Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Stranger

From the top of the hill he could see the distant lights of the Christmas tree in the village, shimmering and winking in the cold night air. Wisps of mist stretched out tentative fingers and curled themselves like snakes around the bracken and rocky outcrops. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked, and the sound travelled like an echo from another time across the winter landscape. It was five degrees below in the far-off city streets, yet the temperature in his heart was even colder.

He became aware of an imperceptible change in his surroundings before he heard the unmistakable sound of crunching footsteps in the snow. The still atmosphere became charged as if someone had crackled electricity through the void. Slowly the man turned to see the stranger walking slowly toward him; battered hat pulled down low on his brow, scarf pulled up to his eyes, shoulders hunched and great coat buttoned only once so the rest trailed behind him like a wraith.
“That’s far enough” he said. The stranger stopped just feet away, dipped his head slightly and demurred. “As you wish”, he growled “I only desired to speak of the season and to wish you well”.

“You’ll wish me well only by keeping your distance” The stranger, although little could be seen of him except the steely flint of his eyes, looked momentarily angry but he composed himself in a moment and continued his gaze at a point just below him on the snow-covered ground.
“You have it?” he said. The stranger again moved his head just slightly. “I should hope so – nothing else would bring me out on such a cold night as this.” He laughed softly but viciously, “You’ve a heart like granite and blood like ice, your very bones are made of glacial iron and when you walk abroad every night is as frozen and bitter as your very soul”
“If you have no kind words then I think it best we complete our transaction and move on.” Said the stranger with no obvious reflection of these latter harsh words, “Both of us have much mischief to create this night and time is of the essence”
“Indeed” he held out his hand as the stranger reached deep into the huge folds of his coat, pulling out a gold folder and passing it over.
He pulled the folder closer to his eyes and then adjusted his stance, holding the item at arms length so the bright moon reflected on the lettering. He thought for a moment and then nodded “You’ve done well, you may go”
The stranger again nodded, glanced up for a brief second as if to defend himself against the previous accusations but then seemed to think better of it. “Aye, by your leave then” he turned and walked slowly back the way he had come, pausing just as he was about to pass behind the large mound that led to the path down. He didn’t turn, the words could have been meant for another had there been anyone there, but the intention and recipient was clear, “Oh yes – and Merry Christmas!”
 He smiled in spite of it all. Alone again on the hill, he turned once again toward the village lights. Glancing down at the folder and marvelling at the words picked out in the icy glow of a hard winter moon. Whispering he read “Billy Blagg’s Annual Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs”

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