When Chris got up in the morning, he found himself dressed in his clothes from home. He recognized the little hole in his jeans and the stain at the bottom of his flannel shirt. His down jacket was not from 1812, but he assumed the hay and the barn he sat in were, so he figured he did not go home in the night. Besides, back home, Merry would be in her own apartment, and not laying comfortably beside him.
“So, this has not all been just a dream,” he mumbled.
“Like a dream come true,” Merry whispered before she opened her eyes and said, “Good morning.”
Chris leaned over and gave her a small peck on her lips before he said, “Morning. Plum said Lilly was in this place. Stick close, I have a feeling things may get weird before we get there…weirder.”
Plum came from the fire. “We got bacon, eggs, and whiskey soaked beans for breakfast,” he said, and let out a big smile. “We got a long way to go to reach the tree, so eat up.”
“Weirder,” Chris repeated.
Merry took him by the arm. “I have no intention of leaving your side. Not ever, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind,” Chris said, and let out a little smile. “But you could wait until I ask.”
“Yes…” Merry said, and added, “Just practicing.”
Chris nodded, dropped her arm, and got a plate of breakfast. Roy found some real coffee, and Chris blessed him before he thought to put Plum on the spot.
“She is still in this time zone, near as I can tell,” Plum said.
“Near as you can tell?”
“She is. She certainly is. I would know if she was not in this zone. The thing is, she is at the far end, and she might slip away at any time. That is a long way to go. We should get moving.” Plum did not want to say any more. He appeared afraid of once again saying too much. Chris did not push the issue, as long as they had a chance of catching up with Lilly by nightfall.
Merry came up, riding on the back of a horse. She looked like she knew what she was doing, while Chris never rode a horse before. Chris quickly looked around. He figured he might manage a motorcycle, but he felt unsure about going on horseback. Fortunately, Roy got his attention and pointed. They had a wagon pulled by two of the largest horses Chris ever imagined. A mount appeared tied to the back of the wagon. Chris assumed that was Roy’s horse, in case he needed it. He took a deep breath and climbed aboard, and slid down to let Roy get up.
Chris looked in the back of the wagon, and along with all of his things—their things, he saw plenty of blankets, pots and pans, and another bag of beans beside a slab of bacon. He shrugged. He imagined there were not many options for food they could carry across country. The curious thing was the evergreen. They carried a young tree, its roots tied up neatly in burlap. Chris wondered what it might be for, when Roy shouted, and the horses began to strain. The wagon jerked, before it settled into a slowly increasing pace. Chris figured they would never go fast. He imagined most of the day would be spent going across country. Still, he would not have minded a seatbelt, and maybe a cushion for his seat.
Chris noticed they picked up a few fellow travelers. Three men on horseback drove a dozen cows into the wilderness. He looked close. One looked like the German officer from the World War One time period. The other two looked like the British soldiers that followed him out of the trench; though one might have been the sergeant. Chris shook his head. No matter what they looked like, he imagined they were Christmas elves of some kind. No doubt there to give some colorful backdrop to his journey.
Chris turned to Roy, who seemed to concentrate wholly on driving the team of horses. He felt glad Plum did not drive the rig. Plum would have talked his ear off all day and not said anything worth hearing. Roy, by contrast, seemed a man of few words. Chris feared it might be hard to get the man to talk at all.
“So, where exactly are we headed?” Chris asked.
“The Clausen Christmas tree,” Roy answered readily enough.
“Clausen? Santa Claus?”
“Clausen,” Roy nodded. “Old Dutch family out of New York. They first settled in New Amsterdam around 1660. They remembered Sinterklaas, though Kris Kringle carried the Spirit of Christmas in those days. Since 1600, I believe. I was rather young at the time.”
Chris had to think about that before he asked, “What happened?”
“After the French and Indian War, when things settled down on the frontier, the family emigrated to Pennsylvania. Then came the Revolutionary War, and in 1811, when it looked like another war on the horizon, Mister and Missus Clausen emigrated down into Indiana Territory. They thought to escape the war. They did not count on all the trouble with the Shawnee Confederation.”
Chris shook his head. “Why can’t people live in peace?”
Roy shrugged. “The Clausens went west, and on Christmas eve, 1811, they ran into a massive snow storm. That should happen tonight…” Roy shrugged again.
Chris asked no more. He did not dare. He got down when they stopped for lunch, and tried to smile for Merry while he rubbed his sore bottom. Merry, at least, appeared to be thoroughly enjoying herself.
“You could ride with me,” she offered, but Chris shook his head. He would only get hurt trying to ride a horse.
“You enjoy yourself,” he said. “Just say a prayer for my bruised backside.”
“Oh, poor baby,” she said, honestly enough. She returned his kiss from earlier before she let go and got them some lunch.
Chris spent the afternoon looking for the Clausen Christmas tree, not having the least idea what that might look like. The temperature dropped, and he saw the clouds pull in overhead. Then he saw something that surprised him for all of a second. He decided he really should not have been surprised. The cattle being driven by the three cowboys were not cattle at all. They were reindeer, and Chris wondered why there were twelve and not eight, and they did not look too tiny.
Chris looked at Roy and saw the slightest grin on Roy’s face. “You should see the tree soon, if the clouds give a break,” Roy said. “No sunset tonight behind the clouds, but the tree should brighten things up nice until the snow starts to get thick.”
Chris nodded. Nothing should surprise him at this point. He was going to find Lilly, safe in the hands of Santa Claus—Clausen. He fell madly in love with an elf—a Christmas elf. And there were three elf cowboys presently herding a dozen reindeer. “Seven of us,” he said to Roy. “There are seven of us on this journey.” Roy nodded, and Chris continued. “The magnificent seven,” he said, and squinted. There appeared to be a light in the distance. He expected it would be the most magnificent Christmas tree ever, and somehow, he knew he would not be disappointed.
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
When Chris got down from the wagon and stretched his back, Merry dismounted and ran to him. She threw her arms around him and spouted, “It is beautiful. It is so beautiful.” The tree certainly was, with all the lights and ornaments up to the star and angel on the very top. Chris could not exactly see the top from where he stood, being up close, but that did not matter. He looked at Merry, and thought she was beautiful.