A Christmas Ghost Story
A CHRISTMAS GHOST STORY
CHAPTER ONE: Christmas Eve
I must admit I have always enjoyed a good story about the supernatural although I was always rather sceptical about the existence of ghosties and ghoulies and long legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.
That was until last Christmas Eve.
Many tales i have read and the Hammer Horror Movies I have seen follow a familiar pattern usually culminating with a rather bizarre encounter with Sir Christopher Lee. fangs and all or Frankenstein’s monster. Our experience started off in much the same way.
The adventure commenced on Christmas Eve on, of all places, Bodmin Moor
Although I am from London, Penny my wife and soul mate is Cornish through and through. With her elfin shaped face, her down to earth common sense and her dark brown twinkling eyes , there is much of the mystic charm of the Celt about her.
My wife and I live in a picturesque cottage in Bodmin. We had decided to visit Penny’s aunt Mabel who lived at Saint Breward a smallish village in the heart of the moor
. Our journey had been very enjoyable. I never cease to be captivated by the rugged beauty of the landscape, the lush moorland with the tors and crags towering above, Brown Willie towering high over everything and the general atmosphere of ancient mystery that that surrounds one.
Aunt Mabel , as usual, was delighted to see us and had obviously been busy in the kitchen. We sat down to a sumptuous meal washed down by her homemade mead. After which we sat chatting in her cosy cottage beside a blazing peat fire. It was all very soporific.
With a start I suddenly realised we had stayed far longer than I had intended, the light was fading and a slight mist was beginning to descend. ‘Oh you must have a bit of my Saffron Cake and a cup of tea before you go.’ said auntie.
When we did finally manage to get away the mist had thickened and the weather was beginning to deteriorate. The road home was dark and narrow in places with many sharp twists and turns. Because of the mist which had now become a patchy fog. I had to rely on the beams from my fog lights.
Rounding a hairpin bend I was suddenly confronted by a huge creature standing on the tarmac in the centre of the carriageway. The fog lamp beam was reflected in the red eyes on its monstrous head.
The thought flashed through my brain ‘Good God. the Hound of the Baskervilles.
When eventually I had time to reflect I came to the conclusion it was more likely one of the moorland ponies which get everywhere.
I yanked the steering wheel to the right to avoid the creature and mounted the verge. The car bumped along for a short distance and plunged bonnet first into a culvert.
Penny was screaming and clinging on to me and I feared she might have been injured. When the car came to rest she quickly regained her composure and sense of humour. ‘That’s another r fine mess you’ve got me into Stanley’ she quipped.
We managed to scramble out of the car and onto the road. We were miles from anywhere and the road was completely deserted. In fact we hadn’t see another vehicle since we left aunties.
‘I’ll call the RAC on my mobile for help’ I said. I searched my pockets but could not locate the instrument. Then I remembered I had put it on charge in anticipation of the journey and had forgotten to retrieve it’
‘Use mine’ said Penny. She handed me her phone but the battery was as dead as a doo nail
Then the heavens opened and it began to sheet down with Icy, driving rain and a biting blustery wind. There was nowhere to shelter.
‘I’ll have to go to see if I can find help. You stay by the car and if anyone comes along try to flag them down. I won’t wander from the road. If you are lucky you can pick me up.;
I battled through the elements for about a quarter of a mile and eventually came upon a pair of tall wrought iron gates. At the end of a long driveway I could see the lighted windows of a large house.
Retracing my steps to the car, I collected Penny and we helped each other to battle through the storm until we reached our destination..
The gates were unlocked but creaked ominously when we opened hem. As we approached the house all my memories of the Hammer Horror films flooded back to me. I had seen it so many times. Dark, sprawling and sinister; with its many turrets and mullioned windows; Its grotesque gothic statuary and gargoyles. It would have looked just as well perched on a mountain in Transylvania as in Cornwall.
I could visualise Sir Christopher Lee complete with fangs waiting to welcome us to dinner.
Penny who also was very sensitive to atmosphere clung to me tightly and although she said nothing I fltl a tremor of apprehension pass between us.
Mounting the steps I tugged the bell pull and could hear a loud clang inside the house. A few seconds later I heard the most curious sound. It was like chains rattling and some heavy objects being dragged along the ground.
