Tag Archives: Christmas

Coming soon, in time for Christmas

Coming soon (November 11th, 2021, to be precise) and exclusive to Kindle, all my Christmas-themed short stories collected together for the first time.

Trees, presents, myths… they’re all here, along with lashings of dark humour and more than a sprinkle of gruesomeness. Not for the fainthearted, TWISTED CHRISTMAS is an antidote to all the clichés that are trotted out year after year.

Available at a bargain price, too!

Get your pre-orders in now!!

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Christmas Jumpers

Aunt Mabel watched the family unwrap their presents with a glint in her eye.  The family, however, was not so enthusiastic.  Rather than the ravaging rips that had shredded the paper from their other gifts, Aunt Mabel’s presents were approached with caution.  A careful easing of the sticky tape here, the gentle untying of a ribbon there.  The family needed time to prepare their expressions of pleasant surprise and astonished gratitude.  It was an annual charade and they faced it with dread.

“Come on!” Aunt Mabel jollied them along.  “It’ll be time for the Queen’s speech at this rate.”

The family exchanged glances full of trepidation.

“On three,” said Dad, swallowing hard.  “One!  Two!  Three!”

They set to extracting the gifts from the wrapping.  Every year, Aunt Mabel knitted everyone jumpers for Christmas.  Every year some monstrous abomination fashioned (if that was the word) from yarn.

Aunt Mabel clapped, eyes shining with pride as the family held up their respective abominations to their chests.

“Now, what do we say?” prompted Mum.

“Thanks, Aunt Mabel,” the children, Bobby and Susan, chorused.

“Aw, you’re welcome, chickens,” Aunt Mabel crowed.  “Come on then, let’s see them on.”

The children froze.

“Perhaps later,” said Dad, draping his new jumper over his arm.  “After dinner.  We wouldn’t want to get gravy and all the rest of it on these lovely jumpers.”

“Pah!” scoffed Aunt Mabel.  “The wool’s acrylic.  Any spillage will sponge right off.  Now, come on, chop-chop!  Let’s see them on!”

She shooed them into the kitchen to get ready.  She cued up the iPad to play some cheesy sousaphone march.  “Let’s be having you!”

She settled into her seat and clapped along with the music.

In the kitchen, the family spoke in harsh whispers.

“You go first,” hissed Mum.  “She’s your bloody auntie.”

Dad gaped.  “She is not!  She’s yours!  Isn’t she?”

“No!”

“What’s keeping you?” Aunt Mabel’s face appeared at the serving hatch.  Everyone jumped.  Aunt Mabel returned to her seat.

“Come on,” said Dad, pulling his new jumper over his head.  “Sooner it’s done, the better.”

Susan was crying.  “I don’t like it.  It’s scratchy.”

“Ssh-ssh!” Mum helped her to put her jumper on.  “Two minutes.  That’s all.  Then you can get into your princess dress.”

Susan perked up, but Bobby wasn’t happy.

“Can I?” he pouted.  “Can I put my football top on?”

“Yes!  After this!” Mum thrust his jumper at him.  “Anything for a bit of peace.”

“Now, line up in order of age, eldest first,” said Dad, bravely moving to the door.  “We can do this.”

His family nodded with sombre resolve.  They held hands.

“At last!” Aunt Mabel cried as Dad led the parade.  “Oh, you look positively darling!  Give us a twirl.”

Dad, whose jumper had a reindeer on it with a light-up nose, rotated on the spot.  Mum did likewise, the Christmas tree on her jumper had bells that jingled.  Bobby stomped around in a circle.  His jumper had a steam train with actual puffs of smoke emerging from its funnel — that couldn’t be right, could it?  Or even safe!  Susan pirouetted around and around, as did the ballerina stitched onto her front.  Before long, the entire family was spinning and spinning, their jumpers flashing, jingling and smoking.  And becoming tighter and tighter, the collars and cuffs constricting.

Susan screamed.

They clawed at their jumpers, gasping for air.  Livid rashes sprang out on their hands and faces, and their eyes widened with terror.  Unable to stop themselves, they thrashed around the living room, crashing into furniture, toppling the tree, and knocking over the television.

