12 Days of Christmas: The Spirit of Christmas by Michelle Davis

Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in 12 Days of Christmas, Writing | 1 comment

12 Days of Christmas: The Spirit of Christmas by Michelle Davis

The Spirit of Christmas

By Michelle Davis

It was a week before Christmas and I was feeling pretty good about my upcoming vacation. I was still working the string of B & Es in the trailer park but otherwise my case load was non-existent.

“Sheriff Marshall, we have a one-eight-seven at one-one-eight South Elm Street. A deputy is already on the scene.”

This wouldn’t be good. A homicide in our historical district and only a few days before Christmas. This wouldn’t be a merry one for someone.

The radio in the police car was on one of those continuous Christmas music stations and playing a bad rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas performed by a local school choir, I think. Too bad they couldn’t remember which day had lords a leaping.I debated sending the radio station a tweet about the error but thought better of texting while driving on snow-packed roads.

I parked the black Dodge Charger in front of a brightly lit house and glanced around the neighborhood before leaving the warmth of the vehicle. The other houses on the block had minimal or sophisticated decorations and lights, nothing nearly so, well, obnoxious.

For a moment I thought about keeping the light bar or hazard lights on. Neither of the other cars parked in front of me had so I reasoned against it. I got out and walked toward the man in uniform standing in the driveway.

The snow crunched under my every step and I drew my coat closer to my body. I reached in my pocket for my county issued gloves, remembering I had left them in the passenger seat of the car. Damn, I just wasted the $30 I spent on that manicure last week.

I recognized the man in the driveway as Deputy Matt Ramsey.

“The homeowner is in the back,” he said and pointed to an area behind the garage.

“Sheriff Marshall! Sheriff Marshall!” I turned around to see an older man, probably in his late fifties, running toward me from across the street. “I need to speak with you, Sheriff.”

I smiled politely. I couldn’t afford to be a bitch with elections being next year.

“Sheriff, my name is Edward Barkley and I would like to report a crime.”

“I was going to look things over now,” I said, trying to slide away on the ice. “Deputy Ramsey can take your statement.”

“What? No, that’s not what I mean. A crime has been committed and I want to report it.”

I inhaled a deep breath and slowly exhaled, watching my breath come out in a long and steady plume. “What crime do you want to report?” I grabbed a notebook and pencil out of my inside coat pocket.

“This man,” he pointed to the brightly lit house, “needs to be arrested for violating our rules about decorating.”

“Mr. Barkley, we don’t have any ordinances about light decorations on the books.” I turned to walk away again.

“There are rules in our neighborhood about what is allowed when decorating for holidays.” He puffed out his chest. “As president of our historical neighborhoods association, I gave this man all the proper documentation when he moved in.”

Okay, he piqued my interest now. “What documentation?”

“Only tasteful light displays are allowed. Look at the Williams home next to me.” Mr. Barkley pointed to a house across the street. “They have some pine roping, a wreath, and a few lights. Mrs. Harrison only has a spotlight on her wooden carolers and a green porch light. That is how you are expected to decorate in this neighborhood.”

“Did this homeowner say anything when you told him about your rules?”

“He tore up the four pages into small pieces and then threw them in my face. He said it was now his house and he would decorate it as he wanted to and no one could tell him otherwise.”

Disgruntled neighbors always made good suspects. Deputy Ramsey would need to get everyone’s name and alibi. That would probably take him a few hours.

I thanked Mr. Barkley for the information and started towards the body.

The snow leading around the back of the structure had been crushed by multiple unknown people. I would need to check with my team later, confirm if there were any prints, any usable prints,before we got on the scene.

The backyard was even brighter than the front, which I didn’t think was possible, and I cursed myself for also leaving my sunglasses on the front seat of the police car. I saw Sheila, the medical examiner, stooped over a body. Not far from her was a ladder laying on its side.

I didn’t know if it was the heat from the proximity to the lights on the house or the sudden cold blast of Arctic air that blew up my coat but I couldn’t look at the victim.

“Well, what do we have?” I asked.

Sheila straightened her five foot nothing frame and cracked her back. “It’s the homeowner, Barry McClinton. Cause of death is strangulation. I would put the death about two or three hours ago.”

I checked my watch. Somewhere between four or five o’clock, the time most people would turn on their outdoor light displays. “Can you tell what was used?”

“Yep,” Ramsey said. “A strand of white twinkle lights.”

If I had my sunglasses on, I would have pulled them down. Instead, I only gave him the look. “Be serious.”

“He is,” Sheila said. “The ligature marks are consistent with a strangulation. Plus, the light strand is still wrapped around his neck.

Maybe that was why I couldn’t look at him. “Are the lights on it still lit?”

“Yes, Sheriff,” Ramsey said. “We wanted you to see how the body was found.”

“Unplug it. Hell, Sheila, I’m surprised your retinas aren’t burnt. In fact, turn off all the damn lights.”

Ramsey left and about fifteen minutes later, all the outside lights went off. Fortunately, he did leave the front and back porch lights on. I’d have to remember that when it was time for his next review.

