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





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.


“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, 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.”


“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.


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.


Holiday Journey 10

They had lunch in a small sandwich shop in a shopping center.  Mary and Roy had salads.  Plum and Chris got burgers, and with the food, the fog seemed to lift from Chris’ mind enough to ask a couple of questions.

“Mary,” he said.  “Don’t you have to go to work?”  Mary paused with her fork near her mouth, like he asked a surprise question.

“No,” she said rather quickly.  “I called. I got the week before Christmas off. It is the first time in forever I am not running around like a crazy woman the week before Christmas…”  She began to ramble.  Plum kindly interrupted.

“Lucky you,” he said, and pointed at her, but nudged Chris to get his attention.  “Christmas is our busy season…you know…for detectives…”  Plum also got ready to ramble, to no doubt tell an expertly crafted bit of half-truths, but Chris interrupted.

“As much as I appreciate you taking us to Lilly, who exactly is paying your fee.  I assume this isn’t for free.”

“Well, um…” Plum had to think about that.

“We are not at liberty to say,” Roy interjected.

“Exactly,” Plum said, and brightened.  “Our lips are sealed.  Wouldn’t be good detectives if we couldn’t keep confidentiality.  But I can tell you, it is someone who has your best interests at heart.  Those others took your little girl.  Tsk, tsk. Even if we weren’t getting paid, it is our moral duty to take you to her.  Yes sir. Our lips are sealed…”  He finally rambled off for a verbal stroll, stretching his tongue and lips the way others might stretch their legs.  Chris wondered what it might take to seal the man’s lips.

Chris interrupted with another question.  “So, where did they take Lily?”

“Taking her, still, I imagine,” Roy interjected again.

Plum looked at the beanpole of a man who appeared tall, even when sitting down.  Plum glanced at Mary, passing unspoken words, before he spoke.  He grimaced, like telling the plain truth about something might kill him, but the others were not going to say it, and Chris kept staring at him, waiting for an answer.

“Okay,” Plum said, and let out his breath, like he had been holding it, expecting something bad to happen.  “They are taking her to the Christmas village to see Santa Clause.”

Chris stared.  He swallowed. Then he laughed before he got out the words.  “There are Santas all over the place.  I took her to see Santa just last week.  What do you mean they took her to see Santa?”

“The real Santa,” Plum said, in all seriousness.  “The original, you might say…”  Plum let his voice fall away.  Chris continued to stare.  He did not know how to interpret that bit of information.  Roy stood up before Chris decided to call Plum crazy, or plum-loco.

“Are we ready to find Lilly?” Roy asked, diverting Chris’ attention back to the important point.

Mary stood.  “Think of Lilly.”

Chris stood slowly and picked up his backpack.  Lilly mattered, wherever those people may have taken her.  “Do I need to give you money for lunch?” he asked, trying to hold on to something concrete in his mind.  All the same, his mind raced, thinking Lilly got kidnapped by some cult that used the idea of a real Santa Claus to lure in unsuspecting kids; who knew for what nefarious purpose.

“All taken care of,” Plum assured him.  “Follow Roy.”  Plum pointed. Roy already stepped out the door and Mary stood in the door, looking back at Chris, with her eyes big and full of concern.  She appeared to be wondering about something.

Chris walked.

They walked all afternoon, and Chris figured they had to be at the edge of the city, if not out of the city altogether. They wandered through some neighborhoods which were not the best.  In those places, Chris found his worry for Lilly grow.  He hoped she did not end up in such a place, like tied in the back room of a warehouse, or some such thing.  Then again, he considered the poor people who had to live in such conditions.  The more poverty he saw, the more his feelings turned from worry about Lilly to worry about all the people who might be trapped there in one way or another. He wished for something he could do to make their lives a little easier, or at least a little happier.  Chris noticed much less snow in that place, and what remained had turned to a dirty, cold gray slush that stuck to his boots and gave no cheer.

Plum stayed unusually quiet in the afternoon. He followed behind the couple, his head lowered most of the way, like a man doing penance for something terrible.  He looked like a man who spoke out of turn, and maybe ruined everything.  Chris had to fight the urge to tell the man to cheer up.  But then again, if Plum knew something he did not share about Lilly’s situation, he needed to think about that.  He needed to share what he knew.  Chris turned to look at Mary

Mary walked dutifully beside him, her head lowered like Plum, but she sighed now and then, and appeared anxious about something.  Chris decided something important.  He reached over and took Mary’s hand.  Immediately, Mary lifted her face and smiled at him, and Chris decided he liked to see Mary smile.  He spoke over his shoulder.

