illustration by carl wiens

All bureaucracies obey certain iron laws, and one of the oldest is this: get your seasonal leave booked early, lest you be trampled in the rush.

I broke the rule this year, and now I’m paying the price. It’s not my fault I failed to book my Christmas leave in time—I was in hospital and heavily sedated. But the ruthless cut and thrust of office politics makes no allowance for those who fall in the line of battle: “You should have foreseen your hospitalization and planned around it” said the memo from HR when I complained. They’re quite right, and I’ve made a note to book in advance next time I’m about to be abducted by murderous cultists or enemy spies.

I briefly considered pulling an extended sickie, but Brenda from Admin has a heart of gold; she pointed out that if I volunteered as Night Duty Officer over the seasonal period I could not only claim triple pay and time off in lieu, I’d also be working three grades above my assigned role. For purposes of gaining experience points in the fast-track promotion game they’ve steering me onto, that’s hard to beat. So here I am, in the office on Christmas Eve, playing bureaucratic Pokémon as the chilly rain drums on the roof.

(Oh, you wondered what Mo thinks of this? She’s off visiting her ditz of a mum down in Glastonbury. After last time we agreed it would be a good idea if I kept a low profile. Christmas: the one time of year when you can’t avoid the nuts in your family muesli. But I digress.)

* * *

Christmas: the season of goodwill towards all men—except for bank managers, credit scoring agencies, everyone who works in the greeting card business, and dodgy men in red suits who hang out in toy shops and scare small children by shouting “ho ho HO!” By the time I got out of hospital in September the Christmas seasonal displays were already going up in the shops: mistletoe and holly and metallized tinsel pushing out the last of summer’s tanning lotion and Hawaiian shirts.

I can’t say I’ve ever been big on the English Suburban Christmas. First you play join-the-dots with bank holidays and what’s left of your annual leave, to get as many consecutive days off work as possible. Then instead of doing something useful and constructive with it you gorge yourself into a turkey-addled stomach-bloating haze, drink too much cheap plonk, pick fights with the in-laws, and fall asleep on the sofa in front of the traditional family-friendly crap the BBC pumps out every December 25th in case the wee ones are watching. These days the little ’uns are all up in their rooms, playing Chicks v. Zombies 8.0 with the gore dialled to splashy-giblets-halfway-up-the-walls (only adults bother watching TV as a social activity these days) but has Auntie Beeb noticed? Oh no they haven’t! So it’s crap pantomimes and Mary Poppins and re-runs of The Two Ronnies for you, sonny, whether you like it or not. It’s like being trapped in 1974 forever—and you can forget about escaping onto the internet: everybody else has had the same idea, and the tubes are clogged.

Alternatively you can spend Christmas alone in the office, where at least it’s quiet once everyone else has gone home. You can get some work done, or read a book, or surreptitiously play Chicks v. Zombies 8.0 with the gore dialled down to suitable-for-adults. At least, that’s the way it’s suppose to work . . . except when it doesn’t, like now.

This story is part of December Belongs To Cthulhu: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Marcus W
1. toryx
Great story! The picture is fantastic as well.
Ronald Hobbs
2. dustrider
Love the Laundry world, and this is a great addition, would always love more! Well done on capturing Xmas in Britain perfectly, Aunty Beeb indeed.

I am surprised that Bob has dumped his pre for an iPhone though. Wouldn't have thought applied demonology would've made it through the appstore approval process ;)

Eldritch Horror set on devouring your soul?
There's an App for that.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
Hi all! We're having a bit of a glitch with our CMS, so the artists' name isn't showing up in the credits. We're working to fix it, but in the meantime, check out Carl Wiens' work at his website, or at his Tor.com gallery.
Roland of Gilead
4. pKp
Awesome story, read it last week when you sent it by mail. I'll check out the rest of the Laundry universe when I succumb to my next book-buying frenzy.
Brian Murphy
5. murfman
Awesome! Thanks TOR and Thanks to Mr. Stross.
Charlie Stross
6. cstross
dustrider: the iPhone is explained in "The Fuller Memorandum" (due out in July next year) -- which this story is set, oh, about five months after. Suffice to say, Bob jailbroke it as soon as he got it home. OK?
Dru O'Higgins
7. bellman
Terrific story! I'll have to reread all the Laundry stories and pick up "the Fuller Memorandum" - shame it wasn't available for xmas.
8. jefff
I loved. Thanks for the early Christmas treat! Happy Holidays everyone.
9. Bob Thomas
Awesome! This was a wonderful Christmas gift to us fans! Thank you!
10. Ekithump
Another excellent, and seasonal, Laundry story - thank you Charlie.

I assume Tor are responsible for the typo regarding the 'stationary' cupboard? Or was it a cupboard previously possessed and moving around?

Can't wait for 'The Fuller Memorandum'.
Mary Kay Kare
11. MaryKay
What a lovely change from the stale sentimental crap shoveled out in mountains thus time of year! Thanks, Charlie.
Soon Lee
12. SoonLee
Thanks for this.

