Through December I posted this serial Christmas ghost story on Facebook under #yuleshade. Here it is in its entirety for you. Happy Holidays! 🙂
As a rule, Karen never returned anything. She didn’t want to add fuel to her name being used to brand a certain type of woman, or court the inevitable connection. But if she had the money to buy a second replacement TV she probably wouldn’t have had to relocate across two states to the house her great aunt left her when she died. How run down must that thing be? She couldn’t make enough to keep an apartment in the city anymore, so she took her meager savings and rented a moving van. Who cares if the customer service associate at Walmart thought she was “A” Karen, anyway? She’d never be back in this city again. Well, except to visit family and her husband’s grave. If she could find a job quickly, even minimum wage, she should have enough to buy food for two people for two weeks. In a way she felt she’d lost her son when her husband died. He’d retreated so far the counselors she couldn’t afford hadn’t been able to bring him out of it. Maybe living in the country, a new environment, would help. For now, she just needed to get a TV that worked. Smile. “I’d like an exchange please. Here’s my receipt.”
As she stopped the moving van and turned off the Christmas music in front of their new home, Karen wanted to cry. A heavy blanket of snow couldn’t hide this Victorian house’s sore need of repairs. The roof sagged or had fallen in on one side. A window below that was cracked like a spider web. It had been so long since it was painted that she couldn’t even tell what color it used to be. And the garage door sat crooked, and probably wouldn’t open. Her son didn’t notice, head down playing a game on his Nintendo. A sudden gust of wind moaned around them, sending a chill up her spine. She wiped the bottom rims of her eyes and took a deep breath. “Come on, Jared. One of your chores is shoveling the walk… and that starts now.” He scowled, then hopped out into the calf deep snow. She wondered how long it would take him to realize they didn’t own a shovel.
Karen managed to get the water turned on, but the electricity and gas companies wouldn’t send anybody until tomorrow. The one thing that had gone their way was her aunt had left a good stack of firewood in the garage, which they could only access from the inside. While she waited for a pot of water to get hot, Jared just crunched his Ramen noodles right out of the plastic. He’d used all the power on his game device and phone. He’d used most of the power on her phone, too, before she made him stop in case they needed it for an emergency. Huddled around this fire, the room looked almost cozy. And, small miracle, her son even talked to her. It wasn’t deep, but it warmed her heart almost as much as the fire. The upstairs creaked, and occasionally, a low moaning sound caught their attention. There was one room up there with a door jammed so tight they couldn’t get it open. When he stopped mid sentence to listen, with eyes a bit wide despite him insisting nothing scared him, she said, “It’s probably a hole in the roof. The wind makes that sound when it blows past.”
Karen woke up freezing. Her son, under a blanket in front of the fireplace, lay curled up shivering. She picked up a poker to try and stoke it, but the cold of the metal handle seemed to bite into her hand. She couldn’t find a single hot coal amid the black wood and gray ash. What happened here? She put Jared’s coat over his blanket and tucked him in. Then she put some fresh wood and paper in, holding the long-neck lighter at the base. She burned page after page, but the wood wouldn’t catch. It wasn’t wet. Howling wind rattled the windows as the temperature dropped steadily. Why wouldn’t it light? If she couldn’t figure it out, they’d have to use the heater in the moving van to keep from freezing. She didn’t want to go outside to siphon gas in this weather. Slipping on her shoes, she rummaged through the kitchen supplies until she found a bottle of hand sanitizer. 80% ethanol should work. She squirted half of it on the logs and lit it. The blue flame sputtered, as if struggling to to get air. When it threatened to go out, she squirted more on. Jared lifted his head. “That stuff’s flammable?” She tucked a few small pieces of wood in the bottom and squirted them, too. Eventually, the cold surrendered and the wood began to catch. She bit her lip. If the heat wasn’t on by tomorrow, she’d have to spend some of their food money on lighter fluid.
Karen couldn’t believe her good fortune finding a job at the local gas station within walking distance of their house. She’d left her son with one job while she was at work– get that upstairs room’s jammed door open. Two hours later he texted her. “Can’t open it. Borrowed a pry-bar from the neighbor, but when I went up there, the house growled at me. Like a crazy dog. Every time I try, it happens again. I don’t need my own room. I’ll sleep on the couch.” It bothered her for a long time, but before her shift ended, she decided to forget about it. The heat and electricity were on and either the vent in that room was closed or snow covered it. Either way, they weren’t wasting a lot of money on it. Besides, it’s not like she had any money to fix whatever was wrong with the roof. She couldn’t quite let it go, though. The house made a lot of weird sounds. She’d dismissed it as wind or creaking floors, but growling like a rabid dog?
It was late in the night when Karen heard a woman’s voice. She thought she’d dreamed it. Wide awake now, she got up to check on things and realized it was once again bitter cold. Why was the heat off? She wrapped in a robe and slippers. Downstairs she found Jared on the couch shivering. Nothing woke him. She started a fire, with lighter fluid this time. All she could hope was that whatever was wrong was on their side, because she didn’t know how she’d pay for repairs if it wasn’t. Tucking in by her son’s feet, she planned to stay up, but found herself being roused by the same scratchy voice. She couldn’t mistake it for wind now. Tomorrow they would get the door open if she had to hack it up with an axe. Only she didn’t have an axe.
