A Winter’s Tale.

A winter’s tale for you to enjoy over the festive season.

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A Dickens of a Christmas

The only thing the children had in common was they’d all disappeared on Christmas Eve.

Ruth Gainley threw her pen across the desk, and swept her long dark hair up into a pretend pony tail on top of her head.

“I don’t get it, I can’t understand.”

“What don’t you get Ruth?”  Gilly Rainsdon placed a steaming mug of coffee in front of her boss.

“Look at these pictures.”  Gilly scanned the photographs that Ruth had lined up.  Two boys and one girl.  “Tell me why three children go missing on Christmas Eve?  I was hoping to get home for Christmas this year, looks like I’m here now for the foreseeable.”

“I’ll stay and help, what are your plans?”  Gilly took her job as Ruth Gainley’s assistant very seriously.  If there was work to do, and children involved, she was on the case.  Ruth shook her long dark mane loose around her shoulders, and took a slurp of the welcome coffee.  “Mmm thanks for the drink.  I haven’t a clue where to start.  We had the phone calls all in the last few hours.  This one,” She pointed to the boy with the thick fringe.  “He lives on the Estate, and the parents are frantic.  He didn’t return home from his judo practice.  The second lad, the red head lives with his mother the other end of town, and she rang in when he didn’t turn up at his Grandma’s only two streets away.”

“It seems very strange.”  Gilly drank her coffee, and listened to Ruth as she went on.

“The girl, she’s eight and was due to meet her friends at the church nativity practice.  They thought she’d forgotten, so there it is.  Three children, all missing, and I haven’t a single lead or idea to go on.”

The Police Station was empty except for the two women, and Molly the cleaning lady who was just finishing up.  Ruth glanced out of the window.  Snowflakes began to flurry round the lamplights outside.  It was going to be a long night.

“I’ll shout Merry Christmas to you both.”  Molly stuck her head round the door.  “You’ll be in time for midnight mass if you leave now.”   Ruth saw that it was just after ten o’clock.

“No chance Molly, there’s three missing children in Waterscombe, and judging by the weather, I need to find them as soon as I can.”  Molly came over to look at the pictures on Ruth’s desk.

“I’ve seen this one before.”  She was pointing at the red haired boy.  “He’s Danny Rowley.  His dad delivers the milk.  He looks the double of his dad that one.  He and his mum split up about a year ago.  Yes, that’s definitely him.”  She stood nodding her head looking at the picture.  Ruth swung round on her chair, and doodled on a large sheet of paper.   “Thanks Molly, that’s helpful.  The other boy is Peter Douglas.  Apparently he’s best judo student in the club.  Although he’s only twelve, he could be in line for a black belt in a few years.”  Molly was engrossed in the discussions.  She pulled up a chair, and took her hat and scarf off.

“Molly, what are you doing, I thought you were due to get off?”  Ruth stared at the cleaning lady as she rolled her sleeves up, and stuck her elbows on the table.

“Count me in on this right now.  Innocent children missing at a time like this?  I couldn’t eat my mince pies thinking of you two here on your own.  Come on, who’s the girl then.”  Gilly shrugged at Ruth, Molly wasn’t going anywhere.  Seems there were a team of three working on the missing children case.

The girl was nine year old Annabelle Deeming from Remington Avenue just on the outskirts of Waterscombe.  The family had not long moved from Ireland.  Nobody knew much about the family, except that her dad was a scrap merchant, and her mother ran a specialised taxi service.

“How is it specialised?” enquired Molly.

“Occasions, like weddings, parties, functions.”

“Oh I see.”  Molly nodded.

Just then the phone rang out; it was Betty Deeming ringing to see if there was any news of Annabelle.  When she replaced the receiver, Ruth revealed the conversation.  Her family want to meet at the church, her mum is certain she’d never miss midnight mass, and thinks she could turn up there.

