A young couple settle in for a pleasant evening but the storm brings more than snow...
|Lily watched the thick flakes fall through the bay window, a huge smile plastered over her face.
Was there nothing better than being snowed in on a weekend? No obligations, no responsibilities. She and Claude had two whole days to savor the magical scene as the world was transformed into a crystalline expanse of wintry splendor.
Speaking of her husband, he was due back with the groceries at any minute. She returned to the kitchen and placed the kettle on. He'd like a piping cuppa tea after that polar excursion, while she preferred the rich warmth that hot cocoa offered. It was a treat to thaw frozen fingers with a scalding beverage. Especially after a back-breaking bout of shoveling.
Eyeing the falling snow, Lily pursed her lips and wondered if she'd better get back out there and make sure the driveway was clear for his arrival.
"Storm of the century indeed," She sighed as the shower descended rapidly. Nearly an inch covered the asphalt, adding to the heaping amount piled on either side. The news projected at least two feet tonight and another one the next morning.
Toes wiggled excitedly in colorful Christmas socks, unable to keep herself from dancing at the thought of snuggling on the couch and watching holiday favorites. This was the best part the season had to offer. Claude rolled his eyes at the Hallmark films but he couldn't refuse his darling her guilty pleasures. It was her treat for having to sit through a routine viewing of Die Hard each year, insisting it counted as a Christmas movie.
"Terrorists and violence aren’t exactly family-friendly entertainment," Lily shook her head.
Claude would laugh and say they did in his house. She would have to keep a firm hand on those sensibilities when they had children. Why, he was the type to buy his future son a rifle on his tenth birthday, not learning from the infamous scene in "A Christmas Story."
No offspring of hers was going to shoot their eye out, you can bet on that.
Headlights broke through the frosty cascade. The car pulled up the driveway, tires spinning as they lost traction on the icy ground. After backing up, Claude rammed the gas and managed to make it the entire length.
Putting her jacket and boots on, Lily ventured out into the shrieking winds and wrapped her arms around the man of her life affectionately.
"You made it back, dearest husband. I was about to send out a search team with sled dogs."
Claude kissed her, cold flakes melting on his beard. She squealed as he rubbed the wet hair on her face, pushing him away.
"Ugh! You always do that," She pouted.
"What? I thought you liked my Eskimo kisses," He grinned, cheeks red from the chill. Lily shivered as a gust whipped by, ice particles scratching her skin.
"W-when we get inside I'm going to show you the p-proper method." Her teeth chattered. "Let's get the food before I f-freeze to death."
Opening the trunk, Claude handed her a few bags before gathering the others with a grunt. Always one trip. Such a typical man, she giggled to herself.
They entered the warm house, stamping snow from their caked boots. After dumping their burdens on the kitchen floor, Lily began setting about organizing the products by room. Laundry stuff over here, cleaning supplies over there, dry food, cold food... She had a very meticulous system.
"Can barely see the other houses," Claude remarked. "I'm glad I came back when I did, it's practically a whiteout."
"Told you I was about to send out a rescue party." Lily took a milk jug from him and placed it in the fridge. Wiping the moisture from his beard, he gave her a cheeky look and crossed his arms.
"I saw you had a little fun out there instead of clearing the driveway," He cocked an eyebrow, eyes twinkling with amusement.
The accusation confused Lily. What fun? There was no joy to be had by freezing her hands tossing snow around.
"What are you talking about?" Her brow furrowed as she paused putting the groceries away.
He pointed out the window at the blizzard raging outside. "You're telling me you had no hand making ol' Frosty out there?"
Moving to the glass portal, she squinted through the swirling flakes. An outline of a lumpy snowman stood against the street, silhouetted against the twinkling holiday display in their neighbor's yard. Gnarled branches jutted out from the misshapen body. A tattered scarf danced in the howling gale, whipping around turbulently.
"I don't remember seeing that before," Lily rubbed her chin. "Maybe the kids next door decided to be silly."
She didn't like the way it looked. The twiggy arms seemed to claw the air, moving slightly with each breeze. Was it facing toward the street? It was hard to tell if they had time to add the carrot nose or stony eyes, only able to discern the overall shape.
"It's kind of creepy," Lily shuddered and closed the curtains. Her husband snorted, rolling his eyes. "Always scared of your own shadow. Why did I marry a 'fraidy cat?"
Holding her head high, she returned to the kitchen. "Keep it up, this kitty has claws."
"What am I then, a scratching post?" Grabbing the cleaning supplies, Claude busied himself by stocking the closet.
Lily pecked him on the cheek and winked mischievously, smacking his butt for good measure. "Guess you'll find out tonight if you play nice."
Once all chores were done and everything was put away, they cuddled up under plush blankets as Claude searched streaming services for something to watch. She nibbled on chocolate-covered pretzels, humming 'Jingle Bell Rock'. The salty-sweet treat tasted even better when it was consumed in Claude's burly arms. It was shaping up to be a perfect evening.
The doorbell chimed cheerily over the soft music playing. The couple looked at each other before turning towards the entrance, wondering who would visit during this severe weather.
