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.
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.