Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
It was only 9:45 PM and the local kids were already setting off cherry bombs. Lydia expected such, but even so, it startled her to the point of spilling the tea she held in her hand. The hot liquid burned the inside of her thigh, and she cursed under breath.
It was New Year’s Eve, and Lydia was spending it the way she always had: alone, curled up with a good book and a hot beverage. The holiday was just another day for her, and although she did make it a tradition to at least stay up until midnight, she felt no need to spend it with friends or family. She liked the solitude, and often felt awkward around other people.
Getting up to wash the tea from her leg, she passed the once-vibrant Christmas tree whose lights were no longer twinkling. The last time the lights were on was Christmas day. She made a mental note to take it down the following morning, as well as all the other half-assed decorations she had around her house. She often wondered why she bothered putting them up anyway; nobody saw them but her, but old habits die hard.
Grabbing a rag from a drawer in the kitchen, she wiped off the spilled tea and examined her thigh. The spot was red, but nothing too serious. The pain would subside quickly, and as long as she kept a firm grip on her mug, she was sure she would be able to get through the night without too many serious injuries, fireworks or not.
Just then, the phone rang. Forgetting about the burn and figuring one of her family members was calling to wish her a happy new year, she answered.
She heard laughing in the background, but nobody replied.
“Hello?” she asked again, a little louder.
“Is Joseph there?”
It was a woman’s voice. Lydia could still hear laughing in the background.
“I’m sorry, there’s no Joseph here. You must have the wrong number.”
Then the person on the other end hung up.
Lydia took the phone from her ear and made a flabbergasted facial expression.
“That was rude,” she said, and placed the phone back on the receiver.
As she made her way back into the living room, she heard laughing coming from the front of the house. Immediately reminded of the phone call she just received, Lydia froze to listen. More laughing, and getting louder.
She made her way to her front window and peaked outside. To her relief, a group of teenagers were walking up the sidewalk, sparklers in their hands, laughing up a storm; the boys teasing the girls and the girls giggling their heads off. The street lamps made their shadows bouncy and elongated, reminding Lydia of the shadows she used to see when the power would go out and her family had to rely on candle light. One of the girls pushed one of the boys gently, knocking him off the sidewalk and onto the street. “You’re gonna get it now!” he shouted, and the girl tried to hide behind one of her friends.
Lydia let go of the breath she was holding and closed the curtain. She did not miss being a teenager, although a small part of her felt nostalgic at the thought of interacting with the opposite sex. There was nothing like those first time butterflies, casual glances, and playful teasing. Smiling to herself, she returned to the couch, sipped her tea and began reading her book again.
About an hour passed before the phone rang again. Thinking for sure it would be one of her relatives this time, she got up and answered.
Again, nobody answered, but she could hear what seemed to sound like a party in the background. She could hear glasses clinking together, music playing in the distance, loud conversation, and the occasional noise maker going off.
“Hello?” she asked again, louder still.
Then she heard what sounded to be someone shuffling the phone about and then nothing. The dial tone was the only thing she could hear now, so she hung up again.
“What the Hell?” she asked to herself.
Aside from the first phone call she received, Lydia figured someone had accidentally butt-dialed her. Letting it go, she returned to the couch.
As midnight approached, Lydia grew increasingly tired, but was determined to stay awake. As she read sentence after sentence, her eyelids felt like they were filling with sand, and she would catch herself closing them for a few seconds. She looked at the clock. It was 11:45.
“Fifteen more minutes; then I can finally turn in,” she said, closing her book and searching for the television remote. Lydia figured the TV would be the perfect distraction as she waited for midnight.
Then, the phone rang again.
Lydia contemplated answering it. It wasn’t usual for her to get any calls period, let alone three in a few hours, wrong numbers or not. Curiosity got the best of her, however, and she walked over to the receiver.
“Hello?” she asked, in an irritated voice.
A loud noisemaker blasted in Lydia’s ear. She moved the phone away from her head as quickly as she would have if she touched a hot stove.
A man’s voice appeared, and he spoke no louder than an angry whisper:
“Happy New Year, Joseph. You never thought I’d do it, but I will.” The man laughed, and breathed in deeply. “Do you like when things burrrn, Joseph? They’ll try to stop me, but I’ll do it. It will be beautiful.”
Lydia’s brow furrowed. Not knowing how to respond, she said, “Who is this? There is no Joseph here!”
The man on the other end kept his tone to a whisper and said only one more thing before hanging up.
“You’ll burn, too.”
A woman laughed in the background, and then silence.
Lydia slammed the phone down into the receiver. A chill ran up her spine and she looked at the clock. It was almost midnight, but she couldn’t focus on New Year’s when she was shaken to the core.
