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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.