My bladder was on the brink of explosion. I’d battled the urge to get out of bed for so long my legs tremored. I tip-toed towards the window, its outer side subdued with frost, and peered up the snow-covered hill. It was marked with weighted dead trees and shrubs all the way up to my parents’ house.
They didn’t leave the nightlight on in the living room. Predictably inconsiderate behaviour.
Christmas was a big deal in the Martin family. Too big, in my opinion. Every year, even as the children grew up and moved out of the house, we would all return for the Christmas season for a few days at least. No visiting friends or the families of significant others. It always had to be at the Martin residence. It was non-negotiable.
If they’d truly appreciated their twenty-seven-year-old, and youngest daughter’s company, they wouldn’t have given her the shit-end of the stick every year. Why was I forced to stay in the cabin dad built out back when I was still a teenager?
The little wooden structure definitely looked nice next to the woods at the end of the lot. It provided extra space next to the small house that was way too full every Christmas season. The privacy was appreciated by me and my fiancé, Brett, who was on his first Martin Christmas visit.
We’d surprised mom and dad with the big rock on my engagement ring. They hugged each other and my dad subsequently picked up our bags and guided us all the way down the hill towards the cabin. He was sure to point out the new space heater he’d bought to keep us warm overnight. Too bad he still hadn’t installed any god-damned plumbing.
I pulled my boots over my feet and the bottoms of my pajamas. The urge to pee had grown so strong that my stomach radiated shockwaves of pain when I bent over to lace them up.
A light snow seemed to start the moment I pushed the creaking door open and stepped outside. I closed it gently behind me, careful to not wake Brett up. Cold gusts of wind blew through the backyard and then died in the trees. Frozen branches clashed together and knocked little bits of ice to the ground. The air was far crisper than when we’d first headed off to bed. I tucked my elbows into my sides and pressed towards the house, wishing I had brought my jacket with me.
Next year, fucking Jerry could sleep in the cabin. He was the biggest burnout from the four of us and therefore was most deserving of displacement. He was the only one who didn’t bring anyone home and god knows Christine and Tracy wouldn’t dream of spending a night out in the cabin if our parents even dared suggest it.
Something had stirred in the trees. Something with both weight and size. It wasn’t miniature like a squirrel or a little bit of debris falling from the branches. It had broken the top layer of snow and crunched the little sticks underneath.
I turned my head back and slipped on the gentle slope. I landed on my ass, little shards of ice scraped my hands. I got up, turned back uphill and quickened my pace to a jog towards the house until I reached the backdoor.
I was scared– way too scared. I could tell from how relieved I was when my trembling hands pulled the sliding door shut behind me.
That’s what it all boiled down to. I was resentful about getting stuck out in the cabin because I was scared. It wasn’t the principle or the inconvenience. I was afraid of sleeping back there, no way around it.
I locked the door and pulled the curtains shut. I reached for the nearest lamp and turned it on and then leaned against the wall next to the door and slowly sat down against it.
Surely no one had seen me, but I still felt embarrassed. I had literally just sprinted back to the house with a wet ass after hearing a cracking sound in the fucking woods. Like nothing has ever stirred in the night back there before, right?
Deer were all over the forest and just last year we’d seen a group of four emerge from the trees that felt so comfortable they came all the way up to the house.
And if it were something so sinister, what kind of fiancée was I to just leave Brett sleeping with the cabin door unlocked? Not proper wife material.
The shapes of the living room slowly came into focus. The flat-screen TV perched above the pretend fireplace, the Christmas tree with so many sparkling ornaments it looked like it was on the verge of toppling over, and the six teacups still sat on the coffee table after we’d finished watching The Grinch.
I was quickly reminded of the reason I’d been forced out of bed in the first place. I had thirty seconds, tops. I hopped to my feet and started to jog towards the bathroom, flicking on every light switch on the way there.
I finally got my sweet relief, the one delight that every person on planet Earth can relate to. My business was done in thirty seconds (if that) and I found myself humming I Won’t Be Home For Christmas while I stood above the sink, washing my hands.
The sound came just as I was about to leave the bathroom. It came from inside the house. I pressed my ear against the door and listened closely.
