Prodigal

May 22, 2016

Christmas Eve, 1962
Billy couldn’t have been more excited to go and see the Christmas parade. As Shelley zipped him into his blue snowsuit, he asked an endless river of questions.
“Is Santa gonna be there?”
“I’m sure he will be.”
“In his sleigh?”
“Probably.”
“An’ will he have his elves with ‘im?”
“Maybe. Hold out your hands.” Billy obeyed, and his mother helped him put on a pair of mittens so thick they looked like boxing gloves.
“An’ is he gonna have candy canes?”
“He very well might. Arthur dear, will you go and start up the car?”
“Of course.” Billy’s father snatched the keys up off the table and slipped out the door, his breath turning to vapor in the air as he walked across the patio over the garage.
Once Billy was wrapped in so many layers of flannel and wool and fleece that he could hardly move, his mother took his stubby little hand and led him out the door. White plumes of snow flew up around them like ghosts in the howling wind as they trekked to the driveway. They were explorers in the great suburban Arctic wasteland, plowing head-on into the storm, hand in hand. Arthur honked the horn twice, and they moved toward the warm glow of the headlights.
Shelley lifted her son off the ground, opened the car door, and placed him in the back. Seatbelts and children’s car seats wouldn’t be invented for years to come. After Billy’s mother got in and all the doors were shut, Arthur backed out of the driveway and drove toward Main Street, going slow and easy on the ice.
They found a parking space in a lot behind the department store, and walked down the street to where they could see the parade. It was small and short; just a few floats accompanied by some cars and slow old horses and the fire department marching band. But for a child Billy’s age, it was magic. They stood on the curb, watching the vehicles and electric lights flow past. The band clattered by, blasting “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on their horns, out of tune but full of energy.
Billy cupped his hands around his mouth and nose, blowing warm air into his palms and gazing in a trance. Then came the moment he’d been waiting for. As the band’s warm, brassy tones drifted away, sleigh bells filled the air, sharp and icy. They were accompanied by the click of hooves and a faint scraping, as a team of four wild-haired Shetland ponies dragged a weather-battered ancient sledge down Main Street. Billy let out a teakettle shriek of joy as he spotted the man holding the reins. Sitting in the sleigh was Santa Claus. He wore a threadbare red coat and hat, and puffed pipe smoke out the corner of his thin-lipped mouth. His hair was more grey than white, and his beard was a cheap fake. If Billy had been standing closer, he could’ve seen an Army tattoo peeking out between the end of Santa’s coat sleeve and the start of his leather glove.
But Billy wasn’t standing closer, and to him, this old man was the genuine article. As the sleigh passed, Saint Nick reached into a sack by his side and threw heavy handfuls of candy canes into the street. Arthur gave Billy’s back a gentle nudge, telling him it was all right to run out and grab one. Billy took off like a shot, moving fast despite his cumbersome clothes, and vanished into the crowd.
A minute passed. The sleigh started to move on. He didn’t come back.
“Arthur, where’d Billy go?”
“He ran up to the front to grab some candy.”
“Shouldn’t he be back by now? The sleigh is leaving. The parade’s nearly over.”
“Maybe he got distracted.” Arthur put a hand by his mouth and called out. “Billy!” No answer.
Shelley stepped forward and began to comb through the rapidly thinning crowd, calling Billy’s name. He wasn’t there. She felt her throat tighten, felt her calls become wails. People stared at her. Their faces showed pity, but their eyes were accusing and full of judgment.
Why can’t you be a better mother? Why can’t you keep track of your own child? You silly, irresponsible, useless woman.
She found Arthur again, and they walked up and down Main Street, asking anyone who would listen if they’d seen a little boy, about this high, with short blonde hair. Everyone they saw just shook their heads and apologized. The streets emptied as the last traces of the parade slipped away.
A few blocks down, they spotted two members of the Fire Department band in front of the diner, smoking. One held a trumpet case and the other had a snare drum hooked to a harness around his chest.
“Something wrong?” The trumpet player asked.
