Writer Dave Hartley gives us his best sales pitch for his grimly festive collection of short stories…
Hello. I have a book. It is a book of Christmas stories called Merry Gentlemen. It is 99p. You might like to buy it.
No, hold on.
Hello. I have written a book of dark Christmas stories called Merry Gentlemen. Seriously twisted and horrible, but also kind of fun and quite emotional. There are fourteen original stories in it and it costs 99p as an e-book. I think you’d like to buy it.
No wait. Not good enough.
It is Christmas Eve and it is snowing. Sweep over an idyllic neighbourhood of semi-detacheds with tasteful and harmonious fairy lights, quick-fade to a frosted window and two rosy-cheeked children watching for Santa. Ho Ho Ho, he arrives, touches his nose, winks and casts his magic across the waiting tree. Presents appear, oodles of them, perfectly wrapped. Cut to Christmas Day: the children open their gifts and they both get … Merry Gentlemen, fourteen macabre stories of dark Christmas by me, David Hartley. And only 99p. You are enchanted to buy it for yourself, perhaps?
No, hold on. Not suitable for children. This doesn’t work. Let’s change things up.
It is Christmas Eve, 1914 and there’s some kind of war happening, one of the famous ones fought by handsome young men. One of those ones where hardly anyone died, they just sat around in the cold for a bit. A German voice sings a Christmas song and a British voice sings an answer. Hands shaking, white flags waving, the two singers rise from the trenches and call a truce. It’s ok, they say, it’s Christmas, they say.
Soon both armies are together on No Man’s Land, shaking hands, smiling for the first time in, like, days or something. And then, with a sprinkling of fairy dust, they pick up stones and debris and bits of bone and they build a shop. A big shop. A supermarket. And they go in and they buy loads of stuff! Loads of really great stuff! They rush in like its Black Friday and grab at all the latest gadgets and toys that were made for the tiniest fraction of the discounted RRP, and there, at the centre of the shop, glowing, shining, is my book Merry Gentlemen and its only 99p, just 99p! 99p forever! Fourteen horrifying stories of festive woe, and it glows and it gleams and you really, really want to buy it, so you reach out and…
…sorry wait. No. Seems wrong somehow. Disrespectful maybe. I mean, Sainsbury’s had a similar thing this year so it’s disrespectful to them isn’t it? Let’s try something else.
It’s Christmas Day, modern day. There’s mother being a mother, such a mother. Look at her, running around the house trying to get everyone ready for the Christmas meal. Herding excited kids, waking up sleepy old idiots, tutting at Dad for not pulling his weight. Whoops, the dog just got in the way, and there goes the cat chasing a bauble. And there she is, the mother, from a few days ago; dashing around the supermarket – a different supermarket to the war one – trying to get everything the family needs: the best turkey, the juiciest sprouts, the sturdiest cheese, the most glamorous wine. The most enigmatic pudding, the most valiant cranberry sauce, the most orgasmic crackers.
Back at the house she is balletic as she cleans up, as precise as a soldier as she commands the kitchen, robotic perfection as she lays the table and serves the glistening foods. Hah, they all ignore her. Hah, there are no seats left for her but, hah, she doesn’t mind and then, all fed and sleepy, the family doze around the fire and finally she gets to rest and smile.
And then the walls fall away. The fire coughs out. The Crew stomp into set and seize her and drag her away. She is too tired to resist. She is thrown into containment, a single grey cell with just a clock and a calendar and a tired old bed. It is July 8th. It is boiling hot.
Hours later the crew return and drag her out again. Her clothes are replaced, her make-up redone. She goes from mumsy to glamour puss in a blur of uncaring hands. They inject her with adrenaline and she rushes to her senses. The scene is… The scene is… The lights boom into her eyes… She is… out, with the girls, Christmas shopping. They are trying on lots of different clothes and accessories. They wear lingerie with each other, giggling. She smiles, bright through it all. It is July 8th says her brain. She ignores it. Magic and sparkle, magic and sparkle.
It ends, the shop falls away. The Crew come to get her. Back to the cell. More time. July 9th. The Crew get her. From glamour puss to chic girlgeek and gadgetry. Crew. Cell. Time. July. Another mum scene, wholesome. July. Abstract perfume, lots of gold and bare flesh. July. Fairy. July. Mrs Clause. July.
I have a book of anti-Christmas Christmas stories. It is called Merry Gentlemen. Buy it if you want, or don’t. 99p.
Well, go on then. It is Christmas…
You can catch Dave reading some of his creepy Christmas wares at our alternative festive cabaret, The Heathens’ Christmas Party, at The Castle Hotel on Monday 15 December. He’ll be selling books, if you want one under your tree this year…
Alternatively, you can buy Dave’s collection Merry Gentlemen online here. It’s 99p. You can even read the first two stories for FREE…
Watch Dave read one of his stories, The Jesus Placenta, at our Christmas event last year:
Read more from Dave over on his blog, Rabbiting On