One by one they collapsed with exhaustion, the rash eating away at their skin until there was none left.  Four skulls grinned humourlessly at the streamers of tinsel that spanned the ceiling.

Aunt Mabel stood up and turned off the music.

“Ingrates.”  She gave the nearest corpse a kick.  She put on her coat and gathered up her sack.  She had more jumpers to deliver, and the Martins over the road could do with taking down a peg or two.

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Edie Makes a List

Edie sat at her kitchen table and opened her notepad.  With two vertical strokes of her biro, she divided a page into three columns.  At the top of the left column, she wrote WHO.  At the top of the middle column, she wrote WHAT, and at the top of the right column she wrote WHERE.

In the WHO column she listed all the people she was buying Christmas presents for that year.  At the top of the list was her son, Brian.  He was a good lad.  Always busy.  Working hard for his family.  Edie understood that.  Of course, Brian would phone her more often if he had the time.  Of course he would.

Next her thoughts turned to Brian’s wife.  Spiteful cow.  Martine.  But, Edie supposed, she’d better put her on the list or there’d be hell to pay.  Reluctantly and a little aggressively, Edie added the name to the list.

Next: Brian’s kids.  Edie’s grandchildren.  Her heart swelled with pride at the thought of them.  Jason was the eldest. He’d be starting school by now.  Then Stacey.  She’d be a proper little madam by now… Edie faltered.  The third one — Malcolm, was it?  Don’t be daft.  You can’t have a baby called Malcolm.  But…he was a baby last year.  Or was it the year before?  Edie had lost track.  She tried to remember exactly when they had each been born.

Blimey.  Jason would be leaving school soon.  Doing his exams.  And Stacey would be starting at the big school.  And little Malcolm or whatever his name was —

Melanie!

It wasn’t Malcolm, it was Melanie.  A darling little girl.  Who must be starting school.. I bet she’s a proper little heartbreaker already, Edie thought fondly.

She sat back.  Not much of a list.  All her friends were gone and she had lost touch with all her nieces and nephews and all their offspring.  Didn’t some of them move to Canada?  Somewhere like that.

Oh, well.  Not to worry.  Makes the job a lot easier.  And I can focus all my money on Brian and his family.

Ignoring the twinge in her back, Edie got to her feet and reached up into a cupboard for a metal tea caddy.  It was scratched and faded with spots of rust along the bottom edge.  She placed it on the table, sat down with a wince, and pulled off the lid.  The caddy was full of five-pound notes, one-pound coins, and fifty-pence pieces.  Edie had been squirreling money away since New Year’s Day.  She tipped it out.  A tidy sum, she rubbed her hands.

Oh, she knew she shouldn’t keep cash in the house, but she couldn’t be doing with those new-fangled bank machines.  You were more likely to be clobbered using one of them than in your own home.  Stands to reason.

She counted the cash.  Eighty-six pounds fifty.  Oho!  It was going to be a marvellous Christmas!

Now, what to get?

In the WHAT column of her list, next to Brian’s name she wrote AFTER SHAVE.  In the WHERE, she wrote CHEMIST’S.

She skipped Martine for the time being (spiteful cow).  Jason…Was he old enough to shave yet?  Or would he prefer socks?  Socks it is!  But sensible ones for school or colourful ones for fun?  Edie had seen some on the market with Christmas puddings on.  Perhaps Jason would like those.  She wrote down SOCKS and MARKET and moved down the list.  Stacey… What would Stacey like?  A dolly?  Some make-up?  Edie could imagine Martine’s face. ‘What are you doing, giving my daughter make-up?  Making her look like a hussy!’  Edie chuckled.  She wrote down MAKE UP and CHEMIST’S.

Little Melanie… A teddy bear!  Who doesn’t love a teddy bear?  Perhaps there’d be some nice ones on the market.  As long as their eyes don’t come out.  Could be a choking hazard for a little kiddie.

Edie’s pen paused.  Eventually she wrote ??? and MARKET??

Tired, she stashed the money away.  The shopping could wait until the morning.

She shuffled to the living room and lowered herself onto the armchair.  It had been Stan’s chair, in pride of place next to the electric fire.  But, well, Stan wasn’t here anymore, was he?

Edie settled back, her eyelids sagging and her head drooping.

