This is the Christmas episode of my ongoing web serial, The UCF Stories, which I update weekly as a part of #fridayflash. If you are new to The UCF Stories, or have missed an episode, you can find a full index of the episodes here.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin...
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through Goddess Rising, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Crowley however, was still up, having promised himself another chapter of A Guide to Inner Transformation before bed. And so it was that the only creature awake when the cleaner came knocking was a rather large, grey rat.
A pair of rubber-soled shoes landed with scarcely a sound on the kitchen lino. The cleaner paused for a moment, removing his balaclava to wipe perspiration from his face with a black handkerchief. A spare little man, the cleaner had the sort of face that could lead to a legitimate charge of “sneaking” even while sat in an armchair drinking tea. The sort of person for whom close-fitting black clothing had been specifically designed, despite the discomfort writ large upon his face as he adjusted his trousers.
Setting his backpack down carefully on the kitchen table, the cleaner producing a net, a large sack and a pair of what appeared to be army surplus night vision goggles festooned with extra lenses. He was particularly proud of the goggles, his own design, each of the lenses enchanted to see through a different type of magic.
Replacing the balaclava, the cleaner pulled on the goggles, thumbing the power switch. His vision swam for a second until the goggles came online, the kitchen now a fuzzy, speckled green. He crept towards the door.
* * *
Crowley almost squeaked with excitement. In that last chapter he had finally found what he was looking for. It was all so ridiculously simple, he thought, slapping his paw to his forehead. Crowley began to murmur a chant.
* * *
Aveena was never quite sure afterwards whether the sound of Crowley's book falling off the sales counter, or the cleaner stepping on the squeaky floorboard in the passage woke her. She sprang from her makeshift bed in Goddess Rising's stockroom poised for action and crept to the door. Slowly pulling the door open just a little, she glimpsed a particularly disagreeable aura padding slowly into the shop. Aveena shrugged, ink running into her hand until she was holding a wickedly sharp knife before opening the door and creeping out into the passage.
* * *
Sweat matting the fur of his snout, Crowley continued to chant. He felt decidedly strange, as though something grew inside him. It was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate but he persevered, the book suggested he only had one shot at this.
With a flash of eerie blue light, Crowley's rat skin split from snout to tail, a grey cloud blossoming out into the shop. Writhing, the cloud expanded upwards as it coalesced into a roughly humanoid shape.
The eerie blue light played havoc with the cleaner's night vision goggles. He was fumbling with the settings when he heard a man's triumphant shout. Clawing the goggles from his face, the cleaner stared bewildered at the bald, portly man standing naked before him in the shop. The cleaner was sure he hadn't been there a few seconds earlier.
'At last!' roared Crowley.
Phut, phut. The cleaner's silenced pistol spat twice, the bullets catching Crowley neatly in the heart.
Crowley's body slammed into the lino, his outstretched arm pulling a stack of books from the counter as he fell.
The cleaner sucked in lungfuls of air to ease the trembling. He was still wondering where the man had appeared from so suddenly when Aveena slipped the knife between his ribs.
* * *
'Nay laddie, I have no clue who he is,' said Jamieson pulling the balaclava from the body leaking all over the shop floor.
Swazzle was none the wiser now he could see the man's face, though he almost swallowed his tongue when Botchett exclaimed, 'By the gods, it's Nick!'
Swazzle, Pogmorton, Jamieson and Aveena all looked expectantly at Botchett.
'Allow me to present Nick Christmas,' Botchett said sheepishly, 'an elf formerly in the employ of a certain Mr. N. Claus, like.'
'An elf?' chorused the Pixies, Jamieson and Aveena.
'Elves are a myth,' said Swazzle.
'Or ith it juth the way they walk?' sniggered Pogmorton.
'No, really, an elf.' Botchett lifted up Nick's hair, revealing a pointed ear.
'Bloody hell!' exclaimed Aveena.
'Anybody got something I can collect the blood in?' asked Jamieson, eyeing the puddle in which Nick lay. 'Elf blood's worth a fortune if,' he coughed, 'you know the right people.'
Further discussion was cut short when there arose from outside such a clatter. The assembled company ran down the passage, throwing open the back door to find a large red sleigh complete with nine reindeer neatly shoehorned into Goddess Rising's back yard. A large man in a fur trimmed red suit clambered laboriously from the driving seat.
'Hello Noel!' shouted Botchett, waving. 'How are you, bonny lad?'
'Canny for a young 'un, Botchett!' replied Santa, 'How's yersel?'
'Can't grumble, like. By the way, how's the sleigh running? My VTOL system for the reindeer working out alright?'
That explained the panniers strapped to the reindeer's sides, thought Swazzle.
'Canny, man, very canny. I'd never have got it in here without that reverse thrust option. Glad I let you talk me into it.' Santa beamed.
'Howay in then, have a glass of summat,' said Botchett, 'then perhaps you can help us out with a little problem.'
'Problem?' Santa waddled towards the door, a sack dangling over his shoulder. As he stepped through the door Santa caught sight of the elf's body. 'Nick bloody Christmas!'
'We were wondering if you might have any ideas what to do with him, like?'
'Do with him?' bellowed Santa, 'Do with him?' He kicked Nick soundly in the ribs. 'I'll feed the bugger to me pigs, that's what I'll do with him.'
'Don't ask, like' whispered Botchett as Swazzle opened his mouth. Swazzle shut his mouth.
* * *
Suitably fortified by Mistress Botchett's Midwinter Spiced Sloe Gin, Santa threw the elf's body into the sleigh. Botchett stood with his arm round his wife's shoulders on the back step with the Pixies and Aveena, each clutching a small neatly-wrapped gift from Santa's sack.
'No peeking mind,' shouted Santa with a wave as the sleigh wheezed into life, 'or they'll turn into coal and sticks.' He winked, pulling on a red leather flying helmet and goggles while the steam pressure rose. The reindeer pawed the ground as steam ran along the pipes to their panniers.
A light winked green on the dashboard and Santa flicked the reins.
'Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!' He winked at Botchett, shouting over the roar of the sleigh's engines, 'They love that bit!'
As the sleigh began to rise slowly into the air, steam blasting from the turbines in the reindeer's panniers Santa yelled, 'Rudolph! The beacon!'
A red glow sprang from the nose of the lead reindeer as the sleigh banked to the right and shot into the night sky.
* * *
Crowley moaned softly. Opening an eye, he put a paw to his head, wincing as he felt the lump on the back of his skull. That was one hell of a dream, he thought. Feeling something sticky on his fur, Crowley examined his hand, for a moment more curious about the pads and claws than the drying blood covering his palm. Realisation dawned as he gazed past his paw to the furry body, tail limp against the cold lino.
'Bollocks!' muttered Crowley.
Thanks very much for reading. Now, if you fancy something a little darker, may I respectfully point you in the direction of my Deck The Halls story, 'Tis the Season to be Jolly. Consider it my Christmas present to you, dear reader.