The Christmas Delivery by Trenton Earley
The Space-y Christmas series has brought you stories both scary and heartwarming. Here's a spooky one that will hook you and drag you along in the dark. This sixth installment in the series may surprise you, not ending up where you think it's going. Make sure to check out the author profile at the end of the story. Enjoy!
“Merry Christmas,” the voices from the monitor yelled through the boat’s cockpit speakers.
Will paused the video, his family a still frame on the screen. It was the third time he had watched it, and the sight of his wife and kids in front of the Christmas tree brought tears to Will’s eyes. They were in their matching pajamas with wrapping paper and gift bags strewn about around them. He should be there with them. He had always been there with them. In the thirteen years since Alley was born, he had been there—passing out gifts, taking videos, laughing. Now the tears in his eyes had turned to a full stream.
Just this one time, he told himself. Just navigate this one trip, and we will have more than enough money for a down payment on a new house. Get out of this dilapidated neighborhood, away from the thieves, away from the traffic. That’s what he had said to convince himself to take the job.
Back before it had all gone down, his wife had been against it at first when he’d mentioned it to her—that is until he had told her what they were offering to pay him.
“Fifty thousand dollars?” Wendy had said as she pulled the bottle of wine from the cabinet.
“Yeah, with half up front,” Will said.
“Why would they pay you fifty thousand dollars to drive their boat?” She poured a glass of the red wine and guzzled it. “That’s more than you make in an entire year.”
“I have no idea. I was just loading up my nets for the day when some guys in suits approached me. I saw them coming from a mile away—I was wondering what they were doing down on the docks. I thought they were there to look into buying a boat from Stan, ya know. Never thought they would be there to talk to me.”
Wendy poured another glass, took a sip and gestured toward Will to see if he wanted any.
“No thanks,” he said and continued with his story. “So, like I was saying, I had the boat tied off and was just finishing up a few things, and these suits come down my dock and I hear one of ‘em say, ‘William Briar?’ and I was like, Oh crap what’d I do? Cause I never had no one looking like them down on the docks looking for me, ya know?
"I started to tell them I was just a fishing boat captain—sea captain wasn’t really my thing, they got the wrong guy, and all that stuff—but then the tall one in back pulls out a briefcase full of money."
“Anyways, they asked if I was Will and I said I was. The first one started talking about finding a captain for a delivery down south, said it would only be a couple days, down the coast to Cuba and back, said someone recommended me. I asked who gave them my name, but they wouldn’t say. I started to tell them I was just a fishing boat captain—sea captain wasn’t really my thing, they got the wrong guy, and all that stuff—but then the tall one in back pulls out a briefcase full of money. I mean it was just like in the movies. They said I had the biggest boat at the marina, and the boat I’d be captaining wouldn’t be much bigger than the one I’m used to navigating, so I was indeed the man they were looking for.”
There was a pause. He and his wife stood with the kitchen island between them, and she tapped her finger on the counter, the glass of wine held close to her face with the other hand. Her eyes never left his. “So what did you say?” she said nervously, before slamming the rest of the wine down her throat.
“I told them I had to talk it over with my wife,” he said.
“We talked it over. Now call them and tell them you will do it before they find someone else,” she said.
“The thing is, they leave tomorrow morning,” he said.
“Tomorrow? On Christmas Eve?” she said.
“Yeah, I think that’s why it’s paying so well. They need someone, and they need someone now,” he said.
She looked at him, and he back at her. For a long while they shared the gaze, communicating with the telepathy they had developed from being married to each other for fifteen years. Or perhaps each was taking in the idea of what this early Christmas gift meant—one that had just been dropped into their laps. Yes, Will would be gone for Christmas, and that meant Wendy would need to handle all the kids on Christmas without Will, and he would miss out on all the Christmas rituals, but it was just one Christmas. They could handle it, and they would have plenty more Christmases in a nicer house and a nicer life.
Will pulled the solid black business card out of his back pocket. “So should I call them?”
The following morning, Will pulled up to the gate of the address he had been given. Once he was buzzed in, the large chain link gate rolled open, and he drove in. The broken asphalt road led to an old shipping warehouse along the once-thriving coastal industrial district. A stocky bald man in black sunglasses and a black suit approached Will’s truck. His size and his demeanor didn’t intimidate Will as much as the machine gun slung over his shoulder. Will rolled his window down hesitantly.
