Leigh flung her arm out of the warm blankets to silence the radio alarm at her bedside. Sunlight streamed in between the slats on the window blinds. She was glad for the morning routine she had established, except for the time of morning required to accomplish it. “5:15 is too early, even if it’s almost summer.” She thought to herself as she rose slowly off the mattress, listening to the popping and cracking of her joints while rising to a standing position. She slowly rolled her neck to one side, back, to the other side, and around again. “Roll shoulders, drop down, touch toes, slowly roll back up. Hands on hips, superhero stance.” She quoted the first part of her routine. “I am grateful for my life, I have the capacity to be helpful, to serve my community, to accomplish big things, to squash goals. Today is going to be good!” Her mind was slower to catch up to the truths she was repeating. It was becoming a mindless tradition, and maybe needed some changing up. “Oh, I smell coffee. Yes!” Leigh was happy with her decision to choose the coffee maker with a preset so that a pot of steamy, caffeine would be ready for her when she made it to the kitchen. As she made up her bed, she began rehearsing a list of what needed to happen in the next two hours. “Kids are still in bed, I will have coffee, let the chickens out, watch them jostle and peck at their breakfast, read a chapter of fiction, and a chapter of nonfiction. I need to do 15 minutes of walking or aerobic exercise. I need to shower and get kids up for school. Big kids first, they can get themselves out the door, little ones next. Make them breakfast, go over any school flyers, review homework, be prepared for weather. She grabbed a light sweater, and headed down the short hallway into the kitchen. She glanced at the sliding glass door as she passed through the room, headed toward the coffee pot. The aroma drew her sleepy attention, prompting her brain to wake bit by bit. There was something in the quick glance that caused her to pause and turn her head, flipping long dark hair over her shoulder for a better look.
There was a shadow through the vertical blinds. The shadow seemed to be about five feet tall. At this time of morning, the only things that would be on the back deck are a neighborhood cat, or perhaps the chickens if they hadn’t been put up the night before, neither of which would be five feet high.
Leigh stood, her forward movement and breath both halted. Blood running through veins was the only thing she could hear, rushing and pulsating, distracting her from making sense of what was happening. She stilled herself, willing the shadow to move. She didn’t know what she hoped for more, that the shadow would remain still, or that it would make some movement. What would be her reaction to either scenario?
“Ok, Leigh!” She whispered aloud. “What are you going to do?” Her breathing intensified, almost to the same volume as her whisper. Sweat dotted her forehead and nose. “There are knives in the drawer. I can grab a knife and, what, Leigh? What? By the time I get over to the sliding door, open the blinds, and open the door, whoever or whatever is out there will already have killed me!” Leigh let out an exasperated sigh, looking back over at the shadow. Still there, still in the same spot, still just as unwavering. She finally grabbed a knife. “I may as well be murdered with my own knife. Geeze.”
“Okay, Leigh, let’s go.” She tiptoed her way to the back door, pausing before opening the blinds, wondering if she wanted to see what awaited her before being attacked by whatever it may be. Stopping at the door, hand on the pull to open the blinds, she waited, breathing heavily with eyes closed repeating in her mind “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.’. Leigh pulled hard on the cord, hoping that opening the blinds swiftly and noisily all at once would cause the figure to flee, ending the morning of terror.
The blinds flew open, swinging and twisting and clattering against each other. It was distracting, and difficult to see past. Leigh leaned to the side, hoping that the whoever it was would be across the garden, climbing the fence for a getaway.
The figure did not flee. It did not flinch, move or breathe. Leigh stood, transfixed by who stood on the opposite side of the glass door. Her breath caught in her throat, then escaped bit by bit at first in a long hiss, then in short bursts. Leigh began to laugh, and leaned against the door, slid to the floor, and the knife that she’d been holding in her sweaty palm fell to the carpet. It was Santa Clause. A five foot, hallow plastic, rooftop Santa. This had been the ominous figure that brought so much drama to the beginning of her day, waking her more thoroughly than her coffee might have.
She slid on a pair of boots that were kept by the back door for tending to the chickens and went out onto the deck to gather up Hallow Santa. He belonged in the shed at the South East corner of the garden. “What an odd prank to pull.” Leigh muttered on her way to the outbuilding. She set Santa down, and reached to pull the door open, but it was locked. She wondered for a moment how someone might have removed Santa from the shed without some destruction. The building is secured by a keyed padlock through both door handles. The key hangs on a rack just inside the kitchen entry. Her throat constricted again, not allowing air to come or go. Leigh turned to stare at the house across the garden. Someone had been inside, or perhaps still was.