trimmed sleigh with the harnessed line of reindeer, minus one, of course.
            As Rudy pulled out of the dive and slowed a bit, Curtis looked over past the sleigh and immediately saw the equally familiar stocky, white-bearded, red-suited figure standing alone in the middle of the field. And the three pale stalking forms gliding soundlessly over the ground were getting very close to Nick, maybe a dozen or so yards away.
            “Drop me between Santa and those bastards, Rudy!” he yelled and sat back, looking up and staring at the fat swollen disc high above. He let the moonlight wash over his numb face, tried to relax his mind enough to allow the change to come. His growing anger and frustration at how his life had ended up, coupled with the fact that these vampires sought to feed and kill unwitting families on this day of all days (or any day, for that matter!) made the transformation burst out of him all that more rapidly.
            The snowy ground rushed up at them and Curtis pushed himself off the reindeer and fell the several remaining feet as his body rippled and burst with coarse dark hair and corded muscle. It physically hurt to do this, as it always had, but he ignored it. As his mouth elongated and bristled with razor-sharp canines, hooked claws sprouting from his fingertips and toes (shredding the front of his cheap sneakers), he sank deftly onto the fresh powder, cushioning his fall.
             The trio stopped, peering at this latest addition to their Christmas Night blood-feast. 
            Hunched over and flexing his deadly claws, Lupo growled with menace.
            Santa released his held breath, muttered thanks to Rudy, and said, “Now go kill those evil creatures, my fine, lupine friend!”
            Snarling low and deep, Lupo nodded his massive furry head and sprang forward.
            The vampires charged forward. The first one had leapt into the air with talons spread wide and horrid fanged mouth agape. Lupo ducked under his scythe-like claws, and thrust muzzle forward and up, jaws clamping around the skinny, pasty neck. Vicious teeth crunched together as viscous hot fluids sprayed his face, soaking the fur of his neck and chest. The thing beat and swiped at him but to no avail. Near-decapitated head lolling on a few tendons and ragged strips of skin, Lupo tossed the dead vampire aside.
            The second blood-sucker attacked from the other side, coming in low and fast, but with razor-sharp fingernails sweeping up and thrusting out as if to rip across his face, to blind him. Lupo swiftly dodged the attempt to mutilate his face, but the downward arc slashed across his fur-padded ribcage, making him growl-hiss in sudden agony. However, his fury and hunger to kill these vile killers surpassed the white-hot pulsating pain along his left side.
            As the vampire followed through on the swipe, it stumbled in the snow, and Lupo reached out and grabbed the thing’s skinny shoulders, pulling it to him. Savagely, he opened his slavering jaws wide and tore into the vampire’s face, ripping off great near-bloodless chunks of putrid flesh. Blackish goo splattered him, but he ignored it and dug his claws feverishly into its midsection, tearing out meaty loops of greasy entrails. He let the limp undead corpse slump to the gore-streaked ground.
            Seeing how effectively his crimson-thirsty comrades had been dispatched, the third member of the vampire hunting parting turned and fled, heading with remarkable swiftness for the heavy tree-line.
            The sight of it running for the woods, naked and gleaming in the silvery moonlight nearly made Lupo sing with primal joy. In fact, he raised his wet snout to the night and barked a short howl. Then he gave chase, moving with great speed and agility in the foot-deep snowfall. 
            Lupo caught up to the vampire just as it started to vanish into the snow-laden pines. 
            It didn’t give him much of a fight at all. 
            Santa watched it all unfold with his mouth hanging open. From within the woods, he heard Lupo howling his victory.

*   *   *

While delayed for maybe an hour or two, Christmas was once again saved. Before he took off again, to complete his long task ahead, they dragged the vampire corpses to a clearing deep in the woods and—using fuel from a flask of brandy Santa tucked away inside his red coat—burned the bodies, then covered the remains with snow.
            Rudy agreed to fly Curtis back home, after he cleaned himself up with melted snow and an old but clean handkerchief Santa produced from one pocket of his red trousers. After a hearty thank you from Nick (and admonishment to stop his excessive alcohol consumption), Rudy and Curtis departed. Santa climbed onto his sleigh, grabbing ahold of the reins. But before he urged the reindeer skyward, he made a promise to his old friend. He’d saved his life and Christmas once again (because without Lupo’s help, Santa wouldn’t have just stood by and let it happen, and he could’ve been killed), not to mention saving the lives of those who slept unawares of how closely they’d come to being food for vampires.
            After tonight, when he was safely back home at the North Pole, the man also known as Kris Kringle, vowed he would write a heartfelt letter to Curtis Lockwood’s estranged ex-wife. While he couldn’t do anything to make her give her ex-husband a second chance, perhaps and maybe, he could help her see that he deserved one.
            After all, Christmastime was about miracles, wasn’t it?

About the author:
Chris Kosarich is an author of horror fiction, nonfiction, and some other stuff he wouldn't want his parents to read.  Previously, his short fiction appeared in various small-press publications, such as Impaler, Black Moon, Malefica, The Swamp, and Vivid.  For four years, he wrote the column "Fiendish Endeavours" for the Horror Writers Association monthly newsletter.  He self-published his first two ebook shorts, Clowning Around and The Last Chord, which can be found at the usual online sources.  Currently, he's working on a sci-fi horror novel, The Ravening.  Chris resides in Central Florida with his wife and kids, and cute but demanding cat, Maggie.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Christmas Takeover 2017 16: Matt Hayward

Today, for the final day of Christmas Takeover, I have a story from someone I think is actually pretty awesome - Matt Hayward.  We met last year at Scares That Care and, trust me, he's a pretty decent fella.  Just seeing the passion that he had for his writing was enough to make me want to read everything he ever writes.  I was so impressed with this story... and I hope you are, too.

In the Pines
By: Matt Hayward

Peter gripped the porch railing and squinted at the robin flopping in the snow-covered meadow. The tiny bird kicked up flecks, squeaking and leaving miniature trenches. “Poor bastard…”
            From within the cabin, Jamie called out, “What was it, Dad? Someone throw a rock?”
            A series of bleeps from a kid’s gameboy followed, and Peter decided not to ruin his son’s fun. Rarely did they get time together, let alone a trip away for Christmas, and Peter would rather tell a lie than have Kelly know their son saw his first dead animal on his watch. That sight would lead to a “conversation.” 
            Peter muttered a swear as a pillar of air puffed from his lips. He cleared his throat. “Just the porch settling. Nothing to worry about.”
            “Is it Grandad? Playing a joke?”
            The question caused a wave of worry and Peter sighed. Truth be told, he had no idea where his father was. “Not Grandad. Not yet. He should be home soon, though.”
            With a grunt, he descended the porch and slogged to the now-still bird. He scooped the animal in his palm and studied it: beak slightly parted, twig-like legs frozen straight out like a dead thing in a cartoon. He imagined a boing! sound effect accompanying the sudden rigor mortis. A rust colored, oil-like substance stained the bird’s underbelly.
            Peter jumped at the voice. In the cabin doorway, Jamie adjusted his mitts and hat. With a smile, he jumped the porch steps and bounced to his father. “What is it? That a rock?”
            Peter palmed the bird and put his hands behind his back like a magician doing a trick. “Yeah. Just found it out here. Why don’t you head back inside and wait for Grandad? You know, I’d say he’s getting you a present from town.” Sure, he thought, and he’s buying me a car to make up for the lost time, too.
            Peter didn’t hate his father— hate was too strong a word—but the old man’s alcoholism and lack of enthusiasm meant that Peter didn’t expect much anymore. Add the birthday card for Jamie that needed forging each year, and well…
            But then again, when they came to the cabin, Peter found the home cleaned and warmed. Two fresh beds were made upstairs and not a bottle was in sight. Still, none of that answered the question: Where was his father?
            Something caught Jamie’s eye and the boy turned. With the distraction, Peter tossed the dead bird and braced himself, expecting the kid to hear the thump. Instead, the boy pointed to the woods bordering the field where they had just hiked to reach the house only that morning. “What’s that over there, Dad?”
            Hands on his knees, Peter’s brow furrowed as he scanned the tree line, noting movement between snow-heavy branches. “A deer?” he said aloud, though he couldn’t quite tell. “Grandad gets them all the time out here.”
            The young boy gasped in amazement. “Can we get up close so I can get a photo for Mom?”
            The deer shimmied through the trees and into the meadow, sending a wave of snow hissing to the ground. It shook its head from side to side as if agitated by horseflies. The animal snorted and its fur-covered muscles seemed to twitch at the shoulders. Peter reached for his son’s hand instinctively, gripping the boy’s cold mitts. 
            “Is it sick?” Jamie asked. “Looks like it’s acting kinda funny.” The boy’s voice fluttered as if he’d made a joke, but Peter knew the quaver came from fright. Hell, he felt it, too. A slow lick of alarm slipped across his belly. What if it was rabies or something?
            “He is acting funny.” Peter strained to sound assertive, but the tightness in his throat protested. “Cold weather, Jay. They’ll act funny if they’re cold, hungry and cranky. Same as us.”
            A lame explanation, but it seemed to do the trick as Jamie chuckled. “It’s Rudolph, isn’t it, Daddy? You can’t fool me. I’m smart.”
            The boys head fell to the side as if his father was the stupidest man to ever live. “The red nose, Dad. See, he has a red nose.”
            Peter’s stomach somersaulted as the deer’s head quivered again, its snout catching the light and reflecting a wet, crimson stain on its face. 
            Jamie’s voice swam into focus, as if coming from very far away. “…spruce branches so I can finish my decoration?”
            “Dad! I asked if we can collect. Spruce. Branches. So. I. Can. Finish. My. Decoration. You know, for Grandad.”
            Peter gave his son’s hand a quick double-squeeze. “Sure, sure. Look, we’ll go this way, though, okay? We don’t want to bother old Rudolph there.”
            As they set off, Peter just about managed to tear his gaze from the animal. A carousel of possibilities played around his mind on the condition of both the robin and the deer: An oil leak. Both creatures drank, desperately craving water. No, no, that didn't make sense. Woodland critters were smarter than that, and besides, oil was not crimson… Some berries in the forest had spoiled. Possible, but would a deer scoff down enough to stain its entire snout? Just some berries? Unlikely. 
            The snow crunched beneath their heels as Jamie pulled Peter along, the boy giggling and trying to race ahead like an over-excited dog on a leash. As they reached the tree line, Jamie’s laughter tapered out. 
            “It’s dark in there,” he said, his voice sobered. “Kinda scary.”
            Peter nodded, shaking away the puzzle in his brain. “It’s safe. Just a forest, Jay. Your Dad’s here, remember?"
            The boy smiled with such sincerity that Peter’s chest hurt in the best possible way. He squeezed his son’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get some tree boughs for Grandad.”
            Crunching through the small piles of snow, they overstepped a fallen log and into the thicket, the ashen sky blotted out by a canopy overhead. Shots of light peppered through, twinkling in the shadowed snow like untouched sugar. Nearby, a squirrel shot up a thick oak, chittering as it scurried out of sight. 
            Jamie chortled, seemingly relaxed. “The best stuff’s gotta be here. We’re in the trees’ home.”
            As they trekked the foliage, two things occurred to Peter. First, besides the sound of that single squirrel, silence pressurized the woods. Second, markings lead to and from an open clearing ahead. Jamie seemed to notice the disturbed snow, too. “What’s that, Dad?”
            “Animal tracks,” he said, noting the hoof prints and other, smaller markings. “Could be from our friend, the deer.”
            “Rudolph’s not my friend,” Jamie said. “I think he’s sick… I wouldn’t wanna hang out with him.”
            “Yeah, we don’t want to hang out with him…” A sight in the middle of the clearing sent a sudden shock through him. Peter wanted to faint. “Hold on…”
            “Dad? What?”
            Peter got to one knee for a better angle, tilting his head to the side. Something lay ahead in the disturbed snow, something which all the animal trails led to and from.
            “Jamie, stay by this tree. Don’t move.”
            “No! Dad! Don’t leave me!”
            “I’m not leaving you. Hang on here for just a second.” He leaped to his feet and slogged into the clearing like a man in a dream, visions of his father snoring and still stinking of booze as snow eased over him like a nighttime blanket for the big sleep. 
            His heart drummed in his ears and a single wish blared in his mind: Don’t be my dad, please, don’t be my dad. Don’t be my dad…
            The snow covered most the mess, but some flesh still remained visible. Black flesh. Spotting the teeth, a dizzy spell washed over Peter and he brought a hand to his forehead. Those teeth did not belong to anything human… long, yellowed appendages jutting from exposed gums over nonexistent lips, reaching to the chin and two slit-like nostrils. This was not a man, but a monster. The sight made Peter want to scream but he stifled the urge in order not to scare his son.
            “Dad,” he heard his son call. “Can we go back to the cabin now?” 
            Peter nodded, his eyes drifting further down the dead creature’s emaciated body. Spotting shredded wings (how had he missed the wings?), the creature reminded him of a humanoid bat—like something from one of his childhood comics that his father would’ve shredded if he’d found. Then an odor ghosted on the wind, sickly sweet and not at all unlike strawberries. Peter wrinkled his nose.
            The source of the smell was clear. A jagged hole as big as a fist gaped open in the monster’s abdomen, leaking a sap-like substance which pooled and turned the nearby snow to crimson slush.
            He experienced a mixture of feelings… shock, dread, and relief. This thing couldn’t be his father.
