When Chris rose in the morning, he found someone came in the middle of the night and replaced his down jacket with a pea coat. It felt like wool, so he imagined it would be warm enough. Elves, he thought. He shrugged it off before he thought to check for his wallet and keys. He found them in his coat pocket, where they should be, but someone replaced his American dollars with old looking British pounds that he thought looked more like sheets of paper than money. He shrugged again, grabbed his backpack, and went outside to find Mary.
Mary came out when he did. Perhaps she heard his door open. She came dressed in a white dress that fell to her ankles, edged with tatting, the same as her collar and her sleeves. She wore boots that had laces up the side. Chris imagined it would take him half the morning to lace those boots. She also wore a pea coat of her own, though hers went to well below her knees.
“Are we ready?” she asked casually as she buttoned up her coat against the cold.
“I take it we are headed into the past,” Chris surmised.
“That would be my guess,” Mary answered, and did not appear shaken in the least by that suggestion. That brought back all the questions Chris struggled with all night. Before Chris could ask about that, Roy and Plum arrived.
“Ready to go?” Plum asked. “We will be taking the train today.”
Chris looked at the two men who appeared dressed in some kind of uniform. Roy carried a big box, and a tripod, which suggested to Chris the box might have an old-fashioned camera in it. Plum carried two small duffle bags, and pretended he had the heavy load.
“We best get going,” Roy said, quietly.
“Yup. Don’t want to miss breakfast,” Plum agreed, speaking with some volume, and patting his ample stomach. “But we got to make it quick. It’s a long walk if we miss the train.”
Chris stepped from the motel, Mary beside him. Mary put her pink backpack up on her shoulder as Chris spoke. “Polar Express.”
Mary laughed, and shook her head, “No.”
Breakfast at the Yuletide Diner did not take long. No one spoke, except Mary mentioned she felt glad the sun came out, and Plum, who said they should eat up because who knew what sort of food they might have on the train. Otherwise, they ate in silence and nursed their coffees. Roy had tea.
Chris spent that time staring again at his three companions. He tried to imagine what Roy and Plum might look like in their elf form. He felt a bit disturbed at how easy that was to imagine. Roy went back to staring out the window, and said nothing, but Chris expected that. Roy never said much. Plum spent the whole time nervously playing with his food. He kept looking like he wanted to say something, but kept changing his mind. Then, there was Mary.
He had to find out how old she was. He did not even know her last name, which shocked him when he thought about it. In fact, he knew nothing about her, and yet, somehow that did not matter. He decided he did not care if she was eighteen, he wanted to be with her. As he thought about it, he felt a touch of surprise. He felt like he wanted to be with her forever, if possible, or as near to that as he could manage.
The station proved not very far down the road. When they got on the platform, Chris took a long look back at the town. Something registered in Chris’ mind, but before he could put it into words, he had to hustle up to the train. He did catch a glimpse of the diesel engine up front, and wondered how far in the past they had to go. That engine would not have been in service before the 1940s, maybe, the 1930s.
“Here,” Mary said, taking his hand, and directing him into the bench seat beside herself. He made her get in first so once again he could trap her and she could not escape. She did not seem to mind sitting by the window.
Cue: We Wish You a Merry Christmas
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
Chris watched over Mary’s shoulder as they pulled out from the station. In fact, he watched all morning. He saw the quaint sixties housing development built on the edge of town. He imagined in another thirty or forty years, it would become urban sprawl. Too bad about that. They quickly got out to the countryside, and it became a pleasant ride. They went through one short tunnel, and stopped briefly at two village stations before Mary turned to face Chris and said, “What,” rather sharply. She looked down, her ears and cheeks red from so many conflicting emotions.
Chris took one last look out the window. He saw a horse pulled plow out in the field. He turned to focus on Mary, and couldn’t help what came out of his mouth. “I really like the way you look in that dress. Do you dance in that dress?”
Mary looked up. “I could learn,” she said, with massive amounts of hope in her voice and eyes.
“Maybe we could learn together,” he suggested.
Mary grabbed him, threw her face into his shirt, and wept. He put his arms around her, encouraged her, and said, “Hush, hush.” Plum turned around in his seat, pulled his head above the back of the bench, and totally interrupted.
“You know, I will have to ask you some questions,” Chris whispered.
