The Ghost of Christmas Present: Part VII
December 23, Midnight CST
After her phone call with Tucker, Sam decided to call it a night. She packed up her laptop and turned off all the regular lights, leaving the Christmas tree as the room's only source of illumination. She left the stereo on as well, so she could listen while she finished locking up. Then, she went into the kitchen to get those lights, only to find Maddie's lasagna still sitting on the counter. She hadn't come back in here after dinner to put it in the freezer because she didn't want to get in the middle of Jack's and Nick's argument/competition, and by the time they'd left, she'd forgotten. Sighing, she rummaged around in the cupboard where she kept her plastic storage containers, pulling out several of them so that she could freeze the lasagna as individual servings. After she divided it up among the containers and put them into the freezer, pausing only a moment to blink away memories as she pushed aside Danny's bag of chicken breasts, she went back to the sink to tackle cleaning the casserole dish.
While she was scrubbing a spot of soy cheese that had crusted on the bottom, she felt a familiar twinge of cold in her abdomen, as if she had swallowed an ice cube whole, and its coldness was only now registering as it hit her stomach. Sighing, she waited a beat and, without looking up from scrubbing the dish, said, "A little late tonight, aren't you? It's after midnight."
A whining protest rose up behind her. "Hey, no fair! You didn't even let me say, 'Beware!'"
"Ghosts know their own."
"But you are not a ghost!"
She shrugged. "Ghost Sense by proxy."
Being able to feel the baby's Ghost Sense was probably the one part of pregnancy that Sam was going to miss once he was born. It had taken her a while to recognize the cold feeling for what it was—it wasn't nearly as obvious as Danny's Ghost Sense, which made him so cold he could see his breath no matter how warm the day. Now that she knew what that tiny little twinge in her belly meant, however, she found it came in handy. Not that the ghosts were a threat to her. With the exception of Walker and his Goons, not a single of the Ghost Zone's denizens would so much as lay a finger—or paw, or whatever appendage was applicable—on her. Even so, it was nice to get a little warning when company was imminent, especially with the Box Ghost making regular visits.
"It's still not fair," he repeated, sounding thoroughly disgruntled.
She finished rinsing the dish, then turned to face the pudgy, blue, overall-clad ghost. She was mildly surprised to find that he was alone. "What? No friends tonight?"
Ever since word that she was pregnant with "the Ghost Child's" baby had spread through the Ghost Zone, she'd become almost as much of a curiosity there as in the Human World. The Box Ghost had taken to parlaying his somewhat tenuous acquaintance with her into an attempt at increasing his status among his peers. While this same behavior irritated her from humans, it amused her coming from the Box Ghost. I-got-sucked-into-the-Fenton-Thermos-by-the-mother-of-the-Ghost-Baby-back-in-the-day was such an offbeat claim to fame, she couldn't help but find it almost… endearing.
The Box Ghost looked at her as if she were missing the obvious. "Of course I have not brought any friends with me tonight. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve."
She was about to say that Christmas Eve was the day after tomorrow, until she remembered it was after midnight, which meant it was officially the twenty-third. Then, a thought occurred to her, and she cocked her head, curious. "What time zone would the Ghost Zone be in, anyway? The various natural portals open up into so many different time periods—"
"We have no 'time zones,' like in the Human World."
"Then how do you know when it's Christmas Eve?"
He gave her another disdainful look. "It's Christmas Eve when it's Christmas Eve."
Sam rolled her eyes at the futility of trying to discuss the time-space continuum with the Ghost Zone equivalent of Art Carney on The Honeymooners. "So why are you here, if you're not trying to show me off like some zoo exhibit?"
"Because tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I am the Box Ghost, master of all packages, wrapped and bowed!"
"Then shouldn't you be out haunting the gift-wrapping department at the mall or something?"
He sniffed, looking insulted. "I do not haunt mere retail outlets. I am a purveyor of corrugated cardboard doom!" He waggled his fingers for emphasis.
She crossed her arms, leaning back against the counter. "Oh, yeah, you're a real menace."
Her sarcasm lost on him, he nodded in agreement. "But tonight, I am not here to inspire terror and loathing, for it is Christmas, and all ghosts keep the Truce."
"Christmas Eve isn't until tomorrow, remember?"
"I know that!" He suddenly turned sheepish. "But you do not normally partake in our festivities. I didn't figure you'd be coming tomorrow."
"Festivities?" Then she remembered, and her entire posture softened. "The Christmas Truce. Danny always visited the Ghost Zone on Christmas Eve to observe the Truce. I forgot."
The Box Ghost nodded again, blinked a few times, then coughed. "You are welcome to join us, of course, although I'm sure you have your own human celebrations to attend."
She thought of the Christmas Eve vigil. "Observance more than celebration. Although I appreciate the invitation."
"You need no invitation. You are one of us."
That never failed to puzzle her, the way the ghosts viewed connection and belonging. They largely saw Danny as the enemy—with the occasional exception of alliances to defeat a common foe—and yet, he was also one of them. They saw nothing contradictory in their ability to pummel him senseless on December 23rd, then share Eggnog and Christmas Goose with him on the 24th.
Ever since their wedding, Sam had also been absorbed into their paradoxical concept of "the fold." Before she was pregnant, a ghost could have kidnapped, tortured, or even killed her, and none of them would have blinked. But failing to toast her and wish her eternal happiness at her wedding, or to welcome her on Christmas Eve to celebrate the Truce? These were unthinkable offenses. Even the ban on harming her now that she was pregnant seemed a little disingenuous, seeing as Skulker regularly commented that he looked forward to the day when the Ghost Baby's pelt would adorn his trophy room wall. And yet, this was the ghost code of morality, such as it was. It didn't make sense to Sam, but she accepted it.
She'd never thought about participating in the yearly ritual of the Christmas Truce before, however, and wondered now if she'd offended the ghosts by not joining Danny once they were married. "Was I supposed to go? I never really thought I should. Christmas isn't my holiday anyway. My family celebrates Hanukkah."
If her absence over the last few Christmases was an affront to the ghosts, it wasn't apparent from the Box Ghost's indifferent shrug. "I didn't figure you'd be coming. That's why I am here. I… I brought you this." From behind his back, he pulled out a box, gift-wrapped in garish blood-red and ecto-green paper.
Sam's eyes widened. "You're giving away a box?"
He coughed again as he handed her the package. "Well, no. I'll be wanting the box back after you open it. But I wanted to bring a Christmas gift. For the baby."
Sam blinked, not quite sure how to respond. "You brought me a gift?"
"For the baby," he repeated. "All ghosts keep the Truce."
"I didn't get you anything," she said, feeling a little off-kilter.
"Pft." He waved a dismissive hand. "You are not a ghost."
Again, Sam was confused—was she one of them, or not? But he nodded at the box in her hands, distracting her from pondering it further. "Well, go on, open it."
"Now? You don't want me to wait until Christmas?"
He rubbed his hands together, an eager grin on his face. "No. I want the box back, remember?"
"Oh, right." Setting the box down on the kitchen counter, she tore off the hideous paper. As she expected, the box inside was a standard cardboard packing box. She pulled the tape off the top and opened it to find more bubble-wrap than she'd ever seen in her life.
"I'll be wanting that back, too."
She snorted, then began peeling off layers of bubble wrap. Inside was a metal cube about six inches across. It was painted black, with swirls of lurid green, purple, and red decorating each side. A small crank protruded from one end, and a crack around the edge of one side looked like a lid.
The Box Ghost beamed at her. "It's a Jack-in-the—"
"-Box. Yeah, I got that."
The Box Ghost nodded, then clapped like an excited child. "Turn the crank!"
Sam winced, a little apprehensive about what might be inside a ghost's Jack-in-the-Box. The regular ones for humans were creepy enough. An eerie music-box tune played as she turned the handle—it reminded her a little of the theme from the infamous Psycho shower scene—and when it reached the end, the top popped open.
The thing that sprung out at her was quite possibly the most gruesome sight Sam had ever seen, which was saying something, since she not only was a ghost fighter, but also had a penchant for gruesome things. It looked vaguely like a green face, only one where the skin was melted partially off the skull. Blood-red eyes protruded out in a way that looked like the thing was being strangled, with one of them dangling out of the socket on a thin thread of bloody muscle. Even expecting something horrible, the thing still startled Sam, and she yelped in surprise.
The Box Ghost clapped again, looking quite pleased with himself. "Isn't it awesome?"
"It… inspires awe, that's for sure." Grimacing, Sam pushed the monstrosity back inside the box and closed the lid.
"It was my daughter's favorite toy when she was little."
Sam stopped, her eyes widening. "This belonged to Box Lunch?"
The first time she, Danny, and Tucker had met the Box Ghost's daughter was twelve years ago, when Clockwork had brought an alternate-future, eight-year-old version of her into their time. She'd been a baby when they'd first run across her in real time two-and-a-half years later, during the Ghost Zone Civil War, and they'd all been a little horrified that Danny changing the past had not prevented the Box Ghost and the Lunch Lady from… propagating. After a few years, however, Box Lunch had grown to be just another denizen of the Ghost Zone that occasionally caused them grief… and occasionally helped them out.
"She used to play with it for hours," the Box Ghost confirmed.
"I…" Sam held the toy up to him. "I can't accept this, Box Ghost. It's a family heirloom."
"No, I insist. Box Lunch thought the Ghost Child would like it."
"But your…" Sam realized she didn't really have a clear concept of the relationship between the Box Ghost and the Lunch Lady, and the more she thought about it, the less she wanted to think about it. She tried again. "Box Lunch's mother isn't exactly a big fan of mine. The whole vegetarian thing is a real issue for her. I can't believe she'd want her daughter's cherished childhood toy to go to me."
"Not to you. To the Ghost Baby."
"Take it. It's for Christmas."
Sam swallowed, deeply moved by the gesture. While the Human World divided into camps over whether her son was a monster or a messiah, it was a ghost who had just given him a simple gift. True, it was one that she wouldn't be able to give him for at least a decade without scarring him for life, even if he did end up inheriting her love of all things macabre. But it was a gift nonetheless. A gesture of kindness to someone whom the Box Ghost claimed as one of his own, without caring that he was half something else. For the baby. All ghosts keep the Truce, he'd said. She smiled at him. "Thank you."
Don't mention it," he answered, dismissing it with another wave of his hand. Then, a sort of apprehensive look crossed his features. "No, really. Don't mention it to the Lunch Lady, okay?"