Wherein Shit Seems to Make a Bad Habit of Finding Us
It was everything you could imagine and more, a steampunk confection of pipes and water-wheels, turbines and treadmills and rumbling leather conveyor belts. Steam puffed and things on hooks creaked and swung around in the air.
Elves were everywhere, all pointed caps and curly shoes and wide, frightened eyes. And the work … endless.
Toys lined the walls. Toys thronged the floor in great drifts. Toys rode conveyor belts from one side of the cavernous place to the other, getting touches of paint or dobs of glue. Elves with monocles picked up finished products and gave them keen inspections before setting them down and stamping a file, or tossing them away into one of the innumerable open furnaces of black iron that made one side of the Workshop into a sweltering inferno. It was hot. Too hot. Hotter than the North Pole had any right to be.
It was just like every other time. And just like every other time, I was tiny, and weak, and rooted to the spot as though my silly shiny shoes were glued to the pitted cement. I turned my head.
He stood, like always, atop a raised dais. Far closer to the door through which I’d entered – and thus to me – than I remembered. Closer than I would ever want. Closer than last time. The architecture had shifted again. I was practically in his shadow, although there were no shadows here.
You could hide in a shadow.
He stood, arms folded over his vast seething red velvet belly, and glared down at the ant-nest of frantic and ceaseless activity from behind the great bushy fortification of his beard. His eyes swivelled beneath the woolly white shelf of merged eyebrows and hat-brim, and I remained unable to move as they fixed on me.
I’M FATHER CHRISTMAS, AND I AM ETERNAL.
I awoke, as I usually did at this point, with an embarrassingly incoherent yell – usually involving the words deck the halls or let it snow or one-horse open sleigh – drenched in sweat and with my heart beating at the pace usually reserved for over-caffeinated Dumb Hollywood Schlock Jump Scare So-Called Psychological Thriller Movie Nights.
I looked around the frighteningly unfamiliar room, its gloomy contents outlined by the warm light of the early-afternoon sun filtering through heavy curtains. Slowly, as my pulse smoothed out and my breathing slowed, I remembered that this was my room. I lived here. I slept here most mornings. All my stuff was here, except for the stuff in the garage. It wasn’t strange. Okay, the collection of souvenirs from my travels, and gifts from some of our more esoteric visitors, over on the shelf above the emergency incineration chute trapdoor fixture … those were a bit strange, but each one of them told a story.
A few of them wouldn’t stop telling stories, which was why they were wrapped up in lead-lined gaffa tape and covered in spackle.
I climbed out of bed, pulled on my hat and sunglasses, and walked still-shakily out into the slightly greater glare of the house. I went to the bathroom, washed in an attempt to either freshen up or erase my memory, ended up doing neither to complete satisfaction and shuffled into the kitchen.
Creepy looked up from his morning coke.
“Same nightmare again?” he asked. There was, unsettlingly, neither mockery nor judgement in his voice. There was no shame in possessing a brain incapable of processing something like Father Christmas’ Arctic Sweatshop. Let alone what had happened to us there. It wouldn’t surprise me if my brain was still desperately trying to parcel it all up into bite-sized nightmares and smother it in false memories even as I was clawing the final rasping breath of air from my own lungs.
Creepy poured a second glass and pushed it towards me across the table. I grunted in combined acknowledgement of his question and the offer of breakfast, sat down heavily, and took a long drink.
“They’re always worse at this time of year,” I said.
“Maybe this year,” Creepy said positively. “Not next year.”
“Not next year,” I agreed dully, and had another sip of coke. Then I blinked and looked across at my super sidekick in slowly-awakening surprise. “Not next year?”
“You mean … you found it?”
“Better,” Creepy said. “I found her. That was our job, wasn’t it?”
“I – no – yes – I guess,” I stammered. “But-”
“Hatboy, Hatboy, Hatboy,” Creepy stood and raised his glass. “What was our motto again?”
“‘Why does the same shit keep happening to the same two people?’,” I replied.
“That’s right,” Creepy, as I had already surmised, wasn’t listening to me. “Now clink glasses with me, old chum. We’ve got work to do.”
I suppressed a sigh, hauled myself back to my feet, and clinked my glass to Creepy’s.
Creepy and I were going to war.
And this time, it was seasonal.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.