De Profundis – Day 24 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Leyla Telli.

Dublin city was bustling with harried shoppers dragging their last conquests home, presents to impress their loved ones on the big day tomorrow. Cars, monstrous buses and bicycles crawled through the crowded streets, fighting for space. The air was cold and wet, clouds drifted, lazy, across the sky. Big raindrops fell here and there, as if not sure whether it was worth the effort. 

He had put up the collar of his black coat and hid his face in a black woolen scarf, not so much because he was cold, but for the peace of mind of the others. Even though there didn’t seem to be an inch of pavement left free, as he walked among them, they all flowed around him as if they were the river and he was the rock. He moved with a pensive gait towards Christ Church Cathedral. Its squat spire was failing to reach the sky and yet, such beauty. 

As he walked through the gate and onto hallowed ground a thrill of something, excitement, fear, or maybe relief, went through him. An older man, his grey hair fluttering about his head, made his way towards the door and he followed him in, like a shadow. Once inside, he made himself invisible in a darkened corner, biding his time. The air smelled faintly of the wreaths that decorated the altar. Midnight Mass came and went. The heavy sound of the oaken door falling into its lock and the grinding of the key turning, brought him back to alertness. He waited, the absolute silence around him pressing in on him like the dark earth. 

Nothing. The cathedral  was empty, one lone candle that someone had forgotten to snuff was the only light. For him it was enough to see by, to trace the intricate carvings on the pillars and to reconstruct in his mind’s eye the pale windows into brilliant color. He stepped out of his hiding place and strode up the aisle between rows of empty benches until he faced the simple golden cross on the altar. He knelt down on the stones that had been polished by generations of believers and began his vigil. 

His thoughts wandered. His beginnings, humble and human, lay buried in the Dublin of the 1600s. A simple time, that passed in the blink of an eye. He was attending his first ball, in one of the grand houses of the era. It was an unusually warm night, the stars were bright in the sky and the smell of the garden flowers alluring. Sweaty and slightly inebriated from heavy red wine that had been shipped from Tuscany for the occasion, he stumbled out through the open garden doors to sate himself on the fresh breeze. The garden sprawled away from the house for several acres, ancient trees and artfully trimmed hedges providing an illusion of privacy and wilderness. Lanterns had been hung here and there, providing little islands of light and plunging all else into an even deeper darkness. He followed a narrow trail, until the house was mostly hidden by foliage and only the softest sound of laughter and music carried over with the breeze. 

A short scream pierced the air somewhere deeper in the garden. The hedges rustled and a young girl almost ran into him on her way back to the house. Intrigued, he moved forward. The green parted and there on the marble rim of a little fountain sat a young gentleman with a roguish smile on his face. He had seen him before, knew that he was English, with a boisterous laugh, and fierce in the pursuit of his own joys. His hair shone like bright polished copper, in contrast his face was very pale. He wondered if the gentleman was sick. Before he could ask, the man’s smile widened, beckoning. When he spoke his voice was like a dark balm, like something he had been yearning for, without knowing.

‘Come.’ Just one word, that swept over him like a compulsion. He followed the command without a second thought. When his teeth breached the delicate flesh on his neck, the pain was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. A bright burn that ate its way through his whole body. And yet, such sweet pleasure swept through his senses that he felt like he was drowning in it, torn along on a dark current. In his last moments, the long, drawn out second of his last heartbeat, the image of his mother and father, of his sister, crowded his dying mind. The knowledge of their anguish at his death brought silent tears to his eyes. 

His new master had taken him away from the Isle and he had seen the world. A lot of time had passed since then, and his master with the copper hair was long dead. 

He remembered others, beautiful men and women, human companions. He loved most of them. His last one was so young when she perished in his arms. She joined the others in the dark earth, decay gnawing the flesh from their bones.

He hasn’t seen his own reflection in centuries, has forgotten the look of his own face. His victims call him beautiful, and he sees the adoration shine in their eyes, before it is replaced by terror. This new age, that is filled with fluorescent false brightness that casts everything in harsh and unforgiving lines, an indifferent grey creeping in around the edges and tainting everything. It makes him feel tired.

Tomorrow is the feast day of the King. Of He who let His own heart blood flow freely as sacrifice. As he bows down before Him, he entrusts to Him his eternal soul, even if it is bound for darker spheres. The night passes as he holds his vigil in God’s empty house. 

When dawn breaks, he awaits it under the open sky, back to the west, welcoming the pale morning as crimson tears stain his cheeks. The first rays of the wintry sun touch his face in greeting. 

The Season – Day 23 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A poem by Paul Carroll.

They say "Tis the season",
But rarely quantify the statement, 
Barely justify the reason
Why we battle down the pavement 
For gifts and trinkets galore,
To wrap up messy or neat
Before we go door-to-door 
Upon our weary feet.
We do not talk of why
Old friends and family unite,
Whether to smile or cry
At good news or at plight.
Annually we gather,
For a tea or something stronger,
To say who's sick or fatter
Or with the rest of us no longer, 
To celebrate a job or baby,
And plan the following year,
When we'll meet sooner, maybe,
We promise, while we're near.
This time of year is magic,
With so much to begin.
We forget about the tragic,
Because it's Christmastime again.

Christmas Mix-Up – Day 22 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Kat Dodd.

It happened every year. Every year, kids would write their letters to Santa. Most would get to him.

But every year some kids would misspell Santa and send the letters to Satan instead.

