Griller scrambled over the top of the skip and landed beside Shorty among the scrap. Dislodged rubbish splashed into puddles far beneath them.
Footsteps pounded along the alley. They returned slowly.
The blue lights flashing above them were turned off and the police car left. The alley was quiet apart from the scurrying of rats.
Shorty took out a pack of cigarette papers and fashioned a slim roll-up. “At least we got a good haul of phones.”
“Come on, Griller. I passed you ‘arf a dozen I lifted from them carol singers. What’ve you done wiv ’em?”
“I put ’em in the backpack, Shorty.”
Shorty grabbed the bag. “It’s empty!”
“I think they come out when I landed in the skip.”
Shorty closed his eyes.
He inhaled deeply from the cigarette. His other hand loosened its fist and Griller relaxed.
” ‘Ere Shorty, I thought we was out of smokes.”
Shorty passed it over. “Was in one of their pockets. ‘S good stuff.”
Griller inhaled. The world grew misty. They shared the spliff in silence as heavy footsteps again paced the alley and left.
A large rat sat watching them from a pile of carpet scraps. Griller was no stranger to rats, but this one wore a coat. Between its pointy ears nestled a red hat.
Shorty was uncharacteristically speechless. Griller filled in. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Presents.”
“I saw that film,” said Griller, “with ‘im what was in the Italian Job.”
“Not that one. I’m the ghost of Christmas presents you once had.”
Griller said. “I ‘aven’t ‘ad any – not since I were a kid.”
“I never ‘ad any presents then, either,” said Shorty. “I’d leave a note up the chimney but Santa never took it.” He thought for a moment. “One year, some church gave me a useless book.”
Griller’s eyes had glazed. “Me an’ me bruvver would watch for Santa at the window, but we always fell asleep.
In the morning the socks we’d hung up were full o’ chocolates wiv a piece of fruit an’ a prezzy – one year it were a tiny teddy.
His face drooped. “That were before Dad died in an accident an’ Mum went a bit funny an’ we was put in a children’s ‘ome.”
The ghost wrinkled a gnomish brow. “You must’ve had Christmas presents there.”
“Weren’t the same,” said Griller. “An’ I lost Little Ted.”
“Shh.” Shorty hissed. “Sounds like the plod.”
Footsteps again trod the alley. When they faded, the mist was gone.
So was the gnome.
A whip-like tail disappeared, dislodging a scrap of carpet. Beneath lay a tiny teddy, one arm raised. Griller carefully reached out. Its fur was soft and surprisingly clean. Shiny black eyes reflected the streetlight.
“Come on, Griller.” Shorty had pulled himself up to peer over the skip’s side. Let’s go while the…”
He stared at the opposite wall, speechless for the second time that night. Griller slipped Little Ted into his pocket. “What is it, Shorty?”
“That poster – it’s about free Christmas dinners they’re laying on at the community centre.”
“Lovely Jubbly!” This was more like Christmas. Griller wondered why Shorty hadn’t mentioned it before. “I s’pect when we jumped in the skip you didn’t ‘ave time to read it.”
Shorty whispered, “When we jumped in the skip, I couldn’t read.”
Find Shorty and Griller in Witch Way
Available in paperback and e-book