“JT” said David, “Are those your initials?”
“No they’re not mine.” said the receptionist. She looked around and listened to see if anyone was left in the Museum. They could not hear any voices echoing or footsteps anywhere else in the building. She turned back and leaned towards them as if to whisper a secret.
“Stay here a moment. I’ll lock up and be back in a minute.”
They waited in the corridor amidst the displays. Maisy walked over to the postcards.
“This postcard here has Jacob’s initials on. It looks just like those in the book.”
“That means the book may have belonged to him.” said David.
After a short while they heard footsteps as the receptionist returned. She had brought some juice and biscuits with her from the cafe. David read the nametag on her blouse. It said ‘Mrs Grace Peverell, Receptionist’.
“I thought you might like a snack. Lets sit over here,” she said, “I’ll tell you all about the book.”
David sat one side of her on the only bench in the corridor and Maisy on the other. Grace had silver hair tied up in a bun and small round glasses perched on the end of her red nose. He put a box of tissues on the arm of the bench and they all took one. She held the book open between them. Grace was smiling at the thought of the memory she was about to relay.
“My mother found this book also in a jumble sale which was at the town hall. I was outside with my older brother, I was eight and he was ten. I remember it was snowing and we had knitted hats on that my grandmother had made, along with matching scarves and gloves. I only remember because me and my brother Daniel were playing snowballs outside and one of them flew right up in the air and landed on the statues face.” Grace chuckled, “When I looked up it looked like Jacob Toddle was smiling at me. It felt magical to an eight year old. Then Mum gave me the book as a present on Christmas Day.” Grace stopped a moment and smiled to herself. David and Maisy also looked at each other and couldn’t help smiling too.
“When I opened that book I had the most wonderful feeling. I felt tingly all over and the words on the page just seemed to jump out at me. I don’t think I put it down all Christmas. My Mum even had a job to get me to put it down to eat my Christmas dinner. Each year I would get out the book and read it from cover to cover and one year I found the initials in the back. This book actually belonged to Jacob Toddle himself. I could feel it in my bones and it explained why the book felt so magical. I thought I had lost it forever but here it is again.”
Then Grace suddenly stopped talking and turned her head towards the reception area.
“Shhh.” she said. They realised it had suddenly become cold as if a door was open and a cold breeze was seeping through the corridor. Then there was a loud footstep followed by another and then another. They seemed to be coming in their direction.
“But I locked the front doors.” said Grace, “I’m sure I did.”
They all stood up from the bench not daring to say a word. Then the footsteps suddenly stopped somewhere on the other side of the archway.
“Take the book.” said Grace, “Let yourselves into the message room and hide.” She thrust a key into David’s hand along with the old book and pointed to the door where the message was kept safe inside.
“Go quickly. The door is at the end of the corridor. You will be hidden as the light down there is broken and it’s dark.” she said urgently.
The pair did as they were told and quickly let themselves into the room. They left the door slightly open and looked back into the corridor where Grace was still standing by the bench. She put her finger to her lips signalling for them to keep quiet. The corridor seemed eerie with only the small spotlights in the displays lighting up the corridor. Then a large, black figure came gliding through the archway.
“The Grim Reaper.” David whispered.
* * *
Grim was having a great time. He had decided that waiting for night time was boring and as he was going to be collecting all the souls anyway, he may as well just get on with it. Grim had always loved collecting souls but as he had not been able to visit Stoney Tor at Christmas for so long he decided this year that he would teach them all that Christmas wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He had some great effects that he had been practicing and he could tell by the look on Grace Peverell’s face that it had worked. Making the sound of footsteps while he was floating was one of the special scary effects he had been working on. He watched Grace Peverell from the corridor and in a dramatic style he took his scythe out from under his cloak and floated towards her. He thought she was going to try and run off but she was rooted to the spot. She did raise her arms to defend herself but with a whoosh of his scythe her soul pinged out of her body and floated next to him. Her body slumped down on the bench. He couldn’t see the pair behind the door as it was completely dark down that end of the corridor but he could sense something watching him. He started to walk towards the darkness but a loud barking distracted him and he floated back to the archway. Those hounds were probably fighting again. Grim left the museum taking Grace’s soul with him. As she floated away behind him through the archway she turned to the pair with a sad look and was gone.
* * *
David and Maisy waited until they had disappeared and breathed a sigh of relief. Both of them had held their breath as Grim had floated towards them and knew they had nearly been caught. Then ran out through the archway at the entrance to the corridor where they could see that the main doors were now open. The Grim Reaper floated out of the museum with Grace’s ghost following behind. When the coast was clear they ran across the reception area to one of the front windows. They noticed the snow had fallen harder since they went in and there was now a thick white layer on the ground outside. A cart stood outside the museum with a large black horse attached that was as tall as the cage that sat on the back. To their dismay there were about twenty souls in there already. Grim had made sure the souls couldn’t escape by surrounding the bars with magic. The magic shimmered in the light from the lampposts that had turned on as the late afternoon sky started to darken. Two very ugly dogs sat at the side of the cart looking angry and were snapping at each other. Grim opened the back door of the cage and pushed in Grace’s soul. Then Maisy saw something awful.
“That’s Mum and Dad,” said Maisy, “I’ve got to get them out of there.”
Maisy went to run out of the door of the museum but David grabbed her arm and stopped her.
“Maisy don’t or you’ll end up in there and you won’t be able to help them at all.”
Grim climbed into the cart and the horse trotted away slowly before a snowy mist engulfed them until the cart could no longer be seen. The dogs disappeared still growling at the souls inside the cage who were moaning loudly and for good reason. David could see that the light outside was dimmer. Time was moving faster than he wanted it to.
“Come on. We need to look at the message room.” he said. They ran back to the corridor where Mrs Peverell’s body was still slumped on the bench.
“She looks really uncomfortable.” said Maisy. She went round to the reception desk and found a cardigan. She rolled it up and gently rested Grace’s head upon it. Maisy laid a hand on her arm.
“She is really warm still.” then she felt a tug. It was the book again trying to pull out of her hand. It was pulling in the direction of the message room.
“I think the book definitely wants us to go in there.” said Maisy.
The message room was a very small room. There was a cabinet on opposite walls both filled with books about the three sleeps from various decades over the last century. In front of them was a display case in which sat the message of the three sleeps that had taken Jacob so many hours to get right. A spotlight above made the writing sparkle slightly as if the ink was still wet. There was a picture of Jacob Toddle on the wall above the message. He was standing outside the printing office with his arms around the shoulders of Mr Feltham and Mr Downey who worked at the printers with him. He looked happy and it must have been the first Three Sleeps as the date at the bottom was eighteen ninety three and even though the photograph was black and white David wondered if the Christmas lights hanging up in the window behind them were red green and gold just like on their tree at home.
David could also see the arch above the entrance to the Newspaper offices with the name Feltham’s Printers & Press Office and the two men on either side of Jacob holding up the newspaper between them with ‘A Message For Christmas’ written on the front page. It was amazing that a few simple words had brought about the tradition of the Three Sleeps as they knew it today. Well, not quite like today, he reminded himself. He had never known anything other than a perfect Christmas. He felt a deep sadness come over him and hoped that they could find a way of putting everything right. He could tell that Maisy was also being brave and was trying not to cry.
“There must be something in here that will help us.” said David.
“We might find something in one of these books.” she said.
“That’ll take forever.” said David. They looked at each other and shrugged. They didn’t have a choice.
“You take that cabinet and I’ll look through this one up here.” said Maisy pointing to them. Most of the books were of the same layout with the same photographs as Jacob’s book. Maisy found one that was set out like a diary. It was covered in red leather and had been signed on the first page by Mr Thomas Downey.
“Thomas Downey wrote this diary.” said Maisy.
“That’s the man in the photograph, the one who worked in Jacob’s office.”
“Yes and Thomas has written this after Jacob died. It’s about their friendship and what Jacob was like.” she said.
David and Maisy sat down upon the floor in the small room each looking for something important that could help them. They searched for the date of the first Three Sleeps. It was not too far into the book and Thomas had jotted down his thoughts.
“There was a large quantity of happiness and joy at Feltham’s that day. It seemed as though Jacob had cast a spell of magic over the town, as the feeling of Christmas spread so rapidly that everyone I saw that day was smiling. Jacob sat down in the office that afternoon to write an entry in his diary, which he did not let me see. He was always writing. Later in his life when he was unwell and I sat by his bed he told me that he always knew the Shadow of Death and Death himself would seek him out one day, as they would want revenge. I asked him what he meant but he would simply say that he could not tell me about it but that I had to keep an eye out for them because they would find a way in. I never figured it out but he was very sure about it. When Jacob died, he stated in his will that his walking cane was to go to his closest family and he was very insistent, as he said it would save us all one day. His relatives, however, said it was creepy and they didn’t want it so it was put in the statue. It is a puzzle that has caused me many a sleepless night wondering what it was all about.”
David and Maisy looked at each other.
“So the cane has something to do with it.” said Maisy.
“And the diary.” said David. He stood up and looked at the photograph.
“That’s it.” he said pointing at the three men in the old photograph. “There in Jacob’s hand. That must be the diary.” Maisy stood up quick and nearly bumped her head on the bottom of the cupboard.
“There in Jacob’s hand.” Maisy squinted. Sticking up over the shoulder of Thomas Downey the top half of a book could be seen.
“That’s great.” Said David, “But where is it now?”
“We need to get out of here. Dad has a load of old books in the back room and he is one of his ancestors. We could try there?” Maisy nodded in agreement.
“Okay let’s go.”
They checked the corridor through the crack in the door before leaving. They passed Grace still lying on the bench in the corridor. Maisy placed the book on Grace’s lap.
“We don’t need this now and it belongs to her.”
“Yes and hopefully she’ll get to read it again before long.”
“Hopefully I will see Mum and Dad again soon too.” said Maisy quietly.