Merry Christmas, Simon by TygerTyger
Merry Christmas, Simon
Working with the general public was horrible at the best of times, but at Christmas it sank into a whole new category of misery. Whoever said, “Peace and goodwill to all men,” had obviously never worked in a busy record shop in December. And the real loonies always seemed to gravitate towards Abbie’s till. Why was that?
So far this afternoon, she’d had the woman who wanted to pay for fifty pounds’ worth of stuff in five and ten pence coins. She’d had the suit wanker, yapping on his mobile throughout the whole transaction, and then throwing his credit card at her like she was his slave. She’d had the idiot looking for a discount because he was paying with cash. And now, a couple who were in the middle of a row were walking straight towards her. Just great.
The woman said something that Abbie couldn’t hear, to which the man replied, “I told you, River, the sonic won’t work. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”
By the looks of things, the woman–River–didn’t agree with that last statement, and she gave the man a dark look, which he ignored.
He glanced at Abbie’s nametag. “Hello, Abbie. Lovely name.”
God, she hated when customers addressed her by name like that. River rolled her eyes in a way Abbie wished she could do herself.
The man continued. “I’m the Doctor.”
He paused then, probably waiting for a reaction that Abbie wasn’t going to give. She’d dealt with enough nutters to know not to encourage them.
“Anyway,” he said after a couple of seconds, “I was wondering if you had any recordings of children screaming in stock?”
That was unexpected.
“I’m sorry?!” Abbie said.
“You know, screaming in terror, crying for their mothers, that sort of thing?”
Abbie glanced at the woman next to him, who, to her credit, looked mortified and was eyeing the door. Abbie let her finger creep under the countertop and rest on the manager call button. “Um, we don’t stock anything like that.”
“You wouldn’t by any chance know where I might find something like that? We need it for a… thing.” He scratched his cheek.
Abbie hammered the call button.
River grabbed him by the elbow. “Come on, you bloody idiot.”
“I’ll tell you when we get out of here.”
* * *
For the rest of her shift, Abbie couldn’t stop thinking about the strange couple and what they might be up to. She shuddered at the thought of what they needed those recordings for. Creeps. And what if they couldn’t get a recording? Would they go looking for the real thing? She wondered if she should call the Rosenstocks and make sure Simon was okay, but she knew they’d just make her feel like a stupid child for even thinking about worrying.
When her shift ended, she braced herself for the night air. It had snowed a few days previously and there was still melting slush everywhere. She supposed it would have helped if she’d worn a coat to work, but no. That would have been too much like a good idea, wouldn’t it? She cursed as the melt water seeped into her canvas trainers for the second time that day, and made her way to the child-minders’.
Simon was ready to go as usual, and Abbie shouted in the door, “Thanks missus Rosenstock!”
The reply was shouted from somewhere inside. “Don’t forget you need to pay for Christmas in advance!”
“I won’t!” Abbie yelled, and then muttered to herself, “I’m not an idiot, you old bag.”
“You shouldn’t call names, Mum.” Simon looked up at her and wiped his nose in his sleeve.
“You weren’t supposed to hear that. And please, Simon, don’t call me Mum. You know I hate it, and I’m starting to think you’re doing it on purpose.”
Simon just shrugged, and they made their way back towards the bus stop.
“So, how was everything today?“
“Molly and Rebecca were teasing me again. It was okay, though. I know it’s not my fault I don’t have a dad.”
“You do have a dad. You know that.”
“Don’t give me that. You’re seven; what do you know?”
Simon watched his feet as they trudged on through the slush, and Abbie felt suddenly awful. She shouldn’t have said that, but she never could stop her mouth on time. She really thought by the time she was in her twenties she’d feel like a grown up, but really she still felt like the idiot 15 year old she was when Simon was born.
“Sorry,” she said after another minute.
“It’s okay.” Simon sniffed and rubbed his nose in his coat sleeve again. “Do you think if I ask Santa, would he be able to get Dad to come and see us?”
Abbie sighed. “I don’t think it works that way.”
Simon was saying something else, but Abbie wasn’t listening. Her stomach had just sunk at the sight of the strange couple from earlier, on the other side of the road and walking towards the playground. She grabbed Simon by the hood and shushed him.
