White Christmas

That phrase is probably banned now, along with the croony, depressing song that goes with it. These days we have to dream of a diverse multicultural pansexual Christmas in which Santa is a slim black sober antismoking transgender redistributor of presents. So if he visits and you have too many presents… well kids, you get a quick lesson in socialism. Oh, and paedophilia is being touted as a good thing now so when Santa says ‘keep quiet’, you keep quiet. For the sake of diversity.

All this crap has accelerated in this last year. As Alan says in ‘All the Strangers’, “What the Hell is coming next year?”

That line is from the new story, the one that’s in the latest book. I’m not putting it up yet. If I think of something new for Christmas day, I might not put it up at all. If I’m going to make a business of this I have to stop, or at least limit, giving stuff away for free

It’s officially rest time for Leg Iron Books. With a catalogue that went from zero to twenty books in the first year, I think I’ve earned a day off for Christmas. Okay, some of those books were my previous publications rebranded, two of which were novels that were out of contract with their previous publisher and are now out again with new covers and lower prices, but even so. It’s still a good start.

The last one for 2017 is ‘The Good, the Bad and Santa’ and I have now received print copies from Amazon. With help from CStM, they are now loaded into packaging and ready to send out to authors.

There was a reason I needed CStM’s help. I placed the order with Amazon – copies for the authors at two books per story, one for me of course, some to send out to family and friends to help get the word around… I ordered 36 copies in all. In one order.

I had 36 emails telling me the books were dispatched and 36 emails telling me they were out for delivery. I thought ‘Surely not?’

They arrived today. 36 books from a single order… in 36 separate packages. The Amazon delivery guy wasn’t even surprised. It’s apparently a common thing.

Well I have a lot of cardboard to burn now. Might as well get some heat out of it as I turn it back into the CO2 it was originally made from.

I wonder about the current hate directed at wood burning stoves. They don’t burn fossil fuels (my oil fired central heating does though), they burn recently-converted-from-CO2-to-wood fuel back into the CO2 it was made out of. Which is then used by other trees to make more wood. That’s about as sustainable as it gets. So why the hate?

Well, the cynic in me wonders whether there’s a bit of the old hatred of independence in there. Out here especially, I have endless wood supplies. The farmer has been renovating some of the very old buildings and has huge tonne bags of wood cut into easy-to-manage small pieces. He doesn’t want to keep it, it’s just in the way so the more of it I burn the less he has to pay to dispose of.

Some of the buildings in question have been unused for many years and are surrounded by trees that are also just in the way. They are also cut into easily managed chunks and stored in the barn. As long as I don’t try to burn the fresh ones (too wet) and use last year’s or older, that supply will go on for a long time too. I don’t, technically, need to split most of the chunks with a huge axe but it’s fun so I do it anyway.

Rather than all that old wood going into landfill, it heats my house for free and leaves ash that I can use (after I sieve out the nails) to add some friction to my driveway. At the moment that is very necessary since the whole place is currently surrounded by a treacherous sheet of ice. Even the dog holds it in until she is so desperate she’s willing to risk a frozen arse.

If wood burning stoves were banned I would be entirely reliant on oil deliveries or electricity for heating, both of which could be stopped at a moment’s notice and would then let this old guy freeze to death. They can’t cull me efficiently as long as I have an independent heat source. That’s why there’s no such thing in ‘For Whom the Bells Jingle’ – also in the Christmas anthology.

Tomorrow I will attempt to get to the post office to post all the author copies. On the main road, well the tarmac one at least, it’s not too bad. It’s just a matter of getting to the road without sliding onto it sideways and tipping over. That would be embarrassing. It would also piss me off enormously if I totalled a car that has just passed an MOT without even an advisory note attached.

Hopefully, the books will be on the way tomorrow and even more hopefully they will arrive in time for Christmas – at least the ones in the UK. Outside the UK, there’s pretty much no chance.

