My eyes shot open, reflexively tightened up and looked towards the door. Its 12:01 am Christmas morning and at any moment the door to the bedroom will burst open and my two beautiful children will run in giggling with presents already in hand. Seconds passed and nothing happened. It took a full minute before I remembered no one would be coming through the door this year. The kid’s accident was only a couple of months ago. I wake up most mornings and for the briefest moment every day, I forget they are gone. I find myself lying in bed, listening for their laughter or cries for breakfast to fill the house, before the pain of losing them hits me as fresh as the day it happened.
It was a car accident that took them away. I was supposed to pick them up after school, but work ran late. I called my daughter Samantha who was thirteen, three years older than her brother Ryan was, and told her, they would have to walk home. It was only a couple of blocks and they have done it plenty of times before, it was not a big deal. Except that day it would be.
She was only a kid, around the age of twenty-five, and did not see them crossing the street. She was probably texting, eating, or doing one of the hundred other things people do while driving other than paying attention. It did not matter what she was doing, she hit both of them and they did not make it. Ryan died right there on the road while the ambulance tried to bring Samantha to the hospital in time to save her life. They were not fast enough and in the span of twenty minutes, my life was destroyed.
Janet, my wife at the time, blamed me. Of course she did. It would not have happened if I had just picked them up as I was supposed to. She made it through the funeral and burials before leaving, and thinking back on it I could not blame her. I can’t stand the sight of myself either, that’s why all the mirrors in the house are shattered, and why the gun I bought last week was already loaded and waiting in the night-stand by the empty bed.
All of these thoughts rushed through my head as I dragged myself out of bed and put my head in my hands. It is the first Christmas I have had to spend alone. The house dark and empty. Last year at this time the kids were awake and already opening the one special present they picked out to start Christmas with. The tree would be lit, casting a festive glow in the living room. The smell of cocoa and coffee would be strong in the air, but it was the laughter and joy that would wake me up the most. As a parent, there is nothing better than seeing your kids excited and happy, and nothing does that more than opening presents on Christmas Day.
I closed my eyes and tried to collect my thoughts, but a sound from the living room grabbed my attention. It sounded like the soft thud of little feet trying to be quiet as they snuck through the house. A sound I have not heard in months. Shuffling off the bed, I made my way towards the sound. Opening the door to the bedroom and looking out to the empty living room. This is where they would be sitting, right under the tree, presents in hand, waiting for a sign they could start ripping into their presents.
Of course no one is there now. The room was dark and the fake tree was still in its box, propped up against the wall and unopened. It hurt too much not to try to get ready for Christmas without them and it hurt too much to try. Looking at the empty living room, I could almost feel them there, sitting legs crossed looking towards our room. Waiting to see if we were ready. They would each get to open their one present and then get whatever was in their stockings, mostly little dollar store trinkets and candy, but it was still exciting to them even though they were getting too old for the cheap toys.
It was never going to be that way again. This holiday of love and joy for everyone else will be a constant reminder of what I lost. Made worse by the fact all other families, neighbors, and even strangers are coming together, putting aside their differences and problems to have this one special day together, and here I am alone. The weight of the gun in my hand snaps me back to the cold dark room that is my life now, reminding me there is still a way out. I look towards the tree and imagine it like it was last year. Blue and silver twine circling bright blue LCD lights, superhero and Disney character ornaments from theme parks and rest stops the kids always had to have. Decadent glass orbs that were a wedding gift, and the two angles looking back at me smiling and waiting for me to join them. I’m Coming I thought as I felt the cold metal of the gun barrel against me temple, I pulled the trigger…
The sound is louder than anything I ever experienced, and I heard it a fraction before the pain hit. So loud, I could not see, the world went black as all my senses faded until all I could experience was the roar between my ears. When the pain finally came, it was almost a relief. The sound did not stop but my focus shifted from an earth-shattering rumbling to a drill like sensation that started in my temple and started boring inward. The combination of the sound and pain dropped me to my knees, the gun slipping from my hand. Reflexively my hands shot up to the source of the pain and found nothing, not a mark at the spot just seconds ago I shot a bullet.
Can we open our presents now, Daddy? A voice cut through the pain and I struggled to open my eyes to find the source. The dark empty room I was in moments ago was transformed when my eyes finally pried open. The first thing I notice was everything is bathed in a red flickering light, the glow coming from the back wall where the unopened Christmas tree box used to sit. Now in its place was a fully decorated tree. Instead of the blue and silver of years passed, the tree was now dressed in red tinsel and lights that contained actual flickering flames that gave the appearance of the tree being consumed by fire. Blood red ornaments seemed to drip the light throughout the tree and reflected the glow around the room.
Sitting on the floor in front of me, presents in hand, were my children. Their matching green Christmas pajamas tinged red from the glowing tree, making them look muddy and unclean. Their backs were to me but from where I was standing, I could see something was not right. Ryan’s small arm was bent unnaturally at the elbow, giving it an insect like appearance, and the hand that rested on his present was twitching uncontrollably. The fingers tapping on the wrapping paper of the present at first seemed like he was merely trying to open it but the more I watched I could tell it was an involuntary spasm of pain. The floor under Samantha’s crossed legs was covered in blood. I could not tell if it was coming from her or the present on her lap, maybe both. Her head turned towards me, when I could just about see her face her head flopped back on a clear broken neck. Empty jet black eyes looked directly at me, a thin red trail of blood escaped her mouth, traveled upwards to her face and started to pool in the corner of her right eye. Can we open our presents now, Daddy? She asked again, her voice deeper then I remembered with none of the joy or light she had when she was alive.
I had to get out of the house. The pain in my head is unbearable and diluting my equilibrium, but I manage to stumble out the front door. Outside was almost pitch black, all of the lights on the street and neighboring buildings were off. The only source of light was coming from a full blood moon casting an odd dark orange hue over everything in sight. A loud wet sounding thud caught my attention down the road and I slowly make my way to the apartment building down the street. The pain comes in waves, pressure building up in my skull blinding me. It got so bad I fell to my knees again. There was not anything around that could help, the street was empty. The businesses and houses along the road were boarded up and looked abandoned. Nothing looked like it did yesterday. Once I was finally able to get moving, I saw a light on in a living room a couple houses down on the right of where I fell. I walked toward the light and could see a figure standing at the window looking out towards the road in my direction.
It was a women, pale white skin, wearing a white wedding dress. As I got close, she raised her hand as if waving to me and I saw the marks on her arm. There was a long four-inch slit starting from where her palm met her wrist down to her mid forearm. Blood slowly pumped out in thick rivulets down her arm and onto her white dress, staining it instantly. The pain flared up again and I stumbled in front of the window. She looked down at me almost understandingly before she turned and disappeared inside her house. We could not help each other, but just as she seemed to understand what I was now going through I felt I understood her loss as well. It was this day, Christmas day. For most, it was a reminder of what they had, but for us it was too much of a reminder of what was lost.
I collected myself for a moment before another loud wet thud brought me back. I push onward trying to find a way out of this nightmare. The street’s Christmas decorations were still up but the lights were all dead. The usual joyful colors of forest green wreaths and red candy canes looked dull and corroded on the seemingly abandoned buildings. Ripped and haphazardly hung tinsel clung in patches to the dark streetlights. Movement above me caught my attention. Hanging from the streetlight almost hidden by moss colored tinsel was a slightly overweight man.
He appeared to have been dead for some time. His dark features made even more obscure by the pooling of blood in his face and around the noose he hung by his neck from. His large fat tongue stuck out between thick swollen lips like a diseased overgrown worm. He was dressed in a dirty Santa suit that seemed to have a lot of wear and not enough care on it, and I can smell the sweet and vile mixture of alcohol and vomit. Another wave of pain and pressure made me collapse into a ball directly under the man. The unkempt Santa’s eyes shot open and he looked at me. He began to struggle against the rope holding him to the streetlight, his legs kicking, rocking himself violently back and forth while grunting for help. Just another sad soul claimed by this unholy night.
All I could do was crawl forward, the pain kept me from getting to my feet. I could not help the man, I could not help my family, and I cannot help myself. I hear the thud again, this time right beside me. The sound was a wet smack of flesh hitting something solid. I rolled over on my side and tried to get a look at what was making that horrid sound, and found myself staring into the bloodshot eyes of a man in a bloody and ripped up tailored suit.
His body was smashed and broken, blood leaked from his eyes and mouth into a dark neatly trimmed jet-black goatee. He must have fell from the building to my left, some kind of business office, I could not tell what company, and reading and moving my head to much caused the pain to intensify. As I look into the man’s eyes, his pupils begin to shift, he seems to be trying to focus on me. His bones seemed to rearrange themselves in his face and jaw, his mouth twisting into a surprised frown. He tries to raise himself up on his hands and knees, but the bones in his forearms were shattered and jagged cream tinted shards were breaking through the skin. He shrieked in agony and collapsed back onto his stomach.
I could hear a horrible grinding and tearing sound as his body shuddered. All I could do is watch in horror as the bones retreated into his skin and while screaming he forced his way upright once again. Standing in front of me, I can see that his body is almost completely healed. His left arm still hung lower off of his shoulder socked he stood on a ankle that was bent sideways on an angle that could only mean the bone was still broken, but all pain seemed to have left him. Instead, what replaced the agony on his face just moments before was a puzzled bewilderment and as if I was not even there he searched the surrounding area as if he was looking for something he just lost. He quickly found what he was looking for and straightened himself out. I can see he was now standing there with a worn and battered briefcase in his hand. He adjusted what was left of his blooded Christmas tree tie and walked back into the building I suspected he fell from. If you happened not to see the dark spreading blotches of blood or the rip and tears in his suit, he would look just like any other corporate business man going to work Christmas morning.
I feel a desperate need to get out of here no matter what it would take. Ignoring the debilitating pain, I stood up and blindly started running, not caring about the direction I was heading. The only goal was to escape the awful things I have been witnessing. Nothing was going to slow me down, not the pain, not the nauseating roar in my head, not even the loud wet thud of a body hitting the pavement again behind me. I did not stop running until my legs could no longer carry me and out of breath I stumbled up to an abandoned house.
The pain was too intense, I fought the urge to lie down and using my shoulder, I force the door to the house open and trip into the living room. The living room of the house was dark, and the fake tree was still in its box propped up against the wall unopened it. It hurt too much not to get ready for Christmas without them and it hurt too much to try. Looking at the empty living room, I could almost feel them there, sitting legs crossed looking towards our room. Waiting to see that we were ready. They would each get to open their one present and then get whatever was in their stocking, mostly little dollar store trinkets and candy, but it was still exciting to them even though they were getting too old for the cheap toys.
It was never going to be that way again. I feel the weight of the gun in my hand. I imagine seeing the kids sitting by the tree. Imagine Christmas how it is supposed to be, the best day of the year. The time when you are with your family and loved ones and all the pain is gone. I want their smiling faces to be the last thing I think about and I put the gun to my head with tears welling up in my eyes. I pull the trigger…
The sound is louder than anything I have ever experienced, and it came before the pain.