SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: The Ghost of Christmas Eve by Charlotte Comley
Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers' Hub
Do you believe in ghosts? You might think that is a strange question to ask at this festive season of fairy lights and tinsel.
Mr Scrooge was visited by three ghosts – they show that film every year at this time on telly. Well, I have a Christmas ghost story and mine is true.
Only adults would think about moving house when I was just starting my GCSEs. ‘We’ll be in before Christmas’ was mum’s mantra. Even after the delays and hold-ups, she was a woman on a mission, and she got her way, even if the 21st was moving day.
My parents were excited by a bigger house and garden, but all I could think about was that I didn’t know a single person in the street.
Two of my very best friends lived on the other side of town, so I would have to walk to school on my own, but they didn’t care about that when they had an extension.
‘You’ll still see them at school!’ mum said, like that could make up for not being able to go out and play football on the back field or ride around on our new bikes. ‘They could come for sleepovers,’ she added.
My new room was nice and big, but dad said he wouldn’t be able to decorate it for a couple of months. Who would invite his mates to a room decorated with Winnie the Pooh?
When it started to snow on the morning of Christmas Eve, I felt even more fed up. I knew all my friends would be having snowball fights in the street.
In our old street, all the houses had bright coloured Christmas lights. The new neighbours were either old people and working couples – one or two had shoved a small artificial tree in the window, but no lights outside. No one would be driving their kids around here to see the lights.
It was after tea when I first heard the noise, a soft wailing like a baby crying. I looked out of the window, but all I could see was my reflection.
Mum always insists that I have a bath and wear new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, and it was no point telling her that I was 15. It is the one night of the year I don’t complain about going to bed early.
I lay in bed and counted the Tiggers on the wallpaper – when I got to 47 I finally fell asleep.
At first I couldn’t work out what had woken me, then I heard it again, a wailing noise. My alarm clock said it was a few minutes to midnight, I wondered if I should shout for mum and dad, but I’m not a kid.
Now that my light was off I could see the blanket of snow out of the window. This time, the noise sounded like a scream.
Was someone hurt? I crept downstairs, and opened the front door.
‘Does someone need help?’ I stepped out into the snow. ‘Anyone?’
The cry made me jump, and as I took my hand off the front door it shut leaving me locked outside in my pyjamas.
Thinking that mum wouldn’t be pleased when I knocked on the door, I forgot about the sound until I heard it again, it was definitely crying.
I turned slowly to see a cat. I wouldn’t have believed it had made the noise until I heard it cry out again. Perhaps it was hurt.
‘Hey puss, you okay?’ I said crouching down and moving closer in a strange hobbled walk. The cat’s amber eyes were so miserable – at the least I could give it something to eat. But as I stepped forward the cat walked away.
‘Okay, if that’s the way you want it puss.’
I stood up, resigned to waking my parents, but the grey feline gave another mournful cry. I hesitated only for a moment and then followed, surprised that it dipped along the side of the house and into our back garden.
‘Come home and found your owners gone?’
Stepping over some of the empty boxes and crates, I followed the animal making its painful cry. In an old grass collector from some long-discarded lawnmower there were kittens.
I put my hand in and then drew it away when I realised the five or six small bodies weren’t moving. I wanted to back away from the dead creatures.
The cat gave out another wail. A pale shape was moving – one of the kits were still alive. I held its body close to my own and ran to the house.
My parents came downstairs and a chunk of light illuminated the garden as they flicked on the light.
‘Anthony, what are you doing?’
I pushed inside, grabbed a tea towel wrapped up the kitten and gave it to mum.
‘The mother cat, she’s still outside.’
‘Hang on,’ my dad said putting on a torch.
‘There,’ I said pointing at the container, not wanting to look at unmoving bodies again – I looked around for the mother.
‘Aww poor thing, mum and babies died.’
‘The mum, she was alive a minute ago, I followed her.’
‘Ahh no son, she’s already cold.’
I grabbed the torch, maybe it was another cat leading me here. The light shone on her, it was definitely the animal.
I moved the light around the garden – I found my footprints and my father’s, but no pawprints.
‘I need some help in here,’ mum shouted.
Peeling off my soaking socks, I held the kitten while mum checked Google. None of the rescue sites answered our calls, and according to the internet it was unlikely it would survive.
But, survive ‘Banshee’ did, although mum always hated my choice of name. Still she wasn’t the one who let her sleep in her bedroom.
Mum didn’t have to see the shadow of a cat move across their wall when they were trying to sleep.
My mum didn’t see the ghost...
Charlotte Comley is a writer and professional storyteller. She has an MA in creative writing and runs a writing group called The Writers at Lovedean. For more information, visit thewriterslovedean.co.uk.