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There's No Such Thing (Unreviewed)[]

May sighed with relief as she lowered her weary body to the side of the bed. Slowly, feeling every muscle and joint in her body protest, she shuffled herself into position and slid her legs between the sheets. “I’d forgotten how tiring it can be running after a child,” she breathed as she propped up her pillow and settled herself against it.

“It’s been a long time,” replied Graham, not looking up from his book. May and Graham’s son Peter and his wife and child were visiting from the eastern states for Christmas. May had spent the whole day taking care of her grandchild, Jacob, while Peter and his wife travelled to the nearest city to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.

That was the one down-side about May and Graham’s idyllic property in the West Australian hinterlands. It was a half hour drive to the nearest town, which had precious few amenities itself, and to get any real shopping done the only viable option was to travel to Mandurah, over two hours away. When Peter and Helen had gone out to buy Jacob’s Christmas presents they decided to make a day of it so as to make the round-trip worthwhile. Graham put his book down and took his glasses off. “I don’t know why they left it so late,” he grumbled. “It’s Christmas Eve! It must be chaos out there.”

“They didn’t want Jacob to find the presents,” May reminded him, “He’s getting to that age where he’s curious and prone to snoop. It would be such a shame to ruin the magic when he’s only four year’s old.”

May became misty-eyed as she remembered her son at that age “I’ll never forget the wonder in Peter’s eyes on Christmas morning when he woke up to a pillow-case full of presents from Santa.”

“That’s one thing you haven’t forgotten at least.” Graham responded a little gruffly, but then he turned to May and smiled, squeezing her hand, “It’s good to remember those days.”

The couple sat in companionable silence for some time before May asked, “How did you manage to hide the Christmas gifts from Peter?”

At this, Graham laughed, “Your mind is playing tricks on you again, love. You were the one who organised Peter’s Christmas presents.”

May frowned, “No, that isn’t right…is it? I bought Peter’s Christmas present from us, but you arranged all the presents from Santa.”

Graham shook his head firmly. “No, that wasn’t me.”

A creeping sense of dread trickled through May’s body. She was so sure she hadn’t bought Peter’s Christmas presents herself, had no memory of placing them under the tree…but who did? Out here in the middle of nowhere (or near enough to) who else even could have?

As if reading her thoughts Graham suggested, “Perhaps it was Santa Claus?”

“Don’t tease!” snapped May, hating how thin and querulous her voice sounded to her own ears, “I hate it when you tease.” Graham just laughed softly.

That feeling of dread settled firmly in May’s chest, tugging at her heart. She suddenly felt that she couldn’t possibly sleep. “I’m going to wait up for Peter,” she announced.

“Don’t be like that,” Graham cajoled, “You’re just misremembering things again, that’s all. Come back to bed.” “What? No, that’s not it,” May lied, “I’m just worried about Peter and Eileen. I want to see that they get home safe.”

Graham grunted at this. “Alright then, love. Just try not to wake me when you come back to bed. Early morning tomorrow.” He rolled over and almost immediately began to snore. The tightness in May’s chest loosened somewhat. May padded out to the living room in her fuzzy slippers. She stood there indecisively for a moment before creeping up to the room next to hers and Graham’s and opening the door ever so carefully. The curtain in this room was open and the moonlight streamed through illuminating the form of her slumbering four-year-old grandson. May smiled softly as she watched the steady rise and fall of Jacob’s back as he lay belly first on the bed that used to be his father’s. May’s heart swelled with love and pride. She couldn’t believe how much Jacob had grown. It seemed like only a moment ago he was a newborn. In fact, it didn’t really seem like that long since Peter himself had been this age. The thought brought a tinge of sadness to her mood and her smile faltered somewhat as she gently closed the door and moved back to the loungeroom.

Shuffling up to the sofa, May made sure to turn on the lamp rather than the room light so as not to disturb Graham or Jacob. She settled into her usual spot with a sound somewhere between a wheeze and a sigh. Why was it that she didn’t seem to be able to do anything these days without an accompanying sound breaking forth unintended and unwanted? How long had things been like this? When had she become – old?

