01 Feb If you see a creature coming down your chimney, you need to read this
I need to talk. Like, I really need to talk.
The trouble is, I don’t have anybody I can talk to. My family’s estranged, my friends are all gone, and the authorities think I’m a lunatic.
It’s just five days from Christmas, and I’m alone. Isolated. If I don’t get this off my chest though, I’m afraid it’s going to start festering in my mind like a decaying carcass; I’m afraid it’s going to sink its teeth in.
So I’ll talk to you. All of you. It’s not perfect, but it will do.
My name’s Terrance Sims. I’m sitting in my rocking chair, rifle draped across my lap, in bloodstained pyjamas that still reek with last night’s piss. I haven’t slept in two days, and I might not sleep for two more. Last night something came down my chimney, and I think it’s coming back.
I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me paint you a picture. I live alone, up in the mountains where the pine trees are draped in snow, and the rivers are an icy blue. I could be a bit more specific, but I don’t think it’s warranted. Besides that, I like my privacy.
All of this to say, where I am isn’t important. What matters is what I have to say.
I’m a researcher. Or at least, I was once upon a time. My funding has long been cut, and my job along with it, but I’ve stayed out here because I believed in the research my team was undertaking. It was revolutionary. It meant the possibility of bridging worlds, of seeing new forms of life.
Now I’m terrified that research has found me.
You’ve probably heard of monsters, or urban legends, of things that claw at our imaginations and lurk in the dark recesses of our minds. Perhaps you’ve even felt one. They wait there sometimes, prowling just beyond our vision, tearing at the fabric that holds our realities together. Desperate. Hungry.
My job was to study these beings. I was tasked with developing an understanding of not only what they wanted from us but how to gain access to their world: the place Beyond the Veil.
Needless to say, I wasn’t successful. The organization I worked for, the Facility, poured millions into my ideas and wasn’t forgiving of my failures. When my theories came up short, they cut ties with me — he cut ties with me.
‘It’s unfortunate, but it’s business,” Mr. Reid had said, feet on his desk, long hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Your failures reflect on me, Terrance, and they’ve become an accounting nightmare.”
I had begged him. Groveled. It didn’t matter. I was terminated along with my research, and when you’re studying the kind of things I am, they don’t want that information leaking out into the world. It’s what they call a liability.
So I was blacklisted. Facility teams picked away at my reputation, whispering in the back corners of universities and at the water coolers of laboratories. My name became synonymous with paranoia and madness. I was a laughing stock among my peers. A joke.
It was the end of my life.
Only one person cared to associate with me afterwards, a junior colleague and a brilliant young man named Alexi Azimov. He believed in the research nearly as much as I did, and luckily for him, his name wasn’t attached to the project.
When the Facility pulled the plug and dragged my name through the dirt, they simply moved him to a new department, and that was that. Despite it, he spent his vacation days returning to the mountain, assisting me with further study whenever he could.
Until last year, when even he abandoned me too.
But now I’ve shown all of them. I’ve proven they were wrong — dead wrong. It’s here. He’s here. I always suspected he lived among these mountains, or at least that his Bridge was located within them, but I had given up hope for so long. It had been years, after all — damn near a decade. They called me absurd. Insane.
Then, last night everything changed.
I was lying in bed, winding down after logging the readings on the temporal measurement equipment, when the cabin shook. At first, I thought an avalanche had struck it, but then I heard it: a clatter of hooves upon the roof.
I shot out of bed, my breath trapped in my chest and my body cold with sweat. I sprinted to the closet and pulled out my hunting rifle. Outside, a blizzard howled, but all I heard was the voice, a menagerie of tone and emotion, high and low, guttural and smooth. It rang out from above me.
Ho ho hO.
My first thought was to contact the Facility, but my satellite internet wasn’t functioning in the storm. Even if it were, I knew better. I was too far. Too isolated for help.
The mountains I study in are remote, and the cabin even more so. It was chosen for its seclusion as a means of observing the being known as the Sleigh Father, but the circumstances were meant to be different.
Above me, the ceiling creaked, and dust drifted down from the rafters. Boots crunched upon the snow-caked roof. You always think you’ll know what to do when the moment comes, that your training will kick in, and you’ll just go through the motions like some kind of pre-programmed robot. I wish that were true. I really do.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.
I’d spent the better part of my career chasing that monster, and now that it’d found me, I was lost. My fingers played against the trigger of my rifle, my mouth dry, and my eyes latched open. Inside of me, my body thrummed with terror. My fight or flight response oscillated between cowardice and impulsive foolishness. I was paralyzed. Alone.
A chorus of chattering pierced the screaming wind. It came fast and jittery, like a ticking clock marking time in microseconds. I knew what it was before the hoofbeats followed. It was them, the creatures the Sleigh Father commissioned in the First Days when people still feared the night and all the horrors within. Eight abominations, stitched together by the innards of mutilated children.
