Sink Your Teeth Into Christmas by Dorothy Davies

Sink Your Teeth Into Christmas

(Dorothy Davies)

Sink Your Teeth Into Christmas

He’s Behind You!


David Turnbull


Christmas Eve, the matinee performance of Aladdin and his Magical Lamp, Bobby Leslie was sweating inside the silky folds of his elaborate Widow Twankey costume. The dress itself weighed a ton. He was feeling his age. His stomach was giving him jip and his gout was playing up.

The stalls were filled with screaming youngsters, dumped there by stressed out mums who were treating the theatre like some sort of glorified crèche while they panicked around the High Street getting their last-minute Xmas shopping. Their kids were hyper on cheap advent calendar chocolate and the promise of what Santa would bring in the morning. The shenanigans which erupted inside the theatre were giving Bobby a banging headache.

“He’s behind you!” howled the kids, showering the stage with popcorn and other less savoury missiles.

“Beg your pardon?” said Bobby, cupping a hand over his ear, and fluttering his huge, ridiculously exaggerated eyelashes.

“He’s behind you!” came the chaotically boisterous response.

Bobby knew that the young actor playing the role of Aladdin was standing behind him, silently egging on the kids, ready to move in the carefully synchronised manner they’d rehearsed, so that Bobby wouldn’t manage to see him no matter how he turned and turned.

“I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” said Bobby. This part of the panto was mainly ad-lib, depending on the age profile of the audience and what fettle they were in. “I’m looking for my boy, Aladdin,” he teased, puckering his apple red lips. “Have any of you lot seen him?”

“He’s behind you!” Some of the kids in the front row dramatically rolled their eyes and slapped their brows as if they couldn’t believe how dumb he was being.

“Beg pardon,” said Bobby, flouncing around with his hand cupped to his ear, as Aladdin crouched low and followed him all around the stage.

“Behind you!”

It was a roar now. Bobby knew the kids had almost reached the limit of their patience. The joke was wearing thin. The whole situation was on a knife edge. If he kept the pretence going much longer, he’d lose them all together.

But Bobby didn’t want to turn around. It wasn’t just the eager young actor he’d see. There would be something else. Something that had been lurking behind the shoulders of his mirror reflection for days. Something for his eyes only. Something no one else could see. Something ghostly, grotesque, and monstrous.

What made it worse was that Bobby knew exactly who it was.

“Behind you!” yelled the kids.

Bobby felt a bead of sweat go trickling down the inside of his petticoats.

“Behind me, you say?”

The kids roared with laughter. Bobby knew this wasn’t for him. It was Aladdin, popping up behind him, pulling faces and making out old Widow Twankey had gone completely loopy. Bobby swung around on the stacked heels of his fancy shoes. He felt Aladdin rushing to hide behind his skirts.

And there he was, in the shadows to the rear of the stage, horribly forlorn in his pale, sad faced Pierrot clown make up. Baggy silk costume all torn and bloody. Mangy pompom buttons drooping on the tunic. Dented conical hat askew on his head. Studs of shattered windscreen crystals sparkling in the innumerate puncture wounds on his face.

Bobby had screamed the first time the corpse clown had materialised in his shaving mirror one morning. Screamed and bit down on his lower lip so hard he tasted blood. Now the scream was internalised. Swallowed to yank like a tight and painful knot in his belly. But no less traumatic in its physical effect.

Surprise, the apparition rasped, grinning like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Bobby’s heart thumped so hard in his chest he thought he was going to have a heart attack. He gulped and turned back to the kids in the audience.

“Whatever are you talking about?” he asked them, struggling against the tremble that wanted to seize his voice. “There’s no one there. No one at all.”

“He’s behind you!” the kids screamed, jabbing sticky doughnut jam index fingers to where, according to what they’d rehearsed, Aladdin kept popping up comically and peeping over Widow Twankey’s frilly padded shoulders.

I know he’s behind me, thought Bobby but why now? If you’re going to haunt someone, why wait twenty years to start? He made to turn in one direction but swung on his heels the opposite way. “There you are,” he scolded. “Where have you been, silly boy? There are chores to be done.”

Aladdin was caught on the hop. He wasn’t supposed to be rumbled quite yet. He almost fluffed his next line but pulled himself together at the last moment.

“Look what I found,” he said, holding up his prize.

“Wherever did you get that awful looking lamp?” Bobby wagged a finger. “You ought to throw it out with the rubbish.”

“Oh no, Ma,” said Aladdin, shaking his head solemnly and clutching the plastic prop that passed for an oil lamp. “Once I polish this up nice and proper, it’ll be good as new.”

He turned and addressed the audience. “Who knows what might happen if I give it a good rub. Isn’t that right, children?”

“That’s right!” roared the enthusiastic response.

The panto proceeded. Somehow Bobby managed to make it right through to the singalong ensemble finale without having to glance over his shoulder. But once he got into his dressing room and had to use the mirror to take off the caked layers of make-up, the ghoulish clown was there, right behind him in the reflection.

“What do you want?” he demanded, wiping away rouge with a cotton ball. “And why wait all this time to come and get it?”

Revenge is a dish best served cold, rattled the clown, the crystal studs pocked over his face glinting back the glare from the coloured lights on the dresser.

“I’m not scared of you, Ron,” said Bobby, lying through his teeth and trying desperately to hold on to his wits. The horrible entity felt so close that it wasn’t hard to imagine its cold breath on the back of his neck. Bobby shivered.