The children were up with the dawn next morning, eager to explore Allison’s new power before the campers woke up and the army of picnickers rolled in from Harvey.
Allison stood in front of her friends like she was about to defend a thesis. They’d found a remote, tree-shadowed corner of the dam, with a curled finger of water at their backs. Mabel had insisted they do it near the water.
“So…” David hopped from foot to foot. “You gonna start?”
Allison nodded. “Yeah.”
She reached down, right into the depths of the Earth. She pulled. Heat rushed up through her feet, filling her to bursting.
She grinned. She burned.
Mabel and Billy oohed and ahhed. The boy crept slowly towards Allison. “Is it safe?”
“I wouldn’t get too close,” said Allison, her voice rippling with the hiss of superheated air. “Your fur might melt.”
Billy drew as near as he dared, walking around his friend and peering at her like a marble statue. She looked like a fire-fairy.
Nobody but Allison could say if she was blushing. She jumped. “Thanks.”
Something broke. The flames went out.
Allison examined her arms. “Huh.”
“Why’d you stop?” asked David.
“I didn’t, it just—” The warmth flowed back into her, along with the fire. She sighed, not a little relieved. “I guess I shouldn’t jump when I’m doing this.”
It was funny, Allison thought. Usually she knew all about a power the moment she used it. Except, it seemed, her own.
“Come on!” Arnold jeered. “Show us the lava!”
Allison puffed out her chest. “You want lava?” She raised her hands over her head. “Here’s your lava!”
The magma fountained from her fingertips like water caught in the sun. Leaves on their branches were reduced to glowing skeletons by the convection.
Mabel gripped David’s hand, tilting her head anxiously towards the fires breaking out in the canopy.
David squeezed back. “Don’t worry.”
Tentacles of water rose from the dam behind them, whipping at the burning trees and dousing the flames.
The hiss of the steam gave Allison an idea. She tried grabbing David’s song, without letting go of the heat. Her fire became tinted absinthe green, while the lava twirled in strands around her arms and legs like gymnast’s ribbons. It felt like flexing her elbow. She gathered up David’s steam and froze it, skeining the tiny comets around the molten rock as they constantly exploded and reformed, caught between the heat and her insistence they remain ice.
Smiling, Allison stuck out her leg, ready to dance, when her whole lava lattice wobbled. Drops of magma wept from its arches and spirals, boring pinprick holes in the dirt before vanishing completely. Allison had to let go of the ice ice to keep the whole thing from collapsing, letting the water evaporate into the air.
The girl frowned. What, I can’t even move when I’m doing this?
She stepped forward cautiously, lifting her feet off the ground as little and as quickly as possible. That was much more manageable, but she still felt her grip falter.
Well that’s boring.
Next she tried weaving and pushing the lava away out from her body, aiming for a much more flammable version of Abalone’s force-domes. At about two meters, the strands of lava cooled and solidified like a stone cage over her, blowing away in the summer breeze.
Allison’s friends applauded, until David saw the disappointment her face.
“What’s the matter, Allie?”
Allison let her fire go out. “It’s not as fun as all your things.”
“Why not?” asked Mabel.
“You guys can run and use your powers. I have to stand still or I drop everything! It’s boring!”
Arnold rolled his eyes. “Figures. You get a new forever-power and you whinge about it.”
Allison glared at Arnold and stamped her foot. “It’s not just that!” Her head drooped. “I can’t go fiery near anyone. I’d burn you.”
David smiled gently. “I know how it feels. You’re pretty much the only one I can bring underwater with me. Properly, I mean, not in a bubble or something.”
Allison kicked the dirt. “That’s not the same. Fire’s scary.”
Privately, Mabel couldn’t help but agree with her.
Arnold and David shared an exasperated look. The water-sprite bent his knee, ready to take off running. “Hey, Allie, turn the fire back on, I wanna try something!”
Allison dutifully combusted. David turned icy and charged at the girl.
Arnold, Mabel and Billy screamed and ducked for cover as their friend exploded in a shockwave of steam and ice-shards.
Mabel lowered her arm from in front of her face. Jagged daggers of ice hung fixed in a wall of mist. She rolled over to see David bent laughing in the water.
