The word wreath is defined in the dictionary as “a circular band of flowers, foliage or any ornamental work.” The origin of the word dates before the year 1,000. In Old English, wreath began as writha, which means something wound or coiled; akin to writhe. Further examination will show that writhe is a verb which means “to twist the body about, or squirm, as in pain or violent effort.” I knew at this point of the story that the latter part of that definition was the most accurate of all. I was not writhing in physical pain, yet I was sure that it would eventually come to me smiling in the dark.
The twisting I had experienced was in my brain and it was all because of that cursed wreath on my front door. No matter how many times I took the cheerful greenery down, it came back again. Each day it was more stubborn than the last. Yet today when the wreath appeared at dawn, as it had for the seven days before, it was not the same. It was obviously different for a reason. When I saw it at first, I froze in place. I knew that the wreath was a sign or a twisted message from somewhere dark and dreadful. A place I would rather not be. Yet now it was on my front door, staring at me with a sneer, emitting a low rumbling laugh that started from somewhere bottomless and belched itself to the surface.
After all I had been through up to this eighth day, it would be hard to believe something as simple as a holiday wreath on my front door would cause such horror. I will start at the beginning of how I ended up cowering in the basement of my home; how I boarded up the house with plywood and screws and how I knew the boards would only grant me a brief pause. Whatever was coming for me was mocking my efforts before destroying all in its path. No matter how far or fast I could run, it would gobble me up in seconds. The thought of what hideous thing was marking my front door with this terrible wreath, caused my heart to nearly rip from the confines of my chest. The horror of confronting the demon was insalubrious and curdled my thoughts as the minutes passed.
For seven days the wreath was green. This morning when I gingerly opened the front door on this eighth day. I was aghast at what the monster had affixed to it. The circular band on my door was black! There was no green, there was no red bow, only a black band of some densely dead foliage I could not discern. I realized that if the green band symbolized eternal life, then this horrid black wreath meant only imminent death. Then the writhing came to mind with sparkling clarity.
I hid in the corner of the dark basement waiting for what the wreath had foretold. I knew it was marking me for this terror, but as I tell my story, maybe you will agree that the entity behind it all has good reason. Does it worry you to be shuddering in the blackness with me? Will its hunger be sated by only me or will it want you as well? Please proceed!
It was seven days before Christmas and the houses on Walnut Street were brimming with excitement for the approaching holiday. That’s of course where my house is. Most of my neighbors had their decorations up for weeks, or even longer, with lawns, houses, sheds, porches, and even doghouses covered with lights, bows, and a variety of dollar store gaudiness. Some spent entire weekends setting it up, as if it was the highlight of their year, then took dozens of pictures and video with their cell phones to display on various social media platforms. It was a desperate race of “my holiday spirit is better than yours”. There were always a few of the customary family Christmas cards with pictures of the whole cheerful crew in awful holiday sweaters, hats, and mittens, standing in front of their prized decorated battlefield. Their war had begun with each other to win the coveted prize of a year of shit talking at the water cooler.
There was even one large red brick home on the corner, where a married couple that were college computer programming professors at the university had their lights synchronized to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and a live video feed. This always resulted at a mess of double-parked cars filled with screaming children, listening to the song and watching the lights in person rather than view them on the internet. Sometimes even the media would come to film the house for filler holiday-themed news stories. To say it made me sick was an understatement. I had my reason to despise the holidays and because of this, December 26th couldn’t come to Walnut Street fast enough.
My neighbor, Dave Casey, was a retired maintenance worker from a local factory. He was always the first guy out of the house on Saturday to cut his grass, usually a bit early for my liking. He had a nice John Deere riding mower and kept meticulous care of it. At 8am every Saturday he could be heard firing up the Deere to begin his ritual. Being retired, Dave could cut the grass at any time of any day of the week, but old habits die a miserable death. Dave just liked to cut the grass at 8am on Saturday because that’s what he always did.
Now it was winter, and we’d already had two good snowfalls. Just like with his lawn in the summer, Dave was adamant about making sure his driveway and sidewalks were shoveled better than anyone else’s. My hectic work schedule made it difficult to keep up my part of the sidewalk. Dave would cast a look upon his usual stern face, a look that told me I was nothing but a waste of space for not shoveling my sidewalk. Dave also liked to set up his Christmas lights and decorations before anyone else, but thankfully took them down at 8am on the day after Christmas.
