Having compiled the year of weather as well as the many faces in different places for my Christmas-superstorm-cum-ghost-story, it’s hit me the past couple of days: how exactly am I going to tell this story? After all, the heart of it is Christmas Eve during the storm, but relaying all the different points of view and the background would drown out the meat of the story and make it all seem disconnected and plodding (at least in my view), which is the opposite of what I wanted.
Trying to compress the different points of view didn’t really work in my mind, since at least three or four would be required, still too many. And even if I relayed the story in flashback starting on the August eclipse or even on Christmas itself, a lot of the tale takes place well after Christmas, forming an unwieldy appendage. It seemed that if I wanted a tight coherent story from a single point of view I’d have to cut out a lot of what I had planned, arraying the different points of view into separate stories that are all still linked and share a background in the same event…but that wasn’t satisfactory either.
I’ve also been a bit unsatisfied with how my girl protagonist’s ghostly lover just appears in the house and these hauntings all take place in the northern Virginia area (and especially in the city of Washington) during the storm, but are sorta unconnected from each other. It has a gothic atmosphere, but it wasn’t consistently very gothic.
But then yesterday I realized a potential solution: the whole reason ghostly activity is so high is because of the unprecedented storm, and due to it being Christmas Eve, originally known as Yule, the night when the barrier between our world and the spirit world is the weakest, when the ghostly procession of the Wild Hunt is most likely to appear. Aha.
Georgia becomes a Ghost?
Reading up on the Wild Hunt, I found an even better idea in its lore: when people apprehend the Wild Hunt, they often die or are terrified into insanity, yes, but quite a few stories of Asgard’s Ride tell of how a human being’s soul can be decoupled from the body on these nights, joining the Wild Hunt itself, at great risk of dying right then and there and becoming part of the procession itself forever, but with a chance remaining that their soul may find its way back to the body, the subject living to tell the tale.
So, considering that Georgia’s ghostly lover Ephraim may well be part of Odin’s chase anyway, why not have Georgia herself experience this during the story? Perhaps during a rapturous bout of lovemaking, maybe even the very moment she conceives her child with him, her soul drifts away, compelled to join the hunt, embrace the storm, and becomes drawn to all of the events taking place that Christmas Eve.
Essentially becoming a ghost temporarily, Georgia may travel at will to a variety of sites in space, being drawn especially to dear auntie Decca (on a mission to rescue her through the worst of the storm), her husband Hernando (who perishes midair as he’s sucked into a tornado in New York), family friends Fintan and Fia (who are witnessing the collapse of the Washington Monument in the storm), even to California where Fintan’s daughter is getting a makeover while a rare blizzard strikes her convalescent abode on Anacapa Island, and finally to Kamchatka, where she witnesses said daughter make love to Fia’s son over the grave of their ancestor Dobrynya…who’s not dead…yet. She starts to travel through time as well, her soul raptured further and further away as she succumbs to the power of the shadow world, but she hears a voice, feels a presence, imploring her to wake up, to come back to them.
Turns out that’s Decca and the triplets, who have arrived at Georgia’s house that Christmas Eve only to find their dear little girl passed out on the bed, pale as a corpse, skin as cold as ice, with no heartbeat, no pulse, and no breathing, unresponsive to them as if in a stasis. Georgia’s soul is drawn back, and she manifests in the house as a transparent specter dreamily sleepwalking back to her bed and lying into her own body, which then resumes life. This happens in full view of all these characters, who dare not even tell anyone else, lest they be unbelieved.
The journey back may well be perilous, with Georgia only being able to find her way home with Ephraim’s guidance, along the way seeing the procession in full view above the eye of the storm itself.
An Army of Ghosts? It’s more Christmas-like than you think!
It might be worth noting that our modern concept of Santa Claus and his eight reindeer map very closely to the Norse conception of Odin and his eight-legged steed Sleipnir, who led the Wild Hunt every Yule. Indeed, in earlier versions of Santa Claus he rides a horse, just like Odin; and it almost goes without saying that both Santa Claus and Odin typically manifest in the form of old bearded men. Odin too was known to take offerings for his horse Sleipnir that night (c.f. our milk and cookies tradition) and bestow presents to children who earned his favor. Elves at his workshop in another dimension? Yep; Odin had those too. His helpers in the procession? Valkyries and the ghosts of long-dead warriors, that’s who. Much more badass than anything in the modern Santa Claus lore. Even “Mrs. Claus” corresponds to how Freya was Odin’s companion, though in the original mythology she took in half of the honored dead (Odin getting the other half), considerably more egalitarian than modern Mrs. Claus lore.
Anyway, there’s a lot more overlap between Wild Hunt lore and a Christmas story than people might think. Indeed, ghosts are associated with the Wild Hunt, and it just so happens that Christmas ghost stories were formerly ubiquitous, at least in England, only really dying out in the 19th century, with Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” being the only one familiar to modern audiences. Yes, there was originally a whole genre of tales like that! And the ghostly procession Marley rejoins that’s seen in many a cinematic adaptation (though not present in the original novella) comes off an awful lot like a part of the Wild Hunt.
An Encounter with Hel
Anyway, in my take I’ve been thinking Georgia will be guided on her way back, and catch sight of the Wild Hunt’s leading edge, overlapping with Christmas lore. But along the way through the shadow world, as she attempts to escape the pull of the ghostly procession, a hellhound appears, blocking her way back, perhaps manifesting as an apparition on a ghostly shadow-world rendition of a road through the woods with blowing snow (not unlike the one auntie Decca traversed trying to get to Georgia from the Sipsey Wilderness). Fearsome creatures and servants of Hel, goddess of the underworld, this one appears with the requisite black fur and glowing red eyes, but Ephraim fearlessly pulls out a weapon which, as is so often per dream logic, appears out of nowhere (at first I was thinking a sword, but perhaps a musket might be more appropriate; I was also wondering if the weapon should be flaming), proclaiming that her soul shall not be taken, that now is not her time.
They stare down each other in this realm of shadows as ripples of spirit undulate all around them, but the hound relents and lets them pass as Hel herself appears on her black steed, it too with glowing red eyes, and calls her hound back to rejoin the Hunt. This certainly would leave Georgia impressed after she got back, though she’s unsure if it was real or a very vivid dream until the evidence keeps piling up; everything she saw in her ghostly travels was real (including seeing things she could not have possibly have known about any other way), Ephraim disappears mysteriously with the storm, a mass haunting is reported in Washington and across northern Virginia, she finds out in an obscure book she owns there indeed was a man answering to the description of her one-time boyfriend…who died in 1780, and so on and so forth.
Interestingly, neither hellhounds nor the goddess Hel (and especially not a horse she rides) are part of traditional Wild Hunt lore, despite the objective of the Wild Hunt being to fetch souls and being them to the afterlife in many versions. Of course this is subject to variation depending on the individual tale. And obviously I, as the author, can put whatever spin on it that I want to.
As for the goddess Hel herself, I’ll deviate somewhat from the traditional lore, and depict her as a fair and beautiful woman, with snow-white hair and grey eyes, but with skin pale as a corpse, eyes sunken and hollow, and her face too skeletal to pass as fully human. Think the same sort of uncanny valley effect as Boris Karloff’s character in “The Mummy” (the original one from 1932).
Anyway, I quite like the idea I’ve got going here, since it introduces a much more gothic aspect to the story, makes it even more of a Christmas story, and introduces still more dramatic and perilous elements, all while tying together all the scenes and subplots I want to depict in a single point of view. It’ll almost certainly be a while before I start actually writing it, so my ideas for this little saga are subject to revision, but as of now my thinking is that I’ll roll with this.