“Yes.” Shelley pleaded. “We can’t find our little boy. He’s five years old, he has blue eyes and blonde hair and he’s all alone. Please, can you help us?”
“Geez, that’s awful.” He dropped his cigarette to the sidewalk and smashed it out before turning to the drummer. “Andy, will you run into the diner and call the cops? I’m going to help these people look for their kid.”
“Sure thing. What’s your boy’s name?”
“Billy.” She said. “Billy Scrope. We last saw him on the corner of Hastings and Main.”
“All right. Andy will call the police for you folks. Why don’t the three of us go look up and down Main a couple more times, and then you ought to head home for the night. It looks like there’s a blizzard coming, and you’ve already done as much as you can.”
“No!” Shelley blurted, “We have to…”
“He’s right.” Arthur interrupted. “We’ve looked all over. Billy probably went somewhere safe. He’s a smart boy.” He took Shelley’s hands in his. “Let’s look up and down Main a few more times, like he said, and then we’ll go home. There’s nothing left for us to do. We can’t stay out all night. The police are going to be looking for him. We’re going to get him back.”
“All right.” Her voice shook. She didn’t believe him.
They did three more sweeps of Main, branching off onto the side streets every now and again, searching until the swirling snow obscured their vision. It really was a blizzard now. A screaming wind picked up the loose, powdery dust from the ground and made it dance, wraith-like, under the streetlamps. The horn-playing firefighter shouted an apologetic goodbye as he went off into the white blur to find his own car, and Shelley and Arthur made their way back to the parking lot behind the department store.
“I’m sorry.” Arthur said, starting the engine. “I shouldn’t have let him run out on his own. I know I shouldn’t have. But he can’t have gone far. The police are out looking for him right now. We’ll get him back. I promise we will.” Shelley didn’t say anything. They drove home and went up to bed, lying awake and keeping their ears keenly tuned to detect a knock, or the chime of their doorbell, or the ring of the phone. She didn’t mean to let it happen, but somehow, after hours of staring at the ceiling, Shelley’s eyes slipped shut. She fell asleep, and she dreamed.
She was walking up Main Street again, and it felt like she’d been walking there a long time. Hours. Years. The blizzard was over, and cold white light shone down everywhere. Light like a hospital. There was a big, bulging snowdrift ahead, sitting right in the middle of the sidewalk. A thin crust of ice had formed over it, so it glistened in the sterile white sun. She couldn’t go around it. This she knew. She knew she had to keep walking toward it. There was the sound of movement. The creaking of snow, like an arthritic joint. Oh God, there was something under that drift. There was someone.
She kept walking toward it. Its frozen white bulk began to shift. The crust of ice cracked, and then crumbled as little fingers pushed through it. His hand stretched out first. Then his arm, his shoulder, his head. He stood up in the snowdrift. It was Billy. His skin was blue. His hair had ice in it. He said nothing, just stood there. Shelley wanted to run, but she couldn’t make herself do it. This was him. This was her boy. His lips parted with a soft crackle of ice, and she could see that they’d been frozen together. He spoke in a voice like the wind.
“Why did you let me go?”
Shelley snapped awake. She didn’t tell Arthur about the dream.
Days passed. He didn’t come back. Billy’s school picture was put on front pages, on posters, on television. Weeks passed. Shelley prayed. Oh, how she prayed. Her knees got red and raw with rug burn from kneeling beside her bed. Months passed. Years. They waited for him.

 

 


Christmas Eve, 1972
“Do you ever think…” Shelley began. The fire crackled behind her as she sat on the hearth.
“What?”
“Do you ever wonder if maybe we should have another?”
“Another what?”
“You know.” She sighed. “It’s been ten years. Ten whole years. We’ve been waiting so long. He’d be fifteen, now.”
“Stop. Why would you say something like that? Why would you say that now? You know it’s the very same night he was taken away. You know that.”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to watch him grow up. I wanted to see him be so many things. But I won’t. I know I won’t ever see him again, and I just don’t want it to be just the two of us, waiting around for him until we die. We need a child, Arthur.”
