Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
The night was young. In our world at least. 2:14 AM, and me and my husband Ricky were standing out in the open shed behind The Post Searchlight. Stanwyck, Georgia’s local newspaper. Like nocturnal detectives, Ricky and I were wired for the graveyard shift. You had to be when you did a paper route.
Every night, me and Ricky made the rounds. There were about two-hundred newspapers for home deliveries… and another two-hundred for all the newspaper stands. Like a truck driver’s grueling route, we cruised the city from 3-7 AM.
This wasn’t an idyllic vision of newspaper routes. There was no cute teenage boy riding his bike around while tossing papers. No Americana romanticism. Not in today’s world. The job sucked. The pay sucked. The hours sucked. Most of our subscribers were elderly, bitchy assholes. Ricky and me were basically working vampires, only The Post Searchlight was the one sucking our blood… and souls.
But at 44, this was our living. It’s not like we had many options either. We’d held the Stanwyck paper carrier crown for well over ten years now… our Woronov family monopoly. We were Elizabeth and Ricky Woronov, Post Searchlight Paper Carriers.
Ricky and I did enjoy each other’s company. In fact, bonding on this job was one of the reasons our marriage was still so strong after twenty years. That and we’ve both aged pretty well… I guess lifting all those boxes and stacks of newspapers would keep anyone in good shape. Not to mention Ricky always had that blue-collar Tony Todd look to him (Yes, Candyman is sexy!). Tall and toned and with that body… shit, my heart pumped like a cartoon character’s anytime his deep voice would tell me I looked just like Angela Bassett with braids. Honestly, I had to try to match his sexiness. But I guess my long legs and better fashion sense helped.
During those long drives, we kept each other sane. But the job grew tougher once the holidays hit. From a week before Black Friday to the day after Christmas, our routes typically intensified more than Santa’s workshop. And the papers got thicker. All of them fattened by advertisers cramming all their flyers in during the zenith of Christmas shopping. Man, we hated that shit.
At least, the papers were on time tonight. And they weren’t as bulky as they had been either.
The bundles all came in around 2 AM And now, in the early hours of December 21st, Ricky and me got to work wrapping all the home deliveries in plastic sleeves. A dim hanging bulb our only light.
The unrelenting wind sent chills down our spines. Our jackets and gloves no match for the harsh cold.
Playful, Ricky held up the newspaper’s front headline. “Well, this is nice for the holidays,” he quipped.
Screaming bold font greeted me: LOCAL MURDERS BAFFLE STANWYCK POLICE. MURDERS POSSIBLY RELATED.
Like yearbook photos, pictures of the four victims ran under the headline. Two middle-aged couples.
With a weary grin, I knocked the paper out of Ricky’s hands. “You’re awful!”
Ricky chuckled. “What? They’re the ones pushing it near Christmas.”
I grabbed my clipboard off the table. “They act like no one ever gets killed around here.” As a Stanwyck native, I never felt threatened. Maybe that’s why Ricky and me were brave (stupid?) enough to do this gig… regardless of Stanwyck’s morbid history.
Amused, Ricky got to work wrapping another newspaper. “Well, usually not around Christmas.”
“True,” I said with a laugh. Holding the clipboard, I checked through our list of subscribers. Just like Santa Claus…
Ricky carried a box of newspapers outside to our 2010 Corolla.
“No shit,” I replied. Scrolling through the list, I cringed. There were now two-hundred-and-one home addresses. A nice Christmas surprise…
1972 Abel Road. Our latest Post Searchlight customer.
Annoyed, I circled the address. “Hey, we got a new one, Ricky.”
Like a tortured office drone, Ricky staggered back inside the shed. “Goddamn, really?”
Grinning, I slapped his round ass. His days as an athlete were still paying off with that donk. “It’s just one more.”
Ricky grabbed some more newspapers. “Where is it anyway?”
Back to business, I checked the list. “1972 Abel Road.”
“Well, where the hell’s that?”
