Time Chapter 5

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The concluding part of the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Val Fish.


Chapter 5

I wake early, my stomach churning even more than usual. I wish he’d just hurry up…

I hear the key in the lock. I take a deep breath and get into position, my right fist wrapped tightly round the nail. He sees me with my hands clutched to my stomach, the chains are back on my wrists and I’m praying he can’t see they are loose and untied. I groan loudly.

He puts the tray down and stares at me. ‘Is this some sort of trick? You really don’t think I’m that stupid, do you?’

Those are the first words he’s said to me in all this time. I make my next move; I collapse to the floor.

‘Help me, please!

As he kneels, I release the chains, reach out and swiftly dig the rusty nail into his right eye. He loses his balance and falls. For good measure I follow it by throwing a cup of hot tea in his face.

As he screams in agony, I bolt for the door.

I can’t believe I’m outside! The daylight blinds me for a moment. I realise he won’t be far behind me. I run, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, just knowing I’m running for my life. The good news is I’m just a few feet from a road, though right now it’s deserted. ‘Please God, please let a car come by…’

My prayers are answered, I shall be forever grateful to the lovely lady that stops for me and drives me to the police station. Mind you, she doesn’t have a lot of choice other than to run me over, as I stand in the middle of the road frantically waving my arms, screaming ‘Stop, stop!’

At the police station it is hard to get the words out. I think I am in shock. Somehow I manage to convey what has happened to me.

I tell the police about the other girl. They have no cases that tie up with my situation – no one, that is. The little information I can give at least means they can investigate, check the missing persons register for any possible link.

It is hard to think she may no longer be alive; it seems I am the lucky one…

Apparently, I’d been taken quite a distance from home, so it is a while before my parents arrive for an extremely emotional reunion.

I am taken to hospital to be checked out. Apart from having lost a lot of weight and being dehydrated, I am deemed okay and allowed to go home.

Home, to my own bed.

There were times I thought it would never happen.

Time Chapter 4

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Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Wendy Fletcher.


Chapter 4

Every day the leather cuffs seem to get a little looser. Of course, it is suddenly clear – even to my fuddled brain. Another day or two of the meagre rations and I will be able to slip free. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the man that this is a possibility. Maybe if I eat even less, I could hurry the process. After all, they do say you could live without food for a few days as long as you have fluid.

As darkness falls outside, I start to implement my plan. He brings more sandwiches – cheese again – and puts them close to me. I almost weaken when I smelled pickle: my favourite. But now is no time for indulging my whims. Plenty of time for that once I am out of this place. I manage to push the sandwiches off the plate and nearer to the corner where shadows hide them from his view when he returns. Just to be sure, I lay out flat on the hard floor and scoop a heap of the dust over the top of them. The soil is gritty, reminding me of sand. I wonder if I might be somewhere on the coast.

Next day I manage to ignore the griping pains in my stomach and stretch across to hide the sandwiches in the corner.

Although I am feeling weaker by the hour, my mind is somehow clearing. Of course, the food has been drugged. Now it is getting out of my system. If I don’t eat, I can work out what to do – if I don’t starve first.

I reach for the spot where the girl had been and stretch my tied hands out to touch the wall. What is it made of?

The surface is cold and very rough.

I move my hands up and there is a crack running across; down, and there is another crack. I edge my way along, almost sure now what I will find. Similar cracks going upwards at regular intervals tell me it is built of blocks.

I push myself into the corner and know I am right. It isn’t a right-angled corner; walls are offset at an angle that means the structure is the shape of a fifty pence piece.

I don’t know where I am, but I know what the building is.

As a child I had played in these war-time pillboxes. They were strategically placed all over East Anglia to defend us from attack. So, whoever my assailant is, he has local knowledge as they are abandoned now and mostly overgrown.

I know there is no chance of slipping out of a window. They were shaped to deflect attack and the inner edges are little more than slits. No chance of breaking down a wall; these monuments are solid concrete. My only hope is the door – perhaps when another tray of food is brought to me.     

After a lot of struggling I am finally able to free myself from the chains. I have an idea how I can use the nail; my biggest problem will be how to keep my hands out of his sight until I make my move. It could all go horribly wrong, and then what? But I have to try. I could be free tomorrow!

It is such a relief to have the chains off, but still I have a restless night – so many thoughts going around in my head.

Time Chapter 3

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Continuing the Wordsmiths Round Robin story written collaboratively by Jane Pobgee, Val Chapman, Val Fish and Wendy Fletcher. This chapter was written by Jane Pobgee.


Chapter 3

I shuffle once again over to where the girl had been. In the half-light I was sure I had seen something. I was right, low down against the wall I can just see a small nail. It has been banged into the brickwork, barely visible. I’m not sure how this could be useful, but it is something.

Crouching low I manage to get my fingers to the nail; it feels tight in its hole. I knew I wouldn’t have the strength in my fingers alone to pull it out; I need something to help prise it out. I hear the man returning with the bucket so scurry over to my ‘place’ again.

Once he has left I go back to the nail. It is dark now; I have to feel for it.

I try putting a link of my chain over it, tugging at it; it immediately slips off. I triy again, this time keeping my finger over the nail to stop the link coming off. I don’t know how long I crouch here, pulling and tugging this way and that for what seems like hours until, eventually, the nail loosens.

I shuffle back, sit, and hid the nail in my bra. I try to get some sleep. It doesn’t come easy; I am too buzzed to settle. This could be my chance, a way out of this prison.

Eventually my eyelids drooped and I slept. Again I don’t know what time it is when I awake, the man comes, bringing another tray of food, not the usual slop. This time it is a sandwich: a cheese sandwich. I know I need to eat more even if it is drugged as I am too weak to think clearly. I eat every crumb, and it tastes so good. He replaces my water bottle, allows me to use the bucket and leaves.

I drink most of the water straight away; I figured that would help clear my head. Thankfully, it tastes clean and cold. I don’t think it is drugged but then what would drugged water taste like? I have no idea.

For a long time I sit, not doing or even thinking anything. Later the man comes back with another tray containing another cheese sandwich, slightly stale, and some more water. Again, I eat every crumb. Not quite as appetising as the first but still better than the slop they have been giving me.

Once he leaves, I know I have to have a plan. I need to think how to get out of here. He isn’t going to return for a while; I dig out the nail. It isn’t very long, but I wonder if I could somehow use it to free myself of the chains. I spend a long time looking at the leather cuffs that tie my hands, inspecting every bit of them, seeing how they connect to the chains.

An idea begins to form.

Time Chapter 2

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By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Here is Chapter 2 in the writing group’s excellent Round Robin story, Time. This Chapter was written by Val Chapman.