Someone walked from the living room to the kitchen. Not from where I’d been a minute before. They must have come in through the backdoor, which I was sure I’d locked.
My initial reaction was to think that Brett had taken the spare key to make the long walk up to the bathroom as well. Not that the notoriously heavy sleeper was one for getting up in the middle of the night.
More steps thudded. Whoever it was, they still had their boots on, which thudded on the living room carpet and onto the hardwood in the kitchen. It was so disruptive. Too loud for anyone who had their head about them and knew there were seven people sleeping upstairs.
Brett wouldn’t dare do anything like that. Even if he’d known my family for years he would never be so bold as to march around the house late at night dragging snow everywhere with his boots on. Also, he wasn’t that heavy. He was 5’8” and one-hundred-and-sixty pounds on a big day. Whoever was out there was a larger human being.
I turned the lights off inside the bathroom to make it seem that no one was in there without any light pouring out through the cracks in the doorframe. A cold gust of air blew over my feet, like a little bit of the night air had gotten inside before the sliding door had been closed.
The footsteps circled around the kitchen like someone was headed round and round the little island counter in the center. They were clumsy and loud, still with no regard towards anyone sleeping upstairs.
Nothing stirred up there. Not a single step or cranky call down to the kitchen.
I thought I was paranoid, freaking out over nothing more than someone grabbing a glass of water in the middle of the night. Could it have been a sound so minute that the rest of the family slept peacefully while the scaredy-cat youngest daughter had a breakdown in the bathroom?
I lingered in the darkness for what felt like an eternity. The steps finally settled and the pace slowed to a couple every once in a while. Items on the kitchen counters were shuffled and the pantry door opened and closed.
No matter how much time I spent waiting, I couldn’t convince myself to simply walk out and see who it was. Extra security was needed.
I knelt down and felt around the cabinet under the sink. I carefully started moving old bottles and expired toiletries around until I found an old corroded hammer, its head blued with age and the handle splintered. It must have been long forgotten in there after some bathroom repair and I was incredibly grateful for that having happened.
I pushed the bathroom door open as gently as I could and stepped into the hall. I paused there, listening for any sound out of place. I only heard the steps from the kitchen and the occasional object being shifted.
I looked to the backdoor, which was closed with the curtains pulled over it, just the way I’d left it. The exit was maybe twenty feet from where I stood, and although I would be in the sightline of the kitchen on the way, I could probably sprint there and be out the door before the mystery figure in the kitchen could catch on.
So why didn’t I do that? Why instead could I not ward off the overbearing urge to lift the hammer above my head and move slowly against the wall towards the kitchen? It was like I wanted to get a view of whoever was in there before I exposed myself.
Every step was deliberate. I tried to connect with the flattest parts of the carpet and stopped right where the wall ended and the space opened to the kitchen and living room.
The kitchen bar lights had been turned on, the only ones inside I hadn’t flicked on myself. I couldn’t hear anything move anymore, almost like whoever was in there had picked up on my presence.
Slowly, I moved my face past the wall and saw that the person had their head in the fridge. Food products of all sorts had been taken out and neatly placed on the island counter behind them. They were dressed in all black– leather boots, snow pants, and a hoodie.
The body type looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who. Not that it was an easy thing to do with someone hunched over and with their back to you.
My next step landed on the hardwood which groaned beneath my foot. The person’s head perked up the moment the sound filled the room.
I clutched the hammer like I was expecting them to rush me. I was ready to strike if needed. I’d been pushed far enough that violence was not out of the question.
They hardly moved. They pulled their head gently out of the fridge and took two steps back without turning around.
I stood there frozen in place, my arm shaking above my head. I wanted to call out to them… but couldn’t find words that fit. I shifted my gaze slowly from the fridge to the wall-unit oven next to it. In the blurry reflection, I saw who had disturbed me so deeply.
For the third time that night, I was overcome with embarrassment. This time it was so much worse than before, now in plain sight of a familiar face.
Jerry looked sad in the reflection. Or even worse, he looked disappointed that his baby sister had snuck up behind him with a hammer, ready to strike him down.
My head spun thinking of all the different ways Jerry could break the news to the family around breakfast the next morning. So much power to humiliate me and god knows he’d done it before. I tossed the hammer on the carpet and marched towards my boots. I slipped them on without tying them up and headed out the door.
I didn’t turn around until I was safely back inside the cabin with the door locked behind me. From out the window, I saw Jerry standing there at the backdoor. He didn’t look for long before pulling the curtains over.
I lay down in bed and pulled the covers over my head. Of course it had to have been Jerry who was poking around in the fridge. He was probably out with his stupid friends and was drunk and high walloping around the house with the late-night munchies. Maybe he even thought that coming in through the backdoor would cancel out all the noise he made.
I pulled more of the covers to my side and Brett groaned weakly in his sleep. I didn’t care. I wrapped myself in them until I had a giant cocoon around me.
Sleep came surprisingly easily given all the terror I experienced in such a short time. I would have preferred to stay up mulling it over a little longer. That way the morning wouldn’t have come so soon.
I woke up to the pale light of a winter day. I felt refreshed like I had slept longer than I was usually able. Normally, dad would wake us up by knocking on the door to tell us that breakfast was ready. That was our alarm during the Christmas season.
I cracked my back on either side and sat up, my hands supporting me on the lopsided coil mattress.
Brett still slept like a rock. He faced the far wall with his head hanging over the edge and totally bare of the blankets I’d stolen from him.
I pushed his shoulder to wake him up but he didn’t move. I leaned over to whisper in his ear, and that was the moment the whole morning became a blur of different memories I had to piece back together in the weeks that followed.
I remember seeing his face… or at least the place where it used to be. All the skin had been severed off with surgeon-like precision in an oval that rounded from his hairline to his chin.
As far as I could see, no other part of his body had been harmed. He’d bled out onto the floor, which had pooled all over the entirety of the cabin floor while we slept.
I dashed out of the cabin as fast as I could. My bare feet, soaked in blood, crashed in and out of the freshly fallen snow.
I screamed for help over and over when back inside and was reduced to tears when no one answered. I climbed the spiral staircase slowly, gripping the banister and praying that my worst fears wouldn’t be reality.
All seven people– my parents, my two older sisters and their husbands, and even Jerry were all left in their beds the same way that Brett had been. Their faces were neatly removed from their heads where they bled out all over their bodies which had been left untouched. All of the work was completed with the same perfection. No sign of a struggle anywhere.
My whole world crashed down around me. Everything inside me felt like it was going to explode. I had so many questions starting with who the fuck would do something like this? And how in the hell was I still alive?
I ran outside, thinking that perhaps I could find a neighbour on the street or flag down a car passing by.
I didn’t make it past the front stoop. Eight familiar faces had been left on a little mound in the snow and positioned so their unified shape could be seen from where I stood.
Blood coloured the snow behind them. They’d been stretched or cut where needed so they could be laid neatly into one smiling face that looked back at me. Jerry had been pulled and bent like a banana to make the smile. Mom’s neat brows and the skin around them made two little slits for eyes. The rest of her and everyone else’s faces were placed methodically into one big circle around them.
I begged and pleaded with police to not return to the property in order to trace my steps and recount what happened, but they insisted I walk them through with my mind still fresh so I could properly detail the events.
The next day, we walked around the taped-off property, retracing my steps and explaining my thoughts and decisions. We’d discover that we weren’t the first to follow my trail. Someone had already done it on the night of the violent crimes against my family.
Narrow boot marks were left in the snow off to the side of the path I’d taken in and out of the house. It looked like they’d stopped in the cabin before heading back up while I was in the bathroom.
The hammer I’d wielded was found outside the cabin door. A little etching was left in the wood in impeccable text.
Nice seeing you in the kitchen. Sorry we didn’t get to chat but hope you enjoyed my parting gift. Wear you sometime real soon.
The Devil walks among us.
He manifests himself in all the minute fears that creep inside your head during the late hours of the night. The Devil’s In The Details Volume 2 features twenty stories of psychological horror to seize your mind and resurface all the thoughts you tried to bury.
Monsters in the dark, hometown possessions, ghosts bound by tragedy, deals with the Devil– the twists and turns of this collection will keep you up at night wondering why you ever let yourself get sucked in.
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