Christmas was almost upon the Pigpimples School of Mystical Mayhem. The elves and goblins had decked the halls and strung the trees, and Professor Bumblebore, an exceptionally old and wise teacher, stood to address year five.
“Children, children,” his crooked hat nodded, his silver hair glistened in the candlelight – so obviously a wig. Someone sniggered – so obviously a goblin.
“The school has had to make cutbacks -”
“Sadly, the old folks’ Christmas hampers will not be as plentiful as previous years.” Between his forefinger and thumb was a tiny gift-wrapped box. He held it up and gazed forlornly round the room. “Instead of a hamper, each will receive one of these -” He pulled the ribbon and the box sprang open with a flourish of twinkling magic.
The crowd gasped.
In the third row, Bradley Blighter’s goblin nose twitched and saliva squirted into his cavernous mouth. Bradley smelled chocolate.
Professor Bumblebore emptied the little box into his palm. Bradley had been correct. Smacking his lips at the sight of the three wrapped chocolates; their papers so shiny red, he imagined the crinkling sounds they would make when unwrapped – the soft creamy goodness melting on his tongue – the joy, oh the joy.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t look like much,” Bumblebore went on. “But these chocolates are lovingly made here at Pigpimples by our very own kitchen witches.”
Bradley’s stomach grumbled. Next to him, Marcy Macey, who was an elf and glad not to have been born into a goblin body, prodded Bradley. “Shush!”
“Will not -”
“Will so -”
“Geeky goblin -”
“Dozy elf -”
“Enough!” Bumblebore boomed. “As I was about to say – `Love` is what Christmas is all about – not the size of one’s gift!”
All eyes were on Bradley and Marcy.
Bumblebore tutted. “You will form pairs. Collect your barrows from the kitchen and report to the gates for your list.” His audience murmured agreement. “Master Blighter and Miss Macey!” he pointed and Bradley flushed. “You two will pair up and deliver these gifts with great care, fondness, and above all – love! Are you capable?”
“Yes sir,” said Marcy.
Five minutes later, Bradley was heading the line at the kitchen door.
“Aren’t you putting a coat on?” Marcy arrived at his side in padded jacket and a pink hat with matching mittens. “You’ll freeze out there!”
“Er, no.” Bradley patted his belly. “Don’t feel the cold, me.”
“But it’s freezing. How can you possibly give out gifts with `love` when your green teeth are chattering and your knees are knocking?” She clasped her hands to her chest and let out a false laugh. “Oh I see, of course, how silly. Your knees won’t be knocking – they can’t – I apologise – I meant slapping!”
The sound of unsheathing bolts caught Bradley’s attention. The arched door swung inwards and sweet, chocolaty air floated out. He basked in it as the first wheelbarrow emerged. In the barrow was a large pile of small, gift-wrapped boxes.
Bradley fought the urge to dive in.
“Listen,” he said. “You’re right. You go and get the list while I get a coat. Meet you out front in twenty. That okay?”
Marcy looked pleased. “All right. I knew you were capable of seeing sense.” She marched away singing `good mornings` to any she passed.
Two minutes later, Bradley pushed the barrow into his room and bolted the door.
Ten minutes later, every box lay opened, every wrapper crinkled, every chocolate sniffed, licked, eaten, gone. Bradley groaned. The feast had been scrummy, but Marcy would not be happy if she found out. He thought and thought and thought, and maybe it was the rush of sugar to his head, but he came up with a cunning plan.
“About time,” Marcy said as he trundled into view. He’d rewrapped the empty gift boxes so the pile in the barrow looked the same. It was lighter though, so he’d be careful not to let Marcy push.
“You’ve forgotten your coat!”
“Oh, right. Never mind. I feel a bit sick, actually. Let’s get going -”
“Okay -” Marcy unfolded the list. “Oh,” her already pale face turned see-through and Bradley knew it was bad news.
The ancient witches of Broadbean Forest were renowned for their sick and twisted ways. This was the list everyone feared. At the first cottage, the old hag yelped in surprise as Bradley threw the box at her, before running like crazy with the barrow.
Marcy caught him up. “That was rude!”
“Hardly giving the gift with love, was it?”
“I’ll wish the next one a merry Crimbo -”
“Oh shut up -”
“I’m giving the next one,” Marcy exclaimed.
Bradley went silent, pushing the barrow on, thinking anxiously how to prevent Marcy from handling any of the boxes.
The next house was more a tower than a cottage. Blackened stonework played host to ivy crawling with bugs. Bare, buckled trees not bloomed in centuries made perfect perches for hundreds of crows. Hundreds!
“We should give this one a miss -” Bradley’s whisper came out squeaky.
“We shall do no such thing!” Marcy declared. The crows jumped and cawed before settling again. Those in higher branches dropped down and scuttled closer.
The front door creaked open.
“Now look what you’ve done!” groaned Bradley.
“Come in and be warmed by the hearth -” a fairylike voice called from within.
Marcy immediately obeyed.
Before Bradley could blink she’d disappeared through the doorway. Heart thudding, he picked up the barrow’s handles and followed her into the gloom.
The door slammed shut.
The witch before him, a twisted mass of warts and eyes, brought Bradley trembling in an instant.
“What’s that?” A skeletal hand shot from her ragged cape and pointed at the barrow of boxes.
“We have a Christmas gift for you,” said Marcy. “And we deliver it with love!”
Bradley wanted to puke. He couldn’t count her eyes, the old hag had so many, but he knew he had to make a run for it whether she spotted him or not. Almost at the door, the hag shouted, “Serpentia!” and something slimy lassoed his neck.
He and Marcy were going nowhere, both now restrained by coils of thick and very long black snakes. Marcy began to sob.
The hag picked a box from the pile. “What’s inside?”
“Ch – chocolate,” Marcy whimpered.
The hag’s many eyes lit up. Bradley thought she looked like an evil Christmas tree. “Ohhh, my favourite,” the hag said. “A sweet chocolate starter, followed by a crispy elfin main course – and a nice greasy goblin for dessert.”
What a cheek, thought Bradley, then he winced as her bony fingers began to pull at the ribbon.
“Please!” Marcy cried. “You’re only meant to get one gift – but if you let us go you can have the whole lot.”
The hag cackled, threw the ribbon over her shoulder and pinged the box with a black fingernail. The box flipped open and the witch recoiled as if she’d been thumped in the face. “What magic is this?” she scowled.
“M – magic? Only chocolates, ma’am. All we could afford.”
The serpents round them hissed and tightened. Bradley’s stomach contents were being squeezed back out, inching towards the hole they came in by.
The hag grabbed another box and stalked to the fireplace where a massive cauldron bubbled. She pulled the ribbon and the box sprang open. The hag shrieked and fell to the floor, all of her eyes gleaming pure evil.
“What the heck have you done?” whispered Marcy.
Before Bradley could reply, the hag was back at the barrow, peeling feverishly at the ribbons and screaming for chocolate. Boxes sprang like rattraps and the old witch ducked and dived and tumbled from repeated unseen punches.
“Ah!” a lightbulb ignited in Bradley’s head. He laughed out loud as the hag rolled among the snapping boxes. Steam was coming off her as she shrieked and cried and thrashed around the floor in obvious agony.
“Kisses,” said Bradley, smugly, as the serpent around him uncoiled and crumbled into dust.
“Kisses?” said Marcy as her serpent went the same way.
“Merry Christmas!” yelled Bradley as the witch’s eyes began to pop.
“You ate all the chocolates?” Marcy darted for the door.
“I loved them!” Bradley followed as the hag formed a smelly puddle. He remembered smacking his lips and kissing the air after each delicious chocolate was devoured and told Marcy this as they escaped into the forest.
“So your kisses landed in the boxes and you unknowingly wrapped them back up?”
“Erm, yes, exactly!”
“And because your love for chocolate was true love -”
“Yes. Love beats evil every time!”
Then Bradley threw up on Marcy’s shoes.
She thumped him on the nose.
He cried like a baby, for a while, and Marcy cursed and stomped until her shoes were clean. In the end they laughed and headed back to Pigpimples, and, until the forest cleared, they even held hands.