Happy Christmas

Wishing you a peaceful (or crazy, if that’s what you prefer) Christmas.

And thank you all for being part of this journey!

I usually write a special post for Christmas, either having a dig at consumerism or a humorous short story. At least, I try to make them humorous. This year, I’m going to re-post the first one I wrote for this site, three years ago.

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The First Christmas Present

The old fellow with the white beard and the red jacket leaned queasily over the side of the sleigh, watching the snow covered fields passing below. For a while, the moon was peering out between the clouds and he travelled over a scene of sparkling silver, although the sight did nothing to cheer him up.

He hated heights.

He hated elves, now, too. He’d never met one before today, but he knew now that he hated them. The smug little tossers sat right at the back of the sleigh, eating the mince pies that had been left out for him, and tittering whenever he took a wrong turning.

And he hated children. He especially hated children.

Ever since they took away his benefits and told him he would now be better off, he had struggled for money. Now it was November, and he had decided he had to get a Christmas job. Not that he was looking forward to long nights at the sorting office, or lugging a bloody great bag of Christmas cards from door to door. But it seemed he’d left it rather late, and there was nothing left. At least, nothing for someone of his age. Eventually, he found himself in a tiny little room on the second floor of a run-down office building in a backstreet, the home of an agency that he’d never heard of and with a staff, it appeared, consisting of one gentleman who he initially took to be a caretaker and who introduced himself as Mr Nicol.

‘You’ll do nicely.’ He said. With time-shift, it meant that there was no need to cram all of the deliveries into a single night; they could be spread out over the whole year. In fact, they tended to use two of them, these days.

‘Two of what?’ His mind reeled.

‘Why, Santas, of course. But even then,’ Mr Nicol went on, ‘it’s difficult when one goes sick for two weeks. And so this is where you come in. What is a problem,’ he explained, ‘is E.U. Working Time Directive no.7. This rules out night work for anyone over the age of fifty. So you’ll have to do the deliveries during the day. Still, time-shift takes care of that.’

He still didn’t entirely understand, but he took the job.

The SatNav was crap. It took twice as long. The first time he tried it, he was terrified to find the sleigh suddenly hurtling between buildings that seemed to be no more than a couple of feet apart, at what must have been close on three hundred miles an hour. It then banked and turned in a tiny back garden, subjecting him to a force of about a hundred g, and then shot back down the same terrible alleyway. It then parked itself on the rooftop next to the one that he had just left.

The elves tittered into their hands.

He quickly found it better to just leave it to the reindeer to sort out. They obviously knew what they were doing.

And then it was impossible to tell how much time had gone past. If he noticed the time in any of the houses they visited, it never made any sense. One clock said ten fifteen. Some while later, he noticed one that said nine forty two. The next said four thirty. For a while be began to check the time at each house, but quickly gave up when the times appeared to be completely random. He shrugged. More of this time-shift stuff, he supposed. It made it very hard to decide when he should be on lunch break, and he made a mental note to speak to a union rep. at some point.

Another house. Impossible to know how many he had visited. After the thing with the clocks, he was even wondering whether he still had to visit some of the ones he’d already visited.

No, that was too confusing. He shrugged again, and stepped out of the sleigh. The elves followed him with their sacks, and then they all stepped forward, and next thing they were standing in a hallway, just inside the closed front door. Yes, that was weird, too. The elves obviously knew where they were going; he followed them into a darkened front room where a little glass of liquid stood on the table beside a plate with two mince pies. There was a little note that said ‘For Santa, love Benjy’.

He dropped the mince pies into the bag that he wore around his waist for the purpose, and poured the sherry into the flask. He hated sherry, anyway, so the little tossers were welcome to that. With luck, they’d fall out of the sleigh at some point.

The elves trooped noisily out of the room and up the stairs, reached the landing and opened the first door on the right. Inside, a child was asleep in the bed, a large pillow case draped across the duvet.

