Nightmare Before Christmas

Mum’s fury at mouldy McDonald’s burger bun

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Once again we’ve been inundated with entries for our Christmas ghost story competition. In the run-up to Christmas Day we’re publishing the winners and runners-up in the 15-and-under and 16-and-over categories. Today we feature the runner-up in the 16-and-over category Patricia Mason

The round table sat eight.

Regarding food, there was none.

Generally on arrival an aperitif is offered, ‘but not so generous as to calm one’s nerves’ anxious newcomers would pique, provoking Miss Veronica Page to remark: ‘This is not a jamboree; the evening should evolve, unlike a workshop to amuse.’

The blue sequined gown suited her tall elegant figure and gave bearing as to her position within the group.

And so with guests present Miss Page summoned everyone to sit and for young Robert, dressed in a smart dark suit, to remove whatever he’d carried into the room and to please carry it outside.

One of Miss Veronica’s indomitable dislikes were gimmicks of spiritualistic trickery and a ouija-board was somewhat childlike.

When it came to ‘code of dress’ Veronica had no say. People arrived as they so wished at each assembly.

Opposite Miss Veronica sat a girl of sixteen wearing a pink bridesmaids dress and next to her another girl, older, with a flower tattoo emerging under the lace sleeve of a white dress.

Veronica believed both girls were in need of some family love, so started the evening by bringing both girls’ mothers into being......

Delivering solace to a troublesome world was the lady in blue, with the last message of the evening unsettling newcomer Norman.

For he stood up, pushed back his chair and felt seven pairs of melancholy eyes sinking into him and realized for the first time that all those souls sitting around the table were dead….

The sound of Maureen’s voice yelling from the foot of the stairs woke Norman.

Usually he would turn over and try not to think about the chores his wife had lined up for him (it being a Saturday) but not this morning.

He’d woken from such a funny nightmarish-dream. It bothered him.

Had he got up before Maureen had left for the shops he would have mentioned it over breakfast and got what he deserved, a glib answer about ‘drinking too much’.

But how often do you get the chance to Christen a new garden shed, an early Christmas present from the whole family.

And so, come Friday, Norman and brother George in gleeful foolish abandonment toasted the wooden object covered in garden fairy lights.

Of course Maureen was right. She’s always right when it comes to common-sense sort of things like warning him about George’s brew of homemade cider being probably ‘lethal’ and ‘to watch it’.

Not until late afternoon did Norman feel like delivering the cake Maureen had asked him to do earlier.

Veronica House was but a ten minute walk away, and believing the fresh air might clear his head Norman left the car in the drive.

He wasn’t one for charity events himself, but considering Maureen had put herself out by baking the thing it wasn’t too much of an ordeal in delivering it. Although, he admitted to himself, he’d much rather be watching the football on television.

Every city council has one: a monstrosity of a building of such proportion that keeping it viable was a constant headache.

Maybe Maureen’s fruit and three kinds of nuts could go some ways towards helping.

The bring and buy sale started at five o’clock, tea and cakes were at six, carols at seven.

Norman wanted to be well gone by four, back in time for the earlier football results. Not for many a year had Norman set foot in Veronica House, not since he was a kid. And all he could remember about the old place was its grand staircase.

Insipid lighting caused Norman to strain his already weakened eyes in effort to search out the reception area. How curious he thought, where is everyone.

Not until he caught sight of an old picture portrait did Norman start to feel uneasy. He knew nothing of the house’s history, only its name: Veronica House.

And then Norman saw her standing on the staircase in a blue sequined gown, just like the picture hanging on the wall in the reception and so like the woman in his dream.

Norman felt the plastic carrier bag slip from his grip and Maureen’s cake fall around his feet, and then the woman spoke with a hint of a smile and said: ‘‘Good afternoon Norman, you’re early. The others have not arrived yet’.

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

Patricia Mason is the ghost story competition runner-up in the 16-and-over category with her entry Nightmare Before Christmas.

The 73-year-old is from Langstone and has never entered a writing competition before and was surprised to be chosen.

‘You enter but you never think it’s going to happen. It makes me want to write something else now.’

Her story features a seance in heaven but then reverts back to a normal family situation.

She wanted to get a comic element into her ghost story but found it quite difficult.

‘It’s very hard to put something together that’s funny and shocking at the same time,’ she said.

‘We’ve all woken up and had an awful dream and thought ‘was that real?’

Patricia used to belong to the Hayling Dramatic society helping with costumes and looking over scripts.

This sparked an interested in reading scripts in her free time and she began to write a lot more.