📅 Published on December 22, 2021


Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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Harris Wilson never considered himself particularly generous, especially around the holiday season.  He’d spent too many years concerned about the direction of his life and where he would find himself after several disastrous years at college.  But after a series of short-lived low-rent jobs, mostly retail, he’d finally managed to get a managerial position that held the promise of real money down the line.  Something that would mean finally getting out of his apartment in the city and a real house in the suburbs.  Maybe not a colonial, but something he could actually own…

Something he could share with Claire.

She had been such a catch, coming along in his life just when he needed someone.  He’d been so close to ending it all, having spent one too many days assembling sandwiches for one too many customers wearing high-end overcoats that could only be dry-cleaned, checking their watches because they had jobs that actually cared when they would come back to their lunch hour.  And she had ordered a soup.  He’d gotten the order wrong, but she didn’t care, just laughing and chatting him up after.

He never quite knew what it was she saw in him in that first meeting, even though he knew exactly what he saw in her…a bright smile, slightly disheveled hair from a blustery day, and eyes that locked with his.

That had been 10 months ago, and his life had been improving ever since.  He wondered if it was just the confidence of having someone to share his life with, but every day was just perfect.  Maybe it was just that it was time for his fortunes to change.  Whatever it was, he was grateful for every day.  And he hoped she was, too.

“I’ve known my fair share of men, Harris, but never anyone quite like you.  You’re someone very special,” Claire had told him.  He’d never felt comfortable telling her he’d never had a situation like that, but as long as she was with him now, he didn’t care about that part of her past.

And now, they would be spending their first Christmas together.  He’d already gotten her present shortly after Thanksgiving: a collection of bath salts, jewelry, lingerie, and a gift basket of mail-order chocolate-covered strawberries he’d heard about on the radio.  He hoped it was everything she expected, and more.

His office was still open on Christmas Eve that year, but decided to let out in the afternoon so that everyone could enjoy a long weekend early.  And on his way back home, walking through the slush and the cold, in a very good mood, that he saw the man curled up on the bench.

Plenty of panhandlers could be seen along the way, usually the same hangers-on that rotated shifts with the same cardboard signs, lending a little credence to the idea that maybe they weren’t as serious about their problems as they let on.  But this guy didn’t have a sign.  Just bundled up with newspapers for a blanket, holes in his dirty jacket, a wool hat that looked stitched together from other hats.  It was possibly the most pathetic thing Harris had ever seen.

He checked his phone.  Claire wouldn’t be expecting him home just yet, and with his good fortune, he couldn’t imagine anyone having a rough time, especially on Christmas Eve.  Nobody else but him seemed to notice the man, anyway; either they were too busy on their way home, or had just gotten used to ignoring everyone who had problems.

The man was still on the bench five minutes later when he returned with a bag, containing a hot soup and a burger.  Sitting up, the man took it gratefully, looking up at Harris with his sooty face and matted beard.

Harris scratched the back of his neck.  “Enjoy.  Oh, and if you need a warm place to sleep, I used to volunteer at a shelter a few blocks south of here.  They might not have any room tonight, but they should be able to help you find a place.”

The man tucked into the burger with barely a word.  “Thanks, man.  Appreciate it.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you, too.”

He gave Claire a call, telling her that he was going to be home early.  She responded she would be waiting for him.  When he did get back to the apartment, she was indeed waiting for him, on the couch, wearing a set of plush reindeer antlers and very little else.

Very little else also described what conversation took place during their next half hour together.

A little cleaning up later, and they had a quiet dinner, put a video of a roaring fire up on the laptop, and sat on the couch again, cuddled up looking at the Christmas tree, decorated with a few minor ornaments and tinsel.

It was again quiet, but wonderful to just be together, and again, Harris was grateful for the time.

“Hold on, honey,” she said, and she got up out of his view, rustling around for something in the kitchen.  She returned with a small box, wrapped in shiny gold print.  “Go ahead.  Early present.”

“We never opened anything until Christmas morning.”

“That’s okay.  I don’t have to open one.  I just wanted you to have this.”

Harris opened the wrapping.  Inside the plain white box underneath was a ring…not gold, at least as far as his knowledge of precious metals went, but certainly something fancy.  It was all covered in a swirly design.

“You proposing to me?”

“Not exactly.  That’s what you’re supposed to do for me, hotshot.”  Claire smiled and pulled it out, sliding it on Harris’ left ring finger.  “It’s more like a commitment, from me to you.  I know I’ve said I’ve had a lot of boyfriends, but this is to show you mean more to me than they ever did.”

“I like it very much.  Thank you.”  They had a kiss, then some champagne, then some more kissing, then they adjourned to bed.  Another half hour later, they rolled away from each other, and fell asleep.

Harris wasn’t sure what time it was when he awoke, but it was still dark out.  The room itself was almost pitch black, save for his phone, which was lit up and buzzing.

He looked at the phone itself.  “Restricted.”

He shrugged, not caring about someone who didn’t even bother to have a number.  Probably another telemarketer robocaller who didn’t realize what time it was.

As long as he was up, he figured he’d take a trip to the bathroom.  He rolled over to kiss Claire.

She wasn’t there.

He looked over at the bathroom.  No lights on there.  He looked over the side of the bed.

Her pajamas were rumpled, tossed on the floor.

Wherever she was, she was either in regular clothes, or nothing.  The latter would be fine if she was still in bed and ready for another go around, but no.

His phone stopped vibrating.  Then, it started again.


He picked up the phone, and this time, answered it.  “Hello?”

Don’t hang up.

“Who are you?  What is going on?”

You’ve just woken up alone in your apartment.  If you want to see the light of day again, you will follow my every command.

Harris swallowed.  He wanted to throttle whoever this was and teach them a lesson, find out what happened to Claire.  But he was still confused, still unsure about what was going on.  He didn’t have enough information to make a decision.

“All right.  Go ahead.  But what is this all…”

No questions.  All will be revealed at the right time.  Get dressed, and go outside.

Harris gathered up what clothes he could find, and hit the light switch.

The lights won’t work.”

He switched the lights out again, dressing in the dark.  He went out to the living room, still hopping into his pants.  He glanced around in the gloom and the light of his phone for the signs of a struggle, but saw nothing.  Not that it meant anything…if whoever was on the phone with him knew he had tried the lights, they had to be close by, and could have had ways of getting her out of the apartment that he never knew about.

He grabbed his keys and went out into the hallway.  The lights that normally lined the wall were turned off.  At night, they never really lit up the place to begin with, but the unexpected darkness took him by surprise.  So, maybe they had knocked the power out.

Out here, exposed, confused, frightened, he felt a sense of foreboding emanating from the darkness.  He’d always been cautious of the city and who he might run into, but now it felt more like there were…things out here, just beyond his line of sight.

This wasn’t the time of year for scares.  But then, he realized, A Christmas Carol was all about ghosts, wasn’t it?  Maybe it wasn’t so far-fetched to imagine another world lay just beyond the edges of imagination on Christmas the same way Halloween made him feel.

He made his way to the elevator at the end of the hall, feeling as if invisible eyes were watching his every move.  With no word from his “phone buddy,”  he waved his phone around, shining the light to make sure he didn’t trip on anything.  For a moment, he thought he saw something step back and away from the light, but it couldn’t have been…there was nowhere for anything to step back into, just a blank wall.

The elevator, too, was dark, but as he stepped in, he heard crunching under his feet.  The power may have been cut in the hallway, but it seemed like somebody had smashed the lights in here so the elevator would still work.

There was a whir as it made its way down to the bottom, and he could swear he heard breathing, but there was no one here but him.

The door opened to the bottom floor.  Again, the lights were out.  Who was doing this?  How could they have knocked out the power to the lights, but leave the elevator working?  Not only how, but why?

He went out, the wind whipping around him, making the already cold weather even more bone-chilling.

He heard a voice from his phone again.  He lifted to his ear.

