((Best viewed listening to Lucas King's Krampus Christmas Music on YouTube.))


Tate woke when he rolled over and cold air hit his newly-bared ear. He scrunched down and covered the ear with his blanket. For a few seconds he drifted near sleep again. Then his bladder alerted him that he needed to get up. He tried to ignore it, but it was incredibly persistent. So the boy sat up and swung his legs over the side of the mattress.

He perched on the edge of the tall bed, feet dangling almost out of sight in the darkness. He couldn't reach the floor. He wasn't entirely sure it was there. What if he slid off the bed and fell, and kept falling? The possibility seemed very real just then. So he gathered his strength and flung himself out of bed, landing with a stumble a few feet away. The floor was solid there. Looking back toward his bed, the darkness near the floor was complete. He was certain it would have swallowed him if he hadn't jumped over it.

Feeling brave, he went out into the hall. The house was dark and cold. He wished he'd grabbed a blanket or some socks. All he had was his well-worn baseball t-shirt and his thin Pacman jammie bottoms. Shivering, he hurried the last few feet to the bathroom. It was dark in there, too. The nightlight wasn't working again. He didn't want to blind himself turning on the overhead light though, so he left it off while he did his business.

He was super cold by the time he was done. To avoid getting colder, he skipped washing his hands and headed back to the hall. There was a strange sound he didn't quite catch. He paused midway back to his bedroom and cocked his head, listening to the house. It felt cavernous around him; the isolation it forced on him was dwarfing.

"Mama?" he called, suddenly scared. The house felt empty. Dead. Tears burned his eyes and he said louder: "Addie?"

His voice echoed away into the darkness. He was starting to get scared. It was starting to feel like one of those bad dreams where he was all alone in the whole world, but he was pretty sure he was awake. His eyes leaked some more tears and his nose started to run. He went to the landing but looking down the boxy stairwell, there was just more darkness.

"Mama!" he called down into the darkness. He knew he would get in trouble for being up so late, but he didn't care at the moment. "Mama! I need you!"

At first there was only silence. Then, far away downstairs, Tate heard music. He listened hard, his ears straining to determine what the tune was, but he could only pick out thin, distant notes. Hesitantly, he started down the stairs, one hand on the cold wood rail. He crept down the steps carefully, alert for any signs of movement from the darkness. Nothing jumped out at him, for which he was grateful.

As he came around the final twist in the stairs, he could make out light, flickering and coppery, brightening the foyer. The light and the soft music were coming from the sitting room. He could make out the song now. It was Silent Night, and it sounded like it was being played on an old record player. Curious, he crept into the room, feeling very much like one of the mice in the Nutcracker ballet.

The fireplace was lit with a fire, though it looked like it had been burning a long time because the logs were mostly embers and charcoal and the flames burned low. There was a cut branch of real pine on the mantel that scented the whole room with the sticky clean scent of winter. On the dark wood coffee table sat his old record player. The green record spinning on it was the source of the music, its verdant hue dulled by age. The warped condition of the record made the notes wobbly when heard this close. Not pretty.

He reached for the arm of the record player with the thought to stop the creepy carol. He was just about to touch it when he felt a really peculiar sense that someone—or something—was standing right behind him. He had a sudden vision of some monstrous Krampus-like creature skulking over him, ready to drool on him. He turned quickly, ready to scream.

There was nothing there except his own shadow dancing on the wall. The low light of the fire made even that indistinct. He watched it suspiciously for several seconds before turning back to the record player. It reached the end of the track and started into the next, a wobbly version of Carol of the Bells. He stared at the record player in vague puzzlement, not sure why it was playing in the middle of the night or what he should do about it, if anything. He should probably tell his mother, but he didn't know where she was.

It occurred to him that he still didn't know if he was dreaming or not. Recognizing that broke the thin veneer of denial he'd been operating under since waking. He didn't know what was real and the weight of disassociation made him dizzy.

He backed away from the record player and ground his knuckles into his eyes. Then he bumped into something right behind him, startling him so badly, he yelped in surprise. Whirling around, he found himself looking up at Dr. Montgomery. The man looked down at him, his dark eyes glassy with the effects of the ether he indulged in so regularly.

"You should be in bed," the doctor said. His tone and expression were mild.

Tate chewed his lower lip briefly, then said: "Is it Christmas?"

Dr. Montgomery stared at him, unblinking, for several seconds. Then his expression eased into a faint smile. "Very nearly."

"Is it time to open presents?"

The doctor's smile inched wider. "Not quite."

"Oh." Tate rubbed his right eye, suddenly feeling incredibly drained. Being near Charles always made him feel funny. "When?"

"Soon," the man said. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he bent and picked the child up. "You have to sleep first."

He didn't have Nora's instincts with the boy. He would always feel awkward when interacting with his offspring. He didn't understand them or their peculiar needs and impulses. The best he could do was mimic her behavior when he carried the boy back to his room and put him back in bed. There was nothing tender about the way the doctor simply left afterward either.

But for Tate, that night, it was more than enough.

xxx


Author's Note:

I've been talking about doing some sort of holiday short but this wasn't what I was thinking. Like many of the things I've written for this fandom, this came blind out of left field. I've often joked that I don't write this stuff, it writes itself. I just channel it.

There is a deliberate absence of a date on this short. I wanted you to feel just as lost and uncertain about reality as Tate was at the time. Was he alive? Or was this a moment post-death where he was guising as a child? Reality means little in Murder House.

One last Christmas treat: If you haven't seen the original X-files episode "The Ghosts Who Stole Christmas", check it out. It's set in a house very much like Murder House, with a plot line that would mesh with that of the Montgomery Mansion. The ep stars Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner and is a lot of fun. Not your typical holiday rerun.

Happy holidays!