Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Night Before Christmas - A Ghost Story



Tree graphic from grannyenchanted.com with Licence.


May and Tom  wanted to exchange the hustle and bustle of city life for something more tranquil. Tom was a graphic designer and worked from home, so they were free to choose just about anywhere to live.  A broken signpost had caught May’s eye when they were out investigating places. It was so rotten that the wooden plaque hung down like a broken limb. The words were just discernible in flakey white paint.’ Waters Edge’.

“Let’s go and take a look.” May smiled at Tom.
“The post is broken, but I guess it must have been pointing down that Lane.” Tom looked at May as she nodded her head in agreement. “Do you really want to go. It’s not even on the map?”
“Oh yes. It will be fun to see what we find.”


May squeezed his hand and he knew once she’d made her mind up, there was no changing it. He started the car and drove slowly down the dirt track until it opened out into what appeared to be a tiny hamlet, just half a dozen cottages that were scattered to one side of a circular green, at it’s centre a large pond. To one side stood an old fir tree, its branches outstretched, dark green against the pale pallet of the sky.

“See,” the excitement in May’s voice was hard to ignore, but Tom said nothing, instead he just stared at the chocolate box scene.“Park the car over there.” She pointed to the far side of the green.

They both got out and took a deep breath of the fresh country air. It was only a few days before Christmas. The soft grey of the sky held the promise of snow.

“I bet this looks lovelier than ever when it’s covered in snow.”
“Yeah, lovely,” said Tom, in not such a convincing voice.
“Aww, don’t be a humbug. Let’s investigate.” She took his hand in her own and pulled him towards the cottages.
“I hope they’ve at least got a pub,” he mumbled as he followed her lead. 


They strolled past each of the cottages with their thatched roofs and pretty curtained windows. When they came to the last one a notice was nailed to the door. ‘ Vacant.’ 

“Ooh, I wonder if we can take a peek in.” May reached for the door handle and twisted this way and that, but the door was locked. She moved towards the window and pressed her nose up against the glass, but the light inside was so dim, it was hard to see anything at all.  She sighed and turned towards her husband. “That’s a shame. I wonder if it’s for sale?”
“Really?” Tom raised an eyebrow. “You want to live here? You’ll get bored. There’s nothing here. It’s not even big enough to be called a village.”
“Don’t be a sour puss. It’s probably gorgeous inside. And, how do you know there is nothing else here? We haven’t walked down that road yet.” She gestured towards the path leading away from the cottages. “Come on.” She marched on.
Here we go, Tom thought, as he caught up to her side and together they strode down the road.


They must have been walking for ten minutes or more when a small shabby shop appeared to the right of them. They stopped and looked at it.  The door was painted bright red and the front bow window was stacked with items and posters stuck to the glass advertising various goods. The sign above the window stated in bold letters ‘Ye Old Shoppe’. 
 

“Well, there you are, it’s a shop. See there are other things here.” May had a smug look upon her face. She loved proving Tom wrong.
“Are you sure it’s a working shop? It looks pretty old. 
“Come on Tom, let’s go in.” As May hurried forward, she glanced over her shoulder and saw that Tom hadn’t moved. “Are you coming or what?”



Tom put the cigarette he was about to light back into the packet and slipped it in his pocket, before walking towards her. He pushed open the shop door and above their heads a bell tinkled announcing their arrival.  The shop was dusty and dim, a bare light hung from a worn cord in the middle of the ceiling. Shelves behind a wooden counter that ran the width of the room were stocked with various goods. To one side of the counter was a wire cage arrangement, two sides and a front with a slot for handing things through. 

From behind this contraption appeared an old lady.  Her silver hair was arranged  in a tight knot on the top of her head, her  rounded glasses balanced on the tip of her nose. Two black eyes, bright like buttons peered over the top of these as she walked towards them.