May picked up the magazine that was sitting beside her but almost immediately put it down again listlessly. She cast her eyes around the room and they settled on the Christmas tree, it’s little yellow lights twinkling merrily. The base of the tree was cluttered with wrapped gifts and right up front and centre was Jacob’s still-empty Santa sack that he had placed out with such excitement several hours ago before May settled him for bed. May thought again of her conversation with Graham a few minutes earlier.

“Perhaps my mind is slipping,” she mused unhappily, “The rest of me seems to be, anyway.” As she thought this, May found herself starting to doze.

Her dreams always began the same way – abstract and fragmented. Images and sounds flashed through her consciousness so frantically that she was never able to grasp onto any one thing, certainly not long enough to be able to remember when she awoke. Gradually, though, the dream seemed to choose its form and crystallise. Tonight, May dreamt of this very house. Not the way it was now – all decked out in its Christmas finery – but the way it was when she was a child living there with her own parents. As with most dreams of her childhood, it was a happy one. She dreamt of her father picking her up and spinning her through the air when he returned from his farm chores. She dreamt of her mother’s apple and rhubarb pie and of standing on tip-toes at the kitchen bench to watch as her mother neatly crimped the edges of the pastry with her worn but still deft fingers. There were no siblings to dream of, of course, but there was a seemingly endless stream of cats – Snowball, Gretchen, Rugby and all the others – each making a brief but touching appearance, all remembered fondly. She dreamed also of her dearest friend who had once lived there, too. Her happy friend with all his arms for hugging and his wrinkled, jolly face so big it seemed to fill up the entire room as he smiled and smiled and smiled…

May awoke with a start and with one name on her lips, “Mr Spindle,” she whispered reverently. How long had it been since she had last thought of her old imaginary friend? She hadn’t forgotten though, she realised with a kind of pride. He’d been waiting for her all this time at the very edge of her subconscious. She got up to make herself a cup of tea.

The kitchen had changed since she was a child, but perhaps not as much as one might expect. The benches and cabinets were all the same, and although they had installed a new gas oven some twenty years ago or so, the old wood-fire oven still occupied its place against the back wall. Sometimes, on cold winter days they would light it to warm the place up. It was hot and muggy tonight, of course, so the wood stove remained cold and empty. May lay a hand tenderly on it’s surface as she waited for the kettle to boil.

That’s where Mr Spindle had lived. Behind the oven.

May had been a lonely child, with no siblings of her own and no other children at all within a reasonable distance. She had cats, but cats weren’t always the warmest of companions, especially for a young child. And so she had invented Mr Spindle.

Mr Spindle was big and friendly and smelled like cinnamon toast. He had a huge round face. In fact he was mostly face, with only a stick of a body – much like a very young child’s drawing of a person. He could make himself flat like a picture, too. He would shrink himself down and fold himself up so that he fit neatly in the narrow gap between the stove and the wall.

May made her cup of tea and sat down at the kitchen table, all while looking at the old oven. These days, May often found that memories did not come easily. She had to focus carefully, to ease facts and forms out of the tangled mass of her own mind. And even when she was sure of herself Graham often insisted she was wrong. After her dream, though, the memories of Mr Spindle came, if not flooding back, then at least trickling like a clear creek.

May remembered, for instance, that she used to write letters to Mr Spindle. Well, perhaps ‘write’ was generous, as she did not even know how to read at the time, but she would scribble on bits of paper. When she was sure her mother wasn’t looking she would open up the door to the oven and slip the notes into the fire. Mr Spindle would sometimes leave her gifts in return. She would reach behind the oven and find some gum nuts or scraps of paperbark. The shimmering feather of a satin bower bird. Sometimes there were even small toys – little dolls made from wooden clothes pegs, a tiny teddy bear. May frowned a little at this memory. Where had the gifts come from? She could imagine putting the things from the garden there herself, even if she could not remember doing so, but what about the toys?

It must have been her mother, she decided. Her mother must have noticed her playing around at the back of the stove and decided to join the game. This didn’t feel quite right. Her mother had been a serious, though loving, woman and not given to whimsy. In fact, May had the sense that had she known May was messing around the stove she would have gotten a stern talking to. Could she really have been hiding a lighter side all along? It must have been her mother. Or perhaps it was her father? May sighed heavily. Perhaps she really was losing her memory.

She tapped her fingernails absently upon the kitchen table and gradually the tapping became a tune. May started to hum until, eventually, words came:

“Mr Spindle is neat as a pin; “He has a great, big, funny grin; "Mr Spindle lives behind the stove; “He is very, very, VERY old; “Mr Spindle brings me gifts and toys; “He does not even have a voice; “Mr Spindle is my dearest friend; “He'll be there with me at the end”

May chuckled softly to herself. Why was it there always seem to be a macabre tinge to the imagination of children? Were they even aware of it? Was she when she sang the made-up song happily to herself as a child?

May looked at the kitchen clock as she drained the dregs of her tea. Past midnight and still no sign of Peter and Eileen. She had waited up for four hours now, if you excused the period when she had dozed off. Anxiety tugged at May’s chest, but she chastised herself. “He’s a grown man. He can look after himself.”

She shuffled back into the loungeroom and settled herself once more on the couch. May watched the lights on the tree as they flickered on and off in a series of repeating patterns. Despite the nap and the tea, she still felt drowsy. Her eyelids drooped, and she hovered at the very precipice of sleep.

A loud click startled May out of her dozy state. “The door!” she thought as she heaved herself up off the couch, “Finally!”.

Peter had his own keys, of course, but May wanted to meet her son at the door. She was already smiling as she turned the latch and swung open the wooden door. She was greeted, however, by nothing but the muggy, summer night.

May frowned and peered out into the darkness. No car. But she was so sure she heard them arriving.

Disappointed and a little disoriented, May closed the door. As she turned to make her way back to the loungeroom she heard that clicking sound again – a little louder and followed swiftly my a series of other clicks and taps. The sound was coming from inside, she realised.

“Something must have gotten in,” May thought resignedly. Out here these were plenty of critters and creepy crawlies who did, unfortunately, have a way of making it into the house every now and then.

Beside the Christmas tree a broom was propped up to sweep away the stray needles. May grabbed it and, so armed, headed off to try and track the source of the clicking.

The hallway was empty. No clicking there. She opened her bedroom door but the only noise she found there was Graham’s soft snoring. May approached the sewing room, where Jacob was sleeping in his father’s old bed. She decided against opening the door and instead pressed an ear to the thin wood and listened. Nothing.

May let out a little huff of frustration and decided to give up and return to the loungeroom. As she made her way back she heard the noise again coming from a little further up the hallway. The kitchen.

May left the light out as she entered the kitchen. She didn’t want whatever had broken into the house to scuttle off under the fridge before she has a chance to get at it. Besides, the tree lights in the adjoining loungeroom gave off sufficient, if inconsistent, lighting for her to make her way.

May’s eyes swept the room as she entered – running along the skirting boards, around the window frames, even across the ceiling. She sniffed and was met with a smell like slightly burnt toast. Surely she hadn’t left the toaster on? She looked at the kitchen bench and saw the toaster, inert and tucked safely away. May’s heart began to pound as the smell intensified. Could it be a stroke? Is this really how it all happens?

She could hear the clicking noise still, but it no longer held her attention. Frantically, her eyes flickered to the gas stove – also off – before finally alighting on the old wood-fired oven.

May froze. Something familiar but impossible was creeping out of the space behind the oven. A number of limbs – too many, too long and with too many joints – seemed to unfold out of the shadows. They clicked and creaked as they stretched further out into the kitchen. Each limb ended in a kind of pincer and each pincer held tight in its grip – a toy?

A fluffy teddy bear, a tiny train set, even some sort of hand-held gaming device – the thing somehow dragged them all out of the tiny space between the oven and the wall. Gradually, the thing revealed more of itself. An eye the size of a basketball peeks out of the shadows as the thing slowly reveals it’s body, which really was just an enormous, wrinkled head. Its huge, broad mouth was twisted into a manic grin. It’s teeth chattered and lips flapped in a parody of speech, but no sound came out but the click, click click as the teeth met.

Somewhere inside May something broke. As she clutched her chest, ambivalence reigned in her racing heart. She was terrified, of course, but also strangely triumphant. Gasping, she fell to her knees and in that moment realised two things with perfect clarity – her memory was as sharp as it had ever been; and there was no such thing as Santa Claus.

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