Title: Graveyard School #27 – Here Comes Santa Claws
Author: Tom B. Stone/Nola Thacker/D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Mark Nagata
Summary: This Year, Santa Doesn’t Care If You’ve Been Naughty Or Nice!
If Kyle knows what’s good for him, he’ll block up the chimney and lock all the doors. He’ll close all the windows and turn on all the lights. He won’t go to sleep and enjoy happy dreams. And he won’t hang up his stocking. Because this year…
Santa Claws is coming to town. [Wing: So many “claws” references in Christmas books, so few damn werewolves.]
I got this book for Christmas in 2004, and it was the only enjoyable part of my 14th birthday. No, that holiday season. Things started off poorly the last day of school before break, when I had to leave early because I was sick. I wasn’t able to stop shivering, I’d never felt like that before. I thought I was going to die. On Christmas Day/my birthday I was still sick, and for dinner I ended up eating McDonalds in front of my Grandpa’s TV, alone, while my family ate dinner upstairs. For the next few days I was not only sick, but miserable and depressed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I was getting older and how much I hated that. I was terrified. But I still read this book every holiday season because it’s one of my favorites in the series.
The reason I referred to this as “Krampus 0” because if you read this book before you saw the horror flick “Krampus,” you’d feel yourself wondering if the director read this book before the movie was conceptualized. [Wing: I watched Krampus for the first time earlier this year, and now I get a book version (ish) too? This is delightful.] I’m not going to lie, Kyle, the main character in this book, is a little shit. He acts like a brat and it’s easy to see he brings this on himself. But you’ll be surprised when the big showdown occurs at the end, and Kyle shows a lot of backbone. The real draw to this is Kyle’s slick aunt Mab, who just happens to share her name with a Shakespearean fairy queen. Gee I wonder why that could be? Oh also the giant mutant rats on the cover.
Now, I should mention Kyle first appeared in the ninth book, “The Abominable Snow Monster,” and that was his only appearance before this entry. For some reason, the summaries on Amazon and other book sites make it sound like this is a sequel to the “Snow Monster” book when it is not.
[Wing: God, I love this series so damn much. Enough that I was filled with joy over a bonus recap this month.]
Kyle Chilton is totally miserable and begs his mother not to leave him alone at Christmas with a weird aunt he’s never met before. As Mrs. Chilton continues to try and force her suitcase shut, she explains for the umpteenth time she’s not abandoning him on Christmas. She has to attend an emergency meeting with Kyle’s grandfather in order to save their family’s auto shop from being taken over by a chain store, and Mr. Chilton is still on the road with his band. [Wing: Well, the Chilton parents sound amazing, I would like to hang out with them immediately.] Kyle pleads to stay with Park Addams, but his mother shoots that down reminding him Park’s house is packed with visiting relatives for the holidays. Mrs. Chilton tries to assure Kyle he’ll only been spending a few days with “His grandfather’s aunt’s cousin by marriage or something.” Kyle is still not convinced, especially when he sees from his mom’s bedroom a tall figure standing at the foot of the driveway, which was strange because no one heard a taxi arrive.
Kyle watched the woman coming up the walk. She was dressed in a voluminous cloak of royal purple that flapped heavily around her ankles. He caught a glimpse of a black lace-up boot that looked suspiciously steel-toed. Doc Martens?
A broad-brimmed black hat hid the figure’s face. The ends of an intricately wound red scarf that appeared to be twice as long as the wearer was tall fluttered behind her.
She moved with a briskness that didn’t go with the ebony cane hooked over one arm, or the pet carrier slung across the other. She practically skipped up the front steps where Kyle lost sight of her.
[Wing: UM WELL YES I LIKE HER ALREADY WITH HER STEEL-TOED BOOTS AND BOUNCING ENERGY AND INTRICATE RED SCARF. Should I be feeling some kind of way about already enjoying the adult characters so much in this book? Because I don’t.]
Kyle makes one last plea not to dump him with this complete stranger, which his mother laughs off in that callous way parents do as she goes to greet the dubious relation. Mrs. Chilton opens the front door and greets Aunt Mab with a hug, but pronounces the name as if it were short for “Mabel” or
Mab, despite not seeming to move at all, effortlessly dodges her great niece-in-law’s arms and corrects her that the name’s pronounced like “Fab,” as in “Fabulous.”
Kyle hangs in the doorway of the den, watching as his mother helps Mab take off her winter accessories. Mab’s eyes manage to track Kyle’s movements and scowl like a predator on the hunt. Their first words are not amicable.
“Is that my baby-sitting charge?” Aunt Mab inquired without preamble and began to unwind the scarf.
“Baby-sitting!” Kyle said, outraged. “I’m not a baby.”
“Most young persons today are,” remarked Aunt Mab to no one in particular. The scarf fell away, and she shook herself free of the purple cloak. Her eyes never left Kyle as she handed her cloak, scarf, and hat to Kyle’s mother.
“Soft. Spoiled. Ignorant. Rude,” Aunt Mayb went on. She propped the cane in the umbrella stand and smiled at Kyle.
Kyle and his mother are not prepared for the unveiled Aunt Mab, because apparently she’s been taking REALLY good care of herself.
Or had a LOT of work done.
The woman who faced them looked like a picture from a fairy tale, not someone’s great-great-aunt or mother or anything else. Soft gold hair fell in waves over the shoulders of her loose lavender dress. Her eyes were the color of a summer sky. Her skin was as pale as milk and when she smiled, her mouth quirked upward at one corner in a dimple.
