8FOLD/ACRA: Journey Into... Annual # 1 (a/b)
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 14 21:07:32 PST 2006
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PRESENTS...
JOURNEY INTO... ANNUAL # 1
AN 80-PAGE GIANT
by Tom Russell
02: The boy who believed
by Tom Russell
03: House Advertisement, My Father's Son
by Saxon Brenton
04: A thousand-thousand snowflakes
by Tom Russell
05: House Advertisement, Jolt City # 4
by Tom Russell
06: The teardrop princess
by Tom Russell
07: The breath of ghosts
by Tom Russell
08: House Advertisement, Six-Gun Judas
by Jamie Rosen
09: All a year in a single breath
by Tom Russell
I love words and I love word games, and so it's no surprise that, as
of late, I've become quite enamored of constrained writing-- writing
with "rules" that restrict the writer. Three examples on RACC that I
can think of off the top of my head are the poem-stories, such as my
own Haiku Gorilla, the drabbles, and the recent Vocab-Story Challenge.
This, too, is an example of constrained writing, of a wholly
different sort. The challenge in this case is to write a type a story
that I'm not very good at. :-)
One could say it's plot-based, but that's only part of it. It has
less in common with a tightly-calibrated mystery plot and more in
common with world-building and ideas-- the kind of thing that gives
Dave Van Domelen's ASH and some of Saxon Brenton's writing its charm.
But more than working in an area in which I profess a weakness, I am
also diminishing my strengths: for this particular type of story I'm
writing requires flat characters, rendered in one or two broad strokes,
the kind of mnemonic detail Dickens was good at. The challenge is to
try and meet that impossible standard that Dickens has set, to give the
illusion of a pulse to a type, and most of all to make you feel for
shallow, undynamic characters.
It is a fantasy story, but it's also a certain type of fantasy
story: a children's story, if you will, even though I'm not shy about
swearing or sex. More in common with L. Frank Baum than with J. R. R.
Tolkien. Which does seem to work against any idea of world-building.
What's more, the whole thing turns on a conceit that you'll find
either divinely inspired or incredibly infantile, and it takes this
conceit seriously at face value.
In short, I've taken all the ingredients of what, in my hands,
should be a very bad set of stories, and I've tried my best to write
very good ones. How well I succeeded is up to the reader to decide.
THE BOY WHO BELIEVED
"Take care of your sister," his mother says between drags of her
His sister tugs on her jacket and her fingers spell out I love you
the long way. "I love you too, Lucy," says her mother pointedly.
"Now, be good, the both of you. Or Santa's going to leave you coal."
Her exit is punctuated with a final, jerky puff of smoke.
"You heard what she said," Jerry says, a little hesitantly, slowly
signing out the words with his wobbly hands, hoping he doesn't make a
mistake. "You have to be good, or Santa won't give us any presents."
She rolls her eyes and attempts to toss a lamp across the room. The
sudden violent tautness of the cord causes the lamp to land, unharmed,
at the foot of the side-table.
Cautiously, Jerry approaches the lamp. Keeping his eyes on his
seven-year-old sister, he leans down to pick it up. Slowly, he elijahs
it up to its imitation oak finish heaven, setting it upright so that
its sickly yellow light can radiate. He moves his eyes for a moment to
adjust the shade, and that's when Lucy attacks, clawing at his face
with her arms stretched to the utmost.
She's shorter than him; he's got three years and eight inches on
her. But she has the advantage. She's deaf, she's mute, it's not her
fault. No matter what she does, it's not her fault. She can't be
scolded, can't be spanked. He can't fight back.
She can hurt him, she can make him bleed, she can stab with a knife
(and she has!), but it's not her fault. He must have been irritating
her. But if he strikes back just one time, he's the one that's
grounded, he's the one that goes a week without supper, he's the one
who made daddy die, he's the one, he's the one, it's him. It's always
He runs into the bathroom. He pushes all his weight against the
door to prevent her from opening it. And he listens: he listens for
the sound of candy-wrappers, he listens for the door to her bedroom:
anything that promises Lucy has lost interest in tormenting him.
He waits, and he listens, and there is no sound. He can't even hear
her breathing. "Santa won't bring you any presents," he says, even
though she can't hear it; he says it more to reassure himself that it
isn't just an idle threat.
But he knows the truth. Lucy will never be on the naughty list, she
has a free pass. Deaf girls are automatically good. She doesn't even
believe in Santa Claus, and she gets a present every year. She's never
had a lump of coal in her stocking. But Jerry has.
Ever since his father died, Jerry's had nothing but coal.
He's not sure what he did but he knows it must have been something
terrible. Every night he prays to God and Jesus and Santa (he
conflates them all into one holy trinity, all three of them being more
palpable than any ineffable Ghost) and asks, what did I do? Tell me
what I did. Please forgive me.
And he hopes and he prays that he will be forgiven, that Santa will
take mercy on him and bring him a present.
He hears the door open, and he inhales sharply. Is his mother home
already? If she finds him hiding in the bathroom, it'll be coal for
sure. I'll call Santa up, she'll say, a little wobbly from the booze.
I'll call him up right now and tell him what a rotten little boy you
Sister behind the door or not, he can't be found in the bathroom.
He opens the door.
It's not his mother.
It's a man, a man he's never seen before. He has Lucy by her long
blonde hair, and her mouth is open in a silent scream. The man points
his gun at Jerry and tells him to step inside the living room. Jerry
does what he's told.
"Sit on the couch, both of you," says the man. He flings Lucy
towards the couch. Jerry signs for her to sit down beside him, and for
once, she minds him.
"I ain't gonna hurt you kids. You just do what you're told, and I
ain't gonna hurt you." He spits on the floor and looks at Lucy, then
turns and speaks to Jerry. "She deaf?"
"Deaf and mute."
"Then you better translate what I just said," says the man. "And
make sure you do it right, I know sign language."
The man sits down in a chair, keeping his gun focused lazily on the
couch. "Like I said, I ain't gonna hurt you. I just need a place to
stay, and I asked your mom-- we're friends, your mom and me-- and she
said, okay. Knock yourself out.
"Uh, you can call me Uncle Van." He pops his lips. "Hey, uh, you
got any cigarettes lying around?"
"I don't think so," says Jerry, his body tensing up with the lie.
"Our mother doesn't smoke."
"Well, yeah, I know, but I figured maybe..." He lets his voice trail
off. Adults, when caught in a lie, don't feel the same obligation to
cover up for it. They just shrug it off. Jerry tried that once. It
hadn't gone well.
"So, Christmas, huh?"
Jerry just nods; he's not sure what the question means.
The man scratches the gristle on his chin. "Christmas. Say,
shouldn't you kids be in bed? I mean, Santa's not going to come until
you're in bed."
Jerry translates. Lucy signs back, no such thing as Santa.
