A Christmas Caterwaul
rating: +29+x

Trigger Warning: Themes of Suicide, Depiction of Suicide Attempt

December 24th
Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin

Seren Pryce stared blankly as she disassembled her rifle for the fifth time that night. Over her shoulder, Robert Tofflemire stood, looking concerned.

"You okay, Sera?"

Seren twitched. "I'm fine. Yeah."

Robert frowned. "I know this isn't a great time of year for you. If… you need anyone to talk to…"

"I'll be fine." Seren swallowed, double-checking the firing pin in her rifle. "What are you doing here, anyway? Thought Weiss barred you from the barracks, because your whole weird… y'know."

"'Narrative manipulation abilities' is the official term." Robert scratched his head. "I just started walking and ended up here. Crazy, right?"

Seren rubbed her face. "No offense, Bob, but… I kind of need to be alone." Pryce looked over her rifle again— her eyes widened. The firing pin was missing. "Dammit. Did it roll away?"

Robert Tofflemire spotted the glint of metal from underneath a locker. He sat by Seren and produced a square of Ghirardelli chocolate, offering it to the sniper. "Don't be a scrooge, Sera. Talk to me."

Seren took the chocolate and unwrapped it. "Thanks. But… well, like you said. This time of year isn't great for me. And I'd really like to be alone."

Carol of the Bells came on over the speakers outside the barracks. Pryce looked, and felt, like she was going to vomit. Her hand tensed around the butt of her rifle, and the motion caused the various pieces of it to scatter. "God dammit!"

"I'll get it." Robert stood and started picking up pieces of the rifle as they rolled away. He placed them around Pryce, and again, sat down by her. "I've never seen anyone react that way to Carol of the Bells. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, maybe."

"It's…" Seren shook her head. "It's fucking stupid."

"I literally have the ability to pull plot devices out of nowhere, and Alice can weaponize irony." He smirked. "We are the embodiment of 'fucking stupid'."

Seren snorted, and rubbed her face. "I hate Christmas because I can't ever bring myself to be happy during it."

Robert put his hands together. "I'm listening. I'm no Dr. Phil, but… you sound like you need to talk."


Within five minutes, both of the agents had moved to Site-87's canteen to talk in semi-privacy. Seren tapped her mug of cocoa against the table. "I've not been able to have a really good Christmas since… I think '95. I was twelve. I didn't find out mom was schlupping Santa Claus or anything like that. Dad made sure I never believed in Santa to begin with."

Pryce's fingers wrapped tighter around the mug. "I was unwrapping presents that morning, and I just started to cry. I couldn't stop, and I didn't know what was wrong. I just felt inexplicably sad, and… and hollow. Mom and Dad gave me cocoa and hugs, and I managed to calm down. But ever since then…"

"Seasonal affective disorder?" Robert hazarded.

"That's what my parents thought at first. Took me to a therapist after repeat incidents when I was thirteen and fourteen. Light therapy helps, but…" She scrunched her face. "Something in me broke that day, Toff. And I'm not sure what the hell it was, but I haven't liked Christmas since."

She flinched as another Christmas carol started playing on the intercoms. "I just… get so sad around this time of year. Even listening to music or seeing decorations is enough to make me sick with anxiety."

"Depression causes physical reactions like that, sometimes. I've been there." Robert tapped his head. "You'd think the Foundation wouldn't hire a bunch of headcases, eh?"

Seren snorted. "It's… gotten better, at least. A little bit." She popped her fingers and sipped at her cocoa. "God, I hate this stuff. Always dries out my throat."

"That's why marshmallows are borderline mandatory. Or whipped cream." Robert produced a bag of mini marshmallows from his pocket and laid it next to the cup. "Take all you want."

Seren nodded. Her hands shook as she put the marshmallows in, one at a time, as if she was counting the ammo in a magazine.

"I can't imagine being in the army helped."

