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The December Awethology - Light Volume

 

 

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The December Awethology

 

The Light Volume

 

 

 

 

An Anthology of December Themed Light Stories from the #Awethors

Copyright 2015 The #Awethors Group

http://www.awethors.com/

All Rights Reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted

in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

including photocopying, recording, or by any information

storage and retrieval system, without permission in

writing from all the authors in the #Awethor

Anthology, except in the case of brief quotations

embedded in reviews

Acknowledgements

Without the following people giving up their spare time and expertise this anthology would not have been possible:

 

Proofreaders: Anita Kovacevic, CK Dawn, Christie Stratos, JB Taylor, LE Fitzpatrick Rebecca McCray,

Ryan Guy, and Travis West

 

Formatting: Claire Plaisted

 

Management: Claire Plaisted, L E Fitzpatrick, and Rocky Rochford

 

Publishing Sponsored by

Plaisted Publishing House Ltd,

New Zealand

 

The Awethors would also like to thank the continued support from all members in the group.

 

A Foreword from L E Fitzpatrick

The Awethors are a group of talented and mostly undiscovered authors who gather online to host events and publish anthologies. We are spread throughout the world and cover a multitude of genres and writing styles, but we all have one thing in common; a passion for writing and literature.

With such a wealth of talent in our group, publishing collections of our work is an absolute pleasure, but also whenever we embark on a project such as this, there is a real community vibe within our group to encourage submissions and develop text. Editors and proofreaders volunteer their time to develop stories, and there’s always an Awethor on standby to support us, offer tips, and give us great feedback. The community spirit of the Awethors is what really binds us together and strengthens us as writers. It’s a privilege to be part of this amazing group of writers and to be able to work with such truly awesome people.

The diversity of our group means we can cover all bases. From Merry Christmas to Happy Hanukah; from snow covered fields; to basking on the beach, from “Yo ho ho”, to “Bah humbug” – there’s something for everyone. So however and wherever you’re spending this December, on behalf of all of all of the Awethors,

 

Happy Reading

 

L E Fitzpatrick

 

Author of paranormal thriller The Running Game

and compiler of the December Awethologies

Contents

Foreword

The Christmas Surprise

The Year of the Light Keepers

Malic Saves Christmas

A Faery Merry Christmas

The Christmas Cuckoo Clock

At Any Moment

A Very Pepper Christmas

A Test of Faith

I Remember Grandpa

Disaffected Dave

A Very Spartan Christmas

Starlight 38

The Trial of Santa Claus

A Christmas of Ice

Evergreen

Midwinter under the Bridge: Another Swedish Tale

Clara’s Button

Gone for Christmas

The Woods

CinnaFun Pinecones

Afterword

Biographies

 

The Christmas Surprise

Anita Kovacevic

 

Am I a child or a grown-up, you ask?

To figure that out is a difficult task.

You may just be one and the other as well.

Which matters more? No one can tell.

 

This is my story, my Christmassy tale,

So listen or read; let no verse here fail.

Words have been sifted through a poet’s sieve,

So here is what happened on a Christmas Eve…

 

~~~~

 

The scent of fresh cookies and candles and pine,

Cinnamon, roasting, some good food to dine,

Carols so softly invading my ear,

You’d think sleep would come, with no need to fear.

 

Tired I was from all the Christmassy stuff,

All the carrying and buying, all the huff and the puff.

I’d been grumpy all day, not quite like a Grinch,

I just wanted some peace, not getting an inch.

 

But there I was lying. The silence was stark,

Not a car in the street, no dogs that would bark,

And my eyes still wide open, no dream as my shield,

I willed it to come, but it just wouldn’t yield.

 

I looked forward to Christmas, disliked Christmas Eve,

No chores on Christmas, just gifts to receive.

No one bugging or nagging, just letting me be.

To do what I wanted’s all I wanted, you see?

 

Come to think of it now, I may have been naughty,

Screamed at some people when my rage caught me.

But serves them right for disturbing my day,

I just wanted some peace, things to go my way.

 

I tried picturing reindeer, the sleigh on the roof,

Eager for jingle bells and the tap of the hoof.

The chimney was clogged; no Santa could enter,

But still I was hoping to hear his ho-banter.

 

My eyelids were glued by force of sheer will,

But the Eve just laughed at my silly ordeal.

I clenched my fists hard in infinite fright,

Afraid I might not get any sleep that night.

 

More terror then came as dawn grew stronger.

Daylight was here! This couldn’t be wronger!

In panic, I heard the squeaking of stairs.

Who could that be? I wonder who dares…

 

The noise of the radio crushed every hope.

Morning news! Had I slept? Not a wink. Nope.

Maybe nobody noticed. Maybe I get a gift.

Nothing quite like a present to give you a lift.

 

A mischievous smile painted my face,

As I stumbled downstairs in a greedy race.

But, oh what a shock! What a killer of joy!

This wasn’t my house! No tree, not one toy.

 

A skinny grey lady in a purple nightgown,

Heavy smoker, all tipsy. She waved me come down.

‘Hey, bachelor guy, where’s my rent? It is due.’

‘Where’s my wife and my kids? Who the heck are you?

 

And where is my house, all the gifts, our tree?’

‘No gifts,’ she hissed. ‘All you have’s what you see.’

‘No presents, you say? What on earth do you mean?

It’s Christmas, you hag, it is not Halloween!’

 

‘Give me my due, you insolent brat,’

Her yellow teeth sneered at me just like that.

‘But why is this happening? What’s going on?’

‘You asked for this, dear, you said: ‘I want to be alone.’

 

My skin started to crawl, my heart throbbed in fear,

As she took out her wand and things became clear.

‘Did you think only Santa works on Christmas day?’,

She winked, ‘We still keep the naughty at bay.’

 

‘I have come to collect, so give me my fee.

You’ve been bad and greedy, and lazy, you see.’

I still stood my ground, in spite of my shock.

‘I’m not paying a dime, this is my home, my stock.’

 

To my horror, she waved her wand round my room.

My home turned to dust, and I knew she was doom.

‘Give me back my family, give me back my own.’

‘But you said all you wanted was to be left alone.

 

You can stay alone forever, for all I care.

But I want MY present. I want MY share.’

All good memories flashed. I fell down to my knees.

There was nothing but her and my desperate pleas.

 

I was cold, I was lonely, stupid to my shame,

With only my arrogant, selfish self to blame.

My face got all wet – I’d forgotten how to cry.

I knew what to say but my throat got so dry.

 

‘Come on, my lovely, speak up, make it so.

Don’t wait for too long, or I will soon go.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered, not trusting my voice.

‘You’ll have to speak louder. There’s no other choice.’

 

She laughed at me grinning, but I didn’t care.

I longed for my kids’ hugs, my wife’s silky hair.

I yearned for their noise, their nagging, their song.

‘How could I have been so terribly wrong?’

 

‘I’m sorry,’ I spoke or shouted – who knew?

‘Some fear, five tears, and some guilt, too?

Oh my, what a generous gift, milord!

Farewell to thee now!’ She didn’t sound bored.

 

She vanished from sight, an echo behind.

‘You humans are silly, such hearts and no mind.’

And there I knelt frozen, alone and so sad,

I fell into darkness, cold ground my firm bed.

 

~~~~

 

‘It’s snowing! It’s snowing! Get up, sleepy head!

You’re sleeping so hard, we thought you were dead!’

Children’s hands now dragged me to the windowsill.

‘Merry Christmas, Dad! It’s snowing! Take us sledding downhill!’

 

‘Merry Christmas, my lovelies! See what’s under the tree!’,

My wife told the kids, and then she kissed me.

As we opened the gifts and kids screamed with delight,

I bit my lip thinking of the previous night.

 

 

 

‘I’m sorry I didn’t get you anything, dove,’

I told my good wife, who was smiling with love.

‘Don’t be silly! I love it,’ she removed a wrapping.

‘This purple nightgown is just perfect for napping.’

