Monday, 28 December 2015

Wilbur The Ancient

By popular demand (well, at the request of my fellow warped Word Nerd Robert Mackey), I have been asked to write a new version of that seasonal favourite "Frosty the Snowman" featuring one of the minor characters from my recent Christmas parody "Cruel Yule". 

So, with apologies to the writers of "Frosty the Snowman", as well as their families, and for the cheesy rhymes and dubious taste, I give you:


Wilbur the Ancient was an aged sack of farts,
but when he told his tales, he would never fail,
to capture other elvish hearts.

Wilbur the Ancient, can’t recall when he was born.
But when he scratched his balls among the reindeer stalls,
he remembered he liked porn.

There must have been some magic in that old cracked chamber pot,
for when he took a shit, his face was lit
with relief that hit the spot!

Oh, Wilbur the Ancient had no clue what’s going on;
though Elvis flew the coop, with a joyous whoop,
he kept up the elvish con.

Trumpety, trump, trump, trumpety, trump, trump,
listen to Wilbur fart.
Trumpety trump, trump, trumpety trump, trump,
he’s just about to start.

Wilbur the Ancient, was fit for the funny farm.
Now Klaus is back, but Wlbur’s mind has cracked,
so he’s locked up in the barn.

There must have been some acid in his late night cocoa mug,
for when he woke, he no longer spoke,
he just barked like a prize pug.

A howlin’ at the moon one night, Wilbur took some time to think,
why he’d never died, had the Elders lied?
God, he wished he had a drink.

See, Wilbur the Ancient was a zombie through and through,
with a thirst for brains, even when in chains,
together with his ghastly crew.

Slumpety, slump, slump, slumpety, trump, trump,
hear his coffin call.
Slumpety, slump, slump, slumpety, slump, slump,
into his grave he falls.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 10 - The Present Participle

And so, Christmas was not cancelled. It was just a little different for some.

Sales of selfie sticks plummeted inexplicably. Swathes of sophisticated teens were faced with the festive challenge of working out which end of the pencil to use to solve their crossword puzzles.

Little Danny from Dunsville, whose letter to Santa had attached itself to Klaus’ drunken cheek, was neither surprised nor upset by the paltry contents of his stocking. Though just eight, he knew that when he and his mum left in the deep of the night to escape flying fists and accusations, they’d be leaving the Christmas fund behind. He was happy just to be safe and not hear his mum cry herself to sleep every night. Anyway, the other kids at the shelter made him feel like he mattered once again. Reclaiming the smile he hadn’t used for years was his gift to him and his mother – and they would definitely have “better luck next year”.

Things were a little less content in assorted corridors of power, where men in suits used to getting their own way without having to argue their case were confronted with a scuttle-full of coal blackening their antique rugs.

For the first time in decades, Wham's "Last Christmas" failed to get any air-time on the Yuletide programmes. 

And no-one died in Albert Square.

Back at the homestead, Klaus threw open the farmhouse door after his big night to be greeted by a waft of Myffanwy’s famous coffee. He sniffed the air appreciatively, sat in his chair before the roaring fire, kicked his feet up and closed his eyes.

The long white hairs of his nostrils twitched as the scent got closer and stronger, tickling his taste buds and warming the tip of his frozen nose. And something else, a new note to the aroma, adding a sharp, warm tinge to it. He sniffed and smiled.

“Ah, Gladys. I should have known. It’s been a while since I’ve had one of your Irish coffees.”

“Well, you’d better drink it up quick,” came the sharp reply. “We got work to do round here.
"The elves are in revolt over that goth Elvis brought back with him. The reindeer are on hunger strike. Dooley and Entynne have eloped. Wilbur's had some kind of fit and keeps shouting for his crown. And we need to talk about Rudolph.

“But first, where’s MY present?”

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 9 – Naughty or Nice?

Klaus was much less happy with the new state of affairs than his elfish friend. 

He’d left the homestead in a bid to get away from all the Christmas crap for a selfish world that wouldn’t know the real spirit of the season if it bit them on the backside. 

These days, it was all about the latest PlayStations, iPhones, selfie sticks – all in pursuit of self, satisfaction, Facebook Likes and smug Instagram duckfaces. 
And the kids weren’t much better, either.

But here he was, back at a desk, faced with towers of letters from self-entitled brats, lists rolling out across the floor and having to plan a delivery route for the most frantic twelve hours of his year.

AND he was doing it without a mug of mead, under the stern harridan glare of Gladys. He shot her a resentful look, only to plaster a sickly smile on his face when he realised she was looking in his direction. His lips grinned but behind his eyes, he harboured fantasies of the perfect Christmas crime - battering her senseless with a frozen turkey or leg of lamb, then cooking and eating the murder weapon. The smile spread to his eyes and he chuckled inwardly as he imagined the morbid scene.

A tug at his sleeve brought him back from his reverie. He looked up, then down until he found who had tugged him. A dwarf wearing a ‘don’t mess with me’ face and medieval battle dress offered him a neat pile of buff folders.

“Sorry to bother you, sir,” he said in a cultured voice. “but these need your urgent attention. We need your stamp before we can proceed with them.”

Klaus sighed and bent to take the files. They were surprisingly heavy, some six inches thick or more, all bound with auspicious looking scarlet ribbons. With a grunt, he hoisted them from the dwarf’s arms and dumped them on the desk.

“Thanks, Tyrion,” he sighed, and looked down at the files. Each one bore a name he was more used to seeing in news headlines: Obama, Putin, Cameron, Kardashian, Assad, some fella called Daesh, Trump….

“Oh, for f….  What would you do with this lot, my friend?”

“Personally, I’d demand trial by combat,” answered the little man with a big attitude. “But we probably don’t have time for that, and I sure Gladys wouldn't approve, so I’d put them straight to the top of the Naughty List.”

Klaus nodded, pulled a stamp and ink pad closer and dispatched the pile of files with a swift flourish and a red “Dislike” thumb-down symbol. It felt good. Like some kind of justice, albeit fleeting. He made a mental note to order more coal.

“Any more where they came from?” he asked.

“A whole roomful,” answered Tyrion and pushed an official looking form in triplicate before the old man. “But, if you give me the authority and the stamp, I can take care of them for you.”

Nodding over to another pile in the corner, he added: “There are more important matters for your attention.”

Klaus scrawled his name at the bottom of the form, handed it to Tyrion, along with the Dislike stamp and ink pad, and heaved himself out of his chair. The files in the corner were darker in colour, and bore no names. Each opened to an image. Drenched frightened children in fluorescent orange lifejackets. Terrified toddlers screaming in make-shift hospitals with walls pocked with cracks and bullet holes. A young girl quietly weeping as she cleaned herself while a sweating middle-aged man rose from the grimy bed behind her and pulled up his pants. A young boy, no more than eight years old, brandished a AK47 at the camera in a display of fake bravado and machismo.

A flood of helplessness swept over the man in red. He slumped in the corner, shaking his snowy white head. Angry tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes.

A familiar shadow loomed over him and a firm but gentle hand was placed on his shoulder.

“Oh, Glad,” he said, looking up to the woman he’d been fantasizing about battering with frozen foodstuffs just minutes before. “What’s the point?”

Gladys knelt beside him and looked into his eyes.

“Hasn’t that always been the case?” she said gently. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, does it?”

She took the top file from the pile and turned to the second page. More images showed the cold boat children in a shed on an island. Some still clung desperately to their mothers, but others were being helped into clean dry clothes by gaggles of scruffy middle-aged women more concerned about the kids than their manicures. There was no holly, ivy or mistletoe. No candy canes or tinsel. But something shone out of the dimly lit scene that had long since been lost from the busy shopping streets.

He looked at Gladys. Beneath her wild hair, ruddy cheeks and appalling dress sense, she was still beautiful. He blinked an apology at her and nodded.

As the pair struggled to their feet with all the grace of a pair of drunken rhinos, the first few saccharine bars of “Last Christmas” wafted through the workshed. It was abruptly cut off with a deafening ‘BANG!’ just after “this year, to save you from tears....”.

They looked up to see a very self-satisfied Tiffany, blowing an imaginary puff of smoke from the barrel of an air pistol, and a shattered 1970s cassette player lying on the floor.

“I always hated that bloody song,” she shrugged.

How will it all end?
Stay tuned for the final episode, coming before those stockings get filled (or will they?).

