One night during study hall a boy was just doing his homework, alone. His name was Tristan. He got bored so he decided to get his speaker from the downstairs of the Sturtevant Hall. He went down the creaking stairs and turned towards the hall. Tristan saw his speaker, but out of the corner of his eye there he saw a red door. Out of intense curiosity Tristan went over to the door. There was a sign that read “employees only“. He opened the door and went into the room. There was a big heater. He saw a spider on the side of the wall, and Tristan has a huge fear of spiders. He heard a lot of creaking noises behind a regular door in the room. Then there was a loud BANG!!!!!! Tristan runs to the red door, but it is locked. He ran behind the hot heater and all he could see were a pair of bloody legs that walked out of the red door. Tristan looks at his phone and it is at 27%, and it is 9:13 pm. He runs towards the red door and it opens, Tristan frantically ran out. He went upstairs, and went into the reading room. He relaxed and did the rest of his homework, with a heart beat that felt like it was going to burst out of his chest.
When Tristan had finished his homework, he headed toward his dorm and noticed the man and that he was full of blood. He got into a white car and drove off. Tristan ran to Atwood and into his dorm for the night. But his dorm partner “ Sidney “ was still awake. Tristan says, Sidney, do you want to go check something out that I saw. What did you see?, he asked. I saw an interesting room with some stuff, but come on. Ok let me get a sweatshirt on. He said.
When Tristan and Sidney got back to Sturtevant Hall, they went downstairs to the red door. You went in here?,Sidney asked. Yeah, of course I did. Tristan replied. They went into the room. There is more blood. Sidney freaks out. Tristan walked into the door that the man came out of but there was only another door. He persuaded Sidney to come with him and sure enough he went along.They walked through the door and there was blood everywhere still. Tristan walked further into the room to see a handsaw and a hammer. He ran into the room that the man was in. There is not much blood but a gun and a load of knives. The knives had blood on them. What is with all the blood, Sidney said. We shouldn’t be here. I agree. Tristan said. First, I am going to look around for a sec. You can go if you want. Ok , Sidney agreed. Tristan looked around and the room was really smelling bad so Tristan looked around for a sec more, and then he heard a yell of pain behind him. He looked through the window and Sidney had an axe in his leg. He was kneeling on the concrete floor. Tristan gets away from the door and hides under the workbench. He plugged his ears to not hear the screams. Then the man comes through the door that he was in and grabs a rope and walks out. Tristan gets up and he sees him wrap the rope around Sydney’s other leg and drag him out the red door. Tristan then gets out of the room and waits 5 seconds then runs out of the red door. He saw no one there but took a run for it. Tristan ran to the bottom of the stairs and the man was standing there at the top of the stairs. He turned around and saw another guy with a mask, he had a bat. Tristan punches him in the face and grabs his bat. He takes the bat into the air and knocks him out. He runs but the red door is locked. He runs towards the other door to a teachers office. The door is locked. Tristan only has one option, and that one option is to fight. Or at least try to. He runs toward the man and the man but the man trips him. Takes the bat and knocks Tristan out. Tristan woke up in his bed thinking it was all a dream. He opened his eyes and saw the man standing next to him with a handsaw.
For God’s sake, you’re not going crazy. You’re definitely sane. Your mind is at its best. You’re not crazy, you’re ok, you’re fine, you’re perfectly calm. Yes, calm. Calm… like your mind. It’s not you, you’re not crazy. It ‘s them.
They grin, showing off their white teeth and plastic fake smiles. You close your eyes and sigh. You’ve tried to. You’ve tried to change it, but they’re not coming back.
Your family has been replaced by a bunch of imposters.
Nobody believes you? Fair enough. You wouldn’t either, if you were them. But yet you try to desperately explain.
Since you’re little, every single day after school, Mom makes the perfect ham and cheese sandwich, the bread slices lined up perfectly, the Gouda cheese sliced sharply, the Turkish ham establishing harmony between those rare but delicious ingredients…
However, in the last two weeks, you’ve noticed that the bread doesn’t have that crunch to it, the cheese is not Gouda but Cheddar, and the ham breaks a perfect order and makes it, well… unpleasant.
Your parents have never cared about you, about your day… Everyday since you can remember, you open that old rusty door and silence reigns in the house. However, these last few weeks, as you walk in, Mom smiles widely and asks about your day. Dad waves from the living room, as he’s “helping around” with the house chores. Sissy comes running to give you a big hug. Yet, all these nice and valuable gestures are not what they seem. They’re warm, yet cold; light, yet dark; ordinary, yet uncanny…
And then the smiles… They never stop smiling. It’s like a Dollhouse, but it’s not “time for you to play”.
You wipe your tears away, leaving no trace of sadness as you enter the feared house.
As you walk in, Mom greets you warmly, kindly offering a ham and cheese sandwich. You accept it cautiously, and savor those dry bites of bitterness. Sissy hugs you joyfully, pulling your shirt, asking you to come play. All those plastic smiles, those shining eyes, those perfectly styled locks, those neatly ironed outfits…
“In a sec, Sissy” you mutter as you approach the kitchen.
This has to stop. It has been going on for too long. Two weeks is too long. You can’t go crazy. That’s just not you. You can’t.
You close your eyes as your arms reach out searching for it. You find it and grab it strongly by the cool and smooth handle. You take a glance at the mirror as your anger rises. You enter the living room. This perfect family is fake. They took Mom, Dad and Sissy away. They don’t deserve to live.
You hear the laughs, that, two weeks ago would’ve been joyful, yet now you only hear malicious shrieks of laughter. You get goosebumps, as you slowly approach those monsters. You close your eyes and raise your arm decisively once you’re next to them. Three strikes. Three screams. Three seconds of satisfaction. You sit happily between corpses, playing with the knife, blood dripping all over your white pants.
“I’ll wash them” you say as you sway your legs innocently.
You see a car stop by the house, and you excitedly scream. They’re back! You open the door, only to find out that it’s not Mom. It’s not Dad, or Sissy either.
The cops surround you, and you start crying.
“You don’t get it, they were fake. They were not real.”
They nod with their heads, but you can tell they don’t believe you. In fact… they’re mocking you!
“Don’t you dare make fun of me!” they all flinch and shy away from you.
They’re not mocking you. They’re afraid of you.
As they take you away handcuffed, the knife still dripping on your left hand, you turn around and take a last glance at the mirror. And you finally see. You see the real you, pounding the glass weakly, desperately crying, trying to break the wall between the mirror and the crime scene. Your reflection falls down, gives up, and curls up into the fetal position in despair.
I’ve been in and out of jobs since I dropped out of college. I was never really a school person, and I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Looking back, I probably should have just sucked it up and gotten my stupid degree. Sorry, where are my manners? I still haven’t introduced myself. My name is Phil and I’m 24. While I’m doing anything I can to make rent, my true passion is nature. I’ve always loved spending time alone in the woods, enjoying a short break from reality. After losing yet another job, I wasn’t in a good place. I was a failure who couldn’t do anything right. I decided to go out to the local pub and get a few drinks.
“Hey Phil, how’s it going buddy?” I looked over at John in the corner, smiling at me with his yellow, chipped smile.
“Same as always, John.” I gave the most basic answer I could think of; I wasn’t in the mood to talk. John was a usual at the pub, and knew that if I was there I was down on my luck. When I sat down on the other side of the bar from him and ordered a gin and tonic, he got up and came over to me. He paid his bill, and leaned over my shoulder before leaving.
“I know why you’re here. Don’t do anything stupid. Luck comes and goes, yours will turn around eventually. Just give it time.” I scoffed and brushed him off.
“You’re starting to sound like my dad John, and I haven’t talked to him in four years.” With that he walked out, and I was alone with the bartender. After my fifth round of drinks, the bartender cut me off and I angrily stood up to leave. On the way out, I glanced over at the job adverts as I usually do. I almost walked out before stopping in my tracks. I immediately sobered up and walked back to the wall. While there were the usual adverts, I spotted one that was never there before. “Park Ranger wanted. No experience required. Call the number below to apply.” I was shocked. This could be my way out, my luck finally turning around. I ripped off the whole poster and walked out to shouts from the bartender. I didn’t listen; I had a call to make. I managed to get back to my apartment, dreaming of getting my life together and having a second chance. When I dialed the number however, all I heard was static. I tried again and again, all with the same result. I slammed the phone on my bed. This was my chance, my lifeline, and I was too late. They must have already hired someone else.
Wait, that wasn’t a reason to cut off the number. And wouldn’t I get an automated message if the call wasn’t going through? That’s when I started hearing something coming from the phone. Through the static I thought I could make something out. I listened closer – nothing. Then, very quietly, I heard three quick taps, three long taps, and then three quick taps again. “Hello?” I asked questionably into the phone. This was weird. Was I being pranked? Suddenly the tapping stopped and the phone line went dead. I went to bed that night creeped out, but mostly upset over the missed opportunity. I would have to go out and look for another job soon.
When I woke up the next morning however, everything changed. I received a text from an unknown number. It read “Hello Phil! This is Amy with the Alaskan National Forest Protection Association. I am led to believe that you are interested in working as a park ranger with us. If this is true, you’re hired! We need you as soon as possible. We will fly you out and send you a few thousand dollars to get all the gear you need when you land. I hope to see you soon. Best, Amy.” I was confused. This was all surreal, and it felt too good to be true. I didn’t notice the hundreds of red flags, like how they got my name or how they knew I wanted the position. I was curious, and what could be the harm in replying, even if it was a joke? I sent a text back saying that I was in fact interested and asked what I needed to do. Amy responded almost instantly. Weird, I thought. Maybe she was on her break or something? We texted back and forth a few times, and it ended with her sending the details to my direct flight to Anchorage, Alaska and me having $3,000 in my bank account. I was left in shock, I didn’t think it could be real. I had never had this much money at once, and I thought about just keeping the money and refunding the ticket. It would leave me with enough for a month or two, giving me plenty of time to get a job. Just then my phone buzzed one last time. “So sorry, I somehow forgot to mention the salary for this position.” Below the message I thought she had sent me another phone number. It must have been a mistake. I sent her another message, but all she did was confirm the number.
I immediately started packing my few belongings and got a taxi to the airport. Seven hours later the plane landed with a thud. I quickly bought my essentials for the next couple weeks and then it was another three hour drive to the fire station I would be staying at. I pulled my car into a run down parking lot with a small reception building that looked abandoned. The dull brown sign said “Welcome to the Gates of The Arctic National Park.” I got out of my car and breathed in the fresh summer air as a smile spread across my face. I was finally free. I was where I belonged. I walked up to the abandoned looking building and saw a sheet of paper nailed to the door. It was a note, directing me to my watch tower and giving me other instructions. I didn’t question it. I stopped asking questions when I learned the salary. I quickly figured out which way to go, and set off on my journey. The trails were beautiful and I lost myself in my new environment. Every few minutes I stopped to listen and admire the views. It was all so surreal. After a few hours of this, I realized that my hike was going to be a lot longer than I planned. It would probably take me the rest of the day and almost all of tomorrow to cover the distance to my tower. I decided to start looking for a place to set up camp close to the trail. I didn’t think anyone would be out on the trails so late and not have camp set up already, so I didn’t go very far.. I found the perfect spot in a small clearing of grass. After setting up camp and having a quick meal, I decided to go to bed and get an early start in the morning.
