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The 2023 Winning Entry

The Advent

byJason Teasdale

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The first door was as it should be. The figure ‘1’, depicted as a candle. Seasonal. ‘2’ was a swan, not very Christmassy, but on reflection, the least of the artist’s worries. ‘3’ was a snowman – better as a figure ‘8’ surely?

His son Sam, unimpressed, had cast it aside as ‘weird rubbish’. He wasn’t wrong.
But this was a gesture typical of Julia. Homemade, scrappy, even each ‘reveal’ was an abstract depiction of the date on its door. Pointless, weird rubbish. Acceptable in 1973
perhaps, but Advent had upped its game to chocolates, Haribo, Lego. Not this home-crafted

So, here he was on Christmas Eve. He should be binning it, not opening it. Why bother? Loyalty? Sentimentality?

No. An uneasiness.

Its arrival in this morning’s post came a week after her body was recovered, three
weeks after she was last seen. Twenty-four days in total. A perverse Advent of its own, with her limp, grey corpse its final treasure. Hidden, but under a frozen brook.

He recalled how the penmanship on the calendar’s envelope had matched that of her final note, a note hand-delivered in an awkward next-of-kin visit by the family liaison officer. Curls in ink of emerald, green. The colour of her eyes. The colour of his too.

Identical at birth, so very different after. He hated her now. Hated her for leaving

To send this, perhaps even on the day she took her own life? To address it to his
seven-year-old child…cruel didn’t cover it. Hate couldn’t cover it.

It should have stayed lost in the post, like she had been lost to him. Instead, here it
was on his kitchen table. A table set for one.

Sam’s mum had collected the boy earlier than agreed, another cruel twist on this,
their first Christmas apart. So, brandy in hand, he allowed tears to flow as his long fingers worked their way across the board, peeling, tearing.

Under each window, the artwork became progressively less seasonal and more disturbed: a blade and a bowed head to represent ‘19’.

‘20’ was fog, or water.

‘21’ a rope and gibbet.

Entrails for ‘22’.

A headstone with the figure ‘23’ picked out.

Shaking, he poured a fresh glass.

One door left. This one more unnatural still, in a way he couldn’t identify. His heart stuttered. His veins chilled. His breath fogged before him. An uneasy, cold dampness seemed to grip his ankles, rising like a tide. But there was nothing there.
He took another swig of warming brandy, before pawing at the remaining door. But the heat in his throat was short-lived. A cold, pressure fell hard on his chest. Panic?

Impossibly, he felt his lungs fill. He coughed. Filthy, sour, grey water spewed from his mouth, mingling obscenely with the ribbons and glitter of the calendar.

Beneath his panicked fingernails, the corrupted paper yielded, disintegrating to reveal a familiar green eye.

She winked.