Image ©J.R.Barker 2013
Crunch crunch went the heavy black boots as they stomped across the snow laden roof.
Heavy though they were they didn’t leave a mark. Like the earth, time was frozen.
Now the world was populated entirely by living statues, the only thing that moved in this little slice of time was a man dressed in red. His great white beard and snowy white hair seemed to have a glow that was all its own. He had rosy red cheeks and eyes of the deepest blue that seemed to twinkle like snowflakes.
His name was Christmas and he was a Father to all.
Like a good Father should he looked after his children, he rewarded the just and the unjust were taught a lesson.
As Father Christmas searched through his sack he hummed a jingle then selected two presents, one for each child in the house.
This roof did have a chimney, but that didn’t matter, Father Christmas had never needed to use one. If he could freeze time what wall could stop him? He closed his eyes and turned on the spot.
With an un-dramatic pop he appeared in the house. Inside all was dark, everything was silent, but then when time was frozen so was sound. There were no creaking pipes, no creaking floorboards, no scurrying mice, even the adults were halted mid snore.
But there was something amiss in this house
Before him instead of the usual Christmas tree he saw a chair and some rope, he turned around slowly and found himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
Two men stood armed, frozen in time, their weapons pointed directly to the fire.
Christmas laughed a great belly laugh and walked behind them. He put a hand on each shoulder and pulled them out of time.
The men were startled at the sudden weight the hands on their shoulders. One fired a shot, but the bullet just hovered.
“What were you hoping to achieve here my sons?” asked Father Christmas to the men holding guns.
“We want your presents,” squeaked one, “we want them all, we are hungry and poor and we deserve them most. Why should the rich have their fill and not us?”
With his hands still on their shoulders Christmas answered,
“There are those that are rich and those that are poor, there are those with no food and there are those with no homes. As long as they are good souls I bring gifts to them all, no matter their circumstances. Yes even the rich, even they have their troubles. So pray tell me why you think you deserve all the presents and deprive all of these people.”
The tallest tried to turn round, but found himself rooted to the spot, so he ranted angrily over his shoulder;
“We’ve had a hard life, we’ve seen things we shouldn’t, we’ve struggled for every meal on our table. Whilst witnessing the rich wasting money on baubles. We deserve those presents oh yes, and much more than most. It’s our turn to have a nice easy life.”
Father Christmas fell silent, eyes glittering bright, he turned them on the men and answered them thusly;
“There are rooms filled with ever growing lists telling me who has been naughty and who has been nice. Both your names are there, which list do you think they‘re on?”
Then men remained silent, so Father Christmas carried on.
“This isn’t your home and this isn’t your family. I am not scheduled to visit your homes on my journey. But I’ll give you gifts, since you want them so badly.”
As the Father spoke the men thought the world had grown larger, but as they looked at each other they saw instead they’d grown smaller.
As the hands pushed them down they were shrinking in size.
The guns they grew heavy and they dropped to the ground. As the ground grew closer the men began to squeal in fright.
They tried to escape but couldn’t, try as they might.
Father Christmas looked down on them with a glint in his eye.
“Now you are elf sized you can come to my factory. The gifts are all there, since that’s what you wanted. You may have fun with all the playthings, but only if you help make the toys.”
The men they trembled and shivered and said,
“You can’t take us, we would be missed.”
“Nonsense” said Santa, “just look at your bullet. See how it hovers so harmlessly? I’ve stopped all the clocks, time has been frozen. Don’t worry if you finish you’ll be returned to your time, there’s just one thing you might like to bear in mind. But I think to demonstrate you’d best come with me, then I can show you how busy you’ll be.”
The two elfin men looked at each other nervously, then found themselves outside.
The hands lifted from their shoulders and they looked around in wonder, they were up on the roof looking at all the snow covered houses in town.
Reindeer snorted and stamped on the roof behind them.
“I think you should come along,” said Father Christmas.
The men they nervously mounted the sleigh. They struggled now that they were so small.
“Before we go anywhere I must warn you that there’s a curse on you both. My workshops are filled with men like you two, turned to elf sized and doomed to make toys. Those whose hearts continue to fill up with greed will find themselves continuing to shrink. There are those that became so bitter that they shrank away to mere atoms. But, if your hearts fill with love and joy, then your stature will begin to return to normal. When you have achieved your normal height then you may return to your time. You might want to bear that in mind as we travel. Are you ready? Then let’s go; there’s no point in wasting no time.”
With a chuckle Father Christmas flicked the reins and the deer flew to the next house, then the next one and the next, till the men could no longer tell where they were or how many houses they’d seen.
For endless hours they flitted from rooftop to rooftop. They began to worry about all the toys they’d have to make, they’d never make it home at his rate.
As they travelled they saw poor houses, rich houses and middle class ones too. Then there were those that weren’t houses at all, but lean-tos and sheds, then the homeless who had no roofs at all.
As the men flew with Father Christmas they began to see a side of the world that they had never seen before, not just the insides of peoples houses. They saw those that had hardships that rivalled both their own, yet they still dutifully left milk for Father Christmas and carrots for the reindeer. The children all left notes hoping for something better.
Some asked for games, others asked for friends, each note was different, but all told a story.
As they read all the notes they began to choke, they began to see the hopeful innocence of children who had nothing asking for something in the hopes they’d receive.
When one girl asked for summer to come early because she had no coat, the men broke down and began to feel very sorry indeed.
As the never ending night wore on the men’s heart became heavy as they left presents in the snow next to sleeping figures huddled up in coats.
But the heavier their hearts grew and the more they thought of others the taller they became, though at first they did not notice. When they reached their normal size Father Christmas turned to them and smiled.
“Now I see that you have both learnt your lesson, it’s time for you go home.”
“But what about the other presents? You haven’t delivered them all.”
“No I have not, but your height has been restored, and therefore I can safely assume that so have your hearts. Still, because of what you did there will be a penance, every year on Christmas night you will have a task. I cannot see every house in one life time now. I’ve started recruiting, I now have quite a crew. You will join the Santas on every corner, ringing Christmas through. When midnight strikes time will freeze once more and you will both have an area to deliver gifts. This will happen every year and when you’ve paid your penance and you have truly changed, you’ll never have to give another gift again. But this I will warn you, and this warning you must heed, if you once ever show any hint of greed, you’ll begin to shrink and you’ll become very small, then you might find yourself working in my hall until you can prove yourself worthy once and for all. But I trust that will not happen, I’m sure that you have changed. So for now a merry Christmas to you both.”
Father Christmas disappeared and signs of life started up around the men, a breath of wind, a touch of cold. The sound of the world sleeping through the night waiting for Christmas to arrive and not knowing he’d been and was always there, just hidden out of sight, a step out of time.
Tale of the Greedy Men ©J.R.Barker 2013