A Very Happy Hitchhiker’s Christmas or, In Which Arthur Dent Learns to Have a Happy Christmas in the Face of Strange Lands, Strange Foods, and Even Stranger Friends
“Oh, probably just until an Anterian trucker passes by,” Ford said airily. “A week or two at the outside.”
Arthur groaned. He was feeling depressed and alone—even more so than usual. He really couldn’t help it; even with his entire planet destroyed and his civilization gone, it was always worse round the holidays.
“This is a miserable Christmas,” Arthur complained. “No decorations, no carols, no . . . goodwill toward man.” He glared at the fat Hingefreel who had just jostled him in the bar. “And, as usual, no tea.” The tea, of course, was not associated with Christmas in any particular way, but it still rankled.
“No nailing people to crosses,” Ford put in, a remark Arthur thought was surprisingly trenchant or—more likely, being Ford—completely random and the result of luck. Ford had pretty impressive streaks of luck sometimes. Unlike Arthur, who never had any luck at all, except the bad kind.
Arthur sighed, staring into the swirls of his drink. It looked like something you were supposed to clean your windows with. Windolene. That was what it looked like—Windolene. Arthur shuddered. “Back on Earth, everyone’s probably sitting round the fire, roasting chestnuts and giving each other gifts.”
Ford looked puzzled. “Everyone on Earth is busy being dead.”
“And thank you SO MUCH FOR REMINDING ME OF THAT!” Arthur said, voice climbing with every word. People were staring, so he grumpily toned it down the best he could. “I was trying to forget that, just for tonight. Just for Christmas, Ford.”
“Ah. For that, you need to drink your Windolene.”
“Good heavens, is that what it’s actually called? I couldn’t possibly drink something that’s actually called Windolene,” Arthur protested.
“Funny about that, isn’t it? There are only so many noises a human mouth can approximate. The more correct name would be a XyxUwwwxvqxqv. Try wrapping your lips around that one,” Ford said with a cheeky grin. “Anyway, I put it down as Windolene. You know, in the guide.”
Arthur decided to adopt a magisterial air of indifference to this information. He elected to just go ahead and drink his Windolene. It couldn’t make things any worse, and might make them a lot better. He took a careful sip. Surprisingly, it tasted of Belgian waffles. “Meanwhile, here I am, getting wasted with you, yet again, in some dive bar.” He looked around dolefully. There was no Christmas goose of yore, only a bowl of candied gracks on the table. There was no Tiny Tim. There was no mistletoe. “They’re not even using their fireplace,” Arthur complained, pointing to the grate.
Ford boggled. “That’s not a fireplace, and don’t point at it,” he said, smacking Arthur’s hand down.
“What is it, then?”
“It’s where the Grlox go when they need to rid themselves of excess tentacle secretions,” he said in a rather prim sort of way. “It’s not considered a polite topic of conversation, you know.”
“Oh, I see.” Arthur popped a candied grak into his mouth. “Eurgh. What is this?” He spat it back into his hand. “Oh, god, it looks like a slug! I’ve eaten a slug! Why didn’t you stop me?”
“You didn’t eat it; you spat it back out. And you’re free to eat anything you want; you don’t like it when I leap in and scream, ‘No, Arthur, you mustn’t!’ when you pick up a biscuit. And anyway, it mostly only looks like a slug. And moves like a slug. And reproduces like a slug. It’s not actually a slug,” Ford informed him. “It’s more like a living cheese.”
“Hmm.” Arthur couldn’t help rolling his tongue around in his mouth a little. Come to think of it, it did taste of cheese. Blue cheese. Blue cheese rolled in candied ginger. Once you got used to it, it wasn’t really that bad. And that, he felt, was probably a metaphor for his whole existence as a space traveler.
“Anyway, what would you be doing for the holidays?” Ford asked reasonably. “I mean, if you weren’t traveling the universe with me, the most exciting friend you’ve ever made?”
“I’d probably be at a party, trying unsuccessfully to get some girl to show an interest in me. Pointing out the mistletoe and attempting to get a kiss and all that rot.” Arthur thought this over. “And growing increasingly depressed, getting drunk, lamenting the state of my life.”
Ford munched on a handful of cheese-slugs. “So . . . how would this differ from the usual fare, then?”
“Well, all right, it wouldn’t be anything spectacular.” Arthur sniffed. “But there might be snow . . . fairy lights . . . you know, a tree, all lit up. If I could just have that, I’d be happy. Chestnuts.” He sighed. “I did love a good roast chestnut. They went so well with tea. And presents. One year I got a rather nice set of socks.”
