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The Christmas Room Chapter 4

by  Issy

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Word Count: 2662
Summary: This is a key chapter so am very keen to know if it works. This was also the first image that I had of this story, even before I got the idea of the room. Any comments greatly appreciated.

Chapter 4

Her boots were cosy, warm and a perfect fit. They sank a couple of centimetres into snow. She danced out into the garden and stopped. Something was odd. There was snow as far as she could see, but the garden was also in full bloom. The purple bells of the foxgloves were tipped with snow and a bee, its furry body sprinkled as if shaken with icing sugar, was buzzing up into the flower. A tree to her right was laden with cherries, but the top of its branches were thick with snow.

She heard birds fluttering behind her and looked back to see housemartins building a nest under the roof of the cottage.

,She gurgled with laughter. The Christmas Room had got time and the seasons mixed up, either that or it was deliberately playing with her again. She could no longer see the door of the Christmas Room. She tried to trace her passage back to the cottage but her footprints had disappeared.

“Yet there hasn’t been a snow fall since I came out,” she whispered back to the room, wherever it was. “So that means you don’t want me to go back.”

She paused, half expecting to feel a reply, but none came.

She walked on, and the snowbound countryside appeared slowly in patches. She would see a blur of white and as she looked it would shudder and shape into hawthorns heavy with berries, or wild flowers brilliant against the snow. She touched the petals of a tall buttercup, and yellow pollen fell out of it speckling her fingers. The petal was delicate as silk and as real as any she had ever felt. She smelt a fragrance of lavender and a blurr became a mass of purple flowers. She heard a blackbird’s song, and a woodpigeons double note call. There were other birds singing, but these were the only ones she knew. Dad had been brought up in the country, and he had told her them all, but she couldn’t distinguish many of them.

Her thoughts flew back to Dad and Mum and her family and their problems.

“What am I doing here?” she said aloud. It seemed silly talking to the cold air, but she was sure the room heard her. She felt again the leaden lump inside her which she had carried since that day had Dad lost his job, and which for a few wonderful moments, walking in the snow, she had forgotten.

Misery welled up inside. She looked ahead. As her vision cleared she saw a frozen pond ahead. It might have been the same pond she had seen earlier, but this one grew bigger before her eyes. Within moments it had become a lake, and there was no doubt, this time, that the water was frozen solid.

There were bumps of snowy stones round it, and as she looked beyond, she saw only more snow swept fields, trees and hedges. There were no birds singing, no animals moving, no leaves fluttering. No breeze. Nothing moving except the snow she kicked up as she walked.

The frozen lake grew even wider. Now it swallowed up the moors beyond it, until it stretched out as far as she could see.

She blinked and looked again. There were things stuck in the ice. Not birds or fish. She screwed her eyes up. Paper. Though not all of them were paper. Some glinted brown or gold or silver, catching the winter sunlight. She knelt at the edge of the snow drenched pebbles. In dazed wonder she saw that the paper was paper money. The shining metal were coins, and they were all frozen into the surface of the lake.

She stared, not believing what her eyes were showing her. She had asked the Christmas Room for money and here it was. All she had to do was pick it up. The queen’s head was on the coins and the markings on the notes. They had to be real. The Christmas Room would never give her duds. She reached down to pull a note out of the ice. A corner was sticking up, but her gloved fingers slipped and the note stuck fast. She took off her glove and tried again, but the note was icy, the edges were sharp and it still would not move.

She looked on, bemused, thinking the scene would change again, as it had when she was walking, but it didn’t. Her parents needed this money and it would make her family happy again, but she couldn’t get it out. She shuffled onto the ice half afraid it would crack, but also half wanting it to so she could lever out some notes. The ice didn’t crack. It was thick and solid and she could see into its dull white depths.

The more she looked the more she saw. There was a huge amount of money stuck up out of the lake. There was much more deep in the ice below. There must be hundreds and thousands of pounds.

She stepped further onto the ice and pulled at another note. She couldn’t get a grip on the corner or break it off. The note was 50 pounds. It was pink and she could see it clearly. Her hands were numb with cold. If only she had something to bash away at the ice with. She looked round. On the ground behind her was a stick sticking up out of the snow. She pulled the stick out. It was rough and raw to her skin, but that didn’t matter. Here was the answer to her wish and surely she had a right to get this money out. She held it like a club and bashed at the ice, making slithers and chips fly up, showering her boots. But the ice would not crack, not even a little, and the stick snapped sending splinters across the white surface of the lake.

She bent over the note, using the heat left in her hands. Surely that would melt the ice, but all that happened was the cold went into her fingers.

All this money. It would make Mum so happy. She would laugh again and they would go shopping and plan Chrismas parties together.

Tears of frustration filled her eyes.“This isn’t right!” she yelled at the frozen lake and she stamped her foot on the ice. The room had got it wrong. She hadn’t asked for frozen money. Surely the room was stupid not to have understood. “This is a bargain,” she shouted at the ice. “You took the present back and you haven’t given me the money.”

She sat down on the stones at the edge of the lake, her anger evaporating. She shivered with cold and put her gloves back on. She felt heat slowly seep into her bones. The room had given her this warmth. It wanted to give, so why wasn’t it giving her the money?

She didn’t know. She wiped her tears with her gloved hand, hurting now as they warmed.

There had to be a way.

She looked to her left and was surprised to see lights had appeared at the window of the cottage behind her. It was growing dark quickly. The sun had disappeared whilst she had sat by the lake and it was evening.

She would go and get her family. If they didn’t see the lake, she would know it wasn’t real, or wasn’t for them. She ran back to the cottage. She heard Mum inside singing Good King Wenselaus. She saw the shadows of her family cross the window and she burst in through the front door and the door to the living room.

They were all there, Mum, Dad, Mel and Rick, in front of a huge fire, and they were laughing at something as she came in.

“Come quick,” she cried out to them. “There is money in the lake.”

“Lake?” said Dad.

“Money?” said Mum.

“What sort of money?” said Rick.

“For goodness sake,” cried Mel. “Let’s go and see what it’s all about.”

“Notes and coins, fifty pound notes. Pound coins. Its stuck in the ice. We need boiling water,” said Saffy and she grabbed up the saucepan of water that was evaporating away on the fire.

“Money in a lake?” said Dad.

“Yes,” yelled Saffy, into his face, so that the message got there. ‘You have to believe me. All the money you could possibly need.”

Rick rubbed his eyes and looked so bemused she nearly laughed.

They didn’t believe her. She couldn’t blame them, but they had to come. She had a terrible fear inside her that if she got them to come it would all be gone and they would think she was mad.

That didn’t matter so long as they came.

She ran out of the door, spilling water from the pan onto her boots.

She heard her Mum behind her. “Okay, Saffy, we’re coming, need to get coat and boots on. Goodness, when did it snow?”

“It can’t really be snow out there,” said Rick.

“Seems real enough and cold enough to me,” said Mum.

Saffy was slopping the heavy pan of water as she reached the frozen lake. She tipped it onto a sticking up note, and a puddle of water grew around it. She pulled, and the note came free. She held it up and waved it at her family who were now hurrying down the path towards her. “Look,” she cried. “A ten pound note.”

She had dumped the saucepan down on the ice and a ring of water formed round it. She picked up a pound coin and a 50 pence piece, and tried to tug at a £20 note, but it was still stuck. There wasn’t enough heat to release it.

Her mum screeched. “I can’t believe it. There is masses of it.”

It was going to be alright. They could see the money. She wasn’t going mad.

“Who does it belong to?”said Mel. “It must belong to someone.”

“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said dad. “Perhaps a bank raid gone wrong or a lorry of money overturned and got caught in the ice. Perhaps there is someone injured somewhere.”

They walked some way around the lake which now was endless. They could not see a van or armoured car or even the road they had come up by.

“Let’s get it out,” said Dad. “It doesn’t belong to anyone.”

Dad scrabbled about on the ice pointing and shouting and trying to bang his way into the ice. Nothing cracked even when he went right out several yards from the shore.

“It’s as firm as a rock, too firm,” Dad yelled across the ice. “We need a pickaxe. Rick was there anything in the shed? Gardening tools, anything like that.”

“No,” said Rick, skidding across. “I didn’t see anything. Hey, I can’t pick it up.”

