Alright, kids, pass over that bourbon, the Jim Beam, not the Jack, and I’ll tell you a Christmas story. Sure, a real no bullshit Christmas story. Back in the 1800s people told ghost stories at Christmas, not this happy crappy Hallmark stuff like today. I guess this is kind of a ghost story. You can decide for yourself.
It was back in 1990 and I was spending Christmas alone. I was still living at home and my parents and kid sister went away somewhere. I said I was feeling bad so I wouldn’t have to go. I wanted to party and earn some sweet overtime money.
My buddy Pango and I were working at the Piggly Wiggly, bagging groceries and flirting with everyone’s cute mom. We were going to be open Christmas Eve and a half-day Christmas and Pango and I volunteered for the hours. We finished that Christmas Eve shift about 6:30 and piled into my little car. It was already dark and cold and I didn’t have a heater. We got some burritos from the Taco Bell and set out on the highway.
See, we had a plan, Pango and me.
We’d heard some senior kids talking about this party spot they’d found over at Lake Faunus in an old cave and we were looking for a night when we had a few hours free to check it out. We also secretly hoped there’d be a party going on when we got there we could crash.
The older kids said the place was called the “Sliderule.” I didn’t know what the fuck a slide rule was; it’s a kind of old-fashioned calculator. They didn’t know how it got that name just that’s what they’d heard from older kids when they were our age.
So the mission for that Christmas Eve was to find the Sliderule.
I was pulling off the feeder road and merging into traffic when Pango pulled his little duffle bag out of the back seat and opened it on his lap.
“Holy shit,” I yelled out. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Fuck yeah, buddy,” smiled Pango. “It’s the pure white.”
So I got me a nose full and rolled on down the expressway. This is where shit started to get a little fuzzy. I remember a lot of lights – orange street lights and then pulling off the highway into neighborhoods full of multi-colored Christmas decorations with the old school lights made out of glass that gave that creepy soft glow. Those lit up houses were spinning around our heads and Pango and I were laughing our asses off. It sounded like the music on the radio had slowed way down. I don’t remember what was on, just that somebody played “Christmas in Hollis” and it went on for, like, an hour.
I don’t know how we got to Lake Faunus. Now that I look back on it, hell, I’m not even sure that’s where we really were. Pango and I tried to find the spot again later, but never could. I pulled into a gravel parking lot that met the description of the place the older kids had given us. We were both still flying pretty high, so I pulled a couple of beers out of the trunk to drink while we walked.
It was dark as shit outside. I guess I’d never really spent much time outdoors at night with no street lights around and we hadn’t brought any gear for this trip. There was enough light from the sliver of moon and the stars for us to make our way up the path.
We had stopped laughing and our buzzes started to settle. The water stretched off in an inky blackness downward to our left and on our right craggy hills rose up. It was the kind of place you’d find caves.
The trail got narrower and narrower and the trees started to close in as we walked. We weren’t talking that much and by the time we got to this little clearing at the end of the trail we’d both gone totally silent. It was cold and there was no wind. The weight of being alone suddenly fell on his pretty hard and we started to shiver.
That’s when we heard it. Music. Music coming from somewhere off to the right up in the cliffs.
“That’s it!” yelled out Pango. “There is a party going on. Let’s go check it out.”
“Weird though, buddy,” I said. “There’s no other cars parked in the lot. Where do you think these folks came from?”
But Pango was off and scrabbling up the hill. I ran after him, slipping a bit here and there. As we got closer the music grew louder. It sounded like some Jethro Tull shit, which I hated. (And I still hate it, so none of you fuckers turn that crap on.) There were flutes and drums and some kind of guitar. Pretty soon we could see that the sound was, in fact, emerging from a cave with a very narrow opening. A golden sliver of light shown out from it. There was certainly a party going on and it was clear that if we were going to crash it, our entrance would be totally obvious. I wasn’t real comfortable with that.
“OK, buddy,” said Pango, “I’m going in.”
“Wait!” I yelped, but Pango was already squeezing himself between the rocks. I’m a little chunkier so it took me some work to get in there.
Sure enough we had stepped right into the middle of a party. The cave was larger than I thought it would be – a big open area with a ceiling about 15 feet high. The space was well-lit and covered in blankets, no chairs. Unlabeled bottles were spread about and there were a few trays covered in food.
The people inside were dressed like a bunch of old hippies in loose fitting clothes. There were still weird throwbacks like that back in the day.
The candles and lamps lighting the place kept it warm, so nobody was wearing a coat. I noticed immediately the crowd was rowdy and a few ladies hand got their tits out. Fuck, man, this wasn’t just a party — it was the start of an orgy or something. As soon as we emerged into the cave, all eyes were on us. I was like, oh shit, time to turn and run. But no, we didn’t have to. The place had gone silent but suddenly this dude sitting on a big fuzzy rug up against the wall says: “welcome friends! Fill a glass and join us!”
Get this, that motherfucker was wearing a mask. I shit you not – he was wearing a deer head mask! My heart was pounding and not just from the coke. This party was freaky.
The music cranked back up. It wasn’t coming from a boom box; a few guys off in the corner were actually playing it. One of the topless chicks handed Pango and me a cup full of deep red liquid. We tried to mingle, but the folks at this party were doing their own thing so we sat down with the guy in the mask.
“I say again, welcome friends! I am Sir Nuños. Welcome to my annual, ah, holiday party. We sometimes get a few extra guests. Cheers!”
“Well, it’s pretty bitchin’,” said Pango, who took a long slow drink of his beverage.
I was still skeptical of this whole shindig, but I decided to drink up. Damn! If I thought that coke was good, the wine the Sir had poured us was amazing. I got warm all over immediately. And started to tingle – but not that booze tingle.
It was like I was having an orgasm all over, but slower and not so intense.
The stuff tasted great, not bitter like that stuff mom and dad drank.
I started to get real loose. Pango, man, he was gone. Deep into his cups. That fucker got up and wandered off and actually found himself a girl. She was blushing and Pango was working his charms on her. I felt stupid trying to make small talk with the deer head.
“What is this event, Sir, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“It’s not ‘Sir’,” he said, “it’s Sir Nuños. Just one name. Tonight’s the night I throw my annual celebration. When I was a younger man the parties were bigger. I was more popular back then. Nowadays it’s an intimate gathering. Just a few of my favorite revelers. The Yule is an ancient holiday. We keep it in our own way.”
“Yeah,” I said, “usually my parents get me up early and we have to go to church and shit.”
I looked over my shoulder and Pango was straight up making out with that girl. That motherfucker was going strong.
“Church,” Sir Nuños stared down into his cup of wine and it dawned on me just how realistic his deer head looked. “Not a word I enjoy. For most of human history this was ‘church.’”
Things were getting weird and I noticed that Pango wasn’t the only one making out. Everyone had paired up: women and men, men and men, women and women. The place was starting to go from warm to hot and it smelled like sex and bodies. But it also had a strange animal smell to it, like at the zoo.
The deer head spoke again and this time I noticed that the mouth of the mask was actually moving. “Well,” it said, “I guess that just leaves us. Are you ready my boy?” Sir Nuños leaned forward and licked me across the face.
My nostrils were filled with a raw musky smell and I realized that the head was no mask.
I fell backwards in shock and Sir Nuños tossed his head back and laughed.
I looked around the room, now, and saw that Pango and I were the only actual people there. Everyone was part deer or goat or pig. Pango pinned under one of these things, drunk as hell, not even realizing what was going on! I ran for it and grabbed him by the arm and started to drag him away. He fought me. Clearly he didn’t want to go — he had no idea what was going on.
“Get up, get your damn pants up!” I yelled, “this is some kind of trap!”
I shoved Pango through the opening of the cave and followed him. He stood there stupidly in the cold but I yelled at him to run. Those things in the cave didn’t follow us. As we ran I heard a sound following us from behind — laughter. They were actually laughing at us.
We trotted down the trail toward the car as fast we could go and then piled in. We took off. I don’t remember a damn thing after that. It felt like we were just pulling out of the parking lot at Lake Faunus only to turn the corner and pull up behind the Piggly Wiggly as the sun was creeping over the horizon.
Pango hadn’t said a thing up to this point. “What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know, man. A dream I guess. Where’d you get that white from, bro? There must be some LSD in it because I think we were just driving around all night tripping. There’s no way we actually found the Sliderule. Bro, I thought I saw you fucking a deer! Jesus, that didn’t happen.”
“Yeah,” Pango. “It was just a dream. Never happened. Let’s go inside and open the store. We can raid it for some eats. But one thing, buddy. If it was a dream, how the fuck do you explain this?”
Pango had been holding his fist closed tightly and when he opened it a huge wad of animal hair slipped from his hand and onto the floorboard of my car. That was Christmas at the Sliderule.
JC DRAKE has a day job working for the government, but in his spare time he is a skeptical investigator of claims of the paranormal, collector of occult artifacts, and world traveler. He has previously been featured at CLASH Media and has contributed stories to the Tragedy Queens and Walk Hand in Hand into Extinction anthologies.