Crolin Breeks was living a lie. He wrote the stars, the astrology column for the local newspaper - you probably take it yourself - The Cannington, Overby, Croftwick, Ridley, Iverson, Nepperfrome Gazette. It is known locally as ‘COCRING’, and is bucking the trend of print news - the men and women of the small cluster of busy towns and villages would clamour at the doors of the newsagent, keen to get their hands on the brand new COCRINGS as they arrived in store. And in winter, the council made sure that the most elderly and immobile members of the community had a fresh COCRING land squarely on their doormat every Friday,
Crolin Breeks had written the stars for the paper for as long as he could remember, which was about three years - as three years previously he had been bitten by a fox and gone amnesia.
Crolin had undergone many changes since the fox incident. He’d added the ‘r’ to his name - for instance. It used to be ‘Crolin Beeks’. Since the incident Crolin had insisted that he was going deaf, which he wasn’t. He was also convinced that he was going to die on Christmas Eve, which hadn’t happened yet. It was his very first prediction.
His father’s brother’s brother-in-law went to school with the wife of the woman who ran the parent company that own the newspaper group that distributed COCRINGs all over the county, and she had forwarded a job advert to Crolin’s butcher who in turn had passed the advert on to Crolin who applied and got the job on the newspaper as the Stars correspondent, based on the fact that he had a degree in journalism. What I’m saying is - Crolin applied for a job and he got it. Crolin publicly described his job as “making up stupid rubbish for idiots”. Then he had to stop saying that as E L James had it copyrighted as her marketing slogan.
Anyway, as November started to reach its dreary end, Crolin started to get tense. He knew it was ridiculous to think that his ‘sense’ that he was going to die on Christmas Eve was in any way real. But he couldn’t help but feel it. Dying on Christmas Eve. In his mind, Crolin was very much the anti-Jesus.
His parents knew about his fear, so Crolin always found it bizarre that his mother sent him an advent calendar every first of December for as long as he could remember. Three years, obviously.
It seemed to Crolin that his mother was somehow taunting him, giving him a countdown to the terrifying door number twenty-four. The cardboard double doors that might be the last double cardboard doors he ever opened.
This December the first was no different. The Advent calendar flopped onto his doormat along with his weekly COCRING. In fact - this year it was the COCRING tie-in advent calendar.
Sorry - I’ve just realised. COCRING is quite a rude word, isn’t it. I really am sorry about that. I think a cockring is...some sort of ring. For a cock. I don’t know how that works. Um. I should change the name of it? Will that be disconcerting? Halfway through the story?
I think we’ll be fine. It’s not like anything has happened. This is basically all exposition. OK. The Pilthorp, Iverson, Sappleton, Sidway, Boltin Angleswick Guardian. Nope. That’s not going to cut it. Um - something pithy. Um. The Angleswick Nepperfrome United Sentinel? No. That’s not going to do it. Either.
This is a minefield. There are literally no names of newspapers that aren’t rude. I’m going to go with COCRING, and you’ll just have to cope.
So yes. The advent calendar plopped onto his mat, with a slightly grubby COCRING - due to the rainy weather outside.
He opened the envelope, and placed the calendar on his mantlepiece. The calendar was very traditional, a picture of the stable in Bethlehem with the Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, and Father Christmas coming down the chimbley.
As it was the 1st December, Crolin immediately opened door one. He tried not to look at where the number twenty four was. Though he saw it. It was positioned on Father Christmas’s COCRING - sticking out of his sack.
Door one contained a surprise. Crolin expected to see a cracker, a toy train, a bauble, a duck with a present, something festive like that. What he saw was a rather detailed picture of a man’s foot sticking out of a tin of paint.
He looked at it for a moment, but couldn’t make head nor tail of it, like someone trying to complete a jigsaw of an earthworm who’s got a middle bit.
His phone beeped in his pocket. It was his hearing impaired group. Crolin was definitely not deaf, but since the incident he was convinced that he was, and as such he went to a support group of other people who did actually have hearing problems. One of these was Evelyn PillBottle, who had recently had cochlear implants. Crolin had almost immediately fallen in love with her, and was always desperate to impress her.
