A Christmas Eve Story
by Milan Smith
Thank you, thank you, if I can just sit here a few minutes, I’ll feel much better. Yes, please, the more light the better.
“Do you want a drink?”
Yes, please. Something to calm me down. Whiskey if you have it. Thank you. I’m sorry to barge in on you like this, David, on Christmas Eve, but I was sure it was over for me if I stayed home. I hope I didn’t disturb your family?
“They’re sleeping soundly. ‘Becca always sleeps hard, and the kids won’t be up before morning. Of course, it’s Christmas, so morning may be four o’clock. But maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll let me sleep in ‘til five.”
Well, it’s good of you to see me like this, this late at night. But, you’ve always been good to me. You and my wife are – were – the two closest to me in the world. I miss her, even after all this time. It’s been a year now. It’s hard to be alone, especially on Christmas.
“I know, Phil. So tell me, does this have anything to do with the ‘feelings’ you’ve gotten over the last two weeks?”
It’s all about that. But there’s more I haven’t told you, or anyone else. Mostly because I know how people think of me. You know, this here. I admit I drink too much, my wife tells me – used to tell me – every day. But I’ve never seen things before, so I don’t know why I would now.
“So tell me what happened. All of it.”
I don’t want to end up in the funny house, David.
“You won’t. Tell me what happened, then you can stay on the couch tonight.”
Well, if you really want to hear it? Well alright, it started a few weeks ago, when I put up the Christmas lights. Have you seen them yet? Oh. Well, it took me about a week, I spent days just stringing up the trees out front. Then I bought one of those lighted Santa Clauses with a sled and reindeer, and I even put up lights around the house and windows, all reds and greens everywhere. It’s my big project for the year. Been doing it since the kids were small, you know.
Hell, I must’ve spent $10,000 on decorations over the years. Kept at it even after the kids left. Habit, I suppose. Or an old man’s obsession.
Anyway, when it was all done, I found a string of lights lying around the kitchen. Now that wasn’t so odd, except that I always put away my spare lights in the garage. And I remember doing that this year. But three days later, there they were, under the table. Well, I thought, maybe I’d just forgotten them and not noticed. You know, with this stuff, the whiskey, even I wonder sometimes. But forgetting things isn’t the same as seeing them. Keep that in mind.
Well, the next night, I got home from shopping – you know how cold it got last week, don’t you? Dropped 40 degrees in one day. Instead of sweating, I’m freezing. It’s so cold, I’ve got goose bumps all up and down my back. So I run in the house to get warm, carrying a buncha packages, when I fell down just inside the door. I cussed a little, got up and looked to see what I’d tripped over. Thought the weather stripping had got loose, but I found another string of those damn Christmas lights. It was odd, because I knew I’d gotten them all up. But I didn’t think too hard on it, I just put them away and went about wrapping the presents. That gave me something to do, it gets lonely when you’re all alone, especially when you’ve lived with someone for 35 years. I’d never been away from Doris more than a day or two since we were married, but it wasn’t so bad when I had something to do.
Well, I’d pretty much forgotten the whole thing by the next day. I figured I’d dropped the lights, and in the rush of things, I simply didn’t notice. Not very odd, is it? Happens to a lot of people.
Then that night I started hearing things, like little rustling sounds. It was hard to tell what it was, but lying there in the dark, in the quiet, I thought I heard it coming from the kitchen. But I was tired, so I ignored it and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning, and just to be sure, I checked out the kitchen, looking inside the cabinets to see if anything was chewed on, like a mouse woulda done. Didn’t find nothing, even checked the stack of newspapers by the couch. But not a thing.
“Maybe you have a squirrel between the walls. It’s an old house.”
Yeah, could be. Anyway, I forgot about it and did my errands for the day. But every day after that it was the same, a string of lights showed up in a closet or under a chair, and even under the bed, though I never once took the lights to my bedroom. And of course, every night I’d hear things moving. Sometimes I got up and looked around, but couldn’t ever find anything.
