“You were amazing, Holly!” breathed Sham. “Absolutely blitzen!”
They had stopped outside a Krissmas museum, two or three miles from the Care Home, where there was nobody around. Holly grinned, and then her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. She peeled off the fake fur coat, and took off a glove, running her fingers through her hair, and messing up the sleek blond lines. Then she shivered and pulled on a reindeer coat over her suit.
“I’ve gotta get my makeup back on!” was the first thing she said.
“Oh, by the way, Gran, this is Holly – not Snowy,” Sham added, indicating to Holly that she should take Gran’s hand.
“Good to meet you, Mrs Allbright,” said Holly very politely, “and I’m really sorry I was so mean to you in there.”
Gran enfolded Holly’s hand in both of her weathered ones, and squeezed them tightly, before letting her go. “Good to meet you too, Holly. Ah think you are a very good actor.”
“And I’m Rudy, Mrs Allbright!” said Rudy eagerly, also taking one of Gran’s hands. “I live on Chestnut Avenue. Sham’s been living with me, while his mum and dad are away.”
Gran smiled and patted his hand. But then she shivered and Sham noticed that she looked exhausted. He said quickly, “We need to get you out of the cold. Where should we go? Not to Chestnut Avenue.”
“No. It’s the first place The Suits will look for ‘er, and for us,” said Holly. She paused and looked up. The building beside them was a typical museum, its spire reaching up towards the sky, its arched windows filled with colourful stained glass. “We’re goin’ in ‘ere. It’s the Wooden Toy Museum; it’s where Red told me to come.”
More snow was coming down now, in enormous white flakes.
“Good – it’ll keep nosy elves off the streets,” said Holly.
Sham had just helped Gran from the sleigh when the great, arched wooden door of the museum creaked open and a tall girl stepped out dramatically into the snow. She wore no coat or hat, and her long, cornrowed hair and gleaming dark skin formed a sharp contrast to the whiteness.
“Holly,” she said, nodding in greeting.
“Amaryllis,” said Holly, equally business-like. “Hi.” It was clearly no surprise to find Red’s girlfriend here.
“I got rid of all the GLCs inside, like Red told me to. No green lights left in the building.” Holly nodded her approval and Amaryllis turned to Sham. “Hello, Sham. Pleased to meet you.”
Before Sham could say anything, Mrs Deco came slipping and sliding down the path behind Amaryllis. Sham stopped dead. He hadn’t seen his mother for weeks, and yet here she was, popping out of a museum as if she belonged there. Once she’d stopped skidding towards him, she smiled. She seemed stronger and more upright, somehow, as if she had put away her timid nature and taken out a new one.
“Sham,” she said warmly. “You’ve made it.”
“Mum?” was the only word that came out of his mouth. But she didn’t seem to care – she reached forward and pulled him into her arms for a huge hug. The hug seemed to release something in Sham, and he found his eyes filling with tears again. However, he determinedly blinked them away.
“Mum, we found her. We’ve got Gran,” he said. He indicated his grandmother, standing just behind him with Rudy. Even through the falling snow, her blindness was unmistakeable.
Mrs Deco stared at her mother-in-law.
“April!” she gasped. “What have they – oh – what have they done to you?”
“Hello, Tinsel. I would say that it’s good to see you, but my eyes don’t work any more…”
As they stood there for a few moments, Sham felt quite unable to speak, and even Rudy looked apprehensive. To break the tension, Holly untied the harness, and the huskies began relieving themselves noisily in the snow outside the museum.
“I gotta get these poor dogs watered and fed before we do anythin’ else. They could die, for all Red cared.”
Mrs Deco pulled herself together. “Santa’s Grotto!” she murmured, shaking her head. “What a lot of dogs!”
“Don’t worry,” said Amaryllis calmly. “I’ll look after them. I’ll take them round the back, Holly, and give them something to eat. Come on, you lot!” She strode off, the dogs milling around her happily, barking.
“Sham, take your Gran inside,” said Holly, glancing around the still empty street. “It’s safer. You can ‘ave your family reunion in there! I’m goin’ to find the versatelly and let Red know that she’s out.”
The next shock, as they stepped through the door, was to see Mrs Reindeer bustling up to greet them. Sham was taken aback for a moment by the fact that she was wearing a long, red velvet dress that reached the ground, and a green bonnet on her head – she looked exactly like a woman from an old-style Krissmas card, except that he caught a glimpse of reindeer skin boots underneath. Rudy rushed up to her, an ecstatic smile on his face. He threw his arms around her and hugged her hugely.
“Mum! How did you get here? How? Tell me!”
Half an hour later, everyone was calmer and feeling better. The human members of the group had eaten large rounds of turkey sandwiches and sausage rolls, provided enthusiastically by Mrs Reindeer and assisted by Amaryllis and Mrs Deco. The huskies, having drunk from a row of old wooden bowls (once used for serving mulled wine), and torn apart several stale loaves of bread and a mass of turkey bones, were now curled up asleep between the gravestones in the back yard. The falling snow had turned into a blizzard, and the sky was dark.
Inside the museum, it was very cosy. Like all the museums in Yuleport, the ceilings were high, and they could be very cold in the winter, but this one had an enormous log burner at one end, with a great metal chimney heading up into the spire. Inside it, there was a roaring fire, and the arched windows all had red and green velvet curtains, which Mrs Reindeer had drawn firmly to stop prying eyes, as well as for warmth, before locking the great museum door.
“I’m wearing this dress,” she told Sham, when she saw him staring, “to look like I am one of the staff in the museum – in case anyone comes to the door!”
Sham nodded and looked around at the wooden toys heaped on every surface, and realised that some of them were already on the fire! Amaryllis and Holly were busy smashing up more wooden furniture at the other end of the building.
“Well, what do you expect?” said Mrs Reindeer, following his eyes as they widened. “We need to keep warm somehow!”
Gran was sitting near the log-burner in a cushioned, Austrian rocking-chair with a hot cup of pine needle tea. Once the others had gathered wooden chairs and seated themselves in a group around the fire, Mrs Deco and Mrs Reindeer briefly explained their own escape.
“The Suits brought me back yesterday,” said Mrs Deco. “Miss Bell too. They’ve been letting the Wenceslas Women go since the snow came – bigger fish to fry. They don’t care about us and our books any more. But Mock stayed in London – he thinks he’s so important, organising the Krissmas lights in London, and he was just having far too much fun.” She smiled at Sham. “He got to meet Crissy Candle this morning, Sham – she won Santa’s Spy, and you know how he loves that programme!”
“Two of them Suits came to the house early yesterday to check up on Sham! That man, Mr Noel, was one of them!” cried Mrs Reindeer. “And Sham – of course you weren’t there, pet. And you were gone too, Rudy! Oh, I was in such a state when I found you were gone! Anyway, I tried to tell them that you’d both gone to an ice-sculpture party in Yuleport, but I don’t think they believed me – and all that Mr Noel said was, ‘He’s broken his Lockdown!’ and marched out.”
Sham felt sick. That meant that Mr Noel would be looking for him – and for Rudy. It wouldn’t be long before –
“But ‘ow did you know to come ‘ere?” said Holly impatiently.
“Priya,” said Mrs Deco, shrugging. “Apparently, she had a dream. And she seemed very convinced that it was true – which, of course, it was.” The three children all nodded. There was no need to say more.
As Holly briefly explained their own journey, he noticed that Gran also kept nodding, her expression more focused every moment. There was a brief pause when Holly came to the part of the story in which she fell through the ice, but then she clearly announced, “And Rudy saved me life. Well, both of them did, really.”
“Oh, Rudy – that’s my boy! I knew that Nenet training would pay off one day!” Mrs Reindeer wrapped her son in a huge hug, and Rudy grinned. Mrs Deco more reservedly put an arm round Sham’s shoulders, but he said quickly, “No, it was all Rudy, honestly. I was just – terrified.”
“If you’re not afraid, then there’s no credit in being brave,” said Gran gently. Then she smiled: “Or, as Odysseus would say, ‘There’s no courage without fear.’”
Sham had no idea who Odysseus was, but he remembered the words that he had heard so clearly on the ice, in his grandfather’s voice. He smiled too, and stored that up to tell her later.
