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A Painted Christmas

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Christmas tree

Patrick Finn arrived home from his Christmas conquests, beating out the snowstorm by mere miles, mere minutes. He felt not only the foreboding presence of a hazardous blizzard, but also that of something else. Something darker. It felt as if it resonated not only within his soul, but also within the souls of those around him, within the very ground itself.

Patrick had never bothered to check, but he was sure that beneath the grass and soil of Winter Harbor, Maine, there in hungered a gaping mouth or a chasm yearning for the flesh of the innocent, and anchored to the physical world only by a desire to seem normal. It had not yet been appeased because the residents of Winter Harbor were all but innocent.

Patrick had moved to Winter Harbor hoping to escape the despondency and despair he had felt in his hometown, Belmont, Maine. So far these feelings had only amplified, magnified, by both the wintry death that he felt tip toeing in the town’s midst and the lingering scent of paint that seemed to permeate every building in the city. It was as if the town was constantly being repainted in some sort of halfhearted attempt to cover something up.

Still, he felt it necessary to stay, so as not to make matters worse for his wife, whom he barely saw anymore, and his son, who always seemed so distant. He and his wife were going through a rife time in their marriage and their son was feeling its effects. It was akin to what one may feel after a tumultuous earthquake. Patrick felt that he had to make it up to his son, so he went out and bought him the most expensive and extravagant thing he could get his hands on this late in the shopping season, a brand new video game system. He had assured his son that, even though he had acted out often this year, Santa would bring him something good.

Throughout these charades, Patrick felt empty at the prospect of shopping for a boy that he knew nothing about, a boy whose existence was forgotten every so often.

On the Eve of Christmas, Patrick arrived home before the snowstorm and quickly crept into the garage to wrap the present and place it under the tree. It was in this garage that he often felt abrupt changes, as if within its small space, it contained secrets beyond human comprehension. The musky smell of the old holiday decorations coupled with the omnipresent scent of fresh paint, varnish, and gasoline all seemed to meld into one personified force, whispering sweet nothings to Patrick as he exited his car. This caused him to shudder heavily, as if beset by a fit of delirium tremens. He shrugged off the dull headache and dry mouth before quickly and sloppily wrapping the gift.

Following this, he slipped it under the tree and began to creep upstairs. He couldn't help but grimace at the thought that he was as far from Santa as humanly possible.

As he reached the top of the landing, Patrick glanced over at the clock. It read 11:49. He stood there, as if to wait for some fleeting childhood feeling that may accompany the arrival of Christmas. It did not come, as he soon found. Nor did cheery music, nor the scent of evergreens and cookies. Just deafening silence and that damnable scent of paint. It was everywhere, inescapable. The arrival of yet another disappointing Christmas struck Patrick like a blow to the face. He fell to his knees then subsequently onto his stomach. He couldn’t tell if he had passed out or not.

Suddenly, a loud sound in his son’s room jarred Patrick awake. He quickly got up and stumbled into the room. The popping sound he had heard made him wonder what made it, and when he finally found out, he was confused even further. A large, black humanoid, adorned with goat horns and a tongue that writhed like a snake, stood before him, clutching his son. Patrick stood dumbfounded, seemingly incapable of recognizing not only the creature, but anything else before him.

“What do you want?” Patrick asked. Innately, he knew that the creature wanted something.

The creature smiled, licking his lips.

“Thine tender fruit, not spoiled by the worms of new but by the tree that bore it… ripened not into ambrosia but a rotten, hollow core…”

Patrick stared at the creature. Sweat began to collection on his brow. He felt as if his brain itself had been lit afire. He couldn't breathe.

“I… I can’t say I understand…” Patrick stammered out.

The creature smiled again.

“Not by love of a dying star can a a planet be adorned, but by the eruption of its most sacred peaks? I desire the treasures from which you hope to find salvation. The gift to your boy. It is a gift for me, now.”

Patrick couldn’t understand why the creature would want the game system, but he felt it necessary to give it up. He quickly bolted downstairs, grabbing the box and, clutching it tight, he sprinted back up to his son’s room. The creature, upon his arrival, thrust Patrick’s son to the floor and held out one long, beckoning hand.

As Patrick handed over the present, he couldn't help but feel as if he were Faust himself, exchanging an eternity for one single moment of gratification. The creature licked his lips once more and disappeared in the time it took Patrick to blink.

When he was sure he was alone, Patrick fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around his son. He expected a “thank you,” an “I love you,” something. He heard nothing. He looked down. He found that his son was withering away, becoming the very shadows that inhabited the night around him. Patrick knew at that moment that he was entirely alone, swallowed finally by the chasm beneath his feet.

He stumbled to the garage before sitting down, embracing his solitude and his communion with the musky smell of paint that seemed to beckon invitingly.

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