‘Greedy little bastard.’ He thought. He picked up the pillow case and held it open, whilst one of the elves seemingly poured in presents randomly from his sack. And then he froze. There was someone coming up the stairs; that wasn’t supposed to happen! All this time-shift stuff was meant to mean that everyone would be asleep from the moment he entered the house until he left again. It all happened in less than a fraction of a nanosecond, in any case.

The footsteps came nearer, and then stopped. A small child appeared at the doorway, but all that he noticed were her sad eyes. She did not seem surprised to see him, nor did she appear overjoyed.

‘You never come to me.’ She said in a quiet, flat voice.

‘I visit all the children!’ He replied, struggling to present himself as jovial.

‘No. You never come to me. You never have.’ He felt himself squirming under her steady gaze.

‘What’s your name?’ He said at last.

‘Mary. I live with my mother. In one of those flats over there.’ She pointed out of the window towards a few yellow lights that seemed to randomly puncture the darkness.

He glanced at the elves, who shrugged unconcernedly, then sighed and pulled a list from his back pocket and put his reading glasses on.

‘I’m sure we, I mean I, do. What’s the address?’ She stepped towards him and gently took the list from his hand, looked at it for a minute and then pointed.

‘There. But you don’t go to our flat; number three.’

He ran his eyes down the list, clicked his tongue irritably, and then looked a second time, certain he must have missed her name. But no, it definitely wasn’t there. He looked up, to meet her gaze again. Oh, hell. He could take one present from, say, three or four others. They would never miss them, and no one would know.

‘We’d know!’ The first elf glowered at him.

‘You can’t do that!’ The other one pouted. He looked from one to the other, and then back to the little girl, and came to a decision. He reached into Benjy’s pillowcase, picked out a couple of presents and held them out to her. She did not move for a moment, but then she gently smiled, reached out, and took the nearest one. Then she turned and left the room, and he heard her footsteps going down the stairs. He darted out to the landing, but already she had vanished.

‘You’ll be in big trouble.’ A spiteful little voice behind him said happily. He said nothing but did the thing with his fingers he had been taught, and they were back in the sleigh again.

It had been their last call. Now he was watching the elves smirking and whispering to each other, as the reindeer ran smoothly through the clouds. Casually, his hand strayed towards the SatNav, and he pressed the ‘over-ride’ button. The sleigh stopped immediately, and spun round a hundred and eighty degrees, catching the elves completely by surprise and throwing them out of the sleigh and into the night sky.

He hated elves.

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A Christmas Carol – 3

All good things come in threes, it is said. Unfortunately, so do these.

Bah, humbug!

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God help you merry gentlemen,

If what you want is rest.

There’s not a chance of getting that,

For you’re off on a quest.

To fill your bags with goods galore

And booze to fuel the Fest.

So it’s tidings of Mammon and cash

Mammon and cash,

So it’s tidings of Mammon and cash.

 

Now in the town, you’ll find a store

Like none you’ve ever seen.

It’s filled with crap piled on the floor

Right up to the roof beam.

And you must buy a load of this

Or else we’ll think you’re mean.

So it’s tidings of Mammon and cash

Mammon and cash,

Yes, it’s tidings of Mammon and cash.

A Christmas Carol – 2

Another attempt at perverting rewriting a Christmas carol for 2017:

(Bob has a lot to answer for!)

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Once in Royal Tunbridge Wells

Stood a lowly shopping mall.

Where a horde of frenzied shoppers

moved like locusts through it all.

Searching for their Christmas loot,

Trampling others underfoot.

 

Finding bargains at the poundshop,

Cheap old tat that falls to bits.

Plastic toys all made of poison,

Tiny parts to choke their kids.

And the Christmas Trip will be,

An ambulance to A & E.

 

Spending fortunes on their own folk,

Presents that could sink a ship.

One month’s food to last just two days

Enough booze to float that ship!

Heed the message of our song,

Selfish greed just can’t be wrong!

