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Bad Day Studio
"In The Valley of Years"
Story by Jeff Patterson
Art by Carolyn Faille and Jeff Patterson
          The Solstice winds blew bitter and icy through the Valley of Years. It made the old man's bones ache. He stood, exhausted, and gazed down at the egg of the New Year as spider-web cracks slowly spread across its ivory surface.
          "It's over," he whispered, "it's finally over."
          The Staff of Time weighed heavy in the old man's hand, a palpable reminder of who he was. He would not have to carry it much longer. It was a burden he would willfully relinquish. His tired eyes squinted as he looked back at the twelve months of his existence. All he could see was a pocked landscape, riven with scars of pain and madness. His soul ached. It sickened him to remember the violence and hatred, like engines driving the events within him. Tears streaked his face. He hoped that time would forgive him for his tenure. he was certain history would not.
          There was a crackling rustle, and with a final heave the egg burst open. The infant stood smiling and radiant. He seemed unaffected by the winds that lifted the fragments of shell from his flesh.
          "By the breadth of infinity!" he shouted, "It's good to be out of there!"
          The child's ebullience deepened the old man's sorrow. He turned away. The child looked up at him. "No words of greeting from my predecessor? I dwell within the egg for time unknown only to be met with silence?"
          "There are no words to wield the matter. Nobody should have to do this, suffer this cruel fate."
          The child looked at him, puzzled.
          The old man pointed, "Look out over my tenure, what do you see? Bitter hatreds without reason, peoples divided, savage wars over foolish goals. Look at the death, little one. It is the cloak I've worn. Nobody should have to bear witness to this."
          The child was gazing back at the past year.
          "You have my sympathy," said the old man, "I'm sorry that this is the only legacy I have to give to you,"
          "It is a mess, isn't it?" said the infant, "but I see so many other things there. I see smiles of hope. I see people striving to improve and achieve great things. I see friendships forged, loves ignited, children bom and passions fueled. I see humanity standing against the horrors and not surrendering to them. Yes, they will remember the tragic times, they must, it is what makes the tender delight of life's joy so beautiful. It is what makes them human."
          The old man looked at the infant and saw the glow of expectation and potential on his face. He remembered himself a year earlier, how he had felt that same glow within him. Somewhere along the way he had lost it.
          "Give me the Staff of Time," said the child, "it's my turn."
          The old man handed him the scepter. The infant rested it over his shoulder as if it weighed nothing.
          "Go," said the child, "take your place in history, and remember."
          "Go," said the old man, "be the future."
          And the cycle continued in the Valley of Years.

Jeff's Note: This was the first Bad Day Studio Holiday Card, way back in the misty long ago (1995). At this time, Carolyn and I had never really collaborated on anything.
   The story was inspired in equal parts by the Rankin-Bass special Rudolph and the Baby New Year and Neil Gaiman's story "Nicholas Was." My theme was the durability of the human spirit in reaction to what was a bad news year. Given recent events, it still holds up pretty well.
          This also marked the only time that Carolyn and I ever split the art chores. We both did pencil and inks, but the composition is all hers. If I recall I designed the more fantasy-oriented elements of the Old Man's costume, like the layered epilets, and she created that killer hour-glass staff. I want one of those.
          The ribbon-in-the-wind theme would make a comeback in a later card.
          Originally 100 cards were printed and sent to family. We figured a labor-of-love card would be a sufficient substitute for a gift. Then people started asking for them. More were printed, and it was clear we had to make this an annual thing.
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2002 Bad Day Studio