“You should’ve seen your faces!”
Allison was laughing, too.
“Not funny,” Arnold muttered from between his knees.
Mabel smiled. “Eh, kinda funny.”
Billy was already on his feet, clapping. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Allie, your new power’s great! It’s like you’re a volcano goddess now!”
Billy grinned blanky. “Yeah, sure! Also, you and David really need to get some pants.”
David stopped laughing. “…Why?”
Billy folded his arms, doing his best impression of sternness. “Because two kids not wearing clothes at all is weird, and the naturals might notice. And if I have to walk around invisible half the time, you two can wear pants.”
“Seconded,” said Mabel.
“But it’s a swimming spot!” complained David.
“Kids still wear clothes sometimes here,” Mabel retorted.
Arnold glanced between David and Allison. “Yeah, it’s getting kinda… yeah.”
Allison shrugged. “They’ve got a point, Davie.”
“Looks like you’ve been outvoted, mate,” said Mabel.
David sighed. “Fiiiine. So where are we gonna get clothes?”
“I could try making some,” offered Billy.
“Nah,” said Allison. She was looking past the other children at the shadows tomorrow cast on today. That still took getting used to. A couple of the silhouettes were familiar. She smiled. “I know where we can get some good clothes from.”
Where. Who. Allison didn’t see much of a distinction.
For the extended Walsh-Zieliński-Cancio clan, Christmas Day in 1965 fell on December 23rd. It was the only day that month where a worthwhile number of relatives could be gathered at Harvey Dam for the perfunctory holiday barbecue.
Jenny Cancio had left her father and uncles to drink and mechanically turn cheap meat over hot coals, while her mother and aunts tried and failed to brag about their children without each other catching on. Jenny was going to be an entomologist (or as she thought of it, “bug scientist”) when she grew up, and so needed a constant supply of specimens.
The little girl sat cross legged in front of a densely populated congregation of red bottlebrushes. She was a thin child, her warm brown hair ruthlessly bound into pigtails, with enough freckles vying for space beneath her glasses that they almost formed into leopard spots. Given the time and place in which she was born, it was perhaps a blessing that Jenny Cancio had been born without much self-consciousness.
A banana yellow beetle crawled onto the back of the girl’s hand. Jenny grinned and called behind her, “Matt! Christmas beetle! I think that’s good luck or something!”
Matthew Zieliński looked up from the nowhere-map he was drawing in the dirt, nodded, and went right back to his art. He was Jenny’s favourite cousin. Mostly it was a matter of geography—they were in the same class at school. He was also borderline mute, though Jenny would argue he was only quiet the way cave-paintings were.
“This one’s up really early for a Christmas beetle,” Jenny explained. “I wonder if it’s hungry?”
Matt maintained a kindly silence while he traced out sea-serpents. It wasn’t that he was uninterested, he just knew Jenny would furnish her own answers.
“You know that by the time Christmas beetles come out of their cocoon things, their parents are dead?” Jenny smiled wickedly to herself. “Be kinda fun if that was how it worked with people.”
Without looking up from his drawings, Matt smiled, too.
Watching the beetle climb up her arm, its legs pricking at her skin, Jenifer pondered cocoons, as was her way. They made more sense to her than how human beings grew up. More delineated. From what little adults had told her, people just sort of… stretched.
A sharp intake of breath. Matt’s silence changed timbre.
Jenny turned around. “Matt, what’s the—oh.”
Matthew was on his feet, gawking at a naked girl with skin like cold, smudged bone. It also seemed someone had set her eyes on fire, not that she looked bothered by it.
The Christmas beetle took off from Jenny’s arm, clumsily fleeing through the air.
“How do you know my name?”
Allison tilted her head. Jenny and Matt had been in class with her since kindergarten. They were sort of friends, in so much as Allison had ones whose names weren’t Arnold. It helped that she was the one child in Harvey who knew as much as Jenny about bugs, at least after she met her, that was. How did they not recognize her? Had she changed so much?
Allison folded her arms and tried to smile mysteriously. “You just look like a Jenny, that’s all.”
Jenny smoothed her saffron dress nervously over her knee. She could swear the girl was eyeing it, with those two burning coals of hers. “Do I?”
The girl shrugged. “I guess.”
“Are you a demi? Like from the news?”
Like your classmate? Allison thought sourly to herself. “I—”
“Nah, she’s a fairy!” A tiger shaped like a boy was hanging upside down from a bark tree, his legs and tail hooked around its strongest branch. He jumped down, stuck the landing, and ran at the other children. “So am I!”
Jenny screamed. Matt squealed.
“Kitty-boy!” Matt pulled said kitty-boy into a hug. “Look, Jenny, caaaat!”
Jenny didn’t hear her cousin. She was too busy pacing and sharing her fears with the ground. “They’re supervillains! They probably blew up Parliament, or they’re from the Coven! Or both!” She stopped in place and screwed her eyes shut. “They’re gonna get us!”
Allison sighed. Looked like they were going to have to rewind and start over. As she started moving towards Jenny, Billy shook his head at her.
Let me handle it, he thought very loudly. He looked at the panicked girl. “Jenny, I promise me and”—he thought quickly— “Hesperis aren’t supervillains. I told ya, we’re dam fairies.”
Allison was quietly impressed, more by the name than “dam fairies.”
Jenny looked back up at Billy, her eyes red and wet. She sniffled. “Can you prove it?”
Billy grinned. “Sure can! Fairies can do magic, right?”
Matt nodded enthusiastically. More warily, Jenny answered “Yeah…”
“Well,” said Billy, “name something you want. Anything!”
Jenny pondered the offer. “A bug ring.”
Allison was still trying to figure out what a bug ring was when Billy conjured up a wisp of mirror-mist and snatched something out out of it in one fluid motion. He got down on one knee and held his arm out to Jenny like he was proposing. “M’lady.”
He opened his palm to reveal a diamond ring. Not a common gold ring with a few diamonds embedded in it (that would be cheating) but a band of molecularly pure, clear cut crystal, a darkly glinting black Hercules beetle curled around it.
“Ooh.” Jenny slipped the ring on her index finger and held it up to the sun, letting it catch ablaze with light. “You are fairies!”
Allison peered into her old classmate’s mind, trying to figure out how that display seemed particularly “fairy”. All she got was a confabulation of excited pink explosions.
“Glad we’re on the same page!” said Billy, swiping his first jovially. He called out, “Oh, Triton!”
David emerged from the local humidity. To anyone who didn’t know that, he materialised from thin air. His eyes were on full glow. “Hello!”
Triton? Allison thought to herself. He doesn’t even have a fishtail!
Jenny offered a hand to David, grinning broadly. “Pleased to meet you, Triton!”
David bent and pecked the girl’s hand. “Enchantée.”
Jenny giggled. French really is a terrible weapon.
Matt’s nose wrinkled. “Hey, why are you two naked but Kitty—”
Billy clarified, “Tom Tildrum.”
Allison tried to hide her distaste. It was easier now you couldn’t truly see her eyes.
“…But Tom Tildrum wears clothes?”
Billy patted his shorts. “Pockets!”
“Overrated,” said David. He looked out towards the dam waters and smiled back at Jenny. “Wanna go swimming?”
And so the fairies led the two human children off into the wild.
Bradley Cancio had set off to find his daughter and nephew at lunchtime. Now it was nearly 7 o’clock, and the sun had nearly set over Harvey Dam—evening blue swallowing the orange horizon like the sand at high tide—and Bradley Cancio was still searching.
“Jenny!” the man called out into the indifferent, gathering gloom. “Matt! Kids, please, this isn’t funny!”
Mr. Cancio stopped and stared around the darkness, hoping desperately for any unaccounted wrinkle of shadow, but all he found were the frantic silhouettes of his own family fruitlessly searching velvet trees.
Someone needs to head back to town, Bradley thought. Get the police over here.
He stomped into the water, as though those few feet were all that were keeping him from spotting the kids out on the lake.
But if the cops are involved, than the kids will be Lost, and then—
Bradley swung around in the direction of his daughter’s voice. “Jenny?”
The little girl and her cousin emerged from a crowd of wattle trees, hand in hand. They were both naked, bar Jenny’s glasses and a couple clear bands around her fingers, almost invisible in the dim.
“Jenny!” Bradley ran to the two children, almost knocking them over as he embraced them. “For Christ’s sake, we thought we lost you!” He looked both children in the eye, trying and failing to look annoyed. “You were supposed to be back at lunchtime. Where the hell were you?”
“With the fairies,” Matt answered simply.
Jenny glared at him. The fairies hadn’t explicitly asked for their secrecy, but it seemed like the done thing.
“The fairies,” Bradley said flatly. “Where’d you leave your clothes.”
Well, now that Matt had spilled it already… “The fairies needed them.”
Mr. Cancia shook his head. “They needed your clothes?”
“Yeah,” said Matt. “Didn’t seem like a big ask.”
If it had been any other month, in any other year, Bradley Cancio might have been able to write it off. Not with the Flying Man still in the sky, and Parliament House still smoking.
Not when they’d taken his daughter’s clothes.
Cities of glass, where people made of song rode on wings of laughter. Great eagles that flew through the winds of gas giants. Walking mounds of flesh, begging twin suns in a dry sky for rain—
An archly bitter voice spat, “Seen it!”
Allison woke with a start, in the dark of her stolen tent. David lay asleep beside her, dutifully clad in Matthew Zieliński’s cargo shorts and footy jersey.
Matt and Jenny had been alright, Allison thought hazily. Fun, even. Maybe she ought to have paid them more attention, back when she thought she was human.
Bells. Silver bells. They rang randomly, without any rhythm. But there was a song, too. Drums, deep, slow, and resounding. The tune was familiar, in a way that made Allison’s bones hum. And something was glowing beyond the tent-flaps, like a fire on the other side of a blizzard.
Dreamily, Allison crawled out of the tent. What few scraps of sky the trees let reach her were a tired, dawn grey. Kookaburras rang in the morning with their raucous conversation.
Allison shivered from the cold. She hadn’t done that since she’d taken on Eliza’s improvements. How could it be so cold in high summer?
Just beyond their copse, by the water, there stood a man. He was taller than life, and almost as broad. He wore a thick, hooded fur suit, dyed bright red with trim as white as his beard. A sleigh was parked next to him, while enormous, burly reindeer drank from the dam, bells on their collars ringing with every twitch of their necks.
Father Christmas caught sight of the girl and smiled warmly. “Merry Christmas, Allison Kinsey.”
Allison teared up just looking at the man. He wanted to bury her face in his chest, and confess every bad thing she had ever done. Every lie; every neglected kindness; every cruel comment. For burning that pointless, powerless old man, and for what she had done to Alberto.
Was that even a bad thing? She didn’t—
Allison turned to find her friends all standing behind her, staring at Father Christmas just as she had been.
The old man nodded. “It’s as good as name as any.”
The children ran at him, embracing him. All except for David. He just stood and watched.
Billy was laughing. Arnold and Mabel were weeping.
“I’m sorry,” Mabel moaned. “I didn’t mean to—”
Father Christmas sighed and stroked her hair. “Oh, child. Circle’s End was nobody’s fault.”
Mabel didn’t stop weeping. Father Christmas wasn’t surprised. He was far from the first to try and convince her of that.
Arnold stammered between sobs. “I made this happen, should’ve known…”
“That was another’s crime, Arnold. Herbert Lawrence would’ve found some other way to leave a scar on the world even if you’d never been born.”
Allison tensed. She didn’t have to tell Father Christmas what she was thinking. Nobody had to tell him that. All he said to her was, “Some wouldn’t even feel sorry.”
Old Saint Nick gently removed himself from the hug. “Now, I’ve got some presents for you all.” he took a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles and a scroll from within his jacket, donning the glasses and clicking his tongue as he let the parchment fall open in front of him. “Let’s see now.”
He walked over to his sleigh, hoisting one-handed an enormous, green sack onto the grass and pulling loose the silver cord that held it closed. He fished out three gift-wrapped, bow topped boxes, and casually tossed two of them towards Billy and Allison. The girl caught hers effortlessly, while the boy flinched and let his fall to the ground.
Billy scrambled to pick his up. “Sorry, sorry!”
Father Christmas let out a laugh that should need no description. “No harm done, son!”
With the third present under his arm, he marched over to David. The water-sprite looked up at him warily.
