Not just for Christmas | Audio
By Owen Smith
'I want a pet for Christmas,' I told my dad.
He looked at me seriously, but my parents are divorced so I already knew the answer was yes, and I didn't even need to ask nicely.
'What sort of a pet?'
'You can't have an angel as a pet. They're not real. They're just make-pretend.'
There's no such word as make-pretend but I couldn't be bothered arguing the point. I knew what I wanted, and I knew how to get it. 'I'll ask Mum, then.'
'Well hang on now...'
I went off to watch the television, job done. Batman was on, but it was that old cartoon one so it wasn't very good.
'Dad's already told me what he's getting me for Christmas,' I told my mum.
'What's that, then?' She tried to make it sound like she didn't really care, but she muted the television and lowered her magazine.
'Angels don't exist. Do you mean a toy?'
'No,' I explained, as patiently as I was able. 'A real one. He's getting me one as a pet.'
Mum was silent for a long while, pretending to watch the television. 'What would...?'
'Demons don't exist either. And even if they did, you wouldn't want one. They'd be very dangerous, and...'
I didn't need to say anything else; I just placed my picture book on the side and walked out. I'd circled the sort of demon I wanted, and I'd made sure to also circle the coolest-looking angel, so she'd think that was what my dad was getting me. Job done. The Really Wild Show was on, which I sometimes like if the animals are any good. They weren't, so I went outside to catch wasps instead.
'Happy Christmas, James,' said my dad.
The angel wasn't a very good one and I don't like being called James, but there's no point in being rude so I pretended to be impressed.
'Can you fly?' I asked it.
'I really don't think this is a very good idea,' the angel said.
That's the sort of thing grown-ups always says so I ignored it and checked round the back: wings. A bit tatty but they'd do. I got it to take off its top so I could check they were real and not just fakes.
'I'm calling you Sam,' I told it.
'That's not my name,' said Sam. He turned to my dad: 'Are you sure he has leukaemia? He doesn't look ill to me.'
I couldn't be bothered arguing, so I left dad to sort it out while I opened all my other presents. They weren't great, but they were okay.
'Why is it in that circle?'
'It has to stay in the circle, dear,' explained my mum. 'Otherwise it would break free from its chains and devour us all. It took a long time to...'
'Your name's Gerty,' I said to the demon.
'GRRORRKKRRANNNN,' said Gerty.
'How do I control it?' I said, and mum gave me the staff. I played about with it for a while until I got bored and Gerty looked very angry, then I went to my room to read my comics.
'What did you all get up to over the holidays?' said my teacher, Miss Abbot.
When it was my turn to speak I explained about my new pets and how I'd been training them, and I showed everyone the staff and which way you held it for demons and which way for angels. Everyone was impressed except for Miss Abbot, who said:
'Now, Jimmy, remember what we said about telling stories?'
Of course I remembered; I'm not stupid. Miss Wilkes obviously was or hadn't remembered what I'd said about the staff's ability to call down demon fire, which she soon regretted (but not for long).
'Don't worry,' I told the class, who were all being typically dramatic, 'she's up in heaven now. ' I looked at Gerty, who'd appeared along with the demon fire. 'Maybe.'
The other kids in my class are/were all stupid, but Gerty soon quietened them down. I have to admit that mum had done a pretty good job in choosing Gerty. One point to her.
After a few minutes I used the staff to make Gerty stop, because it's not good for her to eat too much in one go. I turned the staff and summoned Sam.
'Clean this up, Sam,' I told him.
'God! Dear God!' said Sam. 'Dear, dear God!'
I tilted the staff thoughtfully, but as dramatic as Sam was being I didn't want to give him up just yet so I just used it to force him to clean up the classroom and fly us all home.
'We're both very proud of you,' said my mum.
'Very proud indeed,' said my dad.
'It's not very many young boys that have their own armies of light and dark, and all the hosts of heaven and hell at their command,' said Mum.
'You're very advanced for your age,' said Dad.
Dad looked a bit nervous as he said it, and with good reason: Mum had definitely been winning on points of late. It was nice to see them back together, though; the circle was just big enough for them both.
'It's almost Christmas again,' I said. 'I've already decided what I want this year.'
They both looked worried this time. Honestly.
'It's alright,' I said. 'I only want one thing this time, so you can make it a joint present. Nobody loses any points.'
They both looked a bit relieved at that, until I put my new picture book down on the table in front of them. It's a big book aimed at kids, with a few swirly stars and planets on the cover and a glowing title: "The Universe".
I do hope they both get it right this year. I lied about the points, and Gerty's getting hungry.