Throwback Thursday: What Villains Want

First published: 07/01/2018

For me, antagonists are often the most fun characters to create. However, most of the usual rules apply and it’s especially important (as it is with all characters) that your antagonist’s motive and goals are clearly established in your mind. More often than not, these will form the whole basis for the conflict your protagonist has to deal with, so it’s vital you get this right.

If I was to boil it down to a single rule for antagonists, it would probably be something like this:

An antagonist’s motive can be anything at all, but their goal should bring them into direct conflict with the protagonist.

Let’s start by thinking about the first part of that rule: ‘An antagonist’s motive can be anything at all’. Motives are simply what drive a character from day to day. When it comes to your bad guy, this could be something sinister such as megalomania or it could be something far more ordinary– perhaps even laudable. For instance, in The Count of Monte Cristo, the antagonist, Fernand Mondego, is in love with the protagonist’s fiancee. As a result, he falsely accuses the protagonist of treason so that he can marry Dantès fiancee instead.

So, Mondego’s motive is that he is in love with Dantès fiancee. His goal (in the beginning, at least) is to get Dantès out of the way. Loving a woman is not a particularly evil or unusual thing, nor is it a motive common only to antagonists. Plenty of good guys in other stories (especially romances and romantic comedies) are driven by the exact same motive.

Ahh, but he was in love with the protagonist’s fiancee! I hear you cry. That’s bad!

Well, I agree it’s not an ideal situation, but in and of itself it doesn’t make him an antagonist or a ‘bad guy’. There are plenty of stories out there with characters who refuse to behave inappropriately when they’re in love with someone else’s partner. What made Mondego a bad guy was his goal, not his motive. His motive (which he arguably had in common with the protagonist) drove him to carry out a sinister plot against the protagonist. That’s what made him a villain and an antagonist. It is highly unlikely a good guy would act on this motive the same way Mondego does (though remember, not all protagonists are good guys; some protagonists are bad).

Which brings me neatly onto the second part of our working rule: ‘[the antagonist’s] goal should bring them into direct conflict with the protagonist’. It’s worth mentioning that this is not the same as saying their goals must be inherently immoral.

Oh sure, they can be. They often will be. Personally, I love it when an antagonist is really bad. Murdering the hero(es), stealing something valuable and violently taking over the world are just some of the more common goals antagonists sometimes strive for. But remember, an antagonist is not necessarily defined as a morally evil character; they are simply a character whose goals conflict with that of your protagonist. They can be morally evil, but even then, their function is to present the protagonist with a real and significant problem that cannot simply be ignored. They are, if you like, a walking, talking conflict for your character to face.

giphy
When you’re so evil you want to blow up all reality. Image source: http://gph.to/2AhoZVE

Take C.S. Lewis’ story The Screwtape Letters as a radical example. This story is written from the perspective of a senior devil (Screwtape) writing to his nephew (Wormwood), giving him advice on how to lead a human into eternal damnation– a morally objectionable goal to say the least. In it, Screwtape makes frequent references to their ‘Enemy’ — namely, God. In this story, Wormwood is the protagonist. His motive is his natural diabolical nature and his goal is to secure the damnation of his unsuspecting human ‘patient’. Even though God is clearly not portrayed as evil in this story (C.S. Lewis was a Christian), nevertheless he is still the antagonist because his goals are in direct conflict with those of the protagonist.

“He (God) wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (parenthesis mine)

Which brings me neatly onto my third and final point: the audience’s sympathies. This can sometimes be a sticky issue when you try to create an antagonist of any real depths, as I previously discovered.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presumably wanted us to sympathise with God’s goals instead of Wormwood’s, even though God is the antagonist. After all, The Screwtape Letters is as much as Christian Apologetic work as it is a story. Under most circumstances, however, you will want your audience to support the protagonist’s goals instead of the antagonist. I know of only two ways to do this effectively:

  1. Make your antagonist at least a little bit immoral (optional – but usually a good idea)
  2. Create a strong protagonist with goals and motives the audience really cares about (mandatory)

Remember, an antagonist might provide the vital point if conflict in a story, but he is not the sum total of the story. If all you have is a really complex antagonist who threatens to take over the world and some half-baked protagonist to fight him just because that’s what good guys do, you’ll not hold onto your audience for very long. Remember this rule:

Your story is about your protagonist, not the antagonist.