“I apologise for the resemblance, sea-spawn.” He patted his belly and laughed once more. “Us bearded patriarchs, we all look much the same.”
“I don’t care,” muttered David. “I’m not scared of him anymore.”
“I know you’re not. But nonetheless.”
“…And don’t make fun of yourself like that,” David added. “Laurie always did that. Like he wasn’t completely full of it.”
Father Christmas nodded. “I will remember that.” His expression became businesslike. “Now, son, you’re not on either of my lists. Those are for mortal children.” He handed the present to David. “But this is the season for giving.”
“Thanks, I think.”
Father Christmas put a hand on his shoulder. “Besides, you’ve been a very good boy. Too good, for too long.” He bent till he was at eye level with the boy. “Just remember, boy, there is such a thing as overcorrecting.”
He glanced around at the children. “You can open them, you know. It’s been Christmas morning for hours.”
Slow, vaguely reverent unwrapping, lasting much longer than David’s quick tearing. The three boxes all held the same contents: an aggressively plain grey bodysock.
David poked at the clothing like it was a dead jellyfish. “More clothes?”
“Hey, those are life-fibres. Had to fly to the moon of Scrool to get them. They might not look like much now, but wait till you try them on.” Father Christmas looked at Billy. “The tail’s been accommodated for, son.”
Billy spent a moment double checking the single-piece bodysuit to see whether a tail hole had magically appeared, then, not wanting to gainsay Santa himself, said:
“Thank you, sir.”
Father Christmas walked back to his sack, pulling out more gifts. “Now, Mabel, Arnold, don’t think I’ve forgotten about you.” He beckoned the two close to him.
The pair approached cautiously.
Father Christmas addressed Mabel first. “Now I heard you want to be an artist,” he said handing her a black bound drawing book and a set of colour pencils.
Mabel took her gifts and shrugged, “I’m trying.”
Father Christmas tapped the girl on the forehead. An electric chill ran down her spine.
“And you’ve been rewarded.”
To Arnold he gave a large, handsomely bound volume. Its face bore a tree growing from a river, in whose branches rested a maiden and several planets, below the gilded title:
A BARNES FAMILY COSMIC ATLAS
Arnold tried to suppress a frown. He’d never been the kind of boy who relished getting a book for Christmas.
“Do give it a chance, Arnold. I had to do a great deal of research.” Father Christmas closed his sack and threw it back onto the sleigh. “When you children move on from here—and you will, soon—I suggest going to page 234.” He climbed into the sleigh’s seat and grabbed hold of the reins. The reindeer had been harnessed to the sleigh, when and by who the children could never guess.
“You’re going?” asked Billy.
“Afraid so, William. Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t let the sun rise or a child’s waking eyes fall on me, but rules are rules.” Father Christmas raised his hand. “Now, I suggest you all get a few more hours of sleep before you play with your presents.”
He snapped his fingers. Sleep pulled the children under, again, except for David.
“Goodbye, David. It was nice seeing you children all again. Say hello to your grandfather for me when you see him.”
David waved. “Sure—wait, my grandfather?”
The sleigh was already in the air, booming laughter echoing throughout Harvey Dam.
When Allison woke again, David was crouching in front of her. He was naked again, which didn’t surprise her terribly. Before she could say “good morning” or ask the obvious question, he said:
“Merry Christmas, Allie! Nope, that wasn’t a dream, Santa really did turn up.”
Allison laughed. “Really?” It honestly didn’t shock her too hard. A childhood in the western world had well and truly prepared Allison for this meeting.
“Yep. Left us stupid magic-I-guess clothes.” David picked up one of the bodysocks. “Wanna try them on before the others wake up?”
At Allison’s cajoling, David slipped his on first. “I don’t get what’s so special about em,” David muttered, apparently unaware that the aquatic glow normally reserved for his and Allison’s eyes was rapidly spreading across the length and breadth of the fabric. “They don’t feel all that—”
Then he noticed.
“Allie!” he yelped. “I’m glowing! Help!”
