December 5, 1995, Michael Wood (10) – snatched while walking home from Moonlight Falls Middle School – never to be seen alive again…
December 5, 1996, Katelyn Harris (4) – grabbed while playing in Moonlight Falls Municipal Park – never to be seen alive again…
December 5, 1997, Danny Lynch (9) – kidnapped while he lay sleeping in his bed – never to be seen alive again…
Moonlight Falls is an idyllic name for an idyllic little town. But on the snowy, freezing-cold night of December 2, 1998, Moonlight Falls was a melancholy town filled with heartache and sorrow.
It was nearly 9:00 pm when Lieutenant John Hawke of the Moonlight Falls P.D. made it home from work. His coat was covered in snow, his eyes were red and puffy from crying, his cold hands trembled and his heart hurt so much it was like it had been ripped from his chest.
“We found them,” John said through anguished sobs.
Fighting back her own tears, his wife, Sarah held him close and kissed his tears away.
“It was on the radio, John. It’s so sad.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was horrendous,” he continued.
Sarah took his hand and led him to the living room.
“Where are the kids. Are they asleep?”
“They went up a while ago,” Sarah replied. “But I’m guessing they’re waiting for you.”
“I need to hold them and tell them how much I love them.”
John opened the bedroom door to see his 10-year-old twins, Lucas and Madison, smiling back at him, happy he had come to see them before they went to sleep. He held his children tighter than he had ever done in his life before saying how much he loved them. His tears fell again as he kissed Madison and Lucas goodnight before turning off the bedroom light and closing the door.
After pouring a large bourbon on the rocks, John sat by the living-room fire and began to recount the worst day of his career in law enforcement.
“We got a call early this morning, maybe around 7:00 am, from Bill Mulligan the owner of the hardware store. He was walking his two German Shepherds at the edge of Moss Hill Forest before opening up for the day when one of the dogs bolted deep into the dense growth, barking like crazy.
“It took Bill ages to find the dog, but when he did it was barking and pawing at something buried under a layer of snow and leaves. The dog had found what appeared to be a child’s jacket. He got out of there as fast as he could and called us. He said he’d never been that deep into the forest before this morning.
“We sent the K9 unit in and they found an old sewer pipe completely hidden by branches. That’s where the remains were found.”
John’s team of investigators identified the bodies as being those of the three missing children – Michael Wood, Katelyn Harris and Danny Lynch.
“The poor little souls had been viciously attacked and dumped. We found three small dolls dressed in blood-stained clothing nearby and a note in a clear bag that read:
“I put them on the naughty list – The Gray Man.”
“The note had been written in blood.” Sarah wept openly as she listened.
“When we were kids, we used to call Moss Hill the ‘Enchanted Forest’,” she said.
“Not so bloody enchanting now, is it?”
He closed his eyes and began to shiver as the horrific images of the day flashed before him. He recoiled as he replayed the sound of wretched bereavement as he passed the news of the discovery to the children’s parents.
After three years of waiting, three years of tension and apprehension, Moonlight Falls had become a mournful – almost funereal – town. As the dreaded date of December 5th approached once again, everyone would be on high alert.
Early the next morning, after very little sleep, John sat on the living room floor with Lucas and Madison and told them about the missing children. Hysterically, they both broke down into floods of tears. Michael Wood went to the same school as Lucas and Madison and the Hawkes were friends with Katelyn Harris’ family.
John was holding his children close when Sarah joined them.
“We’ll never forget them,” she whispered.
“We’ll always have a place in our hearts for them, especially Danny.”
Danny Lynch had been snatched from his bed while he slept. Just a few hours earlier, his parents had tucked him in as he fell asleep. They woke next morning, waiting to hear him darting down the stairs excited for the family visit to the annual Christmas Fayre. When he never came down, they went up to his room and discovered an empty bed. The window was wide open, with no signs of forced entry, sucking in the biting cold air of a December frost. The Lynch family had lost its only child…
He was a close friend of Lucas and Madison. They lived on the same street, played together and walked to school together every day. Their friends dubbed them the “three amigos.” If he wasn’t working on a Sunday, John would take them to the movies or to the ballpark and always buy them a hot dog on the way home, saying “Don’t tell mom,” and winking. He would laugh as the kids tried to wink back at him. Danny was part of the family. When they got back, Sarah always had a beautiful meal waiting for everyone.
