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. 

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.

“Jasik!”

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.

Snow Day – Day 10 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Paul Carroll

Christmas was coming. The date was marked on the calendar, encircled with a red permanent marker. In the run-up to Christmas Eve, Jack Frost’s social life was busy, and involved his peers. A couple of weeks before Christmas, the Winter Folk held their Winter Ball, an event to which all three must attend, with an assortment of other figures – many of them made from living snow.

Jack was not overly fond of the Winter Ball. It was a formal occasion, its origins lost to him. He had attended ninety eight times, now, and still looked thirteen years old. His body was frozen in youth. The power he had over the Winter March didn’t work, otherwise.

While Jack considered himself the joker of their trio, he still took his duties to the Winter March very seriously. Despite his lack of regard for the formal affair of the Ball, an event from which he would not stumble home from until Christmas Eve, the March was significant for him. It marked the time of the year when he was free to unleash a storm of cold and snow. He was allowed to bring about snow days when the climate was just right, and even when it wasn’t. Jack was allowed to play jokes on the world that wasn’t supposed to know he was really, and truly, a living boy. Technically speaking.

He had once asked Nick – the consistent leader of the group – why it was called the March, when Jack soared on the air as light as a snow flake, followed by a magical carriage. He received a mince pie in response, and that was that.

Now, on his ninety eighth Winter March, Jack soared through the sky over America. He had grown up on a farm in Connecticut, in the days before he could really remember being himself. He wasn’t Jack Frost then. He wasn’t anybody worth mentioning at all, then.

Sometimes, he couldn’t even remember becoming the boy wonder. It was lost to him, hidden behind a snow storm in his mind.

He saw a farm that might have been his down below, and lead the March across its fields. Great snow clouds were bulging overhead, waiting for the signal to unleash a flurry of snowflakes. He slowed to a halt at a window, watching a girl and a boy at work in the house. Jack guessed that the boy was nine, and the girl fourteen. He tried not to think that she looked older than he did.

“Why can’t Santa come early?” the boy asked her.

She smiled, and handed him a plate for him to dry. She was standing by the sink, washing up after dinner. “Because, silly, Christmas wouldn’t happen if Santa came early. Everything has to be just right before Santa can come.”

The boy sulked, and Jack couldn’t stop himself from smiling. “But Allie, it’s not fair. Everybody else in my class already has everything I asked for. Why can’t we ever get anything nice?”

She lowered the plate into the sink and put her hands on his shoulders. “How many of your friends in school have a sister who would do anything for them?” she asked him.

“I don’t know.”

“How many of your friends give out about their older brothers and sisters all the time?”

“A lot. They don’t like them. They always say they’re not allowed hang out with them.”

Allie smiled at her younger brother. “And how many of my friends love having you with us while we watch movies mom and dad don’t want you to see? Or just like having you eat with us?”

“All of them?”

“All of them. Because they like that I like having you around.” Jack didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to keep watching them. He could already feel an icy tear clinging to his cheek. “We might not have a lot in this world, Ken, but we have each other. We’re friends, not just brother and sister, and I promise you that will mean so much more to you when you’re older than whether or not you have the latest X-Box game.”

Jack pulled away from the house. He couldn’t take it. Vague and hazy memories returned to him of life without enough coal to keep the fire going through winter, and days spent running through the trees and the fields because he didn’t have anything else to do. He held on to the last memory that came to him, when he was happiest in the winter: snow day.

He wiped his eyes with a chilly sleeve and turned his head to the clouds. “Order up!” he cheered.

In the response, the clouds exploded overhead, thick white snowflakes falling by the thousands in a matter of seconds. The house was immediately coated in the tell-tale signs of winter. Even from way overhead, Jack could hear Ken and Allie as they ran into the garden in delight, their parents following them with coats and laughter.

The Winter March, by its nature, was practically invisible. Aside from the trio that made up the Winter Folk, nothing could ever be seen or heard by accident. With this in mind, Jack lowered himself once more to the ground, hiding behind the house as Allie and Ken danced in the snow storm.

The family still had a coal shed, its supplies running low. “Nobody gets a sack of coal for Christmas, even when they need one,” Jack said to himself. With a click of his fingers, the shed filled to the brim, nearly overflowing. “Merry Christmas, kids,” he whispered, taking to the air once more, and leading the Winter March away.

Mere moments later, Allie discovered his footprints, clear as the snow was white. She followed them to the coal shed, her jaw dropped. Just before he vanished from sight – and she never really believed it – she saw him, hovering in the sky over the fields, taking the Winter March with him.

