Imps disguised as elves stuck their thumbs, which they had first coated with pepper sauce, into his eye sockets.
The dancing sugar plums wore army boots just like their mothers’ and performed the Nutcracker Suite on his head.
Santa’s reindeer, all of whom have bad breath, belched hot air into his nostrils until just drawing breath caused pain so severe, so visceral he prayed for death.
Or at least a bowl of sugar-free vanilla ice cream.
Neither was forthcomimg. “Dengue,’’ the doctor with the big soulful eyes pronounced. She was much too cheerful for a bearer of bad tidings. “Can’t give you anything. You already had Panadol.”
If his wobbly knees could have sustained him, he would have flung her into a bottomless pit, like Leonidas did the Persian emissaries in 300. She read his mind and summoned an accomplice to shove a needle in a vein to suck out what was left of his will to live.
So this was what The End of the World felt like. It arrived late. On Christmas Eve, when mankind should have been painting the bathroom and making a last rush to the market for chive and parsley for the turkey stuffing. The Antichrist came not in the mask of a preacher, prince or politician. No, that would have been too obvious. Instead, The End was delivered by an insect, a mosquito—code name aedes aegypti.
This purveyor of biological warfare strikes almost unnoticeably—until the sugar plums start polishing their boots. First sign is the headache, then the molten lava poured through the veins, followed by insanity and a hatred for every Christmas smile and tinsel greeting.
“Merry Christmas!’’ Nurses kept chirping maliciously to every new patient who came through their portals of pain. There ought to be a law against too much festive spirit in a hospital. He wanted to grit his teeth but the reindeer, drunk on spiked sorrel, had already pulverised them with their plutonium-shod hooves, so that his mouth could tolerate only cold pap.
Dr Charming returned waving a sheet of paper, the rustling in his fevered eardrums as loud as firecrackers. “Platelets looking good. You can go home.’’ She was still smiling too much to be trusted but he decided to let her live. Besides, he had no strength to dig a suitable pit.
“Why do I still feel like Mrs Claus is jamming her knitting needles into my temples?’’ he asked, meekly. “Hahaha.’’ She slapped his knee playfully. She might have just as well so that cracked his joint with a pestle.
“Panadeine, two tablets every eight hours. Drink plenty of fluids, get some rest.’’ Rest? He could not crook a little finger without his worthless case of flesh and blood screaming in pain.
As he wallowed in a bedpan of self-pity, ambulance attendants came scurrying through the corridor, wheeling in a grandpa on a stretcher. The ashen old man, eyes closed, tubes in his arm, his nostrils, and curling out from under the thin sheet that covered his belly, raised a trembling hand as if reaching for a friend who was not there.
Stroke? Heart attack?
His brain fought to piece together fragments of a thought: “Things could be worse. Only dengue.’’The End might come, but not tonight. He still had some platelets and purpose left. The sugar plums called a truce and reverted to ballet slippers.
He struggled to his feet, teetered this way and that, but held his own. “Peace on earth,’’ he muttered, as an antidote to his distemper. “Peace on earth, and remember to light the blasted cockset tonight.’’
“Name?’’ asked the discharge clerk, wearing a tufted red Santa hat pulled down over one eyebrow, before she punished him with the bill. “Twinkle Sugar-pants,’’ he groaned. “That’s my elf name.’’ And then it happened. He smiled.