“Hello my dears. How can I help you?” She pressed her thin lips into a wide smile. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No”, replied May. Just visiting.”
“Thought so. Don’t get many strangers these days. In fact you’d be the first for, oooh I don’t know, a long time.”
“Who’s responsible for the vacant cottage, only I’d love to see inside.”
“You don’t want to be bothering with that place my dear. It wouldn’t suit you, no not at all.”
“See, May, listen to the lady and let’s get going.” Tom turned towards the door. May grabbed his arm and stopped him in midstep.
“Hang on.” She frowned at Tom, a look he knew so well. May turned back to the old girl. “What makes you say that?” 
“Oh, just a feeling in my old bones that’s all, my dear. That particular cottage is at least a hundred and fifty years old. It’s been empty now for as long as I can remember. It was the first one here, so they say. Stood all alone opposite that green and pond. The fir tree, did you see that?” May nodded in reply. “It’s said that it was planted by the young woman that first lived there.”
“When did the other cottages appear then?” May was beginning to be intrigued by the old woman’s tale. She could hear Tom’s feet shuffling against the floor and gave him a small kick in the ankle.
“I believe the first of the other cottages appeared at least a hundred years after. There were no farms as such near by and the nearest town, still there today Ruffsby, is about  five mile in the other direction. So you see this was and still is a secluded place.”
“How interesting. Do you know anything else about the first cottage.”
“Oh yes my dear. It’s a well known story around here.  It’s said that the young woman was placed in that cottage by her lover. A well-to-do gent with a wife and family and standing within the community at that time. As I’ve heard it told, he built the cottage out here away from the town and prying eyes and would ride out to see her as and when he desired. The girl, only 18, came from the streets. She caught his eye one day and he did have an eye for the girls. They say she was a beauty with hair as black as a raven’s feathers, eyes as blue as the morning sky and a voice as sweet as sugar.”
“What rubbish. May, you don’t believe all this do you?” Tom was beginning to become annoyed.
“Shut up.” May turned around to face him. “If you’re not interested, go and wait outside.”
“OK, I will.” Tom strode towards the door. The bell jangled as he pulled it closed behind him.
 “Sorry about that. Please go on with your tale.”
“Alright, my dear, if you’re sure?”  May smiled and the old lady cleared her throat. “This liaison, as you may call it, went on for sometime, the gent’s wife and colleagues not suspecting a thing. It was well known that he liked to go out riding on his own, so no one questioned his absences. It was in the evening of Christmas Eve that he was about to take his leave of his mistress, when she invited him to come and see the fir tree and how she had decorated it. They walked together across the green and whilst he admired the paper decorations she had made, she whispered to him that she was with child. The gent, of course, didn’t want anything to do with it and told her to get rid of it. She broke down and threatened to tell his wife if he would not accept the child as his own. Well, what’s a gent to do eh? He takes her by the neck and pushes her into the pond where he holds her down until she breathed no more.” 
 “That’s terrible.”
“But there’s more my dear.” May leaned in closer across the counter. “It’s said that on the Night of Christmas Eve you can her her sobbing, as she returns to her cottage. Some say they can even see the reflection of a fire burning in the grate. It’s said she is looking for someone.”  Anyway it’s been enough to get that cottage empty forever.”
“That’s daft. It’s only a story.” May straightened up.
“But is it, my dear?” 

The old girl’s eyes met May’s and just for a split second she thought she saw them glitter. The air around her had become cooler and she pulled her coat a little tighter around her.
“That was an interesting story, but you still haven’t told me who owns the cottage.”
“If you have any sense you’ll forget about that place.”
“The name of the owner, please.” May was now beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.  There was something unusual about this woman.
“If you insist, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Carry on down this road till you come to the Dog and Bone and ask for Arthur. You’ll find out what you want to know there.”

 With that the old woman turned and shuffled her way back to the confines of the wire cage. May made her way outside to find Tom on his third cigarette.


“About bloody time. I thought you were staying for the night.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. We’re going to the pub now.” May laughed as she noted how his face lit up.
“Now that’s the first sensible thing you’ve said all day. Where is it then?”
“Just up the road a bit.”

He threw down his cigarette and took hold of her hand.  It wasn’t too long before they saw the pub sign swinging in the breeze.


The lights were on and a fire blazed in the corner of the bar.  

“Evening, what can I get you?” The barman was a stocky fellow with bright eyes and a bulbous red nose. His shirt was open at the neck and the sleeves were rolled up to his elbows.