It was a delightful discovery to have this in my inbox last week, before the public release. Agree with toryx that the illustration is wonderful. And the story too.
Jon Rosebaugh
14. inklesspen
dustrider: Don't forget that Apple has different rules for the enterprise. Large businesses, like UPS, or Her Majesty's Government, can set up private apps synced to the appropriate users' iPhones. Though this does require a level of competence that might be missing in the IT bureaucracy at the Laundry.
Douglas Miller
15. demiller
Excellent holiday treat! Thanks Charlie!
16. Hairyears
All this, and there's still space for The Queen's Speech...
17. pjonesdotca
This made my holiday week!
Thanks for the Laundry Carol and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours Mr. Stross!
18. Eschaton
Wonderful story! I look forward to reading the Fuller Memorandum and other tales of the Laundry. Thanks.
Michael Roberts
19. Michael
Damn, Charlie - if possible, you seem to be getting better at these!
20. Gerard Walsh

Sooo, if Bob gets his iphone in "The Fuller Memorandum", and this story is set ~5 months after "Fuller", and references Bob getting out of hospital in September, after "being heavily sedated", I guess we know how "Fuller" ends! Looking forward to seeing how he gets there!
Michael Grosberg
21. Michael_GR
Nice story - I almost expected Dr. Who to drop by! Dr. Who and the Laundry... now that would be an awesome crossover.
David Thomas
22. davidateeyore
Iffen I recall correctly, (apropos @20) in the 'original' book -- "The Quiller Memorandum", the hero was hospitalised, under duress.

As a recently 'retired' denizen of a security-dominated bureaucracy, Bob Howard's description of Civil Service life is frighteningly accurate - another great story, Mr S...
23. Slothphil
"we’re its first target because we know it’s kind of old" -- I suspect "it's" is a typo there, and it had me puzzled about the meaning of that line for a few seconds.
Charlie Stross
24. cstross
@22, davidateeyore: "The Fuller Memorandum"'s title may be a pun on Adam Hall's "Quiller" novels, but alas, I changed target -- it's my Anthony Price tribute.

(I have tentative plans for Laundry novel #4 -- it's going to be a Modesty Blaise remix.)
Irene Gallo
25. Irene
The illustrator, Carl Wiens, posted a few of his sketches for the the artwork above on his blog. You can check out a number of variations there.

Carl Wines’ Overtime sketches

To tell the truth, loved them all. And after spending a month looking at Cthulhu art, I can honesttly say the final illo on this is one of the creepiest I've seen.

Thanks, Carl!

Here's one version:
Soon Lee
26. SoonLee
Irene @25,
The one you posted is my favourite; bleak and creepy, though the one eventually used for this story is more appropriate, evoking as it does the Lovecraftian and the festive.
27. Jon Hendry
"I am surprised that Bob has dumped his pre for an iPhone though. Wouldn't have thought applied demonology would've made it through the appstore approval process ;)"

The US military has their own iPhone apps that probably aren't on the store. For example, an app for snipers that helps them calculate trajectories and take wind conditions into account.

On the other hand, Bob could have just jailbroken it and hacked his own.
28. Mark Dixon
Loved Overtime! Now I can't wait to see what the Easter Bunny brings. MD of Perth (the other Perth, the one in Oz).
29. 1queer1
Thank you Mr Stross for such a perfect Xmas treat (and thanks to Mr S Lee for passing around the link to the sloth like amongst us)
Christopher Hatton
30. Xopher
I'm loving these Laundry stories! I've just discovered them, and now I'm looking for all of them.

I saw two typos in this story; the one already mentioned (p7. stationery cupboard, not stationary cupboard), and a missing 'd' on 'supposed' at the end of p1.
31. No Delicious Spam
'twas the night the stars amassed
and all through the laundry
not a ward was disturbed
not a zombie came crawling

the stocking was hung
without a moment to spare
when out of the abyss
arose a stare...
32. Pickyman
re the photocopier images; it's not samarium (which goes in magnets these days)but selenium (which attracts little black particles)
33. bookwench
Awesome. :)
Thank you!
34. Arioch
I dunno. I feel kinda disappointed by the iphone thingie. Sure, it's cool and all, but... Well, suffice to say I'm kind of a jerk, and don't like mass trends very much. I see enough people buying iphones and being unable to do anything meaningful with it to find the whole phenomenon moronish, which is bad since, at the core, I think it's a wonderful idea.
35. JonathanH
Typo in the third paragraph: "game they’ve steering me onto". I'm guessing it should either be "they're", or "they've been"?
36. Serguei
This reminds me of old Russian sci-fi fantasy novel by Strugatsky brothers "Monday Begins on Satuday" first publish in 1964.
Soon Lee
37. SoonLee
Congratulations Charlie and other nominees for their Hugo nominations!

Tor.com got two nominations. "Eros, Philia, Agape" by Rachel Swirsky was the other. Also congratulations to Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Best Editor, Long Form).
Zac Stevens
39. KerouacZac
Woo-hoo, new Laundry tale!
I expect I'll be sending out a link to this story as my online x-mas card this year.

'the Filler of Stockings" I love it.
40. Patic
Great story.

One picky correction, binomials are usually only capitalised for the genus not the species: Amanita muscaria.
41. asbornsc
Much like a many-angled one at the bottom of a Mandelbrot set, I have an inhuman gnawing hunger... for more Laundry stories! Thanks, and keep up the good work!

And tell Pinky I said "poit!"

Squamous, rugose, and now nacreous. It's nice to read an author who keeps me pinging dictionary.com.
43. SilversurferX
Ooof - I'm *that* glad to have finished The Fuller Memorandum *before* reading this great, but emormously spoilerous short. Thank you, Mr Stross...and please get the next laundry novel ready as soon as possible ("asap!" - "Muhahahaaa").

Btw. if you just do type casting correctly, there won't be any conversion errors, not even in C++ :)
44. Elenaria
Oh my, what a great, awesome Yuletide story! A hundred cheers for you, mr Stross!
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
47. tnh
Asbornsc @41: Squamous and rugose are traditional. The rest of the set: cyclopean, chthonic, eldritch, gibbous, and non-Euclidean.

Nacreous is a fine addition.
48. ish Jones
now I feel Christmasy

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