Santa Slays Monsters by Pembroke Sinclair
We hope that you've been enjoying our short story series Space-y Christmas. So far we've had an amazing array of talented work featured, and we still have a few stories coming so stay tuned! We'd love to know what you think, so be sure to comment on my Twitter or Facebook pages. Without further ado, here is the fourth installment in our Space-y Christmas short story series, this one a gritty tale of monsters.
The groan bounced off the drab walls of the hallway, making it difficult to determine where the sound originated from. Mark slammed himself against the curved wall and sucked in a sharp breath. His head turned to take in one end of the corridor and then the other, his eyes scanning every nook and cranny for movement. He tried to keep his ragged breaths even and silent, but he wasn’t having much luck.
It occurred to him how much he had always hated the ship. From the moment he set foot on the Leola, a sense of disappointment flooded through him. He was well aware that the smooth, gray walls were protocol and no one was going to spend the money to make them look welcoming. They were functional and did a great job of keeping radiation and debris from killing the occupants of the ship, but they were too good at their job. They also kept things trapped inside.
"The groan sounded again, pulling Mark’s gaze to the left. It sounded closer, maybe right over his shoulder, but he couldn’t tell."
Mark wasn’t normally one to wish for a catastrophic failure of engineering that would result in the exterior walls tearing open and sucking things into space, but it would have saved his crewmates. Even attempting to create such a failure had failed. He had been so sure that the explosives would weaken the hull. It wasn’t a matter of not using enough. He’d made sure he stacked plenty at what he assumed was the weakest point in the wall. But the walls held. Unfortunately, the explosives wreaked havoc on other systems, and now, in addition to the monsters that stalked him, he had to deal with life support systems failures.
When the rescue team finally arrived, he hoped they marveled at the strength and steadfastness of the walls that surrounded every dead body, including his.
The groan sounded again, pulling Mark’s gaze to the left. It sounded closer, maybe right over his shoulder, but he couldn’t tell. That was another thing that he had always hated about the walls—the way they carried sound. Sweat dripped into eyes, stinging them and causing his vision to blur. His heart rate kicked up, and panic squeezed his chest. He wiped furiously at his eyes with the back of his sleeve. He had to risk it. Staying where he was could be a death sentence. With a little luck, he wouldn't run into one of them on his way to his bunk. Pushing himself away from the wall, he moved down the corridor. He tried to keep his progress cautious but quick, but he rushed more than he intended to—and his footsteps were louder than he liked. His only hope was that the way they bounced off the smooth walls would confuse any pursuers.
As soon as Mark stepped into his room, he slammed the door shut and let out a sigh. His legs felt weak, but he fought the urge to slide to the ground into the fetal position and bury his head into his knees. With large strides, he stepped across the room and pulled open his desk drawer. With a thunk, the gun hit the metal drawer. The bullet rolled into sight for half a second before trying to disappear deeper into the drawer. Mark grabbed the projectile before it got away, then lifted the firearm out with his other hand. He stared at it, feeling its weight in his hand.
It was the last Christmas present his father had given him, right before he climbed aboard the Leola. Up until that moment, he hadn’t seen his father for 24 years. The gun was an antique by the day’s standards and probably worth a lot of money. It was hard to find revolvers with cylinders and pearl handles. Mark had been disappointed when he opened the package; it confirmed what he thought all along: that his father hated him and wanted him dead. At that moment, he realized his father’s plan. He was attempting to save Mark from the misery that had plagued his life. That didn’t endear him to the man who shared half his genes.
The groan sounded again, pulling Mark’s gaze to the left. It sounded closer, maybe right over his shoulder, but he couldn’t tell. That was another thing that he had always hated about the walls–the way they carried sound. Sweat dripped into eyes, stinging them and causing his vision to blur. His heart rate kicked up, and panic squeezed his chest. He wiped furiously at his eyes with the back of his sleeve. He had to risk it. Staying where he was could be a death sentence. With a little luck, he wouldn't run into one of
After staring at the gun for a few more moments, he then let his gaze drift to his other hand. He opened his palm and stared at the bullet. It was like any other bullet he’d seen in his life, but this one was special. It was his only escape from the hell he was living. This bullet was his chance for freedom. The thought brought a touch of comfort to his mind.
A grumbling sounded throughout the ship, and Mark found himself being pitched forward. His hip slammed into the desk, sending the bullet flying from his hand. He heard it tink, tink on the ground, and he barely caught sight of it as it rolled through one of the holes in the ventilation grate. The stabilizers had been failing off and on for the past couple of hours. It would only take a few moments for the backup system to right the ship again, but he couldn’t let his salvation get that far away from him. Using the momentum of the ship, he pitched forward after the bullet.
"The soft metal clinking of the bullet in the ventilation system pulled his attention away from his misery."
The ground met him much faster than he anticipated as the ship righted itself. Not only was the air knocked out of his lungs, but his ribs connected with a bolt and sharp pain reverberated through his midsection. He was convinced he felt and heard his rib crack. Tears flooded his eyes as pain surged through him. The soft metal clinking of the bullet in the ventilation system pulled his attention away from his misery. Placing the gun at the small of his back in his waistband, he pulled himself toward the grate.
