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Dark Christmas Tales
Copyright © 2013 James Dwyer
All rights reserved.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Special thanks to Karen and Chris Dwyer (Mum & Dad) for supporting me throughout my quest to become a writer. I hope to repay your faith one day.
And to Anastasia, my love and inspiration, for her endless support, patience and encouragement. Sagapo.
The first of December brought an excitement for Peter that was not fuelled by the imminent arrival of Father Christmas. Nor was it the prospect of presents under the Christmas tree, Xmas cards full of cash from relatives, nor the overdose of sweets, chocolate and good food that left many changing their New Year’s resolution to “Lose Weight”. The first of December marked the imminent return of Jason. Peter would be getting his big brother back.
It had become a ritual, the only Christmas tradition that Peter cared about. Each year, Jason would put on hold his adulthood to return to the family home and spend time with Peter. At twenty four years old, Jason was twice Peter’s age though it didn’t seem to affect their relationship. On his return, Jason dedicated all his time to Peter. He didn’t know he was his little brother’s best friend, nor that there was hardly any competition for the position. Just that his little brother loved him dearly.
Twelve-year-old Peter was smaller than the other boys his age. He didn’t play football, didn’t like computer games, didn’t like much at all. He kept to himself for most of the year, trying to keep his head down, to become invisible. It never worked. He was an easy target, the strange little boy in class. Good natured, not a fighter at all, Peter was the boy the others in his class picked on to improve their own social standing. He accepted his place at the bottom of the class food chain. As long as he had his brother’s visit to look forward to, he tried not to let it bother him. This year he needed his brother more than ever.
A particularly mean bully had made Peter his target and had dedicated break time, lunchtime and the walk home from school to making his life a misery. The bully knew Peter wouldn’t fight back, wouldn’t tell anyone. Just how the bully liked them. The only thing keeping Peter going were the lessening pages on the calendar as December drew nearer and his big brother would return home.
Last year’s visit had been the best so far. Every moment was still fresh in Peter’s memory. Jason had come home and moved his bed into Peter’s room, each night like a sleepover. Anything Peter wanted to do, Jason was ready. He never complained, always enthusiastic and ready to go. Last year they had gone camping until the night had grown too cold and Jason had to drive them home. They had gone beachcombing along the coast until the snow fell so hard that they couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of them.
Peter’s favourite activity was the building of The Snowman. As soon as the snow settled on the ground, they would put on their warmest clothes and head outside to begin construction on their ice giant. Ten feet tall, three feet wide, it wasn’t just a snowman, it was a colossus.
Neighbours came and took photos beside it, Jason always giving the credit to Peter. It was their tradition, shared with no one else in the world. Every year they were afraid the snow wouldn’t come. Weather forecasts would always be negative, saying that it’s not cold enough for snow, unseasonably warm for this time of year, don’t get your hopes up for a white Christmas. Every year, the day before Christmas Eve, the snow came. Spiralling down like manna from heaven. The Snowman would be built, this was a fact. Peter collected photos of each year’s masterpiece on his bedroom wall. Seven so far, a space reserved for number eight. And nine. And ten. His favourite part of Christmas immortalised on his wall. The only gift he ever wanted symbolised in a photo. Children up and down the country opened the first door on their advent calendar and ate the small chocolate inside. Peter’s calendar remained wrapped in plastic. It wasn’t Christmastime. It was brother time. He could hardly wait.
Peter was doodling in his sketchbook, working on some designs for this year’s Snowman, when his father knocked on the door. It was a quiet knock, hardly any strength at all in the impact. His father was an old man now, both his parents in their late fifties when he was born. He was a surprise, a miracle his parents said.
Peter knew they were too old to keep up with a child his age and so he never forced them to. “Your Grandad’s your Dad,” the other boys in his class would say, trying to tease him. It never worked.
Peter put down his pencil. “Come in Dad.”
His father opened the door and slowly walked in. His face sagged, distressed by more than just age. His eyes were red, he had been crying. He never cried. Peter felt the hairs prick up on the back of his neck. “I have some bad news,” said his father, his voice breaking as he spoke.
