Tis The Season

by: M.J. Orz

Christmas was always my favorite time of the year. I can still remember being a boy, sitting around the window, and watching the first few flakes of snow fall over the Baltimore suburbs, signifying that it was finally time to start breaking out the Christmas decorations. My mother was notorious for putting up the most trees in the neighborhood – by the time I moved out she had nine trees set up throughout the house, each decorated with its own individual theme; each one in a different window for the neighbors to enjoy. The house was so full of color and light around this time. It changed the mood completely and made everything just a little more joyful.

Among all of these brightly colored decorations, strewn with tinsel and holly and bulbs and lights, was Esther. Esther the elf. I never quite understood why my mother kept Esther around, she easily being the ugliest object in the house – yet my mother insisted that she be up and in plain sight, on the bookcase in the living room. Every year she would take Esther out of the box and put her on the shelf and position her just so. If I tried to move Esther, my mother would put her right back where she had previously been and told me not to touch her again. I asked my mother many times to maybe put something else in that spot, seeing as how I thought the darn thing was hideous, but she said that was she wanted the doll, and that is where it would stay.

Esther was about two feet tall, definitely a large item for that specific bookcase. She had dark brown yarn hair and patchy tan felt skin. Her clothes were made of the same material, except green and red, which had all blended into some shades of brown as the years went on. My guess was that Esther was about forty or fifty years old, at least. She definitely was a hand-sewn toy, shown by the sketchy seams. I assume she was made for some child at some point and ended up in my mother’s care, even though I know that the doll was not made for my mother or my grandmother; they had told me that much. My mother said that her mother had given it to her and never said where it came from, and that one day, I would have Esther too. So much for a family heirloom. The doll had black button eyes with no pupils and a red smile that was sewn across its face with no teeth. The worst thing about Esther though, was the sound is made if you touched its stomach. At one point, I believe it was meant to be a giggle and the words “Merry Christmas” or something around those lines, but as the engine inside the thing had just about kicked the bucket, and even though my mother insisted in keeping fresh batteries in it, the noise it produced was a slow, low grumble followed by some gibberish nonsense spoken in the same tone. That noise was possibly the worst holiday cheer that one could imagine; almost something out of a child’s nightmare.

The years passed and I spent many beautiful, wonderful, joyous Christmases with my mother. I eventually moved out on my own and found a small house outside of the city, only about fifteen minutes away from my mother’s house. It was perfect. I was able to go over for every holiday and, without fail, help her put up her Christmas decorations every year. That is, until last year.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, my mother became very ill and was in and out of a doctor’s office at least three or four times a week. They got the official diagnosis within a month and, unfortunately, I lost her only a few days after sharing what we knew was going to be our last Christmas together. It was an incredibly difficult time for the family. We had cousins flying in and out of the state, everybody trying to get everything sorted out and, of course, there was the legal mumbo jumbo that pops up once a family member passes that lacks all sorts of empathy towards a grieving son. Once all was said and done, her things were divided, the house was sold, and each member of the family got something to remember my mother by.

And at the top of the list of things that my mother wanted me to take from her house, was Esther.

Almost a year passed as we finished up our Thanksgiving feasts and in no time at all, I was setting up all of the decorations in my house for my favorite holiday season. I put up three of the trees my mother had left me, thinking that she would be proud to see my tiny home so bright and full of light-hearted happiness. As I sifted through the boxes, right towards the end of my decoration, I noticed that I hadn’t even thought to take out Esther. I pulled her from a small box in the attic and stared at her for a moment, contemplating what to do with her. Did I really want to have this hideous thing sitting somewhere in my house? It was my mothers, so I wanted to respect that, but deep down, I hated this doll with a passion. I decided against it, justifying it to myself by saying that Mom would be proud of the way my house looked now, even without Esther lurching on a shelf somewhere. I put her back in the box and shut the door to the attic.

I sat around the house that night, looking around at my hard work, smiling and remembering my mother. After a few premature eggnog and vodka mixes – luckily the local grocery store had already started stocking it – I started towards my bed, unplugging all of the decorations, satisfied with a job well done. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.

