‘Better Watch Out’ by Anna Belkine

By now our subscribers should have received their digital copies of Issue 13, and many of the print versions have arrived at their destinations as well.  In the errata department we issue our profuse apologies to author Anna Belkine, whose name was inadvertently left out of the table of contents.  Fortunately, her creepy Christmas story, ‘Better Watch Out’ was not left out, and for those you who haven’t yet had a chance to read it, here’s a sneak preview …

 

Better Watch Out

by Anna Belkine

Sally and I were terrified of Santa as children.  No, not those impostors who hung around shopping malls.  The real Santa lived in our air conditioning vent.  You could hear him moving in there, every once in awhile — a sort of wet rustle.  We knew our parents could hear it too, but they tried very hard to be dismissive about it.  This was just the sound old vents made in the winter, they said.  Santa was just a myth, they said.  But the terror in their eyes told me he was real.  They knew he was real.  That he was there.  And they were lying.

He came out only when we slept.  Somehow he could always tell if we were just pretending.  Like in the song.  You would hear him come out just as you felt your body go limp, just as your consciousness slipped heavily out of your belly and you were no longer able to command your eyes to open.  You could feel him, moving around the room, the large round mass of him, dressed in the sort of shimmering red hues that creep behind your eyelids on bright days.  And he talked, a lot, all the time, using mangled sounds neither pronounceable nor reproducible.  All we understood at first was that his name was Santa.  The way he said it, it sounded like a heavy scuffling, followed by the noise of something viscous dripping heavily on a linoleum floor.  Sssss— tah.  Tah.  Tah.

We had no choice but to listen to him scuffling and hovering and looming there in the dark, behind our closed eyelids.  He never threatened.  He was just waiting.  For the opportunity to be mean.  And we were waiting too, immobilized by sleep, like insects under a pane of glass.

Some nights, we could make some excuse not to sleep in our beds.  Some nights we managed to stay awake until morning.  But in the end, we were still made to lie in the dark by ourselves, with him behind the vent.  Rustling.  Eventually we understood that it was important to our parents that we do that.  They let him visit us.  That must have been the deal they made with him.  Sally and I were on our own.

Especially Sally.  See, I was the favourite child.  Our parents made a token effort to conceal it, but it wasn’t enough; we both knew it, we both felt it.  She was in their way.  An embarrassment.  It’s not like they actively wished her gone, no — but it was clear they would have been relieved if she were.  Just as I could feel the evil skulking around in our room, I could feel her loneliness and her rejection clinging to me, a skinny bundle of ribs, knees, and gasps.  Without me, she had nobody.

… find out what happens to Sally and her sibling in Pulp Literature Issue 13, Winter 2017.

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