"Did you order something?" Claude inquired. Lily shrugged, racking her brain for recent online purchases.
"Maybe? I thought all your gifts arrived but I could be mistaken." She slipped out of the cozy embrace with a reluctant sigh. He watched her move to the window and peek behind the curtains.
The only car Lily could see was their sedan, quickly being buried under the relentless shower. Untouched snow stretched over their driveway and yard with no visible footsteps or markings of their mystery guest. It was utterly bizarre.
"Is it Amazon? I didn't think they delivered in these conditions." Claude called out, watching a movie trailer.
Shaking her head, Lily narrowed her eyes. "Not a soul. I think the kids are just messing with us."
There were two snowmen out there now. A torn Santa hat hung off the newest one, frayed pom-pom swaying like a pendulum. It had no arms, but for some reason, the kids had given it pants and a thick pair of icy legs.
The joke was wearing thin, she decided. The next morning would be spent having a conversation with the neighbors about boundaries.
Covering the bay window again, Lily hugged herself and returned to warm blankets and even warmer lover. He rested his head on hers, scrolling through movie titles.
"They made another Frosty." She mumbled around a second pretzel. Claude grunted, half-listening as he spotted a favorite film. "Gremlins or Scrooged?" He grinned.
"Did you hear me? The snowmen have multiplied."
He nodded and bounced back and forth between the selections. "How about that. Really getting into the spirit of things, aren't they?"
Lily sighed, choosing to let it go. This was a topic they could discuss over breakfast. Right now was all about basking in the lazy evening, so she nestled closer to Claude and continued munching on cheesy popcorn and tasty candy.
Unfortunately for her, it seemed that Gremlins was the final choice. Wrinkling her nose, Lily observed a fluffy Gizmo waddle around the screen, looking more unsettling than adorable.
“Why didn’t they call it Furbies instead?” She asked Claude. He shushed her, leaning forward with excitement.
“This is the best part! The little buggers are about to attack.”
Ding dong, the bell interrupted.
Groaning, Claude squirmed out of the blankets and stomped over to see who it was. “If they keep it up, I’m going to give them a snowball fight they don’t want a part of.”
Flinging the door open, he stepped back in surprise. “The hell…?”
Coal eyes glittered from an icy face. A half-chewed carrot nose hung limply, moisture dripping from the tip. Beneath the mangled vegetable, a mouth of bloody human teeth grinned with a gruesome leer. It wore a tattered woman’s coat. The ripped fur hood was covered in sparkling snow, frozen hairs ruffling as December wind sucked the heat out of their warm living room.
The head slumped forward and fell off, sending gory molars scattering over the welcome mat.
Claude turned to Lily, his ashen face grim. “Call the cops. This has gone way too far.”
She pulled out her phone to dial the number. There was a faint click. Darkness descended upon the cheery house as the power went out.
Claude slammed the door shut instantly, curses rising while he fumbled with the lock in that sudden gloom. Turning the flashlight on, Lily rushed over to him. The deadbolt slid home with a thunk, a small relief against the sinister shadows.
“Storm must have taken out a power line,” Her husband mused. His voice was a bit shaky and lacked confidence. “I’ll turn on the generator in the garage.”
“No!” Lily grabbed his arm. “Don’t go anywhere. Someone’s screwing with us and I don’t want to be alone if they come back.”
Her fingers shook, struggling to press the numbers 911. The line rang and rang before petering off in an empty dial tone. Claude grabbed her phone and peered at it. No cell connection.
“Tower’s dead.” He remarked. “Still think it was a bad idea to get that shotgun?”
She followed him to their bedroom, holding the light steady as he retrieved the long gun case from the closet. He unsnapped the latches and withdrew the sleek weapon.
Guns always made Lily feel uncomfortable. Yet the Mossberg Shockwave her husband insisted on buying gave some much-needed sensation of security. Especially with danger knocking at their door.
Claude pulled a shell free from the side mount and began carefully chambering rounds. After loading six into the breech, he shouldered the Shockwave with a cold smile.
“They want to play, huh? Game on.”
Lily put a hand on his shoulder. She could feel his nervous excitement, praying it wouldn’t devolve into bloodlust. “I really hope we won’t need that.”
He nodded slowly. “Me too. Better safe than sorry, though.” They fell silent and gazed at each other, her eyes wide and frightened, his determined and somber.
From the living room, a new sound broke their tense disquiet. Glass tinkled musically as something thudded and bounced on the hardwood floor, skittering to a stop in the darkness. Claude tensed, gripping the shotgun tightly. Flinching at the sudden disturbance, Lily clung to her husband as he hefted the weapon.
He put a finger to his lips. She nodded and shadowed his steps as they crept into the hall to investigate.
The flashlight cut through the thick gloom, casting their normally cheery home in a forbidding, sinister atmosphere. Shapes jumped out, coat racks resembling hunched intruders, decorations twisting shadows, familiar furniture hiding unspeakable horrors, even the very contours and angles of the house seemed full of menace.
The wind whistled through the shattered bay window, ghostly curtains billowing with each frigid draft. The hole yawned into the night like an open mouth of jagged transparent fangs.
