The Christmas Caroles, by Sue Gerrard
Dominic was shivering. He just couldn’t get warm as he tossed and turned in the huge double bed. It wasn’t just the cold of this chilly Christmas Eve, it was what he had just seen; or rather what he thought he had just seen.
Was he going mad? Was someone playing a joke on him? He liked to think, that even in his self induced state of misery, the answer was a firm ‘no.’
Then there was only one answer, he’d had too many drinks at the pub. Stupid he knew but it was the only Christmas spirit he was going to get this festive season.
He had set out with his work mates, Rick and Simon, to go for ‘one and one only’ and ended up on a pub crawl. The fact that he was at his parents for Christmas dinner and then going to see his estranged wife Carole and his beloved children, Kathey and Craig, did nothing to stop him from pouring whisky down his throat.
Carole, he thought, as he hid under the duvet. It was all Carole’s fault and to think that he’d once loved her. His temporary anger made him brave but when he heard the garden tree branches tapping lightly against the window he became like a frightened schoolboy again. Shivering and cowering; hiding in the long night shadows for protection.
Carole, and despite himself his heart softened. The truth was that despite his outward protestations, he still loved her, the children, and the life they once had together.
He was a family man. He hated the single life he had been living for the past six months. He had never been one of the lads, as soon as he had seen Carole he had known that she was the one. Although she hadn’t felt quite the same when they first met and had taken a little persuading.
They had started dating at 18 and were married two years later. Now after 30 years of marriage they were separated and he was alone.
The tapping on the window grew more insistent and he tried to drown it out with thought. Why had she kicked him out? What had he done wrong? But before he could answer these questions the tapping at the window become frantic.
Dominic shivered again and went back to his questions. Deep down he knew the answers. He had devoted his life to his new love – work.
He had become so busy clinging onto his newspaper job that he never had time for Carole or their children. They would be old before he got to know them. And with the inevitable pressure of working harder to avoid redundancy; doing the jobs of those poor souls who had already been pushed down that path, came the drink.
One at lunchtime became two, a couple after work became a legion and Carole had had enough. Before he had just been ‘missing’ at work now he was ‘missing’ at the pub as well. When he was home he was either hung over or asleep and she had finally snapped.
The tapping at the window reached a crescendo, and then without warning, the tree smashed through the glass.
Dominic jumped up expecting to see the branches of the tree outstretched towards him but instead there stood a vicar. Not any vicar, mind you, but the vicar who had married them – Father Finbar O’ Flaherty. It was also the vicar whose face he had seen on the door handle outside his house. The image that had sent him scurrying to his bed early trembling with fear.
“No my son, you are not dead or even that drunk.” He folded his arms piously across his chest, ”You are very much alive my son.”
“But you must be…”
“Dead, my son, yes twelve long years this very night in fact. Ah but time goes by so quickly my son, so quickly.”
Dominic, open mouthed, looked at him in dread. He couldn’t think of any good reason why this vicar should be stood before him in full regalia, as solid as any person he had seen in his life.
“My son you are trembling. There is no need to be frightened. I am not here to harm you, but to help you…”
Dominic’s mouth moved up and down but no sound would come out. All his words were frozen with fear at the back of his throat.
“Oh my son I can see that this has been a shock to you. Let me explain. Although I am in solid form, I am the ghost of the said Father O’ Flaherty and the fact that I am in solid form is a good thing. Mmm a very good thing indeed.” He paused as if considering what to say next.
“I know that you think that all ghosts are these wishy – washy creatures who float around wailing and weeping and generally causing mayhem.”
He took a step towards Dominic and Dominic backed right up to the headboard. The ghost stepped back.
“It‘s fine, my son, just fine. I’ll tell you the rest .These ghosts are the naughty ghosts, that’s why they’re transparent. They haven’t got permission to come back – they’ve escaped. Not like me. I have permission and this is why I’m solid.” He finished proudly.
“Solid.” Dominic repeated like a man in a stupor.
“Oh dear, dear Dominic I just don’t seem to be doing very well here. It’s just that this is the first time I’ve been allowed back since I passed.”
“Passed.” Dominic repeated still convinced that he was drunk.
“Yes, if you behave yourself on ‘the other side’ then every so often, on the anniversary of your death, you are allowed to return to help someone in trouble. That is why I am here, to help you and Carole.”
“But why us?” Dominic asked, finally finding some confidence.
“Because you were the nicest couple I ever married, and of course, I have known Carole since she was a young girl. You two were born to be together and stay together and now I am going to try and put you back together. There is still hope Dominic.”
“Oh thank you, thank you.” Dominic’s fear had been overcome by the thought of being with Carole again.
The ghost looked at him sympathetically and smiled: “ A good start Dominic that you want to be with her again. But you will have to do it yourself. I can only stand by and support you from the shadows.”
