[This was another quick writing project that was done for the monthly challenge on http://www.fantasy-writers.org. I kept the working title as I liked it, but if anyone has a more appropriate one let me know. But first, sit back and have yourself a little slice of my dark, festive offering……]
Through the shifting halls of dream Sarah chased the echo of a small, tinkling bell. On and on amidst slumber’s oil-on-water realities until she cornered it in a hall of stone where logs crackled in a fireplace. She bared her teeth and growled, suddenly wary that what she pursued was behind her……
Her eyes snapped open and the dream shattered, fragments evaporating to leave only a trace of unease clinging to her like cobweb. She gritted her teeth and hugged her pillow, willing herself back to slumber even as she knew it was to be denied. The echo of that ringing bell played in the back of her mind. It would not be ignored, taunting her like a mocking gremlin.
Well, there was a way to deal with such gremlins, wasn’t there doctor? Her hand quested out toward the bedside table where a small plastic bottle stood lit blue-green by the digital clock. It was three minutes after midnight.
Sarah knocked back a couple of pills, swallowed them dry with a sense of vengeful satisfaction. The gremlin would rue the day as she settled to watching the minutes tick by. At some point her eyelids grew heavy, calm wrapping itself around her mind like a warm blanket. She drifted towards unconsciousness…..
Something creaked. A floorboard? Her ears pricked up, straining to detect the tiniest of hint of sound as a primordial instinct overrode her weariness. This intrusion she tried to force back down, telling her treacherous brain that it was just the house settling. To no avail
Sarah rolled onto her side, wide awake and angry. The numbers on the clock were fuzzy. She watched as they flick round, minute by minute, increment by increment. When it became unbearable she cursed and slipped from her bed, crossed the room and cracked her door open to listen. The house was still, but….. was that a voice? Someone in the living room? Maybe father…..
With no way to lure back the elusive spectre of sleep, Sarah slipped into the hallway and tiptoed along the plush carpet to where her sister’s door stood ajar. Sarah smiled. Mary must have snuck downstairs to check the presents. Her little sister was always worrying that they might disappear overnight, or that Santa might come early.
Sarah took a step down, then paused as she whispered to herself, “But who is she talking to?”
* * *
“What are you doing?”
Crow paused and looked over his shoulder. A girl in striped pyjamas stood behind him, a plate of mince pies held in her hands. These she promptly dropped as her hands went to the ‘O’ of her mouth. “W-what happened to your face?”
“My face? Nothing,” Crow replied, puzzled, then continued to sort through the brightly wrapped presents which lay overspilling from beneath the skirt of a grand Christmas tree. As he sifted, he stuffed his selections into a tattered sack. “It is the face I was born with.”
“But…. but you’re dead,” the girl whispered.
Crow laughed. “Dead?”
“L-look! Your hands!” She pointed.
Crow held up a long-fingered hand for inspection. “They appear perfectly normal to me.”
“Normal? But they’re all…. bony!”
“Ah, so you say,” said Crow with a dismissive wave, “But from where I stand, I am alive and you are dead.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” the little girl replied, then added, “And it’s not very nice.”
“Nice has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of perspective.”
“Per… perspive? What’s that?”
“It means that things are not what they appear to be.”
He stood and looked around. The room was a plush paradise of Christmas cheer, everything tinsel edged and bathed in the soft glow of red and green and gold lights. An infinite loop of festive songs played softly from some unseen device. Crow cocked his head at the little girl, then crossed the room to her. She shrank back, but it was only mince pies that he sought.
“Why are you wearing that old suit?” asked the child as Crow took to perching on an arm of a large leather sofa. He crumbled a pie into pieces and pecked at them. “And how did you get in here?”
Crow tapped the side of his beak. “Trade secrets my little one.”
Then he froze, his attention fixed just beyond the girl’s shoulder. She turned to see her sister standing with a kitchen knife levelled at the intruder.
“Hello Sarah – ”
“Stay behind me Mary!” ordered Sarah as she pulled her sister behind her.
“But – ”
“W-who are you?” Sarah demanded. Her eyes widened.“And wh- what the hell is wrong with your face?”
“It’s alright Sarah,” said the little girl. “He says he’s not really dead.”