“Aunt Mab,” said Mrs. Chilton. “You’re so…”
“That’s me,” said Aunt Mab, her voice cool.
(Aunt Mab by Linda Sejic)
[Wing: YEAH SHE’S SO.]
Kyle says what he AND his mother are both thinking and asks why this woman doesn’t look like a raisin (not in those exact words but the intent is there). Mab gracefully, dramatically, places a hand on her chest and says she often feels like she’s lived at least a thousand if not a day. The attention’s diverted to the thing inside the pet carrier, a cat. Kyle practically spits the word out as his mother adds she believes niece and nephew will get along splendidly over the next few days. After all, what could happen?
Aunt Mab’s eyes were on Kyle. “A lot,” she said. But she didn’t sound worried. She sounded full of anticipation. She licked her lips, quick as a cat.
And suddenly, unpleasantly, Kyle felt like a mouse.
Mrs. Chilton tells Kyle to help Mab with her luggage (despite that she can plainly see the woman has none besides the carrier). Mab lets out an ugly snorty kind of cackle at the idea of needing anything for three days, but foists the pet carrier into Kyle’s arm. Kyle almost drops the container as Mab reveals her cat is named Natasha, and is supposedly a direct descendant of the cat God Bast straight outta Egypt. [Wing: But Natasha’s a black widow, not a cat…] Mrs. Chilton shows Mab the guest room, filling her in on Kyle’s status as a sixth grader and what a nice place Grove Hill is even though Mab clearly doesn’t give a shit. Kyle thumping the carrier on the floor gets a quick reaction from Mab, followed by another sarcastic remark about the cat that gets a warning shoulder squeeze from his mom.
Aunt Mab looked up at Kyle. She raised one perfect eyebrow.
An uneasy chill gripped Kyle – a somehow familiar freeze. But he held his aunt’s gaze. I don’t like you, he thought.
And as plainly as if she had spoken aloud, he heard the words, But that will make this so much more interesting. What fun!
Aunt Mab smiled.
Kyle quickly decides to see his mom off as she gets in the garage, waiting until the car’s driven down the street before bitterly retreating back into the house and slamming the door behind him. He tries to take his mind off his abandonment issues by doing some channeling surfing, but can only find the usual itinerary of Christmas flicks with happy endings. Kyle wishes he could find a movie about an exploding Christmas tree that takes out an evil aunt.
(90 DISNEY VHS VOICE: COMING SOON TO VIDEO CASSETTE, KYLE THOUGHT THIS YEAR CHRISTMAS WAS GONNA BE THE PITS WHEN HIS MALEVOLENT AUNT MAB AND NASTY NATASHA CAME A CALLING, BUT WITH A LITTLE LUCK AND A WHOLE LOT OF LAUGHS, HE’LL BE ABLE TO SAY “MOM I BLEW UP THE CHRISTMAS TREE!” STARRING ELIJAH WOOD AND MORGAN FAIRCHILD, WITH CICELY TYSON AS THE VOICE OF “NATASHA” AND WALTER MATTHAU AS “THE SINGING MAILMAN.”)
Mab arrives in the room in a swirl of lavender silk, and seems to swipe the remote from Kyle with a flick of her paw. Paw? I mean hand, adorned by a single cat’s eye ring. With Natasha (golden brown with dark brown paws, ears, and the tip of her tail dark brown, and dazzling gold-green eyes) curled up by her side, Mab turns on “Miracle on 34th Street,” which she explains is their favorite Christmas movie which, by default, is their favorite movie as well since Christmas is their favorite holiday. Kyle says cats don’t know what movies or Christmas are. Mab assures Kyle Natasha is full of surprises, which leads Kyle to add insult to injury by mentioning if he’d had a say in it, he would’ve swapped dinosaurs for cats on that big Extinction List in the Sky. [Wing: Oh, Kyle, how little you know that dinosaurs exist around the Graveyard School.] Mab dumps the remote and sweetly tells Kyle to enjoy the rest of the show before disappearing, cat and all, in the blink of an eye. Kyle returns to his search for something decent to watch, but is dumbstruck by how every station on the TV is now showing “34th Street.”
Kyle finds Mab and Natasha in the family room, admiring the Christmas tree. Kyle warns Mab to keep her cat away from the tree because Natasha’s likely to burn the house down before asking Mab what she did to the TV. Mab has no idea what he’s talking about, and innocently asks how Kyle thinks she could’ve done anything like that. Momentarily defeated, Kyle retreats to the TV room and ends up taking an impromptu nap. Much later in the evening, Kyle is awoken by the incessant sound of the doorbell, proceeded by several loud, heavy knocks on the front door. Mab and Natasha are nowhere to be found as Kyle opens the front door, but in the snowy, wintry darkness Kyle’s unable to make out the seemingly familiar figure standing in front of him.
“Ho, ho, ho,” a voice boomed. But it wasn’t jolly. “Have we been naughty or nice?”
“Park? Is that you?”asked Kyle
“No, ho, ho,” the figure said. It lowered its voice. “Good? Or baaaaaad?”
“You sound like a sheep, Park,” said Kyle, feeling grouchy. “And it’s freezing. Come in or make some new tracks in the snow.”
He stepped back, fumbling for the hall switch again.
