True Love's Gift
A Holiday Horror Fantasy by Ken Curtis
This cannot be happening, Eli thought.
Careful not to make any sound, he crept close to the window to look outside. The freshly fallen snow reflected the light of the waxing moon, allowing him to see clearly the carnage. He had heard the screams, the piercing cries of friends he had known his whole life, but he didn't want to believe it. Looking out at the scarlet streaks of blood and the dismembered corpses, he could no longer deny the reality of the nightmare, a nightmare from which he could not hope to wake.
He knows when you're awake...
The line from the haunting nursery rhyme came unbidden to his mind. Unbidden, he thought darkly. Unbidden like that rampaging demon and his frozen horde outside.
Slowly pulling away from the window, Eli creeped back to the bedroom where a terrified Teresa lay hidden under the bed with her arms wrapped protectingly around their child. By luck, or divine providence, little Elise had not yet made a sound.
You better not cry...
Saying a silent prayer for their safety, he kept his attention on the sounds outside. The screams seemed more distant, but Eli knew enough from the stories to know that did not mean they were safe. Nicolas left no one alive.
Eli stood like a statue standing guard at the bedroom door. A futile gesture, he knew, but he had to do something. What could one do against The Lord of the Frost Elves and his dark magic? Dark Lord Nicolas, or Saint Nick as the villagers euphemized his name, reached the height of his power for the twelve days around the winter solstice. For most of the year, Nicolas and his elves dwelt in isolation in their mysterious frozen northern kingdom. But for those twelve days, Saint Nick and his elves had unnatural power. Legends told of flying beasts that could land on a rooftop, allowing Saint Nick to creep into a house and slaughter innocents in their sleep.
He sees you when you're sleeping...
Eli repressed the urge to wretch. He never believed those legends. Like a fool he thought them no more than ghost stories. Stories that mothers told to scare their children into obedience.
He knows if you've been bad or good...
What a sick way to rear a child, he thought. Eli listened for more clues to the danger outside. No screams, no beastly sounds. Did that mean they had moved farther away or that they were on their way back? If only there was something he could do. It had been just five days since the winter solstice, he could not hope to survive long enough for their power to wane on the twelfth day.
The Twelfth Day! The thought hit him like an avalanche. There was another nursery rhyme associated with the Dark Lord Nicolas, one that spoke of the twelve days of the solstice. If the other rhyme was true, then perhaps...
Eli bowed his head and tugged at his hair as he desperately tried to recall the words of the rhyme. The song spoke of twelve gifts, one for each day of the solstice. He remembered something about swans, hens and a partridge. What was the gift for the fifth day?
Five Golden Rings!
Eli looked down at his left hand where he wore his golden wedding band, and for the first time that dreadful night felt hope. He creeped closer to the bed where Teresa lay.
"Love!" He whispered urgently. "Give me your wedding ring!"
Teresa looked blankly at him from her hiding spot. "Hurry!" he hissed. Grateful that she didn't delay by questioning him, Eli watched nervously while she slowly unfolded her arms from little Elise and took off her golden ring and passed it to him.
Eli rose and moved to their dresser as quickly and quietly as he could. He found Teresa's jewelry box, but couldn't see well enough to find anything. He fumbled through the trinkets blindly trying to find something that could help him.
If only there was more light!
He took the box and tiptoed back toward the living room window. Kneeling on the floor in the light of the moon he dumped the contents of their precious things on the dirty rug. Broaches, pendants, necklaces, there had to be something! The sparkle of a diamond reflecting the moonlight caught his eye.
Our promise ring! It is made of gold! He snatched up the ring and added it to the two already on his little finger. Two more, there had to be two more. He went through the contents again, but all he could find were more broaches and necklaces.
Necklace! He reached to the chain on his neck where he hung his mother's ring. He had carried it with him since the day she died, hoping one day to give it to his precious Elise. He pulled the chain over his head and began to unfasten the latch when a sudden thud from the rooftop made him freeze in terror.
He's here! No! I need more time!
The heavy call of footsteps sounded above, mingled with the braying noise of some beast. Eli finished the latch and slipped the fourth ring on his finger. He could hear the scraping sound of metal on brick.
Was the demon trying to come down the chimney rather than breaking through the front door? Did the sick fiend hope to find them sleeping? Rings or no, he couldn't let that creature into the house.
Acting on instinct alone, Eli jumped from the floor and threw open the door. If he lead St. Nick outside perhaps there would still be a chance for Teresa and Elise. Eli ran out to the snow and looked at the twisted figure on the roof. The Dark Lord of the Frost Elves dressed in white and red and carried a brown burlap sack. The glistening sheen of blood on the sack made Eli gag, but finding his courage he called up to the devil.
"Nicolas!" He shouted. "Here I am!"
The Elf Lord looked at him with dark eyes that contrasted sharply with red puffy cheeks. He smiled in wicked glee and laughed a booming laugh that made Eli step back, tripping over something in the snow. Eli watched in panic as the massive form of St. Nick moved with surprising grace as he scrambled from the rooftop. He felt something warm underneath him as he inched back on his backside.
Is that blood on my leg? He tried to get up and run, but his feet were tangled in whatever it was that had tripped him. He looked down to see his legs entwined with a severed arm. Is that to be my fate as well, to be scattered like a broken doll? The demons had ripped off the limb from his neighbor and gnawed it from the elbow to the hand.
To the hand! Eli could see a band of gold around the lifeless finger. He quickly reached down to remove it. His fingers slipped from the blood, and he couldn't find his grip.
A booming laugh came from mere feet away and Eli looked up in to the face of his worst nightmare. Other figures, small and slender began to circle around him. Eli saw his death in those beady eyes. He gave a final tug on the ring and managed to knock it off into the snow. Heavy footsteps approached as Eli fumbled for the ring.
I've got it!
Holding his breath and shutting his eyes he slipped the ring next to the other four on the little finger of his left hand just as a gloved hand gripped his throat. An explosion of light burst from his hand causing the demon to release his grip and drop Eli to the snow. The Lord of the Frost Elves looked in confusion at his prey as his horde began evaporating around him. His chubby face and reddened cheeks grimaced and strained as St. Nick tried to resist the pull of this magic. Shrieking in agony, the red and white form blurred, until it finally vanished.
Eli finally dared to breathe again.
Is it over? He stood and looked around at the desolation. The gore and carnage remained, but no other sign of their attackers could be seen as he stumbled back to his house.
"Teresa?" he called. "Its over! You can come out!" Breathless, he fell to a chair in his living room. Timid footsteps approached as his wife and baby girl came out.
"Eli?" Teresa asked as she looked skeptically out the window. "What happened?"
"The rhyme." He panted. "Today is the fifth day of the solstice, I used the rings to send him back. Five golden rings." He held open his palm to display their salvation. "True love's gift."