Avalon: Season 6 Preface

The travelers came instantly to the beginning of history on a rescue mission.  Things did not go as planned.  Now, to get home, the travelers must return the slow way, following the Amulet of Avalon that points the way from one time gate to the next.  They must cross dangerous time zones that center around the many lives of the Kairos, the traveler in time, the watcher over history, a person who never lives a quiet life.
They have unlimited vitamins, elf crackers, for their health; and unlimited bullets, which are needed far too often.  They ride mustangs brought back from the old west, and wear fairy weave clothing that they can shape and change with a word in order to blend into the local culture.   By a special gift of the Kairos, they can understand and be understood no matter the local language.  It helps, because inevitably they deal with thieves, brigands, armies and empires, gods and monsters, spirits and creatures, space aliens and the great unknown.  They try hard not to disturb history along the way.
To be sure, all they want is to get home in one piece, but they are not the only ones lost in time.  Some people lost in time might want to follow them, or even go with them.  But some people are not so friendly, and not everything lost in time is a person. Some want to fight the travelers. Some want to hunt them.

apeazv2

From the Pilot Episode

It was Doctor Procter who explained.
“I spent the last three hundred years studying the lives of the Kairos.  Now that we have the opportunity to walk through those lifetimes, one by one, and in order I might add, I am not going to miss that opportunity.  Isn’t that right, Mingus?”
Mingus shook his head and sighed, and in that moment everyone got a good look at the difference between Mingus, a full blood elf and the Doctor who was half-human.  The contrast was not startling but obvious.  No plain human could have eyes as big, features as sharp or fingers as thin and long.  “If you say,” Mingus muttered as he took the amulet and shook it once himself.
“What says the Navy?”  Lockhart turned to look at the two who were armed and bringing up the rear.
“I’m to follow orders,” Captain Decker frowned.
Lieutenant Harper smiled.  “I would not mind exploring a little while we have the chance.”
“Besides,” Roland spoke up while Lockhart faced front again and encouraged everyone to resume walking.  “I have a feeling the Kairos would not mind if we rooted out some of the unsavory characters that wandered into the time zones without permission.”
“Oh, that would be very dangerous.”  Alexis said it before Lincoln could, and she grinned for her husband.
“All the same…”  Roland did not finish his sentence.  He fell back to walk beside Lockhart to underline his sentiments to the man.
“Hey.”  Boston came up.  She had been straggling near the back.
“Boston, dear.”  Lockhart backed away from the elf and slipped his arm around the young woman.  “So, what do you think?  Do we run as fast as we can or explore a bit and maybe confront some unsavories along the way?”
“Explore and help the Kairos clean out the time zones.  I thought that was obvious.”
“Well for the record,” Mingus said as he turned and walked backwards.  “Though it may kill me to say it, I agree with that Lincoln fellow.”
“I haven’t offered an opinion,” Lincoln said.
“No, but I can read the mind of a frightened rabbit well enough.”
“Father!”  Alexis jumped and there was some scolding in her voice.  “I vote we explore and help.”  She looked at Lockhart, and so did everyone else except Doctor Procter who still played with his amulet.
Lockhart nodded.  “Okay,” he said.  “But the number one priority is to get everyone home alive and in one piece, so when it is time to move on, we all move, no arguments.”
“You got that right,” Captain Decker mumbled.
Everyone seemed fine with that except Mingus who screwed up his face and asked, “And who decides when it is time to move on?”
“I do.”  Lockhart spoke without flinching.  The two stared at each other until Doctor Procter interrupted.
“Anyway,” he spoke as if in the middle of a sentence.  “I would not worry about hunting unsavories.  I don’t imagine it will take long before they start hunting us.”

 

Avalon travelers in the night

Avalon, Season Six

Avalon

Season Six

M G Kizzia

Copyright 2019

MGK Books

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Table of Contents

6.0:  Monkey Brain Fever

After 939 BC, La Venta Island. Kairos lifetime 72: Ozmatlan (Ozma)

6.1:  Little Things,

After 882 BC Dandaka Forest.  Kairos lifetime 73: Lakshme, not Sita.

6.2:  Sudden Encounter

After 821 BC Phoenicia. Kairos lifetime 74: Ibelam, the Sailor

6.3:  Stubborn

After 761 BC Before Rome. Kairos lifetime 75: Valencia, Mother Wolf

6.4:  Stories

After 702 BC The Levant. Kairos lifetime 76: Tobaka, Nubian Prince of Egypt

6.5:  Zombies, Murder, and Mayhem

After 643 BC Babylon. Kairos lifetime 77: Labash, the Gardener

6.6:  The Count

After 588 BC Babylon. Kairos lifetime 78: Xanthia, Sister of Cyrus the Great

6.7:  Yeti

After 529 BC, The Himalayas. Kairos lifetime 79: Rajish the Defender

6.8:  Archidamian War’s End

After 467 BC, Attica. Kairos lifetime 80: Ophelia, Spartan Princess

6.9:  Rome

After 404 BC, Latium. Kairos lifetime 81: Diana: Marcia Furi Camilla Diana

6.10:  Alexander’s Eyes

After 357 BC, Pella. Kairos lifetime 82: Diogenes: Alexander’s chief of spies.

6.11:  Shipwreck

After 323 BC, Sicily. Kairos lifetime 83: Umma of Carthage.

6.12:  The Road Ahead

After 267 BC, Qin. Kairos lifetime 84: Meng Shi and the First Emperor.

avalon travelers horse 1

CAST

Robert Lockhart, a former police officer, now assistant director of the Men in Black.  He was in charge of the rescue mission that left from 2010 in the common era and went to the beginning of history.  He is now charged with leading this expedition through time though he has no idea how he is going to get everyone home alive.
Captain Katherine Harper-Lockhart (Katie), a marine and an elect—a one-in-a-million warrior woman, whose doctorate is in ancient and medieval cultures and technologies.  She is torn between her duty to the marines and her desire to be part of this larger universe she is discovering.  She now carries the prototype amulet once used to kidnap Alexis.
Boston (Mary Riley), a Massachusetts redneck hunter, rodeo rider, and technological genius who finished her PhD in electrical engineering at age 23.  She carries the Amulet of Avalon, a sophisticated combination electronic GPS and magical device that shows the way from one time gate to the next.  She became an elf to marry Roland; but now Roland has disappeared, and may be dead, though she insists the Kairos managed to grab him at the last minute and brought him back into the future.
Benjamin Lincoln, a former C. I. A. office geek who keeps the database and a record of their journey.  He tends to worry and is not the bravest soul, but sometimes that is an asset.  His wife, Alexis, was kidnapped by her own father Mingus and dragged back to the beginning of history.  This prompted the rescue mission which got everyone stuck in the past with the time gates in the time zones as the only option to get home—the long way around, as they say.
Alexis Lincoln, an elf, Roland’s sister, who became human to marry Benjamin.  She retained her healing magic when she became human, but magic has its limits. For example, it couldn’t make her father happy with her choices.  She was the one who got kidnapped and dragged into the deep past where she needed to be rescued.
Elder Stow, a space traveling, technologically advanced Gott-Druk (Neanderthal) from the future who got thrown back into the past. He is forced, at first, to make a truce with these ‘humans’ to join them in their journey.  He has since adjusted to the idea, and believes it is his only chance to get back to the future.
Sukki, a Gott-Druk from the before time, taken off planet to a new world at the time of the flood.  She joined a small group determined to return to Earth.  She is the sole survivor after thousands of years in cryogenic sleep.  The travelers take her with them, knowing she cannot survive in the past, and she is learning that these travelers are now her new family.
Major Decker, a former navy seal, now a marine special operations officer who will do all he can to keep everyone alive, even if it means shooting his way back to the twenty-first century.  He is a skeptic who does not believe half of what they experience—even if he does not know what else to believe.
That makes 8: Two married couples, two Gott-Druk, one Marine Major, and one Elf.  And introducing:
Evan Cecil Emerson, Assistant Professor of Antiquities in Latin and Greek.  He got pulled into the past from 1905 and lived most of seven years with others in the days of Julius Caesar. He and his wife traveled back to the beginning of the Roman Republic, but he became trapped for six months as a slave to the Roman monarch.  The travelers set him free.
Millie Emerson, also from 1905.  She became separated from her husband in a time zone at war.  She got forced back to the future zone, but found friends there.  She opted not to return to the Rome of Caesar, but stayed instead in Babylon holding on to the thin hope that her husband might find her.
Plus, as always,
The Kairos.  But that is a different person in each time zone.