 

~~~~

 

This is my story, my Christmassy tale,

So believe it or not, no verse will go stale.

Words have been sifted to make you think twice

If it’s worth being naughty, or you’d better be nice

 

Was it all just a dream or real magic, you ask?

To figure that out is a difficult task.

It may just be one and the other as well.

Which matters more? No one can tell.

The Year of the Light Keepers

Kelly Hall

 

I stared at my feet as they dangled over the edge of the porch, and then breathed warmth on my chilled fingertips. Winter was especially mild in Southeast Texas, and the temperature was only befitting of my pink, lightweight cardigan. Drops of dew had formed in the field across the little road that led to our houses and glimmered with the help of our outdoor lighting.

The sparkle on the ground made me wonder what it was like to live up north, where the snow covered everything like the winter wonderland I’d only seen in movies. Sure, I’d seen snow. Maybe twice in my sixteen years, but even then it happened while I slept and was gone before I could appreciate it. Our snow doesn’t stick. It melts as soon as it hits the warm ground and usually causes a mess.

As I lay back, I wondered what it would be like to walk in deep snow. Would it be soft or would it crunch under my feet? That’s when I heard the sound of footsteps approaching.

“You’ll freeze to death out here, Lily,” said Owen. His shoulders were raised, his neck tucked into a much heavier coat, and his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

“Aren’t you a little over-dressed?” I noticed he’d worn his work boots, too.

He sat next to me, slid his feet under the railing, and glanced back at where I lay. “Are you kidding? I have on two pairs of socks. It’s cold for us. I think you’ve just gone numb, which isn’t healthy.” He lay back tucking his hands up under his head. “What are we watching? There aren’t any stars.”

I pointed up to the sky. “They’re there, even if we can’t see them.”

“This porch is damp; we’re going to get sick.” He turned his head my way and met my eyes with concern. “That’s not a good way to bring in the New Year— moping and sick.”

I chuckled. “Who says I’m moping? Can’t a girl sit and enjoy the night without being accused of moping? Did you come over here to fight?” I narrowed my eyes.

Owen sat up and rested his face against the railing. “No, I came over here to escape the obnoxious game of Scrabble happening at my kitchen table. Hunter is much more fun when he’s single. We’d usually be popping fireworks by now, but no, they make Holly nervous. So that’s out. Of all the crap we’ve been through out here and fireworks make her gun shy. What a wimp.”

My smile fell. “Well, at least they are talking to you. It’s like pulling teeth to get a conversation out of her other than telling me not to mope. I’m fine. I don’t know why everyone keeps treating me like I’m going to fall apart.” Owen glanced back at me, his brow raised as if he didn’t believe me.

“You don’t seem fine, Lily. Holly said you’re a ticking bomb of emotions, and it’s just a matter of time before it hits you that Talon’s gone for good.” He kicked at my dangling legs in a playful manner and smiled when I kicked back. Owen didn’t have in his mossy green contacts to hide his Light Keeper green eyes, but I figured he didn’t plan on seeing my parents at this late hour. He did the eye color way more justice than I ever could.

I sat up and shook my head. “She’s wrong. I’m not upset about Talon and I don’t care if he ever comes back. I’m just thinking about what’s to come in the New Year.” Talon had barely even called his dad since he’d left on Christmas day. Though it killed me he didn’t say goodbye, I’d had time to process his leaving and was ready to move on. How I’d move on is what puzzled me. Sure, Owen was there ready to help me through it, but I needed more than that. I needed to figure some things out on my own, like what I wanted in life. I couldn’t depend on Talon, Owen, or anyone else to help me with that. Knowing I had a job to do as a Light Keeper made it more of a challenge, especially with Owen in the same boat. It was time to sink or swim, but at least we had a paddle. “Have you figured out what you want to ask Birdie when we visit?”

“No, but I’ve been practicing and experimenting with a few things,” he said.

“Must be nice to live in a house where everyone knows what you are and you can practice anytime you want.” I crossed my arms and slumped.

“I’ve told you to come over, and we’ll practice together.” He turned to meet my eyes. We need to work on this connection, he sent. You can’t just ignore it forever.

I wasn’t trying to ignore Owen or our new ability, but I needed my space. It’s kind of hard to figure things out when you have someone in your head, so I made him promise we’d not deal with that for a bit. At least until we talked to Birdie. “I know. I said I needed time. It won’t be forever.”

“Seriously, I’ve learned some cool things. Like, for one, the Water will not freeze. It also won’t get hot. Hunter and I tried making cocoa with it and it didn’t work. So then he got an idea, but popsicles were out, so we thought just making Kool-Aid with it would work.”

I searched his eyes and realized he was serious. “I hardly think we need to be getting creative with the Water. We only need a tiny bit anyway.”

“Hunter said it was a good way to experiment, and we did learn from it.” He shrugged.

I felt my cheeks warm and realized that for the first time in a week, I’d laughed. Not just a little gratuitous chuckle, but a belly laugh, and it felt nice. “So what other tricks do you have up your sleeve?” I asked.

“Sky writing with our Lights would be fun and possibly useful.” He kicked his feet together and stared down at them. Among other amazing things we can do, he sent.

I nudged him. “Owen, stop it. I know it’s important and we’ll get to it, probably before any of these other wild ideas of yours, but I told you—”

He held his hands up defensively. “I know, I know. You need time. But these aren’t ridiculous ideas. Besides, sky writing could be fun.”

“What are you even talking about—sky writing?” I searched his eyes to see if he would break and begin to laugh, but instead he remained serious.

“I’ve seen you throw the Light up into spirals before and it was pretty amazing, right? So I’m thinking about those people that draw pictures with sparklers and fire batons and stuff, and I think—why can’t we do that?” He lifted a shoulder. “I’ve been practicing, but it’s not as much fun in my small bedroom.”

I let out a long breath. “I didn’t deliberately draw spirals, Owen, I just thought about creating a distraction, and it happened that way.”

“Exactly, so I tried to think about other things, like words and shapes, to see what happened,” he said. “It works pretty well, so I think we should try it together.”

“It’s not like we can do that now, my parents are inside.” I gestured toward the house behind us.

“Better yet—” He stood up and ran down the steps and out onto the front lawn. “I’ll race you to the road.” His eyes lit with his smile until I stood up and ran after him, and then he took off like a shot.

He stopped when he’d made it a safe distance down Bragg Road where, if anyone looked out from the houses, they couldn’t see. I caught up and stopped next to him, doubled over with my hands on my knees to rest. “You’re crazy.”

“Come on, Lily. Do it with me. It’s almost midnight. Besides, some of us are excited about the toys we got for Christmas.” He raised his hand up and called his Light, so I did the same. Our orbs glowed bright, our skin lit, and even Owen’s short hair seemed to move a little with the energy. “Concentrate. You spell out ‘happy’ and I got the rest.”

I let out a heavy sigh. “Fine.” Owen counted down the seconds and at midnight we sent the bright orbs up into the air. I relaxed and imagined myself spelling out each letter and it actually worked. In the sky above us, our Lights spelled out “Happy New Year”.

Owen threw his arm around me and smiled, “Told you it would work, silly. Behold, the year of the Light Keepers.” As I watched the message fade and our Lights returned to rest above our heads, warmth filled my heart. I was thankful that whatever was to come in the New Year, I wouldn’t have to face it alone.

 

 

Malic Saves Christmas

J.B. Taylor

 

Chapter 1

The Darkness

 

Christmas comes but once a year.

When it does the children cheer and we all hold dear, that child-like awe and atmosphere.

 

Malic blinked as the words, he had heard a group of carolers singing as Christmas edged closer, faded in his mind like the volume of a stereo being turned down. He shook his head and focused on what he could see of Little Hempshire from his perch on the edge of a cliff. Visibility was hampered by the darkness hanging over the village like a morbid cloud.

The black cloud, as Malic referred to it as, brought with it a great sadness that overwhelmed the people of Little Hempshire. No one laughed anymore. No one smiled. All they could do was cry, and it had been that way sense mid-December.

Malic stood and wrapped his cloak tighter about his person. His short black hair stood up and bent to the side in the cold breeze. His cheeks were the color of roses. The night was deepening, the cold growing sharper by the moment. “I’m going to save Christmas,” he muttered with certainty. Turning he tripped and fell. “I need to stop doing that,” he muttered, as he worked himself back onto his feet. He dusted off the front of his cloak.

Malic knew he wasn’t a hero. Never had been and never would be. He was barely a wizard, having only just advanced through Little Hempshire’s school of Sorcery to earn his very own wand. During school his only good marks came from wand wielding and history of witchcraft classes. He knew holding a stick and boring people about, oh let’s say, the elves invasion of Glasgow 1602 wouldn’t do him any good, but he was determined to save Christmas.

 

Chapter 2

Malic and the Strange Man

 

A small group was cluttered around a man inside a restaurant. He was coughing and grabbing at his throat, his face red. He was choking Malic realized, as he happened to glance inside the restaurant as he passed. The sight was bizarre. The man was choking violently, yet crying hysterically at the same time. Regardless, he rushed inside.

Malic had barely eclipsed the frame of the door when his feet flew out from under him and he landed on his back. “Bloody hell,” he moaned, and got to his feet. His back hurt. No one looked at him, each were too busy crying around the choking man. “Don’t worry,” he barked at them, “I’m fine!”

The word fine had barely left his mouth when the choking man swallowed whatever was hampering him before falling out of his chair.

“Waste of damn time,” Malic said, and walked carefully out of the restaurant. He had barely shadowed the door when he spotted a curious man. The man wore a suit of black, with black boots and a black top hat. In one hand was a cane of what looked like ivory, in the other was a wand of the deepest, almost blood-red. But that wasn’t what made him curious. The man was laughing. Even he, who hadn’t been affected by the sadness, ever laughed. It was like he didn’t know how to anymore.

“You sir,” Malic found himself shouting, “stop right there!”

The strange man slashed his wand through the air in Malic’s direction. “Haava!” he yelled. A blue spell shot in his direction forcing him to duck out of the way. The spell shattered the glass, and struck the once choking man as he managed to find his feet. He gave a yelp of surprise as a gash opened across his shoulder with enough force to launch him off his feet.

Malic flicked his wand in the direction of the strange man. “Septa Felda!” he yelled, and from his wand shot a green spell, that immediately darted right, curved upward and rocketed into the nights sky as if desperate to go anywhere but in the direction he intended it to.

“Septa Felda!” Malic tried again. This time his spell shot forward, bright green and speeding faster than a bullet. The strange man jumped and grabbed at his ass cheek. “You shot me in the ass!” he yelled before falling over.

Malic stopped as he reached the man. “Sandheden!” he yelled, and jabbed his wand against the man’s shoulder. He gasped and shook his head like a wet dog. The whites of his eyes flashed yellow for the briefest of moments before returning to their usual blues. “Has my honesty spell taken?” he demanded.

“Yes,” the man barked, lips stretched into a sneer.

“What’s your name?”

“William Flemington.”

“Why aren’t you sad?”

“Because I don’t know how to be!”

“Why are you happy?”

William hesitated for a nanosecond before answering. “Because I know why people are sad, and how to stop it.”

“How then do you stop it?”

“A melancholy output device. At least that’s what I call it.”

“Can you take me to it?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s go.”

 

Chapter 3

The Stalagmite of Ice and Sadness

 

The hillside rose like a mountain, and stretched east to west for what seemed an eternity. In the side of the hill was a hole barely big enough to support a standing man of average height. Melted snow was pouring from it like a waterfall, adding to the already ankle-high water Malic and William were wading through it.

William reached the cave mouth first, but stepped aside to allow Malic to enter first. He did, and William followed him in.

A short walk led to a small entrance. Beyond it was a circular room. Malic’s brows furrowed as he took in the steel walls. “Curious,” he said knowing that it was more common for human’s to use steel than for wizards. “I…” Malic stopped speaking as he, for the first time, looked fully upon a pulsating stalagmite seemingly made of ice set in the center of the room. The moment he laid eyes on it he was engulfed with a deep sadness. Tears ran hot down his cheeks. Behind him William, unaffected by his creation, raised a clenched fist and struck Malic in the back of the head. A reddish-green spell shot from his wand with a sound like a cannon firing and struck the stalagmite of ice and sadness dead center. It exploded with the force of a bomb that launched Malic off the ground and William into the air.

Malic hit the ground. Darkness stuttered around him, but before he died from the serrated stretch of ice jutting from his neck, he could have sworn he heard carolers singing a familiar song.

Christmas comes but once a year.

When it does the children cheer and we all hold dear, that child-like awe and atmosphere.

A Faery Merry Christmas

Anna Lea

 

The warlocks of Friz were a horrid bunch, with twisted, long, and thin bodies mirroring their gloomy insides. They were all grey: grey hair, which some said they were born with, grey eyes, grey clothing and shoes — why even their skin was greyish! They loved dark, twisted, and nasty things. They enjoyed practicing dark magic on unsuspecting, good people, and beautiful things.

Above all, they hated Christmas, with all its frivolity and merry times, including Santa and his elves, though they were too powerful to go to war with. They stole presents every chance they got, or they just broke them. The contrast of evergreen trees with the bright, multiple colors of string lights and the sparkling ornaments of every imaginable shape and size that were made from dust off faery wings infuriated them. The warlocks hated faeries as much as they hated Christmas. So they did what many horrid creatures do: they enslaved the faeries. They shook them viciously to harvest their dust. Although a powerful magic ingredient, faery dust couldn’t be used for dark or evil purposes; it would simply vanish. The warlocks threw it into an endless crack in the earth where it would never see the light of day again.

Silvia, recently orphaned princess of the faeries (her parents were killed by the warlocks of Friz), was small, even for a faery; the faery folk of Nyr were all teeny, but came in different shapes and sizes. She was just seven and quite cute, with her cap of silvery white hair the color of corn floss. She had a natural, lavender streak of thick hair that she wore in a high ponytail which fell to her mid back. Her blue eyes were the deep shade of the sky after a storm. Her beautiful wings, twice the size of her body, were blue and lavender with silver outlining the sections and displaying fancy and detailed patterns on the fragile skin. They were dull and greyed now, having lost their sparkle, and were furled protectively around Silvia. And she sat weeping in shackles of iron. The cold iron prevented her from using her remaining faery magic to escape.

“How has all this happened?” she asked herself. “How do I rescue all of us from the warlocks of Fritz?”

Silvia was beloved by all her subjects. She was the only child of her late parents and the apple of her Godfather Stephan’s eye.

Now Godfather Stephan, despite not being a faery, was no ordinary Godfather. He was King of the wizards of Gilroy. The wizards were of varying shapes and sizes. He was, himself, of medium build, and had a head of snow white hair with a jet black streak in it. His usually happy, laughing eyes were pure gold, but today they were full of sadness and anger. He paced wildly about the room, rather than sitting on his intricately carved wooden throne. He was holding King’s Court with his most trusted advisors.

It so happens that Gilroy and Fritz had been enemies for countless centuries. The recent murder of his best friends, Duncan and Serena, the abduction of their daughter, Silvia, and the enslavement of the faery folk of Nyr was the very last incident of many, the last of which caused the peaceful wizards to cry out for war. The problem was that they had no idea how to go about it. No wizard of Gilroy had ever even fought; if they came across a band of warlocks, they just defended themselves until the warlocks ran out of magic (light magic is more powerful and plentiful than dark magic) and then carried on about their business.

King Stephan had held his tongue while all the members of his Court had argued about the best way to go to war with the warlocks of Friz. Now, he could no longer remain silent.

“Enough! There is no best way. We aren’t warriors and fighting is unknown to us. The warlocks, on the other hand, have a lot of experience with war. War isn’t the way.”

The room was filled with noise as the Council at once began to protest and bicker about his words. Not one voice agreed with him.

“We cannot leave Princess Silvia and her people enslaved!” a loud voice summed up everyone’s opinion. “You must choose one of the paths to war that have been nominated.”

“There is another path,” King Stephan said. “We must use our powers of stealth to enter the dungeons of the warlocks of Friz, and to gain a key to the cells and shackles of the faery folk.”

“Splendid idea! Then we can fight our way out with the faery folk to help us!” another member exclaimed.

“Not, so,” King Stephan again disagreed. “The faeries of Nyr are beaten down and all but magicless. They are no more warriors than we are. No, we must find a way to cart them out as well, for many, if not all, will be in little condition to travel, and without the dust, will have no power of flight.”

“The King is right,” a different voice said. “All who support him say ‘aye’.”

A chorus of ayes was heard without a single nay.

“So be it,” said the King. “Now we must figure out a way.”

“I believe I can help with that,” came a disembodied, whinnying voice in everyone’s heads. “I have listened to all your comments, waiting to see which path you would choose. As it was peace, my people will help.” The air shimmered and a beautiful, solid white horse with a gilded gold horn came in to view. The unicorn extended one leg, while tucking in the other, in effect, kneeling. “I am Queen Xira of the unicorns of Blyr. We are moved to tears over the plight of the faeries of Nyr. We offer those and our backs for the faeries.”

Now all wizards know that unicorn tears conveyed a unicorn’s power of invisibility when mixed into potions with the right, other ingredients. With that and a ride on the unicorns out of the dungeon, the plan was set.

It didn’t take long to mix enough potions for all the wizards and enough more for the faeries. That accomplished, they set out for the dreary home place of the warlocks of Friz. They should have just enough time to rescue the faeries and for the faeries to regain their magic for Christmas.

An invisibility potion lasts until the user wills himself visible again, so the wizards’ trip was easy. The wizards traveled by day and since the warlocks were, by whole, nocturnal, they had no trouble. They reached the dungeons of Friz days before they’d expected to. The nimblest fingered wizards were set the task of retrieving the keys to the dungeons and shackles. Luckily, the single daytime guard was so sure of no one breaking into or out of the dungeon that he was sleeping soundly. It was a simple matter to lift the key. A spell ensured the guard continued to slumber.

Ten wizards, carrying a hundred invisibility potions each, crept into the cells, as did King Stephan. Each cell contained ten faeries shackled together with one lock. The ten wizards each took one cell at a time and helped the prisoners, once they’d drank the potion, to waiting wizards who helped them to unicorns waiting outside the dungeon. Once on the unicorn, they set out immediately for home, so another could take their place.

King Stephan looked until he found Silvia. He gave her the potion, then carried her to a unicorn himself. He rode back with her to her kingdom. On the way, he told her his eldest son, twenty years old, would sit the Gilroy throne while Stephan, and his wife who was already awaiting them at the kingdom of Nyr, would remain with Silvia until she was grown.

The rescue was a total success, completed two hours before nightfall. Knowing the warlocks would be coming for them again, the wizards, unicorns, and faeries (who had gained a full measure of dust by that time) cast a combined protection spell over their three kingdoms. It proved powerful enough that the warlocks, sieging for days against the iridescent bubble over the kingdoms, were unable to break it. Frustrated, they finally gave up and went home.

A month later, it was Christmas. This year, the faeries had outdone themselves. The lights were more spectacular and sparkly, in shapes of wizards and unicorns and faeries. Ornaments followed suit, though there were, of course, other types, such as cats and dogs, all the ornaments had either a starred hat, a gilded gold, spiral horn, or faerie wings on them. Santa’s private tree had a topper of a small, winged faery riding behind a white haired man in a starred wizard robe astride a beautiful white unicorn.

It was a faery merry Christmas for all except the warlocks of Friz.

 

 

The Christmas Cuckoo Clock

Pamela Joyce Silva

 

Audrey closed the door and leaned wearily against it. She set the alarm and dimmed the lights, which left a soft illumination. The Christmas trees, lighted snow globes, and massive presents that stood on the floor wrapped gaily in bright paper and ribbons provided light from bubble lights and old-fashioned Christmas lights.

Some of the antiques were placed strategically in the small display case bay window as had been done for the forty-five years of Turnbull’s Antiques existence. The little store had always held a timeless enchantment for her. No matter how hard her own situation had become, Audrey had always been welcomed in the antique store by the couple who owned it.

It started when she began walking home from school at an early age. Her parents had never been able to keep a car. Besides, she preferred the quiet of walking alone to school as opposed to being at home.

 

One day, when it was pouring rain, Mrs. Turnbull had stepped outside just as Audrey was passing the store. She stopped Audrey, insisting she come inside for hot cocoa. It was the beginning of a friendship that had turned a timid and awkward young girl into an intelligent and talented young woman.

Many hours followed at the Turnbull’s tastefully decorated home to the pleasure of both parties. She, in turn, filled a void for the childless couple who were also with no other family. When her parents died in a car wreck while, unsurprisingly, intoxicated, the Turnbulls lost no time in moving her in with them.

She worked for them in their store when not in school until the day she graduated. Then, she insisted on working for them as soon as her college was complete. With her grades and two highly prized internships behind her, both the Turnbulls had argued she should now proceed to apply for the enviable museum positions for which they felt they could procure. But, Audrey prevailed.

After years away, she found to her own surprise that she wanted to go home. She loved their shop more than any museum. She went to gather her things when something made her glance up at the cuckoo clock hanging above the counter. It was a personal possession of the Turnbulls, and not for sale. It looked like any antique cuckoo clock. She tried to recall information on cuckoo clocks. They were typically a pendulum regulated clock making a sound like a common cuckoo’s call. The automaton cuckoo bird was made to move with each note.

She had never heard it chime. Which was odd, considering Mr. T was very adamant about repairing each antique until it was perfect. The few times she asked about it, the Turnbulls just said they had no wish to sell it. The most Mrs. T had ever replied was that it was from their home country, which was information they also did not share. Suddenly, she had an inspiration. She would have the clock repaired for their Christmas present. There was still time. She had many contacts. Tomorrow was Saturday and neither of the Turnbulls would work. She hurried out the door into the night.

 

The next morning dawned into its usual steel blue sky that heralded snow. Walking into the store just made her excitement that much more heightened. From a background where there had been no such holiday celebration, she cherished the bright lights, tinny Christmas carols, and the smell of the Wassail punch awaiting whatever customers might visit. Let people call it commercialism. For those who knew how to love and worship it, it was worth every minute of happiness the season brought.

