We were counting down to Christmas, just waiting for the last set of doors to be opened.
The field outside the house was quiet save for the soft hum of winter, which seemed to come from beneath the frozen ground. Technically, it wasn’t a field anymore —at least not since this subdivision was built as a housing annex for the decommissioned military base nearby. So, more accurately, it was quiet in the undeveloped lot outside the house, except for that constant hum.
My whole family was here: Mom, Dad, John with his wife and baby, Kelly with her boyfriend, a few people I remember seeing every now and then in town, and a couple of local kids whose parents hadn’t yet returned from frantic, last-minute shopping trips to tide us for the season. We were expecting some of my aunts and uncles to show up, but they were coming from out of state and we hadn’t heard anything since our phone and electricity services had given out.
Most of the neighbors had been in a real hurry to leave with their friends and loved ones this season – some hadn’t even bothered to lock up their houses or even close their doors before they’d left. But the rest of us felt a pull to come home. Our roots held strong around here, no matter what was rising to the surface.
All month, the anticipation grew. A person could keep a calendar by it. The first day of the countdown was a big to do. Sure, we all knew it was coming — as sensational as they are, the news just can’t get enough about those kind of stories — but it didn’t really sink in until those first doors opened up. We were still registering it days later as doors two through five followed suit. Doors continued to open after that, and, surrounded by the warm glow of the fires climbing skyward, we almost forgot what was being counted down to.
Days passed. It got quieter and quieter outside the house, like even the animals knew what was coming. The air grew heavier and eventually, it started to look like snow. We stay huddled together under blankets. Mom and Dad said a few words and everybody grabbed one another a little bit tighter. There was only one more door to open before countdown reached zero.
Suddenly, from somewhere outside there was a clatter, but we didn’t need to unduck from cover to see what was the matter. From out of the ground an orange light appeared. It was fiery exhaust from the ICBM heading into the atmosphere. As the rocket flew overhead, heading to a target beyond site, we remained still and waited for retaliatory flights.
The doors to the final compartment, having given up their surprise contents, slowly closed, and the countdown was complete. Streaks like tinsel ran through the starry, wintry night, reaching ever closer to our location. Sirens and klaxons sounded off in the desolate town nearby, signaling an imminent arrival this Christmas Eve. We gathered together and celebrated the holidays one last time.
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