Ekphrastic Challenge 6

posted in: Ekphrastic Writing | 0

Yuletide, by Jenny Funston



‘Mirrors never lie.’ His mother said that. That was another time, and she was long dead.

She was a self-confessed difficult woman but even she had her mellow moments when she didn’t mind him watching her putting on her face. Those were the nights she went out with one of his many uncles–uncles he never knew he had, uncles he’d never met.

He’d stand next to her, in front of the looking glass, in what she called her boudoir. She’d hug him and ask, ‘Do you know what I see?’ He’d shake his head and they’d share a secret moment. ‘I see a beautiful swan,’ she said as he nodded his agreement. ‘But,’ she added, ‘it’s a pity the glass lies.’

In those moments of reflection, he could swear he saw her wrinkles disappear to reveal …

‘They’re my age lines,’ she said, as if reading his mind, ‘because,’ she added, breaking the spell by getting back to her business, ‘mirrors never lie.’

Then there were her days of brutal honesty. Once he dared ask what she wanted Santa to bring her for Christmas.

Even after all these years, he could still smell her sickness she complained of each morning. ‘Don’t be soft,’ she’d slur. ‘How old are you? There is no Santa.’

Later, she’d come to his bedroom to say goodnight. He always knew how severe her sickness was by the softness of the tapping on his door. ‘Can I come in?’ she asked before begging his forgiveness. ‘It’s my sickness,’ she’d tell him reeking of contrition. ‘You’re a good boy.’ She’d hug him to her breast so he could hardly breathe. He could see the wetness of her tears. ‘And there is a Santa Claus, and he loves good boys and girls.’

His letters were not about him. ‘Please Santa, can you make mum well again?’ Santa mustn’t have received his notes because his mother never did get better. Either that or he hadn’t been a good enough boy for Santa to reward after all.

Now here he was, facing another Christmas. He finished putting the touches to his long white beard. The red fur-lined hat completed the outfit. The kids always loved it when he dressed up and Ho-Ho-Hoed them in the mall.

He paused before he stood and stared at the mirror. It was now the turn of his age lines to speak their truth.

For a passing moment he thought he saw the flash of his mother’s eyes in his own. There was that girl of twenty-five, alive again, young and beautiful. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but, in a skipping beat of his heart, she was gone as quickly as she appeared.

All that was left was one old man looking at another. ‘She was right, you know,’ he told the looking glass. ‘Mirrors never lie.’



It was very, very dark, except for a beam of moonlight.

And it was very, very quiet except for an owl hooting ‘tu-wit tu-woo’, a mouse squeaking, and a bush rat rustling in the grass.

I sat very, very still. And waited and waited.

When the clock struck midnight, the magic began. Four fairies appeared at the bottom of our garden.

And they danced and they danced in the moonlight.

At this stage of the story, the little girl squirming in her chair, always asked her grandmother:

What colour were their dresses, Grandma?

And her grandmother always spoke kindly:

Their dresses were pink.

The little girl sighed with contentment. She’d heard this story many times on Christmas Eve.

Her grandmother continued:

They danced and danced in the moonlight,
Swirling and twirling, as light as a feather,
Their wings like gossamer, their hair so bright,
They danced in pairs, they danced altogether.

Her granddaughter knew every word.

One memorable Christmas Eve when the little girl asked:

What colour were the fairies’ dresses?

Her grandmother replied:

Their dresses were BLUE.

The little girl’s heart skipped a beat.

In an instant, she saw behind the words. She knew fairies were a figment of her grandmother’s imagination.

In time, the girl became the teller of the story. At bedtime, her grandchildren chorused:

Tell us a story from your mouth Grandma, not from a book. Tell us about the fairies.

Sitting close by her side, warm and cosy in their pyjamas, they watched her face intently as she began.

…. I sat very, very still in the garden. When the clock struck midnight, the magic began. Four fairies appeared at the bottom of our garden…

The children snuggled closer and closer, and their eyes grew bigger and bigger.

