Christmas time again. Joy to the world. I know it's going to be nothing like my last Christmas. Last Christmas I met a certain ghost who loved to write and he took me for a wild ride. What are the chances of me going on another adventure like that? I would say slim to none.
Christmas is less than a week away and I don't have any presents for anyone. Oh, well, it's not the first time I waited to the last minute to get my shopping done. The only difference this year is that the Christmas tree hasn't been set up and I have a feeling it won't be set up this year. Whatever. At this point in the game I really don't care. I just want my mother to be able to make a decision about what she wants to do with shopping and Christmas dinner. At least we know what's going on Christmas Eve day. And if stuff happens like it did at Thanksgiving, I am going to snap at something or someone.
"I'm so overwhelmed," my mother says.
Pick something and stick to it. It's not that difficult. It's just going to be like every other year — we are going to get up early in the morning, she's going to procrastinate at something, my dad and I are going to attempt to work around her and it's not going to work, we are going to be late again to wherever we are going, my dad's going to be upset because she knew about this ahead of time, and I'm going to feel like inflicting physical pain on myself to keep from crying because I get ticked off at this entire mess.
And if she says that I could be helping her, here's what I have to say to that: tell me what you want me to do, because I cannot read your mind!
I lie awake in bed, thinking about the Christmas I had last year. Ghostwriter had been so nice to me and it was great, until Danny Phantom showed up and wrecked everything. Apparently from what I understood from Ghostwriter, it was not the first time Danny had done something like that.
I turn over and try to sleep. I know I could not have been asleep very long when I pull the covers up to my ear. The clock in the back entryway chimes midnight. Man, it is cold in here! I wonder if the radiator in my room decided to quit on me. That's what happened back in October and it took us a week to figure out what was wrong. It also does not help that my bed is under a drafty window, but it is never this cold. What the world!
I shiver and try to ignore the cold. If it keeps up like this, I'm going to have it put on sleep socks.
"YinYang? YinYang, wake up."
I open my eyes and nearly jump out of my skin. Green eyes are shining in the dark from behind a pair of purple rimmed glasses. Standing next to my bed is Ghostwriter!
"What are you doing here?" I demand, sitting up and pulling the blankets up to my shoulders.
Ghostwriter puts a finger to his lips. "You'll wake everyone else," he says. "I wanted to invite you to an early Christmas soiree."
"Now? Ghostwriter, it's midnight," I say. I think about it. "Okay, it's not like I have to go to work tomorrow."
"Great," he says. Ghostwriter walks over to my closet and quietly opens the door. He pulls the cord for the light. "Let's see what you have to wear."
I climb out of bed and turn a dim light on. "Don't you know better than to go through a girl's closet?" I give him a light glare as I reach in and take out a sweater dress. I picked it up last year during an end of winter sale. It is light and dark gray tiger striped with silver mixed in. The sleeves are capped and it has a cowl neck. "Will this do?" I ask.
"Yes," replies Ghostwriter.
I go to my dresser and take out something to wear under it. Ghostwriter kindly looks away as I quickly remove my pajamas and pull on my under clothes. I pull the dress over my head. The outfit still needs something. I take out a pair of silver tights and a pair of no-show black socks. After pulling them on, I select my favorite ankle boots, black soft leather with little silver rivet details at the zipper. After putting a little makeup on to look awake and fixing my long hair, I tap Ghostwriter's shoulder.
"Ready?" he asks.
There's a noise outside my door. Something is running; the furnace? No, it's not! That's my dog growling!
"Oh, shoot! Zach's going to wake everyone up," I hiss.
Ghostwriter grabs my arm and pulls me through the exterior wall. We fly across Amity Park.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, we did it again!" I say, my teeth chattering.
"We forgot your coat." Ghostwriter smacks his forehead.
We land on a rooftop. Ghostwriter quickly takes off his coat and scarf, leaving him in a thin, light gray shirt. He puts his scarf around my neck and helps me into his coat.
"What about you?" I ask.
"I'm a ghost, YinYang," he says with a smile. "Cold does not bother me."
"Thank you." I fasten the buttons of the coat.
"You're welcome," Ghostwriter smiles.
I notice something about him that I failed to notice earlier. "You're not speaking in rhyme," I say.
