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Evan still remembered his seventh Christmas Eve clearly, an evening that he, like most children, had been looking forward to for a long time. The next morning he would get up early and open all his presents, eager to see what surprises Santa had left him. Evan imagined the restless night ahead and thought, if he listened hard, he might be able to hear Santa come down the chimney.
But this Christmas Eve didn't all go to plan. It wasn't long before Evan's excitement gave away to horror.
Mum had insisted that Santa wouldn't come if Evan stayed up late, and she had just began sending him off to bed when Evan was distracted by a loud, muffled thump on the roof. It seemed to be coming directly above the fireplace. It was like in the Night Before Christmas - "there arose such a clatter", and Evan approached the chimney to see what was the matter. Was it now that Santa had decided to make an appearance?
Ash was falling from the nooks and crannies of the chimney to the bottom of the fireplace, sending out charcoal smoke and a burnt smell. Something, someone, had to be disturbing the ash. Evan was alone. Who else went down the chimney at this time on Christmas Eve?
The chimney rattled, and a deep, rolling voice hit the air. Santa's famous "ho, ho, ho!" echoed down the chimney as Evan watched in delight.
Things were silent for a moment. Evan's mother stood behind him, watching. Then arose the biggest clatter yet.
There was an explosion of greyish smoke as mountains of ash fell to the bottom of the fireplace. The fireplace shook as if there was a sudden earthquake. Then, amidst the greyness, there was a flash of red, and a tremendous thump.
Had Santa made it?
Evan rushed forward, unable to stop himself. He felt a flare of excitement, but Mum was first to the chimney. Evan tried to remember the last time his mother had expressed excitement, and couldn't.
Then the smoke cleared, and the fallen Santa came into view. He didn't have quite the belly Evan had expected, but this was the least of his observations. Evan gasped as he saw that Santa's beard had appeared to slide off during his fall. But there was no blood - the only blood came from Santa's head, and it was just a trickle. The bad thing was that the trickle of blood was coming from what looked like a big dent in Santa's head.
Evan frowned. Santa couldn't die - he was too good for that! He couldn't die, not now. So had somebody played a trick on him?
Evan glanced at the beard that had appeared to slide down Santa's face. Beards didn't move like that, at least not without there being blood. So then if it wasn't a real beard, it had to be a fake one. But if that was a fake beard, then Santa's suit was also a fake suit. This wasn't the real Santa - this was Santa in disguise! Evan glanced once more at the fake Santa's exposed features, trying to figure out who this person could be, and made sense of the face that seemed so familiar to him. He realized, for the first time, that Mum had never been excited. Instead, she had rushed to the fake Santa's body in grief. Sobs racked her body, her tears dripping on the fake Santa's suit.
Evan stood, dumbfounded, and choked out one word.
Evan woke up in a cold sweat, bolting upright into a sitting position. He glanced at his watch and read the time. 2:19 a.m. Before the light on his watch went off, he read the date. December 20. Only five more days until Christmas. Once upon a time, Evan would have been happy about this, but now he wished that Christmas never came. It was the same dream again, accurate in every detail. That evening was exactly how it had been in the dream. It never ceased to amaze Evan how vivid these dreams were. They got right down to the core and forced Evan to relive the worst moment in his life. Those goddamn nightmares! They got worse around Christmas. He would dream of that fateful evening his father slipped and fell down the chimney, smashing his skull in on the way down, or he would dream of those claws, those razor-sharp strips of polished bone, weapons that could slice through him like butter if they gave so much as a flick.
Most kids grew out of their belief in Santa, came to accept that Santa was just another myth made up to make children happy, but Evan hadn't grown out of it. He had been jolted out of it, his belief shattered with the tragic death of his father. Evan's father had only been trying to surprise Evan, but he had done much more than that. He had bent Evan beyond repair. And every Christmas, Santa Claws would haunt Evan.
Evan was convinced Santa Claws was some kind of demon in humanoid form. He was definitely not human - he was a supernatural entity of sorts, but Evan had always thought of him as a demon. Santa Claws had been in Evan's life ever since his father died, and though he was mostly absent during the year, he would come back around November, maybe late October. When it became nearer to Christmas... well, he would become more persistent then. There were the nightmares, for one thing, and the visions, and Evan had no shortage of seizures around Christmas time, when Santa Claws was at his worst. Sometimes Evan had panic attacks that seemed to come from nowhere, and there was no doubt who had caused them. Evan was no stranger to bullying at school because of his seizures and his strong dislike for Christmas. Santa Claws had taken its toll on Evan.
Evan knew that Santa Claws had, in some way, been triggered by his father's death. Sometimes Evan believed that Santa Claws was actually his father's ghost, turned evil in the existence of the afterlife. Evan wasn't one to believe in the supernatural, but Santa Claws had changed his mind about a lot of things.
After a while, Evan had been forced to accept that Santa Claws was always going to come back. Even if Evan grew out of his own personal dislike for Christmas, he would never have a joyful Christmas again.
It was Christmas that had caused his father's death. It was Christmas that had caused Santa Claws to come.
