Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall — Christmas Eve 1960: The Angel & the Light, Part 1

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The BBC was showing Bells of St. Mary’s. After another five minutes at the tree, Grammer left the entry way, turned on a lamp in the lounge and settled in to watch the program.

Stan and I continued to stare at the tree, but were now doing so the way some people in art museums stop and ponder paintings.

“Something’s wrong here, innit,” I said. “Something’s missing.”

“Yeh, it is,” Stan agreed, “but I can’t put my finger on what. I mean, this is gorgeous. It’s exactly how I saw it in my head when I first thought of the idea. I should think it would be perfect, but it’s streets away.”

“OK,” I said, “let’s break this down – what’s missing? We’ve got the light from the candles – actual and reflected – and Uncle Roddy couldn’t have picked a more fragrant tree. So that’s sight and smell.”

Stan nodded. “And you don’t eat a tree or its ornaments. Besides we already had a Christmas dinner in any event, so taste wouldn’t be the problem. You can touch both the tree and the ornaments, though I shouldn’t advise touching the candles unless you want hot, burnt fingers …”

A light went on in my head – not a significant one, little more than a night light, but a light nevertheless.

“Say it again, Stan – the part about the candles.”

“I said unless you want your fingers to be hot and burnt you’d best not …”

“That’s it! That’s what’s missing! Not hot – cold. Remember how cold and drafty it was on Diwali?”

“It’s not exactly warm and fuzzy in here, mate.”

“But there was a real draft in the house. The windows were open.”

“Yes, to let Lakshmi in – ” Suddenly Stan’s face changed expression. “Of course! Reggie, mate, what’s missing has been staring us in the face.”

“It has?”

“The spirit of Lakshmi. Of Virgin Mary too – the way Bethany depicted her in the last verse of that carol she was singing. The whole Kris Kringle/Father Christmas/Santa Claus thing if you like.

“The giving side of Christmas the spirit, I daresay. It’s locked outside – they’re locked outside – howling. Don’t you see, Reggie, mate? We’ve closed up all the windows and doors in the houze. They can’t get in.”

“Stan, the elements are leaking in as it is. I’m not opening any windows in this place.”

“Mum closed all the windows on Diwali too, don’t forget.”

“True, but they kept the light burning in the windows and –” I brightened, “with a little help from your fireworks, they got the invite, anyway!” Then just as I thought I had it sussed out, it all collapsed like a house of cards. “Except … we haven’t any fireworks to set off.”

Stan scoffed. “Wouldn’t go off in weather like this anyway, mate, if it makes you feel any better.”

Then he brightened. “But maybe there’s another way for us to get the invite out.”

He dashed over to the bags of swag and I followed along behind. He reached into our bags, pulling two candles out of each.

“Oh, and do get the guitar ’cause we’re going to need it.”

“Where’re we going?”

“Out – back to the churchyard.”

We grabbed our coats, I dashed into the lounge, grabbed the guitar, hastily told Grammer I wanted to show Stan something and we’d back in a few minutes, and charged out the door with Stan before Grammer could process what I’d said and respond.

It was a light drizzle, turning to a mist, as Stan and I made it back to the churchyard. We took a backstreet that, while longer, provided more bits of shelter, however fleeting, as we went along.

Stan had lit one of the candles before we left, stuffing the others into his coat pocket. Curiously, it remained lit no matter where we went, what we did, or how the weather was. Despite taking “the scenic route,” we reached Gramfer’s grave mere minutes later.

 

 

Stan took out two of the candles from his pocket, lit them and placed them on either side of Gramfer’s headtone. He then lit the remaining candle and held it with the original lit candle in his hands. “OK, Reggie. Time to do some magic, mate.”

“Y’mean play something?”

“Yes.”

“What should I play?”

“So far we’ve had pretty fair good luck with We’re Walking Backwards for Christmas. Why mess with the formula?”

“Because I don’t know the chords?”

The music appeared between the candles atop Gramfer’s marker.

“Any other excuses, Reggie, mate?”

I shook my head. “Can’ take y’ both on.”

Physically, I had the fairly easy part, just holding Gramfer’s guitar and playing as we both slowly backed away from Gramfer’s grave. It was a bit more of a balancing act for Stan, holding two candles in one hand, the music so I could see it in the other, as we sang in unison:

     We’re walking backwards for Christmas,

     Across the mud and muck.

     We’re walking backwards for Christmas,

     Hoping that our shoes won’t get stuck.

     We think we’re clever, but down in our guts,

     We know the punters think we’re totally nuts.

     We’re walking backwards for Christmas

     Just to ask you to come in.

 

[Stan]

 

     O Holy Lakshmi.

 

[Both]

 

     Just to ask you to come in.

 

[Me]

 

     O Mother Mary.

 

[Both]

 

     Just to Ask. You. To. Come. Innnnnnnnnn.

 

No sooner had we finished then I felt a giant claw grasp my shoulder. I looked over and saw that the gnarled branch of a tree had my shoulder in a death grasp.

“Very well,” I said, looking at the arboreal appendage. Stan claims my eyes were bulging, though personally I doubt and dispute this. “I’d have preferred to follow Bethany, but since you have the claw, guess I’ll go where you take me.”

I was immediately tossed inside a hollow tree, with Stan unceremoniously following me a few seconds later.

We had just enough time to reassure ourselves we were unhurt and that there was an exit, no more than three or four meters away, when the realization crept up on us.

We weren’t alone.

 

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall is now available from Amazon Books. So is The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One). Click on the links and check them out further. They both make great stocking stuffers — to say nothing of a bit of seasonal — and post seasonal — reading for yourself.

The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be out early in 2018. The next book of the Reggie Stone series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018.