AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT

Ah, spreading Christmas cheer.

Dennis crunched through fresh snow, the soles of his thick black Santa boots leaving heavy imprints in that new ivory powder. Snow always made him think of heroin, but the bitterly cold flakes beneath his feet were much cheaper than the controlled substance and not nearly as fun. Even so, he’d make this alabaster crust run red with blood tonight, staining it a nice sanguine crimson, and that would make this winter crap from the sky much more entertaining.

He was dressed as Santa, but the truth was and always had been that he hated Christmas. This holiday was a travesty, a sick joke created by the powers that be, so he railed against whatever divinity might exist, and he would do so with a body count. If God existed, then he was a sadist, so it was only fitting that Dennis laid down some punishment in return, a payback in the form of body parts.

It had been three days and three nights since he’d escaped the Hollister-Kemel Home for the Criminally Insane, but he’d been planning this foray for a long time, for years now. This was his time to shine, his time to make his mark on the world.

He’d come across an old red fire axe, so he’d stolen a Santa suit right away, smashing through a department store window to get it, and the stupid holiday suit fit him more or less. Now, with his suit and his axe, he was ready to start the bloodshed all over again.

Really, it came down to people being less than nothing. They were a cancer on the Earth, bugs to be stepped on, and so he would, and so it would be done…This was his creed. This was his commandment. He was the new Bible now.

He could still see the faces of the family he’d slaughtered, but those faces didn’t haunt him, no. He had reveled in the pain and terror as he’d chopped apart the Mister and Missus, and he had celebrated as he’d buried the axe blade in the skulls of the children, hearing their sweet lamentations before the very end. Those memories, those visions bathed in blood, had kept him going throughout the years.

He’d played possum. That’s how he’d escaped. He’d pretended to blend, to be a good boy, but that was the mistake the doctors and nurses and orderlies had made, the mistake in believing him. He was evil, and he wholly embraced that fact, and you could never trust evil, not ever.

But now it was Christmas Eve, and it was nearing midnight. Soon it would be Christmas, and then he would give the greatest gift of all, the gift of carnage, because that was the only thing these mouth-breathing wastes of flesh deserved.

He’d stolen a ’54 Buick Estate, made just last year, and he’d driven out to the country, driving out to some back country road that would allow him some privacy before any cops showed up.

Oh, he’d thought about just laying down some havoc in town, but the police would be quick on the ball if any neighbors of his chosen victims spotted him staining the walls red. They’d definitely notice brains on the upholstery.

It was this accursed time of year, this madness of happiness and cheer that drove him even more insane than he already was. No, he absolutely despised Christmas, and he was going to make sure the relatives of this soon deceased family were going to hate it too, but not for the same reasons.

That’s why he’d picked this house. It was the lights on the outside of the house and the decorations on the winter lawn, the carefully crafted snowmen outside, the warm glow of 60-watt bulbs on the inside, pretty much everything about this two-story house out in the middle of nowhere that ticked him off.

He’d parked down this long gravel road surrounded by thick trees. Yeah, it was cold outside, but it was worth the walk down snow-laden gravel to get here, to get inside this Yuletide derivative, to let the slaughter begin.

The first thing he did was cut the phone lines outside. Obviously, he didn’t want anyone on the horn to call out for help, so the logical step was to eliminate the most expedient way to do that.

The second thing he did was kill both of this family’s cars, a simple matter of popping the hoods and removing the spark plugs. He made sure not to slam the hoods of the cars shut, though. There was no sense in warning anyone. That would give the Mister of the house time to grab a gun.

He marched up to the front door after that. He was prepared to jimmy the lock if necessary, but as luck would have it, the door was not locked. These rural families felt safe and secure in their isolation, a lie that Dennis knew better than to trust, mainly because of people like him…No one was truly safe. If the Devil wanted you, the Devil got you.

He slipped inside the well-lit living room and looked around. The place looked like every stereotypical Christmas card ever, so burning this place to the ground was becoming a more viable option by the second.

This spacious living room was bedecked by off-white walls and a wood floor, and there was a single off-white couch in the center of that room strategically placed to face toward a TV set. Behind the couch and next to the outside windows was a Christmas tree, presents already beneath it. There were shelves with knickknacks here and there, and there was even a brick fireplace, a cozy fire burning within it, stockings hanging above it.

This place was an affront to the eyes. He was seriously thinking about burning the house to the ground once he was finished here, but then again, that would ruin the screaming art of blood and offal that he was about to lay down, so he put that particular thought on hiatus.

He turned to stare at the Christmas tree. It was the standard family postcard crap, an atrocity to the mind, so he walked over to it to pluck off one of the red glass Christmas baubles from where it was positioned upon a branch and held it up to his face to stare into its reflection.

The glass ball brought back a memory, a dark memory, a dark but enjoyable memory from many, many years ago, back when he was a child. He had enjoyed smashing a ball just like this one, smashing it hard with a rock, just like he’d smashed in the skull of the child he’d taken it from.

Another memory floated to the surface, a memory of what he had done to the Missus of the family he’d murdered, a memory of what he’d done to her with a Christmas bauble just like this one.

These were fond memories.

He could see his own warped image within the crimson glass, but there was someone else within the room, another reflection, someone who had somehow and in some way gone unnoticed before.

He chucked the bauble within the stack of presents beneath the tree, making sure the ornament did not break upon anything rigid, because he needed to deal with whomever had suddenly appeared within this eyesore of a room, and he did not want anyone else to awaken yet.

He swiveled to view the man standing near the fireplace, and Dennis readied his axe, his intent steel-clad in his vindication of blood.

There was another Santa in here. There was another Santa in here, probably the Mister, so it was time to supplant that other Santa in the most horrific way possible.

But this Santa was a winner. If he was the master of the house, he was fairly old, older than Dennis would have pegged him to be. The fat man in the red suit was the spitting image of dear Saint Nick, a jolly round face with a full-white beard, a ringer for the ancient North Pole elf.

“Up to your old tricks again, Dennis?” said the other Santa. “I think, perhaps, there is a lesson here to be taught, though I fear you will not learn it.”

His voice was easy, a strange warmth to it, something Dennis had not been expecting, that voice untinged by fear, unaffected by caution and woe. Furthermore, this Santa had called him out by name, so that settled it right there. The fat stranger in the red suit was going to be first on the dismembered list.

There was nothing more for Dennis to say. No, he simply raised his axe and charged.

There was a flash of light as the other Santa glimmered away into nonexistence. The old ringer exploded in a burst of myriad sparkles, green, red, and white specks that fluttered up the chimney above the heat of flames in the fireplace.

Those flames roared high for a brief second, the heat so intense that Dennis had to back away and shield his face. It was a good thing he was not wearing a fake beard, or it would have caught aflame.

He staggered backwards as the heat forced him to retreat a few steps.

Dennis blinked as he swiveled to stare around the room, searching for the other Santa, but there was no one to be found. There was no one else in here, obviously, so his mind came to the one and only possible conclusion for this new madness.

“It was those drugs,” he growled.

It was the new “medication” the doctors had given him at the asylum. Had to be. There was no other explanation. Nevertheless, a seed of doubt planted itself within his chaotic psyche, a flipping switch of sudden and strange belief that he could not seem to ignore.

He walked back to the front door and exited the house. He needed to make sure his head was screwed on straight, such as it was. He could not lose focus now, not now when he was so close to slaughtering his way into the papers again.

He walked out onto the front lawn, that lawn a crisp winter land of alabaster snow, and he stared up at the roof, specifically where the chimney smoke was billowing from the brick exit up top, but there was nothing there, no reindeer, no sleigh, no fat man, nothing.

It was too bad, too. If Saint Nick had been real, Dennis would have reached legend by taking the old man apart at the seams. That would have been something for the little kiddos to cry over.

He was about to reenter the house when he spied the red gleam of glass in the snow, right in the center of the three snowmen ungraciously befouling the front yard of this travesty of a home. That red glass sparkled and taunted by its mere presence, a glass Christmas bauble just like the one he’d tossed into the pile of presents inside, just like the one he’d killed for as a kid, just like the one he’d tortured the previous Missus with.

He grunted for a brief second as he walked over to the wayward bauble. He stepped on it with his left boot, feeling the satisfying crunch of red glass as he did.

He noticed movement too late as he started to look back up, the twig arms reaching for him, sharp digits of fire-blackened wood that strained for his unprotected face. He gave a shout without meaning too as lifeless fingers raked across his right cheek, swiftly drawing blood.

He turned to see the warped face of the snowman on his right, the coal eyes bent downward in rage, the gaping mouth open and full of jagged teeth, like shark’s teeth, triangles of serrated white, an impossibility that ravaged his already unstable mind.

Dennis backed away swinging. His axe plowed into the malicious snowman’s head, exploding it in a storm of frigid white. The other two snowmen were upon him after that, already moving, their faces wicked caricatures of the holiday cheer normal people were so used to.

He shouted again as his left arm was raked open, his cheap Santa suit rent above the elbow, rent by blackened twig digits sharpened to deadly efficiency at the tips. He brought the axe head down upon one of those terrible arms and snapped off the twig limb at the elbow.

He chopped and swung with his axe until all three snowmen were piles of white dust, coal bits, carrots, twigs, and old scarves. There was nothing left of them by the time he was finished.

He stood there in the snow for a few seconds, breathing hard, his breath a hot mist that crystalized upon exiting his chapped lips.

Dennis stared down at the mess he had created. There was no Christmas bauble within his vision, no crunch of crimson glass under his black boots. It was just him and three piles of wrecked snow.

He could feel the hot blood trickling down his right cheek and the sting of pain within his left arm where his suit was rent.

“Those drugs!” he hissed.

This was all those doctors’ fault. Those quacks didn’t cure insanity…They created it.

He must have injured himself within his momentary psychotic break. It was clear he was going to have to get it together in order to dish out his own form of Christmas cheer, or his window of opportunity would close.

He trudged back to the front door and walked back inside the house. Hopefully, the Mister and Missus had not awoken due to his inane shouting outside. Now he could only count on them being heavy sleepers, because he needed to catch them off guard.

He quietly shut the front door and listened to the satisfying click of the lock snap in place as he closed the bolt. No one was getting out now, not without unlocking the door first. Oh, they’d struggle to open the door without realizing it was locked, but he’d bury his axe in their backs before they could actually leave.

He chuckled at the thought of this, but that enjoyable thought was swiftly interrupted.

He heard the jingle of little bells and the giggle of a child, and then he turned to view this new intrusion, intent on dealing with it quickly. He had not wanted to start with one of the children, no. He had wanted to start with one of the parents. He’d wanted to butcher them in front of the kiddos…Merry Christmas, you little brats.

He saw the quick image of a child dressed in green and red, a small thing not three feet tall. He watched the child dash through the archway at the other end of the room, opposite the Christmas tree. The little tyke had on a long and pointed stocking hat with small bells upon it, little green tights on him, but this only enraged Dennis further, stoking his bloodlust to vicious levels.

To hell with saving the kids for last. This little abomination was going down first.

He made his way across the room and into the kitchen, following the small child that had ducked out of his vision.

The floor in here was all black and white, checkered in an obscene manner and make, but the kitchen itself was a throwback to another age, a collage of two thick oak tables and a stone oven, something no one anywhere had anymore.

There was dough and gingerbread men laid out upon one of the tables, and the other held a feast fit for a king, a collection of roasted meats displayed like fine treasure across it, including a huge roast turkey, that turkey surrounded by figgy pudding, Christmas cake, and various other foods of holiday make.

“What is all this?” he grunted.

The oven had a hot fire going beneath it, but in front of the oven was the child, or what he had thought was a child.

The little person in front of the stone oven was no more than three feet tall, a tiny thing with pointed ears and a rosy face, this new insanity dressed in the green and red of holiday colors, yet another Christmas delusion he was going to have to deal with.

“Dennis the meanie! He’s a big fat weenie!” taunted the little stranger.

Delusion or not…this little sucker was going to die.

Dennis roared in rage as he rushed forward to deal with this new insanity, but the little person stepped away from the oven opening, and flames roared forth from that aperture, a blaze of hell-spawned heat that forced Dennis back toward the table laden with dough and gingerbread.