Evan's head flopped back on his pillow. School had finished weeks before, but Evan was still dreading the next day, and every day to come until Christmas. What Evan was looking forward to was the absence of Santa Claws. Santa Claws would hang around for a bit after Christmas, then he'd slowly fade away, and Evan would be free of his presence between February and November. Then he could forget about Christmas, pretend it never existed. But no matter what, Santa Claws would always come back... and Evan was sure he would never be free of his demonic existence again.
Evan woke early and rolled out of bed, opening his laptop without bothering to draw the curtains or turn on the light. He wanted to go online, check his Facebook, play some games, do anything to take his mind of Christmas and, more importantly, Santa Claws.
It was an hour or two before Evan sat down to a lazy breakfast of cornflakes, by which time Evan's mother had gotten out of bed. Mum had shut herself out from society a while after she unexpectedly became a widow, developing a strong case of depression. Eventually she had come to terms with her husband's death and became a more loving mother to Evan than ever, but she still had her bad days. Sometimes Evan wondered whether Santa Claws was in her mind, too. They both supported each other a lot, but Evan couldn't help but feel that the house was lonely every once in a while. Evan had told his mum about Santa Claws for the first few years after his father's death, but then he had decided to pretend he had outgrown it. He didn't want to put extra weight on Mum's shoulders, and the last thing he wanted to do was to make it seem like he was a child.
But Evan couldn't hide the seizures. He couldn't hide the fact that he was sometimes absorbed in a hallucination, often concerning Santa Claws. Evan's Mum seemed to blame it on the trauma he had received after his father's death - sure, maybe not all kids would experience that type of trauma, but everyone's different, aren't they? Evan said good morning to Mum and continued to eat his cornflakes. The fireplace was directly to his right, and Evan thought he could catch a glimpse of red out of the corner of his eye. His head turned. Nothing.
Paranoia. Or maybe Santa Claws was playing tricks on him. Either way, Evan didn't fancy seeing Santa Claws in the flesh. He had seen him already – five times to be exact – and would see him a sixth time, for every Christmas Eve at 8:13 p.m., the exact time his father had fallen, he appeared in the fireplace. And Evan was always there to watch him make an appearance.
It was then that Evan decided that this year, he was going to be prepared. It would be no different to any other year; Santa Claws would appear in the fireplace at exactly the same time as he had the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that year. Mum was never around – she always went to bed early on Christmas Eve, or stayed in bed the entire day. This time Evan wouldn’t just be watching Santa Claws – he’d destroy Santa Claws once and for all. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?
That day, Evan confined himself to the safety of his home or, more specifically, his bedroom. He distracted himself with computer games and other activities, while all the time planning how he was going to get rid of Santa Claws when he made an appearance.
Before his father died, he’d had a hunting rifle that hung on a hook in the wall. After his death, it had been hidden away inside his wardrobe which was, of course, in the bedroom Mum slept in. A gun was Evan’s closest shot, and it was the only thing he could think of that might kill Santa Claws. What else was he supposed to do? Shout a few defiant words and attack Santa Claws with his bare hands?
His dead father’s old hunting rifle was the only gun possible for Evan to obtain. The only problem was getting it out of the wardrobe without his mother catching him, and she was sure to get suspicious if she saw him taking a gun out of the wardrobe. This proved to be an easier task than Evan thought, however. When Mum went out to do some shopping, Evan went straight to the wardrobe doors and started burrowing through the clothes. It was then that he experienced the seizure.
Evan had just caught sight of the gun when a sudden jolt ran through his body. His muscles were paralyzed, his joints frozen in place. Evan was unable to do anything but stare helplessly as he fell backwards onto the wooden floor. Electricity ran through his body, which was now twitching madly on the floor. Shadows danced in front of his eyes as the visions began. He saw his father, now an ash-covered skeleton wearing a Santa Hat, leering down at him through empty eye sockets. He saw a Christmas Tree decorated with bloodied limbs, organs and what looked like unravelled intestines. He saw claws curling in front of his eyes, claws that would cut him in two if he did so much as blink…
Evan came to just as he heard the car pulling into the driveway. Frantically, his eyes darted around, searching for the hunting rifle. Something thin and black poking out from a pile of clothes caught his eye. The rifle! He snatched it up and bolted towards his room, not remembering to close the wardrobe door. He had just reached his bedroom when Mum opened the front door.
It wasn’t until his mother called out to him an hour or so later, “Evan, have you been through my wardrobe?” that Evan remembered he had neglected to close the wardrobe door.
“Uhh… yeah,” Evan replied, thinking quickly. “I was looking for a jacket. You know, since all my other ones are too small. It’s pretty cold, with the snow and all.” Evan was proud his voice didn’t so much as quiver. Because of this, Mum didn’t pursue the subject any longer.
In that one day, Evan experienced the seizure inside the wardrobe, frequent flashes of movement out of the corner of his eye, and a brief hallucination. Usually it was worse around this time, but Evan had it lucky. The nightmares didn’t improve that night.