 

 

The Christmas Story! Part 2

‘Right,’ said Henderson, ‘here we go.’ He pressed the big green button and the reindeer burst into life. Less than ten seconds later, they were cruising through the sky just below the clouds. The TimeShift had kicked in, and, looking down, they could see they were passing over what appeared to be a small town, nearly every chimney of every house belching smoke, and the few roads between them devoid of traffic. Then the air around them crackled slightly, and instantly they landed on a rooftop in a modern day housing development. It was night time.

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Henderson glanced at the elves and nodded. ‘Okay?’

‘Nah, you’re the Big S. Best you do it.’

‘You know the rules!’ he said, in a passable imitation of Nicol’s voice. To his surprise, they looked at each other, grinned, and then got out.

They all stepped forward together, and found themselves in the middle of a darkened room, although each of them was able to see as clearly as if it were daytime. There was a single bed on either side of the room, each containing a sleeping child. On the end of each bed lay a large bag shaped like a sock, made from red material and embroidered in white with ‘Merry Christmas.’ A card table had been set up at the foot of one of the beds, covered with a small white cloth on which there was a small glass of sherry, and a plate with two mince pies and a carrot. He popped the mince pies and carrot into a small bag he was carrying, and poured the sherry into a flask. While he did that, the ‘elves’ put the regulation number of presents into each bag.

‘Dunnit.’ Said one of them. Henderson nodded, put a tick against the first name on his list, did that thing with his fingers he had to do, and then they were back in the sleigh. He turned around and put the bag and the flask on the floor behind the seat, and pressed the button.

‘Mind if we have these?’ said a voice behind him.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Cheers. Saves on lunch, anyway.’ He paused. ‘They don’t mind you eating one or two, do they?’

‘No, eat as much as you want. They don’t much care what happens to them anyway.’

‘What do they do with them when we get back, then? Do they just throw them away?’

‘They used to, but it goes to a food bank, now.’

‘What about the carrot? Can I give it to the reindeer?’

‘No, these ones can’t eat carrots. Don’t try it, whatever you do.’

‘Oh. Right.’ There was silence for a moment, then he heard a fsshh followed rapidly by two others, and then a hand suddenly appeared over his shoulder holding a tin of lager.

‘There you go, Big S. There’s a spot of Christmas cheer. It’s a bloody long day, this.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ he said in surprise. He took a sip, and then shivered slightly. It tasted pretty strong. ‘Better than that bloody sherry, anyday. Cheers!’

‘What happens to that?’

‘The sherry? Biofuel. That’s all it’s good for.’

A couple of hours into the shift, Henderson found he was beginning to relax. He was beginning to relax quite a lot, actually. He took his hands off the controls and turned around, leaning one elbow on the back of his seat.

‘I know one of you guys is called Edwards,’ he said, conversationally, ‘what about the other?’

‘It’s Lesley,’ the bigger of the two said grimly, clenching his fists belligerently. Henderson smiled.

‘Oh, right. Lesley, then, pass me another of those tins, would you?’

He reckoned they must be about halfway through the shift. It was always difficult to tell, what with their bobbing backwards and forwards randomly through the last two hundred years or more, and because of that it seemed somehow ridiculous to start worrying about whether it was two o’clock or three o’clock.

And at the moment, it didn’t seem to matter anyway.

But gradually they were working their way through the list; each name was ticked off in order, and the sacks that held the presents in the back of the sleigh were slowly emptying.

He thought he’d drunk three of those lagers, although there was a little voice somewhere inside him insisting it was four, and was just thinking it was a jolly good job that he didn’t actually have to drive the sleigh, when…

Crunch! Sssssssccccrrrrrsssshhhhhhh! Whump!

It took a lot to get reindeer to crash, but it seemed he’d managed it.

‘Where are we?’ Henderson slowly wriggled up from the foot well and got back onto his seat. He pulled his list out from his pocket and stared down at it.

