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  • Writer's pictureGuest Writer

Dear...

Harriet Knowles’ devilishly delightful short story, “Dear…” takes us on a magical Christmas journey, upon which we meet all the familiar characters, and one not-so familiar one…read it with a wicked smile.


Author's introduction: This short story describes a meeting between St. Nicholas and a mystery figure, who has some letters for him that have gone astray. One of Nicholas' given names has remarkable similarities to the King of Hell, and letters that are sent up the Chimney sometimes go south instead of north. The figure accompanies St. Nicholas on his deliveries, and then receives a special gift in return.

 

Dear...

by Harriet Knowles


Nicholas puffed on his pipe and looked at his watch. There were no numbers on it, instead there were six dials that moved at a steady pace around the gold clock face. In front of him the reindeer pawed at the snowy ground underneath them, they were eager to be on their way. But it was not time yet. Nicholas would know when it was time. He wriggled his toes in his steel capped boots to stop them from freezing, and craned his stiff neck upwards to look at the sky. Across a canvas of the deepest turquoise, rivers of emerald and rose emerged from the horizon and danced. Where Nicholas lived, the northern lights were always visible but on this night they often revealed their most magical colours. Like a Peacock showing its finest feathers.


Nicholas was distracted from his reverie by a sudden cracking sound in the distance. The reindeer snorted and strained against their reigns in surprise. Nicholas took out his pipe from his mouth, laid it on the empty seat next to him and looked around. A few feet away from him, a small figure had popped into existence and had begun making its way across the ice. There was nothing around them for miles apart from Nicolas’ village, which was in the opposite direction to where this figure was coming from.


Nicolas squinted. There was nothing wrong with his eyesight usually, but to him the small figure seemed blurry and indistinct around the edges. There was also a new smell in the air that was making his nostrils burn. The Reindeer did not like it either, they spluttered and spat onto the ground. One of the Elves climbed out of the back of the sleigh to perch by Nicolas’ ear. The Elf was not much bigger than a hand-span and had a hooked nose that almost reached the upturned points of his shoes.


“Go and sit by the sacks with the others,” Nicolas whispered, “it’ll be alright.” Grumbling, the Elf retreated.


The figure was charting a determined course. It was bigger than an Elf and much smaller than a Reindeer and about the size of a human child. It kept on stumbling in the snow, which Nicolas observed was melting ever so slightly underneath the child’s shoes. The child was wrapped up in so many layers that it walked awkwardly with a wide gait, shifting one leg in front of the other with some effort. The figure came right up to the sleigh and met Nicholas’ astonished gaze. The child was dressed in what looked like many layers of pale furs from different animals. A large deerskin hat had been placed over its head, and a thick black scarf of sable fur was covering its mouth and was tucked into its jacket. Of its face, only a pair of glowing orange eyes, with pupils as sharp as pinpricks were visible. The Elves peered over the edge of the sleigh at the strange figure.

“Hello,” said Nicolas, at a loss of what else to say. The figure reached into its jacket and reached out a number of letters that had been singed at the edges.


“These were sent to my father by mistake,” said the figure, its voice muffled by the fur. “Is it too late?” Nicolas reached down and took the package of letters and leafed through them. He could see how it could happen, get one or two letters in the wrong order and your letter would travel South instead of north.


“I see,” Nicolas said, “No, not too late. The Elves will take care of it.” He reached behind him and passed the letters down to the Elves, who had retreated to wait by the sacks. The back of the Sleigh suddenly became a hive of activity. The Elves always brought a few tools with them just in case of last minute repairs.


“Thank you.” Nicolas said, and he attempted a puzzled smile at the strange little creature, who was continuing to wait by the sleigh with an air of expectation. Nicolas was very aware that it was almost time.


“Was there something else?” Nicolas asked, “Bit of a big night for me you know, lots to do.”


“The letters were addressed to my father,” the figure repeated, “I must make sure the wishes are fulfilled.”


“I can assure you that they will be,” said Nicolas, with a hint of impatience. The child’s eyes narrowed. Nicolas could see where this was going. The Elves stopped their activity momentarily. “Would you like to come along? Unless, you want to cause any mischief?” The child was already climbing aboard.


“There is to be no mischief tonight Mister,” the little figure said in a serious tone. “There’s a truce.” The little figure clambered over Nicolas’ expansive thighs. Nicolas could feel the heat coming from it, like it was a flame wrapped in clothes and not a child at all. The child settled on the seat next to Nicolas and looked around owlishly.


“Well then,” said Nicholas, “hold on.” The child gripped the edge of the sleigh with its mittens and leaned back into the seat.


At the first click of the reigns, the reindeer took off into the sky. The child watched in amazement as the stars became blurred. All of the hands on Nicolas’ watch stopped ticking.


All in all, Nicolas had to admit, the child was very well behaved. It had insisted on being given back its father’s letters, and as each Christmas wish was fulfilled the child set the letter alight and scattered the ashes over the side of the sleigh. It toasted marshmallows for their hot chocolates with its breath as they stopped for a break somewhere above Indonesia. It had even helped with making some of the toys. Although one of the whistles the child had made almost made Nicolas’ ears bleed, and had spooked the Reindeer. The child had reluctantly toned the noise down from ear splitting to mildly irritating.


When the sacks were empty and the Elves were snoozing in the back and using the empty sacks as blankets, the sleigh began its journey home. The sky was turning pink around them. Nicolas looked over at the child, who was writing something on a scrap of parchment. It looked to be deep in thought. Gracefully, the Reindeers began their descent. One of his helpers had made a runway with burning torches to guide them in. Nicolas was looking forward to a nice hot bath and something to eat, although heaven forbid another mince pie. Nicolas noticed, as they were coming into land a tall figure in a violet cloak was watching their approach. A knot began to form in Nicolas’ stomach, until he reminded himself that the truce would still be intact until the sunrise on Boxing Day. Besides, they would not dare. Would they?


The figure did not move as they landed but Nicolas could feel the heaviness of its glare. The child pulled on his sleeve.


“Is it too late?” the child asked. It presented Nicolas with a letter to him. Nicolas’ given name was spelt correctly, but using runes that Nicolas had not seen in a long time.


“No,” said Nicolas, glancing nervously at the figure, who was now gliding over the snow towards them.


“Not too late,” Nicholas said and he read the letter whilst the child looked at his own shoes in shame and hopefulness. “Well,” said Nicholas, “have you been a good child?”


The child looked up at him, its orange eyes glowing. “I brought you the letters, didn’t I? And I made those presents, all the noisy ones and did the marshmallows and I didn’t laugh too much when that Reindeer did a big, you know what, over London.”


Nicholas held up his hand to silence the child’s protests. The cloaked figure had stopped a few feet away. All of the noise seemed to have dropped away from the world, even the burning torches either side of the runway had dulled their flames and did not dare to sputter.


Nicolas shifted in his seat to look at the back of the sleigh. The Elves had moved over to one side and looked up at Nicolas with fearful expressions. At the other end of the sleigh, one of the sacks was moving and snuffling around. With a sense of trepidation, Nicolas reached into the sack and reached out something small and furry. It licked Nicolas across the face. It was a three-eyed dog. The child whooped in delight and cradled the puppy in both arms. The dog barked, and the Reindeers stamped their feet.


With a muffled, “Thanks Mister!” The child scrambled over Nicolas’ lap and jumped down in the snow and started to gallop towards the figure in the violet cloak, awkwardly sinking into the snow at points. Nicolas watched as the child presented the puppy to the cloak, who shook its head and then embraced the child. Through the snow, the sky and the still air, some words arrived in Nicolas’ ears.


“A puppy? His father will not be pleased. We already have a number of hounds.” It was a woman’s voice, half affectionate, half annoyed.


“I am not in the habit of turning down requests,” said Nicholas, more confidently than he felt. “Will you bring the letters next year, the ones that go astray?” There was a heavy pause. Around them, the air grew lighter.


“We are also not in the habit of turning down requests,” said the woman. “See you next year.” With a sound like a whip cracking, and a smell of burnt ash they disappeared into the dawn.


 

Author Bio

Harriet is 34 years old and based in Glasgow. She enjoys writing short stories in the science fiction and fantasy genre. In her spare time, she runs a Post-Apocalyptic Book Group.


Cover image by Pierre Bamin via Unsplash

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