Seeing Red – by CM Franklyn

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Santa-dad creeps past the boys’ bedroom in case they’re asleep; he jingles all the way in case they’re not. That’s how his mam used to do it, back when he was a mere snapper of whips. ‘You must get straight to bed!’ she’d say. ‘And stay asleep—or he won’t visit!’ But come midnight, she’d be janglin’ those bells—the ones she’d inherited from her morris-dancin’ father: shin-pads, so he could kick noise straight down the lugholes of his Cornish neighbours whether they liked it or not. That’s tradition for ya. And, because some things don’t change, here they are—again. This time, owing to the fact that her son has arms like legs, they’re on his biceps.

They rattle as he edges his heavy way downstairs lugging a sackful of goodies, careful not to make a sound. Apart from the not-exactly-quiet arm-bell thing he’s got goin’ on. And the majesty of his girth adding a clump-clump to the festivities. And the intermittent sneezing caused by the permanent hay fever with which he suffers—even in the bleak midwinter. There’s nothing silent about this night, I tellzya.

Freddie’s onto him. He’s eight, but he’s not stupid. And he has ears. ‘It’s Dad. I told you last year but you didn’t believe me! Just listen!’

Bobby’s gonna take some convincing. He might be the older of the two, but he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Hell—he’s not even in the drawer (neither is the knife, but we’ll get to that). ‘I dunno. All them prezzies we got last year—how would Dad manage that on his own?’

‘He doesn’t,’ says Bobby. ‘Mum helps him out, dozy arse.’

‘Yeah—but why? Why would he dress up if we’re not supposed to see him? It makes no sense.’ Ah, Freddie and his incessant questioning. If only he’d open his peepers.

‘It’s in case we do. See him, I mean. If he catches us watching, he can just go, “Ho-ho-ho!” or whatever, and pretend to be him. Didn’t ya notice half the cushions are missing off the sofa? He’s tucked them under his costume.’ (Why is the dude always on the porky side? Why not have Slender-Claus for a change?)

The noises continue as the kids carry on listening. Rustling happens. And crinkling, too. The rustling and the crinkling of the paper-wrapped packages being de-sacked and placed by the fire. Even though they don’t have a fire. And if they did, it wouldn’t be particularly advisable to put the presents anywhere near it, really, what with it being a BIG BURNY DEATH-FLAME HAZARD ‘n’ all. Around the tree would make more sense—yes, let’s go with that. I should’ve typed that in the first place. Idiot. (Me, not you. Although …*)

*Depends who’s reading, really.

So, this dad geezer—are you still with me?—places the presents around the tree. He drops a box as it slips from his grasp. Nothing’s broken, apart from the almost-silence, which is as shattered as his children’s innocence. Twigging on to the shuffling of boy-feet upstairs, he shushes himself like a lush doing an honestly, I haven’t touched a—hic!—drop routine, and darts behind the living room door to hide.

‘That’s it!’ says Fred, who’d just that moment shortened his name because it takes slightly less effort to type. ‘What’s it?’ asks Bob, in italics.

‘I’m going out there. I’m gonna get proof once and for all. Giz yer phone. I know where to hide. Keep yer eyes peeled in case Mum’s on the lookout.’

‘What if Dad gets past you and comes upstairs before you get back?’

‘Watch for the red,’ says Fred, coz it rhymes. ‘As soon as you see the red, run back inside and close the door. I’ll be fine—I’ll sneak back in once he’s gone to bed.’

            Fred slinks downstairs, taking the steps four-at-a-time owing to his really lengthy legs which I probably should have mentioned earlier even though they have has no bearing on the story other than to add a really jarring, meandering bit to please my editor who says I should vary the length of my sentences, irrelevance be damned. Having a quick gander, he spots the prezzies by the fire under the tree, and smirks inwardly. But there’s no sign of his dad. Hmm, he thinks. ‘Hmm,’ he says, and makes his sneaky way back upstairs to his brother.

            A scream, then, followed by some unintelligible words, which I cannot even begin to spell. Bob’s there, at the bedroom door, bloodied and eyelidless, along with the obviously-telegraphed and hideously-foreshadowed ending. The peelings are on the floor—somewhere. I mean—it’s impossible to make them out amongst the gouged flesh and the sanguine splats all over the discarded blade.

Next comes the Santa Dash as Dad legs it up the stairs to the source of the noise. Mum’s already on the scene, because she loves a good Police Squad! reference.

            ‘What the hell did you do?’

            ‘He … he told me to keep my eyes peeled,’ Bob whimpers. ‘But it’s okay, Freddie. I believe you now. I see the red.’

            ‘It’s a good job I didn’t tell him to keep his ear to the door,’ giggles Fred, ‘or he might have taken me literally on that, too!’

            ‘Ha-ha!’ Mum chuckles.

            ‘Ho-ho-ho!’ laughs Dad.

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