A Montauk Christmas

by Bebop3

Copyright© 2018 by Bebop3

Fiction Story: Krampus comes to Montauk and finds himself facing a resourceful little boy and his not so little dog.

Tags: Fiction   Fairy Tale  

In general, I hope that every Montauk story can stand alone and complete. This breaks that mold, but should hopefully still be enjoyable to new readers. It’s intended as a way to say thank you to the people who have been kind enough to stick with the series. Your reading, comments and emails are appreciated. There shouldn’t be too much in here that is head-scratchingly confusing, but if there is, skip it and assume that it refers to something in one of the previous four stories. Siobhan is an Irish name and is pronounced Shivahn. She is also called Shiv by close friends and family or Daisy by her husband, niece and nephew.

There is no sex in this story.

Merry Christmas, and thank you for reading.

I laid on the floor near the tall opening, light streaming through the window, bathing me in delicious warmth. Drowsy, I rested. I dreamt of the Old Time in the First Place. Running with my brothers and sisters, I tugged the fur of their neck, tumbled with them and scrambled up, running again.

Always running.

I dreamt of when I was first given the cloth with His smells. Him, so strong of Him. A little of her. Faint, but there. They intertwined, and I knew they were together, a part of one another. They were giving me My Human and I knew His smell.

Traveling in a box, all who came showed me due respect. They didn’t know my True Name, so they gave me small names. I was Boy and sometimes Good Boy. I let them touch my head and run their paw along my sides. They were good humans, but they weren’t My Human.

She came for me. The one whose smell was with His. She had another with her and they both smelled of Him. They brought gifts, as was proper. Water and cookies. They displayed proper courtesy and I allowed them to touch my head and run their paws along my back. I was out of the box, with them, and we travelled faster than I could run.

We arrived, and His smells were everywhere. Joyously, I yelled. They were startled and made the odd sounds they often uttered. I could smell their fear before it faded. They needn’t fear, I was grateful. They had brought me to my Human.

He had all the smells, and He was tall and good. He was a Good Boy and we would become a pack. We lived together, and I protected Him. He had an extended pack that came to see us often. The one whose smell intertwined with his. A female litter-mate. Their sire and dam. Others. They all called me my small names. They were part of the pack and I would protect them. I was Good Boy. I was Buddy.

Not capable of true speech, they had their own primitive language. I learned their yelping for Food, Water, Here, Snack, Cookie and Dinner. I learned His name. It had the same magic in it that I was made of. I would hear it, always, no matter how faint, and I would look. Was He there? Was He safe? Did I need to protect Him? It was an Eternal Name, strong and true. He was Finn, and He belonged to me.

Finn revealed my Eternal Name. I was Dink and this was my pack. May your ancestors protect and forgive you if you threatened my pack, because I wouldn’t. There would be enmity between me and any that wished my pack harm, and none would stand before Dink. They would fall, and I would protect my pack.

Almost all were Good Boys. I had to warn a few. Finn was my Good Boy. Don’t growl at Finn. Primitive speech towards Finn. Touch Finn. Be Good Boys. But I watched. Always watched. If they weren’t Good Boys, I told them “Back! No!”

She came. She smelled like the other, the one whose smell intertwined with his. She was a Very Good Boy. She had a True Name: Jennifer. Soon, I heard her name whenever it was spoken, too. I’d lift my head and look. Jennifer here? Jennifer safe? She was close pack.

The old one left. The one whose smell I first found with His. She was Very Good Boy. I felt what He felt. I lay at His side and shared His pain. I took it from Him and carried it. She was gone, but Jennifer was here.

Dink grew large. Time passed. I was confused-happy. A small-tiny-weak pup joined our pack. Finn was mine. He was my human, but I knew, deep in me I knew that this pup was Best Good Boy. He was mine too. His Eternal Name was William, and He was mine.

A Bad Boy came. He hurt my pack. He entered the home. He hunted my William. I didn’t say, “No!” I didn’t say, “Bad!”. No talk. Kill. Protect. I attacked. Pushed him from home. Kept him from my William. I bit, I pulled, and its hot blood bathed my jaws. It bit me with the tooth in its hand. Again, and again. My jaws sunk into its neck. I yanked, I shook it. It pulled free and ran to the water, trailing blood. I followed, slowly, my blood mingling with his.

