The Three Witches’ annual Christmas pub quiz was divided into four rounds of ten questions with a fifteen minute break in between each round so contestants and spectators alike could visit the loo or purchase more drinks. It was more the latter, however. Glynn, the landlord, was a shrewd businessman. He was thin and spiky and revelled in his cheapness. On Christmas Eve, the bar staff wore fancy dress and every year Glynn came in the same outfit. Partly because he was too tight to fork out for another one but mostly because it captured his character perfectly. He came as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Before the quiz began, Glynn would ring a gong he kept behind the bar and once he had everyone’s attention he would announce that absolutely no drinks were to be sold during the quizzing and that the bar would reopen only during the fifteen-minute breaks. This wasn’t remotely true and the alcohol continued to flow throughout the evening but the ploy worked very well and everyone rushed to get in another round (or two just to be on the safe side) before the quiz began and then again in each of the breaks.
Glynn’s wife, Gwyn, was the compère. She and Glynn looked like Jack Sprat and his wife. Whereas he was tall, thin and miserable, she was short, chubby and jolly. This year she was dressed as a Christmas pudding. She had made the costume herself and it was covered in dozens of little pockets. She would invite all the customers to stick their hand up her and pull out a surprise. Her pockets were full of sweets, party poppers, miniature bottles of booze or, in some cases, lottery tickets or scratch cards. She had spent about £100 on surprises much to Glynn’s chagrin and he would look increasingly sour if someone pulled out a scratch card and then went on to win something on it. He considered that money that should have been in his pocket. If someone was to end up winning the jackpot when the lottery results were announced there was a good chance Glynn would keel over.
Round one was general knowledge. There were five people to a team. The Tremethyk team was made up of Gordon, Florence, Spencer, Louisa and Michael. Abigail had stepped aside to let Michael join. Gordon wasn’t particularly happy about this but as Michael had got them into this fix, he had to be part of getting them out. From Michael’s point of view, or at least Gor Ul’s, seeing it was his plan, this was ideal as he couldn’t win if he wasn’t part of the team. Team McAnally was made up of Hamish, Oliver, Hamish’s wife, Anna, Anna’s brother, Hugh, and Hamish and Anna’s daughter, Romily. She had come in after the rest of the family and the entire pub had descended momentarily into complete silence. Romily was stunning. She looked like a supermodel. She was tall, blonde and athletic like her brother but even more beautiful. It turned out she was gorgeous and smart. She was Team McAnally’s secret weapon. She was even more intelligent than she was attractive and she was incredibly attractive.
In total, eight teams were playing. In the first round, Team Tremethyk, thanks to Gor Ul, scored ten out of ten. Team McAnally, thanks mostly to Romily, also scored ten out of ten. The other six teams scored between five and eight points. They were not going to be a threat.
Round two was history. Team Tremethyk scored, predictably because of Gor Ul, ten out of ten. Team McAnally scored nine out of ten. Hamish McAnally had overruled his daughter on a question about the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire in Great Britain. Hamish had insisted it was obviously Hadrian’s Wall but Romily disagreed and said it was the Antonine Wall. Much to Hamish’s outrage, Gwyn agreed with Romily. So going into round three the score was twenty to nineteen to Team Tremethyk and Gor Ul had little doubt they would win. Michael started to relax ever so slightly now. And Gordon did too. His daughter’s idiot new boyfriend was turning out to be a lot smarter than he had first assumed.
Round three was pop culture. Team Tremethyk scored ten out of ten again and Team McAnally did the same. The score at the end of round three was thirty to Team Tremethyk and twenty-nine to Team McAnally. The next best team, Team Herbert, was on twenty-seven points and so only those three would compete in the last round. Gor Ul was confident of a win so Michael was confident of a win.
‘Only the individual round left to go,’ said Gordon. Gor Ul stared at Gordon with the help of Michael’s eyes.
