The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
A Christmas Tale
by Naching T. Kassa
Lydia Cratchitt sat in the hospital cafeteria, her eyes on her table’s red top. Festive decorations surrounded her in hues of glittering green, red, and silver, but she paid them little mind. Darkness had reached into her life, taken hold of her heart, and squeezed the light from it.
A heavy-set waitress approached Lydia’s table holding a white paper bag in one hand.
“Lydia!” she cried. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hello, Peg. How’s school?”
“Wonderful. My Bruce poo-pooed those cooking classes of mine, but he sure enjoys them now.”
Peg cocked her head to one side. “You ok, honey?”
A tear formed at the corner of Lydia’s eye and she quickly brushed it away. “No.”
“What’s wrong? Is it Tim?”
Lydia nodded. “I was up in his room a few minutes ago. The procedure on his back…it didn’t work. He still can’t walk.”
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.”
“They’re keeping him in the hospital for observation until Friday. Tomorrow’s Christmas and I won’t see him.”
“I asked for the day off and my boss, Jackie, agreed. But this morning, she changed her mind. She says that if she has to work, I do too. I can’t believe it. She knows about Tim.”
“Call in sick.”
“She’ll fire me if I do. And with all the medical bills, I can’t afford that. I…” She trailed off and buried her face in her hands. Peg placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.
“That boss of yours is a real bitch.”
Lydia pulled a napkin from the dispenser on the table and dabbed at her eyes. “Well, it isn’t all bad. I won’t have to spend the whole day with Ms. Scrooge. At least I can see Tim when I get off.”
“Someone should get that woman an appointment with the three spirits,” Peg said. She paused. And tapped her upper lip with one finger. “You know, that gives me an idea. Wait here a minute.”
Peg hurried to the back. She returned a few minutes later with a Styrofoam cup.
“What’s this?” Lydia asked as the waitress set the cup down.
“Tea. A special kind I learned how to make it in one of my classes. It’s for your boss.”
“It’s not poison is it?”
“Of course not. It’s better if drunk from a glass cup, so you may want to use that. Tell her it’s a present from Peg in the Mt. Carmel Hospital cafeteria.”
“Will it hurt her?”
“It won’t kill her. Relax. All it’ll do is keep her from working for a bit.”
“I don’t think I should thank you for this.”
“You shouldn’t. Now, get to work or you’ll be late.”
“I just want to peek in on Tim one more time.”
“Don’t worry about Tim. I’ll check on him. And I’ll bring him a cup of tea while I’m at it.”
Lydia hurried out of the hospital and out to her car. She arrived at her workplace fifteen minutes later. Gordon’s Groceries hummed with activity.
Lydia took the cup from her cupholder and studied it.
She couldn’t give Jackie the tea. Not even for Tim’s sake. She carried it into the store, intending to toss it in the garbage.
“Thank God you’re back,” Tina, a red-headed girl said as Lydia walked through the door.
“Ms. Scrooge is on the warpath. The new checker just asked for Christmas off. She blew up at her just outside her office. I think she’s going to fire her.”
“Katie? But she’s pregnant.”3jjjjkn
“I don’t think Scrooge cares.”
Lydia hurried over to the manager’s office, the Styrofoam cup still in her hand. She found Jackie outside, shouting at a young woman with a tear-stained face.
“Jackie?” Lydia said.
“What?” the woman said, turning. She scowled at Lydia with crimson painted lips. The shade matched the color of her hair, the color of her coat, and the color of her nails. “What do you want, Lydia.”
“I’ll work Katie’s shift.”
“You want to work a double? I thought you had someplace to be.”
“It won’t be a problem,” Lydia said, clutching the cup Peg had given her.
“Alright.” She turned to Katie. “Get out of my sight.”
The pregnant woman hurried away.
Lydia followed Jackie into her office. The woman stepped behind her desk, picked up a pair of fingerless gloves, and slipped them on.
“Damn it’s cold,” Jackie muttered. She glanced up at Lydia. “Did you just get back from lunch?”
“Yes. I went to Mr. Carmel’s cafeteria. Peg heard you were having trouble with the cold and she sent this over. Do you have a glass cup? It may have cooled down a little.”
Jackie arched an eyebrow. “There’s one by the microwave. You can warm it up in there.”
Lydia prepared the tea in the microwave. When she’d finished, she handed the glass mug to Jackie.
“You can get back to work now,” her boss said, waving her away.
Lydia bowed out of the room and shut the door behind her. She’d barely taken two steps when something hit the wall behind her. A blood-curdling scream filled the air.
Lydia rushed back to the office door and pulled on the doorknob. It wouldn’t budge.
“Oh, God!” Jackie screamed. “Help me!”
Something thumped against the door and it shook with the impact.
“Jackie!” Lydia cried. Several employees appeared at that moment. They stared at the door, eyes wide, as Jackie screamed again.
“Get the door open!” Lydia cried.
Two young men rushed up and threw their shoulders against the door. At last, it flew open. Lydia rushed inside.
The place lay in shambles. Paper, splintered wood, and other debris littered the floor. A shadow stood in the corner of the room. It stared at Lydia with strange scarlet eyes and opened a mouth filled with rows of sharp and bloodied teeth. Lydia blinked as it vanished into the woodwork.
A soft moan sounded from behind the desk. Jackie lay on the floor, her right arm and left leg bent at an unnatural angle. She stared at Lydia with haunted eyes.
“G-ghosts!” she whispered.
“Oh, Jackie. I’m so sorry,” Lydia cried.
“I will honor Christmas and keep it all the year,” Jackie said, trembling.
“I didn’t know you’d be hurt.”
“Their spirits shall strive within me. Their spirits shall strive within me!”
“Call an ambulance,” Lydia said. “Quick!”
Jackie grasped hold of Lydia’s wrist. “Tim will walk again,” she whispered. “He will walk again.”
Lydia’s heart rose into her throat. She pulled away from Jackie and rose to her feet. Tina took her place as she stepped away.
Lydia’s cell phone rang, and she pulled it from her pocket. Mt. Carmel’s phone number came across the screen. She answered.
“Tim? Tim, are you alright?”
“I couldn’t be better. Are you busy?”
“Then, I’ll be quick. It looks like I’ll be home for Christmas after all.”
“Oh, sweetheart! That’s wonderful! Are they loaning us a wheelchair?”
“They’re not giving us anything?”
“They don’t need to.”
The phone nearly dropped from Lydia’s fingers.
“It’s weird, babe. One minute I was trapped in bed and the next I was on my feet. You see, Peg came to give me a cup of tea…”
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.