Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Book - A Flash Fiction Part 1






The old book called to her. Everything about it attracted Marly, the engraved cover with its intricate carved swirls; the size, so solid, so heavy looking, the gold trimmed page edges that shimmered in the light.

Marly had come across the shop on one of her adventure walks, as she liked to call them. She took one of these every now and then, usually when she was bored. The walks involved investigating the almost-forgotten about lanes that weaved through the older part of town. Not too many people came this way now, preferring the newer shopping centre built just a few years ago.  The quietness of the streets were what drew her to this part. Some of the lanes even had original cobble stones. It was like taking a step back in history. 

She had come across some odd little shops usually full of curiosities, but this was the first time she had found a book shop. The exterior woodwork was painted black. Across the top of the bow window in gold lettering, that was now chipped and flaking, were the words, ‘Rumbles Books.’ The window pane was made of green glass squares that had that swirled look about them, the sort you saw in illustrations of old Victorian shops. Marley sucked in a short breath as her eyes widened. Her curiosity was piqued. 
Oh my goodness it’s like time has stood still, she thought. I’ve gotta go in here.

Without wasting another second she stepped up to the shop door and reached for the brass handle. A tiny bell jingle-jangled over her head, announcing her presence.  At first she found it hard to focus in what seemed a dim light, but as her eyes adjusted she could make out walls lined with shelving. In the middle of the shop stood an old oak table with a few chairs scattered around it. To the back of the shop stood a polished wood counter. On the top resting to one side was a silver cash register.
“Is this a museum or a real book shop?” she whispered to no one but herself.

From behind the counter a door opened and through it stepped a  bent old man. He had a walking stick. His hair, silver, glinted when caught by a shaft of light. Perched on his nose was a pair of half moon glasses. He wore black trousers and jacket with a stiff collared shirt and the most glorious coloured cravat. As he came nearer Marley could see the winking of a diamond stick pin nestled among the silk that adorned his neck.
“Ah, good morning Miss. It is Miss isn’t it?” His voice, soft, creaked with age.
“Yes, it is.” Marley stared at the old gent, hardly believing her eyes.
“It’s not very often we get a pretty young girl in here. How can I help you?” He leaned heavily on his stick and stared back at her with his pale blue rheumy eyes.
“I was just wanting to have a browse of the books. This is a book shop isn’t it?” 
“Indeed it is. As you can see we have lots of books.” He gestured with his free hand towards the shelves. “Take your time, I’ll be at the desk should you want me.”
“Thank you.” 
Marley smiled at him. He pressed his thin lips together into a smile that made the turned up ends of his moustache wiggle. Marley suppressed the urge to laugh and watched as he turned and made a slow retreat back to the counter.

She took her time looking through the shelves. She was searching for something, but what, she didn’t know.  Most of the volumes were dated and of no interest to her. It was when she had almost reached the last of the shelves that she caught sight of it just poking out  from under  a small pile of books.

Hullo, what’s this? Marley knew it was meant for her. She took a quick glance around before she reached out and pulled the heavy tome into the open. It sat on the floor in front of her, covered in a thick layer of dust. Reaching into her pocket she grabbed her handkerchief and flicked it across the book. Dust motes flew into the air and danced in the ray of light that was just above her. Her heart missed a beat as she saw its beautiful cover. “It looks like real leather,” she murmured as she continued to wipe away the dust. The title, stamped into the cover, now become visible. She traced each of the beautifully carved  letters with her finger as she read aloud the words, “The Book.” Somehow the title didn’t seem strange to her at all, it seemed perfect. She lifted it up, and though it was weighty she blew gently to remove more of the dust. As she held it higher to look under it, a beam of light caught the golden edged pages.They glimmered so brightly that it startled Marly and she dropped the book which landed with an almighty thump on the floor.

A tap tapping could be heard and the old man appeared, his stick beating out each of his footsteps. He looked down at the girl kneeling on the polished wooden floor and then at the book which lay in front of her.
“The Book,” he muttered. “Tut, tut, that shouldn’t be here. If you’ll be so kind to pass it up to me, I will put it somewhere safe.” His voice was soft but his face was hard.
“It’s so beautiful. Can’t I just spend a few moments looking inside it?”
“It’s best not. Now hand it up, there’s a good girl.” 
Marley felt  panic shoot through her. She didn’t want to part with it. It felt like the book was calling to her, whispering for her to open its pages. “I’m supposed to have this book,” she blurted out, louder than she meant to.
“Why do you say that?” The old man leaned against the shelving, removed his glasses, tugged the white silk handkerchief from his breast pocket and began to polish them.
“I dunno why.” A frown creased Marly’s brow. “Except that I’m drawn to it and it wants me to read it. I just feel it. I can’t explain.”
“Ah, I see.” He finished polishing his glasses and placed them back on the end of his nose. “That’s why The Book has found its way out into the shop again. It’s chosen you. But it’s never chosen a young girl before.” His old eyes met hers and Marly thought she could see something different in them. 
“Chosen me?” 
“Yes, chosen you. The Book only allows those it chooses to read it.  But I must warn you, those who do find their lives are never the same again. Listen, Miss, you don’t have to read it. Just give it to me and I’ll lock it away and then you must never come back here again.”
Marly shook her head and lifting the book she pressed it against her chest, wrapping her arms tightly about it. 
“I can’t give it to you. I just can’t.”
“Very well.” The old man sighed. “But know that The Book, it cannot leave this shop. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” 
He turned and walked away. Marley called out to him.
“Have you read it?”
He stopped and  looked over his shoulder at her. His eyes seemed to cut into her very soul. “Never,” he growled, “but then it never has chosen me. I’m just its guardian. If I could I would lock it in a steel chest and throw it into the river.” He walked away and disappeared through the door behind the counter.

Marley’s heart thumped in her chest as the old man’s words  swam around and around in her head. Daft old codger. He must be nutty trying to scare me. After all it’s just a book, isn’t it?  She got to her feet and still clasping hold of it, she made her way to the table. She went to sit but stopped and stood up again. What’s all this nonsense about it not leaving the shop, she thought.  I wonder? Marley held the book tighter and began to walk towards the door. Each step she took in that direction, the book began to tremble. At first she felt the slightest movement and by the time she reached the door the book was shaking so much she could hardly hold onto it. The bell above the door was swinging  madly from side to side. It’s noise filled her ears and the shop. 

Out of nowhere the old man appeared. “I told you The Book can’t leave this shop. Did you not understand?” His voice was no longer soft, but deep and harsh. He took hold of Marley’s arm and pulled her back to the table, where the book fell from her grasp and landed with a thud on the tabletop.
“I just wanted to see if what you said was true,” she whimpered, not daring to look him in the face.
“True! Of course it’s true. The Book is not a game. I’ve tried to protect you from it. Go now while you still have a chance.” He swung his cane in the direction of the shop door.
Marley placed a hand on the book, she could still hear it calling her - Read me Marley, you know you want to…  
“I can’t. I have to read it. It wants me to and I want to.” She raised her eyes to look at him and smiled. 
He didn’t smile back. Instead he walked away shaking his head muttering, “They never listen, they never do. I try but….” 

Marley sat down with the book in front of her.  Her hand wavered over it for what seemed like ages. All his words ran through her mind, but she could not resist. As she lifted the cover open the last of the dust drifted into the air. She raised her eyes and followed the motes as they spun and twirled in the light that trapped them. Lowering her eyes she began to read….

Helen A. Howell 2017

Image Created by Helen A. Howell

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Honey, Honey - Haiku




Honey, Honey


Busy Bee at work / sweet honey in the making / nature’s miracles


Photograph by Helen A. Howell

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Eyes - Five Word Story

I'm kicking 2017 off with a Five Word Story.  I hope you can join me. 


The Eyes



The eyes see everything now!


Drawing by Helen.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Ghost Story - Christmas Lights


With this last story, may I take this opportunity of wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and a Safe and Peaceful New Year!  Painting Pictures with Words will hopefully be back in the New Year with new stories for you to read.



Christmas Lights

The old fir tree had stood alone in the woods for many years. It had been witness to something no one spoke of anymore, or perhaps they had just forgotten—but the tree had not.  

Each Yuletide the town was presented with a tree to decorate, but somehow, this year, they were forgotten.  The Mayor remember the old fir tree and ordered that it be cut down and brought back to the town centre. 
“‘Tis time that old fir was put to good use,” he said. The men, caps in hand, looked at the Mayor. “Get thee a move on or it’ll be Christmastide before ye get back.” The Mayor laughed as he ushered them out the door.

***
“Come hither Mary and gaze upon this. The tree is beautious.” Lora stood amongst the crowd and beckoned Mary to her.
“Yay, it is indeed.” Mary looked up at the tree, dressed in its finery. “‘Tis more splendid than the year before.”
“The Mayor hath done the town proud.” said Lora. She pulled her shawl tighter around her. “‘Tis cold. We should be going home.”
“Ye go, I want to stay just a moment longer.” 
“All right my dear but ‘tis getting dark and the streets are not safe.”
Mary laughed and touched Lora’s hand. “I’ll take care. I’ll not be long.”
Lora raised a hand in farewell as she ambled off down the snow covered cobblestones.
As the Town Hall Clock rang out ten chimes into the chill night air, the crowd slowly dispersed. Mary remained, her eyes unable to leave the tree. There was something sad about it, even in its beauty.  A voice, carried in the breeze, whispered to her.
“Alone, I’m so alone.”
Mary shivered. Snowflakes stung her skin like sharp finger nails drifting down from the dark sky to scatter at her feet. She shivered again, pulling her shawl closer to her. 
“Alone, all alone.”
‘Tis’ the wind playing ticks on me. It must be. 
 Mary turned and started to walk away but something made her glance back. The candles were burning brighter as though the tree was calling her. Mary ran down the path that led home, her heels silent on the snow ladened ground.

***

“Whither goest thou Mary?” Lora seated by the fire watched as Mary threw her shawl about her and tied the ribbons of her bonnet beneath her chin.
“To the tree. I want to see it again.”
“Ye saw it yesterday. ‘Tis Christmas eve. Wilt thou not sit and take some egg nog with me? ‘Tis fearful cold out there.”
“I’ll not be long.” 
Mary unlatched the door and stepped out into the icy atmosphere.  Something was pulling her towards the tree. She couldn’t explain it and neither could she resist it.
The square was silent and empty. It was just her and the tree in crisp night air. The aroma of the tree's branches reached her; a heady scent filled with the memories of Christmases past and those yet to come. Closing her eyes in an effort to savour the experience, she allowed the fragrance to envelope her. An icy finger ran down her cheek and she snapped open her eyes. All around her the air had become chilly, no more than that, freezing as a breeze moved the loose strands of her hair about her face.
“Alone, so alone,” breathed the voice.
Mary froze as unseen hands, cold as the earth beneath her feet, touched her shoulder. 
“Stay with me. Please.” 
Tears rolled down Mary’s cheeks and she brushed them away with the back of her hand. The energy swirled around her and deep inside she felt the sorrow that came with it. Although afraid and sensing she shouldn’t stay, she couldn’t help her self. 
“I’m here. Tell me who you are.”
The cold that encircled her, formed into a smoky cloud and drifted away to the side of the fir. She watched it transformed into a hazy figure of a young girl in a tattered dress, shoeless feet and a ragged shawl slung carelessly around her shoulders. The figure pointed to a lighted candle and beckoned Mary closer.
Mary took a few hesitant steps towards the tree and gazed at the candle light.The flame flared and within its red and orange hue a vision emerged. Mesmerised by the picture unfolding, she watched as a girl walked into a town—this town. The snow crunched beneath her bare feet. She looked tired, cold and hungry. Mary saw her knock on several doors, each turning her away and shutting her out from the warmth. 
The vision faded and the ghostly figure gestured towards another candle. Mary’s eyes followed and again focused on the flame. This time she saw the girl walk towards the woods, and come to rest at the base of the fir tree—the same tree that now stood in the town square. The girl huddled beneath its branches. The snow fell like a soft blanket. The flame flickered and dimmed as the ghost pointed towards another candle.
Mary stared into the bright light. What she saw made her gasp. A skeleton, small, crumpled, rested against the trunk of the old tree. Mary brushed away another tear as the light faded.
The ghost turned towards Mary.  “All alone,” she whispered.  “But not now.”
“Nay not anymore,” said Mary.  
She looked at the ghost and just for a second, thought she saw her smile before she faded. Then all the candles on the tree burned brightly sending their light outwards into the night sky.
“‘Tis Christmas lights I’ll nary forget till the day I die.” 