"What'd she say?" says the man. He fumbles with his words. "Uh, I
wasn't paying attention, didn't see it all."
Jerry signs to Lucy, Lucy he doesn't know ASL.
"Uh, she's looking forward to her presents," says Jerry.
There's a knock at the door. The stranger goes white. "Is that
"I don't know," says Jerry. "Why don't you go find out?"
The man's arm tenses up and he trains the gun on Jerry. "Listen
kid, let's not be wise, okay?"
Another knock. "Open up. This is the police."
The man swears under his breath and, his arm quaking, he slides the
gun into the pocket of his coat. He quickly strides into the adjacent
dining room and slings the coat over a chair. He stops for a moment,
grabs something, and when he strolls back into the room, he has a
packet of cigarettes in his hand.
"You think you're real smart, don't you?" he says. He shakes a
cigarette lose and puts it between his lips. "Listen," he says as he
lights up. "I am Uncle Van. Your mother's brother. Babysitting with
you. Got it? I swear to fucking God, I'll blow your head off."
He exhales and opens the door. There are two officers in uniform,
slightly fattened from glazed ham and eggnog. "Hiya officers," says
the man. "Merry Christmas!"
One of the officers coughs. The man apologizes and stubs out his
cigarette on the door frame. "Something I can do for you?"
"We're just collecting for the Goodfellows. A lot of kids don't
have toys this Christmas..."
"Maybe they've been naughty," says the man, laughing. "Like I was
telling these two, if you're naughty, Santa doesn't bring you any
"No," says one of the officers sternly. "These are kids who don't
have any money, some who don't have homes."
"I'm just-- it was just a joke, alright?" says the man. "I know how
bad it is. Look, let me-- uh, hey, Joey." He turns towards the boy.
"Jerry," he says quietly.
"Of course," says the man, hiding his displeasure with another
disingenuous laugh. "These-- they're my sister's kids, you know? I'm
their uncle. My boy, his name is Joey, looks just like this one. And
both J's. I get 'em mixed up all the time. And this," he points to
Lucy but his eyes focus on Jerry, "this is Annie. She don't talk, but
she's a good kid. Annie."
Jerry just nods. "Annie."
One of the officers steps in. The man becomes taut, like the cord
for the lamp. "I have a little girl just like you, Annie," says the
officer, signing every word. "Her name is Marcia."
Lucy signs back, my name is Lucy.
The officer just nods vacantly.
"But, uh, hey, Jerry, where does your mom keep the money at? So we
can give to the Goodfellows, help other little boys and girls?"
"I don't know," says Jerry. And it's true, he doesn't.
"Come on, Jerry. Don't be selfish. Other... other boys and girls
should get presents too, you know."
"But I don't know."
"This kid," says the man, chuckling. "But, you know, I probably
shouldn't be giving out my sister's money anyway."
"Probably not," says the officer.
"I don't have a cent on me, or otherwise, I would, you know? But I
don't. So. I mean, good luck."
"Have a Merry Christmas," says the other officer.
The man wishes them both a merry Christmas, and shuts the door. He
peers through the vertical blinds and, satisfied that the police are on
their way, rushes towards Jerry with his sister's ferocity.
"You little shit!" he says, smacking Jerry across the face. He
grabs him, tearing his shirt, and throws him to the floor. "You little
fucking piece of shit! If I say your name is Joey, than it's Joey! If
I say your name is Shit-face, than it's Shit-face, do you understand
me? Do you?"
Between blows, Jerry agrees.
"Now, Shit-face, why don't you be useful and get me something to
"What do you want?" Jerry whimpers.
"Get me a sandwich or something, I don't know! Whatever you got!
He sees that Lucy is staring at him. "What are you looking at?" He
slaps her across the face.
Jerry smiles and then feels guilty about it. He heads towards the
kitchen and, en route, passes through the dining room. He notices the
man's black coat and remembers that the gun is in one of the pockets.
He's never fired a gun before, of course, never handled one, but if he
can get close enough to the man, his lack of skill would really be
"Only bad little boys play with guns." Jerry's body seizes up, and
it takes him a moment to realize that it's not "Uncle Van's" voice that
he hears. He looks around the room, until he sees him outside the
window, his big white beard adorned with snow, his kind round face
lined with age.
Santa holds a black-gloved finger to his lips and pleasantly hisses,
Jerry walks into the kitchen and, his body sweating equal parts joy
and anxiety, he haphazardly makes a couple of ham sandwiches, smothered
with mustard. He puts them on a plate and is about to come back into
the living room, when it occurs to him to also prepare a glass of milk
"Milk and cookies?" balks the madman. He slaps the plate of cookies
away, causing it to fall on the floor. He grabs the glass of milk in
one hand and Jerry in the other. He pours the glass of milk over
Jerry's head, takes a ham sandwich from him, and tells him to sit down.
"Milk and cookies," he says again. "Who the hell do you bring milk
and cookies for, Shit-face?"
There's a rumble in the fireplace, and the man almost chokes on his
ham sandwich when Santa Claus squeezes out of the chimney. He brushes
a light coat of soot from his immaculate sparkling red and touches his
nose with his prime finger. "I think they were for me," says Santa,
setting his bag down besides him. "And his name is Jerry." He looks
at the man with eyes surprisingly devoid of sparkle. "Shit-face."
Santa's punch sends the man sprawling to the floor. "You've been a
very, very bad boy, Shit-face," says the christmas champion as he
strides towards the man. "You're on my list."
"Your naughty list?" says the man.
"No. My shit list!"
Saint Nick picks the man up, hoisting him high above his head, and
tosses him into the dining room. The man scrambles towards the table:
the chair, the coat, the gun. Santa wiggles his nose, and the man
freezes in place, his fingers writhing and arm outstretched. He turns
back towards the children and then bends over, his belly bouncing, to
scoop up the plate of cookies. He eases back into the chair and says
to Jerry, "A fresh glass of milk, if it's no trouble?"
"Yes, sir," says Jerry with a reverent nod. He heads towards the
kitchen, pausing for a moment in the dining room. The man's mouth is
open, his eyes wide with fright, the drops of sweat on his face frozen
in place. He looks at the man for only a moment and, scared out of his
wits, heads into the kitchen to pour a fresh glass of milk.
"I thank you," says Santa. He swallows a cookie and washes it down
with a swig of milk. "Hmm. That's good."
"What happened to him, Santa?" Jerry asks.
"Oh, I just froze time around him for a little bit," says Santa.
"How do you think I get all around the world in a night? I'm not
exactly in shape. I'm allowed to be master of time for just this one
night, so I can take my time, enjoy the milk and cookies, check over my
Jerry curls his lips inwards.
Santa puts a hand on his arm. "You're a good boy, Jerry West. Why
don't you reach into my bag?"
Jerry doesn't hesitate; he reaches into the bag and pulls out a box.
To his delight, it has his name on it. "May I open it now?"