“You alone?” is all the man said.
“Um, yeah, just me,” Will said.
The man stared blanky at Will, his eyes hidden somewhere behind the impenetrably dark sunglasses. “Alright, pull in the garage,” he said and stepped back, looking Will’s truck over as it rolled forward toward the garage.
Pulling into the empty warehouse, Will put his truck in park and stepped out. The building was empty except for a pile of crates in the corner and the dismantled remnants of an engine to his left.
“Hello?” he said.
He walked around the front of his truck toward the open overhead door. Through it, he could see the open sea. The sun rising at his back gave just enough light to see where the water ended and the sky began. The two contrasting hues of blue met at the horizon, and his view standing on the edge of the dock went on and on. Anchored at the end of the dock was a boat, sizably larger than his boat.
“Hello, William,” a voice called from behind him. A man walked toward him on the long dock, the same tall man from yesterday still wearing a suit, just a different color. “I am so glad you could make it. Are you ready for our journey?” He reached out to shake Will’s hand, and his kindness seemed genuine and sincere. “We have the boat stocked and ready to set sail. Follow me.”
Will followed the man along the dock to the boat. After stepping onboard, Will pulled the hatch door open and peeked down into the engine compartment. “This is a good-looking boat,” he said.
The man, not seeming surprised at this in the least, said, “Yes, only the best equipment for my team. Tell you what, William, if this works out for us, you could be running boats like this more often.”
Will shut the hatch. “So what exactly are we delivering?”
“Ah, you understand that curiosity killed the cat, don’t you, Mr. Briar.” There was a long pause as the two looked at each other. “Here is the cockpit, with your coordinates mapped out for you. Let’s get you going. The sooner you leave, the sooner you can return home to be with your family for the holidays.” He turned and gestured with his arm toward the cockpit.
"He watched and for a moment was regretting the entire decision to take this job."
Will stepped in and saw the monitor built into the dashboard. On it was a pin on a map of where he was going to go. Next to it were weather conditions and a radar to track changes. As he looked this over, he heard footsteps of people climbing aboard. He turned to see the big guy with the sunglasses from earlier, along with two other men who looked small in comparison—all with the same machine guns slung over their shoulders.
“Okay, Mr. Briar. Have a safe trip and I will be here too greet you on your return,” the man in the suit said from the dock.
Will fired the engine up and hit the lever to retract the anchor. The boat slowly began to float away from the dock, and within minutes they were headed out toward the blue horizon. Will dropped the boat into high gear, and they accelerated at a high speed. Within a half an hour, the dock they had just departed from became a blend of indistinguishable shapes and colors along the shore.
The trip went relatively smoothly, besides one guy getting seasick. No one had any complaints, and Will had the boat to the Cuban dock by sundown. He ported the boat and waited for the crew of men in dirty ripped clothes to remove boxes from the boat’s storage compartment. After they had unloaded, the big guy, who also wore sunglasses at night, told Will that if he wanted some food, a little shop down the street sold tacos and burritos. Then he and his friends disappeared into a rundown shack off the dock. Will waited for them, and after they did not return for a while, Will decided to wander down the shore to find some food. He eventually found a boy pushing a cart selling tacos and bought four. He sat on the beach within an eyeshot of the boat, watching for anyone to return from the shack, and ate his tacos. At about midnight, he decided he’d head back to the boat and try to catch a nap before they left.
At about three in the morning, Will was rustled awake by a commotion. He stood up from the cockpit floor to see a line of men carrying crates down the dock and loading them back into the storage compartment in the belly of the boat. The large man walked back onto the boat holding his gun in both hands and watching the men closely.
“What’s going on? I thought we were just making a delivery,” Will said.
The large man looked at him. Will could feel his eyes scowling at him from under the sunglasses. “Mind your business” was all he said.
Will turned and went back to the cockpit. “Curiosity killed that cat, I guess,” he said to himself.
After two hours of men loading crates—until the belly could hold no more—the men shut the hatch. “Let’s go,” the large man said, his gun still drawn.
Will fired the engine up and looked the instruments over. On the top of the radar screen a blip of red was forming in the middle of a swirling of purple and orange. He watched the screen for a minute while the engine hummed beneath their feet.
“Let’s go!” another guy said, gesturing with his gun.