Which is why he was particularly annoyed when he arrived at the Adult Ed. centre where the group met and almost immediately stepped into an open pot of blue paint - left there by a feckless decorator.
This prompted a lot of jeering and laughing from the group, which wounded Crolin. He was under the impression that the deaf as a group would have been kinder. Evelyn told him that if he was actually deaf he wouldn’t have heard the laughter. Crolin simply replied ‘pardon’ even though he’d heard what she said. But Evelyn had her share of jibes from the group. Since she’d had her implants they’d started calling her ‘New Ears’. She made sure she sat extra close to Crolin. She liked him too.
But for the rest of the meeting Crolin was distracted. He kept thinking about the little picture of the shoe in the paint pot on his advent calendar.
Surely it must be...coincidence. Right?
The next day, the advent calendar featured the charming festive image of a parking ticket. It did have some snow on top though, for a festive touch. That afternoon, Crolin got a parking ticket. It didn’t have snow on it.
The next day the advent calendar - door three - was opened to reveal a spilled coffee mug. With a sprig of holly near it. Crolin was so surprised by this image that he dropped his cup of coffee. It fell to floor near a sprig of holly he had brought out of the under-stairs cupboard in preparation for putting up Christmas decorations.
By this time, Crolin was properly spooked.
He didn’t believe in predictions, yet here it was, a passive stupid bit of cardboard predicting the events of his life before they happened with terrifying accuracy.
Always his eyes were brought back to Father Christmas’s COCRING. Copy of COCRING. The fatal number twenty four. What horrors lurked behind the door. Would he open it? Would he ignore it? Maybe if he didn’t open the doors the things wouldn’t happen? Was he causing them by opening them? Or were they simply passive images out of kilter with the space time continuum?
Crolin decided not to open the rest of the doors in his calendar.
He wouldn’t tempt fate. This was the win-win situation. If he hadn’t seen what might happen, then he couldn’t be causing it. So even if it did exist behind the cardboard doors, he’d never know. He wouldn’t have caused. But perhaps if it were dangerous he could use the pictures as a warning? Certainly he could have avoided the paint and the parking ticket with a little more vigilance?
He decided to talk to Evelyn about the whole thing. Confess all, and see what she had to say.
Evelyn was thrilled to be asked, and they spent hours discussing the temporal pros and cons of knowing what was to come. Or was it just coincidence?
Crolin also brought up the irony of the fact that he was the guy who made all the predictions in the newspaper that he thought were nonsense, and here he was in the middle of a thing about real predictions. They both laughed and said how clever that would be in a story. Just so clever. So so clever.
They decided by the way to not open any more doors on the calendar
They also decided that they wanted to see a lot more of each other. And so they did.
Christmas eve came and went, and Crolin survived. Evelyn and Crolin became very attached very quickly, and soon became inseparable.
Years passed, and when the box of Christmas things came out of the under-stairs cupboard, Crolin found himself looking at the advent calendar with its many unopened doors. He held Evelyn’s hand and with a decisive little nod, he gently touched Santa’s COCRING and opened the doors to number twenty four.
This was a big moment for Crolin. It was a putting away of childish things. A sign of his new life stretching out ahead.
He still expected the picture to be a falling grand piano, a car accident, an ambulance...
But no. The picture was of a robin. Just a robin.
Just a Robin.
Evelyn and Crolin laughed together, and they started to decorate the house.
Later that day they went out for a walk in the woods.
At 4.32 exactly a robin flew into Crolin’s throat by accident and he suffocated. It was going at quite a pace. He was dead by 4.37. He crumpled on top of Evelyn who was powerless to save him. His heavy, lifeless body almost covering her completely.
His last thought was of one of odd self satisfaction. As he gazed into his girlfriend’s eyes it struck him. There’s no such thing as predictions. He wasn’t dying on Christmas Eve. He was dying on New Ears Eve.