Christmas Ashes

A holiday horror short story from the author of Devil’s Nightmare.

Ten-year-old Jonathan Brandon only wants one thing for Christmas, for a couple of neighborhood teenagers to stop picking on him. After Jonathan writes a letter to Santa Claus, asking for his help, the bullies learn that there are consequences for staying on the Naughty List. 

CHRISTMAS ASHES

by Robert Pruneda

Copyright © 2015 Robert Pruneda

1

It’s that time of year again where the jolly old fat guy goes over his Naughty or Nice list and checks it twice. Every year, children from all over the world look forward to that special day. Kids beg Santa for the most popular toy of the season. Parents max out their credit cards. And retail stores ring in record profits. It’s Christmas time.

But not every boy and girl gets a visit from Santa Claus. At least not a jolly one that involves presents under the Christmas tree. Oh, no, Santa reserves those for the good boys and girls. So what about the bad kids? What happens to them? Will they get lumps of coal in their stockings instead of candy canes, gift cards, or video games?

One naughty boy in Restwood Mills might have considered a lump of coal a precious gift. He had to learn the hard way that staying on Santa’s Naughty List has serious consequences.

2

“Give it back!” Jonathan Brandon yelled. He shuffled back and forth between William Hamilton and Daniel Easterling. The two teenagers tossed a baseball cap over the ten-year-old boy’s head in a game of keep-away.

William laughed and whacked him over the head with the cap before tossing it back to Daniel.

“I mean it, Will!” Jonathan flailed his arms while trying to intercept it. “Give it back!”

“Uh-oh, he means it.” William snorted another laugh. “Little turd is serious.”

Daniel waved the cap just out of Jonathan’s reach and tossed it over his head. William caught it and held it behind his back, while keeping the smaller boy at bay with his free hand.

“Come on, man, give it.”

“You want it?” William said, smiling. “You really want it?”

“Yes! Now give it.”

William shoved the cap down the back of his pants. He bent over and let out a rumbling fart that lasted a good three seconds. Daniel held one hand over his mouth and nose, busting out laughing while pointing. William pulled the cap out of his pants and rubbed it against Jonathan’s face. Then he dropped it in a puddle of muddy water, stomped on it, and twisted his foot.

“No!” Johnny cried out. “My dad gave that to me!”

“Aw, poor whittle Johnny,” William said. “Did I hurt your whittle feelings? You gonna cry?”

Jonathan screamed and shoved William, pounding him three times in the chest. William didn’t even flinch at the blows to his body. He rolled his eyes and grabbed a wad of his little assailant’s hair. He pulled the boy’s head back and landed a solid punch across his face. Jonathan fell into the puddle of water next to his baseball cap.

“Later, wimp,” William said as he and Daniel walked away. “And happy birthday.”

Jonathan cried and lifted his soiled cap from the water. He stared at the Marine Corps emblem, then rubbed some mud off it. He narrowed his eyes and glared at the two neighborhood bullies. Jonathan was short for his age and he didn’t have any friends. He’d always kept to himself, never bothering anyone. That didn’t stop those jerks from picking on him. He didn’t care about why they did it, either. He just wanted the bullying to stop.

3

Jonathan sat at a small wooden desk in his bedroom, his dirty cap hung on the edge of his chair. On the desk was an empty plate with bread crumbs next to a handwritten letter to Santa Claus. He lifted the sheet of paper and read what he had just written.

 

Dear Santa,

I don’t know if you are really real or not because some of the other kids say you are not real. But just in case you are, I only want to ask you for one thing this Christmas. There are two boys in my neighborhood that keep picking on me. I wish they would stop. They are really mean to me and ruined the baseball cap that my dad gave me for my birthday. Dad is a Marine and I haven’t seen him in months. He gave me some other stuff too, but the cap was my favorite because I want to be a Marine just like him when I grow up. Anyway, I just want those jerks to leave me alone. I don’t know if you only give toys and games for Christmas, or whatever, but I do not want any of that. You can skip my house this year. Just make William Hamilton and Daniel Easterling leave me alone. That is all I want for Christmas. Thank you, Santa!

