Caleb walked, head bowed with the collar of his jacket pulled upwards as the rain lashed down, nipping at his skin, but that didn’t prevent him from stopping at the old rustic iron cast gates of the orphanage. He listened as the rain bounced off the windows of the old Victorian building, which filled him with dread every time he stood and looked at it.
He hovered by the gates as he looked up to the steel bars on the outside of the windows. They reminded Caleb of a prison, which to him seem an adequate description for this place. As he felt there was no escape and so a prison it had become. He looked up further towards the old gargoyle statues that loomed over with grim expressions; the very sight of them seemed to send a shiver down his spine.
The door of the orphanage suddenly creaked open.
“Where have you been?” Demanded Madam Palfrey, as she stood in the door way with a look of disapproval etched across her face.
Caleb couldn’t answer, Madam Palfrey frightened him. She had done since he arrived.
“Well don’t just stand there boy, get inside.” She ordered as she stepped to the side to let him in.
Caleb didn’t need to be told twice, he walked with haste, almost running into what he had called the home that wasn’t. Inside he quickly shuffled out of his drenched jacket and hung it on the stand.
“You’re late Caleb. All the other boys arrived back from school a while ago. So tell me, where have you been?” Madam Palfrey asked once again.
Unable to answer her question, he lowered his head and shuffled his feet. Water ran down his face from his drenched hair before hitting the floor.
“Well answer me, you insubordinate child.” She raised her hand as if to slap him while she demanded an answer. Caleb braced himself for the hand to fall, his eyes screwed shut in anticipation, but the contact never arrived.
Madam Palfrey grunted in disgust at his silence. “Get up those stairs and out of my sight, I’ll teach you to keep your silence.” She shouted.
Her voice crackled as she shouted, sending another wave of fear through Caleb’s body. Despite flinching, Caleb didn’t move his eyes now wide with fear.
“MOVE IT.” She yelled as loud as she could.
Caleb snapped round on his heels and sprinted up stairs to the room he shared with 4 other boys of his age. Once there he sat himself down upon his bed and stared out from the windows of his hell to the pedestrians down below, watching as they dashed from one shelter to the next, each one laden with bags that contained gifts for Christmas.
Seeing them dashing around only reminded him of his parents who died in a car crash almost two years to the day. The road that night had been covered in snow and ice, his parent’s car skidded, spinning out of control and ploughed head on into a tree. He could no longer hold back his burning hot tears as they fell from his memory. He was only 7 when it happened; he could still hear his mother’s scream from that night.
Nothing could console him now as tears fell rapidly. He ignored the shouts for dinner; instead he opted to remain where he was. He buried his head into his pillow as he tried to remember what his parents looked like or sounded like but he struggled and that only filled him with more tears.
Caleb couldn’t stop them, nor did he want anyone to see him like this, such was the need to cry that he ended up crying himself to sleep.
Caleb later awoke in a coughing fit. With his throat dry, he slid out of bed and crept towards the door trying not to disturb the other boy’s now sound sleep in the room. He used the dull light from under the door as his guide to where it stood, and once there he opened it with caution. If he was caught out of bed at this hour, he would be trouble and with this in his mind Caleb tentatively looked out into the hallway, only to be cast backwards as heat filtered up the stairs shrouded in black, thick smoke. There was only one thing that could give off such heat, and that terrified him more than Madam Palfrey did, but instinct over ruled the fear within him. He could hear the sharp crackles from downstairs as he made is away around the room waking the other boys up, telling them that there was a fire and that they needed to get out.
He could barely see his hand before his face as the smoke hung heavier now, but despite his visual impairment, he found the fire alarm and didn’t hesitate in breaking the glass. A sharp pitch then sounded around them. He could hear Madam Palfrey shouting in the distance, demanding to know who set the alarm off. She only stopped when she opened her door and witnessed for herself the smoke that now began to fill each room.
One by one the other doors opened to reveal shocked expressions. Caleb couldn’t move, fear started to take control as Madam Palfrey thundered her way towards him, casting a stern look in his direction before ordering the boys to follow her down the stairs and out of the building. She took hold of Caleb’s arm and dragged him down the stairs with her. Despite her age, she was still strong and no matter how he struggled he could not release her grip.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Caleb’s eyes burned with the heat. They crouched down low and pressed themselves against the wall, using it as a guide until they were all out of burning building.
Across from the orphanage, Holly Mathews had awoken from the chaotic noise coming from outside. She wriggled out from under her covers then headed to the window. She watched in horror as yellow and orange flames spat out from the front window, her eyes darted towards the boys as they backed up against the iron fencing. She then ran through to her parent’s room desperately trying to wake her mum up.
