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A Badger Christmas Carol: Part One

by C H Clepitt & Claire Buss

 

It was said that it was the death of his wife that made Michael McAllister hate the badgers. Her passing, complications from emphysema, cast a bleak cloud over Greenwood Farm. She was the one who used to care for the animals, not just the farm animals, but the wildlife and in particular the family of badgers who lived in the thicket at the bottom of their fields. Michael resented the fact that the disease ridden badgers were still alive when his beloved wife was dead. And without her kindness to temper his mean streak, Michael gained a reputation in the village as a miserable skinflint who would do anything for a quick payout. These days the people, and the wildlife, stay well away from Greenwood Farm, which was fine with Michael. They were not welcome anyway.

 

It was bitterly cold Christmas Eve morning, made colder by McAllister’s refusal to warm the farm house for the estate meeting. Electricity wasn’t cheap, and he could wear more clothes if he needed to. Roberts, the gamekeeper, pulled his sheepskin jacket up around his ears and blew on his hands, waiting to be given the list of tasks to complete today.

 

“I saw fox prints last night, Roberts,” McAllister snapped without so much as a good morning. “A whole family of the blighters. If I lose any more chickens, you’ll be out on your ear!”

 

“Sir.” Roberts was noncommittal but made a mental note to leave some food out for the vixen. She’d recently had cubs and these were lean times. He’d also check the chicken wire on the coops. It wouldn’t do to lose any of the hens.

 

“I want the rat traps re-filled and the rabbit snares doubled. And stop putting out seeds for the blasted pheasants. They’ll get too fat to fly and there’ll be nothing to shoot next Spring.” McAllister glared at Roberts. “What? Why are you looking at me in that pathetic way?”

 

“Sorry, Sir, it’s just… It’s Christmas Eve,” Roberts began

 

“And?”

 

“Tis the season?” Roberts replied weakly. If Catherine had still been alive, the farm house would’ve been full of light and laughter as they planned what treats they would leave for the animals on Christmas Eve. She had been delighted when he reported the appearance of a badger sett. She would’ve loved seeing the cubs being born.

 

“Poppycock!” McAllister banged his hand on the table top. “I suppose you’ll be wanting time off tomorrow.”

 

“If at all convenient, Sir,” Roberts shifted awkwardly on the spot.

 

“It’s not convenient! It’s not at all convenient!” McAllister’s voice became high pitched with incredulity.  “But I suppose you must or you’ll have all the social media morons after me.  Trial by website, load of nonsense…” He turned his glare onto Roberts. “But you will finish these jobs before leaving today.” And he flung a barely legible list onto the table.

 

Roberts’ heart sank as he saw at the top of the list the words ‘lay badger traps’.

 

“Yoohoo! Uncle Michael!” a cheery voice came from the kitchen.  “Good grief! It’s freezing in here!” A charming young woman wandered into the room without waiting to be invited.  “Is your heating broken?”

 

“No!” McAllister said stiffly, eyeing the woman suspiciously.

 

“Then why is it so cold?” She laughed and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “Hi,” she held out her hand to Roberts.  “I’m Fiona.  Merry Christmas!”

 

“Merry Christmas to you too!’ replied Roberts with real warmth in his voice.

 

Merry Christmas” mimicked McAllister nastily. “Enough of all that. Get to work, Roberts!” He turned on his niece. “And what do you want?”

 

“Um, to wish you a Merry Christmas, Uncle, and to see if you’d join us for Christmas Dinner tomorrow.” She beamed, refusing to be brought down by his tone.

 

“Pah.” He pushed past her, out of the kitchen, without bothering to reply.

 

There was a moment of uncomfortableness as Fiona flushed in embarrassment and Roberts wanted to apologise but before he had chance, McAllister yelled through the doorway, “Get to work!” Roberts threw a commiserating look her way and hurried out to the farmyard.

 

“Work? On Christmas Eve?” Fiona followed Roberts through the door. “What can you possibly need to do that can’t wait?  He doesn’t have any cows any more, does he?”

 

“He does,” Roberts plunged his hands into his pockets against the cold. “Beef and dairy.”

 

“Oh…” she looked hurt.  “Who’s his vet now?”

 

“Hasn’t called a vet in years,” Robert muttered.  “Says they’re too expensive.  They get ill, he shoots them…”

 

“Oh…” she said again, fumbling in her pocket and producing a business card.  “Look, if they get ill, call me.  I shan’t charge.  And… um… if you don’t have any plans tomorrow…”

 

“Um, thanks.” It was Roberts turn to blush. Then he had an idea. “You got five minutes?”