Humming, she took a ladder and carefully climbed. Balancing, she reached for the clock. She nearly fell when she pulled too hard, expecting the clock to come free. It did not. More prepared she tried again. When she still had no luck, she tried to push her fingers behind it hoping to find some sort of catch. But she did not. She kept searching until she finally was so tired she was afraid of falling. And even more afraid she would drop it if she succeeded in pulling it free. She descended the stairs and stood frowning at it. She had the strangest feeling it knew what she was doing. Finally, she had to open the store.

She was disappointed, but she was suddenly not so enthusiastic about the clock. She smiled at a passing customer. She would not let it ruin the best time of the year. It was two days before Christmas. Many of their old customers came in as well as new ones and the few employees she supervised were kept busy all day. She circulated making sure everyone was offered Christmas cookies.

But she found herself glancing back up at the clock periodically. Hours passed, however. And soon, the customers were out, and the Turnbulls were in. It was time for their own Christmas party.

“You lovely people, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!”

 

Mrs. T, as she was known to one and all, was the shortest person in the room. At four foot five, it was not her stature that made her the most noticeable person in the room. Mrs. T would always be the center of attention wherever she went.

She was bright as the jewel in violet brocade against her silver hair. Behind her, Mr. T, staggered under the weight of an enormous toy sack. He was dressed in his usual Santa suite that was complete with white beard and enormous tummy.

“Audrey, my star!” he cried, smacking her with an enormous kiss. “How goes it my dearest girl?”

“Exceedingly well, Mr. T. And you, sir?”

“It is Christmas! I have two wonderful women in my life! I am wonderful! Now, to the presents.”

Mrs. T interrupted with, “My dear, Audrey, you look so lovely,”

“How could I not? You, should not have bought it!”

“Nonsense, someone with your beauty should dress so! And, well, there is a little surprise Mr. T and I have for you, and I wanted you to look you best.”

Mr. Turnbull began to chuckle.

“What surprise?”

“I am afraid that would be me.”

She turned to find a man she did not know standing behind her.

Mrs. Turnbull said, “Audrey, this is our friend, Aaren. He is from our country.”

Aaren smiled and took her hand.

“I was so glad to know that over the years when I could not be with them, that you have given my dearest friends the love of a daughter they so richly deserve.”

Completely surprised, Audrey struggled to speak. “Believe me, it is I who owe them.”

The Turnbulls had disappeared, leaving Audrey even more flustered. If Aaren noticed he did not comment.

He murmured, gazing at her, “The store is a lovely thing.”

The store? “Um, yes. They are truly experts at the in their field,”

Aaren smiled. Audrey was totally unnerved. A friend? She certainly had never heard the Turnbulls speak of him. He was nice looking, but exotic with very dark blue eyes and black hair. His smile was warm and when his gaze fell on the Turnbulls as it did now as they danced to some silly song, it was affectionate. She did not think he was counterfeiting the emotion. He caught her glance and said,

“Yes, I genuinely care about them. I am sure you were wondering.”

Audrey stared at him. “I…is that why you came?”

“Perhaps. And, it was time. I need not have worried. Your care is genuine as well. Why did you keep glancing at the cuckoo clock earlier?”

This time she was so startled, she spilt a little of her cider. Aaren deftly took it from her hand and sat it on a table.

“Well, I could not help but notice that you kept glancing at it. Does it upset you?”

“What? Yes! I mean, no! Oh…let me explain.”

He listened with a quiet attentiveness. When she had finished, she felt ridiculous. She also realized that everyone else had left, including the two matchmakers. But she felt a relief, which is what she said.”

“I did not even know I was upset.”

“It is that way when you love.”

Audrey met his gaze.

“You seem so sure.”

“Christmas is a time of love, is it not? Do you believe in miracles, Audrey?”

“The Turnbulls are a miracle in my life.”

“Indeed, but, you will have more.”

“What…country are you from, Aaren?”

Aaren smiled and said, “You will not have heard of it.”

She answered his warm smile with one of her own. He helped her on with her coat and they left the store to Santa’s Cleaning service pulling in the parking lot. A few minutes later, there was the sound through the store of:

“CHIME CUCKOO CHIME CUCKOO

 

 

At Any Moment

Chrissy Moon

 

She finished the last of the wine and looked toward where her husband lay. He was there, as he had been throughout their entire picnic.

She smiled. “Happy anniversary, baby.”

It was quiet everywhere today, probably because the weather was crisp this December afternoon. Most folks were at home in a heated house, not sitting on a blanket on the grass outside.

But those people probably didn’t have Christmas Anniversaries.

Who gets married on Christmas? people would ask. Who would take away the Lord’s day from family and friends and make it about themselves?

Well, they did. But not for selfish reasons. They married on Christmas Day seven years ago, because their love was as sacred as their beliefs.

She wrapped her wine glass carefully in one of her poinsettia-patterned napkins, and then placed it reverently in the picnic basket sitting on the edge of the blanket. Later, she would wash it out and prepare for their next picnic next anniversary.

She sighed and lay back on the blanket, close to her husband. She looked over and saw her husband’s name. It was at that point she realized she could no longer hold it in. She burst out in sobs, in heartbreaking tears, her voice rising and cracking in grief. She scrambled to the tombstone, falling down at one point as her knees were unaccustomed to the pressure. When the tombstone was within a foot of her, she threw herself on it and cried, her arms reaching around it in a hard, freezing, uncomfortable embrace. For a moment she imagined that she was not hugging an inanimate object but the warm, living body of her beautiful, perfect man.

Minutes passed and she still did not cease her awkward grip, did not stop watering the flowers on his grave with her tears. She finally sat back and traced his name with her fingers, just like the old days when she used to trace the lines of his face. Then she glanced at the blanket which was a bit of a mess now, as well as the picnic basket that contained her used wine glass and the small bottle of wine.

She had believed that she was over his passing, truly believed it as she was starting to live again, going out with friends and volunteering at animal shelters, but she knew now that she would never be over his being gone. They were both so young when he died and had so much living to do, but an accident caused by a mindless texting driver had changed that for them forever.

She straightened out the picnic blanket, dragging it so it was closer to his tombstone. She positioned herself so she would almost be lying next to him.

And then she fell asleep.

When she awoke, she saw that the sun was hanging low in the sky and beginning to set. She felt cold and suddenly wanted to be home. Still disoriented from her unexpected nap, she got up and folded the blanket, stuffing it in her basket; she fished her keys from her jeans pockets and left the area so quickly, she didn’t notice how flat and empty the expanse of grass was.

The drive home was quick as she lived very close to the park. When she got home, she put the blanket and her poinsettia-patterned napkin in the washer and cleaned her wine glass, then dried it carefully with her kitchen towel before putting it in its usual spot in the cupboard.

The house was quiet this evening.

She walked up the stairs and headed toward her bedroom. Their bedroom. When she got there, she saw a man-sized lump under the blankets. A sob of relief escaped her as she threw herself on the bed and on him, pausing only to get under the covers with him and feel him. Her hand pushed under his arms to his chest, where she placed her hand over his heart to feel its rhythmic thumping. She could not get enough of feeling that proof of life under her hand.

He moaned a bit as he woke to the sound of her sniffing his natural smell, to the feel of her face pressing against his naked back. “Are you done with your little wine trip already?”

She lay on her back now, looking up at the ceiling. “It’s my last one. I don’t think I need any more of those solitary, I-need-alone-time drinks at the park.”

“Oh, I don’t mind them. I know you’re an independent woman and you need time to yourself. As long as you use those single-serving bottles and don’t drive drunk, we’re okay.”

“No, I’m serious. I had an awful dream today, baby.”

“What was it about?”

Tears started to form at the thought. She couldn’t tell him; she refused to entertain the idea of him being dead, of them not having any time together. “You don’t want to know. Let’s just say I am never leaving your side. I’m going to change my hours at the office a little bit too.”

He snuggled up to her this time, and she stroked his arm affectionately. “But I thought you wanted to work overtime so you could get more done and move up in the company.”

“We don’t need the extra money.” He scoffed a little, and she laughed in response. “I mean, we’re not exactly rich, but we’re not struggling too much. I’d rather have you than money. I want to enjoy every minute we have together.” She thought of adding because one of us could die at any moment, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“Okay. Deal. We’ll both change our hours.” His voice was uplifted. Happy.

“Really? I would love that. I never really told you, but I don’t like you working the night shift at the hospital. I worry about you.”

He sat up. “I’ll ask another nurse if I can trade shifts with her.”

She sighed with relief, feeling as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders. “Also… don’t ever text while you’re driving, okay?”

He gave her an odd look; he was old-fashioned and has never attempted that form of communication. She knew that. Everyone knew that. But he sensed this was an important request, so he didn’t make light of it. He nodded.

“Never do. Merry Christmas.” Then he smiled and held out his hands for her. She accepted them and stood up, and they walked downstairs to prepare their anniversary dinner together.

 

A Very Pepper Christmas

Markie Madden

 

Dedicated to Pepper the miniature Boxer, who has given me so much joy and unconditional love. I treasure the past six years that you’ve been in my life, and I hope we’ll have many more memories to make! And to Rain, our ‘mother hen’, who watches over us still from her place across the Rainbow Bridge. Girl, you’re still loved, and I’ll eventually get to you!

 

My humans were acting very odd lately, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. They planted a tree in the house! Only, it didn’t smell much like a tree, and it certainly didn’t taste much like a tree. Blech! I can tell you all those funny, shiny things hanging from the branches of the not-tree were certainly fun to play with. Until one fell off, all by itself of course (innocent face), and exploded into a million pieces.

Mom scolded me, half teasing, while she picked up all the pieces of the bright red ball. Then she moved all of them further up the not-tree, where I couldn’t play with them anymore.

Oh, I guess I should introduce myself. My name’s Pepper, and I’m an eleven month old Boxer/Jack Russell terrier, AKA miniature Boxer. Mom found me when I was just five weeks old, cold and wet and roaming about in the dark all by myself. I don’t really remember anything from before that or how I got lost in the first place. I was so glad she brought me home to her family. Everyone loved me, even the other two dogs who greeted me into their pack, and I had two kids to play with. I never had to worry about being cold or wet or hungry again, and I would never be alone.

But, I digress. I was telling you about the funny not-tree that my family put in the living room. I wasn’t sure what it was for. I had never seen anything like it before in my whole life. Up to that point, at least. Then one day, I woke up and waddled into the living room for a drink of water, like I did every morning. Something looked different. I stopped and stared. There were lots of things underneath the not-tree that were not there the day before! So, of course I had to go investigate these strange items.

Each thing I saw was wrapped in colorful paper, with shiny bows on many of them, and ribbons wrapped around others. Some were shaped like boxes, but some had strange shapes that I couldn’t begin to describe. Some of the packages were flat and square, and some were round and lumpy. When I went closer to get a good sniff, all I could smell was the scent of paper and human hands, mostly my mom’s. The items were all placed with good care under the tree, and I got in trouble when I tried to squeeze my way between them and the wall to reach the ones in the back. Not big trouble though, just a little trouble.

The days went by and the packages remained under the not-tree. Sometimes, new ones would turn up, so I had to go sniff them and look carefully at them and wonder what all the fuss was about.

As time went on, I could sense a building anticipation in my humans, most especially the kids, and I felt it was due to these odd items. I spent a lot of time focused on the mysterious things underneath this not-tree. I would often crouch low and sneak up on the parcels, hoping that I would catch them doing something, anything but just sitting there! But every time, the wrapped things would just remain tantalizingly still, mocking me! Not once did I get any response from these unusual items!

Snow fell outside, something else I’d never seen before. When the other dogs and I were let outside, I decided I didn’t quite like it. It was cold and wet and it reminded me of the time I was lost in the cold and wet. Besides, I had very short fur that didn’t hold in much heat, so I preferred to be indoors where it was warm, usually snuggled up to my mom. But the kids made a big deal about it, so I guessed that it wasn’t something that happened very often around our home.

Suddenly, our daily routine was disrupted. My kids didn’t get up early and go off to someplace called ‘skool,’ as they did every morning. I have no idea what they did there every day, but they always left the house before the sun came up, usually carrying bags that looked to be too heavy for their small frames. They would return in the afternoon, grab themselves a snack, often offering me a bit of cookie or snack cake, and then they would take me and the other dogs outside to play. But they didn’t go to ‘skool’ for several days, and I wondered about this.

Then came a day I’ll never forget! The children were both up early, full of bliss and excitement, running from their room into mom and dad’s, and out to the living room. I followed them out and was amazed. It was full of stuff! There was a pair of two-wheeled car-like contraptions, though there were no doors like what was on the car, just two huge tires and a strange steering wheel. There were dolls and piles of clothes and stuffed animals and many other toys.

My kids were so happy, and their excitement was infectious. I bounced up and down, too, and tried to jump up on the couch even though I knew I was still too small to make it. Mom laughed and helped me up.

Before I knew it, all the wrapped boxes from under the not-tree had been passed around, and the whole family had a pile of boxes surrounding them. The sound of wrapping paper tearing was like a roar in my ears, and the shreds were being gleefully tossed all over the room. Shouts and giggles filled the room. Once the kids had opened some of their gifts, I saw that they had movies, video games, and all sorts of new stuff. Their cries of happiness delighted me. Mom and dad had presents, too, and they hugged each other and the kids as well. Then, mom cuddled me close.

There were still three small wrapped things under the not-tree, and I wondered why they were there. Dad picked them up and brought them to the couch, sitting down next to me and mom. These packages, which had obviously been well-hidden underneath all the other ones, had a smell that was vaguely familiar. Curious, I reached my head as close as I could, my nose working furiously to bring more of the odor toward my snout. I couldn’t quite remember what that scent was.

Mom called the other two dogs, and she and dad unwrapped the small packages. Inside were three pale-colored rawhide bones, one for each of us! Dad handed one to Rocky, the blind black lab, and he took it to his usual place in mom and dad’s bedroom to enjoy. Mom gave one to Rain, the yellow lab, who was the Alpha of our small pack. Rain watched carefully until mom gave the last bone to me, then she settled in on the floor to eat her treat. As for me, I think I spent the next several hours in contented bliss. It was the best Christmas any dog could imagine.

 

 

 

A Test of Faith

Neil Newton

 

You don’t expect things to change after fourteen years on the job. A nerdy accountant with a hardware giant in in the garment district in Manhattan doesn’t expect change.

I was letting my spreadsheet recalculate when I heard some raised voices. I ambled over toward the source of the noise and found Karen in a heated argument with our head of HR, Beth Dahlberg.

“I’ve been putting this crèche on my desk every Christmas for the last twelve years. What is the problem?” I heard Karen say.

Beth puffed herself up a couple of notches. “We’ve already been through this. There are people who aren’t Christian and they’re offended by this.”

“Who’s offended?” Karen answered. “No one has ever said they’re offended?”

“Well maybe people are being polite.”

“In New York?”

“Karen I’m just protecting the company. If someone is offended they can make a complaint.” She leaned in closer and whispered conspiratorially. “We could even be sued. It happened in Denver.”

“I don’t care what happened in Denver. This is like a family. Everyone understands here.”

“Well what about Bob?”

“What about Bob?” I asked.

Beth jumped. “I was just telling Karen that…well I know that you’re Jewish and I was telling her that…well maybe you didn’t feel comfortable.”

I started to laugh. “I’m not offended at all. Karen is Catholic. I have five Catholic neighbors.”

“Well then you should understand what I’m—”

“I’m godfather to my next door neighbor’s daughter. They’re Catholic too. How offended can I be by a crèche?”

“But Karen needs to understand—”

“How long have you been in New York?”

She stared at me, her mouth open. “Uh…well…I moved here from Des Moines two years ago.”

I heard a voice behind me that I recognized. “What’s going on? Things are getting a little loud.”

Beth winced. Gail had come to pay us a visit. In all her encounters with Beth sparks had flown. Gail was an agnostic and Beth had used her as an example of someone whose beliefs needed to be defended, something Gail didn’t appreciate.

“Are you telling Karen that she can’t have her crèche?” she asked Beth.

Beth huffed. “I’ve already discussed this with Bob. This is company policy.”

“Who developed the policy?”

“I did.”

“Due to a complaint from who?”

“Well we have Bob and other people who-”

“Bob obviously isn’t offended. And since you’re going to ask, neither am I.”

“Bob is just trying to be polite. It seems to be what everyone in New York is required to do.”

“Last year Karen made me Latkes. A bit beyond politeness.”

“Latkes? They are…”

Karen smiled. “They’re potato pancakes for Chanukah. I make them every year for Bob and Tessa.”

Beth seemed panic-stricken. “I don’t understand.”

“That’s obvious.”

“Excuse me. I have a call to make.”

She stalked off, her back stiff, radiating anger.

“What should I do?” Karen asked me.

“Ignore her.”

“Maybe I should put the crèche in my desk.”

Gail snorted. “Don’t cave, Karen. We all have your back.”

“It’s going to become a big hassle.”

I put my hand on the crèche. “She doesn’t get to cause trouble unless she has a good reason. This is about her and control.”

“What can we do?”

“I’ll go talk to her.”

“Bob I—”

“Don’t worry.”

I walked down the hall to Beth’s office. She was typing something. When she saw me she jerked her head back to her screen and proceeded to pretend I wasn’t there.

“Beth?”

“I’m busy.”

“I’d like to speak reasonably with you about this.”

“Whatever you have to say, you’ll have to hold it until a meeting I plan to have. With Mr. McDaniel.”

“We don’t need to have a meeting. There isn’t anyone who is offended by anything here.”

“You don’t know that. We have Fatima downstairs. She’s the only Muslim in the company. She might not be too happy seeing Christian or Jewish decorations. Have you asked her?”

I smiled. “Fatima and bunch of other’s came to my house for the Passover Seder last spring.”

“What does that prove?”

“It proves no one is offended by other people’s holidays or their happiness. Why don’t you let Karen keep her crèche?”

“What you aren’t taking into account is that Karen’s desk and all of the facilities here are owned by the company which recently developed a policy that exists to defend the sensibilities of anyone who does or will work for us.”

“Who is offended?”

“I don’t know. We might hire an atheist tomorrow who might find Karen’s crèche offensive.”

I found myself getting angry. “I’ve lived with these people forty hours a week for years. They’re my friends. Not generous tolerance, but real friendship. If someone was really offended we’d deal with it. But Karen, the crèche, this is part of my life. To be honest the only attitude that is offensive is yours. You have no right to tell me who I can like and who I want to respect or make happy. So until you can provide me with an actual living person who is offended, I think you need to back off.”

I realized I was breathing hard. Beth’s eyes were wide and she seemed to be searching for something to say. I turned and walked out.

 

Fatima passed me in the hall. “Just wanted to you to know we all heard that.”

“Sorry. Did I do the wrong thing?”

She laughed. “The thing that most people who aren’t from New York don’t understand is that our grandparents all had to wallow in the same rubbish to survive and raise their children so they could have a better life. It makes you feel a sense of kinship with all your fellow sufferers. It’s a little too deep a concept for Beth.”

I just groaned.

“It’ll work out, Bob. Look I have to go to a meeting. We’ll talk later.”

 

The next day I came in to find the crèche missing from Karen’s desk. She looked up as I came by. “Better keep her off my back. No one will miss it.”

“It’s part of my life. I never thought about it being important to me because it’s been here year after year. I miss it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know what to do.”

I thought for a second. “I’m taking an early lunch.”

 

Later that day Beth walked past my cubicle. Her eyes widened. “What is that?” she asked pointing to my desk.

“A very nice devotional scene. I bought it at a very upscale store. They specialize in reproductions of renaissance art. This is a copy of a statue created in the sixteenth century.”

Her face got red. “That’s a crèche.”

“I guess it is, technically. You know I have seen things like this in galleries and museums. A lot of art from that period is based on religious themes.” I smiled sweetly.

“I’m going to have to verify all this. Where did you get it?”

“I can’t remember the name. Let’s go ask Gail.”

“Why Gail?”

“It was her idea to go to the gallery. She loves that place and she wanted to show it to me. We’ve been talking about it for weeks.”

A couple of twists and turns through the cube farm took us to Gail’s desk. She looked up when she saw us. “Sorry to bother you, Gail. What was the name of that store we went to?”

“It’s called the Gallery Store.” She turned to Beth. “It’s a Gallery that sells reproductions.”

But Beth wasn’t listening. She was staring at the menorah on Gail’s desk. “What is that?”

“A reproduction of a twelfth century menorah. An amazing piece.”

Beth dry washed her hands. “You can’t have religious paraphernalia on your desks!”

Gail smiled slightly. “I have no religion. This is art.”

“Same for me,” I said. “People have these things in their homes. They’re in offices all over the city. Do you think I’m trying to express my faith with my sculpture? It’s not my faith.”

I thought Beth was about to cry. She walked away from us without saying a word.

 

The holiday party went like it always did. There was a short talk about all our respective holiday traditions. And then of course, there was food. I zeroed in on the grape leaves which I didn’t get much of during the year. While I was downing my fourth one, Gail came up to me.

“Do you miss Beth?” she asked, smiling.

“I think it was a bit extreme to resign. It was like she lost a battle. I thought HR came about to help people.”

“It was all about her.”

“How many Beths are there in this country? I see this crap on TV all the time.”

“No doubt we’ve become confused. I think we need some reform.”

“True. But right now I don’t want to think about Beth. Another glass of wine?

She smiled and nodded. “Certainly.”

 

 

I Remember, Grandpa

J C Christian

 

Can terminally ill people see into the future? Do they know things no one else can know? I am convinced my Grandpa Clay did.

I spend a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. They enjoy having me around and it’s the one place I feel safe. Grandpa has a tomato patch in his backyard that he tends with great care and pride. In the summer days of my childhood, Grandpa and I spend many hours tending the tangles of growing tomatoes. Grandpa teaches me when the tomatoes are ready to be picked.

“Now the thing you want to do J.C. is hold it firmly, but not too hard or it will squish all over your hand, and then feel it, gently poking it a bit, and if the skin springs back, it’s ready.” I admit I squash a few along the way. Grandpa smiles “Oh well, we’ll just have Grandma make spaghetti sauce out of that.”

I love cooking in the kitchen with Grandma. Grandma grew up on a large farm in Iowa, so she cooks old-fashioned, farm fare. Grandma never uses anything packaged or pre-made.

“That’s food for lazy people.” she says, scoffin.

 

I sit on the big yellow stool in the kitchen and chop, mix, beat, and blend Grandma’s culinary creations. Many times, Grandpa Clay comes into the kitchen and, giving me a mischievous grin when Grandma’s back is turned, sneaks a taste of whatever we’re making.

 

