By Pippa Bailey
Despite the dark and cold anywhere was better than home with daddy. Daddy did mean things to mama, sometimes Nia saw them, sometimes she just saw mama walking funny and putting on lots of makeup. She would happily trade a hundred nights in her warm bed at daddy’s house for the two weeks she had spent with mama in the matchbox sized room at the women’s shelter. Mama was better here, she seemed new somehow. Nia loved curling up with her on their single bed and letting the sweet smell of mama’s rose hair oil waft over her, like sinking into a summers garden.
Nia pulled off her socks and wiggled her toes, “Nineteen, twenty.” She leapt up and grabbed mama’s hand and fanned out her fingers, counting four of them in succession. “It’s Christmas Eve mama,” She grinned, a smile that was short-lived and replaced by a furrowed brow.
“Mama, what if Santa can’t find me?”
“My darling girl he will.”
“But we left daddy’s house, if daddy can’t find us, how will Santa?”
“I know honey.” Mama pursed her lips and balled one hand into a fist. “Daddy won’t find us, but Santa is magical, he can find anyone.”
Something banged against the wall outside their room, Nia gripped her mother’s hand.
“Mama, we’re safe here?”
Her mother stroked the soft dark curls that littered Nia’s forehead, and kissed the back of her tiny hand. “Yes, my darling, we’re safe here.”
Nia’s big brown eyes searched every inch of the pea-green peeling paint that coated the bare dusty walls, and traced across to an old dresser in a corner of the room, on top a cactus in a pot that Nia had painted with the words Luf you, amid the cactus spines were two baubles, a red and a gold, one for Nia and one for mama.
Wet snowflakes pummelled a large sash window and collapsed into puddles of mush on the window frame.
Her mother wrapped her arms around her and pulled her tight to her chest, ruffling Nia’s pyjama top. “Yes, little one?”
“How will he get in here? we don’t have a fireplace.”
Before her mother could get a word out Nia answered for her, “Magic.”
Nia woke up in the dark, she heard heavy footsteps outside the door. She screwed her eyes and listened. Pressed between mama and the wall it was hard to see anything unless she propped herself up. Scooting silently up onto her pillow Nia peeked over mama’s shoulder.
The handle of their locked door rattled.
She squashed herself against the wall. “Mama, ma—” a hissing sound like a deflating balloon cut her off.
Under the doorframe a plume of frosted white snowflakes ushered inside.
A big sigh came from outside the room; the hissing sound intensifying, and now sounding more like a whoopee cushion. It reminded her of when her cousin Kofi had brought one over when he visited, daddy hadn’t liked it much, he put a knife through the side when it got too noisy. Kofi didn’t come over again after that.
Pffffffftthhhhhht. Crunch. Pffffffftthhhht.
A plume of furry red and white cloth eked under the door crunching and squelching it dragged with it bubbles of fleshy pink strawberry pudding, gummy and wet it flooded into the room. Nia bit her hand, teeth impressing crooked lines into her soft dark skin.
The thing passed into the room headfirst, its parts muddled. Coiled white beard pressed against sections of stomach, followed by crinkled arms and twisted legs. Eyeballs, or what resembled eyeballs scooted inside on long blue and red snake strings, bounding atop the mass. They peered around the room and fixed on the little girl cowering behind her mother.
The flesh blob resembled a man shaped rug, spread out into a thin layer on their floor. Its bones compressed and bowed into hideous shapes bellow the wiry white hair prickled pudding and fur.
With a final pop a flattened pair of black boots appeared. Nia stared at the compressed Santa, she could tell he was trying to offer her a smile, but instead his stretching mouth revealed piano-key teeth splayed and wobbling as they tried to reform to his misshapen jaw.
The two flat boots reinflated, toes first, bulging and expanding like a half tube of toothpaste. Swelling spread to his ankles and legs, filling his shiny red pants and stretching the fabric to capacity.
Now half inflated, two solid legs held aloft a paper-thin torso squelching and folding back into place, it wobbled in the doorway draft like a wacky inflatable arm waving tube man, like the one outside Costco.
A huge belly exploded from the paper-thin chest. His arms and shoulders crunched back into sockets as flesh expanded down his sleeves and individual fingers filled like sausage skins being stuffed with mulched pig, his loose fingernails flapping back and forth like pearlescent cat-flaps.
Nia pushed her hands against mama’s back and tried to wake her, but it was no good. Everyone
knows parents don’t get to see Santa, only those few children who truly believe.
At last his head began to grow, rosy cheeks spattered in glitter held aloft two egg-sack like eyes, pendulous and rolling from side to side. They slurped back into the empty twitching sockets, crinkled white teardrops filling with jelly. He winked, eyelids sticking halfway over the expanding orbs.
Fully inflated he pressed a finger to his lips and yanked on a golden string that still listed beneath the door. A gigantic crimson bag crunched through the gap. Nia wondered how many presents were being crushed as Santa pulled on his sack.
Reaching deep inside he yanked out a small box, wrapped in silver and tied with a big purple bow, Nia’s favorite color.
“This is for you Nia,” he whispered.
She squeaked, watching him place the gift at the end of the bed.
“Now,” he spoke softly, “can you do one thing for me?”
Nia nodded, speechless.
“Please, next year make sure mama leaves a window open?”
Pippa Bailey lives north of the wall in the Scottish Highlands.Principally a horror writer with Pugnacious Press Publishing, and YouTube personality and independent reviewer at Deadflicks with her husband, Myk Pilgrim.?Pippa’s work has appeared alongside Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Jack Ketchum, Joe R Lansdale, and the marvelous Myk Pilgrim in Dark Faces Evil Place 2.
Her stories have been published in 13 Wicked Tales; a Wicked Library Anthology, featured on the Wicked Library podcast, Frisson Comics, Sirens Call Magazine, & Holiday-themed horror collections with Myk Pilgrim; Poisoned Candy: Bite-sized Horror for Halloween, Bloody Stockings: Bite-sized Horror for Christmas, Rancid Eggs: Bite-sized Horror for Easter, & Devil’s Night: Bite-sized Horror for Halloween.
You can spot her drinking too much tea, making terrible puns, and bothering the local wildlife.