Monday 4 December 2023

MARY’S STORY by Christine Clark, mulled wine with a mince pie

Oh, I’m so tired. I’m glad I’m able to ride some of the time on Eysl, our donkey, though I do have to walk some of the time, to give him a rest too. I hope we’re nearly there. My back aches and I’ve had some pains – I wonder if that’s the baby coming. I haven’t mentioned those to Joseph – I don’t want to worry him. He’s already worrying about where we‘ll stay when we reach Bethlehem, what with so many people on the road going for the census, like us.

I’m tired and I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what people say about me being pregnant and unmarried. Afraid that the shame will mean we can’t find anywhere to sleep tonight. Afraid of what having the baby – the Son of God – will mean for the family. Will Joseph and I be able to have a normal family life? I’m afraid of what the future holds for us all.

I do love Joseph. I already did, when we got betrothed. But then, when I had to tell him I was with child, I was sure he’d want to walk away. He told me he thought he might, but without making too much of a fuss. But he didn’t, he said he’d stand by me and the baby. He told me he had a dream where an angel told him to take me as his wife, that what I’d said was true – that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that it’ll be a boy and we’re to call him Jesus. And that he’ll save people from their sins. I’m not sure how that last bit works – but we’ll see. I wonder if it’s what the prophets foretold all those years ago. Could he be the Messiah? My little baby?

This long journey has really given me time to think about when the angel, Gabriel he said his name was, came to me. I woke up one night to find him standing by the bed. He told me not to be afraid, that I was in favour with God. I would conceive a baby boy who we have to call Jesus. Then he said all sorts of stuff about the baby being great and having David’s throne and how he will reign for ever. It all sounded a bit unlikely – but somehow I believed him. Then I thought about how this could happen as I’m a virgin – Joseph and I want to keep ourselves till we’re married. Gabriel explained that – like he later told Joseph – the Holy Spirit would come to me and the baby will be the Son of God. He also told me that my cousin Elizabeth, who we all thought was barren and long past childbearing, was expecting a baby too! He said nothing is impossible with God. Well, he was right, Elizabeth has had her baby – a little boy. They’ve called him John.

I am not sure I really understand … that the baby is not just a gift from God, but a gift of God. I don’t really get it, I just know it feels completely right. Anyway, I told Gabriel that this was all fine and I accepted what my God has given to me.

But thinking about it now, I’m not so sure – it all feels a bit unreal and very scary. I’m quite surprised I said yes to Gabriel. It’s an awful lot to take on. Looking at it in the cold light of day, I can see all sorts of problems, and doubts and fears creep into my mind. But somehow, from somewhere, I got the courage to say yes.

Being unmarried and pregnant hasn’t been easy and there have been lots of nasty remarks made back in Nazareth. But it’s good that Joseph is being supportive. I expect most people think the baby is his. Mamma and Pappa are OK about it now, even if they don’t really understand the Holy Spirit bit. But our family has always gone to the synagogue regularly – I think that helps to understand things from God.

We’re getting near Bethlehem now and it’s starting to get dark. There are lots of people around and we join a throng of people entering the gate. I am glad I am back on Eysl’s back again as my pains are getting worse and more frequent. I won’t mention them to Joseph yet as he’s got enough to worry about, trying to find somewhere for us to stay. He’s trying all the inns and rooming houses but everywhere is full.

Eventually I have to tell him that I think the baby is on its way. He tries one more inn but it’s full, like the others, except this time it’s the innkeeper’s wife who answers our knock. She takes one look at me and says that if we can’t find anywhere else, we can always go round the back to the barn, where at least it will be dry and warm. By now I’m glad of anywhere.

We find the barn and it is dry. The animals in it make it warm so really it’s almost cosy. Joseph helps me down and I just sink onto a pile of hay – the pains are coming quite fast now. There’s an old lamp on a shelf which Joseph lights. He puts Eysl into a stall with some hay and water then comes back to kneel down by me. I think he realises it won’t be long till the baby comes so he helps me get a bit more comfortable and then rubs my back while encouraging me. It’s the first time for both of us but at least I have seen my cousin back in Nazareth have her baby, so have some idea what’s going to happen.

The pains were the worst I have ever known. But the moment the baby came out, that was all forgotten. Joseph cut the cord then laid the baby – Jesus – on my breast and we both just gazed at him with love and wonder. Jesus gave us both a long hard stare then fell asleep. Joseph helped me clean myself up a bit and I helped the baby suckle, then we all three settled down on the hay to sleep.

We were woken by voices and Joseph was up, quick as a flash, with his knife out ready. But it just turned out to be a group of shepherds, down from the fields. They approached us cautiously, so I could see there was nothing to fear – in fact they seemed quite shy of us. The oldest one said they’d been told that their saviour, the Messiah, had just been born in Bethlehem and that he would be found in a stable, lying in a manger. They’d been told this by an angel and after he’d told them this, he was joined by a lot more angels, all singing. Joseph and I looked at each other – this was too much of a coincidence: more angels! Just like the ones we’d seen. Then the shepherds knelt down and gazed at the baby long and hard, like he was something they’d dreamed of and were now being given. Well, I suppose that he was, really. After they’d gone, we were both quiet, thinking about what they’d said.

I gave the baby a little more milk and then we settled down to sleep again. But we were woken again by more visitors, but this time of a different kind. Three richly dressed gentlemen, foreign-looking, came in. They didn’t seem to be put off by the poor surroundings but came straight over to me and the baby and knelt down. I was a bit embarrassed but they were very kind and said they’d been travelling a long way to see the baby. Apparently they’d followed a bright star that was now over the barn. Joseph looked out to see if this was so – and it was. A massive star it was, right overhead. People in the streets were standing looking up at it. These men said they were magi who studied the stars and knew this one was leading them to something special. They brought the baby gifts, the like of which I’d never seen! Gold, frankincense and myrrh, they said they were.

After they’d gone, I couldn’t sleep but lay awake thinking about it all. About Gabriel the angel and his message about conceiving by the Holy Spirit, and then the angel coming to Joseph in his dream. The shepherds and magi being led to us – they were such a contrast, really poor people and really rich. Almost like it was two extreme groups of people. So if Jesus is the Messiah, it’s like he’s come for everyone, rich and poor alike.

