The sun was just peeking over the brewery when Davey Humphridge threw open the window above his bed to gulp down the cold morning air and bask in the early light of what he felt pretty sure had to be the first day of Decemberon. It wasn’t much of a view – it never was – but there was something magical today in the air slipping down his throat like iced water and the sunshine lining the brewery roof with gold.
He’d been awake for hours already. He’d heard noises in the night. Which certainly wasn’t unusual. Jeopards often played catch with roof tiles or scared up seagulls, the occasional rider clip-clopped by in the streets, drunks stumbled homeward, shouting or singing or collapsing noisily into barrels and the like. But last night’s noises had all conspired to sound like only one thing: Decemberon climbing down his chimney, moving through his house!
He’d been good. Desperately good. And he’d shut his eyes up tight, just like the beggar had told him. When he was tired, it was incredible how easily his eyelids fell closed. But last night – oh, it had taken such hard work to keep them shut. All his effort as he lay there and listened. His heart beat so loud in his chest, Decemberon could have stomped around in heavy boots and he might not have heard the King Of The Fieries’ footsteps.
Now, Davey heard clinks and clunks of his mum laying out the breakfast things downstairs. And the rumble of his dad’s voice, making conversation or clearing his throat, it was impossible to tell through the floorboards.
Davey jumped off the bed and raced out of his bedroom. He wanted to fly down the banister but settled for a reckless dash.
He hopped down the last few stairs and barely landed in the hall before he was running into the living room.
His eyes swelled and he was bursting with smiles.
He knew it. He knew it.
Decemberon had visited.
Of course he had. Davey’s dad owned the brewery. It was why they lived here, right close to work. And some days Davey would get home from school and look out his bedroom window and wave down to his Dad in the brewery yard.
But more importantly, his Dad was rich. Loaded. And when Davey had told him all about Decemberon, well, he wasn’t about to be outdone by anyone else. No, sir. If he was going to do a thing, he wasn’t going to do it by halves. If they were going to have a visitor during the night, they were going to make him welcome and put out a proper spread. A buffet fit for a king, Dad had said with a hearty laugh.
And Decemberon had been. And eaten the lot. And – Davey leaned over to peer into the goblet – yes! he’d drank that down too.
Davey clapped. Haha. Decemberon wouldn’t have wanted much else from the other houses around.
He glanced around the room eagerly.
Dad sauntered in behind him.
“Well, lad, looks like there’s something to your King Of The Fieries, after all. Hmm, the fellow could’ve exercised a bit more care coming out the chimney.”
Davey spotted the large sooty patch on the rug, the dusting of ash all around the hearth. But he couldn’t see any gifts. Not anywhere.
Dad sniffed. “Lord! What the hell’s that smell?” Dad toured one side of the room, sniffing some more. His nose, bulbous and red but famously sensitive, led him over towards the potted plant in the corner.
He pulled the pot aside and bent to look behind it.
Suddenly he backed up and clamped a sleeve over his mouth and nose. His face wrinkled and turned a pale green. He flapped his arm in front of him and tried not to look too hard at what he’d found.
“Well, lad, seems like he left us a present at any rate. You can have the job of cleaning it up.”
“And that, boys and girls, is why every year at this time we celebrate the Festival Of Decemberon. A lot of parents were confronted with a lot of glum-faced kids, disappointed at not getting any presents, and rather than having to deal with that through a cold winter month they tried to cheer the brats up by buying something nice from the market.
“In subsequent years, I didn’t even have to tell my stories. The merchants were fully on board – specially the bakeries, since mince pies sold like hot cakes that time of year. And sherry. Yeah, the people who make booze did all right out of it too. They promoted Decemberon as an actual thing and some creative types had the bright idea of selling decorations to spruce up the house. They even sold special trees for the occasion, for folks to stick in the corner for Decemberon to, ah, leave his presents behind. The scent of pine, they said, would counteract the smell.
“Course, I don’t do the full rounds of every household every year. It’s just not feasible. And sometimes I pop down the chimney to find the pies already scoffed, the sherry glass already drained. Parents, probably, stuffing their faces to help maintain the illusion. That or those blasted jeopards got wind of the free grub and drinks on offer.
“Kiala knows. She’s a pain in my proverbials, but she’s a smart girl – curse her hide – and she twigged to my part in it all that first year when a few people asked her to investigate a spate of mysterious home intrusions. Still, I pointed out to her she couldn’t exactly tell anyone, since they’d be liable to be upset if they knew it was her pet demon that went around breaking into people’s houses and helping himself to refreshments left out in good faith.
“So all in all it’s worked out pretty well.
“The one thing I didn’t count on was everyone being so flamin happy. They go around waving cheerily to each other and wishing everyone a Merry Decemberon. They send glittery greeting cards to neighbours and relatives in other towns they haven’t spoken to all year. It’s ridiculous.
“And I’d just like to go on record to state categorically that happiness was not part of the plan.
“Decemberon is a work of fiction. It was all about greed and any spirit of celebration or any semblance of joy arising from it is purely coincidental.
“So, with that in mind, Merry Decemberon. You’re welcome.
That’s it for our Tortentales for this year. Hope you enjoyed reading. And hopefully there’ll be more fun fantasy adventure to come in the New Year.