A Christmas Renuion

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Ian stepped away from his desk at noon, he was tired, his head ached and he wanted be with his family. He stood by the window and looked across the park, wondering about the young homeless girl he’s seen that morning and hoping she’d found somewhere warm to spend the day. A limo pulled up to the front door.
“Hey Gina,” he called over his shoulder, “come look, maybe this is Valerie.”
The both pressed their faces against the window, hoping to see the person who could make or break their Christmas. All they saw was the top of her head! The limo was followed by several white vans.
“Oh no, maybe she’s closing the place down and the vans are here to take away the furniture.”
“No, it wouldn’t happen that quickly. Look they’re bringing boxes in, not taking them away.”
Ian was right. A team of folks worked diligently unloading the vans.
“Come on, we’d better keep working or Madame Scrooge will be screeching at us again.”
No one could concentrate. What if the mysterious Valerie was coming to close the place down? The idea of starting a new year looking for a job wasn’t appealing.
At 1:30 Lucy, the office manager came into the room and clapped her hands loudly.
“Listen up, as some of you may have heard, Valerie Street is here. She wants to talk to us all in the conference room at 2:00. Don’t be late!
Ian and Gina looked at each other. “I guess we won’t be wondering much longer”

There was a line by the window in the hallway when Ian and Gina arrived for the meeting. Fred was at the back of it.
“We tried to get in, but the door is locked, there was a lot of activity in there a few minutes ago. Sounded like Desiree was shouting at someone, but not any more.”
The buzz of anticipation was catching. Was it dread or excitement?
“Look!”
Felicity from marketing was pointing out of the window to where Desiree was striding across the car park. No longer wearing her dangerous spikes, instead she had tennis shoes on her feet. Her expensive leather brief case was full to bursting and she carried a box. There was a chirp as she unlocked the door of her black Audit TT. She opened the boot and she placed her briefcase, and the box, inside. She sensed she was being watched and turned around. With a flourish she gave the double two-fingered salute to one and all. Then she jumped into her car and with a screech of tyres, she left the car park. The applause started slowly and quietly and then escalated. Fred clapped louder than anyone. Ian and Gina looked at each other puzzled.

The double doors to the conference room opened and Christmas music filtered out. The bewildered employees made their way into the beautifully decorated conference room. It was a Christmas wonderland. Catering staff filled glasses with champagne, but everyone was too stunned to drink.
“What do you think we’re celebrating?” Ian asked.
Fred picked up his glass and held it high. “Desiree’s departure is good enough for me”

The lights dimmed. The music stopped and a solitary figure appeared at the front of the room.

“Merry Christmas everyone, I’m Valerie Street, some of you may remember me, but no doubt I’ve changed since we last met. I’m here to run the company the way my father used to and I want to start with a celebration to thank you all for your hard work.”

Cheering and applause was long and loud. Gina and Ian looked at each other in utter amazement. The young lady standing at the front of the room caught their eye and raised her glass.

Ian raised his glass and mouthed. “Well played!”
“What’s going on?” Fred asked. “Do you know her”
“She’s been around for a week or so.” Ian replied, “Sitting under the bridge.”
Fred laughed. “George used to play that trick too! Pretended he was homeless. Said it was the best way to test people. Fired many folks because of the way they treated the less fortunate. She’s her fathers girl alright. I knew she’d be back.”

Merry Christmas

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Street Talk – A Christmas Story

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The office of Street Talk Magazine sat on the edge of George Street Memorial Park in a small town in Northern England. The Park was named after George Street, founder of Street Talk Magazine. It was dedicated to him in 2001 after he and his wife were killed in a car crash. The drunk driver, who hit them head on escaped unhurt, so did Valerie, the Street’s ten-year old daughter.

George and Ethel Street had only one child and thankfully they’d left a very detailed will to make sure she was taken care of. All profits from the thriving magazine went into to a trust until she was old enough to make decisions. The Magazine was run by a trusted team of long time employees in the meantime and continued to be successful. After the tragedy, Valerie fell off the face of the earth. Local media were interested in her for a while, and tried to track her down, but they soon lost moved on to other stories.

*************

It was a cold December morning. Small particles of ice fell from clouds that looked so full they wanted to burst.
“Snows coming!”
“What, oh Morning Ian, I thought you were on vacation this week.”
“Should be, but our new CFO needed me here to go over some figures for last year.”
The two Street Talk employees hurried through the park, clouds of breath escaped their mouthes as the talked.
“Jesus its cold!” Gina said “Look, that homeless woman is under the bridge. Surely she’ll die out here.”
At the edge of the park, on the cold stone ground, sat the solitary figure of a woman. Her hood was pulled over her face. Neither Ian nor Gina knew what she looked like. They knew she was female because of her voice.
“I’m going to give her enough money to go and buy breakfast somewhere, she needs to get out of this cold.”
Gina took a ten pound note from her wallet. Crouching down she handed it to the pitiful figure. A grateful voice floated from the hood of the old coat she wore. “Thank you and God bless you”
“Here, take my coffee, I haven’t touched it” Ian said as he gave her his Starbucks.”
The woman looked up at them and for the first time they saw her face. It was grimy and tired looking, but it was young. They were both taken aback.
“Merry Christmas!” She said.
Neither of them spoke until they were out of earshot.
“She’s our age, ” Ian said. “I wonder what happened to her.”
A voice from behind interrupted them, loud and thoughtless
“You shouldn’t give money to street people, they’re likely to have all sorts of diseases. I’m going to call the Tim in Security and see about getting here removed. She has no right being here. It’s a disgrace. They should find a place to put people like her.”
It was Desiree, the new CFO. She bulldozed past them, her expensive high-heeled boots piercing the morning silence as they stabbed the ground.
“Bitch!” Gina whispered as the followed her into the building.
“Careful, she’ll hear you, she already fired her analyst for less.”

Revelation Tin

christmas-cookie-tin-vintage-green-fruit-bells-nutcracker-wreath-on-gold-lid-8a91ef866b8eb3bbe6a19b6dd17f3778We waited in silence for the cab to arrive. Silence wasn’t a good thing in a motel like that. The noises from the rooms on either side didn’t leave much to the imagination. I tried hard not to put Janie’s face in one of those rooms. Although we’d waited no more than five minutes, it seemed like an eternity and when the cab finally arrived I fled. As I left the room I looked behind me. Larry was rumpling the bed covers. “we have to make it look like we slept here at least”

I shivered, “whatever!” The thought of sleeping in that bed gave me the creeps. “Where to?” the driver asked as Larry slid in the back seat beside me.”

“Stagecoach Salon, Franktown.” Larry replied.

The cab pulled out onto the main road. “Thats a long way man, you good for the money?” Larry reached over and waved a hundred dollar bill in the guys face. “That should cover it. Keep the change.”

The city lights disappeared in the rearview mirror and the soft darkness of Douglas County swallowed us. “I hope Jacks OK”

Larry was silent. I looked at him. “He will be OK won’t he?” I asked.

“I don’t know, he’s an old guy, may have had a heart attack.

It seemed to take an eternity to get to the bar, and when we arrived, it was in darkness. I looked at Larry, he pointed to a dark shape in the gloom by the fence. It was the van. “You sure you want to be dropped off here?” the cab driver said. “Looks like its closed.”

“Yea, we’re good, thanks man.”

We watched the cabs tail lights disappear in the distance. “OK, let’s go.” Larry said. We turned to the van and the lights came on, temporarily blinding me.

“Everyone OK,”Larry asked as we slid into the front seat.

“The old guy’s a bit shook up, but I think he’ll survive.”

“How about Janie?” I asked.

“She ran, don’t know where she went!”

“What, when?”

“When we got back here, she took off!”

Larry looked at me. “Great, we went through all of this for nothing.”

In two minutes we were at Jack’s house. He sat at the kitchen table, his face ashen. Larry’s three friends were drinking whiskey. Jack was drinking tea. I pulled a chair alongside him. “Jack are you alright?”

“Yes, I will be, got a weak heart, too much excitement for an old man.”

“You’re not that old!”

“I feel it!”

“Where’s Janie?” I asked, trying not to stress him any further.

“I’m here!”

