Once, not too long ago but still on the edges of memory, a house stood by a pond near a river and close to the wide open blue of the sea.
It was not a happy house; shouting echoed from its dusty, old corners.
And when the shouting stopped, the silence began and this was worse and, in a strange sort of way, louder than the shouting.
Then, one day the winter arrived and blew away the last golden dreams of autumn.
The house was home to two children, Sally and David Hargreaves, and on one cold, boring day during the Christmas holidays, they sat watching the rain dribble down the dirty windows. All they could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit (but that, as David always told me, was another story).
It was four days before Christmas but this year there was no Christmas tree, no decorations, no talking. In this silence, they felt invisible and had fallen into the huge gap which had grown between their parents. They almost wished that the shouting would start again. Almost.
Sally had even turned off the television. A very unusual thing, you may say for a young girl to do. She had started watching, but all of the programmes had been Christmassy ones and only served to remind her of what the children wouldn’t be getting this year. So off went the TV and the silence grew louder still.
At that time of year, the day crept into early night and food that was cooked without love was eaten without a word and the night grew dark and was all the darker still for no Christmas lights.
Then during the night, the temperature dropped. The pond and the river froze and the ice creaked like a dead man’s bones; and in the cold and the dark and the stillness, the black ship arrived.