Monday, 26 December 2016

Operation: White Christmas


It was a cold Wintery afternoon and as the sun set, snow began falling across the city; little white flakes sprinkling the streets like icing sugar, which then melted on the ground.
Brian stood by the window, a small, plastic cup of water in his hand, staring at the snow. He was a young teenager, with a messy fop of sun-bleached blond hair on his head that was lazily combed to the side and tattoos on his left arm which peeked out the edges of his long-sleeved shirt.
  “Oh crap . . .” said Leonard, wandering over to the window. Leonard was a hunchbacked, old, wrinkly man with receding grey hair and thin glasses on the end of his nose.
  “What?” asked Brian.
Leonard raised his eyes to give the kid an incredulous look that creased his forehead over his glasses. He was so hunched over that he was shorter than Brian when he stood by the window.
  “You wouldn’t know your arse from a hole in the ground, would ya?”
  “Uh . . . I was just looking at the snow,” said Brian, “I thought it looked cool.”
  “You stupid bastard,” said Leonard. “It doesn’t snow in Queensland, mate. That’s gotta be a bloody cold curse or winter god, some bullshit. That ain’t snow, that’s work.”
  “Oh,” said Brian.
  “Yeah, ‘oh’,” mocked Leonard, turning around. “Now get back to work.”
Brian turned around to watch the old grump stalk back to his cubicle.
  “You ain’t my boss, Lenny . . .” mumbled Brian, drinking his water. He glanced at the snow, then went back to his desk. Brian’s cubicle was a two-metre by two-metre square surrounded by thin, lime-green partitions made of plastic. His corner-desk wrapped around two walls, had a computer in the middle, a small filing cabinet under the left side with a bin, which he dropped the plastic cup in. A leather-bound book sat on one side of the desk with the company logo branded into the leather, right beside the in-tray and a dark grey phone.
On the other side was an open folder, an incident report for archiving. Brian sat in the study chair and shuffled closer to the computer, slapping the space-bar to bring the screen to life, showing a data entry form. In the last few years, the company had been digitizing their old records. It was up to interns like Brian to enter the data into the new database.
  “‘Incident’ . . . sub-dimensional fracture, loss of personnel” said Brian, typing as he spoke. “‘Cause’. And, great, it’s left blank.”
Brian flipped through the pages in the folder. The acquisitions order for a blood pack was signed and delivered. He looked at the delivery notice.
  “The artefact was fully covered, the blood was from a young male, and up to date. Fifteenth of the fourth nineteen seventy-three . . . fifteenth of the, wait, tenth. It was six months out of date. Who signed this?”
Checking the signature, Brian added ‘Blood out of date’ to the ‘Cause’ section, then scrolled down to the ‘Notes’ entry and added: ‘Documentation error. Blood was out of date, reported otherwise. Recommend review of Doctor Hansfield.’
Scrolling up to fill in the incident details, he added.
  “Loss of personnel. Barbara F Yates, Mentally Incapacitated. Kevin Hansfield, Deceased.”
Staring at it for a moment, He scrolled down to ‘Notes’ and removed the comment about Dr Hansfield.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Brian picked it up and spoke into it.
  “Hello?” he said.
  “Ryan, it’s Morrissey, are you managing the Cabinet?”
  “My name’s actually Brian,” said Brian. “And no. Lucas manages archives, I’m just an intern. Do you want me to transfer . . .” Brian stood up and glanced over at Lucas’ office. It was empty, he was on holidays. A lot of people were, it was approaching Christmas break. “Uh, Lucas isn’t in.”
  “There’s an issue with the database, we can’t access a certain file. Do you have a pen?
  “I do now . . .” says Brian, opening the drawer and grabbing a pen and post-it notes.
  “We need a file from Nineteen Fifty-Eight. Operation ‘Jack Frost’, can you look that up?
  “Sure . . .” said Brian, saving and closing the entry form. He searched for ‘JACK FROST’, setting the date between the 50’s and 60’s. “Uh . . . ‘frost giant’, ‘jack in the box’, ‘jack-hammer’. No, there’s no Jack Frost.”
  “It might be Nineteen Twenty-Seven,” said Morrissey.
Brian tried again, removing the date, searching all dates and times. There were over thirty results found.
  “I’ve got ‘frosty’, ‘frost knight’ and ‘jack the ripper’ . . . there’s no Jack Frost. It probably hasn’t been digitized.”
  “Then we need you to head into the archives,” said Morrissey. “Can you bring that file to my office? Please run, this is urgent.
He hung up the phone, Brian heard dial tone.
  “Great . . .” he murmured, and he stood up from his desk, grabbing his key-card and lanyard from the desk drawer, as well as the post-it note. He headed around the cube farm to the desk where the secretary was sitting. She was a large woman, with jowls like a pitbull. She looked like she should have been a cranky old lady, but she was incredibly sweet. Brian almost wished she was more of a curmudgeon; in this depressing atmosphere, her bubbly voice made him feel unsettled.
  “Edith, I need to head to archives, can you get Greg?”
  “Absolutely,” she said with a smile, and she slid a little microphone closer to her and pressed a button on its base. “Greg? This is Edith, we need you in Archiving, can you come here, please? Over.”
  “Roger that, over,” came the reply.
Edith smiled as they waited.
  “Do you have any plans for Christmas?” Edith asked, cheerily.
  “Uh . . . no,” said Brian. “Last time I had a party, all my friends kind of exploded, so I think I’ll have a quiet night in with a bottle of grog.”
  “Oh, I see,” she said with a smile.
She’s a robot. Definitely some kind of android, or zombie, Brian thought to himself. Nobody's that happy. Or maybe she’s on drugs, some kind of chill pill. There was a rumour around the water cooler that the guys in the field had pills that made them go numb when they had to face off against sub-dimensionals.
The glass door swung open, and a tan guy with a five-o’clock shadow and a bullet-proof vest stepped into the office.
  “Hey, Greg,” said Brian, with a wave, but the man ignored him.
  “What’s the job?” said Greg, in an accent that could have been Italian or French, but not quite either.
  “Escort. Brian here just needs to take a trip to Archives,” said Edith.
Greg gave her a sharp nod, then looked at Brian.
  “Come on, boy,” he said.
Brian walked over to him then out the door towards the hall, with Greg in tow. He pressed the down button and waited for the elevator.
  “Sorry, I know it sucks,” said Brian, but Greg didn’t speak.
“I’m sure you’d rather be out in the field than . . . well, babysitting the new guy as he looks for a file.”
  “Have you been in the field?” said Greg, not looking at him.
  “Uh, no . . .” said Brian.
  “If you had, you wouldn’t say that,” he said coldly.
The elevator arrived and they stepped inside.
Over a year ago, there had been an incident in the Archives. Records of prior missions were often kept with associated documents, which sometimes included ritual performance schedules, graphical representation of sigils and pronunciation guides for related spells, when a senior archivist had given himself a papercut on a folder, the result let loose a plague boar, killing the archivist and several employees before it could be contained. So, management finally decided to purge all paper documentation, and digitize over a century of archived records; but for the safety of all personnel, it was now company policy to be escorted to Archive Rooms with an armed guard, and for all workers handling files to wear two layers of latex gloves.