She stood in the doorway, the passage light framing her slight figure. She held a bundle wrapped in a blanket. At first I thought she was carrying a child, my heart missed a beat. Jack made to get up, but I put my hand on his should and made him sit.

“Where’d you go?” he asked.

“Back to the barn, I wanted to grab this stuff before anyone else found it. Those guys came searching for me down here once. They might come back!”

She dropped the bundle on the floor, but held onto a small tin, the sort you got cookies in at Christmas. She placed it on the table in front of Jack. He looked up at her.

“Open it!”

The Connection!

StagecoachWith all the Christmas decorations packed away the house looked bare, but fresh. A sign of new beginnings. A New Year on the horizon. The week between Christmas and New Year is a no man’s land, an alternative universe. A land where even wandering spirits daren’t venture.

I got home from work early, ready for a glass of wine or two.

“Why don’t we go down to the Stagecoach?” I said to my reclusive husband. “Let’s see the New Year in with friends.”

“Sure if you want, I’ve cooked so lets eat and go down later.”

Shocked at both the meal and the prospect of seeing the New Year with friends I poured another glass of wine. He’d cooked Italian, Risotto with Shrimp. It was delicious. We switched on the television and watched the fireworks over the London Eye as England drifted into the New Year seven hours ahead of us. It put me in the mood to celebrate so I fixed my make-up, changed my clothes and was ready to go.

The Stagecoach was less than a five-minute drive, but it was too cold to walk. We were greeted by smiling familiar faces and found two seats at the bar. “You staying until midnight?” Bonnie asked.

“Maybe, but I doubt it. Not sure if I can keep Les here that long.”

She laughed, she knew us both too well. I could talk for hours, Les, not so much.

“Well there’s a free ride home tonight if you have too much to drink, I’ll put your name on the list just in case.”

Les found someone to talk to and I chatted to anyone and everyone. I was a bit of celebrity to the locals because I had a British accent and was a writer. It made me feel quite famous, even though I wasn’t. In one of the booths in the far corner of the bar, an old man sat alone. Although this was my local I hadn’t seen him before. I felt sorry for him. Awful to be lonely on New Years Eve.

“Hey Bonnie, who’s the old guy in the corner? He looks miserable?”

Bonnie knew who I was talking about without looking in his direction.

“He’s called Bret, he comes here every New Year and gets stone drunk. Been coming in for 20 years or more, long before I started working here.”

“Why does he drink alone?”

“Don’t know the whole story, but his daughter died one New Years Eve, complications of child-birth. Kept her pregnancy a secret because she was only 17. Gave birth in a barn and never recovered.”

I felt cold, my voice was no more than a whisper, “Was the barn close to here?”

“Yes, up off the road you live in. Simpson’s barn.”

Trying to stop my hands from shaking I swallowed the contents of my glass in one gulp.

“Are you okay?” Bonnie asked.

I ignored her, “Did the baby survive?”

She filled up my glass, “No one knows, they never found it. Betty Simpson found the girl lying in a pool of her own blood. She’d been dead a couple of days.”

“Oh God how sad.”

I looked across to the old guy sitting alone drinking. He threw some cash on the table and got up to leave. He staggered barely able to walk.

“Bonnie, make him ride home with your driver, don’t let him drive.”

“No need, he lives at the bottom of your road, he walks.” The old guy brushed my arm as he left. A jolt of energy coursed through my body and I saw the face of the young girl I’d seen in the barn. I know he felt it too. He glanced at me as though he’d just woken up, and then quickly looked away.

I knew I’d see him again though.

The Little Ghost of Christmas

Baby in the hayHad I put too much Rum in the Apple Cider? I rubbed my eye and peered at the shiny bauble. The footsteps had disappeared of course, and my distorted face looked back at me once again.

“What are you looking at?”

“Oh nothing, just thinking about my Grandma!” I said as I turned around.

The TV show had finished and Les sat with the remote in his hand and a look of hesitation on his face. “Did you say something about going out for a drink?” he asked.

“I thought it might be a good idea, but don’t worry, it’s started snowing again, lets stay home.”

The look of relief on his face was obvious. Les wasn’t a socialite and preferred the company of the television. He immediately began looking for something else to watch. “Anything you fancy watching?” he asked.

