by Rebecca Wilson
“He’s still there.”
My whisper fogged the glass as I peeked through the edge of the curtain into the darkness. The failing street light in the middle of the block flickered uselessly. I had first glimpsed him through the sidelight during my midnight trek to the kitchen. I could hear the thrum of my pulse as I slipped to the living room window and spied the shadowy form lingering across the empty road. Morbid curiosity fueled my imagination. Was this the burglar touted by the news? Was this that stranger I had been reared to fear? My shaking fingers jiggled the drape. I held my breath. His dark outline leaned casually against the tailgate of a candy-apple red ’57 Chevy step-side truck. The shape shifted, hands patting pockets. Searching for a weapon? My fingers trembled. The figure sheltered an unfamiliar shape in his palm. A gun? The match he struck, to light his pipe, revealed his face. My eyes went wide and goose bumps rose on my arms.
“Oh crap! It’s him!”
The drape dropped back into place as I scrambled backwards toward my bedroom. The echoes of all the haunting stories flashed through my mind. I dove beneath my blanket and squeezed my eyes tight.
“Maybe he didn’t see me.”
I willed myself to sleep, hoping the old tales weren’t true. I didn’t want to know what would happen. In a sudden flash I realized, I hadn’t closed my bedroom door! Silent as a mouse, I pushed away my cover, determined to resolve my error.
Mid-step, I heard the faintest scrape from the living room. I froze. One hand on the brassy knob, I glanced down the hall. A flicker of light twinkled near the door. It was accompanied by the barest crinkle of sound. I smelled a wisp of pipe tobacco.
My mind screamed, “He is in the house!”
I slowly backed away from the door. Heel, toe, heel, toe; each motion measured to prevent any sound. I returned to the sanctuary of my bed and released a tattered breath. My ears strained for any sound as I cowered under my blanket.
I bolted upright. At some point the stress of the night’s event had overwhelmed me and I’d fallen asleep! Asleep! My memories of the shadows, the flame of the match, the scent of tobacco. I tiptoed toward the living room with ragged anticipation. What horror would be revealed?
The sight that greeted me flooded me with relief. Our brightly wrapped boxes, with shimmering bows, were still stacked below the pine branches. I padded carefully into the room and noticed a new addition. There, on the side table, lay a red and white felt stocking adorned with my name. I nervously glanced around, then picked up the new gift. It was overflowing with coins, candy, a hefty orange, and a single piece of coal.
“He knew.” I remembered the match flame shimmering in his eyes and a shudder ran down my spine. “Of course he knew.”