‘Err, just outside Huddersfield. Probably.’ They had landed, but for some reason instead of coming down gently onto the roof of the house they were to visit, the sleigh had rushed down through the falling snow until it had collided with a hedge of conifers. The impetus had taken them through the trees, although they seemed to have a fair amount of snow and twigs over them and on the floor of the sleigh, then they had bounced a couple of times on the ground and come to rest against a low stone wall that formed part of the rear boundary of quite a large house.

He felt a little shaken, but nothing worse than that. He looked round at the others.

‘There’s a fair bit o’ the white stuff here, ain’t there?’ said Edwards, rubbing the back of his head,

‘Yes. Are you both okay?’

‘Yeah. Let’s get on with it.’ They all stood up, and Lesley picked up one of the sacks.

‘Right.’ They stepped forwards, but all that happened was that they found themselves standing ankle deep in fresh snow. ‘Oh.’

‘That’s not meant to happen,’ put in Lesley.

‘No,’ Henderson looked up into the sky, where the clouds were continuing to release a fair amount of snow, ‘and nor is that.’

‘What?’

‘Somehow, we’re in real time. Get back in the sleigh.’ They jumped in, and Henderson sat staring at the SatNav with its large red over-ride button, wondering what he should do now. He had a feeling that he’d been told about this the previous year, but the alcohol had made his thoughts rather woolly. As he hesitated, though, he heard a shout and looked up to see a couple of figures running towards them.

‘Oh, shit!’ Quickly he pressed the start button, and the reindeer roared into life. Seconds later they were up in the clouds again, and then they were down and sitting on a snow-covered roof. He looked at his list, then looked suspiciously at the co-ordinates showing on the SatNav. It seemed the program had reset itself automatically and they were now at the correct house.

Inside, he checked the list again. One child, boy, aged eight. Name of Dylan. On top of a chest of drawers was a hand-written note beside a mince pie and a couple of chocolates that read ‘For Santa, love from Dylan.’

That seemed okay then. He put a tick next to the name and they returned to the sleigh.

It was another short hop to the next call; the sleigh had barely risen to the clouds before it was down on a roof again. This time, the snow was seriously thick, and the flakes hanging silently around them were very big and very fluffy. It was remarkable, he thought, that the reindeer didn’t feel the cold.

But they wouldn’t, of course. Not these ones.

‘Right, come on. Only a few more to do, now.’ They stepped forward into the snow and materialised in a small bedroom.

And froze in horror at what they saw.

***

If you’ve read this far, and my thanks for doing that, then you might like to read last year’s Christmas short stories:

First one

Second one

Third one

Fourth one

Ho Ho Ho

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.

Merry Christmas!

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.

 

Where are those damned elves?

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.

cat

 

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?’

‘I…’

‘Goody Smallbrook!’ She hissed. ‘That’s why!’

‘Eh?’

‘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!’

‘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.’

‘Well, I…’

‘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.

 

Photo credit: ozz13x via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

What Elves?

I may live to regret this, but, here is the sequel to my Christmas short story.

When you get to the end, you might realise that that is not the end, either…

Untitled-Grayscale-01

Henderson who wasn’t really a Santa was having a hard time trying to explain the lack of elves.

‘They fell out of the back?’

‘Yes.’

‘Both of them?’

‘Yes.’

‘Both of them at once?’

He nodded.

‘They both fell out the back, both at once?’

‘Mmm.’

‘That is unusually careless of them.’

‘Is it?’

‘Is it?’ Nicol suddenly shouted. ‘Is it? They’ve been doing this job for almost two hundred years, and I can’t imagine how one of them would come to fall out, never mind both of them! What the hell were you doing whilst this happened? And how come you managed to stay aboard?’

‘I was up the front. They were sitting at the back. Behind me. I didn’t really see what happened.’

‘Alright. Run me through it one more time.’ Henderson shrugged.

‘It’s quite straightforward; we’d done the last drop, we were on our way back and the sleigh did a sharp turn, and, er, they fell out. That’s it, really.’

It really was difficult suppressing a grin.

