It’s not the first Christmas Eve I’ve spent at war.
It won’t be the last.
Rumor had reached me of ambushes deep behind our lines. The men had been cut down, literally. They’d been hamstrung, and then their throats slit. The attacks had been going on for nearly a week, and the assailants had become brazen.
The first of the dead had been found singly or in pairs. Slowly, the size of the dead had increased, and last night, a platoon had been ambushed.
Three men had survived, but only one was expected to live through to see Christmas Day.
When I reached the hospital where the men were being kept, I noticed a strange, unpleasant, and disturbingly familiar smell.
It was the faint, burning stench of the Hollow.
Entering the hospital, I found it abandoned.
There was no staff to be seen. None to be heard.
The wounded and the sick lay in their beds, all of them asleep. I’ve been in many hospitals, and there is always someone awake.
Pain is a poor nursemaid.
The smell grew stronger, and at last, I found the source of it.
A Father Christmas stood by a sickly Christmas tree. Gifts lay beneath it, each stamped with the red cross emblem. He wore it as well, but it was nothing more than a bit of camouflage. Subterfuge and eyewash for those who don’t know better.
Soft whispering filled the room as I entered, and the Father Christmas turned to face me. Elves, clad in red and green and white, crept out from beneath the hospital beds. In their hands, they held long, curved knives, and they peered at me with worry.
The Father Christmas didn’t know me, but they did.
I drew my knife, and their eyes settled on the blade’s keen edge.
They sheathed their weapons and slipped away into the darkness, leaving the Father Christmas alone with me.
Anger filled his face, and he demanded in French, “Who are you?”
I stepped forward, and he shrank back.
“Answer me,” he snarled.
When I moved toward him again, he tried to run for the fireplace, but I caught the back of his coat and slashed his hamstrings. He crashed to the floor, and as he tried to scramble away, I jerked his head back.
I did not slit his throat.
I sawed through his damned neck.