Nolan and Brynn enjoy lunch at the Old Wintry Café and overhear a conversation at a nearby table. Three women are discussing rumors about an old brick building with a weathered, red door. The middle-aged lady informs her two younger companions of her given warning against entering the door while the wreath hangs on the front. The locals believe the wreath signifies a mysterious transformation which they’ve dubbed the Christmas door.
Brynn’s eyes widen, and she sneaks a peek in their direction. The older woman informs them if anyone chooses to walk through the door during its transformation, they are gifted something. Her friends’ faces light up until she explains that it is not a gift a person wants. Instead, it is whatever the door decides to gift the one who made entry. And the so-called gift could be an injury, illness, or even death. Their discussion continues throughout the young couple’s lunch.
Nolan and Brynn, vacationing Southern California residents, pay their lunch bill, then head out for more exploring of the winter-themed village in Pennsylvania.
“Do you think there’s any truth to that?” Brynn tilts her head to look at Nolan.
“What?” Nolan begins. “The Christmas door thing? I don’t know, Brynn.” He gives a half shrug. “They’re probably just stalking tourists to get us amped up.”
“Amped up for what?” Brynn’s eyebrows furrow.
“Think about it–it piques our curiosity, then we walk through the door to check it out. It’s probably just a souvenir shop, and they want us to go in and buy something.”
Brynn ponders the rumors while Nolan runs over to purchase a horse-drawn sleigh ride at a ticket booth. Brynn recalls the older lady mentioning an incident that involved a man who walked through the door while the wreath hung, and the next day he broke a leg in three places. She also mentioned a lady who walked through the door while the wreath hung, then suffered the loss of her husband on the following day.
“Hey,” Nolan interrupts her thoughts and nudges her on the arm. “I chose a nighttime sleigh ride. The ticket guy said it’s nicer because of all the Christmas lights.”
Brynn nods. “Sounds good.”
“We’ve got time to go back to the hotel and grab a nap. I’m still jet-lagged.” Nolan stretches and yawns.
Brynn rolls her eyes. “You’re so old! I’m the one who feels off lately, yet I don’t want a nap.”
“Twenty-eight is not old.” He places his hands on his hips and shifts from one foot to the other.
“Exactly…so you shouldn’t need a nap!” She laughs then concedes. “Fine, let’s head back. We’ll explore the village some more before our sleigh ride.”
Back in their hotel room, Nolan climbs into bed and pulls the covers up over his head while Brynn stares in disbelief. She sits in a chair by the window and admires the beautiful village. Almost immediately, he begins snoring, and snow starts falling. Her eyes widen and twinkle with delight. She slips on a pair of boots, grabs a jacket, then rushes out the door.
Feeling like a kid, Brynn smiles and opens her mouth as she walks to collect falling snowflakes. She passes by several shops, preferring to walk in the fresh snow. After rounding several corners, she spots a flavored popcorn shop. Brynn enters and purchases a bag of cinnamon crème popcorn. She chomps away and hums to herself while walking further along the rows of shops. A few minutes later she notices shops are sparse in this aged portion of town.
She turns around to head back and sees a broader set of footprints in the snow beside her own. Someone is following me! Her eyes dart back and forth to scan her surroundings as she walks.
Brynn spots movement from the corner of her eye, and jerks her head toward the left. She stops walking and gazes into the row of pruned bushes. After focusing on a darker area, she sees a pair of worn black boots and realizes a man is hiding in the shrubs. Her heart races.
He jumps out and bursts into maniacal laughter. Brynn flinches and looks into his sunken, dark eyes that stare back at her. He whips out a long knife.
“Hello, young lady,” His gravelly voice sends a chill down her spine.
A scream erupts from Brynn’s throat; she tosses the popcorn onto the ground and sprints back toward the hotel. She takes a different path in hopes of finding a busier street.
“Oh, you can’t outrun me, my dear!” The man tosses the green hoodie off his head and reveals stringy dark hair. He charges after Brynn, cackling with laughter.
Brynn’s chest rises and falls with rapid breaths as she runs to escape her pursuer. She approaches a brick building and finds herself standing before a weathered red door with a hanging Christmas wreath. Oh shit. It’s the Christmas door. She whips her head around and searches for a place to hide.
Her pursuer’s laughter pulses nearby, and she realizes he’s closing in on her.
“Can you guess what I love more than walking in the snow,” he taunts. “It’s tracking your footsteps in the snow!” His cackle turns to a cough.
