Out of Retirement

Merry Christmas, everyone! 😀

 

Out of Retirement

By Adam Dixon

 

“Voila! What do you think, mon ami?” The old reindeer turned at the sound of the cheery voice, his legs creaking and his back threatening to cramp up. He lifted his shaggy white head at the newcomer as he stepped in through the door and into the tiny cabin. A large old man dressed in green cloth grinned and turned his flabby jowls towards the roaring fire. The orange and gold light flickered across his clean-shaven face.

Well, Pierre, I didn’t realise you had quite so many chins,” he replied, sending the thought with a mischievous wink. The old man’s smile faded and he huffed, flopping his bulk down on a nearby armchair.

“Oh, you are a scoundrel!” he declared “Ah, but you are right, of course!” There was a small wooden table next to his armchair and upon it stood a bottle of wine and two clean glasses. Pierre uncorked the bottle and helped himself.

“So, the big night is upon us again, no? It comes around so quickly!”

Yes, it does,” the deer nodded. “I still get the old feelings of anticipation, you know. I suppose they never go away, even after retirement. How long as it been now?

“Twenty-five years for me,” Pierre replied. “And I believe that it will be twenty-two for you. Mon Dieu, how time flies!”

Hard to believe that the new Santa is the second one after you,” the deer said. “And the Rudolph is the third after me. We seem to be getting through them these days. Pity about Seamus, he was a wonderful Santa.

“Oui, he was,” Pierre said sadly. “But a bit too fond of whiskey, in the end. He shouldn’t have drank so much before flying through that Pacific storm…such a shame…and that was three years ago now, no?”

Yes, that’s right. Still, the new Santa appears to be finding his feet,” the deer sent. As soon as he had finished speaking, there came a knock on the door. A moment later an elf poked her head inside, an expectant look on her face. The cold night air rushed in and disturbed the fire, sending shadows dancing around the room in a panic.

“Evening, sirs,” she said, curtseying as she stepped inside. The small bells on her tall, pointed hat jingled. “Santa would like speak with you. He’s a bit nervous about tonight, I think.”

“Speak of the devil!” Pierre said with a broad grin. “Wiggles and I are not up to much, please send him in!” The elf curtseyed again and left the cabin. The reindeer growled and glared at Pierre.

Why do you insist on calling me that?” he sent.

“It is your name, is it not?” Pierre asked, pouring out an extra glass of wine as he refilled his own.

That’s not the point, you know I hate it!” Wiggles sent, scowling. “That was the hardest part about retiring, having to lose my first decent name…” Before Pierre could begin laughing in earnest, the door to the cabin swung open again. Another very fat man strode into the room, resplendent in his red-and-white clothing and shining white beard. His dark face was creased in happiness as he walked over to Pierre and seized his hand.

“Pierre! Ça me fait toujours plaisir de te voir!” he said with enthusiasm. Pierre smiled at the compliment and nodded towards Wiggles.

“And to you, mon ami! But let us speak in English for the sake of our valued steed, yes? He is not intelligent enough for two languages!” Pierre yelped as Wiggles bit him on the hip.

I have a working understanding of the language, you fat fool!” Wiggles chided. “Half a century of listening to you wail your old songs gave me that much at least!

“Those are ballads of great beauty and skilled composition, I’ll have you know!” Pierre said with a laugh, rubbing his hip. “Now, what can we do for you, dear Emmanuel? May I offer you some wine?” The man in red smiled and spoke up, stroking his beard with his fingers.

“Nah man, I’d better not,” he said slowly, sampling the less familiar words with care. His accent was thick and exotic for the North Pole. “Pierre, I don’t like the take-off, man. Reindeers are all ready, but I’m the scared old goat! Ya both helped me last Christmas, an’ so could…could ya come an’ see me off this time? I’d be grateful.” Emmanuel’s eyes moved imploringly between Pierre and Wiggles. It was Wiggles who spoke first.

Of course, Emmanuel!” the reindeer sent, shooting Pierre an eager look. “The fat fool and I were just discussing the old times, as it happens. I think we both miss the job more than we’d like to admit.” Emmanuel’s grin split his beard in unequal halves and he nodded with vigour.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” he said with excitement. “I bet you do miss it, man! It’s the best job I ever had! The kiddies are so happy in the mornin’, an’ I get to make it happen! An’ seein’ Haiti again always brings me joy!”

