Editor's note: this story contains graphic content that may disturb more sensitive readers.
A figure sat on a low branch of a sprawling Sycamore tree in a small, cozy neighborhood. She watched lights go on in each house as the occupants went about their normal Christmas Eve night routines. Some opened presents, some had lavish dinners, and some simply rushed off to bed to wait for Santa Claus. She watched each house, but focused on one, a two story cream-colored home with a ridiculous number of festive lights.
She listened to them making merry and waited patiently as, one by one, the lights in each of the houses was turned off. She didn't move a muscle, didn't cough, or even yawn for several hours. Finally, the last light in the last house was extinguished. No light was left to give away her streak across the street and entrance into the dark doorway but the twinkling streetlights. She dashed from light to light as not even a marathon runner could. Then, she waited.
Janine Oakley tucked her young son into bed. "Now, hurry up and fall asleep, so Santa can come!" she coaxed him, brushing the curls out of his eyes and smiling down at him.
"I don't think I can go to sleep tonight, Mommy," he said, hiding a smile behind a chubby hand.
"If you don't go to sleep, Santa can't come. Remember, like the song? He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!" She tickled his rounded belly.
He giggled. "Yeah, I know. Okay, I'm going to sleep."
She padded out of the room, then turned around at the doorway. The boy was already fast asleep. "Goodnight, my little prince," she called under her voice, closing the door behind her.
Just before midnight, the boy's bedroom window slid open with a dull shudder. The dark figure slipped inside, closing the window behind her, and walked over to the lavish four-poster bed without a sound, then stopped to watch the child sleeping. Something about sugarplums popped into her head, but she pushed the thought away. She slipped from the room, leaving the door cracked.
Walking through the house, she took notice of all the little niceties these people had put up for the child's sake. Christmas decorations were in every room, even on the cherry wood staircase. Big red stockings, embroidered with the family's names, hung in lumps over the dead fireplace. A giant, brilliantly lit Christmas tree, over nine feet tall by her measure, stood like a jolly soldier in the corner of the spotless family room. Gifts were piled high at the foot of the tree, covered with colored paper in festive patterns and bows. She shook her head.
What mundane things these beasts make magical.
She climbed the staircase with caution, careful not to make a noise. She succeeded all the way to the top step, where the creak rang out like the wail of a mother losing her child. She waited in silence, silently cursing the warped board. When she didn't hear anything from the bedrooms, she kept going.
At the door of the first room, she stopped to listen. The light whir of the fans in the room told her that this was the office. She moved on. The next room yielded only more silence. It was probably only a storage room. She steadied her nerves as she made her way toward what had to be the master bedroom.
The door was slightly ajar. Good. She listened at the door for several minutes until she was sure of the consistent light snore of the mother and the louder snore of the father. She knew they would be asleep, like all the parents would after tucking their children in and engaging in a little jolly merrymaking of their own.
She hid in the shadows as she crept into the room. She took note of her surroundings, the location of the window and all objects on or around the floor. The room was huge, too large for her comfort zone, but she didn't turn back. The husband appeared to be the heaviest sleeper, so she walked over to the wife's side. She bent down, savoring the aroma of the woman's perfumed flesh. She licked her cracked lips, opened her mouth, and sucked the woman's small, left breast into her mouth in one bite.
The young mother's eyes flashed open and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Her legs flailed once, twice, and then were still. She fed off the terrified but silent woman for several moments before pulling away. She lapped the blood from her lips like an animal, and moved over to the husband's side of the bed.
He sat up in a kind of dazed stupor. She slipped into the shadows, comfortable in her camouflage of darkness, until he finally curled up in the warm, bloody spatter on the sheets where his wife should have been and went back to sleep. She bided her time until the man's heavy snore continued with regularity. Then she edged to the bed for a taste of the man's liquor laden flesh. She could smell it with all of her victims; how they were feeling, what they had ingested, how healthy they really were. His blood tasted thin and watery, like a sick animal, and his muscles were fatty. She fed on him longer than the wife, let him claw and kick and try to scream, but she covered his mouth with a strong, firm hand until he stopped fighting. Her mother had always told her to finish her meals, and she left nothing but congealing gore under the festive green sheets.
She headed back downstairs to the child's room, for her main prize, but his door was wide open, and he wasn't inside. Instead, he was sat below the tree, dumping the treats out of his Christmas stocking. She waited on the staircase as he ripped open present after present.
Brat. Couldn't even wait for daylight.
She stood on the stairs until the ripping stopped and the yawning started, then she crept down the stairs and peeked around the corner. There he was, drowsily trying to put together a shiny train set on the family room floor. He didn't notice her walking up at first; then there it was, the smallest creak of the wood floor. Before he could even look up, she was on him.
She made the incision with care, sucking against the salty flesh of his sleep-sweaty neck. She cradled him in her arms as she drained him, slowly, relishing in the simple, deep, sweet flavor of him. The life drained out of this one without a fight, surprising for such a thick, young boy.
She sat with him in her arms for a moment, holding his small head in her hands. There was nothing different about this child, nothing to separate him from the hundreds of other children she had fed upon, but she held him, lingering, not wanting the moment to end. He was special not because of some great deed or accomplishment. He was special because of the look in his eyes, and the smile that didn't die with him. She slipped his eyelids closed over the milky caramel orbs, lay him on the white rug, and twisted his head off his body in one motion. She left him there, surrounded by his hastily unwrapped greed, for someone to find, a silver bow taped to his cooling forehead as it whirled around on the automated train set.
She left the house open, breaking the lock in her tight fist before exiting. She always made sure that the house was left this way, open and apparently broken into. It helped in that the police's automatic assumption was that this horror was orchestrated by a deranged person, a maniac with mental health issues and a score to settle, and not an actual monster that could be hunted and would paint the nightmares of their youngsters. Outside, she flitted from shadow to shadow, feeling festive for the first time in years.