It was a dark and stormy night.
Actually it wasn’t. A little windy perhaps, and it was dark, but it wasn’t stormy by any stretch of the imagination. The point is that opening a story is difficult and perhaps – if you see a horrible cliché – a slightly less horrible cliché won’t seem quite so bad.
Once upon a time.
See? Doesn’t seem so bad now does it?
Alright, let’s start again…
Once upon a time there was a girl called Moon. She was pretty, in a pale sort of way, but not very popular because she preferred the company of books to boys, liked black more than pink and wanted to grow up to build things rather than to sing songs or be on TV. She also couldn’t bring herself to bear, with good humour, the various bottom jokes that were made about her name.
The other kids didn’t understand her and that was just fine by her. Just so long as they left her alone.
Sadly for Moo, her parents were killed in a freak unicycle accident following the escape of a hippopotamus from the zoo. As a result, she was sent away from the art-filled flat in which she’d lived all her life to complete her maturation in the company of her aunt and uncle out in the country.
Her aunt and uncle couldn’t have been more different than her parents. Where her parents were wild and crazy hipster/artist/flakes her aunt and uncle were sociopathic business people. They had a big, big house in the country with a big, big garden and it was all a long, long way away from the city, the noise, the bustle, the libraries and museums that Moon so loved.
Her aunt and uncle had no children of their own and while love wasn’t something they really understood – not being related to money in any direct way – they were glad to have her. Moon’s adoption provided them with a child without any of that messy kissing, cuddling and pregnancy that neither of them were particularly keen on.
It wasn’t a house that was suited to children, or teenagers, or artists. It was the sort of house that looked like it had never been removed from the box. Not a flake of dust, not a smear, not a fingerprint existed anywhere in the extensive property and everything was ‘just so’. Moon’s little room, tucked out of the way where she couldn’t disturb anyone, was the only little island of chaos in the whole place. She would spend hours and hours there, listening to her iPod, reading her books and sketching. She would spend so long there that sometimes her aunt and uncle forgot she even existed.
It was with a sudden shock – one day – that Moon discovered it was Christmas Eve. The only reason she noticed was that the background on one of the webcomics she read every day from her laptop had turned into animated snow. Her aunt and uncle, she remembered from Halloween, weren’t that keen on holidays.
“Holidays make people lazy,” her uncle had explained over a frighteningly eighties nouvelle cuisine meal one evening. “You shouldn’t give people presents, they come to expect them rather than to work for things themselves. It encourages idleness. As does taking a day off. Ever.”
Moon wouldn’t have agreed. She’d always enjoyed making things and doing things for others. She would write dark little poems, make scary pictures out of macaroni and glitters and send carefully crafted playlists to friends by email. Missing Halloween was bad enough but missing Christmas would be intolerable.
Creeping out of her pants-strewn lair and venturing forth into the antiseptic corridors of the grand house she took perverse pleasure in the little bobbles of fluff her socks left on the factory-fresh carpet and went in search of her aunt and uncle.
She searched the lounge and the bedrooms, all four bathrooms, both studies, the ‘audio-visual room’, the gym, the swimming pool, the granny-annex (unoccupied), the parlour, the smoking room, the conservatory, the breakfast room, the dining room and the ‘entertaining room’ but there was no sign of them.
Eventually she noticed a blinking light on the answering machine in her aunt’s office and, curious, pressed it.
“Moon! We forgot you were there and left on a business trip for a week. Help yourself to food but make sure you keep the place tidy. We will see you when we get back.”
That was that then. Christmas in a big empty house with no way to get anywhere else, nothing to do, nobody to see and all the Christmas cheer of a cancer ward.
That settled it. Her aunt might get angry – more likely she’d just get confused – but Moon was going to have a Christmas and damn the consequences. Systematically she went around the house turning on every television, every radio, every computer until the whole house was ringing out with the clashing sounds of innumerable Christmas songs, a musical hydra, the ultimate mash up.
It wasn’t enough though. The house still felt like the interior of an autoclave. It needed decorations, holly, ivy, tinsel, pinecones. This was a problem though. Her aunt and uncle weren’t the type to have decorations and the tiny amount of glitter and craft materials she had in her girl-cave wouldn’t be enough to decorate the house properly.