Chapter 2    –    Val Chapman

There used to be two of us here.

I can remember a girl. She was here before me and through my drug fuelled haze, I tried to talk to her, find out who she was, who had imprisoned us here, and why?

I had so many unanswered questions.

I never had a reply, she had just sat on the floor, knees pulled up to her chin and when she did lift her head I could see her tear stained face. Dirty, and with a look that once I imagine was defiance, but now was just defeat.

I could almost smell it on her.

Of course I had no idea how long she had been here, wherever ‘here’ was.

Jesus Christ, I had no idea how long I had been here, but I would make damned sure it won’t be for much longer.

I had discovered something about myself being here. 

Fear makes me bloody determined and angry.

I woke up one morning? afternoon? and I was on my own.

The girl had gone.

I had heard nothing and had no idea when, how, or why she had been taken away.

More fear gripped me and I shivered, not just with the cold, as my stomach twisted and churned.  

I would be next.

I forced the fog in my head to clear. My life depended on it.

Moving as far as my chains would allow me, I shuffled across towards the spot where the girl had been.

Maybe, hope upon hope, she had left a clue or something which could help me to get out of here.

His footsteps sound on the stone floor on the other side of the door and I quickly scuttle back to ‘my’ place.

The bastard unlocks the door and comes in with another tray. The last thing I want to do is eat it, but I have to keep my strength up if I’m going to get out of here.

And I will. 

I try to smile at him.

Maybe I can fool him into letting his guard down if he thinks I am friendly.

I say “try”, but my mouth is so dry my lip sticks to my teeth.

Still, he seems to accept it, and slides the tray in my direction. 

He stands, arms folded, and looks at me.

He says nothing, just watches me for an uncomfortable few minutes, then picks up the disgusting bucket and leaves.

Who is he?

I try not to think about what he wants with me. If it is just for a ransom then I hope it gets paid soon. 

There is still a small amount of watery light coming through the window and I take my chance to look around for something, anything I could use to get the hell out.

I had almost given up when I spotted something.


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Tessa has written this moving poem, we are posting it to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day – January 27th 2021

The train no longer had those restful seats of velvet cushions

No proper seats at all in fact, just wood and iron partitions.

No windows with exotic views of lands we might discover,

Boarded up with painted planks. He cried “I want my mama.”

The train embarked upon its course; it left goodwill behind.

We struggled, standing packed in tight, each child in fearful mind.

Where was the loving parent now to hold the children close?

The rocking and the dark, spoke of the end we feared the most.

He held so tightly to my hands, the feeling was all gone.

His tears had wetted all my clothes; his eyes no longer shone.

Now disappeared was that sweet child: gone was that young boy.

Would we ever be the same, and where would we find joy?

The journey took its toll on all, us children of the night.

No warm and cuddly bed for us, no sleeping sound till light.

No room to lie on this hard floor, no space to rest at all

So close was each to everyone, no chance for us to fall.

Our legs were tired, our mouths were dry, but still we travelled on

Till light streaked through the boarded planks; the stars and moon were gone.

Daylight passed to night again and still we travelled forth.

Then suddenly we staggered as the engine changed its course.

The screech of brakes, the hiss of steam, the crash of iron rails,

We stopped at last. Our journeys end.  Each child a breath exhaled.

Was this the place where all our fears would end with tears of joy?

Through open doors the stench of death pushed dread into this boy.

The isolated vista, the smoke from chimneys tall,

Gathered in the morning light as fog about us all.

Hundreds of us stood in lines, fearful and afraid,

Clutching our belongings like soldiers on parade.

We walked to buildings long and black, deep in winters snow.

Leaving cases by the door we entered bowing low,

The tiny door gave no insight to what lay far beyond.

But all we craved was bed and rest and all our fears be gone.

Tessa Thomson


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Our writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths has been working collaboratively, in teams during the lock down, to produce Round Robin stories. These pieces are group efforts with each team member writing an individual chapter. This is the first chapter of Time, we will post the other chapters during the next few days and weeks. Enjoy!


By Val Fish, Val Chapman, Jane Pobgee, and Wendy Fletcher

Chapter 1 Val F

Time means nothing to me, not the hours, the days, the weeks; I cannot tell you how long I have been here, I cannot tell you where I am, except in hell…

I only know that I wake up every morning, sometimes I wish that I would just go to sleep and never wake again, to free myself from this nightmare.

I have no wall to scratch out the days, and even if I did my hands are tied.

I could not even tell you the time of year, I’m guessing late spring, as, from the little light I do get from the tiny window  (it’s too high for me to see out) it does seem to stay light longer each day.  Nevertheless, it’s pretty cold down here; I only get a smidgeon of sun each day. I suppose I could work out which direction I’m facing if I thought about it, but what good would that do me? 

I try to remember how I got here, in this dungeon; I guess I was drugged. I think he’s possibly putting something in my food, I am constantly feeling dozy and lightheaded, although that could just be the lack of food, or drink.  He leaves me water, but I sip as little as possible, for fear of needing the toilet.

He comes in three times a day with my food, unappetising muck; my stomach is crying out for food, but still I can usually only manage a few mouthfuls before I start to feel nauseous.

At least my hands are free for a while.  Then the ultimate humiliation, he allows me to relieve myself in a bucket in the corner. 

When he’s gone, and the door bangs shut, and I hear a key turning in the lock, back in my chains, only then will I  cry.

The world out there must be looking for me, I must have hope.

Will I ever get out of here, or am I destined to die in this shithole? 


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We have a longer piece to start the new year, Happy New Year everyone. This piece written by Jane Pobgee a member of our U3A writing group is inspired by our current situation, we hope you enjoy it.


Mary sat down quietly on the sofa, her eyes were drawn to the corner of the room that seemed to be filled with the inert body of her husband Graham.  She slowly controlled her breathing until her heart beat slowed to its usual rate. She glanced around noticing the dust on the sideboard, on the floor was the heavy brass menorah that she had hit Graham with. She picked it up and automatically began to rub it with the hem of her pinny. She had always loved this menorah, it had been a present to herself on her fiftieth birthday. He had said it was stupid, they weren’t even Jewish, but that didn’t matter to her. She loved that it had holders for seven candles and each holder was shaped and styled with ivy leaves winding around them.

She checked it over carefully and was grateful to see it had not sustained any damage. She realised that this was a bit of luck as she would have hated to part with it. It hadn’t even split his skin, so there was no blood or gore around. She could almost imagine he was just asleep, but of course he wasn’t. She had managed to catch him on the temple, it was a huge blow with all her pent up frustration and anger behind it. She was certain it had fractured his skull as she seemed to remember hearing a loud crack as menorah met head. She got off the sofa and crossed over to Graham, she tentatively put out her hand and with two fingers felt for his pulse again. There was no pulse. So it was true she had killed him.

She went into the kitchen and put the kettle on, nothing was ever so bad that it couldn’t be made better with a cup of tea. She laid out her china cup and saucer on the little blue tray and decided to open the chocolate biscuits she had been saving. She put three on a small plate next to the teacup and when the kettle boiled poured some hot water into the pot to warm it then poured the rest over the loose tea leaves she had spooned into the pot. Carrying the tray through to the lounge she set it down on the coffee table and placing the tea strainer on her cup she slowly poured herself a cup of tea.  She sat back in her armchair slowly sipping her tea and eating the biscuits, as she did so she realised she was now calm and collected and ready to think things through on how she would go on from here.

Graham had not been seen by anyone since lockdown began nine weeks ago, he was too worried about catching the virus to go out. She was the one who was at risk, fetching the shopping not forgetting his beer. No one really bothered asking about him either. When she saw neighbours they asked after her health but never his. She knew they did not like Graham, he had always been so rude and overbearing to everyone that they avoided him. She also knew that they felt sorry for her.  The thing was, she couldn’t leave him where he was. If anyone looked through the window they would be able to see him, besides he would eventually begin to smell.

With these thoughts running through her mind she went to the window and closed the blinds. She often closed them in the afternoon as the sun would shine on the television and she could not see her programmes. So no one would think that odd.  The next problem is what to do with his body. The first thing was to put something underneath him to make sure he didn’t stain the carpet. Although there was no blood she didn’t know how long it took for a body to start leaking fluids and breaking down. She went straight out to the shed and brought in the tarpaulin they used to collect the hedge trimmings in.  It took a great deal of huffing and puffing but eventually she managed to roll Graham on to the tarpaulin. Thank goodness he wasn’t a large man. Once that was done she could take her time thinking about how to dispose of his body.

The rest of the evening passed quietly, she watched a little television, did a little knitting and decided to have an early night. She tidied the lounge turned off the lights and without thinking said goodnight to Graham as she went up to bed. She hoped she would fall asleep quickly and she did.

She woke early the next morning with a germ of an idea at the corner of her mind. She lay quietly allowing the idea to develop. Graham’s pension was paid into their joint account every month. Nobody saw him collecting it so no one would know that he wasn’t spending it. She knew his passwords to all his accounts on the computer as he wrote them all down in his blue book, the one he locked in his desk drawer. He didn’t know that she knew where the key was kept and would often open it just because she could when he was out in the garden or upstairs in the bath. It was her little acts of defiance that had kept her sane.

She got up and prepared to go shopping as usual, she made out her list and added beer to it. She didn’t drink herself, but everything had to look normal. She had to make sure that no one would guess that Graham was no more.  She dressed carefully putting on her gloves and home-made mask just to be on the safe side and walked to the shops. She waved to Gloria next door who was cleaning her windows and asked if she wanted anything from the shops as she was going anyway. Gloria said no her children were fetching her shopping later that day. Gloria always mentioned her children, Mary felt it made Gloria feel superior to her as Mary had never had children. There had been a pregnancy but it had ended too soon and had never happened again. Another of the disappointments that Graham would remind her of constantly.

At the check out she had a short conversation with Joan the lady on the checkout. She usually went to her till as she didn’t rush your purchases through and gave you time to pack things in the bags for life. As she was placing the beer in the bag she commented that it wouldn’t do to forget that or she would be in the doghouse. They laughed together, she paid by contactless card something new she had learnt to do since the lockdown, and then she was on her way home. She was happy with the way that went, everything as normal. As she arrived home and opened her door she called out “Graham I’m home” for the benefit of anyone who might see or hear her. Closing the door she felt quite proud that she had carried out her first mission in convincing the world that nothing had changed.

After putting the shopping away and remembering to pour the beer down the sink, she sat at the kitchen table with her shopping list notepad. She wrote down things to do at the top of the paper.

Bury Graham – Where? How? When?

Trim the vine on the back wall.

Re-pot the azaelia

Cut the grass

sew the button back on her blue blouse.

Reading back her list, she began to seriously think about how and where to bury Graham.  After a while she began to think she could bury him down in the back part of their cellar.  The very back part just had a compacted dirt floor, it was cool there too. She used it to store her apples and potatoes that she grew, along with a variety of vegetables she pickled.

Of course she had to think how to keep the smell of his decomposing body  away from the rest of the house. Cement seemed like the answer. She knew you could buy bags of cement, all you had to do was add water and mix it. If she also built a cement flower bed in the garden, that would explain why she needed cement. She would have to get it delivered as she could never carry that home. Once she felt she had a plan, she went straight to the phone and ordered a load of cement from the garden centre, she also ordered twelve stepping stones they had advertised in the local magazine. They would make a nice little path between the flower beds and again help explain the need for a lot of cement.  They were due to be delivered in three days. Perfect.

Knowing she would need things sorted ready for the cement delivery she began to haul the tarpaulin with Graham on it towards the cellar door. She was careful to move as many things out of the way as possible so nothing would get knocked over. It took her a long time just to reach the cellar steps. She decided to leave him there for a while and have a rest. 

After a lovely reviving cup of tea and a few biscuits, she had to think how to get him down the steps. She hoped that if she tied him into the tarpaulin she could slide it slowly downwards. That way she hoped not to damage his body any more and most importantly not leave any sign of what she had done behind.

She tied him in with garden twine, using the lovely little cast iron twine holder and the scissors that went with it. Another thing he thought was a waste of money, she hoped he knew just how useful it had become. Sliding him down was harder than she thought as he was now a dead weight, she laughed a little to herself at this thought. She hung on for dear life and eventually she  managed to get him down the stairs and dragged him to the back of the apple store.  She decided that that was enough for one day and went back upstairs and opened the living room blinds. She saw Gloria’s son Christopher going in Gloria’s gateway, loaded with shopping bags. She waved to him and he nodded his head unable to wave back as he had his hands full.

She was feeling quite hungry by now and decided to treat herself to a pizza, she fetched it from the freezer and put it in the oven. Graham didn’t like pizza, he was a meat and two veg man. He had to have a cooked lunch every day or there was trouble. Mary almost felt as if she was cocking a snoot at him by having pizza.  She felt deliciously free and a little naughty but enjoyed every mouthful of her lunch.  After lunch she went out in the garden, sun hat on and secateurs in hand.  Much later she came back into the kitchen and crossed off most of the items on her to do list. She spent the rest of the day eating and quietly watching television and had an early night.

