Let me tell you, Tina loves to celebrate holidays something fierce, and has ever since we met. I’m afraid my apathy and general disgruntlement regarding holidays might wear off on her eventually though and that would be super sad, so I’ve taken this year to start my holiday spiritualization quest. To begin, I’ve written a silly short story about Christmas eve. More specifically, a story to tell my child to make sure he never tries to sneak into his presents early ever.
Let’s call it “Peeking at Presents”
Blanketed in darkness, Mortimer began his nimble descent. His ninja-like reflexes served him well as he rolled off the top bunk, landing in a crouch with a soft thump in the night. Quickly surveying his surroundings, he was relieved he hadn’t been discovered. His room was exactly the same as several seconds earlier.
Whisking himself away into the night, Mort latched onto the doorknob and silently slipped into the dark hallway. He rolled out of his door to the pitch-dark cavern beyond.
Sliding along with his fingertips brushing the rough paint, he hit his first landmark. The bathroom door. Ever so slowly, he slid his toes against the rough carpet until he felt the cool, glossy finish of the dining room.
Suddenly he froze. Did someone whisper his name? A chill wind crept across the back of his neck. Maybe someone forgot to shut a window. He couldn’t leave any loose ends behind him though, that could only spell his doom.
Changing course, he tiptoed to his parents’ room in the hallway adjacent to the one he’d just left. Cautiously groping the still air, he found the door and crouched low to listen.
Strange, it was a lot darker than yesterday when he snuck out to acquire the gingerbread cookies.
Ah, there’s the culprit.
None of the clocks in the kitchen were on. The snow must have killed the power again. In that case, he could afford to hurry. It was too dark for anyone to see him sneaking around. Plus it seemed like it was going to get much colder. After some reconnaissance, he could retreat to the safety of his favorite quilt. He confirmed the whispering in the vicinity of his parents’ room, and it was time to strike.
Darting up off the ground, he snuck back the way he’d come. Nearly falling headlong over a forgotten chair, he skirted as far around the table as he dared until he bumped into the door joining the dining room to the kitchen. Maneuvering until he could just make out the metallic smell of the door handle, he lowered the latch to the door carefully. An icy burst of air bumped the door into his nose, setting his heart aquiver.
Blinking in a daze, he let his ears adjust in the darkness. Still with the whispering! Was he hearing things? It sounded the same as before, but he could almost make out the words this time. Was that his name? Why were his parents so loud, or was that them? Maybe it was a living room window open and there were-
What if robbers were trying to get in! Mort slunk to the floor with narrowed eyes.
Nobody was getting into this house on his watch.
Stalking into the living room with his arms at the ready, he crept into the middle of the room to pinpoint the direction of the whispering.
Mort almost cried out in pain then, as the Christmas tree flared up in all it’s multicolored glory. He blinked away the tears from being blinded and dove under an end table to assess the situation. The whispering had silenced itself in the glow of the Christmas lights. Are the lights on a timer? Clever mom and dad, had they minimized the lighting to deter him from this mission? It must be Christmas then, they rigged the tree to turn on at midnight!
Or was it motion activated? A trap? His parents were worthy adversaries indeed. After several minutes though, it was clear nobody was coming. What good was a trap if you fell asleep guarding it, sheesh.
Mort took a quick inventory of the windows, confirmed they were all closed and locked, and leaped silently to his quarry. Eyes all a sparkle, he marveled at the mountain of colorfully wrapped packages in front of him.
“Wooow.” Whispering in glee, he quickly took inventory and separated the gifts labeled for him. Ugh, why did Marina have so many? She already had about a thousand sippy cups and stuffed animals, how many more could one girl use? He shuffled hers behind all the others and grabbed a few of his more promising looking ones. Giving a last long look and listen to make sure he was alone, Mort carefully, silently peeled back the sticky tape sealing his treasure.
There was a painting in the first package. Cool, a painting! Turning it so the tree lit it up, he was. Well, confused. It looked like someone had thrown a bucket of red paint at the canvas and then scratched out the silhouette of a person, just black ink on their fingernails. At least, he thought it was a person. There were no real defining traits except holes where the eyes would be, the vibrant red bled through and looked right through him no matter which direction he pointed the picture. Shuddering, he shoved the canvas back into its wrapping and tossed it to the back of the pile.
He grabbed a heftier package then, one with more bulk. He rocked it back and forth and a faint twinkling sang out into the night. The boy tapped his lip in thought for a few moments before carefully revealing this one too. Inside was a magic question ball. “Well, at least it isn’t socks.” He whispered to himself.
Whipping his head around at the sudden sound of hushed laughter, his eyes swept the area clean.
He waited a minute after whispering to the empty living room. Must be hearing things. He shook the ball in his hand without much thought, alarmed to see a picture of himself smiling inside.