Mary’s heart felt lighter as she turned away and headed home knowing that the girl although dead, was no longer forgotten.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Ghost Story - Grave Concern




Grave Concern
The clock on the mantlepiece struck midnight. They raised their glass. 
“Merry Christmas,” they said.
All through the long years of marriage they had followed the tradition of sitting up together until the clock announced it was Christmas Day - they called it ‘their time.’ Now the children were grown up and long gone, they only had themselves for company in their twilight years. 
“Least we can remember each other,” said Emaline, taking her husband’s hand. “Not one christmas card this year.” Her voice held a sadness in its tone. “Where’s people’s Christmas spirit gone? That’s what I wanna know.”
Bert looked at his wife.That’s because we’re old and none of our friends are left to send us a card.” He squeezed her hand. 
Emaline looked at the dying embers that glowed in the grate, and shivered. No matter how she tried she couldn’t seem to get warm these days. 
“Time for bed,” she said.
They walked towards the hallway and as they turned to go up the stairs, the letterbox in the front door rattled. An envelope sailed through and drifted down onto the carpet. They stared at the crisp white paper. 
“It’s a card,” she said.
“It is.”
“Well, pick it up then.” She gave him a gentle shove.
Bert stepped forward and bent his creaking body to grasp it off the mat. He turned it over in his gnarled fingers. Written in an old fashioned script, just like he had been taught as a boy, was both their names. He remained motionless as he studied the fine writing.
“Who’d be delivering a card at this time of night?” said Emaline. “Open the door, you might catch sight of them.” She waved a hand at him.
Bert turned the knob that unlocked the door and pulled it open. But no one was there. His eyes searched the street, but it was empty. He glanced at the snow laden ground.
“Em.”
“What is it?”
He turned to face her. “There’s no foot prints in the snow.”
“How can that be? Come in and open the card. See who it’s from.”
Bert closed the door and tore open the envelope. The card had holly and berries on the front. He read the words out loud. “This Christmas Day, Joy to you….” Inside in the same fine penmanship that was on the envelope, was written, ‘Come to the church yard now. Don’t wait. I’ll be there.’
 Emaline felt a tingle of fear run through her. “Are we going?” She knew, before he even answered, that they would. 
“I dunno Em. Don’t ask me why but I think we should.”
They held each other close, both sensing that this was important. They knew there was something they needed to do but neither was sure what it was.
 “Here put your coat and hat on old girl.” 
Bert helped Emaline into her coat before shrugging on his own. He wrapped a scarf around his neck and together they stepped outside into the cold winter’s night.
It seemed like only seconds before they were standing under the lich-gate. Neither remembered walking to the church yard and yet here they stood, waiting. The atmosphere around them seemed colder and their breath hung in the air like soft clouds. 
Unable to move Emaline said,“The lich-gate.”
“What about it?”
“We’re under the lich-gate.” She tried to move her feet, but they wouldn’t budge. “It’s where the coffin waits before it’s buried,” she whispered.
The wind whistled through the tree branches above them, rustling their leaves into a eerie laughter that filled the dark sky. Emaline lifted her head upwards.
“Do you hear it?”
“Hear what?” Bert followed her gaze.
“The laughter. It’s everywhere.” She placed her hands over her ears and closed her eyes.
“Come on old girl. We’re not going to be buried.” 
Bert reached out and took her arm. He forced himself to stepped forward bringing Emaline with him. Together they walked up the path and towards the church. The wind swirled and twirled around them, teasing their hair this way and that. In its wake a voice lingered, calling to them, the words just audible.
‘Come, we’re waiting for you.’ 
Cold icy fingers reached out of the dark night pulling them further and further up the path and into the grave yard.
“Bert, I’m afraid.” She tucked herself closer into his body. Everything around her felt unnaturally cold. She felt cold. “What are we doing here?”
The voice, its whispering filling their ears, was becoming stronger.
‘Nearly there. I’m waiting. We’re all waiting. No need to be afraid.’
Invisible hands grabbed at their coats and propelled them towards the graves. It was as if they had no control over their own legs.
“Bert, something is touching me.” She held on to him tighter, but he too was becoming colder to touch. She let go of his arm. Her heart thumped so loud it was all she could hear.
“I’m here old girl, don’t be afraid. There’s something we need to find out. I can feel it.”
“What Bert?”
“I’m not sure?”
He took her hand in his and both felt themselves pulled over to the furtherest corner of the grave yard. Their feet didn’t seem to touch the ground as they moved with ease through the head stones. 
“Where are we going Bert?” 
‘Nearly there,’ whispered the voice.
The ghostly hands let them slip from their grip. They had come to a halt before a large head stone. Bert and Emaline looked at each other and then at the figure in a dark suit and a top hat with a silver cane in his hand, that stood to the side of a grave stone. He looked at the two of them and nodded.
“It’s so cold here.” Emaline started to tremble again. She stared at the figure. “Who are you?” 
The figure just smiled and tapped the head stone with his cane. 
Bert knelt down to read the inscription. “It all makes sense now,” he said, standing up.
“What does? Tell me why are we’re here.”
“Why there were no Christmas cards.” He stepped aside. “Here Em, you need to read this.”
She bent down and read the words: ‘Edward and Emaline, died Christmas Day - 2011 - Gone but not forgotten’.
“Not forgotten,” she breathed.
Emaline looked up at the stranger.  He lifted his hat and stepped aside to reveal a golden light. Emaline looked into it and she didn’t feel cold anymore.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Christmas Ghost Stories - Replay

