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'Twas the night before Christmas...
And all through the house Not a creature was stirring, Not even a mouse...
Well, actually, to be honest, that wasn't strictly true. Creatures *were* stirring, and they were stirring *everywhere*- Todd had seen them on the Wildlife Show.
Dust-Mites, the Wildlife Show had called them, but that didn't give them their true horror, oh no. That suggested something quite... harmless. Todd knew much better.
Horrid creatures, they were- creepy little things, creepy things with teeth and beaks and lots of horrid little segmented legs, things with horrid little minds, burning with bright and beautiful malice, things-
But the horrid Dust-Mites weren't the worst thing out there, oh no. Todd knew this, *knew* it. He'd been visited by them in the past- long, stringy things that looked like snakes, short, dumpy things that had far too many teeth, horrid, shapeless things that lurked in every shadow... Todd had seen them all.
Once upon a time he would have had Shmee to save him, but ever since the Scary Neighbour Man had gutted him and spilled his soft white innards all over the floor, Shmee had been strangely silent, not even whispering in the night any more.
It worried Todd, really- if the Scary Neighbour Man had been able to silence Shmee, what else was he capable of?
Oh, the things he'd done to Todd's parents, he was capable of *that*, too... but somehow, that didn't really matter- Todd could cope with the things the Scary Neighbour Man had done to Mommy and Daddy, had secretly envied him for doing them, had dreamed of doing them himself in the strange, dark days that had followed, when Mommy and Daddy had been quite so curiously frightened-but to silence Shmee...
That was something else, something else indeed.
Todd hadn't seen the Scary Neighbour Man in some time- was that good or bad? He didn't really know- the screams had stopped, and there'd been no more midnight conversations, and no more horribly bloodied gifts left on his pillow, but for some reason...
Take now, for example. Sitting in bed, Todd could see that it was snowing. It was snowing, and it was Christmas Eve...
...And Todd was *terrified*. It had been on the news, hadn't it- a maniac had escaped from the local sanitarium, and was even now prowling the area. Todd could just see him, smell his booze-soaked breath, feel the horrible, bristly hairs on his arms, feel the fear racing through him like-
If the Scary Neighbour Man had been around, Todd wouldn't have been quite so afraid.
The maniac wouldn't have been quite so scary with the Scary Neighbour Man around, oh no- he wouldn't have been quite so scary at all. The Scary Neighbour Man would have been enough to scare him away- the maniac would probably have-
But the Scary Neighbour Man *wasn't* there, was he? He was gone. Just like Shmee was gone. Todd tried whistling a happy tune, tried to lift his spirits, tried a little festive cheer-
It didn't work. He really shouldn't have watched that movie earlier that night. Even if Mommy hadn't said she didn't care, and Daddy hadn't told him to leave him alone, he *really* shouldn't have watched that movie. It had been *scary*.
Santa had been in it, only Santa hadn't been Santa- he'd been a maniac escaped from a sanitarium, a maniac with a huge axe and a jolly red suit and a horrible grin behind his fluffy white beard. Santa had done terrible things to a lady in that film, almost as bad as the things the Scary Neighbour Man had done. Todd had been terrified, but he'd had to watch the movie all the way through, just to make sure that it had just been a movie.
He lived in fear that one day he would switch the television on and see himself looking back with quiet fear dancing behind his eyes, as huge, reptilian monstrosities fluttered in and out of the shadows, and as the Dust-Mites rose from the carpet of his bedroom like a hideous black cloud, and-
Todd tried to whistle a happy tune again, and his lips were too dry. All that came out was a faltering "phwee". A "phwee" a little like a party-blower, a Christmas party blower, the ones that looked like the antennae of-
Antennae were bad. The Things From Outer Space that had visited Todd that time had had antennae. The other Things From Outer Space hadn't had them, the ones who'd taken him away in that strange ship of theirs and done such terrible things to him, granted, they hadn't had antennae- but that didn't make antennae any less scary.
No, it probably made them worse, as it made him *think* of the other Things From Outer Space in the first place.
Wouldn't that be horrible, Todd thought, if the maniac in that scary movie *hadn't* been a maniac after all, but a Thing From Outer Space? That would just have been the scariest thing in the world- in the Universe, even! After all, the Things From Outer Space hadn't been *from* the world, had they? No, they'd been from *Outer Space*.