"What do you think?" She rolled her shoulders and sipped at the chocolate again. Then, she produced a hip flask and poured a measure of whiskey into the cup. "I come back from Iraq and see people flipping away from a news report of a suicide bomber so they can see a Rankin-Bass production. Nobody wants to remember the war around Christmas."

Robert's fingers came together, twitching. "I can't imagine. Sorry."

"Right." Pryce shook her head. "You were, what, Navy?"

"National Guard. Got sucked into this when it turned out the wildfire I was helping people evacuate from was sentient." Robert frowned. "How'd you get sucked in here?"

Seren chewed her lip. "Funny thing about ghosts: they don't take as long to form as one might think."

The rest of the story went unsaid. Robert stood after several seconds of silence, obtaining some Christmas ham and corn casserole. When he returned, Seren was gone.


Seren Pryce's heart rang in her chest like a bell's clapper. Every step she took, she felt the emptiness inside her echo. People throughout Site-87's hallways avoided her, almost by instinct. A few who passed looked at the agent, concerned.

The walls of the site were suffocating. Christmas music played through the intercoms. Ugly holiday sweaters lined the walls. Candy-cane fingers scratched at her soul. Her anxiety rose in tune with the notes of Jingle Bells.

At the elevator bay, her finger hammered the call button. She couldn't breathe. Her throat was closing. Shame filled her— she was a crack shot, and yet here she was, having a panic attack like a maladjusted college student.

She kept hammering the call button. When the doors opened, her legs gave out from under her, and she fell face-first onto the floor. Researchers gathered around her, propping her on her side. She heard someone press the medic alarm before drifting off.


The first clue Seren Pryce had that she was dreaming was the fact that there was a woman next to her with her head ablaze. Her body was covered with black blood, and she smelled of sulfur. On her front, a baby carrier rested, vacant.

Unlike most people, Seren had actually paid attention when her English teacher covered A Christmas Carol in 5th grade. She remembered, quite vividly, the fact that Christmas Past had a head aflame, much like this woman here. "I don't have time for this Dickensian bullshit. Sorry."

"Not your place to decide." The woman adjusted the baby carrier. "Christmas hasn't exactly been a great time for you, has it?"

Seren shook her head. "It's not like I've gone through a great trauma. Didn't have a parent kill themselves like that girl in Gremlins, didn't have anything major happen while I was in the military, didn't—"

"Christmas, 2000."

Pryce raised an eyebrow. "What about it?"

Police sirens and flashing lights filled the void around them. Seren felt cold on her skin, and her vision was obstructed by snow. She turned to see her mother's Volvo, in a ditch, Christmas presents thrown from the car. Seren was driving, her head bleeding. The front of the car was wrecked— she remembered she had been doing sixty in a twenty-five.

A pair of police officers talked as the ambulance pulled up. "What happened?"

"There's some black ice up the road. She probably hit it and careened off."

"She lives four miles in the other direction." One of the cops frowned as the stretcher was pulled out. "Think she's gonna make it?"

"Air bag did its job. Probably gonna have a broken rib, but… she got lucky."

Pryce felt her ribs ache where she had broken them. She remembered, and her stomach fell. Seren had turned the radio on to the sound of 24 Hour Christmas station, hoping to get some pop music instead. By the time All I Want for Christmas is You played for the third time, she had had enough.

She had swerved off the road on purpose. She still didn't know why.

"It's because you're selfish."

Pryce turned on her heels to face the woman. There was something familiar about her, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Seren thought that she would remember a woman with her head on fire. "Excuse me?"

"You can't stand people being happy around this time of year. Seeing people smiling and wearing bad sweaters and exchanging kisses beneath mistletoe— you're jealous because you can't be like that." Christmas Past shook her head. "You're a psychopath, Seren."

"Spare me the quackery, Freudette." Pryce started walking away from her. "I'm a lot of things, but I ain't no psychopath."

"2005."

The scene around them changed again. Seren was walking through her hometown, a little place in Illinois called Carol Stream. She had managed to finagle some time home, away from the quagmire that was the Middle East. Having a retired general for a father had its perks.

She was on her way from the bus depot to home, when she passed an electronics store, with some Rankin-Bass thing playing. One of the lesser-known ones— Jack Frost. She stopped to admire the what was then cutting-edge flat screens, trying to ignore what was playing.

She didn't even notice him at first; laying down below the store's window was a man in a tattered jacket, shivering. His breath formed clouds before him. Pryce stepped back. One of his arms was absent, and there was a coffee can with change next to him. He wasn't much older than her.

A sign was next to him; by the light of the televisions, she could just barely make it out. "I sold my medals and still couldn't afford an apartment. Please help."

Both in the past and in the present, something caught in Seren's throat. Anxiety had started building up in her then— what if she ended up like that one day?

"And there's that selfishness again." Christmas Past grinned. "You didn't even think about him. You just thought, 'what if that was me?'. Guy's having the shittiest day of his life, and you can't even bring yourself to sympathize."

Seren's memory clouded. Something else had happened that night. She didn't remember what.

"2009."

Seren's first year at the Foundation. She had just been assigned to Site-36. SCP-089 duty. She was just a guard at the perimeter tower, but she had been briefed as to what went on within.

An Elocution event had just taken place. Nobody wanted to think about it, and nobody wanted to confront the car that was pulling up to the site, containing some mother and her child. It would be another four and a half years before a woman would stab 089 through its heart to save her daughter. Until then…

Pryce had a perfect view of the courtyard. The woman had her child bundled in her arms, against the cold. She was terrified, shaking. She knew what was going to happen.

And then she ran. Pryce hated it when they ran. She brought the stock of the rifle to her shoulder, and took aim.

The memory faded away. And Seren realized where she had seen Christmas Past before.

"…you're her." She clenched her fist. "Mary-Ann Lewitt. The woman who single-handedly killed a demon to save her daughter."

"More good than you've ever done." Christmas Past rolled her shoulders. "You're selfish, Seren Pryce. Simple as that. You can't be happy, so you can't stand seeing others happy. That is why you feel this way around Christmas."

Christmas Past stepped before her. "This would be the point where you would extinguish me. But I don't have a cap that you can just pull down over me." With that, the ghost faded away, with a word of warning. "It's going to be time to unwrap your present, soon."

With that, Seren Pryce was left alone.


"'Unwrap your present'?" A familiar voice bleated. "I thought the typical humor you people have was corny. That was just bad."

Pryce turned to face the caprine form of the Goatman. Fitting with the season, he had taken on a more Krampus-like form, with antlers and a squashed face, clothed in wool and carrying a stick.

"So, Christmas Present." Seren rolled her eyes. "Just tell me who my Tiny Tim is so I can get back to not reforming myself, because this is clearly some kind of fever dream."

"Mary-Ann was right." The Goatman lit his corncob pipe. "Selfish as always. When was the last time you cared about someone other than yourself?"

Seren stared. "Does the term 'Black fucking Autumn' mean anything to you? Go chew on a can."

"You cared then because of duty. They don't mean anything to you— not really. And that's because you're weak and afraid."

The world faded into the barracks. Raymond February, Alice Carol, and Bob Tofflemire were all present. Raymond was pacing.

"Hard to believe, isn't it?" February frowned. "That she would just… freak out like that."

"She puts up a good act." Alice nodded. "But… well, we're all a little weak. We all have breaking points."

"Ain't her fault," Robert agreed, pulling a Hershey's bar from his pocket. "But March is saying that she's going to get put on psych leave after this. For an 'indeterminate' amount of time."

Pryce's heart fell. Psych leave. She couldn't afford that. Sloth's Pit was her home, now, and psych leave meant months-long exile from the town. Maybe even a whole year— what if something happened, and she wasn't there to stop it? Bob was a good sniper, but she was the best at taking down threats at a long range.

"You see?" She swallowed, looking at the Goatman. "I'm worried about them. I care."

"You care about the fact that they won't survive without you. Because you think you're the best around."

