Title: Spinechillers Mysteries #6 – Not A Creature Was Stirring?
Author: Fred E. Katz
Cover Artist: Mike Harper
Summary: Yule Mania
Just before leaving with his parents to go skiing before Christmas, Conner Morgan breaks his leg. Fortunately, Great Aunt Bergen is coming to watch the house, and Conner can stay with her. [Wing: What, there’s nothing he can do at the ski lodge or wherever his parents are staying? They have to leave him behind because he can’t ski now?]
But there is something very strange about Aunt Bergen, and strange things start to happen when she arrives.
(Looks can be deceiving when fear backs you into a corner. Enjoy thrills and chills with the kids in this story who have fun as they demonstrate Christian character based on love for God, parents, and one another. You’ll share a scare… but, of course, ghouls and ghosts are strictly in the imagination.)
Surprise! I’m giving you the best Christmas gift of all! JESUS.
I found out about Spinechillers, well, honestly I can’t remember. I WANT to say TV Tropes, when I was looking at the page discussing “Christian, family friendly alternative knock offs” of existing properties. Oh and I should mention there’s a Babysitters Club knock off called “The Twelve Candles Club.” [Wing: WHAT. THERE IS A BSC KNOCK OFF. WHAT.] When I learned there was a Christmas-themed book I immediately ordered a copy a couple of years back.
But, you know, I would like to get a bit serious, even a little heavy handed. Stuff like this intrigues me, not a lot, but enough to make me wonder. See, I was raised in a semi-devout Catholic household (my mom’s cousin is a priest and my dad works in a nursing home connected to a convent) so religion’s had a permanent residence in my life… whether I wanted it or not. I did communion and confirmation even though I hated attending those Wednesday classes because I had to miss art class in elementary school. I was put in two different all boys Catholic school through 6th to 12th grade, where I was humiliated, isolated, bullied, physically assaulted, made fun of by at least a couple of teachers, and sexually assaulted and harassed on two separate occasions by FOUR different people (and not in the same school). That I’m queer and had to listen to people telling me people LIKE me can’t have relationships did nothing to help my questioning sexuality. So for all intents and purposes I’ve had every justifiable reason to turn my back on organized religion, yet I haven’t. Well, the organized part yes, but I still believe in God and Jesus. I pray at night when I feel comfortable enough to do so (I haven’t done it in a while, feeling I’ve asked for too much lately and want to give God a break). I want to believe there’s a Heaven, but I have a hard time feeling I’m not going to Hell someday. Prayer does help sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I know Catholicism and Christianity and all its derivatives have been shamelessly used and exploited by hate groups, bigots, extremists, Republicans, what have you, and pretty much every other religion out there has suffered in some way because of Catholics and Christians. If you don’t believe in Jesus you don’t matter as a person, is what they seem to say. But then, what does it mean for the people who have genuine faith, the ones who don’t use the Bible for a hidden agenda or to propagate hate speech? What happens when we come across some media format that wants to talk about those values yet it gets lumped together with the hackneyed, poorly written, fear mongering bullshit meant to scare people into loving God? Hell, even a show as bad as “Drawn Together” offered a viewpoint of the Bible being meant to serve as a guide for people instead of a contradicting rule book (and they even said they weren’t admitting their interpretation was the right one).
I’m not trying to hype this book as some eye opening look into the Christian faith. I do plan to make a few jokes about how heavy handed it is, but there ARE a few points about it I do like. I even sent a copy to a dear friend of mine who’s deeply religious, and I did NOT mean for it to be an ironic gift. Candace is one of my dearest friends and I don’t pull that shit on her.
I just wonder, how do we draw the line between legitimate faith and a desire to do good, and bible-thumping hamfisted hypocrisy?
But hey, I didn’t count on this before, yet this is a perfect foil for “Here Comes Santa Claws.”
[Wing: Religion can bring out strong feelings in people, pro and con. I’m open for discussion here, but I will be keeping a close eye on the comment section (across the board, here and on social media). No personal attacks allowed.
I’ve mentioned this briefly here before, I think, but I grew up in a religious cult, one based on Old Testament faith. It was basically fake Judaism, but with Jesus and with a ton of racism against actual Jewish people. Long story, which I won’t go into super detail here, but I’m coming at Christianity from a very biased perspective, and I am aware of this.]
Conner Morgan can’t believe this had to happen to him, of all times. He mentions he’s not usually so whiny and mopey, and his parents don’t normally let him get away with such self-pity, but it’s hard for him not to be upset. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were invited to speak at a marriage counseling seminar at a ski resort, and were going to bring Conner with them so afterwards they could have a Christmas vacation. Unfortunately for Conner, during the last day of school he’d been practicing some gymnastics stunts with his friend Glen in the gym, and Conner broke his leg when he got distracted.
Conner begged his parents not to leave him at home when they went on their trip. Mrs. Morgan says with his cast he wouldn’t be able to ski, so would he really enjoy himself if he was cooped up in their room watching TV? Conner’s mom says they also wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone for most of the trip, and assures Conner his Aunt Bergen has already promised to watch him and they’ll have a wonderful time. [Wing: It’s a SKI RESORT. There are a ton of things to do other than skiing. Even I know that, and I hate winter so much I would never, ever go to one.] At home, Conner’s settled into the living room, surrounded by the Christmas decorations and the nativity set that’s been in his mother’s family for years. He’s trying hard to not feel bad about himself, but he’s not succeeding. Conner tells his mom he can watch the house while they’re gone, but Mrs. Morgan says the only reason she’s comfortable leaving is knowing he’ll be in Aunt Bergen’s care even though Conner’s never met her before. Mrs. Morgan tries to comfort her son, remembering how she broke her arm when she was a kid and missed a horse show she’d been looking forward to forever.
“But the Great Physician took care of me then, and he’ll take care of you now. You won’t be lonely with him at your side.”
And Aunt Bergen would love to be with her family during the holidays. Bergen and her late husband Charlie used to travel all over the world. Mrs. Morgan recalls how much fun she had when Bergen watched her and Conner’s uncle when they were kids. She was “Out of this world.” They never knew what would happen next. Why, Bergen just about killed them. [Wing: SUBTLE. Also, if Bergen wants to spend time with her family, why don’t they all go to the ski resort? That way Conner would have company while he’s stuck inside, and they could all be together and — ugh, the logic here.]
Someone rings the doorbell and Conner manages to beat his mom to the door, even with crutches, when who should appear but… Santa Claus?! Conner almost stumbles when his father reaches out and grabs Conner’s arm. It seems Mr. Morgan had his hands filled with a big inflatable Santa decoration. And behind Conner’s dad is the woman of myth herself, Aunt Bergen. Conner is enveloped in a big hug from his great aunt. As she gushes on how much he looks just like his grandfather when he was Conner’s age, Conner’s attention is drawn to the ornate comb in Bergen’s hair. Conner sees several faces in the comb that seem to be alive, and wonders how his aunt has managed to do this. Mrs. Morgan is overjoyed to see her favorite aunt, and the adults spend the evening reminiscing, chatting, and getting ready for the ski trip. Conner doesn’t mean to be a spoilsport in the good times, even after studying Colossians 1:24.
I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.
Conner goes to bed without saying goodnight, which he does admit was a bit rude, but he can’t shake the uncomfortable feeling of being alone with a woman he’s never met before. [Wing: No lie, that would be weird and uncomfortable.]
The next morning before his parents depart, Mrs. Morgan drops some ominous warning that Aunt Bergen is “Even crazier than I remember” and Conner should watch out because nothing’s as it seems. There’s one other thing she tries to mention but she has to leave. [Wing: Mrs Morgan, I have some concerns about your parenting right now.] Conner is left puzzling the things he’s been told about his aunt, how she’s “Out of this world” and wonders if she’s some kind of space alien.
