Inside the house was silence. Winter deadened the outside noises. Becky thought back to the summer months when the deer would walk through her wooded backyard, squirrels jumped on the roof, and birds chirped constantly.
During those summer months, she was bothered by nature’s noises. The country had lost it’s mystique almost as soon as she had moved in. She wanted to get out of the city. Too many people, dirty streets, and no greenery left Becky feeling like her soul was dying. That and her violent obsessed ex-husband. She wanted to escape it all.
When someone at work mentioned a house-sitting job in the country, she immediately grabbed it. What a perfect answer to everything holding her back. A cute cabin in the woods must be the way to start over.
But, nature was not like it was in the movies. Nocturnal animals kept her up at night. Birds woke up chirping way before dawn. Deer left droppings all through the yard. And the forest seemed dirtier than the city. Bugs, dirt, and mold was everywhere.
The winter ended that all. The ground froze. The cold dark sky was an umbrella killing everything with life, most importantly the germs. Winter brought with her the silence… finally. She hung a few outside Christmas decorations knowing this year she would celebrate Christmas her own way.
No phone, no television, no internet, no people. She’d been accused of being anti-social, which wasn’t true. Becky liked people fine. She loved helping people at her job as a librarian. Right now, though she needed a break.
“You can’t help everybody, Beck. You’re too nice. God helps those who help themselves,” Her mother’s opinions echoed in her mind. Nina Parker was mean and she thought her daughter, Becky was a wimp for trying to help everyone. Lately, after being pushed around in the city and being conned into marriage by someone who had no intention of honest work, she was beginning to think her mother was right. Maybe she should toughen up a little.
So now people called her anti-social. But, that was usually when she was asked to hang out after work. She always declined.
The cold air whipped through her hair. It brought her back to the task at hand. She took a deep breath as she positioned the ax above her head. Concentrating on keeping her feet steady, she swung the ax down on the small log… and missed. The log was thrown off the tree stump. She picked it up and tried again. Just a couple pieces should be all right to get her through the night. She thought back to how tickled she was over a wood burning stove. How quaint. Not really.
Becky concentrated on each log and didn’t notice that it had become dark. After pounding on all the logs she had with no decent splits, she gave up and went inside. A little lighter fluid and newspapers would have to give her enough heat tonight.
Becky sipped on her cup of hot soup. Every few minutes she fed crumpled newspaper into the fire. A wave of guilt hit her like a smack. All this independent living seemed to be changing her. Every year since she was little she volunteered at a soup kitchen for Christmas.
Now, tonight it was Christmas Eve and she had done nothing. Nothing for anyone. Was this what tough was?
“I guess mom would be proud,” she thought to herself.
She was shaken out of her mood when in seconds the fire fizzled out. She hadn’t gotten around to turning any lights on.
“Add this to the list of things I don’t like about the country… the dark,” she spoke out loud to soothe her nerves. She felt around on the floor for the matches.
Suddenly there was a pounding on the door. This was a first. She jumped and banged her head on the edge of the coffee table.
“Just a minute!” She called out. She could see several glowing candles from the window.
“Oh, carolers”, Becky stood up amused at the thought of an old tradition being kept alive. She heard whispers as she walked closer to the front door. When she opened the door, she saw a woman and two men. They all held candles and began to sing, “Silent Night”. Their voices were soft and sweet.
Before they began their next carol, Becky interrupted, “That was really lovely, but please, why don’t you come in instead? It’s freezing out here!”
They exchanged introductions as they came inside the cabin. Becky took their coats from them.
“You’ll have to excuse the dark. My fire just went out. And this is so funny! I was just thinking how I didn’t do anything for anyone this Christmas, and suddenly, here you are. So I thought at least I could…”
A sharp cold pain plunged into Becky’s back. She gasped with surprise and looked in shock at the cold glare of the man beside her. Her eyes darted to the woman, Tammy, she said her name was. She was smiling at her. Why?
Becky fell to the floor. Through squinted eyes she watched as the three “carolers” grabbed furniture, paintings, and jewelry from the house. “Maybe Mom was right,” she thought as her eyes closed.