Beautiful Ornaments

Submitted into Contest #178 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional holiday tradition.... view prompt

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Suspense Thriller Fiction

In a town not too close yet not too far—what would best be described as an inconvenient drive away—I experienced the distinct misfortune of meeting a couple by the name of Fella and Darling Collins. They are in their house right now; I am safe in a hotel room. In the interest of maintaining my safety, however, I shall not name the hotel nor its location until my second draft. It is not my intention to disparage them, as it is not my place to speak ill of another’s, let’s say, tradition, but it is my duty to recount the events as they occurred.

I am a home appraiser for a local interior design magazine. It’s my job to visit people’s homes and examine their furniture, its arrangement, their decorations, and so on, and score them based on the current trends. In my line of work, I’ve many a strange character, yet none have been as, let’s say, peculiar, as the Collins family.

On the day of the appraisal, which I should clarify was yesterday, I arrived shortly before six o’clock. The weather forecast predicted a blizzard would make the roads impassable after ten o’clock, so I arrived early enough to be able to leave by nine. The house, while much more beautiful than the ones that surrounded it, did little to stand out amongst the countless others I had appraised before. Though I have learned not to judge a home based on its exterior; it is beyond what I am employed to judge. And houses have an uncanny ability to hide a rich interior behind a plain exterior, often to an unnerving extent. But I have digressed for too long now. I pulled into the driveway, and a lovely couple by the name of Fella and Darling Collins came out of the front door to greet me.

The pair led me inside their home, where I was met with a grandiose display of cream-colored walls that reached up the ceiling that felt like it was a mile above my head. The room branched off into two hallways, one to the left and the other forward, and a staircase on the right that looked like it had been polished that morning. Darling removed my coat without asking, and said she would take it into the coat room. She disappeared into the hallway to the left.

“See that shield over there on the wall?” Fella said, pointing toward a golden shield covered with etches of lions and adorned with metal flowers. “Been in my family for generations, my father passed it down to me six years ago.”

“Very impressive,” I replied. 

Darling returned from the coat room, and resumed her position at her husband’s side.

“So, what do you think?” she asked.

“You’ve made a wonderful first impression,” I said. “Though I do have to say, I’m a bit puzzled as to why it has taken this long for me to hear about this house. How long have you lived here?"

They smiled at each other, then at me.

“Five months,” Fella said.

“Five months? This is an awful lot of work for just five months,” I said.

“Well, we have quite a bit of experience in getting a house to look beautiful in a short time frame,” Darling said. 

“Experience?”

“You see,” said Fella, “every year we purchase a new home and sell our old one. Our design skills massively increase the resale value, so we can easily find a new home somewhere else. Then we renovate over the course of the year, and by the time August rolls around, we have buyers practically knocking our door down. It’s a simple arrangement and it’s worked for many years now.”

“You managed to do all this with the profit from selling your last home?” I asked.

They both laughed, hiding their mouths behind their hands.

“No, no,” said Darling. “I teach English at a prestigious online high school, and Fella is an EMT.”

“But let’s not talk about our work, I’m sure you’re anxious to see more of the house," Fella said. "Darling, how about you show our guest the living room while I finish up dinner? I think it should be about fifteen more minutes.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, Fella,” Darling said. “Come, it’s over here on the left. We're almost finished with our Christmas decorations.”

Darling led me into the living room, and while many things in the room were worthy of my attention, the best thing I saw was their magnificent Christmas tree. The chorus of white ornaments made it impossible for me to look away from it. Each ornament, much like a snowflake, had its own shape; each told its own story and hummed its own note. Though the sound (this word is not accurate, it is merely the closest one I can find) was not auditory; it didn’t appeal to any organ in my body. Instead, it appealed to my soul, in a way similar to how one can find peace in a cup of tea or love in the folded laundry. The medley of all these hums nearly compelled my soul to detach itself from my body and join the ornaments. Even now I am tempted to omit the truth behind these ornaments and write about them as if they were only material objects, which they certainly are not. It wasn’t until Darling touched my shoulder and gestured for me to take a seat when I turned away from the tree.

“I must say, I’m very impressed by your Christmas tree,” I said, craning my neck to look back toward it.

“Oh, yes, thank you,” she said. “We do try very hard to keep the place looking nice. I’m sure you noticed the mahogany table here. Fella took up an interest in woodworking and carved it himself just after we moved in. He’s currently working on an oak bedside table for our second guest room, as it so desperately needs a new one. And the paintings on the wall are all my work. I’m partial to oil paint right now, but I’ve done many watercolor landscapes that are stored away in the basement at the moment. There’s just so little room on these walls that I’m constantly having to cycle them down into the basement. But I’d never dare to sell them. There’s just too many memories in each one for me to be comfortable with any of them hanging on someone else’s walls.”

