Mum told us not to bother The Christmas Man. He wouldn’t leave his house all year, except for Christmas time — specifically, advent and the run up to Christmas. At the start of December, he’d cover his house with lights and even place glowing reindeer statues in his front garden. He’d actually wander around the estate during the festive season, smiling at people, though never talking to them.
The rest of the year, he remained inside. Through the gaps in the curtains we would sometimes see him, with his long hair and beard, wrapped in a blanket, watching TV, or playing video games. Usually pretty sedentary, except for the one time we saw him dancing. Other than that, we might glimpse him during his fortnightly delivery of groceries, and once in a while he’d get a parcel. That’s how I met him. Yesterday, the post-lady delivered a heavy parcel to our house by mistake. The label clearly showed not only the address of the Christmas Man, but his full name too.
I messaged Claire from down the street. I know Christmas Man’s real name. I tapped send. Almost immediately, she called me.
“Go on, let me have it.” she demanded.
“Christmas Man is,” I paused for dramatic effect, “Mr. Florian Bolson.” There was a moment of silence as Claire digested the information.
“You’re shitting me.” she exclaimed, her voice distorting through the earpiece due to its volume.
“No shitting from this end.”
“Florian Bolson. The famous author? No way.”
“Maybe it’s just someone with the same name?” I suggested.
“Pretty unlikely. So how did you find out?”
“The postie delivered one of his parcels to our house.”
“I’m coming round.” She hung up.
Three minutes later, Claire knelt in my lounge. Her eyes were huge, “We have to open this.”
“Er, I don’t think so. The word ‘illegal’ comes to mind.”
“Just pretend you opened it by mistake. Easily done.”
“Come on. We can just seal it back up and then take it round. Are your scissors still in the kitchen drawer?”
I sliced the tape which secured the box flaps. There was little resistance. We were silent for a minute. I gently opened the box, and removed a sheet of paper from the top of its contents.
“Holy shit.” Claire fell back. “That’s his new book. It’s not out for months!”
“And now we tape up the box and pretend we saw nothing.” I moved to close the box, but Claire’s palm shot out of nowhere and slapped my wrists.
“He won’t notice if one goes missing.” she pleaded.
“Of course he will!”
I savoured the smell of fallen leaves which filled the air around us as we approached my neighbour’s front door. My heart raced, but I plucked up courage and knocked. We waited. I was just about to give up when I heard rustling. There was a sharp click, and the door opened, just a crack. Claire’s feet shuffled beside mine. An expressionless face peered at us, looking first at me, then Claire, then back to me.
“Hi, the post lady delivered this to us by mista..”
Claire cut me off. “Are you a writer?” she pointed at the address label. “Are you him?”
Beady eyes looked at the package. The Christmas Man spoke slowly, “I go by that name.” He nodded. I could just about hear the noise of his beard crunching as it met the brown blanket which wrapped him. “Do you read?”
“Yes.” I said, cautiously.
Footsteps sounded from inside, and he quickly said, “One second.”
I whispered to Claire, “Did you hear that? Everyone says he lives alone.”
“Yep. Maybe he has a guest.” Claire’s eyebrows raised, she pursed her lips.
“We should go. I’ll just leave the box here.”
“Hold on a sec, he’s my favourite author.”
“He was mine too until I found out he was the Christmas Man!”
I hadn’t realised that his face had reappeared at the crack. He spoke with a rasp, a thin voice seemingly caught in his throat, “You’d better come in then.”
The place was tidier than I had expected. He had a big open fireplace, with flames licking a stack of logs, radiating considerable warmth into the room. A neat bookcase covered the far wall, and the furniture was surprisingly modern. Distracted by my surroundings, I jumped when a beautiful woman emerged from the doorway opposite. Her voice resonated with the twinkle of tiny bells, “Are these your friends, Florian? You must introduce us!”
“They’re just bringing round a package, Mum. They’ll be gone in a minute.”
For a moment, the woman was completely still, and nothing registered on her face. My body turned numb. She can’t have been over twenty years old, yet here was a man in what I presumed to be his fifties calling her ‘Mum’.
The woman resumed animation, her face exuding happiness while she motioned dismissively with her hands, “Nonsense, dear! Tea for all? Yes I think a pot will do nicely. I’ll be right back.”
Florian took the box from me and spoke quickly in a hushed voice, “You’d better go.”
“But what about the tea?” Claire asked.
“You wouldn’t like it. Thanks for the parcel.”
I was happy to leave; something felt wrong. The room around us seemed to heave with Florian’s breath. Were the walls wet? They looked wet. I nodded to our brief host, and opened the front door. Suddenly, a high-pitched wail split the air, forcing me to cover my ears. Florian dropped the box of books and fell to his knees. The sound disappeared as quickly as it had started, and now, standing beside us was the woman — except the shaft of sunlight from the open door shone right through her. Only her head and shoulders were visible; her torso ended with a diagonal line from her left hip to right shoulder, splitting light from shadow. Claire turned pale. Florian looked up, with a pleading look in his eyes, “Mum, don’t.”
“Don’t what, darling?” she replied. Florian lunged for the door, but he was too far away. The woman continued to move through the open doorway, disappearing gradually as the diagonal shadow diminished along with her neck and jaw. “Isn’t it a beautiful…” The light sliced past her lips, cutting her off. The very moment she disappeared completely, there was a deep resounding boom and the daylight drained from the world around us. What had been a blue sky, was now thick black sludge.
“Oh, shit.” said Florian. “Oh, fucking shit.”
That was a week ago. Shit had been about right. That day was the last time we saw the sun. It was the last time we saw many things.