Wow... I apologize in advance for the epic longess of this story. I knew it was gonna be lengthy after I did the outline, but it still turned out to be the longest one-shot I've ever written (though not by too much, as I do have that one 17,000-word one... haha). 40 pages in Word... That's a lot. haha
Anyway, hey howdy hey everybody! Long time no see! But guess what? It's that time of year again, that wonderful, magical time of year, when I get to spend my time writing Christmas fics for everyone to enjoy! Yayy! So this one here is a parody of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (which I've never actually read, but who doesn't know the story, right? So obviously you can guess what's coming). I'll save any further words for my end of chapter notes, so for now (as longs as you've got a good while of free time ahead to spend on this, that is) you can get to the story! Enjoy! (I personally love how this story turned out, if that's any consolation. It was a ton of fun to write! tee hee)
A Christmas Journey
"This way please, Mayor Masters. Most of the city has been assembled outside as you requested."
"Good," Vlad Masters grunted in reply as he finished pulling on his suit jacket, the woman who'd spoken holding out an arm and walking hurriedly along beside him. "I want as many people as possible to hear this directly. The more questions I can get out of the way at one time, the better off we'll all be."
"Sir, are you sure today is a good day to be making a public announcement in person?" she asked tentatively, struggling to keep pace with the mayor's brisk step. "Many of the people are already complaining about the cold, and with tomorrow being Christmas Eve—"
"That is exactly the reason this address must be made today," Vlad shot back assertively, straightening the cuffs of his jacket. "Besides, it will not take long. Better to get it done with now before things get too out of hand." He didn't see the somewhat confused look on his secretary, who had fallen into step behind him, as he had told no one as of yet the announcement he'd been planning to make that afternoon.
They soon reached the front doors of City Hall, doors which were swiftly opened by two men standing on either side, an action which resulted in a breath of cool, winter air escaping into the wide entrance hall. Without so much as a shiver, Vlad stepped through the doors and up to the mounted podium from which his eyes lowered to peruse the crowd gathered before him. As his secretary had said, it appeared a majority of the city's tenants were present, some grumbling about the weather, but others chatting animatedly with those around them. It was the Christmas season, after all, a season that often filled everyone with sensations of warmth, kindness, and all around good cheer. Well, almost everyone, as the mayor himself tended to find nothing good about the holidays, and instead proceeded to glare down the tip of his nose at the merrymakers in the crowd.
Before long the crowd began to notice their leader's presence and an anticipating silence swept over them like a loose blanket of newfallen snow as they waited for him to speak.
"Fellow citizens of Amity Park," Vlad began when all sound had quieted down. "As I am sure you are all aware, tomorrow is Christmas Eve." Many members of the congregation grinned at the thought and nodded to their neighbors. Vlad only cleared his throat loudly and continued. "And on the subject of the holidays I have an important announcement to make. As of this moment," he paused a short while, watching the faces of the curious citizens before him, "Christmas is officially cancelled in this city."
For a moment, no one spoke. They all were able only to stare in complete and utter confusion at their mayor as he uttered the words they hadn't been expecting in the least. A few looked apprehensive, as if unsure whether to laugh, cry, or jump on the man in front of them and strangle him.
"You think I'm joking, don't you?" Vlad challenged the crowd with a hint of a smirk. "Well I can assure you I'm quite serious. From this moment on, the celebration of Christmas will be hereby discontinued. Anyone caught in possession of items such as Christmas lights, trees, garlands, bows, bulbs, ornaments, candles, tinsel, candy canes, cookies, mistletoe, any holiday-related decoration or object of any kind will be arrested on the spot and made to pay the consequences." It seemed the gathered citizens were beginning to see that this was indeed not a jest, and that their mayor was truly serious about banning Christmas. But he wasn't finished yet. "Furthermore, any caught participating in activities such as caroling, building snowmen, feasting, or exchanging gifts will be punished similarly." Shouts of confusion and outrage began to ring out from the horde of people before Vlad, and his security guards were forced to take up position on the front steps of City Hall, though they too were distressed at this strange news. With a wry smile, the mayor ran his eyes across the many heads before him, quite a few of whom were protesting and shaking their fists his way, though they knew that there seemed to be nothing they could do to change things. "That is all," he finished resolutely, raising his chin, turning on his heel, and striding swiftly back into City Hall, the doors closing tight behind him.
"Um, sir…" the voice of his secretary piped up behind him as he walked at a quickened pace back down the main hall, receiving strange but somewhat frightened looks all the while. "What do you mean… Christmas is cancelled…?"
"Exactly as I said," Vlad retorted. "Was I not clear? Celebration of this useless holiday is now against the law. Anyone discovered participating in Christmas-related traditions will be arrested. End of discussion."
And with that, Vlad slammed the door to his office, blocking out all sounds of the small riot which had begun to form outside the comfort of City Hall.
"Good Morning, Mr. Masters," a voice spoke after the door to Vlad's study creaked open the next morning.
"Is it really?" Vlad asked rhetorically as the woman entered and set a tray down on the desk before him. "Though I suppose as December 24ths go I've had worse. No ridiculous singing, no ear-splitting music… So perhaps you're right, it is a relatively good morning." Looking a little taken aback, the girl smiled and curtsied before turning and hurrying back out of the room, leaving her employer alone once again.
Vlad picked up the cup of coffee from the tray and gingerly took a sip, lifting the morning paper with his free hand. The headline on the front page read, 'Mayor Masters bans Christmas,' he noticed with a small, though mirthless, smile. His eyes perused the article, which was satisfyingly brief and sugar-coated, as obviously the author had taken every careful step to refrain from insulting the mayor in any way. It did discuss, however, the general disapproval of the public (though the writer's own opinion on the new law was conspicuously absent).
"Hmm…" Vlad mused after reading over the article entirely, "It's been a while since I took a nice walk around town, to enjoy the sights." So after finishing his coffee and breakfast, he got up, left the room, took a coat and scarf from the closet in the hall, and let himself out of his mansion and into the bitter cold of December.
The decorations that had hung from the shops and street lights were now nowhere to be seen, Vlad noticed with a satisfied smirk. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you'd think it were just another day in January or February, instead of Christmas Eve. It was exactly as Vlad had wanted. He could walk around town and not once be reminded of what day it was. That is, until he came to a small antiques shop on the corner, where from the road he could see a man inside, seemingly taking down some strings of lights and garland from the inside of the shop window.
"What do you think you're doing with those?" the mayor growled as he stormed into the store and came to an abrupt halt in front of the man, who jumped a mile high and dropped the pile of decorations he was holding.
"I was j-just taking them down, like you said to do," he replied meekly, picking up the things he'd dropped with shaking hands.
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Vlad began slowly through gritted teeth, "but I believe that announcement was made yesterday. So why have you waited until now to follow my orders?"
"W-Well, the store was closed yesterday when you called the meeting, Mr. Mayor, sir," the man explained, not meeting Vlad's eyes. "I-I couldn't get in to take them down until today."
"That's no excuse!" Vlad shouted, knocking the decorations out of the man's arms and onto the floor. "The order was that anyone caught with items such as these," he shoved the garlands away with his foot at the word, as though they were a dead animal whose appearance disgusted him, "would be made to suffer the consequences." As Vlad took out his phone and dialed, the man pleaded with him to reconsider, saying he was taking them down to dispose of them, really. He hadn't planned on disregarding the mayor's wish.
Not a few moments later the door opened again and two police officers entered, both of whom took an arm of the shopkeeper and led him outside and into their patrol car, Vlad following with a smug look. As the car drove off, he noticed that many other people had ventured out to see what had caused the commotion. As they watched the police car speed away, many of them looked angry or disgusted, while others looked to their mayor with frightened expressions.
"Thanks to that shopkeeper," Vlad addressed the citizens before him, "I will now be conducting a full-scale search of the shops and homes in Amity Park. Any found in possession of certain forbidden items will be arrested immediately."
So far the city-wide search had gone quite well, Vlad noted as he watched policemen entering house after house down the street on which he was currently walking, flanked by two officers. Only two other families had been found in possession of Christmas decorations, and everyone else had followed his order and either hidden or disposed of their holiday possessions. His next target house, however, was one he needed to inspect himself. As he reached said destination, the giant billboard of a sign reading 'Fenton Works' assuring him of this fact, his excitement began to build. There was no way that Jack Fenton would have been able to dispose of his mountain of Christmas decorations by then, and Vlad was relishing in the idea of throwing his former friend in jail.
After a quick knock on the door, it was soon opened by Jack's daughter, Jazz, whose eyes widened momentarily at the sight of the mayor on their doorstep.
"Hello, Jasmine," Vlad greeted her in voice of false kindness. "I've come for a surprise visit with my old college friends. May I come in?"
"Uh…" Jazz began, sounding worried. "Sure, MAYOR MASTERS," she shouted over her shoulder, though keeping her eyes on Vlad. "You can COME IN!" There was a loud shuffling sound behind her and a hushed whisper, to which the teen only smiled sweetly. Vlad frowned and pushed her lightly aside before stepping over the threshold and into the house.
"Vladdie!" Jack bellowed as soon as the mayor was within view, stomping up and clapping him hard on the back. "Great to see ya, old pal! You here to visit for Chri—oof!" he broke off as his daughter elbowed him hard in the stomach. When Vlad gave her a suspicious look she rubbed the back of her neck nervously and giggled, saying nothing.
"Hello, Vlad," Maddie said next, obviously trying her best to stay calm and hospitable. "W-What brings you here?" she asked with a light laugh.
Vlad looked around the house, and unfortunately for him nothing holiday-themed seemed to catch his eye. The Fentons' house looked just the same inside as it always did. "I just came to—"
"Mom, Dad, I just got a call from Sam," a voice sounded from the top of the stairs as the last Fenton family member came rushing down them. "She says Vlad's been going around town looking for—" At the sight of the man now standing in the doorway (and his sister's sudden motion of sliding her hand back and forth beneath her chin), Danny froze on the bottom step. "But I… guess you… already know that," he finished instead with a glare, to which Vlad replied with a cold smile.
"So you're inspecting houses to make sure your law's being followed?" Maddie sought confirmation in an almost accusatory tone.
Vlad sighed, shaking his head in Danny's direction, the latter making a face at him in return. "Yes," the mayor replied simply, taking a few further steps into the house. He took a few moments to walk through each room, shoving past Danny to get upstairs. But he was reluctant to admit that he found nothing that shouldn't be there.
"Why'd you do it, Vladdie?" Jack asked his old friend after his search had been completed. "Why cancel Christmas?"
Vlad gritted his teeth and turned to glare up at Jack. "Because Christmas is a useless, unpleasant holiday that should be done away with. All the shopping, traffic, snow, having to be 'nice' to people you despise," he shot Jack an icy look at this statement, "being forced to entertain stuffy relatives… The list goes on. There's nothing good about this holiday, in my opinion."
"Aw, that's not true," Jack insisted, putting a large hand on Vlad's shoulder and holding him from leaving. "Christmas is about lots more, like love, happiness, spreading cheer—"
"Bah," Vlad scoffed with a snort. "Humbug."
"Come on," Jack continued to try. "It's about good feelings, a time to be with friends and family…"
Vlad turned away with a scowl. "I have none of those things," he growled icily before wrenching himself from Jack's grip and storming back out into the street, leaving his former friend standing dejectedly in his living room, a bewildered but somewhat sad expression on his face.
