by Sarah E. Seeley
The barely teenage Eloida wasn’t supposed to be out of bed, but it wasn’t the excitement of Buena Noche, Christmas Eve, that had deprived her of sleep. She’d had another nightmare about her parents, and she’d awoken to what had struck her distinctly as her mother’s footfalls on the wooden stairs leading up from the basement where she slept. As absurd as the notion was, she got up and followed the sound, chasing the yearning tick in her throat with the growing skepticism of wakefulness. It wasn’t Mama. She was gone. It had to be one of Eloida’s cousins, or one of the grown-ups. But she had to know who it was, whose footsteps sounded just like her mother’s back home.
The grand Del Lago house was dark and quiet, except for the yellow flicker of electric lights made to look like dripping candlesticks that had been lovingly arranged around the family’s Nacimiento scene on the broad foot of the stone fireplace. The central room, with its tall windows hidden behind even taller curtains and a high ceiling that opened up to a library attic and other rooms on the third floor, glowed with strings of twinkling white lights from the banisters above. Loosely folded piles of blankets graced the loveseat and sofa in front of the fireplace. The central room flowed seamlessly along a shared wooden floor to the open kitchen. The whole house still smelled of the delicious spices and umami of the stuffed turkey, tamales, bunuelos, and pineapple upside-down cake—volteado de piña—that Tio Roberto and Tia Julinha had made many hours ago. Extended family brought empanadas and various side salads to celebrate the ninth day of Posadas on the calendar.
Close to where the girl stood, a North American blue pine tree, decorated with ribbons and another string of lights, was situated next to the stairs that led to the basement, adding its own rich spice and blended cultural aesthetic to the atmosphere. Across the room, an aluminum softball bat lay propped against the wall next to the fireplace. A host of children from the extended family had used it over the last four days to break piñatas. Eloida could spy stray ribbons of paper mâché on the floor in dark textures, here and there around the room, despite the grown ups’ efforts to tidy.
A figure stooped next to the two-foot-high wooden statues of Mary and Joseph, fingering the red poinsettia leaves that were dark with shadow in the evening glow of the lights. The figure seemed to take in their perfume. Then she stood up, perusing the picture frames of various shapes and sizes that featured photographs of the Del Lago’s family and friends. She looked so normal in some ways, dressed in a white blouse, dark pants that cut above her ankles, and an outline of simple, flat dress shoes on her feet that nearly blended away into the natural light and shadows of the room. Her long, dark hair appeared to be pulled back from her face with a red hair ribbon, neatly braided across the top like a headband.
Eloida stood frozen, not daring to move as she watched the faintly glowing specter trace the nearest stonework of the fireplace with translucent fingers. The spectral figure paced slowly across the room, seeming to take in the Del Lago’s splendid Nacimiento decorations with an expression of wonder on her shining face, accompanied by a twinge of a frown that made her look uneasy. Then the figure returned to the fireplace mantle, glancing at the scene of the Holy Couple kneeling over the wooden statue of Jesus inside a wooden box filled with actual straw.
The figure responded to Eloida’s strained whisper, meeting her gaze with soft, dark eyes and a face filled with a lifelike warmth that was free from pallor. The girl shivered. She wanted nothing more than to run up to the figure, this essence of her mother, or whatever it was. Throw her arms around her, and weep for hours into her bosom. But the figure had vanished the last time she tried to come close. So she stood where she was, and the figure stayed where she was, the two of them caught by whatever ethereal mechanisms allowed them to see each other on opposite sides of life and death for these small glimmers.
First Publication © Copyright 2020 by Sarah E. Seeley
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About Haunted Yuletide
The “Holiday Spirit” just got terrifying.
As the year comes to its end and the frigid night hours reach their peak, the old tradition of winter ghost tales makes its return. Christmas ghosts, Solstice spirits, New Year’s phantoms, and even armies of killer snowmen haunt the pages of these stories of the supernatural.
“Te Amo, Mamita” is a short story appearing in the anthology Haunted Yuletide, available December 1st on Amazon. Paperbacks will become available soon. You can pre-order the ebook now at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MQNH3Z5.