The Christmas Show, by Pat Cadigan, is the perfect Christmas story about a pair of sisters under a mysterious curse that forces them to travel around the US producing local theatrical productions. This Xmas, they're producing A Christmas Carol with the real ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Humorous and charming.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Pat Cadigan sold her first professional science fiction story in 1980; her success as an author encouraged her to become a full-time writer in 1987. She emigrated to England with her son in 1996. She is the author of fifteen books, including two nonfiction books on the making of Lost in Space and The Mummy, a young adult novel, and the two Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novels Synners and Fools. Pat lives in gritty, urban North London with the Original Chris Fowler and Gentleman Jinx, coolest black cat in town.
Her books are available electronically via SF Gateway, the ambitious electronic publishing program from Gollancz.
Pat Cadigan is the author of numerous acclaimed short stories, and the novels, Mindplayers (1987), Synners (1991) and Fools (1992). These last are both winners of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best novel of the year. A self-described "cybermom," Cadigan recently moved from Kansas City to London, England, where she lives with her son, Bob, and husband, author Chris Fowler.
Read an Excerpt
The Christmas Show
By Pat Cadigan, Goñi Montes
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Pat Cadigan
All rights reserved.
"A Christmas Carol. Again. Because God knows nobody's seen that one enough."
"Dita." Coco stopped pacing around and whacked me on the head with a rolled-up copy of the latest Shop-A-Rama weekly — not a lethal weapon in late October, even with the coupon sheet insert. "Don't dis the Dickens. It's Christmas but it's secular, barely a mention of Jesus or Christianity. It's all about the spirit of the holiday, which is something everyone can relate to — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, pagans —"
"Yeah. Because here in Happy Valley, there are so many Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and pagans who feel left out during the Christmas season." The town's name wasn't really Happy Valley, it was just what we called every place we played.
Another whack with the Shop-A-Rama. "How do you know there aren't? Jews and pagans, anyway."
I took the Shop-A-Rama away from her and unrolled it on the desk as if I were going to read it. "Okay, Jews. I'll give you that. Any pagans'll probably be adolescents trying to shock their parents. But Muslims and Hindus — I don't know if you've noticed, sis, but there isn't even any Indian food closer than Boston."
"But there is Chinese food," Coco said. "Served by actual Chinese people, I might add."
"Well, of course there is," I said, looking at the Shop-A-Rama front-page headline: Rotary Club Welcomes Trebor Sisters Pop-Up Multimedia Theater As Holiday Preparations Begin. There were two tiny photos of me and Coco along with an account of how we had taken up residence in a furnished condo provided by Dorian Realty and would shortly be announcing auditions for the Christmas play. "Otherwise, where would the Jews go out to eat on Christmas?"
Coco had found another Shop-A-Rama to whack me with. "Quit it," I said, taking that one away from her, too. "They don't even train dogs like that anymore. Why don't you go sit in the Jacuzzi for a while? Let it bubble away all that aggression."
My sister stopped in her tracks. "You know what? That's a great idea. Hold my calls." She disappeared into the fancy bathroom.
"Just don't fall asleep in there and drown, okay?" I called after her. "I've got enough to do without raising your ghost, too."
The only answer was the sound of running water. I was safe from assault for at least an hour and a half. I unrolled the second Shop-A-Rama and saw it was an issue from a couple of weeks earlier. The big story on the front page was how the Rotary Club's holiday committee had Quote. Decided to hire us for the Annual Holiday Fete. Unquote.
Fete. The word looked so strange; so old-fashioned. Most of the places Coco and I popped up in used the word festival, occasionally celebration, and, once in a while, extravaganza. Coco and I try to avoid extravaganzas. Those tend to be chaotic affairs put in motion by self-styled big thinkers who can talk a good game but have no organized plan. They get cooperation from the people around them by making promises they can't possibly keep — Why, yes, every child who visits Santa will get a present! Why, yes, we'll have a petting zoo with real reindeer! Why, yes, the surprise celebrity guest coming to turn on the Christmas lights will stay on for a special dinner you're invited to! And then, when it all goes pear-shaped, we get the blame: The Trebor Sisters ate up the entire budget with their demands, we couldn't afford the presents/reindeer/celebrity/anything else.
Well, to be fair, that only happened twice. We research prospective jobs more thoroughly now, and while that doesn't guarantee that everything will work out perfectly, I know we've dodged a bullet here and there.
But not this time.
Whenever people ask how Coco and I got into itinerant theater — what we call pop-up theater — we tell them we decided to combine our love of live theater with our love of travel. Then we start talking about all the wonderful experiences we've had and all the great people we've met and how a live performance on stage gives so much to everyone involved: the actors, the crew, and the audience. We go on and on, telling one anecdote after another, and eventually whoever's asking will figure we're like a couple of crazy cat ladies, except instead of taking in cats, we put on plays.
We've got a website, but people always ask anyway. Coco says it's because no one really reads anything, they just look at the photos. I suggested paring down the text and putting up more photos. Coco said no — without a detailed About Us page, people wouldn't hire us because they couldn't find out enough about us. But they didn't read it in the first place, I said. Coco told me I just had to trust her because she's younger and more acclimated to Internet culture. In fact, that amounts to all of five minutes. She conveniently forgets who gave her her first laptop (me), who taught her HTML (also me), and who explained hexadecimal (me and nobody else but me).
But I've become resigned to telling people things they should already know. And in the case of people like the young junior college intern Shop-A-Rama sent to interview us for the big front page item Coco kept whacking me with, I've learned to be more charitable. Her editor expected her to get the story from us, not cut-and-paste it from the website. As Coco rightly pointed out, we wouldn't have been too happy about it if she had.
That poor kid was so nervous. We had to pretend we didn't notice her hands were shaking while she set up her iPad to record us. "My boss wants some video for our website," she said, sliding release forms across the table to us and trembling like an aspen. She did manage to calm down after a bit, I guess when she realized we weren't going to bite her.
Of course, the devil in me couldn't help wondering what she'd do if I suddenly said, Hey, we've been bullshitting you. The real reason we do this is that we're working off a debt — or, to be more precise, a curse.
She probably would have freaked out and stayed freaked even after Coco assured her that her wacky big sis was kidding, such a crazy sense of humor. Then we'd have had to cover with anecdotes about theater superstitions, like always saying Break a leg instead of Good luck, never whistling backstage, and calling a particular work of Shakespeare The Scottish Play.
And after she left, still slightly a-quiver in her black pumps, Coco would have brained me with several issues of Shop-A-Rama rolled up together, or maybe even the slender yet stiff volume that was the local phone book. Opening my big mouth even in jest would have added another hundred years to our sentence.
It didn't matter that neither Nervous Nellie nor anyone else would have believed it. There are plenty of things people don't believe in and even more they don't know about, and they all work just fine.
* * *
Most of our jobs comes in warm weather. We book a lot of state fairs, Independence Day celebrations, founders' days ("108 years of happy living in Our Town Thrillsville!"), even shopping mall events. Besides plays, we also do variety shows or talent contests with the locals, which isn't as excruciating as you might think — there's a surprising amount of hidden talent out there in the small-town wilderness.
A Christmas play, however, could pay off quite a lot of our debt. Even just one can count for as much as an entire season of state fairs, Independence Day celebrations, founders' day festivals, and Harvest Homecomings, depending. But don't ask me depending on what. Maybe the mood of the spirit doing the bookkeeping; or maybe on whether the god invoked is drunk enough to be touched by the smallest tribute (and not so hungover that even hours of open adoration would bounce off unfelt); or maybe on some random factor I haven't thought of ... or a factor that isn't random at all but is too far above my pay grade to be visible to the naked third eye.
I guess we're like a lot of business people in that respect — we work hard all year but most of the profit comes in during the holidays.
* * *
Naturally, this gave us extra incentive to be careful, and we've learned how to increase the odds of a favorable outcome. Our website specifies certain conditions that are non-negotiable: i.e., we have to have enough notice — you can't call us the week before Christmas and ask us to put on The Nutcracker Suite with dancers from the local ballet school. (We don't do ballets anyway. We tried it once. Just once.) Also, if you expect us to use local talent, you have to bring us in far enough ahead of time to allow for auditions and a certain number of rehearsals. And we'll need accommodations for the duration. They don't have to be lavish but they have to be indoors; no matter how great the weather is, we don't do camping.
Usually we end up in motels. Occasionally, a local will put us up in a spare room. The condo was a first, and much cushier than we'd expected. Three bedrooms, two baths, one with a Jacuzzi! I was afraid we'd get spoiled. The realtor who gave us the keys, a short, middle-aged woman named Roberta-call-me-Bobbie Maxwell, told us it was the model for the building. "This is what we show prospective buyers." She made a graceful, game-show-hostess-style gesture with one hand. "To let them see the possibilities. So we hope you'll, you know, treat the place gently. Under the terms of your contract, the cost of any damages will be deducted from your final payment." Her dark brown face turned apologetic. "I'm sorry to be so tacky, but my boss made a point of telling me I had to say that."
"Not at all," Coco replied. "Tell your boss we promise to be very careful."
I felt like saying if her boss was so concerned, we could have stayed at the motel just off the interstate. Instead, I nodded and smiled. "We're not much for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle these days. I can't remember the last time I threw a television out a window."
Roberta-call-me-Bobbie Maxwell tittered nervously; Coco didn't.
"Well, I can't," I added, smiling defiantly into my sister's death-ray glare.
"Must be losing my touch," she said after the woman left. "The way I was concentrating, your head should have exploded."
I chuckled. "Damages, remember? They'd charge you so much to clean up the yuck, you'd leave here owing them money. Plus then you'd be carrying the whole curse alone without me to help with the heavy lifting."
"'Heavy lifting?' When was the last time you threw a TV out a window?"
* * *
While my sister was bubbling away her tensions, I went into the master bedroom, where we had set up our workstation, and looked up productions of A Christmas Carol, onstage and on film. If we were going to use people from the local community, I thought, we probably shouldn't try to go for big laughs. But we couldn't get too gory with Jacob Marley because there would be children in the audience. Not that it would bother them — the bloodthirsty little savages loved that stuff. Their parents, however, could be squeamish about the images they saw their little darlings being exposed to (mostly because they've never sat next to them while they were playing video games). But what the hell, we weren't here to rock anybody's child- rearing boat. We were just trying to pay off this stupid curse.
* * *
The Ghost of Christmas Present pulled back his robe to reveal two dirty, starving children clinging to his legs. He was telling Ebenezer Scrooge that the boy was Ignorance and the girl was Want when my sister walked in front of them in a fluffy white bathrobe, her hair wrapped in an equally fluffy towel.
"Jeez, Coco," I said. "Spoil the moment much?"
She turned to look at the Spirit of Christmas Present, who was throwing Scrooge's earlier words (Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?) back at him.
"Ah, the Alastair Sim, from 1951," she chuckled, sitting down on the sofa. "Got caught up in it, huh?"
I ducked my head noncommittally. Truth to tell, I was more relieved than annoyed. I'd forgotten how scary this version of the story was. When Christmas Present had uncovered the children, I'd almost jumped out of my skin, even though I'd known it was coming. Some versions, particularly the comedies, present Scrooge as a cold-hearted man who warms up when he is reminded of how good people can be. But this was a Carol in a minor key; Scrooge isn't so much defrosted as he is scared straight, and the audience with him.
"I'm glad to see we're on the same page," my sister was saying as she toweled her auburn curls. She was letting her hair grow again. I suppose I was, too, except I was just pinning it up and ignoring it.
"What do you mean?" I asked, hitting pause.
"This is what I had in mind. Scary Christmas ghosts. Woo-woo."
"You're just saying that because it's Halloween this week. Let's talk again after All Soul's Day."
My sister wagged her head from side to side slowly and emphatically. "A Christmas Scare-ol is the way to go. The scarier the better."
"We'll get ridden out of town on a rail."
"Not if we use a local Scrooge."
"We're going to do that anyway," I said, frowning.
"And that's why it'll work! These people will go nuts for it. In a good way," she added quickly. "Not like that one time."
"I should hope not," I said. "We don't need another place we can't go back to."
"But you said you never wanted to go back to Columbia, Missouri, anyway."
"True. But I'd rather it was my choice."
She sighed. "Fine. So do you want to keep playing the Ghost of Mistakes Past all day or do you want to get to work?"
* * *
We held auditions at the local high school after classes let out, with the drama club and their beaming teacher looking on from the back of the auditorium and taking notes on "how a professional theater troupe does things." (I thought the poor kids would be bored out of their minds, but they actually looked interested. "You don't know, sis, you were never a drama club geek," Coco said, although in fact, she never was one, either.) Besides Scrooge, we were casting Bob Cratchit and family, Scrooge's nephew Fred, his wife, party guests, the charity collectors, and the boy who tells Scrooge it's Christmas Day after his transformation. The rest would be SFX — special effects.
Well, that was the term we used in public. When people asked us how it worked, we'd always just say, Sorry, trade secret — the union's very strict about that. That discourages pretty much everyone except the more persistent kids, particularly the budding engineers. Them we distract by giving them little jobs, having them run errands, things like that. But there's always one or two whose unrelenting curiosity can't be satisfied by a non-answer. With those kids, we'd go to Plan B — the truth: Magic. Don't tell, we'll get in trouble. Then we make them take a sacred oath — I swear by all the spirits who watch and ward the world of real things that I shall never divulge the secrets I am privileged to share, or somesuch.
The oath itself does nothing — it's what comes after that keeps them quiet: Coco or I kiss the tip of the kid's index finger and press it to that little space just under the nose, on the upper lip (it's called the philtrum). As spells go, it's one of the simplest but also one of the most powerful. You can only Hush someone for a limited period of time, which varies from person to person. But when you use the person's own Hushing finger, that's for life. They'll forget before they'll tell.
Yeah, it's kind of a dirty trick, and we only get away with it because they're kids. But as many before me have said, Needs must. And it's not like it stunts their growth or anything.
* * *
Within a week, we had the whole cast with one exception: Scrooge.
Excerpted from The Christmas Show by Pat Cadigan, Goñi Montes. Copyright © 2013 Pat Cadigan. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.