The Brewster family was busy decorating the Christmas tree. Outside, the snow fell softly, transforming the garden to a sparkling wonderland. On the carpet in front of a glowing fire, the two children were searching in the old box which held all the exciting decorations from previous years. Many of these were like old friends which magically re-appeared each year. ‘Look, here’s the silver star. It seems to grow brighter every Christmas.’ Tina held a gleaming decoration which was so familiar, yet so enchanting. Meanwhile, Jon was holding up a prickly hedgehog and a tiny red squirrel which he tied to the lower branches. ‘The animals are my favourites. They always look so happy on the tree each year.’
Gradually the tree took on its wonderful, familiar Christmas charm. The children added a bauble here and a strand of sparkly tinsel there. Suddenly, Tina held up a glass ball. Inside was a miniature world of tiny trees. A shake of the hand prompted snow to fall on this delicate crystal scene.
‘Look Jon, I don’t remember this from last year.’ She held up the glass ball. Inside it was ‘snowing’ heavily. The two youngsters stared hard at the strange figure encased in the glass ball.
‘It’s really ugly, a sort of goblin or devil. It’s got razor-sharp teeth.’
‘Yes, and the eyes are mean and nasty,’ Jon looked closely at the angry little figure, with its fists ready to take on an enemy.
‘Let’s fix it round the back of the tree. Perhaps, he’ll show some Christmas spirit once we hang him up.’ Jon laughed as he tied the ball to a hidden branch at the back.
Next day the children were up early. Christmas Eve was always a busy day, buying last minute cards and gifts. After a hasty breakfast, they were in the lounge, finishing decorating with sprays of red-berried holly and mistletoe. Jon was checking the tree and adding a few strands of tinsel.
‘Tina, come here a moment,’ he sounded puzzled.
They both stood silently, gazing at the glass ball. The trees still stood tall. The snow still fell when Jon shook the ball. But as for the ugly goblin, he was nowhere to be seen. The children exchanged inquiring glances.
‘Did we actually see these those horrid, piercing eyes and the angry, rounded fists?’ Jon spoke with a touch of unease in his voice.
They walked to the windows opening onto the white garden.
‘Look at those footmarks leading from the window here, across the lawn.’ Tina’s voice sounded anxious.
‘They could be the prints of a bird. They are so small, it’s hard to tell.’
‘No, they’re not bird marks – wrong shape. Besides, birds don’t leave such a clear, straight path.’
The children finished off decorating, but a disturbing silence had settled over the room, despite the glowing fire and the shining Christmas tree.
They sat in the brightly lit lounge, wrapping last minute Christmas presents. Their old, Golden Labrador lay stretched out by the fire. Suddenly, the dog yelped loudly.
‘Bruno’s dreaming of the days when he used to chase rabbits.’ Tina laughed at the thought.
But the dog was wide awake, scratching his neck and yelping. He ran to the door, trying to escape.
As Jon let him out, he noticed a circular mark under the dog’s collar. The skin was raw and small drops of blood ran down Bruno’s neck.
About ten minutes later, Jon came back. ’Mom thinks he caught his collar on something. She’s taken it off and washed the sore spot on his neck.’
‘You didn’t mention the weird mystery of the disappearing figure in the glass ball, did you?’
‘No, Mom’s so busy with Christmas and Granny’s not well. I’m sure we can deal with this ourselves.’
‘It’s odd though. Bruno refused to come back into the lounge and you know how much he loves the fire!’
Jon found it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve in his small bedroom under the roof. He was excited by the thought of the next day when the presents under the Christmas tree would at last be opened. He was also concerned about the disappearance of the goblin-like creature from inside the glass snowball. If Tina hadn’t been there, he would have begun to think it was nothing but his imagination.
Yet Jon thought no one would make an empty glass ball. What would be the point?
He was still tossing and turning when he heard the church clock chime midnight. The room was completely dark. The snow had covered the skylight and the main light had fused. Jon felt he was not alone in the small attic room. A clear scratching noise came from behind the bed. At first, he thought it could be a mouse or rat behind the skirting board. Then he remembered, only a few weeks, before Mom had had the upstairs rooms treated by a local pest control company, because squirrels had been nesting in the roof. The noise stopped. Jon turned over and pulled up the quilt in an effort to get to sleep. As he sank back into the pillow, he saw a green light in the corner of the room. It was more of a mist than a light. Floating around the floor, the eerie, green haze hovered over Jon’s bed. At the same moment he felt a painful stabbing in his right leg. As he reached down inside the bed, his hand felt warm and wet. He swung his legs out of bed and felt his way to the door. Terrified, he switched on the light at the top of the attic stairs. A red stain had appeared on the right leg of his pyjamas. He rolled them up above the knees. There were three round, raw marks up the side of his leg. These were bleeding enough for the blood to have stained the thick, woollen material. He stood at the top of the steep stairs. He didn’t want to wake anyone on Christmas night of all nights of the year. Suddenly, Jon felt a power or force of some kind pushing him down the steep, wooden steps. He could feel cold breath on the back of his neck as if some one was breathing close behind him.
By clinging to the hand rail with all his fourteen- year -old strength, Jon managed to resist this unseen power. He heard an angry snort behind him as the pressure ceased. I’m damned if I‘m going to be turned out of my own bed. He went back to bed, pulling the quilt over his head.
On Christmas morning, just as Jon showed Tina the three strange circular marks on his leg, they heard a scream from the direction of the kitchen. ‘Now what’s happened?’ yelled Jon as they ran downstairs.
