’Twas the Night before Christmas (sort of), and as they peered out from the edge of the pinewood a christmas card scene lay before them. Across a couple of miles of snow clad farmland they could see the small town spread out below them, with the bulk of Castle Paravel faintly illumined nearby. There was no glitter of exterior electrical lights: windows were lit from within to be sure, but the illumination of the town itself appeared to be by gaslight – no doubt simulated.
In the town itself the church bells rang six, and in the silence Moe thought he could hear a brass band playing ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. He wiped a tear from his eye. It was starting to snow.
The farmland was unpopulated apart from a lantern outside an isolated farm. Clarissa guessed that the animals were probably real: it was likely that there were some working farms to provide fresh produce and such. Whether staffed by humans or lookalike robots they had no way of telling, and avoided it.
Moe had very mixed feelings about all this. Officially Christmas was now banned in New Britain, and had been for several years. In his own squalid childhood Christmas was of course something he had loved, though the advertising and christmas card ideal had been far different from his own reality in the slums of Liverpool. He remembered that it had snowed deeply one year though, and even the decaying docklands of Bootle had been transformed in the darkness and thick snow to a place of magic and wonder for a child. This place was just…… wonderful. He completely forgot that in reality it was May. This was Christmas Eve.
As they entered the town over a stone bridge they walked into one of the two parallel main streets; these were spaced by a hundred yards or so, leaving plenty of opportunity for winding, narrow connecting streets, filled with Old Curiosity Shoppes, Shops selling toys, exotic sweets and other wonders. Although it was close to seven, some of these were still open. As they walked along they were seemingly ignored, apart from Victorian gents raising their hats and wishing them the compliments of the season.
As they passed a toy shop Moe noticed a small boy on crutches pointing at a toy merry go round, with his muffler clad father at his side.
“Which one do you like TIm?” asked the father.
“I like all of them” said the boy, in a wavering voice. A lump came to Moe’s throat.
“Good boy Tim,” said the father, “But not one in particular?”
“Well father, I know we can’t afford none of them. So I might as well like them all”.
“He’s so like me” thought Moe, his eyes staring to water. He noticed the thin frame of the boy, the crutches, the wavering voice. He envisaged a future christmas with a pair of empty crutches propped in memorium in the corner of a humble room, while the father sat quietly at home. He started to reach for his credit card.
“Ere darlin, fancy keepin’ me warm this evenin’?” Moe looked up: a pretty girl has appeared from a side ally and had ridden up the hem of her skirts, displaying a shapely hooped stocking above calf boots and an equally shapely ankle. She smiled invitingly at Moe, who hesitated, caught between pathos and lust.
“Oh come on Moe” cut in the icy razor of Clarissa’s voice. " And you. Push off." she directed towards the Dollymop, who flounced away muttering about ‘the wife’.
Moe hurried away, not looking where he was going. The cab skidded to a halt in front of him, bumping into him and knocking him over. There were the shouts of bystanders: Moe had been walking in the middle of the street.
“Ello’, Ello’, Ello’” said a stentoran voice. “Wot’s goin’ on ’ere then?” A burly constable was approaching Moe, and another from further down the street. Anwyn cringed: they had been warned to avoid the policemen, with their more sophisticated programming.
As the policemen approached one of them suddenly stopped, and appeared to be looking at Moe; he then started to reach inside his coat.
“What is it with Moe and vehicles?” thought Anwyn, and then she noticed that the eyes of a nearby shopper were glowing red and he was looking in Moe’s direction. And then he fired laser beams from them. To add insult to injury the bobbies hidden Webley .455 was in fact a blaster of some sort, which he fired in Moe’s direction. The zips and bangs of displaced air cut through the snowbound atmosphere. Carols were singing in the background.
With a logjam of three carriages at the crossroads there was at least some cover for the Strontium Dogs. Two additional policemen approached, reacting very quickly. Additionally, an assortment of Mr. Pickwick’s, Cheerible Twins, Sam Weller’s and even Nancy, Moe’s erstwhile friend started to sport glowing red eyes and laser beams. Even Bob Cratchett joined in, while Tiny Tim hobbled up to Anwyn, and with a final “God Bless us. Every one!” exploded like a plasma grenade. Fortunately she threw herself back and her armour absorbed much of the blast.
Worryingly another Tiny Tim exited a door and started to approach, along with Smike, Oliver Twist and some little girl or other. The Cheerible Twins were giving Moe a fair bit of trouble. Carnage ensued.
“Christmas was always like this in our house” said Anwyn, nostalgically.