~ Jonathan David Brandon

P.S.  Give them an extra lump of coal this year too. They deserve it!

 

Jonathan tri-folded his letter and stuffed it into a white envelope. He addressed it to Santa Claus at the North Pole. Return address: Jonathan Brandon, 616 Silverton Lane, Restwood, TX 76695.

4

Santa Claus dropped another log into the fireplace and jabbed at the small pile with an iron poker. Embers rose from the crackling fire as the chubby man with the fluffy white beard arranged the logs. He set the poker back onto its stand and rubbed his hands near the fire. Then he headed back to his mahogany desk, where a bag full of letters awaited him.

Santa rubbed his belly and smiled, his rosy cheeks glistening. He eyed the fresh batch of cookies Mrs. Claus had made for him. He grabbed one and dunked it in a glass of milk. As he bit into the sugary treat, he lifted an envelope from the mail bag and sat in his antique chair. It squeaked as it resisted his weight. The jolly old fellow chewed on his cookie while he removed the letter from the envelope.

“Ho-ho-ho,” Santa chimed as he unfolded the letter. “Let’s see what little Johnny Brandon wants for Christmas this year.”

Santa’s cheery face turned sour. He set the cookie down and frowned, adjusting his wire-framed glasses. He read the letter again and pulled open the desk drawer. He removed a computer tablet, placed it on his desk, and turned it on. He swiped his chubby finger across the screen and tapped on an animated icon of a little boy’s face. NICE flashed below the face when he smiled. NAUGHTY flashed when he frowned. A couple of seconds later the Naughty or Nice List welcome message filled the screen. Folks were right when they claimed there was an app for everything.

He pressed a little square button at the bottom of his tablet. “William Hamilton,” he said. “Restwood, Texas.”

A few seconds later, a photo of William popped up on the upper left hand of the screen, along with a short biography. It also included his birthday, names of his parents, his home address, and the school he attended. NAUGHTY flashed in bold red letters underneath the biography. Santa read the lengthy list of naughty things William had done over the past year. He’d lied to his parents, cheated on tests at school, and bullied younger kids. He’d also scratched his neighbor’s car with a key, and even defecated on the same neighbor’s porch. Santa cringed at that one. And those were from the list of minor infractions.

Santa tapped on a few of the listings and watched videos of William’s naughtiness. The fifteen-year-old’s behavior appalled Santa. What sickened him most, even more than the defecation prank, was what he’d done to a stray cat on Halloween. It wasn’t just naughty, it was downright evil. He watched William toss the poor animal into a barbecue pit. Charcoal was flaming underneath the grill. He slammed the hood shut, blocking the cat’s escape, and laughed as it shrieked inside.

Santa frowned and lowered his brow, tossing his half-eaten cookie onto the plate. He then checked Daniel Easterling’s file. He too was on the Naughty List. His violations weren’t anywhere near as severe as William Hamilton’s, though. The worst he’d done was minor bullying and stealing snacks from a convenience store. The two teenagers did have one thing in common. Neither of them believed in Santa Claus and had made it a point to tell younger kids that he didn’t exist.

Santa narrowed his eyes and twisted the corners of his mouth upwards. “Ho-ho-ho,” he laughed as he retrieved his half-eaten cookie. “I’ve got a special visit planned for you this year, boys.”

5

William leaned forward with a bowl of cat food in his hand. “Here kitty-kitty,” he said while shaking the bowl. A calico cat meowed a couple of times and inched forward. It had a red collar and a little silver tag in the shape of a paw hanging from it. “That’s right, come and get it.”

William set the bowl down and backed away, grinning. The cat meowed and took a few steps forward. It raised its head at the teen before sniffing the food.

“Come on, you stupid cat,” he said and scanned the neighborhood. As far as he could tell, nobody was watching. “Come on, eat up.”

The cat finally lowered its head over the bowl and took a few bites. Then it increased its pace. William’s grin grew wider. It turned into a guffaw as something snapped inside the bowl. Dry nuggets of food flew up and out of it. The cat shrieked, jumped about foot, and ran away.

