This story is one of the November Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

Mama tells me our connection to the spirit world begins to strengthen when the first snowflake falls, and that connection lasts until the snow melts and disappears. Then, the spirits won’t return until the next year.

She says the connection is strongest on Winter Solstice because that is the longest night of the year, and our night calls to all those that are wandering and waiting and lost. It is the long night that finally causes the bridge between our world and theirs to materialize.

She tells me not to go outside at night on solstice because the spirits and ghosts are out wandering and cavorting, and little boys made out of flesh-and-blood like me would be wise to stay away. The ghosts and spirits love little children—and would only be too happy to snatch them away.

Youth, she would sigh, so coveted. And I wouldn’t understand, but I would tell her she was the prettiest woman alive with her tired eyes and smile lines.

On Winter Solstice, I push the curtains aside and press my face against the window. Outside, snow falls in a languid dance, slowly twirling from the wind. And I stand there, peering out, searching the empty grounds. It’s quite lonely—that’s the thought that comes to mind. I am about to turn away when I see a silver glow reflecting off the snow. It shifts and blobs before coalescing into a figure. A spirit who has crossed over the bridge just like in Mama’s tales.

The silver spirit gives a hesitant wave, then motions in my direction. I cock my head, point my finger at my chest. Me? The spirit nods, motions again. It wants me to come out.

So I turn tail and grab the worn coat from the rack and walk past the dining hall resounding with the clamor of a rare feast in process to reach the front door. I’m reaching for the doorknob when I’m reminded by Mama’s warning. The ghosts and spirits love little children made out of flesh-and-blood like you, she told me, and would only be too happy to snatch you away.

But then on the thin slice of window next to the door, I see the silver spirit gliding closer. I still can’t see the spirit’s face, but it beckons to me, a hand stretching out towards me. And, and—a ridiculous thought hits me then, because what if that silver spirit is Mama?

I reach for the doorknob again, twist, push the door out. A winter breeze immediately hits me at my exposed throat.

There’s a sort of silence on the outside, the deafening sound of anticipation with the snow sprinkling against my face, leaving speckles of ice behind. The warmth is already leaving me, and I shiver, but then I see a silver glow reflecting off the snow. The spirit that had waved to me before. It shifts and blobs before coalescing into a figure. Straight hair, tired eyes, and smile lines stretching her skin.

“Mama,” I breathe, my warm breath a long, visible plume in the cold air, and she reaches for me before either of us realizes that any physical contact will go right through me. I say again, “Mama.”

“Darling,” she sighs. “You should not be here.”

I draw back. “Why?”

“Youth,” she says. “So coveted.” It sounds like a mantra.

I tuck my hands into my coat’s pockets. There’s a hole in the right one, and I twiddle with it. “I don’t— I can’t.” I stop. “Your stories about Winter Solstice.”

There’s a strange new look in Mama’s eyes, all glassy and distant and cold. Cold like the ceaseless sky above us and the drifting ice and snow. She says, “Darling, do you know why spirits bother crossing the bridge into the mortal world at all?”


“Youth,” she says, the lines in her face wrinkling then fading, as if they had never been there at all. “So coveted.”

Then it was as if I had never been there either.



Ailun Shi

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