Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
“If you are going to keep me tied to this chair, at least give me the dignity of letting me wear my hat,” my wife hissed at me while she nodded to the green stocking cap at her feet. The one shaped like a Christmas tree.
I picked up the hat and placed it gently on her head. Then I positioned it just how she liked it, slightly to the left side with the top folded neatly so the giant golden bell rested against her shoulder.
“Thank you,” she said as I adjusted the strings of light that bound her to the dining room chair.
“Are they too tight?” I asked. I felt bad that I had to tie her up. “I can go out to the garage and get that nylon cord we use to tie the tarps down.”
“I’m fine, but I’d feel much better if you’d just untie me. I’m not going to hurt anyone. I just want to spread a little Yuletide cheer.”
“I love you, but you know I can’t do that. You can’t leave the house since you decided to sneak into the Johnson’s home and redecorate their tree.”
“Have you seen their tree? It was hideous!”
“What about the Greenberg’s house?”
“They didn’t have a tree at all, so I gave them one.”
“They are Jewish.”
“Jewish people don’t like trees?”
I couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a joke or not. I could have continued to list the neighbors she had scared or annoyed, but there wasn’t any point. She felt justified in everything she had done.
“We are lucky everyone declined to press charges as long as you agreed to stay under voluntary house arrest until Christmas was over,” I reminded her.
“I didn’t agree to that, you did,” she spat the words at me. “I would never agree to something that would prevent me from enjoying the holidays.”
“I didn’t have a choice. Your version of enjoying the holidays involved breaking and entering our neighbors’ homes.”
She turned her head away from me, clearly annoyed that I had sided against her.
“If you won’t untie me, could you at least plug these in?” she asked and indicated the strings of lights I used to tie her up. Several seconds later she added, “…please.”
“If it will make you happy, then I will gladly plug them in for you,” I said as I grabbed an extension cord from the closest.
“Let me know if they get too hot,” I said once the lights were plugged in. I waited a few minutes to make sure she was ok then went into the kitchen to pour myself a drink. As I walked away I could hear her start to hum O Christmas Tree.
I poured a shot of whiskey and downed it in one gulp. I was about to pour another when I heard the doorbell ring out the tune “Carol of the Bells”. My wife replaced the old bell shortly after she became obsessed with decorating for the holidays.
I opened the door to find two gentlemen standing on my porch, both dusted with a fine layer of snow. One of them was a priest, the other, a tall thin man dressed entirely in black clutching a leather satchel to his side.
I had decided to contact them after I read an article on the internet about a woman whose son was possessed by an angel. I’ve tried everything else, so why not an exorcism? I can’t think of any other explanation for why she started acting the way she had. She always loved Christmas, but not as obsessively as she had that week. It was like she was possessed by Santa Clause.
“Mr. Hudson?” The tall man asked while he reached out with his left hand, “I’m Theodore Alexander and this is Father Cooke,” he said and nodded towards the priest beside him.
“Please call me Ben,” I said and shook Mr. Alexander’s hand then offered my hand to Father Cooke. “Come on in.”
“Should I call you Magister?” I asked Mr. Alexander after I shut the door, “I’m a little confused on the protocol here. I didn’t know Satanic priests like you existed until I read that article about you.”
He laughed, “Mr. Alexander is fine if that makes you more comfortable.”
“Wow, you weren’t kidding,” Mr. Alexander gazed around the room at all of the Christmas decorations. Every available space seemed to be filled with a variety of holiday ornaments. “Is every room decorated like this?”
“Yep…even the bathrooms,” I said. “She also tried to decorate several of the neighbors’ houses.” I added, thinking it might help shed some light on what might be wrong with her.
“I see that most of the decorations are of commercial characters. There are different versions of Santa, Frosty, the reindeer, and elves, but I don’t see any of the usual religious decorations. No manger, crosses, or angels,” Father Cooke noted while he surveyed the room.
“…And trees,” Mr. Alexander added, “There are a lot of Christmas trees.”
“Is that significant?” I asked
“Potentially,” Mr. Alexander replied, “The entities we deal with tend to surround themselves with religious symbols that can often be used to identify where they came from.”
I hung their coats on the rack and led them into the living room where my wife was tied up. When they saw her bound to the chair, Christmas lights blinking all around her, they looked at each other than over at me.
“She asked me to turn the lights on,” I said while I took a detour to the kitchen to grab the whiskey and some glasses. “When I got your message, I didn’t have much time to prepare and there were plenty of lights lying around, so…,” I shrugged; the rest they could figure out for themselves.
I returned to the living room and set the whiskey and glasses down on the coffee table. I sat in the recliner next to the couch and poured myself another drink. Mr. Alexander and Father Cooke waved off my offer to pour one for them.
“I like the lights,” she said to the men as they sat on the couch facing her. “They help illuminate all of the beautiful decorations and they make me feel festive.”
“They are quite lovely Mrs. Hudson,” Mr. Alexander said, “I have to ask, why all of the trees?”