“I see you don’t have a wreath again this year, Randy,” said Dave, brushing snow off the manger scene in his front yard with a corn cob broom. I could see his breath in the frigid morning air. I was leaving for work. Dave was still retired and at it with the signs of first light.
“Yeah, I’ve been really busy. I haven’t had the chance to get to Barker’s yet,” I replied while my car warmed up.
Dave squinted a bit, as he was facing the sun to look toward me. “You should buy one from Mikey Leach. You know who I’m talking about, right?” He was brushing off his driveway now after the dusting we got at midnight.
“I’d rather not get one from him. He gives me the creeps.”
“Nothing wrong with Mikey. He’s had a hard life. He sells those wreaths to help pay his propane bill to heat that old farmhouse he’s got. Leaks like a damn sieve.” Dave stopped sweeping and was standing near the short fence that separated our property line. His breath was still visible, his eyes glistened, tearing up from looking into the sun. I wished he would just turn around and go back to what he was doing, but he was persistent.
“Well, when I moved in here last summer, Rick down the street told me that Mikey stole the wreath he bought. Rick said it happened twice,” I told him. I looked at my phone to check the time since I had an early appointment that day.
“That’s bullshit. Mikey wouldn’t steal from anyone. He’s just hard on his luck. He makes the best wreaths in town. You should get one. Christmas is in 8 days.” Dave held his glance for a few minutes, and I opened my car door.
“I need to go, Dave. Thanks. Maybe I will buy one.” I got into my car and muttered under my breath as the door shut behind me. He waved to me as I backed out of my driveway and onto Walnut Street. He smiled, but underneath it I know he was pissed that I didn’t have a Christmas wreath on my front door. Just as pissed as I was in the spring and summer every Saturday at 8am when he fired up the Deere.
The following day I was leaving my office, walking to my car that I had parked in a small private lot where I rent out a few spaces. It was a blustery day and overcast, the weather forecast was calling for a mix of snow and freezing rain, so I was hoping to get on the road and home soon. As I approached my car, someone stepped out from behind a large commercial garbage dumpster and startled me.
“Wanna buy a reef?” he said through missing and crooked teeth. I knew who it was before I was able to see his hideous face. His rancid breath wafted up at me, as he stood at least a full head shorter than me, hunched over and disheveled. It was Mikey Leach, the wreath guy.
“I need you to move out of my way, please. I’m not interested,” I said as he moved between me and my car door. He pulled a shopping cart behind him, rusted with bent metal bars, filled with his Christmas wreaths. Each one tied with a nice red bow. Given his history of stealing them later made me resist his offer.
“Wanna buy a reef? Dave told me you wanted to buy one, mister!” Mikey said emphatically, standing his ground as I tried to go around him to get to my car.
“No, I don’t want one. Now get the fuck out of my way!” I yelled out in the vacant lot. My car was the only one still there. It was as if the world stood still for a moment; the silence engulfed me. I couldn’t believe Dave said something to him!
I could feel the anger build up inside me as Mikey stood his ground, one hand firmly on the shopping cart full of his wares. The other hand appeared to be clenched in a fist. I couldn’t be sure if he was going to strike me or not, and the fact I was upset at him getting that close to me in this deserted parking lot when I wanted to get home, made me lash out. I shoved him hard with my left hand, his small, bony body staggered back a few steps. His gnarled face contorted as if he wanted to cry out, but couldn’t, his scream muffled by some invisible hand over his mouth.
The anger didn’t subside, yet instead blossomed like a rose as I raised my right hand to deliver a powerful blow to his face with my clenched fist. A large cracking sound rang out, echoing across the barren parking lot, the wind leaving his body suddenly. Mikey reached for my car to steady himself as I hit him again, this time on the back of the head with my fist. With a groan he fell backwards to the cold asphalt.
“Oh my god!” I cried out. A dull crunch sounded.
The back of Mikey’s head hit the pavement hard and bounced up a few inches before coming to rest. He made no sound at this point, his body seemed like he was asleep. I stood frozen at his feet, not knowing if he was alive or dead. The fact that he didn’t move made me think the worst. I was afraid to touch him and began to panic. Had I killed him? Would the police think it was self defense since his hand was balled up in a fist ready to strike me? I really didn’t know.
The only thing I could think to do was to get in my car and leave. I doubted that anyone had video cameras in this small parking lot. I put the car in reverse, backed out of my parking spot and slowly drove away, not looking back at the body of Mikey Leach. I knew he was dead but made pretend he was just lying there completely fine.