The next day, Evan realized he had no bullets for the rifle. He had forgotten to find some in his panic to get out of the room before his mother saw. Mum didn’t go out that day, but Evan decided to have a look through the wardrobe anyway, and if she asked, he’d make up the same lie as yesterday.
After some serious rummaging, he found three stray bullets hidden in a corner of the wardrobe in a plastic casing. This time, he didn’t forget to close the wardrobe door. He put the bullets in his pocket in case Mum should enter the hallway, but she didn’t. The plan was looking successful.
That day, Santa Claws talked to Evan. The words were spoken inside Evan’s head, but Evan knew well who they belonged to. Evan found he couldn’t remember most of the speech afterwards, but knew it had something to do with Evan’s plan to kill Santa Claws. Of course – Santa Claws could get inside Evan’s head, so why shouldn’t he be able to read Evan’s thoughts? This was what he had done.
Still, Evan wasn’t prepared to give up so quickly. That day, he might have seen a lot of things that weren’t there, but Evan kept his thoughts on that loaded rifle.
On the 22nd of December, Evan not only heard Santa Claws and experienced his visions, but also felt Santa Claws on his own flesh. At one point it felt like a cat was running its claws across his arm, but no-one was there. Still, that didn’t stop blood from flowing. When Mum asked him what had happened to his arm, he said that Stormo had scratched him. (Evan had an old tabby cat called Stormo, and was no stranger to his scratches.)
Mum didn’t notice the seizures and hallucinations, simply because Evan confined himself to his room all day. It was a pitiful existence, but Evan knew he had to do it to avoid suspicion. Mum blamed it on what had happened with his father, relating it to past trauma and, as a consequence, feeling the need to shut himself away from what the experience had been related to – Christmas. Evan didn’t have any problems with this.
The 23rd passed quickly, but the 24th was the worst day he had experienced so far. He spent much of his time being tormented by the demonic presence of Santa Claws, his frightening messages ringing in his ears. Once, Mum walked in the room while he was having a seizure on his bed, but was able to avoid suspicion by saying he was in the middle of a nightmare.
Time dragged on, as Evan became more and more tormented. Evan’s mother went to bed early, as she normally did on Christmas Eve. This left Evan two more hours until Santa Claws made an appearance.
Every past year, Evan had been at the fireplace at 8:13, but this was because Santa Claws had willed him to be there. He had felt his legs move and had been unable to stop them. Santa Claws wanted Evan to be there to see him in the flesh. This was why Evan made sure he had the rifle clutched tightly in his hands before the time came. Evan glanced at his watch nervously. No, he was past nervous – he was terrified. 8:13 came, and nothing happened. But at the 20-second mark, he felt his legs moving down the hallway towards the lounge.
His hands opened the lounge door. He approached the fireplace. The curtains were drawn, the lights were out. It was dark, and Evan could see nothing save the silhouette of Santa Claws in the fireplace.
Evan could see the outline of a Santa Hat on his head, and was no stranger to the claws that hung at the shadow’s side. Evan felt the presence of Santa Claws, knew that Santa Claws would soon be illuminated by a ghostly light and Evan would be able to see him in the flesh. Then he would raise the gun, pull the trigger and it would be over.
Or so he hoped.
Evan stood there for what seemed like forever, then the empty, bleeding eye sockets came into view… that white, almost transparent skin… the sharp, bloodied set of teeth that showed from behind slimy lips… the tattered Santa suit smeared with the blood of innocent victims… and worst of all, the long, knife-sharp set of claws that hung at each side.
Evan was terrified. He stood paralyzed with fear as Santa Claws grinned and raised his hands towards him… Evan was unable to move, unable to do anything but watch as the claws came closer and closer to reaching him. It was too late to shoot now. It was all over.
But as Evan stood frozen, his muscles stiffened, and his finger tightened around the trigger. There was a terrific bang and a blinding flash of light.
Then world faded to black.
Evan woke to Mum shaking him frantically. He blinked, trying to figure out what had happened. Then he remembered. He had killed Santa Claws.
Mum said she had heard a bang and had come in to see what the noise was. When she saw that Evan was holding the hunting rifle, her first thought was that Evan had shot himself, but she had seen that there was no noticeable bullet wound and Evan was clearly still breathing.
Evan was exhausted but too happy to comment. His face broke into a smile. "I did it," he whispered.
Mum looked concerned. "You're not well, Evan. You're going to a doctor as soon as possible. I worry about you."
"I killed Santa Claws," Evan babbled, oblivious to his mother's concerns. He was overcome with the joy that Santa Claws would no longer be in his life.
"I'm not just worried about you, Evan. I'm also quite angry with you," Mum said, his eyebrows knitting into a scowl. "Somehow, you vandalized the fireplace. It looks like something out of a horror movie."
Evan frowned. "I never vandalized the fireplace."
Mum sighed. "Then how do you explain that?" she said, pointing.
Evan twisted his head around to face the fireplace. Solid crimson letters had been written on the brick wall behind the fireplace. The paint looked fresh, and Evan could see it still trickling down the wall. But not paint, Evan realized, but blood:
HO HO HO
I'M COMING FOR YOU