Sanity’s Final Christmas?

An honest horror story about a girl’s most dangerous emotions striving to conquer her.

By AJ Brown

YARN Editors’ Note: If you are reading this story and struggling with depression, we want you to know that that it is a real and serious medical condition and you are not alone–and there is hope and help available.  Two places you might want to start: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a teen page), and the APA (American Psychological Association).

A girl sat at the end of a long wooden table. She sat calmly, her face to the table and eyes closed, listening. Her hands were folded together and her foot softly tapped. She waited. She didn’t know how she got there or how long she’d been sitting. She only knew why she was there. She was to wait. That was it for now. Just to wait.

A rich red covering was draped across the table’s surface. It felt smooth under her hands. She rested in a finely carved antique chair. Five empty versions of the same chair were clustered quietly around the table. Red and green padding lined the backs. Two on the left, two on the right, and one on the other end, facing the girl.

When she heard a loud cackle, she knew she was no longer alone. The girl didn’t move a muscle as she listened to the sound of heels clicking down a long hallway. Harsh, gleeful humming drew closer, and the air inside the room seemed to sour. Only when she heard the clicking stop right next to her did she look up to see a woman standing there.

“Legz” © Paul Domenick http://www.flickr.com

The woman’s black hair, for once, was down. It was messy, and it only reached her shoulders. She wore her usual outfit, a blood-stained white shirt and a clean white doctor’s coat. Underneath it, she was alarmingly thin. Her bony fingers tapped at the edge of the table, and it was impossible to ignore how her nails came to a point like claws. She was smiling widely — two rows of sharp teeth bared in a feral grin.

“Hello, Miss. Welcome,” the girl murmured, lifting a hand obediently. The woman gripped her hand and roughly shook it.

“Why hello, Penelope, where do I sit?” she asked, jerking her hand away as if Penelope had a contagious illness.

“Please, sit anywhere you’d like.” The woman nodded brusquely as she settled next to Penelope on the right side of the table. She continued to tap her nails in time with the staccato pitch of her voice.

“Now, Penelope, how do you expect to help your friends when you can’t help yourself?” The woman’s eyes were yellow, sparked with a predator’s interest. When Penelope didn’t respond, she took it as an invitation to continue. “I mean, look at you. Your hair’s a mess! Are a few pieces of scrap pulled from the trash what you call a dress these days?!”

Penelope looked down at herself. She’d made sure to shower that morning, and her hair wasn’t frizzy, for once. It fell in wavy curls that brushed against her neck. She had even braided a white lily in an arc above her right ear. She wore a sleeveless crimson dress that fell to her ankles. There was a slit on the left side that exposed more of her leg, a feature she’d envisioned as womanly. Penelope also wore a collar with a pretty, red bow tie in the middle. She had on red high heels, which made her feet uncomfortable when sitting and wobbly when walking. “I…I thought I looked nice…at least a little better than how I normally look.”

The woman scoffed. “Oh please, Penelope! You look even worse than before! Might as well have gone through a swamp with alligators! You’d look much better like that than this!”

Penelope lowered her head with a sigh. It would take more than this to break whatever was left of her tattered, smashed heart. “There’s nothing left to take from me…there’s nothing left to break of me…so why do you still speak? Why are you still here? What more could you want, Miss?”

The woman cackled, tilting her head back as her laugh echoed off the pure white walls and into Penelope’s mind. “Oh, please! There’s always something left if you’re still breathing and that pathetic heart is still beating.”

Before Penelope could respond, a set of weak footsteps neared. They were so quiet they could barely be heard. Finally the figure stepped out of the hallway and stood a few feet behind the chair on the other end of the table.

He was a short boy, and the hunch of his shoulders made him look even smaller. As always, he was shaking from head to toe. His hair shone ghostly white, as if someone had scared all the color out of him. The rest of his body was shaded in black and grey, as if he’d jumped out of a newspaper. He wore long sleeves and jeans. A scarf covered half his face, including his nose. He kept his eyes to the ground and his hands dug deep in his pockets.

