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 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 8

“So how can I help you?” the priest asked.

Chris wiped his eyes.  “My little girl.  She has disappeared, and I fear the worst may have happened to her.”

“Your daughter?”

“My niece.  But I have full custody and full responsibility for her.  My brother died in the war, overseas, and her mother is also presumed dead.  I promised to watch over her and take care of her, and I failed her.  We are the only family either of us has.”

“Your niece,” the priest voice sounded curious, but intended to comfort Chris.

“You may know her,” Chris just realized.  “When I used to work on Sundays, Missus Minelli, my neighbor, used to bring her here to church.”

The priest had to think for a minute before he came out with it.  “Lilly.”

Chris nodded.  “I’m the Christopher you may have heard about.”

“Uncle Chris,” the priest nodded, and smiled, but Chris could not smile.  “She disappeared?”

“In the middle of the night,” Chris confessed.  “I woke up and she was gone.”

The priest paused to look toward Mary.  He seemed to see something.  “Do not be afraid,” he said.  “You found no sign of violence.  You must believe Lilly is fine, and I have a feeling that you will find her, safe and sound.”

Chris tried to nod.  “I am glad someone feels that way.”  He sniffed to control his emotions.  “I have not done her much good.  I have a college degree, but I haven’t been able to find a job worth much, and even those I found, I haven’t been able to keep.  Maybe if she is safe and sound, maybe she is better off without me.”

“We are always better off with each other.”

“Maybe,” Chris shrugged.  “After these few years with Lilly, I don’t much like the prospect of being alone.” He tried hard to avoid crying again.

The priest pointed to Mary.  “But you do not appear to be alone.  You have one who cares about you.  I believe she may help you find the way you need to go.  I have seen that look before, you know.”

Chris shook his head.  He did not understand what the priest was talking about.  He also stared at Mary for a minute.  The angel could not be seen.

###

“Please,” Mary begged, though only the angel heard her.  “Please, most holy one.”  The angel let out the smallest sliver of a smile.

“You said your heart belonged to the one who bears the Spirit of Christmas.” the angel said.

“It does…I…”  Mary had to pause and think about that.  “I love the dear old man.  And I cried when his Missus went over to the other side.  I cried every day when he sat by her bedside and held her hand.  I cried when he said good-bye.  I cry, still.  Oh, but he is so old now, and sad.  Surely his time is ending.”  Mary wiped a small tear from her eye.  “Oh, but Chris makes me feel all the love, joy, and peace of Christmas, just to look at him…” Mary had to pause again to think about what her heart wanted to propose. It would be asking a lot.  “Maybe Chris could come to Christmas Town and share the burden, to give the dear old man a rest.”  She fell silent, and prepared for whatever answer she might receive.

“He may be the one, I cannot say, but he will have to come the long way around.”

“We will,” Mary said, with some hope in her voice.

“He will have to find out about Lilly on his own.  You cannot tell him about her.”

“I won’t,” Mary said, with determination.

“He will be tested.  He will be tested in the heart where no words can go.  If he fails a test or turns back at any time, he will find himself home, alone, with no memory of you or that he ever started the journey.”

Mary dropped her eyes once again.  “I understand,” she said.  The angel offered her a gift of hope.  It would not do to argue.

“You will have to tell him who you really are, and show him.”

“Right now?”

“No. It needn’t be now.  But it must be soon.  It will also be a test.”

Mary began to cry for fear that he might not like her the way she really was. Some humans seemed thrilled to find their fantasies come to life, but most refused to believe it, and some feared it and accused anything non-human as being demonic and of the devil.  It would be a great risk to reveal herself, but the angel was right again.  Chris would have to know long before he got anywhere near the Christmas village.

“I will do it,” she said, with determination creeping back into her voice.

“Good,” the angel responded, and nearly let out the full smile.  “Plum and Roy will come in the morning to help guide him in the way you need to go.”

“Plum and Roy?” Mary suddenly sounded uncertain again.  “Must it be them?”  Mary’s phone got a text message.

“They were charged to watch the apartment, and watch Chris and Lilly over these many months.  Plum and Roy are the ones to guide him.  That is how it must be,” the angel said, and vanished utterly from that place.

Mary looked up at a sound.  Chris left off his cry and looked up at the same sound.  A couple of men came in a side door, carrying statues of two wise men. One looked like a priest, and he spoke to the other.

“George. Did you forget to relock the side door?”

“I must have,” George admitted.

“The church is closed right now,” the priest said, nice and loud.  “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Father?” Chris said, and turned around, but the older priest he had been speaking with disappeared as surely as Lilly disappeared.

“We were just looking for a place to pray,” Mary said, nice and loud in response, as she walked over to stand beside Chris.  “Thank you, but we have what we need.”  She put out her hand.  Chris took it without hesitation, and stood, but he looked at her with curiosity and some concern.

“George, would you let them out,” the priest said, and George pulled out some keys and stood to wait for them to move.

“It’s all right,” Mary encouraged Chris.  “I know what we need to do to find Lilly.”  She gently drew him toward the door.

“What? You had a vision of some kind?”

Mary shook her head.  “I got a text,” she said, and paused to smile for George as they squeezed out the door and heard it lock behind them.  “We need to start by going home.”

Chris dropped Mary’s hand, but he did start to walk slowly toward the apartments. He could not think of what else to do. It started getting late, and he felt emotionally worn out.  “Will she be home?” he asked.

Mary shook her head, and handed her phone to him.  He read the text out loud.

“From Plum and Roy?  We were contracted to watch the apartment over the weekend and saw the ones who took Lilly.  Lilly is fine, but Roy followed them and we know where she is being taken.  We will come around on Monday morning and take you to her.  Be prepared for a week-long journey.  No passport needed.  Roy says sorry.  No charge for our service, but donations accepted.”

They walked the whole way without a word, Mary’s face scrunched-up in deep thought. She could not imagine telling Chris that she was in fact a Christmas elf.  She worried about how he might react.  She worried that he might not like her anymore.

They checked with Missus Minelli, found Lilly had not returned, and went into Chris’ apartment to sit and wait.

“Nothing will happen until tomorrow,” Mary said.  “Monday morning.”

Chris sat on the couch and Mary sat beside him.  She took his hand again, with the idea that she would offer whatever comfort she could muster, but her nervousness came out instead.  She began to worry his hand.  She kept looking up into his stone-like face.  She decided she could not imagine what he might be thinking.  He surprised her.  He bent toward her and kissed her smack on the lips, and she kissed him back with her whole heart.  They separated slowly.

Chris and Mary sat, staring at each other for several more minutes, not moving, and not making a sound.  Finally, Mary thought to say something.

“I think we finished the macaroni and cheese.  I could scramble some eggs.”

Chris laughed.  He laughed so hard, he fell off the couch.  It sounded like a kind of nervous laugh, but Mary laughed as well, empathic elf that she was.  Chris laughed himself to tears, before he finally stood and calmed enough to speak.

“I’m not really hungry.  I think I need to go lie down.”  He went to his room.

Mary curled up on the couch and cried a little.  “Please don’t let this be the end of it,” she thought out loud.  She seemed to feel like it might work out.  At least she did not disappear from the room, as the angel said, if he failed a test.  So, when the sun set, she slept, with only a brief prayer for happy dreams.

Holiday Journey 7

Chris put a note on the door.  It had instructions directing Lilly to stay with Missus Minelli, if she should come back. He got Missus Minelli from next door to watch for Lilly.  Missus Minelli, an older widow, had children and grandchildren who lived some distance away. She did not get visited very often by her own family.  She loved Lilly, and watched her from time to time before these last few months, when Mary moved in.  Chris said nothing about Lilly being missing, though Missus Minelli might have guessed something was up.  Hers had been the very first door they knocked on when they started knocking on doors.  Still, Chris let the assumption stand that Lilly had gone out, perhaps with friends, though he did not say exactly where she might have gone.

“Lilly knows, if I am not home, to stay with you until I get home.”

“I remember,” Missus Minelli said.  “Lilly is such a nice, polite child.  But where should I tell her you are going?”

“Mary and I are going to church,” Chris said.  “And thank you for being there for me, and for Lilly.”

“Happy to do it,” Missus Minelli said.  Her old, craggy face wrinkled up in a big smile as she eyed Chris and Mary. “You two make a lovely couple.”

“Oh, we’re not…” Chris started to say something, but looked at Mary, who looked back at him with those big, puppy-dog eyes, wondering what he would say, and how he might feel about that idea.  Chris let his voice drop and said, “Thank you,” to Missus Minelli.  “We won’t be long.”

He walked beside Mary to the elevator.  She dropped her eyes to the floor.  He never stopped staring at her, even on the elevator; but she never looked up at him.  At last, they stepped outside, and Chris took Mary’s hand; and then he would not look at her. But Mary looked at him and smiled with all her might, and her heart danced the three blocks to the church.

 

Cue: Angels We Have Heard on High

A Holiday Journey, The London Symphony Orchestra

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

 

Chris, like so many his age, made it through church confirmation, and did not go much after that.  He was not sure what he believed, exactly, but he knew he believed in love, and so did God, apparently.  That seemed to be what the church believed in, even if most Christians did not live or act that way.   He believed in love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and all that God supposedly taught, even if most people did not live it or really believe it for themselves. He tried to do these things in his life, and he tried go to church since he and Lilly got left on their own.  He felt it was important for Lilly to hear and learn about God—about love, joy and peace.  She certainly would hot hear about such things on the street.

He found his Episcopal church closed and locked up tight.  He took Mary slowly down the street, and mumbled something about it being a week before Christmas, and Sunday no less, and the church had no business being closed and locked. They tried several other mainline churches in town before they got to the Catholic church at the end of the street. Chris never stopped holding Mary’s hand, and Mary never stopped smiling.  Chris did not smile at the thought of the churches being closed the Sunday before Christmas.  It irked him.

They found a small side door open at the Catholic church.  It let them into the sanctuary.  They found a very old priest there, setting up the nativity scene for next Sunday.  It would be Christmas Eve, with Christmas Day on the following Monday.  The priest noticed as they came in.  He waved, but kept to his task, while Mary genuflected briefly at the altar and Chris went to sit in a pew and cry. He wanted to cry out to God for help, but he did not know how.  He could only hope God could read what sat so heavily in his heart.

Mary wandered to an alcove where there appeared to be a statue of a saint.  It might have been Nicholas.  She was not sure, but in any case, her heart and prayers went out to the one above all the saints.  Her tears were large, but quiet.  Her words got whispered.

“He is broken.  How can I abandon him?  He is such a good and wonderful man.  I cannot leave him alone to suffer.”

“And you love him,” the words came to her, as a tall, thin blonde, with the lightest eyes, that sparkled with specks of gold, appeared before her.  It was the Christmas angel.  Mary trembled in the presence of the angel, and a holy fear gripped her heart.

“Merry.” The angel called her by her name.  “Do not be afraid.”

“Holy one,” Mary responded, and found herself opening-up, almost like her heart could not keep quiet.  “I do love him.  He is my heart,” she used the well-known fairy phrase.  “I know the little spirits are not supposed to form attachments with mortal humans, but I would become human in a heartbeat, give up all the glories of the second heavens, and never return to the land of Christmas, if only I could be with him for the rest of our days.”

“And Lilly”

“That was…I…” she could not say the angel was wrong.  Such words were unthinkable.  Clearly, the angel allowed Lilly to be taken quietly in the night. Lilly belonged with her mother, and generally, it was better if humans did not know about such things; but Mary had to express her feeling.  Neither would the angel accept anything less than the truth.  “He deserves to know what happened to her.”

“No one deserves,” the angel said.  “What humanity deserves for sin and rebellion is horrible beyond imagining.  Instead, what they got was a baby in a manger, who grew and died so they would not have to get what they deserved.”

Mary lowered her head.  She knew, and above all honored the story of how the source chose to deal with humanity on that most basic and deep rooted level.  The trouble was, as a non-human, her place was to be obedient to the source as represented in the form of the angel that stood before her.  She was to do her work in the world, and could only hope that she might be included in the miracle of grace.  Mary said no more.  She could not argue with such a statement.  All she could do was turn her head and look longingly at Chris, and maybe pray for him.

“Two brothers,” the angel spoke over her shoulder.  “The older brother, the most fortunate of men, both loved and was loved in return by a fairy for however brief a time.  Now, the younger brother has captured the heart of a young elf maiden.”

“Now and forever,” Mary said, and watched as the old priest finally stepped over to talk to Chris.

Holiday Journey 6

Someone knocked on the door.

Mister Banks came in, followed by a police officer.  Chris went for the police officer, not that he meant to snub his landlord.

“Good. You are here about Lilly?”  He assumed as much, but the police officer looked at Mister Banks, and the landlord spoke.

“I brought the police.  I wanted a witness in case you go mad or something.  I want that offensive sign off my building immediately.  You are defacing my property in violation of your lease.  It is offensive.”