The woman, River, was pleading with the man who’d called himself the Doctor. “Why can’t we just go and capture one of its prey and bring it here?”
“I’m not leaving here without it,” the Doctor said, clearly irritated, “and besides, it would be barbaric to use live prey. Nobody needs to get killed.”
“No one else, you mean.”
The Doctor ignored this and vaulted the low fence, leaving River to enter the playground through the small gate.
Abbie didn’t dare take her eyes off them. “Stay here, Simon. I’ll be right back.”
“No way. I’m going with you. I heard what they said about killing. I’m not ready to be an orphan.”
“I told you already. You wouldn’t be an orphan.”
Simon crossed his arms and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Abbie hadn’t the energy to argue with him, so she groaned and dragged him across the road by the arm.
Keeping River’s mad curly hair in her sights, Abbie followed them into the playground. The coarse woodchip almost tripped her, and she let her eyes leave her target for a split second. That was all it took. They’d disappeared, like they’d walked off into thin air.
She stopped in her tracks. “Where did they go?”
Simon stood next to her and shrugged.
* * *
If he knew Abbie–and he did–they were going to be here for a while, so Simon decided to have a turn on the swings. He huffed out a fogged breath in the damp night air as he tramped across to the swing set. The seat was wet, but he didn’t care, and he hoisted himself up.
As he swung he could see Abbie muttering to herself and looking around. Simon sighed. He’d be hearing about this for the next week now. Why couldn’t she just let things go?
He pumped his legs harder and looked off into the trees rather than watch his mother drive herself mad trying to solve the mystery. Even though it was dark, he could still make out their bare limbs in the orange streetlights.
On the second upswing he noticed something weird. Like a goat leaning its front hooves against a tree. He’d heard about tree-climbing goats, but he was pretty sure there weren’t any in Wales. He pumped his legs even harder to get a longer look on the next upswing.
That was a mistake.
The thing–because it definitely wasn’t a goat–turned its flat face and looked directly at him with glowing red eyes.
His legs stopped dead beneath him and a scream burst out of him as he fell backwards off the swing and onto the ground with a thump.
* * *
One moment, Abbie was trying to figure out how the couple could have disappeared, the next Simon was screaming bloody murder behind her. She swung around on the spot to see him on the ground beneath the swings. Before she could come to any conclusion as to why he was screaming, or start moving towards him, the mystery couple were jostling past her.
Her blood ran cold, and she started after them to somehow stop them from whatever they were going to do to him.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up,” the Doctor was repeating as he raced across the woodchip with River in pursuit, drawing a gun from a holster at her hip. Abbie tripped, but scrambled to her feet, her heart in her throat.
Then as her eyes fixed on Simon, she saw someone, or something, come from the trees, scoop him up, and bundle him inside its coat.
“No!” the Doctor shouted, reaching out uselessly after whatever took Simon as it disappeared back into the trees.
River had been aiming her gun, but dropped it without shooting.
Abbie felt like fainting, but instead she gathered all the energy she had left, ran at the Doctor and thumped him as hard as she could, over and over. Her language left her and all she could do was scream incoherencies at him. Then River’s hands were on her, turning her around and shaking her by the shoulders.
“Abbie, Calm down!”
Abbie tried to fight her way out of River’s superhuman grip, and just as she thought she’d accomplished it, River’s hand collided with her cheek in a loud stinging smack. Abbie fell to her knees on the damp woodchip and started to sob.
“I’m sorry,” River said as she shook out her hand.
The Doctor knelt down. “Abbie, that thing has taken your son–”
“Simon.” She huffed his name out between sobs.
“That thing has taken Simon,” the Doctor said. “It’s my fault it’s here, but I promise you we’ll get him back before it eats him.”
Abbie felt a scream try to tear out of her chest, but all that came were louder sobs.
River shook her head at the Doctor, and then crouched next to him. “Abbie, come back with us and we’ll explain. Okay?”
“Okay,” Abbie said, not knowing what else to do.