            “Crimson,” he muttered, getting to his feet. He didn’t want to be near the lifeblood of that beast, not after seeing evidence of what it had done to the animals. “Let’s get back to the house before we lose light.”
            Suddenly something rustled overhead, shaking loose a snowfall from the trees. Peter squinted and blocked his eyes from the glare of the sun.
            A black dot sped towards his face and he gasped and moved aside just as it thumped to the snow. A jay. The tiny bird spasmed about, flipping itself from side to side with feeble chirps. 
            Walking backwards, Peter almost tripped over a hunched log. He reached his son and grabbed hold of the boy’s hand. Then he decided better and lifted the kid into his arms.
            “Going to get us back to Grandad’s quicker, okay?”
            The boy’s voice bounced with each step. “Y-yeah. Ho-oh-kay.”
            Peter maneuvered the trees with ease, overstepping hidden rocks and reaching branches. Ahead, the clearing came into view, a flat bed of pristine snow with only two tracks from the cabin. But something else still lurked in the field, and closer now, too.
            Jamie pulled his face away from his father’s coat. “What?”
            “Just… Rudolph. Try to be quiet, okay?”
            Peter eased into the field, a thirty-foot gap between him and the deer. The creature’s head jerked frantically about, as if beetles and maggots crawled about its neck as it fought to remove them, but he knew the crimson goop on that shiny nose was the real root of the problem. In an instant that sent an ice chill through Peter’s core, the deer locked eyes and lowered its head, giving a clear view of two very solid antlers. 
            “Dad!” Jamie screamed. “Look out!”
            The deer charged. Peter shot off, the snow pulling at his feet and bogging down his progress. He lugged his son, gripping him tightly in his arms. The cabin bobbed about ahead, seeming to get no closer but he knew that was only his fevered brain in a panic. Behind, the heavy clomps of the deer’s hoofs grew closer. 
            He lurched to the left, narrowly avoiding an antler in the spine. He gasped as the beast skidded to a halt and turned, regaining its bearings. It once again lowered its head and kicked snow with its front hoof, angling itself just right. Peter charged for the house. Behind, the deer took off.
            Jaime was screaming in terror. Peter’s breath came in quick stabs as he pumped his legs harder, still gripping his son. The snow felt like custard, each step an absolute mockery in torture. But then the porch steps were beneath his feet and Peter leaped them in one, catching his first break of the day: Jamie had left the front door open before they left.
            Peter raced inside and lurched backwards, slamming the door shut with his shoulders. He landed on his ass and let go of Jamie, half throwing the boy off him to free up his hands. He slammed the deadbolt home and fell back onto his rump, pressing his back into the door for extra security. His breath came in wheezes as he tried to calm his racing heart.
            Across the room, Jamie cupped his mouth and stared wide eyed. Peter braced.
            The hit came like a battalion. The door shook on its hinges, and Peter’s skull bucked back and cracked off the wood. He shook his head to clear his vision and readjusted himself for another hit. But another didn’t come. Instead, after a handful of tense seconds, a dull thump rang out.
            “I think it left,” Peter said through gasping breaths, knowing Jamie didn’t have an answer but still feeling the need to speak. “I think that’s it, Jamie. I think it’s done.”
            “You promise?” the boy asked, skipping about from foot to foot. Peter noticed the boy had wet himself.
            “I promise, Jay. I promise. Look, go upstairs and clean… and clean up, okay? Everything’s all right now. Get into some fresh jeans and come back down. We’ll go back to my house as soon as you’re ready. We’ll be safe. I promise.”
            The boy gave a curt nod, his face drained of color, and rushed up the staircase. In the silence, Peter took a moment to catch his breath, worried about how fast his heart rammed his ribcage.
            Rammed, he thought. Fitting.
            Then something caught his eye beneath the kitchen table. A square of paper. Peter grunted as he pushed himself forward and scooped the note, a memory of Jamie rushing inside and slamming his suitcase onto the table. The kid must’ve knocked the paper to the floor and not noticed. Peter recognized his old man’s handwriting.
            Buying Santa Claus suit. Back evening. Love you.
            A tight ball caught in Peter’s throat and he struggled to loosen it. In all thirty-nine years, his father had never said the words ‘love you.’ He’d also never cleaned since losing his wife, or spent a day without the bottle. Yet here it was, as good as a perfectly wrapped gift beneath the tree.
            “Jesus Christ,” Peter whispered, turning his head to the ceiling to stifle some of the hot tears. “You actually made a damn effort. I can’t believe it.”
            Memories of the sweet-scented goop oozing from the creature zapped back to mind and Peter scowled. The creatures had clearly been attracted to the smell, touched it, perhaps. Tried to taste it. He imagined a parasite living in the liquid, disguising its scent to appeal to other hosts in order to spread and reach further. He imagined the humanoid nightmare fell from the sky because it got infected, too, not because it was necessarily a threat itself.
            His musings were interrupted. “Dad!” Jamie yelped from upstairs. Peter jumped to his feet. “Dad, everything’s going to be fine!”
            “Jamie? Jamie, what are you talking about?”
            Peter’s head shot from left to right, left to right, scanning the room. Suddenly he saw his father’s Winchester. He spotted the rifle by the fireside armchair and pulled it into his arms, checking the barrel. Loaded. Jesus, the old man might be able to clean a house, but he left a loaded rifle in reach of an eight-year-old.
            “What’s going on, Jay? Talk to me.”
            “Santa’s runnin’ ‘cross the field! He’s coming to get us!”
            Peter’s stomach somersaulted for the second time that day. "Running? Jay, you’re sure he’s running?"
            “Fast as he can, Dad! Don’t worry!”
            “Jay, you’re to stay upstairs, you hear? Stay. Up. Stairs!”
            With a silent prayer, Peter unbolted the front door and stepped onto the porch, booting aside the spent carcass of the deer. Ahead, Santa Claus barged through the snow, the faint sound of crazed yelps carrying on the wind. Peter made out the white trimmings of the suit, the red fabric, and most importantly the crimson smears, splotched all over the old man’s face as if he’d gone insane and smashed it into his features. 
            “Dad!” Peter called, but his father only answered with another lunatic cry. “Dad, I want you to stop. Stop right now.”
            His father kept coming, eyes wild and face strained with tension. Peter raised the rifle.
            The shot cracked out across the field, sending a murder of crows flapping to more quiet locations. A splatter of gore exploded from the back of the madman's head, spraying the snow behind him. He swayed a moment, the trademark holiday hat knocked crooked on the now ruined face, then toppled. 
            Peter lowered the gun and panted, hearing Jamie clamor down the stairs with his suitcase in hand. “Daddy! Daddy, what are you doing? What happened to Santa?”
            “Santa had to go with Rudolph,” Peter replied. He clutched his son when Jamie slammed into his leg and embraced him in a tight squeeze. “We need to go now. Stay close to me, okay? We’ve got the woods to tackle before we get to the car parked on the other side.”
            “What’s that sound, Dad?”
            Peter heard it, too, a garble of white noise from the direction his father had come. His brow furrowed as he scooped Jamie in one arm and started out across the field, back towards the woods where they’d make a break down the hillside to the car. Then his stomach lurched. 
            “It’s the town…” Peter said, his legs moving faster now. “The entire town is coming! They followed your Grandad. Keep a hold of me, Jay.”
            As Peter fought through the snow, the woodland offering both a place of hiding and a place of lurking animals, Jamie asked, “What do they want, Daddy?”
            Peter left the question unanswered and just kept moving, the snow gripping at his boot heals.
            The call for blood from the townsfolk grew louder and louder.

About the author:
Matt Hayward is an Irish, Wicklow-based author and musician.  His debut collection BRAIN DEAD BLUES released May 2017 via Sinister Grin Press and his first novel WHAT DO MONSTERS FEAR? in July through Post-Mortem.  PRACTITIONERS, a collaboration with author Patrick Lacey, is set for release in 2018 through Blood Shot Books, and another collaboration (with author Bryan Smith) is in the works.  Matt received a nomination for short story of the year from Penguin Books, and his work has appeared in CLICKERS FOREVER: A TRIBUTE TO J.F. GONZALEZTALES FROM THE LAKEDARK MOON DIGESTTHE HORROR ZINE, TALES TO TERRIFY, and more.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Christmas Takeover 2017 15: Jon M. Jefferson

Today on Christmas Takeover, we have Jon M. Jefferson with a story called "If I Had a Hammer."
            I've been lucky to have Jon on The Gal several times over the last couple of years, but every time I put his name up in the title of a blog post, I am reminded of the first time that he was on, and I just have to share the story... cause I want to... and it's my blog... and I can do what I want haha.  
            I was still kind of new to blogging, in a hurry to get the post up, and didn't think much of the fact that I left the "M" out.  No big deal, right?  That was until I received the VERY angry email from a man who was threatening to sue me - sue me - because he wasted his time reading an interview by a guy who was not the guy he thought it was.  He informed me, in several different ways, that Jon M. Jefferson and Jon Jefferson are not the same people, and that how dare I try to get more followers by using the name of a "real author" instead of the name of the actual person.  This guy who was emailing me was "the real Jon Jefferson's biggest fan" blah blah blah blah blah... but considering the picture at the top was of Jon M. Jefferson and not this Jon Jefferson... and he was his biggest fan... you think he would have caught that.  That is probably the FUNNIEST email I have ever received, and since then, I am lucky enough to have conversations on how "people are dumb" with the real Jon M. Jefferson quite a lot.  
            I often wonder if that guy checks my blog out frequently, just to see if I made another mistake.  Or maybe he has found a fondness for THE Jon M. Jefferson, and because of my forgetfulness, has become a fan.  Ya never know.  (Hi, guy. *waves*)
            Anyway... enjoy his story (I cracked up a little)... and find him - Jon M. Jefferson - on Amazon so you can read more of what he produces.  He's a pretty cool guy.

If I Had a Hammer
By: Jon M. Jefferson

I know you've been there, this isn't my first time in this position myself. The fight began when I pulled the lights from the basement. Not only were they tangled (it took an hour and a half to unwind the strands), but when I plugged them in to check them, half the blasted things didn't light up. 
            My wife mentioned that they were the kind where only the bulbs that didn't work wouldn't light up. The broken ones wouldn't kill off the whole strand. So after I replaced all the burned out bulbs, why did half the strand not light up again? In frustration, I threw that strand aside. The next one would work right? Don't answer that, let me maintain the hope to carry on.
            So it's time to hang the lights. The hooks from last year came down when we painted the front porch. Really? We discover this now? Really? Not a big deal right? Well, not a big deal for someone who has the hooks in their toolbox. Apparently, I never was much of a Boy Scout. 
            After I rummaged through my toolboxes I managed to find some nails. Nails I could work with. Wouldn't you know, my hammer was missing. Ever have the urge to yell at the sky and shake your fist? Yeah, me neither...
            It's Christmas Eve and the lights still aren't up. Who does that? Well, aside from me? I can hear the ghost of my father, "If you had done that weeks ago you wouldn't have this problem." This is a little surreal when you consider that my dad isn't dead and he never troubled himself over my Christmas lights. 
            Seriously, what would you do? Christmas Eve is the shopping moment of the desperate and deranged. A sane man would never find himself in any store at any point after Thanksgiving, let alone the very Eve of Christmas. Who am I kidding, I was one of the desperate and destitute, maybe even a little deranged. Those damn lights weren't going to win. 
            There I was ready for the gladiatorial combat of the ages, otherwise known as a trip to the store in hectic shopping season. Wait, back up, did I mention the snow? I can see where I might have forgotten it considering the near white out conditions. 
            I feel a need right now to explain what white out conditions are to those of you who might never have experienced life in the arctic north. White out conditions happen when the snow blows so hard that all you see in front of you is a white cloud. So yeah, a trip to the store on Christmas Eve is a suicide mission. To think I volunteered...
            Where were we? Oh yeah, snow, store, crowds of the hopeless and deranged. The crowds might have been the real scary part. Men gone feral as they hunt for last minute gifts for their significant others. You would think they would have picked up these gifts when they picked up their lover's gifts weeks ago. But really, I couldn't judge, I needed a hammer. 
            No time to waste playing around, straight back to the tools I went. Did you know that even on Christmas Eve you can find decoration stuff? I found some of the coolest lights in a main aisle. Have you ever seen those lights that look like icicles? They do this thing where the light, kinda like, drips down to the bottom. The strands are slightly different than normal lights. Instead of one long strand they have these detour strands. So yeah, I picked up three sets. I could just throw out the old lights when I got home. They were outdated and hardly worked anyway.
            The sale on the lights was great, too. These lights were going to look so cool when I put them up. I felt great, the cashier didn't even grate my nerves with her peppy Happy Christmas. Not sure what she was so happy about, she was the one working on Christmas Eve. Really, it wasn't at all like that.
            She was great, making the most of the crappy situation. As much as I hate to admit it her cheer was a bit contagious. I even hummed the piped Christmas Carol on my way to my car. 
            The drive through the parking lot changed. The battle was over, people were darn close to cordial as they allowed people to merge and gave up the right away. Honestly, it was a little strange to see it. The snow let up for the trip home. Nature gave her blessing for the lights I was about to hang. 
            My wife thought the lights were as amazing as I did. She helped me remove them from their packages and get them ready to hang outside. I went to the garage to get my hammer and some nails to hang the lights. Oh yeah, the store...