“Half a pint of your best bitter please sir, and,” Tom looked at his wife.
“Rum and black for me, thanks.” May looked around her, the place was empty except for themselves and the barman. She waited while he got their drinks and then asked, “Is Arthur here?”
The barman’s smile dropped instantly, “Who wants to know?” he said, staring straight at her.
“Me actually,” May continued to smile. “I want to ask about the empty cottage, further down the road.”
“Oh, in that case,” he appeared to relax a little, “you’re talking to him. “How do you know my name?”
 "The little old lady in that shop further down said to ask for you.”
“What old lady?”
 “You must know. She was in the old shop that sells all sorts of things by the appearance of it.”
“Don’t know who you’re talking about, but then I never go down that way. Anyway what’s your interest in the cottage?”

 May was a little more than surprised at his answer. “You must go down there if you own the cottage.”
“Why? Is it not possible to own a building and never see it?”
“Well, I suppose…” May never got to finish her sentence before the barman spoke again.
“Exactly.” 

He place both hands on the bar top and stared straight at her. It was then that she noticed his hair was parted in the middle and slicked back with some sort of hair product.  He’s behind the times, she thought. May took a sip of her drink. “Is it for sale?” Little did she know that Tom had his fingers crossed behind his back and was hoping desperately for a no.
“Is what for sale?” The barman looked wide-eyed at her.
“The cottage.” May tried hard to keep the frustration out of her voice.
“Oh that, no. But maybe I might rent it to you if you really want to stay in it.” 

There was something about the way he smiled that put May on edge a little. “Oh, really.” May looked over her shoulder at Tom who was frowning and shaking his head. She ignored him and turned back to the barman. “How much to rent it for a couple of days over Christmas?” Behind her Tom spluttered into his beer, spilling some onto the floor and his shoes.
“You wanna be careful there,” said the barman looking around May and at Tom, “that bitter’s very strong if you’re not use to it.”
Tom wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “I’m fine thanks. May,” he tugged on her sleeve, “can I speak to you in private?” He walked over to the fireplace and waited for her to join him.
 “Excuse me, I won’t be a moment.”

 The barman nodded and pulled a face as he watched her join Tom.


“Are you mad?” Tom whispered. “Rent over Christmas? There’s nothing here and the place is probably filthy inside.”

“It’ll be fun, just for a couple of day’s, Tom, say Christmas Eve and Day. Imagine how wonderful that hamlet will look if it snows. It’ll be so romantic.” She placed a hand on his and looked into his eyes. 

Tom knew he wasn’t going to win this one. She would be unbearable if he didn’t agree. He loved her, but she could be difficult if she set her mind on something and didn’t get her own way. He shrugged, “Okay, but only for a couple of days.” May kissed him on the cheek and hurried back over to the bar.


“Right Arthur, may I call you Arthur?” 

“Sure.” 
“So, what would be the rental for a couple of days over Christmas.”
The barman scratched his ear and appeared to be considering the matter. “One hundred and fifty pounds a night and an extra fifty pounds for me to get a cleaner in and get the place tidy for you. You will be the only ones here for Christmas Eve and Day. The other folks in the cottages all go away for that period.”
“Why do they go? Is it because of that story about the girl?”
“What story would that be then?” He placed his arms on the bar top and leaned in towards her. “I’m all ears.”
May frowned. “You must know. The one about the girl and gent who drowned her in the pond. She’s supposed to haunt the place this time of year.”
“Nope, don’t know that one and don’t believe in ghosts anyway. The only spirits I’ve seen are in these ‘ere bottles.” He laughed as he waved his hand at the shelf behind him. “You don’t want to believe in that rubbish. Who told you that?”
“The woman in the shop, and I don’t believe in ghosts either.” May pressed her lips together to stop herself saying something she would regret. She didn’t like the smugness of this man.
“Oh, the mysterious woman. I’ll have to check her out one of these days. People leave here to be with their families at this time because their families don’t want to spend Christmas in a godforsaken place like this. More’s the pity, not good for business. Mind you with so few people, business doesn’t boom anyway. I’ve been thinking of leaving for good myself.”


May was now becoming impatient. She took another sip of her rum and black. “Do we have a deal or not?”
He extended his hand with sausage like fingers over the bar. “Deal, but you need to pay up front.”
May, grasped his hand in her own and shook it. His skin felt ice cold. A shiver ran down her back. “Three hundred and fifty pounds, right.” She withdrew her cheque book from her bag and scribbled the amount out, signing it with a flourish of her pen. “Here you go,” she held the cheque out to him.


He took it, smiled and folded it into the breast pocket of his shirt. “You best come in daylight. These lanes are not so safe when it’s really dark. In fact you should leave now. Dusk is on the horizon. The cottage will be open for you when you arrive.”

“Will you go down and open it then?” May waited for his reply.
 The barman pursed his lips and said, “I’ve told you haven’t I. I don’t goes down that way.”
“Thank you very much, might come up for a drink on Christmas Eve.”
“I shouldn’t bother if I was you. I’ll be gone too.”


May joined Tom who was now sitting down and finishing off his beer. “All arranged.”
“Oh yes, how much?”

“Three hundred and fifty quid.”
“What!”
“It’s just for two days, It’ll be fun. We best be going. That man says the roads are tricky when it’s dark.” She tipped the rest of her drink down her throat and placed her empty glass next to Tom’s on the table.
As they walked back down the pathway, they passed the shop, the cottages and reached the car. Tom started up the engine and  for now they left Waters Edge behind them.

.....

It had snowed the night before so when May and Tom arrived in the hamlet. It was dressed in a blanket of soft white that sparkled in the last of the day’s light. None of it had been disturbed, that is until they stepped out of the car.

“Isn’t it beautiful Tom.” May looked across from the cottage to the fir tree, its branches heavy with snow. “Listen.” May cocked her head to one side.
“Listen to what?” Tom was busy pulling their case from the boot.
“Nothing. There’s absolutely no sound. It’s so quiet, it’s like it’s sleeping.” May wrapped her arms about herself and smiled.
“You do romanticise, don’t you,” he said slamming down the boot. “You’d better grab the food from the back seat.”


Inside the cottage Tom put the case down where he stood and May hugged the food box to her as they both surveyed their surroundings.  A huge fire crackled and spit in the hearth, where a  heavy iron kettle hung above from a rail, steam hissing from its spout.  To each side of the fireplace stood two high backed comfy chairs. In the centre of the room stood a bare wooden table and two wooden chairs. May noticed two doors coming off of this main room.

“There must be a kitchen through there.” She nodded her head in the direction of one of the doors and made her way towards it.
 Tom picked up the case and went through the other door.  He dropped the case onto a wooden bed that looked just a bit smaller than a double.  He sat down and the mattress crackled beneath him. “Bloody hell.” He jumped up and pushed the covers back to be met with the sight of an old straw mattress. Is this some kind of joke. “May,” he yelled, “come here.” May appeared in the doorway. “Look at this.” 
She walked over and felt the mattress. “Oh god,” she whispered. “That’s not all, there is no kitchen as such, just a sort of scullery with a wooden bench and some old pots with hooks. How are we suppose to cook over that fireplace?”
“Sod this, we’re leaving.”
“We can’t go now, it’s almost dark. Look I packed some paté and french bread, olives, tomatoes and a bottle of red, we can at least make some tea from that noisy kettle out there, if I can find some cups.  It will be like a picnic.” She smiled and tried to gauge Tom’s response. “We can leave in the morning, we’d be home in a couple or so hours.”
Tom sighed and put down the case. “A great Christmas Eve this will be. You can pour me a glass of that red right now.”

.....

It was five to midnight. Tom, a little worse for wear having consumed most of the wine by himself, sat gazing into the fire. May sat opposite him nursing her own glass of red waiting, as was their tradition, for her watch to read 12 before toasting a Happy Christmas. She studied Tom who she knew was not happy with the situation they were in. A sudden chill filled the air and she pulled closer to the fire.

“It’s gone cold, don’t you feel it Tom?”
“No, I’m sitting right beside a blazing fire.”
May went to reply when she noticed that every out breath she made hung in the air before her. “Look Tom.” She huffed out another breath, a smokey mist that twirled its way upwards.
“Look at what? I don’t see anything.”  His own breath hung like a heavy cloud before him but he didn’t seem to notice.


May wrapped her cardigan tighter around her as the temperature dropped another couple of degrees. She looked at her watch. It was midnight. “Happy Christmas, darling.” She held her glass out towards his but something whipped it from her hand and it smashed on the stone hearth. “What the…?  Did you see that?”
“What, that you threw your glass on the ground, yeah I saw that. Are you starting some sort of new tradition?” Tom swigged the last of his wine down and threw his glass onto the hearth where it lay smashed next to May’s.
“I didn’t…..” But  May never got to finish her sentence.
“Oh, don’t tell me, a ghost did it.” Tom laughed, but it wasn’t his usual laugh, there was a touch of malice to it.
“I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t me.”
“I’m going to bed.” Tom stood up and wobbled slightly as he made his way to the bedroom door. He looked over his shoulder at May, “You coming?”
“In a minute.” 

May watched him close the door behind him and an uneasy feeling settled over her. Something  brushed the back of her neck and she swung around. The temperature was now freezing. Her breath, thick and smokey, suspended in time, hovered in front of her. She cast her eyes towards the bedroom. There on the floor leading up to the door were splashes of water. “Oh my god.” Fear spread through every bone in her body and for a moment she couldn’t move. She blinked as though to wake herself up and rushed towards the door, grabbed the handle and turned it, but the door was locked.  “Tom, Tom, can you hear me?” Terror filled her voice as she pulled on the door, but it wouldn’t budge.  From within she heard at first what she thought was a woman singing so softly it was hardly discernible. Then as it grew louder, she knew it wasn’t singing but sobbing. Loud, heartbreaking sobs filled her ears.  “Tom, Tom,” she screamed as she hammered on the door.

Exhausted, she slumped down onto her knees and began to cry herself. The door flew open with such energy that it flung her across the room and into the leg of the table. Shaken she stood up and eyes wide, she looked towards the opening. There stood a blurry figure, like a cloud of blueish smoke of a slim young woman, hair that flowed about her as though it had a life of its own. Her hand held Tom’s, who seemed to be in some sort of  trance.

“He’s not yours. Leave him alone,” May shouted as she rushed forward. The apparition raised her hand and May slid backwards across the floor once more. The table tipped over to trap her against the far wall. “No!” she screamed as the woman floated forwards, pulling Tom behind her and  passed out the front door into the snow filled night.

May scrambled out from behind the table and rushed out the door. Tom and the apparition were standing by the pond. She ran across the green, feet crunching in the snow with every step she took. The woman stepped into the pond still holding onto Tom’s hand. “Let him go,” May screamed.

The apparition turned to face her. Her features were now so clear. A face so contorted and full of malice stared back at May. “Mine!” She screeched in a voice that ripped through the silence of the night. A wild wind hit May full on, blowing her hair out like an untamed mane and pressing her body backwards.

May watched as the woman turned away and  Tom stepped into the pond “This is not  happening, no way.”  She ran with every muscle in her body tight like a spring ready to explode and reached the pond in time to grasp hold of Tom’s arm. She dug her heels in and hung on. The ghost, now waist deep in water turned once more, passed through Tom and held her face inches from May’s. It transformed once more into a contorted face, grey skin hanging in folds from her cheeks, empty sockets where her eyes would have once been. She hissed in a breath from hell that hit May, a blast so cold she felt she would freeze where she stood. “Mine,”  a screeching voice filled May’s ears.  Then the apparition turned back and started her descent into the icy water dragging  Tom behind her.

“Let him go you bitch.” With a strength she didn’t know she had, she dug in her heels and pulled on his arm. Each step backwards she took was filled with an anger so strong it frightened her. She kept hold of him as he started to emerge  from the pond, until she had dragged him onto the soft white ground and pulled him clear of the water. Then she slumped down next to him. “Tom wake up, wake up Tom.” A deafening scream ripped through the air and May watched as the apparition rose to the top of the water before descending into its depths once more.

“What am I doing out here? Why am I wet?” Tom blinked as he sat up and looked at May.
“I’m not sure you’ll believe me. Come on let’s get back to the cottage.” 


May put an arm around his waist and helped him back, but what they saw when they got there was another shock. Their cottage and all the others stood as silhouette ruins against a white backdrop of snow.  They looked at each other. Both felt like they had awoken from a bad dream.
“Let’s get to the car and get out of here.”


Nobody believed their story and their bank balance was not short of £350.00. A few months later they decided to go back and look for Waters Edge, just to prove that they weren’t mad. They found no trace of it.

Waters Edge only exists at a certain time each year. Will you visit?



© Helen A. Howell 2018


Tree word art  graphics from grannyenchanted.com with Licence.