David’s highly-anticipated debut novel – Giant Thief – is published in February, and believe us when we say there’s a lot of interest in this book (quite rightly – it’s an enormously enjoyable read). Here, in a charming tale of seasonal celebration, we meet the Santa Thing…
A Study in Red and White
by David Tallerman
Illustrated by Duncan Kay – visit him at duncankay.blogspot.com.
Poised on snow-slicked roof tiles, the Santa Thing scents the wind.
The air reeks of snow. It licks across raw, red muscle and sinew, testing cavities and meaty crevices. The cold reminds the Santa Thing of home – and for a moment, it recalls older winters, deeper frosts, the uncluttered, frozen eons before shape and form and roiling, sickly life. An age when it seemed nothing would ever claw its way from the utter chill to crawl and mewl. An age when there was no need for subterfuge.
No time, no time for memory. Not tonight, most special and rich.
Here there’s a simple way down – a jut of hollow masonry beckoning. Once, they burned fires in those depths. That recollection brings no comfort. But this is a different age, and the blackness welcomes. Too narrow, though, for this current shape. No space for the Santa Thing’s ebon hooves, no room for the curlicues of bone that splinter its face and cluster round its head. Change is needed, as it has changed so many times before.
It’s a matter of a thought – for the Santa Thing is thought as much as matter, idea more than either. Flesh softens to jelly, to dripping wax. Muscle expands, contracts. A hundred bones click free. As they relocate, their note is faintly like the ring of bells.
Quick as light, quick as sorrow, the Santa Thing spills into darkness. It flows through gloom, where ancient ash still clings – slops into multicoloured light. A tree, strung and adorned. One of their Signs. Once the decorations were mistletoe sprigs, once the lights were candles and a ward. But humans don’t remember as the Santa Thing remembers. Now those flames are pretty and pointless. Though they sting the running jelly of its eyes, they can’t keep the Santa Thing from entering.
Shuddering like an oil-slicked bird, the Santa Thing takes back its form. Already its helpers chitter from the shadows at its presence. Their half-life goes hard on them. They exist only for this moment. Now that it’s come once more, they scud and shudder round the walls – flicker across cheap furniture, hung stockings, clumsily wrapped parcels.
The Santa Thing lets the moment drag, let’s them drive themselves to the brink of frenzy with anticipation. Only when they seem about to tear themselves apart does it speak, its voice rich and foul with the pressure of ages.
“Gud ur Bad?” asks the Santa Thing. “Gud ur Bad?”
In unison, they shriek their answer.
The Santa Thing shakes its flayed head in mock censure. How they struggle, these humans – these bags of unshifting meat and forgetting. How they neglect the old rules, the forms laid down millennia before they skulked into the world.
Bad? Bad it is.
Its helpers quieten now, stilled by awe and all they understand of fear. So much waiting, just for this moment. Their dust-mote eyes stare from every patch and stripe of murk. The Santa Thing gathers itself, reaches deep into the roiling galaxies within its form. Time stands on edge. Bladders swell, organs secrete, and arteries aslant from space drip piceous fluids.
Upon the brink of two realities, the Santa Thing releases.
To its own eyes, impulse and sensation spew and spray across the walls: A word of anger here, a casual blow there, an urge to hate drying in a filthy birthmark. To its eyes, a map in space and time charts pain across the patterned wallpaper. Its colours are rich, delightful. Yet, for those who’ll live out this portrait, nothing they’ll ever see. If only they could register its beauty, perhaps they could resist its lure.
A sound. A stutter of shock. The Santa Thing has let itself be distracted. Something has sneaked up on it, noiseless until the very last moment. Even as it spins, the Santa Thing twists, reforms, tries to become what they have made of it.
Still, the small creature framed in the empty doorway looks afraid. It shouldn’t be here, it knows. Fear strikes it dumb. Its lips tremble … a name hangs there. Not the Santa Thing’s, but familiar. The name is a prayer. The prayer remains unspoken.
The Santa Thing hears nonetheless.
Forgive me, Father Christmas.
But the Santa Thing is father to nothing. Knowing what awaits this small creature, knowing what the new year will bring, it smiles its mouth round moist, shivering words.
“HaPee KrisMus. HaPree KrisMus, Litul One.”
The Santa Thing doesn’t wait for a response. Even for a thing that lives between the cracks of time, there’s much to be done this sacred night. It melts instead back into the darkness, a memory already fading and mixing with illusion in an infant mind that will never be quite sane again. Embracing the chill night wind, the Santa Thing flees for a star-slick sky, smears its long silhouette across a bulbous moon.
And in its wake, fluid with echo, a sound that might be laughter.