“Oui, that is wonderful!” Pierre said with longing in his eyes. “I am envious, Emmanuel. I would love to see Lille again…to be frank, I would love to see the world again, but I am too old to travel away from here now.” Emmanuel seemed struck by a thought and he cocked his head to one side.

“Maybe not, man,” he said slowly. “Ya should come with me! Both of ya! Think about it, man! Up in the sky again, feelin’ the wind in ya hair and hearin’ those sleigh bells jinglin’!” Pierre’s eyes widened and Wiggles was too taken aback to say anything.

“Emmanuel, that is a magnificent idea,” Pierre replied, choked. “I didn’t realise just how much I missed that creaky old bucket and the stink of the reindeer blowing in my face until this evening. I’d love to do it all one more time!”

Eloquent as always,” sent Wiggles. “You can count me in, as well, Emmanuel! That is if the Grand Elf sees fit to let us, and if we can get the ‘creaky old bucket’ off the ground with you both in it!

“Aha, you a cheeky one, man!” Emmanuel said, grinning from ear to ear. “Come, come! Let’s go an’ speak with him right now!”

***

The Grand Elf was an old being who radiated knowledge and wisdom. His small face was cracked and creased by innumerable lines from innumerable years on the earth, and his long white beard trailed the floor in twin lines behind him. Standing in the large, decadent Grand Cabin, supported by two young elves who held him at the elbows, he looked hard at his audience. Despite their own long lives and their familiarity with him, the trio were struck dumb with awe at the elf. They fidgeted before his gaze, scuffing their feet on the floor and clearing their throats as he pondered their question.

“This…is most irregular,” the Grand Elf rasped. His voice sounded like sandpaper scraping across a wooden toy. “There is no precedent for a former Santa Claus and Rudolph taking part in Christmas Eve so long after the termination of their duties. Why should I allow it?”

“Master Elder, sir,” Emmanuel began, wringing his hands together. “I’m still scared about the take-off, an’ I could use the help.”

“The elves working here can provide ample instruction,” the Elder wheezed, frowning.

“I know, sir, but I would feel much better to have my friends with me,” Emmanuel pressed. “An’ also, they wanna fly again! You’d be doin’ them a great favour, too!”

“Hmm…” the Grand Elf mused, rubbing his chin with a trembling, time-withered hand. “It is not simply a question of missing the journey into the sky, but of the magic of Christmas. Do these two still hold that magic close, I wonder? Or has it faded with the decades of inactivity?”

“Tch! Don’t be silly, man!” Emannuel said, affronted. He was immediately contrite. “’Scuse me, sir! I mean, of course the magic is still there. These two are walkin’ Christmas spirits!”

“I would ask them the question and not you, young man,” the Grand Elder said with a stern frown. Emmanuel blinked at the comment but held his tongue.

“Sir, I don’t know where I ought to begin,” Pierre said with confusion. “I… Christmas has always been special to me, and I tried to spread my happiness every year when I was living in France. I helped charitable organisations feed the homeless and visited the elderly in my younger days….” Pierre trailed off, thinking. The Grand Elder stood in silence, waiting. Pierre gulped and continued.

“But I must talk to you about the work itself…I still remember the first time I was given the honour of being Santa…” Pierre stared into the distance with a smile on his face. “Mon Dieu, it was fantastic! To wear those wonderful clothes, to see the world with sturdy animals and the starlight to guide me…. incredible! But…but most of all I loved to imagine the smiles on the faces of the children on Christmas morning. Ah, the rosy glow of happiness! The cheer in their eyes! The laughter and the love! That, to me, is the real joy of Christmas!”

Pierre is right,” Wiggles sent. “It’s been a long time since I was a foal, but I have spent every year since trying to make humans happy. The children and the old, the merry and the glum, they all deserve to be joyful at Christmas. Serving mankind as Rudolph for forty years has been the highlight of my life. I’ve never been happier, and I still want to spread my happiness across the world with my friend Pierre.