Unable to locate another place to hide, Brynn rushes to the red door and pushes her way inside. Darkness greets her, and Brynn cowers at the door. A circular ray of light shines through the door, and Brynn realizes it’s a peephole. She peeks through it and sees the knifed man standing at the red door. Her body stiffens.
She watches as he tucks the knife into his pocket, then slips the green hoodie back on. He glances at the door once more, then nods his head and walks away.
Her shoulders relax, and she turns to search the darkened room. Nolan is wrong. This is not a souvenir shop. But why did that psycho refuse to enter? She looks through the peephole once more and decides it’s safe to exit. Brynn pulls on the handle, but the door refuses to budge.
Hisssss! Hisssss! Hisssss!
Brynn spins around. “Who’s there?” She holds her breath, and her eyes dart in the darkness.
The pitch-black space remains silent.
She forces a lump down her throat and wraps her arms around herself.
A gust of wind–or perhaps someone’s breath- blows into Brynn’s face.
She gasps and throws her hands in front of her face. “Hello! Who’s there?” Tears fill her eyes. She thrusts her arms out and waves them about, searching the area around her.
A throaty whisper invades her right ear. You can’t leave. . . Until you receive!
Brynn jumps left and smacks into a cement wall. She places her palms upon it and begins to inch her way along the cold barrier, away from the voice. Her heart races and she struggles to slow her breathing.
The voice returns and resonates within the room. Through Christmas Eve. . . Participants must receive!
Brynn keeps moving, and her foot whacks something solid. She reaches over and discovers the object is a wall; she’s reached a corner. Brynn begins edging her way along the back wall, frantic to find a way out. Her hands flail around in search of a door or window. The air changes and gives Brynn the palpable sense of standing inside a walk-in freezer. She shivers, and her chest tightens.
A burst of wind forces coldness into Brynn’s lungs, and she begins gagging. Her body shivers and she sways on her feet.
The throaty whisper echoes off the walls. The frost will perceive. . . What you should receive!
Hisssss! Hisssss! Hisssss!
The room fills with icy air, forcing Brynn to halt. With her back pressed against the cement wall, her body slides down to the floor. She wraps her arms around her legs, pulls them into her body, and begins sobbing.
Hisssss! Hisssss! Hisssss!
You have received. . . Now you may leave!
The room falls silent.
She lifts her chin, and notices daylight penetrates the peephole. “H-h-hello,” she struggles to speak. “D-d-did you s-say I c-c-can leave?”
Brynn set her palms down flat on the floor and scans the room with her ears. Her body shivers and shudders. She wipes her face on the sleeve of her jacket, then stands up and begins edging along the wall toward the door.
She reaches the door, finds the handle, and gives it a pull. When it opens, relief floods her. She steps outside, bolts toward her hotel then halts after a few steps. Oh, no. What did it gift me? Her hands squeeze into fists, and she ponders as she walks the remaining distance.
Back in her hotel room, Brynn opts to keep the incident from Nolan. She readies herself for the sleigh ride, and the two of them head out. They explore the winter-themed village for a few hours, then climb into the horse-pulled sleigh.
A few minutes into the ride, Brynn overhears the couple in front of them discussing the rumors of the Christmas door. She learns they are locals who frequent the shops and the sleigh ride.
The husband brings up the incident where the man broke his leg in three places. They discuss how the event saved the man’s life; if it weren’t for going to the hospital because of breaking his leg, he never would have known about his heart defect.
The wife then brings up the incident where the lady lost her husband. They discuss how the event saved the lady’s life because her husband was severely abusive. He planned to have her murdered so he could collect insurance money from her death.
Brynn’s jaw drops. She sits back and folds her arms over her chest. It truly does gift those who enter. Her cell phone rings. She looks at the caller ID and sees that it’s her doctor.
“Hello?” Brynn answers.
“Good evening, is this Brynn Hawkins?” the doctor asks.
“Yes, Dr. Hendrin, correct?”
“Yes, it is. I’m calling about your test results.”
Brynn’s heart sinks. She turns away from Nolan and the other passengers and prepares to hear bad news. “Aahhh,” she begins. “Go ahead.”
“Well, I figured out why you’ve been feeling off, Brynn. This time next year, you’ll have a new addition to the family.”
Brynn’s jaw drops, and her eyes well up with tears. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Dr. Hendrin’s chuckle resonates through her cell phone. “I am. Merry Christmas, Brynn. You’re pregnant!”