The Housewarming Gift
She sank onto the couch, breathing a sigh of content. After years of hard work and painful sacrifice, she had finally afforded her dream house. The fact that it was given at a discount and came fully furnished was just extra blessings.
Her cellphone rang, her mood soaring to discover it was her best friend, Lauren.
“Tabitha!” she exclaimed on the line. “How do you love it?”
“Oh, it’s everything I ever dreamed of!” she replied, jumping up to skip around the living room. “There’s a living room, a full kitchen and dining area, two bedrooms, two baths, a backyard and a shed! I can’t believe you convinced Samantha to sell it to me so cheap!”
“Anything for my bestie,” Lauren said, her smile apparent in her tone.
“Still, isn’t it a bit odd? The price was already cheap on the website; for her to go even lower for a friend of a friend?” she said, rubbing her arm. No matter how she looked it all, it all seemed a little too desperate. She’d had her suspicions from the start: some terrible crime must have occurred here. A murder, most likely. But she’d ultimately been taken in by the charming house and surrounding neighborhood.
“You’re just imagining things,” Lauren replied. “I would kill to have a house like that.”
Just as she was about to ask why she hadn’t stolen it herself, the doorbell rang.
“Oh? I have guests already?” she asked as she sprang for the door.
“Probably your neighbors coming to welcome you properly,” Lauren replied.
“I just moved in yesterday. Did the news get around that quickly?” she asked, glancing out the peephole. Her heart sank when she found there was no one there. “Correction: I’m just being pranked.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some jerk must have rung the bell and ran,” she replied, opening the door. Her heart skipped when she found a package on her porch with a slip of paper on top. “Wait a minute . . .”
“What’s up?” Lauren asked, her voice growing concerned. As Tabitha knelt to inspect the package, the note read in neat script: A housewarming gift. Welcome to the neighborhood!
“My neighbors got me a present,” she murmured, laughing nervously as she carried the box inside.
“See? No jerks, just wholesome spirit!” Lauren said.
She was just about to agree, when she opened the package and found an iPad nestled atop bubble wrap. The screen was streaming video from ‘Camera 1’. Her blood turned to ice as she stared at her own profile on the screen, standing between her living room and her kitchen.
“Lauren,” she whispered, her voice trembling.
“What is it?! Spit it out!” Lauren said, practically screaming with excitement. Tabitha glanced toward the kitchen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, even though the image suggested there was a camera sitting out in plain sight.
“Lauren, there’s someone playing a sick joke on me,” she said, pressing the home button on the tablet. To her horror, the screen switched monitors. ‘Camera 2’ had her at the opposite angle, somewhere in her living room.
“A joke?” Lauren asked. “I don’t understand, Tabitha. What’s going on?”
No, this wasn’t a joke. This was her suspicions about the house coming to life.
“There’s c-cameras in my house!” she replied, tears springing to her eyes as she pressed the button again, moving slowly deeper into her home. She passed ‘Camera 3’ in the guest bathroom, ‘Camera 4’ in the hallway upstairs, and ‘Camera 5’ peering through the slats of the master bedroom’s closet. “Some homicidal maniac has been in my house!”
“Did you leave?!”
Tabitha seemed to come to her senses, then. “N-no . . . I wanted to see how many cameras were here.”
“Are you insane?!” Lauren screamed. “Get out of there! Call the cops!”
“Right!” she replied, turning to bolt back down the stairs. She almost tripped to her death when she stopped short to look at the screen again. ‘Camera 6’ was streaming, and it was moving through her backyard. “Oh my God, Lauren . . . they’re still here, on the property!”
“Why are you still there! Get out!”
“I can’t,” she whispered, hot tears streaking down her face as the camera displayed her front door. “They’re here. They trapped me.”
She couldn’t believe how quickly her dream house had turned into a nightmare. Now she would die for cheaply priced crown moldings and a tiny, white picket fence.
“I’m calling the cops!” Lauren exclaimed before the line went dead.
That’s when Tabitha took a deep breath and steeled her nerves. Death was imminent, but she wasn’t going down without a fight.
Swallowing her fear, Tabitha cleared the landing, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and went to open the door.
“SURPRISE!” Lauren screamed, along with Samantha and a few other neighbors. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Tabitha!”
Tabitha froze in the doorway, knife poised over her head like a psychopath. Her neighbors smiled awkwardly, and Lauren struggled to contain her laughter. The knife finally slipped from her fingers and clattered on the pavement. When she deemed it safe, Lauren sprang forward and enveloped her in a tight hug.
“What is happening?” Tabitha whispered.
“It was mostly Samantha’s idea,” Lauren said, motioning to her friend, who waved shyly behind her. “We were discussing the most effective way to bring me out here to surprise you, since we haven’t seen each other in a month. We ended up with this elaborate plan to really scare the life out of you. You know, to make you regret leaving me behind a little.”
“I still have one of the original keys,” Samantha explained, holding up a lone silver key on a ring. “Once I knew you were set to move in, I snuck inside and set up the cameras for today. You can go ahead and change the locks now.”
“Oh, Lauren!” Tabitha replied, coming down from her shock enough to embrace her again. Her body shook with the tears she shed. “You’re a terrible friend for doing this to me, but I guess we’re even. I am sorry I left home so abruptly. I’ve missed you so much!”
Lauren pulled away to dry her tears. “Hey, save the waterworks for later. Are you going to invite us inside for your proper housewarming gift?”
Tabitha looked at her neighbors, brandishing bottles of champagne and homemade pies, and smiled with relish. Now this felt like home.
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