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Merry Christmas Castle Roland Community -- Christmas Stories

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Oh behalf of the Castle Roland Staff and Community, I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. We hope you are enjoying your time with family and friends and hope that all your wishes and dreams come true.


As a special gift to our community, for whom none of this would be possible, several authors have written Christmas stories just for our forum community.


Thank you for making our community what it is. You all keep us moving forward and as a result we keep growing and growing. Have a great day and here's to an even greater New Year.

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All Is Calm

By Eric Aune

© Copyright December 2014



It was very early in the morning.  The sun wasn’t even up yet.   There was snow everywhere and those on watch were bundled up in their greatcoats, with woolen scarves wrapped tightly around their necks, their Enfield rifles at their side.  They were trying to be as warm as they could in the cold, dark December morning.  There was a silence all around them.  It was a silence that none had experienced in the months since this whole thing began.  Normally there was always some noise going on around them.  The sound of a rifle being fired, or the chattering of a machine gun or the screaming of an artillery round going overhead and the crump when it hit the ground and exploded.  The yelling of orders, the blowing of whistles and the cries of the wounded.


The only sound around were the low voices of the men talking among themselves.  Malcolm Jeffries sat against the trench wall, his Enfield was leaned against the wall next to him.  There was a disturbance in the trench and he and everyone else looked up.  A sergeant was moving among the men in the trench, he was carrying a canvas bag and he was stopping next to each of the men.  When he stopped he reached into his bag and pulled out a letter and at times a small package.  He also handed each man a gold colored tin box.  Each man’s dirty face lit up and they gratefully took what was given them, shaking the sergeant’s hand in thanks each time.


Malcolm smiled at the looks of happiness on the faces of the men that he could see.  It transformed those faces from the grim, weary faces, to how they would have looked had it not been for this horrible war.  Young men with smooth unlined, happy faces.  Young men who should be working peacefully in a trade or perhaps in a place of learning, like Cambridge or Oxford, or working with their fathers on a farm.  Maybe they would be larking about with their mates or even their favorite girl.  On this day of all days, they should be sitting around a fireplace, with their families all around them as they celebrate the coming of Christmas and opening their gifts.


The sergeant made his way along the trench and he stopped next to Malcolm.  In his hands was a small brown paper wrapped parcel that he was holding out to Malcolm and one of the gold colored tin.  He grinned up at the sergeant, shook his hand and accepted the two items.  He watched the sergeant move off.  He had noticed that even the older sergeant’s face was transformed and he looked younger than his years as he walked along the trench handing out Christmas parcels and letters to the men.  Malcolm watched the sergeant until he was out of sight at a turn in the trench line.


He looked down at the parcels and saw his name, regiment and company scrawled across the brown paper wrapped one.  The other was a gold colored tin, on it was a picture of Princess Mary.  Malcolm looked up and down the trench line and saw the other men opening their tins and there were a lot of smiles in that trench today.  When he opened his, he found that it was filled with sweets.  She had sent these out to all the men in the BEF.  Malcolm reached in with his dirt encrusted fingers and took one out to taste.  It was almost heavenly.  He closed the tin while he sucked on the sweet.  He untied the string on his other parcel, and carefully unfolded the thick brown paper that covered it and stuffed it into the pocket of his greatcoat.  A box was revealed under the paper.  He smiled as he opened it up.  There was a folded letter on top of a couple of large bars of chocolate.  He closed the box and stuffed that in his pocket as well and he opened the letter.  He was near a dugout and there was a little bit of light coming from it, so he was able to read the words on the letter.


As he read the letter, a smile came to his face.  From time to time, the contents caused him to chuckle to himself.  By the end of the letter, his eyes were a little misty and he put his hand to his mouth and then placed it on the signature in the letter.  He wiped his eyes and took the box back out of his pocket.  Opening it, he took the two bars of chocolate out and underneath them, just like the letter said was a picture.  It was of two light haired teenage boys standing with their arms over each other’s shoulders as they smiled at the camera.  One of them was Malcolm, although his face wasn’t as lined as it was now.  Both of them were wearing straw boaters, short dark jackets with white lapel facings.  Under the jackets were white shirts with vertical stripes and a short tie and white slacks.  The picture was black and white, but Malcolm could fill in the colors in his mind.  The jacket was a navy blue as were the stripes in the shirt and the tie.


He remembered when the picture had been taken.  He and Colin were fifteen at the time.  I seemed so long ago, even though it was less than two years ago.  They had been so happy at the time.  They were the very best of mates and did everything together.  Good or bad it didn’t matter.  Whatever it was, they were together doing it.  When one was happy, the other was happy.  When one was sad or upset, the other was at their side to buck them up.  When Colin was sick with pneumonia, Malcolm had to be practically threatened to leave his side, because he knew if it was him in the sick bed, Colin would do the same.  They had hoped to continue being together into University as well, both hoping to get into Cambridge and read law.


They were sixteen, when that crazy man in Serbia shot the Austrian Archduke.  Before they knew it, countries all over Europe were declaring war on each other and the war began.  At school, there were many talking about getting in the war and sending the Hun back where he belonged.  While home on holiday from school, there were officers from the British army in town near their home, drawing crowds and exhorting the men to join the British Army and beat back the Hun.  There were army musicians with the officers along with some sergeants and they played great, well known martial tunes, always ending with God Save The King, in honor of King George V.


The two boys enjoyed the music and the speeches and the celebratory atmosphere that came with the army visitors.  They shouted in support of the army and the king, just as loudly as anyone else, as they got caught up in the excitement.  Afterwards they would talk about it as they went back to their homes.  They both came from upper middle class families in Cambridge.  Malcolm’s father was a barrister and Colin’s was a banker.  It was only a few more days before it was time to head back to school when they made the decision to join.  So that no one would stop them, they took the train to Stevenage, early the next morning.  They chose that town, because they had heard from the soldiers, that were there to enlist the men, that their next stop would be Stevenage.  When they got to the town, they walked around until they saw the army setting up and once again they listened to the music and the speeches and at the end when men queued up to sign, they joined the other men and teenage boys who were in line.  As they looked at those in the queue, they saw other boys who looked to be about the same age as they were and some that were obviously younger.


The two boys watched as the line moved forward into a nearby building where the enlistees were being examined.  They saw most of the obviously younger boys being taken out of line and sent on their way with just a little bit of making fun, many times with the admonishment to come back in a few years when they’d grown some.  Most of the boys, although disappointed took it in stride and stepped away.  Others were belligerent and were hauled away by the sergeant.  There was one boy who thought he was tough.  An old sergeant walked up, grabbed the boy by the scruff of his jacket and hauled the lad around the side of the building.  Moments later there were some yells coming from around the corner and the lad was seen running off rubbing his bum.  The sergeant came back around the corner with a grin on his face.  Those still in the queue laughed.


As the two boys neared the open door, a sergeant paused nearby and looked the two lads up and down.  They had done what they could to try to look older.  They had purchased some working lads clothes, instead of the finer clothes that they normally wore, so as to fit in more with the regular men.  Both of the boys were of average height to the men in line, it was their faces that looked young, they figured that they would pass that off as just looking young not being young.  They knew the minimum age was eighteen to enlist, with nineteen being the minimum age for overseas duty.  They planned to say they were just barely nineteen and had listened to others of the lower classes with them, and they affected the speech of the lower classes along with talking in a deeper tone, all to give the impression that they were older than they looked.


When it came time for them to enter the building, they stood as tall as they could and went inside.  They first stopped in front of a desk where a corporal was sitting there.  Each person was asked his name, date of birth and where he lived, next of kin.  Both boys gave him made up last names and where they lived, but kept their real first names.  They said that they had no next of kin and were orphans.  The corporal took down the info, and had them sign in the ledger in front of him.  He then pointed his pencil in the direction they were to go to next, without ever looking at them.  A doctor checked to see that they were fit for service and since both played sport at school, they were in good shape.  They were passed along to each station until they got to the last station where they were interviewed by one of a line of sergeants sitting at desks.  They stood before him, as he talked to them and their youthful looks were questioned, but they stuck to their story.  When asked if they had proof of their age, they told him they didn’t have any kin, so they didn’t have papers saying they were of age, only that they had been told they were born in 1895.  When the sergeant was done interviewing them, he looked at the boys carefully for a few moments before nodding and sending them to join others who had been passed.  The two boys grinned at each other as they joined the other men.  They were starting out on a great adventure.


Once they finished with everyone in the queue, the officer in charge stood in front of the group of men and had them all stand and give their verbal attestation to join the British Army.  When they had finished the verbal attestation, they queued up and were given a written attestation to sign.  When that was done they were lined up outside and marched off to the train station to the cheers of the people of the town.  The two boys were happy to have been able to fool the recruiters and now they were on their way to serve King and Country.


They spent the next several weeks learning to be a soldier and they found it was much harder than they thought it would be, but they were determined to tough it out.  When they finished, they were sent to a divisional depot, where they spent only a few days, before they were shipped over to Belgium.  They joined their company in the rear areas, until it was time to move up to the line.  When they got there, that was when they really found out what war was like.  The next several weeks were very frightening to the boys.  They found out that there is little glamor in war.  It was much different than the pictures painted by the recruiting officer.  Many times, they were wet and cold as the weather turned nasty.


They had arrived at the front in early November during the Battle of Ypres.  The Hun was attacking heavily and the British Army was doing its best to stem the tide of the attack. They finally were able to drive the Hun back and hold the line.  The worst thing that happened to the two boys was near the end of the battle, when they were holding off a fierce German attack, Colin was struck in the lower leg by a bullet.  They were falling back from an unsuccessful attack and when he fell Malcolm picked up Colin’s rifle and helped his friend to his feet, so that he could stagger back to their own trench works.  Once back to the safety of the trench, they stood their ground and drove the Hun back.  Colin leaned against the trench trying to keep as much weight off his leg, as best he could, while helping to fight off the Hun.


Once the fight was over, and it looked like they had licked the Huns, Malcolm helped get his friend to the medical orderlies who took him to the dressing station.  They got him on a stretcher and carried him to the nearest dressing station.  Malcolm wanted to go with them, but if he left the line it would be desertion.  He held Colin’s hand until he left.  Neither wanted to let go, and they each could see the feelings that the other was projecting.  They knew what it meant.  They also knew it was something that they must keep hidden. 


“Bye Mal.  You watch your arse until I get back.  I don’t want to see you with me in hospital, unless you’re just visiting.”  Malcolm grinned, “I promise Col.  I’ll come visit you if I get a chance, not much chance with the Hun acting up right now.  Maybe they’ll realize they won’t get through us and give up the fight.  I’ll find you Col.  You get better, I need my best mate with me.”  Colin grinned as the orderlies picked up the stretcher.  “I will Mate.”  Malcolm watched as they carried him away.  Colin raised his arm and waved goodbye.  Malcolm waved until the orderlies were out of sight, before turning around and heading back to his place in the line.


The fighting continued for another couple of weeks and as the snow started to fall, the fighting tapered off.  By November 22nd, the Battle of Ypres was over.  There was a break in the main fighting due to the winter weather.  There were limited attacks here and there along the line, but no major offensives.  Malcolm got a chance to move back from the line when his company was rotated behind the lines for a few days.  He got permission to visit the hospital.  It took some time, but he finally located Colin.


When he entered the hospital, he saw it was filled with wounded soldiers.  He was able to locate which ward Colin was in and both of their faces lit up when the spied the other.  “Mal, you made it?”  Malcolm sat on a stool next to the bed and held onto Colin’s hand.  “Aye Mate, I did and right glad I am to see you.”  He looked Colin over and nodded.  “Well you look fit Col.  When are you coming back to the line?”  Colin shook his head, “I won’t be returning.”  Malcolm eyes opened wide in shock and then disappointment set in.  “They said I’m not fit for duty any more.  The bullet took out a chunk of the bone in my leg and now one is a little shorter than the other.  I’ll always walk with a limp.  I can’t be a soldier with a limp like that.  They’re sending me home to finish my convalescence and then I’ll be going home.  The war is over for me.” 