About the author:
Jon M. Jefferson writes Speculative fiction with forays into Noir and Bizarro.  His stories have appeared in the 2013 Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology, and the foil and Phazer Divide and Conquer Anthology.  His work can also be found on Amazon and Smashwords.
            A longtime fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories in all their forms.  He has spent most of his life looking for magic in the everyday moments of life.  He hails from the tundra of Southwest Michigan.  The monsters in his life include his wife, two daughters, and a granddaughter.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Christmas Takeover 2017 14: S.C. Mendes

Today, for your reading pleasure, I have a short story by S.C. Mendes titled The Christmas Invitation.

The Christmas Invitation
By: S.C. Mendes

Aiden waited at the foot of the driveway. Clouds of icy breath steamed from his mouths as he stared up at the two-story home. He looked over at Noah. “This is crazy.” 
            “Come, on,” Noah said. “Don’t you believe in Christmas miracles?”
            “You don’t even celebrate Christmas.”
            Noah shrugged. “Yeah, but this isn’t about me. I’m going in. And you’d be making a big mistake not to go with me.”
            The blood pounded in Aiden’s head, flushing his face and preventing the cold bite of the night air from affecting him. The whole proposition was surreal and it confused him. He couldn’t understand the motivation behind Vanessa’s invitation. In the world of high school, not knowing a girl’s motives could be disastrous. “What exactly did she say to you?”
            “Just what I told you.” Noah bounced lightly on his legs and Aiden wasn’t sure if his friend was cold or nervous—like himself. “Vanessa said that every year she watches a horror movie marathon on Christmas Eve, and she’d like to invite me if I don’t have plans. I laughed and told her that being a Jew allowed me a free calendar this time of year. Then she asked if you were my friend. When I said yes, she got this weird smirk on her face and said: ‘Well if Aiden doesn’t have a girlfriend, bring him along.’” Noah’s eyes got big now. “And I quote: ‘The. More. The. Merrier.’”
            Aiden shook his head. “I don’t know about all that. Vanessa Purchase talks to us once at lunch, out of nowhere. Then two days later invites us to a movie marathon while her parents are away?”
            “It makes perfect sense. We’re huge horror fans.”
            “Yeah, but how does she know that. When’s she ever spoken to us before?”
            “You’ve worn a hellraiser shirt to class before! Please do not fuck this up.”
            “Yeah, but who’s parents go on vacation over Christmas Eve and don’t take their daughter?”
            “I said: don’t fuck this up.”
            Aiden could feel the intensity of the statement despite Noah keeping the volume of voice’s down. “What exactly do you think is going to happen in there? Do you really think she’s inviting us up for—”
            “I don’t know.” Noah rubbed his hands together and put on a devious grin. “But I want to find out. And I know deep down you want to too—why else would she bring up a girlfriend? Also, anything is better than spending our lives regretting the decision to not take the chance.” He playfully smacked Aiden’s arm. “How many girls’ house’s have you been inside?”
            It pissed Aiden off a bit that Noah was right. He’d had one date so far in his high school career—a lame school dance; and she was a family friend more than a date—and he did want this extension of friendship from Vanessa to be genuine. He wanted it so bad. But he knew what his peers were like. Especially girls. He’d watched them for the past three years, trying to understand patterns, like a nature documentary observing a rare species of exotic origin, but he never moved beyond the title of observer. No guts. Whenever he almost got the courage, he’d get a memory flash of some long ago catty behavior he’d once seen from a pretty girl on TV or social media or in real life. The newly-recovered memory reminded him the risk wasn’t worth the reward. 
            Hell, being friends with guys wasn’t even that worth the risk. Most dudes were just as shitty.  That’s why he stuck with Noah. His friend was a bit out there sometimes, but tonight if was as if his mind had snapped from high school jeoulsy and he wanted to live dangerously. It was the craziest idea he’d ever pulled Aiden into. 
            “What if this is some kind of catfish deal?”
            Noah’s jaw dropped. “That’s an internet scam; we know Vanessa in real life. No more excuses.”
            Oh god, Aiden could hear the gossip now. Something was gonna happen and it would be all over social media within seconds… then all of campus. “You talked to her twice!”
            “Shh. Keep your voice down.” Noah looked back at the house.
            “My point is you don’t really know her.”
            “Did you or did you not say how much you loved her goth slash rockabilly style after she talked to us at lunch?”
            Aiden felt flushed again. “Yeah.”
            “Those type of girls like to party. And we’ve got—” He patted his left thigh and smiled. “Maybe they’ll seal the deal.”
            There was a smile on Noah’s face, but a part of Aiden felt there was something dark just below his goofy grin. Did they really need the weed?  “Your cousin with the medical card, right? What’d he get this time?”
            Aiden and Noah had only smoked twice before. It was fun, but they acted stupid ridiculous. Aiden couldn’t image being in that mind frame around anyone but his best friend.
            “Strain called Don Draper. They’re pre-rolled hybrids. Now quit stalling.”
            Aiden looked back at the house. Yep, he was stalling. Vanessa Purchase was hot. Maybe the school overall didn’t think so because most days she looked like a cross between a teen version of Elvira and Wednesday from the Addams family, and the senior didn’t seem to have many friends, but her look was sexy to Aiden. And the fact was: a hot girl, from any kind of clique—mainstream or counterculture—does not talk to guys like him and Noah. He simply could not wrap his mind around it.
            “Just be cool,” Noah said. “It’s not a catfish set-up. Have a little faith that something good is gonna happen.”
            Aiden nodded. “Yeah, guess I’m just overacting.”
            Noah moved in front of him and took his shoulders. “The celebration of the birth of Santa is happening tomorrow—”
            “Exactly. And in a way you too will be born—better yet, you’ll be reborn. Whether we converge with our phalluses into her most holiest of holies together or—”
            Aiden was staring at him.
            “A threesome, man.”
            “I know that, but do you have to be so dramatic?”
            “Whether we do it… or just hang out with her in the dark watching movies, it will be a first. And we will enjoy it, and we won’t allow fear to hinder us from our mission of meeting a new female friend. Female friends count as double friends. Especially hot ones.”
            Aiden couldn’t help but chuckle and smile. “I know. But…” He wondered. No way Vanessa wanted to have a threesome. How could she? And yet, Aiden had gone through a lot of trouble to convince his cousin. As if he thought it could really happen. As if either one of them could actually do something like that together if she did say yes! 
            No, the weed was so that everyone could feel safe and if we did act stupid, they could blame it on the weed. It was logical, but logic was a double-edge sword and Aiden’s brain swung back and forth on decisions like these. He gave one more protest. “We barely know her.”
            “This is how you get to know someone.”
            Aiden sighed. “Fine.”
            They started up the pathway to the front door. Before Noah reached for the doorbell, he leaned over. “Just in case… I brought condoms. If she brings a three-way up, let’s go for it. Just focus on her. If our balls accidentally touch…it’s not homo.” He pushed the doorbell.
            “Fuck you,” he whispered. All this right before Christmas! His mom was gonna kill him.


