The chime rang out through the darkness of Destan’s chambers, clear and sharp. Destan’s eyes shot open, his heart beating in his ears. It was one o’ clock. He shrunk down beneath the blankets and covered his head.
It wasn’t real. My father wasn’t here and there are no spirits coming for me. It was all just a dream. I’m still dreaming, he tried to convince himself. He was starting to believe these thoughts to be true … until he heard his bed drapes slide open.
A bright light seeped through his covers, banishing the darkness beneath his sheets where he was curled up in a little ball. He felt the bed trembled as something took a seat beside him. He felt a hand, touch his back, its warmth penetrated the many layers of coverings he hid beneath. That single touch soothed his frantic mind and he suddenly felt compelled to peek out from beneath his covers.
Destan pulled down his blankets and sat up to see the figure of a woman bathed in a calming blue light. The light she emitted was warm and gentle, and although he could not clearly see the woman’s features, he could feel that she was beautiful.
“I hope I didn’t frighten you, child,” she said, her voice was soft and sweet—he felt as if he had heard her voice before.
All the fear that remained within his being vanished when she set her hand upon his cheek. “I-I was a frightened, but not anymore,” he said, tilting his head. “Have we met somewhere before?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not,” she replied evasively.
“Who are you?”
“Tonight I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” the woman said, letting her hand fall from his cheek. “Walk with me, child. We have much to see and little time to do it in.”
“Walk with you? It’s the middle of the night, m’lady!” Despite his protested words, he scrambled out of bed and quickly pulled on his dressing gown. “Where are we going?”
The blue woman held out her hand for his. “Take my hand and you shall see.”
Destan reached out for her hand, but stopped himself short of taking it. He retreated slightly, his brow settling low over his eyes. “How do I know you aren’t planning to take me to some dreadful place?”
“Are you trying to trap me like the Queen Isole?” Destan said, studying the woman carefully. “I may have fallen for this sort of trick once, but I’m not so stupid as to—”
“Calm yourself. It is not my task to deceive you, child,” the woman said gently. “On the contrary, I am here to enlighten you. Trust me or don’t, however, I am your only hope if you wish to change the sad future that lies ahead of you. Now please, Destan, take my hand—our time grows short.”
The prince hesitated for only a moment longer before grasping the woman’s hand. As soon as he touched her, her light grew so bright that it blinding him for one terrifying moment. When the light finally died down, they were no longer standing in Destan’s darkened chambers, but in a ballroom filled with sparkling chandeliers, finely dressed people, and a Christmas tree so tall that it nearly touched the domed ceiling above. The ball goers laughed, danced, and everyone appeared to be having a grand time.
“Do you recognize this place, child?” the ghost asked.
Destan nodded. “Of course. This is Uncle Bastian’s annual Christmas party. I used to love his parties when I was younger.”
A smile became visible amidst the brightness of the spirit’s face. “Yes, it appears so,” she said motioning to the ballroom’s entrance. There, a little blonde boy stood, no older than six years old, holding a piece of mistletoe above his head. Beautiful women stooped down to give the boy a kiss on the cheek as they entered the ballroom. “You were a darling child, and you looked like you were having so much fun.”
Destan nodded, smiling fondly, not at his younger self but at a handsome looking couple who stood nearby. Klaus and Kristiane, his parents, were a perfect couple. Kristiane’s wavy brown hair was pinned atop her head that night, and her bright blue eyes sparkling like precious gems in the light of the chandeliers. Klaus, who looked as dashing as Destan remember him in his blue court outfit, was whispering something in her ear as he motioned to little Destan. Kristiane laughed and kissed Klaus’s cheek taking his hand in hers.
The prince’s smile dimmed now as he realized something. “I think … this is the last Christmas I ever spent with them…”
The woman nodded once. “Yes, it is.”
Destan felt that familiar ache in chest as he watched Klaus stoop down to pick up his son and spin him around. He could feel the happiness radiating off the family of three like beams of sunshine. They were all blissfully unaware that their time together would be just as fleeting as the Christmas season.