When Karen told the assistant manager at the gas station about the problem with her house, he offered to come over and take a look at it. He was younger than her by enough that she didn’t see it as turning into a problem. Her son had joined the school play, which was a miracle considering how introverted he’d been lately. She suspected he just didn’t like being home alone in this creepy place, but she didn’t care as long as it got him out interacting with people again. The house seemed fine when they got there. It always took several tries to make the lock work. “That roof doesn’t look good,” he said. She showed him upstairs and he pounded the door with his shoulder. “Looks like it’s become load bearing. I have tools in my truck, but I’m beginning to worry that more of that roof will fall in if you do get it open.” A low scream vibrated the door when he touched the handle again. He rushed down the stairs and outside. “Maybe an animal living in there,” he offered as he drove away.
After the assistant manager left, while Jared was still at play practice, Karen found herself alone in the house. Snow fell on the 18″ already blanketing the small town, blocking the sun and making the world quiet… except for the house. Wood creaked here and there, following a broken rhythm. Howling emanated from the locked room, despite weak wind outside. The heater, working at the moment, couldn’t penetrate some of the cold areas. Karen wanted to put up the Christmas tree, but she couldn’t. She had to deal with whatever this was. So she set a folding chair in front of the jammed door, leaned her forehead against it, and cried. “I can’t… I can’t take it. What do you want from me? I have nowhere else to go. What did I ever do to you?” Behind the door, a hoarse laugh rose to a scream.
“Who are you?” Karen screamed through the shuddering door. “Why are you doing this?” The voice on the other side dropped to to a low cackle, then a cough. “Who do you think sat alone in this house year after year? No calls. No letters. Watching the world go by, forgotten?” Karen stood up. “Aunt Beth? Is that you?” Frost gathered on the door and around her so she had to cross her arms for warmth. Her breath left small clouds. “I sent you Christmas cards every year. But you stopped coming to the family parties and never called. I just assumed mom knew.” Her voice faltered. “What happened?” There was a long pause, before the voice behind the door spoke again. “See for yourself.” The door popped open an inch.
Karen touched the door to open it, but pulled her hand back. The cold burned. Her mind screamed to run away, but she couldn’t keep living like this… and they had nowhere else to go. Desperation finally overcame her terror. She pushed the door with the toe of her shoe. It creaked and stopped, wedged against the floor. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and kicked it over and over. “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything to you.” Each time, it let out a screech as the frozen wood scraped. When the light from the hall finally penetrated the darkness, she gasped. A wheel chair next to the broken window lay sideways on the ground beneath the hole in the roof. Snow and ice scattered over a wide blood stain. Aunt Beth had somehow fallen and slowly died here. Karen whispered, “I’m so sorry.” Behind her a whisper… “You will be.”
Karen spun around, clasping one hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Floating a few inches above the ground, her aunt looked like coalesced black smoke with white vaper leaking out of her eyes to join her dissipating hair. “Nobody ever wanted me. Nobody ever cared.” She reached one hand out, turning Karen’s chest cold. “That’s not true!” Karen let her terror turn to rage. “We wanted you. I didn’t know you were cooped up in this house because you never told me. I would have helped. Mom would have helped. You didn’t need to suffer on your own.” Beth’s white eyes went impossibly wide as she floated backward into the shadow. “Nobody ever came to check.” The ghost’s niece pushed forward, unwilling to let her go. “Well we’re here now. But we can’t stay unless you stop with all of this. Please, come spend Christmas Eve with us.” Her aunt’s face scowled, then softened. The steam and smoke swirling chaotically. She opened her mouth wide as if to scream, but no sound came out.
On Christmas Eve, Karen and her son were sipping hot chocolate next to the fire, listening to soft music, and looking at the decorated tree when it happened. She’d prepared Jared over and over, but his eyes still went wide and his hands shook when the house’s former occupant finally joined them. She looked less frenzied, obviously trying to make as polite an appearance as a vengeful spirit can. “Merry Christmas!” Karen smiled and offered her aunt a seat. They chatted, reminiscing about bygone holidays, family, and the terrible weather. The door upstairs would open now, but they left it closed until they could deal with the hole in the roof. Jared relaxed as time went on. Eventually, he brought out a small box, wrapped in shiny red paper and a green ribbon, and presented it to Beth. “For me?” Small trails of white vapor formed under her eyes and she reached for it. Her hand went straight through, of course. Jared said, “Maybe I should help?” He unwrapped a ceramic vase, painted white with glaze sparkling in the lights. “I made it in school.” The apparition gasped, smiled, and thanked him profusely. Then her smoky body gently dissipated, her smile leaving this world last.
Want more holiday themed ghost stories? Check out this anthology: Haunted Yuletide