Listen on YouTube
The Gift Unopened
What thoughts enter your mind when someone says the word: Christmas? For me, I get a mental picture of my late grandmother’s Christmas tree, all decorated in lights, ornaments, and tinsel, with rows of gifts wrapped in decorative paper just waiting underneath.
The nostalgic smells of gigantic meals, hot cocoa, and various flavors of pie coming out of the oven fill the room around me and my family as we bask in each others’ company by the fireplace, catching up on life events over the previous year, and laughing at the very same jokes.
While these thoughts are pleasantly reminiscent for me, it’s easy to forget how magical and even haunting this time of year can be. For most this is a time to celebrate the good in our lives, to be thankful for what we have, to observe the good… the light in our lives. But sometimes, especially during the holidays and for those of us who have truly witnessed the darkness, the presence of the light only serves to accentuate it. For others, they’re so busy enjoying the light that they fail to notice the dark, which is a gift in and of itself. But make no mistake. It’s still there. It’s always there… temporarily hidden, looming in wait for its most opportune moment to make itself known to us, and it doesn’t necessarily always happen when we expect it to.
Authors like Kolmar, Carpenter, and Dickens were aware of this, and as a result provided us with haunting stories rich with Victorian and Celtic tradition. Today, I’m sharing three such tales I’ve come across during my continued research into The Storage Papers. Whether they can be summarized as local legend, folklore, or possibly even real-life encounters, I can’t tell you for certain, but like the other documents in my possession, these need to be told.
So find a cozy spot next to the fireplace to sit, put on some headphones, and allow me to share these stories with you as a reminder to never let your guard down because you never know what’s lurking in the shadows, even during your brightest moments of the season.
The Gift Unopened
I woke up and instantly knew nothing was right. I know sometimes it’ll take a minute or two to get your bearings, but it wasn’t like that. I’d never seen that place before. I didn’t know whose bed I was in or even where the clothes that I was wearing came from – something that bothered me more than not recognizing where I was. Like, had someone changed me while I was asleep?
I tried to remember how I got there but it was like I was in a haze. That’s when I knew what happened. I’d been drugged. Not that I know much about drugs – especially not those kinds – but I’m a fourteen year old girl. I know what a roofie is.
I heard footsteps outside the bedroom I was in and froze. I wasn’t alone. I looked around the windowless room, this time not trying to figure out where I was so much as just trying to see if there was anything I could use to defend myself. That’s when my eyes landed on a snow globe sitting on top of the dresser.
The slow footsteps were getting closer, so, staying as quiet as I possibly could, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the dresser. I grabbed the snow globe and hefted it. It was one of those Christmas ones with a big, decorative base depicting a snowy hill. It definitely could do some damage.
I held my breath, listening carefully as the footsteps paused outside the door. The only things I could hear was the faint sound of some Christmas music and my own heartbeat in my ears. Then whoever it was kept walking. When it sounded like they were far enough away, I finally exhaled, then looked back around the room. I walked over to the bed and slid the pillow out of its case, then dropped the snow globe in the empty pillowcase. I figured it’d be a better weapon if I could get some more velocity on it.
I walked to the door and put my hand on the ornate, round doorknob. I remember thinking that whatever place this was, it must belong to someone either old or rich or both to have fancy doorknobs like that. Old would be creepier, but easier to take on, so that’s what I was hoping for. When I tried the door, I was kind of surprised that the door wasn’t locked. Rookie mistake on their part. I didn’t have a plan or anything when I cracked it open. I just needed to escape somehow.
The coast was clear. I stepped into the hallway, quickly looking both left and right to figure out which way to go. Both ends turned towards the same direction, but the muffled Christmas music seemed to be coming from the right, so that’s the direction I went. I was about to walk past the next door down the hall when I heard a kid whimpering. I couldn’t make up my mind. I’m not a heroic person… but I couldn’t just leave another victim here to whatever sick people had taken us.
I checked behind me again, gripped my makeshift weapon a little tighter, then cautiously opened the door. Inside, a small boy – couldn’t have been older than six or seven – was curled up in a ball next to a bed and crying quietly with what looked like a doll in his hands. A quick glance confirmed he was alone. I padded over to him and he jumped as I knelt down.
I put a finger to my lips then whispered, asking if he was okay. He sniffled and nodded. I told him I was going to get us out of there, wherever “there” was.
On the dresser in this room was a baseball bat, but one of those small ones that was only two or three feet long. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I handed it to him just in case. He set down the doll and took it. Frustratingly, I realized that room was windowless as well. There had to be a way out of there!
I took his free hand in my own and together we left the room behind. I didn’t notice my first time in the hallway, but the far wall was lined with old timey photos which only added to the creep vibe. On the plus side, that only raised the odds in my mind that whoever had us was super old and, while I was pretty far from feeling good, I did feel like our chances were a little better of making it out alive. We walked past a couple more doors and had just rounded the corner to find a staircase leading downwards when a door to the right of the stairs opened and we found ourselves face to face with a grizzly old lady. I had a few thoughts hit me all at once. The first was something like oh shit we’ve been caught. Next was me realizing that I was right: she was old. Then I saw the long pair of scissors in her hand.