“No. I don’t want to talk about it any longer.”
“Arthur…”
“He’ll be back. We’ll get him back.” Shelley didn’t reply. They sat for a long time. Billy didn’t come back.

 

 


Christmas Eve, 1982
Arthur and Shelley sat in their living room, watching a church service on TV. A plastic tree stood by the window. Billy’s stocking hung on a hook by the fireplace. Three decades later, and they still kept it up. The preacher on the screen looked like a white-haired Elvis and shouted the scripture like a carnival barker. They were about to turn it off and go to bed, when the doorbell rang.
“Probably carolers.” Arthur said, getting up from the couch.
“I didn’t think anyone did that sort of thing anymore.” Shelly remarked. Arthur opened the door. It wasn’t carolers. Instead, a scruffy-looking man in a ragged parka stood on their doorstep. Arthur’s face went blank.
“Dad.” The man said. “Dad, it’s me. I’m home.”
Arthur stared. They’d had false alarms before. In ’63 they got a phone call from someone who claimed to have found Billy, but it was just some scavenging parasite trying to snatch up the reward money. Shelley had screamed and sobbed for hours when they found out the truth. That sort of thing couldn’t be allowed to happen again. Not ever. He had to be sure.
He reached out and his old stick fingers brushed the young man’s pale gold hair back from his right temple. There it was. So faded it was hardly visible, but still there. The thin scar Billy had gotten when he slipped in the kitchen and banged his head against the refrigerator. He was only four then. Five when they lost him. But now… Now he was home, and that was all that mattered.
“It’s really you.”
He and Arthur threw their arms around one another, holding on like one of them might drift away if the other let go. Arthur felt the warmth of his son’s tears seeping through his sweater, and he began to cry, too. Shelley got up and walked over, feet silent on the floor.
“Arthur?” She said, “Who is it? What’s going on?” She saw his arms wrapped around the young man in the doorway, the glimmer of tears in his eyes.
“It’s him. He came back to us. Billy’s home.”
Shelley’s mouth hung open. “You’re sure?”
“Yes.” Arthur said, taking her arm and pulling her in. “Yes, it’s him. Come here.”
They all huddled together and wept in the entryway, the door still open wide, snow blowing in around them all.
After a long moment, Shelley pulled away and said:
“Come, let’s sit down.” She paused. “Billy,” She started. Her son’s name felt strange in her mouth. “Billy, can I get you something to eat, or drink? Do you need anything?”
“No, mom. I just want you to stay here.” Billy said, letting go of Arthur and walking over to the couch. His parents followed him, sitting down on either side.
“It’s been so long.” Arthur said. “There’s so much we need to talk about, so much that’s happened since you’ve been gone. God, we’ve missed you. I can’t… I can hardly believe you’re back. It must be a miracle.”
“It is.” Shelley affirmed. “I’m just so… happy. You were gone for so long,” her voice cracked, “and we didn’t know what happened to you.”
“What did happen?” Arthur asked, cautiously. “Where did you go?”
Billy stiffened and stared into space. “I’d rather not talk about that.”
“Oh, of course. Of course. I’m so sorry.”
“No… It’s just… I’ll tell you later. It was a very cold place.”
There was a moment of silence that dragged on for just the tiniest bit too long.
“It’s all right.” Shelley said, placing a hand on his back. His skin felt clammy, even through his jacket. “You’re safe and warm now and you never need to tell us anything you don’t want to.”
“We love you, Billy.” Arthur said, putting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “We’re so glad to finally have you back.” Billy brushed his hand away.
“I love you both, too. I think I’d like to go to bed now if you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all. You look so tired.” Shelley said, getting up. “Here, come with me.” She led him through the kitchen and down the hall. They reached the end of the hallway and stopped at a closed door. “We kept your room just the way it was before.” Billy watched as his mother took off her necklace. There was a key at the end, which she used to unlock the door.
“Mom,” Billy asked, “was there a lock on that door before?”