“Well, socks I’ll grant you. The rest of it sounds like a total bore.” A song came on and the atmosphere in the bar lightened considerably. Ford’s head began to bob. “Ooooh, this is a good one. A real toe-tapper out of M8. You know what they say, ‘Ain’t no party like an M8 party.’ Come on. Get up. Let’s hit the dance floor.”
Arthur looked around uncomfortably. “You know I’m not especially good at dancing,” he said. “I’m terribly uncoordinated. The last girl I dated said I moved as gracefully as if I’d received a severe head injury.”
“That’s great. That’s great! That’s all the rage in the Trifid Nebula! They call it the Jerk.”
“Oh, we had that back on Earth,” Arthur said. “Back in the ‘60s, I believe.”
“Not that kind of Jerk,” Ford told him. “I guess a closer translation would be the Clown, or perhaps the Nitwit.”
“Oh,” Arthur said, disappointed.
“Don’t be a wet towel,” Ford told him. “Just get up and get down. I promise, you won’t stick out at all, except maybe as a better dancer.”
“Well . . . all right,” Arthur said reluctantly. He got up and followed Ford out on the dance floor. All the Trifids were shaking their groove thang, waving their green tentacles un-rhythmically in the air and lurching round the dance floor.
Arthur Dent smiled. Maybe he’d come out ahead this year after all.
Ford shook his towel at the door in impotent rage. “Fine, just fine! Someday poets will weep over my free-verse about the fiscal habits of Krikkiters! That was gold, man!” He sniffed. “Sorry, Arthur, I know they’ve got great drugs and fantastic booze, but the Rastabanarians just have no appreciation for art.” The large green, gold and red spaceship ignored this completely, jetting off to destination unknown.
Arthur groaned and clutched his abdomen. “Oh, lord, not again,” he gasped. “That one really hurt. I think something might be broken. Or seriously injured. Bruised ribs at the very least, or maybe a ruptured spleen.”
“You think you’re so ruddy fantastic, just because you’ve got a spleen and I don’t.”
“What?” Arthur wasn’t sure he’d heard that right. An hour of Ford free-styling about budgets and retirement funds had left him feeling dazed, and the incredible sight of the Tadpole Galaxy’s glittering trail of stars, gas and dust burning overhead did not lessen the surreal feeling. The cigarette rolled with alien flora he’d tried earlier probably wasn’t helping, either.
“You’re always going on about your spleen, like it’s so great.” Ford poked Arthur in the chest with a certain drunken belligerence.
“I have not gone on about my spleen.” Arthur felt unaccountably defensive about this, even though he knew he was in the right. “I can’t remember even bringing it up before tonight!”
Ford crossed his arms over his chest sulkily. “You have. When you got stepped on by that Googamooga last spring—you remember, in the soccer riot outside of Epsilon!”
Arthur’s jaw dropped. “That Googamooga weighed half a ton! Yes, I said I worried he might have ruptured my spleen. He might have ruptured half my organs.”
For some reason, this seemed to make Ford even more cross. “You didn’t have to yell, ‘Great Googamooga!’ when he did it. Anyway. You and your organs. Oh, yes, and here you are gassing about your wonderful spleen again. It’s quite rude to go on and on about it when you know I haven’t got one.”
“It’s like having an appendix,” Arthur pointed out. “Absolutely worthless.”
“Worthless? An appendix?” Ford said, horrified.
“Well, it is.”
“Have you ever tried to travel intergalactically at light speed without an appendix? I really wouldn’t recommend it.”
Arthur rubbed his face. “There isn’t any point to having a spleen,” he explained. “It doesn’t do anything. Well, I mean, it does, but nothing terribly important. You can live without one, you know, so it’s not as though they’re essential.”
“Exactly! My point exactly!” Ford jabbed a finger in the air as though he’d scored a point or something. “It’s a purely cosmetic organ.”
“Cosmetic?” Arthur squawked. Every time he thought he’d seen and heard it all in this mad universe, Ford managed to surprise him. “Have you any idea what a spleen actually looks like?”
“Yes, I have. They sometimes have them in the display window at Bath and Body Parts.”
Arthur sighed. “Ford . . .”
There just wasn’t anything for it. Trying to reason with Ford Prefect when he was drunk was like trying to catch clouds with your hands. “Nothing,” Arthur said. “I’m sorry you don’t have a spleen.”
This seemed to placate the man a little. “Thank you,” he said. “And . . . I didn’t mean to start a fight on Christmas. And you’re really surprisingly humble about your spleen, all things considered,” Ford added in a rare, uncharacteristic moment of graciousness. “You really do hardly bring it up at all. If it was me, I’d never stop bragging about it.”
Arthur really didn’t know how to respond to that. “Yes. Well,” he said.
“And hey, and d’you know? I’m going to do a little something for you for Christmas.” Ford clapped him on the back, grinning widely, having veered back into the jolly side of drunkeness again. “You wanted a Christmas tree, right? I’ll bloody well give you a Christmas tree to remember!” He went over to one of the pathetic little trees that grew on the planet, almost more a giant weed than a tree, really, took something out of his pocket, and made a small motion Arthur didn’t quite catch. Instantly, the tree blew up with a terrific explosion.
“What did you just do?” Arthur demanded.
Ford’s face was blackened by soot, his hair singed. “Just a bit of fire, old chap. You wanted a Christmas tree, all lit up. Well, there you go! Ho, ho, ho!”
“But—but—the forest!” Arthur was nearly gibbering with fear as the fire leapt from tree to tree.
“It’s the methane that does that,” Ford said knowledgeably. “The planet’s atmosphere is quite conducive to fire.” He turned to Arthur, beaming. “Happy Christmas, Arthur!”
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SODDING MIND?”
“You really are never happy, are you? I’ve never met anyone for complaining the way you do. You whinge when the trees aren’t on fire, you whinge when the trees are on fire—there’s just no suiting you! You wanted fairy lights, didn’t you?” Ford threw his hands up.
“That is what you took away from that conversation? Not chestnuts, not presents, not goodwill to men, but, ‘Gee, Arthur seems a bit down. I’ll start a massive bloody forest fire!’ Fairy lights, yes, not a great damned inferno! Look, Ford, don’t you think we ought to get out of here before we get burnt up as well?” Arthur said with what he felt was tremendous patience, considering the circumstances.
Ford only sighed and shook his head. “Very well, if we must. Have you got your towel?”
“All right. I’ll turn on the beacon, then. Someone should rescue us shortly.”
Arthur rubbed the bridge of his nose. Happy Christmas, indeed. The Gregorian calendar may have gone the way of the dodo, but Arthur would have bet good Altairian dollars that it was Thursday all the same.
No matter where he went in the universe, Arthur Dent could not escape Thursdays.
“And none of them are near where we got dropped off. But trust me, you definitely said—”
“Shut up!” Arthur interrupted desperately. The entire surface of the planet was covered in two feet of snow and he was freezing. “I can feel my fingers withdrawing into my hands as a defense mechanism against the cold!”
Ford looked at him with interest. “I didn’t know they could do that.”
“They can’t! Just stop with the nonsense and ask Zaphod to come pick us up! And tell him to hurry!”
“Oh, all right, if you’re going to make a scene about it.” Ford pressed transmit and said, “Hey, swing by and get us, all right? That moonshine runner left ten minutes ago and he’s definitely not going to come back for a couple of loony hitchhikers.”
“Sure, yeah,” Zaphod replied, and hung up.
Arthur wrapped his towel around himself tightly and stamped his feet. “It never fails, Ford; every Christmas you tell me this year’s going to be different, and then we end up stranded on some dump of a planet with less than five Altairian dollars in our pockets and even less Christmas cheer. Next year I’m staying home.”
“Good luck with that,” Ford replied peevishly. “Have to get one, first.”
“That was a low blow,” Arthur muttered.
Ford was contrite. “Yeah, all right, sorry. Here, let me at least give you your Christmas gift.” He pulled out a really rather nicely wrapped little present. It even had a bow on top. And it wasn’t meowing or anything. It almost seemed normal.
Arthur was surprised and touched and more than a little wary. It looked like a jewelry box, which would be rather sweet and very unexpected, but not at all the Betelgeusian’s style. Ford had a penchant for buying him things that exploded or caught fire. Arthur set the thing on the ground and poked it with a long stick a couple of times, just in case. Ford had been insulted the first time Arthur did this, but capitulated when Arthur lied and told him it was a little-known custom from his culture. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Open it and see. And hurry up about it. It’s 36 below if it’s an inch,” Ford told him.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Arthur began.
“Will you just unwrap your bloody bloke-we-nailed-to-a-stick present already?”
“I keep telling you not to put it like that. It’s very disrespectful.” After the gift failed to detonate, he knelt and unwrapped it, knowing Zaphod could replace a couple of fingers if necessary. Inside was a small black box with a big red button. No ring or anything this year, but at least Arthur kept all the fingers he might want to put one on.
“Push the button already!”
Arthur did, and the whole thing unfolded like some sort of origami turbine, except it had a couple of inexplicable wooden logs right in the middle and something that looked like a chimney above it. Like everything Ford ever gave him, the thing promptly caught fire. “What’s this?”
“It’s a portable fireplace!” Ford said proudly. “Look, it’s even got a flue and a chimney and everything. And see, there’s your mantel, for nailing up your sock. Give me your sock, Arthur.”
“No, no, thank you,” Arthur told him. It was too cold to take off his socks and besides, he’d have to reach through the flames if he wanted to stick one on the mantel. On the whole the thing seemed to have been designed by someone who didn’t really have much of a grasp of how fireplaces ought to work, but he supposed it was the thought that counted. He tactfully did not mention that the fireplace should ideally contain the fire, rather than being on fire itself.
“Are you sure? I’m not sure about the whole Santa Claus visits Klepner-47c thing, but I’m sure Zaphod would be happy to find something to stuff in there.”
“No, really, but thank you,” Arthur said, alarmed by this idea.
“Oh, well, if you’re sure.” Ford smiled. “I got you something else, too,” he said, with a grin that bordered on shy. He dug around in his pocket and came up with a small, greasy, paper bag.
Arthur held in a sigh. Since the last one caught fire, this one would probably explode. He took it tentatively, then unfolded the top of the bag and peered inside. There were some sort of brown, vaguely spherical objects inside. He hoped it wasn’t some kind of alien faeces. “Um, thank you?” he said.
“Well, it’s only that you were complaining last year—and the year before that—and practically since I met you—that you didn’t have any chestnuts, so I got some for you to roast.” Ford beamed.
Arthur stared at him, more shocked than he’d been since that night on Arae when that Asteropian woman took her top off and showed flashed her cloaca at him. “You bought me chestnuts?”
“You can roast them.” Ford shifted from one foot to the other. “That’s right, isn’t it? Chestnuts? To roast?”
Arthur burst into tears and threw his arms around Ford. “You got me chestnuts!” he shouted. “For Christmas.”
Ford, stunned, patted him on the back. “I’m sorry?” he ventured.
“No, no. It’s just . . . I think it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” Arthur sobbed. He felt incredibly silly getting so soppy over chestnuts, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
“No, really. Sometimes I just feel like the most insignificant creature in the universe and—”
“—my whole planet was destroyed, and there isn’t any tea, and you just get used to things being perpetually awful because nothing good ever happens to—”
“Don’t snarl at me,” Arthur complained, straightening. “I was only—”
“I didn’t snarl.” Something in Ford’s voice made Arthur look round. There was a giant hairy creature behind them, sharp teeth gleaming.
“Oh,” Arthur said. “This is much more like my typical sort of day. Just perfect. It’s my most Christmassy Christmas in years and we’re about to be eaten by the Abominable Snowman.”
The beast reared up on its hind legs and let out a roar, and the two men jumped in fright.
“Hit it! Hit it with something!” Ford yelled.
“With what?” Arthur screamed back.
“A stick! Hit it with a stick or something!”
“I haven’t got a stick!”
“Then use your towel! Hit it with your towel!” Ford demonstrated this by snapping his own towel at the beast. This did not seem to improve matters, and the creature loomed over him, slavering.
Dear lord, Ford Prefect was about to be eaten by a giant ice monster, and it was probably all Arthur’s fault; he was such bad luck it was rubbing off. And the minute Ford died, no one would be left to save Arthur from exploding planets or buy him chestnuts. Ford was the only person in existence who really cared a fig about Arthur Dent.
“YEEEEEAAAAWWW!” Arthur screamed, and with his most macho pose, he flung the little, greasy bag of chestnuts at the monster. It missed the creature completely, of course. Just his luck. The beast roared again, and Arthur and Ford clung to each other.
The monster sniffed perfunctorily at the chestnuts before eating them in one quick gulp, an undoubtedly meager appetizer before the main course. Then it turned to the men.
“It’s been an honor knowing you, Ford,” Arthur quavered.
“Likewise,” Ford said with a gulp. He gave Arthur a wavery sort of smile. “If we’re going to die, incidentally, I’ve always rather wanted to tell you that you have lovely eyes. And. Well. Um. There’s no one I’d rather be devoured, digested and excreted with.”
“That’s, uh . . . poetic.”
The beast gave a final terrifying roar, and expired. It fell to the ground with a heavy thud, shaking the snow from nearby trees.
Arthur and Ford looked at each other. “That was unexpected,” Arthur remarked.
Ford untangled himself from Arthur and walked over to the beast, cautiously prodding it with his toe. “What happened?”
Peering closely, Arthur saw that beneath its fur, the beast’s snout and face were unnaturally swollen. “Why, it must have had a terrible nut allergy,” he said.
Ford sighed. “I’m sorry, Arthur. I was hoping to give you a nice Christmas this year, but I’m afraid it’s been ruined again.”
Arthur looked round. It really was a jolly planet, full of pine trees iced with dollops of snow, and they had a merrily burning fireplace. “Oh, I wouldn’t necessarily say that. In fact, I think this is the best Christmas I’ve ever had.” He smiled. “I . . . er, I also got you a little something, you know, in honor of the occasion.” Arthur reached into his pocket and pulled out a gift wrapped in butcher paper, trying hard not to wince.
Ford eagerly took the gift and undid the string, unwrapping the thing. His jaw dropped. “Oh,” he said. He looked up with an expression much like an adoring puppy, which made Arthur a little nervous. “Thank you, Arthur. Really, I just—just—I can’t even—”
“Yes, well, you seemed to be dropping hints that—” To Arthur’s shock, Ford threw his arms round him and kissed him with a scandalous amount passion. They broke apart to stare at each other before Ford kissed him again, even harder.
Once Ford finally stopped groping him, Arthur stuttered, “I—I—you’re welcome,” blushing furiously.
Ford had gone back to staring at his gift in pure rapture. “Oh, Arthur,” he whispered. “You got me a spleen. I’ve always wanted one, you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And if I was going to shop for one and pick it out myself, this is exactly the one I would have picked.” Ford nearly seemed to be in tears, he was so happy. “It’s just beautiful. It’s the spleen of my dreams, Arthur.”
“Um. I’m glad?”
“That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever given me,” Ford said.
Arthur stared at him, fighting back a feeling of panic. What had the guide said? Don’t panic. And it had always been the best advice. What the hell was happening? “Are we . . . dating now?”
“Arthur, you gave me a spleen. We’re practically married.”
“Oh, all right, then,” Arthur said with a sigh. It was hardly the weirdest thing to ever have happened to him, at any rate. It wasn’t even the weirdest thing that had happened today. And anyway, if he was being perfectly honest with himself, Arthur could have done a lot worse than Ford Prefect.
“Come on,” Ford said. “I’ve got a flask with some fantastic liquor, and we’ve got a nice fire. Let’s share,” he suggested.
“Oh, very well. Why not?”
“You were surprisingly brave back there,” Ford said as they folded one towel to use as a seat, and used the other to huddle under.
“Thank you for the near compliment. That was . . . that was some impressive towel handling,” Arthur said.
Ford smiled modestly. “I was captain of the Towel-Snapping team back at school,” he said.
An hour later, Zaphod and Trillian found the two men cuddled under a towel, watching the glorious double sunset and singing Auld Lang Syne, a song that is popular in every single known galaxy and on every single known planet, apart from Vicissitus Three, where it is considered, for some unexplainable reason, almost as offensive as making jibes about the size of one’s mother.
“You two are a couple of really loopy froods,” Zaphod sighed. “Come on, get up. Let’s go find a party or make one.”
Ford and Arthur stumbled to their feet and followed him to the spaceship. “You know what, Arthur?” Ford slurred. “This was the very best Christmas ever.”
Arthur smiled. “You’re right. It was.”
They walked arm in arm up the steps. “Thanks for the lift, Zaphod,” Ford said. He looked back at the planet and grinned. It really was rather pretty, with the snow and the trees and the brilliant double suns in the sky. Ford raised his flask with a triumphant air. “Next year in Jerusalem!”
“No, that’s not—” Arthur broke off and shook his head. Ford was only doing it to wind him up, anyway. Probably. “Happy Christmas, Ford,” he said.
Ford beamed at him. “Happy Christmas, Arthur,” he replied.
*Tadpole Galaxy here.