Twenty books. I can hardly believe it myself. I have offered my services to another small press who are struggling to keep up with publication. More on that in the New Year.

Well, I have to get the list of Leg Iron Books updated and get around to developing a website – or paying someone else to do it. Nothing more will happen on the books front in 2017 though. It’s holiday time at last.

Here is the Leg Iron Books current catalogue, in case you’re stuck for a Christmas present. There’s still time.

Underdog Anthologies:

The Underdog Anthology, volume 1
Tales the Hollow Bunnies Tell
Treeskull Stories
The Good, the Bad, and Santa

Novels:

Cultish (Hugo Stone) Now revised and at a lower price.
The Goddess of Protruding Ears (Justin Sanebridge)
Ransom (Mark Ellott)
The Mark (Margo Jackson)
Es-Tu là, Allah? (Dirk Vleugels: in French)
Jessica’s Trap (H K Hillman)
Samuel’s Girl (H K Hillman)

Short story collections:

Blackjack (Mark Ellott)
Sinistré : The Morning Cloud Chronicles (Mark Ellott)
Feesten onder de Drinkboom (Dirk Vleugels: in Dutch)
Fears of the Old and the New (H. K. Hillman)
Dark Thoughts and Demons (H. K. Hillman)
The Articles of Dume (H K Hillman)

Non-fiction:

Ghost Hunting for the Sensible Investigator (Romulus Crowe) first and second editions.

Biography:

Han Snel (Dirk Vleugels: in Dutch)

 

Twenty books in a year. No wonder I’m knackered. Still, the challenge is clear. Twenty-one next year. I can do this thing. Others may feel satisfaction in moaning at protests while claiming benefits but my satisfaction is in taking on a challenge and beating it. Or if not beating it, knowing I gave it my best shot. Twenty-one books next year.

There will be another anthology around March/April, not specifically Easter themed. an ‘anything goes’ like the first one. One at Halloween and one at Christmas. That’s three.

I have a novel by Lee Bidgood for the new year, that’s four.

At least two of my own are very close to finishing edits. Six.

One more and I’m a third of the way there already. And it’s not even 2018 yet. Random House, watch out. Here comes Leg Iron Books.

But if it does get successful it won’t be based in Scotland. I’m not paying extra tax when I could move back to Wales and pay less.

Scotland is determined to push new businesses south. Fine with me, I don’t have a house to sell and this business can work anywhere. I expect the SNP (Spiteful Nannying Puritans) will work out why Scotland is turning into Venezuela one day, when pet haggises are roasting over fires fed by empty promises, but by then it will be far too late. I can’t find it in me to care any more.

Let it die. The Scots can’t be bothered fixing it so why should anyone else?

I like living here. It’s cold so I keep longer. I like this house I’m renting. But make it hard for me and I can just load up a truck and move out.

I’m not the only small business thinking this way.

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The Good, the Bad, and Santa

I have succeeded, despite the best efforts of the Internet to bugger things up. Sections of the Kindle and Smashwords sites went down for maintenance while I was loading the book last night and I couldn’t stay up too late  because I had to be up early today.

My car is in for MOT, they have given me a little clown car to drive in the meantime with enough room inside for two medium sized humans or twenty clowns. The boot is almost big enough for a carrier bag. It’s a bit cramped but it’s just for today. I’ll have the proper car back tomorrow.

Anyway, the latest anthology is now live on Amazon in print and Kindle (the two listings will eventually merge) and I have ordered copies to send to the authors who opted for books rather than cash. It’s still possible they could arrive in time for Christmas (the UK ones at least).

For those who use non-Kindle formats, all sorts are available on Smashwords. These anthologies have not yet managed to get through Smashwords’ distribution system because of rules about multi-author books that are a pain in the arse to comply with. Now the book frenzy is over until Christmas I’ll take a look at getting those anthologies some further distribution.

Five books in six weeks was the goal and it’s done. It was knackering and it took up pretty much all my time but it’s done now. I will bask in smugness until after New Year when I will start it all over again.