The Professor Who Saved WinterTide – Day 8 of the Cupán Fae 2019 Advent Calendar

“…and the fallen bridge has cut us off completely, so we can’t get any special food for WinterTide and my little brother and sister won’t get their presents this year.” Robin read again, “Please help us, Professor! Everyone says how clever you are – you invented the telephone and those Hopper machines that carry the post…” 

She set the letter down. It was a rather sweet and affecting story to be sure, although –  “Odd place to build a house, on a rock spur in the middle of a canyon,” she noted, looking out from the edge of Higham Canyon towards the house in question.

From the other side of the wooden frame and rails they were putting together, Professor Wilson Scarecrow beamed benevolently at her.  “Well, with house prices as they are, dear assistant, I suppose some people have to take what they can get.”

Robin did her best not to seethe at the ‘dear assistant’, instead she looked across at the house on the spur. “Will there be enough space for you to land?” she asked.

“Of course! Dear assistant, I have planned for every eventuality!” The scarecrow simpered smugly. “I have a scientific and exacting mind, you know. You could learn a lot from it.”

Robin clenched her fists. Generally, the Professor wasn’t a bad old stick to work for – well, broom-handle actually; he got very annoyed at the implication that his backbone was a stick. He paid well; working hours were good. He’d given her a three week holiday for WinterTide, and had bought her a ticket on the new train the Dwarves were running, that would take her nearly all the way to Naughtingham. She was greatly looking forward to that. It felt like an age since she’d Left Home To Seek Her Fortune. However, good though he was, when he was enthused and active, the Professor could get – well, ‘pompous’ and ‘condescending’ barely covered it. 

She took a deep breath. Once he was flying, she could be off home.

She began setting up the counterweight on the frame, as the Professor moved his large ‘Plain-Sailor’ flying device onto the frame’s wooden rails and connected it to the rope from the counterweight. It was a larger Plain-Sailor than the other ones he’d experimented with – it had to be. As well as the presents that the postman hadn’t been able to bring across the gorge, there was the fearsome array that the Professor had bought for himself, together with three large hampers of festive food and drink, a spool of metal wire, and a tin horn to connect the house to the phone-lines.  As he got the Plain-Sailor settled on the rails and clambered in, the Professor chuckled to himself. 

“Ah, dear assistant, it’s a fine thing we’re doing here today. Helping someone in need at WinterTide, when they’re marooned and in danger of having the holiday spoiled by the uncaring ways of the State.”

“Actually, the bridgebuilders reckon they’ll have the bridge repaired in a week.” That would too late for WinterTide, but Robin felt the Professor was getting a little overblown. As usual. 

“But they their humble entreaties reached my ears!”

“You don’t have ears, Professor.” Which was true – the grass-haired football he had for a head had some nice ears painted on, but not actual ears. 

And I shall save WinterTide with Science!” the Professor bellowed. 

“It’s the kind of thing they write heartwarming festive stories about,” Robin said caustically. She agreed it was a nice gesture, but he was making a bit of a meal out of it.

“Indeed!” The Professor affected to look modest. “The Professor Who Saved WinterTide. It has a nice ring to it, wouldn’t you say?”

And who was it who spent the last two hours helping you assemble a frame in snow? And was up all night helping you make the Plain-Sailor? “Quite.”

“And your diligent service will not be forgotten!”

Robin sighed. “Ready to go?” she asked.   

“Indeed! People in need, as posterity too, wait for no man – or, more correctly, for no scarecrow!

Robin moved towards the lever to release the counterweight. Then paused. “Er…Professor?”

“Launch!”

“But… you’ve overlooked something!”

The Professor swelled up with pride, looking mortally affronted. “Indeed I have not! Nothing has been overlooked! Mine is a keen, finely-honed mind. It overlooks nothing! Certainly nothing you could have discerned!”

Robin growled, “Very well, Professor. Launching.”

She yanked the lever. There was a loud thud, then the Plain-Sailor was hauled from the rails. It shot forwards, sailing majestically over the gorge and trailing the telephone wire behind it. As that played out, Robin took out her mobile telephone-horn and length of wire, and hooked it onto the longer wire. 

Watching, she saw the Plain-Sailor come to a halt – very nearly going off the other side of the spur in the process. She saw the Professor, very far away but just discernable. She watched as he clambered out and was swarmed by children. She could only just see him then, as he began to dispense packages and hand the huge hampers to a woman. Then, taking up the wire, he carried it proudly to the house.

Robin waited, then heard the horn whistle. “Hello?” she said, her voice travelling clearly across the taut wire.

“I landed!” the Professor boomed. “It worked! And you should see all these happy faces! My word!”

He did, to his credit, sound happy at the joy of others. So Robin felt a slight pang of guilt before bursting the bubble. Only a slight one, though.

“How are you going to get back?” she asked.

“Eh? Oh, I’ll launch…” A long pause followed as the Professor trailed off. “Ahhhhh… I may have made a blunder!”

“No! Surely a keen and finely-honed mind such as yours couldn’t have made a blunder!”

The Professor coughed. “I…I wonder, dear assistant, could you…”

“Oh, I don’t think I can do anything, Professor! Not when I have so much to learn from you. After all, if you can’t work something out, what could I do?”

The Professor coughed again. “I…eh, I believe that I may have been somewhat hasty, dear assistant, but…”

Robin grinned. “The bridge should be finished in another week, Professor. I’m sure that the Professor Who Saved WinterTide will be welcome in the family home until then. Merry WinterTide!” She unhooked the wire as she turned to walk away. 

This would be a good holiday. She wasn’t the least bit worried about her job. Where else would the Professor find someone willing to put up with him?

George’s Christmas Present – Day 6 of Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar

A short story by Mark Kielty.

We run a tight ship here at the North Pole. Because to travel around the world in one night is no easy task. We all have our roles to play to make it happen. We’ve got the workshop-elves, who make and wrap the presents. We’ve got the elves at the sorting office, dealing with all the children’s letters and getting them ready for Santa to read. And we can’t forget about our wonderful reindeer who travel at lightning speed to get Santa to where he needs to be. 

Then, of course, there are the lists. You know, THE LISTS – the ones that tell us who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Santa is in charge of those. He studies them every day throughout the year, hoping that the naughty list becomes smaller and the nice list becomes larger. 

But there is another list that people don’t know about. The one I’m in charge of. Because you know what they say; behind every great man there’s an even better woman. And I am no exception. After all, I am Mrs. Claus. 

So, what’s this other list? I hear you ask. Well, as you know, Santa reads all the letters he receives from children across the world. He loves reading them and he remembers every single one. However, it isn’t the letters he receives that I’m worried about, it’s the letters he doesn’t. It’s my job to make a list of all the children who don’t send any letters at all. 

Believe it or not, not all children send letters, which is fine. Not everybody believes and everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, there are some children who do believe but don’t send anything. And that’s a problem.

Nine times out of ten, they just didn’t send it on time. No panic though, I usually visit them and collect their letters directly. Or if they didn’t get a chance to write anything down, I simply ask them what they want and pass on the message to Santa. 

Just in case you get any ideas and “accidentally on purpose” forget to send your letter – just to meet me – then you’ve got another thing coming!  I use a memory spell so the children don’t remember meeting me. I have to. If I didn’t, everyone would catch on and I’d never get any peace. 

There are other times though, when children have other reasons for not sending their letters and it’s up to me to find out why.

That’s how I met George. Eight years old and he hadn’t even a word or an idea jotted down. It was Christmas Eve and time was running out. It would’ve been a shame if there was nothing under his tree on Christmas morning. 

When I went to the orphanage where he lived, I was delighted to see how well the reception area was decorated. There was a beautiful tree with a gorgeous angel sitting on top. Hanging from each branch were coloured baubles and purple streams of tinsel were wrapped around the tree like scarves. 

One of the walls had a lovely, life-sized, cardboard cut-out of Rudolph. It had a red light-bulb nose that really lit up. It made me swell with happiness to know that this orphanage took such great care of the children living there. 

“Can I help you?” the kind receptionist asked with a smile. 

“Oh, I wish you could, Vanessa, I really wish you could,” I said with pitying eyes. 

I pulled a handful of fairy dust from my pocket and blew on it. The gold glittering powder jumped from the palm of my hand and filled the room. It went flying through the doors and up the stairs until it filled every corner of the orphanage.

Vanessa stopped what she was doing and sat very still, staring into space with a goofy smile. 

Hopefully she won’t have to drool like that for too long, I thought. 

She was frozen and, if the spell did what it was supposed to do, everyone else in the building would be frozen too. Everyone except for George, of course. 

“Excellent,” I said to myself. “I have five minutes.”

As I walked through the orphanage, golden fairy dust hovered in the air. However, I knew that as soon as the glittering gold disappeared, it would mean the end of my spell. 

I searched every room until I came to the only one with a child who didn’t look like he was playing musical statues. Sitting on his bed, reading a book, was George.

I’ll never forget that sweet brown-haired boy. He sat there, wearing a red Christmas jumper which had a large snowman stitched into its front. He was reading a book about a boy who discovered he was a wizard and attended wizarding school. I loved that story. And I loved that he loved magic.

He looked like a normal, healthy boy. In fact, he was extremely clever for his age. So why hadn’t he written his letter to Santa yet?

“George, I am here to talk to you about Christmas,” I said. 

The little boy looked up from his book. He noticed the golden sparkles that floated in the air and when he looked at me, I could tell he recognised my outfit. Red was always a good colour on me. It brought out my rosy cheeks. 

