A Christmas Tale
Thomas Hardacre - Gary
Santa - Jon M
Adamantius Dorooge - Adam Doree
Mrs Millson - Jean-Francois Cecillion
'Twas a normal Friday afternoon for young Thomas Hardacre, life-long resident of Hackney Orphanage. Albeit this was a Friday afternoon made slightly the more bearable by the absence of schooling, it was still nothing more than a regular Friday afternoon nonetheless.
Of course, for the residents of Olde London Town, the particular Friday afternoon in question had another name - Christmas Eve! Their red noses and rosy cheeks burning in the cold air, as they rush home to families and friends, burdened down only by their gifts and hearts heavy with love and festive joy.
But there was to be no joy for Thomas this year, for, once again, he was to be alone in the cold, dark halls of the local orphanage. But maybe, just maybe, Santa would remember Thomas this year. After all, hope is the very last thing a life of ill-treatment takes away.
The head of Thomas' orphanage had other ideas. Old Adamantius Dorooge looked upon children as an expensive inconvenience, especially when they where expecting gifts. "There's only one thing worse than a child," muttered Adamantius, "and that's a child that wants something out of my pocket."
Thomas was seasoned to the old man's harsh demeanour, and knew better than to ask for presents. Why, not two years previously, a request for a blanket to keep himself warm through the winter was greeted with derision, and a much firmer beating than usual that same evening.
"Presents!" shouted Adamantius, "they want presents, Mrs Millson! Of course they want presents! For would we all not like to be given something for nothing, especially at this most expensive time of year!" With that, Mr Dorooge decapitated his loyal cook, Mrs Millson, who had been so brave as to suggest a reason for the children's sudden improvement in behaviour, with a swift swipe of his cane.
"There! Take that as present!" With that, and a swoosh of his black cape, Adamantius retired to his office, where he would see out the Christmas period on his own, apparently slaving over the orphanage accounts, as if it were a day of no more importance than the many Fridays he huffed and puffed his way through in the course of a year.
Midnight grew close, Adamantius felt himself dropping asleep. "Too many whiskies," he whispered to the bare walls, struggling to focus on his task. A loud bump startled him into upright alertness. What was it? No doubt a child sneaking around, looking for hidden presents.
"Ha! He'll have to look very hard indeed," mumbled Adamantius, "even then he will not find even a bean from me." But again came the noise, a slow, grating sound coming from behind the door.
"Must I suffer these diversions? Who is there? If it is a child, it had better have an exceedingly fine excuse for interrupting my work!"
An old man faded into view, seeming to pass through the still-locked door.
"Y... Yes. And who might you be?"
"I am the ghost of..."
"But I am the ghost of..."
"I have no time for you, sir! Please allow me to continue with my work! Will Shen Mue complete itself? I think not. Now leave me, I have tasks which beg my attention."
"But I must..."
"Begone! Maybe the children will have time for your petty diversions, but I am far too important a man to chat idly upon any evening, let alone Christmas Eve."
"But I've got to..."
And with that, any hope of a pleasant Christmas for the orphans disappeared, along with the very soul of Mr Dorooge, condemned for eternity to suffer and pay the price of his sins on earth.
And for Thomas, ever hopeful, the evening was getting late. For some three hours now he had sat upon the hearth, waiting, desperately hoping, that Santa would appear bearing some gifts. A gift, any gift to brighten this dark time. Having the strange dreams that amuse those caught between sleep and alertness, Thomas' head dropped and rose, as the cold youngster fought sleep, desperately waiting, hoping for a gift from above.
He was woken by a small thud, a sound so distant as to need reassurance that it had actually been heard. "Yes, yes I heard a noise," whispered Thomas, jumping to his feet. "What could it have been?" Heading toward the door, on tip-toes, so as not to wake Mr Dorooge by stepping on one of the many creaky boards, Thomas headed for the outside door.
It was locked. Dorooge always made a point of locking the door - he said to keep burglars and thieves outside, but the children rather suspected it was to keep them in - after all, what was there to steal in such a dark, soulless place? Certainly any thief set in his task enough to break through the old wooden door would be sorely disappointed by the meagre pickings presented inside.
Tiny meals of gruel and porridge had their own scant reward - Thomas was a thin child, able to sneak his bony frame through the cat flap and out - heavens! - out to the snow-covered yard. It really was snowing! So late on Christmas Eve, one may even suggest the snow was falling upon Christmas Day itself! And so hard a snowfall as to provide a soft landing for the box - not two-feet square - that had fallen at an angle, and was sitting atop a small snow pile in the centre of the yard.
Was he dreaming? No, dreams since arriving at Dorooge's orphanage were never this pleasant, and the icy feel of the snow under his feet was real and painful enough as to wake even the deepest of sleepers.
So, this was a real present. A real present! Dropped by Santa himself as he passed through the skies! Grabbing the box, not even pausing to shake it and perform a rough guess as to its contents, Thomas rushed back to the house, narrowly squeezing the mysterious box through the flap.
"BOY!" The cold shout of Adamantius could surely have woken all of the children in the whole country, such was its unexpected volume piercing through the dark hallway. "What have you there?"
"It's a... Christmas present, sir," said Thomas, sure that his fortunate discovery would now be taken away, his face, and heart, dropping as they did every Christmas morning.
"A Christmas present? A Christmas present? I bought you no such present, nor shall I ever do so. Where did it come from?"
"I found it"
"You stole it more like!"
"No sir, it was outside. On the ground. It's snowing!"
"Snowing? Good lord, now you children will be needing me to turn on the boiler to keep you warm. More expense. How I hate Christmas. Do you want me to turn on the boiler and waste more money on you, child?"
"No sir. I just want to open my present."
"Well... even I am not cold of heart enough to begrudge a small boy a present on Christmas Day - so long as I do not have to pay for it."
"Thank you, Mr Dorooge, sir!" cried Thomas, barely able to contain his physical excitement through the thinning fabric of his pyjamas.
But what did the box contain?
Choose your present - and the outcome of Christmas - now! But choose wisely, as the ghost of Adamantius Dorooge is eager to haunt those that choose the wrong path...