Christmas Short Story

I was quite depressed about the COP27 in Cairo so it led me to write this. The Ghost of Christmas Future. You may not like it.

Photo by Laker on

Ned poked a stick in the sand hoping to find turtle eggs. His stomach growled. When was it they had last eaten? No clutch of eggs there. He lifted his stick and caught sight of Jen trudging over the dunes towards him. She held a gourd against her protruding stomach.  Hopefully she had found water. He turned back to the sand and followed a slight depression with his eye. Could it be a crab? He jabbed the stick at the end of the hole. No crab. It hit something, a harsher noise than hitting stone, more of a clang.

‘’Ouch!’’ Jen cried. She sat on the hummocky grass and nursed her foot in her hand, the gourd safe beside her.

Ned could see a trickle of red seeping through her foot bindings. She must have stood on a thorn. He sighed. An injury was always bad news. He dropped the stick and hurried towards her. ‘’You must paddle in the sea. Let the salt water at it.’’

‘’I know, don’t you think I know that?’’

Her weariness shamed him. How could he keep her and this new baby safe? The previous two had not survived weaning. If only they could find enough food. The daily struggle was overwhelming. He helped her up, then picked up the gourd, the dirty brown water would need to be boiled. She half-hopped towards the shoreline where the sun dazzled water lapped against the red sand. Jen tore of her bindings then gingerly waded into the tepid water while Ned scanned the sea for tentacles of jelly fish, about the only thing left swimming.

Had they done the right thing by leaving their last shelter and hunting ground? But what was the alternative? He hadn’t managed to trap a single rabbit in days. If the rabbits were sickening and not producing young, what hope was there? Ned looked at his shadow. It must be early-afternoon; the light would soon go in these shortest days. Time to find shelter and some fuel for a fire. The bones of dead trees poked out from the sand. Jen rebound her feet while he dug in his back sack for a flint axe head.

‘’Did you find anything to eat?’’ Jen looked up at him, her skin grey amidst the sunburn.

Ned shook his head, then remembered his stick hitting something unusual. It was probably nothing but what else had he found that day. He walked back to his stick and jabbed it into the sand until he heard the clunk then crouched down to dig, his fingers quickly burning. After a few minutes work he drew out a straight-edged object. It was hard and shiny, nothing like he had ever soon before. ‘’Come over here, Jen,’’ he called.

‘’What is it? Something to eat, I hope.’’

Ned doubted it. He shook it and heard rattling.  Taking his axe head, he chipped away at the thing on the lid which was stopping it from opening.

‘’Doesn’t look like a nest.’’ Jen looked over his shoulder.

‘’Funny animal if it is.’’ Ned agreed.

All at once the bit fell off and Ned began to prize off the lid. It was packed with strange items. The first thing he drew out was the thickness of two broad hands put together and about as wide as one of Jen’s smaller hands. It weighed little and Ned fanned it out to see strange black markings. ’’I reckon this could be good kindling.’’ He set it aside. Next he drew out another smaller shiny object with pictures of silver fish on the front. Ned attacked it with his axe head and an oily substance seeped out. He dipped his fingers into the oil and tentatively sniffed, then tasted.

‘’I think it’s food, Jen.’’ He turned towards her, tears in his eyes, and offered her his finger dipped in the oil.

Jen sucked, her eyes widening. ‘’Can you open it more?”

‘’It may be better to wait for a few hours to see if that makes us ill.’’

‘’But the sun may spoil it. Ned, I am starving. Please don’t make me wait.’’

He looked at her and his heart contracted. She rarely complained even though they often fell asleep with empty stomachs. Ned nodded and attacked the tin with the axe head to reveal perfectly small fish, several of them. He marvelled at them. How had they got inside? He held the tin to his nose and sniffed. They smelt fishy and good. He took one in his fingers and broke it in half, feeding it to Jen who closed her eyes and nibbled.

‘’Oh, oh, oh.’’ The oil dribbled down her chin. He licked it off laughing at her expression, then not being able to stand it any longer took a fish for himself. They finished the tin and licked it out, careful of the jagged edges.

As she nestled against him, Jen asked, ‘’How long do you think it’s been there?’’

‘’Since the burning. Long before our grandparents left the bunker as children.’’

‘’A thousand moons or more then. How did it last?’’

Ned shrugged.

‘’Do you think there’s any more food?’’

 ‘’First I’ll build us a shelter and make a fire to boil the water. Then we can see what else there is. Come help me gather the wood. The light will be gone in an hour.’’

Jen nodded regretfully. It made sense.

As the fiery sun set, the sky turning from orange to red then purple. Jen and Ned were thankful to have survived another day and prayed to the gentle moon to keep them and their baby safe in the days ahead. As Jen snuggled into the rabbit pelt blanket, the fire gave enough light for Ned to empty the box. He found two more tins of fish and a larger one with orange discs in some sort of juice painted on the side. Enough food for a week if they were careful, longer if he snared a rabbit or found a crab.

‘’What’s this?’’ Jen held up a shiny picture on a thin, flat surface. ‘’What does it mean?’’

They both stared intently. It showed people in clothes of reds and greens but not made of grass, sitting on pieces of brown wood with legs. On a larger piece of wood, was food like they had never seen before. An enormous, plucked bird, at least that’s what they thought it was, surrounded by dishes of different coloured things, small green balls, larger yellow chunks and long orange sticks. Everyone was smiling. In the corner a fire burned and beside it a green tree with long thin leaves set with coloured balls. A square hole in the shelter showed another tree covered in white and a strange white object with a pebble face. It wore a hat and a long stripey thing around its neck.

Jen and Ned stared and stared.

‘’Is that what it was like before the burning?’’ Jen asked not expecting an answer. Her insides twisted with envy and sorrow. ‘’How I wish my baby could have been born then.’’ A sudden pain gripped her, and warm water puddled into the sand by her feet. She gripped Ned’s hand. ‘’It’s time, Ned.’’

‘’Look, Jen.’’ A hundred or so pairs of eyes glimmered and danced in the light of the full moon. ‘’Rabbits. This baby will survive.” He squeezed her hand.


About Rosemary Noble

Writer, author, amateur historian and traveller
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