Sham opened his eyes. His heart was beating fast. He’d been dreaming that it was the summer, and that he was running along the beach in the sun with his friends. Oh, it was a good dream – and he lay in the dark for a moment, remembering every sensation: the sun warm on his face, the sand crunching between his toes, the laughter of Priya and Rudy beside him.
Carefully, Sham moved his feet. There was a lump on his bed that he could push his foot under, and he grinned to himself. His mum had managed to smuggle a stocking in without him hearing her.
Just then, Jingle head-butted the door open and miaowed his way into the room. The four bells around his neck still rang out noisily, but they no longer made Sham feel uncomfortable. The cat sat down and scratched his ear with a back paw, and then jumped on to the windowsill. It was still dark outside, but Sham knew that it was morning. His clock, a real digital one from China, glowed in the gloom and told him (without speaking) that it was 7:25.
He went to the door of his room and listened. The versatelly was already on downstairs, and it was playing what he now knew was something called a ‘Christmas carol’ – this one was called ‘Silent Night,’ and its mellow tune felt just right in the chill of the dawn. He could even hear his father humming along from his parents’ bedroom, and he smiled. Quickly, he trotted off to the bathroom where his plain toothbrush waited for him, with no give-away tune to let his mother know he was up. However, she had obviously heard a floorboard creak, for as he came out of the bathroom, he heard her calling his name.
“Sham! Merry Christmas, sweetheart! Come and switch on the tree lights!”
It had always been his job. Before, he had hated it, but now he wanted to do it. As he ran down the stairs in his pyjamas, the music stopped and a voice rang out from the versatelly.
“Merry Christmas to all our viewers and listeners! Yes, it’s really Christmas Day – you’re not having a flash-back! And in a few minutes, our Prime Minister will be on to speak to the nation. Don’t go away!”
Another carol started up, and this was one Sham had never heard before – ‘It came upon a midnight clear…’ sang a choir. As he bent down, he breathed in the fragrance of the tree: it was a real pine tree, satisfyingly scented, in a pot full of equally sweet-smelling earth. After Christmas was over, they were planning to plant it outside the house, in the front garden.
“Mum,” he said, switching on the lights, “When is Gran going to come over? She is coming today, isn’t she?”
Mrs Deco was busily pouring milk into mugs of Sri Lankan tea. The steam was rising from the mugs in a friendly way as she brought one over to Sham, who sat down and tucked his feet under him on the sofa. The tree lights twinkled softly in the gloom, and Sham sighed with pleasure.
“Yes, of course, sweetheart, she’ll be with us for a late lunch. Dad’s going to go and get her as soon as he’s ready.”
“I wish she could live with us again.”
“I know, but she has said she will be with us after things have settled down, and they have someone else they trust to take over. Four years, that’s not so long to wait. And she did invite us to share 10, Downing Street with her, but I just couldn’t face being in the public eye all the time, and neither could your father, as you well know.”
Sham grinned. His father was having some trouble adjusting to his new life. He still worked for Linklights, but they made a lot more than just Christmas lights these days, and he was struggling to take on all the new business, such as designing energy-efficient lighting for all the schools that had reopened in the area.
It was several months now since their world had changed, since Mr Noel and his key followers had died. Once they realised that their leader had been killed, the Suits had surrendered or scattered. Those who had families, and wished them to be protected, simply laid down their weapons and openly handed themselves over to the newly reinstated police force. The others simply disappeared. Possibly, they were still out there somewhere, but as they had all removed their green suits and returned to normal clothing, there was little way of finding them. There were no records written down, and even if there were, they probably would have changed their names by now as well.
The Krissmas Party was no more. The Naughty List had disappeared overnight. Ivy Wreath, with considerable shame and apology, had stepped aside for a new and highly popular Prime Minister to take over the leadership of their recovering nation. Having thoughtfully and wisely guided the country through the traumatic weeks of thawing snow and ensuing floods that followed the descent of the Cloud Assemblers, Gran had been unanimously voted into leadership by those who called themselves The New Moderates – mostly made up of the Resisters who had emerged from hiding.
After bringing the country out of its long and painful lockdown, Gran’s first job as Prime Minister had been to re-open all the schools, and bring back all the teachers (who had been secretly educating The Suits’ children for years) to teach the eager children. The sense of freedom in the country was extraordinary!
Sham and his friends were now established back at their school, recently the silent witness of so much violence: the building that had held so many secrets, now all exposed. And the school was friendly again, and full of laughter and life. The Cloud Assemblers’ control centre had become a state-of-the-art computer suite, often visited by touring parties from other schools.
To the children’s delight, Miss Bell was their teacher again, having fought so valiantly the night that Mr Noel had died, and she was constantly pestered to tell them stories of her own dramatic adventures. But for now, it was the holidays.
“And what about Priya and Rudy?” Sham now asked his mother. “They said they would come and open stockings with us…”
Even as Sham spoke, there was a ring at the door. A nice simple ‘Ding dong’, with no tinny Krissmas tune attached.
“Oh, you get that, while I take the tea to your dad. Tell Mrs Raj that there’s tea in the pot.”
“But I’m wearing my pyjamas!”
“So am I!” called a voice from outside.
Sham grinned, carefully put his tea down and walked to the door. A gust of cold wind blew into the house as it opened. Outside there was quite a crowd – not only Priya (in her red dressing-gown) and her family, but the Reindeers and the Full family too. Faith and Hope were both clutching their stockings.
“Merry Christmas!” they all cried in unison.
