​X-mas Night By Thomas Alan Sandage 


The snow was pure and untouched in areas, like a soft white cloud settled and frozen to the ground beneath the starry night sky. Red and green lights sparkled in the crystal flakes, reflections of the bulbs strung along the downtown streetlamps. Candy canes, ornaments, ribbons and small toys littered the streets and walkways, left behind by families who had made their ways home by now. Santa smiled as he took in the sights. His weary breath fogged around his beard. He packed the last of his reindeer in his van and slammed the door (it never closed right unless he slammed it really good). 

Santa reached into his big red coat and wrestled a pack of smokes from the shirt pocket beneath. Leaning against the back of his van, he pulled his beard below his chin, lit a cigarette and dragged deep. He hadn’t been able to get a smoke in all day, what with the parades and all the city’s festivities. He closed his eyes and let the frigid night air cool his itchy face (that beard was pure murder). 

The past several weeks had been crazy, as it was every year. Children: yelling, screaming, laughing, running about all over the place as their parents shopped and fought each other for last minute items that they had only just discovered they couldn’t live without. Children: wanting, demanding, entitled little creatures who only wanted more, more, more. And Santa had to meet them all. It was no wonder that around this time, every year, he felt like he could just slaughter them all. 

Santa finished his smoke and crushed it under his shiny black boot. He checked the van door to make sure it was closed and nothing could get out. He wrestled his keys from his front pocket and stepped around the van. 

A child stood by the driver side door. Santa jumped, startled. It was a little boy, dressed in a puffy winter coat and snow pants, all bright green. He wore a hat that covered his ears, and a blank expression that bore a hole through Santa. 

“Well hello there, little boy!” Santa recovered. 

The boy just stared, as though he hadn’t heard. Or maybe the little guy was too afraid. Maybe he was lost and looking for his parents. Santa felt guilty for his previous fear; he, a grown man, afraid of a tiny little child that was probably looking for his help. 

Santa realized his beard was still under his chin. He readjusted it as best he could and knelt down before the little boy. 

“What’s the matter, son? Are you lost? You hungry?” 

He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder tenderly. 

“Son? Do you need some help?” 

“I didn’t get what I wanted,” the little boy said quietly. 

Something in the child’s voice sent chills down Santa’s spine. He shivered in his big red coat like a bowl full of jelly. 

“What. . . what was that?” Santa asked shakily. 

The boy looked at Santa’s hand as it rested on his shoulder. Santa wanted to take his hand away, but was frozen to the spot. 

The boy’s face changed as he leaned over and sank his small, sharp teeth into Santa’s hand. 

Santa screamed and ripped his hand free. Red drops splattered along the white snow. He almost stuck his hand into his mouth, but decided against it. 

The boy’s face had the same blank expression it held before. He reached a small, green-gloved hand into his coat pocket. When he took his hand back out a long, sharp kitchen knife came out with it. 
Santa turned to run. 

Three more children stood behind him, blank-faced and staring. Santa barked out a yelp of surprise, entirely unlike his big-bellied laugh. One of the children had the curved end of a candy cane sticking out of his mouth. He took it out, and Santa could see the sharp, needle-like point of the other side. 

The child he had turned his back on grabbed his hand, trying to bite it again. Santa snapped out of his trance and shook the kid away, running in the other direction towards the downtown area. His red and white hat fell to the ground. 
Children were everywhere. They lined the sides of the streets as he ran, joining in the chase behind him. They ripped strings of lights from the streetlamps and decorations from the trees as they ran. There were no adults anywhere in sight. 

“Where are your parents?” Santa yelled as he ran. “You kids should be home in bed AHHH!” 

Something dug into the back of Santa’s leg. He tripped over his shiny boots and crashed into the snowy street. He tried to pick himself right back up but couldn’t. The pain in his leg was crippling. 

He reached behind him and felt around. Something big and pointy was sticking out of the back of his calf. 

The children were slowly surrounding him. He crawled weakly as he tried to pull the object from his leg. It was buried deep. 

The town’s clock-tower began to ring. 

The Christmas lights twinkled in the snow. 

Santa finally ripped the thing from his leg with a shout and threw it at the nearest child. It was a star, like from the top of a Christmas tree. It bounced harmlessly off the kid’s puffy coat. 

