‘What is it, Mum?’ Emily Smith, 14 looked up from her book.
Gilly, her mother said, ‘A parcel from Uncle Augustus. What’s he say? Dear Both. I’m so sorry to miss you this Christmas but I found this antique Advent Calendar in a strange little shop in Greater Petching and thought of you. The man aid it’s already full of surprises.’’
In moments they were staring at a dark wooden box, two foot square and six inches deep. On one side there were 24 little knobs in 3 rows of 8 but none moved. Gilly left Emily trying to work out how it opened.
Three days later, 1st December, Emily woke with a start; her alarm said just after midnight. Had she heard a noise? He crept down to the kitchen. The Advent Calendar sat propped against the backdoor; just above the first knob a gold ‘1’ had been painted. As she touched it, a drawer sprung open. Inside was a small wooden brick on which was written ‘Make a wish’
Emily smiled. ‘Get you, mum. My bodyweight in chocolate.’
She had barely said the word ‘chocolate’ when she heard crashes from outside. It was raining chocolate bars. Emily didn’t stop to wonder how her mum had arranged this or the damage. She started collecting her prize. Eventually she had to fetch the wheelbarrow and when she had them all hid her spoils in the shed, under an old blanket.
Back inside Emily was overcome with tiredness. She sat, her back against the door and, clutching the box fell to sleep.
‘Emily? What are you doing here? And why are you so muddy?’ Gilly looked furious. She pulled Emily away and opened the door. ‘What..?’
Emily knew before she looked; the garden was a wreck. ‘You are in so much trouble.’
Emily looked at the box, about to explain but the number ‘1’ and drawer had gone.
Emily hated her mother. Her punishment was to work in the garden rather than go to the shops with her friends. After two hours Gilly took off her gloves. ‘I’ll make us tea. Why don’t you grab two chairs?’
‘Can’t I go out, mum?’
Emily went to the shed; inside she saw the blanket and she remembered. Pulling back, the blanket she gasped: her bodyweight in chocolate. On top sat the box. Emily glared at it and stopped. The second knob had ‘2’ by it. She touched it and it sprang open. ‘The wooden brick with ‘Make a wish’ on it appeared. Breaking off a piece of chocolate she noticed her mum coming across the grass. ‘Why can’t she be friendlier?’
‘Hi Ems. You got chocolate? Sick.’
‘Mum? You sound weird.’
‘Hey it’s Gilly, silly.’ Her mum giggled. ‘BFFs right?’
‘I thought we could do our nails and then go and buy those sick shorts. Where’s the chocolate, then?’
Emily pointed at the blanket. Gilly pulled it back, falling to her knees. ‘OMG, like I’ve gone to heaven. I lurve milk choc.’ As if she’d not eaten in a week she began cramming it into her mouth.
‘Stop it, Mum…’
Gilly wiped her chocolaty hands on Emily’s jeans, laughing and turned back to her eating. Emily backed away and left her too it.
At five when it had got dark, Emily took a torch to the shed. Her mother lay on the blanket, groaning. She was surrounded by wrappers. ‘I’m dying.’
‘Come inside mum.’ Eventually Emily had to half carry her; on the way she threw up over the roses and giggled. Emily made her some hot water and lemon and helped her to bed. She washed off the worst of the sick and made sure Gilly was on her side with a pillow behind her back.
Emily slept badly. In the early hours she went to her mother’s room and glanced in. Her mother clutched the advent calendar; a ‘3’ glowed in the dark. She touched the number. Clutching the brick she said, ‘I want my old mum back.’ She stared at Gilly. After a moment she began snoring; Emily sighed; mum was back.
Gilly looked awful at breakfast. ‘I had the weirdest dreams, about you and me and chocolate.’
‘Shouldn’t eat cheese late at night, mum.’ Emily forced a smile and promised herself she’d leave the calendar alone.
All that day and the next she thought about the calendar. Could she think of a wish that it wouldn’t misconstrue. As she cleaned her teeth before bed, she had it. The calendar sat on the end of the bath, the ‘4’ glinting. She touched the number. ‘No more spots please.’ She added, ‘On my face.’
She touched her skin as she turned to the mirror. The spot she’d seen had gone but she reeled back. Instead of her usual pale complexion her face was covered in red and white diagonal stripes. Tears sprung to her eyes. She hated this calendar. She hadn’t asked for stripes so why did it chose stripes?
Emily set her alarm for midnight. The calendar was on her table, the ‘5’ gleaming. ‘Please can I have my old face back?’ Her fingers touched the zit on her chin; never had she loved it so much.
Over the next days she watched numbers 6 and 7 glow and disappear. Maybe they went if you didn’t use them. She tried to forget it but the temptation was so strong. When the ‘8’ appeared she left it until just before midnight. ‘Please make me happy.’
For the next twenty minutes she felt she would explode. Laughter couldn’t escape quickly enough. He throat hurt and her eyes ached. She saw the ‘9’ appear and laughed louder. Eventually her hysterics threw her against the table and the calendar fell on her, the drawer opening and a brick tumbling out. Somehow she wished herself back to her old self and fell asleep.
The next day she stared at the box. Leaving it seemed to intensify the results but asking for anything was a disaster. What to do? That night, at 11.50 she tapped ‘10’ and wished her room redecorated. Instantly everything was wrapped in blue paper. She clutched the box to her as the paper encircled her; at 12.01 she tapped ‘11’ and restored her room. She was at her wits end.
She dreaded the following day. As her mum opened her bedroom door, the ‘12’ glowed at her. ‘Sorry love. Car’s kaput. Sounded terminal this time. You’ll have to walk. How on earth will we afford the repairs this time?’
Emily tapped the number. ‘Fix Mum’s car.’ Surely this can’t go wrong?
‘Mum, I think the car’s ok.’
‘You been taking car repairing lessons?’
Emily followed as Gilly climbed in. It stated first time.
‘What did you do? The interior light and heated seats are fixed too?’
All day Emily wondered if the car would be ok. When she got home her mother held out a small package. ‘I don’t know how you did it but that car is like new. Thanks love.’ Inside was a small silver necklace. ‘Early present.’
That night Emily lay awake. She had a mad idea but needed a test first. Next morning she awoke early and touched ‘13’. ‘This had better not be an omen,’ she said. Then, ‘Get rid of mum’s curly fringe.’ Gilly hated the way her fringe curled whatever she did to it.
Emily waited for her mum to appear. As she came into the kitchen Emily said, ‘What have you done Mum?’
Gilly shook her head. ‘Nothing. It’s… straight.’ Gilly looked about to ask an awkward question.
‘It looks great, mum. I must dash.’
Emily could barely contain herself. She knew exactly what she was going to do. The calendar sat on her table as the numbers came and went. On Christmas Eve, as Emily went to bed she touched the ‘24’. Taking a deep breath. ‘Give mum whatever she really wants.’
Emily slept soundly. On Christmas morning she awoke with a start. She heard her mum in the kitchen singing along to a Christmas song. Grabbing her dressing gown she bounded down the stairs. ‘What did you get?’
‘Didn’t you get the thing you want most?’
Gilly looked confused and then smiled. ‘Silly I’ve got that already.’ She hugged her daughter. ‘You.’
This story is part of Solveig Werner’s Advent Calendar posts, which you can find here.