He found it. He flipped the light on. And then he saw who was standing in the doorway.
The figure in the doorway wore a Santa suit, and his bony white hands had a curved claw growing from each finger. Kyle frantically shoves the door closed before he gets grabbed, and desperately calls for Mab’s help as the creep tries to get in the house. Of course, the moment Mab and Natasha appear, the door thumps shut without a protest. Mab is only barely interested as Kyle says some clawed freak in a Santa suit tried to break in. She finds no one standing outside the door or in the nearby vicinity, even checking the roof for a sleigh and reindeer.
“Santa Claus,” she said thoughtfully. “Or, according to you, Santa Claws. That’s C-L-A-W-S.”
His aunt having found no one, Mab supposes Kyle merely had a dream while watching “34th Street.”
“The sort of dream someone like you would have about Christmas.”
SHOTS HAVE BEEN FIRED.
Kyle protests the guy at the door was real, even describing how he had a dead white face and a buzz cut. Mab asserts, with a little indignity aimed Kyle’s way, Santa Claus doesn’t look like that. Well, not to her in any case. Kyle tries to insist further but Mab shushes it the announcement of dinnertime. Defeated, Kyle at least makes sure the door’s totally locked before going into the kitchen. Mab is working on something on a big pot of soup, and indirectly orders Kyle to set the table. Kyle goes along with it if only because Mab’s company is better than none. Kyle eats a spoonful of stew… and immediately burns his mouth while fumbling for water.
“By the way, the stew’s hot,” said Aunt Mab.
Kyle wonders why Mab hadn’t warned him in advance, but considering he more or less said he wished her cat was dead I’m surprised he’s surprised. [Wing: Also, Kyle, you saw it come fresh off the damn stove. Food is hot. Get your shit together, kid.] Kyle’s then suspicious of what’s actually in the stew. Mab says it’s got everything, because it’s a Christmas stew made from an old, secret family recipe. This brings back memories of a certain lunch lady who else had a secret recipe for her stew, which turned out to be made from-Kyle stops there. [Wing: CONTINUITY! One of the many reasons I love this series so much.] Kyle sustains himself on water and bread for the rest of the meal, wondering if his parents will care when they return to find him emaciated and figures they probably won’t. Mab is more focused on her meal to notice, and Kyle analyzes her face and realizes she may not look old, but she doesn’t look young either. She looks like she’s made of something that wasn’t real. Mab puts some of her stew on a saucer for Natasha to eat, which makes Kyle instinctively think of it as “Mousemeat Stew.” That’s it for Kyle who halfheartedly thanks Mab for dinner, though she seems to miss the sarcasm. Noting that Kyle didn’t finish his stew and intent not to waste food, she cheerfully declares he can have it for breakfast. Kyle does not contract her enthusiasm, especially when she follows up on the fairy tale comparison and starts to sing around the kitchen.
“Try something new. Try Christmas Stew,” said Aunt Mab in a singsong voice, and then gave a little trill of laughter. “And since you aren’t hungry, that means none of my delicious cookies for you.” She pointed to a plate full of the ugliest nuggets Kyle had ever seen.
You call those cookies? he thought in disgust.
Natasha looked up from her plate. “Mrrow,” she said.
Aunt Mab stared hard at Kyle, then plopped a round, brown lump in her mouth. “Mmm,” she said with pleasure. “Poor not-hungry Kyle, missing out on my famous cookie surprise.”
[Wing: … is anything she cooks not filled with some sort of surprise?]
The second Mab turns her back, Kyle makes an ugly face at her just to feel better. The moment he sticks out her tongue, Natasha latches onto Kyle’s calf with her claws and really digs in there, almost as if her paws will break through the other side of the leg. When Kyle finishes screaming and manages to shake her off (though it’s more Natasha is done with him), Mab is less than concerned.
Kyle doubled over in pain.
He heard Aunt Mab intone, “Impolite. Sarcastic. Not kind to animals.”
Kyle looked up. “What?” he said. “What?”
“You’d better clean that up,” said Aunt Mab. “She’s quite good with her claws.”
“Why’d she do that? Is she nuts?” Kyle asked.
“I’m sure she had her reasons,” said Aunt Mab smugly.
Natasha’s not the only one with claws.
If Kyle didn’t like Mab before, now it’s war. It’s then that Mab makes an ugly face at Kyle, only one so disturbing it feels like this scene was inspired from Stephen King’s “Suffer the Little Children.”
Then she made a horrible face at Kyle and stuck out her tongue.
Only, her face seemed to elongate, to disintegrate, to morph beyond anything humanely possible.
It happened so quickly that Kyle wasn’t even sure he’d seen it.