The next day she had so much to do. She needed to get digging in the apple store, then she needed to plan how to make her cement flower bed, but the digging came first. Straight after breakfast she made her way down to the cellar and with shovel in hand went straight back to the apple store.    She had to move a lot of boxes and bits and pieces that were stored down there, but finally she was ready to start digging. She knew it would be difficult, but she was a very determined person and would keep at it until she succeeded in her task. At first she hardly made a dent, but persevering she eventually dug a decent sized and shaped hole.   Not deep enough yet, but it would be. She went upstairs and collected the three step stool from the shed and took it down to the cellar. She wasn’t very tall and as the hole got deeper she would need that to get out of it.

The next day, the hole was deep and wide enough to put a body in. However she needed to line it with cement first.  She had been watching You Tube videos on how to mix cement and make planters. It would take time but was not overly difficult. The hard part would be waiting for the cement to dry out and moving the set pieces where she needed them. The videos showed her how to use earth or sand to shape the pieces she needed and how later to join them together with more cement until she had the box shape she required. Having done all she could until the cement arrived she went upstairs and out into the garden to do the same thing there for a new cement flower bed. This one would be a little more ornamental as she wanted it to look attractive. She loved her garden and wouldn’t want anything ugly in it.

Later, thinking over her plan she realised that she didn’t need to do a cement box for Graham. She could just partially fill the hole with cement and let it dry then place Graham still in the tarpaulin on top of the cement and pour more cement over him until he was totally covered. That would certainly make things easier for her and she could wait until everything was dry before she replaced as much of the dirt as possible and tamped it down as hard as she could. Then she could drag back all the boxes and bits and pieces she had moved so the floor was covered at the back and no one would ever know there was a grave there. This seemed a much more sensible idea. She would still do a cement box for the garden and any left over soil from the cellar could go in the new planter. So everything was beginning to take shape, now all she had to do was wait for the delivery tomorrow.

The next day the delivery van arrived just after ten as they had said they would. Mary was very careful to social distance and the nice young driver brought the cement bags and slabs round to the back of the house for her. After the driver had left Mary realised that she would have trouble lifting even one bag as they were larger than she had thought. Still she thought she might be able to cut a bag in half with her spade and load half a bag into the wheelbarrow.  However, this proved almost impossible. So Mary sat in the garden and thought how she could get round this situation. The answer came to her, her old shopping trolley. Graham had bought her a new one just last Christmas but she had never thrown out her old one. It was in the shed and it would be perfect.

She dug her old trolley out of the shed and set to work. She decided to mix the cement downstairs in the cellar. The trolley easily held half a bag of cement, it could have held more but Mary knew it would be too heavy if she put too much in it at once.  The trolley was easy to manoeuvrer down the cellar steps. Much easier than getting the wheelbarrow down there even when it was empty. She read the instructions and added the exact amount of water to the cement and mixed it really well. That done she wheeled the barrow to the hole and tipped the cement in. 

She did this over and over until she had a good foot and a half cement layer in the bottom of the hole.  She knew when buildings were being constructed out of cement, iron posts or wires were used to help it all hold together. So with that in mind she fetched some old wire coat hangers and placed them around the edges of the cement so half of the coat hanger was in the cement and half sticking out in the air. Once that was done she decided that that was more than enough for one day and she would leave it to dry out for a couple of days.

Over the next few days she kept herself busy by making up parts of her

cement planter for the garden. It took time but she had plenty of that now she wasn’t at Graham’s beck and call. She had wondered if she would miss him, but was pleased and relieved to find she didn’t.  While she was busy on the planter the cement in the cellar dried out and soon she was ready to place Graham in his last resting place.  She managed to manoeuvre him into the hole on top of the all ready set cement and then set about making up a lot more to cover over him and fill the hole to quite a high level.

It took almost the rest of the cement to cover him well and still have a decent depth over him. By the time she was finished she was exhausted and decided to have something to eat and then an early night.

The next morning she checked to see how things were setting. The cement had seemed to have formed a rigid surface but she knew it would be many days before it would have hardened enough to start putting the earth back over it. She returned to the garden and finished her planter. She decided to place it sticking out from the large border across the grass. She thought it would break up the large grassy area that Graham insisted was cut just so in stripes. Something that Mary hated. She preferred smaller more natural areas surrounded by flowers and shrubs. She decided that when it was planted up it would make a nice wind break too, so she placed one of her low wooden garden chairs just in front of it. It would be a very pleasant place to sit and have her morning cuppa.

Over time the cement hardened and Mary filled in the hole with the soil she had removed to bury Graham. She tamped it down as hard as she could and even left it a little higher than the surrounding floor as she knew over time it would sink a little more as the soil compacted properly. She had seen this often when she was planting in the garden so knew what to expect. She took the rest of the soil in the shopping trolley up stairs and out to the garden to help fill the planter.

That evening she pored over her gardening books trying to decide what to plant in it. She wanted something that would grow to a reasonable height and flowers that she could plant in front that would hang down over the side of the planter. She spent many happy hours sketching how she thought it would look and deciding what to plant and where.  In no time at all it was her shopping day again. So she wrote out her list carefully adding the beer Graham would have insisted on and headed off to the shops again. 

She was amazed at how easy it was to live a lie, but then, hadn’t she been doing that all her married life. To the outside world she was a happily married woman, so when anyone spoke to her that was the lie she continued to tell them in word and deed.

Gloria called to her when she was heading back up the path to her house asking if Graham was alright as she hadn’t heard him recently. Mary said he was fine but had been laid up with an upset stomach. That conversation made Mary think about the future. While the lockdown carried on it was easy but what about after. How was she going to convince people that everything was normal if he didn’t go down the pub or visit his sister on her birthday. Something he always did before.

In the quiet of the evenings Mary hatched a plan. As soon as they announced that lockdown was eased or over she would put it into action. She would say that Graham was going to visit an old school friend in the next town but one. He was planning to stay over night and then drive on to his sister’s the next day. She would pack him an overnight bag with a couple of changes of clothes in case he wanted to stay a few days at his sister’s. She could arrange a hotel room for the first night by emailing and booking a room when needed. No one would know it wasn’t Graham emailing.

She decided that she would have to drive his car there and park it in the car park of the hotel. Obviously she would have to dress up like Graham and try to look as much like him as possible even down to the slight limp he had from a touch of polio as a child.  She knew they were almost the same height and their hair colour was the same grey. It would just be a matter of wearing his clothes with some padding, limping and hope that no one who knew him would be looking closely at ‘him’.

