REPORT A PROBLEM
In the beginning was the word. The word was 'Strewth': God's truth. It was a contraction. It was the beginning of the evolution of language.
God had created Uluru, and around that he had created Eden. It was a land of desert and grass, which held and blended every facet of the beauty of the Earth. Monsters roamed and patrolled Eden, and coral lay around its edges like a halo, but more colourful. The people he would place there would be beautiful.
It was an experiment, a prototype. He thought maybe it was a bit much. But it was good.
Sel'drath is a 'snow elf', which sadly does not mean she is magically reistant to cold. The etymology of the elven word 'snuw' is beyond the stub-ears' grasp. She's a woodland huntress and a wilder, and a carpenter's apprentice before that. Not a fucking mountaineer.
Because humans put too much stock in racial nicknames and not enough in education, and because she has survived eight years of exile, Seld'rath is the chosen one. She's legally bound to destroy the wizard Ordin Sintuklass. Some foreign tyrant who apparently lives in the mountains.
'But', Sel'drath thinks, finally, shivering, 'not these mountains.'
Sel'drath was a little girl, once. A tall little girl with big ears, in boarding school. She's thinkng about it now, aware that she's dreaming, but trying to will herself deeper into the half-fantasy. Every hour or so the breeze whips some needles of cold air under her blanket, into her leg or her cheek, and wakes her. You can't even sleep this high up. She ought to get on with things, she thinks. Make breakfast.
One time the human kids made a snowman with two dried sticks coming out of its head and named it after her.
Uncle Tony always had a bottle
of Coca-Cola at his workdesk, but
only the ones with Santa Claus on.
He loved those. He'd mix one
quarter Scotch in there and let
it go flat. He tended to drink less
in October and February; he
was stone-cold-sober in summer. We
offered to buy him some Coke,
because we missed his drinking, even though
we were supposed to worry,
because he was so casual,
treating it like a pet tiger, like a Kinectimal,
it was his way.
'Only if Santa's on the wrapper'
he said. We drew Santa on, last July,
and he gave it up.
'... Oh...' I thought, then '...my God...' The words seemed insufficient, and for a moment I was angry. A moment later I resolved to be calm. No time for that. Don't die angry.
From the next batch of vying emotions, I picked an old favourite: grim humour. This skydiving trip was the end of my holdiay. I hadn't been looking forward to going back to work. Now I never would. So there was that. Funny.
People talk about their lives flashing before their eyes in moments like this. I was fortunate enough to have the Lake District to look at instead.
Sel'drath has met a man. Elven, oddly enough.
His name is Sephas and he's a fisherman in the mountainside vilage of Bethseada. Apparently, while lost in the snow she became unconscious (maybe the cold got her, she was unprepared) and he saved her life. It's quite a romantic tale... but she likes this guy too much to imagine him with his clothes off.
Evidently Sephas does not feel quite the same way. He's volunteered to get her started tracking down her target. The latest is that his brother Garridan is coming too? Okay...
Sel'drath has become a fisher of men.
Sel'drath was abandoned. Properly abandoned, in the classic style. Little basket on a doorstep, little note, white blankets. Lazy.
There was a pine toy horse and buggy in there, too. Until she discovered Feminism, she had assumed her father had carved it. It made up for the unoriginality of the abandonment, if not for the deed itself. Now she has no idea who made it. The thing was handmade, for sure. But not by him. For sure.
The apostrophe in her name might have been a smudge on the note. No-one really knows.
She LOVED that horse and buggy.
Fog can be very pretty, Pete thinks. But hell, anything can be pretty when you're full and warm and just sleepy enough to be mindless but still moving. There's some kind of drawn-out string music murmuring down the street from somewhere.
And the scene is just black and fuzzy through your bacon-greased glasses, and behind the scene is still fog, glowing orange from the big blooms of two streetlamps. The whole picture looks like some kind of paper puppet show, or a charcoal sketch, or an overly-stylised cartoon movie.
Pete opens the window for a closer look.
When I was a kid I would always wobble when I turned the stairs-light on at night. Every time I imagined there would be a murderer or something at the top of the stairs, waiting for me to see him.
One night, when I was fifteen, there actually was.
That split-second was agonizingly drawn-out. I just had so much to process, so many thoughts and emotions to rush through before I could allow myself to be aware of time passing. Hurry up, DO somethiiiiing!
That moment, when everything was just how I'd imagined, was the worst part.
I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish. I am a fish.
My little glass salt cellar was on the drawer next to my head as I woke. The salt was uneven. Still yawning and with a protesting arm I tipped it slightly to one side. Nothing happened, so I tilted it sideways... then completely on its head, not even bothering to cover up the holes with my straining fingertips. The salt remained static, as though gravity meant nothing to it at this hour. Calm, as if this were ordinary.
When I banged it on the edge of the drawer, the salt remembered it was salt and I went back to sleep.
'Sel'drath is the chosen leader!' cries Sephas. He sounds like he means it, too. Eleven other voices cheer loudly and hopefully. She has twelve elves following her around now. Apparently her assassination mark is an unpopular guy. These guys see her as some kind of redeemer for her people.
