Episode three of my jolly Christmas tale now, and I’m really getting into the swing of it. We’ve had evil elves, a swearing Santa and a peasant with a pitchfork. Now it’s time for a witch.
He held his breath, waiting for the peasant to threaten him with the pitchfork, but then he remembered that he was effectively cocooned within a nanosecond, and that no one could see him. He could sit there for as long as he liked, and nothing outside of the sleigh would change.
Except that he couldn’t. Time was passing within that nanosecond, and he was aging in time with everything back in 2015. He had better get on with it, and look for the elves. Nicol had seemed fairly confident that he had programmed the sleigh to arrive at exactly the same time as the elves would have done, but there was no sign of them from where he was sitting. He got to his feet, intending to step out of the sleigh, but froze as the thought suddenly hit him; ‘If I start walking around this world, won’t time then act on me, and the sleigh simply disappear?’
If he stepped out of his cocoon, he was then in a fully functional 1682, wasn’t he? He shivered. ‘Jeez, that was close!’ Or was it? Isn’t that what would have happened each time they got out of the sleigh to deliver the presents? Whatever it was that acted upon the sleigh, it obviously acted upon the occupants, too.
He took a deep breath, and stepped down into the field, although for the moment he kept one hand on the guard rail, as if just having some physical contact with the sleigh would guarantee its protection. Nothing happened. He counted silently to ten, and then let go of the rail. Nothing continued to happen in a comforting way, so he took a few steps forward and then, after a glance back at the sleigh, walked over to where the horse and the bearded man stood like statues in the gloom.
They had passed a few people frozen in time when they had delivered the presents, of course, but he had never had time to look at them closely. Jeez, it was bizarre! It was like looking at statues that had been made to perfectly resemble their subjects in every way. He knew that they were living and breathing, yet there was not a flicker of movement and when, on impulse, he touched the horse’s flank, he immediately drew his hand away with a little involuntary cry; he had expected the warmth of living flesh, but it felt as cold and as solid as marble, as though it really was a statue.
With a last glance at the sleigh, he shivered again, and then walked forward towards a gap he could see in the hedgerow a little way away.
There was a gate, and on the other side was what appeared to be a semi-derelict cottage, with a few small outbuildings that seemed to be in no better state of repair. He stopped to open the gate, and then it struck him how quiet it was. He put his head slightly to one side to listen (people do that, for some reason), and now realised that it was the first time in his life that he had heard total silence. All he could hear was the sound of his own breathing; not because it was loud, but because there was no other sound happening in the whole world. Wow!
He slogged through the mud towards the nearest outbuilding, and looked in through the window. It was too dark to make out anything inside, so he moved towards the doorway. As he went to step inside, there was a sudden hiss, and a black cat shot out of the building, almost cannoning off of his shins. His heart leapt, and then he let out his breath and began to smile, but then he caught his breath again.
He turned around swiftly, but there was no sign of the cat. Suddenly, various odd little gobbets of information in his head began to circle around each other, jumping up and down and waving their arms and trying to get his attention. There were lots of them, but he realised that the ones he particularly noticed were the ones labelled ‘black cats’ and ‘witchcraft’.
‘Load of rubbish!’ He growled to himself, getting in quickly before his conscious mind could speak. ‘Don’t be a pillock!’ But he was spooked, now, and it didn’t reassure him. He told himself firmly that he wasn’t spooked, however, and stepped boldly through the doorway. Immediately, there was a shriek of ‘Lucifer!’ and something tried to squash itself into the darkest corner of the building. He stood rooted to the spot, and, as his eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom, he realised that it was a woman.
‘No no no no no no…’ she whimpered. He took a couple of steps forward and she gave a little scream, but then she caught her breath and said, accusingly, ‘You’re not Lucifer.’ As his eyes slowly adjusted to the semi darkness, he saw that she was painfully thin, dressed in black, with a pale scarf tied around her head, and was wearing a pair of boots that appeared to be far too large for her.
He glanced down at the Santa suit covering his own rather ample girth and agreed with her. ‘No, I’m not Lucifer. Er, why did you think I might be?’
‘Because I just invoked him, of course.’ She sounded disappointed, now.
‘Why did you do that?’ He asked, immediately deciding that it was a pretty stupid question.
She seemed to think so, too. ‘Why does anyone invoke Lucifer, eh? Why do you think?’
‘Goody Smallbrook!’ She hissed. ‘That’s why!’
‘Thieving cow! Had half of my turnips this year! She thinks I don’t know that she sneaks into my garden at dead of night, but I does know! And she put a curse on Bob!’
‘My goat! Dried up Bob’s milk, she did! She got an evil eye!’
‘Bob… I mean, Bob gives milk?’
‘Not now, she doesn’t! She put the eye on her!’
‘You call her Bob?’
‘I don’t, Moses does.’
Oh, er, right.’
‘Who might you be, anyhow?’ She took a step towards him. ‘Ain’t never seen no one dressed like you.’
‘An’ what you doing here? What do you want?’
‘I’m looking for…er…some elves…’
‘Elves? The fairy people don’t come out in daylight.’ She seemed to be suddenly on the verge of laughter. ‘You need to wait ‘till nightfall. You go away, now.’ He turned, happy to get out of her presence, but immediately she said ‘No, wait. You can stop here with me.’ She smiled, showing one or two discoloured and randomly placed teeth. ‘Moses needn’t know.’
‘Uh, it’s okay.’ He said quickly, stepping outside again. He looked around, but saw no one else, and set off back towards the field where he had landed.
Behind him, the woman came out, and began to follow him.
And now he realised that he could hear birdsong. What was happening? Uneasily, he broke into what could almost have been described as a jog, although it would be more accurate to simply call it a rather fast walk, opened the gate, and stepped into the field.
The sleigh had gone.