I awoke in the middle of the night to rustling near my tent. I laid there with my eyes open and listening intently. It sounded like a small animal, maybe a squirrel or racoon. I decided there was nothing to worry about and tried to go back to sleep. Suddenly, whatever it was by my tent gave a start and jolted into the woods and I heard it fade away. That’s when I heard footsteps. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from, but I assumed they must have been a hiker on the trail that was trying to finish a hike in the night. It was almost a full moon so there was good visibility, but I couldn’t see out of my tent. I waited for the footsteps to fade and quickly fell back asleep. When I woke up the events of the previous night were like a fog in my memory. However, the second I unzipped my tent, I was horrified. I looked outside at my gear scattered across the whole field. Something, or someone, had gone through all of my stuff.
I started picking everything up and retrieved my food from the tree I stashed it in. Luckily it was untouched. When I came back to the site, the events of the previous night started coming back to me, and I came to a horrifying truth. The footsteps I had heard were coming from the direction the head of my tent was faced. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except the fact that my feet were pointed towards the trail. This means that either something very large was by my tent, or someone was walking off the trail, in the middle of the night, this far into the woods. This thought sent shivers down my spine, but I shook it off and packed up my bag to start hiking. No matter what had happened last night, I knew for sure that I didn’t want to sleep in a tent out here for another night. I convinced myself that it must have been a deer or even a moose and started off at a brisk pace. I had around 15 miles to walk today and I was already off to a late start.
I quickly got into a rhythm and completely forgot about the chaotic morning I had. I was back in nature, in my safe place, living my dream. After about 12 miles of hiking, I came across another campsite. There was a one person tent, an old campfire, and some bags of equipment laying out. I decided to look around, but I couldn’t find anyone. I assumed this must have been whoI heard last night and I called out for them. No luck. They must have set off for a day hike and left their heavy equipment behind. I continued on my journey, and made it to the watchtower just before dusk. It was surprisingly new. I looked around the base, and saw a massive stack of firewood and some food stashed in bins to keep the animals out. I climbed the seemingly never ending stairs up to the top of the tower, and went inside. I dropped my bag and pulled out the instructions I took the previous day. I was exhausted, but I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything I had to do before I went to bed. I read through the dry, normal sounding instructions and tasks I had to do, and it all seemed normal. Just before going to bed, out of the corner of my eye I saw a sheet of paper on the nightstand. I walked over, picked it up, and began reading. It went as follows:
Greetings, new Park Ranger. I assume you fell for the same trick that I did. The dream job. Getting to live out here all alone with nature and making that unbelievably high salary. I regret to inform you that you are in for the hardest challenge of your life. I wrote this to give you a better chance than I did. Here are the rules I figured out.
What was this, some sort of joke from the last Ranger? I was skeptical, but I continued reading.
Don’t leave the tower between 10pm and 8am, no matter what you see.
Always keep the door locked when you are inside. It won’t come in unless you let it.
If you hear sprinting up the stairs, get under the bed immediately and pray that it wont find you there.
Suddenly, it felt as if a freight train crashed into the tower. I was thrown to the floor, dazed and confused. Then it started. That dreaded scratching up the stairs. Oh God. I pictured some demon sprinting up the stairs at full speed, running into the railing every time it turned a corner. Whatever it was, it was huge, and it was fast. I remembered rule 3. If you hear sprinting up the stairs, get under the bed immediately. That was the fastest I had ever moved. I threw myself under the bed and braced myself for when it reached the door. Bang! Crash! Slam! Then silence. It reached the top balcony. There was only a door between that monstrosity and me. I froze. My skin went cold with goosebumps as I looked back to the second rule. Always keep the door locked when you are inside. It won’t come in unless you let it. Had I locked the door? I prayed I had. Oh God, please God, please tell me I locked it. I almost cried out when I heard the rusted handle start slowly turning.
Squeeeeeeeek. The door’s rusty hinges slowly turned, and the door was open. I looked towards the door from my hiding spot and almost screamed right then. The light from the sunset reflected off of the creature.The edge of the bed blocked my line of sight, and I could only see its feet. It had gnarled claws sharp as talons. Its skin was a grayish brown, and it was pulled tight around its extremely skinny legs. It took one long step into the room, and I heard something drag along the ceiling. It must have been at least 10 feet tall! Tears streamed down my face, and I struggled to stay quiet. It walked over to the bed and stood there. It was taunting me. It knew I was there, and I was going to die. I heard it’s deep ragged breathing and I held my breath for as long as I could. Right when I thought it was going to pick up the bed and reveal my hiding spot, it let out a rattling scream that startled me and it turned around to walk out. I heard that horrific scraping back down the stairs as it threw itself down them just as fast as it had come up. I waited, and gasped in air like I had never breathed before. I jumped out from under the bed and ran to shut the door and lock it. What had I just experienced? I didn’t sign up for this. I was terrified, but I picked up the list again and continued where I left off.
If you see the man in the morning, you must build a bonfire in the field with the firewood provided. Do this just before dusk, and leave the lights on all night. You must stay awake until 2am. I don’t know what it’ll do if you fall asleep before then.
If you are outside and everything goes quiet, you have a five minute head start on the creature. Do not return to the tower, it will already be there if you try.
Don’t try to leave. It likes toying with you, and it won’t care about the rules if you try to leave.
I know this all sounds like a joke or a prank, but I assure you it is not. Whatever this thing is, it likes to toy with you. Use that to your advantage, as it is all you have keeping you alive. Goodluck. I think I hear it now. It’s knocking on the roof. I think it wants to come in, and I don’t think I can stop it.
What have I gotten myself into? I was terrified of what was to come, and I pictured my inevitable fate. I was going to die to this creature. No matter what happened, I would eventually break the rules or run out of food. I made sure the door was locked, and I checked it again. I tried to go to sleep, but I was shaking and couldn’t stop. That night I had countless nightmares of that creature stalking me, and what would have happened if it checked under the bed. The next morning I was still shaken, but I tried to do something to get my mind off everything. I decided it was best to unpack my bag and make myself at home, as I wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. In the middle of unpacking I heard something coming from outside. I saw a hiker by the treeline waving and screaming at me. Fire! Fire! Fire! The man repeated over and over. I saw smoke coming from the direction of the campsite I had seen the previous day. I was about to step outside when the man stopped yelling. This caught me off guard. I looked at the clock. It was 7:58 am. I remembered the rule. As I looked up, I briefly saw the man turn around and run into the woods on all fours. At this point I knew I was screwed. What was this thing? I waited until it was 8:20 to go outside, and I decided to venture down the stairs. I heard birds chirping and singing, and I was happy to know it had left me alone, at least for now. I started chucking firewood into the ring that was burnt in the grass from previous fires.
I spent most of the day in the tower, thinking about how I could get out of my situation. It was only when I started to see the sun touch the horizon that I snapped out of it. I jerked up out of my chair and ran down the stairs. I dumped a can of gasoline on the massive pile of firewood, threw in a match, and darted back up the stairs. It was time to wait. I sat in my chair, overlooking the fire with the false sense of security that the tower gave me. Nothing was happening. I don’t know what I was expecting to happen, but I thought it would be something. Minutes turned into hours, and hours passed by with nothing happening. I was starting to doze off, when around 1 am I heard a shriek coming from the woods. I shot up, fully awake, not sure what I had heard. Suddenly, I saw four figures entering the clearing. They all took the appearance of hikers, but I knew better. Who could say what was really under their disguises. I was terrified. There were more of them. I thought there was only one up until now. This was when I noticed something. They seemed to avoid the fire. Although it was dying out, they only went as close as the outer ring the light from it formed. With this, I came to two realizations. First, they are afraid of fire. Second, the fire was very quickly dying out. When I came to this conclusion, they all looked up at me in unison. Shivers immediately shot down my spine. All I could do was pray that the fire held out for long enough, for who knew what they would do to me if that fire went out. When the clock struck 2 am, as if it was clockwork, they all sauntered back into the tree line, just before the fire went out. I decided to go to bed before anything else could happen that night. I left the lights on like the rules said, and again dreamt of that thing finding me under the bed.
The next day I found myself out on the trails. I was wandering about until I came upon a campsite. It was the one I had passed a few days ago. I approached it, but suddenly stopped. The tent was ripped to pieces, the equipment thrown about. It was destroyed. After looking at the site, I realized something was wrong. I couldn’t hear anything. Oh God I was so screwed. I didn’t know how long it had been since the forest went quiet, so I didn’t hesitate to dart into the tree line to look for a spot to hide. I found a half dead tree, and crawled my way inside the trunk. It would have to be good enough. The second I got into my spot, I heard that gut rattling scream. It was close. I peered out, and saw it in full clarity for the first time. The thing must have been ten feet tall. It was humanoid in shape, but everything was wrong. Its limbs were long, too long. It didn’t make sense. And it was so skinny. It was as if it hadn’t eaten anything in its lifetime. But the worst part was its eyes. They were a red so bright it looked as if a fire were burning in its sockets. This thing had come straight from hell – from my nightmares. I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do. The creature suddenly snapped its head around, looking straight at me. It felt like it was staring into my soul. Those piercing red eyes left an imprint in my mind. It let out a shriek, and as I began to sob, I saw an unnaturally wide smile spread across the creature’s face. At this point I just wanted to curl up into a ball and wake up from this nightmare. It started walking towards me. Oh no, oh no no no. This was it. When it was about two steps from my hiding spot, I heard another piercing shriek from off in the distance. It stopped dead in its tracks. Then it yelled back. The noise that came out of its mouth was so strong and piercing that I thought it ruptured my eardrum. It began to stalk away, back towards the other shrieks. I listened to it, and it was laughing. This thing was toying with me. I knew it now. I decided I had to run. It was my only chance to escape. If I went now, I could make it to my car in maybe three hours. It was worth the risk.
I waited for the sounds to return to the woods, and sprung from my hiding spot. I slowly made it to the trail. Then my fear got to me, and I started full out sprinting the opposite way from the tower. I put probably six miles between me and the tower in about 40 minutes. I thought It was going to be okay. I even slowed down to catch my breath. This was a mistake. Just then everything went silent, as if someone flipped a switch. I started sprinting. I had a five minute head start and I wasn’t going to waste it. I felt eyes on me from all directions. I was running faster than I ever had, my veins pumping with adrenaline. The trees rushed past in a blur. I wasn’t going to let it catch me. Suddenly, I couldn’t believe my eyes, I saw the parking lot. This only made me run faster. I heard it behind me now. It wasn’t going to let me get away. I ran faster with every step, giving all of my energy, until it all went dark. Something flew into the back of my head and I fell over instantly. I wasn’t knocked unconscious but I was dazed and couldn’t move. I heard it stalk up to me from behind, then from my sides. They were surrounding me. I gave up. I accepted my fate. Everything went black.
I awoke in the night in the field in front of the firetower. It was the middle of the night. It brought me back to this hell of a place just to mess with me. I got to my feet and started slowly climbing the stairs. I was about halfway up them when my worst nightmare came true. I heard the scrapping frenzy of limbs climbing the staircase below me. Every crash threw me off balance as I struggled up the rest of those stairs. It was so close to me I felt like it was going to reach out and grab me. I reached the top and I threw the door open and jumped inside. Then nothing. It was all quiet and still. This brings me to where I am now, writing this story as a warning to you. If you find a job like this in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably too good to be true. I hear it now. It’s tapping on the roof. That pattern; I remember it. I thought back to the phone call I had made that got me into this mess. Those three quick taps, followed by three long taps, and again by three quick taps. S.O.S. It was taunting me again. I think it wants to come in now, and I don’t think there’s anything I can do to stop it. I heard a thud behind me as it fell to the balcony. The door slowly creaked open. It’s behind me now. I can feel cold shuddering breaths on the back of my neck. I took a deep breath and swallowed. It’s watching me write, and I’m afraid what it’ll do to me when I stop. I pictured the scene in my mind, of this towering creature bent down behind me, waiting to pounce. My warning to you: If you ever find a strange set of rules, follow them.
When December approaches and the snow begins to gather on the sidewalks, footprints slowly brush away the thin layer of powder covering the pavements. The trees dance with the wind as well as the snowflakes as they glide down from the sky and onto my hands, nose, and mouth. I open my mouth wide and stick my tongue out in hopes of catching a snowflake dissolve on my tongue, but it tastes like nothing; I barely sense it as it lands in my mouth. I walk through the door and stomp up the five flights of stairs to my apartment. I open the door and immediately glance at my reflection in the mirror in the entry arch. My lips, nose, and hands are reddened by the cold. I rip the knit hat off my head and unravel the scarf from my neck as I smell an aroma coming from the kitchen. I take a deep breath, and my heart begins to warm up to a scent of nutty vanilla, sweetness and melted chocolate. I walk into the kitchen and there is my mom. She has the big wooden board out for making cookies and the flour and powdered sugar frost the front of her apron as well as spread around the air like the snow that I was trying to grasp. I feel no need to ask her what she is making as it is a tradition to make this Czech pastry every approaching Christmas; I am merely upset that she started without me. I tell her to wait a few more minutes so that I can get into my Christmas pajamas and I can grab the white tiger toy I had been gifted for my birthday that year just a few days beforehand. My pajamas are red with white snowflakes; I open my drawer and find my red socks with a three-dimensional Christmas penguin that sits right on the top of my foot. I hurry to the kitchen and start grabbing every ingredient off the shelves and the refrigerator.
My mom takes out the food mixer and grinds the walnuts into a thick powder that resembles the snow and dirt which accumulates along the sides of the roads. She then takes out the big glass boll that is only for baking and adds the flower which trickles from the packaging like fine snowflakes of the first snow. Just the egg yolks are next, then the sugar and room-temperature butter. She mixes the ground walnuts and mixes, mixes, and mixes the dough until it is solid. I take a sip of my hot cocoa and spread flour on the wooden board and all on the surface of my hands. I clap my hands in my mom’s face and the flower spreads all over the kitchen floor and her hair. She briefly gives me a lesson about cleaning up my mess but I cannot help myself but laugh; the flour on her hair looks like powdery white flakes which coat her hair during heavy snowfall. We roll the dough into a large cylinder on the wooden board and put it back into the bowl to let it solidify in the fridge. I run through my apartment into the living room where my dad is reading the newspaper and watching the news. I grab the remote and change it to a Christmas movie, Polar Express, I sit and watch the animated characters until my mother calls me into the kitchen to finish baking.
The dough comes out of the fridge it looks hard and cold. I take it out of the boll carefully and use a string to cut slices out of the cylinder. Then I roll each slice into a thinner roll and again cut each roll further into smaller pieces. I shape each small peace into a half-moon shape and repeat that over and over with each little roll. When all the cookies are shaped I line them up on a tray and set the temperature of the oven to one-hundred-and-seventy degrees Celsius. I wait for the oven to get warm and I press my hands on the glass of the oven to simultaneously warm up my hands. I grab the tray carefully and slip it in the oven for twelve minutes. I watch the cookies slowly bake and turn darker. The aroma of walnuts and vanilla refills the house; it feels like Christmas. The oven dings and I snap out of my hypnosis of watching the cookies bake. I grasp the oven mitt and slide the cookies out of the oven. My mom warns me that I have to dunk the cookies in powdered sugar while they are still hot to help it stick better to the surface of the cookie. So, occasionally burning my fingers I coat each crescent-shaped cookie with powdered sugar and lay them down in a serving bowl.
This time is highly anticipated by my sister and father, they can finally taste the white sugar-frosted crescent cookies. They taste just the way they smell: nutty, vanilla-flavored, sweet, and crunchy. They reach in for one before dinner, one after, then one before going to bed as a late-night snack, and one for breakfast the next day until they are all gone. The more the cookies disappear from the bowl the more and more snow covers the streets until it is finally a white Christmas.
Vanilkove Rohliky Recipe
▢ 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour
▢ 1 and ½ stick (170 g) unsalted butter
▢ ¼ cup (50 g) coarse sugar
▢ 1 cup (100 g) walnuts shelled
▢1 egg yolk
Grate the walnuts and put them in a bowl.
Add the flour, egg yolk, sugar and butter cut into pieces.
Work into a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for an hour.
Divide the dough into four pieces, roll each into a strand about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Cut the strand into small, equal-sized pieces.
Roll the pieces of dough into crescent shapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Bake in a preheated oven at 340 °f (170 °C) for 12 minutes.