Not that Brian felt safer with Greg behind him. Some of those incantations were ancient, and just looking at them could cause them to become active. Most sigils which were that dangerous had been redacted or censored, but after working in archives for three months now Brian knew how often these records contained mistakes, or just plain left out large chunks of information.

They stepped out of the elevator on a basement level and approached a single, wooden door, painted white, which had a piece of paper attached with blu-tac. In the middle of the piece of paper was an image of a rectangle with an eye in the middle, and the whole thing had a circle around it, several lines, and swirls and writing which looked like a mix between Arabic and Japanese.
  “Kuuruk nng'rnshagn,” said Greg, speaking with a croaky, ingressive tone as he placed his hand on the symbol. Brian felt a shiver as though there was a rush of air, then Brian stepped forward and swiped his key-card over the scanner. With a click it unlocked, and Greg opened the door.
  “Be quick,” he said, and as Brian headed inside, Greg stood in the doorway.
The room was flanked either side with rows of filing cabinets, neatly labelled and signed and sorted. However, in the middle of the room was a row of thin, metal shelves, packed with cardboard archiving boxes which smelled like mildew. Brian turned to a small table by the door with a box of latex gloves, put on a pair and headed for the shelves in the middle of the room. It was only after the development of digital inkjet printers in 1970 that management decided to file documents in separated files within cabinets. Anything before then was stored the old-fashioned way. Brian went down the racks, looking at the embossed tape labels stuck to the boxes: ‘1933.5-1933.10’ . . . ‘1935-1936.7’ . . . ‘1940e-1940s’
It was a mess of poor labelling over the years, but he crouched down to find a box labelled ‘1957-1959.2’. With a wary eye on Greg, whose hand was on his gun holster, Brian carefully opened the lid, and could smell the age of the yellowing papers within, and saw several brown-leather ring binders, and each was embossed with the old logo of the company, a crossed knife and fork over a shield, with the words ‘The Kitchen’ written underneath. He removed the binders cautiously, checking the label on the spine as he removed each, till he found one that spanned 1958.
He opened it up. On the inside of the binder’s front cover was a beautifully painted red symbol of a pentacle with a hand in the middle, and inhuman writing, like Arabic mixed with Japanese, around the edges. On his first day in the archives, Lucas had explained that during the first World War, the old binders had been sealed, so that they couldn’t be viewed remotely. He assured Brian that it was safe, so long as he didn’t rip or tear the documents in any way. The sections of the binder were separated by thick, orange divider tabs, marked with the date. Brian carefully peeled open the pages at each divider to read the cover page of the documents, for the operation code-name. ‘Operation: CIRCUS TENT’, ‘Operation: PHILIPPIDES’, ‘Operation: NOAH’ and in the middle of the binder:
‘Operation: JACK FROST’.
Leaving the binder on the floor, Brian went to the desk in the back of the room, where he was supposed to review files, and opened the drawer to grab a spare manila folder, and wrote “Operation: Jack Frost’ on the tab with a pen, then he returned, opened the rings of the binder and removed the dot-matrix printer pages and divider card, and put them in the new folder.
He quickly clipped shut, closed and replaced the binder, then put it back in its box, shelved it, and walked back to the desk. He ripped off his gloves and dropped them in the bin beside the desk, then picked it up and walked over to Greg.
  “Job done,” he said, holding up the folder. Greg stepped out of the way and Brian stood in the hall as the security guard closed the door and placed his hand on the door’s sigil.
  “Hrangshk nng'rnshagn,” he said, once more in that croaky, ingressive tone, sending a shiver down Brian’s spine as there was a sound of rushing air, then silence.


Greg left Brian on his own as he returned to his post, but Brian took the elevator to the thirty-third floor. He stepped out onto one of the highest management levels. They had nice, dark green carpet and clean, eggshell-white walls with several rooms around the edge of the level walled by glass panels. The glass panels were all milky-white, except for the conference room in the middle, a rectangular room with a conference table and over a dozen chairs that was in the centre of the floor. Brian would have approached Morrissey’s office, but he saw his tall, skinny form in the conference room with two other men, and a woman, none of which he recognized. They were talking animatedly, but the glass was soundproof. He walked around to the side, where there was a door, and tapped on the glass.
Morrissey looked up, and waved him inside.
As Brian pushed the door open, he broke the soundproof seal and heard a voice speaking on the speaker-phone in the middle of the room.
  “-the source to a Northern section of Morningside. The cold-front is moving West, but isn’t spread to the coast.”
Morrissey waved for Brian to stand behind his chair, and waited, listening.
  “Then it’s not an atmospheric web,” said the stern-looking woman, in an accent so posh it was almost English. “That would be contained, this is following weather patterns.”
  “I think we’re facing another Jack Frost situation,” said Morrissey, and he turned to Brian “Mister Lockburn, can you give us a run-down of that operation?”
Brian’s eyes went wide, and he stammered, looking at the others, then the file in his hands.
  “Uh . . .” he opened the file, making awkward exhaling noises as he flicked through some pages before recognizing an authorization order. “Da dada . . . here, unauthorized summon, area of effect absorbs thermal energy, radiating low-temperature in an expanding area of effect. Operations Manager Cline pinpointed the focal point of the radiating cold, and authorized an outfitted response team of seven personnel. Shaun Tierney, first class combatant with a Level Q thaumaturgical reading, LR license; Rachel McBride, first class combatant with, uh. . .” Brian glanced up and saw the managers looking at him expectantly, so he flipped through some more pages, before finding a debriefing transcript.
“Uhhh, here we go. It, uh . . . the summon was a level five, from a lyrical incantation, less than ten degrees centigrade, human sacrifice. Results in a two-point-seven metre tall physical construct. It says ‘undead flesh’ in brackets with a question mark, I um . . . I don’t know what that means, but it mentions a breath weapon, from an unknown non-terrestrial energy, with an affect akin to liquid nitrogen. Weaknesses to heat and flame, dismemberment. Oh, and it says ‘music’ here, in brackets, with another question mark.”
Brian looks up from the file.
A larger man with a beard and slicked-back hair was stroking his chin.
  “Fits the profile. But we should include redundancies, in case this is bigger than we’ve expected. There’ve been close calls before,” he said in a deep, resonant voice.
  “I concur, do we have a time-frame, Charles?” asked the businesswoman
  “The Bureau of Meteorology says that this will reach Hervey Bay by midnight, Rockhampton by morning.” said the voice on the phone “But the focal point of the cold-front is dropping by three degrees every hour, if we don’t act in the next . . . six or seven hours, the Brisbane River could freeze over.
  “We’ll split the difference, call it a three-hour deadline, for safety,” said the large bearded man. “I can get a team suited and booted in fifteen minutes. Is this your man, David?”
  “He can be,” said Morrissey, turning to Brian. “Are you ready for a field op’, Ryan?”
