Visitor in the Darkness
BY: JAMES WATTS
“Have you been naughty, Clara?” A whisper in her ear, cold, gritty, like a bitter December wind. “Or have you been nice?”
She awoke suddenly, cold sweat trickling between her breasts, a rapid river of ice rushing through her veins. It was a bad dream and nothing more. Already it had faded away, drifted back again to her subconscious where it would haunt her no more, or least haunt her no more this night. She looked over to her husband to see if her restless sleep had roused him, but he lay there, taking normal breaths and a light snore lifting from his lips. She leaned over and kissed him softly on his forehead.
“I love you, Carl,” she mouthed into his ear.
Throwing back the comforter, she stepped out of bed and felt her way along the bedroom wall and into the bathroom. An explosion of brightness stabbed her sleep weary eyes like a thousand red-hot daggers as the hundred-watt bulb overhead birthed new light. There was a soft click as she shut the bathroom door behind her.
Moments later, she sat before the frosted windowpanes of her bedroom window, unable to find her way back into the soothing embrace of sleep. She was full awake now; both body and mind, and she feared her chance at sleep had passed her by. On their bed, the bed they had shared for these last ten years; Carl still breathed and snored, oblivious to her torment, oblivious to her, caught in the realms of slumber and no doubt dreaming of company picnics and bonus checks. He was a good man, a good husband to her and a good father to their two children. He was a provider, as well as caring and gentle, but he never would understand what she had given up for him, for their family.
Outside the wind picked up and brought with it fresh flurries of snow and the moon hung fat and full in the dark satin backdrop of the midnight sky, pale, ghostly light casting a surreal glow over an elegant winter landscape. Across the street, the Robinsons’ intricately woven strings of Christmas lights flashed and danced over the virgin whiteness covering their front lawn. There was a nativity scene, barely visible at the northwest corner of their house, and a large inflatable Santa standing true against the barrage of wind and snow that pummeled him with relentless fury.
Were those sleigh bells? She pressed closer to her window, a hint of winter chill forced down upon her cheek with gelid fingers, and listened intently for those melodic jingling bells to reveal themselves from underneath the roaring wind once more. But it was gone, whatever she heard or perhaps imagined that she had heard, was gone. Several of her neighbors hung wing wind chimes on their porches, maybe that was all it was, just some cold, lonely wind chime; caught by the wind and playing its sad, lonesome song.
She crossed her bedroom and out into the hall, the stained hardwood, cool and hard under her bare feet, creaking the slightest bit and she paused, looking back over her shoulder. She did not want to disturb Carl, less he wake and fret over her middle of the night distress; such a loving husband he was. His snores continued, his sleep undisturbed, and Clara was relieved.
Sleep, my love. Sleep and dream of the life you have given us…of the life you have yet to live.
Whispered moans rose from the stairs as she crept down them on the tip of her toes, ever vigilant not to wake her husband or her children on her midnight excursion. A drink was what she craved, warm rum to help settle her. Maybe then, she could cast away this dreadful insomnia.
Then the faintest of sounds reached her ears, the minute crackle and pop of burning wood and she shifted her gaze towards the open den, a room that should be as dark as the very depths of the ocean, but was not. Dull, yellow-orange light reflected off polished hardwood and Clara had the dimmest vision of the objects inside; old Victorian style furniture, an antique vase, filled with vibrant lilies that served as a centerpiece on the coffee table.
Carl put the fire out before bed…I watched him do this. Why, then, is the fire still burning?
She stepped into the den, staring at the waning and waxing glow of the fire as two glowing embers drifted upward and away from the fireplace like dieing fireflies.
“Why have you broken into my home?” she asked, knowing he was there, but unable to face the man who had intruded into her house on this dreary Christmas Eve, fearing what she might see.