Roll the crescents while still warm in vanilla sugar
The sun had barely peaked over the horizon before the boy was in line. Even at this hour, he loosely estimated thirty bodies ahead of him and more coming to stand behind him every minute. He could not see the sunrise, for the buildings lining the market covered the horizon. Looking up, he saw the trace of a few bright stars valiantly pressing themselves through the violet sky. His gaze fell down to the back of the head in front of him and a tired, thoughtless trance overtook him. He waited and waited; eyes as blank and unmoving as the line he was in. The morning wind pushed his bushy hair to the side and ran through his t-shirt. He blinked and shuffled his feet in their sandals, arousing his first coherent thought of the day: at least it will be dry today.
As the sky faded into its usual azure, the line started to move. Slowly, the boy shuffled his way to the front. “Siguiente!”
He looked side to side as the market filled; women in loosely fitted shirts with woven baskets hurried from shop to shop and children chased each other through the street. “Siguiente!”
As if charged by the sunrise, the buzz of conversation in the market rose; store owners began to yell out their prices, shoppers cried out in greeting to each other, dogs yapped and whined for scraps. “Siguiente!”
The boy came face to face with a short man with graying hair in a plain white shirt. He had his hands laid out on a bare wooden table.
“Uno”. The boy said.
The man reached down into a cart and pulled out a small, translucent jar containing a dark substance. He set it on the table with an eyebrow raised.
The boy took a bill out of his cargo pants and slapped it on the table, scooping the jar with the same hand and already turning to leave.
“Dos mas, chico”. The man said, unimpressed with the bill.
Stupefied by the price increase, the boy hesitated before turning around to plead. The line behind him groaned angrily.
“No mas”. The boy said, turning his pockets inside out. “Por mi abuela, señor.”
The man sized him up.
“Por favor?” The boy added with an inflection.
The man cocked his chin. “Siguiente!”
The boy wheeled around and started off through the bustling streets. He secured the jar in his shorts and dodged through the crowds of chattering shoppers. Towards the end of the street, he ducked into an alleyway and continued his hurried pace.
Down the narrow alley, sidestepping trash cans and broken furniture, he noisily splashed through the puddles of dirty water left over from the previous week’s rain. Heading away from the coast, his back to the rising sun, the boy zig-zagged through streets and alleyways as if navigating a maze to which he knew the exact path.
Finally, without warning, he ducked his way into a bulkhead entrance of one of the many indistinguishable three-story tenant buildings which lined every street. Reaching the door at the bottom of the steps, he banged loudly on the damp, wooden door. As his feet soaked in the same dirty water he experienced in the alleyways, he breathed heavily, his chest heaving his thin t-shirt up and down. The bags under his eyes willed the door to open. He banged on the door again. Someone from within unlocked the door without opening it. The boy pushed it open and stumbled through the doorway into a dimly lit kitchen.
A cacophony of hushed whispers, clinking pots, and creaky fans greeted him. Two women, one middle-aged, the other significantly younger, flurried around the kitchen. They both shared his tan complexion, dark hair, and green eyes. They talked excitedly in murmurs and whispers, fussing amongst chipped, open cabinets. On the counter next to a dilapidated oven, was a single pan full of sugar. In a bowl next to the pan, there was what looked to be several raw eggs.
The boy made his way through the clutter of clothes on either side of the doorway towards the counter. He took the jar out of his shorts and set it on the counter with no acknowledgment from the women. He then sat on the table in the middle of the room and folded his arms, hunching his back to observe them.
The older woman took the jar, holding it up to the single light hanging over the counter, and eyed it. She then took a spoon and carefully measured two scoops of the liquid, pouring them into the bowl. The younger woman began to whisk the bowl, pouring it into the pan after a few minutes. She opened up the oven where a large deep dish, half filled with water, sat. She carefully placed the pan into the dish and closed the oven.
The older woman left through a side door to an adjacent room while the younger one began to clean up. The boy still waited on the table, his faraway, sleepy trance returning. His eyelids drooped and he faded in and out of a shallow sleep. The closing of cabinets and clinking of cutlery stirred him periodically until a sharp nudge fully aroused him.
He stretched and yawned as the younger woman opened the door to the adjoining room. She carried with her a small plate with what looked like a slice of cake with melted butter on top. The smell in the kitchen was distinctly different, the warm scent of caramel made his mouth water and stomach growl. He quickly followed the woman into the next room.
Same as the entrance and kitchen, the room was full of clutter. Clothes and boxes were strewn about the floor. Framed pictures lined the shelves. In the corner next to a high window, someone lay in a bed. The older woman sat on the chair next to the figure and the younger stood holding the plate looking down at the figure in the bed. The boy stood by the latter and the figure stirred at the scent of the plate.
“Ahh”. Frail hands reached up for the plate. The older woman helped a clearly elderly lady sit up in bed. Rays of sunlight penetrating the blinds on the window reflected off of white hair. The tired lady held the plate up to her nose, breathing as deep as her shallow lungs allowed.
“Ahh.” She sighed again in her raspy voice. She took a spoon and scooped part of the cake-like pastry into her mouth.
“Mm-mm-mmm.” A smile tugged her lined face. Sparkling eyes found the boy. She set the plate in her lap and reached a hand out toward him. The boy knelt closer to her. Her warm hand caressed his face.
When I was young, my nana felt very strongly that my brother’s and my horizons needed to be expanded. Which is not to say that they were not already plenty broad: We had seen Mayan ruins in Mexico, climbed waterfalls and poled rivers in Jamaica, and hiked in the Rockies. Yet somehow, because my parents had no interest in taking me and my brother to see, for example, a revival of “The King and I” when we were eight and six years old (respectively), we were uncultured swine.
