Tuesday 5 January 2010

Snow and second placed Story in the Short Story Competition

Snow then. And lots of it in the UK. Even some here on the South-coast and needless to say my inner child (you noticed I have one right?) loved the short walk from the bus stop to the front door as some of the biggest flakes I've seen in years started to lay quite quickly on the pavement.

All very exciting but at time of writing it has stopped although loads more is forecast.

So why is it so exciting? For me it reminds me of being pretty young and sat in my parents kitchen in Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight listening to Radio Solent waiting to here whether the snow fall had led to a school closure. It's that feeling which returns, that little bit of joy that school was out, and that sledging at the Castle would soon follow. Happy times. And that's why despite the fact that it's stopped I'm still smiling.

Ok.... now I'm gonna try something which I've not used before which is inserting a jump break into my post.... Basically it's a 'read more' button.

So if you want to read the Christmas Story that @IanHewett sent me which came second in the Story Competition then click 'read more...' (I know it's simple but it's new to Diary of a Ledger ok...)

by Ian Hewett

The bell rang as the door creaked open. The woman's sour expression entered first, followed by her two screaming children and a blast of freezing air. Chris sighed, shivered, and surreptitiously checked his watch was working. His face twisted into a smile like a well-worn catchphrase.
“You,” said the customer, instantly failing to get in Chris's good books, “I want the complete Shakespeare and the Banjopips Annual.” Silence. “Well?”
“Well what?”
“Are you going to find them for me or not?”
“Wait there,” he harrumphed, and trudged off to find them. Bloody Banjopips; this year's must-have flash-in-the-pan merchandise fodder. Dragging his feet through his small bookshop, he barely noticed the man browsing his small collection of occult-themed tomes. Putting his hand on the last of the Banjopips Annuals, with The Complete Shakespeare under his arm, he did his best not to make eye contact with the man. Chris slowly made his way back to the counter, when one of the children addressed her mother.
“Mummy,” said the grizzling offspring, “I hate this shop. It's dusty and smelly. I want to go home.”
Sliding both books onto a random shelf, he returned to the counter. “We're out of both books.” He could barely contain his sarcasm with his next word. “Sorry.”
“I saw you!” shouted the woman. “You had them under your bloody arm!” She got right in his face, her lip trembling. “I want to see the manager!”
Chris stood his ground, and indicated himself silently, barely able to suppress his smirk. The woman shook her head in disbelief, and dragged her brood out of the shop, leaving the door wide open. Chris went to close it, ignoring the dozens of shoppers, mouths agape, staring his way. He returned to the counter, where the man now stood. Chris turned on the radio, and Slade's festive hit rang out.
“Well, she was fun,” mused Chris to the customer.
“Not in the Christmas spirit, young man?”
Chris exhaled loudly. “No, not really. It's Christmas Eve, and what am I doing? Selling books to rude idiots.” He surveyed his customer; he was an old man, with half-moon spectacles and a greying beard, his overcoat a genuine antique. His lined face had a thousand tales to tell. “Got to keep the shop going, though.”
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day...” mocked the radio.
Bagging the gentleman's items, he offered a small smile. The old man smiled back sympathetically. “Have a nice Christmas, young man.” Chris muttered indistinct words back, as the man left. He had had enough of the ingratitude, the impatience and the miserable faces. Locking the door of the shop several hours early, firmly turning the sign around to “closed”, he made his way up to his flat above the premises, and cracked open a bottle of whisky. Humbug. At least it was Christmas Day tomorrow, and he could have a day off. Slumped in his armchair, his fifth straight whisky sloshing around his palate, he drifted angrily into a deep sleep.

He was woken rudely from a disturbing dream about Noel Edmonds by a banging noise from downstairs. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth like velcro, tearing away painfully. Getting a drink of water to appease the drought in his mouth, he picked up his sole Christmas card. His mad old mum sent him one from the same multipack she'd had for years every Christmas, written in her standard drunken scrawl. Making his way to the shop floor in his dressing gown, dropping the card on the counter, he saw a man staring through the window. A look of confusion and annoyance drowned his face as he unlocked the door.
“We're closed.”
“On Christmas Eve? What sort of shop is this?” The man stormed off, leaving Chris bewildered. Why were there so many people on the high street on Christmas Day? He turned on the radio, but each excitable DJ confirmed it. How had he lost an entire day? Turning off the radio, he scrambled upstairs, got dressed, and within minutes tumbled back down the stairs, a slice of toast hanging from his mouth. The shop was reluctantly open again. He was convinced he was going mad.
That feeling was confirmed after a couple of hours. Chris served exactly the same people that he had the day before, all wanting the same items. He looked around for hidden cameras, to no avail. By midday, he reasoned that it was just his imagination. He had been working all hours lately, exhausting himself. All of his friends had drifted away, and he had no family he was in contact with any more, so the shop, “Leaves All Around”, was all he had. He heard the bell ring, and heard the whining children. Chris felt himself turn cold, and it wasn't just the breeze. Looking up, he saw the woman from yesterday. Usually when he annoyed a customer, he never saw them again. He hated confrontation, so was not looking forward to this.
“You,” she said, “I want the complete Shakespeare and the Banjopips Annual.” Silence. “Well?”
The events played out exactly as before. The old man was there, as were the books the woman wanted. Hands trembling, he returned to the counter. This time, she bought the books, but still didn't thank him. As she left, the chilling breeze filled the shop. He edged towards the door and closed it quietly, the coldness remaining within him. Returning to the till, the old man was there, right on cue.
“Are you okay, young man?”
Chris didn't know what to say, in all honesty. He nodded quietly, as he switched the radio back on.
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day...”
As he bagged the old man's physics books, he noticed him reading the Christmas card on the counter, a glint of sadness in his eyes. The man placed the card back on the counter, smiled thinly, and left once more. Shellshocked, Chris walked to the door, locking the world out.
Making his way upstairs, he slumped into the armchair, and began drinking, hoping he could drown the nightmare, wishing it would drag his sorrows down with it.