“Thank you,” She responded politely before answering his question. “I figured two religious boys like you would already know the answer to that. It was after all your religion that appropriated the tree for yourselves.”
“Our religion?” Father Cooke asked before glancing over at Mr. Alexander. The look they exchanged indicated a piece of the puzzle may have been handed to them.
“Don’t be coy Father, you know I am talking about Christianity,” She sounded a little annoyed. “You boys are different sides of the same coin as far as I’m concerned. Your patchwork religion was built out of the pieces of the ones you destroyed. That tree and its place in the home was a tradition long before your God showed up.”
I sat quietly in my chair and sipped my whiskey while I listened and wondered where the conversation was headed. That was obviously not my wife and it started to frighten me. I shared my bed with whatever she had become. That gave me chills.
“Ben?” Mr. Alexander raised his voice to get my attention when I had failed to answer the question he’d just asked me.
“What?” I said as I returned from my muddled thoughts. The alcohol had started to take effect.
“Is there someplace we can talk in private?” he repeated.
“Uh…yeah,” I thought for a moment, “How about the garage?” I suggested. Our house was small and the interior walls didn’t block sound very well.
“Bring the icicles when you come back inside,” my wife said as we filed past her on our way to the garage. “There should be a box of them in the trunk.”
Once we were all in the garage I leaned against the hood of the car, arms crossed, and waited for one of them to speak.
“This is much easier on the eyes,” Father Cooke remarked when he noticed the garage was free of Christmas decorations.
“I come out here sometimes to get away from all that,” I nodded towards the house. “It’s the only place I could keep her from decorating.”
“I would spend a lot of time out here as well under the circumstances,” Father Cooke smiled.
“I know Christmas decorations are the last thing you want to talk about, but I do have to ask about them, specifically the bells. It didn’t occur to me until just now how many of your decorations have been enhanced with bells. Have bells always been a big part of her decorations?” Mr. Alexander asked.
“Not that I recall…I mean we always had a few decorations with bells, but nothing like what you see in there now.”
“The doorbell, I noticed it played the Carol of the Bells, how long have you had that?” Father Cooke asked.
“She bought that a couple of days ago?” I couldn’t keep my curiosity in check and asked “What do the bells have to do with all of this?”
“Bells have been known to play a significant role in many ancient religions and they may be the religious symbol we overlooked when we walked in,” Mr. Alexander placed his hand on his chin as a thought occurred to him. “When you called you mentioned that your wife was a music teacher, right?”
“Yes…well she is currently on a leave of absence,” I waved my hand in the air, “for obvious reasons.”
“Has your wife come into contact with any strange instruments recently?”
“Strange? No…I don’t think so.”
“Strange might not be the right word, it could be something simple like an antique,” Father Cooke elaborated. “A better question might be has she brought home any new instruments?”
“No…” I started to say, but all of the talk about the bells triggered my memory. She did bring home some bells. I didn’t really think of them as musical instruments, but technically they were.
“Actually, the day she started acting weird she brought home this little wooden box with three bells in it…the kind that have the handles on them.” I tried to pantomime what I was talking about. “There was also a little piece of sheet music tucked to the side. I remember her showing it to me. She picked it up at the thrift store.”
I rushed back into the house which left the two men with puzzled expressions on their faces. I ran into the front room and grabbed the box where my wife left it sitting on the table in the foyer. When I returned I held it out to Mr. Alexander with two hands. “This is it.”
In my excitement to show them the box I accidentally left the door open which prompted my wife to yell out, “What about the icicles?”.
I went and closed the door as Mr. Alexander inspected the outside of the box. “It appears to be hand carved and these patterns along the outside appear to be Germanic or possibly Norse. If this is authentic, it is very old and very valuable. I’m surprised someone would donate this to a thrift store.”
He carefully opened the lid to reveal the three ornate bronze bells nestled inside. Instead of removing a bell, he slid the piece of parchment out and handed the box to Father Cooke.
He started to smile as he looked over the single piece of sheet music. I could tell he found the answer he was looking for. When he finished with his examination he retrieved the box from Father Cooke and handed him the piece of paper.
“These are summoning bells,” Mr. Alexander indicated the box that held the instruments, “and that,” he pointed at the sheet of music, “works as the incantation. Your wife must have used the bells to play the song. That is what allowed the solstice spirit to possess her.”
“The what?” I inquired.
“Old nature spirits,” Father Cooke explained. “Thousands of years before God came to Earth, humans worshiped various nature deities. Solstice spirits were the emissaries for many of those old Gods.”
“But our God is a jealous God,” Mr. Alexander cut in. “When He arrived He demanded loyalty from everyone, including those entities. Most of them were powerless to resist Him and were forced to join his cause. Today we call some of those spirits angels. Those that opposed him joined the ranks of The Serpent’s demon horde or were driven into the deepest and darkest crevices between heaven and hell, rarely to be seen.”
“Oookkkaaayyy…” I said drawing out the word. “But what does that have to do with Christmas and all of these damn decorations?”