My nana was utterly out of touch with what elementary school students would find engaging, and she dragged us around St. Louis throughout the year to the symphony (we only showed signs of life during the “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” song), Shakespeare in the Park (everyone knows elementary school students go wild for “The Merchant of Venice,” particularly outdoors in the height of a Midwestern summer), and the Muny (what could possibly go wrong with “Cats” performed in 94-degree heat with 90% humidity?). But this was a battle my father, her son, had lost as a child and no longer had the will to fight as an adult.
So it was that in December of 1999, my nana took us to see “The Nutcracker” at the Fox in St. Louis, Missouri, our hometown. I never had any qualms about visiting the Fox, that strange and surreal haven of a bygone era with its baroque columns and heavy velvet curtains. Trussed up in my Nice Dress, white tights, and black patent leather shoes, I felt like I could be Samantha, my sweet American Girl doll from 1904. My qualms more often had to do with the reason for the visit. I had very little faith in my nana’s ability to choose a play my brother and I would enjoy, and though I was familiar with the general story of “The Nutcracker,” I was certain this show, as I would have said at the time, would also “suck.” Lucky for Nana, the show was a phantasmagorical fireworks display of color, sparkle, light and sound. I wanted to be Clara as she lit the candles on her family’s tree. I wanted to dance with the Sugarplum Fairies. As we walked to the car, my brother swashbuckled each step of the way as though he were a toy soldier. We floated in the door at home on a spun-sugar cloud.
Life at home, however, had descended into flour-coated chaos.
My mother had a clear idea of what the holidays should look like for her family. Our live Christmas tree barely fit in the house and dripped with more lights than the Vegas Strip, complete with very classy matching glass orb ornaments. Despite not being religious, there was a beautiful nativity scene under the tree. Gorgeous evergreen swag with red velvet bows looped down the banisters. She wrangled her older brother into a dramatic reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” the cousins gathered at his feet for a precious photo opportunity. All the presents were finished with handmade, elaborate bows. Dinner was a massive roast. The silver was polished, the linens came out, and the candles were lit.
And—perhaps most importantly—the cookies were baked.
Not just any cookies, mind. Brandy fruit bars. Coconut macaroons. Cranberry kiss cookies. Chocolate and mint sandwiches. She wouldn’t even entertain the suggestion of chocolate chip cookies or—god forbid—gooey butter cookies (a St. Louis delicacy of mere thousands of calories), just absently clicked her tongue and continued her frantic scrabbling of a multi-page grocery list.
In 1999, my mother had gotten it into her head that her holiday display needed more, specifically more from the motherland, Germany. So she reached out to her side of the family for family cookie recipes.
Oma, her mother, doesn’t cook, much less bake. Oma sent my mother on to Tante Rosi.
Tante Rosi baked more from memory. She was sure her daughter (my mother’s cousin), Monika, probably had something written down somewhere.
Monika had something written down, sure. She read the recipe to my mother over the phone: Nussstängeli, a hazelnut finger cookie, but with the Loris family twist of meringue topping. Exactly the kind of ambitious cookie that would be the crowning achievement of my mother’s multi-tiered cookie display.
So it was that my brother and I returned from our night at the Fox to find the following scene:
Countertops covered in failed, broken cookies.
Dirty bowls, whisks, spoons.
Sheets and sheets and sheets of parchment paper.
And our mother, tied up in the phone cord, bright red and near tears.
“It keeps falling apart, though!” she wailed into the phone. “Something is missing!” A beat. “No, Mom, I followed the recipe exactly!” Another beat. “I didn’t write it down wrong, Mom.”
My brother slipped from the room like a shadow. I slid onto a stool to behold the chaos, maybe help, if I could. I propped my chin on my fists and toed off my patent leather shoes. My mother gave me a quick wave as she listened to whatever my oma was saying. We waited.
And then, it was like my mother had found a missing puzzle piece in her pocket. The light clicked on, and the fog cleared.
“But why would she do that?” she asked her mother quietly, her lip wobbling.
Monika, it seemed, had been unwilling to share her mother’s recipe with her unsuspecting younger cousin. So Monika gave my mother a faulty recipe, one with ingredients missing and ratios off. And no matter what my mother did, she could not find the flaw, and no one would tell her.
Once off the phone, having realized the fault was not in her replication of the recipe but in the recipe itself, she began to cry—in sadness, in betrayal, in pain, in anger—and slam the crumbled broken fingers of nussstängeli into the trash can. She rage-cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing it clean of hours of effort and failure. I kept her company, sliding across the linoleum in my white tights to put things away. I pestered her with questions, not understanding how someone could provide a recipe so incorrectly, not realizing that this had been subtle familial sabotage.
We had begun spending less time with the Loris side of the family—the part of the family descended from my oma’s brother, my great uncle—in previous years, in that natural way that clefts begin to form in family trees as the branches expand. But rather than viewing it as a natural process, Monika had taken it personally, and when my mother reached out for help, Moni had taken the opportunity to take a chip out of my mother’s Christmas fantasy.
I think that’s when my mother’s eyes began to clear. Such pretense. Such pageantry. And for who? Not my uncle, who was usually drunk by the time he had to read the classic poem and ended up fiercely annoyed by the request. Not my oma, who was always unimpressed. Not my nana, who brought her own cookies to quietly push my mother’s aside and still insisted that my brother and I could use more culture.