It wasn’t until March that Brian got a visit from the police.  His mother had been found after one of the neighbours complained about the smell.  She looked peaceful, the officer said.  Not like she had suffered.

Brian and Martine went around to clear out the flat.  Brian was astonished to find carrier bags brimming with socks and bottles of aftershave.  Martine found the notepad on the kitchen table.

“Look at this,” she sneered.  “Nothing next to my name, of course.  She always was a spiteful cow.”

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Just One Present…

“I’ve told you repeatedly, Timmy: no presents until Christmas!”  Donna strangled a dirty plate in the dishwater.  “Now stop keeping on at me and go and watch television, or something.”

Heaving his six-year-old shoulders in the biggest sigh he could muster, Timmy trudged from the kitchen, like a condemned man walking to the gallows.  He hoped his mum could see this tragic display and would capitulate.  But there was no to be no reprieve.

In the living room, the television was playing cheerful cartoons.  Timmy wasn’t interested.  The pile of presents under the Christmas tree was too alluring.  He had memorised them.  He knew them by shape and style of wrapping paper.  He knew which ones where for Dad (they were mostly bottle-shaped) and which ones were for Mum (they smelled like bathroom stuff) and which ones were for Janie, even though he didn’t think Janie deserved anything at all, because she was a rotten big sister, and if it was up to him, she wouldn’t even get a piece of coal.  And, of course, he knew which presents were his.  He had felt them enough, squeezing them gently trying to divine their contents.  And Christmas was still three days away!  An unbearably long time!  Timmy wondered if the Big Day would come sooner if he gobbled the last remaining chocolates in his advent calendar in one go…

But wait… What was this?  Slap bang in the middle of the pile of presents there was one Timmy didn’t recognise.  It was a cube, haphazardly wrapped in newspaper.  Timmy fished it out and turned it over and over in his hands.  There was no gift tag attached and no name written on the paper.  Whose could it be?  The gift was so loosely wrapped, Timmy could quite easily lift a flap and take a peek.  Which, of course he did.  He could see nothing but darkness, cold, empty darkness.  He found he couldn’t look away.

Donna, drying her hands on a tea towel, came to offer Timmy a hot chocolate with marshmallows as a consolation prize.  The telly was blaring saccharine songs.  Donna reached for the remote to mute it.  Of Timmy there was no sign.  Perhaps he was watching in his room, she reckoned, stooping to pick up the torn pieces of newspaper from the carpet.

“All right, love,” Mike said, shucking off his coat in the hall, before coming in and pecking her cheek.  “Has anyone been for me?  Any visitors?”

Donna rolled her eyes.  “Just that funny-looking man.  The short one with the goatee.  Tried to touch me up at the lab Christmas party last year.  I thought he’d come to try his luck again but he was asking for you.  He was quite disappointed to find you weren’t here.  And he seemed to be in such a hurry.”

Mike took hold of his wife’s upper arms and fixed her with a stare.  “Love, this is important.  Did he leave anything here?  Did he?”

“Like what?”

“Like a box about this big,” he demonstrated with his hands.  “Perhaps it was wrapped in newspaper.”

“Oh, that!” Donna swatted him with her tea towel.  “I told him to leave it under the tree.  Probably full of chocolates or biscuits.  For the family.”

But Mike wasn’t listening.  He dropped to his knees and ransacked the pile of presents, throwing them this way and that, like a dog digging for a bone.  Donna was aghast.

“Mike!” she screamed.  “They’re for Christmas!”

“You don’t understand,” Mike was panting now.  “If that box falls into the wrong hands, we’re all done for.”

Donna paled.  “Why?  What is it?”

“It’s a dark-matter converter.  The first of its kind.  We were trying to find a new power source.  To cut space travel down to a fraction of its time.  Imagine, arriving on Mars just a couple of hours after take-off!”

Donna tried to.  She wrinkled her nose.  No shops on Mars.

“But it’s not right yet.  Sigmund took it from the lab because the Russians were snooping around.  I think they’re onto us.”

“And he brought it here?”

“Yes.  He wasn’t thinking straight.  But don’t worry, love.   I’ll find it and I’ll take it far away.”

Donna’s blood ran cold.  She knew Timmy had been poking around the presents again.

