By Dora Abel
The world was a blanket of white sparkle that stretched out before Josie–silent, still, and untouched, as if time had frozen along with the earth. The old Antebellum home, her childhood home, became a little more drafty in the winter but none of their family minded much. It was Christmas Eve and it was the first white Christmas she’d ever experienced in her life.
But this was also the first Christmas without her grandmother…and it stung. Her grandmother had only just passed in April. Despite visiting her family, being around old friends, and surrounded by that familiar warmth, it was missing that key element. It was missing her grandmother’s hugs, her kisses, the creak of her rocking chair, the smell of her cooking…
If she were younger and still believed in Santa, Josie would have asked him to bring her grandma back–or at least asked for one more visit with her. She’d had that sort of sweet, wistful naivete as a child. As she got older the naivete left, but the sweet wistfulness never did. She still believed in magic in the smallest forms, mixed in with the everyday things that other people overlooked.
The single street light was the only thing illuminating the blanket of snow. Everyone else was asleep in the house but her. Maybe she was trying to cling to that bit of excitement she got as a kid, waiting up to see if she could spot a reindeer or hear a sleighbell.
But the reality of it was, she just couldn’t sleep.
She allowed herself one last look around the yard through the window, before closing the curtains and walking back to her bed. She turned her book light on and picked up her copy of A Christmas Carol to continue reading. She always read it over during the month of December, and it seemed appropriate that she was finishing it tonight–or trying to. She was in the middle of Stave 3 with the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Somewhere between Fred’s Christmas party and Stave 4, sleep finally claimed her. Her head was tilted back on her pillow, the small leatherbound book had fallen forward onto her chest, and she was breathing evenly. The house was quiet….
Until a bell rang.
It was faint and quick, but there all the same. The young woman stirred in her bed but didn’t quite wake up.
The bell rang again, louder this time.
Josie’s eyes opened. She lay there, trying to gather her senses. She didn’t move. Had she really heard it? Was it all part of a dream?
It rang again as if to answer her question, and her heart leapt into her throat. She stiffened as her imaginative mind flew in all different directions.
The first thought that occurred to her was Fairies. She never saw any servants’ bells in the house in all her 25 years, so the bell had to be coming from someone else. What the hell was she supposed to do if it was Fairies? Not follow them anywhere, that’s for sure. Definitely don’t let them talk her into anything, but logic soon calmed her down…
Until Childlike Wonder decided to add its thought. Maybe it really was Santa. Maybe he’d been real all along and that long talk she’d had with her parents at 10 years old was just a way to assimilate her into a boring normal life.
That one seemed more likely, but logic still seemed to break that one down too. She really hated logic sometimes.
The bell rang again and she sat straight up, her book falling off of her chest. Why wasn’t anyone else awake by now? The bell was loud and clear, surely her dad would be up now or her mom…unless she was the only one who could hear it. She furrowed her brow and looked down at her book. The golden scroll could be read in the faint glow of the street light that cracked through her curtains. Realization hit her.
A ghost. Marley’s Ghost!
No, that’s not right. She didn’t know any Marley. She was fairly certain she’d lived her life as a good person so far, or tried to, so who could be haunting her? There were no creaking noises, no sounds of chains being dragged along.
The bell rang again, somehow sounding more convincing, more reassuring. It was coming from elsewhere in the house.
Half of her thought she was going to regret answering it, get stolen away to Faerie, but the other half of her, the bigger half, needed to know what the hell was going on. So, she climbed out of bed, grabbed her pocket knife, slipped it into the pocket of her pajama pants, then carefully creeped out of her room.
The bell rang again, encouraging her, helping steer her in the right direction. She walked down the hallway and towards the living room, but froze when she saw a flicker on the walls. The fireplace was lit!
Now that she knew to be impossible. The fireplace hadn’t worked since she was a teenager. A light, rhythmic tapping was heard, then a low creak of wood, then a soft, melodic voice humming. Her heart raced, her hopes skyrocketing. She didn’t know if she was dreaming or not, but she didn’t care. It all felt real. Finally, she walked out of the hallway and into the living room to see her grandmother sitting in her rocking chair. The creak of wood was from the chair, the light tapping had been her foot, and the humming had come from her.
A little silver bell hung above the blazing fireplace, one she knew had never been there before.
For a brief moment, Josie believed her grandmother was alive.
“Grandma?” Josie’s voice trembled when she spoke, but she couldn’t help it. The room was so warm and inviting. Her grandmother seemed to have a glow all her own, bright and happy as she sat there knitting a blanket.