“…But none of it would’ve worked if Priya ‘adn’t done whatever she did,” finished Holly.
“Who is Priya? Whaht did she do?” asked Gran.
“She’s my friend, Gran, back in Chestnut Avenue. She got us into the nursing home. She gets these dreams that tell the future. It sounds weird, I know…”
“No, no. Not weird et all,” said Gran, smiling. “A special gift for a special time. Wonderful. You are all wonderful. Mmm-hm. So many brave people doing so many good things. Shut away in there, it seemed like the world had stopped turning. Well, well – my grandson and his friends, the new Resisters!”
Rudy and Holly both grinned, and Sham felt himself grow warm inside at her words. He really was one of the Resisters now! They all were.
“So what happens now?” said Amaryllis.
“That will depend on a number of things,” said Gran. “Firstly, the diary that Daniel gave me; I believe that Sham picked it up just as we were leaving.”
“Right here, Gran.” He pressed the leather book into her hand. For a moment she held it, rubbing the leather with her roughened fingers, as if she had done this many times before. But she also held on to Sham’s hand. “Good. But first, you need to know something, Sham,” she said. “You all do.” Her voice was quiet, but controlled, and the whole group leaned forward to listen more closely. “I first met your grandfather in South Africa, forty years ago. It was my home. We were both twenty-eight. He was studying ways of inducing rainfall for crops; you probably know that he was a Science teacher for many years but he was also an inventor.” She paused. The fire crackled, but nobody spoke. Gran lifted one hand to point upwards. “And ten years after we married, when your father was a baby, Sham-boy, Daniel invented a machine, which you probably all hate right now – the Cloud Assembler.”
All her listeners except Mrs Deco gasped. Holly seemed to be about to say something angrily, but Mrs Deco put a hand on her arm and shook her head.
Gran continued. “But he created this machine for the best of reasons – to help people who were suffering from climate change and who no longer had enough rain.
“It didn’t take long, of course, for corrupt people to realise that they could use this technology for their own gain. And it tied in perfectly with the plans of certain people who wished to control this country by stopping education and having Krissmas every day. And those people became The Suits.
“It took many years to perfect the technology, even after he patented the first model. Eight years. It was ready to be made in bulk; he wanted to save the world from drought and famine forever. But The Suits were very clever: after stirring up the children against school (including your dad, Sham), and starting riots, they took over, as you know. The Krissmas Party took over. And then they came to Daniel – mmmhm – they forced him to hand over his plans to their own scientists; they made us change our names; they made him teach Krissmas Party children. But he secretly formed the Resisters. Our numbers grew. We were growing stronger. But then…but then…”
She paused, and her head bent down. Putting a hand on Gran’s shoulder, Mrs Deco spoke for her: “But then,” she said softly, “they did something foolish. They revealed themselves too soon. The Suits were trying to force Art – I mean, Daniel – to show them how to change the rain to snow – he refused. Many of his team were Resisters. When Daniel and the others wouldn’t cooperate, there was a fight and they were killed. Not just him. Holly and Red’s father, Mr Berry, was another – such a brave young man. And both of my parents. They were in the Resisters too – which is how I met your father, Sham. Our parents were such great friends…”
Her voice trailed off and there was silence. Sham felt a lump in his throat so large he could barely swallow. He suddenly remembered the photo – and pulled it out of his reindeer coat pocket. As he stared at it, he realised then that he was looking at a photo of his grandmother when she was younger – and there was his grandfather. It was the strong, kind face, neither old nor young, that he remembered from his dream. And his grandfather seemed to be smiling up at him, from amongst a group of friends: Sham’s other grandparents and Holly’s dad, who looked just like Red.
Sham realised that he had lost three grandparents in one day – and had never had the chance to know any of them! And his poor mum – no wonder she had never had the courage to do anything after that. He touched her hand and handed her the photo; Mrs Deco stared at it until a single tear dropped from her eye and splashed on to the flagstone floor. Then she passed it on to Holly, whose face was unreadable but whose lips tightened. Clearly none of this was news to her. And now it all made sense to Sham: Red’s cold anger; Holly’s bitterness. She must have been just a little girl when her father was killed; too young even to remember him. It was all just too terrible for words.