I’m planning on a few days away from blogging after tomorrow, so this is a penultimate short story. I can’t really explain this one…
The Reverend Whilman Wontee felt so tired it was a miracle he was able to focus on the inside of the Church. Three days to Christmas and it looked so bare, so desolate. Irony wasn’t his strong point but even he could see the link to the original story. He’d lay odds on this being less welcoming than that barn.
He sighed. Would anyone come? If any of his few parishioners looked in now they might conclude a repeat of Bergerac and a glass of Lidl’s two ninety-nine mulled wine looked a better bet. Reluctantly he began the long walk, up the aisle and right to the vestry door. There must be some decorations he could dig out.
Catching the wretched lurgy, despite having received more jabs than most boxers do in a career, was the final straw on a year from hell. The January fire, the Easter roof collapse, the summer infestation of Slovakian pit beetles, which had eaten all the prayer cushions and left the verger with an unsightly welt on his left nostril and the harvest festival which had led to the church being shut for twelve weeks while it was defumigated. Another miracle that they could open for Christmas. He must stop ascribing these small pieces of good fortune to miracles, he thought sourly. Why would anyone, let alone a busy deity hand out these small mercies?
Silly man, he scolded himself and he walked through the vestry and into the store room. The first box caught his eye and he smiled. An actual smile. Now that was truly a mi…
Stop it, Willy.
Who’d said that? He was sure he’d heard a voice. Maybe Janice had come to sort out the flowers or…
In the box.
The Reverend gripped the shelving, staring at the cardboard box. Was he hearing voices? And if so, why were they coming out of a box of Christmas things. Carefully he pulled himself upright and hefted the box into his arms. ‘Ok,’ he said out loud, ‘let’s see who’s hiding in here.’
He elbowed his way back into the body of the church and over to the table which normally held the church silver but had been cleared… when had it been cleared, he wondered?
Something to sort out tomorrow. Prising open the lid he peered inside. It was usually full of the models for the nativity scene but all he could see were the rather nice rustic barn made by Jethro Twiddle decades before, with a set of farm animals and a manger all carved from the same wood. He picked each one up, gave them a wipe and put them on the table, before turning back to the box to see if he could spot the rest.
Willy stopped moving and looked down at the models on the table. They looked back up at him. The cow, a rather smug looking Frisian tilted her head to one side. Straw?
She didn’t move her lips sniggered the sheep.
The cow glared at the sheep. So? He can hear me. That’s what counts.
Oh sure, the sheep looked up at Willy, you feel much better that her lips don’t move yet you can hear a wooden toy cow talk to you, don’t you?
‘Er no, not really. How…? I mean, this isn’t happening. Is it?’
A hallucination? Some sort of personalised long covid, unique to you?
‘Yes, I suppose so.’
Sorry Rev but we’re as real as you get. The cow swung its head and lowed. I could really do with some food. It’s been a whole year… She walked round the back of the box while the Reverend and the sheep watched. Moments later the cow reappeared. Church looks a bit bare. Not expecting anyone?
Willy followed her gaze. Probably not, he thought.
Don’t be such a pessimist.
Willy looked at the sheep. You can read my thoughts, he thought.
Is that anymore likely than a talking wooden sheep?
True, he thought.
Well, come on, man. Time to gird your cassock and get this scene set up.
What? Oh yes, right ho. Willy went back to the box, only it was still empty. Now where had the other figures gone?
They’re on their way.
Sorry? Willy had stopped speaking as they seemed perfectly able to hear his thoughts.
The rest of the crew. They’re not here yet.
Sorry? They were in the box when we packed it last year. What do you mean, not here yet?
You do know this story, right? The cow had a supercilious expression. After the visit from Gabs etc. The census, the need to get to Bethlehem?
Willy was affronted. ‘Of course I do. What’s that got to…?’
So they’re on their way. Right? They don’t arrive a few days early, kick their heels and then out pops the babe. Same with the shepherds and the wise guys…
They’re coming okay? You’re not expecting a grand entrance, are you? Wouldn’t really fit with the shtick, would it? While we wait, you can set up the barn and the manger and get me some straw and whatever my friend wants.
Grass for preference.
As a sheep, you know?
Willy found himself drifting outside, plucking some grass from the top of one of the old graves and eventually reaching the tool shed where Mr Tombola, who kept the graveyard neat kept his tools. In one corner was a bag of straw; he tugged out a few strands.
Back inside the church the sheep and the cow didn’t seem to have moved though behind the cow…
I’m a cow. What can I say? It’s alright. It’s not sticky. After all it’s like me. Made of wood.
A wooden cow pat?
No stranger than a talking…
… cow. No, I suppose not. This was beyond bizarre and had to be part of covid brain. It couldn’t be anything else.
Unless it’s a miracle.
Willy glared sourly at the cow. Ha ha, he thought. Very drole. And you’re sure that Mary and Joseph will be here on time?
It’s the babe you’re really worried about, isn’t it?
Yes, I suppose so.
You’ll just have to wait and see. Like your name says…