“No, dear.” Shelley hesitated. “We got it installed while you were... away. Just to keep guests from snooping around, you know. I suppose we can have it removed, now that you’re back.” She paused. “But look, here’s your old room!” She pushed the door open wide and they stepped in.
In the corner was a bed, not more than five feet long. There was a wooden box at the end of the bed, made to look like a pirate treasure chest, which held all of Billy’s old toys. Against one wall was a bookshelf full of his favorite stories, and a dresser, which still contained tiny sets of clothes. A dust-caked model fighter jet hung from the ceiling on a brittle strand of fishing line.
“The bed will be too small by now.” Shelley said, wistfully. “But we can bring in an air mattress if you like.”
“No,” Billy murmured. “Don’t go to any trouble right now.” He turned and hugged her. She started to reach down, then corrected herself. He was taller than she was, now. “Goodnight, Mom.”
“Goodnight.” She pulled the door, leaving it open a crack so it wouldn’t lock. Billy turned out the light and lay down on his side, pulling himself into a fetal position so he could fit on the mattress. He slept in his clothes.
That night, Shelley had her old familiar nightmare again for the first time in years. She walked down the sidewalk of Main Street, toward that awful, bulging snowdrift, just as she had for months after Billy disappeared. But this time, something was different. She could feel it, taste it in the air. As she got closer to the ice-encrusted white mass, and heard the crunch and crackle of movement from within, she knew. The thing buried beneath that heap of snow and ice wasn’t her son. Not anymore. Long, thin, gray fingers pushed up through the snow.
Shelley woke up with a silent scream trapped in her throat. Wiping the sticky, cold sweat from her forehead, she rolled over and gazed at the alarm clock. “3:42 a.m.” was written in glowing red letters. It was Christmas. Her son was in the room down the hall, and she hadn’t gotten him anything. Her son…
Quiet as a mouse, Shelley climbed out of bed, slipped on her robe, and crept down the hall. Billy’s door still stood open a crack. She pulled it open slowly, careful not to let the hinges creak, and stepped inside. Curled in the center of the too-small bed, Billy slept soundly. As Shelley approached, he let out a breathy snore. She reached out. Arthur had checked already, but she had to be sure. She had to know.
Moving with all the careful apprehension of someone defusing a bomb, Shelley pushed back Billy’s hair. There was a small orange nightlight right outside the bedroom, and in its dim glow, Shelley saw that the silvery-white scar wasn’t there. She stifled a gasp. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe her memory had lied to her, and the scar was on the other side. She looked again. Still no scar. Not on either side. Maybe the lighting… Yes, that was it. It was too dark in here to see the scar clearly. Perhaps she would check again in the daylight, ask him to show it to her, just to put her mind at rest. He would understand. He was her son, after all.
As Shelley began to creep back towards the door, Billy rolled over. His lips parted, and he spoke in his sleep.
“Hurt you.” He murmured. Shelley stopped dead in her tracks. Billy’s eyes were open, but there was something wrong. These weren’t his eyes. They were too big. “Hurt you.” He trailed off into gibberish. It sounded almost like a cassette tape rewinding. Speaking backward. Then, gradually, the noises became speech again. “Wechselbalg.”
It took her a moment to make out the word. It was German. She didn’t recognize it at first. He said it again.
“Wechselbalg.” He looked at her. Through her, really. She couldn’t tell whether he actually saw her or not. A high, soft giggle came bubbling from his nose. He smacked his lips and his eyes slipped shut. Shelley moved quickly to the door and out into the hall, back to her room. She lay awake for the rest of the night.
Around five in the morning, Arthur rose with a low grunt. He didn’t realize Shelley was awake, as she stared at the ceiling in the dark. He stood, the floor cold beneath his bare feet, and began to walk across the hall to the bathroom. The older he grew, he found, the more of these nocturnal journeys he had to make. At least he could still hold it in. His eighty-year-old father, up in the retirement home, was not so lucky. They should call him, Arthur thought as he stepped into the bathroom. They needed to tell him about Billy coming home. In all their shock, they’d forgotten. They’d have to do it first thing tomorrow. Arthur flushed, washed his hands, and stepped out into the hall again.