And every year Santa and Satan would fight over who should get to give the presents to the kids that sent those letters.

“Would you just hand me the letters already? You know that Timmy meant to address it to me,” Santa pleaded, already tired of the argument when it had just started. Or restarted, as the case may be, since they had the same argument every year.

Satan clutched the letters tighter. “No! They’re mine! They were sent to me and they’re mine! I just need to know if these kids were good or not, and what they got last year.”

“I’m not going to let you give them punishment presents! The last time you gave Oswald a snake!”

“That wasn’t punishment!”

Santa stopped and stared at him. “It wasn’t a punishment?”

“Of course not! He asked for a snake, I gave him a snake.”

“You gave him an anaconda!”

“Well how was I supposed to know that he didn’t want an anaconda?”

“Because it’s an anaconda! His parents had to call animal control!”

“They didn’t have to, they chose to, I included care instructions.”

And so it went, neither of them giving in, until Christmas Eve came, and saw Satan riding in his own sleigh pulled by hellhounds, dropping into children’s living rooms and giving them the presents that they’d asked for, carefully tagged as “From: Satan” which led to some consternation from the parents.

Unfortunately, as Oswald with the anaconda can attest, Satan is not very good at knowing what kind of presents little kids want. He read the letters, of course, but… well. Oswald had asked for a little snake, because he wanted a ball python or a Mexican Hognose. Instead he got a snake much bigger than himself that the bullies in his neighborhood were terrified of.

Lisa asked for a puppy. She got a hellhound puppy instead. But no child could ask for a better guardian, and that puppy kept her safe long after it was no longer a puppy, walking with her through parts of the city that no one else would go by themselves, because Lisa knew that she was safe with her dog.

But Nancy asked for a horse, and got a NightMare, its bat wings stretched out in the sunlight and scaring other kids away. But Nancy was convinced that no other horse was as fast or as loyal as hers, and when she rode she felt like she was flying.

It happened every year, and they argued every year, and the presents Satan gave the children that wrote letters to him were never quite right and yet turned out to be exactly what they needed even if not what they wanted. They argued every year, and Santa gave in every year because even Satan gets a Christmas Present.

Operation Snowblind – Day 21 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

Jasik Thacker was cold as cold could be. He’d been hiding among the snowy bushes for hours now, waiting patiently. He huddled, he stood, he stamped around his little hideout, trying to little avail to hold some warmth inside. There wasn’t much day left by now; the winter sun was dipping towards the hills on the opposite side of the valley. If it was going to happen at all it would have to be soon.

Both the valley itself, and the sleepy village of Trogsvale that nestled below Jasik’s vantage point, lay blanketed in pristine snow. Dark clouds were moving in swiftly from the north, against the sunset: more snow was on the way. Jasik wondered where his friends were, whether something had disrupted their carefully-planned assault.

Every so often he’d part the branches around him and peer carefully out from his thicket to survey the enemy compound, half-way down the hillside. A handful of scouts patrolled the courtyard vigilantly, but someone had also lit a bonfire, and most of the rest of them, especially the younger ones, were gathered around it toasting marshmallows.

Jasik envied the rich kids. All the village kids did. They envied them their marshmallow fires, their ski trips, their elevated private school with its majestic view of the bay. They came down to the village at weekends to hang around the main square, where they boasted of their foreign holidays, their many possessions, their countryside mansions. Jasik’s mum would often wonder aloud at tea-time on Saturday evenings when these kids had last seen their parents, and whether having all the fancy toys in the world made up for that. Jasik knew she was right, but he envied them still.

The minutes passed slowly. The sun sank further, and the laden clouds came rolling in quickly, spreading out to blanket the darkening sky above. Lights winked on in the village. Windows glowed yellow, the lit snow beneath them sparkled gold against the ice-blue snowstreets.

Jasik felt a sting on his cheek; the threatened snow had arrived. He squinted down towards the village, trying to make out the time on the clock tower. The village Christmas tree illuminated the clock face just enough. Five-forty. When the clock struck six today’s game was over; and tomorrow, before the private school kids went home for the holidays, would be their very last chance.

No one knew when the Winter Wars had first begun. The boarding school had been founded in the late eighteen-hundreds, and Jasik’s grandfather claimed that his grandfather had played an early version of the game. It had all begun with a pilfered apple pie, it was said, and both sides still denounced the other for that original sin. Rules, honour, etiquette had all been formalised over the years. The weeks leading up to the first snowfall were always full of excitement and anticipation. That was when it started, with a ceremonious exchange of flags half-way up the hill and a solemn march back to both bases, up to the school and down to the village. And then: avoid the snowballs, capture the flag. The village kids hadn’t had claimed a win in seven years, which had badly dented the pride of villagers of all ages; any that had ever gone to battle. And Jasik had turned twelve last month, so this was his very last chance.

The snow was coming on thick now, and visibility was decreasing. Jasik could just about make out the enemy snowman in the centre of the schoolyard, its bright red flag the trophy they were so desperate to seize. The village kids’ own snowman was located on the far side of the main square’s frozen pond this year, flanked by built-up embankments, almost as defensible a position as the boarding school courtyard.

And that was the problem; if neither side claimed the flag, last year’s winners won again. So the Snow Boarders, as they called themselves, could afford to play it safe and guard their fortress. The Village Pillagers had to be more aggressive, exposing themselves to the snowball strikes that meant elimination for the day and left them vulnerable to counterattack.

The whole world seemed muffled by the falling snow. All was perfect silence until a piercing clarion call split the night. No angel blew that trumpet. No, it was big Henck Harfjord, the Pillagers’ fearless leader, finally sounding the charge. Jasik now knew why they’d waited so long: Henck had known the snow was coming, was hoping poor visibility would improve their chances. Jasik leapt into motion; it was finally time to act. The Pillagers were depending on him.

He left his hideout and pulled his toboggan out from underneath the bushes. Shrieks and ululations rent the air below as twenty village children charged from the tree-line below towards the school’s open gates. The Boarders had left them open out of arrogance, inviting the Pillagers to have a go any time they liked. They rushed to defend their fortress, arming themselves from stockpiles of burnished snowballs as they went. No one was looking up the hillside towards where Jasik had lain all afternoon in wait.

He sat down on his toboggan and aimed it carefully. The packed-snow ramp he’d constructed with Henck under cover of darkness last night had remained undiscovered all day, its peak just below the shoulder-high schoolyard wall. This was it, no time to hesitate. Jasik kicked off, and tucked in his feet.

The slope was precipitous. Cold air burned Jasik’s face and howled in his ears as he plunged towards the wall. As the wall rushed towards him. Their little ramp was narrow, and Jasik was a little too far to the right. He shifted his weight just enough to make it. The world flipped backwards as he shot up the ramp; before him, briefly, was only sky.

The toboggan’s runners clipped the top of the wall, and Jasik leaned as far forwards as possible to prevent a backflip. He’d spent the last three days practicing ramp jumps. Boy and toboggan sailed together through the snow-filled air. He landed cleanly, but his earlier course-correction left him spinning wildly across the courtyard, right into the enemy snowman where he tumbled off in a heap.

Battle was raging away to Jasik’s left. Henck Harfjord towered above the other children, awash in flickering firelight, dodging, throwing, bellowing wildly with ferocious joy. Many Pillagers had already fallen, but no-one had spotted Jasik yet, thanks in part to the flurrying snow. He struggled to his feet, plucked the enemy flag from the snowman, and sprinted towards the schoolyard’s opposite side. A shout went up behind him.

“The flag! He’s got the flag!”

Jasik glanced back, saw Henck go down to a snowball to the head. Their assault was crumbling. Boarders were running towards him. Some were taken out by snowballs from behind, but not enough. He reached the wall and scrambled up it. A snowball flew past him. He slipped as he jumped.

He landed awkwardly, twisting his knee. Something popped. Jasik stood, stumbled, fell. Pain shot through his leg. He rose, staggered forwards, fell again. He’d never make it. Behind him two Boarder girls had mounted the wall and were reaching back to be handed snowballs to finish him off with.

Jasik bowed his head, wincing in agony. He clutched the enemy flag to his breast. So close, a voice inside him said. You almost made it. He fought back tears.

And then, a shout to his left.


He looked. Grethal Thungar was sprinting around the perimeter towards him. Little Grethal Thungar, the tagalong they’d all dismissed as too small and slow for this boisterous game. Jasik cursed inwardly despite himself as she reached him. If only it was someone faster.

But Grethal stuck out a hand, determined, imperious.

“Give it here. Now!”

Something in her fierceness awed him. Jasik rose, renewed, and handed over the flag, roaring “Go!” as he turned to face their pursuers, shielding her body with his own as she fled. A pair of snowballs struck him in the face and chest, and he staggered and collapsed again, pain searing his leg. Grethal was away, but the two Boarder girls had already jumped from the wall and run past him in hot pursuit. She’d never make it back to their base.

Jasik struggled to turn and watch brave Grethal as she was overtaken. Then Henck was there beside him, and unexpectedly, another eliminated Boarder girl he didn’t know. They helped him sit up. Henck pointed, spoke quietly.

“Jasik. Look.”

Jasik raised his head. He hadn’t noticed. Grethal was wearing rollerblades.

The last rays of sunset illuminated her as, crouched low, Grethal shot downhill like a cannonball, the Boarder’s flag a blood-red pennant fluttering behind her. Into the village, into the square, across the frozen duck pond. She rose and plunged the flag deep into their snowman, alongside their own.

And Jasik passed out with Henck bellowing jubilantly beside him, as the clock struck six.

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar, Day 20 – Contagious

Review and gift idea by Paul Carroll.

I love marketing books, which always seemed to shock people when I was nineteen and studying to be an English teacher. Contagious by Jonah Berger is probably my favourite, and certainly the one that I recommend most often.

Like all accessible books on business and marketing, Contagious is a book of stories. It tells of different marketing principles at work, and how they were successful in real life. Aside from learning about marketing, I got to enjoy reading about small businesses all over the world.

Why is a marketing book a good gift for a writer?

  • Marketing is storytelling, and good marketing books are good examples of great storytelling
  • Marketing is essential if a writer wants any sort of success
  • Marketing goes hand in hand with writing, even if it seems scary at first, and books like Contagious demystify the process

Why this book specifically?

The answer is simple: I found it engaging, and it has a neat summary at the back that serves as a go-to guide when I need a reminder of the contents.

It’s also not that big, and it’s already in paperback, which makes it affordable. And it would go well with Side Hustle, from earlier in the Advent Calendar. Just saying.

Solstice Sacrifice, Day 19 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Kat Dodd.

This was the first Solstice that the betrothed could spend together. In the previous years, Ren had been busy avoiding his duties and running around the countryside with his squire, while Cricket had been on the run, avoiding her uncle’s armies until she’d managed to reach sanctuary. As such, the royal couple hadn’t exchanged gifts before.

Ren hadn’t known Cricket long, and was at a loss at what to give her. His squire was no help, being worse with women than he was, and suggested that he just “get something pretty”. Ren asked his friends for advice, thinking that the more people he could get input from, the better it would be, but Alain’s advice appeared to be the best, which meant that Ren was roaming the Solstice stalls, trying to find something to give his fiance.

It wasn’t a love match, because royals didn’t get to have that. But he was fond of Cricket, and he wanted to give her something nice, that was appropriate to their stations and to their relationship.

He found a cloak that he was pretty sure was her favourite colour, since she wore a lot of clothes of a similar shade. It was thick and soft, and cost more than he’d prefer, but that just meant that it would be better to give her.

He couldn’t wait to see her face when she opened it. Surely she’d love it.

Cricket unwrapped the present, letting out soft sounds that proved she was pleased with the red cloak, praising its colour and softness and warmth.

And then to Ren’s absolute horror she threw it into the fire before Ren could move to stop her.

“Why would you do that?” Ren cried, still staring at the flaming cloak. Even if he pulled it out now, it would be ruined beyond all repair.

Cricket didn’t seem to understand why he was so upset. “It’s the best thing I owned.”

“So you threw it in the fire?” Ren’s voice cracked, and if his friends had heard it they would never let him live it down.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever owned, what was I supposed to do?” Cricket tilted her head at him in confusion.

“I don’t know, wear it? Use it? Not burn it within minutes of me giving it to you?” Ren’s voice was getting higher and more irate.

“Ohhhhh,” Cricket breathed out, “I think I see the problem. You don’t know my culture.”

Ren stopped short. “What?”

“Where I’m from, for Solstice, we destroy the thing that matters most to us as a gift to the gods,” Cricket explained. “A sacrifice that costs nothing is no sacrifice, but a sacrifice that is felt deeply… that is a true gift. We used to give people, but my grandparents put a stop to that practice.”

Ren just blinked at her. “What would you have done if I hadn’t given you something you liked?”

Cricket pulled a necklace out from under her dress. “My mother gave this to me, before she was killed. It has a lot of sentimental value, but no monetary value. I think the gods will prefer your cloak, because it has both.”

Ren thought for a long moment about the best way to go. It was true that he didn’t know very much about Cricket’s culture. She’d embraced his in most ways, but he hadn’t tried to learn about hers, and that struck him as deeply unfair. “Could you help me pick out something to burn, then? And tell me more about your gods?”

Cricket’s smile was blindingly bright as she covered his hand with hers. “I would be honoured.”

Next year, though, he was giving Cricket her Solstice present after she’d made her sacrifice.

A Man in Black – Day 18 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Paul Carroll. Originally published in Old Gods & Wicked Things.

The coming of December came with a knocking on the door, three times for good measure. Ireland was a cold place at this time of the year, especially after everything that had happened of late. All that misery, all that anguish, and the damn weather couldn’t hold off. Niamh and her brother were living together again; Sean had lost his job, and she her husband.

Since then, every time there came a knock on the door, she ran to answer. He wasn’t a dead man, and they weren’t separated, so she thought, maybe – maybe – he might return.

She couldn’t deny that the man looking at her from outside looked very much like her husband. He had Declan’s face, except that his mouth was a little crooked, and his eyes were a little darker than she remembered. But the nose was the same, and the hair, though slicked back with too much gel, was the same, thick and black.

“Don’t look so surprised,” he said to her simply. She shook her head, and closed her gapping mouth. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

She nodded slowly, stepping aside. “Sean, he’s back!” she called into the house. “Come in Declan,” she added, shutting the door quickly after him. The heat had already escaped the house, but she didn’t mind. She had him back, even if he was different. He walked with a swagger, and with a clip on the floor. Thick boots, she noted. Heavy boots. Black as his hair, black as his suit.

Niamh wasn’t as turned off as she thought she might be.

Sean embraced his brother-in-law. Those two had always been close, Niamh thought. “Tea?” Sean offered. He was typically Irish, even with the world gone to crap.

“Please,” Declan responded dryly. He took his wife in his arms the moment Sean’s back was turned, planting a kiss on her lips. She wasn’t used to it anymore, she realised. Too much time with her lips to herself. She kissed him back, trying to find some way to make it work, to make it comfortable and real, as if he hadn’t been gone for weeks on end.

It was easier said than done, and though she forced her tongue to meet his, there was nothing familiar about the experience. She got a mouthful of tongue in return, shivering and pulling away.

“It’s been too long,” he insisted, and before she could say anything he led her through the house. He knew his way around, still, even with the furniture rearranged around the fire. “Christmas is coming,” he noted. “Have you been good this year?” he asked her.

“Oh yes, Santa, I’ve been really good,” she jeered, dropping into her rocking chair. She didn’t think to sit beside him, and he noticed. “We just need to warm to each other again, I think.” He nodded in response, taking the cup Sean offered him. “I was just thinking, Sean, the three of us need to get out of the house soon.”

“A day out?” Sean asked. “We could do with it.”

“What’s the rush?” Declan asked them. “I’m barely back ten minutes and you’re talking about leaving? Are you that eager to get rid of me?” Niamh shared a nervous look with Sean, and her husband let out a laugh. “You two have always been too easy.” He sipped at the tea, a glint in his eye.

“It’s just… we’ve been cooped up here, waiting for something to happen,” Sean tried to explain. “You know how it is, Declan. Eventually, you run out of things to do.”

