Unexpected Guest

THE UNEXPECTED GUEST


It all started one particularly cold and foggy night in early January. I was lazing in an armchair in front of the fire, reading with a glass of red wine at the table beside me. I’d eaten the last of the chocolates given to me at Christmas. The festive season was over, it was soon to be a time of hard work and stress. A shuffling step approached the front door. A solitary male voice, thin and hoarse, began to sing. "Away in a manger, No crib for a bed…" He sang every verse which pleased me, most carol singers stop after a few lines, though it did strike me as odd that someone would be singing Christmas carols when it was January.
I went to the door and opened it, inviting the singer in with the words: "Come inside and have a drink." He shuffled in and sat down in the other armchair by the fire. I gave him some red wine, which he drank eagerly. He was thin, very pale, perhaps forty, but looking older. His coarse, heavy coat and woollen scarf nearly swallowed him up. He wore a top hat, which was distinctly unusual. He coughed, an unhealthy rasping sound and smiled apologetically. "My lungs, I shouldn’t be out on a cold night like this."
"Then why are you? It’s not exactly Christmas Eve."
"I know, but most people are depressed this time of year. We’re back at work, children are back to school and I like to restore a bit of festive cheer. People are very kind. They often invite me inside and offer me something warming to drink."
It didn’t seem to take the whiteness away from his cheeks. The fire didn’t seem to warm him either. He still remained wrapped up in his woollen coat as if frozen to the bone.

We chatted for a while, discussing various topics from the weather to friends and family. I couldn’t help but notice that this man’s family members had slightly old-fashioned names, perhaps as a result of an old family tradition.
"I better go, I promised myself I’d sing ‘Away in a Manger’ to every house on the street before midnight."
He picked up his top hat from the chair side table.
"Your clothes they’re rather old fashioned aren’t they?" "Do you think they’re a little over the top?" "I didn’t mean to criticise…"
"It was the wife’s idea I borrowed them from the costume shop down the road. I thought it might be amusing"
At the door he turned, the pallor of his face gleaming in the moonlight, my fire and red wine clearly had no effect on him.
"People warned me of this house," he said with a slight smile. "It’s supposed to be haunted." I raised my eyes in surprise, "Is that right?"
"Yes, have you ever seen or heard anything?"
"No"
He nodded and turned away satisfied. The cold air blew through the door and the man wrapped his scarf tightly around his neck.
"See you then, thanks for the wine,"
he left, closing the door behind him. I returned, my gaze to the fire, laughing slightly. Haunted indeed! There are no ghosts around, for I’ve never seen one. And I’ve lived here for over five hundred years.

Submitted by Michele, Surrey, UK