  “My name’s actually Brian,” said Brian quietly.
  “Brian?” said Morrissey.
  “Yes,” said Brian, much louder.
  “Alright, then,” said the bearded man, turning to the others, “We’re on a tight clock, David, I need your boy at the catering trucks in ten minutes, in field dress. I think we can call this adjourned.”
  The businesswoman nodded and hung up the speaker phone, then everyone stood up.
  “What?” said Brian, but Morrissey placed a hand on his back and walked him to the door.
  “This is your first time out in the field, yes?” said Morrissey.
  “What. No. What. I’m just an intern,” said Brian, panicked. Morrissey walked him to the elevator as the others returned to their offices around the meeting room. “I’m not ready.”
  “This is how it works here, Brian. You’re never ready for your first operation, until you’re pissing your pants in the middle of the slaughterhouse,” said Morrissey. “That’s what field experience means. But don’t look so scared; you’re not a Stove combatant, just a Cabinet consultant. Your job is to gather information, advise your team-mates as you go and keep a record of the mission progress. You’ll be safe.”
  “I dunno, Mister Morrissey,” said Brian. “There are senior members in the Cabinet more suited for this. And I wasn’t volunteering, I was saying how to pronounce my name and-”
  “Brian, the fact of the matter is that we’re approaching Christmas holidays, and a lot of our members are on break,” Morrissey paused to press the elevator call button. “I’m selecting you because you’ve got a clear head, an able body and you’re here. To be frank, a lot of the people that don’t go on holidays have mental issues and so aren’t suitable for field work, but you cleared your psychiatric. Do this, and a promotion will be in the your near future.”
  “So, I risk everything in the field, and I get . . . a promotion?”
  “Yes. Junior Archivist, how does that sound?” said Morrissey as the elevator doors opened.
  “Sounds underpaid,” snarked Brian. Morrissey laughed and gave him a slap on the back which nudged him into the elevator car  “This is government-funded. We’re all underpaid! Just don’t lose your cool, and you’ll be fine.”
  “Don’t lose my cool?” said Brian.
  “Exactly, you’ve got it,” said Morrissey as the doors began to close. “Oh, and bring your grimoire.”
The doors closed and Brian was staring dumbstruck at the shiny, metal doors.
Field operation. I’m going out in the field to face a snow monster. I’ve only worked here for four months, and now I’m going to die.
When the elevator door opened, he just trudged out and made his way towards his desk.
  “Good afternoon, Brian,” said Edith, ignoring the look of shock on his face. “Did you find the file you were looking for?”
  “Yeah . . .” said Brian, blankly , heading past the secretary. “I’m going on a field op’.”
  “Oh, good luck, Brian!” she said cheerily. Brian ignored her and picked up the leather-bound book on his desk, a company-issued grimoire, as well as the briefcase under it. He opened the briefcase and placed the Jack Frost file and grimoire inside.
The top of the briefcase came with brown, leather compartments with pens; notepads; chalk; six candles of red, white and black wax; a windowed sigil pocket & a phone holster. There was even a compartment for a handgun and ammunition, but as he was just an intern and hadn’t passed his firearms test, this pocket of his briefcase was empty.
Closing up his briefcase, Brian headed for the elevator to head down to the locker room to get changed.
For the sake of security, the Kitchen did not have a standard uniform for field operations. After all, if several spies were walking around wearing the same brand of black suit, black tie and black sunglasses, they would be much easier to identify. Instead, operatives were given a small uniform budget and bought their own clothing with the instruction that it should be “professional, yet suitable for running, fighting and sorcery”. However, there was one standard part of the uniform, and that was shoes. A beautiful pair of shiny, black leather semi-brogue oxford dress shoes, which were somehow incredibly light. Most of the people believed that this was because professional-looking dress shoes which you could run in were too expensive for the uniform budget, so the company bought them in bulk; however, Brian believed - because of the way that perforated venting holes of the dotted broguing in the leather facing were arranged in a strange pattern that looked like an eye on a radiant, column with swirls around it - that they were supposed to help with sorcery in some way. In reality, these two theories were not mutually exclusive, and the truth was somewhere in the middle.

Brian stepped out of the locker rooms wearing a pair of black denim jeans; a white business shirt, a dark grey sports jacket, a black tie and standard-issue shoes, with his briefcase in hand. Because the uniform budget wasn’t very high, he had bought cheap jeans and a second-hand sports jacket, but he thought he looked pretty good anyway. He’d seen co-workers come back from missions wearing silk vests and big brand trousers, so he assumed they either paid out of their own pocket, or interns drew the short straw when it came to the budget.
Because he was low on time, Brian jogged to the stairwell to head down to Level B3, the company garage level. The stairwell smelt like cigarette smoke, but he opened the door and stepped out into the carpark, a short space with two rows of white pillars and car spaces running down either side. There was an area in the centre for more rows of cars, but this was left open, and created an ominous space of black-top just in front of the ramp leading up and out of the carpark. This unnerved Brian, he imagined large-scale rituals performed in the middle of the carpark; late night arrangements by company executives of an even more secretive nature than the top floors, or perhaps even an underground reception area for company visitors too large or geometrically incompatible to safely enter the ground floor.
  “Bry? What the hell, man . . .” said a voice behind him, with a heavy New Zealander accent. Brian turned to see O-J, a fat man with a shaved head that he’d spoken to at lunch occasionally, since they both liked heavy metal. “They picked you for Cab’ consult? Damn, you must be shittin’ yourself!”
O-J wore a blue business shirt and trousers, he’d opened his shirt revealing a large, white singlet underneath, and his tie was hanging from his trouser pocket.
  “What are you doing here?” asked Brian, heading over
  “Packin’ the van, cuz’,” said O-J, gesturing to a van behind him, “Me and Digby are settin’ you up for an op’. You read your file?”
  “Not yet. I just got changed.”
  “Get readin’, cuz, do you know what you gotta do? Boys’ll be here in five, and you’re the archive expert,” he said, then he turned back to help Digby with the truck.
Panicked, Brian looked around for a chair, but since this was a carpark, he instead sat cross-legged on the tarmac, grabbed the ‘Jack Frost’ file from the briefcase and read through some of the files within.
Five minutes later with military precision, a pair of shiny, black Jeeps drove down the ramp and parked side-by-side in the middle of the carpark. Without shutting off the engine, the doors opened, and eight people stepped out of the cars. There were three women and five men, and each was wearing a black, hooded peacoat with a grey combat vest underneath, with business trousers and standard-issue shoes.
Stove Agents, personnel specially trained to fight physical threats encountered by the Kitchen, using specially crafted weaponry and supernaturally-conscious tactics.
As if by nature, like water flowing to fill an ice-cube tray, the agents closed the car doors and stood to the side of the trucks in two straight rows of four, then the cars turned around and drove back up the ramp. The tall woman with short, black hair standing at the edge of the front row of agents, turned to Brian.
  “Are you the Consultant?” said the woman.