“And food,” Niamh added quickly.

Declan nodded and stood up from his seat. Niamh’s eyes followed him as he walked around the room. “You kept our wedding photo up,” he said to her. He ran a finger down the picture, and the frame fell from the wall. Niamh jumped at the sound of smashing glass, dropping her cup to the floor.

She didn’t see Declan reel up behind her, his hands gripping her shoulders tightly. His tongue licked her neck, and she thought it might have been seductive, if she couldn’t see his reflection in the spilt tea, and the look on Sean’s face. His tongue was black as his suit, a foot in length, and moving as if independent from his body. He lashed it back into his mouth, his eyes turning over black and red.

“What are you?” Sean asked him nervously, stepping away from the fire, away from Declan and Niamh.

“Something else,” Declan responded, gripping Niamh’s neck from behind and lifting her to her feet. He eyed the floor, where the tea had spilled. They’d run out of milk a while ago; the brown water acted as a mirror for Sean. He looked at Declan through the tea, his face black and distorted, his hair, where slicked back, containing two sharp horns, and his whole body painted black. He had the legs of a goat, and a look of evil in his eyes.

“Sean…” Niamh whimpered, and she was behind him. He spun on the spot, seeing Declan inches from his face. “Sean… he’s fast.”

“More than fast,” Declan added, raising a rifle from behind Sean. “Tut tut, Sean. You know I don’t approve.” The barrel crumpled in his grip, and he dropped the gun to the floor. “You’ve been a bold boy, Sean, and you Niamh alike. We’ve always known it.” He grinned savagely, sharp teeth on display. His tongue lashed out, dancing seductively in the air.

“Bold?” Sean asked dumbly.

Declan’s jacket whipped around Niamh in an instant, thrown with a single hand. She disappeared with a cry, and nothing more. “Very bold,” Declan muttered, “And right before Christmas.” He slashed pointed nails across his brother-in-law’s chest, drawing blood and tears, before whipping the coat around him, and holding it over his shoulder loosely. “Right before Christmas,” he repeated, stepping with a clunk from the room, and a glare in his eye, “And not a moment to lose.”

Read more stories from The Rebirth Cycle in Old Gods & Wicked Things, or start the series with Balor Reborn.

The Jerry Davidson Show, Part 2 – Day 17 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A play in two parts, by Paul Carroll. Read part 1 here.

[Lights up to Jerry on stage, dressed in his trademark clothing, and the stagehands walking across the stage with APPLAUD signs. Jerry stops them halfway across the stage to allow his applaud to continue a little longer. They rush away the first chance they get.]

Jerry:                         Welcome back! Now, if you remember, last week we Mary and Joseph on the show trying to settle their first ever marital dispute. We left them with three simple questions: is Joseph the father, is Mary a liar, or is she just insane? I think it’s a fair to say this isn’t the most…ordinary case we’ve ever had on the show. Let’s just get it over and done with, shall we? Mary and Joseph are back with us today to find out if Mary’s been faithful, or if she’s cost them their son.

[Mary and Joseph walk on stage. Mary is dressed up, and Joseph dressed down. One stagehand carries the APPLAUD sign, the other the BOO sign. They stop halfway to look at the other’s sign, and hurry off stage when they see the mistake.]

Jerry:                         Mary, Joseph, how have you been?

Mary:                         I still feel violated.

Jerry:                         Isn’t she such a great sport?

Joseph:                      I still don’t see why they kept sticking the swab in my mouth. I thought one sample of DNA was enough.

Jerry:                         Oh, it’s just standard procedure! Trust me, they were not trying to hurt you for dressing like you did last time. [Jerry takes a good luck at Joseph’s clothes.] You haven’t watched the show since, have you? We’ve moved on from dressing like the last items in the wardrobe. It’s all about looking classy from now on.

Joseph:                      What sort of show is this?

Jerry:                         The best show on television. [To the audience] Amiright? [Shouting to the wings] Get those stagehands out here!

Mary:                         Forget the stagehands! What did your tests say?

Joseph:                      You really want to rush this?

Mary:                         Hey, remember, I brought back up.

Joseph:                      Oh right, your cousin…

Jerry:                         We’ll get to that. Can someone bring me the envelope with the results?

[The three specialists come on stage, clutching the envelope between them.]

Jerry:                         Did it really take all three of you to come on stage?

Specialist 1:             We just wanted to get more air time.

Specialist 2:             It seems like we’re always brought on at the end of the show.

Specialist 3:             And since we did the tests, we wanted to bring the envelope.

[They hand the envelope to Jerry, who looks it over suspiciously.]

Jerry:                         You couldn’t have gotten something better than a Tesco envelope?

Specialist 1:             Budget cuts?

Specialist 2:             Trying to appeal to the market?

Specialist 3:             Hallmark were out of the fancy ones when I went to buy my mam a card?

Jerry:                         Oh just… [He picks up a horn from under his chair] Just… *sets off the horn*… off.

[The specialists walk off the stage slowly. Jerry stares at them furiously until they’re out of sight.]

Jerry:                         Okay, let’s see what these have to say. [Jerry opens the envelope, pulling out a foolscap page.] Budget cuts… that would explain the coffee that tasted like dirt this morning.

Mary:                         I don’t care about your coffee! Just tell us the results!

Joseph:                      Just put us out of our misery!

Jerry:                         Now Joseph, there’s no need for that. [Mary glares at him.] Okay, moving on swiftly. Joseph… you are… supposed to lean forward in suspense.

Joseph:                      I’m sorry?

Jerry:                         That’s alright, just don’t let it happen again. Joseph… you are… not the father.

Joseph:                      Well I knew that!

Jerry:                         Yes, well…it seems that even looking at Jesus’ DNA allowed our specialists to speak in tongues. That might explain that item on Ebay for the Spit of Christ I saw last night.

Mary:                         What about me?

Jerry:                         Oh, you’re not the father either. [Jerry looks at the page again.] But you’re definitely the mother. No doubt about it. Please don’t hit me.

Mary:                         Hit you?

Jerry:                         [Ignoring her.] Mary… you are… telling the truth. What, really? You didn’t cheat. [To Joseph] Would you look at that, she wasn’t lying to you.

Joseph:                      But I still don’t know what happened!

Jerry:                         Hey look, she’s not insane either. Maybe they did it wrong.

Mary:                         Excuse you.

Jerry:                         What? Oh right. Please don’t hurt me.

Mary:                         Stop saying that.

Jerry:                         Yeah… sure… you had a guest? This ought to be good. [Looks at his cue cards.] Can we bring on Mary’s cousin? Elizabeth?

[ELIZABETH walks on stage, dressed up like Mary. She forces Joseph to move over a seat so she can sit beside her cousin.]

Elizabeth:                 What, no signs for me, Jerry?

Jerry:                         Don’t ask me! I’m just here to ask questions and not get murdered by your cousin.

Elizabeth:                 I’m not impressed. And all this thinking she’s crazy. Are you stupid or something? She saw an angel. She’s not the first one in the history of the world.

Jerry:                         But… angels?

Elizabeth:                 I saw an angel!

Mary:                         It’s true. That’s why I asked her to come on today.

Joseph:                      YOU saw an angel?

Jerry:                         Joseph, don’t interrupt the women.

Elizabeth:                 When I saw Mary on last week, I said to her, Mary, I know what you’re going through. And I told her about the angel I saw before I was pregnant with me son, John. He said to me, Elizabeth, God wants to take Zack into the next room and “snuggle” him like there’s no tomorrow until you’re sure you’re going to have the most prophetic son in all the land. And I said to him, it would be rude not to.

Mary:                         Just like that.

Joseph:                      The angel told you to snuggle him like there’s no tomorrow? An angel? Really?

Jerry:                         Joseph, don’t make me make Mary hit you!

Elizabeth:                 I might have been paraphrasing. But sure, he got in touch anyway. And I had a son, like he said I would. And Zack says to me, Lizzy, we have to call him John.

Jerry:                         And why is that?

Mary:                         Don’t interrupt Jerry!

Elizabeth:                 Thanks Mary. So, Zack tells me about this time he was at work at the Temple, and he passed out. And when he woke up, he said he was going to have a son, and this just after I’d taken him to new places. You know, sexually speaking.

Jerry:                         He just knew?

Elizabeth:                 Well, he said he saw the angel, too. He said it was the second best experience of his life. You know, after that night we had.

Joseph:                      Zack saw an angel, too?

Jerry:                         Joseph, please. No interrupting.

Elizabeth:                 So, anyway, the angel – a total ROIDE by the way – said to Zack that our son had to be called John, and that he had to tell people that the son of God was coming.

Joseph:                      He saw an angel…

Mary:                         Shush, you. Go on, Lizzy.

Elizabeth:                 Well, that’s it. Except John keeps spelling Jesus with the fridge magnets. Anyway, I knew I had to come on, in case they fixed them tests to make you look insane like they did that man with the boat. And wasn’t he right? He wasn’t mad at all.

Mary:                         Thanks cous’.

Jerry:                         So, there we have it.

Joseph:                      Zack saw an angel… that’s… no…

Mary:                         What’s the matter with you? Bowels acting up again?

Joseph:                      I have a confession to make!

Jerry:                         This should be good. We already know you’re not the father, Joseph.

Joseph:                      Not that… I… I… I saw an angel!

Elizabeth:                 Oh God save us…

Mary:                         You just have to jump on the bandwagon, don’t you?

Joseph:                      I’m not! I swear. Who named him?

Mary:                         Who?

Joseph:                      The baby!

Jerry:                         [Jumping out of his seat.] The baby! Sorry, I got excited. Joseph, are you going somewhere with this?

Joseph:                      I named him. I told Mary we should call him Jesus, because he saved us. And I gave him his middle name. And I legally changed my surname to Christ before he was born so Mary would have to call him Jesus Immanuel Christ, because the angel confused me.

Mary:                         What do you mean the angel confused you?

Elizabeth:                 I always said this one wasn’t right…

Jerry:                         Ladies, please, you’re interrupting Joseph.

Joseph:                      The angel, he said to call him Jesus Christ, and then he said to call him Immanuel, and all this in the space of one weird dream. I thought I was dehydrated, because I’d just landed in Africa. But he said we were going to have a boy, and I didn’t want to believe him, because I thought it was just a weird dream.

Mary:                         You’re telling me you brought me on to the Jerry Davidson Show just to tell me you also saw an angel and that you don’t think I cheated on you?

Joseph:                      Well, I did. But I was afraid I might also be insane.

Mary:                         And it wasn’t enough that I said I’d seen an angel?

Joseph:                      Well, Zack saw one too, so I figured it would be alright.

Elizabeth:                 Makes sense to me. Zack’s always been reliable.

