You'd Better Watch Out
In common with parents up and down the country, Christmas Eve found Wayne Trubshaw busily scrabbling under the Christmas Tree, transferring presents between a sack and the pile around the base.
The difference, in Wayne's case, was that he was transferring the presents to his sack, not from it. Wayne had taken the concept of last-minute Christmas shopping to its logical conclusion. He simply waited for everyone else to do their shopping and was now using the last few hours of darkness, before Christmas Day, to relieve them of it.
Unlike most parents, he didn't have the time, or the inclination, to make considered choices. He just had to hope that whatever had been purchased for the kids who lived in this posh pile, would be more than good enough for little JayCee and Brad. With luck, there might be a game controller or two, perhaps a tablet, laptop or top-of-the-range mobile phone? Wayne had no time to find out, he had to grab and run. Burglars can't be choosers, he told himself.
Heaving the heavily-laden sack onto his back, Wayne edged gingerly through the furnishing, trying not to make a sound. He headed toward the grey light that signified the patio doors and successful escape. All was going well, until a tremendous flash temporarily blinded him. Taking a tentative step forward, he tripped and fell head-first into the parquet floor with a noise that would wake the dead. As his sight gradually returned, he became aware of a narrow beam of light shining on him from the left. His eyes followed the light to its owner, a small, serious-looking boy, holding a tiny torch and peering at him through a large pair of spectacles. He appeared to be holding one end of a skipping rope.
"Is it him?" a female voice from Wayne's right asked.
"No" replied the boy, with evident disappointment. "I told you it wouldn't be"
Wayne turned his head to the right, with some difficulty as he was lying face down on the floor and was pinned in that position by the weight of the sack on his back. From under a table, in the light of the torch, he could make out the figure of a little girl sitting cross-legged in her nightgown. She appeared to be holding the other end of the skipping rope.
"Oh" she said, sadly, "I felt sure we had him this time" She edged a little closer to Wayne. He could now see the frayed and worn teddy bear clamped under her arm.
"Are you Santa?" She fixed him with an accusatory glare. Glad of any chance to mount a defence, Wayne responded.
"Not exactly" He heard a snort of derision from his left as he thought as fast as he could of a faintly believable explanation. "You know how everything has an opposite, like positive and negative?"
"Good and bad?" suggested the little girl, straying into an area with which Wayne was not entirely comfortable.
"Matter and anti-matter" the voice from the left chipped in.
"I was going to say Liverpool and Everton, but that and all I suppose" Wayne conceded without turning his head. "Well, there's your Santa and then there's your…"
"Anti-Santa?" asked the boy, incredulously.
"Yeah" said Wayne with relief, "that's me"
"What does an Anti-Santa do then?" the little girl asked suspiciously
"Well, you see, Santa brings presents to good children, doesn't he?" Wayne's mind was racing to keep up with his mouth. It was also getting uncomfortably hot under both the weight of the sack and the close observation. The girl nodded slowly in agreement with his statement. "Well, I take them away"
"Why would you do that?" asked the boy, who was getting right on Wayne's nerves.
"To give to poor children who don't have any" Wayne suggested. It seemed a pretty good story, even if he said so himself. It would certainly be true of JayCee and Brad if he didn't get this load home tonight.
"Presumably, if they don't have presents, then they haven't been good?" The boy pointed out.
"It doesn't always work like that" Wayne snapped.
"What sort of presents were you looking for?" The little girl asked.
"Oh, I don't know" Wayne blustered, "electrical gizmos I suppose, mostly. Game controllers, tablets, that kind of thing"
"We never have things like that" the girl said, sadly. "We get 'good, wholesome and improving' presents" She sounded as if she was quoting someone.
"Pru's right. We never get electronics" the boy agreed, with a voice tinged with disappointment.
"Pru?" Wayne asked.
"Oh, sorry, where are my manners. I'm Peregrine and this is my sister, Prudence"
"Peregrine? Like the bird?"
"There is a raptor of the same nomenclature, yes" Peregrine responded huffily.
"What's your name?" Prudence enquired.
"Wayne" he responded before he could stop himself.
"A Wayne in a manger!" She giggled, and pointed to the floor. Wayne realised that he was surrounded by a sea of small plastic figures, sheep, donkeys and cows. He must have broken his fall on a toy manger. The digging pain in his chest was probably a wise man, shepherd or the infant Jesus getting his retribution in early.
"Look, do you mind if I sit up now? It's getting a bit hard on this floor" Wayne suggested.
"Please do" responded Peregrine, ever the charming host.
Wayne managed to shuffle into a sitting position whilst still keeping a firm hold on the sack of presents.
"So, what sort of thing do you guys get from Santa?" he decided he might as well know the worst.
"Well, Aunt Wilhelmina always knits us a scarf" Prudence replied, helpfully.
"That's not so bad, is it?" Wayne remarked, affably, "nice warm scarf each, at this time of year?"
"Oh no, not each" Peregrine explained, "she knits us a scarf. Mummy and daddy insist that we wear it when she visits. It's a bit of a bother, really. If we don't co-ordinate our movements exactly, I nearly get strangled, with Prudence being so much shorter"
"You must get other things, surely?"
"I had a year's subscription to New Scientist last year" Peregrine said, cheerfully, "it's a bit populist, but perfectly adequate"
Wayne was beginning to realise that he might have made a huge mistake in his choice of target.
"Bet you have a great Christmas Day though? Groaning table piled with rich food and all that?" If the presents were naff, perhaps he could nick their Christmas Dinner.
"Not really. Do you like nut roast?" Peregrine enquired.
"Never tried it"
"Don't!" Peregrine responded with feeling "it's an acquired taste and I wouldn't bother if I were you"
"Christmas Pudding?" Wayne suggested
"We're only allowed ice cream" Prudence said, sulkily.
"You can get some nice flavours of ice cream these days" Wayne was trying desperately to inject a little Christmas cheer into the conversation, "Pistachio, toffee, mint-choc chip"
"Vanilla" Prudence said, flatly, "Daddy doesn't approve of 'artificial colours and flavourings'" she was clearly quoting again.
"Strewth!" Wayne said, with feeling, "anything would be better than nut roast and vanilla ice cream. Fish and chips even."
"Fish and chips?" Peregrine queried
"Oh, don't tell me you've never had fish and chips?" Wayne asked, appalled.
"Don't think so. What are they like?" Prudence asked, with interest.
"Right, that settles it" Wayne came to a sudden decision, "The Chippy in the arcade round the corner's open late. You two are coming with me for a decent nosh"
Five minutes later, the three of them were sitting around a Formica table in the Paphos Fish Bar, fish and chips piled before them. Wayne had the sack of presents firmly tucked under his chair - after all, waste not, want not. He looked at the two children, busily tucking into the food before them, with a sense of pride. This was the first time he had ever, consciously, done a good deed and he rather liked the feeling it gave him.
"What the dickens are you two doing here?" the authoritative male voice from behind him made Wayne visibly jump a foot in the air.
"Hi dad!" Peregrine responded brightly.
"Dad?" Wayne yelped, with a sinking feeling.
"This is Wayne" Prudence advised, between large mouthfuls of chips, "he's an Anti-Santa"
"And a burglar" Peregrine added, "we've got pictures and the stolen goods are in a bag under his chair"
"Hang on a minute!" Wayne interjected, before the uniformed presence of their father loomed over him.
"Evening, Constable" he said, with a nervous smile.
"We knew Mr. Nicolaides would ring you as soon as we turned up on Christmas Eve with a strange man in tow" Peregrine smiled as he mopped up the remainder of his meal, "So, we caught your burglar, now do we get our i-pads, like you promised?"