This story is by Theresa Walker and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The snow fell in thick flakes, blanketing the quiet town in a layer of powder. It was Christmas Eve, 1861. The residents of the small town all scurried about, buying gifts, preparing to spend Christmas day with family. All but one.
Walter Finch sat alone in his little stone cottage, alone but content. He sat under a wool blanket in his favourite armchair before the fireplace. Beside him sat the armchair in which would sit his wife Abigail, knitting and humming, as Walter would read his paper and hum along. But now the chair was empty as dear Abby, had passed on just a few years ago. Oh, but don’t feel too bad for this chap or his wife, as she lived well to the ripe old age of 87 and passed to heaven peacefully in her sleep, Walter by her bedside. They lived a good life together, happily, with two beautiful sons.
Oh, yes, they did have children, who had visited every Christmas. As their sons grew their families and ambitions grew with them, taking them away to London and Manchester to find good fortune. Walter did not fault either of them for their absence. He missed them dearly but understood their reasons. He received letters from them every Christmas eve, and read them out in his chair before the fireplace, just as he had once read them to Abigail. A smile would slowly stretch across his wrinkled old face hearing about the troublesome antics of his young grandchildren. Oh, how big they must be by now, remembering when they were small, toddling around the house, grabbing everything in sight just to put into their mouths. By now they would be grown; 7, 8 and 10 they would be, able to walk on their own. They could probably run and jump into his arms were they able to visit. Ah, how he wished that he could see them again one day, but he could never know for sure.
As twilight began to descend on the little town beyond his window, he could hear the loveliest sounds echoing through the street. The carolers had come out and had begun to sing such wonderful songs. Inside the house, though no one else knew it, Walter Finch sang along, swaying to the music in his comfortable armchair. This would usually be his favourite time of year. When they were much younger, he and dear Abigail would go out into the snow and carol themselves. As they grew older they decided to stay and warm their old bones by the fire, but never stopped singing together. Abby sure did have a lovely voice, and as she sang, she kept knitting her caps and scarves for the children, the click of her needles on every loop setting the tempo for them.
How he missed the music that used to fill his house, for now all he heard were the distant songs out in the cold. And inside, when he stopped singing, he heard naught but the crackles and pops of the fireplace before which he sat.
By this time Abigail’s turkey would soon be cooked to perfection, and the scent would waft all around them, making their mouths water. Since dear Abby passed, Walter just made himself a small turkey sandwich with a glass of mulled wine, but every year he could almost smell the turkey cooking on the stove. Taking in a long whiff for effect, he was surprised to find that indeed he did smell a turkey, but how was that possible? Perhaps it was his mind playing tricks on him, or perhaps his memories were simply strong enough to bring back the very smell of his lovely wife’s cooking. Either way, he was happy to smell it once again.
Not yet hungry, he put his meal on the mantle in anticipation, he would enjoy a simple Christmas Eve dinner on his own and was just fine with that.
Soon he heard creaking, but of course he would, this house was quite old after all. The creaks and groans brought him back to when his children were just little ‘uns. With every sound the floorboards made, they imagined them as ghostly footsteps approaching, despite their parents’ many arguments they insisted their house was haunted. Walter chuckled at the memory; ah how imaginative children can be. But after a while the creaks grew louder. Dear Lord, Walter thought to himself, I hope I have no mice, or worse, rats.
Still in his armchair, Walter listened as the noises turned from creaks into a faint pounding. They sounded like running, not the scurrying of little rat feet, sounding almost like children. He remembered such a sound from when both his children and his grandchildren were still budding youths, running about the house in a game of their own making, but how could he possibly hear such things now? Perhaps my hunger has gotten the best of me, he shrugged and prepared to enjoy his dinner in solitude…
Then he heard them. Voices. But how? Maybe they are travelers who came for shelter, thinking it was deserted? Oh, Poppycock, such a thought, Walter chided himself, but then what could it be?
Perhaps I have finally gone mad in my solitude, Walter thought. I cannot see any other reasonable explanation, as nobody would just barge into another man’s home. Walter Finch, while admiring those with vivid and infinite imaginations, much preferred the rational and the logical explanations.
However, as the voices kept speaking, they said things he could not simply conceive himself.
“Charles, what a lovely home, I’m so excited for us to spend our first Christmas together as a family here,” a woman’s voice said.
“I’m so glad you’re happy, Deb,” the man responded.
At this point he had no other choice but to recognize the cold hard truth: he was not alone. People had broken into his house, believing it belonged to them. Well there it is, Walter old boy, the old man thought to himself, you aren’t the mad one here, they must be completely looney to think such things.
His only thought was to let them know that someone else was here. He did so in the most polite way, clearing his throat, loud enough that they should have been able to hear him. However, he got no response, and the two kept talking. He tried again, this time adding a loud cough, and still nothing.
There is only one other option, he thought, I must go confront them myself. And so, he stood from his armchair, making his way to the dining room. In the doorway he froze in shock, dumbfounded by the image that greeted him. For inside the kitchen was a family of four, two young boys and their parents around a table plentifully bestrewn with a hearty feast. A large, golden-brown turkey sat in the middle, wafting off an aroma similar to Abigail’s, surrounding the magnificent bird were a lovely ham, cranberry sauce, onion tartlets, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, assorted greens and a pile of gingerbread.
Now, how wonderful it looked mattered not as this was still an invasion of the home. “Now, see here, what is the meaning of this?” Walter demanded, but none even looked up; however after the words left his mouth the younger child spoke.
“Did someone open a window? I just got very cold.”
“Nobody has opened a window, Peter, it’s just an older house,” said his mother.
“Or maybe it was the ghost of Walter Finch,” the father added jokingly.
“What?” the young boy paled.
“Oh Charles,” his wife said, “don’t scare the children like that.”
“You haven’t heard the story?” he gave a mischievous smirk as he continued, “Centuries ago a man named Walter Finch owned this house, and on Christmas day he was found dead in a chair in front of that old fireplace in the front room. They say he passed in his sleep on Christmas eve. Legend says every year on Christmas eve his ghost returns to haunt the house on the anniversary of his death.”
Nonsense, Walter thought to himself, this is absolute nonsense, I would know if I had died, and I certainly wouldn’t still be here right now. But as he prepared to challenge such an affront, he noticed a calendar in the corner of the room, dated in the year 2008. But how? How is this possible? Could it be true? And in wondering, he turned to the wall, reaching out his arm, slightly unsurprisingly it went through. So, it was true, he was dead. At first, he grew solemn, but then a wonderful realization came to him.
“Oh Abby, I will see you soon,” and then he went back to his chair under his thick wool blanket, picked up his sandwich and wine and began to enjoy his meal. As he ate, her face appeared, smiling before him, reaching out. And then he began to fade away.