* * *
Abbie sat on a comfortable leather chair and cradled a cup of sweet tea in her hands. She normally preferred coffee, but there was something about the tea that was helping a bit. She wondered if it might be drugged. Not just because she was feeling better, but the fact that she’d walked through an invisible door and ended up in a strange room that seemed to sing to her from inside her own head.
River and the Doctor were standing with their backs to an odd sort of octagonal table in the middle of the room, regarding Abbie very seriously.
Abbie took another sip of the tea. “What was that thing?”
“You’ve heard of the Krampus?” the Doctor said.
Abbie drew a blank.
“Okay, maybe not,” the Doctor said. “German folklore. Began in the 1800s. Santa brought the gifts to the good children, the Krampus took the naughty ones away and, well, ate them.”
Abbie’s jaw tightened. “Simon is a good boy.”
“You know these myths–a kernel of truth that gets embellished. You lot love frightening your offspring into behaving, so when something comes along that’s eating children, you use it to scare the life out of the ones not eaten.”
“Humans,” River said, “and he’s really one to talk about frightening children with folktales.”
“Wait, you mean he’s not human? He’s like that thing?”
“Not like that thing. Well, not entirely. Both alien to earth, but from completely different parts of the universe.” River said.
“I’m nothing like that thing,” the Doctor said, eyeing River. “I’m the polar opposite of that thing.”
“You told me it was your fault, Doctor,” Abbie said.
“Yes, I’d tracked it down in the Black Forest, and was trying to take it home, but we somehow ended up here instead of on its planet. And before I could check if we’d landed in the right place, it had taken off.”
“I told you to use the environmental scanner,” River said, crossing her arms.
“I thought you had it locked up in the pantry,” the Doctor’s voice slipped up half an octave.
“Pretty difficult when the pantry doesn’t have a door anymore.”
“Can you both shut up, please?” Abbie said, losing patience with their bickering. “My kid is missing. How are we going to find Simon?”
Both River and the Doctor looked sheepish. “See, the thing is,” the Doctor said, “we were looking for the recordings in your shop earlier to lure it back here. Into the TARDIS.”
“Can we try that now? I mean we can get one of Simon’s friends…”
The Doctor was already shaking his head. “It’s too late for that now. The Krampus only needs to feed once a year, and then it hibernates. It has what it wants now. It won’t respond to the screams any more.”
Abbie put her hand over her mouth feeling like she might scream herself, but only silence escaped her lips.
The Doctor put his hand out. “Don’t worry; time is on our side. It’ll sedate him first as it makes its nest. The Krampus produces a nasty toxin that keeps its prey placid and quiet until it’s ready to eat.”
“Haven’t you ever heard of sugar-coating?” Abbie said.
“I’ve heard of it, yes. I just don’t see the point of it. Wouldn’t you prefer to know exactly where you were headed, rather than go into things blind?” The Doctor and River shared a lingering look.
“I suppose,” Abbie said. “So what are we going to do?”
The Doctor stood away from the table. “We’re going to find its lair.”
* * *
Abbie watched the Doctor as he examined the ground around the souterrain by pointing a funny little torch at it. It wasn't giving much light, and it was making an awful of a lot of noise. She hoped the sound wasn't going to get on the Krampus’ wick as much as it was getting on hers.
He'd asked about local caves when trying to figure out where the thing might have brought Simon, but all Abbie could come up with was the souterrain with its underground stone passages. She used to come here with Christopher when they wanted to be alone. They used to lie on a blanket in the entrance of one of the tunnels, and he'd tell her of all his plans for university, and how he was going to be a doctor, and how they'd live in a great big house. She almost believed him sometimes.
The Doctor's torch whined, and Abbie flinched.
"He's checking the entrances," River said, as the Doctor sidestepped around the corner and out of view. "He's looking for one deep enough to lead into the central chamber."
"Sorry. I'm just feeling edgy."
"That's understandable," River said, and plucked a long blade of grass from the ground next to her.
River almost seemed like a normal person. The Doctor was weird, like in a completely obvious way, but River, she could pass for a regular human being. She could be living next door, and you'd never know there was anything odd about her.
She smiled gently at Abbie. "The Doctor hates death. He'll avoid it at all costs. He’ll save Simon. And the Krampus, too, if he can."
Abbie shuddered at the thought. "Why does it eat kids?"
River shrugged. "They're roughly the same size as its natural prey, and they sound the same. To it at least."
"If it’s an alien, how did it get to Germany in the first place?"
"It was probably a stowaway on a space craft that visited earth."
"How is that possible? I thought you said it's been here since the 1800s?"
"That's right," River said with a grin.
Abbie could hear the sound of the Doctor's torch starting again in the distance, and she wished he'd hurry up.
"Don't worry," River said, practically reading her mind. "It won't feed until it's got itself nice and cosy for the big sleep. It'll wait until sunrise too, to make sure its chosen den is not occupied in the daytime. The last thing it wants is to be disturbed mid..."
Abbie, knowing how the sentence was supposed to end, gulped. Opting to change the subject rather than dwell on the fact that her child was in the clutches of a hungry alien, she turned to River.
"You and the Doctor?"
"Yes?" River said, toeing the grass.
"Do you have children?"
River's smile looked almost sad. "No. We don't."
"Would you like to have some one day?"
River turned her face away, and Abbie got the impression that she was trying to hide whatever emotion the question had brought up. "I'm sorry," Abbie said, "That was rude. I don't know when to keep my trap shut. Simon is always telling me that."
"It wasn't rude," River said with a slight smile. "I don't think mine and the Doctor's lifestyle is compatible with family somehow. It's trouble enough looking after ourselves most of the time."
"I know what you mean. Sometimes I wish I'd given Simon up for adoption like my Mum had wanted me to. I mean, who would want me to be their mother? Seriously, I'm just a kid. I'd bet if someone else had him now, he wouldn't be stuck down some dingy souterrain about to be eaten by some horrible… thing." She heard her voice thick and felt a hot tear streak down her cheek. She palmed the tear away and sniffed.
"You're not a child, Abbie. And Simon's not going to be eaten. Trust me."
Abbie nodded, not able to trust herself to speak without crying. She wanted to trust River, she really did, but she had a growing dread that maybe it was already too late.
A loud, “Psst!” came from the other side of the souterrain, and Abbie looked up to see the Doctor waving to them.
"Come on," River said, cocking her head in the Doctor's direction.
* * *
The first thing that struck Abbie about the souterrain, after ducking down and stepping in, was the stench. It filled her nose and clung to the insides of her nostrils. "Ugh," she said, suppressing the heave of her stomach and opting to breathe through her mouth.
"Krampus secretions," the Doctor whispered. "At least we know we're in the right place."
"It stinks," Abbie said and pinched her nostrils shut. "I think I can taste it."
River put a finger to her lips and looked seriously at Abbie before crouching under the low ceiling and venturing down the passageway.
Abbie moved to follow, but the Doctor held her shoulder and whispered to her. "The Krampus is almost completely blind, but it has an advanced sense of hearing. We have to be as quiet as possible if we're going to sneak past it."
Abbie nodded up at him, and she thought he was about to follow River down the tunnel, but he stopped again and put his lips back next to her ear. "And it can't smell a flipping thing. If it worked in an office, it would get industrial strength deodorant in the Kris Kringle."
The Doctor let go of her shoulder and loped off down the tunnel after River. Abbie shook her head. So much for little green men.
Abbie followed them down the passageway, putting a hand to the stone ceiling to make sure she didn’t accidentally crack her head open in the darkness. She watched as the Doctor lit his torch silently and stood up straighter next to River. Abbie ducked under the final stone and stood with them in what must have been the souterrain’s central chamber. It was lit green by the Doctor’s torch, and Abbie shivered as she looked around at the bare stone walls.
The Doctor put one hand up in front of him, and the other back to cup his ear. Abbie stopped her breath and listened. There was an almost inaudible whimpering coming from somewhere nearby. It was Simon; she knew it. He was still alive.
Abbie felt her chest tighten, and she dashed forward, grabbing the torch from the Doctor’s hand and ducking under his arm to set off in the direction the sound was coming from. She could hear River muttering what sounded like a swear and the shuffling of their feet behind her as she stumbled through the passageway, still holding her breath to listen for the sound of Simon’s whimper getting louder.