“We didn’t get what we wanted,” the four children in front of him said in unison as they slowly advanced. One of them was holding an angel and twisting off its head. Santa’s skin began to crawl faster than his body could. 

“We didn’t get what we wanted,” the children behind him joined in. It became a chant, one that swelled from the children nearest him to the ones coming from far away, thousands of voices in horrifying harmony. 

“We didn’t get what we wanted we didn’t get what we wanted we didn’t get what we wanted we didn’t get. . .” 

“LEAVE ME ALONE!!” Santa screamed. 

A line of bright twinkling lights came quickly over his head and clasped beneath his chin. The wire dug into his skin with ferocious pressure. The little lights danced along his chest and beard as they choked him. The other kids were soon on him, biting, stabbing with candy canes, stars, icicles, sticks ripped from snowmen’s torsos. 

The children laughed as they tore him open, one final present for Christmas night. They played and twirled and frolicked about in the blood-red snow as Santa’s vision turned gray. Like sugarplums dancing into the darkness.
 

An Occurrence in the Rockies  

By Thomas Alan Sandage

 

I can’t remember the dream. I want to stay with it, but it’s already fading. I always wake up as soon as I know I’m dreaming, and the jostling of the moving bus doesn’t help. I’m reluctant to rejoin the wakeful world, but powerless to resist. It’s a shame, because I have the distinct feeling that the dream was benevolent and a stark contrast to the world to which I’m waking. 
I’m on a bus. I’m leaving my old life behind. As I struggle to wake, confused, I can’t remember exactly what it is I’m running from. I do know that nothing can be worse than what I’ve left behind, so it doesn’t really matter anyway. 

The cloying odors of sweat, piss, vomit, and disinfectant linger in the stale bus air, remnants from the last stop. I can’t remember when or where we last stopped. 

I open my eyes and focus out the window, trying to see the dark landscape rolling by. It’s past the middle of the night, but the moon is glowing bright, lighting the barren plains with a hellish blue aura. I’ve seen this before. I’m on a bus in the middle of nowhere: Wyoming. I’ve driven this road myself, when I had a car and places to go. I intend for this to be the last time I travel through Wyoming, as I’m sure thousands of travelers before me have done. 

I have a row of seats on this Greyhound all to myself. As I focus on my surroundings, I can see the nodding heads of other passengers, surely asleep and dreaming of better days. I’m alone, as is anyone who is awake while others slumber. 

A sign passes by, bright green against the black of the night, lit by the haunting moon. The sign reads “Wind River Reservation.” 

Beyond the sign, the Owl Creek Mountains loom before us, like ancient sentinels guarding passage beyond. Owl Creek is a section of the Rocky Mountain range, which stretches nearly the length of America. The Rockies are a scary place, no matter when you enter them, but twice-fold in the dead of night. At least it isn’t snowing. 

The other passengers’ heads all nod in tandem as the bus drives over a bump in the road. No one makes a sound. I’m wide awake now, so I turn on my overhead light and start digging around in my backpack, trying to find my portable videogame system or my cell phone --something to occupy my time. 

As I’m searching, a thought dawns on me. Mine is the only light turned on. Not a single other passenger is using their light. It feels like a paranoid thought, and soon I’m explaining it away. Most portable objects have screens that light up, rendering the ancient dome lights above the seats obsolete. Just like the screen on the PSP I’m looking for. 

Something in my bag doesn’t feel right. Something in here is wet. And squishy. I hold open the unzipped flap and shine the light inside. 

There is a face looking out at me, eyes wide open and pointing different directions, tongue lolling out of gaping mouth. The tongue is all puffed up and nearly white. 

I stare at it in disbelief until the thought really solidifies: there’s a head in my backpack. 

I drop the bag, sucking in my breath in a steady hiss. I’m out of my seat and in the aisle before I know it. My hands have blood on them. 

I look around for anyone that might’ve seen what I saw. My stomach drops as I look into the slack, gray faces of the other passengers. Their heads move in unison, some of their mouths hang gaping. Most of their eyes are open, and I can see that the orbs are dry. 

Everyone on this bus is dead. 

Except me. 

