Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cards (11/06/08)
TITLE: The Broken Bough
By Colin Swann
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He muttered to himself, I’m sure she likes me - dratted weather - must deliver this card personally. Mmm, yes, and ask her over for Christmas.
Shoving at the door as best his old body could, he eventually forced it open - wind and snowdrift had to give way to an octogenarian desperate to court Kathleen Jones. Like Jacob she had been widowed in recent years.
What’s the man think he’s doing phoning to say he’s coming over? Must tidy things up - this time I’ll put him off once and for all. The man’s a nuisance - fancy coming over in this weather.
Jacob was fast looking like a walking snowman. Snow flakes were falling like big lumps of cotton wool. Visibility was now down to the immediate trees by the woodland path. He thought, Are these old bones going to hold out? It’s got to be another couple of miles to Glencote Cottage. Don’t know how I’ll make it back. Blast the weather.
The windy snowstorm felled a rotted gnarled oak branch; it gave a sharp crack on breaking off which seem to echo when it struck Jacob’s head. He fell with the bough across his body. Blood trickled and then seeped into the whiteness making a mark like a child’s paint spill. He clutched hold of the Christmas card as if losing it would be an eternal loss.
All he could see now was whiteness. He heard Martha, You old fool - what do you think you’re doing? He often heard Martha; they still conversed in his mutterings and imagination - she would still boss him and give her usual instructions. Get up and go back home, he heard her say. He attempted a shuffle to free himself but felt restricted like a bear in a trap.
The white was becoming a muzzy gray. He was now laying among his comrades in the trenches. Those who had fallen to enemy guns and had expired and frozen overnight. His soul began to weep. All my mates and now I’m dying with them. Joe hold my hand like I held yours. He remembered those bodies looking white and waxen, just lying there in the trenches, like badly dressed tailors’ dummies. Stiff they were when we lifted them onto the stretchers.
Blackness was now all he saw. Oh. I’m lost. Joe? Martha? I feel alone. His hand fell open and wind swept up the card taking it on its wings to nowhere. Jacob breathed his last in Oakland Wood on a windy night among a carpet of snow.
Next morning a father and son were out exercising Ben, when the dog suddenly dashed toward a snow covered log.
“Look dad, Ben’s sniffing at that heap of snow.”
“Here Ben - Joe keep away!” The father had seen a frozen hand.
Jacob’s frozen body was removed on an icy December morning just two days off Christmas day. No one ever knew why he was wading around in those snow clad woods. Kathleen never did speak of the persistent pestering of Jacob Prentice. Neither did she ever get to know what Jacob Prentice had written on her card.
Later in the New Year Jenny and her daddy went looking in the woodlands for interesting bits and pieces for her school’s nature table.
“Daddy, look at this fungus, is it a mushroom?”
“No, it‘s not a mushroom - it could be poisonous - don’t touch it! Wrong time of year for the edible ones.”
“Daddy, there’s an old card - why would someone throw it in the woods? The writing’s all scribblerly - I can’t read it. Do you know what it says Daddy?”
“Let me see: ‘Happy Christmas Kathleen with all my love Jacob. xx’.”
Jacob Prentice had laboriously written those words with his arthritic hands.
It was right that Kathleen never discovered what was written on her Christmas card and that Jacob never knew how she would receive it.
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