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Myron's Merry Miserable Christmas

Myron’s Merry Miserable Christmas

By Red McNabb

 

Orignally Copyrighted as

Miserable Myron and the Christmas Dollar

Copyright December 2012, 2013, November 2014 by Ruth Eileen Day McNabb

All Rights Reserved

Table of Contents

Chapter One – Miserable Myron

Chapter Two – Rag Girl

Chapter Three – Christmas Punishment

Chapter Four – Wake Up Call

Chapter Five – Mom and Oatmeal

Chapter Six – Gwen

Chapter Seven – Bus Stop

Chapter Eight – What’s for Lunch?

Chapter Nine – Dad

Chapter Ten – The Bad Good News

Chapter Eleven – Old Mother Hubbard Went to Her Cupboard

Chapter Twelve – A Christmas Promise

Chapter Thirteen – The Other Side of the Highway

Chapter Fourteen – Door to Door Chore Man

Chapter Fifteen – Mummy Hands

Chapter Sixteen – Grandma Christmas and Hamlet

Chapter Seventeen – Reputation and Wrapping Paper

Chapter Eighteen – Christmas Super-Shopping

Chapter Nineteen – The Value of a Dollar

Chapter Twenty – Christmas Eve

Chapter Twenty-One: Oh, Christmas Tree

Chapter Twenty-Two – Playing Santa

Chapter Twenty-Three – Christmas Morning

Chapter Twenty-Four – The Feast

Chapter Twenty-Five – Christmas Morning II

Chapter Twenty-Six – The Christmas Dollar

[]Chapter One – Miserable Myron

 

Minutes dragged by like slugs in slow motion.

It was Christmas Eve and eleven year old Myron Brun sat slumped against a wall in the Mrs & Misses Clothing store desperate for the sweet distraction of his handheld game console. But his heartless father had taken it away as punishment for telling his little cousin that Santa didn’t exist. Very unfair. After all, Peter was three years old; it was time to grow up.

As a result, Myron was being tortured slowly with no hope of relief, forced to wait while his mother and sister tried on ten thousand holiday dresses. When his mother disappeared into the dressing room with her fifteenth armload, he groaned, “Noooo!”

Myron knew if he didn’t do something immediately, his game-starved, bored-to-jelly brain was going to melt down and pour out his ears. Without another thought, he jumped up, bolted for the door, and escaped into the bustling street shouting, “You can take away my games, but you can never take away my FREEDOM!”

The grounding he might get for running off couldn’t possibly be worse than staying and listening to his mom and his sister Gwen “oo!” and “aw!” at each other’s dresses. Why couldn’t they just take the first one that fit instead of trying on the whole store?

The freezing air of early winter slapped him in the face, as did the sight of a man across the street dressed as Santa Claus.

“Santa!” Myron spat out the name like he’d just taken a bite of one of Gwen’s nasty homemade muffins. “Bah!”

Not only did he not believe in Santa Claus, he considered him his evil archenemy. What merciless, twisted person—real or imaginary—would destroy a kid’s Christmas wishes for seven years in a row?

Every year Myron carefully chose what he wanted most for Christmas—like a simulated electric chair when he was nine, or the do –it-yourself graffiti spray paint set when he was seven—and made sure that his parents knew. To cover all the bases, he wrote two or three letters to Santa each week in December. Of course, he also sat on Santa’s lap at the mall every year—twice if he could and told him what he wanted. He’d get close to Santa’s ear and yell it as loud as he could in case the man was hard of hearing.

And every year without fail, none of his many presents would be the thing he asked for. It was a conspiracy. It had to be. His parents, relatives and Santa Claus were all in league to make sure he never got what he wanted, no matter what it was. Not since he’d received that wonderful candy-store train set that he’d wished and hoped for when he four years old. That was the very last time he’d ever gotten what he wanted for Christmas.

The bogus Saint Nick manned his donation kettle as he danced to the singing of nearby carolers. They sang the same stupid, boring songs that people sang year after year . But what was far more irritating was the cheerful “Merry Christmas!” the Santa blasted at every passerby. As if under a spell, everyone smiled goofily back at him, wished him “Merry Christmas!” and donated a few coins or bills to his charity.

Fools! Didn’t they know there was nothing merry about Christmas? Myron considered the snow lining the sidewalks. Or was there?

A smile lit up his face and cast a wicked glow in his brown eyes. Nailing Santa with a snowball would be just the thing to give Myron a little Yuletide cheer.

He pulled on his thick black leather gloves like a hit man from the movies and scooped up a lethal combination of bone crushing ice and filthy slush. His iceballs were legendary on the playground and in his neighborhood. After packing it hard and finishing it off with a clean white coating of new fallen snow, he held it up.

“Perfect!” he breathed, the word forming a cloud in the frosty air.

He scouted for a good location from which to launch his deadly ammo. He needed a clear shot, but good cover to hide behind. Taking out Santa Claus with a “Myron Special” iceball on Christmas Eve in the middle of a busy street would be awesome, but getting caught was unthinkable. It should have been easy, but the area flooded with cheesy holiday lighting: from the glaring store display windows to the lights strung from lamppost to lamppost. There wasn’t a decent shadow or dark doorway to be seen.

The only thing he could find within throwing distance of flakey Father Christmas was a pair of blue mailboxes, measly cover at best. He’d have to be lightning fast and deathly quiet. Ninja mode.

Wishing his knit hat were black instead of grey, he tugged it down as far as he could, then flipped up the collar of his dark wool coat so that his face was all but hidden. Taking up position between the two mailboxes, he sized up his victim. Like most Santa Clauses, he was fat which made him a nice, big target. But the idiot kept dancing and moving around like he had figgy pudding in his pants. On top of that, thick, snail-like traffic separated Myron from the other side of the street. This was easily the trickiest attack Myron had ever attempted.

But the payoff would be so worth it. He could see the headlines: “Santa attacked on Christmas Eve by Mysterious Snowball Assailant.” Something like that would warm Myron’s heart and keep him smiling all through the horrible holiday season.

So he waited, hunched down and silent, watching. He was almost ready to give up when the perfect moment arrived like some glorious gift bestowed upon him from the god of pranks. Santa had stopped dancing to bend over and pat the head of some brainless drooling toddler, his enormous rear end finally still and in full view. Cars moved in almost miraculous precision to leave an opening.

Seizing his chance, Myron let fly with a mighty heave so powerful it wrenched his arm and nearly sent him hurtling into the street. The iceball travelled almost too fast to follow, but it flew straight and true, like an arrow from the bow of Robin Hood himself, directly at the center of Santa’s massive backside.

In spite of his desire to stay hidden, Myron let out a cheer and pumped his fist in the air, “Yes! Take that you—Aw, snikes!”

The jolly old elf stood up at just the nanosecond the Myron Special would have laid him out on the concrete. But it missed! Yet another Christmas wish torpedoed by the evil Santa Claus. It was like Christmas morning all over again.

He dragged his booted feet back along the salted sidewalk toward the dress shop, defeated. He didn’t have the heart to try again and risk even more disappointment.

Bundled up shoppers passed him, carrying packages and bags full of useless gifts for other people-gifts those people wouldn’t want or care about. They would take them home and wrap them up, sticking shiny bows on top and then go to each other’s houses to present them like they were gold, frankincense and myrrh. On Christmas day everyone would open them and lie about how great they were, secretly trying to figure out a way to get rid of the junk.

Christmas was one great big fancy joke. But since everyone else enjoyed the holiday, Myron felt the joke was all on him.

About half a block ahead of him, leaning against the department store window, was a tall pile of rags. Myron smiled in spite of himself. It was so very odd, out of place, and wonderfully un-Christmas-y.

Then it moved.

Chapter Two – Rag Girl

Cautiously moving little closer, Myron realized it wasn’t a pile of rags at all. It was a little girl. The thing on her head was unlike any hat he had ever seen, it was more of a scarf with ears. Parts of three or four coats had been used to create the one she was wearing. The boots she wore were so big she probably had to take one or two steps inside them before she could take one step with them. She was looking up into the window full of toys and smiling.

Dream on, kid! Looks like I’m not the only who’s not getting what he wants for Christmas.

It was a thought that should have made him happier. What was it Mom said? Misery loves company. But seeing the little girl made him uncomfortable. He had nothing against poor people, as long as he didn’t have to see them.

A mother and her three clamoring children exited the department store. Myron was happy to see they were all decently dressed.

“But I want to get my Stroft robot now!” screamed a small girl who appeared to be all mouth.

An even smaller child pulled on his mother’s coat begging, “Mommy! Kin I have a beard like Santa? Kin I, kin I?”

“I’m starving. Can we get something to eat before we go home, Mom?” Whined a boy just a little taller than Myron.

The mother was juggling bags and packages. Myron didn’t recognize her, but the look on her face he knew very well. Her eyes were wide and wild, her face was flushed and her lips thin and tight. Wisps of hair hung in front of her eyes. He called it the “pre-detonation” face. It was the look his mother got right before she exploded.

He counted down. Three, two, one… But the explosion didn’t happen. Instead her face softened. She had stopped and was looking at the poor little girl at the window. The children, at seeing what had stolen their mother’s attention, became quiet. Trace-like, little girl was still staring dreamily at the display.

The woman put down all of her stuff, dug into one of the bags and pulled out something too small for Myron to see. She held it out to the rag girl. But the little girl just looked at it and then back at the woman, who finally took one of the girl’s hands and put the item into it.

Then she gave her a hug and said “Merry Christmas, dear.”

As soon as the woman began to load herself up again with all her packages, her children resumed their whining. Yet strangely, the mother was smiling, and their pestering seemed to bounced off her.

The disappointment Myron felt at not seeing the mother blow up at her annoying kids, was replaced with curiosity. What had that mother given the little girl? He was too far away to see it clearly, but watched as she held her hand out staring at the gift. Looking around and seeing no one close by, a smile grew on her lips.

Soon the smile became a laugh, and she lifted her hands in the air and said, “Yay! Oh, boy!”

She spun around a couple of times and gazed at the gift again.

Myron couldn’t imagine what the woman could have given the girl that would make her do a happy dance, but the look on her face was unmistakable. It reminded him of when he woke up Christmas morning all those years ago and found his train set filled with candy chugging merrily around the bottom of the tree, tooting and blowing real steam. He’d never felt that way since. Suddenly Myron just had to know what it this magical item was. Maybe, just maybe, if he got one too, it would make him happy again.

He tried to get close enough to the girl to see it, but when she saw him approach, she closed her fist around it and held it to her chest.

She’s afraid I’m going to steal it from her! I’d never do that. Especially to a poor kid. Unless it was something really amazing…

Her round, scared eyes were blue like his little sister Gwen’s, and the hair that fell across her forehead was blond like Gwen’s. But that was the only thing they shared in looks besides height. This girl was skinny and Gwen was fat.

Of course, he wasn’t suppose to call her that. Which didn’t make sense to Myron. His parents insisted he tell the truth, but when he called Gwen-Gwen-Eats-Again “fat” he got into trouble. His mother called it angel fluff because Gwen was her “golden-haired angel from heaven.” It made Myron gag every time he heard it. Even his dad, who should know better, said it wasn’t unusual for an eight year old girl to have a few pounds of “stored energy” and that when she was a teenager it would be redistributed. Whatever that meant.

The rag pile tensed up like a frightened rabbit about to bolt away from a wolf. Myron needed to do something quick or he’d never find out what she’d gotten.

“Hey, kid, it’s okay. I’m not going to take it. I just wanted to see what it was that made you so happy,” he said.

The rag pile narrowed her eyes. Myron could tell she was trying to decide whether or not to trust him. He was mildly insulted that she thought he was the kind of jerk that mugged poor little girls, at the same time he was sort of flattered to be considered a bully. Mostly, though, he was afraid he’d never find out what she was clutching to her like the most precious treasure in the world.

So even though it was difficult—almost painful, he forced out a word that he had only said once or twice in his life: “Please?”

Her eyes widened and she smiled. She held out her hand and slowly uncurled her thin fingers to reveal a folded, somewhat crumpled one dollar bill.

Myron couldn’t have been more surprised and disgusted if she had shown him a dead cockroach. All that fuss over a lousy buck? He had over five dollars in his pocket and more at home. Although he would have a lot less if he had bought gifts for people like his parents wanted him to. They even bumped up his allowance hoping he would buy presents. But Myron was no fool; he kept it all for himself.

He stared at the girl’s money for a few seconds trying to decide whether she was crazy or just stupid. What did she think she could do with one dollar? He was about to explain to the little idiot exactly how lame and worthless her present was when he heard his mother calling.

“Myron! Myron! Where are you?” Her angry, worried voice carried over the noise of the traffic. He could see her turning this way and that in search of him.

After being tortured for another hour or more in the Dress Shop of Deathly Boredom, he was finally in the car and on his way home. Houses decked out in holiday glow passed his window and gradually gave way to darkness as the highway passed through the poor side of town. When the car stopped at a light, Myron could see in the distance, the little rag girl. She was being carried piggyback by an older boy, probably her brother, and laughing as they entered a shabby little house.

How can someone that poor, with only a dollar for Christmas, be so happy?

Chapter Three – Christmas Punishment

The Yuletide-itis that had infected their living room was every bit as sickening as it had been downtown.

If there really was a Santa, then Myron’s mother was a full-blooded elf. She would work all through the night so that the morning after Thanksgiving their house was completely transformed into Christmas Central . He was pretty sure that if they had mouse holes, his mom would have found a way to put lights in them. Even the toilet paper rolls had red and green ribbons. Only Myron’s room was free of contamination. He had allowed his mom to put up just two things: a stuffed Grinch and a picture of Ebenezer Scrooge.

At the heart of the disease was the Christmas tree in their living room. He’d gotten out of decorating with the rest of the family it by saying he had a headache. His mom suggested he go to his room to lie down. Which he did, after having moved his bed close enough to his tv for the video game controller to reach it. He blasted away three gleefully destructive hours on Final Battle Legend Warrior while Mom, Dad and Gwen wasted their time hanging lights and ornaments on a piece of dead wood.

And all around the Christmas tree lay bait to the cruelest trap of all. Brightly colored packages glittered with an irresistible promise: “Come open us, Myron! We contain the things you’ve wanted all year.”

But he knew they lied. They schemed to get his hopes up every year only to beat them down on Christmas morning as he opened one disappointment after the other. To prove it to himself, he stooped and picked up one wrapped in green and red from the mound of gifts meant for him. He squished it and shook it.

Oh, man, an action figure? What am I, six? Look at this crummy wrapping job. Who did this?

He squinted at the tag attached. It had apparently been written by a dizzy baboon.

Pet.. Petr..Peter? They ought to teach that squirt to spell his name, he’s almost four! Cousins. Did they ever have a clue?

Shaking his head, he threw the gift back under the tree where it bounced a few times and landed upside down smashing the bow. He was about to dis another present when his mother walked in.

Her blond hair was swept up like a star from an old, old movie, and she had on the black velvet dress she’d bought not two hours before. The “special occasion” diamond earrings she wore every year dangled from her ears. When he was little, Myron thought women’s ears grew earrings naturally because he had never seen his mother without them—-and very rarely without makeup for that matter.

On Christmas Eve his mother always looked like a rich lady who could give him anything his heart desired. But like the presents under the tree, she and his father never came through. Not even when he was six and asked for a harpoon to keep his little sister away from him. His mom probably hadn’t even remembered that he had asked for the Zone 1000 Push Your Limit snowboard this year.

“Myron! Stop abusing the presents and go upstairs and get dressed. Dinner’s almost ready,” she said.

“Mom, do I have to wear a suit for dinner?” he asked. A perfectly reasonable question.

“Of course! What a silly thing to ask. You know we always dress for Christmas Eve dinner.”

“Aw, but it’s so dumb. No one’s going to see us. We’re not even going anywhere. It’s just us, at home. It’s not like there’s anything special about it.”

“Nonsense, Myron,” said his father, passing through the living room with a stack of their holiday dishes balanced on one hand.

His dad was always doing stuff like that, showing off how strong he was. It wasn’t as impressive now as it was when Myron was five and told his kindergarten class that his father was a superhero. Although he did look a little like Clark Kent when he wore his dark suit as he did now.

“Family is the only truly important thing there is. We dress up to celebrate it,” lectured his dad, “So, go on upstairs and change—”

“Yeah, gee, Myron! Hurry up! I was dressed a half hour ago, and I’m a girl,” said Gwen from the dining room in her loudest, most annoying voice.

Myron stepped around his mom to see his sister through the kitchen and shot back, “That’s just because you can’t wait to stuff your face, Gwen!”

