A story about a Christmas tree.
My first mistake was getting a Christmas tree at all. I don’t know why I wanted one. I live alone, and I’m not religious. Christmas doesn’t mean anything in particular to me. I guess it was nice when I was a child, but I really just cared about the presents, and even then, the presents were never that good. Always just cheaper versions of the things the other kids at school were asking for. It’s not that we were poor, or not that poor, anyway; my parents were just cheap. I guess they were trying, but not very hard. Anyway, they’re dead now, both of them, so it’s a moot point. No one’s visiting for the holidays anytime soon. I think I have an uncle in Alabama, or maybe it was Tennessee, but I’ve never even spoken to him. Some sort of bad blood between him and my father. Maybe he raped someone, or became a religious fanatic. He could be dead now, too, for all I know. I don’t particularly care either way. If I have any other living family members, I’d prefer not to know about them. It would just be a complication I don’t need. But I got a Christmas tree anyway. I really wish I could explain why. I just went to the hardware store and bought one, along with a stand. The guy acted a little weird ringing me up. I guess he wasn’t used to people buying trees alone. When I was trying to get it onto the top of my car he came out and asked, uncertainly, I would say, if I wanted any help. I told him no. I could have used it but I don’t like taking help from people. It makes me feel sort of guilty in a way I don’t really understand. I’ll probably have to pick that wound open someday but for now I don’t worry about it. I accept that it’s just how I am. Anyway, I got it on there and tied down, eventually (the guy went back inside, but I noticed he kept watching me through the window). Then I drove home. When I pulled up in front of my building, I realized I couldn’t remember ever having left. But the tree was still there.
My second mistake was where I actually put the Christmas tree in my apartment. This is where I really fucked up. Things probably would’ve worked out fine if I had just been more careful here. My apartment is very simple: one bedroom, one bathroom, a big, open area in the front with some kitchen stuff built into one corner. I think you’re supposed to put a stuff like a couch and a big TV in the open area, maybe a dining table, too. Stuff for entertaining guests. I barely ever have guests, though, so I’ve mostly left it empty. I do have a TV, an old and shitty one sitting on some milk crates that the last tenant didn’t bother to take when he got evicted, but I barely ever watch it. The reception isn’t very good, and I’ve never really seen the appeal, anyway. Everyone on TV wears so much makeup. It’s grotesque. It reminds me of how my parents looked lying in their coffin, after the undertaker was through with them. I think that’s the only time in my life I’ve felt true disgust. Anyway, aside from the TV, some boxes I never bothered unpacking, and an office chair with a stuck wheel that I scavenged off the street a few months ago, the space is basically empty. I thought about putting the tree in my bedroom, where I spend most of my time, but it seems like you’re not really supposed to do things like that. A Christmas tree is a communal thing, a place for people to gather; it’s unnatural to put it somewhere too private, like a bedroom. I don’t want people to think I’m strange, or that I don’t understand how Christmas works. Getting it through one narrow doorway was enough work, anyway. So I put it up out in the main area, where I felt I ought to. This is where I fucked up. I put it in the northernmost corner, which is fine, except I didn’t put it snugly into the corner. I purposefully brought it out a little, because I realized if I did, I would be able to see it from my bedroom if I left my door open. Which, at the time, seemed better than not being able to see it from there. However, this necessarily left enough space for a man to easily walk around behind it, if he turned his shoulders sideways. Enough space for him to stand back there, and be hidden.
I didn't realize what I had done, at first. I write technical manuals for a living, mostly about electrical components. I work from home, but it's more difficult work than you would expect. It requires a high degree of concentration. Sometimes I sit down in the morning and then I blink and the sun is already setting. The day is done. I spent it all buried in documentation, rechecking circuit diagrams. I've never minded living this way, but it dulls your sense of the external world. It's easy to forget it's even there, to not notice that something's wrong. I was keeping my door closed, anyways, just out of habit. I wasn't thinking about the tree. But then I had a slow day. I didn't really have any deadlines coming up, because of the holidays. I got up, I went to get a ginger ale from the fridge. I used to be a fairly heavy drinker, back when when I had a different job that didn’t require so much precision. I would usually kill a six-pack every day, and on weekends I would lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling, feeling my vision go blurry. I can’t afford to do things like that anymore, though, so I drink ginger ale instead. It’s really all about the same to me. On the way, I glanced at the tree. Then I stopped and looked at it, and I realized I couldn't entirely see the space behind the tree. In placing the tree where I had, I realized, I had created a blind spot in my apartment. Before, nothing had been hidden from me, except in tiny cracks and crevices. Now, there was a place for a man to stand without my knowing. It was then that I began to realize what I’d done.
You think I’m being ridiculous. Just because there could be a man in the blind spot behind the Christmas tree doesn’t mean there must be. I told myself that, too, for the first few days. I tried not to think about it. I tried to pretend the tree wasn’t even there, and that everything was normal. I started to catch glimpses of movement out of the corner of my eye: the cuff of a shirt disappearing, the toe of a shoe slipping away. Each time, I pretended I hadn’t seen anything. And, really, I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t go near the tree. I tried to not even look at it. But eventually, I had to admit that even through my bedroom door, hunched over my keyboard, I had felt like someone was watching me. I had felt that way ever since I had put it up. I had just tried to ignore it. I’ve always been good at burying myself in work. I wouldn’t be able to live like this otherwise. When I was younger, I would spend hours arranging stones into enormous grids. When my parents took me to the lake, which was the only place they ever wanted to go, I would spend all day laying out peddles on an empty patch of shoreline. They would always be dispersed again the next time. This was how I learned that life will always take you where it wants. We never have a say in the matter.
I never go near the tree. I didn’t think to get any decorations for it. I don’t know why, it’s not like there was any chance I would have any already. A Christmas tree without decorations is an unattractive thing. It looks naked. You can sense that it’s dying, day by day. There’s an honesty to it, but not an honesty I really needed in my life. I was getting by just fine without it. I have a suspicion that this dying-ness is in some way connected to the man standing behind it. That if it were not so evident he would not have been able to slip into place back there. If I had thought about it, I definitely would have picked up some lights or something, at least. But like I said, I’ve never been much of a Christmas guy. When I close my eyes I can see the man standing behind the tree. I see him from behind, like I’m a fly perched in the corner behind him. He’s wearing ordinary clothes. His hair is black, cut short, receding slightly. He stands facing the tree, arms at his sides, not moving. I can’t see his face. The branches must be pressed up against him, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He doesn’t look fatigued at all, although he’s been standing there for days. If anything, I have the sense he’s very calm, very relaxed. He’s just waiting. In my mind, I try to move around to one side or the other, to get a better look at him, but somehow the perspective never changes. His head and his body are always turned away from me, always towards the tree, always towards where I really am, seeing me seeing him behind my eyes.
It’s Christmas Eve now. I have time off for the holidays, but I’ve been staying in my bedroom even more than before. It’s where I’d like to be when the man decides to make his move. I got groceries not long after I put up the tree, and I haven’t left the apartment since. If I’m careful, I should be able to ration them into the new year. In any case, I’m pretty sure that this will be resolved before then, one way or another. Probably tomorrow. I’ve been wondering what he has planned for me. I assume he plans to kill me, but the question is if there’s some predetermined hour when he’ll be compelled to attack, or if he’ll wait for a moment when I’m especially vulnerable. If it’s the former, I think I might have a fighting chance, although I’m probably deluding myself. If it’s the latter, I have no illusions. He’ll kill me, and have his way with my body. I can’t help but feel that in some way I might deserve it, either for leaving enough space for him to slip in behind the tree, or simply for creating a blind spot in my apartment at all. I knew the danger was there, but I still let it happen. I allowed myself to become careless. I intend to fight, of course, but deep down, I know that whatever happens is really my own fault.
Earlier, someone was knocking on my door. Just knocking and knocking. I could hear children’s voices. They were indistinct. Eventually, they went away. I think it must have been a group of carolers. There’s a church not far from here. I walk by it sometimes, late at night. A plain brick building. I think it used to be a stables. I always see lights on in the upstairs rooms, no matter how late it is. The doors are always locked, though, at least to me.
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