All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Sam Kates. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written
permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America. First edition, December 2013.
1921 Michels Drive NE
Palm Bay, FL 32905
for putting up with a husband
often lost in imaginary worlds.
Santa Claus is
Coming to Town
he message washed over her like a cold wave. She gasped and sank back into the armchair,
which groaned beneath her bulk. She closed her eyes and saw the images, still so familiar
to her after all this time: ebony spires and minarets and monoliths, great glass domes
peering from the constantly shifting dunes, pyramids and ziggurats, obelisks and amphitheatres,
and endless deserts of dark sands gleaming faintly in the baleful light of a dying
She gasped again as she saw the craft: vaster than a mountain range, blacker than
night, sleeker than an otter’s hide. It was emerging from the desert floor, the sands
broiling and parting; she could almost hear the slithering sound the sand made as
it cascaded off the smooth sides of the craft.
Her jaw set into a determined line as she opened her eyes. At last they were coming.
It was time for her to send a message of her own.
The armchair creaked and complained, then sighed as she pulled herself upright. From
habit—there was nobody before whom she had to make herself presentable—she smoothed
down her housecoat and walked in a rolling gait across the apartment to the work station
upon which stood her computer.
She eased herself into the chair that she’d had custom made; it supported her weight
without so much as a creak. The work station stood before a picture window that looked
out over Central Park. While she waited for the computer to boot up, she stared down
at the people braving the December cold. Couples strolled beneath the weak morning
sun, muffled and gloved and hooded against the biting winter breeze. Long-coated businessmen
strode purposefully, clutching briefcases or portfolios, intent on reaching the cosy
sanctuaries of their plush offices on Fifth or Madison. The occasional fitness enthusiast
in jogging bottoms and sweat shirt bounded by. A chattering kindergarten class snaked
along the paths, the children in woolly hats and gloves, the cold failing to douse
their excitement at the field trip.
She watched this snapshot of humanity and for a moment, only a moment, felt a pang
of sorrow. Her broad brow wrinkled into a frown and she shook her head to clear it.
This was no time for regrets.
Returning her attention to the computer, she opened her e-mail application. The message
had already been written. It had sat in her drafts folder for years, since she had
first decided that e-mail would be a far simpler, relatively effortless way to spread
the word. Of course, not every intended recipient of the message would have e-mail
access. Even with today’s blanket coverage, some remote corners of the globe were
out of reach or were blocked from communication with the outside world by isolationist
governments. She had another method of reaching them; a method that would cost her
a great deal of mental energy, but she was prepared. She had been prepared for many
She opened the message from the drafts folder. It was simple, only four short sentences:
They are coming. Begin immediately. Mercy is not an option. Acknowledge.
The e-mail was set up to be sent to almost five thousand addresses, addresses that
she had painstakingly kept up to date.
Her right hand clutched the mouse, moving the cursor over the send button. Her index
finger hovered over the left-click button of the mouse as she hesitated.
She allowed herself one more glance out of the window, at the people moving through
the Park, and was powerless to prevent a profound look of sadness from moving across
her face like a dark shadow.
Again she shook herself and her features hardened. Looking back at the computer screen,
she pressed the send button.
Mankind’s fate was thus sealed by the click of a mouse.
* * * * *
Two thousand miles or so across the Atlantic Ocean, Tom Evans glanced up at the clock
on the classroom wall. Ten past three.
He rose to his feet and stepped around the desk. Leaning back against it, he clapped
“Everybody! Pay attention, please!”
Twenty pairs of eyes turned towards him and two of those belonged to his teaching
assistants. That was the beauty of teaching in a village school: manageable class
“Right, then,” said Tom. “As you know, children, from all the chocolates you’ve been
eating every morning before coming to school, we’re well into December.” One or two
children giggled and Tom smiled. “There are only two weeks left in school before we
break up for the Christmas holidays. So—on Monday, we’ll be starting rehearsals for
A murmur rippled through the class as children turned to each other and grinned or
Tom clapped his hands once more and the children all stared up at him raptly.
“Miss Jones and Mr Davies”—Tom nodded towards his teaching assistants—“will be helping
me decide which parts you’ll all be playing. There’s Mary and Joseph, and the kings
and shepherds, and angels, even the star.”
“Mr Evans . . . Sir?”
“Sir, can I be the baby Jesus? Sir, please?”
Immediately, hands shot into the air as other children vied to stake their claims.
“Sorry, James, but the baby Jesus is the one part that nobody will have.” Tom grinned
wryly at his teaching assistants, recalling last year’s Nativity. The way that Mary
had swung the baby Jesus by the legs, clonking His head on the manger, even dropping
Him once or twice, had ensured that the part of the holy babe would always have to
be played by a doll. “Hands down, everybody. You’ll all get a part, I promise.”