Lying on the ground, I wondered about my Finn. Where was Finn? Where was my pack? There was other blood. Inside home, outside home, so much blood. My Jennifer was beside me. Stroking me, she said “Good Boy. Good Boy, Dink. William safe,” she said. “William safe.” He reached his paw to me and I smelled him. I licked his hand. My William was safe. I slept.

My Finn hurt. Others of pack gone. Finn’s litter-mate gone but came back. I felt Finn’s feelings and I lay next to him and shared his pain, my head on his flank. There was too much pain to carry. I lifted some.

Finn grew strong and none threatened pack. William grew. My Jennifer left. Returned sick. I lay at her side, let her run her hand along my back, scratch my ear. I licked her hand, pushed my head into her arm. Jennifer lay still for too long. Jennifer sick, but Dink here. Rest, Jennifer. Dink protect.

A new pup. Small-tiny-weak. Female. The pup smelled of William, Jennifer and Finn. She was Good Boy. She was of the pack. She was my Cynthia. I protected Cynthia. I laid on the ground in front of her, feeling the warmth from the window, drowsy. Voices. Jennifer and Finn’s litter-mate. Little yips and barks trying to speak. They stood in the tall opening.

I lifted my head. Cynthia safe? Yes, Cynthia safe. I slept in the delicious warmth.

Jen and Shiv stood at the doorway looking down at Dink and then at the crib. Shiv smiled, “She’s getting too big for that thing.”

Jennifer leaned against the door jamb and enunciated carefully, ensuring she didn’t slur her words. “Yeah, we’re going to have to get her out of that hideous crib and into her own bed. Thirty months is too old. She’s climbing out like she’s Houdini.”

“Heh. Hideous. The most beautiful hideous crib around. You’re going to bawl your eyes out when she moves to a bed.”

The crib had been built by their husbands, Finn and Tommy. While neither was handy with tools, each was excited to create something for Finn’s daughter. Both of their fathers came by to help, and Finn’s security personnel lent a hand and drank some beer when their shifts were over. It was a labor of love that took weeks and countless hours from men with more passion than skill. YouTube was a tremendous resource.

The crib was solid. That was the best that could be said for it. Solid, and crafted with love. Jen would run her stiff right hand over the wood, look into her daughter’s eyes that were so like Finn’s, and have to hold back her tears.

The remnants of the stroke were still there, but she wouldn’t trade the life she led for anything. It was a price she had paid willingly and would do so again to save her family. William and Cynthia were the center of her being, and her love for Finn and his for her were akin to what was found in fairy tales.

“You know I’m taking it, right? As soon as my niece is in a bed, I’m grabbing the crib.”

“The heck you are. What if Finn and I have another ... Oh my God! Are you...”

“No, no, definitely not. But soon. Within two years. But I’m grabbing the crib.”

“Go ahead. It’s hideous.” With a sad smile, she looked at her growing daughter and ran her hand over the crib that was made with little more than love. “Hideous.”

She blinked away a few tears, crouched down and scratched Dink behind his ear. His leg involuntarily pumped at the scratching and his tail softly thumped on the ground.

“Who’s a good boy, Dink? Who’s a good boy?”

It had taken them four hours to drive to the adorable home in Connecticut. Jennifer clutched Finn’s hand so tightly he felt pain.

“Finn, I changed my mind. I can’t do this.”

“Honey, if you want, Pete can turn us around and we can head home. The ferry leaves every half-hour. But don’t tell me you can’t do this. You’re the strongest woman I know. Don’t you think it’s time?”

“It’s been fifty years! Fifty. What am I going to say to these people? What are they going to say seeing me?”

Finn put his other hand over hers, now clutching it in both of his. “You’re going to introduce yourself. You’re going to introduce me and you’re going to introduce our son. We went over this. If they don’t want to see you, no harm, no foul. If we turn around and go home now, what are you going to think about this whole trip tomorrow?”

Looking out the window, William piped up. “Hey! They’ve got a dog!”

She let go of Finn’s hand. “Okay. Let’s do this. Rock Em, Sock Em.”

“That’s, uhhh, not actually a thing. It’s not a phrase. It was a toy in the 70’s or 80’s.”