The antagonist is the point of conflict for your story, but he is not the story in and of himself. Take the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. She is a persistent hindrance to Dorothy throughout the film. Without her, it would be a frankly boring film about a girl who gets a bit lost (okay, very lost) then goes home. But none of that would matter if it wasn’t for the fact that Dorothy wants to get home. If we didn’t care about Dorothy and her plight, the Witch would be pretty redundant.


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Spotlight: From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh

From the dawn of man, the war between Demons and Angels has ravaged the land. Two thousand years of peace has lulled the people into a false sense of security. Malach is on a journey to find his place in the world and pick a side in the war that is quickly approaching, meeting unlikely allies along the way.

Praise for From Men and Angels

From Men and Angels is a strong debut and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series… Well imagined, well written and with plenty of excitement … Be sure to grab a copy of this book with my fullest blessing. It’s great.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Penstricken


Have you read From Men and Angels? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Buy From Men and Angels on Amazon


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Monday Motivation


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Book Review: From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been taken to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read From Men and Angels by H.L. Walsh is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Imagine a world where Angels and Demons are not just spiritual beings but physical beings we can see an interact with. How would that change our world? If humans fought alongside with and also against these titans; what kind of world would that be?

H.L. Walsh, author of From Men and Angels

Debut author H.L. Walsh answers his own question in his new book, From Men and Angels, chronicling the adventures of Malach, a hunter and son of an angel and Amara, an exiled thief living in a world of fully corporeal angels and demons. These two protagonists, despite their very disparate origins, come together in the city of Newaught where they are quickly caught up in an ancient war which has been silently raging between angels and demons for over two thousand years.

The world-building in this novel is excellent. The blending together of fantasy with real-world religious elements can be a tricky business but Walsh accomplishes this masterfully, creating a world which is vividly imagined, inspired by certain aspects of Christian theology without creating obvious allegories to patronise the reader or crude caricatures to offend the believer. Indeed, where most authors writing this type of story might be tempted to create allegorical ‘God figures’ and ‘Satan figures’ with different names, Walsh has taken the bold step to make specific references to God and Satan, as well as one more indirect reference to Christ. A risky move in some ways, but one which I feel has paid off.

Many fantasy authors create detailed and vivid fantasy worlds only to be let down by presenting them in a way which bogs the reader down with tedious descriptions of the world’s political, historical and geographical landscape and forcing the reader to constantly refer back to the map(s) on at the front of the book. From Men and Angels does not have this problem. Thanks to Walsh’s clear and direct writing style, the reader is fed a gentle and steady diet of everything they need to know about Walsh’s fantasy world in a way which feels natural and enjoyable to read without info dumping.

The characters in this story are, for the most part, all reasonably well rounded with clear motives driving their actions. Malach is a hunter with of unusual physical strength, owing to his angelic ancestry. All he wants is a quiet life of hunting in his home village, but his life is quickly turned upside down when it is revealed that his parents are alive in a demon prison and that he personally has a crucial role to play (for some reason?) in the coming conflict between the Angels and Demons. In some ways, he’s a little bit typical for a fantasy hero: strong, solitary, plagued by demons and reluctant to follow the call of his destiny. He is accompanied throughout the story by his friend, Daziar and his wolf, Skie.

As much as I liked Malach, I liked the Amara character just a little bit more. She seemed just a shade or two more complex than Malach, more driven by her own needs rather than having other characters popping out of the woodwork and telling her about her destiny. My only real criticism of this character was how she responded to Malach. Given the life she has lived until this point, it struck me as more than a little odd that, in her darkest hour, a streetwise thief like Amara would turn to a relative stranger (not to mention a natural enemy) simply because she finds him attractive and perhaps a little mysterious.