I faced him. “You know, right by our house. Out past O’Neal Lake.”
Holding a stack of Post Searchlights, Ricky stopped in front of me. “They better not have us looking all night.”
I ran my hand along Ricky’s muscular arm, reassuring him. “Hey, we’ll find it, babe.”
“Those assholes didn’t even give us directions, did they?”
Smiling, I leaned in toward his face. “They never do!”
“They got us out here with murderers running around, looking for a Goddamn mystery house,” Ricky scoffed. “Reason number one thousand why-“
“This job sucks,” I finished. Gentle, I caressed his handsome face. He didn’t even flinch from my cold touch. “I know, babe. We’ll just do it last.”
Finally releasing that sexy smile, Ricky moved in closer. Inches away from my lips. “Are we still on for New Year’s?”
“Duh!” Like an aggressive sergeant, I moved in for the attack. I planted a passionate kiss right on Ricky’s lips.
He looked at me, stunned yet pleased.
My smile fueled by our love, I caressed his face once more. “We’ll have the whole weekend to ourselves.”
“Now that’s how I like to ring in 2019.”
“Ditto.” With that, we shared another kiss. Shared another one of our magical Christmas moments out here in the cold. Carefree and playful like we were 20-something lovebirds again.
We had a routine morning. Nothing exciting, nothing memorable. Our Corolla powered through the frigid night. The heater did its best against the invading wind every time we rolled down the windows.
Ricky was behind the wheel, I was in the passenger’s seat. The newspapers overran the backseat.
As Ricky would say, most of our job was “brainless.” We’d either sticks papers in the the yellow Post Searchlight mailboxes (tubes) or toss them in the subscribers’ yards. The only time we ever really had to face the December cold was when we had to re-fill the stands.
On the route, Christmas was inescapable. We had it outside in the form of all the decorations and lights. And we also had it inside with the barrage of holiday hits playing on the radio. Not that I was complaining about the Yuletide escape. At least, the atmosphere kept us from getting too bored.
No one was out in town. Just me, Ricky, and the Christmas decorations. I figured this close to Christmas, maybe people were out of town to visit family. Everyone except for us and our elderly clientele.
I gotta say tonight was going well too. Like a Bonnie and Clyde joyride, me and Ricky were having fun. We were all alone on the road and had Stanwyck to ourselves. During the drive, we talked and laughed the better part of the night. Our chemistry kept us warmer than the jackets or heater ever could.
The Ronettes’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” livened the mood like we were at a prime-time Christmas party rather than on the tail-end of this arduous journey.
All we had left was our neck of the woods. Towman’s gas station and a few houses near our rural neighborhood.
Soon, the glowing illustrious Christmas lights of the city gave way to a country highway. All darkness save for the occasional home’s modest reindeer display.
I saw a faded sign up ahead on the right. And an ugly building to go with it. Towman’s was on the edge of town where it belonged. A hideous last-chance gas station every small town had.
Grinning, I faced Ricky. “Almost done.”
Behind restless eyes, Ricky kept glancing up at the rearview mirror. “Yeah, sounds great…”
“We might get home before the sun comes up.”
Ricky didn’t respond. Like a nervous criminal, he kept checking that mirror.
Confused, I followed his gaze. But I saw nothing behind us. No sirens, no headlights. Just the long line of darkness that was Bainbridge Road.
Smirking, I looked over at Ricky. “Do you want me to drive?”
Like a tennis spectator gawking back-and-forth, Ricky stole a glance at the mirror before facing the highway. “No, I’m fine. Just thought I saw something…”
We pulled into Towman’s. With all the cobwebs and darkness, the store’s front area looked like an entrance to a crypt. Beer signs were plastered over the windows. Plain Christmas lights scattered across the roof the only sign of Towman’s holiday spirit.
The winter breeze blew all the trash, debris, and stray newspapers through the empty parking lot.
And right by the front doors was our beauty. A newspaper stand that belonged in a museum rather than a storefront. The thing looked even older than our subscribers. Spiderwebs swirled all around its coin slot like Gothic cotton candy.
