Merry Christmas? 1,500 words
|Grandma Mae was strange... and not in a good way. My brother and I called her Creepy Grandma.
She earned the nickname by virtue of the grotesque, overly broad smile that graced her face at nearly all times. She looked like she was straining to make her facial muscles work to their absolute, quivering maximum. All. The. Time.
She never laughed, never cried, never yelled, never frowned. Just smiled. The smile didn’t light up her face, the way some people’s do. Instead, it somehow darkened it. Shadow seemed to lurk in the creases of her face. Her eyes seemed dark and sinister. It made her smile all the creepier.
Our family was hosting Christmas this year, and relatives were beginning to arrive. Mom and Dad were escorting Aunt Meg and Uncle Chris to the guest room, when the doorbell rang to tell of another arrival. I opened the door to see Grandma, disturbing as ever with that sinister grin. As I hugged her in welcome, my spine began to tingle with unnatural dread. What was it about this woman? Would I be like this someday? I sure hoped not!
“What would you like for Christmas, Lisa?” she asked. I didn’t answer. All I could think about was the smile.
Thankfully, my brother bailed me out.
“Hi, Grandma!” he said.
“Hello, Steven,” she said, using Steve’s full name, the way that relatives did. “What would you like for Christmas?”
“I’m hoping for an X-Box,” he said.
“A hex box, you say? Wow! What a wonderful idea. I wasn’t expecting that!” Grandma said, clapping her hands in delight.
Steve and I led Creepy Grandma to my room, where she was to spend the night. I would share with my brother while the relatives were here.
At dinner, Creepy Grandma seemed to make a point to ask each member of the family for gift ideas.
“Chris and Meg, what would you like this Christmas?”
“We want to take a trip this winter. Someplace warm...” Chris said. Meg nodded in agreement. Creepy Grandma absorbed the information, dark eyes staring, unblinking.
“And you, Peter and Lois?” Creepy Grandma looked expectantly at my parents.
“A new jacket would be nice, I suppose,” said Lois. “I honestly can’t think of anything else.”
“I think what I want most is early retirement!” Peter laughed. Everyone joined in with him. Everyone except Grandma.
Grandma didn’t ask me again. I was thankful. Something about her hawklike attention to everyone’s responses told me that I didn’t want to participate in the gift wishing.
On Christmas Eve, the family had planned to attend midnight mass, a family tradition. As we were preparing to leave, Grandma approached my mom.
“Oh, I’m not feeling so well, dear. Why don’t you go on without me? I’ll just get some rest tonight.”
We went without her. During the homily, my mind wandered. I wondered what Grandma was doing at home, shivering with an uncomfortable feeling. I tried to shake the feeling and focus on the carol we were singing, but I couldn’t. The idea of Creepy Grandma’s activities back home disturbed me far more than it should.
On our way home, I dreaded what we might find when we arrived. As we parked the car, got out, and walked toward the front door, a horrible feeling washed over me. Something was wrong here. It felt like listening to an orchestra with one violin playing the wrong note during the entire piece.
I pulled on my dad’s arm.
“Dad, I don’t know if we should go in there. I just really have a bad feeling, and I don’t want to.”
“Don’t be silly, hun. Everything is fine.”
Dad opened the door and flipped on the light. Everything had the veneer of normalcy. Nothing was out of place. The lights on the Christmas tree sparkled. The house smelled of gingerbread and egg nog.
But something was very wrong. I could sense it, but I couldn’t place it. A desperate klaxon went off in my head, but I didn’t know how to tell the others. There was nothing I could point to, nothing to show them.
While everyone else changed and prepared for bed, I slipped out, unnoticed, to the garage. I found my sleeping bag and pad in the camping totes, and laid them out. I was not sleeping in that house tonight.
I slipped into the bag, shivering a bit until the synthetic fabric warmed up from my body heat. For a long while, I lay there, worried and wondering what to do. Eventually, though the exhaustion of worry and stress caught up with me, and I drifted into a nightmare-filled sleep.
I shot up as I awakened. The vague dread from the night before had become a full panic attack. I gulped air, hyperventilating, until I finally closed my eyes and tried to focus on four counts breathing in then four out, just as dad always suggested. It helped, but only a little.
I approached the door to the house and touched the doorknob. A jolt of sheer terror shot through me, and I recoiled in fear. What the hell was going on?
I heard screaming from inside the house. I steeled my frayed nerves and opened the door.
I recognized the voice now. It was my mom. I ran up to my parent’s room and looked in. My dad’s body was on the bed. His skin was missing. All of it. He was just red, raw flesh, his blood, soaking into the sheets.
My eyes slid over to my mom. She was looking at my dad, screaming and sobbing uncontrollably. My mouth opened, and I retched. Dad’s skin was draped over mom’s shoulders like a coat.
I stumbled back from their room, unable to look at the sight any longer. I looked down the hall, and saw flames roll out of the guest room. Chris ran out screaming, flames raging all over his back, a box in his hand.
“I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!” He cried, too concerned about something else to notice the flames disfiguring the skin on his back, melting his clothes into his skin.
Steve ran down the stairs, but I was too stunned to speak or move. I stumbled toward the guest room to see what had happened. I looked in to see two charred bodies, burned beyond recognition, their ember faces frozen in permanent agony.
I felt fresh bile rising in my throat, but somewhere, deep down, I found a well of strength. I tapped it and gained the willpower to move. I needed to help Steve! I flew down the stairs. I knew Grandma must be around here somewhere, but I didn’t know where. I didn’t want to.
I noticed that the front door was open. Steve must have gone that way! As I exited the house, I looked around, hoping to find Steve and put out the fire, but he was nowhere to be seen. I thought briefly about going back in—until I noticed footsteps in the snow leading out from the door. He must have come this way.
I ran along the footsteps until my breathing became ragged. I slowed to a jog. My crazed thoughts did likewise, calming enough for rational thought.
Had Grandma done this? She must have! My intuition told me so. My mind jumped to everyone’s gift ideas. Steve had wanted an X-Box. A hex box, my Grandma had called it. I had seen him with some sort of box! Had he burned my aunt and uncle with it? My aunt and uncle had wanted to go someplace warm, and they had been burned alive! Dad wanted early retirement and was now dead. My mom wanted a coat and had received one—of my father’s skin.
My God! Grandma had given everyone what they asked for... in the most horrifying and twisted way imaginable.
Wait! Had I asked for anything? I hadn’t! Thank God! I had been too creeped out by Grandma’s hideous smile. I turned my mind to the needs at hand. I needed to help Steve first, then mom. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized they were all I had left.
I saw the footprints run into a house, and I followed them in. I looked around. Wasn’t this Grandma’s house?
It didn’t matter. If I didn’t find Steve soon, he would be dead. I ran into the hallway, intending to search the house, but something in the mirror caught my attention. I looked into it and saw my face...
...with a grotesque, overly broad smile. Horrified, I watched a dark form approach me from behind. My Grandma’s face came into view, and she spoke.
“Your gift was my favorite of all. I could hear you thinking about my smile. You were wondering if you would be like me.”
“Just. Like. Me.”
As she enunciated each of those final words, my terror became elation. My face darkened in the mirror.
Impossibly, my obscene smile became wider.