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With All My Love Always Always Forever XXX by Stephen Volk

Love by Daniele SerraFleet services was packed. It always was, on the run up to the holidays. They’d learnt to be patient over the years. They knew they might not see the right candidate for a while. But there always was one.

Cars circled like vultures, looking for a parking space. The tension had already set in as people ventured out on their yearly obligatory trek to stay with relatives: a sure recipe for the onset of strife, stress, ulcers and arguments.

Iestyn and Michaela had no family as such, no children, and they didn’t envy the unhappy throng they observed with detachment from behind the windscreen of their mini. They were happy – more than happy – with each other. They were soulmates.

Iestyn turned the dial to direct the heat to the windscreen, which had begun to fog up. He asked Michaela if her feet were all right. “Lovely. Toasty,” she said, giving a little wriggle. Iestyn smiled.

An unconvincing Father Christmas stood outside the entrance, shaking a bucket aloft, collecting for charity, no doubt. As if people weren’t cash-strapped enough. A lot out there having trouble making ends meet, and here, look at them, loaded with gifts that most of their friends and family don’t need and don’t want. Futile gestures that go straight in the attic or straight in the bin, some of them. The extravagance was disgusting.

To Iestyn and Michaela it was. It was a world of Haves and Have-Nots. And they were not prepared to bow down to the dominance of Capitalism. That’s what Iestyn said, years ago – and Michaela agreed with him. They simply refused to give in to this orgy of spending. The mass-marketisation of a Christian festival that was supposed to be about love, and giving.

But giving wasn’t everything. Sometimes, to make a point, you had to take.

“Here we go.”

They got out of the car. Iestyn blew into his gloves, cocked his head.

Following his gaze she spotted it. A blue Audi packed to the gunnels with presents. Boxes of all shapes and sizes decorated in their bright festive wrapping paper – holly, robin redbreasts, reindeer, Santa on his sleigh. Tied up with big red bows, carefully labelled to Mum, Dad, Sis, Granny, Grandpa.

Irresistible.

They’d seen the family scamper off to get a meal, children in spotted wellies and ear muffs, baby in a polar beat hat with ears. Michaela kept an eye on the services while Iestyn disabled the alarm and jacked the boot.

Two minutes and forty seconds later everything was in the back of the mini covered in a blanket and Iestyn was putting the car in reverse. They’d got it down to a fine art.

They didn’t believe in Christmas being ostentatious. They’d usually open their stockings in bed – invariably stockings from their latest plunder, if there were any. Otherwise, they gave it a miss.

Then it was time to open the presents, which had been carefully arranged all round the Christmas tree (the one they’d got from that Ford Mondeo five years ago).

They took it in turns, as usual. The first one – ‘To Nan, All Our Love’ – was a garlic crusher. Iestyn’s – ‘To Eric XXX’ – was a diary with Rudyard Kipling on the cover. Michaela tore the paper off one ‘To The Best Mum In The World’ and found a Nigella cookbook. Iestyn opened one to ‘Uncle Tim’ and got a book of science fiction stories.  “Great!” said Michaela, “You like those!” He also got a Nick Cave CD, a box set of Ealing classics and the obligatory chocolate orange. She got a dressing gown, slippers, and a Marks & Spencer voucher worth £50.

“Well I don’t know about you, but I’m happy with mine!” he said, as he said every year. “I’m happy with mine too!” Michaela echoed, and they kissed.

“Wait a minute, we haven’t finished yet. Look, there’s one more under the tree.” Iestyn retrieved a box about eight inches square but only about an inch deep. He read out what was on the label: ‘With All My Love Always Always Forever XXX.’

Michaela giggled. “Open it.”

He did.

Her jawed dropped. “I think I might swear in a minute. Iestyn, it’s beautiful.”

And it was.

A necklace with gold segments linked together like small vertebrae, but there was nothing sinister about it – it was gorgeous. “Blimey,” Iestyn said.

Grinning, Michaela turned her back to him and he put it round her neck, from which she lifted her hair.

In the mirror facing her she could see the gold and silver pendant the size of a watch face, intricately carved in microscopic detail. It now rested between her breasts and shone in winking of the Christmas lights. She groaned in orgasmic pleasure as he fastened the clasp at the back.

Which was when the mechanism started… So like a clock that Iestyn didn’t realise at first the sound was coming from the necklace – and when he did, realised that it was tightening.

Perhaps five seconds of shock passed before he tried with fumbling fingers to undo the clasp and possibly another five seconds before Michaela asked him what was wrong and then almost immediately knew what was wrong, and her own fingers grasped at, then pulled at, the necklace. Five seconds later it was already hard to squeeze them between the metal and her flesh.

Iestyn knew there had to be a wire in the mechanism, somewhere inside those vertebrae, being coiled into the clockwork motor of the pendant – a pendant now rising and pushing in under Michaela’s Adam’s apple – but he could do nothing as the necklace cut like a razor into her skin, as the seconds and then minutes passed, nothing but scuttle away, stuffing his mouth with his fist to stop his own screaming, hers long throttled as her feet kicked at the discarded wrapping paper and toppling Christmas tree, watching as it whirred and clicked without stopping until it reached bone.

 WRITTEN BY STEPHEN VOLK
ILLUSTRATED BY DANIELE SERRA

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