He almost jumped out of his skin. In the orange glow of the nightlight, Billy stood perfectly still, facing the wall.
“Billy?” Arthur began.
“Hurt you.”
“Billy, what’s wrong?”
“Hurt you.” There was a noise like the opening of an old door, one whose hinges haven’t been oiled in decades. A slow, grinding creak. Billy’s arms began to stretch. Arthur shivered as he watched them grow longer and longer, dangling by his sides like an orangutan’s arms, knuckles touching the floor. His nails grew, too, extending into curved claws. It was obscene.
“Son?” Arthur half-whispered. Slowly, Billy turned around, and the dim orange light shone on what was once his face. Arthur felt a few lukewarm drops of piss slither down his leg.
“Hurt you.” The Billy-thing lurched toward him.
Arthur made a stumbling retreat into the bathroom. He slammed the door, locked it, and leaned back against the wall, shutting his eyes. This wasn’t real. His mind had been through a lot that day, and now he was having some sort of half-conscious nightmare. This couldn’t be real. He’d open his eyes, and everything would be fine.
Arthur opened his eyes. With the tense caution of a zookeeper approaching a venomous snake, he reached for the doorknob. Unlocking the bathroom door, he stepped back out into the hall. Not a trace of Billy. It really was a dream, then. He went back into the bathroom, got himself cleaned up, and splashed some water on his face. Then he walked back to his room and slid beneath the sheets, lying beside Shelley, both of them awake and full of silent dread, both acutely aware that something was terribly wrong.
When he woke that morning, he did not remember falling asleep. Shelley was already up. He could smell coffee from the kitchen. Following his nose, he stood and walked through the hall, toward the scent. He did not look over his shoulder. He did not look at Billy’s door.
He turned the corner. The smell of coffee felt overpowering now, sickening. Shelley was at the kitchen table, a bitter black cup sitting before her.
“Good morning.” She said without a trace of warmth. Her hair stuck out all around her head in a wild silver mane. Her teeth shone in the harsh, bleached light of the early morning. Her eyes were sunken and feral.
“Where is he?” Arthur whispered. She stood up, taking a scalding gulp from her mug.
“He’s in his room.” She answered. Her voice sounded constrained. Trapped. Arthur breathed in.
“Good.” He meant it.
“You saw it, too,” Shelley said. “Didn’t you? He’s different.”
“I know I saw something.” Arthur replied, carefully. “What did you see?”
“His scar. It’s not there. I looked last night, and I couldn’t find it. So I checked again this morning, snuck in while he was sleeping. It isn’t there. Is that what you saw?”
“No, I… I don’t know if I really saw anything. It might’ve been a nightmare. But I remember I got up to use the bathroom, and he was in the hall. He was facing away from me, and he said… He said ‘hurt you’ and then he started to change somehow. He started to stretch. His arms got long and thin, and he turned around, and his face was stretched, too. His mouth was wide, like he was screaming. His teeth had stretched, too. They were like fangs, and his eyes were huge and wet.” Shelley had set down her coffee. She reached out and touched his arm. She took a long time to speak.
“It can’t have been a nightmare. It can’t have been a nightmare because he said the same thing to me. He was talking in his sleep, and he said he was going to hurt me. Then he made some noises, awful noises, and he said something else. It was a German word, one I haven’t heard before outside of fairytales. Wechselbalg.”
“That’s that thing from that old story,” Arthur said, “Isn’t it?”
Shelley nodded. “I remember my grandma used to tell me about this young couple, living in the countryside, centuries ago. They had a baby, and the devil took it away, and he left one of his own in its place. Not a baby, but a thing. A monster.”
Arthur sat down, hands on his knees. “You don’t really think? I mean, you can’t really think that. There’s a logical explanation. Maybe we both just had nightmares. Maybe his scar faded.”