"Hey, Vlad!" the mayor heard a call sound from behind him not a few steps after leaving the Fentons' house. Turning, he saw Danny standing on the doorstep, glaring at him through the falling snow. "Whatever you're planning with this whole Christmas thing, just know I'm not gonna let you get away with it. I'll figure it out and find a way to stop you."
"Daniel, please," Vlad said off-handedly, waving a hand in the air. "If I were plotting something, you and I both know something would have probably gone wrong by now." The young half-ghost looked momentarily taken aback by this sudden admission, and apparently couldn't think of anything to say in reply. For some reason, this only angered Vlad more. "All I want is for this wretched holiday to disappear," he shouted bitterly, before turning on his heel once again and storming off, leaving yet another Fenton watching him confusedly in his wake.
Later that night, as Vlad sat by the fire in his library, he couldn't help but be pleased with the way his search had gone that afternoon, and was now almost convinced that he'd thoroughly gotten rid of Christmas. Now he could sit in his nice, lonely armchair with a nice, lonely book and have a nice, lonely night, alone. But he was content that way, at least that's what he told himself. The truth was that he wasn't sure why exactly he hated Christmas as much as he did. He knew it hadn't always been that way, but for quite some time the Christmas season always filled him such a sense of anger and frustration, watching all the couples and the families and the groups of friends out celebrating and merry-making. It just wasn't a time of year for people like him, he'd always told himself. And in recent years, any mention of the word 'Christmas' only served to bring him heartache and sadness, though he never thought enough to discover why.
Suddenly he sat up straight, his eyes glossing over a certain sentence in the book he'd been reading, a sentence that read, '…But like any small child, the mention of Christmas, with its prospect of new toys and delicious sweets and merry times with distant relatives I'd only see around the holidays, filled me with such a sense of boyish excitement that I…' In a rage Vlad stood from the chair and, with a feral growl, threw the book with all his might into the blazing fire, which roared at the addition of fresh kindling, as if a testament to the sudden boiling anger inside him.
Then, all of a sudden, an unexpected voice broke the silence as two simple words rang through the dark, empty library: "Time out!"
At that moment the fire seemed to freeze. Not frozen in ice, rather frozen in time. The flames weren't licking the edges of the fireplace as they had been seconds ago. The colors didn't swirl from red to yellow to orange. The smoke had halted its rise up the chimney. Even the shadows cast by the fire's glow had halted. Vlad took a step forward, looking around for what had caused this strange phenomenon, when the same voice sounded again from directly behind him.
"Good evening, Vlad Masters."
Vlad jumped a mile high and scooted away from the voice, turning to see the ghost of an old man, dressed in a violet cloak, floating an inch or so above the cold ground.
"W-Who are you?" the mayor asked in a shaky voice, regaining his composure at the momentary fright.
The ghost smiled. "My name is Clockwork, Master of Time."
"Sure," Vlad began, allowing his body to revert to its ghostly form, a form by the name of Vlad Plasmius. "One more question: What are you doing in my house?" He began to charge an ecto-blast in his right fist, but Clockwork clucked his tongue and waved his hand, and not a second later Vlad found the substantial form of his human side had taken over once again. He glanced over at the strange ghost in apprehension. "How did you do that?"
"In this rift in time which I have created, I control all."
"Fine," Vlad scoffed, folding his arms across his chest as Clockwork smiled again. "So what do you want then?"
The Master of Time allowed his smile to fade, to be replaced with an old, tired expression. "I do not make a habit out of interfering in the lives of humans. But in your case I have found it imperative to make an exception." Vlad frowned in wonderment as Clockwork continued. "The path you have chosen for yourself has proven one of great future turmoil. Now usually I would leave your future be and allow you to suffer the consequences of the choices you have made and have yet to make."
Turmoil? Vlad repeated in his head. Consequences? What is he blathering about?
"I can see you're not entirely convinced," Clockwork interrupted himself with a knowing smile. "But in time, you will be. As I was saying, I normally would not intervene in order to keep you from going down this path. Except that the path you have chosen to walk is one that will bring great misfortune to a few notable others, who frankly do not deserve the terrible futures you have chosen for them."
"So you're going to change my future in order to save someone I don't care about?" Vlad scoffed, an eyebrow raised. "You go ahead and do that. Just be quick about it and let me get back to my own time."
"Wrong," Clockwork said in a low voice, sending an unwarranted chill down Vlad's spine. "I am not going to change your future. I am merely going to give you the opportunity to change it yourself."
Vlad took a moment's pause, eyeing the ghost warily. "What do you mean?"
"You will be visited by three spirits, like myself. Expect the first tonight when the clock strikes midnight, and the others each night following. These visitations are meant to allow you insight into your own life, in hopes of eliciting a change that only you can decide upon."
"Three 'spirits'?" Vlad repeated, raising his eyebrows. "I typically see more than that in one day."
"These three," Clockwork interrupted in a serious voice, "will be like none you have met before. They may take on the appearance of someone known to you, but I can assure you they are not the same as the ghosts you meet each day."
"Right," the mayor replied, waving his hand. "If you say so. But there really is no use. I don't intend to 'change my ways' no matter what some special ghosts tell me."
A small smile appeared on Clockwork's face. "We shall see," he said simply, before striking his staff against the floor and disappearing in a flash of light.
As soon as the light had faded, Vlad could hear the sound of the cackling flames again. He looked over to see the fire dancing in the fireplace, shadows strutting along the floor. He looked over his shoulder again, still not sure what to make of the surprise meeting he'd just encountered, before settling himself down on the armchair once again. After moments of watching the flames skirt around the ashen logs in the fireplace, he was overtaken by sleep.
Some while later, Vlad awoke with a shiver. The fire had gone out, and the library had grown cold. He had no idea what time it was, or how long he'd been asleep. A light breeze seemed to be blowing, though all the library windows were closed, as far as he could see. It felt as though someone were there, watching him. Berating himself for being paranoid, he nonetheless readied himself for an attack should anything sneak up on him from the darkness.
"You really should try and relax, you know," a voice came from nowhere and everywhere. Vlad spun around, looking for the source, but what came strutting out of the darkness was a fat, white cat, which meowed and sat down on the cold floor, licking its paw in a bored manner.
"Oh, it's just you, Maddie…" Vlad said with a sigh.
He was about to turn and head for his bedroom when the cat looked up at him, its purring ceasing, and said clearly, "Is it?"
Vlad started violently as the cat stood on its hind legs and began to change shape, its fur melting into a sleek, black coat, its eyes disappearing behind round, red-tinted glasses, to reveal a ghost with a high collar, a black fedora tipped forward, and no face. He seemed somehow familiar to Vlad, though he couldn't quite place where he might have met him. "Have I seen you before?" the mayor asked tentatively.
"Perhaps," the ghost replied mysteriously. "I am everywhere, and I am nowhere," he riddled, changing his form again to that of a man in a store clerk uniform. "I am everyone," his appearance changed to that of a woman holding a spatula and wearing an apron, "and I am no one." It was then his faceless self reappeared, chuckling silently.
"I really should invest in a good ghost shield," Vlad said aloud. He started to change to his ghost form in order to drive this ghost off, but found suddenly that he couldn't.
"That won't work here tonight," the faceless ghost teased, waving a finger back and forth. "I'm a special kind of ghost." Vlad then remembered what the first spirit, Clockwork, had said, about these three visitors being different from the typical ghosts he was familiar with. The faceless ghost cleared his throat, his voice seeming to come from the air around him. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," he introduced himself importantly, placing a hand on his chest for emphasis. "You can call me CP," he added with what Vlad was sure would have been a wink, had he eyes behind the crimson lenses of his round glasses.
"CP, right," Vlad repeated dully, rolling his eyes and turning away from the ghost, heading for the door. "Sure. Well it was great meeting you, but I don't really have time to play with you right now, so you may want to come back another—"
"Then who do you have time to play with?" he said in a voice all too familiar to Vlad, who turned around slowly to see the ghost in the form of Maddie Fenton, smiling innocently at him from across the room.
"What do you want?" Vlad asked slowly, eyeing the ghost suspiciously.
He allowed a sweet smile to play across Maddie's lips. "To spend some time with you, of course. See some sights."
After a brief moment of indecision, Vlad shook his head and averted his eyes. "I'll pass."
"Sorry, Vlad," the ghost said, his voice changing to that of a man. Vlad looked over to see the prison warden standing where Maddie had been seconds ago. "But you don't have a choice." The warden smirked and leaped into the air, grabbing Vlad's arm as he shouted a cry of protest and anger, and pulling him straight up and through the roof. Once outside, the ghost changed form back to his own, before laughing a high-pitched screech and zooming off at top speed through the sky above Amity Park.
Vlad watched as building after building sped by below him, in a blur so fast he couldn't tell which street was which. Faster and faster they flew, the wind whipping at his face and arms, causing his eyes to water. And as they flew, Vlad noticed the sky was brightening, the stars were disappearing, day was dawning. He wondered if perhaps they were flying so fast that time had accelerated around them. But just as suddenly as they had shot off into the night, they stopped, landing lightly as a feather on the snow in a place he knew not where.
"Where are we?" Vlad asked gruffly as he brushed himself off and straightened his clothes.
The ghost—Christmas Past, he'd called himself—glanced over at him. "You mean you don't recognize the place? Come on, take a look around."
As Vlad allowed his eyes to wander the scenery, soon enough the sights triggered a memory buried deep within his consciousness. "This is… my old school," he said in wonder as he recognized the building before him as his former elementary school. He gazed on in amazement as a light snow fell about, landing on the roof and covering it in a light blanket. There was a small group of children playing outside not too far from where he was standing, throwing snowballs back and forth playfully. "I haven't seen this place since I was a boy. It looks exactly the same as I remember it."
"That's because it is," Christmas Past said knowingly. But before Vlad could ask what he meant, something caught his eye. Or rather, someone. A small child, maybe about 6 or 7 years of age, had just stepped out of the building, his face buried in a book, his mitten-covered hands holding onto it like it was the only thing in the world.
"That boy…" Vlad began with a frown, pointing at him apprehensively. "Is that…? That can't be…"
"Bingo!" Christmas Past said, momentarily taking the form of a famous game show host. "Give the guy a prize! That's you as a kid. And look at what an adorable little child you were! Wonder where it all went wrong…"
Vlad fixed the ghost, now back in his faceless form, with a pointed look, before glancing back at the him of many years ago. "But how? Have we gone back in time?"
The spirit next to him turned to face him, hands on his hips. "Well, duh," he replied. "'Christmas… Past'…?" He pointed to himself as he said it, speaking slowly, as if educating a toddler.
Vlad didn't reply, only rolled his eyes and continued to watch as the little boy walked closer and closer to the group of children throwing the snowballs. As he passed them, a stray snowball accidentally landed on top of his book, soaking the pages.
"Ooh, strike one for baby you!" Christmas Past said, taking on the persona of a baseball umpire. Vlad ignored him.
Little Vlad looked up angrily at the other boys. "Hey!" he shouted at them in his small, squeaky voice. "You got my book wet!"
"Sorry, Vlad," one of the kids said, stepping forward. "It was an accident."
"Hey, you wanna come play with us?" another of the boys asked politely, holding out a snowball toward little Vlad, who opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted.
"No, don't invite him over!" a third boy said, poking the second in the shoulder. "He's weird. He'd probably just ruin our game."
