Merry Christmas! Or as we say here in tree-hugging, granola-munching San Francisco, Happy ChrismasKwanzaChanukah! Of course, when we at the FFO say "ho ho ho," it's usually followed a good ol' fashioned pimp slap.

Chris DeWildt returns to help ring in the jolly tiding, Gutter-style...

Coal by C.S. DeWildt

“Toby. Wake up. I heard something downstairs.”

“Go back to sleep.” Little brothers. Jesus.

“I can’t. I’m scared.”

“It’s probably just Mom. Deal with it.”

I rolled over on my mattress and then I heard it too, bumps, thuds, the tearing of paper.

“Please, Toby,” Benny said. I rolled to my back, stared at the ceiling and watched the twinkling colored lights we’d strung up for Christmas. Benny was staring at me, waiting. “Maybe it’s Santa,” he said.
“There’s no Santa,” I told him. “Anyway, Christmas ain’t for three more days.”

“Maybe it’s Dad then.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Please, Toby. Check, huh?”

I sighed, pulled myself out of bed and shoulder checked my little brother as I passed.

“You’re a pussy,” I said.

Benny clutched his Ernie H. Frog plush and followed me to the threshold of our bedroom. He clutched the door jam and leaned out after me like the room was a building to jump from.

I stood at the top of the stairs. It was quiet.

“It’s nothing,” I said. And then there was a thud and more tearing that made me realize how bad I had to pee. Benny’s eyes went wide, busted the remaining sleep like a plaster mask. He squeezed Ernie. The frog didn’t look scared. Ernie never was.

The stairs were cold and my sweating bare feet grabbed a sticky hold on the polished wood before peeling away with a muted rip, like flesh from bone. I counted each step and hoped I’d wake up before I got to the bottom.
I stood still on the last step, watched the formless shadow washing over the walls. My legs were shaking and I thought about Dad, what he would do. Dad was never scared of anything, just like the Ernie H. Frog. One time a guy came to the house at night, didn’t knock, just came in. Dad and him argued. I was in the same place, on the bottom of the steps. The guy said something about money and Dad said he had it. Dad pulled his brass knuckles out of the junk drawer where he kept his car keys and pounded the guy. The next morning Dad had me wash the wall. Most of it came clean, but there’s still brown blood left in a couple spots.
I took the final step and saw the man, his back to me, haloed in the golden lights of the Christmas tree. He was unwrapping our Christmas presents, the one’s Dad left the last night we saw him. The man was putting them into a big black sack. I took in a breath, to make the words that would send him away, but they wouldn’t come. The man went still, just for a moment before turning fast, looking over my head and then down to my level. The cold stare became a grin.
“Which one are you?” he asked.

“Toby. You need to leave.”

“I will. Just getting what I came for.”
“Those are our presents,” I said.
The man kind of bounced his head back and forth, like he had two thoughts duking it out. “Not anymore,” he said. He put an RC car into the big bag. “Your mom upstairs?”
“She send you down?”
“No. She’s sleeping. My brother woke me up.”
“Benny?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. I thought again about the brass knuckles, about doing this guy like Dad did the other one. But I knew the knuckles were gone, just like Dad was for over a week now.
“Do you know my dad?” I said.
“We worked together,” the guy said. He dumped the contents of my stocking into the sack. I watched the candy fall, a shining foil stream, did the same with Benny’s. The guy opened another package, one of Mom’s, from Dad. It was a gold necklace studded with huge diamonds. He held it up to the lights and then put it into his jacket pocket.
“You can’t take our stuff,” I said.
“Like I said, it ain’t yours.” The man looked over the mess of paper and boxes, scanning for anything he’d missed. Satisfied, he gathered up the sack and slung it over his shoulder, walked to the front door. I watched him grab the handle and then stop. He turned back to me.
“Sorry, kid. For everything.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out Dad’s brass knuckles. They flew high, bouncing the reflections of the tree lights on the wall like spots of blood.

I caught the knuckles and slipped them on, squeezed the cool metal in my hot fist. The guy smiled.
“Don’t, kid,” he said. “There’s time for that. I promise.” He opened the door and I followed.
I stood in the doorway, gripping the jam and the cold night air blew over my face, mussed my hair like Dad used to. The man had a piece of wrapping paper stuck to his foot and the rustling sound accented the beat of his boots. He tossed the sack into an idling car and drove away. The brass knuckles pulled heavy on my arm as I smelled the exhaust and watched the taillights float away in the black night.
Benny was waiting on his bed, sitting Indian and clutching Ernie.
“Was it Dad?”
“No,” I said.
“Who was it?”
I squeezed the knuckles in my hand. “It was Santa,” I said. “Dad’s been bad.”
I tossed the knuckles to Benny. He flipped them over in his hands before slipping them on. He looked at them in the colored light and began to cry.
“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t be a pussy.”
My little brother looked up and gave me a mean stare to match my own. He dropped Ernie, jumped out of the bed and slugged me hard in the arm with Dad’s brass knuckles. 

CS DeWildt is a liar. He wants to hurt you. His work has appeared most recently in Out of the Gutter 8, Shotgun Honey, Pure Slush, and Underground Voices. He has a collection of shorts slated for publication in 2013 by Martian Lit. He is also shopping around a novel. Please visit at