Harper went to draw the curtains at the living room’s floor to ceiling windows of her three bedroom top floor London apartment. She stopped and looked out. Normally she could see much of London’s high end business streets, fancy apartment blocks and Big Ben on the skyline.
Tonight though, a snowstorm had hit the city and it was really coming down now. The large, heavy white flakes were sticking to everything, even things that were normally warm. The wind was gale force, gusting at 30-40 miles, creating a white blindness against the darkness and the noise it was making was louder then the London traffic jams far below.
Clutching the curtain, Harper said aloud, ‘I’ve only seen snow like this on TV in those snowed-in romantic movies. Well, it doesn’t look ‘lovely’ to me.’
She closed the curtain on the scene and as she did so she heard Big Ben strike the hour. Frowning, Harper opened the curtains and tried to look out but she could barely see anything. She listened hard but heard nothing then the howling wind.
I thought they were still repairing things, the bell and clock haven’t worked in months. How can Ben chime then? Maybe, I miss heard it? Harper thought.
Closing the curtains finally, she turned away and back to the tidy open living room. The fake fire was going in the wall, the warmth coming off it making everything cosy. The other walls were decorated with framed photos of family and friends, Harper and her husband, Hugo, at there wedding five years ago, on their honeymoon, other holidays and celebrations. The larger frames were decorate with sprigs or small garlands of real green ivy and red berries.
There was a medium size Christmas tree, shinning in the corner next to the fireplace. The red and gold colours of all the decorations and lights give a magical feeling. Other Christmas decorations hung about or were on display from shelves, adding to theme. On and around the glass coffee table were stack boxes of presents, rolls of colourful wrapping paper, bows, ribbon, labels, sticky table and scissors.
Harper went back to the red bean bag chair next to the coffee table, where she had been curled up in before. There was a fresh cup of herbal tea on the table and the TV which was turned down low showed Christmas music videos.
Sipping her tea, Harper looked at her list and decided what presents to wrap next. Not for the first time she wish Hugo was here. She looked up at the photos and his smiling face. He had gone to Germany a few days ago on a business trip and had been due back tonight but the snowstorm had grounded all the planes coming to London and Hugo had phoned hours ago to say he was spending the night in a hotel.
Harper turned the volume up on the TV as a classic Christmas song came on; I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. She hummed along as she started wrapping again. Soon she had drink her tea, sing along to more songs, found enjoyment in wrapping the presents again and Hugo had slipped from her mind.
It grew super late before Harper realised but she had finished the bow on the last present. Yawning, she put everything away and turned off the TV. Hugo had phoned to say goodnight two hours ago down a static line which was then cut off. Harper had held the phone in sadness for a few moments then decided nothing could be done and carried on with her task.
Big Ben chimed midnight.
Harper stopped, her fingers had been reaching to turn the fireplace off. She listened, counting the tolling bell sound. Reaching twelve, she turned the fire off then the Christmas tree lights and went to the window. Moving the curtain she looked out but the snowstorm was still swirling and she could barely see the lights of the neighbouring buildings.
‘Maybe, they have finished working on the clock tower?’ she said aloud.
Dropping the curtain, Harper went to bed and slept well. All that present wrapping had exhausted her.
The next day, Harper found that the snowstorm had almost brought London to a stop. All the roads were blocked by cars and buses not going anywhere as the roads were covered. Pavements were crowed by people trying to go to work or the shops but they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere either. The snow lay thick on roof tops and didn’t seem to be melting.
Harper phoned in work and told her secretary, who always seemed to be in the office no matter what, that she wasn’t going to even try and come in and would work from home. Then she added that if the snow started again, her secretary was to go home, no excuses! Then setting herself up in the study which was the third bedroom, Harper worked the day away.
In the afternoon, the snow started falling again. Light at first but then as the sky darkened heavier. Harper phoned and texted her husband a few times but got no response. She had no idea if he was coming home or not. Harper ate dinner late, setting the table for one and having a glass of red wine to calm herself. She watched the snow falling and the twinkling Christmas at the windows of other apartments.
Big Ben chimed seven o’clock.
Harper lowered her wine glass from her lips and picked up her phone. She did an internet search and found that her thought before had been right; the bell had been stopped from chiming expect for special events, whilst repairs were done to the tower. So, she shouldn’t be hearing it. What was that bell chime then? A local church bell?
Whatever, it doesn’t matter, Harper thought and she had some more wine.
Afterwards, she took the rest of the bottle and sat before the TV to watch some movies. No word came from Hugo and every hour, Harper heard a bell ring. It turned midnight again and sleepily, Harper went to bed.
Laying there, she couldn’t get the idea of Big Ben sounding out of her head though. There was no other sound like it and Harper had lived in and around London all her life, so she knew all the noises well enough. Perhaps, she thought, before sleep claimed her, someone put it on in the spirit of Christmas?
Next morning, Harper found Hugo asleep on the sofa, still dressed from travelling and suitcase next to him.
‘Hugo?’ Harper called and touched his shoulder.
He stirred and woke up.
‘What time did you get in?’ she asked.
‘Couple of hours ago. Didn’t want to wake you, you looked so peaceful,’ Hugo replied, his voice rough with tiredness.
‘I’m up now, so why don’t you go to bed for bit?’
Hugo nodded and taking his suitcase went into their bedroom. Harper straightened the sofa then had breakfast. Afterwards, despite the food delivery three days ago, Harper decided to go to the shops. It wasn’t snowing, but there was frozen piles on the streets and it was freezing.
Setting out, Harper thought about walking to see Big Ben but it would be too long a walk.
What do you hope to prove anyway? That you’re not hearing things?
Harper shook her head and walked to a local shops. She got everything to make Hugo his favourite – lamb chops and sticky toffee pudding for after. Then she brought the maps up on her phone and looked to see if there where any churches or chapels close by. They didn’t seem to be any.
Walking home, Harper told herself it was only a ringing church bell after all. Back home, she busied herself with tidying up, checking work emails and her phone. When Hugo got up, they had a late lunch and talked.
Harper decided to bring up the bell, ‘Last night I heard Big Ben ringing. Do you think they put it back on?’
‘I thought it was taking them years to do the work?’ Hugo said, ‘it’s Christmas though, so maybe they have?’
‘I want to go and see it,’ Harper said.
‘The bell? I didn’t think you could…The clock and tower are covered in scaffolding, so there’s nothing to see.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Harper muttered.
She collected the plates and went into the kitchen.
That night in bed, listening every hour, Harper heard the bell sound. She couldn’t sleep. Hugo felt too warm next to her and his breathing, plus snoring, too loud. Harper got up, thinking she would get a cup of herbal tea.
Standing by the window, sipping tea, Harper watched fine snow drifting down and the dim lights of the city.
Big Ben chimed three AM.
Maybe, it’s all in my head, Harper thought, I’m so use to hearing Ben that my mind is just filling in the sound? Unless…bells have ghosts. Is that even possible? Have I been hearing the ghost of Big Ben?
Harper laughed, finished her tea and went back to bed.
The idea of Big Ben’s ghost didn’t want to leave her though. So, the next day, her and Hugo walked to the Houses of Parliament. Hugo had been right; scaffolding ran from floor to almost the top of the tower, hiding the clock who’s hands were stopped. There were a few notices around explaining to visitors what was happening.
‘It says here the work will be complete in twenty-twenty-one and Big Ben will only strike on special occasions, like New Year,’ Hugo read aloud.
‘So, it’s not Ben I’m hearing?’ Harper spoke.
‘Looks that way.’
Harper sighed and looked up – a long way up – at the clock face. Above a dark grey sky was threatening more snow and Harper thought she could feel water drops on her face.
‘Feel better now?’ Hugo asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Harper responded.
She touched her forehead but didn’t feel hot or unwell.
I feel….unsettled, Harper decided.
‘Pub lunch?’ Hugo asked.
Harper nodded and let him led her away.
She didn’t hear the bell chime again after that.
(Inspired by; https://secretkeeper.net/2018/12/03/weekly-writing-challenge-170/ with thanks).