Jerry:                         Just to clarify… you came on my show just to tell stories to each other about why you didn’t want to think you saw an angel and how your son is the son of God?

[Mary and Joseph look off to space in thought.]

Mary:                         That actually sounds about right.

Joseph:                      You might even say this was an elaborate ruse on my part to stop Mary hurting me.

Jerry:                         I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt like that!

Elizabeth:                 I’ll hurt you if you’re not careful.

Jerry:                         I think we need to end here. But, clearly, CLEARLY, you two have some problems to sort out. Clearly. Before you ever decide to come back on my show again. In fact, don’t. I am sick and tired of people using me as a platform for their visions about God.

Mary:                         That’s every single person who comes onto this show. Everyone else goes onto the better ones that actually have money and professionals.

Joseph:                      Low blow, honey.

Mary:                         He deserved it.

Jerry:                         Just bring on Gabriel so we can finish up…

[GABRIEL walks on stage, sitting down next to Joseph. He wears all white, and all eyes fall on him.]

Mary:                         You look eerily familiar.

Gabriel:                     I get that a lot.

Jerry:                         Gabriel here is our relationship specialist. He’s new. Very new. Only started today, in fact. I wasn’t sure we could afford him, but he told us we could. Weird, actually, considering they took all the furniture out of my dressing room.

Gabriel:                     I’m just here to make a difference for you two, Mary. Joseph, you were right to bring Mary on air. The world needed to hear your story.

Jerry:                         But this is my show!

Gabriel:                     Jerry, please, we’re conversing.

Mary:                         He’s always so rude, don’t mind him.

Gabriel:                     In the end, it will not matter. I heard he’s being fired.

Jerry:                         What?!

Gabriel:                     What matters is you two. This has been an arduous ordeal, I am sure, but you will, you must, get through this. For Jesus. For everyone.

Elizabeth:                 He speaks the truth. I should know, what with Zack and all. I have a radar for honest, good hearted men.

Joseph:                      You can help us learn to trust each other again?

Gabriel:                     I can promise no less than that. The Lord wills it.

Mary:                         Oh thank you! [To Jerry] Thank you Jerry!

Jerry:                         I’m ruined… just… just get off the stage.

Joseph:                      We’ll fix all of this, Mary. We’ll raise Jesus right. We will. I love him anyway, just for you, even if he isn’t technically my son.

Mary:                         Oh Joseph!

[They stand and embrace.]

Gabriel:                     I knew things would work out.

Jerry:                         Right… [Looking at his cue cards] Assuming I’m still here after the break, we’ll be joined by a man who claims his wife is made from his rib… where do we find these people?

[Lights down]


Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar, Day 15 – Side Hustle

Review and gift idea by Paul Carroll.

A bit of a departure from books explicitly on writing as gift recommendations, I present Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau.

I discovered Guillebeau’s work many moons ago, and have long been recommending him to people. One of his more recent ventures is Side Hustle, a guide on creating a small business to operate on the side of everything else in your life. As many authors find themselves seeking to publish professionally, I thought it only right that we as a collective prepare for the reality that maybe it isn’t so easy to just quit the day job.

Side Hustle provides a process for market research and implementation of a product – like a book – and how to build a second source of income alongside your day job or other responsibilities. I know one of our members approves of the idea of a side hustle already, and on her enthusiasm I suggest Side Hustle as the ideal gift for the writer in your life that’s seeking to publish on the side – especially those who will be self-publishing. As well as the standard business explanation and exploration, it’s a good way to show someone you believe in them, and to show them that they can get started without needing to go full-time immediately. 

Operation Finland- Day 14 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

“Gentlemen, ladies, please. Order!”

A general sort of settling-down ensued, although not without mumblings and grumblings from the assembled personages. Medals of honour twinkled and tinkled as well-fed buttocks shifted in search of comfort, straining the pants of uniforms that had once fit better. A morning of discomfort awaited. Their room, small and windowless, was sparsely decorated, just some plastic chairs facing a whiteboard, a squat lectern and a projector.

“Now,” General Falstaff resumed. “As you all know, we’re here today because this,“ he looked around, “venerable institution, has for many generations been home to genius, to a proliferation of rare and brilliant minds who have provided us with so many advances over the years. Advances which, no less, have helped to protect our preeminent nation from the constant threat of foreign invaders.

“And,” he continued, “for this they need money. Funding.” He paused to take in his surroundings. A single strand of tinsel had been draped atop the whiteboard.

“Perhaps they need it more than we realised. But, we need to treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen. In exchange for our money we need to see progress. Results! So with a long day ahead of us let’s jump right into our two morning presentations. We’ll break then to enjoy some of Professor Kennedy’s homemade mince pies and eggnog before resuming.”

A wistful half-smile drifted dreamily across the General’s face. He’d been coming to the Halem Institute for many years, and had been younger and more vigorous, once. As had Professor Kennedy.

“First up: Gerstmann. Operation Finland.”

He nodded towards the opposite corner as he sat. Unnoticed there until now stood a calm-looking, scrawny young man clasping a laptop. His festive bowtie and braces jarred garishly with the rest of his ill-fitting attire. All-in-all he looked as miserable as the whiteboard.

George Gerstmann, twenty-three year old genius, walked over to the lectern, where he spent far too long fiddling with his laptop before he finally straightened and turned towards his audience.

An array of powerful faces faced him, but they were the faces of men and women that, once lean and ambitious, had been softened by too many years of comfort and success. Their steel lay underneath a puff-pastry crust. Except for one.

