I should’ve known something was off about Juniper.
For starters, her name was Juniper. That should have been my first red flag. But when her photo popped up on tinder, my thumb hesitated over her face. Yeah, it was a bathroom selfie and yeah, her lips were pursed in an annoying semi duck face, but fuck she was hot.
My thumb slid across my phone’s screen as I swiped right.
Our first date was at a bar near her work, somewhere in Midtown. She wanted to meet up on a Tuesday. I’d have preferred a weekend night, but whatever. I’m flexible.
When the catch is hot enough…
It was some douchey place with a sports reference for a name. Foreplay or something. The place was filled with frat-boy-now-financial-advisors taking advantage of the happy hour specials and attractive bartenders in tight tank tops.
I grabbed us a table in the back, behind the giant jenga and pool tables.
My phone buzzed with a text message. Running late. Be there in 10.
I rolled my eyes and took a sip of my cheap lager. She better be worth it.
My beer caught in my throat as she walked past the bar into the main seating area. She scanned the room for me, her long blonde hair over one shoulder. She wore a fitted button up shirt, unbuttoned at the top, and a pencil skirt. Her long thin legs ended in a pair of pink pumps. A little bit of spice in an otherwise fairly conservative business outfit. I felt my groin warm as my eyes lingered on her calves.
Her face lit up with recognition when she caught my gaze. Her tinder picture didn’t do her justice. Her nose and chin were round, her face an oval with a slight widows peak. Her lips were full and rosy pink. Her blue eyes wide with excitement. I raised my glass and smiled my most charming first date smile.
Five hours later, I lay in her bed empty and satisfied. Overall, a decent first date. As I listened to the water running from Juniper’s bathroom, I decided with drowsy comfort that she would make a great sacrifice.
We dated for a few months. Juniper was hot, cheeky, and wild in the bedroom. Things were going great. Until she invited me to her parent’s cabin for Christmas.
My father passed away earlier that year, so no one was waiting for me. I had to keep Juniper close for this year’s offering and I figured it was the season of family. As they say, the more the merrier.
We weren’t able to drive up to her family cabin till Christmas eve. Juniper worked as a legal secretary, and the office didn’t give her much time off, so it wasn’t till around 3pm before we were loading Juniper’s luxury crossover. It’s ok, I thought. Still plenty of time.
She wove the car through snowy back roads and explained to me what a “snow tire” was. I had only recently moved up north from Florida and I thanked Christ she didn’t ask me to help drive. But I had never seen snow before and its beauty struck me. I watched out the window as we passed the sparkling white landscape, mesmerized.
Her parents, both lawyers, were loaded so I don’t know why I was surprised when we pulled up to the “family cabin.” The two story mini-mansion was built from polished wood and stone. Large columns stretched up from the ground to the roof, creating a sharp awning that sheltered the double glass front doors and floor to ceiling windows that spotted the modern exterior.
Juniper parked her car at the top of the driveway, expressing obvious annoyance that all three spaces in the garage were already taken by her parents’ and sisters’ cars.
I peered out the passenger window at the house. Large soft snowflakes fell lazily to the ground, illuminated by two spotlights shining from the front yard onto the cabin’s facade. The light reflected off the snow, giving it the illusion that the heavens were raining gold.
“Wow, I know I’m from Florida, but…” I paused. “This isn’t really what I was picturing.”
Juniper lowered onto the wheel to get a better look at her family home. Her face glowed in the warm light from outside. She chuckled, “yeah, I know. But don’t be fooled, it’s not all fancy.” She eyed me mischievously, “the cell service is fucking shit.”
“Ah.” I nodded, as if that one fact brought her whole family back down to earth.
“You brought your swimsuit, right?”
I laughed at the joke. “Oh, of course.”
Her smile fell. “No, Calvin, I’m serious. You brought your suit, right?”
I looked out at the snowy wilderness around us, unsure how to respond.