“Oh. Well, it’s my thing,” she said with so much determination that Finn almost laughed aloud. “I’m making it a thing.”

“Good enough.” He opened the door and they got out and headed towards the door. Finn always felt weird on occasions like this when Pete acted strictly as the driver instead of the friend he had become, and stayed with the car. Should they invite him along? Not this time, but it was something he’d have to figure out one day.

Jen took William’s hand, but he gently slipped free three steps later. He had to be pulled away from the friendly little dog that was following them up the stairs and to the ornate door at the front of the home. She reached out to knock and put her hand down again. She repeated the process until Finn eventually reached past her and knocked.

A lovely woman who seemed to be in her seventies opened the door. The woman had long, gray hair tied back in a ponytail. She looked at the three Corrigans and her hand flew to her mouth. Her voice was oddly raspy as she turned back into the house and called, “Fred! Fred! It’s Jennifer. She’s here!”

She and Jennifer stood there staring at each other for what seemed to be ages before Finn spoke. “Uhhmm, hi. You seem to recognize my wife. My name is Finn, and this is our son William.”

“Of course I recognize her. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother.”

Jen remained standing there, silent, staring at this woman.

Filling the silence, he spoke again. “Yes, her grandmother. Of course. Ah, I believe your husband was Jen’s grandmother’s brother? Her great uncle?”

Due to a military experiment, Jennifer had been involuntarily thrust from 1968 to 2018, where she found Finn and fell in love. The natural assumption for anyone from that time would be that she was a new Jennifer, the granddaughter of the Jennifer they knew.

Jen’s voice quavered. “Annabelle?”

The woman’s face lit up. “Yes! Your grandmother mentioned me?”

“I ... she loved you. She loved you like a sister. She felt so bad after that night, after the concert when she disappeared on you.” Jennifer was shaking and didn’t peel her eyes from the woman’s face.

Annabelle had a sad little smile and spoke softly, clearly remembering a terrible time from long ago. “Honey, that was a long, long time ago. We were so scared for her that...”

A large, energetic white-haired man strode into the room and to the door. “Anna, let them in! We’re so happy to see you.” His wife stepped to the side and he opened the screen door, ushering them into his living room. “You must be Finn. We were planning on coming down to Long Island to visit.”

Finn was confused and remained silent.

As the man moved to shake Finn’s hand, Jen stepped between them and pulled the man into a hug, sobbing into his chest. It was an awkward moment for the rest of them. William shuffled closer to his father.

Finn spoke up. “Ah, she gets emotional.”

Fred patted her awkwardly on the back. “It’s quite all right.”

Annabelle lightly grasped Finn’s bicep and led him to a nearby chair. “Finn, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s with the cane? Are you able ... Is everything okay with your oyster farm?”

These people clearly knew a lot more about the Corrigans than anticipated. “It’s slowed down a bit. I was in an ... an incident I guess. Spinal injury. I rarely need the cane anymore. How did you know about the farm?”

Fred had gotten Jen to sit next to him on the couch and had William sit on his other side. He spoke as he leaned over, picked up the excitable dog and put him in William’s lap. “We saw you on that PBS documentary about Long Island clamming and the oyster industry. The one Billy Joel narrated. They used your backyard for a minute or so while interviewing you and Jennifer was in the background, walking around. I almost had a heart attack.”

They had wanted a much larger segment on Finn for the documentary, playing up the “blue-collar billionaire” angle. Finn out clamming, Dink standing on the boat, fur streaming behind him. Finn didn’t want to be in it at all. He wanted the spotlight to be on the men and women who worked the waters to put food on their table and a roof over their head. They compromised and kept Finn’s money out of it but helped them get cooperation from his colleagues and any permits needed and he appeared in about a minute and a half of the documentary.

It turned out that Annabelle had been Jennifer’s best friend growing up and always had a bit of a crush on Fred. Jen played the role of her own granddaughter and they chatted amiably while William stole their hearts. A gregarious child, he told them about Dink and about his sister.

Finn and Jen explained how their Jennifer, who was Aunt Cynthia to Finn and Jen, spent time in a mental institution, changed her name to Cynthia and forged a life for herself on Long Island, never going back to her family in Connecticut. Annabelle cried when she found out they named the baby after her friend.

Finn and Jennifer didn’t enjoy lying or obfuscating, but the situation being what it was, they couldn’t tell the whole truth. Time travel was tricky and confusing.

Both Fred and Annabelle kept glancing over at Finn’s legs and cane. He didn’t mind. There was no malice in their interest. He could feel their concern.

Jennifer reached up to touch Fred’s shoulder and ran her hand down his arm. “Fred, how about Morgan and Sam?”

“Well, both of my brothers are still with us.” He leaned forward and rapped his knuckles on the coffee table. “Knock on wood. Sam lives in New Mexico. He’s doing great. Morgan, well, Morgan’s not doing so well. His, well, his husband past on a year ago and Morgan hasn’t been the same since. He’ll likely be in hospice in a week or so. That’s one of the reasons we were going to come down to visit you and Finn. We thought that maybe, well, maybe you could see him before ... He doesn’t have too much time left.”

Jen started to tear up and asked where the bathroom was. Finn, William and the elderly couple sat patiently waiting. “Hey, Dad, I bet it would take ten of these dogs to make one of Dink.” He turned to Fred and Anna. “Dink’s my dog. He’s really big.”

After running some water over her face, Jen sat back down and took Fred’s hand in both of hers. “It would be wonderful to see Morgan. I’d love that.”

After listening to her speak and seeing her limp, Anna spoke up. “Jen, I don’t want to sound indelicate, but are you okay?”

“I, uhhh, I had a stroke a few years ago. I’m much better now, but there’s ... residual effects.”

Fred and Anna’s home screamed of long years of comfort. It had that lived-in feel, with pictures on the walls of their children and grandchildren. Like Jen, the house was almost a place out of time. The thick, smoky brown ash-tray spoke of the 70’s. The watercolor prints with the golden, gilded frames spoke of the 80’s. This was a home that had held a lot of love. Finn was comfortable thinking that if he looked hard enough he would find where they had the marks on the wall where the children stood to be measured, marking time in the life of a family.

A family that had been robbed of a sister and aunt.

Fred stood up. “Anna, can you give me a hand? Let’s get some chips and dip.”

The elderly couple stepped out of the room. They were gone for a few minutes. Jen reached over to the coffee table, grabbed a photo album and started perusing. Finn shook his head at her vigorously, trying to encourage her to put it back. She waved her hand at him in dismissal and kept going through the photos. She found one from the couple’s wedding and started crying again.

It struck him how difficult it must be for Jen to be a woman out of time, without friends and family until she had forged new ones. She gently swayed to the old, soft-rock coming from the radio as she studied the pictures. Bands from her youth and some early 70’s hits acted as a backdrop to her musing. Mesmerized by the haphazard pictorial history presented by the photo album, she didn’t hear Annabelle enter.

“Would you like any copies? We have most of the old photos scanned.”

Jen looked up, pulled from her reverie. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...”

“Please, dear, look as much as you’d like. I’ll get out some more albums. Losing your grandmother was like having a sister die unexpectedly. My heart is, I don’t know, just bursting having you here.”

Fred rejoined them a few minutes later, an envelope in hand. He sat down and took Jen’s hand.

“Anna and I talked about it and, well, we don’t want any arguments about this, okay?” He continued, not waiting for a response. “When my parents passed, your grandmother never received anything from their estate. We’re doing pretty well. We want you to have this. It’s $67,000. Anna and I own a small dairy farm and an ice-cream chain with six locations.” There was an honest pride in his voice. “We’ll be fine. I wish it was more. Maybe in a few months.”

Finn sat there, flabbergasted. How do you tell someone who just made such an insanely generous gesture that you’re wealthy?

Fred continued. “With Finn’s injury, we want to make sure you’re okay until he’s better.” He turned to Jen. “Maybe you can go back to college? Do you have a degree? Or, just help pay some bills? Maybe hire help for the clamming and oyster farm?”

Anna leaned forward in her chair, looking at Jen, and then over at Finn. “Please take it. We’d feel like we were doing something for our Jennifer. It, her disappearance, it really ... Just, please, take the money.”

Jen started crying again. She got up and rushed out the door. William started after her and Finn scooped him up as he went by his chair. “Mom just needs a minute, buddy. Everything’s okay.”

Jen and Finn thanked them profusely, more touched than they could know, but explained that they were financially set. Fred and Annabelle thought they were just being proud until Finn showed them some photos on his phone of their jet. Then he had Pete come inside and confirm their story.

One of the photos was a few years old, but it was Finn’s favorite. Finn and William on their yacht, Dink pushing his head between them, always wanting to be petted. It was the first time he had taken his son out on the water after his injury. It was a tremendously important day for Finn, one that signaled healing, both physical and emotional.

Hours were spent in Fred and Anna’s living room and before the Corrigans left, Fred had an employee come by with a cooler and a huge array of their ice-cream flavors that went in the trunk. Amid many more tears, they said their goodbyes and vowed to stay in touch, Anna and Jennifer making plans for a family meal to get everyone together in the new year.

Krampus stood on a hill overlooking the town of Garland, Texas. Light wasn’t necessary for it to read the names on the parchment that was as black as a condemned soul. Looking up at the buildings again, certain houses stood out with a sickly-red luminescence.

Scratching a horn absentmindedly, it used its other hand to pat the basket over its shoulder. When contact was made with the wicker, he could hear the cries of the children contained within. Pleas and lamentations and apologies and wailing. Sweet, sweet wailing.

It whistled a jaunty dirge and made its way towards the bounty that lay ahead. More bad children to fill his larder.

Krampus was having a banner year.

Cynthia safe. Cynthia lay head on Dink’s chest. Feel Dink’s strong heart thump. William here. William safe. Other girl here. Girl pack. She Good Boy. Girl safe. Girl yipped and tried to speak. William listen. Cynthia listen.

Cynthia turned to lift Dink’s lip. Look at sharp, strong teeth. Yes, pup. Dink strong. Dink protect. Cynthia safe. Give Dink dignity back. Let go lip.

Leaning against the doorway, Jen smiled. “Finn, get in here. Bring your phone.”

Marisol, the kids favorite babysitter, was reading to the them and Cynthia was laying propped up on Dink. Jen slipped her arm around Finn’s waist as they watched their children listening raptly to Tommy’s cousin. Finn took some pictures with his phone and caught Dink’s eyes as he looked towards his daughter.

There was a silent plea between Finn and his dog. His daughter was examining Dink’s teeth and the dog lay there, patient and gentle.

“Cynthia, leave Dink’s mouth alone. You can’t do that, honey. Dink loves you and would never hurt you, but other dogs don’t know you. Never put your hand near a dog’s mouth or teeth. Cynthia, you listening? Don’t touch doggy’s mouth.”

Finn felt Jen wrap her arm around his, the grip just a bit too tight. Jennifer and Finn had spoken, and she was going to stay a week with Fred and Anna as Morgan was relocated to a hospice near their home. There was still some shock at the thought of her brother dying of what was effectively old age. She understood, but that didn’t help the cognitive dissonance. She was twenty-seven and her brother was in his eighties.

They hadn’t been particularly close as children. She got along with her brothers, but it was nothing like what Finn shared with Siobhan. Still, she loved them, and they were her only connection to her old life. She’d spend what time she could with Morgan during his final days.

The thought of being away from her children, especially William, tugged at her soul, but she was better with separation than she was when he was younger. Before she left, they hosted a small get-together. Her new family anchored her and gave her strength. She needed their support before she went to say goodbye to her brother.

It was a party, like many that they threw. Family, friends and food on their lawn, under heated tents that pushed back the winter’s chill. It gave Finn the opportunity to cook, and Jen the chance to bask in their love for her and for each other.

She was bringing out a meat platter for Finn to work his magic on when Tommy and Shiv came around the side of the house. Toni Steading was with them. The girl idolized Siobhan. Shiv took to the position of role model like a duck to water. Toni had studied Jiu Jitsu at Tommy’s father’s academy for the past few years and spent as much time as possible under Shiv’s tutelage.

Shiv looked up at Jennifer, gave her a small frown, shrugged her shoulders and mouthed “Sorry”. Jen didn’t understand until she saw Toni’s mom following them. She’d been finding ways to insert herself into their lives since Finn got her the job at the clinic. He had a great deal of affection and respect for her father, whom he had worked for when he was as a teenager. That trickled down to Jean and Toni, for Finn.

For Jen? Not so much.

Jean stood next to Toni. The mother and daughter could be clones. Hands clasped before her, she looked nervous as her daughter spoke to Tommy. He was a frequent instructor at his father’s Riverhead location, and she was bending his ear, probably about some move or another.

Shiv approached and gave Jen a brief hug. “Sorry. I asked if Toni could join us and somehow Jean invited herself along. Where’s Dink? Tommy’s got some new brand of bacon.”

“The study. Marisol’s reading to the kids. Dink is Cynthia’s favorite new cushion. She’s probably laying on him.” She nodded towards Jean. “Is she really that, I don’t know, lonely?”

“Yeah, I think so. Her father’s not doing well, and her mom passed a few years ago. I can’t imagine being a single mom helps with the dating prospects. From what I gather from Toni, she’s had some bad relationships over the years.”

Sighing, Jen continued. “The hell with it. If she needs friends, we can be friends.”

“Your call, Sis. I’m still pissed at what she did to Finn. If it wasn’t for Toni, I wouldn’t care less about her.”

Jean eventually made her way to the metal prep tables Finn had on the deck. Sitting next to him, she tried to help, washing vegetables and utensils. Keeping quiet unless spoken to, she seemed to try to get along with everyone, but unless she was scanning for Toni her eyes were on what she was washing, Finn or the ground.

Life seemed to have roughed her up a bit, but from everything Jen had heard, she was a good mother. The role of a mother was important to Jen, and helped ameliorate any residual anger towards Jean for how she treated Finn all those years ago.

They had dated for years and when they were in their senior year of high school, she cheated on him with a teenager who had celebrity status in their clique for being a back-up dancer in some videos. When Finn found out, he confronted them at a teen club and the dancer beat the crap out of him in front of everyone. Jean never apologized, never explained and expressed no remorse. The dancer got her pregnant, they married, they divorced, and he moved to Vegas.

When Pete, Father Jesse, Grandpa and Finn’s parents arrived for the evening, they all played Werewolf, a group game Tommy taught them a few months earlier. Games. That was a huge change from when Jen was younger. If you went out when she was young, it was pinball or whack-a-mole. If you stayed in, it was a card game, like Crazy Eights, or board games like Monopoly.

Werewolf was fun and kept everyone involved, so Jean participated. She knew Finn’s parents, of course, and spoke easily with them, but stayed close to Finn. Jennifer thought it was nice to see her laugh and come out of her shell. Jean would flick her blonde hair back over her shoulder and touch Deb, Finn’s mom. They would chat a bit and she would do the same with Finn. Maybe more often with Finn.

When Jen went to bring out the ice-cream makers and get the hot chocolate going, Pete followed her inside.

“Hey, let me give you a hand.”

He stood there, shifting his weight as she grabbed the equipment from the floor of the pantry. He wouldn’t look her in the eye as she passed them. Pete had worked as Cynthia’s driver and had been close to her. He grew up in an orphanage that she funded and, like her, didn’t really have any family. After William was attacked, Pete slept on their porch for two weeks while Finn and Siobhan were in the hospital. He put his body between William and any potential danger.

“Okay, Pete. What’s going on?”

“Uh, you know, I don’t really want to say anything but, well...”

“Pete, you’re family. Just say it.”

“I don’t like the way that girl is around Finn. She’s, I don’t know, quietly flirty, you know? Like she realizes what she gave up and regrets it and maybe ... ah, you know what, I’m probably being stupid.”

Pete wasn’t intellectually curious, but he was one of the sweetest men Jen had ever met. His lack of confidence broke her heart sometimes and she and Shiv had talked about setting him up with one of their friends. Jen watched him and noticed how he kept an eye on William when her son was near the water and how he discreetly carried anything heavy that Grandpa brought or took home. He didn’t bring attention to himself; he was just there when needed.

Pete was as much a protector by nature as Shiv, just not in the same way. And here he was, alerting Jennifer to a predator sniffing around the outskirts of her marriage.

Stepping forward, she kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Pete. I’m on it.”