William peered down at the bowl and frowned. “Damn it!” The mouse trap that he’d buried underneath the food was still there.

6

“Trixie!” Jonathan called out from his front porch, the door wide open. He had a personalized ceramic bowl in his hand with his cat’s name on it. “Trixie!” he called out again.

A few seconds later, a calico cat came running across the yard from down the street. She ran past Jonathan and straight into the house. Jonathan watched as she darted down the hallway towards his bedroom.

“Hey, where are you going?” he said as he pushed the door shut behind him. “It’s time to eat.” He found his cat hiding underneath his bed. It took him a few minutes to coax her out. He held her in his arms and brushed his hand over her back. That’s when he noticed the mark on the cat’s face. She was bleeding and missing some whiskers. “What in the world happened to you? Did you get into a fight again?”

Jonathan carried Trixie to the kitchen and set her down next to her food bowl. She sniffed it, then walked away.

7

“Dude, are you serious?” Daniel said into the cordless phone from the couch in his living room. “What if someone saw you?”

“No one saw me,” William said.

“Are you sure? Because—”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Besides, nothing happened.”

Daniel propped his feet on the wooden coffee table in front of the couch. “But what if something did happen? That cat would’ve been . . .” He spotted his little sister trotting into the living room from the bedroom hallway. “. . . you know.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t,” William said. “Unfortunately.”

Daniel’s sister stepped up to him and tugged on his shirt. She was holding a sheet of paper in her hand. “Wanna see my Christmas letter to Santa?”

He glared at his sister. “I’m busy. Go away.”

“Come on. Don’t be a Scrooge.”

“That your sister?” William said from the other line.

“Yeah, she’s bugging me about her letter to Santa.”

William laughed. “Please. Little kids can be so stupid. I never believed in that nonsense.”

“Yeah, I stopped believing when I was six.”

“Stopped believing what?” Josie said.

“Nothing,” he said to his sister and shooed her off. “So what are you doing during Christmas break?” he asked William.

Josie tugged on her brother’s shirt again. He ignored her. “Danny,” she pouted. “Mom and Dad said you need to be nicer to me because of—“

“Oh, shut up, you little brat. They say a lot of things. And for the record, what happened last week wasn’t my fault.”

William laughed. “I remember you telling me about that.”

Daniel smiled.

“You flushed my bird down the toilet!”

William’s laugher was loud enough that Josie heard it. She wrinkled her forehead and glared at the phone. “I wanted to give Birdie a funeral.”

“Did she just say she wanted to give her dead bird a funeral?” William asked.

“Yeah, she did,” Daniel said. “Now beat it,” he said to his sister and pushed her away. “Santa isn’t real anyway. Mom and Dad buy you those gifts.”

Josie’s face drooped in shock and sorrow. Her lower lip quivered and her eyes got moist. “You take that back!” she yelled. “You’re a liar!”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “Mom and Dad are the liars. Not me. You’re way too old to believe in Santa Claus anyway.”

“Am not!” Josie yelled. “Santa’s real!”

“Isn’t your kid sister like eight years old?” William asked.

“Yeah, she’s eight. Too old,” Daniel said, eyeing his sister with raised eyebrows. “And the Easter Bunny isn’t real either.”

“I hate you!” Josie dropped her letter and ran down the hallway, crying.

“Dude, that was kind of harsh,” William said.

Daniel cocked his head back. “Like you’re a saint. You cooked a cat in a barbecue pit for Pete’s sake.”

“Tasted like chicken too.”

Daniel lowered his chin and made a gagging sound. “Man, that’s sick. You need serious help, dude.”

8

Four weeks later, Santa visited the Easterling home at 3:15 a.m. on Christmas morning. Little Josie slept on the couch in the living room, a blanket folded at her feet. She snuggled her arms around the teddy bear Santa had given her two years ago. There was a glass of milk and a saucer of chocolate chip cookies on the coffee table. Santa loved chocolate chip cookies!

“Ho-ho-ho,” he chuckled, then snatched up a cookie and dunked it in the glass of milk. As he chewed on the snack, he covered Josie with the blanket. “You’ve been a good girl this year, Josie,” Santa whispered. He reached into his magical fleece bag and pulled out a gift wrapped in elegant paper. He set it under the Christmas tree and smiled.

