Short and (not too) sweet - Editor
by Rick McQuiston
Jeremy rolled over in bed and glanced at the clock on his nightstand. 5:55 stared back at him in red LED numbers. A tiny red dot was lit next to the a.m. designation.
Not even six o’clock yet, he thought sluggishly. Still too early to get up.
But the anticipation that he harbored for Christmas morning was severely tempered by the memory of what he had witnessed earlier that same night.
Or thought he had witnessed.
It was shortly after two- thirty a.m. when he woke up, as most children do, overwhelmed by the curiosity of what lay under the Christmas tree. With excitement that could only be fostered in a child on that most anticipated of nights, he gleefully crawled out of bed and tip-toed down the stairs to investigate whether or not jolly old Saint Nick had fulfilled his holiday duties.The Christmas tree in red, green and blue illuminated the room. Jeremy’s father didn’t like leaving lights on at night, but made an exception on Christmas Eve. Making his way through the room Jeremy kept his eyes on his destination…the Christmas tree, or more accurately, the presents underneath it. He was fearful of breaking his parent’s rule about not looking at them before morning, but his curiosity got the better of him.He paused briefly, taking in the beautiful sight of the room before locking his still groggy eyes on the Christmas tree which loomed directly in front of him in the far corner of the room. It stood there, silently guarding the brightly wrapped treasures beneath it, daring anyone to unwrap them before the morning. It was large, nearly eight feet tall, and was packed with such an assortment of ornaments and tinsel that nearly no green was visible on it at all.
Since Jeremy was an only child he knew that virtually all of the gifts were for him, a thought that increased his excitement ten-fold. It was one of the many perks of not having any brothers or sisters.
Jeremy’s heart raced in his chest as he approached the neatly stacked gifts under the tree. He immediately focused on two of the larger ones, wrapped in bright red and blue-striped wrapping paper respectively, and slid closer to them for a better look. As he reached for the larger one, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.
Something on the tree shifted.
Jeremy looked up from his gifts and watched for any more movement. After a few tense minutes he was satisfied he had imagined it and he continued examining his future prizes
But a small part of his mind wouldn’t let go of the movement. It tried to rationalize it but failed to attach any plausible explanation.
A mouse in the tree? A loose branch? A faulty light strand?
Possibly, but unlikely.
Jeremy looked at the tree again. It was beautiful, fully lit with shimmering ornaments and dazzling tinsel, but there was something else as well. Something he couldn’t explain, but felt nonetheless.
The angel fastened to the top of the tree gazed solemnly across the room. Her flowing garb of gold and blue obscured most of her body, trailing down to mingle with the other decorations. She was the crowning glory of the tree, standing guard year after year from her lofty holiday perch.
Jeremy looked up at her, momentarily forgetting about the presents. He recognized the look in her tiny glass eyes. Even though they weren’t real they still conveyed the Christmas spirit. But they also seemed different somehow, more detached from Christmas and less concerned with holiday cheer.
Jeremy’s gaze fell upon the presents again. He huddled up close to them, periodically inspecting each and every one as he glanced back at the stairway.
And then he noticed it again.
There was movement in the tree. Only this time it was more pronounced, and in a different area, closer to the top.
Now he was getting nervous. He still wasn’t sure if he were imagining it or not, but the uneasy feeling that was settling over the room was unmistakable. He scooted away from the presents and stood up, all the while never taking his eyes off the tree. Slowly turning around his only thought was getting back to the safety of his bedroom. In the morning with the added security of his parents and daylight he could truly enjoy the holiday and tear into his presents.
He resisted the urge to look back as he scurried toward the stairs. He was afraid that he might see something he would regret seeing, possibly for the rest of his life. Within 30 seconds he was tucked safely under his covers trying desperately to fall back asleep.
Jeremy glanced at the clock on his nightstand.
6:17 a.m. Still too early to get up. Not that he really wanted to get out of bed. But the thought that eventually his parents would come into his room and make him wake up frightened him. They would no doubt be curious as to why their little boy wasn’t awake yet on Christmas morning. He would then be obligated to go downstairs with them and open his presents…the ones under the Christmas tree.
Jeremy looked over at the clock again, somehow hoping that time had moved backward.
6:24 a.m. Still too early…
“Good morning big guy,” Jeremy’s dad bellowed as he flipped on the light switch. “”Don’t you want to see what Santa brought this year?” He was gesturing towards the hallway. His mother was standing behind him, beaming from ear to ear, a red and green coffee mug in her hands. Jeremy smiled as best he could and slowly crawled out of bed. Part of him was excited, but another part was scared to death.
“Come on big guy,” his dad continued to urge, no doubt reliving his own childhood through his son. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Santa was generous this year.”
Jeremy pulled his slippers on and rubbed his eyes. Maybe he just imagined it all; it was the middle of the night, and he hadn’t actually seen anything. Excitement began to overtake his thoughts as he stood up and yawned. His parents then ushered him out of his bedroom.
And downstairs, standing in the far corner of the living room, was the Christmas tree. The red, green and blue lights on it, supplemented by a hint of daylight streaming through the windows, filled the room with holiday cheer.
The tree outside a nearby window laid on its side, mostly covered by freshly fallen snow, its pine needles lying on the frozen ground beneath it. It had been discarded carelessly, tossed aside like yesterday’s trash.
The Christmas tree shuddered with anxious excitement when it heard the approaching footsteps in the hallway upstairs. It adjusted the angel at its top slightly, one of its many hunting tactics, and waited.