I was still feeling rather fearful about everything, what with the strange happenings, and people the like of which I‘ve never seen before. But I was also peaceful and happy, like something wonderful had happened, not just to me having my baby, but to everyone.

The next morning Joseph told me he’d had a dream and an angel had come to him again. The angel told him we were in great danger because King Herod would be searching for Jesus to kill him. Joseph was to take us to Egypt and we were to stay there until told to return. I didn’t need to be told twice – no-one was going to harm my child. We hastily gathered our few things together. I held the baby close to me inside my cloak, got on Eysl and away we stole.

It was a long journey to Egypt, a lot further than from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We mostly travelled by night for fear of the King’s soldiers seeing us, sleeping by day wherever we could find somewhere safe. People were kind and when they saw how tiny the baby was, gave us food and sometimes shelter.

We’re now living in Egypt, where we keep ourselves to ourselves. Being a good carpenter, Joseph finds enough work for us to get by and the baby thrives. We don’t talk much about Jesus’s start in life but I do ponder on it in my heart, marvelling at what has happened and wondering where it will all take us.


About the author 

Christine is fairly new to creative writing. As a publishing editor she is far more used to messing about with other people’s work than writing her own. But she finds she loves writing and it is now her go-to creative outlet. Christine writes features, short stories and researches local history.



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Sunday 3 December 2023

A Spoonful of Cinnamon (Helps the Memories Go Down) by Kendra Jackson, freshly made egg nog

Sarah turned the pages of the cookbook to the recipe for a Christmas cake and used her 1kg dumbbell to hold it open at the list of ingredients.  The irony of her bookmark wasn’t lost on her.  Once she’d finished baking the massive amount of calories, the dumbbell would be retired to its more traditional use, in her house anyway, as a door stop.


‘Raisins, cherries, nutmeg, mixed spice.’  She rattled off the ingredients to herself as she lifted the large shopping bags onto her worktop.  ‘Eggs are in the fridge, flour in the cupboard, and whiskey is in the jar.’  She laughed to herself. 


‘You should have taken the eggs out of the fridge before now,’ her mother said.  ‘Now you’ll have to wait until they get to room temperature before using them.’


‘That would be the case,’ said Sarah as she rummaged in the lowest drawer of her kitchen unit.  ‘If I was planning on baking the cake today.’  A hand blender, a muffin tin, and a Pyrex roasting dish (with matching lid) were taken out before she finally located the round tin with its most useful spring release.  Reloading the drawer with all the other ‘once a year or less’ used items she kicked it shut.


‘What do you mean, you’re not baking the cake today?’ asked her mother.  ‘You know that’s why I’m here.’


‘I am not ‘baking’ the cake today,’ said Sarah as she put the tin down on the table with maybe a little more force than was strictly necessary.  ‘Today is for soaking in alcohol…the fruit that is, not me.’  Although give me another hour with your backseat baking, she added to herself, and who knows?

‘Dried fruit, zest and juice, a grated apple, mixed spice, and cinnamon.  A few other bits and pieces and then soak them overnight in whiskey.’


Sarah’s mother sniffed a bit disdainfully, ‘In my day, we just threw everything into the bowl and mixed away.’

‘Yes, but in your day, you were baking a dozen cakes for the season and wouldn’t have had enough bowls to soak everything.’

‘We could have used the bathtub.’ 


Sarah laughed with her.  ‘Your cakes were wonderful, and I’m not just saying that because of all the icing.  But the smell of them through the house.  It always reminds me of Christmases growing up when I take mine out of the oven.’


‘Even though you don’t actually like fruit cake and are only doing it for the tradition?’


Sarah ignored the comment as she laid out the ingredients in the order they were listed.  ‘Golden syrup, vanilla essence, mixed spice and cinnamon…’  Her voice trailed off and she searched through the shopping bags, emptying out the ingredients onto the table.  A bag of brown sugar ended up on the floor, but luckily didn’t split. 

‘Cinnamon…there’s no cinnamon, why is there no cinnamon?  I’m sure it was on the list!’

‘You have nutmeg there,’ her mother pointed out.  ‘You can just use it instead.’

‘That’s not the way the recipe goes,’ Sarah snapped.  ‘I can’t change the ingredients.’

‘You’ve already changed the method, why not skip an ingredient or two?’

‘It’s not the same.  It has to be perfect.’ 

‘No, it doesn’t.  That’s what the icing is for.’


Sarah’s face lit up.  ‘Maybe I still have the jar from last year.’  She could feel the smug look on her mother’s face, ‘Yes, because I’m a hoarder and don’t clear my cupboards often enough.’ 


‘Did I say anything?’ muttered Sarah’s mother under her breath.


It was now time for another search, but Sarah knew exactly where the cinnamon would be if the cinnamon was to be.  And less than a minute later, she had the jar in her hand.  The jar that had a best before date of six months earlier.  ‘Spices don’t go off?’ she asked her mother, hopefully.

Her mother shrugged, ‘Don’t look at me.  I baked so often that nothing had a chance to go off.  But cooking will kill any germs.  Well, those that you haven’t drowned in whiskey.’


Sarah opened the lid and sniffed it gingerly (or rather cinnamonly, she thought with a wry smile).  It smelled…well it smelled spicy, that was all she all she could say about it, since she didn’t really make a habit of smelling spices.  With a shrug, she replaced the lid.  ‘If I double up on the amount it should be okay,’ she said, trying to convince herself as much as anybody else.  She put the jar in its place in the parade of ingredients, grabbed the mixing bowl and set to work weighing and measuring. 


Reaching the final ingredient, Sarah added the required three tablespoons of whiskey, and then another one for good measure.  ‘Well, just in case it’s going off,’ she said aloud.  ‘And now for my annual upper arm workout.’  She stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon that was almost as old as she was and had certainly tasted far more Christmas cake mixes than she had made.


