Stewart Bint | Guest Contributor | 5 December 2020
Over the next three weeks, The Hinckley Free Press will be serialising a Christmas story by local published author Stewart Bint.
Stewart is a Leicestershire-based novelist, magazine columnist, and Public Relations writer who has penned an exclusive Christmas story to bring some Christmas cheer to readers of The Hinckley Free Press this holiday season.
This marks the first instalment of the story, titled ‘The Trial of Santa Claus’.
Entirety of part one
Now, I’d always thought of Santa Claus as a kindly old man who loved children. So, it came as a shock to find he was appearing in court. And the charges fair made me gasp: cruelty to children, they were. Who’d have believed it?
Looking back almost 12 months to that amazing day when I sat in on Santa Claus’s trial, I can see it all again as clearly as if it were yesterday. I suppose I shall never really know just how it happened. All I know is that it did happen.
I’m a trainee journalist in a small English town struggling to make my way in the world, and one of my regular jobs is to cover the local magistrates court. The magistrates sit on a Thursday in the Town Hall dispensing justice to assorted thieves, villains and other rogues.
On this particular day the magistrates and I were all finding it hard to keep awake. The cases were boring, the defendants were putting up boring alibis, and even the court officials looked bored.
The presiding magistrate, Mrs Eleanor McHarris, was just peering over the top of her fancy horn-rimmed spectacles at the latest chap in the dock, when her whole body started sort of weaving about. I stared at her, totally fascinated.
Her pale, blue-rinsed hair was streaming out all around her head as if she were caught in a wind coming at her from all sides. The top and bottom parts of her face were blowing to the left, while the middle, the bit that held her nose and cheeks, swayed to the right.
I felt as if I wanted to cry out, but stopped myself in time. Mrs McHarris was a right tartar if people made a noise in her courtroom. I looked at the others, but it appeared they couldn’t see anything amiss. The clerk to the court was droning on in that monotonous voice of his, reading a list of charges to the defendant; the prosecuting solicitor was eager to get to his feet to put the case against the man in the dock…no-one noticed that Mrs McHarris was coming apart at the seams.
And it wasn’t just Mrs McHarris going haywire. A weird type of greyish-white mist began swirling before my eyes. Goodness knows where it came from, it just suddenly appeared. For a few seconds it blocked out Mrs McHarris and the rest of the courtroom. But I could still hear the boring old clerk reading the charges. I couldn’t actually hear what he was saying, but his voice penetrated through the haze like a muffled foghorn.
Sanity was restored the next moment. Or at least I thought it was.
I found myself still staring at the swirling mist, but at least I was able to put it into perspective now. I was staring through the window at the thick blanket of snow falling outside.
I looked back at Mrs McHarris. Sanity disappeared again. She’d stopped her strange weaving about, but somehow, she looked different. I blinked. Okaaay. I must be seeing things, I told myself, as her appearance began to register in my mind. No wonder she looked different. Most of that blue-rinse was now tucked up inside a long black pointed cap, with only a few wisps hanging loosely past her ears and trickling on to her shoulders.
Her grim tweed jacket wasn’t there any longer, either. Instead, a heavy black shawl sporting a long fringe was draped around her. And those fancy horn-rimmed glasses stretched out sideways and curled up to a point, giving the impression of a flying bat.
The only thing that remained the same about her was that she was still peering over the top of the spectacles which perched precariously on the end of her nose. The nose: why, even that was longer than it had been before. Wasn’t it?
And when she spoke…well; gone was the supercilious educated, plummy accent. The words which cascaded out came in a thin, whining cackle. I realised at once that something was dreadfully wrong. I’m quick like that, you see. Yes, it was very wrong. The clerk to the court should be saying those things, not the presiding magistrate.
“You’ve heard the charges against you, Santa Claus, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”
The immediate answer from the dock was booming, almost boisterous: “Why, not guilty, of course, Madam.” Now, that didn’t sound for one second like the sort of voice the frail young man who’d been standing there just a few seconds ago should have had. It had rich, deep tones, as if it belonged to a jolly, middle-aged, or even old, man.
And wait a minute. She’d said Santa Claus. What the deuce was going on?
I tore my gaze from the ugly old hag (uglier and older, anyway) that Mrs McHarris had become and stared across to the dock. The wimpish-looking wally charged with some insignificant breach of the law was no longer there.
Instead, there stood a man with a myriad laugh-lines creasing the skin around his eyes and the lower part of his face was concealed by a bushy white beard. He was about six feet tall, and a bright red tunic encased his more than ample girth. White hair flowed out on to his shoulders from under a red drooping cap.
Santa Claus! How in tarnation had he got there?
I gave up trying to work out what had happened. I could have speculated all day and still been a million miles from the truth. There! With my mind wandering I’d missed some of the court procedure. The prosecuting lawyer was getting to his feet, ready to put his case to Mrs McHarris.
“Madam,” I heard him say. “Santa Claus has denied the charges against him, namely cruelty to children. I shall now proceed to show you just why Santa Claus is guilty of the offences as charged.”
End of part one
The second instalment of ‘The Trial of Santa Claus’ will be released exclusively next week on The Hinckley Free Press again as the case against Santa Claus himself unfolds further.