Finally, it’s my go! Today, I get to entertain the wonderful readers in our Crooked Cat Authors more-than-a-month-long extravaganza of FREE short stories, non- fiction articles and poems.
Jessica stiffly bent over and gathered the snow together into a ball, just like they did in the cartoons. These old gloves had seen no wear for the last couple of decade. She compacted the snow and chucked it overarm at Emily. The snowball disintegrated mid-air.
Emily laughed. “Oh Granny, is that really how you do it?”
Tom rubbed his hands. “Why is it so cold?”
None of the four children were really dressed for the weather, but there was no helping that. Bright sun shone in an ice blue sky, but it offered little in the way of heat. Beyond the hedge surrounding the garden, hills appeared covered in snow.
“If we run around my garden we’ll get warm,” Jessica said. She threw some more snow at Phil. The boy sputtered as it hit his face. Laughing, he crouched and scraped together some snow and lobbed it back at her. Then Emily threw some snow at Dorothy. The four children raced around the garden, throwing and dodging shakily made snowballs. They got better with practice, although Jessica thought this snow might be too dry for proper snow balls. But she felt that granddaughter Emily and her friends needed to experience this.
“Come over here,” Jessica shouted over their laughter.
The children ran to her and she led them between her snow-covered bushes to her garden pond. The gravel path, hidden by the snowfall, crunched under their shoes. Jessica slid out onto the ice of her pond. She’d practised this; she had almost forgotten how. She glided around the water fountain, sensibly turned off for the cold spell.
“Ice skating!” Emily clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle the squeal of delight. “But in your Snow Globe the little people have things on their feet.”
“Thin metal blades,” Jessica said. “Yes, do you think you could walk on level ground with metal blades on your feet? Think, even thinner than in-line roller blades.”
Jessica slid towards them across the pond.
“Easy,” Tom said. He stepped onto the ice. The up-cycled plastic soles of his shoes skidded and he slammed backside first onto the ice.
“Yow!” he shouted.
“Not so very easy,” Dorothy, Tom’s sister, said. She too wore up-cycled plastic shoes. Hanging onto Emily’s hand, she carefully stepped onto the ice. Her feet wobbled a little, but she triumphantly stayed upright. Jessica skated over to them. She held out her hands and towed Dorothy out into the middle of the pond. Cautiously, Dorothy moved her feet in skating motions.
She grinned in delight as she dropped Jessica’s hands, and for two strides she stayed on her feet. The third step enthusiastically slid sideways and dropped Dorothy. Her hands splayed out, but she giggled.
“This is so much fun,” Dorothy said. “Thank you, Mrs Oakwood.”
“My pleasure,” Jessica said. “Who’s next? Emily?”
They each managed a little slide on their own.
Half an hour later, clouds curled across the sky and it started to snow again. The children stared up at the falling white flakes. They caught them in their hands and on their tongues.
“This is snow?” Emily stared in wonder. “Granny, today has been fantastic!”
“Time to go in now,” Jessica said. “I think it’s time for a hot drink and a snack.”
Their lack of winter coats would be a problem now with the falling snow. Inadequate shoes would already mean wet feet. She towed them to the side and they all trotted into her house, more than ready for the promised hot drinks.
Jessica had a real fire in fireplace. On the mantelpiece, a photo of her late husband Geoff stood next to a snow globe, showing tiny Victorian figures skating on a frozen Thames. She produced some toasting forks and handed each child a piece of bread.
“Wait until I get back, I don’t want them to burn.” She darted into her kitchen to heat the chocolate. She used the microwave, even though she wanted them to feel like this was real. The fire called to her bones, aching from the cold outside.
She carried the hot chocolate into the front room and handed them out to the children.
“Isn’t the fire dangerous?” Phil asked. “I mean it gives off carbon dioxide.”
“All the wood that is being burned comes from my garden,” Jessica said.
“Ah so you’re balancing the carbon,” he said. “Just like when my parents have to release CO2 at home, or run the air scrubber.”
“Yes, but here I do it as naturally as possible. Even then I have to keep a watch on the CO2 levels.” She stuck her fork through a slice of bread and held it close to the fire. “This is how it’s done. But you have to watch it or you’ll have burnt toast.”
“Is this real milk?” Dorothy asked, sipping her drink.
“No, I’m sorry,” Jessica said. “It’s too expensive to buy anything other than cow-free. Like the ‘butter’ you are going to put on your toast. But the jam I made from strawberries I grew in the garden.”
She watched them carefully; these were her only slices of bread and she didn’t want them ruined.
The toast with jam and hot chocolate-flavoured drink went down well.
“It’s real sugar in the jam,” Emily said. “Grandma managed to get some from that last shipment.”
“Which is why I couldn’t afford real-cow milk.”
A knock sounded on the front door.
Emily looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. “That will be Mummy. I’d like to stay here forever.”
Jessica shook her head. “It never used to stay like this forever.”
“I read about it in school,” Dorothy said. “They had ‘seasons’. Winter was one of them.”
Jessica took down the snow globe. “Here you are, Emily. Take this and you can have one piece of this forever.”
Emily accepted the globe and shook it as Jessica walked them all to the front door. Emily’s mother Mary stood there.
“Mother Jessica, it wasn’t necessary to do this for them,” Mary said. “I honestly only needed you to look after them all for the afternoon, you didn’t have to go to any trouble.”
Jessica kissed her daughter-in-law. “I enjoyed it.”
“But people get ill in the cold,” Mary said.
“I’ll be fine,” Jessica said.
“It was great,” Tom said. “Old Mrs Oakwood had frozen her pond!”
“And we had real toast and jam,” Dorothy said.
“And she does ecological not technological atmospherical balance to her habitat,” Phil said. “I’ve never seen that.”
Jessica accompanied them all as they trotted down the path to the garden gate. It was painted on a door which opened; the horizon was just a picture. Outside Jessica’s domed habitat the grass at the side of the road was parched; through the open door the snow still fell – like in the snow globe she’d given Emily.
Mary grabbed the spray gun out of her handbag. “Roaches! I’ll hold them off while you kids run to the car.”
Soup plate sized creatures scuttled towards the open habitat. Mary loaded a canister of roach spray. “I swear these sprays get weaker every year. Do you think the corporations dilute them?”
She sprayed the front runners, who stopped to waggle their feelers as three children raced to the driverless vehicle pod.
“Was it always like this, Grandma? When you were a girl?” Emily asked.
“The last snowy winter happened when I was nine,” Jessica said. “The corporations got too big to fight, even though we tried, and they poisoned the planet.”
“Don’t you worry, Grandma, I’ll get it back for you.”
Jessica hugged her granddaughter. “Oh darling! I fought because I hoped you wouldn’t have to. But in the end too many people thought ‘I’m only one person. What difference can I make?’ And the corporations won. Go now.”
Emily swirled the snow globe again as she ran to the vehicle pod. Mary raced after her and Jessica slammed the door against the roach attack.
She stared for a while at her beautiful snowy garden. Winter had never lasted forever, just like she had told Emily. Jessica returned to her house and adjusted the thermostat to gradually bring the temperature in her habitat up to comfortable. She wouldn’t want to shock her plants too much.
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Jim edged around the protest, hoping his thin mac would hide the uniform.
“There’s a scag!”
Jim scrambled for the main front door, dodging a placard aimed at his head, which condemned the support of The Best Toy Company for Arctic oil. Those protesters were in a mean mood. Usually these middle class, white protestors wouldn’t hit a black worker. Especially not with the news cameras all pointed at the scene. He had used that to his advantage before now. His chief opened the door to the black marble and glass building a crack to let him slide inside.
“Glad you could make it in, man; most folks ran the other way from the cranks. I need you to take over where Sam was guarding the making of the new Christmas Commercial – he chickened out, called in sick.”
“Sure, where do I go?”
Jim followed the directions. Thick carpet silenced the usual clumping of his security guard boots. He wasn’t usually in this part of the building – more senior security guards got the choice roles. Mike must be way down on staff to send Jim to a prime job.
Jim knocked on the studio door and poked his head in. A man with a clipboard looked up.