Will pulled the anchor, and they slowly coasted away from the dock. As they floated, he got a notification on his synced email account. He downloaded the message to his dashboard and opened the video file. He watched as his kids and wife wish him a merry Christmas. Then they proceeded to sing “Jingle Bells.” He watched and for a moment was regretting the entire decision to take this job.
“Hey, would you get going,” a voice yelled from the deck. Will straightened the boat out and headed back out to sea.
His passengers were not the talkative type. Will made a few attempts at conversation with them, but no one responded with anything more than a nod—that is until the red blip on the screen grew substantially in size, and they found themselves heading smack dab into the middle of it. Waves crashed into the side of the boat and rocked them violently from side to side, and everyone held on to anything they could find to help them stay upright.
“What’s going on?” one of the men yelled through the wind and the pelting rain as he stumbled from side to side.
“Would you shut up, you idiot. It’s a storm,” the large man yelled.
“Dear God, get us out of here!” the other man yelled.
“Shut up!” the large man yelled at him as the boat tilted, and he slid along the floorboards on his side into the rail of the boat.
Will fought the wheel hard, trying to right the ship and keep them headed north, but his efforts were in vain. The sea was in control of their voyage, and they were merely along for the ride. There was nothing Will nor God could do about it at this point.
From the captain’s window, Will saw a wall of water larger than any other wave he had ever seen, and they were on track to hit it head on. Will threw the wheel in the other direction. The wooden handles of the wheel spun chaotically clockwise, but it was no use. The wall was moving too fast, and before they knew it, the boat was almost completely vertical to the ocean below them. As fast as they climbed the wall, they hit the peak and descended down its backside. Will heard the men screaming as they plummeted back down towards the sea and the crashing of the water over the sides of the boat as they levelled back out.
The storm tossed them and threw the boat at its will for about an hour—an hour of sheer terror for the four men on the boat. But as fast as it had come, it left, leaving them a bloody mess. After they had some time to regroup, Will recentered himself and got them back on track toward their destination. By Will’s observations, the storm had pushed them a few miles off track, but he recentered the navigation devices and had an estimated arrival time of eleven o’clock.
"From the captain’s window, Will saw a wall of water larger than any other wave he had ever seen, and they were on track to hit it head on."
Will set the directional coordinates on the dash and hit the autopilot function and walked the boat to look for any mission-critical damage to the boat. Walking the deck, he found nothing major. A rudder had cracked but was not broken, and a man was heaving over the edge, but all was good.
“We’ve got a cracked rudder, but it should get us home,” Will told the crew.
“It better, Captain,” the one man said in between heaves over the edge.
Upon returning to the cockpit, Will noticed something was off. In the half an hour he had spent inspecting the boat, the navigation device had pushed their arrival time out two hours. “What is going on?” Will said to himself, conscious not to say it loud enough that anyone else could hear him. He made some adjustments to the coordinates and then something very strange happened—the navigation pointed them to their right seventeen degrees. He hesitated but turned the boat in the direction he was being told to go.
After a couple of hours, Will could see something in the distance. It at first looked like a dense fog. It was not alarming until his doppler showed something completely different. On the radar, the fog was a mix of bright pink and red, quickly appearing out of nowhere. He dropped the boat out of autopilot and spun the wheel hard to the left. As the boat turned sharply, he saw the dense wall was encircling them, and the radar showed the same thing. All at once, they were being engulfed in a fast-moving quickly forming storm.
“Brace yourself!” Will yelled from the cockpit.
The men jumped up to see the wall of white just as they sailed into it. The engine was killed, and everyone braced for strong winds and high waves, but once inside the fog they got neither. Instead, it was a deafening silence and a white so thick they had a hard time seeing past the tip of their noses.
“What is going on?” one of the two smaller men yelled, the fog trapping the noise. “Where is everyone?” the man yelled again, taking a few steps before tripping and falling onto the deck. He crawled around on the deck of the boat, feeling around for one of his colleagues. “What is this shit,” he yelled, mostly to himself.
Searching with his hands—that he couldn’t see—he felt someone’s pant leg. He walked himself up, following the legs of the person who was within inches of him but he couldn’t see. He eventually got fully upright and had his hands on someone’s shoulders. “Who is this? Schmitty, is this you?” he said. He moved from the shoulders to the face and felt something odd. “What the hell is that? Who is this?”
"Bringing his hand to his face, he looked on in horror at his hand as blood squirted from where two of his fingers used to be."
