Yuletide Tales A Festive Collective, Page 1The Indie Collaboration
The Indie Collaboration Presents
A Festive Collective
A diverse collection of stories showcasing some of the best indie authors on the market. Filled with heart-warming romance, mysterious humor, sinister, supernatural thrills and tearful sorrow, this anthology has something for everyone. So snuggle up with a warm glass of mulled wine and join us for the festivities, while we lift your spirit, tickle your fancy and rattle your bones.
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Cover Art by Book Birdy Designs
Thank you for downloading this free e-book. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the authors, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy. Thank you for your support.
The Indie Collaboration grew out of a group of like
minded independent authors. Together, we decided to
show the world how great works of fiction can be
created without the involvement of any large publishing
companies; creating a direct channel between ourselves
and our readers is of the utmost importance to us. Each
author has freely donated their time and work and are
committed to the Indie Collaboration's cause of:
Offering the best of indie authors
in bite size pieces for free.
We hope you enjoy our books.
Christmas Spirit by Sonya C. Dodd
The Best Gift Ever by Shemeka Mitchell
He Sees You When You're Sleeping by D.C Rogers
Peter's Wish by William O'Brien
The Spirits of Christmas by Peter John
Christmas Hope by Jim Murdoch
The Case of The Shiny Red Gift Box by Chris Raven
Gimpse by William O'Brien
The Perfect Gift by Carolyn Bennett
On Christmas Day by Alan Hardy
A Sacred Star by Sheryl Seal
True Heart by William O'Brien
The Christmas Heart by Kristina Blasen
This Christmas by Greatest Poet Alive
Secret Santa By Madhu Kalyan Mattaparthi
Time To Go by William O'Brien
About The Authors
Also By The Indie Collaboration
Sonya C. Dodd
“I don’t see the point in us having a tree if we’ve nothing to put under it,” Jack sighed. It was the same every year and it didn’t get any easier saying no to Janice and their son, Tom.
Everything had been wonderful when he’d been in work. They could have had a Christmas tree in every bloody room then, if they’d wanted it. But then the crash had happened and slowly Jack had watched his world crumble around him.
He was thankful for his small family and it had been great, the way they hadn’t blamed him for anything but just accepted the change in their lifestyle.
Then, when the house was sold because they could no longer afford the crippling mortgage payments, neither of them had uttered a word against him when they’d moved out of town to live in the back of beyond where they could at least afford the meagre rent on their single-storey home.
Jack used the term ‘home’ loosely and was fully aware that it was the people inside who made a house a home; but this ramshackle dump, where the wind tore through the gaps between the window frames and brickwork, was not what he had envisaged for them.
Work was still elusive and he made money where he could, doing odd jobs for anyone who took pity on him. Swallowing his pride had come along with the house move and Jack knew he couldn’t afford to be proud if he was going to continue putting food on their table.
Now with Christmas approaching quickly, the shame and disappointment of not being able to give his family the kind of festive season they deserved was playing constantly on Jack’s mind.
He could see the disappointment in Tom’s face whenever an advertisement came on the television for the latest toy or gadget. The screen seemed to be permanently ablaze with colourful scenes and a chorus of carols or festive songs.
Aged eleven, Tom was acutely aware of what was going on around him and Jack could only admire his son’s dignified silence as he stopped himself from whining constantly as many others would have.
Losing sleep and patience, Jack knew his anxiety was all down to Christmas and he wished they could just sleep through the approaching holiday until it was all over and dull normality was resumed.
Jack looked at Janice’s hopeful face. He was sure she was aging before his eyes and knew it was down to the life he was responsible for presenting them with. He didn’t understand why she stuck it out with him. She was a beautiful woman and she would be quite within her rights to leave him, taking Tom with her to go and find a man who deserved them.
“I wish we could, honey, but it’ll only make it harder for Tom on Christmas Day if we have a tree sitting in here.” Jack looked around the tiny sitting room/kitchen. Despite Janice’s efforts to decorate the place when they had moved in, there was already evidence of damp on the walls and nothing prevented the curtains from swaying with the breeze coming in from the chilly December evening outside.
“We don’t mind about the presents,” Janice began quietly. “We’ve told you that. I just think it would cheer the place up a bit and make us a little more like everyone else.”
Jack snorted. “Like everyone else?” He looked at her incredulously. “Look around you, love, ‘cos this is what you’ve got to get used to. We are not like everyone else so a bloody tree in a pot isn’t gonna make us otherwise.”
Janice made a grab at her handbag, which was lying on the table, and pulled it resolutely over her shoulder. “Your self-pity is the worst thing, Jack. I think Tom and I have done a brilliant job of supporting you and all I’m asking for is a small token to help us celebrate along with everyone else. I don’t expect something like they have in Trafalgar Square and we’re not asking you for presents. Just get over yourself Jack and open your eyes to the world around you, before it disappears.”
For a moment Janice stood watching him, breathless; then she turned on her heel and Jack watched helplessly as she marched out of the house, slamming the door behind her.
He was stunned. Janice was always so calm and easy-going. Jack couldn’t recall when he had ever heard her raise her voice to him or Tom. Staring at the closed door, Jack struggled to take in his wife’s words.
Was that how she really saw him? Tom too? She’d made it sound as though they were both getting fed up with him. Would they really go? He shook his head slowly and let it drop onto his open hands.
He’d never been a bad person but Jack could only see their current state as something he’d brought upon them all. He was shocked to think Janice saw him as self-pitying. Okay, he knew his manliness had taken a pretty hefty knock with the length of time he’d been out of work now, and with the way they had been forced to live in this hell-hole; but Jack was aghast that his family might think of him as pitiful or worthless.
Slowly, Jack stood up and slipped his arms into the sleeves of his jacket. If he knew Janice, she’d be on her way to her mother’s now. Jack could picture the smug way his mother-in-law would greet her daughter in an ‘I told you so’ fashion, before pouring her a large glass of wine.
Janice had always been close to her mother, since her father had died when she was still a child, but there had never been any attempt by Janice’s mother to conceal her impression that Jack wasn’t good enough for he
r daughter. And now he’d finally managed to prove she had been right all along.
However, Jack wasn’t going to let Janice and his son just walk out of his life without a fight. He might not be able to give them much, but if it was a tree Janice wanted, then it would be a tree she would get.
Pulling his beanie down over his ears and slipping his hands into his sheepskin gloves, Jack pulled the door shut and braced himself to face the cold night air.
The wind was biting and his cheeks were burning at once. Cursing under his breath, Jack stepped outside and pulled the door quickly closed behind him.
Hesitating, he looked around, listening to the silence and trying to formulate some plan of action which might get him back inside the relatively warm house as soon as possible.
Their house bordered a small plantation with a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees and Jack was sure the landowner wouldn’t miss just one small tree. He took his pickaxe from the shed and, with it slung over his shoulder, Jack climbed over the low wire fence, to go in search of something he could slay with his small axe.
Never having liked the idea of a real Christmas tree, Jack hated the sound of his axe striking the trunk of the feeble-looking pine tree. Of course, there was no way he could afford to buy an artificial one but he couldn’t rid himself of the feeling he was murdering this helpless specimen.
With the tree lying murdered on the ground by his feet, Jack picked up the severed end and dragged it behind him, back to the house.
In the dim light of the yard he looked down at the tree and realised he’d need something to stand it in if he was going to have it ready for when Janice got home. Returning the axe to the shed, Jack rummaged around in the dark until he discovered an old, plastic bucket.
Just as he was closing the shed door, Jack thought he heard a sneeze. He looked around him: Did foxes sneeze? He wondered.
With the bucket and tree in hand, Jack dismissed the sound and went inside. It was then he realised he needed some soil in the bucket to support the tree. He leant the tree in the corner of the room and took the bucket back outside.
This was going to be fun, he thought, tapping a spade against the solid, frozen ground. Just as he struck the ground again, this time with a little more force, Jack heard a sneeze again.
He looked round and called out: “Hello?”
There was no sound, not even a scurrying of small animal feet. All Jack could hear was the wind rustling in the trees and the distant buzz of traffic, heading in and out of the city.
As he raised his spade in the air, this time Jack heard the distinct noise of a human cough. The spade landed with a clatter.
“Who’s there?” Jack called, trying to sound braver than he felt.
Once more there was no response. Fed up with the build-up of events on an evening where he had assumed he’d be in front of the television with his wife, whilst their son was on a sleepover at a friend’s house, Jack marched into the kitchen and grabbed the torch from underneath the kitchen sink.
Outside again, he shone the flashlight around the empty yard. As he was about to turn the light off and return inside, Jack thought he ought to check the other side of the shed, just to put his mind at rest.
With the beam of light on the muddy ground, it was the dirty, battered black shoes, he saw first. Following the line of the body with his torch, Jack noted the sorry state of the black trousers covering the skinny legs. The rest of the body was hidden by the shed and Jack realised he was holding his breath as he slowly turned to view the figure.
The man was sitting on the hard, cold ground. He wore a black jacket, which had seen better days and his head was slumped forward. Glad he knew the man was alive from the sounds he’d made earlier, Jack hesitated.
His head was slumped forward and his face covered by the grey, shoulder length hair. Surprised he hadn’t already died of frost bite, Jack wondered how long the guy had been here, unnoticed.
“You okay?” Jack asked.
There was no reply but ever so slowly, the man raised his head until Jack was looking into the blackest pair of eyes he had ever seen. The pale skin and grey hair were quite a contrast to the black and were the only parts of the man which would have been visible if it hadn’t been for Jack’s torch.
Time seemed to stand still as they gazed at each other. Jack assumed he must be some vagrant, looking for a sheltered spot for the night. He realised he felt sorry for the guy. It was close to Christmas, freezing cold and this person looked too old and thin to be out in this bitter weather. Jack might have felt down and out himself, but he knew he was rich compared to this character.
