Here’s an odd story with a Christmas twist: of a ghostly girl with a scarlet rose in her hair, who appeared over the course of several Christmastimes to the only son of a wealthy Virginia family. Originally published in the January 1960 issue of Fate magazine, it was reprinted in the 1997 anthology Phantom Army of the Civil War and Other Southern Ghost Stories, compiled and edited by Frank Spaeth from Fate’s files.
The Harrell family–father, mother and one son–moved into the big three-story mansion near Norfolk, Virginia’s City Park in September of 1908. A bedroom on the third floor was assigned to the son, Eddie; he didn’t occupy it immediately, though, as he was away at a private school for much of the year. Another room, at the far end of the same floor, was assigned to the family’s two servants, both of whom shortly came to Mrs. Harrell and asked that their room be changed. There was, they insisted, something wrong about that room, consisting chiefly of strange noises, whispered and incomprehensible conversations out of thin air, and furniture that moved on its own. Mrs. Harrell, an indulgent mistress, fussed a bit, then allowed them to move to a room beside the “haunted” one. Strangely, they slept undisturbed in the new room.
Eddie Harrell came home for the Christmas holidays a week before Christmas, and slept without incident in his assigned room at the front of the third floor–until New Year’s Eve, right in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas. That night, he was awakened from a sound sleep by the overhead light in his room suddenly turning on by itself. Eddie sat up, still half-asleep, and found that, over by the window, a woman was standing: a young and beautiful woman, dressed all in white, with a flaming red rose tucked into her black hair. She was holding one hand to her temple, he recalled, as if to shield her eyes from the light. When he spoke, asking her what she wanted, she vanished; at the exact instant, the light which had wakened him went out, and he found himself wide-awake in complete darkness.
He told his parents about the odd incident the next morning, was told as a matter of course that he must have been dreaming–and then, curiously, warned not to mention the matter to either of the servants, although neither parent explained this prohibition.
In the new year he returned to school, and soon forgot about the mysterious lady.
There was another curious incident at Easter, when a visiting friend of the family, breakfasting before attending a sunrise service with them, was startled to see a young lady in white pass by the open hall door and start up the stairs. She described the woman’s dress in detail: a white lace dress with caplet sleeves and a train; she wore a single red rose in her shining black hair.
Later that night, Eddie saw the woman for the second time. This time, he managed to ask her who she was and what she wanted; she vanished, but he distinctly heard a woman’s voice say, emphatically, “Wait!” in the same instant.
Thereafter, though, she was only seen during the Christmas holidays.
The last time anyone reported the Christmas ghost was during Eddie’s senior year of school, some years later. That time, she was seen, not only by Eddie himself, but by a visiting cousin, who was assigned to sleep in the room the servants had refused to sleep in from the time the the family moved into the house. Just before bedtime, though, Mrs. Harrell told Eddie that she had sent the cousin to sleep in his room, as the gentlemen in the party had been using the unused room as a smoking room that evening.
Eddie reminded them that his room was haunted–by this time, the family had accepted that something odd was happening in that room–but they elected not to tell the cousin, hoping that she would sleep soundly.
Eddie retired to the room the servants so hated, and, for a wonder, fell fast asleep, waking some hours later to find the chandelier overhead blazing and the woman in white standing by a window. This time, she stood in profile, and had both hands over her face.
Eddie got out of bed, and the woman vanished.
Unable to go back to sleep, Eddie moved to a chair and sat down with a book. He eventually went back to sleep, still in the chair, and was undisturbed the rest of the night.
Not so his cousin. At breakfast, she announced that she had had a most unusual “vision”: she had awakened to find the light on and, oddly, that she could see through the walls that separated her room from the one where Eddie was reading in his chair. He was wearing a nightshirt, she said, and there was a woman in white standing behind him, as if she were reading over his shoulder. She described the woman as the Easter guest had, years before, and added, “The rose fell out of her hair. It was lying by the chair. . .and then the whole scene vanished.”
Eddie and his father sneaked upstairs after breakfast.
They found the rose–a fresh-cut one–lying beside Eddie’s chair.
The Harrells left the house shortly thereafter, when the father died unexpectedly, and never returned. Eddie kept the rose in a bell jar, and reported that, a half-century later, the blossom itself looked as fresh as if it had been cut that day, instead of dropped by a ghost fifty Christmases before. The stem and leaves had withered. He never removed the glass cover, or touched the rose, for fear it would fall to dust.
The family never learned who the young woman might have been in life, or why, over the Christmas season, she appeared to Eddie Harrell. Nor did they ever learn if other families experienced the same phenomena as they had.