He didn’t know it was possible, but Shelley’s eyes had grown wilder. Her voice was a shaking whisper. “I don’t know. But why is he speaking German in his sleep? It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
A dull knocking sound came from elsewhere in the house. Billy’s voice called out.
“Let me out! My door is locked! Come let me out!”
Arthur’s eyes bulged as they met with Shelley’s. “Christ, Shelley.” He breathed. “Tell me you didn’t…”
“I didn’t know what else to do!” Her voice cracked. Squeaked, really. “After what happened last night, how can you blame me? You saw him, too. He’s not the same.”
Billy’s voice came again. “Let me out!”
“He’s our son.” Arthur said. It was meant to be a statement, but it came out sounding more like a question.
“What do you want me to do?” She cried. “You want me to let him out? After what you saw last night? After what we both saw?”
“Shelley, he’s our son!” Arthur felt flecks of saliva spray from the corners of his mouth as he shouted at her. He hated himself for that. She sat in silence for a moment, in the bright kitchen. Then she spoke again, her voice deadly quiet.
“You don’t know that.”
“This is insane. This is completely insane, and you know that just as well as I do.”
“I’m not crazy. You saw it too.”
“I had a nightmare. So did you. That’s all that happened.” Arthur heard a hard, heavy thump. The kind of noise that rattles windowpanes. Billy was throwing himself against the door.
“LET ME OUT!” Arthur stood up and started to walk toward the source of the sound. Shelley moved in front of him, blocking his way. Her eyes were huge and bloodshot, covered in thin pink veins. The tendons in her neck stood out.
“NO!” She screamed. “It’s not him! The scar isn’t there!”
Arthur spoke as calmly and clearly as he could manage. “Get out of my way. I’m going to let him out, and then we can settle this. We can all talk it through like sane people.”
“I’M NOT CRAZY. Don’t let him out! He’s going to hurt us. He said he would.”
Arthur heard Billy’s body smash into the door again. He breathed in, shut his eyes, then grabbed Shelley by the shoulders and shoved her to the side. It was easy. She was small, not much more than skin and bone. Her back thunked lightly against the refrigerator. Feet slipping on the linoleum, she sank to the floor. As she glared up at him, Arthur thought she might scream, or cry, or get up and hit him. She didn’t. She didn’t do anything. After a tense, painful moment of silence, he walked past her.
Arthur got halfway down the hall before he remembered something. Cursing under his breath, he turned and went back to the kitchen. Shelley sat sprawled in a heap in front of the fridge, staring into space.
“So you’ve come to your senses?” She asked. At the sound of her voice, Arthur felt a shiver pass up his spine. She sounded like a thousand-year-old chain smoker. She sounded like someone else. Arthur gave a little shake of his head. He had to clear his mind. He could deal with Shelley later. Right now, he needed to free the man she was holding hostage.
“The key.” He said. “Where did you put the key to Billy’s room?”
Shelley gave a scratchy, humorless laugh. Cackled. Yes, that was the right word. Shelley cackled.
“If you don’t tell me, I’ll just get the screwdriver and take apart the hinges. Either way, I’m letting Billy out, so you may as well quit acting like this and cooperate.”
Her face fell. “In my dresser. Top drawer.”
“Thank you.” Arthur turned to leave.
“You were warned!” She called after him. “I tried to warn you!”
As Arthur entered his own bedroom and moved toward Shelley’s dresser, he heard Billy shout again.
“Let me out. Mom. Dad. Please.” His voice was hoarse and pleading.
Arthur shouted back. “I’m on my way, son!” He yanked out the dresser drawer. The contents – Shelley’s jewelry – flew into the air and scattered onto the floor with a metallic splash. Arthur fell to his knees and began to sift through the glittering pile of earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. He couldn’t find it. Billy’s voice came again, so hoarse and low this time that Arthur couldn’t even make out the words. Frantically, he peeked under the bed. Nothing. His breathing harsh and panicky, Arthur stretched his fingers under the dresser. There it was. He felt it. Stretching a little further, he slid it out, picked it up, and walked back toward Billy’s room.