Malcolm ducked his head.  How was he going to make it, now that his best mate was no longer going to be by his side?  Tears were in his eyes when he felt Colin pulling on his hand.  He looked up and saw that Colin’s eyes were in the same state.  “Sorry Mal.  Nothing I can do about it.  My leg’s permanently damaged.  When I heard that I wouldn’t be back with you, I thought of something though.”  He looked around and pulled Malcolm closer.  “We’re both still underage.  You’re not even supposed to be overseas until you’re eighteen and we’re barely seventeen.  By the way, Happy Birthday.”  Malcolm smiled his thanks and squeezed Colin’s hand, still held in his.  He wasn’t sure he could speak yet, still worried that he would be left behind without his best mate.  “Anyway as I was saying.  I’ve been thinking and I have a plan to get you out of here as soon as possible, if you’re up for it.”  Malcolm nodded.  “Okay, when I get back home, I’ll make sure your parents know where you are.  I’m guessing they’re first going to be surprised, then very angry with both of us.  I expect only my damaged leg is going to keep me from getting a good strapping as it is, at least until its healed up, then my Da will probably lay into me well and good.  What I was thinking is, that if your parents know where you are and they request it, you can be released from the army, because of your age.  What do you think?”


Malcolm thought about it.  With Colin by his side, he thought he could weather anything, but with him gone, he wasn’t sure he could face it all as easily.  He knew he’d do his duty, he’d already proved to himself that he could.  He and Colin had never shirked their duty as part of the company and did what was ordered.  He even thought that their sergeant knew that both of them were underage, but they did their duty and stood by their mates.  He wondered if it happened, and he was sent home, would the other men think him cowardly.  After the Ypres battle and seeing all the wounded in the other wards here at the hospital, he was at the point that what they had done to get here had been foolhardy and if he could go home, especially if he and Colin could be together again, he’d willingly take the white feather.


“Without you by my side Col, I don’t think I can do this.  So if you can help this happen, I’m for it.”  The two friends squeezed hands.  They talked a little more.  Colin told him, that he was supposed to be shipped out in the next couple of days.  Finally it came time for the two to part.  They gazed in each other’s eyes for the longest time, silently communicating what they felt.  They both wanted to hold the other, but they knew that wouldn’t be accepted so they gave each other one final smile and released their joined hands.  At the door of the ward, Malcolm turned and waved to his mate and then quickly turned and ducked his head so that no one could see the tears in his eyes.


Malcolm made his way back to the company and rejoined the other men.  Several of them knew where he been and they asked after Colin.  He told them that Colin was going home and being mustered out because of his wound.  Every man clapped him on the back and told him to give their good wishes to the lad, when he next wrote to him.  Malcolm felt good that the others missed Colin and thought well of him.  He hoped they would feel the same if he was able to leave.  Until then, he had to survive.


A week later, they were rotated back into the line.  The winter weather kept the fighting down to a minimum and it seemed that there was almost a calming period in the trenches.  And now here it was, early on Christmas Day, the men receiving letters and parcels from home.  There was no sound of war.  The only sounds were of the men around him in the trenches eagerly sharing news from home.  Another sound invaded their consciousness and slowly the men in the trench fell silent as they listened to the sound.


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht

Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!


A few moments later, the German tenor voice began again.  This time all around him the men joined in.


Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace


As dawn broke through the sky, the song rose into the air above them mingling in the still air.  Malcolm sang along with the other men and looked up.  A moment later he had no idea why he did it, but leaving his rifle behind he went to one of the ladders that led out of the trench and into no man’s land.  He began to climb up the rungs with his hands held up to show that they were empty.  The men below yelled for him to come down, but he ignored them and continued climbing as he neared the top of the trench, he looked across no man’s land and standing at the top of the German trench a blond haired German soldier stood there, holding his hat in his hand, his face toward the rising sun, letting his voice carry across no man’s land.  He noticed the movement at the British trench and his voice faltered for only a moment before he saw the British soldier rising out of the trench, his hands raised and joining him in song.  A huge smile broke out on his face and when he finished, he turned and slowly began to walk across no man’s land toward the British soldier.


As Malcolm neared the German soldier, he saw that the soldier looked to be about the same age as him and he smiled.  The two came together in the middle and their hands came together in a friendly shake, just like two old friends meeting in the street.


“My name is Malcolm.”  The German smiled, “Mein namen…”  The German stopped himself and started again, “My name is Gunther.”  Malcolm was shocked that the German spoke English so well.  Behind them, they saw more and more of the men from either side climbing out of the trenches and coming together in camaraderie.  There were a fair number of the Germans who spoke English and they translated for those who didn’t.  There were even a few British that spoke German.  It looked like a great gathering of friends in the middle of this land of death.  Groups congregated all over the area, treating each other as old friends.  They traded with each other, there were pots of wine, and cigarettes being shared on both sides.  Many of them shared goods that they had received from home, with these new friends, who just a short time ago were supposed to be their enemy.  Pictures were taken and shared with each other.


A short time later a Scottish soldier produced a football and an impromptu game began.  Malcolm and Gunther both took part, usually lined up against each other.  Everyone was laughing and cheering as they watched or took part.  Malcolm stepped out of the game to let another play and sat down on a mound of dirt nearby and watched.  As he did he pulled the photo of him and Colin out of his pocket and gazed down on it with affection.  He knew Colin would have enjoyed this.  A noticed a shadow and looked up to see Gunther standing near him with his great coat and kit in his hand.


“May I sit?”  Malcolm nodded and Gunther sat next to him.  He glanced over and saw the picture.  “Who is zhat?”  Malcolm handed the picture to Gunther.  “That’s my best mate Colin.  He would have loved this.”  Gunther glanced at Malcolm, “He ist not here?”  Malcolm shook his head and smiled.  “No, he’s at home.  He got hit in the leg last month and it was bad enough to get him sent home.”  Gunther smiled, “Zat is goot.  I am glad he ist not here.”  He handed the picture back to Malcolm.  “Gunther, how come you speak English so well?” 


“My Vater.  He ist in banking.  Ve lived in London for a zree years and I vent to school zhere, zo I learnt English.”  Gunther dug into his greatcoat and pulled out a picture that he handed to Malcolm.  Malcolm took it and Gunther leaned in closer as Malcolm studied the picture.  It showed Gunther and another blond haired boy both in lederhosen and alpine hats with walking staffs.  They were on a hillside, behind them were other mountains and there were a few clouds in the sky.  Malcolm smiled at the picture and looked at Gunther, “Zat is Friedrich, mein freunde, uh, I mean my fr…best mate as you zay.  Ve vere togezzer until he vas hurt as vell.  He lost his leg and he is home now too, like your Colin.”  Malcolm brought his hand up to Gunther’s shoulder and gave it a friendly squeeze.  “He is well, other than losing his leg.”  Gunther nodded and wiped his eyes a little.  Malcolm felt a little dampness in his eyes as well.  “How old were you in this picture? 


“Ve vere fifteen.  Zhis is near our home in Bavaria.  Ve loved to hike in zhe hills and mountains around our homes.  Vhen I last heard from him, he zaid ve vould do zhat again zomeday, zomehow.  I cannot vait for zat to happen.  I can’t vait for zhis verdammt var to be over.”  Malcolm nodded his agreement and handed the picture back to Gunther.  Gunther looked at it silently for a minute, his face suffused with warmth, before he tucked it back into his greatcoat. 


“Gunther, how old are you?”  Gunther glanced at him, “Seventeen.”  Malcolm smiled, “Me too, so’s Colin.”  They smiled at each other and for the next hour they talked about home and their friends and family and things they like to do when they were home.  They had also talked about when Gunther had lived in London.  They didn’t talk at all about the war.  It was like two friends from home, catching up on each other.  They were interrupted from the talk by a yell from the football game.  “Gunther, comen sie.”  The two boys looked up and saw one of the Germans waving for Gunther to come and join them in the game.  Gunther didn’t get up right away and the smiling man waved again.  He glanced over at Malcolm, “Go ahead mate.  I’ll watch your kit.”  Gunther smiled and jumped up from the dirt pile and trotted over to join the game. 


Malcolm watched the game, cheering for his new friend Gunther and cheering for his own side as well.  In the far distance they heard an artillery shell fly through the air and the distant crump as it hit the ground somewhere over the horizon.  Everyone stopped and looked in the direction of the explosion.  They then turned to look at each other and you could see the disappointment and sadness on many faces.  For the next several minutes the men came together to exchange one last round of handshakes and even hugs, before they slowly made their way back to their own lines.


Malcolm walked over to Gunther with Gunther’s kit in his hand.  The two smiled and came together in a hug.  When they stepped back , Gunther shrugged into his coat and hung his leather harness over one shoulder.  They shook hands one more time.  “Go with God, Gunther.”  Gunther smiled, “You as vell, mein freunde Malcolm.”  The two walked backward looking at each other and when they reached their trench, they waved one more time and descended into their trenches.  Although there was a bit of a somber mood in the trench, there were also a bit good feelings among the men.


When Gunther reached the bottom of his trench, he adjusted his greatcoat and put his harness back on.  As he closed the buckle, he felt an extra bulge in his greatcoat, that hadn’t been there before.  He put his hand in the pocket and pulled out a thin brown paper wrapped item.  He unfolded the paper and saw a chocolate bar.  He noticed that there was writing on the inside of the paper.


Dear Gunther,

Please accept this chocolate bar as my Christmas gift to you.  Colin sent two of them to me and I want you to have one.  I pray that you will come through this war and go home to your Fritzy, as I hope to return to my Colin someday.  Good luck my friend.  I wish you all the best.  If you do survive, bring Fritzy with you someday and visit Colin and me in Cambridge.  I know he will like you.  We would love to host you both.  So keep your arse down, you crazy Hun.  I don’t want it shot off and I’m sure Fritzy would prefer it still attached to you as well.  God Bless!


                                    Your Friend, Malcolm Jeffries


Gunther smiled at the letter and had to wipe his eyes.  He looked toward the other trench and whispered, “Goot luck to you Malcolm.”  He opened the chocolate bar and broke off a piece, before wrapping it up in its wrapper and the brown paper.


Over in the British trench, Malcolm went over to where he had left his Enfield.  “Private Malcolm Jeffries!”  Malcolm turned around with a smile and saw the Sergeant Major standing before him.  That was when he realized the name that he had answered to.  He’d been Malcolm Johnson for the last five months and with everything that had been happening and thinking of Colin, he automatically answered to his real name.  His face fell and Sergeant Major Branscombe had a satisfied look on his face.  Branscombe was an old time sergeant, he’d seen many boys and young men killed and had served with the South African Constabulary which was filled with such young men and boys, when they were besieged by the Boers at Mafeking during the Boer Wars, when he was a corporal.  He’d known other boys who had lied about their age to join the fight and many times they were still just boys when they died.  He looked down at the lad standing before him.


“Private Jeffries.  I have orders for you.  Merry Christmas lad.  You’re going home.”  Branscombe looked at the men nearby and raised his voice so that all of them could hear him.  “Lad, young Jeffries here or as you know him, Johnson, is underage.  He is only sixteen…”


“Um, seventeen, Sergeant Major.”  Branscombe looked down at Malcolm and cocked an eye.  “Only just sir.”  Branscombe nodded and continued, “He is seventeen, only just….”  The men around them laughed and Malcolm colored a little.  “Young Jeffries and his mate Colin Parsons or as you knew him, Pierce, were both underage when they joined the regiment.  I never heard a negative word about their conduct.  They did their duty and young Parsons was wounded serving King and Country.  Because he is underage, and is at least a year from even being allowed to join and two years from being allowed to serve overseas, he is being mustered out and returned home at the request of his parents, as is their right.”  The men around them shouted their good wishes to Malcolm.  Now he knew that they would not think ill of him for leaving.  Branscombe held out his hand and shook Malcolms.  Malcolm stood tall and saluted the sergeant major.  Branscombe returned the salute and clapped the boy on the back.


