3 Sleeps Til' Xmas

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A Nasty Flu Virus

It was just three days to Christmas and David sat at the kitchen table in the Dervish household with a towel over his head, leaning over a bowl of steaming hot water to clear his blocked nose. He still felt angry and embarrassed at being sneezed on by the weirdo in the hoodie. It gave him the cringes every time he thought about it. His mother Flossie was also in the kitchen, busy mixing up a pan full of her latest batch of medicine. This was her Christmas ritual. Her natural health remedies were well known in Stoney Tor and for the last two days it seemed as though everyone was at their door asking for cures for colds, sneezes and some nasty coughs that seemed to be very hard to shake off. It was a talent she had learnt from his Grandma Elizabeth, whom David remembered as a bustling, round woman who mumbled a lot to herself and had a wart on the end of her chin. But she had always produced a lollipop from thin air for him whenever she saw him, which always made him giggle when he was small and he had fond memories of her. David lifted his head from under the towel and watched his mum working at the stove. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and tightened the belt on her frilly apron. She looked over at David.

“How do you feel, sweetheart?” she asked with a concerned frown. She put a hand on his forehead. ” Best get back to bed with that cold.”

“But Maisy is coming round later.” he said. Maisy Miller was David’s best friend. They had known each other since they were small. She had short, brown hair and a heart shaped face that lit up when she smiled, which made David smile too and he needed cheering up right now.

“Well I’ll wake you up when she gets here. You don’t want to be ill tomorrow. Not for the first day of the three sleeps.”

David groaned. He had been feeling so sorry for himself that day that he hadn’t given it a thought.

“I’m never going to get better that quick Mum.”

“I bet you will.” said Flossie smiling. She walked to a cupboard on the wall with a blue panelled door. It meant only one thing and David didn’t hang about. He quickly and quietly got up from the table and made it as far as the kitchen doorway when Flossie turned around with a large glass bottle in one hand and a very big spoon in the other. There was a thick, gloopy green coloured liquid in the bottle.

“Um, I think I’ll take your advice and go to bed. I really don’t think I’m going to need any of your superflu potion Mum.” David said backing away slowly.

“Oh no you don’t.” she said “You need to take some of this, come on.” Then she poured some of the gloopy, slimy medicine on to the large spoon.

David gulped nervously. Just at that moment the doorbell rang. They both looked at the spoon, at each other and then back at the door, as whoever was on the other side gave an impatient knock. Flossie hesitated, but to David’s relief she put the medicine down on the table and went off to open the door. David took his chance and ran upstairs.

He flopped down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. So it was half a day until the three sleeps, and he had this rotten, nasty cold. Most people in town had also caught the flu, but David’s cold definitely felt like the worst one in the whole world. He kept sneezing and his chest was sore from coughing. Two boxes of tissues had already bitten the dust. He had tried everything that Mum had thrown at him, apart from the snotty looking superflu potion. It made his stomach turn just thinking about it. As much as he loved his Mum there were limits. Throughout his first ten years he had seen and smelt lots of different medicines and cures being put together in the kitchen. Friends and neighbours would turn up on the doorstep any time of the day or night at the slightest sign of any ailment. Unfortunately, no amazing potion had worked for David and some of them had tasted pretty bad. The only one left was the superflu potion and there was no way he was going to try that one.

Then it began to dawn on him that if he didn’t get better by the next day he wasn’t going to be out enjoying the family day. What if he still felt like this on Christmas day and didn’t feel well enough to open his presents or eat his Christmas dinner? He thought of the Three Sleeps story dad had told him when he was little. David’s dad Jack loved telling the story over the Three Sleeps holiday, as Jacob Toddle had been their ancestor. Clarissa Toddle, Jacob’s niece, had married George, a Dervish and it was something everyone was proud of in the family. Visiting Dervishes would be taken to see the statue and would raise a toast to Jacob over dinner. David knew that it was important and had believed wholeheartedly in the legend, but right at this moment it wasn’t working for him. His wonderful Christmas seemed to be disappearing fast. From his bedroom window he could see over the roofs of the houses that sat on the hill in rows below theirs. He could see the smiling head of the bronze statue of Jacob that stood on a marble plinth in the town square and even from this distance Jacob’s top hat glowed white from the layer of snow upon it.

