The cold wind hits me like a smack in the face as I leave the coffee shop making me want to turn round and run back in to the warmth of the shop again, and back to my lovely friends who are still inside having fun. It is bitterly cold now that the sun has set. I hug my coat tightly round myself and quicken my pace. I really need to grab some shopping on my way home and don’t want to be out in this bitter wind for even one second longer than necessary. Still it takes me two hours before I am finally walking up my road. I am numb with the cold and my eyes and ears are stinging from the brisk wind despite my woollen hat being pulled as low down as I can get away with without blinding myself. The shopping bags I am carrying feel like lead weights as I finally crunch up my gravel drive, I will be relieved when I don’t have to carry them any longer. I hook all of the bags on to one arm as I drag my keys out of my pocket. Letting myself in to my house is a hard task too as my gloved fingers are so numb that it is hard to grip the keys. I fumble around with the key for a couple of minutes but it feels like hours because I am so cold and tired. The warmth and joy from the coffee shop feel like distant memories to me now and I just want to be inside my house and warm.
Finally I fling the door open and rush inside. I drop my bags to the floor and bang the door shut smartly as I am keen to get the wind off of me. As I turn round I lean on to the door and catch my breath for a minute. My eyes are closed so have stopped watering for a second at least. When I prise my eyes open once again the whole world stops. Everything is still. Everything is silent. Everything other than the sound of my heart pumping in my throat and apart from the train that I can see two little Victorian children playing with on my hallway floor that is! Every hair on my body stands to attention as my eyes take in the scene, at the same time as I can feel my blood turn to ice I can also feel my flesh crawling in horror at what should be a lovely sight. There is a little girl of about seven with long blond hair which is tied back with a dark red ribbon which exactly matches her dress, sitting next to another child, a little boy of about four. He also has blond hair but is dressed in brown trousers and a blue shirt. They are sitting with their backs to me watching intently as the train chuffs around the track. I am standing frozen to the spot watching them in disbelief. I know that they cannot be there. This cannot be real. But none the less I cannot move, I am glued to the spot in terror although how I am standing with my legs shaking so violently is anyone’s guess. The little girl suddenly appears to realise that they are not alone; she turns to look to see who is there. When she spots me her eyes widen in shock and in a voice that it so well spoken that it belongs in a film she exclaims, “Your skin is the colour of ebony!” she then gently places her hand on what I assume is her little brothers arm and they vanish! At this exact point my legs give way and I fall to a heap on to the shopping which is scattered all over the floor. I know that I must be over tired and my mind must be playing tricks on me but I am shaking like a leaf. I have never believed in ghosts. I have laughed at people who have claimed that they have seen a spirit. Can I really have seen a ghost? Two in fact! And one of them racist! I am now laughing and crying hysterically. I must be delirious with tiredness I try to reason, I have been working horrendous hours lately making and selling occasion cards at the craft market is hard work, especially at the moment with the recession biting so hard and me losing money hand over fist. I cannot have seen what I thought I had, it is impossible. Slowly I get to my feet and pick up the shopping. Even though I know that I must have imagined the scene I am still as jumpy and skittish as a kitten for the rest of the night. I am constantly convinced that someone is behind me but of course every time I look no one is there.
I hardly sleep all night. Honestly every time I close my eyes I see the children sitting on the hallway floor playing so contently with the little toy train, how can such a seemingly happy and pleasant scene be so chilling and scary? They looked so real to me. The girl in particular looked so, so, confident, so sure of herself and who she was. Her voice rang through the room with crystal clarity and she had the type of crisp clear speech that no one uses these days. How could I have imagined that? But there again how could that have been possible? How could I have seen a ghost-they don’t exist and even if they did how could I possibly have seen the toy that they were playing with? Toys don’t have spirits or souls! These thoughts just go round and round in my head all night. Finally at 5.30am I give up on sleep. I get out of bed and throw my dressing gown on as I head to the kitchen for coffee. Expecting something to jump out at me at any minute I creep through my own home like an SAS operative. I can’t help but tremble as I creep down the stairs, but thankfully nothing or no one is in the hallway this time. I even stand with my back to the kitchen cupboards while I wait for the kettle to boil I am that afraid, it is the first time since I moved in to my house 9 months ago that I have ever been scared in it and I hate the feeling. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realise how silly I am being but of course fear has no logic.
