A Win-Win Situation

The white-bearded man looked out of his element, wringing his hands while sitting by himself at one side of an impressively large table in an opulent meeting room. Across the table sat a delegation of sharp-suited men, all wearing warm smiles under neatly cut, straight black hair. A lengthy ritual of serving and drinking tea was done, as the man continued.

“The elves are really good at making the old fashioned toys, you know. Like dolls, teddybears, building blocks. Even board games. But kids today only want gyro-stabilised monowheels, airpods and videogames. Stuff like that. These are things we can’t make ourselves,” the man said with resignation. “Now, I appreciate your business invitation, but we don’t really use money up North. However, we do need large amounts of the kind of toys you make here each year. What can we do? I’m at my wits’ end.”

Their interpreter finished her translation of his words, and three of the representatives conferred at length. The man could not understand a word they said. This was a part of the world he had rarely visited. They hadn’t really started celebrating his holiday here until recently, and even then the wishlists that reached him were gibberish. Their writing looked like little boxes with lines in them, and he could not make heads nor tails of it. He supposed he would have to try to learn to read it, and made a mental note to get some language courses to bring back North.

His musings were interrupted as the interpreter addressed him again. “We certainly have the production capacity. It is an honour to help. We do not worry about payment. In return, all we ask is that you help us with some deliveries now and then. Sometimes we also have gifts to be delivered, all over the world. You just bring them along on your rounds each year, and leave them in the houses we specify. A win-win situation!”

Their warm smiles did not reach their cold eyes. “To show our commitment, the agreement will be signed by The Party Chairman himself.”

The Bounty

“Another sub has gone missing at the pole, Sir.” Admiral Olonov acknowledged the message with a curt nod. Ever since the top brass had decided to plant the flag in the North Pole seabed to stake a claim on the natural resources in the region, there had been problems. Half the missions sent to the area had vanished. In the long polar night their aircraft and satellites were useless. Damn magnetics were haywire up there. Strange interferences over the pole made them effectively blind. Nothing showed up on any scans. Other subs sent to search and rescue found nothing. And now another one had gone missing. Without a trace no doubt, just like the others. It was getting more difficult each time to keep the disappearances secret. The records kept getting harder to doctor. Hundreds of sailors! Their relatives were asking questions. Worse, the top brass were asking questions.

#

The nuclear submarine pierced the polar ice-sheet, its tower emerging with a loud crack like a giant black axe-head chopping upwards from the deep. Sensing the break-through, its snorkel hissed, inhaling fresh air. Antennae extending, its scope peered outwards. Momentarily blinded by snow crammed into the lens, it did not notice the many approaching drifts of snow, moving against the wind in the clear, starlit sky of the polar night.

#

“We thank thee, Father Christmas, for the gifts you have provided your servants.” Treaclenose the Elf muttered under his breath as he tied the knock-out gas canister in place over the submarine’s intake snorkel with lengths of coloured ribbon. His squad of white-camouflaged breachers were in position and ready to go at his signal. The herd of snowmen they had brought along were mindlessly piling into the cracks in the ice around the tower, freezing it into place. The reindeer were still on their way, laden down with the heavy equipment needed to break down the steel whale. With this catch they would have enough both of raw materials for the toy factory and meat for the table to last all through next season. Truly a bounty from the Lord!

Scarecrow

The chatter of many black crows resounded across the small, marshy field. Here poor souls had eked a meager living out of the fields by constant work to drain off the encroaching bog before the greybeard’s evil deeds brought the justice of the kingsmen here. Now the peasants were no more, spirited away or worse by the warlock. Scant signs of their existence were left; low walls built of uneven rocks, mud-filled drainage ditches, a smattering of bug-chewed, unharvested plants and a delapitated scarecrow standing sentinel through it all.

Many moons had passed since men had been here, having caught up to the enchanter at last. The battle had been fierce and fraught. The scarecrow had borne silent witness to the carnage, neither kingsmen nor conjurer giving any quarter. Ironclad men with ironclad hearts wielding swords and axes against the shadowy, nightmare beings summoned by the sorcerer. Kingsman after kingsman falling but the remaining few refusing to yield the day. The desperate men kept pressing the attack until the summoner himself at last fell mortally wounded at the scarecrow’s feet, a deathly curse on his dying breath. Their quest complete, the few remaining kingsmen broke at last, fleeing in the face of the unearthly nightmares. In the end, the bog claimed them all.