There’s one more character I’d like to mention: Malach’s sword, Reckoning. It’s an angel blade: a living weapon Malach liberates from a demon early in the story, with a personality all of its own, which is a fascinating concept in and of itself. When Malach first acquires this weapon, he is cautious, fearful of its ability to read his thoughts. In spite of this, he quickly comes to trust Reckoning and the reader is left wondering if Reckoning really is to be trusted. Having now finished the book, the short answer seems to be: yes, Reckoning is exactly who he claimed to be. In some respects, that was a bit of an anticlimax. There’s nothing wrong with Reckoning being a good guy as such, but it might have been nice to find a few darker shades to Reckoning’s character or even just to learn that he does have a few secrets or agendas of his own. Having said that, I’m also conscious that this is only the first book in the series so you never know what’s still to come!

I don’t have many seriously bad things to say about this book. If I was being hypercritical, I would say the romantic subplot is this story’s biggest let-down. There’s nothing wrong with the idea behind it or the basic path it follows but the execution felt a bit rushed and sloppy. The two characters don’t meet until fairly near the end of the book, which is fine, however the circumstances of their meeting don’t naturally lend themselves to the kind of relationship which develops between them. Amara, having just lost everything and having no where else to go, decides to go looking for this guard (Malach) whom she barely knows and who has every reason to arrest her. When she finds his house (through educated guesswork, I might add) she breaks in and after a rather tense encounter, the two quickly become as a thick as thieves to the extent that she goes out hunting with him and joins him on a dangerous quest to liberate his father from a demon prison. That just didn’t seem natural or believable to me, especially not while both characters were pre-occupied with their own issues.

All in all, From Men and Angels is a strong debut and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series. The premise of a world with flesh and blood angelic forces is simple but fascinating and I was chomping at the bit to read it from the moment I heard about it. I was not disappointed. Well imagined, well written and with plenty of excitement; its few and minor let-downs were not nearly enough to stop this being a great read and a real page turner. If high fantasy with respectful and non-preachy religious elements is your thing, be sure to grab a copy of this book with my fullest blessing. It’s great.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Keep an eye out for my author interview with H.L. Walsh — coming soon!


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

Please be advised that due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Doctor Who (Series 11) Review

Originally published 13/01/2019 under the title ‘Review: Doctor Who, series 11’
SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not watched any part of Doctor Who reboot series 11 (including the New Year special, Resolution) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Well, well, it may feel like it’s only just begun but Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the titular character in the BBC’s Doctor Who is finally over. Actually it was over almost two weeks ago but I had to do 6 Six Word Stories for the 6th last Sunday so you’re getting the review this Sunday instead. Lap it up.

I’ve already written in some depths about the first episode, so I’m not going to waste too much time talking about that today. What I really want to do is give an overview of the series as a whole.

Let’s start with the most important question of all: characters, specifically the four regular ones.

The Doctor in this series is lively, kindhearted and generally likable. My biggest criticism is that she seems to have completely lost all her demons, and with it, her motivation. She still abhors violence but previous Doctors (especially in the reboot) have been somewhat weighed down by the violence they’ve witnessed and committed themselves. One of the things I loved about Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, for instance, was how plagued he was by his own sense of guilt. This motivated him to chase around the galaxy seeking vindication. As a result, I cared about the Doctor’s goals, even in rubbish episodes like Into the Dalek. The Thirteenth Doctor, alas, lacks this depth.

Graham wins the ‘best character’ prize by a million miles. He is haunted by the death of his wife and is travelling with the Doctor mainly as a way of fleeing from his own grief, only to be faced with it everywhere he goes, finally culminating in his showdown with Tim Shaw whom he (quite rightly) blames for his wife’s death. My only real criticism is how suddenly his hunger for revenge comes upon him in ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ (which, by the way, was the most forgettable last-episode-of-the-series since the show rebooted in 2005). It might’ve been nice to see hints of this slightly darker side to him before he finally encountered his wife’s killer again but this is the only minor grievance I have with Graham.

Ryan started strong. His dyspraxia gave him an inner struggle to overcome, as did the loss of his grandmother; he apparently had a tense relationship with both Graham and his absentee father and there was some chemistry between him and Yasmin in the first few episodes. That should’ve been more than enough to make a really interesting character. Unfortunately, most of these issues came to nothing. His dyspraxia was barely mentioned and in no way hindered him; he deals with his grandmother’s death fairly easily and the sexual tension between him and Yasmin fizzled out into nothing after a few episodes. Only the business with his dad came to any sort of resolution, and even this in a fairly clumsy manner in the New Year special.

