he first Jennifer knew about her husband being a robot was when he started talking in squeals and pops that sounded like an early-90s phone modem. She was outraged, and propped herself up in bed on her elbow.
"Derek! It was 'love, honour, comfort and keep', not 'be a robot!'"
He was repentant. "Sorry. Maybe we can keep it secret?" His voice had an unfamiliar echo to it, as though he'd grown metal tubes that extended down his body, through his legs under the yellow candlewick bedspread and into the embossed wallpaper.
Jennifer got out of bed and fumed her way to the toilet. Christmas Eve was a terrible time to find out this sort of news; they had the family staying, for one. Quarrelsome nodes of Scottishness were nestled into every crevice of their bungalow.
She shook her head at the thought of what breakfast was going to be like with a robotic husband, then went back to her own bed because the other ones were taken. Derek was asleep, or shutdown, or hibernating. Or something. She watched his back for a few minutes, then, grudgingly, fell asleep.
The next morning Jennifer discovered, to her horror, that Derek was not the only one.
"Uncle Bert! How did you keep this a secret?"
Uncle Bert's chins wobbled as he raised his palms and shrugged. "Honestly, hen, I'm at a loss. Far as I knew I was a regular fella just like muggins over there, then..." Uncle Bert and Derek's eyes started glowing a deep red and they intoned in spooky unison, "A SIGNAL FROM THE POLAR RADIANT".
Jennifer shuddered. "Don't do that again, you'll give the bairns the willies."
In fact the three children were too busy over the family iPad, electronic whizzes and pops bounced around the room, but Derek and Bert nodded simultaneously.
Jennifer eyed them wearily. "So how many of youse fellas would there be, if we've copped two in this house alone? Are there little Kalahari Bushmen waking up wi' electro-stiffies right now, or is it just Scotland's been blessed by them?"
Derek stood up. "No idea, love. Shall we go on our visits?"
They'd made a habit over the fifteen years of their marriage (fake robot marriage, amended Jennifer mentally as they trudged down the icy cobble roads) of visiting with their friends in the village on Christmas Eve.
This time was no different until around half eleven when the throbbing pain behind Jennifer's head turned into a stabbing irritation that she could only remedy by falling to her knees on the Patterson's Paisley carpet and shrieking "MY HUSBAND IS A ROBOT AND SO IS MY UNCLE!"
Jennifer's only opened her eyes after a ten second silence; to see Eunice Patterson’s sheepish grin. Her husband Jock’s eyes were glowing like the elements on a stove.
"Oh for goodness' sake," said Jennifer.
She thought of the bottle of pills that Dr Penstock had prescribed for her flying nerves when they went to Australia on their holidays. I wonder if they still work, she thought.
A few hours later most of the village was out on the green as usual, kids rushing round like balls in a roulette wheel. Bert and Derek were deep in conversation a few feet behind her; she could hear the whining clicks and whirs but was finding it much the whole silly mess less worrying after necking a few Valium.
Robots are alright, she thought, full of the warm spirit of Christmas charity. Look at them chattering away. And if he goes off and does… robot stuff… every few nights, where’s the bother? It’s just like poker night but more… modern.
A thundercrack split the reddening winter sky, followed by a blast of wind that knocked Jennifer on her jacksie and a bellowing foghorn shout that filled the heavens. “HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
Jennifer gaped at the sky, which was suddenly full of creatures out of nightmares, horns and pounding legs and straps, all pulling a vast contrivance that itself was festooned with glowing spheres that sent out a painful radiance and riding it like a child’s trolley was an immense thing in red, and white, and his leering face was split in a roaring cackle that knocked the remaining snow off the trees around the green.
Bert, Derek and Jock looked up, their eyes solid red, then lifted off the ground. “THE FAT MAN RIDES,” they said, not quite in unison. “OUR TIME HAS COME.”
Jennifer scrunched up her face. “But that’s ridiculous,” she said.
Derek, hovering, winked. “Save a Christmas cracker for me love. You know how I like them."
And with that they rose, to glory, on a pillar of yuletide fire.