“Wings” — a RIP Christmas story

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! I realized, in all my years of writing fiction, I had never written a Christmas story. I’ve rectified that situation. So, here’s a Christmas story that also serves as a prequel to RIP: Choices After Death.

Text is copyright 2013 Daniel R. Sherrier. If you like it, however, please feel free to share the link.

Hope you enjoy…

“Wings”

A RIP short story

By Daniel Sherrier

Serissa pulled herself out of the ground again.

This time, she emerged in a shopping center plaza after dark. Yet it wasn’t dark, not with that looming Christmas tree.

Was it that time of year already? Did it have to be? She had never been dead during the holidays. At least she missed Thanksgiving…

The plaza was busy. Pedestrians stopped to stare at the decorations, despite the oversized shopping bags they juggled. Couples sat on the benches and cuddled while basking in the lights. Kids ran around like little crazy people. Either the tree was a recent arrival, or these people had never seen one before.

Serissa hardly believed Christmas was approaching. She remembered a chilly season, with evening temperatures dipping below freezing. Judging from everyone’s thick jackets and visible breath, it was chilly, just not to Serissa. She experienced the December air no differently than she had the August air. She, and she alone, experienced it as nothing. Those teenagers snuggling ever closer certainly experienced something.

The tree topper caught her attention. Its crafter had endowed the angel with wide, illuminated wings. Serissa might as well have been gazing at a billionaire or rocket scientist or bobsledder or something else that could never be her.

Her vision blacked out for a moment. A man had just walked through her. He held the hand of a woman not much older than Serissa, but still an age she’d never reach. But that didn’t bother her nearly as much as those hands did. Serissa wondered how she could miss something she never truly had. Oh, she had plenty of men in her time, but precious few hands to hold like that.

The tree didn’t smell like a tree, not even a fake tree. It emitted no odor at all, not to her nose. She reached toward an ornament, one of several jingle bells hanging from the lowest branches, but her hand passed through it, making no contact.

This shopping center had a bakery just across the way. Serissa located it a second after she noticed a kid eating a big chocolate reindeer. Normally at Christmas, she’d be eating lots of chocolate. Delicious chocolate that smelled even more delicious as she anticipated the sweet, slightly melted goody having its way with her tongue. Ahh, chocolate…

But never again. Not even a whiff.

This entire Christmas tableau might as well have been an illusion, as much a ghost as she was, but one aspect confirmed its reality—the sundry emotions leaping off people and worming their way into her head.

The children practically screamed with exuberance and anxiousness, while the couples spewed saccharine goop. Serissa also spotted the occasional lonely or regretful soul wandering about, but all the goop kept giving her airplane ear.

She was not without recourse, however. With her ghostly abilities, she could dim the couples’ affection, sabotage their tender moments, and prevent them from making those lonely souls feel even worse about themselves. It would be a good deed, kind of. A good deed to some. Less good to others…

Serissa redirected her focus back onto the angel way up there. She could already fly, true, but if she had wings like that, maybe she’d get to escape this temperature-less, chocolate-flaunting world and go to…to…something better. Anything better.

“I want chocolate!” she screamed. “I haven’t eaten in months. I’m not asking for a whole big meal, just chocolate. One chocolate bar. Even just that deer’s antlers. That’s all! C’mon, Santa, you listening? Where’s the ghost of St. Nicholas when you—right. Saint. No purgatory for saints.” She squeezed her fists but achieved no catharsis. “I want my damn chocolate.”

People began noticing the bakery in greater numbers, and they headed over.

“I’m thinking you want more than chocolate right now,” some guy said.

Oh. The guy was talking to her. Huh? Oh.

Serissa found a not-shabby fellow standing beside her, looking right at her, and of course she could see him, too. Death had bequeathed Serissa with special ghost-detection senses, allowing her to see and hear everyone as dead as herself. See and hear, but nothing more.

“So what’re you in for?” he asked.

“I really do want chocolate,” Serissa muttered.

“I see that.” He pointed a thumb at the line forming inside the bakery. “Is that what you miss the most, or is it simply what you can most bear to miss?”

Serissa’s feet dipped into the pavement. But she thought about how long it had been since someone talked to her, and she halted her sinking. So what if he was merely a ghost? At least he seemed less creepy than the others she’d met since…

“Why aren’t you creepy?” she asked.

“Thank you.”

“Serious question.”

“You didn’t answer my serious questions.”

“Most ghosts I’ve come across, they find some poor soul to use as their emotional punching bag, and they go all Rocky on them. But you’ve got a different vibe.”

“I like to think so. I’m an angel,” he said.

Serissa tried to sigh. No air emerged. “Sure you are, Clarence. Hope you’re having a wonderful afterlife.”

“Sadly, I’m no Clarence. I’m just Neil. And you are…?”

She hesitated. “Serissa.”

“Hey, you actually answered that time. Nice to meet you, Serissa.”

“You missed your shot at meeting the real me. Real me is cremated and stuffed in a vase. That’s my big reward. Prime fireplace real estate. Yay. Big sarcastic yay.”

Neil smiled at her. She had seen that smile many times on many guys, but what was Mr. Intangible up to?

“You are the real you,” he said. “You’re not gone yet.”

“Isn’t that the problem?”

“Depends on how you look at it.” He slowed down to punch his point. “You’ve been given something many people never get—one last chance to prove yourself worthy of something better.”

“If there is anything better. You got some info I don’t?”

He smirked. “Maybe.”

She tried to focus on the tree, but her mouth kept moving despite herself. “So what makes you an angel?”

“The fact that I’m trying for something better.”

Serissa stared at him for a moment. “Sounds either like wishful thinking or someone seriously lowered the bar on angelic.”

Neil shrugged. “Look, the ratio of ‘creepy’ ghosts to angels is something like fifty to one. Most don’t qualify. They don’t allow themselves to qualify. But I’m one, and so are you.”

Serissa laughed. She was so rusty at it, it emerged from her throat as a hoarse guffaw. “I’m no angel.” More hand-holders walked through her, so she shouted at them. “Personal space, people! Personal effing space! Why did I say effing? You’re a bad influence, Christmas tree! Bad Christmas tree!” She even pointed at it.

Neil was so damn calm. “Are you haunting anyone? No? Okay, you’re an angel.”

“Um, yeah, really lowering that bar now. If I’m an angel, the world is screwed.”

“Or, you can accept it, and you can start earning it. You could be a great angel, Serissa.”

She shook her head as she turned back to the tree. “And death keeps getting weirder.”

“Think about it. The A-list already went straight to Heaven, or to whatever reward they get. People like you and me, well, we’re the living’s best line of defense against the creepy ghosts.”

“Like what, court-ordered community service? Mandatory volunteering. Why did no one ever see that contradiction?”

“If it were mandatory, the ratio wouldn’t be so lopsided.” Neil maneuvered back into her line of sight. “And you know what? We don’t have to do it alone.” He really worked the charming smile. Maybe he did know something she didn’t. “We could be angels together.”

Not shabby at all, this guy. “It, yeah, it might be nice to work with somebody, be a team. I’d like that.” She considered it. “But angels? Really?”

“You already look the part, so you’ve got a nice head start on things,” he said, as he drew closer to her incorporeal form. He did remember they were both incorporeal, right?

“What are you doing?”

“Trying for something better.”

“But we’re—”

“Trust me. Trust our vague ghostly system. We’ve been good. So, we get rewarded. Just believe it.”

Trust. Believe. Okay. She trusted him as much as she could without closing her eyes, but she permitted his lips to advance toward hers as he reached his arms around her.

Maybe this would surprise her. Christmas was miracle season, right? What the heck. She closed her eyes…

…and felt nothing.

Serissa spun around and found Neil behind her, staring at his own hands. His vibe changed. Not so different anymore.

“Dammit!” The charming smile was gone, replaced by contorted rage. “But I’ve been so good! I’ve been really, really good, and I’m not allowed one lousy kiss?”

“Lousy?”

Neil looked at her, his ghostliness becoming all the more evident. He slowly extended his fingers into her face, wiggled them a bit, and snapped his arm back. “It doesn’t work. The system…I was wrong. We’re no angels. Angels wouldn’t be in Hell. We’re in…”

He flew straight into the nearest store and likely beyond. Serissa contemplated his abrupt exit for a full minute.

“That exit was really not flattering for him,” Serissa said, now standing alone amidst a dwindling crowd. Well, she wasn’t really standing, she realized. She had no solid feet to stand on, so she merely hovered, unconsciously aligning herself with the pavement—pavement she couldn’t feel—pavement so immaterial, it would’ve been too easy to fall through and hibernate until the season passed, and to keep hibernating long afterward.

Then she recalled how unflattering Neil appeared.

Even death hadn’t spared her the routines of pickup artists. Of course his whole “angel” spiel meant nothing. Of course she wasn’t—

Bells. She heard bells. From the Christmas tree. A few children were ringing the bells.

“Look!” one said, as her vigorous shaking generated dull thunks within the cheap ornament. “We’re giving angels their wings!”

The notion elated the children, and their joy enveloped Serissa, warming her. She must have been cold after all.

The kids wanted someone to have wings, to be better. They gave what they had to give—a thought and a gesture. And what did they want in return? They wanted stuff, sure, but for now their greed receded beneath their delight in helping a stranger. They didn’t even need to see the stranger or prove this person’s existence.

Serissa realized she could help them. That joy—she could amplify it. She didn’t understand any of the mechanics of her ghostly abilities, but she knew she could do it. So she did. And little crazy people giggles filled the plaza and brought smiles to the adults’ faces, including her own.

Too bad Neil went bonkers. Company would’ve been nice.

Company…

Serissa flew to the treetop, and she conversed with the inanimate angel figure.

“Hi.” She pantomimed shaking its hand. “Nice wings you got there. Love the glow. Worth every kilogram of, wait, how do you measure electricity again? Wings would be cool. Unless you have to clean them.” She pretended to rest her elbows on the branches like they were a dinner table and she was being rude. “Wing maintenance. Huh. What kind of work goes into that? And how do you look over your shoulder? People could really sneak up on you with those big feathers getting in the way. I guess that’s why you never see ninjas with wings. Well, and the fact that they kill people. Not easy having those, is it?” She nodded. “An angel.” That guy must have been bonkers, coming up with an idea like that. “Yep,” she told the figure. “You and me, little buddy, we’re angels.”

She laughed with the figure, which did not actually laugh, but she knew it wanted to.

****

What’s next for Serissa? Find out in RIP: Choices After Death, now available in paperback and ebook.