“He’s coming back!” she screamed.
“We have to get to Grandma!”
We could see Grandma, eclipsed in the mix of night and urban shadows, but the shape of her – sprawled on the road there – illuminated in those powerful pearlescent sleigh lights. The taste of him, the touch, the smell, was in the air. It was a mix of ice and metal, rough edges and fine blades, a thickening and dulling; and above that, his laughter cut though the darkness, carrying over the rooftops. The air pounded with hooves striking emptiness.
We crept along the side of the wall, bent, hands moving along brickwork. Jenny was a couple of feet ahead of me, and her red hair was made strange by the sleigh lights – almost purple; the side of her leg was scraped raw with droplets of blood pearling along it.
“Careful,” I hissed.
“I can see her,” she hissed back.
But so could he. And he could see us. The air thundered as he made his approach. Grandma wouldn’t survive another hit. I suppose that’s what Jenny thought too, because she jumped to her feet, waving her arms at him: “Come over here and say that you fat git!”
My sister. She’s a little insane. Well, she had his attention now, and he was bearing down on us, all eight of his monsters chained together and gnashing their teeth. In white fur and devil red, his teeth like razors, his fingers filed into claws, a face mottled with shadows and swirling tattoos. He let out a piercing, cursed roar, charging down on us.
“Now!” I shrieked at Jenny.
We dived simultaneously, throwing ourselves beneath Uncle Jed’s truck, just as the hooves came clattering down. We could feel the cold, striking out like it had weight and substance, we could feel the truck rocking from impact, and from the way that hideous laugh tore through everything. I could feel it running through the skin on my back, rippling against my shoulder blades. A brightness, then a darkness, and then the dimming of each as the laughter carried off into height and distance.
We wouldn’t have long.
“Go!” I yelled at Jenny.
We raced across the road to where Grandma was just starting to work at sitting up. She looked as befuddled as I’d ever seen her look; all ninety of her years, and those touches of dementia, embedded clearly in her face. She stared as we reached her and started hauling her to her feet.
“We have to get inside,” I said.
“He was nice…” she murmured.
“Who? Never mind. Let’s go. You need to run, Grandma.”
Stubbornly, even as her legs moved, one of us holding her up on each side: “It didn’t used to be like this. He didn’t used to be like this. He came left gifts. That was all. He never hurt anybody, not back in those days.”
“Things change, Grandma.” I wondered at her dementia. Was it taking a deeper hold?
We reached the front door and Jenny body slammed it open. We thrust Grandma inside, even as we heard the laugher returning. Me and Jenny scrambled behind her, Jenny reaching for Grandma while I bolted, and bolted again, the door.
“He was kind,” Grandma was stubborn in what seemed to be a mixture of memory and delusion.
“Never mind. Are you hurt?” I looked her up and down for anything more serious than cuts and bruises. “We’ll take you to the doctor in the morning, okay? Just don’t go out again, not until it’s light outside. Okay?”
Jenny looked over at the clock on the wall. “Two more hours until dawn,” she sighed, “let’s hope we’ve seen the last of him for this year.”
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work