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The ghost of winter

by Clare Smith about a year ago in fact or fiction
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True love never dies

The Ghost of winter

The brittle ground shimmered with a sprinkling of light frost. Jacob could see his breath given ghostly life in the frigid air and then disappear. He grunted slightly at the sharp pain in his knee as he took a step. The cold weather no longer agreed with Jacob, it made every movement painful, made his arthritis flare into sharp life and his breath wheeze in his throat. He was determined not to let the winter beat him, he continued with his weekly routine of walking the mile to the post office to collect his pension from the local Post Office. He settled into a steady but slightly stuttering walking rhythm, he leaned heavily on his stick and his mind began to wander. As always it wandered into the past, to happier more contented times…

One of his fondest memories was the first time he had noticed Elizabeth, she had been so vital back then. She had been battling the roses in an attempt to prune them. Her long red hair had been pinned back into an untidy bunch. She was smiling as she muttered curses under her breath as her hair and skirts repeatedly were blown into the thorns to get tangled as she attempted to work. When she had stood to straighten out the aches in her back she had spotted him watching her. He had smiled. He remembered how beautiful she had looked as the blush touched her cheeks and slowly faded to a healthy pink. The thoughts of her embarrassed smile made him feel warm; it was a good protection against the winters bite.

They had become best friends as they shared time together, sharing popcorn watching films in the darkness of the cinema. They went to the local dances, Jacob believed her to be the best dancer in the county when they danced together he felt he was floating on air. He always felt 10 foot tall in her company and the luckiest man alive.

He finally plucked up the courage to ask her to marry him at the New Year’s dance. During the celebrations of the birth of the New Year he had persuaded her to accompany him to the gardens. There in the moonlight in the snow he kneeled before her and asked her the question. The joy in her face as she agreed and kissed him would be forever etched in his mind.

He had been the proudest and happiest man in the world on their wedding day. She had looked so fine that day, dress as white and light as clouds on a lazy summer day, her hair the reddish brown of autumn leaves and her smile so warm and bright it challenged the sun. He had always loved his work on the farm, he had his place in the cycle of life and death and he could truly feel nature at work. He now had a beautiful wife, who loved him to share these experiences with.

He sighed to himself, his feet slow and heavy and his eyes prickling with unshed tears. The changes that took place in the years following their wedding day were hard to believe. The glowing and healthy flower of the woman he married had changed into the malnourished figure of a famine victim who had eventually passed away as he held her a mere four years ago. The changes had been slight at first; she started to forget little things birthdays and the such. Then the headaches started, blinding excruciating pain that began in her temples and built until it exploded wracking her entire body with agony. He had sat powerless to help as her muscles tensed beneath her skin and her hands clawed with pain. Then she relaxed as that wave washed over her. He was unable to soothe or help her.

The doctor had been no use; he had blamed hormones, old age and stress repeatedly over their visits. Eventually his Lizzie had been prescribed sedatives and they worked for a short while. They at least allowed her to sleep and recover a little of her strength. Each time she awoke though the pain returned to haunt her. She had grown progressively weaker. She couldn’t face food, Jacob had tried coaxing her to eat but the mere thought of food had made her nauseous. Jacob in his desperation had called the doctor once again. This doctor was younger, not their usual practitioner. Jacob had watched as the smile left the doctors lips and his face drained to a shocked shade of white. He had blindly groped for Jacobs arm, leading him from the room before muttering “We must phone for an ambulance, I fear there is little I can do to help”.

Elizabeth’s time in the hospital had passed in a confused blur for Jacob. The moments passed in a mixture of bad news, tears and frenzied activity. The main positive was she was given morphine. It had made her a little sleepy, but it had given her some peace from the torment of the pain and allowed her to relax once more. He used to sit by her bedside watching her sleep she had appeared like a porcelain angel beautiful and fragile. A little smile used to play around the edges of her mouth and her hair was a grey misty halo around her face.

Jacob had felt that Elizabeth had seemed like the latest craze to the doctors. She was put through multitudes of examinations and investigations, all were inconclusive. Jacob remembered the feelings of anger and frustration building, every day she had suffered more pain. After this torture the medics had turned round and stated “There is nothing we can do”.

It had then meant another fight to get them to allow her to come home to die. Jacob wanted her to have peace and privacy while they shared their last moments together. He had been beside her through it all. He had been the gentle nurse who cleaned her up after bouts of incontinence. He had been the one who fed her, waiting patiently while she carefully chewed and swallowed each mouthful and then softly encouraging her to eat more. The chaotic mixture of feelings remained inside him; he battled them by throwing more of himself into her care.

Jacob stopped walking for a moment and leant heavily on his stick; he sniffed and wiped his leaking eyes on the back of his glove. He wondered whether the pain he felt would ever lessen. His eyes were drawn to the woods as he heard a noise; he tried to control his laboured breathing so he could hear better but instead all he could hear was the thumping of his pulse in his ears. There was a rustling in the trees and then a woman’s laugh; it was so rich and full of humour it made Jacob smile despite himself. There was movement in the forest beside him; he managed to catch a glimpse of bright green clothing and a flash of warm red hair. “Who’s there?” he called out as he fumbled frantically in his pocket for his glasses, the clarity of his sight had faded with his youth and he needed to see. The laughter had now changed to song. A young woman’s voice sang the words to ‘Scarborough Fair’, the song that had always been Elizabeth’s favourite.

Jacob shouted out again, “Hello. Is anybody there? Please show yourself”. There was silence in the forest except for the rustling of the trees; they seemed to move without any breeze. He thought he could hear his name being called in the distance. He paused for a moment then set off into the undergrowth, cursing himself for being a silly old fool. The frost from the long grass rubbed off onto his trousers. Initially giving them a shiny appearance and eventually soaking them through to the knee. He refused to let the chill of the wet material against his skin distract him from his goal.

He started to notice the weather seemed warmer and above him the tree canopy was thick and green despite the winter. Shadows seemed to dance beneath the trees the breeze teasing the undergrowth into life. He stood, hands on hips as he looked thoughtfully at the branches thick with leaves. A pair of supple icy hands slipped over his eyes and his vision went suddenly black.

He found himself fighting weakly against the grip as a soft giggle tickled his ear. Finally he managed to turn and face his tormentor, he hissed in a shocked breath. “Liz…is that you?” Before his eyes was his wife somehow returned to the moment of youth and beauty when he had first laid eyes upon her. She smiled at him, nodded and held out her hand to him.

“Yes, my love it is me”, she cupped his face in her cold hand. “Do you know why I am here? I want to take you with me” her voice was soft, almost a whisper. He grasped her outstretched hand and drew her to him and gently he met her lips with his own. His lips stuck to hers as they would to frozen metal but he did not struggle. He breathed in the piercing cold and his worries and aches fell away as he dropped into sleep.

Sally, the girl behind the counter at the post office glanced at her watch and frowned. All the usual’s had been in but no sign of Jacob Riley. He was normally here and gone by now, he normally picked up his pension regular as clockwork. She was a little concerned; she hoped nothing had happened to him.

It was two days later when a dog walker found the body of Jacob Riley. He lay in a natural ditch beside the treeline. His lips were blue but smiling, in one hand he clutched the walking stick and in the other was a red rose, its petals only slightly touched by frost.

As his body was gently covered and lifted into the back of the mortuary van in the distant woods the laughter of a young couple could be heard.

fact or fiction

About the author

Clare Smith

I have always written and read a lot since an early age. I was a member of a writers workshop at school and wrote loads of poetry. Now I concentrate more on short stories and my novel in progress.

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