“Yes, everything is lovely,” I said. “Though, I have to say that your tree is the most incredible piece of furniture in this room. I mean, those ornaments are divine. You must tell me where you got them.”

Darling laughed quietly, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, no,” she said. “They don’t sell those ornaments anywhere. We’ve made them all ourselves.”

“Then you must tell me how you make them!” I said, standing up to get a closer look at them. “What are they made of? They don’t look like plastic, are they ceramic? Or glass?”

I reached out to touch one, but when my fingers were only inches away, Darling cleared her throat loud enough for me to feel urged to turn around.

“Let’s save the decoration talk until after dinner,” she said. “I’m sure you’re hungry, let me go see if Fella needs any help.”

Darling went down the hallway, and I took advantage of my opportunity to take a second look at one of the ornaments. It was shaped like an inverted teardrop, with a fat bulb at the top that tapered down into a thin tail, and its color was matte white. I reached out again to touch it, but the sound of two pairs of feet stepping down the hallway convinced me to retract my arm and return to my seat.

“What perfect timing,” Fella said. “Darling walked into the kitchen just as I was walking out to let you know that dinner is ready.”

“Sounds great, I’ll let you two lead the way,” I said.

They navigated me to the dining room. On the dining table were three plates, each carrying a few thick slices of roast meat, boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables, two dinner rolls, and a pad of butter. Beside each plate was a glass of red wine.

“Well you can certainly set a table as well as you can decorate a home,” I said.

“They do say that you eat with your eyes first,” Darling said.

“I prefer to eat with my mouth,” Fella quipped. “Let’s dig in!”

Darling pulled out a chair for me at the end of the table, and she and Fella took their seats on either side of me, facing each other. Fella made a toast to me, and then we all started working on our meal. The roast meat was tender and well-seasoned, and the rolls were fluffy and hot.

Though I engaged in light conversation, I couldn’t take my mind off those ornaments on the Christmas tree. Something about them spoke to me, and I had to know more about them.

“So, Fella,” I said. “I was talking to Darling about the ornaments on your tree while we were in the living room. I haven’t seen anything like them, and she told me that you make them yourselves. How do you do it? What material do you use?”

Fella smiled and set down his utensils.

“Now, we can’t possibly tell you that,” he replied. “We do have to keep some things for ourselves. It would be a shame if someone copied our special design.”

“I can assure you I won’t divulge your secret in my article, but I just need to know for my own curiosity. At least tell me what they’re made of.”

“How about this? You get three guesses, and if you guess it right, I’ll let you know.”

My heartbeat quickened upon hearing this.

“For my first guess, I’ll say ceramic,” I replied. “Just unpolished.”

Fella shook his head. “No, that’s wrong.”

“Then it must be frosted glass!”

Fella shook his head again. “No, that’s also wrong.”

I had to make my last guess count.

“Could you give me a clue for my last guess?” I asked

“Fair enough,” Fella replied. “The material is something very difficult to obtain, and some people find it, let’s say, distasteful.”

My heart sank. I didn’t want to believe it, but it seemed now that I was correct all along. 

“You can’t mean ivory, do you?”

I waited in dread for Fella to say that I was correct, that they were no-good, dirty ivory hunters, but Fella shook his head.

“No, very close, but I’m afraid that’s wrong,” he said. “Game over.”

I sighed. “As the saying goes, you can’t win them all.”

“Indeed,” Darling said. “I am touched, however, by your interest in our ornaments. They are quite special to us.”

“Yes, very special,” Fella added. “In fact, they are the only decorations we bring with us when we move.”

I had been taking a sip of wine when he said this, but what he said made me stop and question him. 

“The only decorations?” I asked.

“I know it sounds absurd, but we really do start over with each new house,” he replied. “Part of why we can sell our old homes for so much is that we stock them with such elegant handmade furniture.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” I said. “It’s just that- you told me that the shield on the wall was from your father. Are you really going to leave that here? And Darling, you said that you have paintings down in the basement that you would never sell, right? I just can’t imagine either of you would be okay with leaving those things behind.”

Fella and Darling set down their wine glasses, then looked at each other and smiled.

“Darling, why would you tell our guest that you love those paintings so much when you know we are selling them along with the house?” Fella asked, not breaking his smile.

“I don’t know, Fella. Why would you tell our guest that our entrance decoration is your father’s shield when you know we are selling it along with the house?” Darling asked, also not breaking her smile. “Why would you even hang such a priceless family heirloom in the entrance for all our guests to see and ask questions about?”

