Eliza: A Ghost Story of Christmas

Eliza never thought she’d have romance at Christmas. Nothing from her twenty-eight years had given her reason to believe otherwise. But still, when she watched those Hallmark Christmas movies, she couldn’t help but wonder if it would someday happen to her…

Snow drifted down outside the office window, making everything look more like a snow globe than a completely ordinary city street. It was mid-afternoon in late November and the sun was already starting to set somewhere beyond the thick blanket of clouds. 

The smell of peppermint and chocolate drifted from a steaming mug on the desk. Eliza sat in her desk chair, wrapped in a fuzzy knit shawl, stirring her hot chocolate unconsciously with a candy cane. It melted slowly, infusing the hot chocolate with a pleasant peppermint flavour. With her other hand she was scrolling through an article she was editing for the magazine. 

It was for the first issue of the new year and needed to be done soon, but Eliza found her eyes wandering to the window. The snow was so pretty, coming down in large fluffy flakes. She allowed herself a moment to imagine she was at a ski chalet in the mountains, surrounded by snow-covered pine trees and never-ending wilderness. 

Just her and peace and quiet. 

A honking car on the street below broke her from her reverie. She checked her watch quickly and flipped the lid of her laptop down. With a sigh and a stretch, she got up from her desk. Leaving her shawl on the back of the chair for tomorrow, she wrapped herself in a red plaid wool peacoat and a red wool scarf to match. She adjusted her scarf so it just about covered her chin—no frostbite for her, thank you very much. 

Outside, the winter wind nipped at her cheeks. In the air around her, the snowflakes twirled on the breeze like tiny ballet dancers. 

Standing just outside her office, Eliza imagined the life that might’ve been if she’d stayed in dance class as her mom had wanted. A life that would’ve involved rehearsal for the Nutcracker, no doubt. For nearly fifteen years, her life was dance shoes and tutus until the competition had become too much and Eliza had her first panic attack. It took another year of therapy to convince her mother she needed to quit dancing. 

In that time, she’d channelled her feelings into writing and found a passion there. Thus, her path changed, and she hung up her pointe shoes and attended a writing program. One undergrad in writing and a Master’s in editing later, she found herself working at this literary magazine. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that. There was hard work and plenty of tears. But that wasn’t a very romantic time of her life, so Eliza liked to simply luxuriate in the present. 

The bustling city didn’t seem very festive on the surface—all hurrying commuters and people trying to get home for dinner, cars honking at each other, and dirty slushy snow piled next to the road. But, Eliza saw things differently. 

She saw the guy selling hotdogs in a Santa hat and the twinkly lights and Christmas trees in the shop windows. Somewhere in the distance, a busker was singing “Last Christmas.” Amongst the snow, it seemed like all was merry and bright. 

Was there any place better to relish in the joy of the present than a bookstore? In Eliza’s opinion, there wasn’t. Luckily, there was one just down the street. In a matter of minutes, she reached Parchment & Ink. 

The bookstore was a quilted blanket found in an antique wooden box in the attic, smelling of years past and untold stories. It was a patchwork of shelving with every genre imaginable stuffed into them. The books overflowed their shelves and piled on the floor in literary stalagmites. Two friendly and fluffy brown tabby cats either weaved their way in and out between customers’ legs or lounged amongst the books watching everyone with keen green eyes. Their names were Viola and Sebastian—after the Shakespeare play. Eliza once thought she’d figured out which cat was which but still found herself mixing up the two. 

It was the only place she felt truly at home outside of her apartment. 

Today, soft jazzy Christmas tunes played from a small speaker near the counter next to a cider-scented candle. Many customers at this time of day were those whose need for books exceeded their need for a meal or the comfort of their own home. Eliza’s kind of people. 

“Hey, Liz!” 

The middle-aged woman behind the counter waved at her enthusiastically before pulling her long black hair into a pony tale. The name tag on her shirt read Cecelia. 

If Eliza imagined “growing up,” she imagined she would be a woman like Cecelia. She didn’t fear age—wouldn’t let anyone in her presence fear it either— and let her streaks of silver hair grow without interference. Cecilia wore vintage band t-shirts and had taught herself how to play guitar after her husband had left her for his assistant. 

“The man is a walking cliché,” she’d explained to Eliza one day after the divorce papers had been signed. “But it’s finally given me the freedom to do things for myself.” 

The one good thing to come out of the divorce was that Cecilia got full control of the bookstore, and it became even more of a haven for writers, artists, and readers alike. 

“Hi, Cecilia, how are you?” Eliza said, dodging past a pre-teen sitting next to a pile of teen fantasy. 

“Oh, same old! Life is good! The books are good!”

Cecilia always seemed to speak in exclamation marks and her vivacious nature always drew people to her. 

“That’s good to hear,” Eliza said with a smile before disappearing into the stacks. “Will you be coming for dinner on Friday?”

“You know it, Lizzie girl!”

This woman was the closest thing Eliza had to a mother, as both of her parents had died in a tragic car accident the day before her twenty-fifth birthday. Cecilia had taken Eliza under her wing and comforted her in her grief. The bookstore had kept her afloat in the ocean of her pain. 

This time of year was always hard, but with Cecilia, the bookstore, and her friends, she got through okay. Even on a good day, she was never one to deprive herself of the company of a new friend. Even if it was only made of paper. 

She wound her way through the labyrinth of bookshelves and around book piles. Her favourite thing about the bookstore was its infinite nature. Logically, there had to be an end, but when she was in the middle of it there didn’t seem to be. 

There were a couple of people traversing the maze, but Eliza didn’t pay them much attention as she scanned the shelves for something in particular. As she grew closer, her fingers brushed against the book spines. Along and along, until… 

Another hand brushed against hers to get at the book she had been just about to grab herself. The hand, which now held the book she desperately wanted, belonged to a person—a man, specifically—wearing a maroon sweater and a charming smile. Waves of black hair fell about his forehead and over his right eye. His eyes were a deep blue-grey, like a November storm, but they sparkled with a certain mischief that softened the effect. He had just the right amount of effortlessly scruffy stubble.

“Sorry, were you after this one?” this stranger asked. 

“Yes, I was, actually.” 

Eliza stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest. She felt oddly possessive of the book, in her bookstore. What right did this roguish charming-looking fellow have to come here and take her books? He was dressed smartly in his sweater and dark grey slacks and looked like he belonged in a store like this, but she’d never seen him before. 

He looked down at the book and Eliza couldn’t help but notice his long black lashes. He smiled to himself as if he was very pleased that it was this particular book that was the cause of their altercation. 

“You have good taste,” he said, looking back at her. “But, I’ll have to offer my sincerest apologies. This seems to be the last copy.” 

“I should say you have good taste, considering the bookstore you chose to pillage.” 

“Pillage?” He said, his lips turning up into a smirk. “Is that what they’re calling lawful transactions of goods for money these days?” 

“It’s what I call taking the last copy.” Without stopping herself, she also blurted out, “In my bookstore.” 

His eyebrows raised. “Your bookstore? Are you the owner?” 

Eliza felt her cheeks turn scarlet as she managed to stammer her way through an explanation. “No, I—uh—just know the owner. She’s like a mother to me.” 

“Yes, of course, ownership by proxy. Though, does that count when you’re not blood-related?” 

“Maybe not,” Eliza admitted, feeling herself deflate. “I guess I’ll have to admit defeat. You did get to it first.”

“You put up an honourable fight,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m Gerard.” 

“Eliza,” she responded, slipping her hand into his. It was warm and strong and somehow comforting. 

“Well, Eliza, maybe I’ll see you here again.” 

There was a hesitation when he let go of her hand, so slight that she thought she might’ve imagined it. She was flustered, grumpy, and didn’t know what to say so she let him go. But, as she walked away she wondered if maybe he had been flirting with her. 

It was prosperous, though. These types of things—meeting a guy in a bookstore—never amounted to anything, only reserved for books and movies, so it wasn’t worth another thought. She regretted losing the book, but there were always more to be had. Goodbye book and goodbye mysterious gentleman. Despite what he said, she doubted she would ever see him again. 

That is until she saw a small wrapped package on her desk the next morning. The paper was a delicate shade of red with a gold shimmering pattern without any tag. 

She looked around as if she could see who might’ve left it on her desk. Of course, not one but her coworkers were around. She made eye contact with one, an older lady by the name of Belinda with a sharp blonde bob and the sharpest eye for grammar Eliza had ever seen. Belinda gave her a knowing look but said nothing. 

There was no help for it, she’d have to unwrap it and hope for a clue inside. Though, that wasn’t necessary. Inside was the book. 

There was a hand-written note inside, as well, tucked in the first pages on a little scrap of paper. It read: The look on your face was too much to bear. Congratulations, you win. 

Eliza frowned and smiled then frowned again. The audacity of this man was something she’d never experienced before because no one in real life would behave like this. She stared down at the note with suspicion as her hands gently caressed her book—returned to her at last. 

Did he have any expectations of her? There was no phone number on the note, so maybe it was just some friendly gesture. Did this type of thing even happen anymore? Or at all? It seemed just as likely as meeting a man in a bookstore. 

This conundrum played around in her mind all day, leaving her distracted and unable to do much of anything besides write mindless drivel. 

When she got out at the end of the day, she couldn’t quite tell if she was surprised or not to see Gerard standing next to the resident coffee stand with two cups in his hands. When he saw her, a smile spread across his face. A dimple appeared in one cheek. It was much too much charm for one man and entirely unfair to be directed at her. 

“I guessed you might like a hot chocolate. I asked for the peppermint kind,” he said as she approached. 

He held it out to her, though she didn’t immediately take it. 

“It’s not poisoned,” he laughed as she took it. “I’m not that much of a sore loser.”

The warmth was nice in her hands and she watched as he took a drink from his cup. “So festive,” he said slowly. 

“What are you doing here?” 

The smile on his face fell just a little bit—clearly, he wasn’t used to women not immediately falling at his feet. 

“What do you—“

“I mean, what do you want from me?” 

He looked taken aback. “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to offend you. I was hoping for nothing more than your company if even only for a brief moment.” 

“You—I—Who talks like that?” Eliza blurted, feeling suddenly flustered. “You can’t be for real.” 

“I assure you, I most certainly am real,” he said, looking as if he was trying not to laugh. “Honestly, Eliza, I could tell you loved that bookstore more than anything and that look on your face when you realized you had lost out on a particular book…” He laughed for a moment. “It’s been a long time since I’ve found anyone as passionate about books as I am. If I was too forward or aggressive, I sincerely apologize.” 

Eliza felt herself relax a little. “I didn’t expect to find that book on my desk this morning.” 

“The owner–Cecilia was her name, wasn’t it?–noticed our conversation. When I told her I felt bad as I was paying, she casually mentioned where you worked. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“I guess you’ll know better now,” Eliza said, finally taking a sip of her hot chocolate. The soft and fresh peppermint tip-toed across her tongue and warmed her heart—just a little.” 

“Oh, I certainly do. Note to self: don’t stalk women you’d like to ask out.” 

They both laughed. Snow began softly falling around them. 

“You want to ask me out?” Eliza asked. She didn’t know whether it was the sparkle in his eyes or just the magic of the season, but she felt her suspicions melt away. She wanted him to ask her out. 

“Very much so.” 

“Would walking me home count?” 

“Definitely not,” he said, standing up straighter. “But, it will give us enough time to decide where we’d like to go.” 

So he walked her back to her apartment building. If Eliza hadn’t been enchanted by him when they first met, she certainly was by the time they made it to her building’s door. The conversation flowed naturally between them as they spoke about their shared love of literature and the city. Gerard laughed easily and Eliza felt as if she could tell him anything. He worked for his father’s company–some fancy finance thing Eliza had almost no interest in–but was waiting for the right moment to take off and make his own way. 

“I love my father and I’m grateful for the opportunities he’s given me, but I can’t stay in his shadow forever. The trouble is, I’m not sure what I’m passionate enough about.”

“Books?” Eliza suggested innocently. This seemed to be a weighty topic and Eliza didn’t want to step too deep where she wasn’t welcome.

“How does one make a living with books?” Gerard posited, shooting her a teasing smile. “I’m not a writer, like you, and I’m not business savvy. Books are a dying business, tragically.” 