Since that bitterly cold December night, there would always be an empty seat at the movies and an empty desk in the classroom. No more three amigos, no more shared laughter, only tears for their missing friend.
Sarah had cried for days after Danny was taken. The mere mention of something happening to either Lucas or Madison tore at her soul, distressing her greatly. She could not imagine the living hell the poor parents were going through.
Every Christmas for three years, candlelit vigils were held, tears were shed as anger and rage toward John Hawke and his team grew – three missing children and not a single lead.
Madison cried, “Why would someone do that to Danny? What did he do?”
“We’re scared, Daddy,” Lucas said.
That was when John recognized his children had discovered that not all adults were nice people. He sensed their vulnerability. He could tell they were aware they were not always safe, and people – monsters – bigger and stronger than them could do unspeakable things. What had happened in their sleepy little town was worse than any fairy story could ever be.
“I know you’re scared, baby. Daddy and Mommy are here and we’ll look after you,” he said. “My police friends and I will protect you. I promise.”
As he held Madison, and Sarah hugged Lucas, John’s mind wandered to the three children’s parents and how they never let go of any hope of finding their children. Not once did they assume the worst possible scenario that he had witnessed the day before.
Year after year, the parents organized daily searches. Flyers were posted on lampposts, telephone poles and inside store windows across the town and beyond, hoping for an eyewitness, a clue, anything to bring their loved ones home safely.
They never lost hope until John’s gruesome discovery on December 2, 1998, when all hope was snuffed out like a candle. The families were inconsolable when he gave them the news they never wanted to hear. The grief and the pain were palpable. From now on, December – and Christmas in particular – would always be a time of mourning, dread and fear in Moonlight Falls.
It had been a couple of days since the gruesome discoveries and John was no nearer to finding the perpetrator. He spent his daylight hours combing the crime scene but the search was futile. When daylight faded and the inky blackness of a winter night took over, he read and reread statements, checked records, inspected photographs, tried everything he could to find a clue – a sliver of hope – but, frustratingly, came up empty every time.
Before the disappearances, Madison loved Christmas. It was her favorite time of year. When the calendar turned to December 1st, she was at her happiest. Lucas, on the other hand, did not share her excitement of the festive season. He preferred to stay at home watching TV or playing on his gaming console.
Amid rumors the Moonlight Falls Annual Christmas Fayre would be canceled, the decision was made to stage it in an effort to restore some normality to the town, particularly for the children. It was to be held on Saturday, December 5th…
The fayre was always a big event and was held at the Municipal Park. It had all the usual Christmas festivities like visits to Santa’s grotto, Christmas cookie sales, carol singing, skating on the pond and food vendors. The highlight of the day being the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree. Along with many other parents, John and Sarah believed taking Lucas and Madison would help them find some relief from the grief of their friends being snatched and killed so brutally.
The morning dawned with a fresh coating of snow and the promise of more to come during the day, but the residents of Moonlight Falls would not be deterred. The fayre was packed with people looking to grab a few hours of relief from the horrors of the reality surrounding them.
The smell of roasted chestnuts, hot dogs, egg nog and hot chocolate filled the park as families meandered from vendor to vendor. The air was thick with snowballs being thrown and the joyous shouts of face-painted children playing.
Madison pleaded with her parents to go skating. Lucas, meanwhile, showed his annoyance at being dragged out into the cold by disagreeing with Madison whenever he had the chance. Her heart sank when she skipped toward the pond and the line was way too long to wait. John suggested they come back later and see what else the fayre had to offer.
As they walked around, something caught Madison’s eye. She pointed to a jolly looking fellow with a round, red face with a bushy white beard and mustache. He wore a Father Christmas suit and was holding the reins of a magnificent white horse hitched to an elegant red-colored open sleigh. The sign next to him offered free sleigh rides.
“Look, Lucas, free sleigh rides. Come on!”
Before Lucas could protest, Madison dragged him over to look.
“Isn’t it lovely? Let’s go for a ride!
“Would you give us a ride in your sleigh, sir?” Madison asked.
“Hang on Miss, aren’t you supposed to ask me first?” Sarah interrupted.
“Please, Mommy. Please.” Madison pleaded, her eyes never leaving the huge white horse.
Reluctantly, Sarah acquiesced, but only on the condition Lucas went with her. He agreed, looking suitably underwhelmed at the prospect. She then asked the driver where he would be taking them.
“Ho, ho, ho. Just around the park, my dear,” he replied as Lucas rolled his eyes in disgust.
John introduced himself and told the driver that under no circumstances did he want his children taken anywhere near Moss Hill Forest.
“Of course not Officer, glad to oblige. My name is Niklaus Graumann and this fine white steed is Fire Storm.”
With a smile that revealed slightly yellowing teeth, Graumann grinned at the children and offered his hand to help them into the sleigh.
“Climb in Madison, watch your step.”
Giggling with delight and grinning from ear-to-ear, Madison boarded the sleigh.
“Come on Lucas, don’t be a misery,” she called down to her brother. “It’ll be fun!”
“Whatever,” Lucas said as he stared a hole through his parents and shook his head defiantly. “This is so not cool.”
Graumann chuckled merrily. “Up you jump, Lucas. There’s nothing to fear. Sit by your sister and have some fun.”
Fire Storm let out a loud snort – a jet of steam exhaling from the horse’s nostrils – and impatiently pawed the snow with its front hoof as if to hurry everyone along. Reluctantly, Lucas climbed up beside his sister who for just a few minutes had forgotten about what happened to Danny, Katelyn and Michael.
“Would you like a blanket for your legs?”
“Yes please, Mister Niklaus,” said Madison.
“It’s good to see her smiling again, John,” Sarah said as she took some pictures of her children in the sleigh.
Graumann gave the reins a flick and Fire Storm trotted away, the bells on the reins jingling loudly as the horse eased into a brisk trot, the red sleigh sliding over the snow. Madison tipped her head back and laughed with joy as the icy wind blew back her hair and flakes of snow fell on her face, settling on her eyelashes and tickling her nose, making her laugh even more.
“John? What is it?”
“Did he just say his name was Graumann?”
“Yes, Niklaus Graumann,” Sarah replied.
“Oh shit.” A look of concern fell over John’s face.
“Graumann means ‘Gray Man’ in German.”
He threw off his gloves and reached into his pocket for his police radio…
“Keep watching where that sleigh goes.”
“Yeah, Riley? It’s John Hawke. Call it a cop’s hunch or a weird premonition, but find the person who organized the fayre. See if they have someone named Niklaus Graumann operating free sleigh rides, and do it yesterday. Time is not our friend.
“We may have found our child killer but we’ve got a bigger problem right now. He’s just taken my kids on a sleigh ride…”
As Sarah stared intently at the sleigh, John began to follow the sleigh on foot until backup came to help him. Slipping as he ran in the snow, the radio crackled into life.
“Hawke, it’s Riley, there’s no-one on the list named Graumann or any mention of free sleigh rides.”
A cold shiver of fear coursed through John’s veins.
“Call it in and get every available officer out here. I’m following on foot as best I can but I’m losing ground in the snow. They’re getting farther and farther away.”
Lucas swayed stiffly in his seat moving with the sleigh’s motion. He was on edge, those jingling bells on the reins sounded threatening and not joyous. It was like they were trying to warn him. Everything around him took on a dark overtone. That horse – white and beautiful – had menacing eyes full of fire. Graumann was so over-the-top cheerful, it was unnerving. He was downright creepy.
Madison was lost in her personal winter wonderland. Her brother’s scowl of disgust growing more and more as she laughed continually, mesmerized by the bells and the red sleigh. Lucas sensed something was wrong, something bad was going to happen. No sooner had that gone through his mind when something bad did happen…
As the sleigh glided along following the park perimeter, Graumann brought the reins down sharply across Fire Storm’s flanks, making the horse break into a gallop.
“Faster, Fire Storm. Faster!” Graumann yelled.
The horse jolted sharply to the left, throwing Lucas and Madison across the seat into each other. The sleigh quickly left the welcoming lights and sounds of the park behind and steered onto a dark, winding path that lead into the depths of Moss Hill Forest. Madison tried to scream, but no sound came out.
“Hold on tight,” Lucas shouted to Madison who began crying with fear. As Fire Storm picked up speed the bells jingled violently, the sleigh creaking and groaning as it bounced over the uneven ground beneath the runners.
“Please slow down,” Madison cried into the dark night air, trying to make Graumann aware of her over the deafening bells.
Graumann laughed and cracked the reins again, urging Fire Storm to gallop even faster, “You want to go faster, you say?”
“No!” Madison screamed.
“Slow down!” Lucas demanded. “My sister is scared.”
Graumann turned around and the children howled in horror. His face had become mangled and deranged. It was now gray with deep, hollow eye sockets. Huge curled horns sprouted from his balding head giving him a half-goat, half-demon appearance. A long, pointed tongue lolled from his mouth revealing long gray fangs. The red Santa Claus coat had given way to a furry black body.
“Come on,” he growled, his voice now rasping and hoarse, frightening the children.
“Don’t you know it’s the most wonderful time of the year?
He turned around and snapped the reins once more. Lucas stared at Graumann’s fingers. They had become long, bony claws and the reins were thick, rusty chains covered in what appeared to be dried blood.
“I know who you two are and you’re going on my naughty list,” he hissed menacingly.
Lucas pulled Madison toward him and grabbed her arm, shaking her to make her look at him.
“Listen to me. We have to jump. We have to get away.”
Madison’s face was frozen with fear. She stared at Graumann’s back and shook her head as the sleigh raced deeper and deeper into the forest, the sounds of the Christmas Fayre long behind them. The only sounds now were Graumann’s maniacal laughter, the frantic panting of the horse, the clatter of its hooves on the frozen ground and the whooshing of the runners over the snow.
“Madison, we have to jump, NOW!” Lucas could feel the sleigh moving faster.
Lucas grabbed Madison’s arm and jumped out of the sleigh, but a combination of his freezing cold fingers and her soaking wet coat from the snow meant that he lost his grip. As Lucas fell face first into the snow, cutting his cheek on a covered tree root, Madison was still in the sleigh pleading for Lucas to help her…
Without thinking, Lucas ran after the sleigh but it was too fast for him. He turned and began running as fast as he could back the way they had come by following the sleigh’s tracks, hopefully to safety. The sounds of Madison’s screams and Fire Storm’s jingling bells grew fainter and fainter until they were gone.
He began to slow down to catch his breath and fell to his knees as a tearing, burning-hot pain racked through his body like something – or someone – was inside him, ripping at his stomach, tearing it out. A protracted high-pitched scream that stopped abruptly caught his attention. He then experienced a hollow feeling of emptiness. It was Madison. They were twins. She was dead. Lucas sank to his knees and broke down, his tears mingling with the blood covering his face.
Once he had regained his composure, he followed the tracks again. The fresh fall of snow made it difficult to know where he was going in the darkness. He kept running until he could hear voices calling out for him and Madison. He ran toward them as fast as he could until he ran straight into his father’s arms at the edge of the forest.
“It took Madison. I jumped from the sleigh. I grabbed her but she stayed inside. It took her, Daddy. It took her. She was screaming, but then it stopped. She’s dead!”
Lucas collapsed into his father’s arms, exhausted from the ordeal.
John turned to the rest of the search party, “Okay guys, let’s get the bastard who has my daughter.”
Later that night, after having some stitches for the facial wound and being checked over by the doctors, Sarah took Lucas home. He found something very strange waiting for him in his bedroom. A gift-wrapped Christmas present had been left on his bed. He called Sarah and asked what it was.
“I don’t know where it came from, Lucas. I have no idea who put it there.”
Guardedly, they tore at the wrapping paper and opened the box. There was a small doll inside. It was dressed in blood-stained clothing that Sarah recognized as being the same material as the scarf Madison had been wearing.
Tucked under the doll was a card that read:
“Madison went on the naughty list. You’re next, Lucas. See you soon – The Gray Man.”