Pete brought the machines out to the prep tables and came back in for the ingredients. Jen went to the bathroom and took her ACE inhibitors and calcium blockers.

Jean’s laughter made its way through the open window. The sound made Jen’s brow furrow. Finn was witty, but his jokes weren’t that funny. Looking out at the guests, Jennifer could see Jean’s hand on Finn’s arm and her gaze on William, who was sitting next to Marisol, drawing in his pad. Goosebumps broke out on the back of Jennifer’s neck and she shivered.

As the sun started to set, her mother-in-law and Jean joined her in cleaning up and washing the dishes. Jean stepped out to grab some dishes from the prep table.

“Mom, can you maybe talk to Dad for a while? Just give me a few minutes with Jean?”

Finn’s mother looked from the door that Jean stepped through to Jen and nodded knowingly. “Of course, honey. If you need me, I’ll be there.” She reached across her shoulders with her left arm and hugged Jennifer. It seemed that she saw the same thing Pete and Jen saw.

Jean and Jennifer stood side by side at the two double Krause-brand sinks that Finn had to have. There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment before Jennifer started.

“So, how’s Toni’s father doing? You hear from him at all?”

“Uh, no, not really. A call here and there. Usually around the holidays or her birthday. The two of them talk all the time though and they Skype or FaceTime once in a while.”

“He doesn’t fly her in?”

“No, he’s in Vegas. He’s a dancer in a show. Money’s an issue.”

“Really? I heard that he’s actually in Reno now. The choreographer for a revue at the Atlantis. They’re getting good reviews, from what I’ve heard.” Finn was essentially an information broker and Jennifer was a mathematical savant who managed their money. She used his resources and their affluence to keep track of anyone who had hurt Finn or posed a threat to their family.

Jean paused, hands in the soapy water, not looking up. “Oh, I, we don’t really talk too much. I guess he’s doing better now.”

“I guess. Good for him. Maybe he can afford more things for Toni. Maybe bring her out there for holidays and summers.”

With a quick, jerking move, Jean looked up at her. “No, no, I have full custody. He ... that wouldn’t happen. The courts agreed.”

“Well, sure. For now. I mean, if he has new and better resources, he could petition the court, right? But hey, listen to me rambling. What do I know? But Jean, I need a favor.”

Staring at the soapy water again, she seemed lost for a minute. “Yeah. Whatever I can do. What do you need, Jennifer?”

“Well, I’m going away for a little while. Maybe a week or so. I know how some women look at Finn. Since we’re friends, I thought you could maybe put the word out at the clinic. You know what I’m talking about. If anyone gets any ideas, just remind them of who I am. I’m someone that would ruin their lives in a heartbeat if they got the wrong idea. If I thought someone was making a move on my husband, I would drop them in a hole so deep it would make the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the floor.”

Jennifer stopped speaking and she stopped washing.

“We’re clear, right, Jean? Just make sure that they know that if I even suspect someone is thinking of doing something I wouldn’t approve of, I won’t just put an end to it for them, I’d make sure that they lose everything and everyone they cared about. We’re friends. You can do that for me, right?”

Jean was silent.

“Jean, you can do that?”

She nodded her head again, not looking up.

“Jean, I need to hear you say it.”

Softly, sadly. “Yes. I can do that.”

“Thanks. I appreciate the help.”

Putting the last of the utensils in the drying rack, Jean turned and went back to the porch.

As Jennifer unplugged the stoppers in the sink, she looked to her left and saw Pete in the doorway, having come up from the basement with containers of chopped fruit. Standing there, staring at her, he just shook his head.

“I can’t believe how much you’re like Cynthia. You could be her twin. You know that girl is terrified now, right? Remind me to never get you pi ... angry.”

Smiling, she turned to take one of the containers from his arms, leaned in and kissed his cheek. “You can say pissed, Pete. And I’d never be angry with you. You’re family.”

The skiff Krampus stood on looked over the hamlet known as Montauk. As always, with the season drawing to a close, he moved ever closer to home. Montauk was almost exactly 136 miles from its dwelling.

The basket had become quite heavy. The fur on his coat grew wet with salivation as he thought of fat, succulent children ripe for the roasting. Pushing thoughts of feasting aside, he checked the list. Yes, houses glowing red abounded in this enclave of bad little girls and boys. But ... there was one, right on the water which glowed and slowly pulsed with a silvery light. Those houses were off limits to him.