“Well, Darling, I would hope that you and I can agree that our guest deserves to see our home at its best.”

“We can agree, Fella. But when he starts asking a million questions about everything we have, sometimes someone needs to say something quickly in order to not create an awkward pause. And sometimes someone expects her husband not to say such silly things to our guest when he is in our entrance room.”

“Oh, is that true? In that case, sometimes someone expects his wife to direct our guest’s attention away from the Christmas tree. He certainly had quite a few questions about our ornaments, and you just said how much you are annoyed by his questions. Oh, but when it’s time to answer those questions, sometimes someone falls silent and someone’s husband has to make up some stupid game to get him to stop.”

“That’s rich, that’s really rich. Especially coming from you. You know, if I had half a mind, I would-”

“Enough!” I yelled. “Please, I apologize, I didn’t mean to start an argument, truly.”

Fella and Darling turned toward me and finally broke their smiles, but only for a second. They donned their smiles again and acted as if they had not just squabbled right in front of me.

“Yes, let’s just drop it,” Darling said.

“I agree,” Fella said. “Let’s actually go ahead and look at the rest of the house. I suspect that the storm will be coming soon and we want you to return home safely.”

“It is a shame you have to leave so soon,” Darling said. “I wish we could keep you, or at least, a part of you, here forever.”

“I’ll be sure to write a nice article about your house,” I replied. “That can be the part of me you can keep.”

They told me to leave the dishes at the table, as Darling would clean them later, and directed me toward the staircase. I started making my way up, but when I was just three steps away from the top, my feet gave way underneath me and I slipped. I landed directly on my left forearm and felt a painful snap. I screamed as my body tumbled all the way back down to the front door.

“Oh my God!” Darling screamed. “Fella, I told you it was a bad idea to wax the staircase this morning!”

“Move! Let me see,” Fella shouted. He grabbed my right arm and poked it in several places, then did the same on my left one. With each poke, I yelled in pain. “Yep, that’s broken. Let me get my bag, I can put in a splint for you.”

“No, urgh, just let me drive myself to the hospital,” I said, barely remaining conscious.

“Absolutely not!” Darling said. “You are in no state to drive right now. Besides, it looks like the storm came early.”

I looked out the window on the front door and saw that she was correct. Huge flurries of snow were whipping around and the driveway was completely covered.

Fella returned shortly carrying a medical bag. He pulled out a wooden board and padded it with some large balls of cotton. Then he gently placed the board against my forearm, and wrapped a generous amount of tape around the board and my shoulder to create a makeshift cast. He handed me two painkillers and told me to swallow. 

“That should keep you in shape for tonight,” he said. “Looks like you’ll need to spend the night here. The storm is not going to let up until the morning.”

The pair helped me to my feet and up into the first guest room. I would have to sleep in my clothes, as the splint prevented me from changing, not that I had a pair of pajamas to even change into. Darling brought me a large glass of water and some leftover rolls. Fella left me with two more painkillers and instructed me to take them the moment I started feeling any pain. They turned off the light, and left the room.

Despite the strength of the painkillers, I was wide awake. My mind was racing with theories about what those ornaments could possibly be made of. They weren’t ceramic, they weren’t glass, and they weren’t even ivory. They had to be made of something perverted, something unethical, something unforgivable. Then a certain theory came to the forefront of my mind. I would have dismissed it, had I not heard the couple talking slightly too loud downstairs.

“What will we do now?” Darling said. “We need a new ornament for our tree. We’ve made one every year and I’m definitely not stopping this year.”

“Relax,” Fella replied. “The right one isn’t broken, I checked. Once he takes those pills, he’ll be out cold and we can make our new ornament.”

I doubt that I need to explain what happened next. All I can do now is hope that the storm keeps up and that the snow falls hard enough to cover my car tracks.


December 27, 2022 04:33

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8 comments

Sam Porter
00:23 Jan 11, 2023

Loved it! Need a sequel!!

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Jacob Brown
20:21 Jan 13, 2023

Thank you so much! I'll definitely try to continue this at some point :)

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Rebecca Treadway
00:05 Jan 01, 2023

Loved this one! Creepy, too!

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Jacob Brown
01:51 Jan 03, 2023

Thank you very much!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:38 Dec 27, 2022

Engrossing! Gonna just leave that right there. ;) Loved the story, though - great take on the prompt, intriguing plot, and then a good gotcha! :)

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Jacob Brown
20:44 Dec 27, 2022

Thank you very much! I really appreciate your kind words :)

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Susan Catucci
19:34 Jan 05, 2023

I loved this - this is my kind of creepy - well done!

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Tommy Goround
05:25 Jan 05, 2023

I liked it. Character and situation was classically fun.

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