She turned the torch on each corner and crevice in desperate search, until finally she found him heaped on the ground and shivering. Abbie sank to her knees and took his face in her hands. “Simon! Simon!” He wasn’t responding. He was still whimpering like a lost puppy, his eyes shut and his mouth slack. Abbie hauled him onto her lap and held him to her chest.
When River and the Doctor caught up they were out of breath and looked unnerved. The Doctor snatched his torch back out of Abbie’s hand and held it up. Then came a frightful groan that made the hairs on the back of Abbie’s neck stand on end. It seemed to be coming from all sides, vibrating the souterrain walls.
River unholstered her gun and cradled it in her hands. She looked up at the Doctor with wide eyes, and Abbie could see him swallow.
The next sound she heard was a gallop of hooves coming from the long passageway that led to the central chamber. The Doctor spun around and pointed his torch down the tunnel.
“It’ll kill them,” River said tersely.
The Doctor glanced over at Abbie and Simon and then back to River. “And you. If I just had another minute to think!”
River let her weapon point at the floor, but moved from foot to foot. The Doctor held his torch out and pressed a button that made it whine at a near deafening frequency. Abbie could hear the hooves slow, but they were still clip-clopping in their direction. River reached out and took the Doctor’s free hand and held it.
From the darkness, the Krampus’ face emerged into a bath of green torch light. Its eyes glowed like embers, and when it opened its jaws, its mouth was full of dripping teeth.
“Shoot it, River,” the Doctor barked. “Kill it.”
River released his hand, poised her gun and shot the Krampus. It fell into a heap on the floor of the souterrain. She holstered her gun again and came to crouch next to Abbie and Simon.
“It’s over now,” she said.
She sounded upset; Abbie was afraid to ask why.
The Doctor went to where the Krampus’ body lay. He knelt down next to it and placed a gentle hand on it. “I’m sorry.”
Abbie looked up at River to see her reaction, but all she could see was the Doctor’s torch reflecting in the sheen of tears in River’s eyes.
* * *
Abbie stroked Simon’s face as he lay sleeping on a huge soft bed in a gently lit room on the TARDIS. That’s what they called this place inside the invisible door, the TARDIS. This, she was told, was the medical bay, but there were no machines to monitor, no drips, not even a first aid kit. The TARDIS was discreetly monitoring Simon, the Doctor had told her. It would let them know if there was any problem.
Abbie heard the door ease open behind her, and River came in. “The Doctor’s just dropping the Krampus’ body back to its home planet. We’ll bring you home after.”
Abbie squinted at her. “Has he gone in his spaceship?”
River laughed. “This is the spaceship. You’re in it.”
“But we haven’t moved.”
“Yes we have. Six point eight light years in fact. It travels in time too, by the way.”
“Yup. We could take you and Simon for a spin before dropping you home if you want? Anywhere, anywhen.”
Abbie shook off her surprise. “Thanks, but I think I just want to get Simon home.”
River approached Simon’s bedside and stroked his hair. “How’s he doing?”
“It’s just like he’s sleeping.”
“Mm,” River said, staring intently at him.
Abbie recognised that look. She used to see it on some people when Simon was a baby. They’d look at him with longing, like they wanted their own version of him.
“I’m sure you’ll get to have a kid someday,” Abbie said. “You’d make a great mother.”
River’s eyes snapped to hers and held her gaze for a long moment. “I’ve never wanted children,” she said. “Growing up my friends always talked about becoming parents like it was an inevitability–and it was, generally, for them. Me, I hated the thought. A snivelling little brat hanging off me, tying me down… Sorry. No offense meant.”
“None taken. That’s exactly what it can be like sometimes.” She looked at Simon and felt guilty at her admission, and she kissed an apology to his forehead.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” River said quietly next to her. “I still feel the same way. I don’t want a child. But somehow, I want his child. Daft really.”
Abbie looked up and saw River shrug. “I can understand that. That’s probably most of the reason I wanted to keep him. I had no money, no A-Levels, but all I knew is that I wanted Christopher’s child. That little bit of him I was allowed to have.”
“Christopher’s Simon’s father? What happened with him?”
