In this town, the stakes for making Santa's naughty list are a little higher than most children are led to believe. Rachel Patience weaves threads of the uncanny into the Christmas legend to create a truly disturbing and suspenseful take on what really happens once children are tucked up in bed and waiting for Santa...
Author's introduction: The story you’re about to read follows little Ben Johnson, a young boy ostracized by his town due to the seemingly mad ramblings of his grandmother. However, perhaps Ben’s grandmother isn’t so crazy after all, when a terrifying creature comes to visit him on Christmas Eve.
It's Coming to Town
by Rachel Patience
They say it comes every sixty years. It had last been spotted in 1961, by Ben Johnson’s grandmother; that’s why everyone avoids Ben around Christmas time. Despite his best efforts of handing out cards every year or sharing mince pies with his classmates, no cards make their way through the Johnson house letterbox. The winding street leading to their home is often bare come December 10th, the day that Ben’s grandmother arrives for the holidays. She sits by the bay windows, looking out onto the street. She waits, hoping to find some poor, unsuspecting soul to lock eyes with her, their politeness obliging them to come listen to her stories. But no one wants to hear this story. Everyone who knows this woman walks with purpose, their head down, with speed in their stride. The elderly do not want to recall the memory, the parents don’t wish to indulge the fantasy, and the children fear the truth.
You better watch out; you better not cry
While everyone enjoyed the Christmas songs playing on the overhead speakers in the supermarket, Ben Johnson’s grandmother stood in the tinned foods aisle, shoulders twitching at the sound of the familiar jingle. A senile woman to most in town, her daughter’s generation looked at her with pity; that is, until she offered up a word of warning. Ben held onto his grandmother’s hand and guided her through the throngs of people; the shops are getting busier on the lead up to Christmas. As they approached the till, all halted at the sound of a little girl’s tearful wails. She clutched a doll; the price tag, yelling “£29.99”, dug into the flesh of her cheek. Her mother is attempted to coax it away from her, but the girl only screamed louder.
With a tut and shake of her head, Ben’s grandmother took in the scene before her and said, “It’ll come for that one, you mark my words.”
The surrounding crowd were suddenly enthralled by the bags in their hands, desperate to look anywhere but at the old woman. The mother rolled her eyes, quickly paid the cashier an unnecessary thirty pounds and left with her child, whose tears now followed the curve of a smile.
You better not pout, I'm telling you why
Ben was silent on the walk home, the tip of his ears still red with embarrassment. His grandmother looked down at him, noticing how he had buried his face in the wool of his scarf, avoiding the gaze of passers-by. The crunch of freshly laid snow was deafening against the silence between them. With her walking stick, Ben’s grandmother prodded his foot.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. The answering shrug earned him another jab from her cane.
He sighed, “Why did you say that? Everyone thinks I’m weird.”
Halting her steps, she crouched down in front of the little boy, her face stern.
“You’d better stop that pouting young man, It sees everything.” Her words washed over Ben like a bucket of ice-cold water; his once burning skin, suddenly frozen.
He's making a list, he's checking it twice
It was December 23rd when Ben decided he needed answers. He found her sat in an armchair by the fire. The questions emerged from one breath: What is It? Where did It come from? How does It know who is good and who is bad? What does It look like? His grandmother put her knitting aside, a chuckle escaping her. She calmly asked him which question he would like her to answer first; he thought for a moment, before deciding.
“What is It?” he asked, head innocently cocked to the side in curiosity.
Her eyebrows furrowed, “Honestly sweet boy, I don’t know; It came long before my time. My grandmother saw It before I did, and her grandmother too. But I do know why It comes.”
Ben shuffled closer to his grandmother, eager to know more.
Lifting her hand to shield her mouth from the prying eyes of the boy’s mother, she spoke in hushed tones.
“It comes to tick names off It’s list. On Christmas Eve, It’s long spindly body, cracks and breaks to slide down the chimney. It crawls out of the fireplace, and like a tightly wound spring It comes to life, suddenly untwisting It’s limbs, popping It’s bones back into place. Once It has reassembled, It plucks a small scroll from the pocket of It’s red stained suit.”
“Red? Like Santa’s suit? Ben interrupted.
