Back at last! I’ve found it harder to find time on the Internet these past two months, hence I’ve posted nothing new for quite a while. Thankfully, I’m now back and I’m posting the latest story I’ve written for a competition. It didn’t win a prize, but it was a labour of love and I’m happy to share it with the world. It may be Hallowe’en today, but this one’s set around the next festival the shops will be preparing for. Enjoy.
It was a dark and stormy night outside; not weather one commonly associates with Christmas Eve.
For Paul, sitting on a stool beside the kitchen unit, the tempest outside seemed like a judgement. Howling winds were the screams of former friends deriding him. The sporadic slap of branches against the windows was people pelting his house with rubbish. Moments when the wind fell were the silence that had replaced his social life.
No lights burned in the house other than in the kitchen. Better to let everyone think he was out, or had fled.
All over town, fathers would be hanging stockings up and kissing their children goodnight as they dreamed of the coming morning.
I may never feel that happiness again, thought Paul.
His finger idly traced the circumference of a glass tumbler full of brandy. A pestle and mortar sat next to it, half full of ground-up paracetamol tablets.
Dare he do it?
One month ago, Paul’s life had been so different. His wife Kate was still with him. Their daughter Jemima was to be the star of her school’s Christmas play, Rapunzel. He walked Deidre and Dido, their two English Setters, without fear each evening.
Then came the school Christmas fête, where Paul’s oldest friend Ross, father of Jemima’s best friend Lucy, was to play Santa Claus. A girl named Becky had sneaked into his grotto during his tea break. Soon she ran out screaming with Ross blundering after her, his trousers hanging open. Becky’s father promptly started pummelling poor Ross until Mrs Deacon, the headmistress, broke the fight up.
“If Ross says a button popped on his trousers, I believe him,” Paul said to Kate that evening. “Mrs Deacon even found the button.”
“Then why did he have his belt off?” Kate retorted.
“Ross is a big, round guy,” Paul reasoned. “Like he says, it was obviously too tight and he was readjusting it.”
In spite of such reasoning, Becky’s father informed Children’s Services. Ross’s accountancy firm suspended him, while police IT experts checked his PC’s browsing history with meticulous care. Shortly afterwards, the local paper somehow got word of it and a media circus began. Soon Paul became the only one even speaking to Ross.
Then five days before the school play, Jemima got dropped as Rapunzel for fighting with another child. Lucy invited Jemima over to comfort her, but Kate forbade it.
“Mum, that boys was bullying Lucy!” wailed Jemima. “He was punching her and calling her a ‘sicko’s kid’!”
“You’re not going and that’s final,” snapped Kate.
“I hate you!” Jemima screamed, storming away to her bedroom.
That settled it for Paul. Even if Jemima was his child and he wanted to keep her safe, he had known the Ross since they were toddlers. He would prove to Ross that paranoia had not killed the trust he had in him.
He secretly called Ross, who brought Lucy to meet Jemima at the cinema two days later. He thought Kate had not suspected anything. He was wrong.
On the last day of school, Paul got home from work to find the house empty. There was note on the kitchen unit from Kate. She was leaving with Jemima and not coming back. Worse still, Kate had spread the word of Paul letting Jemima be near Ross, making Paul as much a pariah as his friend.
The next day, two policemen came to the door to tell Paul that Kate was dead. Driving away from her parents’ house with Jemima, she had pulled out onto a major roundabout without looking and a lorry had collided with the side of the car.
Jemima had escaped without serious injury and was staying with Kate’s parents. Paul came to the house to try and see her, but Kate’s furious mother had grabbed a saucepan from the kitchen and chased him away with it.
That was two nights ago. Since then, not a word from Jemima or anyone else.
A brilliant flash of lightning lit the night sky. A heartbeat later, a reverberating crack of thunder came.
In that instant, Paul made his mind up. There was no point living with the pain any longer. He shut his eyes and raised the tumbler to his lips.
“Forgive me, Jemima,” he whispered.
Something cannoned into Paul and he was knocked backwards off his stool. There was the crash of glass breaking as he hit the floor.
Paul opened his startled eyes. It was Deidre and Dido. The dogs had been spooked by the unexpected thunderclap and fled from the lounge to seek comfort with him.
Paul turned to see the tumbler lying shattered in the corner. As Deidre and Dido began to lick Paul’s cheeks, he looked into their eyes and saw no less love in there than there had been a month ago.
He seized them around their necks and hugged them tightly, weeping with joy.
Thirty minutes later, Paul had just finished a call to the Samaritans when the doorbell rang. He opened the door to find, huddled under the porch to avoid the rain, Ross, his wife Sarah, Lucy and…
They flew into each other’s arms and their tears flowed as freely as the rain.
“She ran away from her Nan and came to me,” Ross smiled. “How could I turn her away after she defended Lucy from that bully?”
“The charges have been dropped,” said Sarah, “And the papers are going to print a retraction. Thank you for believing in him, Paul.”
Soon all five of them were sitting in the lounge, sipping mugs of cocoa by the fire as the storm passed. Paul invited Ross and his family to stay over, which they did. However, before he followed them upstairs, Paul gazed up through the lounge window at the moon shining through the parting clouds.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Kate,” he said softly. “But soon it’ll all be better. Happy Christmas.”
He closed the curtains and made his way to bed.