She sat in the second row, whippet-lean, upright, hands resting lightly on her knees. She was among the oldest of them, sixty at least, perhaps seventy. Cropped silver hair crowned a neat, dark uniform, with none of the trappings of ceremony save for a single angular insignia that none of the others displayed. Her grey-blue eyes were fixed on George.

He had heard of her. Everyone in the faculty had. Susan Schumer, Head of National Intelligence Operations, answerable only to the President. Known to all as Sun Tzu. She was a brilliant strategist, a crystal-clear thinker with a reputation for knife-sharp incisiveness that had cut many a funding pitch into ribbons.

George breathed calmly before beginning his presentation. He’d practiced. He believed in the science. This was going to be easy.

He clicked his clicker, and a familiar figure appeared on the projector screen. A ripple of chuckles spread through the audience. Perhaps this would be more entertaining than they expected.

“Now,” George began. “I bet you’re all wondering if this is a joke, right? The time of year being what it is. I assure you that it isn’t. We’ve been tracking this person for many years now, and let me assure you that both he, and the threat he represents to us all, are very, very real.”

A titter escaped the lips of Admiral Bailey in the third row. Sun Tzu turned her head just the smallest fraction, and he snorted loudly in his haste to swallow it.

“The primary goal of our research has been to understand just how he does it. We believe he’s utilising technology that could be invaluable to our national security, and which, if it falls into the hands of a more hostile nation, could spell disaster.

“Think about it. Millions of homes, all over the world, in one night. No security system exists that can stop him. Incomparable reach, which means incomparable power in this world of connectedness and big data.”

There was some uncomfortable shifting of chairs. The entire thing was laughable, but still, no-one liked this kind of talk.

“And nobody knows how it’s done,” George continued. “No-one’s ever been able to study him closely enough.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Until now.

“Last Christmas Eve, one of our interns hid in a rooftop snowdrift for many hours until, when our subject was busy downstairs, she managed to plant a tracking device on his sleigh. It beamed a wealth of GPS information and other data back to our satellite relays, which have proven invaluable in helping us to understand how he operates.

“The tracker had a five-year battery life, and transmitted five years worth of data to our systems. Everywhere he went, how long he spent there.” George regarded them solemnly. “All in the space of twenty minutes, before its battery died.“

Charts and graphs followed, as well as detailed maps of the subject’s movements. George moved to the whiteboard to better illustrate the science behind it all. He sketched swiftly, excitedly. This was his passion project, his particular pudding.

“See. We tend to think of time as continuous and linear, always moving forwards. Sure you get time loops where time circles back around and so on, but it can still be quite easily imagined as having point-to-point linearity. Just like, say, a festive ribbon. Now, imagine if you had the technology to generate, in physical space, a bubble—“

“More like a bauble,” someone in the back row interrupted. A quick glance from Sun Tzu silenced the general mirth.

“—a bubble, inside which time is turned sideways, relative to external time, for the duration of that bubble’s existence.”

George glanced around. Confusion abounded.

“Let me explain what I mean by sideways. Lay a deck of cards out on a table, side-by-side and they’ll run to a certain length. Imagine those cards to be segments of regular time. Now, what if you take up some of those cards, and turn them sideways,” he twisted his outstretched hand from horizontal to vertical, “so that only their thinness contributes to the overall length? You can fit a large amount of sideways time into a short span of regular time.

“We now know, thanks to the GPS timings, that this is what Santa Claus is somehow doing inside the bubble. He’s stacking slices of time sideways, spending ten, twenty minutes in each house, which for everyone outside the bubble seems to pass by instantly. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real magic of Christmas, and one of the most significant discoveries in this Institution’s storied history.”

They got it now, George could see. They understood. A ruckus erupted, people too used to being listened to all speaking at the same time. He had them. He raised a hand for silence.

“And here’s the really big thing. It seems that molecular ageing somehow stays in regular time. This contradicts what we know of lightspeed travel but, if true, will let us spend near-infinite time working on something before presenting the results a moment later. We could storm an enemy stronghold in an instant. They’d be inside the bubble with us too, but there’d be no time for outside help to arrive.

“The only downside we’ve discovered is that the energy expenditure is tremendous. We think that’s why he eats all the Christmas cake and drinks all the whiskey, why the reindeer eat so many carrots.

“But we’re just at the beginning of this really, there’s so much more to learn. We need funding to infiltrate their facility in Lapland and-”

Cries of “Done!”, “Well done boy!”, “Give him as much as he needs!” rang around the room; the excitement of schoolchildren swept up in the moment.

But one among them was silent. Susan Schumer was thinking, thinking hard. She already understood far better than any of them what this meant. She could see the immense change that this augured, and the repercussions.

But she wasn’t just thinking; she was remembering also. Remembering a particular winter’s night almost sixty years ago. A night with magic in it, that had stayed with her as a twinkling star of gold against the darkness of her difficult, sometimes brutal life. It had lost none of its lustre, and in some ways was the only shining, innocent thing she had left. A night of truancy, hiding under the sofa, peeking, gleefully seeing, finally, black boots stamp softly in the candlelight, shedding coaldust and melting snow. And then hearing a softly uttered Ho-Ho-Ho.

As Susan slowly came out of her reverie she noticed General Falstaff looking her way quizzically. She seemed unlike herself. He raised an eyebrow. She shook her head, just once. He sighed and nodded. It would be done quietly, but Operation Finland was no more.