"Go right ahead," says Santa. "That's what it's there for."
Jerry carefully pulls off the wrapping paper and opens the box.
It's a Journeyman action figure.
Santa turns to Lucy, who has been sitting this whole time in a kind
of interested daze. He signs to her, effortlessly and a little too
quick for Jerry to follow. Santa pushes himself out of the chair,
strides over to the girl, and pulls something out of his coat. When he
steps backwards, Jerry can see that his sister holds a lump of coal.
"I never gave you coal, Jerry," says Santa. "And I never gave her a
present." He reaches down and scoops up his bag.
"Thank you for the milk and cookies, Jerry," says Santa. "And thank
you for believing."
"What about him?" says Jerry.
There's a knock at the door.
"That'll be the police," says Santa. "They'll take care of
Shit-face." He snorts. "Lucky for him, too." He touches his nose and
springs up the chimney, just as time begins to speed up again for
Shit-face and the police kick open the door.
The man gives up without a fight, and one of the officers-- the one
who has a deaf daughter, hopefully not just like Lucy-- stays with the
children. He tells them some jokes, some of which they don't quite
understand. He seems to pay more attention to Lucy, and calls her a
clever little girl for tipping him off. But Jerry doesn't mind.
He knows better. And it's worth it just to see Lucy clutching that
lump of coal.
The scene: Late afternoon. Two figures in costumes are flying over the
cityscape. The younger boy, around fifteen years old, said to the
other, "So. Giant Sumatran rats."
The other one nodded. "Yup." Then Highlight looked over at
Slowpoke and said, curiously, "Have you got a problem with giant
Slowpoke thought about this, and Highlight recognized the serious
consideration that he applied to pretty much all of his work. After a
moment Slowpoke said, "Despite everything I've read, I don't think I
appreciated how much =contrived= weirdness there was."
"As opposed to 100% natural weirdness?"
Highlight rolled over, flying on his back, and said, "You're
probably still upset about the Nazi dinosaur clones."
MY FATHER'S SON
a new Eightfold series coming soon from SAXON BRENTON
A THOUSAND-THOUSAND SNOWFLAKES
A woman of fifty-five has a late supper this Christmas Eve, quite
alone and by candle-light. Her wine glass at her lips, she does not
drink, for she is now frozen in time.
Santa studies the oval of her face. Something not quite right. He
likes to time things so that people get frozen in the middle of doing
something, like this woman and her wine glass. Otherwise they look
lifeless, dead. Something about her is too still.
With a wiggle of his nose, he unfreezes the candles, slowly bringing
them back to half-time, glades of amber and shadow slowly splashing
over her face like veils. Santa smiles, admiring his handiwork.
Her supper is modest if not exactly utilitarian: a crisp salad
without dressing, a piece of baguette, some boursault, complemented by
a glass of bordeaux red.
Why does she eat alone?, he wonders. He focuses his internal
nice/naughty sense on the woman in the plain gray dress.
Nice. Very nice. Well, she certainly doesn't deserve to eat alone
tonight! He brings her back, but keeps the candle-light gliding at
She sips her wine, closing her eyes as the dark red rain sings down
her gullet. She sets the glass down and then opens her eyes. "Le Pere
"Oui." He asks her if he could have a crust of her bread, and
perhaps a little cheese. She gets him a plate and a generous portion
of her dinner. He thanks her and asks for her name. Arielle.
They talk for a few hours, measured not by frozen clocks or
motionless moons, but by wax. Arielle grows sleepy and retires to bed
so that Santa may place her present under her tiny artificial tree.
After she's left, Santa enjoys one more glass of wine, silently and
dutifully granting extreme unction to the extinguished puddles of wax.
He then looks in on Arielle, to make sure she is still asleep. (She
is.) He notices her plain dress draped at the foot of her bed and, in
the interest of propriety, he steps back into the hallway of the tiny
apartment and silently pulls the door close.
For some reason, he's drawn to this woman. It's not the
conversation; though lengthy, it was mostly pleasantries and Santa's
french is rudimentary at best. He wonders if he remembers her from a
previous Christmas; perhaps he had frozen her as she was praying, or
scratching a cat, or dancing. It was more likely that she was one of
the subliminal billions.
The wine has made him sleepy, and he's about due for the first nap
of his journey. He double-checks that time is stopped for everyone
except himself and Arielle. He lies down on her sofa (an extra pillow
for his old back) and sleeps.
He awakes to find Arielle sitting on her feet, crouched down to his
eye level, studying him intently. She is wearing a soft white evening
gown. She smiles and asks him if he'd like some breakfast.
At least, she thinks it's breakfast time. Hard to tell with the
Put on something warm, he says, struck by a sudden impulse. I have
something to show you. Something no other living person except myself
has ever seen.
Arielle quickly returns with a heavy, formless brown coat. Santa
pushes himself off the couch, and to his surprise, Arielle grabs his
gloved hand as a matter of instinct, pulling him up to his feet. She
has a hot pad that might help his back.
Maybe after, he says, straightening himself up after a moment. He
squeezes her hand and leads her to her own door. But it doesn't feel
like her door, not anymore: her door keeps the world out, and leads to
a mellow, colourless domain. But when he opens his door, she beholds
an incredible sight.
The snowfall is frozen in time, the flakes glistening like cold
white stars, thousands of them suspended in the air. Despite her heavy
coat, Arielle is suddenly chilled; it takes a moment to recognize the
gooseflesh dimpling her body. I'm a child again, she says.
No, says Santa. You're a woman.
She looks at him, expecting some kind of answer to this cryptic
remark. He blushes, though it's hard to tell with the deep jolly red
hue of his face. "Something so striking about you, Arielle. I don't
know what it is. But in six and a half hundred years of this life, you
learn to follow it, no matter how strange it seems."
I don't speak English, she says. I'm sorry, could you repeat it...?
Well, that's the first thing we'll have to do.
And, right after breakfast, Santa sets down to the business of
teaching her English. And Latin. And German. And the language of the
Elves, and the Reindeer, and the wind. Until she has learned all the
languages that Santa knows, until she can speak them better than Santa
can. With all of time frozen like snow-stars, there's no way to know
how much time they spend in her apartment. How many days, how many
months, how many years?
In the space of a frozen second, they have laughed and they have
argued, they have learned the things that make her heart break and the
things that cause that jolly red face, ever-so-often, to flash with
anger. They have shared books and wished each other good-night in a
different language each time they retire to sleep. They have learned
to dance, his hands at the small of her back, hers on his shoulders
before gently exploring his voluminous white beard.
They are wed in the street, a thousand-thousand snowflakes bearing
witness. When they kiss, Arielle hears a clock strike the hour in the
distance, and sees that the snowflakes are fluttering to the earth.
Santa smiles at her broadly before whistling sharply, summoning his
sleigh and reindeer to the street. He introduces his new bride to his
eight reindeer, and is surprised that Donder, generally the most
disagreeable of the octet, takes an immediate liking to the new Mrs.
