Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Meaning of Christmas

“Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
Major Henry Livingston Junior

Silas Breenes was sleeping the sleep of the just and small, comfortable breaths escaped his slightly parted lips as his head lay gently on the soft pillow. The peace of his sleep was ironic indeed, for Silas Breenes was anything but just. Many might suggest that branding an eleven year old boy as unjust was to be distinctly unfair, perhaps too presumptuous of a life that would be lived without remorse, and yet Silas Breenes truly deserved such a label.

Looking down upon him, one might be forgiven for believing such a statement to be incorrect. He seemed cherubic as soft downy curls of hair floated across his brow and offered him the aspect of an angel and yet the contents of the dreams, which twisted those slightly parted lips into a delightful half smile, were violent of nature. The violence I speak of saw him as perpetrator, and the violence was committed against fellow children, so that dreams mirrored perfectly life. Silas Breenes was no rogue, he was no loveable scamp. No, indeed, Silas Breenes was a bully, a tormentor and a thief.

This very Christmas Eve, having left Billy Bennett tearful in a field as blood flooded from his nose whilst a purple bruise bloomed around his eye, Silas slept peacefully, tiredness overcoming anticipation. For Silas the anticipation was two-fold. He was filled with expectation in regards of the presents that his parents had bought him, uncaring of the credit card debt his mother had accumulated as she indulged her precious one’s every whim. But anticipation also filled his black little heart when he thought of the presents that other children would receive and he would acquire. Presents he would steal from his peers, poor victims who might only get a day or two, a week at the most, of joy from their gifts before Silas would tear their happiness asunder with his greedy hands.

For now, however, Silas slept and his sleep was undisturbed by the activity on the roof, activity hidden from his mortal perceptions by the nature of the magic.

The sleigh had landed upon the rooftop and seemed to stand perfectly flat upon the slanted tiles, which any student of physics would have explained was impossible. The sleigh plus its train of reindeers were far too long for the roof’s length and yet they fit upon it with ease. The weight of the contraption, plus the reindeers and the passengers and, of course, the sacks crammed with toys, was too much for the timbers of the roof to bear and yet somehow the roof did not collapse. It was all to do with the magic, and such spells are powerful indeed.

The first to disembark and stand upon the roof, sure footed on the frost that had settled upon the slate, was the driver. Black boots, with a polished gleam, and red suit, with a dazzling white trim, covered his portly frame. A thick, white beard of exceptionally downy hair had become the foremost most distinguishing feature of his face, followed closely by his ruddy, bulbous nose. An aura of joyousness surrounded the man, if man he still was for St Nicholas had lived far beyond the span of his years, granted longevity that he night spread the cheer for which he was famed. His voice boomed with his deep, chesty, trademark laugh – though the magic that surrounded him ensured that none bar his companion, and the patiently waiting reindeer, heard him.

Yet, enough of him, for it is true to say that even those of you who do not believe, just like the sleeping Silas Breenes, are well aware of the aspects and mannerisms of jolly old St Nicholas. Of his companion, however, you may not be aware. He stepped down from the sleigh, a slight and withered creature whose head just rose to the belly of St Nicholas. He too wore red but his was of a vivid scarlet and no pure white was used as a trim. From the sleeves were gnarled hands with long, slender fingers tipped with cruel sharp nails.

His true nature was reflected in the facets as his face. Grey wrinkled skin with nose like a hook and wide mouth with cruel thin lips. His eyes like tiny pieces of black coal surveyed the roof. As they passed over St Nicholas he gave an inward chuckle, as he did whenever he spotted the red, red suit, the colour of his clothes, the colour of the Tomtin. Once the Saint had deigned to wear green but then a soft drink manufacturer, of no small fame, had dressed his image in red in order that they might advertise their wares. Slowly, around the world, mankind began to believe that the Saint wore red and, because it was expected, the Saint began to wear such colours. The holy man did not like to, it was the colour of the Tomtin, but he felt it was expected. Tomtin might have wondered why, given that no-one saw the Saint as he travelled the Christmas Eve, yet he knew that it was intimately connected with the magic that was weaved around the Saint.

The discomfort that the change in apparel had caused the Saint gave the Tomtin no small pleasure as he genuinely enjoyed it when the far too jolly man suffered. Things had been different, once upon a time, the Tomtin had once enjoyed travelling with the man. That had much to do with the Tomtin’s spell, with which he had ensnared the Saint. The time when Tomtin had called the shots, although there had been rules, there always were. The relationship born of the magical snare had been symbiotic, the Tomtin could only take of those who were naughty, not those who were nice, but each Christmas they found enough children of sin to feed his belly for the following year.

