'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rudolf the Wolf

The garden has been looking like an image from a Christmas card recently. Snow, frost and ice have been prominent features of the past few days. People can go sledding on the hills or ice-skating in the fields still submerged after the floods. The wife's aunt can glide gracefully across the ice, even though her enormous hat looks as if it's constantly on the verge of collapse. It's covered in holly, tinsel, lights and an angel smoking a pipe on top.

My cousin Isobel joins a group of carol singers every year. They perform in halls, on streets and on doorsteps in the week leading up to Christmas. Members of the group don't need to be good singers but they do need a flair for making extraordinary hats. To audition for the group you have to wear your best hat. You can sing as well, if you want to. The audience don't mind how badly the group sound because they're too distracted by the headgear. Isobel's hat has a banjo in it. It's possible to play the banjo, but not while she's wearing it.

One year a man called Clive became a member with a top hat that had a stuffed penguin on top. He never sang because he believed that silence would enhance the effect created by his hat. The penguin proved to be popular with the audience. The singers drew a big crowd when they performed in the town's square on a Saturday afternoon, even though there were many other distractions in the town at that time. One popular event taking place that day was the annual smelling contest. The event was first staged many years earlier, when it was meant to be a spelling contest for kids, but someone misspelled 'spelling' on the poster advertising it. The locals were much more interested in smelling than spelling. It became an annual event, and it was opened to people of all ages. Contestants wore blindfolds and they had to guess what they were smelling. In the later rounds of the competition, contestants would be expected to identify ten different items that were put together in a bucket. The buckets could contain food, flowers, tools, batteries, socks, Christmas decorations or just about anything that would fit into the bucket. The best smellers practised all year long, and they were able to guess the titles of books based on smell.

A few days before Christmas, the carol singers started visiting houses. When they came to the home of the winner of the smelling contest, a man called Brendan, they congratulated him on his success before performing 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen'. He seemed preoccupied with a smell as they sang or stood still. At the end of the carol he looked at Clive and said, "Why is there a turtle in your hat? Or is it in the penguin?"

Clive remained silent. After they had left Brendan's house, the leader of the group proposed a motion to expel Clive for concealing something in his hat that was inappropriate for carolling. They had a brief debate on the issue. Isobel contended that the turtle was perfectly appropriate for carolling, and even enhanced the hat. She put forward a very strong case, but when they voted on the motion, Clive lost by one vote. Before leaving, he leant forward and let his penguin glare at those who had voted against him.

On the following day, Clive got a visit from Isobel and JJ, another member of the group who had supported him. JJ was the only member who didn't have to wear a hat because any headgear would have diminished the effect of his hair, which was as impressive as any hat. It looked as if his head was full of antennae, and he claimed he could receive channels through these antennae. They provided visions of the future. His most recent vision was of Clive delivering Christmas gifts late at night, leaving these gifts on doorsteps.

"It all makes perfect sense," Isobel said to Clive. "You give gifts to the people who voted against you and they'll let you back in. You should probably give gifts to the people who voted for you as well because you don't want to upset them."

"That's a fantastic idea," Clive said. "Or nearly a fantastic idea. I'll give gifts to the people who voted against me, and my gifts will definitely upset them. That vision was of me getting revenge. I've been trying to come up with a plan for revenge since last night, and this is perfect. I'll give them something nice that's covered in earthworms."

Clive was afraid of earthworms but he had no fear of knives. He'd never been injured by an earthworm but he'd need both hands if he wanted to count on his fingers the amount of times he was rushed to hospital because of an accident with a knife, and two hands wouldn't be sufficient if he hadn't been able to reach the surgeons with the skills to re-attach his fingers. He was going to get his brother to collect the earthworms that he'd give to the carol singers who had voted against him. His brother loved knives and earthworms.

Isobel said, "I'm sure JJ's vision wasn't of you getting revenge."

JJ thought about this. He said, "The smile on your face suggests you're trying to please people rather than upset them."

"The smile on my face suggests that I'm very pleased to be upsetting people."

"That's your interpretation of JJ's vision," Isobel said, "and it's very dangerous for anyone but JJ to interpret his visions. Last year a man called Peter was in our group. JJ had a vision of him being attacked by old women unless he abandoned plans for a hamster cannon. Peter said, 'I met a hair dresser who claimed to have a little birdcage in her ears and there was a tiny bird in the cage. Her ear rings looked like bird cages that had been pulled apart. The little bird told her things that triggered visions in her head. She told me about a modified washing machine that you can put your head into and when you take it out a few minutes later you'll have an amazing hair style. She said that if I put my head into this I'd get a huge hairstyle that seagulls are trying to escape from, and I'd be wondering if the seagulls were going to die, but if I didn't put my head into the machine everything would be fine, no matter how many hamster cannon I build.' He was being sarcastic. And do you know what happened to him?"


"Exactly what JJ said would happen, and on top of that, mice set up home in his hat."

"Okay. I'll do what JJ saw me doing. I'll deliver Christmas gifts tonight."

Isobel suspected that Clive was going to add earthworms to these gifts, so she prepared alternative earthworm-free gifts for the people who had voted against him. She'd leave them on doorsteps in place of Clive's gifts, if Clive's gifts were designed to upset people. To determine if his gifts contained earthworms, she got Brendan to help her. They waited in a car near the house where the leader of the group lived. They saw Clive leaving a small box on the doorstep. The box was wrapped in Christmas paper, and it came with a card signed by Clive. He certainly looked pleased.

After he had gone, Isobel and Brendan went to the door. Brendan smelled the box and he was easily able to identify the smell of chocolates and earthworms.

"I knew it," Isobel said. "I'm tempted to leave the earthworms here so he'll never be let back into the group. But I like him. And his penguin. I love his penguin."

She had brought a box of chocolates that didn't contain any earthworms. She left this on the doorstep and took Clive's present away. As they were walking back towards the car they saw what looked like a dog walking towards them, but then Brendan noticed the eyes and he said, "Oh no! It's Rudolf! He actually exists!"

Isobel had often heard the legend of the wolf who prowls the streets of the town around Christmas. There was a red glow to his eyes, and that's why he was known as Rudolf. Isobel had stopped believing in him years earlier. The idea of a wolf with red eyes seemed outlandish enough, and the legend was made to sound even more far-fetched by tales of Rudolf howling to the music played by a woman with a glass harp.

"I hope he doesn't think we're stealing Santa's gifts," Isobel said. "Why didn't JJ tell me this would happen?"

Her phone rang. It was JJ. "I've just had an amazing vision of your future," he said. "In it, you've just discovered a shop that sells teabags. Nothing but teabags."

"That isn't really of any help to me right now. We're having trouble with Rudolf, the wolf. He's real, and he's walking towards us. Not just 'walking' towards us. He's advancing on us."

"I've heard that he has some very strange tastes in food, like chicken and lipstick."

"How about chocolate and earthworms?"

"Maybe that's what he's advancing towards."

Isobel opened Clive's gift and she threw it towards Rudolf. He devoured all of the chocolates and earthworms in seconds, and then he sat down on the footpath.

"He looks pleased with himself," Brendan said.

"If he follows us it'll be like all his Christmasses have come at once."

Rudolf stood up as soon as he heard this. He followed them to all of houses where Clive had left gifts. He was as friendly as a pet Labrador by the time he'd eaten all of the chocolates and earthworms. People returning from Christmas parties blamed alcohol for the sight they saw.

Clive was allowed back into the group. At first he was angry that his plan for revenge had been thwarted, but he couldn't deny that he enjoyed performing with the carol singers, standing in silence to show off the penguin hat. Isobel got Clive's brother to collect more earthworms. She put them into a bucket with some chocolates and she left it outside her front door on Christmas Eve. She ran downstairs on Christmas morning and she was delighted to find that the bucket was empty.

The moose's head over the fireplace is intrigued by the Christmas card we got from the wife's uncle. On the front of it there's an image of ice-skating ducks made of diamonds. He's been sending strange Christmas cards to everyone this year. One of his 'lady friends' received a card with an image of a goose drinking from a wine bottle. She was upset by this. She sent him a card with an image of a bowler hat floating in a swimming pool. She gave him a bowler hat for his birthday this year.