Words by Laurel Armstrong
Art by Murray Triplett
Clara had it all. As a popular fashion blogger and influencer, she was used to jet-setting to the most exotic locales all over the world. This year, she and her PR team decided to do a promotion where her followers would have to guess five intimate questions about her life for the chance to win an all-expense paid trip to Clara’s charming hometown for Christmas—a place she hadn’t visited in years.
The responses start coming in, causing Clara and her PR team to laugh, grimace, or roll their eyes. Until one follower by the name of “HometownHenry” gets every question right. A little too right—and a little too detailed. Despite Clara’s uneasiness, they award HometownHenry the winner. At least Henry’s profile photo shows him as a handsome young man.
When Clara goes to meet Henry at the airport, she is shocked to discover an older gentleman. However, his self-effacing charm and assurance that is has no ungentlemanly intentions puts everyone at ease. Clara plans to take him around town all week and conclude with a great photo shoot that shows how kind she is for “adopting a grandpa” at Christmas.
As the week progresses and Clara gets to know Henry, she keeps feeling like he’s hiding something. Clara becomes determined to discover his secret. So, she sneaks into his Air BnB and notices photos and newspaper clippings on the table. They all point to the death of a young woman, around Clara’s age, that happened 40 years ago. She opens his laptop and sees notes that include details about the young woman that eerily match up with her own life. Just as she’s about to run out, worrying this strange man may be a crazed stalker or worse, Henry walks in.
Clara confronts him, but Henry just sighs and says, “Clara, did you really look at the pictures or read the name? It’s you. You’re dead and have been for forty years. But you refuse to admit it. Every Christmas you’ve been haunting this town and we want you to stop.”
Clara reluctantly looks down at the photo. It comes into sharper focus, revealing an image of herself in older clothes with her arm around a young man who looks just like the profile photo of HometownHenry. With a gasp, she runs out of the Air Bnb.
Clara wanders the town as Celine Dion’s “All by Myself” plays. She attempts some ghost things, like walking through walls or scaring kids—all while real life memories return to her mind. Finally, she heads to the town cemetery where she finds her gravestone. To her surprise, Henry is there waiting with hot chocolate, and she suddenly remembers the fight they were in just before she died. She recalls her last words, “I’ll never forget what you did.” Only, she can’t seem to remember what it was he did.
“I forgot to bring the dog in, and he got hit by a car,” reveals Henry, seemingly reading her mind. Clara looks at her grave and sees the ghostly silhouette of a dog.
“I’m sorry,” she sighs. They both stare at the gravestone. “I know what I’m going to do for you this Christmas,” Clara then says softly, breaking the momentary silence.
“I’m going to die. All the way.”
With a nod toward Henry, Clara steps toward the ghost dog and they both suddenly fade away as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” starts playing and credits roll.