It was six days before Christmas and as I was getting coffee going that morning. I didn’t sleep well at all after what happened the day before. I wanted to believe that Mikey was alive and well, selling his wreaths and stealing them back, only to sell them again. I wanted to check the local news to see if there would be a mention of his status.
Looking out my kitchen window, I saw we had gotten a little more snow during the night. I was sure that Dave was probably outside, tending to the manger. Probably sweeping out the driveway and sidewalk. I saw a picture on my refrigerator of my two daughters, Janice and Julia, from a vacation we took together to Florida two years ago. We were somewhere in Tampa on spring break from school. They were in 4thand 6th grade that year. It was only three months after my divorce with their mother. It was a bad break, and Marla took half of everything. She of course also got the girls, my boat, the vacation cabin in the Wisconsin Dells, and the dog, Charlie. Thankfully, my financial planning business was doing very well, and I was able to downgrade to a smaller house, but still in a decent neighborhood. I couldn’t stay in the Winchester Heights subdivision like she could, with her paycheck as administrator of the largest county nursing home, my alimony payments, child support, and the inheritance she got last year after her father died from his long battle with lupus. It didn’t hurt that she was engaged to a guy whose father owned three Toyota dealerships in the Chicagoland area.
Despite my situation, I had to admit that Marla got what she deserved from it all. I had been cheating on her for more than ten years with a series of girlfriends that I kept on ice until I was able to justify getting away for a night here, a weekend there. I wasn’t very good at keeping things from Marla since she trusted me more than she should have and never checked up on my claims of working late or taking care of a demanding client. She filed for divorce after she had been reading my text messages to Amanda, a woman ten years younger than me who lived in a small apartment downtown. We met at a bar one night and had been seeing each other for six months or so before Marla caught on. It all came crashing down when I came home one day and the locks on the door were changed and my belongings stuffed into a 6 x 9 storage unit that I was already paying for. I stayed at a hotel until I could assess the depth of her anger with me. I knew she wasn’t playing games and admittedly, I knew she was right, and I was wrong.
As much as I was relieved to be away from Marla and all that nagging she did, even before my extracurricular activities began, being apart from the girls was difficult. Marla had them both convinced I was a terrible person, and maybe she was right after what I did, but I didn’t like only seeing them every other weekend. I feared that as they got older they would start to resent me for what happened, especially if they had bad relationships. I would be an easy scapegoat in a variety of situations that could come up. For now, I was making the most of it and trying to be as involved with them as possible.
My thoughts went back to Mikey in the parking lot, wondering what happened and if he was alive or dead. I saw no mention of it on the local news, and after I drank two cups of strong black coffee, I put on my coat and made my way to the garage.
“I see you got smart and bought one from Mikey this year!” Dave said, standing in his driveway, brushing the snow off his John Deere after using it on the driveway. He was smiling and using his left hand to blot out the bright morning sun.
I turned around as my garage door was closing, my car warming up in the driveway. He was right! There was a large Christmas wreath on my front door! I didn’t buy one from Mikey and had no idea how it ended up there. The last I saw of his wreaths were in the shopping cart he dragged around.
Without hesitation I walked to my front door, opened the storm door and pulled the wreath from my door in anger. Evergreen needles went in every direction. I was sure Dave or one of the other neighbors was messing with me about it but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. I tossed it into one of the garbage cans outside and made my way to my car. I didn’t make eye contact with Dave as I opened my car door and sat down inside. Taking a deep breath, I put the car in reverse, not looking in Dave’s direction, and pulled onto Walnut Street to go to work. In the back of my mind I wondered if it was possible that Dave knew what happened during my encounter with Mikey the day before.
It was five days until Christmas. It was a Thursday and things were starting to come unraveled inside my head. I had several horrible nightmares of Mikey lying on the cold concrete parking lot, still and very dead. In my dreams he would slowly get up and chase me around the parking lot. Saying over and over again, “wanna buy a reef?” He was saying it so loud that it actually hurt my ears in the last dream I had before giving up on sleep. I did some work around the house in the early hours of that Thursday hoping I would find some distraction for my brain. It kept going back to the moment I punched Mikey and how he fell backward, his head striking the concrete below. It made a sickening sound. I heard it over and over again.
I wished I was going to have the girls this weekend but it was Marla’s turn. I wouldn’t be seeing them until the week after Christmas. She was taking them to Austin, Texas to visit some family during their winter break from school. Having the girls around would help keep my mind off the incident with Mikey and that damn wreath that showed up on my front door.
I opened my garage door and drove my car outside to let it warm up while I set the garbage can out to the curb. It was a week where they would be picking up the recycling too. That was another thing that Dave was always on top of, what week was a recycling pick up and it always seemed I had my weeks confused, forcing him to let me know I was wrong. As I wheeled the cans out to the curb, I heard that familiar voice coming from the other side of the fence. He must have been waiting for me to come outside.
“Hey, Randy. Looks like it might warm up today some. I see you bought another one from Mikey,” Dave said, smiling. It was one of the rare occasions I saw him smile, as his face was typically frozen in a “resting bitch face”.
My heartbeat quickened at the reference to Mikey. A lump settled in my throat as I turned around. Just as Dave said, adorned on my front door was another one of the wreaths that Mikey sold! How was that possible? I looked in the garbage can I just pulled to the curb, to see if whoever was messing with me just took the one I threw away and put it on my front door. But, the one from yesterday was in the garbage, some of the branches broken, and the bow partially untied. Just as I had left it in the garbage. Was it possible that Dave or some of the other guys on the block were messing with me and bought another wreath for my door?
“I don’t know what the hell is going on here, Dave, but stop it!” I said to him as I walked by, snarling between clenched teeth. Dave only smiled back.
“Looks good, Randy. Really, it does.”
I opened my storm door and pulled on the wreath. It was stuck on the door, more than it was the day before. It was only held on by a small nail yesterday, but today it was stuck. I had to pull hard on it from both sides to get the damn thing off my door this time.
“What the fuck?” I cried out. I sent evergreen needles flying as I carried the wreath out to the garbage can on the curb, opened the lid, and slammed it inside.
Dave continued to smile. He was definitely involved in this and was clearly enjoying watching me get upset. He would have his grandchildren around for Christmas like always. Now that would add to the sting, seeing his children and grandchildren playing in the snow outside, while I sat alone wishing my girls were here with me and not in Austin this year.
I rolled down my window as I backed out of the driveway.
“I strongly suggest you cut your shit, Dave. Stop with this now.”
“Cheer up for Christ’s sake, Randy. It’s Christmastime. Be merry!”
It was four days until Christmas and another night that I couldn’t sleep more than ten-minute short naps between tossing and turning to get myself comfortable. Just when I did feel like I might be able to sleep, a noise would get me to climb from my warm bed to see if it was Mikey coming to pay me a visit. Or possibly Dave, or one of the neighborhood jokesters, having fun at my expense, putting another wreath on my front door. Yet every time I checked, there was no wreath on the door. Maybe Dave had given up? Maybe he felt that he got the laugh he wanted and would back down?
I also wondered why I hadn’t heard anything about Mikey Leach. I was checking the newspaper to see if there was a mention of a body being found in the parking lot. There was nothing about it. I watched both local news channels to see if they would talk about it, and I even subjected myself to the boring AM radio station that announced school cancellations in the morning and various other community-related affairs. Nothing! I wondered if maybe it was true that Mikey was OK and that he got up eventually. Yet over and over in my head I could see the way his head hit that parking lot and how it bounced up for a quick moment before hitting it again. I knew the little creepy old man that sold the wreaths was dead. I just couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t announced it. From what my neighbors had always said about Mikey, the whole town knew of him and many purchased his wreaths every year. You could see them around town from Thanksgiving until New Year’s typically.
After making some coffee I checked the front door again. As I opened the door from the inside, immediately I could smell the strong scent of evergreen and immediately I felt sick to my stomach. After getting out of bed on the half hour to check and be sure no one was messing with me, how was it possible that the wreath could end up there again? Yet, just as I feared, there was another one of Mikey’s wreaths on the front door. The big red bow gave it away. It was definitely one of his. There’s no way it could have been either of the two I tore down, especially yesterday since I had to rip it into pieces just to get it off.
“You son-of-a-bitch! Are you out there, Dave?” I cried out, looking around my yard for signs of my obnoxious neighbor.
We had gotten a dusting of snow overnight and I didn’t see any footprints along my driveway, sidewalk, or porch, which would have been a clear sign that someone had come up during the night to place the wreath upon my door. How could they have done it without leaving footprints? Unless it was being done from inside the house. As poor as I was sleeping, I knew there was no way that someone could have broken into the house and put that wreath there without waking me up. It wasn’t possible. Yet, affixed to my door was the perfect circle of evergreen boughs that made the Christmas wreath.
I grabbed a hammer from my kitchen counter, where I had set it the day before while doing work around the house. I stood there in the doorway, hacking at the wreath, knowing that the only way to get the infernal thing off was to rip at it with the claw side. Just as I figured, the wreath was more stubborn to get off than the day before. Sweat poured from my face as I pried and pulled at the wreath, the eternal circle upon my front door. I looked for a brief moment outside and saw Dave out of the corner of my eye, sweeping his damn driveway clear of the dusting we got. I couldn’t see if he was smiling or not, but I knew he was. He was probably laughing out loud at this point, knowing he’s got to me. He probably thinks it’s a real riot that I’m gouging my own front door, the one that cost me $800 to replace when I moved in.
After nearly 20 minutes, the wreath was a pile of evergreen needles and branches. The red bow was there, untied and adding color to the mess. I quickly swept it up and threw it into the garbage can in my kitchen before I got dressed and left the house for work. It was Friday and I wondered what it was going to be like being home all weekend with this horrible business going on.
As I backed down the driveway I didn’t even glance over toward Dave’s house. I wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction.
It was three days until Christmas. I did what little sleeping I was able to get on the couch in my living room. If Dave or one of the neighbors was putting the wreaths on my front door, I was planning to catch them in the act. At this point, I don’t know what I was planning to do if I did catch one of them. My nerves were frayed to the point of snapping in half. The fact I had such little sleep the past few nights was taking its toll in more ways than one. I missed the girls calling me last night since I was nodding off as soon as I got home from work. As tired as I was, getting a full 8 hours of sleep sounded heavenly right now.
I had a .38 revolver shoved under one of my couch cushions just in case. I didn’t plan on ever using it for home protection, but that is what the original intent was. Whether I could pull the trigger on another living creature was an unknown. I’d like to think I could if I really had to do it, but I wasn’t sure. Right now, my mind was so filled with confusion and contradiction that I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t just put the gun to my own head and pull the trigger.
Having checked the front door every hour since I got home from work yesterday, I was confident no one had put a wreath on it. I don’t know how they could have. I was going from window to window in my house, looking out to see even the slightest sign of someone coming over to put a wreath on my door. I saw no one. Even a neighborhood cat, who sometimes comes into my back yard to try and catch birds that eat from my feeder, stayed away. I stood vigilant to make sure no one came on my property, so I was sure that no wreath would show itself when the sun came up on this Saturday morning. If it were spring or summer, I’m sure Dave would have been getting the Deere ready about now at 7:15 am.
I stood at my front door from inside the house. My hand was shaking slightly as I tried my best to steady it on the doorknob. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate to keep my hand still, my frayed nerves were winning, and my fingers and hands were jittery as soon as they touched the brass knob. I kept telling myself that there was no way possible there was a wreath on the door this morning. The sunrise would not shine its light upon a circle of evergreen with a bright red bow on this day. It wasn’t possible.
In one sudden movement I pulled at the doorknob and felt a rush of cold air across my face as the door opened inward. As soon as it brushed past my face, even without looking I knew the answer. I knew that familiar smell of pine without having to spend a second to guess at what it could possibly be. As my head moved to the right so my eyes could gaze upon it, I saw a figure standing outside near the fence of my property. It was Dave. He was standing there, with both gloved hands on the fence in a casual pose, his heavy winter coat bundled up tightly to his neck, and a John Deere baseball cap perched on his head that was tilted slightly to one side. He was smiling ear to ear, the most I’d ever seen him smile since moving in two years ago.
Once again, there was a wreath upon my door. It was just like the other ones that were placed there. I reached for it with my bare hands and jumped back when the needles of the evergreen jabbed into my skin like tiny spears, drawing blood instantly. It was as if the wreath was alive and biting at my hand. I quickly slammed the door and engaged the deadbolt, as if I was protecting myself from the cursed wreath that somehow appeared back on my front door. Small droplets of bright red blood trailed behind me on the ceramic tile floor of the hallway and foyer.
I began to frantically look out my living room windows to see if I could see anyone outside. Dave was not where he had been standing. There was no movement outside at all. The last thing I remember was going into my kitchen junk drawer for a book of matches I kept.
It was two days until Christmas. I was able to put the fire out before the whole house went up. I’m sure Dave was watching it all play out from his side of the fence like always. He had to have seen the smoke billowing out from around the storm door as I lit the front door on fire. I had enough. I set it ablaze to be rid of that damn Christmas wreath for good. If pulling it down from the door and throwing it in the garbage wasn’t enough, then I’d be sure to cleanse myself of the curse and burn it to ash.
The door smoldered through the night, but the fire appeared to be out now. The sun would be up in about ten minutes, and I wanted revel in the fact that I beat them. I burned the door that was now off and set on the back porch for the time being. I would put it out with the trash after Christmas. It was Sunday and there wasn’t much more I could do about the door or what little was left of the wreath I set on fire with it. The house was freezing cold, despite the fact I turned up the heat as high as it would go. I was able to put up two heavy comforters in the opening with a screw gun to help keep the frigid December air out. It helped, but I could still see my breath as I exhaled, shivering in the kitchen with the oven on to help warm things up.
At 7:15 am I walked down my hallway, bundled up and shivering in the cold morning air. I knew that the blankets were the only thing covering the opening, but I had been fooled by the wreath before. I had to see it for myself as the sun came up. I grabbed hold of the blankets from the right corner and paused for a moment, taking a deep breath before I yanked them down as hard as I could muster. The shock that washed across my face tingled like a thousand pin pricks across my skin. Behind the blanket was another wood front door, just like the one that I burned and discarded only hours before!
My head was spinning in disbelief at the door that was there now as if nothing had happened to it. How was this possible? Who was behind the madness? I began to realize that it couldn’t be Dave doing this to me. How could the retired maintenance worker replace a front door in total silence in the early morning hours? How would he be able to sneak on the porch and replace the wreath every morning and not be detected? It made no sense at all!
My hand shook uncontrollably on the door handle, knowing that I had to see what was on the other side of the new door that somehow had been replaced. To my horror, centered on the door above the knob was a Christmas wreath. One of the same that Mikey Leach sold with the bright red bow.
It was the day before Christmas. We were hit with a blizzard that dumped nearly ten inches of snow, forming a solid white blanket as far as I could see out of my windows. I decided to not bother going into the office due to the roads, but also because people aren’t usually too interested in financial planning around Christmas. Usually they’re doing their best to destroy any financial planning by spending more than they have and piling up the credit card debt. For me, that’s job security. Dave was outside on the Deere plowing the driveway at 8am like always. I could hear the muffled sounds.
I gave up on the front door. I decided to abandon the first floor and move myself down to the basement. The single-story house of mine offered no other place to hide and so the basement would be my hill to defend to the bitter end. I knew that it would be a bitter, brutal end with the way things had been going. I had about two days’ worth of batteries in the house, so I was able to bring a radio with me and unless the power went down with the storm, I could keep my phone charged and stay in contact with the outside world. I had a couple gallon jugs of water and some canned goods just in case, but I didn’t expect to live long enough to need much.
Who would care of my plight? Who would understand and not think I was insane, rambling on about a door that replaces itself and a wreath that shows up every morning at dawn, firmly planted on said door? I managed to bring an old spiral notebook I found in my bedroom closet and a couple pens down to the basement, so I could write what you are reading right now. This way, after my inevitable horrible end, maybe someone will understand what happened and be able to learn from it. I’m not sure what, but it makes me feel a little better to write it down, though reading it back makes me sound more insane as the days tick by.
As the sun goes down on Christmas Eve, I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Tomorrow will mark eight days since the wreath first appeared on my front door and this madness began. Part of me wants to just curl up in a ball and wish that none of this happened, hoping that whatever evil was at play would go away and let me live the rest of my life. But, what sort of a life would it be having to wonder if it would come get me when I was least expecting it? Sleeping with one eye open didn’t sound like a good way to exist.
Another part of me was interested to see what the front door would look like as the sun came up on Christmas morning. For some reason I figured that would be the day of reckoning for whatever dark forces were at play. I didn’t know if I would have the fortitude to venture out from the basement, having put the couch, loveseat, and kitchen table and chairs in place to barricade the door. I used plywood and some screws to cover the windows and the sliding glass door off the kitchen. Thankfully I had a lot of it from a school play that Julia was involved in. I had volunteered to help make the sets. I had enough to cover all of the doors and windows and I felt as secure as I could. Yet I wondered if curiosity would get the best of me and I would still go outside to see what the front door looked like in the morning. Something in the back of my mind also wondered if I would be dead by dawn.
It was finally Christmas morning. If you’ve been reading this from the beginning of my story, you already know what happened to the wreath on my front door. Yes, curiosity won out and I did manage to gather the courage to climb the stairs from the basement and move quietly behind the bushes that surround the house to see what the front door looked like as the sun came up. Thankfully, Dave was nowhere to be seen. There were three cars in his driveway with Ohio plates, so it must be a good time at his house today with the grandchildren opening presents. I did think of my girls doing the same thing in Austin – enjoying their Christmas morning without me. Despite all the joy in the world, I was living a nightmare and crawling on my hands and knees behind my bushes to stay alive long enough and see what the evil did to my front door on the eighth day of my ordeal.
After several minutes I reached the front of my house, close to my porch. I could see the storm door, but the sun coming up was reflecting in the glass and the glare made it difficult to see past it. I knew I had to move away from behind the bushes to see the front door for myself. I was worried that whatever evil was doing this to me was watching and waiting anxiously for a chance to attack. Maybe it would tear the jugular vein from my neck and laugh as I bled out? Maybe it would eat me piece by bloody piece, relishing the agony and terror it was causing? Maybe it just enjoyed watching me slip into the depths of madness? I didn’t know and that’s what scared me the most.
In a burst of bravado, I stood up and quickly moved to my front porch. I didn’t look over to see if Dave was outside and watching me. I didn’t care about him at this point. I knew whatever was behind all this was far worse than my annoying neighbor with nothing better to do.
I opened the storm door within moments and felt my knees get weak when I saw that horrible black wreath on my door. You already knew that it would be there, but at this point of my story, I did not. I was expecting another circle of evergreen with a bright red bow. Not the grotesque black wreath of dread that was firmly planted to my door. I dared not touch it, especially after the last one cut me. I feared this horrible thing would swallow me up if I thought about putting a hand on it. I just shut the storm door and thought I might fall down as my head began to swim with a series of random thoughts, causing me to nearly fall down my front steps.
Suddenly I heard a noise coming from behind the house. I couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but it sounded inhuman. It was a deep and menacing growl that made the ground shake slightly. I knew that it was coming for me. I began to panic and ran before I could think about it another moment. Instinctively, I ran for the basement stairs. I left the plywood off the window I was able to crawl out of. I left it off enough to squeeze in, and that I did with incredible speed. It’s amazing what you can do when your “fight or flight” instinct kicks in!
With a thud I fell to the kitchen floor. I quickly grabbed my screw gun and put two screws into the bottom of the plywood to secure it back into the opening. I could hear the growl again coming from outside, but I couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from. It almost seemed to be emanating from every direction! It was horrible. I heard a scraping sound in rhythm but wasn’t sure what it was. I knew whatever the noises were, they were inhuman and ready to destroy me. I was paying for my misdeeds, namely killing poor Mikey Leach eight days ago in the parking lot. I was sure of it. Then I heard something that sent chills across my body, leaving a sea of goosebumps in the wake.
“Wanna buy a reef? Wanna buy a reef, mister?” I heard that voice again. It was him! I knew it was him coming to avenge his death!
I stood frozen for a moment, but then that’s when the pounding started on the side of the house. First it was in the back, then the front, then it was coming from all four sides at once! The pounding was deafening!
“Wanna buy a reef, mister?” the voice said once again. It was hoarser than when I heard it that day in the parking lot. It sounded like the voice of the undead. It was the undead coming to get his pound of flesh. My flesh.
I made for the basement stairs and shut the door behind me, bounding down the steps two and three at a time. I ran to the corner where I had been hiding and knew my time was short. All I could do was wait and write in the notebook what happened to this point, so someone could find it later after I was gone. I knew the evil was coming for me and wouldn’t leave until I was ripped to pieces. The infernal pounding went on for hours it seemed, but time was no longer a concept I could fathom. Then I heard a slithering noise that started out quiet but then got louder and louder. It sounded like it was coming from the stairs, but I couldn’t see in the darkness as the batteries started to go out in my flashlight. Then I felt something cold grab my leg, then my left arm, and then something started to wrap around my neck. I began to scream but no sound would come out. Suddenly I was being pulled in multiple directions and in a haze of madness everything suddenly went black.
One Year Later
If you’re reading this, then my job is done. I was hoping that someone would find it after I was gone. My name is Zev Brooks, and I was the police officer first to respond to the incident on Walnut Street last year on Christmas day. We got a call from a concerned neighbor who said there was something going on at the house next door and asked if we could send someone to check it out. I was a rookie and got stuck working Christmas day along with a few other guys. I was driving my squad car near the scene and responded to dispatch to let them know I would go have a look.
What I saw when I arrived was not what I expected. Usually those calls lead to nothing much. Maybe a teenage vandal breaking into a house when a family is on vacation. Or possibly a family of raccoons in the garage. But that’s not what I saw. The neighbor who made the call came over and explained he had been seeing the owner of the home acting very strange for about a week and that he was doing all sorts of crazy things like lighting his front door on fire and boarding up the windows. Then he claimed to have seen him running around the house early in the morning. He said it was scaring his grandchildren who were watching from inside the house after opening gifts. I thanked him but told him to go back in the house for his safety.
I went to the front door and it was unlocked. There was a strange looking black wreath on the door. I thought it was odd, but I’ve seen a lot stranger during my year in the police department. As I opened the door there was a bundle of black branches going through the door and across the floor that I had to step over. I’d never seen anything like it. I called out for the owner; his name was Randy. I got no reply. I followed the branches as they made their way down the hallway and to the basement stairs.
The door of the basement was torn in half, as the maze of branches made their way through it and down the stairs. I called out once again for Randy and got no response. As I made my way gingerly down the stairs, careful not to trip over the branches that nearly covered them, I took out my flashlight in the dark basement. What I saw still gives me nightmares today.
In the middle of the floor was a body in a spread-eagle position. It appeared to be a male, which I assumed was Randy. The black branches had him by the wrists, and by each ankle, pulling him tightly to where he was barely touching the floor. His face was contorted into a scream and his eyes were wide open and upon close inspection were also penetrated by the branches. There was a dark pool of blood coming from beneath the body, which appeared to be fresh, as if the horrible event had just occurred. I had never seen anything like it in my life. Not even in a movie.
I found a spiral notebook on a table next to the body and began to look at it. It appeared to be a journal of the days that led up to Christmas. I put the notebook in the pocket of my coat before anyone else showed up. I’m not sure why I did it, but I did. The end of the journal trailed off as Randy was overtaken by whatever came to get him that day. I had to write in the last few lines the best I could surmise by what I saw.
Suddenly a noise came from the body. It was inhuman and faint, but I shined my light at it and saw Randy’s face was moving slightly! He was still alive on the floor, being pulled apart by the branches.
“Burn the house down. Please. Burn it down. Stop this from happening again,” he said at barely above a whisper, yet determined.
Conveniently there was a can of gas and a large grill lighter next to it. There was also a .38 revolver on the floor. I don’t know why I did what Randy asked me to, but after seeing it, I couldn’t bear to let this happen to someone else. So, I splashed gas all over the basement and up the stairs, but not until after I shot him in the head with his .38 to end the suffering. Standing at the front door, I lit the trail of gas and let the house burn for a few minutes before calling the fire department.
After reading the journal, I realized the full extent of the story. I understood what madness had come to visit Randy that day and how I was now thrust into the plot. I didn’t think much of lighting the house on fire or putting a bullet into his head. After seeing what that awful black wreath did to him, I would do it again if I had to.
I did my best to not think about Randy and what I saw that Christmas day on Walnut Street. I had horrible dreams for months. It wasn’t until eight days ago that the whole dreaded day came back to me in garish fashion when I woke up to find a wreath upon my own door. Just like Randy, I tore it down and threw it away. I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it was not something I would have purchased. Yet, the following day another was in its place. This went on for eight days just like the journal said, culminating with a black wreath on Christmas morning.
I wondered if the significance of the eight days of the wreath was related to the eight days of Passover. That’s a Jewish holiday I know more about and I thought maybe in some sick way, a contrast to the lamb’s blood found above the doors of the faithful, marking their homes to be passed over. Instead, was the black wreath on Christmas morning a mark of impending doom? I believe it was related to that, but I could not be sure. In some ways it seems far-fetched, but so did the rest of the madness I had endured to this point.
I typed out the journal from Randy so that it would be easier to read for years to come and added this last installment so someone would understand. I think I made whatever evil came to Walnut Street last Christmas now choose to visit me. I believe that lighting the house on fire angered it in some way, though I was not able to destroy the dark forces like Randy hoped I would.
I will sign off for now. I’m leaving my tablet with this file open on the side table next to my bed. I’ll be hanging from the bed post and dead by the time someone finds this. I just hope that I can get it done before those horrible black branches come looking for me.
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