Walking Backwards for Christmas: Bethany Appears

Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall. Chapter 5, Part 5: Solihull,  Christmas Eve Day 1960 : Bethany Appears

Bethany

 

[the featured picture is of the bridge over Ravenshaw Ford]

Bolting into the woods over mud and extremely slippery grasses in dress oxfords wasn’t only risky but only marginally even manageable. We moved into and through the woods as quickly as we could, hearing the rush of the river before we knew it. A minute or so later we were standing on the bridge overlooking Ravenshaw Ford.

I’d always known it as a place of tranquility but today the water roared menacingly beneath us. The skies were growing darker, the air colder and, though a mist was building on the beds flanking the river, there was no sign of Bethany. I’d been an utter prat and we were about to get soaked for nothing.

But, as I turned to Stan, about to make whatever apology I could muster, he shushed me.

“Do you hear it?” he whispered.

At first I heard nothing unusual and was going to say so, but then I heard it too, over the rushing of the waters. It wasn’t quite discernible at first, a flutelike sound not too dissimilar
to the recorders I played at home and at school. Then I heard an “angel” descant, like ones we sang in choir, played by something that sounded vaguely like a whistle, then a lute, cittern,
or some other antecedent of the guitar, playing rhythmic support below.

“I fink it moight be early Christmas music,” I said. “How early?” he asked. “Seventeenth century early?” I nodded. “T’leus” My eyes followed the river upstream.

“Yav a Merry Christmas, Bethany,” I said with a subdued kind of whimsy.

“‘F’ I knoo wot y’ wanted, I’d troy t’ get y’a gift an’ gie it to yer. Woy y’ look out fer us after th’ woy we treated yow, soom’un shood.” The rushing of the river was my only reply. At first.

But then the music became louder, more audible. The mist on either side of the banks grew thicker, culminating 100 meters upstream. There, in the midst of the coagulating vapors, a translucent white light appeared. It began drifting toward us. The closer it came, the more it took on the outline of a very slender young woman, perhaps five foot five, no taller, with long hair, wearing a dress extending to the ground.

At 25 meters, the dress, the hair and the face became discernible. The dress—or rather the gown, for that’s what it was—was white satin with red trim, mid-seventeenth century, square-bodiced, cinched just below the bust. It was well beyond the means of a serving girl, but then again, sartorial rules would no longer apply to a ghost. Her wavy dark brown hair hung loose past her hips, crowned with a wreath of ivy.

Her face was round, or as round as a face was likely to be when its owner had likely not eaten well for months—perhaps longer.

She had a delicate build, much like Auntie Gene’s, but Bethany’s I suspected was not so much inherent as it was a product of circumstance.

The deprivation accentuated her cheekbones and jaw line. She had long, brown eyes, not almond-shaped, almost oval, and an aquiline nose. Her mouth was small yet sensible, neither a bow mouth nor a pouting one. Her lips weren’t especially red, nor were her pupils or eyebrows particularly dark shades of brown, a yet they all seemed so when contrasted with the unearthly pallor of her skin.

We inched our way off the bridge over to her side of the river. I don’t know why. As I look back now, I’m not even certain the decision was our own. But she was 15 meters away by then, and the decision to back away slowly was definitely ours.

© 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.