‘It’s starting to smell a bit like Christmas,’ said Sarah, a little wistfully, as she covered the bowl with tinfoil and carried it to a cool corner of the house.  ‘But it will be even better tomorrow, won’t it, Mum?’ 

She didn’t expect an answer.  She hadn’t had one in over twenty years.  But sometimes, with her mother’s old recipe book and spoon on the go, she could almost hear her voice as well.


‘Same time tomorrow for the baking?’ Sarah whispered to herself as she switched off the light.  


About the author

 By day, Kendra Jackson crunches numbers for a living. By night (and sometimes into the early hours of the morning) she expresses her pent up creativity by crunching words instead. For many years, those words consisted of fanfiction under the name Cein/Ceindreadh, but now she's switched to original work. 
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Saturday 2 December 2023

UPSETTING SANTA by S. Nadja Zajdman, mulled apple cider

When I was a child, the largest parade in North America was the Eaton’s Santa Claus parade.  Eaton’s was a department store of legend, akin to Harrod’s in London and Macy’s in New York, except that Eaton’s had branches across Canada.   Children applied to march in the parade, sometimes waiting years until they were chosen and in danger of not being considered children anymore.

            Held in late November, first in Toronto, always on a Saturday morning, the floats and costumes were then transported by train to Montreal, where the parade resumed the following Saturday morning.  The spectacle was televised on both the English and French networks, and CBC radio dramas broadcast Santa’s perilous flight from the North Pole.  In later years imitators would turn up in markets and malls, but everybody knew that the REAL Santa Claus was the Santa Claus who was hosted by Eaton’s. 

            After the parade, Santa was installed on a red velvet throne that matched his red velvet suit, in a private room set aside especially for such a grand personage.   The arms and frame of his throne were painted Fool’s Gold.  

 A leafless, silver-branched tree studded with winking white lights twinkled beside him.  A court photographer hovered in the background.   Santa’s Helpers stood sentinel, armed with multi-coloured lollipops.  These helpers wore mossy green tights, green suede tunics, and on their heads perched floppy green caps topped by white pompoms.  We were told these creatures were elves, yet they bore a marked resemblance to teenagers from local high schools moonlighting on a Saturday morning.

            When the stage was set and the fantasy characters in position, a rope serving as a partition was lifted, and a swarm of exhilarated children raced into the enclosure.  Me and my little brother were two of them.  Like most of the mob we came with, we were accompanied by a parent.  In our case, it was our dad. 

            Excitedly, we stood in line with our peers.  We knew that when the time came to address Santa, we were expected to ask him for a Christmas gift.  What could we ask for?  We were Jewish, and didn’t keep a Christmas tree.  There was no chimney, let alone a fireplace installed in our small apartment.  How could Santa reach us?  Where would he make his delivery?    



            The children who stood in line with us were casually attired, but my brother and I were dressed up and immaculately groomed for what we considered a major event.  I wore a blue dress with a blue and white bordered collar and  patterned stripe down the middle.  A black band held thick chestnut-coloured hair off my high forehead, and my softly-textured, snow-white cardigan was spangled with golden butterfly appliques.   But it was my little brother Michael who rivaled Santa in the colour and originality of his outfit.  Michael was resplendent in scarlet red leggings, a matching red, white and blue hockey sweater with the logo of the Montreal Canadiens proudly emblazoned and promoted on his little chest, and to top off the ensemble, he sported a red, white and blue cap on his golden, crew-cut head.  Go, Habs, Go!  As we drew closer to the front of the line, nervously Little Michael turned to Dad.  “What do I do when I get to Santa?  What should I say?”

            Instantly, Dad deadpanned, “Tell the guy you want cold cash.”

            I frowned.  My big brown eyes narrowed as I peered at Dad.  I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but Little Michael took Daddy at his word.

            As a teen-aged elf removed a rope, handed us fistfulls of lollipops—which Michael handed over to me to hold—confidently he approached Santa’s throne and greeted him.  “Hello!”  Michael beamed.

            “Hello, little boy.”  Santa’s returned Michael’s greeting.  “How are you?”

            “I’m fine.  How are you?” 

            It was hard to tell under his rug of beard and bushy white eyebrows, but Santa seemed taken aback.

            “Ahh, what would you like for Christmas, little boy.” 

            Guilelessly, Michael grinned and carried out Daddy’s instructions.  “I want cold cash!”

            Pouf!  A hot white light flashed and popped.  The photographer hired by Eaton’s was taking a picture of us with Santa, a copy of which Dad would have to pay for with cold cash. 

            Santa spluttered.  He was speechless.  He looked to our dad.  As sweetly as his son, but not so guileless, Daddy smirked.  “Ho ho ho!”  He winked at the discombobulated dispenser of gifts.    Meeeerry Christmas!”


About the author 

S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. In 2022 she published the story collection The Memory Keeper (Bridgehouse Publishing, Manchester) as well as the memoir I Want You To Be Free (Hobart Books, Oxford). In 2023 Zajdman published a second memoir, Daddy's Remains (MacKenzie Publishing in Canada) 

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Friday 1 December 2023

The Post Box Topper Christmas Finale by Dawn Knox, celebratory cocoa with a dash of sherry


Needless to say, Sally gushed with enthusiasm over Levi’s Christmas post box topper suggestion.

Petronella was very complimentary.

Even Stuart thought Levi’s plan was excellent.

And Vera? She was spellbound.

However, Effie wasn’t so keen.

‘Alice Gruber? Are you sure?’ she’d asked when she learned of the idea.

Effie hadn’t been invited to the December topper planning meeting in Bonzer Buns, but she’d hovered near their table, sweeping up crumbs with her long-handled broom, and had overheard the discussion about Levi’s proposal.

She still wasn’t satisfied Alice Gruber didn’t harbour murderous tendencies. Once again, Vera explained there had been no evidence, merely much feverish speculation on Effie’s part, to suggest Alice Gruber had murdered anyone. Unfortunately, Vera’s logic didn’t wash with Effie.

‘Why can’t you do it without that woman’s… er man’s… er person’s assistance?’ Effie demanded.

‘I’m afraid that’s not possible,’ Vera said. ‘And anyway, this is a private meeting of the Post Box Topper Society. You shouldn’t be eavesdropping.’

