As The League of Gentlemen soon returns screens, we asked Britain’s finest comedy quartet to present their very own macabre Christmas tale…
“I wish I’d never started this…” Simon Eckersley – perched on the top of the stepladder – felt the words ring round his head for the umpteenth time. It had seemed like a good idea when he started. The kids were at school, Josie was at hot yoga till six, so why not surprise them by redecorating the front room? I’ll go back to the plaster, he thought. Back to how it used to be. The house was old. It had charm. Why not show it off?
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He’d started in a jolly mood, humming along to Slade on the radio, attacking the candy-stripe wallpaper with gusto, enjoying the satisfying feeling as the wet paper came away beneath the scraper’s flat blade. But now the December day visible through the big windows was creeping towards dusk and the bare bulb in the room threw off a harsh yellow light that gave Simon a headache. He sat down heavily on the sofa and silenced Mariah Carey with a definitive stab at the radio. Cup of tea, he thought. That’d give him a second wind. Hauling himself from the sofa’s cosy embrace, Simon stopped dead.
As he’d worked, he’d revealed more and more of the house’s past. The remains of a horrible 80s zigzag paper gave way to an even worse 70s one of massive lime-green sunbursts. Beneath that, though he’d uncovered 1950s songbirds and then what could only be a Victorian stencil pattern. It was like peeling back layers of rock and finding fossils entombed within.
But now there was something else there that he hadn’t noticed. Threaded within the wall stencil of interlocking flowers, daubed in some brownish pigment which could have been anything – but might once have been blood – Simon saw the words “GET OUT”.
By Steve Pemberton
The next morning Simon woke with a low-level sense of unease. He hadn’t slept well and wasn’t sure whether it was the unnerving message he’d found on his living room wall or the half bottle of Baileys he’d drunk during Newsnight.
He’d tried to trace the history of this home online, but the property websites only took him back to three previous owners and he’d become sidetracked by looking at what his neighbours had paid for their houses. His plan was to visit the local library later that day (if they still had one) and trawl through the planning records.
Josie breezed in from the bathroom, already showered and dressed before Simon had even properly opened his eyes. A length of dental floss hung from her mouth and she looked like a cat who’d just swallowed a mouse.
“Why did you move the advent calendar?” she asked.
“Er… did I?”
“Yes. It’s in the front room where you were stripping the paper. It’s far too high for the girls. They’ll never reach it there. Move it back, please.”
“And you’ll have to clean it up. The chocolate’s all melted. Kitty, Viola, school!”
Simon shuffled downstairs and into the living room. He’d moved the calendar so as not to alarm Josie or the girls. He didn’t think it had any chocolates inside – his wife would never allow that. But there it was; a thick reddy-brown goo dripping onto the beige carpet. He slowly pulled away the tainted Nativity scene and was disturbed to see the viscous liquid was seeping from the very bricks and mortar. And next to the words “GET OUT” was another word: “MAN”.
But wait, it wasn’t three separate words; it was one word now glistening on the wall before him. “MANGETOUT.”
Simon should have been able to laugh the whole thing off. A little bit of pre-Christmas weirdness. Maybe it was even the girls playing a joke on him – smearing the melted chocolate buttons from the advent calendar onto the stripped-down walls. But then the dreams began.
He woke in the dark. A rustling sound filled the bedroom. Josie lay oblivious, unconscious beside him. He sat upright in bed, looking for the source of the disturbingly gentle whisper that hung in the air. It was hard to see in the gloom but the bedroom floor seemed to be moving. He reached for his mobile phone and switched on the torch. A pool of bright white LED light revealed the rug was crawling with living mangetouts, wriggling toward him like a sea of carnivorous slugs. He woke – for real this time – his heart pounding. He was going to have to do something. It was the third time he’d had the dream this week.
“Have you ever had a séance before?” asked the medium – an eccentric-looking man with a lazy eye.
“No,” said Simon. “I’ve never had cause.” “
In that case, I hope you don’t mind if I get my Ouija out. If you’re inexperienced in it, I find it’s best to jump straight in.”
Their fingers touched the glass together. It was Josie’s job to write down any messages that might come through – one letter at a time if necessary.
“Unquiet spirits – tonight is the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. Let his guidance bring your message through this glass and this board. What is the full meaning of the writing on this wall? Show us – as divine spirits informed Belshazzar himself – in the same manner.”
To Simon’s disbelief, the glass began to move. “Josie,” he hissed. “Get this down.” W.O.M.A.N.G.E.T.O.U.T.Y.O.U.R…
“It’s all right – I’ve got a tissue.” Simon awoke in a hospital bed. His father dozed awkwardly in a plastic chair, while his mother looked on expectantly. Josie dabbed at the wet patch next to Simon’s leg. He had been holding a glass of water, which had tipped over. His daughters stared into their new iPads. A Scrabble board was placed on the bed and a jumble of letters, now making very little sense, had slid into his lap.
“Where am I?” His throat was sore. He felt terrible. A paper hat from a cracker had been placed on his head.
“Hospital. You’ve been here a week,” Josie smiled.
“What happened?” Simon tried to see through the fog in his mind. His head was thick, like a hangover. It hurt to think.
“Do you remember decorating..?” his wife asked.
“The wallpaper…” Simon had a flash of peeling paper. Like layers of dead skin.
“Yes. The wallpaper…” his mother chimed in. “I told you to use a professional. I had Graham’s number all ready to give you… Just like your father, always cutting corners.” His wife interrupted. “You stripped the wall back to Victorian paper, Simon. The problem was – the Victorians often used arsenic to preserve the dye. You were poisoned.”
Just then an NHS orderly breezed in. She also wore a Christmas hat, and tinsel snaked its way round the edge of her food trolley.
“Merry Christmas!” she boomed and left Simon his Christmas dinner. “I’ll be back with jelly.” She left the room humming Jingle Bells .
“What day is it?”
“It’s Christmas Day, Dad,” replied Kitty.
“Thanks for the iPads,” added Viola.
“Don’t thank him – it was Father Christmas”, croaked Simon’s father, waking up.
“Can I go home?”
“I don’t see why not.” A tall, thin-looking consultant with a bright bow tie had just come in and was studying Simon’s notes.
“You’re very lucky to be alive, Mr Eckersley. Merry Christmas!”
The League of Gentlemen is on TV Monday 18th December, Tuesday 19th December and Wednesday 20th December. All episodes will be broadcast at 10pm on BBC2