“Christmas is supposed to be good for everyone.” he thought, “So much for the Three Sleeps.”

David decided to rebel. School was over now so why not stay up all night. What happened during the night of the three sleeps? Why did they have to sleep anyway? He got his favourite book and a torch so he could read under the covers. He crept down into the kitchen to gather his supply of midnight snacks while Mum was at the door giving out another one of her cures to Mr Donut from two doors down. Mr Donut was a round, sweaty man who constantly wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. He always had something wrong with him. He liked watching those medical programmes on television, which made him think he was about to drop dead any second. Still, as Mum always said, at least he buys the medicines from her and she only gives him the placebo ones, which have nothing in them except juice, which makes him feel better and helps gets the bills paid. This always changed to ‘and be able to afford Christmas’ from about October onwards. He wondered if he had missed anything all of the previous years while he had been asleep. He felt like a detective or a secret spy. This was going to be fun. Just as he got to the top of the stairs Mum shouted his name.

“Uh Oh!” he thought and dashed into his room where he hid all the goodies in his sock drawer. He slowly went back out to the landing all hunched up and looking sorry for himself. Mum looked up a little suspiciously and ushered Maisy past her.

“There he is Maisy. I wouldn’t get too close.” she smiled up at him again and went back to her potions. David could hear her softly humming and sounds of cooking and mixing began again. Maisy climbed the stairs, sneezing every couple of steps.

“Something really strange is going on around here. This cold is spreading like wildfire.” she said. Then there was a loud sneeze from the kitchen and a crash.

“It’s okay. I’m alright.” shouted Mum, “Just a surprise sneeze.”

* * *

The Grim Reaper had returned home the previous day feeling very happy with himself after he had given David a good dose of the flu to spread around Stoney Tor. Today he was sat on his dark throne in the great hall of his dark, grey castle, and he was smiling. He was smiling because he was doing something he knew he really shouldn’t be. He had received his Christmas presents and even though it was three days until Christmas he was shaking, smelling and listening to them.

“Hmmmm.” he said in a deep voice, which echoed around the room’s high ceilings. He looked at the tag on the soft, squishy one that he held in his skeletal fingers. He squeezed the parcel hard. Grim started to tear the paper a little at one end so that he could have a peek.

“Who’s it from?” said a gruff voice from the other side of the room.

“It’s from Auntie Ida in Italy.” Grim said. Auntie Ida was the Italian Reaper. It is little known except among certain circles, that there is a different Reaper for every country in the world. Well, it would be much too hard work for one of the family to collect all the souls around the whole planet.

“Well I wouldn’t peek if I were you. You know she always booby traps her gifts until Christmas day.” the voice warned. But it was too late. Grim jumped as an electric shock rattled his bones.

“Stupid Aunt!” he shouted. He stood up, dropped the parcel and kicked it like a rugby ball. It splatted against the wall and the paper caught on a rusty candlestick holder, which fell upside down and the parcel dropped to the floor. Grim picked up the contents that had unsurprisingly half fallen out of the package. It was a brand new black velvet robe. He took off his tatty old one and put the velvet one around his collarbones.

“Mmmmm. That feels so nice and soft.” he said. He looked to the other side of the room at Scythe who was the second of his loyal hounds alongside Sizzle. Sizzle was so called because he could breathe fire when he felt like it. Scythe was named by Grim when he was a puppy, as his big, pointed teeth looked as though they would take someone’s head off, just like the scythe Grim carried around with him. The two dogs looked at each other, shook their heads then settled back into drowsiness and sleep.

Grim gave up with the rest of the presents and sat bored. He rapped his bony fingers on the arm of his chair while he looked around the room for something to do. Sizzle was curled up fast asleep and Scythe was drowsily watching the dancing flames from a comfy spot on the rug in front of the huge fireplace. The only light in the room came from the fire in the grate and Grim’s computer screen. As Grim looked at it wondering if there was anything he wanted to look at on the internet he noticed that he had a new e-mail. He clicked on the mouse opening the Underworld express 66.6 programme and the e-mail appeared on the screen.