As regrettable as it was, Levi’s idea needed Alice Gruber’s participation. And, in fact, Vera realised it was a clever ploy. As the official Creaping Bottom spy whose job it was to make a note of anything displeasing in the village, Alice conducted her duties with great zeal. Not that the Reverend Prendergast took most of the points in her frequent reports seriously. After all, did many of the residents care that there had been five yellow cars parked in the parking bays along the High Road when Alice had done a survey? This was not a normal range of colours, Alice had remarked. Was it some sort of yellow car owners’ convention? And if so, what did it mean?

Prenderghastly didn’t care if it meant anything or not. Yellow cars and their owners were not on his radar.

On the other hand, he was interested in Alice’s report about the squirrels. They were multiplying rapidly. And what’s more, each morning, they emptied a rubbish bin and scattered the contents near the churchyard. Alice had predicted it wouldn’t be long before the litter blew in or was even carried into the churchyard.

The rubbish bin had rapidly been moved further down the High Road away from All Saints.

Nothing was too minor for Alice Gruber’s attention, and she wasn’t afraid to state her mind. If the society involved her in the topper's design, then it would be done to her satisfaction and there would be no complaint to Prenderghastly.


Nothing must risk spoiling the last topper of the year. Nor threaten Vera’s re-election next year to the post of chairwoman of the topper society.

Either the crumbs on the floor were particularly sticky or Effie was determined to hear more. She was still standing within earshot, brushing vigorously. Swish, swish, went the broom while Effie inclined her body so far towards the society’s table, she was in danger of keeling over. Vera thought it best to include her in the rest of the planning. After all, Effie had overheard most of the conversation. It wouldn’t do if she talked about it to others and spoilt the surprise. If she was involved, then she, too, might feel invested and would be supportive. However, Effie proved a remarkably hard woman to convince that Alice should be included. Once they’d explained the entire plan, she’d understood and had given in.

Effie had also been carried along by Beryl’s enthusiasm. She was so excited by the prospect of December, that she’d planned a whole range of Advent Cakes of the Day sweeping Effie up in the festive euphoria – not to mention the promise of a sample of each Cake of the Day throughout December if she agreed to the proposed arrangements. The post box and therefore the Christmas post box topper would be outside Beryl’s establishment, and it appeared she was going to make use of it for promoting Bonzer Buns in any way she could.

She asked the society members if they’d put in a good word to Alice for her. Beryl was considering asking Alice to make a Bonzer Buns’ tinsel-covered Christmas Drone and had only been dissuaded when Levi had pointed out that a small flying object in a confined space might, at best, knock over cups of coffee, and at worst, maim a customer. Beryl had reluctantly agreed, but she was still toying with the idea she might have her own custom drone outside.

‘Doing what?’ Vera asked warily.

‘Going up and down,’ said Beryl, ‘that’s what they do. Isn’t it?’

‘But for what purpose?’ Vera asked. ‘People might be put off entering because they’ll assume the place is under attack, or wonder if a hostile foreign nation is snooping.’

‘Yes, perhaps it needs a rethink,’ Beryl conceded.

Vera breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t need any Christmas competition in the razz-a-ma-tazz department. Nothing must outshine the topper.

Vera’s only misgiving with Levi’s proposed idea was that December was a busy month, and the topper – once it was in place – was going to take up a lot of time. However, Petronella had already drawn up a rota and everyone had committed to participating.

Alice, with her absence of friends, had plenty of free time and she’d already agreed to be on duty every day. And that was just as well, because she was going to be in control of the show.

Would they be able to keep it up? Vera had no idea, but judging by the enthusiasm of everyone in the group and a few who weren’t members, she was beginning to believe that perhaps they could. And if, for some reason, the show didn’t take place one evening, at least the Christmas topper would be in place for people to look at. Or it would be, once they’d started knitting.

Originally, when Vera had begun reading Levi’s proposal, she’d been disappointed. Not that there was anything wrong with the traditional Nativity Scene. Of course, it was charming with its stable, animals, shepherds, angels, and of course, Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger – but it was rather predictable.

However, once she’d read more of Levi’s notes, she realised how their topper would differ from most other people’s Nativity Scenes.

It would start each evening just before the bells at All Saints had rung at 7 o’clock. Alice would wait outside the church, connected on her mobile phone to the society member who was monitoring the post box. At exactly 7 o’clock, Alice would use her remote control to send a drone up the High Road with the illuminated, knitted star dangling beneath. Once the star was hovering over the Nativity Scene, the society member would let Alice know. She’d flick a switch on her remote control, and a beam of light would shine down from the drone onto the stable as if the star was lighting it up.

The show would last several minutes and then the lights would go out, and the drone would carry the dark star back to Alice at the far end of the High Road.

Already word had got out that something spectacular was being planned at 7 o’clock each evening and various shopkeepers wanted to know what would happen. However, Vera had insisted on complete secrecy.

‘But what if after two weeks of the star lighting up, people get fed up?’ Petronella had asked.

A good point. Of course, during the past year, many people had come from miles around to look at their toppers, so possibly it wouldn’t matter. There would be different people there each night, but perhaps they ought to have something slightly different the closer they got to Christmas.

‘How about starting on 21st December, one of the three Wise Men could arrive suspended beneath the drone with the star each evening?’ Stuart suggested.

That was a good idea and would certainly ring the changes. They decided they’d incorporate that idea, although it meant that on those evenings, the society member at the post box would have to unhook the Wise Man when he arrived at the topper. Later, after the crowds had gone, he’d be sewn onto the cap in a space that would have been left for the visitors from the Far East.

That led up to Christmas Eve. How could they celebrate that?

Levi suggested that on Christmas Eve, an enormous balloon filled with sweets could be conveyed beneath the drone to hover over the topper. Using the technique Alice had tried once before with extending scissors from the bottom of the drone, they could reach downwards and burst the balloon, like a piñata, showering everyone with sweets.

‘And if they hit someone?’ asked Stuart. ‘We might be accused of grievous bodily harm.’

‘He has a point,’ said Sally reluctantly.

