Tim fished around for a way to lighten his mood. Tormenting Nate for sport or harassing a random extraterrestrial would do the trick, but he didn’t have the energy for it. They ambled through a Bryzakian market that used the mysterious alien trade customs that none of them understood. Essentially they could take anything they wanted, but it created an obligation to the common pool of effort.
Once in a while, one alien or another would invoke the obligation and put them to use chasing away clatterbats, resetting the Bryzakians’ cup cleaning machines, or polishing zerbiats… Don’t ask.
They’d befriended a Bryzakian named Lop. Bryzakians looked like a diaphanous penguin riding a manta ray dangled on a hoop skirt with four spindly legs. For some reason Lop reminded Tim of Patton Oswald. As they accompanied him through the market, Tim pulled trinkets and morsels of food from the vendors’ tables.
“It’s Christmas,” said Bradley.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack.
“I mean it’s Christmas on earth.”
“How can you possibly keep track of time with such variation in all the planets’ revolutions?” asked Nate.
“I kept count.”
“He is the only one with a watch,” said Tim. “Plus, he looks like spawn of Santa Claus.”
“Second cousin, twice removed,” said Bradley.
His words set off a starburst of joviality in Tim. He sniggered and tousled Bradley’s hair. Bradley revealed his big buck teeth with a grin, his eyes bulging behind the Coke-bottle glasses.
“What BAAWK Christmas?” squawked Lop’s translator.
“My favorite time of year,” said Jack. “Everyone exchanges gifts.”
“It’s a time for festivities,” said Nate. “We decorate a tree with lights and baubles.”
“Trick or Treat Caroling,” said Bradley.
“You’re mixing your holidays,” said Jack.
“Not the way we do it.”
“I can’t believe you guys,” said Tim. “Don’t listen to them, Lop. Christmas is when God became man, born as a baby from the Virgin Mary, and walked among us.” He raised his arms in disbelief. “Haven’t you guys ever seen ‘Charlie Brown Christmas?’”
Lop spun around with excitement, the translator BAAWKing like crazy with the occasional word. “Believe… rumor… glee.”
“I think the poor guy’s blown a gasket,” laughed Jack.
“My work is done,” said Tim. He pulled his pouch off his belt. “I’ve got something for you all. I’ve been saving these for today.” He pulled out a spongy blue-green chunk of organic material shaped like a Christmas tree.
“Bizzle bread!” yelped Bradley.
“Yes, sir,” said Tim. “I hoarded some of these from our meal with the Pangamasht emperor.” He handed the Christmas tree to Bradley and pulled out one shaped like a star.
“You carved Christmas shapes out of bizzle bread,” said Jack.
“It’s my new hobby.” Tim handed Jack the star. “Along with replacing Nate’s shoelaces with kruckle worms.”
“I knew it!” said Nate.
“Crap,” said Tim. “Inside voice. Inside voice.” He handed Nate a blob of bizzle bread.
Nate stared at the treat and turned it over in his hand. “What’s it supposed to be?”
“A lump of coal, of course. You got a problem with that?”
“Nah. It’s perfect.” Nate punched Tim in the shoulder. “Merry Christmas, dude.”