The Nightmare: A Original Christmas Ghost Story

It is a long tradition of mine to settle around the fireplace and share a Christmas ghost story or two, and now we know each other in familiar terms, I feel it’s time to share one of my own with you, dear friend. So, if I may invite you to take a seat aside my virtual fireplace, I will begin this tale of a winter long past.

Like all December nights, it was particularly cold and particularly dark, although the streets were particularly busy. It was Christmas Eve, and a sort of joviality hung in the air, as it often does that time of year. Even back then, it made folks giddy with excitement, causing well-dressed couples on their way to Midnight Mass, to tip their hats to the drunkard on the corner and offer him a “Merry Christmas”. Quite how they expected a “Merry Christmas” to cure the poor bugger’s hangover, I do not know, although I expect they didn’t consider it – and why would they? Wrapped up in their cosy little world of fine furs and merry feasts, they’re blinkered to the suffering of their fellow man, not out of malice, you understand, but thoughtlessness. An expectation that the downtrodden fellow, asleep in his own vomit, will awake Christmas Morning with the same spring in his step as them. It’s such a privilege to be blind to suffering. 

I was fortunate enough to watch the bustling street below from my writing desk, upon which lay the ancient text I was attempting to translate, and my socio-philosophical brooding provided a welcome distraction. Prior to this, I had marvelled at the spider on my windowsill, before watching the pigeons copulating on the church roof opposite my lodgings where, feeling like an uninvited voyeur, I directed my attention to the street. 

The well-dressed couple were lost to the crowd, but as I watched, my gaze fell upon a particular figure some way down the street. It was more or less shadowed in the darkness between the street lamps but I assumed it to be rather taller than the average Londoner and altogether less defined. Its shape was strangely formed, akin to a cloth draped over a top-hatted man, which was all I assumed it to be. My thought was that it was merely some revellers making merry in the street and I left it at that, returning to my text with some reluctance. 

After a hard fought battle with another line and a half’s translation, I awarded myself the opportunity to stare blankly from the window once more. It was then I became uneasy. The street had emptied itself, save for the swirl of fog that so often blankets this part of London, and the figure standing within it. It had moved closer now and stood on the corner across from my lodgings, again just out of the streetlamp’s reach. It did not move as I watched it, save for its covering – which I now surmised, was a kind of bedsheet –  flapping gently in the breeze. 

You must understand, I was not afraid of this figure, I merely regarded it as odd. I have come across many a strange sight over the years, and a man wandering the streets of London on Christmas Eve, draped in a bedsheet was not the strangest. There was no reason to suspect it was anything other than this, although I was puzzled by the vague familiarity of its form. Something about it pulled at the back of my mind, disturbing something buried deep in the soil of my childhood. I scoured my memory to retrieve it, but it was lost to time, and I am no archaeologist. So, with some annoyance, I pulled the curtain closed and turned back to my text, desperate to make a little progress in my task. Alas, my resolution was for naught, as no more than five minutes had elapsed, when three heavy knocks echoed through the empty house. 

I did not rise immediately, but strained my ears for any sound of movement, in the hopes that I was not alone in the house. When no sound came, I hesitantly moved towards my chamber door, and lingered at the top of the stairs. From my vantage point, I could see down towards the front hall, where any hope I had of company was dashed. I was alone in the house, save for whoever waited for me beyond the door. Three, slow knocks echoed again from the door, and it trembled with each one. I realised I hadn’t taken breath since the first set and forced a sharp inhale.

Quite why I was so afraid, I could not tell, so I did my best to set my fear aside and hurried down the stairs. Surely, this was a likely acquaintance – some friend, enemy or lover, perhaps – taking part in some well-meaning jest without realising the nerves their uncanny appearance had jostled. Indeed, I am unsure about it myself! We’ll laugh about it over a glass of whiskey and perhaps indulge in a little kiss under the mistletoe while we’re at it. 

I tried to force a chuckle from my clenched jaw, but by the time I’d reached the bottom of the stairs, the false bravado I encouraged had disappeared and the door trembled under another set of slow, heavy knocks.

At the first, I reached the bottom of the stairs. 

At the second, my fingers grazed against the chill of the handle.

At the final knock, I paused with my key in the door.

A visceral dread rose like a wave from my stomach to my chest and crashing against my throat, left my tongue like a dead fish in my mouth. It was a warning. A command from something primal, stern as my mother’s voice it whispered, Lucius J. Hawthorn, do not open that door.

The door itself, whilst robust, offered no peephole and all I could see fit to do was croak out a measly, “Who’s there?” in an attempt to pacify my nerves. The reply came back in a melody. It crept through the cracks of the door with a hideous child-like quality and with each word, the colour drained further and further from my face.

“Well, here I come

dear friend, to sing, 

so let me in, or sing.”

In my years, I have faced many horrors – ghosts, monsters, creatures of the night, the depths of human depravity and more. I have walked into Hell itself and returned, more or less, unscathed. So, my friend, believe me when I say that no demon, ghoul or person has struck fear into my heart as much as the voice which spoke through my door that Christmas Eve. 

 The tune unleashed a deluge of childhood memory. A boarding school in a little Welsh village. The smell of musk from a dusty coat. Hat pulled down against the cold as we followed it from door to door. The sound of its snapping teeth. It’s dead eyed smile. The tragedy that was to come before spring. 

The grey mare – The Mari Lwyd, as we knew it – had found me.

