This year, Santa’s little helpers have been more than generous and we’ve got a bumper crop of wonderful Christmas short stories for you – from the dark to the whimsical and all stops in between. So put your favourite Christmas jumper on, pour yourself a mulled wine, grab a mince pie and sit down for another great criminally festive read.
Christmas is a time for family and festive cheer, although as Julia decides in today’s chilling story by Judith Barrow, sometimes you just have to think of yourself…
Julia’s Christmas Present to Herself by Judith Barrow
Julia Lewis stands still on the step at the front door of the house before pushing the key into the lock.
‘I’m home,’ she calls, knowing full well no one will answer. Not anymore. Never again.
The house is silent; there is no irritable retort from behind the door to the room on the right, no more demands on her time to bring this, take that away. No more guilt dumped on her for being ten minutes late after closing the family shoe shop, no accusations that she must have a man on the go if it took her more than the usual twenty minutes to walk home.
Draping her coat over a coat hanger Julia hooks it on the peg in the hall and goes into the parlour.
She looks around, admiring the Christmas decorations she’d fastened to the ceiling and walls that morning: the honeycomb paper bells, the foil garlands, draped from the centre light to each corner of the room, the collection of red balloons, pinned together over the hearth, joined by the multi-coloured twisted crepe paper. Only the Christmas tree to decorate with the tinsel star, the little glass ornaments, the clip-on wooden robins and the lights.
Nothing looks any different from any of the Christmases from the past thirty years, since Father died. And yet it is. She pulls in a deep breath. A smile almost curls the corners of her mouth.
Sitting on her armchair she pushes each shoe off with her toes, gives a sigh of relief and leans back, head turned upwards, to one side, for a few minutes, listening. Silence. Perfect silence.
It had been a hard day: the sales representative letting her down, for the third time, with her winter order of suede boots, the demanding, awkward customers with their sweaty feet, the junior salesgirl feigning sickness and insisting she needed to go home, when Julia knew she was going to the pub with her boyfriend, all combined to set her nerves on edge.
She might just sell up; close the shop. She would be able to now.
Pushing herself up from the sofa. Julia wanders into the kitchen, relishing the rare opportunity of not having to rush around.
Filling the kettle, Julia gazes through the kitchen window. The gnomes her mother had been collecting forever are now reduced to a mound of broken pottery in the middle of the lawn. At the end of the garden a small spiral of grey smoke lingers above the bonfire of blackened Delia recipe books. Her mother’s favourite reading, even though she hadn’t cooked for years.
Spooning coffee into a mug, Julia opens the packet of chocolate digestives and takes one… no two out, thoughtfully nibbling on them. When the kettle switches off, she takes the milk out of the fridge and sniffs at it and screws up her nose. Sour again. She really will need to buy a new fridge. And a freezer.
It’s only when she’s sipping on the coffee that she realises it will look odd if she delays any longer. The neighbour across the street was peering through her horizontal blinds when she arrived home. And everyone knows how devoted she is, how her life is ruled by her demanding invalid mother.
Julia opens the bedroom door. ‘I’m home, Mother.’
The pillow is still over the old woman’s face. When Julia lifts it her mother’s eyes are open. Accusing.
‘Now, can’t have that, can we?’ Julia gently closes the lids. She tucks the pillow under her mother’s head and smooths the creases in duvet. ‘There!’ Julia puts her hands on her hips, head tilted to one side. ‘Think you’ve lain there long enough, Mother. Time to raise the alarm.’
We hope you enjoy our festive tales. On behalf of all our authors, we’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.