We were both thoroughly alarmed by now and I visualised the door being opened by some ancient Lurch the butler from the Munsters or worse.
When the door was opened we both had the surprise of our lives. There stood a most beautiful young girl in a turquoise gown. Her long auburn tresses tumbling about her shoulders.
On her head she wore, of all things, a gent’s top hat and around her waist she had tied a long length of chain with tin cash boxes and large ledgers attached to it.
She smiled. Come in you poor souls you are soaking. Come in the dry. Excuse my appearance. It’s my twenty-first birthday party and we are playing charades. I was supposed to be the ghost of Jacob Marley. When the bell rang I was nearest the door . I came to open it but I couldn’t untie the chain. hence all the clatter.’ She laughed prettily.
We could hear the sound of merrymaking coming from the back of the house.
We introduced ourselves and I explained our predicament to her.
‘My name is Mathilda Fortescue but everyone calls me Mattie.
‘May we use your telephone to call for assistance?’
‘Of course you may but I doubt if you will get anyone willing to venture out on Christmas Eve in this weather and at this time of night.
In any case you are both drenched and should get out of those clothes and into a hot bath. We have plenty of room and you can stay here. I know the family will be delighted to welcome you. In fact it will be equally difficult to get hold of someone on Christmas Day so stay a couple of nights.
I hesitated but Penny looked at me with imploring eyes,
‘I’ve had enough John. I’m worn out wet and thoroughly cheesed off. Please let us take advantage of Mattie’s kind offer.
’That’s settled then.’
Mattie showed us upstairs into a charming airy room. ‘There’s an en-suite that Penny can use. Help yourself to the smellies. There’s one called Parisian Midnight that is gorgeous. There’s also another bathroom across the corridor for you John. Dad sometimes uses it so you may find some man stuff in there.
I’ll find you both some pyjamas and dressing gowns and take your clothes to dry. Afterwards your welcome to join the party if you wish but I suspect you would probably rather just go to bed.
‘Yes we would if your parents won’t mind’ replied Penny.
‘In that case I’ll raid the party buffet and bring something on a tray. I’ll also snaffle the whisky decanter. You can have a good night’s sleep and meet the rest of the tribe in the morning.
Having luxuriated in a steamy hot bath and devoured the mountain of tasty food which Matie had brought us ( for by now we were both ravenously hungry.) We retired to bed with a generous tumbler of Malt Whisky. Our heads had no sooner hit the pillow when we were lost to the world in a deep and dreamless sleep.
CHAPTER TWO: Christmas Day
I was awakened from a deep sleep by a gentle tapping on the bedroom door. I glanced at my watch. It was 0930 a.m. The wintery sunlight was streaming through the window heralding a glorious day.
Mattie entered pushing a hostess trolley on which there was orange juice, two full English’s, toast, marmalade and a large carafe of coffee.
‘Happy Christmas. There is no need for you to hurry to get up so I brought you breakfast in bed. We are all off to the Morning Service at church so you will have the place to yourselves for a time. We will be back at about twelve and you can join us in the library for pre luncheon drinks. I’ll introduce you to everyone else. They are dying to meet you.’
Our clothes had been dried and pressed so, having made ourselves presentable we duly reported to the library at the given time
The library was a stunning room in the true English tradition. Lined from floor to ceiling with leather bound volumes with a log fire blazing in the huge marble fireplace. An impressive Sheraton style desk with the only concession to the present, a state of the art computer on it. Comfortable leather arm chairs and sofas and beautiful l Bokhara rugs on the shiny parquet floors.
There were two alcoves with huge windows overlooking the garden. In one was a large globe of the world and in the other an enormous Christmas Tree reaching to the ceiling, lavishly decorated with shiny ornaments and lights. Under the tree were piles of presents..
Mattie introduced us to our host Colin Fortescue and his wife Mary. Colin was a tall man in his late fifties with steely grey hair, thinning on top. He had strong features with an aquiline nose and a healthy tan.
He greeted us with a very friendly smile and shook my hand.