“We did it together, mon cher ami,” Pierre said with great affection. He laid a meaty hand on the old reindeer’s head. Wiggles nuzzled Pierre’s hand and bleated fondly. The love between the two friends was palpable and one of the Grand Elder’s aides sniffed loudly. The other dabbed at her eyes. Gradually, the air inside the Great Cabin became warmer and seemed to shimmer around Pierre. The fat man laughed in delight as he flexed his tingling fingers, his eyes growing wide as soft, white sparks danced along his skin. His belly shook as he laughed, the happy, rich sound booming around the room as he sparkled with light. Next to him, Wiggles began to croon in the back of his throat, bucking his legs and shaking his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, snorted twice and then sneezed. As he lifted his head, a crimson light shone around his nose, lighting up the astonished onlookers. His face looked as close to a bright smile as a reindeer could get. Bathed in the light from the two friends, Emmanuel clapped his hands together and bounced up and down, his bulk making the floorboards creak.

“You see! You see! They’ve still got it!” he said, his wide smile threatening to burst from his face. “What did I say, man? I told you!”

“Yes, this is quite a display!” the Grand Elf said, beaming through his own beard. “The magic of Christmas is still strong within you both! Excellent, excellent! I see no reason for you not to accompany Santa, if you are both able. Blast the irregularity, it is Christmas!” Emmanuel seized Pierre’s hand in both of his and pumped it vigorously.

“Oh, Pierre, my heart sings for you!” he said, still bouncing on his heels. “This will be the best Christmas ever!”

“Oui, mon ami,” Pierre said, sharing the excitement with tears in his eyes. “It certainly will! Now, I must prepare! I will need my old suit, my old hat and my old boots! Oh non, will I still fit into them? I have gained so much weight since then…Oh, Mon Dieu, why did I decide to shave today of all days?” Emmanuel burst out laughing as the old man hurried off towards his own cabin, muttering to himself and fretting about the cold night air. Wiggles shook his great head and sent his amusement to Emmanuel.

That old fool never did have the best timing!” the glow from his nose waved merrily as he laughed. “Now, I’d best get ready myself. See you on the runway, Santa!

“Not soon enough, Rudolph!” Santa answered with a wink. Wiggles scampered off, feeling as happy as a foal at feeding time. What a wonderful Christmas it was going to be!

 

 

Fiction Fursday/Flossy’s Chance

It’s Thursday again and time for another short story. This week my prompt comes from the Ben Kenobi to my Luke Skywalker of short stories, Geoff Le Pard. By the way, did you lot know that he’s published his Nano stories in a collection? Well then, now you do and you can visit the Amazon page and take a look! Go on, they’re very good!

Geoff’s suggestion is an interesting one. He challenged me to write a story in the 2nd person involving a rescue dog. Now, I don’t believe I’ve ever written a story in the 2nd person before so I’ve taken on the challenge with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I hope it turned out okay! Thanks again, Geoff!

P.S. If any of you lovely people would like to challenge me to write a story one week, please feel free to leave a comment and let me steal your ideas!

Flossy’s Chance

By Adam Dixon

Do you remember when they first brought you home? The word hadn’t prompted feelings of security or solace before, only thoughts of misery and pain. The big place with the cages hadn’t been much better as you had missed your old master terribly despite all he had done. You liked the new humans a lot, in fact you believed that you loved them, but you weren’t sure about “going home” again. Your fears were allayed almost immediately as soon as you stepped into their house, your three legs quivering. It was much, much bigger than the last one you lived in and it smelled better too. It smelled cleaner, more inviting, with barely a hint of alcohol anywhere. It smelled of happiness and comfort, without the pervasive taint of anger and bitterness. The two little boys even gave you a new name to signify your new life: Chance. It was a good name and you loved it.

Do you remember when you saw Flossy for the first time? You were quite a shock to her as well! The old black cat was extremely put-out by your arrival, viewing you as an invader to her home of peace and pampering. You were frightened of her to begin with, but then again you were frightened of everything back then. Flossy resorted to passive-aggression anyway: she would hiss at you if you approached her food bowl and she would demurely ignore you whenever you sniffed her but she would never touch you. You grew confident and happy with that thought in mind and began to truly enjoy your new home. The young boys would take you out for your daily walks, laughing merrily as you hobbled along to keep up. You would cower whenever another dog drew near, whimpering as they tried to greet you. You even ran from adoring strangers who wanted to stroke you and call you a good boy. You were so frightened of everything, but you knew that you were safe with your new family nearby.

