Portfolio > Novels and Short Stories

Not sure when I wrote this one, but I'd guess the 1990s!

Home for the Holidays

The smell of the garbage inside the dumpster was overpowering at first. Trying not to gag, Billy took a deep breath and listened for the wail of the soon-to-be-approaching squad car sirens from down the alley. He could hear the faint noise of traffic from the busy thoroughfare nearby and the despondent clanging of a street corner Santa’s rusty bell. The gusting, biting December wind was blowing tiny flakes of snow inside the dumpster from a gaping hole in the lid above him. Billy winced as he glanced down at where the cop had shot him just moments before. He could smell the blood from the ragged bullet wound in his left leg; it reminded him of the stench of his stepfather’s butcher shop where he had spent long summer days cutting meat. The pain was like no other that Billy had ever experienced. It came in sharp, jolting waves that searing into him like white-hot spikes.

He found that he was still clutching the heavy cloth sack that contained the cash that he had stolen from the liquor store. The material was rough and coarse; he reached up and felt the sharp black stubble that was already growing on his cheeks. He shuddered in pain as he tried to remember the sequence of nightmare events that had taken place that evening.

Billy McAllister was only nineteen years old, a kid to some, but in his own mind he had done more growing up than a hundred teenagers would ever do. His stepfather had thrown him out of their crowded apartment in a fit of alcoholic rage on a balmy Chicago night several summers before. Billy had been a troublemaker all of his life, his years at high school had been a series of run-ins with the school administration and the law. He had been arrested five times for possession of illegal drugs, but the charges had been dismissed in each instance.

Billy had then moved in with his two cousins, Sammy and Matt, who were both small-time hoods with criminal records. They let Billy stay with them for close to three years, making him cook meals and keep the apartment clean in return for a temporary home.

It had been only recently when Billy had started to have horrible fights with his cousins. One night, Sammy had approached him and demanded that Billy start assisting them in their ‘business ventures.’ When he had asked Sammy very quietly what he meant by that, Billy’s cousin had replied in quite simple terms that Billy would start helping them to pull off a series of petty liquor store holdups or they would throw him out of their apartment. Billy had agreed, having not wanted to face the cold, snowy streets of Chicago alone. His first ‘assignment’ had been to rob a decrepit liquor store not eight blocks from their home.

Sammy had driven the getaway car, but when Billy had come flying out of the store, clothed in a torn black ski mask and toting his gun and bag of stolen money, Sammy’s battered dark blue Chevy Impala had disappeared. Instead, Billy had been greeted cheerily by the sight of two squad cars; sirens blazing through the darkness, tearing down the street toward him. He had turned and started to run down the icy sidewalk. A moment later he had heard the cop car’s door quickly open, a deep voice yell “FREEZE!”, and had felt a bullet tear into the back of his leg, sending him sprawling to the ground. His gun had dropped into a deep snowbank. Billy struggled to his feet and had turned down a dark alley, stumbling blindly and looking for a place to hide. The dumpster had loomed in front of him like some giant behemoth; he had painfully climbed inside, the bag of cash clutched tightly in his gloved hands.

And there he lay.

* * *

It was Christmas, a Christmas of long ago before the storm had broken. He was in church with his family for midnight mass, and the altar was decorated with dozens of deep red poinsettias. He looked up at his mother; she had a long arm around Billy’s older sister and was smiling. He leaned closer and could smell the distinct, spicy odor of her perfume. He heard the first majestic strains of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” played on a huge organ echoing through the church, and Billy swallowed hard as he let the aroma of his mother’s perfume fill his lungs…

* * *

Decorating the tree had always been his favorite part of Christmas. He loved putting his face up to soft pine needles and taking a deep breath, letting the smell of the evergreen engulf him. And when the tree was finished, his mother would turn out all of the lights and plug the tree lights in, and they would just sit and stare at the myriad of tiny dots of color dancing before their eyes in the darkness…

* * *

The buzzing had begun. It sounded like thousands of bees were trapped inside his head, buzzing, BUZZING… He bit his hand to try and stop the pain, to drown out the storm of torture that was raging mercilessly inside him.

Then his vision began to blur. Spots of brilliant pink and red began to swim in front of his eyes, hypnotizing him, beckoning. He felt like his head was going to explode.

* * *

He was at the beach, sitting on a stool by the waterside, and on either side of him stretched miles and miles of pure white sand. The sun was blazing hot and high in the sky, and he could look across the clear blue waters of the lagoon and see a line of puffy clouds in the distance. He wiggled his toes in the cool waves that were licking gently at his bare feet.

Suddenly he felt something hard bump against his foot in the water below. He reached down and fished blindly in the shallows until his fingers closed around the trigger of a small gun that had washed up on shore. Billy picked it up and held it high in the air, blinking as the sun glinted off of it.

A sudden movement caught his eye several yards out. The color of the water was changing. A dark red murky stain appeared on the surface, and as it spread toward him Billy saw the top of a man’s head appear in the center of the dark patch. He watched in horror as the man’s face, neck, shoulders, then torso became visible. It wasn’t until the figure had started to wade toward him that Billy recognized who it was.

Santa Claus.

He smiled sweetly at Billy, then held out a white mittened hand and motioned for Billy to take it. It was then that the stench of death hit Billy full force. He looked down at the water beneath him, but it wasn’t water – it was blood. Billy screamed, a scream of denial and rage, as he raised the weapon and pointed it at Santa Claus, but Santa had turned into his father. He was dressed in a pure white meatcutter’s apron, and as he glanced down at his hands he screamed at the sight of the blood that was dripping off of them. Billy’s father began wiping his hand off the apron, trying to rid his skin of it, but none of the blood came off. His wild eyes pleaded at Billy, but instead Billy got off the stool and stood up to his knees in blood and pulled the trigger.

The squawk of a seagull echoed mournfully in the distance…

* * *

Salty tears stung his face as he was jolted back to reality. His heart was pounding wildly and he could hear the rush of blood in his ears. The waves of pain were coming faster and faster, and as he let the tide cover him he heard the police sirens coming down the alley. Billy could also hear the distant strains of organ music reaching his ears from somewhere far away…

Home for the Holidays
May 2024