So, here is the final instalment of my merry Christmas tale. Everything will be resolved satisfactorily, and we’ll all live happily ever after. As if.
Henderson stood there staring at the spot in the middle of the field where the sleigh was no longer standing, but the peasant with the pitchfork was; he was looking up into the sky, as motionless as he had been before, so that Henderson thought at first he must somehow still be frozen in time. He had not noticed the woman following him across the yard, but now she called out ‘Moses!’ and the man turned, saw him, and swung the pitchfork around so that it pointed towards him. Involuntarily, he gave a little yelp, put his hands up and took a few steps backwards as the man stepped towards him, his face expressionless.
Then he turned and ran.
Behind him, he heard the man also begin to run and ahead of him the woman stood grinning at him. He swerved as well as he could, considering his age, his fitness, and the mud, and ran through the gateway.
He stopped for a second to catch his breath, and then began to run again towards the buildings. He had only taken a couple of steps this time, however, when he suddenly saw the cat in front of him. It hissed and took a couple of paces towards him, and then fixed its eyes upon him, crouched lower to the ground and began to run towards him, before launching itself up towards his throat. He backed away, suddenly terrified, and watched the creature sail towards him. He seemed to have plenty of time to take in its evil, soulless eyes; he saw its mouth full of razor-sharp teeth like tiny little yellow daggers, little droplets of saliva clinging to their tips; he even had time to see how its whiskers curved ever so gently backwards in flight, although they had spread out wide as they bristled stiffly.
He had plenty of time. As much as he wanted, it seemed, for the cat had stopped in mid-air, about a foot in front of him. Very slowly, his eyes on the cat, he stepped sideways. Then he reached out and touched it. Its fur still felt soft, but its body, like that of the horse earlier, felt cold, but the weirdest thing of all was that no matter how much he pushed it, he could not get it to move at all. He passed his hands all around it, but it hung there, in the air, in front of his face.
Slowly he turned around, and walked back towards the gateway. He paused and listened, but the world had gone silent again. Entering the field, he saw that the sleigh had returned. It sat on the opposite side of the field, now, where the farmland seemed to turn to woodland. The peasant and the witch had become frozen statues and stood close to the gateway. He scratched his head in bewilderment, and then walked quickly across the grass.
As he reached the sleigh, he noticed some small, fresh, muddy footprints on the running board. At that moment, there was a kind of double thud, and the elves landed beside him.
‘Jeez!’ he gasped, and they burst into spiteful laughter.
‘Boo!’ said one of them.
‘Well, look who it isn’t.’ said the other. ‘You’ve got mud all over your clothes, Fat Boy.’
‘They’ll bill you for that. Dock it out of your wages.’
They seemed none the worse for their experience, he thought bitterly, as he stepped into the sleigh, and sat down.
‘Come on, then.’ he sighed. ‘Let’s go.’ They grinned.
‘Maybe we don’t want to get in.’
‘Oh, stop buggering about! I’ve no intention of sitting here all day.’
‘Well, I don’t suppose you can go back without us.’
‘And we just came back for you! Aren’t we good! I reckon you owe us, Fat Boy.’
‘Actually,’ he said, exasperated, ‘I came to get you before you got involved in a witchcraft trial.’
‘Oh, aren’t you the noble one, then! What brought that on?’
‘Nicol looked up this year and this place on the internet. Seems a bit of a coincidence your arriving here and then the witchcraft trials taking place.’
‘Well, there’s no accounting for the stupidity and ignorance of humans. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what you actually do, because you can’t alter history, Fat Boy.’
‘Oh, really.’ He grinned, after a moment’s thought. The elves glanced at each other, the implication apparently also striking them, and for the first time they looked worried.
‘Wait!’ Quickly, they hopped into the sleigh and took up their positions at the back, where they put their feet up and made themselves comfortable. One of them took a clay pipe out of his pocket, whilst the other grinned at Henderson.
‘Okay, Fat Boy, you can go now.’ He stared at them for a second or two, and then turned around to start up the reindeer. He’d have loved, at that moment, to have just booted them out and taken off, and hang the consequences, but he was, he had to admit, afraid of them. He didn’t have any idea of what they were actually capable of.
He pressed the big green button, and the reindeer exploded into life (once witnessed, never forgotten!). In what felt like no more than five seconds, they were high in the clouds and cruising smoothly.
It wouldn’t take long to get back. He sat musing over how he would be spending Christmas, but at some point, he realised that he had been looking at a vapour trail in the sky above him for a little while, but the implication of that only struck him when the radio on the dashboard, which he hadn’t even noticed before, crackled into life.
‘Attention, unidentified military aircraft: You are violating North Korean airspace. Turn around immediately or you will be shot down. I repeat, turn around immediately, or you will be shot down.’ The elves burst into laughter again.
‘Now you’ve done it, Fat Boy!’
‘Oh, it gets better and better!’
You can’t alter history, but now they were back in 2015, which was the present day. Glancing over his shoulder at the elves, who were looking at each other and giggling, he reached for the satnav over-ride button.
If Nicol wanted to try and get them back this time, he was welcome to try.