He stood by the tree for a moment. What should he do about Daniel? He finished eating the cookies and drinking the milk while he contemplated his decision. Then he grabbed his bag, swung it over his shoulder, and headed down the hall towards the boy’s bedroom.

9

William was still awake at 3:45 a.m. on Christmas morning. He pounded the buttons on his video game controller. His character on the television screen threw punches and kicks at his online opponent. With his eyes focused and his lips pursed, William landed a knockout punch to his competitor.

“Finish him!” the voice in the game instructed.

William pressed another series of buttons.  His character then ripped the spine out of his downed opponent. “Ha!” he said. “Take that, PhantomNinja73!” His opponent yelled an obscenity back at him. “Yeah, you’d like to do that, wouldn’t you? Get the hell out of my room, punk.”

As William waited for a new player, his television and video game console shut off. Only a dim light shone through the blinds of his bedroom window.

“Oh, come on. Really?” He grabbed his television remote and pressed the power button. Nothing happened. He grunted in frustration and flipped the switch on the wall next to the door. Nothing. Then a bright light shined through the crack underneath his door. It lasted for two seconds and disappeared. The click-clack of heavy footsteps on the hardwood floor approached him. They stopped on the other side of the door.

“Hey, Dad,” William said as he opened the door, “did the power . . .?”

The hallway was empty, but there was a dim glow of a nightlight in the living room. The house had power after all. William flipped the switch on the wall a couple of times. Still no electricity in his room. Strange. Maybe it was just the bedrooms. Something had probably tripped the breaker again.

Just as he took one step into the hallway, his television flickered on behind him. “Sweet,” he said as he spun around into his room. Every muscle in his body tensed when he saw the large silhouette of a man standing in the middle of the room. William flipped the switch on the wall. It turned on the light that time.

“Hello, William,” said a fat man wearing a Santa Claus suit. A large, red fleece bag lie on the floor next to him. It was tied in a golden rope.

“Funny, Dad. You scared the sh—“

The bedroom door slammed shut. Santa flicked a white glittery powder into William’s face, silencing him. Santa stepped up to the teenager and leaned forward, their noses an inch apart. “You’ve been a very naughty boy, William.” Santa wrinkled his forehead and lowered the corners of his mouth. “Very naughty, indeed. And I do believe it’s time you face the consequences for your extreme misbehavior.”

As Santa returned to the bag in the center of the bedroom, William reached back and twisted the doorknob. The door wouldn’t open. Santa waved his hand over the bag. The golden rope twisted away from it on its own.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa laughed. “There’s only one place you’re going, Billy Boy. A special place I’ve reserved just for demented little delinquents like you.”

He snapped his fingers. The bag tilted forward and opened. William raised his eyebrows, his eyes wide as saucers. Strands of Christmas lights shot out of the bag towards him. They wrapped around his body, pulling his legs together and pinning his arms to his side. The tips of the lights dug into his skin like thorns. They gave him quick shocks of electricity each time he struggled to break free. Within seconds, he had Christmas lights wrapped around him from neck to ankles.

Santa wiped tears from William’s eyes and ruffled his hair. “Little Johnny is going to love his Christmas gift this year.” Then he shoved the naughty teenager into the red fleece bag, kicking him in the butt on the way in.

10

“Santa Claus was here!”

Daniel jolted awake from his little sister’s yelling. He stretched his arms out and rubbed his eyes. Then he noticed a small gift box on his dresser with a card underneath it. He rolled his eyes and got up. He started heading to his door, but curiosity set in. He turned back around and lifted the gift box from his dresser. Something rattled inside of it.

His door swung open. “Danny! Santa was here,” Josie said, her eyes wide with excitement. “Come look at what he brought me.”

“In a second,” he said while pulling the lid off the box.

“Whatcha get?” Josie said, stepping inside the room. “Is it from Santa?”

Daniel stared down at the box and lowered his brow. Inside was a lump of coal. Josie peaked into the box and laughed. “You got a lump of coal for Christmas! You were on the Naught List.” She chuckled again and left the room. “Hey, Mommy, Danny got a lump of coal from Santa Claus!”