“Mike,” she swallowed a lump of cold fear, “What does it do?”

“Oh, if you open it, it will absorb you.  There’d be nothing left of you.”

Donna’s legs wobbled.  She lowered herself onto an armchair.

Timmy walked in and saw the demolished pile.  “Hello, Dad!  Hey, those are for Christmas!”

“Oh, Timmy, thank God!” Donna hugged him to her.  “I thought you were in here with your cartoons.”

“Oh, I just went up to see Janie,” Timmy smiled.  “I think brothers and sisters should get along over Christmas, don’t you?  So I took her one of her presents, as a peace offering.  Just the one.”

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The X-Mas Files

“Ah, eh, come off it, Wilder,” Scally trudged after her partner through snow that came up to the hem of her trenchcoat.  “Red orbs glowing in the woods!  Sounds like the locals have been necking too much schnapps if you ask me.”

FBI agent Wolf Wilder came to a halt.  “Aquavit,” he said.

“Bless you,” said Scally, catching up.

“No.  It’s what they’re more likely to be drinking around these parts.  Or something very like.  But you always think it’s booze-related, don’t you, Scally?”

Scally shrugged.  “Must be me upbringing.  You can take the girl outta Liverpool but…”

“Ssh!” Wilder hissed.  “There.”

His gloved finger pointed into the shadows between the fir trees.  Scally squinted against the squalling snowflakes.

A patch of light about the size of a Christmas tree bauble, glowing dimly red, flickered as it passed behind trunks, floating about four feet from the ground.

“There!” Wilder whispered in triumph.  “And we’re stone-cold sober!”

Scally opted not to respond to her partner’s assertion.   Wilder reached into his parka and pulled out a carrot.

“Worra you doing, soft ollies?”

Wilder waved her into silence.   He approached the trees, holding the carrot before him, almost beckoning with it.

Scally watched in amazement as the orb changed its course and came directly toward them.  Her jaw dropped when she realised the orb was being followed by a reindeer.

“Fuckinell,” Scally breathed.  “Is that…”

“That’s right, Scally,” Wilder gave the reindeer the carrot and stroked it between the antlers.  “This is none other than Rudolph himself!”

The reindeer cleared its throat.  “Actually,” it spoke in a deep voice that could be used in film trailers, “I prefer Rudy.  I’m trying to put all that business behind me.”

Scally whipped out her smartphone.  “Can I get a selfie with you, mate?  It’ll be boss.”

Wilder slapped the device from her hands.  “Let’s hear what he’s got to say.”

Rudy squatted on his haunches and finished the carrot.  The FBI agents crouched beside him.  Scally dusted snow from her phone, muttering under her breath.

“Ever since that bloody song came out,” Rudy sighed, “My life hasn’t been my own.  People wanting photographs, hoofprints, planting their rotten kids on my back without a by-your-leave.”

“But you’re a hero,” Scally interjected.  “You saved the day.  Well, the night.”

Rudy shook his head in sorrow.  “A common misconception brought about by propaganda.  The truth is something else.”

“Tell us!” Wilder urged.

“You may as well,” said Scally.  “Now that we’ve come all this way.”

Rudy raised a hoof to point at his nose.  “It’s all because of this thing, a mutation since birth.  It made me the object of bullying from my peers.  Ostracization.  Exclusion from their reindeer games.  Hah!  If only people knew what those games entailed.  They liked to fly over people’s houses and see who could shit down the chimneys.  I was glad to be left out of it, to be honest.  But then, one fateful foggy Christmas Eve, it looked as though all flights would be cancelled.  So they came looking for me.  Donner, Blitzen, all those wankers.  They strapped me to the front of the sleigh, and they kept poking me – my nose, it only glows when I’m afraid.  Let me tell you, I was terrified.  I had never flown before.  They kept murmuring I’d better light the way or they’d drop me to the ground.”

Wolf Wilder shook his head.  “Poor little guy,” he sniffed.

“Eh, what about Santa, eh?” Scally chimed in.  “Didn’t that fat knacker do nothing to help you?”

