Saturday Horror Special – Scream for the Holidays

Scream for the Holidays

By Don Anelli

Joy to the World, the Lord is Here! Let Earth receive her King!

I can’t help it, I love this song! Singing along is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit, and with something as joyous and uplifting as “Joy to the World” is, that becomes even better to start the Christmas season!

To be fair, Randy and I have an extra reason to be joyful this Christmas since it’s our first Christmas as homeowners. After being together for four years, this is the first time for the holidays that we can have a home for ourselves. Before, we had usually stayed with one of our parents, and as much as I love them having ten people crammed into a house designed for a smaller family of four to six people did mean we were often crammed with each other. We can invite Matthew, Christian, Marie, and Jean to our house for Christmas. I guess Larry and Bo are welcome as well, but most important are the grandparents.

“Hey, babe, where’s all the indoor wall stuff?” Randy calls out from the other room.

“Everything is there, sweetie, just look for them.”

“I’ve been looking through them for like, ten minutes now, and they’re not here.”

Damn, if ever there was something to kill my holiday buzz, my husband playing stupid is probably high on the list. He’s usually smarter than this, to play dumb and get out of having to help put up decorations, so if I find those decorations in those boxes he’s had it!

“All right, where did you look?”

“These right here. These two over here are the mantelpieces we got, that one there next to it is the kitchen figures for the top of the refrigerator, and then those three by the window are the tree stuff for when everyone arrives. These are the only ones left, but the wall pieces are not here.”

Rifling through the plastic storage containers stacked up together, I can’t believe Randy is right, but the decorations I’m looking for aren’t here. I see nothing but the outdoor lights and stickers we place on the windows.

“Do you see anything? It’s the outdoor lights and decorations, not the wall-mounted stuff we usually put up. No paintings, no proper lights, none of that stuff.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right, sweetie. I think Dad might’ve left those boxes at home by mistake, nothing’s here.”

“Is it too late to call him and see if they can bring everything along when they visit?”

“Probably, they should be on the road by now. Plus, we’d probably need to be there to grab the proper box of supplies to avoid something like this happening again. I don’t remember what we packed them in, to be honest, if it’s not in any of these.”

“What about putting this up? Get the outside lights put up at the least.”

“Homeowner’s Association, can’t put anything up outside.”

“So what do we do then? We can put the kitchen stuff up but that’s about it.”

“No, let’s just leave it until they arrive. You want to turn on a movie before they arrive?”

“Sure, I can throw something on. What do you want? I’m sure my mom’s going to demand the Hallmark

Channel when she arrives, but I’m still game.”

“Great, I’m up for anything but no ‘Die Hard.’”

“But it’s a Christmas movie. You can never go wrong with ‘Die Hard.’”

“And it’s also two-and-a-half hours when we don’t have that kind of time before your parents arrive. I’m not interested in turning it off before it gets to the good stuff to placate your mom and her Hallmark obsession.”

“Oh, so it’s a timing thing then. Fine, we’ll go for a shorter one. How about ‘Elf?’”

Ugh, I hate ‘Elf.’ Sorry, but Will Ferrell works in small doses for me, like an SNL skit. Feature-length fare, he wears out his welcome quickly. Thank god Randy reads my expression, and we don’t have to talk more about it.

“Okay, no problem. What about ‘Bad Santa?’”

“Maybe, not a favorite, but we’ll try to get it in before the holiday for sure.”

“All right, old-school then. What about ‘Gremlins?’”

“No, Christmas Horror is for July only.”

“‘A Christmas Story?’”

“We’re going to watch it plenty of times on the 24th, I’m not up for watching it before then”

“Oh, right. Good point, so then how about ‘Santa Clause?’”

“Okay, yeah, that could work. Throw that on.”

With that, I think he’s satisfied, so I leave him to get the movie ready while I can snuggle up on the couch before his parents get here. I’m not up for popcorn but maybe he can grab something during the movie getting set up for us. Luckily, on his own, Randy brings over some candy from one of the nearby tables that I had left for his parents to eat for us so we have some food for the movie.

With the movie over and still having a few minutes before Christian and Jean arrive, we get up and stretch so as not to give away the fact that we just spent valuable decorating time watching a movie. Starting to tidy up further, there’s enough time to hide everything and make the house suitable for everyone by the time Christian’s car shows up and both he and Jean come inside.

“Hey, you guys, it’s so good to see you!” Jean greets us as she comes inside. “How are you two doing?”

“Doing great now that you’re both here, Mom,” Randy says as he comes over and hugs her. “Does Dad need help with the bags?”

“I’m sure he could use an extra hand, which would give us a chance to catch up, dear.”

Randy follows suit and goes to help his dad while Marie and I hug each other for the first time in several months. I can tell it’s in part the time we’ve been apart but also about her sense of pride in us finally being on our own and starting our lives together, but it’s something she’ll never admit.

“And how about you, dear? How’s the house coming?”

“It’s been great. Most of the rooms are settled, we have plenty of space for our future, and outside of some inexperience dealing with things on our own, we’ve been doing good. How about you guys come inside out of the cold?”

It’s perfect timing, as Randy and Christian have collected the bags and are bringing them inside so Marie and I lead them inside. Dumping everything in the living room, Christian and I greet each other with a big hug, which echoes the same feeling I got from Marie earlier. It does have the sense of them being proud of us as if I were their daughter.

“So, I hate to be that guy, but I need to know where the bathroom is first and foremost.” “Sure, that hallway, first door on the right,” I tell him properly pointing it out for him.

“Great, be back in a second. It’s great to see you guys, truly.”

“Okay, well, I’m glad you got here safely. Did you guys get here alright?”

“Absolutely, nothing major happened but we had a hell of a time finding this place. We couldn’t see any lights at all as no one had anything set up even though we’re only three days away from the holiday.”

“Yeah, the Homeowner’s Association says no. Not the greatest selling point, but I think we have managed so far.”

“Your Homeowner’s Association says no decorations!? On Christmas!?”

“Yeah, mom. Something to do with the original creation of the community where the guy who set it up didn’t want to offend people from other communities who didn’t respect the different holidays and wanted to clear that out from others. I don’t remember for sure but that was the main point of it from the book they gave us.”

“Well, that’s odd. They don’t let anyone celebrate for fear of offending anyone? Can’t you guys at least put something up inside the house?”

“Well, Marie, we were secretly planning on doing that when you guys arrived and we’d get the house set up when you guys arrived but there’s a bit of a problem there.”

“Yeah, apparently, you and Dad gave us the outside lights, not the inside ones. We have most of the regular decorations but it seems we have the wrong lights.”

Marie seems shocked at this like she’s been told something completely against her personal belief. She heads out of the room to the living room and starts to look through the boxes of decorations Randy and I left there. Christian emerges from the bathroom confused as well.

“What’s going on?”

“You and Mom gave me and Bren the wrong set of decorations when we moved into the house. We don’t have the proper wall decorations for the living room, it’s the outside lights instead. We got the boxes mixed up I think.”

“Are you sure? That can’t be right.”

He walks over and joins Marie by the leftover boxes trying to find the missing lights, but the more they rifle through the boxes their lack of finding them the more dejected they look. I believe it was a genuine accident by their reaction and that this was a genuine case of not knowing they gave us the wrong one. My heart breaks for them when they’ve gotten through the boxes set up and can’t find anything, their dejected faces and confused expressions do eat at me.

“Well, that’s got me stumped. I could’ve sworn we gave you kids everything when we packed up,” Christian tells us, almost on the verge of tears.

“Hey, you guys, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal, it’s not like the stuff is lost as it’s probably back at the house. We’ll just go back and grab it someday.”

