An excerpt from First Footer

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As the last second of the old year ticked away, he looked away from the mistletoe dangling from the ceiling lamp. The old superstitions said that however you started the year would set the tone for the rest of it. Not much chance of him having a man by the end of New Year's Day. Better to be content with what he had.

The deep, booming chime of Big Ben rang out over the TV speakers, drowning out his thoughts. They all fell silent as the venerable bell rang in the new year; then as the last of the twelve strokes faded away, they started singing "Auld Lang Syne". Old familiar ritual, no need for a timekeeper to start them, they were in perfect unison with one another. Perfect pitch might be another matter, but what did it matter for friends spending New Year's Eve together? The company was the thing.

As the last note died away, they heard a heavy knocking at the door.

Matthew stared around at his friends, the others doing the same. "Who the fuck can that be?" Dan asked.

"One of the neighbours making sure this house gets first footed properly," Marcia suggested, smirking slightly at Matthew. "The first foot across the threshold in the new year should be that of a tall, dark man."

"With a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky," Liz added helpfully. "If you want good luck for the house for the rest of the year."

"We've quite enough whisky ourselves," Dan said. "Isn't someone going to answer the door?"

"Matthew," Marcia said. "Maybe he'll get lucky, and it will be a tall, dark, handsome and unattached man."

Matthew thought it unlikely, but didn't think it polite to leave whoever it was waiting on the doorstep. He went over to the door, unbolted it, and flung it wide open in spite of the cold outside, wanting to usher the stranger in out of that cold as quickly as possible. He took in the general appearance at a glance, and moved forward a step to welcome the man before it registered on his conscious mind exactly what he'd seen.

The stranger was indeed tall and dark-haired, and in his hand he held a lump of coal. Whether he was a man was another question. The black hair was of a texture that might have been better described as fur, and there was rather more of it than there really ought to be even on an unshaven specimen of Homo sapiens. The eyes weren't quite the right shape, and the pupils really weren't the right shape. Matthew stared into the brightest green eyes he'd ever seen, from a distance of only a few inches, and knew without even thinking about it that the cat's-eye pupils were real. He stepped back involuntarily, and the... man... followed him.

Matthew backed away, back to the dubious safety of the circle of his friends. He'd dreamed of meeting an alien, had written of it. He'd never expected the reality. He wanted to believe it a joke, someone in a nearby village hearing that a group of science fiction writers were having a party, and thinking it would be funny to first-foot in costume. But the creature had been right in front of him when he'd opened the door. He'd seen and known at the first glance that that was no costume.

More details impressed themselves on Matthew. The man's face was almost clear of fur, just a short fine fuzz there; but a thick drift of heavy fur covered his scalp and swept down the side of his neck. There was more fur extending from his wrists part way down the back of his hand, and although it was short it was fur, not the thickly scattered hairs that even the most thickly pelted human managed there. The rest of his body was covered by clothing -- apart from the richly furred tail that could just be seen twitching out from behind his legs.

Bright green cat-eyes, and to go with them, a snub nose and a pair of furred, pointed ears set high on the man's skull. As Matthew stared at the alien, the nearest comparison he could think of was that this man bore the same relationship to a cat that Matthew did to a monkey. Distant, but definitely a family resemblance. Which was ridiculous, if he really was from another planet.

The cat-man stared back at them for a few seconds, and then opened his mouth to speak, revealing the pointed teeth of a carnivore.

"Er... take me to your leader?" he said in perfect, if hesitant, English.

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