The lights began to flicker above her as the chilly air nipped at her skin once again, and as she wandered the empty hallway, further into the growing darkness, April felt fear forming inside of her once again. She had been afraid many times that night, but as she descended into the darkness and a hand gripped her own, she was beside herself.
“Who are you, spirit?” Her voice shook as much as her hands, but the spirit remained silent, leading her forwards as a dim light up ahead cut through the darkness and overwhelmed her anxious eyes.
“We’ll eat well at Christmas for once!” April rubbed her eyes, the meeting room of the Garden once again coming into view. “That spoiled cow is finally good for something…” Joanna crowed, and the crowd collapsed into gleeful laughter.
The room was full of her followers, all gathered in a circle at the centre of the room. April stepped forward, trying to see what had their attention, but the spirit pulled her back. She fell back in shock, seeing the spirit in full for the first time as it loomed over her. Its black cloak billowed behind it, a single, skeletal hand peeking from the fabric that gripped tightly around her own. Beneath his hood was an almost endless darkness, with nothing but icy, blue eyes that seemed familiar, yet unsettling.
“Spirit, what are they looking at?” April could not hide the apprehension in her voice, but the phantom was not moved, yanking her hand and pulling her away from the crowd towards the living quarters, ignoring her protests. “Spirit, tell me what’s going on.” April’s pleas fell on deaf ears, as they reached the small room that Father Andre, Gillian and Tim called home.
There was a nagging sense of dread burrowing into her stomach as the spirit threw the door open, and though she tried to look away, knowing somehow what she’d see, the spirit was insistent, pulling her head towards the room and forcing her to look.
“Don’t cry my angel, perhaps our Goddess will bless us again some day.” Andre wrapped his arms tightly around his wife as she wept, Tiny Tim’s tiny teddy bear clutched close to her chest.
“Where is Tim?” Truly, April knew the answer, but she asked all the same, hoping for some relief from the horrific realisations that were slowly beginning to surround her. The spirit would not speak, but he did not need to. Tim, like so many that had entered April’s life, was dead.
Tears burned at the corners of her eyes, as the spirit pulled her away and they fell back into darkness again. She had no time to cry, but did all the same as the spirit dragged her down the hallway and out the back door towards her mother’s grave.
The spirit sped her past her mother’s headstone, dragging her further up the garden, where another stone lay before her. It was covered in weeds, the stone cracked and dishevelled.
“I can change, Spirit, just give me a chance.” The spirit shook its head, pointing at the gravestone without a word, but April wouldn’t look. “Please Spirit, tell me that these things are not set in stone.” She sobbed as the spirit shoved her onto her knees beside the grave, pushing her face towards the lettering. Through her tears, she could just about make it out.
“April Jane Jefferson – Good Fucking Riddance.”
April wailed, falling against the stone as the snow fell around her. All the things she had collected, all the wealth, the furs, fine food and jewellery truly meant nothing, because April had nothing that mattered. Once again, she was alone, and this time, she had nobody to blame but herself. The weight of her guilt and regret cascaded around her, sinking deep like the heavy snow that littered the soft grass.
“Merry Christmas Mummy.” The spirit finally spoke, its voice, barely a whisper behind her as the icy wind stabbed at them. April turned to the spirit, peering into its hood, her heart pounding as its eyes, softening, a sweet, sapphire, met with her own.
“Adam…” The spirit lifted its hood, and while the skeletal frame that stood before her did not resemble him, the eyes that lay within the skull, all that was left of him when Invierno had finished with him, told her all that she needed to know. “Adam, my baby boy…” He did not speak, only looking down at her with disgust as she wept hysterically, clinging to what remained of the boy who never got to become a man, her only son, and the only person she had ever truly loved.
She broke down all at once. She couldn’t help it. If this was to be the future, then she would give up anything in the present, and forever regret the past to avoid it. Thrown from her spectral son’s side, she fell down towards the ground, crying out in pain and devastation, as the sky grew dark and dismal once more, with not a star to be seen.
Her eyes were tightly closed, and the air around her, tepid and cruel, but around her body, she could no longer feel the snow, only the softness of her bed sheets.
“Merry Christmas, April.” Her eyes snapped open as she recognised a voice that had eluded her for months as she had descended into selfishness. Over by the window, atop the window sill was a potted rose, blooming and beautiful. April rushed towards it, clutching the pot close to her heart with a grin, knowing that her treasured Goddess Invierno once again deemed her worthy of attention.
She pulled her dressing gown around her body and grabbed the rose, bolting down the hallway to the other half of the house where her followers resided. Bursting into the girl’s bedroom, she leapt onto the bed shared by Joanna and Leigh, jumping for joy as the two women woke with a grumble, glaring up at her.
“Invierno sent us a sign!” She screamed, collapsing between them with a bright smile, pushing the rose towards them. “Oh, my sisters, we must celebrate!” She turned to the others, standing from the bed and dancing between the beds, displaying the rose proudly.
“We don’t have time, if we’re going to hit the streets, April…” Joanna interjected meekly, a little confused by April’s sudden shift in mood. “We need the money for Tim’s medicine.” April shook her head, offering a hand to a reluctant Joanna and pulling her out of bed, back towards her own room, followed by the rest of the women of the Garden.
“Take this and go to the pharmacy on the high street.” April cried, shoving a large pile of money into Joanna’s hands. The woman looked back at her in shock. “Look, I know it was wrong for me to keep it for myself, so… get yourself something nice too while you’re there.” Joanna frowned, but Leigh shook her head at her lover, taking her hand and leading her from the room as the other women crowded around April. “In fact, tomorrow, we’re all going shopping, because you guys deserve some gifts.” The surrounding crowd let out a cheer as April motioned for them to follow her down to the kitchen.
Christmas cheer filled the house as the daughters of the Garden of The Free Children watched April unlock her personal refrigerator and begin passing out Christmas treats to prepare a feast. She left her sisters to begin preparing the food, running up the stairs towards Andre and Gillian’s room with a gleeful grin.
“Andre!” She bellowed, banging her fists wildly against the door as the men of the Garden descended from their room to see what the commotion was. “Get out here right now!” She shrieked, pounding against the door and almost falling through as a tired Andre opened the door with a frown.
“It isn’t even 6AM yet.” Gillian screamed into her pillow as Tim began to wail and Andre looked up apologetically at April.
“Downstairs! Now!” April barked, grabbing his hand and marching the helpless man down the stairs. Andre tried to offer up a response, stammering nervously under April’s glare, but there were no more words spoken between them before she pushed him into the kitchen and watched his face light up at what was unfolding before him. “Tim’s medicine will be here soon, and you won’t be working until he’s better.” Andre was speechless, which April didn’t mind. While she was changing and growing to embrace the spirit of Christmas, she was still a little too obsessed with the sound of her own voice.
“Goddess bless us.” Andre whispered, taking April’s hand in his own and squeezing it gently. “Goddess bless us, everyone.”
April truly was changing, and it lasted long beyond Christmas. She was true to her word on all of her promises, sharing her Christmas feast with her followers, and spoiling them with gifts the next day in the sales. She opened up her wing of the house so that the children of the Garden could have their own bedrooms and dedicated her life to caring for Tim, as well as all the children left in her care by the treasured Goddess Invierno, both young and old alike.
She had no further visits with spirits and phantoms, and it was always said of her that April knew how to keep Christmas well, if anyone possessed the knowledge. The Garden remained isolated from the outside world, but inside of it, the children were surrounded by warmth and always grateful for their leader.
And so, as Tiny Tim’s father observed, Goddess bless us, everyone!