Orry and Dice – a Christmas story
a Christmas story from The Edge of Christmas
“What if Father Christmas killed your sister?”
rry stopped seeing magic the night Santa killed his little sister.
For seven years, three hundred and sixty-four days, twenty-three hours and seventeen minutes he had seen magic everywhere. He saw it in the forest at the bottom of the garden. He saw it in the stream weaving its way through the forest. He saw it each day his mum woke him, and he saw it each day his mum kissed him goodnight.
Orry saw magic most clearly on his birthday. It was a rare and magical thing to have a birthday on Christmas Day – no matter what his friends said.
“But you only get one set of presents,” they would tell him.
“Everyone else gets presents too,” some would remind him.
“There’s nothing to look forward to for a whole year,” others would point out.
But Orry didn’t care about any of that. He felt lucky to be born on Christmas Day. He felt special. He felt magical.
“Of course it is,” his mum would say when he asked her if being born on Christmas Day was special. “You were born. There’s no stronger magic than that for me.”
“But it’s more than that,” he would reply. “See how the trees grow darker and thicker at the bottom of our garden than in any other? That’s because of all the magic made when a birthday meets Christmas.”
“And the stream, mum,” Orry insisted. “It freezes over each year just so Santa can land his sleigh and bring presents to me and Dice.”
Orry’s mum would hug him tightly and little Dice jumped to join in.
“It’s magic, mum,” Orry said. “And I can see it.”
His mum would laugh and shake her head. “Oh Orry,” she said. “You and Dice are my magic.”
But Orry knew he saw magic. He saw it everywhere. He saw it in the way his presents would appear at the foot of his bed each year. He saw it in the way snow would always cover the ground at Christmas even though people on the television were always moaning about not having a ‘white Christmas’.
Orry believed in what he could see. And he could see magic. Wherever he looked, he saw wonders. One day, he told himself, I’ll even see Santa, and then I’ll really believe.
Each year Orry, his mum and his sister, Dice, would sit and eat Christmas dinner outside. It was always cold but that never stopped them. They carried food from the nice, warm house down through the garden and over the frozen stream to the long wooden table under the trees. It’s so much more magical out here, mum would tell Orry and Dice. So much more Christmassy than stuck inside our little kitchen.
It was. Outside Orry could stare at the trees in their own magical wood and watch mum plate up magical mountains of nut roasts and crisp, gold-brown potatoes that blew steam into the air like pouting children.
“Watch over your sister,” his mum would say. And Orry would lift Dice into the air and spin her around on the snowy ground, their laughter spilling into the frosty air.
My Birthday King and Christmas Queen, mum would call them. Orry would fill up with joy. It was worth waiting a whole year for so much magic.
And then he turned eight.
Being eight would be the most magical thing yet. Orry was sure of that. For as long as he could remember, Christmas Day got better each year. Five had been fabulous. Six was stupendous. Seven was scintillating. Eight, well Orry had looked long and hard for a word to describe eight and he had discovered it at last. Eight would be exceptional.
He could hardly sleep with the excitement. Something had woken him just before midnight. He’d crept out of bed and pressed his ear to the cold pane of glass and listened. From the bottom of the garden he heard the sound of bells.
Dressing quickly, Orry lifted little Dice from her bed and carried her down the narrow staircase. It wasn’t easy. Every third stair creaked and Dice was heavy. At four years old, Dice was not quite as easy to carry as she’d once been but Orry struggled quietly through the house, tip-toeing over the cold slate floor in the kitchen where the oven fumed hotly, waiting for the morning meal-making to begin. It was only after he’d pulled the back door closed behind him that Dice had finally woken.
“Shhhh, Dice. We’re on an adventure. A magical adventure,” Orry said. “Don’t make a noise.”
Dice opened her coal dust eyes and looked around at the mix of blue-white moonlight and snow covering the little garden. She shifted and wriggled until Orry had no choice but to let her walk.
“Can you hear the bells?” Orry asked. The tiny tinkle of bells echoed from the bottom of the garden. “That’s Santa. He’s bringing our presents, Dice. We’ll see him this year for sure.”
The night didn’t feel too cold and Dice didn’t complain when her feet sank into the melting snow. She let out a giggle and ran on ahead. Orry followed after, hearing his mum’s voice in his head.
“Watch over your sister.”
The closer to the frozen stream they were, the louder the sound of bells became. It was like the sound of ice cracking, but Orry knew better. It was the bells on Santa’s sleigh. He saw the magic of them rippling through the air.
“Let’s wait here,” said Orry. “He’ll be along in a minute. It’s almost time.”
Dice didn’t want to wait. It was too exciting a moment to stand still. And the snow, though beginning to melt, was still too cold. Her feet paddled, and she danced. Orry clapped and smiled, more certain than ever that this year the magic of birthday and Christmas would be exceptional.
The stream sparkled in the moonlight. Orry peered above it into the night, looking for movement amongst the trees. Looking for more signs of magic.
The sound of bells grew louder still as Dice’s feet touched the frozen stream. And then their chimes turned from magical to melancholic, and Orry heard a splash.
“Dice!” Orry leapt forward and reached for his sister as she sank into the cold water.
“Watch over your sister,” their mum had told him so many times. “Watch over your sister.” And he hadn’t.
“Dice!” he called again, feeling for the thin flannel pyjamas and dressing gown.
Orry felt something hit his hand and he pulled. It was heavy. Heavier than a four year old had any right to be but he tugged and tugged until it slid out of the water and into the snow. She was soggy and covered in leaves and mud but it was Dice. She lay there like an unopened present.
“Dice.” Orry touched her face. It was cold. “Dice. Talk to me Dice.”
The little girl said nothing.
Orry looked around. This couldn’t be right. Where was the magic? Where was Santa? Wasn’t his birthday the most magical time of year? Wasn’t this place the most magical place on Earth? He was the Birthday King. She was the Christmas Queen. How could the world go on without their magic?
He looked down at the lifeless form of his sister on the ground. He couldn’t see anything except the shape of her.
Two hands lifted him into the air. He was made of nothing. His magic had gone.
“Orry,” said a voice. It was his mum, but she sounded different. Her voice was cracked, somehow. “Orry. Listen to me.”
Orry looked about. He looked from the lifeless body of his sister on the ground to the dull white moon in the sky. He looked at the cracked black ice on the stream but, try as he might to focus his eyes, he couldn’t see his mum. She was a blur of tears, smudged snow melting in front of him.
She shook him. “Orry. Listen. Go to the house. Run. Don’t look back. Run. Run to the telephone. Call for an ambulance. Go, Orry. Go.”
He felt the hands release him but still he couldn’t move.
And he ran.
Ahead of him, the light of the kitchen appeared tiny. It was so far away. He’d never make it. He should stay. He should turn back to his sister. He had all the magic. He was the special boy. He could save her.
“Watch over your sister,” his mum had told him. Yet here he was, running away. His magic had spilled out of him. It had failed him when he needed it most.
Behind him, Orry thought he heard laughter. Great chestfuls of laughter. No. Not laughter. Something else. Something deep and wet. Should he stop? Should he look?
“Don’t look back,” she’d said. He hadn’t listened once. He hadn’t watched over his sister and Santa had killed her. Should he listen now?
He slowed. The kitchen door was close now. Seconds away. Orry could almost reach it. Perhaps Dice was alive. He heard the sound again but this time it was more like crying.
Watch over your sister.
His mum had told him to run. There was no magic to be found in running. It was something most people could do. Most people didn’t see magic though, not like he did. If he turned back he would see Santa, he would ask him to help Dice. Santa had killed her. Santa could bring her back from the dead.
Each year mum made Christmas and his birthday into the most magical thing ever. She put Orry and Dice to bed on Christmas Eve, cooked dinner, sat out in the cold, played with them, sang to them, danced them back to the warm kitchen and poured great mugfuls of hot chocolate. She had told Orry to run and not look back.
He closed his eyes to magic and ran.
The heat from the house wrapped itself around him and he never looked back. He lifted the telephone from off the table and dialled for an ambulance.
He never looked back.
* * *
They didn’t eat Christmas dinner outside that year. They ate it from silver wrappers which sparkled like stars beneath the hospital lights. They sat listening to the drip drip drip of the equipment connected to little Dice. For a moment, Orry thought it sounded like tiny chisels chipping at work to make a new toy for some lucky boy or girl. But that would be magic, and Orry knew magic was not real. So he sat in silence.
Orry’s mum reached out her hand and stroked his hair.
“You saved her, Orry,” she said. “Your magic saved her.”
Orry looked up, surprised. “I don’t see how,” he replied. “I just ran. There’s no such thing as magic.”
His mum smiled and moved her other hand to hold that of her daughter’s.
“Oh, Orry,” she said. “Magic isn’t in the things you can see. It’s in the things you can’t.”
And that’s when Orry began to believe.
Illustration © 2014 Carl Pugh. Follow Carl on Twitter.