The snow lay on the ground deep and crisp and even, and the soft crunch of my boots as I made my way through the dense tree line was loud in the cold night air. Each breath I took cut my lungs like a razorblade and the numbing cold gnawed at my cheeks as I moved through the trees. Soft moonlight filtered through the snow laden branches casting deep shadows among the tall pines towering above me, and the heavy canopy of fresh snow that had fallen a few hours earlier wrapped the world in a blanket of silence, smothering the background noises that would normally fill the night.
I paused for a moment and looked around, taking in the quiet majesty of the woodland around me and the snow shrouded branches that blocked my view of the clear night sky filled with glittering pinpricks of light that lay above them. I was dressed in a fur lined jacket and gloves which provided a warm barrier between my skin and the cold. The woollen hat jammed low on my head was keeping my ears warm and across my shoulder I carried a heavy, dark bag that bounced against my back with each step that I took. My objective was ahead, I had two exit routes arranged and my transport was waiting for me. I was prepared, I was motivated and I knew that nothing would stand between me and my goal.
It was the night before Christmas and I was a man on a mission.
I’m very good at my job and over the years I have garnered a reputation for being able to achieve the impossible. You may have heard of me, my name has appeared in newspaper articles and on television programmes after all. Despite that however, people refuse to believe that I exist and that works to my advantage in so many different ways. I am a ghost, a whisper, a rumour, a myth and people would never ever try to prevent someone that does not exist from entering their house in the middle of the night.
If only they knew the truth.
Locked doors are no barrier to me and even the most advanced security systems can be circumvented with a small amount of planning. If I want to get to you I will get to you. Nothing and no-one can prevent it.
Somewhere ahead of me in the darkness lies my destination; a small ranch style house nestled by itself on a lonely hillside. A family live in the house, two young boys and their parents, safe, warm and no doubt filled with the excitement and anticipation of Christmas Day. Maybe they were expecting me, maybe not, but in another fifteen minutes I was going to be standing inside their house while they slept sound in their beds, oblivious to my presence.
Ahead of me I could see the break in the tree line that marked the start of an open area leading up to the house. I stopped ten feet from the edge of the trees, crouched down and produced a compact pair of STARLITE-5S night vision binoculars from inside my jacket. The compact military binoculars magnify ambient light and the brilliant moon made the silver and grey electronically amplified landscape look as bright as day.
I could see the low wooden fence that marked the Southern border of the property and the soft banks of snow that had been shovelled from the driveway. To the left was a double garage and a utility shed, to the right lay an area of bumps and snow covered hollows that I knew in springtime would be revealed as an ornate Japanese style Zen garden. A Christmas tree stood near the front porch, decorated with coloured lights that were muted by the shroud of snow that their faint heat could not melt. The front door bore a holly wreath with a large red bow in its centre and I could just make out the faint outline of the CCTV camera to its right.
I buried the binoculars inside my jacket again and stood up. As I moved towards the tree line I felt the body armour I was wearing under my jacket shift slightly. Beneath that was an electrically heated thermal suit and their combined bulk gave me a portly appearance and a slight waddle as I walked. I was happy to sacrifice movement for warmth tonight and the extra layer of Kevlar gave me added peace of mind as I circled left through the edge of the trees to bring myself in at a tangent, hidden from the house by the garage.
My footprints left a dark scar across the pristine snow as I broke from the trees and headed up the slight slope toward the garage. My tracks would be gone in a few hours, obliterated by a fresh covering of snow that was forecast and I would be long gone before then. I stopped abruptly; senses on high alert – had I heard something? I held my breath, the moment stretching out until…there!
There were dogs here.
A pair of Dobermans were standing ten yards away, their bodies sleek and dark in the night. The dogs were just past the side of the house, facing away from me and fortunately upwind; I was safe for the moment, but if they turned around or the wind shifted I was in trouble.
I lowered my right hand and brushed my fingers against the items clipped to the broad belt at my waist. I was carrying a variety of weapons fitted with non-lethal rounds; a modified M18L air TASER, a GLOCK G20C and four grenades. The TASER was only good at 15 feet and it could only be used for one target so that was no use to me. With the compensator the GLOCK was highly accurate and I could get off two fast shots with the wax rounds I had loaded, but there was no suppressor and the shots would be heard.
My hand strayed back to the grenades. The first was a smoke grenade which would be useless against the dogs and the second contained skunk essence which would incapacitate them, but could start them barking. That left the final two grenades; a pair of “Specials”. The Specials are made by the people who work for me; I call them my little worker Elves. They create and adapt items of equipment for me and they are ingenious when it comes to designing these wonderful toys.