That seems to offer some comfort, especially in the way Marie’s smile seems to perk her up and give her

that glow I admire in her. Christian, as well, offers up a half-hearted smile at the suggestion which is true, the decorations we need are back at the house due to the mix-up. However, the idea being verbally offered seems to be welcomed and appreciated.

“Oh, that’s so sweet, dear. If there’s anything we can do, just let us know.”

“I mean, we still have the tree to put up and some of the other decorations to put up even if we got the wrong light set,” Randy offers, breaking into the conversation. “We might as well get started on some of that stuff if you guys aren’t worn out from the drive.”

“Yeah, we were saving some stuff to do together but now it looks like most of the stuff left over is all we can do.”

The suggestion works and they seem to enjoy the idea of getting started with the decorations. Turning to the tree, the four of us dive straight in and get a chance to put up everything on the tree together with the lights, tinsel, ornaments, and the tree-topper angel getting added in due course of action while a background selection of joyous carols plays in the background. By the time we finish, we’re all pretty tired but proud of the fact that it’s now completed and decorated.

“Wow, it looks great,” Christian remarks, collapsing on the couch nearby. “I still think those clusters of balls look a little cramped but it’s beautiful.”

“Oh, thanks, Dad, yeah, it looks great. I like it.”

“And just in time, it seems. Hallmark has ‘Snowy Christmas Valley’ starting in two minutes or so,” Marie exclaims excitedly, hinting at her purpose for finishing early just like I expected her to. It’s not a surprise at all she’s reminded us about it, so let’s dive into it.

“Great, then I’ll order the pizza while you get that started.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that for us,” Christian chimes in, “We’ll be fine with anything, you don’t have to order out.”

“It’s all right, we got it, just get the movie started and I’ll be right back with the order.”

I leave the room, partly because it allows Randy a bit to talk with Christian and Marie in private but also because the restaurant’s number isn’t coming to me. 555-what, was it 1048 or 8401, I can’t remember. One’s our address, the other is the pizza number, and going to the front door to find out which one is a little weird. Easier just to do this and kill two birds with one stone, essentially.

It’s several hours later, and the post-decoration crash has hit the four of us hard. The combination of constant up-and-downs on step-ladders to hang lights, ornaments, and decorations, cheesy Hallmark movies, and delivery pizza has taken a toll on everyone. I’m looking over at the sofa where Christian is passed out cold, Marie is trying to fight it, and Randy is trying to pull his phone out to check something but doesn’t want to disturb his dad who’s sleeping next to him.

“Well, it’s getting late and I might as well get to bed. Thank you, guys, again for everything today. I appreciate it.”

“I’m just glad you guys got here safely and we can get the whole collection going.”

“When are your parents going to be here?”

“Matt said he was going to leave after breakfast, so they should be here sometime between noon and 12:30 based on traffic. Luckily, it’s only an hour’s drive from here.”

“Well, that’s great, I can’t wait for tomorrow then. See you both tomorrow, good night you guys!”

“What about him? Should we move him?”

“No, he’s good. Dad’ll wake up around midnight and stumble into the kitchen, grab a snack, and come to bed like nothing is wrong. I say just leave him for now.”

Well, they know Christian more than I do so I guess just leave it. Might as well join them then and head off to bed for the night so we can get a head-start on the preparations tomorrow, as there’s still a lot to do. We might have the wrong light set and no wall decorations but we can still get a lot more done with what we have, especially with my mom and dad arriving so everyone will be together again. I can’t wait until then, but it’s time to sleep first so that can happen.

Honestly, it was surprising how tired I was going to bed, as after changing and crawling into bed I was out like a light within minutes. Next thing I know, it’s morning and the jingle for Little Drummer Boy is ringing in my ears. It takes me a second to realize it’s my phone and that was my ringtone for my dad, who’s calling me. Taking another second to wake up and get ready, I answer the call and talk to him.

“Hey, morning, Dad! What’s going on?”

“Morning, sweetie, I hope I didn’t wake you as you sound a little off.”

“Yeah, you did, but I’m up now so it’s no big deal. What’s going on?”

“Oh, shoot. Sorry about that, but I hope it’s okay if you’re Mom and I arrive a little earlier than expected. We got an early night last night and woke up early so we’re getting an earlier start to everything. I hope that’s fine, I figured you’d be up by now.”

“No, it’s okay, Dad, you’re good. You and Mom are fine to come over, Randy’s parents are already here, so you’ll have time to catch up with them.”

“Well, that’s great then. Again, I’m sorry for waking you but we didn’t plan on being up this early so I wanted to call you and give you a heads-up about us being there a bit early. If you’re good with it, the four of us should be there in around an hour and a half so that you guys can get something to eat before we get there.”

Ahh, right, Larry and Bo were spending the night with Randy’s parents and were coming over with them.

Slipped my mind, damn.

“Well, it still means a lot to hear from you. I’ll have everyone ready for you guys so we’ll see you soon!

Love you, Dad, bye!”

Hanging up, now it’s time to start the day. Randy is starting to stir but not to where he’s ready to get up so I

get him up and started for the day, which allows me to get dressed and into Christian and Marie’s room where they’re both missing. They must be in the kitchen, then, so I quickly head over to check and indeed they’re inside the kitchen getting breakfast ready. Marie is standing by the coffee maker while Christian is rifling through the refrigerator.

“Oh, morning, Brenda. How’d you sleep?”

“Good morning, you guys. Didn’t sleep too bad at all, just got woken up by my Dad telling me that they’ll be here earlier since they went to bed and got up before they expected.”

“Well, that’s great. We’ll get you something in just a second if you’re up for it. I think the coffee’s almost ready and the waffle maker is almost heated so it should be ready soon. What time were they going to show up?”

“About an hour from now.”

“Oh, wow, that’s what that call was? I didn’t know they’d be here so soon, I guess we have to get this going.”

“Yeah, I’ll go get Randy up while you get this finished then and we’ll get ready for them afterward.”

As I leave them to go get Randy up and get the day started, it seems appropriate to simplify what we’re going to do to get ready for my parents and brothers-in-law. Now, Larry and Bo will be easy, I can probably just give them a bed and sheets and they’ll be fine, so nothing extravagant needs to happen. I can probably talk Randy into letting them have the couch as Matt and Jean will take the other guest room for the stay. They’ll probably be the ones to eat us out of the house before the holiday so we’ll need to keep an eye on stuff just so that no one needs to run out for a special food run a day or two before Christmas. Matt and Jean are going to be fine in the second guest room so that works perfectly, we’ll have enough food for them both, and with the extra boxes in the backrooms of the house, there’s nothing I can do to clean them up before they arrive.

That luckily allows me to walk into the bedroom where Randy’s getting dressed and about to come downstairs for the now-finished breakfast from Marie. Fresh omelets and a couple of slices of toast make for a perfect way to wake up before everyone gets here. Even luckier is that they’re all agreeable to wanting to get the house prepared like I wanted before so Randy and Christian decide to head off for a quick refueling run to the grocery store while Marie helps me get the living room sofas ready for Bo and Larry.

By the time everyone is done and we have everything put away, we have enough time to rest for a bit before we see Matt and Jean’s car coming up. It takes a few minutes to get everyone together, out of the car, and into the house which is a fun repeat of the day before when Christian and Marie arrived. It’s still fun to see Larry and Bo as well, and we exchange our pleasantries and greetings with everyone.

It seems the time away from each other hasn’t changed anyone as we all move into the living room talking and chatting as if we still were together months ago. I don’t even get a chance to start decorating as by the time I can try to pull out the proper boxes everyone has instead sat down on the sofa and started a group conversation involving how much they’ve changed in the months since we’ve been together or a series of observations about the respective communities we’ve all moved into. Even though we’ve all found great homes in the time since we were together, there are just enough differences between them that I was surprised it spawned well over an hour-long conversation about it.

In fact, it was several hours of this coming around and going through several incarnations and return engagements before Matthew even realizes that they’ve wasted most of the day without doing anything. I don’t think anyone cared, at least I didn’t as I got lost in the conversations just like everyone else, and the amount of fun I had catching up did leave a strong impression on the day as a whole.

By the time anyone wants to start to get dinner, the girls have managed to get the tree decorated with the boys coming up with the bright idea to stretch the outside lights along the top of the ceiling wall and use them in that manner instead of the traditional inside lights. It creates a highly unique and festive environment in the downstairs rooms which is somewhat similar to the LED lights I used to hang up in the college dorm, but instead of pastels, it’s holiday-themed. It’s a bit brighter and thus a little hotter, but I think we can deal with it for a couple of weeks.

It’s now later at night, and the family is cleaning up from dinner. Larry is at the kitchen sink washing dishes while Matthew and Randy are drying them. Jean walks in and places her dishes on the sink.

“Okay, so I got breakfast tomorrow morning then, what are you guys interested in?”

“It’s been a while since we’ve had eggs. I could go for scrambled or even burritos or something,” Matthew comments.

“We don’t have the tortillas for burritos though,” Randy corrects him.

“I guess an omelet would be fine then.”

“Scrambled eggs and bacon it is.”

She leaves, heading out of the kitchen and going back to the living room. Matthew follows suit and leaves me, Larry, and Randy to finish cleaning up which seems to be an odd way of going about trying to get out of the dishes. Can’t say I blame them, though, they’ve done a lot with us over the day and I appreciate the help.

“So is everything okay with them? That was weird, right?”

“Honestly, yeah,” Randy tells me as he looks up from the counter. ”I don’t see the point of all that production work to then do scrambled eggs.”

“Yeah, might just be because it’s been a long day,” Larry chimes in putting the last of the dishes away.

“Um, yeah, I can see that, it could just be nothing in particular. We’ll keep an eye on it for sure.”

“Sounds good, you guys know them better and that just struck me as weird. If that’s all with the dishes then, I’m going to take a shower.”

“Okay, but if you don’t mind I want to go real quick before you do real quick.”

“No, go ahead. I have to message Sasha back, she called me during dinner, and I have to call her back before I forget.”

“All right, I’ll be quick.”

Randy heads for the bathroom while Larry goes to the living room with Matthew and Jean. It allows me to pick up my phone and scroll through for Sasha’s chat as we’re going to be doing phone tag for the night. Hey, sis, just returning your text from dinner. We were with our parents all day so I had to recharge my phone. Anyway, if you were still going to come over tomorrow we should be free after breakfast so let me know when so I can get the house ready for you! Talk to you soon! After finishing, I hang up and put the phone down as I can hear Randy finishing up in the bathroom before coming out.

“I’m good, all yours. Did you want to watch a movie before bed?”

“Sure, find something by the time I get out. Netflix or Hulu, though, we haven’t used those in a while so it might be worth it to try that for tonight.”

I leave Randy to his devices, I’m sure he’ll pick something stupid again although I don’t know why I complain about it at first. His cheesy genre picks are mostly fun once they’re over but never sound appealing when he brings it up. It’s odd, but I don’t know what else to do. I know whenever I want to watch something it usually turns out lame or just not worth it. Even weirder, I can swear that there’s someone following me but there’s no one in the hallway with me.

By the time I make it to the bathroom and get ready for the shower, I can hear Randy in the bedroom scrolling through the TV to find an appropriate film. After getting inside and starting to feel the warm water run through my hair and down my back, that feeling of being watched again starts up again. It seems to be something appearing on the far side of the room, but with the water in my face, I can’t tell for sure. I know that the shadow of the towel on the back of the door isn’t right for some reason. Wait, Randy doesn’t take this long to find a movie.

Every streaming service in the world has holiday films plastered all over the load-up screens.

“Hey, you horny toad, no shower sex! Our parents are here!”

Peeking out of the curtain, I can see no one is in there with me. No strange shadows, no weird figures, not even Randy. This day has gotten to me for some reason then, I don’t get it, but I’m not sure what else I can do about it but keep on showering. By the time I’m done and ready to go back into the bedroom with Randy fully dressed in a towel, it seems so weird he hasn’t come in with anything.

“Hey, babe, what do you think of this one?”

There it is, took him long enough, but I don’t know what he expects of me, I’m not in there to see what he wants. I wonder, though, would he admit to trying to sneak a peek while I was in there? I wonder why he took so long, and it would explain why I thought there were shadows in the room with me. During the holidays with both of our parents here is a bit kinky but that has to be the cause of everything going on here. I guess I just have to ask him, and after walking out of the bathroom I can see Randy is sitting on the edge of the bed scrolling through the app on the TV.

“Were you just in there right now?”

“No, no I’ve been trying to find a movie for us to watch like you said. What about this one, “Candy Cane

Lane?” The poster looks interesting at least.”

“Yeah, sure, sounds fine. Just, I don’t know, I thought you were trying to sneak in with me or something.”

“Honestly, I’ve thought about it a few times.”

Ooh, there it is. I knew he had that in him, maybe I can get him to act on it but some other time.

Brenda smiles flirtatiously and goes back into the bathroom as Randy settles under the sheets propping up some pillows to stay sitting up against the wall. After what feels like several minutes, with Randy sitting up in bed playing with the remote to the TV Brenda comes in fully dressed for bed from the bathroom. She slides in next to him as he reaches over to the drawer next to the bed and pulls several batteries out of the cabinet.

“Oh, need new batteries?”

“Yeah, kept freezing up and not responding when I tried to press play. I figured I might as well, and guess you can start from the beginning with me this time.”

They hug and share a kiss as he manages to get the TV working properly as the film ‘Candy Cane Lane’ begins playing in the background. As the kissing grows more passionate and romantic, Brenda goes from his side to now straddling Randy as they continue their steamy make-out session. Finally, she breaks it off before slipping under the covers and disappears completely for a second. Some strange rustling sounds perk up under the covers as Randy begins to laugh incredulously at what’s going on beneath the shifting blankets only to then throw first her pajama top out from under everything.

“Should I continue?”

“Oh, yes, babe! I would love for you to keep going!”

Suddenly, the blankets are thrown up and the burnt face of a Santa-esque figure appears around his pants, but talks in Brenda’s voice for the following.

“Oh, that’s just what I wanted to hear!”

It then menacingly starts to pull his pants open as Randy fights to keep it away, finally grabbing his arm and biting into it causing him to let out a huge scream. This startles Randy awake who was in bed having just had a nightmare. He looks around and sees the TV still on the start-up screen for ‘Candy Cane Lane ‘ and sees Brenda emerging from the bathroom wearing the same pajamas as from his dream.

“What’s wrong, does the remote need batteries? I thought you kept them on your side?” Randy is completely flustered by what’s going on and takes a minute to respond to everything.

“Oh, yeah, I do. Just, I had the weirdest dream while you were in the shower right now. I didn’t know I fell asleep, that’s the first thing.”

“Well, what happened? What’s wrong?”

“Well, that’s the other thing, it was just like what’s going on right now. I was in bed trying to get the remote to work, I change the batteries when you get into bed. We start going at it, but before anything happens you disappear under the covers and show up as this burnt-skinned Santa Claus. Like with the beard and hat, everything.”

“Oh, my god, what happened?”

“Nothing, that’s when I woke up.”

“That’s so weird, I’ve never known you to have dreams like that. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I think so but I’m not seeing what brought it on, especially since it was just like now. The remote not working and you coming out of the shower. I don’t know what that means or who that guy was in my dream. He was dressed like Santa Claus but his face was…so strange, like it was burnt or peeling.

“Oh, wow, that’s strange, and kinda creepy as well. I didn’t know you were into that kinky stuff, I could’ve pulled a fake beard out of the decorations earlier.”

“Oh, ha-ha, real funny babe! We’ll talk in the morning, I’m not feeling it right now.”

He shuts off the TV and puts the remote on the nightstand by his bed, turns off the light, and kisses Brenda good night as he slides down to get ready for bed. Brenda looks a little put off but kisses him on the forehead good night, turns off her bedside light, and curls up to go to sleep. With Randy asleep on his back and Btenda sleeping on her side, they remain on their side of the bed for a little while before Randy rolls over towards Brenda to become her big spoon.

As he does this, the tent created by his feet under the covers remains even though he visibly rolls over to the side to cuddle up next to Brenda, and after waiting for several seconds this spot grows to the point where it’s standing tall ominously over the couple as it continues to grow in height. Finally, it stops growing and the blankets roll off to the side revealing the same burnt-face of Santa angrily looking down at them.

We’re now in Christian and Marie’s room, who’s lying on her stomach only her arm is sticking out from under the pillow ominously close to the edge of the bed. Peacefully sleeping, she’s completely unaware of a stick-thin human hand slowly crawling up from the space between her bed and the nightstand next to it which starts to feel around the edge of the bed. As it continues, this becomes clear that the hand is trying to feel around for Marie and can’t locate her, which causes it to angrily feel around at a frantic rate.

Finally, it seems to bump into her wrist which causes it to settle down as the hand traces its way back to her fingers. Still sleeping soundly, the hand tries to intertwine with Marie’s hand and pull her towards the space it came from but doesn’t have the strength to do so. Finally, it breaks the hold, grabs Marie’s wrist, and pulls that toward the open space.

This tugging finally gets Marie’s attention who stirs, groggily looks over at her hand being pulled to the dark space, and tries to pull her arm away. Instead, the hand digs in with its fingernails into the skin around her wrist, breaking the skin to draw blood and getting into a death grip with the wrist. It then starts pulling the screaming Marie towards the space again with more violent tugs.

“Christian! Christian! Help me!”

Held down by the strength of the hand, Marie can’t move or get her hand free from the grip around her wrist. Finally using her other hand, she continues calling out for Christian while trying to pry the hand off which is just enough of a distraction to wriggle her bleeding wrist free. Still, the proximity to her fingers is too much and the hand immediately grabs out at her fingers intertwining them again, and starts to pull Marie toward the open space. At this point, a second hand emerges and does the same thing, feeling around the edge of the bed for Marie’s hand and finally latching on. Both hands pull, as one, a screaming Marie towards the darker space by the bed.

At this point, Marie jolts herself awake, having just had a dream. She finds her fingers intertwined as if the pulling and tugging happened due to holding hands with herself. Not sure what’s going on, she wipes the drool from her mouth and pillow before reaching over to the clock on the nightstand. 2:23 AM. Frustrated, she goes to put it back but sees the same space where the hand emerged from her dream and thinks twice about setting it back, lying awake trying to fall back asleep.

We’re now in the room with Larry and Bo who are also sound asleep on the sofa bed. The clock on a phone left on the table springs to life and reads 2:55 AM as Larry starts to snore loudly when a demonic elf in a Christmas hat and jacket walks over to him out of nowhere where he bends over looking coldly down at his body. The sudden nature of his appearance symbolically caused Larry to start choking and coughing while in bed as immediately after standing over him this starts up which doesn’t cause any concern or reaction from the elf. Continuing to stand and glare menacingly over him, the choking and coughing fit is enough to cause Larry to wake up from his sleep still coughing. He tries to call out for his parents but with no voice, he can’t get much out as the whole experience gets worse.

Finally stumbling out of bed, he tries to get help but simply lays on the floor coughing as he continues to choke. The elf gets up and walks over to Larry’s expired body on the floor looking angrily down at it before walking away coldly. This causes Larry to also sit up in bed, unaware of everything but being the third person now to have a nightmare.

Awaking like normal the next morning, I can tell there’s something off in the house. Normally it’s a bit more vibrant and friendly, but there’s just something odd about the air inside the bedroom as I try to wake up even more. I need coffee for sure to make more sense of this but there’s something here, and if Randy was awake he’d agree with me.

Checking my phone, it says 8:45 AM which is way later than normal for when I wake up so it’s got to be the aftereffect of the work yesterday. Getting out of bed and getting dressed in my robe, I head downstairs to check on breakfast but I don’t smell anything unlike yesterday. In the living room, I spot both Larry and Bo on the couch spooning each other, making for a bizarre visual this early in the morning. Leaving them, I make my way into the kitchen and try to figure out where the coffee machine is located to start a new batch.

The aroma of the batch tends to wake up everyone, as almost immediately Larry and Bo start to stir and wake up when they realize they fell asleep how they did. Shortly afterward, both Christian and Marie come downstairs which is the same for Randy just right after them. Finally, Matthew and Jean come down a minute later and join everyone at the table by the kitchen where everyone else is waiting for their coffee in a friendly if decidedly obvious lack of energetic responses.

“All right, we’re almost ready. How does everyone take their glasses?” “One sugar and a splash of milk,” Jean blurts out.

“Two cups of milk for me,” Matthew follows up.

“Iced is fine,” Christian chimes in.

“I’ll go with two cups of milk as well,” Marie says.

“Umm, what kind of flavorings do you guys have?” Larry asks.

“Regular and Cinnamon Spice, I believe.”

“I think we’ll both take the Spice.”

With that, I get started trying to fill the drink orders but it’s far more draining for me than I expected and I’m yawning heavily trying to move through the kitchen to get everything for everyone. I can’t help it, my legs and arms are just sore which makes it hard to move around with this much energy trying to move everything around.

“Honey, are you sure you’re okay? You look exhausted.”

“Yeah, just…tired. I think I’ll be fine once I get this down.”

“Well, what happened sweetie?” Matthew asks me, trying to fight back his own yawning. “You look like you didn’t get much sleep.”

“To be honest, I didn’t fall asleep until about 2:30 this morning, he told me about this nightmare he had and it kept me up most of the night.”

“Wait, that’s when I woke up from a nightmare myself,” Marie cuts in, “it was strange but there was this gloved hand that came out from underneath the bed and started pulling me. I checked the clock when I woke up and it was just before two-thirty in the morning.”

“That’s weirder, but I had a nightmare myself,” Larry says, turning our attention to him. “There was someone in the room with me and I started coughing and choking uncontrollably with him standing over me the entire time. The weirdest part was that by the time I woke up and calmed myself down, it was just about three in the morning.”

“Dear, you had one too?”

“Yeah, mom. I didn’t get to sleep until a few hours ago.”

“Is that normal, you guys having nightmares like that?”

“No, we’ve never had that since we moved in. Would be a little late now to start having nightmares, it would make more sense a few weeks ago.”

“Do you think it had something to do with being overworked yesterday, and we just did too much?”

“Well, it’s not a far-fetched idea, it could be the case, sweetie.”

“Yeah, but why did it happen to three of them, and in almost a seeming order with how it played out with everyone? That’s a bit weird, for sure.”

“Okay, yeah, that part is a little confusing but it shouldn’t be too bad if we take it easy today. Sasha will be here around 3:00 or so which is pretty much the only thing I know going on today, and she’s only staying for a few minutes while she drops off a few ornaments for the house. Maybe we just take it easy today and see what happens?”

This seems to be an accepted term, and we go about trying to relax during the day. Me, Marie, and Jean decided to spend the morning making batches of cookies for the boys while they spent the time watching daytime TV all morning. Thank god I’m doing the baking, most of the women on those talk shows are just awful doing nothing but day-drinking or just yelling over each other on the most banal of topics that no one can get a word in edgewise or have their point come across in a way that would convince otherwise of their viewpoint. It’s targeted at people like me, but man I wish they had cheesy Christmas movies on instead.

As we go through the day and everyone seems to be doing what they can to try to get by after everything that’s happened, its low-energy feel mixed with the holiday atmosphere creates an odd tone in the house. I’m just glad that everyone’s safe though, it just feels so weird to know that there’ve been a series of strange dreams between several people earlier tonight but there’s not much I can do about this as I’m quite exhausted not just from dealing with Randy all night but also cooking all morning.

Finally, there’s a knock at the front door which means Sasha must be here. I get up and go over to let her in as she is at the front door.

“Hey, sis, what’s going on?”

“Not much, it’s good to see you! Come on in!”

“Sure thing! What’s going on everyone?”

However, before anyone can respond, the front door rapidly flies from my hand as if someone yanked it out of my grip and hit Sasha in the face, causing her to stumble awkwardly into the house. Once I realize what’s going on, I try to reach down to help her but a strand of Christmas lights appears from the corner of the room and wraps itself around her feet. I mean, it looks like Christmas lights but before I can notice the lights have dragged her along the wall of the hallway into the living room directly for the Christmas tree set up from yesterday and she disappears screaming into it.

By this point, everyone seems to react to the situation and gets up to see what’s going on as the whole thing is just too weird to understand. By the time I can accept that I just saw the tree pull my sister into the center of itself with a strand of lights, the screaming inside stops and the house grows eerily silent. Everyone looks at it for what feels like forever, all sixteen eyes collectively looking at the tree waiting for it to do something. Anything.

However, by the time I’m about to question what’s going on, a gurgling burp-like sound is heard from the tree, and from the center of it rolls a mass of bloodied human flesh, tangled rolls of Christmas lights, and various colored balls ornaments spilling onto the floor in front of us. It’s Sasha, the shirt and the pants are a dead giveaway as the mess made of the tangled lights and various cuts to the body leave me quite confused as to what’s going on.

Brenda breaks out into hysterics at the sight in front of her as she realizes that it’s indeed Sasha, with her sister cut up, bleeding all over her body, and wrapped up with a strand of Christmas lights like a sweater. Everything happening at once seemingly just causes her to freak out much like everyone else around her, with the gathered family reacting similarly to Brenda. Randy tries to go for the body only to have it be manipulated by the strand of lights and levitated in the air above his head, dangling ominously for a few minutes before it’s thrown at high speed against the window and bounces off with a sickening thud while leaving a massive blood splatter where it landed.

Alarmed by the action, Christian and Marie pull Randy away from the tree while Matthew and Jean make their way over to the still-screaming Brenda as the whole thing has turned her into a mess. As Larry and Bo also make their way over to the group on the other side of the room, sidestepping Sasha’s bloody mess on the floor, a low buzzing-like hum slowly grows louder and more audible. No one seems to hear it or react, more concerned with the more overt threat of the tree standing before them, but it soon grows louder to the point where it draws attention to itself from the others.

Is it a buzz, though? Or is it more of a growl, generating the kind of pitch that living beings do? But there’s nothing or no one in the house that can get remotely close to producing this kind of sound. Yet one by one, the family starts suspecting something is going on when the odd buzzing sound begins to fill the house and draws their attention to it. Not even close to being too loud, it’s just unnatural, and nothing seems to be the cause of it.

Finally, out of the fireplace below the TV on the side of the room, a voluminous mountain of snow pours into the room, blanketing everything around them in freezing cold snow. Pouring in from the open flute as if pumped out through a hose, the flurry comes into the room at a steady pace that causes everyone to fall back over themselves but not with any kind of serious intent as they all seem able to brace themselves easily enough by shielding their face as they back away.

It’s more the mounting collection in the room that seems to be an issue.

Realizing the only way to safety is to get out of the room, Larry calls for everyone to leave into the main hallway for safety which causes everyone to trudge through the collected snow with a loud crunch as everyone makes it to safety. Jean falls once trying to get out but thankfully Matthew is there to pick her up and pull her to safety with the others as they’re the last ones out of the room and back in the main hallway.

Gathered together in the hallway, it seems the proper ploy is to escape out the front door or find the landline in the kitchen to call for help since most of the other phones are inside the snowed-in room. In the chaos and confusion of it all, Bo tries the front door option which doesn’t go according to plan. Charging at it with the intent to break it down to get outside, the door simply bends like rubber and bounces him off to the floor in front of it, causing everyone to rush over and look at him with a sense of concern.

While trying to come to terms with what’s going on, Larry tries to simply open the door like normal only to find the knob won’t turn as if it’s locked. Even with Brenda shakily finding the house keys from her keychain and handing it to Larry to unlock the door it remains closed, unable to properly turn even though it clearly unlocks for him. Repeatedly slamming into it to try to break it open also does no good and everyone looks at the situation even more scared and confused than they were previously.

As the panic starts to wear on everyone and the inability to recognize what’s happening around them, the next course of action is to go for the phone in the kitchen. With Randy leading the way and trying to shield himself against the still-flowing snow coming out of the living room, he makes his way to the kitchen at the end of the hall and signals for everyone to follow his lead and come toward the kitchen. Christian and Marie are successful, as are Larry and Bo who manage to get to the kitchen door. When Matthew and Jean try to make their way across with Brenda in tow, a porcelain Santa decoration that was placed on the table in the living room comes flying out of the room and hits Jean hard in the shoulder, shattering to pieces.

With Christian and Brenda stopping momentarily to help her up, a second porcelain figure comes flying out of the room where Brenda’s head is located. As she ducks at the last second, it smashes against the wall behind her and allows her and Christian to get Jean to her feet and join the others at the end of the hallway by the kitchen.

Finally feeling safe, everyone takes a second to catch their breath while Randy attempts to use the phone in the kitchen to call for help. Unfortunately, he finds the phone dead and that no line can reach the outside, apparently trapping everyone in the house. Giving everyone the bad news, they all seem to be shocked and confused at the situation trying to recognize what’s going on. Running back over the series of events, from Sasha arriving and being dragged into the Christmas tree to the snow erupting from the fireplace and the series of decorations thrown at them, no one can make any sense of the situation as they can’t find any rational explanation for all of the events. In fact, no one can explain one of the events.

Now comes the discussion no one wants to have, what the inability to escape or contact others could mean. The dead phone is a sign that someone or something is holding them inside to prevent them from leaving, and with no one able to open a closed door even with the keys unlocking it, there’s no way out of the house while all these strange things are happening. An attempt at getting out through windows or the backdoor should be tried but it would likely result in this happening again due to the foresight already displayed to keep them inside.

As Larry tries to walk over to the kitchen’s back door to find a way out, a strange sound emerges from the refrigerator that catches his attention. With it being a liquid-like gurgling similar to the earlier growling heard in the living room, this draws Larry over to the refrigerator where he opens it to reveal a gingerbread cookie dressed like the elf from his nightmare that morning is standing there looking at him. Almost getting a mocking taunt-like tone to his laugh, the cookie jumps off the shelf and runs across the floor to Larry waving a series of frozen kielbasas at him and trying to smash them against his foot. Able to dodge everything but blocked from getting to the back door, Larry retreats to the group who’ve noticed the incident and are rushing to help him.

While Christian and Matthew try to get Larry away from the cookie, Bo and Randy look to combat the creature but are thwarted at every opportunity as the kielbasas are used as weapons to defend it. However, realizing that it’s outnumbered, it tries to escape back to the refrigerator and slides underneath successfully with its paper-thin frame.

This completely confuses everyone as no one can make sense of the situation. Instead of figuring out or making sense of what just happened, the family just looks at each other with complete and utter bewilderment as if nothing is making sense. The series of confusing and just plain odd scenarios has everyone unsure of their next step which results in a stream of suggestions to get out of the house but no clue if they’ll be effective or how to pull them off successfully. It ranges from going back for their phones in the living room, grabbing furniture to smash out a window, to going upstairs for a bedroom window to crawl out of.

Trying to do something, Randy leaves the kitchen and heads into the hallway towards the stairway when a large, guttural growling sound comes from the living room. Rather than continue, he stops dead when it picks up again with what sounds like multiple figures in the room with the way the growl comes off. Soon, this is shown to be a massive seven-to-eight-foot tall snowman which merged from the snow pumped into the room from the fireplace that towers over Randy as it ducks under the doorway to waddle menacingly in his direction.

Frozen in place, Randy is unable to move as the monstrous snowman comes towards him. It turns worse when a second snowman, slightly smaller than the first one, comes out behind it looking menacingly at the gathered family. Still worse than that one is two similarly-sized snowmen to the second being so that one massive being and three smaller apparent henchmen are in the hallway coming out of the living room towards the kitchen.

Forced to head back into the kitchen, Randy heads to the utensil drawer and begins pulling out plenty of knives or other types of protective weaponry. Having managed to clean everything out, he passes them to the rest of the family as the gingerbread cookie from the refrigerator appears on the counter trying to stab at him. Taking defensive tactics, Randy tries to swing the knife and defend himself which leads to the cookie laughing and diving back behind the space between the counter and the toaster.

Not wanting to be there much longer, the group decides to rush out of the room up to the stairway by the side of the hallway to the second floor when one of the smaller snowmen steps up and tries to block their path. Even though it can’t get in front of them, the creature being so close to them gives everyone pause for concern and defensive strategies. With Randy, Larry, Christian, and Matthew taking on this defensive positioning, Bo takes Brenda, Jean, and Marie upstairs to safety which allows the men to fend it off. During an opening in the attack, Matthew charges forward with his knife and stabs the snowman drawing a thick red-and-white striped liquid to begin pouring from the wound down the lower half of the creature’s body. Instantaneously, the entire house smells like peppermint from this candy cane-style feature.

However, the snowman is undeterred and simply scoops some of the red-and-white striped liquid in its stick hands and hurls it at Matthew in the face. Upon its landing, the impact zone starts to smolder and burn as if being dissolved by a corrosive acid which is exactly what’s happening. The screaming and writhing in pain that occurs is enough to draw the attention of the rest of the men who decide to grab Matthew and try to get upstairs while using their knives as defense, and in fact, barely manage to get upstairs as their slender frames allow them to go through one by one and the bulky snowmen can’t reach or follow.

Finally getting to the second-floor landing with Bo and the women, Christian and Larry help a still-agonizing Matthew down while Jean tries to console him only to keep getting in the way as the chaos of the situation doesn’t do anyone any favors. With half of his face oozing from the damaging liquid and no way to clean it off safely without getting it on them, it causes a slew of panicked shouting and no real answers from anyone beyond trying to go into the bathroom to wash it off in the sink. As Christian and Jean lead Matthew into the bathroom by Randy and Brenda’s bedroom, the rest of the group gathers at the bedroom door and tries to determine a plan of action.

“All right,” Randy says as he tries to take the lead on getting everyone to safety, “So we need a way out of here and get him to a hospital. I don’t like the way he looks from whatever that was.”

“What was that, and why does he smell like a peppermint candy cane?” Brenda questions.

“I think it’s got something to do with the snowmen. He stabbed one trying to get away and then that stuff flowed out of the wound like it was its blood and it got on his face burning him.”

“So what now?” Bo ponders, “There’s no way we can go back down there with those things running around, and we still need a phone or something to call for help.”

“Maybe if we broke through the window we might be able to get someone’s attention and flag them down for help,” Larry suggests, eyeing one of the bedroom windows on the other side of the room.

“Could be worth a shot, I don’t know right now.”

“All right, what do you have to break through it?”

“Check the closet, there are probably a few metal bars or beams we can use in there.”

As the four head over to the closet to follow through on the idea, Jean comes out of the bathroom shaken and visibly upset.

“He’s gone, he’s dead!”

This announcement collects the attention of everyone else and they stop to take in the news. It hits Brenda hard who begins breaking down even further as she’s now lost her father after losing her sister earlier in the night. Randy goes to comfort her and tries to hold her together although everything affecting her at once doesn’t make for an easy time.

By the time Brenda finally manages to collect herself and try to get back to her normal state, she finds several gingerbread cookie figures dressed like the one from the kitchen who were dressed like the elf from Larry’s nightmare. Now, though, there are at least a dozen of them at the front door to the bedroom holding broken-off candy canes like stabbing knives. This draws everyone’s attention and causes them to back away from the doorway to the bathroom on the other side of the room.

The swarm of gingerbread cookie creatures in front of the group seems to instill a sense of courage in the others as Larry, Bo, and Randy decide to charge at them swinging their knives wildly and kicking at the diminutive beings. This allows Brenda, Marie, Jean, and Christian to try to sneak past the conflagration in the hallway as the distraction manages to get them out of the bedroom but it soon becomes obvious the gingerbread cookies can outlast the men who begin to advance them into the bedroom closer to the bathroom. Realizing that the men haven’t followed them, Jean tries to get Brenda’s attention.

“Hey, wait a minute, where are the boys?”

As Brenda takes a second to realize what she’s asking, Marie’s startled gasp from further in the hallway gets their attention and alerts them to the sight of Marie and Christian getting swarmed by a strand of Christmas lights much like Sasha was earlier. However, they’re both attacked around the waist and wrapped up like a snake constricting its prey before being dragged down the stairs screaming as Jean and Brenda are helpless to stop it from happening. Face to face with the series of snowmen at the bottom of the stairway, the snowmen are now wielding axes which are used to chop up and dismember the two of them as the splatter and severed limbs cake the area in a lake of flowing blood.

Completely trapped within the hallway as the gingerbread cookies are still in the bedroom with the men and the stairs completely out of the question with axe-wielding snowmen blocking the way out of the house, Brenda and Jean are at a loss as to what to do. Finally, they hear Larry, Bo, and Randy call out for help from the bedroom and they quickly decide to return to help the men.

Upon entering the room, they see the area is littered with the broken pieces of multiple gingerbread cookie figures lying on the floor with slice wounds showing where they got cut. With Randy and Larry on the far side of the bed stabbing repeatedly at what must be several gingerbread cookies but not being able to be seen from the angle they’re standing at and Bo trying to break out through the window with the steel bar hanging in the closet.

Realizing they can save the men, Brenda and Jean decide to rush to the side of the bed where Randy and

Larry are fighting the cookies and use their surprise attack to begin slashing the backs of the unsuspecting beings. This causes a slew of severed limbs, splattered white frosting-like blood to coat the side of the bed, and some anguished cries to ring out as the dying creatures conduct their death rattle. With only a couple of broken pieces left squirming on the floor, Randy gets up and crushes them underfoot ending the threat from the gingerbread cookies.

This finally allows me to relax, the death of the gingerbread cookies being crushed under Randy’s feet finally allows me to take a breath for the first time tonight. My sister is dead, my dad’s most likely bleeding to death in the bathroom, and I saw my husband’s parents slashed to pieces before me so to take a moment to let everything escape me is something I don’t want to overlook. I take my breath and immediately crumble into Randy’s arms, letting his warm, comforting embrace wash over me even if just for a moment.

With the moment over, I turn my attention to the fact that we’re still trapped in the bedroom. Bo tries to strike the window with the bar but it just bounces off with a thud that resembles rubber bouncing off concrete. It just causes me to feel even more convinced that there’s no getting out of the house. It’s all over now.

“So, what now?” Larry asks, completely frustrated and broken by what’s happening.

“I think we need to focus more on why this is happening than how we can get out of here as I don’t think whatever’s keeping us here will let us leave,” Randy tells us, “that way we can figure out to get out of here if we know what’s holding us here or what’s going to get us out of here.”

“Well, then, what is going on here?” I ask, trying to get to the bottom of the situation the only way I know.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Jean replies, not as much answering my question but doing her own thing.

“What exactly has been happening?”

“I don’t get it, none of it makes any sense,” Randy responds, in a deep concentration trying to figure out what’s going on himself. “I mean, let’s start at the beginning, that might help us. So, Sasha shows up and is attacked by strands of Christmas lights from the tree, right?”

“Wait, no. Wouldn’t it be the nightmares you, your mom, and your brother had this morning?”

“What do those have to do with this? That was this morning, granted, but it has nothing to do with the events this afternoon.”

“Well, it has something to do with what’s going on. There’s something off about all three of you having some kind of nightmare last night unprovoked and then all of a sudden today we’re subjected to a living nightmare with Christmas ornaments coming to life, murderous snowmen stalking us throughout the house, and no way out of the house.”

“That’s somewhat of a stretch, babe, I think it’s all a coincidence.”

“No, wait, she has something there,” Larry cuts in as if I’ve sparked something in his mind. “Earlier today, my nightmare was about a strange elf standing over me while I was choking to death. Means nothing, but each of these gingerbread cookies is dressed exactly like that elf. Look at each of the pieces here in the room, it’s all the same clothing like the gloved hands and sweater jacket. That’s how the elf looked like in the nightmare.”

“The elf looked like these things?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It was a little uncanny that it was the same design as the nightmare elf.”

“Mmm, I still think that’s a little flimsy of a connection, though. That can just as easily be a coincidence as it is the truth.”

“Well, wait a minute,” Jean cuts in, “Earlier during my nightmare, I dreamt that I was pulled into the open space in between the bed and the nightstand in my room. The hand that pulled me looked like the one on the Santa figurine you guys set up on the mantle above the fireplace. It’s the only one in the house where he’s not wearing gloves so it stood out but I haven’t had the time to breathe and think about it until now.”

“I get what you’re trying to say, but that still doesn’t mean anything. We experienced a series of weird dreams and nightmares but that’s all it seems to be. There’s got to be something else going on here.”

“If it’s not about the nightmares, then what’s the cause of all this stuff happening? It feels like we’re trapped in a nightmare with these things just continuing to happen. It feels very much like a nightmare come to life.”

“I agree, babe, but that doesn’t mean the nightmares are connected to what’s going on. There’s something else here, something we’ve looked past or missed that’s the cause of everything, and if we can figure that out we might be okay.”

“So what are you thinking?”

“Well, there has to be something that’s causing all this to happen. There has to be something, a starting point to what set everything off. Now, it was when Sasha arrived, right, when the tree came to life and attacked her so that has to be what caused everything. Maybe she did something or brought something into the house that started all this.”

“Why would a house care about a person? They’re not sentient beings, they wouldn’t care.”

“I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on here and yelling at each other isn’t going to fix it.”

“Hey, hey, guys knock it off,” Bo says from the corner of the room, cutting us off. “Come over here and check this out.”

The four of us head over to the corner of the room and try to figure out what he’s looking at but instead, he starts sniffing the air near one of the vents for the AC system. Suddenly, I get a whiff of something odd, familiar.


“Why does the vent smell like a candy cane?” Larry asks, looking at us confused.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s safe to stay here. We have to keep moving.”

Randy grabs my hand and tries to lead me out of the room back to the hallway before I can come up with a way to question what’s going on. It looks like Larry and Bo are trying to get Jean to safety behind me as Randy has me out the door before I can make sure.

By the time Randy has taken me out of the room and into the hallway, we both stop dead in our tracks and look around. Instead of the usual hallway leading off to the different rooms, it seems to be a clearing in the middle of the forest as the blackness of the surrounding landscape is a mass of darkness surrounding me in pretty much every direction. Rather than being a way into the extra bedrooms, the left of the hallway is a trail heading off into the distance lined on each side by massive, ornately decorated Christmas trees on each side of the trail. The bright, sparkling lights and high-end baubles on the trees are as ominous as it is comforting, with the warm lighting illuminating the confusion on Randy and my faces despite the glow washing over me in a familiar feeling.

Why are there Christmas trees lined up in rows on the second floor of our house? How do they fit in the house, they look like they’re ten to fifteen feet tall.

I don’t have time to ask Randy any of that as it feels like a matter of seconds before Larry, Bo, and Jean come out of the bedroom and nearly crash into us as they seem to be as taken aback by us seeing the lines of Christmas trees and blackness surrounding them inside the house.

“What is this?” Bo asks us, the first of us to speak.

“I’m not sure, this is the bedroom hallway right?” Randy questions while looking around frantically at the site surrounding all of us.

“So what’s going on?” Larry cuts in, almost cutting off Randy in the process.

“I don’t know, but we need to go down that trail,” Jean replies, drawing our attention to her. “There’s no door back into the bedroom, right?”

This comment brings everybody’s attention to the way we just came. In keeping with her comment, there’s no doorway or way back into the bedroom as it’s now completely gone to be replaced by the same blackness as the rest of the surroundings.

Except for the lines of Christmas trees along the trail going off into the distance.

We all look at each other in the middle of the hallway and almost immediately know the same thing. We have to go down the trail, no matter what’s waiting for us at the end.

We start down, Randy again leading me while Larry and Bo take Jean just behind us. Just to make extra sure, before we step on the trail I reach back and grab for one of their hands which is revealed to be Bo when I look back to confirm it’s him.

The trail just feels off, with the looming tree-tops towering over us in the darkness surrounding everything where I can’t even feel comfortable with the sparkling lights decorating the rungs of the trees don’t even feel joyous. There’s nothing warm or comforting about the bright red, yellow, blue, white, and green lights blinking in my face. I just keep a hold of Bo’s hand as we march on in silence, the crunching snow beneath us being unnerving due to us traveling through the upstairs hallway the entire time.

Wait, that can’t be right. Could it? Why is there music playing?

“Hey, hey, stop for a second. I think I hear something.”

It gets the group to stop and I try my hardest to pay attention to the music playing in the background. Everyone looks around but I can’t be bothered, there was music playing a few seconds ago. I’m sure of it, but where was it coming from? What was it?

Wait, there it is! I know that now!

Silent Night, Holy Night! All is calm, all is bright! Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child! Holy Infant so tender and mild! Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!

It takes me a few minutes but I finally see the source. It’s the Snowmen from earlier, coming up quickly behind us through the trail as they’re four or five trees behind us but are gaining quickly!

“Careful, they’re coming!”

“How many?”

“Too many, we have to keep going!”

I try to push us forward, mustering the strength I can to go ahead of Randy and pull Larry, Bo, and Jean along so they can stay up with the two of us. The trail continues on, leading us past more of the massive, decorated Christmas trees lining each side of us like a never-ending tunnel into the distance. I can’t see an ending, just more trees with the bright lights illuminating the trail into the distance. This does start to be a bit draining and deflating with the inability to see what’s the end game to the trail but I know we have to keep moving with the Snowmen coming up behind us.

Silent Night, Holy Night! Sleep in heavenly peace! Sleep in heavenly peace!

That confirms it, we have to keep going!

“Wait, slow down, dear,” Jean calls out from behind us, sounding completely out of breath. “I can’t keep up, please just leave me here and you guys go ahead! Find a way out of here!”

“We can’t leave without you, please Jean, let’s just go quickly!” Randy tells her, urging her along with the rest of us.

He jerks her to come quicker as the Snowmen use the break to get closer to us even though they’re still several trees behind us. That’s too close for me to feel good about it, so I agree with Randy, let’s get moving.

Together, me and Randy grab Jean, Larry, and Bo and we head off together down the trail, but after taking one step we suddenly fall face-first into the snow made up of the trail. The freezing cold of the snow and the sudden nature of the fall completely startles me and it takes me a second to realize none of us are moving.

“What happened?” Bo asks somewhere around me but I can’t tell where he is.

“I don’t know, but we need to keep moving. I can hear the Snowmen, we need to go now!”

I try to get up and run but I can’t do anything in the snow. My arms and legs are so heavy from everything I’ve done I don’t know if I could move them anyway but being in the freezing cold snow has done so much extra damage to them I’m not able to move. Being so out of breath has made it nearly impossible to move, and with everything that’s happened, I’m not sure what to do about it.

There’s no time for that, as I roll over to get my face out of the snow to see the Snowmen’s faces pull up and look down at me as the tree tops of the brightly-colored Christmas trees loom over their heads as the blackness of the surroundings fills in the empty space around them. The screams of Randy and Jean echo out next to me as the slashing of axes and knives fills the air and drowns everything out before warm blood splashes across my face. As the Snowmen raise a pair of knives and axes above their heads and plunge them down toward me, piercing pain in my stomach is the last thought possible before I black out.

The next morning, a contingent of neighbors from the Home Owners Association, the head Carlos, his assistant D’Andre, treasurer Kim, and associate Tina, stand outside the house and look on at the now empty residence. Another neighbor, Grace, pulls up to the curb and climbs out carrying a series of folders and papers with her.

“Okay, everybody’s here, let’s get started,” Carlos tells the group.

“Are you sure Moghru’s finished with them by now?” Tina asks, “I don’t want to go in there if he still has some targets left alive.”

“House has been quiet for far too long, the rule of thumb was to wait for a half-hour and check,” Kim responds matter-of-factly, “We’re fine. The lights dimmed just before 5:00 AM so it’s been a couple of hours now.” “Then let’s go take a look,” Carlos says as he leads the group inside.

He leads everyone inside, cautiously entering the front door and heading into the main room. The snow has melted away with no traces of anything left behind. The tipped-over tree and the bloody remains of Sasha are still there as well as the remnants of the decorations hurled at the family which are scattered in pieces across the living room and adjacent hallway.

“Looks like he got one, go find the others,” Carlos informs them upon finding Sasha’s body.

“How many are there?” Grace asks, about to head out of the room.

“The two of them, plus their family and a guest judging from their cars outside,” D’Andre informs the group. “There should be seven of them in total, so six more we need to find.”

“Sounds good, but do we even know what set him off?”

“Good question,” Carlos responds. He heads over to the fireplace and appears as if he’s talking to a figure inside, “Oh great Moghru, your humble servant beseeches you, how was your wrath triggered by these infidels?”

After a second, the strand of Christmas lights hung up around the ceiling Brenda and Randy put up the day before comes on, despite having been visibly off the entire night. This causes Carlos and D’Andre to look up and notice the lights around the room.

“Ah, that’s what it was,” D’Andre remarks, “Christmas lights, trying to get around the ban by going inside.

You want me to take those down or find the rest of the bodies with the girls?”

“We got all day, let’s find the bodies first before they start to smell and then we’ll never resell this place. Go on, we’ll get them down by lunch.”

By the time D’Andre takes this instruction and starts to leave, Tina returns with Matthew’s body slashed numerous times across the chest and stomach.

“Found one, and there’s one more where he came from.”

“All right, let me go grab him, and I’ll leave you to your thoughts.”

“Sure thing. Oh, and Tina, one more thing before you return to your duties. How long do you it will take you and Marie to clean this place up and we can put it back on the market?”

“Ugh, I don’t want to touch this place before the New Year, but I suppose if we can start on the second or third we can probably get it ready to go by Liberation Day, depending on the mess upstairs of course.”

“Yeah, and judging by how long it’s going I think Kim has found something big. Let D’Andre take the kitchen and let’s go help her get this place cleaned up. The sooner we get these bodies removed, the quicker we can take these decorations down and appease Moghru.”

The group heads upstairs where they quickly find Kim who’s coming out of the bedroom taking gloves off.

“Hey, we got one in the bathroom alongside about ten to fifteen minions crushed and broken inside the main bedroom.”

“Oh, man. That’s awful. Let’s get the body out of here and then we’ll return the broken minions to the sacrificial altar. Maybe then we can take a break and get the decorations down before anything else happens.” At that point, a knock occurs on the front door and in walks Sheriff Parker and Deputy Alison.

“Greetings, all,” Parker exclaims as he comes in, “We’re here to help with the body removal. Are they gone?”

“Yeah, he got them all last night. There are three in the kitchen, one up there in the upstairs bathroom off the main bedroom, and we’re still looking for the last few now.”

“Splendid, Hail Moghru! Come on Allie, let’s help get their bodies out of here and make sure everything goes according to plan.”

“Right. Just what’s the plan, again? They put illegal decorations up, right? What’s the write-up for that violation? I don’t remember it in the manual.”

“Gas leak, a pipe burst under the house and pumped deadly gas into the house and they all passed in their sleep. We’re still investigating and making sure everything’s cleaned up and sealed off before we open the house again. All medical files are to conclude with healthy individuals and normal ailments who were just poisoned, just so unfortunate it happened around the holidays, yadda yadda yadda.”

She finishes taking that down in her notebook and signals ok to Carlos and Parker before heading up with D’Andre, Kim, and Tina.

“I like her. Good kid, asks too many questions but I think she means well.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about this generation. Always asking questions and not going on blind faith like when we were indoctrinated but we have to replace our flock somehow. Moghru’s insistent on staying here so we can’t move to a new community so we have to recruit these kinds of families, just sucks we let these bastards in and passed over this couple I really wanted who showed more potential engagement just because these two had a higher revenue stream.”

“Well, maybe we can still offer it to them when do you think this place will be ready?”

“Tna said she can have it ready by Liberation Day if she and Marie get started on the third, in the new year. Maybe they’ll wait that long, maybe they won’t but I don’t know if they’ve also found a new house either since we haven’t been in touch since the sale.”

“Don’t worry, if it’s meant to be it’ll happen. Moghru will bring the right ones into our sphere soon enough, you know he hates flexing his powers like this so he’ll have someone come in and follow in his grace and glory.”

“I really needed to hear that, thank you. Come on, let’s get these rookies a hand with hand with cleaning up after his handiwork, and then we can get the rest of the clean-up started.”

The two embrace in the traditional gesture of the Order of Moghru and head back up the stairs where the rest of the crew are finishing the round-up of Brenda, Randy, Larry, Bo, and Jean from the hallway.

The End

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