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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Paranormal · #2310515
A boy goes off to war... (900 words)
John unwrapped the latest painting which had just been delivered and hung it over the fireplace in the open space he'd been saving.

"Oh my, Papa, that's a fine Rembrandt." Sam examined it with the keen eye of youth.

"A wonderful addition to our gallery," John agreed, stepping back to admire it. "When you come home safe from the battlefield, we shall sit here and enjoy our collection together." He paused with a darkening sadness. "I wish you didn't have to leave."

"But I have an idea, Papa!" Sam's eyes sparkled. "I'll paint a self portrait while I'm away. Then, if I don't return, you'll have something to remember me by. I'll be right here with the rest of our masterpieces. And when I do come home," he added quickly as he saw his father's eyes watering, "I'll pursue my love of painting and become the most talented artist the world has seen!"

John hugged his son. The time came to bid him farewell. Autumn, then winter, settled bare and bitter over the land as the war dragged on.

A howling blizzard greeted John on Christmas morning. He opened a drawer and pulled out Sam's last letter, reporting from his battalion post several hundred miles away. He scanned the words over again.

"It'll be hard spending so many months without you, Papa, but I've almost completed the self portrait. Next time I can visit I'll bring it with me—won't that be fine?"

John sat in front of the fireplace holding the letter, dreaming and dozing. The grandfather clock struck eleven, its hollow notes echoing through the empty house.

"Oh, what I wouldn't give to see Sam again," he sighed, glancing up at the latest Rembrandt. "The finest art adorning my walls means nothing to me without him. I would give it all to charity in exchange for the one painting which will come from his hands."

As the grandfather clock struck the final note of twelve noon, there came a loud knock at the front door. John sat up and rubbed his eyes. Who would be calling in such a storm? Perhaps it was someone in desperate need.

He opened the door, letting in a blast of snow and a lone figure with a package under his arm.

"Sam! You're here!"

"I got special permission from the highest in command. I couldn't let you remain alone on Christmas, Papa."

They hugged each other tightly. Strange, there was not one snowflake upon Sam's uniform.

He unwrapped his package to reveal the self portrait, which, while not achieving the greatness of the masters on the walls, still captured the essence of Sam's exuberant spirit with a heartwarming glow.

"It is a gift I shall treasure forever," his father declared. He quickly took down the Rembrandt and hung Sam's work in the place of honor over the mantle instead.

They sat down by the fire, sharing stories for hours.

"I made a new best friend since my last letter. His name is Ralph. He's an orphan. We're as close as brothers now. In fact, I told him he could come live with us as family when the war is over. Is that alright with you, Papa?"

"Of course it is, Sam. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine."

At dinnertime, Sam told his father,

"I cannot stay to eat. My express orders were to drop off the painting and leave before dark."

"When will I see you again?"

"The Lord will bring us together in His good time, Papa. All will be well. Remember that I love you dearly."

"Same here, my boy. I'm proud of you."

The long winter months seemed less bleak and lonely for John with his beloved son's portrait over the mantel. He spent many an evening in front of it, dreaming of the time when peace would come and his son would return, with Ralph as a new family member.

One morning in early spring, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood there, and John recognized Ralph from his son's description.

"Ralph! I've been waiting for you. Come in, my good lad."

The young man was startled.

"How did you know who I am?"

"Sam told me all about you when he delivered his portrait on Christmas. I would know you anywhere."

Ralph grew pale.

"I don't understand. I'm here to inform you that Sam died on December 24th, and the painting was lost."

John reached for the doorpost to steady himself. Ralph held out a hand, and they entered the living room where the painting hung over the mantel.

"That's it!" Ralph cried. "Sam's portrait! Oh, how hard he worked on that."

"Tell me everything."

"It was a fire that broke out in the barracks. All the men escaped except for me and Sam. We were trapped. Sam saved my life by lowering me out of a window, but no one could rescue him. Both he and his painting were taken in the fire."

"And yet… there it is. And you, Ralph—an orphan, I believe?"

"Yes, sir. But there is no way you could have known."

"Sam was here. You can see the painting. He told me he wanted you to be part of the family… I thought it would be the three of us…"

Ralph put an arm around John. They sat together in silence for a long time while Sam's portrait smiled down at them.

Word count: 906.
Prompt: Christmas Ghost Story.
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