He helps her into his sleigh and takes off into the night.
Each country, each city, each home is a new adventure for Arielle, a
new experience. She is amazed by each new tree, be it artificial or
real, religious or secular, and her amazement helps Santa find his.
After so many years and so many trees, he sometimes find his enthusiasm
waning; now it blossoms anew.
She shares his cookies and his milk, and sometimes when they're
particularly hungry they borrow a slice of ham or fruitcake. "No one
will miss the fruitcake," says Santa.
As he does his work, she'll often wander around the house, and the
incredible naughtiness of her eavesdropping makes her heart thump like
Donder's hooves on the rooftop. In a library or study, she often finds
a book worth reading; Santa keeps time frozen long enough for her to
read it. "I've read more in this one night than I have in a lifetime,"
When they are tired and a particularly comfortable bed is
unoccupied, they slumber. Sometimes they make love, and the fact that
they're in somebody else's bed gives it an extra little spice. "This
is so naughty," says Arielle. "I'm a very naughty girl."
"No," says Santa, each time and always with love, "you're nice.
You're very nice."
When they happen upon a crime in progress, they replace guns with
flowers, or give crooks wedgies. They pluck an apple from a table of
plenty and put it in the hands of the man residing at 1 Cardboard Box,
Back Alley Lane. And in China, they fight a dragon. A dragon!
"Does it usually take this long?" says Mrs. Claus.
"It can," says Santa. "But usually not. I want to enjoy every
moment with you; I'm not supposed to take anybody with me. I can
squeeze you by this year, since I've just picked you up. But you can't
go with me again. You'll have to wait at home."
She puts her arm on his. "I'll only be away from you for a night.
But you'll be missing me for months."
Santa nods solemnly, and they continue on their way, two lovers
apart from the world until, at long last, it is finished. The last
present delivered, the first crack of dawn drifting up like steam over
the horizon. He hugs his bride, and bears his sleigh towards his
"There it is," he says, an old soldier coming home after far too
long. "The North Pole. Fort Santa! This is where all the magic
happens. Now, you're really going to see something!"
She finds it hard to believe that, after all she's seen, there would
be anything left to give her awe. But as they descend towards the
sparkling, crystalline palace, she says in a low whisper, in her native
tongue, I'm a child again.
Santa helps her out of the sleigh and waves to the deer.
"Good-night, my friends," he says joyously. "See you next year!"
The reindeer shudder and become light and dust, floating away in the
COMING SOON FROM EIGHTFOLD
////////////// COMICS GROUP
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# 4 DECEMBER 2006
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BY TOM RUSSELL //
A DEADLY ADVERSARY
emerges from Martin's past--
a foe skilled in marksmanship,
armed with memory,
and DRIVEN BY HATE--
a man so dangerously insane that the
GREEN KNIGHT cannot defeat him--
You don't dare miss--
"THE GREEN KNIGHT-DARKHORSE TEAM!"
It's a thrilling story that begins
in the SCORCHING SANDS OF IRAQ
and concludes in JOLT CITY--
--your destination for adventure!
THE TEARDROP PRINCESS
Most cartographers will insist that there is no land at the North
Pole, and their unfortunate children (hideous, humourless infants with
longitudes and latitudes criss-crossing their mostly blue faces) will
only parrot what their fathers have taught them. And were you to
produce a map that depicted the great island upon which Santa has
staked his claim, any authority on geography would point out that that
map also features a number of sea serpents.
But sea monsters do exist, and as magical creatures, they are bound
by the rules of the magic: they only reveal themselves to those who
believe in them, and then only when they are not being sought.
There is the tale, for example, of the great kraken who attacked a
ship of colonists. The sole survivor was a cabin boy, whom was
stranded, quite alone, on an island. As time passed, the wrecks of
other ships would wash ashore, pieces of planks and dreams in odd but
continuing assortment. Slowly, the boy grew to a man, using the
remains of the other ships to build one of his own.
He fashioned a great harpoon, so heavy it took the strength of ten
men to even lift it; he trained his muscles every day until he was able
to heave it from one side of the island to the other. The cabin boy,
having now matured into a ripe old salt, set sail in his handmade boat
to find and kill the kraken.
He sailed those waters for seven years, seeking out the murderous
beast. He tried not to seek it, but the monster was too canny and knew
that the old salt was more than his match.
Came a morning, though, that the old salt awoke to a beautiful and
bright red sunrise, heralded by the tweet of a huge red jackdaw whose
body was composed of hardest diamond: a creature as mythical as the
kraken. And the old salt was so overcome with joy at having heard the
quartz jackdaw's song that he forgot, for the space of a single tweet,
his single-minded obsession with his ancient foe.
And in that moment, the kraken foolishly appeared; the harpoon was
swift and sure, and the old salt died the following afternoon, smiling
and contented not from revenge, but from the jackdaw's earworm.
The North Pole is a magic place, and can only be found by those who
believe in it but do not seek it. It is a place where wishes are
granted with a single breath: however, it is not always your wish that
is granted. Or, to put it another way, sometimes you seek a kraken and
find a jackdaw.
And, for that matter, sometimes you seek a jackdaw and are eaten by
Arielle, in her sixty-fifth year, walks along the snowy paths of the
island, accompanying Elbowsong and Noonthatch as they seek (or, rather,
not seek) some snow-berries with which to make a pie; their oblong
bucket is nearly filled to the brim.
This very afternoon, she is thinking about how very old she is, and
how empty is her womb. She had never born a child before she met her
husband, and she had grown dry and dusty before they were wed.
Most of the time, it doesn't bother her: she has the elves, who are
like little children in their way, little children with triangle beards
and friendly old wrinkled faces. But sometimes it does.
It is the nature of the North Pole that just as Arielle is feeling
the void within her cobwebbed belly, they happen upon a queer-looking
child, hugged by the snow.
"She must be dead," says Noonthatch. "Her face is white."
"Quick," says Arielle. "Let's get her inside."
The two elves dig into the snow with their bare hands, for they can
feel no cold. Arielle tightens her hood against her face, fighting the
stinging snow that flies in her eyes with increased ferocity.
The elves lift the child up and give her a good shake to dislodge
the snow from her white dress. Suddenly she drops.
"She's all wet," says Noonthatch, "through and through!"
"He's right," says Elbowsong. "My fingers dug right into her arm
and came through the other side!"
The little girl gives a little sound. Arielle scoops the frail body
into her arms. She begins to drip and slip away, the body folding up
"Quickly, empty the bucket."
"There goes the snow-berry pie," says Elbowsong, a bit distraught.
Nonetheless, the two elves dump out the snow-berries, which instantly
sink into the white blur and fade away. Arielle kneels down before the
bucket, placing the child within. The body twists a bit, swirling
around before regaining its shape. It is only against the bucket's
black-black that it becomes apparent that the child is translucent.
