A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons short story for Christmas 2004
by Tiger Jackson
Rhapsody loved Christmas shopping in Paris. And one of her favourite stores was Le Train Petit on the Champs-Elysées.
She’d first visited it as a little girl with her family. It had been like stepping into a dreamworld. The doors had swung open to reveal a miniature carousel, covered in delicate rice lights of all colours and carrying five carved horses. Each horse was a different colour, and each was wearing the glorious tack of different eras. Blink and you saw a knight’s black charger in silver armour and red caparisons, ready to joust. Blink again, and open your eyes to see a pure white horse, its mouth open wide, adorned with a heavy saddle and delicate bridle, both of golden-tan leather decorated with hanging disks of brilliant green jade, a palfrey for an ancient Chinese lady. Then a bay steed draped in harness of gold and brilliant blue faience, noble enough to pull a pharaoh’s chariot. And here came a fantastic red horse with a white dappled rump, wearing no harness at all but painted from head to tail with the bright mysterious symbols of the American southwest, followed by a steel-grey Arabian, covered in shimmering silks and gold, the tassels on its bridle and reins swaying. They neighed and tossed their heads, swished their tails, and pawed the air as they galloped in their endless circle to the melodies of ancient Christmas carols.
The little girl who loved horses so much had been mesmerized. Even twenty years later, Rhapsody felt a thrill as she entered the store. It was always magnificent and this year was no exception. When the doors opened, the magic enveloped her again, as completely as it had before. The air was filled with the sweet smell of freshly baked pastries. A crowd of children, their parents standing close behind, was gathered around a working miniature bakery. It was staffed by foot-tall animatronic teddy bears, all of them busily scooping out flour, breaking eggs, messily stirring bowls filled with ingredients, or dropping tiny, paw-sized slices of chilled dough into a fryer filled with sizzling-hot oil. As the fryer tipped up the freshly cooked beignets onto a cooling tray, a store employee collected them in small waxed sacks. “Fresh beignets! A sack for every child!” And the crowd of children, eager for the tasty treat, would leave the magical scene, making room for others who had just arrived.
Rhapsody had arranged for a personal shopping assistant to meet her. She had arrived early on purpose, so she would have time to enjoy this year’s grand display. The smell of the miniature beignets was enticing, and she laughed at a teddy bear as he fell head-first into a flour sack, then climbed out and waved.
“Mademoiselle Simms? I am Guillaume, your assistant. Have I kept you waiting long?” Assured that he was not tardy, Guillaume bowed politely and lead the way around the bakery display and into the heart of Le Train Petit.
The store was thronged with children, eagerly pointing out their hearts’ desires to indulgent parents and grandparents. And there were plenty of unaccompanied adults, besides Rhapsody, shopping for toys and games to fulfil other children’s wishes. She smiled as she consulted her niece’s and nephew’s lists. Their father, her brother Edward, had broken his leg skiing in Switzerland, and his wife Rowena did not want to leave him to go shopping, not even for Christmas. Not even for Paris! Rhapsody, who had been granted a brief furlough, had offered to help out by shopping for the children’s Christmas gifts, an offer that had been gratefully received.
Guillaume stood by patiently as she enjoyed the many intricate clockwork displays, listened to the children’s oohs and aahs, and looked over the toys, consulting her lists as she did so. Eventually, she had worked her way to the store’s top floor, and made her last choices. Her assistant nodded as he made another note. He assured Rhapsody that he would personally arrange for her gifts to be wrapped and sent to her brother’s home in England. When Rhapsody had reviewed and signed the order, Guillaume bowed and thanked her graciously for it, and assured her again that it would be dispatched promptly.
Feeling pleased and satisfied, Rhapsody descended the stairs to the third floor. On her way down, she noticed a towheaded little boy, about six years old, dressed in clean but very outdated-looking clothes. She smiled, not at all surprised to see that the fashion trend for retro styles had trickled down to upper-class children’s wear. In one arm the boy was clutching a lady doll wearing a rich blue gown. And in his free hand, he held several white roses with pink-tipped petals. Something compelled Rhapsody to pay attention to the boy. Perhaps, she thought, it’s my maternal instinct kicking in. Where are his parents? For even though there were adults and chattering children everywhere, none of them paid any attention to the boy and the boy didn’t seem to belong with any of them.
As she watched, the boy carefully, lovingly, set the doll on a counter, then set the roses beside her before he dipped his hand into a pocket and counted out some notes and coins. He frowned, stuffed them into a different pocket with his other hand, pulled them out, and counted them again. He repeated the performance once more before shaking his head with a deep sigh, then turned to pick up the doll and the roses again.
Several times, the boy approached women, each time holding out a rose and saying something to them, but they all either ignored him or glanced at him and walked away. He stood dejectedly until he spied something on the floor. It was a coin. He picked it up, then took out his money again, added the coin, counted it all again, and shook his head. Rhapsody, intrigued by the boy and his odd behaviour, took a step towards him. He looked up at her approach and she saw that his eyes were filled with a sadness beyond his years. A moment later, his sad eyes lit up and he smiled beatifically. “Achèteriez-vous une rose, Mademoiselle?” he asked, as he held out a rose.
Rhapsody smiled and replied, in French, that she would indeed like to buy a rose. Although all the roses looked equally fine to her, the boy chose one carefully and handed it to her with a little flourish and a big smile, which she returned as she gave him the money he asked for the lovely, thornless rose. She began to walk away, but couldn’t resist looking back over her shoulder. The boy was counting all the notes and coins again; Rhapsody could see that the sad boy still did not have the money he needed, for he sighed again as he pocketed it. On impulse, she turned back to him and asked his name.
“Aramis, Mademoiselle,” he announced, with a sweet smile and a little bow.
“My name is Dianne. Are you trying to earn money to buy a gift?”
“Oui, Mademoiselle Dianne. I want to buy this doll.” He lifted it up for her to see.
It was exquisite. The lady doll’s face, hands, and exposed shoulders were of fine ivory bisque, delicately touched with colour. She had blue glass eyes set in an expertly painted oval face with full pink lips, high cheekbones, and a patrician nose. Her abundant blonde hair was piled on top of her head in a Victorian style and a few long tendrils trailed free over her shoulders. Her flawless shoulders were bared by the heart-shaped neckline of her long-sleeved gold and blue satin-and-lace bodice, which hugged her body until it formed a V over her hips and met the loose and flowing skirt of sapphire-blue satin. In the doll’s ears, Rhapsody detected the flashing of tiny jewels, and around her neck hung strands of seed pearls and jewels, looped in and out like lace.
“I want it for my sister, Julie,” said Aramis. “But I do not have enough money, so I am selling Christmas roses from my family’s garden. We grow the finest ones in Paris!” He glowed with pride.
Rhapsody was charmed. “They are very beautiful. Are you close to having enough money for the doll?”
Aramis screwed up his face before he answered. “Oh, Mademoiselle, I do not know. Every time I count my money, the number is different. Sometimes it is more than before, sometimes less. But it is never enough.”
Rhapsody thought quickly. “I noticed you keep putting your money in different pockets. Maybe some of it’s gotten separated and you have more than you think you do. Maybe you could let me hold the doll and the roses while you check all your pockets for any coins or notes you might have missed? Then we can count it out together.”
Aramis brightened as he agreed to her plan. Rhapsody twisted a lock of her hair into a braid and tucked the rose she had bought into it so that her hands would be free. The boy laughed as he exclaimed, “You look very pretty with the flower in your hair!” But he quickly sobered. “I will put the roses down here so you can hold the doll better. Please, you must be very careful with her. She is very special.”
“I will treat her like one of my own dolls.” Rhapsody accepted it graciously as Aramis solemnly handed it to her. She waited while he set the roses down again and carefully turned out every pocket with both hands. While he was occupied with his hunting, Rhapsody, who had now watched him count his money several times and had a good idea how much the boy had, secretly dipped her free hand into her own pocket, and pulled out a handful of Euros that she kept ready in case she wanted to make small cash purchases. It should be enough, she thought, glancing at the paper price tag that dangled from the doll’s wrist. It’s a very reasonable price for Le Train Petit, really, especially for such a fantastic doll like this one. But I can see why it’s too much for a child’s budget.
When Aramis had emptied all of his pockets and gathered every note and loose coin he could find, Rhapsody offered to count it while he held the doll.
“Merci, Mademoiselle Dianne.”
The Angel made a mental note to get Captain Ochre something especially nice for Christmas, in appreciation for his teaching her how to palm small things and make them appear like magic. The trick made it easy for her to slip her Euros in with the boy’s as she counted them out. Aramis’s eyes widened as the number grew. Before he and Rhapsody finished counting, he could see that he had enough money to buy the doll.
The boy’s eyes shone. “Mademoiselle Dianne,” he declared, “God must have sent you to help me.”
Rhapsody did not share the boy’s simple faith but she did not laugh at it either. “Come on. Let’s go pay for the doll.” She took his hand and led him to the nearest cashier, where she took the doll from Aramis and carefully placed it on the counter before the clerk.
“Oh my, this is a beautiful doll!” the clerk exclaimed. “Someone is going to be very happy this Christmas!”
Rhapsody looked down at Aramis and exchanged a smile. When she looked back up, the clerk was frowning at the price tag. “That cannot be right!”
“Is something wrong?”
“Pardon, Mademoiselle, but I am not sure this doll is so inexpensive. I must ask the manager if it is correct.” She waved. “Madame Laurent! I have a question for you.” The two conferred briefly.
The manager examined the doll and its price tag closely. “I have not seen a doll like this one before and I have been with Le Train Petit for fifteen years. I thought I was familiar with all the dolls we have, but then,” she shrugged, “it is a very big store and there are so many dolls. Occasionally,” she explained to the clerk, “an older toy is overlooked for many years in the storerooms then brought out for display. It is a genuine store tag, and we will honour the price.” Madame Laurent smiled at Rhapsody. “I am sorry for the delay, Mademoiselle.”
Rhapsody smiled back. “It’s quite all right.” As she handed the money for the doll to the clerk, she heard Aramis release the breath he had been holding.
The clerk held up some of the paper money and frowned at it. “How very odd. I haven’t seen many of these old notes since the government started issuing replacements in, when was it? 2058? earlier?”
Oh dear, thought Rhapsody. “They’re still legal tender, aren’t they?”
“Oh, Oui, Mademoiselle, they are fine. I am only surprised because I’ve never received any from a young woman like yourself, only from old folk who’ve saved them.”
Rhapsody nodded. Aramis must have gotten some old notes from Grand-mère or Grand-père. Her own grandparents had sometimes given their grandchildren outdated money to play with. It was fortunate for Aramis that the money had not been too old.
The clerk finished ringing up the sale, then carefully placed the doll in a sack well-lined and padded with tissue and handed it to Rhapsody, who thanked her.
With a warm smile, Rhapsody gave the sack to Aramis. “There you are. She’s all yours now.”
Aramis bounced with excitement as he took the bag. “I have waited for a long time!”
Rhapsody laughed, delighted to see her little friend’s joy. “I’m sure your sister will be very surprised and happy when you give it to her on Christmas Day.”
“Oh.” Aramis’ face fell again as he stopped bouncing. “I want to give it to my sister, but I don’t know how.”
“What do you mean?” Rhapsody asked, puzzled.
“I think ma Maman is very ill; when I am allowed to visit her, she is always in bed. She went to bed when Julie was born. The last time I saw Maman and talked to her, she told me that Julie wasn’t home anymore. She became an angel and went to live in the sky.” He sniffed, obviously trying not to cry, as his expression became even sadder. “I have looked in the sky but I’ve never seen my sister there. How can I give her the doll when I cannot find her?”
Before Rhapsody could think of anything comforting to say, she saw a young store clerk carrying a tall stack of boxes approaching them. She had only a moment to notice that he was not watching where he was going before he collided with her. The boxes tumbled over Rhapsody’s head as she flung out her hands to catch herself as she fell to the floor. Her handbag flew off her arm and spilled its contents everywhere.
The clerk apologised profusely to her as he helped her to her feet. “I-I am s-so s-sorry, M-Mademoiselle! I-I s-saw the b-boy,” he stammered before pursing his lips, cutting off the inane excuse.
Rhapsody noticed that the young man had turned pale and his eyes were filled with fear. He was probably concerned that he would lose his job when she complained to the store’s management about his carelessness. She smiled at him reassuringly. “It’s all right; it was only an accident, and, I’m not hurt. Besides, it’s Christmas.”
The young man’s face remained pale and his weak smile didn’t reach his eyes. With shaking hands, he retrieved his boxes and hurried away, leaving her and Aramis to gather up her scattered belongings. Rhapsody suddenly remembered her little friend. He’d been behind her, in the path of the flying boxes.
“Aramis! Are you all right?” Rhapsody asked anxiously as she turned around, looking for him.
“Oui, Mademoiselle Dianne. I am fine,” he replied as he crawled out from beneath a shelf. “So is the lady,” he added, indicating the sack.
Rhapsody smiled, then got down on her hands and knees and began retrieving the contents of her handbag. She mentally catalogued them as she found them or Aramis handed something to her. All her possessions were accounted for except one. Her Spectrum ID was missing!
“Aramis, do you see a small red . . . ?” She turned and found Aramis kneeling on the floor behind her, holding her ID case open in his hands.
He looked up at her in awe. “Mademoiselle, you are an angel, n’est-ce pas?”
There was no use denying it, so Rhapsody nodded. “Yes, Aramis, I’m an Angel.”
He spoke rapidly and eagerly. “Will you be going home to the sky for Christmas, Mademoiselle Ange? Will you please take the doll with you and give it to my sister if you see her there in the sky?”
“But Aramis, I—” She realised he didn’t understand that she was a Spectrum Angel and didn’t live in Heaven, but the boy looked so happy and so hopeful, she couldn’t bring herself to disappoint him. She couldn’t bear to see him sad again. So she smiled and said, “All right, Aramis. I promise. I’ll do my best.”
The boy’s face was radiant. “Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle Ange Dianne.” He put his hand into the bag and touched the doll’s hair before giving it to Rhapsody for the last time. “I must go now and find le Père. I hope he will let me visit my Maman for Christmas. Then I can give her the rest of my roses!” With a last huge smile, he dashed off deep into the store and out of sight.
Rhapsody was puzzled. Le Père, Aramis said. Not mon Père. Why would he have to ask a priest for permission to visit his mother at Christmas? she asked herself. He mentioned that his mother was ill, so he must be in care, probably in a church-run orphanage. But why? He said his sister was still living with their mother. No, she amended, thinking over what Aramis had told her. His mother told him that little Julie died. She must have been born and died fairly recently. That could be why his mother is sick and why she can’t care for her son. And it explains why he can only visit her occasionally, on special days like Christmas.
Rhapsody looked at the doll in its bag. And he had to sell roses to send his sister in Heaven a Christmas gift. That kind of devotion was rare. What could she do but keep her promise to Aramis and take the doll with her when she returned to Cloudbase? I can’t get it to his sister, but I can find someone else to love it, I suppose; that will have to be good enough.
Another thought struck her: what about a Christmas gift for Aramis? He hadn’t mentioned wanting anything for Christmas except to visit his mother. Unfortunately, she had no idea how she could help him achieve that. But she could at least arrange to get some sort of gift to him. Tomorrow, Rhapsody promised herself, she would contact her solicitor in London and ask him to make discreet inquiries in Paris to find where Aramis lived. There had to be something he needed or wanted; surely someone at the orphanage would know.
Glancing at her watch, she saw that she still had some hours left in Paris before she had to be at Spectrum Paris to catch her flight. She’d finished most of her shopping; she just needed to find a special gift for Captain Ochre. She smiled, recalling a particularly intricate aircraft model she’d seen a short while ago there in Le Train Petit. It would give him hours of pleasure and frustration.
Soon, shopping bags in hand, she was strolling down the Champs-Elysée, enjoying the Christmas lights and enchanting shop windows.
It was a beautiful night. The full moon shone on the clouds, turning them into silvery fairy castles. Rhapsody gazed at the moonlit clouds as she wondered who to give the doll to, and what she could do for Aramis for Christmas.
When she emerged from the SPJ, struggling with her load of parcels, her flight bag, and the shopping bags from Le Train Petit, Destiny Angel was there to greet her. “Welcome home, Rhapsody! May I help you carry some of those parcels to your quarters?”
Rhapsody accepted her offer with effusive gratitude and waggled her flight bag. “Help! Before my hand breaks, please!”
Grinning, Destiny took the flight bag and gathered some of the parcels into her free arm. As they strode down the corridor towards the Angels’ quarters, chatting about the sights of Paris at Christmastime, Destiny couldn’t keep her eyes from drifting up to look at Rhapsody’s hair. “That is a most beautiful flower!” she finally exclaimed.
Only then did Rhapsody remember the rose she had stuck in her hair. She groaned. “No wonder people have been looking at me all day. They smiled and looked amused, but no one said anything!”
When they reached her quarters, Rhapsody set down her parcels on the bed and removed the rose from her hair as her friend disappeared into the bathroom to get some water for the flower.
When she returned, Destiny took the rose and sniffed it delicately. She closed her eyes and sighed in appreciation. “Ahh! It’s been years since I smelled that perfume! When I was a child, my father grew flowers like this one. He called them Christmas roses, and every year his textile factories would produce special fabrics with pictures of the roses on them, just for the holiday. Christmas roses are still my favourite flower.” She looked over the pile of packages spread over the bed. “I do not need to ask if you had a good time shopping in Paris!” Destiny declared with a smile. “But what is that? May I see?” At Rhapsody’s nod, Destiny reached for a bag from Le Train Petit, and unwrapped its contents. She gasped and looked at what she held in wonder. “Oh, a lady doll!” she exclaimed.
“I met a little boy in the toy shop. He bought the doll for his sister but he told me she’d gone to heaven and he didn’t know how to get it to her. By accident, he found out I’m an Angel and I couldn’t help promising him I’d take it with me to Cloudbase.” She looked at the doll sadly. She’d promised him more than that. More than she should have. But he was so young and had experienced so much sadness in his short life and thought he had found hope in Ange Dianne.
Destiny sat down with the doll in her lap, carefully arranging its meticulously hinged legs and the folds of its delicate lace and velvet gown. She smiled at it. “I wanted a doll just like her when I was four years old, ” she said with a small sigh. “Whenever my parents took us children anywhere near Le Train Petit, I would talk about the lady doll. I was so sure I would get her for Christmas.” Destiny stopped playing with the doll and bit her lip as a painful memory returned. “But then, in October, my older brother died suddenly. Our parents were too sad to do any shopping for Christmas that year. We did not go to the toy store again until my birthday, and by then the doll was gone.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” was all Rhapsody could think of to say. “You must have been very sad after your brother died.”
“I was. Very much so.” She gently smoothed the doll’s hair. “Poor little Ari! I was so sad but also very angry with him for dying because he left me alone and I did not get my doll.” Destiny sighed and shook her blonde head. “I felt that anger and disappointment for a long time. But Ari was only six years old himself. I know he did not want to leave me.”
“Ari? Was that short for Aristotle?”
“No, no! Our parents were not much interested in philosophy, but they were both devoted readers of classical literature and named us for famous characters. My mother adored Shakespeare. If I had been a boy, I would have been named Romeo, not Juliette.” Destiny laughed heartily. “My father’s favourite book was The Three Musketeers, so he might have named me Porthos or d’Artagnan to go with Aramis, my older brother! I was too young to say his full name, so I called him Ari.” Destiny smiled wistfully at the doll in her lap. “I loved and admired my brother very much. I know he loved me, too.” She stroked the doll’s hair absently as she continued. “I forgave Ari for dying, many years ago. But I’ve never quite forgotten how beautiful the lady doll was.”
When Destiny sighed and laid the doll down on the tissues again, Rhapsody stopped her from wrapping it. “Please, keep her,” she told the astonished Destiny. “On my way here, I thought about what to do with the doll, and decided I should give her to someone who will really love her. Like the little boy’s sister would have.”
“I may have her? Really?”
Rhapsody nodded. “I’m sure my little friend would agree and approve.”
Destiny glowed with happiness and hugged the doll gently. “I hope your little friend will not mind. But I love her already.”
Rhapsody awoke from a sound sleep. In her dreams, she had replayed her meeting with the boy, hearing again everything he had said, wondering what she could give him as a gift for Christmas. Suddenly, she had understood whose permission Aramis needed to visit his mother. In the darkness, Rhapsody smiled and relaxed into sleep again. She knew exactly what she could do for her little friend.
The next day, Rhapsody went to see if Father Ivory, one of the Cloudbase chaplains, was available. She found him in the chapel, lighting a candle. “Father, are you busy? I could come back later.”
“Rhapsody Angel! A pleasure to see you. What can I do for you?”
“I was in Paris yesterday and met a sad little boy. I need to ask for God’s help to make his Christmas a happy one, Father. Could you help me make two prayers for him?”
“Certainly, my child. What do you want to pray for?”
“My little friend asked God the Father to let him visit his mother for Christmas. I’d like to add my voice to his.” If I was a mother who’d lost a child, I’d want to see him again, if only in dreams.
Father Ivory nodded. “And your other prayer?”
Rhapsody smiled. “ For someone to tell him, Julie got her doll.”
I wanted to tell a Christmas ghost story but didn’t want it to be a scary one or ( I hope) even obvious. I came up with The Christmas Rose after reading several stories with variations on the theme of a child wanting to send a Christmas gift to someone who has died or is dying, and pondering how such a tale might work if the roles were altered. And who but an Angel could help?
Paris has many high-end toy stores, but Le Train Petit is my invention, one based on childhood memories of several stores in several cities. The opening scenes in the store are adapted from my memories of a fantastic Christmas carousel and a magical trip to Madurodam in Holland.
Christmas roses are real. Several types of flower are called by that name but all are described as being white with pink tips. They are a European Christmas tradition.
As ever, the greatest thanks are due to Chris Bishop and Marion Woods for their thorough and patient editing and corrections. My stories owe a lot to their hard work and kindness. I’m especially grateful for Chris for correcting my execrable French, thus sparing me much embarrassment, and making Aramis much more real.
Happy Christmas 2004!
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