There were hints at the coming season in the mall all ready which was making people wonder if the middle of September was too early to start Christmas shopping or not?
There were hints at the coming season in the mall all ready which was making people wonder if the middle of September was too early to start Christmas shopping or not?
I had stolen the Occult book from the antique bookshop a few days ago and now everything was almost ready to summon Satan. I planned to do a bargain with him, my soul for fortune and fame.
I lit the last black candle at the fifth point of the upside down pentagram. I took the sliver jeweled dagger and slit the blade across the palm of my left hand. With a glance at the open page, I shut my eyes, muttered the Latin words and wrote out the word ‘Satan’ in my own blood across the bare wooden floor of my parent’s attic.
Finishing the ritual, I peered down and saw my blood shinning in the flickering candle light. I read the letters; S-a-n-t-a.
‘Ho-ho-ho!’ a booming voice shouted out.
I jumped, my hands landed across the still wet name on the floor, smearing the blood. Looking up, I saw a mountain of a man standing in the middle of the black chalk pentagram. He was dressed in a bright red suit, trimmed with white snowflake like fluff, he had black shiny boots laced tight and with brass studs down the sides. A top his head was massive red hat, trimmed white which flopped over at the end with the weight of a huge white pom-pom.
He had long, white snow glittery hair and beard decorated with sliver bells, small baubles in red, green, blue and gold, also holly leaves and red berries. He had a fat, jolly face with pink circle cheeks and some wrinkle lines about his bright blue eyes and large lips. There was also a sweet smell like; warm biscuits, cinnamon and hot chocolate.
‘Satan?’ I whispered.
‘Santa!’ he corrected me.
‘What?’ I mouthed.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want you, I wanted-‘ I trailed as I looked down at the bloody letters on the floor.
‘But you did summon me, young man,’ Santa’s booming voice came.
I pressed my lips together, not sure what to say.
‘Now, what is it you want? You have disturbed my slumber. Christmas day was two days ago, you know,’ he said in a jolly tone.
‘I’m sorry,’ I called out, finding my voice, ‘there’s been a mistake. I want Satan! NOT YOU!’
Santa stared at me with piercing blue eyes. The happy, jolliness faded from his face and he become angry and menacing. That look really didn’t suit him and I felt a shiver of fear.
‘James Michael Benedict,’ Santa spoke, ‘you have been on my Naughty List for as long as I can remember.’
I opened my mouth then closed it again, words failed.
‘Have you called on me to try and change your ways?’
I shook my head.
Santa put his hand in a deep side pocket and pulled out a yellow scroll and a white feather ink pen. He unrolled the scroll and handed it to me with the pen.
I took it, unable to refuse, my hands shaking. The script on the thick paper was in curly writing and the words the kind lawyers use on fancy business contracts. I couldn’t make much sense of what it was saying but that also might be because I couldn’t focus. My brain had seemed to have left me.
‘Sign at the bottom, James,’ Santa said.
‘What is this?’ I asked, trying to read it.
‘What do you think it is? The reason why you summoned me; a bargain.’
‘My soul for fortune and fame?’
Santa frowned, ‘not exactly. Those are not the deals I do.’
‘My soul for what then?’ I inquired, looking over the top of the scroll.
‘To get on to the Good List, James,’ Santa explained.
‘No!’ I cried.
I threw the scroll and pen away over the top of the candles and against some forgotten, dusty box in the attic.
‘That’s not what I want! I don’t care about the Good List! I want money and fame.’
Santa clicked his fingers and the scroll and feather pen were back in his hand. He pushed them on me again. I tried to stop myself from taking them but my hands were not my own.
‘Now, sign,’ Santa demanded.
I felt the cut on my palm re-opening, the blood lined the wound once more. I dipped the ink pen into the blood and wrote my name at the bottom of the scroll. I couldn’t seemed to stop, even though I wanted too.
The scroll and pen flew away from me. Santa held them once more. He looked down at them, seemed satisfied and put them back into his pocket. Then he held out his hand and took my own, the one with the cut palm.
A chilly, north wind howled around the attic, snowflakes drifted. The candles went out, the smoke curling into nothing within the darkness. Jingle bells sounded.
I felt a whoosh, freezing air blazed me and I was flying up the old chimney. We landed on the roof which was covered in frost. Snow was still falling and the wind blowing. Before us was a glossy red sled, decorated with bells, holly and tinsel. A team of harnessed reindeer were pulling the sled.
‘Wait…’ I spoke out.
‘Get in,’ Santa said.
‘No…What did I just agree to?’
‘Your soul is mine now and since it is still December and just in the season, I am allowed to claim it now.’
‘But that’s not what I wanted!’ I shouted.