Little Vlad glared at the third boy, his lower lip curling up in a pout. "Well, fine!" he shouted. "I didn't want to play your stupid game anyway! Playing in the snow's for babies!" He turned his head and started to walk away, but before he'd made it very far a snowball struck him right on the side of the arm, drenching his sleeve.
"Strike two!" Christmas Past said, still in the form of the umpire. "It's not lookin' too good for you, Vladdie."
Vlad watched as the younger him was pelted with a barrage of snowballs from the other boys, each yelling about 'what he gets for calling them babies.' He wanted to run up to those boys and dump a whole load of snow on top of them, but knew there was nothing he could do.
Young Vlad began to yell at them to stop as he slipped backward and landed against the trunk of a nearby tree, but all this served was to shake the tree just enough to send a pile of snow and pine needles crashing down on top of him, the boys doubling over with laughter.
"Ooh, and strike three! Yoooooou'rrrre outta there!" Christmas Past exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air and turning back into himself.
"Stop! Leave him alone!" a girl's voice suddenly broke through the boys laughter, which died down at the sound as they looked around for its source to see a small, red-headed girl with big, violet eyes approaching from the school building. "You guys are just being a bunch of mean bullies!" She glared at the boys, who stood there stunned, as she went over to young Vlad and helped dig him out of the snow and pine needles.
"That's…" Vlad said quietly, recognizing the little girl instantly.
"That's right," Christmas Past said almost as quietly, his attitude having changed just as swiftly as his appearance. "This is when you first met her, Christmas Eve, thirty-three years ago."
As Vlad watched the young Maddie ask his young self if he was alright and help him find his book, Christmas Past again took hold of his arm and leapt up into the sky, the scene below them melting away into a blur of scenery once again.
Vlad had forgotten about that Christmas, like so many others after it. It was when he'd first laid eyes on the love of his life, though he didn't know it at the time. They became fast friends and were always together.
Soon enough, they landed again in the snow, though this time the sky was dark and they were on a street corner. The lamp posts were decorated with garland and bows, and the shop windows shown festive holiday scenes, all of which brought Vlad's mood back down to lukewarm.
"Where are we this time?" he asked irritably, not at all glad to be torn from the happy memory before to one with so many depressing sights.
"You don't remember yet?" Christmas Past said. "Well, just keep watching that side of the street over there." He pointed to the corner opposite them. "It'll all come back to you."
Soon enough, just as the ghost had said, two figures became visible walking slowly down the quiet sidewalk, their footsteps resonating in the night air. Vlad recognized the one on the left as Maddie once again, the other as yet another younger version of himself, this time about thirteen years old. He didn't have to listen too hard to hear their voices.
"You're moving?" the younger him was saying, and instantly Vlad remembered this Christmas as well.
"I'm sorry," Maddie replied in a sad voice. "My dad got transferred to Colorado. We're leaving tonight."
"Tonight?" the other repeated in a small voice. "But…"
"I should've told you sooner, I know…" Maddie admitted, sounding on the verge of tears. "But I was too scared… You're the only real friend I've ever had. I didn't want you to hate me and never talk to me again… But you hate me now, don't you? For waiting so long…"
Younger Vlad shook his head slightly, looking confused. "I… I…"
"Oh, I knew it!" his friend broke out, burying her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, Vlad. I'm so sorry!" With that, she broke into a run and sprinted away down the street, disappearing into the night.
"Maddie, wait!" young Vlad called after shaking himself back to reality. "Maddie!" But she was already gone, the sound of her retreating footsteps fading quickly into the shadows.
"Why didn't you go after her?" Christmas Past asked quietly as they watched the boy turn away dejectedly and trudge back through the snow the way he'd come.
"I didn't think she wanted me to," Vlad answered solemnly, before shaking his head and blinking his eyes. "Besides, she was moving away whether I wanted her to or not. There was nothing I could do."
"Trust me, you never know that unless you try," the ghost said in reply. "You were planning to tell her you liked her that night, weren't you?" Vlad looked over at him in surprise. How did he know that? "Maybe if you'd said it sooner… But we're not here to change the past or wonder what could've happened different," Christmas Past said abruptly, shaking Vlad out of the thoughts that had begun to form after that last remark. "On to our next stop!" Again he grabbed Vlad's arm tightly and glided off into the night sky, flying faster and faster each second.
"Recognize this place?" Christmas Past asked as they touched the ground outside a tall, simple building.
"Honestly, no," Vlad answered truthfully, as he wracked his brain for what this building might be.
"You will," the ghost said mischievously. "C'mon, let's go inside!"
They entered the building to be met with a wide room full of people talking, laughing, and dancing. It was a Christmas party, Vlad noticed immediately, though he was still unsure where in his memory they were.
"Woo-hoo! Time to find your dancin' shoes, Vladdie!" the spirit said excitedly, jumping into the air as only his feet changed appearance, to be suddenly covered in giant, red clown shoes. As Vlad watched him, he was reminded unpleasantly of Jack. "Or maybe you'd rather head straight for the refreshment table…?" the ghost suggested, tipping his hat toward Vlad and zooming off to his right. Vlad hurriedly followed him.
When they reached said refreshment table, Vlad realized instantly why they'd come, thanks to the sight of his younger self, this time of about age eighteen, standing by the table holding a glass of punch.
"I remember this party now," he said aloud, and Christmas Past looked up from the cookies he was examining and chuckled. "This was my freshman year of college." He paused a moment, a thought hitting him. When he spoke again, his voice was dry. "Which means any minute now…"
Just then an excited shout sounded from the center of the room, as people began to gather, forming a large circle around someone in the middle. Vlad put a hand over his face and shook his head, but his younger counterpart looked up, interested. He set his glass down on the table and started making for the front of the crowd to see what was going on.
"Come on," Christmas Past said, grabbing Vlad's hand and pulling him into the air. "Let's go see!"
"Must we?" Vlad grumbled, knowing what was coming.
As they reached the circle and looked down into the center, Vlad saw none other than a teenage Jack Fenton, shouting and dancing—not well, mind you, but in such an entertaining way that the crowd couldn't help but cheer him on. It was Christmas, and everyone was in such a good mood that as long as you had spirit, you fit right in.
Younger Vlad was looking on from the edge of the crowd, watching in mild amusement as Jack continued to entertain the audience. After a moment, however, someone shoved him from behind, accidentally sending him stumbling out into the center, coming to a halt right next to Jack, who leaned down and whispered, "Don't just stand there, man, get to groovin'!"
With a look of uncertainty and possibly a little fear, younger Vlad started to follow Jack's lead and keep up with whatever crazy dance he'd been doing. Older Vlad only slapped his hand over his face again. Living through this moment was bizarre enough once. But twice? Something in the universe just wasn't on his side that night.
As the music stopped, everyone in the crowd began to cheer and clap, congratulating the two in the center as they moved on with the next song.
"Hey, we made a pretty good team there, didn't we?" Jack said brightly, beaming and clapping young Vlad on the back.
Younger Vlad laughed a little. "Yeah, I guess we did," he answered.
"Jack Fenton," the former offered, holding out his hand for the other to shake.
He shook it, offering a smile and his name, "Vlad Masters."
"Vlad Masters?" a female voice from behind younger Vlad repeated. Both Vlads turned instantly to see a girl standing behind the younger, with curly, red hair and bright, violet eyes.
"Maddie? Is that you?" younger Vlad said incredulously. She nodded excitedly and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. "I thought you moved to Colorado!"
"I had to come back here as soon as I could," she answered when they'd parted. "I missed Wisconsin, you know? So I decided to come here for college."
"That's great!" young Vlad said, as older Vlad watched from above. Admittedly, he'd forgotten about this reunion with Maddie at this same party where he'd first met Jack. "Oh, this is Jack," his younger self added after a nudge from his new acquaintance. "Jack, Maddie. She and I grew up together." The two of them exchanged polite greetings as Vlad watched from his place near the ceiling, Christmas Past looking on seeming mildly interested.
"Say, do you guys believe in ghosts?" Jack asked suddenly, causing both of them to look at him strangely.
"Ghosts?" young Vlad repeated, sounding a little surprised. "What, are you craz—"
"Of course!" Maddie interrupted, stepping forward and placing her hand on Jack's arm. "I love ghosts! I think they're fascinating, don't you Vlad?" Young Vlad jumped a bit as she turned to him, seeking his opinion.
"Erm… Yeah," he replied uncertainly, rubbing the back of his neck and offering an awkward smile. "W-Who doesn't?"
"Really?" Jack repeated excitedly, a boyish grin spreading across his face. "That's great! See? Guess it was like fate we all ran into each other here tonight, huh?" Maddie nodded, an excited smile gracing her face as well. Jack put a big arm around each of them and pulled them in close, shaking their shoulders happily. "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship," he said with that same goofy smile. Maddie laughed and grinned wider. Young Vlad looked a little confused still, but couldn't help but smile a bit and laugh at his new friend.
"What happened to that Vlad, I wonder?" Christmas Past mused from beside the older Vlad. "All that's left now is this stickler." With that he morphed into a caricature version of Vlad himself, with big, googly eyes and a goofy grin. He jumped up and down in a silly manner as Vlad crossed his arms and glared at him. But he couldn't deny that some part of him was wondering the same thing, as he looked on somewhat sadly at the three friends below him. "Come on," Christmas Past said in a solemn voice, watching Vlad through his red lenses. "We still have a few more stops to visit."
They next touched down outside a small house, decorated for Christmas just like all the rest. At a motion from Christmas Past, Vlad stepped up to the window and looked inside. Through the pane he could see the younger form of himself, not much older from the last memory, sitting next to the younger Jack at the base of a beautiful Christmas tree, a warm fire blazing on the hearth.
"It sure was nice of your parents to let us stay for Christmas," Jack said loudly as young Vlad nodded in agreement.
"Oh, they were happy to have you guys," a young Maddie replied with a warm smile as she strode into the room carrying a tray of Christmas cookies, which Jack attacked as soon as she set them down.
"This was the following Christmas," Vlad recalled from outside as he watched the three friends talking and laughing happily. "I was nineteen…"
"Right-oh," the ghost beside him agreed, also peering in through the glass. "Remember why it was so special to you?" Vlad didn't reply, instead continued to gaze at the group inside.
Suddenly a timer started to ding from the kitchen. "Time for fudge!" Jack exclaimed at the sound, jumping up and rushing off toward the kitchen. "I'll get it!" Maddie and young Vlad chuckled quietly as they watched him scamper out of the room excitedly. After a second, the younger Vlad reached under the tree and extracted a small box wrapped in shiny green paper and topped with a bow, handing it to Maddie.
"Here, open it," he told her.
Maddie looked indecisive for a moment. "We should really wait for Jack to exchange gifts…"
"Come on," the other insisted with a smile. "Just this once."
"Well," Maddie said after a moment. "Alright." She smiled brightly and began to neatly tear the paper, before popping open the box inside. When she saw what was inside her eyes instantly lit up. Extracting the contents, a silver-chained necklace with a small, amethyst, heart-shaped pendant, she said, "Oh, Vlad, it's beautiful!"
Both Vlads smiled at her reaction. "I thought so, too," the younger offered. "It reminded me of your eyes." She held it out to him, and he took it as she spun around and lifted her hair so he could clasp the chain behind her neck.
"Thank you so much," she beamed at him after the necklace was secured around her neck.
"I'm glad you like it," he replied with a satisfied smile. His expression then turned somewhat uneasy. "Now I… have something to tell you," he began.
"Sure, anything," Maddie replied, an interested expression on her face.
Younger Vlad took a deep breath. "Maddie, I—"
Just then the room was filled with a loud beeping noise, the sound of the kitchen smoke alarm being set off.
"Nothing's wrong!" Jack's voice sounded from the other room. "Just a minor disagreement with the oven! Nothing to worry about!"
Maddie sighed and shook her head, unable to keep from laughing at the situation. "Hold that thought, Vlad. I'll be right back." As she rose and hurried off to the kitchen to avert the growing crisis, she didn't see the younger Vlad's face fall in disappointment, an action which was not missed, however, by the two observers just outside the window.
"I was so close…" older Vlad said, a hint of sadness in his voice. "If it wasn't for that idiot Jack Fenton…" he added angrily.
"Have you ever heard the expression, 'Everything happens for a reason'?" Christmas Past asked slowly from beside him.
Vlad turned to glare at him. "Are you saying Maddie and I were never meant to be together? That things have happened the way they should have all this time?"
The ghost only shrugged. "I'm only saying that maybe you should stop dwelling on the Past and look for a way to learn from it. That's what I'm here to show you, anyway."
"Whatever," Vlad grumbled in reply. "Let's just move on, already."
"Alright," the spirit answered with a sigh. "But you'd better prepare yourself for the last few memories we're about to revisit."
Before Vlad could ask for clarification, they were off again, soaring through the night sky. Soon enough (it seemed to Vlad that the trips between Christmas memories were getting shorter), they soon landed on a quiet street corner, much like the one from when he was thirteen. The lamp posts were decorated with garlands and bows, and each one had a sprig of mistletoe hung from the base of the lamp itself. The stores looked to be closed, so Vlad guessed it must have been relatively late at night.
"Just finish it without me," an amused voice sounded from behind them, and Vlad turned quickly to see a similar younger version of himself, not much older than the previous memory, backing out of the front door of a tall building. A voice sounded from inside as warm light from the open door spread across the sparkling snow. "I know, I know, but it's late. I'll see you guys in a few days. Merry Christmas!" young Vlad offered with a smile and a wave as he closed the door on the voices and music, muting the sounds out. As he turned and started walking alone through the cold, winter air, older Vlad turned to Christmas Past.
"Let's follow him," the ghost proposed in a mirthful voice, gliding off after the memory, Vlad following along, the detailed memory of this Christmas not quite having returned to him yet. "Sure is cold out here, isn't it?" Christmas Past said after a moment.
"Give it a rest, you're a ghost," Vlad replied with a roll of his eyes. "You can't feel the cold."
"That's cold, man," the spirit replied, shifting form into that of an Eskimo and wagging a finger at Vlad. "Besides, I was just making conversation. You never know how long it'll be before something happens."
Vlad shook his head, turning instead to face his young counterpart, who had just stopped abruptly in the snow, staring ahead with wide eyes. Puzzled, Vlad followed his own gaze to see what it was he was staring at, and instantly understood why Christmas Past had said to prepare himself for what was coming. Standing a few yards away were his former friends, Jack and Maddie, leaning on a light post with their arms around each other, kissing passionately under the mistletoe.
"Now I remember," Vlad said through gritted teeth. "Junior year of college, the year I lost Maddie to that imbecile."
"This was the year you started to hate Christmas," Christmas Past noted solemnly, his faceless form having returned. "You thought that it was the season that had brought them together and had shoved you away. But you didn't give up on her," he narrated as they watched the younger Vlad shove his hands in his coat pockets, turn on his heel, and storm away through the snow with a scowl. "That is, until the accident that June."
Vlad averted his gaze from both his former friends and the ghost beside him, an angry frown on his face. He knew that the accident the spirit was referring to was of course the incident with the ghost portal prototype, during which he was infected with a serious case of ecto-acne and given the ghostly alter ego of Vlad Plasmius. This had in fact been his last Christmas as a normal human, and was thus a difficult memory to revisit.
"Let's go," Christmas Past's voice broke through his thoughts. "We have one more stop to visit."
This time Vlad once again found the sky brightening as they sped through it, and again it wasn't long before they landed on a snowy sidewalk sometime in the early afternoon. They didn't have to wait long this time, as not a second later Vlad spotted his younger self walking down the sidewalk toward them, smiling and looking mildly happy. It didn't take long for Vlad to remember this Christmas.
"It's the next year," he offered, though he was sure the ghost already knew this. "I'd just gotten out of the hospital from the accident. It was Christmas Eve, senior year of college. I was looking for Jack and Maddie, convinced they'd be happy I was out, they'd want to celebrate…" He stopped there, and didn't go on to say what he was thinking. He had thought they would welcome him back. But that wasn't what happened.
After young Vlad had passed them on the walk, he turned his head and froze, staring in a nearby shop window. They watched as his face fell, his smile vanishing to be replaced by a look of hurt and confusion. Vlad didn't want to look, he remember what he'd seen that day. But Christmas Past took hold of his arm and pulled him forward, so they both could see into the window. Inside were Jack and Maddie, looking through merchandise together, talking and laughing. Jack pulled something off the rack and held it out, and Maddie laughed and hit him on the arm playfully, before kissing him on the cheek and pulling him by the same arm off to the back corner of the store.
Outside, younger Vlad's expression had changed again. He now had the same cold expression that had grown familiar to his older self—it was the face he put on each day of his life. It seemed that it was then in his life that the permanent scowl etched across his features had begun to form, a testament to the betrayals and lost friendships he'd been forced to suffer through.
"Why are you showing me this?" Vlad demanded in a huff, turning away from the window as his younger self lifted his head and strode past the store, away from the friends he once loved, the friends that had apparently forgotten all about him. "Just take me home." He began to walk away as well, though in the opposite direction as his past self, but before he'd made it two steps he felt a tight grip on his arm and looked up to see Christmas Past clinging on to him and looking down at him with what he was sure was a faceless glare.
"Not yet," the ghost said shortly, forcibly turning him to face the store once again. "Look." Vlad was about to protest, when suddenly the door opened and out walked Jack and Maddie, the former carrying a package wrapped in red and green striped paper.
"Great idea, Jack," Maddie was saying. "It's perfect!"
"Yeah," Jack replied, brandishing the package. "Vladdie'll love it!"
At this, Vlad's mouth dropped open. It was… for him?
"You haven't talked to him yet today, have you?" Maddie asked in a somewhat warning tone. "I don't want him to find out about the surprise party tonight, and you'd spill the beans in a second if you saw him."
"Come on, Maddie," Jack pouted. "I can keep a secret just fine!"
"Sure you can, Jack," she replied sweetly, patting his arm. "But just to be safe, why don't you go to the hall and help with the decorations? I'll get Vlad before tonight."
By this time they'd walked too far away for Vlad to make out what they were saying, but it didn't matter. He'd heard what the spirit had wanted him to hear.
"They were… planning a party… for me?" he repeated, dumbstruck. "That gift… was for me, too?"
"But you never got to see what it was," Christmas Past said in a knowing voice. "Thinking they'd betrayed you and forgotten about you, you packed up and left home as soon as you got back that day. When Maddie came to get you that night, you were already long gone." Vlad dropped to his knees in the snow, the weight of this knowledge seeming heavy on his shoulders. "You never saw them again for decades," the ghost went on, his voice growing colder with each word. "Instead you turned to your newly formed ghost half for comfort, using it to earn wealth and status. You believed that if you couldn't have Maddie, you'd make the rest of the world yours instead." Now the ghost's voice was beginning to rise, as if he were reprimanding a child. "You lived a life of seclusion and loneliness, cutting yourself off from all emotion so as not to get hurt again. But all it did was turn you into a sour old man." Vlad looked up to see himself staring back at him, but this time it wasn't a goofy caricature, rather an outward expression of what the spirit was saying. His face was contorted in an angry scowl. His eyes shone with malice and hatred. There were deep, dark bags beneath those eyes, and his cheekbones appeared higher and more pronounced, making the face look gaunt and frightening. He looked the picture of what Christmas Past had said he'd become, a sour old man.
"No…" Vlad insisted, shaking his head, unable to tear his eyes from the sight of the man before him. "You're wrong! I didn't make myself that way! They made me that way! They abandoned me!"
"YOU ABANDONED YOURSELF!" the spirit roared, causing a great wind to rip by, nearly blowing the skin from Vlad's face and deafening his ears. He closed his eyes tight in an effort to escape the sight of his own inner self staring back at him. "When you gave up on them, you gave up on yourself!" his own voice continued to shout at him, mixing its dulcet tones with the howling of the tearing wind. "The way you are today is no one's fault but your own! YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR IT ALL!"
"NO!" All of a sudden, the wind stopped and an eerie silence swept over the air. Then, a soft crackling sound whispered through the quiet darkness. Vlad opened his eyes tentatively and lowered his arms, to find himself kneeling on the floor of his library, the fire blazing in the fireplace, bringing warmth to his cold fingertips.
Vlad stood shakily, wondering if everything he'd just witnessed had in fact been only a vivid nightmare. Looking around the room, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It was just as he'd left it earlier that night before he'd fallen asleep. Turning, he saw his fluffy, white cat sitting on the rug by the fireplace, grooming itself contentedly. It meowed at him when it noticed him.
Vlad sighed. "You're right, Maddie," he said to the cat. "I should get some rest. Sleeping on this chair must not be good for my tired mind."
As soon as he turned away toward the door, the light from the fire vanished and the temperature in the room dropped considerably. He looked over his shoulder slowly to see the cat hiss angrily at the sudden extinguishing of the fire and scoot off into the shadows.
"W-Who's there?" Vlad asked into the darkness, his voice shaking from the cold and his breath visible as a puff of heat in front of him.
"Sorry about the heat loss," a jovial voice with a high British accent sounded from behind him. He turned sharply as a dark shape stepped forward and began to form. "But I really do much prefer the cold."
As the figure began came close enough for him to see more clearly, Vlad saw a ghost whose appearance he recognized. He was very tall and broad, and covered in white fur. He had a blue shawl wrapped around his waist, belted with a glimmering golden buckle. A torn cape of the same blue was tied around his shoulders and hung to the middle of his back. His horns and entire left arm looked to be made of diamond, or possibly ice, and the bones of his arm were visible through the transparent skin and muscle. He looked like a royal yeti who'd been half frozen in ice, save for the friendly smile beneath his yellow eyes.
"It's you," Vlad said vaguely, having seen this spirit in the Ghost Zone before. For some reason, however, his name was momentarily lost to him.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," the yeti introduced himself, rolling the 'r' in 'Christmas' habitually. "Very nice to meet you, Vlad Masters."
"Is this another dream?" Vlad asked in a tired voice, not too keen on going on another ghostly journey when he should be catching up on sleep.
"Is it?" Christmas Present returned mysteriously, raising his eyebrows. "You tell me."
Vlad thought a moment, before making a decision. "I suppose it doesn't matter if it is or not, because evidently I can't avoid it either way."
"Exactly!" the ghost exclaimed happily, clapping his hands together and grinning broadly. "Now you're beginning to understand. Well, shall we?" Vlad shrugged in reply, and the spirit nodded curtly before placing a finger on the center of the ice jewel in the center of his golden belt. Almost instantly a blinding light flashed, forcing Vlad to throw his hands up to shield his eyes. When the light faded, his library had vanished.
It seemed to be late evening, as the sun had almost set. They were now standing in front of a small house. There was a single, dim light on inside, which cast a warm glow on the white snow covering the ground beneath the side window. There were no decorations on the house, nor any nearby for that matter. But that didn't surprise Vlad. If what the ghost had said was true, this was a present Christmas he was visiting, and he had disposed of all Christmas decorations in their city.
"Where are we?" Vlad huffed, still not in the best of moods after his encounter with the previous spirit.
Christmas Present smiled, a twinkle in his eye. "Let's go inside and see, shall we?"
Upon entering the house, they made their way to the source of the light—the kitchen (the inside of the house was just as un-decorated as the outside, Vlad noticed with a sense of satisfaction). Three people were gathered around the table, presumably a mother and her two children. They were making sandwiches of different kinds and storing them on a plate at the edge of the table.
"Who are these people?" Vlad demanded, turning to the spirit, who gazed back at him with that same small smile playing on his furry face. "What does this have to do with me?"
"Just watch," Christmas Present replied, extending his icy arm toward the small gathering.
"Mommy, when's Daddy coming home?" the little girl (she looked to be about five or six years old) asked the woman, a bit of sadness in her voice.
The mother looked at her daughter, a smile of forced encouragement on her face. "Soon, honey. Very soon. Don't worry."
"He's not gonna miss Christmas, is he?" the boy piped up. He looked to be few years older than the girl, perhaps nine or ten, and despite the mother's encouragement a worried look shone in his small eyes.
The woman paused a moment, before smiling and putting an arm around each of her children. "Listen, even if Daddy isn't here, he can still celebrate Christmas with us. He won't miss it, as long as we all think about him. You're thinking about him, right?" Both children nodded enthusiastically, grinning back at their mother as she ruffled their hair. "Good. Then he's definitely happy right now, too."
"Who are these people?" Vlad asked the ghost again, not sure whether to feel bad for them or arrest them for discussing celebration of Christmas.
"Remember the first man you arrested today for taking the decorations down from his store?" Vlad nodded in affirmation. "His name was Kevin Griffin, and this is his family." The mayor glanced back at the three people as they stood from the table, the mother placing the plate of sandwiches in the refrigerator to save for dinner the next day. "Because you threw him in jail, these innocent people are suffering as well, having to spend their night in worry and anxiety." As the children ran upstairs on their mother's prompt, the look on her face changed from an encouraging smile to a distressed, tired frown. She glanced out the window, a far-off look in her eyes, before taking a long breath and following the little ones upstairs.
"Well, if that man had followed the law when it was set then he wouldn't be sitting in a prison cell right now," Vlad stated matter-of-factly.
Christmas Present glanced down at him, an eyebrow raised. "So you're saying that man should be able to celebrate Christmas with his family?"
Vlad paused a moment, a defensive frown spreading across his face. "No, I'm merely saying that it's his own fault he and his family have been made to pay. I warned them all, after all. They can't blame me for his mistake."
"No one said anything about blaming you," the spirit insisted, his eye twinkling. "Come. We have more to see." Once again he tapped the jewel on his belt and the world was blanketed in a bright, white light. As it faded, the scenery had changed yet again. This time, however, they were in a place that Vlad knew.
The two were standing now in the basement kitchens of Vlad's mansion, where the many servants and workers were gathered around the tables, eating, drinking, talking, and laughing.
"What do they think they're doing?" Vlad demanded, taking a few steps forward. "Having a 'holiday' party in my own house… As soon as I wake from this dream they're all fired!"
"Calm down, Vlad," Christmas Present said, placing his furry, clawed hand on Vlad's left shoulder. "Just look."
Gritting his teeth, Vlad turned back to the group of celebrating people and watched them. Soon enough, one conversation in particular caught his attention.
"So anyone know exactly why he did it?" someone asked the room at large. A few shook their heads, a few shrugged.
"I heard it was something that happened when he was a kid," one of them spoke up, setting her glass down as she did so. "Like he got picked on by a bunch of kids or somethin'." A few of them laughed as Vlad steamed in the corner. That's not what happened, he couldn't help but argue mentally.
"So now he hates Christmas because of it?" someone else sounded from another table. "That seems a little strange. You can't let stuff from your past mess up your future, right?" Something about this statement reminded him of what Christmas Past had told him, and he immediately tried to think of something else. It wasn't a good feeling to be told to forget about the past, especially more than once in one night.
"Yeah, but we should cut him some slack," a man from the middle of the room said loudly. "If he really hates Christmas that much he's gotta have a good reason. Besides, he gives us jobs and a place to stay. Who cares what happened in his past?" There were many sounds of agreement from the different people around the room, as Vlad raised an eyebrow in surprise.
Suddenly someone stood up on a side table and raised his glass above his head. "Let's make a toast, to Mr. Masters!" There were some grumbled replies as about half the room raised their glasses half-heartedly. The man who'd stood up frowned at them all. "Come on, everyone. Whether he banned celebration or not, it's still Christmas. And no one deserves to be ignored on Christmas." There was a bit more low mumbling, before everyone stood, voicing their agreement.
"To Mr. Masters!" they all said loudly, raising their glasses high and smiling to each other as Vlad looked on in confusion and amazement.
"Surprised?" Christmas Present asked rhetorically, the familiar small smile on his face and knowing twinkle in his eye. "Seems like even they can tell you're not all bad."
Vlad shook his head, turning to face the ghost. But as he did so, whatever he'd been planning to say was lost when he noticed that the colors in the spirit's clothing had begin to fade, and his fur had lost some of its shining brilliance. The ice of his arm, horns, and jeweled belt were beginning to melt. "You're… disappearing?"
Christmas Present smiled, an almost sad smile. "Come," he said, without addressing Vlad's question. "We have time for one more visit, the last thing I need to show you." He indicated the jewel on his belt, which was melting faster than the rest of his ice. He tapped it and once again a brilliant flash of light blinded Vlad's eyes. It passed quickly to reveal a new location.
They were now standing in front of the Fentons' house, as Vlad had earlier that day. It was dark, but the moon was not too high in the sky, so he guessed it was around nine o'clock. He eyed the house apprehensively, not wanting to go inside after the memories of his past Christmases with them had recently resurfaced. But his ghostly companion insisted, and they entered through the door and into the house.
In the living room they encountered the tall form of Jack Fenton, standing in the middle of the room and holding a small, silver box, which he set down in the corner of the room, away from the window on the side wall. Vlad watched him curiously as he took a careful glance over each shoulder, before pulling a small remote control out of a pocket in his orange suit and pressing a button on it. In an instant the box opened and out from it sprang a great, green tree, as tall as the room and decorated beautifully with beads, lights, bulbs, and tinsel. Jack took a step back to admire it proudly, a satisfied smile on his face.
"I knew it," Vlad interjected angrily, gritting his teeth. "I knew that buffoon couldn't follow my law. First thing in the morning I'm marching straight back there and throwing him in jail!"
"Now, now," Christmas Present said, shaking his head and extending his arm toward the room at large. "Just keep watching."
"It looks great, Dad," a voice congratulated Jack as Jazz entered the room carrying a plate of Christmas fudge (with which Jack was quite enthused). "I'm glad you didn't let your admiration for Vlad get in the way of our traditional Fenton Christmas."
"Of course not," Jack replied through a mouthful of fudge. "Sure, I like Vladdie and all, but Christmas isn't something you can just cancel. It's gonna happen no matter what, so we may as well enjoy it!" Jazz grinned and laughed in reply.
"He's right, you know," Christmas Present began as Vlad watched the scene, steaming. "Even if you say you're going to ban Christmas, you can't stop it from coming. And it seems you can't stop people from celebrating it, either," he added with a wink, which Vlad ignored. "Come, let's check the kitchen."
Without a word, Vlad followed silently along, though he was admittedly glad to leave the sight of Jack and his Christmas tree behind. In the kitchen he was met with the other two Fenton family members. Maddie was mixing a bowl of what appeared to be cookie dough on the center counter, which Danny was leaning on, watching her work.
"You know, I'm kind of surprised Dad's planning to celebrate Christmas this year," the youngest Fenton observed after a moment of silence. "Since the 'great Vlad Masters' ordered him not to."
"Oh, you know how much your father loves Christmas," Maddie replied with a small smile. "He'd still celebrate it no matter who told him otherwise, even me." She chuckled, then paused a moment, a frown spreading across her face. "Though I still don't know why Vlad's doing this… And at his first Christmas as mayor, too." A light smile returned to her face, a far-off look in her eyes as her hand continued to stir the batter reflexively and her son looked at her curiously. "The three of us used to have so much fun together on Christmas. I guess I miss those times. I wish I knew what happened to change things…" Vlad couldn't help but feel the same, somewhere deep inside. Some part of him wondered what might have happened if he hadn't left town the day he did, if he'd stuck around a little longer. Maybe he, Jack, and Maddie would still be friends to this day. But as Christmas Past had said, there was no way of knowing what could have been.
"Whatever," Danny's voice broke through Vlad's thoughts. "I still think it's really low to try and cancel something like Christmas. Especially to arrest people for not giving it up like he wants them to."
"It certainly is strange…" Maddie agreed with a frown. "But I know Vlad. Or, knew him once…" she corrected herself, causing a pang to strike Vlad's heart as he watched her expression. "He wouldn't do this for no reason…" Danny muttered something in reply, and Vlad was sure he heard the words 'evil plot,' to which he took some offence, but when Maddie asked what he'd said he brushed it off as nothing. "He's probably just down about something," she continued. "Maybe something happened that he doesn't want to be reminded of. Either way, we shouldn't be angry with him over it. We should wish him happiness and hope he's able to have a nice Christmas this year for a change." As the timer on the stove went off and Maddie extracted the tray of cookies from within it, Vlad was filled with a sudden rush of emotion at hearing her say this.
"You really think so?" Danny asked as his mother began to remove the finished cookies from the pan and stack them on a plate.
Maddie looked over at her son with a smile. "Yes, I do."
"Alright," he replied, unable to hold back a small smile. "Though it goes against my better judgment to wish happiness on my mortal enemies," he muttered so his mother couldn't hear, before raising his voice and addressing her again, "I guess you're right. It's Christmas, after all. No one should fight or be angry or down." As he watched the teen smile and pick up a cookie from the plate Maddie had just set down beside him, Vlad was reminded of the annual, forty-eight-hour truce that the Ghost Zone called each Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was like Danny had said, no one, not even the ghosts, should fight each other on Christmas.
"You see?" Christmas Present began as Vlad turned back to face him. "You believe that you must live your life alone, that there is no one akin to a friend or family close to you. But you forget to consider the friends you once had, the friends who have always been there. And what better time to start anew than Christmas, where good feelings are so very easy to come by?"
"Ah, it's just this horrid season," Vlad retorted, in an effort to convince both the ghost and himself. "That's the only reason they're acting like they care."
"Is it?" the spirit asked mysteriously, his eyebrows raised. All of a sudden Danny shouted in pain and surprise from across the room, and Vlad and Maddie both turned to him in curiosity.
"What the—?" he wondered aloud as he pulled something small and hard out of the center of the cookie he'd just unknowingly bitten into.
"What's that?" Maddie asked with a concerned frown, taking a step toward her son, who held the tiny object up to the light.
"It looks like a little charm," Danny said, squinting his eyes to see it. Maddie gasped and took it from his hand, but not before Vlad recognized it as well, the miniature amethyst stone shining in the light of the kitchen lamp. "What is it?" Danny inquired, interested.
Maddie set the charm down and pulled a simple, silver chain out from under the neck of her suit. "It must have fallen off into the batter and gotten baked into one of the cookies!"
"Yeah, no kidding," her son said dryly, rubbing the tooth he'd nearly broken on the jewel's rough surface.
"It was a gift, a long time ago," Maddie explained as she carefully reattached the charm to the chain. "From Vlad. I've worn it almost every day since he gave it to me. For a while it was like a sign of hope that one day the three of us would be friends again, like before."
"No offence, Mom," Danny began with an apprehensive look, "but the fact that you constantly wear a piece of jewelry from some guy other than dad is a little creepy."
"Oh, it's not like that," his mother scoffed, tucking the necklace safely back under the collar of her suit. "I have plenty of treasured things from Jack. It's just that your father was never really the jewelry-giving type. That's why this is special."
"Whatever you say," was Danny's reply as he waved an arm off-handedly. "But just to be safe maybe I'll check the rest of these before eating them." He began moving the cookies around on the plate, as if inspecting them. "Maybe I'll find a bracelet from a high school sweetheart or an engagement ring from a guy you met in Vegas."
"Oh, Danny," Maddie scolded in mock annoyance, hitting Danny on the arm as he laughed and jumped away from the counter.
"I'll bet you didn't expect that, now did you?" Christmas Past said as Maddie began to chase Danny around the table, armed with a very battery spoon. "You thought they'd forgotten about you, given up on you, when in fact they'd been waiting for you all this time, wanting you to come back to them."
"I can't believe… she kept it…" Vlad muttered quietly. "After all this time…" As soon as Maddie caught up with her son, wrapping her arms around him from behind, the scene faded away into blackness, and seconds later Vlad found himself back in his library, the fire crackling in the fireplace.
Vlad turned to the spirit beside him, only to find him barely still there. He was growing more and more transparent with each passing second, the jewel on his belt now fully melted and his horns and arm dripping with condensation. "What's… happening?"
"My time is almost spent," the ghost replied. "Each of us has only the time necessary to show you what you need to see. But I will leave you with a warning," The mirthful smile on his face had vanished, the gleam in his eye fading to a dull, serious gaze. "Be wary of the Future," he said in a grim voice. "Nothing can prepare you for what you are about to see."
"What do you mean, 'the Future'?" Vlad repeated, growing somewhat afraid in spite of his efforts to keep from doing so. "My future? I'm going to be shown my own future?"
"Remember one thing: The Future you are about to witness is a Future that is prescribed upon the path in which your life is currently headed. If you continue on this way, then the events you shall see will surely come to pass. Keep in mind as you witness the scenes ahead: Destiny is inescapable."
"Wait, what do you mean?" Vlad demanded. "What is this path? What events will come to pass?"
But then, the last bit of substance that chained the spirit to this world vanished, leaving Vlad alone with this frightening message.
All of a sudden the fire roared from behind him. Vlad turned to look, fear in his eyes, as the flames grew to consume the fireplace, the chimney, everything above them. The air in the library began to grow thick and hot, like a jungle. Vlad stepped backward, away from the spreading flames, as a shadow began to shift in the far corner of the room. Farther and farther it stretched, until it reached the glow of the firelight, and Vlad realized it wasn't a shadow that was stretching, but a great, winding vine. It seemed as though all the darkness from the edges of the flames' light were coming together to form a single shape, a shape which towered over the bookshelves now being consumed by the growing fire. As the movement stopped, Vlad saw before him a tall, menacing creature made entirely of snaking vines. He couldn't see its face, as its height left it in shadow. Its arms swung this way and that, the living vines slithering like vipers on the hunt. Again, a memory triggered in Vlad's mind, but the name of the ghost in question he could not remember. Instead, he assumed him to be his third visitor.
"You… Are you the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?" A low rumble shook the library, and Vlad took that to mean he'd guessed right. "I was told… that you would show me events from my future…" He was unable to keep the fear from his voice now. He was somewhat angry at himself for losing composure, but seeing as he still couldn't make use of his ghost form he didn't dwell on it too much. Besides, his attention was on other matters.
The ghost before him had spread his arms, the snakelike vines shooting out from them and wrapping themselves in a wide circle around himself and Vlad, who dropped to the floor and covered his head, unsure what to expect from this menacing spirit. But soon he felt the presence of the vines fade, and when he opened his eyes and stood up he was still standing in his library, but the ghost was gone. The fire had disappeared, leaving no trace of its having spread across half of the library. Light was streaming in through the windows, and Vlad realized it was daytime. Still a bit confused, he looked around, before the sound of voices from the hall penetrated the silence. Upon exiting the library, he saw two of the mansion's servants walking down the hall toward him.
"Oh, I sold that already," one of them was saying. "Got a good price for it, too. How 'bout you? Any profit worth mentioning?"
"Well, the other day I had a buyer looking at some of the statues in the study," the other replied with a grin. "They're willing to go twice the total market price if they get the whole set. Apparently it's worth more together." They both laughed excitedly as Vlad wondered what in the world they were talking about.
"I thought this was supposed to be my future," Vlad said to the hallway air, knowing the spirit must be somewhere nearby. "So where am I? And how far into the future is this?" As he spoke a vine stretched out of the shadows, toward the main hall where the servants were headed. Taking it to mean that's where he should go, he followed the snaking vine, which led him into the entrance hall, where he was met with a strange sight.
Arranged all around the room were long tables in neat rows and columns, upon which were set many of his own belongings. The sides of the walls were adorned with long sheets of paper with writing on them which he couldn't make out from where he stood. Growing worried, he stepped up to one of the tables, where a few workers were ordering numerous books and maps.
"Ain't this a great way to spend Christmas Day?" one of them asked with a chuckle. "Making money off the guy who killed this holiday?" They all laughed in agreement.
"He didn't leave a will, after all," another piped up. "So all his stuff's ours to sell to the highest bidder!" They laughed again as Vlad took a few frightened steps away from the table, back toward the end of the room.
"My things…" he repeated in disbelief. "No will… You're saying I'm… dead?" He turned to the shadow in the corner of the room as vines poked in and out of the darkness. They began to stretch across the floor, weaving in and out of the table legs and winding up on either side of the mansion's front door. Following the ghost's lead, Vlad ran for the door and flung it open, stepping out into the open air.
The town before him didn't look the way a typical small town should on Christmas Day. The sky was gray, there were no lights, no decorations, no cheer. But there wouldn't be, of course, as he had banned Christmas that fateful Christmas Eve, though he knew not how long ago that was.
"Well I say good riddance!" Vlad heard a voice sound from down on the sidewalk. He walked up to the two men to better hear what they were discussing, and instantly wished he hadn't. "Without him, maybe we can actually celebrate this year!"
"I hear that," the other agreed happily. "Think there's still time to get a big dinner goin' and call up the family?"
It was then that Vlad decided he couldn't hear any more, and backed away from the two men. He ran down the sidewalk, but everywhere he turned he met with another group of people singing praises to be rid of 'that Scrooge, Mayor Masters.' It was one thing to hear people say the hated you when you were alive, but another entirely for them to be glad you weren't.
"This can't be…" Vlad muttered with wide eyes as he backed into a nearby alley. Turning around, he was once again met with the ghost made of vines, hiding in the shadows between the buildings. "There must be someone who's sad that I'm gone… Someone who's sorry for the loss…" He looked around a moment, before a thought hit him. "Jack! What about Jack? Surely he's grieving right now!" Once again there was a low rumble, and the spirit raised its arms as vines wove around, forming the same familiar sphere of greenery enclosing them. This time, however, Vlad did not hide his eyes. Instead he waited until the vines relinquished and light filled his eyes once more. And when they did, he was standing in front of Fenton Works.
As soon as he was free of the vines, Vlad rushed forward and threw open the door, rushing through the house and coming to a halt at the edge of the living room, observing the scene before him. Jack and Maddie were sitting on the far sofa, Maddie crying into his shoulder, Jack staring blankly ahead with red eyes. Jazz was sitting on an armchair beside them, her knees pulled up to her chest and her head buried in them. There was no Christmas tree, no decorations. Even the Fentons had eventually given up the celebration of Christmas, it seemed.
"I knew it!" Vlad sighed in relief. "I knew they'd be grieving." He turned to the spirit, who'd taken up residence in a shadow beside him. "Thank you, I knew there had to be someone who was sorry about my death…" A low rumbling noise sounded again from the dark corner, and vines spread across the floor toward where his old friends were sitting.
"But why didn't he tell us?" Maddie was saying through sobs as Vlad looked on, puzzled.
Jazz looked up at her mother, and Vlad could see she'd been crying as well. "Well, between all the weapons, shields, and traps, can you really blame him?"
"B-But… maybe there's something we could've done…" Maddie continued. "We could've… could've…" Her voice broke off as another sob escaped her throat and she shook her head.
Vlad turned to the ghost, his relief from before slowly ebbing away. "What are you trying to tell me?" he asked it. His reply came once again in the form of a spread of vines, snaking out of the room toward where he knew the front door was. And soon enough, a loud bang rang through the room as the door was slammed open from the outside.
"Sam, hold on a second!" a voice sounded from just around the corner, before the forms of Sam Manson and Tucker Foley sped into the room, stopping next to Vlad in the doorway. They looked slightly older than when he'd last seen them, Vlad noted, perhaps about sixteen years old. He also noticed that they both looked distressed and afraid, an expression he knew was beginning to form on his own face as well.
"Tell me it isn't true," Sam said bluntly, her eyes pleading with the three in the room as Tucker looked on with a similar expression. "Please…" But the answers she got were not ones she'd hoped for, as Maddie was suddenly overcome with a new wave of sobs and Jack tightened his grip around her shoulders, squeezing his eyes shut. Jazz furrowed her eyebrows, tilting her head downward slightly. It was then Vlad noticed the second sofa a few feet in front of him. It was turned away from him, so he couldn't see the front of it, and it was that sofa which Jazz had nodded toward.
Sam's breath caught in her throat as she stepped around to the front of the couch, Tucker stepping forward to look down from the back. At the same time their eyes widened in shock.
"No way…" Tucker whispered as he stumbled forward a step. Sam screamed and dropped to her knees, flinging herself onto the cushions of the couch and out of Vlad's sight.
"He should've told us…" Maddie lamented again. "We could've done something… I know it… Maybe… he'd still be…" She choked on a sob and shut her eyes. "…Alive…"
Vlad turned to the ghost beside him, shaking his head slightly. "They're not… talking about me, are they?" The verdant vines began to slowly stretch once again, slithering across the floor and up the back of the couch. Swallowing hard, Vlad stepped up and around the side to look down on the front of the sofa, to be met with the sight he had feared he would see. Sam was kneeling on the carpeted floor, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably, her arms spread across the silent, unmoving form of Danny Fenton.
His body was covered in bruises and cuts, looking as though he'd fallen down a few hundred flights of stairs. Vlad stepped back in disbelief as Sam continued to cry into Danny's motionless chest and Tucker stared blankly ahead, shaking his head ever so slightly from side to side. He backed into the ghost behind him, but barely noticed as his mind was buzzing with thoughts and questions.
"Daniel and I…" he choked out in shock, "died… on the same night…?" He finally turned to face the ghost, whose face was still shrouded in shadow. "How?"
A multitude of vines, thinker than before, began to stretch from the shadows and cover the right wall of the room, beside Vlad and the ghost. Once no portion of the wall could be seen, the vines parted to reveal what looked like an old movie projection between them. The picture flickered and cracked, but Vlad could tell that the scene displayed on it was in the Ghost Zone, in what looked like a rocky gorge. The rocks let off a light green glow, as if made of some strange, ghostly material.
After only a second, someone was thrown onto the grown into the view of the screen. It was an ugly-looking ghost wearing what looked like pink-and-white-striped pajamas. Vlad recognized him as Klemper, the ice ghost.
"Why are you picking on me?" Klemper whined, rubbing his eyes. "Go away!" What's going on here? Vlad wondered to himself, though his question was answered with the appearance of the next ghost.
"Well perhaps if you'd decided to stay out of my way tonight you may have been spared," a second voice retorted bitterly at the crying ghost, a voice Vlad didn't want to believe he'd heard. He watched as his own ghost form, Vlad Plasmius, stepped into view, though he looked different from before. If possible, he looked meaner, more evil. His face was contorted in an evil sneer, his eyes narrowed in anger, his fangs glowing menacingly. But at the same time, he looked tired and old, more ragged. It looked as though he hadn't smiled or changed clothes in a year, and it was a frightening sight to observe, especially knowing that one day that monster would be him.
"That's me?" Vlad asked in a small voice. "But… how?" The ghost didn't answer, so Vlad turned back to the screen, just as another voice sounded from off to the left, another voice he recognized all too well.
"You know, just because you cancel Christmas in the human world doesn't mean you can in here. The truce holds, Plasmius. And you're breaking it."
"Stay out of this, boy," the future Vlad spat a slightly older Danny Phantom glided into view, arms folded across his chest and a determined glare in his eyes. "Unless you'd like to condemn yourself as well." He fired a pink ecto-blast at the younger half-ghost, who threw up a shining, green shield before it made contact.
"You're breaking the law, Vlad," Danny asserted as his shield faded. "I've been sent to stop you. I'll give you one more chance. Back off now and I'll look the other way."
"I DON'T NEED PITY FROM YOU!" Future Vlad bellowed, zooming forward and grabbing a surprised Danny around the throat, shoving him to the ground. It only took a moment, however, for the younger ghost to regain his bearings and fire a blast from his hand, sending his assailant tumbling backward and setting him free.
"Fine," he said in a voice of forced calm, dusting himself off. "Hard way it is." With that he leapt into the air again, soaring toward Plasmius and aiming a beam of ice from his left hand toward the other's feet.
Vlad watched as the two fought, though he noticed that it seemed as though Danny had been holding back, never aiming directly for Plasmius with his most powerful attacks, while Plasmius, however, seemed to get angrier and angrier by the second, throwing everything he had at Phantom, who was barely managing to hold his own. Eventually, Klemper decided to jump in and help, and began to attack Plasmius as well, who now had the task of fighting off both ghost and half-ghost.
Soon after Klemper had entered the fight, Danny and the future Vlad were both knocked down to the gorge floor from a collision in their attacks. Vlad watched as his future self stayed crouched on the ground, breathing heavily and shaking with rage, made more so by the fact that he couldn't make himself stand again, and his trying only served to bring about the disappearance of his ghost form and the reappearance of his human form (which looked just as mean and tired as his other form had). Taking this opportunity, Klemper flew up and landed on the cliff side, looking down into the gorge at the now defenseless Vlad below him. He then drew back his head, took a deep breath, and let out a piercing, sonic wail into the dark sky of the Ghost Zone. The entire gorge rumbled dangerously as Danny and the future Vlad looked around, the former rising slowly and the latter still struggling to stand. Then suddenly, the rocks on the cliff side beside Klemper began to shift and fall, picking up speed and thundering down the side of the gorge, right to where the future Vlad was kneeling. Vlad looked on in fear as the rockslide neared his future self, realizing that he was about to witness his own fate.
"LOOK OUT!" Danny screamed from where he had risen further down in the valley. In a flash he flew forward, toward his enemy, allowing Vlad to catch a glimpse of the expression on his face. It was a mixture of pain and exhaustion from the battle, but also of fear and determination. Danny reached Vlad's future counterpart just as the horde of great boulders did, a loud crashing sound and cloud of dust rising from the bottom of the gorge.
"What… happened?" Vlad asked as the crashing died down, though again the spirit did not answer him. As the dust cleared, Vlad saw a tall pile of faintly-glowing rocks right where his future self had just been sitting. Fearing the worst, Vlad shook his head in bewilderment, eyes wide. Seeing yourself die was not something one could take easily. "But wait, what about…" A low rumbling sounded from the shadows again, and Vlad took it to mean the spirit was telling him to be patient and watch, so he turned back to the old movie screen once again, just as the last of the dust was settling back to the rocky gorge floor.
But as it did so, he noticed something strange. The slumped form of his future self was visible lying just at the edge of heap of rocks, coughing and slowly pushing himself up with his arms. He looked around in confusion, as the younger Vlad did the same. Then, a small whoosh sounded, causing both Vlads to turn to the rock pile to see a sight they'd missed before: the gloved hand of the half-ghost who'd disappeared with the rockslide, extending out from under the mountain of stones. Though at the sound which had caught they're attention, the fingers twitched before a blue ring of light made the glove vanish to reveal very human skin.
"No…" Vlad whispered as his future self ran to the pile and began frantically throwing rocks aside, burying down beneath them. After a moment of agony, the older Vlad pulled a bruised and broken Danny Fenton out from under the last few rocks, the teen gritting his teeth and grunting as he did so.
"Oh, no," Klemper whined from the edge of the gorge, watching the scene below. "I did a bad thing…" With that he began to cry uncontrollably, leaping into the air and soaring off and out of sight.
Vlad stared, wide-eyed and disbelieving, as his future self lay his foe down on the gorge floor in front of him. But he couldn't help but notice something: Danny looked there exactly as he did on the sofa behind him.
"Why… did you do that?" older Vlad demanded, trying to sound angry but looking much more afraid and confused. "Why…?"
"Heh… Beats me," Danny said with a breathy chuckle. "Maybe it's just… the season, you know?" He offered a pained smile, before furrowing his eyebrows and closing his eyes, all expression vanishing from his face. The older Vlad looked confused for a moment more, as if not believing what he was seeing, before he threw back his head and let out a tired, anguished scream, which faded into nothingness as it spread across the vast emptiness of the Ghost Zone. He then seemed to muster his remaining strength in order to shift into ghost form once again, before lifting Danny from the dusty ground and taking flight, gliding off into the distance.
Vlad could only stare in disbelief, an expression similar to the one his older counterpart had shown, as the scene before him shifted to show the street outside the Fentons' home. The future Vlad soon appeared, dropping down from the sky and landing in front of the steps. He strode up to the door, but paused upon reaching it. His eyes suddenly scrunched up, his teeth clenching in frustration once again. Instead of knocking, he lay the teen in his arms down on the doorstep, before taking to the air again, and after one last long look at the house, he turned away, gliding off straight toward the screen from which Vlad was watching and out of sight, but not before he caught a glimpse of the solemn, stony expression on his own ghostly face. The scene shifted swiftly to show the front of his mansion, where he watched as his future self landed heavily on the doorstep, opened the door, turned to glance briefly at the city, and stepped inside, slamming the door tightly behind him. As soon as he was out of sight, the screen flickered and faded.
As the thick vines covered the wall once again before relinquishing back into the darkness to leave the wall the same as it had been, Vlad turned slowly back to look at the body of the boy who'd been his enemy for so long.
"He… saved me…" he whispered in disbelief, the scene he'd just witnessed playing in his mind over and over again. Danny had sacrificed his own life for him, someone who'd tried to kill the younger half-ghost numerous times. He'd said it was the season… But what did that mean? A season can't make a person do something they wouldn't normally do. Not something that drastic. "I thought… they all hated me… So why…?" The spirit didn't answer, nor did any vines protrude from beneath the shadows. Instead he was left to his thoughts, until he found the right question. It was then that a thought hit him, something that made him curious and yet afraid at the same time. "Then… what happened… to me?"
The shadow seemed to quiver as Vlad watched it, before three thin vines extended from the darkness, reaching like pointing fingers toward the open front door. Vlad glanced back at the spirit once more, before turning and running as fast as he could out into the air, which had suddenly grown dark. Within minutes a heavy, pouring rain began to fall, drenching Vlad through to his skin, but he took no notice. Instead he ran. He had seen his future self disappear into his mansion, meaning he had to still be somewhere inside.
When he reached the front door of his home and screeched to a halt, he clutched the handle, which was wet and slippery from the rain, and tore it open to find the tables from that afternoon gone and the entrance hall empty. Not a single light was shining from inside. After a moment's pause, he ran headfirst into the dark hall, the front door thundering closed behind him and plunging the house into shadow. But it didn't matter. Vlad had no problem finding his way around the mansion in the dark, and soon reached the room he knew he should see: his study.
Vlad threw open the tall door just as thunder boomed outside and lightning struck. The study was just as dark as the rest of the house had been, with no lights lit and no fire in the fireplace. Before long another streak of lightning shone outside, lighting up the room for a single second. It was enough, however, for Vlad to see the outline of a strangely-shaped shadow by the mass he knew to be his desk. Breathing heavily from his sprint across town, he began to take a few tentative steps forward, toward the desk. When he reached it, he was still unable to make out what the shape was, but as he leaned forward for a closer look, another crash of thunder shook the house as a flash of lightning shone brilliantly through the room, and Vlad screamed in surprise as he found himself face to face with his own visage, eyes wide and unmoving. As he jumped back he realized that the shape he'd seen was in fact the crumpled form of his own body, slumped over the desk, a smoking ecto-raygun lying loosely in his limp hand.
"It can't be…" Vlad said through heaving breaths, shaking his head. Then all of a sudden another booming strike of thunder sounded, deafening his ears, and bringing with it a flash of lightning so bright he thought he'd been blinded. Not a second later, a roar split the air as the fire behind him blazed to life. Turning around, he was amazed to see hot, flickering flames as tall as the walls spreading from end to end of the room, consuming the house behind him. He took a step back as the cackling seemed to grow in intensity, and thick, winding vines began to extend from the fiery depths, snaking along the floor toward him at a slow but menacing pace.
Frantic, he turned to run from the encroaching vines, only to be once again met with the sight of his own body, resting limply on the desk, green smoke still rising from the barrel of the gun. Now more afraid than ever and unsure where to run, Vlad froze in the center of the room, his wide, fearful eyes scanning anything and everything he could see. But soon enough, in his indecision, the vines from behind caught up to him, taking firm hold of his wrists and ankles, spreading and tightening around his limbs and pulling him to the ground.
"Wait!" Vlad shouted as the vines began to slowly drag him across the fiery floor toward the dancing flames. "No! The spirit said that these visions were shadows of a future that would surely happen if I remained on my current path!" he pleaded desperately, trying with all his might to break free of the strong grip of the thick vines, but finding himself unable as they pulled him ever closer to the raging inferno. "He said… that destiny can't be escaped… But it can be changed! Right?" The fire seemed to roar, as if hungry to be fed. "I can change! I don't want this future!" Suddenly a face appeared in the fire, a face made of vines, a face Vlad knew to belong to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Its eyes were wide, reflections of the many tongues of fire dancing in their depths. Its fanged mouth was opened wide in a broad, insane grin, as if laughing at the poor man struggling for his life. Its green tongue slid back and forth across the teeth hungrily, spitting into the fire and causing the flames to grow higher.
"No! I can change!" Vlad pleaded again, as he was inches from the hungry, evil face. "I can change! Noooooo!" With a final scream for mercy, he felt the flames bite at his body as he was pulled straight into the spirit's bottomless mouth, darkness sweeping over his senses, blanketing his vision and voice.
Seconds later Vlad shot up with a scream, throwing his arms over his head in a panic. But when nothing happened, he slowly lowered his hands and looked around apprehensively to be met with a surprising sight.
He was back in his library, standing in front of the chair he'd fallen asleep on before. The fire was out, the embers glowing at the base of the fireplace. Light was streaming in through the windows, and he could see a light snow falling outside. Taking a step forward, he felt his foot nudge something on the floor. Looking down, he noticed the book he thought he'd thrown into the fire. He picked it up and examined the page it was opened to, a single line in the middle of the page catching his primary attention:
'…the mention of Christmas, with its prospect of new toys and delicious sweets and merry times with distant relatives I'd only see around the holidays…'
Christmas! Vlad thought with a pang of worry. He dropped the book and sprinted to the door throwing it open and flying out into the hall. Looking around, he saw two workers walking down the hall away from him and ran up to them at top speed. When he reached them he grabbed one of them by the shoulders, startling them both more than was likely necessary.
"What day is it?" he asked her, shaking her shoulders.
The two looked at each other, afraid. "It's… December 25th, sir…"
"It's Christmas?" Vlad repeated hopefully.
"I… I guess so…" she replied uncertainly. "Is this a test, Mr. Masters? Because I promise I don't—"
"Then it's not too late!" Vlad exclaimed happily, hugging the baffled girl tightly. "I haven't missed it! It didn't take three nights like Clockwork said it would! I can still fix things!" He released the girl, who continued to stutter in confusion, and began to run off down the hall. After a moment, he turned back with an afterthought. "Well, what are you waiting for? It's Christmas! Get this place decorated! Maybe if it's good I'll give everyone a nice Christmas bonus as a gift!" He laughed somewhat crazily as the two girls looked at each other, unsure whether or not to believe him or call the authorities and report that he'd lost his mind. But he didn't care. It was Christmas, which meant he still had time to set things right and prevent the horrible future he'd been shown.
When he reached his study he paused momentarily before grabbing the doorknob, a brief vision of what he'd seen there flashing before his eyes. But then it was gone, and he threw open the door to find the study just as he'd left it, corpse-free. He strode straight to the desk and picked up the phone, dialing a number and waiting for an answer.
"Amity Park Prison," the voice on the other end greeted in a dull voice.
"It's the mayor," Vlad said in a serious voice.
"Oh, Mr. Mayor, sir," the man said, sounding much more alert than before. "What can I do for you?"
"You have records of the prisoners I had arrested yesterday for holiday-related crimes, correct?"
"Good. I want you to take each of those prisoners… and release them."
The man on the other line paused a moment. "…Sir?"
"You heard me," Vlad said in an official voice. "Release them. Oh, and make sure you tell Kevin Griffin to go out and buy his family a nice turkey dinner, on me!"
"Um… O-Of course, sir. If you say so."
"Thank you," Vlad offered with a grin. "And Merry Christmas!"
"Merry… Christmas to you too, sir…" the man on the other line returned, sounding unsure but happy all the same, as Vlad hung up the phone.
Looking at the clock on the desk, he noticed it was just past noon. "Now, one more call…" he muttered to himself as he dialed another number and waited for an answer, which came soon enough. "Yes, it's the mayor. I've got a story I want you to print as soon as possible, in a special edition of the paper…"
"Merry Christmas!" Vlad said jovially to each passing citizen as he strode lightly through town, a distinct spring in his step that he knew hadn't been there for decades. "Happy Holidays!"
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Mayor!" a few people said back, looking extremely excited. Some had asked if this meant Christmas was back on, and they could put their decorations back up, to which Vlad would reply that he wouldn't have it any other way. It took some time for many villagers to fully trust this new, peppy Vlad Masters, but it was Christmas, after all. It was difficult for them to stay angry with him for long when he was being so personable.
At last he reached his destination, the Fentons' house, and stopped on the doorstep to prepare himself. He tucked the newspaper he'd been carrying more tightly under his arm, tightened his coat, and placed a firm, defiant scowl on his face, though on the inside he was chuckling excitedly. A part of him was somewhat apprehensive about seeing Jack and Maddie, unsure of how they would react to his presence. But another part reminded him of the visions he'd been shown by the second ghost, and his worry nearly disappeared. He took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.
"Dad, the fork goes on the left! No, the left! Ugh," a female voice sighed in frustration on the other side of the door as rapid footsteps approached. After a second Jazz answered once again, her face paling at the sight of the man on the doorstep. "Um… hi, MAYOR MASTERS!" she shouted, like she had the day before.
"Enough with the incessant noise," Vlad said irritably, frown in place, as he pushed Jazz aside and stepped over the threshold. As planned, his sudden visit had caught the Fentons off guard. Maddie was halfway to the tree—which was still in place—when Vlad entered, and Jack was frozen in setting silverware about the dining room table just to the right of the front door. Jack, Maddie, and Jazz all froze as Vlad stepped further into the house, closed the door politely behind him, and walked to the entrance to the living room, staring coldly at the Christmas tree still resting boldly in the corner.
"Now, Vlad," Maddie began carefully, taking a deep breath and glancing worriedly at Jack. "This isn't what it looks like…"
"Really?" Vlad returned bitterly. "Because it looks like you're preparing for a nice Christmas dinner." He was surprised at how icy he made his voice sound, and wondered if that was the way he sounded all the time to others.
"Well in that case it's exactly what it looks like," Jack admitted, scratching his head and smiling sheepishly. Maddie shot him a wary glare, and Jazz slapped her forehead in frustration.
"I knew it!" the mayor accused. "I knew you were hiding something yesterday! Which is why I've decided to come back today, to tell you that I would like nothing more…" He paused a moment as Maddie watched him with worried eyes. He allowed his gaze to soften before finishing his sentence, "…than to join you."
All three of them stared at him in shock, as whatever they'd expected him to say, that hadn't been it. "You want… to join us for dinner?" Maddie repeated in disbelief.
Vlad smiled, bowing slightly. "If you'll have me."
"Of course we'll have you, Vladdie!" Jack exclaimed, rushing forward and wrapping his old friend in a one-armed hug. Maddie smiled in agreement.
"But I thought you cancelled Christmas," Jazz interrupted from her place by the dining room, still looking on in confusion.
"Haven't you seen the paper?" Vlad asked lightly, before extracting the rolled up newspaper from under his arm and extending it for them all to see the headline, which read, 'Christmas is back! Mayor Masters releases holiday ban!'
"Is that true?" Maddie asked with wide, hopeful eyes.
Vlad smiled. "It was wrong of me to try and cancel Christmas. I didn't realize that Christmas isn't something you can just stop from happening. I was blinded by the past. But I've moved on, finally. And now I can enjoy Christmas for the first time in a long time."
"See, Maddie?" Jack said proudly. "I told you he'd come around! Friends forever, right V-man?" Maddie and Vlad laughed as Jack put an arm around each of them, just as he had on the night they'd first met.
"Okay, this is just weird…" Jazz observed from a few feet away, a smile on her face nonetheless as she shook her head at the sight of the three of them.
Just then the front door opened to reveal the fourth Fenton, his face hidden behind an enormous pile of grocery bags which filled his arms.
"You're lucky half this stuff was on sale," he was saying, "or we'd be having fruit and vegetables for Christmas dinner this year. Now let's get this started before Vlad—" At that moment he turned sideways and laid eyes on the mayor, who was still standing in the middle of their living room. "Aw, not again…" he grumbled.
"Danny!" Vlad shouted, unable to keep from thinking of that last time he'd seen the confused teen in the doorway, whether it had been real or not, present or future. He rushed forward and wrapped Danny in a tight embrace, causing every bag in his arms to fall to the ground, many spilling their contents across the carpet or out onto the doorstep. "You're alive!"
"I-I'm what?" Danny repeated, stiffening at the sudden display of affection, obviously unsure whether or not he'd heard the mayor correctly.
"Nothing, nothing, never mind," Vlad replied off-handedly, regaining himself and releasing Danny, keeping his hands on his arms and holding him at arm's length.
Danny looked apprehensively at Vlad, his mouth slightly open in soundless words. "Anyone care to tell me what's going on here…?"
"Isn't it great, son?" Jack began as Jazz stifled laughter at her brother's expression. "Vladdie decided not to cancel Christmas after all!"
"And he's staying for dinner!" Maddie chimed in. "He wants to celebrate with us!"
Danny looked thoughtful for a moment (Vlad wondered if he was thinking of the conversation he'd had with his mother the previous night, the one he and the yeti ghost had eavesdropped on). He then glanced back up at Vlad, frowning and raising a slightly suspicious eyebrow, as if to say 'If you're planning something…'
Vlad shook his head, smiling in reply. "It's Christmas, Daniel," was all he said. Danny's eyes softened before a grin began to spread across his face.
"Alright," he gave in as Vlad let go of his arms. "But if you're gonna stay," he went on, kneeling down and gathering as many of the bags as he could in one armful. He then stood and shoved them toward Vlad's chest, the latter wrapping his arms around them in surprise to keep from dropping them. An expression somewhere between a smirk and a grin had appeared on Danny's face. "You get to help with the work."
As Maddie directed Vlad to the kitchen where he could set down the heavy bags, Jazz and Danny moved to gather the rest of the fallen groceries, and Jack resumed his task of setting the dining room table (incorrectly, as Jazz was quick to point out for the third time), none of them noticed the old ghost peering in from the front window, watching them work with a small smile.
"You'd be surprised what the words of three 'special ghosts' can do, eh, Vlad?" Clockwork asked with a chuckle, recalling what the mayor had said to him the previous night. "It looks like all is well again. You've saved your future… and your friends'." Satisfied, the Master of Time turned and glided away from the window, slowly fading from sight.
"Merry Christmas, you old Scrooge," he added as a final thought. "Well done."
Da da da daaaa! So what do you think? Did my hours and hours of hard work pay off? Like I said, I had a lot of fun writing this one. Hopefully you were able to recognize the three spirits, too (Amorpho, Frostbite, and Undergrowth...?). I didn't want to say their names, but hopefully my descriptions of them were good enough to make it obvious. I also took a lot of liberties when making up all of Vlad's memories, as I'm sure you noticed. On that note though, didja recognize the fifth memory they visited? It was the scene from last chapter of this story, Snowball Effect, the Jack and Maddie one-shot I wrote last year. haha. I needed a good memory like that and it just kind of fit perfectly so I had to use it :D haha.
Anyway hope you enjoyed the fruits of my (long hours of) labor! And hopefully I can get a few more out this year before Christmas. I currently have two well-developed ideas (though one of them is on hold due to minor case of writer's block...), so hopefully I can get them written sometime soon. Review for me on your way out, will ya? I really wanna know if this came off as good as I'd hoped it would :D