A Cobalt City Christmas Story

Winter scene
A Very Panda Christmas, Everyone!

By Rosemary Jones

Every now and then, superheroes need to take a break and enjoy a Christmas dinner together. This group of crime-fighting friends of various talents delegate the cooking to their loyal sidekick, the man-panda Snowflake, with some interesting results.

“Pa rum pum pum pum.” Snowflake loved this song. Shifting the candy cane from the right to the left side of his mouth, he continued to hum “I’m a poor boy too” with the music wafting out of the grocery store speakers as he strolled down the now empty aisles.
Yep, it was a great song. The minute the kid started singing about having no gift to give, the aisles cleared faster than a group of picnicking villains overrun by the Worm Queen’s wiggling minions. And if there was one thing that Snowflake hated about the holidays, it was wading through the crowds at his favorite import low-cost bulk buy emporium in the Karlsburg neighborhood.
Pickled bamboo shoots straight from the barrel, lychee nuts bobbing in glowing orangey goodness in the big quart bottles, crème de eucalyptus (banned in seven countries and a couple of principalities – how did they get that?), and his absolute favorite holiday treat: sugared grasshopper-stuffed humbow in rice paper wrapping.
Snowflake sniffed a couple as he dropped the treats into his overflowing shopping cart. “Just like Mom would have made them,” the man-panda said to his companion.
“You did not know your mother,” Manuel de la Vega muttered. “Ah, Madre de los Dios, not that little drummer gringo again!” Cobalt City’s toughest crimefighter in leather winced as the song sailed into a new round of happy percussion.
Snowflake drew his paw out of his pocket, where he kept Archon’s latest remote control. That wonderful gadget overrode the store’s music computer random play list and placed his favorite carol in a perpetual loop. “Ain’t this place great?” he said with a chomp on the candy cane that shortened the peppermint stick by a full inch.
“Are you done yet?” Manuel might be able to stay on a motorcycle for hours chasing bad guys as his alter ego Gato Loco, but walk the guy down a couple of grocery aisles and he was looking for an exit faster than if one of his ex-girlfriends had showed up in town.
“Just need a couple of other items. Then it’s back to the kitchen to cook a holiday feast to end all feasts.”
Manuel looked doubtful. “Perhaps we should have taken Katherine’s offer and gone with the caterers.”
“No way,” said Snowflake, scooping up the rum-and-coconut-milk frozen treats out of the cold case. After a momentary pause, he also grabbed a dozen champagne popsicles. OK, it was the middle of winter and all the weather reports were promising snow for Christmas. Didn’t mean a panda wouldn’t want a few cold treats after a big meal.
“You may be dating, or not, the richest woman in Cobalt City,” said Snowflake, “but that doesn’t mean we abandon the traditional holiday feast created by our own little paws or hands.”
“The last time we tried to do this, it did not end well,” Manuel began.
“We made the mistake of putting Simon in charge of dessert and attracting Flaming Figgy.” Their ashy friend’s necromantic field turned his traditional Christmas dessert into a portal for the fiend and the possessed pudding villain had taken nearly a full day to defeat. The resulting wreckage meant Snowflake, Manuel, an apologetic Simon, and their guests ended up at Hong Louey’s All-Night Dim Sum Diner for Christmas dinner.
“This year, Mister Grey provides the musical entertainment, we do the shopping and the cooking, and the party won’t be overrun with deadly spirits, other than the kind that people want in their mixed drinks.”
“I don’t know.” Manuel sighed as he stirred a hand through the supplies nearly overflowing the cart. “I am not sure this is what Katherine had in mind when she asked for a Dickensian dinner.”
“Wasn’t me who took the British babe to the latest holographic adventure remake of Christmas Carol.”
“That movie received five-star reviews.”
“Because they didn’t stick to the original. They went off the beaten track.”
“The ninja assassins’ attack on Marley was very good,” Manuel agreed. True, Katherine apparently did not enjoy the movie as much as he expected (although she liked the ninjas), but she had suggested afterward that they all gather for a proper Christmas feast.
“So we’re doing the same thing, spicing up tradition with a few unusual appetizers. But the dinner still revolves around one thing and one thing only,” said Snowflake as he reached his final destination in the store: the frozen fowl aisle. “The biggest goose that we can find.”
“Shouldn’t we get a turkey?” asked Manuel.