This is a story I wrote in Dec. 2014.  I hope you enjoy reading:

Replay


The sky was a blanket of grey and snow flakes drifted down to scatter upon the ground. Soon everything would be covered in a carpet of white. As daylight faded, gas lamps were lit and their light spread across the cobbled streets.
 The coals burned brightly in the chestnut seller’s burner.
“Chestnuts, get your hot chestnuts. Only a ha’penny a bag.”
“I’ll ‘ave a bag dear,” said Enid as she pulled her shawl tighter against the cold.
“Those ‘ll warm ye up.” He held out a paper bag.
She opened the small pouch she held and hesitated before pulling out her last ha’penny. “Thank ye and a Merry Christmas to ye.”
Enid clutched the bag of warm chestnuts to her and hurried onwards.The chestnuts were her only treat this Christmas Eve. The snowflakes landed on her cheeks and nose, little needles pricking her skin and turning her flesh red. 
The cottage felt different every time she entered. She didn’t remember moving the table and chairs over to that corner. She grabbed a chair, pulled it to the fireplace and sat down, preferring a wooden seat to those soft armchairs. Where did she get those from? Her memory seemed to be failing her more and more. Logs crackled in the hearth, but she was sure she hadn’t lit the fire before she left. “That would be a waste of fuel,” she muttered.
 In her hand she held the bag of chestnuts, but they were no longer warm. When had she bought them?  Times had been hard since the sickness had taken her husband and young daughter. When was that? It only seemed like yesterday to her and yet it also seemed like a lifetime ago. Life was a struggle. Everyday she went looking for work, not that she ever found any. How she survived was a mystery to her. She stared at the chestnuts. Where had she got the ha’penny from? 
 It was a miracle that the master of the big house hadn’t turned her out of the cottage. They were for the men that worked his land and their families. Lost in thought, she sat by the fire feeling neither warm nor cold. Somewhere a door banged and startled her out of her reverie.
“Is there someone there?”  
Her fingers clutched the paper bag tighter as she walked in the direction of the noise. She peered through to the kitchen and saw that the back door was wide open swinging back and forth in the cold night air.
“Hello, is anyone there?” 
 She waited for a reply but when none came, she walked towards the door, snatched hold of its handle and pushed it shut, sliding the bolt closed with a thud.
“Tis strange that should be open.” 
The thought of intruders made her shiver. Her eyes darted around the small room. Satisfied it was empty she returned to the fire only to find her chair was back with the others again.
Enid froze. “Whoever you are, come out now. Do ye hear?”  Her eyes told her that she was alone, but her senses told her something else. “I’ve nuthin’ worth a stealin’ so ye best be about your business else where.”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, the curtains to the small window had been drawn on the dark evening sky. 
 Her heart beat fast and for a second she felt dizzy. She was just about to call out again when a tapping on the window made her jump. Her grip on the chestnut bag loosened and chestnuts scattered in all directions across the floor. She turned towards the window and grasping the drape pulled it back.  A shadow of a face made her catch her breath. The figure beckoned to her and stepped away into the night.  
Enid flung open the door and ran out. The snow lay in thick drifts. Behind her the door slammed shut and the curtain once more pulled closed across the window. She swung around to stare at the cottage. A frown creased her forehead and she felt as though she was losing her mind. The air all around her was more than chilly, it was freezing and as she turned back, in the distance she saw two figures holding hands, one taller than the other. The taller of the two gestured her to follow and walked on.
“Wait!” Enid yelled as she ran to catch up, her feet sinking into the deep snow with every step. The figures came to a halt at an old oak tree and pointed towards something that lay at the base of its trunk. 
 Enid stayed behind them. “What is it you want?”
The taller figure motioned her forward and as she came they turned to face her. Enid looked into the faces of her husband and daughter and then towards the bundle that lay beside the tree trunk. She moved in to wipe the snow from it.  It was her face that stared back at her.
“No! I’m not dead. I’m not dead!”
 * * *
“She lived in this cottage?” asked Sammy. “How long ago?”
“It’s an old story,” replied his grandfather. “They said she never made it home that night. Her body, still clutching the bag of chestnuts, was found on Christmas Eve 1886 by the tree. They said because she didn’t believe she’d died that she relives that day and haunts this cottage every Christmas Eve. I’ve heard tell you can hear her.”
“Stop it dad,” said Sammy’s mother. “You’ll frighten him. Remember this is our first Christmas Eve here. Time for bed Sammy. No more ghost stories or Santa will never come.”
“Granddad, will you come and tuck me in?”
“Of course. Shall we?” 
His grandfather held out his hand. Sammy jumped up from his spot in front of the fire and as the two of them walked  across the room, Sammy slipped and fell.
“Are you OK?” His grandfather helped him to his feet.
Sammy held out his hand. In his palm sat a single chestnut. 
His grandfather stared at the chestnut. “Doris did you buy any chestnuts?” he called to his daughter.
She looked up from the book she was reading. “No, why?”


Dec.2014

Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas Ghost Stories. - Pine Needles & Sherry.

I haven't been writing a lot lately, other things have occupied my time. However I do have a collection of Christmas Ghost Stories that I wrote some time ago and that I would like to share with you.  I'll post one a week till Christmas.

Whether you have read this before or this is the first time around, I hope you enjoy the first of this series:


Pine Needles & Sherry
The paint work was crumbling and the yard neglected but to me, it would always be the Old House. I watched as they busied themselves unpacking. No one seemed to notice me. It was Christmas Eve and soon a tree would be carried in and decorated. The smell of fresh pine needles would  fill the sitting room.
I rummaged through a box of bottles. Finding the one I wanted, I pulled it clear. Cream Sherry. I’d had plenty of practice over the years grabbing what I required. I took a glass from the next box, poured the golden liquid from the bottle into it, then replaced its cap. Leaning against the wall, I let the bottle slip from my fingers. It dropped to the floor. I held the glass up to my nose and sniffed. The memories of Christmases past flooded back. I wasn’t going to drink it. I just wanted to hold it, smell it and remember.
“Fetch those boxes for me Natalie.”
“Those in the corner?”
“Yes, I want to pack them into the sideboard. Then we can move the sofa over and make room for the tree. It should arrive soon.”
I stepped out of the way as Natalie approached. What was she? Sixteen, seventeen? She was in her first flush of womanhood. I looked at her shapely legs, her firm breasts, like two ripe peaches just waiting to be plucked. I inhaled the Sherry’s bouquet—yes, I remember how good it felt. Should I pick up the bottle for her? No, she wouldn’t expect me to help.
 Natalie picked up the stray bottle and placed it back in the box and carried it over to the sideboard. The two women sorted out its contents, stacking them into the cupboard. The door bell rang. I walked out into the hallway. Natalie brushed past me. I saw her hesitate and shiver. Was it cold in here? It felt okay to me. She flung the door open.
“The tree’s arrived,” she called over her shoulder. “Bring it in,” she said, stepping aside to allow the man access. I stepped aside too. She stared at me for a moment, her blue eyes penetrating into my soul. Did she see the real me? She followed the man into the sitting room. I followed her.
“It’s a fine tree,” said the man. “Where do you want it?”
“By the bay window would be perfect,” said her mother.
“Right you are ma’am.”
He set the tree up and I watched as they thanked him, gave him a tip and showed him out. I kept to the corner, blending into the shadows, not wanting to get in the way. No one spoke to me. They never did. I swirled the gold liquid around the glass. Should I smell it one more time just to remind myself? No, I remember well enough. This is such a special time of the year.
“Shall I fetch the tree decorations, mum?”
“Why not do it later tonight. Your father and I are going out. You’ll have the house to yourself.”
“Okay.”
Don’t forget I’ll be here. Why do they always forget I’ll be here?”
Natalie shivered again. “Is there a draft coming from somewhere?” she said rubbing her arms.
“I don’t think so dear.”
I decided to leave them alone. I’d come back later this evening and help her decorate the tree. 
* * *
The night sky filled the bay windows as I watched Natalie draw the curtains to shut out the dark. I walked over to her, wondering if she could see me yet. I knew she sense me. I could see the goosebumps appear on her bare arms. I liked it when they sensed me. Somehow it made it all the more exciting. 
I circled around her and lifted a strand of her hair— she smelled so good. She raised her hand, brushed the side of her cheek and shivered again. I saw the tension in her face, and smiled. She’s trying to convince herself it’s nothing but her imagination. Should I toy with her or get straight to it? What fun would there be in rushing it? I decide to play with her—just like that girl played with me. Sherry. She always drank Sherry—that sweet, rich aroma on her breath. I remember that smell mixed with the perfume of pine needles from the tree, even as I placed the gun to my head. 
I watched Natalie place baubles and tinsel on the branches, humming a tune while she worked. Her voice cracked now and again as she nervously checked over her shoulder, for what, she wasn’t sure. I could tell she knew she wasn’t alone. I flickered the lights for a moment before I plunged the room into darkness. She screamed. I dropped the temperature around her by several degrees. It was all going to plan.
Who’s there?” 
I kissed her skin, caressing her slowly. Petrified, she froze. I brushed her lips with mine, the merest touch, icy, cold. 
“Leave me alone,” she cried.
I felt her fear. It shot through me like a bolt of electricity, so arousing. I’d waited such a long time for this new girl. I turned on the lights and stood by the tree, dressed in my old fashioned dinner suit. She could see me now, her eyes wide, staring. Small beads of sweat glistened on her forehead, like jewels sparkling in the soft light. Tears wet my cheeks. I looked at her. She registered my pain in her face as she watched me raise the gun to my head. BANG— I doused the lights. In the darkness there was nothing but the steady thudding of her heart. 
I flickered the lights and watched her from the shadows. Her face was a deathly white. She stared dumbstruck at the vacant spot where I had stood, then looked at the sherry glass in her hand.

 Merry Christmas sweetheart.