“Dead? I-is that a mask?” Sarah asked, reviled. The knife shook in her hand. Fear rode up her spine, yet did not surface. She knew her father and other family were close. Just up the stairs. There was no way this….. man could get away. She had been about to shout for help but the twinkling stars in those empty eye sockets fascinated her, drawing her towards their light……
“No, it’s the face he was born with,” Mary explained, “And he’s taking our presents!”
“You’re a – a thief!” Sarah shot at him. She felt giddy. It was surreal, and that mask was just so revolting. Perhaps it was the medication? Adrenaline? Sarah whispered to herself, “This must be one of those waking dreams.”
“Ha!” Crow snorted. “Waking dream. Why not take that sentiment back to bed with you? It was all just a dream.”
“Because,” stated Mary, “I’m waiting for Santa.”
“Who?” Crow frowned. The girls stared at him, but his question seemed quite genuine.
“Really?” Sarah asked, knife still pointed at Crow. “You’re not joking, are you?”
Crow shook his head. “Should I know?”
“He comes down the chimney,” Sarah said, “And leaves presents for the children.”
“Oh, him,” Crow said and rolled his…. eye sockets. “He’s just a story, a fable.”
“No he’s not!” Mary stamped a foot. “I saw him.”
“No you didn’t,” sneered Crow. “When?”
“At the shops.”
“That wasn’t him.”
“I know that.”
“You do?” Crow cocked his head. “Then you know he’s just a story?”
“Don’t be silly. The one at the shops works for Santa. He can’t be everywhere at once until Christmas Eve.”
“Well that explains that then,” Crow drawled. “And thanks for the mince pies.”
“Those were for Santa!” Mary stormed.
“They’d only have gone stale!”
“I can’t believe this,” Sarah muttered as they argued. It was madness.
“It’s not your Christmas Eve yet,” Crow was saying with sad condescension. “It’s the holy Solstice, and the only one abroad tonight is me!”
He rose from his perching and hefted the sack over a shoulder.
“You’re not very nice,” Mary shouted at him.
“And you’re not taking those presents,” Sarah added as she stepped forward with the knife pointed at his chest. “There are several people up stairs. All I have to do is shout!”
“Pah! You think you can stop me?” Crow gave a nerve-wracking cackle.
“P-put the sack down and I might let you leave before I call the police.”
“I think not,” Crow snorted. “These gifts are for a special child. Besides, it’s not like you don’t have enough, is it now?”
“But they’re ours!” Sarah snarled.
“Listen children, what’s yours is mine tonight,” Crow said, taking a step towards Sarah so that the knife pressed against his chest, “But the child these are destined for shall praise the benevolence of your giving.”
He knocked the knife from Sarah’s hand with a quick slap, then swept an arm to encompass the room, the house. “Look at this place. This is an edifice to the modern day paradise achieved by your – ” and he coughed into his hand “ – civilisation.”
“Paradise?” Sarah frowned with a shake of her head. “What are you talking about?”
“Poor children,” said Crow. “You have no idea, do you? Of course not, you have been incubated in this little den without a want or a care. Fed three times a day, entertained and pampered.”
“You’re not very nice!” Mary said, her lip trembling.
Crow considered. “Not in your world I’m not.”
“And what the hell does that mean?” Sarah snapped, reaching the limit of fear and frustration. “Our world?”
“Like I said, you have no idea.” Crow grinned at them, cocked his head on one side. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to the real world.”
“This is the real world,” Mary protested. “You’re a liar!”
“Never call me that!” Crow hissed and the twinkles in his eyes sockets flashed a cold blue. They both took a step back. “This is a world of falsehoods and deceptions! A world of mundanity and logic, a world of superstition and ignorance!”
The trembling lip broke, tears welled up and the little girl sobbed. “Why are you so mean?”
“Look what you’ve done,” Sarah sneered, pulling Mary close. “What kind of a man are you?”
“Man? I am far from being a man, and you may call me Crow.”
“You’re insane!” Sarah flung at him.
“Like I said, it’s a matter of perspective,” said Crow with a shrug, then he cocked his head in thought. “But perhaps I can show you, if you like? After all, I suppose I do owe you something for the presents.”
“We’re not going anywhere with you,” Sarah retorted.
“Well, I doubt you could handle it. The little one maybe, but you are getting a little old.” He cackled. “Would you like to come and see Mary? Just quickly though.”
“See what?” asked Mary.