Speaking of Yasmin, I’m still trying to think of anything I can say about her, whether good or bad. She seemed like a nice person but as characters go, she had all the substance of the Speaking Clock. That’s not a criticism of the actress. She brought Yasmin to life as well as anyone could, but the fact of the matter is, the character could have been completely cut out of this series with almost no loss to the story as whole (even in ‘Demons of the Punjab’ — arguably the only real ‘Yas episode’ — she was just there enough to make the story happen and no more). The character was, in a word, only half-written written.

Now, what about monsters? Doctor Who has always been famous for its monsters, though since the 2005 reboot, it’s been an almost constant barage of Daleks, Cybermen and Moffat’s pet invention, the eye-gougingly tedious Weeping Angels. Not so this time! Every monster (barring the New Year special) was brand spanking new, which was a breath of fresh air for me at least. Although while I’m on the subject of Daleks, I just need to say one thing: since when could the sonic screwdriver disable the Dalek’s gun arm?! If sonic screwdrivers can do that, why was there ever a Time War?

This series has come under some pretty heavy criticism, especially on social media (where all the vitriol of society coalesces, kind of like in that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, ‘Skin of Evil’, but I digress), for being too ‘politically correct’. I don’t know if that’s because the Doctor’s a woman, because they finally wrote an episode where the racism of modern history is shown in all its ugliness while still being a family friendly TV show (complete with a time travelling white supremacist bad guy) or what but in any event, I see nothing wrong with this. Oh, sure, you might not always personally agree with the message behind each episode, but that doesn’t make it bad writing. Quite the reverse. Give me a real life theme that offends my sensibilities over Moffat’s meaningless, sentimental fluff any day of the week (though just to be clear, I wasn’t offended by this series at all). When it comes to the themes that were explored in this particular series, my only real criticism is how poorly executed they were, often feeling obvious and preachy.

I have only one more criticism (and I know, it sounds like I hated this series, but I really did enjoy it): there was no series-long story arc whatsoever. Since the reboot began (and now and again in the old series, too), Doctor Who has boasted some excellent story arcs. This series just didn’t have one. Just a bunch of time travellers with no discernible motive (apart from Graham) going on lots of pointless but mostly entertaining mini-adventures, finally (anti-)climaxing in them bumping into Tim Shaw again who was, frankly, less scary second time around.

I know it sounds like I’ve really slammed this series. That notwithstanding, I did enjoy it. Really. And since I know you’re all just dying to know what I think about having a woman Doctor, I really did like Whittaker’s portrayal of the character. Please don’t come away from this thinking I hate series 11 or Jodie Whittaker. I do not and I’m really looking forward to series 12. It could’ve just done with a bit of tightening up here and there on some of the most basic principles of serialised story-writing: characterisation and development, subtle execution of themes, story arcs and so forth. But please, watch it with my blessing. It was, for the most part, entertaining and certainly not the worst series in the show’s mostly excellent history.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Spotlight: Of Metal and Earth by Jennifer M. Lane

Seven ordinary lives are changed by their extraordinary relationships with a little green Jeep in Of Metal and Earth, a tale of restoration and redemption…. Readers of Mitch AlbomNicholas Sparks, Jeep owners everywhere, and viewers of This is Us will enjoy this heart-warming tale of restoration and redemption, a must read book for anyone inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit.

Praise for Of Metal and Earth


Have you read Of Metal and Earth? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Buy Of Metal and Earth on Amazon


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Monday Motivation


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Christmas Eve: A Short Story

Well it’s Christmas on Wednesday so that can only mean one thing: it’s time for a Christmas themed short story! I’m not overly thrilled with how this turned out but as it’s now the last Sunday before Christmas, we’ll just have to make do.

As ever, the following story is entirely my own work and has never been previously published anywhere else in the world, whether in print or online, nor do I ever expect it to be. It’s a little bit longer than my usual posts but what the heck.

And so without further ado, I give you:


Christmas Eve

by A. Ferguson

Karen inhaled a sharp drag on her cigarette, holding the burning toxic fumes in her chest for as long as she could before letting them out in one shuddering breath on the snowy rooftops below.