Mary said, ‘Mattie has told us all about you, you poor dears. I do hope you will enjoy spending Christmas with us although I’m sure it won’t be a patch on what you had arranged. I’m afraid our lives these days are becoming rather sedentary. We celebrate in the traditional way. Plenty to eat and drink, The Queens Speech and a snooze before the Tele.
‘Just like us’. replied Penny.
The other occupants were Aunt Mabel, a spirited lady in her eighties with a perfectly coiffured blue rinse and a penetrating gaze. It was easy to see there were no flies on Aunt Mabel a lady after Penny’s own heart , Tthey soon became good friends.
Mattie introduced David, her boyfriend. A tall slim youth, about her own age, with a cheerful disposition. By the way they kept making cow eyes at each other it was clear to see they were both deeply smitten.
‘That’s about it’ said Colin.
What a about us? Two voices in unison from near the Christmas tree, where knelt a boy and a girl aged about twelve .
‘Oh! I don’t know who they are. They just wandered in off the street’
‘Don’t tease’ said Mary. This is Freddy and Susie our twin’s.’
‘Here’s a present addressed to you dad. Open it.’
An intricately carved Meerschaum pipe.
Colin was obviously highly delighted.
The children carried on handing out the gifts. Auntie had a sm,ll pile of boxes.
‘A Shawl. They must think I’m in my dotage. Bath Salts, Soap, Perfume, Talcum Sowder, more soap. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something? I didn’t think I smelt or was dirty.
‘Are this is better; A big bottle of Cherry Brandy and a lovely box of my favourite Chocolates. One from Colin and Mary and the other from the children‘ Thank you all for having such good sense. I’m really going to enjoy hese.’
‘Never look a gift horse…’ from Colin.
‘ Ooh Auintie Mabel’ From the twins.’
Mattie was over the moon with a pretty silver locket from David. She had brought him a rather garish tie. I sensed that it was not bo his liking but I had to admire his consummate acting skill when he managed to convinceher that it was the one thing in the world that he would treasure above all others.
The twins had each received skateboards and soon disappeared outside to try them out.
Mattie and David declared they were going for a walk to work up an appetite. (to the summerhouse I suspect) while the rest of us settled down to a very smooth malt whisky and hot mince pies.
Penny sat at Aunt Mabel’s feet and listened while the old lady put the world to rights.
Dinner was served in the dining room.
And what a dinner !!!
The ladies had excelled themselves. Dickens would have loved describing it. Suffice to say that at the end we had all wined and dined so well that it was with difficulty that we struggled into the lounge to listen to the Queens speech.
There was a second door from the kitchen directly into the lounge and Mary brought Coffee and Liquors together with fruit, nuts and chocolates which, in spite of being replete , we managed to nibble.
The afternoon passed pleasantly away and the evening shadows began to lengthen.
When I began to return to the land of the living I looked around. It was another fantastic room. with silk wall hangings and a fireplace to die for. Colin told me that he was something of a connoisseur of antique furniture.
‘We believe the fireplace is by Adams and the mantel and surrounds were carved by Grinling Gibbons.’
The mantelpiece was a work of genius. Fruits of all kinds apples and oranges, bananas and pineapples surrounded by trailing ivy with bunches of grapes so realistic you felt you could reach out and pluck them.
I’m a china and porcelain man myself’ I said.
‘ Really? have a look at these and tell me what you think of them.’ He produced two blue and white Chinese vases from a side table.
I studied the marks on the bottom.
‘There’s good news and bad news I’m afraid. This one purports to be of the Ming dynasty but is a late nineteenth century fake. It is only worth about Fifty pounds.
The other one is a genuine Tang dynasty incense burner. Even with the small chip on the base it should fetch about £800 at auction. If it was perfect it would easily make £8,000.
The twins had been listening avidly to this. ‘let us go and see what other treasures we can find’ They ran off about the house and a pleasant hour was passed examining and discussing the pieces. We didn’t find anything startling but there were several very interesting objects.
After one of his sorties Freddie ran into the room.
Drawing back the curtains it was indeed snowing heavily and the garden had been transformed i nto a winter wonderland. The two children sat with their noses pressed against the glass watching the changing scene.
Aunt Mabel had been embroidering a cushion cover and Penny had been helping her, sorting the silks and threading her needle.
‘I’ll just finish this green bit and then I’m off to bed’.
‘It’s time we retired too There will be a lot to sort out tomorrow. Thank you all for inviting us into your home and giving us the most wonderful Christmas we have ever had.
As we left the room I looked back. There was Colin in a cosy chair by the blazing fire with his meerschaum pipe in his hand and a glass of Cognac by his side.
Mary sat at his feet with her head resting on his legs. Aunt Mabel was bent over her embroidery with her lips pursed in concentration and the twins were knelt still gazing at the snow.
On a large Chesterfield Mattie and David entwined in each other’s arms were fast asleep.
CHAPTER THREE Boxing Day
I awoke with a start and looked at my watch. It was ten o clock. Penny was still fast asleep.
IA grey morning cold but dry.
‘It doesn’t appear that we will be getting breakfast in bed today’ I suppose we’d better get dressed.’
As I spoke the bedroom door flew open and there stood a large individual, aged about 45 dressed in a heavy dark overcoat with a fur collar and wearing a Russian fur hat on his head
His face was red with anger and his white moustache bristled. I had read about moustaches bristling and now I know what it means. It is very off-putting.
‘What the hell are you doing in my house, in my bed and wearing my pyjamas’ he roared.
I was so taken aback that I could only respond with stuttering noises while my mouth popped open and closed like a distressed fish out of water gasping for air.
Mary hid below the sheets and clung to me tightly.
‘Get out of there this instant and get dressed. I’ll see you both downstairs where I will let you tell me why I shouldn’t ring the police,’ He stalked out banging the door behind him.
We dressed hurriedly and found him and his wife waiting for us in the breakfast room.
On seeing us he started ranting again but his wife, who had a kindly face and appeared amused by the whole incident calmed him.
‘Now Harold will you please calm down. Remember your Angina. I am sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. They both look perfectly respectable nice people not at all like villains.’
Over a cup of tea I explained the whole incident while they listened attentively.
‘I did notice a car in the ditch when we passed’ remarked Pauline, Harold’s wife.
’This girl who let you in, What was her full name? ‘ asked Henry.
There was an ominous silence for a few seconds.
‘Are you sure?
And the father and mother were Colin and Mary?
‘Well I’ll be damned. It’s incredible.
‘We have only lived here since Easter, prior to that the owner was Colin Fortescue.
We got the property for a very good price because it needed extensive repair work on it following a tragic accident.
On Christmas Day last year the whole family were in the Lounge after a heavy meal. Some were chatting and others dozing.
Unbeknown to them there was a gas leak. It’s believed the smell was masked by the scented candles that were about the room. It is not known for certain whether it was a faulty joint or whether Mary Fortescue had left a gas tap turned on the cooker by mistake. The communicating door to the lounge was open at the time,.
Gradually they were all overcome by the fumes. They fell into a deep sleep followed by a coma. The gas became ignited by a candle or by the large fire in the hearth and there was an almighty explosion which destroyed the lounge and the kitchen. Everyone was killed instantly.’
The two of us were both rendered speechless by this revelation.
‘I’m having the rooms restored. Come and see.’
Penny and I followed him in a daze into what had been the lounge. The brickwork had been replaced and a start had been made on plastering the walls but the beautiful fireplace was no more. Just a hole in the chimney breast ‘My eyes filled with tears and Penny was weeping unashamedly
‘It seems we are haunted.’ Sai d Patricia. ‘They have all gathered together from wherever to spend Christmas in their old home and you happened to stumble across them.’
Harold had contacted the local garage and presently the doorbell rang. The mechanic had managed to retrieve our car which had only sustained minor damage and was driveable. He had brought it to the house.
Bidding our new friends goodbye and wishing them a happy new year. Penny remarked.
‘If all spirits are like that I will never be afraid of them again. They were so kind and considerate and so friendly.’
‘I suppose this means we will have to go away next Christmas in case that want to come again.’ Said Patricia.
‘Oh I don’t know’ replied Harold. ‘They might invite us to stay for dinner. It will certainly be better than the horrid hotel meal we had this year.
‘May we come too’ Penny and I both chorused.
‘Yes. But bring your own pyjamas.