‘Well, instead of sweets, how about gold and silver confetti? That can’t upset anyone,’ Levi said.

‘Except the postmistress,’ said Vera, who’d had words with the formidable Miss Witter before regarding clutter around her post box.

‘Well, we’ll rush out and clear it up before she gets upset,’ said Effie.

At last, Effie was completely on board with the plans.

So, it was settled.

Now all they had to do was knit the figures and the cap.

And rely on a lot of luck.


As soon as each member had finished knitting a figure, it was taken to Vera’s house, where they were lined up on her dining room table. It had taken longer than Vera had anticipated because Stuart, who’d been given the job of knitting the stable, had been very slow. But finally, he’d finished. It was so substantial that it could almost stand up on its own. And much larger than anyone had expected.

Vera had knitted a white cap for the post box to represent snow. She was certain it hadn’t snowed in Bethlehem that night, but who was she to go against tradition? Once everything was ready, the society members gathered at Chez Twinge to agree on the layout. Vera had been reluctant to invite Alice Gruber to her house but needs must. They’d look foolish if on their opening night, the drone didn’t work, or the star didn’t light up. No, a rehearsal was crucial and that couldn’t be done without Alice.

Once they’d all gathered, they started arranging the figures. The stable was placed in the middle with the figures inside, an angel stood to one side of it and two shepherds knelt at the front, each with a sheep under his arm. Spaces were left for the three Wise Men.

Vera looked with dismay at the other knitted figures that still lay on the table – a whole host of angels, more shepherds and various animals – donkeys, sheep and cows. There was no room for them. The topper was full. But perhaps that was a good omen. “No room at the inn” had been the reason for the figures being in the stable in the first place.

The three Wise Men also lay on the table, but they wouldn’t take part until just before Christmas Eve, when the drone would convey them, one by one, down the High Road.

Next to them, looking like a distended bladder, was the balloon which Vera had painstakingly filled with confetti. With pride of place, the star was in the middle of the table. It had been knitted with tiny fairy lights woven into it, and while Alice attached it to her drone, the others sewed the figures in place on the cap. Once everything was done, they toasted the final piece with mugs of cocoa.

Now for the rehearsal in Vera’s garden. There were two more days until the beginning of December. Everything must be perfect.

As they trooped into the garden, Vera wondered if perhaps they’d been a bit premature toasting the topper with cocoa. Maybe they should have waited until after the rehearsal. Oh well, if everything went well, they’d have more cocoa and Vera might even break out the sherry. And if it didn’t go well, it was going to be a long night.

They carefully laid the topper on Vera’s bird table at the far end of the garden, and Levi waited nearby, connected on his mobile phone to Alice.

‘Go,’ whispered Vera, and Alice switched the drone on.

Everyone held their breath as it began to whir, then judder upwards into the night air. It hovered, dipped alarmingly, rose again and righted itself. After turning three hundred and sixty degrees, the drone carrying the illuminated star travelled the length of the garden until it hovered over the table.

‘Now!’ Levi said into his phone and a second later, a beam of light shone down from the drone, lighting up the topper below.

There was stunned silence for a few moments. Then everyone began to cheer and applaud.

Alice insisted on trying it twice more, but each time it was perfect and eventually they went inside and over more cocoa laced with sherry, they congratulated themselves. They were ready for their first show.


Tony Parstedd had been invited to the first topper event on December 1st, and it was hoped he’d give them some good coverage. Vera still didn’t trust him, but if he was on their side, and his report was good, then it would bring people to Creaping Bottom to see the Post Box Topper Christmas Show.

However, on the morning of the first show, the Creaping Bottom News carried a sensational story on the front page. Margaret Bludge, a resident of Creaping Bottom, had apparently spotted a UFO flying over her garden. It had whirred, and there had been flashing lights. Before the UFO disappeared completely, there had been eerie shouting, as if aliens had been calling from their spacecraft.

When Levi brought the newspaper into Bonzer Buns that morning, they all stared at it in dismay.

‘That busybody, Margaret Bludge, is my next-door neighbour,’ said Vera wearily. ‘She’d obviously been spying on our rehearsal.’

‘Well, there’s nothing we can do about it,’ said Levi. ‘Let’s hope people don’t remember the last UFO experience and link it with a voodoo doll on the rampage.’

Vera groaned. This was supposed to be the society’s finest hour. Oh well, there was nothing for it, they had to proceed. And if the Creaping Bottom News had only given them a few lines on page six that no one would notice, well, word of mouth appeared to have been working well.

That night, the High Road was packed. The story about the UFO sighting and news of the post box topper society’s show had reached many ears. It appeared lots of people didn’t actually know what they were there for, but they had the impression something spectacular was about to happen.

At 7 o’clock, the bells at All Saints chimed.

All the members of the society had volunteered for duty that night to see the arrival of the star. Or not.

As the last chime died away, Vera heard the distant whirr of a motor and the gasp of people at the far end of the High Road. So far, so good.

Vera held her breath as she saw it. The star lit up with its delicate fairy lights twinkling. At first, it drunkenly wove along the High Road and then, following a more regular orbit, advanced towards the post box. In the darkness, the drone was barely visible, and it really appeared that the star was moving on its own. Children pointed in wonder and parents oohed and ahhed.

‘It’s a miracle!’ someone shouted.

Vera’s skin rose in delicious goosebumps. It was going better than she could possibly have imagined. And that was, indeed, a miracle.

Each night after that, crowds gathered on the High Road. They watched in awe as the twinkling star glided over their heads until it reached the post box topper where the brilliant white beam shone down on the stable below. Vera was thrilled at the success so far. Only four more days to worry about with the Wise Men and balloon. After that, there would be no more shows. It would be Christmas.


On the night of 21st December, the first of the three Wise Men swung beneath the sparkling star as the drone rose into the air. Alice had got used to the trajectory of the drone when it merely carried the star, but the extra weight of the Wise Man tipped the balance slightly and she was finding it hard to direct the drone in a straight line. The Wise Man’s journey along the High Road was rather meandering and bumpy.

