Interactive Heating Versatility
by Perry McDaid
The wall between the studio and the exit corridor began to ripple around a small red circle, as if someone filmed a snooker ball dropping into a lake from underwater.
Nick harrumphed. “About time. I was wasting my time here. You people don’t believe in anything.”
“That looks like a candy cane,” the previously condescending radio host noted querulously as a red and white section of wood fitting the dimensions of a decent size walking stick wiggled its way into the studio.
“Still, I have to try. There’s always hope someone will hear and believe.”
“It is a Candy cane!”
“What?” Nick craned his neck to stare at the object from the same angle as the stunned human. “Oh, I see. No, not at all. It’s closer to a Nitsiq, those hooks the Inuits use to hook fish. The butt can be sharpened to poke holes through the ice. Innovative fellows took the idea from us. This one’s magical of course, and not used for fishing.”
The business end of the cane slid downwards, expanding the impossible aperture, then up to just above Nick’s head-height. A woman stepped through the slice and curtsied to Nick.
Although her face was child-like, her eyes sparkled with centuries of wisdom … and her ears were pointed at the top of the pinnae.
“That’s an unrepeatable-ing elf,” the DJ exclaimed.
The elf’s mouth dropped open in shock; and Nick clipped the guy around the ear.
“That’s you definitely on the Naughty List. Really, what is this need for crude expletives?”
“Are you ready to go, Santa?” The petite elf watched his lips for a reply, having clapped her hand to her ears in case of further coarseness.
“I certainly am,” Nick affirmed and motioned her to lead the way. He turned to give the DJ a disapproving glare. “Two pieces of information and a gem of wisdom for you, Sonny.” He pointed to the tool holding the ‘door’ open. “That … is a dimensional drill, used much in the same way as one would use a graduated ice bore.” He grabbed the side of the rift with his right hand and held his left forefinger and thumb apart in front of the DJ. “This … is a ‘candy cane’. Your bit of wisdom? Guard your tongue before someone less tolerant rips it out.”
The wormhole snapped shut behind them.
“You okay, Mercy?”
The elf was blushing furiously, but managed a nod.
He touched her cheek. “Treasure those tears, little one. Many in this world would not even understand them.”
She smiled at the love emanating from him, and though the memory of the careless word remained, the pain dispersed upon the frosty night, as they walked through the fire exit to where the sled waited.
As he mounted the driver’s bench, after she had wriggled into the cosy niche usually occupied by the big bag, Nick grumbled.
“Do you know they were not the least interested in how I got this gig: you know, how as a benevolent king I gave succour to the poor and rescued that young lad from kidnappers, despite…”
There not being an impatient or intolerant bone in Mercy’s body, she listened in rapt attention to the stories she had heard since birth, until the gentle sweeping of the sleigh through the skies sent her off into a peaceful doze.
Sure, it was on the run–up to Christmas and everyone, but everyone, in a red suit, bobble hat and black boots was supposed to be jolly and good natured; but Nick – to tell the God’s honest truth – was in a foul mood.
The interview with the local radio station had not gone well, the sound staff sniggering behind his back and the interviewer being tactfully condescending – if such were possible – throughout, picking up the phone when no calls were coming in and laughing at all the wrong places.
And that was another thing: absolutely no calls. Nick would have thought at least a few children would have wanted to talk to Santa on the allegedly most popular local radio show. He was beginning to think he had been duped with regard to that popularity. He was no dozer. He had listened to the show before he accepted the invite and it had seemed very busy. But then, it didn’t take a genius or much of a conspiracy these days to fake incoming calls.
“Harrumph,” he grumbled, checking his crystalline fob watch: intricately carved from permafrost for him by Jack. Nick had no idea how the tiny gears remained soli in the diverse climates he was required to traverse. But then Mister Frost had a magic all his own. The delicate timepiece did not even feel cold in his pocket. Previously, he’d put that down to the insulating property of the wobbly layers, but the fact was that it didn’t feel cold when in his hand either.
“Fascinating fellow, our Jack,” Nick commented quietly, careful not to wake his passenger. He could see the Circumpolar stars now: each one sending a slim and precise beam only he could see reflecting upon the snowy landing site.
The sleigh drifted soundlessly in, hardly disturbing the surface snow as it touched down, hidden by magical flurries. Nick reckoned that if humans could detect those delightfully discrete spotlights, they would mutter and debate for centuries about transient pulsars, or something like that.
He scowled despite himself. Mercy might have already forgiven the foul language of the interviewer cum disc-jockey, but Nick was still furious. He hooked up the reins and stepped down, turning to gather Mercy up in his arms to carry her towards the invisible barrier.