“No, I’m going outside to take photos of the Christmas lights.” I answered putting on my coat.

“It’s freezing! Why would you do that?” I didn’t answer because I knew he wasn’t listening. He’d found a Karate Cop movie and was already distracted.

I stepped out onto the porch, wondering if he’d even notice I didn’t bring my camera. It was bitterly cold, but beautiful. Huge snowflakes fell slowly from the heavens, turning the world into a silent white wonderland. Christmas lights glittered like jewels on the pine trees. Fairly lights, when I was a kid I called them fairly lights.

I pulled my hat down over my ears and walked purposefully along the drive way to the dirt road. Why I wanted to go back to the barn I wasn’t sure, but I was drawn there. There were only a couple of houses along the half mile that let to the barn so I switched on my flashlight to make sure any passing cars saw me. I needn’t have worried, none passed by. When the moon wasn’t hidden behind snow clouds, it shone brightly, guiding my path, showing me the way. There were no footprints in the snow, but I didn’t need them. I knew where I was going.

After climbing to the top of the hill I paused for a moment to catch my breath. I looked towards the barn. Dim light shone through ill-fitting door. Some one was in there. What am I doing? Why am I here. Why didn’t I tell Les where I was going?

I crossed the virgin snow and stood silently outside for a while, contemplating what to do next. This is a bad idea. Shall I turn back.

Thats when I heard it. The sweet sound of a lullaby. A mother singing to reassure her child, lulling her to sleep. It was enchanting, hypnotizing.

I enjoyed it for a minute or so, until it was replaced by deep heartbreaking sobs. I gently opened the barn door, just a crack and peered inside.

A baby lay sleeping, snuggled tightly on blankets in the hay.

Jingle Bell Rock – Footprints in the Snow

We sat by the fire drinking hot cider infused with rum. A perfect drink for a snowy December evening. It was Christmas in a glass. Les was engrossed in a noisy car chase on the television. So tense was his body, he might as well driving the cop car. It never ceases to amaze me how guys lose themselves in television. Isn’t real live much more fun?

I gazed at the Christmas tree. It was full of ornaments and memories. Many of the decorations were older than me, passed down from my grandmother to my mam, and then to me. My mam was still alive so they could have hung on her tree, but she ‘didn’t like clutter’. To me those old faded baubles weren’t clutter, they were history. When I touched them my body tingled as though they were trying to reach out to me, trying to tell me a story.

I took my empty glass to the sink and stared out of the kitchen window. It was snowing again. Christmas twinkled in the distance from the local bar. I faintly heard music, “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock” sang with a country twang. It was a Saturday night, live music night. “Lets go down to the bar,” I said to Les. “It’s live music night, should be fun.” No answer! He was of course, on the edge of his seat, avoiding a collision with a school bus that had somehow gotten between the cop car and the bad guy.

I smiled. I wish my mind switched off from real life so easily.

I was drawn again to the Christmas tree, and the old clutter that hung there. Smiling I touched one of my Grandma’s ornaments, balancing it in the palm of my hand. It was a golden bauble, so worn and shiny it was like looking in a mirror. It moved slightly in my hand, or did I imagine it? Carefully taking it from the branch I held it up to my face and gazed into its smooth surface. My own face looked back at me, slightly distorted because of its shape. I closed my eyes and thought about my Grandma. When I opened them again my face no longer looked back at me, instead I saw the image of a child with blonde curly hair.

She smiled at me and waved, before turning around and walking away, leaving only footprints in the snow!

 

 

Who’s out there?

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He looked into my eyes, waiting for an answer. What do I tell him? 

“Come on we need to clean these scratches. Are you going to tell me how you got them?”

I daren’t

I followed him to the sink and stood silently while he dabbed my wounds with warm water. “So what happened, I saw you out there in the snow. Not exactly the kind of day to go for a walk. Did you fall?”

“Yes, at the end of the driveway. I heard a noise behind me and it made me jump. Lost my balance!” I said, relieved he’d put the idea of falling in my head. It wasn’t a lie. I did fall.

“What startled you?”

“It was snow falling off a tree branch, silly really, but I was lost in my thoughts.”

“You need to start paying attention or you’re going to hurt yourself.”

