Unholy Night by Karpov Kinrade

Prologue





Lucifer





Swirling the amber liquid in my glass, I stare into the fireplace. I lift the glass and sniff, trying to rid myself of the lingering scent of fear and pain that fills my nostrils.

Fuchsia knocks on my office door and I snarl softly. I’ve just gotten back from doing my rounds through the levels of hell and I’m exhausted. Not physically--that’s not possible--but mentally. Humans believe I delight in torturing souls, but it’s just a job to me. I’m not torturing them for pleasure. It’s my duty and their destiny. If they learn their lesson, another path will open to them.

But I am forever stuck on this one.

And after eons of dispensing punishment, I just feel hollow. The pain, the fear, the howling screams have eaten at me inside and out. At first, my own anger fueled me and my methods, but anger is an insubstantial companion and left me far sooner than I would have thought.

Now I spend my endless days measuring souls and serving them punishment. Yes, I have my demons, and I’m thankful for them. They help me do my job and some have become friends and confidants. Yet, I still feel as if something is missing. I need something more.

“Master, the letters have arrived.” Fuchsia is used to my moods and ignores my growling as she enters.

After such a long trip through the different levels, I have nothing left to give. My soul feels foul and gritty, as if I, myself, have committed these awful sins. It feels as if they have rubbed off on me and I want nothing more than a quiet drink and a long shower, not to be bothered with more work.

“What letters?” I slam the glass on the table and it somehow manages to not shatter. Fuchsia most likely had something to do with that after cleaning up too many shards of glass to count. “Who dares write to me?”

The only time I’m contacted by other immortals is if they need something. Same with humans. They seek to bargain with the devil. They watch too much television.

“It’s that time of year again, Master.” Fuchsia sets a large basket full of letters at my feet. Several of the other demons that work in my home follow closely behind, leaving their own baskets heaped with envelopes.

I sit up and look at the red demoness in surprise. She smiles, her dainty fangs resting on her bottom lip. She knows what this means for me. I should be embarrassed, but instead I’m relieved to have someone understand. Not just an employee, but a friend who knows exactly what I need tonight. These letters must’ve been showing up for weeks.

“Christmas,” she says.

The other demons scurry out of my office except for Fuchsia, Dan, and Birch. They’ve become more than employees over the centuries. I’m not sure friends is a strong enough word for what they are to me now, but family--well, family isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I refuse to label them as family. The crimes committed in the name of family is a big reason the population here is growing.

“Christmas,” I whisper. As much as I loathe the fat, bearded elf, I look forward to this holiday. Though I will never say that out loud. I might even cut out the tongue of someone who dares imply I do. But the letters, these letters are important. They are the only thing I look forward to every year. I glance at the baskets and feel the corners of my mouth turn up.

I inhale deeply and breathe in the happiness, the eagerness, the hope, and little traces of magic. It’s like breathing fresh air for the first time in a year. I run my hands over the baskets, absorbing a bit of the clean energy clinging to the envelopes.

Unable to help myself, I reach into the nearest basket and rustle around, but something catches my attention. A scent I recognize all too well. I drop the letter I’m holding and plunge both hands into the basket, spilling envelopes onto the ground as I search for the one that calls to my soul. When I find it, my hands shake as I lift it up to study.

I bring it to my nose and inhale, closing my eyes so I can pick out all the different flavors. The cloying smell of a child’s sadness matched by the fresh evergreen smell of a child’s hope… but it’s sadly fading. I breathe deeper and find the other smells that call to me. The heavy scent of loneliness and desperation, the salty smell of fear.

I open my eyes and trace a finger over the letters of my name written in green crayon. Carefully I slice open the envelope with a sharp fingernail. The smells intensify as I gently pull the folded piece of paper out and open it.

An insane amount of silver glitter falls into my lap and I frown. It looks like a disco ball exploded in my lap. I hear one of the demons in the room snicker, but when I cut my eyes in their direction, they all have blank expressions. Ignoring the glitter for now, I read the sweet letter and look at the very short list. This little girl isn’t asking for the newest name brand shoes or fancy game console. She’s not demanding the most expensive phone.

She is asking for a puppy, and in doing so, she is asking for unconditional love and to give love in return. Yet, I smell the desperation of someone else on the letter, fear of failure. The person taking care of this child can’t also take care of an animal. This person is in complete despair.

I don’t know how long I sit and contemplate this one letter. I memorize the swoops and straight lines of the child's handwriting. I memorize the smells that are particular to the two humans who spent so much time lingering over the paper.

Eventually I fold the letter, replace it in the envelope, and tuck it inside my suit jacket. I pour myself another finger of scotch and look back at the baskets. I will read each letter and prepare a gift for them.