A Starry Night Carol
The year was in its twilight days. Gray skies had enveloped Mineral Town, covering the ground with a thick layer of crunchy wet snow and sealing the lakes and rivers with a layer of shining ice. The general consensus was that amid the white aesthetics and snow flaked country lanes, Mineral Town looked like paradise- the very model of a holiday card village.
Pete the local farmer disagreed and would have said that the white sheet of snow was more akin to a giant pile of bird droppings.
The snow and ice prevented crops and grains from growing in the winter, depriving him of his primary source of income. Unable to grow produce on his beloved Paradi Farm, Pete instead opted to work in the local mines, finding useful metals and even the occasion lump of gold. He guessed Mineral Town was named for a reason.
Having returned from his latest expedition from the mine shaft, Pete wiped his face clean and sat at the table to do the accounts. As he wrote the first figure, he noticed a glow and several figures from the corner of his eye.
"What are you doing?!" he bellowed at the Harvest Sprites, hired to look after Pete's plentiful livestock. The seven small figures yelped and turned to the boss.
"Sorry Pete!" said Bold, the yellow harvest sprite "We were just trying to get warm!"
"You can get warm by working! Put that fire out!"
"B-b-but it's just o-one log..." stuttered Timid the green sprite. "Y-you can chop more wood without h-having to pay for..."
"Every second I spend chopping wood is a second that I'm not working the mine, shipping fish, milking cows or anything that I actually get paid for! Do you want the money to come out of your wages?"
"N-n-no, Pete..." The Harvest Sprites couldn't afford to lose their pay. They worked hard for that daily bag of flour!
"Then PUT THAT LIGHT OUT!" Pete snapped, unconsciously channelling the late British actor Bill Pertwee.
The frightened sprites brought in some snow from outside and used it to dowse the log. It hissed as if if were booing and hissing at, Pete were he the villain in a pantomime.
There was a knock at the door. Pete answered to a slightly plump, yet pretty young brunette lady in a blue dress.
"Hello Pete." said Elli "Do you have the basket?"
"Of course." said Pete as he showed her in. earlier in the week he had made an arrangement with Elli to see her some bread, eggs, milk and produce. It worked out cheaper than buying at the store and Elli was desperate to save money at this time of the year.
Pete placed a basket on the table, with dairy products inside.
"Make sure its all there, while I write up the bill." he said "Thanks Pete. I really appreciate you doing this."
Pete didn't answer, except with a grunt of acknowledgement. He was now focused on summarising what was in Elli's basket.
"HAPPY HOLIDAYS, BIG BROTHER!" a high pitched shout blasted into his ear, causing him to fall off his chair, like the drunken judge of that televised dancing show. So focused on his accounts was Pete that he hadn't noticed his little sister Claire letting herself in.
"What's so happy about it?" Pete snorted, picking himself up.
"What's NOT to be happy about? There's no school, you can eat like a pig and people give you stuff!"
"That's no different to any other day for you." Pete sneered at his underachieving sister. She worked part time as a waitress in the city, while trying to score a job as an actress. One summer she came to "help" on the farm, which culminated in both siblings wishing they had been only children for the rest of the month.
"Don't be such a grump! Tomorrow's the Starry Night Festival, in case you forgot! How about you Elli? Got a date for tomorrow?"
"Oh no." Elli smiled, having the decency to blush "I'll be spending the day with my family."
"Aren't you the cutest!" Claire giggled.
"Bah!" Pete grunted "As far as I'm concerned, it;s just another work day."
"What's wrong with you, Pete? Nobody works on Starry Night!"
"You don't work ANY night, Claire! You hardly work any DAY!
"She is right you know, Pete." Elli added "This is the season of togetherness."
"Are you finished with that basket?" Pete said with a mean glint in his eye "Time is money".
"Sorry, sorry." said Elli, resuming her organisation of the basket.
"What are you even doing here, Claire?" Pete said in a tone that made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of babysitting his layabout sister when there was work to be done.
"I'm here for the Starry Night party at the inn tomorrow night. I wanted to invite you along. Karen's going to be singing, there's food, a karaoke party games and all the beer you can drink? You in?"
"Absolutely not! I've got better things to do than watch you make a fool of yourself, get drunk and chasing village boys!"
Claire let herself out. But didn't get too far without using her finger to write "Dweeb" in window frost.
Presently, Elli had finished checking the basket and Pete had wrote out the bill.
"Oh my. I didn't think it would be that expensive..."
"You do have money on you, don't you?"
"Well, yes, but with Stu and Grandma, this is an expensive time of year. I can get you the money, but I only get paid around the new year."
Pete starred at her. He was determined that either he got the full price of the fruit of his labour, or it stayed right where it was.
"I'll tell you what." he said as he began to rummage in the basket "I'll take our two bottles of milk and this one carton of eggs and you can take it."
Elli sighed, a sigh that said 'It could have been better, but I'm satisfied'. It was fortunate that she didn't say it out lout, lest Pete make a mean spirited joke her last time sharing a bed.
Though it was unlikely to be a joke that made any kind of satirical sense. Elli was so pure that Pete reckoned that she was frightened of looking down in case she noticed her own chest. None the less, Elli replied to Pete's compromise.
"Thanks Pete. You're so kind."
"Yeah, yeah..." he said as the money changed hands.
Afterwards, Pete had washed up and prepared for the evening chicken husbandry. As he made his way to the chicken coop he saw two flustered people talking down the road into his farm.
They were the siblings who ran the poultry farm down the street; the pompous chicken keeper Rick
and his beautiful sister Popouri, who tended to spell her brother's name with a silent "P".
"What do you want?" Pete sighed when they caught up to him.
"We need your help!" said (P)Rick. "The truck that delivers our chicken feed had an accident! The company said they'd send another shipment, but it's snowed in! They won't be able to send another shipment until the snow melts!"
A cruel smile sprouted on Pete's face "Oh can't they, now?"
(P)Rick's eye began to twitch, as he knew Pete was gloating, but still tried to maintain a dignified stance (even though his panicked speech undercut that faux dignity).
"Since you have a silo full of feed, we were wondering if you could spare some."
"Well, well, well." said Pete "Different story from last year, isn't it? When you stopped 'believing' in me. Isn't it ironic? The poultry farmer's chickens have come home to roost."
"Please, Pete..." said (P)Rick through gritted teeth and a hot flush.
"It's not like we're asking you to give it away for free," said Popouri, with her huge puppy-dog eyes. "We're happy to pay for it."
Popouri was generally someone that people found it a Herculean labour to say "No" to. Her lively nature, large expressive eyes and endearing childishness had made her quite popular among the townsfolk, both young and old. The problem here, as with her love life, was that she had an overbearing brother guarding her. This would be okay, except that this was a brother with whom Pete was not presently on good terms with. It was very much like Julius Caesar asking Brutus to lend him a pair of scissors.
"Okay." said Pete "I think I can spare a bundle or two."
"Great!" said Rick "How much do you want?"
"One-hundred-thousand." said Pete, looking down his nose, with the most heartless, arrogant smile he could muster.
"ONE HUN-That's extortion!" Rick screamed
"Hey, if you can find it cheaper anywhere else, more power to you."
Rick sized up to Pete as if he were ready to pounce on him.
"You know we can't! You...!"
"That's You're problem. You should have planned ahead. Weren't those your EXACT words last year, Rick?"
Utterly defeated, the siblings left. But not before Popouri had grabbed a snowball and scored a direct hit on Pete's hat. Her childishness all of a sudden didn't seem as endearing.
The night was getting colder. It was the time of year where it began to go dark in the middle of the afternoon. The day's work was done and it was time to pay the Harvest Sprites for their day's labour. One bag of flour each. After Pete had handed the rewards out to the sprites, he noticed them in a huddle. They were pushing Bold towards him as the yellow sprite tried desperately to return to the safety of the huddle. Alas, they overpowered Bold and shoved him in front of Pete. The poor harvest sprite looked like a petrified Roman slave standing before an emperor with a lion at his feet and a chip on his shoulder.
"Go on!" hissed the other sprites "Ask him!"
"Ask me what...?"
"W-well..." Bold gulped "We w-were wondering, you know, since tomorrow's Starry Night and all...and since the delivery guy usually takes the day off anyway, we, um, we were wondering if we could take..."
...half the day off? Just the morning?"
Pete's eyes seemed to burn holes in the trembling harvest sprite. It seemed Superman wasn't the only one with heat vision.
"Okay." he said "But I'll have to dock you a full day's pay."