Daniel glared back at the hallway and covered the box. He dropped it on the dresser and opened the envelope. It had a Christmas card inside with an illustration of Santa Claus sitting by a fire. Inside, written in cursive, the message said:

 

Daniel,

I left you a lump of coal as a reminder of your bad behavior. Next year, if you remain on my Naught List, you’ll meet the same fate as William Hamilton. Believe in me, improve your behavior, and stop bullying little kids. Then, maybe I’ll reconsider bringing you a real gift for Christmas.

I’m watching you,

Saint Nicholas

 

Daniel dropped the card and grabbed his cell phone. He called William, but he didn’t answer.

11

“Wake up, sweetie.”

Jonathan opened his eyes and stretched. His mother stood by his bed with Trixie in her arms. He smiled and wished his mother a Merry Christmas.

“There’s another gift under the tree,” his mother said.

Jonathan sat up and wrinkled his forehead. “Really? You didn’t have to get me anything else.” His mother had already given him a new bicycle and computer tablet for Christmas.

“It’s not from me,” she said and winked at him. “It’s from Santa Claus.”

“Santa? Really?”

“That’s what it says on the box.” Jonathan’s mother set the cat on his bed. “I’ll go make us some pancakes, and then you can open your gift. Okay?”

He nodded, then stared at the Marine Corps baseball cap on his desk. It was clean, looked brand new. It had been dirty the night before. “When did you clean this?” he asked his mother.

“I didn’t,” she said. “Must’ve been Santa.” She winked at him and left the room.

He held the cap in his hands and rubbed his thumb over the emblem stitching. Then he smiled and put the cap on his head.

After breakfast, he and his mother sat by the tree. Christmas tunes played through a music streaming application on Jonathan’s tablet. His mother handed him the gift. The package was heavy and wrapped with green and red paper. There were images of Santa all over the wrapping paper, with an envelope stuffed underneath the ribbon and bow. Glancing at his mother, Jonathan removed the envelope and pulled out a handwritten letter. It read:

 

Dear Johnny,

Thank you for being such a good boy this year. You’ve always been on my Nice List, so I used a little Christmas magic to clean the baseball cap your father gave you. I also did something special that you asked for in your letter. I’m saddened by how William Hamilton and Daniel Easterling have treated you. So, my Christmas gift to you this year is a promise that those two will never pick on you ever again.

Merry Christmas!

Santa Claus

 

“So, what’s it say?” Jonathan’s mother asked. He handed her the letter and waited for her response. She lowered her brow as she read the note. “Honey,” she said, her attention back on her son. “Is this true? You never told me about this.”

“I didn’t want to bother you with it. Besides, Santa said he took care of it.”

“Uh-huh.”

Jonathan removed the wrapping paper and opened the package. Inside was a decorative wooden box. He cocked his head back. “A jewelry box? What am I supposed to do with this?” He lifted it out of the packaging and pulled the top back. He widened his eyes. Taped to the bottom of the lid was a photo of William Hamilton wrapped in Christmas lights.

“What is it?” His mother asked and scooted over next to him. “Oh, dear Jesus,” she said as they gazed at a bundle of light gray ashes wrapped in clear plastic. Stuck to the side of the bag was a label with North Pole Crematory printed on it.

Jonathan picked up the bag of warm cremains and smiled. “Thank you, Santa Claus,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

# # #


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Robert “Sharky” Pruneda is a native Texan, video game “enthusiast” [addict], and fan of all things horror. He left a career in the newspaper industry in 2011 to pursue the life of a nocturnal author, brainstorming new and creative ways to creep out his readers. He doesn’t only write horror though. He also pens the occasional family-oriented tale just to keep from going completely nuts with all those creatures of the night whispering in his ears. When he’s not pulling ideas out of his twisted brain, you’ll likely find him on social media or fighting alongside his fellow gaming buddies where they all get shot up into Swiss cheese (or turned into little bite-sized chunks because of “Sharky’s” obsession with explosives). Medic!

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