I. E. D. Three letters that broke Peter’s heart. Jason was a marine serving in Afghanistan. Was. He was on his second tour of duty, patrolling in the Kandahar Province. He never saw it coming. A bright flash and his life was over. No chance to fight for his life, to do what he was trained to do. In an instant, he was dead. Jason’s photo was on the news briefly, another casualty of war, a number added to the statistics. His father said that the Prime Minister had mentioned his name in parliament, offered his condolences. It was meaningless to Peter. His big brother was gone. Christmas was ruined, destroyed, irreparably broken forever. Peter didn’t know how to react. He couldn’t cry, couldn’t get angry. He was numb. All hope was gone.
The air felt colder when Peter returned to school. It wasn’t the winter, it was deep inside him. His core. It was only a week until Christmas. Peter didn’t have to go back, his teachers and parents had told him there was no rush. Everyone would understand if he wanted to stay at home a little longer. Peter didn’t see why he should put it off any longer. He had no one to talk to about his problems, no one to help him through the bullying. He was alone now. No point in putting off the inevitable.
Peter took his seat in the class, eyes watching his every move. Most of them had not experienced death, not to someone so close. They wanted to see what happened. Peter’s teacher smiled warmly at him, making sure that he was okay to continue. Satisfied that he was, the lesson began.
As Christmas was approaching, the teacher had decided to teach how other faiths celebrated this time of year. Most of it passed Peter by, the images and words in the textbook blurring into another. It was a little section in “Judaism” that finally caught his attention. A small box describing a “golem”, a man made of clay that came to life when a piece of paper with holy scripture was placed in its head. Peter empathised with the lump of clay, feeling as cold and misshapen. He wondered what words it would take to make him feel alive again.
Billy was a cruel child who had been given everything he wanted in life and a little more besides. Like most spoilt children, he lacked those qualities that money can’t buy like kindness and compassion. He was not a nice boy and no one liked him in the class. Billy had decided that if they weren’t going to like him, then he might as well give them a reason. He became a bully. It made sense in some twisted way. He was bigger than the others, his birthday in September. His father was on the board of school governors. He had immunity, he could do as he liked.
Sitting in class and watching all the sympathy and attention that Peter was getting made him angry. Why was this pathetic little wimp being treated like some sort of prince? Billy had been bullying Peter all year. He wasn’t going to stop today.
He attacked at break time, Sid his only ally acting as backup. Sid was a sneaky, snivelling little boy who would have a promising career in party politics later in life. For now, he was there to laugh at Billy’s jokes, congratulate him on his victories and play with Billy’s expensive toys and gadgets. They stood in a corner of the playground, watching Peter leaning against a wall, head bowed. “What you gonna do to him?” said Sid.
“Dunno,” said Billy, “I would like to make him cry.”
“Cool, cool,” said Sid, “Maybe he’ll wet himself too.”
Billy smiled. He liked the sound of that. They began their attack, walking across the playground. The other children watched them pass, relieved that they weren’t the target for the day. Peter looked up and saw them approaching, a resigned sigh greeting their arrival. “Alright Grandad?” said Billy.
Peter said nothing. Anything he did say would be wasting his breath. Only delay the inevitable. Might as well get it over and done with. “Why are you so sad? Worried you won’t get good presents from Father Christmas?” said Billy.
Sid cackled beside him, his eyes watching Billy to make sure the volume and effectiveness of his reaction to the joke was at the right level. “No,” said Peter, his eyes fixed on his shoes.
“I heard about your brother,” said Billy, “Heard he was killed.”
Sid tensed. This was going a bit too far for his liking. “Yeah,” said Peter, those three letters still weighing heavily on his mind.
“I heard he died because he was a coward,” said Billy, “Wasn’t strong enough. Let his country down.”
Peter felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as Billy’s punch connected. His bully was a foot taller and twice Peter’s weight.
The punch was a tester, to see how much fight Peter had in him. There was nothing there to give.
“I heard he died crying like a baby, calling for his Grandma,” said Billy.
Peter looked up at Billy and wished he felt angry. Wished he could lash out in a rage. He couldn’t. He would never be a fighter. He looked Billy in the eye and saw the big fat grin on his face. Picking on the weak. If only Jason were here to show him. “You don’t know nothing,” said Peter.
“What?” said Billy.
“He’s calling you thick,” said Sid.
When the teacher came and took him to one side later, Billy would say how Peter provoked him. Sid would corroborate his story. Billy punched Peter in the face and stomach, sending him falling to the floor. He laughed with each blow, Sid smiling beside him. Billy had showed Peter who was boss. Looking down on Peter as he lay bleeding on the floor, Billy saw something shiny hanging around his neck. He reached down and tore it from Peter. “You’re wearing a necklace?” he laughed, showing Sid who matched the volume and tone of his master’s cackle.
“It was my brother’s,” said Peter, looking at the dog tags that hung from the necklace.
He had been given it at the funeral. Worn it non-stop since then. His neck felt empty now, the tiny weight torn from his body.
“The teacher’s coming,” said Sid.
Billy put the dog tags in his pocket and walked away, Sid scuttling after him. Peter picked himself up on the floor, the air returning to his winded lungs. He rubbed his face, trying to ease the swelling from the punches. He was in pain but he didn’t cry, he made sure of that. A small victory.
School finished for the term and Peter isolated himself in his bedroom. He stared at the empty space where Jason would put his bed. The Snowman drawing on his desk remained unfinished. It would never be completed now his brother was gone.
Peter sat on the windowsill, alternating from staring into space and reading the last letter his brother had sent him. It would have been easier to have sent an e-mail or a text. With a letter, Peter received a surprise in the post, the only mail he had ever received. He read the letter again and again. “Don’t worry about the bullies. When I come home for Christmas, we’ll sort them out together. Keep up with the plans. This year’s has to be the best Snowman ever!”
Finishing the letter for what felt like the thousandth time, Peter stared out the window into the garden. He looked up at the grey clouds accumulating overhead, a sight that used to fill him with excitement and joy. Snowflakes began to slowly fall from the sky, white fluffy static filling the window. Soon a coat of white covered everything outside, a blanket of festive cheer. Peter looked back at the letter. “This year’s has to be the best Snowman ever!” It was a message from his brother. Peter felt some warmth inside him as he finally had a purpose, the first time he had felt anything since his father knocked on the door. He had a task, something to do. In memory of his brother.
As soon as the snow stopped falling, Peter was out there in his snow gear, beginning construction. He worked for eight hours, only stopping for a quick lunch. His mother had hugged him tightly before letting him go outside again, overjoyed that her son had become active once more.
Peter worked twice as hard to compensate for working alone. He moved what felt like tonnes of snow, piled high in the garden, using a white plastic garden chair as a ladder to reach the top.
It wouldn’t be as big as last year’s, wouldn’t be as perfect. It didn’t matter, this Snowman was important. A memorial like the pyramids built to celebrate dead pharaohs. This was his monument to his big brother.
His hands freezing, nose running with snot, Peter stepped back and looked at The Snowman. Six feet tall. Two big black stones for eyes, a bright orange carrot for a nose. Peter took off his scarf and wrapped it round The Snowman’s neck. He never understood why a man made of ice needed a scarf to keep warm. Still, it didn’t feel right for The Snowman to go without it.
Peter cried, small tears of happiness as he looked up at his creation. He had made his brother proud, he could feel it. Looking at the misshapen ice man, Peter felt there was something else he could do. To make it perfect.
He took off his gloves and reached into his coat pocket, pulling out Jason’s last letter. He moved the chair round the back of The Snowman and climbed up. He rolled the letter into a tube and shoved it inside the back of The Snowman’s head. Peter’s holy words. For today only, Jason was back to life. “Goodbye Jason,” said Peter.
His mum called Peter in for dinner. One last look at The Snowman. He took out his camera and took a quick photo of his creation. It would be hung proudly on his wall. He ran inside as his mum called again, glad to be heading back to the warm.
Billy and Sid walked down the road, each of them munching from a bag of chips from the chip shop. It was dark out and the snow glowed orange in the amber light of the streetlamps. Billy didn’t want chips. His mum had not been in the mood to cook. Again. Sid didn’t mind, chips from the chip shop were a treat for him. Not for Billy. “What you getting for Christmas?” said Sid.
“New games console, new bike and maybe a puppy. I haven’t decided which type yet,” said Billy.
“Wow,” said Sid, “What you gonna call it?”
“Sid,” said Billy with a smile.
Sid laughed reflexively, not sure if he should be offended or not.
“You coming over tomorrow?” said Billy.
“Nah, I can’t,” said Sid.
“Why not?” said Billy.
“Mum says I have to stay at home. Family time. Have to spend time with my brother and sisters,” said Sid.
“Loser,” said Billy, an only child.
“Yeah,” said Sid.
They made their way back towards Billy’s house, their footsteps crunching on the snow. Billy felt the air growing colder. Not the chill of winter. Something else. He looked around and realised he and Sid were alone in the street. All the houses seemed dark, no lights visible inside. Christmas lights twinkled on a house nearby. When they walked past, the lights went out.
“Come on,” said Billy, quickening his pace.
“Why are you running?” said Sid.
“I just want to get home,” said Billy.
A snowball flung out from the darkness and hit Billy in the hands, sending his chips falling to the floor.
“Who did that?” called Billy, trying and failing to sound big and brave.
“Wasn’t me,” said Sid, who also realised they were alone.
Billy looked at Sid and his chips. Sid sighed and handed them over. “I’m full anyway.”
Another snowball flew out of the darkness. This one not made of powdery snow but solid ice. It hit Billy in the side of the head, the impact making a loud painful thud sound, the strike so hard it knocked him off balance. Billy cried out in pain as he felt the warm wet blood start trickling down his face. “Who did that?” he cried out again, shaken.
He turned to Sid, only to see his former ally running away into the distance. Billy started to feel scared, the cold growing in intensity. He felt incredibly alone, everyone else tucked up safe and sound inside their homes. “Leave me alone!” he shouted, starting to run.
His feet slipped on the ice and he landed on his stomach, the cold wet snow reaching through his clothes and chilling his skin. He climbed to his feet and walked forward, eyes searching for his attacker. Ahead of him, the pavement went dark. A van eclipsed the light from the nearby streetlamp, casting an intense black shadow on the snow. Billy slowed as he drew closer, the wall of darkness blocking his route home. He looked into the shadows and saw a shape slowly moving, rising up ahead of him. Billy struggled to take it in, his mind unable to comprehend what he was seeing. “Don’t...don’t hurt me,” said Billy.
He stepped back and his foot slipped again, sending him falling backwards, head hitting the iced concrete hard. He looked up and saw the shape approaching, stepping out of the shadows and into the light. Billy looked up at the rough man sized shape approaching, made from ice and hate. He cried out in horror as it loomed over him, snowy fists rising up above him. Billy stared into the cold black eyes and saw that whatever it was, it hated him more than anything.
Peter finished his dinner and spent the rest of the evening watching a film with his parents. He said goodnight once it had finished, happy to go to bed and recover the energy he had spent building The Snowman. After brushing his teeth and putting on his pyjamas, he went to the window to look at his creation one last time. It was strange, in the dark it looked like The Snowman was gone. Blaming the night and his tiredness, he pulled the curtains together and went to sleep.
That night he felt strange. The room was bitterly cold, as if there was something large inside sucking all heat from the room. At the same time, he felt safe and happy, the cold not disturbing his sleep. Just a presence he felt through the night.
Morning came and Peter woke to find the curtains open, icy slush on the windowsill. He walked over, seeing more of the slush on the floor, melting into the carpet. He approached the windowsill and saw that The Snowman was gone. He ran to the window, unsure of what could have happened to it. His parents would not have destroyed it and the other snowmen in neighbours’ gardens were still standing. What happened to his Snowman?
He looked down and saw something amongst the slush on the windowsill. He reached inside, fingers probing inside the cold icy mess. It was Jason’s necklace, buried amongst the snow. He pulled it from the pile and placed it round his neck, overjoyed to have it back. There was something else in the ice. A piece of paper. He reached in and pulled it out, unfolding the wet paper in his hand. It was Jason’s letter. Peter read it through; making sure it was the same letter. Another line had been added below, added to the message. Peter read the words, written in a strange red ink, the letters crudely drawn. The message made Peter smile.
“I will always be there for you.”
THE CHRISTMAS REVOLUTION