The ghost of last Christmas stumbled through the alley and into the vestibule of the apartment. She was tired, and favored one leg, and her eyes were the color of the Antarctic skies. It was a thick, heavy wood door, so she knocked twice, then leaned against it until someone opened it from inside.
“Come in, come in,” the stranger said. He was a big man with a big smile. “It’s too cold out there.”
Inside, a fire burned at the hearth. Around it, an assortment of other ghosts huddled and warmed their hands with hot cocoa. They all looked up at the newcomer. She stared back and didn’t move.
“It’s not quite the night before Christmas,” the stranger said, pulling up a chair for her. How so many chairs fit into a single room, she might never understand. “How was your holiday last year?”
The ghost shook herself from her stupor. “It was beautiful.”
“Aye,” one of the other ghosts said, “they often are.”
“Beautiful, but not always easy,” the stranger said. “Cocoa? Or would you perhaps prefer tea? Coffee?”
“Where are we?” the ghost asked.
The stranger smiled. “That’s a good question. A very good question. Look around you, what do you see?”
She looked around. “Books,” she said, because there were a lot of them. “Candles. Wreathes. A nativity set as old as any I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.”
“What else?” the stranger asked.
“Mistletoe. Paper reindeers. A Coca-Cola advertisement from 1936.”
“You’re missing the most obvious thing,” the stranger said.
“I see ghosts.”
“Christmas ghosts,” the stranger said. The ghost nodded. The other ghosts in the room laughed and offered words of encouragement.
“These are the ghosts,” the stranger said, “of Christmases past.”
The ghost shook her head. “But that’s not what I am. I’m a Ghost of Christmas Present.”
The stranger smiled. He glanced at his watch, which told not the time but the date, and counted down to the most important of them all. “You were last year, yes. This year’s Ghost of Christmas Present isn’t quite born yet.”
“Oh.” The ghost sat in the chair. “Are we all Ghosts of Christmases Past, then?” Nobody answered her, not with words, but she knew it was true.
The stranger smiled. “I’ll get you some cocoa.”
When the stranger was gone, the Ghosts of Christmases Past introduced themselves by name, by their ghostly names, which they wouldn’t even give to the children of gods. They shared their stories, and they told her about the adventures still to come..