A Christmas story by Joseph O’Connor, Lisa McInerney, John Boyne, Emer McLysaght, Maeve Higgins and more...

Ten writers play a game of pass the baton to create a Christmas mystery about an elf from Elphin and a magic crystal

Sparkles is an elf from Elphin, Co Roscommon

Sparkles is an elf from Elphin, Co Roscommon

 

Part 1: Patrick Freyne

It’s Christmas morning in Joe’s Bar and not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse or, indeed, a barfly. Suddenly there’s the sound of a huge explosion and a bunch of robotic reindeer parts, tinsel, candy canes, slimy tentacles and singed Christmas presents fly by the window.

“Oh dear,” says Joe, looking up from his newspaper.

Moments later, New York City police detective John McClane and an elf walk in. Both are barefoot, filthy and wearing vests.

“Whiskey,” says McClane.

“Egg nog,” says the elf. McClane raises an eyebrow. The elf punches McClane playfully on the shoulder and laughs. “Only messing, I want whiskey,” says the elf. This is clearly an in joke and it makes Joe feel a bit left out.

“Sooo,” says Joe, as he pours shots of whisky into not entirely clean tumblers. “You’re an elf.”

“Yup,” says the elf. “Sparkles the elf.”

“And you’re a New York City police detective.” McClane has his badge pinned to his vest because he is entirely defined by his job.

“Yup,” says John McClane.

“Interesting,” says Joe and he looks back at his newspaper.

“You will never believe the unusual set of circumstances that led to us becoming partners,” says Sparkles.

“Yeah, it’s really unusual,” says John McClane.

“Oh, you needn’t tell me,” says Joe.

“I mean, how could a humble stable elf, passed over for promotion and just two days from retirement, become the person responsible for saving Christmas?” says Sparkles.

“AND SANTA CLAUS’S LIFE,” adds John McClane.

“Seriously,” says Joe. “Don’t bother. I’ve a lot to do.”

But Sparkles is standing now with his hands behind his back. He’s staring out the window reflectively as though staring at a moment from his past. “It all started early on Christmas Eve morning when I was fixing the flux capacitor on Santa’s sleigh…”

“This is none of my business,” says Joe, but it’s too late. The screen has already gone all swimmy to indicate a flashback.

Part 2: Gavin Corbett

Swimmy, wobble, swimmy. The Arctic, so. Last year. Another unseasonably warm December 24th. Sparkles gives the flux capacitor a desperate and hefty kick, bringing up a spray of dirty sludge with his curly-toed boot. The pendant flares at last to orange. “Twiggy, twiggy,” it burps, a little confused, but good to go for another Christmas at least. Not that Sparkles gives a flying auk how long the blimmin’ time-stretching device holds up for. This is his last Christmas after 428 of thankless toil. “But I could go on for 428 more, and that’s the truth,” he mutters at no one. This promotion of Tassles to stable master – and he only part of the crew since 1813 – was the last straw for Sparkles, and he immediately gave notice of his retirement. He’s been simmering over the whole affair for weeks.

“See if I don’t care if you end up in the crater of Eyjafjallajokull,” he hisses at the sleigh, and turns to head back to his rooms. The helpless professional that he is though, he swivels through a full circle and gives the underside of the sleigh a quick final check.

Bof! What in Sweet Freezus’s name was that? Something has banged into the parked sleigh. Sparkles skids around to the other side and finds, to his horror, a dead, or at least stunned, penguin.

He whistles to Rugby, one of the elf medical corps, who happens to be passing.

“A penguin? In the Arctic?” says Rugby.

“Was it the impact that killed – or hopefully merely injured – him, would you say?” says Sparkles, contemplating a retirement in hock to plaintiffs and lawyers.

“I’d say the bang was only the final nail in the coffin.” Rugby is turning the poor flightless divil around and around, examining him. “Looks like he was badly burnt too. Check out his flanks.”

