All I Want for Christmas
copyright 2015, S.A. Meyer
This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are invented by the author or have been used fictitiously and are not to be constructed as real. Any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in form or by any means without prior written consent of the author.
It was late Christmas Eve, so late in fact it was nearly Christmas morning. Children had given up on the wait for Santa in lieu of much needed sleep. Their parents had followed their lead after setting out the presents, hoping to keep the magic alive for one more year.
The roads were silent in anticipation of the next day’s festivities. Christmas lights flickers from porches and window frames while Christmas trees lit up living rooms, shining out onto the street.
It was a picture straight from Norman Rockwell.
A van turned the corner onto the street with it’s headlights off so as not to be noticed. It was a flower delivery van, advertising a flower shop that didn’t exist with a phone number to a Chinese buffet.
It came to a stop in the middle of the street, brake lights shining in the darkness like a pair of demon eyes. The van idled in the middle of the street, the engine a gentle hum before the back doors opened.
Two figures stepped out, a taller adult and the small form of a young child. Huddled together like a pair of refugees in a foreign land. When their feet were safely on the ground they door shut behind them. The van took off down the street and rounded the other corner, disappearing as quickly as it had come.
Neither spoke as they meandered onto the sidewalk. The only sound was the shuffling of their feet and the occasional sniffle from either person.
As one, they made their way toward a two story house with faded yellow paint. It looked inconspicuous, blending into its neighbors as just another house in a street that had long ago given up hope.
But to the two lost ones, it was their salvation; an oasis in the desert of their lives.
Two quick knocks then a pause followed by two slower ones.
The door opened and the shadows stepped into the house, disappearing from the street as if they were never there to begin with.
The hallway light flipped on, pouring dull yellow illumination over the mother and daughter that had just come in from the cold. Another woman stood in the hallway, her dark eyes watching them carefully as the mother removed the girl’s heavy layers revealing the nightdress she wore underneath.
“It’s good to see you, Barb. Were there any problems?”
The mother, Barb, brushed her daughter’s dull brown hair with her hands before turning to the woman.
Kiara was a woman of below average height, but she held herself is such a way that it didn’t matter. She stood nearly a foot shorter than Barb yet Barb always felt like she was looking up at the older woman. Kiara had a strength inside of her that seeped out of every pore. She was a woman to be reckoned with. It was the kind of personality needed to run the woman’s shelter.
“It’s good to see you too. Everything went like we planned.” Barb began to pull off her own outer layers. Every item removed revealed her story.
A hat pulled down low covered her black eye while her coat hid finger shaped bruises littering her arms.
Barb was used to the bruises on her. It was the look in her daughter’s eyes that frightened her; a deep, penetrating terror. They were the eyes of someone who saw the cruelty of the world far too early in life full of distrust for the world and all who inhabited it.
“Did anyone follow you?” Kiara asked, tearing Barb away from her daughter’s haunting stare.
Barb shook her head as she clutched her child to her side. “No. I don’t think so. I waited until he was asleep and we snuck out of Gabby’s window. No one knew we were leaving, not even Gabby.”
Kiara nodded. “Good. The fewer people who know the better.” Her rough demeanor softened as she glanced down at the still silent child. “It’s late; I’ll take you to your room.”
Silently the trio travelled up the stairs and down the short hallway.
“We’re a little short on rooms at the moment. You and the little one will have to share,” Kiara said matter of fact as she opened a door at the end of the hall.
“That’s fine,” Barb answered absently as she followed Kiara’s gesture to go inside.
The light revealed an old chipped dresser and a twin sized bed with mismatched pillow cases. The room was so small there was barely room to open the drawers of the dresser, let alone walk around.
“If you need anything,” Kiara said, “I’m the first door on the left by the stairs. Get some sleep. We’ll go over some rules tomorrow.”
The door closed leaving mother and daughter alone in a strange room in a strange house.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Gabby said softly as Barb got her settled under the blankets. “Why did we have to leave tonight?” Gabby asked as her mother got into the bed next to her.
“You know why,” Barb replied softly as she joined her young daughter in the bed. It was cold even under the covers. She cuddled close to her child hoping that they would both be warmer if the shared their body heat. She was surprised to find Gabby tense and resisting.
Before Barb could ask, Gabby stated what was wrong. “Santa’s never gonna find us. And I asked for something real special this year.”
Barb was struck by the callousness and insensitivity of the statement. Gabby was young, but not so young that she didn’t understand the situation.
Taking her daughter by the chin, Barb forced her to look into her eyes. “We’re away from him, Gabby. Isn’t that better than a toy?”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re going to bring us back there in a couple of days.” The shock of her daughter’s words caused Barb’s body to go slack allowing Gabby to squirm out of her mother’s hold and turn her back to her. She moved herself to the other side of the bed, leaving Barb alone.
“Not this time, Gabby. I promise,” she whispered to Gabby’s still form.
But already Barb was comparing the worn mattress under her to the one she’d left just over an hour ago. Sure she shared it with a man who was too fond of his fists, but at least it didn’t smell like bleach and stale piss.
Gabby sighed deeply but otherwise remained silent.
“I wish he’d go away and never come back,” Barb heard her whisper into the pillow.
It was some time before sleep finally found Barb
Nightmares made her sleep uneasy. It was worse when she awoke not remembering them but still feeling the terror. The bed was uncomfortable and throughout the night she could faintly hear the sound of crying throughout the house.
The sun hadn’t yet risen when the house began to awaken.
It was Christmas Day.
