The following bizarre story began to unfold at Neston on the Christmas Eve of 1990.
About a week before Christmas in 1990, a 43-year-old bachelor named Carl lost his mother to cancer. He had been looking after her night and day, always constantly hoping she would make it to Christmas, but it just wasn't to be. As Carl was decorating the Christmas tree for his mother, she suddenly said, 'You're a good son Carl', and passed away in her armchair. Carl cried like a baby when he realised his mum had died, and when Christmas Eve came, he took down all the decorations and threw the Christmas tree into the loft, along with the gift-wrapped presents he'd bought for his Mum. He felt so angry, losing his mum at a time of the year when families were supposed to be together. Carl had no one now. His father had died five years ago from a heart attack, and Carl's only sister lived in Canada, and she never phoned him or even sent him a Christmas card. Because Carl had devoted all of the past few years looking after his Mum, he hadn't had time to go out and find a girlfriend, and now, at the age of forty-three, he felt as if he would be permanently left on the shelf.
So upon this Christmas Eve, Carl sat in his bedroom swigging whiskey from a bottle as he wallowed in self-pity. He looked out the window and could see families visiting their relatives, friends and loved ones. Then he noticed an old friend he hadn't seen for years, walking down the other side of the street. It was a man named Bob, who once worked with him in a bakery years ago. Carl was about to open the window to shout to Bob, when he saw him stop in front of the house opposite. Bob knocked on the door, and almost instantly, a beautiful blonde girl came out and hugged him. She then walked on hand in hand with Bob down the street, laughing and kissing.
Carl's heart sank. He felt so alone now. He sat on the end of his bed and wondered if it was worth going on. 'What's the use eh?' he whispered, and he thought of the Christmases he'd spent with his parents when he was young. In those golden days of yesteryear when he was surrounded by so many friends and relatives; plenty of people who loved him. His Mum and Dad; his sister, his Gran and Uncle Tony. All of his school mates. And his old loyal dog Jack. In those happy days, Carl never dreamt he would end up alone with no one to love, and no one to love him. He became choked with sorrow when he went back in his mind to the merry Christmases of his childhood. What really topped that sad Christmas Eve was the poignant Christmas Card he found addressed to him from his late mother. She had secretly written the card out and left it in the letter rack on the mantelpiece. Carl's Mum had evidently known she wouldn't be able to celebrate Christmas with her devoted son, and in the card she wrote: 'I'd better wish you a Merry Christmas now Carl. I love you son and I'm so grateful you looked after me. When I'm gone, please don't be bitter, and settle down with someone who will love you.'
Carl bowed his head and started to cry. He said, 'Merry Christmas Mum, wherever you are.' As Carl was wiping the tears from his eyes, he heard voices downstairs, singing. It sounded like carol singers. Carl had had enough, and he decided he would confront the singers and tell them to get lost, because he had nothing to celebrate this Christmas.
He stormed out of the bedroom with his bottle of whiskey, intending to give the carol singers a right earful, but as Carl reached the bottom of the stairs, his heart jumped, because he realised that the singers were not in the street outside his door at all; they were in his front parlour.
Carl surmised that drunken intruders had somehow broken into the parlour, and he peeped in. A couple of strangers were sitting on the stool in front of the old stand-up piano with their backs turned to him. A woman with long red hair and a dark-haired man sat at the piano, and the man was playing a rendition of the old Bing Crosby classic, White Christmas. The woman next to him was resting her head on his shoulder and had her left arm curled around his waist. Stranger still, a small girl around six years of age with long red hair stood to the left of the piano, gazing at the couple with a beautiful dreamy smile on her face. To the right of the couple stood a small black boy around the same age as the little girl. He wore a paper party hat and held a red balloon in his hand. He also seemed entranced by the man's piano-playing. On top of the piano sat a black cat. It's tail writhed about as the animal caught sight of Carl peeping into the parlour. Suddenly, the little girl turned and she also saw Carl peeking in at her. Her mouth opened wide with shock, then she pointed to Carl and shouted 'Daddy! Look!'
A split second later, the parlour was in darkness and there was nobody there. Just the old piano stood there with its keyboard cover closed and locked shut.
Carl realised he had just encountered a family of ghosts, and he ran out into the street in fright. He knew that what he had witnessed was not some alcohol-induced illusion; in fact the ghostly skirmish had sobered him up.
The shock of the spooky encounter took Carl's mind off his bereavement, and he managed to get through Christmas and the New Year without any more tears.
In February of the following year, Carl mustered up enough courage to ask out a librarian in his local library named Nicola. Nicola found Carl to be the most romantic man she had ever dated, and soon fell head over heels in love with him. Then one day she started to cry and told Carl that there was a secret she had kept from him. Carl asked what the secret was, and Nicola said she had a year-old baby girl from a previous relationship. The father had left Nicola while she was carrying the baby after saying he could never settle down to bring up a family. The baby was named Stacey, and she was being looked after by Nicola's mother. Carl told his girlfriend it didn't matter if she'd had a baby by another man. He loved her anyway and he took on Stacey and doted on her as if she was his own child. The couple settled down in Carl's house, and they later adopted a 5-year-old black child named Danny. In the Christmas of 1996, Nicola discovered she was having Carl's child, and that Christmas Eve, the family assembled in the parlour. They played games like any other family, and before the children were put to bed for the most exciting night of the year, Carl and Nicola sat on the stool in front of the old piano and hugged each other. Then Carl played an old Christmas favourite of his mother's; Irving Berlin's White Christmas. They all laughed when the family's black cat Midnight jumped onto the keys, then climbed onto the top of the piano. As Carl played the notes of the song, a tear trickled from his eye as he pictured his old mother sitting in her armchair, putting on a brave face and pretending she wasn't in pain. Nicola put her arm around Carl and gave him a reassuring hug as little Danny looked on with his paper party hat, fidgeting with a red balloon. Suddenly, the fur on the cat's back went up and then Stacey shouted to Carl, 'Daddy! Look!'
The girl pointed at something in the hallway. When Carl, Nicola and Danny looked to see what the girl was pointing at they saw nothing.
'It was a ghost Daddy!' Stacey exclaimed, and she ran to Carl and her Mum in a dreadful state. Nicola grabbed her Mum's hand and said, 'He had a sad face Mummy.'
Carl went to the hallway and saw that it was empty. He knew Stacey wasn't playing a prank, because the girl seemed to be really shook up by the experience. Then an amazing realisation faintly dawned on him. Carl cast his mind back four years to that lonely Christmas Eve when he had looked into the parlour and seen the ghostly people. He recalled the couple at the piano, and how the woman had long red hair, just like Nicola, and how the man had been playing White Christmas - just as he had a minute ago. He recollected seeing Danny with his party hat, and the little girl with red hair who had spotted him peeking around the doorway of the parlour.
Carl then realised that upon that sad Christmas Eve years back, he had somehow seen a preview of a happy life with his future family. So little Stacey had not seen the ghost of a dead person lurking in the hallway; she had seen the spectre of a lonely Christmas past; that last Christmas Carl spent alone.
© Tom Slemen 2010.