Jacob lit the lamp again and took a piece of paper from the top drawer of his desk. He didn’t even stop to take off his coat and hat and after a few more attempts he eventually had it. He held up the piece of paper, the ink still damp and read the message out loud.
“This Holiday Remember Each and Every Someone in your Life. Endear Each Person So They feel Important and Loved. Christmas Heals Rifts with Its Spirit so Take a vow of Merriment, Amity and Serenity.”
Inside this message was a second one. One that people would not see with their eyes but a message that would make its way into their minds and stay there. The hidden message was THREE SLEEPS TIL CHRISTMAS.
After checking he was alone on the first floor, Jacob quietly closed the office door and locked it. He wanted to be sure he was not seen, as what he was about to do next was a secret that had been in his family for three centuries. He picked up his walking cane and studied the curved handle. The legend handed down from his father told how the cane was made from wood that contained the spirit of a witch. Moll Toddle had been accused of witchcraft back in the 16th century but had hidden from the witch hunters in an ancient oak tree. It was said that she lived so long in the tree that she died there and the tree spirits protected her forever by making her a part of the tree itself. The walking cane was made from this tree and could be used once only by each of her future descendants to call on her magic in a time of need. Her descendants were to each make sure it was handed down to the next Toddle and Jacob knew it was the right time to use it. Jacob sat at his desk and held the cane in both hands.
“From now on Stoney Tor will have three days holiday. After the first sleep there will be a family day and all families will get together and have a day full of fun. After the second sleep everyone in town will be able to buy the perfect presents for their loved ones. After the third sleep it will be Christmas Day and this wonderful day will be full of love and happiness for all. For as long as our Three Sleeps remain unbroken, neither the Shadow of Death nor Death himself will be able to enter the town of Stoney Tor at this time of year. There will be no sadness nor tragedy allowed in.”
Jacob lifted the cane in the air and a flash of red light jumped from the cane to the paper on his desk. Those special initials in his message glowed red as if they had been burnt into the paper. It all happened within only a moment and the only clue that anything unusual or magical had happened was the slight smell of burning that lingered in the room.
Jacob unlocked the office door. He ran down the stairs and into the Print Room. The huge black printing machine sat in the middle of the room, nearly reaching the ceiling. It was a magnificent sight to behold, especially when the machine was working at full speed. In the far corner sat Jack the seventeen-year-old who was an apprentice in the news offices. Jack was hoping to be a journalist himself one day. He had fallen asleep with his head resting on the table next to him. His blonde hair fell down over the right side of his young face.
“Jack.” Jacob shook him. Jack looked up yawning, his eyes sleepy.
“It’s done. Are you ready to print?”
Jack nodded and took the piece of paper from Jacob. Soon the printing machine was chugging away. Jack sat back down on his chair while he waited but Jacob stayed standing and watched the machine do its work. Soon the very first Stoney Tor Tattler of the day was ready.
“Wonderful, just wonderful. Merry Christmas” said Jacob and he shook Jack’s hand with great enthusiasm. Jacob felt relieved as he left the building and Jack felt proud.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Jacob!” he said and smiled as he watched the happy journalist leave.
* * *
“This is fantastic Jacob. What a wonderful message.” Mr Feltham said when he arrived the next morning. He ran to supervise the printer and make sure everything was running smoothly. After reading Jacob’s message everyone in the office felt extremely happy and the atmosphere in the whole building changed. Jacob stood at the same window as the day before. Thomas brought him a cup of tea.
“Fingers crossed.” said Thomas smiling.
“I have everything crossed.” laughed Jacob as he watched bundles of newspapers being loaded on to carts and carriages in the street below. They would be delivered around the town to the shops and stands that sold them each day.
Soon everyone in Stoney Tor had read the message and showed it to all their friends. Everyone was saying the phrase but not realising where it came from. The Deputy Mayor declared Three Sleeps ’Til Christmas should be part of every Christmas holiday. The town criers came out on to the streets to ring their bells in celebration. By the end of the day the message had stuck in everyone’s minds as Jacob had hoped it would and everything was set. Christmas was going to be happy from now on. As Jacob and Thomas continued to watch out of the office window through the day, it seemed as though they had been transported to a wonderful new world where everyone was smiling and happy. There was not one fight or argument to be heard as Jacob walked home that day. All he could hear was laughter and singing coming from the lighted windows of the happy little houses.
After the first sleep came the very first day of the Three Sleeps holiday. The town’s men, women and children went out as families and spent a very special day together. After the second good nights sleep everyone went shopping and chose the perfect presents for their loved ones for Santa to deliver. On the night of the third sleep Santa came and delivered all the presents that had been chosen. He ate the mince pies, the reindeer ate their carrots and Santa felt very happy as he went on his way to the next town or village. After the third sleep, when Father Christmas had finished his rounds, everyone had a perfect Christmas day. They all loved their presents and enjoyed their dinner. They enjoyed the King’s Christmas speech on the radio even if they were too small to understand it. They had an afternoon nap until teatime when they all sat around tables in their cosy, pretty little homes and played games together until it was time for bed. At bedtime they all cuddled goodnight and said how much they loved each other and Merry Christmas. Those that lived on their own cuddled their pets and raised a toast to the future. There was a special toast raised for Jacob Toddle, the man who had saved Christmas in Stoney Tor.
After Jacob had grown very old and passed away, a memorial bronze statue was placed in the town square. It showed Jacob holding the magical message in his right hand and his walking cane in the left. The print boy Jack, who had stayed up that night to help Jacob and who was now a famous journalist himself, unveiled it. He felt incredibly proud. The piece of paper upon which Jacob had written the message was put on display in the town museum for all to see. As the years went by many books were written about Jacob and the Three Sleeps holiday and a plaque was placed on the wall next to the door of Feltham’s Publishers & Press Offices so that the town’s folk would not forget where it all started. Christmas in Stoney Tor was the most looked forward to holiday of the year for all who lived there. But two beings were not so happy about the new Christmas Tradition. The Grim Reaper and the Shadow of Death were not at all impressed at being banned from entering Stoney Tor each Christmas.
“Something has got to be done about it!” they agreed.
* * *
One hundred and twenty years later on another Wednesday afternoon in December of the year two thousand and nineteen, a stranger came walking into Stoney Tor.
He was a dark figure dressed all in black. He looked like an everyday skinny young dude in a hooded top but seemed unusually tall. He dragged along a vicious, grumpy and reluctant looking dog on a lead. But the breed was not one even a dog expert could recognise and everyone crossed over the road to keep away from the strange duo.
Thirteen-year-old David Dervish had just popped into the newsagents to get a magazine and sweets with his pocket money. It was only a couple of days until the Three Sleeps and he was very excited. As he walked out of the shop he was so engrossed in his magazine ‘Dudes from Uranus’ that he didn’t see a dark figure approaching. David walked straight into the tall stranger and fell backwards.
“Sorry!” said David picking himself and his comic up, both slightly soggy from the thin layer of snow that had fallen overnight.
Random flakes spiralled around them as the tall stranger just stood silent and still. David brushed the snow from the back of his coat and tried to see a face under the hood but there was only darkness. The ugly dog growled at David menacingly and strained against the lead held tightly in the hand of the stranger. David turned to walk away as quickly as he could but felt something sharp poke him in the back. As he turned toward the figure again he saw a skinny hand with one long bony finger beckoning him to come closer. As he did so the tall, darkly clothed figure then leaned forward and blew something into David’s face. It felt cold and wet and David wiped his face quickly with his sleeve. He could not believe what had just happened. He had just been sneezed on!
By the time David opened his eyes the stranger had gone. He was nowhere to be seen, but David could still hear him laughing loudly somewhere in the distance.
“That’s disgusting.” said David, just before he had a mass sneezing fit himself. David passed quite a few people on his way home but didn’t notice that they all started sneezing as he walked past them. He was too annoyed to notice.
* * *
The Grim Reaper was just around the corner at the end of the street, jumping up and down in a victory dance.
“Yes, yes, yes, it worked. They’ll all be ill by tomorrow and that will be the end of their stupid Three Sleeps.” he cackled. Sizzle, his sharp-toothed, ragged hellhound, sat down and rolled his eyes. He hoped that no other hellhounds could see him. It was embarrassing. If he wasn’t attached to Grim by his lead, then he would have got out of there as quickly as possible. Instead he put a paw over his eyes.
“If I can’t see anyone else.” he thought, “Hopefully no one can see me.”