Anyway, a whole week goes by like that, then last night, things went south. I was getting ready for bed, and went to take a shower. And when I was done, I turned off the water, and as I pulled back the curtain, I saw a string of lights dangling over the side of the tub, as if someone had put them there. Nothing special about them, they were just lying there like they’d been dropped. I picked them up and followed the string with my eyes, and I saw it was plugged in the outlet by the mirror. I tell ya David, I was shaking as the last of the water ran down the drain with that long sucking sound. I knew if that string a lights had hit water, I woulda been fried like a catfish.
Well after I got out, I sat and spent a lot of time trying to figure what to do. I know I hadn’t put the lights there. Something had happened, or someone was playing games. But what could I tell people? They’d just laugh and ignore me. So I carried the lights out to the garage and dumped them off.
I was still shook up, so I went to the kitchen to, um, get something to settle myself. Well, I reached up to open the cabinet and get my spare bottle when, can you believe it, dozens of them lights just fell on me! I screamed and hollered and tore at them, and they were blinking red and green and white, and they had me like a net. I clawed at them screaming and yelling and rolling around in my long johns, and it took me ten minutes to get away from them. Then I sat there on the floor, staring at them. The lights had gone out by then, and they lay there like a bunch of dead snakes. It was strange.
The first thing I thought was that maybe the drinking had gotten to me more than I knew. I’d hate to think I was hallucinating, but what else would you think? Spooks? I never believed much in them, but unless I’m crazy – Do I seem crazy to you David?
“No, no you don’t.”
Good, good. That’s something. Well, I was shaking again and my teeth were rattling, and I figured I needed to sleep off whatever was going on with me. I mean, maybe something with this, the drinking, had gotten to me. So I went right to bed and left the lights on in the living room. The overhead lights, I mean. I pulled the plug on the Christmas tree too, just to be safe. I mean, you know, I was shook up, David.
Well, I went to bed, pulled up the covers, and lay there kinda stiff, listening for sounds, movements, anything. I heard the wind outside, it’d picked up and was whistling kinda long and slow, but that was it. I just lay there, trying not to move, looking around every few minutes, and at some point I fell off asleep.
When I did, I had a dream I was in a box, somewhere dark, all alone, and little bugs were crawling all over me. I tried to slap them away, but they kept coming. Then I felt like someone was trying to burn me with a cigarette, all over my arms and legs. Then I felt it, the strangling feeling, like someone had their hands around my neck and was squeezing. I woke up and screamed.
They were there, those damn lights! They were around my neck David, strangling me, I gagged and wheezed and tried to pull them off, but I couldn’t get them loose. They were humming and vibrating and the bulbs were burning my skin. I swear I couldn’t get the damn things off me, and I thought I’d die right there in my own bed, when I remembered my hunting knife in the drawer of the whatcha call it – the night stand. I reached over, choking, my hands slapping though the drawer until I found it, and I pulled it loose from the sheath somehow and I began to cut and cut until they were off me.
But I didn’t stop there, I cut up all the damn lights on the bed too, I cut them two or three dozen times, taking a handful and slicing through them. That’s a damn good knife, I tell you. And after I stopped, I sat there on the bed, huffing and puffing and my heart thumping like it was ready to blow.
When I could think again, I got dressed and headed for the front door. When I ran through the living room, I could hear them, the lights from the tree, they were humming. Now, Christmas lights don’t hum, so I ran faster, then I tripped right in front of the door. I looked down, and they were wrapped around my legs! I screamed David, I screamed like a little girl until I crawled out that front door, feeling those things pulling on my leg even as I yanked the door shut and stumbled away. Then I drove here as fast as I could, all shook up, wondering if I’m nuts or what.
“That’s one hell of a story.”
Well, there you go. I don’t blame you for not believing me. You probably think I’m three sheets to the wind, and I’m seeing little pink elephants. But look at my neck. It’s all red, like someone wrapped wire around it, right?