Tonight I’m loaded with a pair of “Fairy Dust” grenades.
The FD21-Gs are compact black canisters with a lever actuator and an internal aerosol dispersion system powerful enough to fill a large room with Fairy Dust in 5 seconds. The CIA have been trying to get their hands on these beauties for years with good reason; they are simple to use and devastating in effect. I slipped a grenade from my belt, squeezed the lever and quickly threw it towards the dogs. Both animals turned at the sound of the grenade hitting the snow and the gas hit them full in the face.
Fairy dust is a short acting knock out gas and it gets its name from the way the particles glitter as they settle. The Dobermans were on the ground snoring heavily seconds after inhaling the gas and the shimmering particles had barely dispersed as I passed the two slumbering canines and moved to the back door of the house. A quick glance showed me that a state of the art alarm system was fitted to the house; microfilament wires were barely visible in the glass and there was a motion activated anti-tamper device fitted to the window. The odds were good that the system was armed and any attempt to enter the house would trigger it.
From a small pouch on my belt I produced two devices created by my Elves; an S11 lock-pick tool and a Jumper. I slipped the credit card sized Jumper into the slight gap between the door and its frame and slowly ran it from top to bottom until I heard a pair of faint clicks. Two magnetic probes had attached themselves to the alarm contacts on the door and a fine monofilament cable would allow the current to pass through the alarm system while I opened the door.
Ten seconds later I was standing in the kitchen, listening intently; silence. The warmth of the house was a shock after the cold night air, but I left my hat and gloves on. I made my way cautiously into the next room which held a dinning table and four chairs. On the table were a small glass of sherry and a plate bearing home made mince pies; how very festive. I never drink when I’m working a job, so I ignored the sherry but I was munching a mince pie as I stepped into the hallway and headed for the stairs. To my left was a large family room and it was dominated by a Christmas tree covered in tinsel and baubles. Beneath it was an array a presents, all neatly wrapped and ready for Christmas Day courtesy of Santa. I was smiling to myself as I made my way upstairs.
The parents’ bedroom was to my left at the top of the stairs and I paused for a moment outside as I listened. The parents were sleeping and that was good because it meant that I wouldn’t need to pacify them. I moved on, boots whispering on the soft carpet as I made my way towards the room at the end of the landing. As I reached for the handle, opened the door and stepped inside I thought about the list.
It was always about the list.
Constantly changing as names were added and removed, the list was at the heart of who I was. It drove me, shaped me, gave me purpose, and if your name appeared on the list then you were guaranteed a visit from me one dark night while you were dreaming.
The children were asleep in their beds, two boys; John and Jason. John was eleven, serious and dark haired like his father. The older brother Jason more closely resembled his mother. I wondered for a moment what these two did. What was it that made them different from other children? Why were they on the list? Not that it mattered, I had a job to do and I didn’t need to know why, just who.
I drew the dark bag from my back and reached inside.
I was smiling as I pulled out the first item; I loved this part of my job!
In moments it was done and I was stealing from the room. This job was over, but there were others; I was a very busy man after all. I headed downstairs, through the kitchen and back into the cold night air. I closed the door tightly and retrieved the Jumper and then made my way to the sleeping dogs. I picked up the empty grenade and stowed it in my bag; no sense in leaving anything behind. As I reached the shadows of the garage I turned to look at the house just as a light was turned on in an upstairs bedroom. Moments later there was a loud shriek and a boys voice was shouting “Wake up Jason, he’s been! He’s been!”
As I walked away I heard the older brother reply “Shut up twerp, they’re from mom and dad. Everyone knows that Santa’s not real.”
That almost made me laugh out loud as I began to hurry away from the snow covered house. I had no time to waste; there were still other names on the list, other children to visit. I was a busy man, I had a reputation to uphold and my transport got impatient if I left them alone for too long. As I reached the sleigh I dropped the bag behind me and settled into the driver’s seat, picking up the reins and cracking them once.
The sleigh surged forwards instantly and the cold air bit at my cheeks as the reindeer pulled it faster and faster across the snow. The trees whipped by in a blur and then they were dropping behind me as we surged upwards into the star filled sky and the laugh I had been holding in finally burst from me.
This one is for Kyle, Chelsea-Jo and Nathan.
X is a change of tone from my previous short stories. I wanted something that my own children could read, but I also still wanted something that left you wondering what was happening right up to the very end. I would like to say a huge thank you to Rayne for proofing the story and for her input.