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The Night Visitor

Christmas is a time for passing stories down from one generation to another. 

This week, Warren Moore delights young and old alike with a tale of the truth behind Santa Claus.

The Night Visitor by Warren Moore



I saw the fat man throw the girl into the quarry at about 2:30 in the morning. Up until then, I had thought it was stupid to have a security guard at a stone quarry, but it was cash pay, under the table, and hours had been short at the plant, so a little extra Christmas cash would be pretty nice and I could maybe get Hannah the princess big girl bike. Even so, I figured it was quiet work – not like summer, when you have to keep damnfool kids or drunks from drowning themselves when they mean to go skinny dipping. You have to be careful, you know – you may be a good swimmer, but the sides are pretty sheer, and you can be way over your head before you know it. But the equipment is expensive too, so I guess a guard kind of makes sense, and tonight I was the guard.

It was like the fat man had come out of nowhere – I hadn’t seen him walk up to the lip of the quarry or anything, but I had been punching the clock at the trailer after a round, so I guess I had missed it. But I saw his silhouette, and the silhouette of the girl – it was one of those cold Indiana winter nights, and the wispy clouds took the edge off the moon, but there was still enough starlight. I knew what a dead body looked like, and I knew that was what the fat man had tossed into the not-quite frozen water. So I took the double-barrel out of the trailer and walked up as quietly as I could. He heard me when I racked the shells, though, and he turned around. But if the cloud hadn’t sailed past the moon just then, I wouldn’t have known who it was.

“Santa?” Yeah, that’s right. Big – really big. Call it six-four, and maybe a cookie away from four bills. Red suit, white trim, matching white beard, the patent belt – just like in the Coke ads. The bag was empty, though – I knew why. “No fucking way”, I said.

And he laughed – yeah, just the way you’d expect, “Ho, ho, ho” and all that good shit. “That’s me,” he said, and smiled, but it wasn’t a friendly smile; more like a smirk, really. “So why don’t you be a good boy and put the gun down, Nate?”

“First off,” I said, “Nobody has called me Nate since I was a kid. And second, it looks to me like you just tossed a girl into the water, there, so I’m thinking I should probably hang onto the gun. And third, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of shit Santa does.”

The smirk turned into a snarl. “How would you know what Santa does, Nate? You know, you didn’t invent Christmas.”

“Fine, you’re Santa. Prove it.”

“1974. Guns of Navarone play set. 1976. A puppy.”

I remembered the puppy, “Jingles died after a week, you son of a bitch!”

He laughed again. “Nate, were you responsible enough for a live puppy?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well?”

I couldn’t help it – I dropped my eyes. “No, Santa.”

“So why don’t we just forget this little encounter, and chalk it up to a little extra egg nog, and I’ll be on my way.”

“Well, there’s still the dead body.”

“She was naughty.”

“I don’t give a shit! She was a human being. Not real Christmassy, Santa.”

“You wouldn’t know. You think you know everything about Christmas, boy?”

“No, but I never heard anything about dead gir…” and I trailed off. Because I had. And you probably have, too. Every year, a girl would disappear around Christmas. Every spring, someone would find her, in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin. Indiana. In the woods, in a ditch, in a … rock quarry. “Oh, shit.” So we stood there. After a moment, I said, “But Santa… why?”

“I’ve been telling you, dumbass!”

“I may be a dumbass, but I’m the one with the shotgun. So why?”

“Christmas goes way back, you know. But it wasn’t always Christmas, right? A long time ago, it was called other things. Saturnalia. Solstice. The Long Dark. Other words, in languages no one has spoken in millennia. And I was always there.” He sounded so old, and it wasn’t the wind across the quarry that sent the cold running down my back. “And as long as people have feared the cold and the dark, they’ve marked this time. They gave me gifts then. They left food or drink… or other gifts. Meat.  Prisoners. It was a way to chase the Long Dark away. And I knew they feared – they worshipped the light and the warm, and they gave me gifts. No, let’s be honest: they gave me offerings, and they marked the holiday. And I liked it.

“The early Christians marked it too, or at least they knew everyone else did. So they co-opted the holiday, even though they had no way of knowing when that Child was born. And they had already said the Child was their sacrifice, so I went from taker to giver in their myths. But they were only myths. And I grew hungry again. So I take my winter offerings as I used to, from the outsiders, the excluded, the ones I find leaving the Christmas parties alone, the ones I find in the truck stop parking lots.

“Be a good boy, Nathan. Put down the gun. You don’t want to do this. Do you really want to tell little Hannah that you threatened to kill Santa.”

“Leave Hannah out of this.”

“I see her when she’s sleeping, you know. They were right about that, even if they didn’t know any more than you did. I see her. The long blonde hair. The slender neck. If you don’t let me go, it wouldn’t take much to snap that little neck, would it?”

I pulled both triggers – nearly cut him in two. And as Santa was torn open, I saw something … something else. Sometimes it still looked like Santa, but sometimes it looked like the things that flicker up from the memories of your nightmares, the thing that walks while you run, but always gets where you’re going first. And then sometimes it looked like someone in green, and sometimes something dark, and then it looked like Santa again as he fell back off the edge of the quarry. I heard the splash a second later. I don’t know how long I stood there before I edged toward the lip of the quarry. Something stung my face. I thought it could have been sleet, but it may have been rock dust, blown by the wind.

I saw Santa again across the quarry, looking good as new, and starting to rise into the air. “See you next Christmas, Nathan,” he said, and his baritone laughter echoed as he disappeared.

Hannah, would you get Daddy some coffee? I’ll be up late tonight. And don’t worry about the cookies. I’ll leave them by the hearth.


Under the gun rack.

Warren Moore is Professor of English at Newberry College, in Newberry, SC. His crime novel, BROKEN GLASS WALTZES, was published this year by Snubnose Press. He blogs on a wide range of topics as "Professor Mondo" (http://profmondo.wordpress.com), and plays drums in a garage revival band. He lives in Newberry with his wife and daughter.