Kilkenny writer Catherine Cronin is the third guest to submit her work in the Kilkenny Observer ‘Christmas short story series’. Enjoy.
Do you know what the saddest thing is about being a ghost? It’s that you never get presents. Not for birthdays. Not for deathdays. Not even for Christmas! Young Finn thought about this a lot, especially on Christmas Eve. The last 134 Christmas Eves, in fact. And every year, after Christmas, he enviously watched children walk through his castle gates with enticing toys and gadgets. “You will come to realise, Finn”, Lady Butler said, “that there’s more to life, and death, than presents.”
Finn was the castle’s youngest ghost. He often thought if he had to choose to haunt anywhere in the world, it would be this castle. He loved it here. He had the woods, ducks at the pond, the playground, and the great towers. This was especially true at Christmastime when the lights were hung, the trees decorated and, if they were lucky, snow fell. The only thing missing was Finn’s favourite tree, the purple beech. A decade previously, it was struck down in a storm. It was 247 old and, as strange as it sounds, Finn’s best friend. Finn climbed that tree every day of his life and death and could see the whole park from the top.
Finn still loved Christmas, even without his tree and presents. He excitedly organised Christmas parties, games, and, importantly, kept the peace among all the powerful dead in the castle. The other ghosts were always amused by his excitement and started calling him “Festive Finn”. He pretended to be annoyed by the nickname, but he secretly loved seeing the older ghosts glow with joy when they said it.
Usually, the local living hosted a Christmas Eve concert in the castle’s Great Hall. It was always a thrilling time for Finn who would spend most of December planning where all the ghosts would float for the concert, promising everyone a great position on the ceiling beams for the big event.
As usual, on this December 24th, all the living and all the dead took their places in the Great Hall. The concert was beautiful. Finn overheard Strongbow’s daughter remark to a Marquess that, “Festive Finn had excelled himself this year”. She was notoriously difficult to please and barely ever spoke to Finn. He was delighted. As the choir began the final tune of the evening, Finn could see the ghosts gently glow above the Hall. It almost felt like even the living were glowing too. There was a Christmas warmth in the air and Finn began to understand what Lady Butler was talking about. He wished he could hold on to this feeling – this memory – all year round.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Finn saw a little girl in the crowd happily using her magic glass gadget to capture the moment. That old feeling of envy weighed on his chest again. The living were so lucky. They could relive Christmas all year long through their wonderful presents. Not like Finn.
When the concert was over, Finn was no longer feeling festive. He decided to go up to the high turret. He didn’t want his bad mood to ruin Christmas for everyone else. He was staring at the lights on the Parade when a delicate glow came upon the wall. It was Lady Butler. “Finn, could you come down to the front lawn, please?” Finn couldn’t believe one of the old ghosts had come so far up the castle to fetch him. This must be important.
He followed her. They floated across the grass where the old wall had once been towards the other ghosts who had all gathered. Finn recognised this spot. This was the site where his old friend, the purple beech, had once stood. Finn was a bit confused. Then, the greatest of the Earls, and the man who built the great stone castle, William Marshal spoke. “Thank you, young man, for another wonderful festive season. Now, Finn, we can’t give you presents like the living children get but we can give you something else. Take my hand, child.”
The Earl had never spoken to Finn before, not really, so taking his hand seemed like a big leap in their relationship. But Finn did what he was told, and as he did, the other ghosts spread out in a circle each taking the hands of a fellow ghost on both sides. Soon, they had formed a circle which was closed when Lady Butler took Finn’s other hand.
Finn looked around the circle. The ghosts all had their eyes closed and were humming a tune. The eeriest but most beautiful sound Finn had ever heard. And, as their harmony grew, they glowed more and more. Finn realised he too was humming even though he was certain he’d never heard this tune before. He couldn’t help himself. He was part of this ethereal community.
They were all glowing now, glowing as they never had before. Finn’s eyes were closed but he knew what was happening. After a few moments, Lady Butler whispered, “Finn – look.”
Finn opened his eyes. There, standing in front of them, was the old purple beech. It was proud and tall and glowing purple. It had no storm damage. It was healthy and stunning. “How?”, Finn gasped. “Trees have the oldest souls of all”, said Lady Butler. “Many living family and friends have leaned on them. At certain times of the year, when there’s magic in the air and we all work together, we can ask the trees to come back, just for a short time so that we might lean on them again.” “Go to it, Finn”, said the Earl. Finn was in shock.
He slowly walked to the tree, circled it, and began to climb. It had been a while, but he still knew where all the good branches were for safe footing. Of course, he could float up but climbing made him feel alive.
From the top, he looked on to the castle. There was a warm glow from the windows as the living continued with the festivities inside. Then, he looked below. The ghosts of the earls, the ladies, the soldiers, the families, workers, and friends that had haunted this place for so long, were glowing and humming in the most magical way. Finn’s heart was so full.
Christmas had never been so magical, Finn thought. To climb his favourite tree again was a magnificent present. But the greatest gift of all was what his fellow ghosts had done for him. And, just as these thoughts were occurring to Finn, it began to softly snow.
*Catherine Cronin is a writer, currently based in Switzerland. A Kilkenny native, Ireland is never far from her mind or her work. She is a former Loreto Secondary School student, and studied Humanities at Carlow College before gaining Masters degrees at NUI Galway and Mary Immaculate College, Limerick in the fields of Philosophy and Literature. She wrote and submitted her first play, “Håber Undone”, to Druid and was chosen to be part of their Druid Debuts rehearsed readings programme for 2021. Catherine’s second play, a one-woman piece called “Orphan Disease”, premiered in Zurich this past August. Catherine will be bringing this show to the Watergate Theatre on April 23rd, 2022.