Rockin’ around the Christmas tree today we have Jessica Collins with her Christmas ghost story, Ghosts of Christmas Past. Jessica usually writes picture books, so I really drew her out of her comfort zone with this one. Prepare for some scare…
Ghosts of Christmas Past
by Jessica Collins
Darker days are yet to come. At least that’s what her mother always told her as winter’s cold grip would settle in, ripping the color from the world. The light of the sun seemed to be chased back earlier and earlier with each passing day.
She grew tired of the same platitudes her mother would espouse for every occasion. Christmastime seemed to be worse as her mother would spit out one analogy or another to a bygone era and how “humanity simply cannot fathom the abyss they were marching towards”. Annalyn sighed, she hated all of the overly long phone calls—until the day the conversations stopped.
Now, she would give almost anything to hear just one more of her mother’s stories and criticisms. As much as she complained, Christmas was her favorite holiday of the year. She would grouse about how commercialized the world had become, while blasting Christmas music and decorating the house. Like clockwork her home would be decked out from mailbox to rooftop by November 5th, save for when she was in the hospital the year before she passed.
Annalyn couldn’t bring herself to decorate. She tried once, right after Thanksgiving, but the moment her hand touched the fire engine red, velveteen of the garland she heard her mother’s voice. Though she knew it couldn’t possibly be her mother, rather a trick of her over-stressed brain, she refused to so much as open the boxes again.
She was an only child to a single mother with little time to make friends outside of working and care giving. This year there hadn’t been anyone else she needed to pretend for.
Her mother died three days after Christmas the previous year. She had just been accepted into hospice and the nurse was supposed to arrive the next morning with pain meds. She didn’t make it. Dementia had moved on to full blown Alzheimer’s in a matter of months. Followed by a rapid physical decline.
Each memory, anecdote, and platitude forgotten seemed to take a bit of her mother’s soul with it, until she was only an empty shell resembling the previous owner.
Rising from her cocoon of blankets Annalyn moved towards the kitchen to pour another glass of wine. Anything to dull the ache within her.
She jumped when there was a sharp rap at the door.
“Dammit. If this is another group of carolers I’m going to wassail them with a bucket of water.”
The rapping continued, getting louder and more persistent.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!”
Opening the door to give whoever was standing outside a piece of her mind she stopped, her mouth agape.
“Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to invite me in?”
“What-? How…how is this possible? Where did you come from? I must have had more wine than I thought,” said Annalyn.
“I will happily answer your questions as soon as you let me in. Goodness. Gone for a year and you’ve already forgotten all your manners.”
Annalyn ran the scenarios through her mind, finally deciding she must have had a mental breakdown and there was no point in trying to fight it.
“Sorry, please come in.”
“Thank you,” said her mother, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
AS soon as her mother passed her Annalyn was overcome with dread and the sudden realization she had invited something into her home. Whispered giggles from just beyond the porch made her turn around before closing the door.
Annalyn looked around the yard in case this was a horrible prank someone was pulling, but the quiet cold of Christmas Eve night was all she found.
“Where are my decorations?”
Annalyn closed the door before turning to consider the creature wearing the visage of her mother. The thing looked and sounded like her mother, but it put off an aura of closely constrained rage and death.
“What are you?”
“I’m your mother, silly. Where are my decorations?”
“They are where they have always been. My mother would know that.”
“Annalyn, what is your problem? I am your mother.” She pulled off her scarf, hat, and coat, but kept her gloves on.
Annalyn’s hair stood on end and her stomach churned wildly when the creature turned back, looking her straight in the eyes.
“Tell me where the decorations are so we can get this over with. I have somewhere to be.”
“No. I don’t know what you are, but I do know you are not my mother. Get out.” Annalyn opened the door to usher the thing back out into the night. The door ripped from her hands, slamming shut. She stood there looking from the door to her empty hand. The sharp pain of a migraine started building behind her eyes.
“I would really appreciate your help. Please, get the decorations and bring them down.”
Annalyn drew in a deep, shuddery breath. Every time she tried to concentrate on why she shouldn’t get the ornaments the pain in her head increased. The agony became so strong she dropped to her knees, clutching her head.
“Annalyn, dear, I will help you bring them down.”
Focusing on her mother’s voice Annalyn stood up on shaky legs. She focused on her mother as she crooned and fussed over the decorations and what should go where. Moving at a lethargic pace up the stairs her mother followed her up, commenting on everything from the paint color to the condition of the carpet.
By the time they reached the attic Annalyn’s fears and pain were all but forgotten. Her mother never stopped talking as she helped carry the various boxes of ornaments and decorations downstairs.
The few times their bodies brushed against each other the pain came back along with the fear, but Annalyn’s mother would quickly start talking again chasing it all away. Hours later they were almost finished, save for the angel on the top of the tree.
“Where’s the angel?”
Annalyn paused, trying to recollect which box the ancient papier-mâché angel was in. The more she tried to concentrate on the memory, the clearer her head became. It was through no small effort on her part. But as the fog covering her memories lifted Annalyn’s fear came back in a rush. This time the pain did not return with it.
Annalyn did not lead on to this fact. Laughing at appropriate moments, and tsking at others. Though she knew this thing was not her mother she found she enjoyed the reprieve from the ache of loss she had been going through.
“Annalyn? Where’s the angel?”
Every time the thing said her name her memories began to fog over again, making her lose the tenuous grasp on the situation. Shaking her head , as if to clear the fog, she pointed to a small box in the corner.
The mother-creature sashayed over, no longer trying to affect the mannerisms of her mother. It picked up the gold lacquered box, the blood red of its gloves a sharp contrast to the glimmer.
The box would not open no matter how hard the creature tried.
“What’s wrong with this? Why won’t it open?” The creature shoved the box at Annalyn who refused to accept it. “Open the box, Annalyn. You don’t want to disappoint your mother.”
Annalyn took the box in her hands, cradling it like a newborn. The instant she touched it all of the fog lifted and she saw the creature for what it truly was.
“Open the box, Annalyn.”
Looking around the attic Annalyn realized she had never left, but it was time to let go. Turning back to Death, she opened the box and looked at the shriveled heart of her mother.