6

24th December

By Christmas Eve, the snow has stopped falling, but the temperature is still too low for much of it to have melted. Mizzy wants to stay wrapped up in her nice cosy bed, but her mother keeps calling her down to breakfast. She wraps up in her warmest dressing gown and stomps down the stairs, still annoyed about Hep stealing her phone.

Holding a slice of toast in one hand, and angrily spreading butter on it, she moans: ‘Something should be done about that old bag lady!’

Her mother completely misunderstands Mizzy’s outburst and replies ‘Well, yes, if she is related to us in some way, something should be done. The old dear can’t spend Christmas Day all on her own in the freezing cold. Christmas is a time for compassion – she must come to us for Christmas Day.’

Mizzy is flabbergasted, ‘She stole your ceremonial bone thingy! She stole my phone!’

‘I know, but I don’t think she meant any harm,’ muses Cordelia ‘and, anyway, if she is a distant relative of some kind then she could know allsorts about our family history.’

‘I don’t think you’ll get any sense out of her,’ says Mizzy, doubtfully, ‘I’m not sure she even knows what year it is, she talks about things that happened years ago as if it was yesterday.’

‘Well, when people get old they can start to have some funny ideas can’t they? They start to regress into the past. It’s more alive to them than the here and now. You just need to be more understanding.’

‘I don’t know, Mum,’ argues Mizzy, ‘She can be quite a cantankerous old bag, you know?’

‘I’m sure she will be fine, darling, it is the season for charity and we should do our bit. Can’t leave her all on her own over Christmas, can we?’

‘O.K. Mum, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!’

*

Mizzy is walking up to the bunker to deliver her Mum’s Christmas day Invitation to Hep. All along the streets of Port Gwyneth the snow has been arranged in piles, some still white and clean others grey and dirty. Small icicles hang from the trees like long glassy leaves. There are snowmen everywhere. The children have been busy. Mizzy spots one with a red wig, two green Brussels sprouts for eyes, surrounded by plastic bags, pushing a shopping trolley. Hep’s presence in the village has, clearly, already become a matter of interest. She walks past the standing stones, webbed with ice, the snow piled against one side of them by the wind. On entering the bunker she finds Hep struggling to light a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

‘Do ‘ee hav’ the matchstick?’ she demands, before Mizzy even has a chance to sit down.

‘What magic not working today?’ says Mizzy, sarcastically, ‘Can’t you just do a spell to make it burn?’

‘No, nothin’ will work. I be too distracted by the bone-ache,’ moans Hep ‘It be more’n about saying the words y’know? ‘Ee need to think it will ‘appen.’

‘Well, I don’t have any matches. Why would I?’ says Mizzy angrily, ‘even if I did I’m not sure I would give them to you after stealing my phone like that! – And cut out the silly accent.’

Hep glares at her, but talks without the local dialect ‘I did not steal your phone. I borrowed it! We’re supposed to be of the sisterhood, we share our knowledge.’

‘Sisterhood? What’s that supposed to mean?’

Hep gestures over to one wall of the bunker, filled with photographs.

‘Where did they all come from?’ asks Mizzy.

Hep points to a large casket at the other end of the bunker, and explains ‘At the end of each of my visits I hide it in a secret place, ready for my return.’

Mizzy goes over to have a closer look.

She stares at them incredulously, ‘All of these photos are of me!’ then she peers at them more closely, ‘Wait, hang on a minute, I’m wearing old clothes in some of these, just like people used to wear in the past?’

‘They are not of you. They are your ancestors.’ Hep informs her.

‘Oh, yes, I can see, these really are old aren’t they?’ says Mizzy, in surprise, noticing the yellowed and aged appearance of the paper, ‘So, we are related then! These must have taken you ages to find. They are fantastic; I bet my mum would love to see your collection. Our ancestors fascinate her.’

‘Your ancestors, my descendants.’

Mizzy stares at Hep, ‘Look who are you, exactly. Are you a relation?’

‘’I am Hephzibah Kemp, I am your great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother.’ replies Hep in a plain, even voice.

‘You’re kidding, right?’ scoffs Mizzy, ‘you’re actually saying that you’re the real Hepzibah Kemp? The one supposed to have been drowned as a witch in 1665?’

‘I am.’