Mab goes back to cleaning the dishes, leaving Kyle time to get some immediate payback. He sneaks into the guest room and starts doing all sorts of shit to make his aunt’s night unbearable, shorting her bed sheets, screwing with the toilet’s ball and cock [Wing: I would like everyone to note how mature I’m being right now.] so it won’t flush properly, loosening the bath salt jar’s lid so she’ll dump the whole thing in the water, [Wing: Not sure that’s a punishment, really. Don’t people love lots of bath salts in their water? (Or as their drug of choice?)] opening her window just enough so there’ll be draft even though it looks closed, and unscrewing the doorknob. When Kyle hears Mab coming down the hall, he ducks into the closet. He almost screams when he feels Natasha brush up against his leg, but relaxes when he realizes he brushed against her scarf. Kyle bolts for his room as soon as Mab goes into the guest bathroom, but his pride in an easy escape get dwarfed by the pain in his leg. Limping to the bathroom, he wonders if he’s contracted gangrene and imagines his parents return home to see him minus a leg. Only, when Kyle lefts up his pant leg to apply peroxide, his leg is bare of any scratch marks. It doesn’t even appear red or sore. Warily, Kyle puts a small amount of peroxide on his leg… and immediately begins screaming. [Wing: Well, peroxide does hurt like hell. I once fell on a gravel road, tearing up my leg from ankle to calf, because I was little and running from a pack of feral dogs. (Look, baby!Wing didn’t know not to run at that age. She learned quick.) When I got to school and the nurse went to town with the peroxide, well. That was certainly an experience.] Beneath the bubbling peroxide it looks as if Kyle’s leg got mauled by a lion. He involuntarily remembers the clawed Santa at the door, and limps all the way back to his room.
Kyle suddenly awakens from a nightmare involving cannibal reindeer. Once he calms down, his fear gets replaced by a hunger pang and he tries to rationalize that the creepy Santa was just some punk deploying an overdue Halloween prank. Kyle soothes himself thinking about the pranks he’s pulled on Mab, and can hear her jiggling the toilet handle downstairs. At that moment, Kyle feels a violent jolt of pain in his leg which makes it jerk around of its own accord. The blankets thrown off, Kyle is horrified by the state his leg is in.
In the glowing red light from the digital clock, huge, deep gouges streaked his leg. They pulsed a putrid green.
Gangrene, thought Kyle in a panic. He grabbed his leg, wondering if it would come off in his hands. He tried to rub the green away, ignoring the sharp needles of pain it caused his calf.
The green scratches seemed to grow more brightly in the red light. The pain made him flinch.
But as soon as Kyle turns on the bedside lamp, his leg returns to normal. Confused and bewildered, Kyle convinces himself he’s only seeing these things because he’s upset over his parents ditching him before Christmas. The sound of the toilet handle being jiggled makes Kyle believe on some level Mab is the cause of these visions, but then feels that’s too much to assume even for her. Kyle tries to go back to sleep, until he sees the ghastly green light coming from the crack of his bedroom door. Acting on instinct Kyle tosses a pillow at the door, thumping it shut and making the light disappear. The sound of faint howling makes Kyle believe Natasha was trying to get in, but he distinctively remembers locking his door before he went to bed. Kyle attempts to reassure himself he’s got this because, after all, he goes to Graveyard School. He’s trained for this shit.
The next morning Kyle is stiff and groggy as he heads down for breakfast, but stops when he overhears Mab discussing with somebody in the kitchen over how something was “Necessary.” Mab seems to sense Kyle is outside the kitchen, not giving him time to figure out who she was talking to. Putting on his best smile and acting like he doesn’t hate her guts, Kyle walks into the kitchen and bids his aunt good morning. Just his aunt, and Natasha. Kyle briefly wonders if Natasha was the other person speaking when Mab directs his irrational thoughts back to the rational by pointing him in the direction of the uneaten stew. Kyle helps himself to a few glasses of orange juice instead.
Mab muses Kyle must’ve been the busy little beaver during the night to be so thirsty and inquires if he had any sweet dreams. Kyle tries not to give her the satisfaction so he lies through his teeth before asking how she slept.
“Perfectly,” she said. “And why wouldn’t I have slept well?”
“Sometimes in a strange house, people don’t sleep so well,” Kyle said.
“You think this house is strange?” asked Aunt Mab.
“Uh, no,” said Kyle.
She smiled sunnily at him. “Neither do I.”
This is too much for Kyle to take, so now it’s time for him to call in backup. Kyle bluffs that Park is coming over and may possibly spend the night. Mab barely acknowledges Kyle, giving him momentary relief and the chance to flee before she changes her mind. In his room, Kyle makes a desperate phone call to Park’s house and asks if he can sleep over. Park gets the okay from his parents, and picks up on how frantic Kyle seems. Kyle explains it has to do with his weird aunt and her weirder cat, and makes Park swear to act like this whole thing was planned in advance and to bring food with him. Park knows how to play it loosey goosey and gives Kyle the casual confirmation. That crisis averted, Kyle must work to ensure there’s no repeat of mystery stew for dinner.
Mab is lounging in the family room with Natasha on her lap as Kyle asks, nay, practically begs her to order pizza for dinner when Park arrives. Mab answers Kyle’s pleads with a yawn, mentioning how “Strange” it is that she’s still so sleepy after a good night’s rest. She follows up by noticing it’s stopped snowing for the moment, so it makes sense for Kyle to take this opportunity to shovel the front walk for Park. That way he’ll be able to properly appreciate a special treat like pizza. Kyle tries to reason that his parents pay a guy with a snowblower for stuff like that, but Mab vetoes the notion on the grounds that snowblowers are noisy, polluting machines and they upset Natasha. No shoveling, no pizza. Dejected, Kyle goes to put his boots and coat on while Mab naps. Yet Kyle is convinced she’s watching him regardless.
Park arrives and asks why Kyle is shoveling when it’s supposed to snow again. Kyle’s especially annoyed that, after he finished the front steps and walkway, Mab suggested without suggesting he shovel the entire driveway. Throughout the whole afternoon Natasha had been keeping watch from the front window. No… cat naps for her ( 😀 ). Kyle passed the time by making certain rude gestures to the cat, gestures which are better left unsaid. Park helpfully points out shoveling can build pitching and throwing muscles for baseball, but Kyle’s not thinking about that. He demands to know if Park brought food, and lo and behold Park unveils moist, chocolaty salvation protected in a calyx of aluminum. Hiding in the garage, Kyle stuffs himself on homemade chocolate chip cookies even as Park explains Mrs. Addams meant them for Kyle’s aunt as well. Park tells Kyle to lighten up because he’s acting like he’s still in school. Kyle points out the shit with the evil Santa could’ve originated from Graveyard Hill behind the school but Park’s not wholly convinced that’s true.
“You short-sheeted your aunt’s bed and monkey-wrenched her room. She probably spent the whole night sorting it all out. Maybe all you have is guilty conscience, Kyle.” Park shook his head in mock surprise. “And right before Christmas. Bad boy.”
See, Kyle, Park is the GOOD kind of little shit.
Kyle begins to freak out a little demanding to know why Park’s not taking him seriously, but Park tells him it’s all copacetic. He’s here now, and all they have to do is be nice to Mab, compliment her cat, then they can have pizza and before he knows it Kyle’s parents will be back. Of course Kyle HAD to ask “What else can go wrong?”
Park follows up on his decision to be nice to Mab, complimenting Natasha in a way that doesn’t make him sound like a dick and makes Kyle want to roll his eyes. Kyle reminds Mab about the pizza and then goes to order. Park specifies he doesn’t want anchovies, and neither does Kyle. It’s only then Kyle asks his aunt if she wants some too when she says Natasha might. When the pizza finally arrives, Kyle heads for the door… then practically shits himself and slams the door shut because the creepo Santa’s back! Park, however, wants to see this for himself… and only finds the pizza delivery guy dressed in a Santa suit.
A guy in a Santa suit stood there. He gave Kyle a puzzled look as he handed the pizza to Park. Park said, “Ignore the little kid. He’s only six. He’s just big for his age. Here. Hold the pizza, Kyle. Don’t drop it.”
You can practically feel the condescension in Park’s voice. The delivery guy acknowledges the Santa suit’s dumb, but you know how bosses are. Kyle asks if he came by the day before, but the delivery guy mentions yesterday was slow and nobody from Pizza Grotto had an order in this neighborhood. Park lets the guy keep the change, and reasons somebody from Pizza Grotto probably got bored during the slow day and decided to have a laugh. Kyle almost believes it.
It sounded logical enough. It made sense. And pizza delivery guys, he knew from past experience, could be extremely strange.
WHAT PAST EXPERIENCE? There weren’t any pizza guys in “Snow Monster” and that was the only other book Kyle was in. Was there going to be some book about an evil pizza place??? GOD I WISH I COULD TRACK DOWN THACKER AND FIND OUT WHAT ELSE SHE HAD PLANNED.
[Wing: Well, she was allegedly at NYCC back in October, on at least one panel with a fucking amazing title: Graphic Sex: Comics, New Media, and the Queering of Sex Education. Also on one about anime for feminists. She sounds awesome.]
Kyle sets the table in the kitchen while Natasha watches the boys. Park admires a leap Natasha makes to the top of the fridge and wishes he could jump like that during baseball. Kyle says it would make Park as much of a freak as the cat is, which gets Natasha’s attention. Park assures Kyle all he needs is some Vitamin Pizza.
“Now all we need are some chin wipers and a couple of flat eating disks. Unless we’re gonna slurp it raw from the box.”
Kyle reaches for some plates when YEOW! Natasha scratches his hand from atop the fridge, making Kyle drop a plate. Mab bursts into the kitchen, demanding to know what Kyle did to her cat. Kyle points out he’s bleeding, Mab points out all it takes is soap and water as she goes after her cat. Park can’t help but be impressed by how much Natasha REALLY does not like Kyle, imagining she could’ve taken his entire hand at the right angle. Kyle doubles down on his desire to make aunt and cat sorry they ever came to his house. When the boys are finally able to sit down and eat, they open the pizza box to find… anchovies. A sea of cheese and tomato sauce polluted by anchovies. Kyle doesn’t understand how this happened when he clearly ordered no anchovies, but Park brushes it off as a misunderstanding and scoops up the anchovies to give to Natasha. Unfortunately, there’s still a salty fish aftertaste in every bite, which makes Kyle even more miserable.
Kyle wakes up when he hears a commotion on the roof. He’s even surprised to see he’s already standing in the middle of the room, and briefly thinks it’s been brought on by anchovy induced indigestion. He turns to Park who is sleeping in the top of the bunk bed his bed somehow magically turned into (I have no idea if Kyle always had a bunk bed but I can’t think as to WHY), he turns to the locked bedroom, and then Kyle turns his head upward and hears footsteps on the roof. And whatever it is, it’s not human. Focusing, Kyle can tell it’s not a large animal and assumes it might be squirrels getting ready to ambush Santa.
“Hey, Park, it’s the Christmas squirrels,” Kyle said in a louder voice.
Park doesn’t wake up, and Kyle relaxes and plans to go back to sleep when something heavy crashes on the roof, knocking Kyle out of bed and jolting Park awake. The sound of footsteps is followed by the scratching of claws, and Kyle wonders if it really is squirrels up there. Hell, Kyle can see shingles falling down the side of his bedroom window from whatever’s assaulting the roof. Park orders Kyle not to turn on the light for fear of drawing attention, but Kyle wants to know what the hell is going on out there and grabs a flashlight. The boys get dressed and try to sneak down the dark hallway, the only sounds being Mab’s horrifying snores.
