The Rookie

Fiddletips sat on the green plastic chair in the assignment room, hands clutching his knees tightly. This was it. His first day. His first assignment. He’d never been so excited. Or so terrified. A handful of other agents sat in the other chairs, their expressions ranging from boredom to something akin to Fiddletips own.

The door to Departmental Commander Tinsel’s office burst outward, knocking the closest chairs flying. Fiddletips let out a squeak of surprise, then clapped both hands over his mouth as a glowering figure strode out of the Commander’s office. Fiddletips’ eyes widened as he recognised him; it was none other than Sergeant Socks.

Socks was a legend among the agents of the Goodwill Department. A field agent for more than thirty years, with some of the most impressive Harvest Optimisation scores on record, Socks had refused promotion eight times. The only thing more legendary than his field record was his temper.

The living legend looked particularly cantankerous at the moment, Fiddletips thought as he stared at the older agent. Socks was frowning down at a small green card; his work assignment from DC Tinsel. The Sergeant cast a baleful glance about the room, and Fiddletips became very interested in his own knees, as did everyone else present.

The sergeant’s voice cracked across the room, and brought Fiddletips instantly to his feet. He stood to attention and gave a sharp salute.
Sergeant Socks strode over to stand before the young agent, and stared down at him, taking in the slight frame, the bright green boots, his Christmas jumper showing a grinning polar bear holding a knot of Christmas lights… As Socks stared at him Fiddletips felt like he was shrinking smaller and smaller, until finally Sergeant rolled his eyes and sighed.
“You’re with me,” Socks said wearily. “Let’s get to it.” Without another word he strode out of the Assignment Room, leaving Fiddletips no choice but to follow.

* * *

As they drove to their first assignment, Fiddletips tried to gather his thoughts. New agents were always paired with an experienced veteran on their first job in the field. A rookie agent’s first assignment was a shadowing job; learning the ropes. But Sergeant Socks was the greatest agent the Goodwill Department had ever had. Why on earth should he be partnered with–

“We’re here, Rookie.”
The Sergeant’s voice was quiet, but it cut through the younger agent’s thoughts instantly.
“Ve- Very good Sir,” he stammered, and Socks sighed again.
“Socks, Rookie. Just call me Socks.”
“But Sir, regulations state–”
“Look kid,” the Sergeant growled. “We’ll get on a whole lot better if you don’t start quoting Regs at me, okay?”
“Okay Si- Ah, Socks.”
To Fiddletips amazement, the older man grinned.
“That’s better. Right then. Let’s get suited up.”

The two agents slid out of their seats and moved to the back of the vehicle, where their field harnesses were hanging in suspension racks. They slipped into them, and stood side by side at the back door. Socks turned to Fiddletips and raised a questioning eyebrow. The rookie field agent pressed the button on his jumper, and as the Christmas lights the bear held began to flash in bright colours he met the sergeant’s gaze and nodded. Socks rolled his eyes and shook his head as he thumbed the door control panel.

The doors of the glide-car slid back, and Fiddletips took his first step into the Human Plane. The air was chill and the sky grey, fat drops of rain slicing through the afternoon to splat on the ground. Fiddletips shivered as some of the drops passed through his body; his field harness tuned his body’s vibrations to a level just beyond the Human Plane, but close enough to allow the minor interaction required for their work.

Sergeant Socks stepped down beside Fiddletips and pointed towards a house a short way off.
“That’s us.”
As they moved swiftly over to the house, Socks spoke quietly.
“Remember, Rookie, you’re my shadow, nothing more.”
“I remember,” Fiddletips said, and the veteran nodded.
“Then let’s go.”
As he spoke, Socks stepped forward, passing through the brick and glass of the building and moving inside. Taking a deep breath, Fiddletips followed. He stepped through the wall, feeling every particle of glass and brick and mortar as he passed through it, and emerged gasping on the other side. His breath caught in his throat, however, as he took in the room before him.

It was filled with warm light, and populated by a number of items Fiddletips recognised from his training sessions; a sofa, an armchair, a television… But dominating the room was something he knew well; it was, arguably, his reason for being here. From his first day in the Goodwill Department, Fiddletips had been drawn to the Christmas Division. There was something about Christmas that called to him, just made sense.

Fiddletips suddenly grew aware of Sergeant Socks beside him.
“First time on the Plane can be a bit of an overload,” the older man grunted, and Fiddletips nodded. “You’ll get used to it though.” He nodded again, and watched as Socks moved about the room, passing through furniture where necessary, examining the layout of this household’s generator. Each system was different, varying from household to household, holiday to holiday. The components of a Hanukkah system were different from a Christmas system, were different from a Holi system… But the effect was the same; the system harnessed goodwill, which was then redistributed to the household over the following months. Goodwill Field Agents had the task of ensuring that a household’s goodwill system was working most effectively, regardless of the system being used.

Fiddletips watched Sergeant Socks as he worked. The system was basic, but an effective one; a real tree, wrapped in a spiral of twinkling lights and red and gold tinsel. Beside the tree a woman stood, deftly hanging red and gold decorations about the tree. One the sofa sat a small boy in dark clothes. Upon his head, however, sat a bright green hat topped with a silver bell, and his eyes followed the woman as she decorated the tree. His tiny fists were clenched, and his gazed strayed often to a collection of mismatched baubles pushed to one side, away from the tree.

