Updated: Dec 6, 2020
I've always been a fan of holiday ghost stories in the grand Victorian tradition. I mean, what's a better pairing than festive yuletide joy and the terrifying prospect of someone returning from the dead to haunt you?
Given that this has been a particularly crappy year for so many, many reasons, I figured that I couldn't possibly make it worse by adding to that canonical body of literature with my own spin in the form of a new Heloise and Grimple tale, You Can't Hide from Chriskahzaa. (Note: it's entirely possible this story will make the year worse. I'm sorry. It couldn't be helped.)
(Okay, it could have been helped by me just not doing it. But, I did it. So, you're screwed. Sorry/not sorry.)
The story will be dropping in November, about a month before the much-ballyhooed release of the new full-length Heloise adventure The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True on December 15th (a book the clearly drunk folks at Publishers Weekly called "clever, twisty, and bursting with sidesplittingly funny one-liners" in a starred review). The main reason I'm putting it out is in an effort to raise some funds and awareness for Impact Justice (impactjustice.org), an organization that works to forge a new path to a justice system that is fair for all through innovation, research, policy, and advocacy.
So, keep your eyes open (I won't say peeled, because ouch and gross) for more details on how you can get your sweaty little hands on this story to tide you over until the big book drops in December--and, more importantly, how you can help support the path to equal justice.
In the meantime, here's a brief preview of coming attractions to whet your appetite or wet your whistle (FUN WITH HOMONYMS!).
Take care, dear friends and readers--of yourself and each other. And be prepared for a whole bunch of terrible jokes in the coming months...
YOU CAN'T HIDE FROM CHRISKAHZAA
There are few things in life I love more than a good tradition , and one of my favorites is the annual Chriskahzaa holiday song festival in the bustling city of Lurvaine.
They take their Chriskahzaa celebrations very seriously in Lurvaine, to the point where those who don’t exhibit enough holiday cheer, at least in the estimation of Lurvaine’s legendarily dour city watch, are press-ganged into work crews that are forced to string up magical twinkle lights across the city while imbibing the city’s traditional nog, a heady mixture of egg whites, fresh cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and massive quantities of spiced krumk .
The song festival—which, not coincidentally, also involves the consumption of significant quantities of nog —showcases bards from across Erithea, each vying to have their song chosen as the Song of the Season, an honor that confers both status (most bards would happily stab their own mothers for the title) and lucrative popularity (local wizards mass produce magical recordings of the songs, which an eager and adoring public happily purchases).
I’ve attended the festival many times. And, I’ve consumed more than my fair share of nog, though I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor that I once prevailed in a drinking contest against legendary lush Bordan Bilderbuff, a 7-foot mountain of a man who, rumor has it, has more than a bit of giant blood in him, and who has been known to drink a keg of ale before breakfast as a means of cleansing his pallet for his beloved apple cinnamon oatmeal. But, I have never officially entered the contest…
Until this year, that is, though I’d actually come to Lurvaine at the request of the festival’s organizer, a fellow bard named Glamfair Flutestick , who had reason to believe someone was going to try to sabotage the festival in a most diabolical way.
Why did Glamfair have this rather unusual concern? Well, I think it’s because he’d received a note that read, and I quote, “I am going to sabotage the Chriskahzaa holiday song festival in Lurvaine in a most diabolical way.” It went on to add:
I’m pretty sure that the festivities begin on the 17th day of Destember, but if you could confirm that for me by return post, I’d appreciate it. It just wouldn’t do to engage in diabolical sabotage on the wrong day. Wait—I’m staying anonymous. I almost forgot. Never mind; I will figure it out. But you really should post the dates more regularly on the board in the town square, or somewhere else that people who like to anonymously engage in diabolical sabotage congregate.
Your Wicked Servant,
Someone You Know Better Than Yourself
So, while we might not have been dealing with a criminal genius (though he did manage to stay anonymous, at least), it’s Glamfair’s job to take any threat to the festivities seriously because no one, not even the Crime Lords of Sessalaunt, would dare to disrupt holiday activities in Lurvaine. Glamfair was in high dudgeon—though that was nothing new—so he reached out to the smartest, bravest, and most mellifluous adventurer he knew.