Holiday Journey 21

Chris had to sit down.  He sat on the front pew, then moved over to give Santa room to sit.  He looked at his hands and sat in silence for what felt like a long time, though it was actually not long at all.

“You are asking me if I want to take over being Santa?” Chris asked.  “For the next two hundred years?”

“Eleven o’clock,” Santa said, and nodded, and pointed at the stained-glass window at the front of the church.  He sat beside Chris and continued.  “I apologize. Given the modern mass media, the image and traditions of Santa have been pretty well set in stone.  You probably won’t have much ability to shift things, at least at first.  But Santa needs some new blood.  Traditions can grow stale.  The first shepherd, Joel, said he soon realized different people would develop different traditions and celebrations, but he said that was a good thing.  When the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches split, Sinterklaas made it work—even when the Romans tried to drag the celebration back to December sixth, he made it work.  As long as the Christ child remained the reason for the season, as they say.”

“That idea has struggled of late,” Chris said.

“You can read about it in the Christmas book,” Santa said, and pointed to a big, open book on a stand, up front, opposite the podium.  “My predecessors have long speculated whether at twelve o’clock there will be a twelfth Santa, or if that may be when the Christ returns.” Santa shrugged.  “I’m sorry I won’t be here to see it, but you can tell me how it turns out when you get there… So?”

“Well… I lost my job.  I lost my apartment.  I would have lost Lilly if she hadn’t been kidnapped… Times being what they are… Yes,” Chris said.  “But I hope I don’t screw it up.”

Santa patted Chris on the shoulder.  “Just do your best.  In the end, that is all that any of us can do.”  He paused, and they both looked up.

A light appeared around the altar, and grew until Chris and Santa could not keep their eyes open.  Both men trembled in the presence of what was holy.  The light soon settled into the image of a person, but that felt worse in a way.  That person was not only holy, that person was also pure and good in a way no human could be.

“It is settled.” the Christmas Angel said, but kindly made it sound like a question.

“Yes,” Santa stood.

“Good,” the Christmas Angel said, and appeared to smile.  A woman called.

“Santa. Victor.”

“Coming, dear,” Santa responded, as a ghostly image of an old woman appeared to come to the edge of the light.  Santa did not hesitate to step into the light, and as he did, both his and her images faded until they disappeared altogether.

Chris lowered his head, and the angel spoke again.  “Tell me.”

“Lord,” Chris began, and found some tears in his eyes.  They were tears for his hard life, his family that went before him, for all of the people around the world that still lived without hope.  He thought one good day per year was not too much to ask.  One day where people remembered the Lord and did good for one another would be the least the fallen human race could do.  “I don’t think I can do this alone,” Chris said.  “I need Merry, and Lilly, and all the others.”

Chris did not see the angel smile ever so slightly as the angel vanished once again in the light.  Chris just sat on the pew, and felt all the love, joy, and peace rush into his heart. Then he did cry.

 

Cue: White Christmas

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

The front door flew open when the angel fully vanished.  Chris wiped his eyes as he heard a voice shout, “Uncle Chris!” He turned and saw Merry, who ran, but stopped a few feet away.  Plum and Roy stayed in the door, but removed their hats.  He saw a fairy land beside Merry, and change from a little, fluttering person, to a fully adult woman, more beautiful than an ordinary human woman ought to be.  And he felt something like a little bug, hugging his cheek and nose.

“Woah,” Chris said.  He had to be careful, but he grabbed the fairy around her legs and gently pulled her off his face.

“Lilly,” the fairy woman spoke.  “You need to come here and get big so your Uncle Chris can see you.”

“Yes mother,” Lilly said, and she did that very thing, and smiled briefly at Merry, who smiled right back at her.

Chris looked at Lilly, furrowed his brow and frowned a bit, but everyone could see the love in that frown.  “You ran away without telling me,” he said, gruffly.

“Uncle Chris…” Lilly did not know what to say, but Merry stepped forward and cut off her childish excuses.

“My fault,” Merry confessed.  “She is a half-fairy, a half Christmas fairy.”  Merry looked at Chris with big, sad eyes.  “Lilly was suffocating in the entirely human world, cut off from the magic that flows in her blood.  That was why she got sick, and especially bad in the Christmas season.  She is very young, and ageing more like a fairy, too. She is nearly seven, but measures small; more like a four-year-old…”  Merry let her voice trail off as she realized she was making excuses, herself.

Chris dropped to one knee and held open his arms to his little girl.  “Merry Christmas,” he said, and Lilly rushed into his hug. She returned his Merry Christmas.

Chris stood, took Lilly’s hand, and stepped up to Serissa, who did not know what to expect, but finally lowered her eyes.  Chris just smiled all the more.  He caught Serissa in a hug and repeated, “Merry Christmas,” and added, “Sister.”

Serissa found some happy tears and returned, “Merry Christmas.”

As Chris stepped back, he said, “Saying the words is right and good, but I think people should give Christmas hugs, too.”  He looked at Roy and Plum.

Roy leaned over and hugged Plum, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

“Same,” Plum said, and returned the hug, briefly, before he pulled back, brushed off his coat like restoring his dignity, and said, “We have some special deliveries tonight, it being actual Christmas Eve.  There are not many, but they are the hard and dangerous ones Santa always insisted on handling.  I don’t know what you want to do.” Plum struggled hard to hold his tongue after that.

Chris nodded, but said, “First things first.”  He turned to Merry.

“I have been made human,” Merry said, and added, “It is different.”

“You don’t mind not being an elf anymore?” Chris asked.

Merry shook her head and lowered her eyes like Serissa.  “It is what I prayed for.”

“Good,” Chris said in a voice straight and clear, without the least hint of what he might be thinking.  He came out with it.  “Will you marry me, Merry?”

“Yes,” she said, dropped one tear, and looked up at him in time to be wrapped up in his arms.  Chris kissed her, and she returned everything in her heart.  They would say Merry Christmas in a minute, or perhaps a few minutes.

 

Cue: closing credits …

Cue: Here We Come a Wassailing

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

END

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MONDAY

Avalon, Season Six will post, 13 episodes over 24 weeks, or roughly a new episode every 2 weeks.

The travelers came to the beginning of history on a rescue mission.  Now, to get home, the travelers must follow the Amulet of Avalon that points the way to the next time gate.  They move through time zones that center around the many lives of the Kairos, the traveler in time, the watcher over history, a person who never lives a quiet life.

They have unlimited vitamins, elf crackers, for their health; and unlimited bullets, which are needed far too often.  They ride mustangs brought back from the old west, and wear fairy weave clothing they can shape and change with a word in order to blend into the local culture.   By a special gift of the Kairos, they can understand and be understood no matter the local language.  It helps, because inevitably they deal with thieves, brigands, armies and empires, gods and monsters, spirits and creatures, space aliens and the great unknown. They try hard not to disturb history. To be sure, all they want is to get home in one piece, but they are not the only ones lost in time.  Some of the others lost in time want to follow them or even go with them.  Some want to fight them, or hunt them, and not everything lost in time is human.

The Avalon Series is written in short story (episodic) form, but designed to be converted to visual form, either a television show, anime, or graphic novel.  As such, like any television show, it is not difficult to pick up in the middle and follow along.  One (or two) episodes is enough to grasp the concept and begin to get to know the characters.  If you are seriously worried about starting in season 6, you can find the prequel, the Free pilot episode, and the early seasons as E-books at the major retailers.  Thank you for your support.

So, as always, until Monday…

*

Holiday Journey 20

*

Cue: Carol of the Bells

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

“Christopher Shepherd,” Santa said Chris’ name as he slowly rose and walked down the center aisle.  “And you have seen the window.”

“Yes.” Chris did not know what to say. “Santa?” he repeated, and the old man nodded as he took Chris’ arm and gently led him to the altar.

“You can see the window better from here,” Santa said, and he turned his attention to point at the morning sun that streamed through the stained glass. “But, you see, there have been ten Santas since the birth of our Lord and Savior.”

“Ten Santas?”  Chris saw the window neatly divided into twelve slots, so it looked like a clock. Ten of those slots had pictures of people.  The eleven o’clock and twelve o’clock slots remained plain glass.

“Well, they haven’t all been called Santa, you know.  Let’s see.  I first met Kris on a trip to New York.  Mine was a merchant family, out of eastern Pennsylvania.  Christmas Eve, 1806, or 7… maybe 1805.  It was a long time ago.  Anyway, I explained the quaint Dutch traditions associated with Christmas to a young fellow by the name of Irving—that was his last name. Washington Irving.  I met him again in England about ten years later…” He waved off that train of thought and pointed again at the window.

“The first, the one o’clock picture, shows the first shepherd.  He was over sixty when the Lord was born.  A remarkable thing, to be so old in that day and time. He was out watching his sheep at night, and so on, you know, and the angel came to him, the Christmas angel. He filled Joel—that was his name—with the Spirit of Christmas on that night.  Love, joy, peace, generosity, celebration, and all.”

“Joel was a shepherd?”

Santa nodded.  “The first Christmas shepherd.”

“The first Santa?”

Santa nodded again.  “From that day, wherever Joel went, the Spirit of Christmas went with him and touched so many lives.  He was there when the church started.  He went with the apostles to Greece. He eventually made it to Rome, where he picked up a young man to help him in his journey.  He cut through Gaul and went into the Germanys where the J of his name got pronounced like a Y.

“Yoel?”

“Yule, as it came to be called.  He got burned at the stake.  That happened around 140. You see, in bearing the Spirit of Christmas, he ended up living over two hundred years, kind of like Abraham, I guess.  But before he died, he passed on the Spirit of Christmas to his young Latin friend.  You see? Two o’clock.”

Santa pointed again, and Chris kept his eyes on the clock window.

“That young Roman considered what it meant to carry the Spirit of new birth, the celebration of the Lord’s birth.  In the Latin, it would be the name Natalis, but in Gaul, he compressed the idea and came up with Noel, in honor of his mentor, Joel.  Pater Noel, actually, once he got a few years on him and grew his beard, which turned white enough.  He carried the Spirit of Christmas for two hundred and four years before he passed it on to the original Saint Nikolas, back in the Middle East.  That was in 343.”

Chris shook his head.  “I read about Saint Nicholas.  He died in 343.”

“Natural causes,” Santa said, and nodded with a small smile.  “There is a book that chronicles all of this. You can read about it, later.  He did not actually die, in fact, he took the job, and kept it well enough to put his imprint on the whole enterprise, at least the name Nicholas.  After two hundred years, when he was actually two hundred and seventy something, he came across a half-frozen man and his daughter in the Slavic wilderness.  He gave the man the Spirit of Christmas and took his place in freezing to death.”

“Four o’clock,” Chris pointed.  “I was wondering who the girl was.”

“Snowflake.  Still an important part of Slavic and Russian Orthodox celebrations.”

“Did she carry the Spirit as well?” Chris asked.

Santa did not exactly answer.  “Honestly, as the faith and Christmas celebrations spread, the job became too much for one person.  Ded Moraz was his name, and he chose to live in the far, frosted north.”

“The North Pole?”

“Well…near enough.  He was the first to enlist the elves to the task.  That happened in the Scandinavian north, the land of the reindeer.”

Chris nodded, but he had a serious question.  “And that demon at five o’clock?”  He thought of Courtney.

“Another Nicholas, as he took the name.  Krampus was his demon.  From roughly 750 to 960.  Each bearer of the Spirit of Christmas serves about two hundred years.  Each Santa, if you will, from that point on, also had a demon of some sort to follows them around.  They frighten the naughty children, but you know, though they are powerless in Santa’s presence.  Kris said it kept him human, and I don’t disagree.  It is remarkable what Santa can do.  Faithfulness, humility and self-control are probably the most important traits to hold on to.”

“I can see that,” Chris said.  Santa paused to look in Chris’ eyes.  He said nothing, but after a moment he nodded and went back to the window.

“Six o’clock is the Dutchman, Sinterklaas, and his servant, Zwarte Piet. Servant, not slave, is the best way to refer to that.  Those were the dark ages, from about 960 to 1171.  In those days, the Roman Church tried to disconnect the celebration from the birth of the Lord and drag it back to December sixth, the supposed death day of the first Nikolas.  I don’t know what demon in Rome suggested such a thing, but it became a struggle. In the end, about 1171, a bishop, I won’t say which, beheaded Sinterklaas.”

“Burned at the stake, frozen to death, beheaded,” Chris said.

“I know,” Santa agreed.  “It is not an easy job.  In the Middle Ages, mostly in Europe, though just hinting of spreading world-wide, Sir Christmas, an honest to goodness knight, took the job.  He had a retinue of helpers by then, and the elves and fairies of Christmas as well.  He needed the help.  And in 1383, the one who followed, an Englishman, kept to the theme.  Father Christmas was what they called him.  He saw the celebration up to the days of reformation.

“The reformation.  That must have been a difficult time to hold things together,” Chris surmised.  “Christmas itself might have splintered into dozens of separate traditions.”

“There are dozens of separate traditions,” Santa said.  “Some still celebrate December sixth.  Some celebrate on January sixth—the day the wise men presumably arrived bearing gifts.  It is hard to keep track of, but the Spirit of Christmas, the love, joy, peace on earth, the giving and caring for one another and celebrating the time of the Word made flesh remains.”

Chris nodded.

“I will say, Father Christmas and Henry the VIII did not get along well.  But anyway, in 1601, the reformers wanted to move away from the Catholic tradition.  Sinterklaas had already dealt with the east-west schism, when the catholic and orthodox churches split.  This became like that, except the reformers were more nation-state or even congregational based, one of the main reforms being against a central, human authority. But that led to so many different churches—so many denominations.”  Santa shook his head, like the whole thing gave him a headache.

“Father Christmas found a German, since that was where most of the trouble centered. A Lutheran, Kris, with a beautiful young blonde daughter that he called his angel.  She took on the persona of an angel, sort of.  The Christkind.  Kris Kringle was his name, but some still referred to him as Nicholas.  I get Nicholas at times, or Saint Nick, sometimes. Can’t be helped.”

“I see you and Missus Clause up there at ten o’clock.”

“Yes.” Santa paused to pull out a handkerchief and sniff before he blew his nose.  “Pennsylvania Dutch, originally.  Clausen. Plenty of German roots, too.  She bravely went with me when the shop went bust. We headed to Indiana territory to make a new beginning.  We got caught in a snowstorm.  That was where Kris found us.  I forgot all about meeting him in New York that one time.  He offered me the job, and well… With the shop gone, and the Shawnee about to go on the warpath… Times being what they were, I accepted the job.”  Santa smiled and let out a little of his famous ho, ho, ho.  “I heard that once in a movie.”

“I know the movie,” Chris returned the smile.  “But that is more of a Halloween movie than a Christmas movie.”

Santa frowned.  “You know, I am not entirely happy with some of the ways I have been portrayed.  But honestly, each Santa, in turn, has had some impact on that portrayal—in the human psyche.  Nicholas, long white beard, living in the frozen north, and so on.  Then, there have been some exaggerations cooked up in the human mind.  Can’t be helped.  I hope you realize I don’t actually travel around the entire world in a single night, bringing presents to all the good boys and girls.”

“Oh?”

“Oh, there is a workshop, and we make toys, but we also make plenty of ordinary things as well.  Shoes, coats, soap and clothes.  We package lots of food, mostly dried and canned, though some cookies and candy. Toothbrushes have been a big one these last fifty years or so.  Mostly, they get put in boxes and delivered to the poor and needy through others. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, and churches; thousands of churches all over the world.  I have delivered some few, special needs now and then, but mostly the elves take care of passing on our work to where it is needed.”

“Elves that appear human,” Chris understood, and had a revelation. “Those two soldiers in 1914, with the Christmas cookies.  They were disguised elves.”  His eyes got big.  “That old priest in the Catholic church was you.”

“Yes,” Santa admitted, before he looked down at his boots, what he could see over his belly. “And Plum and Roy.  Sorry about them.”

“They are all right,” Chris answered.  “Plum just talks too much without any watch on his tongue, and Roy doesn’t say enough.”

“Yes,” Santa let out that little smile.  “That about sums them up.”

“And Merry?” Chris said, but it was a question.

“That little girl… I mean, that lovely young woman.  She thought I was getting too old, which I am.  She wanted to bring you here to help me in my old age.  That was very kind and thoughtful of her.  But you know, once an elf gets attached, they are very hard to remove.”  Chris stared at the wall for a moment, and Santa looked at him, squarely.   “You know, if you marry her, she will stop being an elf and become human.”  Chris did not know that, and thought maybe that would be asking too much, but Santa took his arm again, as he did at the beginning.  “How about we let her decide that,” he said, and Chris nodded, before he swallowed his feelings and spoke.

“But now, Lilly.  Did you have to kidnap her?  Where is she?”

Santa held up his hands to stave off Chris’ anger.  “She is here, and fine.  She is with her mother, Serissa.”

“Serissa? She is alive?”

“Serissa. She is the Christmas Rose, a fairy.” Santa paused to let that knowledge sink in.  Chris’ eyes got big as he remembered several strange events in Lilly’s young life.

“I want to see her.  I need to see her.”

Santa still had his hands up to make Chris pause.  “First things first.  Do you want the job?”

Holiday Journey 19

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.

“But this is Christmas Eve,” Chris continued.  “Far from being pointless, this is the night the promise of love became real in a baby.  Love won on this night, and you lost.  You have no power here.”

“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.”

“No.”

“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.

 

Cue: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies from “The Nutcracker”

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.

“Merry?”

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.

“Santa?”

Holiday Journey 18

“This tree is more than two hundred years old,” Plum said, as he walked up from where the cowboys built a fire and got out what they had for supper.  One cowboy kept an eye on the reindeer to make sure they did not wander off into the forest that began a hundred yards off to the right.  The forest looked dark under the storm clouds, like a place even the Christmas lights could not brighten.

“It is tall enough, and bright enough with all the lights,” Merry said.

“It is very Christmas-like,” Chris agreed, but hesitated, before he added, “But something seems to be holding back the joy—the merry and bright—the Christmas Spirit.”

Merry took Chris’ arm and let out a small sound that suggested her heart might have broken.  “Missus Claus passed away a few years ago,” she confessed.  “And Santa has gotten very old.  It is not the same, but we try not to notice.”  She sniffed, and Chris slipped his arm around her to pull her in close.  Chris imagined one of the lights moved.  His mind said the wind, but there was no wind to speak of at the moment, like the calm before the storm.  Before he could look closer, someone called.

“Over here,” Roy’s voice sounded out in the snow.  “Mister Shepherd.  Merry.” Chris and Merry went to see.  Roy and two of the cowboys had gotten the evergreen out of the wagon and stuck it in a hole that Chris had not noticed.  They had spades to cover the roots, and Plum stood there admiring the tree.

“Looks nice,” Chris thought a compliment was in order.  “Looks bigger than I thought.”

“It is as old as you are,” Plum responded.  “It is your tree.”

“My tree?” Chris asked.

Roy nodded, and Plum spoke again.  “You need to touch it to bring it to life.”

“I what?”

“Go on,” Merry said, and held his arm out toward the tree.  “Think of your Christmas tree at home.  Think of both trees, and all the love that went into them.”