Juniper sighed. “For the jacuzzi! I’m sure my dad has an extra pair you can borrow.”
“Oh, great.” I said without much enthusiasm.
Big wet snowflakes coated us in the few minutes it took to unload the car and jog to the house. The door closed with a thud and Juniper dropped her bags, kicking off her pristine duck boots before bounding down the hallway.
“Amber, Clover, where are you guys?!”
I placed the box of meticulously wrapped gifts I had been carrying down and grabbed a quick look at my watch. 5:14. Perfect. The ride up was faster than I had expected. Still plenty of time.
I looked around to see that I was standing in an entrance room. The wood floor and walls glowed with the yellow light radiating from a huge chandelier hanging above my head. It was made of light grey branches braided around each other, their bark smooth and manicured as if they had naturally grown like that.
Feminine squeals rang down the hall from the back of the house. I stood there, awkwardly unsure what to do. At least I looked the part. Juniper, dissatisfied with my wardrobe, had bought me a tan wool coat. She explained that my faded leather jacket was neither weather appropriate nor fashionable. I had moved up to the city during the summer and my closet hadn’t been prepared for the blistering winds and snow of the north. I’m lucky I had Juniper to help with that. At least according to her.
Snow clung to the shoulders of the department store coat as the warmth of the house embraced me. I could feel the chilly wetness of melting snow sink into my knit beanie. A matching scarf was wrapped around my neck, the fibers clinging to my moist lips unpleasantly.
I grabbed at the scarf with my gloved hand and pulled. In my defense, I wasn’t used to the lack of individual fingers and the clumsiness of a hand wrapped in thick wool. I had half of the unwieldy piece of clothing in one hand while the end hugged my throat tightly when the Mills family entered.
“Oh no! Baby!” Juniper’s voice was filled with amusement as she rushed to help me. She took the scarf and carefully untangled it from my neck.
A gravelly voice boomed, filling the space, “June mentioned you were from the South! Guess you guys don’t really need winter accessories down there, huh?”
Juniper continued to help me undress out of my winter outwear as I turned. Behind her stood a beast of a man. He towered over my 5’11” frame, his shoulders broader than a football player’s. His beard was thick yet neatly trimmed. He wore a fitted flannel shirt and pressed jeans, making him look more like a lumberjack who modeled for L.L. Bean on his off days than a lawyer.
My mouth hung open for a moment before I regained my composure. “Mr. Mills, it’s nice to meet you.” I extended my hand around Juniper, who was still working on my coat. “I’m Calvin.”
“Matthias, Matthias!” He roared joyously, pushing Juniper out of the way as he pulled me into a tight embrace. My body was engulfed by his meaty chest. I’m not ashamed to admit it, it was the best hug of my life. Comforting and warm. For a moment, I forgot about the greater good. My purpose in life. My father. It was like being suspended in a vat of Christmas and love.
He let go of me and I stepped back, noticing for the first time the two figures behind him.
“Calvin, these are my sisters: Clover and Amber.” Juniper said, beaming from me to them.
Juniper was the middle daughter of three. Clover, at 29, was the eldest and Amber, at 22, was the youngest. The only thing the sisters had in common was that they were three of the most gorgeous women I had even seen in my life. Clover had silky black hair, cut short at her chin. Her features were sharp, her thin grey eyes bordered by heavy eyelashes. She smiled coyly at me as she extended her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Calvin.” While Juniper’s voice was high and bubbly, Clover’s voice was low and throaty. Similar to her father’s but with a husky feminine quality that made it difficult to think of her as my girlfriend’s sister.
“And I’m Amber.” A soft voice said to my left. I tore my gaze away from Clover to the younger sister. Amber was much shorter than her siblings, with thick red hair and a circular face. She had a button nose and round green eyes. She looked like she had stepped out of an Irish folktale. Amber contrasted sharply with her sisters. Juniper was tall and had an athletic build. Tight but soft, firm and preppy like a cheerleader. Clover was tall and thin, angles and bite, the only one in the room who actually looked like a lawyer (but ironically was a painter).
And Amber…. Well… Let’s just say Amber’s curves swelled and ebbed in all the right places. A sailor could get lost exploring those rolling waves.
I smiled and took her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Juniper didn’t talk about her family much and I knew well enough not to ask, but I made a mental note to discreetly broach the subject of whether her and her sisters all had the same parents. “Where’s Mrs. Mills?”
Matthias’ smile wavered. “Eh, she had to run an errand.” His eyes shifted to Clover, who’s returning gaze narrowed slightly. His dark eyes shot back to mine and he smiled confidently again, the moment of weirdness over as suddenly as it had started. “She’ll be back later.”
“Come on, Juniper. Help us with dinner!” Amber said as she grabbed her sister’s hand and began to pull her down the hall.
Clover’s mouth turned downwards as her dark eyes lingered on me for a moment before following her sisters.
Something heavy hit my shoulder and I jumped. Matthias had clapped his huge hand onto my back. “Let me tell you, it’s nice to have a man to talk with! I’m always surrounded by women!” He laughed a low good hearted growl as he lead me into another room.
We entered a cavernous living room, the ceiling arching high above us. Several thick naked wooden beams held it up. A large red oriental rug stretched from wall to wall, complimenting the forest green walls well. Two large brown leather couches sat kitty corner to each other in the middle of the room.
The walls were lined with hunting trophies. The taxidermied heads of different animals stared out across at each other, their dead glassy eyes unseeing. Deer and bears snarled meaninglessly, their teeth barred without emotion. A bobcat perched on a rock in the corner of the room next to a fat pheasant. Against one wall was a large glass gun rack. Polished rifles gleamed in the warm overhead light. The centerpiece of the room, a massive moose head, rested above the marble fireplace in which a large fire roared, radiating heat and golden light around the room.
Catching me eyeing his collection, Matthias laughed. “Are you a hunter, Calvin?”
I thought for a second before carefully choosing my next words. “My father and I used to go hunting once a year together. I still practice the tradition.”
“Good.” His deep voice resonated with the warmth from the fireplace, creating an atmosphere of masculine comfort and safety. “I like a man who hunts.”
I smiled at him and nodded, unsure how to respond.
“Sit down, sit down!” He ordered as he fell into one of couches. I obliged, sitting on the other couch facing him as I prepared for the inevitable father-boyfriend interview.
“Calvin…” he rolled my name around his tongue experimentally as he eyed me. “That a protestant name, isn’t it?”
“Uh…” I stammered, taken off guard. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Matthias leaned forward, resting his forearm against his thigh. “Do you believe in God, Calvin?”
The line of questioning was going down a dark path I had not expected. In the four months I had been dating Juniper, she had never brought up religion.
“Of course…” My answer was slow and deliberate.
Matthias nodded, his eyes narrowing at me. “God is the most important thing to this family. The Mills clan walks close with Him. We are His servants, and we take that role very seriously.”
I nodded. “My family believed the same. We were very devote.”
“Were?” Matthias asked.
“My father died this past February. I never knew my mother, but my dad raised me to be fearful of God.”
“And what do you believe now?”
I hesitated. “I still practice.”
“You can be honest with me, Calvin.” Matthias sat back into the thick leather couch. “I won’t tell Juniper not to date you because of your religious beliefs. Or lack thereof.” He laughed, as if that last part was a joke.
I smiled at him, “I’ll admit, I do not follow the more embellished of the ceremonies my father taught me, but I still believe in his word and actions.”
He nodded. “I can respect that. I know my daughters only participate in some of the more, how did you put it… embellished of the ceremonies solely for my benefit. I understand the younger generation doesn’t care as much for the ritual of worship. But I think it’s important that you know how deep this family’s spirituality runs. God comes first in this house. When God asks us to do something,” he paused, looking towards the floor as he cleared his throat. He looked back up at me, his gaze fierce, freezing me in time and space. “We obey without question.”
“As it should be.” I said.
We stared at each other for several moments before the tension was broken by Matthias’ deep laughter.
“I like you, Calvin.” He stood. “I’m gonna go grab a beer, want one?”
“That’d be great, thanks.”
He left and I sat in the living room, surrounded by fire and death.
Dinner and drinks passed uneventfully. The food was delicious and Matthias’ wine cellar impressive. I didn’t even notice the absence of Mrs. Mills throughout the course of the dinner. Matthias kept filling my glass and I drank the rich red wine with relish.
I should’ve known better. Christmas eve had been me and my father’s night and so maybe my overindulgence was an attempt to deal with his absence. Maybe I wasn’t ready to go through that night’s rite without him just yet. But I knew at the back of my mind that I had to. That it was my duty. I owed it not just to my father, but to the world.
As Matthias poured another glass of wine, I looked down at my watch. 9:58. I needed to pace myself. To rest. I’d need my wits and strength for the witching hour. Luckily, I did not have to excuse myself early. As the clock struck ten, Matthias raised his glass in cheer.
“Let us bless our last sip of wine before we head to bed.” His eyes twinkled with drink. “Tonight’s a big night for us, and so let us toast to family” he held his glass towards me, “and new friends. To endings and new beginnings.” He winked, his smirk lopsided. “To the most sacred holiday, and to God. Let us give to Him all that He asks of us, and hope He favors us with the treasures of His bounty.”
He stretched his glass to mine. “To Saint Nicholas.” Our wine glasses clinked as the sister’s voices echoed their father. “To Saint Nicholas!”
I laughed and drowned the last of my wine, attributing each and every red flag to the quirkiness of a rich and spoiled family of lawyer lumberjacks.
I awoke later the night to hands running up my chest. I opened my eyes, my mind groggily trying to catch up to my body’s instant reaction. A warm naked body pressed into me and I rolled towards her, pulling her closer. My lips found her soft skin and I kissed her neck, tracing the gentle curve to her jaw. Something brushed lightly against the back of my neck, but my brain was too drenched in desire and sleep to register the sensation. She moaned and I ran my hand up her side. As I cupped her breast, the supple flesh gave under my fingertips and electricity shot through my body as I squeezed. Bringing my mouth to hers, I kissed her deeply
Arms wrapped around my back and I opened my eyes with instant focus, my vision suddenly filled with Clover’s cold grey gaze.
I recognized the sensation of breasts much larger than Juniper’s or Clover’s pressing against my back, firm and soft. Amber’s breath was hot on my ear. “Shhhh, don’t fight it.” Her tongue slid across the sensitive skin at the top of my neck and brought my earlobe between her lips. She sucked softly and my dick swelled.
I turned to face her, her lips finding mine as I pressed myself into her thighs. I moaned lightly as Clover’s hand snaked around my hip. As I kissed Amber, Clover moved to my cock, gently teasing it before wrapping her fingers around the shaft.
“Oh, fuck.” I gasped as she began to stroke. I rolled onto my back, my eyes closed as Amber and Clover explored my body, their heat radiating into my sides.
Clover kissed my cheek and whispered, “open your eyes.”
Above me, standing at the foot of the bed, was a woman. I sat bolt upright, filled with sudden panic. Clover and Amber’s hands fell away as they watched my reaction with amused expressions on their faces.
The woman stood, looking at me. Her hair was long, longer than Juniper’s, and it was stark white. Not graying, but pure white. She stood completely naked, her pale body glowing in the silver light of the moon outside the window. Her eyes were wide, revealing pupils completely milky with cataracts. She looked ageless, color fading from her along with her youth, yet her fair skin was still smooth and firm.
“Calvin, mom. Mom, Calvin.” Clover cooed beside me, her voice a mix of sensuality and power.
Mrs. Mills stared at me with those unseeing eyes, and she smiled.
“It’s nice to meet you, Calvin.” She said quietly, her voice delicate.
I was breathing heavily, my panting shifting from arousal to fear in mere seconds. My fight or flight instinct was screaming at me to do something, but I was frozen. My eyes darted to the digital clock on the nightstand. 11:28. My alarm was set to go off in only a few minutes. I still had time to prepare for the ritual. I looked up at Mrs. Mills, who was still smiling at me, waiting for a response.
My voice came out strained, tight with fear, confusion, and some embarrassment at the sheer amount of nudity around me. “You too, Mrs. Mills.”
“Please, call me Holly.” Without waiting for a response, she turned to Clover. “He will do. Prepare him for sacrifice.”
I felt a pinch in my neck, then darkness.
I opened my eyes slowly. My head throbbed and my body was shaking uncontrollably, the air shockingly cold. I tried to take in the scene around me through blurry vision. I was sitting on the cold hard ground. Short walls of snow surrounded me in a circle, but the circle itself was bare except for dozens of thick white candles. My ass cheeks were numb against the frozen leaves that had only recently been covered. I was naked and I realized the Mills family was kneeling around me.
Juniper and her sisters swayed in the chill night air, the slowly falling snow soaking into the delicate fabric of their nightgowns. They chanted together, their voices joining in a chorus of a German sounding dialect I did not recognize.
Directly in front of me stood Matthias. His hands clasped in front of him as if in prayer. A black, crooked dagger jutted out from his grasp towards his face.
Jesus fuck, what time is it? I thought as I tried to stand, but my hands were tied behind my back.
A creature stepped out from the chilly darkness and into the circle. Looming above me was a reindeer, Holly straddling its back. She wore a long, flowing white gown. A crown of icicles was perched on her forehead and she looked down, her white eyes glowing in the candlelight.
Contrasting starkly to Holly’s disturbing beauty, the reindeer was twisted and distorted. It looked more like someone’s idea of a sick joke than a living animal. Instead of standing on hooves, the deer’s leg bones protruded from the ends of red oozing stumps. Bloody velvet hung loosely from white bones in fleshy stripes. It’s face was dirty and blackened with what looked like charcoal. A long, black tongue lolled out of its mouth between two rows of human teeth.
I squirmed in the rope that bound me, trying to pull its knot loose. Juniper and I had played with bondage in the bedroom and I knew her style. It wouldn’t take me long to undo anything she had done and my adrenaline silenced any doubt that it could have been any one of the other four family members.
The creature stepped forward towards me as it spoke, its exposed ankle bone pressing into the frozen earth with a dull crunch.
“I am the soul of Saint Nicholas.” It roared, its voice cracking through the air like thunder.
I paused my squirming. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You heard him, mortal!” Holly shrieked. Her voice had lost the fragile air from before. It was now dry and harsh, like paper crinkling into a ball. Or wood cracking as fire bites into it. It didn’t sound real. More like a demon’s voice than a human’s. Like a succubus or siren. High pitched and flittering. The cackle of an evil witch.
My fight against the rope renewed with desperate determination. Fuck this shit and fuck this family.
The reindeer snickered quietly before beginning to speak again. “I am weak and old, but fresh blood will wash me anew.” His eyes glowed like burning coals.
“Oh Saint Nicholas, we worship thee!” The voices of the Mills family rose above the circle, their eyes closed with intense concentration.
Matthias continued, “we call upon the witching hour to bring our deity new life!”
“Let Saint Nicholas live again!” The daughters chanted.
The rope fell loosely from my wrists and I silently thanked my now ex-girlfriends crappy survival skills. I jumped up, naked and filled with a fury that easily squashed all self-doubt I had going into this cursed holiday. My father’s death was far from my mind, replaced with hatred.
Matthias’ eyes shot open. His daughters’ chanting faded as they looked from him to me to the god before us.
I looked at my watch. 11:58. I sighed with relief. Witching Hour wasn’t for another three hours. I had plenty of time to deal with the Mills’ shenanigans before it was too late to complete the ritual.
The reindeer, who stood almost a foot beneath me, smiled. “Oh, the foolish confidence of the son charged with the burden of the father.” He bellowed, his voice deep and impressive.
I looked down at him, our eyes locking. “What did you say?”
The deer began to paw the ground, shifting right and left. He looked like a child doing the pee-pee dance. “Oh, look at me.” He said in a mocking tone. “I’m Calvin and I’m an orphan. My daddy entrusted me with our family’s sacred duty but I’m scared.” The reindeer shook its head dramatically with each word, “if only daddy was here to help me kill these people.”
Holly’s anger faltered on her face. She was confused as well. This behavior, apparently, was not what the Mills family expected from their god.
“What the-” Matthias stood, his face twisted in confusion.
“Get the fuck off me, lady.” The reindeer bucked and Holly fell to the ground with a painful thud. Matthias reached out and quickly pulled her towards him. His daughters were now cowering at his sides. All malice and power gone from their faces, replaced with utter confusion.
How do you like it? Fucking assholes.
The reindeer continued, “luckily for little Calvin, the Mills are too dumb to know that the witching hour isn’t midnight. Little Calvin still has hours to kill all of them and burn their black little hearts in a fire born of coal and pine.”
He stopped his dance, his face becoming stern again. “You must’ve been thrilled when you were brought to the woods. No fake Christmas for Florida boy, oh no. No mail order pine needles and coal for daddy’s little boy. No, you thought coming up north was the right thing to do. Not like daddy made you live somewhere where it didn’t snow for a reason.”
I spat at the ground and look to the Mills. “This isn’t fucking Santa Claus you dim fucks.”
The reindeer took a steps towards me. “Do you believe in fate, Calvin?”
I looked down at him. “How did you find me? How… how are you even mortal?”
He leaned forward, his dead animal lips hovering by my face. “I followed you, Calvin. I could smell your hunter scent in the snow and I followed it.” He stepped back and looked up at me, smirking. “I found the same idiots I knew you would. A little early Christmas gift, just for you.” His long tongue stretched out towards me. I flinched as the dry leathery skin touched my face, caressing me. It smelt of dried fish and dirt.
“How were you able to become corporeal?” I asked, shooing his tongue away from me. It fell lifeless, hanging in front of him uselessly.
He turned his head to look at the Mills family, who stood behind him, mouths agape. Juniper’s mascara ran and she cried, confused at the scene in front of her. My mind shot back to Matthias’ gun rack. His hunting trophies on the wall.
“Oh god, he made this vessel for you? Fucking sick, man.”
The reindeer shrugged. Or at least, he lifted his shoulders in what could be interpreted as a shrug.
“So what now, are you going to kill me?”
“Not tonight, Calvin.” He winked.
I looked down at my watch. 1:15.
“I still have two hours to perform the ritual…” There was a hiss around me, like sand flowing. I looked up to see a pile of black where the Mills family had been seconds before.
The reindeer swung his face around, as if in astonishment. “Oh my! Where did those rascals get to!?!” He stomped around in mock confusion, the bare bones he stood on audibly snapping with the weight.
“Welp,” he looked back up at me, “good luck trying to find new sacrifices in the middle of bum fuck whatever state this is. I’m out.” He turned away from me and leapt into the snow. He bounded deeper into the woods, his legs spasming in front of him as if he didn’t have the right number of knees.
“See you next Christmas Eve, mother fucker!” He said over his shoulder as he disappeared from sight.
And now, because of the idiocy of one family, my legacy has died. For the first time in 200 years, my bloodline has failed in our sacred duty.
And for that, I apologize. I have failed you. There were so many signs, so many red flags. I should’ve known.
So here’s a warning, the last thing I can offer you in my father’s name. This Christmas Eve, make sure to lock your doors and windows. Leave your shoes outside and stay bundled in your bed. Because this year, Krampus is back.