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Second Prize - Lynsey Balloch

Breaking Tradition

By Lynsey Balloch

“Another mince pie dear?”

“Oh no thank you Mrs Morgan, they’re delicious, but I’m full for now.”

Laura didn’t want another mince pie. She hated mince pies. The mushed up remains
from her first were tightly swathed in its foil case. It would stay clenched in her tight
fist until she could next excuse herself and bury it at the bottom of the bathroom bin.
Hopefully no one could smell the fermented fruit through the gaps in her fingers. Why
had she pretended to like them? When Mrs Morgan had proffered over her best
festive china plate, she couldn’t handle the prospect of looking back at her plump,
crestfallen face. Mike had told her that his Mum liked to feed people. Now she would
be spending the next seven days fending the bloody things away every twenty
minutes. They wouldn’t all fit in the bathroom bin. She’d have to find alternatives. Her
hand was starting to feel really uncomfortable and would no doubt sport a very red,
broken mince pie indentation.


“I told you to call me Catrin, love. I’ll be having no ‘Mrs’ in this house. Do take
another, no need to be polite. There’s plenty.”


“She’s fine Mum, she’ll have another when she’s ready.” Mike joined Laura on the
sofa and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.


“There’s barely anything of her Michael! It’s Christmas. Go on, indulge!”

Laura’s cheeks flushed, and it wasn’t due to the crackling fire.

“Perhaps a little later, but I’m fine, seriously.”

The broad smile dipped ever so slightly on Catrin’s lips. Her fuchsia lipstick had
smeared away on a large bite of shortcrust pastry, leaving behind a smattering of
powdered sugar.

“Well you’re certainly disciplined I can tell you. I just can’t resist a bit of sweet, me. I
have to have a bit of sweet after my savoury don’t I Mike? It’s why you’re nice and
trim and my figure’s gone to pot.”


“Nonsense” said Mr Morgan, giving his wife a peck on the cheek. “The little sausage
rolls are ready, and I got a call from Dave. They’ll be arriving soon.”


With that, Mrs Morgan pottered off to the kitchen. Mike winked.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to, but you’re doing great.” He whispered.

Laura did always enjoy her Christmases ‘just so’ back in London. Just her, Mum and
Dad, and Ollie the cat. Bucks fizz and smoked salmon for breakfast, a long frosty
walk, turkey and trimmings and a spot of telly. That was just about as much
excitement she could muster until New Year. Everything seemed rather different with
a boyfriend. She’d only been dating Mike for ten months. It seemed too soon to meet
the family. A quick drink or dinner yes, but a whole Christmas? In South Wales?
She’s never been to Wales before.


“My parents always take Christmas traditions very seriously.” He’d joked on the train.

“What sort of traditions? Midnight mass and wearing paper hats I can get onboard
with, but anything more outlandish might be out of my comfort zone.”


“Just go along with the fun and you’ll be fine. They’ll love you; I promise.”

Mr Morgan had picked them up from the station.

“Call me Gareth. I hope you’re up for all the festivities.” He grinned. He had a twinkle
in his eye, just like Mike.


The quaint, little village was very pretty. The green was dressed in golden lights, and
everyone was bustling about, sorting their last-minute preparations. A group of
people in very high spirits stood gathered around a hole, watching one person dig.


“Look at that Mike.” She pointed. “What are they doing?”

“Gathering veggies” said Gareth.

“All of them? In this weather?”

“Mrs Jones’s are spectacular all year round. Her carrots have won prizes you know.
But she’s getting on and not so capable with the heavy lifting. We say it takes the
whole village to reap the harvest. And we’re a superstitious bunch round here.” He
chuckled at her through the rear-view mirror. She mirrored his laughter, but was he
being serious or not? When they got to the house Mrs Morgan greeted her like a
long-lost daughter. They had a bit of time to relax before the rest of the family arrived
for the big party that evening. It was going to be a busy Christmas Eve. The old
neighbour, Mrs Jenkins, even wandered into her front garden to have a good look at

“Hope you can handle this lot dear, you’re in for quite an evening.”

A thick fog swirled in the chilly night air, teasing a potential White Christmas. It was
perfect, but Laura felt on edge. Mr and Mrs Morgan were lovely. But they were too
friendly. Saccharine sweet, fake almost. Like they were in on some amusing little
secret she wasn’t privy to. There seemed to be some commotion in the kitchen.