“Mummy wake up… mummy. There’s a fire…”
“A fire… where?” With that Holly’s mum awoke sharply from her sleep.
“Across from us mummy, the boys…” Was about all Holly could say before darting back to her room, her mum followed her.
“See mummy…. There…” she pointed, showing her mum where the fire was.
“I see darling.” Her mum replied as she picked her up before putting her back to bed. “It’s being dealt with honey, now back to sleep you have school in the morning. Goodnight sweet heart.”
“Night mummy,” Holly replied as she rolled on to her side and quickly fell back to sleep.
The following morning revealed the extent of the fire. Fortunately it was confined to one room. But at the same time it had destroyed the very heart of Christmas for Caleb and the boys. The tree and presents had been destroyed. It only confirmed Caleb’s initial thoughts, that he was in fact a prisoner in hell. There would be no Christmas now for him, or the other boys. Consumed in his thoughts, Caleb he didn’t hear Madam Palfrey approaching until she stood behind him.
“Shouldn’t you be off to school Caleb?” She asked in a firm tone which startled Caleb.
“Y… yes Madam Palfrey.”
“Well, what are you doing standing here. Off with you.” She said quickly.
Caleb didn’t hesitate. He sprinted out the door and made his way to school. When he arrived, he almost ran into a small blonde haired girl, who had turned towards him and smiled weakly at him.
“You’re from across the road, from the boy’s home aren’t you?” She asked.
Caleb raised one eye brow in curiosity. No-one had ever asked him a direct question out with school or the orphanage since his parents had passed away.
“I am, and who might you be?”
“I’m Holly. Holly Mathews. I live across from you. I saw what happened last night.” Holly replied. “Wasn’t there a tree in that room?”
Caleb hung his head as he spoke. “There used be, and gifts. But there isn’t any more.”
“What no more presents? How will you celebrate Christmas then?” Holly asked.
“We won’t be. There is no Christmas any more for us.” Caleb answered solemnly.
The bell rang out before Holly could ask Caleb any more questions. For once Caleb was thankful for that bell, he didn’t know how he would cope with more questions towards an already tender subject.
The day passed by in a daze, he couldn’t focus on anything but the memory of his parent’s.
When the bell finally rang to sound the end of the day, Caleb rushed up and out of the building only to have Holly step in his way as he neared the gates.
“Are you stalking me now or something?” He asked.
“No.” She replied abruptly almost stomping her foot on the ground, the very motion of which made Caleb stop dead in his tracks.
“What do you want then?” Caleb asked.
“I… I…” Holly stammered. She didn’t quite know herself what it was that she wanted to say.
“How old are you?” She blurted out. It wasn’t what she had wanted to ask but it was all that had come to her when challenged her.
“I’m 9. Not that it matters and you?” He asked back.
“I’m 5.” She smiled, her mother then called her before she could continue.
“Nice to meet you Caleb, but I have to go now.” She added before running off.
Caleb watched as Holly ran into her mother’s arms. She then pointed towards him as she whispered something in her mother’s ear.
On his way back to the orphanage, Caleb had stopped to read the headlines on one of the papers outside the local shop. Fire Ruins Christmas – it read. Seeing it in black and white only made it more real to him than it had been. He tried not to think about it as he looked at the date, tomorrow would be Christmas Eve, a day that should have been filled with joy and excitement, with eagerness and anticipation. But Caleb knew that it wouldn’t be that way for him, or the other boys in the orphanage. They had nothing to look forward to, no place to truly call home. No presents to cherish and worst of all, no one to truly call family.
With his thoughts turning back to his memories of old he lowered his head and hunched his shoulders, before he dug his hands deep into his pockets as he walked back, stopping only to kick the odd stone or two on the way.
Caleb arrived back in time as grief began to overwhelm him. The memory of his parents, their love, their voices, something he’d never experience ever again, consumed him. So much so that he headed upstairs to be alone with his thoughts.
The only time he went downstairs that night was for dinner, which he rushed only to return to his bed, so that he spent as little time with anyone as he could, which was near impossible considering the fire destroyed one of the main rooms in the building and that they had other option but to stay there. No-one wanted them, not even the council could find them somewhere else for the night.
Caleb and the other boys spent the following morning cleaning up what they could of the front room. He had chosen to work on his own, his thoughts still upon his parents, they’re anniversary was just around the corner, which made Christmas even harder for him to deal with. But no-one ever seemed to understand his need to be alone at this time of the year, and no-one knew how much he hurt. After lunch they set about scrubbing the walls, at least this way it returned to something more inhabitable despite the obvious damage which they couldn’t fix.
