My friend Heli asked for a story for Christmas, and here it is. I don't think she'll mind that I shared it with you guys, too. So this one's for you, Heli. I hope you like it.
Ghosts for Christmas
The ghosts arrived promptly at midnight, Earth Sector Three time. They crowded around the table and examined the offerings set out on it, ignoring the young woman and toddler asleep on the bed in the corner of the room.
Granny Sanelma pushed her tarnished spectacles onto her forehead and brought a gingerbread cookie close to one eye for closer examination.
“This isn’t right, not right at all,” she said, giving the cookie a prim sniff.
Aunt Terhi rolled her eyes, making her cat-eye glasses slide down her nose. “Stop showing off, Grandma. Just because you can move objects--”
Old uncle Talneli dropped the ghost of a raisin bun he had been gumming. “But she’s right. Worse than cardboard, this is. In my day we used to have proper Christmases, fresh straw on the floor, salted ham, creamy rice porridge with plenty of butter . . . These youngsters have no respect for tradition.”
“Not even a Christmas tree!” Granny Sanelma said, dropping the cookie to the floor. “And just one candle. Oh, I used to have dozens and dozens of them, and the ice lanterns . . . “
“What is this place?” Aunt Terhi asked, examining the strange, humming walls of the room. “There’s no kitchen, and what are all these blinking lights? Just look at those overalls. Do you suppose they’re some kind of pajamas?” She peered out from between the half-closed curtains. They were of a heavy, slippery material, like the dresses she used to wear in the sixties. “How strange. Granny, can you open these?
When Sanelma slid the drapes open they both gasped.
“Stars! Stars everywhere! What is this place? Oh, I feel faint,” Sanelma said, backing away from the porthole.
Jasmin appeared, her surly teenage face twisted in a scowl. “Jeez, you’re old.” She strode over to the porthole and snapped her ghostly, grey gum with a loud pop. “We’re obviously in space, you old retards. Haven’t you seen Star Trek?”
Sanelma pulled out a fan of black lace and sank on something resembling a couch, fanning herself with quick, trembling movements.
Aunt Terhi still looked out the porthole, staring into the void. The velvet darkness fascinated her, invited her to fall towards the distant suns like silver sparklers in the deep. She forced herself to turn back to the others. She was the responsible one; she should take charge. “You mean we’re not on Earth anymore? How will we get back?”
Jasmin was busy digging through the drawers that slid out of the wall. “I don’t care. I don’t want to go home. Just look at this stuff.” She held a maroon jumpsuit up against herself, making her face appear even paler than it was. “This is so rad. I wish I had my iPhone.”
Maybe Jasmin was right? What harm would there be in exploring a little? Terhi sat next to Sanelma and tried to help her calm down. “Come, let’s have another look. It’s beautiful out there.”
“No. I am staying right here.” Sanelma crossed her arms, tucking the fan into her armpit.
“What about them? You always want to get to know the relatives.” Terhi pointed at the woman and child.
Sanelma’s expression softened and she smiled, revealing a pearly-white set of false teeth. She bustled over to the bed. “Oh yes, my great-great-great-grandniece and her son. Your lot were always too adventurous for their own good, Taneli.”
Old Taneli’s face scrunched up like he had just bitten into a lemon. “At least my relatives are here now, the last of us. Looks like your line’s died out. Maybe they were too careful. Died of boredom, I gather.”
“Why you old coot--”
“The child looks just like you, Taneli,” Terhi said, trying to stop the argument. She smoothed a lock of hair off the child’s reddened cheek.
The toddler stirred, opened one eye, then the other, and yawned. Watching the ghosts curiously, he slid off the bed and crawled towards them.
“Now look what you’ve done!” Uncle Taneli croaked, backing away as the boy approached, brandishing his gnarled cane at the toddler.
“He’s kinda cute,” Jasmin said and tickled the boy’s nose with her black feather boa. The boy giggled and then crawled toward the table, where he proceeded to tug at the tablecloth.
“I remember Christmases at your mother’s house. You used to do that, too,” Terhi said, smiling at Jasmin.
“You could have stopped me. That’s how I got the scar on my shoulder.” Jasmin pulled down the sleeve or her lacy top and revealed three shiny, round scars like teardrops.
“Oh yes, you pulled down the candle.”
“The candle! We gotta stop the kid. Fire’s really dangerous in space!” Jasmin said. She grabbed at the kid, but her hand went right through him. It happened a lot when she was too excited or nervous to concentrate.
“Sanelma, get him!” Terhi yelled. What would happen if their last relatives died? Where would they go to celebrate Christmas? Or would they be stuck in their graves forever? An eternity without anyone to talk to. She’d take Sanelma’s complaining over that any day.
The candle wobbled, and wax spattered on the cross-stitched tablecloth. Sanelma struggled to pick up the child, but she couldn’t. Jasmin screamed. Puffing like a steam engine, Old Taneli stood at the other side of the table, brow furrowed in concentration. Just as the candle toppled, a swoosh of cold air blew over it and the flame went out.
“That’s done it, Taneli!” Terhi said, almost fading out of sight with relief.
A blob of hot wax had fallen on the child’s cheek, and he pawed at it, getting wax on his fingers, too. He began to wail. The woman on the bed started awake. “Tani? What is it?” She rushed over to the child and picked him up. Frowning, she wiped the cooling wax off his cheek. “Oh, sweetie, what did you do? Let’s get a coldpak for that.” The toddler’s soft curls stuck to her spiky, red hair.
The toddler’s wails abated as she pressed the coldpak to his cheek “You’re okay, hon. Mommy’s sorry. No more candles.” She gave him a gingerbread cookie, an astronaut with a smile of pink frosting. Slowly, she walked to the porthole and grasped one of the curtains as if to close it, but then let it fall. ”Do you think they’re eating ham and rutabaga casserole by now? Or opening the presents?” She smiled at the child in her arms, but the smile was tinted with sadness. “You don’t even remember her, but I bet your grandma is really missing you. I wish she were here; I wish they all were.” She pressed her hand to the porthole. “Merry Christmas, everyone.”
The ghosts gathered around her, exchanging glances.
“Guys? I’m glad to spend Christmas with you,” Jasmin said.
“Me too,” Terhi said and hugged her. Taneli patted her shoulder, and Sanelma gave her a stiff one-armed hug.
Silent, they stood around the mother and child.
At last, they could feel morning coming, a tugging in their stomachs. Young Tani waved at them as they disappeared.