“What sign, Oh…”

“I just got out of church, and looked up and see this offensive sign, on my building. My building.”  Mister Banks turned to underline his ownership with the police officer.

“But Christmas is on Monday this year, a week from tomorrow.  It is a national holiday, on the calendar, banks are closed and everything.  What is offensive?  Are you objecting to the national holiday, or the fact that I hope everyone has a happy holiday?  I didn’t know joy was offensive.”

“Don’t play games with me,” Mister Banks yelled.  “You are defacing my property in clear violation of your lease.  I am giving you thirty-days-notice.  I want you out by the first of the year.”

“Today’s the seventeenth,” the police officer said.  “Thirty-days would be January seventeenth.”

Mister Banks pointed a finger in the police officer’s face, and continued to yell. “Now, don’t you start quibbling. Get out,” he yelled at Chris and stomped out.

“Merry Christmas,” Chris shouted after the man.

“Merry Christmas,” the police officer said quietly in return, smiled, and gently closed the door.  Chris turned around, but Mary went to the kitchen area to make another pot of coffee.

Someone knocked on the door, again.

Mary came back from the coffee pot to find a sheriff explaining the paper. “The subpoena is an order for a court appearance for Wednesday, January third, after the New Year.”

“All fine and well, but Lilly’s not here.”

“The little girl?”

“If she was here,” Mary said.  “Why couldn’t she stay here at least through Christmas?”

The sheriff shrugged.  “I got a court order to pick her up and take her to a foster home.”

“Well, I already filed a missing person report with the police.  I’m expecting someone to come from the police department to take a statement,” Chris said.  “She is just six-years-old.  I am terribly worried about her.”

“We already checked all of her friend’s apartments,” Mary said.

“And out front, in the basement and on the roof,” Chris added.  “I was about to start calling her school friends, though she did not take her coat.  Come to think of it, her pajamas are on the bed, but her clothes look undisturbed. For all I know, she is walking around naked somewhere.”

“She disappeared?”  The Sheriff wanted to be sure.

“I put her to bed last night.  I went to bed, and when I woke up, she was gone.”

“Excuse me,” the sheriff said, and stepped aside to get on his radio.  After that, he left, and Chris checked Lilly’s clothes, commented again about her walking around naked, and got on the phone. Mary kept him supplied with coffee, and every chance she had, she encouraged him, that everything would work out for the best.

Finally, someone knocked on the door…again.

The policeman arrived to take a statement, at last.  Chris told him everything, honestly; including the part about waking up in the morning and discovering the apartment decorated with decorations he did not buy.

“Someone broke into your apartment in the middle of the night and put up all these Christmas decorations.”

“Yes,” Chris said.

“Yes,” Mary echoed.

That was the only question the officer asked, before he stood.  “I think I have everything I need.  I gotta go type this up.  If you think of anything else, call the station.  You got my card.  Otherwise, we will be in touch.”

“When?” Chris asked the inevitable question.

The officer shrugged.  “We will keep our eyes and ears open.”  He held a photo of Lilly, and slipped it in his jacket pocket as he left.

Mary stepped up with another cup of coffee, and Chris asked.  “Do we have anything else to eat?”

Mary looked up at him with big, sad, puppy-dog eyes.  “I got left-over macaroni and cheese.  I’m sorry, I don’t cook much.  Back home, we have great cooks, so I never get a chance…”

He cut her off by hugging her, but before he could shut the apartment door, someone else appeared.  Courtney looked dressed to kill, her face painted to perfection.  She stood, one hand near the end of her dyed hair, which made her a red head, though she should have been blonde in the worst sense of the word.  As Chris studied the woman seriously, and for the first time, he noticed everything appeared artificial or enhanced in some way.  In fact, he could not find one thing off hand that said, “This is the way God made me”.  He felt both sorry for her and terribly repulsed by that revelation at the same time

Mary let out a little shriek.  She saw devil horns, the red painted nails as bloody claws, and the heels as cloven hooves. She shut her eyes and buried her face in Chris’ shoulder.

“And who is this?” Courtney asked in a voice that suggested ownership.

“Mary, from across the hall.  She has been helping me since Lilly went missing.”

“Missing?” Courtney did not know, which saddened Chris a little, because she seemed the only one he could think of to blame for Lilly’s disappearance.  “I heard the sheriff came and took her away.”

“And how did you hear that?” Chris asked, before he had a thought.  “You have a friend that works at the courthouse? Maybe another friend works for 9-1-1?”