Stuart was on mobile phone duty at the post box and his instructions weren’t very clear, so the dizzy Wise Man overshot the topper and then turned for a second approach.

‘Up! Up!’ barked Stuart. ‘No, not up in the air! Back up the High Road!’

Vera sighed. There were going to be words between Alice and Stuart after the show was over. That was assuming the wobbly Wise Man ever made it down to Sally, who was waiting to unhook it and place it on the topper.

‘He can’t find anywhere to park his camel,’ someone in the crowd shouted and thankfully, everyone laughed.

At the same time, Sally grabbed Stuart’s mobile and guided the Wise Man down to her, where she unhooked it. The drone rose and hovering over the topper, the beam of light glowed down on the stable.

Rapturous applause.

Vera allowed herself to breathe again. Well, hopefully, Wise Man number two’s journey would be less fraught the next evening.


There was much hilarity on the village WhatsApp group regarding the journey of the first Wise Man. One wag joked he’d been rerouted due to traffic congestion and suggested the two other Wise Men might be redirected via the M25.

However, overnight, Alice had obviously practised, and on the next two days, to the delight of the crowd, both Wise Men made it directly to the post box topper without weaving a tortuous route along the High Road or overshooting.

Word had obviously got out that Christmas Eve was going to be a special show. This would be the pièce de résistance. Three drones would proceed up the High Road, one carrying the confetti-filled balloon, and the other two with angels dangling beneath, like a winged guard. Once the balloon was hovering above the topper, the beam of light would come on and the scissors would plunge downwards and shower the topper and bystanders with confetti.

Vera was worried. She wasn’t sure why, except that Alice appeared to be extremely nervous and that was enough to bother Vera.

Why was Alice so anxious? Although perhaps ‘distracted’ was a better word. Maybe Vera had underestimated how tricky it would be to control three drones at once. Had the topper society overreached? Oh well, it was too late to do anything about it now.

But if it was so complicated or difficult, why had Alice suggested it? Perhaps it wasn’t anything to do with the drones. During the last week, Vera had noticed Alice spending a lot of time in Bonzer Buns, deep in conversation with Beryl. As soon as they’d seen Vera, they’d stopped talking and changed the subject.

Surely Beryl wasn’t still harbouring ideas of having a drone inside the café? That was just a disaster waiting to happen. Vera’s stomach sank. Alice looked very serious. Perhaps she was threatening to make a complaint against Bonzer Buns. That might cause problems for the society who were now working in partnership with Alice. Would Beryl remove their mates’ rates? Or worse – might she ban them from the café altogether?

Vera would worry about that after the Christmas Eve show. There was too much on her mind now. She checked her watch. It was almost time. Members of the society stood around the post box keeping people back so everyone would have a chance to see. They also had small pans and brushes, ready to clear up when the balloon discharged its cargo of confetti. Assuming the scissors lowered and pierced the rubber. Effie was there with her long-handled tool caddy, ready for every eventuality.

Vera nibbled her lower lip and checked her watch again. The bells in All Saints had started pealing. Five seconds until Alice at the other end of the High Road released her drones.

The entire street was packed.

‘Go!’ whispered Levi into his mobile phone, and from the far end of the High Road, Vera heard the crowd inhale. As the drones drew nearer, a gasp, like a Mexican wave, rolled towards them.

Vera could see a spotlight from each drone beaming down onto their respective cargoes. Two angels and a large glittery balloon. There had been a momentary panic earlier that evening when Vera hadn’t been able to find the angels, despite there having been too many knitted for the topper. Finally, Alice had found them. Just in time.

‘Oh no!’ an elderly woman near Vera shouted. ‘It’s like that dreadful balloon in The Prisoner.

Having seen the television programme many years before, Vera knew what she meant and held her breath. Would there be panic?

Luckily, no one took any notice. Presumably, few of the crowd remembered that huge, horrifying balloon in the 1960s television show.

Thankfully, all was perfect so far. And then, something strange happened. Instead of proceeding towards the post box topper, the drones veered towards Bonzer Buns.

‘What’s happening?’ gasped Vera, but there was nothing she could do – simply stand there and watch. The three drones rose and the two conveying the angels advanced towards the café. Vera flinched as bright lights lit up the front of Bonzer Buns and Vera could see all the angels she hadn’t been able to find earlier suspended as if flying. Presumably, they were dangling on strings out of Beryl’s windows, there were even three of Stuart’s angels which Vera had rejected because they were so chunky they looked like anaemic beetles. What’s more, there were the left-over shepherds, donkeys, sheep and cows as well as several stocky knitted creatures that Vera thought might be kangaroos. They were bobbing up and down as if hopping.

The crowd oohed and ahhed, and then fell silent, as from Bonzer Buns came the sound of a heavenly choir singing.

‘Ahhhhh!’ sang the angels, drowning out Vera’s screech as she realised everything was sliding out of control.

The balloon had retreated from Bonzer Buns and was now hovering over the post box topper. Slowly, the scissors descended, piercing the balloon and showering everyone with gold and silver pieces while the crowd applauded wildly.

Effie rushed forward with her long-handled brush and pan and swept vigorously, as the crowd continued to cheer. Vera looked up at Beryl’s illuminated café, with its shepherds, angels, farm animals and mutant kangaroos, who appeared to be serenading them with heavenly sounds. She watched spellbound, unsure whether the topper had been outdone by Bonzer Buns or whether the angels, shepherds and kangaroos had added to the entire show.

Before she could make up her mind, abruptly the choir finished, and everything was plunged into darkness. Then, a blaze of light shone from inside Bonzer Buns, including the neon sign in the window proclaiming it was open. People charged into the café where Beryl and Tilly, wearing Santa Claus hats, were waiting to serve them.

‘So, that’s why Alice had spent so much time in Bonzer Buns on the run-up to Christmas Eve. We’ve been hijacked,’ Vera gasped.

Sally turned to Stuart. ‘You knitted those kangaroos, didn’t you?’

Even in the darkness, Vera could tell Stuart was blushing.

‘How did you know?’ But before anyone could tell him, he added, ‘Well anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that for the rest of the year, we have treble mate’s rates in Bonzer Buns thanks to my assistance.’