"If you're taking half the day off, then I'll have already milked the cows and carted up the eggs by the time you get here. I'm not paying you to run around and have fun!"
Later still, Pete had finished up work for the day. He had fed and brushed his prize winning horse Tornado and was looking forward to a hard earned night of sleep- until he slipped in a cow pat (sometimes affectionately called barn dirt, despite the fact that cows can produce this stuff even outside the barn) that the Harvest Sprites had forgot to clear up before they left. Those seven shrimps would be hearing about this in the morning!
As Pete was preparing a mug of warm milk to help him drift off, if was icy cold, lit by a very low light. He sat in his chair looking over his to-do list for the morrow when all of a sudden he heard a creaking sound.
"What?" he turned, positive that he had heard his name.
"Claire? Is that you? Have you been at the rice wine again?!"
In the corner of a room, he saw shadows moving. The shadows moved to form shapes- the outline of a man. A burglar?!
Pete jolted from his chair, dropping his mug which smashed into a dozen pieces on the hard wooden floor. Pete dived to grab his lumber axe ready to decapitate the intruder. But as he made his fighting stance The man drifted out of the shadows to show a slim layer of colours. An old man with a faded grey moustache clad in dungarees very similar to Pete's own. Pete gasped as he dropped the axe.
He stared at the ghost of the previous owner of Paradi Farm, who had left it to Pete in his will.
"Yes Pete. I've come to give you a friendly warning."
"Warning? What happened? Is Rick planning to raid my silo?"
"No, Pete. You need to change your attitude. When I was alive, I was basically married to my work."
"But didn't you find it rewarding?"
"Sometimes. I felt empty, so I dedicated a lot of time to my farming. I ended up dying alone. Believe me, I even tried my hand at that E-harmony junk when it was in its infancy."
"Did you have any luck with it?"
"Not one woman was interested! I can't understand why. I owned a lot of animals, I ran my own business, I was never short of food on the table. Oh, right, its you we're talking about."
"But I'm fine, Gramps."
"You say that now, Pete, but when you get older you're likely to regret some of your life choices. Tonight you'll be visited by three magical folks. Hopefully, they'll be able to convert you."
With that, the ghostly apparition floated towards the door and turned to look back at his successor one last time.
"Don't repeat my mistakes Pete. I don't want you to die lonely like I did." and with that he phased through the door into the mist...
"Wait! Look out for the cow pat!
After the scream there was a silence. Then his head emerged through the door "just kidding. I can float. Besides, no body, no smell!"
After the shock of seeing a ghost, Pete swept up the broken pieces of his mug, picked up a tumbler and poured himself a measure of whiskey to calm his nerves. Three more supernatural visitors were to come.
Maybe it was a hallucination? Elli's employer Dr Trent had after all started coming down to the farm to lecture Pete about working too hard. Maybe he was overworked. Maybe he just needed a little vacation...
No! Then who'd look after the farm? Every day he spent away from Paradi Farm was another few thousand left unearned!
No, all he needed was a good night's sleep and he'd be right as rain in the morning- repaired, refreshed, rested and ready to rake in some cash!
Pete was just drifting off to sleep when he felt a bouncy sensation. It was reminiscent of his childhood, when Claire would wake him up by jumping on his bed.
"Knock it off, Claire!" he snapped, only to find that the one making a trampoline of him was not Claire, but a little girl with wavy green hair, tied into two braids.
"Hello, Mr Farmer! I'm Dessie!"
"Hello, Dessie. I'm trying to sleep. Are you the first one tonight?"
"That's right! They asked me to show you something great, to get you into the holiday mood!"
"Yeah...that's not going to happen. People stuffing their faces and whining about the holiday weight, faking romance, putting up decorations that leave pine needles all over the floor..."
"Aw, you didn't always feel like that. My aunt told me you used to like the holiday season."
"Yes. Emphasis on the term 'used to'.
"Come on! Let me show you!"
Pete gave a sigh and sat upright.
"Look, I'm sure you- aargh!" he yelped as Dessie grabbed hold of his ear and motioned him to the centre of the room, like a naughty little boy. As Pete cupped his throbbing ear, Dessie summoned a beautiful blue ocarina.
"Come on! Lets take a journey to the past!" she said cheerfully before putting the instrument to her lips.
Down, Right, A
Was she serious? All the ways to travelling through time she could have copied and she chose an off-key ocarina?