Monday, December 10, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 10

It would have been easy to mistake them for three old men standing in a field of snow. In some ways you would have been right. Between the three of them they had lived over one thousand years and though they had never counted their ages it was often accepted that the Wise was the oldest.
Each of them stood a staff’s distance away from one another. Their banners planted at the edges of the field bore their totems. The banner of the Wise showed an owl in flight, the White’s bore an eagle, the Headmaster’s held a phoenix. Why were they all birds in flight? If you asked any of them they would tell you some version of, “the mind must take flight to achieve its greatest purpose.” In reality, they just liked the birds and it could have easily been an eye, a pentagram, or some luggage as it was with other wizards.
“The rules are set,” said the Headmaster.
“As they have always been,” said the Wise.
“Since we were boys,” said the White.
“Then I suppose,” said the Headmaster, “we should begin.”
The other two flew backwards as a geyser of snow burst from the ground. The Wise reached out and with a quick motion moved a mound of snow to break his fall. The White waved his hand in a circle and the falling flakes of snow whirled around him, slowing his descent and righting him before setting him on the ground.
“Good shot,” said the White. “Let me try.” He stepped forward and pushed his hands towards the Headmaster. The snow between them began to flow and move like water. It pushed towards the Headmaster forming small ripples then waves. Then the snow rose up in a tidal wave shape and smashed towards the Headmaster.
The Headmaster reached out towards his banner and with a physical effort pulled himself to the flag and out of the crashing snow wave.
A large boulder of snow whipped past the White barely missing him. The White turned and saw the Wise standing next to a huge catapult. The Wise waved one hand and a new boulder rolled up to the catapult and loaded itself into the basket. With his other hand he was directing the snow to build itself into more war machines.
“I thought we agreed no weapons,” called the White.
“We said we could only use snow,” said the Wise. “The catapults are made of snow.”
As another boulder was about to fire a horde of snowmen armed with clubs and swords made of ice rolled into the two arguing wizards.
The Wise stepped back and motioned his hands towards the ground. Icicle spikes launched from the snow and impaled the marching snowmen. 
With a twist of his wrist the Headmaster’s snow man army formed ranks and raised their shields blocking many of the icicles. Waving his other hand he made the soldiers in the back draw back on bow strings and fire a hail of frozen arrows over the soldiers in front ant the Wise.
The White slammed his hands on the ground and sent a ripple out across the field of snow. As the ripple grew from a tremor to a full earthquake the other wizards launched themselves into the air. The Wise riding an eddy of air and the Headmaster having formed platform from the snow around him and flying it upwards.
The ground below exploded into a giant ice golem. The beast stood sixty feet high. It roared so loud it shook snow and ice off nearby trees. The creature turned towards the Wise and lurched forward. The White moved with the beast; each step one took so did the other.
Wise dropped to the ground and raised his hands as if pulling up on a garage door. The ground exploded and a giant wall of snow rose to the sky. “You shall not pass,” called the Wise.
“Very funny,” yelled the White.
The great beast raised its hands and brought them down on the wall. It held, but only just.
The Headmaster held out his hand and his wand, left to the side at the beginning of the battle, rose to him. Holding it like a conductor’s wand he pulled the moisture from the air and whipped it into a mass of shapes. At first it was a small and flighty like a swarm of bees. As the spell went on the shapes grew to the size of hail, then golf balls, and finally snowballs. The giant swarm of snowballs hurtled towards the other two wizards.
The giant golem waved its arm to knock back the vicious assault and tore a swath through the giant mass. The Wise whistled and caused the wall shift around to block the assault.
As the three mighty spells slammed into one another the mountains shook, the sky brightened, and the clouds parted. The golems arm shattered, the snowballs exploded into fluff, and the wall detonated. The three wizards were cast to the ground. Each using some measure of their abilities to cushion their falls.
They lay there.
After a long moment a voice was heard. “That was an excellent snow fight,” said the Wise.
“I agree,” said the Headmaster.
“Shall we go for coco and a bit of pipe weed,” asked the White.
“Yes,” said the Headmaster.
“That would be nice,” said the Wise.
All three men stood and with waves of their hands their banners packed themselves in small bundles and floated to the owning wizard.
Their afternoon of play finished, the three wizards went to have a nice rest before a blazing fire.