I was awoken by a crash coming from my living room. I immediately jumped up and reached over to my nightstand, where I left a baseball bat leaning for just this kind of occasion. My neighborhood wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly a place for the Joneses either. We had some crime and a burglary wouldn’t exactly be a farfetched story. Gripping the bat with both hands, I headed towards the living room, into the darkness. I could feel my heart racing and I even began to shake a little. I had never had to hurt anyone in my entire life – I was always a peaceful young man and the thought of actually having to swing a bat at somebody made my stomach turn.

As I crept into the room, I felt the wall for the light switch. Taking a deep breath and counting to three quickly in my head, I flicked the switch on and let out a scream to hopefully scare whatever was going to be standing there when light flooded the room. To my gracious surprise, the room was empty. I inched my way through the door and peered around into the kitchen. Nothing. The house was empty. I sighed relief and sat myself down on the couch, smiling, letting out a chuckle at how silly I must have looked yelling at nothingness. My smile faded when I looked to the shelf hanging right next to the television in the living room. There sat Esther, smiling at me, out of the box.

Had I drunkenly set her up? I couldn’t remember putting her out and even distinctly remembered that I didn’t want to have to look at her. I couldn’t imagine how she could have gotten up on the wall, but realized I had to have done it at some point. I wasn’t about to let it freak me out any more, I grabbed her by her dirty, faded hat and took her back to the attic. I put her back in the box, which I found still where I had left it, shut the attic door and went back to bed.

Within a few hours, around four in the morning, I woke up again, but this time not to a crash, but a softer noise, again, coming from the living room. Something was definitely wrong. Someone had to have been in the house. I kept thinking to myself that maybe I had a rat problem or some type of animal had gotten in and was making strange noises. Once I had convinced myself, I shut my eyes and tried to fall back to sleep, but was immediately forced back up by the smell of smoke. I rushed to get my robe on and saw the orange glow down the hall. I ran into the hallway bathroom, grabbed a wash bucket, filled it with water and hurried into the living room where I see that one of the curtains had a small flame growing up it. I knocked the rod off its holster to isolate the flames from anything else around it, dumped the water on, and then stomped furiously until the fire was out. Panting, I walked over to the light switch once again and turned it on. I screamed when my eyes hit the shelf.

There, sitting atop it, smiling at me, was Esther.

I was frozen in shock. This couldn’t be happening. I knew I had put her away. I was certain I had returned her to the box and shut the attic door. There was no way that I had forgotten about taking her out or maybe had a lapse of memory or dreamed it or something. No way. Without thinking, in a rage, I grabbed that doll once again, as well as a roll of duct tape from the closet and headed towards the attic. I grabbed the box, opened it, and taped the damned doll until it was nothing but a silver bundle, throwing it into the box before securing that shut as well. I walked out to the curb where I had left my trashcan for pick up the next morning and threw the whole package into the can. I would not have this thing in my house any longer. I stomped back into the house and proceeded to clean up the mess from the small fire.

Once the mess was cleaned up, I sat on the floor contemplating whether or not I should call the police. I didn’t know what I would tell them if I did. I can’t imagine them believing a story about a doll who continues to get out of it’s box that tried to burn my house down. There was no one in the house, the doors and windows were all locked – no one had even touched them. It was just me and my story – and I don’t think that would be enough to keep the police from laughing at me and possibly telling me to lay off the ‘nog.

I went to stand up, feeling exhausted now from the events of the night. I just wanted to sleep and wake up to find this whole thing to be a nightmare. I hadn’t taken a step before I heard it. That low, gurgling noise. I would recognize it anywhere. This time it was coming from the kitchen. Trembling, I walked into the kitchen and turned on the light. On the counter sat that wretched doll, and next to her, a cleaver from the drawer. I screamed and I cried, begging it to leave me alone. I pleaded with this doll and asked it over and over again what it wanted from me. It just smiled at me. Staring and smiling. I grabbed the toy and walked over to the shelf, placing it where I first found it. I sat on the couch and watched it until I saw the sun coming up through the windows. It didn’t move a muscle.

Last night I left it in its spot on the shelf and was able to finally get some rest. I haven’t taken Esther down yet and don’t think I will until the season is through. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about her anymore after the holidays are over.

At least, not until next Christmas.