Their agony acted as his gateway — his Bridge between worlds. The souls of the children lived on in the beasts, while their vacant spirits stalked the earth, lost and hopeless, seeking the missing piece that would finally grant them rest. Their tortured existence was his Link to our reality. The sleigh the abominations drew, his Bridge.
The thought shook me from my trance. I’d spent years waiting for this—a chance to see the other side, to see other worlds.
I had to act, so I lurched forward, moving through the lonely cabin while the Sleigh Father’s footsteps creaked above me. HO hO ho. He lumbered toward the chimney while I shivered down the cold hallway, rifle trembling in my skinny arms.
It took me only a few moments to reach the living area, and when I did, I settled there, just behind the corner of the wall. I kept my gun levelled at the fireplace, and my eyes plastered open. A crackling blaze danced in the hearth. It cast the sparse furnishings in an orange glow, throwing shadows across the loveseat and the messy desks.
The night became still.
The snowstorm quieted. The hoofbeats vanished. There was no sound of boots, no sound of laughter, only the snapping flames and my heart pounding blood through my skull. My mouth moved, and words spilled out. Affirmations. Come on, I muttered. Slide down the chimney, you beast. The fire’s waiting for you.
I knew better. Of course I did. I’d spent years researching the Sleigh Father, consumed tireless hours reading into his history. Of all the monsters the Facility had dealt with, the terrors that haunted old email chains and the urban legends that spread through panicked breaths, he was the anomaly. He was celebrated.
Santa Claus, they called him.
It was an error I traced back to centuries ago when a young girl witnessed her abusive father taken by the Sleigh Father. The creature devoured him and left the man’s skull as a parting gift, having taken what he came for: a human soul. To the girl, the beast was a saviour.
The words she spoke in the following weeks, months, and years became immortalized. They became history, and then they became legend. A jolly being, laughing and hungry, coming down the chimney and leaving gifts in its wake. It was as tantalizing a tale as they come, especially to young children, eager to be appeased in their search for comfort and joy.
Now he was here with me, looking for another soul to add to his collection.
Seconds stretched into minutes as I waited, tucked quietly behind the corner of the wall, rifle in my arms, elbow steadied upon my knee. Once, we had contingencies for this. Plans in place that provided the means to incapacitate the Sleigh Father should he pay us a visit, but those plans involved government agents no longer in my employ. They involved expensive technology and complex spells. They were a last resort.
A clump of snow fell down the chimney, and the fire responded with a hiss of steam. Its flame retreated for a moment, flickering, before lashing back in anger. Something heavy shuffled above—the Sleigh Father.
Emotions swam inside of me. Regret. Anger. Fear. Why had I stayed out here? How could I have been so stubborn, so goddamn arrogant?
The answer was obvious: my old boss, Donovan Reid. His mockery, his wanton destruction of my life. It left me with no other option. Either I remained on this mountain, burning through my life’s savings and hunting wayward game, or I returned home. One meant a chance at redemption, the other guaranteed humiliation and disgrace.
I hated Mr. Reid more than words could say. Alexi had seen it. He’d seen how much my loathing distracted me, and so he recommended methods to help get the snake off my mind. A list, he’d said in an email last month. Write a list of all the ways you want to hurt him. Write a list of all the horrible things you want to happen to him. I think it could help you get him out of your head and free up your attention.
It helped—a little.
hO ho HO.
The laugh came high and low, husky and slick. A crunch followed it, like something digging into brick, and panic found its way into my bones. Dust and debris fell into the flames. The Sleigh Father’s legend was explicit in his form of entry: if possible, it was always the chimney.
A grunt came down the flue, followed by more pebbles and stones. Then, the cabin shook. It was as if something heavy had jumped from the roof — and what comes up must come down.
A pulverizing cacophony filled the night like cannon fire. Rubble tumbled into the blazing hearth while the bricks of the chimney bulged outwards, crumbling as something massive shot down it. I barely brought my rifle on aim before a figure crashed into the flames.
Burning logs shattered with a thunderous crack, plunging the cabin into inky darkness. Wooden splinters ricocheted around the room like blazing shrapnel, their slivers slashing at my face and tracing my skin in searing agony. I swung back behind the protection of the hallway wall, rifle clutched to my chest.
My thoughts raced. This couldn’t be happening, I said to myself. It couldn’t. I slammed my eyes shut, trying to get my out-of-control breathing back in line. I was hyperventilating. Panicking. I had to calm down because if I didn’t, I would start making impulsive decisions, and impulsive decisions were a good way to die.
I opened my eyes.
The fire was gone. I could barely see a thing. A short distance away, boots groaned against hardwood, kicking past broken logs in the hearth. My finger quivered against the cold steel of the rifle’s trigger, and I desperately wanted to pull it, but I knew that if I did, then it was over. Either the Sleigh Father would die, or I would. The odds, I decided, were not in my favour.
So I waited.
