Fluffy snowflakes were falling by thousands outside; but, nestled in covers, Allan wasn’t cold.
Around his window, the tinsels were blinking, as they were all around the house; the Kardec family never did Christmas half-way. It was close to 3 AM, and as usual, Allan couldn’t sleep. He always slept very well before, but since he reached the 60 years old milestone, he had more and more trouble falling asleep. He would fill his evenings (and sometimes early mornings) with books and magazines, or crosswords puzzles.
Especially in this time of year, he was staying with his children and grand-children in the family chalet to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Both his daughter Gabrielle and his son Leon had small children and walking around the poorly insulated house in the middle of the night could wake them up.
But tonight, Allan really couldn’t go to sleep. He had felt himself dozing off several times, almost falling asleep, but he would always wake up. And, to be honest, he wasn’t even that much tired anymore; in fact, he felt pretty good. This was so unusual these days, he couldn’t not enjoy it for a moment.
Carefully setting his feet on the wooden floor, Allan grabbed his robe from the chair next to the bed, a pair of green socks from the small dresser next to the door, and headed downstairs. Moving around quietly, taking soft cat steps, Allan managed to go down the stairs without making them creak at all. Tonight was a good night. In the living room, large couches were facing the Christmas tree. Allan and Leon had brought it from the forest, and Gabrielle had helped the kids decorate it with shiny lights and old-fashioned decorations that dated back from the days she and her brother came here as when they were children. Allan grabbed his coat from the hooks in the lobby and put on his winter boots, along with a scarf. He gently opened the door and walked outside.
A thick layer of snow was covering everything and made a delicious crunchy sound under Allan’s feet. The Christmas decorations were casting soft, multi-colored lights on the white ground and trees around the house, but really, there was no need for it. The moon was high and bright in the sky, creating the dreamy, peculiar gleam of winter nights. The snowflakes were glowing in the night, and the fir trees’ branches had a thick, white layer on them, the kind that you usually only see on postcards.
In front of Allan, the condensation of his breath was forming small clouds that quickly disappeared in the night; but he didn’t feel cold. The snow was falling on his balding head, slowly hiding his pepper-and-salt roots. He walked away from the house, and took the little path that was now hidden, but that he knew like the back of his hand; it was the traditional after-lunch path in the trees that the family would take for their digestive walks.
When Allan came back from his walk, he had been outside long enough for his nose, ears and cheeks to be red and half-numb. He had felt so vigorous and fit that he went along the path twice, despite the snow piling up higher and higher. The moon was still bright in the sky, but you could feel that dawn was on its way.
Allan ran his fingers through his scarce hair to chase the snow and quietly entered the house. He hung his coat and scarf back in the lobby, took off his boots and carefully climbed up the stairs. As he was climbing, he noticed his knees weren’t hurting, and silently congratulated himself on taking advantage of the numbing effect of the cold on his joints.
Upstairs, the children room’s door was half-open. Allan leaned against the doorframe and listened to the shallow breaths of his grandchildren. Buried in the covers, the children’s heads were only visible from the nose up. With their eyes closed and thick hair all over their pillows, the resemblance with their parents was striking. Sara and Jack had the wild blond hair of their mother Gabrielle, who herself got her hair from her mother. Ariane, Leon’s only child, had her mother’s hair, but slept rolled in her blanket just like her father used to when he was little. She too, called it sleeping “like a burrito”, and this always made Allan smile.
They all seemed so peacefully asleep that Allan felt he could spend hours watching them, just like he did when he watched over his little girl and boy when they had a nightmare. He would sit next to them, whispering cheerful and peaceful words to them until they fell asleep. Now that Leon and Gabrielle were both adults and caring for their own little ones, Allan felt accomplished and proud; he had raised his children, they were now successfully leading their own life and building their own families.
Still not tired, Allan decided to go change and prepare a bountiful winter holidays breakfast. He was thinking of waffles drowned in maple syrup, hot chocolate and spiced tea. He started heading towards his room. Around the corner just before his room and the bathroom, he saw white robes dashing away. When he reached the hallway, he heard a doorknob rattle, and muffled voices coming out of one of the rooms. Someone was up early.
He entered his room, and immediately put his hand on his mouth not to scream. He stood there, frozen in terror.
Someone was in here!
In his very own bed, someone was asleep. An old man, with a very pale skin and salt-and-pepper hair. He was wearing Allan’s special reindeer pajamas, that his wife made him fifteen years ago.
“What is going on? Am I hallucinating?” thought Allan.
He turned around, to see Gabrielle rushing down the hallway to his room. She looked terribly upset.
“Is everything alright, Gaby?” asked Allan with a reassuring smile.
Behind her, Leon, his wife and Gabrielle’s husband came out of a room and followed her. She was staring at Allan, getting closer and not slowing down. Allan opened his arms to comfort her, but she rushed through him.
Before Allan could react, Leon and the two spouses walked through him as well. Frozen in terror, Allan felt a huge lump form in his throat as he heard Gabrielle softly weeping behind him. He slowly turned around.
There he was. Peacefully lying in his bed, eyes closed, completely still. Gabrielle was sitting on the bed next to him, holding his discolored hand, crying. Her husband was softly stroking her shoulder. Leon was near the bed head, standing with his mouth half open. His wife was hugging him from behind, arms around him, while he was clutching her hands so hard his joints were white.
The four of them remained here, quietly grieving. Allan felt tears well up in his eyes. He wanted to speak to them, tell them everything was going to be ok. But they couldn’t hear him nor see him.
He started to feel very cold. He looked down at his hands and saw them fading away. He was fading away; it was time to go. With his eyes full of tears, he smiled one last time at his children.
In front of him, Gabrielle turned her eyes towards the door. Allan instinctively waved, and mouthed:
“I love you.”