Tina Rath


Mr Murgatroyd stood under a streetlamp in the snow, waiting for his carol-singers. He liked snow. Snow meant that old ladies were even more ready to invite his singers inside and then patter off to their kitchenettes to get hot drinks, leaving his boys alone to rifle purses, pick up little ornaments, search out small hoards of money … a visit from Mr Murgatroyd’s carol-singers had spoiled many a Christmas.
“Deep and crisp and even,” hummed Mr Murgatroyd, picturing crisp ten pound notes showering from a dark sky. Weather like this, well, it was worth real money to him. Nevertheless, he was glad to see his troops turn the corner. He wanted to collect his dues and get home to his centrally heated flat.
He frowned slightly as the lads came nearer. They looked really rough. He didn’t want them looking too well dressed, of course. A darned jersey, an over-sized shirt clearly handed down from a big brother added a useful touch of pathos. Some old biddies wouldn’t even report their losses.
“Pore little things, they must of needed that money,” they would say. But he had warned them against looking rough. Who’d let any of that lot into her cosy front-room? And where had those big lads come from? A couple of them were taller than he was.
A couple of them … Mr Murgatroyd felt his heart, not a healthy organ at its best, attempt a kind of double back-flip that was clearly beyond its ability. For a moment he thought he’d recognised one of those lads. They’d call him Scabies, or some such pet name. He’d been pretty useless and Mr Murgatroyd had not been sorry when he’d got himself arrested. But Scabies had hanged himself in his cell.
Maybe he had a brother … Yes, said a very cold, very sane part of Mr Murgatroyd, maybe he did. A brother with a head that lolled onto his shoulder and a rope burn on his neck. And wasn’t that little Jake, the boy who’d been so useful for window jobs until he fell through one, cutting a femoral artery, so that he bled quietly to death, while Mr Murgatroyd got clean away?
Mr Murgatroyd turned to run, but somehow his lads were all around him, hustling him down the street. Some of them, the ones with claws and little sharp fangs didn’t really look like lads at all. And what was the house they were taking him to, the big dark house at the end of a street he had never seen before? The front door was opening as if to welcome then inside and a blaze of light sprang out. Had the house caught fire? It looked hot in there, as hot as … as hot as a place that Mr Murgatroyd had never previously taken seriously.
He looked round for help, but none was forthcoming. One odd detail struck him: you would have expected the lads to leave footprints in the deep, crisp snow, but they did not.
And neither did he.

(First published as a prize winning story in the: Yellow Advertiser, Jan 4 1991)