When I left off a 5-year-old Space Case had snuck out of his room on Christmas Eve to grab a glass of water from the kitchen. When he entered the hallway between his bedroom and the kitchen he was struck by a mysterious wall of thick air. For an instance the boy felt as if time had stopped. He stumbled into the kitchen as the air thinned out.
Space Case stood still, body tight against the stove which supported his weight. He turned his head slightly as he heard the thuds of boots cross the length of the living room at the other end of the hall. He wondered if it could be his father, still drunk and stumbling around lost in search of the bathroom… then he heard the cough. Deep and raspy, nothing like his father’s surprisingly girlish squeak of a cough.
Scared, Space Case continued to hug the stove. He couldn’t understand why he hadn’t heard anything outside of the living room, the house was as silent as a cemetery. He heard the cough followed by a deep clearing of the throat and a whispered “fucking mucous.”
The voice resonated through Space Case’s small body. All he could remember, while standing alone in that cold dark kitchen, was his father’s protocols. With all of his might, SC forced himself away from the stove and began a brisk tiptoe back in the direction of his room. He needed to reach his sister; once he found her the both of them would climb through the window and make their way to the muster station. There they would meet up with the rest of the family.
Luckily, the path from the kitchen to his bedroom didn’t cross in front of the living room. SC snuck into his room, cautious not to shut the door completely lest it make a noise and tip off the intruder.
Once inside Space Case rushed over to the side of Sally’s bed. He carefully folded back Sally’s blanket and sheets. He gave her a gentle nudge, she didn’t move. He gave her another nudge and nothing. SC ran over to his bed and reached underneath it. He came out from under the bed with a flashlight grasped tight in his little hand. He rushed over to his sister’s bedside and flashed the light in her face, it didn’t wake her. All he could do was stare at the blank expression on her face. She was still, her face was still, her chest was still; Sally wasn’t breathing. In a panic SC attempted what little CPR he could remember. He was five, how was he supposed to remember how to resuscitate someone?
Space Case tried to breath into his sister’s mouth but the air merely blew out in every direction but the one he intended; it was as if there was a force of bubble in her throat preventing air from entering. SC shined the flashlight into her mouth and peered down her throat, there was no visible obstruction. All SC could do was to stare at his lifeless sister as tears ran down his face. There was no protocol for this, he had no idea what to do. He could hear objects being moved around in the living room and all he could think to do was weep.
The only idea that came into Space Case’s mind was to run to his parents. In order to reach their room he would have to walk straight past the living room. His mind was in a panic, he broke into a mad dash out of his room and into the hall. His legs took on a life of their own… as did the carpet. His right foot hit a wrinkle in the carpet and his feet became snagged. With the full momentum of his body behind him SC dove into the floor face first. He slammed into the floor at full force and was launched into a roll. Space Case lay flat on the floor in pain but was too terrified to let out of single whimper.
Space Case kept his eye shut tight. He could hear boot steps drawing closer. They stopped and Space Case braced himself… nothing happened. The sting of tears forced his eyes open. The first thing he saw where the outlines of thick leather boots a mere foot away from his head. The lamps in the living room were turned on bathing the stranger in a halo of faint light. Space Case slowly looked up the length of the man.
The stranger was tall and had broad shoulders. He wore a long red cloak and a red hat atop his head. A long greyish white beard hung down to his mid-chest. A long straight scar ran vertical across the weathered skin of his cheek. The man looked down at SC with an unblinking stare. SC had a hard time remembering what he saw in the man’s eyes. He can’t be sure but he believes it was confusion.
The aging man began to learn forward as he bent down. His face drew closer to Space Case’s, his eyes narrowing into a squint.
The young boy let out a scream that made his throat burn. He pushed off the floor with all limbs and ran in the direction of his parent’s room. He slammed against the door but recovered quickly. SC yanked the door open and ran into his parent’s room. As he swung the door shut SC caught a glimpse of the man staring at him without emotion. Space Case locked the door and ran over to his parent’s bed.
He ripped the blankets and sheets away from the bed as he screamed out to his parents. He scream and he begged but neither of his parents would wake. He knew the man was still out in the hall, he could hear him coughing. He ran to the bedroom wall and flipped on the lights. Like Sally, her parents laid stiff; neither of them let out a single breath of air. A cough from outside the room caused SC to leap away from the wall. He ran over to the closet and threw himself inside. He closed the door, threw his parent’s clothing down on top of himself, and closed his eyes tight.
Space Case lost track of time as he laid there alone shivering. He does remember that strange thick air filling up the closet and being unable the breath. The rest of the night was a blur. The next thing Space Case remembers was the blinding light of the sun when the closet door was opened the next day. His mother stood above him looking down in shock. His father was still in bed and was snoring away. SC described the events of the previous night to his mother. She tried to convince SC that he was only having a night terror, that everyone was alright and that it was Christmas.
Space Case would have believed his mother had it not been for the look of shock that returned to her face the moment they walked into the living room. Under their small tree was a massive pile of presents. Space Case can’t remember what items laid beneath his tree because the moment his mother laid eyes on that pile she pulled him out of the room and ran to wake his father. By noon the living room had been cleared of all items not purchased by his parents. He never did get to see what was in those packages or learn what his father had done with them.
That night remained a mystery to Space Case up until a few years ago. Before the passing of his father Space Case would visit him at the nursing home. His father was not well physically and the sharpness of his mind would come and go. During one visit, when his father was reasonable lucid, SC decided to ask him about that strange Christmas and what had happened to those presents. The simple mention of those presents caused his father’s skin to lose it’s colour. His father remembered that day like it was yesterday.
There had been no sign of a break and enter when the Captain had entered the living room that Christmas morning. The police found no fingerprints. The Captain – who was very hungover – had panicked before the police had arrived. In his disoriented state of mind he had loaded the presents into his wheel barrel and wheeled them out into the nearby bush. He dumped them into a fire-pit and lit a match. The presents caught fire quickly. All would have been well if not for the piercing wail that shot forth from the flames. Cries of agony. The Captain turned towards the fire and saw a small form attempting to climb free from the rubble as it let out a horrible screeching wail. The Captain didn’t hang around to see what it was.
Shaking in his seat the Captain told his soon the tale. Till this day, Space Case often thinks about that Christmas and wonders what was in those packages. He is one man who has never stopped believing in Santa Claus, only he isn’t sure if the reality matches the myth. What was in those packages? I would like to know that exact same thing myself.
– Bear Hunter