“How do you think he got here?” says Sparkles.

Rugby is sniffing his fingers. “Lava.”

“Lava?”

“Yeah. I’d say he fell here. He fell through the hole at the South Pole, shot straight through the centre of the earth, and popped out here on the other side.”

Sparkles rubs his soul patch. “Hmm. He fell – maybe. Or maybe he jumped. On account of some desperate situation.”

Part 3: Lisa McInerney

Christmas Eve is not an ideal time to go to Santa with misgivings or misinformation, especially about misplaced polar fowl. Sparkles has witnessed conniptions from the big man in the past. The year all of the candy canes were flavoured with peppercorn instead of peppermint. The unfortunate encounter with the Red Arrows. On each occasion there had been demotions and mince pie sanctions.

Sparkles remembers he’s only two days from retirement. He closes his eyes and sees himself relaxing with an eggnog in front of a roaring fire to the dulcet tones of Michael Buble. Sparkles should have been imagining something further removed from his day-to-day North Pole existence, say cocktails with little umbrellas, or a jazzy pair of Speedos, but he doesn’t get out much.

He sighs. Not for the first time he wishes the Good Fairy Sanctimonia hadn’t blessed him with a conscience.

“I’m going to report this to Santa.” He nudges the penguin with his foot. “Bag this turkey,” he says, wearily.

“It’s a penguin,” Rugby says.

As predicted, Santa is riled to have a mystery brought to him on this, his busiest day of the year (it was a Friday too). “Penguins? Lava? You’re busting my baubles here,” he shouts, slamming his huge, pink hands on to his ice-carved desk. “You slay me.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I thought you had to know!”

“No, I mean You, sleigh me. I leave in 10.”

The launch time is delayed by another 15 minutes as Santa’s hands have stuck to the ice desk, but otherwise it goes off without a hitch. Sparkles’s launch team whoop and throw their bell-ended hats in the air. Rugby hands Sparkles a cup of eggnog and Sparkles eyes the penguin, unceremoniously stuffed in a sack and half-hidden behind a pile of unwanted fidget spinners. Had the penguin been coming to warn Santa of something? Had another, more dastardly penguin pushed him? Lava, he thinks, and then…

[swimmy swimmy wobble, and we’re back in present day, at Joe’s Bar]

“Eyjafjallajokull!” Sparkles drops his eggnog in slow motion and sprints, also in slow motion, for the door . . .

“Hey, hold on a minute,” New York City police detective John McClane cries. “You’re forgetting the most important part!”

Who was going to save Christmas after what happened? Photograph: iStock
Who was going to save Christmas after what happened? Photograph: iStock

Part 4: Una Mullally

Sparkles stops in his tracks. “Right, right, sure thing, em, I’ll meet you outside.”

John McClane unseats himself from the stool, throwing a few candy canes on the bar. “Keep the change.”

Joe the barman grunts in gratitude. Sparkles stalls at the bar door, as McClane makes his way outside. Joe looks up from his newspaper.

“Alright then, what was the ‘most important part’?”, Joe asks, pouring himself a Baileys.

Turning back towards the bar, Sparkles removes a small package wrapped in muslin from his sporran, unfolding the material to reveal a blindingly bright purple crystal.

Joe’s eyes widen, “what the hell is that?”

Sparkles quickly wraps the crystal back up, tucking it back into his sporran.

“I don’t know why I showed you that. But whatever it is, it was wrapped around the penguin’s foot. My elfie senses tell me where I might be able to find its owner.”

Joe pours himself another Baileys. “Well if you don’t find them, I know a lad who could shift it for you.”

Sparkles nods, and hearing McClane holler outside ventures back out into the cold New York winter air. The sleigh was kaput. Turns out the previous year was definitely its last.

“Look it,” Sparkles says to McClane, who is swaying heavily after his fill of whiskey, “all of our delivery work is done. I bet the rest of the elves have forgotten all about us. They’re probably roasting their toes by the stove watching The Great Polar Bake Off as we speak.”