Then, the incident happened. You remember it well, although I’m sure that you wish you didn’t. You had been playing with the boys and had retreated out into the garden as they chased you. Barking with delight, you had stumbled into the grassy paradise eager for more. The boy’s mother had called them back, however, so you were left to amuse yourself. You knew that you shouldn’t have gone anywhere near the wall, but curiosity got the better of you. You approached the low wooden structure and after sniffing about you scented your neighbour. Too late. With a bark more akin to a roar, the gigantic hound from next door leaped over the fence and stood in front of you, his eyes alight with fire. You were so frightened! You had heard the nightly declarations of the great beast for months, listening to him boast about his strength and cunning and of how he could tear any of the local dogs apart. Staring up at his bared fangs you believed it completely. The big dog mocked you with his laughing growl and approached with deliberate menace. You whimpered and begged, crouching as low as possible because fleeing was futile. Your almost-forgotten memories of the beatings and the cruelty came flooding back and you almost died of fear then and there.

The last thing you expected was for Flossy to get involved. You were dimly aware of the sound of the cat-flap bursting open and before you knew it a black streak of fur sailed over your head and struck the big dog. The dog yelped and leaped backwards, bleeding from deep scratches on his face. Flossy stood between you and the beast, her hackles raised and her tail erect like a sword, spitting and hissing furiously. The big dog was shaken by the sudden interference and stared down at the old cat in disbelief. Flossy screeched and charged, her claws extended. The big dog yelped like a new-born pup and scrambled back over the wall in a panic. Flossy nimbly jumped on top on the wall and hurled more abuse at the hound as he raced away. You were saved!

From that day on, Flossy rarely left your side. It’s strange, isn’t it? The way Flossy saw herself as your protector after months of dislike? Clearly it had all been an act and you had never been happier to realise it. Your new-found guardian angel stalked a few feet behind you whenever you hobbled into the garden and could be spotted watching you play in the park with the children, calmly licking her fur but keeping a wary eye on everything. Feeling her watchful green eyes on you at all times made you feel as if you were wearing armour. Nobody and nothing could touch you when Flossy was around!

Sadly though, Flossy was an old cat…her death hit you hard, didn’t it? You knew that she hadn’t been well for a long time and tried to stop her from following you when her legs were aching. Flossy ignored you and followed you anyway. She was a stubborn old thing, wasn’t she! She never shirked one day from her duties as your protector, did she? It was heart-breaking for you when she passed during the night and your piteous howls of pain awoke the family to share in your grief. It was a dark day when Flossy the Super-Cat wasn’t watching you anymore…

You’re still going to lie there, then? Ever since she was buried under her favourite apple tree you’ve spent hours lying there in the evenings. Do you mean to watch over her as she once did for you? If so, you’re a very sweet dog. Flossy would be happy knowing that you still cared. But it is getting dark now, so perhaps you had better come inside. There’s a good boy.

A – Z Challenge Day 24

The final day of this April’s Challenge is here, and I’ve got some catching up to do! Unfortunately, I have stumbled at the last hurdle this week and I will need to post three stories in order to complete the Challenge properly. But fear not, for I intend to pick myself up and sprint to make the finish!

I’m starting by uploading Thursday’s story, which was prompted by one of my email followers. The lovely Viki Allerston suggested “X” for “XENOPHOBIA”, and I think it’s a great word in such a restricted letter group! Unfortunately, this word is very relevant to the world today and so I wanted to treat with a degree of care. I have plans to explore this subject another day with a less restrictive word count, but I have come up with a short story which addresses it in the meantime. Thanks for the prompt, Viki!

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

XENOPHOBIA

By Adam Dixon

The good-natured chatter within the tavern hushed as the dark-skinned man wearing a turban walked in. He stopped as dozens of pairs of eyes turned towards him, most with open hostility. He gulped, took a deep breath and strode up towards the tavern keeper. The man ordered a drink in his rough accent and the other patrons reluctantly turned back to their own, grumbling to their companions about the “damn foreigners”. Two men seated close to the door glanced at one another and shook their heads.

