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  • The Parliament House

HEARTHSIDE STORIES: The Cheer Burns Inside the House, by A.J. Vrana

Mason meandered up to the dilapidated porch steps of the ramshackle, wood-paneled house. Craning his neck, he gazed gingerly over its old, rotting bones. He’d circled the woods at least half a dozen times before he’d found the damn thing. Given how it blended in with the surrounding forest, it could have easily been mistaken for a hollowed-out tree at first glance.

The house appeared to careen against the icy winter wind that howled through the treetops; it tilted like the Tower of Pisa. Mason canted his head as he stared at the towering structure. It looked as though it would fall over any moment.

Blinking away his stupor, he shook out his arms and pulled out the invitation—a crinkled Christmas card with a... modified Santa, donning devil horns and holding a kitchen knife that had been drawn in with a Sharpie. The holiday salutations had been struck out, and under them, a simple set of instructions had been scribbled down in thick, black ink:


I hate you. But you might die tonight, so Christmas party at the vortex of evil.

Typical Kai. Mason would have ignored it if not for Miya’s elegant handwriting underneath:

Ignore him—he’s an idiot. It would be great to see you, Mason!

P.S. There will be booze.

Huffing, Mason folded up the invitation and scratched through his wiry blond curls, then helped himself to the door. As he pushed his way past the creaking barrier, he cringed and wondered if he should have renewed his Tetanus shot.

“Hello?” he called out.

A moment later, Miya came spinning around the corner with an elf hat on her head. Her mess of tangled, dark hair clung to her face, beads of sweat trickling down her jawline. “You made it!”

Mason felt about ready to vomit as he took in the cobwebs. “Why… Why are you having a Christmas party in an abandoned house in the middle of the woods?”

“Well,” Miya shrugged, “it was Kai’s idea. He’s kind of homeless and this place seemed… spacious, I guess.”