“Myron!” said his mom and dad together.

“What? Oh, come on, look at her. I mean really look this time. She’s not a baby anymore; she’s a third grader. She’s a cow, just face it.”

“I am not!” shouted Gwen.

She stopped laying the dinner table. As usual when she was just about to cry, which she did over the stupidest things, her chubby face got all red and ugly.

“Why are you in such a miserable mood, Myron? It’s Christmas, you should be happy, instead you’re spoiling it for everyone,” his father said in the tone of voice that Myron knew meant punishment was just one more word away.

But he didn’t care. He’d had seven years worth of enough.

“I’m spoiling it?” shouted Myron. “It’s my Christmas that gets ruined every year. Not yours, not Mom’s and not Gwen’s. You all get what you want.”

Suddenly he couldn’t bear looking at his family all dressed up for Christmas. He turned away, only to be face to face with the fireplace. Silver garlands hung like poisonous snakes from the mantle. Myron grabbed a handful and yanked them off.

“I hate Christmas!”

His mother and Gwen gasped, which made him feel a little better. But his dad transferred the heavy dishes from his right hand onto his left arm and pulled Myron through the kitchen to the staircase.

“Fine, Myron. If that’s the way you feel about this wonderful holiday, you can stay in your room until it’s all over. And you can forget about getting any presents,” he said.

I can’t believe this! Dad is sending me to my room for Christmas! Without dinner, even!

The aromas of roasted beef and pumpkin pie wafted from the stove and penetrated his senses. A part of Myron’s heart, about the size of a single grain of salt, weakened. “Maybe I’m wrong” flashed across the screen of his brain.

“Wait—” he began, but his father stared back at him with the cold, set eyes of a video game villain.

“Fine,” he said, “you can keep your rotten dinner and all the lousy presents. I don’t care.”

He started climbing the stairs and shouted back, “Next year, why don’t you just have the garbage truck back up to the porch and dump a big smelly load of trash? It’s just as good.”

Myron was quite practiced at slamming his door with enough force to rattle the pictures on his wall. This time, however, he put his whole body into it and was rewarded with a terrific bang followed by the crash of something breaking in the hallway.

This was the worst Christmas ever! It was totally unfair. All he asked was to get what he wanted for Christmas. After all, that was what the stupid holiday was all about, wasn’t it? That’s what happened in all the boring Christmas movies they forced themselves to watch every year.

He threw himself on the floor in front of his tv and fired up Final Legend Battle Warrior. But obliterating unending inhuman enemies, something he normally found very satisfying, did nothing to soothe the raw pain of injustice.

I wish I had Final Legend Battle Warrior II. Then at least I’d have something good to do. But no, Mom says it’s too violent. I think she just doesn’t want to pay for it. If she worked like other people’s moms, instead of putting up Christmas decorations and baking all day, I could have whatever I wanted.

He flung the controller to the floor and switched off the tv. Fishing his iPod from his backpack, he stuffed the ear buds into his ears. Hoping the pulsating power of rock and roll would drown his unhappiness, he turned the volume up high.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!” blasted in his brain, and he jumped three feet in the air. He popped out the ear buds and threw the iPod across the room, yelling, “Ack!”

It must have been set on radio! Even his electronics were against him. That’s it. I’m going to bed. Maybe I can sleep through Christmas.

“Ya hear that?” He said aloud to whatever power or person might be listening. “Do you think you can let me sleep until Christmas is over? Is that is asking too much?

 

 

***

 

 

Sometime in the middle of the night, Myron became dimly aware the faint jingling of bells. “Go away, Santa,” he mumbled.

Chapter Four – Wake Up Call

Myron awoke to a sharp pain in his back.

“Ow!” He sat up.

If Gwen’s playing tricks on me, I’ll— before he could finish the thought, he opened his eyes to discover that he was not in his own bed! He jumped up to the sound of metal springs popping, and his feet hit a cold bare floor. He turned to look at his “bed” which was a bare box spring covered in old worn clothes—and not his clothes. The more Myron saw the worse it got. He was in a small, very chilly room with peeling green paint. More clothing hung in a closet with no door.

Where am I? This isn’t my room! It’s not even my house!

A chill ran up his spine, sprinted to his arms and doubled back to jump hurdles through his legs. His heart pounded inside his chest like a prisoner attempting to escape. Frantically, he tried to figure out where he was and hit upon the only thing that seemed to make sense:

Holy snikes, I think I’m in juvie!

He knew his mom and dad had been angry last night but this was crazy. What kind of parents put their son in jail for not liking Christmas? Myron tried to remember getting here, but all he recalled was going to bed. Maybe they drugged me.

Something fast and furry ran in front of him and into a stack of cardboard boxes in a corner.

“Ack! A rat!” he yelled and ran out of the room and into a dark hallway, which lead into a living room. At least, he thought it was a living room. There was a hideous, flowered couch held up by a brick on one corner. Near it was an equally ugly matching armchair with a split in the cushion. There was no television just a bookshelf with a few books and a radio on the top. A picture of a poor family in a cheap frame hung on the wall of worn and faded wallpaper.

This isn’t juvie. It’s a house. I must have been kidnapped! But who would kidnap him and why? Myron’s heart beat even faster, and it was getting difficult to breathe. He needed to get out of there now!

He had reached the front door and almost escaped through it when he heard his mother’s voice calling, “Myron! Myron, hurry up! Your breakfast is getting cold.”

Chapter Five – Mom and Oatmeal

Breakfast? Violent criminals kidnap him and his mother was serving breakfast in their house? She always says it the most important meal of the day, but this was ridiculous! She must be the mommiest mom that ever lived.

He followed the sound of her voice into what must have been the kitchen. It was dog-vomit yellow with chipped white cabinets, an old stove, and fridge that looked nuked. A banged up table with mismatched chairs was in one corner.

A woman stood at the stove stirring a pot. Her red blouse had wear at the collar and sleeves, and she wore baggy grey slacks. Her dull blond hair was pinned back, and her eyes and haggard face appeared to be losing the battle with gravity. She looked like the human version of a child’s favorite stuffed animal just before his parent secretly throws it in the garbage: all worn out, faded and sad.

She might have been the same height and have the same blue eyes, but this wasn’t Mom. She wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that. And most shocking of all, her earlobes were completely naked.

“There you are, sleepy head! You have just enough time to get dressed and eat breakfast before you go,” she said turning towards him with a smile.

She sounded like Mom and that was her smile but…

“Mom? Is that you?” he asked, blinking his eyes, hoping the sight in front of him would improve.

She turned toward him, half smiling, half frowning. “Who were you expecting?”

“Well you, but not YOU! Why are you dressed like that? Is it some kind of costume? Where are we?”

Her smile vanished and her frown deepened. She went to him and put her rough, glove-like hand on his forehead. His mom’s hands never felt like that before; they were always smooth and soft.

“Are you feeling alright?” she asked.

“Is that a trick question? Of course I’m not alright! I went to sleep in our nice warm house on Christmas Eve and woke up in this creepy place !”

“Oh, Myron, you poor boy, you’ve been dreaming!”

“I’m dreaming?” Myron considered this. Of course! That explained everything. He must be having a nightmare because he went to bed hungry. He even felt hungry in this dream.

“Whew! Oh, man, what a relief! When I wake up, I’ll be back in my nice soft bed in my warm room.”

“No,” she laughed. “I mean you were dreaming. You’re awake now. My goodness, that must have been a very realistic dream to make you believe you live somewhere else.”

She turned back to the stove where she spooned up some thick, steaming glop into a bowl and set it on the scratched up kitchen table near him.

“I do live somewhere else!” He shouted. “We all do! What’s this all about Mom? What are we doing here?”

“Myron,” she said looking straight into his eyes and taking him by the shoulders, “Calm down. I’m sorry you have to wake up from your beautiful dream, I really am. But this is our house—well, the one we rent. We’ve been here since your dad became ill and couldn’t work. I know we don’t have much, but we have each other and a place to live. We get by. There are a lot of people worse off than us, you know.”

No! No, he didn’t know. Why was she talking like this was real? Unless… it was!

Myron felt the icy undead fingers of a zombie crawl up his spine. But of course there was no zombie, just the sickening sensation that something was very wrong. His knees felt like jello, and he was shaking like a bad carnival ride. He pulled away from his mother and sat down at the table to keep from falling to the floor.

Dad was so sick he couldn’t work? That wasn’t possible! Dad was always healthy. He ran marathons. Myron shook his head. It couldn’t be true. He was in a bad dream. A nightmare. How could he wake up? He pinched himself hard on the arm.

“Ouch!”

Nothing happened. He was still there in the kitchen of horror. His mother was taking things from the refrigerator and cupboard, which he noticed were nearly empty, and busying herself at the counter.

Evidently pinching wasn’t enough to wake him up. He slapped himself, stinging his face.

“Ahh!” He cried and rubbed his cheek. He’d never had a nightmare that hurt before. Even in the one where he woke up in the middle of the mall in his pajamas and all the mannequins in the store were shooting laser beams out of their eyes at him, it was scary but he didn’t feel anything.

The washed-out version of his mother stared at him with a worried face. “Are you sure you’re not feeling sick, Myron? You’re acting very strange this morning.”

”The universe is acting strange, I’m just fine.” Confident words, but they came out in a puny little squeak.

“You’ll feel better with some hot oatmeal in your stomach. I just reheated this,” she said and moved the bowl closer to him.

Myron stared at it. He knew about oatmeal: it came in little packages that you poured into a bowl with hot water. It came in granola bars. It came in cookies with raisins. It did not come in slimy lumps.

I’m supposed to eat this? Not in this lifetime!

“I guess I don’t feel so good.” He put his hand on his belly and groaned; every kid’s time-honored way to get out of eating yucky food. Only the groan was real and his stomach was tying itself into sailor’s knots at the sight of the oatmeal. “How about something else?”

She shook her head. “There isn’t anything else, Myron. It’s oatmeal or nothing, and you know how we feel about wasting food around here.”

No, he wanted to say, he didn’t know. This wasn’t his world. She couldn’t be his real mom. Nothing made sense here.

Then he remembered the story of Alice who found herself in a strange world where nothing and no one made sense. Except to everyone there—who were all crazy. But the food was magic, and every time she ate or drank something she changed. Maybe if he ate a bite of the oatmeal, he’d wake up. Or he’d get really big and bust out of the house. That would at least be cool.

He took a tiny bite and gagged on the snot-like texture. NOT magic.

Finding a way to wake up had suddenly taken second place to getting out of eating that bowlful of slime. A half-truth usually worked in these situations—at least in the real world. He found that the truth half was just convincing enough that adults would believe the half that wasn’t. It was worth a shot.

“How about I eat it when I get home, Mom? I really don’t think I could keep it down now.”

“Well,” she said slowly, “Alright, but I hate to send you to school on an empty stomach.”

“I’ll be okay, Mom,” he said and even faked a smile.

There is no way I’m eating that stuff after school or ever. Wait a second! School?

“But Mom it’s Christmas, I don’t go to school!”

“That must have been in your dream, Myron. I hate to disappoint you, but there are four more days until Christmas. Now go get dressed. You don’t have much time.”

Chapter Six – Gwen

In the rat-infested bedroom, Myron made a hopeless attempt to find something to wear that wasn’t embarrassing. But everything was either too big or too small or too awful.

Finally he dressed in a massive black World Wrestling tee shirt with faded wrestlers on front and put on the least tight jeans. They made him wince in pain when he walked, but he was pretty sure they wouldn’t split when he sat down. He couldn’t get his foot into the rubber boots he found, and there was nothing else to wear but tennis shoes that were two sizes too big and had holes. The only outerwear was a thin, blue denim jacket with a large rip under the arm. He put it on. The zipper was broken.

Geez, is everything around here garbage?

No gloves could be found, but he did dredge up a knit hat. Purple with a scraggly baseball sized pompom, it was shaped for the head of a big brained alien. He’d only wear it if his ears felt like they were going to fall off from the cold. Myron shoved it into his jacket where part of it stuck out through a tear in his pocket.

If he avoided mirrors or seeing his reflection, he thought he had a chance of fooling himself that he looked okay.

He didn’t want to go to school, but he didn’t want to stay in the cold house, either. At least at school he would be warm and maybe he could figure out what was going on and what to do. It was hard to think with his teeth chattering all the time.

“Myron! Hurry up. You’re going to miss the bus,” his mother called.

A green backpack lay in the corner by the door and he snatched it up. Returning to the kitchen, his mother handed him a white plastic grocery bag.

“What’s this?” he asked. It felt empty. Was he supposed to go begging with it?

“Silly, it’s your lunch. I’m afraid it’s not much. We’ll have more after I get paid Saturday, okay?”

Not much? Was there even enough to chew? What if his mom had packed the leftover oatmeal for lunch? Choosing not to find out, he dropped the bag into his backpack.

When he looked up, what he saw surprised him more than anything he’d seen yet. The little rag girl who’d had the dollar walked into the kitchen. She was dressed a little different than she had been the night before, but just as raggedy. This nightmare was completely out of control.

“What are you doing here?” Myron demanded.

“I live here, you dope. What are you doing here, Myron?” she said.

He knew that voice, and it wasn’t the girl from last night.

“Gwen?” It was a whisper of amazement and horror.

She was skinny and not in a supermodel way. Myron had always thought Gwen would look—well not good but a lot better if she lost weight. But this was not what he had imagined. She was so boney it almost hurt to look at her. So he stared at the floor.

Now that he thought about it, the real Gwen had never really been fat, just a little “thicker” than other kids. But it was his duty as a brother to tease her about it, wasn’t it? So why did he all of a sudden feel bad about doing it? And why were his eyes starting to sting and feel wet?

“What is your problem, Myron? You look like you’ve never seen me before,” Gwen said.

Toothpick Gwen would never believe him if he told her that she wasn’t his real sister, so he just said, “Forget it. Come on, let’s go.”

Gwen got her lunch and they went out the front door and into a neighborhood that at first seemed completely unfamiliar to Myron.

I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

But after looking around at the neighborhood, he realized that he had seen it before. It was same area where the real little rag girl lived. The poor side of town.

Chapter Seven – Bus Stop

The wind had icy teeth. It bit through Myron’s thin jacket and the holes in his shoes. When he could no longer bear his painfully cold ears, he pulled the Barney-colored hat from his pocket and put it on. Part of it was sticking up above his head, he knew, waving in the wind like a purple flag of dorkdom.

One good thing—maybe the only good thing—was that none of his real friends would see him. At least he hoped not.

Myron had no idea where the bus stop was, so he let Gwen take the lead. He felt stupid following her like a puppy, so he tried to trail casually behind, pretending not to be with her. After going six blocks down mostly unshoveled sidewalks, she stopped near some kids standing on a corner. Their cheeks and noses were also red from the cold, but all of them were bundled up better than Myron and Gwen.

“Hey Myron!” said a pig-faced boy. He was big, about a head taller than Myron, although Myron figured the boy’s “muscles” were probably just the stuffing in his coat.

“Nice hat. Ha!” he laughed as if he’d made some incredibly clever joke. For a second Myron’s cheeks blazed hot despite the frosty air. He knew the hat was dorky, but he couldn’t take it off now and give this moron the satisfaction of humiliating him.

He was just about to deliver a stinging comeback but before he could, Gwen piped up.

“Shut up, Zane, you jerk!” she shouted at the boy.

Whoa! Gwen never stuck up for me before. Of course, no one had ever made fun of his clothes before. Then again, he had never worn an extra-terrestrial’s sock hat before either. He was embarrassed yet at the same time surprisingly proud that his little sister had his back.

“You gonna let your baby sister fight your battles for you, Myron?” Zane taunted.

“Yep,” Myron said crossing his arms and looking Pig-Face up and down, “I figure she can handle you.”

Myron caught a big grin on Gwen’s face and could not help but smile himself.

Zane took a step closer and smacked his fist into his hand. Bullies always did this. Myron figured it was their way of showing their smaller but smarter victims that although they may be dumb, they were capable of landing a punch.

The rest of the kids at the bus stop did exactly what Myron would have done in their place. They backed up far enough to avoid a wild swing or kick, but crowded in close enough to get a ringside view of a good old-fashioned fight.

Before Zane could haul back his meaty fist for the first blow, the bus pulled up like a gigantic yellow recess monitor, its air breaks squealing for attention. The kids turned away from the would-be combatants towards the even greater appeal of getting warm. Swine-boy shoved his way to the front of the line after leaving Myron with the threat, “Later.”