Once my coffee is finally made I take it in to what used to be the dining room but is now my studio. I sit at the enormous table and take a long sip of my lovely warm, sweet coffee. Instantly I feel myself relaxing as I sit in my little haven. My studio is my favourite room in the house. I have an enormous wooden table which I work at. I have neat rows of embossing powder, glitter, glue guns, paints, inks, stamps and I find them comforting to look at while I work. Even with all of my equipment lined up neatly at the far end of the table it still has enormous space for me to work. I only have one chair in the room and I often find myself sitting in here jotting down ideas for cards even when I am not meant to be working. The room is light, bright and bare during daylight hours. The windows are large and face my pretty little garden. I often procrastinate as I sit and watch birds and other little creatures bobbing about in my garden while I am working. I once saw a squirrel sitting on my bird bath eating something it had found and made a stamp of the squirrel and used it to make a whole series of cards out of that scene. They didn’t do too badly. As I stare at my glue gun, and embossing equipment I wonder if I can recreate those cards again add some snow to them so that they look wintery. I do wonder about adding a window so that the buyer can slip a photo in to the card but decide to make six squirrel cards and then make a few others with windows. I have nothing to lose so I may as well get on with it I decide, it is only six weeks until Christmas so I need to hurry and prepare my stock. I quickly finish my coffee and rush up the stairs to change. I know it is odd but I always work in proper artist’s overalls even though no one can see me. It makes me feel prepared and ready for work.
I stand in the bathroom brushing my teeth and I cannot help it but as I look in the mirror I cannot help but look at the tone of my skin colour and wonder how I can be described as the colour of ebony! Ebony is black. My long plaited hair is ebony coloured, even my eyes in this light could pass for black, but my skin? I am not very fair in completion, but I am not that dark either. I would say my skin is the colour of, well, milk chocolate perhaps? I shake my head as I realise how ridiculous I am being. I am really being stupid for allowing this silly, illusion, dream or whatever it was get to me like this. I drop my toothbrush on to the side of the sink and turn to leave the bathroom. “I have a hairbrush made from ebony” a crystal very well spoken voice announces. I swear I jump out of my skin as I spin towards the door as if being confronted by a tiger! The same little Victorian children are standing in the door frame. They are holding hands, and for the first time I register their pale blue eyes, little button noses and rosebud lips. They are stunning. Frightening! I cannot speak, or move, I find that once again terror has rooted me to the spot and left me mute. I always imagined that fear would make your senses sharper, your brain faster, but I am frozen and unable to think. I’m not even sure if I am breathing. The little girl continues as if she is oblivious to my terror “Father bought it for my Birthday. I cannot find it now” she adds in a sad little confused voice. Her little brother-there is no doubt now they look too alike, pipes up in a similarly well spoken but younger voice “we cannot find Mother or Father either”. If I could have found my voice to answer I would not have had the time to respond. The girl nudges her brother and shakes her head at him in disapproval and they both simply vanish. There is no drama, no puff of smoke like I would have imagined there would be in such circumstances. They just disappear leaving a gaping hole of silence behind them. I grope around and find the toilet and sit down heavily on the lid. This is crazy. It has to be the lack of sleep causing me to have these hallucinations. Or perhaps the stress of my money worries and the possibility of loosing this house are finally getting too much for me. I am not sure what on earth is going on but I cannot-just cannot be seeing ghosts! They just do not exist! Part of me wants to run from the house screaming, I want to call someone but I know that no one would believe me and I really couldn’t take the humiliation of having to tell anyone about my illusions or rather delusions! They might get me sectioned; frankly if this carries on I think I might well get myself sectioned. So I do the only thing I can do. I dress quickly and hurry back in to my studio and get down to work.
Eight hours later I sit and look at the fruits of my labour. I have barely stopped working today and I am starving but also blissfully happy and proud of the cards that I have made. I have designed 14 pretty little water colour cards. I have hand drawn and painted them, apart from a little glitter they are very simple little paintings in their own right. I have painted the Victorian Children. The first card is basically the scene I walked in to last night. They are sitting on the ground playing with the little green steam train. I have added a beautiful Christmas tree in the background and the girl is holding a hairbrush made of ebony. Each card depicts a different scene, but in each card the girls ribbon is matched exactly to the colour of her dress and in each one there is a little ebony hairbrush hidden away somewhere, on a dresser, a table-somewhere in the scene. I am intending to call them the ‘Ebony Collection’. They are stunning and I know that they will sell. It is a shame that I haven’t had the time to make more, but I will. I have never been so proud of any other card that I have made. Hunger has forced me to stop working and after I have decided that after I eat something I will quickly make a few squirrel cards before getting to bed. I know I have an early start tomorrow but I really do need to have a decent supply of new cards as tomorrow is Friday and Friday and Saturday are the busiest days on the market, and the days when the rent on my stall is highest also. Of course I have made a number of cards earlier in the week but they pale in comparison to the stunning cards that I have just made. I am so tired and yet so satisfied that despite the fright I have had today I know that I will sleep well tonight.
I don’t sleep well however. Once I am lying in my bed my brain switches on and thoughts swirl around inside my head. Part of me is massively excited by the cards I painted of the children. My beautiful Ebony Collection will go down a storm; I have never been surer of anything in my life. I even love the name; I will know the real reason for choosing the name I did, but if asked I will explain that a brush made from ebony is hidden in each scene which I think is a lovely idea. But despite this ‘up side’ the fact remains that I am really perplexed by the children. They are here for a reason, if in fact they are here at all and I am not just going crazy. But what can I do to help them? Aren’t you meant to help ghosts ‘find the light’? How do you do that? They don’t seem to be looking for ‘the light’ anyway as far as I can tell. I think they might be looking for their parents. Also, my house isn’t even Victorian. It’s newer than that Edwardian I think, so I am unsure why they are even in my house in the first place. All of these thoughts run around in my mind until eventually I drift off in to a light and uneasy sleep.
It feels as though the alarm clock goes off within two seconds of me falling asleep. It is 4am and so it is dark and ice cold in the house, but still I don’t mess around. I rush to make coffee, and dress as quickly and warmly as possible ready for my day on the stall. Then I rush in to my studio and once again admire the beautiful cards I made. They seem even lovelier to me now. I am also very pleased with the six pretty squirrel cards that I made in a couple of hours thanks to the squirrel stamp that I had made the last time I made a similar design. They are embossed and glittery and fun in nice contrast to the beautiful ebony cards. I pack them all in to one of the boxes that are holding the other Christmas Cards I have made. I hope that these cards all do well today. I am careful to make sure that I take a good selection of other cards too. People can get very irritated if you don’t hold a good selection of cards at this time of year, after all people are still having Birthdays, babies and getting sick or new jobs even at this time of year so I try to please everyone, I also pack my lights and table covering and I am all set. I don’t drive so at 5.20am I am standing at my gate with six cardboard boxes waiting for my regular cab driver to come and collect me. The bitterly cold, misty morning isn’t the reason for my impatience; I am desperate to get to the market, and to put my cards on display today. I need people to see them and hopefully to love them as much as I do. I am certain that they will do fantastically well and cannot wait to show off what I have created.