“Mr Boson sent me to guard the set?”
Clipboard man perked up. “Come right in. Good clean uniform, polished shoes – you’re perfect.” He checked his board. “Right – someone on the set is in league with the cranks outside but we’re not sure who, so you’re gonna have to keep an eye on the lot of us. Got that?”
“So that’s why the protestors took a swipe at me – the security uniform; they needed to keep us all out. I can do that Mr …” Jim peered at clipboard man’s security badge. “… Mr Drayman.”
Jim took in the set. It was a standard sitting room, with the long leather settee and big flat screen home cinema TV, of the sort of family who could afford the toys The Best Toy Company made.
Paper garlands hung from the ceiling and it all focused on the fireplace, carefully cleared of logs, and a tree tastefully decorated.
“Is there a script I can see,” Jim asked. “Maybe there’s a part that a protestor would take advantage of.”
Mr Drayman raised his eyebrows. “I see Mike has sent us his best man. Here’s the script. We start the main take in an hour.”
Jim searched the entire set – for what he hadn’t a clue – but he checked under the sofa cushions and ran a hand down the back of the seat. He examined every spine on the real spruce tree. There were no presents underneath.
Around him the technicians worked in pairs, and then their work was checked by another pair – no one wanted this Commercial to be sabotaged.
Except for the protestors outside.
Satisfied that nothing dangerous was in place just yet, Jim settled into a corner and read the script.
A family had fallen on hard times and couldn’t buy the kids presents for Christmas. The father had lost his job and the house was to be repossessed the day after Christmas. Piling it on a bit thick, weren’t they? In the night, The Glitzie Pixie™ and The Teen Boy Racer™ dropped toys off. While the children are unwrapping the toys, the telephone rings and the father learns he has a new job – all because the kids behaved well and said they didn’t mind cancelling Christmas because at least they would have their family.
Jim snorted and looked at the set. If he’d owned half that stuff he could have sold it to get presents for his kids and the new winter coats they needed. That way they wouldn’t be teased at school, but the top toys this year were out of Jim’s pay grade. If only magic really happened, cos his kids behaved perfectly.
But he had got this job. If he kept the set disaster free, then he might get a pay rise and that would mean new school shoes for Sofia and Jackson.
The actors walked onto the set. Jim sprang to his feet and took a position where he could watch everything, but was out of the way of the camera.
They were a mixed bunch, but all of them brimmed over with enthusiasm for The Best Toy Company. Not the he’d expected the culprit to be clearly labelled, but maybe management was over-reacting to the threat. Anyway, who’d do something bad with a security guard looming over the set?
Jim bounced on his toes and scowled at them all. The director shifted in his seat at the grimace so Jim fixed him with a beady glare.
Mr Drayman hustled to the director’s side and got him calmed down. No one suggest that Jim cool it. Inside he was chortling – it was good not to be subservient for once.
They started to shoot the scene. The kids went off to bed; the parents praised their wonderful children. The father turned down the heating – an obviously impoverished thing to do with the snow falling outside the window.
Jim turned off his heating as soon as the kids had gone to bed. Both he and his wife went to bed early to keep warm – but this was a fantasy of being poor not the reality.
Light flickered outside the window and the front door opened – which everyone had seen the father lock. The Glitzie Pixie™ and The Teen Boy Racer™ entered the room.
“Oh we can’t have this – good children without any toys!” The Glitzie Pixie™ said. She waved her wand. “I think the girl will enjoy The Glitzie Pixie™ coach drawn by zebras for her Glitzie Pixie™ doll.”
Everyone froze and a stagehand dressed in black snuck in and placed the toy under the tree. Jim assumed that the CGI department would add Glitz and Pizzazz later.
Jim’s daughter would love to receive that toy.
“Now what should I give the boy?” The Glitzie Pixie™ said. “Perhaps a Jolly Jape Joke Set or the new Talking Tablet for video games?”
“You’re just soppy,” The Teen Boy Racer™ said. “The boy will want a Teen Boy Racer road bike not your fairy stuff.”
The Glitzie Pixie™ pouted but waved her wand. Again everyone froze as the figure in black brought in the second toy.