The bullet was out of reach, but not so far that some determination wouldn't put it back in his grasp. Mustering all of his strength, he pulled himself to his knees and worked his fingertips around the edges of the cover. With a metallic clang, it popped out of place. If there was one thing he was thankful for, it was that the vents were large enough for him to fit through. He never questioned why they had been designed that way, and at that moment, he didn’t care. It worked to his advantage.
Before crawling in, he scanned the area. The vents branched off into various directions and into complete darkness. They were large enough to accommodate him, which meant that they could fit in there as well. He had no doubts they probably used them to move from one location on the ship to another, but he wouldn’t be in there for long. He just had to get the top half of his body in to get the bullet, then he’d be out.
As soon as the thought crossed his mind, the stabilizers gave out again. He was thrown forward, his forehead connecting forcefully with the dull gray walls he hated so much. Stars danced in front of his eyes, then he was plunged into blackness.
The creak of wood floorboards pulled 6-year-old Mark from his sleep. He’d heard those squeaks many times before, and they always filled him with dread. More often than not, it was his father coming to berate him for some wrong—perceived or real—he’d done during the day. But at that moment, he wasn’t filled with fear. He knew his father had passed out on the couch. He always did on Christmas Eve. A bottle of expensive whiskey was his present to himself.
Mark was sure that the sound was Santa coming to take him away. It had been his only wish that year. A new life, one as far away from this house as possible. He was convinced that Santa could use another elf in his shop, and he would prove how hard of a worker he was. If nothing else, he hoped to go to a place that was filled with laughter and joy.
The boards squeaked again, and Mark sat up. He’d gone to bed with his clothes on, knowing he had to be ready to move quickly since Santa was such a busy man. He grabbed his bag that he’d packed earlier in the day and stared at the door. Any moment, it would open and the man with the bright red suit with white trim and sparkling eyes would gesture for him to come out.
Moments passed by, but the door didn’t open. The boards squeaked again. Could he be wrong? Could his father have roused himself from his drunken stupor and was coming to his room? His breath caught in his throat. He considered climbing back into bed. If he was found fully dressed with a packed bag ready to leave, he would surely pay for that with an ounce of his flesh. Just as he turned to slide the bag under his bed and climb under the covers, he heard a clunk outside his door.
It wasn’t exactly like the sounds he’d heard in the past when his father passed out in the hallway, but it was concerning nonetheless. With tentative steps, he walked to the door and pressed his ear to the wood. Heat radiated through his skull, and confusion pushed his eyebrows together. Carefully, Mark turned the handle and pulled.
"Fear gripped Mark’s chest, and he reached forward and shook his father’s shoulder."
Acrid smoke burned his nostrils and stung his eyes. Flames crackled somewhere in the distance, and heat caused sweat to form on his skin. Dropping his bag, he ran into the living room to find his dad snoring on the couch. Mark knelt in front of his father. His father’s cheeks expanded, and a puff of air came out of his lips, hitting Mark directly in the face. The smell of stale whiskey and seasoned beef swirled in his nostrils, causing his stomach to clench.
More boards creaked, followed by thunks somewhere in the distance. Mark knew it was probably in the apartment next door. The walls were so thin in this place, he could almost hear his neighbors breathing. He certainly heard their dinner conversations. He had no doubts that they heard his father berating him, and he hated that they never came to his rescue.
Fear gripped Mark’s chest, and he reached forward and shook his father’s shoulder. The man shot up like he had been stabbed. He gazed around the room, confused. His gaze fell on Mark, then his hand came down on the side of his head. Stars danced in front of Mark’s eyes, and he fell backward.
The next thing he knew, he was surrounded by red. A mask had been placed over his mouth, and he smelled the pungent plastic and felt the soothing oxygen as it flowed through his nostrils. He was gently placed onto a stretcher. Mark glanced up and was able to take in the entire red suit before him. The only thing that was missing was the white beard, but it was possible it was hidden behind the mask that Santa wore. Mark smiled. He knew that Santa wouldn’t forget about him. He knew he would save him and keep him safe.
Santa tousled his hair before the stretcher moved away. Mark drifted into a haze as the medical personnel loaded him into the back of the ambulance.
When Mark came to, dizziness engulfed him, along with a massive headache that pulsated in time with the pain in his chest. For half a second, he couldn’t remember what he had been doing, but then he heard the metallic pinging of a bullet rolling down the vents. With measured movements, he picked himself up and glanced into the ventilation system. His salvation had rolled farther away, flooding Mark with disappointment and loss. The thought of giving up crossed his mind. His gaze drifted to his bed. He realized how incredibly exhausted he was. In a few steps, he could lay down and close his eyes. He could wait it out until the rescue team arrived.
A pounding resounded through his room, followed by a groan, and Mark knew he’d never get to rest in peace. From experience, he also knew the door wouldn’t hold for longer than five minutes. The walls were able to withstand massive blasts, but the doors were not as sturdy. They could be taken down by hands and determination. With nowhere else to go, he dove into the ventilation system.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that the vents were barely large enough to accommodate his size. He could move through them, but his shoulders scraped against the interior, and they were not as smooth as the walls in the corridor. Seams and bolts were placed at intervals down the length, and every time he passed by them, they removed another layer of skin. The pounding behind him grew louder, followed by the squeal of metal against metal. There was a time when a sound like that would have filled him with hope of salvation. He wanted someone to pound down the door and save him. But he knew that what was on the other side wasn’t a white knight or a guardian angel. It was a harbinger from Hell. It wouldn’t be much longer before it got into his room. It may possibly follow Mark into the vents, but he wanted to make it as hard for the abomination to get him as possible. He continued to pull himself forward.
As he did, he drew himself closer to the bullet. It had stopped against the wall, right next to a T junction. Mark grabbed it before looking to his left and right to determine which way he should go. Both options led into darkness. He’d have to take a chance, so he positioned himself to go right. As he turned the corner, the pounding from his room became muted, so he took that as a good sign.
Mark continued to pull himself forward small increments at a time—or at least he thought he did. Being surrounded by darkness made it difficult for him to tell if he moved at all. The pain in his body grew worse, and panic threatened to suffocate him. A scream crawled its way from his soul into his throat, and just when he was about to release it, squares of light fell across his vision. He let out a breath instead. With renewed hope, he increased his movements and pulled himself forward.
As he got closer, he realized the light was coming through a grate. It occurred to him that this was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because it was his chance to get out of the vents, bad because the room might be full of them. He slowed as he got closer to the opening. With deliberation, he moved his head so that he could position his eye to scan the room but minimize his chances of being seen.
Footsteps echoed around him, causing his muscles to tighten and his breath to catch. He pulled his head back, hoping to be shielded in the darkness. The footsteps grew closer. Sweat formed on his brow and pooled in the space between his shoulder blades. He tried to push himself further back into the vents, but the gun caught on one of the seams and stopped him. It also made a clinking noise that echoed loudly through the vents and the room beyond. The footsteps stopped.
Moments that lasted an eternity ticked by. Mark’s lungs screamed for air. Abruptly, the footsteps started up again, moving right past the grate, and Mark sucked in a shocked breath. Had he really seen what he’d thought he’d seen? Cautiously, he tried to peer around the corner of the vent grate. He shook his head. There was no way the boots that passed by were shiny black with white fluffy fringe on the top. He was delirious. The last few days were taking a toll.
"Seams and bolts were placed at intervals down the length, and every time he passed by them, they removed another layer of skin."
He waited several more moments until the coast was clear, then slammed his palm into the grate. After a few hits, it popped free and clattered to the floor. Mark oozed out of the vents. With shaky legs, he climbed to his feet. He opened his palm and stared at the bullet.
He wanted to let the euphoria of freedom drift through him, but the moment was cut short. Out of the shadows of the room, from behind some crates, one of them lurched out.
From what Mark could tell, it had been a crewman. His blue overalls were tattered and covered in gore. Mark knew some of it was blood, while the other was more than likely viscera from entrails that the creature had consumed. Half of the thing’s body had been burned, and the flesh from its face had melted away. The bones were visible, blackened from extreme heat. The other half of the body, where the flesh was still intact, was yellow and splotched with white. It opened its mouth and let out a low groan.
Instinctively, Mark reached for the gun at the small of his back. As he went to place the bullet in the barrel, a sense of disappointment coursed through him. Shuffling brought his gaze upward, and hate surged through him as he watched the creature draw closer. The bullet slid into place with a click that was barely audible over the moaning creature. Mark raised the gun and lined up the site.
Before he had a chance to pull the trigger, a deafening series of small bursts filled the room. Blood and gore sprayed from the former crewman as he was cut in half. Mark covered his head and ducked away, watching through the crook of his elbow as his attacker slid to the floor in what seemed like slow motion.
The booms echoed off the walls for several seconds then were replaced by a ringing in his ears. Cautiously, Mark lifted his head and turned to the right. Red trimmed in white flooded his gaze. The black gun seemed out of place against the festive garb, as did the brown stubble that covered the man’s face. Mark straightened up and stared in disbelief.
The man noticed that Mark was staring, and his eyes drifted down the front of his body. He angled the barrel of the gun toward the wall and held his other hand out in front of him to show he wasn’t a threat. His gaze met Mark’s.
"We’ll do a sweep and clean up any messes when we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”
“I’m not going to hurt you. We got your distress signal and got here as soon as we could.” He let out a short chuckle. “You interrupted our Christmas party. The only thing I had time to take off was the beard.”
Mark rushed forward and threw his arms around the man.
“Are there any other survivors?”
Mark shook his head.
“Well, okay then. Let’s get you out of here and get some food and water in you. We’ll do a sweep and clean up any messes when we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”
Mark pulled away and nodded. Before heading out, he handed Santa his gun.
The man smiled. “I think I’m the one that’s supposed to give you gifts.”
“You have.” Mark’s voice came out gruff from lack of use. “You gave me my life.”
Meet Pembroke Sinclair
Pembroke Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming—the home of 56 nationalities—it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke currently lives in Nebraska with two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, and two fluffy Corgis named Floki and Siggy. She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up.
Connect with Pembroke at http://pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com.