Outside, I opened the stand. I shook the cobwebs off my fingers in disgust. Then grabbed the six quarters.
A bright beam blinded me. Brighter than the Corolla’s headlights… Hell, brighter than a fucking spaceship.
Startled, I turned to see two cars in the parking lot. And I only recognized one of them.
Like a stealthy monster, a silver SUV lurked just a few feet behind the Corolla. The SUV was a hulking beast. Its headlights like big wolves’ eyes. The bright lights appropriate for hunting humans rather than deer.
Terrified, I shielded my eyes. I couldn’t see shit through the SUV’s tinted windshield… and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
“Elizabeth, come on!” a familiar voice called out.
I looked over and saw Ricky leaning out of the car.
Fear replacing his grumpiness, he waved me in like a third base coach. “Hurry!’
I took off for the passenger’s seat. Like a desperate criminal, I heard my meager coins hit the ground but I wasn’t stopping for Goddamn change. Not now.
Adrenaline made me sweat through my jacket. Even in the freezing cold.
Before hopping inside the Corolla, I stole a glance back at the beast behind us.
All I could make out were two people sitting in the SUV’s front seat. I didn’t see any features, but I could feel their eyes lock on me like the stern gazes of hungry predators.
I got in the passenger’s seat and slammed the door behind me. “Go!” I yelled to Ricky.
Like a NASCAR driver, Ricky hopped in behind the wheel. “I think they’ve been following us.”
The heater didn’t comfort me. And neither did Otis Redding’s “White Christmas.”
With scared eyes, I whirled around. The SUV was gone.
A harsh honk made me and Ricky both jump. We turned to our right.
“Oh, fuck!” Ricky yelled in fright.
As if it had effortless wings, the behemoth creature had glided right beside us. And now we had a clear view of who lurked inside.
A woman sat in the driver’s seat, a man right beside her. Both of them tall and angular. They stared at us with nothing in their eyes. No emotion, no compassion. As if they were Ricky and I’s soulless counterparts.
The couple wore casual suits. A slick red raincoat draped over the woman’s outfit, the raincoat’s hood pulled in tight over her long black hair. Their faces were disguised by comic strip masks… colorful plastic ones. The woman with an expressionless Little Orphan Annie mask. The man in an Archie mask featuring the character’s mischievous grin. Sunday Funnies gone evil.
I felt my gut twist into sickened knots. Those organs on Otis’s Christmas classic may as well have been church organs for me and Ricky’s funerals.
Then the woman held up a long hunting knife. Towman’s Christmas lights reflected off the sharp blade, making it glisten like an ominous star.
“What the fuck…” I muttered.
At a deliberate pace, the woman traced the weapon all along her mask. A sadistic taunt made even scarier by the fact her exposed eyes never once blinked much less looked away from me. And all to the tune of “White Christmas.” As if she were performing a killer’s ballet.
The crazy bitch stopped the blade at the mask’s chin. And she left it there. Like a morbid statue, she stayed still. Her eyes glued to my horrified face.
If it weren’t for the cold air emanating from my lips, I would’ve thought I stopped breathing. Fear rather than the December weather had me petrified.
“Fuck this!” Ricky yelled.
Like a vicious bully, the woman revved the SUV. Its engine roared with delight.
I confronted Ricky. “Go, Goddammit!”
And with that, we took off through the night. Far away from Towman’s. But not far enough from the monster chasing us.
All down Bainbridge Highway, the SUV stayed just a few feet behind our Corolla. Like the beast was just toying with us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ricky gun it well past seventy miles per hour.
Like a compulsion, he traded glances back-and-forth between the dark road and the ferocious lights behind us. “Goddammit, what are they doing!”
At this speed, all the Christmas lights became a bright blur. Neither me nor Ricky were cold… not with the heater and our nerves working overtime.
Frightened, I turned back. The headlights honed in on us like spotlights. Like a shield, they kept me from seeing the horrible masks lurking in the car.
