Whispers in the wind

Waking up screaming. Penelope shouts for her Mum and Dad. She keeps having the same nightmare. A dark shadow like creature chases her. When she tries to escape, it grabs her and holds on until tears run down  Penelope’s chubby cheeks. Enveloping its body around her like a fort made of blankets so all she can see is black. She wakes up screaming, each night thesame as the previous.

She shouts again for Mum and Dad, pulling the bed covers tighter around her small frame. Penelope waits for her parents but nobody comes. Maybe they are still downstairs. Swinging her legs out of bed she runs to the other side of the room before the monster under the bed has a chance to grip her ankles. Grabbing her fluffy fairy slippers and pink dressing gown she darts into the hallway closing the large, heavy door behind her. Pausing outside to push her auburn curls out of her face she pulls on her dressing gown and slides her feet into the slippers. Dad always calls her his little fox because foxes have orange fur like her hair. Penelope sometimes wishes she has a tail like a fox. Dad has grey hair like the stones she picks up on her way to school and Mum has yellow hair like the sun. Penelope doesn’t know why she has orange hair. The other children at school tease her and tell her she’s adopted. She doesn’t like school much.

Nibbling on the ends of her already sore fingers Penelope scurries down the hall and knocks lightly on her parent’s bedroom door. With no answer, she glances around before turning the metal handle. Her parents aren’t in bed. They must be downstairs. Leaving the door ajar she hurries a little as she heads downstairs, worried that there might be someone behind her in a moment of paranoia. Heading first to the kitchen and stepping onto the cold brown tiles she looks around the cupboards, standing on her tiptoes to try and see what’s on the breakfast bar. No signs of her parents. Turning to face the fridge the calendar catches her eye. A cute black kitten is playing with some wool and underneath the word, ‘December’ is written in big letters. Penelope registers it as the month of Christmas. She remembers making snowmen in school to bring home. The most recent date crossed off is 24 which means it might be Christmas today. Funny, Penelope doesn’t remember being told it’s Christmas. The number 28 is circled on the calendar in big red marker. Maybe that’s when Christmas is, maybe it’s too early. Penelope recalls Christmas last year. She remembers having the decorations up for ages because Dad took them down one evening saying that they had been up for too long. Moving her chin to face the ceiling there are no signs of any green garlands coated in Holly or Berries. Panic grips her small heart. What if Mum and Dad forgot about Christmas? She hasn’t yet written her letter to Santa telling him about the toys she wants. How will he know to come? Innocent tears spring to her eyes. The thoughts of no Santa or Christmas this year fretting her young mind. Venturing towards the livingroom she is forced to stop when she loses a slipper. Kicking it in a moment of unnecessary anger she bends down to put it back on. Through her clouded, wateryeyes Penelope can see light coming from the living room underneath thehalf-closed door.

“Muuuuuum?” She cries through stifled tears as she clumsily pushes the dark red door open.

Pushing the door, a little too aggressively, it knocks against the doorstopper on the opposite side. Penelope stops for a moment expecting to be told off. When it doesn’t happen, she ventures across the wooden floor, into the middle of the room, stopping on the oval red and white rug and rubbing her eyes in the process, half from sleep and the other from crying. Dad is lighting the evening fire. Poking at it until orange flames reflect off his glasses as it crackles and explodes. Mum is sat in the armchair by the fire with her long curls hanging over the edge of a big dusty book she’s reading. Her legs are crossed, and she has an old grey blanket over her shoulders that normally covers the back of the sofa.

“Muuuum. I h-had a bad dream” Penelope cries through stuttered breath and fat tears.

Her pleas are greeted with silence. She tries Dad instead. She tries to nudge his shoulder with both hands but somehow falls to the ground. Now crying from the pain she uses all the breath in her lungs to show how she’s feeling. Her little heart full of so many negative emotions. Her parents pay her no attention. Mum has stopped reading and places her head in her hands. Dad goes to her side, kneeling on the floor in front of mum. Penelope looks at the large fireplace in front of her. Large orange flames flicker in the middle, surrounded by large bricks and a white mantlepiece. Penelope is confused when she recalls the month on the calendar. There is no milk out for Santa and no stockings hanging from the mantlepiece. No signs of Christmas at all. This is a disaster. Her unfocused tears stop falling. Her concentration only on Santa. With sagging shoulders and a hunched back, she scurries to the other side of her Mum. Inching forward in her bare feet and white nightdress. She wants to cuddle with mum until she falls asleep or she can sit on dad’s knee and be told a story. However, halfway across the short distance, the door to the living room swings open slightly as if pushed. Penelope thinks she sees the shadow and its dark movements, she leaps towards her Mum and lands just centimetres away from the comfort of her parents embrace. 

“Mum! Dad!” Panicked, terrified breaths rush out in little gasps as Penelope bobs up and down trying to get her parents attention.

Flinging herself onto the chair she hopes to feel the envelope of her mum’s soft dressing gown or her Dads warm, large hands grabbing her own. She doesn’t feel anything. When she leaps on them they seem to disappear into thin air. Penelope lands on the floor, back where she started at the end of the armchair as if she never moved. Her eyes dart frantically around the room searching for her parents. She takes the time to look behind the sofa and curtains in case they’re hiding. Shouting over and over for her parent’s she huddles into the corner of the living room. She cocoons herself into a ball, hidden from the world. No Santa and a monster after her. This is helpless. Burying her face into her arms, she cries. She considers all the things she won’t enjoy this year. Pretending to be asleep so Santa will deliver the presents. Waking up Christmas morning, running downstairs to open the presents that are always adorned in beautiful wrapping paper under the tree. Then, after a quiet Christmas dinner, her parents would take her to the city centre. They would ice skate under the giant Christmas tree, Mum holding one of her hands whilst Dad holds the other. She would twirl around in her red Christmas dress like a ballerina. Wearing the latest handmade scarf from Great-aunt Sicil. The floor would sparkle underneath her skates like someone had dropped a tub of glitter and the big baubles on the tree would shine and twinkle like stars. All the time they’re ice skating Penelope would make sure to look up to catch sight of Santa just in case he’s late delivering presents one year. The city would be filled with smiling busy faces. Penelope would often get pushed or shoved and have to hold hands tight. Some strangers would smell like Christmas trees which always reminded her of the day they collect theirs from the tree man. She would be so excited to pick a new one out each year. She always picked the smallest one because she would feel sorry for the baby one left on its own. Then they would rush home and drag the dusty boxes from the attic full of tinsel, spiky garlands, shiny baubles and beautiful ornaments to hang around the house and on the tree sitting in the corner of the living room by the fireplace. The decorations always smelt like old people, but Penelope loved decorating the tree and would always get the important job of putting the angel on top who she had named Sophie. Sophie was a beautiful angel. With a golden-brown dress and agold trim around the bottom. Beautiful gold leaf wings. Short curly brown hairand bright red lips with a yellow halo on top of her head. Holding a sparklyjewel-crusted vine between her outstretched hands with tiny little leavesattached. She was beautiful. Penelope sometimes pretended she was the Angel andran around the room with her arms outstretched, leaping over imaginary cloudsand pretending she was sprinkling angel dust on children’s heads to grant themtheir Christmas wishes.

Penelope stops crying in aquestioning pause. Maybe there’s no Christmas in the house yet because they’ve lost Sophie. It happened last year when they were putting the decorations up. Penelope always finds Sophie first to play with her before she goes on the tree. Only last year she wasn’t in her red box. They couldn’t find her anywhere. Penelope remembers how upset she was. Mum and Dad turned the house upside down looking for her and eventually found her in an overlooked Christmas decorations box up in the attic. Maybe that’s what’s happened this time. Maybe they can’t find her at all. Penelope stands up, unsure about whether to find her parents or the angel. Retying her dressing gown as tight as she can pull, which isn’t very tight at all.

She forgot about the shadow monster. It’s now floating by the fire with its sharp-clawed hands hanging by its side like tentacles. It has no face, only the shape of a rounded head on top of its hovering body. It has no legs either and its torso is shaped like a Halloween ghost. Facing towards the fire, it’s clear that it hasn’t yet noticed Penelope’s small frame in the corner. Going onto her hands and knees she creeps around the back of the sofa. How she wishes her parents were here to help her. Her mind is confused by their disappearance when they seemed so real sitting by the fire. Even more confusing is the lack of preparation for Christmas, very unlike her family. Losing her slippers in the progress of moving along the walls, edging along on the cold hard floor she gets as far as the wall directly opposite where the fireplace is. The noises from the monster mean that she’s been found. It’s a noise she’s familiar with. It starts off as a deep sound as if someone is humming near your ear, then it gets louder and shriller until you can make out the sounds of the children screaming. The humming sounds like it’s behind her. Penelope jumps to her feet and runs straight for the door, but the shadow gets to her first. It engulfs her in darkness as her screams become part of the thousands of screams of children. The darkness is all she can see, throwing her arms out around her seems to make no difference. Her skin itches as if covered in a thousand insects, working their way into her mouth they create a bitter taste and tighten her throat making it difficult to breathe. Penelope tries to tell herself it’s a dream in hopes of waking herself up, but her breathing is becoming more strangled by the second.

Suddenly, there’s a light in the darkness, a small splinter of light where she can see the door. With all her might she forces her feet forward; the shadowloses its grip on her and she runs. Pulling the door with all her strength sheglances over her shoulder. The shadow is moving along the ceiling, scraping itslong claws with one hand and reaching towards Penelope with the other. Shepushes the door closed and slumps against it for a moment. Her whole body isshaking, and she feels very cold as if she’s been out in the snow too long.Looking around she realises it’s daytime now, but not daytime like earlymorning. More so the afternoon. The sun shines through the tall windows andlights up the hallway. A moment passes, Penelope catches sight of somethingshiny underneath the staircase. Red paper glistens. The familiar site of a goldbow and matching gift tag entice her toward it. It’s a Christmas present. Mum andDad must have placed milk for Santa. This present is a little dusty. Using her sleeve,she wipes it clean and checks the label.

“To Penelope. Love from Santa”

Ripping open the wrapping excitedly, the anticipation of receiving the doll she’s been asking for causes a flutter of butterflies in her tummy and distracts her from her most recent terror. Her childlike innocence captivated by a small gift. Throwing the paper to the side she opens the box to reveal its contents. Inside is a wonderfully handcrafted teddy bear with grey soft fur, a pink nose and black eyes. It smells dusty and reminds Penelope of the Christmas ornament boxes. Without warning, Penelope hears her Mum and Dad coming down the stairs. They’re shouting at each other and Mum is crying. They are dressed very nicely as if they are going to a party. Mum has on her favourite perfume and Dad has on his blue bowtie which he only uses for special occasions. Penelope puts the present down and covers her ears, she hates it when they fight. Dad is walking behind, moving his arms a lot as he’s talking. Mum is walking away from him but stops abruptly and turns around shocked at something he has said before bursting into tears and covering her face with her hands. He hugs her before they head towards the front door. Penelope steps forward and tries to hug Mum and make her feel better but her actions go unnoticed. As she tries talking to them, their voices seem muffled as if behind an invisible wall. They look sad. They seem sad a lot recently. In fact,Penelope can’t think of any recent time when she hasn’t seen Mum cry. They go outside by the large oak tree in the garden after shrugging on their winter coats and scarves. Penelope notices something soft on her hands, looking down she’swearing some multicoloured striped mittens. Her thick matching scarf hangs from her neck. She’s wearing her favourite red coat with black fur trim and gold buttons and on her feet are some warm brown boots with owl shapes on them. When she looks up again she can see her parents through the glass window of the front door. They are stood side by side at the tree looking down at the snowy ground below. Dad has his arm around Mum and they both have their shoulders hunched over.

Sudden faint sounds of humming can be heard, like whispers in her ear at first. Her heart beings its palpations when she remembers the shadow behind the living room door. The mahogany door which is now opening as the gold doorknob is turning. Penelope catches sight of the shadows claws before she turns on her heel and runs to catch up with her parents. Stopping only when she reaches the tree. Panting and shivering in the snow she tries one last time to get her parents attention, but they are too focused on the ground. Looking behind, there’s no shadow following so at least she’s safe for now. Averting her eyes, she focuses on what holds her parent’s attention. The grey teddy that she just unwrapped sits on the floor in a layer of thick white snow, by the side of a bouquet of pink roses. Laid on its back in front of that is Sophie. A shocked gasp escapes Penelope’s innocent lips. The once beautiful angel looks damaged and broken like she’s very old. Tears roll down Penelope’s flushed cheeks. There’s a card sticking out the top of theflowers.

“To our little girl Penelope. You may be gone but you will always be our Angel. Mum and Dad miss you very much”

Reading the card and seeing these items brings back the memories like being pushed to the ground. After waking up after a bad dream close to Christmas Penelope wanted to find Sophie. They had spent the day looking for her, but Penelope went to bed in tears and empty-handed. She remembers how scared she was, it was so dark outside and the snow felt cold underneath her bare feet. A chill runs down her spine as she remembers how cold she felt and how much she shivered. Eventually, though she stopped feeling cold and felt tired and warm, so she laid down in the snow holding the grey teddy that Mum and Dad had given her as an early Christmas present. All she remembers after that is falling to sleep. Other memories fill her mind. Memories of when she had to go to Grandma’s funeral. Mum made her put some flowers on her grave and the message sounded just like the message on this card. Mum told Penelope that she has gone to heaven, but Penelope wasn’t in heaven. Turning to face Mum and Dad she cries her heart out for their comforting words or even any acknowledgement that she’s there. Her cries are worthless, and her parents head back towards the house just as the shadow heads straight towards her. Crying loudly, she screams, shouting over and over for her mum and dad as she’s left standing in the snow on her own. Penelope can only watch as the shadow’s claws grab hold of her and everything goes dark again as her innocent screams areengulfed until nothing more than a distant hum of the wind can be heard.

Copyright 2018