Silvery homes were the purview of his brother, with his cookies and milk, but this light was so bright, so compelling, that it pulled at him. Huge leaping bounds quickly brought him to the property. Men and women were outside under heated tents. Such weak, fragile things these humans. Walls were no impediment to its vision and he saw an older woman in the home, sitting, reading, guarding. And above, a child. A young silver and gold child, shifting and slipping in and out of its vision. A child of dreams and power.

Reaching into its pouch, Krampus removed dust that was black as coal but glittered like the eyes of a madman. With a gust of his rancid breath, the dust flew in a straight line towards the house, veered and in a mockery of his fat, useless brother, and slipped down the chimney. Moments later the woman was asleep.

Where was the dream-child? There! The second window from the front. The child lay beyond. It leapt again, slamming into the side of the house and sunk its talons into the wood. Hanging there like a tumor or parasite attached to this edifice, it waited, anticipating, yearning, thinking of this child. It must have entered Dreaming soon after conception. It was rife with power, a power that would belong to Krampus after she was devoured.

A few words of an incantation and the window silently slid up and closed softly after him.

It stood on the parquet floor, staring at the child laying in the crib. Beyond the crib was the door. Power radiated from the toddler, and Krampus was almost swept away by the dreams and images instilled by her.

His fetid breath befouled the room as he spoke.

“A bad child you are not But alas, you shall share their lot, All is not as it may seem A simple child bearing the power of dream A stew I shall make from your meat and hide To keep me fed until the next yuletide, Now girl, into the basket you go Before my brother arrives, with his ho, ho, ho!”

A stern child’s voice spoke up. “Leave my sister alone!”

Another one! A second child, all glimmery and bright. Krampus shivered and suppressed its glee.

“Accords were made, deals agreed But now my hunger runs, loose and freed. He gifts the good, the wicked I take This night I break bonds, my thirst you’ll slake. I shall take you as well, basket stuffed deep Magical siblings, yearning for endless sleep. In her I sense Dreams, in you I see Time I shall boil you both down, a stew sublime.”

It stepped closer to the crib, keeping an eye on the boy-child standing in the doorway.

“Look, you’re making a big mistake, mister. I won’t let you hurt my sister, and Aunt Daisy won’t let you hurt me. You should go. And your rhymes are really, really bad.”

Krampus eyed the boy with evil merriment and a one-sided grin that was two steps from a snarl. So much pluck in this boy! He was going to be delicious. Krampus leaned over the crib, reaching for the girl. His bristly side brushed the railing and lightning coursed through his body. Thrown back against the wall, Krampus slumped to the ground.

“True Love? Who puts True Love in a crib? It maybe ... broke my rib? Eh, screw the rhymes. That’s only going to work once, kid. Don’t get your hopes up.”

William took the opportunity to grab a bottle of baby oil from the shelf, sprayed it all over the parquet flooring, and pulled his sister out of the crib by her armpits. She giggled softly. Struggling, he lifted her up with his arms around her belly and waddled as fast as he could to his room.

Krampus slipped on the baby oil. He slid, he fell, he scrambled. Claws scraping, he finally got to his feet. Trying to steady himself, he grabbed the shelving in one hand and the crib in the other. The hand on the crib started to sizzle, he leapt back and found himself on the floor again. Staggered, scrambling, sliding and pushing, he finally made it to the door and hallway. Clambering to his feet, he pounded the wall with fists marked by red, swollen knuckles as he made his way towards William’s room.

The child was calling out a strange, loud mantra. It didn’t matter. Nothing would save him now. It did sound odd though.

“Dink! Dink! Dink!”

“Little boy, open the door and I will take you home with me. You’ll like it there. There will be lots of other children.”

The surprisingly strong voice came from behind the stout door. “What happened to your rhyming? And where’s your home?”

“Eh, it’s more for effect than anything else. Seriously, open the door. I live at the Meadowlands. Such delicious pain and misery there. I’ll sneak you into the stadium and get you hot dogs. Kids like hot dogs, right? C’mon, open the door. Don’t make me kick it in.”

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