wait. something’s wrong here
Cold metal in my hand. Oil and cordite.
I snapped out of whatever had come over me, whatever fugue state I’d been in, and saw that I was the only one. Everyone else was standing–in Luke’s case, sitting–around with spaced-out looks on their faces.
The jolly jing-jingling of bright gold bells.
This time, my stomach twisted into a cold knot.
Wilson was closest to me. I butted him in the chest with the stock of the gun. He grunted. Blinked. Wiped away the drool that had leaked down his chin. “God,” he whispered. “What . . . they got in.”
“Yeah. We need to get out.”
He shook his head. “What happened? Feel like I just woke up.”
“Hypnotized, lulled, who cares, wake everybody up and let’s get out of here.” I ran to the back door. I felt hung over: head ached, hard to think. Cold air slipped around the edges of the door. I opened it, fully expecting to see Santa Claus lurking outside, holding an axe, because this was turning into one seriously fucked up Yule time.
Nope. No St. Nick. Just an empty snow-filled alley.
Behind me: confused, dull voices, whining kids. I bent down, grabbed a handful of snow, scrubbed it over my face. Felt a bit more awake. Whatever the elves had done to me was wearing off. Now I could die fully aware of what was eating me. Joy.
When I started on the job, I had this incredibly vivid dream about chasing some perp across a rooftop. He turns and shoots me in the belly. I fall and die slow, the hot asphalt of the roof burning my backside. When I finally told my training officer about the dream, he grinned and told me not to worry: statistically, I was more likely to die in an on-duty car accident.
Very cheering to think I might beat the odds and die by elf.
Wilson finally herded everyone outside. He shut the door. The dad wanted to know what we were doing out here. What the jingling was.
“Murder elves,” Luke said. He shivered.
“I’ve had enough of this,” the mom said. “You come in all crazy, babbling, and that boy, what happened to that boy?”
Something banged against the door. Luke had been standing beside it. He shrieked and shoved past the small crowd, might have kept going if I hadn’t snagged his arm.
The tapping started. Tap-tap-tap.
Eleven taps. One tap for each of us.
“What?” Luke said. His breath was bad. I winced. “What the fuck we gonna do, copper?”
I nearly laughed. Copper! Very James Cagney. Instead I said, “Wilson. You said the town offered up someone while the rest hid in their houses. Never had the elves break into a house?”
He’d wrapped his arms around himself. Despite that, he was shaking. “N-no. Safe in houses.”
“Not in a grocery store, though.”
“I d-didn’t know. I thought s-so.”
“We need to get inside a house. Where’s yours?”
“I t-t-told you, my mother–”
“Fuck your mother!” Luke screamed.
The tapping continued. Then they started banging. The door shook in its frame.
Screw this, any house. I was in the mood for a little home invasion. “Go,” I said, releasing Luke only to shove him to the mouth of the alley. “Get to the nearest house. Run. I’ll bring up the rear.”
“Th-th-they’ll kill us,” Wilson said, while the others followed Luke. “The homeowners. Think you’re the first to think of this? People are ar-armed.”
“Don’t worry. I can handle the homeowners.” The elves started scratching at the door. “Them, though. Not too sure what elf tastes like.”
Wilson frowned. I shoved him ahead of me. Luke had chosen a house across the street from the grocery store. I paused when I saw it.
It was the Brady Bunch house.
“You are shitting me,” I whispered. My words came out in little white puffs. I jogged across the street. I slid on ice, nearly busted my ass. I regained my balance and made it to the sidewalk. The family and the single mom were huddled under a street lamp, their kids squeezed between them for protection. And warmth. Christ, it was cold.
There was a six-foot-high wrought iron fence ringing the property. It was strung with red Christmas lights. The gate was shut, locked with a huge Yale padlock.
I heard the faint jingle of bells. No time to get everyone over the fence. Direct route was the best route. I looked at the house. Thought I saw a curtain in one of the windows by the front doors twitch. Deal with that in a second. I handed the gun to Wilson. He took it with shaking hands.
“What are you–”
I gripped the body of the padlock in both hands and twisted until the shackle broke in half. I took back the shotgun and opened the gate. Wilson’s mouth was open.
“Come on,” I said. I walked up to the house. After a few seconds, the others followed. I was within two feet of the doors when the right-hand one swung halfway open. I saw part of a fat man and all of his Beretta.
“Get away from here,” he said. His voice was James Earl Jones-deep.
I held the gun in my right hand, away from my body. “Listen, there are children out here. At least let them come insi–”
“I don’t care. Get off my property.”
Jingling bells getting louder. Fat guy heard them, too. He started to close the door. I stuck the barrel of the shotgun in its way. He shot me. I took the bullet in my right shoulder. I dropped the gun, but surged forward, bumping open the door with my non-injured shoulder. He fell back. Fired the gun again. Missed me. I jumped on top of him, hit him in the face, broke his nose. I took his gun and stood up. My shoulder was fine. The slug had been forced out by my healing body and was trapped in my jacket sleeve. I shook my arm until the bullet plinked to the tiled floor. I waved the rest of my party inside.
Just in time. The elves were scampering across the street. I slammed the door shut. Locked it. Leaned my forehead against it for a second. We were safe. I hoped. We had to be safe.
I turned around. The fat guy was rolling on the floor, hands cupped to his face. I smelled his blood and growled softly despite myself.
Luke had been checking on the fat guy. When he heard me, he looked around the living room, frowning. “Buddy, you got a dog?”
The dad approached me. His eyes were focused on my arm. “We saw you get shot. Are you okay?”
Wilson bent down, picked up something from the floor. The bullet.
The elves began tapping on the windows.