24 DAYS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS – MURDER MYSTERY: The Crimson Snow by Brian Taylor

Designed by Bobby Salomons

Designed by Bobby Salomons

Welcome to the first day of #SantaCLASH! Here begins our Christmas countdown, so stay tuned for all the festive fun SantaCLASH will bring.

Don’t know what on earth I’m going on about? Read on…

Every writer is wishing for inspiration this Christmas.

But OH NO! Tragedy has struck – Santa’s been on the whiskey again, and now all those little parcels of inspiration have been mixed up and delivered to the wrong people!

In the countdown to Christmas and New Year, we’ll be showcasing the product of this mix-up HERE on The Midnight Type.

Let me break it down for you:-

Over thirty wonderful writers will write wonderful short stories, and we’ll be posting one or two stories a day here on The Midnight Type in a Christmas and New Year countdown. This feature isn’t a chain like The Zombie Project – each writer has free reign to write a Christmas and/or New Year themed story. But here’s the catch – remember those little inspiration parcels? Each writer got the wrong one, meaning they’ll be writing their stories – BUT IN A GENRE THEY’VE NEVER WRITTEN BEFORE.

I’m talking horror writers tackling historical, urban fantasy aficionados taking on chick lit, literary fiction buffs wrestling with high fantasy. There will be sci-fi, thriller, middle grade, young adult, comedy, fairytale, classic, contemporary, romance, dystopian…I could go on.

Today’s story, brought to you on this the first day of December with only 24 days left ’til Christmas, was written by Brian W. Taylor. Brian usually writes horror, sci-fi and has previously written two reimagined fairytales.

I assigned him the MURDER MYSTERY genre, and here’s how he handled it…

 


The Crimson Snow

by Brian W. Taylor

Year after year, Holly Redfern worked tirelessly making sure the children of the world had their favorite toys under the tree every X-mas eve. Like most of Santa’s elves, she rarely had a day off. While most people sat around opening gifts on Christmas morning, Holly trudged through the snow on her way to the workshop. There were no paid holidays at the North Pole. Especially for the woman who managed the entire operation.

It wasn’t like being three feet tall didn’t have its challenges. Most of the snow drifts were bigger than Holly. One wrong step and she’d be gone. Swallowed by the powder she loved so much. She had lost two friends this past year in accidental incidents. Icicles, too, were dangerous. Slam a door too hard and you could wind up as a frozen elf-cabob. But she wouldn’t trade her job for any other in the world. Holly was a Christmas elf, and damn proud of it.

As Holly neared Santa’s Workshop (why it was named after a guy who hadn’t made a toy in hundreds of years baffled her) in the predawn grey glow, she noticed it was still unusually dark inside. Where was Darius? She looked from her watch to the darkened workshop and shook her head. Managing operations at the North Pole could be a real pain in the jingle bells sometimes.

She picked up the pace, grumbling as she went. If the rest of the workforce wasn’t inside waiting to surprise her, they were all going to have to stay late. Next year’s toys weren’t going to make themselves.

Something in the snowbank beside the workshop door caught her eye. Holly stopped and pulled a small flashlight from her coat pocket. She swept the beam of light back and forth until settling on something she wished wasn’t there. Two dark shapes jutted from the snow, light catching on metallic. The realization hit her harder than a spongy dart from a toy gun to the face. They were feet. Elf feet.

The wind picked up, sending loose snow swirling up all around her. The chill she felt wasn’t external. She didn’t want to believe what her eyes had seen. Deep down recognized Darius’ ridiculous mountain climbing boots, tiny copper bells attached at the toes. He claimed they gave him superior traction. No amount of traction would help him now.

In front of the door were signs of struggle. Scuff marks and scrapes painted a clear picture of another elf surprising Darius as he attempted to unlock the door. It was like a mystery one of her favorite fictional characters—Miss Marple, or Sherlock Holmes–would solve. Except this wasn’t fiction, it was real.

