Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Dorothy Davies Part One of Two

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Dorothy Davies

Susanna stood in the sharp clear December sunlight flooding the empty bedroom. ‘This is mine!’ she thought with a surge of excitement. ‘Mine! Bigger than my other one! I’m going to love it here! I want my bed over there…’

            Her thoughts stopped abruptly as she saw a young girl standing by the door. The girl was wearing a pretty blue dress, black patent shoes with white socks and a big smile. She had a mass of blonde ringlets framing her innocent looking face. There were blue ribbons in her hair.

            “Who are you?”

            “Who are you?”


It was simultaneous. Susanna and the girl began to giggle behind clenched fists as they stared at one another, then the laughter broke out and they were speechless for a few moments until it subsided. Then they stared at one another again.
            “I’m Susanna.”
            “Hello Susanna, I’m Harriet.” She walked into the room, smiling and looking round her.
            “I thought everyone had left.” Susanna was wondering why Harriet was in the empty house and whether she should tell Mummy or Daddy there was still someone here. She hadn’t been forgotten, had she?
            “Are you part of the family that are moving in?”
            “Yes. Mummy and Daddy and Buster and me.”
            “Who’s Buster?”
            “My rabbit. He‘ll be here tomorrow. He’s a house rabbit, he lives indoors.”
            “I always wanted a rabbit, no one let me have one, though.”
            “That’s a shame. I love Buster.”
            She looked round. “This room is so pretty with its blue wallpaper and carpet.”
            “It’s my favourite colour. I asked for it all to be blue.”
            “It’s my favourite too!”
            “Susanna, who are you talking to up there?” her mother called from the foot of the stairs.
            Susanna was about to answer when she realized Harriet had a finger to her lips and was mouthing say nothing.
            She shouted, “No one, Mummy!”
            “I should hope not! Come and help me unpack!”
            “Got to go. I’ll be back!” Susanna reluctantly walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
            The removal men were working hard and her father was trying to help by carrying boxes.  Susanna got a big smile as she moved out of their way and went into the lounge, a room she liked. Its pale rose patterned paper and soft pinky coloured carpet appealed to her. She didn’t know why, but it did. The TV, chairs and sofa had already been put in place and a load of boxes had been stacked in the middle. They were marked with huge labels, LOUNGE, BEDROOM, SUSANNA’S TOYS. Susanna pulled open the box of toys and began taking them out.
            “Not in here, silly!” Her mother came in looking flustered and tired, and began to put them back. “When the men get your furniture upstairs, you can unpack the box. There’s nowhere to put them otherwise, is there?”
            Susanna was disappointed; she wanted to find a doll to give to her new friend, the one she couldn’t talk about. Harriet was a secret. Susanna could keep secrets.
            She already had one big one to keep.
            “Come and help me put things away in the kitchen.” Susanna obediently followed her mother, itching to get back upstairs and talk with Harriet, to find out why she was still there.
            The box marked KITCHEN was in the middle of the black and white tiled floor. “Let’s get everything out, shall we? Then we can decide where it all goes. We ought to make everyone a cup of tea.” Her mother was her usual bossy self but something was different, not quite right. Susanna couldn’t work out what it was. That made two puzzles for her to think about. She decided Mummy was stressed from the move, all that work, all that packing up and unpacking. It had to be that. One puzzle solved. Harriet was the other and she wasn’t so easily solved, because she couldn’t ask an adult about her.