“How much are these Christmas cards with the windows love?” a cheerful looking woman of around 30 asks. I smile as brightly as I can manage through my disappointment and inform her that they are £3 each. She sucks her cheeks in and wheels her buggy back and forth slowly soothing her sleeping rosy cheeked baby while she thinks about it. “That is a lot” she tells me bluntly. I know that she is right, and that we both know that she can buy a whole box of cards for that price, but I kindly point out that she can display a nice sized photo of her children in it, and that it is hand made with quality card and so it will be a ‘keep sake’ for the family member that she chooses to send it to, so I suggest that she should consider them as a small gift not just a card alone. She weighs this up and decides to buy four of the cards in the end; both sets of Grandparents and Great-grandparents are apparently going to be receiving these beautiful cards this year. I only have one window card left now, as I made the other cards all day yesterday. The other cards which I haven’t been able to sell one of! It is now 3pm and no one has bought a single one of my ebony cards or even one of the squirrel cards. A couple of people have admired the ebony cards, but the £4 each price tag just made them baulk and rush away from my stall as if I might actually rob them. They are ‘hand painted’ for goodness sake! My good mood vanished long before the mist did today. I am so disheartened. I was so sure that people would adore the cards and pay the asking price without a second thought. Stupid me! I have only made £26.50 today and I only have a couple of hours left before I have to pack the stall up. I have barely slept in days. I am cold. I am hungry as I only had one measly sandwich all day, I have been drooling over the food stalls and smelling their delicious food doesn’t help my hunger I can tell you. I cannot afford to buy their food right now. I cannot even afford the rent on my bloody stall. On Monday and Tuesday the rent for the stall is £10 a day, which is manageable, but for Friday’s and Saturday’s the rent is £50 each day. I haven’t even made £50 a day in weeks. Tears fill my eyes as I re-arrange the cards to cover the gaps my little sale has left. I feel so down that I am genuinely battling tears.
I sense that a customer is waiting and when I look up, fake smile on face, a middle aged business man is standing at the stall admiring the ebony cards. He sees that I have seen him and smiles warmly at me. He has dark brown hair, and eyes which appear like liquid gold. I have a good feeling about him as he sincerely appears delighted by them. “These are exquisite” he exclaims as he gently strokes one of the cards with his finger, “How much are they please”? I look him dead in the eye as I inform him that they are £4 each on account of the fact that they are hand painted. “Who painted them?” he inquires with genuine interest. I feel myself flush as I tell him that “I did”. He remarks that I have real talent and I swear I am so embarrassed that I do not know where to look. I point out that I have 14 different cards, and remind him that as they are hand painted, even if I tried to recreate the exact same scene I could never made an exact card again so each will be an original forever. I can see straight away that this appeals to him. He wants to buy all of them but says that £56 is too much. “I will give you £40”.
“No way” I shake my head laughing “the very least I would take for those cards is £50, painting them literally takes a whole day” I explain, “Believe me that it will choke me to even accept £50. They are divine” I add honestly, passionately and with no false modesty at all. He agrees and before I know it I have sold the whole lot for £50. For the first time in weeks I have made at least the cost of the stall and my equipment back! Any other little sale now will be a bonus. It is a small thing I realise, and I am far from being out of the woods, but it literally is the first ray of hope that I have had in weeks. On Sunday night when I sit and ‘do my accounts’ after my weekend on the market I work out that I have made a profit of £31 by the end of the weekend, not much of a wage for a weekends work but it is at least something. The Saturday wasn’t such a great day as the Friday but then again I had no time to make any more of the ‘ebony’ cards after the sales from Friday. I usually have a day off on Sunday before I am on the market again on Monday and Tuesday, but I know that this week I will have to work ‘flat out’ on Sunday to replace the ebony and window cards that I need to make. I really don’t mind the hard work however, I just feel so excited to have something positive to focus on instead of just endlessly worrying as I can see my savings and home slipping away right in from of my eyes.
I blink and it is Monday morning again and the alarm clock is announcing the arrival of 4am. I literally jump up out of my bed, wash and dress in a rush before heading in to the kitchen ready to make my coffee and my lunch for the day. I am anxious to get to the market. I have only been able to paint 16 ebony cards and make 12 window cards, but I worked the whole of Sunday to achieve that so certainly don’t feel glum about it. Once my lunch (a boring sandwich again) is ready I carry them through to the studio ready to pack everything away. I walk in to the room, flick the light on and freeze. The children are there, standing in front of the table looking at the cards that I have painted of them! My heart quickens its pace as usual and the hairs on my body spring to attention as usual, not that anything about this is ‘usual’. I realise that I am shaking my head in disbelief just as the little girl turns to face me. “Ebony” she demands “why are you painting little pictures of us”?