“I know, I have another book on my brain though. I was working out the plot in my head, walking helps me think.”

Les laughed. “Your mind is always somewhere else. Did you check the mail?”

“No, I didn’t”

“OK, I’ll do it now.”

I watched him walk along the driveway, wishing I dare tell him what really happened, but I couldn’t. He’d think I was imagining it, getting lost in one of my own plots. Sometimes I wondered if I was! 

Standing on the porch I breathed deeply, inhaling the cold crisp air. Snow fell from the roof, hitting the ground in front of me, I didn’t jump this time. 

Les walked back along the driveway, engrossed in the letters he was carrying, not noticing the snow whipping up behind him even though there was no wind. I held my breath as I watched the glistening mass take shape. It looked like a child, but disappeared before he reached the porch.

“Whats up? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” Les said as he kicked the snow off his boots. 

If only he knew!

Footprints in the Snow

Christmas is undoubtedly my favorite time of year, but it brings with it hours of preparation. After baking all morning, I needed a break. Grabbing my jacket and scarf, I stepped outside. A winter wonderland glistened before me. Standing still for a few minutes, I took in the beauty while me eyes adjusted to the brightness! There was a chill in the air and my breath made little clouds in front of me. A brisk walk would clear away the cobwebs. With one hand firmly planted against the house I walked carefully down the icy steps from the porch. When I reached the bottom something caught my eye.

FootstepsFootprints!

They started on the path and continued along the driveway to the dirt road that ran past our house. How could that be? We had no neighbors. Anyone who came to visit us, came by car. I looked along the dirt road for tire tracks, but saw none, only small footprints in the snow.

Surely these were made by a child! 

I set off to follow them anxiously. What if a child was lost and cold?

Why would they start at my house? 

Bewildered, I walked along the dirt road that led to the old barn and opened the door cautiously, not wanting to scare whoever may be taking shelter there.

Why would a child be out here alone. Where did she come from?

It was dark inside, but splinters of sunlight shone through the holes in the roof, and eventually I was able to see my surroundings.

“Hello! Is anyone in here?” I asked. “I followed your footsteps. Are you lost?”

Silence.

“Are you hungry? I’ve made fresh shortbread, I’d love to share it with you.”

Movement! A rustling in the far corner. My view was blocked by old farm equipment.

“I’m coming over, don’t be scared.” I said as I walked towards the noise.

Silence.

My cellphone rang, I screamed. “Dammit!” I said as I switched it off.

“No need to hide, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Something dropped on me from above, claws digging deeply into my shoulder, teeth sinking into my ear.

“Holy Shit!”

I swatted at the crazy wild thing that attacked me, knocking it to the floor, and then I turned and ran.

 

One Last Christmas – A Whisper and a Sigh!

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Christmas Eve is alway special to me. I remember as a child being allowed to stay up late and watch for Santa as he sped across the sky. I alway saw him. “Mum, look, there he is,” I’d say. To which my Mum would reply. “Quick, get ready for bed. Santa only leaves Christmas presents for children who are asleep.

SantaAs fast as I could I would run up the stairs and get ready for bed. I’d peep from under the covers, but was ALWAYS asleep before Santa made his delivery.

Last Christmas eve I sat alone in front of the fire and thought about my mum. She’s been dead over ten years and I miss her. Everyone else was in bed and I was enjoying the peace and quiet, and one last glass of wine.

I whispered to my mother, hoping she was listening from above, “Mum, I miss you. I wish you were here for just one more Christmas. I remember how flustered you used to be as you prepared for Christmas day. You were so eager to make every year the best Christmas ever. Your mince pies were the best, your sage and onion stuffing was to die for and your tearful hug on Christmas morning always made everything right.”

I heard the sound of tinkling bells, where did it come from, I wondered. I looked out of the window and gasped as I saw a familiar image in the night sky far above. It couldn’t be Santa could it?

I heard a sigh from behind me, and turned to see who was there. I was no one, but smelled ‘Lily of the Valley’, my mothers favorite fragrance. Inhaling deeply I stepped forward and closed my eyes. Briefly I felt warm arms envelop me, just for a moment, and then they were gone.

I got my wish. My mother shared one last Christmas with me.

Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy your family while you can. 

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