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RISE OF THE SNOWMEN
Enjoy this excerpt from my upcoming novel!
This is a sequel to Those Bloody Christmas Elves, which you can read about here. The excerpt below will give spoilers to Those Bloody Christmas Elves, however, it is not a requirement to read the first story in order to understand or enjoy Rise of the Snowmen :)
Where the angels creep and the snowmen feed…none survive.
Twas the season, once again, of blissful ignorance and peppermint. Of flashing rainbow lights and warm apple cider. Of spruce and spiders inside homes and sugary delights that ended most often with stomachaches. Not to mention too many presents, off-key carols, and trash. Oh, so much trash.
Too cynical by half.
Taylor frowned into his burnt coffee and shoved his other hand deeper into his jeans pocket. That’s what Greg had said at the start of the drawn-out holiday season, long before turkey had been carved or costumes put to good use. Too cynical by half.
As if the man couldn’t remember how he’d almost lost his little girl last year to an elvish kidnapping and thought the world seemed greener now that days had dulled the terror. As if she had never been in danger of being dragged off to the North Pole in the clutches of the cruelest lie parents told their children.
In fact, that was her laugh now, Mandy Westmill tugging her mother along in her wake as she filled a bag of reindeer food, spilling oatmeal and glitter across the gymnasium floor.
Even with her black hair braided over the crown of her head, Mandy held a hint of her father in her manner. That stubborn set of her jaw. Those dark eyebrows. The way her lips twisted slightly when she grinned. And, of course, that single dimple that popped inward and seemed stuck there in her contagious happiness.
Truly her father’s daughter in so many ways.
Taylor caught her winking at him from across the gymnasium, her finger to her lips in a hush sign and her shoulders hunched forward in a cute attempt at subterfuge. Taylor smiled at her from behind his coffee and returned the wink before casually turning in case Mandy’s mother, Katie, might send a glance his way.
She might not recognize him. After all, they’d only met the few times when Taylor had lingered at Greg’s house during a drop-off or pickup between the two, but Greg wanted to avoid a confrontation. Reason enough why Greg sat safely out in the parking lot of Reynald Elementary school while Taylor cased the place, searching for signs of elvish infiltration.
In years before, elves had nabbed kids right out of the parking lot or snatched them during solo bathroom breaks. Once, during a warmer December, they’d even joined a game of hide and seek out on the playground. Yet Taylor had been there each year, thwarting their efforts and rescuing children from elvish clutches, normally all without parental involvement, or even knowledge.
But last year the elves had struck early and strong, using laced sugar sprinkled on top of the cookies. Mandy hadn’t been the only child nabbed, but she’d been the one Taylor had noticed. And with Mandy had come her father and Greg Westmill wasn’t like any of the other parents Taylor had ever stumbled into dealing with. That man’s stubbornness, his absolute refusal to leave Taylor’s side, not even to go to the police, had spawned a whirlwind of emotions, some of which Taylor still wasn’t sure he understood.
All around him churned holiday spirit.
A long, staggered line of parents and children waited for a photo in Santa’s lap while a religious Christmas song sang heavily in the stagnant air. Some well-meaning PTA mom had set up a slideshow of photos from previous Santa visits and the pictures glowed dimly over the stage. The assistant principal stood at the door to the cafeteria shaking an obnoxious bronze bell, white fluff balls on her elvish slippers as she greeted children by name.
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Then again. Text messages from Greg that Taylor hadn’t bothered to check since they were all the same. Some variation of “Is she okay?” repeated ad nauseam.
The answer was yes. A full-out, confident yes. For Taylor was into his third cup of coffee for the morning, aware, alert and attuned to elvish trickery.
He’d seen no elvish sparkle in the air, no twinkle in children’s eyes and no doppelgangers within the short bodies weaving through the sea of adults-turned-coat-racks. He’d sprinkled poisoned oats deep within the forest outside the elementary school. Had set traps of powder bombs within the tree line where elves might cross and track inside. He’d checked the cookies and cider for contamination and even walked the walls and empty corridors looking for hidden icy mirrors.