As Fiddletips watched, Socks moved close to the tree, peering closely at the arrangement of the lights and tinsel. He turned to Fiddletips and spoke quietly, though the woman and child could not have heard him.
“What do you think, Rookie?”
“The system is… Ineffective,” Fiddletips said, and was delighted when the veteran gestured for him to continue. “There is too much order, too much structure. More… Randomness is needed.”
“And why will that help?”
“Because true joy will grant the greatest goodwill, and true joy is wild, unstructured.”
As he spoke, Fiddletips’ gaze drifted back to the small boy, who still glanced at the rejected decorations…
“Very good Rookie,” said Socks, and moved to the young woman. He placed his hand upon her shoulder and whispered some words the younger agent could not make out. The woman paused in her placement of a decoration, and with a small smile she tugged at the tinsel, pulling it into a more haphazard, unstructured arrangement. Socks nodded to himself as though content, but Fiddletips frowned. It wasn’t enough…

Once again he felt his gaze drawn to the young boy on the sofa, and suddenly he was filled with a quiet certainty. He knew what was needed, Fiddletips was sure of it. Before he could even think was he was doing, Fidddletips had crossed the room and had placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered. “You know what it needs.”
Fiddletips felt the boy’s body tense, but then a solid, powerful hand grabbed him by the straps of his harness and propelled him forcefully through the side of the house.

Fiddletups stumbled and fell, his face landing in a puddle that he could not quite feel. He rolled onto his back and looked up at Sergeant Socks, who stood staring balefully down at him.
“You’re supposed to be a shadow. Nothing more.”
The sergeant’s voice was cold with anger, and Fiddletips paused. He slowly rose to his feet, brushing at the water which had not stained his clothes, before finally facing the veteran agent.
“Don’t say another word, Rookie,” the veteran growled. “Just get back to the car.”

* * *

Socks slammed his harness into the rack and stomped into the cockpit. Fiddletips hung his own harness carefully and followed. He lowered himself into his seat and looked over at the older agent. Taking a deep breath, he spoke quietly.
“I’m sorry, Socks. I was supposed to be shadowing you, but–“
The older agent stared at him, but Fiddletips looked away.
“But I couldn’t help it. I saw the boy… He was so desperate, so afraid… But he knew, Socks. And as soon as I saw that, I knew that if I just nudged him…”
“That he’d speak up, and his mother would listen.”
Fiddletips forced himself to meet the older agent’s gaze.
Finally the older man nodded, and thumbed the ignition on the glide-car.

Neither spoke as Socks piloted the vehicle into the air and on toward their next assignment. Finally, after a long while, it was the older agent who finally broke the silence.
“You were right, you know. It worked.”
Before Fiddletips could respond, Socks spoke again.
“You weren’t assigned to me, Rookie. I requested you.”
Fiddletips’ mind reeled backward in shock, almost unable to process the words.
“You remind me of myself. But what I’ve learned over years, you know. You know, Fiddletips. You have it in you to be the best Field Agent in the history of the Goodwill Department. That’s why I requested you, Rookie; I can help, I want to help. What do you say?”

Fiddletips stared at the older man, the veteran field agent who knew so much, and grinned.
“I say it would be an honour, partner.”
So Socks and Fiddletips flew on through the rain and cold, toward their next assignment…


The Neverend.

On the first day of Christmas, my papa gave to me an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Christmas eve was the only night Sammy ever willingly leapt into bed. A comforting ritual between him and his aunt took place that night, and the creaking of stairs meant that it was about to start. Auntie opened the door and made her way to his bedside, gently cradling a somewhat worn book to her bosom. Her eyes twinkled with a kindness that Sammy adored, and as she opened the book her sweet-smelling perfume wafted towards the boy. She began, “T’was the night before Christmas when all through the house…”. Sammy shimmied his duvet up to his shoulders and listened intently. Before long, he was snoring. The gentle woman kissed his forehead and left the room.

“Hello everyone, and thank you for inviting class 3B to sing a few Christmas Carols here at St Nicholas’ Nursing Home,” spoke Mr Barclay in honeyed tones, “The children have been practicing very hard, so this year I’m sure you’ll enjoy something extra special.” He went on, calmly explaining the efforts of his class as they sat crossed legged on the floor. Chunk, or Edwin to his parents, pressed his finger firmly to his lips to show he was being extra good in front of the geriatrics. Santa could see him always.

On the second day of Christmas, my papa gave to me two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy leapt into bed. Auntie opened the door and made her way to his bedside. Her eyes twinkled as she began, “T’was the night before Christmas…”. Sammy fell asleep, she kissed his forehead and left the room.

“Okay, 3B, please quietly stand in your places”, smiled Mr Barclay. Christmas was Chunk’s favourite time of the year. The lights, tinsel and the cold teasing a white Christmas in front of everyone’s noses filled him with joy. And singing to the Wrinklies, as he called them, swelled pride within him too. Regardless, each year one particular and morbid concept always followed him to the carol service. An overactive imagination, mother said.