“They’re getting closer,” I said, worried.
“Fuck!” Ricky yelled.
Somehow, the couple’s headlights went up a notch. Their brights got even brighter.
I shielded my eyes. “What the Hell!” I cried. Our Corolla’s interior was lit up as if it were already daylight… at 4:30 fucking A.M.
The immense light distracting him, Ricky struggled to stay focused on the highway. “Hold on!” he cried.
In a frenetic turn, Ricky swerved the wheel onto a dirt road. Powers Landing. The Corolla made us feel every bump the shitty road had to offer.
Ricky struggled to control the wheel. Our speed plummeted down into the forties.
With Alabama’s “Christmas In Dixie” playing, I looked out at our rural surroundings. At the rows and rows of woods. We were closer to home at least. But there was still no comfort when the beast’s bright eyes were still upon us.
“Goddammit!” Ricky yelled in panicked horror. “What the Hell’s their problem!”
Uneasy, I turned toward those glowering brights. They highlighted our tumultuous sweat for all the world to see.
If anything, the SUV was only closer. And gaining ground.
Like a ferocious roar, the SUV’s engine echoed through the night. “Just keep going, baby!” I pleaded to Ricky.
“I am!” he replied, flustered.
Helpless, all I could do was watch the SUV lunge forward. “Watch out!” I cried.
With the force of a shark ramming into a boat, the SUV slammed into our back bumper. Me and Ricky jumped out of our seats.
“Shit!” Ricky yelled.
They hit us just hard enough to give us a scare, I realized. These fucks were getting a Christmas thrill out of our torment.
Right as “Christmas In Dixie” hit its emphatic chorus, the SUV drifted back as if it were pulling back for another punch. The vehicle’s engine was louder than ever. Its lights blinding as always.
“Keep going!” I commanded Ricky.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his sweaty hands sticking to the wheel. His eyes were focused on the road… more focused than they’d ever been on the paper route.
Alabama’s drawn-out chorus kept haunting us. What was once pleasant now sounded like an all-encompassing chant. The sound a cult makes as they prepare a sacrifice.
With the brights staring me down, the SUV’s engine reached its horrific peak. And then the beast came charging forward.
Cringing, I braced for the fatal blow. “Fuck…”
“Oh, God!” Ricky yelled.
But then right before it could pounce, the monstrous SUV swerved beside us and bolted down the road. Dust and dirt sprayed across our windshield like snow.
In a matter of seconds, the SUV had flown off into the night. Straight out of sight.
Now there was only me, Ricky, and Alabama on Powers Landing. We were alone. We were safe. We’d survived.
I chuckled like a maniac. Over and over on a manic loop.
Amused, Ricky joined in. He hit the steering wheel with glee. “Those fuckers!”
“I know right!” I said. Still laughing, I leaned back in my seat. “Fuck them…”
Ricky released his foot on the pedal. At a normal speed, the dirt road wasn’t so bad. Not to mention the further we got, the more houses and Christmas lights we saw. We were back in a Winter Wonderland.
Feelings of relief swarmed over us. Our sweat disappeared. Combined with The Crystals’s “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the secluded houses’ Christmas decorations gave us cheerful holiday vibes.
Without the adrenaline overheating us, the winter cold now made us shiver. But right now, I didn’t care. The chills felt like Christmas rather than being trapped in a ferocious blizzard. We were so close to home. And less than thirty minutes away from daylight.
“How many more we got?” Ricky asked, his sardonic grumpiness returning.
Smirking, I looked over at Ricky’s beaming smile.
“Just wondering,” he added.
A collection of colorful lights distracted me. I looked up toward a large house on the left. Like a Christmas shrine, the huge yard was lined up with glowing Santa and Frosty figurines. A true holiday house. “Maybe two more.”
Up ahead, I saw a tall green sign. Its vivid white paint caught my eye: Abel Road.