And he’d checked on Mandy a couple dozen times so he could be triple sure he wouldn’t have to tell Greg that his daughter had been kidnapped. Again.
The morning Santa visit turned up nothing but bland coffee and glitter lodged in the soles of his sneakers. Taylor stuck around though, waited and watched as Mandy finished her letter to Santa and mailed it in the huge box at the far end of the gymnasium. Eavesdropped on Katie’s conversations with other mothers.
And even sized up Katie’s new beau, a man of Greg’s stature and face shape, but who boasted lighter hair and a wider smile. Attractive nonetheless. Obviously Taylor and Katie shared a type.
By the time Taylor ambled out of Reynald Elementary following Mandy, who gave him a giggle behind her hand before she ducked into Katie’s SUV, he knew, for a fact, that no elf had traipsed into the school. The sky glowed blue, the grass a dull brown-green and though salt stuck to undercarriages and cracks in the sidewalks, there was no snow to speak of.
Well, except for that miniature snowman that had bobbed in the secretary’s window as he’d strolled by outside, but he didn’t think that counted, no matter how it’d given him a scare, making him look like a jumpy, old fool when he jerked and threw his arm back as if to punch the glass.
Loose gravel grating under his heel, he found his beat-up Camry parked deep in the back of the lot and dropped into the passenger seat.
“You didn’t answer my texts.” Greg had one hand stretched along the bottom of the driver’s side window and the other gripping the folded center console.
“She’s fine.” Taylor held out the coffee he’d filled for Greg and then settled back in his seat with a glance in the side mirror at the woods behind them. “She’s perfectly fine. Heading out with Katie and that fine specimen of a man she’s dating to get something to eat for lunch. How’s our outside reconnaissance?”
“How do you know they’re going to lunch?”
“Because that’s what they were talking about when they were heading for their car. Now, did you see anything in the trees or not?”
“No. Nothing and I got out and checked a couple of times. No movement, no signs at all that anyone but us have been back there for months.” Greg paused to sip the coffee with a blanch. “A fine specimen of man?”
“She has good taste.” Taylor winked, but in a far more salacious way than he’d done to Mandy.
Greg gave a short laugh and placed the coffee into the cup holder. “Not like whoever bought this crap. Where to?”
“Well, I…” Taylor hesitated. The car remained off, Greg’s hand wrapped about the keys in the ignition as he stared with a question in his gaze. “I’m not sure. I’ve never gone this long without…something. Some sign of their presence. You’re sure you didn’t see any hoof prints?”
“In the cold ground?”
Taylor sighed and squinted at the elementary school over the tops of the last dredges of minivans and SUVs. “It’s just weird, is all.”
“Maybe they’re giving the town a wide berth this season. We might have frightened them off last year.”
“Maybe,” murmured Taylor.
They had done some damage, hadn’t they? Brought down an entire staging ground, a whole gingerbread house self-destructing and covered up by an unnatural blizzard before the day wore out. They’d left elvish bodies melting into nonexistence from their high sugary content. Had ushered freed children into the firehouse so they could be returned to their families.
Had been a good day’s work. Cold, with a few chilling moments—one of which remained emblazoned on Taylor’s memory—but satisfactory nonetheless. For Greg had rescued his daughter. Taylor had attained a partner. And once again, Santa’s elves remained thwarted, at least locally, at least for last year.
But this year was another story…
He remained silent as Greg started the car up and drove out onto the main drag. At Taylor’s side, under his jacket, pressed a concealed .45 and strapped to his calf, under his jeans, was a six-inch blade, neither of which he’d used since December of last year. A black duffel, a replacement for his torn one, sat on the floor behind the driver’s seat. He had a Christmas light whip and a peppermint gun, though the peppermints had degraded to the point of being useless. He had a blowtorch filled with butane and a couple of homemade smoke bombs as well as another gun—a 9mm—and multiple replacement magazines for both guns. There was a cord of thin rope, a bell from a reindeer’s harness and taffy-lined handcuffs that would be sticky enough to hold even the smallest of elvish hands.
And not a single bit of it had been used this year.
With Christmas Eve tomorrow, Taylor’s confusion mounting, he couldn’t help but feel suspicious. He’d never had the elves skip this county, not once in sixteen years. Had they really routed the elves last year? Terrorized them into not regrouping? He doubted it. Doubted it with every fiber of his being.
“Halstown,” said Taylor. “Let’s head over to Halstown Elementary. They had an event today too.”
“But you said Halstown never gets hit. Nowhere to hide the reindeer or the kids with all that traffic and construction about. Plus the river never freezes.”
“Maybe they’ve decided to risk it this year.”
Greg made a disbelieving sound, but he pulled off and turned around to take them east into Halstown. He kept shooting Taylor unreadable glances as they passed by the neighborhoods supplying Reynald Elementary with pint-sized devils and into a less prominent area with less money in the lawns.
“It’s the snow,” said Greg decisively. “Or the lack of it this year. They’ve less places to hide.”
Taylor sank further into his seat and stared out the window with narrowed gaze. He studied every building and every space between, as the woodlines, interspersed homes, and occasional fields gave way to tight-knit housing with fading roofs and mold-spotted Christmas decorations. An occasional rotting hay bale or orange autumn sign remained by those who grew festive at the turning of the leaves, but not so much at the beginning of winter.
“Could be they’re waiting for the last moment too,” offered Greg. “Thinking you’d grow complacent.”
You. Taylor smiled inwardly. The man had a way with words, didn’t he?
“After Christmas they have far too few opportunities,” said Taylor. “Besides, the big man holds the deadline and elves don’t procrastinate like we do. No one’s out once the holiday is officially over.”
“Why though?” asked Greg. “There are holidays year round, events where children wander off through spring and summer too. Why limit themselves to a measly month or two?” He spoke in a vague, detached way, distancing himself from the horridness.
“Hunting season,” murmured Taylor. For both them and him. Then louder, “Because ice mirrors melt. As do peppermint candy, snowflakes, and snowmen. And Christmas lights in July standout rather than blend in.”
Greg shrugged against the back of his seat, peacoat rubbing against the fabric in an audible pronouncement of his dismissal. “Not arguing, but…”
But Greg didn’t have a chance to respond, for his phone went off with a call. He fumbled for it one-handedly, almost dropping it into his coffee before he answered. “Is Mandy okay?”
Taylor turned his head at the tone in Greg’s voice, one he recognized for he was all too familiar with what fear did to the man. But the abrupt outward stiffened fury that had descended over Greg was gone in an instant at whatever Katie said next. So not a call of hysterics over a Mandy-sized disappearance as Greg had likely thought.
“Oh. No, I was just—Yes, I helped her with it.” Pause. “I could look when I get home.” Shorter pause. “No, I’m not sure when that’ll be. Maybe this afternoon?” That last seemed almost directed toward Taylor.
Taylor turned away to avoid catching Greg’s questioning eye. The conversation wrapped up and Greg dropped the phone back down with a sigh.
“That was Katie. She says Mandy’s upset that she might have left a present over at the house that was meant for her other grandmother. Do you mind if we—”
“Drive through Halstown first. I want to check out the elementary school.”
“It’ll only take a few minutes. They’re planning on heading to Katie’s mom’s tonight for a gift swap.”
“The event will be over by then.”
“Just because we haven’t found them doesn’t mean they aren’t here…somewhere.”
Greg grunted, but he didn’t turn the car around either, taking them into the business route inside Halstown. The silence in the air felt staticky, charged and set to blow, but Taylor ignored it, keeping his gaze out the window.
They were out there. Biding their time, formulating a plan, readying to strike.
He didn’t feel ready.
And he knew Greg never would be.
This story stretched into short novel territory when I’d originally been only going to craft a novella. Needed some space for action sequences and deadly Christmas things! And feels. Many feels. Taylor isn’t used to all this relationship stuff. XD
Love you all and hope you’re keeping safe this holiday season!