There were two Christmases for Ray last year. It was a thing. True, one of them was in 1930, and the other one had come two months later in 2008 thanks to the peculiarities of time and Milliways, but that was how it stood: there had been two Christmases for Ray last year. When the day came around in 2008 he half expected to sleep through it. It didn't seem right, after all, to have two of a day in a given year and not balance it out somehow.
But when December the 25th rolled around he woke up just the same as always, which is to say with Slimer jabbering excitedly at him and Peter gleefully smirking about having set the spud on someone else for once. Oh, and with Jhalak jumping up and down on the bed yammering gleefully about Christmas. In all five voices. At once.
At any rate, that was Christmas morning. There were presents, of course. There always were. Peter excused himself early to go and find Dana, and Egon's sole concession to the day before retreating back to his lab was a sequin-covered Santa hat jammed on his head at an odd angle, but Winston's sister and her children came by. Ray's sister phoned, and sounded genuinely happy about it, which was a step up from what he had expected. And there were the cards from people who couldn't call: one from Defense Secretary Keller, one from a Texaco owner in upstate New York
, one each from Laken-Makai's and Ost-h'ryth's
families, one from Africa's foremost primatologist and cryptozoologist
, fourteen from various Bentons Fraser
, and one- Ray did not want to know how it was delivered, frankly- from Morgannon
It was the last that stuck with him come nightfall. If Morgannon, who admittedly was an in-world entity and a representative of the Inferno, could reach him even peripherally, so could other beings. Given what had happened last New Year
, he was understandably a little reluctant to attempt sleep for the night. He tucked Jhalak in, though, and he bid Ecto a good night before she settled into her usual evening surveillance routine, and then he went upstairs to sit on the roof in his Dyer Expedition parka
and watch the skies.
It occurred to Ray after a while that the temperature was dropping rapidly into ranges that his parka was actually properly suited for, and that clouds were starting to roll in from the northwest. He fumbled once or twice as he fished the PKE meter out from under the furs. That it responded instantly was no surprise at all; that it responded in the ranges it did-
well. No Outsider ever pinged like that. And Blond Egon's
numbers didn't match either-
A blast of wind cold enough to cut down to the bone interrupted Ray's speculation, the first real snow that he'd seen all winter spinning along with it and catching him full in the face. When it cleared he was not alone.
He'd sort of expected that part. The three horses pulling the troika
, not so much.
They were great dark animals, as dark as the spaces between stars in the parts of the world where no human agency was yet strong enough to leave a stain of light on the sky. Their manes and tails were silver-white, glittering in ways no horse's fur ought to be able to glitter, and the long, feathery fur of their legs below the knees glimmered much the same. Their harnesses and bridles were hung with tiny bells that made a shimmering sound at the slightest movement. Ray started to reach out one hand to the one in the center. It snorted, the steam of its breath crystallizing instantly into a million tiny pieces of icefall, and he dropped his hand immediately.
"A wise move," said a woman's voice. He jerked his attention away from the beasts to the two passengers they had been pulling. The smaller of the two was a girl or young woman. Ray couldn't have pegged her age for all the money in Manhattan, and didn't want to try. She was bundled up to her chin in a shimmering blue coat trimmed in white furs, with a round cap of matching design and color on her head. Her companion, on the other hand, wore a long red garment that more resembled a robe than a coat. True, it was trimmed in equally heavy furs, but it was half-covered in gold embroidery that must have added pounds to its weight. There might have been similar tooling on the round fur cap he wore, but if there were, Ray couldn't see any of it. His beard (not properly white, but of the same crystalline glimmer-color as the horses' manes) fell almost to his lap.
The man- startlingly skinny for all the bulk the ankle-length red robes added- reached for a staff quite possibly as long as Ray was tall and swung himself out of the sled. It occurred to Ray as the snow crunched under the man's feet that he had no idea who these people were.
"Uh," he managed awkwardly. "Merry Christmas, sir, and welcome to New York City. Might I ask who it is I have the honor of addressing?"
The bearded man chuckled, a quiet little sound of satisfaction nothing at all like the booming, boisterous laugh Ray had half been expecting. "As you wish," he said, his accent thick but comprehensible. "One doesn't expect to be known on sight outside the Motherland. I am Ded Moroz, and this is my granddaughter, Snegurochka."
It'd been years since Ray had had to speak Russian aloud, but those
names came through loud and clear: Grandfather Frost
and the Snow Maiden
"More often we travel on the night of Christmas in the old calendar. We are paying a few visits tonight, that is all," Ded Moroz continued. "Social calls, so to speak."
"Wow, sir, you have no idea how completely and utterly unprepared I am for this," Ray blurted. "I mean, if I'd had any idea you were coming I would've had some kind of supper ready or something- I can get the two of you a drink, at least-"
Ded Moroz chuckled again and shook his head. "Unnecessary. But I thank you. As I said, this is only a social call. We passed through Moscow some time ago, for the sake of those of the Motherland who don't observe the old calendar, and President Antonov
mentioned this place and its people. We thought to say hello before pursuing the rest of our journey. And who knows? Maybe we'll come back in a few days' time. There are
"We'll be ready for you," Ray promised. "I mean. You are
aware of the nature of the children in question?"
"Very much so," said Ded Moroz. "A child is a child, no matter how they were born or how many arms and eyes they have. I wouldn't worry if I were you, Dr. Stantz. I know my business."
He paused, glancing at Ray to be sure he was paying attention.
"And a part of my business is to remind people of this: there are many, many powers abroad in this world and out of it. Remember, please, that not all of them wish you ill."
"Stout fellow," said Ded Moroz approvingly. "Now go downstairs and go to sleep.
You're up much too late tonight."