The woman rolled her eyes and sighed. She tapped harder, faster on the table. “Ugh! Why’s he here!?” The boy flinched, covering the rest of his face with his scarf.

“Please, I invited him. Come sit next to me, my friend.” Penelope gestured to the seat on her left, and the boy glanced up with empty black eyes of exhaustion. He shuffled around the table, pulled out the chair with great effort, and sat down. Penelope rose quickly and scooted it in for him.

“T-thank you, P-Penelope.” His dry voice was barely a whisper.

Penelope nodded, a warm smile on her face. “Please, my pleasure! Uh–” She paused as she tried to remember his name.

“U-um, G-Gale. T-the name’s Gale.”

Penelope nodded gently, patting his cold hand.

“That’s a beautiful name, Gale. I’ll look forward to feeding you. As a matter of fact, you can be the first one in line when it’s time.” He blushed and jerked his hand away, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping it hurriedly.

“I-It’s okay, really. I-I really don’t want to intrude. P-plus—” He glanced over at the older woman’s bloodthirsty stare and flinched away again.

Penelope gazed down at him, sighing. “It’s alright. I said it’s alright. I’m the host, remember?”

He nodded. “O-of course…b-but then…” His white pupils skimmed her red silhouette. “W-why do you look like that? People will think bad about you…t-they’ll think you’re one of those prissy girls. It’s only Christmas. I-if you’re thinking it’ll make you prettier, it’s not working…You’ll never look better…you’ll never be good enough…y-you know your friends are better off without you…right?”

Penelope’s gaze fell down to her aching feet. “I know…but it’s Christmas, so I thought…I just thought I should dress up…right?” He gave a short nod, then jumped as a screech of pain radiated from the hallway. Penelope’s eyes widened, then settled as she recognized the voice. Gale remained tense and trembling.

A heavy grunting sound dragged its maker into view, limping plainly. She was tall, a teenager in bloody, tattered clothes. Her white shirt was slashed in the middle, exposing a shrunken stomach and ribs that protruded like the rungs of a ladder. Three long claw marks crossed her chest, forever bleeding. Her jeans were shredded, and her legs were also torn so they left a crimson trail behind her. Her left leg was missing its skin and muscle. Blood-stained bones rammed into the flesh of her ankle like into a loose-fitting sock. Blood was dripping from her fingertips and spilling from her mouth, a thick, choking liquid. She had to pause every few moments to spit it out upon the rug. Her hair, once a beautiful light blonde, was now blood-red, its stain poisoning her body and mind.

She looked up at them with baby-blue eyes, then smiled weakly. “Sorry! Tripped over my own feet, and my leg snapped out of place!” She patted her gruesome left thigh and limped towards Penelope. “Now, where may I sit? I’ve been so excited for this Christmas!” She cackled, and Gale glanced at Penelope nervously.

Before Penelope could speak, the lady interjected. “How about at the very end? Away from me?” she hissed.

Penelope frowned. “Now, we all know that’s not her seat! Miss, you know very well whose seat that is, and it’s the only seat saved!” Miss growled, grumbling to herself, but Penelope continued graciously. “Hon, as a matter of fact, you can sit next to Miss. Introduce yourself! It’s been a while since we’ve all been together like this.” Miss glared as the bloody girl leapt forward, her happy squeal morphing into a horrid screech as she landed on her maimed leg. Salty tears soaked into the open cuts on her face.

“OH, SHUT UP! YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T CHANGE WHAT’S BEEN DONE TO YOU!” Miss roared at the girl and her tears stopped at once, though she sniffed pathetically. Pulling out her chair, she sat down with a moan of pain, staining the cushion as soon as she made contact.

“Miss,” Penelope murmured, “you know exactly what and who caused her to mutate, all too well ac—”

Miss snapped her gaze back to Penelope, growling, “You think you’re in charge!?! Oh please!! We all know who’s in charge here! Now step back, shut up, and let me do my work! You’ll never be good enough, anyway! You deserve to be in the dust with him!” She smirked, eyes flicking to Gale, who stayed silent.

Penelope and the other three peered down the hall as another figure stepped in, not looking at anyone as he took his seat next to Gale, who patted his back softly. He was a fragile-looking boy. He had a pretty, slim face. His hair was strawberry blonde, wavy and thick. His eye sockets were black and empty except for a white dot in each for his pupil. Soft freckles crossed his nose and smothered his cheeks, and slender hands folded politely in his lap. Only by looking closely could the others see that his trim red lips were stitched together. He glanced up at Penelope and waved delicately, his eyes sending forth a friendly glow. Penelope nodded, returning the gentle look. Gale and the bloody girl greeted him. But the woman stood up and declared, “ALRIGHT! LET THIS FEAST BEGIN!!”

“Hold on,” Penelope murmured, looking toward the empty chair at the far end of the table. It sat in quiet loneliness, waiting hopefully for the last person to fill it. “Where’s Hope? She’s normally one of the first to arrive…you know how she hates to be late.”

The woman cackled, sharp teeth glistening as she tilted her head back. “OH MY DEAR!! You really are too much!”

Penelope stared up at her in alarm. “Miss…what’d you do to her!?”

The woman gazed straight into Penelope, and her eyes sparked mechanically as she grinned. “All I did was put miss goody-two shoes where she belongs!” The woman plunged her bony hand into her pocket and lifted out something glittering a brilliant gold. She tossed it carelessly, and it hit the table with a dead thump. Everyone gasped. The air seemed to materialize into a dense, shimmering haze as the table’s occupants gazed in horror at Hope’s heart of gold, sprawled across the blood-red tablecloth.

“There! She’s here!” Miss smiled, flourishing a knife and slamming it straight through the center of the heart. The guests flinched, and the lady paused to glare at each one individually. Every single person looked down. Gale started to cry. He and Hope had been close. Too close, some would say.

Penelope glared at the murderer of the sweetest girl there ever was. “How…dare you! You have no right to kill one of our own! It’s against the rules! I let it slide with the bloody one because she’s still alive, but I cannot let this stand! Plus she was the leader of you five! How—”

“NOT ANYMORE!” Miss howled, slamming her hands on the table. “Hope was never leading and you know it! You all know it!! And we all know who caused it!!” She sneered into Penelope’s suddenly downcast face. “You know it’s because of you, Penelope. Hope tried to help you, but you didn’t listen to her! You chose to listen to ME. Back then I was much too small to use force, but you let me in anyway. You invited me. It’s been too easy because of you, Penelope! I really have to thank you. NOW!” she declared, smiling triumphantly. “Let us begin, shall we?” Miss stared over at Penelope, who gave a dizzy, blank-eyed nod. With her approval, the woman stepped forward and introduced herself. “My name is Miss! Better known as Miss Depression. I am the new leader of this pitiful world, and anyone who has any objections may speak now.”

No one objected.

“Good.” She smiled and her eyes burned into Gale as she sat down, crossing her arms and tapping her nails against her hollow cheek.

Gale stood slowly, knees wobbling. He hid his mouth behind his dark scarf and peered toward Penelope. “P-Penelope…I-I’m scared,” he whimpered, his eyes watery.

Penelope smiled gingerly, patting his hand. “It’s okay. Do you need me to take Hope’s place?”

He nodded immediately. “T-Thank you,” Penelope stood, resting her head on his shoulder while wrapping her arms around his waist. Then she grabbed his opposite hands so his arms crossed over him, restraining him from moving anywhere but into Penelope.

He sighed softly before speaking in a weak, shaky voice. “T-the name’s Gale…Gale Anxiety…but I prefer Gale.” He twitched as his cheek brushed Penelope’s. “Before all this, I was second in command under Hope, then Miss Depression…w-when she showed up, anyway… But w-with our new l-leader…I hope to keep my position.” He glanced at Miss Depression worriedly. She feigned a solemn nod, enjoying her new power over them.

“I don’t see why not. You’re no threat to me. And I couldn’t stand Hope, nor Mr. Stitch over there. And we all know Hope’s sister isn’t capable—” Miss paused to sneer at the blood-soaked girl, who was trying to brush something out of her eye. Having much difficulty, she cocked her head to one side and tapped it a few times before both eyes rolled out of her sockets.

One eye bumped Penelope’s foot, and the girl giggled as it stared up at her. “Hey! I see you, Penelope! Hiiiiiiiiii!!!!” Penelope shivered, grabbing it quickly and returning it to the girl, who thanked her and shoved it back in before breathing on her other eye, wiping it, and cramming it into her bloody socket.

Miss cleared her throat before continuing. “Anyway, I just hate whatever guts she has left. So sure, Gale. Sure.”

Gale grinned in relief and nodded. “T-thank you!…and thank you…Penelope.”

Penelope nodded, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek like Hope always had. It seemed to work, for he blushed and leaned into her for a moment before sitting back down, a faint smile creeping over his face before he stifled it with his scarf.

Miss Depression looked over at the last girl, her chair completely stained in blood, leaving a small pool that grew rapidly under her. When she stood up, the blood sloshed. “Hello everyone!!” Her voice came out slurred, as if she were drunk from pain, and its pitch was high and raspy from constant screaming. “The name’s Pain! The younger sister of Hope here! Nice ta meetcha!” She giggled for too long as her mind wandered. “I never was high on the chain as far as I remember, but HEY! What do I know anymore? Hehe! Special thanks to Penelope for that! OH! And my name used to be Healing, but that’s also thanks to Penelope! Heyo!” She waved frantically, a ghoulish smile on her face. “And I just have to say I’m soooooooooooooo glad I’m here right now! I’m not entirely sure why, though…ah, well! Too bad Hope’s POOF but eh, what can I say, ah?” She chuckled again as she plopped back down, blood sprinkling to the floor in a grotesque spatter pattern.

Finally Miss Depression made to stand up, but the final boy stood first and gazed steadily at her. She hissed in annoyance. “FINE! Just this once!” She walked over to him and cut the strings keeping his lips closed. He breathed slowly through his mouth and sighed. His voice, when he spoke, was a beautiful, sweet sound.

“Hello, my name is William. William Truth. I’ve always been the lowest among us, since we gain our strength according to how much Penelope believes in us. Obviously, my power is stagnant, but—” He met Penelope’s gentle turquoise eyes, voice soft, but filled with meaning— “With what little power I do have, Penelope, despite what you know is going to happen, Hope is here. I know, it appears Hopeless at the moment, but trust me. She is he—”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Miss Depression growled, snapping the needle and thread through his lips and sealing them tightly. It secured itself as he sat back down, head lowered, while Miss Depression returned to her seat, sharpening her voice at the astonished girl. “Penelope! It’s your turn for the final words before we feast. What would you like to say, my dear?”

Penelope sighed, dismissing what William had told her. She knew what was coming, and despite knowing what he was, there was no evidence to support his claims, so she spoke so all could hear. “My name is Penelope Bell. But I prefer to be called Penelope. I am the host to you all, and the day has come. This Christmas will be different than any other. I have to admit, I’m a little worried, but I know everything will be alright. So I hope you all have a beautiful, fun-filled Christmas, even if it’s not in your DNA code, and Hope’s not here. I believe in you. All of you.” A single tear ran down her cheek, but she smiled as she continued. “It was me who caused this. It was me who let you wither and mutate. It was me who caused Healing to warp into Pain. It was me who allowed Truth to be shut down.” She paused for another long moment before breathing deeply. “It was me who let Depression take over and eliminate Hope. It’s my fault, I am the guilty one and I must end this here and now. Even so, this….is not something to cry about…but something to rejoice for! We are all working together, at last, to put an end to what’s gone wrong.”