Monday, 21 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 8 – Glad Tidings & the Plan Bs

The bedraggled bag lady in front of them rolled her eyes, pursed her lips and huffed through her nostrils.

“We haven’t got time for any of your explanations, you old rascal. You’re not where you’re supposed to be, there’s work to be done and you’ve decided to go AWOL with just a few days to go.”

Turning to Elvis, she dropped her stern demeanour. “Hello, dear. I expect you’re feeling a bit lost, aren’t you?”

The elf nodded mutely, and sipped nervously at the sickly pink drink in his hand.

“The name’s Gladys, dear. Gladys Tidings, but everyone calls me Glad. I’m the one who picks up all the pieces after this one” she flicked a thumb in the direction of Klaus “decides to have an existential crisis just before his busiest day of the year.”

She jiggled the bottle tops in her hand, opened her battered brown handbag and poured them in. Snapping it shut, she looked up with an air of no-nonsense and brisk efficiency.

“Right, come on, then.”

Klaus said nothing. He just gulped and threw the last inch of whiskey down his throat, burped loudly and stood up.
“Lead on, m’lady.”

Glad took them to the back of the pub, through a door marked ‘Staff Only’, past a wall of cardboard boxes lining the narrow corridor beyond and out a gun metal grey fire door to the damp chill afternoon beyond. Black bags brimming with empties vied for space with beer barrels nestled up against a small wooden shed. Glad strode to the ramshackle hut and opened the door, waving Klaus and Elvis in.

Instead of the usual smells of dust, mould and neglect Elvis was expecting from the inside of the shed, he was greeted with the scent of warm sugar and cinnamon. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he gasped in surprise as the space within revealed itself to be the size of a football pitch. Around the edges sat a ragged collection of people – outcasts every one. Faces ravaged by street life, lousy diet and living on the edges of respectable society. The type the ‘normal’ folk back in the shopping centre managed to dehumanize just enough to walk on by without a twinge to their conscience as they bustled to their next purchase.

They were everywhere, lining the walls of the inexplicably large shed interior. The unwanted and unclaimed, outsiders of every shape, size, age and origin. All looked happy to be there.

A Bob Marley lookalike (if the musician had lived to be older than Methusala and spent every day furiously chewing tobacco) gave Elvis a wide grin, displaying his single remaining tooth. Next to him, a mountain of a woman with cheeks like tomatoes and breasts like sofa cushions took a swig from a bottle and beckoned to him. Elvis looked nervously at Gladys, seeking assurance. She nodded and gave him a gentle push between the shoulder blades before taking Klaus by his elbow and leading him briskly to a large desk in the centre of the room, festooned with scrolls of paper, towers of phone books and buff folders. To one side, a giant tea urn stood gently sweating.      

The woman-mountain twinkled eyes the colour of a robin’s egg at the elf, and patted the floor, beckoning him to take a seat next to her. He obeyed, still not sure what to make of everything.

“That’s better,” she chirped and straightened her flower pot hat in a display on old-fashioned gentility.

“Now, my dear, time for introductions. I am Lady Rosemary de Bergerac-Fitzgerald. But you can call me Rosie.” Without rising she gave a little curtsey. “And this fine gentleman here is Rufus St George.” The aged Rastafarian tossed his matted grey dreadlocks over his shoulder and offered a grimy hand.

“And who might you be?” asked Rosie, regarding the lost elf with a benevolent smile.

“Elvis,” he whispered. “I’m a wood elf, carpenter by trade, back….  back where….  well, back home. Though I’m not sure where home is anymore.”

Rufus roared with laughter and slapped the elf’s shoulder. “Welcome to the club, mon! We’re all lost here – we’ve no place to call home but here.”

Rosie cleared her throat decorously to silence his laughter.

“We, my dear, are the Plan Bs. We’re the ones who make sure Christmas goes ahead even when a certain reluctant someone decides he’s had enough of his duties.” She shot a meaningful look in the direction of Klaus, who was now sitting at the desk in the middle of the room, looking aghast at the piles of papers and muttering loudly beneath his beard.

