The Christmas tree lights were twinkling. Just a minute, they’re not supposed to do that. Then the room was plunged into darkness. Somebody screamed.

It was my niece, obviously. The phrase “we won’t make a drama out of a crisis” does not apply to her.

It was Boxing Day — my birthday, if you are thinking of buying me a present. The downside of a Christmas birthday is that people only buy you one present as a rule. The upside is that the whole family is together for the day.

Then the lights came back on. There was blood all over the front room carpet; Mum was going to have a fit. I assumed it was one of my brother Steven’s jokes until I saw a knife stuck into my niece. Her real name was Gladys but she preferred ‘Calamity Jane’ when she was alive. She had a point. So did the knife.

A very shaken Steven explained that he thought it was the toy knife he got for Christmas, which had a blade which retracted into the handle. In the dark, he’d got the wrong knife and so had Gladys.

“Who would have thought she had so much blood in her?” was Uncle Fred’s observation. He grabbed the whisky bottle because he felt in need of a stiff drink. He usually did.

Aunt Sash piped up with, “It’s hardly a murder mystery with Steven ’fessing up like that, is it?”

“What are we to do now?” she added.

Various suggestions like calling an ambulance were made. Uncle Frank was not having that. “What use is an ambulance for a stiff?”

Then Gerald came up with the biggest surprise of the evening.

“Oh, it wasn’t Steven. It was me. I swapped the knives, you see.”

There was a chorus of disapproval. It included “Why on earth” and “What the Hell?”

Gerald sat down calmly. Everybody noticed he looked at Uncle Fred before he began.

“Look.” He sounded like a politician on the radio who doesn’t want to answer a question. “What you do not understand was that I knew what Stephen had planned and I was…” — and here he hesitated before continuing — “certain that he had got the wrong knife. So I swapped them so he didn’t spoil the joke.”

“You rather spoilt the joke yourself, though,” said Uncle Fred.

Gerald just glared at Uncle Fred. Uncle Fred poured himself another whisky. Uncle Frank helped himself too.

Mum shouted, “We must call the police.”

“Ah,” said Uncle Fred, and unplugged the telephone. “Look, I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what,” he said.

This could go on for a while. The family shouted in ragged unison, “WHAT?”

“Well, it’s like this, you see. Gerald. Dear Gerald. I can remember when he was knee-high to a grasshopper. The thing is, er, well in a manner of speaking I told him about the knives being all wrong. They had different handles, you know.”

“Mm,” said Aunt Fanny who was not keen on her given name either. “How did you know?”

“Derek told me. The handle was blue and the fake one was green. Or the other way round.”

“Derek told you?” she asked.

“Mm hm.”

“Derek,” said Aunt Fanny with some asperity, “you’re ruddy colour blind, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

There was a silence, but the one thing Calamity Jane could not stand was a silence. A sound came from the corpse. It sounded like suppressed giggling. Then she sat up, pulled the fake knife from the bag of fake blood and said, “What about the bloody carpet?”

“Language!” said Mum.

I said, “Just as well we bought mum a carpet cleaner for Christmas. Do you want to go and get it, Gladys?”

“Yes, but never call me Gladys again.”


Derek McMillan is a writer in Durringon in the UK. His editor is his wife, Angela. He has written for print and online publications in the UK, USA and Canada. His latest book is the audio-book Brevity which is available on eBay. Check it out.

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Every Day Fiction