With the spine-tingling sound of jingling bells ringing in his ears, Lucas fell into his mother’s arms and screamed as he clutched the doll to his chest…
It was Christmas Eve and the police still had nothing solid to go on. Nineteen days had passed since Madison was taken. Her father had been removed from the missing person search as he was too close to the case, but he still went out to Moss Hill Forest every day and conducted his own frantic, fruitless hunts. The forest was huge, nearly 60 square miles, many of them impenetrable by foot.
Appeals were made on television and radio, but nothing substantial came forward. Both John and Sarah knew that the more time that elapsed without a lead, the chances of recovering their daughter alive grew slimmer with every passing hour.
Lucas’ description of Graumann and how he changed into a horrific monster were met with skepticism by the officers in charge. They put it down to a child’s imagination and the shock of the abduction.
As the minutes ticked by, the petrified youngster feared more and more for his safety and his life. The note said “You’re next. See you soon.” No matter how many police cars were outside, the “Gray Man” would come for him. Probably while he slept.
He panicked, even more, when he got out of bed on Christmas Eve morning to see a section of snow-covered garden fence lying flat on the ground.
“It’s okay, buddy. The wind blew it down in the night,” John reassured his son. “Want to help me fix it?”
“Lucas, there are two police officers in a police car parked outside and a car at each end of the street. We’ll be alright.”
John was fully aware his son was not himself. The boy was 10-years-old and had witnessed an atrocity nobody should ever have to see on that fearful night – a night that would change his life forever. Lucas kept replaying it in his head. He cursed himself for not grabbing Madison’s sleeve tighter when he jumped clear of the sleigh. He cried himself to sleep every night. He frequently wet the bed when he recalled Madison’s screams as she was taken away into the darkness by some sort of Christmas demon.
Despite all the heartache and fright, Lucas went outside in the freezing cold to help his father. The wind chill was the coldest it had ever been in Moonlight Falls and it rattled everything in its path – roof tiles, trees, gutters and anything not firmly secured.
As his father banged long nails into the fence panel and post to hold it upright again, Lucas’ mind wandered to his family and how they should have been preparing for Christmas Day celebrations before enduring the loss of Madison. This year, and every year after, there would be tears instead of laughter.
Whenever Lucas closed his eyes he pictured the menacing figure of Niklaus Graumann or whatever it was creeping closer and closer to his house preparing to snatch him from his bed, taking him into the forest and discarding him like a broken toy in a moldy, overgrown sewer pipe, never to be seen again.
An icy blast of cold air made Lucas’ eyes sting as the lights strung around the outside of his house clattered and jingled, much like the bells on Fire Storm’s reins as the horse hurtled headlong into the darkness. He stared across the park toward Moss Hill Forest, where he had last seen his sister alive and where he had last seen his future attacker. There was nothing out there, but he could feel the beast’s empty, soulless black eyes watching him…
John shook the fence to test its sturdiness. When he was pleased with his handiwork, Lucas asked him to nail all the windows in the house closed. His father never asked why. The same thing was being done all over town. With evening approaching and the threat of more snow and biting cold winds, John drove a series of large nails through every window frame.
Lucas followed his father around as he added the extra security measures. When his father had finished, Lucas hugged him tightly.
“Thank you,” he said through tears. “Can you do one more thing for me, Daddy?”
“Anything son, just ask.”
“Will you sit next to my bed tonight and watch me while I sleep. Keep me safe.”
“Of course, buddy. If that’s what you want, I’ll sit right here until it’s time to open our presents.’
When it was time for Lucas to go to bed, John dutifully went with him. Sarah came and kissed and hugged him before going back downstairs to finish preparing Christmas dinner.
“Goodnight, champ. See you tomorrow,” Sarah whispered, trying to hold back sobs.
Through floods of tears, Lucas smiled back at his mom.
“I’ll be there, mom. I’m not worried about presents. All I want is to be able to sit at the table with you and Daddy and Gran and Granddad so we can say a prayer for Madison, Danny, Katelyn and Michael.”
After a few minutes of nervous chatter, Lucas fell asleep while John settled down in the chair closest to the bed to read his book.
