Chimney Sweeps

Posted: 22nd December 2013 by Jeff Bouley / Deacon Blue in Single-run ("One off") Stories

I recommend that you review all or most of the previous stories involving Doctor Holiday (if you haven’t read them or don’t recall them well…they are easily found on this page), as it might make certain visuals and situations a bit more…intense…as well as make more sense as you read this tale. Oh, and this is a Christmas tale, but there is nothing at all festive about it. This is more like a horror story. Just thought you should know.

The trail stretched gray and dusty, entwined with streamers of glistening, moist crimson, from the fireplace to the tree.

The bag was wet and thumped across the honeyed toned of the hardwood floor with dull, squishing little thuds. But there was no one to witness the tainted, winding path being laid from one end of the living room to the other. No one whose hair could stand on end at the eerie sound. No one to call out a warning or utter a horrified scream.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse—all were tucked away snug and warm, some dreaming of Christmas morning, one dreaming of a trip to Mexico and another dreaming of a rendezvous with someone other than his wife. Muted snoring and gentle, sleepy purrs shielded them from the sounds of a damp, lumpy cargo and the shadowy form dragging it, then leaving it near the tree.

And then the gnarled and gangly shape moved through shadows down a hall and around a corner, seeking. Seeking a door. Seeking a treasure.

The small form stirred for a moment. Then turned sleepily as colorful light played across his pajamas and then his face. He rolled over sleepily, some part of his mind expecting Santa to be there. His half-lidded, sleep-dulled gaze took in the digital display with Rudolph’s smiling face and glowing nose. He blinked. He saw the shape wearing that display across its chest. Went rigid as a wide palm and long, stick-like fingers enshrouded his head. Tried to scream against the hot, papery skin that was becoming horrifyingly damper and softer, and felt only muffled groans vibrate back against his mouth.

Lifted from his bed like a ragdoll, shaking and pummeling to get free. Exhausting himself as he was held aloft by his head, until his efforts began to weaken and his attempts to cry out grew less vigorous.

And then, with an almost bored-seeming flick, the large hand on the bony wrist jerked violently, snapping the child’s neck. Turning out the light on the innocent life. Dragging the small corpse by its head, making soft bumping and sliding sounds.

Taking the mutilated form out of the sack and replacing it with this new find. Less bloody, more intact, but equally dead.

The visitor took a large gift from beneath the tree, carefully unwrapped part of it, and removed the huge collection of LEGO construction kits from the box that had lain beneath the bright, foil wrap. In went the bloody and dead child, and then the wrapping was carefully put back into place.

A child given to replace the child taken. Equal exchange. Egalitarian in his gruesome sweep through the small New England city blanketed in snow and slumbering in the dark between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

He shook the sack in his hand and admired the heft of it. Grinned a glistening, sharp-toothed smile. Waved at the home he had just exited as he dropped from the roof to the front yard. Then walked into the street.

And on to the next house.

His sixth of the night.

* * *

Sugar plums didn’t dance in her head. Nor fairies, nor toy-making elves, nor nutcracker soldiers nor decorations in the yard nor lights on the tree.

Lydia awoke knowing someone was in the house, but not knowing how.

Santa? she thought in the wisdom of a seven-year-old whose belief in a jolly old elf hadn’t yet been broken.

She stole quietly out of her room on the first floor, more to avoid startling Santa Claus than awakening her parents. They always drank their sour-smelling drinks to excess on Christmas Eve before retiring to their room on the second floor—as they did on any night that could be painted as a holiday celebration or something similar—and would be nearly impossible to wake until at least 10 a.m. Christmas morning. It was a lesson she had learned well since she was old enough to talk and get her own breakfast cereal.

When she got to the living room, she saw no one, and frowned.

I was sure that…

A scratching sound caught Lydia’s attention.

The fireplace.

The chimney.

“Damn,” she heard quietly but fiercely from that dark and ashy place.

Santa swears? she thought, and decided she shouldn’t be surprised. Grown people, even the nicest ones, did things she never imagined they would, like when she saw her teacher Miss Quimby outside the local Walmart smoking a few months ago.

She ran quickly to the kitchen to retrieve a flashlight, telling herself she wanted to make sure Santa could see what he was doing, since it sounded like he might be stuck, but really just wanting to see his face, even if he might be a little annoyed at the moment navigating their century-old chimney.

She heard another swear word as she approached and clicked on the flashlight. She scooted into the fireplace, which had no logs or ashes in it and hadn’t since she was five, and let the bright beam play up into the chimney.

And she saw him.

Not Santa. Not Santa Claus at all, she realized, and her stomach curled back into itself.

What was in the chimney looked like someone had sculpted a near-clone of The Grinch from raw hamburger meat, took away the pot belly and replaced it with a narrow-waisted, almost conical torso, and gave him broad hands with long, thin claws along with a mouthful of needle-like teeth.

He was struggling to get down, with some electronic display attached to his chest blinking out the lighted words Merry Christmas! even as the ends of the display’s casing were lodged against the sides of the chimney.

The Not-Santa smiled wickedly as he saw her, and redoubled his efforts to extricate himself. A bit of drool fell from his teeth onto her face and she shrieked briefly and loudly as she scuttled out from the chimney. As she heard the thing inside cry out, “Yes!” and finally drop into the fireplace and emerge into the living room.

The body was tall but lean—almost emaciated-looking but sinuously flexible and bearing muscles so wiry and tight that Lydia had no doubt he was far stronger than she. Perfectly shaped to get up and down chimneys and kill children.


Lydia knew not why or how, but she was certain the bag in the left hand of the creature with the moist, pitted, red-and-gray flesh contained the crushed corpse of a child even younger than her. Knew that her own body would replace the other one in that sack and that broken child would be left here in her place.

A pointy-eared head shaped like an elongated, fleshy egg turned toward her. Smiled a needle smile. Winked at her with one broad, almond-shaped brown eye.

“A Christmas sweeeeeet,” the thing cooed to her. “I want to plaaaaaay with yooooooou.”

When Lydia scuttled backward some more, hoping to get to her feet and flee, her back slammed up against a wall, and the Not-Santa lunged forward, looming over her with its raw-meat nakedness, the digital display illuminating them both in gangrene greens and bloody reds. What made it all the worse was the thing smelled sweet like candy, despite looking like rotting flesh.

One long-fingered scarlet hand reached out, with sharp gray nails twitching, and Lydia screamed.


There had been no words, which surprised her all the more. And the thing reeled backwards.


The Not-Santa shook at if having a fit, then stopped and fixed its gaze on her. The smile turned to a snarl and, for some reason, that made Lydia feel safer.

In my head. She’s in my head. How is she…

The thing that most people called Doctor Holiday when they saw him but which Lydia had no name for except Not-Santa paused and then shook with rage. His Morph powers made his body swell outward and turn a grayer color before he reverted to the form in which he had entered the home.

Here to learn a lesson and teach the others. Intolerable! I only want to play! Not learn!

He still didn’t realize what the girl was doing exactly, but some part of him knew one of his own powers, aside from the morphing ability, was telepathy. As was her own as yet unexplored ability. And he knew with a certainty that they could only do this because they both had telepathy. A tool apparently hidden and useless except in the presence of someone with the same talent.

A test! A test! I’ve been let out just to test a theory! Damn you all! the Doctor Holiday thing screamed at the other Doctor Holidays in his mind. I won’t serve you. I’m here to play. To have fun. To take all the little children in their homes and leave gifts for the parents!

He turned toward the girl again. “Plaaaaaaaaay,” he hissed.


He reeled again, but not with the mental onslaught from her. She had surprised him before but he was stronger. Older, more wily and able to push through pain. He could have fought her mental cries now. But now the voices inside his head echoed hers.

“No! Leave her be. Go away! Leave her alone!”

The litany went on and one, hundreds of echoes assaulting him. Even most of the evil-minded or criminally inclined personalities in their shared mental space were revolted by his actions. A few small voices cheered him on and some others were silent, but the vast majority chided and rebuffed him. Commanded him to leave.

It’s my body tonight! Mine! I control it. I do as I will. You can’t tell me!

But he couldn’t shut them out. The girl. The fucking girl! She was goading them. Stirring them up. Amplifying their voices.

I’m still a test subject. They knew. Someone in there knew, at least, he thought savagely and then had a fleeting image of someone inside. Lost it, and silently raged. I won’t be a test! I will bathe in this girl’s blood. I will peel away her skin! I will pull bones from her arms and legs while she still lives and suck the flesh from them. Suck the marrow from inside! I will not…

The screams inside his head redoubled. The girl before him had her eyes shut tight but he knew she could see inside his head. She was looking at everyone inside him. Pleading. Asking for help. And they were—and it infuriated him.

Ready to strike her down, he dropped the sack onto the floor instead and then doubled over, gripping his oblong head in lumpy red palms and then snarling at the girl once. Twice. Spitting at her and then finally turning frantically, trying to find a way out. A way to shut off the voices in head. Escape.

The fireplace had hindered him before. The door seemed too complicated. He ran, and tumbled through a window, shattering glass awaking a dog next door to bark wildly, while Lydia’s parents snored on.

Outside, the Not-Santa Doctor Holiday fled, hundreds of himselves inside him warning and threatening and telling him his night was over. He wailed to the sky now slowly growing into a gray-blue shade. Saw the first hints of light over the horizon. Felt his control on the body slip away. Saw the psychic face of the one he had almost remembered before and then lost his grip on.


I will kill you for making me a guinea pig. I will kill you for letting them all deny me. I will rage inside our shared mind and slaughter all of you!

A few minutes later, the body began to change. Back to a brown-haired, bearded man. Tall and muscular. Walking through the snow in bare feet, heedless of the cold, the digital display slapping coldly against his bare chest as it declared the number of days until New Year’s. As he walked toward their stash of clothing left behind when Not-Santa was given rein. Toward the bandages that would soon obscure his face again. Toward the next holiday and the next liberation of a mind inside the mind. Doctor Holiday looked back once toward Lydia’s house. Disinterested, but drawn to her silent voice, still echoing inside his head. Then broke the connection and walked away.

While she shivered in fear at first, then relief, and later cold.

Until she shakily got herself to her parents’ room after an hour of soft weeping in the living room, and squeezed between them, eliciting barely a grunt from either of them. Settling between them in the hopes that even in their post-drunken slumber, they could protect her as parents should, from things that go bump in the night.

Even the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.