Peace, Hope and Joy: A Christmas Story - 2.1

2 - Ghosts of Christmas Past

“You’re twenty-one, Joy,” her parents had told her. “Don’t you think it’s time you paid for Christmas presents on your own?”

That was unfair - it wasn’t as if Jolene had asked for them to fund all of her present buying, just a bit of a supplement. But she knew their minds weren’t going to be changed by such logic as that.

Five years had passed quietly, sneaking past Jolene with barely a warning. She’d finished high school, of course, but after that, there had been no big changes. Everything felt as if it were standing still, as if her life had frozen that day at camp. So it was hardly surprising that, even after all that time, she’d recognized Hope in a heartbeat.

Jobs hadn’t exactly become any more plentiful over the years - it had been the opposite, actually, even with her opportunities opening up as she got older. In all honesty, she hadn’t exactly minded. Her friends were all scrambling to find some great career so they could move out, or succeeding in doing so, but she was happy where she was. She felt safe there, stable… She supposed it could be said she was only stable because she was stuck in a rut, but it was a rut she was more than happy with, so she didn’t mind.

“You must be our new elf!” Hope greeted Jolene cheerfully as she anxiously entered the door marked “Employees Only”, walking over to her and shaking her hand boisterously. She must be sixteen or seventeen now, Jolene calculated, and a lot had happened to her over those five years. Much more than had happened to Jolene. She wasn’t a kid anymore, not by a long shot - looking at the two of them side by side, Hope might even have been mistaken as the older, helped by the few inches she had on Jolene. Her costume, a mid-thigh green dress trimmed with fur, tights, and a green Santa hat, looked better on her than it had any right to.

“Y-Yeah,” Jolene replied nervously, searching Hope’s eyes for any sign of recognition. She’d interviewed with someone who worked for the mall, and, with no little siblings or cousins, hadn’t had any reason to look at the elves. She never would have applied if she’d known this specter of her past would be waiting for her, even if the job seemed incredibly easy. “I’m Joy.”

Hope nodded, smiling indecipherably. “I’m Hope. Nice to meet you! Let’s get you all set up!”

Jolene nodded, following the younger girl obediently. There probably should have been a part of her that rankled a bit at working under someone five years her junior, but apparently that part was missing. The woman she’d interviewed with had mentioned the supervisor was pretty young, though never specified, just said she’d worked there the year before and done a great job. Jolene wondered if it was too late to switch, to work during the day, while Hope would be at school, instead of in the evenings, even if that might mean having to wake up earlier.

“There’s not a lot of costumes left,” Hope mused, looking Jolene over. “I hope we can find one that’ll fit you.” She pulled open a box, peering inside and digging through it before pulling out a dress identical to hers, except much smaller. “Why don’t you try this one?” She nodded towards a door, handed the dress over.

The door led to a small bathroom, which Jolene quickly locked, hanging the dress up on a hook on the back of the door and staring at herself in the mirror, a hand on either side of the sink as she bent in closer. Was she as recognizable as she thought? Maybe the years had changed her a bit… Or maybe that memory wasn’t as ingrained in Hope’s mind as deeply as in hers. After all, it hadn’t been a confession for her, just a weird little episode with a camp counselor she’d never seen again after just a few days. Or perhaps she’d tried to forget it, to erase all memories of that camp. She might have been young enough to succeed at it, even though Jolene hadn’t had any luck.

Maybe… Or maybe Hope just didn’t care.

Even with all the possibilities, Jolene found it difficult to re-open the bathroom door, once she’d stripped out of her sweater and pulled on the dress, and only partly because it was too short for her. It was only a bit longer than her sweater had been, prompting her to leave her jeans on as she stepped back out with a blush.

She saw Hope bite her bottom lip, probably trying not to laugh. “Okay, maybe that won’t work,” she said after a moment to regain her composure. But after a minute or two of digging, she looked back up at Jolene, worried. “Umm… That’s the biggest one we have left.” She shrugged, unable to hide the little smile that began to creep across her face. “I’m sure we’ll think of something…”

Patti was uncertain. While it was true Jolene had been a coward in life, all of Patti’s research showed that the life after always seemed to make people stronger, more cocky. It was a big self-esteem boost, with a healthy dose of added evil. Sure, they could act scared, especially in the face of their eminent re-death, but to some little teenager? She couldn’t see it. On the other hand, Jolene was clearly dressed like an elf, and that wasn’t something she’d seen many other vampires stoop to, either.

Was it possible she’d simply stumbled upon the most ineffectual vampire ever? One that she’d be doing a favor - not just to the world, but to it, personally - by killing it? No, not killing, she reminded herself. Slaying was the technical term, the one she’d used to psych herself up for this, to convince herself she could do it.

Things may have gone back to normal for Jolene, but Patti knew things would never be the same before she’d even set foot outside the camp. There were dark things in the world, she now knew, things most people were oblivious to. She could attempt to ignore them - for the first week or so, while she was still trying to figure everything out, she did try - but they kept haunting her from the shadows of her dreams, shapeless, but definitely there, and very, very evil.

The modus operandi for most monsters was rather similar to what she’d seen - luring caretakers out into the night, killing innocents - but it hadn’t taken her long to figure out it had been a vampire. It had a human shape, after all, which narrowed things down a good ways. The moon had been full, so a werewolf was also a possibility, though she didn’t buy that. While they did tend to revert to their human form after death in movies, Patti had a feeling that, in real life, they’d still be wolves until the full moon set. And, besides, werewolves, in their more beastly shapes, didn’t seem smart enough to hang their victims from tree limbs to terrify future prey.

Her parents hadn’t understood, not that she could really blame them. They did their best to be understanding, considering what she’d been through, but even so, they just wouldn’t - or couldn’t - accept the truth. She played along for a while, even went to the psychiatrist for them a couple times, until he started trying to get her to take pills. Her parents agreed with him, of course.

So she left. She couldn’t afford the dullness the drugs would bring, couldn’t let herself chase away the dreams, much as she’d like to be rid of them. They kept her sharp, kept her resolve strong, made her believe that maybe, just maybe, when the time came, she would have a chance to slay at least one of the monsters.

She took the bat. She knew it was just a regular baseball bat, nothing special, even a little beat up, but she felt safe with it. She took her car, too, stopping at a Wal-Mart a few towns over to take a license plate off a car at the edge of the parking lot there, ditching her own after a few more hours of driving, flinging it over the fence at the landfill just outside town.

She’d read somewhere that vampires would likely return to the place they were reborn, but she didn’t dare try to go back to the camp. In her mind, that was the most obvious place to go, which meant there was a chance her parents, or her shrink, would realize she would probably head there. And she couldn’t let herself get caught.

Instead, she pulled her notebook out of the glove compartment. When she’d gotten home, it had been one of the first things she’d done, while everything was still fresh on her mind. She’d written down everything she remembered about her fellow counselors, where they lived, where they went to school, whatever she could think of that she’d spoke with them about, or overheard from other conversations. She’d seen a lot of them the day after, sure, and even some out in direct sunlight. But who knew how long the transformation could take? And there was some lore, including the original Dracula story, that suggested vampires could, in fact, endure a little light.

So, knowing nobody was truly beyond suspicion, she took out her list, read over it once, then again, and then started out on her hunt.

Re: Peace, Hope and Joy: A Christmas Story - 2.1

another good chapter, keep up the good work

Re: Peace, Hope and Joy: A Christmas Story - 2.1

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Re: Peace, Hope and Joy: A Christmas Story - 2.1

you had me at word one, since you have such a fun story telling style, and each character is a work of art.