Then the old man had tricked him back, had somehow reversed the spell and sealed it with the slight bracelet upon the Tomtin’s wrist and the dull glass bead that sat upon the bracelet. The Saint had wrested back control and the Tomtin was forced to serve him, forced to do good in penance for his sins – a situation that the Tomtin felt was most unfair, after all he only did what it was in his nature to do. Worse than that was the gnawing, endless hunger, for the Saint, whilst he fed the Tomtin of human food, never allowed the creature to feed upon that which truly satisfied. So it was, centuries on, that Saint Nicholas would visit upon each child upon the Earth, which as any school teacher could tell you was impossible except, of course, they knew naught about the magic. Despite the fact that most no longer believed he would enter each child’s home, he would place his hand upon their brow to ascertain if they were naughty or nice and leave the nice a gift. In the morning the parents would puzzle at the gift, the tag must have fallen off at some point and they never could remember who had given it. The gift, the forgotten giver’s gift, was always the one that, whilst its value might have been slight compared to the computers and robots and expensive toys, was always most valued by the child as if, even unknown to themselves, it was what they truly wanted.

The Tomtin craved for the old days, but the Tomtin was trapped and his nasty coal eyes spied upon the dull glass bead and, as always, a shudder coursed his wiry frame. He hurried to reach the Saint, who had strode purposefully to the chimney, and was by his side as the venerable man placed his hand upon the brickwork. It was magic, of course, and not a surprise to the Tomtin, who had travelled this way before, when they appeared silently in the living room of Silas Breenes. More of a surprise came, as the little creature stepped forward and something caught his foot, causing him to trip. His arm shot forward, to brace his fall, the bracelet struck the ground and the glass bead shattered, invisible grains of glass embedding in his sickly grey flesh. The prickling pain, however, was nothing, he was free.

Who was the first to be aware that the spell had been broken, the Saint or the Tomtin, I cannot say. What is clear is the fact that the Tomtin reacted with greater speed. He leapt from the ground; his feet planted into the old Saint’s chest, his clawed hands gripping the shoulder and his eyes reaching into the Holy man’s eyes as he recast his spell. The Tomtin took control. What joy it was to be free, to know that he would be fed and to know that he and the Saint stood in the home of a sinner, he could smell the corruption in the air. Yet rules there were, the magic demanded it, and they made their way to the bedroom of Silas Breenes and, as they approached, the magic of the Tomtin broke the spell of silence, for Silas Breenes but not his parents, causing the child to hear the approach and awake from his deceitfully cherubic sleep.

Silas Breenes opened his eyes on hearing the footfalls approach. Confusion played through his mind, for there sounded like two sets of footfalls out in the darkened house and that should have been the movement of his mother and father. Yet one, his primal brain could tell, was too heavy for father and the other too light for mother and, for the first time really in his life, he felt nervous. Not afraid, not exactly, but definitely nervous. That nervousness grew as the door to his room opened and, against the blackness was a giant shape but, as the Tomtin’s spell cast light upon the situation, his nervousness became confusion as he spied Santa Claus - for Santa was only a story told to gullible children, that much Silas knew. Presents, he was aware, came from mother’s credit card and it had been many a year, lost to his recollection, since he had received a gift, the label missing and his parents unable to remember who had given it.

“Silas Breenes,” Saint Nicholas’ sonorous voice intoned, “I must test you…”

For his part Silas Breenes huddled into the corner of his bed, pressing his body twixt headboard and wall and clutching his knees to his chest lest they shake. He knew for certain that this was not a dream, as he knew that in his dreams he was always surrounded by other children, their noses bloodied from his violent fists.

“If you are ready…” Saint Nicholas continued and the boy found a voice though it was timid indeed. “You want to know if I am naughty or nice?”

“Not quite...” cackled the Tomtin, who emerged from behind the bulky shape of the venerable Saint. When the Saint had taken control of their relationship the test had been one of naughty or nice and a gentle test it was as well. The child’s actions meant much, oh that much was true, but it was the shape of the soul that provided the real test. St Nicholas would lay a gentle, meaty hand upon the sleeping brow and feel the shape of the soul. Minor misdemeanours were forgotten if the soul proved good and kind, for all children are want to mischief from time to time, and a present, unlabeled, would be placed with the rest. If the soul proved bitter and twisted, as surely Silas Breenes’ would have done (for it had in the past), then the Saint would simply depart and continue his journey around the globe.

When the Tomtin had been in charge the rules became distorted, no simple hand on brow when he ruled the roost. Questions would be asked, questions regarding the catechisms of the Christ child’s faith, a present would be had if the child were pious and learned enough to answer them aright but should he get them wrong, pain, only pain. Followed, of course, by the feed.

On seeing the Tomtin, Silas Breenes had started and behind his knees he began to quake. Bully he was and so was also, by rote, a coward. Twisted as his young soul might be it was as nothing next to the evil little creature whose malevolence was reflected in his grey and sharp countenance. The creature cackled again and smacked his thin lips in anticipation.

“Complete the phrase,” said old Saint Nicholas, “Mathew, Mark, Luke and…”

“Too easy,” Shrieked the Tomtin, his black eyes smouldering with rage. Yet his rage was misplaced.

“It’s a boy band, isn’t it?” Silas Breenes asked hopefully, “Isn’t it Donny?”

The Tomtin’s rage melted into wicked mirth, “Do it, do it!” He cried.

A piece of hard coal appeared, as if by magic for magic it was, in the Saint’s hand and he threw it with some force. It struck the hand of the boy, rapping his knuckles hard and causing him to yelp in pain as he let go of his knees and shook the damaged hand vigorously.

“Real questions now,” warned the Tomtin.

“Jesus,” intoned the Saint, “Means ‘God saves’ but who was it that gave him that name?”

“How am I meant to know that?” Asked Silas Breenes but he saw the imploring look in the eyes of the Saint and knew that he wanted him to give an answer and wanted, desperately, for the answer to be correct.

“His father?” guessed the boy and knew that he had guessed wrongly as the next piece of coal struck his arm. He cried aloud, feeling very real pain. At this point you might be forgiven for believing that we are to reach the moral of our tale. That perhaps Silas Breenes thought on his pain and the pain he had caused others and vowed then and there that he would never again cause such hurt. Alas, that is not the case. In fact, if we peeked in the boy’s dark soul we would see that his entire thoughts were centred on how others would suffer, more than usual, for the pain he currently endured.

“Final question,” the booming voice proclaimed, “Christ is Hebrew for Messiah but what does Messiah mean?”

Silas Breenes certainly did not know but his cowardice had been overcome with anger and he unquestionably did not want to face another hard coal. Bully boys are, unfortunately, invariably stupid boys and he cried his defiance, “Your mama!”

The final coal flew towards the boy glancing hard against his head, sending his senses spinning and opening a gash in his forehead that leaked thick, fresh blood. The aroma, at once, caught the nostrils of the Tomtin for it was the very food of which he had been starved and, as the boy slid down the wall, the little creature leapt upon his chest. His tongue flicked out and tasted the salty liquid and it was as though a fire exploded in his mind. In the past there had been so many boys and girls, who knew not the most simple of the catechisms, that he had paced himself, lapping at the blood of each and filling his belly over the night. Tomtin, however, had been starved for so long that Silas Breenes could only be a veritable feast.

His teeth became sharpened little daggers within his mouth and he quickly buried them into the young boy’s neck, sucking hard at the blood and nary spilling a drop. The lungs of the Tomtin were deceptively large for such a small frame and he sucked and sucked with such might that the boy was, with impressive speed, drained; pale and dead upon the bed.

The Tomtin stood but he had been without his food in such a long time, and the greater the sinner the headier the draft, that he staggered as though he were a drunk who had found a whole bottle of rum and devoured it in one gulp. This was the only chance that the Saint needed and he quickly reversed the spell once more and, once again, he controlled the Tomtin and not the other way around. Upon the bracelet, upon the Tomtin’s wrist, was once again a dull glass bead but this one was new, and not fragile with age, and no accidental fall would cause it to break… Not for some time, at least.

As for Silas Breenes’, there was nothing the Saint could do. He could feel the shape of a soul, to be true, and leave presents for children in the dark of the night. Resurrection, however, was not his skill and as he and the Tomtin left, the boy remained dead, with a raged hole bitten into his neck and not a drop of blood in his body.

He would be found the next day, by his parents, and the police would be duly called. All would agree a great mystery had occurred but, although none would ever be found, rats would be blamed by and by. His mother would wail and gnash her teeth, whilst secretly, hidden even from himself, his father would be pleased – for his father knew what manner of man his son would have become. Yet his mother would gain, though she never would see, as the presents so carefully wrapped would be returned to the stores and her credit card refunded and her debt would reduce and reduce.

As for the other children, who lived close to the home of Silas’ Breenes, perhaps they received the greatest gift of all. Their presents were safe and, whilst new bullies would come and new bullies would go, none were as despicable as the boy with the hole in his throat.

© Andrew M Boylan 2007

Author’s Note: Acknowledgment must go to Dr. Bob Curran, and his book “Vampires: A field guide to the creatures that stalk the night”, where I first read of the Tomtin and was inspired to write this tale.

1 comment:

Zahir Blue said...

Thanks for a vampire Xmas story my friend!