Excited, I hit Ricky’s arm. “Hey, that’s it!” I pointed toward the sign. “That’s where the new one’s at!”
Like the pro paper carrier he was, Ricky made the swift turn. “Great!”
We were on another dirt road. This one not as bumpy as Powers Landing. I could tell Abel was a real road less traveled.
Nothing but woods was out here. No sign of life aside from whatever lurked in this forest.
With the focused intensity of detectives, we both stared out the windshield.
“What’s the number?” Ricky asked.
“1972,” I answered.
Then like a beacon off in the distance, we saw a mailbox. A fresh yellow Post Searchlight mailbox. Clean and pristine.
“There it is!” I said.
Eager, Ricky eased the Corolla up toward the yellow tube. “Fuck yeah.” He rolled the window down.
The cold air snuck in like a vandal. I pulled my jacket in closer. After all the terrifying excitement of the night, the bitter wind caught me off-guard.
We stopped at the yellow tube. A skeletal metal mailbox stood right next to it, its rusted age the polar opposite of the Post Searchlight mailbox.
Ricky shined his iPhone’s light on the metal. 1972 was scribbled on the lid in big black font.
Through the dim headlights, I couldn’t see much of the yard. Just tall weeds and even taller trees. The outline of a large dilapidated house. Looks like our new subscribers hadn’t even moved in yet. No wonder that ugly mailbox was still there…
With a victorious laugh, Ricky high-fived me. “We got it!”
I forced a chuckle. “Yeah, finally.”
Ricky held out his hand. “What a night…”
Grinning, I handed him a wrapped paper. “Just one more after this.”
“Gotcha.” Gripping the newspaper, Ricky leaned out the window.
“We can still get home by five-“
Bright lights cut on from the house’s driveway. Bright, blinding lights. The eyes of the beast.
Startled, Ricky dropped the paper. “Oh shit!”
Both me and him looked on in horror.
Like a monster resting in its lair, there was the hulking SUV. Right there on the grass driveway. Right by its cave of a derelict house. A house conquered by broken windows and monstrous ivy. 1972 Abel Road looked about as cozy as a haunted castle.
“What the fuck!” I yelled. Terrified, I grabbed Ricky to pull him back. “Ricky, come on!” My eyes stayed on the SUV.And in a sickening epiphany, I realized I could only make out one mask in that car.
“Fuck this!” I heard Ricky cry.
Through the vivid headlights, I saw a quick flash of red run toward the mailbox. A glimmer of silver reflected off the light and hit me square in the eyes… a familiar and horrifying sight.
Motivated by fear, I tried to pull Ricky in through that window. Like a frantic child trying to save their father. “Get in here!” I yelled.
Ricky turned and gave me an uneasy look.
Then the hunting knife jammed straight into his cheek.
I let out a blood-curdling scream.
Even more force pushed the blade through like a hammered railroad spike. A bloodied tip protruded through Ricky’s other cheek like an arrow had struck him. Blood poured all around the wound. So much blood it would’ve drowned out Ricky’s voice even if he could move his mouth.
Like thick snowdrops, drops of blood fell all over the car. All over the seats. The air vents. Even the radio. Right over The Crystals’s holiday jam.
An avalanche of tears poured from my eyes.
Leaning toward me, Ricky’s mouth contorted. As if the blade controlled him like a ventriloquist controlled a dummy.
In the cold, the crimson streams stuck to his flesh. Almost frozen from the wind. My tears felt the same.
Screaming, I looked on at the fleeting life in Ricky’s eyes. The emotion was there. The compassion. But it was fading fast.
I squeezed tighter on to his arm… as if I could squeeze the life back in him. “No, baby!” I yelled. “Ricky!”
His dying grasp grabbed my shoulder. I could see Ricky attempt to talk, but the blade blocked his words. As did the abundance of blood.
Weeping, I touched his face. The cold blood stuck to my fingertips, but I didn’t care. Not when this was our last embrace. “I love you, baby!” I said with conviction. “I love you, Ricky.”
