Excerpts: A Christmas to Die For
For some reason—probably because I’m drunk—I feel more alone tonight than I have in a long time. I worry that maybe I won’t bounce back as easily as I have before.
When am I going to feel secure? Safe?
“Ru …” I whine, moving back to the front of my imaginary friend and staring at his bright red nose. This has to be the most ridiculous thing in the world, but I still grab some of his fur in the front and tug. “Come down here.”
My six-foot two stature isn’t tall enough for my new fake, furry friend, but I need a hug. Hell, I can’t even remember the last time I felt like I needed this, or the last time I had a hug. How sad is that?
Given this isn’t real, Rudolph is surprisingly stubborn. In fact, I have to use every bit of strength I have to get his large face to come near me, and I get the distinct impression he’s not happy. But I don’t care. He’s from my imagination, and I need a damn hug.
I wrap my arms around his too-wide neck and attempt to pull myself together, finding a comfort there that would likely get me put in a mental institution for life.
Whooshing noises sound around us, but I barely hear it over my deep breathing.
Why do I feel like crying? Men don’t cry. Well, not unless they have just thrown their guts up over their naked body from stage fright after attempting a career as a cam boy. I gave myself a pass that day.
But, even though I’m in complete denial about crying, tears wet my face as I give in to the feeling of despair and loneliness. Why do I have to be such a fuckup? Why does everything and everyone I touch turn to shit?
Heat overwhelms me, soaking away the cold that crept into my body after lying on the icy ground, and though the breeze is chilly and promising a future snowstorm, I suddenly have the urge to take off my jacket.
“You’re like a furnace,” I grumble at Rudolph, not removing my grip.
For some unlikely reason, this hug with my fake reindeer is the best thing to happen to me since the two weeks I was able to get a signal on my TV at home and could stream unlimited shows for that entire fortnight. I’m not ready to give it up yet, even if I’m probably just hugging a tree while picturing my fake reindeer.
I keep my eyes closed, my breathing finally calming down, when I notice something moving against me—perhaps Rudolph trying to shake me off. Either way, at the feel of something hard against the entire length of my body, I open one eye to find I’m no longer hugging a supersized reindeer.
I’m hugging a man!
“Shit!” I gasp, dropping my hands from around the neck of a strange man who must be over eight feet tall, given he still has to bend over for me to hug him. Then I promptly fall on my ass, not feeling the impact since I’m still in shock.
I wipe my eyes, first to get the wetness out of them, and then because what I’m seeing can’t be real.
At first, all I notice is that every bit of hair on this giant’s head is white, and he has a lot of hair—a mane on his head and a crazy huge beard any biker would be proud of. It’s so odd to see such prominent white hair on a man who looks my age, because this giant is not old, even given the wizened color of his hair. No, I would put money that he isn’t older than thirty. In fact, every person here has the same stark white hair as my Rudolph, though they all look similar in age to him.
That’s odd, right?
Okay, scratch that, the weird part is clearly the changing from animal to human. Not the hair situation. Still …
Unfortunately, just a few feet from reaching what I hope will be freedom, several arrows—which look to be on fire!—shoot down from the sky. They miss me, but most become embedded against the walls and roof of my house.
I have one moment to wonder what the hell they are before the building explodes.
An invisible, heated shockwave hits me, taking me off my feet and pushing me backward. I slam into a tree trunk and crack my head, giving me an instant headache.
Arms wrap around me, gripping tight enough to cut off my breathing, and my view of my exploding home instantly changes to the tree line surrounding my property as I’m shuffled away from the wreckage.
I look up to find Rudolph holding me. So … not a tree, then.
Then I realize he’s still naked!
This can’t be happening.
He shields me from the debris flying through the air; all my worldly possessions becoming nothing more than burning embers and rubble.
“No!” I groan while the pounding in my head worsens.
I need to wake up. I need to get away.
A growl has me looking back up at Rudolph, the vibration of it rumbling through my own body while I’m still tightly held against him. He turns us back to the crater that used to have my house sitting there.
Rudolph’s gaze is fierce, and I notice the men and women from before are turning back into reindeer. As in, their bodies are changing shape until they are no longer human!
What the fuck?
“Ru?” I gasp, my entire world now shaken to its core.
I barely have time to process that everything I owned, everything I have collected over the years, is now gone before someone lands over the rubble. In fact, many beings land. Dozens of them.
Somewhat belatedly, under the light of the moonlit clouds and glowing embers that used to be my house, I register that these beings barely look human. Their ears are pointed, their teeth sharp as they hiss at us, and their eyes are black. The clothes they wear are a dull green, and they each have dozens of arrows and spears at their backs in a pouch. Actually, some of them already have arrows and spears in hand, moving their arms back in the same way a javelin thrower might.
Are these the elves Rudolph mentioned earlier?
Okay, reindeer and elves? This has to be some sort of cosmic joke on me. Then again, the destruction of my house is no joke. And the deadly intent on the elves’ faces, as they look to be preparing an attack, is definitely no joke.
In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m screwed. And crazy.
Can’t forget the crazy part.
“So, you like the milk, but what about the cookie?” He slides a plate that has sat off to the side of us the entire meal. On it is a large, round object with dark spots. My human called it a chocolate chip cookie when he asked for it. It’s large enough to take up the entire plate.
“You expect me to eat that?” I can’t even muster up any sort of enthusiasm for it. It looks like hard dirt with specks of dark mud in it.
“Yep, but only after you get a refill. The best way to eat a cookie is to dunk it in milk.”
I eye the cookie again, wondering why I’m even considering putting myself through all of this for my human.
“Are you sure this is important? We could be back in the hotel room …” I remind him, hoping the nudge will push him in the right direction, which would be any direction away from this cookie at this point.
Unfortunately, a waitress refills my glass, and then my human rips off a small chunk from the cookie.
I’m the Santa of Christmas, the highest rank in our military, the wartime leader of my people, and one of the most feared foes of the elves, yet here I am, succumbing to my human, who is force-feeding me rubbish.
What have I become?
Scrounging together whatever bravery and fearlessness I hold during battles, I take the offered poison and dunk it in the milk. Then I close my eyes as I shove the entire thing in my mouth.
I consider just swallowing it whole, figuring my body can save me from the taste, but already my body heat helps to melt whatever ingredients are in this cookie so it crumbles into my mouth.
And … I have to say, it’s not that bad.
Jessica lives in Adelaide, South Australia. When she is not writing, you can find her reading, napping or watching excessive amounts of TV. Connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads.