I was alone this Christmas. I was heartbroken when my husband Daniel told me he was driving to Tennessee for the week. His sister and our brother-in-law had gotten a cabin on AirBnB and invited us both to come. Being busiest this time of year, the line of work that I’m in doesn’t allow for time off during the holidays. Just Christmas day and then we’re back at it.
Still, I didn’t want to discourage him so I waved him off with feigned elation and wished him a safe drive. He spends so little time with them, it wouldn’t have been right for me to talk him out of it.
I spent Christmas day with our dog Max. We had leftover tacos for dinner and looked at the pictures of decadent turkey and fixings the family was posting to Facebook.
Susannah and Terry next door seemed to be having just as wild of a time. She had been posting similar pictures of her own festivities to her Facebook feed as well, only she didn’t look as excited as my husband and his family seemed to be. With each picture she posted, she seemed to grow more and more irritated by the company. I could hear the noise through the thick cinderblock of my own walls. Its merriment seemed to ring wildly through the side yard, echoing through the night. At some point, the loud conversations next door seemed to die down, which was a welcome transition from all of the raucous merriment because I had to be up early for work.
I laid my thankful head on the pillow of my lonely bed and just as I was drifting off, the sound of the party next door returned, hitting a frenzied crescendo. Only this time, the excited voices I’d heard before had been replaced by thrash metal. I assumed the subwoofer in her house must have been angled out a window, an imagined arrangement made apparent by the rattling as the sound of it shuddered against my bedroom windows and sent a picture on my dresser toppling over to land face down.
It was only midnight, and Christmas, so I resolved to tolerate it, futilely wrapping my head in a layer of pillows and staying that way for what seemed like a wakeful eternity. Finally, around 2 o’clock, I’d tolerated it as much as I was willing and threw on a robe to trudge down the sidewalk to Susannah and Terry’s house. Christmas or not, there was the matter of neighborly decency that the two of them were violating at this late hour. I wasn’t going to put up with it until the sun rose, to be certain.
Their driveway and the street surrounding it was clogged with the haphazardly parked vehicles of the in-laws. They varied in cost and model. The tags indicated the visitors had made the trek here from half a dozen different states. They probably hadn’t gathered like this for years. Decades. Still, I didn’t regret trudging down my driveway and up the sidewalk to end their late-night carrying-on. I had to be up early. The only decision I regretted making in crossing our property line was doing so barefoot, as a number of the cars were obstructing the path and I had to step off of the sidewalk and onto the cold, dew laden grass.
Normally, at this late hour one might hear the crickets wildly chirping, coyotes howling or owls hooting. Wild things and bugs don’t disappear in the cold of Florida like they do in other places. I couldn’t hear anything but the thrashing music that rattled through the dark. Even the ground was vibrating violently enough to shake the trees in the breezeless night. As I made the first steps off of the grass and onto the walkway, a sharp pain caused me to curse myself again for not thinking to wear shoes. The acorn that crunched beneath my heel was sturdy enough to draw blood before cracking to pieces. I limped the rest of the way up the path, leaving a trail of blood in my wake.
Just as I rose my hand to violently pound on the door, I realized it stood imperceptibly open on first glance so I pushed it open, calling out before entering.
The door swung violently into a table heavily laden with a collection of Christmas themed snow globes, one of which wobbled on the edge of peril before I snatched from the side of the table and placed it gingerly back with the rest.
“HELLO!?” I called again. This time with even greater irritation.
I made my way to Susannah and Terry’s living room. Susannah lay sprawled in an uncomfortable looking heap on the sofa. At first, I took her posture to be that of someone dead and mangled. A snore escaping her lips deemed this to be not the case and deemed the empty bottle of Jameson, clutched in her arms and drained of its Christmas cheer to be the culprit. It wasn’t until switching the stereo off that I realized the house had fallen eerily into silence. Where were the literal dozens of guests I had seen in her pictures on Facebook? The house wasn’t that large. Surely I should see someone of the family sleeping roughly on the living room floor? On a sofa? In an armchair?
Curiosity had gotten the better of me and I began to snoop around. Susannah wasn’t going to wake and catch me, of that I was plainly sure. There was not a single soul aside from hers; the drunken lush passed out on the cracked leather sofa.
Deciding to leave, I headed toward the door but stopped abruptly after noticing something on the kitchen counter as I passed: the curious website left on the screen of her open laptop. I didn’t recognize the browser she was using, nor the strange configuration of the address. It was just a string of nearly a hundred numbers. What caught my eye was the title of the page. The plain website, black, void of images or fancy textography read very plainly in a white serifed font, the words “Dealing With Unwelcome In-Laws At Christmas.” The rest seemed to be in a foreign language that I didn’t know and couldn’t bear to fathom. I decided again, the house deadly quiet, I was better off leaving. It was when my gaze drifted from the glow of the screen, that I noticed the crows. A dozen or so, plucked neatly of their feathers were arranged on the countertop near the stove in a line. Their black plumages bubbled slowly, spinning from the depths of a deep pot left to simmer, made into some sort of thick stew on the stove. I opened the refrigerator door, finding even stranger that the air inside was warm. On the top shelf sat a massive latch-closure jar filled with dark soil. Crickets and worms seemed to wriggle within, tracing tunnels through the dirt like some sort of strange terrarium or ant farm.
I decided I’d seen enough of these bizarre sights and that the place was better left a mystery. I had to be up in the morning. I turned on my still-bleeding heel and continued toward the door. I didn’t even care that I’d tracked blood all over her tiles. She and Terry would probably put it down to one of her missing guests anyway.
As I was about to close the door behind me, a movement out of place, caught my eye. Something glistened within one of the snow globes that sat on the table. Horrified, I snatched it up and quietly closed the door behind me. I made my way back to my own door in the dark making quick but careful strides around the acorns and vehicles. It wasn’t until I was safe inside my home that I inspected the thing further.
Inside, more than a dozen people sat pressed against the glass. One of them had written “Help” in a miniature scrawl with their grubby finger. The one which had gotten my attention was using a tiny flashlight to signal S.O.S. in Morse Code.
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