“Silverware” © Keith Avery http://www.flickr.com

Penelope peered over at Miss Depression and nodded. With her approval Miss stood up, and from her endless pockets produced a set of spoons, forks, and knives for everyone. She placed the silverware before of them, though there was still nothing to eat on the table. It was completely bare.

When everyone except Penelope had silverware, the young host circled the table and kissed each and every individual on the head, even Pain. When she finally came to Miss Depression, the woman bent down on one knee and lowered her head as Penelope kissed it softly. “May you lead well, Miss Depression.”

Miss smiled darkly, looking up at Penelope with a deadly glimmer in her eye. “Oh, you know I will, Penelope!”

Finally, Penelope let Miss Depression lift her up and place her gently on the table. She gazed around one last time, spotting Hope’s heart of gold glimmering by her side. “Heh…almost forgot about you…Hope.” Penelope crawled over and kissed the impaled heart, freezing for a moment. It was oddly warm and…moving!?

She looked down, narrowing her eyes, feeling the empty void within her lighten as she watched the faint, irregular rise and fall of the heart, too shallow for anyone else to notice. She relaxed as she lay down with her head facing the seat she once occupied. Nearby, Gale was in tears. Penelope smiled at him. “You go first, my sweet.”

But Gale shook his head. “I-I can’t!! I-I don’t want to…I-its not fair!!…I-I—”

“Hey.” Penelope reached out and stroked his cheek. “It’s okay…remember, you have my permission, you are alright, you have nothing to fear. This is meant to be, okay? Go ahead, I’m ready.”

Gale stiffened, shuddering as he grasped his shining knife and lowered it to her neck. “I-I’ll make it as painless as possible.”

Penelope shook her head, moving the knife to press upon her arm. “No. I know you don’t want to do that, you’ll never finish… You know what you want. Take it.”

With a screech from both Penelope and Gale, the boy clenched the deadly tool and heaved. Her arm separated cleanly from her body and writhed for a moment as dark red juices spurted from its bared flesh. Penelope wailed, one long, high note as blood tainted the area around her. It pooled off the table onto the carpet and Gale started to cry as well, his paper white face flecked with the gruesome freckles. Through the haze of pain, Penelope managed to pant, “Y-You did it! I-I’m…s-so proud o-of you! A-and s-so i-is…H-hope—”

He stared down at her desperately. “R-really?”

Penelope smiled as her vision fogged and faded. “Yes.”

The scarf fluttered away from his mouth as Gale bared his teeth and howled, declaring for everyone to start their Christmas feast.

The table’s guests roared and screamed with joy, but every voice was drowned out by Penelope’s as she felt herself ripped apart by her emotions. How did she end up like this? How did she end up spending Christmas like this? Penelope didn’t know. All she knew was that she let Depression take her too far down, and was now paying for what she had caused with her own mind. Her own head. Her own heart.

“Gold_HEART” © Julio Pollux http://www.flickr.com

With her final thoughts, she felt herself being swallowed by darkness, feeling her neck on fire as someone was trying to disconnect it from her body. But she thought, Why? Why would William say that…and then have Hope’s heart?

And as if someone actually heard her thoughts, a cackle rattled her lightheaded brain and it howled, It’s too late!!! I gave you too many chances! TIME’S UP!!

Just then she felt her head be separated from her body, and the whole world went black.

YARN Editors’ Note: If you are reading this story and struggling with depression, we want you to know that that it is a real and serious medical condition and you are not alone–and there is hope and help available.  Two places you might want to start: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a teen page), and the APA (American Psychological Association).

 


AJ Brown is an American teen who has written short stories since seventh grade. With AJ’s mentor, they have worked together to perfect AJ’s writing skills. They have been working together all throughout AJ’s career as a student. “Sanity’s Final Christmas?” is AJ’s first story to be published and is hoping to publish more in the near future. You can find AJ at AJBrownStories@gmail.com.

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