‘The what now?’ He asked. Gordon explained that the last round consisted of five questions directed at each member of the remaining three teams in turn. There was no conferring. Each member was responsible for their own answer. Each question was worth two points. There were no bonus points for another team giving a wrong answer. Michael realised just moments after Gor Ul the full implication of this. The outcome of this round was out of their control. It was a bloody penalty shootout!
‘I need to drain my bladder of excess urine,’ announced Gor Ul to the rest of the family. They all looked at Michael as if that was way too much unnecessary information. Michael got up and hurried to the toilet.
‘I didn’t know there was an individual round,’ said Gor Ul to Michael in the mirror. ‘I will get our question right obviously but if even one of the other four gets a question wrong then we lose by one point.’
‘There must be something we can do,’ said Michael but the rules as explained by Gordon moments before sounded fairly straightforward. Five team members, one question each, two points for every correct answer, no bonus points. Their fate lay in the hands of the gods or rather the intellect of Abigail’s family.
Michael stepped out into a small corridor where both the ladies and gents came out. The door to the ladies opened and Florence appeared. Michael felt Gor Ul let out a small predatory growl.
‘Stop!’ he whispered but he could already feel how aroused Gor Ul was by Florence’s presence. Michael tried to remain in control of his own body but it was no good. Gor Ul was too quick. He twisted around and stuck his arm out to block Florence’s way.
‘Are you alright, dear?’ asked Florence.
‘No,’ said Gor Ul.
‘Yes, thanks,’ said Michael, half a second later. Florence looked understandably confused.
‘Which is it?’ asked Florence.
‘There is a brothel on the eighteenth moon of Kojo where men will hand over all the wealth they have accumulated over a lifetime for one night with the women there.’
‘Really?’ said Florence. ‘That sounds like a daft thing to do.’
‘I agree,’ said Michael.
‘It is,’ said Gor Ul. ‘Or at least I have always thought so. Until now. Now I understand. Now that I have met… you.’
‘I don’t think you should let Abigail hear you talking like that,’ said Florence.
‘No, quite right,’ said Michael. ‘I should probably stop talking right now, move my arm away and let you get back.’ Michael tried to move his arm but Gor Ul was too strong. ‘Bum.’
‘Don’t say you haven’t felt it too,’ said Gor Ul, moving closer to Florence.
‘I’m eighty-one,’ said Florence. ‘I haven’t felt anything much since Howard’s Way.’
Despite Michael’s best effort to move his own body, Gor Ul was more in control than he was. Gor Ul moved Michael’s lips closer to Florence’s mouth. Michael felt the panic rising within him. He was about to cop off with his girlfriend’s granny. He had to do something quickly, but something that didn’t make Florence run straight to Abigail and tell her what a pervert her boyfriend was.
‘I’m on heavy medication,’ said Michael
‘What for?’ asked Florence but before Michael could answer Gor Ul commandeered his vocal chords.
‘No pill’s gonna cure my ill…’
‘Don’t sing Robert Palmer! Don’t sing Robert Palmer!’ In his head Michael was shouting but nothing was said out loud.
Gor Ul finished regardless. ‘I’ve got a bad case of loving you.’
‘Oh,’ was all Florence could manage to say.
Now their faces were close enough that Michael could smell the odour of Sauvignon Blanc and Cheese and Onion crisps on Florence’s breath. He didn’t care for the smell but he could tell it wasn’t doing anything to dampen Gor Ul’s ardour. Michael knew he only had seconds left to do something drastic or else Gor Ul would use his tongue to… Too late!!!
The kiss lasted only a few seconds but in that time Michael was aware of everything around him. He could feel Gor Ul’s excitement. He could sense Florence’s heart pounding in her small body. He could hear Abigail’s horrified voice behind them.
‘Michael? Gran? What the hell are you doing?’
And as quickly as Gor Ul’s arousal had manifested it disappeared. Suddenly Michael could sense Gor Ul had lost all interest in Florence.
‘Right then,’ said Gor Ul. ‘I’m done.’
There was a chair in the corridor, which was lucky because Florence needed a sit down. She was looking quite dazed by the whole experience.
‘Michael, what’s going on?’ Abigail demanded. ‘Why were you kissing my grandmother like that?’ Michael just stared at her. He couldn’t think of one thing to say that could possibly begin to explain what was going on.
‘There was a good reason for that.’ Gor Ul was silent now and Michael was scrambling like he had never scrambled before to find some sort of half-believable explanation.
‘Well?’ demanded Abigail.
‘I thought your grandmother was having some sort of fit-seizure-heart-medical-old-person’s-incident-thing so was giving her mouth-to-mouth in order–‘
‘That wasn’t mouth-to-mouth. YOU WERE FRENCH KISSING MY GRANDMOTHER!’
Just at that moment the door leading back into the pub had opened as another customer was coming to use the loo so the whole of the pub had heard Abigail. Michael looked through the door to see all eyes were on him. This was going very very badly. In fact, in his worst nightmares he probably couldn’t have thought of a way to make this Christmas any worse. The customer backed away from the door deciding his bladder could wait.
‘Alright,’ I’ll tell you the truth,’ said Michael. ‘But it’ll sound insane.’ He took a deep breath. ‘When I was driving down here I saw this red streak in the sky and then I stopped at a rest-stop and there was this bright light and the bright light hit me. I didn’t think anything of it until I got to your parents’ house and it turned out, and this is the part that might be hard to believe, but the bright light was an alien. His name is Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka and he’s inside me. He can use my voice and body and I know all this stuff. Well, not me really, more him but that’s why we’re doing so well in the quiz. He’s able to tap into data streams, you see, and Earth is like a whole big jumble of data streams, like Christmas tree lights, you know, and I can understand every language, including dog language. I can speak to Buster and he can speak to me and his name is actually Fraroo the Mighty and the Loyal but he doesn’t mind Buster and he really likes you all and that’s probably also quite a hard part of this to believe but I promise you it’s true and your grandmother was giving off a pheromone or something that Gor Ul finds or found really stimulating but he seems satisfied now. Now that he kissed her and it was him who kissed her, not me. I don’t find your grandmother remotely attractive. Not in that way. I’m sure she’s lovely person. And that’s… that.’
Abigail stared at him for a very long time. He could see a thousand different thoughts whizzing about her head.
‘I feel funny,’ said Florence then, breaking the silence.
‘I might possibly have impregnated her,’ said Gor Ul but of course from Abigail’s perspective it was Michael saying this. Anger coloured her features. She grabbed a brass bedpan from the wall and attacked him then.
‘Please, Abs, stop!’ Michael cried but there was no stopping her and the only option left to him was retreat. Abigail chased him back into the bar area and out of the front door. Everyone in the pub was staring.
‘Bye, Michael, I liked you,’ called Buster jumping to his feet.
A few minutes later, Michael found himself alone, cold (his coat was back in the pub) and in the middle of a strange town a very long way from home.
‘Well,’ said Michael, ‘this could not have gone any worse.’
‘I had fun,’ said Gor Ul. ‘Shame we don’t get to finish the quiz. I was enjoying that. Never done a quiz before.’
‘Seriously,’ said Michael, ‘worst evening ever.’ Just then, Michael heard a low rhythmic rumbling sound that was getting increasingly loud but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
‘Uh-oh,’ said Gor Ul, taking control of Michael’s limbs and ducking for cover.
‘What’s wrong? What’s that sound?’ asked Michael.
‘Point to point beam transportation,’ said Gor Ul as they slipped behind a wall.
‘What’s a point to point beam—?’ But before he could finish the question and huge sphere of pulsating green light materialised in the middle of the town square, next to a tastefully decorated Christmas tree. The rumbling stopped abruptly and the sphere vanished. In its place stood Nuck Cattor, Jyly and 7X-89. All were heavily armed. 7X-89 had replaced his left arm with some sort of chunky, multi-barrelled weapon. Nuck was naked, as was traditional for Pijnu warriors when they went into battle or when they got married or had a child or were celebrating or commiserating or most anything. The Pijnu liked to be naked and would strip off at the drop of a hat. In fact, Pijnu hat dropping ceremonies were a regular occurrence on the Pijnu calendar. Nuck was a towering figure with bright red skin. He had picked up an infestation of parasitic flesh-dwelling bugs who left a trail of white pustules in their wake. The lower half of Nuck’s almost skeletal face was covered in pure white boils, dozens of them. A line of them ran down his torso and over his bulbous belly. He had them all over his lower arms, down his legs and around his hairline. It did, from a distance, make him look like Father Christmas though a demonic Father Christmas that would give children the world over nightmares for the rest of their lives.
Each of Jyly’s seventy-nine tentacles was clad in armour and spikes. Pijnu women did not feel the need to be naked for battle. Nuck held up his pustule covered arm and consulted a scanning device that was buried in his flesh.
‘We’re close,’ he said in a booming, gravelly voice. He was speaking Pijnuan but, from his hiding place, Michael was able to understand him just as well as he could understand Buster. ‘The Emuti is within five auls of here.’
‘Auls?’ whispered Michael.
‘Measurement of distance,’ explained Gor Ul quietly. ‘One aul is about equivalent to a hundred metres. But they can’t narrow it down any more than that.’
‘Who are they? Why are they looking for you?’
‘Bounty hunters. There’s a price on the heads of all Emuti. The alliance of planets that invaded my homeland want to make sure no Emuti come back looking for revenge or to try and reclaim their birthplace.’
‘What do we do?’
‘They’ll head that way…’ He pointed in the direction in which they had come from the Three Witches. ‘So we’ll head that way.’ Gor Ul used Michael’s finger to point behind them and no sooner had he done so than the bounty hunters started to walk away in the direction Gor Ul had predicted.
‘How did you know they’d head that way?’ asked Michael.
‘Pub’s that way. The noise and high concentration of people will draw them to it.’
‘What? But Abigail’s there. What will they do?’
‘I don’t know… probably kill everyone.’
‘Looking for me of course. They won’t be able to tell who I’m hiding in without first breaking the cover.’
‘But they won’t find you because you’re here not there.’
‘I know. Bit of luck really,’ said Gor Ul.
‘We have to do something. We have to save them.’
‘Because Abigail’s there.’
‘But she rejected you.’
‘That doesn’t change how I feel about her.’
‘But it doesn’t. And what about Florence?’
‘What about her?’
‘You said you had impregnated her. Were you being serious?’
‘Well, I can’t be sure but yes I think so.’
‘So she’s carrying your offspring. I don’t want to know how that’s even possible but shouldn’t you be concerned with securing the future of your race?’
‘Well, if you put it like that…’ Gor Ul sounded irritated.
Back in the Three Witches, an argument was raging. Hamish McAnally was insisting that Team Tremethyk had to forfeit because they had lost one of their team. Gordon was arguing that the whole quiz needed to be declared null and void. Abigail and Jean were pouring small sips of brandy down Florence’s throat. The old lady was dizzy after her encounter with Gor Ul. Jean was fussing, worried that her mother might need to go to hospital. Spencer and Douglas were discussing what they were going to do to Michael when they got their hands on him.
‘We should go and find him right now!’ said Spencer.
‘Yeah and give him a good hiding,’ added Douglas, absently massaging Spencer’s tense shoulders. ‘No one messes with granny Floss, yeah?’
‘Yeah!’ Spencer agreed. ‘Ah, right there.’ He meant Douglas’ massage.
Louisa looked on shaking her head. ‘Typical,’ she said mostly to herself.
Suddenly, an explosion decimated the front of the pub and everyone dove for cover. When the smoke and dust cleared, they looked up to see Nuck, Jyly and 7X-89 standing before them. Nuck nodded to his robotic, adopted son. 7X-89 stepped for and spoke in perfect English.
‘According to our data, this is the appropriate language for this region of your planet. We are looking for an Emuti by the name of Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka.’ Abigail reacted to the name. It was the same name Michael had mentioned. At least she thought it was. She had been too angry to pay much attention. ’He looks like this.’ A light projected from 7X-89’s shoulder and a three-dimensional holographic representation of Gor Ul filled the space in front of him. It was basically just a picture of a featureless ball of light. ‘Though we believe him to be in disguise as is the way of the Emuti.’
This was all too much for Gwyn, the landlady, still dressed as a Christmas pudding, and she ran screaming towards the back door. With lightning fast reflexes, Nuck Cattor raised his gun and fired. Gwyn was enveloped in a pale purple translucent ball of energy that lifted her off the ground and hovered in place. Then the Christmas pudding costume disappeared along with any other clothing until she was hovering butt naked though only for a moment. Then her skin vanished. Then her flesh, muscles, organs, layer by layer until there was nothing left but her skeleton. This was then reduced to dust and the purple light ball blinked off and the little that was left of Gwyn was sprinkled over the floor. A wave of horror and disbelief rippled through the pub.
‘No Emuti,’ said 7X-89.
‘Well, I can see that,’ roared Nuck but none of the customers in the pub could understand him. To uneducated ears, the Pijnuan language was a rather repetitive series of similar sounding words. Well, I can see that sounded like ho-jo-oh. Though as in Spanish and many other dialects around the universe the J was pronounced huh: ho-ho-oh. Panic ensued. There was much crying and screaming and hiding behind things. Nuck looked annoyed and addressed the room. 7X-89 translated for him.
‘My father says it would be much easier for everyone if you just hand over the Emuti. We can do this all night and disintegrate you one at a time. It’s only your own time you’re wasting you know. We’re getting paid to do this.’
Spencer and Douglas’ machismo had deserted them. They were as terrified as everyone else. Abigail looked at them, remembering what Michael had said.
‘You should tell each other,’ she said.
‘What?’ asked Spencer.
‘We might be about to die. You should tell each other how you feel.’ Abigail was expecting Spencer and Douglas to tell her to piss off but instead her brother and his best friend looked at one another.
‘I love you,’ said Douglas to Spencer.
‘I love you,’ said Spencer to Douglas. They both said it at exactly the same time and both looked flabbergasted.
‘Me too.’ They fell into one another’s arms and kissed. Years of unspoken love for the other was wrapped up in that kiss.
Gordon looked over and his face filled with horror. ‘What the bloody hell do you think you’re—’
‘Shut up, dad!’ said Louisa and Abigail at the same time.
They heard a scream and looked over to see that Jyly had Romily McAnally clutched in her armoured tentacles. Romily was struggling to escape. Hamish was trying to pull his daughter free. Jyly slapped him away with another tentacle sending him crashing into the wall. Then she propelled Romily into the waiting hands of her brother who pushed her forward. Romily staggered out into an open area and Nuck raised his gun. His finger tensed on the trigger, ready to fire, ready disassemble the beautiful Romily McAnally.
Everyone in the pub froze. All eyes turned to the front door or the smouldering detritus of what was once the front door and there was Michael.
‘I am Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka, thirteenth Goog of the house of Arralaa, heir to throne of Dashfigra, Prince of the Emuti and I invoke Directive 629 of the Tendriff Proclamation.’
Jyly and 7X-89 looked to their father to gauge how to react. Nuck Cattor did not look happy but he nodded to his son and 7X-89 grabbed hold of Romily McAnally and tossed her back to her family.
‘So Emuti,’ said Nuck Cattor, ‘how do you intend to invoke Directive 629 here, on this backward planet? You have no champion.’
‘What’s Directive 629?’ asked Michael as quietly as he could.
‘What?’ said Nuck.
‘What?’ said Michael.
‘What?’ said Gor Ul. ‘Look, it’s the host body asking me. Directive 629 of the Tendriff Proclamation allows me to allocate a champion to fight a champion of this stinking piece of lupschnim turd.’
‘Oh shut up! If my champion bests his champion then he has to leave this system without any further loss of life.’
‘Oh right,’ said Michael. ‘But what if his champion bests your champion?’
‘Then they can legally strip your planet of anything of value and subjugate all of your inhabitants and their descendants to servitude to the end of time. But let’s not dwell on that because they won’t win. My champion will be victorious.’
Nuck laughed. It was cruel laugh. ‘Name your champion, Emuti.’
‘You first,’ said Gor Ul.
‘I am my own champion,’ said Nuck, rising to his full height and spreading out his arms. ‘Now you.’
‘Very well,’ said Gor Ul. ‘My champion is… her.’ He pointed and all eyes turned to look at Abigail. But it wasn’t Abigail Gor Ul was pointing to but Florence. Nuck Cattor started to laugh. It started in his belly and reverberated all the way up to his throat where it burst out, filling the whole pub.
It took Florence a moment to realise everyone was looking at her. ‘Who me?’ she said in a small, weak voice. This made Nuck laugh even harder. Then Michael crossed the room to Florence and leant down to whisper to her. It was not Michael who spoke but Gor Ul and no one but Florence and Michael heard what he said. When he had finished speaking, Florence looked a little shocked. ‘Ooh, fancy that,’ she said.
‘As is tradition,’ said Nuck Cattor, ‘your champion chooses the weapons or as I like to say, chooses the way in which she will die.’ Nuck chuckled.
Florence glanced at Michael but only saw Gor Ul. He nodded. She turned to Nuck.
‘Well dear,’ she said. ‘I choose hand-to-hand combat, no weapons.’
‘You what?’ said Nuck and he laughed even harder. It turned out that it was the last time Nuck Cattor would ever laugh. Gor Ul nodded to Florence and she sprang out of her seat and launched herself at Nuck, who was much more than twice her height. Everyone in the pub gasped as the octogenarian flew through the air and landed on Nuck’s shoulders. She grabbed both of his ears and looked like she was about to twist his head so violently that it would come clean off. Instead Nuck spun his gun up, aimed it at her and fired. In doing so, he shot his own head off. Florence had already jumped clear and landed safely as Nuck’s head vaporised and his body collapsed to the floor. Florence shuffled back to her chair and picked up her brandy. She knocked it back in one and looked rather pleased with herself.
There was an extended moment of utter shock and disbelief and then Jyly and 7X-89 grabbed what remained of their father and they were enveloped in the light of the point to point beam transportation. They dematerialised and were gone.
The next morning, on Christmas Day, Michael/Gor Ul and Florence explained to the rest of the Tremethyk family what was about to happen to her. She was pregnant with Gor Ul’s offspring. The pregnancy would rejuvenate her. With every week of the pregnancy she would grow a year younger, stronger and fitter. Gordon was still coming to terms with his son being gay so the idea that his mother-in-law was about to start aging backwards was totally beyond his capabilities at that point in time. Florence, however, was very clear of mind. She had been given the gift every person in the declining years of their life wants: to live again. By the end of the fifty-five week pregnancy Florence would be in her mid-twenties with eighty years of knowledge at her disposal. Jean told her mother they would all be there to support her but Florence was having none of it. She went to the old barn and dug out her late husband’s Brough superior motorbike. With Gor Ul’s help she was able to get the old bike up and running before lunch time. She packed one small bag and announced that she was hitting the road. She promised that she and her baby would return in a year or so. The Tremethyks watched as Florence roared away on the bike.
Michael was the only one who thought to ask Gor Ul what the Emuti-human hybrid baby would be like but Gor Ul gave nothing away with his enigmatic answer: ‘who knows?’
Spencer and Douglas were now an inseparable couple. Louisa had lightened up considerably. Gordon was ever so slightly less dominating and Abigail had accepted Michael was telling the truth. She actually quite liked that he was host to an alien. It made him a lot different to the other dull boys out there on the dating scene. For Michael, this had ultimately been the best Christmas ever because he had won over the woman he loved. And got an alien inside him. Better than socks.