Run. I can't think of anything else to say other than run. But I guess for that to make sense, I'd have to go into detail about what happened ten years ago, when I was about eight years old.
I've always loved Christmas, ever since I was able to understand the word. Christmas. Even the name sounds festive. I'd grown up with every story and song about good ol' Saint Nick and the warm holiday imaginable. And, in short, one day I decided that I would see him for myself, as most kids with the same upbringing often considered.
I prepared for at least a week, navigating around potential landmines like parents being awake, or being caught by the jolly fat man himself, or even just leaving evidence that I ever was there. I decided that I'd venture downstairs at 3:00 AM armed with a blanket and some black coffee to keep me awake (although I couldn't stand the bitter taste and often found myself wanting to regurgitate every time I took a sip). When the day finally came, oddly enough, I found myself hearing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" playing just about everywhere for just about as long as I could stand. I heard the lines "He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good" over and over again, but I guess something just didn't... Click. And I really wish it had.
I really, really wish it had.
Because that night I saw something I desperately wish I could unsee. Even now, hearing the sound of a sleigh bell, I reflexively recoil, as if I expect something deadly to appear consecutively.
The air that night was stiff and chilly; it was coming down violently outside my window, and every step I took down the stairs revived my pulse with a renewed sense of dread. Both the dread of being caught, and the dread that you feel descending any flight of creaking stairs. The dread you feel when it startles you; the sudden and yet drawn out sound that for a split second you might mistake for a human cry. And yet, I continued down the stairs until I reached the place I would be hiding: a small nook between the wall in the living room, the sofa, and the radiator from which I had anticipated being able to discreetly witness Santa's arrival.
So I waited there.
And I waited.
And I waited.
I must have been through at least my second shot of my black coffee, certain that I had been there for at the very least two hours, when I glanced at the time. And to my horror, not one minute had passed.
It was still three AM. I thought certainly that clock must have been wrong.
Yes, surely that clock was broken; I had literally been counting seconds upon seconds upon minutes waiting for anything, anything to happen. I had almost convinced myself that time had passed and that clock was "stuck" for whatever reason. I had almost been successful in calming myself down when...
When I noticed the wind had stopped.
The wailing sound of the wind which resembled a human scream and the occasional knock of an angry gust on any of the closed windows had completely halted. It was silent. Completely silent. So silent, in fact, that all I could hear was the sound of my shaking breath. A silence so loud that it accentuated the darkness. Every shadow, every dark corner seemed to reach for me at once, as if trying to swallow me up too, and all I could hear was my own increasingly struggled breathing. And I stayed like that. Until I heard it.
Something which shattered the silence, once more breaking the comfort I had settled into and cutting through me like the jagged end of a cold knife.
It was a jingle. A soft rhythmic chime set to the slightly crooked gait that sounded more like someone dragging themselves around by their elbows than like walking.
My first thought when I heard the unmistakable chime of the sleigh bells was that Santa was finally here. But, as the sound grew closer, I noticed it was accompanied by a soft whimpering sound which sounded close enough to human to be recognizable, but inhuman enough for me to be unable to tell how "old" the voice was or how feminine or masculine it was. My pulse quickened anew. This wasn't Santa.
With each dragging "step", the sleigh bells only grew louder. And the whimpering became more clear.
"...e....sees....y.....hen.....r....eepin..." It sounded even less human than the whimpering had. The speech was broken up, distorted; that thing spoke as if it was literally choking on its own lung.
Step. Chime. The darkness was swallowing me up once more, eating away at my sanity. I found it difficult to breath. It was getting closer. And the crooked melody of the sleigh bells only grew louder. I held my breath between every pause for every step. Every agonizing second before I heard the next chime. "he....no..s....whe....yo..r...awa..ke..."
Step. Chime. "...ee kn..ow...s...if...ou...b...en...b...ad... r... good...." It was close. So close. I didn't know where it was, but it was so close. I could feel the air begging to suffocate me, each chime stealing my next breath more violently than the last. I could almost make out what it was saying now. Its voice was so grossly distorted. It sounded like an animal trying to speak while choking on its own blood.
And with that, I saw it.
It finally came into view.
And stared straight at me.
And more violently than ever, I fought to keep the coffee and my dinner down.
Skin was stretched tightly over its face, grey and leathery with its mouth twisted into a sinister smile. Or as close to a smile as it could be called; there was a hole in its lower jaw from which I saw its tongue hanging with dried blood clinging to the lining of the cavity and its beard, sparse white hair barely clinging to its chin. From its torso all the way to its neck, the bells were wrapped around it to the point where if the creature so much as moved its head the wrong way, it might have accidentally garroted itself. I tried to scream, I tried to move, but the silence had already devoured my cry and the darkness already crushed my limbs. I could only watch as the creature slowly hobbled towards me, each sleigh bell ring engraving itself into my memory as its distorted grimace widened, causing a flow of fresh warm blood to flow from the cavity in its face.
"G..oo...d gir...Ls Sho...lDn't be....up a..t this hOu....r."
Time suddenly resumed and in a moment, with some inhuman strength, the creature had torn me from my nook and thrown my limp, petrified body into a wall. The doors and windows clattered with the angry gusts of wind and snow billowed in from the window the creature must have entered, chilling my body. I tried to look up, I tried to breathe, but before I could try to cry out again, a chain of sleigh bells was wrapped around my neck. The freezing metal dug into my skin and choked me. My eyes began to roll back as I frantically grabbed at them in the darkness. And god, the ringing. I could hear them. They chimed as they cut off my air, darkening my vision; intermingled with my choked off sobbing, the bells almost sounded like screaming. And the screaming of the bellsーthat which sounded like other children all crying out together to make the "bell" soundーbefore it all faded to cold, unconscious silence was the last thing I heard.
I awoke upon the cold floor with half a pitcher of coffee clutched tightly in one hand and the blanket wrapped around me. I exhaled quietly, relieved that it had all been a dream and proceeded with my day as normal. I had almost convinced myself it had never happened.
That is, until my mother asked me where that bruise around my neck came from.
And outside, I heard a single sleigh bell ring in the darkness of the early winter morning.
Submission for Christmas Jollytime Murderfest Competition
Prompt was "Sleigh bells in the snow"
Written by Ramunetan