Snowflake didn’t even bother to snort at his friend’s ignorance. He’d done his research. Even listened to the original while stripping out the engine of de la Vega’s latest bike. A goose it had to be, and a goose they would have.
But the bins were gleaming white and lacking in stacked frozen corpses. Where were the birds? A neatly printed sign carried the explanation: “Due to the recent avian pandemic, our regular shipment has been delayed. We are currently working on finding a new supplier. Please leave your name with our butcher.”
“The caterer…” started Manuel.
“No need,” said Snowflake. “I know Joe.”
“Their meat cleaver. The butcher. He sometimes gets me something special from the back of the truck, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
Snowflake ignored Manuel’s protest as he pushed his way through the double doors marked “Employees Only.”
“Yo, Joe!” yelled Snowflake. His shout echoed through the stacked up boxes with mysterious scribblings on the side.
“Mr. Snowflake Bear!” came the response from a wizened little old man dressed in a bloodstained apron who popped from behind a crate. “Most happy to see you. Many felicitations of the day.”
“Good to see you too!” Snowflake clapped the little man on the shoulder and watched him stagger back a few paces. As a genetic experiment himself, he’d always felt a certain kinship with this little old guy of completely unknowable origins. The wisps of hair ringing his bald head were bright orange but his skin was an odd shade of olive and his slanted eyes sparked green in certain lights. There was also a suggestion of pointedness about the tips of his ears.
“How’s it going, Joe?” he asked.
“Bad, good, never know,” Joe shrugged.
“Know what you mean,” said Snowflake, who didn’t have a clue how to interpret Joe’s remarks. “Hey, we need a main dish for Christmas dinner: the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon. A really big one!”
“Hmm,” said Joe. “Acquired a phenomenon last night. No feathers, but very rare. Very big too!”
“Pre-plucked is fine by me. Just quoting Mr. Dickens there.”
Snowflake watched Joe disappear into the meatlocker and then come staggering back out with a plastic-wrapped carcass.
“Big enough, Mr. Snowflake Bear?” asked Joe, trying to hang onto the large and obviously slippery package.
“Perfect,” said Snowflake, lifting the bird from Joe’s grasp with one hand and tucking it under his arm. “OK, Manuel, let’s check out.”
“Shouldn’t we get cooking directions or something?”
“No need,” repeated Snowflake. “I downloaded all the recipes from The Dickensian Feast Site. Got it all in my netbook back home.”
“Do not defrost quickly,” said Joe behind them.
“What?” Manuel paused to catch the butcher’s advice.
“Thaw slow,” said Joe clearly. “No rushing.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Snowflake, waving good-bye over his shoulder as he shoved his cart back out the double doors. “We’ll take it out the night before. No half-cooked icy bird for us.”

The bird was frozen: no doubt whatever about that. Snowflake had forgotten and left it in the freezer until morning. Since then, he’d tried running cold water over it, than warm water, then two tea kettles of boiling hot water. He’d even raided Stardust’s bathroom at headquarters and borrowed the superhero’s hairdryer. Nothing worked. The old goose was as frozen as an icicle.
Snowflake glanced at the clock. Less than six hours until dinner. According to his calculations and the best advice available from 1-800-COOK-YOUR-GOOSE, he needed at least five hours of cooking time. He’d weighed his prize purchase and it was one big bird, bigger than recommended and probably a little tougher than a younger, smaller goose might be. But Snowflake reminded himself that several guests had superhuman strength and would be easily able to gnaw through their dinner. And he could carve it so the truly tender bits would go to the merely human types like Manuel or Archon.
But first he had to thaw it.
He poked the plastic-wrapped corpse with one tentative claw. The goose felt like a solid block of ice.
“Crap,” muttered Snowflake. He reached into the pocket of his overalls and drew out an emergency candy cane. A bear needed his sweet at a time like this. Snowflake unwrapped his peppermint pick-me-up and stuck it in one side of his mouth, sucking on the stick meditatively.
Obviously, what he needed was a massive source of heat. Something that could thaw this goose in the next thirty minutes so he could get it stuffed and in the oven before everyone arrived. Luckily the usual flurry of holiday emergency calls (lost kittens, grandma attacked by unseen hoofed mammal, fat guy stuck in chimney, three midnight spirits abusing time travel privileges) had sent everyone flying out of the headquarters early in the day. Some, like the Huntsman, were coming over after spending the morning with family. Others, like Manuel and Archon, would be back as soon as they bolted together a Christmas gift bike for a tearful little boy and his nearly hysterical father.
But even with the technological complexities presented by Christmas toys and instructions in English as written by somebody who didn’t speak the language, Snowflake couldn’t count on more than a half hour of solitude before people would be invading the kitchen and asking awkward questions about why dinner resembled an iceberg.
“The reactor!” Snowflake exclaimed and inhaled his candy cane in one massive crunch of inspiration. Like any well-outfitted superhero headquarters, the Keep’s lab was full of shiny new technology, including Stardust’s latest invention: a miniature reactor that powered a warming chamber. The billionaire industrialist had built it to defrost Neanderthal Nick after the Little Green Guy had trapped him in a glacier.
Better yet, Stardust was off in Hawaii, celebrating a sunny Christmas with his family, far away from Cobalt City’s December windstorms and icy rains. So he wasn’t likely to notice if a bear with a plan invaded his lab.
Snowflake toted the frozen goose to the service elevator. He didn’t want to meet any of the returning heroes on his way to or from the reactor room. Nobody ever used the Keep’s service elevator except the women who ran the gift shop in the lobby and the plumber who still hadn’t figured out why the hot water always ran out halfway through Doctor Shadow’s shower. The plumber claimed the pipes were cursed but the mystical Doctor assured everyone that he would spot a curse if it inhabited his bathroom.
Snowflake’s theory was that the Doctor always made the mistake of doing his esoteric research as soon as they returned from a fight rather than hopping immediately under the hot water like Katherine or Manuel. By the time that he had finished cross-referencing the lost tablets of Mu with the recently discovered papyrus of the last god-king of Atlantis, the hot water was gone and no spell could summon it back.
The lower levels were quiet and lit with only the solar-charged glow strips that Stardust installed during his energy-saving, have-to-be-the-greenest-superheroes in Cobalt City campaign. In Snowflake’s view, being a superhero was all about having energy to waste. Since he was also at least half of highly endangered ursine species, very few people argued with him about ecology.
Snowflake keyed the lockpad that let him into the reactor room. The door slid back with a whoosh and the lab beyond sprang into life with the clicking of computers, the blinking of little red lights, and the satisfying hum of a miniature nuclear reactor ready to warm his goose to room temperature.
The thawing chamber that Stardust had installed in the center of the lab was a gleaming edifice of stainless steel, gold rivets, and a big shiny handle shaped like an old-fashioned ship’s wheel. Snowflake grabbed the wheel and spun it to the left. The door didn’t budge.
“Righty tighty, lefty loosey,” Snowflake muttered. How many times had he told the super genius that simple rule! But Mr. Billionaire Inventor always had to do it his own way. Snowflake spun the wheel to the right and the door to the warming chamber swung out into the room.
Unlike Neanderthal Nick, the goose could be laid flat on the gleaming glass tile floor of the chamber. Snowflake looked down at it. Probably he should peel off the plastic before he hit with the gamma rays. He pulled his penknife out of his pocket, carefully slitting the covering and pulling it off his Christmas goose. Wow, he never realized how ugly a plucked goose was. Nor that they came with the head and the wicked snout intact. And he’d never noticed the big toe claw at the end of the goose’s long legs (lot of drumstick there, he thought with satisfaction). Of course, the only time he ever saw live geese, they were swimming around the lake at the park and their legs were under water.
A little frosty water dribbled across the glass surface of the floor, glowing emerald bright in the lights shining up through the tiles. Snowflake fussed with the frozen fowl for a moment longer, making sure it was stomach up and rump down in the chamber.
He swung the door closed and, with a sigh, spun the wheel to the left to tighten the seal. Then he walked to the control panel. A pair of giant goggles sat on the top of the panel. There were times when Stardust was reassuringly old school. Snowflake pulled on the goggles, settling them on his nose. The protective lens made the whole room look slightly green around the edges.
The big black temperature dial had three settings: warm, hot, and extreme. Snowflake glanced at the clock. Less than twenty minutes until he had to get the goose in the oven. He shoved the dial to extreme, pulled the big silver on-off lever to the on position, and flipped open the glass cover on the glowing red button with the yellow warning label. He always loved this moment and nobody ever let him do this as much as he liked. He slammed his paw down on the button.
Sirens wailed a warning, lights flashed in a tidal wave of cascading blinks around the room, and the miniature nuclear reactor slipped into a higher key of hum.
The thawing chamber vibrated slightly in the middle of the room. The needle on the center dial of the control panel began to tick from 100 percent radiation to zero. Two smaller dials on the side of the panel had wildly oscillating needles spinning between yellow, green, and red sections. Snowflake ignored those.
An intercom on the control panel hissed. It was a general hail coming from the living quarters above.
“Merry Christmas,” Wild Kat’s voice warbled through the intercom. “We’re coming down the chimney, ho, ho, ho!” Then the slightly hissing sound that always happened when using the outside intercom on the rooftop landing pad. Then Snowflake could hear Wild Kat speaking to someone else outside. “No answer. I wonder where they are.”
The sonorous tones of Doctor Shadow sounded through the connection: “Most likely they are busy with the preparation of the meal.”
“Yes, yes,” said Manuel’s probable lady love. “Thank you for helping me with these packages and flying me here. It was just a lot to load in the cab and I gave the staff the day off. If you can fetch that big bag and I’ll take this one…”
Snowflake let out a frustrated growl. The dial’s needle was still way off its final mark and it would have to hit zero radiation before he could unlock the chamber door.
Time for diversionary tactics. He could scoot back up to the kitchen, chuck some humbow in the microwave for appetizers, and get Wild Kat and the good Doctor working on some project in the dining room. Table decoration. The British heiress and society queen of Cobalt City would want to rearrange the table settings. Oh, and he could suggest that the Doctor fold the napkins into swan shapes, something the nimble-fingered ancient Egyptian did with definitive panache.
Snowflake shoved his goggles up on his forehead and sprinted for the service elevator, leaving the door to the lab open behind him.
Up in the kitchen, he threw frozen appetizers in the microwave, chucked the champagne bottles through the air to land with a satisfying ring in the ice buckets, stirred the applesauce bubbling on the stove, mashed a few potatoes in passing, and made sure that his stuffing was hidden in the oven. It wouldn’t dry out totally in just a few minutes that he needed before he could return to the lower levels and grab the thawed goose. Besides, the smell of sage and onion warming in cornbread might mask the lack of bird.
He’d barely had time to wrap Manuel’s “Kiss the Cook” apron around his middle before Wild Kat poked her head through the kitchen door.
“How is the dinner coming?”
“Are we the first ones here? I thought you might appreciate some assistance.”
“Sure!” Snowflake shifted so he was between Wild Kat and Doctor Shadow and the rest of the kitchen. The advantage of being a generously proportioned man-panda, they couldn’t see around him. “The others are out on calls.”
“Even Manuel?” Wild Kat’s face fell.
“Yeah, but he should be back soon. It was an emergency bike assembly but he took Archon with him.”
Snowflake kept advancing on his guests, essentially backing them into the dining room. The gleaming silver and china was piled on the table, but no places had been set.
“Maybe you guys could help me with this. Manuel was going to do it when he got back…”
“Of course,” said Wild Kat, heading toward the table with a gleam in her eye. “Let’s see, we have six coming: you, me, Archon, Simon, Manuel, and the Doctor.”
“Velvet, the Huntsman, and Gallows called. They caught the Bad Elf and can be here for dinner. The Worm Queen has other plans. Invited to some University party.”
“Nine, then. We are going to need the extension for the table. Where did we put it after that last big intertemporal congress of heroes?”
“Storage closet. Upstairs. I think,” said Snowflake. He didn’t know but looking for the extra leaves for the table would keep her busy.
“And me?” A faint smile creased Doctor Shadow’s face. “Swan napkins, I presume.”
“That would be great, Doc.”
“I have a new method for this year,” said the master of mystery. He settled into a chair at the head of the table and fixed his glowing gaze upon the pile of snowy napkins. The top one quivered and slowly floated toward the ceiling, twisting itself into a swan shape and then gliding in gentle spirals to its proper place on the table.
“Great. Great,” Snowflake backed through the door into the kitchen and then turned and sprinted toward the service elevator.
At the lobby level, the service elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open to reveal a startled Manuel.
“What are you doing here?” he and Snowflake said simultaneously.
“Toy emergency solved. Archon went home to pick up some packages for the Secret Superhero exchange,” said Manuel. “But what are you doing? How is the dinner cooking?”
“Fine,” Snowflake reached for the “door close” button. “Just need to get something from the basement.”
Manuel’s eyes narrowed with the suspicion that only an old friend could direct at a furry brother trying to look innocent. “Why are you wearing goggles?”
“Uh,” Snowflake reached up to drag the revelatory headgear off and stuff it into a pocket. He shrugged. “Eye protection is important when cooking?”
Manuel sprang through the elevator doors before they closed. “What something? Where?”
Snowflake gave up on his attempt at deception. He could lie to Manuel (and did when necessary), but right now, the truth would get him an assistant cook with a good reason to keep his mouth shut. Manuel had made many promises to Wild Kat, not the least of which was that the dinner would be served on time and without the usual trouble this Christmas.
“I had some problems with the goose.”
“What problems?”
“The goose was a little cold this morning.”
Güey,” Manuel sighed.
Dude,” Snowflake drawled back. “I fixed it. We just fetch the bird, shuttle it back to the kitchen, stuff some breadcrumbs and oysters up its butt, and pop it into the oven.”
The elevator doors slid open on the lower level. Snowflake wrinkled his nose at the smell of burnt plastic and seared flesh wafting down the corridor. Maybe the extreme setting had been a bit much.
He started toward the lab, noting that the door appeared to be hanging halfway off its hinges.
A shriek of rage exploded down the hallway, a high-pitched scream of aggravation.
“What's that!” Manuel froze behind him in the corridor.
Snowflake skidded to stop. His sensitive panda ears picked up the screech of long claws against linoleum.
“Manuel,” he said, backing away from the broken door to the lab. Past the ruined door, he saw a shadow of definitely dinosaurian shape slide across the wall. “Do you have any weapons?”
“Weapons? I have a screwdriver. The kid’s father handed it to me and I forgot to give it back.”
Snowflake stuck out a paw. “Give! And then run for the elevator.”
Another scream erupted from the lab.
“What is in there?” Manuel passed him the screwdriver but stayed where he was.
“Christmas dinner. I think it is mad.”
The velociraptor leaped into the hall. Slightly bigger than a well-stuffed turkey, it lunged at Snowflake with another shriek. It sprang high, going for his throat with its toe spur. Snowflake ducked and rolled, jabbing upward with the screwdriver as the irradiated and irritated dinosaur sailed overhead. He missed.
With a growl, Snowflake surged upward, trying to grapple his too lively main dish to the ground. The slippery dinosaur twisted out of his grip. It snapped at Snowflake’s belly but only ended up with a mouthful of “Kiss Me” apron. It pulled away, shredding the apron. Snowflake backhanded it with a mighty thump to the thorax. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Manuel circling, trying to get in position for his own attack.
Snowflake lunged and weaved, attempting to keep the velociraptor focused on him rather than the man sneaking up behind it. The angry little dinosaur kept snapping and slashing at him. Apparently it wanted nothing more than a bite of bear for its first meal after thawing out.
“Anytime now,” Snowflake said as he feinted to the left and bobbed to the right. The toe spur went slashing way, way too close to sensitive parts of his anatomy. He was glad he had worn the super-sized brass belt buckle with the rampaging reindeer. The dinosaur’s claw rang on his buckle like a clapper of a bell and Snowflake rolled out of the way, hoping Manuel could get a clear shot at the creature.
Manuel spun on his heel, kicking straight out with one leg like a Kung Fu Scrooge confronted by a dozen ninjas of Christmas past. He caught the angry velociraptor directly on the tip of its snout. The enraged dinosaur screamed and twisted in mid-air. It hit the tiles and skidded past Manuel toward the service elevator doors.
The velociraptor collided against the metal elevator doors with the crash of dinosaur meets steel. It stumbled to its feet, shaking its head in confusion.
Taking advantage of the dinosaur’s momentary confusion, Snowflake threw the screwdriver at it like a javelin. The tool whistled through the air. Manuel bent backwards as it flew past his nose. The screwdriver also flew past the velociraptor’s head to hit the elevator call button. A perfect bullseye that opened the elevator doors. The dinosaur rolled one groggy eye at the panting man-panda and his stunned Mexican friend. It stumbled backward into the elevator. The doors slammed shut and it was gone.
Snowflake looked at Manuel. His friend looked back at him.
“Maybe it will be trapped in there?” Snowflake didn’t have much hope. With the way that the day had been going, the doors were sure to open in the upper levels, releasing the furious velociraptor in the middle of a crowd expecting to eat a stuffed goose rather than be eaten by a defrosted dinosaur.
With a shake of his head, Manuel sprinted down the hallway toward the front elevators. Snowflake pounded after him.
Manuel hit the button. It lit up. He jiggled in place, making Snowflake twitch sympathetically.
“It might go to the roof,” Snowflake said.
“Did the Flaming Figgy appear on the roof?”
Manuel had a point. Disaster, when it struck, tended to show up in the middle of the dinner table.
With a ping, the elevator doors slid open. Snowflake hit the button for second floor and the dining room.
Upstairs they heard the wails of despair before they saw the destruction.
“My centerpiece!” yowled Wild Kat. “The presents!”
“My swan napkins,” moaned Doctor Shadow.
Only Archon sounded calm as the velociraptor sprang to the center of the dining room table to wreck carnage on Wild Kat’s carefully constructed centerpiece of gifts, artfully placed fresh fruit, and other special tidbits in crystal dishes. He was, in typical fashion, lecturing the others on the type of dinosaur devouring their appetizers.
“As I mentioned before, that film got their size all wrong,” he said. Archon waved a hand at Snowflake and Manuel to acknowledge their arrival but kept his eyes fixed on his computer screen as he punched through the codes, obviously searching for more information on the reptilian invader of their dining room. “Yes, all the fossil evidence clearly shows that this breed of dromaeosaurid never grew larger than a turkey.”
“Or a goose,” muttered Snowflake, circling right around the table as the velociraptor shredded a Satsuma orange out of its red tissue wrapping. The fowl-sized dinosaur seemed less interested in the crowd surrounding the table than the food before it. The velociraptor nosed its way through a box of foil-wrapped chocolates and macadamia nuts shipped from Hawaii, a gift from Stardust and family.
“So how do we kill it?” asked Manuel.
“Kill it?” said Archon. “We cannot kill it. This is an endangered species. There’s only one known breeding pair in North America. They and their offspring were stolen more than a month ago.”
“Stolen?” asked Snowflake innocently. Behind him, Manuel sighed nosily but he didn’t squeal about Joe. Before him, the velociraptor discovered the bowl of walnuts and carefully cracked each nut with one bite before littering the tabletop with shells.
“A whole zoo of exotics was heisted by some unscrupulous gourmands,” Archon explained as he loved to do. “They planned to sell them to various restaurants for holiday menus. There’s people who will pay enormous sums to eat unusual or endangered animals for Christmas, like flying reindeer burgers.”
“Yech,” said Wild Kat.
“Luckily, most of the zoo stock were recovered when somebody tipped the police about seeing a refrigeration warehouse filled with wooly mammoth.” Archon tapped his tablet to do a quick check of the police reports. “Yes, all the prehistoric creatures were recovered except one Tyrannosaurus egg and an adolescent male velociraptor.”
The purloined dinosaur overturned the now empty nut bowl with a disappointed screech and then dived for the tray of caviar, exotic cheeses, crackers, and dried fruit. Judging from Wild Kat’s howl of pure rage, that was one of her contributions to the party. The girl did like her expensive hors d’oeuvres.
Ignoring Manuel’s shout of protest, Wild Kat cartwheeled across the table, snatching the caviar dish from under the velociraptor’s nose, and vaulted to safety, flipping in midair to land on her feet like her feline namesake.
“That’s two hundred dollars an ounce!” she said to Manuel, cradling the crystal dish of caviar close to her curvaceous chest. “I’m not letting some reptile swallow it.”
“So what do we do with it?” said Snowflake. “Call animal control?”
“Most likely they are enjoying their holiday at home. It would be better to restrain it ourselves,” said Archon. “Now, let me see what would be the best…”
But Doctor Shadow intervened. “That is enough!” he thundered at the velociraptor as it pounced again upon one of his artfully constructed swan napkins, shaking out its snowy folds. He levitated out of his chair, holding his hands level with his hips and palms out as he began to chant a spell that had been first used in the court of Ramses the Great.
As Doctor Shadow’s voice rose and fell, reciting the ancient Egyptian verses, the remaining swan napkins took flight, twisting like a linen tornado toward the dinosaur. Deprived of its cloth prey, the velociraptor began one of its toe slashing leaps toward the Doctor. But the swan napkins surrounded it, spinning faster and faster as each napkin unraveled into a long strip, binding the velociraptor from tail tip to snout.
It wobbled for a moment in place and then fell off the table with a crash.
“Wow,” said Wild Kat, looking at the linen-wrapped dinosaur. “You mummified it.”
“Only temporarily,” said Doctor Shadow, floating gently back to the floor. “No harm has come to it and the spell can be easily reversed to release it once it has been transported back to its proper home.”
“Good work,” said Archon. “I will alert the zoo officials that we will be bringing back their lost dinosaur tomorrow. I assume it is safe to leave it like this for Christmas?”
Doctor Shadow nodded and waved one hand. The newly mummified dinosaur slid to the far side of the room, gliding to a halt under the Christmas tree. At the lift of the Doctor’s eyebrow, a large red bow and glittery gift tag appeared around the velociraptor’s neck. “It seems more festive that way,” the mystic of the ages said. “Tomorrow I will send it back to the zoo.”
“But what are we doing about dinner?” hissed Manuel to Snowflake as Wild Kat dipped a claw into her bowl of caviar.
Snowflake reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone. “Just call me a boy scout. I’m prepared for an emergency,” he said, hitting the speed dial for Hong Louey’s All Night Dim Sum Diner. “Louey? Snowflake here. Can we get those Peking ducks to go? And some extra Szechuan noodles? Sixty minutes? Make it thirty and Manuel will double your tip.”
Hours later, surrounded by the wreckage of a good meal eaten with good friends, Snowflake propped his elbows on the table and gazed a little drunkenly at the gathering. The latecomers, Simon, Velvet, the Huntsman, and Gallows were all standing around the temporarily mummified dinosaur and asking for details again on how it had eaten all of the Christmas chocolate before they had arrived. Manuel had one arm wrapped around Wild Kat’s shoulders, threatening her playfully with a sprig of mistletoe.
Outside the windows, the snow began to fall, sparkling briefly in the reflected light from the room before disappearing into the darkness below.
 “Next year, we can try for a goose again,” Snowflake said to Doctor Shadow.
“Or perhaps we should call a caterer,” the sage one suggested.
“I think we should do a turkey,” said Wild Kat, batting away the mistletoe. “Like in Christmas Carol.”
“It was a goose, stuffed goose,” said Snowflake. “I listened to the audiobook.”
“Cratchit’s family had this puny goose,” said Wild Kat. “But Scrooge sent the boy out for a turkey, the biggest one in the butcher shop window. I don’t know why I loved that book so, but I used to read it every year. My father had the most beautiful leather-bound edition with these lovely black-and-white drawings of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim.”
“My father always read that story out loud on Christmas Eve,” said Simon. The man of ash drifted back to the table. “Odd. I remember the ghosts used to frighten me terribly. Especially the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the one that showed Scrooge his own grave.”
“So, a turkey,” said Snowflake. “Guess I wasn’t listening that closely.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” said Manuel. “You did, in the end, provide us with a great Christmas dinner.”
“Hear, hear,” said Simon and the others joined him in a round of applause for Snowflake’s feast.
“Well, I might have been mistaken about the goose,” said Snowflake with a shrug and no further elaboration about what exactly had been wrong with his fowl choice. “But I have the right toast for tonight, and all you Dickens fans will appreciate it.”
Snowflake rose to his feet and raised his glass to the gathered superheroes of Cobalt City. The man-panda grinned at them. As he recited the ancient benediction, they all began to laugh and join in:  “God Bless Us, Every One!”


This story was first published in Cobalt City Christmas, copyright 2009 Timid Pirate. It is reprinted here with permission and presented for your holiday enjoyment.

My latest story for the Cobalt City crew can be found in Cobalt City Dragonstorm, available in many formats for fans of superheroes and dragons. The latest story features Lizzie, who first appeared in Wrecker of Engines, which we hope to reprint soon. More Cobalt City stories by a wonderful crew of authors can be found at www.defconone.com.

For instructions on folding swan napkins without the use of magic, click here.

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