Many Midnights

White Christmas

                         

            The  dark-blue Ford sedan rolled along the barren road.

            Rich reached over and flipped on the car's radio. Instantly, Bing Crosby's velvety voice crooned about dreaming of a white Christmas.

            I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…

            "I'm not in the mood for music," Sarah complained. She clicked the radio back off.

            "But it’s just Christmas songs," Rich said with a light sneer. "It is the holiday season, you know." He wanted desperately to avoid a fight, but sometimes his wife just begged for one. And besides, he really did feel like hearing some Christmas music. It brought back fond memories of his childhood.

            Sarah said nothing as she stared out the passenger side window. She also didn't want an argument, and decided it would be best to let it go. After all, they still had over an hour's drive to her mother's house ahead of them, longer if the snow didn't let up. And the problem they had with the car only added to the bad day.

            Rich thought he'd lighten the mood and change the subject. "So, Honey, have you heard from Natasha yet?"

            Sarah looked over at her husband. Her long blond hair shimmied with the bumps in the road. "She told me she’d do her best, but if the opening for the job was already filled I’d just have to wait."

            Now it was Rich's turn to be quiet.

            Nearly five minutes passed in uncomfortable silence before Rich tried to break the ice again. He turned the heat down (it was rather warm in the car) and reached over for Sarah's hand. "So, I think I fixed the problem with the car." His gaze alternated between the road and his wife. "Good thing we were only about a mile from Marysville though. I don’t know what we would’ve done if I didn’t get my hands on some clamps for the radiator." He sighed. "But the front bumper is more of a problem. When we get home, I'll see if maybe I pound it out a little. I tried to avoid the tree but couldn't."

            Sarah couldn't help but let a smile escape. "I know, I walked back to town with you, remember?"

            Rich squeezed his wife's hand. "And I appreciate it, I really do. It would have been a long walk without someone to keep me company. Let’s not fight anymore, okay?"

            Sarah nodded. "Agreed."

            Rich’s expression soured. "Is it just me or is it getting really warm in here?"

            Sarah tilted her head. "Yeah, it is." She looked at the temperature control on the dashboard. The dial was turned all the way to the left, just under the off designation. And furthermore, the secondary dial on the right was turned to the left as well, resting firmly in the blue part of the settings. It was nowhere near the red area. "That's weird, the heat is off. So why is it getting so warm in here?"

            "I don't know," Rich replied while fumbling with the dials. "I hope the engine isn’t overheating again."

            "But the car is running fine," Sarah countered. "Look, the temperature gauge is normal."

            Rich opened his mouth to answer but the words died in his throat when he felt the constricted feeling on his body. It started in his behind and quickly worked its way up his sides and down his legs. "What the..."

            The radio suddenly came to life then, echoing Bing Crosby's fluid voice across the interior of the car.

            Just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen,...

            Sarah  felt her seat gripping her body as well. It tightened at a steady rate, becoming very uncomfortable in only a matter of a few seconds. "Rich? Something's wrong here. What’s happening?"

            The Ford continued motoring down the snow-slicked road. Its speed was gradually increasing to a dangerous level.

            ...to hear sleigh bells in the snow.

            "Rich?" Sarah looked over at her husband. A scream formed in her gut, and gaining power, worked its way up to her mouth.

            The radio blotted it out.

            Rich’s face was striped by the seatbelt. The heavy nylon strap crisscrossed over his terrified expression. His eyes bulged in stark disbelief. His mouth was covered completely.

            The heater continued kicking out hot air, blasting the car’s hopeless occupants. 85°; 90°; 95°; 100°; the plastic vents in the dashboard pumped out heat. The slats then began to melt together before eventually being forced out altogether. They fell to the floor as unrecognizable lumps of plastic.

            Sarah passed in and out of consciousness. Her beautiful blond hair was singed into black ash right on her head. Her skin blistered and peeled. Innumerable bloody pools formed and evaporated into the hot air.