“That was a close one, Rek” the first man said, stroking his waxed moustache. “It’s a good thing he isn’t armed or one of those fools at the back might’ve jumped him!”

“He is armed, Jarol,” the second man replied, gesturing towards the stranger with his mug of ale. He was taller than his friend, with a shiny bald head and a bushy beard. “He has a dagger hidden in one of his boots and another one up his sleeve. These are dangerous times, my friend.”

“By the Gods! I know I’ve been away for a while, but things are worse here than I could have imagined!” Jarol exclaimed. “It’s a sorry state of affairs when a man must come secretly armed in order to have a drink! And all because he is from the Eastern realms!”

“It is,” Rek agreed, patting the scabbard of his short-sword. “But there’s more to it than simple dislike. The Easterners have been causing tensions in these parts for decades but the High Lords won’t acknowledge it. The Northmen don’t appreciate the way that Easterners have been muscling in on trade and housing since they settled, but the Easterners do nothing to aid their cause. They strut around villages in large gangs, intimidating all but the bravest or the most foolish of the natives. It’s rather unusual to see an Eastern man come into a tavern alone, actually. Naturally, many Northmen have become embittered and are crying out to ‘reclaim their land’ from these ‘invaders’.”

Reclaim?” Jarol grimaced in disgust. “Invaders? What do these Northmen think their ancestors were doing in the Eastern realms a century ago, taking in the scenery? That is ridiculous!”

“It is, but keep your voice lowered, my friend,” Rek said quietly, turning to glare at the men in the tavern who had begun to pay attention to them. The men lowered their heads before his stony gaze. “These Northmen are fiercely proud, and arrogant. Do not make the mistake of questioning their ire in public.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” Jarol said, nervously glancing around the room. The other men had returned to their conversations, but they seemed to be keeping their ears open.

“It’s happening in my homeland, too,” he said, looking at his ale sadly. “The Southern Province used to be so accepting, so united once the Divide broke down. Alas, twenty years later and the liberators have become our new jailors! My own family had its farmland seized by the new lords and we were all but forced to move north. We don’t have as many issues here, but we are still seen as second-class citizens, even if it’s done politely.”

“It’s such a tragedy that your land couldn’t remain united, it was such a wonderful time to be alive when the Divide ended.” Rek’s mood was sombre.

“It truly was, wasn’t it?” Jarol smiled and his eyes clouded as he became lost in his memories. “We were all cheering, Southerners of all colours and creeds clasping hands and dancing together, sharing music and food. Brothers and sisters at long last! But now…the Divide is back, simply in disguise, coaxed back by ancient prejudice and grudges.” He sighed dejectedly and took a long swallow from his mug. His friend simply nodded, frowning.

“The trouble is,” Rek began, gesturing around the tavern. “Ordinary folk don’t understand what’s happening to their lands, but they are always eager to pin the blame on somebody else. Here, it is the Easterners, and in the Southern Province it’s your kind. We seem to have lost the ability to live amongst each other peacefully.” He stopped as some of the men began loudly talking about the turbaned stranger in aggressive voices. The man sat at the bar, keeping his head low and trying to ignore their comments. The big man stood up.

“Come on, friend,” he said. “Let’s go and sit with that fellow and give him some company. Perhaps he’ll appreciate another drink and a way to shut those braggarts up.” The Jarol nodded, also rising.

“Yes, that’s a fine idea,” he responded with a smile. “The world may have forgotten how to be friendly, but you and I certainly haven’t! Let’s help the poor fellow out.” So the two men strode over to the frightened Eastern man and made his acquaintance. The man was initially suspicious and then greatly relieved at their presence, gesturing happily at the stools next to him. The men sat, and the other patrons looked on in dumb silence.

A – Z Challenge Day 20

I’m a day late with this one, for which I apologise. I was determined to keep on track with these posts but I found myself exhausted after work yesterday. I attempted to write my story yesterday evening but I decided to stop as I was reluctant to force a story just for the sake of posting it on the correct day. So, with my excuses out of the way you can all put down your pitchforks!

Today’s word (or yesterday’s) comes again from the matriarch of my childhood. As I’ve said, my Mum has been keen to help me with this Challenge wherever she can and has done so by providing me with another fantastic suggestion, and it is “T” for “TORRID”. I had a few ideas spring to mind with this one, although I suspect it may have come about due to my Mum reading trashy literature… who knows!