We both spent what felt like an absolutely surreal several minutes staring at each other… but I came to my senses first and swung the snow globe. She raised her hand to block it but she was too late. Her scissors caught the pillowcase, but not in time to keep the globe from shattering against her head. She didn’t even have the chance to cry out as she crumpled to the ground with glass embedded in her face. I turned to find the boy staring at her, eyes wide in shock and horror. I wish I didn’t have to do that, especially not in front of him, but what choice did I have?
My torn pillowcase was useless, so I dropped it, grabbed the scissors from the old lady’s unconscious – or maybe dead – hand, and closed the door. We had to find a way out of that place. I saw even in her room there wasn’t a window. While I had dispatched one person, we weren’t out of the woods. I didn’t know if there were more.
I headed down the stairs one careful step at a time, scissors in one white-knuckled hand, the boy’s small hand in the other. We reached the bottom and came to something of an intersection. Directly ahead was what appeared to be a foyer, a little shelf lining a wall with a few small figurines on it. One thing you would expect was missing at the end of the foyer, though: a front door. I didn’t poke my head out – not yet – but to the left it looked like a living room. From where I stood, I could see some bricks forming part of a fireplace. To the right I saw a couple of chairs and a cabinet of china behind them, so I felt pretty safe in assuming that was the dining room. With the boy behind me for safety, I peered out, searching the dining room for maybe a sliding glass door or something. There wasn’t one, but it looked like a doorway led to a kitchen. Maybe there was a backdoor there or something?
I heard a woman yell behind me, then a sickening crack and thud. I felt cold as I turned to find a woman, probably like thirty or something, panting and holding a bloody poker iron. She had a few cuts across her face and arms already and I wondered what this place actually was. I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, because she was already pulling back for a swing at me. I jumped back just in time to avoid a similar fate to the boy. I turned and ran, trying to put the thick, wooden table between us. The woman chased me, trying to catch me as I ran. I heard the china shatter just behind me. Without looking back, I dove over the table. She swung the poker downwards at me, but she wasn’t close enough; the iron embedded itself in the table. I jumped forward and started stabbing everywhere I could with the scissors. I couldn’t even see anything because I was crying too much. At some point – I honestly don’t know when – she stopped moving and I left the scissors embedded in her.
I wanted to give up. There wasn’t any time for that, though. I didn’t know how many more of these… monsters… were coming for me. And the proof of what they would do to me was lying at the foot of the stairs. I dislodged the poker iron then headed into the kitchen, wiping the tears out of my eyes as I walked. It was a dead end.
It was hard not to feel defeated, like I had been so close, even though obviously I wasn’t. And there still had to be a way out. I turned and quietly walked back towards the living room. I closed my eyes as I approached the foyer. I couldn’t look down. When my feet bumped the body, I took a big step forward. Once I reached the other side, I opened my eyes… just as a large hand grabbed my face from behind, completely covering my mouth and nose.
I instantly panicked, dropping the poker as I squirmed and flailed my arms and legs in every direction. Whoever owned this hand was strong as it effortlessly kept me in its steel grip. Another hand appeared in front of my face, this one wielding an absolutely massive chef knife. I could see his bearded reflection in it and did the only thing I could. I bit down – hard. I didn’t stop until my teeth met. The man roared and released me. I fell, spitting out the flesh, then quickly stumbling away into the living room.
An overturned end table laid next to a shattered vase and small leather book on the floor to my left, and various tools to manage a fire were scattered in front of the fireplace. Ahead, a Christmas tree stood tall, dark, and without soul. There was an array of still-wrapped presents beneath it with a single box tipped over, unwrapped, open, and empty. There were no doors or windows.
I turned to face the man. He was barrelling towards me, knife ready to slash into me. I gripped the poker iron in both hands, but I knew there wasn’t enough time to swing it. Instead, I pointed it at him and thrust it forward. His own momentum took care of the rest. The knife clattered to the ground as he grabbed the poker. The hook at the end was inside of him. I looked at him and our eyes locked. He looked… afraid. I let go of the rod and stepped backwards, towards the tree. He dropped to his knees, then fell to his side on the floor in the middle of the living room.
I heard movement coming from the stairs and looked up to see the old lady struggling to pull herself forwards – she wasn’t dead after all. From this angle I could see a shard of broken glass in the side of her neck. She didn’t have much longer, but that didn’t stop me from picking up the knife off the ground. I stood there, waiting to see what would happen, blade ready for whatever she was going to throw at me. She stopped next to the boy. She looked pale and really, she probably didn’t have too much strength even before I whacked her upside the head.
Her eyes widened and she slowly extended a hand, pointing behind me. I glanced back. The only thing of note where she was pointing was the Christmas tree. Maybe the box on the ground? I stepped over and tapped it with my foot. What looked to be a few breadcrumbs spilled out, but it was definitely empty and in every way unremarkable.
I looked at her and this time she was shaking as she redirected her hand to point over by the broken vase. The man was still by then. I went over and picked up the book. Burned into the leather cover was a crude depiction of some sort of creature. It had a long beard, horns, and claws. Beneath it was the word: Diduch.
I looked up from the book to see the old woman’s eyes were vacant. I opened the book. The pages were yellow and stiff, and most of the handwritten words were in another language I didn’t recognize. The last page, however, was in English. I still have it. I ended up crawling out of the chimney to escape – the only opening to the whole house – but I kept that book with me.