By the end of the night Caleb was exhausted, opting once more to have an early night.
Caleb awoke the following morning to the sounds of singing and commotion. He jumped out of bed, his first impulse was to look out the window, and when he did he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He noticed that Holly was standing at the gate, with parcels in her hand, singing as loudly as she could. Others surrounded her, like holly they held items in their arms too as they sung with her. He pried himself away from the window and ran down the stairs as fast as he could, by which time other boys had followed him.
Caleb opened the front door and headed towards them only to be pulled back by Madam Palfrey. “What’s all this?” She yelled out.
Holly stepped forward with her mother behind her. “We brought these for you and the boys.” Holly said as she shied back.
“We come bearing gifts and food for yourself and the boys. We all heard about the fire, and when Holly told us that you would be without gifts on Christmas day, we had to something. The blessing of Christmas is the gift of love and pulling together for those less fortunate. We don’t have much to give, but what we do have is more than what you started with I understand.” Holly’s mother added.
Madam Palfrey stood with her hands on her hips as she assessed the situation before her. She was strict but she wasn’t heartless. “Well, in that case, how can we say no?” Her voice echoed out across the street. Caleb’s face lit up in awe at what he was seeing, he had never seen Madam
Palfrey be as open to others as she was now.
“Come on in. I’m sure we have room to accommodate everyone.” She added as she stepped aside. Like Caleb, the other boys held smiles upon their faces; they too couldn’t believe what was happening.
Once inside, Holly caught up with Caleb, she had a something else for him. Something that she hoped he would like. “Caleb…”
Caleb turned round as he heard his name being called. “Hi Holly,” he said.
“Hi…” she added back shyly. “Listen…”
“Caleb” Madam Palfrey called out, interrupting Holly. “Could you come to my office for a moment please?”
Caleb swallowed hard. Her office was the one place he never wanted to be, but he couldn’t refuse, especially not with other people around them. Despite his urge to refuse he nodded and made his way towards him, turning only slightly to cast a solemn look back at Holly.
Holly on the other hand could only smile back at him. She knew what was coming even if Caleb did not. Her smile confused Caleb even more as Madam Palfrey’s hand fell upon his shoulder before turning him into her office. Before he entered, he could hear the faint chatter of other people inside. Two people at least, one male the other female.
Upon entering the room, Caleb looked towards the two adults sitting beside Madam Palfrey’s desk. He recognised the lady as being Holly’s mum. He had only seen her for a split second two days ago but he knew in his heart of hearts that it was her.
“Holly…. Are you coming in dear?” Madam Palfrey asked softly. “No? Okay then, we won’t be long love.”
Caleb was now more puzzled than he ever had been, he could only think of what he might have done wrong to be here right now. He backed up against the wall as Madam Palfrey passed him on route to her chair.
“Hello Caleb.” Holly’s mother said as she turned her attention towards him. “We’re Holly’s parents.”
“Hi” Caleb replied weakly.
“We’ve been talking, and we wondered… I know we don’t know each other or anything, but Holly couldn’t stop talking about you the other day, and we got talking, her father and I, I mean. And we’ve thought about this… we wondered…. How would you feel about becoming a part of our family?” She asked with a smile.
Caleb couldn’t quite comprehend what he was hearing, if indeed he had heard what he thought he had heard. “You mean… you want to… adopt me?” He stammered, still in shock.
“Well let’s not rush into anything here Caleb. You can come and live with us, see how things go before we talk it over. Besides, it will take a while for the paperwork to be arranged. By which time, we will know for certain if it’s right for you and us. That is, if you want to come and stay with us.” She added.
“I… I’d like that very much.” For the first time in two years Caleb’s smile was uncontrollable.
“We’ll let you get off Caleb. I’m sure you have plenty to sort out now.” Holly’s dad added before turning towards Madam Palfrey.
With the prospect of having somewhere but the orphanage to live in, Caleb didn’t waste any time in packing up his belongings, not that he had much to pack. He couldn’t wait to be out of that home, nor could he wait to be part of a family once more. While packing, he had learned that he wasn’t the only one to have found a family that day, others had done too. It had seemed that Holly’s thoughtfulness had granted the boys more than they could have hoped for.
He couldn’t help but smile and feel that his parents had answered his prayers. For upon this Christmas day, a miracle had been granted, a prayer had been heard. The gift of love and been given and Caleb wouldn’t spend another Christmas without people to call family.