A Very Spaced-Out Christmas

by Madison McSweeney

On the Planet of Gorgor, a hop and a skip from the Milky Way, there lives a small community of telepaths known as the Yyrell. Technologically advanced and deeply empathetic, they live lives of charity and altruism.

However, the Gorgoron are an intensely private civilization, and do not enjoy having their minds read. Not wishing to cause discomfort, the Yyrells voluntarily relocated, and presently live a segregated life in isolated colonies in the northern hemisphere of the planet.

According to Gorgoron legend, the first explorers from Earth landed in a Yyrell settlement during the human month of December. Heartened by the warm welcome they received, the homesick Earthlings began to share warm reminiscences of their holiday celebrations. Legend has it that one young Yyr, a toymaker by trade, was enchanted by the tale of Saint Nicholas. That night, after everyone had gone to sleep, he donned his finest red and white garments (which were not particularly fine, as the Yyrell live modestly) and took off in his spaceship.

The Yyr met thousands of people throughout his travels. He met the happy and the miserable, the selfless and the selfish. He met people who suffered through no fault of their own, and people whose own actions had brought misery upon themselves. Being a Yyr, the toymaker could look into their minds and see their histories, their hopes, and their pains. His heart (located just above his right kidney) ached for the lonely most of all. Whenever he encountered a new group, he would give a handmade gift to the one who needed it most.

To this day, the Gorgorons claim, the Yyr travels the galaxy, seeking to ease the sorrows of the suffering.

That said, the Gorgorons are known liars.


The Gorgoron claimed to be a trucker but was dressed like a tourist.

Shortly before reaching the truck stop, he or she claimed, he or she had encountered a fleet of Pbiraten, who had ambushed him or her, surrounded his or her truck, and boarded, only leaving after they had transferred the most valuable cargo onto their own ship. Then, as quickly as they had entered Amicable Space, the Pbiraten ships entered hyperdrive and disappeared. The joke was on them, the Gorgoron concluded; among the stolen cargo were two hundred boxes of fireworks, which tended to detonate without warning at the slightest increase in cabin pressure.

It was a good story, and undoubtedly a lie.

Gorgorons view the sharing of any personal information with strangers as inappropriately intimate. They don’t even like to disclose their gender or occupation. Thus, when the conversation turns to anecdotes, they just make things up. Interacting with Gorgorons can be jarring, but you get used to it. In some ways, it’s even a relief. Talking to Earthlings, you can never tell if you’re being lied to or not; with Gorgorons, you know for sure. And being completely unburdened by accuracy makes them better conversationalists.

Business is usually slow on the Christmas weekend, and the mood dour. The truck stop was working on a skeleton crew. Our staff was mostly human, and most everyone had gone home for the holidays. The exceptions were myself; Dan, our station manager; Andrea, our head custodian; and a handful of engineers needed to keep our space station functioning.

As I chatted with the Gorgoron, Dan came around the corner, a shit-eating grin on his face. “Harassing the customers again, Darce?” It was phrased as a joke; I knew Dan well enough to know it wasn’t.

I ignored the jab. “Afternoon, Dan. This gentleman-or-woman is just keeping me company while I put the finishing touches on the sign.”

Dan looked up at the sign, haphazardly affixed with tinsel, and cringed. “That’s what you’re doing?”

“Well yeah.” I started to descend the ladder. “I mean, I don’t know if McDonald’s HQ would be cool with us messing with their signage, but you know what they say. In space, no one can see your franchise violations.”

Dan waved an arm. “No, I mean, that’s all you’re doing?” He looked back up at the sign. “Like, would it kill you to be a bit more festive?”

I was taken aback. “I think it’s pretty festive. We’ve got the tinsel, and the little tree in the corner there—”

“I think it’s lovely!” the Gorgoron chimed in, his or her third arm emerging with a thumbs-up.

“Well I’m very glad you think so, Sir or Madame,” Dan replied, switching into the polite tone he only uses for customers. “Darcy, do you think we could have a word in private for a moment?”

This is a classic Dan move. There was no way I could refuse to have a word in private with him. As soon as we were out of earshot, he moaned, “You’re killing me here, Darcy.”

