While we might not have a new episode for you for a few weeks, we didn’t want you to miss us too much. Inspired by our most recent episode, Charlotte has written us a horror flash fiction piece set at Christmas time.
Thank you for supporting us throughout the year and we hope you all have a wonderful holiday season! See you in the new year!
Carly lay awake, listening to the grownups downstairs. Like always, she listened with a knot in her stomach. She could hear her father and his friends laughing; the best kind of sound. But she knew from experience that those sounds could quickly turn ugly. On the worst nights, she’d hear her mother crying out in pain.
On the single table in her room, the fairy lights on her miniature Christmas tree twinkled. Her father wouldn’t allow her nightlights — cost too much money to have a pointless light burning all night — but her mother had bought her these as a special treat.
‘So you don’t get scared during Christmas,’ she’d whispered before kissing the top of Carly’s head. Neither one of them needed to say what she might be scared of.
Her father had threatened to throw the tree out, but her mother had stood her ground — and a beating — so Carly had been allowed to keep it. Her mother had bought her a wealth of batteries from the pound shop to keep it lit every night of the Christmas holidays.
She reached over to her battered bedside table and picked up her ear defenders as the voices below grew raucous. They muffled the noise to a gentle hum, and she felt that tense knot begin to dissolve.
It was gone two and Emma had almost finished clearing up the detritus of her living room. Her husband, Sam, his brother, and a couple of their friends were crashed out upstairs. She was careful not to clink the empty bottles together as she picked them up from round the room. Taking them over to the recycling bin, she placed them in as quietly as possible. As she balanced the last one on top, pain shot up her wrist and she almost knocked the whole pile tumbling.
Emma cradled her wrist against her chest, wincing. She was familiar with pain, and the injury her husband had inflicted tonight, much to the mirth of his friends, was actually quite minor.
When she finally turned the lights off, every part of her ached, although where Sam had punched her two days ago hurt worst of all. She was halfway up the stairs before she remembered Carly’s stocking. She went back down and retrieved the presents she’d bought from the charity shop and wrapped in newspaper.
She knelt down by the grubby fireplace and hesitated. There were two small stockings left out on the hearth. One was Carly’s normal red one, the other was black. Emma looked closer and realised that the second one had been coloured in with a black felt tip.
She leaned back, confused. But it was coming up to two-thirty and she desperately needed sleep, so she put the few small bits she’d been able to afford into the red stocking. She wiped away the annual tears she cried at not being able to fill her daughter’s stocking even halfway.
Emma tiptoed upstairs then paused outside the bedroom door. She could hear Sam’s wet, drunken snores from inside.
I wish I could be rid of him, she thought. God, if anyone’s due a Christmas miracle, it has to be me. Or Carly at least. Yes, if I can’t be rid of him, please let Carly be free. A guttural snort came from the other side of the door.
‘Screw it,’ she muttered, and crossed the hall to Carly’s room. She got undressed and squeezed onto the narrow bed next to her daughter. The smell of soap filled her nostrils instead of the rank scent of beer.
She fell asleep, curled up next to her daughter, a smile on her face even as worry creased her brow.
Carly might only have been seven, but she could tell the difference between someone who was awake and someone who was asleep. So she waited until her mother was breathing deeply before sitting up.
She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, and it was lucky her mum woke her up. And if her mother had only just come to bed, it meant Santa couldn’t possibly have been yet.
Carly sat on the bed, thinking again of the letter she’d written — not to Santa, but to Krampus. She’d learned about him at school. In other countries, Saint Nicholas gave out presents, while his companion, Krampus, whipped bad little children. Nicholas rewarded; Krampus punished.
Even though she’d never heard of him before, Carly had reasoned that, if they could eat curry and Chinese takeaway in England, then why couldn’t they have Krampus too? So she’d written a second letter that she’d slipped into the envelope that contained her Santa letter. She’d posted them both together, her hand almost shaking with nerves as she’d put her letter in the special postbox at the supermarket.
A sound from downstairs made her stiffen. She listened hard and heard the noise again. It was like something being hauled across the floor — a sack maybe? A sack full of presents?
Carly scowled. It wasn’t presents she wanted this year. Hadn’t they got her letters?
The agony of waiting was too much so she slipped off the bed, careful not to wake her mother, and tiptoed down the stairs.
