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Winner - Gillian Robertson

The Fright Before Christmas

By Gillian Robertson

‘Y.T.L Direct. Good morning, Gregor speaking. How can I help you?’

‘My goodness, that barely rang’.

‘We aim to please. How can I be of service?’

‘Jamie, I’ve told you already. Leave Angus in his cot. He’s trying to sleep. Sorry,
um, well, I’m not sure. My plumber gave me your number. He said you were
specialists. He said you’d sorted out his lot last year.’


‘Always lovely to get a personal recommendation. Word of mouth has worked
wonderfully well for us madam. Perhaps you’d like to give me some background


‘It’s just they’re so boisterous, they’re far too excited and the noise level is really
upsetting the Neighbours. I can’t do a thing with them.’


‘And ‘they’ would be?’

‘Jamie, Angus, Michael, Blair and Callum. My boys.’


‘’Six, two, five, four and seven. Callum, we do not use our bow and arrow in the
house. Garden toys, garden toys!’


‘Quite the little handful, I’m sure. What level of service were you thinking of?’

‘Well, they need a fright. Something to pull them up short. Something to help me
manage them better.’


‘You’ve come to the right place madam. We are old school, very traditional. A
terrified child is a controllable child, we find. We have no truck with the modern
psychological approach. Such softness and gentle tones only leads to tears in our


‘Terrified might be too much. They are still quite small. I suppose they’re just
learning. Michael, that is not going to make Kipper or the baby Jesus happy. Get the
net and put Jesus back in the stable. Yes, you can feed Kipper but only a pinch of
food. We do not want a podgy guppy.’

‘Might I make a suggestion, madam?’

‘Please, I’m at my wits end. The in-laws arrive next week. No Michael, it doesn’t
look like an oil spill. It looks like at least half a tub of fish food. Callum, help him
scoop it out. Kipper might explode if he eats all that. Okay, terrified might work. What
do you suggest?’

‘We have a selection of packages ranging from one or two of the lads paying a visit
to the full ensemble of thirteen in attendance for the thirteen nights before Christmas.
It really depends on the level of cover you need. Each lad has his own area of

‘Blair, don’t even think about it. If that gets stuck it’ll have to stay there. No, Dr
Armstrong will not ‘ping’ it out. He’s on holiday. What kind of expertise?’


‘Well, firstly, they really look the part – gnarled, knobbly, trollish, malevolent.
Visually they are a treat, very scary. They specialise in adapting to each client’s
worst fear. It’s a truly personalised plan. They have their own little idiosyncrasies, of
course, but we like to think that adds a touch of originality. We aim to provide a truly
unforgettable experience.’

‘Y.T.L – what does that stand for?’

‘Ah, yes madam. Yule Tide lads. Originally an Icelandic concept. Extremely
effective, with long lasting benefits. The franchise is relatively new to Scotland.’


‘And the lads themselves, what do they actually do?’

‘They basically enforce balance. Good behaviour is rewarded with a shoe full of
sweets each night, bad behaviour a shoe full of rotten potatoes. The children can try
again the next day with the help of visits from the lads. As I said, they each have
their own little encouraging ways. Hamish, for instance, slams doors a lot, especially
during the night. He has been known to nip little fingers and toes if they’re not fast

‘I doubt they’d even notice. Doors are constantly slamming here. The whole house


‘Well, there’s Struan and his long- handled spoon collection. He steals their cutlery
and sharpens it all to needle points. He’s given some nasty frights with forks. Most

‘We know all about fork frights. Dr Armstrong had a devilish time removing the fork
when Jamie tried to steal Blair’s sausages. Bloody mashed potato doesn’t look good
on a plate.’


‘How about Brodie? He’s keen on sausages too. He hides then pounces and steals
their food. He tends to drop from a great height. He’s absolutely silent, a sort of ninja
food nicker. It can be most distracting.’

‘Yes, we’ve experienced dropping from a height. I never could shift the stain from
the carpet after Blair dive bombed his father from the loft hatch. Hot chocolate leaves
such a mess on pure wool.’


‘Hmmm, perhaps Murdo and his meat hook might curb their enthusiasm. He uses it
to snatch food, toys, anything a child values, really. It’s quite impressive, ornate with
some lovely runic engravings. Sharp too. He usually throws in some elaborate
slashing moves. You never know what angle he’s coming at you from.’


‘Not more hooks. Angus got a nasty nick on his neck that time Callum hung him
from a hook in the garage. It took an age to find him, dangling by the dungarees –
then he wouldn’t come down. Thankfully he didn’t need stitches. Not that time,

‘They do seem to be resourceful, your boys. I’m wondering if Kelvin might solve the
problem. He steals candles and eats them. Lit candles. He has a lovely little trick
where he then breathes fire. He can aim his flame with great precision – toys, books,
clothes all reduced to a heap of ash in seconds. Again, speed plays a part. Before
they know it, they’re surrounded by smouldering piles of hot ash. Quite a dramatic
sensory experience.’

‘That’s all we need. Don’t give them any more ideas. Blair hasn’t tried eating
candles yet. We’ve had to put netting over the Christmas tree to save the baubles.
And flames, well, we’ve had to promise the fire service we won’t have matches in the
house. If there’s one more incident Callum will be taken into care.’

‘I’m getting an idea of the extent of your problem, madam. How do they feel about
their pets? Sandy does a good line in harassing much loved animals. Sometimes
that’s the only way to go. Kittens pegged onto the washing line? Deep frozen
lizards? Hamster washing up brushes? Guinea pig chamois leathers? He’s creative
without being absolutely brutal.’

‘I don’t know...they give Kipper a pretty hard time themselves. Torpedoing him last
week with unopened conkers left him stunned and confused. I didn’t know guppies
could change colour. It wouldn’t be fair to put him through any more upset.’
‘Hmm, they’re not strong on empathy, are they? Quite imaginative though,
bordering on inventive.’

‘They’re not totally bad. They’re lovely boys really. They can be very sweet. Just
not at the same time. It’s utterly exhausting. I can’t turn my back for a second without
chaotic results. I’m dreading when their grandparents arrive, really dreading it. They
think the boys should all be at boarding school, even Angus.’

‘There, there madam. Don’t despair. We’re here to help. We always have a

‘Oh, I do hope so.’

‘I don’t often recommend this but needs must. I think it has to be Katie.’


‘She’s our most experienced operative. Trained under Gryla, the ogress herself.
She’s everyone’s favourite grandmother until someone is foolish enough to displease
her. She turns from cuddly, smiley wholesomeness to venomous, snarling malice in
a blink. Before they know it, they are on a slow roll in her cauldron, being boiled up
until they’re screaming that they’re sorry. Normally the threat of Katie is enough; the
Yule Cat sees to that. He has a foul temper, nasty, spitting, biting thing. He’s left
many a child with a ferocious fear of all things feline.’

‘I’m desperate. Okay, let’s give it a go.’

‘Would later today suit? Perhaps around 3pm? I think I’ll be coming along too.’

‘That’s kind of you. What do you do?’

‘Oh, I’m purely administrative, madam. Nothing imaginative from me. If Katie and
her cat don’t stop them in their tracks I’ve thought of another way to lighten your load
somewhat. We’ll sign them up for a spell of work experience. We really ought to
harness all that devious, manipulative mayhem. We’ll see you at 3pm. Looking
forward to working with you. Thank you for choosing Y.T.L. Direct.’

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