The world swirled around her. Elsewhere in the site, a vigil was being held— the tenth anniversary of the Christmas 2008 incident. Most of the site was present, heads bowed. She had never even heard of Site-87 at that time. She'd taken part in every vigil, but she'd always felt like an outsider, mourning people she'd never even heard of.

Still, there were faces here who hadn't come to the site until much later who were paying their respects. Seren felt like she was watching something she wasn't meant to. It was disgusting— she didn't belong.

She looked back at the Goatman and frowned. "I thought you had to be dead to be a ghost."

"It's metaphorical. More of a Spirit than a Ghost." He puffed on his pipe. "Then again, I can pretty much be whatever I want. Rules don't apply to me."

A clock chimed somewhere. The Goatman bleated. "And now, our time is up. I take it you know what happens next."


Seren was left alone, again. But her loneliness didn't last. Soon, it was replaced by the form of an old man, one she recognized from a file that she was quizzed on back when she joined the Foundation. "Christmas Yet to Come, I presume."

The old man nodded, staying silent, and bowing, waving her onward.

"When I get out of here, I'm going to fucking burn every copy of A Christmas Carol in the site."

A door appeared before her— a sliding door, made of metal, like most of the ones in Site-87. She opened it, and found herself in a common area. It was a normal day— researchers went about their business, drinking coffee, talking about presents, about things that they were going to do with family, exchanging hugs. There was absolutely nothing remarkable.

"…I know the punchline to this." Seren sighed, slouching through the halls, towards the barracks. By the entrance, there was a wall where they posted the names and portraits of task force agents that had died, regardless of whether or not it was in the line of duty.

She didn't even try to feign surprise when she saw her name on the board. But she looked next to it— dozens of others. She recognized all of them— Tofflemire, February, Carol, Ewell, the Williams twins… all of their deaths were dated to October 31st, 2020.

"So you're saying that my death leads to all of them dying on Halloween?" Seren scowled. "What the hell does this have to do with your Dickensian bullshit?"

She knew Christmas Future wouldn't speak. It never did, unless it was a comedy. "I shouldn't be forced to like this holiday. Whatever part of my conscience is trying to make me think otherwise can fuck off."

She turned, and found herself alone. The rest of the site was vacant— the buzz of activity had died. She was left facing the memorial wall.

It was then that she analyzed the nameplates— all of them had marks on them that indicated their cause of death. Stars were deaths in combat, squares were containment breaches, two half-circles were MIA, presumed KIA, and so on. Her plaque had nothing on it. She knew what that meant.

"Suicide." She shook her head. "No. I'm not suicidal. I'm not!"

"You are selfish, though."

She was left facing the three ghosts again. Christmas Past was sneering at her.

"So utterly inconsiderate."

"Ruining everything for everyone else with your mopey attitude around the holidays." Christmas Present agreed.

"Better off gone."

"Away from this site."

"Away from this mortal coil."

"Nobody likes a Grinch or a Scrooge."

"And you don't want to reform!"

Seren found her back against the backboard of a sofa. A pistol was pressed against her forehead. 2014. She had been laid up with a bum leg for six months, ever since a giant tentacle made from wheat product burst through her guard tower and nearly killed her. Something summoned by a ruthless father, trying to save his daughter and wife.

It had hurt so much. The painkillers had destroyed her ability to do anything resembling normal human function. Even with the Foundation's care, it would be another three months before she would walk again. Her thumb had been twitching on the trigger, but something made her stop. Tears came down her face.

Then, the phone rang. With a shaky breath, she put down the pistol, and picked up the phone. "H-" She swallowed, composing herself. "Hello?"

"Is this Seren Pryce?" A woman's voice was on the other end.

"Speaking," she confirmed with a loud sniff.

"My husband would be calling, but I'm afraid that he's out with Naomi." There was a pause, before a long sigh came from the other end. "Word came through the grapevine about your condition. I'm sorry."

