Chapter 2

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Gretchen watched the televised grand illumination of the National Christmas Tree in her armchair, something she looked forward to every year. It started when she was a little girl, when she sat on her daddy’s lap and watched it with him. December was the one time of year she felt at peace with the world. The one time of year she forgot she lived in a dirty apartment with spiders the size of terriers that her landlord was too lazy to call exterminators for. The one time of year she didn’t have to feel crazy for talking to her stuffed animals. The one time of year she felt her late daddy’s presence again.

And a hell of a year it had been. Her fiancé died the same time she learned of her pregnancy. She never even got the chance to tell him he was a father. Her mother disowned her soon after, leaving her stranded in the world. The absence of her fiancé left a huge gap in the money supply, forcing her to get another job, which barely compensated. Having to work extra hours at both of her jobs in order to pay for rent and baby supplies took its toll on her, especially when her belly grew. As the days on her calendar closed in around both Christmas and her due date, her anxiety grew into what was now a colossal beast that preyed on her state of mind.

“It’s cold here at Ellipse,” the reporter reported, zeroing in on her it seemed, “but the mood is warm. Hundreds have come out to watch the time-honored grand illumination of the National Christmas Tree, which was first done nearly a century ago by President Coolidge. Our current president has just arrived to briefly address the crowd before turning on the lights, though his speech is expected to be brief due to some security concerns

A gust of wind akin to a monster’s roar sent the reporter off of his feet and into the back of a news van. The camera swayed, too, but stayed upright. All at once, as if masterly choreographed, the crowd in the background crunched together and fell like dominos. Gretchen eyed the tree in horror as it rocked forward and back. She gasped, fearful it would fall, just as a basketball-sized fireball rammed into it like a comet. Terrified wails came from the grounded crowd as flames clawed up the branches. The image on her television screen squirmed and pitched and the speakers screamed “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” as more fireballs descended.

Then the television and the lights went out together.

The End

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