Way before dawn Christmas morning, my little sister tugged at me, sobbing, “Tommy, wake up! I heard a noise so I snuck down to see Santa. There was a big lumpy ghost floating around the tree!”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I told her. “Maybe you saw Santa’s toy bag.”
“Santa’s bag is red, and it doesn’t float,” she wailed.
“Shh. It would if he brought balloons.” I knew that was a stretch, but I had to keep her quiet. “It must have been a burglar. Keep quiet in case he’s still here. And you’d better hide.” I was out of bed, looking for a weapon, but Jenny clung to me so tight I could hardly move.
Her chin quivered. “Nuh-uh. I’m not stayin’ here alone. Let’s go down and tell Mommy.”
“I don’t think she can stand any more bad news. I heard her on the phone after dinner. She was crying again. . .” I didn’t finish because Jenny knew the reason.
“What are we gonna do, Tommy?” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“We can’t call 9-1-1. We gotta keep Mom from worrying, at least until she feels better. First, let’s make sure the burglar’s gone.” I didn’t tell her my knees were shaking like her lip was.
“Ghost,” Jenny corrected, tightening her grip as we tiptoed downstairs into the kitchen. I grabbed Mom’s rolling pin as Jenny turned on the light. Nobody there.
We checked under the tree. There was nothing left. “The ghost stole it,” Jenny cried.
Jenny’s like that, see? Once she makes up her mind, it stays made up. So I gritted my teeth as we snuck around, checking everywhere else. No ghost but no burglar either. We found zero presents where we saw Mom hide them before and none where we didn’t see her hide them. We knew where they should have been, and weren’t. Mom didn’t know how sneaky we could be.
Jenny sighed, wiping her eyes. “Now what?” At least she’d calmed down some.
“We let Mom sleep while we draw some nice pictures. She won’t know we ever bought her bubble-bath and perfume. She’ll probably like our pictures even better. You know Mom.”
Jenny brightened and then frowned, “What about us?”
“I’ll make you something too. Not a real doll like you wanted, but a paper doll. With real clothes cut from rags. Okay?”
Jenny actually smiled. “Okay, but won’t Mommy ask what happened to the doll she promised Santa would bring? And what about your new bat and ball?”
I thought for a minute. “We’ll say we got up early and already opened Santa’s presents and put them away as part of our gift to her.” That might even shock Mom out of her sadness.
We got to work, sitting at the kitchen table. We were almost finished when the front door rattled. Grabbing both the rolling pin and Jenny, I turned off the light and pushed her ahead of me, upstairs. As we reached the top a floorboard creaked below. I turned just as Jenny’s ghost appeared. Panicking, I hurled my missile and the lumpy white shape dropped.
“Ooooohhh!” it wailed, writhing in very ghostly fashion about half a foot above the floor.
Behind me, Jenny squeaked. “Told you it was a ghost!”
“Uh-oh,” I said. A rolling pin would’ve gone right through a ghost.
“What’s going on?” Mom shouted, charging out of her bedroom. She flipped on the light and started crying when she saw the gifts spilling from the big white laundry bag. Then she ran forward and practically fell all over the man in a camouflage uniform on the floor underneath it. She kissed his dark face and ruffled his darker hair. No wonder we couldn’t see him before.
“I’m home early, honey, trying to bring you the Christmas Spirit,” said Dad. “Surprise.”
I think Dad was most surprised of all. I doubt he’ll try that trick again after learning the hard way—his safe return from the war brought us all the Christmas spirit we need.
Critique: You have a good idea but have some issues with the delivery. Needs a much stronger sense of place, sensory imagery, and some foreshadowing about Dad. As written, there are too many unanswered questions, such as why did the ghost/Dad take the gifts? Why is Mom said? Also, we need more characterization on Tommy and Jenny. Great story idea but needs to be fleshed out.
What I liked best: The ghost. Awesome! And that Dad is in the military. Very timely.
Publication ready: No. Needs work, but this has some real potential.