(Ha, now it should be titled The Werewolf After Christmas.)
Stuart screamed. I ran to the door. Put my right hand on the handle–my left held the shotgun–and got a good look at why he was screaming. I dropped my hand and backed away. My feet tangled together, and I landed on my ass. My legs kept working, pushing me away from the scene outside until my back hit the counter. I hugged the shotgun to my chest. Heard panting. Realized that it was coming from me.
Outside, an elf was eating Stuart alive.
It was the size of a small dog, a Boston terrier maybe. It was bipedal, with fish-white skin and big pointy ears. Elf ears, you know. It was dressed in a jaunty bright green costume with pointed boots and a Santa Claus-type hat tilted to a rakish angle. A large gold jingle bell dangled from the end of the hat. The street lamps were very bright. I was able to see a lot, including the little elf chewing open Stuart’s throat while he tried to yank it off him. The elf’s clawed hands held tight to the sides of Stuart’s head, though.
I got my breathing under control in time for Stuart’s hands to drop off the elf. His right foot kicked once, then was still. The snow was still falling.
The elf hopped off Stuart and turned to the window. It locked eyes with me. It grinned tiny shark teeth at me. It waved.
I pointed the gun at it. My finger slipped inside the trigger guard. I felt the cold metal of the trigger and hesitated a second.
Really. I was going to shoot at it. Blow open the window. Let that thing inside.
My finger moved out of the trigger guard. The elf waved once, then trotted back to Stuart. It grabbed hold of the collar of his leather jacket and dragged him away.
“Oh Jesus,” said a voice above me. I craned my head around. Luke. Wilson behind him.
“Tell me you saw that thing,” I said. My voice trembled. I didn’t give a shit.
“I told you,” Wilson said. He knelt beside me. “We should go back.”
“Can they get inside?” My eyes darted to the door. “That door’s not locked. Can they get inside?”
“The door’s locked.”
“Bullshit, it’s not, Stuart opened it.” I wanted to get up. My legs had other plans.
“Yeah, it opens from the inside, not the outside. We’re safe.”
“This is insane,” Luke said. “You see that little bastard? What it did to him?”
Wilson stood. He held out his hand. I ignored it and used the counter to get to my feet. I said to him, “We need to–”
and then shut my mouth. I smelled gingerbread and cinnamon again. Stronger this time.
Something started tapping on the glass.
I turned my head. Heard the tendons creak.
Elves at the window. Three of them. Identical down to the angle of the hats. All tapping their right index fingers–tipped with curved claws–upon the glass.
Grinning all the way. Those teeth. I thought mine were scary.
“Oh Christ,” Luke whispered. I smelled urine. He whirled around, slid in the puddle he’d made, and hightailed it for the back of the store.
Excellent idea, minus the pissing part. I grabbed Wilson’s arm. “One for each of us,” he whispered.
“Shut the fuck up,” I hissed. “Go. Go.”
We reached the stockroom. Everyone wanted to know what had happened to Stuart. Luke had squeezed between two pallets of cat litter. He was hunkered down, arms wrapped around his legs.
“He’s gone,” I said. I stared at the cat litter. At the bags of dog food I’d been sitting on.
“Gone where?” dad with two kids wanted to know.
“Gone,” I repeated.
“Well, did he get away? Can we follow him?”
Shit, how dense did you have to– I made a quick slicing motion across my throat with my thumb. Hoped the kids didn’t notice it.
Dad noticed it, though. He paled. “Oh.” He went back to his family.
“Wilson,” I said.
Wilson was kneeling on the floor, opening a case of flashlights. He pulled one out. “Yes.”
“How’s all this stuff get here if the town’s . . . what, invisible? the rest of the year?”
He opened the flashlight. “Magic. Same way there are lights and electricity without there being power lines and an electric company. My dad wished for this store. He wanted to be a shop owner. I close the place at eight every night, and when I come in at eight the next morning, this room’s always stocked back up. This box of flashlights, for instance. Tomorrow, there’ll be another one to replace it.” He stood. “Should be some batteries here somewhere. We should avoid going into the front of the store. I don’t know about you, but that tapping–”
The sound of busting glass shut him up.
“No,” he whispered. “They can’t get in here. The door’s locked.”
“Yeah, so maybe that’s why they broke the window, genius!” Luke shrieked from his hiding spot.
“Shut up,” I said. I finally thought to check the shotgun. “Tell me you have more shells.”
“This is a grocery store,” Wilson said.
There were those god-awful odors of cinnamon and gingerbread again.