It was freezing. Karen had sworn she’d never do another Christmas Eve again but that man… that stupid idiot man.

‘I wish you wouldn’t smoke, dear. What if someone sees?’

‘It’s your fault I’m here at all.’

‘The little children, dearest, they look up to me; to us.’

She chanced a glance at Santa. His brilliant red jacket was now a patchwork of soot stains and there was a fresh tear in the shoulder.

‘Yeah.’ Karen grunted, stealing one last drag before stamping the cigarette underfoot. ‘Well. Can I go now?’

‘Ah, well, I wonder…’

‘What?’ Karen grunted.

‘It’s just the old knee, my dear. Dr. Jones said I should rest it but when you pulled me out–‘

‘I told you not to use the chimneys this year!’ Karen snapped. ‘I don’t know why I waste my breath talking to you.’

‘I’ve only got Glasgow and Falkirk to go, you’ll be home in an hour.’

‘Am I just free labour to you, is that why you married me? Dragging me out of bed on Christmas Eve–‘

‘Please Karen, it’s for the children. They’ll be so disappointed on Christmas morning if Santa hasn’t been.’ He implored.

‘Like I’ve been every Christmas I’ve had since I met you.’ She muttered, trying to seem indifferent to what the children wanted.

Santa didn’t say anything, but she could see he was hurt.

‘Fine, whatever.’ She huffed, climbing into his sleigh and taking the reins. ‘Are you able to get home in my sleigh okay?’

‘I’ll manage.’ He said. 

‘Well mind and call if you can’t–’

‘I’ll be fine. See you when you get back.’

‘Please yourself.’ Karen snapped and with a sharp crack on the reigns she took off into the snowy night sky.

🎅 🎅 🎅

Karen muttered profanities to herself as she stuffed yet another oversized stocking (this one belonging to someone called Adam Forrester) with gifts and chocolates.

That man! This was what her life had become. Stockings, presents, Christmas trees and clambering up and down chimneys. It was all he cared about.

Exhausted from her work, she sat down on a nearby armchair. A plastic, cartoon portrait of her good-for-nothing husband grinned back at her from the opposite wall. On the coffee table, a small plate of mince pies sat beside a raw carrot and a glass of milk. Karen shuddered. How long had it been sitting there?

She looked at the clock on the mantle. Half past four. Enough time for a quick one.

Rummaging around in her pocket, she pulled out her cigarettes and lit one, trying to relax on the unfamiliar armchair, taking the mince pies off the plate and lifting the plate onto her lap to use as an ashtray.

Seventeen years of her life she’d wasted, married to a man who cared more about other people’s children than about her and about their children, not that they had any. He’d swept her off her feet that fateful morning seventeen years ago, when she interrupted him filling her stocking. He whisked her away for a midnight journey around the world in his sleigh and she helped deliver presents to all the children in the world. Afterward they returned to her place and shared a mince pie before he suddenly announced the sun was rising and he had to leave.

She couldn’t let him. She was young, starstruck and there was such an obvious and irresistible chemistry between them that she went with him. She married him and, for a while, life was one big festive adventure but now… now she was trapped in the dwindling hours of an everlasting Christmas evening, when the presents are all unwrapped and the turkey is all gone and the tree doesn’t seem to sparkle quite as brightly as it did a few hours before. That was her life, all year round with him locked up in his workshop most of the year then expecting everyone to jump to his command come December. The sleigh was just a mode of transport now. Giving gifts to other people’s children was nice but it wasn’t quite enough and whenever she tried to talk about starting their own family, he would find some excuse to change the subject or–

‘Who are you?’ 

Karen nearly fell off the armchair as she smashed the cigarette furiously into the plate. There was a man in the doorway, presumably Adam Forrester. He was a little younger than Karen, perhaps, but not by much, maybe early thirties. He didn’t look particularly bothered to find a stranger in his living room.

Of course not. He was expecting one.

‘The first openly female Santa.’ Karen grunted.

‘Are you Mrs. Claus?’ 

‘Karen.’ She grunted. ‘Karen Claus. You’re supposed to be sleeping.’

‘Couldn’t sleep.’ Adam said, matter-of-factly. ‘Too excited. I love Christmas.’