“What now then?” McClane mumbles, polishing the burn marks off his badge with the bottom of his singed vest. But Sparkles already has his arm out, a yellow taxi screeching to a halt.

“Get in,” Sparkles says to McClane, and McClane, with nowhere else to be, abides. “JFK Airport,” Sparkles tells the taxi driver, whose dashboard is cluttered with sad looking stuffed animals.

Back in the bar, Joe twists the cap back on the Baileys, surveying his dark kingdom, wondering whether he could knock off early. It’s not like there was anyone around. Just as he was considering the silence, the door slams open, snow and wind whistling into the bar. Joe knows danger when he sees it, and as the shadowy stranger ambles towards the bar, removing his trilby, scarf and shades, Joe’s mind automatically goes to the handgun he keeps under the shelf in an old Bewley’s metal tea box.

“You the boss here?” the stranger asks, his voice rasping and forceful.

Joe looks around the empty boozer, “well I don’t see anyone else here.”

The stranger takes a piece of paper from his pocket, and unfolds it to reveal a child’s drawing of a tubby guy who looked suspiciously like McClane, and by his side, a crude outline of an elf.

“You seen these folks recently?” the stranger asks.

Joe gulps, “can’t say that I have.”

“Hmmm,” the stranger says, pulling up a stool. “You sure about that, buddy?”

“Never seen the likes of them in my life,” Joe asserts, before turning his back and removing a glass from the shelf. “Here,” Joe says, pouring a Baileys and pushing it towards the stranger, “it’s Christmas.”

In the taxi, McClane was fiddling with the TV screen lodged in the back seat, Sparkles’s breath clouding up the window as he looked at the Manhattan streets whizzing past.

In the airport, breezing through security thanks to connections at the Aer Lingus desk, McClane and Sparkles reach the boarding gate, parents hustling kids into the queue.

“Where are we off too?” McClane asks, only vaguely emerging from his stupor.

Sparkles was already strolling up to have his standby ticket scanned, rolling his eyes at McClane and thinking about the crystal in his sporran. “Where do you think?”

Part 5: Joseph O’Connor

Eleven hours later, as the plane banks for its landing at Shannon, Sparkles is not in great form.

Once upon a time, it was a bit of craic being an elf. The hours and conditions weren’t bad. The uniform was free. Being an elf seemed to give you a better sense of yourself; it was good for your elf-esteem. Only rarely were there accidents or distressing incidents at work, thanks to the department of Elfin Safety.

But these days, things are different. So much competition, too many new groups muscling in. What with imps, pixies, sprites, and nymphs, to say nothing of dryads, goblins and will-o-the-wisps, the cake’s getting smaller all the time. And the allegedly “good” fairy, Sanctimonia, carving it up. Like, seriously though. In fairness. What a wagon.

Lately he’s been skipping the gym. His hair is thinning. Wearily, blearily, he adjusts the spectacles he was given by the National Elf Service and adjusts his i-Pod to his musical idol (Elvish Costello).

“Bad pun, sir?” asks the flight attendant.

“Nah, you’re grand, thanks,” he replies. “Brought me own.”

He peers across at the snoring pile of dandruff-sprinkled horribleness that is Detective John McClane. Detective, my hat. Couldn’t detect his own arse in a darkened room. And now this ghastly mess. And on Christmas Day! What’s an elf to do?

Christmas is not the time to be having to solve mysteries. It’s a family time of great specialness and tinselly puddingness, a time at which all of us can take a moment out of our busy lives to reflect upon the profound truth of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time goes a lot slower when you’re with your relatives.

From far below, the little meadows of Ireland gaze up greenly. “GO HOME, BALDY” they seem to say.

All will become clearer in the motherland, Sparkles feels, in the little town in Co Roscommon that holds the key to unlocking the truth or, at least, to prolonging the plot. If only he can stay awake that long.

