The multi-cultural Christmas market – a high point of the town’s calendar, a gathering of jolly, jocular people who share a love of brass band music and ostrich burgers. Right now the band is playing Jingle Bells, and the townsfolk move between the wooden stalls, bouncing along with the tune.
The smells are sharp, sweet, and seasonal: gingerbread houses, icing and spice, mulled wine and chestnuts, and the star-shaped mince pies that are the speciality of the Mayor’s wife. Jostling from the traditional toy stall, where there are painted nutcrackers and matryoshka dolls, to the incense-heavy curtained delights of the Celtic mishmash with dreamcatchers on the side, it’s a rich old squeeze of a Christmas. You might want pudding, pie, or panettone; all are available. How about holly, ivy, ice sculptures, or strudel? Or perhaps the pickled breeding organs of a Tchacloanda, which are stacked in glass jars over by the public toilets? You know, the only stall that nobody wants to get too close to, barely lit, looked after by a cloaked figure in the santa hat, who waits, unmoving, for anyone to approach.
The stallholder sighs, and huddles further into her cloak as the locals take a wide path around her. She never thought it would be this hard to launch her own business. In her determination to be successful she has gone further and further out of her way, looking for fresh interest. But perhaps, she’s now thinking, it was a mistake to assume that a multi-cultural Christmas market on this planet would be open to her particular brand of merchandise.
‘Hello,’ says a little voice.
She leans over the counter and sees a small person.
‘Hello,’ she says. ‘Are you still growing, or do you have a genetic disorder?’
‘Still growing,’ says the small person, who is wearing a hat with a bobble on the top. It looks much more interesting than the Santa hat.
‘Want to swap hats?’
‘Okay,’ says the small person. They trade.
‘Are you having fun?’
‘Yeah,’ says the small person.
There isn’t a lot more to say, but the small person stares at her, and doesn’t go away.
The small person shrugs.
‘Do you want to buy a pickled breeding organ from a Tchacloanda?’
‘Got no money.’
She sighs. ‘It’s okay. I’d kind of chalked today up as a disaster, materially speaking, anyway.’ She takes one of her jars, and carefully passes it over the counter into his hands. In the clear liquid floats a star-shaped organ, emitting a gentle golden glow.
‘What do I do with it?’
‘Thirty minutes in the oven, gas mark four.’
The small person walks away, trying to hold the jar straight.
The stallholder decides to call it a day. She hopes the rare treat in the jar is appreciated by the small person and its family. In a recent poll, the Tchacloanda’s breeding organs, pickled of course, was named as the most delicious taste in the known universe, as long as it is eaten before the pickling solution starts to degrade and the radioactive properties of the Tchacloanda kick up a gear. There are whole planets that have had their inhabitants mutated by that mistake.
She hopes it doesn’t happen to this planet. The Christmas market is so pretty, and she might even try a star-shaped mince pie before she heads for home. They smell wonderful.