His grandmother shook her head, “No, not like Santa’s. It’s suit looks wet and black from a distance; only when you look closely, right when the lights of the Christmas Tree illuminate It’s figure, that you notice the red. The red both clings to It’s body and drips from each limb, like the melting wax of a candle.”
Ben shuddered, the image those words had illustrated imprinted upon his mind.
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
“But how does It know Grandma?” Ben anxiously asked.
“Know what dear?”
Ben swallowed thickly, “Whether someone is good or bad?”
Ben’s grandmother perched onto the end of her seat, quickly scanning the room, fearful of who may be listening.
“It knows everything. If you are unlucky enough to look upon It’s face, you will see one large eye and a hole where an eye ought to be. Never look into that eye Benjamin. It’s sphere looks like a thousand shards of broken glass, all containing a pupil. Each one points in a different direction, looking at something, or someone.”
Ben shuddered, “What happens when you’re naughty Grandma?”
With sad eyes she spoke, “I pray you never find out Benjamin. Have I ever told you what happened to my twin sister, June?”
Ben shook his head. She continued.
“June was a carefree spirit; stubborn and adventurous, but June was naughty too. June could be unnecessarily cruel and needlessly spiteful. She would tease, torment and provoke all the children at school, even I was no exception. She would run away in protest, not coming back until she had gotten her own way. One year our grandmother sat us down by the fire, quite like the one beside us now. Our grandmother told us of a fearsome creature, that punished the wicked. She told us about It’s list, and how It would come find you and check how naughty you had been that year. I took my grandmother’s words very seriously; I was as good as I could possibly be. But June didn’t listen.”
Ben watched as his grandmother took in a deep breath, her eyes suddenly glazing over. She was there but she was no longer present. The memory had sucked her back in.
“It was Christmas Eve, 1961. Me and June shared a room, my bed was on the left, hers the right. I heard it before she did, the cracking of bones, I knew It was in the house. ‘Its just the trees outside.’ I remember her saying. The footsteps were harder for her to explain; we held our breaths as the slow but certain steps made their way up the stairs. Then, with splayed fingers, It’s sharp fingernails danced atop the wallpaper as It walked further down the corridor. I remember it sounded like a freshly sharpened pencil against paper; the sound getting louder as it drew closer to our room. The door opened slowly; the creature entered the room. I lay there frozen, unable to speak or reach for my sister. It turned to look at me first, scrutinising me under It’s ever-watchful eye. What It saw, I do not know, nor did I think to ask; I was too busy taking in the sight before me. Dressed in a wet, red suit was a creature unlike any I have ever encountered. It’s skin was shapeless, as if it had been thrown on top a pile of bones, the way one tosses a blanket onto a chair. It’s mouth hung open, as if one side of It’s jaw had been snapped off. The light of the moon briefly catching It’s teeth, the shape uncannily human.
"Suddenly the roaming pupils of It’s eye came to a halt as it looked down on me. Whatever it had seen, was enough to spare me that night. The creature turned and walked to the foot of my sister’s bed and repeated the process; only this time, it was different. The creature had seen enough, and in that moment my sister’s fate was sealed. It extended It’s right arm and carefully, with It’s thumb and forefinger, pinched the corner of the duvet by June’s shoulder. In a flash, It ripped the material from her shaking hands, exposing her tiny frame to the cold night air. With It’s left hand, It curled It’s fingers around her ankle and pulled her from the bed. The creature began to walk out the room, my sister’s body dragging behind It. She did not cry or scream, her fear had rendered her mute. I listened to the retreating footsteps when a sudden bout of bravery urged me to follow them. It was too late. I will always remember the way her arm reached out to me as the creature dragged her up the chimney with It. I will never forget the sound of crushing bones.”
Ben sat back in shock, tears prickling his eyes.
“For goodness’ sake mother, you’ll give the poor boy nightmares!” Ben’s mother exclaimed, catching the tail end of the story.
His grandmother shook her head in dismay, “He needs to know the truth!” She retorted.
Ben’s mother snatched his arm and pulled him away from her mother. Tired of hearing the stories herself, she would not subject her son to the same night terrors she had endured. Ben watched her as his mother tucked him into his bed, a weird sense of determination in her actions as she trapped him snuggly within the confines of the blanket.