Anyway, here is what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it and I promise to stay on track for the final week!

TORRID

By Adam Dixon

Deidre reclined on the rumpled bed sheets and smoked a cigarette out of the hotel window, shivering as a gust of bitter wind found its way into the room. She gazed up at the grey sky and eyed its pregnant rainclouds with disinterest. The predicted storm was approaching and soon London would be subdued and miserable beneath its influence. Deidre, however, would not be. On the contrary, she was happier that dreary afternoon than she had been for months, and it was all thanks to Sam.

Deidre’s life had taken a turn for the worst two years previously, and it began on that fateful evening of July 2014 when her husband left her. Deidre had believed that her marriage was a happy one; she had been happy, at least. Derek had been a good husband, if a little on the quiet side, and their lives together had been functional and affectionate. Not enough, it seemed, to ensure Derek’s happiness. He had simply packed his bags that evening and left, leaving a shocked Deidre alone with her disbelief and her tears. As the months and the divorce proceedings wore on, Deidre slipped further and further into a pit of self-loathing and despair. She believed herself to be hideously unattractive, outwardly detestable and inherently unlovable. She was nearly fifty and having been in a relationship for more than two decades she had lost any and all knowledge of how to be single. She wallowed in her own misery, expecting to die in a world where nobody would give her a second thought. Then she met Sam.

Sam came into her life like a burning torch thrust into a dark cave. It was as if the world had regained its colour and the cruel bastard of a deity who wielded the paint had had a change of heart. Deidre had met Sam in a café the morning after her work’s Christmas party. Deidre had gone along out of a sense of obligation and had sat alone in a corner drinking steadily as she remembered previous, happier Christmases. The next morning as she sat nursing a massive hangover in her local Costa, a beautiful, engaging individual had approached her. Sam had been at the party the night before and was likewise dealing with a sore head and so suggested they sit in mutual misery. Deidre hadn’t the energy or the gumption to protest and so the two began talking. Despite their obvious age-gap, Deidre found Sam to be a wonderful, intelligent person who was also respectful, pausing to let Deidre speak whenever she found the courage to do so. Sam was funny too; Deidre had almost forgotten what it was like to laugh before that morning. They parted having exchanged numbers and promised to meet again the next morning. Mystified, Deidre had actually gone about the rest of her day with a smile on her face, bollocks to the hangover!

It didn’t take long before Deidre and Sam were meeting regularly over coffee and soon that moved on to lunch breaks together and the occasional drink at the end of the week. Deidre found herself opening her heart to her new friend, pouring out her feelings of worthlessness and her worries about her future. Sam had held her hand as she had sobbed, offering soothing words and companionship. Through her tears, Deidre had looked into Sam’s gorgeous face and suddenly they were embracing. Quite naturally, yet still surprisingly, they began their affair. It was an affair due to Deidre still technically being married, but it also posed one other, significant problem: Sam was her boss’ partner.

Back in the hotel room, Deidre sighed and glanced at herself in the mirror. She had never liked the sight of herself naked; she thought that she had far too many flabby parts and stretch marks collected through years of obesity to actually be attractive. Sam had never once complained, even going as far in the other direction as calling Deidre beautiful on several occasions. Despite her rational mind telling her otherwise, Deidre did feel beautiful with Sam. She felt beautiful and free…and guilty. Life had surprised her by making her boss a cuckold…she certainly hadn’t seen that coming!

The bathroom door opened behind her and bare feet padded on the carpet. Deidre exhaled the last drag of her cigarette and tossed the butt out of the window.

“You do realise that this can’t continue, don’t you?” Deidre asked sadly, afraid of the answer. Sam didn’t respond but instead moved silently around the bed. A pair of hands gently cupped Deidre’s chin and raised her head up. Deidre’s morose brown eyes locked with the most dazzling green eyes she had ever seen.

“Hush now,” Sam whispered sweetly, caressing Deidre’s cheek. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, not before. Now kiss me, you old worrywart!” Sam pressed her lips against Deidre’s, and her lover’s eyes closed. The two women embraced passionately, oblivious to the rain which began to hammer against their window.