Check back with us throughout the season for more bite-sized holiday horrors. Or, if you can't wait for more, check out last year's entries.
Previously on this year's Holiday Horrors: Season's Greetings
For this week, we bring you...
The Man Who Loved Christmas Specials
By Matt Carter
No real family, no blood family, but an even better kind, because while he may not have had family, he had his Christmas specials.
On TV, everyone was perfect. Everyone was happy. Nobody would call him creepy, or weird, or ignore him. They would let him into their homes welcomingly, and he could pretend, if just for a little while, that he was one of them. Laugh at their jokes, listen to their stories, and life would be good for a little while.
He had a full calendar of them, nearly one every night for the last half of December. He would decorate his living room to match each one, every detail, every ornament, every dish using the same recipes as the family on TV. The rest of his three-bedroom house may have lacked any color, or even furniture save for necessities in the bathroom and kitchen, but as long as he had his specials, none of that mattered.
The kitchen timer dinged. He cooed enthusiastically, pulling out his ham and slicing off a few good pieces onto his plate that already was piled high with mashed potatoes with gravy and butter, squash and green beans.
He checked the time on the microwave, even though he didn’t need to.
He had this down to the second.
Right on time.
Slowly, carefully, he brought his plate into the living room and set it on the TV tray next to his recliner. The flute of apple cider he’d set out earlier still bubbled, while the crackle of the fireplace filled the room with a nice, warm smell.
After doing a quick once-over of the room to make sure the decorations were perfect and the presents were properly placed beneath the tree he’d chosen for the night (Noble Fir, almost tall enough to touch the ceiling, star on top, hand-made popcorn strings, classical ornaments), he went into the closet behind the recliner and pulled out the sweater with the ‘TAYLOR’ tag pinned to it. It was a crazy, ugly sweater, but the fun kind of crazy and ugly, the ironic kind that everyone loved these days.
Especially the Taylors.
The Taylor Family Christmas Dinner was one of the specials he looked forward to the most. The Taylors were all-American. Father Chad and mother Diana with three grandparents between them (two hers, one his) and four kids, teenagers Nikki and Rudy (adopted), ten-year-old Hayden and four-year-old Brenda. They were perfect, and loving, always with warm smiles and great stories and even cheesy jokes from Chad that’d be perfect in any dad joke book.
Smiling giddily, the man pulled his TV tray forward, took a sip from his cider, and turned on the television.
It was everything he hoped for. Dinner had just started, and as always the man got lost in it. He could hear himself congratulating Nikki for finally making the cheerleading squad and Rudy for being in the running for a prestigious scholarship. Brenda tried telling some jokes her dad taught her, and though she rarely remembered the punchlines, everyone oohed and aahed appropriately, as you should to a girl as cute as her. Hayden, mischievous as ever, threw a green bean at Grandpa John, but with a smile, Chad was able to firmly and politely stop the boy and get him to apologize. Everyone laughed at their silly sweaters, though the man knew his was probably the best. Soon they would bust out some party games, and Chad would show off his stuff at the piano while they all warbled Christmas songs, and the night would end sublimely.
The only thing the man hadn’t accounted for was the empty chair, but it was a surprise he didn’t mind in the slightest. He knew the seat was for him, and he knew just how he’d see the family, and he knew-
The doorbell was ringing. This was a surprise. Who the heck interrupts Christmas dinner like this? No, no, it’s ok, this can still work, this can-
The man who the empty chair was for finally showed up. Almost an hour late.
Tattooed and swaying and clearly drunk with some bleached-blonde strumpet on his arm who might’ve been the only thing holding him up straight. He wasn’t supposed to be here, he was disowned, this wasn’t a very special episode about reconciliation, this was a Christmas Special, and he would ruin everything.
It’s ok, it’s ok, they can still fix this, maybe this is one of those kinds of specials, where the holidays bring everyone together, he hasn’t ruined anything yet…
Then he ruined everything. Not when he dragged a chair across the hardwood of the dining room, scratching it up, so his strumpet could sit with him. Not when his strumpet lit up a cigarette and started using inappropriate language. Not even when he accidentally spilled a bottle of cider across the ham, or when he asked if Nikki would show off her cheerleading outfit.
No. It was when the man realized that he clearly hadn’t brought a present.
That was too much.
The man felt ill. The food tasted like ash in his mouth. The plate, the sumptuous feast he’d cooked to be like the Taylors, it might as well have been writhing with maggots.
In a disgust flavored with fury, he grabbed it and threw it into the fireplace. His breathing became ragged and his vision blurry.
No, no, you can fix it. This isn’t over. This holiday can still be saved.
Thinking fast, the man grabbed a burlap sack from his closet and shoved all the presents beneath the tree into it. Then he grabbed a couple spare crazy sweaters from the closet and tossed them in the sack. They were his size, too big for the plan, but they would do.
Then he grabbed his kit.
Mustn’t forget the kit.
Stepping outside, the man trudged down the sidewalk, snow crunching beneath his feet, the icy air chilling his scalp through his thinning hair, thinking with every step:
You can fix this. You can fix this. You can fix this.
Two houses down and across the street. The pocket knife from his kit opened the latch to the side gate easily. He checked his phone, watching the feed of the special, knowing where everyone was. Ned had left, but was still in the house, the back guest bathroom, cleaning gravy off his tank top.
Disabling the security system with the press of a button on his phone, the man silently entered the back of the house, quiet as Santa Claus himself. Pulling the cheap plastic Santa mask that fit uncomfortably against his glasses and thin moustache and the collapsible baton from his kit, the man covered his face and entered the guest bedroom, his bag of gifts trailing behind him.
Uncle Ned didn’t see him at first, too focused on cleaning his top, but when he did, he nearly screamed.
A baton strike to the back of the legs quickly silenced him.
“Be like the mouse. Don’t stir, don’t stir…” the man whispered soothingly.
Ned didn’t want to be silent. He wanted to fight. He wanted to keep ruining the evening. The man showed him the error of his ways with a strike to the ribs. Another between his shoulders, then two more to his lower back, nothing that would leave marks, nothing that would ruin the evening, but enough to take him to the floor, gasping and moaning in pain.
The man spoke, sternly but politely, “This is a special night. A beautiful night. And you and your lady-friend are ruining it. I’d tell you to leave, but that would ruin it even more, so I am going to give you a chance to fix things.”
He pulled out the bag so Ned could see, “In this bag are two sweaters. I apologize for the ill fit, but you gave me little time to improvise. You and your lady-friend will wear them like everyone else. You will go back to dinner. You will make amends and apologize for your rudeness. You will make this evening special and wholesome as it is supposed to be. You will then give out the gifts in this bag to everyone in the family. They are nice gifts, things they want, things you can’t afford, so it will do much to mend this evening. You will be a hero, and this will be a magical celebration of Christmas. Do everything I’ve said, and you can leave this dinner in peace when the night is over. Don’t, and I will find you no matter how far you may travel and I will start cutting pieces off of you and feeding them to your lady-friend until no one would ever want you at a Christmas dinner again. Do you understand?”
Fearfully, Ned nodded, rooting through the bag and pulling out a sweater.
“Good boy. Now remember, smile, and be jolly. It’s Christmas time!” the man said, quickly exiting the bathroom. He could hear Ned weeping, which he took for a good sign, because that meant Ned would play ball.
On his way out, the man quickly checked the batteries in the cameras he’d planted in the guest bedroom and back hall. The back hall ones would need a refill soon, but should last the night, long enough for him to come back and put in more before Christmas morning.
The thought of them opening the presents he’d given Ned brought a tear to the man’s eye. They were supposed to be from him (though they all said From Santa Claus on the labels), dropped off on Christmas Eve. They would confuse the family, but they would be a Christmas miracle all the same. Now they would be from Ned, but with luck they would be enough to buy his way back into their hearts.
Quickly, the man ran back to his living room. Out of breath and wheezing, he turned the TV back on in time to see Ned, now clad in a sweater (and handing one to his strumpet), reenter the dining room. He apologized for his behavior, and started handing out gifts to everyone. Chad hugged him, and the kids cheered appreciatively at their new toys and electronics. Everyone started eating again, and soon there were games and songs and everyone, even Ned and his strumpet, were all smiles.
The man breathed a sigh of relief, heating up some leftovers and enjoying their taste again. The night was saved, and the Christmas special ended as they all should, with everyone hugging and expressing their love for one another, making the man cry.
He only turned off the TV when they all went to bed for the night, and with that, he started putting everything away in the boxes marked TAYLOR.
It would have been a bittersweet experience, if it weren’t for the boxes marked MARTINEZ the man knew would come out tomorrow.
They really knew how to put on a special.
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