Christmas Wreath

*Note: this story was originally published by MicroHorror blog in 2014. The last time I checked MicroHorror, the site was seemingly defunct and the link to my story went nowhere. Since I own the rights to the story, I’m publishing it here on my blog. You can also read about the inspiration for the piece here.*

Christmas Wreath

Julie Gilbert

She hated the hair wreath. It hung above the fireplace, hovering over pine boughs and sprigs of holly. The candles flickering on the Christmas tree glinted on the woven locks of hair, blonde from the two sisters who died in the diphtheria epidemic, brown from the brother killed in the War of the Rebellion, gossamer wisps from the three babies. The strands quivered in the candlelight, serpents trapped behind glass.

The house creaked and shuddered and suddenly she wasn’t alone.

“There’s room for you,” the pixies said, gnarled fingers clawing her shoulder. She twitched the hem of her nightgown, trying to dislodge the ones crawling up her leg. “Look, there’s a place for your chestnut tresses. So lovely.”

One of them grabbed a curl of her hair and pulled, turning her face to the bottle of laudanum sitting on the parlor table. “You won’t feel a thing,” it hissed, its breath smelling incongruously of violets.

She remembered the beet farmer’s son tucking a drooping hothouse flower behind her ear after church one Sunday, his calloused finger snagging on her hair. Sleet had pelted the carriage roof but the ice in her stomach was colder. “You’ll be a beautiful mother,” he sputtered, the most he had ever spoken to her. His doughy cheeks flushed as he jammed the ring over her knuckle.

“I won’t,” she had gagged days later when she could speak again. The biggest pixie had winked at her as she hurled the ring into the creek.

“It will only take a few swigs,” the same pixie rasped now, caressing her lips with a yellow nail.

“It’s the season of giving,” the others whispered in her shell ears. “Why not give your mother this gift? A perfect, preserved memory to hang above the mantle.”

Pixies crunched beneath her toes as she paced to the candlelit tree. The creatures had gotten even louder since the last baby died in her arms, slipping too soon from their mother’s body.

“Do it,” they crooned, a haunted lullaby that snapped her last nerve.

“I won’t be a part of that wreath,” she shouted, pixies flying into the shadowy corners of the parlor as she grabbed the kerosene lamp. A flick of her wrist, a crash of glass, and her nightgown was soaked.

Ignoring the screams behind her, she shook off the last of the pixies and walked head first into the Christmas tree. The parlor exploded in flames. So did the girl. The heat from the fire cracked the glass protecting the hair wreath and soon all the locks were gone.

For years afterward, her mother wore a vial of ashes around her neck, offering it to anyone who visited her bed in the asylum, her hand trembling as she brushed away the pixies dripping from the chain.

“Would you like to meet my children?” she would ask, her voice bright. “They’re all right here, safe and sound, protected by their mother. See? What they’re saying isn’t true. I never, ever failed my children.”