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Thursday 22 December 2022

Christmas story-1 of 3

Over the years I’ve been asked to contribute a Christmas story to a variety of publications. In the next few days I’ll feature some of them. Here is  ‘Outcast’ which was published in Outpost magazine in 1989. It is one of 21 stories in Nourish a Blind Life, my second collection of stories., here


She came out of the godforsaken planet’s seasonal mists, struggling under her immense weight. She wasn’t welcome.

Abraham Hertzog didn’t like company. That’s why he had settled in this inhospitable place, a last fuelling stop at the rim of the galaxy: a bleak station, where sand and dust vied with alien plants, neither succeeding for long to cling onto the barren rocky landscape. Planetary storms were too frequent. 

Which reminded him: he was due to telecast Headquarters. It was a full 3 months since he last ordered victuals.

His metal shack abutted onto the side of a towering ultramarine cliff. The rock was heavily pitted, from recent meteor showers and severe gales: he used the nearest caves for storage. But now stocks were running low.

He squinted out the porthole, past the thousand-meter landing pad, the fuelling depot and its attendant robot-mechanics.

As the green six-legged creature stumbled onto the tarmac, a robot wheeled solicitously toward her and helped her to large ungainly feet. Even from this distance, Abraham could detect the gratefulness in her protruding eyes. They were so damned trusting!

Perhaps that was why he didn’t want to see her?


Not a thousand kilometres to the west there had been a luxuriant mauve forest, sprouting from purple springy grass. Now there were just a few tree-stumps; the rest was overbuilt by settlers. When mankind seeded the stars, he also brought diseases, pollution, greed, prejudices and weapons... The aliens were decimated, the survivors now outcasts on their own planet.

The robot helped the creature to the door, which chimed.

‘Just a minute,’ Abraham called, ‘Oy veh!’

The airlock whispered and he stepped out of the air-conditioned atmosphere onto the metal veranda. The air was thick with dust, the ozone crackling. ‘What is it?’

But he needn’t ask. The pregnant creature was exhausted, and near term.

Against his better judgement, he directed the robot to bring her round the back and made room in the half-empty storage cave.

‘Stay here with her,’ he instructed the robot, ‘while I get some halvah.’

Later, as he dialled Headquarters about those victuals, he looked out the rear port.

The creature had managed a guttural approximation of English: her name was Yram; she had voraciously devoured his offered confection and now lay contented, watched by a number of mechanic and haulage robots. His attention was suddenly drawn to the green bundle of limbs swathed in sacking as the telecast speaker announced: ‘Merry Christmas, Abe!’

And he looked up at a star, twinkling overhead, brighter than any he’d seen on his journeys through the Milky Way.

‘Yes, of course. It would be, wouldn’t it?’ he mused and realised that perhaps this planet wasn’t God-forsaken after all.

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