This season, the horror is all too real.
By Lydia Trethewey
It’s happening already. November’s corpse still warm and the decorations are falling thick and fast across the suburbs, eerie plastic Santa’s waving from front lawns and gaudy baubles strung along tree branches.
I shiver with the thought, crouched in the dim house, wrapped in sweat and the smell of petrol. My teeth chatter and the mushrooming white of my breath presses against the window. They’re out there somewhere, looking for me.
Breathe in, breathe out, one two, one two. Feel around in my pocket for the photograph, eyes scanning the empty street. My name is Jeffrey Nelson and I’m not one of them. My name is Jeffrey Nelson and I’ve not yet been turned.
I unfold the photograph and run a finger along the white crease mark, bitten down cuticle and grease on my skin. A young girl’s face looks out at me, her mouth curled into a shy smile, laughing eyes tinged with the light of a question. Vision blurred for a moment, a tear sliding out from my eye. Grit and loose eyelashes rubbed up against the cornea.
There’s movement at the corner of the street. I duck down beneath the window, back pressed against the wall, breathe in breathe out, one two one two.
Each year it’s been getting worse, the insidious yet subtle transformation of ordinary people into vacant cheer-mongers. Distracted by shiny things and the promise of happiness, they let their guards down, leave their scepticism to rest, and slowly the holiday spirit infects their brains. I may be the last hold-out, the lone survivor. I slip the photograph back into my pocket.
Carefully I peek over the window ledge.
A procession is making its way up the drive towards my house, empty smiling faces and candle flame flickering in the wind. Ruddy cheeks whipped by cold and filled with Xmas cheer.
Oh God oh God, breathe one two in breathe out one two. I know what’s about to happen.
They reach the wooden boards nailed across the threshold. There’s a moment’s whispered conference, a pause, as if they’re not sure how to proceed.
A single knock echoes hollowly through the quiet house.
Then it begins.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la laa la la la la
I press two spongey yellow plugs into my ears and the world becomes muffled. I feel as if I’m being submerged in a deep dark ocean. Flashing red and green lights play ghostly reflected patterns across the ceiling.
The singing continues, relentless and relentlessly cheery. I clamp both hands over my ears, rocking backwards and forwards. That’s how they get you. The holiday spirit seeps in through your ears, through your eyes with an overexposure of tinsel and fake plastic holly.
The carol subsides, and I wait, hunched over, back aching, beneath the window.
Are they still there?
I inch up to the window. Huddled bodies press forward beneath the roof. Breath in, breath out. Then I see her, small rounded face shining like the moon between knitted red jumpers and festive angel-wing broaches. Sweet dimpled cheeks and mousy brown hair combed into a neat fringe. Her eyes no longer alive with curiosity, but deadened with the weight of materialist tradition.
My Molly, my darling girl. What have they done to you?
The carollers turn away, breaking off like a glittery red and green snowdrift, wandering back down the path towards the road. Molly stands looking for a moment longer, tears glittering in her eyes like crystal, staring at the boarded up door. I want to go to her, to reach out and pull her into a big bear hug. But it’s too late, her mother is grabbing her hand and squeezing it, pulling her away, and she’s lost into the Xmas night.
I sit alone in the soundless room, the foam in my ears beginning to itch. Take the photograph out of my pocket, clench it in shaking white-knuckled hands and let the tears roll endlessly down my chin. Gone, all gone. I reach for the thick permanent marker resting on the grimy carpet, uncap the lid. That little moon face, eyes lit up and excited, shy dimples and close-lipped smile. I squeeze my eyes tight and cross out the face with a big black ‘X’. The photograph flutters to the floor.
As the threat of the carollers recedes into the night, the smell of solvent grows, petrol leaking through the room. Fumes waver in my eyes, soggy night, thoughts sluggish.
I flick open my lighter, watch the dancing flame embrace the heady fumes. Breath in, breath out. My hand quivers.
The dampened sound of carol singing drifts from next door.
Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la laa la la la la.