He shook it a few more times: Him smiling but with pointed teeth. Him cowering in fear. Him staring angrily straight at his real self. Recalling Halloween when he’d asked for some scary stories for Christmas, he silently chastised his parents. This was a little too far guys. Sliding the ball back into its box and then into the paper, he caught a glimpse of the picture glaring at him before it disappeared behind the holographic snowflake wrapping. Tossing this one back with the painting, Mort decided to call it a day.
Downtrodden, he turned to sulk back to his room. He nearly fell flat on his face tripping over a small package.
“What!?” His eyes went wide as the small box mewed its little heart out. “You can’t put a kitten in a box!” Mort’s joy at hearing the meowing turned to panic as he thought of how scared a little kitten would be, how hungry it was. It must have been freezing in there! He ungraciously ripped the paper and threw it to the floor. A few minutes fighting the tape later, it was finally free.
“Got it!” He threw open one of the box flaps, and the world plunged into darkness. The Christmas tree couldn’t have picked a worse time. He groped for the second box flap when the cat inside the box yowled loudly, ferociously.
“It’s okay little guy, I’m your friend!” He cooed to the spitting feline hesitantly, then slowly lowered his hand gently until he brushed the bottom.
Small hands explored the empty package frantically. Nothing. The hissing and growling stopped abruptly. Nervously, Mort tossed the box at the tree and backed away. The hair on his neck stood at end, reacting to the voices suddenly whispering his name. Harsh breath tickled the inside of his ears. Tears of fear welled up in his eyes, disorienting him even in the inky darkness. Invisible fingers traced their way up his back.. Mort panicked, bolting for the kitchen door.
Before he arrived, the darkness shifted and writhed around him, a living wall of shadow. A cat shaped itself out of ethereal shadows. Mort froze in place. The cat couldn’t be real, he could see the door right through it. But if it wasn’t real, why did he see the door in its sickly glow? He decided to take the chance. It couldn’t be real.
The apparition arched its back, growling and flicking at him with translucent claws. Shrieking in a human voice, the cat leaped at his face! Burning eyes and fetid breath burrowed into his mind. Mort yelled out and tripped over his own feet, dragging himself backward.
The cat was gone.
He flung himself off the ground into the nook of the fireplace. His back against the solid wall made him feel safer, and he could see the entire room from here. Well, would have anyway with some light. The deafening silence roared in his ears as spectral shapes flickered in and out.
Mort stayed very still, scarcely daring to breathe.
After a few minutes, he conjured his ninja alter-ego, Mortimer Wild the Kid. Elite super spy. He wouldn’t let himself be chased into corners by shadows and whispers!
Drawing to his full height, he took a defiant step forward, daring the shadows to come at him. Puffed up his chest with the next step, and then balled his fists at his side to-
An icy claw stabbed into is ankle, a strangled scream choking the boy. He fell into the tree face first. Every fake pine needle on the fake tree stabbed at him with malice, shoving him to the floor. The skeletal grip pulled him inexorably into the fireplace. His racing heart drown the rest of the world. Mort’s eyes were wide, gaping at the ethereal sinister face coalescing in the blackness. Its twisted smile laughing without a sound, opening ever wider as it drew him into its mouth.
No longer fighting the streaming tears, Mort pried violently at the clammy fist. He winced as his fingernails broke and bent backward, but still it remained.
He locked eyes with the monster in the fireplace, its gaze piercing his soul. The two stared unblinking for an eternity.
Bright light cut into his eyes suddenly, blinding him even worse than the horrible darkness.
“Mort, what the heck are you doing out here man?”
His fathers’ irritated voice rang hollow in Mort’s ears, bouncing to and fro in his head until he was ripped back to his senses.
“Dad!” Mort flung himself across the room into his fathers’ arms, burying his face into strong shoulders. Waves of relief washed over him, terrified sobs wracking his small frame. “Dad there’s something in the fireplace! It tried to eat me and I couldn’t get away and there was a cat and it tried to claw my face off and all the lights were off but the Christm-”
“Mort, Mort. It’s okay son, I’m right here buddy. You’re totally fine, you just had a nightmare.”
“No it was real! I saw the painting and the eight ball under the tree and then-”
“Judging by the paper all over the floor, I already know what you were doing.” Sighing, his father continued, “we told you if you couldn’t wait until Christmas day to open your presents that we’d have to take them back, didn’t we?”
His father’s stern voice held little room for discussion. Gathering Mort in his arms, the two traveled to his now brightly lit room.
An hour later, Mort lie in bed staring at the waving shadows on the ceiling. He promised to stay in bed so they wouldn’t throw away his presents, but the loud whispering in his bed and the yowling cat outside promised to make this night a very long one.