And the driver. 

As these thoughts play out in the theater of my mind, I feel the bus start to speed up. I’m nearly knocked off my feet, and I grab the seat ahead of me for balance. I almost fall into the lap of an old dead woman. Her once white pantsuit is almost completely dyed red with blood. Next to her is the headless body of a man. I can’t tell if the blood is hers or his. At least I know where the head in my bag came from. 

My own head is swimming and my gut is churning, but my heart is pounding so hard that my thoughts remain clear. I get my balance and begin to pull myself to the front of the bus. I pass the bodies of countless others, some covered in blood and others bent over themselves. 

I keep looking for any signs of life, and I get nothing but those horribly dull eyes. Their bodies bounce and jerk slightly with the increasing speed of the bus. 

Soon, I’m at the front of the bus. A thin blue curtain separates me from the driver. I throw aside the curtain, shouting, “They’re all dead! Everybody’s dead!” 

Then, I see the driver. 

He looks like a man, but he’s not a man. His misshapen face slowly turns to me and splits into a horrible grin. Eyes, like cold blue fire, spit and crackle as they turn to meet mine. One second he looks malignantly whole, but then the moonlight dances across his face and I can see the burnt and blood-slimed skull that hides beneath, grinning maniacally. 

He says to me in a voice that sounds like frozen wind wheezing through broken glass, “Yes, they’re all dead. And so are you. Now, go back to your seat and go to sleep.” 

The driver turns back to the road. I’m too afraid to say anything in protest, and I see the mountain before us. We’re no longer on the road, and we’re speeding toward a sheer cliff wall. A light begins to emanate from the rock wall, and grows so agonizingly bright that I’m blinded. I hear the sounds of metal grinding and tearing as it collides with unyielding rock. Through it all the voice of the driver speaks again: 
“Just go back to your seat and go . . . to . . . sleeeeeeeeeep.” 

I awake from the dream, covered in a cold sweat that stinks of time and fear. I try to hold onto the dream, but it’s already slipping away. I always wake up as soon as I know I’m dreaming, and the motions of the bus don’t help. 

That’s right, I’m on a bus, I think to myself. Starting over, starting fresh. Escaping the nightmare, something like that. 

I’m still disoriented from the dream, and I’m slow to come out of it. The bus is as dark inside as the night outside. The other passengers must be asleep, like I was. 

A cryptic line I heard somewhere passes through my thoughts, “As you were, I was. As I am, you will be.” I shake the thought off along with the remnants of my dream. 

I turn on my overhead light, as I’m sure I won’t be able to get back to sleep. I remember that I have my PSP in my backpack, so I start digging around for it. 

Some revenant of my dream comes back to me briefly (there is a head in my backpack), but then it’s gone. I locate my PSP and bring it out. 

As I flip off my overhead light, the bus hits a bump in the road and the other passengers’ sleeping heads all nod in tandem. A dark feeling washes over me. 

I notice that no one else has their light on. I see no blinking lights from cell phones, laptops, anything. It strikes me as odd that every single person here could be asleep. 

The thought feels like a paranoid one, so I push it aside. 

I look out the window, and see the moonlight play across the barren plains. There’s a sign on the side of the road. 

As we approach, I read the words “Wind River Reservation.” Wyoming is a vast, empty landscape, and I intend for this to be the last time I ever travel across it. I’m sure thousands of travelers before me have thought the same thing. 

But there’s something else out there on the plain, beyond the sign. It looks like a small house. I squint my eyes nearly shut, trying to bring the small structure into focus. 

It looks familiar, kind of like the little house in which I grew up. But that house is thousands of miles behind me, back in Minnesota where I left it. Strangely, as I watch, one of the small windows in the house lights up. If it were the little house I left back in Hutchins County, it would be my old bedroom window that just lit up. 

I look away from the window and back to the interior of the Greyhound bus. I’m not sure how long I sit here processing it, but soon I’m struck with a thought, where is everyone? 

I look around the bus, lifting out of my seat to look forward and back. Finally, I rise and stand in the aisle.
There’s no one here. 

I’m alone. 

The bus suddenly accelerates, nearly knocking me off my feet. I grab onto the seat in front of me to keep my balance. Still the bus goes ever faster. I struggle to climb the seats toward the front of the bus where a thin blue curtain separates the driver from the absent passengers. I throw the curtain aside, shouting “They’re all gone! Everyone is gone!” 

I see the driver is gone too. 

I look out the windshield beyond the trembling and unmanned steering wheel and see the sheer cliff wall rapidly rushing up to meet the bus. In the instant before impact, I hear ghostly words pass through my mind, “Just go . . . to . . . sleeeeeeeeeeep.” 

The dream jerks me awake with a gasp. I accidentally kick the seat in front of me, earning an angry backward glance from the older woman sitting there. For an instant, I have a memory of her white pantsuit stained crimson, but then it’s gone. I mutter an apology and she turns back around. I wipe the sweat from my brow and look out the window. 

For a moment, I forgot I was on this bus. A Greyhound to the future. I don’t know what my future has in store for me, but I’m done with trying to fix the past. Some nightmares and disorientation should just be expected in situations like these, I guess. 

I can’t remember what I was dreaming, but it was intense. I was hoping to sleep through this part of the journey, but now I’m wide awake. The barren plains of Wyoming roll past the window as I gaze out, disgusted. I promise myself that this will be the last time I travel through this state. I’m willing to bet several thousand travelers have sworn this to themselves in similar situations. 

I reach down for my backpack to rummage around for my PSP, or maybe my cell phone, but something makes me pause. Maybe some left over scrap of the dream. For some reason, I don’t want to open my bag. 

Instead, I gaze out the window again. There’s a sign approaching, bright green against the black of night. The moonlight dances across the words “Wind River Reservation.” The Rocky Mountains loom in the distance. 
But there’s something leaning against the sign post. It looks like a flat, gray slab of stone. Rounded on the top, and smeared with dirt along the bottom. It may have once been shiny, but now looks dull and weathered. 

A gravestone. 

Worse, a familiar one. 

If I could see better, I’d know for sure, but it doesn’t matter. I know damn well what’s engraved on the stone, and who it belongs to. It’s my father’s. Etched upon it is his name and beneath are the words, “Quod Sum Eris.” I’ve spent a lot of time looking at it, but thousands of miles behind me. 

What is my father’s tombstone doing in Wyoming? I ask myself. 

I look away from the window, confused and a little scared. 

The woman in front of me is staring at me. So is the man next to her. I’ve seen his face before in my dream --looking out at me from within my backpack. 

Every face on the bus has turned to stare at me. Their eyes burn holes through me, hostile and angry. 
I slowly rise from my seat, trying to assess this situation. 

Suddenly, the bus accelerates, nearly knocking me off my feet. I grab onto the seat in front of me to catch my balance, the older woman’s seat. 

She seizes my hand, unfettered by the sudden change in speed. She bares her teeth at me and thrusts her mouth at my hand. I feel her teeth dig into my flesh, ripping and grinding. 

I scream and tear my hand from her mouth. A thin line of blood and spit momentarily connects us. Then, before I can speak, they’re all on me. 

I feel dozens of hands, mouths, fingernails ripping at my clothes and skin. Their voices overlap each other, yelling and screaming into my face. 

“It’s your fault!” 

“Let us go!” 

“Just go to sleep!” 

“Die!” 

“DIE!!” 

Fingers clamp around my throat and squeeze, while the others tear at my clothes and scratch deep ruts into my skin. 

I black out, the sounds of metal grinding and squealing filling my ears like a tornado. 

We’re on a bus in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. I’m holding her hand and she’s holding back. I feel like I’m waking from a dream. I don’t know how long I stare at her hand in mine. Even her hands were perfect. 

Looking up, I see her angelic face. Her eyes are so sad, but she’s smiling at me. I can see tear trails down her cheeks. 

As I reach up to wipe them away, she catches my hand and kisses my fingertips. 

My tears can’t be held back, her tenderness is overwhelming. I can’t stop myself from thinking about how long it’s been since I felt this. I try to hold it back but it floods me. 

Two years. 

She died two years ago. 

I’m shaking my head because none of this makes any sense. The bus is here, I’m here, but why is she here? 
It’s only a paranoid thought, I think. I try to stop thinking. It doesn’t matter. She’s here and so am I. It doesn’t matter where I’m going or what I left behind because now it’s all okay. I only want to close my eyes and nestle against her, just like I used to. My heart feels like it will rupture. 

She’s shaking her head at me, her smile fading. 

Tears are streaming down my face. I want to ask her so many things and tell her everything I never had the chance to say. I open my mouth to speak, but she puts her finger on my lips. I can smell her perfume. 
She turns and looks out the bus window. 

I follow her gaze. 

There’s a sign on the road passing by the bus, bright green against the black of night. Written on the sign, in bright white letters are the words, “As you are, I was. As I am, you will be.” 

Beyond the sign is a house, glowing in the moonlight in the barren landscape. I recognize it. She and I used to live there. 

Suddenly, the house is engulfed in flames. I can hear her distant screaming from within. I want to look away. I’ve seen this before. I want to tell her it’s okay, that we’ll never travel through this hollow, barren land again. 
But the bus begins to rapidly accelerate. 

She turns back to me. Her face is blackened and melting. Fire bursts from her cheek, and her eyes bulge from her burning face. She pulls me closer to kiss her bubbling lips. 

I can hear her voice in my head. It says, “Just go to sleep. Just go . . . to . . . sleeeeep.” 
 
I jerk awake, screaming. I can’t stop screaming. The bus is going faster and faster. The older woman in front of me is leaning over her seat toward me, trying to calm me down. I look through the window past her and see the Rocky Mountains drawing dangerously near to the bus. The man seated next to her rises and turns around as well. 

That’s when it happens. 

The bus suddenly stops with a sound like an earthquake and crumples in on itself. Glass from the windows shatters inward. Metal grinds and squeals as it rips away from itself. 

As the man in front of me turns back toward the front of the bus, a long thin strip of metal sheers away from the sidewall and severs his head cleanly from his body. As if in slow motion, the head falls back in one perfect rotation and lands between my legs in my open backpack. My screams can no longer be heard. 

The bus collapses on us. Blood splashes the floor and the walls. 

I’m trapped between the seats and the roof, metal cutting into me all over, like fingers clawing through my flesh. I’m encased in a metal grave. I think back to my father’s tombstone, where I stood vigil for days after his funeral. 

Then, there is fire from the front of the bus, growing and feeding its way back to the seats. It spreads like a violent, greedy orange wave. 

Soon I’m fading. I think back to my house and the horrible, fiery accident that took everything away from me, which led me to eventually run. I thought I could escape the sins of my past, but it turns out they followed me all the way here. I look around the bus, gasping for breath. I see nothing but dead, open eyes staring through me. 

Suddenly, I’m so tired. I feel a peculiar sense of letting go. I think to myself, I’ll never have to travel across this godforsaken land again. In a way, it’s almost funny. 

I close my eyes and the fire warms me. The pain begins to wash away. 

Finally, I go to sleep.
 


This story first appeared in Dark Eclipse Magazine #19 All rights reverted back to author Jan. 2014

Thomas Sandage by Kyle Meistedon  


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a video geek!  Glyven!!! Yet, far from geekiness of the pocket protector kind, this niche of nerdiness fits our Resident video man, Thomas Sandage, quite well.  “I got into drawing mediums early on, and eventually with the arts under my belt, I realized I could combine all my skills into one with video production.” Coming from the school of such classics as Wes Craven and Ray Harryhousen, Thomas looks to broaden his portfolio of artistic merit with music video production for local bands.  “Outside of trying to make my own feature length film one day, I’m working on getting together with bands and coming up with concept ideas and overall production/direction of their music video.”  Of course, no true geek of the awesome would be complete without a healthy appetite for b-movie horror films and comic book collections.  “DC, Image…it was always just so much fun to look at the pages and how everything leapt out at you.”  The fun of old school horror is a lost art that many modern artists are foregoing for a more polished look, but thanks to die-hards such as Thomas, the art form itself will never have room to quit breathing.  “I’m working on a graphic novel as well, a philosophy curriculum.”  “I love diving into projects.”  Now you know, my slovenly tattooed amigos and amigas, there’s a man in town looking to put you and your band on the map, and his name is Thomas Sandage. Now, go give him money!!!!  
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