The more she thought about it, the more it became a possibility. She would have to think of a way of getting back without attracting attention. She decided that she would wear some clothes of hers that she didn’t want any more under his clothes but wear her own shoes. When the time came, she would drive to the hotel. Leave the car and overnight bag in the boot in the car park. She would then walk as Graham into the hotel straight into their disabled toilet.  Take off Graham’s clothes and place them in a foldable tote bag she would have with her. Disguise herself as best she could with a bobble hat, glasses, corona virus mask and walk out and into the town and get a taxi to the next town. Once there, she would go to the toilet in any shop that was open and change her clothes again and her hat. Then she would get another taxi to take her to her home town. From there she could walk back home.

If all went well, she could cut up the clothes she wore and burn them in the garden incinerator. She knew that most large towns had CCTV but local market towns didn’t, and the smaller taxi firms didn’t have camera’s in their taxi’s like the one’s in London did. The more she thought about it the more she thought she could pull it off. If she got that far, it would then be easy to phone up his sister after a few days and ask to speak to him. She obviously would say he wasn’t there and then Mary could be shocked and surprised. Do what a normal wife would do, phone up the hotel to see if he had left and find he hadn’t taken up his booking.  Shock, surprise, worry. Call the police and ask them what she should do? Yes this was a good plan. Now all she had to do was wait for the lockdown to be over.

The weeks passed in a blur of gardening, shopping and cooking all the meals that she enjoyed but that Graham didn’t. She would have to watch that she didn’t put too much weight on, but it was so lovely to have the freedom of choice. Every now and then she tried speaking loudly in a low voice so that her neighbour Gloria would think she was hearing Graham. Now and then she shouted calling herself names just as he used to. She wasn’t sure if it would work but it was worth a try.

Eventually the Government announced an easing of the restrictions and that lockdown was sort of over. Now was the time she had been waiting for.  She immediately emailed the travel lodge two towns over and arranged a single room for Graham. She packed his overnight bag with some clothes and his wash bag and shaving kit. She made sure his pyjamas were in there too. She placed his bag in the boot of the car, just as Gloria was going to her dustbin. “Going somewhere nice?” she asked, Mary gave a small laugh, “No, Graham is popping over to see an old friend and then up to his sister’s to check on her, she has been all alone since the lockdown began” Gloria commented that that was thoughtful of Graham. Mary nodded and headed back indoors.

Now it was time to make sure she had everything she needed. She dressed in her old clothes and jeans, then put on Graham’s brown corduroy trousers over them. She put on his big blue sweater and then his light weight tan mac and cloth cap. Luckily she had had her haircut just before lockdown so it was just about the same length as Graham’s and with his cap pulled down over her eyes and with his coronavirus mask on (which he had never used because he hadn’t gone out), it was difficult to tell who it was. She placed her tote bag with a couple of hats in it under the mac to help bulk it out. Once she was satisfied, she made sure she had plenty of money in her pockets and headed out to the car. She made sure she limped to the drivers door, climbed in and set off waving to Gloria who was in her window as she did so.

The drive was uneventful and she soon arrived at her destination, she parked up and carefully removed all the keys off Graham’s key ring. She planned to get rid of them one by one on the way home. She made sure there was no one around when she got out of the car. Still remembering to limp she headed for the reception area. Seeing the disabled toilets she headed straight there. Once inside she quickly stripped off Graham’s clothes and placed them neatly inside the tote. She took the plain black bobble hat and pulling her hair up inside it put it on. She had on a t shirt and a blouson jacket and of course her jeans. With a different colour mask she was totally different from the ‘man’ who had entered a short while ago.

She made her way quickly out of the door and out of the hotel. No one saw her go. She walked quickly along heading for town dropping off the odd key in a bin here and there as she went.  Once in town she went straight to the nearest taxi rank and got a ride to the next town. She was dropped off on the outskirts where she changed her hat and mask and then made her way closer into town before getting another taxi to her home town.

She decided to do a little shopping in town before heading home and bought some fruit and a couple of cream cakes. She was feeling incredible. She had done it. Hopefully everything else would go just as well over the next few days.

The next day she cut up into tiny pieces Graham’s corduroy trousers, his blue jumper and his tan mac. It took some time to cut up his cloth cap as it was sturdily made. She then cut up her old t shirt and blouson jacket and the black hat and the more colourful one too. Once they all were in tiny pieces she lit the incinerator into which she had put some hedge trimmings and then put in the clothes. She also burnt his leather key fob and his wallet. She had removed the cards before and cut them up into small pieces and put them in various bins around the town. Once everything had burnt away and the ashes had cooled down she sieved them to make sure there was nothing recognisable in them. Some of the plastic buttons had melted so she buried them deep in the garden. The rest of the ashes she put on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden behind the shed.

On the following Monday evening she phoned his sister Jean and after some general pleasantries asked to speak to Graham. As expected Jean said “what do you mean? Graham isn’t here”  With that Mary launched into her story of him leaving on Thursday last week to go and visit a schoolfriend and planning to visit Jean the day after. She said he had said he would return on the Sunday night. When he didn’t arrive she thought he had planned to stay another night and would be home during the day on Monday. When that didn’t happen she thought she would ring and find out what the delay was.

Jean quickly explained that Graham had definitely not turned up on the Friday and she hadn’t heard from him in ages. Mary reacted as she knew Jean would expect and said she would phone the hotel and try to find out what was going on. She promised to phone Jean as soon as she knew something. True to her word, Mary phoned the travel lodge, she confirmed that he had a booking for a single room on the Thursday night but when the receptionist checked she said he had not arrived. Again, Mary was suitably distressed and upset and the receptionist was very caring and suggested she call the police.  Mary phone Jean back and told her what she had found out and that she was going to ring the police.

Next Mary made herself a cup of tea and rehearsed what she would say to the police. She phoned the local station as she told them she wasn’t sure it was an emergency. She explained the situation to the very nice Officer Bream who took her call. She again had a slight tremor of worry to her voice, as she retold her story. Officer Bream said he would pass the information on and it would be looked into. He asked if she would be in tomorrow if they needed to speak with her and of course she said yes.

The next day a police car pulled up outside her house, as she opened the door two very young officers introduced themselves. She asked them in and once more went over her story.  They explained that they had been to the hotel and Graham had definitely not booked in. However, they told her that his car was in the carpark. Mary was pleased that she hadn’t moved the seat forward as she would do normally when she drove the car and that she had worn gloves too. As although they would expect her fingerprints to be in the car they shouldn’t be the last fingerprints on the steering wheel. The police explained that his car had been there since last Thursday and no one had seen Graham. They also asked if she had a spare key to the car. She said there was one in the top drawer of the sideboard and collected it and gave it to them.

