Wherein Shit Gets Real
It had started before that, though. You could say the whole thing started with Carla’s kidnapping.
This, in itself, was a bit of a difficult topic for us to tackle. We’d only just returned from an extended waste of time and effort that I will charitably call a fact-finding mission, if you substitute ‘fact’ with ‘a selection of substandard candy, a headache, and a pulled hamstring from the intersplicer configuration mechanism’. We’d returned, a little worn out and disoriented, to find Carla missing.
The absence of Carla did not, I tried to explain to Creepy, mean that she was kidnapped. It just meant she wasn’t here. And that was hardly any wonder, I tried to remind him, after the party.
For Creepy, however, the question wasn’t why Carla was missing. In fact, he objected to the whole idea on gender-ideological grounds.
“Even if she has been ‘kidnapped’, which is a problematic assumption to jump to,” he declared, “is it really up to us to ‘rescue’ her?”
“Wait up,” I said, although I had a sinking feeling I knew where this was heading and I was quite certain I was not ready to deal with it, “you’re the one who said ‘kidnapped’. Now it’s problematic?”
“It’s indicative of reduced facility,” Creepy said virtuously.
“Being kidnapped?” I said. “I guess that’s one way of defining it, sure.”
“The operative part of the term being kid,” Creepy went on, “which is extremely condescending…”
“We could use ‘abduction’,” I suggested.
Creepy drew himself up. “But the operative part of that term is duck-”
“No it isn’t. And it’s not ab, either, before you start to blame Yool, the unnecessarily buff Christmas tree who has been here the whole time.”
In our defence, we were at something of a loose end after the apparent collapse of our latest and admittedly misguided attempt to help people. Nobody, least of all a super-sidekick, likes to see a noble cause come to a futtering and highly unsatisfying end. And that’s precisely what seemed to have happened. And Carla of course was our main contact – but by no means client – so it was understandable, perhaps, that we took her disappearance personally. And possibly, just possibly, over-extended on our response.
There didn’t seem to be any way of repeating the strange accident that had brought Carla into our lives even if we wanted to, and there was some question as to whether we wanted to anyway. At this point it seemed unlikely that this was why she had vanished, and that making whatever-it-was that had happened happen again would bring her back. Still, there wasn’t much else we could do. Not that we could do that, either … but it was at least a semi-rational alternative to-
“This is a shadow-government conspiracy that goes almost all the way to the top.”
I sighed. Too late. “Why only almost all the way to the top?” I asked.
“No point going all the way to the top,” Creepy pointed out. “They don’t actually do anything conspiratorial, do they? They’re just there to give the whole thing a bit of structure. They don’t come up with ideas, and they don’t have the power to make things happen or stop things happening. That’s what the ones almost at the top do, so if they’re in on the conspiracy – and they are – then they can get things done just fine without burdening themselves with a higher-level executive management bottleneck.”
This, I reflected, was why it was probably for the best that we only used our powers for good.
“Alright,” I said, “so Carla’s … disappearance … is evidence of a conspiracy. Now, if it’s going to be problematic for us to assume she’s in distress and needs to be rescued – and knowing Carla, I think it’s very safe to assume she’s not in distress and would in fact just be irritated to see us – would you agree that it’s a worthwhile use of our time and effort to assist by attempting to uncover evidence of this conspiracy and bring the whole thing down?”
“Yes,” Creepy said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
“Well,” I allowed graciously, “you did lead me to the answers so it was good of you to let me take that final step to the conclusion you’d already arrived at.”
This, of course, was good enough for Creepy and it allowed me to go and make myself a noodle burger and watch some television while he started spreading post-it notes around and pinning photographs to a wall around a big scrawled question mark.
I admit I was rather surprised a couple of days later when Creepy actually uncovered a massive shadow-government conspiracy, but you can’t let little unexpected twists in the road throw you too severely. There was always an outside possibility, once Creepy started sticking up pictures of random people and connecting them with string, that he was going to uncover some highly-classified plot or draw a summoning rune in red wool. That was why I usually did the pinning and string-connecting. Bamjax the Buffinator Or Sometimes Buffinatrix had been an amusing guest for the three days it took us to figure out how to un-summon them, but an eleven-foot-tall neon purple gender-fluid Demon with motorised floor-buffers instead of arms is a less than peaceful addition to any household.
But I digress.
“It’s all there,” Creepy said, throwing the dossier onto my lap while I was sitting and watching a re-run of Where Are They Now? A Retrospective On Military Dictators Of The 12th – 15th Centuries. By strange coincidence the answer in every case seemed to be “dead”, but it was the only show I could find that didn’t seem to be about Christmas. I picked up the folder.
“All what?” I asked, and opened the folder. It was empty aside from a small pile of glitter, which fell into my crotch. “Really?”
“And yet it perfectly sums up my findings,” Creepy declared triumphantly.
“You know, I believe you.”
“So what are you doing?” Creepy demanded, “aside from as little as possible?”
I dropped the folder on the floor and brushed at my pants with less than zero effect. The glitter seemed to actually multiply. “Since when do you object to doing as little as possible?”
“Forget it, Hatboy,” Creepy said bitterly. “It’s Christmas Town.”
“What are you even talking about?”
Finally he hassled me into getting up – still brushing futilely at my pants – and joining him in his coke-bottle-strewn conspiracy corner. I examined his handiwork.
“See?” he said.
“Huh,” I acknowledged.
There were a lot of faces, names, and random statements (“Dalek?”, “Possible time reversal narrative trope”, “Interdimensional doodads”, “pizza delivery boy murder?”, “fourth wall”, “fifth wall”, “Carla”, “Hatboy?”) all connected up around a big question mark which had been plastered over with a photograph of a large, grim-looking set of high-security office blocks. This, according to the sign visible in the photograph, was the Yuletide Corporation, and it sported the mysterious and rather worrying slogan, “(Don’t Worry, It’s Just A Name)”.
“Why does my name have a question mark after it?” I asked, pointing. “That’s clearly me in the pic-”
That’s when I stopped, and stared in growing alarm at the whirlpool of disjointed factlets and the inescapable conclusion in the middle.
This conspiracy went all the way to Christmas.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while jingling bells.