A rapid rapping rang through the crisp morning air as Yaffle the woodpecker battered an old beech tree in search of a tasty snack of sleeping bugs and beetles. A pair of rooks cawed in soft argument as they took off from the upper branches of a bare oak. A cat picked its way daintily through the snow, shaking its paws with disdain at every step it took. A watery winter sun crept up from the horizon, casting a silver lining to everything it touched.
It was an idyllic midwinter scene, worthy of a thousand Christmas cards. If you’d grown up on a diet of Disney, you might even expect to see a flock of robins and a blue-jay carrying a garland of holly leaves and blood-red berries from the woods beyond. And maybe a squirrel or two carrying a bunch of snowdrops – spectacularly stupid squirrels unawares that they were supposed to be hibernating.
Unless you happened to be in Klaus’ head.
He greeted the morning with a groan loud enough to register his horror at nature’s noisy intrusion, but just quiet enough not to shatter his skull into pieces. He felt like a colony of mining dwarves had taken up residence in his cranium and was hard at work digging for gold. Not that there was much chance of unearthing any treasures in there.
He opened one rheumy eye, and squinted against the frosty white light flooding in through the window. His mouth tasted like five-day-old mink droppings, his nose was cold, and the scent of spilled alcohol, old chips and musty paper and ink filled his nostrils. With a moan like a prize heifer giving birth to quadruplets he pushed himself upright in his chair.
A letter from little Danny from Dunsville was stuck to his cheek with drool. He peeled it off like a band aid, burped sourly, and placed it with exaggerated care on the ‘Naughty’ list next to him, unaware of the faint ink letters that had transferred themselves to the side of his face overnight.
As it happened, Danny had been a perfect little angel all year, but virtue would have to be its own reward this year. Thanks to the foul mood his hangover put Klaus in, all the youngster would find in his stocking on Christmas morning would be a pencil sharpener, a book of crosswords, a lump of coal and note saying “Better luck next year, kid.”.
A quiet bustling at the door signaled the entry of Myffanwy, Wilbur The Ancient’s wife of 300-odd years. Unlike Wilbur, she wasn’t content to sit back and wallow in the glory of tales of olden times. Myffanwy was a doer, not a talker, and she ruled the elf shed with a gentle iron fist hidden beneath her hand-knitted mittens. She also made the world’s best hot chocolate and a wicked coffee blend that had enough caffeine to raise the dead.
She cast a disapproving though not unkind stare in his direction, shook her head, and waddled over to the stove in the corner with nothing more than a sharp tut. Klaus breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing he needed right now was a lecture. Right now, it hurt to move.
As she clattered about on the stove, he tried to pull himself into some semblance of respectability and mentally prepare himself for the scolding he knew was inevitable once he’d had his coffee. Looking around him, he saw his left boot upside-down on the coat stand, right next to a pair of Easter Bunny boxer shorts. In a panic, he looked down at his crotch and sighed in relief to see his flabby thighs covered by red flannel thermal long-johns. He reached for the trousers flung over the burlap sack in the corner and pulled them on before hopping over to the coat rack and pulling his stray boot on over a holey striped sock.
A chipped enamel mug appeared on the pile of papers in front of him and the smell of toast and frying bacon filled the house. He sipped at the steamy black liquid and grimaced at its bitterness, but grateful for the kick it delivered. A plate containing half a fry-up was placed in front of him.
“No eggs, seeing as how someone hasn’t bothered to collect any from the hen coops for three days,” said the bustling elf sternly. “And no milk either, as you left the pail from yesterday out on the doorstep. It’s now as solid as a rock, unfortunately for the couple of voles who decided to take a swim in it.”
Shame-faced, Klaus wiped coffee from his snowy beard and a stray bead of snot from where his nose hairs met his bushy moustache.
“You’re a bloody marvel, you know that Fwanny?” he growled.
“Too right, I am. And much more than you deserve.
I don’t know. A grown man with serious responsibilities acting like a spoiled teenager in a sulk.”
Klaus nodded absently as he chewed on the savoury fried rashers.
“You outdid yourself last night,” continued Myffanwy. “Nearly had a riot in the reindeer shed. You can thank Elvis for making sure there wasn’t.”
A puzzled look flitted across the farmer’s brow as he tried to imagine how the King of Rock and Roll could have averted disaster on his homestead, about as far away from Graceland that anyone could get.
...Part 5 coming soon - stay tuned.