Roobeedoo can take a rest too – I won’t bug her with editing requests before January 2nd. Probably.

Okay. Now I can get the railway set up and running. At last!

 

The pointing finger points

The book is done. Print and eBook versions formatted, links in the eBooks, covers, all of it. I just need to write a short description for the sales page. I’ll leave it overnight in case someone finds another correction but if everything is okay it’ll get loaded up tomorrow.

So I have time to blog properly for a change. Let’s see if I can remember how.

I have seen, on Twitter, references to the ‘six rivers’ that produce 90% of the world’s floating sea trash (figures may vary). This is held up to prove that we in the West aren’t the ones polluting the sea, it’s all coming from China and Africa.

Well I don’t know about Africa, but there’s a good reason for a lot of that waste to come from China. It’s because we Westerners send it there. Then we blame China for producing it and the Chinese have had enough.

As of January 1st, China has new rules for the ‘recyclables’ they will accept and they don’t want all the added crap. The plastic bags, the bits of mouldy food residue etc. That stuff that ends up dumped in China instead of over here and then washes into their rivers, then into the sea.

In addition to all the waste China produces itself, and has to deal with, they’ve been dealing with a big chunk of ours too. Then we blame them for being polluters. Oh, and we send the stuff over on those massive container ships, six of which can equal the polluting output of the total of all the cars on Earth. That’s really green.

There’s also the matter of rare earths – we use a lot of those over here but we produce little to none. We use a hell of a lot in those massive wind powered ornaments we set up everywhere to wave hello to the Green God. We plan to use much more in those electric cars we’re all going to drive to reduce pollution and save the planet. Yet we don’t mine those rare elements ourselves. Most of the supply comes from China.

Those ‘rare earths’ aren’t really rare. It’s more that they are thinly spread and don’t occur in convenient seams or deposits where you can mine the ore and get them out fairly easily. So you have to process tonnes of rock to get much of anything as an end product.

That processing produces vast amounts of waste, and that waste is very toxic indeed. So, to fuel our lust to claim we are reducing our pollutant output and saving the planet, we have created a market that causes Hell on Earth. That’s really green.

Now that China isn’t taking our waste any more, not unless we clean it first, the recycling game is suddenly far less profitable than it was. If China has enough of turning its country into a pit of sulphur, where will we get all our vital electronic components from?

Or if China gets pissed off at us and decides to stop emptying our bins, stop supplying us with stuff we dare not mine ourselves and dump its vast dollar reserves back into the market…

They can wipe us out without firing a shot.

We won’t have any petrol cars left by then. All our information is already on computers we can’t fix without new parts. Our power stations will be gone, replaced by lawn ornaments and fields of solar panels that depend on materials whose extraction produces far more pollution than the power stations ever did. Our Green God is pleased because that pollution only happens in a country that does not worship him. Well okay, it leaks into the sea but we can point the finger at China for that. That’s really green.

China does not need to invade. They just need to wait. Once we are utterly dependent on their rare earth supply with no backup technology left, once we are wading knee deep through plastic bags and McDonald’s wrappers, China will take over the world with nothing more than one little word.

‘No’.

 

Beating a deadline? Me?

Author contracts went out yesterday and all but two are already back. I need those in place before publication since I have to have proof that I have the author’s permission to use their story/stories.

I’ve also sent a PDF of the interior to all authors so they can check it looks the way they want it to look. That’s how it will print so any glitches need to be removed now. Minor changes are easy.

The print book is the one that needs to be ready fast. It takes time to get them delivered even if you have Amazon Prime. The eBooks you can download anytime, even on Christmas morning – but they will be available long before then. Kindle takes a couple of days to make the product available and it would be a damn shame if it came out on Boxing Day.

Most of the work is now with the authors so I have time to work on a back cover. Writing the back cover is harder than writing a book – you have just a tiny space to work in. It has to be fast and snappy.

