Xmas spirit, p.1
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       Xmas Spirit, p.1

           Tonya Hurley
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Xmas Spirit


  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1: Blue Xmas

  Chapter 2: Home for the Holidaze

  Chapter 3: Miracle on Hawthorne Street

  Chapter 4: Winter Wanderland

  Chapter 5: Ghost of Christmas

  Chapter 6: Jingle Hell

  Chapter 7: No Gift to Bring

  Chapter 8: A Christmas Gory

  Chapter 9: Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas

  Chapter 10: Last Christmas

  Chapter 11: Up on the Grave-Top

  Chapter 12: Slay Ride

  Chapter 13: Silent Knight

  Chapter 14: All I Want for Christmas Is You

  Chapter 15: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

  Epilogue: Yulogy

  For Michael and Isabelle

  Acknowledgments

  A heartfelt thanks to all of my readers around the globe. Merry Christmas.

  Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.

  —Francis C. Farley

  1

  Blue Xmas

  Yule Be There

  Christmas isn’t just a time to make merry. It is also a time to answer the call of duty. Like salmon swimming desperately upstream, we are compelled, whether out of guilt or good intentions, to make the trip knowing full well how it is likely to end. Though we’d rather be on a beach or on the ski slopes or quite possibly anywhere else, a visit home can turn even the most sacred gathering into holy hell.

  Distant stars twinkled in the cold night sky. Music filled the air. Everyone hustled and bustled about, getting ready for the most magical time of the year. The apartment complex resembled a snow-covered ancient cemetery with thousands of tiny candles flickering. It was so beautiful. So peaceful. It was almost Christmas Eve in the Great Beyond.

  Charlotte Usher was sitting at her desk, a pile of end-of-semester papers waiting patiently for her to review, as a distracting sound snuck through the opening of her barely cracked window, prompting her to leave her chair for the first time that day.

  “What is that noise?!” Charlotte groused. She slammed the window shut and attempted to peer out the frosted windowpane to discover the source of the offensive tones.

  She returned to her seat, just as another annoying sound from outside her door merged with the sugary drone still penetrating her window. It was a voice she recognized. She dropped her head into her hands and shook it. “Doesn’t anybody around here realize I’m working?” she huffed.

  “Open up!”

  Apparently not, she concluded, as a fearsome but rhythmic knocking began, adding a 3/4 backbeat to the din surrounding her.

  Charlotte reluctantly rose again from her chair and walked to the door slowly, not particularly excited about what or whom she might find on the other side. She reached for the knob and pulled it open.

  “It’s Christmas Eve. Are you going to work all day?” Eric asked, decked out in a studded leather jacket, jeans, and black engineer boots, with a slicked-back ducktail and a black Santa hat on his head.

  “Oh, look!” Charlotte muttered with fake surprise. “It’s Elvis Claus.”

  “Ah-hal have a ba-lew Chrustmus without you . . .” Eric sang in his best Elvis voice, swaying his hips, trying his best to taunt Charlotte.

  “Isn’t it a crime against humanity to impersonate the King during Christmas?” Charlotte asked.

  Eric smiled warmly and strutted in, parking himself in her chair and throwing his boots up on her desk carelessly, knocking some of her papers to the floor.

  “C’mon, Charlotte. We’ve worked really hard to get here. You can’t blame everyone for wanting to have some fun.”

  “Everyone except me.”

  “Listen, I just came here to see if you wanted to take a break and do some decorating with us. Maybe bring a little Christmas cheer. I had no idea I’d be running into Ebenezer Usher.”

  “I have too much work to do,” she snipped.

  “Still cranky, I see,” Eric said, pretending to check an imaginary wristwatch. “What are we going on, a month now? If you weren’t dead, I’d swear you were PMSing.”

  He obviously knew how to press Charlotte’s buttons.

  “Or maybe you have a case of the SADs—Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

  “Season Affective Dead, maybe,” she said. Charlotte was peeved. “Look, you’d be cranky too if you had my workload and my responsibility. Trying to get the next Dead Ed class prepared for eternity. And the next. And the next! Just try and get anything done with that awful noise constantly coming through the window!”

  “Awful noise?” Eric chided her. “Those are the angels singing, Charlotte. Practicing for Christmas. It’s almost here, not that you noticed.”

  “Who has time for Christmas, Eric?”

  “Who doesn’t?” Eric stared back. “What’s with you, anyway?”

  “I don’t know,” Charlotte said softly. “Maybe it’s all this work. I can’t see past it. Or . . .”

  “Or what?” Eric interrupted. “Or maybe because we aren’t alive? Is that what you meant to say?”

  “It’s just not the same.”

  “You’re right,” he agreed, getting up and walking toward her. “It’s better.”

  His enthusiasm was almost infectious. Almost.

  “Look, Charlotte.” Eric motioned for the window.

  Charlotte walked over and peered out and heard Deadhead Jerry singing, “Angels we have heard when high . . .”

  “Hey, Charlotte!” Green Gary cried. “Can you spot me while I hoist Call Me Kim on top of this evergreen? I have a pretty bad tree phobia. You know, after swerving my car to save that tree and, well, dying and all.”

  “The reception is so much better up there.” Kim giggled, dialing the North Pole. She was still unable to give up her holiday cell phone calls, even though no one could really hear her, at least not in the obvious way. It seemed as if all their “vices,” what had taken their lives, reared their heads at this time of year. But it was okay because it was Christmas, she thought.

  “I can’t. I’m working!” Charlotte called out sternly. “What’s with the calls? I thought we were past that?”

  “We’re just playing, Charlotte.” Kim smiled. “Everyone’s a kid at Christmas.”

  “More like everyone regresses,” Charlotte said under her breath to Eric.

  “I’ll do it as soon as I’m done, Gary,” Rotting Rita said kindly, shaking her head and causing rotting flesh to sprinkle onto the branches like a decayed snowfall.

  Charlotte watched Prue hoist a giant-sized Kringle head in the courtyard like some ancient colossus.

  “Off with his head!” Prue yelled, tugging the cord to signal the others to lift it into the air.

  CoCo had organized the whole thing to perfection like an A-list event planner. She stood over a set of design boards she’d created especially for the season and, satisfied with the way it was going, gave Metal Mike the signal via Call Me Kim, who was busy chatting away with an imaginary friend about the evening’s activities.

  “Heads up!” Mike yelled, shredding the fret board of his air guitar manically with excitement.

  The Santa head rose in the frosty darkness, a creepy sight to say the least, and was levitated into position like a Macy’s Parade float on Thanksgiving with the enthusiastic assistance of Simon and Simone. Virginia, whose eyes were appropriately shut tight like those of an expectant child waiting for Saint Nick to arrive, waited impatiently.

  “Everyone’s happy out there, Charlotte. There is no suffering here, no pain, no need. No jeal
ousy, no longing for anything. It’s the way it should be.”

  “And no life, either.” She paused walking to the window. “Look at them out there. All scurrying around, pretending to have a holiday to celebrate. Christmas is about hope. And without life, there is no hope. We are dead, and nothing can change that, not even Christmas. There’s no hope for us, Eric.”

  “So it is PMS after all—Post-Mortem Syndrome. Wow. I thought that was over and done with.”

  “The Christmas before I . . . came here was so cool,” Charlotte mused wistfully. “I saw Petula, Damen, and The Wendys getting their picture with Santa in the mall, and I stood right outside the velvet rope that keeps everyone away who can’t pay for a picture and I took one of myself in the foreground with them and Santa in the background—you know, the way you do when you don’t want a celebrity to see you taking their picture.”

  She was rambling, and Eric was getting angry.

  “You know what’s sad?” he observed. “That this is the biggest smile I’ve seen on your face in weeks.”

  “Why are you taking this so personally? I’m just telling you how I feel.”

  “Right, you’re telling me how you feel about me, about all of us here. For some reason we’re still not good enough.”

  “That’s not fair.”

  “You’re damn right.”

  Eric crossed his arms and pursed his lips. He was closed off. It was the coldest shoulder she’d ever been given.

  Charlotte tried to lighten the mood a little and leaned in, singing sweetly and tickling Eric with her long, crooked, pale finger under his stubbly chin.

  “You better not pout, you better not cry . . .”

  “Stop it! Don’t treat me like a child. I don’t need to be comforted. I get what you’re saying.”

  “Are you jealous? Is that what this is about?”

  “It’s always Scarlet this and Petula that. Hawthorne High. Blah, blah. And Damen, Damen, Damen. You are stuck in the past!”

  “Those were my friends, Eric. Can you blame me for missing them, especially at Christmas?”

  “Your friends? You’re kidding, right? They didn’t even know you were alive when you were alive. Shit, they practically killed you, if we’re being honest. Driving you to do all kinds of stupid stalker things, right down to choking to death on that gummy bear.”

  “That was a long time ago. They’ve changed. I changed them.”

  “People don’t change. They are what they are. Just like we are what we are.”

  “That’s not true. People can change.”

  “Really? Well, you fooled me into thinking you had, but it’s just the same old stuff.”

  “Fooled you? I can’t believe I’m in love with someone so cynical.”

  “And I can’t believe I’m in love with someone so insensitive and delusional.”

  “I don’t want to have this conversation with you anymore, Eric.”

  “Well, what do you want?” he asked, standing there with his Santa hat on.

  “What I want you can’t give me,” Charlotte said, verbally stinging Eric. “No one can.”

  They stared at each other for a moment, each awaiting an apology, but none was forthcoming. Eric walked toward the door, stepped partially out, and turned his back to her. They had both said things they couldn’t take back.

  “Well, Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and I hope all your wishes come true,” Eric said as he slammed the door shut behind him.

  Charlotte stood there for a minute and decided to walk home. She was upset and unable to concentrate on work. Suddenly, she heard a high-pitched toot piercing the Christmas chatter. Unlike the harmonies that floated through her office window, she definitely recognized these sounds. It was Pam, whistling as Silent Violet conducted.

  “Hi, Charlotte,” Pam said, greeting her BFF warmly. Charlotte could still hear the sounds of the phantom piccolo radiating from Pam’s throat, the one she swallowed all that time ago, even though it wasn’t there anymore.

  “Hey, Pam. Hey, Violet,” Charlotte replied, less than enthusiastically. “Feeling all Christmasy too, I see.”

  “Look around, who wouldn’t! We’re practicing carols for the party later tonight. You’re coming, right?”

  “Probably not.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “Nothing, just work.”

  Violet frowned in sympathy.

  “C’mon, Charlotte, where’s your Christmas spirit?” Pam joked. “Shouldn’t be hard to find around this place.”

  “Very funny,” Charlotte said, moping. “I’m not feeling it right now.”

  “Why don’t you and Eric just come to the . . .”

  “We’re fighting.”

  “Oh, no. Again?” Pam said.

  “We both just said a lot of things and . . .”

  “Don’t stress. This is your first Christmas together. I’m sure you guys will make up. Just let him cool off and then you will talk it out. Same as always.”

  “I don’t even know where he is right now, to tell you the truth.”

  Violet extended her arm stiffly above her head and pointed upward.

  “What?” Charlotte asked.

  Violet poked her finger upward even more forcefully, drawing Charlotte’s gaze in the direction she was pointing. There was Eric, at the top of her apartment building holding the end of a long string of lights that encircled the entire complex. It dipped and draped over everything as far as the eye could see. She and Eric made eye contact for just the briefest moment and looked uncomfortably away.

  “Okay, everybody! Are you ready?” Eric wailed, giving his most primal rock-and-roll shout-out.

  “Yeah!” came the response from every corner of the Great Beyond.

  “Then let’s light up this joint!”

  The countdown in unison began. Charlotte reached for her ears, trying to shut Eric and Christmas out.

  “One.”

  “Two.”

  “Three!”

  Eric shoved the plug into his mouth and made good on his Electric Eric nickname. He lit up like a Christmas tree, the studs on his jacket and boots blinking away. The entire place glowed warmly with multicolor flashes.

  “Heaven or Las Vegas?” Charlotte grumbled, eyeing the luminous spectacle that surrounded her.

  Prue walked over and greeted Pam and Charlotte, the smile on her formerly sour face as bright as the holiday spectacular firing up all around them.

  “Now that’s what I call Christmas,” Prue said.

  “Not me,” Charlotte answered tersely.

  “Let me guess. You guys are fighting.”

  “He’s just showing off for you, Charlotte,” Pam said. “Don’t be so grumpy.”

  “Why are you taking his side, Pam?”

  “I’m not. It’s just that it wouldn’t hurt you to get out of your own head for a minute.”

  “She’s got a point,” Prue interjected.

  “You too?”

  “I’m just saying.”

  Charlotte was steaming. She ran for the front door.

  “Have fun, you guys,” Charlotte cried. “Without me.”

  “Wait, Charlotte,” Pam called after her.

  “I wish I never died!”

  Charlotte went into her room to lie down. The bed felt a little harder, the room a little bit colder than usual. As she watched the shadows from the blinking lights dance across her ceiling, she stayed perfectly still, eyes fixed and wide open, but her mind was running a marathon. In a circle. To the one thought she kept coming around to, unavoidably, inescapably. She whispered, with phantom tears rolling down her face, “I wish I’d never died.”

  2

  Home for the Holidaze

  My Favorite Things

  Romanticizing the past is the easiest thing to do. Like shopping with a new credit card without a spending limit, we get to choose whatever we like from a lifetime of ups and downs with little consideration for the emotional price tag on the memory. Once our cart is full, however, we need to hea
d to checkout, where the bill will ultimately come due.

  Charlotte was awakened by a full-blown coughing fit.

  “Could I be getting . . . sick?” she wondered as she stared up at the light on the ceiling, unsure what could be happening to her. “Maybe that’s why I was so moody yesterday.”

  She was perplexed. How could she be coughing again, getting sick?

  The light was bright and painful, and it was difficult for her to see anything at all.

  “Ugh. Damn Christmas lights still on?”

  But it wasn’t just the light that was making her uncomfortable. Charlotte’s back was suddenly killing her.

  “The mattress did feel extra firm last night, but this is crazy.”

  She felt around for her nightstand for something familiar to hang on to, to lean on as she stood up, but there was nothing, nothing but tile.

  “I couldn’t have fallen out of bed—I mean, I would have felt that, wouldn’t I?”

  And then she figured it out. She must have been pranked. Payback for all of yesterday’s bitchiness.

  “Okay, you got me. Joke’s on me. I guess I deserved it.”

  She waited a beat or two for someone to pop in through the door, laughing their dead ass off, but there was nothing.

  “Eric? Pam? Cut it out. You win.”

  Charlotte’s nerves began to fray just as her eyes began to clear. There was a light on the ceiling above her that was never there before. And as she rose to a sitting position, she spied a door that was the wrong size and in the wrong place, though not entirely unfamiliar. The door wasn’t the only thing in the wrong place, she thought. She was too. Could she have been given some sort of otherworldly time-out for dissing Christmas?

  Charlotte approached the door tentatively and leaned forward toward the glass. It was dusty and difficult to see through, but she was still able to bring a long empty corridor into focus. A hallway lined with . . . “LOCKERS!”

  “Hawthorne!” Charlotte gasped. “I must be dreaming.” Like one of those I never graduated or I didn’t do my homework or I can’t find my class kinds of nightmares that her perfectionist self suffered from, even in death.

 
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