Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2012 Results




The Launching of Esmeralda

Copyright © Janeen Samuel 2012


’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring...

WRONG!

In the kitchen, cockroaches scuttled across the floor and munched crumbs of shortbread and mince pies.

In the lounge, illumined by the flashing of lights from the tree, a family of mice had climbed onto a plate the humans had left on the floor and were gorging themselves on cake.

“Eat it all up, children,” the mother mouse was saying, “so the humans will think Santa’s taken it.”

High above the mice a myriad tiny creatures were streaming in through the open window. They ignored the mice and made a mosquito-line for the bedrooms. The mice ignored them too although, having supersonic hearing, they could hear the song they were shrilling. It went: Haem, haem, haem... Feed, feed, feed... Yip-pee-ee-ee!

The fairy at the top of the Christmas tree clapped her hands over her ears. “O, my head!”

“What’s wrong, Esmeralda?” asked the shiny spherical Santa who was dangling from the next branch down.

“That dreadful singing! It goes right through my head. As if it wasn’t bad enough having to listen to those damned carols all day. What with them and the flashing lights I’ve got such a migraine. You’d think those thumping great humans would have some consideration and turn them off at night, at least.”

“It is Christmas Eve,” the Santa pointed out.

Esmeralda opened her eyes, which she’d screwed shut, and glared down at him.

“O, it’s all right for you, you’re just a Santa. A Father Christmas. This is what you’re made for.”

“So what do you think you’re made for, then,” demanded a Snowman from further down the tree, “Miss High-and-Mighty?”

“Who is she?” asked the Donkey. He was balanced, somewhat precariously, opposite the Snowman and was trying to peer upwards through the branches. He was supposed to be part of a Nativity set but the lady of the house, whose approach to Christmas was purely secular, had bought him because he looked cute. “Is she an angel?” he asked.

The Snowman snorted so hard he blew some of the glitter off his chest. “An angel! Not bloody likely! Esmeralda, that’s who she is. Thinks she’s better than the rest of us, just ’cause she gets to sit up the top. Supposed to be a fairy. Goblin, more like.”

“Hush!” the Santa hissed down at them. “Don’t hurt her feelings. It’s Christmas time.”

But Esmeralda had stopped listening.

“What am I made for?” she was crying. “I’m a fairy. I was made to fly. To fly through the air, up into the sky, far away from all this...” She swept her hands about her in a wide gesture.

“All this wot?” said the Snowman.

“This! This sordid room and tawdry tree and those...” – with a downward glance and a moue of disgust at the mouse family – “those venal vermin stuffing their stomachs. Away from all this glitter and tinsel and falsity. I want to be free. To launch myself upon the air and fly.” And she flung her arms wider still.

“Go on then,” said the Snowman. “No-one’s stopping you. They’ve left the window open and took the screen down, special. Hoping you’d take the hint.”

“Hush!” said Santa again. “You know they did that for the little boy. He was worried Santa couldn’t get in because there wasn’t a chimney.”

“Spoilt brat!” muttered the Snowman.

“But I can’t fly away!” moaned Esmeralda. She had brought her hands together under her breast and was wringing them. “I am bound here, tethered to this dying tree, chained to a life of servitude.”

“So?” said the Snowman. “Join the club.”

“I wish I was tethered,” said the Donkey. He shifted his hooves nervously, trying to find a more solid footing. “I wish I was in the Stable.” He nibbled at a pine needle and pulled a face. “With some hay,” he added. Suddenly he flung up his head and hee-hawed in alarm. “What was that?”

Something had come speeding in at the open window. Something bigger than a mosquito, dark with scalloped wings, slicing through the air, streaking crazily from wall to wall, back and forth and to and fro, and letting loose a string of supersonic curses: “What the fu...? What’s going on? Where’d that moth go? Where’d all these damned walls come from? What’s with those blinking lights? Bloody hell, get me out of here.”

“Ooh! It’s the Devil!” cried Esmeralda.

“Over here, sir,” called the spherical Santa. “You came in this way, by the window.”

The intruder turned in a blink, shot past Esmeralda so close she felt the draught of his wings, and vanished into the night.

“Ooh,” she sighed. “He was so-o wicked! He was.. Ooh!”

Their visitor was back. He flicked in at the window again, flipped upside down and hung himself up on the curtain rail. Then he looked at them by tilting his head so far backwards it was right way up again.

“O!” wailed Esmeralda. “Please don’t do that. It makes my neck hurt to look at you.”

The bat flashed his teeth at her – they were many and pointed – and ignored her.

“Thanks mate,” he said to Santa. “O’ course I’d a found my own way out in a jiff...” (“Yeah, right!” from the Snowman) “...when I’d done casing the joint. Funny sort o’ set-up you got. Kind of a cave, eh? I don’t hang out in caves much. Got a few cousins who do – pretty dull dudes, the lot of ’em. As for you...” Here he suddenly dropped from the rail, flipped right way up again, zoomed to Esmeralda and zipped back and forth in front of her so fast her eyes couldn’t follow him. “What are you? Some kind o’ giant moth, eh? What do you taste of?”

“Pray, sir, don’t eat her!” cried Santa.

“You’ll get a bellyache if you do,” added the Snowman. “Bad plastic, that’s what she tastes of.”

“I am not a moth,” Esmeralda was shouting. “Ouch!” She had stamped her foot on the pine needles. “I’m a fairy.”

“What’s that when it’s at home?”

“Well, it’s... it’s sort of special,” began Santa, doubtfully.

“Sort of like an angel,” added the Donkey.

“Devil,” said the Snowman.

Esmeralda ignored them all. “I am meant to fly,” she told the stranger, “just like you, sir. ”

“Go on then,” he said, “let’s see you. Come fly with me.” He did several quick circuits of the room, pausing each time for a half-second’s dip and bob in front of her. “You’re not a bad looker, come to that.”

“But I can’t!” she wailed. “I’m chained up. Bound to this tree. Destined for servitude forev... Ooh! Ow! Help!”

For at his last pass the bat had darted in and his sharp teeth had severed the cord holding her to the topmost branch of the tree.

“Ouch!” she cried as she crashed through the branch below, narrowly missing Santa, then “O!” as she bounced off a green glass ball and “Ooh!” as she fell towards the Donkey, her wings fluttering frantically and the blinking lights flashing off her tinsel and glitter so she looked like a comet. Or like a falling angel.

“Eeek-Aawk!” screamed the Donkey and, forgetting himself, he turned round and kicked out with his hind legs.

“Ow! Whee-ee! Help!” Esmeralda shot away from the tree in a long arc, upwards at first then down, down, down, her silly little wings beating the air.

The mouse family squeaked and scattered, shedding crumbs as they ran. Santa shut his eyes. The Snowman’s black mouth was stretched in a broad grin.

Just when it seemed she must crash to the ground, a dark form shot beneath her. Then it rose, circled one last time around the tree and made for the window. They all heard the sigh from the small glittering figure on its back: “My prince!” Then it vanished into the night.

For a little time they waited in silence. But the bat did not return. The mice came creeping back, licking their whiskers.

“I didn’t mean it,” sobbed the Donkey.

“Of course you didn’t,” said Santa soothingly. “In any case, she got what she wanted. That’s what’s supposed to happen on Christmas Eve.”

“Yeah,” said the Snowman. “I reckon we can call Esmeralda well and truly launched.”

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Bio:
Janeen Samuel lives in South-West Victoria and could be described as a vet with literary ambitions. She has had poems and short stories published in various magazines and anthologies and websites: most recently a story in Award Winning Australian Writing 2011.