On the third day of Christmas, my papa gave to me three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy leapt into bed. Auntie opened the door and made her way to his bedside. Her eyes twinkled as she began, “T’was the night before Christmas…”. Sammy fell asleep, she kissed his forehead and left the room.

“The child is a King, the Carollers sing, the old has passed, there’s a new beginning…”. The Wrinklies beamed as the falsetto choir embarked upon a Sir Cliff Richard classic. Some, Chunk noticed as he strained to sing louder than everyone, were vacant-faced and barely able to smile. Probably from a stroke, like nan had.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my papa handed me four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy leapt into bed. Auntie opened the door and made her way to his bedside. Her eyes were intense as she began, “T’was night ‘fore Christmas…”. Sammy fell asleep, she kissed his forehead and left the room.

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed”. The children continued, and so did Chunk’s curious thought. His bespectacled eyes landed on one of the old dears who had fallen asleep in her chair. What if, he grimaced, one of the Wrinklies popped their clogs during the concert? The songs were quite long, maybe enough for someone to shuffle off their mortal coil. Would an orderly notice and stop the concert, or leave them there until the children had gone? At that moment, the old lady’s head slumped.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my papa threw to me five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy leapt into bed. Auntie opened the door. As she arrived by his side, Sammy noticed that she looked quite haggard. She began, “T’was the night the night the night before Christmas…”. Sammy fell asleep, she kissed his forehead and left the room.

“Bless all the dear children, in thy tender care”. Chunk looked around at the room. No one had noticed the ashen woman. Chunk sought eye contact with Mr Barclay to no avail. So Chunk awkwardly concluded Away In A Manger and nervously eyed the old dear. At which point, the tiny lady’s body rocked forward as she chomped into the shoulder of the gentleman in front.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my papa threw at me six pink rollerblades, five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy was about to leap into his bed when a crashing stopped him. He cautiously slipped under the covers. Auntie bundled through the door. Something about her walk, no, her posture reeked of sickness. Her wrinkles resembled peculiar vines and her skin was discoloured. She slurred, “Hevura kep childro nestled all sn-snug gurba Krismau…”. Auntie placed her lips on his forehead. They were cold and sharp.

“Fear not, he said, for might dread had seized their troubled mind”. Had Chunk actually witnessed that? He couldn’t have mistook it. He’d been watching her intently since she’d snuffed it. The bitten man made patting grasps at his shoulder, before slumping sideways on a neighbour who didn’t quite appreciate the gesture. And he bit her.

On the seventh day of Christmas, papa dropped on me seven large dollhouses, six pink rollerblades, five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy was standing in his room. Something bugged him, but he wasn’t sure what. Auntie stumbled in, smelling rotten and backing Sammy to the bed. A toothier smile than normal spat “Shoogar pluhms Krismau terk tat khai”. Flaking blue lips pressed to his forehead.  Sammy shrieked as their skin fused together. He fainted.

“…All meanly wrapped in swathing bands, and in a manger laid”. The Wrinklies were shedding their wrinkles in favour of a rapidly decaying grey. He had heard of Dickens’ Christmas tale and Scrooge’s festive turnaround, but this was an entirely new festive infection. By now, the entire audience were hissing through missing teeth in the otherwise silent room. Silent. The choir had stopped. In fact, Mr Barclay and the rest of 3B had vanished. In Chunk’s palm was the choir’s crumpled sheet music.

On the eighth day of Christmas, papa covered me with eight tubs of lego, seven large dollhouses, six pink rollerblades, five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy clutched his head. It ached, but why? As the door burst open, he remembered everything. But now the breath, the teeth, the stature of his Aunt was more imposing than before. Her hand lunged to his throat and she carried him, as he choked, to the bed. Sammy kicked her, but she held him down. And shot for his head.

“Nnnerghhhh…” Chunk backed slowly towards the giant wooden door as the mass of undead geriatrics groaned and stumbled about their chairs. He reached for the handle.

On the ninth day of Christmas, papa smothered me with nine furbies crying, eight tubs of lego, seven large dollhouses, six pink rollerblades, five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

Sammy remembered it all. He searched his room for something to block the door. The chair. He forced it under the handle as it began to furiously rattle, but it slid away and Auntie broke through.

“Come on…”, Chunk barely muttered as one attempt failed. He slid the sheet music into his armpit, and tried turning it with both hands. It wouldn’t budge. And one of the crones had noticed.

On the tenth day of Christmas, papa drowned me in ten blow up paddling pools, nine furbies crying, eight tubs of lego, seven large dollhouses, six pink rollerblades, five bowling balls, four useless dogs, three silly clowns, two stupid bears, and an ugly Christmas Barbie.

The pain hadn’t left Sammy. He had to act faster. All furniture were pushed and crammed to the door, which groaned and pulsed. The thud increased and furious screams shook the walls as she battered. And punched. And clawed. And stopped. Sammy quietly placed his ear close to the wall. When he heard the beast’s remaining footsteps echo away, Sammy burst with relief. Then the window opened. Sammy’s shoulders fell. The last thing he heard was something likening a harpoon.

“Come ON!”, Chunk willed in a panic, rattling the lock of the door as he pulled. The dragging of slippers edged closer.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the pipes burst and drowned me.

The Captain intensely traced the movements of his Lieutenant on the screen, only breaking to dart a look towards the cockpit’s entrance. If he could get one man out alive of this shit storm, his captaincy would be worth remembering. He pressed the console, turning off power as the Lieutenant raced through one door to redirect it to the next one ahead. He was transfixed on the task; the tiny green blip on the monitor had blind trust that he would be led to safety. The Captain jolted and his vision ran dark purple. His skull sharply gave way, speared to the short circuiting, brain splattered console.

“Open! Jesus Chr- come on!” The Lieutenant shoved his shoulder into the metal doors as the corridor flooded with pulsing red light. The ground lurched, throwing the C.L.A.U.S drive to the floor with a clang. Edwin sharply turned towards the sound. The drive’s survival was more important than his own. His body could be unrecognisably shredded, but that drive needed to make its way into the escape pod. They needed to know what had happened to the ship, the memories inside C.L.A.U.S would stop this ever happening again. Precautions could be made. He lunged for it as a pustular vine-ridden claw shot for him.

On the first day of Christmas, my papa gave to me an ugly Christmas Barbie.


A Fruitful Adventure

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.  Thankfully it’s not the creatures that concern us tonight else this would be a very dull story.

The kitchen was cluttered; work surfaces wiped down and ready for the task ahead but piled high with all manner of treats.  A rustle from behind the kettle signalled their arrival before they appeared; a handful of sprouts rolled into view, broken free from their stalk.

“Where is she!?” cried the leader.
“She’ll be here,” calmed the second and largest of the group.
“But we’re late!  She said she would be here!”
“Be patient Helix.”
“I don’t know what you see in her anyway,” called a third.
“Shut up Russ,” hissed Helix, “why did you even come then?”
“Where Olera goes, I go,” replied Russ, puffing up his leaves.
“Calm down both of you,” sighed Olera.
“Who are you looking for?”  The voice boomed from above and the sprouts cast about them to find the source.

The turkey, too big for the fridge, sat proud in its pan on top of the cold hob.  It shifted slightly before asking again, “I said, who are you looking for?”
“Annelie!  Have you seen her?” called Helix
“I don’t know,” replied the turkey.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” cried Helix.
“I don’t know names, what does she look like?” asked the turkey.
Helix’s face lit up as he began, “her face is the beautiful rose of a warm sunset, her clothes bright like a summer field, her kiss the sweetest thing you’d ever tasted…”
“That may be,” replied the turkey, “but…”
“She’s a strawberry,” Russ said, butting in.
“Not just a strawberry,” gasped Helix, “she is the first sun of spring…”
“We get it, you’re in love!” grumbled Russ.
Olera sighed at them both before turning to the turkey, “kind bird, please tell us, have you seen the strawberry punnet?”

The turkey pondered a moment, rubbing what may once have been its chin with its pale leg.  “I believe,” it ruminated, “that I saw them this afternoon while the human was cooking.”
“Oh no!” gasped Helix.
“Is there any chance she survived?” asked Olera.
“If there is I imagine she would be in the fridge, that is where the strawberries usually live.”
“Then that’s where we must go.” said Helix.
“The fridge?!” cried Russ, “Do you know how far away that is?!”
“I’ve never been there…”
“It’s all the way across the kitchen,” said Olera.

Helix looked out across the void.  Olera was right, the fridge was directly opposite them across the kitchen but the floor was too far down, they wouldn’t survive the drop.  They would have to go around.

They set off, scooting their way carefully around the turkey and the hob rings.  Russ wobbled near the lighter, singeing a nearby tea towel and nearly setting Helix on fire which he felt was less than a coincidence.  They crossed the vast expanse of the counter until they reached the sink.

The sink was a large, farmhouse-style affair with the counter built up to either side.  The three reached the edge and were immediately stumped.  The odds of them keeping their balance around the side of the sink was slim, particularly given their spherical nature, and it was too wide for them to make in one jump.  They stood, staring and thought.

“Oh well,” said Russ, “I guess we’ll have to give up and go home.”
“I’ll never give up!” retorted Helix, “If you want to go home you can but I’ll keep going no matter what.”
“How will we get across?” asked Olera

Helix cast his eyes about.  If only there was some way they could make a bridge or…

“I’ve had an idea,” Helix crossed to the tap and threw his weight against it.
“What are you doing?” sighed Russ.

“If I can turn on the tap, we can fill the sink with water then use that egg poacher to float across.” Helix heaved again but the tap wouldn’t budge.  Olera joined him, pushing at the tap as hard as she could.  Russ just stood by, chuckling to himself.

“Are you going to help or what?!” called Olera.
“Fine!  Fine.”  Russ joined them, putting all his weight behind it, until finally it budged.

The sink began to fill, the drain clogged with the remnants of that night’s prep.  They grabbed the bright yellow poaching cup and heaved it to the edge of the sink, pushing it into the water.  One at a time they leapt into their boat and once safely inside began to waft their leaves through the water, slowly making their way to the other side.

Safely ashore they rolled as fast as they could, past the fruit bowl, sending satsumas flying, forcing their way through a mountain of crisps that tumbled across the counter, until they were on the same side as the fridge.

“We made it!” cried Helix with glee, “We’re almost there!”
“Sure, we’re close,” said Russ with a suspiciously similar amount of glee, “but how are you going to get in you idiot?!”

Helix deflated.  He had no idea.  He was so close and yet how on earth would they open the door from here?

“I will ‘elp.”
Helix turned, unsure who had spoken.
“Up ‘ere!”

Helix looked up.  Towering above them was a large bread roll.  A very large bread roll.
“You might be the tallest food I have ever seen!”
“Why thank you!”
“I’ve never seen a bread roll so long!” gasped Russ in awe.
“A bread roll?!  I am no bread roll!” cried the tower, “Je suis une baguette!”
“A what?” asked Helix
“A French stick you idiots,” muttered Olera.
“Please, can you help us get into the fridge?  My beloved is in there!”
“Oh, I have watched you on your journey around the kitchen.  A quest for love is the most important quest of all!” replied the baguette.

The baguette leaned across the counter, arching itself against the toaster.  The three scrambled up the side of the toaster, bouncing on the lever and up onto the baguette.  They ran the length of her, reaching the crack of the fridge door.  One by one they squeezed into the hole, making it bigger and bigger until the door popped open and Helix leapt inside.


Zoe woke to the sound of an alarm.  She was planning to get up at a reasonable time to put the turkey in but this was certainly too early as it was still pitch black outside.  She squinted at her phone.  Three twenty-five.  The alarm wasn’t her clock.  She ran downstairs and into the kitchen.  She could not believe what she saw.

The sink was overflowing, the tap still running, satsumas and crisps littered the floor, the French bread poised over the toaster, the switched jammed down, blackening the bread and causing it to smoke.  Strangest of all she found the fridge door open, three sprouts inside, just in front of her trifle.

Why The World Needs Santa Claus

In hindsight, it was obvious for a long time, I just didn’t want to see it. By the time I confronted my parents, it was frankly embarrassing. Was Santa Claus real? I knew what they were going to say, but I was still upset. I was upset at them for lying to me, but really I was upset that this figure I believed in wasn’t real. Trips to see Santa at supermarkets or on the old steam railways were a highlight of the holiday season. What did those trips mean if Santa isn’t a real person, but rather just an elaborate show that the whole world (or what seemed like it to my young mind) goes along with?

I was eleven years old at this point and even it really did feel like the the end of an era. Santa, the Easter Bunny (which admittedly made even less sense than Santa), the Tooth Fairy. These things used to be very comforting to me. They were a little magic in the world, and I loved all the little signs of their presence. The stub of a carrot (for Rudolph – apparently no love for the other reindeer) left on a plate that had also carried a mince pie for Santa (now crumbs) and an empty glass that had contained some fancy alcohol, mostly cognac I think. Coming downstairs to see presents under the tree, my younger sister and I revelled in the fact that we’d left something for him as well. Perhaps because I had a younger sister contributed to my delusion for a few extra years too…

Christmas lists, with accompanying reference numbers from the Argos catalogue were dutifully written out, thoroughly discussed with our parents – who pointed out that some of the more outlandish requests might be a little impractical, so it might be better to be more realistic about our expectations. Not that we remembered that on Christmas morning. We were just gleeful. Santa had been!

Not to brag, but my parents rarely had to threaten either of us with “the naughty list”. A more discerning mind would have found it extremely convenient that such a mechanism of control existed. In this day and age, I think such an intelligence gathering operation is a massive privacy violation and data security risk, but when I was young those things didn’t really exist. And such considerations are so… adult. So boring.

Of course my parents told me that I had to keep maintaining the illusion for the benefit of the younger members of the extended family. My sister being only two years younger than me was told at the same time I was that it was true that there was no Santa, but my cousins were still younger and it wouldn’t be right to shatter their illusions. 

When you think about it, it’s quite staggering that so many people stage this illusion for the benefit of the children around the world. A deception on that scale for almost any other reason would be horrifying, but because it brings happiness to so many children, we allow it. It probably doesn’t hurt that the children of the world have someone other than their parents to blame if they don’t get what they want for Christmas.

Which of course brings me to the present day, as I prepare for my first Christmas as a father. My daughter will be just over eight weeks old on Christmas day, and too young to understand or remember what’s going on. So I’m saved the explanation for this year at least, but the question has come up; what do we do about Father Christmas, given how shocked, betrayed and disappointed I was when I found out he wasn’t real?

Understandably my view of the world is changed enormously in the twenty years since I believed. The explanation my parents offered at the time still holds up – Santa is the generous part within each of us. I begrudgingly admit that I like that idea. But actually as I think about the whole thing now, at the end of 2016, I think we need Santa more than ever. The world has serious problems, and not a day goes by where I don’t feel a form of anxiety and even despair about what is happening around the world and right here at home. It’s easy to feel like the world is a harsh, unforgiving place, and you can’t expect any help to come from anyone unless they have a vested interest. But I want my daughter to grow up with just a little more hope than that. 

In a cynical, depressing world, what better thing to believe in than someone who brings joy to the lives of so many?

I can’t deny my daughter the joy that my sister and I had growing up, rushing downstairs to find out if Santa had visited during the night. Sure, one day she’ll be hurt that it was not really true, but until then, there’ll be a little more magic in her life. And who amongst us couldn’t benefit from a little more magic? 

So for my daughter, once again, I believe in Father Christmas.

Better for Bears; Bullets or Balls?

Deep in the North Polar Basin between the Lomonosov Ridge, a mid-ocean ridge running between north Greenland and the New Siberian Islands lay Elvis Sugar-Socks, eyes alert scanning the horizon through the scope of his Armalite AR-50 single-shot bolt-action sniper rifle. It was a bitter −40° C out in the basin but wrapped in the thick furs of his hide Elvis was snug as the proverbial bug in a rug.

Elvis was Captain of the whities; battle hardened elves that guarded the perimeter of Santa’s North Pole compound. The whities were named for their distinctive white uniform that allowed them to blend in with the frozen waste. The other tribes of elves were the redies, the toy makers and Santa’s inner circle and the greenies. Elvis tilted his head careful not to take his eyes from his scope and spat. The greenies were made up of those that weren’t tough enough to fight and not nimble enough for toy making or for sleigh maintenance. They were the bureaucrats of Santa’s little home away from home and Elvis hated them with a passion.

Polar bears used to be found primarily along the perimeter of the polar ice pack where the seals were plentiful; then Santa has shifted his main production site up from the South Pole for tax reasons and it had all gone to hell in a handcart. They had lost 100 elves that first night when the bears came boiling over the horizon and tore into the compound; Elvis could still hear their screams. He had led the counter attack the next day and driven them off, and so the whities were formed. While the redies saved the toys and the whities faced the polar bear menace the greenies cowered in Santa’s grotto.

It had been a quiet day so far and Elvis was just about to take a break for lunch – spaghetti Bolognese made with gummy worms and jelly babies smothered in thick raspberry sauce – when he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He swung his scope around finger poised on the trigger then let out a groan as he saw a green shape bobbing in the distance. “What now?” he muttered lowering his weapon and raising his flag so the greenie could find him.

It took a good 15 minutes for the bumbling greenie to make his way across the frozen  waste to Elvis hide – they weren’t used to being outside in the real world – and when he finally made it he was puffing and panting like he’d run a marathon.

“Captain Sugar-Socks?” asked the greenie slipping a notebook from his pocket.

“That’s me Sir.”

“Good. I’m Bureaucrat second grade Goodie Two-shoes.”

“How can I be of service?”

“Are those… live rounds?” he asked pointing to the rifle with the chewed end of his pencil.

“Seven-six-two millimetre. Full metal jacket,” replied Elvis pulling back the bolt on his rifle and catching the round that shot out in a gloved fist.

“Well this is just unacceptable,” replied Goodie. “We’re elves full of Christmas spirit not hot lead.”

“Well technically it’s the bears that are full of…”

“Enough!” cried Goodie. “There has been a meeting of the Council and we have decided to trial the new non-lethal countermeasures we had so much success with in our South Pole plant.”

“With all due respect sir, there we were facing penguins not polar bears.”

“I fail to see the difference.”

“You weren’t here when we arrived were you Two-Shoes?”

“Well I don’t see how that is relevant to this…”

“We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by elves with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Bureaucrat. Two-Shoes? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for the polar bears, and you curse the whities. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That polar bear deaths, while tragic, probably save lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on this wall, you need me on this wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to an elf who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post.”

“Yes well, I’ve seen A Few Good Men to and I don’t really see how it applies here. I’m going to have to ask you to hand in your rifle. You’ll be issued with a standard snowzooka and…”

“Never!” shouted Elvis hugging his rifle to his chest.

“I thought you might…” started Goodie. “Wait what’s that? Argh! A Polar bear!”

Elvis spun his rifle coming up then he felt a thud on the back of his head and the world tilted and went dark.


Private Eddie Rosy-Cheeks lay sweating in his hide on the west perimeter of the compound hefting his snowzooka in his clammy hands. It had been all clear so far but the snowzookas were untested and Eddie didn’t want to be the first to try one. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing heart, with minimal success. Then he saw it crawling forward on its belly sniffing the air searching for him. His throat dry Eddie clicked on the radio at his neck.

“This is Eddie RC I have a visual.”

“Copy Eddie, fire at will.”

“Copy that control, wish me luck.”

Eddie lined up the snowzooka, took a deep breath, blew it out and then fired. There was a crack and a fluffy snowball arced across the waste and burst into a shower of snow right on the polar bear’s nose. The bear tilted its head confused.

“Direct hit,” said Eddie. “The bear appears confused.”

“Hit it again.”

“Roger that.”

Eddie lined up another shot scoring another direct hit on the polar bear who swatted at his nose with a giant paw, shook its head then turned and lopped off.

“It worked! I can’t believe it but it worked!”

“Roger that Eddie RC. We’ll spread the word the snowzooka is a success.”


Eddie was in a half-doze one eye open a crack looking down the scope when the two polar bears popped up over the ridge. He came instantly awake and clicked on his radio.

“This is Eddie RC I have two more hostiles on the horizon, am I clear to engage?”

“Fire at will Private.”

Eddie took aim and fired two shots both landing direct hits on the baffled bears, they looked at each other then let out a spine-chilling howl. Eddie fired again scoring two more direct hits but the bears shrugged them off with a grin and started to advance on his position.

“Control! Control! They’re not working they’re coming right for me request backup.”

“Keep firing Private, they worked once they’ll work again.”

Eddie fired off two shots, then two more but the bears continued to advance pausing only to howl, a noise that turned Eddie’s guts to water. Eddie was reaching for the radio again when there came an answering howl and a wave of polar bears boiled over the ridge, a white tide of teeth and death.


Elvis awoke with to the sounds of screams. He rolled over and shook the cobwebs from his head, they’d locked him in the pantry,there were mince pies and candy canes stacked high all around him and behind them a neat row of all the weapons confiscated by Goodie and his fellow bureaucrats. Elvis loaded himself down with two pump action shotguns, two 9mm M9A1’s and his trusty Armalite AR-50

“I’m coming Santa; hold on,” he cried before blasting his way out of the locked door. The whole place was chaos; there was blood, candy and bits of toys scattered everywhere and all around the screams of the dying and the roars of the bears.

Elvis pelted down the corridor towards Santa’s grotto taking out a couple of bears that had lingered in the dorm to nose through the elves belongings with a single blast of his Weatherby SA-08 Waterfowler 12G. He could hear them, closer now, the baying of the bears and the shouts of the beleaguered elves. He rounded the last corner and slid to a halt at the carnage on show. The elves had fought a desperate rear-guard action but their snowzooka’s were no match for the polar bears. The few remaining whities were now locked in vicious hand to hand combat with the bears while Santa sat behind them trying to calm the terrified reindeer.

Elvis ran forward firing both shotguns from the hip taking the bears by surprise, but there were just too many of them and he looked on in horror as the last valiant elves were overwhelmed.

“Santa!” cried Elvis hurling one of his M9A1 over the heads of the bears. Santa snatched it out of the air just in time to blow a hole in a bear as it reached for him. Under attack from both sides now the bears panicked fled for the doors at either side of the hall.

Santa slumped to the ground breathing heavily and Elvis ran over.

“Are you OK Santa?” asked Elvis.

“Thanks to you I am Elvis,” replied Santa. “You’ve saved Christmas.”


Little Johnny ran down the stairs on Christmas morning ahead of his parents to find a huge mound of presents under the tree. He leapt bodily into the pile and started ripping off paper left and right.

“Go easy Kiddo!” called his father. “You  don’t want to break anything.”

“I don’t get it,” said Little Johnny as the flurry of brightly coloured paper started to slow.

“What is it son?”

“Well I asked for a mountain bike…”

“And what did you get?”

“It looks like a polar bear skin rug…”

Stop the Press, we’re about to leave 2016!

Lords have mercy we’ve reached the December challenge! It’s the last one of this terrible year! (The one where we lost a lot of incredible stars, a referendum to stay in the EU and the will to live to Donald Trump)

Do not fear! We’re going to get you through the last of it with two awesome sets of stories from our bloody beautiful writers. As of now, you should be able to start reading and voting for the November Revolution Challenge – as with last time, click on the month to vote, and the individual piece to read the entry. You can vote multiple times and vote for any of the previous months as well! SO GET SHARING! (Please)

So to December’s challenge. It’s one that I personally did not enjoy writing, not only because I was nice to people but also because I am a green fur ball this time of year (Scrooge is reserved by Bill Murray). The theme for December, if you haven’t cottoned on, is CHRISTMAS. We’re going to have a slightly shorter writing time for this one as I want to give the gang a break between Christmas and New Years, meaning we won’t be back until January but have no fear, writing will be here (hopefully!)

And now for the example piece by Steve ‘Do I have to wear the Santa outfit?’ Archer



A Novel Dreamer Indeed…

I am not a fan of Christmas.

I know, I know; this is not the best opening to a Christmas story outside of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, but I feel I need to be honest with you. I could spout on about the idiosyncrasy of each snowflake as it falls, swaying in the cold and bleak December winds; I could try to remind you of the multi-faceted religious starts of this ridiculous holiday where some buy presents out of love and respect, some buy them out of obligation and some buy them because “this is what you do at Christmas, right?”

I don’t believe in any of these. I buy presents for my loved ones, out of love and respect for the time and energy they have given me. I accept their gifts, not out of Christmas cheer, but out of the genuine like that against all my cynical views of the world, someone actually knows me and has taken the time to think about me. I’m sorry, you didn’t come here for a lecture, you came here for a Pratchett/Gaiman/Adams styled look at Christmas, didn’t you? That’s what I do, right? I emulate the voices of those dry British-humoured writers that I grew up with and I add my own distorted fantasy into them. Well, I won’t let you down. This is a story of presents.