Myron snatched the purple abomination off his head as he climbed on the bus. Sitting next to Gwen, he sighed with relief as the warm air thawed his arms and legs. For the first time since he had woken up, he wasn’t cold. All too soon the cozy bus ride ended, and he filed out with the rest of the rabble into the freezing air.

He half expected to find Zane waiting for him, ready to finish what they hadn’t started. But the bell rang and Myron realized he had a bigger problem. The school was one Myron had never seen. Where was he supposed to go?

“Uh, Gwen, where’s my class?” He knew he sounded like an idiot asking it, but it was either that or go to the office and find out, which would look even worse.

She frowned at him. “Right where it always is, stupid.”

She may be a different Gwen, but she was just as annoying as the old Gwen. There was only one way to handle her when she’s like this: blackmail.

“I told Mom I wasn’t feeling good, and she was worried about me. She’s going to be pretty upset when I tell her you wouldn’t help me.”

She rolled her blue eyes and headed into the school. “Come on. I don’t know what kind of dumb joke you’re playing Myron, but it’s not funny.”

No, it wasn’t funny. Not at all. In fact, he couldn’t think anything less funny than what was happening to him.

She lead him through a maze of unfamiliar hallways decorated with paper snowflakes, snowmen and Christmas trees then stopped in front of room 601.

Now do you remember?” she asked. People said little girls were sweet, but there was nothing in the world as snotty as a little sister when she was ticked off. Not waiting for him to answer, Gwen ran off to her own class.

Myron stepped inside the half-empty classroom. He had no idea which desk was his.

Chapter Eight – What’s for Lunch?

Myron hung around the front of the classroom pretending to be fascinated by the oversized calendar on the bulletin board while waiting for all the rest of the kids to come in and sit down. When they had, two desks remained empty. Luckily one had disgusting little hearts drawn in pencil all around the edge. Myron took the other seat.

Everyone in class appeared to belong in the sixth grade except his teacher, Mrs. Dorf. She should have been teaching kindergarten or maybe working as one of Santa’s helpers at the mall. In a Santa hat, jingle bell earrings, a red blouse and green vest with a bunch of Christmas stuff embroidered on it, she walked around the room in light but jerky movements like a marionette. If her voice had been any higher only dogs could have heard it. When she was annoyed it sounded like the tips of fingernails screaming in torture across a chalkboard.

Myron paid just enough attention to her to stay out of trouble. When she spoke, he nodded slightly. When she moved, he followed her with his eyes. Copying the actions of the kids around him, he was able to fake doing schoolwork. The illusion was accomplished with very little real thought on his part, leaving the majority of his brain free to pursue more interesting subjects. In the past that was daydreaming or planning pranks. But today, he was using the time to try to figure out what in the world had happened to him

Mrs. Dorf told the class to get out their history books and read chapter seventeen. Myron found the book in his backpack and open it up to right place then very slowly turned the pages while he thought.

This is lucky. I’m glad she’s not one of those embarrassing teachers that makes everyone take a turn reading out loud so everyone finds out all the words you don’t know how to pronounce.

Now let’s think about this logically. I went to bed last night, Christmas Eve, in my house. When I woke up, I was here and it was three days earlier! I don’t remember eating anything strange, in fact, I didn’t even have dinner. There weren’t any weird noises in the night, except…did I hear bells? I can’t remember.

It could be a dream, but why couldn’t he wake up? And why did everything feel so freaking real? He could touch, smell and—unfortunately—taste things. He’d never been able to do any of that in a dream before.

If he wasn’t dreaming, maybe he was in an alternate universe, like on Star Trek. But how could he reverse the polarity on whatever thingamajig made this happen? And where was the thingamajig? Or maybe he was on a holodeck ?

“Computer, end program!” He said aloud. The kids laughed and Mrs. Dorf glared at him. “Sorry!” he said quickly and put the history book up in front of his face—not to hide his embarrassment but his disappointment. What did he care if a bunch of kids he didn’t know that he was crazy?

What am I thinking? Those things don’t even exist! I need to be more realistic.

Should he go to the police? He imagined going in to the police station and telling them that his house and his family were not his real house and family. What would they say? It would be different if his family wasn’t there. Then he could say he’d been kidnapped and they would take him home. But he couldn’t say he’d been kidnapped by his own family! Even if the police did believed that he was from a different world, what could they do about it?

What about his teacher who looked like an escapee from the North Pole? He could tell her. Would she think he was crazy? Probably. And then she’d tell his parents.

He couldn’t see any way out of the nightmare and back home where he belonged. Maybe he was going crazy. Maybe that was why it was beginning to feel like his real life was the dream.

At lunch time, he reluctantly opened the plastic bag and peeked inside, afraid he’d find a spoon and a baggie of oatmeal.

Don’t be oatmeal. Please don’t be oatmeal. Oh, good, a sandwich! A bologna sandwich, but at least it’s not that gross oatmeal. And a carrot? That’s it?

He held the bag upside down to be sure he wasn’t missing anything, but it was empty. Myron didn’t think anyone in the world was as hungry as he was. He hadn’t noticed it as much in the morning because of the shock, but as he had settled down his stomach went from just growling to starting to hurt. He tried hard not to eat the lunch quickly, but it was no use. It was gone in ten minutes and he was still hungry, just not as bad.

Oh my gosh, is this what it feels like to be starving? Not like when people say, ‘I’m starving! I could eat a horse!’ but really and truly starving to death?

Myron thought about it. Could he really eat a horse? No. Even if it was cooked up and put on a hamburger bun, he didn’t think he could eat horse meat. So he decided he wasn’t really starving—yet.

He glanced around the noisy lunchroom. The most of the kids were eating hot school lunches. A few of them had bagged lunches—but none of them were as puny as his. Vending machines lined one wall teasing and taunting him with irresistible chips and candy in bright plastic wrappers. But he had no money. He hunted under the machines for coins that had rolled underneath but found nothing but dust and empty wrappers. He “accidently” bumped them to see if something would come out for free. It didn’t.

Myron returned to class and attempted again to solve the mystery of his life had become, but he got tired of chasing his thoughts around in circles. He was getting nowhere. Even warm he couldn’t figure out what happened or how to undo it.

Finally, he started doing actual schoolwork. Long division was a relief from thinking about the weirdness. Eventually the final bell of the day rang.

Seeing the line of buses outside, Myron had no a clue which was his. He desperately searched for Gwen, but didn’t see her. Had she already gotten on? He thought about asking each driver if they had his street on their route, but he didn’t know what the name of his street was! What should he do? Should he just get on a bus and hope he got it right? Where was pig-face? He was pretty big, he should be easier to spot than Gwen. But he couldn’t see Zane, either.

In the end, she found him.

“I figured if you didn’t know where your class was, you probably didn’t know what bus to take, either. It’s this one, 334.” She pointed out the second bus and they got in line for it.

“Thanks, Gwen.” For a little sister, she wasn’t so bad sometimes.

“What is your problem anyway?” she asked as she climbed the steps of the bus.

What do I say? “Well you see Gwen, I’m from a completely different world. Life is so good there that you’re almost fat, Dad is super-healthy, Mom’s pretty and our house doesn’t look like it should be condemned”?

He knew it was pointless to try to explain it, so he just said, “I had a really bad night.”

“Oh. Well, don’t have any more. You’re freaking me out.”

After they got off the bus, Gwen began to pick up twigs and small branches that had fallen in the wind. Myron thought she was just being overly environmentally friendly, but she left the litter they passed and only picked up wood. What a strange thing to do.

“What on earth you doing, Gwen?” he asked.

“Oh, Myron!” She said. “Don’t you even remember we have to pick up wood for the fire if we want to be warm?”

What? She was kidding, right? But there she was picking up branches, shaking off the snow and stacking it in her arms. He remembered how cold the house had been and decided he better help.

Holy snikes, how poor are we? Could this get any worse?

Chapter Nine – Dad

They set the cold, wet wood in front of the fireplace where it could dry. There was more wood, cut into smaller pieces to the side of the fireplace. Myron guessed it had been gathered on previous days. A pale, wimpy-looking man slowly walked into the living room. Gwen ran to him and hugged him.

“Hi Dad!’ She said.

Dad? No way! There is no freaking way that limp noodle with legs is my Dad.

“Hi Gwenie! Did you have a good day at school?” he said.

The voice sounded a little like Dad’s when he was tired, which he almost never was. His hair was the same very dark brown, but there wasn’t as much of it. Mom had said dad was sick, so maybe this really was him. But it was like looking at Bruce Banner after seeing the Hulk.

Myron stared at him. This was worse than a washed out Mom or a skinny Gwen. Something in the way the universe worked was broken. And Myron felt even more lost and out of place than he had before.

“Yeah, Dad. School was fine, but Myron’s all goofy today. It’s like he’s been replaced by an alien.”

Maybe Gwen was onto something. Only he wasn’t the alien. He had abducted by aliens and put on a different world that was a mirror of earth. Maybe they were studying him to see how he would react. His eyes swept the room for cameras. He didn’t see any, but they would be hidden wouldn’t they?

“Oh?” said his not-Dad, “Really? What are you looking for Myron?”

“Uh, oh. Nothing, er…Dad,” he forced the word out.

“Are you feeling okay, son?”

No, he wanted to say, I am definitely NOT okay. I feel like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode.

“Yeah. I guess. I’m just cold.” The answer sounded lame, even to Myron.

“Well then,” Dad said, “Let’s get this fire going. I waited until you two got home from school so I could save on wood.”

Very slowly and with great effort, his father got on his knees in front of the fireplace and began building a fire of paper, twigs, branches and random pieces of wood that had probably been scavenged from trashcans. If this new life involved dumpster diving, he might have to run away from home.

His father lit the paper and said, “There, once you’re warm you’ll be back to your old self!”

If only that were true! Myron would cheerfully set himself on fire if it meant getting warm enough to be back to his old life. Well, maybe he wasn’t quite that desperate—be he was close.

“Do you guys have homework?” he asked standing up with painful slowness, as if each part of his body had to wait its turn to move.

Did he have homework? Probably, but if so he had no idea what it was because he hadn’t been paying attention in class. But figuring it would look strange if he had no homework at all, he pulled an English book from his backpack. He sat cross-legged in front of the fire, turned to a random page and pretended to read.

Why was he trying to act like everything was okay? It was not how he felt. He wanted to scream for it all go away. But he didn’t. He looked from his weak dad to his thin little sister and around at the chilly, barely furnished house. They already had it tough enough without him freaking out. Whatever had happened to him, he was in it alone.

“Dinner in an hour,” his Dad said and slowly disappeared into the kitchen.

Dinner! It sounded wonderful. Myron was so hungry he could almost contemplate eating that oatmeal. But what was for dinner? It was a pretty sure bet they weren’t ordering pizza. Pizza! He wished he hadn’t thought of it. In response, his stomach growled.

“Shut up,” he mumbled.

He stared at the fire. Flames danced erratically as it crackled and popped. There was a fireplace at his old house, but they never used it. His mom always said it would make a mess, and she didn’t want to have to clean up the ashes. Yet there was something soothing about watching the fire, so that after a while, things didn’t seem quite so terrible. In fact, he was almost getting sleepy.

When the last of the wood had burned, the cold air began to creep in once more. Myron knew it wouldn’t be long before he was shivering again. But his father called them in to dinner at the kitchen table where bowls of homemade chicken soup were steaming. Chicken soup wasn’t so bad. Myron could cope with chicken soup. He sat down and started to lift a spoonful to his mouth.

“Myron, I know you’re hungry, but aren’t you forgetting something?” said his father.

“Uh—” he tried to think of what he could be missing. “Salt and pepper?”

Gwen laughed and said, “No, you dope! We need to give thanks.”

Give thanks for chicken soup? But they only ever gave thanks over Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Was this new family more religious? Myron put down his spoon, clasped his hands in front of him and waited for his dad, who bowed his head and gave thanks for their soup.

Chapter Ten – The Bad Good News

A couple of chilly hours later, his mother came home from work, exhausted, and sank down on the ugly old couch next to Dad and closed her eyes.

Myron didn’t know what kind of work she did. He didn’t want to know because the more he found out, the worse things appeared to be. He might discover that she scraped out the bottoms of dirty garbage cans for a living. But whatever it was, it was hard work and it didn’t pay much.

He thought she had fallen asleep, but after a minute or so she opened her eyes and asked, “Is there any soup left?”

“Of course,” said Dad, starting to get up. “I’ll heat you up a bowl.”

Myron heard himself say, “That’s okay. I’ll get it for her, Dad.”

He didn’t know what made him say it. Maybe he just didn’t want to watch his dad moving around like a rusted out C-3PO.

Myron had never cooked anything that couldn’t be torn out of box or bag and thrown into microwave or toaster, but he figured it didn’t take scientist to reheat soup. He turned the burner on under the pan and began stirring the soup. Chef Myron. He thought about putting some spices in it, but decided he better not since he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t want his mom to have an “oatmeal” experience.

Standing near the heat felt so nice, he was almost sorry when the soup began to bubble. After turning off the stove, he dished up a bowl of it and put it on a plate next to a spoon. Waiter Myron. Carefully bringing it to his mother, he bowed in front of her announcing formally, “Your soup, ma’am.”

She laughed, his father smirked and Gwen, who was sitting on the chair reading, rolled her eyes and muttered, “Oh brother!”

“Oh, thank you, Myron,” Mom said, taking the plate with both hands and placing it in her lap.

Like the rest of the family, she gave thanks for her dinner before eating it. As she finished the meager meal, she said to Dad, “Should we tell them now?”

He sighed. “We may as well. No sense getting their hopes up before Christmas.”

Gwen shot Myron a frightened glance, tears beginning to form. He turned away. This wasn’t going to be good. Parents never looked serious when they had happy news.

“Your dad and I have been talking—” Mom started, but her courage failed when she glanced at Gwen. She turned to Dad.

“And,” he continued for her, “We decided that instead of trying to buy presents for Christmas, we would have the gas turned on in the house. With the little we have saved and the money our relatives sent for Christmas, we can pay for two or three months of heat. It will get us through the worst part of winter.” He paused, waiting for their reaction.

This was the best thing Myron had heard since he woke up in that prison cell of a bedroom! Living in a house shaped refrigerator was getting old fast.

“You mean we’ll have heat?” he asked eagerly, “in all the rooms, and we won’t have to gather wood every day?”

“Yep. We’ll be snug as four bugs in a rug,” said his Dad smiling.

“But we won’t have any Christmas presents!” said Gwen, tears sliding rapidly down her face, “No presents at all. It won’t even seem like Christmas. Even our decorations are gone.”

“I know. It was a shame we had to sell those along with just about everything else last summer to get enough money to fix the car,” said Dad.

So that explained why there was almost nothing in the house: no tv, no computer. Nothing fun. How could people live like this? Oh…this is how people live like this. They even had to sell the Christmas decorations. Harsh.

Having the gas turned on was a fantastic idea. He had been so freaked out by waking up in this new life, he forgotten about Christmas or presents. Given the choice, he would have chosen heat over presents, hands down.

However, he could see it really meant something to Gwen. Maybe it was because she was so young, or maybe the cold didn’t bother her as much, but it was clear to Myron that his sister would have chosen presents over being warm.

Mom put her arms around Gwen. “I know it’s hard, honey. But it’s only for this one Christmas. We thought it would be better to have the heat to keep you healthy,” she glanced briefly at Myron and he felt a little guilty, “than to buy presents that can’t keep you warm. Next year will be different, I promise.”

Gwen had stopped crying but was still sniffling. Mom took a couple of Kleenex from her pocket and wiped Gwen’s face. Then their father pulled Gwen to him for a hug and said, “We’re all just going to have to be brave, Gwen. And Christmas will still be Christmas without presents. Mom has the day off and we can play games all day.”

Gwen smiled a little and, with some prompting from Dad, talked about the games she’d like to play, but Myron noticed a stray tear or two still escaped her eyes. Then he noticed that he was noticing the tears.

Why did he care? It was just Gwen crying. She did it all the time, and it was usually over dumb things like not getting marshmallows in her hot chocolate. But that was the old Gwen. Skinny Gwen was…tougher somehow. Myron had a feeling she didn’t cry nearly as easily. Maybe that was why it bothered him so much.

Chapter Eleven – Old Mother Hubbard Went to Her Cupboard

His parents went to bed early. Myron thought it was strange that they went to bed before their kids. Weren’t they worried that he’d stay up too late?

