Visitors who were with me last year may recall Griller and Shorty.
I re-post them here as introduction to their continuing story, which will be serialised through December
Shorty scrambled over the top and landed next to me in the skip.
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 stinking water at the bottom of the skip.
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.”
He grabbed the bag. More rubbish shifted.
“I think they come out when I landed in the skip.”
Shorty closed his eyes. The lids was twitching but he took a deep drag of the cigarette and his shoulders relaxed.
“I thought we was out of smokes, Shorty.”
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 pile of carpet scraps. I seen a lot of rats, but this one were wearin’ a coat. And a red hat; its little ears stuck up either side.
“ ‘Allo,” it squeaked.
Shorty were 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 were given in the past.”
“I ’in’t been given any – not since I were a kid.”
“I never ’ad any when I were a kid, neither.” Shorty had found his voice. “I’d leave a note up the chimney but Santa never came for it.”
“But were you naughty or nice?” asked the ghost. “That’s the key to getting presents.”
Shorty snorted. “No chance then, is there?” He blinked. “Some church gave me a book once. Useless.”
My brain had gone cloudy, like soup. Memories bobbed to the surface. “Me an’ me bruvver used ’ang up our socks and watch for Santa at the window, but we always fell asleep. In the morning the socks were full o’ chocolates wiv a piece of fruit an’ a prezzy – one year it were a tiny teddy bear.” The world got mistier. “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 its brow – did rats have brows? “You must’ve had Christmas presents in there.”
“Weren’t the same,” I said. “An’ I lost Little Ted.”
Come to think of it, the ghost looked like a gnome in the mist, with his red hat and coat.
“Shh.” Shorty hissed. “Sounds like the plod coming back.”
Heavy footsteps paced the alley again.
I listened hard till they faded. By then, the mist was gone and so was the gnome.
A tail whipped out of sight, dislodging a scrap of carpet. Underneath it was a tiny teddy with one arm up. I stretched out carefully in case any rubbish shifted to swallow it up.
I stroked its soft fur, which 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 going’s… gg…”
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 before.
Then I remembered our 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.”