“Help,” Holly shouted, looking around. She tried climbing the towering snowbank but snow kept falling away. It was like trying to swim through quicksand. Snow worked its way into her boots, stinging whatever bits of exposed skin it came in contact with.

There was no way to reach Darius. Holly punched the snow out of frustration. She wasn’t about to give up. If she could find a rope, there was still a chance to save her friend. They had already started on the jump ropes two days ago.

Holly hopped out of the snow and was relieved to find Darius’ key in the workshop door. She opened door and flipped the light switch. Nothing happened. She flipped the switch twice more. Maybe a fuse had blown. Flashlight in hand, Holly couldn’t help but wonder why no one was working. Something didn’t seem right.

“Hello,” she called out, hoping the anxiety knotting her stomach was unwarranted. Only the wind howled a response.

Holly’s internal alarm blared. She moved cautiously past each workstation keeping an eye out for any surprises. The last thing she wanted was to stumble over another body. Deep down she knew Darius was dead, suffocated under the snow. What she couldn’t understand was why? Was it an accident? They hadn’t had a murder at the North Pole, well, ever. It was only a matter of time she supposed. And poor Darius!

Holly moved past piles of teddy bears, bicycles, and video game systems until reaching the foreman’s station. The blue glow of the computer screen cast an eerie glow over the rear corner of the room. Her hand came up to her mouth as she read the words on the screen.

The weather outside is frightful but the blood is so delightful. And since we’ve no place to go, let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. Over and over the demented song lyrics filled the screen. She backed away, head snapping around at each sound. This couldn’t be real. Murders didn’t happen at the North Pole. It was supposed to be the jolliest place on earth. Yet here she was in the middle of a mystery just like a character from one of her favorite books. Deep down, and she’d never admit it out loud, part of her was thrilled with all the excitement. After a hundred years of the same routine, any break was a welcome one. She had to solve Darius’ murder. He would have expected as much.

The shop foreman, Jack, had always been a nice enough fellow. He never had a stern word for any of the workers, nor did he ever shy away from elven parties. Sure he was older than many of the other elves, even older than her, but that didn’t mean he was a murderer. Did it? Was he murdering his way to a promotion? If that were the case, she’d be on his list too. But she was getting ahead of herself. Without proof, Jack was nothing more than another possible suspect.

Holly clicked her flashlight off. She crept toward the rear of the workshop and the safety of her office. She couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her. In her mind unseen hands were inches from grabbing her as she opened the door. Careful to make as little noise as possible, she eased the door closed. Outside, dawn was breaking and provided her with a little more light.

A knocking noise from somewhere in the room startled her. She tensed, looking around. Another knock. It sounded like it was coming from the desk area.

What if it was Jack, waiting to spill her blood like the song said?

Holly had to steady her breathing and mind. She didn’t want to investigate the noise, but had to. The thought of more elves suffering because she was too scared to investigate a noise would be too hard to live down. Besides, she’d come too far to turn back now.

With a few calculated steps, Holly rounded the desk. She flung the chair aside and found Jack, bound and gagged with X-mas lights. He banged his head and tried to speak but only incoherent mumblings left his mouth. Holly knelt and loosened the gag.

“Thank goodness you found me before he came back.” Jack took a breath and slowly released it. “He’s lost it, Holly. That crazy bastard is going to kill Santa.” He held up his hands. “Cut me loose.”

Holly stood a little too fast, the blood rushing to her head. She took a wobbly step and had to catch hold of the desk to keep from falling. Even though her hunch about a murderer had been right, she took little comfort in the confirmation. Santa was in danger. She shook the dizziness away and rode a wave of emotion back into the workshop.

The closest workstation, a place for crafting doll clothing, had scissors. She grabbed them and turned for the office when screams cut through the silence. Jack’s screams.

