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In the bleak midwinter

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In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.
Snow had fallen snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.


She shouldn't have been driving, really, not in her state, not in weather like this, but she desperately wanted to be home in time for Christmas, in time for the birth. It was so sudden. The car slid off the road with a violent jolt. "Please let me live long enough for the baby to come, please let me live to be a mother, even if only for a few moments..."


It should have been shocking, but instead it was like the opposite of those dreams where something normal is happening and it's terrifying. Of course it was surprising to wake up and find that I was little more than a skeleton and a few muscles, and that pink thing I was carrying was a human heart, presumably my own, but it was more fascinating than frightening.

The exhibition hall was dark except for a few dim security lights. A few others were starting to stir as well. By my side a camel was experimentally shaking its head. Finding that despite the exposed muscles it didn't fall apart, it trotted over and nuzzled my shoulder – far more affectionate than any living camel I'd ever met.

I took a step forward. Everything seemed to be in order. It was interesting to watch the muscles in my thighs expand and contract. Beside me, a man who had been poised to throw a javelin put it down, and blinked a couple of time. "Hello?" he said.

I nodded a greeting, not having a tongue to do more. I was already smiling, of course.

There was a loud whinny – we both looked round to see a skinless rider bring his equally skinless horse under control.

"Hey," he said in a friendly voice. "What's going on?"

"No idea," said the man with the javelin. "Weird huh?"

"Weird," agreed the other man, dismounting from his horse.

There were several exits from the large hall, but one in particular caught my attention – a warm yellow light was seeping through the cracks around the door, comforting and inviting. I pointed to it, but the others didn't notice, so I tapped javelin man on the shoulder.

He peered at it. "How about that?" he said. "Want to go there, Mr Skeleton? I sure do. It reminds me of sitting round open hearth at Christmastime when we were kids, opening our presents."

"Me too," said horse man. "It makes me think of cooking sausages over campfires back when I was a Scout. Happiest time of my life that was."

So we set off, and the horse and the camel came too.

Javelin man opened the door, and it led into a long corridor. The source of the light seemed to be the next room along, so we carried on, my bones tap-tapping on the floor tiles.

I opened the next door. It was fiddly and difficult without my usual skin and muscles, but possible. That made me wonder if I could talk, if only I tried hard enough.

We were wrong about the source of the light, the door only led to another corridor. Although the light was stronger here, it was stronger yet from behind a third door.

"Is this going to be one of those dreams were it goes on forever?" asked the horse man.

"I hope not," said the javelin man.

Horse man opened the third door. This time it led out into a big exhibition space, much like the one we'd come from, full of people in a similar state to ourselves. The light was shining right in the middle – brighter than anything I'd seem, yet somehow not painful or dazzling. It was a lamp hanging from the ceiling. I suppose it must have been one of the ones they used when the visitors came, and it had accidentally been left on.

Right beneath the lamp there sat a beautiful woman. Why did I write that? Beautiful? She was as flayed as we were. But she was beautiful. Actually, all of us were, in a way, but she was something different. She was kneeling, as though in prayer, beside a sort of trough-shaped thing which – judging from the discarded pile by the side – once held a lot of leaflets about the exhibition, and in the trough there was a tiny, perfect, new-born baby, with all its skin and everything.

We weren't the only ones moving. A man knelt in front of her, and offered her something. I craned my vertebrae to see. It was some kind of pinkish blanket, in which the woman tenderly wrapped her baby, smiling in gratitude. The baby giggled, and grasped at the folds, which I now saw were a human skin. The man who had given it stepped back and knelt again, a little further away.
Javelin man and horse man stepped forward, and so did I. The camel followed, and sniffed the baby inquisitively. The woman laughed.

"Congratulations," said javelin man, offering her his javelin.

"Thank you," she said.

"Merry Christmas," said the horse man, leading his horse forward. "All kids end up wanting a pony at some stage, right?" he said.

"Right," smiled the woman. "It's Christmas, is it?"

The horse man pointed to a clock-calendar on the wall which said "12:30am 25 December 2009"

So five years had passed since I died. Five years. What was this? What did it all mean? But then I looked at the woman, and no longer much cared. It was enough that for a while, at least, I could once more feel air on my face, and bathe in the beautiful light. "Hello?" I said, though I don't know how.

"Hello," the woman said back.

And then I stepped forward.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Police in Los Angeles were searching on Wednesday for a plastic-coated human foetus stolen from the travelling "Body Worlds" exhibit at the California Science Center over the weekend.

The 9-month-old "plastinated" foetus was part of Gunther von Hagens' popular and controversial "Body Worlds 2: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies.


Staff at the California Science Center returned to work after the Christmas break to find an abandoned newborn baby at the back door of the exhibition hall. The baby boy, believed to be only four to eight hours old, had been left inside a shoebox.

Statistics show most abandoned babies are never found alive but this boy was "alert and in good health" according to paramedics.