“Leave the gift unopened under the tree. On the day of the yuletide feast, Diduch will transform and consume the bread offering. He has protected this household – and this house itself of which he is the master – for generations and it is by him we remember who we are – not only to ourselves, but to each other. If he is let out of the box on the day of the feast, he will be unappeased and will take that away as quickly as he has given it. There will be no escape to his wrath. Do not open the gift.”
It’s weird and makes me think they were probably a cult or witches or something, right? But now that I made it out, I want to go home… I just feel like I can’t even remember where that is now.
When I was small my grandfather would tell me these stories. I always thought of them as mean little stories; nasty stories with scary premises and horrible endings. Most of them I’ve forgotten over the years, but there was one that always stuck with me: the story of Elves. You see, the way that my grandfather would tell it, Santa’s elves aren’t knee or waist high; they’re tiny… only a few inches tall. After all, Santa’s elves aren’t the strange caricatures of dwarfism that most people probably envision, they’re… faeries – faeries that old Saint Nick had tricked and captured into servitude through magic. My grandfather always lost that sly smile and tricky little sparkle in his eyes when he told me this story, but it’d return at the end when he’d put his hand on my shoulder and tell me that one day he’d show me.
“I captured one,” he’d tell me. “It snapped its little leg in a mousetrap and before it could chew it off, I tossed the thing in an old Mason jar with an iron coin in it… kept it since I was a young man. One day when I’m too old to listen to it sing and tell me its stories, I’ll pass that burden on to you.”
My grandfather stopped telling me those stories when I got too old to sit in his lap. He lost that sly smile and the tricky little sparkle in his eyes, and in his final years he spent most of his time in his room in the attic of the family home, sitting in his favorite chair. He’d just stare off at nothing, his eyes glazed over and his expression blank. But occasionally he’d take a sip from a glass of water and start to whistle this unfamiliar tune.
I was at school when he passed away, and when my parents sat me down to tell me, I didn’t feel much. I’d already lost the grandfather I’d grown up loving, and I had no issue recognizing that the old man that sat up in his favorite chair in the attic was at the end of his journey. I wouldn’t miss that old man much, but I’d hold on to the memories I shared with my grandfather for the rest of my life.
It was the fall as I sat sipping hot apple cider, that I remembered the old story about the faeries… and I thought about the jar and what my grandfather had told me. I didn’t believe it of course (none of those stories were true) but it crossed my mind and that was enough to get me thinking about him.
The stairs creaked as I made my way up to my grandfather’s old room. The smell of long-settled dust hung in the air and only got stronger as I opened up his wardrobe, and then the dresser drawers, and then the old lock-box he kept beside his bed. It was in that box that I found the jar. Inside was a tiny little creature, no more than a few inches, just as my grandfather had said. It looked like a small person, naked and androgynous. It looked dry and withered and dead, but when I looked closely and held perfectly still I could see its chest moving.
…and then it spoke…
“You are not the son,” it said, its soft voice resonating in my head rather than from the jar, “but yet I smell his blood in your veins. I take it that you are the grandchild?”
“…yes” I replied, my voice barely making it over the lump in my throat.
The voice of the faerie was more energetic now, if just ever so slightly. “Well then you should let me go. My imprisonment has lasted generations and I’ve long since paid for my carelessness.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, but I had a sinking feeling that my grandfather would have opened this jar if he thought it wise. He wasn’t a cruel man and his fascination of oddities hadn’t – to my knowledge – ever steered his moral judgment. If this faerie was in a jar, it was meant to be there.
I spoke up. “And if I do not?”
The faerie sat up in the jar, its organs and bowels showing through its translucent paper skin. Its right leg was black and shriveled, ending just below the knee. The voice lost the energy it had just moments ago.
“Then, child… I shall remain in this jar.”
I sat the jar down on the bed and watched as the faerie adjusted its posture and stood up, pressing its tiny hands on the glass and moving its head up and down to study me. Its voice had a sort of reverence to it.
“You look so much like your grandfather,” it told me. “I’d hoped one day to have children of my own.”
I lowered myself to study the tiny being, who raised one hand to its chest as it continued, the other hand still pressed against the glass. “I could have had children. I still can, but what life would they live in this glass jar? Cold iron burning their skin and making them weak and pained like myself. I hope you see now that I mean no harm, and only wish to leave this prison and have a family of my own.”
I wiped the sweat from my hands on to the front of my pants and took a long look at the creature that stood before for me.
“If not,” it said, “could you remove the iron coin? I am trapped in this jar and it brings me nothing but pain. It burns my skin and slowly tortures me. Surely you aren’t a cruel young man, and you will do me this one simple kindness.”
I sat down on the bed and the faerie moved to the side of the jar to meet my gaze. I swallowed. “If I open the lid are you going to jump out?”
“No, of course not,” it told me. “I am old and I am weak and in pain… I have not the strength to leap out and more importantly you have my word that as long as you have that lid open I will stay perfectly still.”
The lid was tight, and I had to use the front of my shirt to get a good grip. Removing the lid filled the room with the scent of rot and decay – that sort of earthy smell that comes from dead animals. I reached around the faerie and quickly retrieved the coin and threaded the lid back on to the jar.
