The Ghost’s Doll
Written today and first published here
The Christmas Room was not yet set for Christmas Eve let alone for Christmas Day itself. A room dedicated to an annual Christmas season – a room not used for the rest of the year – was queer in itself. But Joy’s house had so many rooms it seemed a shame for someone like her – a truly Christmassy person – not to have a house with a Christmas Room.
This year, however, things were even queerer. Owing to Joy’s recent illness – one that had kept her in bed for the whole of November and December to date – many of the usual Christmas preparations had been delayed. Gathering new twinkly decorations at the posh Department Store in Knightsbridge (they had to be new), the ordering of a ripe Turkey, the arrangements for a freshly axed Christmas Tree, the careful making by Joy’s nephews and nieces of the fresh angel doll for the yet invisible Tree’s topmost branch and, last but not least, the summoning of the Christmas Spirit and Good Will, the clearing of throats for Carol Singing, the new smiles on old faces…. these had all been delayed, despite the very nephews and nieces implicit in that list of Christmas scheming paying regular visits to their Aunt Joy and chivvying the poor lady into that very new smile on her increasingly old face.
One day, on Christmas Eve by all accounts, the nephews and nieces – presumed orphans who lived elsewhere in inscrutable hovels – gathered outside the Christmas Room ready to take matters into their own hands, without the explicit instructions from the still bed-ridden Aunt upstairs. Too late to order the Turkey, unless they resorted to the fishy-smelling ‘bloaters’, even at this late stage, lined up in dripping over-ripeness outside the Butchers shop in their own neighbourhood. Too late for felling the Tree. Most men had given up work for their families’ Christmasses. Knightsbridge, even Knightsbridge, was now darkened and unforgiving, still with shop windows mobbed by unsold toys. Somebody had over-ordered and their own job would be for the chop come Boxing Day. Not too late, however, for old decorations, at the last resort, assuming Aunt Joy had stowed them in the attic. Above all, not too late for Carol Singing.
The oldest girl, Susie, with a smile, took up the strain. God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. Hark The Herald Angels Sing. Bill, Clara, George and Basil mumbled along in wordless near-tunefulness as they had been given no hymn-book. There was possibly one in the attic along with the old decorations. Custom meant that each year a brand new, if identical, hymn-book was bought. Presumably, Aunt Joy’s household was insulated from recession and poverty by the strength of tradition…
Meanwhile, the oldest boy, Colin, managed to blur his own fear of ghosts by actually facing the attic on his own: a crafty form of psychological warfare that came naturally to budding heroes. He heard the increasing cacophony of voices below as Susie gradually lost control to the forces of childish impatience. He also heard the grunting snores of Aunt Joy in a bedroom nearby.
He held the candle high as the door swung wide easily enough on good old-fashioned hinges. Not even a single squeak accompanied his initial survey of that ‘Christmas Room by default’, crammed as it was by many years’ worth of decorations still twinkly enough to steal hope from despair. It was when he saw the whole line of angel dolls squatting together on a rafter that Colin took due cognisance of his sadness. Each had once proudly stood the highmost …. upon the many Christmas Trees each of which had only one tour of duty in the Christmas Room downstairs…
He gasped as his view expanded. Surely not. Whom had Aunt Joy employed (and why) to lug all the previous Christmas Trees to the attic, then allowed them slowly to wilt and decompose in various corners. Even the candle spluttered at this sight. Such a candle was hardly capable of illuminating even the self-help-twinkly decorations – but managing to pick out these dark shapeless age-long soddennesses of rafter and trunk? But manage, it did. The whole integrity of the past as well as the house itself was surely at risk.
Brave Colin wept his heart out. Carols curdled on the air even as he failed to blot out their earlier loathsome implications.
The grunting snores in a nearby bedroom ceased as he watched a ghost pick up an angel doll and wield it towards the door – certain in its ghostly self that this one ancient token of the Christmas Room could a true Christmas make.
A ghost’s fingers do slip even more readily than a butcher’s. The doll crashed to the floor, because Colin’s fearful suddenness of disbelief in ghosts was more focussed than he could hope to control with any competing longer-term belief. The ghost had evidently lost the optimum moment.
But please give Colin his due. He did manage to man-handle (during that Christmas Eve) whole heavy armfuls of Tree-muck to the Christmas Room – where he joined in joyfully with any residual Carols.
The Doll’s Ghost discussion thread: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t=2241