There is time still to restart that back cover entirely from scratch – the deadline I set for the 14th is still four days away and really, most of it is ready to load up now. It’s likely to be a day or more ahead of that deadline – and that’s something new for me! I usually trim the final minutes of deadlines or quietly pretend I didn’t set one  😉

Here is the back cover so far. Every single aspect is open to change. Or it might all stay like that. It’s nearly 2 am now and I don’t care. I’ll look at it again tomorrow.

The space bottom right is where the barcode panel goes. The wide margin on the right is because I went a bit too far left so I might need to shift the image over when loading the cover. Or I could scrap the whole thing and start again. That’s a viable option.

Still, this one will definitely make or even beat the deadline, as long as nothing goes horribly wrong.

I have to try to make a habit of that…

 

Update – I couldn’t leave it like that. It looked shit. Second try…

Another update:

I’ll go with this one. The original looks better than this reduced size file but the original is a very big file.

I’m now waiting for one last author contract (I know, it’s only been two days) and everyone’s approval or changes on the PDF of the interior and it can go to print. The eBook versions will be very close behind. That Thursday deadline is looking easy now.

 

Nearly there…

Editing is finished and the author contracts are all sent out. I plan to spend the weekend assembling this monster of a book and it should be uploaded on or before the 14th.

I’m going with a ‘Christmas past, present and future’ division within the book because I’ve always been a big fan of old Ebenezer and because… well because. Most of the stories fit into ‘present’ so the other two sections will be smaller but that’s not too big an issue, I think.

It won’t be as cheap as the other anthologies because it’s going to be a lot thicker. I’ll have to cut profits to within a hair of zero – but then these anthologies aren’t about profit. They’re about getting the word out. And, long term, they might break even one day. The authors get paid up front, I take all the risks, but I’ve always been one to take risks. At least this kind of risk is unlikely to kill, maim or permanently disfigure me.

I see I have missed many things to rant about while engaging in real work. It’s paid off. This anthology will be the fifth publication from Leg Iron Books in six weeks. Once it’s done I’m taking a rest. I’ve picked up a load of old, cheap, ‘spares or repairs’ model railway stuff on eBay and I can’t play with it until I finish this book. There are films on DVD that are still in their plastic coverings. I also need to move ahead on the house decorating and I’m starting to hear mumbles about putting up a Christmas tree…

Still, the book is now down to the technical stuff – putting it together, formatting, putting in internal and external links for the eBook versions, all that stuff. Takes time but I’ve done it so many times now it’s not particularly difficult any more.

Oh, and the cover. The reindeer will be on the back. The front, so far, looks like this…

The real image is bigger, of course, but it would use up a lot of storage here. The back cover isn’t finished yet, I need to write an engaging blurb. I don’t actually need the back cover for the eBook but I do like to include that back cover within the eBook versions.

Soon the blog will return to normal ranting mode and there is a new story coming up for Christmas this year. It’s in the book but won’t be on the blog until Christmas day.

The book will be available well before then.

 

UPDATE : Not as big as I expected. There are some really long stories but also some really short ones. It’ll come in at 200 pages or less so won’t be all that expensive.

Anthology nears completion

I have been editing, as has Roobeedoo, and it’s nearly over. Authors are starting to get the stories for final approval, only a few left to do now. A good session tomorrow night should complete that part.

There is a real treat in this one for those who enjoyed Brian W. Aldiss’s excursions into the deeper, stranger SF regions. If you re-read his shorts such as ‘As for our Fatal Continuity’ and ‘Send Her Victorious’ (in ‘Comic Inferno’, well worth a read if you can still get it and the title story is in much the same vein too), and his novel ‘The Eighty-Minute Hour’ (which I read several times) then you are going to love this one. I’m not telling you the title yet, but I will when it’s ready to go.

