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There is something about Christmas time that is eerily unsettling. The joy and happiness in the air is a pleasant change of pace from the normally dreary London atmosphere, but the sugar-coated mirth that permeates the holiday feels so unreal. It's as if a tiger at the circus is put into a silly little costume and we, the audience, is supposed to believe this creature enjoys jumping through hoops when we know it would rather be mauling our children. Still, beggars can't be choosers, and I enjoy that time of year when everyone is a shade less nasty to each other.
It's been a tradition for as long as I can remember for our family to get together at my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve. As an only child, I lived for these nights which enabled me to see all my cousins and feel a little less lonely. Even now, with most of us in our twenties or thirties, I enjoy seeing my family and catching up with them.
With my old pick-up truck laden down with gifts, I pulled out of my apartment complex and made my way to my grandmother's. Turning onto her street, I saw that the majority of my family had already arrived. I let myself in through the front door and was greeted immediately by some of the younger members of the family. Their innocent excitement brought a big, goofy smile to my face. They scampered out to my truck to bring the gifts in as I said hello to the rest of my family. After an hour or so of catching up, we all congregated to pray and eat our Christmas dinner.
I found myself falling victim to the sickly sweet atmosphere the winter holidays are so famous for. I was laughing heartily at jokes that wouldn't have even brought a smile to my face any other time. I listened with rapt attention as my youngest kin told me all about what they had been learning in school or what they had asked Santa for. This was a time of year when I stopped playing the role of a recluse, and tonight in particular I realized the need to cherish these moments.
Full of delicious holiday food, we nevertheless began devouring my grandmother's homemade ice cream she so dramatically presented to us. By this time of the night, the children's eyes began to grow heavy, and one by one they nodded off on the various couches and chairs assembled haphazardly in the living room. A great uncle of mine committed one of the ultimate social faux pas and began discussing politics. The debate became rather heated, no doubt due to the upcoming elections in our area. I never much cared for the realm of politics, and in an effort to escape the growing awkwardness, I excused myself to use the restroom.
I began walking back through the familiar hallway that led from the living room to the bedrooms. My grandmother was a very religious woman, and her house reflected that perfectly. Everywhere you looked, your eyes would find crucifixes, angels, and bibles. I myself believed in God, but did not worship with the fervor that my grandmother did. Lining the walls were pictures from a forgotten time, interspersed with paintings depicting various Biblical scenes. A cross hung above the entrance to each bedroom, the beds looking immaculately clean as they waited for someone to make use of them. At the end of the hallway was a large mirror, which hid the door to the only restroom in the house.. I smiled as I recalled how my cousins and I would sprint down the hallway towards the glass, amused by our reflected selves.
Perched above the mirror was my grandmother's most prized possession. It was a beautifully rendered version of the Last Supper, but instead of the usual background, Jesus and his apostles sat amongst the clouds and angels. I had never truly looked at the painting before, so for the first time my eyes feasted on how detailed and lifelike it was. As I began to turn away to rejoin my family, I could have sworn I saw a ripple play across the face of one of the angels. Fixing my attention back on the painting, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Silently laughing at the quick twinge of alarm I had felt, I again made to walk back down the hallway. Only, try as I might, my entire body was rooted to the spot.
I began to panic, fearing I was having some sort of seizure. I could open my mouth, but no sound would leave it. Again, the ripple crossed the angel's face, until finally, it remained there, the face turning into a bubbling mass. Slowly, the angel began to transform before me. I could not even begin to comprehend the horrific abomination it was becoming, but I was fully aware of the effects it was having on my body. I could feel something dripping from my eyes, whether it was tears or blood, I could not tell. My brain throbbed against my skull with a painful intensity, my mind threatening to explode as I neared the brink of insanity. My whole face began to tremble. I wanted nothing more than to scream for help, but my body had other ideas.
A fresh wave of horror washed over me as I felt my hands rise to my face completely of their own will. My fingers began scratching at my eyes, determined to rip them out. My eyes stayed open through the pain, my hands willing to do anything to make the ghastly vision in front of me go away, anything to stop this madness. My vision began to fade as my eyes gave way under the clawing. I collapsed to the ground, blind but still alive. The warmth of the blood pouring out of my eye sockets was my only comfort, and I was still unable to speak or move. Dear old grandmother would be too late in finding me, as I silently bled to death in a crumpled heap on the floor .
I awoke in a stark white room. It seemed I had been sleeping sitting up, and I had no knowledge of how I arrived here. As I struggled to grasp what was happening, I realized I was not alone. Five beautiful angels stood before me, smiling as I looked at each in turn. I couldn't help but return the smile, realizing I must have ascended to Heaven. I rose from the floor, and immediately began to sob as the beautiful faces were disturbed by a familiar rippling.