For this anthology, I went to Christmas Town in the mountains of Virginia on Christmas Eve and ended up caught in a blizzard. The ghosts were a complimetary extra.
Ten years hadn't improved things Annette James decided as she drove into Christmastown, VA. Ten years ago, the town had been rundown and shabby. Now it resembled a theme park on steroids.
Given a choice, she preferred the decayed look. She couldn't quite get the hang of a six foot elf directing traffic. The illuminated reindeer on the roof of the Ebeneezer Baptist Church seemed a trifle out of place too. Yes, it was the season and all that but when the woman at the Sleigh Bells Inn mentioned the town was festive for the holiday season, Annette imagined a few strings of lights stretched across Main Street and a ten foot cedar in the town square decorated with tinsel and twinkling lights. She hadn't imagined the twinkling lights would also be draped around the doorway of the public toilets.
Not that Christmastown had possessed public facilities back then, obviously an innovation to accommodate the tourists who jaywalked recklessly across Main Street and clustered, with rapt expressions, around the five foot tall mechanical Santa in the window of Barlowe's drug store. Admittedly Santa's gyrating hips had distracted her as she waited for the light to change, but she was quite content to turn left and leave the sight of the grooving Santa Claus behind. She glanced at her directions to the Sleigh Bells Inn. A couple of turns and she was there. And stunned to realize it was the ante-bellum mansion that used to house the town hall, the library and the Police Department. Dear heaven! It had been in a building behind - the then town morgue - that her parents' bodies had lain after the accident.
Maybe it had been a big, big mistake to come back.
But what the hell? She was here now. All she had to do was sign the papers for the sale this afternoon at Frank Cullen's office, meet Juney Whyte, her one and only friend from her days here, for dinner and first thing after breakfast tomorrow, she'd hightail it out of here and be back in Richmond in time for the Christmas Eve Carol service.
She couldn't wait.
The parking attendant, or perhaps it was his red nose and reindeer antlers, yanked her back to the present.
"Welcome to the Sleigh Bells Inn, ma'am. Merry, merry Christmas."
"Thank you." She handed over her keys, to be confronted by a bellboy wearing a snowman suit.
"May I take your bags, ma'am? And a merry, merry Christmas to you."
"You certainly get into the spirit of the season."
"Yes, indeedy. We do!" He sounded positively ecstatic. "Christmas time in Christmastown..." he began, to the tune of 'O Christmas tree'.
"Business is obviously booming," Annette said, hoping to interrupt the choral interlude.
"It's the Christmas celebration, ma'am. People come from all over. We've even as visitors from as far away as Japan and Europe. Where are you from, ma'am?"
"Oh, I see. Here you are, ma'am. Mizz Charlaine will take care of you." He nodded to the teenager manning the reception desk. Obviously in state didn't impress like Japan. He pocketed the tip and smiled under his mask. "Thank you ma'am. Enjoy your stay with us and may you have a very merry Christmas."
The prospect of Christmas alone, apart from her cats and a couple of likewise single friends, seemed positively delightful.
At least Charlaine wasn't in costume, if you didn't count the holly wreath with little electric candles on her head, and there was a beautiful seven foot cedar in the corner by the sweeping staircase, that if she remembered rightly, once led up to the mayor's office and the accounting department where her grandfather had worked.
"A beautiful tree," Annette said. She couldn't help smiling at the cascades of tinsel and the twinkling lights.
"Mom and I did it," Charlaine said, obviously warmed by praise of her efforts. "My Dad fussed at us it get an artificial one as it was cheaper but Mom put her foot down said she wanted the scent of a real tree, despite the fire risk. We have to be careful about that. Did you know they had a bad fire in the back of the building years and years ago?"
"Yes." She did. Her parents' bodies had burned in the fire.
"You have a reservation, ma'am?"
Maybe not. Charlaine frowned at the computer screen, searching for Annette's reservation. "There has to be one. Frank Cullen made it for me some weeks back."
Dropping the name of the town's top notch lawyer (and one and only lawyer for that matter) did the trick. After frowning at the computer, Charlaine announced, "I can put you in the Ten Lords a Leaping Suite."
Telling herself it was only one night and lords a leaping had the edge over geese a laying or drummers drumming, Annette followed the snowman bell boy as he led the way towards a wide door at the far end of the hall. As she turned, she glimpsed a man walking in the front door and did a double take. Jake Warren! Heaven help her! She was leaving first thing in the morning. Maybe before breakfast. According to local gossip, Jake after left town high school and had never been seen since.
What were the odds he'd end up here this one and only night in ten years? Jake had been her first, and most memorable, sexual mistake. A mistake she since put down to adolescent hormones and curiosity. He'd satisfied her curiosity alright, and shattered her adolescent soul by ignoring her the rest of their senior year. Her brief glimpse of him showed he'd done nicely for himself, considering...
Copyright © 2007 Rosemary Laurey