Here is my complete 3words xmas/December story. Yes, I would like to edit it, and no doubt will if it ever moves toward inclusion in a publication, but for now simply want to record it as is. And it makes it easier for anyone who might like to read it. So…
There was no SNOWMAN laughing on the front lawn, no NATIVITY scene for passersby to marvel at, and certainly no heartwarming WREATH on the door to welcome strangers.
But there was a good reason for this: strangers weren’t welcome. They were strange, and should best keep to themselves, so far as Barry Sayer was concerned.
Barry’s house had developed something of a local reputation over the years. A mythology, almost. Nobody could recall ever seeing the front door open. Not for the postman, nor any brave Halloween revelers, and certainly not for carol singers.
See, Barry was an all-year humbug.
And he had lived there all his life.
Well, he had left to go to school, and then to work, and to get married, but he had spent the majority of the rest of his life in that house. He had even met his girlfriend, then fiancé, wife, mother to his children, and then grandmother to their children in that house, as the young Mary had been the EGGNOG-offering daughter of Barry’s mother’s best friend, bumping into one another under the MISTLETOE.
Of course, all of this happened slowly, and nobody had even considered the future appearance of young NOEL.
Barry sat hunched by his fireplace, barely a spark flickering beneath the ghosts of long-gone STOCKINGs, although in some distant part of his mind he still saw them, even if he never allowed the thought to fully form.
Unaware, he glanced over his shoulder, toward the corner where he used to place the long-suffering tree, and everyone sang CAROLS as they took turns hanging handmade BAUBLES and crackers on the fading branches. The tree had always felt like it was on its last legs.
Barry closed his eyes and heaved a sigh, barely noticing the soot fluttering from his chimney.
A few dark spots fluttered out and away from the FIREPLACE, like demonised SNOWFLAKEs on some mystery breeze, settling on Barry’s threadbare carpet, a soft rumbling following after them.
Barry’s hairy ears perked, and he glanced up as he inched his rickety chair back, his old heart beating a little too fast as he eased up on to his feet and skulked behind the chair, as if it could protect him from… whatever was happening.
Feeling safer, he braved a peek, convinced he had half-recognised something, a voice, singing, catching a word here or there, convinced one had been RUDOLPH.
Barry ducked back behind the chair, turned away, and squeezed his eyes shut as somebody –sounded like a clumsy ELF or FAERIE— squealed and fell, forcing more soot out into the room, quickly followed by a thud and a tiny groan.
Barry started to feel dizzy, so opened his eyes and eased out a breath, but still wouldn’t look, although he could hear rustling, and was itching to know, but couldn’t muster the courage.
“…red-nosed REINDEER, had a very shiny nose…”
Barry shook his head, knowing he’d finally gone crazy, as whatever impossibility had fallen was singing Christmas carols.
He took a deep breath, his hands on his chest, wondering if he was about to see ANGELs, his pain beginning but also over. But nothing felt different inside, no cause to be MERRY. He wasn’t sure if he was upset or delighted, but knew that wasn’t a smile on his face.
“Enough,” he mumbled to himself.
He scrambled to his feet, grabbed the chair and wrenched it across the room, vaguely aware of it striking something. He stood as tall as he could, but then leaned forward, squinting at his visitor.
“What the hell kind of CHESTNUT are you?”
Barry’s visitor chuckled. “Can’t you guess who I am?”
“I have no earthly idea.”
Barry shook his head but kept his eyes firmly fixed on whatever it was that had fallen from his fireplace. It looked kind of like an elf, or goblin, or pixie, or some such madness. He reflected on what he had eaten earlier, reminded of SCROOGE and his rotten cheese or stew symptoms.
“Do you like my SANTA-like beard?” the elfinixie asked.
“I don’t care one FIGGY pudding about your-”
“But you should.”
“And why is that?”
The elfinixie chuckled softly. “Just pull it.”
Barry checked over his shoulder, leering at his TINSEL-free curtains expecting some reality TV show GRINCH to be sneakily filming him acting . He turned back to the elinixie and stepped closer.
“You want me to pull your beard?”
“You’re not going to explode?”
“HO HO HO.”
“You’re not Santa.”
“And you won’t fart?”
“Certainly not because you pulled my finger, no.”
Barry shrugged, took another step, and slowly reached out and down, gently sliding his fingers and thumb into the silky soft facial hair.
The elfinixie grinned and nodded, so Barry tugged, and then everything changed.
Barry’s eyes blurred and he stumbled, almost falling over, but the elfinixie grabbed his hips and steadied him. Barry wanted to shout, to ask what was happening, but his mouth was GINGERBREAD dry, and his brain wouldn’t quite find the words.
