Walking Backwards for Christmas: Bethany and The Hollow Tree

Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall. Chapter 5, Part 7: Solihull,  Christmas Eve Day 1960 : Bethany and The Hollow Tree

Bethany[note: Just to remind everyone where we were three weeks ago, Reggie and Stan followed Bethany’s ghost past the Ravenshaw Ford bridge, along the River Blythe, when they become enveloped in a heavy mist and can’t see a thing, though they still hear ancient music (16th century or earlier) somewhere beyond the fog.]

Great!” I sighed, feeling defeated. “Wot d’ we do now?”

“Follow the music,” Stan replied.

Sure enough, we still heard faint traces of ancient Christmas music if we listened carefully. We followed them for at least two or three minutes, unable to see anything, not even sure if we’d end up in the river, when the fog lifted just as precipitously as it had descended.

Bethany still stood 15 meters away, next to a large, hollow tree, looking back at us. Then she walked into the tree and disappeared.

I ran up to the hollow tree, Stan following close behind. Bethany wasn’t there but we could see a strange glow emanating from the right side of the tree in a space just large enough for Stan and me to squeeze into. We squeezed by, carefully brushing off bark, moss, sawdust and other detritus from our coats before we went any further. The glow persisted, curving down what appeared to be a crude kind of corridor.

We followed it around the curve to find the corridor was still curving. I assumed we’d travel in a circle, either ending up where we’d started or hitting a wall. We did neither, though the ensuing circle was smaller than the one before. We were traveling in a spiral pattern.

By third pass, the corridor no longer looked like the interior of a hollow tree.

There was wood paneling on the walls, topped by the kind of heavily patterned wallpaper Grammer and Gramfer had in their lounge. A series of small floor carpets replaced the moss on the floor. Fourth pass entailed a distance of no more than 30 meters when the circle ended at large wooden door with a huge brass doorknob. It took Stan and me put together to turn the knob. I’d no idea how anyone tiny as Bethany could have managed it alone – or if she had.

The door opened; we entered a candlelit, festively decorated version of the dining room at Gramfer and Grammer’s house. Bethany stood before the table, smiling at us, no longer ethereal but fully of flesh and blood. But it was the person standing beside her, also smiling, fully of flesh and blood, who caused me to faint away.

It was Gramfer.

© 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.