“What are you implying?”  Courtney stood tall on her heels, but all Chris saw was one big heel.  He wondered why he ever cared for her.

“Not implying,” Chris said.  “You got me laid off.  You got the court to review custody.  You got the sheriff to pick her up, and right before Christmas.  I got evicted.  Is this your new sport?  Finding ways to torment me?”

“I had nothing to do with you being evicted,” Courtney defended herself, while her wide-open mouth and eyes betrayed her true intentions.

“You did not plan on Lilly disappearing,” Mary said, without lifting her head from Chris’ chest.

“Right, and God willing, she is well beyond your reach.”

“How dare you—” Courtney got that much out before Chris interrupted.

“Mary and I are going to church.  You should consider it.  I understand Father Stephano hears a great confession.”  Chris slammed the door in Courtney’s face

“Church?” Mary looked up into Chris’ face, but did not want to let go.

“Right after macaroni and cheese,” he said, and he let go.

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

MONDAY

A Holiday Journey: Chris and Mary seek some advice and get some unexpected help.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Holiday Journey 5

Chris got up in the morning, and stretched.  Sunday morning, he thought.  Maybe he should take Lilly to church.  It certainly would not hurt for him to go.

Chris opened the door to his room and paused.  His eyes grew wide.  Someone got into his apartment in the night and decorated.  He saw Christmas decorations everywhere.  He loved them, but to be honest, he imagined, Lilly will love them the most.  He first thought to blame Mary.  She had a spare key in case of an emergency.  His second thought was to wake Lilly, to show her; and he grinned, secretly, for what he felt would be a big, wonderful surprise.

Lilly was not in her bed.

“Lilly,” Chris called.  He poked his head back into the living area and shouted toward the kitchen.  “Lilly.”  It occurred to him that maybe Mary came over early, and maybe Lilly helped decorate the place.  They said they spent an hour and a half looking at decorations.  He really did not pay attention to the bags they carried, except to carry a couple, because they said they bought him a present.  He wasn’t supposed to peek.  And after decorating, maybe Mary and Lilly went out for treats.  He could not imagine how they did all this, and quietly, so he could sleep.  Then again, maybe the decorating woke him up in the end.  It did seem rather earlier than he normally got up on Sunday morning.

Chris got dressed, made some coffee, and waited as patiently as he could.  At last, he ran out of patience.  He went across the hall and knocked on Mary’s door. He waited again.  He knocked again.  Mary came to the door in her nightgown, rubbing her eyes, and Chris paused on that vision.

“Did you age five years overnight?” he asked.  Mary raised her eyebrows, looked up at him, but said nothing since she did not appear to be awake.  “I figured you for a college girl.  How old are you?”

“How old do you want me to be?” she asked softly, and somehow, the opening of her mouth to talk caused her to yawn.

“Is Lilly here?”  Chris got to the point.

“No,’ Mary said, and opened her door as if inviting him in to check.  He stepped only into the entranceway; enough to look around.  He had never actually been in Mary’s apartment before.  All he saw was Christmas.

“I see the Christmas bug got you, too.”

Mary looked down, shyly, like she did not know what to say, except she did not want to lie to him.  “Old family tradition,” she finally said, like an admission.  “Most of these decorations are like the decorations on your tree.  They are older than I am.”

Chris paused with one eye on a porcelain Santa doll, before he turned and eyed her, suspiciously.  “You weren’t there when I mentioned that to Lilly.  How did you know about the decorations for the tree being older than I am?”

Mary fidgeted, and would not look him in the eye.  “You mentioned it over supper.  Maybe Lilly mentioned it.  But what is this about Lilly being missing?”  She needed to change the subject

Chris shook his head.  “There are other kids in the building.  Maybe she is feeling better and went out to play so she would not disturb me.  There are a half-dozen kids she played with over the summer.”

“Has she done that sort of thing before?” Mary asked, “Leaving without telling you?”

“No,” Chris admitted.  “But maybe she did not want to wake me.”  He looked at Mary who returned a look of concern, anticipation, and something else Chris did not want to think about.  “I made coffee,” he said, quickly, before he said something out of line. Mary looked very attractive in her nightgown.

“I’ll get dressed and be right over,” Mary responded, and Chris watched her close her door.  He stared for a moment at the outside of the door, thinking improper thoughts, before he went into his own place and called again for Lilly.

Mary did not take long.  While she poured, and sipped some coffee, Chris noticed the window.  It looked unlocked and cracked open just a bit. That felt odd, since he never opened that window, and did not even know it could be opened.  The feeling that Lilly may have been taken in the night washed over him.  He felt very afraid for her, and got upset, imagining the worst.

Chris pushed up the window, and saw the screen in place, but for a small hole which had been cut to allow an electric wire inside.  He followed the cord to the plug before he craned his neck against the window.  Something looked lit up on the outside of the building, and it appeared to stretch the entire length of the building beneath his windows.  It looked like Christmas lights.  He went to his bedroom to see if it stopped there, or if his electric bill would have to cover the cost of something lighting up the whole outside of the building.  Mary came on his heels, coffee cup in hand, and he turned to her.

“Did you put up all these decorations?”

“No. I did not do any of the decorations in your apartment,” she said, honestly.  “Why?  Don’t you like them?”

Chris went back to the kitchen, and Mary followed.  He picked up a porcelain Santa that looked remarkably like the one he saw in Mary’s room.  “I like them well enough, but now I am seriously worried.  If you didn’t do this, who did?  I have to find Lilly.”  He headed for the door and grabbed his coat, and his phone.  Mary still followed, but offered a thought on the way out.

“I don’t think anyone who would sneak in and decorate your rooms would kidnap Lilly. I mean, Merry Christmas, and by the way, I am kidnapping your little girl doesn’t make sense.”

Chris did not answer.  He began knocking on doors, starting with Missus Minelli next door, and then where he knew the children lived, beginning with the apartment of the little girl in Lilly’s class who sometimes visited.  No one knew anything about where Lilly might be.  Chris and Mary checked the laundry room in the basement, and the roof, where the children were never supposed to go.  Chris knocked on the building manager’s door, and no surprise, no one answered.

He had a terrible thought and called the hospital, though he could not imagine medics coming in an ambulance and stealing a little girl; and without waking him.

Chris walked out of the building front door, but said to Mary, “She wouldn’t go out. Her coat is still hanging upstairs.” He walked to the side of the building, and saw the lights hanging perfectly beneath his windows.  It appeared to be a blanket of little gold and silver lights that stretched the perfect length of his apartment.  Carved out of the gold, in red and green letters, and surrounded by the gold and silver, the sign said, “Merry Christmas”.  To be fair, the main part of Chris’ heart and mind loved the sign.  Only a small part worried about his electric bill.

“It is cold out here,” Mary admitted, as she made a small snowball and tossed it to him, rather than at him.  “She wouldn’t come out here.”  Chris ignored the snow, but nodded to the cold.  They went back up to the third-floor hallway, but did not get back to Chris’ rooms before he had his phone out again to call the police.  Mary tried to say something, but Chris put her off.

“But, she is only six-years-old.”  He had to say that, several times.  Finally, the police agreed to send someone out, even if it was Sunday.  Chris hung up.

Chris looked both angry and upset.  “They say the law for minors requires a twenty-four-hour waiting period before they can do anything.  That is so stupid.  A child could be frozen to death, or abused and left for dead in some dumpster alleyway in twenty-four hours.”  He sat heavily on the couch.  “Now I am scared for her.  I thought she was with you.  She wasn’t. I thought she was with her friends. She wasn’t.  I thought she was off playing.  Again, no sign of her.”  He found a few tears, and spoke from his heart.  “I thought I could raise her.  I fought to get her.  I’m the only family she has.  She is the only family I have.”  He cried softly and briefly.  Mary found some tears, too, as she sat beside him on the couch, and surrounded his hands with her own.

“We will find her.  She will be all right.  Believe that. Why should we believe she is in trouble?”

“Um, decorations,” Chris said, as he moved his hands so he could hold Mary’s hands more securely.  “Someone came in here last night, and now Lilly is gone.  That can’t be coincidence.”

“Okay,” Mary said, and reluctantly let go of his hands to point out certain things. “So, let us look at the evidence. Everything here says love, joy to the world, peace on earth, and good will to all people.  There is no evil in any of it.  Judging by the evidence, if we believe the decorators took her, we should think only good has happened to Lilly.  We have to believe that.  Sometimes, you just have to believe.”  She touched the roof of the little table-top manger before she sat down and reached for his hands again.  Chris hesitated, before he nodded and gave her his hands; and Mary’s face lit up with her smile, like a Christmas light.  Chris smiled, too, but on the inside.