They could see at once that something was very wrong.
There was no movement from the child in the bed of course, since they were within TimeShift, but the agonised rictus on his face, the distorted jaw and neck, and the twisted body lying half in and half out of the bed, immediately made them freeze and stare in horror.
A snapshot…a cruel statue…tiny hands caught in time, clawing desperately at a heaving chest…bulging eyes…
Henderson actually thought he could hear a terrified scream, somewhere in the air in that suddenly awful room.
‘Shee-it!’ Said Edwards, softly and slowly.
After a minute or so, as if by comment consent, they opened the door and slowly went out to the landing, each of them reluctant to leave the child – it felt like they were abandoning him.
‘Try that door.’
Lesley was the nearest. Raising his fist he began to tap gently at the door, then realised what he was doing and shrugged, pushing the door slowly open.
They faced a woman frozen in the act of throwing a dressing gown around her shoulders as she stepped towards them, the dressing gown caught billowing like a hero’s cape, although her face was frightened and staring. Instinctively, they all took a step back.
‘She’s heard him,’ muttered Edwards. ‘She’ll make sure he’s okay.’
But none of them believed it.
‘She’ll get an ambulance, for sure.’
‘But what about all that fucking snow? How will they get through that?’
‘What can we do?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Seems blindingly obvious,’ said Edwards, after a couple of moments. ‘We just pop him in the sleigh and take him to hospital ourselves.’ Henderson looked grim.
‘It’s really not that easy, I’m afraid. We’re in TimeShift, but he’s not.’
‘So? Just bung him in the sleigh anyway, and off we go.’
‘No, we can’t. When you’re inside TimeShift you can’t move any other bodies that are outside. It’s impossible. And even if we could, what about his mum? She’d just find him gone.’
‘So to get him to the hospital, we have to do it outside of this TimeShift thing?’
‘I think we’ll have to do everything outside of that. First we need to find out what’s wrong, which means we have to get outside of TimeShift straight away. Talk to his mother….’
‘…won’t she sort of just freak out when she sees us?’
‘We can’t worry about that. We just need to work out how to do it.’
‘Don’t you know, then?’
‘Er, no. When it happened last time, I don’t know how it worked.’
‘Can you call the office and ask them?’
‘Only in real time. But there is one way I can think of. One or both of you will need to stay here, whilst I take the sleigh and come back in…what, one minute? Will that give you long enough to speak to her and find out what’s happening?’ They both looked doubtful.
‘I’m not sure that the sight of us appearing in her house at the dead of night will really help. Ain’t there any way you can stay here? At least she’ll know who you are.’
‘I don’t think so. Neither of you know how to operate it.’
‘No, we don’t. Okay, come back in a minute or two, and we’ll tell you how we’re getting on.’
There were four figures on the landing when he returned.
Lesley and Edwards were standing either side of the woman they had seen in the bedroom, who had her hands to her mouth in shock, whilst the fourth was a man in pyjamas who was lying stretched out on the floor A cricket bat was lying a short distance from his outstretched right arm.
‘Sorry, I had to biff ‘im.’
‘He was attacking us.’
‘But the boy’s having a fit, and needs to get to hospital. And, shit, that was weird.’
‘The way she stopped moving the moment you appeared.’ Henderson looked at him, and then went back into the child’s bedroom. He was still lying in that awful, contorted, position, but now there was just a hint of dark blue in his lips. He returned to the landing.
‘I think he’s dying. We don’t have much time.’
‘Have you got a plan, then?’
‘Just to get him to hospital as fast as possible. If I go and get that programmed into the SatNav, then we just have to come out of TimeShift and get him on board as quickly as we can and…’
‘Oh, bugger it! It’s obvious!’ shrieked Lesley suddenly.
‘Eh? What are you talking about?’
‘Well, instead of pratting about here, why don’t we just go and get a doctor and bring ‘im here? We can stay inside this TimeShift bastard thing until the last moment, then.’
‘Yeeess…that might be the answer. It’d probably be quicker. Although, we might have a problem if they don’t believe us. We can’t afford to spend too long trying to persuade them; the boy mightn’t last that long.’ Edwards narrowed his eyes.
‘Don’t you worry about that. The doc’ll come with us!’
Finding the hospital proved to be the easy part.
It was a small hospital, and at that time of night there were a mixture of sleeping and wakeful patients, nurses doing rounds and writing in folders and dealing with a number of minor crises, but it seemed impossible to find a doctor. They stood at a doorway staring into a restroom where a nurse was sitting with a half empty mug of something and a pile of papers. She looked tired.
‘Don’t they have doctors here at night?’ asked Edwards.
‘I suppose they must have, but I don’t know where we’ll find them.’ They looked at each other.
‘Well, why don’t we just take a nurse?’
‘Well, why not? Come on.’
They hurried back to the sleigh, and as soon as they were aboard, Henderson switched off the TimeShift.
‘Right! Let’s go!’
They ran through the entrance and down the corridor, ignoring the shout from the desk porter, and burst into the restroom.
‘We’ve got a boy dying out there!’
‘What? Who are you? Where?’
‘I don’t know the address; you just need to come with us. He’s having a fit.’
‘I can’t just go…’ Her voice faded away as she took a proper look at the elves.
‘You’ll come with us,’ said Lesley, in a voice that said very clearly that she was going with them. ‘You need to bring anything?’
‘Er, yes…a couple of things…I’ll need a hand.’
‘Right, come on. We’re in a hurry!’
There was plenty of room on the sleigh, with most of the sacks now lying empty on the floor at the back. It took a couple of seconds to deploy the new ramp and push the trolley of equipment on board, and then they were up in the sky again, the nurse in the front seat beside Henderson. As soon as the reindeer started up and they were back in TimeShift, he felt himself relax.
‘Right. Sorry about this, but there’s a boy having a fit, and the ambulance would never get through this snow.’ She nodded.
‘Okay, I get that. I understand that you’re Santa Claus…I suppose. But,’ she lowered her voice and jerked her thumb backwards, ‘who on earth are they?’
‘They look a bit rough for elves!’
‘I’ve had worse.’
‘You want a beer, love?’
‘We’re here!’ said Henderson, hurriedly. This time he managed to bring the sleigh down in the road, squeezing in between a couple of parked cars.
‘Let’s get the trolley off first.’
They pushed it through the snow up to the front door, and then Henderson switched off the TimeShift.
They hammered on the front door.
It was two hours later.
At least, in some ways it was, but just at that moment it was really a hundred and eighty-nine and a bit years earlier.
‘And you’re sure the little feller’s alright, now?’
‘The nurse said he’ll be fine. And we’ve only got two more drops, then we can go home.’
‘Right, I think we need some more beers, then.’
‘Hey, these are good ones!’ Henderson said in surprise. Edwards looked hurt.
‘What was wrong with my lagers? You seemed happy enough with them earlier.’
‘Oh, nothing. No, they were great. I mean, these are pretty expensive ones. Where on Earth did they come from?’
‘Oh, they were in the lounge in that house. I’m sure no one will mind.’
‘No,’ Henderson agreed, ‘under the circumstances, I’m sure they won’t.’
If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories: