's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Winter Break

Submitted by Negative_Space

This is the place.

Your brother texted you earlier to make sure you hadn’t missed your train, and now you’re here, at his house. It’s been a while since you’ve seen him, a few years at least. The sun is dipping beneath the clouds and the sky looks like tomato soup behind your brother’s traditional white two story house. You’re in your early thirties while your brother is just a few months from forty. He kind of left without telling mom and dad, but he’ll still call every now and again, and the two of you stay in touch by phone. All things considered your relationship could be a lot worse. You’re not entirely sure why he came out to the countryside, but you’re glad to be there. You have a week off work, and what better way to spend it than with your brother, right?

You make your way up a spiraling stone walkway to the front door. You see that the doorbell is cracked so you knock as loudly as you can.

“Hey, Dylan? It’s me, Eric. You awake in there?” You wait for a few moments and then get your phone out. You mean to text him, but then just as you’re about to, you notice the door is slightly ajar. Frowning, you grab the handle and pull the door open.

Compared to outside, the interior of the house is very dark, illuminated only by the flickering blue light of your brother’s old CRT TV. You’ve told him a bunch of times that those things are outdated and inconvenient, but Dylan is a bit of a traditionalist. At least he’s not the type to bother anyone else with his opinions. The sounds of enthusiastic paid advertising fill the small space, child actors emphatically reacting to seemingly improvised sales pitches. Across the room from the TV is a large couch that could sit three, while off to your right is a closed off room, visible only through the small archway that you’d enter it from. Directly in front of you is a large, bannistered staircase that goes up and then makes a sharp right turn up into pitch blackness.

You step into the blue-lit room and close the door behind you, making the chatter of TV salesmen all the more intimate.

“Hey Dylan?” You call out. “You in here, man?”

“Hey bro,” You recognize your brother’s voice from upstairs. “Just give me a second and I’ll be right down.”

You wait patiently by the door, and listen as your brother’s footsteps come closer. Dylan sounds a little tired, you figure he must have just recently woken up. He always did have an unusual sleep schedule. Out of the pitch black of the darkness—a strangely opaque darkness for being in an illuminated room—you see your brother’s face appear.

“Hey Eric, how’s it been, man,” He says. There’s not much enthusiasm in his voice, but if he did just get up you can’t really blame


“Hey Dylan, it’s nice to see you,” You say, moving towards the staircase.

Your brother takes a few more steps down the stairs, and where he should have a neck there is wood and upholstery. Dylan’s body keeps appearing as he approaches, and there is much more of it than there should be. Behind the face that you recognize as your brother there are planks of wood, wooden dressers, drawers, leather chair padding, filing cabinets. His body is composed of furniture and pieces, bits, scraps of things. Bits of garbage bags, patches of roofing tile. This conglomeration of things and materials eventually trails off into nothing as Dylan’s face reaches the landing.

“I was just about to sit down and watch Jeopardy,” He says. “Do you want to join me.”

Dylan turns from you and slides his cobbled together mass across the carpeted floor. Somewhere in the mass wood creaks and rubber squeaks. He reaches the couch and “sits” on it, his face somehow occupying the space while his top-heavy body towers up from the place his neck would be, drooping and leaning to and fro. You stand there for a moment, looking at your…brother with confusion and fear in your eyes. Eventually, you can’t think of anything else to do so you join him on the couch, keeping one seat between you. You can see bits of scrap metal and planks of wood gently scrape the ceiling above you.

“Sorry, it already started a few minutes ago. We can still watch most of it though.” Dylan’s voice remains calm, neutral. Dispassionate. It’s difficult to tell what he’s thinking. “It really is nice to see you, Eric.”

When it’s quiet, you can hear Alex Trebek talking to one of the contestants about his job overseas. The shadow of the television set dances in its own flickering blue glow, the light both piercing and retreating from the blackness of the room.

“…Yeah,” You say quietly. You mostly try to keep your eyes on the screen but every so often you steal a glance at Dylan. “It’s…good

to see you too.”

When you do look, Dylan is staring unblinkingly at the television, his eyes opened wide. You can see lines in his face and can tell he looks older than the last time you saw him.

“I know I left kind of abruptly,” He says, his expression and tone of voice not changing. “I’m sorry about that, but I just had to get out of there.”

You hear his body creaking and cracking like an old house as it sways in the windless room.

“I like mom and dad enough, but living in that house was stifling. If I had stayed there any longer, I never would’ve made anything out of my life.”

Your mouth feels dry and you grip at your pants with pale fingers.

“I came out here to get away from everyone and everything. From the town we grew up in. I wanted to rediscover myself, to see what was out in the world.”

On television Alex narrates a question about sit-com theme songs: “’It’s a rare condition this day and age, to read any good news on the newspaper page’ begins the theme to this late 80s ABC sitcom about a family dealing with a particularly annoying neighbor…”

“What is Family Matters,” Dylan says. In a few seconds Alex confirms his answer to be right. “You know I’m not that smart, Eric, but when they do these pop culture questions it makes me feel like I am.”

One of the drawers on his body slides open high above you and a bunch of silver forks and knives spill out and land all with similarly dull sounds on the carpet behind you.

“Hey…Dylan,” You say, trying and failing to swallow the lump in your throat. You feel warm. “This…might be a strange question, but…is there something different about you? Since the last time we saw each other?”

As Dylan’s face turns towards you, his entire upper body contorts and you hear metal and glass scraping and grinding against each other. He stares at you like he stared at the TV, his expression unreadable, his eyes wide in his sockets and cradled by dark bags. You hear the unmistakable, iconic sound of a Daily Double tile being revealed in the background.

“Why,” He asks. “Do you think there’s something different about me.”

Your heartrate increases rapidly and your head feels as if someone is tickling the inside of your skull with a feather. You start to sweat and your words come out strangled. “N-no, I…don’t think so. W-what do you think?”

He stares at you for a while longer and the seconds feel like hours. You feel absolutely sick to your stomach.

“Well,” Dylan replies. “I did get a haircut a few days ago. So maybe that’s what it is.”

With that, your brother turns back to the TV. By this point, Jeopardy! has gone to commercial break. Now computer animated bears are rapping about toilet paper. You breathe heavily and rapidly, your eyes wide. You feel like you’ve aged a decade in the last minute.

“Do you want anything to eat,” Dylan asks. “There’s some leftover Chinese food in the fridge.”

Your brain is frazzled and panicked, and you don’t have it in you to come up with something clever right now. So you scramble to think up any sort of excuse.

“H-hey,” You say. “S-so th-this is really awkward, but my boss just texted me, a-and he t-told me that I have to come into work tomorrow morning so…I gotta catch the first train home tonight.”

“Okay,” Dylan says. “I understand. Glad I got to see you again, even if it was only for a few minutes.”

With that acceptance of your lie, like someone paying your bail, you get up from the couch and immediately head towards the front door, your legs uncooperatively carrying you only one sluggish step at a time. You don’t wait around to clarify anything. You hear his body groaning loudly before a plank of wood bends and splinters somewhere within his core of stuff.

“I love you, Eric,” He says. Your whole body shivers and you only want to leave quicker.

When you finally reach the door and grab the handle, he calls out to you once more. “Wait.”

You freeze where you are, the sweat on your hands running cold.

“Do you need a ride back to the train station,” He asks, in the same tired, sedated tone of voice that he’s been speaking with

this whole time.

“I-I-I’m fine…” You stammer. “It’s a nice night, I don’t mind walking.”

Without waiting for him to reply, you are out the door and closing it behind you, hard. You walk straight across the grass out onto the street, into the newly dark night.


You lie on a bench, just outside the train station. Up on the platform a few people wait, some on their phones, some just staring out at the treeline. It’s a quiet night, aside from the gentle chirping of crickets. You hold your face in your hands and you breathe heavily. Countless thoughts are racing through your head right now, overwhelming you. You don’t know or understand what you just experienced, and a part of you is unsure if it even happened or not. Your phone vibrates in your pocket. You sigh and take it out, looking down at the screen.

8:15 PM   12/30/19  Mom

Hey honey, did you make it to your brother’s house okay? Tell him I love him when you do.

You slow your breathing, close your eyes and try to relax. You can figure all this stuff out in the morning, but for now, it’s over, you’re safe, and you’re going home. You sigh, feeling your heartbeat settle and feeling a little more secure. Your phone vibrates again, this time in your hand. Feeling ready to leave the past half-hour behind you, you open your eyes to check it.

8:16 PM   12/30/19  Dylan

Hey dude, had a good time tonight. It’s too bad you had to leave so early though. Maybe next time I can come and visit you :)