Deck The Trees…

In The Dark Mid-Winter

Meanwhile, Graham had limited himself to just a few glasses of the highland nectar. The effect upon him was quite profound after weeks of abstinence and he found the situation most agreeable. What could be better than a winter break, in a beautiful castle with friends? Planning to sight see all on his own, he was quietly pleased when a number of others joined him in his stroll around the place. His historical knowledge removing everyone from the reality that lay beyond the walls.

Judith was at her best organising others. That first evening when the combined efforts of herself and Mr. Dale had resulted in a room allocation that would have not looked out of place in a military mobilisation, she set about further managing arrangements for the evening meal. Not venturing into the kitchen personally, the memories of her incarceration still vivid, she sought out the best cooks, peelers, kitchen porters and washer-upperers. Tinned food was in abundance and so, to their surprise was a vast stock of game that hung invitingly in a cold store. Not just a meal but a feast and Judith wrote a menu to boot.

When eventually the dinner was served, the clocks that were still working stated that it was nearing two in the morning, nobody seemed to mind. Time had been put on hold and, for the family of friends, it was the moment to celebrate some type of deliverance. Wine had been discovered, beer was drunk and laughter was heard to echo around the halls in a way that it had never done so before. Graham would have given a speech but had to abandon it when his worlds refused to emerge unadulterated by a certain Speyside that had taken his fancy. With unknown forces closing in around them, the members of the group had not felt as secure as this since well before that terrible day.

At some point, a guitar was produced and, to the amazement of Graham, Judith took hold of it and played one of the most haunting renditions of  Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. When she stroked the final chord, a roar of applause rocked the room. Those who had been singing smiled through their tears and the younger ones just laughed at the way the old ones did not seem to care that they were embarrassing themselves.

“Where did that come from?” enquired Graham in an instant of lucidity.

“The guitar or the song?”

“You.”

“Oh, I was a child of the sixties, flower power and all that. I was a hippy for a while, still am deep down.”

“Must have been one of the most organised of your brethren.”

“Hippies can be organised. Look at Woodstock and Glastonbury. Look at all of us here.”

Graham did so and realised her point. “Hippies one and all,” he proclaimed to himself before falling into a contented miasma once more. 

At some indistinct point in the very early hours, most people went to bed. There would be some extremely thick heads in the morning.

Chris and Lucy had wandered off to find the quiet that was needed for what they could not keep holding in. Keeping a torch held between them, they made the progress through corridors that yawned open at their approach. Regardless of all they had seen, there still remained a nostalgic menace about the adventure.

“Do you think it is haunted?” Lucy asked through a childlike smile.    

“What? Headless horseman and all that? Yes, I hope so.”

“So do I.” She pulled closer to him, pulling on his left arm and squeezing it for reassurance.

“I think I’d welcome a proper ghost, it would make things seem right again.”

Lucy agreed yet didn’t say anything.

Chris found what he’d been looking for, the library. The sheer volume of books leant another comfort from a bygone time. Bookcases reached to the ceiling, leather bound volumes a testament to mankind’s worth. Lucy was smiling broadly now.

“I love libraries and this, well this is just magnificent.”

Chris, who had never been as bookish as his elder brother, was surprised to be thinking the same thing. It wasn’t just the books, or the supreme environment, it was statement, the certainty that the room afforded them. He felt Lucy strain a little and felt her impulse to search the tomes, but he needed to talk and there were a couple of inviting Chesterfields waiting near the huge window. If Chris had ever known anything of romance, he could not have picked a better place. His decision, however had been informed by a nagging doubt that remained like a tiny alarm bell going off deep in the cellar of his mind. From here, he could see the extent of the snowy grounds. They sat facing each other. Lucy spoke first.

“D…Chris…”

“You always do that. Ever since we met, you’ve been calling me David. Who’s David? An ex boyfriend or something?”

Lucy was relieved that the darkness hid her rising blushes.

“David is from the Bible. He was the one who fought Goliath. It’s just that, when I saw you, when I was hiding in the Head’s office, you made me think of him.”

“Well, that’s probably a relief.”

“I’ve never had a boyfriend before.”

“And I’ve never had a girlfriend.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. It was always sport first. Nothing else.”

“Chris,” Lucy had returned to her formal voice, “are we going to be, well, attached?”

“If you want to put it that way, yes.”

Lucy lifted herself from her chair and walked over to her new hope. She sat down gently on his lap and raised both hands to either side of his face.

“You promise me that you will be true.”

“I will. I do.”

“Then let’s honour this with a kiss.” She moved her head forward with the grace of a swan, meeting his lips whilst running her fingers though his hair. Chris had never thought that a kiss could be so enveloping. He closed his eyes and imagined myriad possibilities for their futures. 

The first kiss, an exercise in time-travel, lasted for a duration that could not be defined. When they finally parted, the need for air being greater than their desires for each other, Chris opened his eyes. What he wanted to do was behold Lucy, her face a radiance in the cold moon of the night. What he glimpsed from the corner of his eye was a movement hugging the line of trees across the vast lawns, a movement that was vague and yet distinct. Lucy immediately noticed the change that had occurred.

“What is it?”

Now Chris had turned all of his attention to the view from the window and Lucy did so as well.

“What is it? What do you see?”

“I don’t know. Look over there by that line of trees.”

The torch had been placed on the floor so that the light it emitted would not be apparent from without. Whatever had moved, was now still.

“It might be nothing. It could have been an animal. Probably nothing…look there! Did you see that?”

Lucy did think that she may have seen something so she sharpened her perception, adjusting her eyes to the night. The moon was now almost full and was sitting in an empty sky. Already, with the lack of cloud cover, the recently fallen snow was taking on a sheen that spoke of near artic conditions. They watched for a long time, but nothing re-emerged from behind any of the foliage.

“Whatever it is, it will freeze to death if it stays out there for long.”

Chris just nodded.

“Come on, let’s go so our room.”

That night, they kept to their promise even though nobody would have known if they had not. Struggling with what he thought he may have seen, Michael got out of his bed not long after he had heard the noises that suggested Lucy had fallen into sleep. He stood by the window and kept vigil until morning arrived.

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