“I’d do anything, absolutely anything.” Dominic insisted.
“Good for you son. Now to business. You will be haunted by three Caroles….”
Dominic’s face changed colour and his jaw dropped.
“I don’t think, think I’m up for that.” He whimpered.
“Do you love Carole?”
“Then to keep her you must do this, without these three visits your marriage is doomed, doomed I say. Expect the first tomorrow when the clock strikes one….”
“Can’t I have them all at once, Father, starting tonight? After all tomorrow is Christmas Day and I’ve got so much to do…”
The ghost silenced him with a raised palm. “Expect the second the next night at the same hour and the third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has sounded. Do not expect to see me again but I will be there. Remember listen to the ghosts and follow them no matter where they lead you.”
With that the ghost stepped backwards and disappeared through the broken window, which after his departure miraculously mended itself.
Dominic rubbed his eyes in disbelief and looked at the empty room. He must remember to stay off that hot shot whisky in future,
But just in case it wasn’t the drink he left the light on and snuggled under the duvet.
He must have slept because he awoke to the tapping of the tree on the window and somehow the bedroom light had managed to switch itself off.
He was just about to get out of bed when a familiar voice said: “Don’t bother Dom Dom I’ll do it for you.” And there in the eerie glow was Carole.
Not Carole as she was now but a young Carole as she was when he had first met her in the 1980’s, complete with her big hair and even bigger shoulder pads.
“Hello, Dom Dom.”
There was no mistaking it was a young Carole. Nobody had ever called him Dom Dom except Carole when they had first met. And the voice, yes it was lighter, less care worn, but it was still her voice.
She smiled: “I am the ghost of Carole Christmas Past, come, come with me.”
She held out her hand and he took it obediently like he had when they were courting and at the back of his mind he could hear Father O’ Flaherty‘s final words “follow the ghosts no matter where they lead you.”
Carole led him down a short tunnel and there he found himself in his mum’s parlour. It was just as he remembered it down to the calendar. He was startled because the date on the calendar was 24th December 1980.
“Shh.” Carole put her finger to her mouth. He could hear voices and happy laughter and there they were in the room. He and Carole, arms around each other and so in love. He had a lump in his throat. This was the night when they had got engaged.
“When shall we tell them?” Carole asked excitedly.
“Now, I can’t wait until after supper.”
“Okay let’s do it now. Impetuous man.” she laughed.
“Carole just a minute. You know that I love you and I’ll never let you down. Turn to drink or drugs or….”
“Of course I do silly.” She kissed him, “Come on let’s go and tell them.”
And the couple left the room to a perfect future.
Dominic looked at the ghost and he felt tears rolling down his face, how could he have been so stupid to let things get so bad.
The ghost smiled sadly and took his hand.
Dominic woke up to find his face wet with tears but he knew that he had been there in the past with Carole. But what could he do? He couldn’t go to her now. One glance at the clock told him it was 2pm; she wouldn’t thank him for turning up now. Especially as he had missed Christmas Day.
He was distracted by a tapping at the window and hoping it was Father Flaherty who had returned to tell him what to do, he went to investigate.
He flung open the window and a light breeze floated inwards, it wasn’t a cold winter breeze but a warm, fragrant one. In fact it smelled just like Carole’s favourite perfume.
And there before his eyes was Carole of today. Fuller in face and figure and the fresh face of before was replaced by one lined with pain and hurt. She smiled wanly: “I am the Ghost of Carole Present. Come with me.”
“I’d much rather stay here.” Dominic replied frightened of what she was going to show him. This was not turning out to be a very goodnight for him.
“You have no choice but to come with me” She commanded and he knew he was beaten.
She took his hand roughly and soon they were flying and tumbling over the snow covered town. Then he found himself in the living room of Carole’s house. Carole was with her mum and the clock showed 4pm.
“What a Christmas Day.” Carole said her voice trembling.
“Well what you can expect from a man like Dominic. The sooner you divorce him the better.”
“Oh mum it wasn’t always like this. He’s a good man really,” Carole said in despair.
“I know, I know – it’s the drink dear and the pressure of modern life.”
Carole nodded but then a trace of anger crept into her voice.
“But what kind of man would abandon his children on Christmas Day.”
“A drunken one.” Her mother replied.
“But I’m here,” he shouted “I’m here.” The ghost took his arm. “They can’t see you…its too late.”
“No, no,” Dominic moaned as the ghost took his pitiful frame away from the scene.
He was startled. He was back in bed crying. He must go round to see Carole, it wasn’t too late. But then he remembered he had another ghost to see. He trembled at the thought.
The tapping rose him from his melancholy. He felt lifeless. What was the point? The second ghost had said it was too late but then Father O’ Flaherty said there was hope. Who was right?