They stayed quite awhile going over everything two or three times, asking about the old schoolfriend. Mary explained that she didn’t know who it was and that Graham didn’t always tell her everything. She knew they would be speaking to neighbours soon and that they would tell them things about Graham and her. That he was obnoxious and bullying and Mary was a quiet wouldn’t say boo to a goose sort of person. She knew that she didn’t have to say much for them to realise just what a bully Graham had been.

Over the next few months the investigation didn’t seem to get anywhere. They kept Mary informed, checked Graham’s computer and spoke with his sister, all the neighbours and his old drinking buddies down at the pub. Of course no one had seen him since the start of lockdown. Gloria told them how she had seen him drive off on that Thursday and that he had waved to her. Yes she was certain that was him, he had lived next door for years so she knew it was him. Besides she recognised his limp.

Various people popped round to see her to make sure she was alright, but really to see if there was any news or gossip that they hadn’t heard. Graham’s sister Jean even came down and stayed two days. She was just as bullying as her brother and Mary was delighted when she had to go back home because of her cat.

Time passed the case became a ‘cold case’, no one knew where Graham was. As the years passed Mary became more relaxed, joined a few clubs and generally began to enjoy her life. Eventually after seven years Mary had Graham declared dead. Yes it meant his pension was halved but it was still more than enough for Mary to live comfortably especially as she now had her own pension.

While for many the lockdown was a time of fear and hardship for Mary it was a time of liberation and freedom. She realised she could cope with anything life threw at her. She would rise to any challenge. Every time she polished her menorah she would give a little smile and be quietly happy and contented with her life. All the more so because she knew Graham would have hated that she was enjoying herself so much.

Jane Pobgee.

All I Want For Christmas

“Father Christmas” by HerryLawford is licensed with CC BY 2.0

A short piece from Val Fish, very poignant.

George was feeling extremely grumpy, he’d been sweltering in his grotto all day, giving out presents to some rather naughty children.

He had thought about hanging up his Santa Suit for good, but he needed to supplement his income somehow to tide him over the winter.

George was surprised to see his last visitor crying.

 ‘Oh poppet, what’s the matter?’

‘I want my daddy, sobbed the little girl. Mummy says he’s up in heaven, but I told her you can do magic things and bring him back. I don’t want a present, just my daddy.’

And Grumpy George’s heart melted.

Val Fish



This piece has been written by Val Chapman and gives a slightly different perspective. The story has a local connection, who knew?

I had been standing in the field for ages. It was always the same at this time of year. I had been told to “hurry up, it’s nearly time to go”.

So I had left the warmth of the inside with the cosy blankets and smell of pine trees and ginger cookies and went in search of Comet and Prancer.

We were the oldest of this particular group of reindeers and as such we felt deserving of a little bit of respect and consideration, not being pushed around and hurried. I found them both finishing off lunch and we headed across to the big barn which housed the sleigh. It had been built years ago but still looked as new and fresh as ever, nestling between the workshop and Santa’s house.

We could see the elves going to and fro, filling the sleigh and the excitement was building. 

“Ah Cupid, there you all are. I thought we would give you a bit of time to pull yourselves together ready for the off”.

Vixen really fancied herself as something special, and she and I had crossed antlers on a number of occasions. Honestly, just because Santa had given her the left-over carrot back in ’97 Vixen thought she was the ‘chosen one’ and could do no wrong.

I mean, it was not as though she was ‘lead reindeer’. Everyone knew that Rudolph had that particular role. 

It wasn’t always like that of course.

We never used to have a ‘lead’ as such. The eight of us managed very well thank you and even when the last Dasher and Dancer retired, the new pair fitted in very well with the rest of us.

It was only when Rudolph grew up and became this freak of nature with that weird glowing nose that she got to head out at the front of the sleigh.

It took a bit of getting used to I will admit, but the elves had done a fantastic job in adapting the sleigh for the nine of us.

Santa had to have a few practice runs of course to get used to the difference. Well, he’s not as young as he once was, and needs a bit of help on occasions. I have to say though, it did work well and we have been together as a group ever since. 

We did worry at first that we would get more attention if people could see this red glow in the night, but apart from one or two close calls in the early days it had been pretty much plain sailing.

Still, no time to think about that now. We had work to do.

I finished off the bit of lichen I had been munching on, and along with Comet, Prancer and Dancer headed over to the sleigh shed and the magic dust booth where the elves were waiting.

Vixen was already there of course, ushering all of us along like a group of schoolchildren.

Rudolph, Blitzen and Dasher followed the four of us jostling to get to the front of the queue.

“Oh come on you two, let’s get a move on”. Vixen chastised us, while Donner behind them sheepishly shrugged.

I quite liked Donner. She was a pretty little thing, kind and helpful, very much like her mother.

After the magic dust had been applied to all of us, Bernard, Santa’s chief elf, walked with us to the sleigh.

We all took our places and Bernard and his crew had just finished fastening us in, when Santa arrived.

“Great timing as always boys”, the boss smiled.

Typical of Santa, he took time to talk to everyone and to make sure that all was well.

This seemed to take longer and longer each year and one or two of us were getting a little impatient.

Finally, the sleigh was given the all clear and with a final “hurrah” we headed off towards the stars.

The first stop as usual was the hotter countries. Even at night the temperature was warm and it was better for us to get those out of the way while we were still relatively fresh and raring to go.

To be honest it really was a relief to finish where it was colder, the heat does not suit reindeers especially when they are tired and a little grumpy.

Everything went as smoothly as usual although the sniping from Vixen was annoying.

“Come on girls, pull your weight, you can’t let us do all the work”.

“Oh for goodness sake, watch where you are going, we nearly missed Fiji.”

“Stop dragging your hooves, we’ll never get finished at this rate.”

What a nerve.

I had been doing this for longer than she had. Cheeky cow!

I glanced down.

Oh, lovely, we were almost at one of my favourite places.

It was always a pleasure to stop off at Whittlesey.

Sometimes we called a halt at Lattersey Nature reserve for a ‘comfort break’ but nevertheless, these days we would always pause for a while at The Manor field.

Santa was more than a little fond of this little Fenland town, and we always took a little break here to meet Diana.

He had been meeting Diana here for years.

She was just a little girl when he first met her.

One of those annoying children who pretended to be asleep just so they could meet Santa.

Only it turned out that Diana wasn’t annoying at all.

She had done her research, which meant that she was one of those rare people who left out moss and lichen for us reindeers instead of the usual carrots or apples. 

We’re really not fans of carrots, but they keep us going if there is nothing else. To be honest I quite like those mince pies people leave out for Santa. 

He can’t possibly eat them all of course, though in the early days he did try! So we take them back for the elves and they have the hot chocolate ready when we get back.

Sometimes we get thrown the crumbs and that’s how I found out how tasty they are.

Diana had soon sussed out Santa too. He looked forward to her cheese and onion pies, still warm from the oven. She had helped her mother to make them at first, but when she grew up she made them herself and waited for Santa so that they could share it.

Now though, she crept out of the house to meet us by the leisure centre, with bags full of pies to take on our journey.

Santa was a big fan of Diana’s meat pies too, maybe too big a fan, but had been warned not to eat them while in costume as the elves had had a terrible job trying to get the gravy stains out of his coat last year.

We had already delivered in Eastrea and Coates and looking across the rooftops, we could see the clock tower of St Mary’s close by, glistening in the early frost. 

It looked as though they had done a good job with the Christmas lights and the tree standing by the Buttercross looked very nice this year. A pretty Christmas card scene some people may say.

Seemingly some towns had decided to switch off their Christmas lights during the night. Something to do with saving energy, and money apparently. 

It was a shame, they don’t seem to realise how much it helps up along our way. Especially those of us who had tired eyes.

The moon was quite bright tonight though, and it lit up the water in the Bower. 

We started to take the sleigh down, and startled a fox as we often did..

Sure enough, Diana was waiting and with a beaming smile Santa stepped down from the sleigh and walked towards her.

Vixen looked across at me,

“No doubt you are glad of the rest, aren’t you Cupid?”

“It’s another long night tonight thanks to the storms over Thailand and China, and with all these new houses it takes a little longer every year Still, never mind, you’ll be able to put your hooves up when we get back. I heard that the new, young Cupid has been doing very well in training. You might find yourself cast aside sooner than you thought.

Although I don’t suppose you will mind. Your heart hasn’t been in it lately, has it?”

To imply that I had not been giving everything for Santa was the last straw. This is what I and the other reindeers had been born to do. It was an unimaginable honour to serve Santa in this way and I was cut to the quick to think that anyone, even Vixen could think that I was in any way disheartened, and not doing my very best.

Of course I realised that my turn at the sleigh was coming to a close, and as Vixen ‘kindly’ pointed out, the next Cupid was already waiting in the wings. A life of retirement was waiting for me and I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for that.

It seemed to me as though retirement was when the real work started. No longer part of the sleigh group, older reindeers weren’t valued much. They had to do a lot of the heavy hauling jobs, dragging wood to and from the workshops,  looking after the calves, making sure food was available for all. Let me tell you, life as a retired reindeer wasn’t much fun.

So while Santa was saying his goodbyes to Diana, I managed to free myself from the harness.

I was desperately sorry to leave Santa in the lurch like this, but I could not face being with Vixen any longer and wanted my own adventure.

I cast a glance at my friends and headed off.

They couldn’t follow me of course as they were still tethered, and I could fly much faster on my own.

I watched from a distance to make sure all was well with the others, well most of them, and Santa of course. Satisfied that with Diana’s help everything was under control, I continued on my little journey.

I had always enjoyed visiting Lattersey, and now suddenly I had decided that this was to be my future home. 

So far I had been able to keep well out of sight and only a few people were aware of my presence.

Diana came to visit and brought her children with her, which was lovely, but for the most part, I keep myself to myself. I have made friends with a lot of the Muntjac deer around here, and have learnt to keep away from the dogs and badgers.

I can’t fly anymore of course as the magic dust had worn off a long time ago, so if I wanted to go somewhere else it would mean a long walk, but I do visit King’s Dyke Nature Reserve and I may settle there for a while.

If I do I’ll make sure Diana knows so she doesn’t worry about me. 

Although for now I am happy enough at Lattersey, who knows where I might end up?

Val Chapman

Santa’s Little Secret


This slightly unusual Christmas story was penned by Stephen Oliver, we hope you enjoy it

Santa’s Little Secret

Santa Claus sat in his office and stared out of the window overlooking his new workshop, musing about recent changes in his circumstances.

Fli’i, his head foreman, broke in on his thoughts by knocking politely on the doorjamb in lieu of the door.

There wasn’t one. Santa had implemented his new ‘open door’ policy by removing the door completely. It had seemed the easiest way to do it at the time.

“Good news, Boss,” Fli’i cried. “Production is up by over 300%!”

“That’s good to hear, Fli’i. What with the world market expanding at the rate that it is, increasing production was the only choice we could make.”

“Right, Boss. You want me to see if I can get any more out of them?”

“Why not? You’re doing such a great job. See how much farther you can push them.”

“Okay, Boss. Will do.”

Fli’i wandered out of the office.

I should have done this years ago, Santa thought to himself. It would have saved me so much trouble. This city is much better than the North Pole ever was.

He lost himself in reverie.

The trouble had started when a union organiser on an Arctic safari had strayed from the rest of his companions during a blizzard. He had nearly died before he stumbled into the village during the slack season, just after Christmas, when the elves were relaxing after the seasonal rush.

Since the little ones had nothing much to do, they gathered around him to help during his recovery. Unfortunately, that meant that they heard all of his ravings, as well. Worse, they actually believed the crap he was spewing.

The next thing Santa knew, they had unionised themselves and were making demands. Among other things, they wanted increased pay and reduced hours.

The reduced hours he could understand. Things usually started out slowly enough, but by Easter, they had to begin picking up the pace. The second half of the year got so bad that they were working 24/7. He was lucky that the perpetual sunshine made it harder for them to track time. He wished he didn’t have to work them so hard, but demand had been growing for years.

More pay was an even bigger joke, because he didn’t pay them a penny.

The elves had wandered into this dimension after losing a war in their own. They were such a sorry bunch that he took pity on them. Males and females alike were malnourished and weak. It had taken him months to build their strength up again. In gratitude, they accepted his offer of work and long-term protection.

He had exotic foods imported, at great expense, just to keep them happy and productive. Each of them could eat as much as they liked whenever they wanted to.

They all got to keep some of the toys they made, too, although they never seemed to get the hang of smartphones and games consoles. They could make them, of course, but didn’t know what to do with them afterwards.

They didn’t need money at all.

Santa had always thought of them as a bunch of lovable but simple children. It was because of this trait that the organiser had been able to corrupt them.

He still remembered the first (and only) meeting he had had with the union organiser and his ‘shop stewards.’

When he read the list of ‘demands,’ the first thing that struck him was that the writer had no idea of the real needs of the elves. It was evident from the outset that the union man had been behind the list. For one thing, elves couldn’t even spell such complicated words as ‘intransigency’ or ‘compartmentalisation,’ let alone understand what they meant.

Instead of listening to the man’s rants, he tried to remember why his face looked so familiar. He recognised the heavy jowls, the florid cheeks, the overbearing sneer on the lips. He knew he had seen it before, but he couldn’t recall where it had been.

He was still racking his brains when the man stood up, leant threateningly on the table, and began screaming at him.

A name floated up from the past.

Frederik Augustus Tyranus Silenus Osternic.

As a chubby young boy, he had been mercilessly teased because of his initials: FATSO. He had retaliated by becoming the biggest bully, in turn, at the school, his workplace and, finally, the union he joined when he started his first job.

Santa had to smile when he remembered just how many sacksful of coal he had delivered to the Osternic household over the years.

Osternic took the smile the wrong way, thinking that Santa was being condescending to him. He recalled all the disappointing Christmases when his parents used his ‘presents’ to heat the house. This was his chance to get his revenge on Santa, and he was going to enjoy every moment!

Santa was quiet and logical, tearing each of Osternic’s ridiculous demands apart and showing their inherent idiocy. By the end of the meeting, the man’s arguments had been reduced to shreds, and he slunk out of the meeting with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

The revolution began the next day.

At first, it had been little more than a small strike. Some of the elves laid down their tools and refused to work. A few hours later, entire workshops stood idle, raw materials piled up on all sides. Elves hung around, looking bored, wondering what on earth they were supposed to be doing with themselves.

The initial act of sabotage may have been spontaneous, but Santa was pretty sure that Osternic was behind it, somehow. Others followed soon after, then open warfare broke out between different factions.

The gravity of the situation only became apparent when Santa realised that it wasn’t a fight between elves loyal to him and those against him. They were fighting about who was going to be in charge after they had strung him up from the North Pole itself, which stood just in front of his house.

At this point, flight was the only option.

He almost lost his life when they found him fastening the magic reindeer to the sleigh. Fortunately, he was able to jump in with his wife and children, who grabbed as many of the loyal elves as they could. Fli’i, Floo’hoo, Markio and Wialid, his four foremen, plus their spouses, accompanied the family into exile.

By the time they finally landed in the city, the revolution was over.

The last that Santa had heard from the area was that they were trying to set up a workers’ cooperative under the rule of President for Life Osternic. The aim of the new government was to take over his function as Father Christmas.

He wished them well, but somehow doubted they would succeed. With no production facilities, due to the destruction of all the workshops, and no imports or exports, since the only flying reindeer had left with Santa, their future was going to be very bleak.

His own future hadn’t looked much brighter at the moment. He was still trying to persuade his suppliers to let him have the raw materials they could no longer deliver to the North Pole, when Floo’hoo came into his office, full of excitement.

He had been on a purchasing trip with his mate, standing on her shoulders under a long coat. They had stopped off in the Far East and had accidentally wandered into a sweatshop. Seeing how the people there were working twelve hours or more a day for little pay, they realised that this method could help keep the production costs down.

“We can’t do that,” Santa protested. “It’s unethical and unfair.”

“Boss, we worked for nothing,” protested Roo’har, Floo’hoo’s mate.

“Yes, you did,” Santa replied. “Except that you loved your work, you were well fed, and you got all the toys you wanted. Unlike these people, you don’t need sleep, either. Plus, I have been protecting you from the Xarilii, who were trying to wipe out your species. They still are, as far as I know.”

“He’s right, my sweet,” Floo’hoo added, reluctantly. “He’s never made any profit out of this. Instead, he’s always looked after us out of his own pocket. These people are being exploited because they have no other choice. We had a good thing going with our bargain. Oh woe, that we ever listened to that madman.”

“It was such a lovely idea, too,” Roo’har lamented. “Isn’t there some way we can implement it anyway?”

“I don’t know how,” Santa replied sadly.

He did finally get his personnel problem sorted out, with a little outside help.

His memories were interrupted by Fli’i’s knock on the doorjamb.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your planning, Boss,” he apologised, “but I’ve got someone here who insists on seeing you at once.”

“Who is it, Fli’i?”

The elf’s expression was embarrassed and somewhat worried.

“I’m afraid it’s… your brother.”

Oh dear, Santa thought to himself, he’s come to see how I’m getting on, now that I’ve had to go to him for help. No doubt he wants to gloat, as well.

His brother brushed Fli’i lightly aside as he walked in. His red suit was trimmed with sable instead of ermine, and his beard was as black as Santa’s was white. Otherwise, it was plain to see that they were twins.

His brother sat down uninvited and gave a pointed glance out of the window into the workshop.

“How are they doing?” he asked abruptly. “Are they all that I promised?”

“They are. I’m not going to ask you where you got them from because I already know that. What I want to know is, what inducements are you using to get them to work 24/7 without pay?”

“Oh, that’s an easy one,” his brother smiled. “I’ve promised them that, if they continue to work like this, I won’t send them back again.”

“That would work, I suppose,” Santa acknowledged, albeit reluctantly. “Is there any particular reason you’re helping me? Some nefarious plan you’re cooking up behind my back?”

“Can’t I just be helping you out of the goodness of my heart?”

Santa’s expression was as sardonic as his brother’s.

“Anyone else, maybe. You, no. You don’t have any goodness.”

“Ah well, maybe I deserve your mistrust, given our history together. Let’s just say that I don’t want to see your little enterprise fall flat on its face after all these years, and leave it at that, shall we?”

He stood up and walked over to the window. Standing and looking out over the hive of activity in the workshop, he went on.

“Actually, I have been having some space problems recently, especially the numbers of inferior people I’ve been getting. Your need for workers is helping me get rid of some the losers I’ve acquired over the years. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

He turned back and looked at Santa.

“Admit it, I’ve been a real help to you, haven’t I?”

“Yes, brother, you have. I’ll eat crow and say: ‘Thank you very much.’ Satisfied?”

“Eminently. Ah, I see your wife is bringing us tea and some of her excellent cake.”

His brother turned back to watch the workers below while Mrs Claus busied herself with the contents of her tray.

Isn’t it ironic how unimaginative our father-mother Antas was? Santa thought to himself. He-she couldn’t even think of two names that weren’t anagrams of his-her own.

In the meantime, His Infernal Majesty Satan, Monarch of All the Hells, turned away from his contemplation of the damned toiling in his brother’s workshop to accept a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria Sponge.

Stephen Oliver


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