Winter Holidays - Story 4 - A Creature Stirring by Ken MacGregor

This story first appeared in Mr. MacGregor's collection An Aberrant Mind, published 2014.

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Julian set down several bags of presents to unlock his apartment. He lived on the top floor of a nineteen-story building; it was divided into eight apartments. He stepped in, and was hit by a smell: strong, sharp and musky, wild and strange.

Julian dragged in the bags and scrunched up his nose. He walked his apartment, turning on all the lights, but found nothing. Probably, an animal got into the ventilation shaft and died. He poured himself a glass of Merlot and sat on the couch to wrap the first present, a toy unicorn, white, with a gold mane, tail and horn. It was ten inches tall. Julian’s sister, Alice, had two girls, Georgia and Nell. Nell was going to explode when she opened this.

Julian had learned how to wrap presents neatly from an ex-girlfriend. Sara was an artist, beautiful, creative, smart. He was infatuated with her, and their passion burned fiercely but briefly. Sara wrapped presents like the professionals at the fancy stores, all perfect corners and flat sides.

Julian finished his wine and arched his back in a cat-stretch. Half the bottle was gone, and half the presents were done.

Something moved over his head.

He looked up at the vent in the drop ceiling. He couldn’t see anything from the floor, so he dragged one of the kitchen barstools over and climbed on it. It was dark in there, but Julian thought he saw movement. He studied it, hoping his eyes would adjust to the darkness. He raised himself on his toes, cocking his head to look through the slats.

Bang! Something hit the vent right above his face; he fell off the stool, more embarrassed than hurt.

Fuck!” he yelled. “Bastard.” Julian gave the vent the finger.

He dropped down on the couch, poured another glass and drank some. He looked at the remaining presents and scowled. No more wrapping.

Julian drank some more wine, glaring up at the vent. Stupid animal. The smell was getting worse in here, too. Have to call the super.

He finished the wine in his glass, mildly buzzed. He got up and went to his bedroom, peeled off his clothes and crawled into bed, trying not to think about the animal wandering the vents above him. He was drifting off when he heard movement. He opened his eyes and glowered at the ceiling.

“Seriously? You’re following me? Give me a break.” Julian pulled the covers over his head. A few seconds later, he pulled them down. The scratching was louder now. He sat up, the blanket sliding down to his waist. The light was off; it was hard to see. He sat very still in his bed and listened.

He heard it again. Julian grabbed the bedside lamp and turned it on, pointing it up like a spear.

His heart thundered in his chest.

Above him, the vent cover dropped half an inch. Julian gasped. Then, it was suddenly pulled back up.
Julian scooted back to the headboard, keeping the light trained up there.

The vent cover exploded out of the ceiling, along with drywall fragments and dust.

Julian screamed, high and shrill. He trained the light on the floor, but there was just the metal vent cover, one corner bent from the fall. He got off the bed holding the lamp in a two-handed battle grip. He took three steps, felt a small tug on the cord and the light went out.

“Shit!”

Julian dove across the bed for the other lamp. He did not want to be in the dark. He was almost there when something thudded to the floor. He froze, listening. Julian could hear breathing. The musky smell filled his sinuses.

Slowly, he felt for the other lamp, edging his body across the bed. His fingers found the bedside table, then the base of the lamp, and finally the switch. Behind him, something climbed onto the bed. Something heavy. The springs creaked, protesting the weight.

Julian was panting from terror, but he had to know.

The light came on, and Julian stared.

The thing was long and sinuous with six short legs and a massive head. It looked like something out of mythology; some Dark God’s pet. From its mouth came a large, black tongue, not forked, but like a human tongue, only longer. It licked Julian, tasting his chest. The saliva made his skin tingle and burn.

“Please,” Julian said to it. “It’s Christmas. For God’s sake, please.”

A buzzing invaded his head, an angry wasp’s nest in his brain. He heard/felt/thought a voice.

“Beg me,” it said. “For your life.”

“Please don’t kill me,” Julian said. “I’ll do anything. Please.”

The beast pushed Julian down, pinning him to the bed with its weight. It lay across him, its face inches from his own. It looked into his eyes. Its own eyes were gold; they caught the light and it swirled in their depths. Julian saw intelligence, and hunger in those eyes. Even so, they were beautiful. Its mouth stretched, and with horror, Julian realized it was smiling.

*** 

Julian hefted the eight bags by the handles, pulled them out, and closed the trunk with his elbow. He sauntered up the path to Alice’s front door.

She, having seen him coming, opened it right away. Julian grinned at her behind his sunglasses. She grinned right back.

“Merry Christmas, big brother,” she said, hugging him awkwardly around the bags.

“Merry Christmas to you,” Julian replied. He stepped inside and put down the bags. His nieces came running up for hugs, and he grabbed them both at once.

“Can I get you something,” Alice asked him. Julian nodded and followed her to the kitchen. “Coffee, maybe?”

Julian smiled at his sister, took off his shades and gazed at her with his gold eyes. He licked his lips with his long, black tongue. Alice felt an awful buzzing sensation in her mind.

“Beg me,” he said to her. “For your life.”

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Ken MacGregor has been writing since he could hold a crayon and getting paid for it since 2012. His work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines and the occasional podcast. He has two story collections: An Aberrant Mind and Sex, Gore and Millipedes. He is a board member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW). He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, and a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel (pending publication), and they are working on the sequel. He is the Managing Editor of Anthologies for LVP Publications. When not writing, Ken drives the bookmobile for his local library. He lives with his kids, two cats, and the ashes of his wife. Ken can be found at ken-macgregor.com. You can also connect with him via social media on the following platforms:
Twitter: @kenmacgregor 

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