Company for the Holidays
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
"There's nobody else, Aunt Phyllida," my niece Alice said over the phone. "You have to take Sam for Christmas."
"I can't. I absolutely, positively can't," I said. I set down the golden candleholder I was carrying and glanced around my living room. The windows were covered in black velvet curtains, and every surface bore at least one layer of midnight cloth. I had cleaned the fireplace and laid new wood in it. Shadows loved fire.
"He's been at my house for three days, and if he stays any longer, he'll ruin Christmas. Rob and I have been planning this holiday for months, Aunt Phyllida. The girls were so excited about it until Sam came. I can't stand it. We need a good holiday after what happened with Rob's mom."
Rob's mother had died just after Thanksgiving. I hadn't been invited to the funeral. They all thought I was eccentric, and they were right. Couldn't trust me to behave at family events. That's what they thought. They had no idea who I was, what I wanted, who I knew, or who visited me.
"Your family deserves relief from the grief," I said. "Still, I don't think I should have a child in my house over the holiday." Christmas wasn't the problem. It was the winter solstice, which was tonight. I couldn't have a twelve-year-old kid in my house during the Festival of Darks, when shadows came to celebrate the longest night. I didn't think children could survive that intense onslaught of dark energy. It took someone over fifty to host the ceremony. I'd been hosting ShadowFest for ten years, and every year it took a toll on me, though I'd grown out of most of my harshest, most devouring fears. A twelve-year-old would be full of fears--not just the dire fears of childhood, but with the onset of the hormonal teen years, all those social issues to be afraid of. The shadows loved to feed fears and harvest terrors.