“My father snores like that,” said Park inanely. “My mom says it’s not healthy.”
“I’m taking notes,” Kyle replied with awful sarcasm.
Before they reach the front door, Park stops Kyle and asks what they’ll do if they really run into Santa Claws with a “W.”
Kyle said, “I’ll go for help while you keep him busy.”
“Ha, ha,” said Park. “I’m serious.”
Kyle reminds Park HE was the one who suggested it was just a pizza guy with a sick sense of humor. Park admits he might’ve been wrong. [Wing: Graveyard. School.] Kyle hopes he’s not. Dressed in winter coats and boots, the boys brace themselves against the cold night air. Kyle bitterly notes the driveway and front steps are totally covered in snow again, and is unnerved by how utterly still the night has become save for their crunching footsteps. The boys hear the scurrying noise from the rooftop, but the flashlight reveals not squirrels, but rats. HUNDREDS OF RED EYED RATS. Park and Kyle try to run back to the front door when the rats begin divebombing into the snow and rushing down the sides of the house to get the boys. The boys are falling over each other on the icy front walk as Kyle can feel rats trying to latch onto his coat. When they finally throw themselves back in the house and try to hold the door closed, Kyle finally starts screaming for Mab’s help as the rats almost get in. The screaming excites the rat mob, and the sound of gnawing can be heard. Park even asks why none of the rats are trying to get in through the windows, and Kyle responds between screaming they’re probably scared of getting cut. Kyle can’t help but remember a video he saw of piranhas devouring a chicken, bones and all, and wonders how long it would take for rats to do the same when he screams as something furry brushes past his leg. But it’s only Natasha, announcing the arrival of Mab, the spitting image of a newly awakened Sleeping Beauty. Kyle and Park scream about rats, but of course the moment Mab arrived the rats have disappeared. Mab waves this off as too much pizza and returns to bed. Park tells Kyle he’s getting the fuck out of there in the morning and Kyle doesn’t hold it against him.
Unfortunately, nature’s got other plans because it’s a total white out come morning. [Wing: Yay! I love the snowed in trope!] The blizzard has effectively trapped Kyle AND Park with Mab and Natasha, and not even the Addams’ four wheel drive can rescue them. Park even offers to shovel a path to freedom when the phone goes dead. Mab, on the other hand, isn’t quite so concerned.
Kyle spun around. Aunt and cat were standing in the doorway of the family room. “It’s getting late,” Aunt Mab said cheerfully. “Dark any minute now.” She sounds so happy, thought Kyle. So deranged.
Natasha’s meows prompt Mab to start dinner, and she tells Kyle to plug in the Christmas lights. Kyle can’t believe he’s even bothering to do so with how shitty things have turned, but Park’s holding onto hope that things will get better.
“At least the blizzard will keep the rats away tonight,” Park said. “It’s not so bad. It could be worse.”
“How? The phone’s dead, we’re trapped inside with Aunt Looney Tunes and her cannibal cat, and my guess is we’re having stew for dinner. How could it get worse?”
A blast of wind seemed to rock the house on its foundations.
And then the lights went out.
KYLE. STOP. JINXING. THINGS.
In the darkness Park finally reaches his limit, someone knocks a chair over, and Mab fears Natasha has been hurt. Kyle tries to assure himself he’s been in worse situations, and at least this time he’s not lost in the snow and being hunted down like an animal. Only, wait, ugh I’ll get to this in the final thoughts. Mab tells the boys not to panic, while Park wonders if the rats from the other night got to the electricity, but Kyle doesn’t think they’d be capable in this weather. Mab emerges with a flashlight, and suggests since the heat’s off too, everyone should go to bed early to conserve their energy. Kyle and Park are too worn out to protest at this point, even though no one’s eaten dinner yet. Kyle thinks he hears Park talking under his breath as they head upstairs.
That night, Kyle is awoken by an unnatural silence and realizes the wind has stopped. Kyle checks his watch, but doesn’t understand why it’s saying it’s close to midnight. On December 24th. There’s no way he could’ve possibly slept until Christmas Eve. As he resets his watch to what he assumes is the proper time, the bracing cold from lack of indoor heating wakes him up further. Two distinct thumps on the roof attract Kyle’s attention and awaken Park. Snow falling from the roof convinces Kyle and Park the rats have returned. Because it’s so cold the boys try to get back in their regular clothes for extra warmth, and it’s surprisingly easy given the light coming from the window.
If they’re in a blackout, what light?
Park motions for Kyle to look out his bedroom window, and below they see the landscape of snow illuminated by red, green, gold, and silver twinkling lights cascading from the window of the family room. Even though every other house and street light is pitch black. Well, except for Kyle’s digital clock, which now says it’s 11:45 PM on December 24th, just like his watch. Kyle has, officially, reached his limit while Park desperately tries to rationalize the strange shit going on.
