The four pink papier-mache pigs exploded. A cardboard snout bounced off Mr Crumley's head.
There, sweating and grunting in the place where the little piggies had been, were . . . well, he assumed they were pigs, because hippopotamuses didn't have pointy ears and rings through their noses. But the creatures were huge and grey and bristly and a cloud of acrid mist hung over each one.
And they didn't look sweet. There was nothing charming about them. One turned to look at him with small, red eyes, and didn't go 'oink', which was the sound that Mr Crumley, born and raised in the city, had always associated with pigs.
It went 'Ghnaaarrrwnnkh?'
The sleigh had changed, too. He'd been very pleased with that sleigh. It had delicate silver curly bits on it. He'd personally supervised the gluing on of every twinkling star. But the splendour of it was lying in glittering shards around a sledge that looked as though it had been built of crudely sawn tree trunks laid on two massive wooden runners. It looked ancient and there were faces carved on the wood, nasty crude grinning faces that looked quite out of place.
Parents were yelling and trying to pull their children away, but they weren't having much luck. The children were gravitating towards it like flies to jam.
Mr Crumley ran towards the terrible thing, waving his hands.
'Stop that! Stop that!' he screamed. 'You'll frighten the Kiddies!'
He heard a small boy behind him say, 'They 've got tusks! Cool!'
His sister said, 'Hey, look, that one's doing a wee!' A tremendous cloud of yellow steam arose. 'Look, it's going all the way to the stairs! All those who can't swim hold onto the banisters!'
'They eat you if you're bad, you know,' said a small girl with obvious approval. 'All up. Even the bones. They crunch them.'
Another, older, child opined: 'Don't be childish. They're not real. They've just got a wizard in to do the magic. Or it's all done by clockwork. Everyone knows they're not really r---'
One of the boars turned to look at him. The boy moved behind his mother.
Saturday, March 22
Maybe you had to be there, but anyway, the scene is Mr Crumley's department store, with an exhibit of the Hogfather, something like Santa Claus, but whose sled is drawn by pigs. Then something else appears: