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  • Frank Romans

A VERY, SCARY CHRISTMAS


It arrives by mail without a return address. Fred laughs when he sees it and calls for his wife, "Peggy, you have got to see this."

Peg Allison takes one look at the Christmas ornament and says, "That is sick, Fred. Who sent it? Is there a note?" "No, and it doesn't have a return address either." Peg orders, "Well, you can march it straight to the trash. I don't find it funny and if you find out who sent it you can let them know they'll be getting a piece of my mind."

He grins and says, "Why Peggy...where is your sense of humor?" "Very funny, Fred. Throw that thing away."

Instead, he marches over to the tree and hangs it for all to see. "It's probably from Johnnie, or maybe Professor Barnes. They're both pranksters and we'll all have a laugh over it at the party." "I'm not laughing." Fred kisses her cheek, "I can see that dear. Maybe it was sent by a disgruntled student who didn't like their grade." She shakes her head and walks away. "I have a lot to do. You men need to grow up."

Johnnie is a grad student assistant who helps Fred and teaches some of the classes. Professor Barnes is his boss and head of the department. Both men are known for their sense of humor and joke-telling abilities. He wishes he could be funny like them.

For the moment he forgets the ornament and gets started on his chores. They are preparing for tonight's faculty party which he volunteered to host, and Peg has given him a to-do list. The children should be here any time, home for the holidays. He chuckles at thinking of them as children. Freddie and Penny are young adults now, and he and Peg will likely be grandparents in the not too distant future.

Early that afternoon their son and daughter arrive and Peg makes a quick lunch. Over turkey sandwiches the four catch up on their news. Penny looks at the tree and asks, "Mom, where did this come from?" "Ask your father. He's the one with the tasteless friends." Freddie comes in to have a look and he and Penny turn to their Dad for his answer. "Well?" Penny questions. "I don't know. At the party tonight we'll find out." Penny says, "Mom is right, Dad. It is kind of a sick joke." "I suppose it is, but all in fun." Freddie says, "I'll bet it was Johnnie."

The party is a resounding success. As usual, Peg overachieves with the food. He wonders how his wife manages to make it seem so effortless when he knows how she stresses over all the preparation. Most of his evening is spent as the party bartender. The clown ornament generates laughs and comments, but no one admits being the sender. He specifically asks Barnes and Johnnie, and both deny it. Johnnie says, "No, Professor Allison. But I wish I had thought of it. Hilarious."

When the guests have all left and the kids have gone to bed, he pours a glass of cognac for a nightcap. Peg comes from the kitchen and says, "The worst of it is cleaned up. I'm going to wait until tomorrow for the rest. I'm exhausted. Are you coming up to bed?" "In a few minutes. I want to relax with this drink. I'll be up shortly." "Ok. Don't stay up too late. Love you." He kisses her and replies, "I love you too Peggy. Thanks for a great party. As he sips cognac he notices an unfamiliar present under the tree. An attached little note says; "To Fred. Open right away. You'll need me on Christmas Eve." He shakes the package. It doesn't rattle. "Hmmm. Guess I'd better open it." He tears into the paper and underneath the colorful paper is an attractive case. He opens it revealing a large chef's knife, one of obvious high quality. He looks at the note again. "Why am I needing this tomorrow on Christmas Eve?" He wonders, "Who in the hell left this? I think they're carrying the joke too far." Then he smiles, "But it does seem like good quality. Peggy will put it to use." He settles back to finish his drink and glances at the ornament. He stares for a few minutes and his mind plays tricks on him. It feels as if the clown is staring back and goosebumps travel up his back. He shudders, gulps the cognac, and goes to bed.

It is a fitful sleep, full of nightmares. In these awful dreams, he is murdering someone, then he is being murdered. In one, he is dressed as a clown and says the words from the ornament, "I like you, I'll kill you last." In the morning he awakens to the smell of coffee and voices from his family in the kitchen. "Good morning everyone," he says and leans in to kiss Peg. "Morning sleepyhead," she pours him a coffee. Freddie says, "Hey, Dad. Great party last night. Who is that young blonde professor?" "I think you mean Mia. She's not a professor, she works in the administrative office. Why?" Penny laughs, "Freddie has the hots for her, Dad. She's way out of his league." Freddie gives his sister the finger behind his parent's backs. Fred says, "Well, I don't know about that. I do know she's happily engaged to a pilot who couldn't be here last night, so sorry son. Not available."

He changes the subject and the kids leave to call friends and do their young people things. "Someone left a gift under the tree last night. It was marked to me and the note said to open immediately because I would need it on Christmas Eve. It looks like a really good chef's knife." "Oh?" Peg says. "Who is it from?" "I have no idea. It didn't say, but I assume someone put it there last night." Peg says "We can use a good knife. I'll take a look at it later." "Ok, Peggy. I left it under the tree."

The plan for tonight is a few of the neighbors are dropping by early, just for a cocktail. The kids have a few friends coming over, and the rest of the evening will just be the four of them. Peg says one gift is all they may open tonight, and of course, the lobbying effort is underway for more. This is an unusual Christmas Eve for them, it hasn't been just the four of them in years and Fred and Peg are looking forward to it.

They spend a fun evening and the kids win the presents dispute, opening three gifts. Fred has a bit too much to drink and they stay up too late. Before bed, Freddie and Penny sit on their parent's bed in pajamas, just as they have done so many times over the years. It is a Norman Rockwellesque night, and Fred and Peg think it is glorious.

Fred's night is a replay of the nightmares and he awakens after each one. At 3 am he hears a noise downstairs, figuring Freddie is rummaging around for food. He gets up to check and everyone is in bed asleep. He is now on full alert and sneaks down the stairs. No one is there and he thinks he must have imagined it. "Well, I'm awake now. May as well make coffee."

He sits in his favorite chair, enjoys his coffee, and admires their tree. It is a good-looking tree. The stupid ornament is still there and he thinks he'll throw it away later. He picks up the knife box and opens it. An uneasy feeling comes over him...like someone is there. He looks up and the clown on the ornament moves. It is looking at him and he is paralyzed with fear. They stare and the face moves like a person does when they crack their neck side to side. The clown winks at him and his heart is pounding. He is dizzy...his blood pressure...

He wakes and at first is disoriented. He has blood on him, lots of it. He is holding the knife which drips blood. Horrified, he runs upstairs. Nothing could prepare him for the carnage he finds. There is blood, lots of it, streaked all over the hallway, and written in blood on the wall are the words, "Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night."

He finds Peg on the floor outside the kid's rooms with a look of terror still on her face. Had she died protecting the children? She has multiple stab wounds and her throat is cut. Penny is also dead, still lying on her bed, which is covered in blood. Similar to Peggy, her throat is slashed. Fred is in shock and walks into his son's room. He drops to his knees and vomits on the floor. How did he not hear anything? Why is his family so brutally slaughtered? Freddie has been dismembered, his arms and legs lay in a heap on the floor next to the body.

Fred is still holding the blood-stained knife. He is catatonic and walks slowly downstairs, back to his favorite chair, where he sits. He picks up the phone and dials 911. He looks in the mirror above the fireplace and he is wearing clown makeup. The operator says "What's your emergency?" and he drops the phone.

A white-gloved hand touches his shoulder and a voice says, "I told you. I like you so I'll kill you last." Fred doesn't struggle as the clown takes the knife.

The police arrive and find the massacre. A ruling is made of a family in crisis, which is so common during stressful holidays, and the father gruesomely murdered them in a fit of rage. What is unexplained is why he made himself up as a clown, and how he was able to cut his own throat, so deeply he almost severed his own head.

One of the first men on the scene accidentally stepped on an ornament, smashing it under his boot.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!"


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