“I was wondering when you were going to get up,” her grandma teased.
“Is…is this a dream? Am I dreaming?”
“You always did have a vivid imagination.”
“So I am dreaming…” Josie’s voice sounded more put-out now. Of course she was dreaming. Her grandmother wasn’t alive and this was obviously her ghost.
“I’m not even sure,” her grandmother answered. “It could be real, it could be a dream. But who’s to say dreams aren’t real too? Come sit beside me, sweetheart. I only have a few hours, after all.”
“But…how? Why?” Josie was full of questions as she stepped further into the room and closer to her.
“Sometimes these questions don’t have answers. Sometimes they just are. But I think you wished for it, didn’t you? One last conversation? One last moment to spend.”
“I did…” Josie shook her head, deciding not to spend time questioning the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ and instead just enjoying her grandmother’s company. She moved over and sat down on the brick of the hearth like she used to when she’d watch her grandmother knit.
“So tell me everything I’ve missed!” The old woman smiled brightly and looked over at her granddaughter. All the while, her fingers still worked the yarn expertly.
Josie sat and talked with her grandmother for the whole night. She updated her on everything, big and little, that she could remember had happened in eight months. She told her about the trips she’d taken in college and trips that were soon to come. She told her about the accomplishments of the little cousins and how they were growing fast. Her grandmother listened to all of it, laughing and talking and praising all that had been done and all that was yet to come.
“I’m proud of you, Josephine. I always will be, and don’t you ever forget it.” She reached out and clasped Josie’s hands. It all felt so real to the young woman. Her grandmother’s hands felt warm. Josie could feel the grip, the wrinkles, the callouses.
“I miss you, Grandma. We all do. Dad tried to tell us to prepare, but it’s impossible!” Her voice started to crack.
“Nobody can ever prepare for it,” she said gently. “Yes, you can prepare for funeral arrangements and things like that, but no amount of time can ever prepare you to live the rest of your life without someone you love. It’s just something people have to try to do, something they have to say to ease the passing. My time grows short, though, and I must go.”
Josie wanted to protest, wanted to insist that she was home, wanted her to stay…but she knew better. There was a lump in her throat that prevented her from protesting, so all she did was nod, eyes full of tears.
“Thank you for this,” she finally managed. “No one will believe me, but I don’t really want to tell anyone. I want to keep this close to my heart as my own.”
“You can do that. But it might help the others if you tell them you had a dream about me. Tell them I’m doing just fine. And I am, as you can see!” She held her arms out and laughed. “Come here and give me a hug.”
Josie stood up quickly and wrapped her arms around her grandmother. It was just like she remembered. She did everything she could to focus on the moment, the warmth of the hug, the smell of her familiar perfume. Josie’s eyes shut tight and her tears came, but she didn’t let go.
The next morning came, bleak and grey, but with the excitement of Christmas Day buzzing in the air. Josie could hear her mother in the kitchen making coffee. She opened her bleary eyes and looked around, feeling a bit disoriented, until she felt something lying on top of her. It was her book. A Christmas Carol stared right back up at her, the cheery golden scroll gleaming in the white light of the morning.
All memories of the night came flooding back into her and suddenly, she was wide awake. Josie snatched her book up and scrambled out of bed, running down the hall and bursting into the living room. Her mother looked up at her in surprise.
“Everything all right, baby? I haven’t seen you wake up like that since you believed in Santa!” she teased. “You want some coffee?”
“U-Uh…yeah. Sorry, I just thought….” Josie furrowed her brow as she examined the fireplace. It was shut up like it always was, stone cold, and the silver bell was gone. Her gaze moved further down to the rocking chair, and her eyes widened. There was a blue and green knitted blanket folded neatly in the seat. Silver was woven into the yarn but it was still soft to the touch and warm, as if someone had just been wrapped in it.
“Is that yours? Did you bring that?” her mom said as she walked up. “I don’t remember that being there.”
“Yeah, it’s mine.” Josie smiled as she glanced down at her book, then back to the blanket. “It was one of Grandma’s.” She picked the knitted blanket up and hugged it close to her chest.
Dora Abel is an archaeologist and a writer. She has a bachelor’s in anthropology, focus in archaeology, and works for a Cultural Resources Management firm in Louisville Kentucky. She loves her job very much but when she isn’t working she enjoys writing, drawing, playing guitar and playing video games. Her favorite genres to write are fanfiction, fantasy, and some southern gothic. She also writes songs and poetry if the need strikes her. Originally from Mississippi, she now resides in Indiana.