As all the others piled into the house, some hugging Sham as they passed, Priya grabbed Sham’s arm and whispered in his ear. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “I just invited everybody! I emailed Holly, and she and her mum are coming over in a minute too.”
Sham grinned again – he had been smiling so much for the past few months that his jaw muscles were often aching at the end of the day. “I suppose you had a dream that this was meant to happen, did you?”
Priya laughed and shook her head. “I’ve not had any dreams like that for months,” she said. “Your Gran told me that they were probably only for the time they were needed. Oh, I suppose you do know that Mrs Reindeer has pulled out all the stops for an amazing Christmas lunch at their house – isn’t that great? Nobody does Christmas like the Reindeers!”
Faith and Hope were already rolling around on the rug under the tree, squealing excitedly over their stockings and the other presents lying there. Sham stayed by the door, waiting for Holly. He gazed out into the dawn. In contrast to the noise inside the house, there was a strange silence outside that was eerily familiar. Sham stepped out, shivering. He stared up into the sky, his breath making clouds in the freezing air – and as he did so, the first white flakes of snow began drifting past his nose or landing on his hair.
“Shhhhh – it’s Mrs Allbright on the versatelly!” Mrs Reindeer was shouting from the living-room.
“Turn it up, turn it up! Sham, it’s your Gran!”
Sham stood in the doorway, watching the gathering snowstorm – and as he did so, Priya and Rudy came to get him, but instead of dragging him in, they gasped at the sight of the snow, and came to stand beside him. They didn’t say a word, but their eyes met and they all smiled. Then a new and haunting sound started echoing through the dawn: the sound of bells ringing; first there was just one, and then it was joined by others, and soon the whole of Yuleport was resounding with joyful, harmonious music.
“Church bells!” whispered Priya, after a few moments. Since the end of the Krissmas Party’s regime, all of the Krissmas museums had been scrapped and the buildings reopened to serve their original purpose: churches, mosques, synagogues and temples (brand new words for Sham) were now constantly busy with the crowds who had flocked back into them.
In the glow of a street-light, the three children saw the tall figure of Holly approaching, arm-in-arm with her mother, her legs encased in long black boots and a short blue skirt; her short hair boasted a blue streak across the blond. Sham felt the pang that always hit him when he saw Holly and her mother – knowing that Red should have been with them. Somehow they looked incomplete. Mrs Berry clutched Holly’s arm as she skidded on the wet road, and Sham heard Holly’s voice echoing across the avenue.
“Oy, Pretty Package, ‘ow come there’s snow if your dad’s stopped doin’ it with machines?
They all laughed. And behind them, Sham heard his grandmother speaking.
“It is the 25th of December, people of the United Kingdom. Just for today, we return to being the United Christmas Kingdom – united with our families, united in our joy, in our homes, in our desire to help all those who have struggled against hardships for so long. We thank the engineers who have continued their work on the Cloud Assemblers, so that they may be given to countries who really need them – you have done so much to relieve the poverty of people all over the world. It will still not be an easy ride for any of us, but thanks to the work of the Wenceslas Women and the other Resisters, hidden for so long, we are not as behind as we might have been.
“We thank all teachers for the work they have been doing in our recently re-opened schools and hope that they have a marvellous break. We thank all those who have changed their lifestyles, often against their wishes, in order to make a return to a country with more to offer than just Krissmas gifts and snow. We thank the children, whose enthusiasm at being educated again has been such a wonder to behold. And we are eternally grateful to those who gave their lives for the sake of our freedom.”
The well-loved voice paused. As Holly and her mother entered the house, Holly slapping Sham on his back as she did so, Priya closed the door on the snow and the still ringing bells, and they all turned, to face the warmth of people gathered together in the Decos’ home.
“So, you’re still Sham then are you?” muttered Holly to Sham. “I thought you might’ve changed yer name? To Daniel or somethin’?”
“Gran wouldn’t let me,” said Sham. “She told me, we are who we are, and our names are part of that. And I’m her Sham-boy.” He said it proudly, and without embarrassment. Sham’s mother and father had joined the scrum in the living-room and were holding hands behind the sofa, smiling. And there was Gran on the versatelly, her once long, thick pepper-and-salt hair now cut short, her smile as warm as ever, and her dark skin glowing in the lights of her Downing Street office. Beside her, a feathery, wagging, blonde tail was the only evidence of her new and beloved guide-dog, Libbie (short for Liberty), who never left her side.
“I may not be able to see,” Gran was continuing on the versatelly, her voice strong and calm, “But I can hear the laughter of children, and I can feel the renewed pleasure of a real Christmas. Let me end by simply saying, ‘God bless you all’. And let the memory of the one Great Resister comfort you and guide you all as you find your way in the New Year.”
There was another pause, in which Hope and Faith both yelled with delight as they opened new books at the same time.
“It’s a joke book!” shouted Faith. “What do you call a polar bear wearing ear muffs? Anything you want: he can’t hear you!”
“Someone sit on ‘er!” responded Holly. “Or I’ll ‘ave to do it, and I’ll squash ‘er flat!”
As everyone laughed, Gran spoke again, in quite a different tone of voice.
“They tell me it has just started snowing in Yuleport! May I just say to my grandson that I will expect him to have built a snowman in the shape of my old friend Professor Days by the time I arrive for lunch! Oh, children, you are such a joy to us all! Mmhmm! Let me end by saying what we should all remember, for the rest of our lives: that ‘Children are the living messages we send…’” Gran paused, nodded and smiled broadly, as if listening to the response that echoed throughout the land.