Monday, December 18, 2023

Gifts from the Forbidden Room


I had originally planned to wait until after Christmas to post my next story. But the writing prompt for my short story group this week was "Christmas Eve" and I couldn't resist posting my story while it was still Christmas time.

Unlike most of my stories, this one is being posted here within minutes after finishing it, which means I haven't gotten any kind of review or feedback on it yet. So, as always, I would be most eager to hear any feedback, suggestions or ideas.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

James Meadows

Gifts from the Forbidden Room
by James J Meadows III

It was the coldest Christmas Eve the village had ever experienced, the deepest snow the village had ever experienced and the strongest wind the village had ever experienced. No one was out walking the streets on their way to visit friends and families. No carolers broke the howling gale with their croaking voices. Nor did any church bells ring, announcing the end of their Christmas Eve vigils. Anyone looking through a window or peering through the night might wonder if the village was a ghost town.

The lack of distractions made the night perfect for my needs. Not that anyone ever interrupted me. Despite being the only daughter of the wealthiest family in the village, and having inherited my parent’s fortune after they passed away, few people wanted anything to do with me. My family had a bad reputation. Most people avoided us if possible.

No one visited me on Christmas. No one invited me to parties or dances. No one brought me any gifts or sent me any cards. It was a lonely existence, resulting in many long nights spent wishing there were someone who cared. Still, just because I didn’t have a friend, didn’t mean I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted for Christmas. Those people couldn’t get me what I wanted anyway.

Collecting the last of my supplies, a small jewelry box filled with salt and a bowl filled with water, I proceeded through the wall of darkness, whose grip upon the drafty old house remained despite the dim glow of the tiny candle in my hand.

Reaching the staircase leading to the second floor, I started my progression upward, eyes focused intensely on the vaguely discernable steps my feet ascended, and not on the waves of visions swirling around me. Images of wars fought and not fought, babies yet to be born and children yet to die, mingled with visions of blood running down the stairs before me. All fought for my attention. I didn’t want these visions, yet they came nonetheless. They always did on this night.

Reaching the top of the steps, I veered right, down the longest darkest hallway of my family’s ancestral estate, past the small room with the four post bed, which served as my own during my parent’s lifetime, and around a corner to where another staircase led even further upward.

Here, the light was just a formality. I had walked these stairs so many times, I felt confident I could do it with my eyes closed. How many times, as a child, had I scaled these steps to gaze or listen at the doors of the forbidden room above? How many days did I count until my coming of age when I would finally be allowed to open them? And how many Christmas Eves since that day had I returned, each time wishing I had never ascended them in the first place?

More visions swam before my eyes, visions of my parents, both how I knew them and before I knew them, visions of distant ancestors and relatives, some I knew and some I didn’t know, all crossing these stairs throughout the ages on Christmas Eve night, to perform the same ritual. For the door could only be opened on Christmas Eve, and on every Christmas Eve, I was there, just as my parents were there during every Christmas Eve of their lives. And someday, when I too married and had children, my children would come to this door, too, just like their mother. I know. I had seen that in the visions also.

I shut these visions out too. I needed to focus on what I was doing and where I was going. Twenty one steps carried me to the top floor of the manor where, on the opposite side of a long wooden landing, now covered thickly with the dust of a year’s neglect, for no one came up here to clean, stood the only pristine-looking objects in the whole house, a pair of ornate oaken doors, perfectly polished though no rag had ever touched their gleaming exteriors.

A deep steadying breath crossed my lips as I fought to control the waves of emotion washing over me. I had performed the ritual more than a dozen times, ever since I was old enough to memorize the words and movements, with the same precision of my parents. And yet, despite all of these years of experience and the incessant days of practice I always went through leading up to Christmas Eve, I never ceased to feel, as my parents admitted they felt, a certain sense of apprehension toward what was about to happen.

Ultimately, however, the nerves meant nothing since, regardless of any anxiety I might feel for the experience ahead, there was no turning back. And, to be perfectly honest, the thought, though perhaps tempting to other people, never even occurred to me. This was, after all, whether blessing or curse, my family’s legacy, passed from generation to generation for as long as any we had owned this house, which was as long as any written records recorded.

Placing down the candle, a slow and rather more complicated process than it might seem, since I could not risk letting a single drop of wax fall on the floor or chance the candle going out for any reason, I proceeded to empty my hands of all items, positioning the salt and water on their proper places.

The house was much chillier up here, where no grates were built to support a fire, and the thin roof overhead did little to muffle the howling winds rattling across its aging shingles. The conditions, uncomfortable enough on their own, only worsened as I unlaced the front of my dress, allowing the garment to slither off my lithe frame onto a pile at my feet. Now naked, the cold was almost unbearable, and I shivered uncontrollably as I picked up the dress, holding it outstretched before me and headed for the door.

I placed the gown neatly spread across the floor right in front of the doorway, the neck of the dress toward the door and the skirt facing away. I straightened back up, surveying it, making sure everything was correct. It was. I turned toward the door, curling my fingers into a fist, and raising it level with the elegantly carved face of a young woman, staring at me from the front of the left door.

There I stood, breathing deeply, resolving myself to continue, accepting that I had no choice, steeling myself against what I was about to see, determined not to turn back now.


My fist fell, hitting the door. The ceremony had begun. I struck the door a second time and, after another five seconds, a third. Then, my hand fell to my side and I stood there, listening.


A loud knock sounded from the opposite side of the door. My heart leapt into my chest, so I could barely breathe. I turned away from the door, heading toward ceremonial supplies. A series of five carefully measured steps carried me back to the candle, beside which sat the water and the salt.


The knock sounded again. I bent over and collected the salt, grabbing a handful of it as I straightened up. I held the box before me, casting the salt in a circle across the floor with my free hand.

“To the East from which the sun’s light awakes,” I shouted, my voice rising above the harsh wails of the wind, which seemed to grow louder with each second. “To the North, where the flowers grow when spring comes; To the South, where the flowers wither as fall approaches. To the West, where the sun fades as winter ends, bringing darkness and sleep to the now weary land! Seal this circle with the magic of this sand.”


With the last crash, the doors flew open revealing the briefest glimpse of the room within: a glimpse so bizarre and indescribable that there seem no words for it. How can one describe a darkness of immeasurable depth, which, by its very nature, singes the eyes with its brightness; or explain a smell so subtle one can barely taste it, yet so overwhelming that the senses can hardly cope; or express a sound so quiet one can hardly hear it, while at the same time so pervasive it stings the ears. There are no words for such things. They can only be experienced.

Yet, just as quickly as the sensations came, the doors shut again, barring the room from my view. At the same instant, the dress, previously resting upon the floor, rose into the air before me. In a slow gradual manner, reminiscent of a balloon inflating before my eyes, the dress expanded, filling as though some unseen force were slipping it on. A second later, the force ceased to be unseen.

I stood facing a figure I knew only too well. I recognized her long blonde hair, her bright green eyes, her smooth skin, and every other feature about her without the slightest difficulty. An easy task, since she was me.

“Hello Melina.”

Her lips never moved, yet her voice drifted softly across the room, as if carried by a summer breeze.

“Merry Christmas.”

The words hung in the air for a several seconds, while the woman looked at me. I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for me to reply or not. I chose not to. This was not the first time the spirit had assumed my form for one of these meetings. But that didn’t mean it annoyed me any less and I didn’t feel much like wishing it a Merry Christmas.

I didn't know how the spirit first came to occupy the house. Some legends claimed my ancestors trapped it here, demanding it grant them favors. Other diaries claimed the spirit came to live in the house of its own free will, awarding the family boons for allowing it to stay.

Either way, I didn't trust it. The spirit was an unstable entity, dangerous and unpredictable, often creating mischief with even its most benign gestures; hence, the reason I took the precaution of surrounding myself in a protective circle.

“You have come to me,” the voice continued. “The one who can see all secrets kept and to be kept, who knows all things learned and unlearned, who can reveal all mysteries and lore past and future. Yet I sense few questions in you. What would you ask of me?”

I took a deep breath. Though I had said these words many times before, I still felt nervous every time I spoke them.

“I wish to make the visions stop,” I said. The wish was, itself, somewhat futile, since I already knew the answer.

A small smile spread across the spirit’s face.

“Every year you come here asking for this,” she said. “Can I not give you so much more? Can I not show you all the secrets of the past or reveal all the majesty of the future?”

In response to these words, images swam before my eyes; images hinting of secret knowledge, ancient mysteries, lost glories and of equally magnificent splendors yet to be created. The spirit’s speech and visions took me by surprise. Rarely did she ever converse with us in such a manner. I shook my head.

“These my family already has, and, if I could, I would give the gift back. Yet you will not take it.”

The spirit ignored the second part of my statement.

“Why not accept power, instead? I could give you magic beyond your wildest dreams, physical talent to make the mightiest man jealous, or charisma to make all people bend before your will.”

“All such gifts I may have, and yet find no happiness in their acquisition,” I replied. “For power is a dangerous ally, and all who seek it find themselves consumed, as so many of my ancestors learned.”

“Indeed, absolute power can make one lonely,” the spirit said, giving a mischievous smile. “Is that not what you fear the most?”

I felt my blood run cold. A new image swam before my eyes: that of a handsome, gentle man with a kind smile, a warm touch, and a deep soul, sitting, his arms wrapped around me, upon the warm couch beneath a soft blanket, as the wind rattled the night outside. A deep longing crept into my heart. This was what I longed for more than all the wealth and the power of all the worlds: an end to the seemingly perpetual loneliness haunting my days since my parents passed.

My hand, lost like my mind in the waves of unbroken desire to feel the warmth and love of the image, drifted unconsciously away from my body, extending to touch my lover's face. At the same instance, a warning cry sounded in my brain. I drew back, realizing with a sudden horror that my arm almost crossed out of the salt circle surrounding me.

“All of those things will come on their own, in time,” I said, regaining my composure. “Now is not yet that time.”

The vision vanished.

“If you would have none of these things, why have you come,” the voice responded. “You know I cannot take the visions away from you. They were a gift demanded by your first ancestor. And, the gift cannot be taken away.”

“But it can be suppressed for a year,” I replied, “just as you do every year.”

“But why waste your wishes on this?” the voice responded. “Every year your one wish, your family’s one wish they can make of me, is wasted on such a silly purpose: to take away the gift of clairvoyance I graciously bestowed upon them generations ago. Why such waste?”

“You know why,” I answered. “You know what I see when it is active. I can’t sleep; I can’t talk; I can hardly even walk because of all the visions. Your ‘gift’ was a punishment meant to render us helpless.”

“Learn to master it and its secrets,” the voice responded. “Who knows what you might learn?”

I pondered these words. Again, it was very unlike the spirit to engage in such a conversation. Was this some kind of trick?

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“You are special,” it responded. “I’ve watched you since childhood. Of all your family through the many generations, none has shown as much promise as you. Why not use your gift…”

“Our curse,” I interrupted.

“Whatever,” the spirit replied impatiently. “Why not use it in a constructive manner, the way your ancestor first wanted. Master it! Learn it!”

“I have made my wish,” I said, a sense of stubborn indignation rising in me.

“Very well,” said the spirit, in a voice which almost sounded like a sigh. “Your energies are suppressed! Now begone! But you will think about what I said before next Christmas! And you may yet change your mind.”

As she finished her words, the doors behind her swung open but this time I didn’t look inside. I merely gazed ahead at the fading figure before me, as she disappeared from view. Then, the doors closed and the dress flopped to the ground.

The strange tension in the room seemed to fade. There was a moment of silence, interrupted only by the sound of the wind.

Hearing the wind brought my thoughts back to the storm and I suddenly remembered how cold I was. I hurried through the rest of the ritual, picking of the water and ceremoniously washing away the salt circle before retrieving my dress.

As I retied the strings on the blouse, I couldn’t help pondering what the spirit told me. Was I really special? Could I really master the visions? Or was the spirit just playing with me, tempting me to not make the wish on the one night of the year I was able to - a trick to make me suffer for the next year, unable to escape the prophetic dreams and nightmares haunting my waking hours?

I didn’t know. I did know the spirit was telling the truth about one thing, though. I had a feeling I was going to spend a lot of time thinking about her words before next Christmas.

Frowning at the thought, I hurried down the steps. There were no visions or images to trouble me as I walked. And in that way, at least, I knew I had gotten exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Hello Everyone,

This short story is based upon a writing prompt I was given for last week called "The Package" and I thought it made a good story for Christmas. Feel free to leave any feedback and let me know what you think!

"Packages for Lilly"

There it sat, beneath the tall sparkling green tree that Lilly’s parents had erected just a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful box, long and rectangular, wrapped up inside that shiny, glistening paper.  The box rested on top of another, much larger package and had several large glass ornaments hanging down around it. Yet, neither the larger package nor the ornaments could grab Lilly’s attention at all. The smaller box was the only one she cared about.

This box was magical. Lilly knew it was meant just for her. There could be no doubt about that because of the bow. It was a large bow made from blue lace, sporting multiple long trailers, which dangled over the edge of the box beneath it.  Something that neat had to be meant just for her. There they hung, waiting for her!

Lilly inched toward the package as if it were a siren calling her name. There was something alluring about it. She didn’t know what was lurking inside the box, below the surface of the wrapping paper. Nevertheless, she knew she wanted the box. Even more, she wanted the bow. She wanted to touch that beautiful blue lace.

She moved closer to the package. 

“Lilly, no!” Her mother’s voice called.

With a swiftness, which caught Lilly off-guard, her mother snatched her from the floor and away from the shiny box. Lilly gave a loud whine of dismay. She also gave a small wiggle, trying to get out of her mother’s arms. But it was a half-hearted effort at best.

Lilly knew any attempts to escape would be pointless. As such, the initial struggle quickly gave way to simply hanging limp from her mother's grip as Lilly was lugged unceremoniously to the other side of the room. There, her mother deposited her gently onto the couch before turning away again.

Without another word, Lilly’s mother went back to the dining room and resumed doing whatever it was she was doing before. Lilly didn’t have the slightest clue what it might be.

As best Lilly could tell, her mother was holding some long cylindrical plastic stick with a point at the end. She kept using it to scribble something onto a bunch of strange square-shaped papers. Then, she would lick some small object and press it onto the corner of the paper.

Under other circumstances, Lilly might have found this activity to be interesting. At the present moment, though, Lilly found herself unable to focus on anything except the tantalizing little box sitting under the tree.

            Lilly had to have it! Why couldn’t her mother understand?

Lilly gave another loud whine of indignation which her mother ignored. This was so not fair! How could her mother do this to her?

Without warning, the sun broke through the hazy layer of clouds outside, temporarily casting its rays through the open window nearby the tree. The rays fell directly upon the package, which sparkled afresh in gentle morning light. Once again, Lilly found herself unable to look away.  

With careful, measured movements, Lilly slunk off the couch, her eyes still transfixed by the hypnotic twinkle of the gleaming package. She took a quick glance in the direction of her mother. As she did so, her mother rose from the table, walking toward her.

For a moment, Lilly hesitated, thinking her mother was coming for her again. Instead, her mother walked right past her and headed into the nearby bedroom. A loud rustling and shifting and opening of drawers soon ensued. Her mother was looking for something.

This was Lilly’s chance. Creeping stealthily over to the package, she examined the string hanging down from the bow. There was something mesmerizing about the way it hung there. It seemed to hang there just for her.

With a fierce swipe, Lilly swung her hand at one of the trailers dangling from the lace bow. It swung away and then returned back to its original location. That was kind of fun. Lilly struck it again, entertained by its swinging.

This was neat but it got old pretty fast. Lilly wanted to try something new. On a whim, she leaned forward and tried to bite the lace. When she did, she discovered she was having a hard time hanging on. No sooner did her teeth latch down on the trailer than it slid from her jaws.

Reaching out, she grabbed it, trying to make it stay still so she could get a better grip with her teeth. No sooner had her hand gripped the cord, though, then, to her horror, the cord seized her.

With a surprising strength, the lacy trailer latched to her hand, refusing to let go. Lilly couldn’t get it off. She gave a cry of alarm and began to thrash her hand wildly about, trying to get the cord to release her, yet its grip was firm. With a yank, she pulled her hand backward, causing the package to fall off of the larger package it was on.

A loud tinkling sound like cracking glass greeted her ears as the package smashed against the floor. Still, the lace trailer clung to her, refusing to let go.

Lilly gave a strangled cry of agitation, struggling more fiercely. Yet, the relentless cord refused to release her from its clutches. Spinning, writhing and leaping around in dismay, Lilly swung, twisted, and flung her hand in all sorts of directions, trying to free herself from the lace’s clutches.

As she did so, her body collided with the ornaments dangling from the tree. These also fell to the floor, with loud cracking noises. The struggle was becoming more intense as Lilly’s panic grew. Still, the trailer refused to cede its grip, clutching more tightly to her hand.

Lilly screamed furiously. She didn’t know what was happening. She only knew she had to get away from this package. Somehow, she had to escape.

“Lilly!” Her mother’s scream of alarm rang through the room.

As if in answer to some unspoken prayer, Lilly felt her mother’s arms seize her, interrupting the battle. Lilly called to her mother for help, relaxing slightly in the woman’s strong grip. Without a word, her mother reached down and seized the lace trailer. Slowly and carefully, Lilly’s mother detached the troublesome trailer from Lilly’s claw.

“Lilly, look what you’ve done!” her mother said angrily, gesturing at the cracked ornaments and fallen Christmas present.

The cat could have cared less. Freed from the attacking package, she raced across the room and hid beneath the coffee table. From her new post, Lilly watched as her mother examined the box and the fallen decorations. After a moment, her mother picked them up and headed for the kitchen.

Lilly turned her attention back to the presents, glaring angrily at the packages which had dared to attack her. They were dangerous. There was no way she was going to go anywhere near those things again!

As this thought passed through her mind, she noticed another package sitting on top of a large box. It was a sparkly package with a bow on top. From the bow, dangled a long green lace trailer.

It seemed to call to Lilly. She knew it was meant just for her. Lilly wasn’t sure if it was as dangerous as the last package. Still, it couldn’t hurt to investigate. Slowly, Lilly inched toward the package, as though it were a siren calling her name.