Day Six!

Day Six!

The Advent of Fear, Part One. By Mark B. Oliver.

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Day Six!

'What do you think?' Beth Summers turned round and burst out laughing as her grandma brandished a bright red feather boa around her shoulders. 'This used to belong to my mother,' continued Beth's gran as she jiggled her hips, causing her 12-year-old grand-daughter to laugh even more.

'You could put it on the Christmas tree if we can't find the tinsel,' replied Beth. They were hunting in the attic for the Christmas decorations and had found all manner of things but there was not a bauble in sight. As her laughing subsided, Beth pulled an old blanket off a dusty box, uncovering copper pots and pans and something that looked quite out of place. Pulling it free, Beth held a frame of some kind and her gran came over.

'Now this belonged to my great-grandmother...' said the old lady. For a moment it seemed to stir a half-memory before she added, 'I'd forgotten all about it. It's the advent calendar she was given for her first Christmas.' The frame was a dull silver colour and about the size of a large book. Its edges were intricately designed and Beth thought it looked quite beautiful. She could see small hinged windows all over its surface, some of which were open and behind each one was a very old photograph.

'That's her there,' murmured Gran wistfully as she pointed to one of the tiny sepia images, a baby in a pretty white dress. 'Ah ha!' Moving the box of pots and pans aside she revealed another, crammed full of decorations. 'I think we deserve a cup of tea now we've found these,' she announced and picking up the box she made her way out of the attic. Beth went to put the advent calendar back, but on a sudden impulse decided to take it with her and after switching off the attic light, made her way downstairs.

Some hours later they were putting the finishing touches to the Christmas tree which sparkled as the tree lights caught the reflective glow of the decorations. Gran's living room, despite being quite large, was warm and cosy. Beth loved seeing her gran and had jumped at the chance to spend a few extra days with her ahead of the holidays. Her parents were arriving on Christmas Eve, so Beth had her grandma all to herself for nearly another week. Exhausted, they both plopped down on chairs admiring their handiwork. Next to Beth's chair, on a small, round, slightly battered mahogany table lay the advent calendar. Picking it up she studied it more closely. On each of the closed windows she could make out ornate numbers. Beth tried to close one of the open windows, but it wouldn't budge and neither would the next or the next. 'Probably rusted open,' thought Beth. The lowest number that she could see closed was '15'.

'Today's the fifteenth!' declared Beth rather more loudly than she intended.

'That's right dear...' muttered her gran, whose voice tailed off as she fell asleep.

Beth reached for the window and with just the gentlest of touches it swung open... Was that lightning? Beth looked up sharply. A blast of cold air made her shiver and jump at the same time. The room was darker and her gran was gone. The Christmas tree stood in a slightly different position and was now unlit. Where there had been a gas fire seconds earlier a log fire roared but did little to warm the room. The wallpaper was more austere and somehow the furniture had changed. The round mahogany table still stood by Beth's chair but looked new and unscathed.

'I must be dreaming' thought Beth but another chilly breeze made her think again. She reached out, touching the table and suddenly felt the smooth mahogany scar beneath her fingers. It was old again. The room had returned to its usual state and her gran was sleeping quietly. Shaken, Beth stood and in spite of her instincts reached for the sixteenth window. It remained firmly stuck. Realising she had been holding her breath, she let out a deep sigh of relief and put the calendar down. 'Just a silly dream,' she muttered to herself as she tip-toed out of the room to get ready for bed. It was getting late, after all. 'Just a silly dream...'

The following morning was bright and sunny and promising. Gran had nipped into town for a spot of Christmas shopping and Beth was in her bedroom, finishing the last of her holiday homework. Satisfied with her answers, she closed her school books and wandered out onto the landing which overlooked the hall below. Her gran lived in a grand old Victorian house which had been in the family for generations. Beth descended the wide sweeping staircase, which always made her feel like a movie star, and went through to the lounge. The advent calendar was sparkling in the sunlight and Beth picked it up, smiling as she looked at the photographs. Then her heart seemed to miss a beat as she saw, for the first time, the fifteenth photograph. It was of the living room she had dreamt of the night before. Her heart pounded as she again tried to open the sixteenth window. This time she felt it move easily beneath her fingertips.

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