Christmas Is A Long Night

By Garon Whited


Eric spent Halloween eyeballing some would-be wizards at a Halloween party on one of the mundane Earth-worlds. Whatever happened to that? Well…

I, on the other hand, simply stood by, watching and waiting as they worked themselves to exhaustion. I was more than a little interested in finding out if the lesser wizards were in it knowingly and voluntarily, or if the Dark Wizard was casting a bunch of theater junkies as unwitting sacrifices…

As it turns out, when you have a magical ritual go awry, you should stay away from the cult leader. The Dark Wizard was really trying hard, you have to give him that. Sweat ran down his brow as he continued to chant, pouring his personal energies into the spell. He seemed genuinely confused as to why he couldn’t summon the Devil. He had a diagram, he had unwitting sacrifices—and booster wizards for the spell’s power—and a whole lot of spectators cheering him on.

Eventually, his coven—if that’s the word for a bunch of wizards. A circle? Yes. A wizards’ circle. I think that’s it.—Eventually, his wizards’ circle gave up on it. One of them finally lowered his hands and declared his arms were tired. When that one broke character, the rest followed suit. This also answered my question about how involved they were. I doubted they were actual practitioners bent on sacrificing themselves. Actors, perhaps, or friends the Dark Wizard could use.

Cursing, the leader lowered his hands and allowed his forming spell to dissipate. He broke his summoning circle and started to stalk off.

Unfortunately for him, he suffered a heart attack.

Technically, his vital energies were suddenly grabbed by the living darkness of psychic tendrils coiling out from the heart of some monstrous thing, reaching through his flesh to drain his life, even his very soul, ripping the essence of his being from his flesh and devouring it. But it would probably be called a heart attack. His heart stopped, didn’t it?

I’m not fond of summoners. Blame all the demons I’ve had to deal with.

Sadly, this did put a damper on the Halloween party. People tend to be less festive when the ambulance arrives. I felt bad about that.

Shortly thereafter, the party wound down. I headed back to my gate site and called Diogenes. He fired up a gate in Apocalyptica for me and I stepped through to home.

It never fails to please me when I think of how well Diogenes has done. Starting with a couple hundred salvaged solar panels and a dozen robots, he’s expanded enormously. It’s almost a compound interest expansion. The more he builds, the more he can build. It’s like Dyson’s self-replicating industrial system. Or Skynet.

I try not to make Skynet references around Mary. They make her uncomfortable.

Diogenes and his industrial infrastructure is key to many of my amusements. Among them is my Christmas holiday. Whenever the holiday season rolls around on Apocalyptica, we find another Earth-analog-alternate-world where it’s about the same time of year. I get into a Santa suit, bring along a large box inside a slightly larger bag, and go for a walk that evening. I ask people what they want from Santa; they tell me and I hand it to them, assuming it will fit in the box.

Here’s how that works.

The box is a shift-box, very similar to a magical gateway. Instead of defining a plane through which everything must pass—and, incidentally wasting a lot of power—we define the inside of a three-dimensional space. Whatever is in that space when the spell fires off, it changes places with an identical space, instantly. There’s no goofing around with establishing an open portal, walking through it, and closing it after you’re certain all your bits have gone through. It’s a snap of the fingers and far less power-expensive.

I haven’t figured out how to put the spell on an actual sack. The interior space changes shape too much, you see, hence the need for the box.

Diogenes has had plenty of time and spare industrial capacity to produce all sorts of things, from dolls to doorknockers, folding bicycles to flying cars. You should see the Grumbler! It’s the love child of a full-sized RV home and a heavy tank! Sometimes I think he’s a little overcautious about my safety. Then I remember the mutant elephants and realize I am, too.

Anyway, he’s got a couple of department stores’ worth of goodies that will actually fit in the box. A large pharmacy of drugs and other medical materials. He’s even got a kitchen!

So, I wear an earpiece connected to my Diogephone. He listens when I talk to people and find out what they want. His robotic minions move the shift-box in Apocalyptica to the appropriate item and place it in the box. It goes click and appears in the box in the bag. From the other side, my side, it appears as though I ask what you want, trade a little holiday banter, and reach into the bag to pull out the item.