“It’s gonna be a cold one,” Jack said, looking up at the starry sky as he spoke. “You’ll catch your death out here.”
The stranger’s eyes seemed to sparkle at the sound of Jack’s voice and a small smile crept onto his dry, narrow lips.
“Can I at least make you a hot drink?” Jack suggested. “It’s not much, but there’s a bit of stew left over from dinner too. We were going to have it tomorrow but you’re welcome to it.” He knew he was stuttering and talking too much, but Jack felt an overwhelming desire to help this man who looked even more unfortunate than he was.
As the man glanced around him, as if to find some way of getting himself up, Jack stepped forward and reached round his body to help him to his feet. Despite the large jacket, Jack could feel how thin the man was and how ill-prepared for the wintry night his clothes were.
Leading the way into the house, Jack indicated a chair for the man to sit in and set about making a mug of tea and warming the stew on the stove.
There was no conversation but Jack could sense the man watching him. It was strange how he felt nervous in his own home, under the scrutiny of this feeble visitor.
Then, with the steaming vessels on the table, it was Jack’s turn to watch as the man silently, but hurriedly, devoured both the food and tea. Jack smiled to see the pleasure such a small token could bring to another person.
“You take the chair by the fire now,” Jack told him as the spoon clattered into the empty bowl. “You look as though you could do with warming up.”
“Thank you,” the stranger replied as he shuffled from one chair to another.
Surprised by the softness of his voice, Jack tidied the remnants of the meal away, not wishing to bombard his visitor with too many questions at once.
When he was done, Jack took a chair opposite the man and they eyed each other in silence.
After a while, despite the easy air, Jack felt he should say something. “Do you come from around here?”
“Here, there, everywhere,” the man replied lightly.
“A bit of a traveller?”
“You could say that.” Although his lips moved and there was light in his eyes, you would have thought he was a statue the way his body remained motionless and his face still, Jack noticed.
“I’m sure you could find better shelter in the city,” Jack said. “It can’t be right for a person to have to live rough when the temperature is this cold.”
“I don’t mind the cold,” the stranger replied. “Don’t feel it after a while.”
Jack shifted in his seat. The guy seemed harmless but there was something odd about him which Jack couldn’t put his finger on. Anyone else would have been chatting or huddled in front of the fire, which provided the only warmth in the room; but this guy was like a mannequin, happy to accept Jack’s hospitality yet giving nothing of himself away.
He didn’t feel threatened in any way by the stranger but Jack felt as if he was under scrutiny.
“Look, I’ve got to do something with this tree,” Jack said, nodding at the forgotten Christmas tree in the corner; “but you’re welcome to remain by the fire if you’d like.”
The stranger smiled and closed his eyes.
Laughing quietly to himself, Jack got up and went outside to fetch the bucket. It took him quite a while to get enough soil into the pail before he returned into the house. By th
e time he did, he was sweating from the effort and he saw his guest was sleeping peacefully in the chair.
Even as Jack moved around the room, putting the tree in its resting place and organising the chairs around their new centre-piece, the man seemed oblivious to his presence.
Jack glanced at his watch. It was nearly eleven. It looked like Janice must be staying at her mother’s for the night, he realised. Feeling weary himself, Jack stretched and yawned. He chewed his lip as he surveyed his guest. There seemed no harm in letting him remain where he was. He looked incapable of murdering him in his sleep, so Jack left a lamp on in the corner of the room and took himself off to bed.
The following morning, when Jack woke up, the first thing he did was to stretch his arm out across the bed. Discovering he was alone, he sighed and opened his eyes, looking at the empty space where Janice should have been. Please don’t let her leave me at Christmas, he thought to himself miserably.
Just then he heard the sound of car brakes, followed swiftly by a closing door. Janice! Jack realised, her mum must have paid for a taxi.
Suddenly recalling his evening visitor, Jack leapt out of bed. He had no idea how his wife would react to seeing a random waif and stray sitting in their front room, but he was positive it wouldn’t be a great reception, even if the guy was still there.
He pulled on a pair of boxer shorts, grabbed his dressing gown and was just entering the sitting room as Janice appeared through the front door.
Their eyes met immediately but each remained silent as they took in their surroundings. At once Jack realised his guest was gone and quietly sighed in relief. But there was much more to be concerned about at that moment than what had happened to the man he’d given food and shelter to.
Whilst his thoughts were racing, Janice launched herself into his arms, knocking him backwards into the door in her enthusiasm. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down. I’m sorry I was such a bitch yesterday but how on earth did you manage all this on your own?”
Jack stood helplessly with his mouth open, unable to formulate any kind of explanation. Of course he was relieved Janice had come home and to be back in her good books, but he had no idea how to explain the transformation to their sitting room.
The tree he had brought in was decorated and seemed to have been given a new burst of life with the fairy lights and star on top. Underneath the tree was an array of presents taking up so much space, they were spilling into the room.