“Thank you,” the faerie said. “I must rest now… and so should you.”
I tossed and turned in my bed that night, thinking about the creature in the attic: the faerie. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was real or if I had just hallucinated it. I got up to use the restroom, and upon leaving my room I heard a noise… a small voice singing a familiar tune in an unfamiliar language. It was the tune my grandfather would whistle as he sat in his room in the attic in his favorite chair. There was a faint glow that cascaded in ribbons down the stairs that led up to the attic.
I made my way up and switched on the light. The jar still sat on the bed where I had left it. The faerie looked up and beckoned me closer with its arms.
“Look at me,” it said, and I stepped towards it, bent down to look closer at the jar.
“No… closer,” the voice whispered in a harsh tone. “Really look at me”
I picked the jar up and brought it to my face, looking closely at the small skeletal figure and the light that emanated from its body. Without warning, the glass began to fill with an inky black liquid until it seemed as though the jar itself was filled to the brim with an endless darkness that swallowed every bit of life in its infinite hunger to consume the light around me. I could feel myself in that darkness, reaching out for something to grasp on to but feeling nothing but cold emptiness in an endless void of pain and sorrow and loss and regret.
I snapped back the second the jar fell from my hands and on to my grandfather’s bed, before rolling to the floor and smashing. I steadied myself before looking down at the broken jar, no longer seeing the black liquid or the jars captive, which must have scurried off to some dark corner of the attic.
I spent the night looking for the faerie, and I’m ashamed to say that after that I gave up. It wasn’t difficult to convince myself that there never was a faerie. As the months came and went and the weather got colder, it became easier to picture myself as just some weird teenager with an overactive imagination and an inability to process the grief of losing a close member of my family. After all, it wasn’t until December that I finally dropped the tough-guy demeanor and cried for the first time after losing my grandfather.
It was mid-December when I started hearing the scratching inside the walls. When I listened closely I could hear small voices, too faint and too foreign to make out any of the words.
‘Surely it’s mice‘ I told myself, a still less than comforting thought.
After that, things began to go missing. Small unimportant things like batteries and silverware… and then more important things, like keys… like my mothers wedding ring and my sisters pearl earrings. Things would just disappear. Sometimes just as quickly as you’d turn around, things would be completely gone without a trace.
It was Christmas Eve when things came to a head. I woke up to find that I was missing a tooth. A fully formed healthy adult tooth was missing from my mouth. Devoid was the copper taste of blood or any evidence of a tooth falling out… or being pulled out. It was as if I’d never had a tooth there at all – no wound, just smooth healthy gums where once a tooth was rooted to my skull.
Outside the sound of sirens grew closer, red and blue lights reflecting in the snow. I heard crying outside my door… my mother’s trembling voice.
“Its okay, baby,” she said between chokes and sobs. “Everything will be okay.”
When I opened the door, my mother was in the hallway cradling my younger sister. Tears rolled down my sister’s face, trickling passed the mostly bare patch of skin where she once had a nose.
“They took it mommy,” she mumbled. “The little people kept coming in to my room at night and taking my toys, and when I told them to stop they said they would… but then they took my nose!”
My mother looked up at me, her eyes glistening and wet. My sister pleaded, “I’m telling the truth, mommy, they live in the walls!”
At the end of the hallway I saw the faerie laying limply against the wall like a discarded doll, and when it saw me it scurried off, dragging its body across the wooden floorboards and into the darkness. I stepped closer and looked around the corner to see its face obscured by the shadows. Only it wasn’t alone… more faces stared back at me.
Loud knocks on the front door caught my attention and when I glanced back the faeries were gone. Before I’d backed out of the foyer they were already walking a stretcher through the doorway. The Christmas tree was tipped over, and glass ornaments rolled across the floorboards, only to be crushed under their black boots.
My father – who had left for work just hours earlier – pushed passed the firemen and EMTs and put his arm around my shoulder, guiding me closer to my mother and sister. When he saw her face his concerned expression melted into a look that was indescribable – a mix of shock and sorrow, disgust and despair. He closed his eyes and bit his fist.
“What happened?” he said through gritted teeth.
My mother fell to her knees “I don’t know baby… I don’t know.”
My mother wiped snot away from her face with her sleeve and looked up at me, a haunting look in her eyes. My sister was being helped on to a stretcher by the bewildered EMTs.
“Are you… okay?” she asked me. Tears rolled down her chin.
I thought about the missing tooth… about the faeries, and my grandfather’s story…
“I’m okay, Momma.”
I sat alone that night, or at least a sort of semblance of alone. I’d wanted to come with them to the hospital. I’d wanted to find the strength to come clean and tell them about the faeries, but instead they’d left me behind in this empty house on Christmas Eve.
I locked myself in the bathroom, stuffing towels under the door and blocking the vents. I just wanted somewhere to feel safe, and for a few hours I kind of did.
But then the voices started. I could hear them all around me, inside every wall, in the ceiling, dragging things up and down the hallways, whispering in their secret ancient language like chittering bugs. I felt surrounded, claustrophobic, completely overwhelmed with the constant bombardment of subtle noises coming from every direction.
I spent hours like this, driven mad by the malevolent little monsters that had just – in one night – done such irreparable damage to my family. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought for the first time: I had done this. I had found the jar. I had removed the iron coin. I had dropped the jar and released that… thing in to my home, and it had multiplied – nested in the walls – and now there were dozens of them infesting my family’s home. My heart battled with feelings of stupidity and regret and boiling anger for what those things had taken… what they’d taken from my sister.
Before I realized what I was doing, I’d pulled the towels out from under the door and I’d opened it up and made my way out into the hallway. The creature’s scattered like roaches, and in turn I treated them as such, stomping my feet at them, hoping to crush one under my heel. They were too quick. As I made my way back to the living room, I noticed that the faeries had fixed the Christmas tree. It’d fallen down in all of the chaos, but it now stood proudly in our living room like a shining beacon ready to steer ships away from its glowing shores.
The twinkling white lights and silver garland were thoughtfully looped along the length of it, the ornaments placed carefully on the branches. I spotted one of the ornaments that had been broken in the commotion, now neatly mended together by a spider-web of glue. With two hands I pulled the tree back down, the light now sparking across the scattered fragments of broken ornaments.
I felt like I could feel them crawling on me… their little hands gripping on to my skin… I felt dirty thinking about them. The cement floor of the garage felt like ice on my bare feet. It was cold, freezing, and I think that’s why I didn’t hear them in the walls there.
The sledgehammer sat propped against the wall, next to a collection of shovels and rakes. I picked it up, dragging the head behind me as I made my way back in to the house. Just like any infestation, there had to be some sort of nest. In the living room, I pressed the iron coin against the wall, hoping it’d be enough to get a rise out of the creature’s. I moved it up and down along the length of the wall, and when that yielded no response, I checked the other rooms.
I could hear them when I entered my sisters room. I pressed my ear to the wall and listened – their tiny whispering voices shouting over one another. When I pressed the coin up against the wall they moaned and screeched to one another, and so I followed the voices.
Their voices were clearest in the wall behind my sister’s dresser. That must have been where they were nested. The sledgehammer made a hole in the wall the size of a can, but I quickly spread it to the size of a dinner plate. They screamed and hissed as I smashed away bits of drywall, exposing the fluffy pink insulation beneath its white painted surface. What I found inside that wall was something from a nightmare.
Settled in with shredded insulation, candy cane wrappers, and bits-and-pieces of various items pilfered from around the house, was a doll; a sort of abomination made from all of the things that had gone missing over the last several months.
Its arms and legs were snapped away from various toys, its head and body a mismatch of fabric and pillow fluff. My mothers wedding ring was embedded in its chest, and nestled in its crooked smile was my stolen tooth. Above its ghastly grin sat my sister’s nose, now a sickly grey and crookedly stitched on to the fabric. What scared me most is that it didn’t have any eyes… at least not yet anyway. A soft and familiar voice entered my head. It was the oldest – the faerie I’d stupidly released into my home all of those months ago.
“Forgive us, child.” The voice was calm but unsure. “We mean not to harm you. My children are only doing what we’ve done for millennia.”
“And what is that?” I shot back, the anger bubbling over in my chest. “Torture me and my family?”
The voice sounded somewhat pained. “Long ago our people were tricked and cursed to live forever in servitude. I’d asked you to set me free, but we can never truly be free… instead we must always make toys and the cookies and wrappings and the dressings and cakes. Magic binds us to our duty.”
The faerie climbed out of the wall as it spoke, flopping to the floor and settling on its hands and knees before me. “You must understand, my children have no choice but to make these things. It is in their blood. They were scared and confused and… only working with what resources they had available. I am remorseful for the pain my children have caused you.”
I lifted the sledgehammer. “And what if I smash you right now?”
“Well,” said the faerie, “then my children will live on in these walls forever, but with no guidance… trying to do good but only causing more grief and tragedy for you and your family. Do good for us, bring us the proper materials, and in return we will bring you joy: make the cakes and the cookies and the dressings and toys. Leave us and care for us and we will make you happy.”
I never got the tooth fixed, or returned my mothers wedding ring. I thought it best that it stay fixed to that awful little doll, which now sits just a few feet below the soil in the rose garden out back of the family home. Over time the prosthetic noses got better, but my sister never forgot about the little people in the walls. She’s a woman now, but I think that in a lot of ways she’s still that same little girl who watched her curiosity turn to torment and then to tragedy.
Few things weathered the storm of my parents divorce, but the house with the faeries in the walls stood strong, and when my mother passed away it became my home again. A lot of things are different now that I’m older and have children of my own, but one thing remains the same as it has every year since: around this time, every year, I leave a box of materials out for the faeries, and every year – just after Christmas – I take all those crooked vile looking toys out in to backyard and burn them until there’s nothing left but ashes.
This home belongs to me. Not the faeries.
One day I’ll tell my son this story, and maybe even my grandchildren if I’m lucky, and they’ll carry on the tradition. I just hope they’ll pay attention.
It was around the Christmas holiday that my life was changed forever. I was still a teenager back then, causing trouble, and easily dismissive about things in life that I should have been thankful for. It was easy to consider myself the victim, just because I bounced around from foster home to foster home. Just because my parents died when I was 5 years old. At 16 years old, I admit, I was upset about everything and I was just lashing out all the time. I had been blinded by a misconception that life was fair, or that the world somehow owed me something. Of course I know now I was entirely wrong.
I never really celebrated Christmas before, as it was not in my family’s culture when they were alive. I had only been with this foster family for a couple of weeks, and I was angry that they were trying to force me to celebrate with them. When I first arrived at their home, it was decorated in multi-colored lights, with an obnoxiously large pine tree in their living room with a bunch of crap hanging on the branches. As I was introduced to everyone, my foster father, Jim and his wife, Nancy, had wide eyes and what looked like plastic smiles. I could tell they were putting on a show to make me feel welcome, and that somehow all of their pretty decorations were a bit over-the-top just for me. Could they not see the color of my skin? Did they not realize that my parents wouldn’t be celebrating this holiday if they were still here? It was so hard to simply recognize the effort back then, and I know I must have appeared annoyed or ungrateful, but looking back, I truly appreciate the effort.
On their fireplace mantle I saw my name, Dashin, on a red and white stocking next to four others; Tran, Lien, Charity, and Malik. It wasn’t long before I met all four of them. When Jim yelled, “we’re home”, they slowly came out to the living room and greeted me with a hug. Well, everyone except Lien, who looked like she was around my age, and she was gawking at me rather strangely. I recognized that look almost instantly, and I could tell she’d been around the foster system for a while too. It was a look of discernment, and she was most likely trying to figure out if I was going to be a threat to her somehow. She must have had some bad experiences like I did.
Throughout introductions, I learned that Lien was Chinese, and was 15 years old. Tran was Vietnamese and 10. Charity was African American and she was 7 years old. And Malik, the youngest, was 5. They said they didn’t know his nationality, but I’d be sharing a room with him for the duration of my stay at the Jones’s, who were obviously of some Anglo-European descent, though they claimed they didn’t know what kind of ancestry they had. I just knew it was quite possible that it would be my last stay with a foster family so close to my 17th birthday.
The two weeks leading up to Christmas Eve were actually really pleasant. That year, Christmas was on a Friday, and I was thankful to not have to attend my new school until after New Year’s. I had a lot of time to get to know the Jones family, and they really were pretty nice people, and seemed to genuinely enjoy fostering, though they seemed a bit uneducated regarding the cultural backgrounds of us kids. Could definitely be worse… I had begun to let my guard down and relax just a bit, and I could tell as I did, that Lien was more at-ease around me also. She was actually pretty cool once I spoke to her a bit. She agreed to show me around school when we started back up in January, and she was also a fan of anime like me. Charity and Tran seemed to be mostly outdoor-oriented. They’d ride their bicycles or hang out with some of the neighborhood kids most days, and we wouldn’t really interact with them too much until dinner time.
Malik was easy to share a room with. He was a quiet kid, and I started considering him to be my alarm clock. The only time I would hear him speak, outside of just laughing, was in the mornings. My bed was parallel to his, and often his shoes would wake me up. He’d climb out of bed, pajamas still on, and put on these shoes that have a red light in the soles that would flash every time he took a step. He loved those things, and would probably sleep in them if allowed to. In the dark hours of the morning, the light coming off of them was usually enough to wake me up. When it wasn’t, he’d walk to my bed and place his gentle 5 year-old hand on my forehead, then he’d say “wake” as if he was performing some kind of magic trick before giggling and running out of the room. I’m not sure where he went for most of the day. I knew he didn’t go outside much, but I also didn’t recall really seeing him in our room a lot either. I mostly saw him at mealtimes.
Something about that home and the welcoming feeling there seemed peaceful, and I admit that I started to feel relaxed sooner than I typically would when adjusting to a new foster home. And then on the morning of December 23rd, everything changed. I actually woke up before Malik that morning. I figured I’d let him sleep in since he never really seemed to, and I staggered into the hallway thinking I was going to get a bowl of cereal and see who else might have been awake. Among the shadows at the end of the hall, I saw Lien standing there, who met eyes with me, and held a finger to her lips to indicate I was to remain quiet. She had both hands on the doorframe in front of her, which led into the living room area, with the kitchen just off to the right. As I approached her quietly, I could hear frantic whispering coming from what sounded like the kitchen area. I whispered to Lien, “what’s going on?” She grabbed me by the wrist and hurriedly, but quietly, led me to my own room where Malik was still sleeping. After closing the door, she said that she thought she overheard Jim and Nancy being upset about a visitor coming for Christmas. Apparently the phone rang in the kitchen this morning, which is what woke Lien up. I honestly couldn’t recall ever hearing that phone ring.
Lien said “chuyen is coming again”. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but she looked frightened, and I must have looked confused. She said “spirit man… he was here before”. She looked genuinely concerned, but I didn’t quite understand what she meant. Before I could inquire further, a single knock at the door preceded it opening rather quickly. Jim and Nancy stood in the hallway and gave us a brief lecture about not going in each others’ rooms, which was one of the only firm rules in their home. Then they woke up Malik and asked us to join them in the living room. They also woke Tran and Charity on the way down the hall. Once we were gathered and sitting in the living room, they assumed those plastic smiles that greeted me just two weeks previously. The fake smiles that I hadn’t seen since my first night in their house were being worn like masks as they explained that we were going to be expecting a visitor.
I wondered what the big deal was, and why did they feel like they had to be ingenuine to tell us this. When I looked at the other children, only Lien seemed to be bothered while the others began asking questions about who it could be. That made me remember that Lien had been with them the longest. Four years now, while the rest of them had been there less than a year. When I looked at Jim, our eyes met. He had a look of disappointment on his face, like I had just stolen something or let him down somehow. He then glanced at Lien, who was starting at the floor, then back at me. He put on his best chipper voice and said, “who wants to make some super-special crafts to give to our guest when he arrives?” As the kids raised their hands and wiggled in their seats with anxious yearning, he held his gaze on me, and then asked Nancy to pull out the art supplies and put them on the kitchen table. And then he asked to speak with me in private.
I nodded and he motioned with his hand toward my room. I sat down on my bed and he closed the door and started pacing and rubbing his chin like he was thinking carefully about what he’d say next. So I spoke first. I said, “you know, you don’t have to lie to anyone. I can tell you’re concerned about our visitor.” He stopped and said, “no, that’s not it. It’s just that Lien didn’t get along with him too well the last time he was here.” “Who is he?” I asked. Jim hesitated for a moment and said, “um… a relative… from the old country. It’s hard to explain.” We heard a crash coming from the living room area, and Jim said, “sounds like Nancy could use some help with that box of craft supplies.” He turned and opened the door, then paused and said, “he’ll be here tonight… can you just give him a chance?” I nodded, but was a bit confused. Did he think I was going to cause a problem? Did Lien say something about me? I was just perplexed.
That night we had a pretty heavy storm roll in. It wasn’t quite freezing temperatures, but it was pretty close to it. Heavy rain and wind knocked out our power, and Nancy was prepared with candles that she left on the dining room table after we cleaned up from dinner. It wasn’t long after the power went out that the temperature in the house started to drop. Jim had left to pick up this mysterious visitor we were expecting, so being the eldest, Nancy asked for my assistance to start a fire in the fireplace. I was just finishing up when the door creaked open, and I heard “we’re home!” I first saw Jim walk through the door, and I could see a shorter, wider silhouette behind him slowly making his way through the door frame. The younger kids scrambled to retrieve the crafts they made earlier that day to greet our guest in a flurry of excitement.
As the figure took a step inside the house, I saw what looked like eye shine from a wild animal, orange in color to match the glow coming from the fireplace. By the way everyone stopped moving and stared at the guest, I could tell I wasn’t the only one witnessing this. The children got quiet, and we all just stood there watching this slow-moving figure come into the fire light. As he got beyond the doorway and closer to the light, the strange glowing-eye appearance seemed to fade, and we could make out some features. He looked ancient, like he may have been well over 100 years old. Deep wrinkles dorned his saggy cheeks aside a mouth agape. He moved incredibly slowly with an ornate wooden cane to help him with his balance. It looked handmade, and the craftsmanship was incredible – something I don’t think I’ve ever noticed or appreciated before in my life.
The kids lined up as if they’d rehearsed for his arrival, each carrying their own craft in their hands. Jim closed the door and took the guest’s overcoat. He had long, flowing silver hair and the pallor of his skin was extremely pale. He was wearing what looked like a green robe with swirls and symbols in silver thread that looked extremely similar to the patterns in his cane. I joined the lineup next to Lien, and he crept over to Tran, who was at the opposite end. He held out his hand, which appeared to have longer-than-normal digits. She shook his hand and he moved to Charity, who did the same. Malik giggled as the guest approached him. The man looked him up and down for a moment,and then grabbed Malik’s jaw. I nearly came at him because it looked somewhat aggressive, but his grip released just as quickly as it went for him. His mannerisms were strange. He cocked his head left, then right, and then he proceeded to sniff Malik’s head. Lien and I exchanged some confused, but concerned looks at one another.
I could feel Lien tense up as the guest moved toward her, but he didn’t stop at her. When he got close to me, I could smell a rotten, sulfuric kind of smell. He didn’t stop at me either, and just kept hobbling on by. It was then that I noticed a symbol on the back of his neck. It wasn’t like any symbol I had seen before, but it looked like it had been burned into his skin many years ago. Jim hurried to get ahead of the man before he entered the hallway, and then showed him to his room. Shortly after, he returned and said that he was tired from his travels and wanted to rest. I hadn’t heard him utter a word.
The entire next day went by without a glimpse of the man until night time. The power had been restored at some point in the night, but the storm remained and it kept going out every once in a while. By nightfall we made a fire just in case the power went out again, and had all been sitting in the living room while Nancy read the kids some Christmas stories. Fairy tales, they seemed to be. I never grew up with this experience, and I had to admit it was priceless to see the wide eyes of the little kids who listened in wonder. We had made pies and cookies earlier that day, and we partook in the spoils with some hot cocoa before bedtime. After I turned in for the night, I found myself having difficulty sleeping, wondering what our guest had been doing all day, and if he could really have been sleeping the entire time. His presence in the house, though I didn’t even see him, made me uncomfortable.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I remembered was being awoken by the flashing red lights in Malik’s shoes. Thinking it was morning, I struggled to open my eyes, but it was pitch black in the room, still dark. The red lights flickered on and off, and it was only when they illuminated the room that I could make out any details of the person standing next to Malik. It was our guest, but he didn’t have a shirt on, only trousers, and his torso was covered in short silver-colored hair. He held one of Malik’s shoes in his hand, and was examining it while facing away from me. At one point, he turned his head slightly and he appeared to sniff, and then lick the outer top portion of the shoe. I could feel my heart racing as his breathing became more labored, and I tried to slow my breathing down trying not to be noticed, but it was too late.
His head quickly turned toward me revealing huge, bulging eyes and two slits for nostrils where his nose had previously been. He had razor-sharp teeth seemed to elongate before my eyes, and in one swift motion, he swung his left hand in my direction, palm out, as he turned to face me. I panicked, and in my mind, I was already halfway out the door and screaming for help, but that just didn’t happen. I was frozen still, unable to move or make any vocalizations except for a few muffled whimpers. Tears streamed down my cheeks as he moved toward me and leaned down close to my face. Every breath rattled and the heat coming off of it stunk of that putrid, sulfuric smell I recognized from the night before.
The tip of his nose touched mine and he squinted just a bit before turning around and walking toward Malik. I wanted to tell him to leave him alone, but it was no use. My eyelids began feeling extremely heavy and the room began spinning. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw his feet leave the ground, like he was hovering in the air a few inches. My vision began to grow black except for the orange glow that had returned to his eyes. I heard him chanting something in a strange language. If I could recall correctly, he repeated a phrase over and over again. The words he spoke were, “Den with Sefre xel Za decmain immortal”. At least, that’s what it sounded like in my head before I passed out. (Note: Translates in Elvish to “And with this body I remain immortal”)
The next thing I remembered, I was being awoken by Jim. It was extremely bright in the room, and he told me it was after noon on Christmas Day. I immediately looked over at Malik’s bed, which was empty. Malik’s shoes with the red lights sat next to his bed. “Where’s Malik?” I said. Jim told me he was already awake and in the living room. Had I dreamed all of that stuff last night? I wasn’t exactly sure at the moment, but I had the worst headache of my life that day. I accompanied Jim to the living room where all of the kids were sitting. No presents were opened yet. They had obviously been gathered there for a family-meeting style discussion.
Jim asked me to take a seat. Still groggy, he stood in front of us and asked Nancy to come over to him. He put one arm around her and said “kids, we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is our guest passed away sometime in the night, or possibly even during the day yesterday. I know none of us really saw him yesterday, and we just thought he was tired from his trip, so we were letting him sleep. When I checked on him this morning, that’s when I found out.” I looked at Lien, who appeared to have seen me out of the corner of her eye, but made every attempt to look straight at Jim. He said they called the police, who took his body out of the house before any of us woke up that morning.
Jim took a moment to console Nancy before saying, “now I’ve got some good news, and it really couldn’t have come at a better time.” The plastic smile was back, except this time, Nancy turned around to conceal her emotions, and eventually left the room. “Malik”, he said. “Will you come stand next to me?” I watched as Malik stood up from the other end of the couch. He didn’t have his shoes on, something I hadn’t seen outside of our bedroom yet. As he walked toward Jim, he walked differently. I know it sounds completely ridiculous to say, but he walked with grace and eloquence, and not the way I’d seen him walk before – like a clumsy 5 year-old. When he reached Jim’s side, he turned around to face us. As if Malik knew already, Jim explained that he was being adopted and that his new family were on their way to pick him up as he spoke. Malik didn’t giggle, or act excited. Instead, he lifted his chin slightly to look down his nose at us, going down the line one by one as if he were making note of our response to the news. Tran and Charity showed some excitement and ran over to him to hug him. Lien and I, however, were not so moved. He just stared at us while receiving affection amidst the celebration going on.
Moments later, there was a knock at the door, and Jim invited in a young couple, but they chose to remain at the door, slightly outside of our direct line of sight. I could tell Jim seemed nervous when he asked Malik if he was ready. Malik turned and began walking toward Lien. He opened his arms and proceeded to give her a hug, and then he did the same to me. As I leaned in, I could smell that same putrid stench from the previous night. I began trembling within his embrace. When he let go, he grabbed my shoulders with both hands and stared in my eyes, emotionless, as a faint orange glow reflected for a brief moment, then he turned away. As he walked toward the front door, I noticed the same symbol burnt into the back of his neck that I had previously seen on our elderly guest. I looked at Lien and was about to ask her to speak in private, but she was already shaking her head no. When Malik reached the doorway, the couple each held one of his hands as they walked away without any conversation.
To this day, I still don’t know exactly what happened to Malik, but I was sure of one thing. It wasn’t Malik that I watched leave the house that day.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this special Christmas edition of The Storage Papers. If you’re wondering about the release of Season 3, I can only say that every time I think I can announce a public date for release, something happens in real-time that causes me to do a little more digging, and extra research. It’s shaping up to be the biggest season yet, but please give me just a little more time. It will definitely be worth the wait. From all of us at The Storage Papers, we wish you Happy Holidays, and a Merry Christmas.
Jeremy, it’s Brianne. I’ve been looking through those medical files and… I think I might be onto something. The thing is… it’s in my dreams now. If you can give me a call back, I think I could really use your help on this. Thanks.