I let out a cry and stumbled backwards before fleeing up the stairs to my chamber. Locking the door, I collapsed into my chair, with my head in my hands and trembled. I had buried those memories from St. Lazarus On-The-Mount for good reason. It was an awful name for a school, but like Lazarus himself, that beast has risen from the its dust and followed me here, but after so many winters, why has it found me now? These thoughts filled my head as I poured myself a drink and revived my nervous habit of pacing the floor, but to my horror, the house was not quiet for long. The voice – that sickening, sing-song voice – came again from below:

“Well, here I come

dear friend, to sing, 

so let me in, or sing.”

I froze once more, paralysed by the melody. Surely, if I was ever to hear a sound as evil again, it would have come from the pits of Hell. How wrong I was – how wrong! – as I, perched on the edge of my adrenaline, stood still in my room to hear another sound ripple through the empty house. It was a sound worse than any song, or scream or wail of anguish, it came so gently – so quietly – that I even dared to dream I’d heard it. The dream fell apart, however, as I heard it again. It was the creak of the floorboards. 

It was in the house. 

“I’m not far now, I’m on the stairs,

Maybe I’ll catch you unawares.”

It mocked me with its tune as I barricaded the door with all I could find. My desk, my chair, my dented gramophone – I gave no thought to the little help it would provide, desperate as I was to put some distance between me and that awful thing.  

The floorboards groaned once more. It was closer now. Half way up the stairs, perhaps. As my barricade blocked the vision from my keyhole, I dropped to my knees and, huddling under the desk, squinted through the crack beneath my door. I strained to see down the darkened hallway, until the moonlight offered me a glimpse of the beast. Though it was only a flicker of a pale sheet dancing across the floorboards, it told me the creature had mounted the stairs and turned to face my door. I sprang around and slammed my back to it, hoping somehow that it would strengthen with my presence. 

Had you approached me in a state of compose and asked of the Mari Lwyd, I would have no trouble recalling the procedure of its visitation, but in my frenzy, it escaped me and all I could force myself to do was reach for my bottle of whisky and drink in an attempt to steady my panicked mind. It did not work, but the hallway fell silent. Against my better judgement, I found myself peaking beneath the door once more only to recoil with a scream. 

The beast was outside my room, although I had not heard it approach. What’s more, the sight that greeted me made my stomach turn. The sheet – no, the shroud – of the creature was tattered and stained with mud, as were its feet. It’s bloodied, bare feet which, to my horror, were that of a child’s. Quite how those tiny feet supported the form of this monster escaped me, and even now, so many years since this incident, that fact unnerves me still, however, worse was their condition. They were a mottling of reds and purples, swollen in parts and burst in others, with layers of skin slipping and oozing like a popped blister. These were not the feet of any living child. The voice too, which rasped again on the other side of the door, was childlike in its rhythm, but forced in its pitch, as though sung by a mocking adult.

“Well, here I come

dear friend, to sing, 

so let me in, or sing.”

Its proximity thrust me into action and the missing fragment of memory fell into my hands. “You can’t come in,” I stammered without thinking, before I slowly continued, “There is no room, you old dead horses…” I paused again, before ending with an uncertain, “belong in a tomb?” 

Rhyming was never my strength and the giggle from beyond the door seemed to agree, but regardless of my poetic ability, the creature was appeased and replied:

“No tomb can hold me in the ground,

But here, at last, my host I’ve found!”

“It’s far too late to let you in, the neighbours complained of the awful din!”

Although it is unlikely I will be regarded amongst the likes of Yates, or Shelley, I felt I had found my stride, and took another nervous drink as the beast giggled again and began its turn.

“We have until the midnight bell,

And then I’ll drag you back to Hell!”

I glanced at my watch, which read just past a quarter to twelve, and wished that I’d taken my landlady’s offer to accompany her to Midnight Mass. Whether I could keep up this Godforsaken game until then, I was uncertain. I was already beginning to falter and we’d barely even begun. 

“My sins are many, my good deeds few, but what does it matter to likes of you?”

It giggled again before falling silent for a moment. I pressed my ear to the door, wondering if my stupid little rhymes had been enough to challenge it, but a guttural hiss escaped from the creature before it unleashed its reply with a tremendous roar.

“Lazarus rose from the dead, they say, 

It wasn’t for you to stand in my way!”

The voice, which had now discarded its childlike disguise, rattled the door with its rage. It shook me too, reverberating through my chest and crushing it with a force more terrible than all the nightmares I’d ever had. 

Staggering to my feet, and hoping the words would follow, cried out, “I-I may be bad, but I’m no monster, and-” It was then, dear friend, I realised to my horror, that there is no rhyme in the English language for ‘monster’. The simple “fuck” that escaped my lips soon after, was evidence enough to concede defeat.

Beyond the door, the creature began to laugh, as it hammered against the wood, then cackled, as the wood began to split. In a futile effort to defend myself, I hurled my whiskey bottle at the head of the beast as it forced its way through the jagged door, where it shattered with a deafening chime, which rang out again, as the beast was upon me. Then ten more, although I did not hear them.

I awoke three days later, with a fever that lasted into the new year. The landlady, having found me upon her return from Mass, had assumed I’d been robbed – which she attested to on my behalf each time I was discovered in a compromising situation, God rest her soul. Now that it has found me, the Mari Lwyd – or whatever is beneath it – comes for me every December. Each year, its shroud becomes more tattered and its feet become more rotten, but it smiles at me with its dead eyed grin and announces itself with the same child-like song:

“Well, here I come

dear friend, to sing, 

so let me in, or sing.”

Try as it might, the beast hasn’t caught me yet. Although I am still no Yates, or Shelley, I have my defences and am not unprepared -The Mari Lwyd will never again find me without a rhyming dictionary in my pocket.

-Dr LJ Hawthorn

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