I have had little Elizabeth in my head for a while. She's been begging to have a story written about her, so she gave me the following.
I call it...
“Wake up, Elizabeth. It’s Christmas.”
A small Elizabeth shifted away from her brother’s shaking, deeper under the covers.
“Elizabeth, come on!”
“Let’s see what presents Santa brought us!”
Elizabeth’s eyes opened, filled with excitement, if only for a moment. William had already jumped out of bed.
It was very quiet.
As she sat up, her excitement left her. She knew what to expect.
Pretty soon her parents were beside her bed, urging her to get up. She did so reluctantly, with a scowl on her face.
Passing by a small window, Elizabeth could see that it was dark outside. She sighed.
“Come on kids,” said their father, smiling brightly as he guided them to a small table set with bowls at each place.
They all sat down and soon the clinks of spoons scooping and scraping at the bowls filled the air. Elizabeth didn’t eat a thing. She only watched the others and felt angrier.
They finished up, leaving the bowls on the table.
“Let’s go see if Santa came,” said their father, clapping his hands together. His happiness gnawed at Elizabeth. She crossed her arms. No one seemed to notice.
William was the first to get to the tree.
There were presents under it, of course, and Elizabeth watched as he fell to his knees, beckoning for her to come sit next to him.
She shook her head and didn’t move.
William shrugged and began to pass out the presents.
Elizabeth’s became a pile at her feet.
The others opened their presents, sharing their surprise and excitement.
With the last present open, one by one, they looked at Elizabeth with concern.
Her mother spoke first.
“Why haven’t you opened your presents, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth was exasperated.
“My presents?” barked Elizabeth. She bent down and picked up one of the still wrapped presents. “You mean this doll?” She put it back down and grabbed another. “Or this bag of candy?” Reaching for the last one, she said, “How about this set of new hair clips?”
Her parents stared at her blankly.
Elizabeth pushed the presents away from her with her foot.
“Did you go snooping?” asked her father, who was beginning to be cross with her.
“Snooping? I don’t need to snoop! I always know what they are.” Elizabeth started pacing and flailing her arms as she spoke. “You do, too! You’re just blind to it.”
“What do you mean?” her mother broke the silence with a whisper.
“Think about it! Every year it’s the same thing. William gets a ball, a set of jacks, and some licorice. Father gets a tie, and some socks, and mother gets some powder and a kerchief.”
They all began to look at their presents and back to each other in shock.
“You still don’t see it, do you?”
Elizabeth marched to her brother. “Come here.”
William got to his feet, and their parents did the same.
Elizabeth took them by the window where the first rays of morning were softening the sky and back to the table.
Elizabeth grabbed a bowl.
“See. They’re empty.”
She walked around the table tilting each bowl so that they could see.
“But we finished our meal,” said their father, trying to sound strong but squeaking out the last word.
“But look at mine.” She showed it to them. It was empty and clean. “I didn’t eat.”
Her mother’s eyes were starting to brim with tears.
“You could be tricking us,” her mother pleaded, her hand covering her mouth.
“You still don’t see!” Elizabeth squealed.
She grabbed William’s hand again and led them out of the room, down the stairs.
They all stopped abruptly at what they saw.
There was another family in the living room. They were sitting at a Christmas tree, and a small child was opening presents.
“What is this?” asked their father.
Elizabeth said nothing.
Their father walked slowly toward the people.
“Excuse me, but who do you think you are, breaking into my house?” He shouted as he stood with his hands on his hips.
The family did not answer, did not even acknowledge him.
Getting annoyed, the father walked in front of the other man.
“Now see here,” he said, stooping down in front of his face.
The man kept laughing with his wife, looking through their father.
Elizabeth went to her father. His face had turned blank, and he let her guide him away. Her mother’s soft cries could be heard behind them as they walked back up the stairs to the attic.
When they opened the door to their room, everything had changed. They could see the dining room table was really an old piece of furniture, beat and banged up. Elizabeth and Williams bed was an old washtub, the Christmas tree, an old, broken coat rack.
The room wasn’t bright and happy anymore; it was brown and dirty.
“We died in this house many years ago, on Christmas Eve night. There was a fire. See?” Elizabeth pointed at the black marks that spread up the walls to the roof.
Their father held their mother as she sobbed.
“We’ve been here since then. We always celebrate the same Christmas that we died. Every year. That’s how I knew what presents I would get.”
Turning back, their true form appeared. Burned and scarred, the family saw each other as they really were.
For the first time, they could accept their fate.
Elizabeth walked to the small window.
Her family joined her, and they held each other tight.
The snow fell softly outside as the sun rose above the horizon.
Elizabeth and her family faded away together, into the light.