Chris pushed as fast as he could through the brambles and bushes at ground level. He could hardly see where to place his feet, but Lilly was in trouble. The sky remained storm dark, and it seemed doubly dark under the trees. The only grace seemed most of the snow got caught in the branches above.
“Lilly,” Chris called. He heard a deep, guttural growl off to his right, and headed toward it instead of away from it. “Lilly.” Suddenly, he imagined that maybe the missing reindeer was all part of the game. He tried again. “Roy. Plum. Merry.” He stopped just inside a small clearing. Something like a street light, or the moon come down through the clouds could be seen overhead. A creature, or person that looked too much like Courtney for comfort, stood on the edge of the trees, ten feet off. She had Lilly, with a hand or claw over Lilly’s mouth. Her other claw held a knife pointed at Lilly’s throat, and she spoke in a harsh, chilling version of Courtney’s voice.
“Your elf maid has deserted you.”
“Hardly,” Chris responded, pulling up all the courage he had. “She has gone to help save the animals, and I support her in doing good for others.” He dared not move closer for fear of what might happen to Lilly.
Courtney turned down her blood-red lips, not liking that answer. She showed her fangs. “Making love to an elf is a disgusting idea.” Courtney shivered, like one repulsed by the idea of so much as touching such a person.
Chris laughed, a real “Ha, ha, ha,” and only a small bit of nervousness could be heard in the laugh. Most of it sounded genuinely amused. “But Courtney, I thought you were into all that social justice stuff. Origin, skin color, even species should not matter. You know, love wins.”
“Are you prepared to have pointy-eared freaks for children?”
“I have found the world full of every kind of people, and many of them try to be good, even if they often fail. True, there are some bad ones, and that is sad, but we pray for them.”
“A pointless exercise, praying to some sky-god.” Courtney shuffled what looked like cloven hooves in the snow.
“No.” Courtney grabbed Lilly more securely and scratched her cheek.
“Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentle-kindness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. All these things are real. They are not only real, but on this night, they came to live in the heart of all who believe. You have no place in such a heart.”
“Lights,” Chris called. He figured out what those moving lights were. “Lights, I need you.”
One by one, the fairies of light abandoned the great tree in the wilderness and attended to Chris. It miraculously stopped snowing in the little clearing, and the Courtney-beast looked up and around, dread written across her face. As the fairies arrived, the light in the clearing increased until it became almot too bright to see.
“I will pray for you,” Chris said, as he closed his eyes.
“No,” Courtney screamed and vanished with Lilly still struggling against the claw.
Chris lay down in the snow, not sure if what he saw had been real or a dream. He felt his head spin. He spent all week worried about Lilly, and now he could not be sure what just happened. He felt exhausted, and did not pay close attention to what he was doing. He knew the devil was real, but had no power over the people of faith. Faith, hope, and love, he thought. But the greatest of these is love. He fell asleep, and the fairies kept careful watch in the night.
A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Don Jackson. Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001
When Chris woke, the sun just began to brighten the horizon. He found a blanket beneath him, and another on top of him. He felt warm enough, glad the snow did not fall on his face all night. He figured the others must have returned and found him in the night.
She did not answer, so he sat up and found himself alone on the edge of a clearing. He stood, picked up both blankets, and draped them around his shoulders. He looked around, in every direction, twice. He must have gotten turned around in the dark. He looked as hard as he could through the trees, but saw no sign of the others, and no sign of the big Christmas tree. He thought to wait. As a child, he got told he should stay where he was until the others found him. He folded a blanket and set it on the ground beneath a tree so he could sit and watch the sun rise.
“Today is Sunday,” he said to himself. “It is the real Christmas Eve back home.” He did not want to think of home. Without Lilly, he had no home.
“Eighteen-eleven,” he said out loud. “From 2017, that makes two hundred and six years.” He did not understand. Why did they have to travel into the past? Why did they move fifty-plus years at a time? Was there some significance to those times? He could only remember the Christmas villages his grandmother used to collect. He remembered the Yuletide diner from the nineteen-sixties village. He recalled some of the eighteen-sixties dickens village. London Towne, if he recalled correctly. World War I in the trenches made no connection, however, and eighteen-eleven in the wilderness of Indiana territory with a giant Christmas tree in the middle of nowhere made even less sense.
“Merry,” Chris tried one more time before he got up. It started getting too cold to continue to sit. He had to start walking to warm up. He considered walking the edge of the clearing, to stay where he was, but he decided that would be stupid, and boring. He opted to pick a direction and see what he could find. He had thought through his movement through the trees in the night, and tried to pick a way that would lead him back to the great tree, but he had little hope that he might choose the right way.
“Merry.” He called now and then as he pushed through the undergrowth and occasionally growled at the thorns and burrs. “Plum. Roy.” he sometimes added, and sometimes he walked in silence. He was not sure what sort of Indians inhabited Indiana territory, but it would not be good to run into a hunting party, or worse, a war party of some sort. One more push, and he came out on a two-rut road, a wagon trail of some sort that vanished quickly among the trees behind him, but cut well through the trees ahead. The snow looked thick on the road, but it would do, if his toes did not freeze off.
“Merry,” he called one more time before he started off down the road. He hummed and whistled some Christmas songs, to occupy his thoughts, it being Christmas Eve for real, back home. He remembered it was Sunday, so he changed his humming to his favorite Christmas carols, including O Little Town of Bethlehem, as he climbed a small hill where the trees finally gave out.
On top of the hill, he saw a village up ahead—a small town at the bottom of the hill. It looked to be built mostly of log cabins, though he did see a few slat-wood houses. He did not see any people there, but he figured about ten o’clock on Sunday, and they all might be in church. After all, 1811 in pioneer territory, he thought. He saw a steeple in the distance, and headed for it.
Chris whistled Silent Night as he wound through what looked like a deserted town and came at last to the steps of the church. He did not hear anything inside or outside the church, and found that curious. He looked up at the great circular stained glass window, but could not make out exactly what it was supposed to depict. He tried the front door, and found it unlocked.
“At last,” he whispered to himself. “A church that doesn’t lock its doors on the Sunday before Christmas.”
The church had a small altar with candles burning in front, two steps up, and a single small pulpit, more of a podium off to the side. It had a center aisle between a mere dozen pews—half-a-dozen on each side. All were empty except for the very front pew, where a very old man with a long white beard appeared to be praying, with his hands clasped, and his head lowered.
Chris did not want to interrupt, so he looked quietly around the room where there was little to see, and at last, raised his head to look at the circle of stained glass from the inside. It looked like a clock, with twelve spaces. He imagined the twelve days of Christmas, but the eleventh and twelfth spaces appeared empty, being plain glass. The other ten spaces had pictures of people. He recognized the ten o’clock space being Santa and Missus Claus. He spun around to look again at the old man in the front pew. That man lifted his head and began to stand, moaning a little as he had to make his knees work.
“You made it,” the old man said.