Back inside the house, Conner hobbles to his parents’ bedroom since it’s on the first floor and would be easier for him to sleep in there instead of having to climb the stairs. Bergen gives him a glass of milk, saying several a day can help bones heal faster, and Conner has a surprisingly deep conversation with his aunt about Christmas, which comes as a surprise to him as well. Conner says he feels bad thinking about all the hard work and effort Mrs. Morgan puts into the holiday for him and his dad, and feels a little guilty considering the people who aren’t as fortunate as him while wishing he could lend a hand to them. Bergen takes him pretty seriously, explaining Conner takes after his mom in that regard. It seems when Mrs. Morgan was younger she had a friend from church whose father died in a car accident, and because things were difficult for her friend, Conner’s mom would take her favorite Christmas toys and give them to her friend.
“I don’t think your mother has changed much. Here it is the week before Christmas, and she and your dad are heading to a marriage conference to help others. I’m sure they’d really like to be here with you. I guess Christmas gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe the best ones are the gifts you give of yourself.”
Bergen then promises Conner he’ll have an enjoyable Christmas, regardless of his injury. Left alone with this revelation about his mom and his thoughts that maybe Bergen is nice after all, Conner drifts off in bed for what he thinks will be a quick nap. It seems he slept longer than he planned for there’s a knock at the door. Half asleep, Conner’s jolted fully awake by a hideous green ghoul on the other side of the door. Oh but it turns out it’s just his aunt wearing a green mud pack on her face. She apologizes for startling him, but only brought another glass of milk. Startled awake, Conner limps back to bed and tries to finish reading a book (which is implied to be “Dr. Shivers’ Carnival,” the first in the series) when he hears a strange moaning sound. Limping to the kitchen, Conner can’t find his aunt anywhere but tracks the moaning to the basement. Conner’s frightened speculation on his aunt returns and he wonders if she’s trapped someone in the basement. [Wing: … well that escalated quickly.]
Jesus, I finally prayed, you’re going to have to go with me. I’m too scared to check this out myself.
But Conner’s investigation of the basement is waylaid by a loud knocking. At first he thinks it’s coming from the closet, where he’s besieged by the inflatable Santa again, but it turns out to be from the front door, where Conner finds… a flying, talking box! No wait, the box isn’t flying, it’s being carried by an elf! The elf asks Conner for his signature, explaining he works for Elf Express, and puts the package near the Christmas tree.
Conner’s imagination continues to get the best of him when he sees what looks like a snowman by the front door, but it’s really a kid from his church group wanting to invite him to go sledding (but not knowing he’s got a cast on). Conner thanks him for the thought and returns to the mystery package, which includes a card saying “Merry Christmas from You Know Who.” Inside the package is a green and red metal box, and Conner gets shocked when a strange creature bursts from the box as he opens it. It turns out to be a toy his parents sent as an early Christmas gift while on their trip and a note saying they miss him. Wow, um, how long were they gone exactly?
All that padding-I mean suspense-out of the way Conner focuses on the basement when who should pop out but Aunt Bergen. Locking the door behind her, she sweetly tells her nephew he has absolutely nothing to worry about regarding the basement, even as he insists on seeing what’s in there. Conner is sure she’s lying about something, but tries to relax a little after getting repeatedly worked up over nothing. [Wing: Seriously, kid, you’re wound too tight.]
Conner falls asleep and has a nightmare about a holly wreath above his bed coming to life and strangling him.
Bergen wakes him up and he tries to explain what his nightmare was about… and then sees a holly wreath above his bed for real real. His aunt says she thought the room could use some Christmas cheer, but Conner asks if she could remove it since he still feels funny after that dream. His aunt understands and removes the wreath.
