MY younger son Nathan is almost 12-years-old and has already developed a number of real passions in life… rugby, taekwondo and his X-Box are among his favourites.
However, he also reads insatiably and like a lot of kids his age is transfixed by zombie and ghost stories.
In his last year at primary school his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He answered: “A writer like dad”, before naïvely adding “and I won’t need any exams for that!”
Recently he was asked to enter a story writing competition at his new high school, under the title Who’s Kidnapped Father Christmas? This is his entry:
THE front door bell chimed.
Cal looked up from his X-Box, walked to his bedroom door and craned his head onto the landing to listen. Downstairs he could hear his dad open the door.
“Good afternoon, Mr Jones is it?” he could hear a voice ask.
“Yes, that’s me,” he heard his father reply.
“I am Police Constable Rogers,” continued the voice. “I am sorry to bother you sir, but we are conducting house to house enquiries about the disappearance of two young children in this neighbourhood. May I ask you to look at these photographs?”
Cal could hear a faint shuffle of paper as the police officer showed his father two pictures. There was a long pause, before his dad answered, “No, I am sorry I can’t say I recognise either of them. But my son Callum may know them.”
There was another pause before Cal heard his dad shout: “Callum, can you come down here for a moment.”
Cal dropped his X-Box controller by his door and gingerly made his way downstairs to join his dad at the front door. In front of him was a tall brown eyed policeman holding two A5 size photographs.
“Good afternoon young man,” said the policeman. “I wonder if you can help us… do you recognise either of these children?”
Cal looked at the photographs of a young boy and a girl and shook his head.
“Sorry they look like Year Five kids to me,” he said, “I am at high school.”
The police officer thanked Cal and his father and made a tick on a list on his clip board. As his dad shut the door, Cal could hear his X-Box messenger ping from his bedroom. He turned and scampered upstairs to see who was sending him a message.
It was from his best friend Ben. The message was simple, “How’s Chris getting on? Can I come over later?”
Cal put on his Turtle Beach headphones and called Ben instantly.
“Not been to see him since breakfast,” he said. “But he seems to be getting stronger by the day. He loves those Werther’s Originals sweets you brought him yesterday.”
“Does anyone suspect anything?” asked Ben.
“No, dad hasn’t been down to the old summer house since August and with the rugby I don’t think he will go back down there till after Christmas,” answered Cal. “But we had a copper at the door earlier. Have you heard about two missing primary school kids?”
“No,” said Ben. “Shall I bring some more bread and Pot Noodles over later?”
“Yeah that will be great,” said Cal, “But make sure you use the back gate.”
“Okay,” said Ben, “See you about five o’clock, should be dark by then.”
The afternoon passed slowly as 12-year-old Cal tried to reach a new level on the video game on his X-Box. He sat on his bed and took a sip of coke and thought about the strange events of the past two weeks. Chris still puzzled him. He seemed to have appeared from nowhere the day that he and Ben discovered him slumped on the park bench near the little kids’ play area. Cal remembered there was blood on his chin as if he had fallen over and bashed it. But other than that Chris was unremarkable. He was old, with a messy white beard and wore a dirty old coat and faded red trousers. And he did smell awful. It was a familiar smell like rotten meat from the back of the butcher’s shop. If Cal had to guess, Chris was at least 80.
So he and Ben had helped the old man to his feet and took him back to the old summer house at the end of Cal’s garden. On the 10 minute walk back the old man said very little except that he was hungry and very grateful.
That was two weeks ago and since then the two boys had found some new clothes from the bag his mum puts charity shop stuff in and had fed Chris on a diet of bread, soup, Pot Noodles and now Werther’s Originals sweets. They did manage to get him into the main house one afternoon while mum and dad were out and let him have a hot bath. Cal had to admit that Chris smelled a bit better after that bath. But the rotten meat smell soon came back.
Now the old man was getting stronger and although it was December and cold outside Cal knew they would soon have to ask him to leave.
At 4.45pm Cal heard his dad leave for rugby training.
Ten minutes later he crept downstairs and walked down the garden to the old summer house behind the beech hedge. He knocked on the door and told the not-so-bedraggled man that he would be back in a moment. Cal heard the back gate open and turned to see Ben appear with a Sainsbury’s bag full of Pot Noodles.
“Where the heck did you get the cash to buy that much,” asked Cal.
Ben winked and said: “Better not to know. Chris needs food and it’s not like it’s stolen or we have kidnapped Chris or anything.”
The two boys entered the summer house and handed the bag to Chris. The old man peered inside. At that moment Ben noticed that Chris had some blood on his hands and a cut to his wrist. He nudged Cal and pointed to the blood. Cal grabbed some tissue from his pocket and began to dab Chris’s wrist.
“How did that happen?” he asked.
“Dunno,” replied Chris gruffly.
Ben then noticed a large green sack in the corner of the summer house.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the sack.
“Just some of my stuff that I left in the park,” answered Chris. “Can you boys leave me be now, I need to go out for a bit.”
He seemed ungrateful but the boys left the summer house and disappeared to the main house to play on Cal’s X-Box. But as they began to climb the stairs they heard Cal’s mum gasp loudly from the living room.
“What is it mum?” Cal called.
“Come here,” his mum replied quickly.
The boys hurried into the living room where Cal’s mum watching the news channel on TV.
“Have you seen this,” said mum, “Another child has gone missing in our town. That’s three in less than two weeks,” she gasped. “You boys stay in tonight, something’s not quite right.”
“Okay, mum,” said Cal. “Is it okay if we stay in the garden and can dad give Ben a lift home when he gets back from rugby?”
“Sure, sure,” answered mum who was still transfixed to the TV. “It is saying here that at the site where each child was last seen, the police have found a small opened Christmas present. It is weird, weird, weird,” she added.
On the screen a policeman was showing the green and silver wrapping of an opened Christmas present.
Ben whispered to Cal: “Hey, do you think we had better go and tell old Chris to be careful out there, cos he was going out and who knows how dangerous it might be for an old man.”
“Yeah, good idea. Let’s go and tell him now,” answered Cal.
The boys hurried down the garden and knocked at the summer house door. There was no reply, so they knocked a bit louder. Still no answer. So Ben gently opened the wooden door and turned on the light. There was no sign of Chris.
Cal looked at the green sack that they had seen earlier.
“Hey, I wonder what is in here?” he asked.
Ben tugged at the sack and out tumbled a couple of small boxes wrapped in green and silver Christmas wrapping paper.
“Whaaaat!” exclaimed Cal, “That’s just like to ones the copper was showing on TV just now!”
“There are loads of them in this sack,” said Ben.
Cal pointed out another black sack hidden behind the green one.
“And what do you think might be in here?” he said.
“Oh man!” gasped Ben. “It is full of the Pot Noodles, stale bread and Cuppa Soups we have been giving Chris the past two weeks.”
“In that case,” said Cal, “What’s he been eating and how is he surviving. He’s just an old man, isn’t he!”
The boys were about to find out. Behind them the summer house door creaked open.
“Aha, so you thought you would do some busybody nosing around then,” said a gruff and quite menacing voice.
Cal and Ben turned to see Chris standing in the doorway wearing a dirty looking Santa Claus coat and trousers and muddy black boots. But what worried the boys was the black sack he was carrying which seemed to be moving about as if something was inside.
Chris saw the boys looking at his sack. He paused for a moment and said: “Just a little snack I picked up while I was out.”
“But you two boys are much bigger. Think I might save you both for my Christmas dinner. Although I usually eat well on Christmas Eve with all those kiddies I have to visit.
Cal and Ben tried to scream but Chris was too quick for them.
As they passed out both boys had a distinct feeling of being stuffed inside a very dark sack.