“Solstice spirits are not normally malevolent. In fact, many of them were summoned to help in times of need, or to give thanks, or to just celebrate the changing of the seasons,” Father Cooke explained.
“The problem with this spirit,” Mr. Alexander continued where Father Cooke left off, “is that it has probably been thousands of years since it has seen the world and now it is like a kid in a candy store. It thinks it was summoned to celebrate the winter solstice. That is why it is focusing on the non-religious symbols of Christmas and that is also why it has been trying to force those things on your neighbors as well.”
“Let me stop you right there,” I said before he could continue. “Assuming everything you just told me is true…can you save my wife?”
“I’ve never encountered a solstice spirit before, but I do believe we can save her,” Mr. Alexander answered.
“So, if this isn’t an angel or a demon which one of you is going to perform the exorcism?” I asked.
“An exorcism won’t work on your wife. Solstice spirits aren’t bound by the same laws of order that govern angels and demons,” Father Cooke answered.
“Then how are you going to save her?”
Mr. Alexander smiled.
“I hate when you smile like that,” Father Cooke said.
“If the lore is correct, solstice spirits are essentially bullies. They don’t like to be told what to do, they want to be able to do what they want whenever they want and they will do everything in their power to make sure they get their way. So, if you are faced with a bully, what’s the best way to make that bully stop?” Mr. Alexander’s smile grew, “You get a bigger bully.”
“What?” I ran my hand through my hair. “Maybe I’ve had too much to drink, but I’m not following you.”
“What he is saying,” Father Cooke said, “Is that he wants to scare the spirit out of your wife.”
“How does that work?” I was extremely skeptical. “It’s a spirit, what could possibly scare it off?”
“Christmas is all about celebrating, spreading joy to those around us, and forgiving the small trespasses of life. That is what the solstice spirit wants to embody in its twisted way. I plan to summon a spirit that is the opposite of that,” Mr. Alexander explained.
“I figured that is why you were smiling,” Father Cooke pointed his finger at Mr. Alexander. “If you are going to do what I think you are going to do, you need to warn him about the risks. Don’t forget about what happened the last time you summoned something outside our domain.”
“That was a fluke. I didn’t expect the boy to actually invite it in.” Whatever they were talking about seemed to be an old point of contention between the two of them. “I seriously doubt Mrs. Hudson would do something like that.”
“What are you talking about?” I was getting tired. I didn’t know how much more of this craziness I could take.
“There is only one spirit I know of capable of sending the solstice spirit running back to whatever dark cave it crawled out of…a spirit that embodies fear, death, and isolation. A spirit called a Samhain.”
I just stared at Mr. Alexander until he explained.
“A Samhain is a type of harvest spirit…like the solstice spirit it is free from the rules of religion that govern us.” He pointed to Father Cooke than back to himself as he said the last word.
“You would probably know it better as a Halloween spirit.” He looked over at the priest when he spoke again. “Father Cooke is concerned that we won’t be able to banish it before it tries to fill the vacancy left in your wife when the solstice spirit flees.”
“That sounds insane. Can’t we just bargain with it and get it to leave on its own? If it is a Christmas spirit won’t it just leave when Christmas is over?”
“It might. It might not. Think about it this way, if I gave you the keys to your favorite car and said ‘bring it back whenever’ how long would you drive it before giving it up?” Mr. Alexander had a point. Plus, I didn’t think I could handle another day of her holiday cheer.
“There is no telling how long that thing plans on staying. We can try and wait it out, or we can force it out tonight.”
I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright, let’s do it,” I said. “If I were in her place, I’d want you to get it out of me as quickly as possible.” I couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“What next? Is there some sort of contract I have to sign?” I remembered reading that the woman who saved her son had to sign a contract.
“No contract required.” The question obviously amused Mr. Alexander. “What we are about to do is not sanctioned by either of our churches so no payment is required.” He held up the box of bells, “but I will be taking these with me. You can think of that as payment if you like.”
“That is fine with me,” I said, “When do we get started?”
“First we need to make sure the Samhain spirit feels welcome when it is summoned. That will help to ensure it remains tethered to the house long enough for it to become aware of the solstice spirit’s presence.”
“How do we do that?”
“First we need to clear the house of all the Christmas decorations,” Mr. Alexander explained. “Then we need to redecorate with those,” he pointed to the large boxes labeled HALLOWEEN stacked in the corner of the garage.
“…and just in case,” Mr. Alexander turned and looked at Father Cooke, indicating what he was about to say was for his benefit. “…we need to lock up all of the knives,” he paused for a moment before adding “…and the forks.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Father Cooke looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“I was going to get to that…I just wanted to wait until everything else was ready,” Mr. Alexander seemed mildly annoyed.
“What is he talking about?” I asked
“Summoning a Samhain spirit requires a certain type of investment,” Mr. Alexander explained, “It takes a little more incentive besides a few ancient phrases to get it to appear.”
“What kind of investment?” I was afraid to ask.
“Was that cat food in the bowl I saw sitting on the kitchen floor?”