Pain! The man yanked his hands back and screamed, “Agh! what the hell!” Bringing his hand to his face, he looked on in horror at his hand as blood squirted from where two of his fingers used to be.
He fell back and pulled his hand onto his chest. “You bit my fingers off, you son of a …” Something jumped on top of him and held him down. He struggled to get free but couldn’t break his arms away from the grip. He lay on his back screaming and fighting as something appeared just in front of him. It was a black face, with empty sockets where its eyes used to be and rotten crooked teeth protruding from where the skin of its mouth had rotted away. The man screamed in terror, pulled his hands free, and emptied his clip of his rifle out into the white space in front of him, the exploding bullets barely audible in the thick fog. Then all at once the chaos stopped, and everything was silent again.
The man stood and held his gun out in front of him. “Hey, where are you guys?” he said.
There was nothing but white in every direction as he looked frantically around. He took a step, slipped on the pool of blood under himself, and stumbled backward. He fell over the edge of the boat and continued to fall without ever hitting water.
Will stood for a moment, waiting for the storm to hit, but instead he was surrounded by a calmness that felt almost disorienting. He heard no sound and saw nothing but white, and the boat was still—more still than he had ever felt on a boat. There was no swaying of the floor below him, there was no cold breeze on his face, and it felt as if he was standing on solid ground, not on a boat floating through the ocean.
He yelled out from the cockpit, “Hey, you guys there?”
He heard no response. The fog was so thick he could hardly hear himself say it, but he could feel the warmth of the fog wrapping snuggly around his body. He felt weightless.
The fog started to fade, slowly the controls of the dashboard came back into view, and the boat began to sway steadily under his feet. On the control screen, he saw that in the fog they had traveled over three hundred miles in less than an hour. It took Will a few moments to wrap his head around the possibility of that, but he shook it off and adjusted their trajectory to point toward home and pushed the boat into high gear to hit sixty knots. The last bit of the white in the air was still dissipating, and Will was able to see the nose of the boat when he heard the yelling from the deck.
“What the hell happened?” someone said. The fading fog gave view to the aftermath of the deck of the boat.
Will saw the bald brute standing in the middle of a red mess. The decking was no longer brown and grainy but instead was red. A body lay in the middle, a bullet hole in his head and a few in his chest. Blood continued to pool under the lifeless body’s back, flowing out in every direction from underneath him. The bald guy took his sunglasses off, trying to comprehend what had happened. Will saw why he wore sunglasses—one of the guy’s eyes was a dead, a glossy white with a hint of blue in the middle.
The two men looked at each other. “How did he get shot?” Will asked, “and where’s the other guy?”
The bald man looked blankly back at Will with his one good eye. Then, in an instant, as if he had done this before, he said, “Just drive the boat. I’ll take care of this.”
Will stood in disbelief as the big guy picked the dead body up and threw it overboard. Will took a few steps backward into the cockpit, shut the captain’s door, and locked it. The boat carried on toward home, and within an hour they had completely lost sight of the white wall that had engulfed them.
Will pulled the video up that his wife had sent earlier and watched it on the dashboard monitor. He watched it again, then took a seat, propped his feet on the dashboard, and watched it again, the tears welling in his eyes.
"The guard chuckled. 'How long you been out here, my man? Been digging into your stash?'”
They were set to arrive back at the docks shortly after midnight. He had planned to not call Wendy and just surprise her when he got home, but the thought of not talking to his kids on Christmas made him feel sick to his stomach, so he pulled the phone up off its receiver and dialed home. The call didn’t go through, and he tried again and again, until he realized something must have been damaged in the storm, possibly the satellite connection. Being unable to reach them made him even more anxious to get home, but all he could do was sit and wait.
The sun set, and the glow of the shore was barely visible in the distance but became clearer with every passing hour. Will peeked through the captain’s window to see the large man sitting on the deck with his back propped up against the wall, his gun held in his hands like he was ready to fire at any moment.
When Will looked back through the windshield, there were two glowing white lights in the sky heading toward them. They moved quickly just above the water until they reached the boat, then they rose into the air.
Will tried to look up out the windshield, but his view was blocked. He unlocked the captain’s door and stepped out onto the deck. The large man was already on his feet, looking up at the lights above them. It was a drone, about the size of a motorcycle. It hovered above them for a few minutes before its engines hummed loudly and flew back toward shore.
The bald man glared at Will through his sunglasses. He raised his gun and pointed it at Will. “Who’d you tell you were taking this trip?”
Will threw his hands in the air. “No one! I mean, my wife, but that’s it. I didn’t tell anyone else, I swear.” His words were frantic, and the bald man kept his gun centered on Will’s chest.
The big guy gestured with his gun toward the cockpit. “Get us back to shore,” he said.
Will hesitantly took a step toward the cockpit, his hands still raised above his head. He got through the captain’s door and turned to the dashboard, lowered his hands, and checked the coordinates on the screen. He was confused. The map was showing him that they should be reaching the dock in less than a mile, but the coast was, by his calculations, more than fifteen miles away, as if the shoreline had moved. They reached the point on the map that was the longitude and latitude of where they had departed from the day before, but there was no dock or even a shore.
Will kept the boat pointed toward the bright shoreline. A few miles later, he could see two boats in the distance, approaching them. The bald guy didn’t like this and crouched down below the railing of the boat to stay out of sight, his gun held up ready for a fight. The boats got near them and blocked their path, and Will dropped the throttle to idle.
“Turn your engine off,” a voice came through a loudspeaker.
“Be cool. Don’t do anything stupid, captain,” the bald man said.
Will killed the engine. The two boats came closer to them, but as they pulled up next to them, Will could see they weren’t boats at all. Whatever these boats were, they were not floating in the water but hovering on top of the water.
The bald guy, upon seeing this, lowered his gun and watched the ships with a look of awe.
One of the crafts hovered next to them and then up above the side of their boat. The side of the hovering boat dropped down and turned into a walking plank, extending onto the deck of Will’s boat.
“Quite a relic you got here,” the man walking down the plank said as he stepped onto the deck. He was wearing a shiny suit that reflected the lights from the boats. On his head was a helmet with a visor pulled over his eyes that said “Coast Guard” in glowing white letters.
On the other side of the boat, a green light scanned the boat. A woman’s voice, oddly robotic, come from the ship that had just scanned them, “Cocaine and heroin have been detected in the undercarriage of the boat. And one individual is carrying a semi-automatic rifle.”
Upon hearing this, the bald man raised his gun. “Son of a …”
A shot was fired from the side of the shiny man’s suit. The bald man dropped, lifeless in an instant.
Will threw his hands up in the air. “Don’t shoot!” he yelled.
The coast guard walked up to Will, and another green light came from the man’s visor and scanned Wills face. The same woman’s voice said,” William Briar, born October second nineteen eighty-four. Reported lost at sea and declared dead January two thousand and twenty-one.”
Both Will and the guard cocked their heads to the side slightly, unable to comprehend what they had just heard. “Scan again please,” the man said.
A green beam scanned Will’s face, and the woman’s voice repeated, “William Briar, born October second nineteen eighty-four, was presumed dead after his boat went missing off the coast on Christmas day one hundred and eleven years ago.”
“That’s impossible,” Will said.
“Yeah, you’re telling me,” the coast guard man said. He pushed a button on the back of his shiny glove. A tiny drone arose from the hovering ship and flew behind Will. It lassoed his arms together and cuffed his hands behind his back. “We’ll take you in and get to the bottom of this,” the man said.
“Did she say one hundred and eleven years ago?” Will asked.
“Yeah, sometimes even Stacia is wrong,” he said.
“What year is it?”
The guard chuckled. “How long you been out here, my man? Been digging into your stash?” He laughed, as Will continued to stare at him for an answer. The man gave Will a confused look. “You serious? It’s twenty-one thirty-two.”
Will, still trying to comprehend what was going on, felt the nudge of the drone on his back.
“Alright, let’s get going,” the man said as he walked up the plank and back onto his ship. Two drones came from the floating ships and hooked Will’s boat to theirs. The ships started pulling Will’s boat toward shore. “Come on, don’t make me get the shocker,” the man said.
Will looked into the cockpit and saw the dashboard screen glowing in the dark. On it was a still frame of his wife and kids. All sitting on each other’s laps in their Christmas pajamas, smiling, waiting for Will to come home to be with them on Christmas.
Meet Trenton Earley
Trenton Earley is the author of the young adult horror series Uncle Edgars, as well as multiple children’s picture books. He is a father of four and uses his kids as motivation as well as inspiration for his writing projects. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and works as a software engineer. He spends all of his spare time entertaining his wife and kids.