Kevin's Crazy Christmas: a festive short story by Jack McMasters - 12 Days of Clink Street Christmas

I'm delighted to be offering a very special treat for today's 12 Days of Clink Street post! Jack McMasters has very kindly written a festive short story for us to enjoy but first, here's the front cover and description of his book, Molly Fish

When retired architect Arthur Howard receives an unexpected invitation from the elegant businesswoman he has just met, her promise of two weeks of incredible sex is enough to persuade him to forget his stale marriage and follow her to India. Leaving thoughts of his younger wife Ester far behind, Rani leads Arthur into paradise; her home lies in a beautiful valley filled with quiet villages, tranquil lakes, tea plantations and crocus fields, a place where his every need is catered for and his attention sought wherever he goes.
But danger lies hidden here. Arthur discovers that Rani and the other villagers he meets in this rural Indian idyll are the descendents of an ancient civilization, thought to be merely mythical. From his contact with them, he succumbs to a mysterious illness that keeps him bedridden for a long period in a darkened room. Confused and stricken, Arthur’s days and nights are haunted by wild dreams; when he is unable to sleep, he reminisces about early love affairs and fears for his failing relationship with Ester until he is unable to distinguish dreams from reality.

Molly Fish is published by Clink Street Publishing and can be purchased here

Now, put your feet up and enjoy a fabulous short story...

Kevin's Crazy Christmas
by Jack McMasters

'What is this shit?' you asked yourself, 'how much did I fucking drink last night?'
It's almost impossible to turn your head; something is snarled up with it, caught up in your pillow. You try to reach up and untangle it, but your arm doesn't want to move in that direction.
The dim light coming through the drawn curtains makes your arm look a bit weird; all hairy and, well, dark brown. And your hand seems to be in cramp; you can't move your fingers.
You flail at your duvet, at the same time trying not to disturb Emily, but your hands can't grip it. You eventually manage to get out from under it by kicking at it as well. You try to sit up, but that doesn't work, so you roll over to get out of the bed and land on your hands and knees. Well, not exactly hands and knees, more hands and feet. You should have your bum awkwardly stuck up in the air, but your arms seem as long as your legs and it's a fairly comfortable level position.
You try to stand up, but your hips don't seem to bend right; your balance is all wrong. You have to see what the matter is, open the curtains, get some light in and look in the big mirror over Emily's dressing table. You have some difficulty in turning around and coordinating your arms and legs, but once started it feels quite normal. You reach the window, but you still can't stand up properly. You can't get your arm high enough to have any effect on the curtains and whatever is on your head seems fairly heavy, pressing your neck down.
What the hell had the lads done to you? This was some goddamn joke, wasn't it? Yeah, really funny, but it wasn't your stag night. That was years ago; last night was Christmas Eve. Since when do you play jokes on your mates on Christmas Eve? They'd better get themselves over here and get this undone. You still had presents to wrap and you needed to get it done before the kids woke up. Emily had asked you to stay in and help her put up the tree and you could have wrapped the three presents you'd managed to buy just before the shops shut yesterday, but no, it was Christmas Eve and you wanted to have a few drinks with your mates.
The thing on your head brushed against the curtains and you suddenly discover if you shake your head back and forth, you can use it to push the curtains to one side. 
The light out is not much brighter than the room had been with the curtains drawn; it's only a couple of days since the shortest day of the year and the pink, eastern horizon hints that the sun will not be up for some time. Still, it is some improvement, so you turn to look at yourself in Emily's dressing table mirror, to see what it is on your head.
Oh, very bloody funny; the lads had tied some goddamn antlers to your head. No, they don't look like fake antlers; they look very real and are enormous. You struggle to focus; to get the two images you can see when you look straight ahead, to come together. You seem to have lots of peripheral vision, but find it hard to see straight ahead. It isn't a mask, you actually have the head of a reindeer on you; how very Midsummer Night's Dream. Of course, whatsizname with the donkey's head didn't have to contend with these bloody antlers, did he?
You look down at your arms again, correction forelegs; you have actually changed into a fucking reindeer.
'Emily,' you shout; it comes out as a pathetic half-bleat, half-roar kind of sound, but has the desired effect. She rolls on to her back and sleepily rubs at her eyes. 
'Oh,' she says between yawns, 'you're up. I thought you'd sleep till noon, the state of you last night.'
'Emily,' you try again, perhaps a little more frantically with the same result, 'look at me.'
'Don't shout dear,' she says patiently, 'you'll wake the children. As long as you're up, why don't you go put the kettle on? I'll be down in few minutes to make breakfast.'
Not able to think of anything better to do you turn and try to leave the bedroom. Your antlers get caught on the doorframe, but by turning your head to one side, you manage to get into the hallway. The stairs though, will be another matter altogether. Each time you try to put one foot on the first step down, you feel decidedly off balance. After trying first one leg, and then the other, you decide to try both at once and you make a little hop. 
'Whooah,' that nearly topples you head over heels, correction head over hooves, but you tell yourself, 'in for a penny,' and make another little hop down another tread.
 'Not too bad,' you say this time and thinking your actions probably look more like a bunny rabbit than a reindeer; you manage to get to the turn at the bottom. The wedge and kite shaped steps present more of a difficulty and in trying to lean to one side to get your back legs around, you scrape off a sizeable chunk of wallpaper. You turn to look at the damage and feel your antlers tangle with something else. Looking up, you see that Emily has decorated the sitting room.
Garlands, if that is the right word; she was always correcting you when you asked if you could hang a wreath on the front door, 'They're garlands, dear; wreaths are for funerals,' but whatever these things are called, these things like little stacks of perforated red and gold foil that stretch out to long, ropey chains, are hung from each corner of the room to the light fixture in the centre. They turn your sitting room into something more like an Arabian princess's bedroom. They are usually hard enough to avoid when you're your normal self, but with this damned hat rack on your head you've pulled one completely from its fixings. You turn your head to try and free it, but another becomes entangled and too late, you hear Emily's footsteps on the stairs. 
'Oh Kevin,' she cries, not even trying to hide the disappointment in her voice, 'what are you like? Stand very still while I free these and I'll see if I can get them up again; if you haven't ruined them completely.'
You do as she asks and watch as she patiently re-attaches the chains to the ceiling light fixture.
'Now lower your head and follow me carefully,' she says, giving you an affectionate pat on your withers, 'and try not to destroy the tree as you go by. I worked on this till after eleven last night. Not that you noticed anything when you finally decided to come home. Just took yourself straight up to bed and passed out.'
She doesn't seem to even notice your dilemma, just keeps up the string of complaints.
'I don't suppose you got as far as filling the kettle and switching it on; no, I didn't think so. Don't try to get in my way now, just stand over there and I'll have breakfast ready before you know it.'
How in hell could you have filled the kettle with hooves where your hands should be, you think, but you realize there isn't any point in arguing with her. It's impossible to make any sounds that she can understand.
The smell of bacon cooking has wafted upstairs and awakened your seven-year old daughter, who on school days has to be called two or three times. She has wandered down into the kitchen, still clad in her pajamas, not quite fully awake and rubbing her eyes. Suddenly she stops and stares when she spots you standing by the table.
'Mummy, it's a reindeer,' she cries, incredulously, 'did Santa leave one behind?'
'Something like that,' Emily answers nonchalantly, without interrupting her buttering of the toast, 'could you pour yourself a glass of juice?'
'Can we keep him? Please mummy; please, please, please.'
'Of course we're going to keep him dear, he's your father. Now pour that juice like I asked you and one for your brother. And then run upstairs and wake him up, please.'
You realize that something isn't quite right here; Julie can see that you've changed; you assume that little Clive will too when he comes down, but Emily is acting as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
'That's right dear..., deer,' she adds with a little giggle at her own joke. It's as if she has been reading your mind, 'you'll notice too, that I've only made three bacon sandwiches and half a pot of tea. I don't think either will be very good for your new digestive system.'
Trying to figure how she can understand you, you haven't noticed that Clive has wandered into the kitchen; you feel someone stroking one of your front legs and look down.
'Nice doggy, nice doggy' he keeps saying. Julie runs to join him and strokes the other front leg.
 'It's a reindeer Clive,' she corrects him, 'one of Santa's. Mummy says we can keep him.'
'Come and sit at the table, you two,' Emily says, 'and eat your breakfast before it gets cold.'
'Can the reindeer come to the table too?' Julie asks, 'please Mummy.'
'I'm afraid not, sweetheart. He wouldn't be able to sit down and we don't have anything suitable for him to eat. But there's lots of grass in the back garden. Luckily, your father never got around to giving it its last cut; it's almost as if he had a premonition.'
Both of your children protest at your being shown through the French doors and into the garden. Funny, you can't remember them ever making a fuss before at your being absent from a meal. You look at the large garden; the patio furniture hasn't been put away for the winter and the wood will probably be starting to rot by spring. If by a stroke of luck it hasn't, the metal parts will almost certainly require some sanding down to get rid of the rust.
The grass, as Emily said, is very long; the light frosting of snow not fully covering it. Grass isn't your idea of breakfast, but it seems to be all that is on offer and a short spurt of pawing uncovers enough for you to try. You take your first mouthful and it isn't too bad, a bit tasteless perhaps, but then you don't seem to chew it fully before you automatically swallow. Of course, you're a deer and deer are rumin..,runima.., you chew your cud. Perhaps it will be tastier when it comes up again and you can give it a really good chew. The idea revolts you.
You seem to have taken only a dozen or so mouthfuls when both of your children appear outside the back door. They are already wrapped up in boots, scarves, hats and winter coats. Emily follows them out. She too is dressed for the cold. You hadn't even noticed; maybe there is something in this fur thing.
'Can we play with the reindeer, mummy,' Julie asks. 
'Doggy,' Clive adds, just to clarify his position.
'We'll see,' Emily answers, 'stay there a minute.' She walks over to you and whispers in your ear, 'do you think you could let then ride on your back? I mean, just walk around very slowly and don't wave this half-a-tree thing around. You could knock them into the next county if you're not careful. 
'Sure,' you try to say softly; it comes out as a low rumble in your throat.
'We'll try Julie first.' She calls your daughter over and lifts her onto your back. She whispers in your ear again. 'Now don't run and keep your head at just this angle so she can hang on to your antlers.'
You walk slowly to the end of the garden, turn around and walk back. There's a very happy little girl shouting with excitement on your back. 
'Now let's try it with both.' Emily lifts Clive onto your back as well and instructs him to hold tightly to Julie. You repeat your previous journey with two excitedly screaming children. Several circuits and increased confidence later, you let Julie's demands for more speed tempt you to break into a light trot. The happy screaming grows even louder. 
What seems only minutes later, but Emily says is nearly two hours, she insists, despite their protests, that they go indoors again for their lunch, telling them they mustn't wear out the nice deer. He'll have to carry Santa home tonight. 
You start to walk to the end of the garden so you don't have to watch the three of them sitting down to Christmas dinner without you and just as you reach the end, you have a big belch; a belch with a lump in it. So, this is what a cud is like. You give a tentative chew at it and it isn't unpleasant at all. You spend quite a long time peacefully chewing, relaxing and contemplating the future, after your morning's exercise. There are a lot worse things than this, you think, and then you notice Emily come out of the back door, sit down on the step and light a cigarette. You trot over to her.
'I thought you gave those up last spring,' you say, trying to make her feel guilty. It comes out as that low rumble in your throat again.
'I know,' she replies, 'but I thought I deserved a little luxury. Not that I don't appreciate the windscreen de-icer, you understand, and I promise not to start smoking as a habit again, but I wanted an excuse to talk to you. The kids have gone down for a little nap; you've completely worn them out, and I thought we could have a little time together.'
'You can understand what I'm saying?'
'Sure, no problem.'
But.., but.., the kids didn't understand when I tried to speak to them.'
'Of course not,' she giggled again, it's nice to see her so relaxed and happy, 'but then, they don't speak reindeer.'
'And you do? How is that?  You've never been to Sweden or Finland, or wherever it is that reindeer come from. Lapland?'
'I know, but I'm partially responsible for your dilemma.'
'You? How?'
'I was completely worn out and a little emotional, I'd had a glass or two of the cooking sherry, and I guess you could say I was feeling sorry for myself ; crying my eyes out in fact when Santa came round last night.'
'Emily, you hadn't been.., uhh.., smoking, had you? Santa Claus isn't real.'
'Maybe not, but there is such a thing as the spirit of Christmas. And maybe, if that spirit is strong enough, I don't know, maybe it can materialize. He seemed very bloody real to me.'
'Emily, please don't swear.'
'That's bloody rich coming from you, but you're right. I'll try not to in future. Anyway, there I was and Santa asked what was the matter, well I just blurted it out, how you never helped around the house, didn't spend any time with the kids, didn't want to take on any responsibilities for planning holidays or anything. Spent too much time with your mates and drank too much.'
  'I know,' you said, 'I've been thinking a lot this afternoon. I need to make some changes.'
'And Santa said maybe it was time he taught you a lesson. I didn't know what he had in mind, but it's a little funny, don't you think?'
 'Yeah, really funny, but you know, I really did have fun with the kids; do you think they'll want to come out to play again before tea and their bedtimes?'
'I'm sure that's a bit bears and woods, you know what I mean? I know they will. And you mustn't worry; Santa said he'd be back tonight when he finishes his rounds. He'll change you back...,'
'Unless I ask him not to. You make a brilliant reindeer and the kids love you. They might be disappointed.'
'But then, you wouldn't be able to re-paper the stairway tomorrow. I'll tell them that Santa needed you. Although, I might persuade him to bring the reindeer back next Christmas.'

The End

Thank you so much for that brilliant story, Jack! I quite like the idea of being able to transform certain people into reindeer...! Many thanks also to Clink Street and Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the 12 Days of Clink Street Christmas. Don't miss the other treats from Clink Street authors - check out the calendar below and follow the #12DaysofClinkStreet hashtag on Twitter.

About the Author
After growing up on a farm in northeast Missouri, McMasters joined the United States Air Force after attending the University of Missouri where he was sent to High Wycombe, England. He currently resides in Norfolk with his wife. While researching Molly Fish, McMasters travelled to India where he competed in the Karma Enduro, a 2,000 kilometer trek through the Western Ghats. He has previously published two short story collections, Iron(ing) Man and The Cucumber Murders and been featured by Škoda Magazine and the Eastern Daily Press.