A Very Dexter Christmas
Tonight's the night. The night before, that is.
And just like our dear old friend, St. Nick, I know just who's been naughty or nice. But for the naughty, I deliver something a little different from coal. A certain Secret Santa is going to find that out tonight.
The mall's parking lot is still busy when I pull in. I found a spot, but it wasn't easy. It's too busy for my liking, but I'm running out of time to do what I need to do.
I eye the mall's main entrance. It's still lit up and busy—even though the place is almost closed. I glance at my rearview mirror and make eye contact with my passenger.
"Ready to do this, Harrison?"
The little blonde boy nods insistently. "Yes, daddy. Santa needs to know what I want. Tomorrow's Christmas!"
"Well, then I guess we should get to it! We've got no time to waste!"
The line for Santa still looks long by the time Harrison and I get there, but from what the other parents around us say it was a lot worse earlier. The elves, on the other hand, don't look so happy.
Soon after we get into the queue, they rope off the end of the area. "Santa has to deliver a lot of presents tonight," one of them says in monotone. She looks like she's had a rough day, but she sounds worse. "Let's keep the line moving."
After about forty-five minutes we get to the front of the line. If I had thought the elves seemed a little grumpy, they were nothing compared to Santa.
Or, I should say, Austin Redwood.
Harrison isn't the only one who wants to meet Santa Christmas Eve. I want my Christmas present, too. And this is one I've had on my list for a while.
Redwood has worked as a mall Santa for a little while, but I only figured him out recently. He's the ultimate creepy Santa. Kris Cringle got a little too into his job; a little too interested in the young children on his lap. He doesn't shy away from breaking into their houses, either.
When we get to the front of the line, I feel the familiar chill of one Dark Passenger talking to another. I glance in Redwood's direction. Even beneath the rosy cheeks and bright white beard, I can tell he feels it, too.
The family ahead of us gets their picture and a haggard-looking elf waves us forward, "Next."
We step up and Redwood seems tense, even if just for a moment. Then he turns to my son, "Ho, ho, ho! Have what's your name? Have you been a good boy this year?"
Harrison answers Santa's questions, but only just a little into my son's wish list—trust me, there's a lot more to go—their conversation ends.
Redwood looks up at me, a very un-Santa-like eyebrow raised, "Are you going to tell me what you want for Christmas, too?" His voice wavers.
Not yet, I think. "Harrison is really shy. He wants me to stick around."
Redwood nods once, "Very well then. Everyone smile for the camera."
We lean in, smile, and then—
Once we're finally home, I know I'm running out of time to catch up to Redwood. At least by now I know his Santa duties are officially done, but I just hope he's not taking his work home with him.
"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"
I put down the book, hoping that Harrison is almost asleep, but visions of sugarplums do not dance in his head. He's too excited for what's to come.
I know that feeling.
"Read it again, daddy!"
"Harrison, if you don't go to sleep then Santa won't come. You don't want that, do you?"
He sighs, "Fine. Did you put out cookies and milk for him?"
"And a carrot for Rudolph."
I finish tucking him in and make my way back into my part of the apartment. A tired, but festive, Jamie Batista watches The Santa Clause from my couch.
"Heading out?" she asks, muting the television.
"Yeah. Sorry to call on you on Christmas Eve. I have to do some last minute shopping for Harrison and I'm hoping that at least one store is open tonight. Turns out I forgot something on his list."
"Well, that was a pretty long list."
"Don't I know it? And this was right at the top."
She takes a swig of hot chocolate and nods. "Well, good luck, Dexter. I'll keep an eye on him."
I head out the door, the sounds of the television starting up again.
My drive seems far more jolly than usual. Night isn't the dark, covert friend I remember, and the moon is far from the only light in town. Houses are strung up with lights and decorations, more every year. It doesn't seem like I'm the only creature stirring tonight.
But as I wind my way through the city to Austin Redwood's neighbourhood, the lights die out. The houses get smaller and the holiday spirit weaker. It's hard to enjoy Christmas in a neighbourhood like that, but I know Redwood has been trying. The police reports don't lie, but it did take some extracurricular research to pin down the culprit.
I finally make it to Redwood's house. I can tell, even from my spot across the street, that he's up. The dull, bluish flashes of light on his living room walls tell me he's watching television.
I sit back and wait for him to fall asleep so I can deliver his present.
It isn't until almost three in the morning that movement ceases. Merry Christmas, Dexter. Redwood hasn't gotten up for a beer or bathroom break in a while, even if the dull flashes of light continue.
I slip on my gloves and make my way into the shadows.
The closer I get to Redwood's window, the more certain I am that he's asleep. All snug in his armchair, the surprisingly gangly Santa Claus is snoring. I recognize him—and, more importantly, so does my Dark Passenger—but it's strange seeing him out of character. He looks more like a cross between Norman Bates and Bob Saget than he does jolly old St. Nick. With every snore his Adam's apple bobs sharply.
I glance around the dark space between Redwood's house and his neighbor's before I go around the back of the house.
A few easy maneuvers later and I'm in. I close the door softly behind me and make my way along through the small house. It doesn't take long until I'm face to face with Redwood.
I slide the syringe from my pocket and step forward, making the floorboard beneath me creak.
Great job, I congratulate myself.
Redwood blinks awake, but by the time the sight before him is no longer blurry it's too late. He barely has the chance to recognize me before he's unconscious again.
My victim comes to in a vacated Halloween store a few miles away from his house. On the inside of the giant garbage back, Father Christmas stares up at photos of children whom he once knew and would never know again. He looks at the ceiling in horror.
