Driving Home for Christmas

Submitted into Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about a shop that takes place over a span of years.... view prompt



We drove for miles, laughing now and then to break the tension. The radio pumped out Christmas songs and the heater stopped our toes from freezing.

“It’s definitely a good idea” you kept telling me, repetition making you sound less and less convincing. “We’ve waited long enough…”

Your voice trailed off and we both retreated back inside our memories, mine full of dazzling lights, the smell of roasting chestnuts and an embrace warm enough to thaw the thickest of icicles.

The roads were filled with people driving home for Christmas. In a way, we were too.

“Do you remember the year we hung up the stockings a week in advance because we were so excited?” you asked me.

Of course I remembered. I smiled at the memory and fired one of my own back at you: “That was the same year we sang carols around the tree on Christmas Eve. And ate so many chocolates we felt sick all night and couldn’t sleep.”

As the car gobbled up the last few miles of country lanes, I stared out of the window, nose pressed against the steaming glass. Familiar sights elicited new sensations.

“Does it feel surreal for you coming back here?” I asked, wanting to know I wasn’t the only one.

You told me it did and before long we had arrived at our childhood. You parked up in the large gravel car park, and we stepped outside into the biting cold.

Immediately, I saw my innocent face grinning from ear to ear as dad hoisted me up into the sleigh, our laughter floating freely out through the crowded attractions.

“Well it’s not exactly how I remember it” you said, piercing my memories and forcing me to face the new reality.

You weren’t wrong. Barely any of the signs of vibrant life that had filled this Christmas wonderland remained: the rides had packed up and gone, there were no giggling children or chattering parents, and my dream of roasted chestnuts didn’t materialise.

We walked slowly past the nativity scene, its flaking paint betraying years of neglect. Artificial shadows cast by the three wise men stretched out across the vast expanse.

But the main attraction, our reason for driving all this way on Christmas Eve, lay at the far end of this open space: a small hut doing its best not to be seen, cowering under overgrown shrubbery and decaying wood. This unassuming shop looked especially lonely in the absence of its former neighbours.

“Come on, let’s head in” you said, fighting to control the slight tremor in your voice.

I opened the door and we found ourselves in a shop that felt more like a storage facility: an eclectic mix of toys and decorations were crammed into every inch of floor and wall space, sprawled out in haphazard piles with no discernible order.

A portly woman in a Santa’s hat poked her head out from behind the till. Before she had the chance to speak, I took the initiative.

“Hello Jane, do you remember us?” I asked, rather more aggressively than I had intended. She spent a few seconds examining us from head to toe then advanced, arms outstretched.

“It’s been so long” she staggered, seemingly fighting back tears.

“Fifteen years” I confirmed from deep within her embrace.

We stared at this woman who had been a permanent feature of Christmas throughout our childhoods, a woman who had provided us with unrivalled amounts of magic for so many years. A woman who had inflicted the most searing pain on us.

“How’ve sales been lately?” you asked, managing to make your voice much friendlier than I had mine.

Unsurprisingly, Jane's response tallied with the visual evidence we had already witnessed outside. “People don’t even leave their homes to do their shopping these days.”

I nodded half-heartedly then we briefly browsed the stock, steering well clear of the novelty Christmas unicorn section, and sticking instead to more traditional festive items: you picked up a snow globe and I examined a wooden Nutcracker.

“No charge for you two” she smiled at us, holding firm despite our insistence.

As we thanked her, a crisp tension cut through the store. Anticipating my question before it had left my mouth, Jane shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry boys, but I don’t have any news for you. I would love to be able to help, I really would.”

She busied herself shuffling a few boxes around, keeping her head firmly down. We exchanged a disappointed glance then made our way towards the door. “You’ve got our numbers if you hear anything… Was good to see you... Merry Christmas, Jane” you managed to stutter out.

The journey home was silent. As you dropped me off, you looked me in the eyes and said the words that have been spinning around my head all year: “We can’t give up. Christmas miracles do happen.”


Of course, you were right: we couldn't give up. Hence why we are back on the road today, repeating last year’s pilgrimage, seeking answers, certainty – closure.

There’s a less Christmassy atmosphere in the car than twelve months ago: Boney M. has been replaced by Beethoven, and the mild winter means we don’t even need the heater on.

“She's had a year to reflect on it, surely by now there's something she can tell us” is your attempt at optimism this year. I bite my tongue to stop it snapping back something bitter and take a long swig from my hipflask.

I have a large box of freshly-baked walnut brownies on my lap. A gift you've made for Jane. Hopefully, we’ll be giving them to her in recompense for the information we crave.

“Sooner or later, she’s surely going to piece some things together” you repeat, tapping the wheel with nervous regularity.

“I think she knows exactly what happened” I mutter to myself. We’ve had this discussion so many times it’s hardly worth going back over it now.

A fly buzzes past my head at the same time that Beethoven’s fifth symphony starts with its four thumping strikes. I’m scratching my nose when, quick as a flash, a deer runs out into the road. You narrowly avoid hitting it as you swerve sharply. Too sharply, it becomes clear, as we topple off the road and into a ditch.

Eyes stinging and head throbbing, I manage to climb through the shattered window, pulling your limp body out with me. I desperately pump your chest, hopelessly trying to introduce life into your motionless form. The wait is torturous and eternal.

My hope dies when the ambulance arrives.


If I had your bravery, I would make the journey alone. I took the first step: I found a driving instructor. But when he came for the first lesson, I couldn't even get into the car.

My existence is agonising. Every moment of the day, I relive the life being extinguished from your body, transported away in the twinkling eyes of a startled deer.

I relive everything and live nothing. Jane carries on selling Christmas dreams, protected from her past. The mystery remains unsolved. Perhaps, it's better that way: I'm terrified of finding out the truth.

Time passes... days, years, months, weeks. Nothing changes.

I take a knife and drive it home. I'll get to spend Christmas with you.

December 14, 2019 01:42

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Holly Jahangiri
02:38 Jul 07, 2020

I need backstory! This is incredibly - er, good? Frustrating? Not enough? Got wrenching? I expected answers in that ditch, man. Not an ending without closure!


Daniel Clark
09:23 Jul 08, 2020

Ahh, la bêtise consiste à vouloir conclure… although I agree it is frustrating ;) I don't enjoy giving too much backstory - it feels like handing it all to the reader on a silver-encrusted plate. You need to work for your satisfaction!


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Holly Jahangiri
18:05 Jul 08, 2020

Should I be asking who she killed? Where she buried the body?? Arrrrgggghhhh... Did she kill Santa Claus? That's it, isn't it?


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Tiana Gabel
10:05 Dec 27, 2019

The ambiguity of the protagonists really hit me. I saw them as a young couple.


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