By the time Holly burst through the office door, Jack was gone. A trail of blood led out the open window. If she hurried, she could follow the crimson trail and maybe save her friend. Holly tucked the scissors into her belt and scampered out the window, snow pelting her face. It was hard to see through the white out. She pulled up her hood and shielded her eyes. There was no mistaking the crimson dotting the snow. It seemed to be leading her to the stables.

The door to the stable was unlatched, banging against the wall every time a cold blast of air hit it. Holly threw caution to the wind and sprinted inside, scissors at the ready. She dropped to her knees upon seeing Jack, hanging from a beam by a string of X-mas lights. His tongue, purple and swollen, dangled from his blood encrusted mouth. A red ribbon had been stuck to his forehead like some sort of gruesome gift.

The smell of dirty reindeer stalls and blood hit her all at once. As manager of operations for the North Pole, Holly pretty much knew everything that went on. Next to Santa, she was the most important person around. She knew Santa hadn’t taken all the reindeer on his annual gift giving trip last night. Blitzen had a gimpy leg and had stayed home as instructed by Doc Greenfern.

Holly wiped at a tear as she moved toward Blitzen’s stall. The coppery scent grew stronger with each step. She willed the reindeer to be sleeping safe and sound in his bed of hay. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Blitzen lay on his side a large pool of blood gathered under a jagged slit across his neck. Holly turned and ran. Her feet carried her back outside where she relived this morning’s fruit parfait and toast.

Only four people knew about Blitzen: Santa, Doc Greenfern, the stable hand—Jack junior, and her. Clarity settled over her mind. The writing on the computer and Jack’s confession pointed to his son, Jack junior. The only thing Holly couldn’t figure out was why. Jack’s warning about Santa reverberated through her mind. If Jack junior was after Santa, then he may be after Mrs. Claus too. Her heart sank at the thought. She ran toward Santa’s cottage, adrenaline powering each stride.

Holly was out of breath by the time she reached the cottage. Santa’s sleigh was parked outside, the reindeer stomping at the snow. They seemed restless. Blinking X-mas lights illuminated the front of the cottage. Mr. and Mrs. Claus dressed snow people held hands as they decorated the lawn. It gave the place an aura of false cheer.

The front door was open a crack, snow already filling the gap. Holly pushed the door open. The smell of spiced cider and fresh cookies filled the entryway. Everything seemed to be in order. She held the scissors close as she walked not wanting to alarm anyone if she didn’t have to.

What if Santa was the killer? The thought forced its way to the front of her consciousness and wouldn’t be swept aside. She couldn’t help but wonder if he had gotten as burned out as she felt. It was plausible that he didn’t want to be the embodiment of X-mas anymore. Holly didn’t know who to trust. She slithered along the wall, listening. It was quiet. Too quiet.

“Santa?” Holly called out a bit too tentatively. If anyone could be trusted, it had to be the big man. He had been like a grandpa to everyone working at the North Pole.

After a moment Holly heard what sounded like weeping. She followed the sound toward the rear of the cottage. The baking smells intensified the closer she got to the kitchen door. She nudged the door with her foot, craning her head for a peek inside. Santa was on the floor cradling an unmoving Mrs. Claus.

“What happened?”

Santa wiped his nose on a mitten. “I found her drowned in the dish water.”

Holly noticed the sink full of water and shuddered. Ever since her childhood days drowning had always been a fear of hers. “There’s a murderer on the loose. Jack, Blitzen, and Darius are dead too.” Holly’s face paled. “Jack said you were the real target. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I think Jack junior went off the deep end.” It felt good to get her thoughts out in the open. Maybe Santa could even help her piece things together, just like Mr. Watson.

Santa stood and gently placed his wife’s head on the floor with quivering hands. After placing a final kiss on Mrs. Claus’ lips, he paced around the perimeter of the kitchen before stopping at the stove. “Why would anyone want to kill me? I bring nothing but joy to everyone all over the world. Mrs. Claus didn’t deserve this, neither did anyone else.”

