Three years ago, in response to a prompt from Sue Vincent, I wrote this little Christmas piece. Since then, I’ve worked through the idea behind the piece and have now written a novel with this at its heart. It’s a romance with a little fantastical twist and some mild horror. It is currently in its last edits before I seek some beta readers and have it finally edited before publication. I hope you enjoy this and the full length piece when I launch it next year.
Extraordinary things happen in ordinary places.
If you take the B2402 out of Maplecroft on the old Dover road and follow it for nearly a mile you’ll see a battered sign. ‘Hoskins’ it says, still readable through the rust and stippling from some rogue shotgun pellets. If you turn onto the track, avoiding the biggest potholes and drive another mile, you leave the stony fields and scrubby trees behind to reach a set of old Nissan huts. You may wonder, on arrival, if there is anyone there but look carefully before you shrug and leave.
There are always a few cars, parked in the field to the right and, these days, a smoker or two hanging around the largest hut, puffing anxiously while they await their moment with Arnold Hoskins.
Few know Arnold but those who do recognise a genius. Some call him magician. Arnold has many social limitations: he barely speaks these days; he’ll not make eye contact; and please don’t try and shake his hand or touch his arm in a casual friendly way. He has spent most of his 87 years, sitting at a variety of work benches crafting beautiful Christmas tree decorations. That in and of itself is not what makes Arnold special.
What sets Arnold apart is a discovery that he made, in the depths of the frozen winter of 1962/63: the art of spirit-capture. By means of a simple series of transmissions, while regulating the temperature of the glass at super low levels, Arnold can extract a person’s essence, his or his essential core spirit and capture it inside a decoration. This is done in the moment of dying and enables the deceased’s fundamental presence to continue, despite the inevitable entropy of the flesh.
For ten years Arnold experimented. He learnt hard lessons. For one thing, on capture the essence is strong. It will soon fill the room, where the vessel is present, which causes, over time, numerous neurological disturbances amongst the spirit’s living relatives and close friends. Short term exposure is recommended – no more than ten to twelve days, ideally, at a time and then an absence of exposure for at least six months. This allows for the released essence to settle
It is Arnold’s genius in creating Christmas decorations for the captured spirits that has led to this small stable business. Exposure for those twevle days is enough, certainly in the first post-capture decade.
Those calling, locals mostly, who hear of Arnold’s skills, and who desire, often with a typically understated passion common in this part of Kent, to retain something of a departing loved one, know Arnold does not capture every essence.
The selfish, the mean-spirited, the callous and the small-minded bitter folk who’ve lost their love of life are allowed to dissipate to the hereafter. But the bonny, the jolly and the hail and well met are embraced.
For it is their essences which will enhance Christmas. In the houses, where spirit-captures hang, there is something powerfully good and peaceful that saturates the mood of everyone who steps across the threshold, dusts off the frost and breathes in deeply. Often times they’ll look for a fresh pine branch or cinnamon candle or mulling wine, sure they have smelt some delight. And when they go they will massage their cheeks from all the smiling, wondering at the joy of simple hospitality.
Grateful customers have been known to invite Arnold to join them. He manages what passes for a smile and declines. No, when Arnold shuts for Christmas, he goes to his simple cottage, dresses the tree and imbibes the simple residues of his parents and grandparents. These days the essences are almost gone but Arnold, himself, is nearing his time. There’s enough left of his childhood memories for an old man to enjoy his remaining few Christmas alone but far from lonely.