She didn’t dare switch a light on, but there was enough illumination from the streetlight outside their house for her to see most of the living room. There were two stockings in front of the fireplace, and both were full.
A shadow rose up to her right and she cried out, stumbling back. She thought Krampus might have come to punish her, that she’d been wrong to write the letter. But then she realised it was just the door, swinging shut behind her.
Her heart hammering, she crept over to the two stockings and picked up the black one. It was very heavy. It contained something bulky at one end but long and thin at the other.
For a moment, she thought about putting it down and going back to bed, forgetting the whole thing. But then a twinge of pain shot up her side, as if to remind her of why she’d written that letter.
She turned and carried the stocking upstairs.
Emma struggled to pull herself out of sleep. ‘What is it, honey?’ she asked blearily.
Carly handed over the black stocking. It was so unexpectedly heavy, Emma nearly dropped it. ‘What’s this?’ she asked.
‘Krampus got it for me.’
‘Krampus, Mummy. He punishes the bad people. He got this for me.’
In a swift, sickening moment, Emma realised what she held in her hand. She sat up, wide awake now, and asked her daughter. ‘Who’s Krampus? Don’t lie now.’
Emma listened as her daughter told her about the legend, the duality. As she listened, the weight in her hand began to feel more natural, it began to feel right.
‘I don’t want him to hurt you any more, Mummy,’ Carly said. She took in a shuddering breath and lifted her nightgown to reveal three large red welts along her side. Emma recognised them instantly; she’d seen them enough times on her own skin, but never on Carly’s. ‘And I don’t want him to hurt me either,’ her daughter whispered.
A coldness spread through Emma. She stood up, pulling the gun out of the stocking. ‘Go downstairs, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘Go into the living room and shut the door.’
Carly nodded and did as she was told. Emma waited until she heard the click of the door and then walked silently but purposefully into the bedroom where her husband was sleeping. She looked down at the gun for a moment. It was like the ones she’d seen in spy movies. The overly long barrel raised the word ‘silencer’ in her mind.
She lifted the gun and pointed it at her husband’s chest. She couldn’t tell if it was loaded, and she wouldn’t have the first clue about how to check. But just like the sensation of rightness that had run through her when the gun was in her hand, she knew it would be loaded, and with just the right amount of bullets.
She fired. It was louder than she’d expected. Her husband’s body bucked once, flesh and blood spurting up from his chest.
Emma lowered the gun and smiled. ‘I always told you I’d kill you if you laid a hand on my daughter.’
She walked out of her husband’s room and into that of his brother. The gun went off again. She moved to the next room.
She’d been correct. There were just the right number of bullets.
Carly sat downstairs and listened to the muffled pops of the gun firing. Each time, she winced, expecting it to draw one of her father’s friends out to investigate, but she could only hear her mother’s soft footsteps.
After a while, she heard the shower running. She glanced at her other stocking and the temptation was too much. By the time her mother came downstairs, washed and dressed, Carly had a small pile of presents laid out in front of her. When Emma saw them, her eyes widened.
‘What are those?’
‘Presents from Santa.’
‘But they’re not the ones I–‘ Emma stopped abruptly.
Carly shrugged. ‘They were the only ones in here.’
Emma held out her hand. It was shaking slightly. ‘Can I see please?’
Obediently, Carly handed over the two fake passports, the plane tickets, and the envelope which contained more money than Emma had ever seen.
‘I’ve always wanted to be called Laura,’ Carly said brightly. ‘Where do you think Santa got the pictures of us?’
‘I… I… don’t know, sweetheart,’ Emma said. She’d gone very pale and there were tears coursing down her cheeks.
Carly stood up, worried now. ‘Is there something wrong? Do we have to stay here?’
The question seemed to jolt her mother out of whatever had hypnotised her. There were still tears on her cheeks, but now they flowed over a beaming smile.
‘No, sweetheart, we don’t have to stay. It looks like we’re off to see your Auntie Nell in Switzerland. Would you like that?’
Carly threw her arms around her mother. ‘Oh yes, I’d like that very much. Merry Christmas, Mummy.’
Her mother said something back. It might have been ‘Merry Christmas,’ but Carly couldn’t make it out through the sobbing. It was the sweetest sound she’d ever heard.
By Charlotte Bond