He cried out as the gingerbread men laid out across the table sprang upon him. They swarmed him like rats, their little mouths biting into him, tiny teeth of hardened gumdrops sinking into his unprotected flesh.

Dennis flailed and screeched as he tore the demonic gingerbread men from him, but he only had the use of one hand, his right, as his left was currently clutching his axe.

He clumsily tore them off one after the next, but in his struggle, he stumbled toward the other table, the table laden with a feast fit for a king.

That feast was now a nightmare. Everything upon the table was a rotten and slimy mess, the once delectable holiday provision now nothing more than a waste of absolute and foul decay.

The centerpiece upon the table, the great roasted and finely-basted turkey, was now a dried husk of what it had been, and that husk burst open to reveal a sharp array of small bones pointing up toward the ceiling.

He stumbled and fell due to the swarm of unholy gingerbread men currently gnawing on him. Dennis turned his cheek just in time to have it speared in three places upon the ascending turkey bones, three nasty holes in his left cheek, but he had saved his eye, so that was something.

He screamed in rage as he pulled his face up and off the desiccated turkey. His face was a bleeding mess, yes, but one thing was very clear: he was mad now.

He was finally forced to drop his axe so that he could pull off and crush one gingerbread man after the next, and he did just that. It took him a minute of wild flailing, but eventually he crumbled them all to dust.

Well, almost all of them.

One last gingerbread man appeared out of his blind left, the little demon of brown spicy dough appearing upon the first table, this little nightmare wielding a chocolate-chip cookie in its little fingerless right hand. How it could hold a cookie without fingers was beyond Dennis, but that was unimportant. What was important was that it flung the cookie like a deadly disc, and that disc was razor sharp.

Dennis screeched out another yelp of pain as the cookie buried itself in the muscle of his right arm, the small disc tearing right through the fabric of his Santa suit. He pulled out the cookie and charged the little gingerbread horror, snatching it up off the table in a grand sweep of raw fury.

This time he was truly enraged. Dennis bit down into the gingerbread man’s upper half, beheading the animated terror in one clean bite. Unfortunately for him, he felt the crunch of glass in his mouth, and then more pain assaulted him.

He spit out blood along with shards of crimson glass, that glass thin slivers of crunched Christmas bauble.

“Dennis the meanie!” came two little voices this time.

He looked up to see two strange little people in green and red tights, their dark hair covered by funny stocking hats, their pointed ears a mocking symbol of the holiday he so hated. These two little gremlins of Christmas cheer had his axe held between them. Yes, they had his axe, that murderous weapon he loved so dearly, and that would not do.

“He’s a big fat weenie!” taunted the two thieves.

They ran with his slaughtering tool out the kitchen archway, absconding with it like it was some kind of trophy for a game that only they were playing.

“Come back here!” yelled Dennis in a voice garbled by blood.

He charged after them, ignoring the pain from all of the wounds he had previously received. He was bleeding from all of his minor injuries, but those didn’t matter. All that mattered was his axe, and he was going to get it, and then he was going to dish out the pain, bringing down the first of that pain upon those two little delusions that had just robbed him.

He ran into the living room again, but the two thieves that had taken his axe were nowhere to be seen. In fact, the room was empty of its couch and TV. There was only the Christmas tree now, that accursed Christmas tree with its presents and…

He skidded to a halt at the line of soldiers before him.

A line of at least thirty toy wooden soldiers, each a good six-inches tall, marched forward from in front of the Christmas tree. Dennis watched in strange fascination as these little wooden men in black and red lowered their tiny black rifles and took aim at him.

There was a “PAK! PAK! PAK!” sound as little puffs of smoke erupted from the rifles of the toy soldiers. Dennis felt the sting of tiny musket balls impact him in various places, but this only drove his fury to new heights.

He roared yet again as he rushed forward and stomped with thick black boots upon one soldier after the next. He kicked them across the room here and there, and he even scooped up a couple of them and pitched them into the flames of the fireplace.

He did not stop until every last soldier was a broken and twitching mess.