 

Fiona nodded, intrigued. Roberts checked to see that McAllister was nowhere in sight then took her out the farmyard and across the field to the thicket at the bottom. Putting a finger to his lips, he led her slowly and carefully to the concealed badger sett. Gently pushing aside the vegetation that covered the entrance, he revealed a female badger with two small cubs. The sow raised her head slightly to look at him but stayed where she was. Fiona gasped quietly as a third, smaller cub poked a head out from beneath his mother. Gently placing the vegetation back across the entrance, they moved away from the sett.

 

“He’s the runt of the litter. I can’t tell exactly what’s wrong, she won’t let me get too close, but, I think he has a gammy leg.”

 

“The others look very healthy,” she smiled at Roberts. “Have you been feeding them?”

 

“Dog food,” he muttered. “Can’t tell the boss, he’s got a license to shoot ‘em.”

 

“Aunt Catherine would turn in her grave,” Fiona sighed. “Dog food isn’t ideal and we really ought to try and get a look at that little fella’s leg. Well, you have my number, call me, I won’t mind. If I don’t answer, my partner will.”

 

“Partner?” Roberts sounded disappointed and immediately coughed to cover it.

 

“In the practice,” she smiled.

 

McAllister watched his niece cavorting with Roberts in disgust as they came back into the farmyard. Just because it was Christmas! “Bah, humbug!” he said as he begrudgingly shook some feed into the sheep trough. All these animals cost him a fortune.

 

****

 

After a busy day of work Roberts returned to the farmhouse slightly earlier than usual.

 

“Ahem,” he coughed, trying to get McAllister attention. The farmer ignored him. “I’ll be off, then. Merry Christmas.” said Roberts, leaving a small neatly wrapped package on the table.

 

McAllister didn’t look at it or open it.  Sentimental idiot he thought.  The only ones who enjoyed Christmas were the supermarkets who were able to charge exorbitant prices for things no-one would buy most of the year.  He opened a tin of soup and emptied it into a bowl.  There was no need to heat it, it was already cooked in the tin.  Microwaves cost too much money to run.  As he spooned the cold soup into his mouth, his phone beeped.  Who on earth would contact him? Today of all days? He picked it up and looked at it.  The phone was registering a missed call from Catherine…

 

McAllister turned pale as he stared at the phone. That couldn’t be right. She was dead.

 

“You’re dead,” he said to the phone. Anger built up in his chest. It was probably kids pranking him. Some stupid yobbo from the village. Well, they didn’t scare him. He continued eating the soup. The phone rang making him jump. It was Catherine.

 

“Hello?” McAllister voice trembled slightly.

 

There was no-one there.  He threw the phone against the wall in frustration.  He must have been imagining it.  Or maybe the soup was off.  He turned off the kitchen light and made his way up the stairs to bed.

 

The curtains in the bedroom were flapping wildly. That’s odd, McAllister thought, I don’t remember leaving the window open. He went to close it but it was already fastened tight. The room felt cold and McAllister looked around nervously.

 

“Who’s there?” he asked in a quavering voice.

 

“Michael? Michael?” A ghostly voice echoed around the bedroom. “Are you there? I can’t see you. Help me, Michael, help me! I’m lost and I can’t…” The voice faded away.

 

“Bah!” he blurted out, but he kept the light on when he climbed into bed.

 

A loud bang awoke him.  The lightbulb had blown.  It was pitch black.  “Humbug…” he muttered.  “It’s all in your head, McAllister.  Go back to sleep.”

 

“Michael?”  At the end of is bed there was an apparition.  His wife, blue and translucent, looking sad, tired, and drawn.  Gasping, he shuffled up the bed away from her, pulling the sheets around him.

 

“Go away, wretch! Leave me!” McAllister cried out, flinging a hand over his eyes. Nothing happened yet the peculiar blue light remained, so he peeked through his fingers. His wife, if it was his wife, looked at him while a tear ran down her cheek. “Catherine?”

 

“I’m stuck, Michael. Help me, please. Help me.” With a thin wail, she began to fade away.

 

“Wait! Wait, tell me what can I do?” McAllister tried to scramble out of his bed but became caught up in the bedsheets and tumbled to the floor. A voice sounded in his ear, so close, yet there was nobody there.

 

“Tonight, Michael. Tonight you will be visited. Please accept the visitors, it is the only way I will find peace.”

 

“Catherine! Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me!” he wailed, fighting to be out of the sheets.  “I will!  I will accept anyone you want, just please don’t leave me again!”

 

When he finally freed himself and looked for his wife, she had disappeared. “Catherine?”

 

A small light began twinkling outside the window. Getting closer and closer. McAllister threw up a hand, crying out in alarm as it crashed through the pane, shattering glass everywhere. The light grew brighter and brighter until he could no longer look and he closed his eyes in pain. Suddenly, the light went out. McAllister felt a warm snout nuzzling his hand on the floor. He risked a look and saw a badger wreathed in golden light.

 

“Ahhhhhhhhhh!” He yelled and tried to scramble away.

 

“Michael,” the creature spoke. “Be not afraid, you have been expecting me.”

 

“What the?” he grabbed a shoe and began to thwack at the badger on the floor.  It rolled its eyes.  The shoe went straight through it. So McAllister started groping around for other items to fling.

 

“I am the Badger of Christmas past,” it informed him, when he’d finished throwing things at it. “I am here to save you from your future, by showing you your past.”

 

“I know my past, thank you very much!” McAllister gave up on attacking the badger and folded his arms defiantly.

 

“You have forgotten where you came from.  Now, touch my back, and you may fly.”

 

“I’m not touching you. Filthy vermin.”

 

The badger looked sad for a moment before clamping it’s jaws around McAllister ankle. “So be it,” the ghost said thickly, beginning to drag the man towards the broken window.

 

“Ahhhh!” shouted McAllister, desperately trying to grab hold of anything to stop himself from moving without avail. He could feel his body lifting, looking at the ghost badger he saw it was floating out of the window, taking his foot with him. “Ahhhh!”

 

“Oh do be quiet!” The ghost badger sniped, letting go of McAllister ankle.

 

McAllister hung suspended in mid-air for a short moment before gravity caught up with him and he began plummeting to the ground. He landed in a pile of snow.

 

“Wait,” he said as he sat up and brushed snow out of his face.  “I know this place!  I was at school here!  This is where I went to school!  I know those children!” he pointed at a group of children, playing with a ball.  “You there!  Hello!”

 

“They cannot hear you,” the badger explained.  “They are but memories.”

 

“What’s the point of that?” McAllIster grumbled.

 

“Do you not remember what happened today? Watch.” The badger pointed to the crowd of children who had clustered around something in the snow. It was an injured rabbit. McAllister watched a younger self push through the children and gently gather the creature into his arms.

 

“I took it to the infirmary,’ he said quietly. “The nurse wasn’t going to do anything, but I begged her.” He harrumphed loudly. “I don’t see what this has to do with anything.”

 

The badger smiled and nudged him in the back of the knees sending him tumbling down the mound of snow. When he reached the bottom he was sitting outside a village hall. Christmas music was blaring from inside.

 

“I know this. This is where… this is where I met my Catherine.” McAllister cast he gaze left and right. “Yes, look! There she is. Isn’t she stunning? She’s about to run over a dog, bless her.”

 

There was a squeal of brakes as a car barrelled around the corner and skidded to a stop outside the hall. Young McAllister came running outside, followed by half a dozen or so friends.

 

“It was ice!” A young woman of about eighteen scrambled out of her car and hurried to the front.  “I tried to brake!  It was the ice!” Tears were streaming down her face.

 

“It’s alright,” McAllister moved forward to the crying woman, but of course she couldn’t hear him.

 

“I’ve got this,” a lanky young man in drainpipe jeans pushed through the group and knelt by the dog. “It’s alright, I’m a vet, I’ll need to take him in right now, if he’s to have any chance!”

 

“Oh, please do!  I’ll pay whatever it costs!” Catherine pushed tears out of her eyes.

 

“No charge,” the young man laughed. “It’s Christmas.”

 

“He was such a good man,” McAllister said to the badger. “Damn cancer took him. Leaving that damn girl who looks so much like him…” he swallowed hard.

 

“But I’ll tell you what,” the young man continued as he scooped up the dog. “You could drop my brother home, I’m his lift.”

 

“Of course,” Catherine nodded eagerly.

 

“Mike!” he called.

 

“Hi!” Young McAllister held out his hand for her to shake. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink, it must have been a horrible shock.  I’m Mike.”

 

“Catherine.”

 

The scene dissolved into snowflakes, blurred by the tears in McAllister eyes. He realised he was back in his bedroom. The window pane unbroken, no glass upon the floor. His bedsheets were neatly laid upon the bed. It was as if nothing had happened. He looked around the room for the ghost badger but there was no sign.

 

“Hmm, must be indigestion,” he said softly. He climbed back into bed and was soon snoring gently.

 

McAllister awoke to a great weight upon his chest and a strong odour causing him to choke. With bleary eyes, he tried to focus on what was in front of him. A badger was sitting on him and it’s tail was tickling his nose.

 

“Argh!” McAllister attempted to cry out but quickly choked at the awful smell.

 

The badger turned around on McAllister.

 

“I am the ghost of Christmas present.”

 

“You farted! In my face!”

 

“Consider it your Christmas Present!” the badger rolled off him, releasing another squelching sound as it did. “More than you deserve, I must say!”

 

“What?” McAllister struggled to wake up and focus against the noxious gasses that were enveloping his senses. “What do you know?”

 

“I know only the present,” The badger produced a slug from nowhere and began to masticate pronouncedly.  “And your present isn’t pretty, my friend, but you know that, so I’m not going to show it to you.  Instead I’m going to show you some other presents, some compassion, and things a grumpy old git like you misses out on, especially at this lovely time of year. Hang on.”

 

The badger shoved its tail towards McAllister’s face, making him cry out and throw his hands up in alarm. Remembering what happened last time, the farmer held on to the badger’s rump as the two of them sank through the bed and rather alarmingly ended up in the kitchen below. Their descent didn’t stop there as with a noise of happy yapping the badger continued to sink, taking McAllister into the ground. Soil was rushing past them, making it hard for McAllister to see or breathe. Then they stopped abruptly.

 

It was Roberts, at least it was his head and hands. He was talking softly to the female badger that lay on the far side of the sett. She had two cubs suckling but a third, smaller one lay to one side, mewling softly.

 

“If it’s alright with you, I’m going to take young Tiny here with me.” He was speaking in a low, calm tone. “He’s sickly, but don’t worry. I know a very nice vet who will take a look at him. We must have hope, Mrs. Badger. It is Christmas after all.”

 

“What is that idiot doing?’ muttered McAllister.

 

The badger farted in response, and in the tiny confined space, McAllister thought he might suffocate.  When he opened his eyes he found himself in a tiny shabby looking kitchen.  The curtains on the window were threadbare, and the furniture dilapidated.  The rickety front door that looked like it had been taken from a stable creaked open and Roberts hurried in.  He took a reusable shopping bag from under the sink and began to fill it with straw.

“I bet he stole that straw from the cowshed,” McAllister muttered.

 

“Do you not notice the state of the furnishings, or how empty the shelves are?” the badger asked pointedly.

 

“Seems perfectly adequate to me,” McAllister muttered.

 

Roberts pulled out an old mobile phone and began to dial.

 

“Um… hello?” He sounded very awkward.  “I’m so sorry to bother you on… Oh, well a Merry Christmas to you too, yes!  No, I don’t want to tear you away, I was just wondering if you had any advice.  You see, the little chap is very cold, and he’s not taking the teat.  No… I… well… no, it’s just me, but I have some soup.  Oh, I couldn’t… really… Well, if you insist…”

 

He hung up looking awkward.  He stared down at his boots.  One had a hole in the toe. He rubbed the other boot on the back of his trouser leg. It did little to improve their apperance. Roberts ran a hand through his hair and puffed out his cheeks.

 

“This isn’t helping, Tiny,” Roberts muttered and collected the makeshift bed, hurrying back to the sett.

 

“Rather good of him, don’t you think?” The ghost badger scratched vigorously at his left ear. “Come on.” And he clamped his jaws around McAllister ankle.

 

“Argh!” McAllister shook the badger, trying to dislodge him but it only made the ghost laugh. As he let go of the man, he spat sideways. “They’re perfectly clean,” bristled McAllister turning to see where the dickens they’d ended up.

 

It was Fiona’s kitchen. Lights blazed as she bustled, preparing several different dishes for her traditional Christmas Eve feast.

 

“Huh,” commented McAllister. “She invited me to this. What a waste of food.”

 

“Nothing will be wasted here,” the badger said firmly.  Sitting around Fiona’s feet staring up at her were three dogs, two cats and a rabbit.  Any food that was inadvertently or deliberately dropped was immediately snaffled.  The badger made its way into the main living area, and McAllister followed.  There were several people, smartly dressed for the occasion standing around drinking wine and chatting.

 

“Fi, would you come on?” A woman called from the group.  “We want to play a game, stop stirring the turkey or whatever, I’m sure it’s fine!”

 

“Alright, alright,” Fiona laughed, coming in and taking a mince pie from the plate on the coffee table.  “What are we playing?”

 

“Guess Who, of course!  Bill’s been working up a character list all afternoon. There’s some famous people and some not so famous people.” The woman produced a shopping bag and held it open.  “Pull out a piece of paper,” she instructed.  “On there is the name of a person, and words you aren’t allowed to use to describe them!  Who’s going first?” She asked gleefully.  The prospect of the game clearly excited her.

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2!

 

Copyright C H Clepitt & Claire Buss 2019

The badger turned around on McAllister.

“I am the ghost of Christmas present.”

“You farted! In my face!”

“Consider it your Christmas Present!” the badger rolled off him, releasing another squelching sound as it did. “More than you deserve, I must say!”