The first step went unheard by all except its maker. Little more than a soft crunch as the midnight snow compressed against the roof tiles. The second, however, caused Jimmy Gibbons to stir beneath the comfort and warmth of his spaceman duvet.
Excitement raced through him. A flurry of thoughts about new toys, and treats, and games.
He sat upright in bed and listened beyond his eager heart. He didn’t have to wait long before his ears confirmed his hopes through the dark. A footstep. Loud and defined and unmistakable. Then another, followed by several more leading to where Jimmy knew they would lead.
Jimmy knew there was nothing to fear. This moment was a dream come true, and he deserved it.
He swung his legs from under his sheets and plopped them down on the soft carpet. On the tips of his toes, he crept across his room and out into the hall, taking care not to tread on the discarded toys from the previous Christmas.
He considered the door to his parents’ room but chose to let them sleep. He didn’t want to share this moment with anyone, but especially not with his younger brother who often slept in their room.
Jimmy moved toward the stairs where the warm lights from the Christmas tree cast playful shadows on the wall below. Delicate clusters of green, red, and gold beckoned Jimmy down to the living room.
As he reached the top step, a distinct rustling drifted up to him, like a racoon fumbling for vital leftovers. Jimmy froze at the sound, letting the thrill wash over him, his hand on the wooden bannister, a single foot hanging out mid-step.
Below, the festive glow dimmed as a large shape moved past the lights. Jimmy crept down, his bare toes feeling for the wood and gripping each edge until he reached the bottom.
He turned toward the living room, and his breath caught in his throat.
The creature stood on six armoured legs, each one a foul combination of joint and muscle beneath the layers of its interlocking carapace. Jimmy had seen a crab before, and he tried his best to make sense of this horror, but this was no crab. It had the torso of a four-armed man, with an oversized wolf’s head. Four menacing red ovals set deep inside its skull gleamed with bright intent as it turned toward Jimmy, repositioning its legs with grim precision over the toppled Christmas tree.
The creature snarled, exposing razor-sharp teeth.
Jimmy shook as his bladder released in a warm trickle that ran down his pyjama bottoms and pooled at his feet. The creature pulled a hessian sack from its shoulder and let it fall open. Jimmy saw blood and gore inside, and an infant’s red shoe that he thought he recognised, but before he could scream, before he could call for his father, the creature lifted him by his delicate throat and drew the sack beneath his trembling feet.
In The Kringles’ grip, Jimmy’s body folded like dry kindling. Its powerful arms made light work of snapping his bones and crushing his organs before stuffing him in the bag with the other naughty children.