‘Yes, of course you are. You must tell me what moisturiser you use, because you’re looking really good for someone over three hundred years old. You’re as bad as my mum; going around telling everyone you are a witch. It’s just embarrassing, you know? I remember, one Halloween, my mum wanted to dress me up as a witch, as usual. We were walking around with all the other kids and I looked really stupid. ‘I hate witches!’ I shouted at mum. Do you know what she said, in front of everyone? ‘How can you hate witches? Your mum is one!’

‘She thinks she is a witch’ responds Hep, ‘last time I came to the village, it was to find your mother. She believes, but, sadly, she does not have it in her to be a true witch. I know. I have been back many times.’ Hep opines and then, gesturing to all the photos and paintings, declares ‘I knew all these girls, they were all my kin.’

‘Yeah, I’m sure,’ says Mizzy disparagingly, ‘but, if that’s what you think of my mum, then won’t want to come to ours for Christmas dinner, will you?’

On hearing this Hep becomes quite emotional and tearful, ‘you are inviting me to my home? Oh, yes, please. It has been so long since I could celebrate Géol with my family all around me, in my own cottage.’

‘Your cottage, what do you mean your cottage?’ says Mizzy angrily.

‘Your cottage is my home. It is yours by right now. It just used to be mine.’

‘No, that’s not right, our family have always lived there.’

‘Yes, I know we have.’

Mizzy shakes her head, in despair, but Hep is obviously so excited at the prospect of spending Christmas Day with them that she does not have the heart to argue anymore.

‘Well, don’t get your hopes up, it’s hardly likely to be ‘peace on earth’ knowing my mum and dad. Oh, and I would keep quiet about that idea you have got about it being your cottage. What’s Géol anyway?

‘Sorry, it is the old word, what we call Yule.’ explains Hep.

‘That’s O.K. my mum will like that, you using the old pagan word for the holiday. She is always going on about how it’s the rebirth of the earth and all that druid stuff.’

‘Will we wassail all around the village?’ asks Hep, bursting into a raucous song.

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

‘Sounds like an excuse for a spot of binge drinking.’ says Mizzy, rolling her eyes.

‘’Yes, well, the young men could get a little rowdy. They would go up to the squire’s house and demand free food and drink. He enjoyed it mind you, playing the bountiful Lord of the Manor.’

‘Well, I don’t think my dad will be too impressed if you suggest we go demanding money with menaces. There’ll be none of that, and you have got to be on your best behaviour. No stealing, either.’

Hep nods her head vigorously; ‘I will keep my humours in proper proportion.’

Mizzy moves towards the door, ‘O.K. I’ll come and collect you tomorrow morning, bring some of those old photos of the Kemps – my mum will love that, she’s always banging on about the family history.’

*

As Mizzy walks back towards the village, she notices more snowmen have been built along the path to the bunker. ‘That was quick’ she thinks, ’they weren’t there when I walked up.’

As she passes, the snowmen’s heads swivel slowly towards her, their black coal eyes now glowing bright red. There is a slurping, sucking noise as one snowman lifts its stumpy leg clear of the ground. It takes a few cautious experimental steps and then shambles down the slope towards Mizzy. The other snowmen start to move as well, following their leader.

Mizzy glimpses movement and turns round – the snow flurries around her, catching in her hair, dusting her shoulders. The snowmen seem to be in different places to when she walked down the path? Have they moved? Of course not, she thinks, they are only snowmen.

She turns back and continues down the path, not realising that the snowmen are on the move again, striding in pursuit, like implacable hunting machines. Cold in their soul, they will never stop.

Then out of the swirling snow, comes another snowman with flame red hair and green eyes – the effigy of Hep created by the children of the village.

It rams its shopping trolley into the leading snowman, slicing it in two.

Then it takes a blowtorch from one of the plastic bags within, and proceeds to melt the remaining deadly snow bound figures – one by one.

Mizzy continues on her way, oblivious to the danger that she has narrowly escaped.

*

Back at the bunker, Hep puts down a figure, of herself, sculpted in snow. She is exhausted, as if by an enormous mental exertion. She throws the snow doll into the stove and murmurs, ‘You have done your work my poppet, your life is over, time to melt back into the earth.’

A flicker of anxiety crosses her face, and she mutters, ‘So, they seek the girl now, too.’

Chapter 6a

 

Advertisements