An angry heat welled up inside of him, mingling with the pain of this bittersweet scene. “Why have you shown me this, Spirit? Why do you torment me with such painful memories?”
“I have shown you this, not to torment you, but to remind you of a time when you embraced the spirit of Christmas whole heartedly,” the ghost said. “Your heart was open and unguarded—you used to look forward to this time of year, did you not?”
Destan shut his eyes tightly, turning away. “That was before they died. I‘m—I’m different now. There’s no reason for me to be cheerful anymore.”
“That’s not true. You still have your Grandfather, Uncle, and friends to share this joyous season with, don’t you?” the woman asked, but Destan got the feeling she already knew the answer. He stayed silent and she went on. “You have so much to be thankful for, yet you ignore it all in favour of nurturing your grief. As you are now, you will always mourn your parents, and your joy will eventually dwindle down to nothing.”
The prince clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. “Show me something else. I don’t wish to stay here any longer.”
Saying nothing, the ghost took his balled up hand in her gentle grasp and a blinding light surrounded them once more. Destan hoped that the spirit would take him home… When the light died down he saw that they were standing in a study. For a moment, he was relieved, for he recognized the parlor room as the one in the resident wing at Rosenstaat palace. He was home! However, when he turned around he saw a familiar blonde boy—no older than seven—seated beside the fire with his knees pulled up to his chest.
No. He wasn’t home—not exactly anyway. That boy in front of the fire was him from six years prior. He was still in the past.
Destan’s shoulders slumped forward. “Do you take pleasure in making me miserable? This memory is even more painful than the last.”
“You remember this Christmas?” the ghost asked as if she hadn’t heard him.
“Of course I do!” Destan hissed, failing to control his rising temper. “This is—this is the year my parents died. There was no celebrating that year—no ball, no tree … no family. Grandfather refused to come out of his room for two weeks straight after mother died.” Destan’s features softened as he looked at the boy in front of the fire and slowly approached him. “I had no friends, and my only family was mourning the death of my parents just as I was. It hurt so badly. I tried to pretend that my mother and father would be back—I tried to convince myself of it. I didn’t cry for a long time—I feared that if I did, I would be admitting that they were gone.”
“It left a gaping wound that has never healed,” the blue woman said, gliding after him.
Destan knelt down in front of his younger self, and stared into his listless blue irises. His blonde hair was disheveled and unkempt, and his eyes were dim, lacking the light children his age should have. He sat there beside the fire, still and silent, unblinkingly staring right through the present-day prince.
The little boy looked tired, and his cheeks were pale and slightly gaunt. I hadn’t been eating well. I didn’t have much of an appetite after… He sighed and shook the depressing thought from his head.
He was just about to demand that the spirit whisk him from this wretched place, when the parlor room door opened to reveal two familiar men: Emil Kohl and Arnold Fischer—two of King Gregory’s court advisors. Fischer wrung his boney hands as his worried gaze flickered from the little prince to his fellow advisor. Kohl motioned Fischer forward, but Fischer vigorously shook his balding head, grabbed Kohl’s arm, and shoved him ahead.
Kohl scowled but quickly composed himself, straightening out his coat and dark brown hair. After taking a deep breath, Kohl cleared his throat. “Your highness, supper is ready for you in the dining hall.”
The boy said nothing as he slowly shut his eyes and bowed his head. Fisher smiled nervously at Kohl and shrugged lightly before heading towards the door. Kohl rolled his eyes, grabbed Fischer by the collar and dragged him back into the room. Fischer winced as Kohl whispered harshly in his ear and lightly slapped his arm. Fischer frowned, rubbed his arm, and grudgingly trudged forward.
“H-hello your highness. Hofrat Kohl and I asked the cook to make you chocolate cake for dessert tonight,” Fischer said, twiddling with his long, spindly fingers. “We know it’s your favorite.”
