The church had been empty for years.
There’d been a heavy snowfall the night before, and I had spent a fair portion of the day checking on those families snowed in.
I don’t often travel along the edge of Cross River. Not in the winter. The wind tends to be too bitter.
This evening was no different.
As I hastened along, I caught sight of the old Baptist church. There’d been no congregation for the church since their pastor had died some thirty years prior. When I caught sight of light in the windows, I decided to see who might have taken shelter in the church.
I found the main door unlocked and entered, closing the door against the weather and enjoying the sudden warmth I found myself in.
That enjoyment was short-lived.
All I found in the church was a tree lit with small, white candles set up on the dais. The candles were bright, the flames dancing madly on their wicks, and then, faintly, I heard screaming.
I took a step closer and saw the candles were carved in the shapes of men and women and children. All stood in their Christmas finest, arms stretched over their heads, hands clasped together, and the flames blazing around them.
Expressions of terror and agony twisted across the faces of these waxen people, and when they saw me, their screams of pain became howls of supplication.
The tree leaned towards me, the stench of eagerness and evergreen rolling out across the floor.
I walked toward it, reached out and seized the tree with gloved hands. Branches wrapped around my wrists and forearms, and I tore the tree out of the dais. With a snarl of rage, I dragged the tree backward, branches lashing at my face.
Kicking the door open, I pulled the reluctant tree into the cold and the snow and watched as the candles were snuffed out.
The tree’s branches lashed at me in a frenzy, but I dragged the tree to the river’s edge, snapped the branches off my arms, and hurled the damned thing down onto the ice. It writhed and twisted as I drew my Colts and fired into the thin ice around it.
The ice cracked, and the tree vanished into the water.
I reloaded the Colts, holstered them, and made my way home.