The Merry (Part 2): an Ordshaw Vignette

‘Tis the season to be jolly, streets filled with twinkling lights and cheer and whatnot. So it falls to me to restore some levity with the sorts of sordid things that go in Ordshaw at all times of year…

It’s been a while since I posted an Ordshaw Vignette, and it’s been that kind of year where extra curricular activities have fallen somewhat by the wayside, but it being the season at last to be jolly and giving, I’ve got a treat today: a sequel to The Merry, a Christmas-themed short Ordshaw story I first posted last year.

If you haven’t already read the first part, check it out HERE – but as a quick recap, governess Claudia had a hard time one Christmas when she stumbled upon something she would’ve been better leaving alone.

Part 2 of The Merry finds us precisely one year later, back with Claudia, for another fateful Christmas. And full disclosure, I don’t know if I mentioned before but I always intended this to have a few yearly instalments. So be sure to stick around for Part 3 next Christmas…

Enough of me though, let’s get on with it. Read on and engage your jingling for more of The Merry!

The Merry (Part 2)

Claudia paused halfway up the stone steps to the Marchands’ country house. The windows’ golden yellow twinkled with red, green and blue fairy lights (she hated that phrase now), but while music thumped noisily inside, the family’s voices were alarming absent. When she’d started walking down the immense driveway only five minutes ago, it had been possible to hear all the boisterous, barbarous voices of Mr Marchand, his brother, the nephew and the three sharp-tongued wives, none of them caring much that they were all speaking at once. Now, they were quiet. Were they watching a lewd clip on a phone? Reading quiet poetry? Wishful thinking.

A familiar fear gripped Claudia all year: were the little sprites back?

Most people – her previous employers, the police, the doctors and even her own mother – thought her claims to have seen them an elaborate way to shirk responsibility. As though Claudia’s overactive imagination was a weak cover for how she herself violently ruined the Sarkovs’ Christmas. But others’ insistence that the drunk fairies weren’t real didn’t stop her from feeling, too often, that she was being watched. She steered clear of creaks in the cellar, never visited sheds alone, and never looked too closely into dark spaces.

That instinct told her to abandon her scarf now, forgotten in the foyer in her eagerness to get an evening’s respite. But the walk to her apartment without it would invite illness, and she couldn’t stand victim to her own thoughts – heavens knew she took enough stick as it was. The Marchands had taken her in as a maid, after many jobless months, because a desperate person was easiest to push around, and they made no attempt to hide it. They had only given her Christmas Eve off as a prelude to an extra hard day’s labour on Christmas itself. She needed that scarf – it’d be hell working for these people with a cold.

She rallied her nerves to enter the house, where music echoed around the tall-ceiled foyer: Santa Baby in seductive French. She whipped up the scarf from the coat rack, wrapped it tight around her neck, then scuttled to the exit. She stopped. A strangeness in the parlour was apparent through the crack in the door. It wasn’t just quiet behind the music, it was too still. The echoes of last Christmas and the Sarkov’s living room chilled her.

Claudia crept to the door, and finally heard a voice. “Only a tenner in this one – tightwad.”

Her heart leapt. The voice of the same tiny man who’d ruined her life? She thrust open the door to break the illusion.

The Marchands were all there. Draped in their seats as though passed out drunk. Mr and Mrs Marchand sprawled over a pair of arm chairs, the brother bent over the sofa back with his wife slumped in his lap, their son hanging over the end. His wife indicated something was truly wrong, lying on her face by the crackling fireplace. Claudia waited desperately for one of them to move, for it to be a sick joke, like the brother was all too fond of. She knew it wasn’t.

“Mr Marchand?” she said, taking two paces towards him. “Wake up, please . . .”

“Shit, not again,” a little woman’s voice made her stop.

Down beyond the sofa, Claudia spotted a child-sized Santa’s sack, open with contents spilling out. The glittering gold of necklaces and bracelets, white pearls, nested between leather wallets. On top of the small horde stood a man only inches tall, with a red jumper and striped trousers. Alongside him, a woman, similarly festively dressed, both with lacy wings and both staring as surprised at her as she was at then.

Claudia raised both hands with great care. “You’re. Not. Real.”

The two figures exchanged looks. The woman said, “That’s right. Get on out of here, pretend this never happened.”

That ruined it. Claudia dropped her arms. “Hell, I knew you were real – I knew it –”

“We’re doing you a favour! This lot are pricks!”

“The only pricks who’d hire me!” Claudia cried.

“And don’t they know it?” The woman jumped up, little wings carrying her into the air. “When we saw you was here, how they treated you, remembering last time and all – well it made them an easy choice. You can thank us later.”

“This isn’t happening!” Claudia took her hair in two distraught fistfuls. “Not again!”

“That’s it,” the man said. “You didn’t see nothing, weren’t even here.”

But she definitely did see. The same two terrible fairies, and the Marchands all unconscious. The niece-in-law’s coupe glass had rolled off near her head, creamy liquid in a puddle. The glasses on the coffee table, by Mr Marchand’s hand, all had the same egg nog. Spiked for a family toast? It took all Claudia’s nerve not to launch herself at them this time, not to make the same chaotic scene she did before.

The brother shifted with a porcine snort.

“Crap, he’s not under?” the male fairy asked, flying up to join the first one.

“Told you he was too bloody fat. Just grab that ring off him and let’s get.”

Claudia glanced at the gaudy gold signet on the brother’s chubby hand. “You’re robbing them? Why?”

“Best time of year for it,” the woman said. “They’ll blame some chamber maid or reckon on holiday opportunists, if they’re not too proud to admit it happened at all.”

“Some maid like me?”

The fairies both paused, as though noticing a fatal error in an otherwise flawless plan. “Nah, you had the night off – isn’t there another –”

The brother snorted awake. Bolt upright, quickly blinking his eyes.

The fairy cried “Scram!” and in a flash both tiny people had zipped into the open maw of the fireplace and were gone. Leaving Claudia frozen surrounded by the comatose family, with the brother’s bleary eyes trying to comprehend her.

“Claudia?” he grunted. “What’re you doing back?”

She was a deer in headlights as his eyes roamed the room and his expression slowly shifted to angry alarm. Claudia felt herself deflating, as a new voice at the back of her mind told her at least now she knew she wasn’t paranoid.

Plus, she wouldn’t have to work Christmas Day. Again.

Ah, how history repeats itself. Maybe next year we can break that cycle, but I guess we’ll see what 2021 brings. If you liked this short, be sure to check out the other Ordshaw Vignettes, available online or collected on AmazonThere’s also the whole series of Ordshaw books to delve into.

Happy reading, and seasons greetings one and all!