I arrived in Lurvaine accompanied by my adventuring partner, a rather annoying hill giant named Grimple. Granted, he’s smart for a hill giant, but that’s not saying much. He recently got sideways with an undead wizard, which resulted in him getting temporarily transformed into a sickly gnome with enormous hands and a terribly posh accent, but he’s gotten better (though he still has the stupid accent) .
“Now then, I say, where’s this Glimmer Tootprick you’ve been telling me about?” asked Grimple in his inimitably idiotic way.
“Glamfair Flutestick. For the fifty-forth time.”
“No, no—that’s only the fifty-third, eh what?”
“You’re forgetting right after lunch.”
“Oh, right. Pip, pip.”
Inanities complete, Grimple and I made our way to Glamfair’s house, which could only be described as “palatial.” Apparently, there was good money in comforting tradition and nostalgia.
Glamfair opened the door and ushered us in quickly, looking nervously over our shoulders. He slammed the door behind us and leaned against it, exhaling loudly. “Thank you for coming, and so quickly.” He peeked out through the window at the rapidly darkening sky. Clouds threatened snow, though I couldn’t tell if they were natural clouds or manufactured by the town’s wizards, who did a bustling trade in snow creation in advance of the festival.
Refreshments awaited us in a parlor, and while I contented myself with a cup of tea and a biscuit, Grimple proceeded to hoist the teapot itself and then eat an entire bowl of what turned out to be wax fruit . Glamfair looked aghast, but didn’t say anything, intimidated, perhaps, by Grimple’s size and his enormous club, Banger.
“Do you know anything more about this anonymous rabble rouser?” I asked, biting daintily into my biscuit .
Glamfair grimaced. “Maybe. The festival kicks off at mid-day tomorrow and I am just sick about the whole thing. I’ve been running the festival for twenty years and never once have we had anything like this happen. Oh, sure, we’ve had a few people end up the worse for wear after too much nog, but we’re very adept at treating the aftereffects of overindulgence—those priests of Bacchalius can work wonders with their healing magics. But, never once—not once—have we had someone threaten the festival itself.” Glamfair pulled a flask out of the voluminous pocket of the robe/muumuu thing he was wearing, shakily unscrewed the cap, and took a deep pull.
“So, Glammy,” I asked in my gentlest, most understanding voice, “are you absolutely sure this is a legitimate threat? Could someone maybe be messing with you?”
“No, Heloise, I think this is very real,” he said. He reached back into his…outfit situation…and handed me a folded up piece of paper.
I opened it and read it out loud for Grimple’s benefit (technically, he can read, but he only knows curse words with any degree of confidence):
We’re getting very close to that diabolical sabotage that I mentioned in my last note. I know now that the 17th of Destember is, indeed, the first day of the festival, so I will be sure to act on time. I hope you are ready for chaos. Actually, I hope you aren’t ready, because it would undermine the effect of the chaos if you were prepared for it. I guess I shouldn’t warn you so much probably. But, you are doomed—DOOMED! (Sorry for the shouting—it just seemed like I would be doing it if I were delivering this message in person, but it feels a little rude in writing. Please accept my apologies—for the shouting, I mean. I am not going to apologize for the havoc I will wreak on the festival. You and I both know that we’ve done it before and are capable of doing it again.)
Not wanting to offend my host, I tried to be tactful. “I can understand why you’re so concerned.” You know, tactful is hard, and you really have to watch what you say. Forget it. “Except for the fact that this guy is a moron—and yes, I’m sure it’s a man, both because no one else would be this stupid, and because only a man wouldn’t just ask someone what day the festival starts on. So, you know, I don’t really get why you’re concerned. Post a few extra guards, tell them to be on the lookout for a blithering imbecile with dangly bits, and have at it with the songs and the boxnuts and the nog.”
“If only it were that easy,” sighed Glamfair dramatically.
“It is that easy,” said Grimple. “You don’t even need extra guards. I’ll keep an eye out, eh what?”
“That’s like a blind person saying he’ll keep an eye on invisible person.”
“No!” exclaimed Glamfair, surprising both me and Grimple. He rose shakily to his feet. “There are…things you don’t know. Things from my past. Things that could…that could...” He swallowed hard. “That could kill a lot of people.”
Grimple and I exchanged glances. Mine was intended to convey concern at the serious shift of the conversation; I’m pretty sure Grimple’s was meant to convey concern that the chocolate-covered biscuits were gone.