As we push past the halfway mark in our five days of festive fictions, we bring to you more ghost stories and holiday hauntings. Though we have had laughs and chills, the stories below bring us to the more melancholy. Today is the solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the beginning of the Yule season for me and many others. While it is a season for celebration, the midwinter is also a time for reflection. Light a candle, grab a comforting treat; as you read these tales, know that I wish you a bright solstice.
In the spirit of celebration, it is also time to announce the next winner in our Holiday Giveaway series! Congratulations to Justine (@__its_justine__) on being our selected winner for today! Justine will be the recipient of one Parliament House exclusive Rollerball Perfume made by our lovely partner store, Books n Bubbles!
Mix the brown sugar and mustards, smother the ham. Settle it down in the cola like a baby, wrap it just as tight.
Gran likes ham now even more than she did when she was alive. Great-aunt Sylvia would prefer a turkey, but the bird would rot before I could eat it down, wouldn't even be good for stock. All this assuming I could cook a turkey in what any one of them would have charitably called a good-sized linen closet.
I don't know why they come here, a thousand miles from their bones. Look outside, and all you get is headlights and the glow from TVs turned to news you don't want to hear. There's no starlight, no treeline, and who even knows who owns the land; I pay my rent to a corporation.
They have always liked being nosy. There are only so many people you can be interested in when the population doesn't tip a thousand. Any time a screen in the building across the way turns to porn, there's a tiny scandalized shiver through the atmosphere, and someone's going to be seeing Jesus in their shadows for Christmas.
Oven at 350, 25 minutes. Sprinkle the onions while the green beans are bubbling. Mind you don't spill it.
A dozen hands rest on mine as I work, drops of sweat from thousands of kitchen hours over years I can't count rolling down my neck. The spirit of hundreds of biscuits crammed into the pitiful four that'll fit in my tiny oven, and by the time I swap them for the ham, then the ham for the casserole, they'll be cold.
But the dead devour memories, not carbs or even butter (they miss butter). They're satisfied I'm making biscuits at all, and I'm the one who has to eat them.
Two cups of Mr. Jack in the eggnog. Beat it slowly, slower than that. Pinch of nutmeg.
A single string of dollar-store lights connects the apartment's not-quite rooms—the kitchen-almost-the-bedroom, which is a living room and almost the doorway. The ironing board-cum-table can only hold the ham and greens, the biscuits go in my lap, ambrosia and macaroni on the floor, a bowl of potatoes snuggled at my side. I use one of my two spoons for everything and pour the eggnog into a cheap Christmas cup that nearly buckles under the weight. Something about the dip where my thumb presses Santa's belly concave in the waxy paper hits me in the chest.
My phone is black and silent under the fire-hazard lights. There are people, living ones, who could call me if they wanted.
Instead, I sit with the ghosts who love me, and we feast.
“I don’t want to go in, Jimmy. Mommy said we should hurry home.”
Andy scuffed at the snow with his boot. Even with long-underwear, it was cold, and he didn’t want to explore the old factory.
“Aww, don’t be afraid. What could be scary about a factory where they made tinsel? You love Christmas. Let’s go,” Jimmy said, squeezing through the gap in the wooden fence. The boys at school would be impressed, that’s for sure, he thought.
Andy didn’t follow his older brother at first, but the thought of waiting on the darkening street, all alone, was scarier than following him toward the factory. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.
“I’m coming,” Andy called after his brother, who was disappearing toward the old brick building. “Wait, Jimmy!”
The factory had been boarded up for a long time - before either Jimmy or Andy were born. There had been a fire and some workers had died. The Taylor Tinsel factory had been abandoned ever since. Every December, children would dare each other to poke around inside the place because everyone knew it was haunted. A place that spooky just had to be.
“Jimmy, we won’t be able to see inside. It’s all black in there, I bet,” Andy said, watching his brother pry open the board that covered a hole in the old wooden door. The hole was just big enough for children to crawl through, though Andy wouldn’t have been surprised if monsters could fit as well. They liked small spaces.
“I have a flashlight, silly. If you’re a scaredy-cat, stay here. I’m going in. I’ve got to bring back something from inside.” Jimmy pulled out his father’s flashlight from his wool coat. With a soft click, light streamed into the dark hole.
“I’m not a scaredy-cat,” Andy said, but that wasn’t true. He didn’t like dark places. He never should have asked Jimmy if he could play outside with him.
“Okay, then, let’s go,” Jimmy said, crawling through the hole.
The boys crept into the dark cavern of the warehouse. It was as cold inside as it was outside. There were windows near the roofline, but not much light found its way to the dusty floor. Without Jimmy’s flashlight, they would have been in near darkness.
“There’s a small room, near the far wall, where we can get some tinsel scraps. Watch out for any rats.” Jimmy said as he walked away from his little brother.
“Rats? Why would there be rats? There’s no food here,” Andy said, hurrying to catch up to the spot of light.
“Rats like old buildings. Especially ones with ghosts. Don’t you know anything?”
Their feet made soft sounds along the cement floor, scraping heels and scuffling toes. A bird caw from outside startled them, and Jimmy almost dropped the flashlight. Andy was right behind him.
“There, see it?” Jimmy pointed in the gloom toward a darker spot on the far wall. Andy couldn’t see very well, but it might be a doorway.
“Yes,” he replied, and his voice sounded small in the large room.
The pair walked closer, and Andy squinted at the dark blob. He thought he saw something - something silvery glinting in the faint light from the flashlight. It had to be the tinsel.
“I see it, Jimmy, the tinsel,” he said. “Do you see it?”
“No, silly. I don’t see it. We aren’t close enough yet.”
The silver spot grew brighter, and Andy didn’t have to squint to see it now. It had gone from a speck to a glow like a dim light bulb.
“Well, I see it,” Andy said, and then he stopped walking. The silver spot was bigger, and it was moving—moving toward them. “Jimmy…”
“I tell you, I don’t see it.” The silver spot was now as big as a person.
“It’s a silver man!” Andy cried, backing away from the shape only feet away from his brother. A silvery arm reached toward him, and Andy could see the fingers grasping.
There was a cry, but Andy didn’t know if it came from the silver man or Jimmy. He ran, as fast as he could, back toward the hole, back toward the dusk, calling for Jimmy to hurry. He squeezed through the opening.
Jimmy didn’t come. Andy waited until it was completely dark—until the police found him crying by the door. Jimmy never came. And no one believed him about the silver man.