“You shouldn’t be here.” The voice said, slinking off the icy walls.
She stopped then; her feet dug into the powdery snowfall beneath her. The cavern was cold and church like, hanging with an air similarly divine. She shivered, something dislodging itself in her mind with it, and she went across to the glassy wall. A light was twinkling, dully beneath the sheets of ice.
“I’m not there, I’m here.” The voice said, and the light flittered away, through the ice and across the roof of the cavern. She watched it dance, moving with ease and speed, growing in intensity. It started to move away from her then, and she began to follow it; her boots sinking into the snow which seemed to be getting deeper and deeper the further she went.
“You shouldn’t be here, not again.” The voice called out, echoing all around her.
She hurried on, the light sprinkling across the cavern like stardust. She could see a distant light, growing brighter and brighter now and she raced towards it. Her palms were sweaty and itchy in the gloves that kept the cold out. Her breath was laboured. When was the last time she’d even had to run? In that dream, that one where she was chasing that train that was leaving the station. She’d been late, and they’d been early. She had been sad and they had been happy. She never caught it, and watched it snake away into the distance, travelling over watery rails.
“Ow!” She yelled, catching her feet on a rock in her path. She stumbled forward, falling into the wall which smashed all around her like fragile spun sugar. The light burst in and she had to steady herself and her soul to the sight before her.
“Don’t look!” the voice from before came, this time pressing with more urgency.
But look she did, how could she not. The colour and the noise swept her in. A wave of nostalgia and happiness washed inside her mind. A Christmas tree stood in the room, decorated in all the splendour of her youth. The tacky tinsel and lopsided angel atop the tree seemed to glisten, hazed in a gauzy sheen that told her this must be a dream. But her foot ached and her breath was heavy, and she knew it was real. That unlocked something in her, something she didn’t allow to grow for fear it would consume.
A family Christmas, the presents under the tree. 1988, she knew that one well. She knew that was the Ghostbuster’s proton pack there, wrapped up in the green and gold paper. She’d begged all year for that. Christmas songs began to drift into the space, the room filling now with ghostly images of people, bleeding out of the air. Her mother, her father sitting on the sofa, the one with the frayed pink covers that only her mother loved. Her sister and brother, sat on the floor. Scoffing chocolates as they moved the presents chaotically into piles. She smiled, an inner warmth glowing as the memories came back to her now, not just of that Christmas, but all the ones of her youth.
“Stop, please. Do not go on. You shouldn’t be here Jessie.” The voice startled her.
The scene hung there then for a moment, a glitch in the space as if someone had paused and the nun-paused a tape.
“Why?” She yelled back, surprised by her own strength.
The starlight she had followed along the cave now dusted itself from above her, floating down in a form that shifted before her eyes.
“You know why, you know why you cannot go back.” The voice said. Jessie thought the shape was moulding into a hand, reaching out to her, but as she blinked it suddenly scattered, floating all around her like divine motes. Her itchy gloves began to feel very tight suddenly, and she looked at her hands to discover that they were shrinking, and turning pink. Little cat eyes were appearing at the tips. Her feet then began to feel trapped and pushed, and as she looked there too, she noticed her boots had shrunk into trainers; the ones she’d had as a kid. She lifted her left foot, and there underneath the base, a secret key that her favourite trainers had; hidden and fun.
“Jessie, please. Before it’s too late.” The voice implored.
Jessie plummeted to the floor, the force dazing her. A smack again, this time on her bum. She’d been turned over, and the force smacked and whacked her. She screamed out, but nothing came. Only the sound of the Christmas music echoed around, jingling in the festive fever. She knew then what was coming. It was as if a box had been opened inside her, and out flew the dark shadowy ghosts of the past. She felt the floor to the side of her fall away, and the stairs appear. She turned away from it, she knew what it was. But a force smacked her again and she turned back to see the stairs, her old house. Down at the bottom the glow of the Christmas lights they’d had around the front door.
“Jessie, I’m so sorry. You shouldn’t have come back here.” The voice pitilessly came, but by then she knew what was coming.
Her hair was yanked, her face stung from a slap which seemed to tickle her teeth. The tears had washed down her face already, though no sound came; she could hear the cries and the pain that they brought back.
A glance quickly, her sister peering at her door frame. Younger, scared; her hand biting her thumb as she prayed for it all to be over. And then it came, the freefall and the momentary freedom.
It was the Christmas lights, the ones tacked up around the front door. Not many, only around twenty. She had been with her mother when she’d bought them, a bargain really, in the Woolworth’s new year sale. They hadn’t had new decorations for years, having sentimental ones passed on by the family mostly. These multicoloured ones reflected in their eyes as they stared at her, wondering if they had gone too far this time. She had closed her own, the lights staining the black space behind with seasonal joy as her body burst with fresh pain and sadness.
Through the gaps in her memory and shuddering aches, the sound of panic and concern made way for the Christmas music to gently take her away.
And so this is Christmas (war is over), and what have we done (if you want it)….