Contrary to popular belief, the phrase ‘contrary to popular belief’ is believed to be popular among those who believe the contrary to popular beliefs. One of those uneducated free spirits is Peter File. Contrary to popular belief, he actually quite liked his name. Yes, whenever an American introduced him it sounded like they were calling him a paedophile, but he didin’t often meet many Americans anyway. Peter lived on a small island known as Exmas that was just off the coast of a larger island, the name of which escapes me. He led a simple life living with simple people and doing a simple job. His work was to turn the Christmas lights on in December. That was all he ever had to do, just one flick of a switch and that was another year’s work over. Christmas on the island of Exmas was a very important event. It was not just a festive period during which people came together and gave presents, it was a deeply meaningful time that had many mystical traditions relating to the many gods of the island. Therefore turning on the Christmas lights in the centre of the island was a momentous occasion that marked the beginning of a wonderous time for the Exmasians. It also meant that it was a very highly paid job, so Peter had enough money to keep him going for a few months. He would do other odd jobs around the island to earn a living, but he was known to all as the Light Switcher Onner.
The eponymous file was a collection of documents that Peter kept pertaining to all of the Peters on the island that had done the job before him and those who were likely candidates to take the mantle when he kicked the metaphorical bucket. On an island that believed a little too heavily in tradition and superstition, the role of switching on the Christmas lights was always taken by a man called Peter. Nobody quite new why, but the first man who did it was called Peter and his son, who took over from him, was also called Peter, so one drunken islander, with more authority than he ought to have had, declared that ‘all men and man who what turn on the flashy… bright… sparkly things should call and be called by themselves as Peter for a name’. The phrase was sobered up and put into the Yule Rule Log, a book that contained all of the traditions and laws concerning the Christmas period.
It was the year of 1992 that Peter File lit his last light. The night was especially chilly and all the women of the island were wrapped up in newspapers to keep warm. Peter sat in the corner of the Knot Inn cradling a glass of whiskey in his hands as he prepared himself mentally, physically and geographically for the task ahead. The moment had been required months of planning. He did not know that this was to be his last lights switch on, but he wanted to make it an ordinary one. It didn’t need to be special, it just needed to go exactly according to plan as it did every year. He had pressed the switch 16 times now and nothing had gone wrong at any point. He was an experienced switch flicker, but even after all these years there was still that tiny bit of doubt, something niggling away at the back of his mind. It later turned out to be a tumour, which was why he quit, but for now he sat on his stool, sipping his whiskey and looking out of the window at the crowd which had gathered in the town square. They were all happy. It comforted him to see their warm, glowing faces, smiles all around and a festive spirit in the air. He finished his drink and made his way outside.
After a few songs from the island’s only band, The Exmas Band, and a short introduction from the mayor, Peter stepped up onto the stage and addressed the audience. “Ladies and gentleman,” he began, “Before I flick the switch, I’d just like to take this opportunity to tell you all something.”
The people in the crowd looked puzzled by this delay, but stood in silence as Peter made his speech.
“For 16 years now, I have been trusted with this very special role and have done my utmost to uphold the traditions and values of our fair island. However, it is time I tell you all the truth. You see, my name isn’t actually Peter.”
Gasps filled the square.
“My name… is Mary!”
And with that, Peter – or rather, Mary – flung off her cap, revealing a long flow of luscious blonde hair. She unzipped her coat, revealing a pair of breasts that made the mayor spill his tea. Mary chortled a high pitched laugh and, breaking one of the longest traditions on the island, flicked the switch, illumiating Exmas and the faces of the bemused audience that stood before her. The mayor’s wife fainted. The mayor himself ran over to Mary and pulled her away from the switch. It was too late. The damage had been done. The lights that signified the start of the most important time on the island had already been turned on, by someone whose name was not Peter. Tears filled the crowd. It was not a happy moment.
Then Peter File woke up.
Had this all just been a dream? Was he really a woman and had he ruined the lives of everyone on the island? These were the questions he asked himself as he lay on the hospital bed, recovering from concussion after being attacked by an angry civilian. It had happened. Peter was a woman. The island was in uproar. Something had to be done.
The next day, Mary stood at the front of the town hall, standing behind a podium to address the people of Exmas in a live broadcast. “People of Exmas,” she said, “I understand that I have brought dishonour to the tradition of Christmas and have made many of you unhappy during a time that is supposed to be a joyous period of festivities, but I ask you this: does it really matter that I’m not called Peter? Yes, I lied to you for 16 years, but only so that you could cling onto another of your pointless traditions. Do you not see that it does not matter what the name of the person switching the lights on is, or even what gender? It’s just flicking a switch. Everybody turns on lights in their homes every day, but we do not order that it should be done by someone with a specific name. That would be absurd, and the notion that somebody who isn’t called Peter turning on the lights will somehow bring a terrible fate upon the island is ridiculous. I stand here today not only to ask your forgiveness, but also to show that we can live our lives better, with more freedom and less rules. We are, after all, individuals with the right to think and act however we want. Let us rid of some of these fruitless traditions and start a new way of life so that we can celebrate Christmas the way we want to. Let us be free!”
Silence filled the hall. Mary stood with her fist in the air, waiting for some response. After several minutes, the silence was broken as the main door burst open. To the surprise of everyone gathered, a 9ft, purple beast strode down the aisle towards the podium. It had a tail that swayed as the mighty beast walked and a face that showed no evidence of having a nose. Finally the beast reached Mary and stopped. “Are you the Mary, formerly Peter, who turned on the lights?” it asked.
“I am.” she nervously replied.
The beast smiled. Then it opened its mouth and an explosion of flames burst out and engulfed Mary. Within seconds she was nothing but ash. When Mary was gone, the beast turned around to face the audience, who were by now in complete bemusement.
“That’s what you get for not following traditions.” the Beast said, before fading away into the air.
The mayor, who had been sleeping during the whole ordeal, suddenly woke, stood up and began clapping. The audience joined in, not really knowing why but just being caught up in the moment. The feeling spread and soon the whole island was filled with the sound of applause. This mighty sound was the last to be heard on the island, as the noise disturbed a local volcano which responded by hurling ash and lava at the people of Exmas. The island no longer exists, save for a few maps in a library in Spain that were drawn by a 4 year old as part of a school project. Little did the young girl know that one day she would grow up to be a waitress in a tapas bar where she would meet the love of her life – a man called Peter Patter.
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