It is December 20th. Brian arrives at his grandparent’s old house just as the snow begins to fall. He is alone. That’s all right, he tells himself. He has painting to do.
And he never liked Christmas anyway.
It is December 21st. Brian wakes from a dream in which he saw a man at the window, with eyes like burning coals and a beard full of icicles.
It is cold in the house. A drafty cold. A cold like breath on the back of his neck.
He makes coffee to warm up and paints through the day.
Outside, the snow is falling thicker.
December 22nd. There is a sock on his pillow when he wakes. Inside, a dead white mouse, curled and foul.
He carries it to the fire and burns it. The smell is unbearable.
He has always hated stockings.
December 23rd. He wakes to see nothing but white beyond the window. A snowstorm. The wind is howling, the windows shaking, and that drafty cold has become a bone-deep chill. He wraps up in layers, but it is not enough.
His paintings are ruined. A window has been left open and drifts of snow have buried them, staining them with deep, running lines when they melted.
He spends the day shoveling out that room. When he looks outside, he thinks he can see figures in the snow: thin and tall. He waves to them, but they do not wave back.
There is another sock. This time it is nailed to the headboard and full of old bones. He throws it out the window. It lands in the snow and vanishes, white amongst white.
A letter is sitting beneath the door. There is no postmark, no address. Inside: a blank Christmas card, depicting a somber wintry scene, wet with snow.
He burns it. The fire roars, but it is not enough to keep out the terrible cold.
Mistletoe is sprouting over the door: deep green leaves, sharp as knives, with berries like blood drops.
Brian runs from the room. Something brushes against his lips.
The mistletoe is on every door he passes. Behind them, he sees the shadows of feet and hears distant carols.
In the dining room, upon the table, is a present. Wrapped in old, stale newspapers and twine.
A hand closes on his shoulder.
He is not celebrating Christmas alone after all.
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