Karen snorted. ‘You’re worse than my husband.’

‘Don’t you like Christmas?’

‘Every day is Christmas with us.’ Karen snorted. ‘This is just work. His work. Only reason I’m here is he got stuck in a chimney earlier and hurt himself.’

‘Oh, so you get lumbered with it whenever he’s not well?’

‘I don’t mind doing it.’ Karen said. ‘It’s great giving gifts to all the children and everything, it’s just…’ Karen paused, hunting for the right word.

‘Christmas isn’t Christmas anymore.’ Adam finished for her. ‘Like you said, it’s work. His work.’

‘Yeah. Exactly.’

‘You wanna talk about it? I know we don’t know each other but if you want to let off steam or…’

Karen sighed. ‘That’s very kind but there’s nothing to tell. I’ll tell you this though, one day you’re gonna meet someone and you’ll think to yourself, “that’s it, this is the One for me!”, ‘cause there’s so much chemistry between you and you think he’ll make all your wildest dreams come true. But you can’t live like that…’ Karen looked in her cigarette box. It was empty. ‘You marry someone like that and you realise what’s really important to you. Not the sleigh rides or the presents or the fact he can do magic. Boring stuff, like raising a family and knowing he cares about you more than all that other stuff; Christmas, or whatever it is makes him feel good about himself.’

‘I guess being married to Santa must be a bit like being married to a celebrity.’ Adam mused. ‘Christmas is what he is and everyone loves him for it, expects it from him. And you just get absorbed into all that whether you like it or not.’

‘Yeah.’ Karen said. ‘Yeah, exactly. So now it’s all just Christmas this, Christmas that, all year round. It’s not magical anymore, but it’s not quite a proper life either. And that’s what I want, a proper life. I love Santa but I want a normal life too. I want to get excited about Christmas like a normal person and and see my own children getting excited about it every year instead of just standing in the background making Christmas fun for strangers

‘You know, we had this big fight last Christmas. Something that was important to me but he didn’t want to know. After that he spent all year locked up in his workshop, hardly came out at all, just says he’s gotta get ready for Christmas.’

Karen exhaled sharply through her nose. She looked down at her hands and tugged at the fingers of her gloves.

‘You know what? No, I don’t like Christmas, not any more.’

Adam didn’t say anything. She looked up to see him, focusing intently on her with genuine concern on his face. He seemed like a kind man.

‘Look, never mind about me.’ Karen said, rising to her feet slightly embarrassed by her own catharsis. ‘Tell you what, since you love Christmas so much, why don’t I give you a quick ride in the sleigh? Just to say thank you.’

Adam’s eyes lit up. ‘Really? Well… yes! Oh, I’d love that.’

Karen smiled, feeling a whole lot lighter than she did half an hour ago. ‘Get your coat. It’s chilly out.’

🎅 🎅 🎅

The sleigh ride did not last long. It was too close to daybreak to take Adam beyond his own city. There was a tiny chink of light on the farthest point of the horizon when Karen and Adam landed back on Adam’s rooftop and Karen couldn’t help feeling disappointed it was over.

‘Well,’ Adam said without rising up from the sleigh. ‘Thanks for a wonderful night.’

‘No, thank you for listening to me. For understanding.’ Karen said.

Adam smiled and Karen felt her heart skip a beat.

‘Well,’ She said, business-like. ‘You’d better get to bed or Santa won’t come.’

Adam took a long time to clamber out of the sleigh. When he finally did get out, he walked around the sleigh to be as close to her as possible.

‘You want to come in for a coffee or something?’ He asked.

Yes. Yes, I do.

‘I can’t, Adam.’ She said, feeling sick. ‘The sun’s coming up, I have to get back.’

‘Before you turn into a pumpkin?’

‘Something like that.’ She grimaced.

‘Alright.’ He said, taking a single, very small step back from the sleigh.

‘Goodnight, Adam.’ She said, cracking the reigns hard to return to Santa.

🎅 🎅 🎅

The sun was just beginning to rise over the snowy Korvatunturian landscape when Karen landed the sleigh in front of the quaint log cabin which was their private residence. Smoke puffed happily from the chimney and a warm glow from the windows gently illumined the snowy ground but she felt more miserable than ever. Two serious faced elves met the sleigh as soon as she arrived, taking charge of the reindeer, allowing her to go immediately to the house.

Inside it was quiet, though the hallway was warm. He was up, but she just wanted to go to bed and forget about the last twenty-four hours.

‘Is that you dearest?’ 

Karen swore under he breath.

‘I’m going to bed.’ She called back. 

‘But it’s Christmas!’ He called back. Karen heard his heavy footfalls coming towards the hall. A moment later, he appeared in the living room door, wearing those ridiculous red and white pyjamas. ‘Maybe Santa’s been!’

‘I live with Santa. It’s nothing new.’ She grunted, walking past him to the stairs but he gently took her hand and stopped her.

‘Karen, please.’ He said in a softer voice. ‘Come and see.’

‘Can I have a fag?’

Santa winced.

‘Fine.’ Karen sighed. ‘But then I’m going to bed.’

Santa stepped back from the living room door, making a grand gesture of inviting her into the room. ‘Of course.’ He said solemnly.

Karen entered the living room, a little surprised and even a touch disappointed to find it unchanged. Warm, cozy, with a fire blazing in the hearth and the same small bundle of presents under the oversized Christmas tree. Instead of going to the presents, however, Santa crossed the living room towards his workshop and stood beside the door.

‘In here.’ He said, gesturing to the closed door. ‘Merry Christmas.’

Karen regarded him suspiciously and felt an unwanted smile begin to force itself upon the corners of her mouth. ‘What is it?’ She asked, as disdainfully as she could.

‘Your main present,’ he said. ‘From your husband.’

Karen approached the workshop and pushed the door open. She seldom ventured here herself. It was always full of mess and business as Santa and his elves worked furiously preparing all the toys and gifts for the following Christmas. Something she had lost all interest in.

She could hardly believe her eyes when she opened the door. All of the workbenches, machinery and magical paraphernalia were gone. There were no elves and no mess. The entire room had been redecorated from top to bottom in soft pastel shades. On one side of the room, there was a white chest of drawers with soft edges and bulbous, rubbery handles. A similarly styled wardrobe stood directly beside it. There was a large selection of soft toys populating the top of the drawers. The windows were covered with pastel blue blackout curtains which prevented any sunlight from getting into the room. There was a white lampshade with tiny little reindeers dangling from the light, casting reindeer shaped shadows all around the room. On the far side of the room, there was a simple white wooden cot and a baby changing station. Karen was speechless.

‘Like it?’

‘Where’s the workshop?’ Karen gasped.

‘Dismantled.’ Santa said. ‘I’ve decided to advertise for someone else to take over. They can have it all. I thought about what you said last Christmas and you were right.’

Karen looked up at her husband, his face uncharacteristically serious though not stern.

‘I’ve been too absorbed in my work. I’ve just been doing it so long, it’s become my life. So it’s time to retire. To focus on our family.’ He nodded into the workshop-turned-nursery. ‘I know this doesn’t make up for everything but-’

‘But it’s a start.’ Karen said, nodding. ‘And I’m sorry. For everything.’

‘So…’ Santa said. ‘Not a disappointing Christmas this year, then?’

‘No.’ She said. ‘I think this is going to be the best Christmas ever.’

THE END

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Throwback Thursday: Santa Origins

Originally posted 24/12/2017 under the title ‘Festive Flash Fiction’

Well it’s Christmas Day tomorrow, so I guess that means it’s time for a story! And what better genre than a sci-fi/horror with a festive twist.

As ever, the following story is entirely my own work and has never been published anywhere else, whether in print or online, nor do I expect it to ever be published anywhere else in the future. And so, without further ado, I give you…

santa origins

by A. Ferguson

‘Daddy’, my daughter ventured in the dwindling hours of one Christmas Eve. ‘My teacher says Santa’s not Santa but St. Nicholas was Santa. And he’s dead. So… if Santa is St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas is dead, how can is he coming here?’

‘Well Christine,’ I began, thinking on my feet. ‘Your teacher is right that St. Nicholas has been dead for centuries…’

But seeing a wave of disappointment flash across my daughter’s face, I knew I couldn’t stop there. This girl still believed. I couldn’t just snatch it away from her, but would lying to her face be any better?

‘But she left out the part about him being cloned.’ I added.

She looked at me like I’d grown antlers.

‘Cloned?’

‘Yeah, cloned. You know, copied. They made a new Santa out of the old one.’ I continued, trying to look cool. I was committed now. ‘His remains were exhumed by really clever scientists from the future. They used his remains to create this clone, intending to send him back to his own time so that he could continue giving gifts to all the children, just like he used to when he was first alive.’

She still looked confused. ‘But… how come he’s magic and can fly around the world and stuff now?’

‘Well it’s not really magic.’ I explained. ‘They used something called cy-ber-net-ic tech-nology to make him better, stronger and faster than he was before. It also meant he’d stay alive much, much longer– maybe even forever.’

She still didn’t look convinced.

‘Why?’ She asked.

‘Because,’ I sighed, as if it were obvious but my mind was racing. ‘He’s the kindest man in the world! I’m sure your teacher must’ve explained that he always used to give gifts to poor children, right? Well, now that he’s been enhanced with cybernetic technology, he can give gifts to all the children in the world in a single night!’

I could’ve stopped there. I should’ve stopped there. But it was obvious she still had questions that needed answers and now that I had begun, I found that I couldn’t stop.

‘The truth is,’ I began slowly, hoping I wasn’t robbing her of her innocence too young. ‘There will be a war in the future. A terrible war between humanity and the machines they’ve created.’

Her eyes were like baubles.

‘The scientists intended to send Santa back in time to begin giving out gifts as soon as they cloned him, but before they could send him back, the Machines kidnapped the cyber-Santa clone and reprogrammed him to turn him against his fellow humans.’ I continued. ‘They gave him even more cybernetic enhancements, including terrifying metal claws, and he rode a mechanical monster with horns and a deadly laser beam that shot out from its nose. He slew thousands of human soldiers until his clothes were stained red with the blood of his own kind. Others they captured and turned into cybernetic slaves called Enhanced Living Flesh (or ‘ELFs for short’).

‘During one particular massacre, he came upon the cowering figures of a couple of refugees– all children, orphans of the war– and he was suddenly overwhelmed with his own natural, God-given human compassion and regained his own mind. He turned against the Machines and after he defeated them, travelled back to his own time, hoping to regain his former life. But the humans of the past could not accept him, and he was forced to retreat to a remote part of the North Pole. Since then has tried to make amends for the atrocity he committed by using his cybernetic enhancements to secretly bring gifts to all the good boys and girls every year.’

She laughed, a nervous laugh. ‘If that’s true, why’s he so jolly all the time then? He’s always laughing, “ho ho ho!”‘

‘Oh!’ I answered without missing a beat. ‘That’s not laughter. That’s his cybernetic vocaliser. It was damaged during the war. Every now and again it gets caught in a loop and sounds like, “ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.”‘

She didn’t look at all pleased to hear that.

‘Is he coming here tonight?’ She breathed.

‘Of course!’ I beamed.

‘Christine, don’t you listen to your father’s horrible stories.’ My wife chided from behind me. I hadn’t even heard her enter the room. She leaned in close to my daughter and whispered. ‘He’s really Santa.’

Christine looked relieved, but I felt exposed. Exposed and undermined. A lump rose up somewhere between my chest and my throat, the likes of which I hadn’t felt in years. I had to get out of there before my wife or daughter saw how badly I’d been affected. I retreated as quickly as I could to my room and shut the door– and not a moment too soon. I broke down right there on the bedroom floor.

‘Ho. Ho, h’h’ho, ho. Ho. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, ho… ‘


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Spotlight: Asrian Skies by Anne Wheeler

Avery Rendon is weeks away from realizing her dream as a Commonwealth fighter pilot when planetary politics intervene… She returns to her home planet of Asria, still hoping to break free of her controlling family and their faith. Not much has changed on Asria though, and after her almost-fiancé walks out on her, she’s not sure life can get much worse. She’s wrong. When the Haederan Empire invades Asria, intent on rebuilding their interstellar domain, Avery becomes a target…

Praise for Asrian Skies


Have you read Asrian Skies? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Click here to buy Asrian Skies on Amazon


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here: