Christmas used to be Annie’s favorite holiday. This year she dreaded it. She tried to muster up even a tiny bit of enthusiasm, but it just wasn’t the same. Nothing had been the same since her best friend died last spring in a car accident.
Annie met Beth in Kindergarten, and they became fast friends. From day one, they were nearly inseparable. They experienced everything together – first days of school, first school dances, first days of driving, first days of college. While they didn’t attend the same college, they went to school close enough to see each other nearly every weekend. Their friendship was a cause of envy for many.
In April, Annie received a call from Beth’s mother, whose voice was shaky and nearly undecipherable on the phone.
“Annie, honey – I’m so sorry to give you this news – my baby Beth is gone!” the mother managed to choke out before breaking down into sobs.
Gone. At first Annie thought Beth had gone missing. She started rolling through all of Beth’s favorite places in her mind, making a plan to visit all of them in search for her friend. But then Beth’s mom continued, describing a horrible car accident that went unnoticed for a few hours because it’d happened on a seldom-traveled road. By the time the accident was spotted and called in, Beth had been dead for some time, hanging upside down in the overturned car, hands splayed on the inside of the roof, becoming dark and swollen with the dead blood pooling beneath the skin. Poor Beth.
This was the first Christmas without Beth, and it wasn’t the same.
On Christmas day, Annie went to the cemetery to take Beth a few stems of red poinsettia flowers tied with gold Christmas ribbon. She went early, hoping to get there before other family members arrived to visit Beth.
She drove into the cemetery and down the side road toward Beth’s grave. There had been a fresh snow the day before, dumping several inches on the ground. The shorter headstones were covered in smooth mounds of snow. Beth’s headstone was probably covered, too.
When Annie pulled up in front of her grave, she was surprised that Beth’s headstone and surrounding area were free of snow but there were no car tracks or footprints anywhere near the grave. In fact, it seemed like Annie was the first one at the cemetery today. She parked and got out of the car, flowers in hand. As the knelt down in the snow in front of the grave, she heard Beth call her name.
“Annie!” she heard, the same way Beth would call to her in the hallway between classes when she had a story to tell.
Annie’s head snapped up, surprised at this impossibility. Beth was dead. Beth could no longer speak.
Annie caught a flash of something out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to the right, and nearly screamed at what she saw. There was Beth, dressed in the clothes she had been buried in: her favorite blue sweater and her favorite blue jeans. She was standing in the snow, but there were no tracks leading up to her from anywhere in sight. She must have just appeared there. She looked very close to a normal Beth, the same way she looked the last time Annie saw her alive.
“Cat got your tongue?” Beth asked in the way she’d always asked when Annie wasn’t quick enough with an answer or comeback in their usual playful banter.
Annie was mostly scared, but a part of her felt the same warmth she’d always felt when she remembered her friend. Seeing Beth gave her the same feeling she felt every time she walked into her parents’ house ever since she’d moved out – like she was returning home.
“Beth – are you alive?” Annie asked. She tried not to stammer or sound scared.
“I can be, but only for one day,” Beth replied. She was grinning the way she always did when she had a secret to tell. “It’s my Christmas gift to you, because I miss you so much, and I don’t want to spend Christmas alone!”
Annie could hardly believe it. She wondered if this was a cruel, elaborate prank. Or a dream. She decided to test the theory. She held up the flowers.
“Merry Christmas, Beth.”
Beth walked toward Annie, and her feet didn’t make any tracks in the snow.
“Thanks, Annie, they’re beautiful! I’d take them, but I just finished painting my nails. I don’t want to mar the paint so soon.” Beth held up her hands, the backs of them facing Annie. With a heavy heart, Annie realized they were the same blue that had been painted on her nails before the funeral at Beth’s mom’s insistence. Other memories of the funeral and burial flashed in her brain.
“And Annie? If you want me to be with you today, there is one little thing. If you agree to let me be alive today, then one person must die.”
Annie recoiled at the thought and her hand with the flowers dropped to her side. “Who?” was all she could say.
“Oh, don’t worry. It’s no one you know. It’s the the guy that ran me off the road right before I died. You know, a drunk driver, I bet. I don’t really know what happened, but I know who did it. Fair is fair, right?”
Annie guessed so. While she really didn’t want to feel responsible for someone dying, she did want to see her best friend, alive and healthy, even for just one more day. Piss on the driver who caused her death! He was never caught and he was never punished. The guilt will eventually subside.
“O-okay,” Annie agreed.
“Yay!” Beth exclaimed. “It’s going to be so much fun! The only thing is that we have to wait until after your Christmas plans, so we can be alone and catch up. I don’t want to be seen by anyone else, you know. It’d be too much for my family to handle. Can you come back here and pick me up tonight?”
Eager to please her best friend, Annie agreed to come by in the evening, when it was dark. She headed out of the cemetery to her parents’ house. The meal was supposed to begin at noon, and everyone was there except for her sister Amy. She wasn’t answering her phone or returning any calls. The family sat down half past the hour for an uneasy meal, hoping Amy had gotten a late start and simply forgotten her phone at home.
A few minutes into the meal, the house phone rang. Annie’s mother answered the phone, hoping it was Amy. After a short pause, she started wailing into the phone, crumpling downward until she was kneeling, pounding her free hand in a fist against her chest.
On the other end of the line was a police officer. He had the unfortunate luck to call the house and gently inform the family that Amy wouldn’t be coming home for Christmas. There had been a car accident only ten miles away from the house. Initial investigation of the accident showed that a man had been drunk driving – drinking while driving, in fact – and crossed the centerline. His truck hit Amy’s car head-on. Both drivers died upon impact.
Leaving her father to try and console her mother enough to get her to stand and walk to a chair, Annie felt her world crumble. Her chest was caving in and suffocating her. Beth’s words echoed in her head – “Oh, don’t worry. It’s no one you know. It’s the guy that ran me off the road right before I died.”
Annie went out to her car, and screamed and cried until she had no strength left. She couldn’t help but feel partly responsible for her sister’s death.
Eventually she started the car and headed toward the cemetery. Maybe Beth would grant another Christmas wish and kill Annie, too, so that Amy wouldn’t be alone for Christmas.
Kimberly Wolkens enjoys writing dark short stories and poems. She spends her spare time reading horror stories, writing about ghosts and other dark things, or camping. Her idea of the perfect day involves writing while eating cake and listening to 90’s grunge music. Tweets @up_north_h1ke.