A piece of me, infinitesimally small, wanted to see him, wanted to flick on a light or blindly fire into the darkness. I wanted to witness the monster that possessed my life for so long — if only for a second. But I didn’t. It’s not worth it, I told myself. It’s not worth it.
The footsteps stalked to the window, dragging something heavy behind them. Against the faint light of the moon, I made out the Sleigh Father’s silhouette. He was tall, inhumanly so. His neck craned forward, pressed against the top of the high cabin ceiling. A cloak was draped across his broad shoulders, and from his head slumped the pom of a stocking cap. Beside him sat a large sack.
“NaUghty oR niCe?” his voice hummed, in discordant melody.
I didn’t reply. It seemed impossible, but a part of me held onto the belief that maybe he wasn’t speaking to me. Maybe he didn’t know I was there. It was just a monologue, perhaps—words for the night.
I raised the rifle, aiming it toward his massive figure. I could do it now, I reasoned. I could pull the trigger and hopefully make this nightmare disappear.
Ho HO hO.
The silhouette turned, its face masked in shadow, save for a single glint of bobbing light. “CaReFuL wiTh tHaT,” it said.
A cold breeze swept across me, and suddenly my fingers burned with agonizing frostbite. My rifle clattered to the floor while my hands trembled in pain. “YoU’ll TaKe yOur eYe OuT.”
“W-what do you want?” I stuttered, stumbling backward. My feet croaked on the floorboards as I came up against the back of the hallway. My heart hammered. Tears filled my visions as I cradled my cold hands against my stomach. “Please,” I whimpered.
“NaUgHty?” he sang. “Or NiCe?”
“N-nice,” I said. “I’m a good man. I just wanted to l-learn about you.” The words stumbled out of my mouth like lemmings falling to their death. “I don’t mean any harm. I swear–”
The footsteps creaked closer, and as they did, the silhouette vanished from the window’s moonlight. All that remained of it now was sounds it made. I listened intently to the burdensome echoes of boots on hardwood and the heavy scratching of coarse fabric being dragged across the floor.
ho Ho hO.
He was close. So close. I slammed my eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable, waiting to die. Warm piss spilled down my leg, and my face screwed up as I fell to my knees, bawling on the floor. “Please,” I begged. “I’m a good man! I told you — please!”
The rumble of footfalls stopped, and in their place came the sound of rustling fabric, like somebody opening a sack.
“NiCe, yOu sAy?”
A dim light formed, radiating out of a burlap bag some five feet away. Behind its glow, I could make out a white, singed beard hanging over a red suit. The Sleigh Father’s face was otherwise indiscernible amidst the suffocating shadow, save for one dancing speck of light.
“WoULd yOu LiKe a GiFt?” he asked.
My mind raced. Was there anything in the mythology that warned against accepting gifts? I couldn’t recall. “Yes,” I hazarded, in a small voice. “Yes, please.” It seemed unwise to refuse the creature.
hO ho Ho.
A massive, red-jacketed arm reached into the burlap sack. My eyes widened in horror as I realized the sack was moving. Kicking. Like there was something alive inside of it. Muffled screams followed, and the great arm pulled back, clutching a man by his long, blonde hair. The man thrashed and whimpered. Tears soaked his pale face.
Our eyes connected, mine and the man’s, and something ran through me. It was a feeling I’d never experienced before, a mixture of dark excitement and absolute loathing.
“You,” I said slowly.
The light from the sack was dim, but to the man, it was all he had known. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the heavy darkness of the cabin, and as they did, he peered toward me, eyelids pinched together to discern the voice speaking to him.
“Who’s there?” he whimpered.
I gazed forward in stunned silence. Was this real? There was no way. He dangled in the Sleigh Father’s grasp like the finest Christmas present I’d ever seen.
“Hello?” his voice called. “Please, I have resources — more than you could imagine! I’m a powerful man in government! Just get me the hell out of here, and I’ll give you whatever you want.” His voice turned weak, broken. “Please… please get me out of here. I have a family.”
I opened my mouth, but if words were there, I didn’t speak them. No. It seemed wasteful, at this moment, to reply so thoughtlessly. This moment necessitated careful words and a measured tone. It required my best.
“NauGhtY,” the Sleigh Father hummed. “So, sO NaUgHty.”
I found myself nodding along. Yes, the man was naughty. The worst. He was an abomination, fit for disposal. He’d doubted me — made a mockery of me, and torn apart the life I’d so carefully built.
“Donovan,” I said, doing my best to keep my voice level. “Donovan Reid, isn’t it?”
The light was faint. So faint. In spite of it though, I could see Mr. Reid had finally realized who I was, whether because his eyes had adjusted or he recognized my voice. Perhaps a combination of the two. His expression fell.
“That voice…You used to work for me,” he choked out. “Didn’t you?”
I gazed at him, something horrible growing inside of me. It ate up all of my fear, my regret, my rage and it left only hunger in their wake—a desperate desire for retribution.