Don’t scoff. The story you just read has, shall we say, mysterious, if not magical, origins. Probably it would be best if I just presented it as “in the style of Charles Dickens,” and let it go at that. But I feel compelled to tell you where it really came from…
Back in the late 1990s, in England on business (at a lovely theme park called Alton Towers), I stayed at a nearby bed & breakfast, not far from Sherwood Forest. I’d love to say that the place had some wonderful name like The Green Man or The Monkey’s Knuckle or something, but the truth is I don’t remember its name. Probably something mundane, like the Miller Inn or whatever. It was quite old, dating back at least two or three centuries, and off the American tourist track.
The innkeeper was a sweet-natured woman (sadly, I can’t recall her name, either; I do remember what she looked like: round-faced, with frizzled red hair and endless freckles; utterly ageless—she might have been anywhere from thirty to sixty); once our business was transacted and she had confirmed that I was an American, why I was visiting, etc., she finally handed me my key. “Here you go, young man.” But she held on to the key fob while she gave me a long, curious look. Then she asked, “Do you know Charles Dickens?”
She looked so earnest that I avoided the quip “Not personally” and just said, “Of course.”
“Well, Mr. Dickens once stayed in your room. It’s true!” She must have thought I was about to challenge her story. “Still got the ledger with his signature in it! Can’t say he slept in the same bed, but there’s a little desk in that room that Mr. Dickens himself used. Crikey, listen to me! Goin’ on like a gypsy wool-spinner… Anyway…” Here she gave me an intense look as if she was trying to communicate something profound with the twinkle in her eye. But she just said, “Enjoy your stay!”
But now she had me, which was no doubt her intention. I asked her to tell me more. And the floodgates were open!
It seems that Dickens supposedly wrote a sixth Christmas tale, but if so, it was lost. Some think (she claimed) that he left the missing manuscript at this very inn, but no one’s ever seen it, though it “adden bean philacca saken” (hasn’t been for lack of seeking). She did produce one yellowed slip of paper with an apparent title on it, written in an old-fashioned scrawl:
A Christmas Enchantment/A Yuletide Tale of Magic & Mystery with the words “Magic” and “Mystery” scratched through, and the words “Mysteries” and “Magic” written beneath to put the terms in reverse order.
That was it. It wasn’t signed; I realize it might have been written by anyone, any time.
My room was lovely; a typical B & B hodgepodge of antiques and modern niceties. There was a very old writing table there that I wouldn’t have paid any particular notice except for Madame Innkeeper’s story...
At that time, I kept a hand-written journal with me most of the time. To be honest, it was often dead weight in my suitcase; I’m afraid I’ve never been a very faithful journalist (and even less so now that our lives are so documented on our computers), so it was not at all unusual for me to have it out on a bedside table and never crack it open. I think that was the case for my three nights at this inn. I do remember that I was within a few pages of the end of that volume, and had already purchased a new blank book.
So when I got home from England, I stowed it with other earlier volumes (well, some of them—I’m afraid they have a tendency to wind up scattered about) and forgot about it. Then, not long ago I stumbled across it and flipped through the pages for a moment... The story you’ve just read was scrawled there, starting on the few blank pages at the back, then onto the backs of the already filled pages, then onto the fronts of those pages, squeezed in between lines and stuffing the margins.
Now, sometimes I will wake up in the middle of the night, grab the current journal (or some other handy paper) and try to jot down whatever brilliant dream I have just had, which I’m sure would make a wonderful story. This pans out very rarely; these notes are often illegible, and usually incomprehensible besides. So at first glance—before I realized how much was written there—that’s what I thought this was.
Maybe it was; just the super-sized version. I suppose that’s possible. But I have absolutely no recollection of writing it. Maybe I wrote it all down while still asleep, dream-writing, as it were. Maybe Mr. Dickens appeared to me and dictated it. Or, did Mrs. Innkeeper sneak in, lift my journal and write it all as some kind of elaborate, pointless prank?
I don’t know.
So I copied it all into a computer, making some guesses along the way when completely indecipherable, cleaning up some sections, etc., and made it my literary (you should pardon the expression) gift for the year. I hope you enjoyed it.
PS: Now that the story is digital, I’ve managed to completely misplace that journal. I can’t find it anywhere (and it adden bean philacca saken!); not that it really matters, I suppose. Just another little mystery. (And maybe a little magic.)
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