It’s going to be a big book this time. Sixteen stories, some of them long ones, from eight authors including two you haven’t seen before. Three if I include Justin Sanebridge, but his novel ‘The Goddess of Protruding Ears’ is already a Leg Iron Book so he’s not actually new to the author group. This is his first anthology foray though.

The cover is another thing that really has to be finalised this week. I have some photos from the bad winters of 2009-2011 but I like this one from the old Dume ‘Santa capture attempts’. It could be titled ‘Next time, Santa. Next time’ or ‘Pretty fly for a fat guy’ or something else entirely. The deadline is a day away, I don’t have to worry about it yet.

This hasn’t been meddled with yet. It’s the raw photo. Probably best not to think too hard about how I got it  😉

Anyway, I welcome opinions and suggestions. Is this any good? I have an extensive collection of photos to draw on and could even draw a cover. That would make this anthology different from the others though and I’d prefer them to, in some small way, match each other.

As with the Jessica’s Trap/Samuel’s Girl/next Romulus Crowe stories, I’d like the covers to be themed. So I’m pretty much stuck with photos but then I can always make a new one. It only takes 1/250th of a second or so.

I do also have a picture of a reindeer sticking its tongue out…

I could do something with that… if I can ‘shop out the fence. This reindeer is named Zeus and lives in Scotland. As does Santa, where he thrives on deep fried haggis and booze when he doesn’t have to work – which is every day of the year except one.

Okay, best get some sleep I suppose, even though I don’t really have time for all that nonsense.

This is on target for Christmas. So far.

Then I’m going to have a bit of a rest.

 

 

 

The anthology progresses… Meanwhile, have a story

Well, I’m still working. This is going to be a big book with some long short stories. If it gets too big I might split it into Underdog Anthology 4a and 4b. I’d rather not – as long as it doesn’t get too expensive.

None of the anthologies have reached break-even. Maybe they will one day. It’s not what they are really for though. I set the price as low as possible because if they ever make some money it’s a bonus. Their real purpose is advertising for Leg Iron Books and its authors.

And because they are fun to do. The current one is going to cost me about £200 in total to set up and I’ll need to sell at least  2000 copies to break even. Yes, I cut profit on these to the bone. The single author books are about profit, these anthologies are showcases for the authors who write those books and for new authors who might write one in the future. Also for those who have no intention of writing any more than anthology tales. Some of us don’t care about money. Some of us… maybe I should skip that part.

Wondering whether Mark Ellot’s books are worth reading? You can get a sample of his work in the anthologies. There’s a sample of Hugo Stone’s work in Anthology 1 and there’ll be a few samples of Justin Sanebridge’s in this book. Also Lee Bidgood, who has a novel in the works.

I’m not putting illustrations in this one because there won’t be time. There are 16 stories with possibly two others in the works and I can’t get them all illustrated if I’m getting this one out for Christmas.

I have wondered though about section breaks within stories. This time, some of the stories are long enough to warrant chapters but usually in a short you’d indicate a section break with one or two blank lines or ‘***’. I don’t really like any of them but I need a section separator and it has to be consistent.

I have something different in mind. I’m thinking of sticking this in as a section break indicator –


Smaller , of course. Barely visible unless you look really close. No taller than pitch 12 or 13 text. It would be different, and proprietary. President Malphas would approve.

Anyway, the next anthology will be timed at around Easter but won’t be confined to the Easter theme. It’ll be the intermediate anthology between Christmas and Halloween and anything goes. Any story, any genre.

Speaking of stories, here’s one I prepared earlier. Much earlier. It’s not in this anthology, it was a stand-alone little one on Smashwords and I’m not sure if I put it up here before. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it before… enjoy 🙂

_________

Cold Turkey for Christmas

Three hundred and sixty-three days of bad habits. One day of virtue. Not a bad life, up until now.

Santa glared through his window at the white expanse beyond. What did it matter if he smoked and drank all year? It wasn’t as if there was anything else to do here. Nobody visited, nobody would know. Those elves had meddled in his life too much, and the smoking ban was the last straw. He hadn’t asked for the job. If they were going to keep him here, there should be some perks.

