A Christmas Ghost Story
The Tradition – Part One
It was late one Christmas eve. The little girl lay in bed listening to the old house sighing and groaning against the chill wind that buffeted it from all sides. Outside, the storm was whipping flurries of snow higher and higher, encasing the house and its inhabitants in a frosty fortress. Shivering, she nestled further down into her blankets and waited.
Downstairs she heard the grandfather clock strike the hour; slow sonorous chimes… nine, ten, eleven… it was time. As her feet hovered over icy wooden boards, she groped in the darkness for dressing gown and slippers, her fingers meeting them with relief. Encased in their soft fibres she moved silently across the room and out into the hallway.
Her brother’s door was ajar and, peeking round it, she saw his bed was empty. She knew he must already be downstairs and hurried to catch up with him. The hall was bitingly cold and at the top of the stairs a chill wind whipped up from under the front door below sending icy fingers skittering up her spine. The huge christmas tree, wreathed in darkness, loomed up at her as she hurried onwards and downwards. She paused only when she reached the threshold of the closed kitchen door. There excitement and trepidation made her tremble. What if he wasn’t here?
She could bear it no longer and, raising her hand to the door, entered the room. And there they were: her father and her brother sitting by the fire. They were both facing the flames, holding out long forks on which they were toasting bread. The scent – combined with the fir of the tree behind her – was as familiar as it was intoxicating. They looked up to greet her and her father, placing his fork on the hearth, welcomed her with a warm smile and open arms. She rushed over to him, leaping delightedly onto his lap.
This was their time. She loved her father deeply but his work kept him away from home for long hours, and often for weeks on end. He even worked on Christmas Eve and missed all the frantic preparations, the final dressing of the tree and the ritual placing of brightly-wrapped presents under its branches. But he always made it home an hour before midnight and they never failed to meet by the fireside like this, the three of them enjoying their special, festive tradition while her mother slept upstairs unawares.
And so the minutes passed happily. Her icy hands and feet were soon warmed by the fire and their father told them tales of his travels as they snuggled on his knee, their eyes shining bright in the firelight. These were perfect moments. It was her favourite hour of the year.
Then the hall clock chimed midnight and as its final note faded, the kitchen door flew open with a blast of cold air. The fire guttered in the grate sending a shower of sparks onto the hearth. Before them stood a vision in white, with long hair flying in disarray around a pale face and a night gown that flowed to the floor. Terror suddenly filled the little girl’s heart. Of course: now it must happen. She always forgot this point in the night and yet, year after year, it unfolded the same way. And she was always helpless. As her mother swept towards them, she trembled to her core.
To be continued…