The request wasn’t really needed. Before he’d even finished the sentence, Allison’s shoulder caught him in the waist as she tackled him to the floor, already fumbling with the costume’s neckline. There was just one problem there. There wasn’t a neckline anymore, no seam dividing fabric from skin. The glow spread. Allison let out a panicked squeak as, for a moment, the glow seemed to cover the entirety of David’s form, before, less than a second later, it was gone. In its place, looking quite unharmed, if a little shaken, was David. The costume was still there too. It just wasn’t grey anymore.
“… Why are you covered in waves?”
“Yo-I-what?” David spluttered. “I’m wearing-” he looked at his hands. “… Huh.”
It was a strange effect, all said, the fabric shifting and flowing across the boy’s skin, colors moving gently between deep oceanic greens and a softer navy blue, dotted occasionally by brief glimpses of white that could have been either bubbles or sea foam. It looked less like a costume and more like he was simply wearing the sea. Occasionally, if you looked closely enough, you could see what might have been a flash of scales. A mermaid’s fin.
“I like it,” said Allison. “You gotta admit, it’s pretty.”
David was twisting around trying to get a good look at the suit. “Yeah, it is.” David mostly regarded clothing the same way a fish would, but if he were going to wear anything, it could at least look nice. On a whim, he evaporated into mist, reforming a second later. The suit followed suit.
“Woah,” said Allison. “How did Santa make that work?”
David looked worried for a second. “You don’t think—”
He misted again. This time, his new clothes simply flowed off him, forming first a puddle, then a pile of fabric on the floor. He became flesh again, looking relieved “Phew, thought I was stuck wearing clothes forever.” He shuddered, but he also put the suit back on.
Allison laughed. “Okay, my turn!”
She threw off Jenny’s dress and pulled her suit on excitedly. For several long seconds, it stayed grey.
“… Hey, no fai—”
Then her clothes exploded in a blinding flash of crimson light. Had Allison not been making a habit of that, David would have been very concerned that she had just caught fire.
“Maybe Santa clothes aren’t the worst present ever.”
The glowing figure that was Allison gave an excited little skip.
“It’s gonna be so cool, it’s gonna be so—”
Quite abruptly, the glow faded, revealing what, to David’s perspective, had to be the dumbest costume anyone had ever seen.
It was an outfit Joseph would have been proud of1. Colourful, in a word. The whole outfit was an explosion of reds, purples, and greens, in bold defiance of any sort of pattern. The top was a jerkin shaped mess of swirling blues, smokey whites, and pale purples, all surrounding the multicoloured, many pointed star of the Nine Muses emblazoned on her chest. David hadn’t even known you could tie-dye leather2. The sleeves and bell-trousers meanwhile were dominated by swirls of coral pink, yellow, and orange. The entire ensemble looked designed to offend the mere notion of quiet.
“…I take it back,” he said. “You look really—”
“This,” Allison cut him off, “is, awesome!” She bared her teeth and growled. “I am Allison, queen of the rainbow-pirates!” She burst back into flames. Her new outfit caught alight too, but did not burn, the streaks of colour glowing bright. “The fire rainbow-pirates!”
David grinned. Whatever his thoughts on clothing thicker or more cumbersome than bare skin, Allison’s glee was infectious.
Allison glanced around the campsite, eager to wake everyone up and show off. Arnold and Mabel were curled around their presents like slumbering, tiny dragons, but she couldn’t find Billy.
“Where’s Billy gone?” she asked David.
“Oh, he went to go try his on—”
Billy came barrelling out of the trees.
For roughly five seconds, neither David nor Allison laughed. It was too cute. It was Allison, however, who broke first.
“… You don’t like it?” he asked, his furry face crumpling in disappointment as the girl giggled.
“No,” she snorted. “I do! I really do… but where’s the rest of the Famous Five?”
Billy glowered at her.
“I am not a Famous Five!”
David, quite wisely, chose not to comment.
“It has so many pockets! And look!” he turned around. “Tail slot!” he pointed to the top of his shorts, where, true to Santa’s word, there was indeed a small hole cut out to make room for his tail. Unfortunately, turning around just gave the other two a clearer view of his hero mask, which, as they could now see, was tied to his head with what looked like strip of store bought ribbon. His cape could’ve been a repurposed baby blanket, while his top was a plain white polo-shirt of all things, with a high, stiff collar, and what looked like a crudely painted, gold philosopher’s stone symbol, but with the inner circle replaced by a smiling cat face.