Claude wordlessly gestured for Lily to sweep the light over the debris, searching the area for signs of the unknown vandal. She spotted a brick lying near the coffee table. Shards glittered around the rectangular missile, mixed in with the snow blowing in through the broken aperture.
A piece of paper was wrapped around the clay object. Lily carefully retrieved it as her bearded husband slowly swiveled the shotgun around.
Crude words were scribbled on the coarse letter, looking as if a child had written the message. All I want for Chrissmas is you.
“No,” She whispered weakly. “It can’t be.”
Claude frowned at the note. “What is it?” He asked quizzically.
“They called me last week to inform me he’d been released. I forgot all about it in the holiday rush…” Lily crumbled the paper and threw it away, shuddering. Her legs felt flimsy, stomach turning inside out at the thought of HIM coming back into her life after all these years.
“We need to get to the garage. I’m not going to play hide and go seek with that psychotic asshole.” Claude’s breath frosted the air as he growled.
He nudged Lily with his shoulder, pointing the weapon at the open window. She let out a shaky sigh and kicked the brick away.
The garage was cramped with various tools and machinery that Claude swore he needed. They were an annoyance but now the instruments were oddly comforting to a harrowed Lily, eyeing heavy wrenches and other blunt objects she could wield.
Claude checked the door and locked it behind him, keys jingling like sleigh bells. As he kept an eye on the entrances, Lily followed his instructions to get the generator up and running. It hummed faintly, coughing out exhaust. House lights flickered and shone to life, lifting the couple’s spirits.
It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid...
Music faded from the living room, blaring from the Bluetooth speaker.
There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear…
Beneath the ominous tune, footsteps creaked down the hallway, growing closer to the garage door.
Claude gazed down the iron sights, aiming towards the handle. The moment it shifted, he was going to give their unwelcome guest both barrels, and Lily knew it was all for her sake, for the years of torment she endured, payment for every scar her body bore.
To their right, a mechanism buzzed quietly. The automatic door rattled, sliding up to reveal the blizzard outside. Claude cursed, swiveling to face the opening.
At first, all Lily could see was the sedan, half-buried in an ivory drift. Then the swirling flakes dispersed momentarily and she was able to witness the landscape for a heartbeat.
Countless snowmen loomed out of the night. An army of broken twigs and contorted features grimaced, lumpy faces howling silently, mourning their very existence. Each wore an article of ill-fitting clothing, bodies spilling out of their outfits as though they were rejecting the fabric.
And the Christmas bells that ring, there are the clanging chimes of doom...
Inside the hallway, behind the wooden entrance, metal clicked. She recognized the noise instantly and knew Claude did too. It was the unmistakable sound of a handgun being cocked.
Shoving Lily to the side, her husband ducked as shots echoed, bullets exploding through the door, splinters flying everywhere.
“RUN!” He roared, replying to the barrage with a booming retort. A huge chunk punched through the entryway. Claude pumped the shotgun and fired again.
Lily raced out into the storm, fleeing from the shootout as panic overtook her mind. He was here. Here in her home, ready to resume those twisted games as if he’d never left, never been arrested and left to rot.
She pushed through the snowmen, legs sinking knee-deep in the cold. Pajamas grew wet, sticking to her calves, freezing skin and numbing flesh. She didn’t feel it. Adrenaline coursed through veins, dulling her senses to anything but the need to put distance behind her and the man of her nightmares.
Faces swam before Lily, haunted countenances crafted from powder and ice. Antlers of human hands jutted from heads, frozen eyeballs pleading, severed feet jammed in mouths, fingers forming smiles, real noses replacing carrots, torsos holding up rounded domes, bloodless arms sticking out from glazed midsections.
She stumbled out into the road, lips blue and barefoot, fuzzy slippers long gone.
Headlights shone through the sleet. Lily raised a hand, pointing towards her house before her body collapsed in the salty slush. She was aware of red and blue flashes, hands gently helping her up, wrapping blankets around her shivering frame.
“Help my h-husband, please…” She mumbled deliriously. The faceless angels asked her questions, calm voices blending into the universe as everything slowly faded into warm oblivion.
When Lily awoke in a hospital bed, the nurses had to restrain her as she thrashed and demanded to see Claude. After they got her settled, a police officer entered and asked if she could tell him everything about that night.
“We couldn’t find any trace of your ex-boyfriend, aside from some fingerprints and the gun he used during the home invasion.” He said regretfully.
“What about Claude? Is he okay? Tell me he’s here, please I need to know.” She sobbed hysterically.
“He… we couldn’t locate him. But we have teams out searching each house in the neighborhood. You were lucky to make it. Most of your neighbors are being identified on the front lawn. Real piece of work, that one.”
After promising to do everything he could to find Claude, the sergeant left her with a business card. She played with it aimlessly, staring off into the distance. A tune began to play in the background, near where an orderly was mopping. The speaker on the cleaning cart crooned faintly.
They call me back door Santa, I make my runs about the break of day…
He began to whistle to the music.
I make all the little girls happy, while the boys are out to play…