You might have seen pictures of Baby before, if you follow us on social media.
Our relationship with Baby was originally intended to be a short-term one, mainly for some amusing publicity pictures when we released Beelzebelle, which features a baby.
Baby had other ideas though, and has now been to numerous fantasy and horror conventions, bothering everyone, including George R R Martin.
After nearly two years, life without Baby is unthinkable, and so, it was only a matter of time before Baby became the subject matter for a short story.
With compliments of the season, here is a short story featuring our favourite infant.
A Christmas Baby
Rupert settled into his favourite leather chair. The comforting clatter of James arriving with his coddled eggs soothed his soul. The terrific wrench of getting out of bed in the morning was made bearable with this carefully honed routine. This morning however, there was a difficult conversation to be had. As James poured the tea, Rupert looked him full in the eye.
“James, have you moved Baby?” he asked. “The high chair is empty.”
“Ah, yes sir. I have re-located Baby to a sealed box in the loft.”
“Dash it, James!” spluttered Rupert. “Why would you do that?”
“There have been complaints, sir,” said James. “A most regrettable accident with the window cleaner. He fell off his ladder and, I am told, even after the doctors ruled out concussion he was heard to mumble incoherently about evil eyes staring at him. I fear he encountered Baby.”
“Nonsense, I bet it was next door’s pug,” said Rupert.
“I can’t imagine young Boots being visible from the top of the ladder,” said James. “I feel that it will be better for all if Baby is kept away from prying eyes.”
Rupert cast anxiously about for the correct words. When James got these stubborn ideas into his head, he tended to forget all about the traditional employee / employer relationship and became quite immovable. It wouldn’t do to drive a wedge between them. There were plenty of other opportunities open to the very best gentleman’s gentleman. Butlering might be a scarcely-populated profession these days, but that would make James even more sought-after on an open market. The problem that Rupert faced was one of brain power. He relied very much on James to tackle advanced problem solving, whether it was deciding what to serve for supper, or negotiating with a crime lord whose briefcase full of money had got muddled up with the de-luxe backgammon set. When it came to Rupert’s own ideas though, his head was normally as empty and hollow as the charming set of bongo drums that he’d found on the market (which was also missing, presumed relocated to the loft). However, when Baby was around, he found that his head blossomed with ideas, many of them incredibly exciting. James was aware of this phenomenon, but had reservations about the influence of Baby. Just because a few of those ideas had ended badly, he sought to limit contact with Baby.
“Very well James, I will concede to your wishes, but could I perhaps be allowed to have a small tea party with Baby in attendance? I should very much like to wish Baby a Merry Christmas.”
James gave a tiny bow. “Very good sir. I shall be happy to arrange limited access for special occasions. Might I also remind you that Miss Ashna will be coming along later as well?”
“Ah, capital! She can join the tea party. Will there be Battenberg, James?”
“Of course, sir,” said James.
“My favourite people, all together!” declared Rupert as James placed a cake stand on the table, loaded with Battenberg and other treats.
Ashna turned and gave him a narrow-eyed look as she poured tea from the china pot. “I strongly suspect that you’re including your hideous Baby in that group,” she said. “I’ve never properly understood your fixation with the wretched thing. I mean, look at its face!”
“Shush! No need to be rude. Baby’s looks are unique, I’ll give you that.”
“Oh Rupert, that face has surely been chewed by a dog. It’s horrible,” said Ashna. “And no, I’m not pouring tea for Baby.”
Rupert replaced the extra cup with a small sigh, but slipped a plate of Battenberg in front of Baby. “There you go,” he murmured, sotto voce.
“Your Christmas decorations look lovely,” said Ashna.
“Yes. James has done us proud once again. The man’s a genius in so many ways.”
“He really is,” said Ashna, standing so that she could survey the entire room. “Such an eye for colour. Such a balance of texture. He has the most exquisite taste.”
“Yes. Well, I chose the tree,” said Rupert, keen to be the recipient of at least some of Ashna’s admiration. “Literally picked my way through dozens of contenders to find the cream of the crop. Wasn’t easy, I can tell you.”
“You know, you’ve given me a thought. I wonder if you and James would mind helping me with something later today?”
“I’m certain we’d give it our best shot. What do you need?”
“Just a little help with a window display I’m working on in the Bull Ring. Maybe you could meet me there at six this evening? It’s next door to the doughnut shop that you like.”
“Absolutely. You had me at doughnuts!”
Just before six, James and Rupert walked through the Bull Ring.
“I find it most bizarre that Miss Ashna would insist that you bring Baby along, sir. I have never seen any indication that she holds Baby at that level of esteem.”
“Well, she didn’t insist exactly. I was more reading between the lines, if you know what I mean?”
“I’m afraid that I probably do, sir,” intoned James, with a look that Rupert wasn’t sure he entirely approved of.
“Right, doughnuts first!” Rupert said gleefully as they approached.
“Sir might consider saving that treat until afterwards, to avoid the nuisance of sticky fingers during the task ahead,” suggested James.
“Oh, you’re right. I’m sure I can manage for a short while.” Rupert stopped and sniffed the air. “But I can smell them, James. This might be difficult.”
“I have every confidence that sir can muster the inner strength required,” said James.
“We’ll see,” said Rupert, casting a longing gaze at the doughnut shop. “This shop here must be the one Ashna needs help with. Look, the window display isn’t finished yet.”
The window featured a delightful rustic scene, with hay bales and rough-sawn beams holding up a low roof. The lighting was subdued, apart from spotlights trained on some crisp, white household linens piled on the hay bales.
“Did Miss Ashna indicate what would be required of us, sir?” asked James as Rupert pushed through the door of the shop.
“Yes, sort of,” said Rupert. “We need to use our initiative. I’d say it’s pretty damned obvious, wouldn’t you? Everything’s laid out for a nativity scene. We just need to step in and finish it off. Now, how do we get into the window display? We can make a start before Ashna gets here.”
James found the mechanism for opening a small door to the window display and they stepped inside.
“Well this all looks pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you say?” said Rupert. “We have the traditional outfits for Mary and Joseph just here.”
“Those are tea towels, tablecloths and blankets, sir.”
“Yes, traditional outfits, as I said. Come on, you can be Mary,” said Rupert.
“Might I suggest that sir would be better cast in the role of Mary? That is, if we are maintaining the tradition that Mary is slight of build and short of stature.”
“What? But…oh I suppose so. Although, I do lack some of the attributes of a woman. Two rather obvious attributes, James.”
“There is no need for vulgarity, sir.”
“Oh, but I have an idea,” said Rupert. “You get busy with the tea towels. I shan’t be a moment.”
Rupert, as promised, was back from his errand in a few short minutes, bag in hand, and returned to find James folding towels expertly. “It just so happens that I have a number of safety pins about my person. Mary will need a white head dress and a blue cloak, as depicted in so many classical paintings.”
Rupert considered the Mary costume James had whipped up for him and, glancing aside to check if James was watching, dipped into his bag of purchases to pad out his bosom.
“How busty do you think Mary should be?” asked Rupert.
“Sir. I do not feel it’s my place to answer such thorny theological questions. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing, nothing,” said Rupert. He licked his now sugary fingers and patted his false bosom.
“It is a pity that I was not forewarned of the need to play Joseph,” said James thoughtfully. “I might have taken the liberty of growing a discreet beard for the occasion.”
“Just stick out your chin and look manly, James. You’ll look wonderful. That blanket suits you by the way. Don’t forget Baby’s outfit.”
James wrapped Baby in some extra tea towels and looked questioningly at Rupert. “We don’t have a manger. Would sir like to hold Baby, in the manner of a proud mother?
“I certainly would, James. Now, try to look biblical for our admirers, we’ve already drawn quite a crowd.”
Rupert settled into position and concentrated on looking like an adoring mother to the Messiah. James stood to the side, every inch the proud, but somewhat confused father to the virgin birth.
“This is surely the true meaning of Christmas, James,” murmured Rupert happily. “Showing the kiddies what it – gnom – was really like on that magical night, all those years ago.”
“Indeed sir, although I think you should perhaps tone down your smile a little,” whispered James from the corner of his mouth. “It rather appears as though you are about to eat the Baby Jesus.”
“Right you are, James. Now let’s just watch their little faces, shall we? Gnom, gnom.”
“Are you eating, sir?”
“Gno,” said James.
“I swear I can smell doughnuts.”
“Not me,” said Rupert, stuffing the final piece of evidence into his mouth.
Rupert gazed out at the crowd, but then a frown creased his brow. “What exactly is wrong with their faces, James? I know children are somewhat prone to crying, especially when one makes a genuine mistake vis-à-vis the blackcurrant squash. I can’t help that it so resembles the cooking sherry, can I? Anyway, is it normal for them all to be crying at the same time?”
“I think not, sir. I would venture that they find the sight of Baby disagreeable. Perhaps if sir turned the head away from the window a little?”
“That just can’t be right James, Baby is the star of the show! No, I daresay there is another reason for the upset. A contagion perhaps, or an overindulgence in festive sweetmeats.”
The growing restlessness of the crowd outside did indicate that perhaps some mass illness had taken hold. Some of the adults were exhibiting symptoms. A man in a beanie hat near to the front had a hand over his mouth, and a panicked look in his eye. As Rupert watched, he turned and tried to run. The crowd made this difficult and he knocked over a small child. A large man, presumably the child’s father, took exception to this and thumped the man with a loud and angry roar.
It wasn’t entirely clear how this small ruckus escalated so quickly, but it seemed to Rupert that violence blossomed from the epicentre. Shoving and shouting turned to punching, kicking and hair-pulling. Very soon, everyone in sight of the window was engaged in a fight.
“James, things seem to have taken a somewhat rum turn outside,” whispered Rupert.
“Indeed sir. It was perhaps inadvisable to bring Baby into a crowded shopping centre.”
As they watched, security guards appeared, but they were overcome by the sheer number of crazed shoppers, firmly in the grip of whatever bloodlust had overtaken them.
“I think that the time has come for a discreet withdrawal, sir,” said James, letting his blanket slip to the ground. “Let me help you out of your robes.”
Moments later, the linens were folded and back on the haybales and the two men had stepped out of the window display.
James found a large carrier bag to carry Baby.
“Sir,” he said.
“May I postulate a theory?”
“Do I normally permit you to postulate?”
“You’ve never objected before. I put it to you, sir, that you chose to enhance your Mary’s bosom with a selection of doughnuts from the shop next door.”
“That’s dashed observant of you. They were so enticing and then I thought to myself that doughnuts are soft and squishy and I’ve had it on good account from Bunty Chapelforth that ladies’ –”
“Yes, sir. But I would also contend that you got a mite peckish during our dramatic presentation.”
“They are most enticing, James.”
“Jam-filled doughnuts, sir?”
“The preferred doughnut of any British gentleman.”
James diffidently took Baby and turned the ugly infant round to face Rupert.
“Note, if you will, sir, the splodges of jam that fell on Baby’s brow. Here. And here. Large, almost conical splodges.”
“Ah, the jig is up. That’s how you knew, eh? Ha! It’s funny. Those splodges look like tiny red horns. It’s almost as if our little nativity Jesus was a little nativity Satan. Humorous, eh?”
James raised an eyebrow. Rupert could still hear the brawling crowd. Sirens sounded from somewhere outside.
“Oh, dear,” said Rupert.
The two of them and their inanimate chum made a swift exit into the shopping arcade. Rupert’s hasty steps took him towards the doughnut shop, but as he was about to enter, he noticed that the shop on the other side had a large, unfinished window display featuring a Christmas tree and a traditional fireplace with stockings hanging on either side. Most significantly of all, it also contained Ashna, who was arranging decorations on the tree.
“Oh look James, what are the chances that Ashna is doing the displays on both sides of the doughnut shop?”
“Extremely slim, sir,” intoned James, “I should imagine that she is just doing the one. This one.”
The implication of this took a few moments to settle into Rupert’s brain. He looked back at the shop with the hay bales and then at James. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.” Then he glanced to the side and beamed with pleasure at what he saw. “Hey ho, come on James, let’s get some more doughnuts. I bet Ashna could do with a small snack.”