            She rolled her head to the side. Rich was already dead, his face nearly severed across the middle from the seatbelt, and his torso collapsed inward from the pressure of the seat. She wanted to cry but couldn’t muster the strength. All she could do was sit there and watch helplessly as their life together ended. Regret for all the past arguments they had flooded her mind. In a way, it was just as painful as the physical torture she was enduring.

            And then she joined Rich in darkness.

            The car rolled down the road. It was slowing down, and occasionally the wipers streaked across the windshield to keep the falling snow clear.

                                    *                      *                      *                      *         

            Madeleine was worried. Sarah and Rich should've been there by now. It wasn't like them to be late. She was trying her best to keep the turkey warm, but she could only do so much. She had tried to call but there was no signal. Living in such an isolated area did have its advantages. However, sometimes it made things difficult.     

            Madeline wondered if they decided to stop in Marysville. It wouldn’t be the first time her daughter got sidetracked on her way over to visit her mother. She let out a disgruntled moan, and instead focused on the nice Christmas dinner she was preparing.

            The turkey sat on an ornate glass platter on the kitchen counter. Madeline was humming along to Little Drummer Boy as she squirted juice on it to keep the bird moist.

            Her attention was diverted to the sound of a car pulling into her driveway.

            "Finally, they’re here," she almost cried out. It wasn’t often she got to see her daughter and son-in-law, so when she did she became excited.

            She wiped her hands on her apron and rushed into the front room. The apron flapped around her waist. She flung the front door open and was relieved to see Rich’s dark-blue Ford sedan come to a gravelly stop near the front porch.

            The car sat there, idling. Madeline could see no movement inside. In fact, it looked as if there wasn’t anyone in the car at all.

            "Sarah? Rich?"

            No reply except for the deep-throated rumble of the car’s engine.

            Madeline felt a cold shiver radiate up and down her spine. She took a step forward, and when the car inched toward her, she stepped back. Something was wrong about the way the car moved, and it scared her.

            The slit parted the grill of the car right across the middle. A pair of forked tongues, pale green and slick with slime, poked out between the rows of barbed teeth. An unnatural growl shook the ground.

            Madeline backed up into her house. Fear motivated her to move with the speed and agility if someone half her age. Within a few seconds she had the door bolted shut.

            The beast crept forward on blood-engorged tires. Gravel crunched beneath its two-ton bulk as it drew closer and closer to the flimsy structure that sheltered its next meal.

            The house fell quickly when the beast plowed through it. It was scooped up in its flailing jaws like krill swallowed by a whale. Madeline never reached the small- caliber handgun that she kept in her closet.

            Sated for the time being, the beast backed out of the rubble of the house, and turning around, rolled down the driveway in search of its next meal. White Christmas echoed off the snow-laden trees as it passed by. It liked the song, and enjoyed playing it.

            I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.

*                      *                      *                      *

            The Marysville patrol car pulled off the side of the road. Officer Gary Jenkins flipped on the silent flashers and shut the ignition off.

            "312 to Dispatch. Edith, do you copy?"

            "Dispatch to 312, go ahead, Gary."

            "There's a car half buried in the snow off Bunert Road about a mile or so outside of town. Appears be abandoned; no sign of damage other than a banged up front fender. Looks like it slid into a tree."

            "Okay, Gary, run the plates. I'll phone in for a tow truck. I'll let you know the ETA."

            "Sounds good, Edith. Thanks."

            Officer Jenkins stepped out of the car patrol car and approached the dark-blue Ford sedan. His flashlight wavered in his hand. Something didn't seem quite right about the situation. Whoever the car belonged to wouldn't have just left it in the snow, not without at least locking the doors.

            The car sped by at a dangerous speed. Officer Jenkins was caught off guard and was clipped by the vehicle. He was catapulted into the air, landing close to 50 feet away. His back was broken.

            The last thing he heard as the dark-blue Ford sedan backed up to where he lay, was a familiar Christmas jingle:

            I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.