            Everything came out of its wrapping paper and was put on the familiar kitchen table, ready to be put into unfamiliar cupboards and drawers. Susanna kept thinking about Harriet. Where had she come from? Why was she still here? Would she like a doll? Where were her toys and clothes? Where did she sleep? Who had been feeding her while the house was empty? Why had she stayed here? What about Christmas presents for her? How could she find something to give her that wasn’t old?
            “You’re very quiet,” her mother commented as she put saucepans in a cupboard, making a lot of noise with them. “Don’t you like the house?”
            “Yes, it’s nice. When are we going to put the Christmas…”
            There was a bang and a shout from the hall and her mother rushed out to see what had happened. Susanna opened a drawer out of interest and found a child’s spoon with an animal head engraved in the handle. She put it in her pocket, thinking she would give it back to Harriet next time she went upstairs. Then she wondered how she knew it belonged to her.
            Where did Harriet sleep? There were three bedrooms, one for Mummy and Daddy, one for her and one… that had to be the room where Harriet lived. She would go and explore later.
            “Nothing to worry about.” Her mother bustled back into the kitchen and went on unpacking. “Won’t be long before they start taking the beds upstairs.” She stopped and looked closely at Susanna. “Are you alright, sweet one? You look a bit-”
            “Yes, Mummy.”
            “You do like your room, don’t you? I think we chose the best one for you.”
            “Yes, it’s nice. Can I say where I want everything?”
            “Of course you can! Why don’t you go upstairs now? They’ll be bringing your things up soon.”
            Susanna hurried back up the stairs, hoping to see Harriet again, to tell her about the spoon, but her room was empty. She opened the door to the room next to hers and looked in, thinking she would be in there, but it was empty and dusty, unloved, she thought, and wondered why.
            “Where you want your bed, kiddo?”
            The removal men were on the landing with her furniture. They had called her kiddo from the moment they’d arrived. She smiled every time, especially at the older man who was a bit like her much loved Granddad. She hurried back into her bedroom.
            “Over there, please, by the wall.”
            “Good place for it.” The bed was put down gently, as if it was made of china.  “Gonna get some more of your things.”
            She walked over to the windowsill and looked out. The garden was big, it had trees and bushes and would be good to play come summer. Right now the trees had no leaves left and the flower beds looked empty, so what had made the flash of blue she had seen? She shivered, wondering when Daddy was going to turn on the heating. When the men had done, she thought, they’ve got the door wide open. But I’m cold. I need a sweater or something.
            Why hadn’t the girl been wearing a sweater or jacket? The dress, that pretty blue one, had short sleeves and yet she hadn’t looked cold.
            “Box of books, Susie.” Daddy was looking tired and flustered now, like Mummy. This moving thing was hard on grown-ups.
            “Thanks, Daddy. I’ll put them on the shelves when the bookcase comes up.”
            “And here it is!” The Granddad removal man had it in his arms. “Over here all right?”
            Susanna almost gasped when she heard the voice but stopped herself in time. There were two grown-ups in the room and she knew they were not to know about Harriet, not yet anyway, not until she knew what this was all about.
            Dressing table, wardrobe, stool, boxes of clothes, everything she possessed was in her room. Someone had thought to bring the box of toys up from the lounge, too. Daddy smiled at her as he went out, then held his head for a moment as if he had a bad headache. She wanted to go to him but he was hurrying down the stairs.
            “Let him go.”
            “I wondered where you’d gone.”
            “Out of everyone’s way. They can’t see me like you but they can bump into me and that hurts!”
            “You’re not real, then?”
            “No, of course I’m not! Oh I see, you thought I got left behind! No, this is my home.”
            “I wasn’t sure if you were real or not. I wanted to give you a doll.”