Taller than a man, made of wicker and sticks, a rough-woven bag of straw for a head, draped in worn out clothing, the scarecrow stood like it always did. It watched, unmoving, as the crows feasted on the fallen lying at it’s feet, picking the bones clean. All through the fallow seasons it stood there, a silent sentinel watching the slow decay of it’s domain.

The scarecrow had been reduced to an ignoble perch; long since ceasing to inspire any fright in the everpresent crows. They had grown fat and many as the feast had presented itself. Now the times had grown meager again. Still they lingered in the vain hope another feast might appear, and spent their days squabbling for room on the perch.

The threat of winter approaching was in the air as one dark night the perch finally could no longer bear the weight of all the many crows, and collapsed into a heap over the bones of the warlock with a loud snap. As the startled birds scattered, the bagged straw head of the scarecrow rolled into the pointy hat of the dark arts. At once a clap of thunder sounded, a multi-pronged flash of dark lightning reached out to the frantic birds, dropping many of the closest birds from the sky.

A muted voice, like an old man talking with a mouth full of cloth, could be heard from the heap. The heap stirred, moved, rearranged itself, righted itself. The scarecrow -no longer just made of sticks and straw, but also the skeletal remains of the wizard- stood up on it’s own two feet. The bog had gone completely silent, as if holding it’s breath.

The scarecrow moved stiffly, jerkily about the field. Bending over the remains of the kingsmen one by one, it picked up bones, skulls, bits, and pieces and put them in its bag.

“You who fought me in life will now serve me in death!”

The Drifter

The eternal dark glides past me as it has done for ever. There is no up, there is no down, just me, and the dark is filled with points of light that dance all around me. I am content to let myself drift, and enjoy the show.

All that exists is right here, where I float. I can feel things wink in and out of the bubble of my existence. Most are food to be eaten, some are danger to be avoided. Sometimes I only sense the things that appear out there, sometimes I see their ghostly points of light beckoning. I know better than to wish the lights closer. I have one of my own. I know what it means. I light my lantern when I feel hungry. I wave it slowly back and forth until food appears, drawn to my light. I strike, I eat. I turn out the light. I become one with the dark as it glides past and my universe wraps me safely in its blanket once more.


I marvel at the beauty of it all. The constant dance of the dim points of light, some larger, some smaller. All around me, flaring up, winking out, weaving patterns all about the edges of reality. Sometimes I light my lantern to dance with them, but then all the other lights go away at once. My light is too bright. I think it scares them away. That makes me sad. I wonder why my light is so much brighter. Maybe the other lights are not like mine? They are, after all, very small. Everything goes very dark for a while after I turn my lantern off again. Gradually they reappear and I feel better. I am content to let myself drift, and enjoy the show. This is as it always has been. I know of nothing else.

Now something is changed. A sense, a tingling, a longing in the water. Something big appears. Not food. Somehow, not danger either. A light flares, bright enough to match my own. I flash my lantern in response, apprehensive. The other light does not go away. It flashes again. I feel strange. I should be afraid, but I am not. I shine mine some more. The other light answers, even brighter.

I see eyes shining in the dark, illuminated. Then a great maw, filled with long, sharp teeth. Yet, I am not afraid. I am not food. Neither is the other. We are face to face. We are alike. Slowly at first, our lanterns flash at each other, then weave patterns, closer, tighter, in tune. All the smaller lights have gone. There is just us. We dance. We are two. We are one. We dance, and all is good. Our lanterns dim, and after a while all the myriad points of light return. I settle in to enjoy the show and let the darkness wrap itself around me again, but my companion somehow disappears into the dark and is gone.

Now I flash my lantern, searching, ever searching.

The eternal dark glides past me as it has done for ever. There is no up, there is no down, just me, but the dark is no longer filled with points of light that dance all around me. I can no longer let myself drift, I can no longer enjoy the show.