A Perfect Christmas - By Lynda Page


The ragged man woke with a sudden jolt, sitting bolt upright, all his senses screaming danger at him. Urgently shaking off sleep, he fought to accustom his eyes to the dark as he looked around, trying to see what had woken him.

It might have been the drunken ravings of the group of tattered winos several yards away who huddled around a rusting brazier, kept going with anything they had been able to lay hands on. From the eye-watering stench and flares of black smoke spouting upward it was currently old lino and rubber tyres, the flames casting eerie shadows all around. It might have been the snoring or crying out in their sleep of those sheltering close by in their makeshift beds, or the religious maniac continuously reciting passages from the Bible in a fog-horn of a voice, completely ignoring the angry objections from those round about: ‘Shut the fuck up, for God’s sake, we’re trying to sleep.’ It might have been the scurrying and scratching of rats, some the size of cats, or flea-ridden stray dogs scavenging for scraps; the howl of the icy wind or the steady drips of water running down the crumbling brick walls to splash into puddles on the uneven ground below. But having joined the rest of the city’s unfortunates who had been reduced to seeking shelter inside the dank, gloomy railway arches, Glen Trainer was used to all these distractions.

His eyes came to rest on a shadowy figure lurking in a recess several feet away from him. Despite the murkiness of the dark winter’s night he knew it was a man – a tall one, apparently heavily built, but Glen was of the opinion it was the layers of threadbare clothes he was wearing that produced that impression – and that his eyes were fixed on Glen, weighing him up, planning to relieve him of anything of worth.

Under the holed brown blanket covering him, Glen flicked open the penknife he always carried close to hand. Since he’d arrived here not a single night had gone by without some sort of confrontation taking place, mostly over trivial matters. On his first night, in fact, he’d been powerless to prevent a pack of drink-crazed men from beating another virtually to a pulp, leaving him for dead, for the sake of the half-empty bottle of methylated spirits he was in the process of downing. The man would be dead now had not Glen carried him to the hospital for urgent treatment. Glen hadn’t seen him since and hoped the other man had more sense than to return here. He himself had been robbed several times in the past, and what possessions he’d managed to accumulate since could be contained in a small sack. No doubt most people would consider them worthless, but to Glen they were priceless and he wasn’t about to let this stranger steal them from him.

Taking a deep breath, he addressed the menacing shadow in a firm tone. ‘Look, I don’t drink, don’t smoke, and have nothing on me worth risking your life for. I do have a knife, though, which I will use if you give me no other choice.’ To prove his threat was no bluff, Glen withdrew his hand from under the blanket and held out the knife in such a way that light from the brazier glinted on the blade.

Despite this warning the other man moved not a muscle. Glen began to feel afraid. Had the man a weapon that would make his own penknife seem puny? There was no point in hoping any of the other inhabitants would come to his aid, he knew. Fear escalated as a terrible thought occurred to him. Would these breaths he was taking prove to be his last? His current way of life might be considered pretty worthless, but regardless he didn’t wish for death as the way out of it, and especially not in this hellhole of a place at the hands of a stranger. It was the coward’s way out but he knew that the only sensible thing for him to do would be to throw over his sack of belongings to the aggressor then make a run for it, hoping he didn’t give chase. As he made to pick up the sack and throw it over, however, to Glen’s shock the other man turned and strode off, disappearing into the depths of the arches, his tattered clothing billowing out behind him.

After a few moments had passed Glen exhaled in