Still, the little boy said nothing—he didn’t even twitch at the mention of his favorite dessert.
Kohl took a few cautious steps forward as if he were approaching an unstable pile of dynamite. “Hofrat Fischer and I got you a few presents as well. Don’t you want to open them?”
“Oh, yes! A boy should not be without presents on Christmas Eve,” Fischer said, his voice still tremulous with nerves. “The cook has made a lovely turkey dinner for you and his ma—”
Kohl elbowed Fischer in the side and gave him a stern look. “They’ve made it just for you, your highness,” Kohl clarified. “His majesty—well, he’s decided to take supper in his chambers.”
The little boy set his forehead upon his knees, not uttering a single word.
Kohl and Fischer glanced towards each other, the befuddled looks on their faces made it clear that they weren’t sure what to do next.
“Ah, there you are, Hofrat Kohl and Hofrat Fischer,” Florian said as he strolled into the room. “Hofrat Pfeil is looking for you about an urgent matter.”
Fischer began a strident march towards the door, seeming all but too happy to escape the discomfort of the scene. However, Kohl grabbed his arm before he could get very far. “We’re trying to convince his highness to have something to eat,” Kohl said. “We could not in good conscience leave his highness alone. It’s Christmas Eve, for goodness sake.”
Florian’s emerald eyes flickered towards the little prince, his cool expression softening. “Go attend to Herr Pfeil. I’ll see to it that his highness is fed.”
Although Kohl still looked reluctant, Fischer tugged on his arm. “You heard the man, Emil! Let’s go see what Herr Pfeil wants. The last thing we need is for him to get angry at us on today of all days.”
Kohl sighed and nodded. “I suppose you’re right, Arnold…” The two advisors then took their leave.
Now, Florian and the boy were alone—save for Destan and the spirit. Destan quickly stood up and moved away from the fireplace as Florian strolled over and took a seat in front of the little prince. The advisor crossed his legs, and studied the boy for a good, long while.
“What can I do to make you eat, hm?” Florian asked, tilting his head slightly. “Would you like a new book?”
The boy solemnly shook his head, his wavy, blonde hair swaying from side to side.
“How about a stuffed animal?”
The little prince shook his head again.
“A new saddle for Adolfis maybe?”
Little Destan shook his head once more. Florian sighed, leaning his cheek against his fist. “I figured it wouldn’t be that easy.”
The boy lifted his head only slightly, his big blue eyes peering up over his knees. “I’ll eat, but … you have to do something for me, Herr Florian.”
“What is it that you want, your highness?”
“I want you to call me Destan.”
Florian raised a single brow. “Alright. This is quite irregular, but ‘Destan’ it is.”
“And I want you to read to me before bed,” the boy murmured.
“If that is what you—”
“Every night until I’m too old,” he added quickly.
Florian’s lips twitched to the side. Destan could see that Florian—who was not even out of his teens yet—was hesitant about accepting these new terms. Taking care of a child probably wasn’t in his job description. However, the advisor straightened up and nodded. “As you wish, Destan. Is there anything else?”
The little prince’s expression brightened up a bit. “Can you be my friend, Herr Florian? I’ll eat if you say you’ll be my friend.”
The advisor’s eyes widened looking taken aback for second, before a warm smile spread across his handsome face. “It would be my honor, Prince Destan.”
The boy smiled, though there was still apprehension in his expression. “That means you must have tea with me sometimes, and play pretend with me, and … talk to me. You’ll talk to me, won’t you?”
Florian’s smile faltered. “Of course I’ll talk to you. We’re talking now, aren’t we?”
“Yes, but I want you to talk to me like I’m your friend,” little Destan said. “People treat me differently … like there’s something wrong with me … like I’m not normal.”
“But you’re not normal,” Florian said. “You’re a crown prince. You are very, very special, Destan.”
“I don’t want to be special. If I wasn’t, people would talk to me, and look at me, and…” the boy shut his eyes, his shoulders falling forward. “Please don’t treat me like I’m strange. Treat me like Mummy and Daddy do. Treat me like—like you care about me…”
Florian glanced away, his brows knitting together as if he was trying to fend off some sort of pain in his expression. However, after a moment, he composed himself and swallowed heavily. “I … I’ll try my best.”
The little prince set his forehead back on his knees once more and mumbled, “Okay. Can we stay here for a little longer?”
“Sure,” Florian said just as quietly. He lifted his hand, and, after a moment of indecision, set it on top of the boy’s blonde mane. Both the advisor and his charge were silent after that, the only sound being the crackling of the flames in the fireplace.
Destan watched the painful memory beside the ghost and his throat had become icy in the process. He knew he was on the verge of tears, but he held them back, not wanting to cry in front of a lady—even if it was a dead lady. “Take me home, Spirit,” Destan said, his voice brittle. “I don’t want to see anymore.”
The ghostly woman, slipped her warm hand into his and a bright light enveloped them once more. However, this time, the light did not fade away as it normally did.
“Do you understand, Destan?” The spirit spoke, though he could not see her in the midst of so much light. “There are people who care for you—people who want to see you happy. There are people who want to spend Christmas with you and they’d promise you the moon to see you smile again during this time of year. All is not lost, child. Don’t push away the people who love you—let them into your heart. You may well come to regret it if you do not.”
Destan shielded his eyes, trying to see through the light. “Do you know something that I don’t, Spirit?”
“Then tell me what I must know to avoid the miserable fate you spoke of.”
“It is not my place to tell,” she replied, her voice growing distant. “If you must ask, then you still have much to learn.”
Before Destan could say anything more, the light faded and darkness overcame his senses.
When Destan next opened his eyes, he was back in his warm, comfortable bed. The bright light of the Ghost of Christmas Past had vanished, and blackness surrounded him once more. It must have been a dream…
The bell tolled for the second time and Destan shot straight up. No, it wasn’t a dream. That chiming was real. It was two a.m.—did that mean the second spirit was coming? He listened carefully, but heard nothing. He looked for light seeping through the cracks of his bed drapes, but there was none. He felt no other presence in the room. Perhaps the ghosts have decided to give up on me? he thought a little too hopefully to himself.
He settled back down into his pillows and shut his eyes once more. He released a contented sigh and tried to go back to sleep. However, his relief came too soon, for a yellowish light flickered on from outside his bed drapes and voice—that he swore he recognized—called jovially, “I know you’re in there! Come out! Come out and know me better, man … boy—whatever!”
Destan scowled, feeling more irritated than frightened. What was he doing there in the prince’s room at two o’ clock in the morning? He flung back the curtains and his suspicions were confirmed. There, sitting on the couch amidst a sea of presents wrapped in brightly coloured paper and dressed with fancy gold and silver ribbons, was a man of average stature—no older than thirty—with dark blue eyes that were alight with pure joy and excitement. A holly wreath sat atop his head and a few stray strands his brown hair brushed against his brow—although, he did not seem to mind it. He wore a green robe—that looked suspiciously like a dressing gown—trimmed with brown fur and golden buttons. The man smiled brightly, jumped up from his seat, and placed his hands on his hips.
Destan frowned. “Wilhelm … does your brother know you’re here?”
The man who Destan thought to be Wilhelm Grimm, tilted his head to the side. “Wilhelm? Oh, no, no! You’re mistaking me for someone else, my dear boy. I am the Ghost of Christmas Present! Your mind has chosen this form me—I am what I am, do not blame me!” He laughed loudly, but suddenly paused to scratch his cheek. “Hm … I feel as if that wasn’t my line…”
Destan’s was in no mood for Wilhelm’s games. “Get out! Get out of my room this instant! If you want to visit with me, you can do so at a reasonable hour.” He grabbed the man’s arm and began tugging him towards the door.
The ‘spirit’ furrowed his brow. “But it is a reasonable hour. Two is my hour—it is the hour that each and every one of my 1815 brothers have appeared upon every Christmas Eve before this one.”
The prince rolled his eyes, continuing to pull him towards the door despite his resistance. “You don’t have that many brothers, Wilhelm,” Destan grumbled.
“Well, not now, no. They’ve all died—and my time draws near as well,” the ghost said, easily slipping his arm from Destan’s grasp and returning to the couch to stack a few presents. He took a red apple out of a large basket filled with fruit that Destan didn’t recall being there before. “Dawn in fast approaching, and we must arrive with the sun on this joyous day! Come and take my robe, boy!”
Destan crossed his arms over his chest, remaining where he was. “Let’s pretend for a moment that you are who you say. Why should I go with you? So that you may show me more painful memories from my past? No, thank you.”
“No, no, no, my dear boy! I deal only in the present,” the spirit said with a radiant smile. “Now take hold of my robe—we have much to see!”
Knowing that the spirit would not leave him alone until he did as he was told, Destan made his way over to the ghost and took hold of the furry cuff of his robe. As soon as he did, the presents, fruit baskets, cakes, pies, pudding, and delicious smelling turkeys disappeared along with his room, and a moment latter he and the spirit were standing amidst a bustling village that he knew well: Gründorf.
Wreaths hung on nearly every shop and dwelling door, and red and green decoration hung in the windows. There was a great tree in the town square that was decorated with pine cones, candles, and meticulously painted wooden ornaments. When people passed each other, they tipped their hats or curtsied, wishing their fellow villagers a ‘Happy Christmas’ with genuine smiles.
The ghost shut his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Do you smell that, boy?”
Destan sniffed the air. “You mean the pine and pastries?”
“No! The Christmas spirit! It is alive within these merry people,” the spirit cried flinging his arms out and nearly hitting Destan in the face—luckily he had the good sense to duck. “Does this happy scene not fill you with joy and excitement?”
Destan straightened back up, his lips twitching to one side. “Not particularly… They’ll all be back to their selfish ways tomorrow. That’s the way of the world. Pretending to be someone you’re not simply for the sake of the holiday is deceitful. December does not make me happy and I refuse to pretend that I am.”
“Then don’t pretend,” the spirit said. “These people are not trying to deceive anyone with their smiles—they are sincerely merry! Christmas is not a time to pretend to be something you are not, it is a time that brings out the very best in humanity. It is a time to spend with our friends and loved ones. It is a time to open our hearts and minds and welcome joy and good tidings into our lives!”
“I can do that any other time of the year,” Destan mumbled. “Why is Christmas so important? It’s not as if I never spend time with my friends and family.”
The ghost slung an arm around his shoulders, shaking him a little. “These bitter feelings you keep will only grow—and not only during the holiday season, but throughout the whole year. Mourning the loss of your parents can turn to resentment if you’re not careful. That is why cherishing Christmas is so important, my dear boy—embracing it will guide your heart in the right direction.” He patted Destan strongly on the back and strolled ahead of him.
The prince followed after the ghost, taking note that no one seemed to me paying them any mind at all. “Can no one see us, Spirit?”
“Not a soul! We are completely invisible to everyone around us,” the ghost cried. “Now, why don’t we visit your friend, yes?”
Destan rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, I don’t want to intrude…”
“They won’t be able to see you, so they won’t know you’re intruding!”
That didn’t exactly make Destan feel any better about it, but he followed the spirit further into town nonetheless. Soon, they arrived at a shop that Destan knew well: the Rosamond Bake Shoppe. Evie and her mother ran this place by themselves, and he very much admired them for that.
The spirit motioned him forward and Destan peered through the window to see that Evie and her mother were not alone. Mother Mansrot—Evie’s Grandmother—Hansel, Gretel, and a couple he didn’t recognize where there as well, sitting around a large table. They all appeared to be chatting happily whilst eating delicious looking chocolate croissants that made Destan’s mouth water.
“Come! Let’s go inside,” the spirit said, marching up the steps and passing right through the door as if it were made of mist.
Destan hurried after him, though he paused in front of the door. He leaned forward to try the knob, but his hand sunk through it. In his surprise, he stumbled right through the door just as the spirit had.
The spirit caught the prince by the scruff of his robe before he could fall to the ground and straightened him out. “It’s this wonderful?” the spirit asked with a broad grin. “Now we don’t have to guess what they’re saying!”
Destan felt the corners of his lips involuntarily turn down. “This is sort of like—no. This is eavesdropping. I’m not exactly sure if I feel comfortable with this.”
“But they’re talking about you! Don’t you want to hear?” the ghost asked, giving him a gentle push towards the table. The prince felt his cheeks heat up as he vigorously shook his head, but it was already too late to shut his ears.
“He’s so gloomy… It’s annoying,” Hansel said, swiping his messy light brown hair out of his freckled face. “Here we are, tripping over ourselves like idiots to spend time with him, and he completely ignores us! I had half a mind to kick down his door and drag him out.”
Evie’s pretty hazel eyes lowered to the table. “You shouldn’t be so hard on him. Especially not after what Hofrat Kohl and Hofrat Fischer said—this time of year makes him sad because it reminds him of his parents.”
Gretel crossed her arms over her chest, sighing softly. “It’s not that Hansel and I can’t sympathize with him. We just thought that maybe we could cheer him up, and he didn’t even give us the chance.” She brushed her light brown pigtails over her shoulder before going on. “I mean, what point is there in going to the palace today if he’s just going to mope around?”
A burly man who Destan did not recognize grunted lowly. “I say that you all stay here in the village. If that prince doesn’t appreciate the company of my children then I want them to spend the holiday with me.”
The unfamiliar woman who sat beside the man, patted his arm softly. “Oh, Gerald, have some sympathy, would you? You’ve got to spend every Christmas with Hansel and Gretel since they were born. We can give our crown prince one Christmas with them, can’t we?”
“Actually, I’m with Dad on this one, Mum,” Hansel said, just as gruffly as his father. “We saved his life and he can’t even act civilly towards on Christmas? To hell with him, I say!” Gretel and his mother both smacked his arm. “Ow!”
“You shouldn’t say such mean things, Hansel,” Evie said sternly, her pretty face becoming quite severe. “Destan is our friend. Despite the way he’s acting, we should be there to support him during this difficult time.”
Ida—Evie’s mother—nodded. “As much as I would like Genevieve to stay here with me tonight, I think it’s important that you three go to the palace and spread a little Christmas cheer.”
“What about our Christmas, Frau Rosamond?” Hansel asked. “We’re just supposed to have a miserable Christmas along with him?”
“Come now, dearie,” said Mother Mansrot with a kind smile. “If the tables were turned, I’m sure the prince would do the same for you. He seems like such a nice young man.”
“Well, he hasn’t been acting very nice, that’s for sure,” Gretel grumbled. “But, yes, I think you’re right, Mother Mansrot. Destan probably would do the same for any one of us. Despite him acting like a prat, we should still go to the palace.”
“No way!” Hansel shouted. “I’m staying in the village. You girls can go if you want, but yesterday was the last straw for me!”
“Hansel,” Evie said with a frown.
“Don’t you ‘Hansel’ me!” he said, shutting his eyes and lifting his chin. “Those big doe eyes aren’t going to sway me this time. I’m putting my foot down!”
Hansel’s father took a sip of his coffee before saying, “Well, if your brother’s not going, you aren’t either, Gretel. Two girls walking alone through the forest just isn’t safe.”
Gretel scowled. “That’s not fair! It’s not like Hansel would be much help if we were attacked even if he was with us! He’s a rubbish swordfighter and you know it.”
“Hey! I’m not that bad!” Hansel cried.
Gerald sighed and shook his head. “Don’t kid yourself, boy, you’re sister’s right. But even still, don’t feel comfortable letting you girls go alone.”
Hansel’s jaw hung open. “I can’t believe you just agreed with her, Dad… That hurts.”
His father shrugged. “It had to be said sometime. You’ve got your mother’s disillusionment.”
Hansel and Gretel’s mother narrowed her eyes. “And just what is that supposed to mean.”
“You can’t cook for crap, Dorothea.”
“How dare you? Yes I can!”
Before any more arguing could break out, Ida stood and set more delicious pastries on everyone’s plate. “Since Hansel and Gretel aren’t going, I can’t in good conscience let you go to the palace by yourself, Genevieve. You’ll have to stay in the village as well.”
Evie’s eyes widened as she sat forward. “But I promised Destan that I would be at the palace for Christmas.”
“I know, but the woods are dangerous. If I let you go alone and anything happened to you, I’d never be able to forgive myself,” Ida said, setting her hand upon Evie’s curly dark brown locks, taking her seat once more. “I would go with you, but I have a lot of work to do before tomorrow—I must stay here and so must you.”
Evie bowed her head. “I … I understand, Mother. I just—I feel so sorry for Destan.”
“Why?” Hansel asked between bites of his pastry. “He’s got his granddad, and Nachtdiener, and all the servants—it’s not like he’s going to be lonely without us. Besides, not being there will make him think twice about ignoring us in the future. Just because we’re commoners doesn’t mean we have to be at Herr Princey’s beck and call.”
Gretel pushed her pastry around the plate with a fork. “We’re not at his beck and call, Hans. We’re his friends. I know he’s been acting strange, but that doesn’t mean we should just abandon him.”
“Oh, but it’s alright to abandon your family, is it?” Gerald grumbled.
“Don’t act like a child,” Dorothea snapped at her husband. “In any case, you got your way, Gerald. The children are staying here, so there’s no sense in dwelling on things that aren’t even going to happen. Now, let’s all enjoy this delicious breakfast that Frau Rosamond so graciously prepared for us, and speak no more of Prince Destan.”
They went quiet, and Destan felt his heart sink into his stomach. “They … they gave up on me…” Destan said in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Well, what did you expect after the way you treated them yesterday?” the spirit asked.
Destan rubbed his arms, feeling a chill rise up from deep within him. “I-I didn’t think they’d give up so easily. But I guess I deserve it. I should have let them in, but I didn’t want them to see me in the miserable state I was in. I was trying to spare them!”
“Or perhaps you were trying to spare yourself by keeping them at a distance,” the ghost offered lightly. “Perhaps you’re afraid of losing them too, so you’re pulling away to save yourself from getting hurt again. After all, if you’re not so deeply attached to them, it’ll hurt less when they leave you—isn’t that right?”
Destan clenched his jaw, refusing to answer the spirit’s question.
“Tell me. Has pushing people away brought you joy, Destan?”
The prince took a deep breath through his nose. “No…” he mumbled.
“Then what would be the harm in letting others into your heart every once in a while?” the spirit asked.
Destan shut his eyes, swallowing the lump that had developed in his throat. “I don’t want to lose my friends, Spirit. I have too few as it is.”
“Then change,” the ghost replied. “There is still time, Destan. Embrace the Christmas spirit and share it with those whom you care about.”
When Destan looked up he saw that the scene around him was fading, and the spirit looked so much older. His hair had turned gray, his face was wrinkled, and his back was bent with age. “Wh-what’s happening to you?” Destan asked in a panic.
“My time on this earth is finished,” the spirit said with an unwavering smile.
“You can’t go yet! You haven’t told me how to change!” Destan cried grasping the spirit’s furry sleeve.
“That is not for me to tell,” the spirit chuckled, continuing to age before Destan’s eyes. “You still have one more spirit to meet. Go forth and know him better, boy!”
The scene around them completely faded away and the Ghost of Christmas Present burst into millions of golden shards that flitted off and disappeared into the darkness.
Artwork by: Enrica Eren Angiolini (my illustrator)