Like an invasive advertisement, Andy Williams’s “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” interrupted our intimacy. Along with the horror before me, the song’s jarring vocals overwhelmed me into a crumbing, crying mess.
Persevering, I kept my heartfelt eyes on Ricky. “I love you.”
Right before Ricky went still, a black gloved hand snatched the blade out of his face in one vicious tug.
Blood sprayed across me and my tears. I cried out as Ricky’s corpse fell into my arms. Literal dead weight that was once my beautiful husband. The thick blood smeared across me like a spilled red Icee.
I saw the woman crouch down in front of the window. Her Little Orphan Annie mask taunted me… as did the killer’s cold gaze. Like the excited eyes a hunter gave cornered prey.
“Fuck you!” I barked at her. “You crazy bitch!”
Then the psycho raised her gloved hands. The knife coated by my husband’s blood was in one hand, the unwrapped newspaper in the other.
Like a playful teacher, the woman pointed her blade right at the screaming headline. The exploitative headline:
LOCAL MURDERS BAFFLE STANWYCK POLICE. MURDERS POSSIBLY RELATED.
With a flourish, she pointed the knife back at herself.
Behind the mask, I could tell the bitch was cracking a smile. She didn’t need to talk or show it either… like a psychotic mime.
I looked down at Ricky’s mangled face. The gaping, bleeding holes on both his cheeks resembled grisly craters. His open eyes stared at me. As if he was communicating beyond the grave.
Disturbed, I couldn’t fight the tears back any longer. Not with my soulmate dead in my arms.
Moving methodically, the woman reached in to unlock the door on the driver’s side.
I glowered at her. Still feeling my husband’s cold blood leaking onto me, a fiery sensation built up in my soul. The adrenaline came roaring back.
The stupid bitch wasn’t even paying attention to me. Her eyes concentrated on the locked door.
Making my move, I brought my leg back and kicked the shit out of that Goddamn mask.
The bitch never knew what hit her. She went flying back as if Santa’s sleigh had smashed her.
The SUV’s stage-appropriate headlights showed her hunting knife go flying through the air.
I had a chance… Respecting Ricky’s corpse as much as I could, I laid his body out on the passenger’s seat. Then I jumped in behind the wheel.
Outside, I heard the woman stagger to her feet. In the cold, her red coat resembled the house’s lone Christmas decoration.
Still weeping, I put the car in drive. I stole a look over at Rick’s pale face. “I love you, baby,” I told him.
Channeling Ricky’s aggression, I took off down the dirt road. The bumps made me hop like a jackrabbit, but I stayed focused. Through the tears, I stared on at Abel Road. All while I passed nothing but wilderness.
I never once turned to look back. I feared the SUV would follow me… but those illustrious beams never struck me. Nor did I ever hear the beast’s roaring engine. All I heard was Christmas songs. Endless Christmas music.
And soon enough, I recognized my own neighborhood. All the glowing Christmas lights and decorated lawns welcomed me back to civilization.
Once I made it home, sunlight was already emerging. Frantic, I dialed 911. But I knew it was too late… all I could do was cradle Ricky in my arms. And there amidst the gradual warmth of the rising sun, we waited. My nerves calm but my tears steady.
The police never found Ricky’s killers. They found out the house was never even bought or rented. Just a fake name The Post Searchlight accepted for quick cash. Typical media protocol… And to this day, I still don’t know why that man and woman chose paper carriers for their Christmas slay.
I quit the route soon afterward. I’m currently in the middle of suing the shithole Searchlight as well. My lawyers told me I got a good case considering the fatal wild-goose chase that the paper’s lack of vetting put me and Ricky through.
And after Ricky’s death, all those connected murders disappeared from Stanwyck. Along with the rest of 2017.
I still stayed around town. After all, Stanwyck was my home. And the community was more than supportive. But I’m still tempted to make a move… particularly with Christmas now right around the corner. The festive season is now nothing more than a season of mourning for me. And I suspect that’s how Christmas always will be.