“I knew it!” he whispered. A large grin began to stretch across his face. 

“Knew what?” I asked.

George snapped his book shut and shuffled to the edge of the bed.

“You see, I write a letter every year, so I knew if I didn’t write one this year, Santa would get worried and he’d try to find out why – maybe even send somebody to investigate. But I didn’t think he’d send you of all people! I thought I’d meet, like, an elf or something,” George explained.

“That was a risky move, how did you know he’d send anybody? You could have been left with no presents on Christmas morning!” I said.

“I knew Santa wouldn’t let me down. And besides, I’m not sure you can give me what I want anyway!”

“What makes you say that?” I asked. 

“Don’t you see? I knew if I pulled this off, it would be the best thing I’d ever done! But I also knew if Santa were to send somebody, there’d be a catch! I know that when morning comes, I won’t remember any of this. You’ll cast a spell to make me forget and I won’t remember meeting you. I won’t remember the best day of my life,” George explained with a saddening face. 

“And you know this how?” I asked. I knew George was clever, but I hadn’t expected this. 

“Because, if children remembered, you’d have every kid in the world pretending to forget to send their letters – just to meet you. And you wouldn’t have time for that.” he said.

“No, I suppose you’re right,” I answered. “But there must be something you want for Christmas? How about you tell me what you really want and I’ll see what I can do?” 

“I want to remember meeting you,” he replied. “I want to ask questions about the elves and the North Pole. And I won’t tell anyone, I promise. I just… I want something magical to happen to me. I don’t have many friends and life here can be a bit lonely at times. I just want something special to happen to me for once.” 

“Well, what you’re asking for George, it’s never been done before,” I answered. “I’ll… I’ll have to think about it.”

When I left the orphanage, I was stumped. I was kind of hoping we’d just cobble an Xbox together and leave it under his tree. But unfortunately, what George wanted couldn’t be put in a box and wrapped up with a bow. He wanted something different. 

I thought about the book he was reading. I wondered had he hoped that on his eleventh birthday, a friendly giant would come along, tell him he was a wizard and take him away to a magical school.

Then it hit me – an idea. But could I bend the rules just for George? Could I give him what he wanted? 

I returned later that night, fairy dust at the ready and hoped that Vanessa wouldn’t drool quite so much this time. She left a little bit of a mess before and it wasn’t flattering to say the least. But I suppose it wasn’t her fault. 

George sat on his bed, patiently waiting for me.

“You didn’t wipe my memory,” he said excitedly. “Does that mean you’re going to give me what I asked for?” 

“Hmm, I did think about it,” I replied. “But we have a saying in the North Pole. Why give someone what they ask for when you can give them what they want?”

George raised his eyebrow, confused. 

“You say you want to ask questions, about elves and such,” I said. 

“Yes, I want to know everything!” 

“I thought as much,” I continued. “And of course, you’ll want the memories to go with it. I’ll just have to make sure that this is a night you’ll never forget. We could tell you what you want to know, but wouldn’t it be better if we showed you?” 

Right on cue, Santa stepped into the room. He wore his iconic red suit and gave that smile which always made my heart skip a beat. 

“Merry Christmas, George,” he said. “Want to go for a ride?”

Operation Walrus – Day 3 of Cupán Fae’s Advent Calendar 2019

A short story by Tommy Arrigan.

[This story is dedicated to the bayakou of Haiti]

Santa Claus sighed. He missed the old days. How had it come to this? Progress, that was the problem. Modernisation. More, more, more of, well, everything really, had forced the world into this new way of being. So many people now, living like too many trinkets stuffed into a stocking. And to his mind, it just wasn’t right.

The problem wasn’t that he had so much more work to do these days, although he certainly did have that: more toys to deliver, more homes to visit. And it wasn’t the light pollution from so many cities and motorways, or their raucous cacophony, either. And it wasn’t even the airspace regulations of a hundred different nations. Although he had to deal with all of those now, as a matter of course.

Nor was it, although he mourned its passing keenly, all that was soon to be lost to the world that was bothering him so acutely in this particular moment. He missed deeply, already, the pure pleasure of slicing through the cold air above snow-draped, coniferous forests that went on forever. He missed the incredible peace of those stretches. He missed the flickering glint of window-candles shining bravely out into the darkness, and the cries of discovery from his eager spotter elves. He missed the tugging on the reins; the reindeer’s excited grunting; the banking, downwards arc of the sleigh towards each and every isolated homestead in its turn.

He missed, too, how a jolly Ho-Ho-Ho and a shake of the sleigh-bells used to carry through the crisp night air for miles, enticing adults and children alike from hearth to porch to gaze upwards in wonder. He missed their laughter upon the air. He missed the panoply of the stars.

Yes, that those times were fading was tragic. But when one got all the way down to the heart of it, it wasn’t any of this that had Santa Claus so unhappy. Not really.

No, his primary problem with these modern times was another change in how people lived now; one which made his job so much more unpleasant, so much harder for him to enjoy. And that change was the gradual disappearance of the chimney-pot, the extinction of the flue.

Not that it had ever been the perfect ingress. Teddy-bears weren’t exactly fireproof, and his toes had been roasted more times than he could count. But there’d been a certain charm to it all the same. It always looked very well on Christmas cards.

Yes, true enough, keeping his suit clean had been a nightmare, but Mrs. Claus had never minded a bit of smut. She would welcome him home at the end of each year’s odyssey with arms outstretched and a twinkle in her eye. These days it was twelve hours in the decontamination chamber before she’d so much as take a look at him. And he couldn’t really blame her for it, either. Santa sighed again, a second time. It was what it was.

They’d had to do something, was the thing, or that would’ve been the end of it all. One had to keep up with things or fall away, become forgotten. And things were changing fast.

Recent years had been particularly challenging. He’d gotten stuck behind too many stove doors shut tight from the outside. He’d picked the locks of too many apartment doors, set off too many security alarms. Santa Claus was a visitor, not a burglar. He was a craftsman, not a Jack-of-all-trades. They’d needed to find a fresh approach that worked everywhere, something universally useful that he could refine to the point of perfection. And they had, in the end. Although fresh wasn’t exactly the word for it.

With all the reluctance of a child on the way to the principal’s office, Santa hoisted his sack onto his back. He glanced back towards his sleigh, which lay parked in the shadow of a nearby alley. His chief elf, Bob, offered him an encouraging thumbs up from where he sat perched upon Dasher’s shoulders.

His other two helper elves had dragged the manhole cover away, and were standing back respectfully. They’d worked with him for years, and knew full well how difficult this was for him.

Yes, this was going to be unpleasant. But he was Santa Claus, he reminded himself sternly, and this sewer system led to forty-two apartments, to sixty-three expectant kids who needed some Christmas magic in their lives. The children were the only thing that really mattered. He cast his eyes downwards, and stared into the abyss. 

The blackness was absolute, terrifying. One never knew how far down the water lay. And fussing about with flares and the like only made the whole thing worse. Well. Plenty more after this one. Best get on with it then.

The main thing, he reflected philosophically, was to make sure no more children spotted him disappearing back down the toilet bowl afterwards, reaching back out to mop the floor with his hat as he went. For as long as this new approach of his remained largely unreported, he still had his dignity. And perhaps things would change for the better in the future, he thought hopefully. Perhaps this was only a phase.

Resolved to his fate, Santa Claus lowered his goggles and bit down on his snorkel. He laid a finger on each side of his nose, and stepped forwards into nothingness. He sighed for the third time as he plummeted. Oh-Oh-Oh.

Read more stories by Tommy in Cupán Fae’s anthologies.

Read our interview with Tommy here.

Come back tomorrow for another piece of our 2019 Advent Calendar!

Cupán Fae’s 2019 Advent Calendar – Day 2, The Winter Folk

snowflake

There’s something in the way that the first snow falls,
As the Ice Queen makes her entrance to the Winter Ball,
Where Jack Frost is in waiting with a chill down his back
As the Winter Folk start gathering to form a little pack,
And the wait begins for old Saint Nick to come into the hall.

The snow will plant down softly upon the frozen ground,
A billion unique snowflakes twirling round and round
In a gust of wind that clings to every woodland tree,
And blows the snow to place of work and childish glee,
Starting in the place where the Winter Folk are found.

A blanket of white snow will spread across the land,
A white carpet for the entrance of those with icy hands,
Jack Frost at the front of a march into the night,
To spread the cold of winter before dawn’s first light,
Soaring across whole countries, through forests, towns and sands.

Behind Jack Frost the Ice Queen rides,
On a carriage lined with warm animal hides,
A vehicle carved from ice and cold,
For a queen that comes from winters old,
In the white dress of an eternal bride.

She is married to harsh storms and drifts,
Frozen chasms and snow-filled lifts
Of icy air that hold the world tight
In fingers that cause a vegetable blight,
An unwelcome famine from the Ice Queen’s gift.

This is why the Winter Folk meet,
To keep the world from icy defeat,
To dance as three in a hall of ice,
With wine and music and all things nice,
‘Til all three are warm from head to feet.

For behind the Ice Queen on the long walk,
Old Saint Nick keeps up the talk,
Reading his list of who’s nice and who’s naughty,
Keeping up spirits with a laugh that’s doughty,
Watching out for trouble with eyes like a hawk.

Each one gets their day in the world, out for fun,
Jack Frost on the move since the clock struck one,
Calling down snow storms like the world is his toy,
And his favourite action figures every girl and boy,
Whose laughter and joy signal a job done.

The Ice Queen will follow as the moment suits her,
Her time on the Earth passing in a white blur,
For she lines the roads with ice black and white,
With no mind at all for everyone’s plight,
With her warm in her dress of faux animal fur.

Cleaning up her mess , as he trails in last,
Is jolly Saint Nick just out for a blast,
Racing about as if the sky were a road,
On a route so mysterious that no one else knows
How he’s travelled the world without a day gone past.

This is the secret of the Winter Folks’ tale,
And the balance that comes with frost, snow and hail,
For the three that gather at the Winter Ball
Are required together, not one but all,
Each of them important, from strong to frail.

That magic is clear in the first snow you see,
The one that draws out your inner-child’s glee,
For it tells of the future when Christmas will come,
With snow days and snow men and all of that fun,
And all three are needed for all that to be.

6 Christmas Reads to Get You in the Mood

With Christmas right around the corner, I turned to the Cupán Fae Facebook group to ask for recommendations of books to read to get in the mood for the upcoming holiday. With a couple to throw in myself, here are six Christmas reads!

1. Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

IT’S THE NIGHT BEFORE HOGSWATCH AND IT’S TOO QUIET.

Where is the big jolly fat man? Why is Death creeping down chimneys and trying to say Ho Ho Ho? The darkest night of the year is getting a lot darker…

Susan the gothic governess has got to sort it out by morning, otherwise there won’t be a morning. Ever again…

The 20th Discworld novel is a festive feast of darkness and Death (but with jolly robins and tinsel too).

As they say: You’d better watch out…

Recommended by Roisín Tuohy.

 

2. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

A whirlwind romance from the New York Times bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist!

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.” 16-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on her favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. Dash, in a bad mood during the holidays, happens to be the first guy to pick up the notebook and rise to its challenges. What follows is a whirlwind romance as Dash and Lily trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations all across New York City. But can their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions, or will their scavenger hunt end in a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions? Co-written by Rachel Cohn (GINGERBREAD) and David Levithan, co-author of WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON with John Green (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS), DASH & LILY’S BOOK OF DARES is a love story that will have readers scouring bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Recommended by Ellen Brickley.

3. The Night of Wishes: Or, the Satanarchaeolidealcohellish Notion Potion, by Michael Ende

Told partly in rhyme, this account of the adventures of sorcerer Beelzebub Preposteror introduces a host of unusual and compelling characters. By the author of The Neverending Story.

Recommended by Lelya Telli. 

 

 

 

 

4. I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, by Adam Roberts

Marley was dead. Again.

The legendary Ebenezeer Scrooge sits in his house counting money. The boards that he has nailed up over the doors and the windows shudder and shake under the blows from the endless zombie hordes that crowd the streets hungering for his flesh and his miserly braaaaiiiiiinns!

Just how did the happiest day of the year slip into a welter of blood, innards and shambling, ravenous undead on the snowy streets of old London town?

Will the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future be able to stop the world from drowning under a top-hatted and crinolined zombie horde?

Was Tiny Tim’s illness something infinitely more sinister than mere rickets and consumption? Can Scrooge be persuaded to go back to his evil ways, travel back to Christmas past and destroy the brain stem of the tiny, irritatingly cheery Patient Zero?

It’s the Dickensian Zombie Apocalypse – God Bless us, one and all!

Recommended by Paul Carroll. See also: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

5. Let it Snow, by John Green, Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle

An ill-timed storm on Christmas Eve buries the residents of Gracetown under multiple feet of snow and causes quite a bit of chaos. One brave soul ventures out into the storm from her stranded train and sets off a chain of events that will change quite a few lives. Over the next three days one girl takes a risky shortcut with an adorable stranger, three friends set out to win a race to the Waffle House (and the hash brown spoils), and the fate of a teacup pig falls into the hands of a lovesick barista.

A trio of today’s bestselling authors – John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle – bring all the magic of the holidays to life in three hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and kisses that will steal your breath away.

Recommended by Paul Carroll.

6. Dreamspinner Press’s Advent Calendar

Dreamspinner’s annual advent calendar is a chance for readers of gay romance fiction to explore different genres published by the company, all relating to Christmas, one published every day. Chosen for this post, Hero for the Holidays, a Spandex and Superheroes story.

Recommended by Jenn Quinn.

5 Questions with Paul Carroll

Our debut anthology Dublin’s Fierce City launches at Octocon tomorrow! Today, we’re interviewing Paul Carroll, who will be part of the launch team.

Paul Carroll

1. What genre do you like to write in most?

Broadly speaking, fantasy and a bit of light sci-fi, but that’s never set in stone. My books lean towards the supernatural or mythical, while two of the comics I write are adventure stories – one with a superhero, the other a homicidal cat. I don’t believe in unnecessary constraints.

2. Which author or authors inspired you to write?

As a child, I would have leaned towards Darren Shan a lot for this. The more I reflect on it, Garth Nix ended up having an early influence on me. More recently, authors like Andrew Kaufman, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have been a sort of encouragement to let myself write more of what I enjoy, whereas Donny Cates (a comic writer) helped me realise that sometimes stories are allowed to be a little bit insane, so long as they work.

3. Are you a planner or a pantser, and how does that work out for you?

Definitely a planner. I can’t sit down and just start writing without an outline of some description. This comes down to never knowing when I’d have to stop, and fearing I’ll forget that one big moment of inspiration by the time I get to it in a book.

Planning, especially with the amount of detail I sometimes throw in, let’s me focus more on how I tell a story once I sit down to write. It also helps me remember to include everything in a scene, like a pile of magazines that I need to remember to write into a room so I can light them on fire later. (A very specific example, I know.)

Ultimately, it’s a safety net, and it let’s me pick up a book to write without having to worry about where I was.

4. What are you working on now?

While I continue my NaNo Prep on two books for November – sequels to A Death in the Family and Second Sight for Sore Eyes – I’m working on a couple of comic scripts. One is a sort of mystic-adventure tale, and the other is an all-ages superhero story set in Dublin (The Wren.)

5. What’s your one piece of advice for new writers?

Worry about your “writing career” after you’ve figured out how to write a book (play/comic/short story/etc.)

Telling good stories is more important in the beginning than whether they’re (a) publishable or (b) what you want to build your career on the back of. I haven’t touched most of the books I wrote while figuring out what I like to write and what I think does well for me, and I probably would wait to publish anything if I was given the chance to start over again, at least until I had more work done

When you’re ready, then you can begin to look at the best way to publish something, and whether something is worth publishing. That’s when you focus on marketing and your career and the idea of making money from your writing.

In short: stories first, business later.

When you do start your career, then, try not let the business side of things spoil the creative side.

About Paul

Paul Carroll is a writer and comic creator from Dublin, one third of Limit Break Comics and a founding member of Cupán Fae. He writes books supernatural fiction and stories inspired by Irish folklore, which earned him a place on Geek Ireland’s ‘One to Watch’ list. As part of Limit Break Comics, Paul launched his first collection of short stories, ‘Life & Death’, building on his experience on ‘Meouch’ with Gareth Luby, and ‘The Wren’ with Buttonpress Publications. He is the owner and editor of Comix Ireland, and runs social media and vendor bookings for the Geek Mart.

About Dublin’s Fierce City

In Dublin’s Fierce City, nine writers from the group present seventeen tales of magic and wonder.

Explore a city of fairies and ghosts, where one is as bad as the other. Avoid the curses of witches, and escape the wrath of angels and demons. Survive alien invasions and all out war, and come out the other side seeing the whole world differently.

Buy it now on Amazon.

5 Questions with Kat Dodd

We’re getting close to the launch of Dublin’s Fierce City at Octocon. This interview is with one of the authors who will be helping launch the book: Kat Dodd!

Kat Dodd

1. What genre do you like to write in most?

I tend to hang out mostly in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. In both, it tends more towards “like real life but a little bit different. Part of it is that there’s no proof that fantasy elements aren’t real so therefore it doesn’t actually break the world rules to include them, but people tend to look at you funny when you write a story about someone falling in love with their ghostly roommate and say that it could happen in real life. I like to play around with things that are familiar but different. That being said, almost all my stories have a thread of romance going through them, and most of my characters wind up with their Happily Ever Afters or their Happily Ever (For Now)s. Well. Those that don’t die. Because some of them die. It can happen. -shifty eyes-

2. Which author or authors inspired you to write?

Oh golly, this is so hard for me to answer because the truth is that a lot of them did. In some ways, authors like Rachel Caine (she wrote the Morganville Vampires) because way back when I was a wee baby Kat, Baby Kat and Rachel Caine both wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic. I knew her through that before I found her books on the shelf at Hastings and proceeded to freak the freak out. So she inspired me because we got started in similar ways (fanfiction), and showed me that it was possible to break into traditional publishing (which I haven’t done because I actually prefer Indie).

Along the same lines – those lines being “authors that I know in some way or another” – I actually have a story about being told that I Was A Writer. I was about eleven or twelve, and had moved to a small town in Arkansas earlier that year, and my brother and I would go hang out at one of his friends’ houses a lot because our moms had become good friends, we all went to the same tiny church, and I got along pretty well with the younger sister despite a pretty hefty age gap. My mom asked Ms Charlaine (“Miz” if you’re from the South) if she’d mind taking a look at some of the things I’d written and giving basic feedback, and Ms Charlaine told me that my mom had told her that I liked to write and would I mind showing her something? So I started digging through all my notebooks because my notebook hoarding started early, finding little scraps of things that I’d written all through out during school, but I was desperate to find something good enough to show Miz Charlaine. Ms Charlaine stopped me and said (paraphrased because I’m horrible at remembering verbatem) “I can tell you something right now: you’re already a writer. It remains to be seen if you’re a good writer, but you can learn that. You are a writer, and that can’t be taught.” That stuck with me for years, and flash forward to seventeen year old Kat reading the first Sookie Stackhouse book, and reading the About the Author section in the back and realizing Miz Charlaine was Charlaine Harris. I called my mom, freaking out that the author I’d been reading for literal years was Miz Charlaine and she’d told me that I was a writer.

Whenever I get down on myself, I remember that.

3. Are you a planner or a pantser, and how does that work out for you?

I plan and then I decide to do something else.

In seriousness, I do a little bit of both. I do a bastardized version of the Snowflake Method, and have a loose “map” of what I want to write, goals to hit, etc, and I write at least 100 words for each thing, and then if I get bogged down but I’ve hit word count, I mark it and move on to the next. I come back later, possibly during editing but equally possibly during writer’s block, and finish it, polish it up, smooth over any clunky transitions. It helps me keep moving forwards, and because I know what things I want to hit on, I know to not do something in a spur of the moment that will ruin something I have planned for later. But there’s still plenty of spontaneity, too.

4. What are you working on now?

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. At any given time, I’m working to some extent or another on anywhere from three to eight projects because I don’t know how to focus on one thing at a time. At the moment, I think I’m actually at four, with two of them taking up more of my brain than others. One project is a novel in the Fairy Lights world, Fairy Lights being my contribution to the Dublin’s Fierce City anthology. One is actually getting wrapped up an I’m just figuring out the best way to do things, and that’s a Sci-Fi with humans fighting off an alien invasion over the course of decades. One is a biker romance (not Sci-Fi? not Fantasy? what’s going on, Kat? are you feeling okay?) that has a woman trying to figure out what’s more important to her, keeping her promises and staying in an abusive marriage, or her own emotional health. The fourth project… I’m going to keep that a secret, actually. But it’s churning over in my head. For NaNoWriMo in November, I plan on tackling the three I’ve already talked about, and a story that I’ve been calling “Campy Space Disaster” in my head, because it was honestly inspired by me watching a music video and going “this video looks like it’s the theme song of a campy space disaster movie and I would watch the hell out of that movie and now I’m actively mad that no such movie exists I guess I’m going to write that story”.

5. What’s your one piece of advice for new writers?

Don’t give up. Just keep writing. If you write ten words a day, that’s ten more than you had yesterday. Write every day, even if it’s only a sentence. Don’t let anyone talk you out of writing. Keep a notebook with you at all times – seriously, I do so much of my writing in the bathroom, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, just write. A first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to exist.

It’s okay if the basic story has already been told. Your version of it hasn’t been told yet. Nobody’s told the story in the way that you’re going to, with the characters that you have. (There are some plot archetypes that I will read every single time that I come across them, and they’re all different because the characters are different.) On that note: characters are more important than plot. It can be the best plot in the world, and if I’m not engaged in the characters, I’m not going to care about how the plot affects them.

This is a lot more than one piece of advice, I’m so sorry. So if there’s only one thing that I could give, it would be this: Believe in yourself and just keep writing. It’s okay to get discouraged, just keep writing. No matter what, just keep writing. There’s a story in you, I know it. And if it’s a little zany, a little weird, so what? As the Cheshire Cat said, we’re all mad here. So you’re in good company.

About Kat

Kat Dodd is an American transplant that escaped from a small town in Arkansas right between Toad Suck, Pickles Gap, and Wooster. The first story she ever wrote was in a purple crayon in her journal, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her typical genres are a conglomeration of fantasy/sci-fi, LGBTQI+, and YA, with a thread of romance going through them. She lives with her Spouse-Type-Creature, though she frequently forgets to feed him.

thekatdodd.wordpress.com

About Dublin’s Fierce City

In Dublin’s Fierce City, nine writers from the group present seventeen tales of magic and wonder.

Explore a city of fairies and ghosts, where one is as bad as the other. Avoid the curses of witches, and escape the wrath of angels and demons. Survive alien invasions and all out war, and come out the other side seeing the whole world differently.

Buy it now on Amazon.