Her husband waited just within. He gave Santa a big grin and accepted the transfer with a benign grace seldom seen elsewhere.
Nick stared fondly at his retreating form before gazing at the glowing lights of his own home: a log cabin built into the side of a massive rock face which didn’t exist on human maps. He could hear the landing crew leading the reindeer away for grooming and feeding and hauling the sleigh to storage. Everything was as it should be … and Johanna, his own wife would soon chase his bad mood away.
She too had a magic of her own. He trudged towards the cabin with an expectant smile. He crept up the steps of the porch and eased the door open. She wasn’t there.
The table was more solid than time and if anyone else had been drumming their fingers on the grained magnificence that was its top, it might have constituted an affront. The foot on the box-stretcher withdrew, its owner choosing instead to tap it on the granite flooring.
“What?” The other being in the great cavern was somewhat more exotic than the dumpy old man sitting at the table in faded long-johns which the modern world knew as a union suit.
“You don’t exist. Where’s my fireplace?”
Scaly eyebrows seemed to slither over each other as the huge eyes rolled heavenward. “Oh please!”
“Go on, shoo!” The man fidgeted in his chair in an odd combination of leaning forward assertively while cautiously keeping his distance. Only his hand actually moved from its spot: executing a tentative flicking motion before being jerked back to safety. “Run along.”
The dragon laughed. It was a hearty sound, not at all menacing or sibilant. From the head, shoulders and the left front legs visible, one could calculate its full length as being about seventy feet long; but only those parts mentioned were actually in evidence.
“When’s the last time you got fuel for this fire of yours?” The drake’s voice was rich and resonant. It carried a lot of amusement.
The man remembered who he was and eased to his feet, carefully sliding the intricately carved chair beneath the table’s apron. He waggled a finger at the huge face not ten feet from his own. “Don’t make me use my powers.”
The great mouth curved into an unlikely grin. “What are you going to do; magic yourself up my nostril?”
The man grimaced uncomfortably, recalling that dragons tended to be immune to magic.
“You don’t exist.”
“Well that’s rather rich, don’t you think?”
“Coming from you, that is,” the dragon continued. “According to most out there, you don’t exist either.” Scales seethed as the muscular neck stretched to bring the head within five feet of the blustering human. “At least they admit the existence of my distant cousins. They don’t countenance you at all.”
The man frowned and backed away, choking on the sulphurous fumes. The door opened. It was a solid wooden door on solid wooden hinges, a strange and unexpected access to a cavern, but them these were strange and unexpected characters.
The woman in the doorway stopped dead and flushed prettily. She did not drop the tray in her hands. Not even a drop of the milky hot chocolate spilled. She was not given to hysterics or histrionics.
“Ah…” she said.
The dragon wound his neck in. “Sorry,” it said. “I’m not as spry as I used to be.”
“That’s okay, George. It was just a matter of time.” She smiled, took a breath, and continued to the table where she casually deposited the tray. She straightened. “Do you want marshmallows today, dear?”
The man deflated, pulled out the chair again, and flopped onto the seat. He managed to hold his gape all the way through this manoeuvre. The attractive young woman casually reached out and lifted his jaw until it closed with a slight click.
“Don’t shout, dear. It’s rude.”
He looked abashed. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was shouting. It’s very noisy inside my head at the moment.”
“You’re forgiven. I suppose it’s only to be expected … considering.”
“I repeat… George?”
“That’s his name. He’s a great comfort while you are away on business; and he’s so labour-saving.”
“How’s that then?”
She glowered. “I note a very unattractive tone in your voice, Nicholas. Kindly extract it.” Her own tenor ambled from “sweetness and light” to a dangerous evenness.
The dragon looked awkwardly around the interior walls. It finally broke the uncomfortable silence.
“I imagine you were too busy to wonder about the lack of rubbish bins and waste in and around this delightful village of yours. I’m your very own environmentally friendly incinerator. I provide a nice fire for your home and I focus my body heat deep into the foundation stone here which is accessed by all your workers.”
The saint’s wariness of the huge creature had been blown aside by his wife’s towering complicity.
“Really,” he drawled, “… and what about your ‘waste’? I remember having a pet as a boy. There’s always that downside.
“It’s quite all right, Johanna, I’m quite–”
“He knows your name?” Nicholas was incredulous. “Do you know the power these creatures derive from names?”
Both dragon and woman stared at him with open mouths. The dragon quickly closed his … just in case.
“What superstitious twaddle, Nicky! You’re a saint. You’re supposed to know better than such nonsense. The Good Lord will be terribly disappointed.”
“But… but…” Saint Nicholas could do nothing but point at the dragon, the sheer incongruity of its existence in the face of both Christianity and science robbing him of any cogent argument.
“Ah,” Johanna said, “that reminds me.” She addressed George directly. “We’ve had a run on remote-control powerboats. We’re short on mouldings. Do you think you could … you know?” Between the stony scales, Georges bottle-green skin was suddenly suffused with a bright sky-blue. “Oh, my dear, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I simply forgot Nicky was here. I’m so sorry.”
“What has he to do with toy-making?” The saint coloured a bit himself, red with outrage.
The dragon’s embarrassment waned. “My digestive system is quite unique and, of course, magical. I can choose which form my … er … scat takes. I do a mean polymer group.”
“And very useful that is these days, Nicky. There are very few requests for wooden trains and rocking horses these days.”
Nicholas fidgeted some more. “We don’t have the equipment here for mouldings. I suppose he does that as well?”
“Yes dear, even the teeny weeny parts. He’s a treasure.”
“I’m a Hearth Dragon. I’ve got magical moulding molars,” the creature announced playfully.
“Don’t you think it a bit inappropriate for him to take on the name of the saint who slew a dragon?”
The creature sniffed haughtily. “It’s no more odd than you marrying someone with the same name as your mother.”
Nicholas glared at his wife.
“That, I did not tell him.” She eyed the dragon and raised an eyebrow.
“What? You think elves don’t gossip?” It grew bashful. “Look, I’m sorry. You put me on the defensive. It’s not like she looks anything like her.”
Nick was doing a lot of glaring for a jolly person.
“I think I’ll have a chat with the elves,” Johanna said in a deceptively airy tone.
George immediately regretted not citing the net as the source of his information. He winced as the crick in his neck reminded him of his incomplete metamorphosis.
“Er… Can I continue with this?” His left eyebrow arched emphatically. “It’s really very uncomfortable being half in and half out.”
“Good,” Nicholas grumbled. “I wouldn’t want you to feel left out of the discomfort stakes.”
Johanna shifted back to her role of referee. The elves weren’t going anywhere … yet. “Now, Nicky, it’s not George’s fault he can’t hold his water.”
“Pardon?” George sought to check his nether regions; belatedly remembering that all his waste went into the production of toy material. He was having more and more senior moments like that this millennium.
“She means you can’t hold a secret for long … you have to spill it … like … you know… Ah, perhaps you don’t. She picked that expression up in Ireland … among many much more colourful.”
“And you love the variety, even though you glower and scold,” she purred archly.
“No, I really don’t,” he said.
“Oh. Sorry, George, of course you can go. I’ll talk to you later.”
The dragon could be heard moaning a bit as he fused into the rest of the chimney brace. Nicholas suspected that was more to do with the prospect of the promise of that “talk” than any pain involved in the metamorphosis. There was an uneasy silence while Nicholas decided that the best way forward was a comfortable blanket of denial.
“Well,” he said.
“Would you like a warm up, dear?”
Nicholas eyed the skin on the surface of the untouched beverage. “Well…”
She lifted the tray from the table. “I’ll just give this to the reindeer then.” She laughed prettily at Nicholas’s pet lip. “I’ll be back with freshly made mugs of delicious hot chocolate for both you and me … and some biscuits straight from the oven. I think we even deserve a little cinnamon in our brew this time.” She paused. “He loves the skin: that buck with the dark muzzle. No wonder he’s called Dasher.”
That last bit left Nicholas at a loss, but he decided not to pursue it. “He really shouldn’t be, you know, Johanna. There’s no mention of him in the sacred texts.”
“Who’s that, dear?”
Nicholas cleared his throat and nodded at the fireplace.
“Oh come, Nicky. How many species don’t appear there? Seriously?”
“Well… It’s just not right. It’s ridiculous.”
“Glad that’s settled. I’m going to pretend this afternoon didn’t happen and warm myself by the perfectly ordinary, non-dragonish fire.”
“You do that, dear,” his wife acquiesced. “I’ll just get our fresh cocoa.” She turned; half-way to the door. “It’s a particularly stormy night, Nicholas. Shall I have the elves get an early start on saddling up your flying reindeer?” She closed the door gently after herself.
Nicholas glared at the door panels. “Smartarse!”
Irish writer, Perry McDaid, lives in Derry under the brooding brows of Donegal hills which he occasionally hikes in search of druidic inspiration. His diverse creative writing appears internationally in the like of Quantum; Runtzine; Horrified Press; Amsterdam Quarterly; Everyday Fiction; Bewildering Stories; Flash Fiction Magazine; Bunbury and others.