The elves grab either handle of their great bucket and jog back
towards the castle.
"Careful!" warns Arielle. "Don't spill her!"
"Not a drop," assures Noonthatch.
Elbowsong is less gung-ho, still focused on his lost snow-berries:
"Didn't even get one to taste."
Santa is in his workshop, seated along a ground-level conveyer belt
with scores of other elves, carving a duck from a hunk of wood with an
old knife. Before the elves, and the furnace, he used to make all the
toys himself; though he's thankful for the help, and is in awe of the
great furnace, a few times a year he still sits with the elves and
makes a toy or two, to keep his hand in it mostly, but also to let the
elves know that he's no better than they are, which keeps things civil
if not amicable: the frequency of his visits (the elves note) have
increased since that business with Whistletuft. They attribute this to
Santa being more appreciative of the elves; with the exception of a few
bad apples, elves are not cynical creatures and so it does not occur to
them that great Father Christmas is also keeping his eyes open for any
signs of discontentment.
He has finished carving. He's beginning to apply the paint when
Elbowsong and Noonthatch whiz by the great hall, carrying their bucket
and within it, the strange little girl they found. Arielle, fast
behind them, pauses in front of the workshop long enough to catch her
"Come quick," she says breathlessly.
Santa leaves his wooden duck, a splotch of yellow paint on its head
like anointing ointment, and hurries to his wife.
"This isn't about snow-berries," says Santa astutely.
"No," says his wife. "We found a little girl in the snow. She may
be dying." She calls ahead to the two elves, whom have floundered once
reaching the end of the hall: "Put her in the guest bedroom. We'll be
Santa peers into the oblong bucket and crinkles his nose in
interest. "Let's get her on the bed," he says. "Pour her gently,
The two elves slowly tip the bucket, and the little girl trickles
out, dress and all. In the clear light of the room, Arielle sees the
dress clearly for the first time. "Why-- it's made of tissues!"
Noonthatch takes more interest than his brother, whom is more
content with staring despondently at the empty bucket. "Is she made of
Santa touches her arm with his bare fingers, and brings a drop of
moisture to his lips. He smacks his lips and shakes his head. "No.
"We've got to help her," says Arielle. "Can you figure out what's
Santa feels for a pulse on the girl's wrist. He doesn't feel a
thing. And yet, she is breathing, if only shallowly, her little chest
rising and falling slowly with each breath. He touches the upper right
side of her chest, feeling for a heartbeat: nothing.
"No heart at all," says Santa. "I know a bit about human anatomy,
and elves, and other creatures. But I don't know the first thing about
teardrops. We can't do anything but watch over her, and wait, and
Arielle immediately volunteers for the first shift, and Santa sits
with her for the first half an hour or so. He takes over the vigil
several hours later. She lingers for an hour into his shift. He tells
her repeatedly and at regular intervals to just go to sleep, there's
nothing she can do, he'll keep watch: after he's said it enough times,
it's no longer advice but incantation, a chant, and it commands her to
an uneasy rest.
She wakes in the morning and immediately rushes off to relieve her
husband. His pink brow is knitted with polka-dots of flush
frustration. "She has a fever," he says. "She's been steadily getting
worse since she arrived."
"I'll watch over her," says Arielle. She sends her husband to bed.
"There's nothing you can do for her now. If there's any change, I'll
send one of the elves for you. You need your rest, Santa."
Santa nods and departs with a squeeze of her hand. She refuses
breakfast. The girl's teardrop face is weirdly beaded with heavy
sweat, and her breaths are deep and ominous. At noon, Elbowsong brings
her a chocolate sandwich (a staple of elfin diet). After some
pressing, she takes the sandwich, eating it slowly and never taking her
eyes off the girl.
Once she is finished, she becomes aware of the fact that Elbowsong
is still in the room. She hands him the plate, and he holds it to his
chest like a curiously flat little hat. He wrings the rim with his
"What is it? Do you want your snowberry bucket back?"
"No, milady," says Elbowsong. "I was wondering if I might keep
watch o'er the child."
Arielle finds this peculiar: while Elbowsong can be very giving to
his friends and family, he's generally apathetic towards people outside
that circle. As if they don't exist at all, or as if they are merely
pets. And so, very cautiously, she asks him why he wants to keep
"Milady is tired," says Elbowsong, "and very worried. Not good for
you. Milady's always been good to me, so let me worry for you."
"I'll still be worried, Elbowsong."
"But why, milady? You won't be in the room with it."
"That may be, but I'll still be worried."
Elbowsong sighs. "You humans are very strange."
"Yes, I suppose we are," says Arielle. "Thank you for your offer,
but I'm fine."
Elbowsong bows and begins to back out of the room. "Milady...?"
"Would you like your bucket?"
She stoops down and scoops up the large bucket. She hears a
clinking sound from within it.
Peering inwards, she sees a tiny heart-shaped locket made of
crystal. She picks it up. It pulses in her palm.
"Go get Santa. Quick-quick!"
Elbowsong reaches for the handle of the bucket.
"Leave it," she says tersely. "Now go!"
Elbowsong runs down the hall, shouting Father Christmas! Father
Noonthatch pokes his head in. "What is it, milady?"
"I don't know yet," says Arielle. She leans over the child, the
tiny translucent body writhing damply on the bed. She places her ear
to the little girl's chest, listening as her husband did the day before
for a heartbeat.
Arielle grabs hold of the front of the dress, pulling it towards
her. The tissues rip in her hands, not in a thick shag of fabric, but
rather in tiny tears and pieces. She claws at it like a cat at litter,
digging through the fabric until the clear blue liquid breast is
revealed beneath it.
Santa comes in, huffing and puffing and out of breath. "What is
She holds up the locket. "It's her heart," she says. The chain
dangles from her fingers. Her hand shakes as she lowers it slowly
towards the girl.
She takes a deep breath as the point of the heart pierces the
transparent flesh, two clear streams of water running horizontally like
blood from a wound. She stops, gasping.
"Keep going," says Santa.
"But what if I'm wrong? What if I'm hurting her?"
"What if you're right?" says Santa.
Arielle looks at the girl's face, the surface water disturbed and
muddy. She listens to the girl's haggard breaths, and she feels the
locket's pulse running up the chain and into her fingertips. She lets
As it drops, the wound closes in on itself, as good as new. The
locket floats in her chest, and with each pulse it sends ripples
through out her body.
"It's working," says Arielle. "It's her heart."
Santa grabs the scissors from the night-table and cuts down the
center of the dress. He pulls it open.
Inside her body, the little heart floats around two small balloons,
"Her lungs," says Santa. "But everything else is missing."
"I've checked the bucket, Father Christmas," offers Elbowsong.
"Of course you have, Elbowsong," says Santa, a little wearily. "And
you're sure you didn't spill a drop?"