- Park: The lights are on so the power’s back/Kyle: In one single room out of the entire block
- Park: Maybe it’s coming on slowly/Kyle: Try the light switch
- Park: Maybe it’s a dead bulb/Kyle: Maybe I’ve FUCKING HAD IT
Now THIS is where I have to give Kyle credit. He’s been acting like a dick this whole time, but in a situation like this you’d think he’d turn into a little coward and hide somewhere. But no. With all this shit with evil Santas and mutant rats and whatever the hell is going on, Kyle’s decided he’s taking the fight to them instead of just waiting for them to swarm the house and murder Kyle AND Park. And even though Park is scared, he doesn’t need prompting to hurry alongside Kyle down to the family room. On the roof they can hear jangling bells and figure whatever it is hasn’t gotten inside the house yet. They open the door to…
The Christmas tree twinkled cheerfully above the bright, neatly stacked gifts beneath it. The electric candles in the windows glowed yellow, and the scent of balsam fir filled Kyle’s nostrils. Everything looked as it should, familiar and reassuring, a cozy scene from a Christmas card.
The only thing missing was a fire in the fireplace.
The minute Kyle turns to the fireplace the whole house seems to shudder, and some soot hits the logs from inside the chimney. Kyle dashes forward and attempts to light a match as the house violently begins to shake. A single black boot appears out of the chimney the moment the fire is lit, but Kyle covers his bases, grabs a heavy iron poker, and whacks the black-booted foot with all his might. The boys hear cries of agony inside the chimney as the boot retreats, and Park is horrified Kyle just assaulted Santa Claus. Kyle tells Park to get a grip when a noise at the window alerts them to some uninvited, but not unexpected, guests.
The rats had returned. Only this time, they were all dressed up in their Christmas best. And they had brought friends. Two monstrous companions, two huge creatures who seemed to put the dirt in dirty rat, joined the gaily dressed rat pack. They wore jolly Christmas hats, and harnesses were strapped across their shoulders.
One of the oversized rats lifted a long-clawed paw and waved. Then it smiled, a hideous leer full of gleaming teeth, sharp and bright, perfect for gnawing on bones and wood.
“Santa’s little helpers,” said Kyle in a dazed voice.
Park panics at the thought of these rats getting through the windows and makes a break for the door, but Kyle stops him and says they’ll be dead for sure if they go outside. Kyle orders Park to close the curtains while he locks and barricades the door with a chair. Park asks what in the hell would closing the curtains do, but Kyle somehow senses the rats won’t go through the door or window, otherwise they would’ve done so by now. No, it would most likely be through the chimney, which is when some soot and ashes douse the fire. Kyle frantically puts more wood and wadded newspapers in the fireplace to get the blaze going, which invites jeers of dislike from the window. Kyle has gotten into the logic of this messed up scenario. How does Santa Claus get into a house? The chimney. So of course Santa CLAWS and his little rat minions would do the same. Park, somewhat satisfied, starts closing all the curtains which pisses the rats off even more. Then, as the final window is covered, the sounds disappear. Kyle feels better thinking the rats can’t see him and Park keeping the fire going, his watch reading ten to midnight. Hopefully, running the clock out til midnight and Christmas Day might bring forth the real Santa Claus, though Kyle acknowledges he’s just making educated guesses at this point.
Spend enough time at Graveyard School and you develop an instinct for this sort of thing, he told himself.
[Wing: Well, that is probably true, and is my theory, and makes me like Kyle a lot more than I did previously.]
The fire blazing and half the firewood gone, Park finally expresses his disbelief at how big those two rats are when Kyle points out they’re as big as reindeer. What else would Santa Claws use to pull his sleigh?
(Basher and Bomber by E.J. Barnes)
Kyle orders Park to start using the wrapping paper on the gifts to keep the fire going.
“Are you kidding?” asked Park.
“Do you want to live to see the real Christmas?” Kyle shot back.
A minute later they were feeding the gift wrap to the fire. “Some of the dyes in this wrapping paper are supposed to be poisonous when you burn them,” Park said.
“Good,” said Kyle viciously. “I hope it takes out a few rats.”
“I can’t believe your aunt is sleeping through all this.”
Eight minutes left and Kyle thinks they can let the blaze die a bit to conserve fuel, which is the opening the rats needed to chuck some snow down and extinguish the fire. Park instinctively grabs the last log and jabs at a rat as it falls down the chimney. Kyle arms himself with the poker once more, and the rats start taunting them.
“Here comes Santa Claws!”
Kyle is then forced into an unofficial duel as the rat picks up the fireplace tongs and starts trying to repel the poker. The rat says the boys should give up so they can learn what happens to all rotten bipeds, and backs Kyle up against the Christmas tree. This gives Kyle an idea and, unplugging the lights as more rats come out of the chimney, Kyle DRAGS THE CHRISTMAS TREE WITH HIS BARE HANDS AND THRUSTS IT HALFWAY IN THE FIREPLACE. [Wing: WELL DAMN.] The tree bursts into flames and they can hear the rats howling inside the chimney. Kyle and Park try to make it for the door as the fire alarm goes off. Unfortunately, now the two master rats are in the room. Kyle tries to fight them off with the poker, but one of the big rats yanks it from Kyle’s hands. No other choice, Kyle grabs Park and the two try to dash their way through the rat horde, ignoring the rats as they try to bite and scratch. But the smoke starts to get to them and they fall to their knees, still fighting, when salvation seems to appear.
And then the door blew open and he heard a cat’s howl.
A rat ran straight up his pants leg and over his shoulder.
Kyle rolled onto his back, trying to pin the wriggling rat and get it out of his clothes. He rolled over again and saw a cat in the spinning smoke above him.