"I don't always speak in rhyme," says Ghostwriter. "I usually do when I'm working on a poem, like I was last year."
"No poem this year?" I ask.
"No, not this year," he replies with a grin.
Instead of taking my hand and flying like he always did, he scoops me up in his arms. I gasp and put my arms around his neck. I feel my cheeks burn.
"Now we have a party to get to," he says. "And since I'm hosting, it would be rude of me not to be there when the guests show up."
We fly off again. It is not long before we land in front of an old house on a hill. The place looks abandoned. Ghostwriter walks through the door and sets me down on the other side.
"This place is said to be haunted, but the only ghosts haunting it tonight will be the guests," says Ghostwriter.
"I assume I am the only human invited to this little gathering," I say.
"Yes," answers Ghostwriter, going into another room. I follow him. "Humans are not allowed in the Ghost Zone and I have a feeling you would not like it, YinYang. I already got in trouble with Walker to breaking the Christmas truce. I only got out of prison because I made a deal with Walker to keep my nose clean. I thought it would be good for me to host a Christmas party and invite the ones I wronged. I couldn't think of a better place than this."
"But you didn't wrong me," I say.
Ghostwriter smiles. "I like you, YinYang," he says. "There aren't many writers in the Ghost Zone and it is nice to see the next generation of talent."
"I'm not that good," I say.
Ghostwriter shrugs. "Maybe not yet. You just need a little practice."
I pause for a moment before smiling and giving a short laugh. "That is probably the best, most sincere thing I have heard someone say about my work."
Ghostwriter frowns. "Why do you say that?"
"Everyone says I'm good," I reply. "But being good only tells me I'm doing something right. It doesn't show me what I can improve upon. You saying that I need practice, tells me I can be better, that I'm not stuck in a rut. Thank you, Ghostwriter."
Ghostwriter grins and turns to the fireplace in the room. He quickly gets a blaze going with his ghost ray. "There. You should be warm in a minute, YinYang."
I remove his coat and scarf. The room quickly becomes warm enough for me to stop shivering. I hand his clothes back to him.
There is a knock on the door and a second later someone walks through the door.
"Am I early?" a woman asks.
Ghostwriter walks into the entryway. "No, you're right on time."
"I brought some food, dear," I hear the woman say. "Figgy pudding, roasted chestnuts, and mince pie."
"Thank you, Lunch Lady," Ghostwriter says. "I'll put them in the kitchen."
"If I may ask, why are we having the party here?" asks the woman.
I come into the entryway. At the door is the green ghost of an elderly lady dressed like a cook from school.
"Oh, hello, dearie," she says when she sees me.
"Merry Christmas," I say.
"That is the reason why we are having the party here," says Ghostwriter. "Lunch Lady, meet YinYang. YinYang, Lunch Lady."
"A human friend, Ghostwriter?" asks Lunch Lady. "Now I see why we are having it here. But won't Walker be angry that a human is joining us?"
"I don't recall there being a rule that I could not invite a human," says Ghostwriter. "And hopefully he hasn't a problem with half ghosts coming as well."
"You invited Phantom? That was kind of you," says Lunch Lady.
It's not long before more ghosts come to the door. I meet Poindexter, Skulker, the Box Ghost, Desiree, Young Blood, Ember, Technus, Johnny 13, his shadow, and Kitty, and Spectra and Bertrand. Things are going well until there is one final knock at the door. I see Ghostwriter gulp as he answers the door. Standing in the door is a white ghost that looks like he stepped out of the nineteen twenties. He looks down his nose at Ghostwriter. I have a feeling that this is Walker.
"Merry Christmas, Walker, sir," Ghostwriter says with a slight stammer.
"Merry Christmas, Writer," says Walker, darkly. He enters and looks around at the decorations.
Ghostwriter is tense as he stands off to the side. If he needed to breathe, I am certain that Ghostwriter would be hyperventilating. After a minute, Walker turns back to Ghostwriter.
"Adequate," he says to my friend.
Ghostwriter lets out a sigh of relief. "Walker, there is something I need to tell you. Danny Phantom may be coming."
"As long as he keeps the truce, I have no problem with him being here," says Walker.
"We are keeping the truce though it's not Christmas?" asks Young Blood.