“Sheriff,” he said when he returned to the back yard. “I’ve been thinking that this murder must have been committed by a neighbor.”

Give the man a prize. “That’s my belief as well. Start talking to the neighbors and let me know what you find out.”

As the deputy went door to door, looking for anyone with a motive, I directed the ambulance into the backyard to pick up the dead homeowner.

“Sheila, does anything feel out of place about this murder?”

“Renae, everything about this murder feels wrong. Why would someone kill another person so close to Christmas? Does it have something to do with the holiday itself? Was it the last minute gift buying? What causes someone to do something so violent like this?”

“This is a crime of passion. Something ticked the perp off and they grabbed the first thing they could get their hands on.”

“Christmas lights?”

“Kitchen knife or Christmas lights, the ending is the same.” My phone rang and I answered when I saw the deputy was calling. “Ramsey, is there a problem?”

“Sheriff, you better get over here,” he said. “I’m at the neighbor’s house, the one to the immediate south.”

“Is there a problem?”

“Please, ma’am, you need to hear this for yourself.”

“Okay. I’m on my way.”

I arrived at the neighbor’s house, a three-story Queen Anne, not ninety seconds later. Ramsey stood on the front porch, trying to light a cigarette against the blowing wind. “What have you got?”

“You won’t believe me,” he said, reaching to open the door for me.

Inside the door was a formal parlor with all the antiques one would expect to find in the house when it was first built. The hardwood floors had a rich patina from years of use, not new flooring made to look old.

Seated on a white crushed velvet high back chair was the oldest woman I had even seen. She must have been a hundred if she was a day.

“Hello,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Sheriff Marshall and I’m investigating the murder next door.” I opened my notebook. “Did you know your neighbor, Mr. McClinton, very well?”

She smiled and my blood turned to ice. Her teeth were yellow and pointed and looked very sharp. “You do not need to look any further, Sheriff. I did it.”

“Excuse me? What did you do?”

“I killed that awful little man.” She stood. “Would you like something to drink? Some coffee or tea perhaps?”

Not on your life. “I’m fine, thank you. Why would you kill your neighbor?”

“I need to get something to drink. Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.”

I opened to the front door and grabbed Ramsey by the arm. “Get your ass in here. I don’t want to be left along with that woman.”

“That’s why I thought my chances were better with the freezing wind.” He shivered and came inside.

The old woman came back into the parlor with a tray of cookies. “I baked these myself. Oh, the nice young man came back inside. Please, help yourself.”

Each of us grabbed a cookie, just to be polite. Ramsey nibbled on his. We sat down on a matching white crushed velvet settee and I hid my cookie under the cushion.

“Excuse me, Mrs.”

“Anderson,” she said. “Miss Edith Anderson.”

“Miss Anderson, why did you kill your neighbor?” Ramsey asked.

“You can hardly call him a neighbor. He had parties all summer, grilling, music blaring. It was terrible. I couldn’t have my windows open because he was so loud. And then when the decorating started for Christmas, I knew I had to do something.

“Do you know those lights shine right into my bedroom window? They do. Keep me awake all night. They go on and off to some awful holiday music that no one can sing to.

“And the people! They would line the street to see his house, blocking me in so I couldn’t get my Edsel out. I have rights too.” She jabbed her finger into the arm of her chair. “I pay taxes.”

My turn. “Miss Anderson, how did you kill Mr. McClinton?”

“That was the easiest part. I went over to his house when he was climbing the ladder to hang more lights. I pushed the ladder and he fell off. I then took one of the light strands and choked him with it.”

“It would take a lot of force to kill a man, Miss Anderson. Did anyone help you?”

“Of course not! I’m much stronger than I look. Want to see?” She got out of her chair and picked up a piece of stone statuary in the foyer and lifted it high above her head before setting it back down. See.”

Yeah, I saw all right. “Miss Edith Anderson, you are under arrest for the murder of Barry McClinton.”

“You can’t arrest me.”

“Ma’am, I have the power to arrest you and we’re going to take you down to the jail where you will be processed.”

“No, you don’t understand. You can’t arrest me because I’m not one of you.” Her eyes glowed red and I felt heat rising around me. I jumped off the settee and grabbed Ramsey’s arm before the sofa burst into flames.

We ran out of the house and down to the sidewalk, not looking back until we reached the street. When we turned around, the first floor of the grand house was burning and the flames were leaping to the stories above.

Ramsey called the fire department but they weren’t able to get there before the fire consumed the entire house. As the last of the flames were put out, I stood there, watching, like I had all night, my eyes not leaving the structure.

I waited around the fire chief came the next morning to look over the rubble. He pushed some debris around and a small cloud of ash formed. I thought I saw a pair of glowing red eyes in that ash.

They winked at me and I shivered before they vanished.

 

The Spirit of Christmas by Michelle Davis.

Pen & Muse 12 Days of Christmas Writer and Illustrator Showcase is an annual event in the month of December. 

One Comment

  1. That was a spooky story. I loved it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Night Harvest: Like Father, Like Son by Michelle Ceasar Davis - @PenandMuse | @PenandMuse - […] The Spirit of Christmas (12 Days of Christmas showcase) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *