With a jingle of tack, a Hansom cab drew up before the grand portico of Gimballs department store, the flanks of the carriage horse steaming in the chill night air. Constable Stanley Rowan stepped down from the cab, then turned to assist his heavily cloaked companion. As her bare feet touched the frosted pavement, there was a hiss as the snow immediately began to melt around them.
Ayesha does NOT require this heavy, smelly garment, – there was a petulant edge to this thought – for Ayesha is not cold.
Rowan turned from paying the cabman, sighing in exasperation.
“I thought we’d gone through this,” he said, “the cloak is to conceal you from prying eyes, not to protect you from the cold. And you will wear it, at least until we’re inside.”
Ayesha’s eyes flashed rebelliously.
Stanley said he would bring Ayesha some dates – and he did not. Stanley dragged Ayesha into the night and made her ride in the rattling box. Why should Ayesha do as Stanley commands?
Rowan reached out and took Ayesha’s hands in his own and gazed into her scowling face.
“Stanley is trying to protect Ayesha,” he said gently, “and Stanley really needs her help. Will Ayesha do this for Stanley? Please?”
Rowan could see Ayesha weighing his words and then come to a decision.
Ayesha will do as Stanley comm…requests. But there must be dates later…
“Yes,” Sighed Stanley, “there will be dates…”
Rowan turned and regarded the imposing facade of Gimballs. Somewhere amongst the haberdashery, millinery and cosmetics were the two missing children and their abductor, the red-legged scissor man. Four floors, sixteen departments and only five hours until the sun rose and the children were lost forever.
Rowan reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his skeleton key – time to get to work.
[Now, I could just continue the tale to its conclusion, but decided to add a random element, with a chance that Rowan and Ayesha would not be able to find the children in time.
Gimballs is quite large and it will take a good half hour to search each separate department, so I dealt fourteen black playing cards, from the Ace to the seven of both Clubs and Spades, then added the two of Hearts (to represent the children) and the Jack of Diamonds (to represent the scissor man), then shuffled this deck. As they only have five hours until dawn, I can only draw ten of the sixteen cards.
If they draw the Jack of Diamonds before the two of Hearts, they will have to fight and defeat the scissor man to enable them to rescue the children. If the two of Hearts comes first, then they have found the children, but may still have to deal with the scissor man. And if neither comes up, then the children are lost. Let the search begin…]
The chiming of Rowan’s pocket watch signalled that it was 3 o’clock in the morning and whilst they had thoroughly searched the ground floor, they had still found no trace of the missing children.
[3 of Clubs, 2 of Clubs, 7 of Clubs and 3 of Spades]
Rowan had been certain that they would some evidence of their passing in the confectionary department – overturned jars or a trail of toffee wrappers, perhaps – but this was not the case.
However, this particular department had caused a slight delay in their search. Ayesha’s eyes had opened wide in wonder as she beheld the sheer volume and variety of sweets on display and, with a squeal of delight, she had descended upon the serried ranks of jars, prying off their lids and sampling the contents wirh gleeful abandon. Only after a stern talking to from Rowan and the provision of a striped paper bag, bulging with liquorice mushrooms, Pomfret Cakes and sherbet lemons could she be cajoled into leaving. As they ascended to the first floor, their progress was accompanied by the sound of Ayesha happily munching her way through her ‘bribe’.
Due to her nature, Ayesha was distracted by neither the shoe department – Ayesha does not require footwear – nor ladies fashion – These garments have too much material and are very ugly – so the time lost amongst the sweets was made up, as they continued with their search.
[The 6, followed by the Ace of Spades]
As the pair moved deeper into the store, the sound of high-pitched voices echoed through the fabric and haberdashery department.
[2 of Hearts…finally. I was getting the teeniest bit concerned…]
“My snowflake’s better than yours, Peter” said the voice of a young girl.
Rowan gestured to Ayesha to stay back and cautiously advanced through the bolts of cloth, finally discovering the two missing children, Peter and Annabelle Darling, sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a drift of paper. The girl was holding up a snowflake she had cut from silver paper for inspection, but the boy was far too busy carefully cutting out his own, his tongue stuck out in concentration.
“Hello children,” said Rowan softly, “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Who’re you?” Asked Annabelle.
“My name’s Stanley. You mummy and daddy are very worried about you, so they asked me to come and look for you.” He looked at the mass of paper surrounding the two children, noting the paper garlands, snowflakes and various other decorations that had been carefully and not-so carefully cut out. “It looks like you’ve been rather busy.”
“It wasn’t just us,” said Peter, finally looking up and carefully unfolding his snowflake. He looked disappiinted that it was slightly lop-sided. “Mr. Snips did some too…”
‘Mr Snips’, thought Rowan, interesting…
“And where is Mr. Snips now?” He asked.
“He went to get some more paper, as we were running out.” Said Peter.
Rowan beckoned Ayesha over.
“I need to speak to Mr. Snips, but whilst I do, why don’t you show my friend here how to make a snowflake?”
Both children’s eyes grew round as Ayesha approached. “She’s blue…” breathed Annabelle.
“That’s right,” said Rowan, “and as I know ‘Pinocchio’ is one of your favourite books, you know who she is…”
“The blue fairy…” said Peter in wonder.
Blue ‘fairy’? The sound of Ayesha’s laughter echoed in Rowan’s head and she grinned at him, then crouched down with the children.
“NO! The children are MINE!” Rowan turned and watched as ‘Mr Snips’ glided forward. Gone was the tailor’s outfit and the large scissors, replaced with a tall, thin masked figure, garbed in a hooded red robe, with brass scissor-like hands, which were flexing convulsively.
Ayesha rose from the floor, her anger gaining tangible form as shadows gathered about her. She stepped forward, joining Rowan to face the vengeful apparition.
“There is no need for conflict here,” said Rowan calmly, “but the children need to be returned to their home.”
“But I NEED them,” said the scissor man, “otherwise I will fade…and die.” He glided forward, his shear-like hands outstretched. Rowan felt Ayesha tense beside him and put a calming hand on her arm.
“Actually,” said Rowan, “letting them go will actually help you more.”
The scissor man paused.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“It’s very simple,” said Rowan. He turned and called the children. They came over a bit sheepishly and stood next to Rowan and Ayesha. Annabelle nervously slipped her hand into Ayesha’s, who looked a little surprised by this gesture of trust.
“Now children,” began Rowan, pointing at the red-robed figure, “who is this gentleman here?”
“Mr. Snips.” Said Peter immediately.
“And what does Mr. Snips do?”
“He shows us how to make pretty things out of paper and how to be careful with scissors, so we don’t hurt ourselves.” Said Annabelle.
“So, he wouldn’t hurt you then?” Asked Rowan.
“Of course not!” Said Annabelle, “he’s our friend.”
“And will you be telling all your friends about Mr. Snips?”
“Oh yes,” said Peter, then paused, “except for Oliver, but that’s because he’s a prig.”
Rowan turned and smiled at ‘Mr. Snips’.
“See?” He said, “you are no longer the ‘great, long, red-legged scissorman’, mutilator of children and terror of the nursery – you’re Mr. Snips, who teaches children how to use scissors safely and use them to create wonderful things. And these children,” Rowan indicated Peter and Annabelle, “will show their friends how to create snowflakes and garlands and paper marionettes, and tell them the story of the night they spent learning from Mr. Snips…and their friends will tell their friends, and so on. Keeping these children will only sustain you for so long, but if you let them go, your story will grow. You need to make the decision who you now want to be.”
During Rowan’s speech, the red-robed figure had become very still, the involuntary flexing and clashing of its long sharp fingers slowing, then ceasing altogether. Rowan waited, then gently asked “Who are you?”
“Mr. Snips.” answered the figure.
“Good,” said Rowan, “now I suggest you go and see the Night Mayor and explain yourself to him, although you might find him a changed man.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Snips and turned to go, then paused. “What would have happened if I’d said no?”
“Well,” Rowan grinned at Mr. Snips, “I probably would have beaten you with my truncheon until you were very, very sorry.” Mr. Snips tilted his head to one side, considering.
“Yes, you probably would have.”
After the children had been safely delivered back to their loving parents, Rowan and Ayesha returned home. Rowan removed his jacket and pulled a small white box from inside, one he appropriated on their way out of Gimballs, presenting it to Ayesha as he sat beside her on the bed. It was a box of dates.
“I always keep my promises.” He said.
Stanley is a remarkable man. Ayesha has something for Stanley too.
She held out a small sprig of white and green.
“Mistletoe?” said Stanley, “Is that what Annabelle was whispering about with you on the way out?”
The little girl explained that it is a tradition at your Christmas to give ones you care for a kiss, under this greenery.
She looked shyly away, but Stanley reached out and took her chin gently is his hand, turning her to face him. His eyes searched hers and saw fear mingled with hope and he felt the walls he had built within himself crumble. He took the mistletoe from her hand and placed it on the coverlet.
“We don’t need that,” he said.