Wednesday, 23 January 2019
CHRISTMAS decorations rustled through the Co-op toy department.
“Are they gone?” said a Yorkshire voice.
“Give it another minute,” replied a Welsh baritone.
“Okay, the security alarm has come on,” wheezed a chesty male.
Then, growing in brightness , a myriad of fairy lights illuminated the unsold toys — a rocking horse, teddy bears, dolls, trains, books and lots more.
“Overstocked as usual,” grumbled a Scots tone.
“Stop your grumbling, Jock, it’s party time. Everyone ready? On the count, one... two... three.”
A shimmering distorted everything and gradually fat, thin, short and tall Father Christmas ghosts took form.
The fattest one handed over a roll. “Harry, help me with the banner.” And they reached above the Christmas tree, unrolling the words: “Santa Ghost Reunion”.
Double doors opened and a Santa with “Christmas 1958” on his tunic floated in with a hi-fi player and discs. Before a spirit could say “silent night”, music rang out and the party began.
“I look forward to this all year round,” said Santa 1964, a short dumpy ghost whose red outfit was miles too big.
“It was blue grotto time then and young Amy from perfumes was a mermaid. She sat on a rock all day combing a long blonde wig.”
In contrast, a tall Santa with ’62/63 on his hat mused: “I remember when we used to ride around the town. Crowds lined the streets and followed us into the store. First day was the greatest at Santa’s Grotto in Fairyland.
“The following year a new manager thought up Santa and Robin Hood. The boys liked that, they didn’t go much on fairies.”
Unexpectedly, louder than the music, a telephone rang.
Everyone froze. They started to shimmer, become transparent.
A mortal was phoning!
“What shall we do?” echoed a Dorset voice.
Charlie was the organiser and they waited for him to speak.
“I could lift the receiver with my wand,” said David ’56. He was the only one who could move earthly objects, being a member of the Magic Circle Ghosts Union.
“Do it,” said Welsh baritone and Charlie nodded.
The handset rose into the air and dropped to the counter.
A deep voice said: ‘Lads, I know you won’t believe this, but it’s Santa — the one that lives north of the North Pole in Christmas Land. I need your help.”
The shimmering settled and Charlie glided nearer the phone, “Can you hear me?”
“Yes, we are part of the same set-up.”
“Many of my elves have gone down with Arctic flu and I haven’t finished loading the sleighs. Will you come and help?”
There was shimmering again. “Hold it, boys,” called Charlie, the white curls of his beard bobbing up and down as he nodded to the phone, “This sounds serious.”
“Indeed it is,” boomed the voice. “You all know what’s expected of me tonight.”
“Ghosts don’t travel very fast, we wouldn’t get there in time,” said David.
“Is that a ‘yes’, lads? I can get you here with my ‘beam me up people mover’.”
“Are we for it then?” said Charlie, turning in a circle and seeing several shimmer, then form again.
“Okay, Santa, here we come.”
Twinkling stars descended and in the blink of an eye they were gone.
Twenty-six Santa Ghosts arrived at Christmas Land, just like that!
Charlie rubbed his forehead. “I feel a bit dizzy. That’s what I call speed travel. No jet lag, no time change.
“And look at the snow, it’s halfway up my boots.”
“Well I never, there really is a Santa toy factory,” said Jock, pointing to a giant glass building that glistened as if in sunlight.
“Look at those conveyor belts. There’s three levels and hundreds of presents. No wonder Santa made that call to us.”
“And look how those elves are dressed, exactly like in a child’s story book,” marvelled Dougal ’77.
“I loved jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. And there’s a red pedal car my brother would have liked. They’re definitely short staffed. The poor wee laddies will never stack that lot into sleighs without help.”
The glass door opened and a tiny Santa beckoned them forward, saying: “This way, there’s no time to waste.”
“Who are you?” replied Charlie, “where’s the real Santa?”
“He’s harnessing Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph.”
The tiny Sanata took a deep breath and said: “I get quite light-headed every time I recite all nine.
“It’s the big sleigh Santa uses tonight for his round-the-world-whizz. There’s always someone somewhere looking up at the sky for him.”
Santa ’89 was more up to date with youthful thinking: “How does he have time to deliver the presents?”
“He doesn’t. We do — the Dwarf Brigade.”
The little man waved his arms. “We’re all this size. How do you think we get down the chimneys and flues?”
“All? How many are there?”
‘Hundreds, thousands. The world is a mighty big place to cover in one night.”
Suddenly the sound of bells tingled overhead. Looking up, they saw what everyone who believes in Father Christmas hopes to see — a sleigh filled with presents being pulled by prancing reindeers with a plump Father Christmas at the reins, calling “Ho, Ho, Ho”.
From the dark starry sky, the ensemble slowly settled on the snow-covered ground.
Charlie stepped forward. “You really exist?” He put out his hand to touch Father Christmas and saw him shimmer.
“Like I said, we are part of the same set-up.” He gave Charlie a knowing wink.
Now the dwarf was jumping up and down: “Come, come, time doesn’t wait, not even for Santa.”
Drifting together like red poppies swaying in a breeze, the Co-op Santas followed him inside.
On a table was a bowl of sweets. “Please, take any colour, they all do the same magic.”
“I don’t eat sweets,” said ’82, “not good for the teeth.”
“It’s a mortal sweet,” replied Father Christmas as he came into the factory. “It allows you to be solid, as I will be, for 24 hours. You can touch, move and feel everything. Eat, drink and be merry. It’s your reward for coming to my rescue.”
Mouths opened and in went the magic sweets.
“I can’t believe it, I’m hungry,” said Taffy ’52 and his stomach rumbled loudly.
“My lumbago’s come back,” winced ’72, “find me a desk job.”
Santa ’66 fell over, “My peg leg is missing — anyone got a crutch?”
“Hurry, hurry.” The tiny Santa was pointing at the clock. “Christmas Day will soon be here.”
Charlie was given a sheaf of papers. “I’m to be foreman,” he said.
“Why?” asked the Irish brogue of ’75.
“Because I’m head ghost of the Co-op Santas.”
“Hand out the jobs, Charlie, we’re running out of time,” called David. “There’s only so much I can do with my wand.”
The conveyor belts speeded up and the factory went into full packing production.
Santas dodged the elves, near collisions were avoided with shouts of “mind your backs” as sleighs were filled in minutes and slid out through the door.
A tiny Father Christmas jumped on board, took up the reins of a reindeer and zoomed into the sky, leaving a trail of Christmas stardust in every direction.
As the last sleigh disappeared, ’59 sniffed: “I feel sad now it’s over.” He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “And I’m tired, just like when I was working.”
“It’s the magic sweets,” piped Yorkshire voice, “you get ought for naught.”
But the Co-op Santa reunion ghosts were jubilant; they had helped save the night.
Outside again, they watched the glittering glass toy factory disappear until next year.
David shook his head: “Is this real or am I dreaming?”
“It’s real if you believe in Father Christmas,” replied an elf.
Twinkling stars descended and they vanished. Back in the store, the music was still playing and the fairy lights were flashing.
What was different? A table laid with the biggest feast ever and a giant card, saying: “Thank you. From Santa.”
“What are we waiting for,” whooped Charlie. “We’ve still lots of reward time left to enjoy a real Christmas dinner.”
• Julie Roberts’ Kaleidoscope series of short story books is available from Amazon.
For more information, visit www.julieroberts.me.uk
17 December 2018
POLL: Have your say