“Why, the real world of course.” He extended a hand to her and the light in his eye sockets grew brighter with a twinkling lustre. As if in a dream Sarah saw Mary’s hand reach for Crow’s outstretched palm. She reached to grasp Mary’s shoulder just as the skeletal fingers wrapped around the tiny hand.
A little bell tinkled, and everything turned inside out.
* * *
Sudden cold. It was a slap in the face and Sarah went to her knees. Her stomach lurched and she retched into the snow.
“What…. what the – ”
“Here we are,” said Crow, pulling her to her feet.
“Sarah!” gasped Mary. “Look!”
Sarah stared at the hand holding hers. It was flesh and blood, and Crow’s face was no longer a bird’s skull. He was richly feathered in black plumage that contained faint traces of green and purple iridescence. His eyes were now full orbs, shining with intellect.
“Welcome,” smiled Crow, and as arm swept out to encompass a crepuscular winter’s woodland, “To the real world.”
Sarah gazed out across undulating waves of snow from which skeletal trees reach for the grey wash of the sky. The sun was a pale disc of silver low on the horizon. Occasional snow flakes drifted down.
“Now, bear with me,” Crow said, patting his tattered shirt until he found a key, gnarled with verdigris. He turned and popped it in the lock of a huge wooden door bound in blackened iron. As he did so, Sarah and Mary stepped back from the threshold to take in a large stone-rimmed arch set into a hillside, its rising flanks thick with trees.
Crow pushed open the door on protesting hinges and a wave of warmth and cheer flooded forth, immediately enticing: a feast was in progress, the air thick with the sounds of revelry and song, with laughter and the smell of roasting meat over wood fires. Fluttering notes swirled on the festive atmosphere and the throng within bobbed to its sweet melodies. Sarah and Mary were lured, pulled forward, but Crow suddenly barred their way. “Wait! I assume you know the rules?”
“What rules?” Sarah snapped with impatience.
“The rules,” Crow said. “Everyone knows the rules, yes?”
They shook their heads.
“Of course you don’t,” Crow sighed in exasperation. “Listen very carefully. These are the rules: Number one, do not drink anything. You’ll be tempted. Don’t! Second rule: Don’t join in any singing, especially if you feel you know the words. Got it?”
They both nodded, half hearing for eagerness to get within.
“Okay, last, and most important of all: Don’t eat anyone.”
“Anyone?” Sarah asked with a frown.
“Did I say that?” Crow looked suddenly shifty. “I meant don’t eat anything, even if you feel a ravenous hungry. Do you understand?”
They nodded again.
“Good.” Crow slung the sack over his shoulder. “And never let it be said that I didn’t warn you. Come on.”
Hand in hand the sisters followed Crow into the chaos. They bumped and shoved their way through the room, bedecked in gold and green and red, just like home, but if you had asked Sarah what made it different, she would have said that it was all so…… alive. There was no other way to describe the vivid richness, the overpowering lustre of everything. The gold on the candelabra, the jugs and plates and furnishings, it all shone like the sun while the evergreen of the great tree in the heart of the room blazed with indescribable vivaciousness. Everywhere flowed deep reds, from the drapes and upholstery to the garb and adornments of the strange assembly. It was the very colour of blood and danger, vigour and passion.
Sarah, breathless and giddy, lead Mary through the horde as Crow barged and elbowed forward, throwing greetings and replying to jests. She saw men with gnarled faces like tree bark who danced arm in arm with spry young women, their slender forms adorned in translucent green frocks and who sported delicate wings like lace. A man in a torn shirt turned a wolf’s head as she passed, his tongue lolling between sharp teeth. He winked with a lewd grin and Sarah felt a flush of heat upon her cheeks.
On and on they pressed until Mary’s hand slipped free and Sarah turned to see her sister giggling at the antics of a frolicking fool. He tumbled, shaking his bells, then conjured a red ribbon from behind the little girl’s ear. With a merry laugh the fool capered away through the gathering and Sarah pulled her sister after Crow, only to find him arrested by an old woman. Her face was hatchet sharp, her skin taut around a crescented nose while the deep set eyes blazed with the fire of knowing.
“Dear Crow, I see you have guests, hmmm?”
“Crone,” Crow gave her a curt bow. “Rest assured, they are here only for a brief visit.”
The crone scrutinised Sarah and Mary. “And just why are they visiting, hmmm?”
“Aha! It was merely a Solstice whim Crone.”