Dennis fell to one knee and stared at the wood floor beneath him as he felt all of his wounds catch up with him. He was in severe pain now, weakened from who knew how many injuries, but he did not want to give in. He did not know if what was happening to him was real or not, but he did not want to give in. He hated this holiday with a passion, but he hated the people who worshipped it even more, and those people needed to be slaughtered, chopped apart in a carnage of blood and bone.

“It’s not quite as fun when the shoe is on the other foot, is it Dennis?” came a voice, a voice that Dennis had only heard once before.

He looked up at the other Santa and grimaced. This old fat man was standing in front of the Christmas tree, a sad smile on his jolly and bearded face.

“You…” said Dennis as he spat out a wad of blood.

“You were always a dark little boy,” said the other Santa. “Your parents were good folk, but you…? Yes, you were a disturbed little thing, a dark soul with your dead birds and rats you collected and the cats you tortured and killed.”

“How do you know that?” grunted Dennis.

“It wasn’t until the little Anders boy disappeared that you had finally crossed the line,” said the old man in the red suit. “He brought that Christmas bauble in for show and tell, that little red Christmas bauble you wanted so dearly…so that you could smash it…and you did…He’s still there, the little Anders boy, his bones covered with slivers of glass, still in the deep woods outside of Green Lake, still waiting to be found.”

“You can’t know that,” said Dennis as he shook his head in denial. “This is a trick…It’s those drugs!”

The old fat man in the jolly red suit touched his own plump reddened nose twice with one big black glove.

“I’m the real Saint Nicholas, Dennis,” said the man. “This isn’t some delusion, nor is it an aftereffect of any medication…No, I’m real, and you know I’m real.”

“This is a lie!” yelled Dennis. “This is my own mind playing tricks on me!”

“That would imply that your guilt has finally come to the surface of your psyche, Dennis,” smiled this “Santa.” “But that can’t be, so we both know I’m real.”

Dennis shook his head no. He refused to believe in any fat magic man from the sky.

“You’re a lie,” he growled. “A lie!”

“No,” said the other Santa with a shake of his old head. “No, we know I’m real, Dennis. We both know I’m real because of one sad and solitary fact.”

Dennis decided to play along. This delusion would eventually end anyway, especially after he chopped it apart. He just needed his axe.

“And what’s that?” he grunted. “What fact could possibly make you real?”

“Why, you have no guilt, Dennis,” said Santa matter-of-factly. “There’s nothing in there to come to the surface.”

“Is that right?” grinned Dennis. “Then you should know what’s coming next.”

Delusion or not, he was going to end Christmas for everyone tonight. Chopping apart Santa was going to be fun…Once again, he just needed his axe.

“Did the Coggins family know what was coming?” asked the old man. “No, I think not. You hid your real self away for years after what you did to the Anders boy, but that old bloodlust consumed you over time…as the Coggins, unfortunately, discovered in the most terrible way possible.”

Dennis smiled. He’d shoved a red Christmas bauble in the Missus’ screeching mouth and watched her crunch down on that glass, blood running down her chin and lips, and then he’d ended her. Splitting open the Missus’ skull and splattering her brains all over the two children’s screaming faces was his fondest memory.

“I have no power to mete out divine punishment, Dennis,” said Santa with an even sadder smile. “All I have is the power to give gifts to those who are deserving…but there are loopholes to everything…even with the powers that be.”

Dennis smiled and gave the old man a slight nod.

“I’ll give you a gift,” he said with a slight chuckle. “Once I get my axe, you’ll get it.”

“You hear, but you don’t listen,” said Santa with a shake of his wizened head. “I’m giving you the only gifts you deserve, Dennis…ones, I think, you will put to immediate use with your ‘unique’ talents…My first gift to you, of course, is a new axe.”

Dennis watched as the two little elves that had stolen his old red fire axe trotted back in from a side room and laid down another fire axe in front of him. This one was brand new, a big red bow tied around the unworn haft, that haft painted white with red stripes in the manner of a candy cane. The two little thieves that had stolen his first axe then trotted off, giggling as they disappeared from view, disappearing back into the side room they had entered from.

Dennis picked up this new axe, put forth a grim smile, and tried to stand. He cried out once from the pain that was coursing through him, pain due to his various injuries, but he managed to stand again through sheer willpower.

“You shouldn’t have given me this, Sky Daddy,” he grinned. “That was a mistake, Magic Man.”

“There’s no mistake, Dennis,” said Santa. “You’ll need that axe for where you’re going…You see, my second gift to you is a new home, the home you need, and the home that you deserve. I have been given the power to grant this, and it has been a long time in the making.”

Dennis grinned and gave a short chuckle, and then he burst into laughter, a loud and insane laughter that he bellowed forth without care, and then he reigned in that insanity, because he had a figment of his imagination to butcher.

“You’re done, old man,” he said in a dark voice.

He raised his axe high in order to charge. He did not have much energy left, but he had enough to finish this farce once and for all.

This other so-called “Santa” raised a red Christmas bauble and displayed it as if it were a prize to be taken. Dennis stopped his would-be charge as he stared at the reflective holiday ball within the old man’s gloved right hand…He could not help it. There was something about that ball that called to him, something that mesmerized him in the mirrored glass.

“Remember this, Dennis?” asked the old fat man. “I believe it is yours.”

Dennis stared at the ball. He could see the image of Gerald Anders within that reflective glass, and he could see the rock coming down to split open the boy’s skull again and again and again.

“Do you want this, Dennis?” asked Santa.

Dennis could see the faces of the crying Coggins children as he brought the axe down upon them, first the boy, then the girl. He could see the Mister’s head split open, brains splattering, the Missus shrieking…

Dennis slowly nodded a couple of times in agreement of this holiday boon. This reflective bauble was actually a Christmas gift worth having.

“Give it to me,” he grunted. “Give it…Give it to me now!”

“Then have it, you shall,” said Santa. “A new home is what you need, one you are most deserving of, and this will grant that wish…Enjoy your new home, Dennis. I believe you’ll have lots of fun with it…Look again, and you shall see it.”

Dennis peered into the reflection within the red glass. He could see flames and distorted, wailing faces, darkness and despair, things both terrifying and grotesque that assaulted his vision.

“What is this?” asked Dennis. “Bring back the memories…I want to see them!”

“Your memories are where they belong,” said Santa. “They’re only in your head…And now for your second gift. Enjoy your new home, Dennis…Merry Christmas.”

The old fat man tossed the glass ball at Dennis’s boots.

“NO!” shouted Dennis.

The ball shattered at his feet, crimson shards of glass scattering in slow motion, and then a blaze erupted around him, an explosion of orange and yellow, a pillar of flame that turned him into a living pyre.

Dennis screamed as the pain attacked him all at once, and he fell forward, his new axe clutched within his hands, but the pain ended as he impacted solid earth, hard dirt without a hint of snow…

He did not know what had just happened, but at least he was no longer on fire.

He staggered to his feet as he stared at the endless expanse of wasteland around him, that wasteland dotted by spigots of flame that erupted from cracks and crevices in the broken ground. The sky above him was a black night covered in roiling storms, and strange shadows flew overhead, those ebon shapes accompanied by the beating of large wings.

He could sense the despair of this infernal place, hear the wailing around him, and it took him no time at all to figure out where he was.

He could feel the intense heat that permeated this new plane of existence, that heat sending waves from the scorched earth beneath his booted feet, and then he saw them, mishappen and ghoulish nightmares in the distance, mockeries of life that were once human. They staggered toward him with mottled, spindly arms and boney digits ready to tear and flay, naked and chained corpses with a hunger that he could sense so much as see.

Dennis was still in his rent and bloodied Santa suit, and he still had his new axe, his brand new axe with the striped haft, so he gripped that haft tightly as he marched forward toward the residents of his new and permanent home.

Yes, he knew where he was, but he wasn’t scared…No, quite the contrary. He was glad he was here. Now he could chop to his heart’s content. He was going to butcher every last thing that moved down here, and that wasn’t bragging; it was a fact.

He laughed again as he readied himself for carnage, gripping the haft of his new axe around its red-ribbon bow.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!” he shouted as he charged into the advancing horde, laughing all the way.

And to All a Good Night Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott

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