The Nightmare That Was Christmas (Death Never Dies)

I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday, even though it happened years ago, even before you were born. I screamed silently, pinned on my back by the massive weight of a cotton blanket, legs frozen, the dark lights flickering as the human-like form approached, its arms raised in front like The Mummy or Frankenstein's Monster, hands ready to grab, closing in. A strange net-like pattern covered the featureless humanoid shape, moving around on its surface like Saint Elmo's fire dancing on Jacob's Ladder, undulating, letting off light, disintegrating and reforming and making a crackling noise as it did so.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

The ever-repeating chant that was once barely audible, then louder, then deafening, is now pounding terribly in my ears and once again, I scream, but it is once again a silent scream and the cotton cloth that covers me once again grows heavy and pins me down.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ... RUM PUM

Finally, the creature's hands come down around my neck and take hold, it's head, faceless, now pressed against mine and I think it may be growling, but since it has finally grabbed me, and only now, because those are the rules in this particular nightmare, my scream of terror can break loose so it does breaks loose and I cry out ...


And I sit up with a start, drenched in the sweat of night terror, panting heavily, and I can hear adults heading for my room in response to my horrific screams and uncontrolled sobbing.


It took years for me to figure it out. Every year at Christmas time, there were all these things we would do. We would:

  • Make Christmas tree ornaments
  • Go out in the woods and cut down a tree, bring it home
  • Set up the train set under the tree
  • Hang Santa's boots inside the fake fire place as though he was stuck up there
  • Watch as dad hangs precariously off the side of the ladder, perched on grandma's porch's roof (she lived upstairs) as he attaches the Life Size Santa, Sled and Reindeer ornament to the gable of the house
  • Wrap the extra fruit cakes to have handy in case an unexpected or forgotten guest shows up
  • Go to the Spencer Gift Store at the newly constructed mall with 12 dollars to buy one present for each person who would be coming for Christmas
  • Listen to Christmas Music
  • Have nightmares, several nightmares about the Rum Pums.

And in there, in that list, was a link I never understood until I was much older and thought back on it all. Only then did I understand the origin of the Rum Pums which haunted me at any time of the year they felt so moved, but always, and especially, around Christmas. I would hear them in the distance and I'd move away.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

But they always knew which way to turn to come closer, ever closer. I'd use every trick I knew, climbing over Mr. Wilson's garage, using the alley way behind the diner, ducking into the side entrance of the apartment building, even hiding in the forbidden furnace room with the hand drawn sign on the huge metal fire door that said "Stay Out This Means You" on it.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

I'd crawl through the secret flap in the fence beneath the grape vines, climb over the maple in the corner and drop into Billy's yard, crawl through the secret flap in his fence, work my way across the street and down the other ally behind Ye Olde Tavern which we were always told to stay away from, back around the corner and into the basement where that guy died that one time, and eventually under the hedge in Mr. Distoll's yard even risking the thorns on the rose bushes he surrounded his property with to keep the kids off his perfect lawn.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

But no matter what tricks I used, the Rum Pums would grow steadily nearer, adjusting their course even from blocks away (I could see them doing this in my mind's eye) as I made changes in my path that they could not possibly have seen or predicted. And the distance would close no matter how steady and plodding their pace, and no matter how swift my terror-driven stumbling run.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

The last place I would always run would be the upstairs bedroom, the bedroom in my Grandmother's flat, where I only rarely ever slept but always had nightmares. Somehow I knew that the Rum Pums were the body of my dead Grandfather, the body that was laid out in the living room only a few feet from this bedroom, the body that I was brought to as a toddler, and shown, Irish style, during the wake.

"That's your grandfather. Kiss Papa good bye."

I said "Light ... Light ... Light ...." as a two year old does, pointing to each candle set around his corpse. Then, looking at Grandpa's lifeless form, "Shhhhh... Papa's sleeping"

But now his lifeless body is not sleeping. His lifeless body is relentlessly hunting me down.

rum pum ... rum pum ... rum pum ...

It is reanimated, faceless, clothing-less yet not naked, possessed, moving ever closer to me, and as always I am in what was once his bedroom hiding under the covers in what was once his bed, and the door opens and the Rum Pum is there, and it closes in, and it takes me by the neck and once again, my scream becomes audible only because the terror pushes me into a wakeful state.

The Nightmare That Was Christmas is ever present just below the surface. And not just for me, but for you as well, my friend.

Observe, listen. Listen through to the end to understand:

Yes, the stuff of nightmares.

Perhaps if my family had this version instead, my nightmares would not have been as bad:

I don't know. That's kinda nightmarish but in a totally different way. No, I think there's only one Christmas Drumming Song that I can listen to right now to wipe out the nightmares.

Whole different kind of sitting up in bed in a sweat.

Finally, having said all that, I do recognize the importance of tradition. And thus, the new tradition in our household:

What horrors have I wrought do you suppose, little one? What horrors!?!?

Forgive me Huxley.

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