Last week I posted part one of my Christmas Ghost Story. Today, it’s time for the concluding part. If you haven’t read part one please click here. And if you have… read on:
The young couple merrily slid and slipped their way down the snowy street arm-in-arm. All around them Christmas lights twinkled in the darkness from the windows of houses, from porches, shrubs and trees. The town looked every bit as picture-perfect as they had been promised.
They had arrived on the last train and had intended to go straight to their guest house and collapse into bed but the welcoming glow from the pub near the station had tempted them inside. Now, several drinks later, it was close to midnight as they navigated their way towards what the website had promised them would be a ‘festive home-from-home’.
“The brochure wasn’t kidding – it’s like something from a Christmas story.” Sophie smiled at the scene around them. As if on cue, flakes of snow began slowly drifting down.
“Wheeeeeeee” she shouted, spinning round with her arms outstretched,“snooooowwwww! I looooove snooooow!”
“Shhhhhhh,” Mark made a grab for her arm just in time to stop her toppling into a drift in a driveway, “We’re not in London anymore, people round here are trying to sleep!”
“Whoops!” Sophie giggled, then pointing towards the old stone house they had come to a stop next to, whispered “Those people aren’t! Look.” She paused to take it in. “Ahhhhh, it looks lovely: the man with his kids on his knee in front of the fire. So sweet.”
“Yup, another perfect Christmas scene to add to the collection. But come on,” Mark took her arm again, “we’ve got to get to our guesthouse, they said they lock the door at midnight and it’s nearly that now. I can see it just across the street, if your drunken legs can make it that far?”
“Oy” Sophie cuffed his arm, “I’m not as think as you drunk I am!” she giggled.
“Yeah, yeah, very funny.” Mark grinned and, glancing once more at the cosy scene through the window, they turned and crossed the road.
Twenty minutes later the two of them were safely ensconced in a bedroom whose rustic charms exactly fitted the bill for a romantic getaway. Sighing happily, Sophie went to the window to take one last look at the sparkling scene outside.
“Oh my God! Mark!” she shrieked. He rushed to her side but only had time to glance at the horrifying scene outside before she batted him away, “No, quick! Phone! Fire!” She fumbled for coherence as fear washed over her.
The entire house opposite was ablaze. The old stone walls had been replaced by an orange inferno that tore through the building even as she watched. Flames licked up its walls and curled out of the dormer windows. She could hear a deafening roar and feel the blistering heat from where she was standing. The air was thick with smoke. Where were the family? Had the man and his children escaped? Her eyes searched the street frantically for their figures.
“I’m going downstairs!” Mark grabbed her arm as she stood transfixed by the scene “Sophie!” he tried to get her attention, “I can’t get the phone to work here, come on!”
She tore her eyes from the window and together they dashed out of their room and thundered down the stairs to reception. Mark rushed to the unmanned desk shouting for the night porter while Sophie ran to the front door.
There she stopped with amazement. “But… I… it can’t be!”
Mark looked over as she spoke and his gaze followed hers out through the glass front door. His heart gave a great leap.“How..?” He rushed over and stood beside her. “I don’t understand… ”
After staring dumbfounded for a few seconds he reached up and unbolted the door and they both stepped outside onto the frozen porch. The street was silent. The night air was clear and freezing cold. The space on the opposite side of the street, only moments before wreathed in flames, was completely dark.
The two of them slowly crossed the street and by the light of the streetlamp they took in the scene. Swings hung silently from their frame, inches deep in snow. A slide, a climbing frame and a little roundabout were all barely visible beneath a crisp, white covering. They were looking at a deserted playground.
Mark and Sophie looked wildly up and down the street.
“But it was here, the house was here, and it was on fire!” Sophie’s voice rang clear in the freezing air.
“Aye, that it was.” The unfamiliar voice startled them and they turned to see where it came from. The guesthouse’s night porter was standing in the doorway.
“Hey, did you see the fire?” Mark called to him across the street.
“Aye. I was there alright.” The old man nodded sagely.
“W… what happened?” Sophie faltered as the two of them walked carefully back across the icy street towards him. “We walked past here about half-an-hour ago and we saw a family in there, and then just now we saw the house on fire but…” she tailed off, indicating the empty playground. A wave of nausea and confusion suddenly overtook her and she clutched at Mark’s arm. Feeling similarly at a loss, Mark looked to the old man who shook his head sadly.
“That fire burned itself out many years ago. Come back inside and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Sophie and Mark followed him rather shakily back into the building. He locked the door behind them and led them through to a sitting room where he indicated a couple of arm chairs, “Here, you should sit down.” The couple sat, unsure what else to do, and looked at him expectantly.
“Yes, I saw the fire,” the old man began, “it was sixty years ago and I was just a boy…”
Sophie and Mark sat in silence as he recounted the story of a terrible fire that had destroyed the house that once stood opposite, one Christmas night many years ago. A family had been inside at the time – a husband and wife and their young son and daughter. Questioned in the aftermath, the father had told how he had got back late at night on Christmas Eve and had re-stoked the fire in the kitchen and settled himself before it to warm up and relax. His children, realising he was home had crept down to see him. They had spent a lovely hour together toasting bread and talking, just the three of them.
Then, at midnight, his wife had awoken and come down to usher the children into bed. In her tiredness she had brushed too close to the fire as she reached to pick up her son. The hem of her long nightie had swept through the embers on the hearth and set alight. As the three of them tried desperately to put out the flames, the children’s clothes had also caught on fire. The blaze spread rapidly – the huge christmas tree and all the decorations quickly feeding it to a frenzy.
The father managed to get the children out of the house – sustaining terrible burns himself – but was unable to revive them. By the time the fire engines arrived the whole house had gone up in flames. It was too late to save his family. There was nothing anyone could do. The father never really recovered from the tragedy and died himself only a few years later. The blackened shell of the house had stood empty for years before the plot was finally sold at auction and the ruin ripped down. The playground had been there ever since although it was seldom used. People said there was an odd feeling about the place.
The old man paused. Sophie and Mark were both listening intently, their faces pale.
“So,” Sophie began “when we passed by earlier and saw the father and his children through the window…”
“That was them yes,” the old man nodded sadly, “and then you saw the fire that killed them. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last. Over the years, many people have said the same. They see the three of them – father and children – sitting by the fire together awaiting their destiny. It’s said they appear every Christmas Eve just to enact that little scene. That final hour. It’s a tradition.”
Linking up with The Prompt which this week was ‘Smoke’ (I couldn’t believe how apt it was for the end of my story!) and Friday Fiction.