When word reached everyone nearby, Malcolm soon found himself inundated with letters from many of the men as he gathered his kit.  He took all of them, packed them away in his kit bag and promised he would make sure that they were delivered to their loved ones, even if he had to deliver them himself.  Branscombe stood nearby and watched.  When Malcolm had said his goodbyes and taken leave of his mates, Branscombe handed his Malcolm Enfield off to one of the nearby sergeants and escorted him from the trenches to the rear area.  There was a medical wagon waiting there with some sick men who were being brought back to the hospital to recuperate.  Malcolm jumped up next to the medical orderly who was driving the wagon.  Malcolm reached down to shake Branscombe’s hand.  “Thank you Sergeant Major.  I’ll not forget you or the lads.”  He then sat up straight and saluted.  “Good luck lad.  Give the regiment’s best to your mate.”  Malcolm nodded and the orderly drove off. 


As they drove off, Malcolm looked over his shoulder back toward the front lines, trying to send his thoughts to the German lines, before looking up and saying a small prayer beneath his breath.  “Dear Lord, thank you for this gift.  Please, I beg of you, watch over my friend Gunther and protect him so that he will once again be reunited with his friend Friedrich, so that they can hike in their hills together once again.”  The orderly glanced over at the soldier beside him.  “What’s that lad?”  Malcolm looked over and smiled at the man, “Nothing sir, nothing at all.”  Malcolm looked to the side and surreptitiously wiped his eyes before looking to the front and his future.



This story is dedicated to those soldiers of The Great War, who for a few short moments, 100 years ago on Christmas day, gathered together in friendship and camaraderie.  Ignoring politics and national division and just being young men having fun together in peace, in a land of war and death.  For a short time, for them, All is Calm, All is Bright and there was Peace On Earth.

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Snow Angels

Written By Ken Barber

Christmas 2014


Michael sat watching the snow fall outside the window. He sighed, it was almost midnight on Christmas Eve and his relief was late. Since the Army medically discharged him after Afghanistan the best job he could get was a second shift security job at the textile plant.  The disability pay from the army helped but it wasn't really enough to live on.  Kind of strange the plant had a government contract to make body bags or as they called them now HRP (Human Remains Pouch). Every time Michael saw one of those plastic bags he thought of his friends still over in that hell hole.


He looked at the monitor and saw Jerry walking up to the door. Jerry was retired and worked the Night shift to help pay his wife's medical bills. Over the years her health had gotten so bad no insurance company would cover her. They had hoped the new health care laws would take at least some of the burden off them. 


Michael stood and grabbed his Jacket, and absent mindedly reached to scratch his arm, his fingers touched the cold plastic and he sighed. The shrink told him he would get used to it someday but it had been 6 months and sometimes he still felt it there. Jerry came walking through the door with a big smile and handed Michael a box filled with food.


Jerry smiled. "Merry Christmas Michael, there is enough there for 3 Christmas dinners, with dessert of course. Helen told me to tell you she is upset you won't join us for dinner tomorrow night. All the kids will be there and Helen has been killing herself cooking."


"Tell her I am sorry Jerry, I just don't feel like I would be good company this year." Michael finished putting his jacket on and took the box. "This was really nice of you guys Jerry, I really appreciate it, thank you."


"You're Welcome. Be safe Michael."


Michael headed out the door and started his walk home, carrying the box of food. It was only a couple of blocks but the box was heavy and the wind and snow were making the walk torturous.  Michael thought to himself at least this will be the last time I have to make this walk. Tears started to well up and he fought to hold them back. He knew he would just be another statistic for the politicians in Washington to argue about but he had had enough. He sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask and now he was tossed to the side.  He had no family to speak of, his only sister was a radical left winger and whenever they spoke they ended up fighting. The last conversation they had, she told him he deserved to lose his arm.  That was two months ago. The only person he ever loved was buried in the National Cemetery. Kevin was killed by the same rocket explosion that took Michael’s arm. He hadn't even been able to go to the funeral.  Well it was time for him to join him, he was determined. He had double checked his life insurance and there wasn't a suicide clause, so all the money would be split between his ungrateful sister and Kevin's younger brother, Josh. Josh didn't know about him and Kevin, no one did but Josh had tried to stay friends. Michael couldn't handle it and slowly lost contact with him. There was no one or nothing to live for anymore.

As he trudged the snow the metal fasteners on his arm began to get cold and sting. He shrugged off the pain and looked down into the box he was carrying. This would be his last supper, the wind blew at the box and the foil covering the small paper plate lifted and underneath was a beautiful sugar cookie in the shape of an angel. He smiled and pushed the foil back in place. He was approaching his apartment when all of a sudden a gust of wind lifted the foil again, this time lifting it out of the box and carrying it a few feet away. Michael started to ignore it until he saw the shivering bundle of rags and newspapers it landed on. Assuming it was just another bag lady from the area Michael started to walk away until he looked down at the angel sitting there. He sighed and smiled, set the box down on the steps to his building and walked over to the bundle with the cookie.


"Excuse me?" The Bundle shivered more but didn't respond. Michael knelt down next to the pile of rags. "Excuse me are you hungry?"


The Bundle shifted and stopped shivering almost like it was holding its breath. "Hey there are you hungry?"


A dirty hand reached out and pulled some rags away from the face. Michael gasped at the eyes that looked back at him. Stunning gray eyes, that couldn't have been much older than Michael. The face was streaked with dirt and grime but underneath it Michael could see a youthful face that once would have been filled with joy and wonder, now just despair and hunger.


"Listen bud, I don't mean you any harm but its freezing out here and it’s going to get worse. My apartment is right here in this building. Why don't you come in and get warmth and something to eat. I don't have a lot but I am willing to share what I have."


The guy on the ground pulled back a little further obviously not sure of Michael's intentions.  Michael leaned back for a second. He couldn't leave the guy here like this, not tonight of all nights. The temperatures were going to continue to drop and this guy would die out here. He could only imagine how such a young man ended up freezing on the streets.  He looked at the heavy coat he was wearing and started to take it off.


"At least take this and I will bring some food down to you."


As he took the coat off he felt the freezing air bite into the exposed skin below his short sleeve uniform shirt.  The plastic and metal of his arm stung even more and Michael absentmindedly adjusted it. The young man lying in the snow stared at his arm and pointed.




Michael looked at the man and then down at his arm, for a moment he was insulted by the question until he looked into the eyes of the young man, something in those eyes gave Michael pause; "The battle of Wanat, Afghanistan".


The bundle of rags sat up and pulled the pile back showing a dirty ragged pair of jeans with one leg pinned out of the way of the missing leg. "Kabul, Afghanistan."

Michael just stared and tears started streaming down his face. "They have really abandoned us haven't they?"


"Yup, thrown out like yesterday’s trash."


Michael looked at him again. "Michael Frost, Staff Sergeant, 2nd Platoon Charlie Company, 2nd BAT 503 Infantry."


The man held out his hand "Jeremy Decosta, Sergeant, 3rd Ranger BAT."


"Well Ranger let's get something to eat. My co-worker's wife cooked enough to feed an army." Michael stopped and chuckled at that part. Jeremy just smiled and reached in and grabbed some crutches. Michael reached out to help him and Jeremy just smiled as he let him.


After Jeremy got up and got the crutches underneath his arms Michael picked up the box of food and led the way into the building. He stopped at the stairs and turned and looked back at Jeremy. "The elevator has been broken for months. I am on the third floor."


Jeremy looked at the stairs and shrugged and started to slowly begin the climb.  Michael watched for a second. "Let me get ahead of you and then I can set this box down and give you a hand."


Jeremy just slid to one side and let Michael bound past. Michael set the box down in front of his door and raced back down the stairs, Jeremy was about half way up the first flight. He waited for him to reach the landing. "Ok, this is going to take forever and I’m starving and so are you." He laughed. "Come on Ranger time for a piggy back."


Jeremy laughed. "Really, it’s ok, you go ahead and I will meet you there."


"Either you hop on my back or I attempt to carry you and I can tell you this fake arm is not only cold it’s hard as hell."


Jeremy sighed. "Ok fine, but this is pretty undignified."


Michael actually laughed. "Did you really just say undignified; as undignified as a combat veteran living on the streets, or another, with no family or friends thinking about ending it all?" Michael paused for a minute and then started sobbing. Jeremy reached over and pulled him into an embrace.


"I am right there with you buddy. But we never leave a brother behind in battle."


Michael took a deep breath and looked into Jeremy's eyes. Behind the grim, pain, hurt and despair was hope and care. Actual care, this man he found on the street just moments before cared about him. No one else did but this fellow disfigured and discarded warrior did.   Michael pulled himself together and Jeremy jumped on his back. The closeness of another person, something neither had felt for a long time was not lost on either. Jeremy was not light but Michael was determined to make it to up to the third floor. By the time they got there he was out of breath; Jeremy slid off his back and took his crutches. They both looked at each other and began laughing. Both of them slightly shocked they remembered how to laugh.  Michael unlocked his apartment and showed Jeremy in. The door opened to a small kitchen with a small two person table in the center, across from that was the living room. The furniture was shabby but comfortable looking; the curtains miss matched and the carpet threadbare. It was all Michael could afford and he had made it as comfortable as possible.  The windows on the far wall of the living room showed the snow glowing in the neon lights of the strip club across the street. The wind had picked up and could be heard howling as it grabbed the snow and threw it at everything that got in its way.


"Would you like a hot shower first? I can grab some sweats for you while I wash your clothes."


"Are you sure?" Jeremy replied with a shy smile.


Michael smiled. "I kind of insist, you need a shower Ranger."


Jeremy returned the smile. "I guess you're right"


Michael showed him the shower and got him towels. "I will be right back with some clothes; we look about the same size so they should fit without a problem.”

Jeremy thanked him profusely as Michael crossed the hall to his bedroom. He paused and looked around, the full size bed with faded comforter, he found at a thrift store, made him feel uncomfortably inadequate.


 He quickly went through the drawers and found a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt, the best ones he had. He wasn't sure why he was trying to impress Jeremy; after all he did just find the guy near freezing to death on the streets.  He paused and grabbed some socks and looked down in the underwear drawer. He wasn't sure how Jeremy would feel about wearing his underwear. He grabbed a pair of black boxer briefs stuck them on the top; If Jeremy didn't want them, that was his call. He got back to the bathroom and heard the shower running. The door was cracked slightly so he knocked and called out.

"Jeremy, you decent? I have some clothes for you."


The response was almost a whisper. "I still have my pants on if that is what you mean."


Michael opened the door and saw Jeremy standing there completely bare, waist up. The man was beautiful and it took Michael’s breath away. Jeremy actually smiled, "Those for me?"


"Oh yes, they should fit ok."


"Michael, thank you so much. You are a great person and I can never repay you for the kindness you have shown."


Michael smiled a sad smile. "You already are. It’s kind of nice to spend the holiday with someone."


Jeremy just looked at him and then laughed. "Unless you want even more of a peep show you can set those down so I can get undressed."


"Oh shit sorry." Michael set the clothes on the edge of the vanity and retreated to the kitchen. He began getting out pots and pans to reheat the food. Once he got all the food going he set the table, he looked down at the chipped cups and missed match plates and sighed, it was the best he could do and besides both he and Jeremy were better off just having someone to eat Christmas Eve dinner with.  He heard the shower shut off and he got a mental image of this gorgeous man in his bathroom surrounded by steam. He quickly forced the image out of his head so he could concentrate on the food. He heard a loud thump and then a yell.


He raced down the hall and without even thinking he opened the door. Jeremy was lying on the floor facedown, sobbing.  Michael quickly kneeled down.


"You ok?"


Jeremy was crying uncontrollably, "I...Fell."


Michael grabbed a towel and covered his bare waist with it and then reached down and pulled Jeremy onto his lap and wrapped his arms around him pulling him into a tight embrace.  Jeremy just began sobbing into Michael's chest. Michael couldn't hold it back and began crying as well. The emotions, they had carried bottled up for so long, pouring out in an uncontrollable rush, like a tidal wave, over taking both of them. The irony of two battled hardened warriors crying their eyes out, over the injustices heaped on them, was not lost on them. They sat there for a few minutes holding onto each other, crying, letting everything the world had piled on them wash away, relishing in the embrace of another person.  Michael finally whispered in Jeremy's ear. "I need to check dinner or we have to go hungry too."


Jeremy looked up into his eyes. "Okay, angel."  He lifted his head and kissed Michael and both of them lost themselves in the kiss, and held on, until they heard the smoke alarm in the kitchen.


Michael detached himself from Jeremy and ran to the kitchen, "Just the rolls everything else is fine".


