A warm TKnC welcome to Tanya with this eerie tale...
The Journal of Millicent Miles
31st December 1974
It is fifteen minutes to midnight and, as I sit here alone with the wind howling outside and fresh drifts of snow building up against the back door, I can almost hear the grains of sand falling as the remaining minutes of my life ebb away.
For seventy five years I have been waiting for this night, and now that it is finally here I am surprised to discover that I am no longer afraid. Of course we all meet our own end at some point in time; it’s all part and parcel of being alive. However very few of us are aware of the exact cause of our demise. It has taken me a lifetime to accept that my existence will be erased on the first stroke of midnight as the new year of 1975 begins, but only recently have I accepted that there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. No amount of begging, pleading or bargaining can alter the course of the event that will soon take place.
I expect you are wondering how I know that I will die at midnight, or maybe you are thinking that I’m just another daft old bat who has had too much after-dinner sherry. I can’t say that I blame you, as the same thoughts would no doubt cross my mind if our roles were reversed. The simple truth is that I was told the exact date and time of my death by my killer, on a night much like this. It was on New Year’s Eve 1899, and I was ten years old.
My parents had been in India for five months, but due to illness I had been forced to remain in England with my mother’s elder sister and her family. My aunt had two children, a daughter named Elspeth who was a year younger than me, and a son named Charles who was four. Until that winter I had enjoyed an idyllic middle-class upbringing, being raised in a large country house with acres of grounds in which to play and servants to attend to my needs. My aunt’s house was slightly larger than that occupied by my family, as she had married into ‘old money.’ My uncle spent much of his time in London, but every Friday night he would return home for the weekend with boxes filled with surprises for my aunt and the children, myself included.
About three weeks before the Christmas of 1899 it was decided that my uncle would remain in London for the weekend, and the rest of the family would join him on the Saturday morning so that we could visit Father Christmas in his grotto at the Army and Navy stores in Regent Street.
Elspeth and I decided that it would probably be best not to inform my aunt and uncle that we no longer believed that Father Christmas was real, as neither of us could understand how it was possible for him to be in so many of the large stores at the same time. So, before leaving to catch the train to London Bridge, we made a pact to behave like normal children - which was more for the benefit of Charles than for his parents. When he was older he would begin to reach the same conclusion as Elspeth and I, as at that time it would have been cruel to shatter the illusions of a child who was too young to know that he was being fooled by the adults around him.
We were met at London Bridge by my uncle’s driver shortly before ten thirty, and after calling at the town house in Eaton Square to drop off the luggage we made our way to Regent Street. It had been snowing intermittently since Friday afternoon, so the streets were white and gave the city an almost magical feel as we passed the stores with their brightly decorated windows. Although Elspeth and I no longer believed in Father Christmas, or Santa Claus as he was by then becoming known, we could still appreciate a nicely decorated Christmas tree and soon found ourselves caught up in the excitement of the occasion.
After lunch we made our way to the Army and Navy, where we took our places in the queue to meet the man who would be dressed as Santa. Charles fidgeted with impatience whereas Elspeth and I were fighting the urge to giggle at the absurdity of it all, and some of the smaller children behind us were sobbing with desperation as the queue slowly began to move closer to the grotto. After almost an hour it was finally our turn to enter. In a large white chair surrounded by spruce and red baubles sat the man dressed as Santa, and seated on the floor next to him was a dwarf who was supposed to be one of his many helpers.
“Welcome children!” Santa roared cheerfully as we walked towards him. “Tell me your name and the gift that your heart desires this year.”
“A train set!” Charles cried after telling Santa his name, throwing his arms around the man’s neck and almost dislodging the carefully arranged spruce.
The man laughed heartily before beckoning Elspeth and I to step forward. We looked at one another nervously before telling him our names, and a strange expression passed across his face momentarily when we told him that we desired knowledge and truth.
“Hmmm, strange gifts for two young ladies,” he mused, looking down at the dwarf who was shaking his head. “However I think it will be possible to grant your wishes.”
We thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas, but as we walked away I felt sure that he was whispering something rather unkind to the dwarf.
When Christmas Day arrived the countryside was hidden under a fresh covering of snow, and a blazing fire greeted us in the drawing room where we opened our presents after breakfast. Charles was thrilled when he began to open box after box of railway carriages, whereas Elspeth was surprised to find a heavy encyclopedia among her presents. To her surprise was added a dash of bewilderment, as one of my presents was a book containing all manner of facts and figures from around the world. It seemed that the man had been telling the truth when he told us that our wishes could be granted, as we had indeed received some form of knowledge and truth.
Elspeth decided that the man must have told my aunt what we had asked for, or maybe the dwarf had been instructed to pass the message on. Perhaps that was the reason for the whispering I had heard, rather than something less savoury? Neither of us gave the matter another thought, but on New Year’s Eve we regretted our actions.
A party was held that night to celebrate a new year, a new century and a new millennium, but my cousins and I were sent to bed at nine thirty. Of course we did as all children do in large houses, and sneaked out of our bedrooms to gaze at the men and women who were still dancing as midnight approached. By ten thirty we were beginning to feel sleepy and returned to our beds.
At around eleven forty five I was woken by the sound of Elspeth climbing out of bed and creeping towards the door, and when she didn’t respond to my calls I decided to follow her down the back stairs and out of the house into the stable yard. It was snowing heavily and extremely cold, but Elspeth did not appear to notice; it was as if she was in a trance. In the breeze I could hear a man’s voice calling her name, and as I continued to follow her it became obvious that the sound was becoming louder.
We crossed the lawn and made our way into a small area of woodland, and at its heart I was amazed to see Santa and his helper waiting for Elspeth. Although it was dark there was enough snow to reflect a little natural light, and I could see what appeared to be soot and small pieces of coal lying on the ground.
“Well, what have we here?” Santa laughed as we stood before him. “I called for one of you but find myself with two! Most amusing I must say. Unfortunately I can only take Elspeth tonight, but your time will come Millicent.”
“What do you mean Santa? Where are you taking Elspeth?” I asked, shivering from a combination of the cold and a feeling of dread that was inching slowly up my spine. Elspeth remained silent and strangely unaware of my presence.
“You asked for knowledge and truth, did you not?” he replied, a grin spreading across his face. “Surely you didn’t think that you would find them in the books you received on Christmas Day?”
All that I was able to manage was a nod of my head, the blood in my veins turning to ice as Santa stepped forward and placed a hand on Elspeth’s shoulder. There was something slightly different about him, and although he looked very similar to the man we had seen in London his eyes were dark and his complexion appeared to be tanned. It was also impossible not to notice the smell of soot that surrounded him, and something else that I did not recognise at first.
However I knew without a shadow of doubt that this was not the same man. I felt as if I had been frozen in place, and as the man placed a hand on either side of Elspeth’s head I could neither scream nor lash out at him. He moved Elspeth’s head upwards so that she was looking directly into his eyes, her mouth opening is if to scream although there was no sound.
There was a sudden flash of orange light, and as my eyes adjusted I was horrified by what I saw in front of me. Beams of light were being emitted from the man’s eyes, fingers and mouth, and a bright blue mist was streaming from Elspeth’s mouth and into his.
A moment later there was another flash of light, then the man released his hold on my cousin. Her body fell to the ground, pale and lifeless. I knew in an instant that she was dead, and at the same time I was able to name the other smell. It was sulphur.
“What have you done?” I cried, falling to the ground and sobbing next to Elspeth’s body. “You’re Santa. You’re supposed to bring gifts, not take people’s lives!”
“Oh you silly girl!” he laughed, the air now thick with sulphur. “I’m not Santa, I’m merely doing his bidding. Santa does bring gifts to those who believe that he exists, and he relies on me to punish those who don’t believe. Children like you and your cousin. You may think that you can fool him, but he always knows the truth. He can weed you out in seconds, and then your souls belong to me. That’s the way it has always been; the way it will always be. You know who I am, even though you have many names for me. Think of Santa but rearrange the last three letters; that’s who I am.”
It took me a moment, but once I had thought about it the man’s identity was obvious. He was Satan; the Devil. Elspeth’s soul had been sent to Hell and mine would join it.
“Clever girl, I knew you would work it out,” he chuckled, prodding Elspeth’s body with one of his cloven hooves. I hadn’t even noticed that he wasn’t wearing boots. “Unfortunately I will have to take you another time, but I will come back for you. A promise is a promise, and Santa always lets me work to my own schedule. This year, next year, fifty years. He’s very flexible. I’ll call for you in seventy five years, at the first stroke of midnight. And don’t try to get out of it by attempting to kill yourself or anything silly like that; your life remains intact until I come for your soul.”
I suddenly felt very tired, and when I looked up again he had gone.
Ever since that night I have been unable to speak, but even if I could have told my family what had happened they wouldn’t have believed me. There was an inquest into Elspeth’s death, but an open verdict was recorded. To the doctors who examined her body she appeared to have died of natural causes, and there was nothing at all to suggest foul play.
It is now two minutes to midnight and my story, like my life, must come to an end. I can hear my name being carried on the wind. It’s very faint, but it will soon grow louder. There’s a hint of sulphur in the air so he’s very close now. It is time for me to go.
Tanya blogs here: http://tabenefield.blogspot.com/