It is a strange fact that any story about Christmas worth its cracker should always start with “‘Twas.” There is no reason why this should be; if anyone were to use “‘twas” in conversation you would know there is no hope for them beyond a swift ding around the head with a frying pan. But such is the convention and so…
‘Twas the night before Christmas. And two elves were standing on a rooftop. You could tell they were elves, because they had pointy ears and pointy hats. They would have had pointy shoes too, but you had to draw the line somewhere. Currently, they were both staring down the house’s capacious chimney.
“He’s late,” said one.
“He should have been back out ages ago.”
“You don’t fink he’s…” The first elf made a glugging motion.
“Nah. I made sure he didn’t have his flask on him.”
The two continued staring down the chimney for a moment.
“What if he’s –”
“Jesus Christ, Bill, let it be will ya? You’re making me nervous.”
“Alright, Mick, no need to—”
“Hide!” Mick cried. He grabbed his companion’s head and shoved it down behind the chimney. A second later, there was the crunch of tyres on gravel. The still, winter night was broken by the brief flare of a siren.
“Is it the police?” Bill asked.
“Well, those lights on their car don’t look like bleedin’ Christmas lights, do they?”
A door slammed shut. Moving cautiously, the two elves peered down over the edge of the rooftop. They were just in time to see a man, dressed all in red, being led out of the house. He was bundled into the car, which took off down the driveway, its blue and red lights painting the night in disco colours. Bill thought he caught a glimpse of a mournful expression looking back at them through the rear window.
The still of the night flowed gradually back into place. Bill looked over at his companion. “Well… shit.”
“I guess that’s it then,” Mick whispered.
Bill started to nod. Then froze as a thought occurred. “’Ere, did he have his sack with him?”
Mick frowned. Then horrified realisation spread across his face like a sunrise. “Oh. Hell.” They both peered back over to the chimney.
Mick could feel a certain inevitability forming about his near future. It loomed ahead of him like… well, like the chimney stack stretching up towards the night sky. He could already feel Bill’s eyes on him and it took all his will not to push the bugger off of the roof. “No.”
“I didn’t even say –”
“Doesn’t matter. I am not going down after that sack.”
“Oh, so you want them to find it all, do you?”
“You go and get it then.”
Bill stretched dramatically, both hands pressed into the small of his back. The gesture set the stupid, little bell on the end of his hat to tinkling. “What, with me bad back? And me asthma? And me dicky tummy? And me—”
“Alright, I get the picture.” Mick looked down once again into the blackness of the chimney. The knotted length of rope they had lowered was just visible in the gloom. But it was as Bill said, they really didn’t have much of a choice. He shuddered to think what would happen if anyone opened that sack and found everything in there. He swung his legs over the lip. “You better pull me up sharp, you hear?”
“Yeah, yeah. Get your arse down there.”
Mick pressed himself up against the sides of the chimney. Everything stank of smoke and toasted sparrow nests. It was a bit of a tight fit and the brick-work was crumbling a little, but if he just jammed his foot up like so, and his elbow like so then he could –
The brick gave way.
Mick had just enough time to yell “Oh, bugg—” before he disappeared down the chimney in a cloud of coal dust and profanities. He landed in a heap in the fireplace, looking for all the world like the angriest yule log that had ever existed.
Trying to smother his coughs, Mick stood up and brushed the soot from his pointy hat with his sleeve. Since it too was covered in soot, this just succeeded in moving the soot about a bit for a change of scenery. After a while he gave up and looked about him. The living room looked like something out of a Christmas movie. Tinsel hung from everything, somehow endeavouring to sparkle in complete darkness. Little comedy reindeers with idiot grins sat upon every surface, fighting for space against snow globes, Christmas cushions, and, for some strange reason, a giant stuffed pig wearing a santa hat. At the centre of it all lay the tree.
It was easy to see how their guy had got caught, Mick thought. He wasn’t exactly known for his grace at the best of times. Three households with three accompanying glasses of whiskey; it had been a miracle he made it down the chimney at all. A large tree standing on its own had apparently been too difficult an obstacle for the big idiot. The thing now lay on its side, shedding baubles and strings of lights everywhere. And there, tucked down beneath the branches, was the sack.
Mick made a grab for it, but just as his hand closed around the rough hemp a light flicked on upstairs. A shadow appeared. “Hello? Anyone there?”
Footsteps. Mick looked around. Despite all the clutter there wasn’t anywhere to – Ahah!
“If it’s another of you buggers, be warned; I have a gun!”
A torch beam cut through the dark of the room. It passed over Mick, just as pushed himself into the fallen tree’s branches.
The footsteps started again, the soft slip-slap of slippers sounding like the tread of doom. “I swear, if I find anyone in here the doctors will have to feed them via suppository!”
The sack was right up against Mick. He could feel its reassuringly full weight. The chimney beckoned, his one way of escape if only this bastard would leave him alone!
“Come out, come out wherever you are.” There was the click of a gun being cocked. “I’ve got some nice Christmas cake for you.”
A branch kept poking Mick in the back. He tried to move a little and the bell on his hat gave a treacherous jingle. At once, the torch beam swung towards him.
Slip-slap came the slippers. Mick could barely hear them over the hammering of his heart. Desperately, he scrambled around for something, anything he could defend himself with. His hand closed on something round.
“Let’s take a peek behind here—”
Mick threw the bauble. It bounced away, setting up a satisfyingly loud clatter. The torch beam swung around to follow it and Mick was away, scrambling up the chimney as fast as he could, the sack dragging behind him. There came a loud BANG, followed by the splintering of brick, but Mick was free. He flew up the rope so fast that he shot out of the chimney like a cork from a champagne bottle.
“Mick!” Bill hurried over to him. “Did I hear a gun there?”
Mick spat out a mouthful of soot. “No, it was a bloody big Christmas cracker, what do you think?”
“Oh, that’s alright then.”
“Yes, it was a bloody gun!” Mick hissed. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”
“Right, right.” Bill pointed at the sack. “It is all in there though, yeah?”
Mick opened it up and peered inside. “Let’s see…TV, radio, blu-ray…Yup, looks like he got it all.” He threw the sack at Bill. “Get this down to the van. And if you ever come to me with an idea this daft again, Bill Hackett, I will stick you on top of the damn tree!”
Something a little different for Christmas: a story from a guest author – thank you, Sam! And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our lovely readers.
Samuel Poots is a writer from N. Ireland who communicates primarily through Pratchett quotes. He can usually be seen clambering around the north coast muttering about dragons. If found, please give him a cup of tea and send him home via the nearest post office. Follow him on Twitter at @pootsidoodle