The story begins, funnily enough, on the 24th of December. Stanley opened the shutters on his windows to a Dickensian London. Not questioning the sudden change of atmosphere – he actually rather liked it – he strode out of his bedroom and into the spare room where he changed into period get up. Today was a day off, he worked in town as an accountant under the dismally depressing Davidson, Davidson and Davidson. His boss, one of the Davi-triad, had been less than happy with Stan’s performance of late and felt that he should take a day to “remember who you are”. He had been writing more and more recently; on breaks, in between papers, whilst waiting for the double decker public carts. He had this thought that he didn’t belong in accounts. He enjoyed numbers, he enjoyed the antisocial-ness of it all, he even enjoyed the unavoidable flirting with the even more unavoidable Ms Blanche.

Back in the current narrative, Stanley stepped out into the hustle and bustle of people and horses sloshing through the mud-strewn street. Snow didn’t exactly permeate in London, it kind of hit the ground running and got lost. He stepped through the mesh of bodies and placed himself in front of a large stone stall with a strapping Blacksmith by the name of Badger – the name given to him for on his travels he had seen sights that caused a streak of white to run down the side of his head. *

“Much planned for your evening, Master Thomas?” Badger called over the bangs of his hammer.

“I hope to see you for a flagon at The Dreamer tonight!” replied Stanley, “I shan’t intrude upon you any longer, sir!”

Stanley had watched Badger work for a few months, fascinated with the way he moulded heated steel into weapons and wonders that Stanley could only dream of. He continued on his way up the street when he chanced upon a triad of people much more approachable than his current employers.

“Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls! I give to you the spectacle of London! We at the Lysistratian Theatre put forward to you a three woman play of the likes you have never seen before!”

Stanley had been to the Lysistratian before, the refreshing change of pace provided by the piercing vocal range of the performers lead to torrents of roses thrown upon the stage each night. Many had questioned why the theatre never had male performers, often commenting that they thought the stage to be cursed (eee!**)

“I hope to see you three for a celebratory drink at The Dreamer, after your show! May you break someone’s leg, but never your own!” Stanley shouted to the leader of the trio, who nodded in reply and returned to her advertising as Stanley returned to his jaunt. He thought of his year, in which he had met these people and how much he appreciated their place in his life. He even chuckled to himself – something he rarely did – as he realised that it had been just over a year since he “missed the ferry” and had to stay the night, allowing him the company of Ms Mealing of the theatre. She had been his gateway into his current social scene and re-evaluation of his life; he could not thank her enough.

As he neared the centre of town, he stepped into a local emporium to see an old friend. Jon stood behind the counter, though his personality filled the room. Jon had the ability to make any room feel better with a wry comment or a well-placed anecdote. Steve had moved back to the city a few years previous, though it wasn’t until he had chanced upon an errand for work and spent the evening going through accounts with Jon that he felt that he truly belonged. As with his previous encounters with people throughout the day, he invited Jon for a drink at The Dreamer and was on his way.

As he stepped back out into the square, he heard the tell-tale notes of his final stop before his destination. He darted through the throng of people bustling about their shopping until he found young Richard, affectionately known as the Crazy Diamond. He made his trade as a bard, though his talent allowed him to pursue any path he should desire. *** Stanley did not bother interrupting him, having planned for this, and threw a coin with a note wrapped around it into the maestro’s hat and walked away.

And so he arrived at The Dreamer, his heart started racing as he pushed open the door. The people around the tavern ignored his entrance, which did not bother Stanley as he needed the pause to settle his nerves. At the bar sat a broad shouldered man with a mighty beard and a heart of gold; for which he had been given the nickname The Lion of London. Stan stammered as he ordered two whiskeys and turned to the Lion. Stan had known him for a few months, and had been in awe of him ever since.

“You know; they’ve published one of my stories today in the paper.” The Lion said with a somewhat shocked expression on his face.

“It’s about bloody time,” cheered Stanley. He quickly returned to his quiet demeanour, realising this wasn’t the time.

“It’s incredible to think,” the Lion continued, “that in this day and age people will pay for my random scribblings.”

Stanley choked on his drink. The Lion, the man whom Stanley thought one of the most impressive writers he had the chance to meet, thought just like him. The man had the power to conjure worlds and titans before you with a single sentence and he sat before Stan somewhat human.

A few hours and several drinks later, the group sat around a table. Some were good friends, some were mere acquaintances, but all were united there that night by Stanley. He stood at the end of the table and looked across them all, his heart glowing with pride and love for each of them and cleared his throat. They turned to see what he wanted to say.

“Now I know I said I am not a fan of Christmas and I will happily admit I have no presents in tow, but I wanted to thank you all for the presents you have given me this past year. You have all played a part in my happiness and as long as I shall live, I shall strive to return the favour.”

It was at this point that he realised he had not eaten and collapsed in a heavily drunken state.




*For those not in the know, Picto also goes by the guise of Badger Travels.

**This play on Kirsty has been inserted to prevent the previous pun of a “meal for the senses.” I hope you appreciate the play on Pearce and Torrance and know that I love you three! (Please don’t hurt me.)

*** All of these people are extremely talented, though Rich is bloody awesome.