All she did was dole out some of her old tribal healing poultices. It's not a frickin' miracle.
Most everyone else gathered at the bottom the freezing cold mountain just stares. There is light applause. Oh! Now she has to deliver some kind of speech.
'Be blessed,' she begins. Uh...
Sel'drath doesn't believe in Gods. Except the elven God of wine, who she has muttered to from time to time before falling asleep. Ho ho. It's not that she doesn't think they're up there: just look at the beauty of the Earth.
She just... doesn't think there's any point in relying on these God characters. Sure, thanks for the life and the wine, hey. But is that it? You wanna hang out, or...?
And there must be some bigger, better people who created them, you know?
A voice calls from the crowd. 'Chosen One? Chosen by whom?'
Sophia has one of those wedding dresses that actually looks kind of boring, plain. It's basically just an ordinary dress, except white. We could have bleached one of her regular dresses. But she doesn't need a fancy costume. Nothing could make her more beautiful t- no, it's a bad dress. I wouldn't have picked it.
She likes it, obviously. I catch her eye and she gives me her new smile. It's like the awkward, secretive one she gave me for ten years, but now it ends with her thrusting her head forward a touch, sweetly. Yeah. I finally won you.
- I'm sorry. I didn't want to tell you today. So... how do you feel about it?
- I fear the wounds are... fatal...
- Do not grieve... soon... I shall be one... with the Matrix...
Ultra-Magnus... it is to youuu, old friend, euhh... I shall pass the Matrix of Leadership... as it was passed to me.
- Nor was I. But one day an Autobot shall rise from our ranks... and use the power of the Matrix... to light... our darkest... hour. Till all are one.
- THIS is why we're breaking up, Steve. Open your eyes, please.
Sel'drath is out hunting. She and her twelve followers are sick of fish sandwiches. There are so few tracks to follow, despite the deep, crisp snow. Oddly she's just picked up the impressions of big, human boots. Out here?
A rustling noise raises her eyes from the ground and she sees the most obvious wizard there has ever been. He's dressed in a forest-green robe and hat, long white beard, big boots. He matches the description perfectly. She just never imagined he'd be wandering alone, dressed like this.
Sel'drath draws her bow, fast, smiles back.
Sel'drath is two hours late. She arrives back at the camp with a ruddy face, bared teeth and no meat.
'What happened?' asks Garridan. They all stand, concerned.
'Fuckin'... frozen fuckin'... fuckin' fingers. Couldn't shoot my fuckin' bow, for cryi-FUCK'S sake.'
Sel'drath is upset.
'What were you hunting?' asks Caradhras, the fourth follower.
'HIM.' Their leader spits. 'The enemy. Sintuklass. Saw him in the woods.'
There is hubbub.
Sel'drath pulls a piece of yellowed paper from her waistcoat.
'But he did drop this. A letter.'
'A letter... with his address.'
The gathered elves stare.
'So... let's open it?'
Thank you very much for my presents last year. I wanted to write you right away to say thanks but mum and dad said no you were busy sleeping.
This year all I'd like is a pony please. It was eighth on the list last year so I guess it was overlooked.
I hope it doesn't lok lie I am just trying to butter you up but. I hope that you have a good Methrass too and that you also get good presents too!
Yours not trying to be nice just to get a pony,
Sara Suzanne Talmir
‘And remember, little lad, Jesus DIED for your sins, a’ight?’ Our vicar was scary.
I was only eight but I remember thinking, ‘No he didn’t! Not exactly, anyway. Or rather, yeah he did die -- slowly and painfully -- but then he came back. That doesn't count! That's not death. He died in the same sense that Super Mario dies. Except Jesus has infinite one-ups.
‘What he did was, he was tortured horribly then recovered and then... went back home to his dad’s.’ I thought, ‘That’s impressive enough, vicar. There’s no need to exaggerate that story.’
You hate driving at night. More than that, you hate stopping at night. You always want to lock the doors but it seems like it would be ridiculous.
A stocky, Asian man in a hat and gloves waves at you furiously from the traffic light. Though you glance at the mirror, you know he means you.
What on Earth does he want? You wave? Wave. Uh. Hi!
He's so frantic! What?! Oh... Mary, mother of God. THERE IS A KILLER IN THE BACKSEAT.
Oh, no. Forgot to turn your lights on.
All right, stop waving, pal. Yeah, thumbs-up. Smartarse.
Sintuklass, as the story goes, has elven slaves. Whenever mountain elves go too far north, they vanish. The hermit wizard, so the story goes, is responsible.
'So,' Andraste, the twelfth disciple, murmurs. 'He, uh. He brings gifts to little girls at Methrass time? He's starting to sound less evil than he used to...'
'Little HUMAN girls,' Sel'drath spits into the snow. She yanks her dagger from its sheath, boldly, accidentally cutting it open. 'Little human girls.'
'I don't... we can't justify killing this man,' Andraste says.
'I'm the chosen one,' Sel'drath growls. 'And I don't like humans. He dies tonight.'
Sintuklass lives in a brightly-painted house in the snow, with an orange glow behind the windows and smoke pouring from the big chimney. Outside, there are bigger buildings: red, gold, green, decorated in a way that makes Sel'drath smile and immediately feel guilty for it.
She shakes her head at the old snowman by her side.
The little girl who wanted the pony would have come from the nearby human town. They live in luxury, the stub-ears, like Sel'drath's old boarding school. Better. Like this place.
The elders said she could come home if she did this job.
Sintuklass is feet away and he doesn't even see his killer coming. He's reading, or re-reading, a long paper list of names by a fire and still wearing his bright green fur-trimmed snow suit.
Almost silently, a blade flies toward Sel'drath's neck. Almost. In seconds, the huntress has boken her attacker's leg and taken the blade for herself. Andraste tries to scream and groan at the same time, but Sel'drath shoves a swift elbow into her face, drawing blood.
'I don't really have a choice,' the victor breathes. 'I'm sorry. This isn't...'
Bizarrely, the traitor kisses Sel'drath's forehead.
The morning turns.
My pen is in my shirt
pocket, waking next
to the fabric,
warmed by its
I like this pen.
It's by my bed
most mornings, printed
along the white skin with
spiderweb tattoos, with
some paper at its
When I wake I want
to smile at it, wearily,
share the aches of
cut-short dreams and grown-up
problems, bleary eyes
and old wine kisses.
The cunt bleeds
into my pocket and
sleeve, dying a pen's death
where my breast lay
last night, when I
Ink trickles into
my carpet and I hate it,
that cheap fucking pen.
Breaking after a month. I've got plenty
waiting. That spiderweb design was ugly
An angel watched over the spectacle of the messiah's birth, its expression unreadable.
This was not a handsome man with feathery wings and white clothes. Angels are indescribable. And I don't mean like you think that very lovely view you saw is indescribable, or the beauty of the girl you loved. I mean truly. It's not just that I can't describe it, either. I don't mean to use the word as an excuse for my poor vocabulary. Not this time, anyway. The angel was indescribable. Incredible.
The mother below held God incarnate in her arms and worried about a census.
Sintuklass looks frightened, even though Sel'drath's blade is still out of sight.
'Oh...' he says in a deep voice somewhat muffled by thick, long pure-white whiskers. 'The young lady who... from the woods.'
'Yes. And you're the fabled wizard Ordin Sintuklass.'
'Hardly a wizard!' he laughs from his big belly. 'What can I do for you?'
'You enslave elves.'
He stops laughing. 'No, miss, I do not. I can't claim to be a friend of your people, much as I'd like to. No man truly can…' He sits her down.
'Some elves work for me. Here’s my story.'
Sintuklass clears his throat.
'I used to be a magician, of sorts, in town. I know a few... tricks. I met my wife in the summer and we gave up work to start a family. It never happened. I can't tell you how much I wanted to be a father, my... anyway.
'One Methrass, we stumbled upon a straw basket, abandoned in the chapel stable. There was a little girl. I... we gave her to an orphanage. She was an elf. Elves weren’t…'
The old man is still and silent.
'We're retired now. I give out toys, at Methrass.'
Sintuklass is sitting in a workshop, telling his odd tale. Behind him is a freshly-made, pale wooden horse and buggy. Sel'drath has been staring at it the whole time, barely hearing the story.
'It's our tradition,' the old man says, 'for the holidays. And yes, my workers are elven. Humans don't live out here, of course.'
She gives her name and watches him brighten up behind a polite smile. 'Look. I used to be a carpenter's mate. Do you... need an extra hand?'
'Hm...' He motions toward the toy. 'Can you make something like this?'
'Yes. Exactly like that.'
We decided to ring-in the new year with a Street Fighter 2 marathon. We were at that age when youth is to be clung to desperately, and you're still juuust in reach, and no-one's married yet. We watched the anime then moved on to the superior Van-Damme movie. Finally we played the game itself. I lost.
I thought about my ex (who dumped me at Halloween, hated videogames and was recently engaged) and hugged Charlie.
When the year ended the three of us were still, facing the TV. I remember it in black-and-white.
Sel'drath takes a job with Sintuklass and unties Andraste. And apologises. The two of them return to their camp and recruit a few other workers from among the snow elves. Together, they make toys and deliver them in Daçember, more every year. Sel'drath starts calling the old man 'father Methrass' and even thinks for a while about the Gods. She lives happily ever after.
And that's the story of Santa and his elves. Remember, all of this happened in the earliest years of recorded history. Some of the names and details have suffered countless translations.
But that's basically it.
On the seventh day God rested. Late that evening he had all sorts of new ideas. The success with Australia still fresh in his mind, he got carried away.
On the eighth day he created the asteroid belt and Saturn. On the ninth he finished the whole Sol system. Soon he had a galaxy: thousands upon thousands of worlds, living artworks mounted against black, all subtly different. Endless, indescribable beauty.
I don't even know what he's been doing since then. He sort of... drifted away from Earth.
On the thirtieth day he made his first binary system. It was great.
The Tip Jar