I caught another Father Christmas.
There are quite a few families on Washington Street, and I deemed it wise to linger. I loitered in the Barker house, weapons ready and anger brewing. I hoped the Father Christmas who had stolen the family might return.
Near midnight I heard the clatter of hooves and the jingle of harnesses coming from nearby. A glance out the window showed a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer parked to one side of the next house, and I knew someone had come from the Hollow.
I made my way outside as quietly as I could, and I resigned myself to the fact that this would be knife work.
I left the Barker house and stepped into fresh snow. The reindeer saw me, raised their noses and pranced nervously in their traces. I passed them by, far more eager to be deal with their driver than with them.
He had gone in through a narrow door. I passed by the maid’s room and saw her asleep, a rosary clutched in her hands.
I followed the wet bootprints of the invader to the nearest set of stairs and up to the second floor.
The tracks went into a small nursery, where a babe slept in a bassinet and the mother upon a narrow brass-framed bed.
And there was the Father Christmas. Toys were scattered on the floor and spilled from his bag, his eyes brimming with avarice. The curious prints upon his dark blue robes throbbed as though reflecting the desire within him.
He wasn’t the Father Christmas who’d stolen the Barkers and their maid.
He was something worse.
The fiend heard me and spun on his heel, hurling toys without hesitation. As the last left his hands, he sprang at me, fingers splayed wide to reveal long, curved blades curling from their tips.
But my own knife was out, and in the stillness and sanctity of that room, our breath rushed from our noses as we strained against one another. Blades flicking out, inflicting a thousand small cuts.
Then, his robes caught, and for a heartbeat, he hesitated.
I plunged my knife into his chest, twisting and cracking the bone as I cleaved his heart in twain.
Outside, the reindeer shrieked and inside, the Father Christmas vanished.
Mother and child slept on.