“It isn’t about deserving anything,” Holly responded. “We’ve got to figure this out before anyone else gets hurt—before you get–”

From outside came a sinister and mocking, “Ho-ho-ho.” The jingling of the reindeer team closely followed. Holly ran outside to find Santa’s sleigh gone. Let it flow was written in the snow. The crimson letters could only be one thing. Blood.

Holly’s mind raced faster than her heart. What if the sleigh had been a diversion, a way to separate her and Santa?

She ran to the front door. It wouldn’t open. She hurried around to the back. That door was locked too.

“Santa, open the door!” She banged as hard as she could. “Open up!” When no response came, she fumbled for an idea. Time was of the essence.

As Holly walked past a window, a solution jumped into her head. She jabbed the scissors at a window.  It cracked. She smashed the window with an elbow clearing most of the away. After she cleared the remaining glass from the frame, she climbed through. Santa was lying on the floor twitching, foam pouring from his mouth. There was a half-eaten cookie on the floor next to him, crumbs littering his beard.

“P-p-poison…” Santa said, clutching his throat. He twitched once more before going still.

Holly knew it wasn’t her fault but couldn’t rid herself of the guilt. A good detective could think two steps ahead of any would-be killer. Thus far she had failed. Miserably. Think, damnit, she thought, chastising herself. If Jack junior was the killer, he would probably return to the familiar territory. She unlocked the door and took off for the stables. Halfway there the lights in the workshop went on.

Jack junior.

She switched direction, bearing down on the workshop. The door was open. A bloody knife had been stuck to the first workstation, a note attached. It read: Come to the stables for your present.

            Holly yanked the blade free and did as instructed. She kicked the stable door open ready for a fight, teeth bared and knife held high.

“Happy Holidays, Holly!”

Holly stopped dead in her tracks.

Everyone was there: Darius, Jack, Mrs. Claus, Santa, and all the reindeer. Even Jack junior stood there holding a fruit cake.

She dropped the knife, staring through what had to be ghosts. Every one of them had died. She’d seen it. This didn’t make sense. “What…what the hell is going on?”

“We all know your day to day routine has been wearing you down,” Santa said. “We figured a little excitement would do everyone some good.” He slapped his belly and chuckled. “If anyone knows what everyone wants for Christmas, it’s me.

Holly glared. “I thought you were dead. All of you.”

“That was the point,” Darius said. “Everyone knows how much you love those Miss Marple books. I’m surprised they haven’t fallen apart yet. We thought we’d bring them to life. Tell me you didn’t have fun.”

A wave of relief washed over Holly. Slowly, a smile cracked her lips. “You didn’t have to be so believable. That blood looked so real.”

“What blood?” Jack junior asked. “We didn’t use any fake blood.”

Holly held up the knife. “Then where did this come from.”

“Gotcha,” Jack junior said.

All around laughter filled the stables. A table filled with a holiday feast—ham, turkey, roast goose, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings—made Holly’s stomach groan. She filled a plate and took a seat next to Darius. After everyone was seated she stood, holding up a glass of spiced cider. “Next year it’s my turn to pick your presents. You guys don’t know what you’ve gotten yourselves into.”

Blitzen stomped from in his stall. Santa laughed so hard he fell off his bench. Holly sat back and marveled at the lengths her friends went to for her. She was lucky to have them even if they had scared her half to death. And she planned on showing her appreciation by hatching a more diabolical scheme next X-mas. She couldn’t wait.

Outside snow fell lazily from the sky covering the crimson stains. Plans had already begun bubbling through Holly’s head. There were twelve days of Christmas and next year each one would be bloodier than the one before. She smiled at the thought. Holly found herself humming. And since we’ve no place to go, let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. Merry Christmas indeed.


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17 responses to “24 DAYS ‘TIL CHRISTMAS – MURDER MYSTERY: The Crimson Snow by Brian Taylor

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