He tries focusing on the names of Santa’s seven reindeer but maddeningly, mockingly, they elude him. All he can remember now is that Santa, in one of the fits of self-amused irony to which he is wont, named them after serving Irish politicians. Slowly, they come back to him, like pebbles seen on the floor of a slow-flowing stream. Poser, Woffler, Tubthumper, Bawler, Gonzaga-Boy, Weirdhair and Gym-vest. How uplifting to picture their namesakes on the debating floor of Leinster House, pelting each other with nuts.

McClane awakens hideously and gapes bog-eyed about the cabin, the great dolt, as though not realising where he is. After a moment, he gnaws open the little packet of pretzels he was given with his fourth vodka and tonic and goes to chuck a couple of them into his mouth, but he misses.

“You dirty-looking eejit,” comes a dull half-cry from the row behind.

Sanctimonia! What the elf is she doing here?

As all three make their ponderous way through arrivals at Shannon, it’s becoming worryingly clear to Sparkles that it’s time to do some gnomework.

“Where to, lads?” asks the taxi driver, whose name is Bridie McCarthy.

“Elphin,” says Sparkles. “Where else?”

Part 6: Hilary Fannin

Sparkles believed there wasn’t much left that the windswept world could throw at him. Standing at a crumpled three foot three inches, and with more pre-metric decades under his shiny leather elf belt than he cared to remember, he was a guy who thought he’d seen it all.

First on the scene back in ’73, to clean up after a freak hurricane that had mercilessly battered Santa’s sleigh (a storm somewhat misleadingly called Derek), he’d witnessed the strewn corpses of naked Sindy dolls litter the Arctic ice, their little nurses’ uniforms and glittering ballgowns ripped from their plastic backs as if by the claws of a Yeti.

A decade later and he’d been the one to break the news to Santa that a whole battalion of Action Men had been felled by a chemical leakage of Paco Rabanne, the likes of which the snown world had yet to encounter.

“Get me a Xanax,” Santa had said quietly, pulling his braces over his beery vest, abruptly turning off his Bonnie Tyler CD and accidentally swiping Mrs Claus away with the back of his calloused hand.

And then recently, just when he thought he’d seen it all, Sparkles found himself stuffing a consignment of pet Christmas stockings with the latest fad: Twinkle Tushes.

“What are Twinkle Tushes?” Sparkles had asked a fellow worker, not really wanting to know the answer.

“Bling for your kitty’s backside,” said the tired old elf next to him, an elf who used to dream of being a poet. “Tat to decorate pussy’s puckered posterior.”

“Humanity, eh?” said Sparkles with a sigh, but no-elf-body heard.

“It’s a sad old world,” Sparkles reflected now, looking out the window of Bridie McCarthy’s taxi as the Irish countryside unravelled itself, flat frosted field upon flat frosted field, each mildewing into the gathering dark. Yes, barrelling towards Roscommon, duty-bound to save the festive season, Sparkles thought he was impervious to feeling. Even the pair on the back seat – McClane flatulent and scalp-flaked, snoozing, his head resting on the ample bosom of the semi-conscious Sanctimonia (partially covering up the lettering on her emerald-green T-shirt, which read “Do As I Say, Not As I Do”) – could do little to depress him further.

It was at that moment that Bridie McCarthy turned to him, and by the light of a pale moon he saw the truth in her eyes ever dawning, heard her voice clear as a crystal fountain.

“I have something to show you, Sparkles,” she said, “something no elf before you has ever seen, something you have been looking for for a long looooong time.” (She drew out this second “long” until diamonds of spittle, dew-drops of pure want, foamed at the corner of Sparkles’s mouth.)

“We’re here,” she said, taking the Elphin exit. Momentarily lifting her eyes from the dull rise of the road, she stroked his trembling knee.

“You’re home, Sparkles,” she said, as the lights of Elphin blazed before them.

Part 7: Emer McLysaght

The streets of Elphin were quiet, and sure why wouldn’t they be? It was Christmas Day. Definitely Christmas Day because only this morning Sparkles and John McClane had been in Joe’s Bar after crashing in the sleigh, remember? Across the land people were in their homes arguing over Trivial Pursuit and whether or not The Shawshank Redemption was too hard for charades. Their feet were roasting in the new slippers they had to wear for the day that was in it. Someone was frantically searching for the family-sized tub of Andrews Liver Salts. Magical, special, precious times.

Sparkles felt like pressing his face against one of the windows along Elphin main street, a voyeur on the warm and loving scenes. He hadn’t been home in years. It could only be a short visit though. His fingers tightened around the edge of his sporran and the crystal inside.

Suddenly, a soft voice called out softly in the darkness, light footsteps crunching towards him.

“Well, well, well. Sparkles Brennan, the prodigal elf.”

Marigold Deasy. His first love.

“M… Marigold,” he stammered. McClane and Sanctimonia had staggered, bickering in the other direction on a fruitless search for an open pub.

“So, what have you been up to?” Her green eyes shone. God, she was lovely.

“Well. I found a mysterious crystal at the North Pole last year and I think it’s growing stronger and somehow trying to destroy Christmas. McClane and I – that’s the guy in the vest feeling up the fairy in McDaid’s doorway up there – had to save Christmas last night and deliver all the presents after a mishap I won’t go into that was maybe caused by the crystal. And now we’re here.”

“Wow. How plausible and exciting.” Marigold’s cheeks were flushed pink. “I feel so up to speed and on track with everything that’s happened so far.”

“Good, good,” said Sparkles. “Me too.”

Suddenly, a heavy hand landed on his shoulder, and as he turned, the stranger’s trilby cast a dark shadow across his face…

Christmas Eve is not an ideal time to go to Santa with misgivings or misinformation, especially about misplaced polar fow. Photograph: iStock
Christmas Eve is not an ideal time to go to Santa with misgivings or misinformation, especially about misplaced polar fow. Photograph: iStock

Part 8: John Boyne

“You!” roared the man, removing his trilby to reveal a head of glorious red hair, the kind that even Maureen O’Hara in her heyday would have envied. “Didn’t I tell you what I’d do if I ever saw you back on the streets of Elphin again?”

“Mr Deasy,” said Sparkles, backing away and feeling the same rush of panic he’d experienced all those years ago when Marigold’s father had come home to find the pair of them canoodling on the sofa in a state of undress. He’d threatened to roast his chestnuts on an open fire if he didn’t get out of Ireland within 24 hours and Sparkles hadn’t wanted to test his resolve. “Believe me, I wouldn’t have come back if –”

“I don’t want to hear it, Sprinkles,” said Mr Deasy, taking his coat off and throwing it on the ground as he took up a fighting stance.

“Sparkles,” said Sparkles.

“You bloody elves are all the same. There’s not one of you with any respect for a decent girl.” He took a swing but, his boots sliding on the snow, the blow landed not on Sparkles’s face but further down. A lot further down. “Christ alive!” he cried, nursing his fist, which was already starting to swell from the knock. ‘I see you were ready to pick up where you left off all those years ago.”

“No, Mr Deasy,” said Sparkles, removing the bright purple crystal from his pocket and holding it out for Marigold and her father to see. “I think you must have hit this.”

Both father and daughter said nothing for a moment, staring at the gemstone as it glistened under the light of the moon. Marigold put a hand to her mouth and shook her head.

“Sparkles,” she said. “Where did you get that?”

“I found it wrapped around the foot of a murdered penguin,” he said. “It’s a funny story, actually. It all started with –”

“Was the penguin’s name Brian?” asked Mr Deasy and Sparkles blinked, unsure he’d heard him right. Before he could answer Mr Deasy rushed forward and grabbed him by the lapels, shaking him so hard that his bell-end tinkled the opening chord from Silent Night. “Tell me, you stupid elf, was the penguin’s name Brian?”