"Not a drop," says Noonthatch and Elbowsong together.
"Then the rest of her is still out there," says Santa, "probably
buried deep in the snow. There's precious little time left. We have
to hurry. Fan out into parties of two."
"How do we know what we're looking for?"
"Grab whatever you think may be of use," says Santa. "We'll sort it
out when we get back."
"I'll take the bucket," says Elbowsong, "in case we find any
snow-berries on the way."
Santa glares at him.
"Arielle, you stay here with the girl. Youngtail will stay with you
in case you need a messenger."
My Big Sphinx of Quartz is emblazoned along the ship's starboard in
sturdy ten-foot Courier New capitals, the most-excellent font ever to
be devised. As Charlie Cooker rots within the holding cell, attended
by two members of his mutinous nuts-and-bolts crew, he wonders if the
name was a mistake, if the possessive pronoun now stood revealed and
naked as a desperate man's insistence. When the cancer grew in his
father (the cancer Charlie had put there), the old man would insist
that it was shrinking, that he was getting better, despite all evidence
to the contrary.
Charlie came to realize that it wasn't because his father thought it
was actually going to work, but because he hoped that it would. "Hope
and faith are not based on fact, and so are not valid arguments,"
Charlie reminds himself (his own form of prayer).
And yet, that's what he's been operating on, that's what put him in
this cell: hoping that the ship was his, hoping that a pronoun would
afford him some protection, having faith in his crew just because he
built them with his own hands. But the fact is that his children
betrayed him, intended to kill him, and the Big Sphinx of Quartz was no
longer his, if it ever was.
Until this morning's mutiny, his brain had been focused, with an
adult's precision but a child's obsession, on finding the North Pole so
that he might revenge himself for the past defeats he suffered at the
hands of Father Christmas. Now he turns his thoughts towards escape.
And though it is the nature of the North Pole to be found when it is
not sought, and though it is the nature of the North Pole that women
who wish for children are granted them and evil eight-year-olds who
wish for a means of escape are soon afforded such a means, Charlie
Cooker does not believe in magic or fate, and so does not even pause a
moment to marvel at coincidence as My Big Sphinx of Quartz crashes into
the gleaming and suddenly appearing white land mass, compromising the
hull with a gush of cold water.
The cell door rips from its hinges as the guards scramble to find
not only purchase but life itself, as their gears come to a sudden
sub-zero halt: their metal bodies fill with water and sink.
Charlie throws himself into the water, swimming against the
torrents, a mad doggy-paddle for the crack in the hull. He slips
through the hole and bobs up to the surface and gasps for breath. With
his bare hands he digs into the snow and ice, pulling himself onto the
He collapses on the land, shivering and wet. My Big Sphinx of
Quartz capsizes. He watches it sink with a mixture of satisfaction and
sorrow. It serves them right, the damn robots. But now what?
Hypothermia will be setting in soon.
He turns away from the water, gazing at the crystal palace through
wind that bites his eyes. "That's it," he says to himself. "I'll go
right to him. Enemy or not, he won't let me die. And then, once I am
inside, as he feeds me by hand, I will plot the best way to bite it off
at the wrist."
Wobbling, he manages to get up to his feet. He stalks towards the
palace. "I am Charlie Cooker," he says, "and I shall live on to... eh?
His foot, slogging through the snow, has kicked up a tiny glass box.
With his wet sleeve, he tries to brush the snow away from it. It
looks empty. He pops open the lid and confirms this.
"Well," he says, "you won't keep me warm, will you?"
A gust of some invisible wind flies out of the box, enveloping him,
and suddenly he is dry and warm.
Charlie Cooker smiles. "Well. Let's see what else you can do."
Elbowsong digs into the snow. "I found something!"
"What is it?" demands Noonthatch. "The intestines, the brain?"
"No," says Elbowsong, lifting his cupped hands into view.
Noonthatch smacks the back of Elbowsong's hands with his own,
causing the snow-berries to dissipate into the wind. "You're supposed
to be looking for something to help the girl!"
"I know you are," says Noonthatch. "That's the problem. Why don't
you try looking for snow-berries instead?"
Elbowsong turns his thoughts to snow-berries, and within seconds,
they stumble upon a large metal lunchbox.
Santa stares at a long piece of twine. Handlemaze had found it, and
Santa can feel the little girl's life in its ragged, unraveling fibers.
So far, the elves had been able to find most of her. Santa has yet to
find a single thing.
It's so frustrating, he says in the language of the wind. He's not
sure if his oldest friend is listening, but the words still bring him
comfort: he and Arielle and the wind itself are the only ones that know
it, and so it feels private, it feels intimate, like it belongs to him,
like his own thoughts-- and yet, by speaking aloud, it lends those
thoughts the feeling of action, of doing something, so crucial when he
is feeling impotent.
It comes so easy to my elves, he says. They can do this so well,
looking for something without looking for it. I can't get her little
blue face out of my mind, I can't forget how urgent this is. Which
means I can't find anything.
Each year I spend with them, it feels like I'm becoming more like
them. But times like these remind me that I'm not. That no matter how
many hundreds of years I spend with them, I am and always will be a
But maybe that's a good thing. The elves can forget her little blue
face because they really don't care about her. There's a purity to
their selfishness, so much like a child's.
I wonder if she's selfish, or if she's kind? I wonder if she'll
thank us, or take it for granted, or try to hurt us? I wonder if we'll
keep her, or if she'll run away? I wonder if she'll break our hearts.
It doesn't matter, he concludes: I'll love her anyway, just like I
love all children. Even the naughty ones. Just like I love all the
He hadn't thought about the Dark Elf in the years since that
Christmas morning; when he does, it's in moments like these, when he is
most alone, talking only to the wind.
His body tenses: it feels like the twine is jumping in his palm. He
feels something naughty in the air, he feels it like an ache in his
elbow, and it's a familiar ache, a distinct aura of evil that is
unmistakable. He turns his eyes towards a hill of snow.
The eternal eight-year-old leaps over the hill, hydraulic boots
digging into its side, distorting its cool and even slope. "It's been
a long, long time, Father Christmas."
Santa pockets the twine. With a well-aged groan, he sets himself
upright and dusts the snow from his ass. "I don't have time for this,
Charlie," says Santa. "A girl's life is at stake."
"I'll never understand why you're obsessed with helping people,"
says Charlie. "Altruism acts against the natural order of things."
"Not everyone had the same opportunities you did, Charlie," says
Santa. "Not everyone has the same upbringing, talent, or
"I know," says Charlie. "People are not equal."
"Yes, they are," says Santa. "No one is better than anyone else."
"What a laughable contradiction you are," says Charlie Cooker. "You
just said that not everyone has the same intelligence or talent, but
you still persist in saying that they are equal. After you've just
said that they're not. A is not B, Santa. A is A."
"Sometimes things are what they are," says Santa, "and sometimes
they are not."