I leaned against the red-tiled wall of the burger joint. “What, you mean the display?”

“What else? You honestly think that looks good?”

“The Gorgoron said he liked it.”

“And that alone should be enough to convince you it needs work.” I raised an eyebrow. Dan switched tactics. “Come on. Look at what Connie did before she left, and then look at yours.”

I turned to look at Connie’s newspaper stand. She had admittedly outdone herself. The eight-by-ten-foot stand had been transformed into a winter wonderland, strung ceiling to floor with black and white origami snowflakes made from old newspapers and surplus magazines. I turned back to Dan.

“Okay, valid point. But to be fair, Connie’s insane.”

Dan grimaced. “She’s an acquired taste.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “I don’t see why you’re getting so worked up over this decorating stuff. Is it an order from Corporate or something?”

Dan looked surprised. “No.” He blinked. “I just… like Christmas.”

This was news to me. Since I’d been working there, Dan had spent every Christmas depressed and drunk.

“That brings me to another thing,” he said. “I’m finalizing details for Christmas dinner. We have less staff sticking around for the holidays this year. I think it’s just us, Andi, and the engineers.”

This time, I grimaced. “Actually…”


I had not been looking forward to this conversation.

Dan’s Christmas dinner is a yearly tradition for all the staff who stick around for the holidays; we close up the station for a few hours and take a pod to one of the off-site orbital restaurants. It’s about as fun as your average work dinner party, but for Dan it’s a big deal—oddly enough, considering how generally misanthropic he is the rest of the year.

“I’m heading home to spend Christmas with my parents. A spot opened up on tomorrow’s ferry.”

“Wow,” Dan said. He paused, and I couldn’t read his expression. “That’s… great.”

“I should have given you a heads up,” I rambled, “but it was honestly a last-minute thing. I only found out late last night.”

Dan waved a hand. “No problem.”

“And I very rarely go back to Earth,” I added.

“Yeah.” His tone shifted. “Just let me know in advance next time. I need to know how many people we’ll have on-station over the break.” I started to apologize, but he raised a hand to cut me off. “Again, it’s no problem this year, but next time, show a bit more consideration.”

The lecture was quintessential Dan, but something sounded off. “Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Of course. Lots to get done, is all.”

With that, he turned around and walked away.


Andrea stopped by on her break and ordered a burger. I was finishing up my shift for the day and had already tossed my hairnet and gloves into the trash, but I decided to do her a solid. She’s a persuasive chick (although I must admit, her being the only woman still at the truck stop didn’t hurt). As I squeezed a few ounces of BeefTM onto the grill and waited for it to solidify, she hopped up onto the counter and sat there. I looked over my shoulder. “A bit unsanitary, don’t you think?”

“Nothing a little disinfectant won’t fix.” She grinned, showing off her pair of abnormally sharp incisors. She claims they’re natural; I have my doubts.

“Very thoughtful of you.”

“Always. You know what I think?” she mused, swinging her legs.

“What do you think?”

“I think our friend Fascist Dan’s got a record.”

I craned my neck to look at her as I flipped her patty. “What are you talking about?”

“Think about it. He’s been working here for what, seven years? When no one else has stuck around longer than two?”

“I’ve been here four years,” I reminded her.

“Yeah, but you’re a weirdo. You actually enjoy being off-planet. Dan doesn’t. He’s convinced that the building’s eventually gonna malfunction and suffocate us all. Why do you think he stays?”

“He’s the station manager. He likes the power.” I removed her burger from the grill and slapped it onto a bun. It hadn’t cooked properly; the colouring wasn’t right, and the texture was still a bit runny. “You know that.”

“Yes, he does. But don’t you think he could get a managerial position at any fast food hub on earth? Why would he choose to work here, if he had the choice?”

I didn’t bother wrapping the burger but handed it directly to her. “What are you getting at, Andrea?”

“Like I said, I think he’s got a criminal record that prevents him from working on earth. Only place he can find a semi-decent job is in the unregulated recesses of space.”

“I assume you’re basing this conclusion off mountains of rigorously-collected empirical evidence?”