"You better watch out…"
He twists his head around the best he can—considering the constraints—searching for the source of my voice.
"You better not cry…"
He strains every limb against the duct tape and plastic wrap, desperate to break free.
"You better not pout, I'm telling you why…"
I finally get close enough for him to know where I am, but he still can't see me. I lean closer to his head—so close that he can feel every word coming from my mouth.
"Santa Claus is coming to town."
I take out my scalpel and cut his cheek.
I sing louder, "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake."
He winces as the side of his face stings, "Shit!"
"He knows if you've been bad or good," I circle the table, now in full view. I can tell that Redwood recognizes me, even if he's not sure when or where from. "So be good, for goodness' sake."
I drip his blood onto a slide and hold it up into the light, high enough for the both of us to see.
"You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout—I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town."
I close one piece of glass on top of the other and the drop of blood spreads. I finally look over at Redwood. "You take this whole 'Santa' thing way too literally. I know, it's me talking," I gesture at the room, "But I'm not as bad as you. I just know how to tell who's naughty or nice."
Redwood shakes his head in short, painful motions. "There must be some kind of mistake, man. I don't know what you're talking about…" He tries to plead with me, but we both know he's lying.
"A mistake?" I challenge him. "Take a look at all of those kids you hurt. I don't think any of them would say that what you did was a mistake."
"I didn't do anything," he continues. By this point I can't tell if he's sweating or crying. "Every kid loves Santa."
"Keep telling yourself that."
"You don't know anything. You can't prove a thing—"
"I've made my list and checked it twice. Just like I always do." I turn to my collection of tools and grab a knife I know will hurt. "I might take care of a lot of bad people—murderers especially—but you're the worst kind of all."
"No! Don't do this! I'll get you anything you want!"
I turn back to Redwood and raise my knife high above him, "Oh, trust me, you can't do that."
His brows grow closer. His breathing quickens.
I look down at him one last time, "All I want for Christmas is you."
I lower the knife in one swift motion.
It feels like a normal night again once I'm on my boat. It's the moon and me once more, with my big bag of goodies—well, six bags to be exact.
I would savor the moment but I have an anxious son at home who will probably be awake at any moment looking for presents from Santa. I delivered on my promise, getting rid of Redwood, so I turn my boat back around and head home.
I manage to get all of the presents under the tree before Harrison, or even Jamie, wakes up. Eventually the latter does.
"Did you just get home, Dexter?"
I shake my head, "No. But I did have a tough time finding what I was looking for. It was a pretty late night. Sorry about that."
"It's fine. But I think I'm gonna get going." Jamie straightens up the sofa and yawns. "Merry Christmas, Dexter."
Soon she is gone and Harrison is up and rummaging through his presents. I watch over with a much-needed cup of coffee. My son seems happy with all of his gifts.
"Well, I think you have a couple of hours to play with your new toys before we head over to Aunt Deb's house. Think you'll be ready for that, Harrison?"
He pauses. "But what about your present, Daddy?"
But Harrison doesn't answer. He heads into his part of the apartment and soon is back with a haphazardly wrapped present.
I stare down at the gift bag and begin to take out the tissue paper. It doesn't take long for me to see what's inside. I stare at the hand-drawn, framed picture and chuckle. It's a picture he's drawn of our family: Deb, Jamie, me, and even an Angel Batista at the top of the Christmas tree.
"Jamie told me I should frame it."
I nod, looking over the picture, "I can see why."
A bit more than a couple of hours later, Harrison and I arrive at Deb and Quinn's place. Deb is clearly a bit frazzled from having to throw a party, but she still greets us warmly. Harrison soon disappears into the crowd.
I look around the place. "Since when do you go this all out for Christmas?"
"I know, right? Motherfuckin' trimmed trees!"
I look around. "Usually it's just the one motherfuckin' trimmed tree, but this is really something. How many do you have, three?"
"Yeah, well Quinn's family is Catholic. They just fuckin' love Christmas."
"So I've heard."
I mingle around the party and soon run into Masuka, who's hanging out under a piece of mistletoe. Not surprisingly, he brought it with him despite Deb's wishes otherwise. He's also wearing a Christmas sweater featuring reindeer doing some rather… interesting things with each other.
"Hey, Dex. Have you tried the eggnog yet? I made it myself, hehehehe…"
"Haven't yet, but maybe later."
I work my way around the room, enjoying myself more than I thought I would. Batista and I share a laugh over Harrison's drawing and soon I find my way back to my son, who has been having fun without me.
"Daddy, look who's here!"
"What?" I ask, but soon I find out. "Astor? Cody?"
"Surprise!" they say in unison. Both seem jollier than usual. Even teenage angst can be beaten by the holidays.
"It was all my idea," says Deb's voice from behind me.
I turn around and laugh, "You're better than Santa."
"I'll fuckin' take that." She smiles.
Sitting around the table with the extended family I've acquired, bellies full of turkey and stuffing, it's hard not to feel human. I know that the thrill of Christmas ends about as soon as the clock strikes midnight, but just like my Dark Passenger's urges, the feeling will never fully be satisfied. I can eat until my stomach feels like it will burst and I pass out in a food coma, but I will have to eat again someday.
And so I wave goodbye to my family and friends. I leave behind the people and things that have made me feel almost real, almost happy, and I go back to my workshop and my tools. My long, busy nights come around more often than Santa's and I need to rest up. I have a list to make, and—just like Harry taught me—I always check it twice.
So I say to you all: merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Don't be too sad it's over. It's going to happen again and again. It has to happen. It needs to happen.