“Hang on, Billy.” Arthur called, pushing the key into the doorknob. “I’ll have you out of there in a second.”
He turned the key. The door swung open.
The lights were off. In the shadows, Arthur could see something moving. Something with orangutan arms, and long filthy nails, and sharp white fangs, and wide moist eyes.
“Thanks, Dad.” It croaked. Arthur screamed. He tried to slam the door shut, to lock it again, but the thing sprang forward and managed to push one of its long arms through the doorway, keeping it open. Arthur glimpsed thick, dark veins beneath the beast’s translucent skin, just before its claws raked across his face. He felt the tip of one sharp nail pierce all the way through his cheek and drag over his gums. Another claw split his left eyebrow, and a third grazed his scalp. Hot, bright, cadmium red blood spilled into his mouth and eyes, obscuring his vision as he tripped backward. He heard the door to Billy’s room crash open as the creature emerged into the hallway.
Through a crimson haze, he watched it walk past him and make its way to the kitchen. Wiping his eyes, he got up and followed it.
“SHELLEY!” Arthur shouted, voice bubbling through a mouthful of blood. “SHELLEY, ISH NOT HIM! ISH NOT BILLY!” He shambled down the hallway, one hand clasped to the side of his face, keeping the slit in his cheek closed as best he could. Dripping strings of hair dangled in his face as his scalp bled onto the carpet. His wounds burned, like there was something rotten in them. Slowing to a stop, he leaned against the wall. “Shelley, ish not him.”
Just as Arthur’s eyes began to slip closed, a low, grinding voice came from the kitchen. “Hurt you.”
“SHELLEY!”
There was a scream. Arthur staggered toward the kitchen. Another scream came. He heard a heavy, wet thump.
As Arthur entered the kitchen, he breathed a sigh of relief. Shelley stood directly in the center of the room. At her feet, the Billy-thing laid face down and motionless in a pool of dark, tar-like blood. Between its shoulder blades was a steak knife. It was buried up to the handle. Shelley and Arthur looked at one another.
“Go fetch me my sewing kit.” She said. “Then go to the garage and get the saw and the axe.” He did as she said.
When he came back, she was in the living room, on the couch. The Billy-thing’s body was on top of an old sheet on the floor. Big, bright flames roared in the fireplace. Arthur set the axe, the saw, and the sewing kit down on the coffee table.
Shelley patted the spot beside her on the couch. “Sit down.” She opened the sewing kit and threaded a needle. Arthur sat. He shut his eyes and grimaced as the needle slid though his cheek, dragging the coarse black thread behind it. He heard a faint, whispery noise as the thread pulled through his skin.  It wove in and out five times before Shelley snipped the thread and tied a knot. He winced as she did his eyebrow, and shuddered, as the gash in his head was sewn shut. There was a metallic snap as Shelley closed the tin lid of her sewing kit. She took the saw and handed him the axe.
“You know what to do.”
It was long, arduous work. By the time the thing was in chunks small enough to fit in the fireplace, both Arthur and Shelley were drenched from head to toe in its thick, black blood. Their breath was sharp and ragged. The muscles of Arthur’s arms sang with hurt. His face stung, although the infected burning sensation had subsided.
Arthur started with the head. Lifting it by the hair, he carried it over to the fireplace. Even though he knew it was dead, he still took caution to avoid the teeth. He tossed it onto the burning logs, sending up a shower of sparks. It burned slowly, melting like plastic, and producing a foul-smelling cloud of black fumes that traveled up the chimney and out into the still Christmas air. Shelly picked up an arm. Piece by piece, they fed the monster to the flames.
Then it was over. The two sat in their armchairs, still splattered with pitch black, inhuman blood and surrounded by the thick, hot stench of burning flesh and hair. They rested. Later, they would pick the bones from the ashes and bury them in the garden. They would bleach away the blood. They would rinse the tools in the kitchen sink. They would leave no trace. And they would not talk about Billy.






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