Elvis looked around him. Everywhere, figures of so-called down-and-outs in the world outside were busy tying bows, sprinkling glitter, cutting cookies, stuffing chocolate coins into mesh bags, filling Christmas crackers.  In the corner, three Scandinavian blondes that looked suspiciously elfin were sorting through a pile of envelopes. Rufus was rummaging through a pile of odd socks which had lost their mates in the wash of a million household around the world over the past twelve months. To his left lay a neat pile of personalised Christmas stockings, expertly transformed with felt stars, holly leaves or snowmen and a flourish of his glitter pen.

“Chop, chop, people!” rang out Gladys’ voice from behind the desk where Klaus was scratching his head over a long list. “Just three days to go. There’s soup and sausages, hot chocolate and mince pies for everyone, but we’ve got a deadline to meet and it’s all down to us. So, no slacking!”

A ragged cheer rose from the rabble, and they set about their tasks with renewed, if chaotic, vigour. A young girl with pierced lip, nose and eyebrows and an armful of tattoos stood up and walked to the tea urn where she filled two thick mugs with the steaming liquid. Drawing herself to her full height (just half a head taller than Elvis) she blew her black and green fringe out of her heavily-kohled eyes and walked over. She smiled shyly and offered one to the elf.

“Drink up,” she said with a sideways look. “It’s good – Gladys adds a special mix of spices and it really gives you a kick to get the job done.”

“Thank you Tiffany,” beamed Rosie. “Maybe you can show Elvis the carpentry shop, so he can get to work?”

The girl nodded, and beckoned to the elf with a purple fingernail. Elvis scrambled to his feet and padded after her like a puppy dog. He’d already decided he would follow her anywhere, not just the carpentry shop. 
He’d follow her to the ends of the earth.

What awaits Klaus and his intrepid elf next? 
Stay tuned for the next episode...

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 7 - Croydon calling

The ground dropped away like a stone, and Elvis felt his breakfast rise up in protest.

He took a gulp of cold, clear air, and squeezed his eyes shut. The only sound was the jangling of the reins, Rudolph’s sugar-fueled snorts and the occasional ‘caw!’ of a surprised rook. 

After counting to ten, and assuring himself that his stomach had returned to its rightful place, the elf opened his eyes. Beside him, Klaus was swigging from a hip flask and mumbling angrily to himself. He cast a grumpy glance at Elvis, then rolled his bloodshot eyes.

“What the blazes am I going to do with you?” he growled, apparently not expecting an answer. “The whole point is get away from the magic nonsense and delivering gifts to all the kids in the world in the time it takes an atom to whizz round the Hadron collider. But now. Now, I’m gonna have to explain a thigh-high, pointy-nosed elf wherever I go.”

Elvis shifted in his seat, uncomfortably.

“Don’t they have little people where we’re going?”

“Yeah, they do, but don’t expect the royal treatment. At best, you’ll be something like a side-show at the circus. Whatever happens, don’t come running to me – I’ve got some serious business to catch up on.”

Cold, miserable, and now thoroughly confused, the elf sank back in his seat, suddenly missing the dull familiarity of life on the homestead he’d been so keen to leave just a few short hours ago. His nausea passed, and in time, the gentle rocking of the sleigh as Rudolph settled into a steady canter through the clouds lulled him to sleep. Obviously, a night in the deer shed with Entynne has taken more out of him than he’d realised. He settled into the warm dream of slightly obscene wishful thinking that featured some rose-tinted scenes definitely not suitable for family viewing. For the first time all day, he smiled indulgently to himself.

A deafening roar and whoosh as the sleigh banked steeply to the left jolted him away from his elvish wet dream. His eyes flew open to the sight of a giant stiff-winged bird thundering past them. Klaus was clinging  to his sack, though too late to save the coffee pot tumbling out and plummeting earthwards.

(The next morning, Hamish McPhee, a bachelor crofter in the Hebrides called the BBC Scottish Service claiming to have been visited by a UFO in the night. He had a hole in his roof and the melted misshapen remains of an alien artifact to show for it. Dougal and the other sheep agreed that was irrefutable evidence of “something out there”. None of them could explain the strong smell of burnt mocha that surrounded the object, but Hamish imagined aliens needed a kick of caffeine to get them going in the mornings as much as anyone.)

Elvis dared not close his eyes again. He stared around him, blinking like a startled bush-baby on speed. Below, the landscape was changing. Wild rolling hills merged with a patchwork quilt of tamed squares dotted with long glass sheds. The fields in turn gave way to trickles of houses, warehouses and factories running into towns, before being swallowed up into the ugly grey of concrete, office blocks and multi-storey car parks. Traffic lights twinkled in competition with flashing Christmas illuminations wrapped around anything that didn’t move.

It was all very different from the homestead. Elvis was starting to think he might have made a terrible mistake.

A shuddering bump roused him from his thoughts as the sleigh landed clumsily and Rudolph barely managed to avoid skidding over the edge of a flat rooftop. Klaus pulled his bulk out of his seat, hitched up his belt and reached for a bucket on the floor of the sleigh. He filled it with jelly babies and placed it front of the reindeer.

“Should keep him happy for a while,” he belched noisily. “Now, it’s my turn.”

He signaled to the elf. “If you’re coming, come on.” and strode off in the direction on a grey metal door in a concrete square no bigger than a suburban toolshed.

Elvis scrambled out and ran after the old man. He had no choice. Who knew what horrors hid among the glass, bricks and bags of old asbestos lying around the rooftop?

The door led to a damp stairwell with all the charm (and the scent) of public toilet. Down they went. Five flights felt like five thousand to Elvis’ little legs, but eventually they reached the bottom where Klaus opened a door at the bottom to reveal a world full of light, jangling colours and merciless cheery music. A neon banner overhead proclaimed “The Home of Croydon Shopping”.

Bemused, Elvis stammered. “Where are we? What are we doing here? And what’s ‘Croydon’?”

“Best not to ask,” answered Klaus, gruffly. “We left home to lose ourselves, didn’t we? Well, Croydon seems like as a good place as any to start.”

He took the elf by the hand like an errant child, and guided him past more red and green than if the Spirit of Christmas had thrown up on the place after a particularly wild office party.

Around them, people rushed to and from. Even from his waist-high point of view, Elvis could see the panic in their eyes and feel the wave of “Buy! Buy! Buy!” flowing off them like the stench of a week-old chicken breast forgotten in the fridge. They moved with the air of a hoard of zombies that had been given an electric shock, rushing mindlessly from one shop to another, knocking over small children and shoving a blue-haired old lady with a walking frame into the wall.

An orange-faced girl so short Elvis momentarily took her for a fellow elf shoved her impossibly pneumatic cleavage (barely covered in an X-rated version of Klaus’ fur trimmed red costume) in his face. She squirted a bottle of something that smelled vaguely of snowberries and reindeer pee in his direction with a cheery “Arctic Fox. sir? Just the thing for that special little lady in your life, innit?”

Before Elvis had the chance to politely decline her offer, Klaus had dragged him out a glass door that opened with a swish and a blast of synthetic-scented air into a dull, grey street. The ground was slick with the greasy remains of the morning rain and the world beyond the over-lit shopfronts looked tired and cynical. A bit like Klaus.

The old man looked one way, then the other, looking for something beyond the bustling crowds and street hustlers. After a moment to catch his breath, the elf felt his arm yanked almost out of its socket as Klaus set off with a new determination down the street.

Pushing their way through the door, they were greeted by a shout of 'Here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun' from the jukebox as they stepped into a dispirited bar, festooned in tinsel and fake happiness. It was empty but for a bored-looking man with a comb-over and a pot belly picking his teeth behind the bar, and a bag lady in checked trousers, a Hawaiian shirt and a too-big man’s overcoat, happily counting bottle tops on the table before her.

Klaus led Elvis to a booth in a dark corner and headed for the bar. The elf sat down, utterly bemused, and waited. After a few choice words and flashing a wallet full of plastic, the old man returned with a double whiskey for himself, two packets of cheese and onion crisps, and a bottle of a watery pink drink that smelled vaguely of red jelly babies for Elvis.   

“Sorry,” he said plonking the bottle down before the elf. “I tried to get you a proper drink but the tosser behind the bar said he couldn’t serve you alcohol without ID. I reckoned that if nothing else, this stuff might give you a bit of any energy boost – the ads say it gives you wings, after all.”

Klaus took a long sip from his glass, smacked his lips in appreciation, and took a deep breath. But before he could speak, the smell of sweet sherry and parma violets heralded the presence of someone else.

“Well about time too!” said the old lady with the bottle tops.
“Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you, Klaus Kringle? This is no way to treat your wife, you know!”