Jeremy shouted back. "I think I found something to sustain me for a long time to come anyway."  Michael just stood there staring down the hall for a minute. When he turned around his heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Kevin stood in front of the stove staring at Michael. Michael could feel the pound of his heart like it was about to burst from his chest.  Kevin wearing his dress blues floated across the room towards him. He leaned in and whispered in Michael's ear. "You need each other. Be happy my love, it's all I ever wanted for you" and disappeared.


Michael sunk to the floor crying. A few moments later Jeremy slid to the floor beside him and pulled him into an embrace, holding on tight, letting Michael have his moment to become overwhelmed by emotion. "I have a feeling we are going to do this a lot."


Michael looked at Jeremy, finally taking him in, gorgeous was an understatement. His sandy blonde hair was the perfect contrast to Michael's dark hair. Jeremy's now clean jaw still held a couple days stubble on it but it was a strong jaw. His eyes were the most intense Michael had ever seen and knew he could lose himself in those eyes. He looked away for a second and caught a glimpse of the Angel Cookie sitting on the table.  "Not anymore my snow angel, not anymore."

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Jazz and the Great Shiny

By D’Artagnon

For David, Lord of the Castle.  Merry Christmas


The Great Shiny was in peril!


Jazz rushed back to the lair, his most recent quest to gather the pretty things completely forgotten. He had to get back and find out why the Great Shiny was going to be dropped by the tall persons. Their curious ways had baffled him since leaving the sneaky-sneaky place. He grew too bored with their snip and steal missions. He’d left that behind in his quest for the shinnies all around, and the wonder that happened on Apples Island. Funny name for a tall persons place, Jazz thought, as he ducked around the pipes beside the speedy worm tunnels to his home. Not an apple tree in sight around Apples Island City. Lots of tall persons, though. And some of them now threatened the Great Shiny itself.


This could not be allowed!


Jazz stopped and looked around before entering his lair. It was a habit the ferret boy had long held. It protected his shiny collection, that extra step of vigilance. Who know if the sneak-sneaky tall persons would find him again, like last spring when they caught him breaking into the rent-some-junk shop. The tall persons had such weird ideas about what to do with shiny things. Jazz knew that he should collect, clean, catalog and stare at the most interesting shinnies in order to understand the Great Shiny better.


But all that required he be sneakier than the sneaky-sneaky tall persons. After checking that no persons of any kind were around, and taking a moment to scratch an itch on his thick tail, Jazz pushed the lever that opened the broken down side door washing machine and hopped inside.


As the door closed, he bent over and began rapidly running on all fours, causing the barrel of the washing machine to rotate. The barrel suddenly lurched backwards and started moving diagonally downwards. Jazz kept running, until the barrel hit the bottom of its traverse. The sudden stop caused Jazz to plow into the side of the barrel directly in front of his face. The barrel then slipped forward and tilted, dumping Jazz out onto a pile of used, dirty mattresses, discarded towels that were equally foul, and a single empty bucket of KFC that never seemed to get knocked over, no matter how many times Jazz used his main entrance.


The barrel retracted with a protracted SPROING sound and went back up to the entry. Jazz himself took a moment to consider finding an easier secret way into his lair. Usually, that consideration took about the same time as it took him to feel undizzy after using the washer barrel like a hamster wheel. He came to the same conclusion, that even if he did find another way to get in, it wouldn’t be as much fun.


When his eyes focused again, he stood and hopped over the bed-place with all the piled cushions and blankies, and started up his ‘puter. It obviously was the best type in Apple Island City, because it had a picture of a fruit with a bit out part on the back. He waited for it to connect to his secret internet tunnel path and considered how he’d get the information he needed.


Obviously he couldn’t just ask the tall persons. First of all, they had very bad manners and accents. Every time he tried to have a simple conversation with someone in the big trees area, they all ran away, screaming. Jazz didn’t understand that game, and some of the things they yelled were very, very rude. Even the short tall persons used the naughty words.


Jazz thought about maybe seeing if that falcon at the bright tower might have an idea. But it was dangerous talking to him. He usually only had food on his mind. No time for games with him.


Another option was seeing if the sneaky-sneakies had any information. It was getting risky tapping into their private ‘puter ‘work, though. They nearly caught him that time he got the plans for the fort place where all the yellow shiny was kept. Jazz still hoped to free that shiny one day. Being yellow shiny and underground probably made that shiny unhappy.


He briefly considered asking David if he knew anything about how the shiny was in danger of dropping. He’d talked to David before, but usually that confused him. Jazz wasn’t sure if David was a tall person or another ferret person like himself. David had a lot of ideas that Jazz didn’t really understand, but he liked to hear David talk about them. And then there was the spelly-wordy game they played on the ‘puter…


No, no, no. Later for that, Jazz thought, patting his head over his right eye. Got to think about how to help the Great Shiny. Got to content-trate!


Twenty minutes of checking on the web, and Jazz found his first clue. He had to turn off the three games he was playing at the same time, but the searching was more important. Something about the Time Square, but the document didn’t say where in the Time Square. It was a huge place, especially for a young ferret person. But the web page did mention when as well as where. Midnight point between the December 31st and the January 1st. The new year starter. Oh, how ironic that the tall persons wanted to destroy the Great Shiny just as everything was shiny and new again on the year-map. And as fate would have it, that night was tonight.


He picked up his tablet and slipped it into his mini-pack. The screen was almost as wide as Jazz was across the shoulders, but he'd long ago hacked the device so he had constant access to his 'puter. It would keep him on the map.


Jazz then ran around and made sure his various shinnies were all okay. The dark shinnies with their glossy tops. The clear shinnies, looking lots sharper than they were with all those color lines sparking inside. The red and green and blue clear stone shinnies. Even his plastic shinnies, about half of which could be had for just two Georgie heads and a spin in the glass jars. Or a couple of washers if you're a clever ferret.


Once he was sure his treasures were safe, he got the stuff he'd taken when he'd run away from the sneaky-sneaky tall persons. The red dot maker. The short stretchy ropes with the hooks on the ends. The beep-beep maker, that one was always fun for messing with the tall ones.


He also packed in two of the energy bars, his earpiece radio receiver, three foil packs of Capri Sun drinks, a small ball of fishing line with two lead weights, and, on a whim, the little troll doll with the neon green hair.


Then he quickly got into his disguise. A pair of baggy cargo shorts that dragged the ground, a big t-shirt that said "I'm with stupid," and had an arrow pointing down, a worn jean jacket with a hoody sewn into the neckline, a New York Rangers cap and a pair of large sunglasses. He pulled his pack on and looked at his reflection in the wall shiny. He looked like any tall ones teenie boy you might see on the speedy worms.


It didn't take long to navigate the speedy worms to get to the Time Square. Jazz was always worried about entering Time Square. If he was in there too long, and his time there was squared instead of like other places in Apple Island City, there was a greater chance that someone might swoop his lair and find all his shinnies. Bad enough that there were places in Apple Island City that they said never slept or where they said that time went by too quickly, but to make a place where time was times itself? Crazy tall persons. They even had to have small boxes are the city to buy extra New York Time.


As Jazz was getting on one speedy worm, he passed a father absorbing some New York Time while his young son sat beside him. The boy saw Jazz entering the worm entering area and tugged at his father's coat.


"Daddy, look! It's Rocket!"


"Uh huh, that's nice, Johnny. Daddy's reading the sports section."


"But Daddy, It's Rocket! From the movie!"


"Okay, son," the tall person said, still nose deep in his time gathering.


Jazz pointed his fingers at the boy, like in the cowboy movies and grinned. The tall one child giggled and made the cowboy fingers back as the doors closed on the speedy worm. Jazz found a seat and hopped up, knowing he'd have several worm stops before he got to the right crawl out place. Just enough time for a quick yawn nap...



Jazz woke with a start, his body twitching like he'd fallen, but surging with adrenaline. He looked around and saw he was still riding the seat on the speedy worm, but he'd obviously missed his stop. The worm had already gone back to the uptown. He needed to be more downtown.


But the worm was heading uptown. Jazz needed to move, quick. So at the next stop he hopped out and bounded up the stairs to street level. His disguise had worked so far, but he knew that running on all fours above ground would attract attention. He needed to hurry.


As he climbed the steps up, he noticed the sky was dark. Which meant he'd slept a lot longer than he'd realized. He had been on the worm for hours, and the Great Shiny only had a short time before the tall one assassins intended to drop it off the building.


Many tall persons were in the streets. But unlike when they did the required walks during the daytime, they were dressed nicer, they were making the "whoo-hooo," noise and had shinnie-shinnies all over themselves. If Jazz hadn't been so pressed for time, he might have felt a strong urge to follow some of these weird tall ones around and try to, uhmm, acquire a few of these shinnies. Some of the shinnies even made noises! What fun!


Jazz joined in with the crowd, feeling that the tall persons were in a good mood. No one paid him much attention and he managed to slip between clumps of tall persons having conversations as he moved south. He crossed the streets with the signals, stayed clear of the parking meters and even managed to avoid the unwanted nosings of some tall person's growly-pet. Things were going well, but he needed to go faster. He looked around for a southbound speedy worm tunnel.


That's when Jazz walked face first into the butt of a tall person cop. He'd been looking around instead of looking where he was going and turned his face to the front just in time to bonk off the police person's round backside. It sat Jazz down, and made the police person turn to see who'd bumped him.


"You okay there, little guy?" the cop asked, bending over to give Jazz a hand up. Forgot the paw covers! Jazz thought, terrified. His little claws would be detected, his not-tall-person paw hands would be a dead giveaway that Jazz was working for the Great Shiny and his mission would be over even before he could get to the Time Square.


"Jazz okay," he said, pushing up to his feet. "Not watching where goes. Very sorry."


"Where's your parents?"


"Oh, right there. Mom, wait up!" Jazz called, tugging his mini-pack up on his shoulder more and hurrying to melt back into the crowds. He could feel the police tall person's eyes still on him until he was many steps away, but his keen ears still heard the police person mutter under his breath "Huh, tourists."



Tall persons were still something of a mystery to Jazz. Some were all happy and laughing and being noisy while others were huddled in the shadowy narrow parts between the buildings. As he walked down, trying to avoid being trampled, he stepped left into an alleyway, where a pair of young tall ones were shivering together around a small fire of burning garbage. The young tall persons seemed to be alone without a tall person elder to guide them. From what Jazz had observed, that usually wasn't good for such young ones. Something bad must have happened.


Jazz frowned at this. Without thinking, he popped the two protein bars out of his mini pack and slid them across the ground to the two short tall ones. They looked over as the light of their meager fire glittered cheerily off the metallic wrappers. Then they looked up at Jazz, slightly worried.


"Go on, friends," Jazz said, motioning with his paws. "For you."


One of the boys reached out and pulled the bars to his chest, before handing one to his companion. The other looked at Jazz and smiled big. "Thank you!" the smiley short tall person said.


Jazz waved and then pulled his tablet out of the mini pack. A flick of his paw over the screen and his map app flickered to life. He was off course. He'd been heading downtown, but the shift and flow of partying tall persons had drifted him several blocks from the nearest speedy worm tunnel.


"Oh, Jazz. Must get to station."


"Station?" one of the boys asked around a mouthful of energy bar.


"Jazz must hurry. The Shiny is in trouble. Must get to the Time Square."


"Your name is Jazz?" the other boy asked, his breath billowing before his face.


"Yes. Chester Z. Arthur. Jazz for shorts."


The short tall persons looked down at Jazz's tablet. "I know that station," the older of the two said. "There's a short cut. Here. They're doing construction on this block. You could cut across the corners and save almost four blocks. It's right through there." He turned and pointed to a large culvert. "If you follow that pipe, you'll come out in the cellar of the building, but the ground floor's unfinished. You can get out easily."


"Jazz can save time?"


"Yeah," the smaller short tall person said, still chewing.


"Thank you, friends. Jazz must hurry."


"Good luck!" the older short person said as Jazz packed up and bolted for the culvert.


"Wow, he's like a mutant, huh? Like an X-Man."


"Naw. He's something different. But he's cool."


"I hope he gets to do whatever he's got to do."