There was no time to think any further about that question. For the ghost was sat on his bed. It raised its face and was Carole. An older Carole but Carole none the less. Her skin was lined, her eyes sunken and she was dressed from head to foot in black. She looked at him but didn’t smile a cold sweat enveloped him.
“You must be…” he hesitated, “The ghost of Carole yet to be.”
The ghost nodded and in one quick movement she placed her skeletal hand over his. And there he was outside the church where they had been married. The mourners were gathered in a huddle.
“Mine… my funeral?” Dominic asked.
The ghost nodded and guided him to a group of men among them his work colleagues, Rick and Simon.
“Well it was only a matter of time before the drink caught up with him.” Rick said, shaking his head ruefully.
“Funny really,” Simon responded, “He drank to keep up with work and in the end he got the sack because he was always drunk.”
Dominic put his hands over his ears and the ghost pointed to a small gathering. As he got closer he saw that it was Carole and his beloved children…
“If only he’d come back to me when I asked him that Christmas two years ago, things could have been so different,” Carole said “We could have been so happy.”
Dominic couldn’t take any more.
“Is there any hope?” He asked the ghost. She didn’t answer but merely pointed a finger at a gravestone which bore his name and date of demise.
“But that’s only two years away….” he began and the ghost nodded.
“You mean I only have two years to turn things around.”
The ghost didn’t answer she just continued to point.
“What should I do?”’
There wasn’t an answer and suddenly Dominic was in his own bed and yes it was definitely his own bed and his own cold room. There were no spirits lurking in the room and that gave him hope. He now had time to make amends and make this the best Christmas ever.
“I will do it,” he said out loud, “I will spend Christmas with Carole and my children; I will change my ways and the main spirit this Christmas and for evermore is going to be love!”
He ran to the chair to grab his coat, but of course he was too late, the spirits had been right. There was no hope. For Father O’Flaherty said there would be three spirits over three nights, which meant that Christmas Day was well behind them for another year.
He couldn’t wait another year and what was more important was that Carole might not choose to wait another year. She was so fed up of him.
Slowly he retreated to his bed and put his head in his hands. He suddenly realized that not only did he not know what day it was but he didn’t even know what time it was.
Then he had a flash of genius and reaching into his pocket for his mobile he checked the time and date: 8am on the 25h of December. It was Christmas Day! He hadn’t missed it after all! Those wonderful blessed spirits had done it all in one night – just one night.
Bless them, bless them and the amazing Father O’ Flaherty. Thanks to them he still had time to spend Christmas with Carole and the children – if she’d have him, and there was only one way to find out!
One look at the scruffy, crumpled figure in the mirror (told him that he had better spruce himself up and have some breakfast just in case her hospitality fell short of feeding him.
An hour later and he was ready to go when he realized he had been such a mess that he hadn’t even bought any presents and he certainly couldn’t show up without them.
After much driving around he finally found a garage that was open – he was ecstatic.
“Merry Christmas young man.” He beamed at the young shop assistant who looked at him as if he was either drunk or mad or both, but mumbled something back just to be festive.
“I’m looking for some Christmas presents…”
“Blimey mate, you’ve left it a bit late. You won’t find much round here. All the forgetful husbands and fathers took the cheapest stuff last night on their way home.”
“Cheap, cheap, who said anything about cheap? I want the best, the biggest and yes the most expensive – this is going to be the best Christmas Day ever, ” he bellowed.
“Okay okay, I hear you,” the man replied, wondering what kind of scam this was and whether it was some kind of Santa role reversal, so that instead of giving presents this man was just going to take them. For the hundredth time that morning he wondered why on earth he had volunteered to work Christmas Day. No matter what the pay was it just wasn’t worth it if nutters like this were going to come in to rob him.
“Now young man, I can’t keep calling you young man can I? What’s your name?”
“Alan,” he replied nervously.
“Now Alan, show me what you have got.”
And with that Dominic proceeded to buy up the shop and even included something for Alan, who had in fact helped to wrap up the gifts. People were so much nicer to you when you were nice to them, Dominic reflected.
Now for the real test of seasonal goodwill, facing Carole. He couldn’t say that he wasn’t nervous as he pulled up outside the house and his feet felt like they weighed a ton each as he strode purposefully up the familiar drive.
He rang the doorbell and saw Carole’s face behind the window pane as she moved the blind to see who was there. She shook her head in disbelief before coming to open the door. He had known that she wouldn’t keep him outside in the cold on Christmas morning.
“Dominic!” she cried, “I am so glad you came. I had an awful dream about you last night.”
“Funny you should say that Carole,” he said as he stepped into the house knowing that at last he had come home for good.
Addicted to writing in all styles, Sue Gerrard performs her own work and has recently directed her own ghost story, The Pale Boy. Visit her online at SueGerrardWriter.wordpress.com.
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Tags: Christmas, fantasy, relationships, Sue Gerrard