Grandpa Clay loves to spin tales of his boyhood growing up on a farm in the fields of Minnesota. He is an engaging storyteller infusing his long narratives with just enough excitement to make them believable.

In the evenings, after the dishes are done, I sit on the floor next to the green and gold upholstered rocking chair, which is Grandpa’s favorite chair, as he tells me his farmer boy stories.

We talk and laugh as he paints with his words pictures of life when the 20th century was brand new.

 

Over the years, several of Grandpa’s stories become my favorites and I ask him, “Tell me the one about…”

And Grandpa smiles. “Okay sure. Well, you see about that time… “

And I am swept back into a time very different than the life I know.

 

Grandpa loves to play pool and has a large pool table in the finished basement rec room of his home. I love to play with him and many times after dinner, we head downstairs to play. Grandpa purchases a kid sized pool cue, making it easier for me to shoot. I win the majority of the games and race up the basement steps to find my Grandmother to tell her of my victory. In later years, I learn Grandpa let me win because it made me happy.

 

In 1981, Grandpa Clay is diagnosed with liver cancer. He is into his 80’s by this time and elects not to go through treatment. I am devastated that my beloved grandfather, the only man in my life to that point – that ever made me feel safe – is dying. I remember asking him why he is refusing treatment. I will never forget his answer. With a warm smile, he explains it to me

“Honey girl, I have had a long full life. For the most part, it’s been a good life too. There have been some bad times, some sad times, but for the most part I’m satisfied. I want to enjoy the time I have left without being sick and weak from the treatment which will not save my life but only prolong it. If the good Lord has decided it’s my time to join him, then so be it.”

 

As the cancer progresses, Grandpa grows increasingly tired. He is no longer able to care for his prized tomato plants, so Grandma and I do it for him. Grandma can’t care for Grandpa alone so she arranges for visiting nurses to come to the house each day to help care for him as his condition continues to decline a little more every week.

The visiting nurses don’t come on the weekends, so on Fridays after school, I go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to help Grandma care for Grandpa. Even in his weakened condition, Grandpa still loves to talk and I spend much of my time seated by his bedside as he talks to me. He tells me he knows his time is near and gently takes hold of my hands between his own large hands grown calloused with years of farm work. I can see the bright sparkle in his blue eyes starting to fade. A wave of overwhelming sadness sweeps over me at the realization that my beloved grandfather will soon die.

“Now, I’m going to tell you something, honey girl, and I want you to listen and remember this. There will come a day when you are going to make some lucky man a wonderful wife and he is going to love you very much. Now, I won’t be there, but there is something I want you to give him from me.” Grandpa said.

Reaching under his pillow, Grandpa gives me a beautiful gold pocket watch.

“I was given this when I retired and I want you to give it to the man you are going to marry. And tell him it’s from me.” With this, he wraps my hands around the watch smiling.

I’m in tears because I know Grandpa is really saying good-bye while giving me something of him to take into the future with me.

 

Two weeks later, in the early morning hours of August 26th, 1982, Grandpa goes home to Jesus.

To cope with my grief, I write a poem called ‘I Remember, Grandpa.’

The minister conducting the funeral service is so touched by it, he makes it the center piece of his sermon.

I keep Grandpa’s watch as a much cherished possession for the next twenty years, waiting and hoping that Grandpa’s prediction of my future husband will come true. However, by the time I’m forty-four, I have decided Grandpa must have been wrong.

And then in March of 2006, I meet a man named David online. Two and a half years later, we are married. On our first wedding anniversary, I give David Grandpa’s watch and tell him the story of the gentle man, my grandfather, who gave it to him.

 

 

 

Disaffected Dave

Sharon Lipman

 

It was the same every year. The waiting, the anticipation, the disappointment.

Every Christmas, Dave prayed to whatever God was out there that he’d get reassigned. Elves weren’t all happy and jolly and not all of them loved Christmas or liked spending time with undeserving children. Dave decided a long time ago that spreading Christmas cheer was the last thing he wanted to do. There were other holidays much better suited to his skill set, yet here he was again, reassigned to another family with, no doubt, another disgusting child who didn’t need or appreciate what he was there to offer.

It was only twelve days, but to Dave, it was too bloody long. By Christmas day, he’d be tired, grouchy, and probably covered in snot. He laughed to himself. Who was he kidding? He was always grouchy.

The doors burst open and Dave froze. He might not like it, but he knew the rules. Humans must not see him move. His eyes unmoving, he watched the stream of parents and children file past, and saw them collecting their elves. He looked the same as his brothers, but every year, he was the last to be chosen. It seemed this year would be no different.

The screaming children came and went, clutching their elf, already demanding special treats and adventures from their long-suffering parents. The door swung shut on the last screech and he let his shoulders slump. It looked like he’d be waiting a little longer for his assignment. He strained his ears, checking to confirm no one else was about to come bowling in, and sat his weary bones down. This could be a long day, and he was already sick of standing at attention.

He sat on the edge of the shelf, letting his legs swing as he contemplated the task ahead. Every year, the demands of undeserving children got more and more difficult to fulfil. Parents were too busy trying to prove they loved their children by showering them with unnecessarily expensive gifts; they’d all completely forgotten the true meaning of the season. ‘Good will to all men’ was all well and good as long as they bought little Tommy the latest game console, and a tablet, and a new bike, and a mobile phone, and a T.V.

Dave rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness of it all. Mums and Dads spent so much time away from their offspring earning enough money to provide all that crap, they forgot the most important thing—being with their children. It was no wonder Dave didn’t like kids. He supposed he shouldn’t blame them; it wasn’t their fault after all, but each generation just repeated the same mistake. The world had become selfish. They didn’t need an elf to weave his magic in the run up to Christmas. They didn’t appreciate the magic. Simply joy had left children and had been replaced by the greed and entitlement their parents unintentionally instilled in them. An elf couldn’t just play tricks and report back on behaviour any more. They had to bring presents, lots of them.

He heard voices outside, but couldn’t be bothered to stand at attention. He was the only elf left. It wasn’t like he needed to impress anyone. He stilled his swinging legs and awaited his fate.

A woman in an ill-fitting suit and a name tag on a lanyard click-clacked down the aisle in her cheap shoes. His field of vision was compromised since he couldn’t let the woman see him move, but he couldn’t see a child. He certainly couldn’t hear one. Now this was unusual. Things got stranger still as he saw the woman checking up and down the aisle and glancing back towards the door as if she didn’t want anyone to catch her. She returned her gaze to Dave.

“Well, looks like you’ll have to do. I hope you’re up to the challenge,” she said.

She reached up and snatched him from the shelf, took one last look around, and stuffed him into her handbag. Dave bounced around in the bag as she ran from the hall, his head bouncing against her purse and a phone. What the hell was going on? This wasn’t normal. The jostling stopped as the bag was dumped on something soft. Keys jangled and then a car engine roared to life. Dave lurched as they set off and then came to rest on the phone. He tried, but couldn’t see where they were going. Not that it mattered—he’d never been to this part of the world before. It wasn’t a long journey, ten minutes at most. The woman collected the bag and slung it over her shoulder, Dave bumping against her hip as she walked. He managed to turn over so he could see out of the opening at the top of the bag. Cold, hard, winter sky hurt his eyes as he watched the skeletal trees bending in the freezing wind.

The woman stopped outside a building and Dave managed to decipher part of a sign above the doorway before she moved on.

Children’s Home.

Dave couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face. Perhaps this year would be different after all.

“I hope you’re up for this, little man. These kids could do with some magic.”

Oh yes. He was ready. He was born ready for this.

A Very Spartan Christmas

Natasha Madden

 

“SCRATCH, THUMP, MEOW!”

Groan. The deeply asleep teenager flopped over, just resting on the edge of her bed.

“MEOW, SCR-SCRATCH!”

She muttered again, pulling the blankets over her head.

“CRRAASSHH, THUD, MEROW!”

Gasp! She exclaimed, jumping awake, adding to the commotion with an ungraceful and painful fall to the floor. “Ow, what was that?” she asked, getting to her feet and rubbing her rear.

Standing in her heaviest PJ’s, her feet protesting at the cold wood floor, she took stock of the room and realized that the door to her room was open.

“Oh, you better not have.” she uttered, moving towards the door.

She hesitated, almost unwilling to look out. The door creaked slightly, and the view of the living room came into focus. The assorted decorations, some having seen too many winters, made the room seem cheery with red and green hues. The fireplace heater added a toasty atmosphere and the light coming from the windows accurately illuminated the perfect Christmas setting.

Her eyes rested on the horizontal, and fake, Douglas Fir, its fixtures scattered across the floor. She rushed over, concerned that the presents were damaged. She carefully lifted the tree so she could grab the gifts underneath. They seemed unmarred, but she noticed that a couple had the wrapping paper torn and a few various other decorations were disturbed as well. She looked around, knowing the culprit was somewhere close.

“There you are!” she shouted as the feline peeked out from under the couch. “Gotta be close to your crime eh, Sparta. You little troublemaker.” she chided, trying to grab him. “Come here.”

He meowed and slunk around the other side of the sofa, making a run for the bedroom. She followed, but decided to just close the door with him inside.

“There’s no point in scolding him too bad. After all, it’s his first Christmas. Thankfully it’s Christmas Eve though, so I can fix this before my sister gets here tomorrow.”

So, while the cat protested his imprisonment, she proceeded to put everything back in its place.

When she finished, she opened the bedroom door, assuring the cat he was on parole. She went about her day, having to occasionally shoo Sparta away from the tree or the other decorations. Luckily, it was one of her days off so she could keep an eye on him. He seemed especially fascinated by the snow globes and the tinsel. She managed to get through the day without him destroying everything.

When the day turned into the night, she made sure that everything was where it should be. Then, she got ready for bed. However, that was easier said than done. Sparta was in no way sleepy and evaded her at every step. It looked like a ‘Three Stooges’ episode.

She could almost hear the music playing, the sound effects as she basically chased her own tail. It should have made her laugh out loud, but she was so flustered. She finally got the idea to pretend to ‘go to sleep’ and hope he’d use the opportunity to come out.

She laid in her bed, barely breathing, waiting to see if he was going to head for the tree. Eons seemed to pass when, barely perceivable to her ears, she heard a jingle. With a smile, she sat up and rushed into the living room. He looked like he was about to jump into the tree when she appeared. This time, he was cornered. With no means of escape, he laid down, yowling his displeasure. She scooped him up and carried him into the bedroom. This time, she ensured that the door was closed and laid down. With the cat curled up at her feet, she sank into deep sleep.

The next morning was chilly and started early. Sparta was scratching at the door, meowing, begging to be released. He ran out and climbed into the window to watch the birds.

“Whatever. I have some cooking to do anyway.” she responded, moving to the kitchen. “After all, I have my two little nieces to please.”

She cooked for most of the morning, preparing a small feast, and all the while Sparta seemed to stay out of trouble. When her sister showed up with her husband, their twin daughters fell in love with the little rascal. While the adults talked, the girls kept him occupied. When they ate dinner, he slept in the sun like a lizard basking after a cool night.

“Sorry about the girls harassing your new cat.” her sister said.

“Ah, it’s okay. That little hellion has been dead set on destroying all of my decorations. It’s good to channel his kitten energy into something not so costly. Trust me, you’ll think there’s a water buffalo herd in the house.”

“Oh, he’s got nothing on the TNT sisters. Those girls are going to have worthy tales of rebellion to tell their children. And they aren’t even ten yet. I’m worried about when they hit their teens.”

After a bout of laughter, the girls came running in.

“Can we open the presents now?! Can we, can we, can we?!”

With a smile, she said, “Sure. Just let me get the camera and put Sparta up. Don’t want him opening them all.”

Finding the former didn’t take long, but the latter was an entirely different story. She enlisted the help of the girls, and still couldn’t find him. After ten minutes of searching, her sister came up to her.

“Hey, don’t worry. He’ll turn up when we start shredding paper.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Girls, let’s get started.” she said, laughing as the girls pushed each other, tying to get to the tree. She sat everyone down in view of the camera and hit record. She then proceeded to pass out all of the presents. The girls’ shrieks of joy almost masked the sound of ripping paper. The family lost all thought of anything other than what the next parcel might hold. When everyone was about halfway through their piles, there was a noise. A small jingle, just audible to her ears. She looked around, but didn’t catch a glimpse of the fiend. She stood up, about ready to run around like a maniac, when she noticed a bulb move in the tree. She paused, waiting to see if she just imagined it. There was no way he was that far up there! She almost sat down when another bulb, slightly further up, shifted.

“Oh, no. Don’t tell me he’s…” her sister began.

“Oh yes, he is.” She responded as, poof, Sparta poked his head out. He was replacing the star on top of the tree!

“I guess he’s the star this year.” Her sister laughed.

“Yes, it’s a very Spartan Christmas.”

 

 

 

Starlight

Chris S Hayes

 

Arboria, Landfall Colony, 278th Year from Sol Departure, December 25, 2336

 

The children stooped like hunting falcons, grabbing footfuls of candy from the bowl Marla held aloftwith prehensile toes before soaring off to sit on the rafters and enjoy their treats. The colony’s first cocoa crop had with much labor been transformed into the first chocolate available to the colonists since their arrival. The children’s bright grins and smudged faces spoke of the success of the project, named ‘Operation Christmas Candy’ by all involved.

“Come down, boys and girls,” Marla called through her oxygen mask. One by one her students—twenty four of them aged five to eight years old—spread their delicate bat-like wings and launched themselves into the swirling air currents of the recreation dome, landing lightly on their feet at all sides of their ground-bound teacher. Marla, as usual, felt bulky and awkward compared to her charges, who’d been genetically engineered for Arboria’s gravity and atmosphere. She, on the other hand, was just an ordinary woman doing an ordinary job.

“Everyone gather around the tree. Santa’s coming soon,” she announced, smiling at their enthusiasm. The children’s flutelike cries of excitement, painfully high-pitched in the dome’s helium enriched atmosphere, rang out as they settled in a semicircle around the Christmas tree. Aurora’s flora did not include conifers, and the pine seedlings had thus far failed to flourish, but Marla still had hopes for future plantings. The colony’s biologists were miracle workers. In the meantime, they’d settled for an artificial tree.

“Ho, ho, ho…Merry Christmas!”

In Arboria’s atmosphere Carl Washington’s usually deep and vibrant bass voice sounded more like a chipmunk’s, and the adult colonists’ controlled calorie regimen spoiled his chances of a Santa-like belly, but the quartermaster had done a stellar job on his Santa suit, and the bushy white beard underneath his mask was right on point. He had a huge red velvet bag slung over one shoulder, improbably bulky in Aurora’s lighter gravity and stuffed until its seams strained. The children’s squeals passed up into the inaudible range for the adults within earshot. Marla winced, chuckling. Controlled pandemonium ensued as presents were distributed and unwrapped. Wooden gliders and dolls and flying discs and balls were admired and traded until every child was satisfied.

The geneticists swore up and down that they’d done no temperament tweaks during the engineering process to cause the kids’ almost unnatural non-competitiveness.

Carl, the colony’s chief psychologist when he wasn’t passing out presents, theorized that raising the children as a close-knit group on a dangerous planet where their survival depended on cooperation had done it; that and the fact the kids spent nearly every moment together, with only a few hours a week spent with their parents during family visitation.

Once the geneticists had decided to engineer the colony’s children—and all future generations of Aurorans—to live on the surface without supplemental oxygen, they’d had no other choice. Earth’s normal atmosphere contained too much oxygen for the children, Aurora’s atmosphere too little for their parents.

“Stow your presents and line up, everyone. Lookouts, gather your team members!”

The children immediately fell silent, put their new toys in the zippered pockets of their jumpsuits, and put on their ‘gloves,’ booties with separate toes to protect their prehensile feet. In groups of six, consisting of two older ‘lookouts’ and four toddlers, they gathered at the dome’s exit.

Marla adjusted her mask, then tapped her earpiece to activate her comm.

“We’re ready for our excursion, Lieutenant Marshall.”

The colony’s security division was a highly disciplined bunch. They had to be, given their high-risk assignments. There was a good reason that the geneticists had decided to engineer the children to fly. The air was the only safe place on Aurora. The planet’s islands were rife with lethal predators. So far they hadn’t lost a single child, but the adults hadn’t been so lucky.

The exit irised open. It was night outside. Nick Marshall and the four other members of his team stood at the periphery of the clearing, arrayed in a semicircle facing outward with infrared goggles on and their double-barrel shotguns ready to fire. The colonists had learned from painful experience that lesser weapons didn’t have the necessary stopping power at close range.

Marla forced herself to look away from Nick’s broad shoulders and muscular biceps, a challenging task, and focused her attention on the children as they filed out of the dome. Immediately the little ones turned their faces upward with murmurs of delight. For safety reasons they were rarely allowed outdoors at night, but tonight was special.

The midnight blue sky glimmered with stars. One stood out, brighter than the others and directly overhead. Carl, still dressed in his Santa suit and an oxygen mask, parked himself on a foldable camp stool in the center of the clearing, and the children sat down in groups on the wiry blue-green sward. Most of the children were of no particular religion unless their parents were faithful to a specific belief, but today was Christmas, and so the story of the evening would be from the Christian scriptures. Carl pulled a tablet from his coat and settled himself to read aloud.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child…”

As Carl read to the children, Marla allowed herself a closer inspection of Nick Marshall. It was past time for her to choose a father for the children she was required to bear. Nick was rumored to be a popular choice for obvious reasons, but he had yet to say yes to any offer. Marla had daydreams about being the one to convince him, if she could only summon the nerve to talk to him, but they were unrealistic fantasies. As far as she could tell, Lieutenant Marshall had yet to notice she was alive.

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home…’”

Carl held the children’s rapt attention. Although Marla knew it was unwise to distract the guard detail, she felt compelled to do what she did next. The front pocket of her coverall was filled with what remained of the children’s Christmas chocolates. It was only right to share them. She approached the periphery of the clearing with a determined smile behind her mask.

“Merry Christmas, Lieutenant,” she said. “Mind if I pass out some treats to your team?”

Instead of refusing outright as she’d half expected, Nick Marshall tapped his comm. She heard his quiet voice say, “I’m tapping out for five minutes, guys. Cover my sector.”

Then he lowered his shotgun, pulled off his infrared goggles, and directed the full force of his long-lashed hazel eyes and chiseled chin toward her. Marla had to remind herself to keep breathing. Through the clear polymer of his oxygen mask, his smile was hesitant.

“That’s very kind of you, Miss Rodriguez.”

He does know my name. Maybe this will work…

“Call me Marla,” she said, returning his smile, and extended both hands cupped, filled with bite-sized paper-wrapped handmade chocolates. His large hand dwarfed hers as he reached in to grasp one between thumb and forefinger. She watched, enthralled, as he un-wrapped the dark morsel, lifted his mask, and tucked it into his mouth. The expression of sheer delight on his face at his first taste of the chocolate made her bite her lip to keep from laughing. Behind her, Carl continued his storytelling.

Behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage…’”

“Is that the Christmas star?” piped Eric, one of the braver five year olds. Marla turned. The child was pointing upward toward the brightest star in the sky.

“Well…it’s not the same star the magi saw, but it can be our Christmas star,” Carl told him. “It’s called Sol, and it’s the star that shines on the planet where Jesus was born.”

Marla realized the truth of it. She looked up and half-seriously made a wish.

“Starlight, starbright, the first star I see tonight…”

Nick Marshall’s tenor voice chimed in. “I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” He chuckled. “Haven’t heard that one in years. What are you wishing for?”

Marla met his gaze and gathered her courage. She smiled wryly. “It’s funny you should ask that, Lieutenant…”

 

 

 

 

The Trial of Santa Claus

Stewart Bint

 

I’d always thought of Santa Claus as a kindly old man who loved children. So it came as a shock when he appeared in court, charged with cruelty to children.

One of my regular jobs as a newspaper reporter in a small English town is to cover the local magistrates’ court.

On this particular day, December 18, Presiding Magistrate, Mrs. Eleanor McHarris, was just peering over the top of her fancy horn-rimmed spectacles at the latest chap in the dock, when her whole body started weaving about.

Her pale, blue-rinsed hair was streaming out all around her head and the top and bottom parts of her face were blowing to the left, while her nose and cheeks swayed to the right.

And it wasn’t just Mrs. McHarris going haywire. A weird type of greyish-white mist began swirling before my eyes. For a few seconds it blocked everything out, then disappeared. Mrs. McHarris stopped weaving about, but somehow looked different. Most of that blue-rinse was now tucked up inside a long black pointed cap, with only a few wisps hanging loosely past her ears and trickling on to her shoulders.

A heavy black shawl with a long fringe replaced her grim tweed jacket, and the fancy horn-rimmed glasses stretched out sideways, curling up to a point, giving the impression of a flying bat.

And when she spoke the words cascaded out in a thin, whining cackle.

“You’ve heard the charges against you, Santa Claus, how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?”

The immediate answer from the dock was booming, almost boisterous: “Why, not guilty, of course, Madam.” Now, that didn’t sound for one second like the sort of voice the frail young man who’d been standing there just a few seconds ago should have had. It had rich, deep tones, as if it belonged to a jolly, middle-aged, or even old, man.

And wait a minute. She’d said Santa Claus.

I tore my gaze from Mrs. McHarris and stared across to the dock. The wimpish-looking wally charged with some insignificant breach of the law was no longer there.

Instead, there stood a man with a myriad laugh-lines creasing the skin around his eyes, and the lower part of his face was concealed by a bushy white beard. He was about six feet tall, and a bright red tunic encased his more than ample girth. White hair flowed out on to his shoulders from under a red drooping cap.

I gave up trying to work out what had happened. I could have speculated all day and still been a million miles from the truth. There! With my mind wandering I’d missed some of the court procedure. The prosecuting lawyer was getting to his feet, ready to put his case to Mrs. McHarris.