She was as big as a bear and she had eyes of golden green.
He thought he heard the cat shout, “Merry Christmas, ho, ho, ho!”
And then the world went dark.
When Kyle comes to, he’s standing in the hallway, Mab and a paramedic checking to see if he’s okay. Park is standing next to him, and both boys are confirmed to have suffered no damage from smoke inhalation or anything like that. Kyle can see firemen in the family room, who report it’s lucky only the tree caught fire because of the electricity suddenly coming back on. Mab scolds Kyle for having tried to put the fire out by himself and suggests going to the hospital, but Kyle assures her she’s fine. The firemen can’t help but muse on the strange burn pattern, the tree halfway into the fireplace…
In the kitchen, guzzling down water, Kyle and Park compare notes and both remember seeing a cat before suddenly finding themselves being inspected by paramedics. Park mentions the roads are clear of the snow, and as it turns out, it’s currently 8:15 AM on Christmas Eve. At that moment, Mrs. Chilton bursts into the kitchen and wraps her arms around Kyle. Park takes that as his exit cue.
Mrs. Chilton invites Mab to spend the rest of the holiday with their family, but Mab says she’s entertaining some friends at home. At the very least, Mab mentions it was a pleasant little Christmas gift to get to meet her nephew. As Mab and Natasha depart in a taxi, Mr. Chilton says Mab looks exactly the same as she did when HE was a kid. That cat’s probably the same one too. Kyle can only say she’s an interesting woman as the Chiltons plan to find a new tree and spend the evening re-wrapping the gifts while listening to Christmas music. Come Christmas Eve night, Kyle suddenly realizes he never actually saw Santa Claws in the chimney except for that boot. And then he remembers Natasha’s own claws, and wonders… had Natasha and Mab really saved him? Or… but, that’s it for Kyle, and tries to put the Graveyard School version of Christmas out of his mind as he drifts to sleep.
Meanwhile, Mab and Natasha get to spend a lovely Christmas Eve reminiscing with their dear friends on another holiday spent raising holy hell for kids, good and not so good. Natasha, nestled snugly among her little rat comrades, contentedly says they make quite a team. Mab asks Basher what his favorite moment is, and Basher says he always loves it when the kids see him and Bomber for the first time and really shit bricks. I mean, no offense to their tiny cousins or anything. One of the little rats asks how Mab enchanted the Santa suit to come down the chimney like that, only, Mab doesn’t know what they mean, and thinks Kyle really did have a run in with am irate pizza boy. But the rats all swear they saw a boot in the chimney. Mab tells the others not to ruin her memories because it’s all they’ll have until next year. And then they hear the thumping on the roof.
“Bomber, is that you? What are you doing?” She tried to sound unafraid, but her voice shook. “Get down off that roof right now. These tricks won’t work on me.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The rats stirred in alarm. Even Natasha stood up, wary.
Suddenly soot streaked down the chimney into the fire. Aunt Mab went to take a closer look.
“Ho, ho, ho,” echoed down the chimney. A sack fell and extinguished the fire. Then a black-booted foot appeared, groping for a toehold.
“Santa Claws!” Mab screamed. She couldn’t get out of the house fast enough, and she definitely didn’t look back. Her kitty and rat pack followed. Even the reindeer-sized bullies ran out of the house, to be swallowed up by the black night.
Out of the chimney emerged a large figure in crimson, with hair white as snow and cheeks as red as cherries. He looked around the room and saw the tea Aunt Mab had left behind in her hasty retreat.
“What a nice surprise on a busy night like tonight.” He took a sip, then went about his business. A jingle of bells from the roof reminded him to hurry. “Coming, Blitzen. Time to move on. Next stop, Grove Hill.”
[Wing: Oh. My. God. That ending. Mab. Natasha. The rats. I just — oh my god.]
So, was there really a Santa Claws? Or was it all a trick?
I know Kyle was being an asshole but I do love how he takes the fight directly to the rats when it came down to it. I mentioned he can be stubborn and pigheaded, but he won’t go down without a fight. Mab, of course, is fucking incredible and just so freaking sassy and passive aggressive.
Now, what confuses me though is when Kyle makes a brief reference to the “Snow Monster” book. But that doesn’t make sense because THAT book took place during winter AFTER Christmas, and he was in the sixth grade then as he is now. I’ve started wondering if maybe the bigger horror of Graveyard School is that these kids are perpetually repeating the sixth grade and no one realizes they’ve been 11 and 12 years old for years.
This book was a big influence on my earlier fan fiction and I even wrote a self indulgent homage to it featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes and an OC back in 2008.
AND I STILL WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THAT PIZZA DELIVERY STORY.
Aunt Mab’s Creepy Cookies
These cookies look weird, but they taste so good that Santa Claus may forget to move on to the next delivery!
- 1 package instant hot chocolate
- 1 package instant oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons hot water
In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Then scoop out teaspoonfuls of the mixture and drop them on a plate. Put the plate in the refrigerator for one hour. Now the cookies are ready to eat. Yum, yum, gimme some!
I haven’t made these yet because I hate peanut butter (I can’t eat it, the smell alone makes me gag), but I’ve considered swapping the peanut butter for cookie butter. Let me know what these taste like if anyone decides to make them.
[Wing: I don’t know that we have any instant oatmeal around, but if we do, I’ll try this and report back.]