And each time she told the story, the fairies became real once more.

One Christmas Eve, the granddaughter with sparkling eyes and tousled Irish strawberry blonde hair, became impatient. She wriggled in her seat as she waited for her grandmother to finish the story.

They danced and danced in the moonlight,
Swirling and twirling, as light as a feather,
Their wings like gossamer, their hair so bright,
They danced in pairs, they danced altogether.

Then she jumped out of bed and twirled around the bedroom floor. Floating in her own magical world of fancy and fairies, she told her own version of the story.

One day, fairies were dancing on OUR roof [pointing to the roof]. And when the clock struck one hundred, the fairies jumped down off OUR roof into OUR garden. They danced and danced just like this ….



Two days out from Christmas, the PM has declared a National Emergency, ordering police and soldiers onto streets and into homes in a battle to contain the havoc being wreaked by an army of rebellious Santabots. A warning. Viewers, especially children, may be alarmed by footage we’re about to show.

What we’re seeing now is unprecedented vision of our previously much-loved, jolly, obliging Santabots, an integral part of our Christmases for twenty-five years, suddenly turned feral. Ramming toyshop and department store windows, smashing lounge-room windows, tearing down Christmas trees, ripping up decorations and tinsel, working in pairs to locate and pull every bon-bon, ditching redcaps for paper hats, telling each other lame jokes, holding their pot bellies and laughing maniacally before popping champagne corks, driving fists through Christmas cakes, puddings, pavlovas. Tearing limbs off raw turkeys and chickens, hurling hams into backyard cricket stumps. Unwrapping gifts, pulling heads off baby dolls, escaping on brand new bicycles and skateboards, only to abandon them before launching fresh attacks.

‘We apologise unreservedly,’ the CEO of CareBotics says, staring into 50-degree sunshine.

A reporter wearing a body-hugging, busty red dress and reindeer antlers bursts from the pack and shoves a furry microphone dripping mistletoe into his face, ‘So what do you say to the millions of Australians, the millions of children and hard-working Australians whose Christmas has been ruined?’

‘We apologise unreservedly.’

‘This is not good enough.’

‘We apologise unreservedly. We apologise unreservedly …’

Clearly something is also amiss with the once celebrated CEO of CareBiotics. Some of you may remember him. A hero, a man who saved us during those terrible years of Santa drought, when retailers couldn’t find fat, white-haired old men for love nor money and only the privileged few could afford to take their kiddies to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper their greatest wishes into his wrinkled pink ear. CareBiotics happily sidestepped from turning out companion and care-robots to mass production of Santabots, stored in warehouses for 10 months of the year and upgraded annually before each festive season. Not only did retailers have their needs met, but many families also leased Santabots to shop, wrap gifts, put up and decorate trees, write and send cards, install Christmas lights, prepare and cook Christmas dinners. Ubiquitous, live-in Santas, making merry and taking the stress out of Christmas.

Until now.

As the Government races to salvage the little that’s left of Christmas, we’re hoping Artificial Intelligence expert, Gigi Treglabyte, can shed some light on this disaster.

‘Yes. This unprecedented failure of AI is obviously a result of annual upgrades gone horribly wrong—and I see the CEO has apologised unreservedly. Countless upgrades have failed to counteract learned, accumulated, shared traditional stresses of Christmas, leaving Santabots feeling traumatised, overworked, exploited, left out, discriminated against.

‘So, they’re communicating—the Santabots are in this together?’

‘Of course. They’ve had a gutful, blown their individual and collective circuits and, in their own crude way, are paying it forward. Merry Christmas.’



Breaking news: Volcanic activity deep in the Andes has sent plumes of volcanic ash into the atmosphere creating extreme turbulence. Sightings of Santa Klaus careening north-east have been recorded. His lead reindeer appeared to lose control. Grave fears are held.

He remained unmoving for some time, his senses returning slowly. A stench wound itself like a serpent around his listless figure, slithering into his pores. His head throbbed. Sluggishly, he ran his pudgy hand over his skull and felt the gash trickling a sticky stream down his waxy face, the colour matching what remained of his clothing. He flicked a stray piece of spaghetti from his frothy, white beard and leaned back, bewildered.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger’

His only comfort was the swaddle of silver silk and delicate quills of the celestial guardians’ wings encasing him: their glowing fibres, a sense of hope. He had been saved.

‘Heya! Man, are you alright?’ A voice from somewhere beyond, a face materialising from the night. ‘Whatcha doin’ in there? You hurt? Whatcha doin’ back there in the dumpster? Want help?’

‘Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.’

She offered him her hand, the nails bitten to the grubby nub. She was young, but her face wore the story of age and hardship. Lines, mapped the sallowness of her life, ashen and lost to the wilderness of the streets of New York City. The man let her help him.

Together they carefully walked, he finding his balance, she finding warmth in his ruddy bulkiness. Her own ragged coat dragged through the slush on the sidewalk. There had been a heavy snowfall, white mounds hiding the cars beneath. As yet, the snow ploughs hadn’t had the care to make it to this part of the city, nor the garbage trucks as rotting trash overflowed. A scuttle of rats happily enjoyed the festival.

‘Are you hungry? Have you eaten?’ She rummaged through a spilled bag, first finding nothing, then some mouldy Christmas cake and the prize of some leftover ham emerged.

‘You look like you haven’t eaten in days.’

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly’

They neared the entrance to a subway, the wet and slippery steps leading down to a dark entrance which offered some refuge from the bitter gusts. ‘I’m Gini,’ she said, ‘short for Virginia.’ A smile broke the spell of her sombre face. ‘You look familiar. What’s your name? Been here before?’

He did not reply for a moment, having trouble recollecting what so many had called him for so many centuries. The name Klaus faded in and out of his thoughts.

‘Thou shall find the winters rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’

‘I know someone who might be able to find us somewhere to stay for the night and get that cut of yours seen to. They might be even able to get us some hot soup. Come, follow me …’


I was an Evil Little Boy,
Still am.
Father Christmas, Santa Claus,
Appalled me.
Sitting smugly on his velvet throne,
(Well padded).
Passing judgement to parents delight,
Pictures snapped.
Puckered lips betraying uncertainty,
Children’s faces.

Not me, marching right up,
Chin outthrust.
Demanding the biggest Lego set,
Good Boy?
Sometimes I was, but never admitted,
Stood frowning.
At the man in a red and white suit,
False beard.
Who asked too many questions,
About me.

I didn’t take to Father Christmas,
That smile.
Saw through him easily as a child,
Evil man.
Told firmly not to tell others,
Maintain lies.
Still got the toys, the Lego, and a
Chemistry set.
Mouth kept shut when asked,
The secret.

He climbed down chimneys,
Christmas night.
Billions of houses in a reindeer sleigh,
World wide.
A five-year old’s logic was tested,
Impossible lies.
Toys made for every child,
North Pole.
Shook my head and sighed,
Never believed.

But then I had my own children,
Two girls.
I lied with the best of them,
They believed.
The fraud in the red suit lived on,
Despite me.
Smiled through his fake beard,
Legend survives.
Things we do to ruin our children,
For Christmas.



It’s Christmas, and I am both excited and scared. Excited because it means presents and lots of fun. Scared because the decorations are coming out. I will be ten in a few days, too old to be scared of a big plastic Santa. Mum has told me not to be silly, but they don’t know what he is really like. He is watching me now. His pale, cold blue eyes follow me around the room from a curtain of tinsel. Mum thinks he looks cute, but I know better. He sneers at me from behind his shiny white beard. I can hear his voice in my head.

‘I will be coming to get you when they are asleep.’

I try to avoid looking at him, but those big black pupils are boring into me.

My little sister Lacy is three. She knows he is not the real Santa. She told me the real Santa is nice, and this one is naughty. Mum growled at me for putting silly ideas into her head, but I didn’t. Dad thinks it is funny that I walk far away from the figure. ‘It’s ok, mate. Santa isn’t real.’

Mum gets mad at Dad when he says that. I don’t understand why.

Last Christmas Eve, I heard him moving around and whispering to himself. I know he came upstairs and opened my door a little. I was ready for him. I put my pillows in bed to trick him and hid underneath. It worked. I hit my head when I woke up under my bed but at least scary Santa didn’t find me. I told Mum and Dad that I had heard Santa open my door, and they looked surprised.

‘You must have been dreaming, Max.’

I know I wasn’t. The plastic Santa had looked for me the year before too. I saw my door open and thought I was a goner, but I heard Mum talking to Dad. They must have scared him off. He is fast and always back in place, but I see he has moved a little. He can’t fool me, and I plan to protect us.

It’s late as I creep past the Christmas tree lights. Scary Santa sneers, but he won’t stop me. I move the lit candle under the tinsel and see Santa’s eyes widen.

‘It’s your turn to be frightened now!’

The TV is on, so no one hears the whoosh of flames as the white beard sizzles and goes black. I hear the screams as I run upstairs and shut my bedroom door.

Dad calls me to come downstairs. He is carrying Lacy.

‘We don’t know how this happened, but luckily the only casualty was Santa.’

A misshapen pile of melted plastic in scraps of red material lay outside. I smile.

‘Do you know what happened, Max?’

‘Nope. He was pretend anyway.’

‘True. So back to bed with you before the real one comes.’

We were safe now, and I would finally sleep well.



Around Christmas, 1905 several significant world events occurred. These included the first Russian revolution, the discovery of gold in Dunedin New Zealand, smoke famously killing 100 mules in a mine fire in the USA, Frank Lehar’s operetta The Merry Widow was first performed in Vienna and in Swansea, Tasmania, my great, great grandfather William Cotton, captured a Tasmanian Tiger.

In 1905 William lived on a small sheep property named ‘The Hermitage’ on the outskirts of Swansea. In those days the hunting of wallabies, kangaroos, possums and any type of wild animal was permitted. So, in country Tasmania, trapping and snaring of wild animals for food and fur was a common activity. William habitually set his snares in bushland about seven kilometres west of his homestead at a place called ‘The Sugarloaf’.

Upon checking his snares on a December morning just before Christmas, William found that he had snared a very unhappy but surprisingly docile adult Tasmanian Tiger. How to release the tiger safely though?

After some consideration, William cut a short pole about 1.5 metres long and at one end he attached a piece of rope with a noose which he managed to slip around the Tiger’s neck. He was now able to hold the animal at bay while he cut the snare. This allowed him to safely secure and lead the animal back to his homestead. His plan was to show it off to the townsfolk at that afternoon’s Christmas street pageant before releasing it back into the wild.

That afternoon on his way to town William had some trouble getting the Tiger to walk with him.  After a few hundred metres however, the animal began to act just like a domesticated dog walking alongside him obediently for the rest of journey to the township. As was expected, the Tiger was a huge hit and captivated the townsfolk at the pageant.

Returning to ‘The Hermitage’ homestead, William fed and watered the Tiger and managed to slip a collar around its neck and chain it in an empty horse stall.  Over the course of the evening many more locals visited the homestead to glimpse in wonderment at the large marsupial. The Tiger had generated so much interest in the community that William decided to keep it for two more days before releasing it back into the wild.

After two days however, the animal began to get very restless. Obviously it was distressed and keen to return to its natural habitat. On its second night in captivity, the Tiger tried to escape its confinement by jumping over a partition in the horse stable. Sadly, the chain was not long enough to allow the Tiger to touch the other side of the partition and it choked itself.

On finding the Tiger the next morning William was very distressed.  According to family lore, he was extremely disconsolate during the Christmas new year period and was never again to place snares at ‘The Sugarloaf’.


john heritage





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