the only game in town
Didn’t take me long to realize that this was not my usual gig. I faded in by the dining room window. The room was lit up with a couple of battery operated lanterns that sat on either end of the dinner table. Several of the adults looked right at me as I appeared and they acted like they didn’t notice at first. Typical.
Adults can see weird right in front of them and they make up all kinds of bullshit excuses to deny what they see. Or they try to play it off like nothing’s wrong. I use that to my advantage. In two minutes tops the shock of seeing me zap in out of thin air would fade. Then things would most likely get pretty lively in that house.
Took me less than a minute to read everyone in the room. I knew their names, their stories. Typical family stuff. Problems with the job. Money worries. Frayed nerves. Dumbass relatives working everyone else’s last nerve. Pretty tame compared to what I usually see in this line of work.
Lucky for them.
The penny finally dropped and the family finally realized something wasn’t quite right. Who the hell was that green eyed dude over by the bay window? Three generations gathered together and everybody had that deer in the headlights look.
Well, everybody but the kid who called. He stood a few feet away staring at me like I was Saturday morning cartoons. “I knew it,” he muttered. “I knew it! It worked! You came!” His grip on his mom’s hand mirror was so tight his knuckles were white.
I winked at him. “Marty Harris, right?”
He nodded. A bright grin spread across his face. “Hey, Dean.”
Marty wasn’t abused. None of the kids here were. The adults weren’t the problem here.
That was outside.
I cast my mojo out in a 360 sweep all around the house and the yards, front and back. Three story house. Lots of windows. Doors too. All the doors and windows were locked but that wouldn’t mean jack against what was out there. The place was surrounded and it would be a total bitch to defend.
I turned and looked out the window into the back yard.
Four feet of snow in the back yard already and from the looks of things three or four more feet before this was all over. Up here in Maine they call a storm like this a nor’easter. Looked like a regular old blizzard to me. Visibility was near zero. This kind of wild weather wasn’t natural. Typical fugly move: trap the humans in their homes and then move in for the kill. Easy pickings.
Shadows moved around underneath the snow. A flash of teeth here, red eyes there. I counted at least sixty of the sonsofbitches in the back yard alone. Snow flew up into the wind as they moved towards the house and then everything stopped.
“Yeah,” I whispered to myself. I knew what this was.
The ‘what’ in question was called Krampus. His claim to fame? He’s the Christmas devil. Santa Claus’ shadow self. He punishes those he considers to be unworthy. The fuglies out in the snow were his minions. Not the cute cuddly yellow ones in the movies. These sonsobitches would rip you apart, play jump rope with your guts and laugh about it.
The movement toward the house stopped. They wouldn’t rush in. Not yet. I was the one thing they didn’t expect. That demon sight works both ways.
The power was off. Inside the house was still warmer than outside but it wouldn’t be that way much longer. Didn’t make any difference to me. I had on jeans and cowboy boots and a Hawaiian shirt that was so damn loud Stevie Wonder could’ve spotted me half a mile away. Not my usual style but I had to blend in back in Florida.
“Marty? Who is this?”
Tom Harris was Marty’s dad. He stepped in front of me, made direct eye contact. He had cojones, I’ll give him that. Harris wanted to protect his family no matter what but he was way out of his league. He just didn’t know it yet.
Marty twisted the handle of the hand mirror in both hands over and over again. It was clear he didn’t think his folks would believe him.
“I saw stuff about him on the internet. He helps kids. Dad, you have to let him help us. This is all my fault. I tore up the letter to Santa. I made those things out there mad-”
His mom stepped up behind the kid and pulled him backward into her arms. Her mouth firmed into a hard line. She thought she was protecting him. Marty stopped babbling and squirmed in her grip.
“Let’s get past all the usual ‘This can’t be happening’ bullshit, shall we?” I nodded towards the back yard. “You don’t have much time. Those fuglies outside are going to come in here and kill everybody. Your boy grabbed that hand mirror and said my name three times. He called me. I came. Weird and crazy’s the only game in town tonight. So what more proof do you need?”
“Who the hell are you, Mister?” Dude grabbed my arm. Big mistake. For a moment I wanted to wring his neck like a chicken. I leaned in until we were nose to nose. “Funny you should say that.” I bared my teeth at him. “Not who. What.”
I blinked pitch black.
The room went dead quiet a second time, except for the grandparents. The grandmother, Nana, gasped out loud and made the sign of the cross.