That was good news, but still, Vera’s pride was dented. Right at the final moment, Beryl had stolen the show.

‘Excuse me…’ It was Tony Parstedd. ‘Could you people please stand near your topper? I’d like to take a photo. This will be on the front page tomorrow.’ He shepherded the members to the post box. ‘Now, could one of you throw some of that confetti up in the air so it flutters down as I take the photos?’

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake,’ said Effie, ‘I just cleaned that all up.’


Tony Parstedd’s photographs in the Creaping Bottom News were amazing. They showed a merry group of society members being showered with confetti and standing by their Christmas post box topper. His report was glowing and although Bonzer Buns was mentioned, it was portrayed as the backdrop to the topper.

Things couldn’t have gone better, thought Vera and she toasted the Christmas topper with a mug of cocoa and a splash of sherry.

Now to consider the January topper, although arguably, it might not be her responsibility to decide. At the next meeting, the members would vote in the new chair and Vera wasn’t sure who might be voted in, but a warm glow inside suggested it might be her.


To read the previous stories in this series:


Part 1 – Post Box Topper Outrage –


Part 2 – Post Box Topper Surveillance –


Part 3 – Post Box Topper Confusion –


Part 4 – Post Box Topper Shock –


Part 5 – Post Box Topper Triumph –


Part 6 – Post Box Topper Photo-Opportunity –


Part 7 – Post Box Topper Summer Scene –


Part 8 – Post Box Topper Animal Extravaganza -


Part 9 – Post Box Topper Star Trek Theft –

Part 10 – Post Box Topper Celebration of Creaping Bottom –


Part 11 – Post Box Topper Shock Revelation –

 About the author

Dawn’s three previous books in the ‘Chronicles Chronicles’ series are ‘The Basilwade Chronicles’, ‘The Macaroon Chronicles’ and 'The Crispin Chronicles' published by Chapeltown Publishing. 


You can follow her here on 


Amazon Author: 


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Thursday 30 November 2023

Looking Over the Edge by Penny Rogers, a mug of tea and one (possibly two) toasted crumpets

The walls seemed to be closing in around her, the room getting smaller by the hour. In the hallway the striped wallpaper appeared to move, upwards then downwards in a continuous slow crawl.  The radio and television broadcast non-stop bad news; claustrophobia and misery threatened to overwhelm her.  Not stopping to put a coat on, pull on boots or even lock the door behind her, Josie walked quickly away from the house into the cold evening. At first she relished the chilly breeze on her cheeks, the crunch of frost under her feet and the scent of winter fires in her nostrils.

She walked briskly, drawn towards the edge of the village and away from the lights of home. Tarmac gave way to gravel, gravel gave way to tracks. She was heading towards the earthworks where she had played as a child. She knew they were Neolithic and that the ruined church in the centre of the henge was Norman; she also knew that the site was reputed to be haunted, and she’d always hoped to see a ghost there. That winter’s evening she walked the couple of miles towards the earthworks, pulled irresistibly through the dark. The going was difficult; muddy ruts were frozen solid and even by the light of the moon she couldn’t see where to put her feet. In flimsy shoes her ankles turned and the cold seeped into her feet. Wishing she’d at least put on a coat and better still some boots, Josie stopped to take stock, knowing she ought to turn round, go home and get warm.

            A giggle made her start. She wasn’t alone. In the dark she couldn’t make out any shape that wasn’t a tree or a fence. Tentatively she called out ‘Who’s there?’

            No reply. Too late she realised how vulnerable she was. Alone and half frozen in the darkness, she was a long way from home and no one had any idea where she was. Then she saw the lights; in her nervous state she thought they were lights on the Christmas tree, bobbing and dancing on the village green. But the cold reminded her where she was, and the lights were all around her. Another giggle, then a man’s laughter and the lights disappeared.

            Her phone! She always had it with her. She’d ring for help. In her freezing hand the sparkly phone presented a link to reality, to warmth and safety. She pressed the button to make a call; no response, the battery was flat. Terror such as she’d never experienced before overwhelmed her. Too petrified to cry, too cold to move she sank to her knees clutching her arms around her shaking body.

            On both her elbows she felt a hand, two hands she realised, lifting her up. There were clearly two people looking at her with consternation, but she couldn’t tell whether they were men or women, old or young, tall or short. ‘Thank you, who are you?’ She had to ask something. She heard a sigh by way of an answer and realised to her surprise that she was running across the field, no longer cold and frightened but exhilarated in the company of the people who seemed as nebulous as the chilly mist settling over the frozen, water-logged ground.

            She was guided to a bank beside a row of yew trees. The lights flickered around the trees, danced around her. She could not tell where the lights began and the shadowy people ended; the two seemed to coalesce into pictures and shapes. She saw what she assumed were roundhouses, dwellings made of mud, smoke curling through a hole in the centre of the deep thatched roofs. As fast as the scene appeared it dissembled, vanishing with the smoke from the fires in the huts. From the mist writhing around her feet she realised other structures were forming: wooden framed, low roofed and as far as she could see no windows. There were lots of animals wandering around the houses: sheep, pigs, dogs and what she took to be an ox. The smell of livestock and wood fires made her eyes water. Josie rubbed her eyes and turned round to see the ruins of the church, ivy growing over the dilapidated walls and an elder tree thrusting through the remains of a round arch. She was aware of a funeral service being held, conscious of mourners shuffling past her, of a child crying, of a rough wooden coffin being carried from the church. She just remembered waking up in her own bed.


When Josie told me about this I was sceptical.  ‘Ok, so how did you get home?’

            ‘I’ve no idea.’ She paused, looking out of the window as if she was expecting someone. ‘I suppose I must’ve walked, my shoes were wrecked, they went straight into the bin. I just remember waking up in my bed feeling warm and comfortable, and happier than I’ve been for a long time.’

            ‘Do you think you might need to talk to somebody about this?’