The man in red shifted in his seat, and looked up at the bag lady like an apologetic puppy. “Gladys, sweet’eart! I can explain.”

...Part 8 coming soon - stay tuned. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 6 – Leaving home

As he stretched on the tips of his pointed toes to pull the aged cistern's chain, Elvis heard a crash from the parlour. Concerned, he darted from the bathroom to see what had happened. 

Klaus was sitting on the floor sorting through the contents of an upturned drawer from the dresser scattered across the floor. He was scrabbling about amid the old greetings cards, bits of string, tattered catalogues, gum wrappers and blunt pencil stubs, muttering frantically to himself.“Where the devil is it? Here. Here.  I swear I put it in here for safe-keeping.”

He opened an old tobacco tin for the fifth time and up-ended it on the pile on the floor.

“What are you looking for?” asked Elvis.

“Nothing you’d know anything about, elf.”

Elvis sniffed huffily. He knew he was lowly, but he didn’t like being reminded of it.

“Well, if you stop thrashing about like an elk in quicksand for a moment, you might have a better chance of finding it,” he said, emboldened by irritation. “And if you tell me what it is, I might be able to help you look. Elves have very good eyes, you know.”

Klaus looked up and straightened his crooked bifocals. The elf was right.

“There’s a special key for the sleigh that lets me drive it just one reindeer instead of the whole team,” he offered. “I don’t trust most of ’em, but I reckon I’ve got enough on one to make sure he keeps his mouth shut.
“I never needed it – til now. But I always thought I’d put in a safe place. Doesn’t help that it’s so flaming small.”

Elvis put his hands in his tunic pocket and frowned in concentration. His fingers fell on one last jelly baby that Entynne had missed in her fit of generosity to the sugar-fiend reindeer last night. He pulled it out and regarded it absently. A green one. Not his favourite, but it would do. He popped it into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

As he did, he slid his hand into the other pocket. Idly twiddling the lint stuck to the side of his tinderbox, he felt something small, small and hard. It had at circle at one end, a short shaft no more than a quarter of an inch long, and two prongs sticking out to the sides.

His face brightened with realisation and he pulled the object out and held it up in the old man’s direction.

“Anything like this one?” he asked, exercising all his will power to avoid crying ‘Ta Da!’ in a triumphant sing-song.

Despite being in the his pocket for as long as he could remember, the key was as bright and shiny as it must have been the day it was newly cast. Cold sunlight glinted off it and sent a glimmering spotlight dancing across on the parlour wall.

Klaus stared, lost for words. He reached for the miniature key and examined it, turning over and over again in his big, clumsy hands. “Well, well, well,” he chuckled to himself.

Suddenly stern, he looked up at Elvis and demanded: “Where did you get this?”

“No idea.”

To his amazement the man in red seemed to accept his rather unsatisfactory answer.

“Hmmmph. Well, let’s see then.”

And grabbing his fur-trimmed hat and the sack with his prized possessions, he flung open the farmhouse door and strode out into the cold day.

“Are you coming or not, elf?” he shouted over his shoulder. “There’s no more time for toilet breaks.”

Elvis pulled the door closed behind him and sprinted after the old man. He had to jog to keep pace with his long paces across the frosty yard, his breath billowing out like smoke from Wilbur’s long pipe after a particularly long story-telling session.

“Where are we going?” he puffed.

“Where do you think? To the sleigh. But first, we need Rudolph.”

Most of the reindeer were still grazing in the paddock, but the red-nosed outcast was nowhere to be seen. Comet and his horse-faced mate looked up as the old man and the elf passed, before dismissing them and returning to delicately nibbling red, green and blue lichen from the drystone wall in front of them.

Klaus pushed open the door to the deer shed. Deep within, a faint glow could be seen from the corner. Klaus grabbed a set of reins debecked with crimson holly berries (but no noisy bells) and clattered them against the wooden sides of the nearest stall.

“Gerrup, yer lazy arse!” he bellowed.

A whimper came from the corner, followed by the pathetic sight of the sugar-crazed reindeer creeping out, his head hung low and his nose the dull red of a dying match. Clearly, last night’s fix had just been a temporary fix and he was now in the grips of a momentous glucose crash.

“Come on! I haven’t got all day. And I’ve got something to help you get going.” Klaus rattled a handful of candy canes and crystallised fruit.

Rudolph sniffed the air, rallied, and made a clumsy, staggering canter up the length of the shed. He thrust he snout into the old man’s hand and snuffled, licked and chewed greedily.

Klaus threw the reins to Elvis and told him to put them on the animal. Rudolph hardly noticed a thing as the leather straps were passed around his neck and tied across his muzzle. He just stood there, his eyes almost and his nose glowing brighter by the second, in a trance of sugar-induced ecstasy.

Gently taking the reindeer by the antler, Klaus pulled him in the direction of a low brick building at the far end of the paddock. A barely visible track led to its weather-beaten green doors – it was clearly used only on special occasions. The door opened and a heavy wooden sleigh emerged from the gloom. Klaus led Rudolph inside and after a symphony of huffing, the jangling of bells, and a few choice swear words later, they emerged with the animal firmly between the shafts of the sleigh, a nosebag filled with sherbet dib-dabs round his neck, and the old man in the driver’s seat.

“Well, if you’re coming, now’s the time,” he said, patting the cushioned seat next to him. “It’s time to blow this joint, hit the candy stores and find a drinking hole with a philosopher-barkeep we can tell our woes to.”

He reached in his pocket, pulled the golden key out and inserted it in a tiny hole in the dashboard. Rudolph’s stopped his manic crunching and looked up, suddenly alert and his nose burning neon red. A strange whirring vibrated through the air, and a soft cushion of air inserted itself between the sleigh and the snowy ground.

Elvis took one look back at the elf shed – to the only life he’d ever known. Nothing had changed. Everything looked the same. Dooley was busily hammering away at a loose slat on the reindeer shed. Entynne was giggling with a gaggle of her friends as they headed for the workshop. Myffanwy discreetly emptied the contents of Wilbur’s chamber pot onto the vegetable patch.

Not one of them missed him. No-one was looking for him. Probably hadn’t even noticed he had gone.  

He stepped onto the sleigh and gave Klaus a grim nod.

….stay tuned for the next episode, coming soon.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 5 - Elvis has left the building

Elvis looked up as Myffanwy slipped into the shed. The aroma of rich, strong coffee wafted from the canteen in her hand, and he wished he had a place at the Elders’ Table to enjoy the dark brew. He could do with it after the night he’d had. But all he got from the Shed Mother was a reassuring nod to put his mind at ease. The old man was alright, if a little frayed around the edges.

Outside, a clatter of door bolts and buckets told him that Grinwold was already at work, opening the reindeers’ stalls and pouring steaming hot mash into the long trough in the yard. Shame the resident livestock guru had been comatose from too much mead and an excess of Wilbur’s wisdom last night. But then Grinwold had always been a morning elf. After dusk, he was about as much use as a hand towel at the bottom of Lake Cuileann.

Elvis sighed. Things were back to normal. Well, sort of.

Dooley had cut him dead, and taken his oatmeal to the far corner this morning. Entynne was sitting to the side, conscientiously avoiding his gaze and making an exaggerated display of engaging with everyone. Everyone but him.

The Elders, though they must have known what he’d done the night before, not to mention the unknown perils he’d braved, didn’t even acknowledge his existence. He was just another wood elf, a nothing, a nobody. Plenty more where he came from.

He wasn’t going to take it any more. He flung down his wooden porridge bowl, shurgged on his tunic and stormed out of the door with all the huff and histrionics of a fully-fledged Drama Queen.

No-one noticed.

He waited for a moment outside the shed door for someone, anyone, but preferably Dooley or Entynne, to follow him to see what was wrong.

Far off in the chilled landscape, a dog barked and a cat yowled. A snort from the paddock alerted him to the reindeer, now snuffling about on the snowy ground. Not one looked in his direction.

Ungrateful gits, he growled to himself, half-hoping that his words would be caught and carried by the chill breeze to the ears those so studiously ignoring him.

They weren’t.

Not quite sure what to do now his melodramatic gesture had gone unnoticed, he looked over to the farmhouse. He’d never spoken directly to Klaus, he was too junior for that, but now he was driven by disillusionment. He also needed to pee, and he couldn’t bear the thought of losing face by creeping back into the elf shed to answer the call of nature.

It was time to have a word with the old man.