"Yes," says Walker with a nod.
"Also, Walker." Ghostwriter bites his lip before continuing. "I invited a friend of mine and she's not a ghost."
Walker's head snaps around. "She's human?"
"And a sweet girl," adds Ghostwriter.
Walker contemplates this for a long moment. "Very well," he says. "She is not in the Ghost Zone. Therefore, you are not violating any rules. Where is she?"
I step out from behind Ember and Kitty. "Here," I say.
Walker turns to me. Ghostwriter motions me forward. I walk over to them and Ghostwriter slips his arm around my waist.
"This is YinYang," Ghostwriter introduces. "YinYang, this is Walker."
"Pleased to meet you, sir," I say.
Walker smiles. "Likewise," he says, extending his hand. I shake his hand. It's a firm and cold grip. "I see Ghostwriter is keeping himself out of trouble. If you are the reason, then thank you."
Something clicks in my mind. Walker has an accent, but I do not place it until now.
"You used to live in Texas, right?" I ask.
"How did you guess?" he asks.
"I thought I recognized the accent," I answer. "I have family in Texas, but I don't see them very much."
The party gets going once the tension is out of the way. Lunch Lady's food was quickly consumed, mostly by the other ghosts. I only pick at the pudding and a few chestnuts because I do not like mince pie.
It is now two in the morning. I am more than a little sleepy. Some of the snacks that others brought are being cleaned up and I help. Ghostwriter puts an empty bowl on the counter in the kitchen to refill with party mix.
"You don't have to do anything," he says.
"It's fine," I say. "I'll feel bad if I don't. I see Danny Phantom didn't come."
"I know," says Ghostwriter. "Maybe it's for the best. Every time we get together something happens. First he destroys my Christmas poem a couple years ago and I break the truce, and then there was last year in the toy store."
"I didn't mean to get you in trouble," I say. "I'm sorry though."
"It's not your fault," says Ghostwriter.
We walk out of the kitchen together. There are several whistles, mostly from Johnny 13, when we walk into the living room. We stop and frown. What was going on?
"What, you don't follow this Christmas tradition?" asks Ember, grinning.
I look at Ghostwriter. He looks at me. Neither of us know what they are talking about.
Johnny 13 jumps up from where he is sitting. "Well, if you're not, Writer, I am," he says.
Kitty grabs him by the collar of his jacket and whacks her boyfriend over the head with her purse. "You'll do no such thing!"
Seeing that we are completely clueless, Spectra points above our heads. Ghostwriter and I look up. There is a large bough of mistletoe hanging from the doorway and we are standing under it.
"I did not put that there," Ghostwriter assures me.
"Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!" the other ghosts start chanting.
Ghostwriter and I look at each other, not knowing what to do. I never kissed a guy before and Ghostwriter looks like he is waiting for my permission. Suddenly he kisses me on the cheek. That I am perfectly okay with.
"There," he says.
"Give her a real kiss!" shouts Technus.
Ghostwriter turns to me again. I give him a timid look and turn away, shrinking back a little.
"Don't be shy," says Spectra.
Ghostwriter cups my cheek and gives me a kiss on the lips. There is nothing special about it. It is a chaste kiss and nothing more.
"There," he growls at the other ghosts. "Happy now?"
I make a quick retreat to the kitchen. My cheeks are flushed. I just kissed a ghost. Granted, he kissed me, but our lips still made contact. I try to come up with the words to describe it in case someone asks when I retell the story. It was cold, like popsicle cold.
"YinYang?" I hear Ghostwriter call in a soft voice. I turn. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," I reply.
"I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that," he tells me.
"You were put on the spot, too," I say. "You didn't plan this."
"I'm sorry," Ghostwriter says awkwardly.
"You don't have to be sorry about this, Ghostwriter," I say.
"My real name's Adam," he says. "At least it was when I was alive."
"Adam," I repeat with a smile. "My name's Marie."
"Marie. That's a lovely name," he says.
I shrug. "Not as interesting as YinYang."
"True," agrees Ghostwriter.
We go back into the living room. I take a seat by the fireplace. With all the ghosts in the room, it's a bit chilly. I glance out the window.
"It's snowing," I mutter.