Chris hesitated, but trusted Merry. He reached out and touched a branch of the tree, and at once the tree became strung with lights and ornaments.  The lights stayed lit, even though they had no place to plug them in.  The ornaments, he recognized.  His mother loved to decorate, and she kept those ornaments as well as she could through the years.  They looked worn, but lovingly clean, and… yes, he saw the ornaments he bought over the last ten years for his artificial tree. Chris dropped his face into his hands and held back his tears.  He mumbled for Merry.

 “Lilly would love this tree.”

He decided this game had gone on long enough.  He needed to find Lilly.  He needed to know she was all right.  He turned on Merry, took her by her shoulders, and said, “Tell me about Lilly.”

A dark wind blew through the camp.  The wagon shook.  The horses neighed.  The fire flickered, and the cowboy by the cooking pot yelled.

“They are stealing the reindeer.”

“All hands-on deck,” Plum yelled, and people rushed for their horses.

“Stay here,” Merry told Chris.  “You will be safe here, and I promise to tell you everything when I get back.”

Roy came up, trailing Merry’s horse.  She mounted and they rode in the direction the wind had gone, soon disappearing in the darkness beyond the lights of the trees.

Chris did not know what to do.  He sat down by the fire, left alone in the wilderness.  He stood and retrieved a blanket from the wagon and went to sit again, pausing only to assure the two big draught horses that they were not forgotten.  He poked at the beans that were cooking.  He sighed and felt grateful for the light from the tree behind him.  He refused to look at his own, personal tree.  There were too many memories there, and not all happy ones.  He supposed he felt grateful for the light from that tree as well.  Being alone, in the wilderness, at night, in a storm would be spooky, no, it would be frightening in the dark.

It began to snow great flakes of white, and soon, it began to snow hard.  The wind picked up, and Chris found his mind taken by the wind.  He remembered a day he did not want to remember.  Ricky was there.  He looked young.  Mama was there, too, weeping.  It was the day his father got buried.  They were at the graveside.

Chris sniffed.  He hugged his Mama and wept with her.  He tried to hug Ricky, but Ricky did not want to be hugged.  He looked out over the graves, and saw an angel there, in the snow. It did not appear a clear image; just an outline.  But Chris felt comforted.  He knew his father would be all right.  It was the promise of Christmas.

But it did not snow at his father’s funeral.  That happened in the summer.

Chris paused to gather his thoughts.  He looked again, but saw no image of an angel.  He stirred the beans in the pot and tried to wait patiently for the others to return. He looked at the fire and saw something he did not want to see.

He saw Ricky in full battle gear, carefully and quietly climbing the steps to the roof, clutching tight to his rifle.  The village was on fire, but sniper shot continued to come from the roof.  They could not call in air or artillery against innocent civilians.  They could not complete their mission under fire.  He came around a corner in the staircase. He faced a boy—barely a teenager holding an AK-47.  Ricky hesitated to kill a child. Triggers got pulled at the same time.  The boy collapsed.  Ricky got riddled full of bullets.

“No,” Chris yelled and covered his eyes.  He prayed for Ricky.  He prayed for Lilly, and Serissa, whom he never met.  He prayed for that boy, and wept some more.  He wiped his eyes, stirred the beans once, and stood.  It started getting too cold to just sit and wait. He put another log on the fire, and dreaded what was to come.

Chris turned to stare at the big Christmas tree set out in the middle of nowhere.  Indiana Territory, 1812, or actually, 1811, Christmas eve.  He imagined the lights were moving again.  It had to be a trick of the wind, the snowfall, and the ice in the branches.  The moving lights looked hypnotic.  He began to cry before he saw.

He held his mother’s hand when she died.  He wept then.  He wept again in the face of the tree.  He heard a voice then, or perhaps now.  It may have been the nurse.  He always thought it was an angel.

“She is in a better place now.  There is no more pain and no more suffering.”  Poor Chris went out the door to Lilly.  He held her and wept all over the little girl, and she wept with him.  They were all that remained, but at least they had each other. They had each other, Chris thought. He needed to blow his nose, but he heard something that took all of his attention.

“Uncle Chris…”  Chris turned toward the dark woods.  He thought the call came from there.  “Uncle Chris. Help me.”

Chris ran across the field and entered the woods without a second thought.

************************

MONDAY, Tuesday and Wednesday, Christmas Day, the final chapter in A Holiday Journey:  Chris confronts the real Santa Claus, but it does not turn out the way he expects.

Until Then, Happy Reading

*

Holiday Journey 17

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.

 

Cue: O Christmas Tree

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.

Holiday Journey 16

The next day was Christmas day, even if it was only Friday back home, and Christmas there would not arrive until Monday.  Chris and Merry walked, side by side, and felt a bit like they were on a date, walking through the street faire.  They bought each other little Christmas pins—Christmas wreaths, and Chris only fumbled a little when he pinned his gift on Merry.  They had sweets, roasted chestnuts, and hot tea against the cold.  More than once, they were mistaken for a married couple, and neither denied it.

“This is how Christmas ought to be celebrated,” Chris decided.  “People should share the love and joy with friends, neighbors, even strangers in the streets.  It should be a day of fun, with plays and puppets, games and contests, and all sorts of treats and little things to buy and share, and all in the public square.  Back home, Christmas has become a time of isolation.  Families might visit, but basically people hide in their homes.  Nothing is open.  Nothing moves in the streets.  People avoid their neighbors.  How did we turn this great celebration into a time of seclusion and loneliness?  It is sad, to think of it.”

“It is sad,” Merry agreed.

“Plum?” Chris called.

“We are on the right road,” Plum said.  “I believe we are catching up.”

Chris nodded.  He prayed for Lily, that she be all right.  He really had no other choice but to trust Plum and Roy.  He blew up once in the morning, and yelled, which was not his style.  Merry also spent about five minutes before noon giving poor Plum a tongue lashing.

“How much longer?” she said, and, “This has gone on long enough.”

Roy stayed stoic, but Plum wilted a little.  All he could say was, “We are on the right road, and catching up.”

After lunch in a small cafe, they headed into more residential streets, and away from the faire.  The buildings stayed between three to five stories tall, but the lovely townhouses in the city became tenements for the poor.  They passed warehouses and offices for lawyers and money lenders that showed their signs down narrow side streets.  The white snow quickly turned yellow and brown where the mules, horses, and other animals trod.  They still saw children in the streets, and grown-ups, but the children looked unwashed, and the adults looked to be in clothes that might barely keep them warm in the winter.  Chris’ heart went out to the people who struggled so hard to keep those children fed and make ends meet.  And around each corner, conditions appeared worse.  Finally, they turned into an alleyway.

This was the worst, most decrepit neighborhood they found so far.  It made Chris think of the bombed-out places Ricky used to describe, like something from the middle of a war zone.

Down a short alley, they found a building that appeared to be on fire.

Chris dropped Merry’s hand with a word.  “Get the fire department.”  He ran toward the few elderly people that started to gather outside.  He figured this might be an apartment building of sorts, or a dirty tenement that probably ought to be an abandoned building.  He raised his voice.  “Did everyone get out?”

