HOLIDAY HEARTH STORIES: On the First Day of Storymas, Parliament Gave to Me...
It is finally here, the first day of our haunting holiday story extravaganza! We invite you to snuggle in with your favorite holiday beverage and light some candles; if you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, pull up a cozy chair for a fireside read, or do like we do and click your TV over to a fireside ambiance. Gather round and enjoy these holiday ghost stories on this, the First Day of Storymas!
But wait! We did promise you gifts, after all. So it is only fitting to begin by announcing the winner of our first of five prizes: Congratulations to @Rockette_reads! You have won a physical copy of a Parliament House Press book of your choice!
Now read on, Parliaversians, and let the spirits of the season guide you...
Her eyes fluttered open with what should have been glee,
For today was Christmas with presents beneath her tree.
But since buying her home, nearly three years to the day,
Christmas was nothing but cold, dim and eerily gray.
Despite stripping the floors and painting the walls,
Tortured cries and bellowing moans echoed her halls.
But only on Christmas did this haunting occur,
Where this ghostly figure would appear in a blur.
He’d rattle the tree causing ornaments to break,
And fly through the walls, spurring the house to quake.
He’d rip down the stockings and shatter each light,
And only fell silent once it hit midnight.
But this year would be different.
Determined she was.
For she would make this scrooge
A fan of Santa Claus.
At the first howl she heard, early in the morn,
She rose from her bed, ready to scorn.
Why don’t you like Christmas? She asked to the air.
She held her breath as she awaited his scare.
Her holiday ghost swished around the room,
Draping coldness throughout and brimming with doom.
Did you die on Christmas Day? Or despise the festive cheer?
Awaiting his response, she prayed for joy this time of year.
The ghost moaned so loudly, it caused her ears to ring,
And the air froze so frigid, her skin began to sting.
Please, give me a sign, she yelled seeking to understand.
Then with a whirl, the ghost capsized her nightstand.
There, against the wall, lied a photo that looked old.
It must have been there from before the house was sold.
A man, a woman, and child, as happy as can be,
Snuggled by a fireplace that stood near their Christmas tree.
Was this you? She asked, a tremble on her tongue,
For the man in the photo was incredibly young.
The same age as she, her ghost must have been,
But his grinch-like behavior didn’t match this man’s grin.
Do you miss your family? Is that why you’re mad?
You yearn for the Christmases you once merrily had?
The ghost cried with sadness and floated above,
But she too was alone, missing her one true love.
My husband died three years ago, spurring my move here,
Hoping that my sorrow would quickly disappear.
The ghost became silent as if listening intently,
And the air in the room warmed ever so gently.
But because he loved Christmas, I try to be cheerful.
His day would be ruined if I ever was tearful.
Perhaps your wife and daughter would feel the same way,
So why not feel peace and enjoy this bright day?
Put aside your anger and please don’t moan,
For neither one of us is truly alone.
A warmth brushed her arms, and she knew she succeeded.
Some understanding and compassion was all the ghost needed.
And perhaps she was thankful to the ghost as well,
For now her own sadness would not have to dwell.
So they mustered their cheer on this white Christmas day,
And avoided the haunting that was typically at play.
Just because they could not see the ones they missed the most,
In their hearts, the ones they loved, were always very close.
This tale is given to you direct from the author’s hands in much the same way as it was conveyed to his own ears. Embellishments or ornamentation that might serve to meddle with the clarity of the narrative have been steadfastly avoided so that what you are presented with is the tale in and of itself. Though it must be said that a story such as this exerts a stronger influence when told rather than when committed to print. It is perhaps best to imagine these words being spoken around a crackling fire as the embers spark red and white and the flames begin to fade—a fire, perhaps, like the one in the living room of the small stone cottage nestled in the narrow streets below the ruins of Richmond Castle.
The house is warm and snug, decorated with green boughs and wreaths for the season. The log on the fire has burned through the night, as is tradition, and will be a welcome source of comfort on a cold winter morning. But for now, the house sleeps. Except, that is, for the young, tousle-haired young boy perched quietly on the stairs outside his bedroom door. It is a strange staircase in this small house. A short flight of narrow steps leads to a small landing, large enough for one adult (or two children), and from there, two more sets branch off at right angles. One leads to the bedroom, where the young boy’s parents still doze in the pre-dawn light, and one to the bathroom and his own room.
Arthur has lived the entirety of his short seven years on earth in this house, and these stairs have been the site for many of his games. Toy cars in steep valleys, action-figures scaling mountains, heroes and villains fighting for the right to rule the galactic empire right here on the stairs of his own home. When he no longer feels like playing, he brings books and reads beneath the single light set high on the stone wall. He often reads out loud. She likes it. Adventures await for those who know where to look.
Young Arthur is not playing now. Neither is he reading. He is excited because it is Christmas morning and the closed door at the bottom of the stairs contains who knows what delights beneath the large tree, but he is also nervous. He grips the red Christmas stocking tightly in small fingers, scrunching the thick cotton and hearing the shift of presents inside. He looks down at his slippered feet, unable to meet her gaze, though he can feel her eyes upon him. Hundred.
The girl who lives on the stairs.
“Mummy says I’m not to talk to you,” he whispers.
“Because you’re not real.“
The little girl does not answer. What can she say? Arthur is her friend. Playing games on the stairs with the kind-eyed boy who does not ignore her is her only happy memory. She can feel the prickle of tears on the edge of her eyes, and it shocks her. When was the last time she cried?
Arthur can’t look at her. His hands have gone white, and he shakes. His mum and dad banned him from playing here, told him to stop talking to Hundred, but this is Christmas morning; he has always waited on the stairs on Christmas morning. It is tradition. Don’t go downstairs until Daddy gets up and makes sure Santa has been. That’s the rule, but Hundred had never heard of Santa. She told him this last year, and it is a sadness he has kept to himself since. He hears his parents now, moving in the room behind Hundred, their feet settling on the wooden floor, and he knows he is out of time. He pulls a small, red-haired doll from the stocking, thrilled that Santa read his letter. He hands the doll to Hundred just as the handle of the door turns.
“Merry Christmas, Hundred. I love you,” he says, and there is an unmistakeable finality to his words. Hundred knows this is goodbye.
Thomas and Martha look down at the tear-streaked face of their son and dash down the steps to gather him in their arms. For a moment, just for the briefest moment, Martha catches a glimpse of a red-haired doll at the bottom of the stairs, but when she turns back from kissing her son and wishing him Merry Christmas, it is gone.