The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ornamental Obsession: a Cautionary Yuletide Tale

Before we begin this tale of Christmas terror, there are a few things you should know. This short story was inspired by an ornament that has been in our family since the 1940s. It did not start out life as a Christmas tree ornament. Originally it was a plastic Santa that would have stood on a tabletop, possibly accompanied by a sleigh, perhaps not. Back in the day, some industrious family member drilled a small hole through Santa's cap, ran a coat hanger through the plastic body, turning a small hook at the base to slide over the back of Santa's feet and the upper end curved above Santa's head for attachment to the Christmas tree. Decades later, this modest ornament began to create a small controversy between my brother and myself. You see, he, the younger did not hold with my theory on how the ornament was intended to be hung. For him, the bottom curve was not intended to be hooked over the heels of Santa, but was meant to be up at Santa's head, leaving a long wire exposed that he asserts to this day is wisely design to hang Santa in the middle of some bare spot on the tree (poppycock I say). For a while, as adults, the two of us would concoct  odd stories and create imaginative evidence of our positions being correct. These we would unlimber for the entertainment of our families when gathered at Christmas to decorate the tree. While our schedules have become too busy to continue the tradition, this story I wrote to entertain the family one year has resurfaced. I had forgotten it, but since it came back to me, I pass it on to you. So, once read, tell me, what are your favorite tales of Christmas terror from the fiction world ... or what weird family traditions do you have???

The story begins:

Sylvester and Myra Smith loved Christmas with a passion that was ... unnatural. Rather, they loved the ornamentation of Christmas, the bright and shiny trappings, the endless holiday tunes. For the Smiths, Christmas was a blizzard of tinsel, a galaxy of twinkling lights, and an avalanche of ornaments requiring half a dozen trees inside the house and around the yard to support.

On the night before Christmas 1973, in Hamden, Connecticut, the lights festooning the Smith's house splashed the new fallen snow in technicolor hues. The myriad bubble lights on the trees in front of the house gave the viewer the uncomfortable impression those trees were rising out of the ground. Neighbors slept poorly during the Christmas season unless they installed blackout curtains. And then there was the music ... endless rounds of the holly jolliest carols. Santy Claus is comin' tonight was Sylvester and Myra's personal favorite. But, we digress.

Sylvester and Myra are happily filling multiple stockings for each other. Faded children's names in crumbling glitter glue are just visible on each stocking--names of the Smith children who have grown and fled their parents relentless Yuletide cheer. Sammy Smith converted to Judaism and moved to Israel. Petey Smith lives in a monastery in Nepal, enjoying his vow of silence. Ferdinand, Rupert, Melissa, and Maria celebrate very quiet Christmases with their respective families, living examples of "Silent Night."

Sylvester and Myra are interrupted in their third chorus of "Let's give thanks to the Lord above, 'cause Santy Claus is comin' tonight!" by a knock on the door.

Sylvester Smith answers, eyes widening at the apparition on his doorstep.

"May I interest you in some ornaments?" a small, dark, wiry man in tattered clothes asks.

"A box of vintage Shiny Brite ornaments?"

A chill runs up Sylvester's spine for reasons unknown. Is it the not quite right look in the little man's eyes ... they seem to burn ... or is it the smell ... what is that, brimstone?

"You smell coal, sir. I work at a processing plant." the little man replies, as if reading Sylvester's mind.

Just then, Myra shows up.

"Oh, Shiny Brites," she squeals. "How much?"

"Very cheap," the little man responds, naming his price.

"Hey," Sylvester says, "this isn't right. Shiny isn't spelled with an e. What are you trying to pull, buddy? Me and Myra, we know our ornaments and ..."

"Too true," the little man interrupts, his eyes flaring in the dark. "They are rare Shiny Brite ornaments in a misprinted box ... and inside is one very special ornament, quite unique really."

"Let me look!" Myra shrieks, dancing in her excitement.

"Ah, ah, ah!" admonishes the little man, waving a long, bony finger under Myra's nose. "Buy them and then you'll see."

Sylvester and Myra quickly pay and slam the door before the tiny peddler can change his mind. They take their new prize up to the Christmas tree in the living room, the big twelve footer, the only tree that still has room.

Together the Smiths open the box and peer inside. At first all they see is the usual array of glittering baubles and feel a moment's disappointment, a dark smudge on their Christmas cheer. But then, as one, their eyes light on IT, THE ornament. It's a small Santa figure on an unusually long twisted metal rod.

"What fun!" Myra squeals.

"One of a kind." Sylvester croons.