I didn’t flinch. Marty’s dad froze.
"Who am I?” The vibration from my voice rattled the windows. “I’m the cavalry. I’m the lesser of two evils. I’m the boogeyman who can save you from the monsters outside. Now get your damn hands off me.”
Marty’s dad jerked away. He backed up towards his wife and kid. Getting away from me was suddenly a mighty fine idea. I blinked green again. I had their undivided attention now. That was a good thing. But even though I had my game face on, I was pissed. Heat flared underneath my skin. The demon in me fed off what I was feeling. Not so good. Let’s just say that I have to watch myself during the fall holidays. And not because of certain allergies to certain names either. I didn’t go full-on demon after the Mark brought me back but I’m still not fully human either. Everything nearly went south then. And if it had it would have been my own damn fault.
The table was set for dinner. Turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Cakes and pies. Bottles of egg nog. I smelled nutmeg and whiskey.
All the things normal families have for the holidays.
All the stuff my family had the first four years of my life. After that the holidays were always piss poor. The only times I can remember a decent spread was either at Bobby’s place or at Blue Earth with Pastor Jim. Mom dead, ashes in the wind. Dad gone off on a hunt most times. Me and Sam stuck in a ratty motel room somewhere scarfing down dried out sandwiches or lousy convenience store food, trying to pretend that microwaved mystery meat was turkey and cranberry sauce.
And those were the good times.
I pretended nothing mattered, when it did matter. There were times I felt like using a gun and the skills Dad taught me to take what my family needed and didn’t have. I never did but I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it.
Parents, a roof over my head...that was normal. Normal was what I had back when when I was a kid.
Marty might not think so but normal was what he had right now, even with all the crap his family was going through. The scared look on his face and the way he relaxed when he saw me reminded me why I do this gig in the first place. After my mom died I went through tons of crap. No other kid should have to.
The rage and the heat in my skin went cold.
Marty never let go of that mirror. That kid had weight on his shoulders and the weight wasn’t his in the first place. He thought he’d brought this on his family. I call bullshit on that one. The shadows in the world don’t need an excuse to kill. But they get off on fear, just like that bastard Krampus. I’d never met him. That was going to change tonight.
“Hey, Marty?” I said quietly. “Lighten up. None of this is your fault.”
He swallowed hard past that lump in his throat. He didn’t believe me. I get that a lot from the kids I meet.
I turned towards the front door. Everybody, and I mean everybody moved out of my way. Several of the adults grabbed their kids and held them tight as I walked past.
Couldn’t blame them for that.
“I’ll be on the porch. Don’t touch the walls and the windows.”
I snagged one of the bottles of eggnog as I passed by. Hey, I was thirsty.
Satan’s tramp stamp was pretty quiet so far. Too damn quiet. Hadn’t heard a peep out of her since Florida. The Mark wants to live as much as I do but sometimes I wonder.
Maybe one of these days she’d let me die just because she could.
Wakey wakey, princess. Time to go to work.
Kill the humans? The Mark thought hopefully. Damn. As usual she got what I was feeling all ass backwards.
Just the fuglies. Not the humans. I walked through the archway into the front hallway. Since Cain passed the Mark to me I figured she might be good for some intel. Did Cain ever meet Krampus?
I had the feeling that even if Cain had the bitch wouldn’t tell me.
I can kill with a touch. So I want you to put that mojo into the building once we’re on the porch. I mean into every square inch. The pipes, the walls, the roof, floors and windows, the basement. Everywhere.
You know what an electric bug zapper is?
Metal charged with electricity. Kills bugs when they touch it. I can’t let the fugs get inside the house.
Oh. That might not work.
Do it anyway. If a normal human can charge an object with intention, then with all the power I’ve got why can’t I do the same? I’m making this up as I go along.
As you wish.
Three feet away from the front door the Mark flared up red as fire. I vanished, then reappeared on the porch. A wave of red energy washed over the house, the doors, walls and windows, from the front to the back. Anything watching would have figured I was just showing off.
I just hoped they wouldn’t pick up on what I really did.
I opened up the bottle of egg nog and drained half of it in one long swallow. Damn. Marty’s mom really knew how to whip up the good stuff. I capped the bottle and held onto it. I walked over to the top of the stairs. As I leaned against the porch frame the wind died down and the snow stopped. I saw red eyes all around.
“Heya, fellas.” I grinned at them.