“As good a reason as any I suppose,” she cackled and waved them on. “The King awaits you.”
Crow nodded and moved off, but as Sarah followed the crone caught her arm to whisper quickly. “Be careful my dear, hmmm?”
Sarah mumbled a reply that was lost in the clamour as she stumbled after Crow, her senses reeling from the festive maelstrom around her. The heat, the noise, the commotion was overwhelming. When a small boy with little horns darted from behind a pair of furred legs and grabbed Mary’s hand, there was nothing she could do.
“Come dance with me!” he cried and Mary’s hand slipped away.
“Mary!” Sarah shouted, but her sister had already disappeared into the throng. She tried to pull Crow up but they had emerged from the press before a huge throne of carved wood and bone. Upon it sat the most corpulent man Sarah had ever seen, his skin a rich and vivid green, his eyes shining with mirth and delight. He scratched beneath his loin cloth and tore another chunk of meat from a long bone.
“Crow! My dear friend!” he boomed, laughing as he tossed the bone away.
“Sire,” Crow bowed. “I have returned as promised.”
“I see you have brought gifts! Pray tell me,” and the king leaned forward with a conspiratorial grin to whisper, “What have you brought my queen this year?”
“Surprises and oddities from the unreal world, my lord.”
The king boomed his laughter. “You never fail dear Crow.”
“One tries my lord,” Crow replied with a smile. The king turned his gaze upon Sarah and his face split in a lecherous grin.
“And what do we have here?” The green king licked his greasy fingers.
“My guest, sire,” said Crow. He drew Sarah forward. “A human woman.”
“My my my,” said the king. “She’s certainly a dainty little….. morsel.”
“Alas sire, she is not for the eating.”
“Ah, shame! And with her looking so young and tender!”
“Just so sire,” said Crow, inclining his head in agreement. “I thought she might benefit from some perspective, and thus did I deliver her to your magnificent court.”
“Ah, and rightly so dear Crow!” Then to Sarah he asked, “And how do you like my merry little gathering?”
Sarah sought words, found Crow’s elbow jar them out of her, “Er…. very much my lord. It’s…. er, very festive.”
“But of course!” boomed the king. “It is the Solstice, after all! The longest, darkest of nights!”
Sarah nodded and smiled vaguely. The Solstice….. she’d never really thought about it. Christmas was a time for family and food and presents, and she knew it got dark at winter. The longest, darkest night…. it seemed so obvious now.
“I didn’t know…..” she mumbled.
“Didn’t know?” and the king boomed his laughter again. “How strange you humans are!”
“As you see sire,” Crow explained, “She is pitifully ill equipped to understand the importance of such a time.”
“Alas, a sad fate for people who are so short lived,” the King nodded sadly, then brightened. “Still, I am sure that she will enjoy her time here! ‘Tis the Solstice after all!”
And he set about quaffing and gorging with fresh vigour. Crow steered Sarah away and let out a long, slow breath. “Well, that went well.”
Sarah rounded on him, nettled. “What do you mean, pitifully ill equipped?”
“Just a figure of speech,” Crow replied and rolled his eyes. “And after all, you really don’t know what the meaning of Solstice is, do you?”
“And why should I?” she snapped. “No one’s ever told me that it was the longest, darkest night.”
“Such is the fate of the civilised,” Crow replied as he skilfully lifted a steaming cup of wine from a tray borne on the raised hands of a very small waiter. As Sarah watched him drink, her anger subsided in the warm fluff of the gathering’s atmosphere. There was something that she had forgotten…..
“Mary! Where is she?” She grabbed Crow by his lapels, spilling his wine. “Where’s my sister?”
“Oh, I’m sure she’s quite safe,” Crow said gently, prying Sarah’s hands from his jacket and finishing his drink. “Come, you must meet the All-Mother.”
Without answer they were once more whirling through the heaving mass of strange folk, those with horns and more than one set of eyes. Sarah passed a woman with six arms bedecked in charms and bracelets who combed the beard of a strange, stick thin man smoking a pipe while he described arcane gibberish with flourishes of his long fingered hands. Everywhere were such fascinating distractions that as Sarah sought the memory of something important, her thoughts became elusive starlings wheeling into the sky as she tried to grasp them. As she made another attempt they stepped clear of the crowd.
“All-Mother?” Crow asked, and Sarah’s focus landed on a large woman who reclined in indolent beauty, tumbles of golden hair rolling around her radiant face which shone with matronly warmth. She wore a soft, white nightgown that rested upon a landscape of curves, full and fruitful, her belly swollen with child.
“Crow, my dear,” she said in a voice like morning sunshine, “You have returned.”
“I have indeed my lady,” he beamed, dumping the sack on the floor, “And I have brought you’re progeny gifts of most outlandish oddity.”
“Oh Crow, why must you show off all the time?”
He bowed with a laugh, then pulled Sarah forward. “I have also brought a guest.”
“Ah, such a delight,” said the All-Mother who cast her benevolent gaze over Sarah. In those ancient eyes was such a depth of aeons that Sarah gasped.
“Oh, but isn’t she is a pretty one!” The All-Mother gave Crow a wry look as she added, “If perhaps a little unripe for your tastes. Still, I was wondering when you would take a wife.”
Sarah’s protest was cut short as Crow interjected. “Alas, she is merely my guest tonight.”
“Pity,” said the All-Mother, then addressed Sarah. “And how are you known worldly daughter?”
“Sarah,” and as Crow’s elbow sought her again she added a small curtsey, “My lady.”
“Welcome Sarah. Please, take you fill of our meagre fare. I would see you fed and refreshed.” She looked Sarah up and down. “Yes! You must eat heartily, for you are far too thin for the bearing of children.”
Crow laughed as Sarah’s mouth flapped in shock. “C-children?”
The All-Mother’s expression was all benevolence as she explained. “You have a rare gift, the gift of youth and a body that will give you great pleasure. Treasure it, but guard it well!” – and she beckoned Sarah closer with a finger as her voice went low – “for there are many abroad this night that would covet such a delectable prize.”
Then she lit up with laughter as soft as a silky thigh, as warm as fresh bread. Sarah felt her face flush with heat.
“Oh my,” said the All-Mother, taking Sarah’s hand.“You are a tender little one, aren’t you? Beware the appetites of one such as Crow. He can be a charmer when he wants to be.”
Sarah shot Crow a glance. “Er… yes. I’ll be careful.”
“Well then my worldly daughter, I fancy that you will enjoy the revels tonight. Eat, drink, be merry!”
And the All-Mother threw back a cup of wine and rubbed her belly with a smile of pure satisfaction. Crow drew Sarah away.
“Come, as much as she her hospitality is in earnest, it is nearly time to leave.”
“But……” Sarah tried to focus. “We can’t go yet.”
“It’s not a matter of debate,” Crow replied.
“I can’t remember.”
Crow shook his head and tried to lead her away. Sarah yanked her hand free and slipped into the mass of strange folk. She had to remember before it was too late…….
* * *
Sarah fled as the crowd pressed close, snatches of conversation in strange voices crowding her ears while the warmth was a haze that seeped into her very marrow. She was thirsty and giddy and she had to remember…..
A body, tall and wide, stepped back and she bumped into the posterior of a particularly rotund….. person? It turned around and said something from between curved tusks, it’s small eyes bright with curiosity.
“I’m sorry,” said Sarah.
“Ah, you… speech other?” the creature said haltingly. It frowned. “You are speak?”
“Ah. Speaks English,” said the creature with a smile as an elfin lady laid a hand on its arm and inclined her ornate helm to Sarah. “Sorry my dear. It’s been a while since he was in your world.”
“N-no problem,” Sarah replied with a nervous smile.
The fey gave her a small nod. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’ve…. I can’t remember.”
“You look troubled. I find that a glass of spiced wine always helps me feel better,” and she plucked a steaming cup from one of the small waiters, then passed it to Sarah. She stared at the liquid within. There was something she had been told…..
But she was so thirsty. She took a long draught of the glorious liquid, felt the sweet liquor glide down to her stomach and her first reaction was to gasp in delight. Her second reaction was to hear her stomach rumble and she looked around for food. The succulence of roasting meat reached her and without another word she cut through to where attendants were slicing meat from something like a suckling pig. A platter appeared in her hands, and she was ripping at meat so delicious she thought she would never be satisfied…….
And all the time, in the back of her mind, a desperate need to remember something played over and over. Yet the revels had now swept away her fears, had swept away time itself and she lost herself to dancing, her voice lifted in a song that she had never heard but to which she knew every word. Her heart thundered, intoxicated with awe and madness and freedom as the crowd drew inwards to the great festive evergreen. It was the heart of the room, a magnet, a sink hole around which swirled the revellers. As they moved in rapturous dance they looped something long and bloody like a string of sausages over the branches. Sarah laughed at the blood on her hands, on her face. In her mouth she felt sharp teeth prick her tongue…..
Sudden silence, but broken almost instantly as a shuddering moan split the air. It was neither pleasure nor pain, but exultation! A great cheer of joy filled the room to the rafters, and Sarah howled with all her heart until someone grabbed her wrist.
Crow spun her around, his eyes bright with anger.
“I told you not to eat anything!” he hissed. “Come, we must leave now!”
“Oh Crow, leave me to the revel! Let me dance, let me sing!”
But Crow would not release her. “No! We must go. The All-Mother is about to birth the New Year!”
With a savage tug he pulled her away from the throng, back to the door as she struggled, but his grip was like iron. She wailed and thrashed as they reached the threshold of the hall, even as a great roar shook the very foundations. A sensation of pure awe and terror rode Sarah’s spine all the way to the tip of her tail.
“What is that?” she asked, but Crow wasn’t listening as he fought to push the great door open. A split second later Sarah was hurled into the cold, and her head swam so hard with the shock of the cold that she near fainted.
Overhead a great winged shadow blotted out the sky.
Then a bell rang, and the world turned outside-in.
* * *
Sarah didn’t retch, instead finding sudden sobriety like a hundred cups of coffee. The fog in her mind started evaporating and beside her Crow was muttering something about “damned time dilations.”
“W-what…?” she tried to ask, then stumbled into something large and red. It went over with a shout of surprise, arms and legs flailing.
“Must be Christmas Eve,” Crow remarked with a wry grin as he helped the fat man to his feet. To Sarah he shrugged and said, “Looks like I owe you an apology.”
But Sarah wasn’t listening, wasn’t looking at Santa with awe and surprise as anyone might have at such a moment. No, that expression was reserved for herself as she looked down at her own body.
“My…. my stomach!”
Crow shook his head. “Well, I did tell you not to eat anyone.”
Sarah, wide eyed, ran a hand over her swollen belly where it was rounded with child.
“Ho ho ho!” boomed the jolly fat man. “Congratulations!”
He rummaged in his sack and brought forth a lovingly wrapped gift box. “Looks like you have a bun in the oven my dear! Good job I’ve always got a spare present for those surprise moments!”
She took the gift from him in mute shock and he patted her hand with paternal care. Then with great gusto and laughter he swirled into a red vapour which disappeared into the fireplace. As he went up the chimney he gave a final, merry, “Ho ho ho!”
Sarah stood stunned. She had eaten….. a platter of meat. She recalled it’s taste, it’s succulence! Her memories were bubbling up into clarity. She had danced and feasted, and she could recall the sharpness of teeth…….
The words of the song sprang into her mind:
Here come our earthly sisters, oh! Tonight for the Midnight Sun!
Here are the earthly sisters, oh! Come to us for some fun!
Da-la-la – dilly-dee!
Here come our earthly sisters, oh! Solstice night for a little girl!
Here she is a sweet sister, oh! On the spit and all a-twirl!
Da-la-la – dilly-dee!
Here she comes our sister oh! Pieces on a plate for you and me!
Here she is our earthly sister, oh! Wrapped around our tree!
Da-la-la – dilly-dee!
It hadn’t been a suckling pig, had it?
“Well, it appears that Santa forgot his pies,” Crow said, picking up the plate. “Waste not want not, eh?”
“Mary…..?” Sarah’s lips quivered. The meat, the ribbon on the meat, the decorating of the tree. Her head turned to the family tree. The tinsel looked like it was…. glistening. Sarah sank to her knees, eyes wide, mouth slack with shock but no matter the revulsion and nausea she could not vomit.
Crow swept the crumbs into his hand and threw them into the dark maw of his beak, then came to Sarah. He pulled a small bell from his pocket, then patted her belly and gave a cackle.
“Blessings of the Solstice to one and all!” he cried with hearty cheer, and gave his bell a little ring. He vanished, leaving Sarah amid the soft glow of red and green and gold light as festive tunes played softly in the background.
On and on, in an infinite loop……
© David J Cambridge 2018
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