            “That’s really nice of you, Susanna but I’m a ghost; I couldn’t hold a doll. Really, you are kind. No one has offered that before.”
            “A ghost! Really?”
            It needed thinking about. Susanna began unpacking the box of toys, sitting the dolls around the wall. It was a start, it made the room more her own. She could see Harriet reaching out and then not quite touching them. A ghost, she thought. A ghost in my room. I wonder if Mummy and Daddy can see her, too?
            “Susanna, come and have some tea!”
            “I’ve got to go,” she told Harriet.
            “Yes, I know. I’ll come with you but ignore me. Don’t let them know I’m here. They won’t like it; they might get someone to send me away. You need a friend, Susanna.”
            It was strange eating tea in a new home: everything was unreal, different; the light in the kitchen, the layout of the cupboards, Daddy’s weary smile and the gruff voices of the removal men as they stood in the hall drinking tea. Seeing Harriet standing by the cooker made it even stranger, it was all Susanna could do to concentrate on what she was eating and drinking and not keep looking at her new friend.
            You need a friend, Susanna.
            It was as if Harriet had looked into her head and seen her loneliness.  She had looked forward to the move: their old house had been small and dark, this one had space and light, but it had meant moving to a new area, a new school, leaving her friends and familiar things back there, back where familiarity held her firmly in its arms.
            You need a friend, Susanna.
            Yes, she did, someone to talk to about why Mummy preferred the too-smiley ‘Uncle Ralph’ to her quiet, solid, friendly Daddy. Mummy didn’t realise but she knew when they ‘went to their room’ – to kiss? What else they did she didn’t know but once upon a time Mummy and Daddy had come down smiling and cuddling. Now they came down like two separate people. She remembered the time she came home from school earlier than usual and found Mummy coming down from her room with ‘Uncle Ralph’. She looked - sparkly. She wasn’t sure they’d been holding hands, but…
            That was the time ‘Uncle Ralph’ had given her a £2 coin and told her not to tell her daddy he had been there. She had taken the money with a ‘thank you’ but no smile and put it in a box. She didn’t want it mixed up with her other money, without knowing why. Because it came from him? The question was too big for her to answer.
            That was her big secret, one she found it hard to keep locked inside. Now she had two secrets, but if she could talk about one of them with Harriet…
            Who was a ghost.
            A real ghost.
            Not something out of a storybook.
            A girl who could – as she just did – disappear in a blink.
            And reappear outside the window in the garden.
            “Did I see someone outside then?” Mummy was staring out of the kitchen window, looking very puzzled.
            Daddy looked round and smiled. “You’re tired, Emma. There’s no one out there.  Buster will be, tomorrow.”
            “Buster doesn’t look like a person, Eddie!”
            They laughed and the moment went away. Susanna released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding until that moment. Inside she was shaking, whether with laughter or fear Harriet would be caught out, she didn’t know.
            “I’d better get Susanna’s curtains up and her bed made.” Mummy walked to the door. “Coming, Susanna?”
            She hurried up the stairs after her mother, half waiting for the hint of blue, but nothing happened.
            It didn’t take long for her bedroom to look pretty, long blue curtains to match the bluebells in the wallpaper and a surprise, a new duvet set, also in blue, so her whole room matched. She was pleased.
            “There you go, honeybunch. All done. Now for our room.”
            “Mummy, who’s going in the other room?”
            “Which one?”
            “Next door to me.”
            For a moment Mummy looked almost secretive, but then said, “no one at the moment. It’s our guest bedroom if anyone wants to stay over. We have to get it kitted out. All right?”