"And look," Myra adds, "with that long rod it fits that gap in the branches right over there."

"It's perfect." they purr together.

Fifteen minutes later, at the home of Ronald Reynolds, the retired Marine is jolted awake, jerking bolt upright in his bed, waking his wife Sarah. He is covered in a cold sweat and all his visions of sugar plums are dashed by a hideous noise floating through the house like a malign specter's groans in the dark. A horrible tune is wafting through the room from the direction of ... THE SMITHS ... those miserable lunatics next door!

"Scrooge was right," snarls Ronald as he jumps out of bed, throws on a coat, and heads for the door.

Behind him, Sarah has begun to scream, "Make it stop. For the love of God, Ron, make it stop!"

He couldn't agree more. No matter how hard he listens he cannot quite make out the horrid tune being played at ear bursting decibels. It is maddeningly familiar, horrendously jolly, treachily sweet, and absolutely wrong!

Ron's scarf and ear muffs cut out some of the unholy tune. Still, by the time he reached the Smith's, Ron's nose is bleeding and he is having trouble concentrating. Worse, Ron Reynolds cannot shake the impression that he hears screams beneath the music.

He reaches out to batter the door with a clenched, shaking fist but the door swings open before he strikes. As it does, the loathsome tune is cut off with a thunk sounding uncomfortably like a meat cleaver sunk hard into a butcher's block. Until that moment, Ron had not realized that the house is dark. Oh, the exterior is lit in Christmas bulbs as always, but a stygian gloom pervades the interior. The silence descends like a heavy cloak, a shroud that seems to wrap around the ex-Marine's still rugged frame. Every instinct tells Ron to flee.

Then, deep in the gloom, Ron sees a dull red glow and hears faint movements. It seems to be coming from the living room on the floor above. Ron almost calls out to Sylvester and Myra, then thinks better of it and moves forward slowly, stealthily, as he had been trained. He climbs the stairs silently. All is still in the Smith's house. He rounds the corner into the living room. There stands a massive twelve foot tree groaning under the weight of ornaments. All the lights are out, expect the red bulbs. They burn with a lurid maroon glow. Ron sucks in his breath. These Smiths are far stranger than he had imagined. Who would enjoy such a tree?

Ron begins to turn away, to look elsewhere for the Smiths, when something moves. Wheeling back to the tree, his heart beating far too fast, Ron searches for the source of the motion. And there it is. An ornament on a long metal rod, swinging back and forth, back and forth like some demented metronome. Again Ron feels an uncharacteristic urge to flee. The shadows seem to pool around him, threatening. But that ornament, that strange, swinging thing draws him in.

Unaware of what he is doing, Ron moves closer, and closer still. He now sees the ornament is a tiny Santa figure, swinging, endlessly swinging. He moves closer and now the tree towers over him, the gap in the branches where the ornament hangs stretches, a hungry, gaping, malevolent mouth. But Ron has eyes only for the incessantly swinging ornament on its long, twisted iron rod. Finally Ron can make out the face of the smiling red Santa, and it seems very important to him that he should. As the features resolve, the small painted eyes turn and lock on his. The little painted mouth splits in a wide, leering grin, revealing pointed cannibal teeth!

Ron screams, wrenching free of the ornament's grip on his mind, taking in the looming tree with its horrible mouth stretching, lengthening, so close to his head. But his scream is masked by that awful music. That hateful tune bellows from the opening, misprinted Shiny Brite box that lays at Ron's feet. He screams again, kicking the hateful box away. Turning from this awful mockery, this Christmas nightmare, he discovers he cannot flee. His feet skid on a floor that seems to be tipping backward toward that tree, toward that horrible,  mishung ornament and the gaping maw it hangs in.

Ron Reynolds does not remember how he escaped the Smith's house. All he remembers is the door slamming behind him, almost on him, the music cutting off again, and an evil "Ho, Ho, HO!" filling the suddenly silent night.

The Smiths were never seen again. The house was never sold, although it was sizable, well maintained, and in a good location. Residents of Hamden don't speak of it. Although visible on its hilltop lot, no one seems to see the slowly decaying hulk that was the Smith's house. That might be for the best.

As for Ron and Sarah Reynolds, they moved away on New Year's day, 1974, moved all the way to California. Ron still wakes up in a cold sweat late at night, echoes of that terrible song ringing in his ears, phantom images of a mishung ornament swinging back and forth, back and forth before his wide and bloodshot eyes. He knows it is still out there, he can feel it. He is afraid, afraid that one day that terribly odd ornament will appear on someone else's doorstep, perhaps his own.


Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at:

No comments: