Dead Good Christmas: An exclusive short story from Samantha Hayes
On the seventh day of Christmas…
Here’s the seventh Dead Good Christmas short – exclusive free short stories, lovingly crafted by some of our best selling crime and thriller authors – and our December gift exclusively for Dead Good fans.
Samantha Hayes has gift wrapped and delivered ‘The Present’ – a rather aptly named and chilling story…
© Samantha Hayes
I don’t like Christmas shopping. I’ve been trudging from one store to another, getting soaked, getting freezing, getting absolutely nothing on my shopping list. It’s growing dark and the drizzle is starting to freeze into sleet as I head for home.
‘Hello,’ she says sadly. I’m standing in the doorway of our house, staring at my wife’s gaunt face, knowing exactly what she’s been thinking. She’s wearing her reindeer apron and has an icing sugar smudge on her cheek. Her fingers are covered in flour and pastry. ‘I’m baking,’ she says, tapping the mince pie tin. ‘Did you get the crackers?’
‘No.’ I sigh and take off my coat. Whatever happens, I mustn’t go out again. It’s far too busy for my liking – far too close to the big day, as she calls it, as if the twenty-fifth bulges out from the calendar, meatier than every other day because of all the food and drink and gluttony crammed into it. ‘Sorry,’ I say.
‘Can’t we do without?’
‘Vic.‘ She pulls a face. ‘The grandchildren are coming.’
I stare at her. Every year it’s the same. ‘They’re too young to care,’ I tell her, but she’s shaking her head. Maggie tries to make everything OK.
‘Eggnog before you go back out?’ she asks, thrusting a glass of it at me. ‘It’ll warm you up.’
Warm me up for what? I wonder, as I sit at the kitchen table contemplating the shops again.
‘Is it snowing yet?’ she says, squinting at the darkness beyond the steamed-up window. ‘They forecast it.’ I know exactly what she’s going to say next.
When Sarah died, it was snowing.
‘Maggie…’ I want to stop her, but know she’ll go on anyway. She’s chop-chop-brushing her hands over the sink, ridding her palms of the pastry goo.
‘When Sarah died, it was snowing.’ She doesn’t get the tears in her eyes anymore. ‘Mark my words,’ she says. ‘There’ll be another one soon.’ Her lips pull thin and tense and she grips the edge of the work surface, looking back out into the night.
Sarah was the first but not the last. The following Christmas they found a 15-year-old girl’s naked body by the side of a railway track. The usual sprig of trademark mistletoe was stuffed inside her cheeks. There have been seven more murders since then, all over the Christmas period, and the police are no closer to catching the killer than they were with Sarah.
‘That stuff’s poisonous,’ Maggie had once said, rather stupidly. I hugged her. We’ve not managed that much since Sarah went.
‘Go and get the crackers then, Vic,’ she says, hands on hips. Now our son Sean’s got his own family, Maggie tries to make Christmas normal, makes an effort with the decorations, so that it blots out the photographs they showed us of our stripped and battered girl – her purple-ringed eyes staring up at us, handprints around her neck, the greenery in her mouth poking from between her bloodied lips. She looked frozen to death.
‘Right, love,’ I say, taking her gently by the shoulders. ‘You’re sure we can’t do without?’
She picks up the rolling pin and makes a silly grin. I wonder about a hug again, or perhaps something more. It’s just the eggnog talking.
I put my coat back on and step out into the biting wind. I trudge across the slippery drive and make the 15-minute walk to the town centre. The diagonal snow sends my eyes and brain into a fairy-light spin, and the crowds of shoppers, out for their last-minute bargains, dizzy my fragmented thoughts into a riotous party I don’t want to be at.
‘Oi, watch it, mate!’ A man barges into me as he’s coming out of a store. He’s weighed down by shopping bags. I scowl at him, but he strides off into the crowd.
And then I see her. Sarah. Dashing along the pavement with a slice of Christmas cheer on her face, searching for gifts, for love, for snowy excitement.
‘Sarah!’ I call out, waving my gloved hand above my head. ‘Sarah, wait!’
‘Hey, you’re blocking the door,’ a woman moans.
I ignore her and run off after Sarah with hot tears in my eyes.
I know it’s her. I know it’s her.
‘It wasn’t her, Vic,’ Maggie will tell me later. ‘You’ve been seeing things again.’
My breath rasps in and out of my chest as I chase after her. I will catch up with her and she will be the best Christmas present ever.
Panting, I grab hold of a lamppost by the market. I’ve lost sight of her. My lungs are burning as my eyes search frantically between the glittering stalls.
There. Over by the Christmas trees and holly wreaths.
I watch her. She’s so sweet and merry and wearing mittens to match her cherry pout. I walk slowly up to the stall. The scent of pine needles, orange zest and cinnamon mingles with her young beauty and it makes me dizzy all over again.
But she’s not Sarah. I can see that clearly now. She’s no more than fifteen, yet she has the same carefree smile and inviting eyes.
‘Hello,’ I say to her, browsing the items for sale. ‘Are you out alone?’
She tips back her head and laughs. ‘I was meeting a friend,’ she says. ‘But she cancelled.’
I glance at the stallholder. ‘I’ll take this please,’ I say, handing him five pounds.
‘Merry Christmas to you,’ the girl says, before turning to leave. Her smile remains burnt in the air.
I watch as she walks off, the emptiness inside me cutting deeper than Christmas itself. Then, unable to help myself, I take my mistletoe and set off after her. I catch up as she disappears down a dark alley, and the last thing I hear is the stallholder’s voice echoing through the night.
‘Wait…Come back! You’ve forgotten your change…‘
Well, we hope that you enjoyed our seventh short story.
All of the other published shorts can be found in our Short Stories section. We’ll be revealing more right up to Christmas Eve.
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