            “Yes, thank you.”
            “You OK to put your books on the shelves?”
            “I can do that.”
            “All right, I’ll make a start on our bedroom, then.”
            Harriet appeared the moment the door closed. “You got something that makes a noise, Susanna?”
            “Yes, why?”
            “We don’t want your mother to know I’m here with you if you speak aloud. Put something on, make a noise.”
            “All right.” Her radio was on the bookcase; she switched it on and began sorting books.
            “That’s good.” Harriet sat cross-legged next to Susanna. “She’s having a baby! That’s who’s going in that room!”
            “A baby?” At first Susanna felt a thrill of happiness and then a terrible stab of jealousy. She was their baby, their child, their much loved daughter, or so they had always told her. She slotted books on the shelves, banging them against the back. The news was unwelcome.
            “Are you sure?”
            “Of course I am! I’ve seen enough to know!”
            “Oh.” So that was why they moved, that was why there was a ‘guest bedroom’ waiting for furniture. That was why Mummy had been going to the doctor’s all the time… it made sense.
            “How does it feel?”
            “To think you’ll have a brother or a sister.”
            “I don’t know – yet. I have to think.” In fact, her mind was in a whirl. Baby clothes, milk, squalling in the middle of the night… why did her parents put her in the room next to them when they knew a baby was coming? Or did they?
            She put a handful of books on the shelf and looked at Harriet. “Do they know?”
            “No. But they will, very soon. Your mother is sure but she hasn’t told anyone yet.”
            “Can you read minds?”
            “Sort of.”
            “I don’t like it.”
            “That’s what I thought you’d say.”
            “Time for bed, Susanna!” Daddy was calling from outside the door. Harriet disappeared as swiftly as she came.
            “All right, Daddy! Come and see my room.”
            He came in, radiating smiles, warmth and security. “Looks good, little one, it really does. Pretty colours.”
            “I’m a bit tired.”
            “Course you are, sweetheart. It’s been a long day. You warm enough? I turned the heating on as soon as the men left.”
            “Yes, it’s warm in here. Daddy, when will we put the Christmas tree up? And can we have the wreath on the door like always and put the cards up like always? And can I hang my stocking over the fireplace?”
            “Everything will be like always, honey, just in a different place, that’s all.”
            “When do I have to go to school?”
            “So many questions! Ask Mummy, she’s got it all written down. Not yet, though, you’ve got time to get used to being here and making new friends.”
            Susanna risked a glance at the doorway, but Harriet was nowhere to be seen.
            “All right, I’ll get ready. Will you come and kiss me goodnight?”
            “That’s one question I can answer, of course I will!”
            The bathroom was bigger than the old one, the mirror was a little bit higher and Susanna found she couldn’t see herself as she cleaned her teeth. Everything was strange, more than she expected it to be, as if she had to grow into the house in some way. There was plenty of room to grow – if no new arrival came along. In that moment she knew she didn’t want a brother or a sister to disrupt her life. She would be much happier if the other bedroom was really for guests, not for a baby. She hurried and got into her bed. At least that was familiar, even if the room wasn’t. Her nightlight cast a gentle glow on the blue carpet and walls.
            ‘I could really be happy here,’ she thought, ‘if I didn’t have to worry about a baby and the secrets. I wonder if ‘Uncle Ralph’ will visit Mummy? Hope not.’
            After her daddy had been to say goodnight, Harriet came soundlessly into the room.
            “Go to sleep, Susanna. All will be well. I know what you want and what you need. I will see to it.”
            “Thank you,” Susanna murmured. As she slid into a deep sleep she wondered what Harriet was talking about.

approx half
There were Christmas cards hanging from cords stretched around the room and a towering tree stood on a small table in the window, flashing lights glittering on the baubles, ornaments and angels hanging from the branches. It was a new tree, to celebrate the first Christmas in their new home, Mummy said. Susanna liked it but mourned the loss of the old one, the familiar tree with its half bare branches from so much use.  That was more Christmassy to her, the old, the loved. This would be all right, in time this would be Christmassy too, but right now it wasn’t.
            New or not, it gave her that funny tummy feeling of excitement. Christmas was coming and in that other empty, unloved bedroom was a big pile of boxes covered with a dust sheet.  She knew they were presents and longed to lift one corner and see what was there. She didn’t dare, it would spoil Christmas morning if she did.
            She could ask Harriet but it wasn’t possible for her to lift anything, or so she said.
            Harriet had promised her an early Christmas present. Susanna had no idea what it would be. What could a ghost possibly give her?
            She told Harriet she didn’t need a gift, it was enough for her to have a best friend to talk with, someone to confide in about her hatred of the too-smiley Uncle and her doubts about his friendship with Mummy.  He was the only person Daddy didn’t know anything about and that worried her.
            “Don’t worry about him, he’s gone,” Harriet told her one night. “Gone out of your life.  Wasn’t hard to do. That’s my present to you, Susanna, one of them, anyway.”
            Susanna didn’t ask what Harriet meant. She didn’t want to ask; she had a bad feeling and was afraid to talk about it. Harriet didn’t seem to want to pursue it, either, she talked endlessly about the Christmas tree, the decorations, the many cards, all of which seemed to surprise and entertain her.
            Three days before Christmas Susanna was sitting in her room with the door wide open when she heard Mummy on the phone with her sister.
            “You remember Ralph, Lou? The guy I worked with… he was killed in a car crash last week. I just found out today. It was in the paper.”
            Susanna crept to the banisters and pressed her face against the railings, trying to hear what was being said. “Supposed to have swerved because of a little girl in the road. Hit a tree, it said. No girl was seen, though, by anyone.” She paused for a moment. “Yes, bit of a shock. Well, that’s in the past now, that job and everyone who was there. I just have to forget it.” Then they went on to other things, the house, the amount of lovely cards they had, plans for the garden come Spring.
            Harriet was standing on the top stair, hands on her hips, head on one side, looking at Susanna.
            “Told you!” She seemed to be gloating. “Told you I’d see to it!”
            Susanna walked back into her room and sat on the bed. “Dead?”
            Harriet sat cross-legged on the carpet. “Dead as I am.”
            “You don’t seem dead to me.”
            “I don’t feel dead, but when I do this-” one hand went right through the frill on the duvet, “I know I am.”
            “What if he comes here, dead as he is?”
            “He won’t. He doesn’t belong here. I do, so I’m here.”
            Dead. Was Mummy sad? She didn’t sound sad but then, she was talking on the phone and she wouldn’t give herself away to someone by crying. They would want to know why.
            She looked at Harriet. “Dead and gone?”
            “Dead and gone.”
            It was like a black cloud lifting from Susanna’s mind, one she hadn’t realised was there.  No more creeping around the house – not that he had been to this new one – no more wondering why Mummy thought he was nice.
            She smiled. “Thank you!”
            “You’re a good friend, Susanna. I will do anything for you.”
            “Will you come to school with me when I go in the New Year?”
            “Oh, now you’re asking! School! Yuk! Yes, I will, but not to learn anything. I did that years ago and said I never would again! I will come so I can tell you who to be friends with and who is not a real friend.”
            Susanna thought about that. It would be a great help, sometimes she made friends with someone and told them secrets, only to have them break friends with her and blab her secrets half round the school. Yes, she decided, that would be good. As long as no one could see Harriet.
            “Don’t worry, they won’t see me!”
            Susanna smiled again. Another worry, one she didn’t realize she was worrying about, had been lifted from her mind.
            “I wish I had black hair like yours, Susanna.”
            “I like your blonde curls.”
            “Perhaps we could swap some time; that would fool them, wouldn’t it?”
            Susanna laughed. “We couldn’t do that!”
            “We can do anything, you and I.”
            Susanna frowned. That sounded almost ominous. She thought about Uncle Ralph, swerving to avoid a little girl…
            “That was you, wasn’t it?”
            “What was?”
            “You made Uncle Ralph swerve and hit the tree.”
            “Yes. How else was I supposed to kill him for you?”
            Susanna went cold. How else was I supposed to kill him for you? She had only wanted him to stop visiting. But perhaps there was no other way to stop him visiting. A ghost would know that, she wouldn’t.
            “I didn’t want… mean… was that the only way to stop him?”
            “Susanna, trust me. I know what I’m doing.  He was coming here right after Christmas, when your daddy was away on some – contract, he calls it, doesn’t he?”
            Susanna nodded.
            “I heard them talking. I had to stop him, didn’t I?”
            “Yes, but – dead?”
            Harriet started laughing. “That’s as definite as it gets, Susanna. Never again to come into your life.  You didn’t know, did you, he was looking at you like a grown man shouldn’t.”
            “You haven’t asked me once how I died, have you?”
            “No, I…”
            “I fell down the stairs. I fell because I was running away from a man who looked at me like that Ralph looked at you.  Only this one had done a lot more than look. He had – touched me where he shouldn’t… lots of times. I had to get away from him. I fell and broke my neck.”
            Tears filled Susanna’s eyes. “You were…”
            She couldn’t find the words. It was something she couldn’t imagine, but then memories of the too-smiley man crept into her mind and she knew Harriet was right about ‘Uncle Ralph.’.
            “There’s one more gift to come, Susanna.”
            “You don’t have to…”
            “Yes I do. You’ve been good to me. You’re the only one who has spoken to me, the only one who offered me a doll, the only one who gives me your time. I love you, Susanna. You’re the sister I never had.”
            “I love you too, Harriet.” She wondered, in her secret heart, if Mummy had a little girl, would it be the same.  Then she thought about it for a few minutes. She was ten. The baby would be – a baby. They would not be proper sisters for – a long, long time.
            Then there is no point, she thought, surprising herself with her adult attitude.


Christmas Eve finally arrived. To Susanna it had seemed like eternity but it was here at last.  The TV was on, Buster was asleep in front of the fire; Daddy had been drinking whiskey and looked happy and content.  Mummy looked tired and worried. Harriet explored the Christmas tree for what must be the thousandth time and Susanna just wanted to get this last sleep done so she could have her presents.
            The lounge looked cosy; its pink walls and carpet giving it a warm feel that went to her heart. The Christmas cards and decorations made her heart turn over with excitement and anticipation. In that moment she was bursting with happiness, thinking life could not get any better.
            “I thought we would do something different tonight.” Daddy sat up and reached for a thin book with a worn cover. “Turn the TV off, Emma. I thought we would read A Christmas Carol tonight.”
            Mummy looked up and grimaced. “Do we have to? I hate ghost stories.”
            “I thought it would be good to start a new tradition here in our new home. It isn’t that scary.”
            “No, I hate ghost stories, really, Dan. I can’t…” She got up and left the room, all but banging the door as she left. Her father looked at Susanna. “Do you want to hear the story, honeybunch?”
            “Yes, please, Daddy!”
            Harriet came to sit on the floor at Susanna’s side.
            “A story!”
            The book was already on the table.  Susanna could hear her mother clattering dishes in the sink in the kitchen, determined not to hear a word. She wondered what it was that her mother was really afraid of, or was it that with Harriet’s presence she had no fear of ghosts?
            Her father began reading and Susanna became absorbed in the story, almost forgetting Harriet sitting by her side until she whispered:
            “That’s me, the ghost of Christmas Past.”
            Susanna didn’t answer her. The story ended, with its lovely warm-feeling happy ending. During that time Buster had gone to his bed, her mother had stopped making a noise and had actually crept back into the room when all the ghostly parts had been read out. She sat down in her chair with a silly apologetic smile.
            “Did you like the story, honeybunch?”
            “It was good, Daddy!”
            Then the bombshell exploded. Her mother leaned forward, still with that silly smile, and said:
            “This time next year we will be a family of four, Susanna. We might even have our own Tiny Tim. Are you pleased to be having a sister or brother?”
            Susanna sat, shocked and speechless. Harriet had been right. That was who the empty room was for.
            “Told you!”
            Her father laughed. “You’ve shocked the child, Emma! She doesn’t know what to think!”
            Susanna tried to smile. Then, remembering her manners and wishing to avoid answering the question, said “Thank you for reading the story, Daddy. I really liked it.”
            “Good.” He stretched and yawned. “I guess we all ought to get to bed, then. Christmas is coming!”
            When she was in bed, Susanna began turning over thoughts in her mind. The story had affected her on different levels, the ghosts of the different Christmasses coming into her mind. She remembered the comment from Harriet, that’s me, the ghost of Christmas past.
            “Harriet,” she whispered. “When did you die?”
            “Christmas Day. Go to sleep, Susanna! It will soon be time for presents and fun and perhaps my last gift for you.”
            Susanna lay still, thinking of Harriet dying on Christmas Day as she tried to escape someone who wanted to hurt her. She was aware of tears as she slid into sleep.

Bio: Dorothy Davies is a writer, editor and medium who enjoys writing ghost and horror stories. Her life resembles a ghost story at times, as much of her work is channeled from spirit authors. She can be found editing Static Movement anthologies and featuring on Amazon Author Central with her extensive publication profile. Her website is

You can read the first part of this blog's two part interview with Dorothy here:

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