Christmas Present – a short story by Marion Pitman
Doris heard the slight plip of the cat flap, followed by the scrutch scrutch of claws at work in the doormat. There was a pause, then the plink of the name tag on a collar against the rim of the food bowl. After a while she heard the claws in the carpet behind the sofa, a pause, and the air was enriched by the fishy aroma of a well-timed feline fart.
Doris smiled and shook her head. She must start tidying the house – it would be Christmas Eve tomorrow, and Norman and Christine would be round early.
Doris wondered where she had gone wrong with Norman. He wasn’t a bad son; but one of the things that were immutable in Doris’s universe was that you didn’t leave your old mother all on her own at Christmas. They would come round, exchange presents, have a drink and a mince pie, and then move on. Perhaps it was her fault to some extent…when the children had come to Norman’s for Christmas, Doris had joined them – it wasn’t far; but then Catherine had married, and the family centre of gravity had moved with her to Nottingham; that meant at least two nights away, and Doris had demurred at leaving Charlie. The next year Doris had hinted heavily that they should all come to her, but they had all said, oh no, it would be too much work for her, and Norman had pointed out that the bungalow wasn’t big enough for the Nottingham contingent to stay. Doris was sure they’d have managed somehow; but after all Catherine had the new house, and then next year she had the baby… Still, thought Doris, they didn’t have to stop asking her, even if they thought she’d say no. She sighed. She didn’t, in all honesty, really mind being on her own, but it was the principle of the thing…
The bungalow was spotless by the time Norman and Christine arrived (Doris heard the outbound flup of the cat flap as the car drew up). They brought in two big bags of brightly wrapped parcels, ceremonially exchanged them for one biggish bag from Doris, and then sat down, at her insistence, while she made tea and coffee. She knew Norman would have preferred whisky, but Christine insisted he share the driving. Doris liked Christine, they understood one another. How she put up with Norman all these years…
There was a plate full of home made mince pies, and some biscuits shaped like Christmas trees that Doris had bought at the church bazaar.
Doris said, “You shouldn’t have got me all those presents, it’s very sweet of you, but it’s very naughty, spending money on an old woman like me.” This was meant to provoke a protest that they couldn’t do enough for her, that Christmas presents in abundance were the least they could offer, but Norman just said,
“They’re not all from us of course; Catherine gave us theirs when we were up there three weeks ago, and Stuart came down from Leeds on Tuesday, so there’s his as well. And a couple from Mrs. Abernethy next door.”
“That’s nice of her.”
“I think she’s starting to fail, her memory’s going.”
Christine put in hastily, “She’s always had a soft spot for you, Doris. Always asks after you when I see her.”
“I must give her a ring.”
Norman said, “She asked after Charlie the other day. You know, Mother, Christine wouldn’t let me get the present I wanted for you, but I do wish you’d think about it.”
“Norman! I wish you’d stop. When Doris is ready for a kitten, she’ll say so.”
“Oh!” This had come up before, but Doris wasn’t expecting it now. “Yes,” she said, “yes, I’m not sure about a kitten.”
“Look, mother, I know you always said they wouldn’t get on, but – “
“Well, you know, I think a kitten might be a bit too much work. I’m not as spry as I was.”
“Perhaps an older cat, then? or a budgie, or something? You need company.”
“Not a budgie – all right, Norman, I’ll think about it. Really I will.”
Norman was beginning to look stubborn, as he did when he was sure he knew what was good for you, and Christine hurried to turn the conversation, via a mince pie, towards cooking, for which Doris was thankful. She didn’t want to have to talk about kittens, or budgies. Obviously, Norman couldn’t understand, but a more sensitive person would pick up that she didn’t want to talk about it, and leave it at that. Oh well. He did take after his father, but without her late husband’s saving grace of wit…
They each had one mince pie and one biscuit, gently but firmly refused a second drink, and said, Well, well, they’d better get on. She saw them off, poured herself another cup of tea, and looked at the bag of presents. There was a card from Mrs Abernethy, and two small parcels. She opened the card, put it on the mantelpiece, and examined the parcels – one was addressed to her, and was obviously talc; the other was addressed to Charlie, and was probably a catnip mouse…she hadn’t seen Mrs Abernethy for months. She must ring her. Dear dear. She felt quite tired; Norman often had that effect on her. She had another mince pie. They really were rather good.
Yes. A kitten or a budgie. Goodness knows. It might be perfectly all right, but… On the one hand, the kitten or the budgie might get the fright of its life; on the other, they might drive Charlie away, and she wasn’t quite ready for that yet. But there was no way to explain to Norman. She wasn’t ready to be put in a home either.
The cat flap plipped, and she heard the claws in the mat; she reached for another mince pie and settled back on the sofa. In a minute or two she heard a soft landing on the sofa, and felt, but did not see, Charlie settling down on her lap. She wrinkled her nose. Who would have guessed, she thought, that a ghost could still fart.
Story collection, Music in the Bone, is now available from Alchemy Press.
Peace on Earth – a short story by Vaughan Stanger
On Christmas Day 2019, billions of Hildreth fell like snowflakes from their orbiting bauble-ships. Summoned from their homes, most of Earth’s population floated up into the sky without saying farewell. Abandoned by his wife and daughters, Bill Dennison contemplated a life as vacant as the chairs surrounding his dining table.
One year on and Christmas Day delivered sporadic gunfire, also a knock at Bill’s door. Lonely enough to accept the risk, he tugged back the bolts. Three Hildreth stood on the doorstep: the tallest chin-high to him, its companions identically shorter. Golden skin notwithstanding, the trio resembled his family closely enough to make him shudder. “Merry Christmas!” echoed in his skull as he slammed the door. He dismissed subsequent visitations from the sanctuary of his armchair.
On the fifth anniversary of his family’s departure, Bill noted the lack of gunfire and his depleted stock of food. The knock came. He heaved a sigh and opened the door.
“Merry Christmas,” he said.
The twins’ smiles set off fireworks in his head.
“Please come in.”
Bill began spooning beans onto biscuits.
The twins spoke in unison. “We’ve something for you, Daddy!”
Hearing another knock, Bill shuffled to the door with tears prickling his eyes. He knew what to expect. Finally, it was his turn.
Having trained as an astronomer and subsequently managed an industrial research group, Vaughan Stanger now writes SF and fantasy fiction full-time. His short stories have appeared in Interzone, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Postscripts, and Nature Futures, among others, and have been collected in Moondust Memories, Sons of the Earth & Other Stories, and The Last Moonshot & Other Stories. Follow his writing adventures at http://www.vaughanstanger.com or @VaughanStanger.
A Christmas Message – by Molly Brown
Molly Brown is a widely-published fiction author who started teaching herself video editing about ten years ago. In that time she has made nearly one hundred zero-budget short films and/or animations, with her work included in more than 400 screenings, including Official Selections in film festivals in the U.K., Germany, Austria, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Serbia, Italy, and France, and winning awards including the Golden Trellick for Best Comedy at the 2018 Portobello Film Festival.
Confessions of a Pest Controller by David Turnbull
Fairies are no damn good. Vermin. An infestation. Mean, spiteful little creatures. The root cause of so many mishaps and misfortunes.
I am driven by the urge to eradicate them completely. I hunt them in woodland glades. Wrap their tiny corpses in clingfilm and store them in the freezer. At Christmas I hang them by the neck from the boughs of my tree on tiny tinsel nooses. Then I clap my hands and yell “I believe in fairies!”
What delicious joy it is to see them resurrect and jig and twitch and die all over again.