One elderly people began to nod when a woman came from the door, coughing from the smoke.  “The children are playing in the basement.”

“The basement,” one of the old men said, and looked back, fear in his eyes.

Chris did not hesitate.  He covered his mouth with his own sleeve and ran in the door.  The stairs were right there, and he raced down to the bottom level. He thought the fire mostly burned above him, but he had no way of knowing when the building might collapse. The fire looked well along by the time he arrived.

Chris burst through a door to a room full of coal and coal dust, with a ratty old furnace that appeared to be smoking.  He imagined the fire above might be backing down into the pipes.  He heard the coughing, and knew he had to move fast. He found six children, all Lilly’s age, in the five to seven-year-old range.  They huddled in a corner of the room, behind an old curtain. They stared at him, suddenly afraid he might yell at them for starting the fire, or some such thing.

Chris just smiled and picked up the smallest little girl.  “Hold hands and follow me,” he said in his kind and comforting voice.  He reached for a hand of one of the bigger kids while he shifted the little one to his hip.  “Hold hands. Let’s go,” he said, never ceasing to smile.  “Make sure the little ones keep up,” he added, and the children looked at each other and grabbed hands as he started walking.

The door to the room opened easily enough.  The stairs were not far, and shortly, the children dropped each other’s hands and raced out the door to where the adults—mostly grandparents gathered. Chris went to set down the little one, but she had a question.

“Are you Father Christmas?” she asked, as one of the older adults came up to take her hand.

Chris shook his head.  “I’m just a Shepherd,” he said.  “You can call me the Christmas Shepherd.”  He smiled and added, “Christopher,” for the adult, before he turned to look for Merry.

By then, people hauling buckets had come up the alley, and some people from other, nearby buildings, who wanted to help, crowded the area.  The men looked concerned to keep the fire from spreading to the next building, and two, with scarves over their faces, went into the building, having talked to the older people.

Chris wanted to help, but Merry took his hand and led him to a door in the warehouse, opposite the burning building.  Roy held the door open and Plum encouraged them to hurry.

“You have done all you can,” Merry told him, and they passed the threshold into a small room that smelled of pine, apples, and cinnamon.

“How far back are we going?” Chris asked.  He figured the door on the other side of the small room would let them out in a new time.

“Eighteen-eleven,” Roy said, as they came out in a big barn full of horses and hay.

“While you were playing with the fire, I popped ahead and made arrangements with the stable master,” Plum said.  “We got bread, cheese, potatoes, carrots, and a bit of beef boiling in the pot.  I’m not much of a cook, but it will do.  We got bunks in the barn.  Roy will show you where we will be sleeping.  Tomorrow, we wagon into the west, into the Ohio Valley, down into Indiana territory.  Not much we can do about that.”

Chris gave the man a hard look.  He said one word.  “Lilly.”

Plum looked down at his feet.  “She is in this time zone, for sure.”

“Time zone?”

“This place, only she is at the other side.  She is safe, for the present.  You can trust me on that.  I’m sorry, I can’t say more.”

Chris turned his eyes on Merry, but she put her hands up in surrender.  “I have never been here.  I don’t even know where we are.   It is well before my time.  You know what I know.”

“Obviously, you know nothing.  Which is fine because I know nothing.”

“We could maybe know nothing together?” she asked.

Chris and Merry stared at one another for a long time.  Merry became anxious.  Chris did not move a muscle, and his expression appeared equally unmoving, like a marble statue.  Merry felt the tears coming, but fought it.  Finally, Chris spoke.

“I would like that,” he said, and a radiant smile broke out on Merry’s face. “I would like that very much.” Merry stepped up for a kiss.  Plum went to fiddle with the cooking.  Roy turned around and went back to the bunks.

When they finished their supper, Chris avoided the bunks and went to sit on the pile of hay in the doorway. Merry followed and sat beside him.

“I’m not going to undress,” he declared.  “Whoever keeps taking my clothes and giving me new ones is going to have to do it while I am still wearing them.”

Merry just smiled at him, like she did not hear a word he said.  When he laid back on the hay, he slipped his arm around her. She snuggled up to him, laid her head gently on his shoulder, and promptly fell asleep, still smiling.  He looked down at her, and loved her.  He looked some at the moon and stars out the barn door.

 

Cue: The First Noel

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

conducted by Don Jackson.  Ó℗CD Guy Music Inc., 2001

 

*

Holiday Journey 15

When Chris woke up, he found his blue jeans replaced with trousers, and his boots replaced with shoes he had to tie.  In place of his pea coat, he found a thick winter vest, and a Victorian double-breasted frock coat that he buttoned up because it felt cold enough, even in his room.  He figured they had not finished going back in time, and he wondered again how far back he would have to go to find Lilly.  He had a cane, and a top hat, probably made of silk, which he carried.  He was not a hat person.

Merry waited for Chris in the hall outside his room.  She paced in her rich green Victorian dress which poked out below her long red woolen coat.  Fortunately, the bustle kept the back of the dress off the ground, so at least she would not step on it.  Even so, she paced because she had to get used to walking in that bustle, hidden though it was beneath her coat.  She stepped to the mirror in the hall and felt glad she did not have to wear crinoline hoops.  She dressed in traveling clothes.  Hoops would not have been good for sitting all day on the train.

Merry checked the pins in her hat when Chris came out carrying his top hat and cane. She immediately took the hat and placed it correctly on his head.  “Don’t play with it,” she said, as she put the cane in his right hand so she could take his left arm.  She decided she could use the help walking because the millions of undergarments and attachments, especially the bustle, threw off her whole center of gravity. They walked to the elevator side by side, and waited quietly until Merry thought to say something.

“I ditched the corset.”

“I don’t blame you,” Chris said, though his eyes stayed on the elevator button and he never looked at her.  “I see you are dressed in green and red.  A bit overboard on the Christmas theme, wouldn’t you say?”

“I didn’t pick out the clothes.”

“Who did?” Chris asked, as the elevator door opened and they got on.

Merry pushed the button for the ground floor.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t seem to know much, for a Christmas elf, I mean.”

“You know what I know.”

“I find that hard to believe.”  He faced her, took her by the shoulders and turned her to face him.  “So, where is Lilly?”

Merry looked up into his eyes and yelled, even as the elevator door opened.  “I… DON’T… KNOW.”

Chris looked at the startled elderly couple ready to step on to the elevator, and he spoke in a calm and steady voice.  “Well, I’m glad that is cleared up.”  He offered his arm, and she took it.  They got breakfast and walked to the train without another word.

###

They arrived at Victoria Station by four in the afternoon.  “Thursday evening,” Chris said, out loud, just to keep his mind straight.  Then he added, “Dickens.”

“The Dickens, you say?” Merry teased.

“Yes,” Chris sounded certain.  “I just figured it out.  My grandmother collected Christmas villages before she passed away.  I have no idea what happened to them.  I was only six or so when she died.  I remember the one from the sixties, Middletown, including the Yuletide Diner.  I guess that was nostalgic for her.”