‘And they fell out.’ Nicol stared at him. ‘They…just…fell…out.’ They looked at each other for a while without speaking. ‘This sharp turn that the sleigh did…’ Nicol looked out of the window for a moment, and then back at Henderson. ‘No one loses both elves! In fact, only once before has anyone even lost one!’

‘How did that happen then?’ he asked, hoping to change the subject, but Nicol was having none of that.

‘So you suddenly cut in the satnav.’ It was impossible to read anything in his face. ‘That’s never a good idea.’ He seemed to be waiting for an answer.

‘What makes you think I did that?’ But he knew that his expression had given him away. He shrugged. ‘It’s possible I did.’ He conceded.

‘It’s possible that you’ll have to go back and find them, then.’

‘Go back?’

‘Yup, go back.’

*

Nicol opened up the laptop that was the only item on the dusty table.

‘I can check the tacho. That should tell us where you were, and also when you were.’

‘I was on the way back, so I presume I was on ‘today’ time.’

‘It doesn’t work like that. We have to stay in time shift all the time we’re away from here, otherwise Air Traffic Control at Heathrow will have kittens. So…let’s see…’ He tapped a few keys. ‘Right, then. It plonked you straight into 1682 as soon as you left your last drop, and you went…’

‘1682? Why on earth then?’ Nicol shrugged.

‘Why any particular time? It’s well over a hundred years before we started. All the run-ins and run-outs take place BS.’

‘BS?’

‘Before Santa. No chance of accidently colliding with yourself in mid-air. Or with anything else. Look at it like radio waves; a radio station gets a particular frequency so that its signal doesn’t interfere with any other radio station. In theory, that is. Every single run-in or run-out gets its own slot – year, month, day, hour, minute and second – so…’ he looked at the screen again, took a biro from one of his trouser pockets, rummaged around in his other pockets for a moment, then brought out a scrap of paper. He put it down on the table and smoothed it out, then carefully wrote down the figures from the screen.

‘Of course, it’s not really like that at all. Now, before we do anything, let me just Google that…oh, this doesn’t look terribly good. In 1682 a couple of strangely dressed creatures were found on a hillside just outside the village of Porton, which is where you were, according to the tacho, which began a frenzy of witch hunting that resulted in…blah, blah, blah…ah, here we are. Yes, two burnings and a hanging.’

‘What?’ Suddenly, he no longer felt like laughing.

‘Yes. Directly responsible for it, I expect. Apparently these creatures were examined by the village priest and someone referred to as a ‘doctor of physic’, who declared them to be ‘imps of Satan.’’

‘Does it say if they were dead?’

‘Nooo…’ he said slowly. ‘It doesn’t. But they’re tough little buggers.’ Unexpectedly, he gave a short snort of laughter. ‘Harder to kill than cockroaches, someone once said.’

‘Perhaps they’d tried.’ Henderson said, with feeling.

‘Be that as it may, we need the little buggers back.’

*

‘I don’t think we’ve ever had to do this before.’ He narrowed his eyes, staring intently at the screen.

‘I think the only way it would work is if we programmed in exactly the same deliveries as today’s. It should then come up with exactly the same route, using the same time shifts.’ He thought for a moment. ‘I’m not actually sure whether or not it’s affected by how long each stop is…I think I’ll have to over-ride the date and time thingy, as well, so it really thinks that it’s nine o’clock this morning.’

‘And then what?’

‘And then I push you out, like the elves.’

What?

‘Not really.’ He looked as though he quite fancied the idea, however. ‘Now…’ He tapped away at the keyboard again, and then leaned forward, his hands resting on the edge of the table, staring at the screen.

‘What did you do before you had computers?’

‘Eh? Oh, it took a lot longer.’ He stared at the screen some more, and then scratched his chin thoughtfully. ‘I don’t understand. What…?’

‘Yes?’

‘It’s not giving me the same…hang on, other than when you lost the elves,’ he glared, ‘did you use the satnav at all?’

‘A couple of times.’

‘Oh, bugger. I don’t suppose you could remember where?’

‘No, sorry…oh, sort of. It was just once. I’m still not sure where, although it was quite early on.’

‘Once. Are you certain of that?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, that might not be too bad.’ He stared at the screen a little longer, and then began tapping the keys again.

‘Can’t we just go straight to sixteen whatever you said?’

‘I don’t think so. There doesn’t seem to be an option for that. I’m afraid you’ll just have to sit in the sleigh for seven hours until you get to that point, and then land.’ Henderson stared at him.

‘I can’t help noticing that you say ‘you’ and not ‘we’.’

‘I’m not going. I can’t be gone for that long, I’ve got work to do here. The night shift will be in soon.’

‘What night shift? What about that EU working time stuff you mentioned?’

‘That only applies to the over fifty’s. Tonight’s Santa is a student making a bit of holiday money.’

‘Oh. But, anyway, we can just return to the same time that we left.’

‘Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You have to age exactly the same amount when you’re in time shift as you would here in 2015.’

‘Why?’ He shrugged.

‘You just do. Trust me.’

*

‘What the hell am I doing?’ He asked himself, as the sleigh slowly dropped through the clouds and came to rest in a small, muddy field. The gloom that covered the land reflected his mood pretty well, he thought. He sat still and stared around carefully, half expecting to see the elves lying close nearby; he imagined then stuck head down in the mud, feet kicking ineffectually in the air, and grinned. Then he reminded himself that he was supposedly in 1682, and thought again ‘What the hell am I doing?’

He could not see any elves. The only obvious sign of life was a horse that stood a little way away, apparently staring at him.

And a very large bearded man, who was brandishing a pitchfork.

The First Christmas Present

It’s never too early for the first seasonal short story!

Fat Dude Flying

The First Christmas Present

The old fellow with the white beard and the red jacket leaned queasily over the side of the sleigh, watching the snow covered fields passing below. For a while, the moon was peering out between the clouds and he travelled over a scene of sparkling silver, although the sight did nothing to cheer him up.

He hated heights.

He hated elves, now, too. He’d never met one before today, but he knew now that he hated them. The smug little tossers sat right at the back of the sleigh, eating the mince pies that had been left out for him, and tittering whenever he took a wrong turning.

And he hated children. He especially hated children.

 

Ever since they took away his benefits and told him he would now be better off, he had struggled for money. Now it was November, and he had decided he had to get a Christmas job. Not that he was looking forward to long nights at the sorting office, or lugging a bloody great bag of Christmas cards from door to door. But it seemed he’d left it rather late, and there was nothing left. At least, nothing for someone of his age. Eventually, he found himself in a tiny little room on the second floor of a run-down office building in a backstreet, the home of an agency that he’d never heard of and with a staff, it appeared, consisting of one gentleman who he initially took to be a caretaker and who introduced himself as Mr Nicol.

‘You’ll do nicely.’ He said. With time-shift, it meant that there was no need to cram all of the deliveries into a single night; they could be spread out over the whole year. In fact, they tended to use two of them, these days.

‘Two of what?’ His mind reeled.

‘Why, Santas, of course. But even then,’ Mr Nicol went on, ‘it’s difficult when one goes sick for two weeks. And so this is where you come in. What is a problem,’ he explained, ‘is E.U. Working Time Directive no.7. This rules out night work for anyone over the age of fifty. So you’ll have to do the deliveries during the day. Still, time-shift takes care of that.’

He still didn’t entirely understand, but he took the job.

The SatNav was crap. It took twice as long. The first time he tried it, he was terrified to find the sleigh suddenly hurtling between buildings that seemed to be no more than a couple of feet apart, at what must have been close on three hundred miles an hour. It then banked and turned in a tiny back garden, subjecting him to a force of about a hundred g, and then shot back down the same terrible alleyway. It then parked itself on the rooftop next to the one that he had just left.

The elves tittered into their hands.

