Preface/prompt: The house was filled with circular frames. There was a Christmas tree near the fireplace. The television was on the kitchen counter. The door opened to the cold December wind making itself feel at home. While, the Christmas feel was apparent, the not-so-subtle presence in the oven was very easy to miss. So was the presence in the timber of the staircase floorboard.
There was one circular frame that was empty, and it awaited a picture from a worthy occasion. But that frame was not with the others. It was hanging behind the couch, the queerest of places. But then it was a queer couch, and a queer living room. Nothing more queer than the raven perched on the fireplace mantel. It was the owner of the house and the sole occupant of the village for the past 63 years.
Its late master lay on the dining table, mummified, staring at the ceiling with hollow black holes instead of eyes. The white bandages had been pecked off from places – side of the mouth, top of the right arm, from the lower abdomen down to the entire left leg. The rotten grey-red innards on display were the only colourful aspects in an otherwise dark room. A ghastly black liver hung in the mid-air, stuck to a twisted strand of the small intestine that was falling out of the cadaver. Any second now the liver would fall on the floor; the raven would consider this to be his master’s Christmas gift to him and devour the whole organ in a single night. Life was good so far.
Or was it?
Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, (especially not that despicable presence in the oven, she could be very mean) he did have a little cause for worry that was making his feathers turn grey. While feasting on his master’s scrumptiously dried toes the other night, he was suddenly confronted by the reality of his own mortality. He couldn’t even finish his Thanksgiving meal (the large intestine) because it utterly freaked him out to realize that perchance he would be lying down on a table like that one day and… there would be no one to honourably eat him!
Even the sight of that absolutely unsavoury worm-infested liver couldn’t pacify the tumults of anxiety that had taken over him now. The December wind was no more enthralling his senses, instead it sent tremors all under his rich black plumage. Helter-skelter the poor raven began to fly, feeding his worry to his worry until the burden became too heavy for his wings to bear. Bereft of ideas he sat down before the old television set and prayed for inspiration. One would think his prayers were immediately answered – the television screen began playing an intensely vibrant Christmas carol. Ruddy faced children were clapping in tune around a plump nitid man drenched in red. What kind of a celebration is this, the raven wondered with gleaming eyes. The corpulent red man with his snowy white beard and perfect teeth were all signs of excellent health, of course! He looked like a man who did not just eat his food but also enjoy every single morsel. As if in cue the red man pulled out a crumb of cake stuck in his beard and put it in his mouth, glowing with jubilance. The raven started cawing with glee.
With unquestionable clarity he knew his successor had been found.
And hence began the preparations for the arrival of a new member in the house.
Boxing Day opened with a serious meeting of the various presences in the house. The raven exuded profound authority over these (more than less permanent) tenants in his house and commanded them to organize a searching party for the chubby red joker. The instructions were severely clear – capture the prey the second he steps out of that extravagantly bright house; better do it in the dark to avoid recognition. Bewildered though the presences were they had no option but to obey. One after another, they all stepped into their respective circular frames, refracting the fire’s warm glow, and vanished out of sight (not that they were very visible in the first place). Nevermore, nevermore the raven crooned as it too flew straight into the large frame right above the queer sofa, excited about the empty frame being filled soon.
Epilogue: Chimney from chimney Mr. Santa Claus flew, in a different house every night he seeked refuge. Why would a part-time-accountant-actor be hunted, he couldn’t fathom for the life of him. Soon he realized that he’d have to make this a regular practice, his hunters were in no mood to give up on their malice. As a small show of rent, he dropped some gifts for the family by a brightly lit tree, unwittingly inaugurating the most magical Christmas mystery.