Well, I don’t know what else to say. I’m scared to go home, not knowing what to expect. Maybe with Doris gone, maybe I’m not all there anymore.
“Well, sleep here tonight, Phil, and in the morning, after the kids are done with the presents, we’ll drive over and take a look.”
Yeah, but then everything will be back to normal. It’s always late in the evenings that things seem to happen. I hate to ask you this, David, on Christmas Eve and all, but could you drive over and take a look? Just look around, see if everything’s as it should be? See if there’s cut-up lights in my bedroom. Just look?
I know it’s a hassle, David, but it’s only a couple miles away. You’ll be back in 20 minutes. If it’s me, I’ll quit this, the whiskey, I’ll go to rehab and get it out of me. But I can’t go back without knowing. Just see if there’s anything funny going on. Or if it’s me.
I know, I’m sorry, but I need to know.
“Give me your keys, Phil.”
Alright. Now when you go in the front door, my room is straight back, on the left.
“I’ll be back in half an hour.”
Thank you, David. Thank you.
“Lay off the liquor until I get back.”
Sure, David, this’ll be it for tonight. And thanks.
Hello? Oh, hi Rebecca.
“Is David gone?”
Just left. I see his tail lights. He stopped at the corner, now he’s turning, and yeah, he’s gone. I hope I didn’t wake the kids.
“No, they both sleep well.”
“So tell me what you’re up to. It seems this little joke is more involved than you let on. And on Christmas Eve, too.”
Well, did you hear my little story to David?
“Most of it. You have a wild imagination, Phil. I never knew.”
Yeah, well, I’ve been holding back all these years, and I decided to let it all out.
“So, what’d you do? What’s the joke?”
Well, I put up all the Christmas lights on the inside of the house, in the living room. I set up the elves and the Santa Claus and the reindeer, and made the place look like Santa’s workshop sorta.
“How many lights?”
All of them. $10,000 worth of lights in my living room. The walls are nothing but lights, floor to ceiling. I strung the tables and the chair legs and the couch and everything else. I saved a few for the special touch, of course.
“What special touch?”
I set a pressure plate in the middle of the living room – those are hard to find – and when David steps on it, every single light comes on at once! Oh, I’d love to see him then, love to see his face, while he’s surrounded by tens of thousands of lights and all of Santa’s elves and reindeer. But the best part is the lights that’ll fall from the ceiling like a fishnet. That’s the extra, just to give him a chill. It took three months to think it all up, and to make it work. It’s not so easy as you’d think, to get all those lights to come on at one time.
“And the story you told him was just to make him nervous, to make it easier to scare him?”
Yep, exactly. I know he don’t believe me, but back of his mind he can’t help but be a little scared, and that’s all I need.
“I see. And why exactly did you do all this? Why all that work for a ten-second scare?”
Well, to be honest, I’m plain sick of Christmas. With Doris gone, I’m now in the Halloween business. I only kept it up for her, you know, after the kids moved out. And I thought I should get some use outta those lights before I tossed them. But from now on, all my time goes into Halloween. By the way, I lied, I still have some lights left. I thought you might want to know.
“Why? What’d you do?”
Well, you know that present I got David?
“The tool box? Or that’s what you hinted.”
Yeah, but the toolbox is in my truck, under a blanket. What’s under the tree is the other lights, and when he opens it up, well, think of the world’s biggest jack-in-the-box.
I can’t wait to see him jump. First tonight, then tomorrow morning, still half-asleep, a thousand lights exploding in his face – God, what a Halloween this’ll be.
“Christmas, you mean.”
Yeah, that too.
* * *
Milan Smith has published 34 short stories in various magazines, including Pear Noir, Everyday Fiction, Jersey Devil Press, and Big Pulp. After he got his B.S. degree in business from the University of Florida, he worked in the business world for two years, and hated it. Then he got job as a reporter for a year, and hated that. Finally, he decided to try writing, and now works part-time at night and writes during the mornings, and he loves it.