Young Blood hears me and looks out the window, too. "Hey, you're right!"
The others go to the window.
"Not enough for a snowball fight," says Johnny.
"Forget it," snorts Technus. "I am not getting wet because you want to throw snowballs around."
I snuggle back in my chair.
"Hey," I hear Skulker mutter. "She's falling asleep. Hey, Ember, where's your guitar?"
"Don't be mean," scolds Poindexter.
"I would say do it and die, but since you're already dead it wouldn't make sense," I say without opening my eyes.
Box Ghost laughs.
"Clever girl," says Desiree with a few giggles of her own.
I fall asleep after that. When I wake, I am lying on the old sofa with a blanket around me. The fire is burning low and I hear voices in another room. I rub my eyes, managing as always to smudge my makeup. I get up and walk into the other room.
"Hey, she's awake," says Bertrand.
"How long was I asleep?" I ask.
"Not long," answers Lunch Lady. "Are you hungry?"
I shake my head. I can feel that my hair is a mess and I pull out the hair combs I am using to hold it back.
"You should leave your hair down," Poindexter says. "You look really pretty with it like that."
"Thank you," I say, putting it back up. "I have to keep it back or it gets in my way and becomes a matted mess."
"And someone as thin as you should eat more," Ghostwriter points out.
"Hey!" I cry.
"I'm just saying," he says, putting his hands up in defense. "You feel far too light to be healthy."
"It's genetics," I say. "My mother was thin and my father was thin. It only makes sense that I am, too."
I look out the window to see if it is still snowing. It is and it is coming down heavy now, large flakes filling the dark sky. I see something else, something I am not expecting to see. There are two sets of fresh footprints going around the house.
"Have any of you been outside recently?" I ask with a frown.
"No," replies Walker. "Why?"
I go to the window. "I think someone has been out here in the last few minutes."
"Phantom?" asks Ghostwriter.
"Not unless Phantom wears size ten boots," I reply. "And there are two sets of footprints."
Now everyone is alert.
"Johnny," whispers Kitty.
"Shadow, check it out," Johnny says.
Shadow takes off into the dark.
Ghostwriter stands by me and puts his arm around my waist. "Maybe you should go," he says.
"I can take care of myself," I say.
There is a shriek from outside.
"Shadow!" cries Johnny. He starts for the backdoor.
"Johnny, wait!" Kitty follows him, trying to stop him.
Walker and Skulker follow them out.
There is a screeching noise that forces me to cover my ears. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard. It is annoying to me, but it clearly does more to the ghosts. I hear Ghostwriter cry out as he falls to the floor, curling into a ball and covering his ears.
"Adam!" I cry.
I see the others have fallen to the floor as well. What is happening?
"Marie, run," Ghostwriter tells me between pained gasps.
The backdoor is kicked in and two men dressed in white suits come barging into the room.
"Run!" Ghostwriter gasps again.
I turn on my heel and bolt for the front door, a weapon of some sort being fired at me as I run. I vaguely notice a white van parked in the driveway of the house as I run down the hill as fast as I can with a man shouting behind me to stop. Next thing I know I am face down in a snow bank.
"Come here, ghost," growls the man.
"Let go of me!" I scream as I writhe in his grip.
I do not know how I do it, but I manage to escape. I hit the ground running once again, not sure where I am going.
I run several blocks, cutting through backyards and alleys. I am lost. I am cold and shivering, my feet numb. My boots are not the kind to be worn in the snow. My fingers hurt, feeling like someone is stabbing them with tiny needles, drilling deep into the flesh, and I know if I bang my hands, it'll hurt worse. This is worse than the time I played flag football in gym class and got my finger caught in one of the guys' shirt when I tried to pull his flags off. I think I dislocated my finger that day and I couldn't move it for four days until I was messing with it on the second day and it painfully popped and the swelling went down. But I digress.
I hug myself miserably as I slow to a walk. I am certain I lost them. My torso is a bit warmer than the rest of me due to the thickness of my sweater dress, but my legs and arms are another story. Every time the wind blows I feel like I am going to turn into a popsicle. I even go as far as taking my hair out of the combs to keep my ears and shoulders warm.
Someone puts their hand on my shoulder. I scream and jump away.
I turn. It's Danny Phantom!
"I remember you," he says. "You're the girl from the toy store last year. What are you doing out in the snow?"
I sniff as my eyes burn. "It was a Christmas party. We weren't hurting anything!" I blurt out. I feel something warm on my cheeks and it quickly turns icy cold. "There was this weird, annoying sound and everyone fell to the floor. Then these men in white suits came barging in. Ghostwriter told me to run and one of them caught me outside. I don't know how I got away."
"The Guys in White?" asks Phantom. "Where was your party?"
"At this old house. It's said to be haunted," I answer.
"First things first," says Phantom. "We need you to get out of the cold."
"I'm fine," I lie.
"No, you're not," Phantom says gently. He pulls me close to him, blocking some of the wind. He's warmer than Ghostwriter, much warmer, but too cold for a human. "I have a friend who lives not far from here. She'll give you a change of clothes."
Phantom picks me up and we fly off.
A block away, we float through a window into a girl's bedroom. Phantom puts me down and shakes the occupant in the bed awake.
"Danny?" It's the goth girl from last year! "What are you doing in here?"
"The Guys in White captured a bunch of ghosts," Phantom quickly explains. "I brought Ghostwriter's friend with me. She was there went it happened. She needs a change of clothes, Sam. She's freezing."
The goth girl, Sam, gets out of bed and looks at me.
"You're about my size," she says. "I'll get her taken care of. You call Tucker and tell him what's going on."
Phantom nods and disappears.
Sam pulls out a change of clothes for herself and for me. She tosses me a black cable-knit sweater and a pair of heavy black jeans.
"Hang your wet clothes over the radiator," Sam tells me.
I change my clothes and hang my wet ones over the radiator. I turn and see she's dressed as well. She holds a pair of black combat boots and is looking at my feet.
"What size are you?" she asks.
"Six and a half, seven," I answer. "All depends on the cut of the shoe."
"Worth a shot," says Sam. She grabs a pair of thick socks as well. "These should make up for of the difference."
After I am dressed and pull back my hair once more, Sam and I are ready to go. It is about this time that Phantom and the geeky boy from last year appear in the room.
"Hey!" says the geek.
"Hey," I say.
"This is Tucker," Phantom tells me. "Tucker, this is . . . I'm sorry, I don't think I ever got your name last year."
"YinYang," I answer.
"YinYang," finishes Phantom. "And you've met Sam."
Tucker flashes me a grin and takes out his PDA. "There is a lot of ghost activity on Maple Street."
"I think that's where we were," I say. "I don't remember for sure. I didn't think to look at street names when we were flying."
"With any luck, the Guys in White are still there," says Phantom. He shudders. "And maybe my parents."
I have a feeling I wasn't supposed to hear that last part by the way Phantom whispered it, but I let it slide. I just want to help my friends.
We hurry to the haunted house and see that the white van was still there. Two men in white were loading up equipment. The engine is running and I am certain they have the heat on.
"We need to find the ghost containment device," says Phantom. "I'll distract them. They will chase me all over town if they see me. Tucker, Sam, YinYang, you three find the ghost and release them."
"Got it," says Tucker.
Phantom nods and flies off.
Tucker, Sam, and I sneak over to the van. Phantom flies over the heads of the men and hurls a few insults at them, challenging them to catch him. The men grab some of their equipment out of the van and follow Phantom on foot, shooting all the way.
"That's our cue," says Sam, running out of our hiding place.
She and Tucker jump into the back of the van. I stand nearby, watching Phantom and the men.
"Can you hack it?" I hear Sam ask Tucker.
"Yeah," answers Tucker. "But I need more time."
"Hey!" One of the men spots us and begins running for us. "Get away from there!"
I jump into the back of the van and slam the doors behind me.
"What are you doing?" asks Sam as I jump over equipment to get to the front.
"Saving all our skins!" I answer.
I hop into the driver's seat. The van is already running, so the keys are already in the ignition. I put my seatbelt on, lock the doors, and throw the van in drive. I know I must be out of my mind. I have never driven anything other than my dad's Buick. I look at the bright side and tell myself I have driven in snow before.
"Hold on!" I yell.
I floor it. Not my brightest idea, but it works. Snow and slush fly in the man's face and I steer the van out onto the road. In the rearview mirror I see the stunned look of Phantom as he hovers in the air.
"Everyone okay back there?" I ask.
"We're fine," replies Tucker.
"Where did you get your license?" barks Sam.
"I didn't," I answer. "I only have my permit."
"Better than any of us," Tucker defends.
"I'll drive around for a little while," I tell them. "That should give us some time for you to get the ghosts out."
After a few minutes I park behind the Nasty Burger. Tucker is still working on the containment devices.
"I wonder how Danny's doing," says Sam.
"I'm sure he's fine," I say. "It sounded to me like he knew what he was doing."
Sam scoffs. "Like he even knows what he's doing?"
"I think I got it," Tucker says excitedly.
Sam opens the back doors.
The containment device beeps and all the ghosts escape.
"What a bunch of jerks!" screams Ember.
"We should teach them a lesson," says Johnny, cracking his knuckles.
"Phantom's way ahead of you on that one," Tucker tells them.
"The whelp?" asks Skulker.
Ghostwriter turns to me. "You found Phantom?" he asks.
"More like he found me," I say.
"We should help him," says Poindexter. "It is Christmastime, after all."
"And he did help YinYang," Walker puts in.
"Let's go!" shouts Spectra.
I take Ghostwriter's hand and Sam and Tucker take the hands of other ghosts. We fly back to the haunted house and see Phantom is having a bit of trouble with the men. The sound that brought the ghost to their knees is blaring again. All the ghosts fall out of the sky. Luckily we are all flying low at that time.
"What is that?" asks Tucker.
"That's worse than your singing, Tuck," says Sam.
I look around. I see one of the men is holding what appears to be a CD player. The noise is coming from there!
I rush up to him from behind and kick him in the back of the leg. He drops the CD player. I pick it up and try to find the off switch. I can't find one. I go to my next idea. I throw the CD player onto the asphalt and begin stomping on the screeching thing.
"I have had enough of this!" I shout.
The man I took the CD player from grabs my arm and twists it. I let out a yell.
"Let her go!" roars Ghostwriter.
There is a flash of pink light and the wind picks up. I turn and see Ghostwriter hovering high in the air, his arms thrown out and his green eyes glowing red. He turns and a multi-terminal computer appears.
"The Quantum Keyboard?" asks Phantom. "He's fixed it?"
Ghostwriter begins to type furiously. "Let's begin a new story, shall we? I am annoyed with the old."
The men in white are struck by beams of pink and they disappear.
"What did he just do?" I ask.
"I am giving them a fitting punishment," answers Ghostwriter. He turns to Walker. "If that is all right with you?"
"Please, go right ahead," says Walker.
"Thank you." Ghostwriter continues to type. "Sorry, YinYang, but I'm not going to be able to take you home."
I look at the time. "It's five o'clock," I say. "I don't have to get up until nine. At least I can get a few hours of sleep."
"You can stay with me," Sam volunteers.
"Thank you," I say. I turn to the others. "And thank you for letting me come to your party."
"Maybe next year will be better, dear," says Lunch Lady.
Sam and I walk back to her house. We sneak in and go up to her room. She settles me on the floor with a futon and a pillow. That's all I really need.
I wake up around eight and change my clothes, returning the borrowed ones. It is about then I hear a tapping on the window. I look outside. Ghostwriter is floating outside the window with a book in his hands.
"I can take you home now," he says.
"Okay," I say.
I wake Sam, who hisses at me. "I just wanted to tell you I'm leaving," I say.
"Oh," says Sam. "Well, Merry Christmas, YinYang."
"You, too," I tell her.
She shrugs. "I'm Jewish," she says.
"Happy Hanukkah, then," I say.
Ghostwriter takes my hand and we fly back to my house.
"I'm sorry this did not go as planned," he says.
"It didn't go as planned last year, either," I remind him. "Third time's the charm?"
Ghostwriter smiles and nods. "This is for you." He hands me the book. "I have a feeling you'll like it."
"Thank you," I say. "But I didn't get you anything."
Ghostwriter kisses me on the cheek. "You gave me a friend. I'll see you next year, Marie."
"Okay, Adam," I call. I wave as he flies away.
Man, my Christmases are insane!