Christmas these days is a small affair. My mom, my dad, my brother. There’s still evergreen swag, the tree is still absurdly huge. But now the ornaments are a crazy mishmash: skating penguins, a silver Buddha, a sexy Vixen, Santa with a Coke, and an elephant in a hot air balloon. The nativity that never matched our beliefs has been replaced by a hilariously complex Christmas village, orchestrated by my father, who each year becomes a city planner/engineer (“See, up on the hill is the school and the lodge, and this is the river that cuts through the village to this little pond, and see, that’s where the kids are ice skating, right by the toy store!”). Last year, instead of a roast, we made green and red enchiladas, much to my mother’s comical horror. (They were fantastic.) Instead of dragging ourselves to pretentious shows, we always watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” and we all sing along.
Once, recently, there were even gooey butter cookies.
Gooey Butter Cookies Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 10 minutes Chill time: 30 minutes Total Time: 45 minutes Servings: 24 cookies Ingredients: ▢ 1 box yellow cake mix▢ 1/2 c butter softened▢ 1/2 tsp vanilla extract▢ 8 oz cream cheese softened▢ 1 egg▢ powdered sugar Instructions: 1. Beat butter, vanilla, egg, and cream cheese until fluffy. 2. Mix in cake mix. 3. Chill for 30 minutes. 4. Roll into balls and dip in a bowl of powdered sugar. 5. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, and sift powdered sugar on top if desired.
Whenever the days are slowly getting colder, you know that something in the air is changing. Whatever you do, it is always different from before. The way you breathe and maybe even the way you act. While everything is slowly coming together and you get used to the winter season my sister and I never hesitate to bake together. We love welcoming new weather outside with food that matches our upcoming mood, and for us, every season is compatible with other kinds of recipes. Since my sister and I do not get to see each other that often, because we are both busy with our own lives, we really never get the chance to share our preferences while making food with one another. In winter, mostly around the middle of December, when everyone around us is in the mood for Christmas, however, it is different. We always take our time from daily life to spend a whole afternoon together and bake anything that fits our frame of mind at that current hour. And somehow we always come to the decision to make cinnamon rolls with each other. Even tho this does not sound special in any way, because it is one of the most common pastries during the Christmas time it was never enough for us. Cinnamon rolls are simple, easy to make, and really delicious. One thing that was important to us was to share our baking with other people to make them be a part of the moment, and sharing has been easy. The first time making them we failed really badly, but because of the fact that we were six and nine years old, we’ve improved a lot. We start making them by preparing the dough, which takes us not that long while exchanging everything new in our lives. We make the best conversations during this time and our connection always becomes stronger, when we reconnect. It is not like we don’t have a strong bonding, but on these specific occasions, it is like we put all our worries and problems and lock them in another room for these few hours sitting together in the kitchen. When it comes to the part where the cinnamon-butter mixture is getting applied to the rolled dough, we always fight for who is allowed to do that, cause it is the most fun part. Most of the time my sister wins, with the reasoning she would not experience this as often anymore because she would move out, which is looking back questionable to say, because we both know this tradition would never happen without her being in the picture. It would just feel wrong. The cinnamon rolls usually take a while to get fully finished, but when they are done they get crowned with a sweet cream cheese sauce on top of it. We normally make a fire in our living room and present our in some way simple pastry, but it is just more than that. Making cinnamon rolls with my sister sounds so normal and usual, but it is our way to appreciate the upcoming time by fitting our food into the temperature. It feels like we are shaping the start of letting go of all mistakes we made this year, by taking such a simple moment and making our path to turning it into a moment of peace. The moment when our family sits together and everyone just enjoys the simplicity of the cinnamon rolls, we realize that again a year has passed. The sweetness takes us back to last year when we did the exact same thing, and we think about everything that has already happened and how we grew as a person. This is the moment we realize how important the simple things in life are. In the end, little moments like this are life, and through our cinnamon rolls tradition, I really got to acknowledge that way more.
What family recipe is closest to your heart? For me, it is my grandmother’s truffle. This simple dessert is more than just a treat after dinner. The truffle holds memories that I share with my grandmother. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been helping my grandmother prepare this dessert. We usually have this dish on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, my cousins and I play board games while we wait for dinner to be ready. Everyone is in a good mood, we crack jokes and laugh all day. Eventually, my grandmother will yell down to us from the kitchen saying, “Dinner’s ready!” We all run up the stairs, trying to get a spot at the table. Most of the time the seats at the table are taken up by my uncles and the older people in my family. My cousins and I just eat on the couch which works out because we get to watch football on the TV. My grandmother insists that we go for seconds, then thirds, and if you can still finish your plate, “Go make yourself another plate,” my grandmother says. Once we are grossly full of food, the moment everyone has been waiting for is here. My grandmother takes the truffle out of the fridge and brings it out to the table. Of course, my uncles get the first picks of the dessert. Most of the time, there will be enough left for me. If not, my grandmother goes, “Don’t worry hun, I got a second batch comin’ out.” My grandmother is the sweetest lady I’ve ever known. She makes sure everybody else in the room is fed before she even makes her plate and if there is any kind of food shortage, she is more than happy to make more. Every bite of the truffle is heaven. The outside has a chewy crust, but once you get to the inside you’ll get a savory, melted chocolate surprise. My grandmother is getting older now, and she isn’t as independent as she used to be since my aunt now helps her with all the cooking. But thinking back to earlier times when I used to help her prepare it, almost makes time stand still. Back when she used to make the kitchen off-limits to anyone except her favorite grandson, me.
1 box of chocolate cake mix
2 packages of instant chocolate pudding
3 8oz tubs of cool whip
1. Prepare cake batter and follow instructions on baking in 2 8-inch round pans
2. Beat pudding mix with milk and whisk for 2 minutes
3. Once the cakes are cooked slice them in half the long way to give you 4 layers (keep cake crumbs for top of the truffle)
Layers: cake, pudding, cool whip in a truffle bowl. Use cake crumbs for a decorative topping.