Eliza wasn’t completely sure what to say, but Gerard graciously changed topics and they moved on to happier things. As Eliza watched him speak, she noticed a freckle on the left side of his neck just above where his grey woollen scarf was wrapped. She thought to herself–a completely innocent thought, of course–that she’d like to get to know that freckle more intimately.

Just as she was imagining all the ways she might go about it, they arrived at her door. It wasn’t a particularly interesting door, but it was hers nonetheless. 

“This is me,” Eliza said ruefully. If she was being perfectly honest, she enjoyed their time together more than she expected. Something deep inside stirred with something that could be considered, but what was the worst that could happen? 

He looked at her with a look that told her he was feeling vaguely similar. “Can I see you again?” 

Eliza hid her vast relief with a gentle nod. 

After they exchanged phone numbers, they went their separate ways; Eliza into her apartment and Gerard to wherever he had come from… though Eliza found herself very curious. 

She wouldn’t have to wait long, though. Soon enough they were seeing each other almost every day. Gerard planned a romantic date night, but as it was blizzarding they settled for a movie in his townhouse while he cooked dinner. 

He was a fantastic cook and had surprisingly good taste in furniture and movies. At least in Eliza’s humble opinion. 

The two of them were quickly and deeply enamoured with each other. How could they not as they walked hand-in-hand amongst the snow and Christmas lights? They had been doomed the moment they met in the bookstore. 

“Would you like to come with me to my family’s ski chalet for Christmas?” 

They were having a lunch date almost exactly a week before Christmas and Gerard was looking at her with his deep storm-coloured eyes as if there was a chance she’d say no. Honestly, it took Eliza by surprise. They’d been enjoying their time together, but Eliza didn’t imagine that he’d want her to spend Christmas with his family so soon. 

“You don’t need to look so terrified,” Gerard said with a chuckle. “I figured you might want to spend Christmas away from the city for once. Maybe enjoy the peace and quiet in the mountains.” 

She almost laughed, thinking about the daydream she had of a ski chalet on the day she’d met Gerard. Either way, it sounded like perfection. She could almost imagine the snow-capped mountains and the forest as far as the eye could see. Then she imagined Gerard’s parents. From what she heard, they were loving and supportive, but how would they react when their eldest son brought a girl he met less than a month ago to stay with them at Christmas? 

“Are you sure I wouldn’t impose?”

“Of course not!” He reached over the table and clasped her hands in his. “I want you there. At this point, I can’t imagine being there without you.”

“Nobody talks like that,” Eliza said teasingly, squeezing his hands. 

“I do when I’m with you,” Gerard said with a sly grin. 

And that is how Eliza found herself with an arm full of red and white roses as a thank-you gift, standing in front of what amounted to a small mansion perched on the edge of a mountain in the middle of a blizzard. Mere hours before, Eliza had been on the phone with Cecilia, reassuring her that she would be fine leaving the city for the holidays. 

“Are you sure?” Cecilia asked. “You don’t know these people at all.”

“It’ll be alright,” Eliza said, trying not to sound as if she was convincing herself as well. “Gerard has told me over and over they’re excited to have me.”

“If you say so,” Cecelia said, sounding dubious. “I will miss your shortbread cookies, though.”

The winds whipped her hair around her face, despite her knitted hat, and slashed across her face like icy knives. Snow swirled around her like a cyclone of white and flew off the tops of the swaying evergreen trees. She’d never seen so many in her entire life. 

It was intimidating and harsh and beautiful.

The chalet itself was a log cabin expanded to epic proportions. Eliza counted four chimneys, two sun-porches, and a partridge in a pear tree. It was grand and rustic and lavish and cozy. Someone had even hung red and white Christmas lights from all the eves, around all the large windows, and the double door at the front. Two huge wreaths of greenery and red berries were hanging from the doors. 

Even in the cold and snow, which should’ve made her miserable, Eliza could be nothing but impressed. 

“I guess it’s a little…” Gerard started. 


“I was going to say ‘grandiose’.”

Eliza laughed as they joined hands and walked to the door. “That is true, but it’s also elegant and so charming.”

Gerard opened the door for them and led Eliza into a warmth she hadn’t felt in a long time. They walked right into a grand entrance, which looked more like a great room with towering ceilings of exposed wooden beams and golden chandeliers. A huge fir tree decorated with red and gold ornaments stood next to the grand staircase leading off upstairs. As Gerard shut the door, the sound of lashing winds died away and left only the distant ethereal notes of piano Christmas music. The harsh cold and wet smell of the winter night was replaced by the scent of something cooking with onions, rosemary, and sage.

The entire family was waiting in the great room entrance to greet them. They were a row of three–mother, father, and younger brother–wearing matching grey sweaters with ruby-coloured poinsettias on their chests and friendly smiles on their faces. Eliza couldn’t deny she saw the family resemblance; in fact, Gerard looked like a younger version of his father. 

“You made it,” Gerard’s mother said, splitting from the group to come to hug Eliza and her son. “Eliza, we are so happy to have you for Christmas.” 

“Thank you so much for welcoming me. These are for you.” Eliza said, handing the bouquet of red and white roses mixed with bunches of holly branches. In the snowstorm, the roses had been dusted with snow, outlining the red roses with frosty white.

“These are beautiful,” Gerard’s mother said smiling. 

She pulled back for a moment and looked at Eliza as if she were assessing the young woman. It made Eliza’s stomach turn uncomfortably, but it gave her a chance to take in the family. 

Gerard’s mother was a stately woman with her dark salt-and-pepper hair pulled back and piled on top of her head and pinned with glittering snowflakes. It was somehow regal and understated at the same time. She was only slightly taller than Eliza herself but seemed to carry herself with much more grace. Her slender nose was dotted with freckles, and her perfume reminded Eliza of the designer stores she’d only ever walked past in the city. 

His father looked so much like his son, except for a few key features. His hair was streaked with silver and he was clean-shaven, and he wore silver wire-framed glasses. A scar slashed through his right eyebrow, which gave him a somewhat sinister appearance, but his eyes were warm and lacked the mischief of his son’s. 

Gerard’s younger brother, Matthew, looked more like his mother. They had the same sharp sloping nose and striking blue eyes. He was more freckled, which gave him a boyish look. He didn’t look much younger, especially because he was taller than anyone else in the family. Where his family was all dark hair and stately frames, he was light blond and lanky. 

“My name is Marie, please make yourself at home,” Gerard’s mother said warmly before taking Eliza’s arm. “I’ll show you to your room.”

Eliza looked back over her shoulder at Gerard but he was already laughing and hugging his brother and father. She caught the eye of Matthew, who looked at her almost apologetically–as if he knew how it felt to be overwhelmed by a strange environment and a house of strangers. 

“Don’t worry, Lizzie–is it okay if I call you Lizzie?–I’ll have one of the men bring your bags.” 

Marie took her through the chalet. It was bigger than it looked from the outside and there were so many layers of rooms and hallways. Eliza was only able to catch quick glimpses of the rest of the place, but it screamed craftsmanship and detail. She wasn’t sure how, but it looked simultaneously modern but ancient–as if many generations had lived there before. Marie took her past the kitchen and dining room–a huge live-wood table sat in the middle of the room set with five plates–before moving onto a long narrow hallway. One wall was entirely windows, looking out into the stormy winter night, and the other was lined with closed doors. All except for the one at the end. 

On the open door there hung a simple wreath made of red alder berries. Through the door, Eliza could see a large fluffy bed with a red knit blanket and one pillow in the middle. 

It made sense that Eliza would be in her own room, considering she and Gerard hadn’t been seeing each other that long. In the typical fashion of these places, the bedroom was decorated with white walls and light grey furniture. The room itself looked bigger than her entire apartment and the bed especially looked tantalizing. The frame was made out of what looked to be mahogany and, if it wasn’t antique, it was made to look like something out of the 1800s. 

Marie stood at the door and watched Eliza admire the room with her hands clasped in front of her. 

“Do you like the room?”

“Oh yes,” Eliza said, “it’s beautiful. The whole place is beautiful.” 

Gerard’s mother looked pleased. “Wonderful. I do hope you enjoy your stay with us. It’s been too long sing Gerard has brought someone so lovely home for the holidays.”

“Has he brought many?”

Marie waved her hand dismissively. “Please don’t misunderstand me. I only meant you are a refreshing presence and we look forward to including you in tomorrow’s Christmas Eve festivities.”

“Oh yeah,” Eliza said, nodding her head. “Gerard told me you all do so many fun things on Christmas Eve, but he was a little vague on what the activities actually are.”

Marie clapped her hands and grinned. “You will just have to be surprised.” With that, she grabbed the door and began to close it. “I’ll have Gerard bring your bags and dinner will be ready in half an hour. Please make yourself at home.”

Dinner was roast chicken with rosemary, mashed potatoes smothered in butter, and root vegetables. It was simple, as Marie quickly admitted, but it was delicious. 

While Gerard looked most like his dad, his talkative nature he inherited from his mother. They spent most of the meal chatting, asking Eliza questions, and making jokes. Gerard’s father made his opinion known when he needed to, but Matthew looked almost sullen most of the time. Eliza couldn’t pinpoint why, as his mother and brother tried to include him in the conversation. It seemed strange, but perhaps that was just how he behaved around strangers. 

After dinner, Eliza and Gerard cleaned up and washed the dishes. As the evening went on, she felt the tension and pressure of being in a new place and around new people–whom she was trying desperately to impress–ease. 

“Did I do okay?” Eliza asked, drying the last of the glasses.

“Of course. You were fantastic. I’m sorry my mother is so talkative.”

“No, she’s lovely,” Eliza said, feeling her stomach flutter when she saw the smile on Gerard’s face.

She went to bed that night feeling cautiously optimistic about how the next few days would go. Maybe this was something. Eliza closed the door and the quiet set in. There was a sort of comfort to the quiet after such a hectic day of driving and the whirlwind of meeting Gerard’s family. 

But, it was sort of eerie as well. She could hear the wind still whipping by outside the curtained windows. Occasionally, some draft above the ceiling of her room moaned and sounded like the cry of someone in pain. The place certainly didn’t have the feel of somewhere one would see a ghost. At least, that’s what Eliza thought until she saw one. 

Eliza didn’t remember getting into bed and going to sleep, but she must have or she wouldn’t have awoken in bed to a dark room. There was no bedside clock to tell her the time and she didn’t remember where she’d left her phone. But, it was dark. The storm had quieted at some point, but that just left an obtrusive silence in its wake. 

The chalet made no sounds and, despite knowing it was inhabited by four other people, she felt horrifically alone. She didn’t even know where Gerard’s room was. 

Out of the darkness and silence came the softest noise. The hint of a whimper. 

Eliza held her breath for a moment to listen and the unmistakable sound of someone crying could be heard. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t just pull the covers over her head and try to go back to sleep. Instead, she carefully tiptoed out of bed. She felt around in the dark for some form of light and found the bedside lamp. She fumbled in the dark, trying to turn on the lamp but the switch didn’t work.

Though, she did find a metal candle holder with a candle on her bedside table as well. Next to it was a box of matches. After fumbling around, she managed to light one and held it to the candle. With the warm flickering light of the candle, she padded her way to the door. 

She opened it slowly, turning the handle all the way before pulling it open, so it wouldn’t make a sound. The night outside the windows gave no light to the hallway beyond, but Eliza heard the crying more clearly now. 

It was close. Behind one of the other doors. 

Eliza crept along the hallway, trying to be as quiet as possible. She paused at each door for a moment, listening for the sound. 

She tried one of the doors, thinking that may be it. Locked. But the one next door opened. 

Inside was just as dark as the rest of the house but as she stepped forward into the room, her candle illuminated a single figure. 

The room itself was bare except for a layer of dust that had accumulated on the floor. A certain smell of mould and decay lingered in the air. The crying figure was huddled on the floor with its arms wrapped around its legs, in a sitting fetal position. It wore something long and black, which covered most of its body. Spreading out from beneath them, along the floorboards, was this smear of dark red. There was no other sound, except their soft sobs. 

The sobbing stopped. The figure turned its head, revealing the skeletal face of a woman, with the blackened remains of her skin clinging tightly to the bone. Blood-red tears streamed down her sunken cheeks, but there were no eyes in the black holes of her skull. Her stringy dark hair hung about her like a funeral veil.

This woman reached a boney hand towards her, pointing a single finger, and opened her jaw wide. 


The word seemed to come from a place not quite in the room but from the room itself. The sound–dry and cracked like stone dragged across concrete–swallowed her whole and caused her to stumble back into the hall. She dropped the candleholder, which clattered on the ground. Melted wax splattered in a shape, not unlike the bloodstain on the floor. 

The figure began to crawl towards her. Dragging itself along the floor with one hand and reaching out to her with another. Her mouth was agape and her tears dripped onto the floor, leaving little red stains as she went.


Eliza sprinted back to her room, the candle left forgotten on the floor and shut the door behind her. She struggled with the lock but managed to turn it into place. 

Silence had returned. There was no sound of the figure’s boney body dragging itself along the floor. No more words were spoken from some unholy place. But, Eliza was not comforted. 

She stood there in the dark, shaking and trying to breathe again. Her heart continued pounding long after she lay back down, so she stared at the ceiling–despite seeing the gaunt terrible face of the skeletal woman looking back at her. Even behind her eyelids, she saw it. 

She must have fallen asleep again at some point because she opened her eyes again and the yellow-white light of a crisp and clear December morning was streaming in. The outside peered through the gap in the curtains, showing itself to be a snowy wonderland. 

Eliza got up and went to the window and saw what the storm had left behind; glittering snow which covered the trees in heavy duvets of white powder. It looked truly magical. The surface of the snow was so smooth and perfect. In the trees, birds flitted back and forth and beyond lay the sprawling mountainside. 

All of the fright from last night melted away. It must’ve been a dream. The thought gave her some relief, though the dark clouds on the horizon indicated another storm was coming. 

The smell of breakfast lured Eliza from her room, still shy as a guest in a strange home, but she was greeted by four warm smiles. 

“Happy Christmas Eve! How did you sleep, Lizzie?” Marie asked from behind the counter of the kitchen island, where she was monitoring the progress of toast in a toaster. Gerard’s father was cooking eggs and bacon on the stove. 

“I slept well, thank you.”

Matthew turned slightly to look at her from his spot on a bar stool, which was pulled up to the kitchen island. He didn’t say anything but just stared. Eliza tried not to look at him, but she could feel the weight of his gaze on her. 

Gerard came and planted the gentlest kiss on her forehead. “You doing okay?”

Eliza simply smiled up at him and nodded. 

No one mentioned the candle, which hadn’t been on the floor when Eliza walked by. The hallway looked as if nothing had happened last night. Another reason why it must have been a dream. It had to be. 

“Would you like some eggs?”

“Yes, please.”

The day continued in a similar matter, but with all the expected cheer and festive merriment of the holiday. Despite the large and beautifully adorned tree near the front door, the men brought in a smaller fresh tree to be placed by the grand fireplace and decorated.  

“This is where the gifts will be tomorrow morning,” Gerard explained cheerfully as he handed her a glittering silver bauble for the tree. 

Marie drifted back and forth from the tree decorating to the kitchen again to make cookies. Making it all look effortless and keeping the mood cheery. Laughter always filled the room when she was there. 

Despite Eliza’s best efforts, she couldn’t get more than a few words out of Matthew. And, while he seemed cordial enough, Gerard’s father seemed distant too. Eliza figured this was simply because she was somewhat of an interloper in their family traditions. 

She tried to stay happy and accepted the hot chocolates filled with marshmallows shaped like Santa, especially when she saw how happy it made Gerard, but she couldn’t help feeling much like an outsider. Even before she’d lost her parents, they never celebrated quite like this; with the music and the decorations and the constant supply of Christmas cookies. 

After the tree, it was time to make and decorate gingerbread houses. Gerard and Eliza decorated their own smaller cottage, while the three other family members decorated the larger gingerbread mansion. In the typical manner of brothers, it ended up being a bit of a competition. 

As the day grew older, the clouds darkened the world around the chalet. The night seemed to be coming much faster than seemed normal even for a late December day. Stepping away from the warmth and laughter of the family was like being in a different house altogether. 

When Eliza excused herself from the after-lunch game of Christmas charades to use the washroom, the rest of the house felt dim and empty in comparison. It didn’t help that the bathroom was in the windowless interior of the chalet and Eliza couldn’t find the light switch. But, she’d almost made it when she heard a sound which made her blood freeze in her veins: the sound of bone scraping across the floor. 

Eliza couldn’t move, though the sound seemed to be coming from behind her. Her body seemed to move by itself, turning until she was facing the source of the awful scraping sound. 

This time the figure was standing, dragging her bony feet beneath the tattered black robe. Her posture was slouched and crooked like her spine wasn’t quite enough to hold up the rest of her body. The smell of death hit Eliza in a way it hadn’t the night before. She felt stomach bile rise in her throat, but she couldn’t do anything but stare. 

A skeletal hand was reaching towards her once again and her jaw was slack and open, from which a horrible sound was being emitted. 

Before the ghastly figure could reach Eliza, she turned and her wasted hand now pointed at a plain closet door. She shuffled her gaunt body towards the door and, with a final mournful groan, passed through it. 

It wasn’t a dream, after all.

Hesitantly, Eliza opened the door. Behind was only a closet, with nothing but some brooms a mop and cleaning supplies. No ghost. 

But, there had to be something in the closet the ghost wanted her to see. 

The closet was just big enough for one person and she as she took a step in, the floorboard beneath her foot squeaked and shifted. She lifted her foot and the board slipped back into place. It might’ve just been a loose floorboard–simply a coincidence–or it was a clue. 

She knelt and jiggled the board until it lifted. The black chasm beneath frightened her more than she would’ve thought possible. How could this exist under the chalet? Why might’ve been a more appropriate question. 

A gaunt hand reached out of the darkness, sending Eliza falling backwards. It grasped at the air before falling forward, and the fingers dragged along the floor before it disappeared back into the hole. Cautiously, Eliza crept forward and peered down into the hole. It didn’t take much looking to find what the spectre has wanted her to see. 

Even in the darkness, she could see the bones piled as if it was nothing but rubbish.  

Again, Eliza stumbled back, hands grasping at whatever they could find to stabilize her. There was nothing but a smooth hardwood floor. At once she was simultaneously breathing too hard and not at all. Her heart pounded out of her chest as she tried to stand, though her legs trembled. She had to get out. 

She pulled herself up off the floor, thinking only one thing: run. Her mind swirled and tilted like a carnival ride, leaving her unable to navigate through the maze of halls. One hand she kept firmly planted on the wall as if the touch of something solid would stabilize her long enough to find the way out. 

“Eliza? What’s wrong?” 

It was Gerard’s voice. It should’ve been a beacon of light in the dark, but what if… 

She’d stumbled her way back into the room where the family had been playing Christmas charades. They all stared at her now, their faces white and knowing. 

She couldn’t speak as she continued her mad rush to escape. 

Somehow she navigated herself to the front door and wrenched it open. The freezing air caught her and pulled her forward. The storm had come again, closing the space around the chalet to nothing but a violent snow globe. It was an escape, but only from those inside. She was trapped by the treacherous mountainside and the vortex of snow. 

She could hardly feel the cold as she trudged forward toward the forest that surrounded the chalet. The snow was almost up to her knees, but nothing but a literal wall of ice would have stopped her. When she hit the line of trees, she felt a moment of comfort, but it passed as quickly as it had come.

Voices called out from the open door. Spots of forest were suddenly illuminated by flashlights. They were trying to find her. But, Eliza would not be found if she could help it. On shaking legs, she moved deeper into the forest. Her eyes searched for somewhere to hide, but it was almost impossible to see through the snow and the approaching darkness. She had to do something. 

Farther and farther she went, though she couldn’t be sure how far she was going. She broke through the trees into something of a meadow. The wind calmed for a moment, making it easier to see. 

Eliza braced herself on the trunk of a tree to keep from completely collapsing, as she brought air into her lungs as fast as she could. 

The voices seemed a little closer and light bounced around amongst the trees. For a moment, the light hit something that wasn’t a tree. In the near darkness and snow, it was hard to make out, but it was indeed the shape of a person standing at the edge of the trees. A light passed over the shape again, enough to confirm the squared shoulders and towering form. In their hands, a knife glinted.

Despite the spots in her vision, Eliza scrambled backwards, merely falling into the snow. 

The shouts grew quiet and she could hear the distinct sound of crunching snow as the shadow stalked toward her. A single scream echoed through the trees, but was quickly swallowed by the wind and went unheard by any living soul. 

Meditating My Way Out of Comparison

People compare themselves to each other. I don’t know if it’s an evolutionary thing or something we’ve conditioned ourselves to do over the course of thousands of years. But, it’s something we do.

It’s not inherently a bad thing, as it helps us learn where we need to improve ourselves. If we see Bob building a better fire than us to cook his meal, then it makes sense we’d want to try to be more like Bob. It enables growth and an understanding of where we’ve come from and where we’d like to go.

But it’s a double-edged sword, and it’s easy to fall into the loop of discouraging yourself: “I’ll never be as good at that,” “I’ll never be able to do that,” etc., etc. If you can break yourself out of the cycle of discouragement and see it as another avenue of determination (ie, “How do I get to their level?”) then you can turn the sword on its head.

This negative loop is powerful though, and it’s been used against us in many ways.

For example, women face this every day as this comparison cycle is used as a way to market products of all shapes and sizes–without them, obviously, we will never be as attractive or successful or anything.

This negative loop, though, gets me every time and I have yet to find a way to break out of it while it’s happening. And, honestly, I’m tired of it.

Recently, I went through a short but intense period of imposter syndrome. My fellow writers will know the term as it’s a widely talked about phenomenon.

If you don’t know, it’s the feeling of being an imposter and not believing that you are qualified or have the skills to be where you are. You spend your time waiting for someone to call you out as the phony you feel you are.

The feeling can apply to anything.

But, I was feeling particularly bad about my writing career and the fact that I seemed to be surrounded by amazingly talented people, all of whom seemed to have books coming out this year or next. Instead of feeling inspired and happy that I was amongst great talent, I got into the comparison cycle of doom.

There was nothing I could do. Literally. I couldn’t write about it, I couldn’t work on my own book, I was paralyzed by these feelings of inadequacy.

That’s when I realized I had to do something to mitigate these feelings as they come up.

Well, maybe not the feelings, but the endless cycle of negative feedback that runs through my head as it’s happening.

I get so caught up in the negative thoughts fueled by anxiety, which in turn fuels the feelings of doubt and failure and turns it into a self-sustaining cycle, that I can’t seem to escape the loop.

This is where mindfulness and meditation comes in.

Meditation is a useful tool for learning and recognizing your thought patterns. Despite popular belief, it’s not really meant to quiet your mind or make your mind go blank. Instead, you are meant to be an observer of your thoughts and–with a focus on your breath–you let them drift away like clouds.

Through meditation, you can learn to be mindful of your thoughts and catch them as they arise.

Instead of falling victim to the thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough, or I’m never going to be a writer, or that everyone is so much more talented and amazing than I am, I can take back control and recognize that these are merely thoughts. I don’t need to internalize them, I don’t need to acknowledge them. I can engage and refute them or, better yet, I can just let them go.

But, unfortunately, I’m not there yet.

I’ve tried meditation in the past, many many times, and I can’t seem to stick to a good routine. It’s not for lack of trying or desire, but something just hasn’t stuck. I try these mediation challenges and I can keep it up for a time, but it always seems to slip.

I think this most recent hurricane of imposter syndrome and anxiety, though, is enough to make me want to build a solid routine.

So that’s what I plan to do for myself: A proper meditation schedule that will help me be more mindful of the negative thoughts as they crop up.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back here in a few months and write about what I’ve learned during this process.

Let’s Kill “Cringe”

I’ve always been kind of “nerdy,” whether it was video games, anime/manga, conventions, fantasy books of all kinds, fanfiction (ask me about my hand-drawn self-insert manga fanfic I started writing as a teen), fantasy role-playing in online forums, sci-fi shows and movies like Firefly and Star Wars, or even 1970s animated Lord of the Rings movies. I was into it all.

I still am, though my nerdiness has branched out into history, historical fashion, folklore, and storytelling. I don’t watch as much anime as I used to and I’ve realized I enjoy slower-paced video games and playing video games online in crazy fighting scenarios stresses me out. But, I digress. Basically, I’m passionate about what would be considered nerdy things.

Luckily, I never really felt like I had to hide that side of my personality.

My friends growing up were all kind of into the same things, so we never pressured each other to hide our nerdy natures. And in high school, my brand of “not like other girls” was the gamer/emo/nerd girl.

From my perspective, what was “cringe” wasn’t necessarily the same as the general “not nerdy” population. But, I definitely thought that being into Jersey Shore and pop music and Hollister was “cringe.”

That is until I grew up and realized everyone has their stuff. And I found I didn’t need to secretly act superior about what I liked or didn’t like. We are all passionate about different things and being “cringe” is a big lie.

And that’s why it needs to die. (oh wow that rhymed, beautiful)

According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of cringe is:

When someone acts/ or is so embarrassing or awkward , it makes you feel extemely ashamed and/or embarrassed.

This term is often used to describe people who are unabashedly into anything, nerdy or not. If you like something without inhibitions, you are “cringe.” But, I’m here to say that cringe culture needs to be put to death.

Let me ask one thing:

Why do you care so much about what someone else is interested in?

Imagine how much time and energy we could save if we just focused on our own lives. When we hide behind screens and act as if the joy of others affects us in any way, we waste so much of our lives. Imagine how much happier we could be.

Basically, cringe culture is just high school-style bullying for adults.

Aren’t we tired of trying to fit in? Aren’t we tired of all having to be the same? Aren’t we tired of having to pretend we don’t actually care?

Let’s just accept that everyone is a weirdo and we should let our freak flags wave as high as we want them.

Cringe culture is also kind of ableist because neurodivergent people often get ostracized from social groups for expressing their excitement and passions in ways that don’t necessarily conform to neurotypical ideals.

Even in my experience, as someone who is neurotypical, I found I could be myself in online spaces more than I could be in social settings in my real life. So, that’s where I went. But now, even those spaces seem invaded by people who want to police how we express ourselves.

Cringe culture even dictates how authors can or can’t market their books.

How ridiculous is that?

Honestly, joy and passion are so much better than apathy and sameness!

Not much spreads and expands faster than joy. When we share our joy with others, it brings joy to them and encourages them in turn to share their joy. Unless your joy is something murder-y or problematic, there is nothing wrong with sharing your joy.

We need more joy in this world. So let’s do away with cringe culture and embrace our personal brands of nerdiness!

I’m going to go paint some D&D miniatures… you do you.

Silent Night

Winter remembered death well. How it took to her like a charming suitor, resplendent in his black suit and tie—haunting eyes and all. The memory held shape in the dunes that formed of snow, in the bite of frost on cheeks, in the mournful paw prints wandering through barren forests. Death came in winter. So did the dead. 

But no one at the party was thinking about death or the dead. Why would they? They were all very much alive and well—for the most part. 

No one in the shining hall, with the sparkling fur tree, the smell of frosted cakes and lush fruit pies and rich wine, and the floating music from a string quartette, could imagine anything but being joyful and drunk on their fortune and wellbeing. Fore isn’t that what this time of year is all about? 

There was dancing. So much dancing. It was almost surprising, given the amount of food and drink being consumed by the guests. It truly was a wonder how anyone could move—or stay upright—but move they did. 

Oh, how they twinkled and sparked in their Christmasy best; like pieces of wrapping paper blown by the wind. How could any of them think go anything except the wonder of the lights and merriment around them? 

Outside the towering windows of the grand hall, snow was falling like cotton balls. The air was still and quiet, in the way it only can be when it’s snowing. The world seemed to glow under the brief light of the moon as it managed to peek through a sliver in the clouds. A silent raven flew across the inky sky as the clouds covered the shining crescent and snuffed out the glow. The raven let out one mournful croak before moving on.

It was indeed the darkest night of the year and the raven was not the most ominous creature about. 

But, who would know when the intoxicating aroma of balsam and cinnamon and citrus swirled in the air and filled the hall like decorations. Like glittering tinsel, they clung to every surface. 

Amongst the wonderful smells, the dancers kept dancing as if it was the one night of the year for it and the revelers kept reveling. All perfectly unaware of anything besides the fantastical party. As long as there was music, food, and lots of drink there was nothing at all to worry them. 

In a quiet corner, where no one had been for at least ten minutes and which would remain empty for at least ten minutes more, a securely fastened branch of greenery fluttered in a nonexistent breeze. In fact, it looked just about ready to come off its hooks, but a blink later it was still again. Not one person noticed the unnatural movement. 

If someone had observed the movement, they might’ve also perceived the shadowy figure drifting along the fringes of the merrymaking. Though, as soon as anyone could have beheld the figure, it was gone. Flickering in and out of existence like a firefly in the darkness. But the golden shimmering of scarlet and silver blinded the party-goers to just about everything but their own cheer. 

Now, old houses such as this one are apt to be full of hauntings and paranormal happenings, but this one seemed fouler than most. 

What made it fouler, I cannot tell. Maybe it was the fleeting sense of dread that suddenly filled the hearts of the dancers. Maybe it was black wax from an unknown candle dripped on brand new linens. Maybe it was the melancholic howl of some faraway hound—marking the commencement of a wild hunt; spirits abound and beasts chasing. 

The hunters gathered amongst the winter dunes, prepared for their prey which lay in wait unwittingly. Their laughter and boasting were lost on the wind, only to be heard by those quiet enough to hear. Fortunately, no one was near enough or quiet enough. 

The wind now began to howl with the dogs, beating unheard against the window of that old house—an unheeded warning. A desperate wail like the cry of a banshee. 

But the party went on. 

Above the house, a barn owl—white as the snow—took flight like a ghost, crying one last time before the last sparkling lights in the night were swallowed by darkness. Its unseen wings beat on, away from it all. 

In the great hall, with the twinkling candles and overflowing array of sweets and treats, the clock struck one but the dancers kept dancing. Around them, the candles began to flicker out one by one, as if blown out by an unseen breath. The light in the hall dimmed, but laughter and merriment echoed throughout until the last light flickered and was extinguished. 

The dancing stopped. The music stopped. The laughter stopped. Along with the chatting and snacking and singing. It all stopped. 

Like it had never been there at all. 

A handful of churchgoers, having just finished a midnight mass to celebrate the day, bracing themselves against the mid-winter wind with scarves and wool, tromped through the snow past the old house with its darkened windows. Their playful joking quieted as they went by, not wanting to disturb or even look at the house—sleeping as it always did, somewhat restlessly. 

“I don’t like going past that place even in the daylight,” one whispered to the other. 

“When we were coming out, I swear I could hear music in the distance.”

They both shivered and hurried on. 

And above the clouds broke, letting the moon shine once again through to the silvery world below. The house stood, keeping solemn watch, empty and alone. Whatever had walked there had passed on into the silent night. 

So much for summer love: Flash Fiction

“Are you sure?” he whispered against the skin of my neck. 

I’d never been more sure of anything. Even if this was my first time. 

“Have you ever—?” 

He shook his head. “Never.”

Our love story occurred in memories; in moments that slipped through my fingers like the sand. 

…It was the swirling air; 

…the salty kisses waist deep in the ocean; 

…glasses of wine snuck from my parents’ basement;

…his fingers tangled in my hair;

…my hands brushing the skin of his sun-kissed back. 

That skin, smooth and tanned, I wish I could leave some sort of mark—to prove I’d been here. I’d loved him. Sometimes I pretended I could. While he read a book in the sand, my fingers would trace my name over his shoulder blades. 

The imaginary lines existed only in my mind. His skin, much like his life, remained untouched by me. 

Meet me behind the mall.

September arrived in name only, as if August might’ve stayed if it held on long enough—if we had held on. If I had held on. 

But I was living in hope. For the hope. 

I kept my phone on late at night, next to the pile of homework that always formed when we went back to school. 

The silence was deafening. His silence, or mine, I couldn’t tell. There were so many times I wanted to pick up the phone and call. But, maybe the wanting was enough. Perhaps this summer was enough. 

This story was inspired by Taylor Swift’s song August! Thanks for reading!

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“Three words, large enough to tip the world. I remember you.”

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Goodreads | Amazon | Indigo

I wanted to like this book so badly and I quite enjoyed the first half. But, unfortunately I can’t join the hype train; as much as I wanted to be one of the ones to be yelling about how amazing this book is. And that’s the worst part. I was so excited about this book.

The premise was solid and Addie was an interesting enough character. The writing was beautiful and lyrical, though considerably repetitive, and I was interested to see what Addie would make of her life when she couldn’t be remembered. But, as I got farther in, the story faltered for me.

Around the half-way mark, little things started to turn me off from the story and from the characters. Two things happened which majorly quenched my enthusiasm for the book:

1) Addie LaRue has anti-feminine sentiments for no reason.

Page 157 from the book with a highlighted line that reads: "even cinched herself into a corset despite her loathing of bone stays."

For most of the book, she’s been this free-spirited, old God worshipping lady, who wants to subvert societal expectations because she wants to fully experience life. And she also hates corsets…

As someone who went through a “I’m not like other girls” phase and rejected all things feminine for a large chunk of my adolescence and who’s now worked through her internal misogyny to reclaim her more “girly” side with pride and power, it’s disheartening to see time and time again this rejection of anything feminine by female characters. On top of that, it’s not historically accurate.

Corsets were not these torture devises meant to keep women from breathing properly or damage their internal organs. No. They provided breast support while also supporting the spine and providing the wearer with the most fashionable silhouette without much effort. Now women go on diets to try and fit the most fashionable size.

But I digress… that’s another tangent for another day.

Addie’s personality flattened as the book continued on. It seemed her only personality traits were being alluring and pretty. And don’t forget the freckles.

I guess when you live for three-hundred years with the shallowest human contact, you don’t really need to have a personality. Or maybe everything about Addie’s personality was brushed over so she could be swept away by Luc every scene she wasn’t with Henry. But, it became increasingly tedious to read.

2) Henry is so boring

Henry, our love interest, is part of the great premise of the book. He remembers Addie. When he was first introduced I was so excited. But, then we got his backstory and a whole section of just him and I completely lost interest.

At first, he’s introduced as this sensitive character, and as a highly sensitive person myself I was all for it. But, I quickly came to realize that he doesn’t actually have a personality either. Depression and anxiety clearly play a role, but it’s hard to read a character who doesn’t want anything or doesn’t seem to do anything but sulk. His self-pitying lack of personality made him an almost non-character. I didn’t see the point of him besides being a foil to Addie.

Reading his chapters was a struggle because there was nothing in his character that made me want to root for him. He lives a life where nothing quite works out for him and people are disappointed him and his girlfriend of two years doesn’t want to marry him. But, all he did was obsess that he wasn’t good enough. His personality doesn’t seem to exist outside of when he meets Addie and they fall in love (instantly if I might add).

Other than those two things, the second half of the book began to drag. As I mentioned before, the writing is so repetitive at times that I wanted to pull my hair out. If I read that Addie has seven freckles spread across her cheeks or about Henry’s black curls one more time… The pretty writing couldn’t save itself from itself.

As we continue to watch Addie’s life in the past and present, we don’t see Addie doing anything. She’s been granted the ability to see the world and all we see is Addie doing basically nothing. There’s so much history in the last 300 years, which Addie could be a fly on the wall to, but Schwab continues to show us small snippets of Addie’s non-existence in France. There’s so much wasted potential and that’s one of my top book pet-peeves.

So much of this book felt painted on or contrived. From Addie’s extremely basic personality, to how she can seduce anyone she wants and everyone seems to want her–even a darkness god thing wants her. The romance between her and Henry was contrived and purely based on how he can remember her and how she’s… pretty? But, of course that connected to [spoilers].

To be fair, the ending was nice. It wasn’t really enough to salvage the entire book, but it redeemed Henry for me a little–though, it did almost the exact opposite for me with Addie. But, I think it was a decent enough ending considering everything that had led up to it.

If instant love and pretty writing do it for you, then you’d probably like this book. But, I’m over it.

Things I’ve Learned in 2020

It’s December 28th and I cannot believe that the end of this godforsaken year is in sight. What a trash fire it’s been. While I’ve been financially privileged enough that I didn’t have to worry too much about whether I could afford to have a roof over my head or food to eat–thank god. But, as with many people, I had my fair share of suffering this year.

It’s also been a year of lessons. I’ve learned so many things about myself and about the world around me I probably couldn’t quantify it all or coherently write it in less than a million words. Still, I’m going to share a handful of what I’ve learned this year.

Warning: I may start ranting a little. And of course, these are my opinions based on my own point of view and understanding… please don’t yell at me if you disagree.

Education is more important than ever

This was the year I discovered that we are living in a “post-truth era,” which basically means that shared standards for objective truths no longer exist. This type of philosophy has gained a tight grip on society with the emergence of emotional-based politics, which uses strong feelings of hatred, pride, and fear to spur on its followers.

Obviously this isn’t something that is unique to this particular year, but this year is when I learned the name and it seemed to come into very harsh focus.

Personal beliefs and individual convenience took precedence over science and health care. Suddenly expert researched topics on the virus and its subsequent vaccine were up to debate by people who had no proper or formal education in the field or had done even a sliver of actual research. Opinions are taken as fact, conspiracy theories that prey on feelings of vulnerability and fear run rampant, and armchair experts preach their doctrines via Youtube or any other social media platforms.

I’ve always been into the idea of education for all. I see it as a right. And I think it’s more important than ever that everyone receives proper and well-rounded education. Of course, this also means that many education systems and curriculums, especially in the Western world, need an overhaul to make them more inclusive of non-white histories and perspectives. But, I think the place to start is making it accessible and affordable to everyone at all walks of life.

It is just one drop in the big pond of problems. But with more individuals taught how to think critically and do their own research into topics that interest them, we might see a decrease in people being manipulated by conspiracy theories.

Individual freedom and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive

If I had a quarter for every time I saw or heard someone going off about their “individual rights and freedoms” I’d have so many quarters. What makes me laugh, in the most bitter and pathetic way, is that these people have replaced “individual freedoms” with some horrifically mutant libertarian philosophy where selfishness is the highest ideal and tough to anyone else.

Humans are social beings instinctually–always have been. We (the human race) has worked together for hundreds of thousands of years to create the world we live in today. It hasn’t been perfect, but the things we’ve accomplished are sometimes downright miraculous. When you are born into humanity, there’s an unwritten contract that you are now part of a community with certain rules (ie. don’t kill your neighbour just because you feel like it) and a sense of social responsibility. You take care of others and others will take care of you.

But, recently, in the face of some somewhat minor inconveniences (like not being able to get BBQ the exact time you want it or not being able to go window shopping at the mall or wearing a cloth mask) the idea of social responsibility goes out the window. Potentially keeping loved ones or even just strangers on the street safe by doing or not doing one thing is too much for some people.

In the face of lockdowns, which would massively decrease the spread of the virus, people start shouting about freedoms and dictatorships–as if these North American white people have ever experienced a real tyrannical dictator. It didn’t matter that hundreds of thousands of people would die (more so than other horrific tragedies like 9/11), because the government is telling people to stay home they’re pissed.

Of course, everyone thinks they’re the exception to the rule. Bob down the street might die from COVID but they personally won’t–but only in the imagined fantasy of their minds. A family may think that they’ve been careful for so long, nothing will happen if they break the rules. But, that’s not how the virus works. The virus is not an emotional being, it doesn’t know that you’ve been following protocols for months and only wanted one day to act “normal” or whatever. The virus doesn’t care and will infect you anyway.

This is where the idea of social responsibility comes in. If we ALL work together, and put our individual wants aside, we can make sure that many more people survive.

There is no normal to go back to

I wish politicians would stop saying that once the pandemic is over things will “go back to normal.” After a year like this, there is no normal to go back to. There is only a new normal we can create.

Do we really want to go back to a world where frontline healthcare and retail workers are vastly underpaid and overworked? Where LTC and retirement homes lack proper funding and safety inspections? Where socio-economic divisions exclude marginalized communities from access to healthcare? Where peoples’ productivity is more important than their health and they can’t afford to take time off anyway? Where people are one paycheque away from homelessness?

The pandemic shone a light on all the deep and long-ignored cracks in our society. So, why go back when we can go forward and do better for ourselves and for our communities?

The normal of 2019 only worked for those who had the privilege to ignore these glaring issues. The normal of 2019 had the Ontario government scaling back LCT inspections and cutting funding to healthcare and education.

COVID isn’t going to be eradicated any time soon, so that’s another thing we will need to move forward to deal with.

I’d rather not move backwards, but continue on forwards in a direction where vast improvements can be made to society to benefit those who need it most.

Now for some more lighthearted content. Since it’s the end of the year, I figured I’d share some of my favourite things from 2020! These are not necessarily things from 2020, but what I discovered this year or really appreciated.


  • The Seven 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
  • American Primitive by Mary Oliver (poetry)


  • Little Women (2019/Greta Gerwig)
  • Soul (Pixar)
  • Hamilton


  • Great Canadian Baking Show/Great British Bake Off
  • Modern Family
  • Hannibal

*Shout out goes to Taylor Swift for 2 amazing albums this year and to Animal Crossing for keeping me zen!

I’ve decided to forego any talk of accomplishments or major goals because I feel like simply getting through the year was accomplishment enough. And I’m not going to jinx it by making any statements about what I’m going to do in the new year… just in case.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday and continue to stay safe and well into the new year.

All You Within This Place: A Ghost Story for Christmas

Part 1

It was December the 24th—Christmas Eve—and at Buckmere Hall, the party was raging; well, as much as a well-conducted group of highly educated people could rage. In fact, the Christmas Eve party at Buckmere Hall was always the event of the year. Every person who had the distinct pleasure of being invited knew they had been smiled upon by some act of good fortune. 

This year’s party was said to be the best one in ages—though, past guests still spoke in awed tones of the 1997 party, which was said to have been the greatest ever. If you asked anyone who’d actually been there, each told a wildly different story. Some even spoke of a live elephant and an incident involving peacocks, a punch bowl, and a pack of cocker spaniels. 

This year, all gold and red and silver and crimson and evergreen was the dazzling hall on that night before Christmas. The lights were dimmed to let the thousand white and red wax candles shine with flickering warm light. An absolutely gigantic fur tree stood in the middle of the room adorned with little metal bobbles, in every colour imaginable, red and gold ribbons, and pine cones and bright candy canes. It all had the effect of some long-ago Christmas—lost to time except in the hearts and dreams of the party-goers. 

It would’ve been an immensely splendid way to spend the evening, especially on a cold, softly snowing, winter’s night, if not for the ghost. 

Of course, the spectre went unnoticed for some time amongst the revelry, feasting, chatter, and dancing. But as the evening wore on, it was undeniable. There was a presence—of the unloving sort. It was abundantly obvious to five such partygoers and they were as follows: 

First, was Jamie Winthrop, a university professor well recognized in his field, who taught classics to gaggles of twenty-somethings for days on end for not enough money. Thus, he felt older—much older, in fact—than he really was. This night, though, he was starting to feel more like himself again. There was nothing like Christmas to wash away all the grime and wear from the previous year. He wore his finest tweed jacket with a festive tie, though amongst the proper suits, he felt significantly under-dressed. 

Second, was the award-winning author, Emelia Pevensie, who hadn’t originally thought she would be able to attend the party—though it was her first time being invited. Instead, she thought her schedule would have her overseas, promoting a new book. However, she found herself at a party on Christmas Eve where everyone knew her and she knew almost no one. Fortunately, she did enjoy any excuse to dress up; and this time she outdid herself, with a surprisingly stunning golden number. She could feel everyone looking at her as she swept around the room, but at least this time she wanted them to look. 

Thirdly, was Dr. Patricia Ferguson, a brain surgeon at a prestigious hospital in the city. She had removed a benign tumour from the head of Lord Buckmere some years ago, thus earning her a permanent spot on the guest list. A kind and soft-spoken woman, she appreciated the gesture, though she wasn’t much of a “party person”; she would rather be at home with a good book. But, she did enjoy the Christmas shindig and always arrived with bells on. 

Our fourth individual was the old Madame Le Pouf—not too old, though, thank you very much. If you were part of the circle which attended these parties, you certainly knew Madame Le Pouf. This wasn’t her real name, of course, but her stage name—known in all corners of the world, at least by civilized folk. She considered herself the best opera singer of the century, and there were plenty who agreed with her. This year, she had decked herself out in furs and jewels—to the disapproval of many animal-friendly party attendees—but she only saw the looks of awe she received from her fans. Her silver hair was decorated with pearls and diamonds, giving her the appearance of royalty. 

Last of all, was Timothy Cowell, someone who was considered a brilliant lawyer by many—including a large number of those in attendance. He had just finished a high-profile trial in the city, which had left him in need of a release—in the form of a drink. And release he did, with many full glasses of whisky. This left him looking rather dishevelled amongst the well-kept and tidy individuals which filled Buckmere Hall, but those who knew the details of his case didn’t hold his appearance against him. 

Thus are the five key players in this haunted tale. None of them knew each other, nor were connected in any way, except the fact they had all been invited to this party. But, why were they being haunted? Perhaps we will find out. 

For now, enjoy the string quartet playing a jaunty tune for the season, and the people dancing about the Christmas tree, and the joyful chatter which can only be heard this time of year. 

Part 2

Jamie Winthrop picked at a plate of hors d’oeuvres by himself near a surprisingly festive wall. He’d barely managed to fit himself in among the boughs of holly. As much as he liked the people here just fine, he didn’t particularly feel like talking trade just now—though these talks usually contained interesting discussions on the topic of his latest paper. Despite the cozy atmosphere and him feeling more like himself, he still felt burnt out by it all, especially since  

“Winthrop, I saw you standing here all by your lonesome and I thought you needed a refill.” The man who spoke was a former colleague—recently retired to travel the world. In his hands were two glasses of something dark and red. The Buckmeres were well known for their wine. 

“Thanks, Williams,” Jamie said as he took one of the glasses and a generous sip. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he was so used to calling the man Williams, he’d forgotten the man’s first name. 

“You look a little exhausted,” Williams said as he assumed a place on the wall beside Jamie, not bothered by the garlands and tinsel. “Everything still going well at the school? It’s not too early to retire, you know.” He was always touting the benefits of retirement and somehow managed to slip it into every conversation he had. 

“It’s been a rough month, but I’m doing okay,” Jamie responded as politely as he could, though one month was a bit of an understatement. “The winter break will do me some…”

That’s when he noticed her; across the room, walking through the crowd with a flute of champagne—much more sophisticated than the beer she usually drank. There was no denying it; he could recognize the curve of her back from a mile away. She turned and there was no mistaking those lips. But, there was absolutely no way she could be here at this party with these people. How could he see her as if she was truly there? 

The sweep of her royal blue gown; the twinkle of the silver starts adorned her dark brown curls. It was all real. The way she smiled as she spotted him across the room was exactly the way she always did. But, just as she took a step towards Jamie, she disappeared, again. 

“Are you sure you’re okay, Winthrop?” Williams asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

“I’m not completely sure I haven’t,” Jamie replied as he put his plate down on a side table beside him and ran a hand over his face. The words felt strange coming out of his mouth because he’d never been one to believe in anything paranormal. 

“Well,” Williams started, unfazed by Jamie’s honesty, “you know, houses like these always have a few ghosts running around.” 

Jamie doubted any spirits around here would take that form, except to specifically torture him. It had to be a trick of the light or he’d drunk too much wine. But, he felt pins and needles up and down his arms. Perhaps a reaction to seeing something not wholly natural. 

He excused himself from the conversation with Williams—whatever his damn name was—and retreated into the hallway, where it was quiet and cool. He could collect his thoughts and maybe sober up a little. The hallway was mostly dark, though a small beam of light leaked from beneath the door to the ballroom. 

“It was just ‘an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato,” he quoted to himself quietly.

But, to be completely honest, he didn’t feel overly drunk. He considered for a moment of walking outside to stand ankle-deep in the snow to clear his head, but it was much too late for any of that. 

The temperature around him began to plummet as if someone had opened a window into the winter’s night. He felt his ears pop as the pressure shifted and closed his eyes almost instinctively. When he opened them again, he sorely wished he had kept them closed. 

A women’s face peered at him out of the darkness of the hallway—the woman. Though, how could anyone see with no eyes? James stared right into the gaping black holes where her eyes should have been and felt himself unable to move or scream. 

He heard her voice, though her mouth remained partially open as if her jaw no longer could hold itself closed: 

The time has come, Jamie, she said—sounding somehow simultaneously far away and nearby—for you to finally be honest. You cannot hide your sins any longer. 

“Who are you, spirit?” he heard himself asking. “Why do you take that form and how do you know me?” 

She didn’t react. Her bone-white face continued to stare at him without eyes. If he had the ability, Jamie would’ve screamed until his throat bled. But, the voice continued. 

Tell the truth, Jamie Winthrop, or else.

“What will happen?” he questioned timidly. He trembled quietly, unable to take his eyes off the yawning holes in her skull. 

He knew exactly what this was about—why the spirit wanted him to be honest. It was the reason he’d been so burnt out; the reason he needed this break. The spectre—however ghastly—had taken the form of one of his students. 

It had all been his responsibility—his fault—he knew, as he should have said no from the beginning. She was all charm and sparkling eyes full of passion and he hadn’t wanted to say no—not at the time. So he did what so many men had done before him and will continue to do after: he cheated on his spouse with someone half his age. She was barely twenty, in fact. 

He’d heard of the affairs of others, how could he not? He had rolled his eyes at the stupidity of it all. How could they be so dense? How could they succumb to their basest natures? But, face-to-face with his own torrid affair, he understood what it was like to be the cliché. 

Over and over he told himself he would end it, every time she left his bed that it was the last time, and over and over he didn’t. Her beguiling ways had a firm hold on him—though that was placing too much blame on her. In his most honest moments with himself, he admitted how much he enjoyed her youthful exuberance and he liked being with a woman. 

Jamie’s husband was the dearest soul in the world, there was no question. He loved his husband with all his heart. Trying to compare his feelings was like trying to compare apples and oranges. But, there was something about her which drew him in, in ways he’d never felt before. 

He finally came to his senses, though, after months of secrets and tiptoeing. Like all things of this kind, ending the affair didn’t go well. She accused him of using her and promised to tell everyone of their affair—ruin his life by ending his job and his marriage in one fell swoop. He managed to talk her down somehow, by promising her better grades, letters of recommendation, anything he could offer. She accepted then, but he knew it was only a matter of time before she came forward. So, he drafted a letter of resignation, which now sat in a drawer in his desk, for when he finally had the nerve to send it. 

You tell them. Tell them all. Or I will. 

With a sneer painted across its face, the ghost looked more sinister. The more Jamie looked—though, he didn’t have much choice—the less it looked like her. The face was shifting and changing into something unrecognizable, distorted, and mutilated. 

He thought of his husband then, who would be at his mum’s like they agreed when Jamie received an invitation to the party. Suddenly there was no place Jamie would rather be, even if it meant losing everything. He couldn’t break Evan’s heart, but he knew he must. There was no escaping it, just as there was no escaping the gaping black gaze of the spirit, whose last semblance of humanity had melted away and was replaced by something Jamie couldn’t begin to describe. 

It rushed at him then, cavernous eyeholes and all, and sent him falling onto the floor with a cry. He hit the back of his head against the wall behind him with a sickening thump. When he looked up to face his doom, there was nothing but an empty hallway. 

The ghost was gone. It had given him his ultimatum, and it was up to him to see it through. 

Jamie sighed and leaned back against the wall, and reassured himself he wasn’t having a heart attack—which he most certainly wasn’t. Eventually, his breathing slowed and his heartbeat stopped pounding in his ears like an ominous drum. He was finally able to stand, though his head throbbed where it made contact with the wall—the wall itself didn’t feel a thing. 

Just as he was starting to feel “normal” again, the screaming began. 

Part 3

Before Jamie Winthrop had his ghostly experience in the hallway and before the mysterious screams echoed through the ballroom, our resident author, Emelia Pevensie, was having quite the time. After feeling proud of herself for creating such a spectacle when she arrived—the golden dress really was a knock-out—she was now having to contend with the consequences. People knew who she was, they knew she was at the party, and they wanted to speak with her about her next book. 

She’d been cornered not more than half-an-hour after she arrived. While she was flattered that these individuals—especially the type who attended this party—were interested in her work, she was terrified of having to disappoint anyone. 

By all accounts, she wasn’t even supposed to be there. It was almost ironic, for if she hadn’t been there, she would’ve had something to talk about with them. But, since she was attending the party, she didn’t. And it was a hellish experience; an awful Catch-22 where the only loser was her. 

She could have called sick, sent her sincerest apologies, but the thought hadn’t occurred to her until she had already been surrounded and inundated with questions. 

“When will the next book be published?”

“What is it going to be about?” 

“Have you been feeling the pressure of having to follow your award-winning debut?”

No. Nothing. And yes, obviously. 

She didn’t say any of this aloud but danced around the questions just as gracefully as she could. One thing she’d learned, especially after attending award ceremonies, as people didn’t often want blunt honesty. They wanted something sweet and palatable to chew on while they talked behind your back about how your book was so pretentious and pseudo-intellectual that they could barely get through it. All while smiling to your face, of course. 

So, she gave them excuses and vague untruths, all of which were received well enough. Emelia knew they all considered themselves writers, despite never having written anything more than a grocery list, and believed themselves understanding of the struggles and hardships of such a life. Though, none of them genuinely knew what it was like to hold the hopes and expectations of millions of readers as they watched and waited for the inevitable next piece of genius. 

The truth of it was she hadn’t written a word since Hapsburg’s Paradise was published—over two years ago. 

She was deftly deflecting questions and the usual, “I could be a writer if I had the time,” when she spotted something strange across the room. It was a figure, which looked sort of man-shaped, at least to her, wearing a hood, which obscured his face from view. He looked familiar—as much as he could when she couldn’t see his face—but she couldn’t pinpoint from where. It was odd to see someone dressed in such a fashion at this lavish party. No one else seemed to notice him as he stood perfectly still amongst the swirling crowd. 

Excusing herself with many smiles and apologies, Emelia snuck away to investigate this mysterious figure. She found the spot where she’d seen him, but realized quickly he was no longer there. 

It didn’t take long, though, before she found herself the centre of attention again. More strangers asking her the same questions in different ways. She couldn’t help but be a little pleased since so many had read and enjoyed her work, but it was more diplomacy than she ever wanted to partake. Especially with people who didn’t know her. It would be another thing entirely if she actually knew them and they actually cared about her thoughts and opinions, but all those standing in front of her had was an idea of her they’d built in their minds. 

He was there again—the hooded figure—in a different location near the Christmas tree in the centre of the room. A little closer than he had been before. She still couldn’t shake the feeling she knew him somehow. 

Again, she attempted to find him in the crowd but was unable. Before anyone had another chance to ambush her, she saw him once more. He grew ever closer, but never close enough to get a look. His identity remained a mystery, though his presence was imposing

“Who are you?” she whispered to herself as she watched him, still unmoving, hooded and dark. 

Unless she could get a closer look, Emelia had no way of knowing who he was. But, was it what she really wanted? As much as she didn’t want to be picked apart by strangers, this dark stalker was something different—a new sort of hell. He was always there, watching, even when she tried to ignore him. She felt his eyes on her. 

“Are you Emelia Pevensie?” 

“Yes,” she answered, sounding more exasperated than she meant. “What can I do for you?”

Emelia turned and found herself looking at a timid young woman, who looked not much younger than herself. This stranger had ash blonde hair and striking blue eyes. 

“I didn’t mean to bother you,” she said shyly. 

Emelia smiled warmly and waved at her dismissively. “You’re not bothering me.” 

“Oh good,” she said, looking vastly relieved. “I just thought I should ask if you were all right. The look on your face made me think you’d seen a ghost.” 

“Oh!” Emelia couldn’t help but laugh—somewhat surprised her emotions were worn so plainly on her face. “I think perhaps I have,” she said, still laughing. 

The young woman looked more intrigued than shocked or concerned. “I’ve always wanted to see a ghost. It would be such an amazing experience—not to mention a great story.”

“Are you a writer?” 

“No. I mean, not like you,” the young woman stammered. “I’ve written a handful of short stories—even had one published—but I could never write a whole novel.” 

Emelia smiled. “You should keep working. You never know, one of those stories could turn into something bigger.” Then quietly she said, “And if you write, you’re a writer. Just like me.” 

The young woman blushed so much, her whole face turned bright red. She thanked Emelia repeatedly before disappearing back into the crowd. As she watched the girl leave, Emelia realized she’d never even asked the girl’s name. But, the conversation was enough to lift her spirits and remind her of when she herself had been a writer just starting. 

Emelia was still feeling gracious, the warmth of an authentic interaction making her glow until she noticed a familiar shadow in her eye line. He was closer now and as ominous as ever. She could now see a horrific smirk under the hood. Again, she felt as if she should know him somehow, but his identity continued to allude her. 

To escape the crowd, her guilt, and the haunting figure, Emelia dashed to the bathroom. Well, it was more a simple powder room but was still adorned with as much Christmas cheer as the ballroom, but in the peace and quiet, it was more a comfort than an overwhelming sensation. She stood at the pedestal sink and took several long deep breaths. Thoughts swirled around her head like a hurricane, but they were slowly losing momentum. 

She leaned over the sink and—very carefully, as to not smudge her makeup—splashed a little cool water on her face, which had the effect of calming her more. 

A hand grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back to standing. The force caused her to stumble back a step. In the mirror, she saw the figure who had been stalking her most of the evening; he was standing behind her so close she could almost feel his breath on her neck. His skin was greyish and discoloured, with bruises and marks from an unknown altercation. He still wore the smirk, which seemed more a sneer this close. She still couldn’t see his eyes, but she could feel them staring at her under the hood. The hairs on her arms stood on end and she let out a shriek. She whirled around and… 

Nothing. He was gone. 

She gasped and looked back at the mirror as if perhaps his reflection would still be there. But it wasn’t. She then realized where she knew him and it made the encounter even more startling. He wasn’t even real

He had been a character in her novel. More importantly, he was a character whom she’d killed off in the final draft. She didn’t want to—he had been a key fixture in the story—but her editor insisted it would “seal the deal” on Hapsburg’s Paradise becoming a classic. Apparently, she had been right. 

Indeed, he was a ghost, but how—why—was he haunting her now? 

It didn’t make sense, but there was no denying what she saw. If only she knew what else was going to take place this evening, her confusion would be even more profound. 

Part 4

Patricia Ferguson—or Dr. Ferguson, if you weren’t well acquainted—never really dreaded these parties at Buckmere Hall, though she’d freely admit she’d rather be doing something else. And she certainly didn’t dread the “Christmas Eve Ball,” as she called it. Truly, she enjoyed it very much, which said more about her love of Christmas than any feelings she had for or against parties. This year was no exception, as stated earlier, she came with bells on. Literally. Her dress, an inky indigo blue, had tiny silver bells attached which jingled cheerfully as she walked. Secretly, she referred to herself as a Christmas fairy. 

It was the first bout of cheer she’d felt in a long time. 

She deserved it as much as anyone at the party—perhaps more. As a brain surgeon, she was plenty privy to the horrors of life. But, as probably one of the best surgeons in the country, she was steady enough to know just as many joys accompanied the pains. This year had been especially kind to her with many many successful surgeries and treatments, all except… 

This was not the night to think of such things. So, she did her best not to and enjoyed socializing with all the “regulars” she recognized. She also noted a number of fresh faces which was a sign of good humour in Lady Buckmere.

This was indeed one of the best “Christmas Balls” that she’d attended. The way the lights and decorations invoked the pure feeling of Christmas; joy and generosity and love and hope. It was like stepping into the most idyllic Charles Dickens novel. The magic in the room was palpable— it seemed to dance through the crowd like a guest itself. It was almost enough to erase the deep woes of Patricia’s heart. 

But even amongst the smiles and laughter and frivolity, a dark shadow hung over the good doctor. No one really noticed, of course, because no one ever does. Patricia knew well everyone was so busy with their own trials, that the trials of others—unless particularly specified—were of no consequence to them. This didn’t mean everyone was selfish, no. But, it’s incredibly hard to live outside one’s reality, isn’t it? 

Patricia found it hard not to live inside other’s sorrows. She would’ve thought years in a hospital would’ve numbed her, but she felt everything still. 

This was not the time, though. 

What was the time, indeed? As much as Patricia loved these Christmas parties, she always found herself checking the clock—not out of any conscious desire to leave, more of the unconscious sort. It was nearly 11:30 pm—which, for sake of keeping track was 20 minutes before Emelia’s encounter and 35 minutes before Jamie is knocked down in the hallway. Patricia was unconsciously disappointed because it was still too early to go home, but late enough that she was starting to feel it. 

However, she could ignore the constant gnawing fatigue if she put her mind to it. And there were certainly plenty of distractions to keep Patricia occupied at least for a couple more hours—when it would be a less awkward time to leave. 

But, Patricia would soon forget all about leaving—whether consciously or not. 

As she helped herself to another plate of food from the immense and almost intimidatingly varied spread of food, something caught her eye at the end of the table. She glanced over and almost dropped her plate on the floor—fortunately for the cleaning staff, she didn’t. At the other end of the buffet was a ghost. 

She knew it was a ghost because she was looking into the face of a young girl who’d passed away six months ago—almost to the day.

“Holly?” Patricia whispered, just loud enough for herself to hear. 

The phantom, looking fairly fresh from the grave with translucent pale skin and dark circles under her glassy eyes, nodded slowly then backed away with a beckoning hand. 

Dr. Ferguson wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow Holly, wherever she was trying to lead her but found her feet moving anyway. She was led to a quiet corner away from the bustle of the festivities. However, the ghost simply stared at her with cloudy dead eyes and mouth slightly agape. 

Perhaps she was waiting for Patricia to speak first. 

“What do you need from me, Holly?” She spoke the ghost’s name slowly as if she was unsure of whether the ghost still used the name. 

“In life,” the ghost began slowly and gravely, “I was Holly. Now, I am charged with purpose on this night.”

“What purpose is that?” 

“A warning. This night is going to be fraught with terrors for a number of those at this party.” 

“Oh dear,” Patricia said softly, though found it a little ironic because this was a sort of terror of her own. “Sounds terrible. What kind of terrors?”

“Each will be haunted by a ghastly creature of their own making. How they react will determine the course of their futures.”

  “But, why tell me this? What can I do?” 

“That, I cannot tell. You will know at the right moment what is needed. I wish I could say more, but my time in this place is almost over.” 

“Wait,” Patricia said firmly. “Tell me one thing.” 

The ghost waited, though the ghastly expression didn’t change. 

“Please tell me if you are at peace.” She would’ve said more, but couldn’t bring herself to speak the words. 

For the first time, and only for a moment, Holly smiled—as much as a dead person could smile. Her lips twitched upwards for a second then fell again, as if the motion was too much for her. Patricia felt the warmth, if only sparingly. 

“You carry guilt on your shoulders,” Holly said, “but it is unnecessary. My death was not your responsibility to bear. I am at peace, for it was my time.” Without another word, Holly disappeared—well, not disappeared so much as she faded slowly, eventually becoming nothing but the wall behind her.  

Patricia turned around, her eyes darting through the crowd as though she could find the ghost and its victims simply by looking. Everything appeared normal—the partygoers were partying, the music still floated around the room. It was all revelry and joy; it was hard to imagine anything terrible or terrifying happening. 

A chill, she didn’t realize had settled on her bones, began to lift and the borderline suffocating warmth of the ballroom crept back up and cocooned her again. It occurred to her momentarily this could’ve all been a hallucination or some sort of mental break. All the guilt must’ve poured out from her deep subconscious and created the image of Holly’s ghost. 

She felt mildly disgusted with herself. What a disrespectful way to remember a patient she had lost. 

Despite the ridiculousness and illogical nature of this paranormal experience, it felt just as real as the people she’d been talking to before. Holly had been there and something was going to happen here. What it could be, she couldn’t tell. She would have to wait and see what was to come if it was indeed coming at all. 

Part 5

If we were keeping a chronology, Madame Le Pouf’s scene would begin now. But, we shall leave it for last. For now, we will visit Timothy Cowell, the lawyer, after Dr. Ferguson had her ghostly encounter. Jamie and Emelia were yet to have theirs. 

Timothy, or Tim—or even Timmy, he didn’t mind either way—was having a surprisingly good time. He had found himself with the attentions of a very attractive woman and had spent a good deal of the evening entertaining and dancing with her. For someone usually so awkward with just about everyone—he was amazed at how easily he could talk to her. If he’d heard her correctly, her name was either Rachel or Rebecca. At this point, he was too embarrassed to ask again. Otherwise, he was having a grand old time. 

They were laughing and joking and prancing about like they were drunk, which they weren’t particularly. At least, they didn’t consider themselves that drunk. 

Tim could almost forget about the moment he’d first arrived, the room buzzed with whisperings of everyone who’d been keeping up with his latest trial. Considering it had been on television, he wasn’t surprised in the least. But, it was enough to send him into an embarrassment spiral until he’d met Rachel—or Rebecca. 

He continued to dance the night away, downing more glasses of whisky than he could keep track of. A dishevelled quality began to appear, unnoticed and unheeded by Tim, though people who did notice paid no mind. They were sympathetic. A man, especially one who’d been through what he had, deserved a chance to relax sometime. And he wasn’t causing any disruption, so they were all willing to look the other way. 

“You want to get out of here?” Rachbecca asked. Her cheeks were flushed with drink and the exertion of dancing, which only added to her allure, and her eyes drooped seductively. 

Who could refuse such an offer? Not Tim, certainly. 

Thus, Tim found himself kissing a beautiful woman out in a hallway—though, a different one than the one Jamie would find himself in later. It was as dark in the hallway as the kissing was sensual, which was to say it was sort of middle-y both ways. Tim wasn’t going to complain one ounce because who wouldn’t want to be kissed, even drunkenly, by such a woman? And the kisses weren’t bad, either. In fact, despite it all, he was enjoying himself immensely. 

Until something caught his eye and he froze. The haze of his intoxicated state evaporated instantly as the ghostly chains dragged across the floor with metallic rattling. 

It took Rachbecca a moment to notice Tim had stopped responding to her affections, but she eventually pulled away with an inquisitive look. 

But Tim was far away—figuratively, at least—and didn’t see her at all. His eyes were firmly fixed on the dim hallway behind her as he beheld the prisoner. Though it was merely a shadow with indistinguishable features, he knew it was a prisoner—jumpsuit, chains, and all. Worst of all, he knew exactly who it was, this prisoner. 

“Dear God,” he whispered, backing away only to find a wall in his path. 

“What’s wrong?” Rachbecca looked around, but, of course, couldn’t see the spectre. 

Tim didn’t respond, or couldn’t more like, but simply took off in a sprint down the hallway and away from the ghoulish figure. As he ran, he could hear the dragging of chains behind him, and a million thoughts spun through his mind. They were all of the trial and the poor soul he’d failed to save. 

He had no one to blame but himself. It had been him, and only him, who had missed a key piece of evidence. And now it was too late. He could petition for an appeal, a retrial, something, but it wouldn’t happen until well into the new year. An innocent man was sitting in prison over the holidays while Timothy had gone to a party. 

How could he forgive himself? 

He burst forth from a door into the frigid night air. It was a clear and crisp evening, with stars shining brightly above. In another life, Tim had wanted to study the celestial bodies and explore the universe, but reality and his parents had other plans. Still, whenever he was under the sky, and it was dark enough to see the galaxy turning above him, he always needed a moment to mourn his lost love. 

Not this night, though. On this deep and cold Christmas Eve, the sky could have been falling in around him and he couldn’t have seen it. His eyes were fixed dead ahead on some ineffable safe place, where he could escape the enormous guilt of his failure. 

Part 6

Madame Le Pouf would probably never notice a ghost even if it came up and poked her on the nose. Usually. 

To establish ourselves in this somewhat convoluted timeline, Madame Le Pouf stayed blissfully ignorant of the presence of any paranormal activity while each of the other players in this tale were having their experiences. The scene which takes place thusly was in the moments before Jame Winthrop’s confrontation in the dark hallway. By this time, Dr. Patricia had been warned and was on the lookout for something—of what she wasn’t completely sure. And poor Timothy Cowel was waist-deep in the snow. 

Madame deserves some credit, to do her justice, as much as she was fairly oblivious, it was to some purpose. This night was the eve of an event—separate from those in this story—which she would very much like to forget. And she was succeeding quite comfortably. There were enough people around her, delectables to eat, and carols to sing. She kept no fewer than four hangers-on around her at once, for the aim of this distraction. 

It worked, for there was jolly laughter and entertaining conversations galore. Not a moment could be spared on anything else. Certainly not anything of the grim and ghoulish variety. No, certainly not. 

Currently, Madame was in the middle of joking with a most outrageous gentleman—a young duke, or something, she couldn’t quite remember. He was ridiculous, for one, because he was of the new way of doing things. It could be said with full confidence that Madame was of the old-fashioned sort, and didn’t often agree with anything young folk had to say. But, this young duke, or whatever, had a good sense of humour, so she took advantage. 

In another life, many moons past, Madame might’ve also found herself flirting with him, but as she was greying—gracefully, thank you very much—she couldn’t even think of such a thing. Even in small fantastical moments. Those types of flights of fancy were behind her. But she could still have a good time, no doubt, and young men still proved fun at her age. 

He was a handsome fellow, certainly, with dark brown, almost black, hair and grey eyes that could be roguish in moments and quite charming in others. His smile was toothy and wide and whenever he laughed, his company couldn’t help but join in. 

In contrast, Madame felt herself quite elegant and subdued, with her matronly silver hair—though, this was her view only as she was more dressed and decked than the Christmas tree itself in the centre of the room. But, this ageing woman imagined herself quite the humble belle of the ball, in spite of her laughter which carried across the room, and wherever she went, she had a small entourage around her. As it stands, she was, in fact, one of the most famous guests in attendance, and people were often enthralled by her presence therefore paid no mind to her conduct. Though it could be said surely,  she conducted herself no worse than anyone—especially certain drunken lawyers. 

“And the pigeon in the tree said, ‘Fruit cake’!” 

The crowd of twelve or so around Madame burst into laughter at the punchline of a joke, which wasn’t that funny, but everyone, having helped themselves to a generous amount of alcohol, found it funny enough. Our lovely Madame beamed with joy and pride at making such a splendid sensation. She knew that everyone not in her party must be seethingly jealous of their good time. 

If only Madame Le Pouf could have stayed in such a jovial state, but then her purpose in this story would be lost. Unfortunately, she was due for a fright. 

She didn’t deserve it, of course. Perhaps less than most. Despite her outward countenance, she was hiding darkness which no one would ever see if she could help it; a tragic history, it haunted her at low levels every single day of the year. Her past acted as a ghost she could never quite shake, but she could hide it away in the deepest recesses of her heart. 

But, there was something else going on this night. If I could explain it in any sort of way, I would. Alas, there is nothing I can do. 

The unfortunate Madame’s spectre appeared to her and caused her to turn white as a sheet. Peering out at her from around the huge Christmas tree was a face and two boney hands. It wasn’t much, for the ghost—whoever it was—didn’t seem sinister, but it was enough. And maybe that’s what made it more horrific. The face gazed at her almost pathetically. Tears looked to be streaming down the sallow cheeks from glazed and foggy eyes. If it came out of hiding, Madame knew, the wound where the knife had cut all the life out of her would be visible. 

“No, no!” Madame cried, almost falling into the arms of the person beside her. 

“Is she okay?” 

“Madame, what happened?” 

“She looks like she’s going to faint.” 

All this was said and more in the commotion as people rushed about to make sure she didn’t collapse or she wasn’t having some sort of health crisis. Madame screamed a little more before being seated in a chair with a glass of brandy to calm her nerves. 

By this time, Jamie had come in from the hallway in search of the source of the screaming. Though, he looked like he needed his own glass of brandy. 

A crowd had begun forming, including Dr. Ferguson and Emelia. Both of whom approached Madame, feeling it in their bones they knew the reason for her fright. They caught each other’s eyes and recognized in each other a certain knowledge only those who’d glimpsed beyond the veil would possess. 

Under the pretence of wanting to give Madame Le Pouf a thorough checking over in a quiet place, Dr. Ferguson, with the help of Emelia and Jamie—who had also noticed the frightened looks of these women and had come to understand their experiences matched his—escorted Madame into a quiet room and set her down on the sofa. 

“Madame,” Dr. Ferguson started slowly, “did you see something upsetting?”

“Yes,” Madame sniffed, her hand holding the glass shaking as she took a sip, “but, how did you know?” 

Patricia looked around at the others standing behind the sofa and wondered how to begin.


Part 7

So we find four of our players sitting around the crackling fire of the cozy library of Buckmere Hall. The room—all warm tones and dark wood it was—with its numerous bookshelves and comforting places to sit, seemed to absorb any outside sounds before it could disturb the sensibilities of those inside. The three who’d assisted Madame into this quiet place each told the story of their encounters, beginning with Patricia and the warning from Holly, to Jamie and his shameful confession, to Emelia with her fright in the bathroom. Then Madame told them what she saw. 

“My sister,” the elderly woman said quietly, “was murdered seven years ago this very evening.” 

Emelia brought her hands to her mouth as she gasped, feeling embarrassed at being so frightened by a fictional character. “I’m so sorry,” she managed to say. 

Madame waved away Emelia’s words of consolation. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me, dear. Now that I’ve got a stiff drink and a moment to clear my head, it doesn’t seem so harrowing. I was just startled, is all.” She said all this with a laugh, but Patricia wasn’t sure she believed Madame’s flippancy. 

“But, what does it all mean?” asked Jamie, speaking for the first time since he’d told his story. “What does the ghost want?” 

“I think we all know what the ghost wants from you,” Emelia said bitterly. She had no patience for men and their cliché affairs. 

Jamie sheepishly shrunk back into silence. But, he had a point. There had to be a reason for these paranormal events. What it could be was anyone’s guess at this point. 

The door to the library swung open with a sudden boom, and a snow-covered Tim stood in the doorway. He looked more like an abominable snowman than human, and even in the dim warm light of the fire, his skin had an odd pale colour to it. He said nothing, but moaned quietly and swayed, as he was unsteady on his frozen feet. 

Dr. Ferguson jumped into action immediately, only taking the briefest moment to assess the situation. Somehow, she knew this was what she’d been warned about. 

The group was beckoned around Tim, though no one knew his name yet, and they used their collective body heat to warm him gradually. When he stopped shaking so violently, Dr. Ferguson guided him closer to the fire, where he could continue to warm himself. Jamie dashed out and brought back with him a large mug of steaming coffee. Before long, Tim was sat on a stool by the crackling warmth of the fireplace and cradling and sipping from his mug. 

“What happened to you?” Emelia asked when it finally seemed appropriate. 

His voice was shaky, but he responded, “I was drunk—very drunk—and scared myself.” 

“That must have been some scare,” Patricia said, inspecting his fingers for frostbite. 

“I thought I saw a… well, before I realized it was only a trick of the light, I’d run so far in the snow I was a little lost.” 

The others looked at each other knowingly. He’d also seen something, even if he couldn’t admit it yet. Why the five of them been singled out and what were they supposed to do remained a mystery still. It seemed what connected them was the realization, the reveal of some truth, whether conscious or unconscious. 

But, why had Madame been tormented by the image of her murdered sister? Why did the prisoner appear to Timothy? Neither of them deserved more guilt. 

The only one who knew exactly what his task was, was Jamie—whose ultimatum rang in his head like an ominous bell. But, this left him free to ponder the reasons for others. There had to be something. 

“Madame,” he said timidly as he approached her. After the ordeal of saving Timothy from freezing to death, she’d returned to her place on the sofa. “Your sister, was her murderer ever found?” 

Madame simply shook her head. “Cold to this day.” 

Timothy, though still looking rather bedraggled, perked up. “Are you referring to the 2012 murder in Vienna?” 

“That very one,” Madame said solemnly. 

“I’ve actually been fascinated with the case for years. I mean, I like to study cold cases in my spare time. There is some interesting evidence which was overlooked in the initial investigation.” 

Tim and Madame began talking to each other about his theories, and soon enough, they were in their own little sphere. Like magic, the strangers had become something more. 

The quiet room, made for reading, seemed also made for connecting; with a friendly fire and books to fill hundreds of minds with new ideas. It was close, but not so close. Jamie saw what he’d done and smiled. 

He turned to Patricia and Emelia, who were standing by the bookshelves and watching the scene. Knowing what he had to do, he approached them. 

“Dr. Patricia?” he said, “I’m interested in your encounter with Holly. It seems so different from the rest of ours. Can you tell me about it again?” 

Patricia agreed and told her story again, this time with more detail. As she elaborated, especially about Holly herself, Jamie noticed Emelia listening intently, her eyes lighting up gradually. There was a spark there obvious enough for all to see. 

When the good doctor finished her tale, Emelia said, “Would you mind if I asked you some more questions? This story had weirdly tickled something in me and I finally feel inspired. If you knew me, you’d know how big a deal that is.” 

So Patricia and Emelia retired to another corner of the room, where Emelia could ply Dr. Ferguson with gentle questions about Holly. This room had done its job again and connected two more souls. 

Jamie stood alone, watching the others talk and become part of each other’s stories. Perhaps, he had done his job as well and the purpose of it all was merely connection. Once, they had been individuals, apart from each other in their sorrow, but it was that which had brought them together. 

But, there was still one connection left to make. Without a word, Jamie slipped from the room and made his way down the dimly lit hallway. The joyful sounds of the party were muffled echoes around him as he strode to the front door. He didn’t look, but he was sure a shadowy figure was watching him as he buttoned his wool coat and walked out into the night. 

Behind him, the revellers continued on in their glittering, sparkling, laughing, singing Christmas revelry without any awareness of the strange happenings of the night. Above Buckemere Hall, the stars twinkled in the cold winter sky, silent and calm. 

The only sound which could be heard outside was the crunch of snow beneath Jamie’s shoes as he walked across the snowy walk to his car. His hand shook with nerves as he reached for the door handle. The truth would be painful—horrifically so—but it had to be done. 

For a moment, he looked up at the moon, with its silvery gown of light made especial for this evening, and thought that is smiled on him. Perhaps if he listened hard enough, he could hear it softly singing a song for the coming Christmas day. 

The End

I Won NaNoWriMo and This is Why I’ll Never Do it Again

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, happens every November and participants set a word count goal (usually 50,000 words) and try to reach it in 30 days. 50k words in 30 days doesn’t sound like much, especially to some writers, until you actually go to write it.

I’d made three previous attempts at NaNoWriMo, once in 2013, in 2017, and one last time in 2018, but each time I’d failed to even make it past 15,000 words. I figured I just didn’t have some key writing component in my brain to actually crank out that many words in such a short amount of time. I’d even written about how I was never going to do NaNoWriMo again.

But, something just happened this year. I was feeling stuck on the book I’m revising and needed something to distract me, so I could reignite some writing fuel for that. Plus, I’d had this idea bouncing around in my brain. So, I thought, why not give myself a little challenge and actually beat the NaNo slump.

That’s what I did. I made a fairly detailed outline (though, some parts were more helpful than others) and I girded myself to begin a gigantic writing adventure in November.

Thus, November 30th 2020, I finally hit 50,000 words and finally won at NaNoWriMo. But, I knew by the end of the month that this was my very last NaNo. Here’s why:

I’m a chronic underwriter

Writers seem to fall into two camps; you’re either an overwriter or an underwriter. The labels are fairly self-explanatory, but both have their pros and cons.

Being an underwriter means that my first drafts are basically the skeleton of the story or the foundation. All the main plot points and characters are there, but that’s about it. Through the editing and revising process, the story grows and develops as layers are added on and on. Actually, a lot of my best plot points are developed later into my process.

But, this means that trying to write a very specific amount is difficult for me. My writing is fairly terse and to-the-point as it is, and I’m not one to ramble on. For example, the first draft of the novel I’m revising was under 40,000 words.

Writing a 50,000-word draft in 30 days? Phew.

But, that was part of why I did this. It was supposed to be a challenge; something to get me to practice letting myself ramble a little, especially in the first draft. And I think it did that, but it was also a terrible slog.

Word counts kill my creativity

Most of the time, I was so worried about making sure I hit my daily word count, that I didn’t really have a chance to connect with my characters, the story, and setting the way I’m used to when I really take the time to get into it. By the end, I felt like I had this completely superficial meaningless draft where I felt like I barely knew what was going on anyway. It wasn’t total trash, but I hadn’t connected to it.

My current book, you know, the one I’m in the middle of revising, was written totally by hand and without any tracking of words. And I enjoyed almost every minute of it. Despite the fact that the end result was much shorter than I thought, I felt like I knew my characters and had the right atmosphere. It was a strong draft even if it was short.

Like I just mentioned, I spent so much time just cranking out words, I felt more like a word count robot than a writer. While this did get me to just write without worrying too much about quality (because a written story is better than no story) and to drag a topic out, it started to feel more mechanical than actual creativity.

30 days isn’t enough time for me

It took me just under a year to finish the first draft of my current book, which is a step up from the 2-3 years it took me to write my first book, so I’d like to be able to write a first draft faster. But, I think one month is too quick.

Almost all of my other creative pursuits, project, and hobbies (my painting, the bookstore, reading, and baking) ended up being forgotten while I was trying to write my daily word count.

For reasons previously mentioned, the daily word count was so difficult for me. Since I also have a day job, I don’t have all day to sit and write a certain amount of words. Sometimes, I didn’t have the energy either. There were days when my creative juices were simply drained and I needed a day off, but the farther I fell behind the less I had time to take breaks.

By the end of the 30 days, I’d had enough. I was frustrated with myself and with the draft. I just wanted to be done, which is not what writing should be. If I don’t enjoy the process, I better hang up my laptop right now.

I’m sure as I continue to practice writing faster, I’ll get better. But, for now, I’m going to stay far away from strict time deadlines.

None of this is meant to discount or devalue other’s NaNo experiences, though. Most writers find immense value in participating and it allows them to work on projects they need to get done and adds some outside incentive. And I’m so happy for them and their ability to write so much in so little time.

Of course, I never could’ve written anything as fast as I did without the desire to win. So, there is that.

But I think this has fully confirmed for me that I don’t need to do NaNoWriMo again. I did it, I won, I can move on with my life and write the way I need to in order to fuel my creativity.

Even though it’s not for me, that doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing annual tradition for writers and a non-profit that supports raises money for education and creativity. While I won’t be participating in another NaNo, I will continue to support the organization and my fellow writers who participate. And I will continue to be in awe of anyone who can write 50,000 or more words in 30 days.

My Favourite Part of Writing

Today is November 23 and I’m in the midst of NaNoWriMo chaos. Trying, with questionable success, to write a certain amount of words every day with an end goal of 50k in one whole month has been a daunting task for someone who is very slow and quite sparse with her writing. But, it has put into stark focus my writing process, as I’m working through it at a much faster pace than I usually would.

This flurry of writing, done with especial care not to edit or worry about whether the writing is actually “good,” has shown me the parts I enjoy most about writing. While I question if this format really is one that works for my creativity, this experience has taught me a lot about what I like and don’t like as a writer.

But, my favourite part of my own writing is those little scenes–usually descriptions of nature or seasonal weather–between moments of action, where there is quiet.

a snippet from my NaNo WIP

These few paragraphs that end up sprinkled in and around my work feel the most natural to me as I’m writing. Maybe because it’s what I noticed myself on a daily basis. I spend lots of time admiring the natural world and its tiny details; how the afternoon light hits the trees and filters through leaves like tissue paper; how footprints look in newly fallen snow; the way the air smells after it’s rained all day.

I don’t really have anything profound to say–just wanted to share some joy and passion I have for my writing. I feel like in the past year I’ve been learning and growing so much as a writer as I’ve been challenging myself more.

It’s just motivation to continue.

I hope you are staying safe and well, friends!