The lights twinkling on the plastic fir trees made the store windows glow in the warm darkness. Santa sweltered in his red suit, bearing a sack full of polystyrene and beribboned empty boxes. The moon hung above the city, over its shops, bars and office blocks, coolly supervising the silent summer night.
It wasn’t silent for long. The sound of commercial dance music mingled with beery shouting poured out into the night and then ceased abruptly as Alex shut the heavy kitchen door with a thunk. She stepped slowly on to the street and looked around, breathing the clean air gratefully. It was late, approaching midnight. The streets were deserted.
Alex was exhausted. She was sweaty, her feet ached, the smell of lard clung to her hair. She had just finished a demanding shift for some corporation’s Christmas event. Dinner with all the trimmings; sexist chefs, customers fussing about the gravy, the washing-up being finished a whole hour behind schedule… And now she was alone, in a strange midsummer Christmas Eve far from home.
From somewhere nearby came the faint sound of Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas. Families watching telly together, passing around the chocolates. No-one would be in her own apartment, unless you could count the bottle of festive liqueur she had left in the fridge. She started the long walk back, slowly flipping and flopping her way along the waterfront.
A tiny fluttering movement made her stop in her tracks, and a robin hopped onto the path in front of her. A little robin-red-breast, like the ones from home, rosier than their brown-jacketed Antipodean cousins. This one seemed to have shaken off its sprinkling of glitter-encrusted snow and flown straight off a “Season’s Greetings” card in order to warble carols from its feathery throat. All at once, as she stared at it, homesickness overwhelmed her; the river of tears pressing up behind her eyes threatened to burst their banks. The robin cocked its head and looked at her. Then it fled so suddenly it made her gasp.
Staring after the bird, she noticed a figure up ahead, trotting along in the moonlight. Pink jacket, skirt wrapped around short legs. What was a little girl doing out alone at this time of night? Alex looked around for anyone who might be with the child, but no-one else was in sight.
Alex blinked and squinted. There was something unsettling about the lonely apparition. Her head was too large, and rather oddly shaped. As she stepped into a pool of light from a streetlamp, two large ears became clearly visible, pointing off a furry head. She turned and look at Alex, and two yellow eyes reflected the moon.
To be continued…
Story by Badger
Illustration by Zijun Li
Illustration by Zijun Li