“Hey, Plum.  Whatever you are fretting about, it can’t be that bad.  Cheer up.  The important thing is finding Lilly safe and sound, and I am trusting we will do that.”

“Good of you to say,” Plum said, though his expression changed little.

Chris continued.  “So, the real, original Santa Claus.”

“Yes. That’s right,” Plum said, and at least he looked up.

“And he lives in the Christmas village? … Of course, he does.”  Chris paused before his next thought.  “So, the kidnappers are taking Lilly to this Santa, and we are following?”  It was a question.

“Yes,” Plum assured him.  “As near as we can figure, that is where they are going.  Roy tracked them to the entrance to Middleton.  Roy is the tracker, you know.  The thing is, we don’t know the way they may have gone from Middleton.  The trail should be good and fresh, but that is why I said prepare for a week.  We don’t know how long a trail we might have to follow, if you see what I mean.”

Chris nodded before he shook his head.  “So, you basically don’t know where you are going.  You don’t know where this Christmas village is.  We are just hoping we don’t lose the trail.”

“You could say that,” Plum admitted, and dropped his head again.

Chris looked at Mary, who shrugged as she spoke.  “They are the only lead we have.  We will find Christmas town.  Sometimes, you just have to believe.”

Chis slowly nodded for her.  Somehow, he could believe it when Mary said it.  He wanted to smile for her, but he saw something that made him drop her hand instead.  An old minister set up a nativity scene on what appeared to be church grounds.  Two young men were harassing him, and the young woman kicked the baby Jesus into the dirt.  Chris rushed between the combatants.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked.  “It’s Christmas.”

“Christ crap,” one young man said.

“We don’t want any sky god shoved down our throats,” the other said.

“It is illegal to make a public display of your stupid religion.”

“It is illegal to promote discrimination.”

“Like a hate crime.  Like hanging nooses and burning crosses.”

“You need to get it off the street.”

“I’m offended by your stupid religion.”

The young woman, who looked like a poor copy of Courtney, merely laughed.

Chris spouted back.  “What offends you?  Christmas is about love, joy, and peace.  Are you against love, joy, or peace, or all three?

The young men paused and stared, surprised at being interrupted in their intolerant rant.  The young woman gave an angry growl.

Look. We have a family here, and a baby. Christmas is about family, and children. Are you offended by family or children? We got wise men bringing gifts. Christmas is about giving.  Are you offended by gifts, or by generous people? So, the shepherds bring in the sheep. They are kind and gentle.  And the Angels sing Joy to the world, and on Earth, peace to all people.  Christmas is the time when the light came into the world.  Even if you don’t believe in the light, plenty of people do, and a reminder is a good thing to help people remember to strive for the light. Would you rather be surrounded by people who follow the light, or those who live and do evil under the cover of darkness?  Are you offended by the light?  I understand some people are offended by the cross, and some by the resurrection. Some people don’t think they need forgiveness, and that is sad.  But Christmas is all about hope and good will toward all people.  There is nothing to be offended by.  It is a beautiful celebration of all that is good.”

Before the others could respond, a police car pulled up, blue lights flashing. The three thugs took off running as the police officer got out to talk to the old minister.  Chris heard the officer say they could not watch twenty-four hours.  Those young people would probably be back to vandalize the nativity, or some others just like them.  Chris did not understand.  A nativity does not force anyone to believe anything. It is simply a reminder that there is good in the world.  Christmas is the only celebration in the year that encourages people to be good and do good for each other.  How can anyone be against that?

Mary collected Chris, taking his arm and pulling him aside.  Roy stood by a non-descript door in a building across the street.

“This way,” Roy said, and opened the door for Plum.  Mary escorted Chris through the door and into a small, empty room that smelled of pine and sawdust.  She held his arm as they walked through the back door.  Chris imagined it would let him into the main part of the building. His jaw dropped when he saw it led them back outside, and to a very different outside than he imagined.  The snow looked white and deep, and a 1957 Chevy rolled down the plowed road in front of them.  An old Ford followed.  Chris recognized the tailfins.

“An antique car show?” Chris asked.  He noticed the buildings were not very tall, and they had space between the buildings and parking lots where trees and bushes grew.  He did not doubt that beneath the snow sat well-cut lawns and probably plenty of flowers on a spring day.

“Nope,” Plum answered.

“We are in Oz and suddenly everything is in color,” Chris tried again, as he looked at all the neon signs, and the streetlights decorated for Christmas. For that matter, everything looked decorated for the season.

“Um…nope,” Plum said.  He had to think about that one for some reason.