“And I will answer honestly,” Mary said, as she wiped her eyes. “I don’t ever want to lie to you.”
Chris paused. He had not thought she might lie, but he supposed that was important for her to say.
The next car turned out to be a dining car. They got a table for four right away, and ordered sandwiches and lemonade. Chris asked if they had coffee. The waiter said he would serve espresso with desert. Chris turned up his nose a little, but accepted it as the best they could do.
“American,” Plum told the waiter, and the waiter said something in French, no doubt an insult.
“So, where are we?” Chris asked.
“Somewhere outside of Paris, I would guess,” Plum said, but quieted when he looked up and saw Chris talking to Mary.
“You know what I know,” Mary said, and frowned at using her defense right at the beginning.
“So, where are you from?” Chris asked, first thing.
“Norway. I was born in Norway,” Mary said and got quiet as two men in uniform came up to the table.
“Monsieur Plum and Roy.” one said, and Chris thought he recognized the uniforms. They were both army captains, one French and one British. “Mademoiselle,” the Frenchman nodded to Mary. “And…” he looked at Chris.
“American,” Plum repeated. “He is here to observe, so treat him well. It would not hurt to have the Americans on our side.”
“Le Boche,” The Frenchman said, and followed with a bunch of words in French that Chris had no hope of following. When Mary answered the man in French, however, Chris raised an eyebrow. The men left, but the food came, and once again they ate in silence. When the espresso and desert came, Chris finally asked Mary what the man said.
Plum spoke. “He said they did not need the help of the know-it-all Americans.”
“And what did you answer him?” Chris asked.
“She said, you have reached a stalemate. You better hope the Americans can tip the scale in your favor.”
Chris and Mary gave Plum hard stares, and Roy thought to intervene. “Maybe we should go back to check on our equipment.” He practically hauled Plum to his feet and escorted him out of the room.
Chris and Mary sat in silence for a minute, but finally, Chris had to ask. “So you are from Norway. And what is your last name?” He shook his head. “There is so much I don’t know about you.”
Mary got up and sat on the other side of the table to face him. “I haven’t got a last name.” She reached out for his hand, and he gave them to her, but he did not otherwise move.
“My father is Juletre. That means Christmas tree in Norwegian. My mother is Willow, named like the tree. My brother is Rowan, like the tree with berries that feeds the reindeer.”
“Older or younger brother?”
“Older. Much older than you.”
“So, you were born in the woods?” Chris smiled, but Mary couldn’t smile. Her anxiety exploded on her face and in her body language. She began to worry the hand that held his. She bit her lower lip.
She finally said, “I am not who you think I am.” He just raised one eyebrow. “Well, for one, my name is not Mary. It is Merry.”
Chris nodded and smiled. “That is the most sensible thing you have said so far.”
Mary returned his smiled when she realized he could not possibly hear the difference. “I mean, my name is not Mary, like the mother of God. It is Merry, as in, Merry Christmas.” Chris said nothing. Merry swallowed.
Chris’ smiled until it became a bit of a laugh. “So, maybe you are too old for me.”
“Third, I’m an elf, technically, a Christmas-elf-maiden.” Merry removed her glamour of humanity and looked at Chris through eyes that were even bigger and more puppy-dog than before. Chris returned her stare, and at least she was happy to see that he did not snatch his hand back like it was on fire or she had cooties or something. Then again, he might be in shock.
“And…” Chris coughed to clear his throat. “And Lilly?”
“You honestly know what I know,” Mary, or rather, Merry said. “We are dependent on Plum and Roy to find the way she has gone.”
Chris stood, and Merry started to get up, but he waved at her to keep her seated. “No, no,” he said. “Finish your custard. I need to be alone for a bit.”
“Flan,” she called it.
He started toward the passenger compartment, but remembered Plum and Roy. He went the other way, found a seat, and stared out the window for a long time. Merry spent most of that time crying.
Cue Reprise: We Wish You a Merry Christmas
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
When Chris found his way back to the others, he took his seat beside Merry, who looked like Mary again, though she remained Merry. He said nothing, looking straight ahead. She said nothing and did the same. Then the train pulled slowly to a stop in the station.
Plum tried to hurry them. The sun got ready to set. Chris got his backpack, and Merry got hers. Chris offered his arm, and Merry took it, but still, without a word, they walked off the train.