By Charlene Hoit
I didn’t know where that noise was coming from.
It was dark in my tiny old bungalow aside from the Christmas tree lights, still gleaming because I like to keep them on all night. Especially on Christmas Eve. It reminded me of childhood magic, and anticipation of the surprises waiting for me the next morning, and the sounds of my parents whispering while they drank coffee and arranged any last minute gifts.
But there were no gifts this year, just me and my little tree and mulled wine for one.
I had gone to bed, but a noise startled me awake and in a sort of sleepy haste I stumbled down the short hall and peered into the dim living room. It looked the same to me. All seemed in order, the mug I’d left on the end table was still there, my book, the remote for the TV. I listened to the familiar ticking of the clock that sat on the mantle.
But there it was again.
Was it a moan? It sounded like someone was hurt. But who could I be hearing? I had no close neighbors. I suppose someone walking home from the bar at the corner could have fallen or gotten sick in the bushes outside.
But I didn’t think so. It sounded closer, like he was here.
Someone was in my house.
I felt my pulse increase, my heart pounding in my ears. I was suddenly hot and breathless.
Then I saw him. Peaking out from behind my tree, a bit of white, a blue eye, a red hat… It was Santa Claus. I knew it right away, even though I’d never believed in him. My parents had told me from the beginning that it was they who bought the presents, and as an only child it was easier for them just to tell me the truth. But here he was, with fear in his eyes… and was that blood on his coat? It was hard to tell against the red plush fabric of his suit, but yes, he was bleeding badly.
“Auta minua, auta minua…”
He spoke the phrase weakly but clearly. I didn’t understand the words, but the meaning was clear. Santa was in trouble.
I stepped closer, drawn to him. He emitted an energy I couldn’t explain or deny. As I made my way though the room, dodging furniture and table corners in the dark, I was keenly aware that this was happening. I moved as though walking through thick mud, but I finally approached where he was lying, crumpled on the floor under my Christmas tree.
His chest was heaving as he struggled to breath, and I saw what looked like a gash in his neck or near his shoulder. A bite? Yes, it looked like an animal had attacked him. Then I saw the blood tracks coming from the fireplace, smears of red across the white stone and then tracked across the scratched wood floor.
“Se oli minun peurani…Se johtui poroista…He ovat hulluja ja vesikauhuisia!”
He spoke again, a jumble of sounds and syllables I couldn’t understand.
“Hold on!” I found my voice. “I’ll call for help! You’re going to be ok!” And it was then I realized I was holding my cellphone in my sweaty palm. I frantically began to dial 911, but then it happened.
In an instant it felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. The bearded and bleeding man sighed and was silent. I no longer felt his presence, and I knew he was dead.
I looked down, my phone still lit up in the dim room, and the numbers “91—“ stared back at me. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I still call? What would I even say?
I looked again at Santa, who now just seemed like a frail old man in a puddle of blood on my living room floor. He was just a body now. Would the dispatch even believe me? It was Christmas Eve; they’d probably write me off as a prank call.
I put my phone away in the pocket of my gray plaid robe.
“I have to take care of this myself,” I whispered, to no one.
I firmly gripped the old man’s black boots and pulled him onto the throw rug near the sofa — he was a lot lighter than I had expected. I wrapped him, rolling him into the carpet like I’d seen done in a recent true crime docuseries.
Now what? I couldn’t just throw Santa Claus away. I stood for a moment, thinking, and then after a while I knew what I had to do.
It was a few hours later when I finally collapsed into bed. I had finished cleaning the sticky near-dried blood from the floor around the tree and on my hearth. I made a note to myself to take a trip to the paint store the next morning, as the wall around the fireplace could use a fresh coat of white. I had showered and changed into my warmest pajamas, and my hair was still damp, but I didn’t care as I buried my head into my pillow; the floral aroma of my shampoo a welcome replacement to the smell of death.
He was out there now. Still wrapped in my Ikea carpet, under my orange tree, about 5 feet down, because 6 seemed an impossible feat for just me and the shovel I’d only used twice to break up the weeds in my garden. I could feel the blisters forming, but I didn’t question myself or my decision. There had been no other way. And who would miss him?
He barely existed, after all.
Bio: Charlene Hoit is a mom, wife, and avid reader of crime fiction. She has had a handful of poems published but is new to the crime genre. Charlene has a BA in English Literature from CSU Stanislaus and is currently a Pilates instructor in the central valley of California.
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