Wizards in Winter

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 9

The gunshot rocked the small town of Schultz Valley that cold Christmas morning. The townsfolk had stopped moving as the sheriffs body fell to the ground.
“I swear,” yelled Mad Dog Pritchett, “if any more of you four flushing farmers moves another step I’ll put a hole in ya.” Mad Dog waved his custom colt around to emphasize the point. “All I want is you to point me towards your bank manager and we’ll be about our business.”
This display was viewed by a pair of siblings seated on a balcony of the local hotel.
“He certainly has a flair for the dramatic,” said Linus.
“A bit over wrought for my taste,” said Luce.
“I feel we should do something,” said Linus. “After all we did come here to rob the bank as well.”
“We were first,” said Luce drinking from her coffee.
Linus cut into his steak and eggs as the commotion went on. “The bank manager doesn’t seem to be coming forward.”
“Nope,” said Luce. “You reckon it’s loyalty that no one is outing him?”
“I told you last night,” said Linus. “He’s visiting his sister at her ranch. He won’t be back till tomorrow.”
“That’s right,” said Luce.
Another gunshot cut through the air. The siblings looked down to see Mad Dog standing over a young man gripping his knee. “I told you all,” screamed Mad Dog. “You bring me the manager or it’s gonna get five shades of ugly.”
“But we told you he’s not here,” said a woman in the crowd.
“Do I look stupid to you?” asked Mad Dog.
Luce took a drink of her coffee. “It’s like he’s purposely trying to be stupid.”
“He’s certainly not listening to anyone,” said Linus. “This is why you recon a town before riding in and robbing it.”
“His men aint to bright either,” said Luce.
“It’s what you attract when you have a name like Mad Dog.”
“Maybe,” said Luce. “Just, there are eight of them. You’d think one of them would have the brains to fan out, climb to a higher vantage, or draw a weapon. They’re just standing clumped up laughing. You ever heard of this fella?”
“A little,” said Linus. “The name is very appropriate. He rushes in, doesn’t plan well, and tends to let his temper get the best of him. He gets big paydays by being brash but ends up on the wrong side of just as many slaughters for the same reason.”
“He gives us proper villains a bad name.”
“Amen to that.”
Linus and Luce clicked their coffee cups together.
“Aw hell,” said Luce. “Why’d he have to go and do that for?”
Linus looked down on the town center. Mad Dog had just kicked a small child over and was threatening him with his pistol.
“Damnit,” said Linus. He took one last bite of steak then stood up reaching for his gun belt.
“To think,” said Luce reaching for her rifle. “We was gonna hit that bank tomorrow.”
“What difference a day makes,” said Linus. “But like or mama used to say. You don’t hurt kids. Shoot the men, beat the women, kill the occasional horse, but never hurt the children.”
“How you want to do this?” asked Luce.
“Excuse me,” yelled Linus. “Would you mind not pointing your gun at that child; it’s ruining my breakfast?”
“So,” said Luce. “We’re just jumping right in.”
Mad Dog turned to the siblings. “Who in the high haunting hell are you?”
“You have a magnificent way of cursing,” called Luce.
Tipping his hat. “I’m Linus and this is my sister Luce.”
The gang laughed. One of the men yelled out, “Howdy loose. Let’s be friends.”
Luce pulled her rifle up, shot the man through the chest, and one hand spin cocked it before anyone had a chance to react. “Luce, it’s short for Lucy. Anyone else have a joke they want to tell.”
The gang quickly began to move apart drawing weapons and aiming for the balcony.
“You accuse me of just jumping in,” said Linus as he sprung over the balcony and landed on the back of a horse saddled outside the hotel. The horse reared and Linus rolled off its back flipping over and landing on his feet near the townsfolk. He stood drew his pistol and fired two quick shots dropping one of Mad Dogs men.
As the man fell Linus turned to the townsfolk. “Run damn it.”
The townsfolk did as told and took off for the nearest shelter. Linus ran in the opposite direction trying to draw fire from the gang. He almost made it to cover when a bullet tore through his leg.
Luce stayed on the balcony using her rifle to cover Linus. She noticed one of Mad Dog’s men climbing the awning of the saloon, took aim, and shot him. The screamed once and fell backwards to the ground.
The railing in front of her took several hits. One bullet hit its mark tearing into her side. Luce grunted in pain.
Linus ducked down behind a water trough and shot at some men hiding behind hay bales on a wagon. Watching his shot do little more than dust up some hay Linus changed his target and aimed for the ground just behind the horse hooked to the wagon. On the second shot the horse spooked and bolted down the street. The two men panicked as their cover ran away from them giving Linus all the time he needed to drop them both.
Luce heard men bursting into the hotel through the door beneath her. “You think they’d be quiet about sneaking up on me.” She moved away from the balcony and back into the room. Walking across to the door to the hall Luce pulled it open just in time to see three men coming up the stairs. She emptied her rifle down the stairs killing the first two.
As the third drew a bead and fired he was caught under the bodies of his falling friends. His shot went wide and slammed into Luce’s shoulder.
She fell backwards against the wall, drew her pistol, and fired. Her shot tore through the man’s throat. Luce then moved to the door and the street while reloading her rifle.
Men had started to move in on Linus, surrounding his position. He rose to kneeling and fired a few more shots causing them to hunker down for fear of being shot.
“Linus,” yelled Luce. “I’m coming.” She jogged across the street using the rifle to keep men pinned down. Linus ducked down under the trough as Luce launched herself over top of it and into cover.
“We maybe should have thought about this a bit more before committing,” said Luce.
Linus rose and fired three quick shots. “We have had better ideas.”
 A man coming around the corner walked into a shot from Luce’s rifle. “Weren’t we just laughing at Mad Dog for not having a plan?”
“That sounds like us.” Linus rose and shot again. He ducked back down and opened the cylinder on his revolver and began to reload. “After this I’m empty.”
Luce pulled her pistol and handed it to Linus. “Take this. I got a full load in the rifle.”
“You rancid sacks of donkey crap. I swear I’m gonna see you both dead,” yelled Mad Dog.
“He does have a style about him,” said Luce.
“I’ll admit to that,” said Linus. “How many men do you think he has left?”
“He had eight when this started,” said Luce. “How many you killed so far?”
“Two maybe three. You?”
“Three maybe four.”
“Show off,” said Linus.
“Think we can take the rest?’ asked Luce.
“Sure,” said Linus. “Besides if we don’t this is just the kind of last stand that people will remember forever.”
“Think we’ll get a statue?” asked Luce.
“I hope they give me a proper hat,” said Luce. “Can’t abide people remembering me in bad hat.”
“On three,” asked Linus.
Luce got her rifle ready. “Yeah.”
“One,” said Linus holding a pistol in each hand.
“Two,” said Luce cracking her fingers to limber them.
“Three,” they both said as they rose up and rounded the water trough firing into Mad Dog and his men.
Bullets tore through the air in both directions. Mad Dog was the first to fall. One of his men followed shortly behind him. Linus stumbled as bullets ripped into his body. Luce staggered to one side as a shot hit her the gut. Linus went down emptying his gun taking a few men with him. Luce fell firing her last shot into the head of Mad Dog’s last man.
The town fell silent.
If you ever happen to find yourself in the town of Shultz Valley then I suggest you find your way to the town center where you may find the statue of a pair of siblings who saved the town one Christmas morning, so many years ago. Both of them in proper hats.

Linus and Lucy

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 8

“I want it now,” screamed the Barbarian King.
“Of course my lord,” said the Village Elder. “It’s just we’re not sure exactly what you want.”
“”Love,” said the Barbarian King. “Bring it to me.”
The King was tall and powerful. His muscles glistened in the light of the large bonfire that had been built in the center of his massive yurt. He sat on a tall throne forged of steel and decorated with skulls, antlers, and other trophies from his conquests. The sides of the yurt had been raised so his horde could gather around and watch the villagers and laugh at their failures.
The village elder bowed again. “We have Melinda,” said the Elder motioning towards a young woman standing in the crowd. “She is our most beautiful girl. She will gladly go with you to spare our village.”
The King rose from his throne and walked towards the woman. He walked around her judging her as one might a calf at auction.
Melinda was the most beautiful woman in the village. When she gained marrying age many of the young men had sought to court her.
The King stopped in front of her. “Tell me girl, do you love me?”
“Yes, my lord,” said Melinda.
“I am all you think of?” asked the King.
“As you command, my lord,” said Melinda.
The paused and took a deep breath. Then he screamed, “WHO IS IT THAT HOLDS YOUR HEART! TELL ME HIS NAME OR I SHALL BURN THIS VILLAGE TO THE GROUND!”
Melinda backed away, arms held up to shield her from the King. “Malcolm. I love Malcolm.”
Melinda stood and ran from the tent.
The King turned to the Elder. “The sun sets behind the mountains shortly.” The King walked to his throne and sat on it. “Once it is gone, my men will sack your village. We will burn it to the ground and leave no one alive. Bring me what I ask for and you avoid this.”
“My lord,” said the Elder. “We simply don’t know how to fulfill your demand.”
“How is this hard to understand?” asked the King. “Love; that is what I want. Is there no one in this village who can do this?”
“I can,” called a small voice from the crowd.
Several people moved to hush the voice and harsh whispers were heard from the crowd.
“Who said that,” demanded the King.
The elder quickly moved between the King and the place in the crowd where the call had come from. “It was nothing my lord. Just a small child.”
“Let him pass.”
“I beg you my lord. He is but a boy. He does not know any better.”
“Are you afraid that if he approaches me and is wrong that I will kill him?” asked the King.
“No,” said the Elder. “Not at all. It’s just we wouldn’t want to… yes, my lord we are.”
“If you do nothing I will kill you all,” said the King. “Let the boy try and fail. Better that than die wondering if you could have saved everyone.” The King turned to the crowd. “Let. Him. Through.”
The crowd parted and a young boy walked forward. Hs mother wept her hands reaching out to the boy as he walked towards the King.
“Tell me boy what is your name?”
“Alton,” said the boy.
“Can you fulfill my demand of love?”
Alton reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ball of fur. He walked to the King and held out his hands and the ball of fur. The King reached down and let Alton place the ball in his hand.
The King raised the ball to his face to get a closer look. When it was closer the ball rolled over and stretched, it was a puppy; small and golden. The puppy stumbled up on to its feet and looked at the King. The puppy sniffed the King’s face and then licked his nose. Then licked it again and again.
“His name is Eeyore,” said Alton.
The King stood and turned to his men. “This village is safe. Tonight we feast and tomorrow we return home.”
The men cheered.

Bring Me Love

Friday, December 7, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 7

Once upon a time, a young girl named Molly slept in her comfy bed on a cold winter night. She was warm, happy, and dreamed of bright things.
“Molly,” whispered a voice.
Ignoring the voice, Molly rolled over in her sleep.
“Molly,” whispered the voice. “Wake up.” This was accompanied by small hands pushing against Molly’s back.
Molly woke and turned to see who was in her room. It was her friend, Amelia the fairy.
“Hi Amelia,” said Molly. “What do you want?” Molly’s voice was soft and filled with sleep.
Amelia stood on Molly’s bed her wings glowing a light blue. “You have to come quick,” said Amelia. “Tonight’s the night.”
“What night,” asked Molly.
“The night,” said Amelia. “The great dance happens tonight.”
“Oh,” said Molly her eyes starting to close.
Amelia dropped on to the bed. “Don’t you want to come to the dance?”
“Yeah,” said Molly dozing off.
Amelia jumped up and started shaking Molly. “Come on. You’re going to miss it.” Amelia gave Molly one final shove hoping to wake her friend. Molly slid backwards across the bed and slid onto the floor.
Molly, now awake, stared at the ceiling. “Why did you do that?”
“You’re going to miss the dance,” said Amelia. “Everyone will be there. The queen is coming, the lords of the forest will be there, and the Sugar Plum Fairy might show up.”
Molly stood up and moved to her closet to change clothes. She put on a nice dress her dad had bought her for Christmas. She grabbed a pair of winter boots and a jacket from the floor.
“You won’t need those,” said Amelia.
“It’s cold out,” said Molly. “I don’t want to walk through the snow in nice shoes. My feet will get wet.”
“We won’t be walking.”
“Then how do we get there.”
“On this night I have a special way of traveling.” Amelia walked to the window and reached out for Molly. “Take my hand.”
Molly walked to Amelia and clasped her hand. Amelia’s wings started to flutter and the light blue of her wings grew brighter. After a moment Amelia and Molly began to hover off the ground. The air around them began to shimmer and solidify. Soon they were floating inside a blue bubble. Molly kept her free hand close to her side afraid she might pop it.
After a moment the world outside the bubble began to shift and change. What was once Molly’s bedroom turned to a factory floor filled with workers. Then they were in a festival with fireworks, a circus, a field of wildflowers, and finally a grand ballroom.
The ballroom was massive. Larger than anything Molly had ever seen. The ceiling was vaulted and had six massive chandeliers hanging from it. Each chandelier was strung with poinsettias. After a moment Molly realized that the chandeliers were full of people. With a bit of staring she could just make out the fairies in side playing music; the band.
Around the edges of the room were pillars with ivy climbing up their sides. Chairs and tables circled the edge of the room. On each table was a large bowl of fruit, a small pot of honey, and a pitcher of milk for any guest who sought refreshment.
The crowd was equally fascinating. The majority of the people were fairies and pixies wearing fancy suits and dresses. Molly looked around and spotted some people that she had met before. There was Dee Dee and Skip, Lord Wolf and Lady Hawk dancing slowly in one corner while staring into one another’s eyes. Amber the Queen of the fairies was seated at a grand table in a high backed chair.
As Molly watched her a fairy in a green dress flew up to Amber and whispered something to her. Amber nodded to the fairy, stood and coughed gently. Though the cough was delicate and soft the sound of it echoed through the room taking everyone’s attention.
“We approach midnight my friends,” said Amber. “It is time.”
The dance floor emptied. Everyone moving politely but quickly to the edge of the room. Once the floor was clear Amber waved her hand and the band began a slow song.
After the song played for a moment a few fairies moved away from the crowd and onto the dance floor. Each fairy that walked onto the floor began to dance in step with one another. Slowly more and more fairies joined them until nearly fifty fairies danced in time.
As the fairies moved their wings changed color. As their wing color changed and changed again it began to create a pattern. The pattern continued to flow across the assembled dancers causing the colors to ripple and flow across the room. The color change spread out from the dance floor as fairies in the crowd began to copy it.
The music began to quicken in pace. As it did the fairies began to hover off the ground. As the music sped up faster and faster the fairies began to twirl in intricate patterns.
They began twirling around one another in different directions. Then some moved up and down while others moved side to side. At first the patterns involved three, then four, and so on until all fifty fairies were twirling in a wild display of aeronautics.
The fairies now floated up near the ceiling and had formed a large ball. As they spun crystalline bubbles began to float away from the dancers. Each bubble was bright and filled with shifting colors that matched the dancers. More and more bubbles began to float away from the dancers and into the crowd.
Suddenly the band began to hit hard crescendos. With each slam off the drums, the fairies flew away and back. Each time the drums hit they flew a little farther. One fairy was diving straight at Molly and she was getting close enough that Molly was starting to flinch. The drum went off one last time and the fairy ended up close enough for Molly to see her wink.
Then the fairies were gone; vanished as if stolen by a sorcerer. The only one left in the center of the circle was Terri, the Sugar Plum Fairy.
She wore a pink taffeta gown. Her wings glowed bright silver. She hovered in the center of the room waving to the people around her. After a moment she nodded towards Amber and curtsied. Amber nodded in approval.
Terri began to spin in place slowly. As she did she bent and dipped. Terri began to move around the dance floor. Each movement a made with grace. The music was still there but it had faded into the background. All that mattered was Terri and her dancing.
Molly had taken ballet for a year back when she was six. She had never seen anything as graceful and beautiful as Terri right then. The dance went on for ages and then ended way too soon. As Terri finished her final steps the crowd exploded with applause.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 6

Abbi pulled her coat in closer as they walked down the path. She and Josh had decided to take a couple of days and stay up at a cabin Josh knew about. They’d arrived last night and Abbi had been enchanted with the little cabin from the start. It was decorated for Christmas with fun lights and decorations. A huge tree had been placed inside the cabin and was covered in antique ornaments, lights, and handmade decorations.
It wasn’t great that they were well out of cell service but the cabin boasted a wide assortment of outdoor activities. Josh talked about a hiking trail he’d read about and wanted to try it out.
The trail was nice and clear despite the mounds of snow that surrounded them. The forest was beautiful; filled with hearty winter flowers and beautiful fir trees. There were fun lamp posts along the way to mark the trail. Each one with a wreath hanging from it. While it was cold, it wasn’t as unbearable as Abbi had originally thought it would be. Occasionally, a soft breeze would blow through the trees and remind you it was winter.
Josh took Abbi’s arm and held it in his. “I’m glad we came up here this weekend.”
Abbi leaned against Josh. “Me too.”
“I know I’ve never told you a lot about my family,” said Josh. “I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” said Abbi though she had always wondered about his parents. Josh had always dodged the topic, saying they lived to far away or were too busy to come visit.
A family of deer walked from the trees and stood in the path. Josh pulled something from his pocket. He began to inch forward on the path, clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth and holding out his hand. The largest deer moved forward and bent its head sniffing at Josh’s hand. After a moment, the deer seemed to decide that Josh’s offering was safe and took it in its mouth and ate it.
Josh reached back and took Abbi’s hand and guided her forward. He slid a piece of bell pepper into her hand.
“Just hold it out,” said Josh.
Abbi did as Josh said and the smaller deer walked up and took the piece of pepper from her hands. Josh was moving past her and feeding some more pepper to the mother deer.
After the deer ate the peppers and waited long enough to see no more were coming they moved off the path and disappeared into the forest.
“That was amazing,” Abbi whispered at Josh afraid to raise her voice and scare away any other animals in the nearby woods. “I’ve never been that close to deer before.”
“They were reindeer,” said Josh. “They’re pretty common in these parts of the woods.”
Josh took Abbi’s arm and moved along the path.  “I was talking about my family.”
“It’s okay,” said Abbi. “You don’t have too.”
“I want to,” said Josh. “I don’t talk about them very much. It’s not that I don’t love my family. It’s that it’s complicated.”
Abbi stayed silent. Torn between comforting Josh and knowing more about his family.
“My family comes from a long line,” said Josh. “They’re busy and can’t come to me very often.”
“What do they do?” asked Abbi.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?”
Abbi noticed bright twinkling lights up ahead. Josh stopped talking and quickened his pace. “You’ll want to see this.”
The trail rounded a sharp bend and opened into a wide clearing. In the center of the clearing was a forty foot Christmas tree topped with lights. Candy cane lamp post surrounded to clearing. Under the tree were packages; dozens of them. They were piled up in stacks six and seven feet high. The snow had been cleared from the area and the green grass carpeted the earth. A small white squirrel dashed from underneath the tree and darted into the woods.
“That’s Skippy,” said Josh. “King of the Squirrels.”
Abbi laughed.
They wandered the clearing. Abbi looked at the candy can lamp posts. They were hand painted and carved from wood. The long fence that surrounded the clearing seemed to be made from living trees that looked as if they grew into the shape of the fence. Strands of twinkle lights filled the trees around the border and lit the clearing.
Abbi turned her attention to the tree. Each of the packages was covered with a unique paper, wrapped with an original bow, and marked with a hand written calligraphy note. The lights on the trees flickered in a pattern. Abbi concentrated on it and tried to discern the pattern the lights blinked too.
Josh leaned in and whispered. “They blink in time to Jingle Bells.”
Abbi ran the song through her head until it matched up. She smiled. It had always been her favorite song growing up. It was the one everyone sang. Huge groups of people would come together and sing along whenever a band or choir started the tune. The togetherness of the song made her happy.
Josh took her hand they walked away from the clearing and down the path.
“I’ve wanted to tell you about this for a while but I was afraid it would make you leave.”
Abbi’s mind started to wander. Could they be criminals? Is that why they never came to visit?
They walked along and the green grass of the path gave way to a red carpet. The decorations in the trees around them changed. The lights were gone but cookies hung from the limbs. They were made to look as if they had grown in the tree, like fruit.
Josh reached up and grasped a peanut butter cookie and handed it to her. It was warn to the touch and melted in her mouth.
“The reason I wanted to tell you this,” said Josh. “I love you Abbi. I want you to share my life with me. Part of the life is that one day, I’ll be expected to come home and take over for my father…”
Josh let the sentence fade away. Abbi took his hand. They were trembling. She looked into his eyes and smiled.
“I love you too,” said Abbi. “You can tell me anything.”
“Santa Claus,” said Josh. “My dad is Santa Claus. One day I’ll come back here and replace him.”
Abbi stared at Josh wondering if this was some sort of joke. There was no real reason for it to be true. Yet, she wanted to believe it. She hugged him.
Josh waited until the hug faded and then very gently knelt before her. He reached into his pocket and pulled a small red box wrapped in a candy cane ribbon. He tugged the ribbon and let it fall to the ground. “I’ve talked to your parents,” said Josh. “I’ve gotten their blessing. I’ve spoken to mine and they are ready to meet you. Abbi, will you marry me?”
Josh slid the ring on to her finger and rose to his feet. He dipped her backward and Abbi saw dozens of sprigs of mistletoe hanging from the canopy of trees. Josh kissed her. It was long and perfect.
When they parted a small cough from one side drew Abbi’s attention. There was a person there. They were twelve inches tall and dressed in fancy, handmade, clothes in a bright blue. Abbi stared. Was he an elf? He must be.
The elf bowed. “Hello Abbi,” said the elf. We’re so glad you chose to meet us. Josh has said so many wonderful things about you.”
“Hello Sparkles,” said Josh. “Is everything ready at the house?”
“Dinner is prepared,” said Sparkle. “And everyone is waiting. Shall we go?”
Abbi paused to look up at Josh. Then she wrapped her arm in his and leaned against him. “Yes.”

Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 5

Sludge and Trundle stood on the wall watching the force arrayed against them. The mutants had surrounded the fort and cut them off from any aid. Not that aid would have been coming.
There were few precious allies these days. The mutants had pushed in through the channel tunnel and taken France and Belgium. The Frontiersmen, bunch of cannibals, pushed from through Sweden into Denmark and Germany. To the south was nothing but death and the irradiated hordes of Italy; no one used the Z word. The Regency, a band of militant cyber freaks, had taken Russia and were pushing into the center. All of them were deadly. None of them forgiving. 
There were rumors of safety to the south east. Romania had apparently gone mostly untouched. The natural mountain ranges had kept the country safe. Combine that with the Turkey being a huge water filled crater courtesy of a stray nuke slamming into the country made Romania a water surrounded fortress. Plus, their leader was pretty handy at keeping invaders at bay. There were rumors about him, but no one knew for sure. His linage was apparently connected to a previous king with a knack for lawn ornaments.
“I wish we’d kept going,” said Trundle. “If we’d skipped the fort they might not have found us.”
“Nah,” said Sludge. “They were always going to find us. They don’t give up. Without the fort we wouldn’t have a chance. They’d have just slaughtered us in the open.”
Trundle looked back into the fort at the caravan. They started with twelve people and had grown to nearly fifty when the mutants had found them. They were down to twenty-one; mostly noncombatants. Trundle and Sludge were some of a handful of people with combat experience. Sludge had the most. He wore a military jacket, though Trundle had never been able to figure out if it was his or he’d found it somewhere. Either way, Sludge never said.
“When do you think they’ll attack?” asked Trundle.
“Morning,” said Sludge. “They have horrible night vision. Can’t see in the dark. They don’t have enough spotlights. They’ll strike after dawn.”
Sludge and Trundle walked the wall in silence. Every so often Sludge would stop and borrow Trundle’s scope; it had night vision. Sludge would look off into the distance past the forces that had them surrounded.
After the third stop Trundle asked, “What you lookin’ for?”
“I don’t know,” said Sludge. “Something’s sticking in the back of my mind. I’m forgetting something. I’m hoping it’s a way through the mutants. I don’t think it is though.”
“You been here before?” asked Trundle. “Before the fall?”
“Not here,” said Sludge. “But these forts are all similar. Maybe I’m thinking of something from a different place.”
They walked in silence for a while longer.
“We’re not going to make it are we?” asked Trundle.
“Maybe,” lied Sludge.
The horizon started to lighten. A slight green color that permeated the sky since the fall. No one knew why.
“The mutants are moving,” said Sludge. “We need to wake the others.”
Trundle moved to head into the camp.
Sludge grabbed Trundle by the arm. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
They stood in silence listening. All they could make out was the noise of mutants rising for the morning. The clanging of metal, shouts of anger, and the occasional fight.
“I guess it was nothing...”
“There it was again,” said Sludge “Like a bell.”
“It’s probably just the mutants slamming hammers on engines.”
Jingle. Jingle.
Trundle stopped. “Okay, that time I heard it. What the hell is that? It sounds…is happy the right word?”
Jingle. Jingle. Vroom.
The jingling was joined by the rev of an engine. Not some patched together monstrosity from spare parts and salvaged metals. A proper engine. Handled with love and care. Trundle knew that sound, he’d been a mechanic before the fall. He knew engines. “That’s a beast.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sludge.
“Whatever that engine is attached to is wicked fast,” said Trundle. “It doesn’t move. It stalks the roads. Whoever is driving that wants to make a statement. They’re saying I’m faster than you, stronger than you, and god help you if you’re in my way.”
Sludge looked down at the mutant camp. They were moving around. Looking away from the fort. Trying to see what was out there.
Whatever it was, it was closer. Just beyond the edge of the mutant’s camp moving through the fog just out of view. It circled the camp the constant jingling noise interrupted by the occasional roar as the engine revved.
Sludge turned on trundle. “What day is it?”
“I don’t know. Tuesday, I think,” said Trundle.
“No, the date. What’s the date?”
“I haven’t know for two years,” said Trundle. “Why?”
“Because if this is the right day then help may have come and we might just live through this.”
“Should I wake the camp?”
“No,” said Sludge. “I’m pretty sure the kids need to be asleep.”
As if waiting for Sludge to realize who was there, a bright, candy apple, red Ford Fairlane burst from the trees. The car was pristine with shiny black tiers, bright head lights, and rows of small bells fastened along a luggage rack.
The Fairlane roared through the mutant camp sending its inhabitants scattering in all directions. Mutants ran forward, guns blazing away. The Fairlane was too fast. The mutants did more damage to their own people than to the car. The Fairlane circled the camp crashing through barricades, launching mutants into the air, and slamming into the mutant’s army of cars.
As the Fairlane rounded the camp the mutants panicked. Those still alive packed into cars and began driving away. Screaming off in all directions.
With the mutants gone the Fairlane pulled up to the door of the camp and sounded the horn. It played Ode to Joy.
The door the Fairlane opened. A large heavy set man stepped out. He was old with long white hair and a flowing beard that hung down to his chest. He wore furs in a mix of bright red and pure white. He had a long knife hanging from one hip and a pistol from the other. He had no sleeves on his coat, his forearms were wrapped in chains.
“What do we do?” asked Trundle.
“We open the door.” Sludge jumped down to the ground and walked to the forts gate. He undid the lock and let the door open wide.
Sludge walked to the fat man and shook his hand. “Santa.”
“Captain,” said Santa. “They won’t stay away long. I’ve bought you maybe thirty minutes at best.”
“I appreciate it,” said Sludge. He turned to Trundle. “Wake everyone up and get them in the cars. We need to be on the road ten minutes ago.”
Trundle jogged away.
Santa pulled a folded piece of paper from inside his coat. “This map will get you through the next couple of days. My elves can’t predict past that.” He handed the map to Sludge.
Santa turned to the Fairlane and popped the trunk open. “I’ve got some presents too.” He pulled a large red sack out of the trunk and tossed it to the ground. “There’s some food, water, and a couple of packages for the kids.” Santa looked past Sludge to the camp. “I wish I could do more.”
“You’ve done plenty.”
“Drive fast. Stay safe.” Santa looked past Sludge towards the camp. “They’re waking up. I can’t stay.”
Santa climbed into his car. The Fairlane roared to life. With a quick turn the car pulled away from the camp. In its wake was nothing but dust, the jingling of bells, and one loud, “HO HO HO!”

Christmas at Ground Zero

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Holiday Advent Story 4

“All right everybody,” yelled Jess. “I’m gonna make this quick. Right now we are all that is standing between Hesthead and that fire.” She pointed at the wildfire that moved towards them. “The town is mostly empty, but there are still critical patients in the hospital that need to be moved. We are going to try and save this town. Failing that, we need to buy the medics’ time to clear the area. We have a lot of ground to prep, I want to make sure everything from the 205 to Main Street is ready. That’s three miles of ground covered in dead grass, brush, and trees. You know your jobs, grab your tools, and get to work.” The small crowd disbursed to their assignments.
Jess stared at the assembled crews. She had men from two stations on site plus a handful of civilian volunteers. She’d asked for more firefighters but they were onsite in other locations trying to keep the blaze from spreading. She’d made some calls and there was a construction crew on the way to help clear brush and dig a trench but they might still be ten to fifteen minutes away.
The two crews, station 24 and her men, were moving the tanker trucks into place and hosing down the ground in hopes of slowing the blaze. The civilians were using shovels to dig a trench by the road. Jess looked at the work. It was a ditch at best. They didn’t have time to put up proper barriers.
“Allen!” Jess called for her assistant. She’d put him in charge of communication and logistics. She wanted to make sure everything was covered and they didn’t miss a message. She had to know if something went wrong. She also had him monitoring the weather. If the wind shifted towards the town the blaze would start moving faster and then she had to clear her people out of the area.
Allen jogged up. “I just talked to Hall construction, they’re just past the worst of the traffic and should be here soon. Five ten minutes, tops.”
“What about the weather?” asked Jess. “Give me some good news.”
“Better than we hoped,” said Allen. “There was a storm south of us and the wind changed. It looks like it might hit us.”
“What kind of storm?”
“Snow,” said Allen. “I hadn’t heard how bad it would be, but the map shows a lot of red. If there’s no lightning we should get some help out of this.”
“Not great but I’ll take it.”
“Hang on.” Allen stepped away and listened at his headset. Jess watched as he spoke to whoever was on the other side.
Allen quickly turned back to Jess. “That was one of the spotters. The fire is moving quicker than estimated.”
“How long?”
“They’re saying we’ve got a half hour at most.”
Jess swore. They’d been told they had an hour to prep, now their time has been halved. If he hadn’t know better, Jess would swear the fire had a vendetta against the town. “We’ll need to tell the crews to start wrapping up out there. I don’t want them caught in this. I want them to work on backing up and covering the ground further back.”
“On it.” Allen jogged off shouting into his gear.
Jess grabbed a shovel and started working with the civilians. This wouldn’t stop the fire but it could buy a couple of minutes. She glanced to the fire. It was closer now; no longer a glow on the horizon. Jess could make out flames now. It was moving too fast.
She slammed her shovel into the ground and ran back to the command truck. “Allen!”
Allen jumped out of the back of the truck. “I was just coming for you. I’ve called the crews back but our guys are having a problem. The truck is stuck out there. It sank in the dirt and they can’t get it moving.”
“Tell them to abandon the truck and move. We can replace the truck.” Jess looked up again. “Tell them I’ll come out so we can get some of the equipment” Jess grabbed a small golf cart that had been left by the hospital grounds crew. The engine turned on with an electric hum and she drove it towards the tanker and her team.
Jess tried to stay to the trail not wanting to get mired in the field where water would have been sprayed. She pulled up as her team were unloading equipment from the truck. Air tanks, med kits, and a handful of other tools. They chucked the gear in the back of the cart. Jess jumped out and told Lucius to drive it back to the command truck. She joined the rest of her team on the long trudge back. They jogged it, with forty-five pounds of gear, they hustled back to the fire break.
As they approached the command truck, her visor fogging up, Jess called out to Allen. Something hit her visor and stuck. Oh god thought Jess, ash. This meant the fire was closer than they thought and worse, the wind was blowing the ash towards them. The wind had changed.
Another tap on her visor. Jess was running towards the truck. She needed to call the other team back. Another tap on her visor. Jess suddenly realized that it was white; not black the color ash would be.
Allen ran towards her. “Finally a break.”
Jess looked at him. “What happened?”
“The storm,” said Allen. “It’s the storm. It looks to be the biggest blizzard to hit the area in years.”
The words registered with Jess. “This is the storm? The one you were talking about?”
“They’re calling for at least a foot by morning.”
As Allen finished talking a wall of snow pelted the area.
“Oh hell yeah,” yelled Allen.
The loud cry of a horn broke through the night. The work crew was here. “Call the guys from 24 and have them pull back. I want them to help support the construction crew as they clear the ground.” Jess jogged to the first truck. Tony the foreman jumped out before the truck had stopped moving.
“Tony,” yelled Jess. “Thanks for coming out.”
“Not a problem,” called tony over the noise of the trucks. “I got two Cats and a trencher. It’ll take a couple of minutes to unload those. Where do you want them?”
Jess looked at the huge machines. “Get the Cats clearing the fields. As for the trencher, we need a trench, here along the highway. The deeper and wider you can get it the better.”
“I’ll let the guys know,” yelled Tony. “I also brought the rest of the crew. We got shovels and can help clear brush.”
“Tony, you’re a life saver.”
“Glad to,” yelled Tony. “This snows a bit of pain.”
“No Tony,” said Jess. “This snow is a life saver.”

Let it Snow