Mum ventured onto the ice, sliding and slipping and trying to pull at the money. Dad lit a match, and got a couple of coins out.

“Right,” said Mum” Let’s get organised. We need boiling water. To melt the ice away just like Saffy did. That’ll get the money out.”

“It’ll take ages,” said Mel. “Anyway, who’s to say it’s ours to take?”

“Pssh,” said Dad. “It’s as much ours as anyone’s. Finders keepers.”

‘We can’t just take it,” said Mel.

“Why ever not?” said Mum.

“It’s ours,” said Saffy, “Because I wished for it.” No-one paid any attention to her. She held the £10 note to her and the fifty and ten pence pieces, and it felt like it was hers.

They laboured all night. Mel kept the fire going and Rick and Saffy ran to and fro with saucepans of water, because the kettle was electric which couldn’t be heated on the fire. The saucepans got blacked on the bottom and the hot water made very little impression on the ice. Dad lit a small fire on the ice but it kept going out. They tried bashing at the ice with cooking utensils and furniture from the cottage, but that made no helpful cracking. As the dawn rose, they counted the money they had retrieved, £233. 27p. Saffy put down the £10 note and the coins, but that didn’t make enough difference to make anyone care.

The grey dawn appeared in the grey sky. The landscape was turning to grey frost again. The snow was melting and the hollyhocks and wild flowers, berries and leaves on the trees shimmered away, unnoticed by her family.

But the lake stayed as solid with ice as ever.

“This isn’t what I asked for,” she whispered, as her family, subdued, dirty and tired walked back to the cottage. Inside it was warmer, but the fire was sprawling, dull and nearly out from the pans of water it had heated.

“It’s stupid,” said Mel. “We cannot possibly get it out until there is a thaw, and that will be months.”

“It might be tomorrow, who knows, and then we just sweep it up in a huge great net,” said Dad.

‘What net?” said Mum. “You can’t just sweep it up in a non-existent net.”

Dad threw himself on the coach. “Yeah, well something else then. I’ll wade out and pick it up.”

“Don’t be stupid, it’s freezing.”

“It won’t be freezing if it’s thawed.”

“Someone else might come up and get it,” said Rick.

“Who?” said Mel. “There isn’t anyone. We are the last people alive in the universe.”

“For God’s sake, we need money,” said Mum.

“We can’t take a lot of weird money out of a weird lake that was not here yesterday,” said Mel. “How come nobody is asking that, why the lake wasn’t there and now is. You’re all on about the money, but this place is giving me the creeps.”

“Now stop talking stupid. We need a plan. How can we get it out? Crack the ice or melt it, there has to be away. What chemicals melt ice?” said Mum. “There’s a bottle of de-icer in the car.”

“Uh, huh,” said Dad and didn’t move. “How much would that shift? It’d give us another £50. It’s not worth it.”

“Well try it, for goodness sake,” said Mum. “Don’t just sit there and do nothing like you have for the last 6 months. DO SOMETHING.”

“It’s no good. It’s useless. I can’t do anything about it.”

“I know that. I’ve seen that.”

Saffy froze. She felt her duvet around her. She looked down to see that she had on her own shoes and coat, not the boots and coat from the Christmas Room.

They were arguing in front of her. They never did that.

“Why I didn’t divorce you when you stole all that money I shall never know. I must have been mad, totally, and utterly mad.”

The silence stretched out until Saffy was aware of it as a silence. Her family were still, her Dad bent up on the settee, Mum towering over her mouth open in rage, Rick standing looking at Dad, Mel with her hands on her hips.

With a cry Saffy ran up the stairs. She had not heard the dreaded D word mentioned between her parent before.

She stood in the dark corridor by the wainscoting. There was no door. “Christmas Room,” she yelled and banged her hands on the wall. “It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. You’ve got it wrong. I didn’t wish for that. Take it away, take the lake away and the money and give me back my family as they were before.”

There was no reply.

She turned and lifted the latch to Mel’s room, and curling up in her duvet, threw herself on the dark blanketed bed that she had said earlier she would never go near. As she cried herself to sleep, a thought kept burning through her head. It was she who had got it wrong, not the Christmas Room.