In the kitchen, Mrs Brewster sat at the table with a pile of mince pies broken and crumbled into all sorts of strange shapes. She was close to tears as she looked at the disaster in front of her.
‘What on earth happened?’ Tina put a comforting arm round her tearful Mom.
‘Somebody pushed me over while I was carrying the tray.’
‘But there’s nobody around. Tina and I were upstairs and Dad’s clearing snow from the driveway.’
‘Well, I guess I slipped but I swear I felt cold air, as if someone was breathing down my neck.’
Brother and sister exchanged glances. ‘We can eat the broken pieces. They’ll taste fine. You’ve got cookies and Christmas cake for any callers.’ Jon reassured his mother.
‘All this waste of time. I don’t think we will be eating Christmas lunch much before three this afternoon. I’m sure you two can find something to do till then.’ Mom began clearing up the pieces.
Jon wandered off to give Dad a hand clearing the snow. Tina sat down by the fire, determined to finish the Steven King horror story she had started. Looking out over the back lawn, she noticed a double trail of the same footmarks they had seen the day before. When she walked over to the glass doors, Tina could see the curious marks crossing then returning over the otherwise unmarked snow. She noticed three black shapes on the edge of the garden path. They stood out against the smooth, whiteness of the rest of the garden. Slipping on her boots, Tina walked up the brick path.
She stared down, clapping her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. Three dead birds lay across the path. They looked like crows which was odd. Tina never remembered seeing crows in that small town garden. The corpses had been carefully laid out as if for a post mortem. The intestines, the hearts, the livers were all neatly set out with clinical precision. Tina walked back as she saw her father enter the lounge. The sight of the lights on the Christmas tree, the fire blazing in the grate and the smell of the turkey cooking almost took away the horror of the dead birds.
After a delicious Christmas lunch which had been well worth waiting for, Mr and Mrs Brewster forced themselves to put on their coats, hats and boots and set off for the Forster house, a couple of blocks away. Jack Forster, a great friend and golf partner of Gerry Brewster, was recovering from a recent stroke. He couldn’t come to Gerry so, the Brewsters must go to him.
Tina was clearing up the kitchen while Jon raked the fire and piled on more logs. Jon had heard about the dead birds. He found it strange and macabre. Just as he had finished making up the fire, he heard footsteps going upstairs. It sounded as if they had gone to the top of the house. Tina must have forgotten something. Then music blared out from overhead. It sounded like three brass bands all playing together and people dancing to the music. Then, as soon as it had started, it stopped. The silence that followed was in a way more unsettling than the musical mayhem. Jon stood with his back to the fire, rooted to the spot. Tina walked in eating bits of the broken mince pies.
‘Nothing wrong with these, if anything they taste better.’ She took off her apron, dropping it over the back of a chair.
‘What were you doing upstairs, dancing around and playing some awful music at top volume?’
‘Now you really are losing the plot. Probably those cocktails after lunch!’
‘Come on Tina, it nearly bust my eardrums.’
Tina stared at her brother. With a sinking feeling, she realised he really had heard something weird.
Silently they climbed the stairs. All was quiet and ordinary. Perhaps Jon had drunk one or two cocktails too many?
Then in the silence, they suddenly heard an old Sinatra song playing softly. The music came from Jon’s room under the roof. They walked quietly up the wooden stairs. As Jon opened the door the music became slightly louder. He walked across to the radio. Tina could see his shoulders suddenly tighten. He whispered, ‘The radio is not connected. Anyway, there’s no power in here, problem with a fuse.’
As they stood at the top of the stairs looking down to the front door, they heard an uproar coming from the lounge. It sounded like a full -blown fight, no quarter given. China was being broken, furniture being moved around. Screaming and yelling sounded through the house.
‘Come on, I’m going to settle this. That ugly little devil is not ruining our Christmas.’ As he spoke, Jon rushed downstairs. Tina followed, rather more slowly.
Jon threw the lounge door open. The furniture had been moved around. The sofa was upside down by the garden door. Two arm chairs were precariously piled up, one on the other. All the pictures had been turned to face the wall. The table was upside down, its spindly legs glowing in the firelight.
‘Just look over here,’ Jon shouted with excitement.
They stared down at the stone hearth. The ugly little devil lay across one corner. His face, swollen and bloody, was barely recognisable. His straggly hair looked as if someone had pulled it out in handfuls. The Christmas tree lay drunkenly on its side. All the decorations were scattered over the carpet. The angel from the topmost branch had her halo twisted round her neck, while one wing was badly bent. Her usual, beatific smile had changed to a look of grim determination.
‘We’ve got half an hour to get this back to normality. I am personally going to throw the Christmas devil into the trash can.’ Jon walked out holding the devil by one foot.
Tina began the task of restoring the room and the battered decorations. The Brewster couple, who it must be admitted, had had one or two drinks at Jack Forster’s, never noticed anything out of place.
Eleven days later, on Twelfth Night, Mrs Brewster was packing the decorations into their usual box.
As, she picked them up she commented, ‘We’ll need a new angel next year. Quite a few are looking rather battered.’
She was too busy to notice that the Christmas Devil was back in his glass ball at the bottom of the box. His eyes looked meaner than ever and his teeth, even sharper.
Sarah Das Gupta, is a teacher from near Cambridge, UK who has also taught in India and Tanzania. Her work has been published in over 12 countries and many magazines, including: American Literary Review, Paddler, Pure Haiku, Waywords Literary Review, Lothlorian, Carmina, Green Ink, Tiny Seed, The Chamber, Bluebird Word, among others.