He was a tall man with a dirty white beard matted with specks of maroon. A stained and soiled Santa suite hung from his body like loose skin, a dusty old burlap sack set on the couch next to him, and when he grinned, he revealed a mouthful of broken, uneven teeth. She wanted to scream but for the life of her, she could not summon the strength to do so.
“Have a seat, girl,” His was a rustic voice, a thick southern drawl that would seem almost grandfatherly, if not for that ghastly rasp.
Clara sat down in the wing-backed chair opposite the couch and gazed at him in silent terror. “You are going to kill me?”
“No,” he replied gruffly.
“You are going to rape me, then, and steal from my house on Christmas?” She wanted to scream, wanted to shout for Carl, but to do so would bring death upon all those she loved.
“No,” he replied again. “I have no need of your material goods and I have no interest in lying with a woman.”
“What then?” Clara pleaded in a cracked voice, eyes wet with tears. “What do want…if not to kill rape or steal…what business could you possibly have in my home if not for any of those things?”
“For you to answer a simple question, Clara…a simple honest answer is all I require. Then, why, I’ll be on my way.”
She looked at him doubtfully, her lips quivered. “And what is that…this question that will send you away?”
He stood and walked over to the fire and hunched down before it, as if trying to get warm. “Have you been naughty, Clara?” He said. “Or have you been nice?”
“And what kind of question is that?” she asked, scared of this man, yes, but angry at such a trivial question. And how does he know my name? Who is this man?
Out the corner of her eye the burlap sack moved…no…something inside of it moved.
“What a silly question, girl. I am Santa, Old Saint Nick. Do you not recognize me? Am I that forgotten in this age of electronic games and mass produced toys? And, yes, Clara, I know who you are…I have a list.”
“I said nothing. How do you--”
He stood up, turned to face her, favoring her with yet another of his crooked grins, and tapped a finger to the side of his head. “I am Santa, dear girl, you only have to think of it and I will know.
“Now…are you going to answer my question?”
“I don’t know how to answer such a question.”
He loomed over her now, filthy hands resting on the back of the chair, and came nose to nose with her. “Yes. I believe that you do.”
On the couch, whatever was in his bag began to scratch and squirm and his eyes became as black as a cancerous lung. He smiled again and his mouth seemed unnaturally large and out of place, filled with hundreds of sharp reptilian teeth. “Naughty or Nice, Clara. I really must know.”
An unmarked patrol car pulled up in front of a small two-story home on Christmas morning, pulling in next to the other cruisers that parked along the front of the house. A big blond haired man got out, approached the yellow crime scene tape, and signaled to a state police officer that was busy writing something down in his little black pad. The officer looked up, nodded, put his pad away and came over.
“Good morning, Detective Simons,” he said as he reached a hand over the yellow tape.
“What’s good about this?” Simons took the offered hand and gave it a shake. “Talk to me, officer…”
“Jackson. Sgt. Steven Jackson.”
“Yes, sir.” Sgt. Jackson looked back towards the house uneasily, then back at Simons. “It’s pretty bad, sir.”
“Then get on with it, Sgt.”
“Triple homocide, sir. Clara Allen, thirty-three year old Caucasian female. She murdered her husband and their two small children. The children were the worst, sir…” Jackson trailed off, there was hate in his eyes as well as hurt. “…she tied their hands and feet together and gagged them with socks and duct tape. Cause of death is pretty obvious sir, multiple stab wounds.”
“And the husband?” Simons asked.
“Same, sir. A nighbor heard him screaming and called the local county cops.” A look of disgust spread on his face. “She was still working on him when the county boys arrived.”
“That all, Sgt?”
“No…no there’s something else…thought it a bit peculiar.”
“And what is that, Sgt?”
“She went catatonic…kept mumbling how she’s not naughty that she’s nice, then just went blank.”
“Anyone that would do what she’s done is just crazy in my book,” Simons said. “Get this mess cleaned up. My God, what kind of twisted fuck does this kind of shit?”
“I don’t know, sir. I really don’t know.”