The Twelve Days of Christmas:
A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.
The Seventh Day of Christmas
My work day had never seemed as long as it did on that New Year’s Eve. I snapped at old Ernie Smith when he took so long to decide which antacid he wanted, the 10 or the 20 mg, and had to apologize; and then had to apologize again when I sent a mom with two sneezing, snotty-nosed, whining kids down the wrong aisle in pursuit of cold medicine. Finally, when I realized I had counted out the one hundred tablets of Malvinia Shoemaker’s heart medication in the double-strength dose instead of the single-strength, I threw in the towel.
“Look, Gina,” I said to the pharmacist, “I think I need to call it a day. I can’t think straight; you’ll have to double-check everything I’ve done in the last hour or two. I’m really sorry. Do you mind if I knock off early? I don’t want to accidentally poison anyone.”
Gina looked over the top of her reading glasses down the empty aisles of the drug store. “Go ahead, I think I can hold down the fort. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Just—well, you know.”
She gave me a sympathetic look. “It’ll be fine,” she said soothingly. “He’ll turn up.”
“I hope so,” I said and rubbed my aching temple.
Gina raised an eyebrow. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?”
I gave a humourless laugh. “I’m not sure.” Was a case of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” a diagnosable condition?
“Well, better get some rest, then. Give the New Year’s Eve parties a miss.”
“Hadn’t planned on going to one, anyway, even if…” I’d wanted to just spend it with Tom, watch the TV broadcast, toast with a glass of champagne… “Thanks, Gina. I’ll see you Thursday.” I hung my white lab coat on the hook behind the door of the staff room and headed out to my car.
As I put the key in the lock, suddenly there was a hand on my arm. I turned my head and looked into Celia Whitewell’s wrinkle-framed brown eyes, her grey hair hanging wildly around her face.
“This is the year,” she said urgently. “Right around now, that’s when they took him. And every twelve years, the portal opens again; that’s when they come back through. I didn’t manage to get to him last time, or the time before, but now, but now… In the twelve days, every twelve years…”
And a hey nonny nonny, I’m sure. Poor woman.
I soothingly patted Celia’s hand, then gently removed her clutch from my sleeve. But she wasn’t even paying attention to me anymore.
“Every twelve years…” she muttered, and she shuffled away towards the big grey structure of the community hall which was even older than she was.
Where to now? I had called everyone I could think of to ask about Tom, but no luck. However, I still had not gone out to Carson’s Landing to track down that lady. Why had I been procrastinating on this so long? It was almost like I was scared to go out there. But the last person I knew had seen Tom before he disappeared was there. I had to do this.
Resolutely I turned the key in the ignition, shifted the car into gear and pulled out of the parking lot.
Ten minutes later, I turned down the side road off the highway that led to Carson’s Landing. Old Jimbo Carson had lived right at the very end of it, in a small house—more of a cottage, really—that his grandfather had built there in the days of the gold rush.
The building that stood on the site of Jimbo’s little house now was certainly no cottage—I hardly even wanted to call it a house. “Mansion” was more like it, if not “palace”—a very modern one, at least. Three stories tall, it had two floors of wrap-around decks with Plexiglas railings facing the lake, and the roof on the lake side came to a high peak in the centre, with glass, glass and more glass instead of walls.
I parked the car and turned off the ignition, sitting there and staring at the place. It didn’t look like anyone was home inside that glass castle—was there? They were probably out doing New Year’s Eve somewhere. Maybe I should just leave again.
But no! I’d never find Tom if I was chicken. Tom… I gave myself a mental kick in the pants and got out of the car. Suddenly lights flared up inside the building and over the front door, their brightness making me realize that dusk was not far away.
The door opened and a figure stood outlined against the inside lights.
“Hello! Can I help you with anything?” a beautiful baritone called out to me.
Mr. Jewellery Store Guy! Once again I got that strange fluttering in my stomach and a strong sense of vertigo.
“Umm, uh—” Get a grip, Mac! I gave myself a push away from the car and forced my wobbly knees to walk in the direction of the house. “I’m, uh, looking for someone. Uh, my, my…”
“Yes?” He flashed me that thousand-watt smile, and again it seemed to knock the stuffing out of me.
“It’s, uh, um… Actually, I’m looking for Tom,” I said. “My, uh—he’s a friend. And someone said that—” I was making no sense, and he was still beaming that smile at me. “N-never mind,” I stammered. I was obviously at the wrong place, wasn’t I? “I think I’ll just, uh, go.”
“Yes, maybe you should,” the man said, but the waves of charm that radiated off him made it seem as if he had just issued the most cordial invitation to come into the house.
“Y-yes,” I said, taking a step closer, “maybe…”
“Who is it, Galaeron?” a melodious woman’s voice came from inside the house. I had never heard such an attractive voice before—well, not before I had heard the man’s. This was a woman’s version of the same honeyed, dulcet tones that made me want to sink into whatever it was they were offering, made me want to stay and never leave… I took one more step towards the house.
A woman’s face appeared over the man’s shoulder. White-blonde hair flowed back in ripples from a smooth white forehead; silver-grey eyes that were set at a slant looked at me from under incongruously dark, perfectly straight eyebrows; and a tiny mouth with delicately rosy lips formed into a pout.
“Well?” she said, raising one of her perfect eyebrows.
In her own way, she was as stunning as the man, but I couldn’t stand her—which was what saved me. The antipathy I felt slapped my brain back to functionality.
“I’m looking for my b- my friend Tom,” I said. “About your height—” I gestured at the man, “dark hair, brown eyes. Someone said they saw you,” I looked at the woman, “talking to him on Christmas Eve, and nobody has seen him since.”
She gave an affected laugh, as silvery and metallic as her eyes. “Am I supposed to have done away with him? I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I don’t even remember talking to this—Tom.” She laid her left hand caressingly on the man’s shoulder, as if to say she had no need for the likes of Tom—and what I saw then snapped me out of the last of my daze. On her left ring finger sparkled the princess-cut diamond from Engelhard’s.
“All right,” I said, and I heard a slight hiss in my voice. “I just thought I’d ask. Goodbye.”
I turned to leave, and there on the lake shore beside the house I saw them: seven perfect white swans, swimming in one line along the encroaching ice of the shoreline. I pulled out my phone, shook it to open the camera, and clicked the shutter.
When I turned back to the house, the door was closed and the lights inside had gone dark.
To be continued…