There was one place in the house she had never been to – the attic. So far as she knew her aunt and uncle had never been up there either so there was a chance, however small, that some previous owner had left something interesting up there.
It took several jumps and a mildly sprained ankle before Moon admitted defeat and stood on a chair to reach the fold down ladder. That also made climbing the metal steps of the ladder a little painful and slow going. Finally, though, she reached the still, dusty air of the attic and switched on her phone, so she could get a little light.
In the LED glow of the phone the attic was revealed. A stuffy, slope-sided chamber thick with dust, lined with fibreglass and criss-crossed with planks just far enough apart to make you have to hop to avoid falling through the ceiling.
It was also full, gloriously full, of rubbish.
There were boxes and boxes of ‘things’, bags and bags of ‘stuff’. Old rolls of carpet and mouldering books, stacks of old comics – nibbled at the edges by mice. A poo-streaked Dennis the Menace leered at her from the side of the water tank and a pile of old telephones cast a shadow – strikingly reminiscent of Godzilla – against the sloping wall.
With a squee of delight – normally reserved for Youtube videos of kittens – Moon fell ravenously upon the attic’s mounds of junk. She tore through the mushroom-sprouting books, making a quick stack of all the ones she wanted to read and then sprang upon the comics. After that – sneezing from the dust and spores – she caught sight of a big, half-collapsed box marked ‘decorations’ and carefully hopped across the boards to rummage in it.
The moment she plunged her hands into the box – that seemed to be full of fairy lights, jurassic tinsel and faded plastic baubles – she realised something was wrong. This feeling was further compounded when a wrinkly, bearded face erupted from the decorations, scattering nativity figurines in all directions.
“Get off me you crazy girl!”
Moon fell back on her bottom and got a splinter in her left cheek – though she wouldn’t notice for a while. She was nonplussed at the presence of this strange old man in the attic, but somehow he seemed like he belonged here, just like the biscuit tins full of seashells and the old photographs of stern looking Victorians.
“Who are you?” Moon asked, grabbing a cross-beam to pull herself back up to her feet. In the phone light she was getting a better look at the strange old man.
His hair and beard were snow white and ratted into tangles. He wore an old woman’s hat, Edwardian she thought, and his shirt and trousers were crudely stitched together out of dolls clothes and pieces of carpet.
“I’m Tatt,” the old man said, pointing at himself with his thumb. “Who are you and what are you doing in my home?”
“I’m Moon and you’re living in our attic. Without permission I might add.” She didn’t mean to be huffy, but it’s not every day you find a strange man living above your bedroom and a little annoyance seemed to be justified.
“No, no, no. You’re living in my basement. Without permission I might add.” The old man sniffed and clambered out of the box, unfurling a string of fairy lights behind him that flickered into life and filled the attic with a dim, coloured glow.
“I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” Moon was forced to admit, hands on hips as she watched the old man potter about.
“So what brings you up here, what are you stealing from me?”
Moon blinked, confused. How was it that she was the one being interrogated? “I was looking for Christmas decorations and how can I steal things nobody wants from a house my aunt and uncle own exactly?”
“Nobody wants?” The old man glared at her. “Things that nobody wants they throw away. Things they can’t stand to throw away but want to keep they put up here. Everything up here is so precious and valuable people want to save it, even if they never touch or look at it again.”
“Fine… all I wanted was the Christmas decorations.” Moon was half convinced she’d spent too long on the internet in one sitting and this was all a dream.
“Oh, is it Christmas?” The old man swapped his hat for the sleeve of a Roxy Music album on vinyl. A heavily made-up pair of breasts stared at Moon from the side of his head, their nipples following her around the room.
“Yes,” Moon nodded. “Though my aunt and uncle aren’t keen on it.”
“Will there be television? Food? Presents?” He seemed a little too eager if anything, each question bringing him a step closer until his crooked teeth and lightning-flash nostril hairs were bare inches away from her.
“Yes. I suppose so. I don’t see why not,” Moon did her best to answer. She supposed she could cook something with whatever was in the pantry, though she was a terrible cook.
“Then you may use my decorations, in exchange for letting me join you.” Tatt swept a gracious bow and dumped the tangle of lights and tinsel in her arms.
So it was that Moon got Old Tatt for Christmas, bad food and awful television.
Just like everyone else.
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