I’m sure you’ve heard the song. It’s everywhere during December. Cute little kid, chirping about sneaking out of bed to peek at presents and getting the unpleasant surprise of Mommy smooching on Santa. Like most things in life, the reality isn’t quite so cute.
It was Christmas Eve, or maybe super early Christmas morning, I didn’t check the clock when I slipped the covers down over my flannel-covered legs. It was long enough past bedtime that the wooden floors had given up any lingering warmth and were shockingly cold against my bare feet. Rather than fumble to find my slippers, I lifted up onto my toes to minimize contact with the floor. (And to be sneakier. Every seven year old knows that tip-toeing turns you into a ninja.)
Mom and Dad always left my bedroom door cracked at night. They said it was so they would hear me if I called out in the night. But we all knew it was to let in a trickle of light from the hall, so that I wouldn’t be afraid there alone in the dark. The bonus of the open door was I didn’t have to worry about the creak of the old iron handle when it turned. I only needed to nudge the door, slip it open a tiny bit more, just enough for me to squeeze through the opening and out into the hall.
It was quiet everywhere. But not dark. The tree was lit up in the living room, sending shafts of shifting reds and greens down the hall to my feet. I followed the path the dots of light created on the floor, knowing they would lead me to the presents nestled under the tree. I wasn’t going to open anything. I just wanted to pick them up, feel the weight, test for shaking pieces. I wanted to guess and dream about what was inside.
As I reached the doorway to the living room, I realized it wasn’t as silent as I initially thought. There was a gentle rustle coming from the living room, the sound of fabric sliding against skin. I was just young enough that I wasn’t sure if I was about to catch Santa in the act, or catch my parents pretending that Santa was real. I wanted to know, though. I wanted to know exactly who it was that put presents under the tree every year. So I didn’t turn away, return to bed. Instead, I crept closer to the wall, leaned forward a bit, so that I could peer around the doorway and see who Santa really was.
It was my mom. And a man. Not my dad. Not Santa, either. This man was tall, dressed in rough dark clothing that looked like it had been covering his body for weeks while he rolled around in the mud. Or worse. He was wearing some sort of strange hat that I couldn’t quite see. I couldn’t see it clearly, or his face, because he had his head tipped down, his lips apparently locked on Mom’s. They were kissing.
My seven year old brain couldn’t process this. Mom kissing someone other than Dad. I must have stepped forward to try to see more, gather more information to help me figure out what was happening. I must have made a sound, a creak of a floorboard, a sharp intake of breath, a startled “no.” They heard me. I was caught.
Mom spun to face the noise in the hall, maybe thinking Dad had caught her in the act. Her movement revealed the man behind her.
What I thought was a hat was a large set of curved dingy white horns. Below the horns, his face was a twisted snarl of scorched flesh broken by tufts of wiry black hair. I pulled air into my lungs to scream, but I wasn’t able to make a sound. I just held the air trapped inside, frozen in place along with every muscle in my body.
Sensing my urge to scream, Mom made a shushing gesture and whispered at me to be quiet. We didn’t want to wake up Dad. I kind of thought that was exactly what we should do. Wake up Dad so he could deal with the man-thing that had been kissing Mom.
I slumped to the floor, the hard thump of my tail-bone against the wood finally knocking the air out of me in a whoosh. I closed my eyes, wishing that when I opened them I would see an empty living room. Just a tree. No Mom. No strange goat man. I would have been happy at that point to lose all the presents if the people went with them.
When I opened my eyes, the man was crouched on the floor right in front of me. I don’t know how I didn’t hear him move across the floor. From here, I could see his filthy feet. They weren’t feet at all. They were hooves. I also don’t know how I didn’t smell his approach. He was foul. How did Mom stand kissing this?
Then he smiled. Broken black teeth jutted from raw red gums.
I so wanted to scream. But he held one gnarled bony blackened finger in front of his ruined mouth.
“Shhhhh,” he said. His voice was deep, dark, sandpaper. “You’ve been a very bad boy.”
We stared at each other. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something, maybe argue that I was really a good boy, but I couldn’t form any words.
“I like to punish bad boys at Christmastime.” He reached for me with his final word.
I found my voice. “Technically I didn’t do anything wrong,” I whispered. “I didn’t get a chance to peek.”
The man goat pondered this technicality for a moment, but must have decided it wasn’t enough for me to avoid punishment. His hand began moving again.
“She’s been worse.” I lifted one trembling hand in the air and pointed to where Mom still stood next to the tree.
The nasty man thing froze, his head tipped to one side.
“She’s married,” I explained. “But she’s been out here kissing you.”
That slow slimy smile spread across his face again, a chuckle that sounded like rocks in a tumbler rolled out of his chest.
“You’re a very smart boy,” he said as he stood. “And you’re right. She’s been a very, very bad girl.”
The second he turned his back to move to Mom I was gone. Down the hall and into my room. I risked the clattery screech of the doorknob to make sure it was closed and locked behind me before I climbed into bed and buried myself under the covers.
I don’t know what exactly he did to Mom. I didn’t hear any sounds from the living room. I never heard footsteps in the hall, or voices. She was just gone when I woke up in the morning. Dad seemed mildly puzzled, but not really surprised. It was like he always thought she would disappear without a trace, leave us behind when she moved on to the next thing.
I never told him what happened that night. I never told him that I saw Mommy kissing Krampus.