“Sorry, I missed that.”

Go across the street.”

Across the street.  Until last year, the building had been home to a fix-it shop that took up two or three floors.  But then business took a nosedive over the summer and they had been “For Lease” ever since.  As far as he knew, the owners just left, and the place had been smashed into a couple of times with people stealing tools, copper tubing, and whatnot.

“I’m not going in there.”

Go…across…the street.

The voice gave it as less as a warning than as a command this time.  Harris almost felt his feet moving of their own accord before he got himself under control again.  He saw the broken storefront door in front of him, hanging loosely, the shattered glass boarded up but the busted hinges unable to do anything to prevent the door from swaying with every gust of wind.

He pushed the door open, the smell of used motor oil and dust filling his nose.

Inside, it was even worse than he believed.  Shattered drywall hung in tatters from the walls around the open shop area, left by those ransacking precious copper.  Screws and nails, bent, rusted, scattered on the floor, almost placed as if a trap for anyone stupid enough to wander in without a light.  A small wooden staircase, clearly not up to code long before the place ever shut down, led up to a second floor landing, though it was hard to see what lay above from here.

Go upstairs.

He started up the steps, feeling the old wood sag and creak under his feet.

Wait.  To your right.  On the table.”

He looked over and saw a pair of pruning shears.  They looked like they hadn’t pruned anything for almost 20 years.

Take those.”


No questions.  Like I said, if you want to see another day…

Harris grabbed the shears.  Looking down at the rusty implement, he began to get a horrible feeling in his stomach.  He’d seen enough stories to know a pair of shears didn’t mean anything good.  What game was he a part of now?  And why?

Up on the second floor, the wind here was worse.  Some of the windows had been boarded, but some had not, and that was only because somebody had made the grand gesture to hang up tarps to keep out the cold, like curtains.  But the clear plastic sheeting only made a horrible flapping noise, like an army of pigeons swooping down to attack some leftover piece of food on the street.  Right now, Harris felt like that food more than anything.

There was something close to the windows that overlooked the street, at the one window that had no tarp or boarding.  Even as the voice on the phone told him to go toward it, he didn’t need the encouragement.

On the floor was some sort of circular shape, drawn in chalk, with symbols Harris didn’t recognize, but assumed were the work of some kind of witchcraft or devil worship.  He tried to turn and leave.

Stand in the circle.”

Of course that’s what the voice would say.  He moved into it.  “Now what?”

Look at your window.”

Harris looked at the window frame.  “It’s just broken glass.”

No…your bedroom window.”

Harris, still within the chalk circle, tried to see if he could locate his bedroom.  It was a floor or two above him, but surely it wouldn’t take long to…

A light came on, about the fourth one in and one floor up.

But all the lights were off in his apartment.  Who got the power back on?

He saw someone at the window.  A dark shape, only resolving clearly when the curtain moved.


But…what was she doing there?  It didn’t look like she’d been harmed, but…

He glimpsed something on her face.  Fear.

Of course.  Maybe she just stepped out for something from the store.  She was never in danger.  Here he was, panicking over nothing.  And now, he was trapped, by some madman, across the street, away from any help.

“When I find you, you son of a-”

Remove the ring.  Now.


Do it.”

Oh, no.  Maybe it was a jealous ex-boyfriend.  He’d been in the apartment all along.  He was going to do something terrible to Claire, and he needed Harris out of the way.  Harris went to remove the ring.  It was just symbolic, after all.  Once he got out of here and called the police, of course he would…

It wouldn’t budge.

He tugged, again and again.  But the ring remained right in place, stuck on his finger.  But there was no way his finger would have swollen like that in a single night, right?

He twisted it, and again, it didn’t move.  But he felt pain this time.  Pain, like it was gripping his flesh, or maybe even some sort of barbs dug in, keeping it from turning.

He looked at it again.  Blood was beginning to seep out from underneath, but the swirly pattern on it…was that the same pattern he had seen when he first put it on?

Get it off, or this will all have been for nothing.”

