This is my Christmas story. You can take it as real, or fake, or a mix of both.
Most stories are that way.
True and false.
Because the truth is sometimes scarier.
And a lie offers more warmth than the cold, hard truth.
I was ten when it happened. It was Christmas Eve and we had just gotten home from my aunt’s Christmas party. The family always got together on Christmas Eve and put away the bickering and the spite, or tried to, to celebrate the holidays together. When I was ten these were still fun, but then I also still got presents from everyone. Once I hit my teen years the novelty and presents were gone and so were everyone’s filters. Such is life, I guess. That night though had been another fun one full of ethnic food from family recipes, stories about past Christmases, and presents, presents, presents. We left at eleven, two hours after dad had wanted to leave but mom was aglow from Fuzzy Navels and I was stuffed with food and pop and other than dad’s complaining all was well with the world. When we had first headed over the landscape had still been green but things were now covered with a thin layer of snow and more was falling. Dad insisted that we’d get four inches if we got anything and mom, feeling warm, told him four inches sounded good and told him it was good cuddling weather and then they started to laugh. I fell into dreams after that and was asleep until we were home and dad was shaking me back to wakefulness. I stumbled into the house, barely made it to my room, undressed then redressed for bed and was asleep before my folks could even say goodnight. All night I had strange dreams but I can’t tell you what they were about, and won’t dare to now that I know certain things.
I will say they were weird.
Because they were.
Eerie I guess is a better word.
I woke up at four in the morning, my heart racing, my mind spinning, and every muscle in me twitching. Christmas. CHRISTMAS! I knew I was the first up and would remain the first up for a few hours so I made sure that everything I did, every movement I made was as quiet as possible. I slid out of bed and almost let out a cry at how cold the floor was on my bare feet so I stepped into my slippers and slowly moved towards my door. I could hear dad snoring so I knew I was safe and I pulled my bedroom door open inch by and when it was wide enough I slipped through the opening and crept down the hallway. There, at the top of the stairs was my stocking, full to overflow with candy and small wrapped presents. My face almost split from the grin I had. I loved stockings but didn’t have time for it now.
I had other business in mind.
I looked down the stairs and saw the twinkling of the Christmas lights and put caution out of my mind and ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time and almost falling as I went. The downstairs world was a rainbow of magic – red, blue, green, yellow, white, and orange lights and variations of all of them. The tree was lit up, a miniature 19th Century village my mom collected was lit, and so were the snowmen my dad collected. It looked right out of a painting. And presents. So many presents. Everywhere I looked. It had been a good year for dad at work, the last good year it’d turn out, and they had gone overboard and I loved it. It seemed like every present I saw had my name on it. I spun around and did a dance in the middle of the room.
Oh, the snow!
I ran to the window to check how much snow had fallen – and secretly look for any signs of Santa and as soon as I looked outside the day changed.
My life changed.
My world changed.
It had snowed. Not a lot, just enough to blanket the world and a little more. Certainly not the four inches dad predicted. The world was a clean, white slate. A beautiful white space ready to be discovered except…except someone had already been out in the snow. Someone had already been by the house. I looked outside the window and saw that in the middle of all that unbroken snow though were footprints, one pair, coming from the woods in back of our property and heading straight to the house. They came to the window I was looking out of, the bay window, then cut to the left and towards the side of the house. I ran from the window and went from window to window checking the trajectory of the traveler and found they had stopped outside the back corner of that window, near fireplace. I put my head against the cold glass and looked down and screamed. The person who had come to the house last night had come barefoot and their footprints didn’t leave, they just…arrived. Suddenly I realized that whoever had come here was still here.
They were still here.
I screamed again and ran away from the window. I heard a loud clatter above me and dad stumbled to the stairs and yelled down to me, then started down the stairs when I screamed a third time.
“They’re still here. THEY’RE STILL HERE!” Was all I could say. I was in shock and it took hours to come down from it.
Mom was on the stairs now and when dad looked outside he immediately turned and told mom to go back upstairs and call the police.
I screamed again.
The police were there in about half an hour and I was immediately taken upstairs by mom while dad spoke to the officers. Dad got very upset at one point as he was speaking to one officer, the main one, and then more officers came inside, out of breath, and very loud about how they didn’t know where the ‘weirdo’ had gone. The first officer in charge told them to watch their volume and they weer suddenly quiet. I had heard them say – how is that even possible? – but never heard an answer. A few minutes later dad came up to get me because the police wanted to speak to me. While two of them spoke to me three other officers went upstairs and searched the rest of the house for the fourth time. The officers made their time with me short but wanted to know exactly what had happened this morning – what time I had gotten up, what time I went downstairs, if I had heard or seen anything out of the ordinary, and what time I had looked outside the first time. I didn’t tell them about the dreams. It just didn’t seem like a good idea so I didn’t. I dunno why. I just, I just knew that they’d tell me I was being silly so I didn’t say anything. Afterwards the lead officer patted me on the head and then all of the police people told dad they’d be in touch and they left.
We tried to do Christmas after they left but I was inconsolable. I just kept seeing those footprints (even after dad had gone out and kicked snow over them) and I wanted to know was who had made them, why they had come to our house, and more than anything…where they had gone. We didn’t end up celebrating Christmas until three days after and while I got spoiled Christmas just wasn’t the same and never was. Every Christmas after that I would have nightmares about the footprints and who, or what they belonged too. Even into my twenties.
They never did find out who had made the tracks, though the police said it was either a local kid playing a prank – those were some big feet for a kid – or it was someone from one of the elderly care homes in the area. We have a lot of those so that made sense, though there was no answer as to how they left without making footprints and where they went to. If they ever discovered who it was that left the tracks I never heard and mom and dad never brought it up again if they could avoid it. We actually ended up moving the next Summer. Dad said it was time to downsize, and that was probably true with the cuts to his and mom’s jobs but I also think my night terrors and maybe their own fears were a part of it as well.
After we moved we thought we were done with all of that.
The worst part came after we had moved though.
The footsteps never returned after that night but then, we weren’t there for the next Christmas, either.
The following Christmas my dad got a call from the owner of the old house wanting to know if the local kids would keep up the gag every year or if the gag would stop now. I had overheard dad tell mom about the conversation and knew dad had answered – what gag? You know, the walking around the house barefoot gag. Dad had stopped then. I peeked around the corner and saw that mom was crying. He began again. They did it at Halloween and at Christmas. It’s a real barn burner. These kids are a real gas but the gag is old. Hell, I wish you had mentioned it so I could have had some ice water ready to return the welcome. Dad stopped again. I peeked around the corner and saw him grab mom’s hand. There’s one other thing, something we need to talk about. I am not sure how to say this but I’d appreciate it if you would cover the cost of cleaning out the chimney. Dad had gotten a little angry being asked to do something after the house was sold. Look, if you don’t want to, it’s fine, I guess. I just, well, I dunno how the inspector missed it but it is a damn miracle you folks didn’t smoke yourselves to death with all that stuff stuck in the chimney. What stuff, dad had asked. The presents. They’re all old and burned now but gosh, prolly fifteen to twenty presents dropped from the top and into the fireplace. No idea why you did it but man, I am just saying, it was a health hazard and the least you should do is pay for it to be handled. It’s lucky I had the chimney cleaned or WE mighta been the ones that paid for your weird Santa fetish. Dad stopped one last time. He had never dropped presents into the fireplace. Never. Dad hated messing with the roof. And if he hadn’t no one else had that he had known about. It’s stupid and dangerous to do that sort of thing but, he asked my mom, do I tell this guy that and scare him to death? Dad didn’t. After what happened there the next winter he’ll be damned for not telling the man but he didn’t. Dad apologized, told him he’d forgotten all about that, said he’d pay for all the costs, and asked, as an aside, if the man could make out what any of the gifts were. Dad told him they’d hired someone to drop them down there but had never gotten them and had forgotten all about them until the new owner had called. The man had been quiet a few moments and then told dad that in all of the boxes, as far as he could tell, were the same thing. Dad got quiet and leaned in and told mom what was in the boxes and she started to cry again. I never heard what was in them but I think I know. I think I know. After that phone call I can only assume dad sent the man the money because for the next six months we were really tight with money.
But we had Christmas that year.
And Christmas was good. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t lavish, but it was Ok. It was safe.
We didn’t learn about the family in our old house until three days later, when the story hit the news. After that we didn’t really celebrate Christmas or Halloween. We went on vacations for those holidays and that was that.
We were the lucky ones.
Family of five disappears on Christmas.
All five members of the family that had moved into our house had disappeared on Christmas morning some time. No note. No cars or money taken. No one dressed for the weather. Just six sets of footprints heading out into a bad snow storm towards the woods. One set approaching the house and six leaving. No sign of the family anywhere. No answer as to who had come to the house to begin with. There was nothing. The area was swept again and again and there was nothing. The only evidence found was a gift opened early, a gift opened and dropped on the floor. The gift of a calendar with this year’s Christmas day circled in red paint.
I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore and I live in an apartment. The nightmares have receded but I still think about that family and our old house and those footprints in the snow.
c – 1.15