Myron walked around the living room, searching for anything to relieve his boredom. A few old, worn children’s early reader books, cookbooks, a Bible and a dictionary stood in a small bookcase, but he wasn’t desperate enough to read any of them. On top of the bookcase was a radio. He turned it on. Nothing but news and Christmas music. He turned it off. No wonder they didn’t worry about their kids staying up late: there was nothing to stay up late for. At least asleep they might have an entertaining dream.

 

The one bowl of soup hadn’t stayed long in Myron’s stomach so he went to the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. In the refrigerator was leftover soup, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, margarine in a tub, a box of baking soda, a package of bologna and a few vegetables. The foul oatmeal was gone. Myron suspected his father may have eaten it while they were at school.

His body might be weak but his stomach must be strong.

The cupboards had salt, pepper and a few spices. There was a little bit of flour and sugar, about a third of a loaf of bread, a bottle of syrup and, of course, oatmeal. He looked in all the corners, thinking maybe his mother had some snacks hidden away, but found none. There was so little of everything that he couldn’t take the smallest amount of anything without it being missed. And if he did take something for himself, it would mean less for everyone else.

When Mom said there wasn’t anything else for breakfast, she wasn’t kidding.

He filled a glass with water and drank it fast. For a few minutes he felt full in an unsatisfying way. Trying to imagine the fullness in his stomach was an entire medium combo pizza did nothing to help.

Being poor seriously, seriously stinks! I’m hungry and cold and bored out of my mind—and I don’t know which one is worse.

His dad had started another fire before he went to bed, but it was almost out already. He could have put more dried wood on it, but that was almost as scarce as the food.

I may as well go to bed, too. Besides it’s better to go to bed now while it’s not completely freezing.

Seeing his “bed,” he shook his head. This had to be the worst bed in the world, the metal springs creaked and popped. Some of them were broken.

It should be in a museum for medieval torture devices with the rack and the iron maiden. I’d be better off sleeping on the floor.

He took off the blankets and pillow and started to spread them out on the bare floor when he remembered the rat from that morning. There were probably more, too. He imagined them burrowing under his blankets and snuggling up to him for warmth. Or chewing on his toes…

On second thought, maybe if I fluff these clothes up, pull the sheet tight over them and fold my blankets so they’re double thick, it won’t be so bad—well, no, it’ll be bad. But maybe not too horrible.

Before getting in bed, he turned off the light. It was dark but he managed to crawl into the lumpy and uncomfortable bed—it was worse than camping. How was he supposed to get to sleep like this?

He closed his eyes. For all his thinking and trying to figure this crazy thing out, all he came up with was more questions. How could he go to sleep in a perfect bed in a wonderful house and wake up here? Why did this happen to him? And what exactly was it that was happening to him?

Maybe, if he went to sleep he would wake up back in his real bed, in his real house. He wanted it more than anything he’d ever wanted his whole life. In his mind, he walked back through his old life remembering all of the good things he had enjoyed but never gave any thought to. And little by little, he faded off to sleep.

Chapter Twelve – A Christmas Promise

Shivering like jello in an earthquake, Myron woke up the next morning.

“Aw, snikes! No…” he moaned as he opened his eyes to the same ugly little room. He thought he’d known what disappointment was when he got up so many Christmas mornings and didn’t get what he wanted. But this was a million times worse. He would be happy to open up a box of worms on Christmas morning if it meant he could be back home.

Home. It seemed so far away. Could his mom be right? Could he have just dreamed his old life?

No way. Not possible. You couldn’t dream eleven years of your life! It was real, He remembered the way things felt, and smelled and tasted—oh, yes, especially the way food tasted. But everything here was very real, too. Strange and awful, but real. He could touch everything. It didn’t feel like a dream. But then, why couldn’t he remember the last eleven years here?

Dressing for warmth instead of appearance, Myron put on two tee shirts and one long-sleeved, sort of blue shirt from the last century. Going to the kitchen, he prayed that somehow, some way, oatmeal wasn’t for breakfast. It was. But his mother had just made it so it wasn’t slimy or lumpy. When Mom had her back turned, he put an extra spoonful of sugar it in.

On the way to the bus stop, Gwen didn’t talk at all. Normally, having a silent little sister was a rare and beautiful thing. She usually pestered him by asking stupid questions or teasing. But Myron knew she was quiet because she was so sad. He’d take an annoying sister over a sad one any day.

Why do I care so much? She’s only upset because she won’t get any Christmas presents. She’ll get over it. It’s no big deal.

He watched her clumping along in her big old boots and scruffy coat with her hands stuffed in the pockets for warmth. A tear was sliding down her cheek.

Myron groaned inside. Being cold was miserable, being hungry was almost painful, but seeing Gwen cry because they weren’t having a Christmas was the worse than both. Yeah, sure she would be okay eventually. But could he stand it until she was?

At that moment he knew that even though his sister could be a pest and a nuisance, he really did love her. And more than anything—even more than going home—he wanted to see Gwen smile and be happy again. But the only thing that would make her happy was Christmas presents…

That’s it! Somehow, I’m going to get Gwen a Christmas present!

“Look, Gwen,” he said, “I know that Mom and Dad said we aren’t getting any presents for Christmas, but if you do get present, what would you want?”

Gwen stopped walking and looked at him, her eyes wet with unshed tears, “Myron, we aren’t getting presents so why even think about it? It just makes it harder.”

“Well,” said Myron slowly, “What about Santa Claus? He might bring you a present.”

“Santa Claus!” Gwen almost shouted. “Myron, you know there’s no Santa Claus! Give me a break. You must think I’m a baby.”

“Okay, okay! But look, Gwen, it’s Christmas time—anything can happen,” said Myron, refusing to give up on the idea, “and if something happened wouldn’t you want someone to know what you want for Christmas?”

Gwen narrowed her eyes at him. “What’s going on Myron? Do you know something?”

“No, Gwen, but like I said: it’s Christmas. Miracles happen at Christmas—sometimes. I’m not saying that a miracle is going to happen to you, but—”

He ran out of arguments. Why does she have to make this so difficult? Most kids love to talk about what they want for Christmas.

“Look, Gwen, just tell me what you want!”

Gwen sighed and began walking again. “It’s not that I want anything special, I just want presents. Presents for Christmas. Packages to open. Surprises. Just like everybody else has, Myron, I want a Christmas like everybody else,” she broke off in a sob and stood still.

The love in Myron’s heart swelled up and caught in his throat. He stooped down and gave Gwen a hug.

“Don’t cry, Gwen,” he whispered, “Miracles happen at Christmas, I promise.”

I’ll get a present for Gwen. I will! But a miracle is what it’s going to take because Christmas is only three days away

Chapter Thirteen – The Other Side of the Highway

“Mister Brun!”

The nails-on-chalkboard voice of Mrs. Dorf startled him out of his thoughts and he jumped in his seat. Laughter from his classmates bubbled spontaneously around him, and the blood that had rushed from his face when his name was screeched immediately returned with reinforcements.

He hated blushing; it was only okay for girls. It should be physically impossible for guys to blush.

Mrs. Dorf was dressed like a candy cane, complete with a red and white curved hat. She even smelled like peppermint. Her outfit might be “sweet” but her face was murderous.

Aw, snikes.

He had been so caught up in trying to figure out how to get Gwen a present that he’d forgotten to look like he was listening. If there was one sure way to make a teacher mad, it was to not pay attention while she was speaking.

“Perhaps,” she squeaked, “You can postpone dreaming about what you want for Christmas long enough to listen to the vocabulary words.”

Vocabulary? Is that what they had been doing?

“Yes, Ma’am,” he mumbled just loud enough for her to hear.

She turned back to the class and began to drone on about how they needed to study the words over their winter break. For someone who dressed like a character in a puppet show, Mrs. Dorf really had a mean streak. What kind of teacher assigns homework for a vacation?

 

 

***

 

 

When lunchtime came he stopped at the drinking fountain and drank as much as his stomach would hold before sitting down in the cafeteria and opening his bag to find another flat bologna sandwich and a skinny carrot. Myron wasn’t surprised. In fact, he was expecting it: he had seen for himself that there wasn’t anything else to put in a lunch. Nibbling and chewing slowly, he tried to make it last until the bell rang. This, in addition to drinking the water, made it seem like he had eaten a full meal. But he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was hungry again.

The funny thing was, it didn't bother him so much. Compared to the problem of how to make a Christmas present appear out of thin air, being hungry was nothing. Just how was he going to pull this off, anyway? He had no money and nothing of value to sell. He didn't even have talent he could show off on a street corner while people tossed money into his hat --unless people wanted to learn how to make Myron Specials.

Because it was the last day of school before winter vacation, it was a short day ending just one hour after lunch. Myron spent it trying to keep Mrs. Dorf out of his face by looking interested while puzzling over what was surely the greatest challenge of boykind: how to get money. One by one, he rejected every idea that occurred to him: robbing a bank, begging, finding treasure, winning a prize, and selling Myron Specials at a snowball stand.

It seemed to Myron that if a person had money, it was far easier for him to get more money than it was for someone who had no money to get any money. People with money could make more money by buying and reselling for a profit or making other types of investments. And they also knew other people who had money and could borrow from them. But people with no money usually only knew other people who had no money. The whole thing was backwards. It should be easiest for the people without money to get money. Then no one would be poor. And brother would have to dig around in his brain looking for a way to get his little sister a Christmas present.

Snow was coming down fast and thick as Myron and Gwen waited their turn to get on the bus. He was wearing his alien beanie and knew it looked awful but he didn’t care anymore. He had more important things to worry about than whether or not his head resembled mutant eggplant.

Zane pushed passed them to the front of the line with no comment about Myron’s hat or mention of beating him up. Myron supposed that swineboy, like everyone else, was so excited about the holiday that all thoughts of violence had fled his mind.

They boarded the bus and Myron noticed that Gwen’s eyes were dry and not red anymore. She was still very quiet, but it was a thinking kind of quiet, not a miserable kind of quiet. That was an improvement. But it wasn’t good enough. Not even close. Myron wouldn’t be happy until she was laughing and smiling. They rode the bus for several minutes and finally she spoke.

“Myron,” she said, her round blue eyes questioning and serious, “Do you really believe miracles happen at Christmas.”

Ugh, why did she have to ask that now? He hadn’t even figured out what to do yet. He knew that unbelievably strange and terrible things happened at Christmas, because it happened to him and he woke up poor. But miracles were wonderful unbelievable things. Did they really happen on Christmas like they did in the movies? He didn’t know.

“Of course!” he said forcing himself to smile. Then he turned away, hoping it would stop her from asking more questions, and looked out the window. The snow had let up, although small flakes were falling. As the bus crossed a bridge over the highway, he could see nicer neighborhoods. Neighborhoods like his old one. In his old life.

Passing by the homes, he thought that the owners must earn much more money than his mom did. They probably don’t even work as

hard as she does, either. It’s too bad I’m not old enough to have a job, then I’d have money for Gwen’s present and more, too.

He could see people outside shoveling and snow-blowing their driveways and bringing in bags from their cars and SUVs. Then a thought struck Myron like lightning: I bet they’d pay me to do that for them! That’s what I’ll do: I’ll work to earn money. Then I’ll go buy Gwen a present. I can start today, at least until it starts getting dark. I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t allow me out after dark. But tomorrow, I’ll have the whole day. Yes, I can do this!

He turned back to his sister, smiling for real this time. “Of course Christmas miracles happen, Gwen. But you have to believe.”

“Hmm,” she said, “Well, maybe.”

 

 

***

 

 

When they got home from school, their dad was sleeping on the couch. His feet stuck out from under a blanket and his toes peeked out through the holes in his socks.

Myron laid the wood he’d gathered on the way home in front of the fireplace. He didn’t know when the gas would be turned on—hopefully soon. Evidently his dad had started to make a fire but stopped before he was done. Maybe he had been too tired to finish it? Myron completed the fire the way his father had done yesterday, and lit it. He would have liked to stay to enjoy its crackling heat, but he didn’t have the time.

He shook his Dad awake, ““Dad. Dad!”

“Huh? Oh, Myron, you’re home. Sorry, I meant to have that fire ready when you got here, but I forgot you were getting out early today.”

Slowly he sat up. “So are you ready to start your Christmas vacation?”

Myron glanced at Gwen sitting on the floor in front of the fire.

“I need to talk to you about that, Dad,” he said in a whisper.

“Oh?”

“But not here.” He nodded his head toward Gwen.

“Oh!” said his father a little too loudly. Then whispered, “Come into my office.”

Myron followed him into the kitchen, and Dad said, “Have a seat. So what’s this about?”

They sat down at the table and Myron leaned forward so Dad could hear him as he whispered.

“Gwen’s really upset about Christmas, and I had an idea. I want to go to the neighborhood on the other side of the highway and do chores for people to earn money to buy a present for Gwen. Can I? Please?”

His dad looked surprised, and for a minute Myron thought he might say no. Then Dad smiled and turned away and when he turned back, his eyes were shining and just for a second, Myron thought he saw a hint of a tear.

“That’s just about the most unselfish idea I’ve ever heard. What a wonderful thing to do for your little sister.”

“So I can do it?”

“Yes, but you have to promise to follow some rules. No Christmas present is worth putting you in danger.”

Myron promised. His Dad gave him a list of rules to follow, including what area he had to stay in and under what conditions he could go into someone’s house, car or garage.

He couldn’t wait to get started, but before leaving, Myron went to his room and put on two more shirts and a sweater and grabbed two socks. They didn’t match, but that was all right because he was going to use them as thumb-less mittens.

He ran as fast as he dared on the icy sidewalks. It was ten blocks from his house to the other side of the highway, and he didn’t want to waste any time before the sun began to set. He figured he had about three hours. Besides, moving fast helped him stay warm.

The first house he came to was large and made of red brick. There were many decorations in the yard and even some on the roof. He was so excited about his great idea, imagining all the work he was going to do and the money he was going to make, that when he knocked on the door and a lady answered, he froze.

What do I say?

Chapter Fourteen – Door to Door Chore Man

“Yes?” said the lady, glaring down her nose at him. She had bright red hair and thick red and her whole face was puckered like she’d just sucked on a lemon.

“Uh, hello, Ma’am,” he said. “Do you have any chores you need done?”

“Chores? You mean for money?” She sounded disgusted as if he had asked if he could set a few thousand cockroaches loose in her house.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She looked him up and down through squinted eyes. Then she craned her neck to see beyond him both ways down the street, like she suspected there was someone with him, lurking behind a tree.

Did she think he was a gang member or something? Maybe she thought he was trying to get into her house to steal from her.

“No. No, I’m sorry I don’t.” But she didn’t sound sorry and closed the door before Myron could say anything else.

He stood there for a moment, staring at the closed door. That hadn’t worked at all. What if nobody wanted to hire him? This was his only good idea. It was his only chance of getting Gwen a present for Christmas. He thought of her waking up Christmas morning to…nothing. And what was worse, he had gotten her hopes up by telling her to believe in miracles.

No, this had to work! That was only one house. There were plenty more. He wasn’t giving up until he’d knocked on every single door!

He marched over to the next house and rang the doorbell. But after a couple of minutes of waiting in the cold, he figured no one was home. Not everyone was at that time of day, he reminded himself. A lot of them were probably still at work or Christmas shopping.

At the house after that, it looked like someone was home—Myron even saw a window curtain move—but no one answered the door.

On his fourth try, the door was answered by a man with long black hair and a face was so serious, it would probably break if he smiled. Myron wondered if he should even try asking this guy for work.

“Hello sir!” said Myron, overcoming his reluctance, “I’m trying to find chores to do for a few dollars. Do you have anything you need done?”

That sounded pretty good. It was a much better sales pitch than he had used with the red-haired lady.

“No,” said the stony-faced man quickly and almost closed the door.

“I can shovel your driveway,” said Myron, pointing at the snow covered driveway. He wasn’t going to let another door close in his face without a fight.

The man opened the door wider and scowled down at him.

“I said ‘no.’ You shouldn’t be here. Go home.” The man pointed over his shoulder with his thumb indicating the poor side of town. He didn’t close the door until Myron left his yard.

What a jerk! What was with these people? Was it just because he looked poor? Was that a crime? Or did they think poverty was a contagious disease like the plague?

He thought about throwing a Myron Special right through that man’s big front window. It was a tempting idea, but he couldn’t do chores in a neighborhood he had vandalized.

Myron began to think that he would have had better luck in his own neighborhood. He was sure that they would have treated him better—after all, the people there didn’t seem to be much better off than his family. The only problem was they probably couldn’t pay him.

“Go home”? No way. They couldn’t get rid of Myron Brun so easily. He had promised Gwen a Christmas present and he was going to make it happen. Suddenly a light bulb clicked on in Myron’s head. Hey! Maybe if I told them why I’m earning the money, they’ll want to hire me.

