Shorty scrambled over the top of the skip and landed next to me on the old cardboard that topped the pile of rubbish. I don’t know what was underneath that but it stank a bit.
Footsteps ran past.
They came back slowly.
A car started up and the blue lights stopped flashing ‘cross the top of the skip.
The alley were quiet, ‘cept for the scurry of rats.
I whispered, “That were close, Shorty,” and tried to sit up, which shifted the rubbish around us ‘cos I’m heavy, like. Bits of scrap splashed into water at the bottom of the skip and the smell got stronger.
Shorty took out a pack of fag papers and started to 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.” He blinked at me and his shoulder twitched. “What did you do wiv ’em?”
“I put ’em in the backpack, Shorty. Like you said”
Shorty grabbed the bag. “It’s empty!”
“I think they come out when I landed in the skip.”
Shorty closed his eyes. The lids were twitching but he took a deep drag of the roll-up. His other fist loosened and his shoulders relaxed.
” ‘Ere Shorty, I thought we was out of smokes.”
He passed it over. “It were in one of their pockets. ‘S good stuff.”
I took a drag and the world went hazy. We shared the spliff in silence as footsteps echoed in the alley and turned the corner.
A large rat sat watching us from a chunk of wood. I seen a lot of rats, but this one were wearin’ a coat. And a red hat. Its little ears stuck up either side.
Shorty was speechless, which never ‘appens, so I filled in. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m the Ghost of Christmas Presents.”
“I seen that film,” I said. “The one with ‘im what were in The Italian Job.”
“Not that one. I’m the ghost of Christmas presents you once had.”
“I ‘aven’t ‘ad any – not since I were a kid.”
“I never had any when I were a kid, either.” Shorty had found his voice. “I’d leave a note up the chimney, but Santa never came for it.”
“Were you naughty or nice, though?” asked the ghost. “That’s the key to getting Christmas presents.”
Shorty snorted. “No chance then, is there?” He blinked. “Some church gave me a useless book once. It din’t ‘ave no pictures in it.”
My brain had gone cloudy, like soup. Memories bobbed to the surface.
“Me an’ me bruvver used hang up our socks and watch for Santa at the window, but we’d always fall asleep. “In the morning the socks was full o’ chocolates wiv a piece of fruit an’ a prezzy. One year I got a tiny teddy bear.”
The world was getting mistier. “That were before Dad’s accident. Mum went a bit funny after he died, an’ we was put in a children’s ‘ome.”
The rat-ghost wrinkled its brow – did rats have brows? “You must’ve had Christmas presents in the children’s home.”
“Weren’t the same,” I said. “An’ someone nicked Little Ted.”
“Ah. Right.” In the mist, the ghost looked like a little gnome with his red hat and coat.
“Shh.” Shorty hissed. “Sounds like the plod.”
Heavy footsteps passed the skip and carried on to the end of the alley. We listened hard till they faded. By then, the mist was gone
So was the gnome.
A tail whipped out of sight, dislodging a scrap of cardboard. Underneath it was a tiny teddy with an arm stickin’ up – in greeting, like.
I stretched out… carefully in case any rubbish shifted.
Its shiny black eyes reflected the streetlight. I stroked its soft fur – it was surprisingly clean – and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
The old carpet scraps felt warm and comfy as Mum and Dad’s feather bed… until they shifted again.
Shorty had pulled himself up to see over the skip’s side. “Come on, Griller. Let’s go while the…”
He stared at the opposite wall, speechless for the second time that night. I slipped Little Ted in my pocket. “What is it, Shorty?”
He stepped back, tripped on a bit of old wood and lay gazing into the sky above the skip.
“That poster…” He blinked. “It’s about free Christmas dinners they’re laying on at the community centre.”
“Lovely Jubbly!” This was more like Christmas. I was surprised he hadn’t mentioned it earlier.
Then I remembered our hasty arrival. “I s’pect when we jumped in ‘ere you didn’t ‘ave time to read it.”
Shorty whispered, “When we jumped in ‘ere, I couldn’t read.”
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