He stomped across the yard and flung the door open without even pausing to knock. The force with which it flew open surprised even him, and he glanced up at the jamb in bewilderment for a moment.

In front of the fireplace, the stooped figure of Klaus looked up from the complex task of hooking his belt through the loops of his thick red jacket. His eyes were bleary, his mouth slack and his white hair stood up in shocks that defied gravity and even the most perverse sense of style.

“You must be Elvis,” he said, before adding with a low laugh. “Just so you know, I’m not in the mood for a song.”

“What?”  The startled elf was blissfully unaware of his musical namesake. 

“Listen old man,” he continued. “We need to talk. Look at the state of you, you’re a disgrace! I risked my neck last night to feed your precious reindeer. It was a miracle I made it back to the elf shed in one piece. Who knows what’s lurking out there in the dark?
“And what thanks do I get for it? Nothing. Not even a cup of stinking coffee.”

Klaus walked to the kitchen stove.

“If it’s coffee you want, here.” He poured a cup from the pot and banged it down on the table in front of the enraged elf.

Elvis sniffed the brew, then picked up the cup and took a sip. It was good. It was really good. Magical even. He felt his fury and disappointment melt, ever so slightly, at the very edges of his emotion. He took another sip, but kept his angry glare focused on the man in red.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” confessed Klaus. “You’re right. I am a bloody disgrace. Don’t deserve the suit or any of the stuff that comes with it. But really, who can blame me? Have you seen the state of the world we’re supposed to be bringing Christmas cheer to?”

Elvis shook his head. He was an elf. He knew nothing of the world beyond the homestead, the workshop and a few rumours he’d heard from the Elders who joined Klaus on his annual excursion.

“Come, let me show you.” The old man motioned the elf over to his desk, piled high with letters, newspapers and something the size of a book but with a blank screen where the cover and pages should have been.

Klaus took the book thing and with a click of a button with his bitten thumbnail, its screen lit up with an array of images. He scrolled and clicked, showing Elvis a world beyond anything the elf had ever dreamed of. Not even in his worst nightmares.

A child’s doll, not unlike the ones Entynne and the others on the workshop production line turned out, lay abandoned amid rubble on a street. The scene behind was coated in dust and destruction. In the distance, a boy lay prone on the wrecked pavement.

Klaus clicked again, and the sight of group of dark-skinned girls huddled in a dim hut appeared. All wore headscarves, some were visibly crying. One stared, empty-eyed and robbed of her childhood, out of the image. Her gaze stayed with Elvis even after the picture changed.

A pinch-faced, balding man, probably in his 80s, sat alone and lonely, in a room festooned with meagre Christmas decorations. A plate of food sat before him, and he was trying to pull a Christmas cracker with himself. There was no-one else to share it with.

A bloated, red-cheeked man in a wig that looked like it was made from a cheap nylon carpet gesticulated and spouted hatred, greed and belligerence to an enrapt crowd below.

Tall chimneys thrust acrid smoke into the sky, covering the stars and moon with a thick cloud of filth.

At a row of dumpsters, a grey-haired lady wearing mismatched gloves and a woollen hat, sorted through the rubbish for food.

A polar bear perched in indecision at the edge of a rapidly diminishing ice floe, before taking the plunge into the water to swim for land.

In a city shop doorway, a hollow-eyed youth peered out from a bundle of cardboard and rags at the busy shoppers dashing to and fro in their frantic bid to buy more, more, more….

The elf looked up at Klaus, his eyes brimming with tears and bemusement. “I-I-I d-don’t understand,” he stuttered.

“You and me both,” answered the man in red. “Maybe now you understand why I wonder if it’s worth carrying on. Perhaps it would be better if we just didn’t bother any more.”

He stopped, stared into space for more moments than were comfortable for Elvis.

“That’s it,” he said, abruptly breaking the silence. “I’ve had enough. No more. I’m off.”

He rose and started gathering some things in a large sacks – coffee, the all-important coffee pot, a toothbrush, spare socks and underwear, a bottle of whiskey, a carton of cigarettes.

Elvis watched, pale and shell-shocked by the morning’s revelations, before finding his voice.

“Please, take me with you. But first, can I use your toilet?”

What next? Watch this space.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Cruel Yule: Part 4 - The morning after

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.