Seren wanted to snipe at her, yell, scream, throw the phone across the room. But she contained herself, and let her speak.

"Salah's been calling all of the people who got wounded in the raid, and would have gotten to you, but… I felt like I should call you myself." She paused. "We're both vets, you know. You got out a little earlier than me. And I know how hard it can be, but—"

"How's she doing?" Seren cut in.

"Sorry?"

"N-Naomi. How is she?"

"Well, she's going to get some odd looks from kids once she starts preschool, and… I think she's having nightmares. But she's going to get on famously."

Seren rubbed her face. "Thank you."

With that, she hung up. Something welled up inside her.


"Can't have a ghost unless you're dead."

Seren was back in 2009. Her scope lined up with the fleeing mother's leg. Then, a burst of comm static came through her ears.

«Let her go.»

"What— but sir—" Pryce said.

«The procedure won't work unless she does this of her own free will, anyway. And… I just…» A sigh came through. «I can't, in good conscience, order something like this to happen today of all days. And… I don't know.»

The report showed a car accident had delayed the arrival of the transport to Site-36 for long enough that an attempt to carry out Protocol M8 would have been unsuccessful.


Back in 2005. Pryce went for her wallet, before realizing she had no money in it, just credit cards. Stupid.

Through the snow and the glare of the television, she pulled out her phone and dialed her father. "Hey, dad? This is gonna sound weird, but do you think we could have a fourth at dinner?"


Back in 2000, Seren Pryce woke up in a hospital, with her mother standing over her. They stared at each other for an excruciatingly long time, before her mother embraced the seventeen-year-old girl. And at that moment, she felt completely selfish. She nearly took herself away from one of the few people who gave a damn about her.

"Mom—" Seren began.

"I know." She sniffed. "I know how hard it is for you to enjoy this time of year. But… it's okay." She pulled away and smiled at her daughter. "You don't have to. You can tune it out. It's okay to not like Christmas— you aren't a Scrooge or a Grinch, and you should never feel like that you have to be happy for the sake of others."

Seren Pryce hugged her mother again in the hospital bed, and tears flowed freely.


In 2018, Seren Pryce woke up in Site-87's infirmary. Her eyes were wet, and she was alone, but for a single package on her bedside table.

Nurse Liao came into the room as she reached for it. "Had us worried there." She came over and smiled.

"What date is it?" Pryce asked.

"Still the 24th. You were only out for a couple of hours."

"Feels like years." Seren sighed. "Am I free to go?"

"Just let me get you unhooked." Liao went about the business of removing electrodes from Pryce. "Hey, I get it. This time of year sucks for some people. Stress is a killer, and agents probably get it the worst."

"Thanks, Liao." Seren looked away with a sigh. "Do I have to fill out a report regarding the breakdown, or…"

"Like I said: shit happens, and you didn't hurt no-one." Liao took off the last electrode. "That being said… Tofflemire was in here. I talked to him, and I'm recommending that you have at least two sessions with Dr. Palmer in the new year."

"All right." Seren sat up on her bed, and took up the package. A label on it read 'Do not open until Christmas. Or do. I'm a sign, not a cop.' "He bring this?"

"Yeah."

Pryce collected her package and made her way from the infirmary. As she walked, she unwrapped it, and within, found a hand-drawn card on top of a box. The card depicted her, caricatured in the style of Dr. Seuss's Grinch, with a broad smirk on her face. She opened the card, and read what was within.

Ya can't spell 'Grinch' without 'Grin'.

Thanks for stickin' around, Pryce. Christmas can suck, but you don't.

Beneath it, all of Squad 25 had signed, along with Tofflemire and Carol. She recognized Tofflemire's handwriting also made up the corny text on the card.

She placed the card beneath the box. It contained an assortment of Jack-o-Lantern-shaped chocolates. The perfect gift for someone who loathed Christmas.

The next anyone would see of Pryce was her standing in the corner of a common area, keeping to herself, and sipping on eggnog mixed with fireball. For her, it was the best Christmas she'd had in years.

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