Secret Santa Story

My prompt (my choice of which to use):

Ghosts and Witches, Possession, An Unexpected Gift/Package, A Haunted Place, or Something Involving an Ouija Board

 

THE STORY: 

 

The windows glittered with fine webs of frost, the ground outside was snug under its fluffy white blanket and most creatures great and small snug in their homes. Marlaena should have followed suit and snuggled under a warm blanket in front of the fireplace of her cabin. Instead, she was standing in the middle of the forest, a white candle in hand as she stared up at the gray sky. To the west and north evergreens filled her peripheral with green while the trees to the west extended crone like fingers to the sky. She had hoped to spend her day reading and cooking a stew. Instead, she had been summoned by the spirits to the middle of the forest.

“Can we go home yet? My feathers are nearly frozen.”

She shook snorted and shook her head at Damocles, the small white owl sitting on a log nearby. He was barely larger than a house cat but crankier than any auntie she had ever met. She focused on the elements around her, hoping to feel of the pull of something, anything.

“No one’s here, Marls. They aren’t foolish enough to come prancing around in the snow.”

Again, she ignored the bird and focused. Finally, when she was about to give up and admit Damocles might be right, she felt the slightest tickled at the edge of her mind.

“Shush, I feel something. They are here, probably spooked off by your whining.”

The owl huffed at that and turned his back to her, grumbling under his breath as he ruffled his feathers and hunkered down on the log again. She reached a hand out, beckoning to the presence she felt. Tendrils of the spirit tickled her fingertips before enveloping her hand and sliding slowly up her arm. A warmth settled against her chest and clung there. Setting her candle down carefully in the snow, she embraced the feeling and closed her eyes. Focusing inward, she took a deep breath.

“Now then, what do you want?”

She spoke out loud, but the presence knew her question before her words ever left her lips. It hesitated, shifting slightly against her. For her part, Marlaena held still and waited. Holding her hands against her chest, she willed it quietly to answer her.

Present. Give you. Speak again.

Marlaena frowned but nodded slowly. The presence left her, but she could feel its pull as she followed it through the woods, carefully dodging fallen trees and sunken soft spots. At last, they stopped and she looked up for the first time since they had started walking. She stared at the back of her house, the windows were shuttered and the yard bare. It was exactly as she had left it early that morning.

“I don’t understand, what are we doing here? If you wanted to talk at my home, why didn’t you just come to me.”

She wasn’t angry, not exactly at least. Exasperated was more like it as she sighed and tried to listen for the spirit once again. This time she didn’t feel it. Instead, she saw something glittering near her back door.

Stalking closer to her home, she saw that it was a package wrapped in brown paper and tied up in a wide, glittery, red ribbon. The bow was lopsided and the ends dragged in the mud near the door, but the rest of the package was clean and dry. Picking it up carefully, she brought it inside. Setting the package on the table, she gingerly unwrapped the paper and laid it to the side. What sat before her was a large wooden box, stained dark brown with scrolling and twisting designs carved into the wood. Animals were painted in dark gold along the top, their bodies formed through the braiding and curling of thick and thin lines.

“Whoo sent you that?”

She could only shake her head. She wished she knew. It was a gorgeous old box, nearly as large as her small table, though only a few inches tall. In the center was an old lock of what looked like dirty gold. There was no key, only the lock with a small keyhole taunting her. She picked up the paper again, shaking it and hoping a key would fall out. Nothing did. She huffed and frowned.

She tried picking at the lock, hoping it wasn’t actually locked. It was. Holding her hand over the lock, she whispered a small spell, but to no avail. She checked the ribbon, just in case. Still nothing. Finally, she flopped down in a chair and stared at the dark wood. Brushing a strand of hair from her eyes, her finger brushed a hairpin and she grinned. Quickly pulling it out, she slipped the thin metal into the keyhole and jiggled and wiggled it until the box unlocked. A soft moan seemed to come from it opened the lid. It split down the middle to reveal its contents. Inside was a dark purple cloth encasing a wooden board.

“A spirit board. I haven’t seen one of these since I was a kid. My aunt had one she let me try before my training.”

She fingered the board gingerly. The writing on the board was painted in dark red and covered in a shiny lacquer. The board itself was a golden wood, the grain fine and smooth.

“You… you don’t think this is from her, do you?”

Her aunt had passed nearly three years prior, but no one else she had ever known had used a spirit board. She picked up the small paddle that sat beside it, a triangular bit of wood with a lens set in its middle, the whole thing was roughly the size of her hand. It felt warm to the touch, its smooth edges felt at home in her hand.

“Auntie, are you there?”

Nothing happened at first, then slowly, she felt the paddle begin to hum under her touch. Letting it take her where it willed, it slid over the word yes in the upper corner. Then slowly it slid over several other letters. Telling her beyond a doubt her aunt was her mysterious presence and gifter.

“I have missed you so much, Auntie.”

She smiled as she felt the warm presence settle against her once again, this time hugging her and settling on her shoulders. She had been so lonely, but now it seemed she was once again home. She once again was with family.

 

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