“It’s so comfy!” Billy’s eyes were darting around like he was looking for an adventure to dive into.
Mabel began to stir, and like a contagion, so did Arnold. The boy blinked blearily at his costumed friends. “Not a dream?”
“Nope!” replied Billy.
“Morning, Arn,” said David. “Father Christmas made clothes a bit less crap.”
Mabel had well and truly woke up. “You guys look great!”
Allison was posing. “I know I—ah, crap!” Her hand went to her temples. “Stupid grownups!”
Mabel rushed to her side. “What’s wrong.”
Allison’s eyes narrowed darkly. “I thought about showing this off to some kids later and, bam, angry mob!”
“Angry mob?” asked Arnold.
“Matt and Jenny’s folks,” clarified Allison. “They’ve got everyone in town all angry because we took their clothes.” She kicked the air. “Grownups are weird. They’ll be here in a couple hours.”
Arnold shook his head. “Who goes all angry mob on Christmas?”
“Grinches?” suggested Mabel.
“So what do we do?” asked David. “Do we fight them?”
Mabel shook her head firmly. “No. No more fighting.”
“Then where do we go?” asked Allison. “I bet there’s still DDHA gits looking for us.”
Arnold thought about it. “Father Christmas said something about… page 214 I think?”
“Two hundred and thirty-four,” Allison corrected him.
Arnold flipped through the atlas. Some of the locales were sensical enough. New York City, Sydney, the Amazon Rainforest. But then where were the skerries of Dream, or the Emu Collective of Campion3, and what the hell were the Riverlands supposed to be?
He found his page. Arnold looked up at his friends. “Ravenscourt Manor.”
David groaned. “Figures.”
Allison sighed. “Let’s get what we want to take and get going.”
Australia had very few castles, and all of them were infants even by the low standards of human construction. The aboriginal nations had neither the material capacity or the urge for castle building, and by the time the white men arrived, they too had mostly lost their taste for it. But still, some had been built on that continent: as tourist traps, monuments, or even as homes.
Ravenscourt Manor had been one such castle, transported brick by brick from Britain to South Australia by the ailing, but still too rich for their own health, Ashley family in the 1860s4. It was a petty castle by most standards—a casual observer might’ve written it off as just a stone mansion—but a castle it was.
It had seen better days. The earth was eating its ramparts, and its edifice was wearing away like enamel from an old tooth. Birds swooped in and out of broken windows. The estate’s trees were all Old World transplants, bare of branch despite the summer weather. Just a couple of months before, the trees had been clad in bright, autumnal oranges. In the middle of spring.
David, Mabel, and Billy appeared at the rusting gates in a green flash, clutching (or wearing) their Christmas presents. A couple seconds later, so did Arnold and Allison.
“This the place?” asked the latter.
“Yeah,” said David. “I’ll do the talking.”
Arnold blasted the gates into the core of Neptune, and the children started hiking up to the entrance of Ravenscourt.
Living scarecrows lumbered through the gardens, turning and staggering towards the children as they walked. They paid them little mind. Arnold just teleported them whenever they got close.
Eventually, they reached the tall front door. David knocked demandingly. He could hear music through the thick oak, even place the song. “Butcher Pete” by Roy Brown.
After what felt like half of all time, the door cracked open.
His face hard and set, David said, “My parents are dead. All the other kids are dead. I think people are hunting for us.”
The Physician’s grin was stiller than the stone of his home. “Well, come inside then, children.”
“Turn this record over, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
1. At least in less adept translations of Genesis. ↩
2. You cannot. ↩
3. Probably Campion. ↩
4. The Ashley family were English nobility who sold their land (but kept the title of earl of Ravenscourt) and relocated to Australia after shearing and mining interests in the mid 19th century. Their last scion—the 16th Earl of Ravenscourt—would fight crime as a masked vigilante known uncreatively the Raven after being betrayed and driven from his home by his brother Sebestian. Both men would later disappear during a confrontation in a burning Adelaide warehouse in 1947. Many superhero scholars have suggested that the later Perthite vigilante the Wight drew inspiration from the Raven. ↩