His beard itched. That was the worst part of the whole deal. The elves had received complaints, they said, about the stink of tobacco in the beard. He had offered to shave it off, but they would have none of that. The beard was essential, they said. Part of the uniform. Santa took a sip of his whisky, and wondered whether that would be the next thing on their list. Once the tobacco vanished from his beard, the whisky on his breath would draw moans and gripes from the precious little darlings he was forced to serve. His beard bristled with the curl in his lip.

He had a name of his own, once. It was lost now, gone into the dark place along with most of his memories. He had been slim and fit. He had jogged in the park late at night.

That was when the elves caught him. The dust in his face had knocked him unconscious, and when he woke, he was in a place white with snow. A baggy red uniform covered his body, and stubble covered his chin. It had been February, he remembered, but beyond that there was only a vague recollection, a life faded into the wastes of time.

Perhaps he had a wife and children somewhere. Perhaps one or more of the fatherless children he delivered to were his own. There was no way to tell. It was too hard even to remember how many years ago he had been captured, how many Christmas Eves he had flown the world, how many chimneys he had descended—and where there were no chimneys, how many letterboxes he had flitted through.

Oh, they had given him a little magic, but they had stolen his life. It had been tolerable, up until now. The cigarettes and booze had flowed unchecked, and he was only required to abstain for one day and night. Twenty-four hours without his vices. Cold turkey for Christmas.

Tonight was December 23rd and he had not smoked since December First. Just passed the three-week mark. Whisky and gin dulled the boredom, but a smoke would have been good too. Cold turkey was bearable for a day but three weeks of it was hell.

Santa rubbed his wide waist. They had fed him something when he arrived here, and they kept feeding it until he had filled the suit. It was pleasant to eat, for sure, and the little elves still gave him some occasionally, but not often enough. Not any more. Certainly not enough to compensate for the loss of his tobacco.

The sun touched the horizon and covered the snow with crimson. Santa sighed and downed his whisky. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, his one day of virtue. He had to be sober to ride the sled. At four times the speed of light, it was best to keep your wits about you.

His fingers interlocked, separated and interlocked again. They drummed the arms of his chair. They picked at his face, they rubbed his chin. Dammit, didn’t all those old pictures show Santa smoking a pipe? Wasn’t the tobacco part of the uniform, like the beard? He poured another whisky. A large one.

“Time to get ready, Santa.”

The elf entered without knocking, as always, and the silence of his movements meant he had spoken directly into Santa’s ear, with no warning of his approach.

“Hell’s bells.” Santa held the whisky glass away from himself. In his surprise, he had spilled some of it over his jacket. “Can’t you cough or something when you come in here? You scared seven shades of crap out of me.”

“Mind your language.” The elf’s leathery face crinkled in a smirk. “Have to get that booze out of your system. Sundown, so no more drink until the job’s done. Hand it over.”

Santa swirled the whisky in his glass and glared at the little elf. It was no more than eighteen inches high. Small enough to step on, if he chose, and his weight would crush it to a pulp. Santa stared into his glass. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of the little beasts. Even if he killed them all, he was somewhere in the North, among the ice. He had no idea where.

“The booze, Santa.” The elf held out his hand.

Santa raised his glass. “Cheers,” he said, and downed the contents of the glass. He smacked his lips as the whisky burned its way down his throat.

“You are the most difficult Santa we’ve ever had here.” The elf snatched the glass from Santa’s hand. “One day of work, that’s all you have to do, and you object to it.” He grabbed the whisky bottle. “Lazy. Plain lazy.”

“How about a cigarette? One won’t hurt.” Santa raised one eyebrow. “Or a pipe. All the old Santa pictures showed him smoking. Why can’t I?”

“Times change. Smoking is a bad thing now. Santa can’t be seen doing bad things. The children smell it. There were complaints in the letters this year.”

“I know, I know, but I only get out once a year. What about Christmas day? Surely I can have a smoke then?”

“No more smoking. Never.” The elf made for the door. “Next time we’ll be sure to choose a non-smoker for the job.” The elf left, closing the door with a bang.

Santa gripped the arms of his chair. His eyes narrowed, his breathing became shallow.

So, a merry Christmas to one and all. Not quite all, and certainly not to one in particular. Christmas dinner with no smoke to follow. I didn’t even apply for the job. They chose me, they never said how or why.

His brow creased. They never said what happened to the previous Santas either. Am I here until I die?

Santa struggled from the chair and stretched his arms. They tingled with the approach of his magic, the power he held for a few days only, over Christmas. Simple magics that let him into locked houses and fixed broken toys. Not enough to escape the pull of the sleigh; if he strayed too far, his head burned. Oh, he had tried to run away, in the early days, but the pain always forced him back. No, he could not escape, he could do nothing to avoid tomorrow night’s race around the globe. The sleigh would leave on time. If he wasn’t on it, he would endure agony until it returned.

There must be something. Some way to get back at these vicious little toymakers.

Santa strode from the room and into the attached barn. There, his sleigh stood loaded with sacks of presents. It had been ready for a week. There were no last-minute panics here. These elves were efficient.

Santa’s fingers tingled. There was a broken toy in one of the parcels. He felt it as though it was an injury to his own body. With a sigh, he heaved himself into the sleigh. Efficient they may be, but careful they were not. Santa ran his hands over the sacks until he found the one with the broken present. He pulled open the sack and reached inside.

His fingers closed on a long box, covered in green and blue paper. A wave of his hand separated the paper into two neat halves. Santa opened the box.

A toy laser gun, for a budding space ranger. Santa grinned. If only it was real. That would make for a Christmas to remember.

He found the fault in an instant. The trigger mechanism had snapped. Santa pressed his huge hand over the toy and closed his eyes. In his mind, he saw the parts reassemble, the broken pieces meld together. He opened his eyes and took a breath.

“Good as new.” Santa placed the toy gun back in the box. His fingers held the lid, ready to replace it, but he hesitated.

What if—

He had never really tested his magic. It was his for such a short time, and a busy time. All his thoughts were on the sleigh when he travelled. The pain he would suffer if it ever left without him. Now, Santa smiled at the plastic and metal toy. He took it from the box once more and held it between his hands.

This time, he closed his eyes and thought of spacemen, of battles between the stars, of Flash Gordon, of Cybermen and Daleks. Heat flowed between his fingers. The gun became heavy.

Santa opened his eyes. The gun, no longer plastic, gleamed with a new-metal sheen. He aimed it at the barn door and pulled the trigger.

The gun made no sound but a hole appeared in the door. He held the trigger down and moved the gun to make a slot.

“Excellent.” Santa placed the gun back in the box. His fingers pressed the wrapping back into place. He examined the name tag. “I’m sure little Peter is going to be very pleased with this.”

Santa lifted parcels, one by one, and checked their contents. Toy dinosaurs. Hideous, deformed dolls. He shuddered at some of the more grotesque models.

“Kids, these days,” he muttered. “This stuff would be better suited to Halloween.” He shrugged. “Still, I suppose it’s what they asked for.” And this year, they’ll get more than they asked for.

With care, he replaced the toys in the sacks. It was too soon to make these creatures real. He could do it on the way, tomorrow night. Along with the guns, the bows and arrows, the plastic swords. The toy power tools, the ovens, the irons. These children had made the elves take away his smokes but he would not deny them their presents. That would be too easy. Santa swaggered to the barn doors and pushed them open.

Stars twinkled in a deep black sky over a landscape of pure white. A chuckle rose in Santa’s throat, to escape as a deep and resonant “Ho, ho, ho.” His laughter echoed out into the night.

For the first time in his career, this Santa’s mirth was genuine.