Zach slammed the car door a bit louder than usual hoping Abby would hear it inside. In his hands he carried the spoils of his solo shopping adventure: a roll of green and yellow polka-dot wrapping paper, a set of wine glasses, a bottle of wine, Chinese take-out, and the gift he was most excited about, a digital camera. He shifted the bags to his left hand as he made his way around the car and up the walk to the front door. Jangling the keys loudly, he shivered as he unlocked the front door and went inside.
The small foyer was dark. Zach slipped his shoes off and tossed them aside onto the mat. Making his way into the house, he noted the curtains were still drawn against the evening light and surmised that Abby was still not feeling well. He entered the kitchen and set the bags on the counter, almost knocking an already open bottle of wine onto the floor. As he moved the bottle to the side, he saw Abby in the corner of his eye. She sat on the floor, her back against the couch, arms resting on the coffee table in front of her. Her face was hidden by Zach’s laptop. The only light in the room came from the bright screen.
Abby rarely used his laptop, but she would flip it open for a quick search if it was nearby. Still, he was curious what held her attention so well that she didn’t notice his loud entrance. Pouring himself a glass of wine, he made his way into the living room and sat down on the couch.
Zach’s face wrinkled in confusion. On the screen, a video played in slow motion. Every few seconds Abby paused the video and skipped backward, her nose inching closer to the screen every time the video continued. Zach had been in the office Abby worked in enough times to know that the video was taken in the main conference room at Parker, Piper, and Hughes. With the slow motion, he could clearly see the windows decorated with garland and lit Christmas lights. The huge conference table was covered with a hodge-podge of different Christmas tablecloths, and those were covered with plates of half eaten cake and cookies. Bottles of champagne and plastic cups dotted the table, most of them were empty, but some still bubbled as the camera rolled. Around the table, employees chatted with each other while waiting to open gifts. As the video slowly continued, the crowd separated just enough to see a huge pile of gifts covering the sideboard and spilling onto the floor.
The crowd continued to clear as their voices hushed. Someone could be heard asking for quiet so the gift exchange could begin. Empty chairs by the table were filled quickly and people lined the walls in order to get a better view. Finally, only Parker, Piper, and Hughes themselves were standing at the head of the table, each with a bubbling drink in hand. Next to the sideboard, Abby began handing out gifts to the employees. After a short while, only three remained on the table. Picking up one wrapped in brown paper, she handed it to her boss, Charles Piper. He unwrapped a plain box, but flashed a rare smile after cracking the lid. He pulled out a carved pipe and held it up for the crowd to see. The room buzzed with “oh’s” and “ah’s” while Piper inspected the pipe before placing it back into the box and setting it aside. Picking the one with green and yellow polka-dot wrapping paper, she turned and handed it to Cal Parker. The man’s hands shook as he accepted the package, and Zach silently wondered if it was due to his age or the amount of alcohol he had no doubt already consumed. The room was silent as the old man unwrapped a large book with a picture from an old mafia murder scene on the cover. He smiled as he showed the book to the crowd who in turn clapped reluctantly. Zach noticed a woman near the camera giving her neighbor a look of disgust. They grew silent once again as Abby turned to retrieve the last gift from the table. When she turned back around, she held a large box wrapped in black paper with large polka dots of different colors on it. A red bow was tied around the box, holding the lid on.
Abby turned and took a step towards where D. L. Hughes should have been, but she ran right into the man as he moved to the front of the line and now stood right next to her. Muttering an inaudible apology, she stepped back and handed the gift to Hughes. He smiled smugly at her as he took the box. Holding the box with one hand, he tugged on the red ribbon and lifted the lid ever so slightly to peek inside.
Instantly, the room was enveloped in a flash of white and yellow. The noise of the explosion was immense, even with the laptop’s volume turned low. Zach gasped and fell back against the couch pillows, stunned. “What are you watching?” he yelled, but Abby didn’t answer. The camera had survived the blast, but it was now on it’s side on the floor. Debris blocked much of its view, and black smoke filled the left side of the screen. Abby turned her head as far as she could to get a better view of the ongoing chaos. The building’s fire alarms were sounding, their shrill beeping occasionally accented by screams and cries for help. Shadows moved across the background, but no faces or bodies materialized on the screen. The camera recorded minutes of this before loud scraping and heavy breathing hinted someone was coming closer. The camera fell over onto its lens and, a second later, the video ended.
Abby grabbed the mouse and began to rewind the video once again, but Zach yanked the mouse from her grasp. “What was that?” he yelled.
“You tell me, it’s on your computer!”
