Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Christmas Visit

by Barry Woodham 

When I was very young, I had a sister who was older than me and cruel. She would break my toys and do things to me when mother wasn’t looking. I grew up hating her, never knowing why she was this way. Instead of loving Christmas-time with the pretty lights, gifts and family gatherings, I learnt to dread it. Saffia would always manage to get to my new toys first and break them before I could waken. Wires would be torn away or the wheels would come off the engine when I ran it on the track. She was three years older than me and stronger, with much better speech. I could never explain through my tears what she had done without sounding as if I was just blaming her for my own misfortune.
The Christmas that stays in my mind was the one that she went away. It was Christmas Eve morning and I was six years old. I already had a scar on my lip where Saffia had tripped me in front of the fireplace and was sporting a new bruise on my arm where she had twisted the skin. It had been bitter cold for some while and the ice had set on the nearby pond making it quite safe for children to skate on. We had gone there nearly every day to slide over the dark depths and build snowmen on the banks. If the other children were there she would go off with the older ones leaving me alone or with my own younger friends.
There was a bit of a thaw that morning but not too much as Saffia and I made our way to the playing area. With relief I saw that her friends were already there and she soon left me to my own desires. When I slid over the ice I could hear it creak as I skated over the middle and made my way quickly to the bank. On the side by the rushes was a large stone just small enough to be able to be rolled out onto the ice by myself alone and I had an idea.
Grunting and straining I rolled and pushed this small boulder out towards the middle of the ice where I heard the ice creak. It still creaked when I retreated to the snow bank away from it, but it held. I skated out with an armful of snow and quickly stacked it around the base. I spent some time gathering snow and placing around the stony centre. Every time I added more weight to the snow man the ice made little groaning sounds and star patterns radiated out from its feet. All that remained was for the head to be placed onto the snowman’s shoulders.
I waited.
Soon enough Saffia appeared on her own without her friends who had gone home for dinner.
“What are you doing, Bug,” she shouted at me.
“I’m building my own snowman,” I replied. “I only have the head to put on and it’s finished. You leave it alone; it’s nothing to do with you!”
I picked up the head that I had made and stood on the edge of the ice and made as if to finish the job.
She slid over the ice towards me and knocked me down, taking the head away.
“I’ll do that,” she said. “You never finish anything properly. You’re just a Bug that needs squashing!”
With that she slid out to the centre of the pond to where I had built the snowman and placed the head upon his shoulders. The ice gave a cracking sound and her face went white with fear. It seemed to be in slow motion as she fought to skate away from the heavy boulder that plunged through the ice. Saffia followed it down out of sight with the rest of the snowman.
I went home on my own that day and grew up without any more accidents.
That was over sixty years ago. As the years went by I grew up, married and had children of my own. They also grew up without those nasty acts of cruelty that children can inflict on one another and my Christmases were always spent with company. This Christmas Eve through a sad set of circumstances I found myself alone or so I first thought.
I had never told anyone about the trap I had set for my sister and being only six, who would believe me capable of murder? 
She knew! I saw her face as she went down under the ice and I have never forgotten it. Now I also knew that she was close at hand. Every Christmas Eve had been the same since she died and even as a child I had outwitted her. She would not come unless I was alone. This night would be different. Saffia would expect me to be frightened of her, as I was as a child. She was still eaten up with malice and jealousy and would still think as a child. I was ready for her. I had over sixty years on this world and had time to prepare myself.
I heard the backdoor open and shut firmly. I heard something pulling itself through the kitchen and along the hall towards the living room.
The door rattled and a smell of long dead flesh seeped under the door. A damp stain spread along the carpet as something tried to turn the lock and handle.
A wet sigh uttered into the silence, “I’m going to squash you Bug!”
The handle began to turn on the door and the lights went out. The fire guttered and died, leaving just smoke drifting out of the fireplace. As the door opened to allow the thing behind it to enter, I lit the magnesium flare. I had time to prepare and anticipate her tricks. The flare was joined to many others and as one went out the next one ignited.
In the intense light a bony rotting shape could be seen illuminated by the flare. She was so much smaller than how I remembered her. Weed and mud hung onto her body as she held her hands over the pits that were her eyes. A foul mist hung over her, swirling and shrinking in the glare. The first blow from my heavy walking stick crushed the small scull down into the ribcage. The next one took her legs out from under her. As she fell down the power came back on and the fire relit, sending a cheery glow back into the room. I stamped onto her chest and felt the satisfying crunch as the tiny ribs caved in.
“Squash me would you,” I screamed at the bundle of disjointed bones. “No Saffia, it’s me that gets to do the squashing. Me! Not you! I’ve waited sixty years for this! ”
Her power over me diminished with every kick and crunch as the frustrated fury of my first bullied six years erupted. I swept the heap of bones into the sack I had prepared filled with crucifixes and bibles. I pried open the un-dead fingers from the grip she had on my ankle and threw her hand into the bag. I uncorked the bottle of holy water that I had the priest bless for me and poured it over the bones before they could reform back into her skeletal form. I shook the bony bundle up and down in a frenzy of relief until what was inside was completely jumbled up.
I sat down and stared at the lumpy sack that lay at my feet and let the tears come.
I looked up at the ceiling and said softly, “We could have been such good friends, Saffia. You were my sister. I never knew why you hated me so much and I never wanted to hate you. You taught me that. Maybe you will rest in peace now. I know that you are still down there, buried under the block of flats that they built over the old pond after they filled it in. It was you that turned a little boy into a murderer!”
I watched as the sack became less full as the essence of Saffia disappeared back to wherever it had come from. The damp stain had gone from the carpet by the door. Only the burns from the magnesium flares were left to be evidence to me that the entire episode had happened.
I heard the bells from the local church ring out on the cold frosty air. It was Christmas Day. I would get some well earned sleep before setting out to see my children for the festive lunch.

©2012 Barry Woodham. All rights reserved. Do not use or reproduce without permission. 

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