It took them a good hour to find the small parish church, its spire grimy and grey in stone like a finger pointing to Heaven. The stained glass windows glowed very faintly with the small light of candles, but that small light shone brightly to the children, in their misery grasping at the one small spark of comfort struck by their faith. Their hands joined, their heads bowed, they made their way through the leaf-strewn portico to a pew near the front, and there alone they prayed. Oddly, the church was empty, and yet it seemed to be full of some intangible power. Sarah was deep in reflection when some invisible force raised her chin and gently opened her eyes.
She saw the small church tree, thinly decorated with tinsel, baubles and fairy lights. Its colours glowed brightly, but the more she stared at it, the brighter it seemed to glow. Then the face formed. It was that of a man, dim and featureless at first, but sharpening by degrees into focus. The full lips parted, and a pair of soulful blue eyes seemed to join with them in imparting a message. The face was framed by long, soft brown hair. Sarah was petrified. She was aware of Giles still in prayer by her side, yet she was transfixed by this image. At last, she summoned up the courage to speak to it. ‘Who are you?’, she said. ‘Do you have something to tell me?’ The face smiled, with a gentleness that Sarah had never encountered before. ‘You will see me again on Christmas Eve’, its voice intoned softly. ‘Look for me and you will find me. I bring to you the gift for which you have always longed.’ Then it started to vanish.
Sarah cried out, ‘No!’, but then the face was no more. The church and Giles were around her and the tree in front of her. She began to weep gently. Giles looked up from his prayers. ‘Soz! What on earth is the matter?’, he said. She hugged him, and replied, ‘I’ve just had a strange vision. I’ll tell you about it on the way back home.’ ‘But we’ve only just got here!’, he grumbled. Sarah smiled. ‘Something’s telling me we should leave now. There doesn’t seem to be anybody here anyway. Come on.’ She took his hand, and after some hesitation, he followed. He took one last look, however, and made up his mind that, sooner or later, he would come back here.
Their return to the cottage was marked by a curious circumstance. The Ashers had gone. There was a scrawled note on the kitchen table, the contents of which were impolite to say the least, yet it amounted to the fact that the children were now on their own and expected to cope. Some money was on the table (‘we’ve taken the rest’, as the note explained). It was a cruel blow, but not an unexpected one. ‘After all’, as Sarah reasoned, ‘they had as little as possible to do with us anyway.’
As Sarah made the best of the food they had left, Giles went outside and looked into the rapidly darkening winter sky, and noted each star and the almost full moon that was now coming out. In his mind’s eye, he could see three bearded and gowned men riding across desert dunes to witness the beginning of a new world.
Pet Shop Boys, Birthday Boy