Then, just as suddenly as everything had twisted into COLLY bird crazy, the world righted itself, and Barry opened his eyes, surprised and yet not to find himself still in his lounge, his FROSTY fingers lodged in the elfinixie’s silky beard.
Barry opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but then saw the three stockings hanging over the fireplace. He spoke without turning, unable to shift his eyes from the awful past. “How… Where did you… What is going…”
Barry gasped and dropped to his knees, certain he could smell Mary’s old MINCE pies.
The eflinixie leaped to Barry’s side and hugged him, using his tiny finger to lift Barry’s chin. Barry thought he fought it, but couldn’t have done, for the little fellow couldn’t have the strength to force him to do anything.
Barry heard laughter from the kitchen, and turned just in time to see his long-dead son skip through carrying a plate of CHOCOLATES and MARSHMALLOWS.
Barry staggered back, but Noel the elfinixie somehow steadied him. Barry’s arm rested on Noel’s shoulder, though he wasn’t aware of placing it, nor did he register the comfort given. He couldn’t stop staring at his boy.
He tried to speak, but couldn’t. He swallowed and licked his lips, finally managing to whisper, “JOSEPH?”
The boy didn’t hear. Instead, he crossed the room and placed the FESTIVE feast on the table beside some WRAPPING paper.
Barry dropped to his knees and hung his head, mumbling, “His fifth Christmas. My gift we shared Christmas Eve.”
Noel hugged him.
Barry cried, “Why?”
Noel said, “Why what?”
“Why am I seeing this?” Barry said, sucking in a breath and wiping his eyes. “This happened so long ago. Am I going CRACKERS?”
Noel hugged him. “No. It’s simply mental GLITTER. A little MAGIC from your long ago.”
“He was such a sweet boy.” Barry hid his face and took a deep breath. “I hurt him.”
“Was it intentional?”
“Of course not.”
“Then you should let go.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Did he never hurt you?” Noel asked.
Barry shrugged. “Perhaps.”
“And you forgave him?”
“Well, then.” Noel smiled and nodded. “Brace yourself.”
Barry felt dizzy and sick as the room vibrated and span, cursing Noel to the NAUGHTY list if he was to blame. He certainly seemed to be aware of what was happening, and could be causing it.
But was blame even possible within this PANTOMIME of madness?
The swirling stopped and Barry opened his eyes, wiping them one last time, hoping he was back in his now, but he wasn’t.
It was still his home, but the PINE cone coloured wallpaper suggested the seventies. He pulled his arms to his chest and glanced at his guide. Surely he wouldn’t dare…
Noel wouldn’t hold his eye, instead turning to face the approaching voices.
Barry cowered behind the sofa, not wanting to see, but knew he must, so peeked over the top.
DECORATIONS adorned every space, covering the ceiling and walls, looped between the light fitting and a bookcase, then the fireplace, where Barry tried not to look at the array of photos of Joseph and his younger sister HOLLY.
The kitchen door banged open and in skipped an adult Holly singing JINGLE bells, Joseph smells. Barry smiled, his humbled heart embracing her, then her daughter, who was pushing a wheelchair-bound Joseph.
Joseph grunted and EVE let go of the backrests and turned to her mother, eyebrows raised. Holly half-shrugged and half-sighed. Eve rolled her eyes and jumped onto the sofa.
Eve looked up. “What?”
“You forget,” Joseph mumbled. “Your gramps doesn’t like any life in this house.”
Holly glared at her brother then smiled at Eve. “He’s just not into Christmas.”
“Or his family,” Joseph said.
Eve smiled. “Where is he? Out with the DRUMMERs drumming?”
Eve grinned. “Or maybe the GEESE-a-laying?”
“That’s enough,” Holly said, but she smiled.
Unseen by his family, Barry turned to Noel. “What are we doing here?” he mumbled. “These people are but GHOSTs of my past.” He shook his head roughly from side to side. “I’ve always been a hateful person.”
“Come now,” Noel soothed.
“No, I mean it.”
Noel chuckled. “I meant it literally. Come now. With me. Please.” He smiled and eased his arm through Joseph’s and led him away from his family before they cracked another Barry-jokey.
“I liked Christmas as a child,” Barry said, before the swirly-crazy blinded him again. “Built many a FROSTY, and imagined playing with DASHER and the rest. Guess I lost something somewhere.”
“It’s easier for things to fall apart than to work on keeping them together.”
Barry sighed. “You should design ADVENT calendars.”
Noel laughed and squeezed Barry’s arm. “We should be off.”
“You’re asking this time? You were like the POLAR Express before.”
“I didn’t think we needed to rush now you know what’s happening.”
“That sick feeling.”
Barry coughed hard, doubling over as he tried to free some stuck air.
“You okay, old man?”
“Old?” Barry wheezed. “Sure, I remember the MANGER.”