“Oh?” Merry sounded curious, but maybe like she knew something.  Chris looked at her, but continued.

“Yea. I remember she had a whole Dickens village—a kind of London Town.  It included the Victoria Station, several churches, toy shops, candy shops, plenty of Ye Olde Shoppes.   Open stalls on the green where people sold all kinds of sweet meats, chestnuts, and apples in the snow.  Of course, Grandma’s set did not have so many people.  It is crowded in this square.  I can hear the Christmas carolers, but I can’t see them.”

“What are you suggesting?” Merry asked.

“I’m not sure,” Chris admitted.  “I don’t understand 1914 in the trenches.  But, this place and Middleton are right off my Grandma’s shelf.  Maybe we are not actually traveling through time like I keep thinking.”

“What? Like we are getting smaller?”

“No,” Chris said, quickly.  “Something…”

“I’ve thought about that,” Merry said, and looked up at Chris as they stopped walking. “I’ve been to the City of London, and know this place a bit, but not in this time.  We are back before my time.”

“1863,” Chris guessed.  “We seem to be moving in fifty-one  or fifty-two year jumps.”

Merry nodded slowly, like she would think about that.  “The thing is,” she began again.  “Back home, there are Santas everywhere.  They are in the malls, department stores, and every Christmas parade in every town in America.  They make movies, and write books, and everything.  But all they can do is imitate, like model bits and pieces of the real Santa.”  It became Chris’ turn to nod slowly as she continued.  “I feel like this is the real Christmas town that your Grandmother’s models were based on. I don’t know.  It seems Christmas gets in the head and heart—the Spirit of Christmas, and people model the reality of it all.  Like all those fake Santas in the world.  Maybe they are not entirely fake, but vaguely similar to the real thing, and maybe that is why people recognize them, like they are glimpsing the reality behind the model.”

Chris nodded more firmly, and thought to say something, but he did not get the chance.

Something slammed, a loud Bang!sounding almost like a gunshot.  The apple stand collapsed.  A ragged boy ran, holding tight to a prize apple.  He bumped right into Chris, and Chris grabbed the boy by the arm.  The boy tried to wriggle out of his jacket, to escape, but Chris clamped down on the boy’s wrist and spoke.

“Hold on there, Oliver,” he said.  “Christmas is a time for giving, not stealing.”

“Let me go,” the boy protested, though it was too late.  The round, older woman from the apple stall arrived, staring daggers at the boy as she pulled her shawl up around her shoulders.  A crowd began to gather.  The boy looked at Chris’ smiling face for the first time and asked, “How’d you know my name?”

Chris knelt to face the boy and reached into his jacket pocket where he kept his wallet.  He found three one pound notes which he figured he would never need as long as Plum and Roy covered everything.  He jumbled with the wallet while he held the boy, but Merry knelt and held the wallet for him.  He smiled for her and pulled the notes one at a time.

“Give this to your master, Fagin,” he said.  The boy held the apple with his free hand, so Chris put it in the hand where he held the boy’s wrist.  The boy stopped struggling as he clamped his fingers around the pound note like it meant the difference between life and death.  “Tell him…the Christmas Shepherd said don’t be greedy, and Merry Christmas.”  He pulled out a second note and handed it to the woman.  “One for Dame Apple,” he said.  “To cover the cost of the apple and any damage the boy may have caused. Merry Christmas.”

The woman’s eyes got big, like she did not see many such notes in her line of work. “Very kind, Mister Shepherd,” she said, and thought to add a little curtsey while she said, “Happy Christmas to you.”

Chris pulled out one more note and found a pocket in Oliver’s coat.  He slipped it in and said, “One for the little boy who lives down the lane.  So you and Nancy can have a special Christmas treat.” Chris saw a policeman push through the crowd.  He recognized the big brass badge, red and white checkered cuffs on the uniform, and the club the man held.  “No trouble. All taken care of,” Chris said, as he let go of Oliver so the boy could run off.

“Happy Christmas everyone,” Merry shouted, as the apple lady went back to her stall and the crowd began to disperse.  Many people responded with the same.

“Merry Christmas, officer,” Chris said, as he and Merry stood, and she took his arm.

The police officer almost grinned.  He used his club to salute and returned, “Happy Christmas.”

 

Cue: Traditional 19thCentury Christmas Hymns (background).

 

Merry pulled Chris toward the hotel, pointing out a few things along the way. “London Bridge is behind us.  That is the Tower Bridge.  The Tower of London is there, where the hardened criminals get locked up.

“That castle?” Chris asked, and Merry nodded but turned serious as she noticed Chris’ furrowed brow.  “I wonder if they have anyone to share come Christmas cheer with them.”

“What?” Merry asked, and Chris answered.

“Why can’t people just love one another?  Why can’t we be good and kind to each other—just for one day a year, at least.  Is that too much to ask?”

Merry could not answer that, but fortunately, Plum stood on the hotel steps. “Maybe we will find Lilly in the morning,” he said.  “I feel we are getting close.”  He smiled for the couple, but they appeared occupied.  Chris and Merry spent supper as quiet as they spent the whole day on the train.

************************

MONDAY

A Holiday Journey: From the trenches in France to Victorian London, and Lilly is still ahead of them.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

 

 

*

Holiday Journey 14

“Over here,” Roy said, and the four of them piled into an ambulance.  They headed out toward the front, and Chris had yet to say a word.  Mary sniffed, but pulled a cap from her backpack.  It had a big red cross on it.  She had two arm bands that also showed a red cross.  Without being asked, Chris helped tie the arm bands around her upper arms. Then they sat, like a couple of rag dolls, tossed by every bump in the road, but never opening their mouths.

When the ambulance came to a stop, as the sun started to set, they came to the trenches. Plum, Roy, and Chris got escorted one way, and belatedly, Chris noticed Merry got taken off in a different direction.

“I don’t want to lose her,” Chris said.

“Good to hear you say,” Plum spoke right up.  “I’ll tell her you said that.”

“No. Yes.  You know what I meant.”

“Yes I do,” Plum said, though Chris could not be sure if the man, or elf really knew.

“Welcome to the front lines,” a sergeant said, in a heavy cockney accent.  “I am Sergeant Digby.”  He showed them first where they could relieve themselves. Then he brought them into a dugout bunker where some cots lined the wall.  “You’ll be resting here tonight.”  He put four trays of some kind of food on the table that had six seats around it.  The table also had four cups, but nothing to fill them.  “Keep the lights in the bunker so some German sniper doesn’t see and draw a bead on your head.  We are not expecting a blow tomorrow, but you never know what the Germans might have in mind, even if it is Christmas Day.  Sorry the accommodations aren’t better.  We haven’t had many newspaper people up here.  Colonel says we need to treat you as well as we can, but let you get a real look at life in these god-awful trenches.”  The Sergeant quickly came to attention, and saluted when another man entered the dugout.

“At ease Sergeant,” the man said, as he dropped a pack on one of the cots.

“This here is Lieutenant Smith,” the sergeant introduced the new man.  “He’s been assigned to act as your liaison for tonight and tomorrow.”

“I was wondering who the other meal was for,” Chris said.  “Lieutenant,” He reached to shake the man’s hand.

“Lef-tenant,” the man responded.

“Christopher Shepherd, American,” Plum said, with a thumb point at Chris.

“Oh,” the lieutenant and sergeant both sounded like that explained everything.

“One question,” Chris needed to ask.  “Where is Merry?  The red cross worker that came with us?”

“The woman?” the Sergeant asked for clarification.

“She is at the little hospital bunker we set up at the rear of the line, I am sure,” the lieutenant said.  “They do what they can for the wounded to comfort and prepare them for transport to the rear and real medical facilities.  Don’t worry.  She will be fine.”

“His fiancé,” Plum said, with another thumb jerk in Chris’ direction.

“Is not,” Chris protested, and paused a second before he added, “I haven’t asked her yet.”

The sergeant, lieutenant, and Roy all smiled for him, and the lieutenant spoke. “She will be well taken care of, no worries, Mister Shepherd.”

“I must go, get back up to the line, and all that,” Sergeant Digby told his commanding officer.

“Merry Christmas,” Chris said, wanting to distract himself from his thoughts about Merry.

“Happy Christmas to you,” the sergeant said, smiled, saluted, and left.  The others sat and had a fine supper.  Then, no one stayed up late.

In the morning before dawn, Chris went to relieve himself, and he heard what sounded like singing in the dark.  Drawn to the sound, he wound through the trenches until he reached the most forward position.  The soldiers there were singing Silent Night, and the Germans across the way were echoing with Stille Nacht.

Despite the warning, Chris poked his head above the edge of the trench.  The soldiers did not know what to do.  Being a civilian, they could not exactly order him to keep his head down.

Chris squinted in the dim light before dawn.  He saw a small group of men standing in the field that served as no-man’s land between the trenches.  They appeared to be talking.  He thought he recognized Sergeant Digby in that group.  One private poked his head up beside Chris and commented.

“Maybe we will have a temporary truce, it being Christmas and all.  Whad’ja think?”

As the sunlight cracked the sky, Chris, grabbed the tin of cookies the soldier was enjoying, slipped the white handkerchief out of the pocket of the soldier on the other side, and climbed out of the trench altogether before anyone could stop him.  To be honest, he acted out of ignorance of war and killing more than inspiration and courage.  But he did think that men should not kill each other, at least, and especially on Christmas day.

The two privates followed him, concerned about their stuff.  One said no guns, so they both laid down their rifles while Chris raised his hands, waved his white flag, and tried singing.

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,

Wei grun sind deine Blatter!

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,

Wei grun sind deine Blatter!

“Nein, nein,” Chris heard the response right away from the German line, and a big German corporal climbed his own ladder, put his hands up, and corrected the only line in German Chris knew.  “Wei Treu sind deine Blatter!”

“You sing it,” Chris said quickly, as two more Germans crawled out of the trench, and laid their rifles down in imitation of the British.  “Please.  Bitte.”

The man sang, a clean and fine baritone, while Chris at first, and then the corporal, walked toward each other.  He just about finished the song when Chris and the corporal met in the middle. Chris held out the tin.

“Christmas Cookie?”

The corporal smiled broadly.  “Danke.”

“Merry Christmas,” Chris said, and he said the same as he gave cookies to the two soldiers that followed their corporal out of the trench.  Then he turned and walked boldly up to the group in the center, his two privates following him like faithful puppy dogs. The men there had long since stopped talking in order to stare.  Chris did not hesitate.

“Christmas cookie,” he offered to the German soldier who smiled and said thank you is reasonable English.  He turned to the German sergeant, and the man looked ready to grab a handful when his Captain interrupted.

“Ein.”

The sergeant took one.  When Chris turned to the captain, he said, “Got any schnapps?”  The captain slowly smiled, and the British captain turned immediately to his trench and shouted.

“Willoughby.”

“Sir.”

“Fetch the brandy.  The good one I keep hidden in my duffle.”

“Sir?”

“And no weapons,” Chris said.

The captain did not hesitate.  “And no weapons,” he shouted.

The German captain said “Brandy,” but it sounded like he was not impressed.  He turned to his own line and shouted a series of instructions to his men.  Chris could not follow all that German, but he did hear the word schnapps several times. It seemed a prominent part of whatever the officer said.  When the man turned back to face the group, he found the British captain holding out his hand.

“Merry Christmas,” the captain said.

The German captain shook that hand, and responded in English, “Merry Christmas.”

“And a Happy New Year,” Chris said.  Both captains looked at him, so he felt it necessary to explain.  “I have no vested interest.  I am an American.”

Both captains mouthed “Oh,” as if that explained it all.

It did not take long for soldiers on both sides to start coming out, unarmed.  By noon, people all up and down the line were exchanging presents, sharing food and smokes, sharing letters from home, playing games, and generally enjoying the Christmas spirit.  Chris had no idea how long the truce might last, but he felt glad that at least on one day, they had Peace on Earth.

Plum and Roy found Chris early in the morning.  They kept up their disguise of being newspaper reporters, and Roy took plenty of pictures.  Merry found her way to the field by lunchtime, bringing tea and biscuits, as she called them, for all.  It felt like a good day, but there was one sour note.

One German, apparently egged on by one of his own red cross workers, produced a handgun. He pointed it at some British soldiers and made threatening noises.  Merry saw and shouted.  Chris ran up and stepped into the middle.

“No, no, no,” he said, in as soft and calm voice as he could muster.  “Nein.”

“Weihnachtstag,” Merry said, as she arrived to stand with Chris.  “Frieden heute.”

The man began to cry.  He dropped the gun and Merry hugged him.  Chris looked at the German Red Cross worker, but she turned to walk off.  Apparently, she laughed, and in that sound, and from her appearance, Chris could only imagine Courtney.”

Before sundown, Chris, Plum, Roy, and Merry made their way to well behind the British lines.  A food truck there just dropped off Christmas dinners for the troops.  It headed back to the train depot where it dropped off the foursome and picked up another load for the front.  Plum led them to a hotel in the town.  Plum checked them into rooms while Roy got them a table in the restaurant.  Over a fine meal, they discussed things they saw that day.  They laughed plenty, and cried a little over the whole idea of war.

Finally, Plum said they had a train to catch early in the morning.  “Just what they call a continental breakfast tomorrow, on the way back to the station.”

“Fine,” Chris said, and added the only anxious note of the day.  “Tomorrow is Thursday back home.  Maybe we can catch Lilly tomorrow, or, at least…are we getting close?”

Roy spoke before Plum could come up with an encouraging lie.  “She is more than a day away, but we have caught up some.”  He turned his head away from the table.  He did not want to look Merry or Plum in the eye.

Plum finally said, “We should go up.”  He stood, so they all stood.  Chris, who had not said anything directly to Merry all day, did not walk beside her to the elevator, and did not look at her in the elevator, though she looked only at him.

Chris gave a general “Good-night,” and went directly into his room.

Merry went into her room and spent the night weeping.