Without really knowing what to do next, Lydia decided to check all the doors to make sure they were locked and all the blinds to make sure they were closed. Her anxiety rose every time a new firecracker went off in the distance, and she kept having to tell herself that it was nothing but kids horsing around and enjoying the holiday.
When 11:59 rolled around, Lydia crept back onto the couch and huddled underneath a blanket. She braced herself for the impending firecrackers, and when the clock struck 12:00, she closed her eyes.
Several firecrackers and fireworks erupted in the distance, sounding like a mixture of gunfire and explosions. She jumped at every one, holding her breath between every pop and snap, closing her eyes and counting the minutes when it would all be over.
The main hoopla subsided around 12:30. Although she was still shaken up from the prank phone call –if that’s what it even was—she decided she would turn off her ringer and go to sleep. Her heart had had enough action for the night, and all she wanted to do was close her eyes and drift off into a land of nothingness for a few hours.
As her hand went for the Ringer Off button on her phone, it rang once again. Hesitant to pick it up, yet too curious to leave it ringing, she answered the phone for a fourth time.
“Yes?” She asked with a whisper.
It was the same man as before, whispering violently.
“ARE YOU READY JOSEPH? I CAN FEEL THE HEAT ALREADY. IT’S MOVING THROUGH MY VEINS AND WARMING THE SOUL THAT WILL SOON BE DAMNED. OH, JOSEPH. THE TIME IS NOW.”
Then what sounded like a loud air horn went off into the phone, and Lydia dropped it to the ground. She could still hear it going off when she picked it up again and slammed it into the receiver. Turning off the ringer, she ran into the back bedroom, shut the door, and jumped onto her bed. She could still hear firecrackers in the distance, but eventually her heart slowed and she was able to lie down. She wasn’t able to fall asleep until around 2:00 AM, but she did eventually drift off into that land of nothingness.
“I’m here, Joseph. It’s happening.”
Lydia’s eyes fluttered open to the sound of a man talking and the smell of smoke. Startled awake, she found she was lying on her bathroom floor with the door closed. She was unable to process how she got there because panic took over her body.
“It’s going to be so beautiful, and you won’t be able to stop me.”
A woman giggled, and then Lydia heard what sounded like scratching on the door. She suddenly felt like she was being pressed to death, unable to get up or do anything because the fear she felt was so strong. After a few seconds, she recognized the voices as the ones she heard on the phone earlier.
Lydia heard a loud bang as if something large had been dropped outside the door, and she jumped, tears beginning to stream down her face. Too scared to do anything, she put her hand to her mouth and waited to see if anything else would happen, all the while, the smell of smoke getting stronger. Lydia felt her stomach drop.
More scratching up and down her door, and then the man whispering again:
“It’s gonna burn. It’s gonna burrrrrn.”
Whoever was on the other side of the door suddenly ran out of the room, so Lydia jumped up and tried the door.
Jammed. Something was blocking it from the outside, just as she expected.
Lydia pressed her ear against the door and listened. From the distance, she heard the man and woman laughing.
“It’s getting hot! The flames are spreading!” the man screamed.
Putting two and two together, Lydia figured the people in her home were going to burn the house down, with her in it. Looking up at the only other way out, her heart sank. There was no way she would be able to fit through the tiny bathroom window.
“Let me out!” Lydia screamed, hoping against hope someone would open the door. The only response she heard was more laughter. In the distance, she heard glass break.
Lydia tried the knob again, and found that it was becoming warm.
“Whoever you are, please let me out! I’ll give you anything you want, just please let me out of here!”
Silence. She pressed her face against the door and felt a slight heat. She turned and faced the mirror, almost not recognizing herself because the terror in her face made her look completely different. “I’m going to die,” she thought. “What a great way to start off the New Year.”
Lydia leaped to her feet and grabbed the toilet tank lid. Without thinking of anything else, she started hitting it against the door knob, hoping she could somehow break the door open. Smoke started coming through under the door, and Lydia started pounding faster. With every hit, Lydia let out a desperate cry. After a few minutes, Lydia thought she wasn’t going to be able to do it, but with one final smack, the door knob fell to the ground.
Lydia pushed the door with all her strength, but it was futile. Whatever those people pushed in front of the door, it was not going anywhere. In a fit of rage, Lydia slammed the palms of both her hands into the door over and over, screaming until she started coughing; the smoke and heat coming into the bathroom was beginning to become too much.
With resignation, Lydia sank to the floor. Her eyes began to sting and it was getting too hard to breathe. She was becoming light-headed.
She looked over to the small bathroom window and thought “I could have at least opened it and screamed for help.” She closed her eyes, heat enveloping her body. Her final thought before passing out was, “Who the fuck is Joseph? I hope he had a better New Year’s Eve than I did.”
It took eight minutes for the fire department to respond, but by then it was too late.
Credit To – Aja