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Kent breathed easier. The cops had dealt with the knife-man before.

“Get the fuck out of here!” Jerry yelled at the group. He jerked Wyatt’s head, causing the boy to cry out and Kent to gasp.

“Now Jerry,” continued the cop in the same voice. “That’s a good kid you’ve got there. You don’t want to hurt him. He’s got Christmas presents to open tomorrow.”

“He’s a demon!” shrieked Jerry. His wild gaze went from the still-bleeding shopper on the floor to the cops, then to Kent. His eyes darted madly, no rhythm to their movements.

“Holy shit,” murmured the other cop. “I’ve never seen him this bad.”

Kent glanced at the two cops, noticing that the other male shoppers had backed off. “He on something or just crazy?” The cops looked too young.

The one who’d been speaking shook his head. “Definitely mental issues, but something’s different tonight. We’ve taken him in several times, but usually he’s pretty harmless.”

“He ever hurt anyone?” Kent said quietly, looking back to his son. Besides my son and the old man on the floor?

“I don’t think so,” said the first cop. “He turned up around here about eighteen months ago. We’ve been dealing with him ever since.”

“He’s never pulled anything like this,” said the second cop. Both cops had one hand close to their weapons, but they hadn’t drawn them. “We’ve got backup coming with a mental-health counselor. Just keep him talking. See if he’ll put down the knife.”

“Hey, Jerry,” said the first cop. “Can I get that guy on the floor out of your way? You don’t care if we move him, do you?”

“Don’t touch him!” screeched Jerry. He moved closer to the old man, dragging Wyatt by the neck.

“He’s bleeding pretty bad, Jerry. I’d like to bandage his cut. He’s not a demon, right?”

“He interfered! He will die for interfering!”

The old man’s eyes widened, and he scooted a few inches away from Jerry.

“Holy fuck,” muttered the second cop.

“I think the shopper will be okay for a little bit longer,” murmured the first cop. “He’s holding his head up pretty good.” He raised his voice and looked at the older man. “You holding on all right?”

The bleeding man nodded. “Don’t worry about me.” He moved his gaze to Jerry and Wyatt.

“He’s a tough one,” said the first cop. “Okay, Jerry. We’ll leave the guy there for a while. But how about putting down that knife. You’re a lot bigger than that little boy. Do you really need a knife?”

“He has to die!” Spit flew from Jerry’s mouth.

“What do we do?” breathed Kent. He couldn’t take his gaze from his son. Wyatt was brave. There were a few tears on his face, but he’d been staying strong since Kent had appeared. If he didn’t break eye contact with the boy, he’d be all right.

Don’t look away.

“We keep him talking until our backup gets here,” said the first cop.

“Three minutes out,” said the second.

“Hey, Jerry. What did you ask Santa for this year?” asked the first cop.

Jerry’s expression blanked and then immediately morphed into rage. “There is no Santa, you lying sack of shit. Santa is Satan. I saw it on TV.” He waved his knife at the cop.

Bad question. But at least the knife was away from Wyatt.

“You’re all pawns of Satan,” Jerry shrieked at the cops. “You turn children into demons and try to fool the innocent. They must die!” He moved his left arm from Wyatt’s chest and grabbed his hair, yanking his head back and exposing his neck. He brought the knife back to Wyatt’s throat.

“Noooo,” screamed Kent as he leaped forward. Dimly, he heard the cops shout at the man to put down his knife.

Time slowed.

Jerry’s gaze was locked on his blade. Wyatt held eye contact with his father, his eyes widening to expose an alarming amount of white. In one smooth motion, Jerry reached across Wyatt’s neck and dug the blade under the left side of Wyatt’s jaw.

Wyatt knew. He pushed up on his toes, throwing his head backward into Jerry’s nose.

Noise exploded on Kent’s right side, and Wyatt’s head jerked.

Blood sprayed the glass doors behind Jerry’s head.

Jerry collapsed to the floor, pulling Wyatt down with him.

Kent scrambled to his son and fell to his knees, yanking him away from the dead man.

Wyatt’s hair was a bloody mess. Kent pressed his hand on the top of the boy’s head to stop the bleeding.

It was soft.

Kent’s ears buzzed. He couldn’t hear, but he knew the cops were shouting at him.

Part of his son’s head was missing.

In the bright bathroom, Kent breathed hard, still staring into his own eyes. Wyatt had been rushed to the hospital but didn’t survive the night. He’d been declared dead on Christmas Day. When Wyatt visited him in his dreams, he was whole. But Kent could still feel the softness of his brain under his fingertips. A sensation no father should feel.

The dream never went further than that. He had no memory of how he got to the hospital or of notifying Wyatt’s mother.

His life had stopped on that day. Twenty years later, this Christmas would be different.

Now, he had a plan to bring the world back into balance.