When the stagehand left, The Teen Boy Racer™ unfroze and trotted over to the toys. He added a few more parcels and some sweets. Then he ran a hand over the bike.
Thumps off-set suggested the children waking up. The Glitzie Pixie™ and The Teen Boy Racer™ skipped and trotted their way to the door.
Jim raced onto the set and grabbed The Teen Boy Racer™. To his surprise it was a woman in the costume.
“What’s this?” The director jumped to his feet and slammed the script on the floor.
“This person tampered with the toys,” Jim said. He was sure that was what he had seen. The children tumbled onto the set, with the parents as a technician examined the bike.
“Security is right,” the technician said. “This would have collapsed the minute the boy sat on it.”
“It would have proved your toys are no good. We’ve got to drive the corporations out of Christmas.” The woman in his arms struggled.
The mother examined the coach. “There’s something coating the zebras on the Glitzie Pixie™ Coach.”
The technician took a swab. “I’ll bet this is designed to make the Girl very ill.”
“Oh no!” The boy wailed. “Christmas has been ruined!”
The girl burst into tears.
The Glitzie Pixie ™ waved her wand and more toys were brought in. “No! Because this man spotted the problems caused by the false Teen Boy Racer™, he has saved Christmas before you were hurt.”
The father patted Jim on the back. “You Saved Christmas.”
Almost as if it was all in the script – but not the one that Jim had seen.
“You’ve destroyed the true meaning of Christmas, making a sham out of the spirit of giving.” The woman sagged in his arms. Jim saw her blinking back angry tears.
“This is better than we even planned. Is it all in the can?” Mr Drayman posed dramatically. “Security – there’s a police van at the front door. Take her away.”
Jim was glad she walked out, but boy did she walk slow.
“You could stop the commercial,” the woman said. “I’m sure it’s not in your contract to act in commercials.”
He didn’t bother to answer; if he complained he’d lose his job.
“What are you doing selling your soul working for The Best Toy Company™? You seem like a decent man,” the woman said.
“Look Lady,” Jim said. “The pay here means my kids get turkey not budgerigar for Christmas dinner.”
He had the woman at the studio door when a technician ran onto the set. “We found a bug that is broadcasting this recording session live over the entire country. Just taking it out now.”
Jim opened the studio door one-handed and frog-marched the woman down the carpeted corridors to the front door.
“Well done,” Mike said as they entered the lobby. “Thank you, miss. You can go back to dressing room now.”
“What?” Jim’s hand clenched on the woman’s arm.
“They caught the real saboteur earlier and this actress stood in their place for the commercial,” Mike said.
“It really was a set-up, with me as the stooge?”
“You wouldn’t want the child actors to really be hurt would you?”
“Uh … No, of course not.” Jim released the woman and brushed her arm. “Sorry, I wouldn’t have gripped so hard if I’d known. Why didn’t you say something outside the film studio?”
“I was told that they want some clips from the interior security cameras for the press,” the actress said.
Jim gritted his teeth. Even his chief was in the set-up. He opened his mouth to resign.
“And,” Mike said. “Upstairs told me they want to give the two unbroken presents – that coach and the bike – to your kids.”
Jim slammed his mouth shut. Maybe there was magic.
The stagehand brought the toys down; they’d even added a Glitzie Pixie™ doll to the package. It was more than he could have dreamed of for his good kids. He stammered out his thanks to Mike.
“No worries,” Mike said. “You did good. Now take the rest of the day off. Get those hidden before the little ones get home.”
Jim tied the toys into an easy-to-carry bundle and cautiously opened the door. Police had arrived and the protesters slunk away, except for one die hard on the other side of the road.
“Boo!” she shouted as the police closed in on her. “It’s worth it, is it? Can’t you get a job with a decent company, one that doesn’t destroy the Arctic to make their toys? What will your children think of you helping to destroy their world?”
Jim clenched his hands around the bundle. Maybe she was right, maybe the Best Toy Company was bad folks to work for, but he was just one man. And right now, his kids were going to think he was a hero. Anyway, these toys didn’t feel like they were destroying the world; they just felt like the toys his kids would love.
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