Story by Anne Hearn

16th December 2011

An entry into our 2011 Short Story Competition on the theme of Starlight

She didn’t come to visit very often, but when she did it was a cause of great excitement on Beth’s part.

For the hours before each visit Beth would be jumping up and down in anticipation. It was fortunate their sofa was positioned where it was as it enabled her to climb up on to it and sit perched against the window, giving her an excellent view of the bus stop where she would alight. Bus after bus came, stopped and left again but so far none of them delivered the precious passenger she so eagerly awaited.

She would imagine what adventure may have happened to prevent the visitor arriving. Maybe the driver was an evil wizard looking for someone just like her to whip away to his castle up in the mountains. Maybe the bus driver forgot his route and was at this very minute delivering her to some far away town where she would become lost forever and never be seen again!

All these were terrible thoughts, too awful to contemplate, but at the same time it left Beth with a feeling of excitement that these events may well have happened and what a tale could be told afterwards of all the adventures!

Mummy would have telephoned a few weeks ago to arrange the visit. How wonderful to see her again and to hear her funny stories, to sit on her lap and twiddle those tight little grey curls. How did she get to have such curly hair when we have such straight lanky hair? She never got cross, but if Beth had been a bit silly because she was tired or couldn’t get her own way she would pretend to look hurt and unhappy – until Beth rushed over to give her a bearhug cuddle, when she then smiled her filmstar smile and tickled her until she could stand it no longer. Oh yes, she was a special person indeed.

Beth was only seven but when their visitor appeared on the doorstep two or three times a year she felt her world was overflowing with love and joy to see her there. She gave up her princess bed with the pretty pink drapes so that she could sleep in her bed and Beth would happily nestle down on the put-you-up in the spare bedroom.

‘I don’t mind if you borrow any of my things or take one of my teddies to snuggle up to at night. You can even use my special magic sparkly bubble bath which sends beautiful dreams into your thoughts as you sleep.’

Mummy would prepare all her favourite meals and daddy would organise lovely trips for us all when she was here. Nothing was too much trouble. Sometimes, a theatre would be booked for a pantomime; ice cream and a sparkly wand would be bought in the interval. Beth would have to sit between her and mummy so that she could hold both their hands and grip them tightly when the wicked fairy came on stage and that gave her the confidence to shout ‘Boo’ with everyone else – such fun and so many happy memories.

This year was going to be even more special. Beth’s bedroom had been especially decorated for Christmas in her own choice – a thousand starry Christmas lights illuminating up her room – around the door, the windows and over her princess bed. How beautiful and special the visitor would feel to sleep in a room such as this. Of course, Beth would want to have the stars put up before the visitor arrived so she could enjoy the magic they would give, but she would be so excited to see the visitor’s face when she saw the transformation in her room.

There was only one problem – no matter what daddy did he just could not make the lights work.

‘Every year we have the same problems with these lights,’ he grumbled. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with them. I’m sorry, darling, but you may have to wait until I have had a word with Matt at work. He’s an expert with electrical equipment and I haven’t a clue what I’m doing.’

‘That’s alright, daddy. It just means my room won’t be ready in time for when she arrives. Never mind, I’m sure she won’t mind but it is a pity it won’t be a surprise.’

The great day arrived and the visitor entered the house loaded with presents galore but looked tired and glad to sit down for a cuppa.

‘I don’t think I’ll be late up tonight dear as I don’t feel too good. Maybe I overdid the shopping today and the long trip.’

Beth was already tucked up in bed, still too excited to sleep, when she heard the visitor climb slowly up the stairs. She could hear a whispered sigh and a pause between each step as she braced herself for the next effort of ascending. Finally, the summit was reached and the next task was to wash and then the door of Beth’s wardrobe could be heard. Beth knew it was being opened because she had fairy bells hanging from the handles which tinkled every time the door was opened or shut. She could imagine the clothes being carefully buttoned up after being put on the hangers – not like Beth who would roll her clothes up in a ball and throw them on the wardrobe floor if she felt she could get away with it. Mummy was always trying to teach her to be neater but it was soooooo boring being neat. She could then hear the creaky floorboard that she always leapt over before landing into her princess bed. If she made the floorboard creak she may have been put under a bad spell and have nightmares. However, the floorboard had creaked – would something bad happen? Then all was silent.

Beth, lying on the put-me-up stared out of the spare room’s window. It was a black, frosty night and an owl in the distance called out eerily to anyone who was listening. Sounds of the night seemed louder than usual, the clock on the dresser tick ticking relentlessly, the radiators groaning after a full days work at their task, the wind in the trees outside trying hard to bend their branches so they will knock on the window and frighten me.

Beth suddenly sat up as the hairs on the back of her neck warned her that something was wrong. She knew she was not supposed to wander around the house at night but tiptoed to her door which mummy had left ajar. All was quiet. Too quiet. Why doesn’t she slide back into that lovely warm bed and squeeze her eyes shut tightly? Maybe if she just took one tiny peep around the door to just check everything was as it should be she could then be happy to jump back into bed. The carpet felt rough underfoot and the room seemed bigger than she remembered it as she slowly felt her way in the darkness towards the open door. Her head peered around the edge of the door to see a gloomy landing with the moon casting a watery glow on the staircase. She was not afraid but something inside her made her want to have reassurance and a cuddle from the visitor in her princess bed.

The feeling was so strong it couldn’t be denied and all thoughts of returning back to her room were dispelled. It was not far, only the next room, but the usual familiarity of the house she usually raced around in the daytime had become an alien environment that required stealth and bravery to negotiate. There was no going back. Two more steps and she would be there. One more and she was shivering outside the door, hand poised on the Sleeping Beauty doorknob. Slowly she turned it and pushed gently, not wanting to startle the occupant.

Before she had even pushed the door open a crack she realised something amazing and magical was happening inside her room. She was dazzled and blinded by the strength of thousands of stars shining brightly all around the room: around her windows, up the sides and across the top of her wardrobe, over the princess bed and illuminating its occupant in starlight splendour.

There was granny, looking for all the world like the princess that she was, who lay in her eternal sleep under starlights leading her all the way to heaven.

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