Todd hadn't liked Outer Space. It had smelled like mental hospitals and had been cold and metallic, and the Things From Outer Space had-
Todd tried to whistle a happy little tune for a third time. It hadn't worked the first two times, and the third time was no exception- this time the tune *did* come out, but served only to illustrate the all-pervading air of loneliness that hung in the air of his house, only served to deepen the darkness that surrounded him, suffocated him, that-
There was a noise at the window. Todd's heart leapt- what was it? Was it a maniac? Was it the Things From Outer Space, come for him again? Was it his future self, come back again so that it could tell him yet again how horrible the future was, and how he needn't bother growing up, and that-
What, Todd wondered, could it be? *What*? Was it a monster, or a Dust-Mite, or the scary boy from homeroom who said he was the AntiChrist, or was it-
What if it wasn't any of those things, but far worse? What if it was something so scary that-Todd had to know.
Ever-so-slowly, ever-so-softly, he crept from his bed and towards the window. It shone with a strange, white light- that as probably the lights of the spacecraft that the Things From Outer Space had come to kidnap him in, Todd thought- and the snow spattered against it like bugs on a zapper- only with less blood, and they didn't scream like the bugs did, Todd reasoned.
Closer and closer he got. What might the noise have been? A monster? A bug? A giant, many-headed dragon, with teeth and claws and... *What could it be*? Horror and terror twisted Todd's stomach into a thousand different parabolic waves, and yet still he crept towards the window.
Surely, it shouldn't be so far away. Surely it shouldn't be so big. Surely, it-
Todd reached the window, and he peered out. There was a sleigh on the roof, a sleigh, and reindeer, and- what was Todd seeing? Was he dreaming? Yes, that must be it, Todd thought, a little sad. Yes, he was dreaming, and any second now-
There were footprints. Footprints in the snow. Only one person left footprints in the snow *and* rode a sleigh pulled by reindeer that parked on your roof. Only one person could do that, and he was a good person.
Todd's eyes glistened with tears, and he sank down below the window ledge. He'd always known there was a Santa, *known* it. The fat drunk man at the mall- he'd not been Santa. When Scary Grandpa had dressed up and shouted and chased Todd around the house- that had been scary, sure, but it hadn't stopped him believing in Santa. In fact, it had-
There was a scream from outside, a loud scream. Todd's eyes widened with fear. The scream continued, long and high and gargling. Then it suddenly cut off, cut off with a wet splattering noise. All that was left was a burbling, coughing gurgle. What had happened out there, what had *happened*?
Todd was too afraid to look, but found himself rising to his feet anyway. He wouldn't look, he wouldn't turn, he wouldn't open the window-
He looked, and he turned, and he opened the window.
The scary neighbour man stood there, eyes blazing like the fires of Hell. A severed head dangled from one of his hands, a crude bow wrapped around it. An old man's severed head, an old man's severed head, with a long white beard and a jolly red hat, and a startled look in his eyes...
Todd squealed and staggered backwards, landing on his rump with a soft "thud". The Scary Neighbour man tossed the severed head through the window, where it landed between Todd's legs with a soft "splat". The eyes of the old man stared straight up Todd's nose. The Scary Neighbour Man grinned.
"Caught this jerk skulking around on your roof. Looks like he was gonna burgle you, Squee."
Squee. That was what the Scary Neighbour Man always called Todd. Sure, it was better than "Your Ruined My Life", which was what Daddy called him, and it was better than "Go Bug Your Father, Dear", but still...
The eyes stared up at Todd. The Scary Neighbour Man grinned.
"And you do *not* want to know what he was driving. Sick, really, sick. Such animal cruelty in this day and age... it's not on."
Somewhere, a truck's wheels screeched as it swerved, trying to avoid a terror-crazed reindeer. It failed with a huge bang.
The Scary Neighbour Man's head jerked around, and then spun back to Todd, demented glee burning in his eyes, a hideous Jack-O-Lantern two months too late.
"Merry Christmas, Squee."
Then like that, he was gone. Gone, with only the severed head as evidence he'd ever been there at all. Todd gulped.
"Merry Christmas, Mister Scary Neighbour Man..."
The words sounded odd, alone, alien. The clock on the wall started to chime twelve- it was midnight, and that made it Christmas. Todd tried to whistle a happy tune, tried to ignore the horror that lay on his bedroom floor.
It didn't work.