Lucas woke at exactly 3:00 am to see his father standing by the window. He was looking out into the street below.
“What’s wrong Daddy? Is something out there?”
Hesitantly, John replied, “Go back to sleep, Lucas. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“What’s that noise?”
Outside, footsteps shuffled down the garden path toward the house. Lucas shifted uneasily in his bed.
He was shaking with trepidation as he pictured Madison and the goat-horned figure that haunted his every waking moment. The footsteps became louder and louder, moving slowly and steadily closer.
“What is it, Daddy? What’s out there?”
John shook his head, unable to fully grasp what he was seeing. Lucas had been spot on with the description of the beast that took Madison. This thing had horns like a goat, a huge lolling tongue and cloven hooves.
He grabbed his police radio, “This is John Hawke. Why are the officers parked outside not responding? We have a situation here, an intruder and it’s not human…”
The footsteps stopped. The silence was deafening as John and Lucas held their breath, waiting.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The silence was shattered by three heavy knocks at the door. Lucas cried out,
“It’s here. It’s come for me. It’s going to kill me like it killed Madison, Danny and the others.”
“Of course not, Lucas,” John said, more to pacify his son than believe what he was saying.
“No! It’s here for me!” Lucas screamed.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Another three loud knocks echoed throughout the house. For the first time in Lucas’ life, there was fear in his father’s eyes. Sarah began moving around in the room next door,
“John, what’s going on? Who is it?”
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The knocks were so hard John could feel the house vibrate around him, the harrowing sound filling every room.
“It’s here,” Lucas started to scream, stopping in mid cry. His words were halted by a terrifying, fear-inducing noise – the door handle being shaken.
The lock turned and the front door opened. The frigid air carried the sound of footsteps up the stairs, searching, seeking its prey then moving along the hallway towards Lucas’s room.
“Daddy, where are the cops? Why aren’t they here? Help me!” Lucas implored as the demonic beast approached his room.
John tried to hide his fear from Lucas, but it was ingrained into his features, etched into his soul. He had seen many things in his years as a cop but none of them were like this.
“Lucas, I’m going out there. As soon as I leave the room grab anything that’s heavy and make a barricade behind your door. The only people you let in are me or your mom. Got it?”
Lucas could see the feeling of helplessness in his father’s eyes. As the footsteps outside reached his room, John knelt down and hugged his son, “It’ll be alright, I promise.” Then he was gone.
The tearful boy moved everything he could that was not nailed down behind his door, bed, dresser, chair, even a box of books. He then sat on them to add more weight and quietly sobbed, hoping above hope his parents would be okay.
Initially, the house was silent but after a few moments, without warning, all hell broke loose. The sounds of shouting, things being thrown, glass smashing – all the signs of a colossal, life-or-death struggle –- filled the rooms below Lucas’ feet. The mayhem was punctuated by gunshots, Sarah screaming, John shouting, clearly in pain, then nothing, just an eerie, empty silence.
Lucas could not take it any longer. He had been apart from his parents for too long. He hurriedly cleared his impromptu barricade and opened the bedroom door. Tiptoeing down the darkened hallway, the icy-cold air penetrated his pajamas. Walking down the stairs he found the front door was wide open and broken furniture and glass scattered across the floor like discarded litter. A pool of blood soaked into the carpet near the entrance. He called for John and Sarah but got no reply.
He moved from damage-strewn room to damage-strewn room, calling for his parents, his desperation growing. As Lucas moved back toward the open door, he stopped dead on the spot. He could see the two police officers sitting lifeless in their cruiser, blood splashed across the inside of the windows. They were dead.
Beyond the step, more blood pooled in the snow.
“Mom! Dad! Where are you?”
The only response was the whistling of the cold night air blowing through the house. He stepped over the blood and out of the door. He froze at the sight that met him. The blood pool became two long, bloody trails dragging through the virgin snow, one either side of a set of hoof prints leading across the lawn. The Gray Man had come for him but took his parents. There was a note nearby. With shaking hands, he picked it up and read it:
“Two more for the naughty list. It was fun watching them die… – The Gray Man.”
It was written in blood.
Lucas fell to his knees, screaming into the night as three police cars arrived…
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