Chapter 1: Stranger Danger
Fuck the holidays. I hate them.
The fluffy cheer. The bright lights and consumerism. And worst of all…the fucking pine needles.
Who the hell wants a hunk of forest settled in a pot of water within their home, shedding its prickly little greens all over the floor, jamming up into your socks every time you take a step? Those fake trees are no better, either, dropping synthetic greenery all over the damn place.
No thanks. Not for me.
“Come on, Nik. Just come home. You can’t spend Christmas alone again.” My best friend Hunter pouts through my phone screen, the depths of her chocolate brown eyes filled with pity.
I can’t stand it. The commiseration everyone offers, treating me like some delicate little flower precariously clutched in the palm of a child. I don’t need sympathy, and I sure as hell don’t need company over the holidays—the worst time of year.
“Pass. I’ve got big plans. Super busy. Sorry, babe.” I flash her a half-assed smile, holding back the eye roll that’s threatening to ensue.
“Horror movie popcorn dates with yourself don’t count, Nikita. You need to spend time with the people who love you. We miss you.”
My eyes swivel back into my head this time, the annoyance brewing inside me, unable to contain itself. “You see me plenty. Through this handy little device.” I tap the front camera on my phone, thankful someone invented video chatting.
I admit...I’m the female equivalent of a Scrooge. A lady grinch, if you will. And damn proud of it. My best friend should know this by now.
Hunter scoffs, shaking her head and matching my sass eye roll for eye roll. “It’s not the same, and you know it. You haven’t been home since—”
“Aw, well, would you look at the time? Gotta run. Love ya.” I cut her off, ending the call and tossing my phone on the sofa cushion next to me.
I do not want to go there with her tonight. The last thing I need is to dwell on the fact that my recently remarried ex-husband left me for his business partner on Christmas Eve two years ago, followed by losing both of my parents in a tragic car accident on New Year’s Eve that same year. Since that fateful week, the holidays are a forever reminder of my marital downfall and losing my entire family, which has put one hell of a hefty damper on my yuletide cheer.
Last year, I created my own holiday tradition of drowning my miserable sorrows in tubs of ice cream and bottles of champagne, all while munching on popcorn and bingeing on the goriest, most cringy horror movies I could find. Is it a pathetically lonely way to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve? Sure. But it’s better than returning home and seeing my ex flaunting his newfound happiness all over our picturesque neighbourhood. And it’s definitely better than having to drive by my family home only to see another happy family living in it.
My phone pings twice from its discarded place on the couch, but before I can grab the damn thing, a knock at my door steals my attention. Who could that be? Aside from my staff at the bakery I own downtown, no one knows me here. I moved to this small town in Canada to start over, keeping to myself to avoid forming any close relationships. Can’t get hurt if you don’t let anyone in.
Two more knocks slam in succession, making me grumble and bitch under my breath. “Calm your shit! I’m coming.”
With a scowl on my face, I swing open the door, the slab of wood flying inward at Mach speed from the force of the raging blizzard happening outside. And here I hadn’t even known it was snowing, sitting in my cozy home with the blinds drawn, oblivious to the wretched weather occurring right on the other side of the drywall.
“Mother Nature’s really shakin’ up the old snow globe today, eh?” a deep voice chuckles from within a bundle of scarves, the fabric covering the face of a man standing before me.
I don’t bite on his friendly ice-breaking quip, not loving that a strange man just showed up at my door well past midnight. Aside from his bright blue eyes shining in my porch light, all I see of him is a snow-covered toque and two rosy cheeks peeking above the material that’s protecting him from the freezing elements.
I cross my arms and frown, more of an attitude thing than to fend off the cold. “Can I help you?”
“Uh, yeah. I was headed uptown when my car got stuck.” He shifts awkwardly on his dress-shoe-clad feet, pointing over his shoulder to the cherry-red Audi idling in front of my snowed in driveway. “Phone’s dead too, so not much I can do except hope you’ll let me use yours.”
“Not very appropriate footwear, considering.” I ignore his request, motioning to the blustery snowfall. “Poor choice of car to be driving in this, too. You’re not from around here, are you?”
I play it off like I’ve lived here my entire life, but the truth is, I moved from California to this Northern Canada town not long after all that shit went down back home. He doesn’t need to know this is only the second time I’ve experienced winter myself.
“Nah. I’m actually just visiting my sister.” He shakes his head, plucking his hat off to run fingers through his wild chestnut strands. “Man, I’ve seen some snow in my lifetime, but nothing quite like this.”
I waver over what to do. I could just get him my phone, let him call from the porch, and then leave him to be on his way. But it’s freezing outside, and his hands look almost purple from their exposure to the chilly air. I shake my head internally. The guy didn’t even put on a pair of frickin’ gloves.
“Look. I uh…I know this seems a little sketchy. It’s late. I’m some dude showing up on your doorstep in the middle of the night, so I understand if you don’t want to let me in. But if I could just use your phone to call myself a tow or something, that would be great.” He reads my mind, putting me at ease by acknowledging the stranger danger of this entire situation.
I shiver when a whip of wind blows the flying snow in my direction for a moment. My eyes scan the road, and judging by the rapid accumulation of white fluff settling atop the world, I doubt anyone will come for him until morning.
“Not sure you’ll have much luck in this weather. There’s only one tow company in town, and I’m betting they’re either too busy tonight or hunkering down until the worst is over.” I don’t sugarcoat it for him, not wanting this guy to get his hopes up about making it to his destination any time soon.
“Damn.” He huffs, turning on his heel to head down the few steps leading to my front walkway. “Thanks anyway.”
I bite my lip to shut myself up, but my humanity gets the better of me, and I yell, “Hey, wait!”
I’m probably making a huge mistake. If horror movies have taught me anything, it’s to never let strange men into your life or your home. But what the hell? Time to find out if I’m the heroine of this macabre flick or if I’m just another blonde casualty of a killer in disguise.