Ginger Nuts of Horror
Christmas is coming, the decorations are up, Christmas tunes are playing on repeat, and the eggnog is chilling in the fridge. Ginger Nuts of Horror welcomes the festive season. And as a thank, you for all of your support for what has been a fantastically successful year, Ginger Nuts of Horror in association with Charlotte Bond, brings you 13 For Christmas. For thirteen days in the lead up to Christmas, we bring you a special festive themed piece flash fiction from Charlotte. Grab a hot drink and find a nice warm place and please enjoys these festively creepy tales.
Today's story is titled All I want for Christmas...
Mr Mallory pulled the collar of his grey coat up to protect his neck from the cold winter wind. He looked at the dank walls of the narrow alleyway stretching above them and repressed a grimace.
He turned to his boss who was standing next to him and commented, 'Getting chilly, sir.'
'Is it?' Death replied. 'I can never tell.'
'Of course not. Sorry, sir. Just making conversation.'
Mr Mallory looked down at the tramp curled at their feet. Mr Mallory might wear a human form these days, but he was far from that. He was as ethereal as his boss, although not quite as old. In the early days, Mr Mallory had wept over the death of each creature. But these days, he took it in his stride.
They watched the small plumes of breath coming from the man's mouth. As the plumes got smaller and smaller, Death swept his black cloak back and knelt down. He retrieved a knife from his belt and poised it above the tramp's heart. Mr Mallory took a step back. You didn't want to get too close to a knife that could part flesh from reality, even if it wasn't pointing directly at you.
A final plume of breath left the tramp's mouth and Death's hand plunged down. The knife entered the tramp's flesh, not leaving a mark. Death gave it an expert flick of the wrist and drew the blade out again. There was a brief shimmer around the tramp's form, as if he was momentarily wreathed in mist, then it vanished.
Mr Mallory turned to his clipboard as Death stood up. He filled in all the details then held the clipboard out to his boss. Death lifted the knife up; a single drop of scarlet blood hung from its tip. It dropped down onto the paper, marking it with a perfect circle.
'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Mallory, blowing on the blood to dry it.
Just as he was tucking his pen back into the groove on the clipboard, a voice behind them startled him.
'Excuse me. Are you Father Christmas?'
Mr Mallory turned and saw, with some measure of surprise, a little girl standing in the alleyway behind them. She was dressed in a coat that looked third-hand and her shoes were scuffed, one of the velcro straps hanging off.
'Does he look like Father Christmas?' Mr Mallory asked, glancing at his boss who wore a plain dark suit and a long black cloak trimmed with feathers and fur.
The little girl shrugged. 'I don't know. Granny has a card with a man in a long green cloak on it. She says its old Father Christmas, that he's different from Santa, and doesn't actually wear red.'
'Well, actually,' Mr Mallory began, 'the tradition goes back to the time of the pagans when--'
'Thank you, Mr Mallory, I don't think she needs a history lesson,' said Death. His tone brooked no argument. Mr Mallory shut his mouth instantly.
'Are you an elf?' she asked, looking at Mr Mallory.
'I'm an assistant,' he said defensively. Her thoughtful, piercing gaze was making him uncomfortable.
She frowned. 'I didn't know elves wore grey suits or waistcoats or bow ties.'
Indignantly, Mr Mallory adjusted his tie as Death knelt down in front of the girl. Mr Mallory expected her to step back, to run away, but instead she just pressed her chin down deeper into her coat, as if trying to draw her head in like a turtle. She stared at him with wide eyes, filled with uncertainty, but she held her ground. Mr Mallory was impressed.
'Santa Claus has a red coat -- or a green coat, as you said -- with white trim. He is usually surrounded by lights and snowmen and... things. He doesn't wear black and you don't find him an alleyway.'
'Yes, I've seen that other Santa, but Daddy won't let me sit on his lap, and Mummy says there's no point in asking for presents this year because...' Her voice trailed off. She dug her hands in her pockets and looked down, but not before Mr Mallory had seen the look of abject misery on her face. He realised that her tights were snagged and had a large hole on one ankle.
'Because what?' Death asked gently. Even Mr Mallory leaned forward to hear the girl's whispered reply.
'Because she says Daddy drank away all our money and now we have to have soup and beans on toast for Christmas dinner.' Despite the dim light, Mr Mallory saw the teardrop fall from her nose and hit the dirty ground.
'I see,' said Death. His voice had a cold, hard edge to it. Warning bells went off in Mr Mallory's head. 'And if you did find Santa, what would you ask him for?'
The girl looked down, abashed. Then she looked up, under her long eyelashes and said quietly, 'I'd like Daddy not to be horrid please, Santa. Just for Christmas Day. Just once this year. Please.'
Before either of them could reply, a loud drunken belch echoed down the alleyway. 'Rebecca? Where are you, you brat? I told you to wait outside the betting shop.'
As Death stood up, Mr Mallory spied the man weaving down the alleyway. He was podgy, his beer gut spilling over his tracksuit bottoms. He carried an open can of cheap lager in his hand and swigged from it again before shouting, 'If you don't come out right now, you'll be eating your dinner through a fucking straw. Or maybe I'll just leave you here and some muggers or a rapist will--'
His eyes fell on the trio of the grey-suited man, the cloaked figure, and his young daughter who had stepped just a little closer to them as her father appeared. Death gave the girl a gentle push. 'Go on. Your father's here.' To the man he called out, 'Don't worry, Mr Bailey. Your daughter is fine.'
Reluctantly the girl walked towards her father who was staring at Death with a look of horror.
'How do you know-?' he began, then clearly thought better of it. 'Just keep away from us, you hear?' He grabbed his daughter by the wrist and hauled her down the alleyway.
Rebecca twisted round and called out, 'Bye, Santa.'
'That's not Santa, you stupid bitch,' Stephen said, tugging her the right way round.
'Then who was it?' she asked with a touch of defiance.
Her father glanced nervously over his shoulder; if he gave her a reply, it escaped Mr Mallory's hearing and in a moment they were gone, turning left onto the high street.
'I think I have a new name to add to your list, Mr Mallory.'
'Sir, should we really--?'
'It's Christmas, Mr Mallory.'
'We don't normally celebrate the seasons, sir. This is highly irregular.'
'Yes, but I haven't done it in a few decades. I'm due a little tinkering.'
Mr Mallory stifled a groan and said, with as much humility as he could, 'As you say, sir.'
Children. It's always children that makes him act this recklessly.
Death reached into the pocket of his long black cloak and drew out a watch. It was a cheap quartz piece; each person's soul had its own chronometer. The cheap tackiness of this one said a world of things about its owner.
Death snapped his fingers and the hands began to move, slowly at first, until they were fairly whizzing round. As they went faster, Mr Mallory looked around anxiously. They were visible to humans here and he didn't like lingering.
'Food poisoning, I think,' Death said as he watched the hands whirred onwards, 'combined with excessive drinking so that he chokes on his own vomit. Yes. That will be very satisfactory.'
'Very good, sir.' The hands of the watch slowed until it was ticking normally again. Mr Mallory peered over his boss' shoulder and asked, 'And what date for termination do we have now?'
'Christmas Day. About two o'clock in the morning.'
Mr Mallory made a note on his clipboard then sighed. 'This will cause a considerable amount of paperwork, sir.'
Death turned. The skin on his face was so thin that Mr Mallory could see the skeleton underneath when his boss smiled. 'Then I shall gift-wrap it for you, Mr Mallory. And maybe throw in a new pen.'
'Very droll, sir.' He tucked the clipboard under his arm and together they walked out of the alleyway, merging unseen among the Christmas shoppers.