“I can’t!  It’s…it’s stuck!”

I was afraid that might happen.  That’s why I told you to take it.”

Harris looked at the shears.  “No, you can’t be…”

Do it before it is too late!

Harris felt the ring growing hot.  He then heard something…something low, and deep.  Like a groan from within the earth.

There was not much light up here, but it felt like it was getting darker in here.  A dark like the hallway, waiting for him somehow.

He held his finger out.  The pain in his finger was getting worse, more blood seeping from the underside.

He placed the shears around his finger.  The thought of the pain to come was almost worse than the act itself.

The outline on the floor appeared to be dissolving as the dark encroached on it.

Gritting his teeth, he squeezed.

The yell that came from him seemed to come from somewhere else.  It had to, because the pain that radiated through his hand was just too much.

He looked down to see the finger on the ground, the ring still attached to it, rolling away.  He looked at the stump of his ring finger, and made his way to the window.

He looked up, to see Claire once again, still staring through the glass, but now he saw a darkness approaching behind her.  It had no real form, but he thought he could imagine strange limbs, eyes with many irises, and other horrid things lurking beneath its surface.

She turned, and screamed, then the lights in his apartment went out.  There was a thumping sound, quick, violent, and stains appearing on the bedroom window.

He slumped to his knees, watching the darkness that had grown around him dissipate.  The feeling of dread disappeared, but he suddenly felt tired.  Very tired.

And then, he heard two voices.  One over the phone, and one very close by.  Before he collapsed, he saw another form approach, this one not dark, but a terrible light.

Before he passed out, he heard:

Merry Christmas, Harris.”

* * * * * *

Harris walked down the street.  It was winter again, but here, in the suburbs, he felt much lighter as he walked along.

He lost out on that promotion at the office.  Turns out somebody else had been in line for it all along.  In fact, it wasn’t long after he’d been discharged from the hospital that the office decided to trim staff, and he was the first to go.  He was back at odd blue-collar jobs, making sandwiches, making ends meet.  People sometimes stared at his missing finger, but he just waved it off, and gave each one the best he could.

And, of course, his apartment.  He wasn’t allowed back in.  None of his thing survived whatever had happened there.  Of Claire, there was heavy signs of violence, of blood, of bits of bone and gore, but as a whole, her body was not recovered.  No bloodstains left the apartment, which was the most puzzling thing, as how could somebody do what they did to that living space and not wake a soul, or leave a trace of their work behind?

The only thing he had left to go on was his and her wallet, which had been left in his possession at his hospital discharge.

There were phone numbers in her wallet.  He called around.

All of her former boyfriends’ residences.  All violently trashed, and them disappearing without a trace.

Strange, too, that some of the numbers he called were landlines.  Landlines that had been disconnected for over 40 years.

But Claire couldn’t have been 40.  Nowhere close to that age.

But there was an address as well.  It took him a few months before he got the courage to look into it, but he finally did, after he’d saved up a bit to buy a used car to live in.

It was a farmhouse, out in the country, probably from the 1800s, looking like it hadn’t been lived in for half a century.  But he noticed that in the address, one of the numbers was circled…a seven.

Behind the seven on the front porch numbers, he found a key.

With the key, he opened a trap door he found under a rug.

In the trap door, he found money, jewelry, and other items, dating back years, along with a heaping of unopened presents.

With the money, he bought a new house.  And a couple of community college courses.

Now he had the life in the suburbs he dreamed of.

As he trudged through the snow, back to his home, and to a new fiancée, one who wasn’t perfect, but loved him all the same.

He looked at his finger, or what remained of it.  He remembered when he asked who brought him to the hospital.

Nobody could remember, except he had a dirty jacket and a face, and vanished as soon as somebody was looking for him.

He thought back to a time when, on a whim, he bought food for a man in need, and when he thought his life was perfect.

He rubbed the stump of his missing finger.

And was grateful.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Seth Paul

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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2 years ago

Although I’m tired of all these loser protagonists I did like the idea of one of Claire’s victims coming back to rescue

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