“I have no idea! I’ve never seen that before!”
“Just like you’ve never seen this whole file before, huh?” she punched a shortcut on the keyboard and instantly another window appeared. Zach scanned the contents of the file for a moment before realizing this was the file he put in the trash the night before. “Why did you take that file out of the trash?”
“I didn’t! I grabbed your laptop to look up a word for the crossword and I noticed the trash was empty. I had thought you put it in the trash last night, so I searched in your work files and found it back where you originally found it. So, I have to ask, if this file is just some prank, why did you pull it out of the trash?”
“I didn’t! I trashed it and closed the laptop a few minutes later and cleaned the papers off the floor.” She turned to glare at him. “I swear!” She shook her head and turned back to the screen. “I don’t understand,” he continued, no longer yelling. “You said this was in the prank file, but I scanned every item in that file last night, and there was no video.”
Abby rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it was there, Zach. You just weren’t paying attention.”
He shook his head as she spoke. Scooting off the couch, he kneeled on the floor and repositioned the laptop so it faced him. Abby sighed and leaned back against the couch. Zach clicked and scrolled through item after item, muttering softly to himself. Abby sighed again and pushed herself up from the floor. “Did you get anything good at the store?” she asked as she made her way into the kitchen. She turned the kitchen lights on and immediately spotted the wine on the counter. “Another glass sounds amazing right about now.” As she moved around the island, she caught the scent of food and began rummaging through bags until she found a box of sweet and sour pork. Zach knew that Chinese take-out without sweet and sour pork was a huge mistake. She popped a saucy cube of pork into her mouth and licked her fingers clean. She found the box of fried rice and a fork and began shoveling the food into her mouth. Making a face, she placed the rice into the microwave and began warming it back up. “Food’s getting cold.”
Zach grunted in reply. “Glad to see you’re feeling better.” She said something in answer, but it was muffled buy the large amount of fried rice she had stuffed into her mouth. After a quick wash, Abby filled the new wineglasses and took a sip. The merlot was a bit strong for her tastes, but it paired well with the rice, so she took another sip before taking the rice out of the microwave. As she ate, she saw the roll of wrapping paper and smiled. When Zach bought her something, he usually went for polka dots. She reached into the remaining bag and pulled out the digital camera. She had been wanting one since her last one took a dive into the Pacific on vacation a few months before. Quickly swallowing a mouthful of pork and rice, she brought the camera into the living room where Zach still mumbled in front of the laptop. She turned on the table lamps and opened the curtains, though the only light outside at this hour was from the street lamps. “What’d you get this for?” she asked, pretending to be more curious than excited.
Zach stared at her with wide eyes before finally noticing the box in her hands. “That?” he said, “that’s for you. Surprise!” He spoke halfheartedly, his mind still distracted by the contents of the prank file. He gave her a forced smile before turning back to the screen. “I’ve been trying to get it since Thanksgiving, but they’ve been out of stock. I finally found one last night and bought it before I lost my chance. Got to love in store pick up, huh?” Abby thanked him excitedly as she moved back into the kitchen, tearing open the box as she went.
On the screen, a scanned newspaper article held Zach’s attention. He read it multiple times, pausing after every few paragraphs to study the huge color picture in the center of the page. It appeared to be a picture grabbed from the video he had watched earlier. In it, Abby could be clearly seen handing D.L. Hughes the box that would explode only seconds later. In big, bold letters, the headline said: SECRET SANTA BRINGS DEADLY SURPRISE.
He was reading the article for the fourth time when Abby sat down on the couch and snapped a picture of him. Giggling around a piece of pork, she leaned back and began pushing buttons on the small, gray camera, exploring the features as she snapped picture after picture of the side of his head and the laptop keyboard. Zach shook his head as he closed the article.
“Somebody has gone through a lot of trouble putting this together.” Abby paid little attention to Zach’s words as she took a macro of the buttons on the remote control. “I mean, this is grounds for a lawsuit here, not only from us, but if your bosses saw this?” He shook his head and sighed. “They would destroy us right along side of the idiots who put it all together. This file is not staying on my computer.” He closed the file and swiftly moved it to the trash, this time being sure to empty it before closing the laptop and dropping it into his bag. He pulled himself onto the couch and ran his hands through his hair. Beside him, Abby was turning the camera on herself and taking selfies each one with a different facial expression. Zach shook his head again, this time at the silly antics of his future wife. His rumbling stomach reminded him of the Chinese food he brought home and still hadn’t eaten. Rising, he left Abby to her fun and went to grab a bite to eat.