Conner turns on the TV to an old version of “A Christmas Carol,” remembering how he used to get scared by Jacob Marley’s ghost and the sound of his chains… and then begins to hear clattering chains for real. And this time he’s not imagining things, because in comes his aunt with a plate of cookies for Conner, and some old chains for “A surprise.”
A short while later, Conner overhears his aunt talking with someone in the living room. Through the crack in the open door, Conner sees Bergen talking with a redheaded ventriloquist dummy she refers to as Boris. WHO WINKS AT CONNER.
“Boris, are you enjoying your stay with my nephew?”
“Sure. He’s the first kid I’ve ever met who has two wooden legs like me, Boris answered.
“Those are crutches,” she said.
“Whatever you need to get you through,” he remarked.
[Wing: HA! Okay, that was cheesy but delightful.]
Boris asks “Bergen the Bedazzling” when he gets to do his “Specialty” on Conner, but Bergen wants everyone together. She’s sure he’ll just kill them. Conner slowly backs away when Bergen comes in and they startle each other. Bergen says she was going to check if Conner needed some more milk before he reminds her she JUST brought him one.
“Hmmmm. You’re absolutely right. Do you know what the first two things go when you get older are, Conner?” She asked with just a hint of a smile.
“No, I don’t,” I said to humor her.
“The first is your memory and the second is… I forget what the second is.”
[Wing: This also made me smile, even though it is, again, terribly cheesy.]
Conner, wanting to know more about Boris, says he’d like to stay in the living room for a bit and adds that maybe being around the Christmas tree and the decorations will help put him in a better mood for Christmas. Bergen buys that and lets Conner rest in the living room, though he does get startled again and even SHE comments on it.
“You certainly are jumpy. I thought I was the only one who startled so easily. I’ve always thought it’s because there aren’t many around where I live,” she confessed.
“Many what around?” I asked.
“People,” she answered.
“What is around where you live?”
“You know, little things. Some are quite ancient. Some are quite unusual.” Aunt Bergen looked a little sad.
Well somebody’s not helping their case. [Wing: Why are all the adults so damn vague in this book?!]
As Bergen goes to do some chores, Conner searches for Boris, but instead finds new ornaments on the Christmas tree. These include human faces like the ones on Bergen’s comb, including Conner’s mom! Conner fears Bergen has somehow trapped his mother inside the ornament when he hears a loud crash from the garage. Bergen calls out that it’s nothing to be worried about. A box simply fell off a shelf but nothing broke. Everything’s oooookay. So of course Conner calls his friend Glen for back-up, but Glen has to bring his little sister Carrie with him. Bergen seems pleased at the idea of meeting Conner’s friends.
“What a lovely idea. Children seem so very sweet these days. I could just eat you all up,” she said.
I’ll bet that’s exactly what you’d like to do, I thought, unhappy at the idea.
DAMN, Conner’s got claws.
Glen and Carrie show up, Conner explaining Glen’s been his friend since kindergarten, and Carrie’s two years younger than they are and likes solving mysteries. [Wing: Clearly Carrie is delightful.] Bergen decides to run some quick errands knowing Conner will be with his friends, but almost overhears Conner wants to do some investigating before she leaves. Conner backtracks saying he’s going to wrap a Christmas gift for her (and he apparently DOES have a gift for her). Once his aunt leaves, Conner fills in Glen and Carrie on what’s been happening and says he wants to find Boris. While investigating the living room, Carrie suggests checking to see if the dummy’s inside the chimney… and almost shits herself because someone IS in the chimney! Glen looks and confirms there’s definitely someone inside. Their only option is to try and pull the poor guy out, and they do, revealing it was none other than the inflatable Santa doll. Seems Bergen might’ve gotten tired of the thing jumping out as well.
That settled, the kids decide to investigate the garage. [Wing: … not the basement?] Before Conner can turn the light on, Carrie cries out in the dark making Conner fear the worst and blaming himself for getting his friends caught up in this. But Carrie starts laughing, saying she got “Attacked” by a stuffed animal that fell off a shelf. The kids fumble for the light’s pull chain, only the bulb is now a dim blue. Conner doesn’t know why Bergen changed it, and can see the garage is now filled with large objects covered by thick black cloth. Conner pulls the sheet off one of the things, and almost gets skewered with a sword. Yet it seems the sword collapsed in on itself like a trick knife. Glen starts crying for help and they find his voice coming from a large empty box in the back. Carrie suggests searching for a false back in the box, but as they pull the curtain to get a better look, Glen reappears. And then disappears again! Glen orders Conner to drop the curtain again and Glen escapes. He explains the inner chamber turned around whenever the curtain was closed. Meanwhile, Carrie tries to find where the fake sword goes, but uncovers a box containing something big and angry. Conner tells his friends to put the cover back on, afraid of agitating whatever is inside. Conner, fearing for Glen and Carrie, tells them to get away while they can before the thing inside the box escapes, and sure enough big claws start reaching through the sides of the box. Gasp, could this be a Christmas werewolf story? [Wing: I CAN ONLY HOPE.]
Glen and Carrie haven’t left yet, and Conner realizes he needs help covering the box again because of his cast. The moment the cloth is draped over the animal box, it seems to calm down. The kids cover their tracks to make sure Bergen doesn’t notice anyone was in the garage. They reconvene in the kitchen over juice and cookies, and hear more of the moans from the basement. Carrie suggests they investigate, but Conner’s too freaked over what happened in the garage and points out it’s hard going down stairs with his leg. Carrie wonders if maybe Bergen’s plan is to get Conner so enticed by what’s making the noise he’ll walk into a trap. It’s like simply saying her name was enough to summon her, because Bergen returns… and then screams at the kids NOT to eat the cookies. Conner panics wondering what she did to them before she explains those aren’t edible cookies. Bergen apologizes for yelling, and explains she made those cookies with flour, water, and salt, to hang on the tree, not to eat. [Wing: Well, if those are all the ingredients, they can be eaten, they just won’t taste good.] Conner’s aunt then retrieves her bags and leaves the kids to their fun, when Glen and Carrie decide they have to go. Conner asks them not to.
“No, we probably should get home before Mom calls to see if we’re still alive,” Glen said.
“We’ll call you later to see if you are,” Carrie added.
“Alive?” I asked.
“That’s what I mean,” she said.
Conner returns to his parents’ room and tries to calm himself, so he does what any kid would do and takes out his Bible to read for a bit. Some time later, he hears a noise and catches sight of someone in a red cap bounce by the crack in the doorway. Followed by a green cap. It looks like the elves have returned, and Conner can hear Bergen bidding them each a happy farewell. Determined to find out what’s going on, Conner confronts his aunt when she enters the room and, surprisingly, admits she DID have Santa’s little helpers over to aid her with some stuff. As Bergen bustles about her other chores, Conner mentions he’s gonna try to get some stuff in his room. And that turns out to be a completely expected pain in the ass because of his cast, but he does manage to get up there. While in his room, Conner immediately calls Glen.
“I just saw the strangest thing.”
“That’s nothing new for your house lately,” he joked.
Conner says he has to explain the new weird shit going on, and Glen says he’ll write it down in case anything happens to Conner. You’d think it’s a joke, but Glen REALLY writes it down. That settled, Conner leaves his room and checks to see if Bergen’s nearby. That taken care of, he decides to snoop in her room, even though he feels guilty cuz, you know, the whole “Respect your elders” thing. Despite how hard it is to explore with the cast and crutch, Conner does find a photo of his aunt floating in the air next to a man who might be Uncle Charlie. Seeing this as definite proof that something’s up with his aunt, Conner’s about to leave when he decides to check out the closet. His aunt’s black cloak falls on top of him, and in the back of the closet he sees a big black suitcase. Using his crutch to pull it out, Conner’s about to open it when he hears the phone ring. Now wondering who was calling, Conner grabs some books from his room as proof he went in there and heads downstairs, only to hear Bergen straightening up his parents’ room and singing to herself. Assuming the call was from some of Bergen’s alien friends, Conner gets unnerved when he sees Boris the dummy sitting atop the bed and wonders if it’ll wink at him again.
Conner panics and tries retracing his steps back upstairs to attempt some idea. Making as much noise as possible, Conner declares he’s heading down.
“Aunt Bergen, I’m heading down now. If you hear something crash, it’s just me falling.”
Okay I laughed.
Bergen doesn’t respond, and not wanting to climb down again, Conner carefully slides down the banister with his crutches at the bottom of the steps. Inside his parents’ room, Conner finds the dummy and Bergen are gone. Conner calls for her twice and she doesn’t answer, so Conner figures now he can check out the basement. Even when he crashes in the kitchen Bergen doesn’t seem to hear the noise. Only Conner’s still too afraid of whatever’s downstairs. Something begins scratching at the door, and Conner tries to pray.
“God’s perfect love takes away fear; God’s perfect love takes away fear,” I repeated to myself under my breath. First John 4:18 had given me courage before, and I really needed it now.
Conner wonders how long Bergen will wait for whatever she’s got planned in the basement when she starts calling for him from upstairs. Conner panics and grabs his coat, planning to hide on the patio before she finds him near the basement again. He’ll say he wanted some fresh air when, sure enough, Boris the dummy reappears and, quite frankly, you aren’t prepared for what happens next.
“Listen here, pal. I know what’s going on around this place. The two of you are planning to eliminate my family so your space alien buddies can invade our bodies.
“Well, you can just forget about it because God’s spirit, who is in me, is greater than the devil, who is out in the world,” I said, paraphrasing 1 John 4:4 slightly. “I’m onto your plan. I’ve already call the cops, and they’ll be here in a few minutes. So don’t try anything funny.”
Boris says nothing, and Conner has a moment of clarity realizing he’s arguing with a wooden dummy. That doesn’t stop him from calling Boris a termite feast, or for assuming Boris is SURRENDERING as he slides into Conner’s arms.
“I’m sorry I spoke to you so harshly. But you have to understand that since you and Aunt Bergen moved in, my life has been filled with bizarre stuff. I need some answers. Are you willing to answer my questions.”
IT’S BEEN LIKE TWO DAYS.
[Wing: SERIOUSLY. Conner, slow your roll already. You are jumpy as hell even over the most basic things.]
Conner worries he’s somehow killed the dummy when he hears his aunt calling him again. Rushing inside, Conner apologizes for scaring his aunt (not as much as she’s scaring him), and Bergen mentions all the stuff she has planned for Conner’s family on Christmas. She wonders if she should practice on him first. Conner asks what, exactly, she’s going to do, and she almost tells him before the phone rings. It’s Mrs. Morgan, and Conner tries to discretely tell his mom all about how Aunt Bergen’s “SLAYING” him, how her are jokes are “CHOKING” him up. Mrs. Morgan is ecstatic son and aunt are having so much fun. Unfortunately, it sounds like Mr. and Mrs. Morgan will be stuck a day extra because of heavy snow, and Conner drops all pretense and says he’ll die if they don’t get home. Mrs. Morgan tells her son not to be dramatic and they’ll be home in time for Christmas.
And that’s when Conner sees his aunt take out the kitchen knife…
Conner stammers he’d LOVE it for Aunt Bergen to stay forever and that oh gee maybe I should go for a walk. But Aunt Bergen, channeling HAL 9000, is all “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that” and tells him to wait in the living room until she has all the things set up for him.
“Things?” I blurted out. “Do you call what you’re going to do things?”
“My goodness, there’s no reason to get so upset. I do this all the time. As you kids say, ‘It’s no big deal.'”
Conner returns to the living room and tries to figure out what to do. In his parents’ room he tries to set up some kind of trap with stuff from the bathroom. Unfortunately, when he’s finished setting up a sense of security, Conner falls asleep. Hours later his aunt says she’s ready for him, and Conner walks into his own trap, getting baby powder over his face. Inside the kitchen, Bergen asks what exactly happened before she tells him she’s got something special in store for him. A phone call brings Conner some extra time when Bergen announces she has to pick up someone at the bus station, another “Surprise.”
Bergen calls a cab and Conner decides to try the basement again but UGGGGH another phone call. Conner’s getting pretty sick of them. [Wing: So stop answering them and go do your thing!] It’s Glen this time, asking if Conner’s still a human being. Conner points out how ridiculous it is to ask, rationalizing if he was really an alien he wouldn’t tell Glen. They go back and forth on this until Glen finally says he knows it’s really Conner because of course Conner would get worked up over something like a question. Hanging up, Conner’s about to open the basement door when Bergen bursts through the front door asking for help. She’s got a big box with her, which she claims is for another surprise, but one planned for when Conner’s parents return. Now it’s time for Conner’s surprise, one she claims many people would die for.
Defeated, Conner obeys Bergen’s wish for him to be blindfolded, and she sets him on a stool in the kitchen. She spins him round and round and lowers his head down… and Conner smells something wonderful. Removing the blindfold, Conner discovers his aunt spent the day preparing all his favorite foods for dinner. Bergen explains his mom left a list of such things to help make Conner comfortable. Conner is elated the food tastes wonderful but is still nervous when Bergen jokes “You’ll never know when you have another meal again.”
A loud banging sound comes from outside, to which Bergen explains she’s setting something up in front of the house. Something that will make everyone want to come see it.
That night Conner wracks his brain trying to figure out how to keep his folks safe when he hears a noise from the living room. It sounds like Bergen is using the antique rocking chair in the living room even though people aren’t supposed to sit in it. However, Conner can also hear footsteps upstairs. So who’s in the living room? A mirror in the bedroom reflects the living room, so Conner can see the rocking chair moving, but there’s no one in it. Is it some monster that doesn’t have a reflection? Conner then hears the sound of wings and fears whatever is in the living room is coming for him. A few moments pass and nothing attacks Conner, but he hears Bergen talking to someone named “Elvira,” and asks if she was searching for a midnight snack. In his fear, Conner knocks over a chair, alerting his aunt into coming downstairs. She says she was taking care of a few last minute surprises before the big day.
In the morning, the workers have returned for whatever’s going on outside the house. Conner gets a call from Glen and Carrie’s mom, who asks to speak with them. Seems they were heading to his place. They should’ve been there by now…
In the kitchen, Bergen treats Conner to hot pancakes for breakfast. When she goes to change her flour-covered clothes, Conner admits to himself she’s a great cook, but is still suspicious about the basement. One of the workers from outside surprises Conner asking if there’s any rope in the house. Conner tries to get some info, but Bergen apparently warned the workers Conner might grill them. But he does slip the kind of thing outside is something all kids would die for. Conner tries to look out the window, and finds himself face to face with another elf. Uh uh, no peeking. Figuring his aunt’s got people at the doors and windows, Conner retreats back to his parents’ room and decides to hide under the bed. Only, there seems to be something under there, and it’s BORIS!
Conner tries to find some place in the living room where he can see everyone coming and going. He spots another new ornament on the tree, one with a button that plays beautiful music. Another glance, however, reveals tiny people inside the ornament singing. Conner stumbles away and falls into a stack of presents. As he gets up, Bergen appears with her black cloak and hood, looking like the Grim Reaper. Conner yells she’s not going to make him disappear as he reaches for the phone, and is stopped by… his parents!
Conner desperately tells his parents about what’s been going on, confusing Bergen who thought they were having a great time. Conner lists off all the stuff that’s been happening, the dummy, the thing in the box, his friends disappearing, how the only thing that’s protected him is prayer. The adults are silent, and then they burst into laughter. Bergen apologizes for scaring Conner but promises she’s not an alien as everything gets explained.
- NOISE IN BASEMENT – Conner’s parents got him a puppy for Christmas and were keeping it a secret in the basement [Wing: … dear god, I hope that is a nicer basement than most, or that poor puppy.]
- THING IN GARAGE – Bergen and her husband were magicians who performed all over the U.S.. Charlie created a trick called “Beast in the Box,” which was made to look like it had a wild animal inside, but when he would open it there’d be nothing there. [Wing: I KNEW IT. I’m sad it’s not a werewolf, but delighted by the trick itself.]
- BORIS – Bergen was practicing, and she tried to hide him so he’d still be a surprise for Conner. She’s been planning a big magic act for Conner’s family.
- GLEN AND CARRIE – They came by when Conner was still asleep, and Bergen asked them to run an errand for her. They’re probably home by now, and she adds she’s doing another show for the neighborhood
- THE THING OUTSIDE – Bergen’s had a special stage built outside for her magic act
- ELVIRA – She’s a dove Bergen’s kept for her acts, and decided to have her brought to Conner’s house.
- THE FACES – The ornaments use holograms made by Bergen’s son. He also made Bergen’s comb.
- THE ELVES – Special friends of Bergen who decided to help her get everything ready.
- WHY SHE DID ALL THIS – Bergen finished by explaining, as a callback to their previous discussion, she’s been setting all this up because this is the gift she wanted to give Conner and his family for Christmas. She’s been going through all this trouble to put on a special show just for them, bringing with her all the tricks she devised with her late husband.
[Wing: BERGEN IS A FUCKING DELIGHT HOLY SHIT.]
Conner thinks to himself his earlier instincts about Bergen being nice were true, and decides to give her his gift early as a way to say sorry.
He notices Boris on a chair near the tree.
I looked over at him, smiled, and said, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Boris.”
As I left the room, a high, strange voice said, “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas, Conner.”
Okay so this wasn’t as heavy handed as I originally remembered and was light on the Bible references. The core message seems to be “Don’t immediately assume the worst” and honestly that’s a lesson I keep having to relearn. I could’ve sworn Bergen gave some big speech about how God casts away all illusions or something but considering I read this book once in 2013, my memory is naturally a little shoddy. That said, I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way because I always felt Bergen suddenly talking about God doing stuff like that and being the light came out of freaking nowhere for her. [Wing: It’s far less heavy handed than I expected; I think Christian fiction has come a long way.]
The pacing in this is weird and I’m not sure how long exactly it was that Conner was with his aunt since it seemed like everything happened in one or two days. [Wing: Right? From the way Conner kept reacting, it should have been weeks or months at a time.] Conner’s characterization was weird, being self aware and wishing to be more charitable but freaking out over little things and assuming the absolute worst the way a kid much younger than him would. At least the other characters KNOW he acts like this often so it’s weird for them too and not just an example of bad writing.
Aunt Bergen, however, is incredibly sweet and fucking amazing. She goes to all this trouble for a kid she’s never met before regardless if it’s her nephew, and she does it on a WHIM. How much time would she have had to plan this between when Conner broke his leg and she arrived?
Not to mention I like that Conner and his friends aren’t assholes to each other. There’s some snarking, but he worries about them and they seem to take his fears seriously.
But I’m still left wondering if Boris really was alive or not.
[Wing: Trying to tap into that Slappy obsession, maybe? (Which I do not and will not understand.) Also, I expected to have a lot more to say about the religious part, but it’s fairly subtle and used in ways that sort of make sense. (I never went around quoting the bible to myself, but maybe that was just a sign that I wasn’t meant to be actively religious.)]