Walking Backwards for Christmas: Between the Walls

Walking Backwards for Christmas, Chapter 6, Part 1 — Between the Walls: “As If”

Between the walls“I won’t linger and lie about if I frighten you, Reggie lad.”

“No…” I heard myself mumble. “Don’ go ….”

I was just coming to, wondering how and when I’d moved from the dining room to the version of the lounge that glowed before me. I was cognizant enough to realize that I was lying on the floor, looking up at a room that had a very “as if” quality to it, like a shiny, glossy glowing version of Grammer and Gramfer’s real lounge. The fireplace — so cold and dark in the real world of Solihull — was warm with a comforting radiance that filled the room, as lights on the mantle and on an adjacent Christmas tree glimmered and twinkled like stars into the Rembrandt light beyond.

There was no tree set up in the real world, nor any lights on the mantlepice. If there had been, the lounge here would still have been like an idealized reflection in a mirror than anything resembling the real thing.

My head was lying in the lap of a girl who’d been dead for over 300 years. My grandfather – my recently dead grandfather – was hovering over my face, talking to me. Overall, I thought I was reasonably composed and taking the situation fairly well.

Bethany was gently caressing the side of my head. Her hands were warm for a dead girl. “Soft,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper. “The peat quickens.”

“Wot…?” I mumbled. “Howzat…?”

Stan’s reassuring face came into view behind Gramfer’s. At least he looked real.

“It’s alright, mate. You’ve just had a bit uffa shock. I’d have been on the floor too if it were my dead grandfather. But they’re real, Reggie, both him and Bethany – as real as you or I. They want to be with you – with us. They invited us here.”

He extended his hand; so did Gramfer. “Come on, Reggie. Take our hands. Sit up.”

I took one hand each of his and Gramfer’s with my right and left hands, respectively.I half sat up and half let them pull me up to a sitting position. The room still had an “as if” quality.

“Softly, softly,” Bethany cooed. “Dup him dull as though with cheveril, for I fear the poor earling may yet be a bit single.”

Stan and Gramfer hauled me up slowly to my feet, surrendering me to Bethany, who held me for a moment, almost the way Mum would have under such circumstances. Then she handed me a goblet.

“Here, drink this.”

Gramfer made a move to stay me, making a sound though he never said an actual

Bethany looked at him in amusement. “Fear thee yet a witch’s brew?” she asked, laughing. “’Tis naught but herbs and a pinch of hartshorn in claret. Thou needs must seek elsewhere, Fen, for thy ‘nefarious’ potion.’”

Gramfer’s face signaled to me that it was OK to drink. The stuff tasted terrible and I nearly gagged on the contents once or twice before I could finish drinking it, but it did center me again.

I looked about the room. It still had an “as if” quality, but more in a fun way, as if I were in an amusement park attraction. I decided to go along for the fun of it. Bethany and Gramfer had indeed become as three-dimensional, as solid, as tangible and as real, as anyone I’ve ever met – or ever expect to. That was good enough for me.

“I thought yow were dead,” I said. “Both of yow.”

Gramfer smiled. “We are dead, Reggie.”

The fun feeling started to fade; a shiver went up my spine.

“Look about you, lad,” he continued. “Yer not inside a hollow tree in Solihull anymore.”

“Then … where are we, Stan and I? And how’d we get ’ere?”

Gramfer laughed. “You got here, as both of you bloody well know, by following Bethany from the river. She knows the ways, the ins and outs, of this place far better than I do. I prevailed upon her good nature to bring you here.”

“And ‘’ere’ is …?”

Gramfer momentarily looked at a loss for words. His voice was softer, more hesitant, when he spoke again.

“In-between, lad.”

“In-b’tween wot?”

Between The walls, Gramfer said, still hesitantly.

© 2014, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.