“I didn’t know,” cried Sparkles. “He was dead when I found him and he had no identification. Would it be a good thing or a bad thing for me if he had been called Brian?”

Mr Deasy let him go and Sparkles fell backwards in the snow. He stayed where he was, watching as father and daughter whispered to each other. Every so often they threw him a glance and finally Marigold helped him to his feet while her father stood behind her, his arms folded, an expression on his face that combined fury and fear.

“It can only have been Brian,” said Marigold. “The little traitor. We gave that penguin everything, Daddy and me, and stealing that crystal was how he repaid us. Daddy had kept it safe for years, hiding it where no one would ever look.”

“My sock drawer,” said Mr Deasy. “There’s not a man, woman or child in Elphin who doesn’t know that I never change my socks from one end of the year to the next. So no one would ever have thought of looking there.”

“But now you’ve brought it back,” said Marigold. “And with it, more trouble than you can possibly imagine. You know what you have to do now, don’t you?”

“I don’t,” said Sparkles. “But I have a feeling someone’s about to tell me.”

Part 9: Amy O’Connor

No sooner had Sparkles uttered this did McClane and Sanctimonia come staggering up the road, having obviously procured a pint somewhere. As he broached ever closer, Sparkles could hear McClane belting out, “The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay…”

“Do you mind?” asked Sparkles, gesturing towards the purple crystal of doom. “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”

“Oh yeah, what’s the story with that?” enquired McClane, barely suppressing a belch.

Marigold and her father glanced wearily at each other as though to say, “do you want to tell it or should I?” Mr Deasy threw his hands up to heaven and let his daughter assume the role of storyteller.

“Where to begin?” said Marigold, as she gathered her thoughts. “I suppose it all begins in Elphin Glass.”

“Elphin Glass?” interrupted McClane, his eyes widening. “That’s made here? My grandma had a cabinet of Elphin Glass. Oh my God, I had no idea! Sparkles, you should have said!”

Sparkles and Marigold rolled their eyes. “Americans,” Sparkles muttered scornfully.

“Anyway,” continued Marigold. “There’s a workroom in Elphin Glass that resides on a faultline over Eyjafjallajokull. One day a glassmaker had a sneezing fit and shook the room in such a way that it resulted in a minor lava leak. I don’t really understand the ins and outs of glassmaking, but what I do know is that the lava caused what people in the biz call an ‘alchemic disruption’ and the crystal was formed.”

At this point, she handed the reins over to Mr Deasy.

“This glassmaker fellow was a good friend of mine and he was skating on thin ice in Elphin Glass. Something like this would have landed him right in it so I said I’d mind the crystal for him.” A pause. “Shortly afterwards, Brian showed up.”

“Who’s Brian?” demanded Sanctimonia in a tone that suggested she was annoyed to be squandering her drunken buzz by listening to this ever-so-complicated story.

“Brian was a penguin from the South Pole,” Mr Deasy said ruefully. “A nice penguin who had fallen in with a gang of sinister penguins who hated Christmas.”

As Mr Deasy told it, word of the purple crystal had reached the dastardly gang. Their leader, Giuseppe, correctly surmised that the lava from Eyjafjallajokull had imbued the crystal with special powers and that transporting it to the South Pole would be enough to knock the Earth off its axis and, crucially, make Santa’s journey quite treacherous. He sent Brian to retrieve it from Elphin.

“I knew Brian wasn’t a bad penguin. I could see it in him. So we struck a deal with him. He could be our house penguin if he left the crystal where it was and didn’t return to the gang of sinister penguins.”

“He was living like a king here,” said Marigold, her face turning puce with rage. “The amount of squid dinners I prepared for that little turncoat and he doing nothing but taking naps in our jacuzzi.”