Tom glanced again at the clock and straightened.
“Okay, your mums and dads will be outside waiting to take you home so pack away quietly.
Miss Jones and Mr Davies will help to make sure all your things go away into your
trays. Oh, and one last thing—shush for one second, please. . . .” He held up a hand
and the bustling ceased. “A few of you have been away from school with coughs and
colds and flu, but I want you all fit and healthy to make this year’s Nativity the
best one yet. So, no playing outside this weekend unless you’re wrapped up warmly.
I don’t want anybody catching chills and falling ill, okay?”
“Yes, Mr Evans,” the class chorused.
“Good! See you all on Monday, bright and breezy.”
* * * * *
On the other side of the world, darkness had long fallen in Sydney. The heat of the
day had faded with the light, but the night breeze was balmy.
Troy Bishop lay on his bed, naked, covers thrown back, resting. Not sleeping, for
he rarely felt the need to sleep. Indeed, it was only habit and boredom that drove
him to inertness on this night; the day had been so filled with life-regenerating
sunlight that he felt bursting with energy, like a fully charged battery. He experienced
the same problem each summer and had learned that he shouldn’t expend that energy
merely for the sake of it. He sometimes became reckless with the joy of renewal and
allowed that joy to overcome the restraint that usually kept him from indulging in
his greatest and darkest pleasure. Also his most dangerous pleasure.
So he lay still, listening to the sounds of the city through the open window and idly
watching the curtain sway in the warm breeze. When his iphone pinged and the screen
lit up to announce a message received, he didn’t turn to it immediately. He had been
waiting so many years, so many hopes had been dashed, that he had stopped anticipating
the only message that he yearned to receive.
By the time he languidly turned onto his side and stretched out one hand to retrieve
the phone from the bedside cabinet, its screen had darkened. He turned onto his back
and held the phone above him while he pressed a button to relight the screen. When
he saw who the message was from, he sat bolt upright and a low whistle escaped his
“Milandra,” he breathed. “At last.”
He quickly opened and read the message. His tanned features twisted into a grin that
contained no humour. The grin of a wolf.
“Mercy is not an option?” Bishop snorted. “As if I need to be told that. . . .”
* * * * *
In downtown Los Angeles, the background hum of traffic increased as the rush hour
began in earnest. Diane Heidler had only recently moved from Beverly Hills and had
not yet grown accustomed to the noisier environment. Traffic was much heavier here,
even outside the rush hours, the strident klaxons and wails of emergency vehicles
more prevalent. She had even heard the occasional sounds of gunfire while she lay
awake in the small hours.
Diane had chosen to move after growing bored with the opulence of the Hills and what
she considered the plasticity of its people. She was becoming increasingly fed up
with L.A. in general and was considering moving further south, maybe to San Diego.
She had already tried the north; had lived for many years in San Francisco, watching
it grow and burn and grow again.
But she couldn’t leave California; it was her area, her responsibility when the time
came, though another shared the responsibility. He lived in Sacramento and would take
care of the northern part of the state before pushing into Oregon. Sometimes she could
Diane would look after the southern half of the state and would then head east towards
Las Vegas, taking a winding, circuitous route to take in as many townships and smaller
settlements along the way as she was equipped to handle.
It wasn’t just boredom that had driven Diane to move downtown. Restlessness had grown
in her of late. A restlessness that had to do with more than the tedium of her friendless,
joyless existence. A sense of urgency was growing inside her; a sensation she had
felt before, but not for many, many years. Something momentous was about to happen,
she knew, without knowing how she knew.
It therefore did not come as a huge surprise when her laptop made a sound like a light
hammer blow on a tin bathtub that signalled the receipt of a message.
Diane rose from the settee where she was sipping a morning coffee and strode across
the small living room of her apartment to where her laptop sat on a leather-topped
desk. She opened and read the message.
Expressionless, she stared at the screen for a few moments. She didn’t know how to
feel so she felt nothing. She sent a response to the message; just one word.
She finished her coffee before starting to pack.
* * * * *
All around the globe, in most major cities, in many major towns and in various places
in between, in almost five thousand locations all told, home computers and laptops
and iphones and pagers bleeped, pinged, flashed, vibrated or buzzed to signify that
a message had been received.
Not every recipient was within earshot of the receiving medium; not every medium was
turned on; not every message was received instantly it was sent: some had to be routed
through a network of servers before reaching their destinations. But they all would
arrive and be read within seven hours of Milandra pressing the send button.
Almost without exception, every recipient responded to the message within minutes
of receiving it. Almost.