The Twelve Days of Christmas:
A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.
The Third Day of Christmas
Mary-Lou didn’t think so either when I talked to her. We have an affinity—we bonded over both of us being named Mary-Something. My full name is Mary-Claire, which I think makes me sound like either a Southern belle or a Catholic nun. Fortunately nobody but my grandmother has ever called me anything but the short version.
“No, Mac,” said Mary-Lou, who had known Tom all his life. “He’s not a cheat. He won’t pull an Eldon; the only vanishing tricks he does are slight-of-hand in his magic shows.”
“Pulling an Eldon”—now there’s a local phrase for you. Until Mary-Lou said it, I hadn’t even realized that that’s what I was worried about. It referred to Eldon “Elvis” Lynn, who disappeared in 1971, which his old girlfriend Celia Whitewell would tell anyone who was willing to listen and a few other people besides. The town thought that most likely he’d just run off with another woman; there were rumours of a pretty blonde he’d been seen with just before he vanished. And as he’d been an Elvis impersonator—his party piece that year being Elvis’ new release “I’ll Be Home on Christmas Day”—he’d had his fair share of groupies. But Celia wasn’t having any of it. It was kind of sad: nearly fifty years later she was still waiting for Eldon to come back, kept doing her now-grey hair in a Priscilla Presley style because she thought he would like it, and wouldn’t hear a word against him. He was kidnapped, she insisted. By what—aliens? This time of year she always got worse than usual because it was around Christmas that he’d vanished. She should really just accept that Eldon had left her and skipped town.
But then… For the first time I got an inkling of where she was coming from. I still hadn’t heard from Tom, and it was now going on three days.
“Are you sure Tom hasn’t just gone AWOL or something?” I said.
“Sure I’m sure,” Mary-Lou said comfortably. “I’ve known the guy since Kindergarten, remember.”
We were out in her barn, where she was feeding her chickens. Mary-Lou collects fancy breeds of farmyard fowl.
“Why do you think he hasn’t texted?” I said, absentmindedly staring at a fat white chicken. It had a brown back that had the most comical ruff of feathers around its neck, like people in seventeenth-century paintings, and even funnier “socks” on its feet, as if it was wearing pants with long lace cuffs peeping out of the leg bottoms.
“Oh, you know him. Communication isn’t his strong suit.” Mary-Lou scattered another handful of chicken feed, and two more of those funny-looking chickens with the neck ruffs came running up, clucking madly. Mary-Lou chuckled at the sight of them. “Those are my newest girls,” she said proudly. “I got them for Christmas. They’re Faverelles; it’s a French breed—supposed to be good layers.” She checked the level of water in the watering dish. “Didn’t you say Tom did send you a text?”
“Just the once, on Christmas Eve, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, thumbed open the message, and held it out to her.
She took a look and shook her head. “No, makes no sense to me either,” she said. “Maybe he meant that he’s going to be gone for twelve days this time?”
“Maybe.” I pulled my shoe out of the way of the pecking beak of one of Mary-Lou’s fancy new beruffled chickens. “I just wish he’d have said so.” Now all three of the French hens were clustered around my feet. I turned on the phone camera and snapped a photo; they were such funny-looking things.
Suddenly my phone buzzed in my hand. Tom!
“pls keep tryi”
“I lv u”
What on earth was going on?
To be continued…