"You mean things aren't what they seem," says Charlie.
"No," says Santa. "Perhaps, one day, you'll know the difference."
"I hope not," sneers Charlie. A ray-gun materializes in his hand.
He fires into the snow-bank Santa is standing on. Santa rolls down the
hill in a red blur, springing to his feet at the bottom.
It's only now that he sees the glass box in Charlie's left hand, and
only know that he feels a goodness, a life (the same life that pulses
in his pocket, in the twine) coming from the box. Charlie Cooker has
part of the girl.
"That's not yours, Charlie," says Santa, stalking towards him.
"It's a marvelous little trinket," says Charlie. "Some kind of
thought-box, that creates technology the user desires. I shall be so
glad to get it home to my lab and take it apart, to see what makes it
"It's not technology at all," says Santa. "It's not even magic, not
really. It's alive, Charlie. It's part of a little girl. Her brain,
I suspect. And if she doesn't get it back soon, she's going to die."
"Don't feed me that!" says Charlie. The air shudders around him and
he becomes completely invisible: invisible to the eye, and invisible
even to Santa's naughty-nice compass. He cannot even feel the life in
his pocket. Charlie must have conjured up a machine to block the
naughty-nice sense as well as a cloaking device.
"It's not alive, old man," says Charlie. The voice rises and falls
rapidly: Charlie's moving and moving fast, it's hard to gauge the
distance. No footprints. He must be floating: a hover device?
"It is alive," says Santa. "It's a little girl, made of teardrops."
"That's crap," says Charlie. "There's no way a living thing, a
brain, can do all this!"
Massive clunking surrounds Santa, like the loading of shells into a
chamber pivoting around his figure. From twelve o'clock sharp there
comes a heavy steel body, leaping out of the snow, its piston-powered
fists bared and ready for action. From two o'clock, another, and from
three and one and four: twelve robots, surrounding Santa like hideous
and unstoppable juggernauts of time, closing in on him fast.
He crouches down in his spot, pressing the center of his gravity
into the ice and snow below him. The area, already stressed from the
twelve robots springing up from the ice around its perimeter, gives in,
the whole huge chunk of ice sinking into the water. The robots and
Santa Claus soon follow.
He feels the cold water surrounding him as he goes under. He moves
his center of gravity upwards, fully expecting to bob up above the
water's surface and float until Cooker's next assault. (One of the
advantages of being so pleasingly plumb: natural buoyancy.)
Suddenly, he feels something hard and unyielding closing around one
of his ankles. He peers down in the darkness and sees shining metal
eyes staring up at him. Quickly, he turns his head around, and notes
with a sense of dread that the other robots are swimming towards him.
He lets his foot contract, using the same control of his muscles
that allows him to shimmy through a chimney, and then kicks his foot
free of its boot. The shock of the cold water on his foot's bare flesh
is a necessary pain. He doesn't pay it any mind, but rather rapidly
He gasps for air as he reaches the surface, the cold North Pole
stinging his wet but still voluminous beard. His mammoth lungs swell
to their utmost: and then he feels it again, the familiar pressure of
metal upon him, as the twelve robots grab him and bear him downwards.
The water slows down the speed of their punches but not their
mechanically-calculated impact. Mostly, they aim for his stomach,
which cushions the blow. (Another reason to be fat and merry.)
He doesn't try to swim up: the robots are more than his match.
Though the blows to his jelly-belly do not cause him anything other
than a mild discomfort, he can't risk one of those metal fists
colliding with the bones in his face. He directs his body to fall
down, down, down.
Soon, the robots stop their descent, content instead to watch him
with cold metal eyes as he disappears into the darkness. It is not
long before they, too, dissipate from his line of vision. He feels the
ground at his back, and finds himself at the bottom of the sea. He
lets out the last desperate hiccough of air and wonders if he'll ever
see Arielle again. Or his elves. And what about Christmas Eve?
Santa feels something digging into his shoulder. Though he cannot
see it, he can sense it, he can feel something good in it, something
alive. And he notices now, in what might be his last moments, that he
can feel the twine's pulse again in his pocket; he feels the same pulse
now at his shoulder. He must be far enough away from Charlie Cooker
that the suppression device has no effect. Carefully, he feels for the
object at his shoulder and plucks it between his fingers.
Like the great kraken, who makes the murky darkness his bed, Santa
rises to his feet, pushing upwards, his head dizzy from the lack of
air. He moves his center of gravity down, so as to slow his ascent; he
doesn't want to risk a case of the bends.
As he comes up into the light, he feels his body start to go weak
from lack of air. He can see the metal bodies and as he presses up,
up, up-- yes, now they can see him, too. He looks to his hand, to the
little yellow dot with teeth between his black-gloved fingers, and with
a smile he lets it go.
The dot darts to and fro, getting its bearings, before it goes on
the attack. It burrows into one robot, spiraling through it; before
the robot falls apart, it has attacked the second, and the third: and
soon, it has made short work of them altogether.
The little girl's immune system finds its place in Santa's pocket,
next to the twine, and old Father Christmas at long last breaks the
surface again. His lungs, trapped in murky agony, drink the fresh and
stinging air to its fill.
"It's strange," says Charlie Cooker, blinking into Santa's vision.
"What's that?" gasps Santa haggardly as he treads the water towards
"Thinking you dead, I should have moved on. But yet I stayed, and
felt some strange sadness at what I thought was your passing. It's not
rational. Perhaps I knew that you weren't dead, something my
subconscious was aware of."
"Perhaps you hoped I wasn't dead."
"Disgusting," says Charlie.
"Give me the brain," says Santa.
"You're hardly in any position to bargain," says Charlie. "And this
is not a living thing. It's a machine. A brain can never do what this
machine can do."
"Yes, it can," says Santa. "Furthermore, your brain has done it.
It's imagined, it's dreamed, it's designed. You created the robots in
your mind, and she created them in reality."
"It's a machine," shrieks Charlie. "A brain can't do that! It
can't just conjure things into being!"
"It can if you want it hard enough," says Santa, reaching the end of
the makeshift pond. "If you have faith."
"No!" says Charlie. "It's a machine, and..." He stops and looks
into his palm. The box is gone.
Santa smiles and lifts himself out of the water. He reaches into
his pocket and pulls out the glass box.
"I imagined it," says Santa. "Just like I'm going to imagine you in
some other dimension, where you can't hurt a fly."
The box shimmers and Charlie blips out of view. Santa slips the box
back into his pocket and, still soaking wet, stalks back towards his
It never occurs to him to imagine himself dry and warm, and this
narrator begrudgingly supposes that it is one thing Charlie Cooker is
better at than Santa: being practical.
But then he wouldn't be Santa, would he?
As Charlie Cooker materializes on a petrie dish, a gigantic fly
scientist ready to dissect him, his mind begins to work on two fronts:
one, how to get out of this mess, and, two, how to get his revenge.
