3 Sleeps Til' Xmas

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A Visit From Grim

Maisy was sat on the end of David’s bed. His room was painted blue and he had a football theme on almost everything, even the wardrobe and chest of drawers had mini footballs on the front. Maisy looked up at David who had remained standing.

“I brought something over to cheer you up.” she said reaching into her bag.

She pulled out a book and handed it to him. He sat next to her on the bed and turned it over to look at the front cover. It read ’Three Sleeps ‘Til Christmas’ with a sub heading ‘how Christmas came to be wonderful.’ David handed it back to Maisy. It was an old book made in 1912.

“I don’t feel like reading it right now. Look at me. It’s obviously a load of rubbish.”

“Don’t say that. Christmas is what you make it, regardless of the town’s history. Well, that’s what my Mum always says.” Maisy was sympathetic and David knew she was trying to help. He shrugged and turned to his sock drawer where he took out his secret midnight snack and put it under the bed.

“Don’t tell me that’s your breakfast.” said Maisy, pulling a face.

“I never thought of that one.” said David, “No it’s for later.”

“Later?” Maisy raised an eyebrow.

David had a quick look into the upstairs landing. He could hear Mum still working in the kitchen singing to herself. He closed the bedroom door.

“I’m going to stay up tonight. I want to see if anything happens at night when everyone’s asleep.” Maisy’s eyebrow stayed up.

“But you can’t.” said Maisy, “Everyone is supposed to sleep.”

“Yeah I know. But why? No one has ever explained what’s so important about it”

“I don’t know. It says in this book that sleeping each night is part of the Three Sleeps and I think we are meant to follow the rules of it.” said Maisy. “What if something bad happens?”

“What’s the worst that can happen? Do you think I’ll get a visit from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.” David laughed.

Maisy wasn’t impressed.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’ve got a bad feeling about it.” she said.

“Maisy, it’s a load of rubbish and I’m going to prove it.” Maisy still wasn’t impressed.

“Well I’m going to go.” she said, “Mum didn’t want me to be too long. Mum and Dad have both got bad colds and they’re going to bed early. I feel a bit achy myself actually and I keep sneezing.” David walked her down the stairs and opened the front door for her.

“Well, good luck,” Maisy said as she left, “You’ve got my mobile number haven’t you.”

“Yeah.” David nodded.

“Well if you need anything, just call me.” Maisy waved as she walked away down the street. He took a deep breath and then closed the door. As he turned to go back into the house mum poked her head out of the kitchen doorway.

“Now that medicine.” she said smiling.

“Got to go to the loo.” said David rushing past her and straight upstairs. Flossie shook her head and tutted affectionately. She would get him at some point. Then she heard a pan was about to boil over and ran to attend to it.

It was teatime when David’s Dad got home. Mum had just put the plates of shepherd’s pie, peas and gravy on the table. Jack gave Flossie a hug and then washed his hands. He didn’t look at all well.

“How is your cold?” he asked David.

“Not as bad as yours.” David answered. Poor Dad had a bright red nose, which he kept wiping with a scraggly old bit of tissue. Mum walked past him and put a new one in his hand.

“Come on Jack, have some tea.” she said. Mum finished eating but neither David nor Dad felt like eating much and eventually Flossie could see it was a no win situation and took the plates away to be washed up.

The boys went into the living room to watch TV.

“Can I ask you a question, Dad?” asked David.

“Of Dourse.” he answered, his cold affecting his speech.

“You know Jacob Toddle and the Three Sleeps?”

“Of Dourse.” he answered again.

“Why do we have to sleep?” asked David.

“Well you see son..um..it’s to do with. You know I haven’t even got the energy to use my brain. It must be this rotten cold. Ask your mother to explain it.”

“Dad must be feeling really ill.” David thought. He never passed up a chance to talk about the Three Sleeps. But he couldn’t be bothered to move right now so he settled into the comfy armchair with Mum’s slanket.

By eight thirty Dad was snoring so loudly that David could no longer hear the TV. In the kitchen Mum had just finished washing up her last pots and pans from the final medicine batch of the day. She gave him a quick cuddle and felt his forehead.

“Have you come to get some superflu medicine?” she asked hopefully.

“No. I’ve come to ask you why we have to sleep over the Three Sleeps holiday. Dad said you would tell me.” Flossie was a little disappointed about the medicine but she thought about his question for a moment.

“Well. Let’s see.” she had her hand on her chin as if it helped her to think. “It has to do with some magic that was in Jacob’s message, or at least that’s what people said. He had put some magic in the message and the Three Sleeps wouldn’t work properly if we didn’t sleep.”

“Right.” said David unconvinced. Magic huh. Sounded like some old superstitious stuff.

“Are you worried you won’t be able to sleep tonight? I have some medicine that will help you sleep.” She was determined that he would have some eventually.

“No thanks Mum. I’m sure I’ll sleep just fine. I’m going to go up now. It’s nearly nine o’clock anyway.”

“Okay then. I’ll see you in the morning.” Flossie sighed as she ruffled his hair and kissed him on the forehead.

There was a lot of thinking going on in David’s mind as he made his way up to bed. Was it real or wasn’t it and what was all that stuff about magic. David finally concluded that most of it must be made up to make it sound better for kids. He got ready for bed and slipped under the covers. At about eleven ’o’clock he heard Mum and Dad go up to bed and turned the hall light off. The house was very still and quiet for the next couple of hours with the only light to be seen coming from the torch. He was still feeling achy and tried to get more comfortable in bed. He twisted round to fluff up his pillows and discovered that Maisy had left the book about the Three Sleeps under his pillow.