“Madam. Santa Claus has denied the charges against him, namely cruelty to children. I shall now proceed to show you just why Santa Claus is guilty of the offences as charged.”

Mrs. McHarris gave an irritated wave of her claw-like hand. “Yes, yes, do get on with it Mr. Chatstock.”

“Call the prosecution witness, Miss Anne McGuigan.”

As she went through the formalities of pledging to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I stared at her, trying to remember where I’d seen her before. Of course, it had been in this very courtroom a few months ago.

She’s a social worker and had again been involved in a case of cruelty to children. “Miss McGuigan,” old Chatstock was saying. “Will you tell the court in your own words exactly what effect Father Christmas’s actions have been having on children?”

“With pleasure. That man has completely wrecked the spirit of Christmas. It can never be the same again as long as he’s out there, supposed to be bringing joy and happiness to all those poor little souls, when all he does is bring misery and heartache.

“He did it all right. It was him who came down all those chimneys on Christmas morning, no-one else.”

The mean little mouth turned even more sulky. “The happiness amongst children on Christmas morning over the past few years has been very limited. They’ve opened the presents Santa brought them and their little eyes have lit up with wonder and awe.

“But when they get together and compare presents, each child feels their friends’ gifts are always better than their own. They start to ask each other how much the presents cost, and they become discontented. That feeling quickly grows to a fierce jealousy, and in a very short time their sweet innocence becomes a lingering hate and resentment that they haven’t got a bigger, better, more expensive gift. If that isn’t cruel to the poor little dears, upsetting them like that, then I don’t know what is.”

Miss McGuigan continued in the same vein for another half hour, and was followed by a succession of children all saying what Christmas meant to them.

“It means presents.”

“Lots to eat.”

“I think it’s about some geezer who died and we remember the day he died.”

“I like the chocolates.”

“Dad gets drunk and Mum cries.”

“It means I can get a new computer. The one Santa brought me last year isn’t as good as Robin’s, so I want a better one.”

“It’s Santa’s birthday, but instead of us giving him presents he gives us things instead.”

“Billy’s present always cost more than mine, so I like to break it when he lets me play with it.”

Then it was Santa’s turn. “Madam.” His booming voice echoed around the ancient timbers. “I can’t deny that what much of the prosecution says is true. The spirit of Christmas—its true meaning—has been wrecked. Some children turn bitter and twisted when they see a better toy than theirs, or one which was more expensive, and it does rob them of their innocence at a painfully early age. Oh yes, I agree that is wrong. But you can’t blame me for it. I’m afraid Mankind’s progress through time has become tarnished. The further he goes and the more he gets, the more he wants.

“Whatever happened to families going to church together on Christmas morning, and it was a time for rejoicing because our Saviour had come to Earth on that day two thousand years before?

“He came to save the world, to show its people the way forward. If ever it’s possible for Him to come again, the time is now, for Mankind has strayed from the path He showed them. They’ve let grasp and greed cloud their lives and they’ve lost sight of the true road ahead. Everyone strives for something better and they always want the greener grass on the other side.

“The world is what people have made it. And people are what the world has made them.

“You can’t hold me responsible for that. If anyone’s being cruel to children, it’s their parents, for giving them too many material possessions and not enough love and spirituality. Children grow up with everything handed to them and with no appreciation of values—either material values, or more importantly, spiritual values.

“But remember this—the spirit of Christmas is still there for those who choose to seek it. For that reason, if you find me not guilty, Christmas will continue to come to the world every year, despite the self-destructive path Mankind is taking. But think of this—can the world survive if we no longer celebrate the birth of its saviour? I put it to you, that it cannot.”

He stopped speaking and gently lowered himself into his seat.

Mrs McHarris stood up. “If that’s all you wish to say, Santa Claus, then we’ll retire to consider our verdict.”

Now, it wasn’t the first time I’d dozed off for a few moments while waiting for the magistrates to make their decision. I awoke with a start when Mrs. McHarris tapped her gavel sharply on its block. For a couple of seconds I looked at her in astonishment. Her pointed cap and fringed shawl were gone. And the grim tweed jacket was back.

Santa was gone, too. His place taken again by the wimpish wally.

Through the ensuing days I tried to work out just what had happened in that courtroom and what the verdict could possibly be.

But Santa came as usual on Christmas morning. I reckon he must have been found not guilty. What was it he said? Oh yes: “But remember this—the spirit of Christmas is still there for those who choose to seek it. For that reason, if you find me not guilty, Christmas will continue to come to the world every year, despite the self-destructive path Mankind is taking. But think of this—can the world survive if we no longer celebrate the birth of its saviour? I put it to you, that it cannot.”

I think that says it all, don’t you?

 

A Christmas of Ice

K M Robinson

 

“Wow, Leslie pitched that one.” Erica sings melodramatically next to me.

“Next time you start the song, Erica.” I chastise playfully. Everyone grumbles good-naturedly, despite the incredibly high rendition of the Christmas carol we have just sung.

“Don’t look now, but there’s a really cute guy staring at you, roomie.” Erica bumps into my shoulder before launching into another song.

As the last notes echo, the family who lives in the house we are standing in front of claps, the man rushing out to offer us money. We decline politely and walk to the next house.

The house owners gather on the porch and I notice I am being watched. Carter grins at me, adjusting his hat, his blond bangs peeking out from under the brim. He slips a few steps closer to me, putting only a few people between us.

What is that boy doing?” I mumble to myself.

“Leslie, the Andersons were nice enough to invite us to bring all our friends over here to carol in their complex and you’re wasting time staring at boys?” She demands in a sarcastic voice, parroting the words I had said to her not ten minutes earlier.

“Well excuse me!” I pretend to huff at her words. “What do you expect me to do when my boyfriend insists on standing at the opposite side of the group and grins at me the entire time?”

“Is he playing hard to get?” she asks “Because I’m pretty sure you caught him freshman year when he asked you out to dinner and you ditched our study group for him.”

“Oh please, you would have dropped study group for a boy that cute too.” I reply as we step up to a house covered in icicle lights. The cold wind hits me in the face, blowing back my hair. Suddenly I wish to be back inside.

“Honey, I ditched study group for boys half as cute as your man.” We giggle and Erica starts the next song. Erica had been in charge of the entire outing, from getting our adopted college church family to allow us to take over their neighborhood, to picking the songs we would sing. I was dying for the hot apple cider and hot chocolate the Andersons had waiting for us back at their home.

An elderly couple greets us at their doorway, the husband draping a blanket over his wife’s shoulders. They hold hands as they wait for us to start our song.

As if possessed by the need to please them, I start one of my favorite carols, slowly filling the street with its soft melody. I can hear a few of the carolers struggling to sing as high as me, prompting me to be louder to fill the space they leave when they drop out.

My voice catches for a moment as a hand slips into mine, startling me. Looking to my right, I discover Carter has managed to sneak up on me. He pulls me close to his side and sings with me, finishing the song. He immediately starts singing another, this one faster. The rest of the group doesn’t know it, but the song holds special meaning to me, having been written in my hometown. The last words drop off and the older woman clutches her hand to her heart.

“Lovely, just lovely.” She murmurs. Her husband thanks us profusely before escorting his beautiful wife inside.

Carter buries his lips in my hair sending a shiver down my spine.

“Not too cold, are you?” Erica glances sideways at me. “You look pretty cozy to me.”

“Oh be quiet.” I wave my hand at her, threatening her.

“I certainly wouldn’t be quiet about the fact that I have been dating for as long as you have been, if I were you,” she mocks, eyes sparking like the lights on the house we are stopping at.

“It will be four years next month.” I say, far too dreamily, and lean into my boyfriend. “Quite honestly, I’m surprised we’ve made it this long. I thought for sure by now Erica would have smothered me in my sleep one night so she could steal you away.”

Carter grins before leaning around me and giving my roommate a dramatic wink. “Shhh, you weren’t supposed to tell her about the plan.”

His joke sends us all into a ripple of laughter. The children hanging out of the windows shout to us, asking why we are laughing. Carter picks a peppy song and we all race through three rounds of it before we move on. Reindeer and a snowman litter the next yard.

“Besides, I could never smother you,” Erica says. “The dorm walls are far too thin. Gina and Louise would hear and come save you.”

The kids, still hanging from the snowflake covered windows, shriek as Carter leans over and kisses me. Erica picks up their chanting and the entire group whistles at us as we walk to the final house on the street. It’s dark and would look abandoned if not for the few strings of unlit lights on the front porch.

“I don’t think anyone is home.” I say as we walk part way up the drive.

“Let’s sing anyway.” Marcia, our hostess, says, nodding enthusiastically to the group. She grins at me and motions for me to sing. After a quizzical look, I join into the song my best friend has already started singing beside me.

The world is silent as the song comes to an end. We are about to move on when the entire place springs to life. Lights flip on all around us, wrapped through the trees and around the porch. Fountains of twinkle lights cascade in the side yards, blinking like fireflies. The soft glow of the yellow lights fills the space and gives the dark night sky a dreamy look.

Carter grins at me and grabs my hand. Glancing around I notice no one else in our group looks confused. Carter pulls me closer to the house and spins me around to face him as my eyes still search to take in the atmosphere around us.

Music suddenly fills the air, echoing off of the houses, and yet the entire world seems incredibly still. Carter takes a step away from me, hands outstretched between us. I grin foolishly as he smiles at me. We watch each other for a moment as the snow starts to build on our hair and shoulders. Somehow I missed the start of the flakes.

Carter belts out the lines of the song about snowmen asking if we’re married, the same song written in my hometown he had sung before. Only when I hear people screaming around us do I understand.

The ring sparkles like the icicles that decorated the Anderson family home as Carter bends down on one knee. I hear only his words as he speaks of his love for me. Throwing my arms around him, he spins me in circles, elated at my answer. We dance in the moonlit snow in the soft glow of the twinkle lights as the song continues. Our friends pick up the words, shouting loudly for the entire neighborhood to hear. When we finally slow our dance, I realize the voices are much louder than before. Carter twirls me, bringing me to a stop to face the abandoned house where I find my entire family surrounding the steps.

Carter, a Christmas miracle all my own, has given me the best gift he ever could: a promise to be with me forever, and my family there to witness my happiest moment to date.

My parents escort me inside and I realize it’s not just my family, but my new family as well. The inside of the house is decorated as lovely as the outside. The air is filled with music as everyone sings around the piano. I had never seen it coming.

The night is incredible, full of laughter, friends and fun. I yell at my caroling group for keeping the secret from me, but they just make jokes about getting coal for it.

“Are you happy?” Carter asks as I curl against him on the couch.

“How did you do this?” I ask him, smiling.

“Christmas is a time for miracles, Leslie. It’s also the time employees get time off from work and bosses are more than happy to give an earlier day, especially if it means they work an extra day closer to the big event.”

“You even got our families,” I say, still in disbelief.

Family.” He corrects. “Our family.”

“How long have you been planning this?” I ask.

“About as long as the trip to Bethlehem,” he jokes. His smile turns serious. “Leslie Ann Matthews, I have loved you from the moment I met you.”

“Hey! Here’s the perfect song to end the night, dedicated to Leslie and Carter!” Erica shouts above the crowd.

She bursts into the Hallelujah Chorus and we all sing along.

 

 

Evergreen

Karen J Mossman

 

Outside the window snowflakes are falling, covering the ground with a rich layer of white snow. Inside it’s warm and our tree is large this year as it stands in the corner with presents underneath. Baubles and ornaments adorn it and lights twinkle. I love sitting in my chair just looking at it, remembering Christmases gone by.

We are sitting round the table with good wine, good food, Christmas crackers, table settings and silly hats. I love each one of them and they are not my first family. I’ve had families, but none as perfect as this.

Bob was my first husband. We met at school. We had to hide the way we felt.

“Why don’t you meet me after school?” Bob said when it became evident our feelings had become dangerous.

“The cafe behind the High Street?” I suggested, as my heart fluttered.

I was there first, in my uniform, aged 18. His eyes swept the room and my stomach gave way to butterflies. He was so lovely, especially in his cable knit sweater. It looked warm and cuddly. His eyes came to rest on me, and his face lit up. I had died and gone to heaven.

“Can I buy you a coffee, Emma?” he said striding over to me.

“Yes, please.”

Sitting down a minute later we reached for each other’s hand under under the table.

“You know how I feel about you?” he said.

“I know and I feel the same, but what are we going to do?”

He looked sad. “I could lose my job if people found out about us.”

“I don’t want that.”

“It means we can’t be together yet, we have to wait until you finish school.”

“I could finish now,” I said hopefully, knowing my parents would go mad, but I’d do anything to be with him.

He shook his head, “I’m a teacher, your education is important to me. We’ll be judged if we start this too soon.”

In my heart of hearts I knew he was right, but it was hard. We met occasionally outside of school and it was passionate. We didn’t even consider the age difference and that’s what people frowned upon the most. My parents didn’t like it.

His mum and his sister, her family and my parents joined us for Christmas dinner that first year and it was a strained affair. I was too young and he was too old, but we proved them all wrong. We were married 20 years until he had a heart attack and I was alone.

A year later I met Craig, he was a gardener in the local park and soon he was doing my garden. In contrast he was 5 years younger than me. I kept myself in good shape and in the summer he worked temptingly topless. I returned from a run by the river and as I walked up the path to my house I said, “It looks like hot work.” What I really meant was he looked hot as beads of sweat glistened on his torso.

He wiped his forehead with his forearm and smiled. “It is, and you look like you’ve been busy, too.”

My hair was up in a pony-tail, I was wearing a tee-shirt and shorts and liked the way his eyes rolled over me. “I’ll bring you out a drink,” I said with a smile.

As time went on, winter set in and he was calling round for hot drinks.

“I can’t this stand it anymore,” he said, one day standing very close to me. “Do you realise how I feel about you?”

The palm of my hand went up to his chest, “No, but I’d love to find out.”

He pushed me back on the settee and our passion overflowed. We spent more and more time together and eventually he didn’t go home. We were married and Christmas came along with a different family around the table. I always loved just sitting and looking at the tree with its baubles and memories. To me it was evergreen.

We’d been married less than a year when he fell asleep in the chair dropping his cigarette. I woke up in the bedroom smelling smoke and managed to climb out of the window. I lost everything, including Craig.

As my parents had died a few years previously and I didn’t have any children, I found myself alone.

Then I met Martin, and he was the true love of my life. He was so handsome with dark hair, dark brooding eyes and of course, that uniform.

“I didn’t think you would look at me twice,” he told me when we realised we were falling in love.

“Why not?” I asked as we walked down the lane back to his parent’s cottage. They were my friends and I didn’t think I’d become involved with their son. When he arrived home from a tour of duty, something clicked between us.

“We don’t have a good reputation, we make you fall for us and then get ourselves killed.”

I laughed at that. “Don’t be silly, you’re not going to die.”

He shrugged, “If not that, we take you away to some foreign land, force you to make friends with other wives, and then bugger off and leave you again.”

“Other wives?”

He blushed. “You know what I mean.”

I did and when he eventually proposed, I was over the moon especially as I had my own little secret. That first Christmas together, not only was I living on an army base in Turkey, but little Maddie had been born.

Life was good, I may not have been a young mum, but surprisingly I wasn’t the only one. I made many friends and despite the heat, Christmas was good. My tree stood proud and tall and we shared our Christmas with those families whose loved ones were deployed. No one would be lonely at Christmas.

“I love you,” Martin said, as I was preparing the table and placing Christmas crackers next to each place. I leaned into him. “Now why do you love me when I am so busy?”

He laughed, “For organising this, it makes a difference to the lads who are not here.”

He kissed me and I marvelled again how this man had chosen me, a widow twice over. “I love you too, Martin, and I’m so glad we’re here, spending Christmas with our friends. Maddie is growing up in a great environment.”

Time went on and just I was bumping along, going at a pace I knew and under stood, my world came crashing down. Martin had become a casualty of war. I was a widow again. The heartbreak was more than I could bear, but for Maddie’s sake, I had to try.

My one true love had gone and we moved back to England and Maddie started school. I had a house and a job and joined the ranks of the Women’s Institute. They were my life-savers and Freda Franklin, a war widow, took me under her wing. She and I became great friends. I had no idea she had any family until her son came home one day, and she introduced me to Flight Commander Richard Franklin. I was never going to get married again, let alone to another soldier, but you can’t help who we fall in love with, can you? He took Maddie on as his own and although he would never be Martin, Richard was a good father and husband. He eventually retired and we had a good life together.

“Mum, are you all right? You look a little pale,” said Maddie, who was sitting opposite me at the Christmas table.

“I’m just a bit tired, love.”

Young Martin jumped up, “Come on, Gran, come and sit by the tree.” He helped me to my feet and sat me down in the armchair. “We’ll do the clearing up, you have a little rest.”

He is a good lad who has all the traits of his father.

The lights on the Christmas tree flickered and I could hear Maddie clearing the table and David, her husband, helping. Martin’s girlfriend was doing her bit by serving the Christmas pudding.

The Christmas tree felt like the same one I had been looking at all my life. An evergreen. As I stared, the lights seemed to flicker a figure shimmered in front of me. Martin looked so handsome in his uniform as he held out his hand towards me. It was time and I had no hesitation in taking it.

 

 

 

Midwinter under the Bridge: Another Swedish Tale

Lisa Veldkamp

 

This is the time to be still and slow our pace

After the harvest, the hunt, the race

We celebrate the returning of the light

Though the coming months could go left or right

The snow, the wet, the bitter cold

It makes us weary, truth be told

Midwinter under the bridge brings us hope to warm the heart

And creates the circle that every end has its start

Just remember, when you think all light is gone,

It’s always darkest before the dawn

 

“You may think you’re hallucinating, but you’re not. You’re really seeing it. I’m allowing you to see it. My name is Eydis and I’m a bridge-builder. Not that this means something to you, but it’ll explain why you’re able to see my land. I can reach you through your dreams. I can guide them and make you remember. I’m also a troll.”

“No, don’t be scared! We’re actually quite cute. Well, I think so anyway. Look into my eyes. They’re pretty, aren’t they? Almost golden. See—you like me. I also have a lovely soft tail with a tufty bit on the end. I’ll give it a wave. That’s funny, isn’t it? Made you laugh. We’re going to get along just fine. Now look closer. Do you see the bridge high above us? It’s very special. Only the shamans are allowed to cross it. It leads into your world, you see. The world of humans. I am one. A shaman, that is. Like my grandfather, Amandus. He’s the troll with the long white hair in the centre of the circle, round the great bonfire. Doesn’t he look formidable? Someone of your kind said to me my grandfather reminds him of Albus Dumbledore, if he would have been a troll, but I don’t know who this Mr. Dumbledore is, so I don’t know if he’s right. I value this human’s opinion though, he’s important to me. He’s the only one who knows we exist. Well, and now you.

“Why I asked you here? We’re celebrating Jul. That’s your Christmas, sort of. We don’t have a baby Jesus or anything, although we do have our own holy trinity. We call them Thor, Odin and Freyr. We celebrate the returning of the light. I know it doesn’t really feel like that in December, but after the twenty-first, it really does get lighter. You just have to pay attention. I love our forest. Not only does it contain the most luscious green moss mixed with birch and ash trees, it’s also covered in crystals. They give this magical glow from the forest floor. My home contains a lot of crystals. It’s up on that hill. Do you see the big, brown bear? He’s guarding the entrance to our dwelling. His name is Beka. I love him very much. Better to stay away from him though. Beka’s not very good with humans.

“Come, we’ll go down to sit by the fire. Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you. They don’t know you’re actually here. This is my dream I’m sharing with you. So even though everyone will be able to speak to you and interact with you, they won’t remember. They only do if I let them. The only one you can’t talk to is Amandus, my grandfather. Because he’s a shaman as well. Actual conversation and he would know you’re here. And I’m not allowed to bring humans. You’re not supposed to know we exist. He’ll be leading the ceremony, so it works out perfectly. He won’t be anywhere near us. Take my hand. Watch your step, the crystals can be quite sharp if you step on one. Just let the light guide your feet.

“Oh, this looks like a nice spot. You can sit on the moss, it’s warm and soft. Do you have a good view? Good, Amandus is about to begin. Oh, I’ll give you a crystal. You’ll need it later. Here, hold on to it. What stone it is? Well, maybe you should look it up in a book. Shhh… Quiet now, you can ask me questions later.”

Welcome, my dear tribe on this Midwinter’s Eve.” His eyes twinkle as he smiles at the small troll-children in front of him. “Tonight we will celebrate the returning of the Light. This is a special moment. Not only for us, but for the earth as well. We recognise the shadows as they give way to the light. We honour the darkness. The quiet, the stillness of the earth. For twelve days we will celebrate and help nature to reawaken. To softly guide both plant and beast. This is what we do. This is what we have always done. This is what we will do for many years to come. We are the protectors of the land, guided by the great forces of the three. Thor, Odin and Freyr. They will walk among us on this first night.”

Amandus raises his staff. It’s almost white and the crystal on top glows. When the staff touches ground, the crystal beams rotate round the forest, shining their light upon the faces of those surrounding him. A mumbling rises from the centre of the circle. Three figures arise from the light, looking down on the trolls gathered.

Welcome, holy trinity. We ask for your guidance and to witness the returning of the light. Will you grant us your blessing?”

The forms of light give a respectful nod. Amandus continues.

Then the time has come to recognise and honour the dark once more. Reach out to your crystal. Take a moment to look back. Think about your fears, think about your hopes. Let your fears go. Guide them down your spine, into the earth, where the Great Mother will consume them. Let your hopes take shape, then guide them into your crystal. Focus now.”

Amandus falls silent.

“This is why I gave you a crystal. Just do what he said, it’ll work. I promise. In a moment or so, all crystals will go dark. Don’t panic. That’s supposed to happen. It will be totally black around us, but the light will return. I just know it will work the same for humans. So focus on your fears, send them down into the earth and then focus on all your hopes and guide them into the crystal.”

 

~~~~

 

Suddenly all lights go out. No glowing of crystals, no little fairy lights, no candles, no godlike creatures coming out of the crystal of Amandus’ staff. Even the stars in the sky seem to have gone out.

The only sound is the breathing of the trolls and animals in the circle. It’s oddly peaceful. Time is hard to define in the dark. A couple of minutes could have gone by, it could have been hours, but just as suddenly the crystal in Amandus’ staff starts to glow again. It seems to glow brighter with each breath we take. The holy trinity, Thor, Odin and Freyr reappear. They speak in one voice.

The Light has returned. A blessing on your life, a blessing on the land.”

“Oh look! Well done! Your crystal glows. See, I knew it would work for humans as well. Did you put all your hopes in it? No—you don’t have to give it back to me. You can keep it, take it home with you. I’m sorry, but you can’t stay. Amandus will give us assignments for the coming twelve days and he will go round to do that. We can’t let him see you. Like I said, he’s a shaman like me, so he will remember and I will be in big trouble. Again. I have a knack for getting into trouble, but you liked it, right? Then it’s worth it.

“Normally I wouldn’t let you remember, but I don’t know. I have a feeling about you. I think you’re special. So I’m going to leave it up to you. If you want to remember, you’ll remember. And if you don’t, you’ll forget all about this. You’ll think it was just a dream. Oh, you didn’t realise? Yes, you’re dreaming. I don’t know if we’ll see each other again. Like I said, I’m not supposed to visit humans in their dreams. Because you humans cannot know we actually exist. The crystal won’t be there in your world, but somehow I have a feeling you’ll find it again. You’ll know which one it is, when you come across it. Just trust your instinct. Now it’s time for me to leave, Amandus has almost reached us. That means it’s time for you to wake up. Time to choose. Will you remember or will you forget?

 

Three…two…one…Wake up.”

 

 

 

Clara’s Button

L G Surgeson

 

Iona didn’t like the Festival of Lights. Apart from the fact she was required to parade about like Lady Muck of the Manor, which she found tedious, the whole thing had been someone else’s idea in the first place, and that was never something she enjoyed. She’d already done the official rounds last night.

In a way, it was quite a delightful spectacle. Bards cast light displays into the sky, street performers wowed the gathered crowds, there were braziers on every corner and hundreds of candle lanterns strung up over anything that couldn’t object. She’d have preferred to save the candles for the long winter nights, but there you go.

She had only come back to the festival because she was looking for someone. She had something to pass on, and she was certain that she’d find who she was looking for somewhere in the crowds with very little effort. Clara Cropper and her associate Pudding the Goblin were bards – really bad bards – and therefore would be working the festival like every other bard in the city, and the worse the bard the less salubrious the pitch. She had trawled every tumbledown cul-de-sac she could think of, looking for them, but so far no luck. All she seemed to be able to find were Life Temple Clerics and nuns, there seemed to be dozens of them. There were two more on the corner of this street, and they must have started young because one of them was barely bigger than a child. She chuckled under her breath, why was she surprised?

Shaking her head, she went over to the Sisters and dropped a groat into their bowl. The small one looked up to say ‘Goddess Bless you, Ma’am’ and stopped with her mouth open. The habit’s cowl fell back and after a moment of staring like a stunned rabbit, Clara grinned at Iona, displaying her rickety teeth, and said, “Awright guv’nor?”

“I might have known,” said Iona after a moment, then reaching over to Clara’s companion, yanked the cowl back and found a goblin with an unnerving smirk giving her a very suggestive wink. “What do you think you’re doing?” Iona punctuated this question with an eloquent look that said not only ‘don’t call me guv’nor’ but to also ‘start explaining very quickly before I call the militia’.

“Collectin’” said Clara unfazed, showing the bowl, “for the horphans.”

There were quite a few coins in there, mainly groats although someone who fancied themselves as a philanthropist had chucked in a slightly mangled looking florin.

“For the orphans,” repeated Iona dubiously. “You’ve collected this for the orphans?”

“In a manner of speakin’, yeah,” replied Clara, tilting her head and squinting out of one eye.

“In a manner of speaking?” echoed Iona, “So that would be not at all then.”

“Well, technically,” interrupted Pudding, “We’re both orphans.”

“You are collecting dressed as Clerics of Life,” said Iona trying not to find this funny. “Which may I remind you is an arrestable offense – obtaining charitable donations under an assumed religious belief. Can you two sink any lower?”

She had adopted her school-mistress tone, which never quite had the desired effect on these two.

Pudding just snorted, and said, “Yest’de Clara pretended to be one of them temple orphans.” Iona made an effort to look shocked, Pudding just carried on – chortling to herself. “She was doin’ quite well too, until Sister Hildegaart got hold of ‘er and spent ten minutes scrubbin’ her face with a cloth, Look.” The goblin pointed at Clara, who scowled and thumped her friend. Iona could actually see scrub marks on Clara’s face, but she didn’t dare smile.

“Well, you should be ashamed,” she said.

“We need the money,” said Clara flatly. “It’s bloody cold now and this coat is all I’ve got.” She pulled her green habit up over her head to show Iona her threadbare overcoat, that had previously belonged to someone a foot larger than her in all dimensions and had no buttons.

“Oh dear,” said Iona, trying not to smirk. “that’s a bit pathetic. It doesn’t even have any buttons.” Clara looked offended.

“It does have buttons!” she exclaimed, “big brass ones.”

“Where?” snorted Iona, barely stifling a snigger.

“In the pawn shop on Market Street,” said Pudding haughtily, “we got a very good price for them too.”

“Oh did you?” said Iona. “Well in that case, you won’t need this.” She tried to take the bowl from Clara’s hand but the girl’s reflexes were sharp.

“We aint got none left,” continued Pudding, “City life is hexpensive you know. Apart from those groats, that florin and a slightly suspect piece of Paravelian Gold with the paint peeling off, we’re flat broke.” Suspect clearly meant fake in this context.

“Well,” said Iona, well aware that in a public gathering such as this she needed to be seen to ‘do the right thing’ and try to get these two miscreant to see the error of their ways, “have you tried earning money in an honest fashion? By performing perhaps?”

“We did,” was Clara’s sullen reply. “Day before yest’day we were moved on cos some snot-nosed Cleric took offense to ‘You can tell she’s a lady by what she charges’.”

“Day before that,” chimed in Pudding, “We was actually arrested for singin’ the extended version of ‘She likes it like a well boiled ham’- happarently that isn’t suitable family hentertainment,” Pudding pulled a haughty face in imitation of the po-faced militiaman who’d dragged them in.

All Iona could think of to say was, “She likes it like a well boiled ham?” The songs the pair sang never ceased to amaze her.

“Yeah.” replied Pudding earnestly. “She likes it like a well boiled ham,”

“Pink and firm and juicy,” chorused Clara.

“I see,” said Iona. She could see where that was going and arrest seemed inevitable. “Well, you can’t keep that money,” she said high-handedly, mainly because she was in public and she had to be seen to be honest at the very least. “Come on. Hand over those habits and we’ll sort this all out.”

With a certain degree of moaning and goblin-handling, she managed to drag the pair of sorry-looking urchins three streets down to where the real Sisters of the Chalice had a large stall set up. They were handing out soup and sanctimonious advice to anyone who would take it.

“Go on,” said Iona, shoving Clara forward towards an enormous burly nun with a hooked nose and a squint. Sister Hildegaart looked down at Clara and opened her mouth to berate her errant charge, met Iona’s gaze and shut her mouth again.

“Here,” grunted Clara emptying her bowl into the Sisters’ clay pot without making eye contact with the nun.

“For the horphans,” explained Pudding theatrically, without anyone asking. Clara turned to go but Iona stopped her, spun her back around and cleared her throat expectantly.

“Sorry,” mumbled Clara looking extremely sour.

“Yeah, what she said,” added Pudding, showing no respect or contrition whatsoever. “Nice scapular by the way, your holiosity.” She then winked at Sister Hildegaart and the nun bristled. Iona clipped Pudding around the ear before handing Hildegaart the two stolen habits that she was holding.

As they walked away from the Sisters, Iona leaned in and whispered,

“Try some juggling or something next time. Now clear off will you?”

The pair didn’t need to be told twice. They scuttled off into the crowd in search of someone who’d given them cider on tick. After about a hundred yards, Clara paused and patted her voluminous coat pocket. She put her hand in and pulled out a small rag bundled. Opening it carefully on her palm, she found herself looking down at all eight brass buttons. The smile on her face nearly reached both ears. She looked up to thank Iona, but she had already gone.

 

 

 

Gone for Christmas

Michael R. Stern

 

When I was seven years old, I only wanted one thing for Christmas. That was the year that Mom and Dad were taking us all skiing for the holidays, starting December 23, and we wouldn’t be home until the day before school started again. Dad kept telling me how much I would love our trip, and that I would learn to ski, just like him. I was worried because how would Santa know where we were if we weren’t home?

Right after Thanksgiving, Mom took my sisters and me to the mall to see the fake guy who wears the fake Santa suit and the scratchy fake beard. I knew he wasn’t really Santa because he smelled funny, like cookies. But I went anyway. It always made Mom happy to get those silly pictures. I said to him, “I know you’re not the real Santa, but could you get him a message?”

I told him what I wanted and why. I told him I’d been pretty good, not coal-in-the-stocking bad, but well, not a perfect kid either. It’s a bad idea to lie to Santa. I promised that I would try harder next year. When I got off his lap, before the elf girl led me away, I asked if he could do it. He said he’d take care of everything. I wasn’t so sure.

Christmas used to be a big deal in my house. Decorations on anything flat, or anywhere Mom could hang a hook. Right after Thanksgiving, Dad and I, mostly Dad, put up lights outside. We always had to go to the store to buy new ones because twinkle lights only twinkle for a couple of years. Dad swears it’s a conspiracy. And he really does swear. He does it ‘cause Mom loves it, but he’d rather be doing almost anything else. Last year, he didn’t buy new twinkle lights.

When Thanksgiving ends, and all the pilgrims go back to the attic, down come the boxes. Not this year though. Mom said no one would be home to see so there was no point. I asked about our tree. She just shrugged. I asked about Christmas cookies. She said ‘maybe.’ I asked why we were going away. She said I should do my homework.

To make matters worse, my dog ran away, two weeks before Christmas. He loved to run. And steal golf balls. He did that a lot, but he always came home. Always. Except this time. In my room, I looked out the window, and called his name to myself. My oldest sister, Eileen, disappeared, into her headphones. My next oldest sister, Caitlin, never wanted to play with me. But my dog always would play. He would walk me, chase anything I threw, sniff strangers to protect me, and he even shared my dinner. I didn’t like broccoli, but he did.

When school ended for the holiday vacation, I walked home instead of riding the school bus. Eileen found me and said Dad was going to paddle me when he got home. She said that Mom was frantic—I didn’t know what that meant—because I hadn’t come home on time. I told her I was looking for the dog. All she said was, “gone again,” and she laughed.

Having an older sister is hard. I already got bossed around by Mom and Dad. When she reached twelve, Mom said now she was grown up, and she thought that meant she could boss me around too. But that day, it hurt worse that she laughed. She told me to hurry up. But there was no school the next day, so I told her I wasn’t in a hurry. She shook her head and walked faster. As we crossed the street, I thought I saw my dog running through someone’s backyard. I yelled at Eileen and started to chase him. She pulled me back, from in front of the approaching car. The driver shook his head too, and then waved us across.

“I want to go look,” I told her.

“He’s gone again,” was all she said, and grabbed my arm. Too tight to pull away, I thought if I kicked her, I could get away. Nope. She kicked me back. It’s hard having an older sister.

Mom told me to go to my room. When I told her why I walked home, she shouted me to my room. No one seemed to care that my dog was missing. After five minutes, I went downstairs. Mom wasn’t happy to see me. I said I wanted to look again. She said she had called the pound, the animal shelter and the police.

“The police?” I asked.

“If he was hit by a car, the police would know,” she said.

I was shook up. Hit by a car? I said he couldn’t have been, he’s too fast. She said cars go very fast sometimes. Then she told me to gather my toys and whatever else I wanted to take on vacation. “And bring a good book,” she said.

“I’m not going,” I said. “I’m staying. At least Santa will know where to bring my stuff. And maybe he’ll come home. If we’re not here, he’ll starve”

“Someone will feed him, someone must be feeding him now,” she said. “And you are coming whether you like it or not.”

“I’m not,” I said, and went back to my room. When you’re seven, it’s okay to cry, so that’s what I did. All I could say was, “Gone.”

The next morning, Dad loaded the car early, and finally found me under the bed. He told me we would have a good time, but I didn’t believe him. Nothing was going to be good about Christmas. I looked out the window, and asked Dad, “Are we there yet?”

“Twenty minutes,” he said. It took a lot of twenty minutes before we got to the place. It was a gigantic log cabin. Dad said it was a resort. I didn’t care, but at least I had my own room. Eileen and Caitlin had to share.

On Christmas Eve day, Dad took me to ski school. I thought I was done with school for a while. But after spending more time lying in snow than I ever had before, at least they gave me good hot chocolate. It had tiny marshmallows and a miniature candy cane. But then, after dinner, it was Christmas Eve. Every seven-year-old knows what that means. Go to bed, or Santa won’t come. But Santa didn’t know where we were. I hadn’t told him. I went to bed and cried until sleep climbed in next to me.

When I woke up, it was Christmas. Usually I run down and look. Mom said that I can’t open any presents until we all have breakfast, but this year, I didn’t care. There was no tree. Eileen and Caitlin were already dressed in their ski stuff, and Dad was putting on his ski pants. I complained that we weren’t even having breakfast.

“Of course we are,” Mom said. “Now go get dressed. Your lesson starts in an hour.”

All I could think of was how could this be a vacation? School on Christmas?

“Now,” she said. When you’re seven, it’s not a good idea to argue with your Mom when Dad is standing, waiting. But I missed my dog.

We went to the resort food court. They called it a lodge. They had a whole table with breakfast in different pans. The man said I could eat all I wanted from any of them. He called it a smoky something bored. Dad said I should have pancakes to give me energy for the day. I thought, “Who cares? No Santa, no presents, what do I need energy for?” The man handed me my plate, and Mom put some bacon right in the syrup. Since that day, I have bacon on a separate plate.

I can still see that morning, clear as the day. I’ll never forget how miserable I felt. While I was putting on my coat to go to school, a man walked in. He had on a red and black plaid coat, wire-rim spectacles and he had a beard, white and scratchy-looking. He scanned the room and walked toward us.

“Remember me?” he asked me.

“I think so,” I said, but not really sure.

“I told you I’d take care of everything.” He reached out to take my hand.

I looked at Mom and Dad. They didn’t say no. They just followed behind. When we got to the door, sitting, panting, waiting to lick my face was my dog—Gone.

 

 

 

[] The Woods

Ann Harrison

 

Lacy sprawled across her bed, reading over the poem that she had been assigned in English class that morning. One particular line jumped out at her: ‘He will not see me stopping here. He will not see me stopping here. He will not see me stopping here.’ These words raced through her mind as she finished her homework.

Lisa swooped in the front door. “Woo boy! What a wonderful day I’ve had. I got the part of the Virgin Mary in the Christmas play at church.” Her bubbly mood carried her all the way to her sister’s room. “Hey Lacy, wake up. Didn’t you hear what I said, I get to play Mary in the Church Christmas program.”

“Congratulations.”

“Hey sis, what’s wrong? You’re miles away.” Lisa perched on the edge of the bed.

“Do you remember reading a famous poem by Robert Frost in English this morning?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“There is one line that I can’t seem to shake. I don’t know why, but ‘he will not see me stopping here,’ goes round and round in my head, as if that very line should have some significance, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.” Lacy picked up her literature book and handed it to her sister.

Lisa stared at the line in question. “Do you think the author didn’t want the owner of the land to see him stopping there, or do you just think that the guy would be hidden from view, because he was tucked away in his warm village home?” She handed the book back to Lacy.

“I don’t know about that so much, but what I’m thinking has nothing to do with the poem itself. It’s as if someone is wandering in the woods somewhere. Oh, I don’t know, maybe like he or she has something to hide. Here’s something else that keeps popping in my head. ‘I mustn’t be seen here, he will not see me stopping here. The woods, the woods behind the house.’ It’s weird I know, but something keeps nagging at me.”

“You too? I’ve been thinking about that all day. I wonder if someone is lurking in the woods behind our house. I haven’t seen Marcus hanging around very much here lately. I wonder where he has gotten himself off to.”

 

~~~~

 

Lacy lay awake pondering her discussion with her twin sister, as the icy wind howled outside her window. Is there something in the woods that we should know about, or was that line simply a reference to help me summarize the poem? she wondered as she floated away on a cloud of dreams.

She stood bundled in a warm fur coat and woollen scarf at the edge of the woods. A strange man in a horse-drawn buggy stared at the snowflakes falling all around him. The tinkle of sleigh bells caught her ear as the horse shook his head impatiently. The man didn’t notice the agitation of his horse, as he watched the snowflakes flutter to the ground.

She took a few tentative steps toward the buggy, to get a closer look, but when she stepped away from the trees, a blanket of snow covered the ground before her. When she made her way back to her spot on the outskirts of the wooded area, the man and his buggy reappeared.

“Hello? Who goes there?” Lacy called. Her voice echoed back at her. Is the man and his buggy real, or do I only see a mirage?

 

~~~~

 

“I hope you have read the poem I assigned to you last night, as it will be our topic of discussion this morning,” Miss Simpson announced to her tenth grade English students. “Now, does anyone have any comments or questions about the poem to start us off?” Lacy raised her hand. “Yes Lacy?”

“In a dream I saw the entire scene that is described in this poem.”

“Oh really, how’s that?” The teacher gave her a curious look.

Lacy described the dream, reciting the line stuck in the back of her mind.

“How interesting. Does anyone else have something they’d like to share?”

Though the conversation about the poem swirled around her, Lacy’s mind drifted back to her dream, as an unusual thought crossed her mind. He will not see me stopping here. He will not, no wait! They will not see me stopping here. They mustn’t see me standing here. What does this poem have to do with the woods behind our house? Throughout the rest of the school day, the answer to her questions eluded her.

 

~~~~

 

After stamping snow off her boots, Lacy ran upstairs and tossed her book bag onto her bed. She tiptoed to her window to take a peek at the wooded area behind the house. A thought hit her like a block of ice. The woods, the woods, go to the woods! She ran down the stairs and out the back door.

“Where are you going Lacy?” Lisa called after her.

“Come on, I have something to show you!” The twins sprinted out the back door and around the back of the house.

“Marcus! What are you doing out here all alone on such a snowy day?”

Lacy stepped toward her younger brother, but he waved her away. “Go back to the house! You mustn’t see this, I’m not done with it yet.”

“I saw a light back here. What in the world is going on?” She stepped back.

“You can’t see it now, it’s a Christmas present. Please go so Charlie and I can put the finishing touches on my masterpiece.”

“All right, but you know Mom’ll come looking for you, if you’re not back by supper time,” Lacy chided.

“I’ll be back before dinner, now scram!” The girls scampered back to the house.

“Phew! Man that was close.” Charlie helped Marcus put the finishing touches on his work of art.

“I know. If the girls would’ve seen that, they’d have gone and told Mom. I don’t want anybody to know about this thing.”

“How did she know you were back here dude?”

“I don’t know, but she has a nose for sniffing out a mystery I can tell you that. This isn’t the first time she’s found something out of the ordinary going on either at school, or somewhere else.”

“Well, I got to get home, Mom will have supper on the table in a bit, and she gets her nose out of joint if I don’t come when she calls.”

“Charlie! Supper time!” a voice called from beyond the woods.

“Coming Mom! See ya Marcus.” Charlie sloshed away, leaving snowy footprints in his wake.

 

~~~~

 

After church the following Sunday, Marcus sidled up to his cousin Mathew.

“Hey dude, can we talk?”

“Yeah sure, Marcus. What’s up?”

“Listen, I need your help with a Christmas present.”

“Whatcha need man?”

“I need you to help me get the present that Charlie and I made for my folks onto the front porch on Christmas eve.”

“What have you been up too my boy?” Mathew gave Marcus a look of mock horror.

“Come over to my house and I’ll show you.”

 

~~~~

 

On Christmas morning, the tinkle of jingle bells mingled with the melody of wind chimes. Mom crept down to the kitchen to make some coffee for dad, and hot coco for herself and the children. She spun around when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Marcus dear, what are you doing up this early?”

“I just wanted to look out the window for a minute.” Marcus tiptoed into the living room. He scurried back into the kitchen at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. “Dad, can you help me?”

“What’s up son?”

“Come with me, I need to bring something inside and I need your help.” They brought a large present inside while the ladies lingered in the kitchen.

Lacy watched in awe as Marcus uncovered the large object standing in the middle of the room. “Surprise! I have been working on this, for the last couple of months. My art teacher taught us how to make things out of wood, and she asked us to work on a large present for our families.”

“What is that Marcus?” Lisa asked as he finished unveiling his work.

It’s a carving of the scene from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. My seventh grade English teacher read this poem to my class last Christmas, and since then, I found the poem online. I studied it carefully, and this is my interpretation of that scene. See the horse and wagon, and the man stopping to watch the snow?”

“Wow! How creative you are Marcus,” Mom replied. “Thanks for giving us a piece of art that will be treasured for years to come. I’ll put it beside the mantle, so that everyone will see it when they come over for Christmas dinner.”

 

 

CinnaFun Pinecones

Ryan Guy

 

“Why don’t you try Burger Wizard, Parker? They’re always hiring.”

“Please, tell me you’re joking, Mom. I’ll never be desperate enough to spend my Christmas break flipping burgers there.”

“Where else do you plan to look, then?”

“I’ll just get a job at CinnaFun. They always need teenagers for cheap seasonal labor, right? How hard can it be?”

 

December 6

CinnaFun Scented Pinecones Inc.

 

“Any questions?” asked Midge, CinnaFun’s new-employee trainer.

“Do you ever get used to it?” Parker asked.

“Used to what?”

“The smell of stale cinnamon and fake pine trees.”

The other new employees in the room laughed.

Midge glared at Parker. “Let me give you some advice. Never insult CinnaFun’s patented scent. People love it, and because they do, they buy thousands of our pinecones every year. That smell is why you’re here. Without it, there’d be no product for you to stuff into box—”

“Attention all employees. Please report to the cafeteria immediately for a mandatory meeting.” The intercom’s announcement ended Midge’s lecture. “

“What do you think this meeting is for?” Parker asked another trainee as more people crowded into the cafeteria.

“Beats me. Maybe it’s a rah-rah-rah, CinnaFun’s the best, go team! Meeting.”

Parker smiled. “If so, I bet Midge is the head cheerleader.”

An old man in a green tweed suit entered the room. Lively conversations turned to whispers.

“That’s Phil Tarkington,” someone said.

“What’s he doing here?” asked another. “I thought he never left Corporate.”

“It’s him! It’s really him.” Midge started clapping. Others joined in as Phil shuffled his way to the front of the room.

Midge nudged Parker. “You’re not clapping. You should be clapping.”

“Why?”

“Because Mr. Tarkington is here.”

“Who’s he?”

Midge sighed. “Our CEO. Didn’t you learn anything from the orientation video?”

“Do you want me to be hon—”

“Shhhh! Don’t ruin this for me. He’s about to speak and it’s going to be amazing.”

Phil waited for the clapping to stop, cleared his throat, and stared at the floor.

“Yes, well, this is going to be even more awkward after that standing ovation, but I’ll cut to the chase.” He pulled a notecard from his pocket and read: “Employees of CinnaFun Packing Warehouse 17, it is with sadness I inform you that after years of legal battles, PLOP has won its lawsuit against CinnaFun Scented Pinecones Incorporated.”

“What’s PLOP?” Parker asked Midge amidst a chorus of boos.

“Pregnant Ladies Opposing Pungency.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes. Please, Parker, just be quiet. He’s about to speak again.”

“Effectively immediately,” Phil continued, “the FDA has issued a recall of all CinnaFun pinecones. They have been labeled ‘Unsuitable for public exposure: prone to induce a gag reflex’. As I speak, our pinecones are being pulled from every store shelf in America. Unfortunately, this means CinnaFun can no longer provide employment to any employees of this warehouse. Now, are there any questions?”

Midge’s hand shot into the air. “What are we supposed to do now, Mr. Tarkington?”

“Go home.”

“That’s it? Twenty-three years with this company and that’s all you have to say?”

“What more do you want? I fought the PLOP and the PLOP won.”

 

December 7

That’s a Wrap Kiosk in the Brookside Mall

 

Vince, proprietor of the gift wrapping kiosk in the prime mall location between the stand of cute animal calendars and the escalators, pointed to a bin of presents.

“There’s nothing to deliveries, Parker. They can even be fun. Yesterday I delivered a package to the mayor’s mansion.”

“Did they give you a tip?”

“No. I left them a nice note and everything, the lousy cheapskates. Hey, I gotta go make a map of Hawaii but when I get back I’ll set you up with your first job.”

“Make a map of Hawaii?”

“Go to the bathroom. Think about it.” Vince laughed as he walked away.

While Parker thought about it he watched the people around him. A middle-aged man in a pinstripe suit stepped off the escalator. He was flanked by three police officers, one with a German shepherd on a leash.

“There!” The man pointed at Parker’s kiosk and marched towards it.

Parker recognized the man immediately, smiled and extended his hand. “Hello, Mayor Grant, it’s a pleas—”

“Are you Vince?” the mayor asked, not bothering to shake Parker’s hand.

“Nope. Vince is my boss.”

“Where is he? I need to talk to him. Now.”

“Last I knew, he was making a map of Hawaii. Why? What’s your problem?”

“My Problem? My Problem?!” The mayor lowered his voice when he noticed people staring at him. “For your information, I’m not the one with the problem. Vince is. Yesterday, one of my aides dropped off a couple of presents here for delivery—one for my wife’s birthday and one for Christmas. Imagine my horror when my wife opened up a diamond tennis bracelet engraved with, To: Jenna, all my love.”

“How’s that a problem?”

“Jenna’s my secretary.”

“Oh. Wow.” Parker shook his head. “I see the problem, but it’s kind of cliché too, don’t you think?”

“What? A guy buying a lady jewelry for Christmas?”

“No.” Parker grinned. “A politician having a fling with his secretary.”

“You think this is funny? We’ll see how funny it is when I shut this place down and the cops arrest your buddy Vince.”

“For what? Mixing up a delivery isn’t a crime.”

“No, but possession of an illegal substance is. Let’s just say Vince isn’t the only one who can deliver a package to the wrong place.” The mayor turned to the officer with the dog. “Let him loose.”

Once unleashed, the dog ran right to a drawer in the kiosk and started pawing it.

“Harold!”

The mayor turned and flinched as a woman approached him, her stilettos clacking against the hard floor.

“Jenna, what are you doing here?”

“I’m just stopping by to return the stupid present you sent me yesterday.” Jenna tore open a jumbo-sized bag of CinnaFun pinecones and started pelting the mayor with them. “We’re done, Harold. Since this is all I mean to you I’m not going to be wasting my time with you anymore.”

A tap on Parker’s shoulder made him jump.

“What’s going on?” Vince whispered.

“Ask the mayor,” Parker said. “I’m out of here.”

 

December 8

We Tree Kings Christmas tree lot

 

“So all you gotta do is talk people into buying the biggest tree you can. Got that, kid?”

“Sure thing, Doug,” Parker said.

“Good. Follow me. That guy over there with the Santa hat and snowflake sweater standing by his son is going to be a huge sale.”

“How do you know?”

“Trust me. He’s got the look.”

“How are you two doing tonight? Help you find anything?”

The man in the Santa hat winked at his son. “Well, we aren’t just looking for any old thing, right, Jackson? We’re after something magical.”

Jackson rolled his eyes. “Dad, I’m not a kid anymore. I’m twelve.”

“That doesn’t mean you’re too old to have fun. Gentlemen, I need something that will really—” he grinned and nudged his son “—spruce up my family room.”

Jackson groaned. “I’ll be in the car.”

“Kids, these days,” Doug said. “Nice sweater, by the way. Now, let’s talk trees—what in the world?”

“Christmas Carolers?” asked Parker.

“Those ain’t carolers,” Doug said as a crowd descended upon the We Tree King’s entrance. “Listen to their song.”

Refrains of “All we are saying is give trees a chance” were clearly distinguishable. So were handmade signs which read: FIR IS MURDER.

A short lady in a faded brown pantsuit, wielding a bullhorn, stepped forward. “We represent FETA and are here to give these trees a voice.”

“FETA?” Parker said.

“Friends for the Ethical Treatment of Arbors. It’s not my fault the good acronyms are already taken. Our cause is simp—Hey! What are you doing?” Parker followed the bullhorn lady’s gaze to a man who’d left the crowd and was reaching for a branch on one of the pine trees in the lot.

“Handcuffing myself to this tree, ma’am.”

“Why?”

“To save it. You know, for the cause.”

“It’s already been cut down, you imbecile.” Putting the bullhorn down, she muttered, “They warned me about posting open-ended event invitations on social media, but no, I wouldn’t listen.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Doug said.

“You can’t,” the bullhorn lady said, “We’re on public property and this is a peace—”

“Incoming!”

A flaming CinnaFun pinecone sailed over everyone’s heads and into a forest of nearly dead evergreens brimming with dry needles, otherwise known as the We Tree Kings clearance section.

“That’s it! I quit!” The bullhorn lady shook her head as trees began to ignite. “Who brings a Molotov cocktail to a peaceful demonstration at a Christmas Tree farm?”

 

December 14

Burger Wizard

 

“Welcome to Burger Wizard. My name is Parker. Can I enchant you with a Festivus Peppermint Smoothie or an all-natural Winterblast Booster?”

“What’s in the Winterblast Booster?”

“Finely ground CinnaFun pinecones that no longer have to follow any FDA standards because they’ve been rebranded as cinnamon supplements.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“If only.”

 

[] An Afterword

 

This compilation is the “Light” December Awethology. The “Dark” Awethology, featuring the darker side of the Awethors and stories not suitable for those of a nervous disposition is also available. You can find the December Awethology, Dark Volume available for download from most good retailers now. You can also find work from all of our Awethors, information about our group and other publications here:

 

www.awethors.com

Biographies

Anita Kovacevic

 

Anita Kovacevic is an author and teacher of English, who draws inspiration from her family, friends and students. She writes various genres, and has self-published two children’s books (Winky’s Colours and The Good Pirate), and an urban-legend novella (The Threshold). 

As a member of an international teaching community, she has also participated in a worldwide anti-bullying charity e-book Inner Giant with her short stories, poems and illustrations. She has recently participated in the #Awethors’ Awethology Light as proofreader, and as a contributing author with her story Passage.

On her blog, you can read her interviews with other indie authors, as well as book reviews, free stories, poetry and essays. She loves reading, writing songs, creative hobbies, and using anything and everything for a story, a lesson or teachers’ workshops.

Anita lives with her husband and two children in Croatia and doesn’t know the meaning of ‘free time’.

 

https://anitashaven.wordpress.com/

 

Kelly Hall

 

Kelly Hall was born and raised in Southeast Texas, and lives in a small town just a stone’s throw from the ghost road where her Light Keeper series is based. 

When she’s not busy writing, or spending time with her husband and two sons, this self-proclaimed creative junkie dabbles in many different forms of art, including cake decorating and mixed media. 

 

www.authorkellyhall.com/

 

J B Taylor

 

J B Taylor lives in Indiana with his three dogs. He’s loved reading his whole life and one day decided he would join the ranks of the many authors in the world by writing his own story. Now he has several short stories out, all of which have been made into audiobooks. He’s currently working on a few projects that he hopes to add to his collection of published works.

 

anauthorsblogspot.wordpress.com

 

Anna Lea

 

Anna Lea writes children’s books because she loves children and remains a child at heart. She also loves cats, dogs, monkeys and apes, elephants, horses, big cats, and wolves.

Anna has always loved mystical things too, such as dragons and unicorns and faeries. She also loves science fiction. She has a vivid imagination and loves to share through her stories.

A Faery Merry Christmas is her second publication.

 

Pamela Joyce Silva

 

Pamela was born into and grew up in America’s working class. She was born in Durant, Oklahoma and relocated to Dallas, Texas as a baby.

She only had two loves in her life the entire time she was growing up: books and animals. She does love music and art and anything nature, plus added children later to that deep love. She always had books in her room, in her hand, and stories, her own, in her head. She was heavily influenced by the books that she read, as are we all.

Pamela read everything and anything she could get her hands on. She read many fictional books, of course, all of the usual children’s classics, boys and girls, and just as many non-fiction. And as children, her sister and she entertained themselves by telling themselves their own bedtime stories, especially when life was hard. As she grew older, she started writing them down on paper and she never stopped.

Today, she could not imagine not being able to write the wonderful visions she has in her head even if they would let her. She hopes they never go away and leave her without them!

 

Chrissy Moon

 

Chrissy Moon considers both Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington her home.

Her days are mostly spent caring for her sons, complaining about bad drivers, drinking espresso, watching her favorite TV shows on DVD, and reading up on history.

Originally a poet from childhood through her teens and 20’s, she began writing fiction in 2011.

Since she has little focus, she has and will continue to produce fiction of all sorts.

 

www.chrissymoon.com

 

Markie Madden

 

Markie Madden was born August 19, 1975, in Midland, Texas. She grew up in the small town of Flushing, Michigan. While in high school, she took creative writing and was a photographer for the school newspaper. She began writing her first novel, Once Upon a Western Way, while still attending school.

Markie is now married with two daughters, three rescue dogs, and her horse, Athena, who is featured on the cover of Keeping a Backyard Horse. She tried many times to publish her novel, first on her own, and then hiring a literary agent, all without success. In early 2012, after getting her first e-reader application, Nook, she discovered the world of self-publishing through a website called Shakespir. She finally published Once Upon a Western Way through them in April, 2012.

Currently, Markie lives in the small town of Fisk, Missouri, with her family, her dogs, and her horse. She is working on a crime/paranormal series called The Undead Unit Series. Book one of the series, Fang and Claw, is now available. The second book of the series, Souls of the Reaper, is expected out in March 2016.

 

www.metamorphpublishing.com

 

Neil Newton

 

Born and raised in Bayside, NY Neil was telling stories almost as soon as he could talk. Along with his love of music, he developed a talent for writing prose and song lyrics.

His first book, ‘The Railroad,’ contains scenes that parallel his own experiences on 9/11 in the subway in New York.

 

www.neildouglasnewton.com

 

J C Christian

 

J C Christian lives with her husband David in the rolling green fields of Nebraska located in the Midwestern region of the United States. J C began writing short stories as a child and through the years has earned the acclaim of many people who have read her work.

In her senior year in college, J C was selected to be part of an Honor’s Composition program exclusively reserved for students considered to be the most talented writers in the university. In addition to her passion for writing, J C is a passionate advocate for survivors of childhood trauma. At this writing, J C’s debut novel ‘Reaching for the Light: An Incest Survivor’s Story,’ is soon to be released from Plaisted Publishing House Ltd, New Zealand.

I Remember, Grandpa tells the story of the prophetic gift of love J C received from her much beloved grandfather and is lovingly dedicated to his memory.

 

http://writer1129.blogspot.co.nz/

 

Sharon Lipman

 

A huge fan of the anything fae and paranormal, or something with a hint of urban legend to it, Sharon Lipman loves to put her own spin on the origins of well-known mythological creatures. She started writing in her teens, but it wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she found a story she was desperate to share. Her debut novel, a paranormal romance, was published in 2015.

She was born in west London and grew up in leafy Surrey in south-east England. A lover of all things British, except the weather, she now lives in the province of Almeria, southern Spain with her husband and an ever growing collection of dogs.

 

www.sharonlipman.com

 

Natasha Madden

 

Natasha Madden was born May 23, 1995, in Flint, Michigan. She was taught a love of all animals from a young age. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Odessa, Texas.

She wrote her first book when she was in the fifth grade, The Guardians, a book she is currently in the process of rewriting. When she was sixteen, they moved to a small farming community in southeast Missouri. She graduated in 2013 from Twin Rivers High School in Broseley, Missouri. She still lives there with her family, three dogs, a cat, two gerbils, and a horse, and has plans to attend veterinary school. She’s currently working with Metamorph Publishing in order to get her first novel published.

 

www.metamorphpublishing.com

 

Chris S Hayes

 

Chris S Hayes is a life-long reader of classic science fiction and romance. She works as a college health physician in Lafayette, Louisiana, where she lives with her wonderful husband, a very talented teenage daughter, and a skittish cat.

She’s the author of the novel Sikkiyn, an exciting scifi romance/space opera which takes place in the same universe as her story in this volume, and is working on her second novel now, a sequel to be entitled Farspeaker.

 

www.chrisshayes.com

 

Stewart Bint

 

Stewart Bint is a novelist, magazine columnist and PR writer. Previous roles include radio newsreader, presenter and phone-in show host.

He lives with his wife Sue in Leicestershire in the UK, and has two grown-up children. As a member of a local barefoot hiking group, when not writing he can often be found hiking in bare feet on woodland trails.

Back catalogue includes three novels, a collection of short stories, two novellas, a compilation of his early magazine columns, and contributions to two anthologies, including the Awethors’ Awethology Dark.

 

stewartbintauthor.weebly.com

 

K M Robinson

 

K M Robinson is a Fine Arts and Glamour Photographer. She also runs Reading Transforms, a website dedicated to her book inspired a photo series and resource center for book bloggers.

She has also been in marketing and branding for thirteen years. She could happily live on the equator. Her time is spent creating new worlds through her photography, writing and couture design.

 

www.kmrobinsonphotography.com

 

Karen J Mossman

 

Karen J Mossman lives in Manchester at present but next year she will be a resident of Wales when her husband retires. She only starting writing for publication in 2013 and since then has three short stories anthologies. The Missing, Behind the Music and Heroes.

Her first novel, Star Struck is set in 1980s Manchester. Her second novel, The Secret is due out shortly and it is set in 70s Manchester.

Karen comes from a family of journalists, but none of them have been interested in fiction writing. Karen has previously taken part in Awethology Dark, a collection of ‘dark’ short stories by ‘The Awethors’.

 

www.karenmossman.co.uk

 

Lisa Veldkamp

 

Lisa is the author of the poetry collections Nothing is Forgotten and When Words Start to Sing, and The Elemental, part I of The Fire Trilogy. The Bridge Between Yesterday and Tomorrow was her first short story for teenagers. Midwinter under the Bridge is set in the same Universe, but can be read as a stand-alone story.

She has a background in social services and music, but writing has always been a part of her daily life. One night she dreamed the outlines of The Elemental and took it as a sign from the Universe to pursue a career in writing.

She grew up in a small town in the Netherlands where her parents always taught her to think outside the box. She has a degree in social studies and joined the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids as an adult.

Lisa loves London—according to her, “the city where magic dwells”—and can often be found there. She still resides in the Netherlands, however, with her partner and their dog, Miss Ginger Rogers, and if you’re lucky, you may find her in her favourite coffeehouse, Barista cafe.

 

www.the-elemental.co.uk

 

L G Surgeson

 

L G Surgeson is a teacher and writer who lives in a cottage by a river in Mid Wales with her long suffering partner and their two cats. She writes fantasy and fiction novels (available on amazon) and articles about mental health & education (available on the internet).

She generally writes in the spare time she creates by ignoring the house work. Her two cats like to help, they aren’t very good at it.

At present she is in hot pursuit of a publishing contract for her latest novel idea (featuring the characters above among others) and would value your vote. Just follow this link:

 

https://aberdduadventures.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

Michael R. Stern

 

Michael R. Stern is the Amazon best-selling author of “Reflections on a Generous Generation”, a story about a generation of Americans, born in the early twentieth century, who through the trials of deprivation and war, built the foundation of the greatest country in history.

Michael is a history lover. His future writing, both non-fiction and fiction, will offer perspectives on the way the past threads to the present and future, and why our past provides the guidance to understand and plan for the world we inhabit together.

Now working on a novel series, Quantum Touch, the first book, STORM PORTAL reached to the top 100 on Amazon and is available now. The second book, SAND STORM, is now available.

 

Michael grew up in Garden City, New York, is a graduate of Cornell University, and now lives in Riverton, New Jersey with his family. After a long career in business, he has begun a writing adventure.

 

[+ https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6493697.Michael_R_Stern+]

 

Ann Harrison

 

Ann Harrison is a totally blind author, who grew up in the small town of Rochelle, Georgia, and has moved back to her family home after living in North Georgia for several years.

Ann has written many articles of general interest for a number of clients since June of 2010, including the Cordele Dispatch. She has also published a short story entitled ‘The Big Climb,’ in The Awethology Light. She is currently working on several novels, and a self-help book. To read more of Ms. Harrison’s inspirational writings visit her blog.

 

www.wwannwrites.wordpress.com

 

Ryan Guy

 

Ryan Guy is a beardless, truckless, disappointment to the rugged image of Montana where he currently resides with his wife and son.

His debut novel, Atomic Aardvaark, is a YA comedy of errors with a sci-fi flair.

When he’s not trying to be funny, Ryan reads, reviews and gives away free copies of other YA indie authors’ books at

 

www.atomicaardvark.com.

 

 

 

 


The December Awethology - Light Volume

The December Awethology - Dark Volume is a mixture of stories written by #Awethors. Each and every story is unique, some chilling, others a surprise all relating to the month of December Because one voice in your head isn't enough, here are so many more, as the Awethors chime together with another collection, this time of December themed stories and poetry to make you laugh, make you cry and make you feel alive. We are the Awethors and these are our words to you.

  • Author: Plaisted Publishing House
  • Published: 2015-12-04 02:40:13
  • Words: 29487
The December Awethology - Light Volume The December Awethology - Light Volume