Leaving Gabby asleep in the bed, Barb followed the soft pitter patter of little feet down the stairs to the fake Christmas tree that was set up in the living room. Children had already begun to unwrap their presents. Each kid had only one present. Some were newer toys, others obviously used. It struck Barb that they were donations from people who felt sorry for the kids.
Another woman handed her a cup of coffee, a pretty brunette younger than Barb. “You get in last night?” She asked.
“Yes,” Barb murmured as the familiar shame heated her cheeks. She graciously accepted the coffee, hoping that the woman would move on.
“My name’s Danielle. My husband broke my arm before I finally left. What about you?” Barb was taken back by the woman’s bluntness. She was offended until she looked around the room at all of the other women. They all had the same haunted look in their eyes. She knew it well. It was the same look that stared back at her from the mirror.
“He pushed Gabby, my daughter. She fell,” Barb confessed slowly.
“You’re one of those,” Danielle said with a pleased nod.
“One of what?”
“There’s only three ways women like us leave our abusers. One; we finally realize that we don’t deserve it, that we’re worth more than they say. That usually happens after a few broken bones. The second is when they turn on our kids. Our mama bear instincts kick in and we bounce. That’s my little man there.” Danielle waved at a blond little boy who looked only a year or so younger than Gabby. He quickly smiled at his mom before going back to his ‘new’ Spiderman plush.
“His father never laid a hand on him, thank God. I probably would’ve killed the bastard and I’d be in jail and my boy in foster care.” Danielle turned back to Barb with a forceful expression on her face. “But I realized that watching him beat on me was just as bad. I left three months ago. Kiara’s been a saint. Helped me get a job, find a lawyer so I can finally divorce that s.o.b. She’ll do you good too.”
“Oh no,” Barb denied with a shake of her head, “I don’t need a lawyer. I just need a few days for Dave to calm down. His work is so busy around the Holidays and he gets so stressed.” Barb was disappointed to hear herself make the same old excuses. It was a habit she couldn’t break.
Barb could see Danielle looking at her out of the corner of her eye. She was thankful when Gabby descended the steps.
“Morning, sleepyhead. Merry Christmas,” Barb said as she hugged her daughter.
“Merry Christmas,” Gabby parroted back in a spiritless voice with a hug that matched.
For the sake of her daughter’s holiday Barb plastered a smile on her face. “Why don’t you check under the tree? I think Santa left you a present last night.”
The change was instantaneous, as if someone had flipped a switch. Her hunched shoulder flew back with excitement and a smile blossomed on her face. “Really? But how’d he find us?”
Happy to see her daughter finally in the Christmas spirit, Barb kissed her cheek before whispering in her ear, “Magic, sweetheart.”
With a gentle nudge, Gabby joined the rest of the children gathered under the tree where Kiara was checking tags and handing out presents.
“To Gabby, from Santa!” The woman said happily as she handed a present wrapped in bright red gift wrap and gold ribbon to Gabby.
“Mommy, you were right!” Gabby said as she ran over to her mother carrying the gift.
“Open it up,” Barb said smiling. Gabby obeyed, carefully untying the gold ribbon and peeling off the wrap to keep it in one piece as she was prone to do. It was only then that Baba realized that it was the first time in a very long time that she’d seen Gabby so happy.
Leaving her daughter’s side, Barb walked over to Danielle who was standing next to another woman watching the children.
“What’s the third?” Barb forced herself to ask.
“Huh?” Danielle turned to Barb in confusion.
"You said there's three reasons we finally leave our husb- abusers," Barb corrected. Danielle nodded for her to continue. "You only gave two. What's the third reason?" Barb asked.
Danielle shared a look with the other woman before turning to Barb. “The third reason involves a body bag,” Danielle said.
A loud shriek cut through all conversation in the room.
“Mommy! I got what I wanted!” Gabby stood on a chair holding her box over her head like a victorious wrestler.
“Really? What is it?” Barb questioned as she navigated her way to Gabby through the mine field of children, women, and wrapping paper.
“I was extra extra good this year and only asked for one thing. And I got it!” Gabby was practically jumping for joy, her grin so large Barb could see nearly all of her teeth. It was a wholesome sight. She didn’t know why a shiver ran down her spine.
Her curiosity piqued, Barb took the box from her daughter. It was heavier than she thought; definitely not some cheap piece of plastic toy Barb was sure. She didn’t know why someone would spend so much money on an expensive toy just to donate it.
She looked inside.
A scream froze in her throat.
In the box, among the frilly tissue paper lay a pair of severed hands. They were pale with death, white with a bluish tint; nearly as white as the bones that poked out from the mangled wrists.
“I asked Santa to make it so he could never hurt you again,” Gabby said softly.
Barb looked at her daughter in horror before glancing back into the box. A small scar on the right thumb didn’t mean much, but the wedding ring on the left ring finger was damning.
They were her husband’s hands.
“Barb?” Someone called. They sounded miles away. All she could hear was Gabby laughing, singing, “He’s making a list, checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”
The other children joined in, unaware of exactly what they were celebrating.
Finally Barb could scream. She dropped the box to the floor, where it fell onto its side. The pair of hands rolled out of the box onto the ground with the rest of the presents.
A single, accusing finger pointed to the fireplace.
About the Author
S.A. Meyer is a lifelong writer with a passion that borderlines addiction. After winning a local play-writing contest twice over, and having the honor of watching both plays be produced and performed, S.A. has developed a taste for sharing stories with the world.