“Oh great.” he mumbled. But as he held the book he felt compelled to have a look at it. There were sixty pages with mostly pictures and photographs. There was one photograph of the piece of paper Jacob had used to write out his message, which was in the museum. He held it close trying to look at it when suddenly the words of the hidden message, Three Sleeps ’Til Christmas, seemed to jump out at him and dance in front of his eyes. David shook his head and put the book down on his lap. The pages flipped over by themselves and opened on a picture of the statue of Jacob. David looked closely at his ancestor’s face. If he hadn’t known better it looked like Jacob was smiling at him. David read the writing underneath the photograph. It talked about the bronze statue of Jacob that sat proudly outside the town hall. The cane that the statue held in its left hand was Jacob’s own cane. His family had donated it to the makers of the bronze statue to use although it would always rightfully belong to his descendants. Then before David could read any further the pages turned again and there was an ancient picture of the Grim Reaper, holding a scythe above his head. According to this page death and disease were banished at Christmas time. The next page showed the drawing of a child sleeping happily and in large letters below ‘YOU SHOULD BE ASLEEP!’ appeared as if it was being written in the book.

David threw the book away from himself and it landed at the bottom of the bed. It was as if the book was telling him off. But who knew he wasn’t sleeping? Suddenly the magic that Mum was talking about felt much more real.

“I bet Maisy is fast asleep right now.” he thought, wishing he could talk to her about it. But then her cold wasn’t as bad as his and after the weird thing that just happened with the book, he felt a lot worse. He leaned over to his bedside cabinet and took a paper handkerchief out of a football patterned tissue box and blew his nose. He lay there still deciding whether to phone Maisy. She would probably think he was on some weird medicine of mums and having a funny dream. Then a rapping on his bedroom window made him sit up straight and his stomach turned. He looked but couldn’t see a thing as it was pitch black outside. He turned away from the window and started to wonder whether he should have gone to sleep after all when there was another tap, even louder than the first. Then a deep voice came from outside.

“Open the window.” it said.

David turned off the torchlight.

“Open the window?” thought David, “No way.”

* * *

Grim was outside David’s bedroom window. He tapped on the glass again with a long bony finger. He was getting really impatient and decided that he was going to have to go for the special effects plan. It wasn’t something he enjoyed doing, as it drained him and turning yourself into gloop and squeezing yourself through a window lock wasn’t comfortable at all. Still he had no choice if he wanted to talk to the Dervish boy. Bit by bit Grim melted and slowly reformed on the other side of the glass until he was standing at the foot of David’s bed in full form. Well, it took a while longer for his toes to arrive but at least he could make a start while he was waiting.

Grim clicked his bony fingers and the bedroom light came on. David sat with his mouth wide open. Death was carrying a scythe just like in the book’s picture and he was so tall that he had to bend over slightly to fit inside the bedroom. The air became stuffy and the smell wasn’t that good either.

“So David” Grim began, “Got a bit of a cold then?” and he laughed an evil booming laugh that he had practiced it for a whole hour before he left the Dark Castle. David shook and his knees banged together.

“Wh..What do you want?”

“Oh don’t worry, I’m not here to punish you or collect your soul, I’m here to shake your hand.” he held out his skeletal fingers. David declined.

“Oh well, anyway, I’m here to say thanks. You’ve done me a favour.”

“What do you mean?” asked David.

“You’ve spread the nasty flu virus all over town for me. Do you remember when I sneezed on you?” how could David forget? “Now everyone is ill and they will all soon be mine. I take it you know who I am.” he said.

“I think so.” was all David managed to say. Grim tutted.

“I am the Grim Reaper and I have come to collect all the souls in this town.”

“Why?” asked David still trembling.

“Why?” laughed Grim. “This town owes me big time. I haven’t been able to get into this town at Christmas for over a hundred years thanks to Jacob Toddle. Now I have come to get my revenge. Clever isn’t it? I wouldn’t bother buying a turkey if I were you. This town will be like a ghost town when I have finished, excuse the pun.” Grim laughed again.

“But you can’t do that.” said David.

“I reckon it will take until midnight on Christmas Eve to do the job. Unless anything stops me by then, which will never happen. You might as well say goodbye to your fantastic Christmas.” said Grim sarcastically.

With that he walked over to David’s bedroom door. He opened the door then turned to David and said, “Thanks again, I’ll let myself out. I have a lot to do so I’d better get started.”

When Grim had gone David noticed how cold the room had become and he got out of bed to put on his dressing gown.

“The Grim Reaper is here and he has souls to collect?” David whispered to himself and he shuddered not from the cold but from Grim’s stark warning. This meant the townsfolk of Stoney Tor were in danger. He looked at the mobile phone in his hand. Should he or shouldn’t he. It would mean Maisy would miss the first sleep too, but then the damage had already been done. David would have to face her sooner or later. He dialed her number. It rang six times before she picked up and her sleepy voice said, “What do you want? It’s the middle of the night.”

“I’ve only gone and done it.” he said.

“Done what?”

“You were right. The Three Sleeps are ruined. The Grim Reaper came through my bedroom window.”

“David it’s probably just a bad dream caused by your cold. Try and go back to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning and we’ll talk about it then.” but as she rang off David knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not after what had happened. It was well creepy.

* * *

Grim let himself out of the front door of the Dervish house in All Souls Lane. He didn’t want to go through the gloop thing again. His ribs were aching and his knees still felt like jelly. He went down the garden path and stood looking down the street of six houses. There was his friend Shay-D leaving a house just a couple of doors down and that meant someone was ready to go to the dungeons already. He sniffed the air and then lifted his finger up to feel the direction of the wind. He pulled his new velvet cloak around him and as was the traditional way, Death raised himself up off the floor and floated down the street.

“Mr Donut has never been too well, has he?” Grim thought as he turned into a garden path just two doors up from David’s house. He looked up at Mr Donut’s house with its dark windows and he smiled. It was time to get to work.

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