“You’re not to believe those stories Ben,” she lectured.
“But Grandma’s sister…” he began, but his mother was quick to interrupt.
“Grandma’s sister was a troubled child who took a prank too far. She got lost and never came home, Ben. No boogie man, no Krampus, just selfishness and stupidity.”
With a firm kiss to his forehead, she wished him goodnight.
He sees you when you're sleeping
On December 24th 2021, Ben Johnson lay in his bed waiting for Christmas morning. His mother had tucked him in, warning him to get some sleep before Santa arrived. When she left, Ben turned to switch the bedside lamp off, but the silhouette of his grandmother in the doorway stopped him in his tracks.
She pointed to her eye and whispered, “Be good. It’s watching. Always watching.” With that, she closed the door behind her.
Ben’s excitement for the coming day quickly vanished, a feeling of helplessness and despair taking over him. He watched the clock above his dresser draws, following the long arm as each minute ticked by.
An hour passed, then two. No sign of the unwanted creature. Slowly, Ben felt his muscles begin to relax; his shoulders started to concede to the softness of the mattress. A wave of tiredness washed over him and he soon found himself surrendering to sleep.
He knows when you're awake
Ben’s eyes snapped open. He tried to rationalise the sound, despite the thick fog of fear clouding his senses. It could have been a tree branch, or the delayed response of the once crackling fire.
The sound was unmistakable. Ben began to breath deeply, a subconscious effort to slow time and process his thoughts.
The footsteps followed each other slowly. Ben, in his childlike innocence, deduced from this that the creature must be very tall.
Just as he had been warned, the sound of It’s nails against the wall made its way to Ben’s ears. The sound drew nearer; It’s long nails scrapping against the carefully chosen yellow wallpaper, until It finally settled upon the door handle.
The door opened.
He knows if you've been bad or good
Ben froze in his bed, watching as the creature from his grandmother’s memories came to life before his very eyes. Perhaps his grandmother would come rescue him, or maybe his mother had also heard the foreboding steps making their way through the house. Despite these hopeful thoughts, Ben knew no one was coming for him.
The creature bent down to enter through the doorway. It’s loose hanging skin seemed to sway with every methodical movement. It’s neck seemed to serpentine; the snake like movement causing It’s head to slump from left to right.
With a sharp snap of It’s neck, the creature twisted It’s head to look at Ben. It’s one good eye set to work, It’s judgement not yet cast. Ben took this time to look at the creature’s face. He wondered to himself if an eye had once occupied the now dirt filled hole in It’s face. He noticed the way the creature’s teeth peaked through It’s low hanging lips. Does it bite? He questioned.
As if noticing his appraisal, the creature focused It’s many pupils on Ben. Without warning, It started to move. It spread It’s arms out to the wall beside Ben’s bed and began to crawl. Like a spider emerging from its web, the creature moved on hands and feet, until its face was inches away from the boy’s.
Ben squeezed his eyes shut, sweat beading on his forehead as he tried to silence the pounding of his heart.
It inhaled deeply, and with the release of It’s breath, revealed one word.
Ben did not open his eyes as the creature’s warm breath retreated from his face, he simply lay frozen. Upon hearing his bedroom door slam shut, Ben’s body shut down; he passed out until morning.
So be good for goodness sake
On Christmas morning, Ben unwrapped his presents, purposefully expressing his gratitude. He offered to tidy away the discarded wrapping paper, as well as clean the dishes after dinner.
Ben’s mother was certain his newfound virtuousness was sparked by a nightmare; his grandmother was convinced he had encountered the same monstrous creature.
Whether or not anyone believed his grandmother was inconsequential, because when Ben Johnson woke up Christmas morning to find scratch marks on his bedroom wall, he vowed to never be naughty again.
My name is Rachel Patience, I am currently a student at York St. John University, studying for my Masters in Creative Writing. I have always gravitated towards the Gothic genre, ever since Tim Burton entered my life at the early age of seven. My own writing takes influence from the traditional Gothic style and narrative structure; however, I like to play around with the Gothic traditions placing them within a contemporary society.
Check out Rachel's website here.
Cover image via Canva