It was one of those Christmases that was uncomfortably mild. Not warm, but too warm to be considered winter weather. And it didn’t feel right.
She wasn’t even wearing a jumper and the cool, not cold, air brushed against her arms as she sat on the windowsill, her feet dangling out into the open.
Dust motes spiralled, illuminated by the light of the streetlamps outside. If she ignored the rest of the room, she could pretend it was snow. Almost.
The last time it had snowed they had attempted a snowman, but gave up when there was barely enough to make a mostly-mud snow dog.
It hadn’t mattered of course.
She had held out her hand, then they were holding hands as they tried to make patterns out of footprints, shouting joyously. Letting their souls fill the air.
Voices came from downstairs, too muffled to be coherent. But loud enough that you could tell they were shouting.
God knew what they were yelling about.
When she had left the room it had been about what channel Strictly was on. Neither watched Strictly, it wasn’t even airing today.
Or maybe it was about the postman, or washing up, or maybe nothing at all really. Sometimes they didn’t even bother trying to find a reason to fight. They were the reason itself.
The bed sat there, in the middle of the room, taunting.
It was small. So painfully small. But still, it managed to draw in her eye.
Another round of yelling continued downstairs and she made out a few words. Fault and blame continued in circles, anger and regret dancing in between.
It wasn’t right how the bed was well made. She had never liked it well made.
She had liked the blanket in a crumpled mess at the end, pillows stacked one atop the other, covered in toys and games and the occasional uncomfortable cracker crumb.
So she grabbed the corner of the blanket and pulled. It was cold, far too lifeless. Dead.
The yelling stopped. It all went quiet.
The dust spun, moving to the rhythm of her beating heart, then falling down in soft flakes. The quiet flitted down and engulfed her.
It was like the cold that had been gone all Christmas had come. She began to make her way downstairs, shivering slightly.
There was no one downstairs. But she did not feel afraid. In fact she felt an odd sense of calm, of relief.
The tree twinkled, a sea of fluorescent stars.
Fairy lights faded in and out. She could smell the fir tree, and the scent of Christmas dinner wafted in from the kitchen. Butter and spices and roasting meat melded in the air.
And then there was the iced smoke.
And there she sat. Her little sister. Made of pale mist.
Still small, so painfully small, built upon a fragile tiny frame. Her feet not reaching the ground, swinging like a pendulum. Rootless.
Her eyes had been brown when she had been alive. A wide and deep and warm caramel brown.
Her hair had been wavy and messy, filled with tacky little clips that were bright pinks and blues and yellows.
And she had been so real, a swirling mass of joy and energy. Running into the world with a grin on her face.
There was no colour to her now, no solidity. Only a sea grey. Undulating and reforming. Unsteady.
She didn’t look at her. The smoke swayed.
How could someone so alive be so gone?
‘I miss you.’
The small girl looked at her. There was no longer any warmth there. Frost was all that remained.
She took a step towards her little sister, or the memory of her at least, and held out her hand.
But the fog cleared. The world vanished, the cool lights replaced by the stark overhead ones, the tree disappearing, the smell now gone, the mildness back. The air was stuffy instead of cold.
Sound returned slowly, like she’d come up out of the water.
The arguing was closer now and she could have made out the words if she’d cared to. She really didn’t.
Her sister was gone.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.
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