Up on the Rooftop


Turns out a snowman is no place to hide. Bullets go right through. Mr. Halvorsen learned that one the hard way.

This was the day before Christmas Eve when I was nine. The Halvorsens were our neighbors. My bedroom looked out onto their house and when I was a teenager I’d spend a lot of time watching and waiting for Marjorie to walk past her window in her underwear, but this was before that. All I had on my mind two days before the big day were presents.

Now, don’t ask me why Mr. H decided to pull this stunt a day before the day Santa Claus is supposed to come around, but I guess he had his reasons. Maybe he could only rent the suit on an off day since all the other dads intent on giving their kids the thrill of a lifetime with a visit from the actual Santa Claus had reserved the red outfit in advance. That’s just me speculating.

At nine, I knew for certain I was seeing Santa on the roof of my neighbor’s house. I thought I must have gotten my dates wrong. I’d been too keyed up waiting for the booty to appear under the tree that I must have skipped a whole day.

But there he was. I was so juiced on adrenaline I didn’t stop to wonder where the reindeer were. When Santa shows up on your roof, sanity takes the night off. I guess that’s what happened to Mrs. Halvorsen too.

She heard noises on the roof. Her husband wasn’t back from work yet and she was alone in the house with their two kids, Marjorie and Ethan.

There had been one or two break-ins nearby. Crooks looking to swipe other people’s gifts and give them to their own kids. Again, that’s my nine year old talking. I know now they were going to sell whatever had any value – Playstations, tools for dad –  and toss the rest.

When Mrs. H heard the ruckus she did what her husband had taught her. She went to the closet, got the handgun, made sure the kids were safe in the basement, and then set up and waited for the intruder.

Mr. H had made his noise on the roof, enough to rouse the kids and make them all tingly with anticipation. It worked on me. I watched from my bedroom thinking, “My house next!” I didn’t wonder about his lack of a big red sack either.

He didn’t slide down the chimney which I thought was weird, but when he went to the door I figured maybe the Halvorsens had a fire going or something.

He got that door halfway open when the first bullet shattered the little smoked glass window set into the door. He fell backward, landed on a bunch of padding from his suit which helped him for a moment, but wouldn’t help him once his wife got her aim straighter.

She came to the door, emboldened now with her pistol smoking in her hand. I was confused, not yet horrified.

That’s when Mr. H tried to hide behind the snowman. She shot right through it, through the padding, through his heart. I thought I heard him trying to yell her name but the fake beard made everything he said all muffled.

He bled out into the snow while she screamed and tore off his beard, wailing to the night sky and waking all the neighbors.

I watched it all. Watched Santa die. My little brain couldn’t process it. Right then I wasn’t as pissed about Santa dying as I was at my parents for not telling me the real Santa Claus had been living next door to me all these years.

I cried. Not for Mr. Halvorsen or his wife or his kids – I cried because I realized my house wouldn’t be next.

~ fin ~

Eric Beetner - Photo by Mark Krajnak

Eric Beetner has been described as “the James Brown of crime fiction – the hardest working man in noir.” (Crime Fiction Lover) and “The 21st Century’s answer to Jim Thompson” (LitReactor). He has written more than 20 novels including Rumrunners, Leadfoot, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, The Year I Died 7 Times and Criminal Economics. His award-winning short stories have appeared in over three dozen anthologies.  He co-hosts the podcast Writer Types and the Noir at the Bar reading series in Los Angeles where he lives and works as a television editor. For more visit ericbeetner.com