  “Yes, I’m Brian,” he said, standing up. He put the file back into his briefcase as he walked over, and closing it up he held out his hand to shake. She accepted it, and he realized she was wearing brown, leather gloves; in fact, all of the agents were wearing a pair of gloves of some form or another.
  “Senior Sergeant Boone,” she said shaking with an unexpectedly firm grip. “We’re ready to go, we’re merely waiting on a location. Have you got an address? Co-ordinates?”
  “Address? Well, no,” said Brian, awkwardly. “I’ve only just been roped into this, I’m still getting up to speed. But, if we know the extent of our snowstorm, the focal point will be the closest to the summoned phenomenon. The catering truck should have access to the weather map.”
  “Catering truck?” said Boone, frowning.
  “Yeah . . . uh, that’s what the guys call the fieldwork vehicles,” said Brian. The agents were all staring at his expectantly, so he slowly turned around and headed for the truck. “This way . . .”
The others didn’t follow, watching as he walked over to the white, windowless van, sitting low on its suspension and with a dark windscreen.
“All set, O-J?” Brian asked, as he saw the large man beside the vehicle.
  “Hundred ’cent, cuz,” says O-J, drawing open the sliding door, as he did, a short, stocky guy in overals stepped out. “Eh, Bry. Good luck, eh?”
  “Thanks,” said Brian, and he jumped inside, heading for the back. The inside of the van was lit with fluorescent lights, to display two benches either side of the truck, with overhead bins and a stack of compartments against the cage separating the driver from the back. At the rear was a very small desk with a laptop and attached vehicle router, phone and what looked like a scanner without a lid. Brian sat in the tiny stool at the desk, and as he heard Boone command the other agents to head for the truck, he used what time he had in solitude to open the laptop, and quickly looked up information on the current snowstorm.
As the agents walked to the truck, Brian found a weather radar which showed a storm reaching from the Brisbane CBD to Tingalpa. At a glance, he could see the centre of the storm was in Morningside, close to the Brisbane River.
The Stove agents marched up to the van and one by one began to clamber inside. Brian turned to speak, but the sound of their boots on the metal floor was too loud to speak over. Seven of the agents came and sat on the benches in the back of the van, and as Senior Sergeant Boone slid the door shut and locked it, she tapped on the cage.
  “Alright, Brian,” she said, holding onto a bar on the roof. “Do you know where we’re headed?”
  “Morningside, preferably more north than south.”
  “Did you get that, Ferguson?” asked Boone. The driver responded by starting the engine. Boone sat down and looked over at Brian as the van made its way out of the carpark, the passengers swaying and bobbing with the motions.
“What are we looking at, Brian?” Boone said to Brian.
  “Situation, Codename: ‘Jack Frost’,” said Brian, speaking up so the others could all hear him. “All intel suggests that you’re up against a cold-based summon. It’s pieced together from its victims, so it can vary in shape and size, but last known entity was around three-metres tall. The bigger it is the stronger it is, so expect something big and tall. It gains power by absorbing surrounding heat in an area of effect that grows larger over time; so, where we’re going is gonna be cold as hell. Also, it had a kind of freezing breath weapon, and can freeze with its touch.”
  “How do we kill it?” asked one of the agents, a young blond man, handsome except for a crooked scar across his nose. The others smirked at what he said.
  “Burn the sucker,” said Brian. “Or, cut it into pieces; there’s data that suggests that ice holds the frozen body parts together, so melting those could make it fall to pieces. This file is limited, since we’ve only ever faced codename ‘Jack Frost’ once before, there’s nothing about mental capacity or ultimate goals, and there’s nothing to suggest that it’s immune to magic or gunfire. However, since it’s already made up of dead parts, I don’t recommend that you fill it with bullets.”
Brian looked around the van, and felt a little chuffed that he’d managed to captivate the attention of the Stove agents on his first mission.
  “Any questions?” asked Brian
  “How was it summoned?” asked Boone.
  “Oh, uh . . . sacrifice and an enchantment. As for who and why, I don’t know yet. The first instance was summoned at a campfire in a mountainside park and it took twelve hours to take it down. This is a pretty rare summon.”
  “Understood,” said Boone, and the passengers went quiet as the driver sped through the twisted, cold streets.


Fifteen minutes later, the van came to a stop. The chill of the air outside was seeping through the metal, and the windscreen wipers were flicking side to side to scrape the snow out of the way as quickly as it fell.  The driver switched off the engine and stepped out.
  “Tie your shoes and light the fuse,” said Senior Sergeant Boone, sliding open the door on the side of the truck, “it’s game time, boys.”
All the other agents stood up and headed out of the truck. Brian looked around for a radio or headset, so he could stay in touch, but couldn’t find one. He turned to see Boone stick her head inside the truck once more.
  “Oh, Sergeant? Is there a radio headset in here?”
  “Radio? You don’t need a radio” said Boone stepping into the truck and glaring at him. “Now, get off your arse, kid. We need you out here.”
She disappeared from view and, nervously, Brian stood, grabbed his suitcase and followed the rest of the guys out of the truck. He stepped out and the cold hit him like a slap in the face. He’d never travelled beyond Australia, so he wasn’t used to cold weather. To him, it was akin to opening the freezer door. Then pulling out the frozen vegetables and chicken wings and stepping inside.
Boone slid the door shut behind him with a clunk.
  “What’s going on, don’t consultants stay in the truck? I can advise from there.”
  “You’re leading the way. We don’t have a defined location, yet, we need you on foot,” said Boone. As she spoke, mist poured from her mouth like smoke.
  “Right, location . . .” Brian muttered, looking around. Dead ahead was a large tyre and auto store; beside that, a cafe; a golfing supply store; a car dealership. He turned around and saw the carpark of a small shopping centre. Everything was covered in a small blanket of snow, and there were flecks still falling from the sky around them. But the shopping centre stood out. The air was slightly misty, and what he could see of the glass sliding doors were frosted over with fernlike trails of ice around the edges.
  “It must be there,” said Brian, pointing at the store, and reading the sign. “Little Lytton Square.”
  “Alright. Lead the way,” said Boone.
  “Lead the way?” said Brian. “I don’t have combat training. That can’t be safe.”
  “Fine . . . Ferguson?” said Boone. A half-Asian looking man with a clean-shaven head turned and nodded towards the Senior Sergeant. “You’re babysitting. Keep Brydon here alive.”
  “Brian,” corrected Brian.
  “Alright,” said Ferguson, with a thick Australian accent. “Do as I say, and you won’t die.”
  “That’s reassuring,” said Brian, and he began to walk towards the shopping centre, with Ferguson by his side, and the other members following a few steps behind.
  “Two things you gotta know,” said Ferguson as they approached the doors of the shopping centre. “First, if I say ‘quiet’, or ‘hush’ or ‘shoosh’, be absolutely silent and get down.”
  “Okay. Quiet and get down,” said Brian nervously, his teeth chattering from the cold and the nerves. “What’s the second thing?”
  “If I tell you to get back, look at my gun,” he said, and he drew his gun to demonstrate. “Where I’m firing is towards the target, so you run in the opposite direction. Got it?”
  “Got it,” said Brian, staring at the gun. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. It wasn’t a standard firearm, it was Kitchenware. The gun was the size of a sawn-off shotgun, but there was as single, wide barrel. The metal was black, but along the sides were slitted vents, with a bulky battery at the base near the handle, and an ergonomic sliding handgrip that rested alonside the thin vents. He’d never seen one up close, but he could tell that it was a wraith gun. In the Oven, the Research and Development department, they’d discovered a byproduct of their sorcery which could convert almost any form of matter into smoke. Since some creatures had armour, power or dimensions which were unaffected by regular weapons, a wraith gun was one of the more common pieces of weaponry that Stove agents took into the field.
Ferguson holstered the weapon, as they approached the automatic doors. The doors made a heavy groaning sound as they stepped before it. Then, with a crack, the ice broke and the doors shuddered as they slid open, the glass shaking as they did. When they opened, there was an even colder rush of air that made Brian close his eyes and cover his mouth from the sharp, freezing air. And he also heard the familiar sound of cheesy Christmas songs.
. . . giddy-up, Jingle horse, pick up your feet; Jingle around the clock . . .
Managing to slowly open his eyes without his pupils freezing solid, Brian saw that the inside of the centre had a carpet of snow on the ground, an inch thick. He looked beside him and saw that Ferguson’s skin was blotching with red all over his face and the top of his head but otherwise he didn’t react much to the cold. He just looked at Brian and gestured for him to continue. Brian nodded, swallowing the wad of spit that had collected on his tongue as he gritted his teeth, and he stepped onto the snow, the crystals crunching under his feet with every step.
Just past the two stores either side, they entered an open food court.
  “Brian,” said Boone, as she entered the store behind them. “Can you tell me-”
  “Shh!” hushed Ferguson.
  “She was talking to me,” said Brian.
  “SHH!” he repeated through gritted teeth, pulling his weapon.
Brian stepped back as Ferguson knelt down, pointing the wraith gun into the food court. All they heard was the music overheard.
. . . what a bright time, it's the right time, to rock the night away . . .
  “Target?” said another agent in a hushed tone.
  “Possible civilian,” Ferguson said, just loud enough to be heard over the music.
Brian stayed where he was near the entrance and looked over where Ferguson was pointing, and saw a figure wandering through the court, towards them. It looked like a person, with snow in their hair, walking towards them slowly, their feet crunching with each step.
Ferguson, still crouched a bit and pointing his weapon, began to walk towards the target. Following his lead, the others all except for Brian began to draw weapons and close in on the subject.
  “Citizen,” said Boone, speaking up as she moved to advance forward alongside Ferguson, gun drawn. “Are you alright? Can you hear me?”
The person didn’t respond, instead they stretched out their hands in front of them. As they did, there was a crunching sound, like stepping on a potato chip.
  “Get back!” called Ferguson, firing his weapon.
There wasn’t a bang or a pop, instead there was a flash of green light as the gun fired, which made an electric crackling sound, and where the light hit, a portion of the target’s shoulder and upper chest rapidly disintegrated and turned into a thick cloud of angry black and grey smoke, which billowed backwards and rose towards the ceiling.
Half-way along the fore-arm to the hand, where the shot hadn’t hit, dropped off onto the snow. The target, now with a charred, smoking hole where their shoulder once was, turned and looked at the dropped hand, the neck crackling sickly as it moved, and they groaned sadly.
There were two more shots and the head and stomach turned to smoke as well.
The legs collapsed onto the snow, and the soldiers advanced.
  “Brian!” called the Sergeant.
Brian, shivering, shuffled over to join the others. He looked down at the pair of legs, smoking from the waist-up. They were covered in ice-crystals, and by the right foot was a pale forearm. It was eerily quiet but for the sickly sweet carols overhead.
 . . . oh, the weather outside is frightful; but the fire is so delightful . . .
  “What do you make of this?” Boone said.
Brian looked at the corpse, shaking his head.
  “That can’t be the ‘Jack Frost’,” he said, pointing at the hand. “What we are looking for killed four, armed agents; and it’s aggressive. This moves too slowly to have harmed anyone.”
  “You didn’t mention that it could raise the dead,” said a younger, female Stove agent.
  “The file didn’t mention it. Either the file is incomplete or we’re not facing a Jack Frost.”
  “Or both,” added Boone. “Comorbid summons aren’t unheard of.”
  “If that’s the case, I should contact Kitchen and give them the new intel,” said Brian.
Boone nodded.
  “Ferguson, take him to the field office.”
Ferguson nodded and turned back, patting Brian on the back and running out of the centre.
  “Come on, man,” he said, and Brian turned and began to jog.
  “Field office?” said Brian.
  “That what we call, what you call, ‘the catering trucks’,” he replied.
As they headed out of the door, Brian heard one of the agents call out.
  “We’ve got another one!”
Brian turned back, but Ferguson barked at him.
  “Come on! They got this, do your job.”
Brian nodded and they made their way back to the van. It was still freezing outside, but compared to the icy interior of the mall it was like seeing the sun on a cold morning.
Ferguson opened up the sliding door, and Brian jumped in, nearly slipping as the ice on his feet slid on the metal floor. He fell into the chair and grabbed the phone, using the Cabinet auto-dial on the face of the unit. Pressing it to his ear, the phone made an unusual whirring, buzzing noise, then clicked. Brian waited for a response, but the other end didn’t speak. He wondered if the phone was broken.
  “ . . . hello?” he said.
  “Who is this?” came the reply.
  “Um, Brian Lockburn,” he said, feeling unsure, “. . . I’m an intern at Cabinet Archives.”
  “Understood,” came the reply, and there was a pause.
Brian waited, wondering if perhaps it was the wrong number.
  “Connecting you with Operations Manager Ridcully now,” said the phone, and there was a series of clicks, like a typewriter.
  “This is Ridcully,” said the phone.
  “Sir, this is Brian, cabinet consultant for the field operation, the ‘Jack Frost’ situation. Something’s not right down here, sir, we’re seeing reanimates. My, uh, the agent in charge said I should inform you. There’s a chance we may have bad intel, sir. This might not be a ‘Jack Frost’.”
  “Hold up,” said Ridcully, and Brian recognized his deep voice as that of the bearded man he’d seen in the conference earlier. He heard soft breathing, then there was the sound of a beep. When he spoke again, his voice sounded slightly muffled. “I’m contacting Archives now. But Lockburn, tell your commander that management’s considered other avenues; this is a ‘Jack Frost’. If you’re seeing reanimates, then you need to pull double-duty. Contain the- hello? Morrissey?
  “Speaking,” replied David Morrissey’s voice, and Brian realized he had been roped into a conference call. So, he turned to Ferguson, standing by the door.
  “Tell Boone, this is confirmed a ‘Jack Frost’ situation; These frost-zombies are part of the mission too.”
Ferguson turned away to speak into his radio and Brian returned to the phone.
  “ . . . still confirmed ‘Jack Frost’, but could we also be seeing a ‘Haitian Legion’?” said Ridcully
  “No, the parasite dies off in cold temperatures. Lockburn?
  “Yes, sir?” said Brian.
  “Are the reanimates capable of speech?
  “No sir, mild groans and grunts, it seems,” says Brian. “And they are frozen stiff, they move slowly, and their limbs crack as they do.”
  “Crack?” said Morrissey
  “Yeah, they’re covered in ice, it may be related to the unknown energy used by the ‘Jack Frost’ target.”
  “That’s new . . .” says Morrissey. “Lockburn, collect what information you can on this phenomenon. And take a note of calling an Oven rep’ along with the clean-up crew.
  “Yes, sir,” said Brian.
  “And Mr Lockburn?” added Ridcully, “Warn Field Commander Boone, she could be facing a caster.
  “Yes, sir, of course,” said Brian, and then he heard a dial tone. Brian hung up the phone and turned towards Ferguson. But when he turned around, he couldn’t see him. Brian stepped out of the truck and looked out.
“Ferguson?!” he called out, but there was only silence.


Brian looked around nervously, rubbing his arms to try to stay warm. He tried to remember if Ferguson had told him to stay there, but couldn’t remember.
Earlier, he said I should stay with him if I wanted to live, and I very much do . . .
Brian slid the door to the van shut and turned to the small shelving compartments, searching through them until he found a large headset with cosy earmuffs and a microphone. But the headset had an audio cable which wasn’t plugged into anything. He checked more compartments for a radio or a walkie talkie, and instead found a fuel can; a tackle box; a megaphone; water bottles; silver stakes; yellow caution tape & a reinforced, pill-shaped speaker which definitely wasn’t a radio, and he figured must have been a banshee grenade; but, no sign of a radio.
He considered the megaphone, but quickly changed his mind at the thought of a giant frozen monster coming to shut him up for good. He wanted, desperately, to stay in the truck. Whilst quite cold, at least it wasn’t as freezing as it was outside, and he definitely didn’t want to die, running into the field. But, he also had valuable intel for the Senior Sergeant which could help her and her team to stay alive; and worse, if he didn’t go out to do his assignment and get further information on the frost zombies, he might lose his job. Sliding open the van door once more, Brian stepped out and made his way back to the shopping centre.
The Kitchen doesn’t hire, so it doesn’t fire. The people employed by the Kitchen are usually  survivors of supernatural phenomena, or occasionally victims; Brian himself was brought on board after the latest piss-up with his mates had started with tequila and ended with a blood orgy by a couple of gate-crashing cultists. The resulting bloodbath and brainwashing left the place a visceral mess and still gave him nightmares, but he survived to join the Kitchen, and he was very thankful for the opportunity.
However, if he lost his job he wouldn’t be unemployed, he would be demoted. And demotion was a frightening prospect in the Kitchen, with words like “Janitor”, “Evidence Disposal”, “Test subject” and even “Organic Material” used to describe demotees.

The air from his mouth turned to fog with every shivering breath. Snow fell onto the shoulders of his jacket as he walked up to the glass doors and they automatically slipped open. He walked into the freezing space, staring out at the ice-blanketed food court, listening to the sickly sweet carol over the speakers.
. . . I gave you my heart; But the very next day, you gave it away . . .
In the distance, he heard the familiar crackle of a wraith gun.
  “Boone?” he called out in a harsh whisper, his mouth feeling dry in the cold.
Snow crunching underfoot, he moved as quick as he could through the food court, sticking to the left side, so that he wasn’t completely exposed, and he saw people in the long stretch of hallway just past the food court. Before he could call to them, he quickly saw that there were more than eight. And they weren’t walking so much as shuffling.
Brian stopped, perfectly still, but as he watched them he saw that they were all heading the other way. He was wondering why and looking around, till he noticed the tightly-packed set of footprints heading down the middle of the walkway. They must have been the Stove agent bootprints, and the frost-zombies were following them. He looked around for another way, but there was more crackling wraith-gunfire down the hall and a loud, inhuman yell that sounded like a snort.
  “Oh . . . shit,” said Brian.
Heading down the hall, he stuck to the right side, since it had the greatest distance from the dozens and dozens of zombies wandering down the snow-covered tiles. He speed-walked, crouching down, but as he walked past, the sound of his standard-issue shoes on the snow made the icy corpses turn to face him.
  “Uhhh . . . shit,” he said, moving as fast as he could as they turned to walk towards him, their knees and necks making snapping, cracking sounds. “Shit shit shit shit shit.”
Just past a florist’s shop, there was a corner which he turned down to escape the hoard following him. The corner lead to another sliding door, just down a fifteen metre walkway, but there were another five or so frost-zombies staggering around. The zombies behind him groaned, alerting the others in the walkway, which turned around, stiffly.
  “Great job, Brian!” Brian growled at himself, looking around, panicked. “You’ve surrounded yourself with god-damned ice-zombies.”
He looked in the centre of the walkway. There was a potted fern and a courtesy seat nailed to the floor. Behind him was a florist and a noodle shop, the rest of the shops were behind a slowly enclosing circle of frozen bodies. As they neared him, he saw their faces. Some were frozen in horror, others had half-closed eyes. One clearly had fallen down, their face was flattened on one cheek and the side of their forehead, then snap-frozen in time in a misshapen glare. Several men, a woman, a little girl. Then, he recognized one of them. He was blonde, with a scar across his nose. His peacoat was covered in snow, he hadn’t recognized him, but he was a Stove agent.
Brian didn’t know what was more disturbing, the fact that he had died and been reanimated as frozen deli meat, or the fact that his left arm was twisted and crushed by something that was clearly very powerful. But more than that, Brian knew that he was armed. There was a gun, still frozen in his good hand.
The frost-zombies were slowly closing in. With a heavy, misty sigh Brian looked at the young, blond agent.
  “I’m really, really sorry about this,” he said, and he leapt at the kid, grabbing at the gun with one hand, and his neck with the other.
It was like he had grabbed a block of ice, the flesh was rigid and frozen under his fingers. His fingers quickly felt stingingly cold, like freezer-burn. He also tugged at the gun, but the agent’s fingers were frozen around it.
At first, he was confused, but then with a groan, he opened his mouth and screamed. His voice was hoarse, but he let out a billowing mist of cold air and particles of ice. Brian felt pressure on his skull as the cold gave him a brain-freeze and tightened the skin around his face. He was so cold and shaking, and it burned to put pressure on his cold muscles, but with a grunt he lifted his leg and gave him a kick. The agent frost-zombie fell back, and with a sick crack the gun came out of his hand. Brian turned and tried to hold it, but the trigger was stuck. He looked at it, and saw that frozen fingers were still stuck on the gun. Using his thumb to poke them through the trigger-guard, he pointed it at the other zombies and fired as quick as he could.
Head. Leg. Head. Neck. Leg. Head. He kept firing, point and shoot, until the zombies all around him fell down. When he felt satisfied that he was safe, he saw that the end of the gun was smoking, so he brought it to his lips and blew it, like he’d seen done on TV. But his teeth were chattering from the cold, so it made a weird sound.
Exhausted, he doubled over, and put his hand on his knees, to catch his breath. He closed his eyes for a second, and tried to calm his breathing.
  “Brian!” called out Ferguson. Brian looked up to see the half-Asian agent running over.
  “What are you doing? Why do you have a weapon?”
  “Came for . . .” Brian swallowed, trying to catch his breath, but it was hard when the air was so cold. “Intel. Target may . . . caster. Could be a magic. Tell Boone.”
Slowly, Ferguson grabbed his radio.
  “Boone, this is Ferguson. Target may be a caster. I repeat, target may be a caster, over.”
  “Good,” said Brian, standing up straight, “job done, there.”
  “Why are you out of the field office?” said Ferguson. “For everyone’s safety, I’m going to escort-”
  “Roger that, Ferguson,” said his radio, sparking to life. “Be advised, target-
Suddenly what looked like several strings of pink sausages wrapped around Ferguson and he was yanked off his feet. Brian watched, confused, as he flew back fifteen metres, high in the air, towards a large, smoking mass near the entrance to a grocery store. A large, red, snow-coated mass flicked out and grabbed Ferguson like a ragdoll out of the air. Ferguson screamed, but was then pulled it into the smoke, and his scream became silent as there was a sickening crunch.
In the silence that followed, Brian heard the indifferent Christmas playlist overhead.
 . . . he knows when you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake . . .
The smoking mass was over four metres tall, covered in thick, smoke from wraith-gunshot wounds. But the smoke shifted as it snorted, then began to walk towards him. The smoke wafted behind it, and Brian saw for the first time the massive pile of meat.
With each step he saw its legs. A mass of bones and steak, and mince meat in the shape of a cloven hoof, ham hocks for toes; they were enormous, each footfall advancing over two metres. two interlocked beef carcasses created the body, attached with what looked like permafrost to the many limbs, crunching and grinding with each step. One arm looked like a writhing mass of sausages and intestines, the frozen links clicking together as they moved. The other arm looked to made, somewhat unnervingly, out of stacked chicken and four human arms, creating a kind of claw. The head, atop this monster, was a skinned  and butchered sheep’s head, red and bloody, with icicles jutting out the back like horns or wild hair. The rest had unrecognizeable cuts of meat and viscera, filling out the towering form.
The monster spoke as it walked towards Brian, the jaw opening and closing with a clack as it did. The words were unrecognizeable. Hoarse, hacking consonants and breathing, it sounded like a jabbering rabbi having a seizure, played backwards on a tape recording.
Terrified, Brian raised the wraith gun in his hand, pointing it at the monster, but he saw that the tip of the gun was still smoking. He held it to his face, to see that the edges of the barrel were charred, and slowly turning to smoke.
These guns were pump-action. They didn’t eject rounds, but sliding the hand-grip cleared excess wraith-shot the barrel of the gun. The gun barrel was disintegrating in his hands.
The creature stopped and inhaled sharply. Brian knew, it was going to freeze him to death.
Brian fired the gun at the florist shop’s window and dove through the glass as it turned to smoke. He landed hard, several of the pots on display landed and cracked under him, and there was a sharp pain in his shin as a shard stabbed him, but he heard the sound of screaming wind behind him, and looked up to see a billowing white cloud, with an ethereal blue light, flood the spot where he was standing. The billowing edges of the cloud licked at the shop window, creating spiralling, fern-like patterns over the glass wherever it touched. As the icy breath stopped, the monster leant down and the black, frosty eyes of the skinned lamb’s head fell upon him. With a grunt it adjusted its shoulders, cold mist hissing out of the seams in its form. It thrust its left arm into the shop, shattering the frosted glass. Brian rolled out of the way, clawing at the shelves to stand up as the cold, dead fingers crack and twitch, reaching for him. He looked around, and saw a door behind the service counter, with the words 'STAFF ONLY' written on it. He ran for it, but there was a sharp stinging in his leg as he stepped on his right foot.
He cried out, but ignored it, limp-hopping to the door and pushing through. It was pitch dark inside, but he closed and locked the door, then fumbled around the wall, looking for a lightswitch. His knuckles slapped against something metal, which made his hand throb, but he managed to find a switch on the wall right against the doorframe.
There was a buzzing sound as the lights flickered, then came on, showing a small workshop with shelves of empty pots, jars and vases; racks of ribbon and cellophane by the side; a wooden table in the centre with toolboxes, scissors, sticky tape, jugs & bits of leaf and stem strewn all over with bags of dirt and buckets stored underneath. There was a raised stool by the table bench which Brian limped to and sat on to look at his leg. It was bleeding a lot.
He looked around for a medkit or bandages, but beside him was just a potted peony and a pair of pruning shears. With little else he could do, he reached across to the sticky tape.
There was a loud bang against the door that made him jump. Then it began to groan, from a great weight pushing against it. Then he heard the creature speak again. Hoarse groaning and snarling, like a dog trying to bark backwards, or a suffocating walrus. Trying to ignore it, Brian pulled up his trouser-leg to see the inch-long, but very deep cut, which turned his stomach when he realized how similar the flesh looked to the raw meat of the monster outside. He wrapped three layers of tape over the cut; it looked dreadful, and blood still dripped through the plastic, but it would help keep it a bit closed.
There was a loud bang and a crack, and instinctively, Brian picked up the potted plant, ready to throw it. He looked at the door, and saw that there was a crack in the wood near the bottom edge of the door. There was now a gap in the bottom of the door. He listened carefully, staring at the crack under the door. And heard a soft scraping, trundling noise as several strings of sausages, and frosty intestines began to slither under the door, like snakes sliding on ice. The frozen chains of meat were frozen solid, clattering against the concrete like pebbles. Some of them found the legs of shelves or tables, and began to crawl up, searching for a victim. Brian saw the pruning shears, and placing the flowers on his lap, he picked up the large scissors and watched wearily as sausage links, meat strips and viscera slid across the floor, under the table and around the shelves.
One of the links crawled up the table, and began to snake over the surface of the wood. It was made of thin, pink, frozen sausages. he held the shears over the sausages, ready to snip if they found him, but Brian swallowed a lump in his throat when he saw that they had crimson ice, splattered over them, a deep red. His lips trembled, as he remembered Ferguson, being crushed by the monster. Not wanting to risk it, he put the pruning shears back down his lap, then picked up the pot in his lap and threw the peonies at the door. As soon as they smacked into the wood, the meat-tendrils lashed at it, snatching it before it hit the ground and ripped it through the gap in the door, the plastic pot popping, spraying dirt all over the floor.
Then there was silence for a moment. Brian could only hear his breathing, and the faint tingling of music.
. . . a merry, little Christmas; let your heart be light. From now on . . .
He heard the sound of the creature inhaling sharply. Then, a white mist, with a soft, blue light, came flooding through the bottom of the door. Brian pulled his feet up, grabbing both legs. The mist quickly covered the floor, then kept billowing upwards, like a boiling cauldron. There was the sound of cracking as the cold broke several glass jars. The cold kept rising, so Brian climbed onto the table, standing up. As he did, he realized his leg wasn't hurting anymore, it had become numb.
  "Please . . . no," he said, his teeth chattering as the room filled with cold. The mist crawled on top of the table, lapping at his shoes, the leather tightening as the cold touched it. The cold stopped rising for a moment, and Brian sighed, before he heard the sound of the creature inhaling once more.
He would have prayed, perhaps; asked God for forgiveness and salvation, but he couldn't. Ever since he's joined the Kitchen, he no longer believed in God. At least, not a loving creator; no benevolent father of mankind. As far as he believed, there was not even a devil to revel in, and live as a selfish heathen, even he was not so indifferent as the universe. No, we live short, painful lives and then we die, and our only hope is that when we die, the energy that is our life-force can dissipate into nothingness, rather than be re-purposed by monstrosities like the 'Jack Frost' subject to become fuel for another twisted ritual . . .

Suddenly, the air rippled as there was an unnatural scream. It sounded like a mixture of a woman's stage scream, and a jet engine. The sound pierced the air like a powerdrill, the jars on the shelves all shattered, the shelves shook violently, and Brian covered his ears, so he wouldn't go totally deaf. But even with ears covered, he could still hear the shriek, and his insides shook as though he were being repeatedly jabbed in the chest by a boxer. He heard a loud bang, then a thud which shook the door, then it buckled in front of him and exploded from its hinges, splinters spraying outwards, bouncing off his suit. The sound stopped, but it left a dull ringing in his ears and he felt like he was going to throw up. Doubled over, he dry-retched, his empty stomach clenching in pain, then he looked up to see the monster. However, he saw nothing, the door had fallen away and the creature was gone. In its place, piles of inanimate, frozen meat and severed body parts had burst into pieces and dropped on the ground.
Then, Senior Sergeant Boone stepped through the doorway.
  "Mister Lockburn? You're injured" she said.
Brian stared at Boone, confused, his ears still ringing.
  "The . . . 'Jack Frost'. It's gone?"
  "The target was drawn into a corner, so we hit it with a banshee bomb," said Boone, holding up a small device that looked like a garage door keyring remote. "Chasing after you must be what backed him into this tight spot."
  "Right . . . well, thank you for saving my life."
  "It's part of my job," she replied.
  "Right," said Brian. "It's dead, then? It's done?"
  "The target has been neutralized," said Boone. "You need to get medical attention."
  "Where are the others?" asked Brian. In response, Boone grabbed her radio.
  "Back room secure. Converge on my mark. Over," she said.
Brian sat down on the edge of the table, the icy mist had all dissipated. He let out a sigh as the music played on overhead.
. . . later we'll have some pumpkin pie, And we'll do some carolling . . .
Brian glances out the door and sees a twisted, frozen foot.
  "I saw one of the agents. A blonde kid . . . and Ferguson. How many agents were lost?"
  "Five," says Boone. She said it coldly, but the way she stared into the middle distance and her jaw tensed Brian knew that she was gritting her teeth to finish the job. "There's a lot of dead to clean up."
  "Right. Ridcully says we need to bring in an Oven rep with the Dishwasher crew. There's a lot of data to collect in here," says Brian, and he felt a cold chill. "A lot of . . . oh my god!"
  "I know it can be confronting, but it's going to be alright," said Boone.
  "No, it won't!" shouted Brian. "There's dead bodies everywhere! I need to find centre management. Or the switchboard - something!"
  "Mister Lockburn, you need to calm down," said the Senior Sergeant.
  "No, you don't understand. The case-file," he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Sacrifice and incantation. If I'm right, we're all in serious danger."
Boone stared at Brian, confused, until it suddenly dawned on her.
. . . rockin' around the Christmas tree, Have a happy holiday . . .

Kicking in the door to centre management, Brian helped find the background music system, a large box with a DVD-R drive and wires leading under a computer-cluttered desk. He ejected the disk, and the music overhead faded away. The disk was a cheap, silver disk with "Xmas Carrols" written in red permanent marker on the surface.
They returned to the windowless van, and as Boone called head office to request a clean-up crew, Brian put the DVD into the computer, and opened the file. There were 125 audio files on the disk, but none of the names were consistent. Some had underscores and lowercase letters; some were written with proper grammar; some were numbered with a track listing and yet others were just a jumble of randomly generated characters.
  "These look like they were just downloaded from the internet," said Brian, scrolling down the list, until he saw a song that caught his eye: "merrysnowking.MP3" . . . it turned his blood cold.
In the "Operation: JACK FROST" folder, there was a heavily censored sheet of music, the incantation. All of the notes had been blacked out, leaving only the very edges of the five staff lines visible. But the top of the page, it was titled:
Hail to the Merry Snow King, Symphony No. 12 in G Major.
  "Sergeant, can I speak to Ridcully?" said Brian, standing up. Boone nodded,
  "Cabinet consult needs to speak with you," said Boone, and she passed the phone handset to Brian.
  "Mister Ridcully?" said Brian. "I've found the cause of the summon. It appears there was an illicit upload of the summoning incantation online, it was added to the Christmas playlist. I have a copy of the file, so we can get the tech guys to find out where it came from, and track down any more downloads before this happens again."
  "Understood," said Ridcully. "Good work, Lockburn."
  "Thanks, sir," said Brian. "And sir . . . I know it's unorthodox, but could I take this moment to request an early Christmas break?"
  "It's not unorthodox at all, my boy, this was a dire situation. You did well under pressure, you survived. Once you write up your report this evening, take leave and we'll see you next year. Have a Merry Christmas, Mister Lockburn."
  "Thanks a lot," said Brian. He handed the phone back to the Senior Sergeant and collapsed back into his seat.
Brian sat down in the study chair within the lime-green cube that was his office. Slapping the space-bar to bring the computer to life, he opened a new entry in the database.
  "'Incident', unauthorized summon of a cold-emanating entity, embodied within a meat-composite construct within 'Little Lytton Square' shopping centre. Reference: operations file, 'JACK FROST' (1958). Morningside shopping centre . . ."
Brian switched to the internal communications program, and opened an internal correspondence from Ridcully with the incident report. He copied and pasted the names of the deceased, then scrolled down to 'Cause', He began to type in details of the incantation audio file and the suicide of a deli worker which caused the initial summoning, when he stopped.
He scrolled back up to where he'd copied and pasted the content of the correspondence:
Roy Brandis, Deceased (reanimate); Stanley "Sun" Ferguson, Deceased; Nicola Lisa Higgins, Deceased . . .
Brian scrolled to the bottom of the document, to the ‘Notes’ entry and added:
‘Agent Ferguson was a dedicated member of staff, and died in the line of duty while protecting another member of his team. His record should reflect this dedication to protect and serve, and his actions serve as an example to all.’
Reading and re-reading the note, Brian nodded solemnly and scrolled back up, to fill in the rest of the database entry.

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