He quickly found it better to just leave it to the reindeer to sort out. They obviously knew what they were doing.

And then it was impossible to tell how much time had gone past. If he noticed the time in any of the houses they visited, it never made any sense. One clock said ten fifteen. Some while later, he noticed one that said nine forty two. The next said four thirty. For a while be began to check the time at each house, but quickly gave up when the times appeared to be completely random. He shrugged. More of this time-shift stuff, he supposed. It made it very hard to decide when he should be on lunch break, and he made a mental note to speak to a union rep. at some point.

Another house. Impossible to know how many he had visited. After the thing with the clocks, he was even wondering whether he still had to visit some of the ones he’d already visited.

No, that was too confusing. He shrugged again, and stepped out of the sleigh. The elves followed him with their sacks, and then they all stepped forward, and next thing they were standing in a hallway, just inside the closed front door. Yes, that was weird, too. The elves obviously knew where they were going; he followed them into a darkened front room where a little glass of liquid stood on the table beside a plate with two mince pies. There was a little note that said ‘For Santa, love Benjy’.

He dropped the mince pies into the bag that he wore around his waist for the purpose, and poured the sherry into the flask. He hated sherry, anyway, so the little tossers were welcome to that. With luck, they’d fall out of the sleigh at some point.

The elves trooped noisily out of the room and up the stairs, reached the landing and opened the first door on the right. Inside, a child was asleep in the bed, a large pillow case draped across the duvet.

‘Greedy little bastard.’ He thought. He picked up the pillow case and held it open, whilst one of the elves seemingly poured in presents randomly from his sack. And then he froze. There was someone coming up the stairs; that wasn’t supposed to happen! All this time-shift stuff was meant to mean that everyone would be asleep from the moment he entered the house until he left again. It all happened in less than a fraction of a nanosecond, in any case.

The footsteps came nearer, and then stopped. A small child appeared at the doorway, but all that he noticed were her sad eyes. She did not seem surprised to see him, nor did she appear overjoyed.

‘You never come to me.’ She said in a quiet, flat voice.

‘I visit all the children!’ He replied, struggling to present himself as jovial.

‘No. You never come to me. You never have.’ He felt himself squirming under her steady gaze.

‘What’s your name?’ He said at last.

‘Mary. I live with my mother. In one of those flats over there.’ She pointed out of the window towards a few yellow lights that seemed to randomly puncture the darkness.

He glanced at the elves, who shrugged unconcernedly, then sighed and pulled a list from his back pocket and put his reading glasses on.

‘I’m sure we, I mean I, do. What’s the address?’ She stepped towards him and gently took the list from his hand, looked at it for a minute and then pointed.

‘There. But you don’t go to our flat; number three.’

He ran his eyes down the list, clicked his tongue irritably, and then looked a second time, certain he must have missed her name. But no, it definitely wasn’t there. He looked up, to meet her gaze again. Oh, hell. He could take one present from, say, three or four others. They would never miss them, and no one would know.

‘We’d know!’ The first elf glowered at him.

‘You can’t do that!’ The other one pouted. He looked from one to the other, and then back to the little girl, and came to a decision. He reached into Benjy’s pillowcase, picked out a couple of presents and held them out to her. She did not move for a moment, but then she gently smiled, reached out, and took the nearest one. Then she turned and left the room, and he heard her footsteps going down the stairs. He darted out to the landing, but already she had vanished.

‘You’ll be in big trouble.’ A spiteful little voice behind him said happily. He said nothing but did the thing with his fingers he had been taught, and they were back in the sleigh again.

It had been their last call. Now he was watching the elves smirking and whispering to each other, as the reindeer ran smoothly through the clouds. Casually, his hand strayed towards the SatNav, and he pressed the ‘over-ride’ button. The sleigh stopped immediately, and spun round a hundred and eighty degrees, catching the elves completely by surprise and throwing them out of the sleigh and into the night sky.

He hated elves.

 

Photo credit: manmadepants via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA