The Fifth Day of Christmas is for the Lonely
I have never been the type to reach out and grab the girl. I’ve never been the type to kiss her on command. Call it a shortage of self-assurance. Call it social anxiety. Call it depression, or lack of confidence, or any fucked up term you might find in this coddle crazy new century. Call it whatever you will. I just know I never had it.
I certainly tried. Throughout adolescence, I hid the panic bubbling under the surface with a mask comprised of awkward smiles and bad jokes. Most people fell for that. In fact, my shell became so thick then, that not even my own mother could crack it. The mask started to slip in college, so I learned how to self-medicate, and then it stayed properly fixed until after graduation. By that time my friends moved on to big jobs and better wives. I found myself always at home, always alone, and without much of a life.
And so it surprised absolutely nobody when I fell in love online.
From the moment Ally entered my life, it amazed me how the pieces fit together so seamlessly. Suddenly it didn’t feel like such a struggle to wake up in the morning and get get dressed. Suddenly my problems seemed small and stupid. Because, ultimately, at the start of the day; Ally would always have a message for me. And it would always say the same thing.
Where are you now?
Sometimes that message would come in a text. Sometimes a voice mail. Sometimes I would wake up an hour early, just to hear her voice for a bit before I had to go work. After two months of this back and forth, I started to get obsessed. She ruled my life. Ally quickly became the only thing that seemed worth living for.
That wasn’t a bad thing. My dad was happy. My friends were happy. I was happy, most importantly. But there was only one problem. Ally lived in the small town of Serenity Falls, Wisconsin. Which made her a twenty hour drive away.
We tried our best to make the long distance work. Sometimes she would text me at funny parts of the day. We video chatted every night. We used all of the modern technology afforded to us with a plan to someday, one day, meet up on one of our corners of the country. Sometimes it felt futile. But we fought through that. And the opportunity to meet came quicker than either of us realized.
I got fired.
Well, not exactly. One day, my boss informed me that our satellite office would be closed. All existing employees would be required to work from home, effective immediately. Long story short… it no longer matter where I lived. As long as they had an Internet connection.
I can still remember the day I broke the news to Ally. I left the office and pulled out my phone to see one of her favorite questions in my notifications. Those message have since been turned over to the Serenity Falls police department.
Where are you now?“
Leaving the office. What you doin?
Leaving the dollar store in town. Why is nothing actually a dollar anymore?
I have some news.
What is it?
Are you okay?
I got a new job.
She did not answer for a few minutes. I thought she might be driving home. I got ready to do the same myself before a one worded text buzzed my phone happily.
Anywhere. Absolutely anywhere! How does Serenity Falls sound? I’m coming, baby!
I sat back in my car and waited anxiously. When Ally didn’t answer, I chalked it up to bad service and started my long drive home. The commute took an hour. I eyed my cell angrily the whole time. But no one ever replied.
I arrived at my shitty apartment just after six in the evening and immediately concocted a plan to surprise my online girlfriend. I know that sounds weird. But we talked about it often. I even had her address. I often promised to drop by Wisconsin, and visit sometime, but I never truly followed through. Work always made it too difficult. This time, I called my landlord and cancelled the lease. I booked plane tickets that night. I had never lived in luxury. Everything I owned, outside the furniture, could be fit inside a black travel bag. The rest could be arranged later. I needed to see Ally. I needed to start my real life for the first time.
I told myself it would be some dramatic, romantic surprise.
The flight felt like an eternity and I stayed awake the whole time. Snoring passengers aggravated me. Movies failed to entertain me. Perhaps I am not explaining this properly. But every essence of how I defined my life at that point centered around Ally. Meeting her for the first time set my social anxiety on fire. Nothing could distract me but my mind.
The plane touched down in Madison sometime around mid morning. I disembarked with a strategy to take a bus to Serenity Falls around noon, and fell asleep on it soon after. My ride arrived in Serenity Falls at exactly 2:00. I nearly missed the place. Nobody else on the bus got off at that spot, and I had to ring the bell thing just to make sure they stopped. When they did, the driver wished me good luck, and closed the door in my face unceremoniously.
I took in the cool air and finally allowed myself to smile. The town felt foreign and familiar at the same time, and the landmarks jumped out like pieces of a puzzle. I immediately recognized the diner on the heart of Main Street. The cobbler that probably should have been out of business years ago. The Dollar Store my mystery woman visited only a day ago. I crossed the street to Prospect Ave and kept going until the numbers reached 26. I recognized the cracked pavement in front of her porch. The same place she had sat and sent me hundreds of Snapchats in the dusky Autumn afternoon.
I walked up the steps and knocked confidently, absurdly, like a stranger returning home for the first time. A middle aged woman with hazel eyes and curly brown hair opened the door. She wore a striped blue shirt and a look of concern mixed with mild familiarity.
“Can I help you?“
“Yes, ma’am, my name is Matt. I am a friend of Ally’s. Is she home?“
I expected her mother to burst out laughing. I expected a giant hug. Ally had told her about me. She had seen my picture, and my social media, and everything that goes with it. She even joked that we have the same taste in TV. But the woman returned none of those same warm feelings.
“I thought she was with you.“
The Wisconsin air suddenly started to feel a lot more cold.
“No… no, ma’am, my bus just arrived a few minutes ago. I wanted to surprise her.“
The woman’s kind hazel eyes grew wide as she stepped outside and closed the door behind her. She began to look down the block, as if expecting Ally to jump out and scare her. Then she looked at me accusingly.
“Then who was the other fella?“
My blood started to grow cold as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Ally would not be seeing another fella. We talked all the time. The logistics alone would be impossible.
“Yes. You’re Matt, right?”
“Well then. Ally left to meet YOU at the crack of dawn. Six AM, sometime, she got a call on her mobile.“
I stared stupidly.
“She said you sounded different. Like you had a cold.“
I continued to stare. My confidence quickly became replaced by an overwhelming anxiety that something had to be very seriously wrong.
“Well if that wasn’t fucking you, son, who was it?”
“Ma’am, she has not answered me since yesterday.”
“Shit. Were you hacked? What the fuck happened? We need to get down to the Falls right now.”
I nodded stupidly. Hearing a middle aged woman curse did not do much to assuage my fears. But I followed her to the RAV4 sitting in the driveway and plopped my panicked self into the passenger seat. She turned over the engine and gunned us right back down Prospect Street. Past the Fire House. Past the church where she was baptized. Past the cemetery where her dad was buried.
We made it to the Falls in less than five minutes.
There is a banister there that protects people from slipping and falling into the water and jagged rocks below. I rushed up to it and immediately looked over the edge. Because that was my first instinct, you know? If somebody wanted to kill the one and only love of my life, they could have just thrown her off the ledge. But her mother’s heart ripping screams alerted me to something behind the trees. I followed her into the woods and looked around stupidly. Then she pointed up.
Hanging, with her neck tied to a tree approximately thirty feet in the air, was the most beautiful dead girl I have ever seen.
A moment later, a text popped up on my phone’s screen.
“Where are you now?”