“I’m just saying…”
Barry straightened up and sighed. “Why not just take us where we’re going?”
Noel said, “Are you in a rush?”
Barry shook his head. “I don’t want to be here.”
“Is there anywhere you WOULD like to be?”
Barry considered, then shrugged.
Noel arched an eyebrow. “Any WHEN?”
Barry snorted. “Now you’re not making any FRANKINCENSE.”
Noel stared at him for a moment, then exploded with laughter. He slapped his thighs and shook his head, but finally regained control, and smiled at the old man.
Barry said, “You’re one crazy SHEPHERD.”
Noel shrugged, smiling. “Then you’re going to love this.”
“I’ll be surprised,” Barry mumbled.
Noel smirked. “Careful. Your WISHES could come true.”
Barry clenched his fists, grimacing as his body hunched over in anticipation of the pain and discomfort, only this time it didn’t happen, and when he heard ringing BELLs. young CHEERs and laughter, he inched open his eyes and glanced around, half-expecting Noel to have vanished, no more than a figment of his imagination.
“You okay?” Noel asked.
Barry heaved out a sigh and slumped into his seat. “When are we? What crazy LORDS-a-leaping are you going to confound me with now?”
“No,” Barry snapped. “I’m not interested.”
Noel whispered, “Just listen.”
Barry shook his head and looked away.
Noel said, “Do you hear that?”
Barry heaved out a sigh but turned his head to listen. “Sounds like a CHOIR.”
“In the street?” Noel asked.
“Of course! Are you a hermit?” Barry laughed and shook his head. “That’s a bit pot and kettle, huh?”
“A little,” Noel said, chuckling softly, still listening to the REJOICING voices. “So they come and sing every year?”
“I guess.” Barry looked away.
“Who are they?”
“They could be TURTLE doves. How would I know?”
“You don’t answer the door? Ever?”
“Why would I?” Barry snapped, standing and glaring at Noel. “Are we done?”
Noel sucked in a slow, deep breath and joined Barry on the sofa. Barry shifted, as if about to stand, but Noel gently took hold of his arm and leaned into him, like a hug without WRAPPING his arms around the uncomfortable old hermit.
“Leave me be,” Barry whined, his eyes closed, his head twitching.
“It’s ok,” Noel said.
“Nothing is okay,” Barry mumbled.
“But it can be.”
“Life can be a WONDERLAND.”
“It’s hell,” Barry snapped, pushing Noel away. “You don’t understand anything. If you did you wouldn’t try and drown me in all these good TIDINGS.”
Noel smiled softly. “What’s wrong, my friend? Talk to me?”
Barry shook his head. “I’m not your friend.”
“I’ve no idea who you are or why you’re here.”
“And I don’t care.” He shrugged. “There are no SWANS-a-swimming here, buddy. No PIPERS-piping. Life is a mess. It sucks. People suck.”
“No,” Barry snapped. “No ‘come on’. I don’t know what kind of SNOW-globe kind of world you think we’re living in, but those carolers don’t fill me with joy, they annoy me.”
Noel listened. “What carolers?”
Barry turned, and fell to the floor clutching his chest. He braced himself for the infamous ICICLES chasing up his arm, and his breath fading like a PARTRIDGE-in-a-pear-tree…
“What?” he mumbled, annoyed, but wondering why he was bothered if he was dying. And yet his heart was at PEACE. And not in the anticipated bad way.
The life-stealing pain hadn’t manifested.
He opened his eyes to complain, question or shout at his visitor, but he wasn’t there. Barry called as he sat up, but the little elfinixie had vanished.
Barry took a couple of longer breaths, testing himself, almost smiling at the lack of discomfort.
Somebody knocked at the door.
The knock repeated, followed by scuffling feet, cleared throats, and WHITE Christmas filling the night’s ears.
He stared at the door, remembering the last time he opened it. He looked away, closing his eyes, praying for a SILENT night.
His neighbours had whispered for years about his hermitic life, his hatred for the living, but they didn’t understand. He didn’t hate life, he feared it.
More than that, he feared HOPE, because once that faded…
Barry “saw” the policeman standing there, informing him about Mary, and some accident, but Barry had already been closing the door… on himself, condemning everyone.
Was that what the elfinixie had been showing him? The PAST and PRESENT? And all in one night.
The letter box opened. “Enough is enough. Let us in.”
Barry shook his head, but watched himself get to his feet and stagger toward the door. What was he doing? Only strangers knocked, and he didn’t care…
He watched his fingers turn the lock and open the creaking door.
“About time,” someone said.
Barry smiled down at his son, then up at his daughter, grandkids and great-grandkids, including the MIRACLE (now-beardless) boy Noel, recognising faces despite never meeting them, now wondering why.