Wrapping up warm against the now building blizzard of snow, the group of three braved the winter night.  St. Mary’s church was the other side of town.  Slipping, and sliding across the pavement, Molly clung to Ruth and Gilly.  They walked in a row to keep warm.  The Dickensian night in the town was just starting.  Already stoves were roaring, where vendors were roasting chestnuts, and street performers juggled plates.   As usual the town was full of families in Victorian costume.

“Listen to that,” Molly stopped for a moment, “The salvation Army band.  Now I know its Christmas.  I say you two.”

“What Molly.”  Ruth was getting impatient.  She had to get to the church, not mingle at the Dickens Night.

“What if the children just wanted to go to the fair, or have a look around this?”  She gestured to the events going on in the town.

“Molly, for heaven’s sake, these are young children who didn’t turn up where they should have been.”

Molly glancing at Gilly, pulled a face behind Ruth’s back.  Gilly grinned.  Just then they passed a stall giving away free mulled wine.  Ruth took a cup and knocked it back in one slug.  Gilly and Molly followed suit.  Mingling through the crowds, the three women asked the stall holders if they’d seen the children in the photographs.  No-one had.  The street was bustling; the palmistry caravan had a queue forming outside.  Molly looked through the window of the caravan.

“Eee I’d love to have my palm read, wouldn’t you Ruth?”

“No Molly, missing children?”

“I know, look there’s the church.”

Lights were glowing and a throng of worshipers were making their way into St. Mary’s.   Ruth was looking out for the parents of Annabelle.  She had made a phone call to Peter’s mum and Danny Rowley’s parents as well.  The vicar of Waterscombe welcomed the Christmas crowd into the church.  As the door closed, he began to talk to the crowd.

“So, this Christmas, I want us to think of the children.  Those greedy little monsters who expect everything, and haven’t a clue who Jesus is, and don’t even know the Christmas story half of them.”  There was a hush around the church; you could have heard a pin drop on the cold hard floor.  Ruth, Gilly and Molly were stunned.  Ruth looked round trying to find the parents of the children that were missing.

“Furthermore, I want you to think of advent calendars.  Once was the time when you had a stable with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus surrounded by the animals and angels.  Now,” his voice was getting louder and angrier.  “Now, all they want is chocolates, and Mickey mouse.  Disney I tell you.”  The vicar was positively screaming at the top of his voice.

Bells began ringing slowly at first, then more loudly.  Clanging and banging, wailing eerily through the church, ringing out continuously.  Screams and moans filled the church.  The whole congregation went hysterical.

“He’s mad, get the police.”  Ruth pulled out her badge.

“I am the police, make way, there’s something going on here.”  She ran towards the vestry.   The Vicar laughed loudly.

“Too late, you won’t find them.  Silly little greedy brats, promised them money and new bikes.  Easy-peasy to bribe greedy materialistic monsters that are just spoiled by parents who think they’re above all this.”  He threw his arms around the building.

The children’s voices screamed loud and strong.

“We’re up here, help us, please somebody get us down.  We’re up in the bell tower.”  Ruth took the stairs two at a time.  She got to the children in a few minutes.  Gilly and Molly were close behind.  Annabelle was shivering and crying.  Peter was coughing; Danny looked relieved to see the rescuers.  The nun told us to come up here and wait for the Vicar to call us.  We were going to get a present he said.

“Who is the nun?”  Ruth looked at Gilly and Molly.

“There was a nun who lived in the bungalow at the back of the church a hundred years ago.  She had an affair with the vicar at the time, and is said to haunt the church.  She didn’t like children, something to do with that she couldn’t have any of her own.”  Molly concluded.

“Come on children, we’ll get you home and forget midnight mass for this year.  Let’s get some hot chestnuts instead.  Ruth led the children down the cold stairway out of the church into the winter’s night.

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Author: susanjanejones

I write articles and short stories, and this year I've become a pocket novelist for my weekly.

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