“Have you ever wondered why he has no contact with anyone from the outside world? Like, you’re visiting your ’rents for Christmas, my mom calls me pretty much every day. Where’s FD’s family at?”

I turned my back to her on the pretence of scraping BeefTM residue off the grill. “I dunno. I always assumed they were dead.” A lie—Dan’s parents were alive but estranged. Dan had told me this on Christmas Eve three years ago, after half a bottle of Scotch. I suspected it was a biographical detail Dan wouldn’t want going around.

“Come on, Darcy. That’s bogus.” She took a bite of her burger; her face contorted. “Ugh, not your best work, Darce.”

“Yes, but it was free. Now, you were elaborating on your baseless conspiracy theory?”

“Think about it. Every year around this time, Dan-o sends a single letter out with the mail trucks. He spends the next few weeks cagey and agitated and frantically checking the mail; eventually, he gives up and gets depressed and is even more of an asshat than usual. What does that tell you?”

“That mail delivery isn’t as reliable as it used to be.”

Andrea tensed up. “Speaking of Dear Leader.” I looked up to see Dan running toward the counter, looking distressed.

“Darcy, what the heck? Cooking without gloves or a hairnet?”

I cringed. “Sorry, Dan. I was just cleaning up and I whipped up a sandwich for Andrea.”

“I don’t care who it is, you can’t just—” He gesticulated wildly, trying to come up with a suitable label for my infraction, but evidently he’d hit a wall. He threw his arms in the air. “Do you want to get us shut down by the corporate health inspector?”

“Sorry, Dan. Won’t happen again.”

He shook his head and headed back to his office. As he walked away, I heard him exclaim, “Chronic incompetence!”

I turned to Andrea and raised an eyebrow. “And you wonder why he didn’t get along well on Earth.”


I don’t get down to Earth a lot. Space tourism’s not exactly a luxury anymore. Any given day there are thousands of businesspeople flying from planet to planet, and just as many middle-class tourists sightseeing through Amicable Space. For a low-class half-life fry-cook like me, though, the cost of a ticket home is usually prohibitive.

Not that I really harbour much of an urge to descend all that often. I was always obsessed with space travel, and to this day I love being off-planet. Not every manager at every McDonalds gets to look out over his cash register and see millions of gleaming stars and infinite blackness beyond. It gets old for some people. Never for me.

Still, the holidays can be a melancholy time to be away from your family, as I well know. It would be nice to go home for a bit.


As the day went on, Dan’s mood became gradually fouler. And true to form, he took it out on everyone else in his employ. Most annoyingly, when the mail truck arrived with a handful of packages, Dan insisted it could wait. “We have a lot to get done before Darcy takes off for land in two hours.”

“An hour and a half,” I corrected him.

“Same difference,” he said agitatedly. I felt inclined to point out that it was not the same difference—if I worked at some inane task for two hours, I would miss the ferry—but decided not to push him.

Dan had decided that we urgently needed to do an inventory review before the New Year. Most intergalactic truck stops had automated systems to manage that kind of thing, but the owner of our stop was old school and thought live staff should be able to handle everything. Dan, for his part, harboured an intense fear of anything even mildly high tech, and would tolerate no critiques of our anachronistic, inefficient system.

The closet where our foodstuffs were stored was a dimly lit, cavernous room lined with rusted shelves and packed with hundreds of cans of soda crystals, bags of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, and packets of liquid BeefTM. When I first stepped inside, the task of counting each item individually, noting the expiry dates on each package, and tallying the totals had appeared impossible, especially with less than an hour and a half. The task became even more daunting when I noticed that a not-insignificant number of the BeefTM packages were leaking.

As I attempted to identify the damaged packages and mop up the ever-expanding puddles of beef, it occurred to me that this assignment must have been an act of vengeance on Dan’s part. His way of getting me back for leaving him alone over Christmas.

So, there I was, knee-deep in processed food, counting the minutes until the liberating ferry would come lumbering toward the truck stop, when I heard, in the distance, the ringing of a siren.


Within minutes of the Emergency Alert going off, everyone who was still at the truck stop gathered underneath our NewsScreen. It was a small group: me, Dan, Andrea, a crew of six engineers, and the Gorgoron tourist. The grim woman who appeared on the NewsScreen was a lifelike imitation of regular Universal News anchor Paresh Al-Addidi-Wong.

“At 3:15 Earth Standard Time, there was a terror attack on the LunarEdge Business Station on the Ganymede-Europa Interchange. While the story is still developing, it appears an armed individual gained entry to the station in the guise of an injured traveller; upon being granted entry, the terrorist detonated…”

“Another Trojan Horse attack,” grumbled an engineer.

“Anti-expansionists,” Andrea opined. “Gotta be.”

“The Planetary Defense Organization believes there is the potential for copycat attacks. Inhabitants of space stations have been ordered to observe strict lockdown procedures and encouraged to deny entry to unknown travellers. Until further notice, all trans-galactic travel is to be suspended.”

I swore under my breath.


I retreated halfway through the broadcast to call my parents with the bad news. When I came back on deck, everyone was in a different stage of agitation. The engineers were speculating about the structural impacts of a bomb going off in an orbiting station. Andrea was frantically trying to get hold of a friend who had been travelling near Ganymede. The Gorgoron, who had been preparing his or her pod for take-off before the alert went off, was pacing around with great agitation, insisting that all was fine, that he or she had absolutely nothing to do at all in the coming days, and that this lockdown would not inconvenience him or her.

Of everyone, I expected Dan to be the most panicked. Dying in space is his worst fear. Sure enough, when I looked at him, he was in a state of excitement—but not in the way I’d expected. “Alright, employees,” he called, with surprising calmness and unsurprising condescension. “I know we’re all shaken up, but let’s focus here. We have a lot of work to do and a Christmas dinner to plan.”

“What are you talking about, Dan?” snapped Andrea. “We can’t leave the truck stop.”

Dan rolled his eyes. “We still have to eat, don’t we? And it is Christmas Eve, so we might as well make the best out of what we’ve got.” He turned to me. “Darcy, what do we have in the closet?”

“Forty-six packs of freeze-dried vegetables and several tubes of liquid beef.”

“What can we do with that?”

“A chilli?” I suggested, grasping at straws. “We have some frozen hamburger buns too, and some seasoning. That’s a stuffing.”

One of the engineers piped up. “The vending machine in break room’s full of snack cakes. Would do for dessert in a pinch.”

“Dan’s got booze,” Andrea added. “And I suspect some of the absent janitorial staff may have left some beer in their lockers.”

“They’re not technically allowed to have alcohol on the job site,” Dan said. “We’d be within our rights to confiscate it all.”

Andrea smirked. “I have the skeleton key.”

The Gorgoron slapped the linoleum with one of his or her large tentacles. It grinned with both of its mouths. “I definitely don’t have a turkey in my pod.”


The Gorgoron had a turkey. The story of how he or she acquired the turkey, and what his or her plans for it had been before getting waylaid, was colourful and outrageous.

Dan and I shoved the bird into the station’s sole oven and spent the next hour foraging around for the rest of our meal. We toasted the buns and used the hamburger ingredients to make a passable BeefTM and bread crumb stuffing. We re-hydrated several bags of freeze-dried lettuce, spinach, and strawberries, chopped them up, and tossed them into a big salad bowl. We cracked open the vending machine in the engineers’ break room and dumped armloads of chemical-infused desserts onto a reusable plastic tray, Dan taking careful notes so he could calculate how much we would need to reimburse the vending machine company. With dinner assembled and the turkey cooking, we set out to locate Andrea so we could borrow her key and confiscate the contraband alcohol. When we found her, we were struck dumb.

As we’d been busy hunting and gathering, Andrea had led the engineers on a decorating spree. My tinsel had been stolen from the McDonalds arch and strung across the mess hall ceiling. Below it, four men sat patiently folding up discarded menus and old newspapers and trimming them into intricate snowflakes, which they tied to pieces of string in clusters of four or five. Whenever one strand was done, one of the engineers would mount a stepladder and tie the string to the tinsel, creating a delicate hanging display. Bob, the head engineer, was at the back of the room untangling Christmas lights.

From her supervisory perch, Andrea smiled. “Merry Christmas, boys.”


Dinner was wonderful. The food, with the exception of the turkey, ranged from meh to gross, but the company made up for it. The engineering crew was particularly hilarious, as each one had wild stories and dirty jokes to tell.

The highlight, though, was hearing the Gorgoron retell one of his or her home planet’s most popular folk tales, The Flight of the Toymaker—basically, the Gorgoron version of the Santa Claus story, featuring a Yyrell toymaker who flies around the universe giving gifts to the lonely and deserving.

“So, is it a good-kids-get-presents, bad-ones-get-nothing kinda deal, like on Earth?” asked Bob.

“Not exactly,” the Gorgoron replied. “Only one person gets a gift. A good person who needs it most.”

“How can they tell?” asked Andrea.

“The Yyrell, they’re…” The Gorgoron paused for a moment. “You don’t have an exact word for it. Mind readers. But they’re more than that. A mind reader can hear your thoughts as you think them. A Yyrell can see your whole life history and all your intentions. They can look at you for thirty seconds and know what kind of person you are.”

Dan shook his head. “I can see why you lot forced them all out. I’d hate to have someone looking inside my head.”

Andrea raised an eyebrow. I ignored her.

As we were cracking open the first of our dessert Twinkies, we heard a loud crash from the loading dock, and the sound of screeching metal.


A single-person pod had crashed on our landing bay. Its cockpit windows had shattered and its metal frame had been mangled beyond recognition. Beneath the debris, we were just barely able to see the craft’s pilot.

We stared at the wreckage for a long time, footage from newsreels running through our minds. I was the first to break the silence. “Should we bring him in?”

“We’re supposed to be on lockdown,” Dan replied, his eyes fixed to the mangled pod.

I glanced at the pink switch beside the door, which I knew would override the lockdown and open the external door.

Bob shook his head. “It’s a trick. Terrorists trying to board us. As soon as we open the doors, we’ll be ambushed.”

“What if it’s not, though?” Andrea asked.

“He’s not alive,” I said. “He can’t be. He couldn’t have survived that.” I had no sooner spoken, than a long tentacle came poking out of the wreckage.

“It’s a Gorgoron,” Dan said.

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t have long left,” observed the second engineer. “You can’t survive in the vacuum for longer than a few minutes. What’s the record, Bob?”

“Four minutes,” Bob replied. “Though I’ve heard of Gorgorons lasting seven.”

“What do we do?”

I made eye contact with Dan. “It couldn’t be a terrorist,” I said, more of a question than a statement.

Dan ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. These Trojan attacks always start like this…”

“They said all travel was suspended,” Andrea reasoned. “This guy shouldn’t have been in the air. He must have been doing something… outside the law.”

“Or he was lost and looking for shelter.” I looked at Dan again.

“We let him in, we could be risking the lives of everyone here,” he said, eying his feet.

While we deliberated, the tentacle was still twisting in the vacuum, pulling debris out of its path. After what must have been a Herculean effort, the injured Gorgoron knocked aside a badly bent and warped sheet of metal and slid out of the ship. It grabbed onto the dock with one of its tentacles and started to pull itself toward the doors.

Dan shut his eyes. “God help me.” Before anyone could try to stop him, he lunged for the wall and pulled the switch.


The Gorgoron was able to haul itself into the loading bay, but by the time the exterior doors had been closed and the bay re-oxygenated, it was in a deep state of unconsciousness.

To be completely honest, we weren’t sure if it was unconscious or dead, as none of us knew how to go about checking for a pulse. Andrea asked the Gorgoron tourist for assistance in this manner, but he or she demurred; it seems, for them, that physical contact with strangers is also taboo. After much deliberation, Dan and I hauled the thing to the medical station and hooked it up to oxygen. We debated whether we should remove its clothes (it was wearing a bulky black cloak) and try to attend to its wounds. “I don’t think we should,” I said, recalling bits and pieces from my first aid training. “We can’t really do much good not knowing anything about how its body works, and they don’t like people touching them. If it wakes up and realizes someone’s undressed it, the shock might send it into a panic.”

Over the next hour or two, the staff took turns watching the Gorgoron, hoping it would show some sign of life. During Dan’s shift, Bob poked his head in, saying he hated to interrupt but his crew was asking whether the day’s mail had come in. Dan glared at him, but relented when he was told that some of the crew were expecting Christmas cards from their families.

After asking the Gorgoron tourist to mind the patient for a few minutes, Dan went with the engineer to unlock the mail bucket. It seemed we were all expecting something or other, because Dan soon found Andrea and me hovering over him, in addition to half a dozen engineers. He dutifully sorted through the parcels and passed letters around. At the bottom of the bucket was a plain envelope addressed to him.

Dan held the envelope in his hands for a long moment, staring at the address, the stamp. Then, his hands shaking, he tore it open.

What happened next seemed to occur in complete silence. The sheet he pulled open was a print-out, with no handwriting—not even a signature. He skimmed it, and his hand started to shake more violently. He added a second hand to steady the letter as he read it a second time; there were tremors in both his arms. He dropped the envelope, and, without bothering to pick it up, turned around and darted toward his quarters.

Andrea bent down and took up the letter. My stomach dropped as she read it. “It’s a restraining order,” she said. “His parents want him to stop contacting them.”


Dan’s cabin is slightly larger than that of everyone else at the truck stop, one of the few perks afforded to the manager. It’s also nearly completely empty. His walls are blank, and his furniture is sparse, consisting of a bed, a mini-refrigerator, and a small bookshelf. Stored on the bookshelf are three tattered fantasy paperbacks, a music player, and a stack of late twentieth century rock music CDs. His clothes are stored in a plastic bin in the corner of the room. There’s next to no personalization, and absolutely no memories. When you enter his room, you’re struck by the enormity of his loneliness.

When Dan didn’t come out of his room after half an hour, I went to check on him. He was half drunk and crying, but he didn’t make any attempt to drive me out, so I sat down gingerly at the foot of his bed.

“I don’t know why they won’t talk to me,” he blurted out, still wracked with sobs. “I mean, I was a troubled kid, but I got better?”

He phrased that last part like a question, so I replied, “Of course you did.” In reality, I had no clue. I’d never asked what Dan had done as a youth to earn the enduring estrangement of his whole family.

“I try so hard,” he continued. “Every year I send a letter…” He trailed off and broke down.

I’m terrible at comforting people. It never came naturally to me. So, as Dan wept in his blank and impersonal cabin, all I could do was timidly pat him on the back and mutter platitudes. Luckily for me, our heart-to-heart didn’t last long, as there suddenly came an inhuman screech from the deck.


There’s no sound in the galaxy as piercing and far-reaching as a Gorgoron scream, so a crowd had gathered by the time we arrived at the scene.

In the midst of the drama with Dan, we’d forgotten that the tourist was still looking after the patient. And, as I was attempting to console my distraught boss, the Gorgoron had seen something that had shocked him or her into honesty.

At one point, the patient had started to stir. The Gorgoron had inquired as to how it was feeling; the patient responded by predicting that the crisis would be over soon, and that the tourist would soon be able to return to his or her family of four in the village of Namgth on Gorgor—all personal details that no stranger would know. The patient, it seemed, was a Yyr.

“Is the patient still in the medical bay?” Dan demanded. The Gorgoron nodded. At that exact moment, we heard a sucking sound, and turned to see the patient slithering toward us. This was, and will likely remain, the strangest sight that I’ve ever seen.

The patient, who had been direly injured the last time I’d seen it a mere hour before, appeared unharmed. Its black cloak had been removed, and it was instead dressed in a tattered red and white garment. In one of its tentacles, it clutched a wrapped gift.

The Yyr turned its head to scan the room, lingering on each person individually. Dan cringed and looked at his feet, as if avoiding eye contact would somehow block the creature from accessing his thoughts. As it shifted to me, a wave of discomfort flowed through my whole body. I could see why the Gorgorons hated this sensation.

It scanned the hearts and minds of Andrea, Bob, and all six engineers. When it was done, it stood for a moment with a stillness that was unnatural for any living creature. Then, with great suddenness, it extended its tentacle toward us and handed the gift to Dan.


Everyone went to their cabins early that night. The events of the past few hours were too much to process, and needed the recess of sleep to be contextualized, normalized. And I tried, in good faith, but still found myself standing outside Dan’s door at our equivalent of two in the morning.

Dan was awake, running his hands across the immaculately wrapped box. “You going to open that?” I asked.

He looked up at me blankly. “I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s a gift.”

He stared at the box again, absently running his thumb along the crinkly ribbon. “It could be a bomb?” he suggested, almost hopefully.

“You know it’s not.”

Dan nodded. “But I’m not a good person,” he said, his voice breaking. I was taken aback to see his eyes fill with tears. “I was a terrible son.”

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say, that would even begin to counter such an ingrained despair? The Yyr, I decided, had said enough. Wordlessly, by searching our hearts and consoling Dan, of all people. I just hoped Dan fully understood the message.

The door whizzed shut with a loud hiss as I left Dan’s room, and I cringed, hoping the sound hadn’t woken the whole crew. I lingered for a moment, listening for signs of disturbance in the adjoining cabins. Nothing. But on the other side of Dan’s door, I thought I could hear the gentle sound of wrapping paper being torn.


When I made my way back to my cabin, Andrea was around the corner, waiting for me. “So, what did he get?” she said, aware that I was coming from Dan’s.

“I don’t think it matters.” It was clear enough to both of us what the implications of the gift were. Dan had been scanned and judged by an all-knowing alien, and despite his past sins and many faults, had been deemed worthy of compassion. I couldn’t help but wonder how that would hit him. It was a radical message to send someone who’s spent years wallowing in self-hatred.

Andrea read my mind. “Think all this’ll make Dan a more pleasant person to be around, going forward?”

I shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out in the new year.” I glanced toward the public bay. “Where’d the Yyr go?” I’d wandered into the medical bay before visiting Dan, but the patient hadn’t returned to its quarters.

“Holed up behind Connie’s newspaper stand. Seems she had enough back issues left over for the Yyr to make itself a hamster bed.” I nodded in thanks and took my leave of her.

The station was as silent as the vacuum. Behind Connie’s counter, there was a makeshift bed of newspapers, just like Andrea had said. But the Yyr was gone. I frowned and ran toward the loading bay. The Yyr’s pod, which had been lying in a mangled heap just outside the doors, was also missing.

A billion illogical explanations ran through my head. The engineers, as sleepless as I, had decided to clean up, opened the doors to the entry bay, and let the remnants of the pod float into space. Or maybe the Yyr, as unlikely as that seemed, had somehow gathered up the pieces and was trying desperately to repair its craft.

And then I saw it. Far in the distance, a tiny speck of light moving swiftly through the sky, glowing with a slight reddish tinge. “On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen,” I muttered, grinning into the void.

Reason threatened to dampen my spirits. The travel ban was still in effect, yes, but there could of course be more stragglers who had taken the skies prior to the attack—or, more likely, a distant satellite drifting into our field of vision. Space was full of these interlopers. But I knew, in my heart, that it was the Yyr’s pod, probably immaculate, as if it had never crashed at all. And inside, indefatigable, our interstellar saint, list-less, searching for the universal good in beings who thrived and suffered under different suns.

Madison McSweeney is a Canadian writer with a passion for all things unusual.

Her horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories have appeared in publications such as Enchanted Conversation, American Gothic, and Cabinet of Curiosities. Her poetry has been featured in Bywords, Rhythm & Bones: Dark Marrow, and The Cockroach Conservatory. She blogs about genre fiction and the Canadian music scene at her website madisonmcsweeney.com, and tweets from @MMcSw13.

Madison lives in Ottawa with her family and her cat. She has a fondness for abrasive characters, redemptive arcs, and melancholy Christmas stories; her story was inspired by these predilections, as well as by the many ONroute stations she’s visited on road trips across Ontario.

“A Very Spaced-Out Christmas” by Madison McSweeney. Copyright © 2019 by Madison McSweeney.

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  1. Maybe I should have seen the ending coming, but I was caught by surprise. Loved it.

  2. Oh wow. I don't usually care for Santa Claus-related stories but this was utterly beautiful and redemptive. Thank you for sharing this!


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