“He got into Medicine in Edinburgh. It was all he ever wanted, and I knew he wouldn’t go if I told him I was pregnant. So I didn’t tell him, and I broke up with him instead.”
“Where is he now?”
“I heard he’s working in a GP’s practice in Bath.”
“Maybe you should call him,” River said.
“And say what? ‘Hey, I’m sorry I dumped you, but I have this seven year old kid, and guess what, he’s yours, and do you want to meet up and maybe go to the cinema or something?’”
River grinned. “It’s a start.”
“Hm,” Abbie said. “And what about you? Aren’t you going to tell the Doctor that you want to have his baby?”
Abbie watched the smile fall out of River’s expression. “No,” River said.
“I’m human; he’s not. It’s not something that’s ever going to happen, so what’s the use in adding to his burden?”
Before Abbie could come up with a response, she heard Simon stir. His eyes opened a slit and he looked up at her and smiled. “Abbie.” His voice was a croak.
A rush of relief passed over her, and she stroked his cheek. “Call me Mum.”
“Let’s stick with Mum.”
Simon smiled again, and Abbie thought her heart might burst.
* * *
Abbie settled in next to Simon on the bed and they both fell asleep. There was something about the TARDIS that did it. Like it knew they needed rest, and it was going to make sure they got it. When she woke up, Simon was snoring as usual. She kissed his cheek and eased herself off the bed. She wanted to find River and the Doctor and apologise. She had been thinking about their reaction to the Krampus’ death and felt responsible.
She followed the corridor to its natural end and found herself in the same control room she had earlier sat in drinking sweet tea. She was on a balcony though this time, looking down at the octagonal table thing, which, upon seeing it again, was probably a control panel. She stopped walking when she noticed that River and the Doctor were standing on the far side holding each other. It seemed so intimate that Abbie didn’t want to interrupt, and she knew she shouldn’t be watching, but she couldn’t help herself.
River’s head was on his chest, and he had his chin propped on top, his arms in a silent caress around her. After a moment or two, he pushed her hair aside and took her face in his hands, before kissing her for what seemed like forever to Abbie.
Abbie felt a pang of sadness. She had sworn off men after letting go of Christopher. She thought it was the best way to protect herself and Simon. But the couple’s simple intimacy made her realise how much she wanted someone to hold her and make her feel like maybe things would be okay, even when that was impossible.
Deciding to leave them alone, she traced her path back to the med bay and climbed back into the bed to hold her sleeping, snoring son.
* * *
Abbie thanked the bus driver and stepped down off the coach with Simon trailing down the steps behind her.
“Mum, it’s Christmas eve. Do we really have to go and visit… Who is it again?”
“My aunt Margaret. You remember her?”
“Yes, Simon. We really have to go.”
Simon sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Abbie reached into her bag and pulled a tissue out for him.
Abbie held the address in her hand inside her pocket. She ran her thumb over the smooth paper. Was this happening too soon? She was never one to overthink though, and there was no use in trying to change now.
She peered about the bus station for a taxi rank. They could have walked from here–it was under a mile away–but the weather was wretched, and she didn’t want to be flustered when she arrived at the door.
She dropped her hand, and Simon took it. “Come on. Let’s go and ask at the information desk.”
They entered the high ceilinged bus terminal building and were met with the blast of the door heater and a tinny rendition of Jingle Bell Rock over the PA system.
“What’s your aunt Margaret’s deal anyway?” Simon said. “I mean, I need to be home and asleep for Santa. What if I don’t make it on time?”
“Simon, it’s midday. Please stop worrying.” Abbie led him across the smooth flecked tiles, avoiding suitcases, and legs, and people standing randomly everywhere. She spied the information desk and began to move in its direction, but stopped again.
“If you could ask Santa for anything, what would it be?” she asked.
“I’m pretty sure my choices are locked-in for this year Mum. Again. It’s Christmas eve.”
“Can’t you play along?”
“Fine. Wildest dreams. A dragon would be cool. And the other thing I can’t ask for because you’ll whine at me.”
“I won’t whine at you.”
“Okay then. I want to meet my dad.”
Abbie smiled and squeezed his hand as she watched Christopher come towards them, smiling too. “Merry Christmas, Simon.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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