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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2310816
Martin receives an unexpected visitor. Joint 1st in Horror Writing Contest, December 2023.
That Christmas Spirit

Martin was alone for Christmas Eve. His wife, Evelyn, had taken the children to spend a few days with her folks in Connecticut. The original plan had been that Martin would go too but a nasty bout of flu had saved him at the last moment. He accepted his fate with good grace and waved them off before retiring to the peace and quiet of an empty house.

His cough seemed to improve at the same time and, miraculously, he felt a good deal better as the day moved into late afternoon. The prospect of so much time to himself had curative powers that he had not expected. He prepared for that first evening with a hot drink with brandy additive and fell back into the recliner. All seemed perfectly prepared for a time of relaxation in front of his favourite television shows.

And then the front door bell rang.

For a moment Martin lay still, wondering whether the unknown visitor would go away if they received no response. When the bell rang again, twice and with gathering impatience, Martin knew that he would have no peace until he answered. He rose and went to the door.

An old man stood on his doorstep. Behind him, in the gathering darkness of dusk, Martin could see that it had begun to snow, soft white flakes flashing into being as they caught the light from the doorway. The man was dressed in a heavy black coat, flecked with tiny flakes of the new snow. He wore a top hat, also black, and a woollen scarf around his neck. His face was shadowed beneath the brim of his hat but Martin could see enough to know that he had never seen the man before.

“Yes?” said Martin, annoyed at the intrusion into the peace of his evening.

“Merry Christmas,” announced the man.

Martin took a step back and prepared to close the door as he answered. “And the same to you. Is that all you wanted - to wish me a merry Christmas?”

“Yes and no,” answered the man slowly. He looked upwards at the light above the doorway and this revealed more of his features to Martin. His face was grey and bloodless, as though he had been standing in the cold for a very long time, and his eyes were bleary with tears. Then he looked back at Martin and explained.

“Yes, I needed to wish you a merry Christmas, but I also hoped that you would invite me in. So no, it wasn’t the only reason I came to see you.”

There was a pause before Martin answered. Clearly there was more to this than met his eye. “Do I know you?” he asked. “I don’t remember your face at all.”

The man laughed, a short, wheezing sound from deep within his chest. “And there you have the reason for my visit. No, you don’t know me, Martin, and I am here to discuss that.”

Martin’s face hardened at this. “Look, I don’t know how you learned my name but I’m not falling for this. If you’re looking for a free ride on my hospitality, you’ve got another think coming. Why the hell should I let you inside?”

“Actually, Martin, you can’t keep me out. You could try, and I’m sure you will, but it won’t stop me.” The man shrugged and stood watching as Martin slammed the door.

Inside, Martin leant against the door in relief at halting the ridiculous scene with the old man. It had unnerved him, that was clear, and he needed a moment before returning to the recliner.

That moment was never granted to him, however. As Martin looked, he saw the old man appear through the wall of the entrance hall, at first a transparent vision but coalescing quickly into the substantial presence he had seemed on the doorstep. The white spots of snow on his shoulders and hat were disappearing quickly in the heat and his boots were melting sludge into the carpet.

Martin’s mouth dropped open and his eyes bulged out. He made strangled sounds as if trying to speak but no words emerged. The old man came to his rescue.

“You wanted to know who I am,” he said. “The fact is, Martin, that I am the spirit of Christmas. Not quite like old Scrooge’s ghosts of Christmas but you’ll have to think of me as a ghost because there isn’t really another word for me. And I’m not here to educate you. It’s more about revenge, you see.”

“Revenge?” stammered Martin. “What have I done that deserves revenge?”

“You’ve made me, that’s what. Everyone has a spirit of Christmas, whether good or bad, and I’m yours. Look at me, for pete’s sake. How did I get to be so old and grey, so miserable and downright senile when I’m supposed to represent something good like Christmas? It’s what you’ve done to me, that’s how. You are the reason I look like death and it’s only natural that I’m not particularly pleased about it. If I am to suffer in this way, I see no reason why I shouldn’t make your life as miserable as mine is.” The man crossed his arms and glared at Martin.

Martin looked at the man in horror. And then his face brightened. “And what if I don’t believe in ghosts?”

“Doesn’t matter. If you choose to disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes, that’s your business, but it doesn’t alter the fact that here I am, miserable as sin and determined to ruin your life.”

He paused before shoving his face right into Martin’s and adding, “Not that you have much left!”

Martin could feel the man’s breath on his face and the drops of spittle ejected with force with the shouted words. He recoiled from the sudden outburst of hatred, wiping his face with a trembling hand. There was silence for a while as Martin recovered his composure under the man’s angry stare. For a ghost, it seemed that the man was all too real.

Eventually, Martin risked another question. “What do you mean, I don’t have much left?”

“Life, Martin. This is your last night on earth.”

The man turned then and marched into the living room. Martin followed meekly and watched as the man eased himself into the recliner.

“So you’re going to kill me?”

“I didn’t say that,” answered the man. “It’s much more a matter of your doing it yourself.”

“Fat chance of that,” repled Martin as he sat down on the couch. “Why the hell would I kill myself?”

“Think of it like this,” said the man. “It’s as though a debt is being paid. I’ve gathered up all the contempt and bad thoughts you’ve sent my way over the years and I’m here now to effect payment. Just my being here is beginning to draw out the life that you stole from me. I start to feel better, and you feel the effects of a life lived too long and buried under the weight of your own deeds and thoughts.” He turned to look at Martin, as though his eyes could see into the depths of his soul. Then he nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re beginning to sense something already.”

In that instant, Martin realised that he didn’t feel well at all. Remembering his illness, he decided that this sudden awareness was caused by the suggestion from the man. He brushed it aside.

“What if I change my ways and give Christmas its due respect?” he asked.

“Too late for that,” replied the man as he turned away. “It’s started now and nothing will stop it. At least you won’t have to endure old age for long. Should take a few hours and then bingo, you’re out and I’m free of your vile influence.”

“Out? You mean…” Martin was distracted by the sight of his hand on the arm of the couch. It looked different, more wrinkled than usual and the veins stood out clear and blue in a way he’d not noticed before. His hand seemed to have aged somehow.

He lifted the hand and felt his face. The bones seemed much closer to the surface than ever before, his cheeks sunken and the skin falling away beneath his chin. He stood up, intending to find a mirror, and nearly collapsed back into the chair as his back protested in pain at the sudden movement. His legs, too, seemed weak, and it was with difficulty that he set them moving to take him to the bathroom.

Once there, the mirror confirmed what he had already begun to believe. He was ageing at an incredible rate. His hair was white and the skin wrinkling and falling away from his bones. Tears were running from his faded and tired eyes.

Martin returned to the living room to find the man standing up. “Believe me now, do you?” said the spirit. “Life’s a bummer, ain’t it?”

Word count: 1,495
For Horror Writing Contest, December 2023
Prompt: A Christmas Ghost Story.

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