Arthur Dent looked up from the magazine he was reading to the multi-clawed receptionist behind the counter. She seemed to be deeply involved in the screen in front of her and besides, Arthur didn’t think that the voice he’d just heard sounded like hers anyway, so he returned to the magazine, chalking up the “Dent” he’d just heard to either the lighting or his encroaching insanity.
Arthur wasn’t actually reading the magazine he had in his hands, since it was written in a language that he didn’t recognize or understand, but since he was sitting in a waiting room and he was, as you might expect for someone in a waiting room, waiting, he felt that he ought to be leafing through a magazine. This one appeared to be of the home mechanic or hobbyist genre of magazine, as there were many pictures of once-ordinary vehicles or appliances (Arthur couldn’t tell which) with an astonishing number of coats of paint on them and many additions of dubious functionality.
Arthur stopped perusing the magazine and looked up again. This time he was sure that he’d heard his name being called. He was also fairly sure that the receptionist hadn’t uttered a thing, as she had left her desk and no one else was in the room. He wasn’t, however, beyond assuming that he’d gone insane again, which was a strangely calming thought. He smiled and looked back at the picture in the magazine which looked very much like a motorized ice cream scoop of some sort.
“AR – THUR – DENT!!!”
Arthur definitely heard that, but didn’t bother to look up. He hoped that the doctor would see him soon, as his insanity seemed to be manifesting itself more frequently now. This was the only doctor in this arm of the galaxy who would examine Earthlings, and Arthur had been travelling for quite a while to see him, or her, or possibly it. He was glad that he’d have some symptoms to describe though, which made him slightly happier. That happy feeling lasted for a very short time. It lasted about as long as it takes for a miniature over-charged spiny electro-granule to be lobbed at Arthur’s head from a distance of about an arm’s length.
“OW!” said Arthur, rubbing his temple and looking down at the side table next to him. A small white rat was standing on it, glaring at Arthur (if one can suppose that a rat can glare), and tapping its foot impatiently.
“What is the impulse to exclaim?” said the rat. “You feel pain, why say ‘ow’?”
“I’m sorry?” said Arthur, moving his head closer to the rat to see if he recognized it.
“Don’t be,” said the rat. “Now, i need some information from you.”
“From me?” asked Arthur. This response gave the rat an expression that would have been interpreted by any other hyper intelligent pan-dimensional rat as extreme, EXTEME annoyance at having to actually converse with what appeared to be, from that response, the dumbest creature in the galaxy, but to Arthur Dent it just looked like the rat’s whiskers twitched slightly. Arthur had never been good at picking up subtle social cues on human beings and was positively dreadful at it with rats. He decided that he didn’t know who this rat was, but his rat-recognition skills were even further removed from any sort of competence than his facial cue recognition skills, so he thought to himself that maybe he was wrong and that he’d best act as though this was someone that he’d met before.
“Christmas,” said the rat.
“I’m sorry?” said Arthur again. If the rat had been a member of one of the plegnurian tribes of inner smopweebie, who reacted to personal annoyances with a very slight inflammation of the scalp, his head would have exploded.
“Crissssss. Missssss.” said the rat. “What do you know of it?”
“Oh,” said Arthur. “Well, it’s a holiday.” He was surprised that the rat was asking him about Christmas, but pleased that he was being asked about something which he knew something about. “On Earth,” he added. The rat’s whiskers twitched again.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said the rat. “A holiday, associated with some crazy religious sect, meant to signify…?”
“Well, peace and love, i suppose,” said Arthur.
“A whole religious sect devoted to peace and love?” said the rat. “Loony.”
“Er, well, it’s a good idea,” said Arther. “Or, at least, some people thought so.”
“Did it work?” asked the rat.
“Did what work?” said Arthur.
“This whole peace and love thing,” said the rat, whiskers all atwitchy.
“Er, in a way i guess. They did start an awful lot of wars…” began Arthur.
“Never mind, never mind,” interrupted the rat, pulling a small notepad out of a satchel. “Tell me about this fat whiskery thing.”
Arthur looked down at the rat blankly.
“You know,” prompted the rat. “big red guy, apparently laughed a lot…”
“Oh! Santa Claus!” said Arthur.
“So he was a saint?” said the rat.
“Er, no, i don’t think so,” said Arthur.
“Then what did he do?” said the rat. “Why’s he so famous?”
“Well, he delivered toys to all the girls and boys in the world,” said Arthur.
“All of them?” asked the rat, scribbling down some notes.
“Yes. Well, the good ones anyway.” said Arthur. “On Christmas eve, he’d fly his reindeer all over the Earth and deliver toys from his sleigh down the chimneys to good girls and boys. They’d all get up on Christmas morning to find presents around the tree, and–”
“Whoa! Wait! Hold on! Stop!” said the rat, its jaw slightly dropped. “Trees? Chimneys? Reindeer? A sleigh? Flying? All in ONE NIGHT? What kind of crazy religious ceremony is this? Does everyone gather together and dance under clippings of parasitic tree-growths drinking fermented dairy products and wailing ancient hymns too?”
“Um, we sing carols, and… well, yes, it does seem a bit silly, doesn’t it?” said Arthur.
“It’s beyond silly,” said the rat. “It’s fnarking demented is what it is.”
“I always considered it to be a rather cherished tradition,” said Arthur, slightly offended.
“Yes, well, you’re barely up the evolutionary ladder from babboons,” said the rat matter-of-factly. “Next you’ll be telling me that people cover their houses with electric lights and nail socks to the wall!”
Arthur remained silent. The rat fumbled with his satchel and tucked away his notebook.
“This has been a complete waste of time,” said the rat. “I might as well just make up an entry for this whole Christmas thing. Couldn’t be any loopier than what you’ve described.”
“Yes, well, happy Christmas anyway,” said Arthur.
“Is it?” said the rat, looking up.
“Is it what?” said Arthur. “Christmas? Good question. What’s the date?”
“Uh, Timsday the 73rd,” said the rat, looking at a small watch he’d pulled out of his satchel.
“Then i guess it isn’t,” said Arthur. “Oh well, i suppose i’ve missed it. One likes to spend Christmas with family and friends, but if one doesn’t know where they are…” Arthur looked wistfully up at the ceiling, which he noticed appeared to be breathing slightly.
“Dent,” said the rat. Arthur looked back down at it. “Happy Christmas.” And with that, the rat vanished in a tinkling of shattering glass. Arthur stared at the spot where the rat had been.
“Happy Christmas,” he sighed to himself. “Happy Christmas.”