It all started one year ago. It was a snowy Christmas Eve, and Yun Chae and Yeon Seo were waiting up by the fireplace, eating cookies and drinking hot chocolate. There were many wonderful presents underneath the Christmas tree, each of them wrapped in shiny and beautiful paper, tied over with pink and red ribbon.
“Wow, that’s a lot of presents,” Yun Chae said, pointing at the pile.
“Yep. It sure has been a good year. Most of them came from our customers. I guess our chocolate madeleines are just that good!” Yeon Seo said, smiling.
The fire crackled in the fireplace, and Christmas Music played from the radio. The TV was on, but the sound was off. The two of them were watching a K-Pop show, looking at the latest K-Pop boy band idols dancing around on stage.
“You know, since we’ve been such good bakers this year, maybe we can open one present before Christmas?” Yun Chae asked. She reached over to grab one of the shiny boxes.
Yeon Seo slapped her hand. “Ya! Not until Christmas!”
“Hey!” Yun Chae said.
“What’s up wo-man!” Yeon Seo yelled. “Hey! Christmas Day is the day for opening Christmas presents! What are you, some sort of Christmas Grinch?”
Yun Chae laughed. “I don’t want to open all of the boxes. Just one. Plus, is it just me, or is there one more box under the tree than there was this morning?”
Yeon Seo started under the tree, counting the boxes. One, two, three, four . . . it went all the way up to 13! That was strange because she could have sworn that this morning it was an even dozen.
A chill swept through the room.
“Hey, Yeon Seo, did you leave a window open?” Yun Chae asked. She had gotten out of her chair and walked into the kitchen. Yeon Seo got up from under the tree and joined her in front of the open kitchen window. Some snow was drifting in, and outside everything was dark and silent.
Yun Chae slammed the window shut. “No more of that nonsense. Seriously, can you imagine how cold we will be if you keep leaving windows open in winter?”
Yeon Seo looked sheepish. “Sorry. I thought I had everything closed. Alright, tell you what. Since I made a mistake, I will let you open a present for Christmas Eve. But let’s open one of the presents that has both of our names on it.”
The two of them went back over to the tree and pawed through the presents below. There were big boxes, small boxes . . . and one box that was shaped like a board game. The wrapping paper was burgundy, and it was pimpled over with hearts. The hearts were strange, though. They were bleeding, and some of them were black.
The gift had to be a prank. Because the paper was way too scary to be a regular present.
“That is so spooky!” Yeon Seo. Then she clapped and laughed. “I love it! Let’s open that one.”
Yun Chae didn’t look so sure. “I feel like there is something strange happening here. How did we even get that present? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t here this morning.”
“Yeah. That makes it very interesting, doesn’t it? I really really want to open it now!” Yeon Seo said. Then she cocked her head. “Please? Pretty please with sugar on top?”
“Okay. Fine. We will open the scary monster present that definitely isn’t going to be dangerous later.”
The two of them pulled out the gift, moving it closer to the fire.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Yun Chae.
“Oh shush,” Yeon Seo said. “Look at this thing. It is so mysterious. I must know what is inside!”
She grabbed the wrapping paper and tore it away in one long strip. There was a box under the paper. The sort of box that you would expect to house a board game. But, strangely, there were no pictures on the box, and the writing was a series of warnings.
DON’T LAUGH, the first warning stated.
DON’T TAKE A PICTURE, the second warning stated.
WHEN YOU FINISH THE GAME, REMEMBER TO SAY GOOD-BYE TO THE SPIRIT.
Yeon Seo gasped. “I love it! Oh my gosh, thank you so much whoever gave us this present!”
She set the game box down on the table. “So, Yun Chae, what do you say? Should we play it right now?”
Yun Chae looked at the clock. It was getting late. But the scary box looked very interesting. How could she say no?
“Yeah, let’s do it. I don’t think I have even had a scary Christmas Eve. This will be a fun and new first.”
Yun Chae grabbed one side of the box. Yeon Seo grabbed the other. They shared a look.
“Are you ready?” Yeon Seo asked.
“Yeah I’m ready!”
“On the count of three. One. Two. Three!”
The two of them pulled the top off of the box and looked inside. There was a single unfoldable board covered in English letters and numbers, and on the right and left sides of the board it had the words yes, and no. Somewhat ominously, at the bottom of the board were the words, good-bye.
“Sweet!” Yun Chae said.
“Let’s start the game!” Yeon Seo said. She was so excited, she almost knocked over her hot chocolate. “But, what should we ask?”
By this point the two of them had put the heart-shaped cursor of the game into the middle of the board and they had their fingers lightly touching its edges. They shared a look, dimples on their skin rising in the spooky atmosphere of their living room.
“Are you here, Mr. Ghost?” Yeon Seo suggested. Yun Chae shrugged. “Yeah, why not? That sounds like a good start.”
The two of them pushed the cursor around the board, making the question and sending it into the spirit world. Then they waited.
“Do you think the ghost is going to answer?” Yun Chae asked.
“Yeah, of course,” said Yeon Seo. “Why wouldn’t he? We are very cool and hip ladies. All of the ghosts will want to talk to us.”
At the moment a small breeze blew through the room. The fire in the fireplace bent backwards and turned a dark purple. On the board, the cursor swung over to the word, YES.
“Oh. That is so spooky,” Yun Chae said.
“And fun,” said Yeon Seo. “I wonder if the ghost has any more fun magic tricks.”
“Who are you?” the two asked. The cursor rasped lightly over the board as it moved, the air about them seemed to hold its breath.
“I am the ghost of Linda Gustafsson. I used to live here in this house, but I got very sick from too much smoking. I had cancer and then I died.”
Yun Chae and Yeon Seo were surprised. “Are you in the house now?” they asked. “Or do you talk to us from some other place? Where are you?”
Linda didn’t answer for several moments. Then the letters came. B, E, T, W, E, E, N. And at the last letter, the bluish-white figure of a woman with a skeletal face appeared between them. Yun Chae laughed, Yeon Seo screamed, and the two of them broke away from the board in their incredible surprise.
There was a popping noise from the fireplace. The fire went out. Above the board, the ghost disappeared. And Yeon Seo realized one very important thing. They hadn’t said GOOD-BYE to the ghost!