“So I suppose he took the crystal from the drawer and tried to get to the South Pole,” said Mr Deasy. “Maybe he thought he could get money for it, God rest him.”

Sparkles glanced at the crystal. It was disarmingly beautiful, yet so troublesome.

“Tell me what I have to do,” he sighed.

Marigold stepped forward and placed her hands firmly on his shoulders.

“You must go to Elphin Glass and ask for chief glassmaker Gobnait. She won’t be happy to see you, but only she can perform the necessary reset.”

Sparkles glanced towards the rolling hill on which Elphin Glass sat.

“Right so. Off we go.”

Part 10: Maeve Higgins

“I’d say we’ll stay here, like.” Sanctimonia slurred, eyeing McClane with deeply sexual intent. Sparkles shot his partner a glance, but McClane missed it, too busy grinning stupidly at Sanctimonia, who was now sashaying toward the door making not-so-subtle hand gestures about what she had in store.

Marigold looked horrified, and her father seemed baffled, so Sparkles sighed and did what he always did. He covered for McClane.

“We’ll head up there now right after...um....after McClane checks the vehicle. So, ummm, have ye been listening to any good podcasts lately?”

In an attempt to obscure the shuffling and squeaking sounds coming from outside, he described the vibe of This American Life as loudly as he could. “It’s not exactly documentary or fiction, or comedy or drama, it’s kind of all of that?”

Out front, Sanctimonia was losing patience. It doesn’t take much to satiate a fairy, but McClane couldn’t quite manage it. “It’s all the stress from this work stuff,” McClane offered.

She smiled tightly, kissed his cheek and flitted away.

A couple of hours later, McClane and Sparkles stood at the chrome gates of Gobnait’s glittering glass castle. McClane had, in his head, rewritten his encounter with the fairy and took this opportunity to try his new version out loud.

“Just because something is over in a flash, doesn’t mean it can’t be great,” McClane said.

Sparkles looked kindly at his sad-eyed partner, and rang the shining silver bell.

“I mean, look at Jesse Owen’s 100m dash in 1936. He stuck it to Hitler!,” McClane continued before an icy wind fell over them.

Gobnait appeared behind them and placed a freezing hand on each of their shoulders. Man and elf alike jumped in fright.

“Sorry,” she said, laughing. “Sometimes I just wanna be that spooky glass bitch!”

Sparkles was rattled.

“Gobnait, I’ll get straight to the point.” Sparkles mispronounced “Gobnait” so it came out more like “Guv’nor”, and this pleased Gobnait, insecure as she was in her role as boss in the macho glass business.

“We’re in possession of a crystal that is destroying Christmas, you made it, and now you must destroy it,” Sparkles said.

Gobnait gripped the gate, her clear eyes flashing red.

“Sorry babes,” McClane said. He was feeling really great about himself. “I’d do it except cops aren’t allowed guns here.”

“F*** off, Yank,” said Gobnait, and thus began McClane’s latest slide back to officially low self-esteem.

Thankfully, we don’t have to witness that descent, we only have to know that Sparkles and Gobnait worked it out, and Gobnait smashed the crystal into the sacred fault-line of Eyjafjallajokull, and that beautiful crack was satisfied with the offering, meagre and late as it was. The fault line allowed Christmas to proceed, and proceed it did, as inevitably and specially and tinselly as every other year.

Back at the shabby old bar, Joe felt a stirring of something like gladness, and looked out the window just in time to see Santa’s sleigh reassemble itself quickly and tidily, and shoot back into the sky.

Up in the Arctic, Brian the penguin’s eyes blinked back to life. He waddled back to his young son, Michael, who had been absolutely wilding out without his father’s steadying presence.

Sparkles missed his last day at work, deciding instead to skip, lightly but with purpose, back to Marigold, back to finish what they’d started so long ago.

“Cover for me?” he asked McClane, who made finger guns at him.

“I got you, buddy. Merry Christmas.”

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