Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12 days of christmas short story: "the gift" by cory cramer

Welcome to day 3 of Opinionated? Me?'s 12 Days of Christmas! Today's guest post features author Cory Crammer. Instead of the typical guest post about his favorite holiday reads, he has offered the rights to one of his short stories! So, without further ado, Cory Cramers...The Gift.


Casey eyed the collection of presents stacked under the Christmas tree, wondering if perhaps she should sift through them once more before heading to bed. A single glance from across the room revealed that the pile of gifts hadn’t grown since earlier that day so Casey decided to let them be. It was clear she wasn’t getting anything for Christmas. Not that she had really expected anything. Her father had never given her a Christmas present in the sixteen years she’d been alive. Unless Santa Claus showed up in the middle of the night hauling a sack full of gifts down the chimney with her name on them, Casey’s three younger siblings would be the only ones unwrapping anything tomorrow morning.

Casey let out a sigh, turned away from the tree, and sulked all the way to her room. Actually, it wasn’t her room. She had to share with her seven-year-old half-sister, Julie. When Casey had lived with her mom—before the accident—she’d had her own room. Heck, she’d had her own bathroom. Now she barely called anything her own. With six people living in a three bedroom house, Casey’s clothes were about all she could call her own. (And Julie kept wearing them to play dress-up in so even they didn’t feel entirely hers.)

Ultimately, everything around Casey contributed to her feeling uncomfortable and out of place. Even the town made Casey feel like she didn’t belong. The small West Virginia village seemed insular and cold. Despite its so-called charm and scenic mountain views, the town lacked nearly every teenage necessity; no shopping mall, no Cineplex, not a single person in town had a swimming pool, and Casey couldn’t even get her cell phone to work unless she was standing outside. They did have internet, but it was beyond s-l-o-w.

The place was nothing like Tucson where Casey had lived with her mom until two months ago. Just the thought of her mother drew tears from Casey’s eyes. Her mom had been so wonderful, raising Casey alone without any help from her father all those years, making sure Casey had everything she needed to feel comforted and loved…

Casey was crying by the time she crawled into bed. Why did her mother have to die? Why did that truck have to hit her? What did her mother ever do to deserve being mangled beneath a mass of twisted metal?

“Are you okay, Casey?” a sympathetic voice called out from the bed on the other side of the room.

Casey sniffled. “Yeah, Julie. I’m fine.”

“Are the mean kids on the school bus picking on you again?”

“No, Julie. I’m okay. Just go to sleep or Santa won’t come.”
“The kids at school said Santa’s not real.”

Casey managed a half-smile, as she lay in bed staring at the dark ceiling. “He’s real. He probably just doesn’t give them anything because they’re bad.”

“Oh,” Julie was quiet for a second. “Do you think he’ll bring you anything?”

“Maybe, if he wants to.”

“What did you ask him for?”

Tears poured down Casey’s cheeks. “I…I asked him for my mom back.” She barely got the words out before she started sobbing.

Julie waited several moments before speaking again. “Can Santa do that?”

“Just go to sleep, Julie. You don’t want him to give your present to some other little girl because you were still awake when he came.”
Julie didn’t say another word after that.

Casey sobbed quietly to herself, wondering why her father had forced her to come live here in this shack instead of allowing her to live with her grandparents in San Diego like she had really wanted. Revenge was the only answer she could come up with. This was his own sick way of getting back at her mother for tracking him down and making him pay child support for the daughter he never wanted. That had to be it; making her move here; all the chores; a step-mother who gave her the evil-eye whenever he wasn’t looking. Revenge seemed like the only explanation. And she still had another year-and-a-half before she’d be able to leave and go to college (that is if she could get a scholarship somewhere because she knew her dad didn’t have that kind of money).

Something made a noise, interrupting Casey’s thought. She sat up in bed, listening for the noise again. There it was, a muffled sound, coming from the other side of the room near her closet. Alarmed, Casey tossed her covers aside and slid out of bed, casting a glance at Julie to make sure she was still asleep. Her father’s old house made all kinds of weird sounds at night, especially when the wind kicked up. But usually upon investigation, the mystery noises proved to be rattling window panes, or tree branches smacking the root. Certainly nothing worthy of losing a night’s sleep over.

Casey stepped toward the closet. The noise sounded again, stopping Casey in her tracks for a moment before she realized what it was.
Her cell phone was ringing, which was strange because her phone barely worked outside the house. She’d never heard it make the smallest peep inside. At least now she knew why the sound was coming from the closet. She always left the phone in her coat pocket because if she needed to call anyone she had to trudge out into the snow to get a signal.

But who would be calling her this late on Christmas Eve? One of her friends from Tucson maybe? They were in a different time zone so it was a possibility.

Casey tiptoed quickly to the closet, slid open the door, retrieved her phone and flipped it open before it could ring again and wake up her sister.

She put the phone to her ear and listened for a moment. “Hello?” she whispered very softly, hoping that one of her old friends had called her. She used to talk to them all the time when she first moved away, but the calls had grown more and more infrequent.

No answer came from the other line.

Frustrated Casey flipped her phone shut and then quickly opened it back up again. She scrolled through her menu and looked at her incoming calls list, but it didn’t even show there had been a call at all.

There were two possibilities Casey figured. One, the signal up in mountains had gotten a little wacky and accidentally rang her phone. Or, the kids at school were playing another prank on her.

Either way, Casey was upset she’d had to get out of bed for nothing, so just in case it rang again she brought the phone to bed with her.

As soon as she tucked herself back into bed, the phone rang again.

Startled Casey snatched the phone from her nightstand and looked down at the display. It hadn’t been a call at all. She had a text message waiting. That didn’t make any sense, though. Her phone made a different sound for texts and she’d heard the regular ring.

Despite her reservations, Casey read the message.

Your father loves you

She nearly dropped the phone.

A tingling sensation pulsed through her. Who? What? Had someone been reading her mind? She looked to see who had sent her the message.


Casey started to hyperventilate and felt like she was going to faint. She didn’t know who was doing this to her, or why on earth they would think it was funny, but she didn’t find it the least bit amusing. She text back, punching the keys hard, taking her frustration out on the phone.

Who is this? Cuz u r not funny!

Casey knew that it had to be one of the kids from her new school playing another prank on her. Wasn’t enough, enough? Couldn’t they just move on and find someone else to bother?

It’s me, Mom.

Casey’s hands shook with a mixture of outrage and fear. This couldn’t be her mom. She was dead. Casey had seen her body at the funeral. Could someone have gotten her Mom’s old cell number? It seemed impossible.

Casey crept out of her room, moving quickly, yet quietly so as not to wake her sister. She padded down the hall to the bathroom, closed and locked the door. She sat on the toilet and began to type.

Prove it.

That should put an end to this. Nobody in this town knew hardly anything about her, even her father. Casey doubted they’d even message her back.

Before Casey had even gotten that last thought out of her head she had a new message.
Your goldfish Henry died when you were five, but instead of telling you I bought you a new one that looked just like him. I knew you could tell the difference, but you never said anything to me because you were afraid you would hurt my feelings.
This time Casey really did drop her phone. It smacked the bathroom linoleum, sending a sharp cracking sound throughout the room.

“Ohmygod.” Casey panicked. Her phone had broken into four pieces and they’d flown in four separate directions on the floor. She dropped down on her knees, scrambling to find the pieces so she could reassemble the phone.

She grabbed the remains of the phone and quickly examined it. It looked like the phone itself was okay, but the back had broken in two and the battery pack had fallen out. She spied the battery pack behind the toilet and went to grab it.
Then the phone rang.

Casey’s skin instantly turned cold and clammy. She had to clinch her jaw tightly to keep her teeth from chattering. She turned the phone over in her hand just to make sure there was no battery in it.

There wasn’t.

This must be some kind of nightmare, Casey thought to herself. This can’t really be happening.

She flipped the phone open. A shiver skipped up her spine.

Are you still there, Cassandra?

Her mother was the only person who ever called her by her full name. Yet, none of this made any sense. The phone didn’t even have a battery in it! Even so, Casey didn’t know what else to do but answer.


I need you to tell your father something.

Casey couldn’t believe this was really happening.

Tell him that you know it’s not his fault for never contacting you…

Casey caught her breath and tried to calm down so she could concentrate on what she was witnessing.

…and that you love him very much.

Casey had never told her dad that, ever, because she didn’t love him. She didn’t even know him. The only reason she was living with him was because some jerk judge said she had to.


Only a few seconds passed, but it seemed like an eternity before the response came.
Because I’m the one who kept him away.

Casey didn’t see how that was even possible. He never even sent a birthday card or called on the phone—nothing. Skeptical, she typed back.

–How did u do that?

This message came back faster.

Restraining order.

–What did he do?

Nothing. I left him for someone else and was afraid I’d lose you.

Casey could hardly believe it. Her entire life all she’d known about her father was that he wanted nothing to do with her and her mom. It was going to take a long time for this to fully sink in. Casey started to cry again.

–I miss u, Mom.

I know. Just remember. I’m with you everyday.

Casey looked around the bathroom, searching for any evidence of her mother’s presence, a ghostly apparition or a shadow figure, but she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

–r u ok?

I’m fine, but I have to go now.

–don’t go mom.

I have to. Just do what I told you to.

–I love u, mom.

I love you too, honey. And remember, I’m always here.

The phone went dead. Casey flipped it open and shut, but nothing happened. She reached for the battery behind the toilet. Shaking and still crying, she picked up the battery pack and forced it into her phone. She hit the power button. It didn’t respond. She pushed it again, harder this time, but the phone remained lifeless. She waited for it to ring again.

It didn’t.

Casey stayed on the bathroom floor, clutching her phone in her hand, leaning her back against the bathtub. After half-an-hour, she stopped crying and tried to fully process or rationalize what had just happened. Nothing worked.

She lacked the energy or willpower to pull herself off the floor and go back to her bedroom so she stayed there until she fell asleep, emotionally exhausted.


Boom-boom-boom! “Casey get up!” “Yeah, Casey, get up! It’s time to open presents!” “And I have to peeee!”

Casey jolted awake. She found herself on the bathroom floor in her nightgown, clutching her cell phone. The phone! Had that really happened last night? She looked at the broken battery cover.

“Casey! Come on! I have to go!”

“Okay, I’m coming right out.”

Casey climbed to her feet, looked in the mirror, ran her fingers through her hair and quickly splashed some water on her face. She opened the door and her youngest brother Adam bolted into the room before she could even get out.

Casey smiled and stepped outside into the hallway, where Julie grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the family room. “Come on, Casey. It’s time to open presents.”
Julie led Casey into the family room where her father, step-mother and brother John were all smiling, waiting.

A minute later, Adam came speeding around the corner. “Can we open the presents now? Can we?”

“We sure can,” said their father.

“Wait,” Casey interrupted. “I want to tell Dad something first.”

“Go ahead Casey what is it?”

Casey took a deep breath, not exactly sure what to say. “Um, I just want to tell you I’m sorry that I haven’t been very nice to you the past couple months. I know it’s not your fault we never had a relationship and that you’re trying to do the best you can. I promise to be a better daughter from now on.” Casey moved her eyes from her father to the floor.

Her dad smiled. Tears formed in his eyes. “Come here,” he said, holding his arms open.

Casey shuffled forward and he gave her a big, warm hug. “Apology accepted.” He turned to everyone else in the room. “I think Casey should open her present first.”

“I do too,” Casey’s step-mother said, nearly in tears herself.

“I have a present?” Casey asked.

“Yeah, it’s hanging from the tree, right, over, there.” He pointed to spot halfway up the tree.

Casey cautiously approached the tree, wondering if this was some kind of joke. Then she spotted a set of keys hanging from a branch. Her heart pounded wildly against her chest. Did this mean what she thought it did?

Casey pulled the keys from the branch. She turned around, stunned, and faced her parents. Her dad opened the curtains on the picture window and outside in the driveway sat a brand new Volvo convertible.

“Is it really mine?” Casey asked.

“It’s really yours. The rest of your mother’s life insurance money is in a college fund.”

“Oh my God,” Casey said. “I can’t believe this. And I didn’t even get you anything.”

“You’re here, honey. That’s the best gift I could ever ask for.”


You can check out more short stories by Cory here, and my review of his debut novella, Symptoms of a Broken Heart, here.

Thanks to Cory for the story! And stick around later for more Christmas-y nonsense!


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