Only a few elves gather to watch the delicate operation.
One at a time, the girl's insides are returned to her, each object
breaking the surface of her skin and floating into place. Things only
remain where they are supposed to be for the briefest of moments (long
enough only to confirm its identity: the natty bit of twine is her
intestinal tract) before floating freely within her tiny ocean, like
flotsam, blind and care-free.
The last thing added is the glass box; Santa lowers it into her
boneless skull: and the glass becomes sand, and stars, and water. The
entire ocean of her shimmers like a caress of moonlight, and a new
dress of finest white tissue takes shape around her body.
"She's alive," says Arielle, her fingers covering her mouth like a
teepee. "Wake up," Arielle beckons. "Wake up."
But though her watery flesh ripples with life, though she breaths
heartily, the little girl does not wake. She remains still and
unyielding to Arielle's cries.
"Wake up! Wake up!"
Santa puts his bare hand on his wife's cottoned shoulder.
"Why won't she wake up?" says Arielle. "Did we forget something?"
"It's all there," says Santa. "We made a list and I checked it
twice. Even the appendix. Right down to the thyroid."
"She's breathing," says Arielle. "She's alive. But she's not...
she's not. All the parts are there, but what about her?" She sobs.
"We didn't find her. And it's her I wanted. It's her we were looking
Her tears fall freely over the silent little puddle of a girl, and
it breaks the surface. New ripples flow through the body. The
Teardrop Princess opens her eyes, and though they are as translucently
blue as the rest of her body, Arielle can see the kindness in them.
"Hello," says the little girl, sitting up on the bed. "My name is
Rachel. What's your name?"
"I'm Arielle. And this is Santa Claus. My husband."
"Why are you sad?" says Rachel, touching Arielle's cheek with a hot
and salty palm.
"We're not sad," says Arielle. "We're happy. We're very happy to
"You shouldn't cry if you're happy," says Rachel. "I'll never
understand grown-ups. I'm very hungry." She says this as if the last
statement is a logical outgrowth of its predecessor.
"We'll have a feast," says Arielle, looking to her husband.
"Yes, a banquet," says Santa. He nods the elves in attendance.
They scurry off to prepare the meal.
Elbowsong tugs at Arielle's dress. "Will there be snowberry pies,
"The biggest, best snowberry pies you ever tasted," smiles Arielle.
"And I want you to find the snow-berries!"
Elbowsong rushes off, and half-way down the hall unleashes a
"How are you feeling?" says Arielle to Rachel. "Besides being
"I'm fine," says the little girl. "I had a nice nap-- very calm,
mostly. There were some big waves, but they passed."
"Yes," says Arielle slowly. "They did. I want to know everything
about you, Rachel," she says, suddenly. Rachel scoots back a bit, and,
worried that she may have scared her, Arielle speaks more evenly: "Tell
us about yourself."
Rachel squints, thinking. "I don't like ponies. Or dollies.
Sometimes I like books."
"What kind of books?"
"Politics, mostly." She smiles weakly, seeking approval. "Most
girls like ponies and dollies."
"Never cared for them, myself," says Arielle. She leans closer to
the little girl, creating a universe in which only they exist. Santa
quietly excuses himself from the room.
Arielle is quiet throughout most of the meal, as is her custom;
Rachel follows her example. When they do start talking, Arielle tries
to amuse their guest with jokes: Rachel cleverly guesses the punchline
every time. She is still amused, and Arielle, curiously enough, is
delighted to be trumped every time.
The elves roll out the desserts: cupcakes and gelatins and
dandelions and, yes, snowberry pie, the biggest snowberry pie that had
ever been baked, so big that Elbowsong's gorging hardly put a dent in
it. Both Rachel and Arielle have their pie without topping and on
their original dinner plates (moving aside the neglected kohlrabi with
the back of their forks). They finish about the same time.
Santa takes the little girl and his wife aside. "Rachel," he says,
"after dinner, Arielle likes to tell the elves a story. But since
you're our guest, I was wondering if you'd like to tell one."
"That's a splendid idea!" says Arielle. "Why didn't I think of
Santa does not answer, keeping his gaze focused on Rachel.
"Does it have to be a true story?"
"No, it doesn't have to be," says Santa. "It's whatever you want it
"What if it's a sad story?"
"That's okay," says Santa openly. "But I think the elves like happy
stories best of all."
"I'd like to tell a true story," Rachel decides.
"That's fine, dear. Come and sit down, and I'll have the elves
gather 'round." He turns to the banquet table. "Rachel's going to
tell us a story," he says.
The majority of the elves sit down, crossed-legged, resting their
round little bellies between their knees. Some of them file out
because they always do, some of them because they'd rather hear one by
Arielle. Santa takes his wife by the hand and they stand in the back.
"Do you think this is a little fast for her?" says Arielle. "She
doesn't like being in the spotlight."
"How do you know?" says Santa.
Arielle opens her mouth to speak, but stops. Then: "I don't."
Rachel clears her throat (the sound of a drippy faucet) and begins.
"One time, my family had a huge party. And I noticed this little
bird on the sidewalk, trying to flap its wings. It had been hurt, I
think its back was broken."
Arielle squeezes Santa's hand. He holds it firm, feeling her body
"I scooped it up in my hands and brought it to my mother. She
yelled at me for touching it, said I would get a disease. I was just
trying to help. She took the bird away and I never saw it again."
Rachel does a curtsey. The elves are distraught.
So is Arielle. "That's mine," she says to Santa. "That's my
memory, my childhood."
"I know," says Santa quietly. He raises his voice: "Youngtail,
would you mind Rachel? Arielle and I are going for a little walk
Youngtail nods, and Santa takes his wife into the great hall. He
waits until they have walked through the hall, entering the trophy
room. He glances back to be sure that they are alone.
"The one thing that was missing was her," says Santa. "We had all
the parts, but no her, no soul."
"But when I cried..."
"Right. You gave her your tears, you gave her a little bit of
yourself. Your memories, your prejudices, your personality. That's
why you've gotten on especially well."
"I think I suspected as much myself, deep down," says Arielle. "But
it didn't bother me until I heard my words coming out of her mouth.
But at least she's alive."
"Is she?" says Santa. "Is she alive, or is she simply a part of
you, an extension, a copy?"
"It's still life," says Arielle.
"How badly do you want a child?" says Santa. "Do you want one with
no thoughts and dreams of her own? One who, no matter what age she
attains, will always be your child, always be defined by you?"
"No," says Arielle. "But I wouldn't take her life away from her."
"Nor would I suggest such a thing," says Santa. "But there's still
a question of what we're going to do. Are we going to keep her?"
"If she has no other place to go..."
"I don't." They turn to see Rachel entering the trophy hall.
"Then you'll stay," says Arielle.
MORE STORIES IN SECOND PART
More information about the racc