“I’m sorry you two, but I completely forgot to pick up the extra drinks! We’re just off to
the shops Laura. Now I’ve been expecting a last-minute package. Be a dear and
keep an ear out for the postman will you? It’s quite important I get it, choccy coins for
the kid’s stockings.”


Laura was certain that it was probably far too late to go to the shops. At the same
time, she could do with a breather. Mike could swap her hour old, half-full glass of
sweet sherry for a large glass of Pinot Grigio. But Mike was putting on his coat.

“You’re going too? Can’t I come? I’d rather not be left by myself.”


“I’m sorry babe, but there’s no room in the car. Besides, I don’t think your jacket was
made for this weather.” He smiled with a little hint of “I told you so.”


“I’ll leave the spare key out” called Mrs Morgan. “It’s on the shelf and not hard to find,
the little round bronze one. Help yourself to anything you want. Have some more of
those mince pies!”


The door clicked shut, but only once the car pulled away could Laura relax and
finally throw away the foil. She poured herself a large glass of wine, taking a closer
look at the large spread on the dining table and the tree decorated with bright green
baubles. After about fifteen minutes of peace, she heard carol singers outside. Carol
singers who couldn’t sing very well. With a groan, she jumped up and turned off the
main lights.

“Don’t come to the door...” She implored silently.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like carol singers. She just didn’t want to talk to anyone. She
had enough new people to meet later. There was a knock at the door, and she held
her breath. Perhaps if she stayed silent, they would bugger off. But as the voices
died down there was another sharp rap at the door. Perhaps it was the postman?
Sure enough, she could make out a shadowy figure on the doorstep. Funny time to
show up, she mused. Back home all the posties would be snug in their toasty living
rooms, cracking open the Quality Street. Perhaps this was a small village thing she
was not accustomed to.


Blast! It was a very large bunch of keys, and she couldn’t remember which one it
was. Why were there so many? The small bronze one? They were practically all
small and bronze! She would just have to pick one and go for it. And of course, the
first one didn’t work.


“One moment please!” she called. Her fingers quivered as she tried another.
Strangely, there was no response. Not even a “Don’t worry” or “Hurry up!”


“Sorry to keep you waiting” she warbled through the glass. “I’m having trouble finding
the right key. I don’t live here.”


Silence. Embarrassed, she started to panic.

“Not that I wasn’t invited. I was. I’m not a burglar! First time here, meeting new in-
laws. Well not really in-laws, but soon to be. Hopefully, haha!” Her loud, affected

laugh was far more shrill than she’d intended. Finally she tried a fifth key which
seemed to be the right fit. But the relief quickly drained from her face when she
looked up through the frosted glass. This person was large, and very still. And one
thing was for sure. This was not the postman.

Gadewch fi i mewn.” A deep voice rasped, and she was felt a little scared.

“Excuse me?”


Silence. Perhaps they were speaking Welsh. She slipped her hand into her pocket
and pulled out her phone.

“I’m sorry. Would you say that again for me? Slower?”

To her surprise, they obliged.

“Still didn’t get it I’m afraid. Can you say it one more time?”

Gadewch fi i mewn” it said pointedly, less patient this time. They always say if you
mishear something three times to go with the last thing you heard. She prayed for
Translate to forgive some spelling errors.


Let me in.

“What? No, sorry.” She winced.

They gave a strange rattling sound in response that didn’t seem friendly.

“It’s not my house for a start” she whimpered. “What do you want?”

She cracked open the door, just to double check it wasn’t the postman. It definitely
wasn’t, and she shut it fast with a sharp scream. Her phone dropped and shattered
on the floor. What can only be described as a monstrous ‘thing’ with large teeth was
outside. With the white, fleshless head of a...well she didn’t know what. She was
talking to a skull. It’s round, glassy eyes were acid green, and it had a long, white,
billowing ethereal body. She needed help. Cursing, she picked up her phone, to find
it was dead. How could she call the police? There must be a house phone surely.
Yes! She’d spotted it in the living room earlier by the floral pouffe. But when she
dialled the number the screen stayed blank. She was completely alone.

“I’m sorry dear, but it wants to come in. You have to tell it to go away” someone
called out from the back garden. Mrs Jenkins was out on her patio, grimly smoking a



“The Mari Lwyd.”

“What’s the Mari Lwyd?”

“Most people don’t know of it, but it can appear during the festive period. It asks to
be let in to the house. Didn’t they tell you we’re a suspicious lot? You must send it
away. I did warn that you were in for it tonight.” She said gravely. “That selfish lot
have left you behind to deal with it. I’m sure they knew it was coming. I would help,
but I can’t move too well. Go on, quick now!”

Bewildered, Laura went back to the front door and opened it. The creature was still
there, but it was not alone. Eerie, motionless figures stood around it, spilling out into
the street. They were dressed in strange costumes, and wore twisted, gruesome,
wooden masks, reminding Laura of the Punch and Judy puppets she’d seen as a

“Who are you? What’s going on? Is anyone else there?! Mike!” She cried out to the
other houses. Was this a ghost town? Or had everyone else fallen victim to this
horrible creature and what could only be described as its cult. The crowd began to
sing, swaying to and fro. The carols she’d heard earlier.

“As much as I like carols, you’ll have to go elsewhere”, she said bravely.

They stopped and stared at her, aggressively whispering in Welsh. They moved
closer and looked ready to take the house by force.

“I won’t let you in” she cried. “There’s no room for starters. You’re probably far too
big to fit through the door! Leave me alone!”


She slammed the door shut and ran back out to the garden in tears. Some of the
figures had even made their way to the driveway and were staring at her through the
side gate.

“I can see them too dear” called over Mrs Jenkins. “They have you outnumbered.
You tried your best, but you will have to surrender.”

“What will happen if I do?”

“It will feast. Then it will come to my door. You must be brave and confront it. I must
go and ready myself now. Good luck dear, and Merry Christmas.” Mrs Jenkins got to
her feet and sloped off to her kitchen, locking the door behind her.


“Come back! What feast?!” she wept. The creature continued to knock at the door,
and it wasn’t going to stop. Wiping her face, Laura racked her brain for what to do.
She couldn’t just give in. Perhaps she could somehow stall time just in case the
Morgans got back. Trembling, she slipped into the living room, desperately looking
for something to defend herself with. She found a mini fire extinguisher next to the
hearth and pulled down a bunch of mistletoe. With sweaty palms, she made her way
back to the hall for the showdown.


“Go on then.” she shouted out with grit. “Come in!”

The victorious Mari Lwyd forced open the door and stepped inside.

“Kiss this!” she screamed, and tossed the mistletoe into its face, catching it off guard.
She felt like Lara Croft as she fired the extinguisher at the beast, a white jet of foam
bringing it to the floor. With as much force as she could muster, she let out a battle
cry, swinging at the beasts head. Over and over again. She landed on its neck,
feeling something harder on impact. Target hit! She’d got it. She’d got it! It collapsed
with a dull thud on the hard ceramic. It was only then she noticed the screaming, and
it wasn’t just her own.


Suddenly the lights were on and one of the figures removed their mask. It was Mrs


“Gareth? You alright love?”

The creature’s eyes, baubles from the Christmas tree, lay shattered next to a horse’s
skull on a stick.


“You told us she’d be able to handle it Mike”, said someone in the crowd.

Mike, closest to the doorway, whipped off his own mask. The entire Morgan family
began to remove their costumes, along with the group she’d seen digging earlier.
Some of the children were crying.


“Mike?” Laura said tearfully, still clutching the extinguisher for dear life. “What’s going


“It’s a silly old tradition.” Mike’s face was sickly white. “We negotiate our way into
every house on the street before celebrating together. It’s supposed to be good luck.
I did tell them we shouldn’t have left you alone. Babe, what have you done to my


A crimson-stained white bedsheet covered something on the floor. It wasn’t moving.

“Call an ambulance!”

Someone hurried to the living room to grab the house phone, with instructions to
plug it back it in.

“She finally cottoned on did she? About time too, I’m absolutely parched. My house
next!” called Mrs Jenkins joyfully from the back door, oblivious to the screams, and
the pool of blood leaking across the Morgans’ entrance hall.

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