‘I’m tried of you now, James,’ Santa said.
He shook his head and dragged me into the sled. I tried to dig my feet into the roof but it was slippery. He picked me up with ease and put me into the back, throwing rough sacks over me.
I tried to struggle out, but the sacks, though empty, were heavy and I couldn’t move them.
‘Let me go!’ I screamed.
Santa climbed into the front, took the reins and slapped them down. The reindeer ran forward. I screamed as we took off. The reindeer and sled flew into the sky. My ears popped and my screaming echoed. I had accidentally sold my soul to Santa.
Heather looked into her new pug puppy’s bed. There was a small golden box.
‘What is this?’ she wondered.
‘He forgot to give that to you yesterday in the excitement of everything,’ her boyfriend Ben said.
Heather laughed, unwrapped and opened the box. Inside was an engagement ring. She turned to Ben who’d gotten down on one knee.
‘Will you marry me?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Heather cried.
The sound of children’s voices talking woke Ellie up. She stirred, wanting to go back to sleep after staying up so late finishing off the Christmas preparations. The excitement of her children wasn’t going to allow her that lay in though.
Her bedroom door crept open, squeaking too loud to be ignored and Ellie felt her husband waking up beside her. She nudged him before flipping the duvet back and turning on the lamp. In the glow, she could see her two children standing in the doorway, red stockings clutched in their hands.
‘What is it?’ Ellie asked sleepily, even though she knew the answer thanks to their bright, smiley faces.
‘Christmas!’ they both shouted and dashed for the bed.
Ellie burst into laughter. Her husband groaned then woke up, realising what was happening as the kids began unwrapping presents.
‘Is this all from Santa?’ he asked, looking around in pretend awe.
‘Yes!’ the children answered then began babbling over what they had found in the stockings.
Ellie smiled, her whole body filled with happiness at seeing her children so joyful and this was just the start of Christmas Day, there was a lot more to come throughout the next few hours.
The church bells rang out signalling the start of midnight mass. People walked or drove over, some carrying presents or boxes of food for the poor. Snowflakes fluttered from the dark sky whilst fairy lights everywhere twinkled warmly. The fresh air was mingled with the scents of pine, hot cooking and frankincense.
In the church they gathered, singing hymns and saying prays by the flickering candle light. They celebrated the birth of a baby thousands of years ago that they believed changed the world for the better. With hearts full of joy and wonder, they wished for a Christmas of peace.
It was a freezing snowy evening the day before Christmas eve 1842, but ten year old Christabel still wanted to go outside. Her parents had gone to the theatre and with tomorrow being a busy day the servants had all gone to bed early, expect for Christabel’s Nanny and maid.
The three of them were sat before the crackling fireplace in the nursery. Nanny and maid were sewing up holes in socks and dresses, they were growing tired with the heat of the room and the darkness. Christabel had been reading a book of poetry but she was finding it difficult and her mind kept wondering.
She looked over at the window and saw in the glow of the gaslights from the street below that it was snowing again. The silent, soft balls of white were floating down lazily, brushing against the frosty glass.
‘I want to go out,’ Christabel declared, there was still a slight lingering of a french accent to her words.
Nanny looked up at her then over to the window, ‘it’s late and snowing,’ she answered.
‘I don’t care,’ Christabel declared.
Throwing her book down, she left the nursery and went to her bedroom. Christabel pulled out her red winter coat which she put on over her white evening dress then sort a hat to match.
‘I really do not think this is a good idea. It is all most bed time,’ Nanny said from the doorway.
Christabel ignored her and emptied more of the wardrobe out, scattering the clothes around with no care.
Her maid came forward and with the ease of knowing her little mistress’ wardrobe, found a suitable white hat with a red flower, black ankle walking boots and a white hand muff. She dressed the child quickly as she had down for years now, without saying a word. The maid knew her place well.
‘I want to go out,’ Christabel stated and now dressed, she left the room.
With a sign, Nanny returned to her room to get ready. The maid began tidying away all the clothes. Christabel walked down the grand staircase, the gaslights on the wall pooling light around and casting shadows on the paintings high above. The silence and stillness of the house give Christabel a slight chill but she would not show it or say anything to the servants.
Stepping into the hallway, Christabel found that only one gas lamp had been left on. The housekeeper had left it for her parents return. The stretching corridor behind her looked unfamiliar, dark, scary and she imagined it full of wild animals waiting to eat her. Christabel turned her back on it and looked at the front door.
Soon Nanny joined her and they walked out together. The snow fluttered around them and Christabel with all child wonder, looked up and around. She smiled and wanted to laugh but held it in. They walked across to the little park that stood in the middle of a square shape block of houses. There was no one else out but them.
The snow was thick and untouched on the ground, they walked down the path which could be just made out in the dim glow of the street gas lamps. Christabel breathed in the cold air, it chilled her but she felt warm enough not to complain. From between the evergreen bushes which the snow was slowly turning white, she saw something shinning.
‘What is that?’ she pointed out.
Nanny looked and replied, ‘I do not know.’
Christabel walked over and found that near the bandstand someone had put up a pine tree and decorated it. Glass coloured balls, white frill lacy, other little ornaments decorated the branches and at the top a red star. She stared in wonder, it was so beautiful and she had not seen anything like it before.
‘Oh,’ Nanny said, ‘it’s a Christmas tree.’
Christabel repeated the words to herself in a whisper.
‘It is pretty,’ Nanny added, ‘the king and queen have one. They are becoming fashionable.’
Still in silent wonder, Christabel looked at the reflection of light and snow in the glass balls. There was something magical and awing about the decorated tree that she could not look away or think of what to say.
‘We should get back now,’ Nanny spoke after a minute or so, ‘it’s getting colder and the snow is thickening.’
‘What will happened to the tree?’ Christabel asked.
‘I…Nothing. People will come to admire it and maybe on Christmas day everyone will sing and give gifts around it.’
Christabel nodded and looked up at the star which seemed to be shinnying.
A cold wind started blowing, the snow fell faster and thicker.
Nanny took Christabel’s hand, ‘we need to go now. You can come back and see the tree again.’
‘Yes,’ Christabel answered.
Together they walked back. Nanny wanted to go quickly but the snow half-blinded them and the path was slippy as the new snow was freezing on top of the layer they had walked on. Tall trees loomed on the path, shaking in the wind and making them both feel nervous.
They reached the park gates soon enough and were back on the well light street. Stopping to get there breath, they both heard the clip clop of horses’ hoofs and the creaking of wooden wheels. Around a corner came a black handsome cab pulled by a dappled grey mare.
The carriage stopped outside a house and the driver helped two figures get out. The horse stomped on the ground, eager to be off to a warm stable. The reins rattled loudly then the handsome’s door was banged shut and the driver snapped the reins. The mare neighed and walked on.
Nanny and Christabel crossed over and walked up the gate of the house. The figures before them had seemed to be heading this way too and as the front door opened and light was realised out, Christabel saw her parents.
‘Mama! Papa!’ she shouted.
Her parents turned on the doorstep, dressed in all their theatre finer, Christabel ran up to meet them, almost falling over.
‘Come and see what we found in the park!’ she cried.
‘Christabel what are you doing awake and out at this hour?’ Mama demanded, ‘get inside at once!’
Christabel stepped into the house, still talking as she tried to tell her parents all about the walk, the snow and the Christmas tree. Her parents did not seem to be listening to her though. They are taking off coats and hats.
Nanny helped Christabel out of her things, not saying anything though the child included her. Nanny kept her eyes down, she knew she was in trouble with the Master and wanted nothing to do with the child’s talk of the tree.
‘What are you going on about?’ Mama finally cut in.
Christabel opened then shut her mouth, realising her parents had not been listening to her. She felt a bubble of emotion and tears pricked her eyes. She held her breath and tried to keep it all in. Her parents disliked it when Christabel got hysterical and they would not give into her demands then.
‘Miss Lockwood,’ Papa spoke addressing Nanny.
‘Yes, Sir,’ the Nanny began the gushed, ‘Miss wanted to see the snow in the gas lights, how wonderful it is! We went to the park and someone has decorated a tree there like the king and queen have in the palace. It was pretty and Miss I think would like to have one of her own in the house.’
Christabel nodded looking at both her parents full of excitement as a silent crept in.
‘We will see about it tomorrow,’ Papa answered, ‘now to bed.’
‘Thank you, Papa!’ Christabel cried.
She kissed her parents, bid them goodnight and went upstairs. Nanny trailed behind, carrying everything up, glad that things had worked out.
Sitting back in her armchair, with hands that never stopped shaking, Mary opened the envelopes of the three letters the postman had just put through the door.
The first was an electric bill she would have to go to the post office to pay off. The second was a junk letter about signing up for a credit card and the third was a charity circular which as well as wanting her to send money for homeless people, contained a Christmas card and gift sticker labels.
Mary looked at the Christmas card, it was a drawing of a brass band playing in the snow next to a town centre war memorial. She smiled and opened the card. It was blank inside.
Putting the other letters aside, Mary got up and placed the card with the handful of others on the window sill, next to the little Christmas tree who’s fibre optic lights changed colour and give little magic to the cold room.
Going back to her chair, Mary pulled a blanket she had knitted over her knees and dozed in front the TV. She was not interested in watching much now, it was mostly the background noise and the sound of voices that made her keep the TV on all the time.
The doorbell rang around lunchtime, breaking into a dream Mary had been having about being a little girl lost in a snowy countryside. Mary stirred, heard the door unlock and open.
A voice called out, ‘Mary? it’s only me, nurse Sandra. Sorry I’m late. It’s terrible weather out and Mr Lambrook fell this morning! Such a fuss! Are you okay?’
‘Hello, I’m fine thanks,’ Mary answered.
Sandra appeared in the doorway, rain dripping off the hem of her health visitor’s blue and white dress. Her dyed bright red hair was tied back into a bun and her face was blotchy red with cold and rushing about.
‘How about I make us a cup of tea and some soup?’ Sandra asked.
‘That would be lovely.’
Watching the lunchtime news they ate and drink, making light comments on the daily events. Then Sandra ran some health checks on ninety-three year old Mary, asked some basic questions and made a few notes.
Waiting for Mary to come back from the bathroom, Sandra noticed the new Christmas card and realised she had received the same one yesterday. Getting up, she left her notebook on the chair and went to the windowsill. Picking up the card, she opened it and saw it was blank.
Placing it back, Sandra looked in the other cards and found that all ten were blank. A few had come from charity letters, one from a high street shop valuing a loyal customer, another a craft magazine sample and two others from packs of cards that donated money to charity when brought.
Sandra felt a wave a sadness. Had no one sent Mary a real Christmas card this year and when was the last time anyone had?
Hearing the toilet flush, Sandra returned to the other armchair and took up her notebook once again. She wanted to write her finding down and suggested Mary was lonely. Sandra knew not much would come of that though, other then another push to get Mary to move into a care home. Mary had repeatedly refused, she wanted to die in the house she had been born in, like her mother before her.
‘Did you manage okay?’ Sandra asked as Mary shuffled into the room.
‘Yes,’ Mary answered though she seem out of breath.
‘Right. I’ve just a few more things and then I have to go.’
They finished up, said their goodbyes and Sandra went out to her little blue car. Sitting there, Sandra looked at the closing door of Mary’s house and wished she could do something to help the old woman.
Well…maybe there was….
The next day, the postman dropped more letters through Mary’s door. Mary hobbled from the kitchen were she had been cleaning up milk she had spilt. Collecting the letters, she went back into the kitchen where it was warmer and opened the envelopes.
There was a Christmas card and inside was writing.
Mary read the words, tears coming to her eyes. Sandra had sent her a card.
Abandoning the other letters, Mary took the card and moving the blank charity one, placed Sandra’s next to the flashing tree.
All day, Mary’s eyes kept going to the Christmas card and she found herself constantly smiling.
I didn’t have any Christmas spirit inside of me, what I’d had instead had been cancerous lumps. The doctor said the operations had been a success but I would have to stay in hospital over Christmas to recover. There was no place worse to spend Christmas, other then jail and the streets, I guess.
‘Home by new year’s eve, maybe, if you are well enough,’ he had added.
I looked at the few tatty decorations the ward nurses had strung up and the tiny Christmas tree on the table. It looked like no one had even tried, like me they couldn’t be bothered. There was no jolliness to be had here.
The BIG day was almost here and everyone was trying to rush through the last of the work to get everything finished on time, though it seemed like every year it would be close to the line.
The noise of all the toys being built seemed to echo around the world, the Christmas magic flowed strong as everyone was in high spirits and snow was starting to fall on the hills, creating a postcard scene.
Lights danced in windows, smoke rose from chimneys, people dreamed of what could be and the joy was contiguous all over.
(Inspired by; https://only100words.xyz/2018/12/13/three-line-tales-week-150/ with thanks).
In the old days, Santa’s elves worked in pretty wooden sheds but now they worked in metal walled factories. The world’s population of children had become too much for the simpler times and with improvements in technology, the choice had been made to allow production to be faster, better and tripled.
Santa walking around the large conveyor belts and machinery on inspection missed the old days. Before the smell of candy canes, fires, newly sawed wood and paint hung in the air. Now it was all oil, smoke, warm plastic and metallic tang.
‘Are you happy elves?’ Santa asked them.
‘Yes, sir!’ cheery voices shouted, ‘we’re not stressed or tried anymore. There’s more time for creating, planning and double checking now.’
Santa nodded, he believed them but he also knew that in their hearts, just like his, they did missing the wooden workshops. Moving with the times had to be done though.
(Inspired by; https://crimsonprose.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/crimsons-creative-challenge-5/ with thanks).
And to the North there dwelled strange creatures indeed...
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