At the next house, he said quickly before the door could be shut, “Hello, Ma’am, my name is Myron. I’d like to do odd jobs for you to earn money to buy my little sister a Christmas present.”

The motherly looking brown haired lady at the door smiled. She was wearing an apron and smelled like cinnamon.

“Oh, that’s sweet of you!” she said. “Hmm…well, it’s been snowing; could you shovel the walkway?”

“Yes, ma’am!” said Myron. It worked! He supposed people were suckers for mushy stuff like that.

The lady got a snow shovel from the garage and handed it to him. It had been a while since he’d shoveled snow. His dad--his old dad-- usually did it. He said it burned more calories than any other kind of work. After about five minutes Myron understood why: there was only about two inches of snow, but when he lifted the shovel to dump it, it weighed a ton.

But Myron didn’t care how hard it was. He was doing it! He was earning money. Gwen would have her Christmas miracle. With every scoop of snow he pictured her opening her present and being crazy happy.

When he was finished shoveling, he knocked on the door and gave the shovel back to the lady. Then he realized he hadn’t told her how much he charged or asked her how much she would pay.

Myron hoped she wasn’t a Scroogette. He imagined her giving him a quarter, or a handful of pennies. Next time, he would find out what he would be paid before he did the work.

“Oh, that’s wonderful, Myron.” She said, taking the shovel and looking out over the cleared walkway. “We have guests coming tonight and now I don’t have to worry about them walking through the snow. You’re a lifesaver.”

Do lifesavers get paid big bucks, he wondered?

“Tell you what,” she said, “I’ll give you two dollars for shoveling the snow and another dollar if you put salt down.”

“Really? Thank you!”

Putting salt down was easy-peasy-one-two-threesy. Myron had done that lots of times. It probably didn’t burn up any calories.

In another few minutes, Myron had three dollars in his pocket—not his jacket pocket with the hole. He wasn’t taking any chances on losing it. He put it in his jeans. The pockets in his jeans were so tight air couldn’t escape from them.

The old man who came to the door of the next house had white hair and long sideburns like George Washington on the dollar bill. Myron took that as a good sign, but thought it would have been even better if he had looked like Benjamin Franklin.

Feeling more confident now that he had been successful in getting one job, he very boldly said, “Good afternoon sir, my name is Myron. I’m in the neighborhood to do chores to earn money to buy my little sister a Christmas present. What can I do for you?”

But “George” said he wasn’t interested in hiring Myron.

“Your nice neighbor just hired me to shovel and salt her walk. I could do the same for you.”

“She did, eh?” said the man. He wore red suspenders that held his pants up over his waist. “Well, alright young man. I’ll let you shovel my walk, but I’m not paying more than a dollar-fifty. Take it or leave it.”

That was half of what he’d just been paid. But Myron couldn’t afford to be picky. He didn’t know when or if he’d get another job.

“Okay, thank you, sir.”

The man opened his garage so Myron could get the shovel and salt himself. Myron worked as fast as he could, hoping to get a couple more jobs before he had to go home.

Shoveling snow was getting harder as Myron began to turn into a boy-cicle. He stamped his feet to keep them from going numb, but they were wet from the snow soaking through his shoes so that he felt like he was walking through a giant Slurpee. The socks on his hands were about as effective at keeping his hands warm as toilet paper would be at stopping a bullet, and he frequently put his hands under his arms to warm them.

A couple of times Myron saw the old man watching him from the window. Myron shook his head. What was he looking at? I suppose he doesn’t trust me. That’s dumb. If I was a thief, I wouldn’t be shoveling snow to earn money.

After putting the salt and shovel away, Myron went back and rang the doorbell.

“So you think you’re done, huh?” said the man stepping outside. “You didn’t even do the edges. If you want to do work, boy, you need to learn how to do it right. Well, I’m not paying full price for half the job.”

“But—” began Myron. This was very unfair. He did the same job for the neighbor lady and she was perfectly happy with it.

“Take it or leave it.”

“Fine,” said Myron through gritted teeth.

The old man dug in his pocket and pulled out a handful of change from which he counted out a dollar. He counted it twice.

“Thanks,” Myron mumbled.

He turned away and walked back over the cleared walkway. Maybe he could have done a little better job. But it was so cold.

The sun was still high in the sky, but beginning to descend. He didn’t think he’d have time to do more shoveling before he had to go home. Fortunately, three houses away a heavy woman was unloading bags and packages from her car. She dropped one and then another. Then she stamped her foot and almost said a bad word.

Myron ran to her.

“Hello, Ma’am, my name is Myron. You look like you need help. Can I help you for fifty cents?”

The woman jumped in surprised and seemed unsure of what to say.

“I’m not a thief or anything,” Myron said quickly. “I’m trying to earn money to buy my little sister a Christmas present.”

The woman laughed. “That’s very nice. Well, I could use the help, goodness knows.”

By the time she had Myron loaded up with bags and packages, he almost couldn’t move. He slowly walked up the stairs to her front door and put everything down just inside.

“I’m sorry I can’t go in any farther than that. I promised my dad,” he said.

“Oh, that’s alright,” she nodded. “You can’t be too careful.”

She took in some things herself and then loaded Myron up a second time. He would have bet that one of the bags had a bowling ball in it. It was heavy and round.

Once the car was emptied, she handed him fifty-cents and said, “Thank you, Myron that was the best deal I made all day.”

The sun had sunk lower, and Myron knew he had to get back home. If he stayed out any longer in the snow he thought his feet would break off at the ankles. He ran home feeling like he had conquered the world.

He had money! Four dollars and fifty-cents. What could he buy with that? Not much, that was for sure. But he’d make more tomorrow. Maybe a lot more. Maybe enough to buy presents for the whole family. That would be cool. Gwen said she wanted a Christmas like everybody else, and it wouldn’t be like everyone else if she was the only one who got a present.

Chapter Fifteen – Mummy Hands

Myron noticed immediately that something was very wonderfully different as he stepped inside the house. It was warm! They had heat.

“Welcome home, Myron, my boy!” said his father from the couch. He was sitting up and although he was wearing different socks than he had on the day before, these had holes in them, too.

“Did you have fun at your friend’s house?” Dad asked with a wink.

His friend’s house? Did he even have any friends? What was Dad talking about? Then Myron saw Gwen sitting on the other side of his Dad.

Ohh! Code words so Gwen won’t know what is going on. Smart thinking, Dad.

“Oh, oh, yeah. It was good. I had fun,” Myron said and patted his pocket and his father gave him a thumbs up. “But it wasn’t as warm as our house. This is great!”

“Oh good, Myron, you’re home,” said his mother coming in from the kitchen. “I was worried about you.”

She gave Myron a hug and he suspected that Dad had shared the secret with her.

“Dinner is just about ready,” she said, “but you better change into dry clothes first.”

Myron didn’t care if they made him look like a reject from clown school, he couldn’t wait to put on warm, dry clothes. His jeans were wet in the legs from shoveling and his shoes and socks were soaked through. And he was equally as anxious to eat. Who knew that working so hard for something could make you forget you were hungry?

Dinner was the same chicken soup as the night before, only there was less meat and more potatoes in it. Gwen was eating slowly, as if she wasn’t hungry at all. Maybe since Myron hadn’t been around to talk about Christmas miracles, she had gotten all depressed again.

Don’t worry, Gwen-Gwen. You will definitely have a Christmas present and maybe everyone else, too!

“Myron what are you smiling about?” Gwen asked suspiciously.

“Oh nothing,” he said trying to stop grinning but failing. He didn’t know keeping this kind of a secret could be so much fun. “It’s just that this is really good soup!”

Myron had never been so tired as when he got ready for bed that night. His make-shift bed was actually inviting. Pulling up the blankets to his chin, he let his head sink into the pillow. He didn’t even have a chance to wish he had his old life back before he fell asleep.

 

 

***

 

 

When he awoke the next morning, he wasn’t surprised to be in the ugly little bedroom. In fact, he didn’t even think about it. But he was surprised at how sore his muscles were. His old dad had been right. Shoveling snow really was a workout.

But he hadn’t let cold stop him, or mean people or anything else, and he wasn’t going to let soreness stop him either. Not when he was so close to giving Gwen the Christmas she wanted. He was going to go out there and make as much money as he could. And then…then he would go Christmas shopping and that was going to be a whole lot more fun than shoveling snow!

Out his bedroom window he saw that it had snowed overnight. Fantastic! This meant more work for him.

In the kitchen, his mom was making sandwiches and humming “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” She was smiling and there was a little pink in her cheeks. If she had been wearing earrings, Myron could have almost believed she was his old mom.

“Good morning, working man,” she said cheerfully. “How did it go yesterday?”

She set a bowl of oatmeal on table for him and Myron sat down. And then glanced around to be sure Gwen wasn’t near.

“It was tough at first. No one wanted to hire me. But after I told them that I wanted to buy a present for my little sister, they were friendlier.”

“I guess people are like that. They are more soft-hearted when it comes to a worthy cause than someone just trying to make money for himself—even if he is a worthy cause.”

She dished up some oatmeal for herself and sat down.

“You know,” she said, “When your father told me what you were doing. I was worried about you being out there by yourself. But he told me how important it was to you and,” she paused and put her hand on his, squeezing it slightly, “we’re very proud of you, Myron.”

Myron felt his cheeks get hot and his chest suddenly felt twice as big. He was amazed by how great it felt to know his parents were proud of him. It couldn’t be bought or wrapped, but it was a present all the same.

“Oh we better be quiet,” she said quickly. “I think Gwen’s coming.”

Myron turned and peered into the living room. He didn’t see Gwen. He waited a second but she didn’t show up. His mother must have imagined it.

When he turned back around to the table, he thought he saw out of the corner of his eye, Mom putting an extra teaspoon of sugar in his oatmeal.

They finished their breakfast, and before his she left Mom handed him a grocery bag. Lunch! He’d forgotten about lunch. Good thing his mom didn’t. Now he wouldn’t have to come all the way home to eat.

He opened up the bag to find two bologna sandwiches and two carrots. Twice the lunch. And there was a plastic bottle filled with water.

“Thanks, Mom!”

“You’re welcome, Myron. And don’t forget to dress warm,” she said as she went out the back door.

Myron had already planned to dress as warm as he could. He needed to be able to stay out in the cold a lot longer than yesterday.

He found a pair of scissors in a drawer in the kitchen and used it to cut strips from one an old, white tee shirt. With the ends of the strips knotted together, he wrapped them around each finger, thumb and hand. When he was done, he spread his hands out in front of him and laughed.

I have mummy hands!

He held his arms straight out in front of him and staggered a few steps forward moaning loudly.

At that moment Gwen came walking past his door, but stopped when she saw him. “Geez, Myron! Halloween was two months ago!”

He staggered towards her, still moaning. She rolled her eyes. “Dope,” she said and left.

Four pairs of socks were as many as he could wear and still put on his shoes. Now they actually fit, even though it made his feet feel weird and clunky like Frankenstein. It would keep his feet warmer, but it wouldn’t keep them dry. He searched around for something that could help. There wasn’t much of anything anywhere. But he did find a drawer in the kitchen with all sorts of random stuff.

Huh. I guess every house has a junk drawer.

The junk drawer in his old house had loose change among all the odds and ends. Myron didn’t even have to look to know that he wouldn’t find any coins in this drawer. But he did find a couple of rubber bands and a safety pin.

He used the safety pin to close the hole in his jacket pocket. Now he could put things in his pocket without worrying about them falling through. He put grocery bags over his shoes and used the rubber bands to hold them on. They would keep the snow from soaking his shoes but looked terrible.

Would people want to hire a kid with an alien sock hat, mummy hands and grocery bag boots? He’d find out. In any case, it was the best he could do.

After double checking to be sure his money was in his jeans and grabbing his lunch, he headed to the front door.

“Where are you going?” Gwen said when Myron passed by her in the living room.

“To a friend’s house.”

“What friend?”

Why did she have to ask so many questions. How was Myron to know what friend? He only knew the name of one other kid in this new life, Zane. And he didn’t think Gwen would buy that Zane the pig-faced bully was suddenly his buddy.

Only one name came to mind, “Uh, Nick. I’m going to Nick’s house.”

“Who’s Nick? I never heard of him.” Gwen crossed her arms.

“He’s shy. Well, gotta go. Bye!” Myron was on the other side of the front door before she could ask any more questions. He just hoped Gwen wouldn’t ask Dad about Nick.

Chapter Sixteen – Grandma Christmas and Hamlet

The plastic grocery bags on Myron’s feet made it a little slippery to walk, so he couldn’t go as fast as he would like. As he walked back to the street he had been working the day before, he calculated that he had about five hours to work and two hours to shop before he would have to go home. He wanted plenty of time to decide what to get for presents—not just anything would do.

The people in the first three houses he knocked on didn’t have work for him. One nice lady offered to give him money for his “cause.” But he surprised himself by turning it down.

Myron didn’t want to take charity for this. He wanted the presents to be from himself alone, not someone else—not even for part of it. He shook his head and thought he must be crazy, but it just didn’t feel right.

Out of the next ten houses, he got one job shoveling a sidewalk for three dollars and one job for shoveling and salting a walkway for two dollars.

At this rate, I won’t have much at all for presents.

He knocked on the door of a small house that was much older than the rest in the neighborhood. There wasn’t anything fancy about it: it had green siding and lots of Christmas lights, which weren’t on. Yet there was something friendly about it.

The old lady who answered the door made Myron smile. Her white hair pulled back in a bun and red sweater with white trim made him think of Mrs. Santa Claus.

“Good morning, Ma’am! My name is Myron Brun. I’m in the neighborhood to do chores to earn money to buy my little sister a Christmas present. Do you have any thing that needs to be done?” he asked.

“Oh my, what a wonderful big brother you are!” she said with the perfect grandmotherly voice. “Hmm, the nice man next door snow blows my driveway and sidewalks for me. But I’d be happy to give you some money for your sister. If you’ll take it,” she added.

“Thank you ma’am, but I couldn’t do that,” he said and began to walk away.

Shoot. Why is it that the nicest people don’t have anything for me to do?

“Oh, I know!” She called before he was out of her yard. “You can help me eat the cookies I just made. I can’t eat them all by myself, and it would be a shame for them to go to waste.”

Myron knew that eating cookies wasn’t really work—unless they were really bad cookies like old Gwen used to make—but the lady seemed to really want to help him. So he decided to make an exception to his no charity rule. His dad had told him he could go into the houses of old ladies and moms with kids.

Myron’s body drank in the heat of her warm house, while he drank a big glass of milk with his cookies. They were Christmas sugar cookies decorated with frosting and sprinkles, and they were the best tasting cookies he’d ever had.

All around the inside of the house were old-fashioned Christmas decorations. They weren’t all shiny and plastic like most peoples’. Many of them were made from wood or cloth. There was a wooden rocking horse with a red bow near the Christmas tree and real “boughs of holly” on her mantel. She told him the stories behind some of the decorations while he ate.

When Myron had eaten as many cookies as he could, the lady stuffed all that would fit into a baggie and made him take it. Then she paid him five dollars!

Her name was Mrs. Crandall, but when Myron left he said, “Thank you so much, Grandma Christmas!” Somehow the name seemed to fit her.

Full and happy, he walked back out to the street.

Maybe later I can find someone who needs help eating pizza.

He laughed at the thought, then looked up and down the street. Where to next?

A short woman came out of the house across the street, all bundled up in thick coat, hat and gloves, but she also had a sling on her right arm. What really got Myron’s attention, though, was the huge great Dane she was trying to control with a leash in her left hand.

“Hamlet!” she shouted, “Heel, Hamlet, heel!”

But the massive creature charged ahead through the snow, forcing the woman to run to keep up. If ever there was somebody who needed his help, it was her.

Getting this job will be a piece of cake. She can’t walk a dog like that. Myron ran up to her and the dog stopped to check him out.

“Hi, boy!” said Myron petting Hamlet’s head. He turned to the woman and said, “Hello Ma’am. My name is Myron. I’m looking for jobs to do to make money to buy my little sister a Christmas present. Can I walk your dog for two dollars?”

“Oh, that would be great,” she said.

Fantastic. Easy as pie.

“But I can’t pay you. With the medical bill for this,” she raised her right arm slightly, “plus Christmas, and this beast eating me out of house and home, I don’t have anything left. My son was supposed to find a home for him when he left for college, but he didn’t. I don’t have the heart to take him to the pound.”

Hamlet appeared to have approved of Myron’s presence and began resuming his enthusiastic “walk,” dragging the woman behind him.

So far Myron only had fourteen dollars and fifty cents, and only had three and a half hours before he needed to start shopping. He didn’t have time to work for free. But Myron felt sorry for her. She was just a little lady and the dog was the size of a small car.

Before he realized it, he heard the words “I’ll walk him for free, Ma’am” come out of his mouth.

Aw, man, why did I say that? Oh, well, too late now.

“Oh that is so kind of you!” she said and handed Myron the leash. Hamlet immediately began to tug on it, nearly pulling Myron to the ground.

“Uh, sure. I’ll walk him around the block and bring him right back to you.”

“If it’s not too much trouble, could you take him around the block twice? If he’s not out long enough he’ll just want to go out again.”

“Okay, yeah. I can do that.”

Snikes, that’s going to take me twice as long.

“That’s great! Thank you so much. Oh, you’ll need these,” she said taking a plastic bag and a small shovel from her coat pocket.

“Right,” he said taking them from her. “Tha-

Hamlet spotted a cat and took off after it as if the leash and Myron weren’t attached. It was all he could do to keep up with the dog.

“Heel, Hamlet, heel!” he shouted. The dog stopped.

Hey, I must have a way with animals. I can handle this, no problem. But then he saw that Hamlet was getting ready to relieve himself on a snowman.

“No boy! No!” Myron jerked the leash. Thankfully, Hamlet was trained well enough to know what that meant and settled for a telephone pole. The “walk” was really more of a “run, stop, run” with Myron alternately dragging the dog away from marking Christmas lawn decorations and being forced to sprint to keep up with him.

After forty-five minutes, far longer than Myron had expected it to take, he returned Hamlet, and the bag and shovel, to their owner.

“Looks like he really put you through your paces,” said the woman.

“Yeah he sure did. Well, I’m glad I could help. Have a Merry Christmas, Ma’am,” he said, a little out of breath.

“Wait a minute, Myron. Look, while you were gone with Hamlet I remembered I had these.” She brought out a pair of thick, brown rubber boots. “I found them in my son’s closet while I was cleaning out his things. I think he was about your age when he wore them. They’re yours if they fit and you want them.”

Myron couldn’t believe his eyes.

Boots! They have to fit. The universe could not be so cruel as to make them not fit.

He sat down on the front steps of the woman’s house, took the bag and shoe off his right foot and put the boot on and…it was too tight. He figured he might be able to stand it for a while but probably not even long enough to get home.

Shoot! They would have been fantastic…

“Too tight, huh?” said the woman, “What a shame.”

“Hold it!” he said. “I just remembered something!” With some effort, he took his foot out of the boot and removed three of the four socks he was wearing. He put the boot back on.

“Perfect!” He said, smiling at the lady.

“Oh, I am so glad. You are a very kind young man. I’m happy I was able to do something for you.”

Myron said goodbye to Hamlet and the woman. He felt like he could work forever in his new boots. He was so happy to have them that when the next five houses sent him away without work or no one was home, he was still in a good mood. With only two hours left, though, he was beginning to get worried that he’d have less than fifteen dollars to spend.

Chapter Seventeen – Reputation and Wrapping Paper

Continuing down the block, Myron came to a large three-story home. It had rock around the bottom and stucco above and was probably the most expensive house in the neighborhood. Myron wondered that the driveway, walkway and sidewalk hadn’t been shoveled or snow blown yet.

But he was even more surprised when he knocked on the door and a blond man wearing a white shirt and green tie answered the door and said, “Hello, Myron, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Whoa! That’s strange. How does he know my name?

“I heard about the boy going around the neighborhood looking for work to…buy his little sister a Christmas present? Is that right?”

Holy cow, I have a reputation! In his old neighborhood he was only known for the pranks he played and, of course, the Myron Special.

“Yes, sir.”

“I was going to clear off the snow myself this morning, but I saved it for you—and saved myself a chore.” The man laughed like he’d said something funny.

“Er, thanks,” said Myron looking around at the snow covered lot. No one had ever saved snow for him before.

The man laughed again. “How does ten dollars for shoveling the driveway, walk and sidewalk sound?”

Ten dollars? Really?”

“You bet. That’s a lot of hard work. But I guess I don’t need to tell you that.”

“No, sir,” Myron grinned. “Where can I find your shovel?”

The man opened his garage and got out his snow shovel. Myron set to work immediately, working as fast as he could. Ten dollars! That would give him twenty-four fifty. It still wasn’t a whole lot, but he could work with it.

Remembering what the old man from the day before had said about doing a bad job—and how he’d stiffed Myron fifty cents—he was careful to get all the edges. He wanted the entire ten dollars. And, after working until the muscles in his arms and legs we’re begging for mercy, he got it.

Before Myron left, he asked the man what time it was and found out he only had about fifty minutes left to do more chores. After that, he would need to head over to the stores for some serious Christmas shopping. Luckily they were only four blocks away and in his new boots, he could get there in no time.

Since he would be going that way anyway, he decided to try the houses in that direction. He hoped he could do something other than shoveling. His last job had worn him out.

A loud growling from his stomach made him realize he was hungry. Because he had stuffed himself with cookies, Myron had almost forgotten about his lunch. He’d put it in one of his large jacket pockets, so the sandwiches were kind of mashed, but they tasted okay anyway.

No one was at home until he got to the last house on the last block before the shopping center. He rang the doorbell and it didn’t look like anyone was going to answer until a lady with long, shiny black hair and dark skin came to the door. She was very pretty, but tired looking like Myron’s mom.

He gave her his “Hello, my name is Myron” speech and could hear little kids laughing and shouting inside the house.

“I’m sorry,” she said and sounded like she meant it, “I don’t have anything for you. I’m just so busy with the kids and it being Christmas Eve and all. I still haven’t even wrapped my nephews’ and neices’ presents.” Then her eyes lit up. “Hey, could you wrap them for me?”

“Oh, uh, I don’t know. I’m not very good at wrapping presents.” Myron knew that was because he’d never given very many.

“That’s okay! They won’t care. They’ll tear the wrapping paper off like animals anyway. Just wrap them so you can’t see what’s inside.”

Myron shrugged and smiled, “Well, okay, I’m your man.” Who was he to argue with an easy indoor job?

The young mother set him up in a room with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, bows and about a dozen presents. She also gave him some little cards.

“Put what the gift is on this card and tape it to the outside when you’ve finished wrapping it, that way I’ll know who it goes to when I do the gift tags.”

“Alright.”

“Just bring them out to the family room when you’re done.”

“You got it. Any special wrapping paper you want me to use for certain gifts?”

“Nah. You decide. Well I better get back to the little hoodlums before they tear the house apart—or each other.”

She left and Myron began unrolling the paper and cutting off sheets of it. Wrapping presents should have been a simple job, but Myron thought the first one he did looked like gift-wrapped garbage, so he took off all the paper and redid it. Three times he forgot to write on the card what the present was, so he had to open it to remind himself. By the time he was finished with them all, though, he’d gotten good enough to make the last one look very neat.

As he worked, he thought of the types of things he could buy for his family. One thing he decided right off: no food. While it would taste good, it would only last for a little while. He wanted his presents to be enjoyed for a long time.

It was difficult deciding what to get for Gwen. The old Gwen loved Barbie dolls and had way too many of them. She even had guy Barbie dolls, which was just plain wrong. Men should not be dolls, action figures, but not dolls. Maybe this Gwen would like Barbies, too. But he had no clue what they cost.

For his father he was thinking about getting socks because all of Dad’s had holes in them. Socks should be cheap. If he was lucky, he could get more than one pair.

Mom’s present was the easiest one to decide on. He would get her a pair of earrings if he could. Even though he had gotten used to seeing her with her plain, faded clothes and pinned back hair, she still didn’t look like his mother without earrings.

He wouldn’t know until he found out the prices of things, but he didn’t think he could afford wrapping paper. He’d find some colorful newspaper ads and wrap them in that. They wouldn’t look very miracle-y, though. But then, as he finished and was gathering up the bows, paper and tape, he got an idea.

He loaded himself up with the presents and brought them out to the family room. There were three kids there ranging from a crawling baby to one about his cousin Peter’s size. They got very excited when they saw Myron walk in carrying a bunch of presents.

 

“Are you Sanny Clauz?” asked the little girl who was about two or so.

Really, kid, do I look like Santa Claus?

Myron laughed. “No, I’m just a helper.”

“And these gifts aren’t for you guys. They’re for your cousins,” the mother said as she took a bunch of them from Myron. “You can put the rest under the tree.”

As he did, the woman got her handbag and took out a little pink coin purse. Myron realized that they hadn’t agreed on a price for the job. When she opened the catch on the purse, Myron could see there was at least one dollar bill inside, and hoped she would give him that.

She searched in the purse for a few seconds then said, “Oh, here, just take all of it.” Myron held out his hands while she dumped everything from the coin purse into them. “Merry Christmas!”

“Wow! Thank you!”

The lady laughed, “Don’t get too excited, it’s really not that much.”

“Ma’am,” he said putting the money into his jeans pocket with the rest, “I was wondering if I could have the leftover scraps of the wrapping paper?”

“What? Oh, sure! Knock yourself out. Do you need some bows, too?”

“That would be awesome! Thank you!”

Myron left the house with a bag of wrapping paper scraps, six bows, and, as he found out later after he had counted it, four dollars and thirty-three cents. That gave him a grand total of twenty-eight dollars and eighty-three cents to spend for Christmas.

[]Chapter Eighteen – Christmas Super-Shopping

 

The shopping center had a big department store, the kind small children could hide from their parents in for hours. Myron knew; he’d done it more than once himself when he was little. There were also two fast food places, a salon, a place that sold crafts and a dry cleaner. Across the street from the shopping center was a thrift store. Myron decided that before he spent a single hard-earned penny, he’d see what things cost then calculate the best possible way to spend his money.

He went to the thrift-store first, thinking they would probably have the best deals. But everything there was used and the toys were pretty banged up. He didn’t see anything there he wanted to give his family for Christmas, but he did see something for himself: gloves. Nice, thick ski gloves and they were only a dollar. He was tempted to buy them right then and there. He even tried them on, and immediately the soft, fuzzy interior began to thaw his cold, stiff fingers. But he had given himself an order not to buy anything yet-not until he knew how much the presents for his family were going to cost. Reluctantly, he removed the warm gloves and put them back on the shelf.

The crafts store only had useless decorations to hang in the house. Most of them with mushy sayings and hearts, flowers or cats. He left there after only a few minutes.

The Mexican fast-food place smelled like spicy heaven. He almost went inside to check out the menu prices, but stopped himself.

Oh no you don’t! This money is to make Gwen a miracle Christmas. You’re not spending it on fast food, no matter how good it smells.

He hurried on into the department store before the tantalizing aromas pulled him in against his will and forced him to buy a burrito.

Everyone in town had put off shopping until the last minute and they were all in the store, or so it seemed. Myron was shopping at the last minute, too, but that was only because he wanted to earn as much as he could. These other people had no excuse. The aisles of toys were the most crowded.

There were more than a few screaming children either crying to go home or crying to get a toy. A store, especially one with toys, was no place for little kids on Christmas Eve. Myron covered his ears.

Eventually, he shoved his way to the Barbie section. He’d never realized before how big it was. Or how expensive Barbie and her junk was. He could easily spend all his money right there.

Sorry, Gwen. I’m sure I can find something else just as good. I just don’t know what yet.

As people moved their shopping carts along the aisle, a shelf he hadn’t been able to see before was revealed and on it were five dollar Barbies.

Alright! That’s a price I can handle.

He chose a blond-headed one to match Gwen’s hair. She only came in a bathing suit and high heeled shoes.

That’s a stupid combination. There’s not many places you can pretend she can go in just a bathing suit. Oh, man, I’m thinking like a girl now. Still, she ought to have some clothes.

He scanned the shelves and on the very end of the aisle were a bunch of doll outfits. The Barbie brands were more than he could afford, but there were some other brands Myron had never heard of and those were only a dollar forty-nine. He picked out two of them.

Now Barbie can go swimming, dancing and jogging. Oh, holy cow, I’m doing it again. I’d better get out of here before I turn into a girl.

Myron tried to find the jewelry section but didn’t have any luck. He was beginning to think it must be in a special, hidden spot in the store that only women and girls knew about.

He never did find it, but he did find a holiday display of earrings and matching necklaces in shiny gold and silver gift boxes. These were perfect. There were many choices, but most were Christmas-y looking. He wanted something his Mom could wear any time. She’d look pretty stupid wearing Christmas wreath earrings in June.

He found some a fake pearl earring and necklace set that wasn’t fancy, but Myron thought his mother would really like them. The problem was, they were ten dollars each.

If I get one of those and the Barbie stuff, I’ll have…let’s see…ten dollars and eighty-four cents. But then there’s tax. Shoot. What a rip-off. Kids shouldn’t have to pay taxes—especially at Christmastime. That will leave me with less than ten dollars. I better find out how much socks cost.

It didn’t take him long to find the socks, but he was surprised at what he saw. There were socks in different lengths, socks for work boots, thermal socks, thick and thin dress socks and more. He felt like was in a Dr. Seuss sock book.

Why are there so many different kinds of socks? I thought there were only dress socks and regular socks. What kind would dad want? He never seems to leave the house, so he wouldn’t need dress socks. He probably wouldn’t care what length they are.

Comparing all the different socks and their prices took a lot longer than he expected, but finally he settled on a bag with six white crew socks. It cost six dollars. It was a good deal, but he felt a little bad that it was kind of a boring gift. Mom and Gwen’s gifts were fun.

There was still some time left before he needed to buy everything and go home, so he wandered the store looking for something fun to buy for his father. The only things he thought would be good cost too much.

Near the front of the store was a table of books with a big sign saying “Clearance! $1.99 – $9.99” Myron thought books were more boring than socks, but his dad might not. He was home all day while they were at school and Mom was at work. He must get crazy bored. Myron scanned through the titles. There were cookbooks, romance books with embarrassing covers, books by people who were supposed to be famous, and books that promised to change your life if you read them. None of those was right.

He kept hunting and found some paperback books with no pictures on the covers and the words “Literary Classics” at the top. That sounded awful. But as he read the titles he discovered that he’d heard of some of them—at least, the ones that had been made into movies. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” caught his eye. That could be fun, couldn’t it? And it was only a dollar ninety-nine.

Myron calculated it out. He could get the Barbie stuff, the earring set, the socks and book, pay the unfair sales tax and still have a dollar left for his gloves.

Yes! Myron Brun super-shopper!

Chapter Nineteen – The Value of a Dollar

Someone was humming “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” as Myron left the department store with his bag of gifts. He could still hear it as he crossed the parking lot to get to the thrift store. Then Myron realized that he was the one humming.

Was this what they called the “Christmas spirit?” Did it make a person hum Christmas songs? If you really have the Christmas spirit, would you sing out loud? Myron didn’t think he wanted that much Christmas spirit.

He smiled as he neared the thrift store. Getting gloves would be pure awesomeness. With them and his new boots, he would almost be warm outside. It was a good thing he was buying something for himself. Gwen would think it was odd if he didn’t have a present under the tree, too.

Oh, snikes! The tree! We don’t have a Christmas tree. What will I do? All I have left is dollar.

All the Christmas spirit left him like air from an untied balloon. Myron was sure he couldn’t buy a tree for a dollar, but he walked to the area of the parking lot where trees were being sold anyway. He looked at a few of the prices. Even the smallest ones were more than ten dollars.

Myron couldn’t bear the idea of a Christmas without a tree, so even though he knew it was hopeless, he asked the man selling them if he had any for a dollar. He was short, with a graying beard and round glasses and seemed surprised by the question. Then taking in Myron’s shabby appearance, his expression softened.

“Sorry, kid, we don’t have any for a dollar. But listen, if you come back tonight at about ten o’clock, we’ll be getting rid of the last of the trees. We’d rather sell them for a buck than have to haul them away. But don’t tell anyone else that,” the seller whispered with a wink.

“Thanks! I’ll see you tonight.” Myron smiled. His Christmas was saved! He knew his parents would never let him out after dark, so he’d have to sneak out. He felt bad about that. But if Santa could sneak down a millions chimneys to leave presents, then Myron could sneak out at night to buy a Christmas tree. Besides, he would be very careful.

Myron took out his “mummy” wraps and wound them around his hands. He’d taken them off while doing shopping, but the temperature had dropped and it was snowing again, and his hands were getting cold.

He was really going to miss those gloves! Oh, well. Winter wouldn’t last forever. And maybe Gwen would be so excited about her presents, she wouldn’t notice that he didn’t get one.

He walked along the shopping center looking through the windows for a clock. With the snow, he couldn’t see if the sun was getting lower. He would be leaving anyway, but knowing the time would tell him whether he could walk home or if he would have to run. He stopped at the window of the salon, inside on the wall was a clock. It was four-thirty. It started getting dark at a little after five. He could walk home if he walked fast.

When he turned away from the window a man was standing there. He was mostly bald with a round belly and cheeks that were rosy from the cold. Myron thought he would make a perfect Santa Claus with a suit and beard.

“Merry Christmas!” said the man and handed him a dollar bill.

“Uh—” Myron was so surprised he didn’t even say thank you but just stared at the money. When he came to his senses and began to thank him, the man had gone. He looked at the dollar again. He couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“Yes!” he shouted and pumped the air with his fist.

Woo-who! A whole dollar! Now I can get my gloves for Christmas. When he thought it, the words reminded him of the little rag girl and her dollar bill. Now he understood perfectly how one single dollar could make someone so happy.

He ran to the thrift store and bought the gloves. Putting them on as soon as he left the store was like giving his hands a hug. He wished he could thank the kind stranger and tell him that dollar made it possible for Myron’s hands to be warm the rest of the winter.

[]Chapter Twenty – Christmas Eve

 

Myron came in the back door to the kitchen, peeking in first to make sure Gwen wasn’t there. She wasn’t. Dad was in standing at the stove heating up the soup for dinner. But Myron still didn’t want to come in until he was sure Gwen wouldn’t see him with this bag of presents.

“Dad!” Myron whispered, “Dad, I’m home.”

“Welcome home, Santa,” said his dad in a low voice.

“Dad, I need you to get rid of Gwen. I mean, make sure she stays in her room until I can get to mine.”

“You bet.” His father turned the stove off. “Give me a minute. I think it’s time for a little daddy-daughter chat.”

“About what?”

“About Christmas,” his father grinned, “What else?”

His father left the kitchen and Myron counted to sixty and came in. He tipped toed to his room and hid the bag in his closet. Then he went out to the living room and said in a loud voice, “Hey, Dad, I’m home!”

After a few moments, Gwen and his father came in.

“Good to see you Myron, did you and Nick have fun today?” said his dad. So Gwen had asked Dad about Nick.

“Yep! We shoveled a lot of snow, walked a humongous dog, and ate Christmas cookies. And,” he said holding up one foot. “Nick gave me these boots, because they didn’t fit him anymore.”

“Wow, that was very nice of Nick!”

“Yeah,” Myron nodded, “Most of the time, Nick is a pretty good guy.”

“I wish I had a friend like Nick,” pouted Gwen.

Myron and his dad laughed.

“You have someone better than Nick,” his dad said. “You have a brother.”

“Myron doesn’t give me Christmas cookies. I’d rather have a Nick.”

Myron’s dad smiled and shook his head and went back to the kitchen.

“Myron, does Nick have a sister I can play with?”

Oh, brother! This Nick thing is getting out of control. It’s a good thing I won’t be doing more jobs.

“No. Nick is an only child. And he doesn’t like girls, so stop asking me questions about him.”

 

 

***

 

 

Myron was beginning to wonder if they would ever have anything besides chicken soup or dinner. Although that night it was more like potato soup with chicken flavor. But after dinner when his mom finally came home, she had bags of groceries, and he remembered that she’d said it was her payday.

Wow, bags of food! I wonder what she bought?

Mom didn’t let Myron and Gwen look in the bags. It wasn’t until Myron and Gwen were shooed from the kitchen that his parents began putting the groceries away. Myron tried to peek while they were stashing the goods, but they caught him and told him to go to his room until they called him.

It doesn’t matter anyway; I have to wrap my presents!

“Mom, where’s the tape?” he asked before he left to go to his room.

“We don’t have any, but I think there’s some glue…” she rummaged through the junk drawer, pulled out a glue stick and brought it to him.

“Thanks.”

Myron moved the cardboard boxes from the corner in front of the door. They weren’t heavy enough to stop anyone from opening it, but at least he’d have some warning in case someone decided to barge in while he was in super-secret Santa mode.

He laid out the presents and the wrapping paper. Because the paper was scraps from his gift wrapping chore they were all sorts of strange sizes. It was a puzzle trying to figure out what paper to use with for which gift.

Good thing I’m an experienced gift wrapper. Someone who didn’t know what he was doing would mess this all up. I’m so good, I even have the right number of bows—uh, oh, oops. I forgot I need one for my gloves when I wrap them up. I know, I’ll put the bow on dad’s book and stack it on top of his socks, that way, the socks won’t need a bow.

“Myron! Gwen!” He heard his mother calling, “You can come out now.”

But Myron stayed in his room until he’d finished wrapping all the presents. He even wrapped his gloves, but left one end of the paper open so he could pull them out. Covered in paper and bows, the presents he’d hoped for. He couldn’t wait to see Gwen’s face when she saw them.

With the added bulk from the wrapping paper and bows, the presents wouldn’t fit back in the shopping bag, so Myron put them in his pillow case. With the gifts inside, it was stuffed like Santa’s pack, only not as full.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Myron laughed, tossing it over his shoulder just to see how it felt. It was fantastic.

Finally, he rejoined the family in the living room. Gwen, Mom and Dad were sitting on the couch. Dad had a book in his lap.

“There you are!” said Mom. “We were waiting for you.”

“You were?”

“Yes, it’s Christmas Eve, remember?” said Dad.

“Um, yeah, I know Dad.” Myron answered slowly.

Why is dad reminding me it’s Christmas Eve? He knows I just spent the whole day working and buying presents for tomorrow.

“We’re going to read the Christmas story from the Bible like we do every year,” said Gwen. “Gee, Myron, it’s like you have amne—amne-what-do-you call it, when you lose your memory.”

Amnesia? That wasn’t exactly right, but it was pretty close. The truth was, even though he remembered things from his old life, it was this life that felt real—even if he couldn’t remember his past here.

“That’s crazy, Gwen. Of course I remember. We read the story about Jesus from the Bible the night before Christmas. I know that.”

I had no clue we did that. My old family didn’t do it.

He sat down in the big chair and folded his arms. It was an ugly chair, worn and faded and needed to be repaired—or thrown out. But it was comfortable. As his father read the story about Mary and Joseph and taxes—even parents of Jesus had to pay them, apparently—and angels singing and a baby born in a stable, Myron began to doze off. He was so tired, the chair was so soft and the house was delightfully warm.

“Myron,” his dad said, shaking him. “Get up.”

It took a minute for Myron to realize that he had fallen asleep.

Oh, no! What if I’ve slept past ten o’clock? I’ll miss getting the tree!

“Dad, what time is it?”

Chapter Twenty-One: Oh, Christmas Tree

His dad laughed, “Don’t worry Myron. It’s not Christmas yet. It’s just eight-forty-five.”

Thank goodness! Myron hadn’t missed the Christmas tree seller. His heart resumed its regular rhythm.

“Is everyone going to bed?” he asked, not seeing anyone else up besides Dad.

“Yep, your mom and I are tired, and we’re making sure Gwen goes to bed, too, so you can play Santa.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Myron waited in the living room until the only sounds he could hear were the hum of the refrigerator and the warm air blowing through the vents. As quietly as possible, he put on layers of clothes, his boots, gloves and hat and checked his pocket three times to make sure the precious dollar bill was still there. Creeping slowly so as not to make any noise, it seemed to take forever to get to the front door.

The traitorous door creaked loudly when he pulled it open. Myron was scared to death his parents would hear it and wake up. But no one stirred in the house. Going out, he closed the door, holding his breath as he released the knob and the latch caught.

“Whew!” he whispered.

I really would make a good ninja.

His first breath of the winter’s night air was so cold it was painful. Oh, holy cow! Myron nearly decided that they could do without a Christmas tree. Why walk over a mile in the freezing cold when his warm room and sort-of-bed were just on the other side of the door? But then he imagined his wonderful presents laying there in the living room with no tree standing proudly over them.

No, this had to be done right. He was going to give Gwen her miracle Christmas. When all the kids at school talked about the presents Santa brought them, she would be able tell them about hers. At least for a little while, she’d be like everyone else.

The distance between his house and the shopping center seemed a lot longer than when he had come home. But he hadn’t been so cold then. Thank goodness for his boots and gloves! He didn’t think he could have made it otherwise, no matter how many extra shirts he wore.

Careful to watch out for strangers he was alert to any movement, but other than a few cars passing by and people going into their houses, he saw no one. Apparently he was the only one crazy enough to be out walking in the below freezing weather.

When he got to the shopping center the stores that had been so busy earlier were dark as if they, too, had gone to sleep. The only lights came from the tree seller’s. As he approached, he could see the man he’d talked to and another person loading the last tree onto a truck.

Myron ran up to seller. “I’m not too late, am I?”

“Oh it’s you. No, you made it, but just barely.” The man smiled, shaking his head.

Myron took the dollar from his pocket and handed to him. The seller glanced round with a slight frown.

“Did you come here all by yourself?”

“No.” Myron lied.

The man smirked. “Uh-huh. Well kid, I promised you a tree. But I don’t think you could carry one more than about four feet tall.”

The tree seller pulled a small one off the truck. It was on the Charlie Brownish side, with not many branches. But the man was right. Myron couldn’t carry a big tree all the way home, as much as he would have liked to. Besides, it was going to be hard enough to find stuff to decorate a small one.

After tying some around the tree, the seller put it on Myron’s shoulder.

“I guess you’d turn us down if we offered you a ride?” he said.

It took everything he had to turn down a quick and cozy lift home, but he knew he couldn’t accept a ride with strangers. “Yeah, but thanks.”

“Well I hope you don’t have far to go. Wow, you must really love Christmas, to come out here on a night like this. Well, Merry Christmas, kid. Stay safe.” He waved then turned back to shut the back door of his truck.

“Merry Christmas!” said Myron.

It was funny, but with the tree on his shoulder, it didn’t seem so cold and the walk home felt shorter. Myron began to imagine ways to decorate the tree and what materials he could use. He was so caught up in his planning that he stopped trying to be careful. When he did remember to watch for strangers, he noticed there was a car driving slowly behind him.

Oh, no! Are they following me? What if they grab me? There’s not even anyone around to see.

Myron took off running and he didn’t look back until he got to the front door of his house, heart pounding. He risked a look back down the street just in time to see the car pull into a driveway. They weren’t following him. They were probably just looking for an address. But he was still shaking when he entered the house. No wonder his parents had a rule not to be out after dark.

Chapter Twenty-Two – Playing Santa

Setting the tree up was a problem. He didn’t have a tree stand and wrapping a blanket around it Linus-style didn’t work at all. After thinking about it for a while, he took one of the boxes from his room and shook it out in case there were rats inside, then cut a hole in the bottom of it. He turned it upside down and put the trunk of the tree through the hole. It didn’t look perfectly straight, but it did the job.

Myron dug through the old clothes that made up his “mattress” and found a red skirt. He thought it was funny that he was using a real skirt for a tree skirt. Despite how wrinkled it was, it covered up the box and spread out around the tree nicely.

Using aluminum foil, he made a star for the top of the tree. Then he took a sheet of the foil, cut it back and forth to form a long garland and draped it around the tree.

Not bad, he thought. I wish I had some lights to put on it, though. It really needs some color.

In his room, he dug through the few scraps of wrapping paper that were left and cut pictures bells, Santas, Christmas trees and snowflakes. He couldn’t find anything to hang them with, so he twisted strips of foil into ornament hooks.

When all the “ornaments” were hung, Myron got his presents and spent several minutes arranging them around the tree. He remembered to rewrap his gloves, too.

Standing in the hallway, he could see how it would appear to Gwen and Mom and Dad in the morning. Although the tree was small with simple decorations and presents were few, it was bright and cheerful.

It really looks like Christmas now. Ah, just one more thing!

Myron took the Christmas cookies from the baggie and laid them on a plate. Some of them were a little broken, but he covered up the broken edges with the nicer looking cookies. He put them on the mantle above the fireplace. It was finished. He couldn’t wait until morning to see the looks on the faces of Gwen, Mom and Dad.

He went to his bedroom and finally, after a very, very long day, got ready for bed. Even the excitement over the joy his presents would create could not stop Myron from falling quickly and deeply asleep.

Chapter Twenty-Three – Christmas Morning

“Presents!” Gwen’s excited voice rang through the house, waking Myron. In two seconds she was at his bedside. The smile on her face and the light in her eyes was better than he had imagined. This is what he had worked for.

“Myron you were right! Miracles do happen at Christmas! We have a tree and everything.” She pulled his arm. “Get up! Come and see.”

When she was satisfied that he was getting up she ran out, and Myron heard her shout, “Mom! Dad! It’s Christmas! We have presents!”

Myron went out to the living room and sat on the couch waiting for his parents to come in. When they saw the tree and gifts, their eyes went wide and their mouths dropped open. He couldn’t help but laugh. After all, he had told them he was only getting a gift for Gwen, not for all of them. But what they were most surprised by was the tree.

Myron’s father looked from him to the tree, half frowning and pretending to cut down a tree. It took Myron a second before he realized that his father was asking him if he cut down a tree from someone’s yard.

Myron shook his head vigorously and rubbed his thumb against two fingers indicating “money” meaning he had paid for it. His father’s eyes widened and he nodded.

No reason to tell Mom and Dad that I only paid a dollar for it—or that I got it last night.

“Well, aren’t you going to open your presents?” he asked, eager to see what they thought of their presents.

Gwen had already found out which ones were hers and rushed straight to them.

“Here, Dad,” Myron said getting up. “Sit down on the couch and I’ll hand you yours.” His father sat down and Myron made a show of trying to find the presents with his father’s name. He handed them to Dad.

Mom knelt down and picked up her small wrapped box, while Gwen tore through the wrapping paper on her own presents.

If only she knew how long it took me to wrap those! Oh, well. Myron laughed. He didn’t blame her.

“Oh, boy! A Barbie! Now I can play Barbies with my friends at school. This is just what I wanted. And look there’s clothes to go with her!” exclaimed Gwen tearing through the wrapping paper.

“Socks!” said Dad. He turned to Mom. “Look honey, socks! Wasn’t I telling you just the other day how much I needed new socks? I wonder how Santa knew?” He winked at Myron.

“That’s wonderful, Tom, but I’ve got you beat!” She held up the earring set. “Aren’t these beautiful? I haven’t worn earrings in so long. They make us take them off at work. But I’m going to wear them now and the necklace, too. For one day, I’m going to be a queen.” She began removing them from the box.

Gwen already had her gifts out of the packaging and was changing Barbie into the dress.

“Ah, what’s this?” said Dad, “Sherlock Holmes! I’ve always wanted to read the original stories. I bet they’re nothing like the movies.”

“Hey, Myron, aren’t you going to open your present?” said Gwen.

“Oh, oh yeah! Oh, boy, I wonder what Santa got for me?” picking up the present he’d tagged for himself. He tore open one end of the wrapping and pretended to be surprised. “Gloves! The thing I needed most in the world—well, besides a million dollars.”

He put them on, remembering the man who had given him the dollar and how much he had looked like Santa. Maybe, in a way, that man and Myron himself were all part of “Santa Claus” if you thought of him not as a man, but as an idea.

“Well, now that we’re through opening Santa’s presents, your dad and I have a surprise of our own,” announced Mom.

For half a second Myron thought his Mom was going to say they were going to have a baby.

“For Christmas dinner the Bruns will be having turkey with all the trimmings!” said Dad, almost shouting, “And pumpkin pie for dessert.”

“Yay!” said Myron and Gwen together.

His mother went off to the kitchen to start cooking, and Myron remembered the cookies on the mantel. No one had spotted them yet. Myron put his gloves in his room and when he came out he “discovered” the cookies.

“Hey what’s this?” he said, picking up the plate.

Gwen ran over. “Cookies!” She turned to Dad, “Can we have one, Dad?”

“Cookies for breakfast?” he said trying to look serious but failed and broke into a smile. “Sure, why not? It’s Christmas. I suppose none of us will miss our oatmeal too much.”

“I won’t,” said Myron taking a big bite from a cookie.

Chapter Twenty-Four – The Feast

Stroking his chin and looking at the tree, Dad said, “You know, this is a nice tree. And was good of Santa to leave some space on it for us to decorate ourselves.”

“But we don’t have any ornaments,” said Gwen.

“Yet!” Dad said. Slowly he rose from the couch and left the room. Several minutes later he returned with old magazines and newspapers, pieces of cardboard, crayons, glue, and yarn.

“Grab the radio and follow me, elves!” he said going into the kitchen where he deposited everything on the table. “Plug in the radio, Myron, let’s get this workshop in the right mood.”

While his mom cooked, Myron, Gwen and Dad made ornaments and other decorations. Christmas music filled the kitchen and more than a few times Myron found himself—along with the rest of the family—singing, whistling or humming along to it.

In a couple of hours, the tree was full of homemade ornaments, from the mantel hung a chain of red and green links, and there was even paper mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

About the time that the ornament making scraps had been cleared away from the table, Myron became aware of the most wonderful aroma. It started in the kitchen but soon filled the house. It was beyond any doubt the most Christmas-y of Christmas smells that he had ever inhaled: roast turkey.

Waiting for Christmas dinner to be ready was deliciously frustrating. One by one, his mother finished each dish. There were mounds of fluffy white mashed potatoes, a baking dish of yams with marshmallows, a big green salad, corn, and cranberry sauce. Finally, she pulled the turkey from the oven, brown and perfect, juices oozing out into the roasting pan. And just when Myron thought he couldn’t stand it another minute, his mother tapped her stirring spoon on the edge of the pan of gravy and said, “It’s ready.”

Myron would not have thought they had ten minutes of things to be thankful for, but it seemed like that was how long Dad took to give thanks for the dinner and the day.

In his old life Myron had sat down to a dinner with just as much and sometimes more food than this almost daily. But this was the first time he’d ever felt like he was sitting down to a feast. There were no restrictions and only one rule: everyone was to eat as much as he or she wanted. And that’s exactly what Myron did.

With full stomachs, the family sat in their warm house and played games for the rest of the day. They laughed and teased each other and were happy. But it was more than that. They were… merry.

People said “Merry Christmas” hundreds of times during the holidays. Myron always thought it meant they were wishing you to have what you wanted for Christmas. But he was wrong. It was about forgetting your worries and enjoying yourself. For the first time in his life, Myron was having an honest to goodness Merry Christmas.

When the games had been put away, Dad put the radio back on the bookcase and set the volume down low so that carols played softly in the living room.

Gwen sat in front of the Christmas tree pretending Barbie was a vet. Her Gwen’s teddy bear and stuffed rabbit played roles of wounded or sick animals. They already had holes, so Barbie didn’t need to make incisions.

Mom was still wearing her new jewelry, and she and Dad were reading Sherlock Holmes to each other. Myron half listened, curled up in the big chair.

What great a Christmas it had been. And he had helped make it that way by working and not giving up until he had enough money to create a Gwen’s perfect day. He was proud of himself, and why shouldn’t he be? Yet a little voice inside said, “It wasn’t just you, you know. You had help. Don’t forget the “Nicks”: all of those people who were willing to hire you and give you a chance to make money.”

Yes, it’s true I worked hard, but I couldn’t have done it without them. He thought about each one and silently thanked them all again.

Everything was so good and he was happier than he had ever remembered being. But in spite of it, something felt off. He didn’t know what was, but it was like when he put the lid back on the peanut butter jar but had screwed it on a little bit wrong. It was tight, the peanut butter wasn’t going to come out—but it just wasn’t quite right.

In her earrings, his mother seemed much more like he remembered Mom. His dad was smiling and even had some color to his face making him appear nearly healthy. And when Gwen laughed her cheeks filled out, reminding him of the round faced old Gwen. They almost looked right. But not quite.

What is my problem? Myron wondered. We’re warm, we’re full, we’re happy. What are we missing? Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe I’m just bonkers.

Myron suddenly felt incredibly tired. He said goodnight and “Merry Christmas” to his family and got ready for bed. He arranged his “mattress,” straightened his blankets and climbed in. Images of his old family arose in his mind. He missed them so much. But that had only been a dream, hadn’t it?

 

 

***

 

 

The sound of bells jingled lightly, as if somewhere far away, and Myron, still slumbering, said, “I did it, Santa,. I did it.”

Chapter Twenty-Five – Christmas Morning II

 

“It’s Christmas!” Gwen’s distant voice penetrated Myron’s sleepy brain.

What’s wrong with that kid? Christmas was yesterday. She must have liked it so much she’s pretending it’s Christmas again. Crazy.

He kept his eyes closed. He wanted to lay there and enjoy his nice, soft bed, so warm and comfy.

Wait a minute! My bed isn’t soft and comfy. It’s not even a bed.

Myron opened his eyes. Then he shut them and shook his head because what he was seeing couldn’t be real. Could it? Slowly he opened them again, afraid to believe, afraid it would all disappear: the blue walls, the dresser with a tv and game console on top, the toys, and the thick beige carpet with an iPod laying on it.

He slid out of bed and walked around the room touching everything. It felt real.

Am I back? Am I really back home?

Gwen burst through his door and Myron almost fell over. It was his Gwen! His round-faced, slightly chubby Gwen!

“Myron, Mom and Dad said you could come out if you say you’re sorry—“ she stopped and frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?” She wiped her mouth and cheeks. “Do I have something on my face?”

“Gwen!” he said, but his throat was tight so it came out strangled. Tears were falling down his cheeks but he barely noticed them. “Is it really you?”

Before she could answer, he reached out and touched her face. It was smooth and warm and rosy.

“You are real!” he shouted and hugged her. “My little sister! You’re here and I’m back! I’m really and truly back home!

Gwen squirmed out of his hug and ran from the room yelling, “Mom! Dad! Myron is freaking me out!”

Mom and Dad!

He ran from his room and to the stairs, wiping the tears from his face as he went. There at the bottom of the stairs were his parents. They were in their matching red robes, their hair a little messy from sleep and his mother wasn’t wearing makeup. They were both frowning up at him, but he was sure that he had never seen them looking more wonderful.

“Myron, what’s this about you scaring Gwen?” said his father.

Myron didn’t answer. He came down the steps slowly wanting to freeze the picture of them in his mind.

“What’s the matter, Myron?” asked his Mom. “Why are you looking at us like that?” She tucked some hair behind her ear and Myron could see a red teardrop earring.

“Mom!” he said coming down the stairs the rest of the way and hugged her. She put her arm around him and when she did, he knew absolutely beyond any doubt that he was really back home and back for good.

He broke off the hug and stepped back to see at her. “Mom you’re beautiful!

“Uh, thanks,” she said, blushing a little and straightening her robe.

“And Dad,” he turned to his father, “you’re so strong and healthy! It’s amazing.” He felt tears sneaking up in his eyes again so he bent his head down so his dad wouldn’t see them. “And you’re wearing slippers. That’s wonderful! Slippers!”

“Myron! What has gotten into you?” his mother asked, surprised and concerned.

“It’s—“ he began, trying to think of how to tell them everything. “I—” he started again but just couldn’t find words to explain it. He shook his head. He didn’t think they’d believe him anyway. “It’s just Christmas, Mom! Isn’t it fantastic? It’s Christmas!”

“But Myron,” said his father, still confused, “You haven’t even opened any of your presents yet.”

Presents? I have presents?”

“Of course. Myron, it’s Christmas morning,” said Mom.

“Wow, presents! Do you and Dad and Gwen have presents, too?”

“We all have presents, Myron,” said Gwen coming down the stairs. “What’s wrong with you? You never cared if any of us had presents before.”

I didn’t care? Didn’t care if my family had presents for Christmas?

Previous Christmases seemed like a hundred years ago, but as he tried to remember them, he realized that it was true: he hadn’t cared. And realizing that hurt in a way he’d never felt before. And never, ever wanted to feel again.

“Well, I was a jerk!”

“Yes, you were. You’ve been a real pain lately. Well, except this morning—now you’re just goofy,” said Gwen.

“I have been terrible, I know. I’ve been spoiled and stupid and selfish. But I’m not going to be that way anymore! Not anymore and not ever again.”

His family began to smile a little at a time, as if they didn’t know whether or not to believe this change in him. But finally Dad shrugged his broad shoulders and gathered them all together for a family hug.

Chapter Twenty-Six – The Christmas Dollar

Beneath the tree were four stacks of presents, one for each of them. Myron found his and just gazed at it for a moment. So many gifts and all for him. Amazing.

He picked up a familiar package that was red and green and not very well wrapped.

From Peter.” He’s only three years old and he’s already giving Christmas presents! What a kid! It’s a Spiderman action figure. I love Spidey.

He saw the thought and car behind every gift he opened. He didn’t know how much they cost, and it didn’t matter. The giver had worked to make the money to get him a present and then took the time to choose something he thought Myron would like. Each one, regardless what it was, was a treasure to him and he set it carefully aside before going on to the next one.

After finding special places in his room for each of his presents, Myron went downstairs to the living room and asked his mother what was for breakfast. Now that the excitement of being home had begun to mellow, he realized he was very hungry.

“Whatever you want,” Mom said.

Really?”

“Sure. It’s Christmas, after all. But you know my rule: Christmas for me means I don’t have to cook.” She smiled. “There are lots of leftovers from last night—-oh!”

She put a hand to her mouth, her eyes shocked and sad. “I just remembered we sent you to bed before dinner. I’m sorry .”

Myron shook his head. He didn’t know if going to bed without dinner had given him such a wildly realistic dream or what, but he was glad it had happened.

“It’s alright, Mom,” he said. “Don’t be sorry. Don’t ever be sorry for that.”

In the kitchen he opened the big double-door fridge. It was so full of food that some of it almost fell out. The cupboards were mostly full, too, as well as the pantry. Myron felt like he was in his own private grocery store.

All of it was so delicious he had trouble making up his mind what to eat but he finally decided on a chocolately breakfast cereal. It was quick and he couldn’t wait to fill his stomach. Pouring up a bowl he took it to the table where Gwen was eating leftover apple pie with whip cream.

Myron stopped himself before he started eating, and bowed his head to give silent thanks. Not only for the cereal—or at least not just for the cereal- but for being back with his family in their incredible home.

Gwen was staring at him when he lifted his head. “Huh,” she said and continued eating her pie.

It was good to see her with “angel fluff.” He looked at her plate of pie and whip cream, thankful to know that she would always have enough to eat.

“What are you looking at, Myron” she asked defensively. “You’re not going to call me Gwen-Gwen-Eats-Again are you? Mom said we could have whatever we wanted for Christmas breakfast.”

It was the second time since Myron had awakened that he deeply regretted how he had behaved in the past.

“No, Gwen. I shouldn’t have called you that. I shouldn’t have made you cry. It was mean, and I’m sorry.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. You’re fine the way you are. I wouldn’t change you at all. Do you forgive me?”

Forgive you?”

She gaped at him as if he’d just invited her to a tea party on Mars with the Smurfs.

“What happened to you, Myron? You’re completely different. It’s weird.”

“Bad weird?”

“No it’s good—I think. But kinda freaky.”

Oh, Gwen, if you only knew how freaky it has been!

“I should have been more ‘weird’ and less rotten a long time ago. Will you forgive me, please?” he pleaded.

She shrugged and smiled. “Yeah, Myron. I forgive you. It’s pretty hard to be mad at you when you’re being so not-you nice.”

Myron laughed. “Thanks, Gwen.”

Munching on his breakfast, he thought life could not get more perfect. He was back home and everything was the way it should be. And yet, as he sat in the kitchen surrounded by so many good things, something was still off.

But what could possibly be wrong now that he was back home? He’d even apologized to his little sister. So why did it feel like peanut butter lid of his life was still not screwed on right?

Looking around at his home and his family, he felt rich in every possible way. And the amazing thing was that he had no more now than he had had before last night, except now he appreciated it.

Whatever he had experienced, a dream or something else, Myron desperately hoped he would never forget it. But he was afraid that his memory of it and the feelings he had would fade, as dreams always did. And if he forgot it and all that he had learned, he would be losing a gift more precious than any other.

After cleaning up his cereal bowl, he spotted a dish of ribbon candy on the kitchen counter and took a piece. Such a small little treat, but his poor family hadn’t even had that.

We really do have it good. We were so poor in my dream. Almost no food. Mom worked, Dad was sick, and Gwen was skinny just like that little girl with the dollar…

And suddenly Myron knew the answer to what was wrong. It was so simple. He should have seen it before.

 

 

***

 

 

“Are you sure this is the house, Myron?” asked his mom from the front seat. They were parked in front of a dilapidated little house on the poor side of town.

When Myron had told his parents about the little girl he saw outside the department store and how he wanted to play secret Santa, they were surprised and a little reluctant. They weren’t comfortable with the idea of going to the home of strangers and dropping off gifts. But Myron knew what gifts like this would have meant to him and his poor family, and he convinced his mom and dad how much they were needed.

“Yeah, Mom, I recognize it from last night. This is the house she went into with her brother,” he replied.

He got out of the car and took a large box from the trunk. It was filled with food from their house—but no oatmeal—and presents from one of the few stores that was open on Christmas day. Myron had spent all the money he’d saved for himself, and yet it felt like he was the one receiving the gift. He couldn’t stop smiling.

He left the car door open so he could get back in fast for a quick getaway without being spotted. Myron wanted them to think it was a Christmas miracle. Going into super-secret ninja mode in bright daylight with snow all around wasn’t easy. Noiselessly, he walked up to the doorstep and set the box down. Then he knocked on the door as loud as he could, turned and ran back towards the car.

He was only about twenty feet from the car when he slipped on the icy sidewalk.

Darn! I’ve got to get out of here before they see me. It won’t be any fun if they see me. He scrambled to his feet and started running again when he heard a shout.

“Wait! Wait, please!” It was the little rag girl. She was half way into her patched up coat and was coming down the front steps.

Myron stopped. She looked so much like skinny Gwen it was incredible.

“You left all these wonderful things here, didn’t you?” she asked coming up to him.

Myron wasn’t about to admit to being responsible, even if it was obvious. This was a Christmas miracle and that was that.

“I remember you from yesterday. You wanted to see my dollar.”

Myron nodded. Putting a hand in her pocket, she took out the crumpled dollar bill.

“I didn’t have a chance to spend it yesterday.” she said looking at it. Then she held it out to him and smiled. “I want you to have it for Christmas.”

“Me?” said Myron staring at it like it was a million dollars instead of only one. “You want me to have it?”

The little girl nodded, “Merry Christmas, and thank you for all the wonderful presents!” She turned and ran back into her house before he could say anything.

“Merry Christmas,” he said even though she couldn’t hear him. “You’re welcome.”

 

 

***

 

 

The little rag girl had no way of knowing it, but on that Christmas and for years later, that single dollar bill meant more to Myron than any gift he had ever received. It was a part of his dream made real. Whenever he saw it, all the memories of being poor and cold and hungry returned to him. He remembered how hard he had to work to earn money. He remembered how thankful he’d been for the dollar the stranger had given him. He remembered that even the smallest gift had great value, if you saw it for all that it meant.

Myron kept the Christmas dollar for the rest of his life. Each year he would lovingly put it in a place of honor under the tree, so that he would never forget to be grateful.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

To Mom and Dad Forever

 

 

Grateful thanks to Donald McNabb for his creative guidance, support and unwavering belief in my story and my talent, to Holly Beck for her constant encouragement, and to Richard Sanders, 4th son, who showed me you could publish and be successful online. Also thank you to Robert Fletcher, Andrea Thomsen and the folks at Writing.com who helped me edit my manuscript.

 

Illustration Attribution: Jan H. Andersen,

http://www.jhandersen.com

Modifications to original: Background replaced, text added

 

 

Dear Reader, I hope you enjoyed this story. No doubt you noticed typos and other mistakes. I would really appreciate it if you would let me know about them so I can make corrections and improvements. You can contact me at [email protected]

Thank you very much,

 

Red McNabb


Myron's Merry Miserable Christmas

He's one of them: nasty, selfish little creatures who appreciate nothing they receive for Christmas. And Myron was the worst. His whining and complaining could drain the Christmas spirit from Santa himself. As rotten as ten year old fruitcake, what could turn Myron from a spoiled brat to a loving human being? Why Christmas magic, of course! But this is no flash, zap, sparkle and glitter and all of a sudden you're good kind of magic. That's too easy. (Besides, what kind of lousy story would that be?) No, no. In fact, you may think this magic is rather cruel at first. But read on, and you will discover-as did Myron-that whatever your circumstances, true magic and true happiness comes from inside. And the magic that changes Myron, will make your own Christmas all the merrier. Just see if it doesn't.

  • ISBN: 9781370387694
  • Author: Red McNabb
  • Published: 2016-10-02 18:35:13
  • Words: 28818
Myron's Merry Miserable Christmas Myron's Merry Miserable Christmas