Joy heard that sound again. Her heart pounded in her chest, though she was not afraid this time, not like the other times when she could hear her parents arguing and fighting in the other room. This time she was certain it was Santa Claus bringing her presents. She could feel the thrill of anticipation building inside her as she strained to hear what was happening in the other room.
Suddenly the sounds became eerily silent. Did Santa Claus leave already? she wondered. Did he leave her favorite doll that she had asked for, after she asked him to make Gabe like her and be her friend and protect her?
The exhilaration was more than she could bear. Joy pushed the covers back. A blast of chill air greeted her. She was tempted to draw the covers back over her head and wait until morning when her mother came to wake her for breakfast and to open her presents. But, her curiosity won out.
Joy knew what she was doing was wrong, but if she remained completely quiet and didn’t touch anything in the living room that Santa Claus left, her parents would never know that she snuck out of her bed in the middle of the night. No matter how tempted she would be to do so.
She opened her bedroom door and peered down the long hallway. She could still see the multi-colored, flashing lights from the Christmas tree, blinking on and off…on and off, which was the only light that illuminated the darkened house.
But, with each step she took through the house, her heart thudded with a sense of dread. She didn’t know quite what she was sensing, but whatever it was, it felt…wrong. The house was just too quiet…too still.
Another sound in the distance coming from the kitchen, made her freeze in place, paralyzing her with fear at being discovered sneaking through the house when she was told to be in bed. She knew her father would be angry with her disobedience if he caught her wandering through the house at this time of night.
It was definitely a lesson she had learned when she was just four years old, when she unwittingly stumbled on one of her father’s rampages against her mother. She recalled vividly her mother being pinned against the wall with her father’s hands around her throat. The look of sheer horror on her mother’s face and the blue of her lips from not being able to breathe was still etched on her mind…Once Joy had been discovered hovering in the corner of the room, her father had released her mother, letting her slide to the floor where she lay holding her throat, gasping for air.
The sensation Joy had that night…she was having again. The feeling that something was just not right.
In her mind, she silently debated if she should turn and flee back to her room and pull the covers over her head and wait for her mother to come for her in the morning. Yet, another part of her mind, the inquisitive part, wanted to venture forth and discover the cause of the sounds that she had heard. The latter won out, propelling her feet forward.
The faint sounds of scuffling could be heard in the kitchen. It wasn’t a sound that was loud and frightening that she had grown accustomed to hearing when her parents were arguing and fighting, this sound left her with an ominous feeling that went bone deep.
Joy knew instinctively that this was not Santa Claus, as she had originally believed.
She treaded down the long hall that lead to the living room, hugging against the wall to stay hidden in the shadows. The sight that met her made her gasp aloud. She placed her hand over her mouth to prevent being heard.
The Christmas tree was toppled over on its side, glass balls and various other ornaments were strewn haphazardly across the floor and the lights continued to blink on and off. The multi-colored lights were reflecting across the room like a beacon of distress.
The room looked as though it had been ransacked the way the furniture was pushed around and the chairs toppled over. The coffee table had been broken, magazines and newspapers were strewn across the floor in the same manner as the Christmas ornaments.
Joy’s young mind was able to comprehend that something terrible had happened in this room. Where is mama? Where is papa? She was wondering. Why hadn’t they heard what happened in here and come to see how the Christmas decorations were destroyed? She stood glued to her spot, her mind racing with things she was not old enough to even conjure. Was this what had woken her from her sleep?
A new terror began to grip Joy as she slowly walked through the demolished living room. Yet, she was too frightened to call out for her parents, afraid that the bad person that was in her house would hear her and reach her before her parents did. Fear kept her silent.
The broken glass ornaments crushed under her feet as she walked towards the kitchen, leaving a trail of tiny, bloody footprints as she went. She was too numb to feel the pain it was causing.
Copyright © 2010 by Valerie Maarten
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