There’s a lot of work in the background to make it look easy. The real Santa—and I don’t discount the possibility there might be one; I know a Monster Under the Bed—must have a lot of nice little elves in his workshop. I have Diogenes.

So, it’s Christmas. This year, I’m in Detroit. On this version of Earth, it’s 1966 and slightly after five in the evening, meaning the sun has already set. It’s cold, there is a bit of snow coming down, and there isn’t a lot of foot traffic. What few pedestrians there are give me either a funny look or smile and wave. I generally stop the smilers and put the bag down.

“Ho, ho, ho! And what do you want for Christmas?”

I’ve never had anyone who failed to answer. A new pipe. A diamond bracelet. A pair of shoes. A new watch. A bottle of brandy. A train set. A television. A transistor radio. Etch-A-Sketch, Play-Doh, Slinky—it’s Christmas and a man dressed as Santa is asking what they want. They tell me.

True, some of them want things that won’t fit in the box.

“I’m sorry, but the car won’t fit in the bag, and I’ve parked the sleigh on a rooftop. Try again.”

They generally have a second choice.

There have also been some occasions where less-savory individuals have demanded to know what’s in the bag. I open it and show them; it’s empty. Then I ask them what they want—no, no, what do you really want for Christmas? Lean close and whisper.

I once had a whole gang of… well, “hoodlums” is about the only word I have for them. They were being pushy and grabby and I asked the obvious leader what he wanted for Christmas. He was looking in the empty box-bag and snorted. He didn’t want nothin’ for Christmas.

I asked for the bag, since it was empty. He handed it back to see what I’d do. I looked thoughtful for a long minute, reading him with vampire eyeballs, and reached into the bag.

“A dime?” he asked, holding it in his hand. “What’s this?”

“So you can call home and wish your mother a Merry Christmas.”

He looked at the dime as though it looked back at him.

“Phone booth on the corner,” I suggested, and turned to the rest. “Any of you have kids? How old?”

Baseball gloves, bat, ball… footballs, basketballs, a hockey mask and pads… and in one case, bus fare back to Birmingham.

One of the things I most like about my Christmas is—so far—no one wants to be the guy who robs Santa. Which leads me to another thing I like about Christmas. So far, no one has forced me to kill them on Christmas.

Once the night gets on, however, and people have gone inside where it’s not bitterly cold, I take a walk down whatever the local equivalent of Skid Row is. Diogenes and I are a wonderful team. Between us, we’re Meals on Wheels and a soup kitchen. I’ve lost track of how many foam containers and plastic forks I’ve handed out, along with winter coats, stocking caps, and socks.

I mentioned no one has forced me to kill them on Christmas. That’s true. I have, however, given it as a gift. If you take the time to look, you can always find someone dying slowly under a bridge, somewhere. I don’t go looking for them on Christmas, but when they come to me… well. What am I supposed to say? Come back when it isn’t Christmas? No. If that’s the one thing they really want, I’ll give it to them. The timing seems sad, but sad things happen, even on Christmas eve.

On the other hand, after midnight, when the visions of sugar plums are in full swing, I make my Santa rounds at any hospitals I can find. I have a soft spot for children, you know. Nobody gives me a hard time, either. Santa is tip-toeing through the ward, leaving coloring books and crayons? Someone hand me a tissue. Did that kid wake up and see Santa? Maybe. Santa winked and shushed the child, though, and the kid pretended to go back to sleep.

I’ve had a couple of nurses help me with names. To buy time next to each bed, I write “Merry Christmas” on a little card, along with the name of the child. It might help that the nurses get chocolate boxes before I start my rounds. While I’m there, if it’s something I can see, identify, and fix, I do. Cancer is the easiest thing, I think. I can suck the life right out of it. At the very least, I can lay a healing spell on them and tell their bodies what they’re supposed to be doing. I can’t cure everything with a single walkthrough, but I can help, at least.

Christmas is a long night, for me.

Yeah, Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. Probably. But I’m fond of Christmas, too.


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