I find myself stuttering as I answer her, but it is progress that I have found my voice, or maybe I have just descended further in to madness “My, my, name is, is, Eve. I, I, m, make greeting cards for a living. T-they are C-Christmas cards I have painted, and y-yes, they are of you”. My voice and body are shaking so violently that I feel like I might vomit, but she seems oblivious to my terror once again.
“Why” she demands crossly, her little nose is screwed up in distaste and she is frowning at me once again. Her little brother is looking up at her in admiration. “I am, well, I guess I am very curious about you both” I inform her, “I don’t know why you are here or how to help you?” I falter at this point, I haven’t answered her question I realise, and she doesn’t answer mine. They both simply disappear. It feels like the exchange only lasts for seconds so I am confused when my driver starts beeping his horn outside. 45 minutes flew past without me feeling it. I quickly pack the last few cards and rush outside with the first two boxes. David, my elderly grey haired driver greets me cheerfully “oversleep did you Eve?”
“Something like that” I mutter as I rush inside for more boxes. I feel like today might be a long day.
I barely open my stall when the business man who bought the ebony cards appears. He greets me cheerfully and asks if I have any more of the cards yet. I show him the new cards and he asks to buy them all again. “Wow you must really like them” I remark. He tells me that his wife adored the last ones he bought and so he thought that he would pass by and see if I had made any more. He takes his time to look at each card and this time he pays the full asking price without question or hesitation. What a fabulous start to the week, £64 and the stall has only been open for five minutes! The rest of the day goes reasonably well. Mondays are never that fantastic but compared to previous weeks I do very well taking £108.75 in total. I have never had a Monday that did better than a Saturday until today. It doesn’t even worry me that I haven’t got time to make any further cards before opening the stall the next day, but I am aware that I will have Wednesday, and Thursday to get ready for the weekend. I might be tired and hungry when I get home but finally I am able to go to my bed happy. I feel as though those children have brought good luck in to my life, like they have been ‘sent to me ‘to help me turn my life around. I cannot think of any other explanation. For the first time in months I drift off in to a deep and relaxing sleep.
“Ebony! Ebony! Ebony!” the little voice is getting louder and more urgent with every call. “You have to get up, the house is on fire! Do you hear me Ebony?” I leap out of bed with a start. I am panicking but even so I take in the scene I am faced with. The little girl is dressed in exactly the same clothes that she has been wearing each time I have seen her. There is an awful strong smell of smoke in the house and I can feel the heat from the fire even though I cannot see any flames yet. The little Victorian girl is standing next to my bed and the terror on her face is undeniable. She grabs my arm, and I am stunned that I can ‘feel’ her toughing me, she is ice cold. “Run!” she hisses at me urgently-and I do! I fly out of my room and nearly fall down the stairs in my haste. The house is filled with smoke and I can barely see where I am going. I am choking and unable to breathe or really see more than an inch in front of my face and the little girl is having the same reaction which would have puzzled me if I had of had the time to think about it. I am halfway down the stairs when I hear a child screaming. “Joseph” the girl screams in panic as she halts to a stop, “we have to save him!”
“Where is he?” I ask through my terror, my heart is pounding in my ears, which is adding even more confusion to the situation as I literally cannot think straight as well as not being able to see. She is already running back up the stairs to my room. I blindly follow out of sheer instinct. It doesn’t occur to me to save myself and leave the children. Although I know that they are not really there, and that they have probably already died once, I just cannot leave them. So I race back in to my room just in time to see the girl dragging the boy out from under my bed. I notice my mobile phone on my bedside table, I pick it up and shove it in to the pocket of my pyjama bottoms and then without a second thought I take him in my arms, grab her hand and run with them out of the door and down the stairs. We practically tumble down the stairs through the thick smoke and I finally see great big flames licking the door of my studio. My heart breaks as I realise all of my cards are ruined, as well as the means I have to make a living and my home. All gone! It is only when they girl tugs my arm urgently and hisses at me to ‘run’ again that I realise I have stopped running and am just standing staring in horror at the flames. I am so devastated to realise that the fire must have been my own fault and I won’t get any insurance pay off because of that fact. I manage to make myself move again, I unbolt the door swiftly and fly out of the house gasping greedily at the clean air which makes me choke even more. As I run on the sharp gravel in my bare feet the pain causes me to stumble and then fall on to it with a harsh, painful bump. I then realise that the children have vanished. I don’t have time to think about it much. I scramble to my feet, find my phone and start to dial 999. I press 9 twice on the keypad when I realise with a shock that there are no flames or smoke any more. Everything is till and silent. The front door is wide open. I can clearly see the door to my studio which is now wide open and there are no flames, there is no smoke. I don’t know if it is shock, relief, or something else that hits me but I feel as though I have been dealt a physical blow. I fall to the floor once more and cry, and cry and cry until I am so cold that I am forced to re-enter the house.
Once inside I don’t know what on earth to do with myself. I am bewildered. It is almost 3am and there is no way I would sleep even if I did go to bed so I don’t bother. I go back to my room and wrap my dressing gown round myself and slowly make my way back down to the kitchen and flick the kettle on. As I stand in front of the kettle listening to its angry little hisses and clicks I suddenly realise that this is it. They died in a fire in this house, or a house that was here before this one had been built. No doubt that is how their parents died. Or perhaps they can’t find their parents because they didn’t die but left through the force of their grief. I have no idea when or if they will come back, but finally I am sure that I will need to find a way to help those children ‘move on’ or whatever. I will research them, I will find someone to help me and risk being seen as crazy. I will do something, for their sake and for the sake of my sanity. I am tempted to stay home and skip another freezing day out on the stall, but as I sit in the studio sipping my coffee I decide that it is best for me to go to the market. Honestly I don’t even want to sit in the house on my own today. It would be too hard, too awful to stay here.
I open the stall and set my stock out as usual. I realise that I have some very pretty cards although as far as I am concerned the ebony cards outshine every other one here. I look up in surprise when I see the same business man standing before me again. I laugh as I inform him that I have no ebony cards yet. “Give me a chance to paint some more!” I scoff playfully. He smiles broadly and again I get a really good vibe from him, he seems to have a really warm, nice air about him. “My name is Grant” he puts out his hand for me to shake “Grant Lewis”.
“Evangel” I offer as I shake his hand, “Evangel Brown”. I laugh as I see his eyebrows rise slightly, “My parents were VERY big in the Church” I offer with a grin, “Most people call me Eve” I offer “and I won’t mind if you do so too”.
“I own a company that prints calendars’ amongst many things” he explains to me. “My partners and I had a meeting about your Ebony Collection on the insistence of my wife” he informs me smiling, “and they would like to meet you if you are willing?”
“Why would they like to meet me” I enquire densely after another sleepless night my brain feels as though it is wading through mud! “Well” he laughs “the idea is for us to turn your fabulous cards in to a calendar” he tells me, “and we are also interested in looking at some of your other designs”. He picks up the squirrel cards and smiles broadly “perhaps you could bring these along for example” he pauses before adding “and anything else which you think might be suitable, if you are interested” he adds as an afterthought. I am open mouthed with shock and the rest of the conversation feels like a blur to me. Before I know where I am and what I am doing I am clutching his business card in my hand with a 12pm meeting at his head office. He assured me that they will make me a very handsome offer for my designs but suggests that I might like to take some legal advice to ensure that my interests are taken care of. He assures me that the calendar doesn’t need to be ready for the upcoming new year, the following one is what they are aiming for, so I won’t have to ‘kill myself’ to get it ready in time. It just feels like a dream, as though it is too good to be true and let’s face it I seem quite skilled at imagining things so I keep checking and re-checking the business card to see if it is actually real!
The rest of the day passes me by in a blur. I treat myself to a celebration Chinese meal from one of the food stalls at lunch time. Sense and logic tell me not to get ahead of myself, nothing is confirmed or ‘in the bag’ yet. Yet deep inside I sense that my money troubles are soon going to be a thing of the past. But no matter what, I will make sure I do the ‘right thing’ whatever that is by those children who have without doubt turned my whole life around!
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