He was woken rudely from a disturbing dream about Noel Edmonds by a banging noise from downstairs. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth like velcro, tearing away painfully. Getting a drink of water to appease the drought in his mouth, he picked up his sole Christmas card...
“Oh, no...”
Within minutes, he was back downstairs, gripping some toast between his teeth as he unlocked the door. The same man was there, but Chris decided to let him in. The day played out exactly the same again, though he felt a little more prepared, but couldn't help the annoyance in his tone with people. Was this some sick joke? This should be Boxing Day, but it appeared that somebody had forgotten to tell the space/time continuum. He kept an eye out for the old man, but by the time the miserable mother and her horrible children had entered, there was no sign of him.
“You,” she said predictably, “I want the complete Shakespeare and the Banjopips Annual.” Silence. “Well?”
“Certainly,” said Chris. “I'll just go and fetch them for you.”
The look on her face was worth it, a small victory. It appeared that she wasn't used to friendly customer service. Mind you, Chris wasn't used to giving it. Making his way to the back of the shop, there was the old man. Chris looked at him strangely. “I didn't see you come in.”
The old man smiled, but didn't say anything. Chris found the two books, slightly bemused, and returned to the woman. “Here we go,” he said, a broad, if slightly forced, smile on his lips. “You were lucky to get the Banjopips Annual. It's my last one.”
The woman smiled slightly, actually looking relieved. “Thank you so much. You know how it is, trying to find that one item for your loved ones that you just can't find anywhere.” Chris hadn't given anyone a present in years, so he didn't know how it was. He could only imagine. Bagging her items, she headed towards the door. “Merry Christmas,” she said with a smile, and closed the door behind her.
He returned to the counter, and turned the radio on.
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day...”
“Well, that went a little better,” said the old man with a wry smile. Chris eyed him curiously. “Is there something wrong, young man?”
Chris squinted slightly. “Nothing... I've just noticed, you've got the same scar as me.” Just under the old man's right eye was indeed a small but visible scar. Chris had the same mark in the same place, the result one of his father's little 'accidents' with a teacup years ago.
The man chuckled, and stroked his scar. “My, so we do. Isn't that strange?”
Chris bagged his quantum mechanics books. “Who are you?”
Picking up the Christmas card, sadness bled into his expression. “I'm a very lonely old man, trying to put things right as best I can.” The rhyming couplet was lost on him.
Chris locked the door. “You're more than that. You know what's been happening to me. The only thing that hasn't been constant is that you've bought different books each time.”
The man sighed. “Let's just say, I'm the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come rolled into one.” He paced around the counter. “You seem very lonely, too. Don't you have any friends or family you can spend Christmas with?”
Chris shook his head, glumly. “Not any more. They all left.”
The man looked him directly in the eye. “It's never too late, young man, to change your fortunes. You're so intent on pushing people away, it shows in the way you serve people. You'll lose your shop if you keep doing that.” He pushed the Christmas card into his hands. “It's never too late.
The man collected his bag of items, and made for the exit. “Merry Christmas, young man.” Then, he was gone.
Chris locked the door, and made his way upstairs, still clutching the card. He sat gently into his armchair, awash with emotions he hadn't felt in years, still unsure as to what the events of the day meant. He picked up the whisky bottle, full again as before, but decided against it this time. Time to break the circle... or at least, chip away at it. He drifted off into a deep slumber.

He woke peacefully the next morning, listening out for the banging at the door. It didn't happen, and he found himself strangely missing it. He made his way to the shop floor. There was precisely nobody outside. The street was empty. He unlocked the door, and went into the street, still in his dressing gown. Nobody. He tried to suppress his laugh, but failed. It echoed loudly around him, reverberating around the otherwise silent buildings, punctuated by frosty-white breath. He ran back inside when the chill became unbearable, glad that it never actually snowed at Christmas. Locking up again, he turned on the radio.
“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day...”
He sat and listened to every note, welling up with nostalgia when Noddy broke into the scream at the end of the song. The DJ confirmed that it was Christmas morning, but Chris already knew that.
He smiled, and picked up the telephone, dialling a number from memory.
“Mum,” he said, tears trailing down his cheeks, “it's me.”

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