Rudy shook his head.  “That’s the thing with humans, even the supernatural ones.  They don’t care how animals are exploited as long as they get what they want.   Since then, every time I hear that lousy song, I relive the terrors of that night.  So I ran away, came to these woods, but every time a human comes near, my nose gives me away.  I’m scared I’ll be recognised and taken back to the grotto.”

Wolf Wilder reached inside his parka, but this time it was not for a carrot.   He pulled out his revolver and shot the reindeer between the eyes.

“Fuckinell, Wilder,” Scally gasped.  “What’d you do that for?”

“It was an act of kindness, Scally,” Wilder reholstered his gun.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Scally.  “The truth is something else.”

 

rudy

 

 

 

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The Christmas Beast

Otik tramped homeward through the snow with his best friend, Slava.  Even though the flakes were falling thicker and faster, neither boy was in much of a hurry.  School was over for two whole weeks and tomorrow would be Christmas Day.

They reached Slava’s gate.  Slava hesitated.  “I am sorry, Otik, but I did not get you anything.”

“What?” Otik looked at Slava’s cottage.  The inviting glow of lamplight warmed the windows.  Plumes of smoke coiled upward from the squat little chimney, pushing valiantly through the falling snow.  It looked so much more like a home than Otik’s house.  But Slava never invited him in.

“For the Christmas,” Slava continued.  “I have had no money all December.  Because –” he looked away.  “Because of the Beast.”

“What?” Otik repeated himself.  “What beast?  What are you talking about?”

“You are not hearing of the Christmas Beast?” Slava blinked, his eyelashes dappled with snow.  “If you are bad child, the Christmas Beast will come and get you.  He will take you away on Christmas Eve and you will never be heard of again.”

Otik’s nose wrinkled.  It sounded like hogwash to him, the kind of story you tell little children to scare them into behaving themselves.

“He lives out there,” Slava pointed a gloved finger to the forest that ringed the distant mountains.  “All year long he sleeps but on Christmas Eve he wakes and he comes down to collect the bad children.”

Otik was not convinced but Slava sounded as though he believed it.

“How does he know?  The Christmas Beast – how does he know what anyone is doing if he is sleeping all year long?”

Slava had an answer ready.  “The Christmas Beast has a looking glass.  It does not show him his own likeness because that would be too horrible for even him to see.  Instead it shows him the deeds of the world.  He sees all!”

Otik could see his friend was trembling, but that could have been from standing around in the bitter cold.

“What’s this got to do with you having no money?”

“I did something, something bad,” Slava’s words almost caught in his throat.  “I was playing with a ball in the house.  I broke our samovar.  Mama said I must pay for new one or the Christmas Beast would come for me and she wouldn’t stop him.”

Ah, Otik thought.  Slava’s Mama was extorting money from her gullible son with scary stories.

“Breaking an old samovar is not so bad,” Otik patted his friend on the shoulder.  “Christmas Beast will not be interested.  You have nothing to fear.”

Slava sniffed wetly.  “I had better go in.  I am late.”

He lifted the latch, dislodging an inch or two of snow.  “Merry Christmas, Otik.  I will see you at New Year – if the Christmas Beast allows.”  He tried to laugh but his heart was not in it.  Otik watched him press footprints in the path all the way to the front door.  Slava turned to wave but his friend had moved on, already swallowed by the burgeoning blizzard.

Still, Otik was in no hurry to get home.  Hunched forward, his hands thrust into his pockets, his face buried in his scarf, he thought about the Christmas Beast and a plan began to form.

For the Christmas Beast to collect him, he would have to do something really bad.  Accidental breakages would not suffice.  It would have to be something terrible, something unforgivable…and anywhere could only be better than spending another night in that house.

Otik let himself in by the back door.  He slid his hand into a kitchen drawer and curled his fingers around the handle of the biggest knife.  Now, all he had to do was wait for his drunken father to stagger home from the tavern, roaring and swearing and demanding the boy join him by the fireside for ‘just a little cuddle’.

Deep in the forest at midnight, the Christmas Beast stirred in his lair, his red eyes glowing like embers.  Somewhere near a child had just committed a terrible crime; the Christmas Beast could see it in his looking glass.

But the glass also showed him why the boy had killed his father and the Christmas Beast understood.  He rolled over and went back to sleep.

Good one, kid, he thought.  That’s one less beast in the world.  From now on, have a long and happy life.  Merry Christmas!

Yeti-himself-New-A

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Late To The Party

“There’s somebody here!” Darren pulled at the sleeve of Macca’s hoodie.  Macca shrugged him off.

“Yes,” he shone the torchlight on his phone under his chin, casting his features into stark shadows.  “Us, you muppet!  Come on!”

Darren held back.  “I don’t know… Let’s just go and get chips instead.”

Macca snorted in derision.  “Look, it’s taken weeks to get you up here, you little chicken.  Now, we’re here, we’re going to have a proper look around.  Find something to take back to show everyone.  Or how else will they know we’ve been here?”

Macca padded through the hallway, casting a beam of light before him.  It was soon swallowed by the shadows that lurked in every corner.  The old house had stood empty for decades.  It was a popular feature for local children.  Generation after generation had dared each other to go inside.  Few had gone that far; often it was enough to stand on the front steps and look up at the dilapidated frontage, with its overgrown ivy like an unruly mop of hair, and the windows staring blankly back, like the eyes of someone who has seen too much.  It was rumoured that those who went in, never came out.

Darren didn’t fancy the idea of being alone so he scurried to catch up with Macca.  A tall shape loomed at the foot of the stairs.  Darren gasped in shock.  Macca laughed.

“It’s a Christmas tree, you wally.  Must have been here for donkeys’.”

Darren’s heartrate slowed again.  The tree was skeletal and shrouded in cobwebs, robbed of its sparkle and cheer by the passing of years.  It must have been splendid, Darren thought, feeling a pinch of nostalgia for how he had used to find Christmas magical, as a child.  Now, a cyuical, shiftless fifteen, he saw the season for what it was: a commercial exercise for milking money out of people who couldn’t afford it, the forced company of relatives you didn’t like, the gluttony that was a poor substitute for feeling loved.

“I’m going upstairs,” Macca announced.  Darren cringed; surely they ought to be whispering.

Macca bounded up the grand staircase, which creaked and squealed beneath his feet.  Within seconds he was gone, leaving Darren alone in the dark, with the tree.

Darren backed away.  The doors to a room were open and he could see it was lighter in there, from the moonlight that streamed through the broken windows.  Feeling he would be safer in there, Darren headed for the doors, leaving footprints in the dust, like tracks in the snow you were supposed to get at Christmas – another lie!

Silvery light showed it to be a dining room.  A long table dominated, its settings heaped in dust.  The tablecloth, once brilliant white, was grey with mildew.  The plates, the glasses, the cutlery, all tarnished by neglect, still waiting for a meal that was never served.  It made Darren feel sad.  Like the ruins of some once great civilisation, their riches abandoned – those knives and forks looked like gold, Darren realised.  Macca would scoop up the lot!

But surely, just taking one, a small spoon, would be proof enough…

He took a step closer and reached for the nearest.  A withered hand like a bunch of twigs seized him by the wrist.  Darren shrieked.

“Oh, don’t be afraid!” squawked a voice like a sticking door.  “It is so good of you to come.  I have been waiting for so very long.”

Darren tried to pull away but the grip held firm.  The hand belonged to a stooped figure in an extravagant gown which, like the tablecloth, was blackened with mould.  Darren found himself looking into a pair of coal-black eyes set in a wrinkled face.  The remains of a paper crown adorned a nest of ratty hair.  Something moved among the tresses – a beetle perhaps.  Darren felt sick.

“You’re rather late to the party,” the voice screeched out a laugh.  “But come, take a seat and let the feast begin!”

Macca trudged downstairs.  He was bored of this adventure.  In his pocket was a silver candlestick; it would have to do.

“Darren?” he called out.

There was light coming from a room.  Darren was bound to be in there, the chickenshit.  Macca went to fetch him.

The dining room was bright with candles and balloons.  Chains of coloured paper spanned the ceiling.  Music played merrily from some unseen source.  Around the table, the pale figures of children, glowing faintly blue and, Macca gaped to see it, transparent!  Among them was Darren, a glowing, see-through Darren with coal-black eyes and a vacant smile.

The figure at the head of the table got to her feet and raised a golden goblet to Macca.

“Come join us!” she exhorted.  “You’re a little late to the party but there’s plenty for all!”

 

house bats

 

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Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve…

Constable Bell approached the front door with a heavy heart.  At his side, WPC Knowles blew her nose into a tissue.

“Game face, Janet,” Bell advised her.  “Just because it’s Christmas Eve, doesn’t mean we can be anything less than professional.”

He reached for the door knocker but it shrank from his touch as the door was yanked open from within.

“You took your bleedin’ time,” barked the householder, an elderly man in a dressing gown.  A shotgun was crooked on his arm.  “I’ve got him in the kitchen.”

He led the police officers along the hall to the back of the house.

“Caught him in the front room.  In the nick of time, too.  He was just about to help himself to my big telly, I wouldn’t wonder.”

“Mr – um – Randolph?” Constable Bell checked his notes.  “I’m not comfortable with you having that firearm on your, um, arm.”

Randolph ignored him. He opened the kitchen door and gestured at a figure in red, tied to a chair, tightly bound by lengths of fairy lights.

“Thinks I was born yesterday,” Randolph scolded.  “Coming in here, red hat, false beard.  Claims he was bringing stuff not taking it away.  And I’m the Queen of Sheba!”

“No sign of forced entry,” sniffed WPC Knowles.  “Any idea how he got in?”

“Well, I didn’t leave the door unlocked, if that’s what you’re implying, young lady.  I haven’t lost all my marbles just yet. He could have come down the bloody chimney for all I know.  How old are you anyway?  Are you doing your work experience?  I don’t know what this country’s coming to, I really don’t.  All I want is to be left in peace.  It’s not an easy time of year when you’re on your own.  Oh, I’m no Scrooge, I can see what you’re thinking.  It’s just that my Florence died on Christmas Eve, and I just like to sit quietly and have a drink to her memory.  But he’d have had it away with my finest Scotch if I’d hadn’t caught him.”

“Look,” Bell pinched his nose between his eyes.  “No damage done, nothing missing.  Why don’t we draw a line under this one?  It is Christmas. And it’s the end of our shift.  We have got families to get home to.”

Randolph scowled. “I don’t care if it’s Pancake Day.  You’re just thinking about the paperwork.  I want the book thrown at him.  Let him spend Christmas banged up.  That’ll teach him to go around, breaking into people’s homes.”

“Mr Randolph,” Bell stood up straight.  Then he slumped again.  “Come on, Janet.  Let’s get him down the nick. Clearly, there’s nothing of the Christmas spirit here.”

But when they turned around, the housebreaker was no longer there.  The fairy lights were pooled on the floor; the chair was empty – save for a bottle of whisky, adorned with a bow and a sprig of holly, and a small card which read, MERRY CHRISTMAS, LOVE FROM FLORENCE.

 

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Elf Yourself

David gasped and swore.  He had opened the bathroom cabinet and had been startled to find Joey’s Christmas elf leering at him from among the hangover cures and bottles of aftershave.  In the doorway, Joey was sniggering heartily.

“Very funny,” David sneered.  “Mind I don’t flush that horrible thing down the toilet.”

Joey let out a cry.  He barged in and snatched the toy from his father’s grasp.

“There, there, Elvis.  Don’t let the mean man upset you,” he cooed into the elf’s plastic, pointed ear.

David shuddered.  It wasn’t right, the way the boy spoke to the toy like that.  No, what was worse was the way he seemed to listen to it.  Kids will have imaginary friends, he supposed.  It was a shame that Joey’s was visible.  And ugly.

The eyes weren’t right.  One was higher than the other and its painted eyeball had missed the socket and decorated the cheek.  Like a beauty spot – now, there was irony for you.  The mouth, supposedly a friendly smile, was twisted into a suggestive, almost lecherous look.  And its clothes didn’t seem to fit, as though the green and red uniform was intended for a figure of an entirely different shape.

Joey had taken pity on it.  He could have had any elf from the dozens and dozens on display on the pound shop shelves, but he had insisted on this one, the wonky, creepy one.  David caught his reflection looking at him as he shaved.  All right, he told himself, my five-year-old is teaching me a lesson about appearances, or disability.  Or something.

He went down to the kitchen.  Joey was in the lounge, watching Christmas cartoons.

“Want toast, Joey?” David called through.  Joey didn’t respond.  David pulled two slices of bread from the wrapper.  Elvis popped up from the toaster, almost inducing a heart attack.

“Fucking thing…” David muttered, pulling the toy from the slot.  Perhaps I ought to leave it in there.  Pretend I didn’t see it.  It might ruin the toaster, all that melted plastic, but it would be worth it.

“Daddy!” Joey scolded, suddenly at David’s elbow.  “Put Elvis down.  He doesn’t like it.”

“Well, I don’t like him, so there’s something we have in common.”

Joey grabbed at the elf and clutched it to his chest.  “Are you all right, Elvis?  Don’t worry; it won’t be long now.”

“Do you want this toast or not?”  David’s voice caught in his throat.  In Joey’s arms, the elf’s misshapen head turned to face him.  David dropped the butter knife.  The twisted mouth opened and the elf let out a cackle – just at the moment when the kettle screamed, announcing the water had come to a boil.

David swooned.  The kitchen dissolved into blackness.

When he came to, he was in the living room.  Standing on something.  There was Joey in his customary position on the floor in front of the TV.  How many times have I warned him about getting square eyes if he sits too close?  David tried to repeat the time-worn caution, but he could make no sound.  He couldn’t open his mouth and he couldn’t move.

He realised he wasn’t standing on something.  He was caught, hooked on the uppermost branch of the Christmas tree.  The smell of pine needles was almost overpowering.  He looked at his hands, his plastic hands, curled like talons, like arthritic claws.

“Come on, Elvis!  It’s starting!” Joey called over his shoulder.

David’s eyes widened in horror he could not express as a man lurched into the lounge.  Crook-backed and exuding evil – and wearing my clothes! David realised, a sickening chill running through him.

Elvis turned his painted face to the top of the Christmas tree.  His one good eye met David’s horrified stare.

“Merry Christmas,” he chuckled.

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Secret Santa

Colin plunged his hand into the bag.

“That’s it, Colin,” Kelly enthused.  “Get right in there.  Ooh, he’s like one of those vets, isn’t he?  Sorting out a cow’s backside!”

Colin flushed red.  He took out a festively-decorated envelope and stepped back.

“Now, now, Colin; open that in private.  We don’t want anyone seeing what’s inside, do we?”

Colin nodded.  He withdrew to his office.  Kelly and her Secret Santa.  Why do we have to endure this tawdry ritual every year?  Oh well, best find out who I’ve got this time.  Last year, it was Sandra from Supplies.  A scented candle from the pound shop had done the trick there.

He tore off the edge of the envelope and plucked out a slip of paper.  He frowned.

Instead of a name, there was a sentence.  Typed so he couldn’t identify the writer.

                                 I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST CHRISTMAS

Colin read it twice.  His blood ran cold.

No.  Surely not.  No one knew.  No one could know.  He was sure of it.  This was somebody’s idea of a joke.  Had to be.  But whose?

Kelly.

She was the organiser.  She put all the names in the envelopes.  She held the bag.

Unless someone had slipped an extra envelope in when she wasn’t looking…

But – but how did whoever-it-was know that he would be the one to pull it out?

He sank into his chair and chewed his thumbnail.  It was coincidence.

Perhaps he should go back to Kelly.  He could say he’d picked the same name as last year and wanted to change.  That was allowed.   It was in Kelly’s rules.

He put the slip back into the envelope and steeling himself, made his way to Kelly’s office.  Halfway there, he turned back.  He couldn’t face her.  An email would be better…

At her desk, Kelly smirked.  She had emptied the bag into the shredder.  All the envelopes had contained the same message, and she had made sure that Colin had been the first and only one to pick.  She would do the proper Secret Santa later.

Now, it was only a matter of time.  Colin would come crawling and she would take him for every penny he had.  He’d cough up.  He wouldn’t want people to know what he’d done.  He wouldn’t want to lose his job, his wife, his kids.  His liberty.

Drink-driving was one thing, but hit-and-run, leaving the scene of an accident – well.

Kelly determined to milk him for all he was worth.  She might still be on her own but Christmas was going to be better this year, and who knows what she might see on her postprandial stroll this time?

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