            Josie laughed. ‘D’you mean a therapist? A doctor? A counsellor? The Rev Lisa?  No, I know what I saw. The thing is, people have lived around here for thousands of years. Generations have come and gone, lived and died and left their mark. I was lucky to be there when the curtain between our world and theirs was briefly drawn back. I can’t explain it, maybe it was an hallucination caused by the cold and fear, I don’t know. But I do know I have this.’ She showed me a bone, bleached by years in the sun and smoothed by the passage of time. It was probably from a kid or a lamb. ‘I picked this up that night.’ She looked uncomfortable, her fingers playing with the bone, ‘I want to go back one night, look over the edge of time into the past. I wonder if…’

            ‘What do you wonder?’

            ‘Nothing… Let’s put the kettle on.’


It was midsummer before the police, forensic teams, rescue teams, dog handlers, even psychics, had left the area. No one could find any trace of Josie, she had simply vanished. I told them about the experience she had told me about, but no one took much notice of it. In fact one police officer suggested I should have a chat with my GP as the disappearance of my friend might have upset my understanding of reality!


The slow twilight of a summer’s evening lingered long after the sun had dipped below the western horizon. I parked my car in a layby near the ruined church and walked around the banks and fields surrounding it. A barn owl flew across the meadows, silently hunting for its supper, and a gentle breeze wafted through the tall grass of midsummer. On the bank by the line of yew trees I settled down to watch the evening close in around me. The yew trees behind me moved ever so slightly in the breeze, their dense branches rubbing together sounding like a footstep. Josie was standing beside me. I know it was her although I could not discern her features, even her shape. She was simply an ethereal presence in the dim light. I turned towards her and she was gone. The wind dropped completely, the grass unmoved in the now almost total darkness. I was aware for the first time of the moon, serene and full, lighting the way back to my car. I stood up to go and my eye was caught by something gleaming in the grass just where I had seen the apparition of Josie.

            There, by my feet, was the desiccated animal bone that had enchanted her all those months ago. I picked it up and walked slowly back to the layby.


About the author 

 Penny Rogers writes mostly short stories, flash fiction and poetry. She has been published in print and online and had some success in literary competitions. She is a member of the management team for SOUTH poetry magazine and facilitates a very informal writing group in her home town. 
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Wednesday 29 November 2023

Pomegranate by Gal Podjarny, Bailey's

 Nothing like an afternoon light to soften childhood memories. Last week, I opened a pomegranate. I decrowned it, made two circular cuts all around, and opened it into quarters. The red seeds huddling sent me to the past.

Here I am, a scrawny kid, wavy brown hair tied tightly back, sitting on my heels so I can reach the kitchen table. The windows are open, and I can hear the pigeons cooing outside. On this side, beyond the window glass, there are only laundry lines, rows and rows of them. On the living room side, past our balcony with my grandfather’s cards table, Mrs Levy is cleaning her living area. Threadbare carpet rolled up on the sofa, brown chairs upturned on the blue Formica table, the tile floor expansive and sterile. Mr Levy isn’t back from work yet. She has a few more hours of peace.

My mother places four neat pomegranate quarters before me, saying my little fingers are better for the job. The table is covered with blue chequered lino cloth. My mother brings to the table a crisp, bright cucumber and a tomato with the stem still attached, smelling like sunshine. She cuts them carefully. She won’t cook dinner; she never does. Grandma will be over soon with some pots. Into the enamel bowl the seeds go, their deep red discordant to the sickly pale green plastic.


Don’t get a stain on your shirt. It won’t come off.


Back in my new, gleaming kitchen, the memories spill from me, little fingers prying them loose one by one:


Don’t twirl. You might break something.

Don’t be so loud, the neighbours will complain.

I can’t talk to you when you cry. Go to your room and talk to me when you’re calm.


Each of them a ghost of my mother, of me as a child. I’m tethered to these ghosts. Up ahead, I can see the horizon, the soft light of the sunrise. But I can’t reach it. The ghosts of my past hold me back.

Ghosts have no body. That is why anything sensual offends them. The smell of the pomegranate, sour with regrets. The colour of the seeds, a deep blood red. The resistance against my fingers as I pry the seeds loose sends a tingle up my arms then down my back. She was right. Little fingers are better for this. But gentle fingers, wiser fingers, coax the seeds off so they are almost happy to leave the womb of the fruit.

The seeds are all in the bowl. Two small hands raise the pale green bowl like an offering. My mother takes the bowl silently, not even a thank you, let alone a well done. The little girl I was thinks it’s because she noticed I had sneaked a few, no more than three seeds. Perhaps that is why I return every year, a Persephone tied with black magic and ghosts of memories, to my mother’s home, in the desert, where the pomegranates, when you can get them, are always sweet.

I’m old enough, I’ve been through enough, to understand that she can never be what I needed her—still need her—to be. She cannot say thank you. She cannot say well done, I’m proud of you, you are doing well. These shackles, I can see now, not only moor me, but my children. And that I cannot accept.

And so, I murder the ghosts. Slay them with the kindness my mother was unable to show me. I throw a glass to the floor, the delicate one with the painted flowers, one of my favourites. Then, with great care, I clean up the shards, sweep them off the wooden floor with a thick-haired brush.


See? I broke something, and everything is fine. I’m still ok.


I sing at the top of my lungs, one of the old Rock songs, defiant, rebellious. At my mother’s house, we could hear Mrs Levy’s screams even when we closed the windows, but we never complained, although I did ask her once why won’t she hide Mr Levy’s belts.

And I cry on the bathroom floor, lying on the modern harsh tiles, letting go of the tears and with them these ghosts, the unkind words, the admonitions, the restrictions. Cut the cord.

Here, now, there’s a thread of sourness to the seeds. Maybe this pomegranate wasn’t quite ready to be opened. Or maybe this is the price I pay for living so far away from my mother. There is a red stain on my apron. I always put on an apron when I go into the kitchen, even to check the oven. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

The murder scene is bloody with pomegranate juice. I wipe the white stone counter, wash my hands. It’s like it never happened.


About the author

Gal Podjarny is a student of the human psyche and condition. Her fiction explores the intricacies of identity within the tapestry of relationships. Her first short stories collection, Human Fragments, is now out in digital stores, and you can catch her musings on her blog at


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