It was from: [email protected]

“Shadow of Death?” whispered Grim.

The Shadow of Death didn’t hang about with the Grim Reaper. By the time Grim arrived at the scene the Shadow of Death had usually done his job and Grim just finished it off and took the poor person’s soul to heaven or hell. But they had decided this year would be perfect for their plan to get back into Stoney Tor for Christmas. The Mayor was in charge of making sure the Three Sleeps went smoothly but he was going away this year for the first time ever. Grim would take in the flu virus and the Shadow of Death would keep him updated on the progress.

“Some good news, hopefully.” he thought, as he clicked on the open icon. The e-mail jumped to full screen and Grim was confronted with red flames and tortured souls as a background. The letters were in Black Capitals.

Dear Grimwald, (Grim groaned to himself. He hated his first name)

It’s all happening in Stoney Tor. Your plan worked. David Dervish has spread the flu virus all over the place and now he is going to break the Three Sleeps tradition by not sleeping tonight. The flu is spreading like locusts in a plague LOL. I’ll be starting my rounds in Stoney Tor at the witching hour. Don’t be late.

Merry Christmas,

Shay-D, (my new cool nickname)

PS. Thanks for the pressie.

“I bet he’s opened it early.” thought Grim rolling his eyeballs in their bony sockets, “And he needs to stop hanging around with those Teenagers From Hell.”

Teenagers From Hell were the Shadow of Death’s favourite demon band and Grim thought they were having a bad influence on him with their funny hairdo’s and strange nicknames. He sat back in his computer chair with one hand on his bony chin and swung side to side.

“Well, well, this Christmas is going to be very interesting.” he rose from the chair and looked towards the two hounds snug on their rug.

“Get up you lazy mutts.” he shouted, making Scythe jump. Sizzle looked up sleepily and then curled up tighter. Grim went over and pushed them both off the rug.

“Go and check out the dungeons. We will be having some guests and I want to make sure they are ready.” and then as an afterthought, “You’d better make sure Nightshade is saddled up to the cart. I want the one with the big metal cage on the back.” The sleepy pair weren’t at all happy but there was no point arguing with Death and so they trotted out of the room. Sizzle turned and growled at Grim and then ran off quickly. He just dodged being hit by a large piece of hot coal from the fire. They could be heard complaining all the way down the cold, stone corridors at how hard done by they were and they should have left years ago.

Grim picked up an old book with gold lettering, from his computer desk. It was an old diary that he had taken from the house of the famous journalist Mr Jacob Toddle when it had been time to collect his soul. A hundred and one years old the man had been. Jacob had told him that it was only a gardening book and he had only taken it as he wanted a souvenir of the great man. Grim hadn’t bothered to read it until five years ago and only because he had been thinking about taking up a hobby. Grim thought it might help him relax in his spare time as he was always uptight about something or other.

But when Grim finally did read the book he had found a drawing on the inside of the back cover. It was a hand drawing of Stoney Tor. When he read the page he found out that not only did Stoney Tor have a special Christmas. Everyone in the town had to sleep each night of the holidays and enjoy every day for the magic to work. Santa was the only one allowed in to deliver his presents on Christmas Eve. Grim and the Shadow of Death were not allowed anywhere near the place according to the story.

“What a cheek!” Death thought and had been so angry that his bones had trembled and his teeth had rattled.

He decided to do something about it. He, along with the Shadow of Death made a dastardly plan, which was perfected over the last five years and put in motion that day when he had introduced a nasty, contagious flu to Stoney Tor. Nearly all of them were now sneezing and aching and moaning and couldn’t possibly get a decent night’s sleep. He could create lots of havoc and they wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it. His dungeons would be full of souls for a change just like the old days because he was going to collect them all whether their time was up or not. He would keep the souls and hold them in his dungeons until it was their proper time to go.

Then he suddenly felt very achy himself and realised he was sitting in the path of one of the many drafts in his cold, dark castle and was getting a chill in his bones. He wheeled his computer chair to the middle of the hearthrug and embraced the warmth of the fire. Death had a very big smile on his face.

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