Aiden could focus on little beyond the black mini skirt Vanessa wore as she led them into the house and upstairs. He floated through the home without paying much attention to his surroundings until she stopped them at a bedroom on the right-side of the hallway. The door was open and although the room inside was dim, it seemed to emit a glowing energy that he could feel with his body. 
            “This is my room.” Vanessa smiled. “Come on in.”
            There it was, the promised land. A girl’s bedroom—one small step for mankind, one huge fucking leap for Aiden Sunshed. 
            Somehow he made the jump and entered behind her. The bedroom was cool and dark, blacklight posters on the walls depicted scenes from Alice in Wonderland and various images of dragons and sexy heroes and heroines envisioned from a medley of fantasy novels and films—or watching too much cosplay videos. 
            The air was heavy with incense and Noah looked over at him with a look on his face that implied he was correct—Vanessa may be a weed smoking, party girl after all.
            Aiden’s attention moved down from the decorations and he saw the girl sitting cross-legged on the futon against the back wall. She wore a black dress that was form fitting on the torso, then opened into flowing folds that covered the opening that was made by her crossed legs. Doc martins finished the look of an extra from that 90s movie The Craft.
            “That’s Elizabeth.” Vanessa gesture with a nod.
            Noah seemed to convulse a bit as he suppressed what sounded like giddy laughter back down into his throat. He was no doubt overjoyed at this turn of events that held the hint of his dirtiest fantasies being more than mere daydreams with each moment that passed. 
            Noah finally stood up straight and cleared his throat.  
            “You should get that looked at,” Elizabeth said from the couch. It was quick and witty, but not mean or annoyed. 
            Noah gave his own playful smile in return.  “Sorry. I was trying to say ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’”
            Vanessa gave Noah a curious look, then sat down next to Elizabeth on the futon. She pointed to the bean bags. “Sit and relax.
            Aiden could tell his friend was trying hard to sound James-Dean smooth, but the girls’ look of amusement gave him the vibe that they just wanted to make friends. Nothing more. After all, they were loners like them. Maybe they could build their own circle of friends. It quelled his mind… for now.
            Noah headed over to the bean bag chair next to Vanessa’s side of the futon, and Aiden after a brief hesitation, moved to the bean bag chair by Elizabeth’s side. Aiden watched Noah ease himself into to the lumpy seat, trying hard not to mash the joints in his pant’s pocket.
            “What’s wrong with your leg?”
            He saw Noah tense and Aiden wished they hadn’t brought the weed after all. He became aware of a deep, slow baseline of a song vibrating in the background, somewhere just about the range of perception. The pulsing frequency and the incense lost its appeal and now made him anxious instead of excited. 
            “Uh,” Noah stuttered. “Where’s your TV?”
            “I asked you first.” Vanessa giggled and gave Noah a playful look, overexaggerated, the kind of smile you only see in cheesy movies. 
            Aiden felt a twang of jealousy blossom in his gut at the cute banter Noah was receiving. Then again, he figured it was best to let Noah run the show. If Noah said something stupid and Aiden kept his mouth shut, he could always plead the case later that he never agreed with his friend’s behavior. It was shady behavior from a best friend, but if this was a set-up, one of them had to be prepared. Noah wanted the attention, so he could take the risks.
            “Well,” Noah said taking his time. Aiden could damn near see the cogs turning and the smoke pouring from his friend’s ears as his brain churn over the idea of truth. 
            What the hell is he gonna say?
            “Just some party favors. If you’re into that.”
            Noah pulled the pre-rolled joints from his pocket and Aiden couldn’t believe his eyes. That was a pretty risky move. 0-60 mph in two seconds!
            The girls looked at each other, and Aiden swore he could see twinkle in their eyes, despite the weird smoke haze and blacklight glow. Then the shining eyes looked back at him. “What do you think?” Vanessa asked Elizabeth, though kept her gaze on the boys.
            “Could be fun.” Elizabeth sized Aiden up and her felt bundle of intestines tangle up within his belly. Yet at the same time, a curious tingle jolted his testicles. “Yes.” She bobbed her head up and down. “I do believe we should have a taste of those favors. It might make the conversation we need to have easier.”
            Aiden was sure he had heard wrong, so all did was stand there shocked as Vanessa stood up and walked to a black wooden dresser. She picked up a zippo that lay next to a smoking stick of incense supported in the mouth of a silver dragon. With a flick of her wrist, the zippo floated through the air to Noah. “Light one of those up, Cowboy.”
            Noah caught the lighter, but didn’t move. He had to be in as much shock as Aiden right now. A tug at the bottom of Aiden’s shirt broke his trance.
            “Are you going to stand the whole time?” Elizabeth asked. “Makes me nervous you just hovering above us.”
            “Oh. Sorry.” Aiden sat down onto the bean bag chair. It’s showtime, he thought. He’d just watch this play out like it was a movie. Yeah, a movie called “How Far will Noah Go?” And Aiden would do his best to not do anything stupid and to have faith that this was going to be a positive experience, not a catfish scam. Noah had been correct about what he said to convince Aiden to come this far. They never got lucky breaks like this. It was just their time to be winners for once. But they couldn’t win if they didn’t play. 
            Noah put the joint into his mouth, then said, “What kind of conversation do you want to have? I thought this was a movie marathon?” 
            Aiden could tell Noah was trying to look smooth again, but he just looked like a douche bag. Was he really gonna light up in the house? Maybe things were going too fast?
            Noah sparked the zippo and puffed on the joint. 
            Fear battled excitement as Aiden’s mind battled to reason with the events. Half of him worried about smoking in someone else’s house, about his mom actually calling Noah’s house instead of his cell phone, and what it would mean if she discovered that he’d lied about spending the night at his friend's.  And the other half was now in complete agreement with Noah’s original pitch. These girls liked Noah and Aiden for some reason and they wanted to party!
            “Well,” Vanessa said, taking the joint from Noah. “There’s no easy way to say this so I’ll just come right out with it: we belong to a coven of witches and we need to sacrifice two virgins tonight to appease a dark spirit.” 
            She raised the joint to her lips and Noah release the smoke he had been holding in a loud cough, a look of pure disbelief on his face. 
            “Well, as you can see, there is no TV in my room.”
            Aiden stared at Noah, his mind cursing. Was he suppose to laugh? It was a joke, right? He didn’t even know what type of humor these girls had. Maybe it wasn’t a joke and these two were loners around school because they were the freak goths. The ones who actually thought they were vampires and witches and drank blood and shit. There was no TV, though. Which meant there was no marathon. At least not upstairs.
            “Aiden,” Vanessa said, blowing out smoke. She turned to him and he could feel the gravity of her attention. “We knew you’d never come alone, so we invited Noah first so he could convince you. We chose you two very carefully.” 
            She passed the joint to Elizabeth, who took a hit with mechanical movements, no hint of humor on her face either.
            “Witches, huh?” Noah was back to his James Dean persona, but Aiden could hear some of his friend’s nervous tension underneath the cool demeanor of his question.
            “Yep,” Elizabeth said, releasing her own cloud. “A witches coven and we need to sacrifice a virgin to complete our ritual to Satan and birth our vision of evil into the world.” 
            Aiden knew it had to be a game, but the force that kept twisting his further-knotting intestines wouldn’t let him play along with the prank. The feeling of dread tugged and bit with sharp nails, making him want to flee.
            Elizabeth leaned over and presented the joint to him. It was strong and earthy. The aroma mixed with the incense made his head feel dizzy. As if absent of will, Aiden took the cherried joint with robotic movements and paused with the smoldering weed hovering in front of his face—unable to think through his next move.
            “Relax, guys!” Vanessa broke into laughter. “We’re kidding.”
            The serious composure Elizabeth had been maintaining cracked and she giggled. “You should see your faces.”
            Noah was quick to join in, but Aiden just stared at the joint still. This was it. Did he believe them or not? Once he smoked this, he was committed to whatever insanity came next.
            “Uh, is it such a good idea to be smoking in your house,” he asked.
            Vanessa got control of her laughter. “Oh, did you not care for the joke?”
            “It’s not that,” Aiden said, happy to be stalling longer. “I just wanna make sure we’re not gonna get busted for smoking in the house.”
            “I told you, my parents are gone. Even if they were able to come home tonight, they’d never smell a thing over this incense. Relax.”
            “And take a hit so we can tell you what we’re really gonna do.” Elizabeth smiled.
            Aiden resigned himself to knowing that this was quite possibly a decision that was going to change his life forever. He brought the joint to his mouth, imagined Elizabeth’s soft lips being on the paper just moments before, and took a hit.
            “So… we’re mostly kidding,” Vanessa said, after the weed was deep in his lungs. “We are not going to kill you. In fact, we really want your help. But we are witches. Kinda.”  
            Aiden released the sweet smoke. “I knew it. I’m getting out of here.” He handed the remains of the joint back up to Elizabeth on the futon.
            “She’s telling the truth.” Elizabeth was composed again, her voice filled with conviction. “No more jokes. This is real talk. Please don’t judge us. We’re coming to you with this proposition and we need you to promise that, even if you turn us down, you will not gossip about us all over school.”
            The whole tone shifted. With her words, Aiden’s fear vanished. The whole time he’d been worried that it was a scam to smear their reputation at school, and it turns out these girls had something they really wanted from Noah and Aiden and, apparently, it was super personal and something that could be used against them at school. In place of the fear was a deep curiosity to get to know both girls. The faces that looked at him now felt more sincere. 
            There’d been an ice-breaker and now this was the ‘get to know you’ part. 
            Noah must have noticed the difference too because he dropped the James Dean cool guy act. “Okay, what’s up?”
            “I know this will sound crazy, but I also know you guys will believe us because we’ve watched you for a while. We know we can trust you. That’s why we approached you last week.” Vanesa’s attention swiveled between the two of them. “We’re not witches, but we have found method for creating the life we want. Call it magick, witchcraft, power of positive thinking, law of attraction, manifesting or whatever other bullshit hallmark term you want. But the result is the same and so is the secret method—in principle anyway.
            “So you do want us to do a magick ritual with you?” Noah gave an incredulous look.
            And, just like that, Aiden was in over his head again. This was not serious. Fuck that. They were not discussing magick unless it was the theme of the movies they were supposed to be watching. And since there was no TV and no way these two were truthful, there should be no entertaining dumb topics like magick. Aiden was thankful Noah had seen it too. 
             “It sounds so stupid when you say it like that,” Elizabeth said, “but I promise it works.”
            Aiden thought about the New Age crapfest of channels he’d seen on YouTube. Spiritual men and women and tycoons in suits alike claiming that you could just manifest money, health, and love into your life with the law of attraction. Three easy steps to manifest now, the titles announced. It was all bullshit. They weren’t trying to catfish Noah and Aiden, they had been brainwashed into this ridiculous quasi-religious, cult mindset, and they were trying to recruit Noah and himself to be a part of it with them.
            “No way,” Aiden said. “I’ve heard my dad explain this stuff before. It’s like my aunt getting into Mary Kay or my mom with Amway. Multi-level marketing cults.” Aiden remembered his dad’s words and spoke them with confidence. 
            He felt proud being able to think clearly despite the THC that was seeping into his mind, threatening to slow his logic and make him susceptible to wild ideas like magick.  However, he still was not finding the strength to remove himself from the low bean bag chair.
            “At least hear our offer. I have a feeling you’re gonna want to help us.”
            Noah looked over at him, but Aiden couldn’t read the expression. His friend looked back. “What’s the offer?”
            “No.” Aiden shook his head. “Nothing is gonna make me hold hands in a circle around a bunch of healing stones and sing praise to the moon with spells and positive affirmations, while we burn patchouli incense.”
            Vanessa smirked. “That’s not what this entails.” She looked at Elizabeth. “You wanna tell him or should I?”
            “You’re the one who found all the information and taught me. I guess it’s you should continue to pass the torch.”
            “Okay.” Vanessa turned back to them. “Everything vibrates. That’s a law that humans have known for over two thousand years. Even the Egyptians taught the law of vibration and the other six hermetic principles to all their mystery students. Do you believe that everything vibrates?”
            Aiden was still mad. But he did remember learning about molecules and how every piece of matter is actually million and millions of molecules moving as such a rate that they became solid to the touch. Ice was only water molecules that had been slowed to such a slow rate of vibration, they appeared still and solid to the touch.
            “Yeah so,” he heard Noah mumbled, and Aiden found himself agreeing and imaging the molecules around himself vibrating thanks to the THC which seemed to be winning the battle for his attention at the moment.
            “Without getting too much into the quantum physics of it right now, like the dual-nature of particles, and spooky action, the vibrating energy of everything around us, everything that ever will or has been, can be attracted to or repelled from yourself. All you must do is align your thoughts and think as that thing would think. And that’s where we want your help. We want you to help us think certain thoughts so we can attract amazing things.”
            Aiden held back the comments that burned inside him, snarky comebacks begging to come out and defend his disbelief.
            “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s no harder to swallow than most mainstream religions. And,” Vanessa said, “let me assure you, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than just positive thinking and objects just materializing! What it really does is attract opportunities, not things. And then, depending on if the person seizes the opportunity, they do or do not get that thing which they were praying for. And the more in tune you get with your true desire, the more you push to get it and the more you recognize the right decision to make in those opportune moments.”
            “How?” Aiden heard himself say.
            “The human brain is a transmitter. It transmits our consciousness from elsewhere. It also takes the ideas we think and transmits them to this ethereal dimension where unseen forces manifest the opportunities into your daily life.”
            Noah remained silent and Aiden asked, “How can ideas transmit from us to the universe.” 
            “Everything vibrates. You agreed. How could humans back in the ancient Egypt preserve such knowledge in their temples and books? They had no microscopes or technology to observe molecules with. And yet they knew.”
            It was a valid point, but it didn’t prove that thoughts and prays were magick frequencies of transmissions. 
            Vanessa paused for a moment as if considering how to explain better. “What is a thought beside electrical impulses within the brain? Moving and vibrating neurons, causing the next neuron to vibrate and then the next. Those vibrations do not disappear—energy never disappears—it only transfers form. Ice to water to steam. From the circuits of your brain, the frequency of your thoughts vibrate out from you into the molecules of the air, earth, fire, and water, causing frequency changes that in turn bring to you the deepest desires and fears of your thoughts.” Her face was dead serious.
            “Yeah, we gotta go.” Noah broke his silence, then stood up.
            Finally.  Aiden followed suit.
            “Wait!” Elizabeth put her hand up. “For God’s sake, all we want you to do is to focus your imagination on something we ask you to maybe three time a week! And for that…” Her voice lowered. “Jesus, now it sounds like we’re begging to do them.” She looked over at Vanessa.
            “Just say it.” Vanessa waved her hand. “We can explain.”
            “Well… originally the plan was to compensate you with oral favors.”
            “Blowjobs!” Noah’s jaw dropped.
            “Not because we’re sluts, but because sexual energy is the strongest kind of transmission.” Vanessa reached out and took Noah’s hand. “Please, just sit for a second. Hear the argument and then make your decision. What have you got to lose? Three hours from your week?”
            Noah looked over and Aiden could barely process what he was hearing. 
            “And,” Elizabeth chimed in, “The best that can happen is that you two basically get free blow jobs.”
            Aiden watched his friend sink back into the bean bag seat. It was happening. Maybe it wasn’t a threesome, but it was seriously close to his prediction. 
            “Okay, here’s the ten second explanation,” Vanessa started.  “Sex energy is the most creative force in the world. On the physical plane, it creates a human being. On the ethereal plane, it manifests opportunities, which in turn, can grow in to huge successes. When a person builds to climax, these creative frequencies are coiled and ready to transmit with a power that they can’t muster except in the throes of ecstasy. When you cum, the thought vibrations project outward, locking in a probability that the thought you were envisioning will happen in a future event. That’s all the world is, you know, an endless sea of vibrating probabilities.”
            Elizabeth stood up and leaned to Aiden’s ear. “Please. At least give it a try,” she said. “You are the two least douchie-est guys in the whole school, and I actually think we’ll have a lot in common one day. Be friends hopefully. We just couldn’t afford to wait the length of time required to build a deep romantic relationship. So our plan is mutual agreement and business trust first. And hopefully a friendship grows after. And if you can’t stay professional and business-like, we have to find someone else.”
            “Business blowjobs?”
            Aiden wasn’t sure if he was high or in shock at everything that was being said. He had fallen into Wonderland with Alice and he wanted to be home. 
            “Yeah, that’s a way of phrasing it I guess,” Vanessa said. “We are willing to build up the sex energy in you with a blowjob, but you can’t think about the act. All your energy has to be focused on the thought we give you.”
            “Yeah,” Elizabeth said. “For example, we might ask you to think about us in front of the Eiffel tower on a glorious Paris vacation. Or us feeling amazing on a cruise ship by some Norwegian island. And that’s where your attention has to be. If we have four minds vibrating on what we want, it will be stronger than just Vanessa and me. And you guys get free sex out of it.”
            The whole thing was so ridiculous, Aiden thought. A bad plot on Pornhub. And yet he was super turned on.  
            “If all four of us are imagining the same future reality for me and Elizabeth, and push our thoughts forward as we climax, chances are very high that the ritual will be a success.”
            “This is unbelievable.” Aiden was saying, and then Elizabeth was pulling him down to the bean bag chair. Over Elizabeth’s shoulder Aiden could see Noah engaged in the same seduction by Vanessa.
            “This is no joke.” Elizabeth undid his button and move to his jean’s zipper. Aiden stiffened.
            “We’ll give you three months starting now,” Vanessa said across from them. “If nothing manifests, we’ll assume you’re liars and are just getting off without holding up your end of the bargain. And you’re out.”
            Aiden almost came as Elizabeth slid her hand down his thigh. “I’m having trouble breathing right now,” he said, trying to assuage his insecurity of never being touched by a woman. “How can I possibly concentrate about you on a cruise ship or European vacation?” He could still get out of this, half his brain screamed.
            Elizabeth laughed. “That’s okay. We’re willing to work with you to build up endurance. And if you’re quick learners and polite helpers, and we decide we care deeply for you, then there can be discussion of doing magic prayer for a wish of yours. Are you in?”
            Noah looked at Aiden. “Merry Christmas, dude.”
            Aiden exhaled and gave up the resistance.  “Happy Hanukah, bro.”

About the author:
Learn to appreciate the darkest moments of your life.  It is those moments that make our time in the light even more beautiful.
            S.C. Mendes is the author of THE CITY, the first book in the Max Elliot saga.  He welcomes reader emails.  Get freebies and updates by following him on Facebook.