The Major traversed the platform from one end to the other but, of course, there was no sign of Consuela Kan. Taking several deep breaths... that the artificial fire in his belly might spread to his lungs and heart and limbs... he began the return journey up the mountain in a cold, punishing rain that gradually became sleet as he journeyed further and further northeast and upwards of San Sebastien. For a while he kept his bare hands in his pockets... regretting the lack of foresight to have purchased gloves while in the town... but his balance suffered, and his limbs were still stiff from the beatings he had taken so, after falling for the second time upon an already tortured knee, he let his arms swing free, balling up his hands into fists within the cuffs of his overcoat and blowing upon them frequently. Saplings and heavy branches, already beginning to bend under their weight of ice, slapped and scourged him like the bullwhip of La Hoya's impresario and freezing rain battered against him from the oddest of angles, even... as it seemed... upwards from the sloping ground, driving bolts of frozen water into the tiniest of spaces between his boots and his trousers where they clung awhile before melting into glacial streams that chilled the Major's ankles.

          "Señor!" a voice came whistling through the sleet as he approached the ramparts of fallen trees, which informed any sensible traveler to avoid this place. A high-pitched voice, a child's...

          Running footsteps to the Major's left caused him to turn his head, despite the ache in his neck.

          "No, señor, this way!"

          "Up here!"

          The Major gazed upwards into the trees and, for a second, thought he saw a round, white face through the sleet. Then he blinked... and an owl shot out of a decaying stump to the other side and, when he looked back, there was only the three-quarters moon, dangling above his outstretched fingers like a ball of cold, white gas!

          "We are looking at you," came another voice, amidst a flurry of childish giggles.

          "That damned German," José swore, not really caring that Krankenhauer had taken such pains to establish his Swiss origins. There was something in that powder!... not altogether bad, he could still put one foot in front of the other, but...

          Something shot by his ear, something hot and glowing, and it sped across his field of vision and crashed into the monte, several hundred meters to his left.

          "Some sort of lightning," he assured himself, brushing off the prospect of an enemy as he brushed snow off his cuff or his hat. If it was a spook, it was a devious one... following its trail would draw José off his course, and he would lose the trail behind the swirling eddies of snow. "Not so clever, are you?" he shouted to the wind and the snow. "Not so clever by half!"

          But what truly chilled him, even beyond the frigid precipitation and adjutant wind, was that the childish giggles that echoed from the vast, the bleak and dark, were exactly those same in pitch and duration as those he'd first began hearing on the outskirts of San Sebastien... hours and kilometers ago!

          By the time José reached the plain of Cuahtenotl, the rain had changed over into great, milky snowflakes that would not even melt on the freezing Major, but required brushing and shaking off lest he stop moving and turn into one of those snowmen that children favored over the single Christmas that he had passed studying economics in London. Is there any rational reason why the Devil cannot also enjoy Christmas and that, for his amusement, there cannot be more of those little globes with a quaint townscape and tiny white flakes that swirl and swirl when the globe is turned upside down? A Devil's bauble... except, that in the place of a manger or tidy village of shops and houses and a white-steepled church, there should be sooty foundries, corpse-strewn battlefields or a miserable sprawl of tumbledown chozas, like Cuahtenotl?

          The village, now covered in snow three inches deep, was as empty of moving creatures... man or beast... as any snow-globe of more pleasing aspect.

          The Municipal Palace was shuttered, the Cat also... it was long past midnight, and Whelk would have chased the Maggots off, at gunpoint, if necessary. Even the church was closed... its mediocre, backsliding Padre Luis having placed a plank in the slot behind its door so that no cold stranger could seek refuge in the abode of Jesucristo. This angered José, for he had been of a mind to fall asleep among the machete-scarred pews beneath the portraiture of butchery and desolation rather than traipse back to the cold and windswept choza overlooking the valley of Mexico's debris. And, as ever, furtive shapes kept pace with them at the periphery of his vision... left eye and right. Something that could have been a kite, or an enormous bat, swooped down out of the swollen, gangrenous skies, brushed the tip of his nose and disappeared.

          And the mockery of unseen children never left him alone.