Jazz hopped out the end of the culvert. He'd had a bit of fun in the tight confines of the tube, actually able to run on all fours fast enough to charge up the sides of the narrow culvert and loop over. He leapt out into the basement of the new building, bouncing along. He easily slipped past the construction equipment and piles of supplies, around partly constructed parts of the structure waiting to be hauled into place. Jazz was in the zone!


Climbing out of the partly constructed basement, Jazz quickly melted back into the crowd, heading south. His disguise had picked up some dirt and mud, but he felt he could still pass a tall person's casual glance long enough to vanish in the mass of walking, loud persons. He managed to sneak into the speedy worm station and on a southbound worm without further incident. He was suddenly quite hungry. He settled sucking down one of the foil packs of liquid. Those other small tall persons needed the food more. Jazz would have to forage later.


He got out of the worm tunnel at the right station this time. The groups of tall persons were more active here. Some were singing, badly, while others were sharing liquids and dancing oddly. He managed to weave through the tall ones resisting the urge to search them for "unnecessary" shinnies he could liberate. His mission was guiding him.


He walked a few blocks and found himself in the Time Square. There were many many security tall persons, but not nearly enough for all the other tall persons who were busy enjoying themselves. Streets had been blocked off to roller traffic. Jazz had to really struggle to move through the throngs of tall persons. Their movements were less logical and orderly down here. Clearly the squared time thing was affecting them oddly.


Jazz jumped up on a steel fence blocking the highway and looked around. The whole of the Time Square was shiny. Brilliant lights flashed with the names of the gods. Cocacola, Sony, iPhone, all these were blinked and flashed and lit up. Jazz felt his tail tingle with excitement. His right paw shivered slightly.


"Oh Great Shiny," he breathed out reverently. "You hide among so many of your children. But I can not helps you if I can not finds you."


"Hey little man," one of the tall persons said near Jazz. He looked around and saw the tall person looking at him. "Tha's a great trick! How you do dat, man?"


"Jazz not a man," the ferret boy said, petulantly.


"Right on! How'd you do that, though?"


"Do what?" Jazz asked, beginning to think he needed to not be talking to this tall person.


"Like all balancing on one foot on that barrier, man?"


"Oh," Jazz said, and he pointed off towards a police tall person in the distance. "He taught me."


The speaking tall person looked around and Jazz took that moment to bolt. He quickly made his way to the nearest building and hid in its shadow. A door on the side of the building opened and Jazz dashed inside as it began closing, brushing past the legs of two tall persons who were giggling loudly and stank of sweatiness. He ran until he found a fire stairs and hopped up them three at a time.


That was close, Jazz thought. He stopped after climbing four stories up the stairs and he caught a glance out the window. A glance of a glow reflecting on the windows of the building across the big empty space. It stopped Jazz in his tracks and he sat back, his tail forming a sort of tripod with his legs.


Far above him, reflected in the opposite glass, he could see a shimmering, color shifting globe or purest shiny. He had somehow found the actual building that the Great Shiny was being held prisoner on. He was almost there.


He had to reach the top, soonest! He looked out the exit of the stairwell, knowing that tall persons often built up-lifters near the stairs. He was not disappointed. He pressed the call button and pulled out another foil liquid pack and drained it while waiting for the up-lifter doors to slide open.


The door slid open and a rather portly tall person in a not-police uniform was about to step out when he and Jazz noticed each other. For a moment, they stared at each other, neither moving. Then Jazz twitched his whiskers and the thick-waisted tall person rubbed his hands over his eyes.


Jazz moved first, ducking back around the corner near the stairs. He pushed the stairway door open as he passed but did not enter it. Soon as Jazz was around the corner from the up-lifter, he flattened himself against the wall and held his breath.

The guard tall person stepped out into the hallway, his heavy foot falls echoing in the empty passage. The door to the stairwell closed with a bang and the guard tall person called out "Hey!" and ran to the stairs. He tugged the door open and stepped inside, looking up and down.


Jazz rushed into the up-lifter and hid against the button panel, trying to make himself as tall and narrow and invisible as possible. The doors slid shut and he sighed in relief. After checking the buttons, he reached up for the highest number he could and pressed it.


"Soon, Shiny. Jazz is coming!"



Jazz exited the elevator at the top floor and he quickly realized he had no idea where to go next.  The Great Shiny was being held outside the building, above it.  Which meant he had to get outside and on top, somehow.  But how?  He was just a little ferret person, after all.  Tall persons had weird ideas about building things.  Where could he find the way up?


A flash of light caught Jazz’s keen eyes and he dove for cover behind a planter box.  The light came from a man opening a door with a picture of a stairway on the door.  The tall person was older, stooped over a bit.  He seemed to be talking to himself, heading for a bathroom door.  Jazz knew that symbol well.  He’d entered many a hidden place to find shinnies by going through the ceiling tiles in bathrooms many times before, that one time scaring that sitting down tall person lady.


That was a weird time.


As soon as the tall person was gone into the bathroom, Jazz ran for the stairway door and, after checking that no one saw him head that way, slipped inside.  The room inside was all machine sounds.  There were tubes and pipes and wires and the smells were hot and oily and greasy and dirty.  The air was even hot but dry.  Jazz didn’t like the place.  It smelled like a lot of the places that the sneaky-sneaky tall persons wanted him to go in the time before.  He ran about and found the promised stairs going up, behind the casing of the up-lifter hole.


Jazz ascended the stairs, slowly.  He’d come far, had to be clever and fast.  He was so close to his mission, and he wanted to make sure nothing went wrong.


Then his tablet started beeping.  That was his cue.  He’d set the alarm to warn him when there was only 10 minutes left before the Great Shiny was due to be harmed.  He pushed open the door at the top of the stairs and felt the door snap open, blown over by a stiff gust of wind.  Jazz’s Rangers hat spun away in the wind.  He leaned into the door frame as the cold air whistled around him.


He stepped out and looked around, his paw coming up to protect his eyes from the whipping wind.  He could see the tops of other, smaller buildings.  Some of them, far, far, far below.  Jazz gulped, realizing how really high up he was.  Tall persons, it seemed, could never get high enough.


Braving the cold, howling wind, he scampered around the top, discarding his disguise as he went.  He’d be needing his mobility soon, so the extra cloth needed to go.  He left his mini pack as well.  It only slowed him down at this point.  Besides, the beeping of the tablet was annoying.


Jazz ran around the outer area of the roof, finding more structure above it.  And as he rounded the top facing out into the Time Square, he found it.  High above, on a tall pole, hung the Great Shiny.  It was massive, glittery, and had lights inside that shifted color and brightness.


Jazz gasped, staring up in awe.  As he watched, he saw the Great Shiny shake, and begin to move.  Moving down.  “NO!” Jazz cried and he ran to the base of the pole.  He climbed over some electrical thing, full of small light bulbs and metal, and shimmied up the pole, going as fast as he could.  His claws dug into the paint protecting the metal pole and helped him propel his thin body up, up, up!


He clambered over the outside of the Shiny, finding easy hand and foot holds.  Clearly, whatever was lowering the Great Shiny was doing so from above.  Once above, he noticed that the Shiny was suspended by a cable, running up to a pulley at the top.  Far below, he could hear the tall ones cheering.  Cheering the death of the Great Shiny!  Jazz got angry and reached down to the top of the Great Shiny, wrapping his paws around one of the crystal holders on top of the sphere, and he held tightly to it as he put his feet up to grasp the pole.


He tugged, his back claws making screeching sounds as he tried to dig into the pole and hold on. But the great shiny continued to slide down the pole, slowly but not slowing. Jazz struggled harder, pulling with every tiny ferret muscle he could, tugging upwards, trying to keep the Great Shiny from falling.


And then, the unthinkable happened. Jazz's hands felt it, his body shuddered, and his mouth snapped open in surprise, as the large crystal he'd wrapped his paws on released from the rest of the Great Shiny.


Then the brightness flared and his body shook and he felt tingles and numbies, and chills. All his muscles convulsed and he felt almost immediately after that a complete and filling darkness. As if mocking him, Jazz could still hear the distant crowd below shouting numbers. As his consciousness left him, Jazz fell forward onto the now dark body of the great shiny, still clutching the crystal, even as he crumpled onto the Shiny's darkened shell.



Jazz felt warmth spreading over his body, lifting up under him with pure white light. Groggily, he looked around. All under him, the world was clean brightness, the ultimate evidence of shiny. He glanced to the large, rectangular crystal clutched to his narrow chest, almost sobbing.


"Am I deads?" he spoke, softly. Somewhere in the far away he could hear crowds of tall persons singing. He took a shuddering inward breath and felt all his fur tingling, and a slight scorching smell wafted up his nose.


"No, noble Jazz. You are not deads."


"Who speaks?" Jazz asked, his voice sounding small, hollow.


"You know me. You have always known me."


"Sh-sh-shiny?" the ferret boi asked, awed.


"I have many names, but that will work. I have been watching you a while now. From a place not matched to this place, a world not matched to this world."


"I do not understand."


"It is not important for now. What is important is you, Jazz."


"Jazz is important?"


"Yes, you are. Some bad times will come this year. Bad tall ones will try to hurt other tall ones. They have already started. Things will get dark."


"Noooo," Jazz said, emphatically. His tail snapped around his body, wrapping up his belly and helping to hold the crystal.


"And I will need you to help resist the dark, Jazz."


"Jazz can help the Shiny?"


"Yes, my little one. You will have to find and help four special tall ones. Young tall ones who will help bring back the light."


"A four short tall persons?"


"You will know them when you find them."


"And Jazz must be their friend?"


"You will do what you must when you find each one. There are others you must find as well."


"I do not understand," Jazz said, feeling very confused. His head had hurties and he shook it briefly to clear it. The crystal felt warm under his paws.


"Shiny, how will Jazz know where to go? Jazz is just little ferret person. The tall persons are many and all over the lands. Even here in Apple Island City, there are more than Jazz could count in bunches of days." He turned his head about, quizzically. "How can Jazz do this?"


"You have time, gentle Jazz. First you need to get to the swimmers, they will need your help in the land of Oro. You will need to travel south into the place of flowers."


"The gardens in the middle of Apple Island City? But those are north of here."


"No, my small one. Far to the south. Many moons of running. Past the land of the tall ones' white buildings. Farther still, past the place of the burning weeds and the peaches, into the land of flowers. You will go to the place of racecars there. The Daytona."


"The Daytona," Jazz repeated. He had heard of this place. It was a holy shrine of the nascars religion among the rednecked tall ones.


"Bring my crystal with you. It will help guide you. They will know you are of the Shiny when they see it."


"I scared, Shiny."


"Do not fear. You only need to help the tall ones do what they have to do. You will not have to fight. If you do your job right, they wont even know you are there."


“I will try, Shiny.”


“I saw what you did tonight, Jazz.  You were very good.  You helped others and hurt no one.  You must keep true to yourself.”


“Jazz will do, Shiny.”


“You must wake up now, little one.  Soon, tall ones will come here and find you.  You must be gone by then.  Happy New Year, Chester.”


“Happy New Year, Great Shiny.  Will I… will I see you again?”


Jazz felt as if he were falling and suddenly sat up, awake.  The crystal was clutched tightly in his paws.  Under him, the form of the Great Shiny was dark, with light from the electrical box thing under it glowing through the Shiny’s body.  Jazz felt a tear trail over his cheek as he held onto the crystal.


He had a mission, and he had to get started.  Reluctantly, he climbed off the Shiny and slid the crystal into his mini pack.  He looked down at the crowds of tall persons below and sighed greatly.  No one would know what he’d tried tonight, or what he had to do now.  But Jazz was determined to bring the message of the Shiny where it needed to go.  He didn’t know what that message was entirely yet, or where it would take him.  But he knew that once he did what he had to do, the world would be a little shinnier.


Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Go out and make this year Shine.

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Author Forward:


Ah, an author's greatest debate when creating a new tale, when to start it and why start it there instead of at some other point. If one starts too far back the buildup is boring, start too late into the pertinent events and it becomes confusing as a reader tries to put all the pieces together. In this case it is even harder because the whole point is to put something out for the holiday season. Does this mean it should start during the season, end during the season, or what?


Well, after careful consideration and spending a restless night trying to figure it out, I decided to spin the clock back a bit, give you a few tantalizing bits, and hope it holds your interest until the real story starts. With this in mind, I felt I better warn any potential readers that all the details will not be make complete sense until a point later on. I hope any who start reading this sticks with this rather eclectic idea and sees it through. Also, as always with me, feedback, even the harshest negative feedback, is gladly accepted.


Kyle Aarons


A Spirit of Christmas Finds a Place Called War




(Begin part two)


Garrison woke as the sunlight entered though the window of his east facing room. The thin light blue drape did little to block out the light. He pulled the comforter off and instantly pulled it back over himself. The room was cold, real cold! He stayed under the thick comforter as long as he could, but the need to get to the bathroom finally overcame the desire for warmth. He quickly moved into the hall and had to look around for a minute to figure out where the bathroom was.


The whole house was ice cold and it really sucked! He relived himself with teeth chattering and bolted back to his room. Part of him wanted to crawl back under the covers, but suddenly he realized the electric baseboard heater needed to be plugged in no matter how badly he needed the extra plug space. He moved over pulled his phone charger out of the plug and changed it with the heater. He then cranked the heat as high as it would go and hoped it wouldn't take long to warm up his room.


In the mean time, he dug though the rest of the dresser looking for anything warm to quickly put on. In the bottom he found a couple of pairs of sweatpants and another sweatshirt. He quickly pulled them on before finding some heavier socks. He had never had to deal with this kind of thing and the wooden floor was nowhere near as warm as having socked feet on carpet so he pulled on his shoes. He looked around wondering if this was all a play to make him want to go right back to Seattle. He bet it was.


He rubbed his face and moved back to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and wondered about if his plan was really going to work for the first time. Winter was still a month away and he was nearly freezing to death, at least it felt like it. He had never woken up in a cold house before, and this was a real eye-opener. He wondered if other kids out here really had to contend with this. It did take long to realize some did, probably many more than some. There was no way a few of the places just down the dirt road from him had furnace type heat he was used to, and even if they did, they probably couldn't afford to pay for it to be on. He shivered again at the thought of it only getting worse as winter really settled in. This led to the next question, even if he found the perfect people to take him in, would he be willing to live with them through bitter cold winters with too little heat and possibly too little food? Being here sure made things look differently than they did back in Seattle!


Garrison briefly thought about praying, like his mom had taught him, but he shook his head and made a snarling looking face. God had taken Mom and was getting ready to take Dad. How could he talk to Him and trust Him? Garrison had not gone back to church since the day of the funeral, and had no intention of ever going back. After the funeral, his dad, not a church goer, asked only a pair of times if Garrison wanted to go to the youth Bible Study his mother had taken him to for years. Both times he refused and the subject was totally dropped inside the Donavan home. Garrison clenched his fist as he thought about the four of five churches his dad had driven past in the tiny town of War. Chances were good, if he did stay, he would end up going to one of them. He didn't really know if this was something he could contend with either.


Almost like an outside force was feeling his thoughts the water heater quickly changed the tap from cold to very warm water which allowed him to push his anger at God away and deal with the coming day.


With a yawn, he made his way into the kitchen and found it just as cold as the rest of the house. He looked at the wood burning stove and the pile of wood next to it with a frown. He muttered to himself as he pulled open the front and looked in, "I can't believe this is how we have to heat this place, and I have no idea how to start a fire in this."


Deciding the house needed heat and thinking as much about his dad's need for comfort as his own, he stuck some wood in and tired to light it with over a dozen matches from a box he found on a shelf off to the side with no luck at all. "Oh, come on!" He snarled as the thirtieth match went out without so much as singing the piece of wood."


From behind him, his dad cleared his throat, "Saul said there are some fire starting sticks in the drawer next to the dish strainer."


Garrison turned with a start only to see his dad was dressed in a heavy robe and slippers. "How come you have a winter robe and I don't?"


"Not sure, I'll have to ask Saul."


Garrison made a growling sound as he moved over to the dish strainer, still not quite believing he would have to do dishes by hand, and opened the drawer. Sure enough the whole drawer was loaded with packages of Duraflame Stix. He read the instructions quickly and stuck a pair of them in an X shape under the small pieces of wood he had already put into the stove. A single match ignited the pair of 'stix' and the flame started to spread to the rest of the wood in less than a minute. With a giant sigh of relief, Garrison watched as the flames continued to grow.


Father and son stayed close to the wood burning stove for several minutes as the heat generated by the fire felt good to both of them. After nearly five minutes of saying nothing, Garrison carefully loaded a couple of bigger pieces of wood into the stove and closed it. He was surprised to find the temperature in the kitchen was already starting to go up. "OK, make sure we buy like a semi truck of those fire stix!"


This got a chuckle out of his dad who moved over to the stove and looked it over. "I have no idea how to cook over a gas stove, so don't expect things to taste the way you are used to, at least for a few days. While I get some eggs and bacon started, why don't you go out to the wood pile and get the big fireplace going too? It's cold in here and I don't think this is good for me."


As predicted the eggs didn't come out like Garrison liked them, but he refused to complain. It had been his idea to come here and his dad was giving up a great deal for this to happen. After eating the rubbery textured eggs and slightly overcooked bacon, he pulled on his coat for his first day in War.


His first stop was the junk cars. They were awesome! There were over a dozen cars, old pickups and even an old van. It didn't take him long to decide he would turn the van into some kind of play fort. Before he knew it, it was lunchtime which featured another attempt by his father to learn the stove with limited success. Normally he would break out his PS4 or XBox, but with only a PS2 he decided to head out for more explorations. Five hours later and the sky getting dark he returned hungry and filthy. There was couple of abandoned houses, one of them right down the street, and both were partially collapsed and probably too dangerous to explore, but he did so anyway.


At dinner he did almost all the talking as he told his dad his plans for the old van, and let him know about where his explorations had taken him. He told his dad about the small river right down hill and it having a walking bridge over it. He also talking about the walk down to the school and back a couple of times checking for any shortcuts, which there were several promising ones he would explore over the next few days. Finally he talked about a few kids nodding his direction but had said nothing.


Garrison's father took a bite of the stuffed peppers he had made, slightly undercooked this time, and smiled at his son's exuberance. "You know, as the new kid, it will be up to you to make the effort to make some friends. This isn't Seattle. New kids don't come and go all the time and they don't see new faces all the time."


Garrison nodded, but not really understanding what his dad was trying to tell him, "I kind of felt like they were sizing me up or something, Dad. I'll give it some time..."


Garrison Jr. cut off his son, "You think you are hearing what I am saying, but you aren't really listening. The longer you stay standoffish, the harder it will be for you to make friends, Son. Again, you are the outsider here, and you need to work to belong, or your plan will never come to fruition. Now, tonight, I want you to spend some time on those textbooks you got, especially the Social Studies book, so you get up to speed on where your classmates will be at. Then, tomorrow, get your butt back out there and talk to some kids and make some friends."


Garrison let out a long breath and retired to his room, confusion written all over his face. Surely if he just did his own thing, others would see he was nice and would come to talk to him. He couldn't help but think of how the teachers at the academy made sure some kids were all but tasked to talk to the new kids. Surely the teachers in this school would do the same for new kids who come in. If he had to do this on his own, how should he start? He couldn't just extend his hand and say, "Hey, I'm Garrison from Seattle, who are you?" Even as he pulled out his text books and looked at the notes the teachers gave him on what chapters they were up to, he thought of dozens of ways to break the ice, what would sound good? There was no way he could play the part of a poor kid, at least not yet. He had no idea how to be one. Heck, he didn't even know what kids did for fun around these parts. He had seen a single baseball field, but no kids were on it. With no easy answers, he decided to do something he was good at.


Hours of schoolwork were definitely something he was used to. His academy gave out a ton of homework and home study assignments. A couple of his new teachers had, upon his father's request, given recent assignments to Garrison to look over and even work on so he could get a feel of being a grade higher in a school well below the academic standards he was used to. It was well after midnight when he closed the Social Studies book and put all the assignments the students had done in the last two weeks into his small backpack. He fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.


Sunday morning he woke up late, ate a bowl of cereal, had a banana and went out to look for other kids. He didn't find any. At first he was confused by this, but as his explorations widened, he noted several families leaving the churches lining the main street of War. "Church”, he muttered to himself, “They were all in church!"


Lunch came and went. A quick check-in with his father and a can of ravioli was all he needed before heading back out.  The sun was already starting to go down when a couple of younger boys gave him a nod and he nodded back. He almost decided to see if they would say anything, but remembered his father's words. "Hey, um... I'm new here and wondered what you all do for fun?"


One of the boys rolled his eyes but the other, a nine-year-old by the name of Darrel showed him a few places up in the woods and introduced him to his twelve-year-old brother, Miller. The brothers were not super friendly, but did take him down to the river where they skipped some rocks and talked some. It didn't take long to find out Miller was in his grade and shared a couple of classes with him. Before departing for home, the pair made sure he knew how to find his own way back, as they came within sight of Garrison's house, Miller looked over the property, "I heard someone was kind of fixing this place up."


Still not too sure how to broach the subject, Garrison decided to stick to the truth, "Yeah, my father got it super cheap so he had some left to do some repair and junk."


"Lucky you," Darrel stated.


Garrison cocked his head to the side, "Lucky me?"


"Yeah," Miller nodded while pointing to the house, "You got two chimneys going so you must have a nice warm house. Our fireplace is in the far side of our place so it's always cold in our room."


Garrison couldn't help it. His eyes went a bit wide.


Miller smirked, "Like my brother said, lucky you." The boy paused, "See you in history tomorrow." He started to turn but stopped, "Hey, Gar, let me warn you. Ross is in our history class. Don't turn your back on him."


"Um... OK, why?"


Darrel responded, "His pops is rich and him and his friends are super mean."


"Yeah," Miller nodded, "and your kind-a small and don't look like a fighter so he'll try to pick on you the second he can get to you when the teachers aren't around."


Garrison took a deep breath, "Thanks for the warning and for showing me around some."


Miller nodded and jerked his head at his little brother to get him moving.




The week of Thanksgiving proved to be pretty decent. Miller actively helped break the ice with a couple of the other kids on the short day of school on Monday. The rest of the week there was no school, which allowed Miller and a few of his friends show Garrison around a bit more. The one time he went over and actually inside, Miller's house he was beyond appalled. The place was in horrible shape! He actually saw a squirrel run out as he came in, there were some holes in the walls, and half the windows had been crudely boarded up. He instantly knew if this place had been being lived in back in Seattle, the parents would have probably been in jail for neglect.  The problem was, from what Garrison was seeing, Miller and Darrel were far from alone. In fact some kids appeared to be living in worse and nothing was being done about it.


However, the living conditions was not what caused Garrison to dismiss the idea of ever living with Miller, for it didn't take long for Garrison to find out that Miller, Darrel and their two sisters, Molly and Hanna all hated not having school in. It took a bit of reading between the lines before Garrison realized all four kids had exactly one guaranteed meal, school lunch, the rest was totally up in the air. Their mom worked as a waitress in a neighboring town, which provided some income and thus food. In addition, the church they went to had a food bank where many more meals came from. Miller's dad, however, was the real problem. In simple terms their dad was a drunk, plain and simple. Unfortunately, there were times where their dad drank what Mom brought home and meals weren't just scare, they were non-existent.

Garrison tired to talk to his father, but found the harder side of his dad than he had ever seen before. After hearing about Miller and Darrel, his father shook his head, "Son, this is a case where there is nothing you can do and there is nothing I can do. You can, if you want, see if there is any kind of social services you can report this to, but from what I am seeing, a hungry family is not going to get much attention if any. Now if their father is hurting them..."


Garrison shook his head, "I don't think so. Miller says his dad passes out drunk most of the time and he isn't, like, beat up or anything..."


"Look, the best we can do is to have them over for lunch a few times. I'll fix some cheap cans of soup or something to keep something in them, but I am not here for charity of others and you will not blend in the way you want to if I do more than a can of something here and there. Remember, I am here because you wanted to try to find a family and they clearly aren't it. I also don't want you going over there."


"No problem there, Dad, Miller said his father doesn't like other kids coming over..."


"Good." Mr. Donavan stated harshly. "I'm glad you found some kind of friend, but if I ever see him drunk or looking high..."


Garrison hung his head, "Miller isn't like that..."


"Good, then you have your first buddy, but I still want him over here a couple of times so I can get to know him and see for myself he is what you are telling me he is. In the mean time I will have Miss Anderson pick us up a couple of cases of Campbell's Soup, so we can give your friend a buck of food a few times while keeping us under the radar."


By the time Thanksgiving came, Garrison's father mellowed some and even invited Miller and Darrel over for a decent Thanksgiving meal. This was turned down, since the whole family was going to a church dinner. However, both boys happily showed up on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for some leftover Turkey sandwiches. On the other hand, the kids taught Garrison how to chop wood and after a not so easy conversation with Mr. Donavan, the two boys went out to the back and showed Garrison how to shoot the BB Gun, using the junk cars for targets. Garrison realized, even as he went out the back his dad was almost certainly on the phone with Saul, chewing on him some.


The nights were spent catching up so he was as close to his classmates as he could get before school resumed in earnest. One night Miss Anderson reluctantly stayed over while his father went to the new hospital for an overnight stay so the doctors could get to know his situation first hand. Miss Anderson, was only too happy to feed Miller and Darrel, however, and even had Miller sit with Garrison to help him get up to speed in the three classes they would share. Also, while nothing was said, a second BB gun and a massive bottle of BBs were added to the toy box when his father returned from the hospital so the boys could shoot together.





December 1, 2014:


By the time school was back in session, Miller and Darrel were regulars in the Donavan home. Miller and Darrel went the wrong way to pick up Garrison for the walk to school and were rewarded with a couple of cinnamon rolls each. The two boys profusely thanked Mr. Donavan, but secretly each held on to one each, which were given to their sisters before they entered the building.


The first few classes went fine. In each class introductions were made by the teacher informing the others of a new student who liked to be called Gar. Things were made easier because Miller had already introduced him to a few others so he didn't come in as a total unknown. In fact, History was first and Garrison found he was able to follow the class with no problems and a few kids readily talked to him. Social Studies was a bit more difficult, but the studying he had done allowed him to follow the discussion and even answer a couple of questions. English was a total joke. What he had been doing in the fifth grade classroom back in Seattle was way more difficult than what this sixth grade class was working on. The only thing he realized he would baldly miss was being able to do everything on a word processer. Everything in this class would have to be hand written.


It was in Math where the first problems crept up. The teacher went over a refresher  course on doing word problems before handing out a work sheet. The questions, at least in Garrison's way of thinking were stupidly easy. He churned through them like a machine, thinking his fourth grade teacher had given him harder work. The only question he had to work on was one where a train left ten minutes after another but was traveling faster and the question asked how much earlier the faster train would get to the same place. Garrison went the long route of figuring out when the fast train would pass the slow one and then how long it would take for each to get there before he realized he could have just figured out what time each would arrive and then do the math to subtract and get the answer. This left him a bit annoyed at himself, but still, it only took him about three minutes to come up with the right answer. Before most kids in the class had the first page of the four pages done, Garrison was already lowering his pencil.


Behind him, a very heavy set boy spoke up, "Mrs. Kulder, I think you lost the new kid!"


Even as the teacher moved up, Garrison turned to look at the much bigger and shook his head, "No, I'm done."


This got more than a few looks and even a couple of gasps out of other kids. Mrs. Kulder's eyes narrowed, "Class, this is not a group exercise, get your noses back on your own pieces of paper!" She then moved up and thumbed through the worksheet Garrison had been working on. She took a deep breath, "I must say, Gar, I'm beyond impressed. Why don't I take you over to Mr. Long and let you sit in on the seventh grade class and see how you do."


The big kid behind Garrison looked up with disgust, "He couldn't have finished! He had to have cheated!"


Garrison, who had already stood, glared at the much bigger kid, "And how, exactly, could I have cheated? This is my first full day in this class.” He looked down at the paper on the kid's desk and snickered, "Oh, you better do a recheck, those first two are way wrong."


The boy turned bright red and clenched his fists but any outburst was cut off as Mrs. Kulder picked up the worksheet from off the boy's desk nodded and put it down. "You might actually want to listen to someone once in a while, Ross, Gar's right. You aren't even close. Did you even read the questions or did you guess?"


All Garrison could hear was the snickers of some and the heaving breathing of one as he was led out of the class to see how he would do in an even more advanced math class. It was the first full day in school and he had an enemy, one he had been warned about...


Ross struck the first time just as school got out. He moved behind Garrison and shoved him hard into a wall. As Garrison turned, he saw the overweight boy glare, "Come on smartass, come get you some."


Garrison actually thought about it, but backed off. The kid had to have five inches on him and probably a hundred pounds as well, if not more. Instead he used his favorite weapon, wits. "So did you ever read those math problems or is the problem you can't read?"


Ross made a move toward Garrison but was cut off by Mr. Johnson, "Really, Ross? Already starting on a new kid? Just knock it off and get to the bus, or to the office, your choice."


Ross shot another glare at Garrison, but backed off as the teacher made another step in his direction.


Tuesday, right after lunch, Ross struck again. He pushed Garrison up against a locker and pulled up his underwear real hard before shoving him to the ground. To prevent being late to class, Garrison had to wait all the way though the next class before he could go to the bathroom and get his underwear from out of his butt crack.


The next three days ended up being one torment after another. It turned out Ross had a few other bully friends who took every chance they could to make Garrison's life as miserable as possible. One poured water on his pants making it look like he peed himself, a couple of others tripped him in the halls at every opportunity, and one kid even managed to get honey or syrup in his hair as he walked out of school. Then there was Ross; the kid had a knack for giving wedgies when no teachers were around. Miller and a few of the others did what they could to help, but pretty much everyone seemed to be afraid of Ross and his friends.


December 5, 2014:


Garrison left school hating life, absolutely hating it. Miller and his brother were becoming OK friends and a couple of Miller's buddies had opened up some more. However, the warning about Ross had been off by a wide margin. Instead, to say the kid was bully and a massive brute had to be the understatement of the century. The final straw was one of his friends grabbing him and holding his arms while Ross kneed him in the groin just before lunch. Garrison spent lunch on the floor of his math room crying, missing lunch, and trying to clean up enough to not be noticeable before his afternoon started.


As he made his way home, with Miller trying to find out what had happened since it was clear something bad had occurred, all he could think about was going back to Seattle. He was done. This place was barbaric, and even as much as he liked Miller, there was no way he was going to endure any more of the abuse from Ross or his thugs.


He gave a nod to Miller and Darrel and waited for them to disappear into the trees before he opened the front door and shouted, "DAD! TAKE ME HOME!" This was greeted by silence. He moved deeper into the house, DAD, DID YOU HEAR ME? I WANT TO GO HOME!"


Again there was no answer. Fear gripped him as he bolted into his father room. No one was there. He grabbed his cell out of his backpack and noticed a text message. "Miss Anderson had to take me to the hospital. Had problems breathing. She'll be back to make sure you are OK later tonight. Feel free to feed yourself one of your tomato and cheese covered cardboard circles, and if Miller wants one, cook him one too, Dad."


"Ahhh!" Garrison shouted at the ceiling. "I just want to go home!" He almost threw his phone against a wall, but stopped himself in the nick of time. He made his way into his room and cried but as he did so prayed a few words for the first time since getting mad at God over taking his mom. "Where are all the good people, God? Are there any left?" Not long after he spoke the words, exhaustion, which came with the stress of everything building up over the last few months and the last few days in particular, took over and he fell asleep.


He woke well after midnight to the sound of a rare December thunderstorm. The first rumble of thunder brought him out of his deep slumber. The second rattled the windows and brought him fully awake. He woke and looked around just in time to see a flash of lightening and hear another rumble of thunder. Moments later the first heavy drops of ran hit the window. He rubbed his eyes and sat up realizing he was still dressed and very hungry. He hadn't even eaten dinner. Food sounded real good all of the sudden. After a few moments of debate, he decided he was hungry enough to fix himself a frozen pizza, so he made his way toward the kitchen.


Miss Anderson was up reading a book under the single lamp in the living room and heard Garrison move to toward the kitchen. As she looked up, Garrison gulped, "Is Dad OK?"


"We got him flown out and the doctors got him taken care of and stabilized. He had a real bad coughing fit, so they want to try something brand new on him. It sounds like he will be gone for a few days."


The woman set the book down and studied Garrison's face for a few minutes, "So your friend, Miller, came by to see you and told me you had a bad day at school today. You want to talk about it?"


Garrison almost said yes, but stopped himself. Instead his eyebrow shot up, "Miller really came back to check on me?"


The woman nodded, "Yeah, twice actually, it sure seems like you made a real good friend there."


Garrison rubbed his face as it dawned on him one of the people he had asked God about was in the same school as he was. The thought made him glance upward for a brief moment, "Uh huh. Wish they were all like him... Did you happen to give him anything to eat?"


"No, but I tried. It just breaks my heart to see such a good boy go hungry... He said his mom brought home some stuff, but I'm not real sure he was telling the truth. I could tell he had to find a reason to say no. He said he would be back in the morning, though, so we can make sure we get a decent breakfast into him. So what happened at school?"


"Ross happened." Garrison grumbled even as he fought the desire to cup his hands over his groin at the thought of the knee slamming into him. Seeing the look he was getting from his dad's assistant and very well paid babysitter, he pulled his back straight and put the best face on the situation he could manage. "He hates me because I am like ten times smarter when I am sleeping than when he is wide awake and he's real big."


"Has he hurt you?"


"Not really..."




Not liking the tone from the woman and refusing to tell any girl about getting kneed in the nuts, Garrison hardened. "It's just a big jerk being a big bully, really. He picks on lots of kids. He got me real good today, but I'm fine. I was just real mad and then got worried about Dad..."


"If he is hurting you...."


Garrison decided to tell a partial lie, "Miller doesn't let him." Which was true in a way. Miller did what he could, but couldn't be around all the time and would have probably gotten a knee in the groin, too, if he had been there since Ross and his friends had ganged up on Garrison. However, Miller had certainly prevented some bad stuff from happening.


Garrison's words got a slight smile out of the woman, who took them a face value, "Well, I'm going to make sure we get that young man a big breakfast when he comes over tomorrow! Since you were heading to the kitchen, I gather you are hungry?"


Garrison nodded, "Yeah, I was so mad I didn't eat dinner..."


"Let's get you some food, then!" She stood and turned toward the kitchen. "You know you are a pretty lucky kid to make a real friend to be there for you like Miller is."


As Miss Anderson disappeared into the kitchen, Garrison looked through the window and whispered, "Yeah, now all I need is three or four more of him..."


As if something much more powerful was listening to his words, the sky above War literally lit up as multiple forks of lightning ripped across the sky followed by a deep and long roar of thunder.


Miss Anderson stuck around to make sure Garrison and Miller got a very large and filling breakfast before heading back over to the office house. "If you boys want lunch, come up to the office and I'll feed you." she paused and stared right at Miller, "Same for your bother and sisters, young man. I have plenty at my little cottage."


Just after noon, Garrison and Miller showed up with the Miller's younger siblings in tow. Miss Anderson instantly went to work getting a real meal ready while shooing the kids into her bathroom to get cleaned up. She also all but forcefully took the coats from Garrison's friends and put them in her washer. Unlike at Garrison's house, Miss Anderson had a PS4 and some games, which totally astonished Garrison, but lo and behold, there it was and she had four controllers! The group of kids spent almost all afternoon in a warm house getting fed as much as they could eat and playing all sorts of games. As sky darkened and Miller escorted his very happy younger siblings out the front door, he looked back and offered to do work for all the food. Miss Anderson flatly refused.


Miss Anderson turned to stop Garrison from leaving, but realized the boy really wanted to walk his friends home. She gripped his shoulder, "You should come back here..."


"I want to stay in my house."


"Garrison, you know I really don't like staying over there..."


"I know, but you are like five minutes away and I kind of wanted to ask if Miller could stay over."


"Oh..." she knew she had lost the battle as Garrison's big eyes all but melted her heart, "I guess I can take your dad's room, but only if it is OK if Miller stays over. Otherwise you stay here." She paused then, before Garrison could bolt out the door, stopped him again, "And if he does stay over tell him I want the younger three over for breakfast. I just can't stand seeing them hungry."


Garrison nodded with a big smile as he bolted out the door to catch up to the four kids as they made their way down the hill.


It didn't take long for Garrison to catch up and the offer to spend the night was accepted and verified with Miller's already heavily intoxicated father who simply said, "Yeah, whatever."


The two made their way back to let Miss Anderson know before taking a path Miller knew through the woods to get to Garrison’s house faster. As the boys walked through the woods, Miller pointed up to the full moon, "Mom always used to say when there was a ring around the moon like there is tonight, it means there is an angel watching over us."


Garrison stared at the moon for a second and smiled, but then the way Miller had said the words didn't seem right. He stopped and looked over only to see Miller staring upward and wiping a single tear off his cheek. Garrison stayed silent and turned his eyes back to the heavens. He had been over to Miller's shack several times, at this point. Of course Miller and always said his mom was working as a waitress... but... before school, after school, this weekend... He closed his eyes and hoped he was wrong.


He looked skyward again and realized what Miller had been saying; the light high clouds gave the appearance of the moon having a soft white ring all the way around it. It really did look like a halo. He spoke out loud, "Maybe God is watching us."


"Mom said it was an angel..." He looked over at Garrison and patted him on the shoulder, "A December full moon halo, I bet it is a Christmas Angel."


"We could sure use one looking over us."


"Yeah, too bad it can't make my dad stop drinking, but maybe it was the angel who got us all good meals today... I bet the angel let me meet you and Miss Anderson."


Garrison had nothing, no words of comfort, no good way to agree with his new best friend, especially since he had been ready to run back to Seattle the night before. With no words he decided to do what he could. He put his arm around Miller, having to reach up to do so and the pair walked to the house in silence.


Sunday came and went way too fast for Garrison. The time with Miller and the younger kids was a lot of fun as they took turns with the BB guns while Miss Anderson had them round up as much clothing as they could so she could wash and dry them. She did this at her own little cottage to hide the fact Garrison's house had a nice new washer and dryer. As a matter of fact, she kept the doors to the closet and Garrison's father's room locked. By the time she came back with almost all the kid's clothing clean, it was time for lunch, which she happily cooked.


Garrison found it hard to believe this was the same very stuck-up secretary who used to sit in front of his dad's office. To find she had a nice side was surprising; to realize she had a heart made it astonishing! She even made sure to send Miller home with enough food to make sure he and his siblings all would have a good meal for breakfast.


As nice as all this was, all Garrison could think about from the time Miller left for home was having to deal with Ross again at school. To take his mind off it, he played a couple of the PS2 games Saul had found in some second hand shop and retired to his room early to continue to work on catching up in a few areas of class work where he still felt he was a little behind.


December 8, 2014


Garrison met Miller at his place and handed over some rolls Miss Anderson had made for the four kids. They joked about the fact Garrison was screwing up the whole school by being in two grades at the same time as they took a few minutes to go down to the stream to toss some rocks before all but running to get to the school in time. The five entered the school and Garrison braced himself for a new round of misery, determined to not let Ross totally ruin such a great weekend.


As he sat down at his desk for History, he noticed a new kid in the class. As a matter of fact he couldn't help but notice him. The kid was tall and lanky and looked like he needed a bath, or at the very least his clothing and face washed. Everything about the kid all but yelled, "Grimy". On the plus side, the new kid gave Garrison a friendly little nod as he moved to sit down right behind him, taking a desk that had been empty all of last week like it belonged to him.


The teacher walked in right as the buzzer went off and looked straight at the new boy, "Well, Lucas, nice of you to join us again."


The boy chuckled, "Dad said he signed off on us all going deer hunting and I got my work done the best I could." He held up a folder with more than a few mud splotches and possibly even some dried blood on it.


The teacher let out a long breath as she pointed to the edge of her desk almost like she really didn't want to touch it, "This is the third full week you have missed this fall for hunting and you are falling way behind. Are there any more weeks you will be missing?"


"Na, next is bear season and we can do it over Christmas break. We can even do it just off in to the hills and not go anywhere, too, since McDowell county is a big bear county!"


Running her hand down her face in some annoyance, the teacher let out a sigh, "Good, then I expect no more absences from you until the holiday break."


"I'll be here!"


This got a bit of a chuckle out of several in the class, but the teacher quickly moved into her lesson on where all the founding fathers who signed the original Declaration of Independence came from. As if out of the blue, she asked a question just a minute or two before the buzzer was to sound to signal the end of the class, "I'll give 50 bonus points for anyone who can find me which man who signed it, passed on, on the fourth of July."


Without hesitation Garrison raised his hand. The teacher raised an eyebrow in near shock, "You know?"


"Yes, Ma'am Thom..."


The teacher cut him off, "OK, write it down and hand it to me. The rest of you, he just gave you a hint and a head start!"


Behind Garrison, Lucas spoke just loudly enough for him to hear, "Man, I could sure use those fifty points..."


Feeling kind of sorry for the boy for the drubbing the teacher had given him at the start of class, Garrison wrote down, "Thomas Jefferson, Died July 4th, 1826: Born April 13, 1743 in big letters and let it hang open as he stood, which in turn gave Lucas a clear view before Garrison folded the paper, and walked it up to the teacher. The grin he got from the taller boy as he walked back to his desk, past almost two dozen stunned faces, told him he had made the right decision.


The teacher picked up the paper, nodded, and let out a light whistle, "Well, we have one winner, the rest of you have just over a minute to dig into your books. I'll stand at the door to collect answers, so be sure to write your name at the top."


Heading to his next class, Garrison spotted Ross, who all but came straight at him, but suddenly stopped cold and went a bit pale. The massive bully quickly turned and all but ran down the hall to his next class. Confused, but absolutely relieved, Garrison made his way to his next class.


Some sort of higher power seemed to be with Garrison the rest of the day. Not only was Lucas in every class he was in, except the seventh grade Math class, but Ross and his mean buddies didn't make a single move on him. This all changed as school let out. Garrison went to the bathroom before heading out to meet Miller, when three of Ross' friends came in and grabbed him. Ross was not far behind. Two of the boys grabbed his arms with the third opened a stall door. Ross then came from behind and pushed Garrison's head into the toilet. At the same time the two holding him yanked off his backpack and coat.


Garrison struggled as hard as he could but there was nothing he could do. The toilet flushed with his head still in it and he could feel his long hair trying to go down the drain. This, at least, let him take a breath of air, but it didn't last nearly long enough since Ross' hand stayed on the back of his head as the toilet filled back up. Just as his water level was about to cover his ears, he heard a young voice behind him, "Leave him alone!"


One of Ross' friends, a seventh grader who went by the name Buster, told the kid to get lost. Several seconds later the toilet flushed again, but still Ross didn't let Garrison back up. Then things changed and changed in a hurry. Before the toilet had a chance to fill-up to the point of covering Garrison's face, the bathroom door flung open violent and a small group of kids rushed in. Outside the stall, Buster hit the ground hard as air rushed out of his lungs and a kick to his chest flung him backwards as he bent over trying to get his wind back.


The two kids holding Garrison's arms let go to face the newcomers, but one let out a squeal of pure agony and fell clutching his groin, as a boy much younger than him came up, ducked under the boy's wild swing, and savagely grabbed the much bigger boy's balls through the kid's baggy sweat pants and twisted with everything he could muster.


The third start to shout something, but stopped and fell right next to the other two as an elbow from a slightly younger and smaller boy caught him in the Adam's Apple. Half a second later Ross was yanked off Garrison and the sounds of fists landing on blubber could clearly be heard. Bawling and gasping for air, Garrison pulled his head out of the toilet only to find Miller and Darrel right there to help him.


Garrison came out of the stall coughing only to see Lucas towering over Ross and two kids each a smaller than the next version of Lucas, giving parting kicks to the two seventh graders, Buster and Jack. The final bully, a sixth grader by the name of Nelson, was still off in the corner making soft croaking sounds and holding his throat.


Lucas moved to the next stall, pulled Garrison's coat out of the toilet and handed it to Darrel while yanking off his own coat, "He's soaked and it's almost freezing outside. Put him in my coat and get him out the back before the teachers show up or any of the other kids see and make fun of him. Take him to my house and we'll get him cleaned up. Lucas pulled the smallest boy back from Buster, "Nothing to the face, Simon, these jerks have to get on a bus and the teachers will notice. He then turned and hardened as he gave Miller a light shove toward the bathroom door, "Go. We'll catch up."


As Garrison found Miller wrapping the offered coat around him and Darrel assisting him out the door toward the side door of the school, he heard Ross' crying voice, "You know what my dad..."


Lucas cut him off, "Your dad already fired mine, he can't do nothing more, Ross; and the next time you pick on one of my best friends this will seem like a pillow fight. Now get the hell out of here before me and my brothers decide to start over again just for something fun to do!"


Miller got Garrison out the side door and quickly took him across the street and up the hill into some trees. Darrel pulled the hood of the couple of sizes too large coat over Garrison's head to keep him warmer and hide the fact Garrison's hair way twirled around and sticking almost straight up.

By the time they were about a quarter of a mile from the school along the train tracks Miller angled them into the trees. The cold wind coupled with the fact his hair was soaking wet as was his shirt made things real cold even with the loaned coat over him. However, Garrison finally calmed enough to find his voice, "Where are we going and what just happened?"


Miller continued to guide Garrison into the woods as Darrel spoke up, "Lucas, Levi and Simon just happened... I've never seen them stick up for anyone before, though!"


"Me neither," Miller responded with a great deal of amazement in his voice, "but they sure picked a good time to start!"


Garrison kept quiet until they turned down a dirt road with "No Trespass" signs in huge block letters on both sides of an old, but well kept up wooden fence with barbed wire at the top, "Um, are we supposed to be going this way."

Miller managed a tight nervous smile, "Lucas told us to take you to his house and this is where he lives, but I've never been here before."


Even with Lucas' coat the cold was getting the best of him in the high winds and near freezing temperatures. Through chattering teeth, he managed to ask, "If you haven't been here before how do you know he lives here?"


Darrel couldn't help but giggle, "Once you been around for a while, you'll get to know where everyone lives just like we do. Just because we ain't been here doesn't mean we don't know Lucas, Levi, and Simon lives here!"


Before the trio even got to the large front porch, the door swung open and a large man stepped out wearing nothing but shorts. His bare chest showed he was extremely muscular and his bare feet didn't seem bothered by the fact he was stepping off the porch onto snow. "Hey, what are you all doing here, and why is one of you wearing my boy's coat?"


Both Miller and Darrel started to balk, but Lucas' voice came from off to the right side, well into the woods, "Dad, it's OK, they are our friends and Ross really got a hold of the one wearing my coat. He's all wet and has to be real cold by now!"


The big man quickly moved back to the front door and held it open, "Come on, boys get it here and get warmed up. "Luke, grab one of your spare jackets so you and Simon get some more wood cut and Levi, bring in an arm full of what we have cut so we can get a good fire going for him!"


The man pointed to the side room as Miller helped a shivering Garrison in. He also noted the soaking wet coat Darrel was carrying and held out his hand, "Give that to me so I can wring it out..."

Through chattering teeth, Garrison spoke up, "It was in a toilet, so you may not want to do that, sir."


The man once again pointed to the other room as he grabbed the coat, "These hands have seen worse, Son, don't you worry none."


Miller took Garrison over to the wood burning stove and helped him out of the borrowed coat and his wet shirt. Before Garrison could think to complain, the man reappeared and draped a heavy blanket with fur on one side over Garrison's shoulders, "Bundle up with that until you warm back up. It's way too chilly out there to be walking around in wet stuff." He then grabbed some wood Levi had brought in and tossed a couple of larger and drier pieces into the stove and closed it. "Won't take too long to get nice and toasty in here. How about a bite to eat while you all tell me what happened?"


The man then looked over at Levi as Levi dropped Garrison's backpack next to the still badly shook up boy, "And you may as well tell me how much trouble all you boys are in this time!"


"None!" Levi smiled widely showing large buckteeth typical of a ten-year-old. "No way is anyone going to tell, cause if they did Ross would have to admit giving the new kid a swirly!"


The man's eyes narrowed as he moved back over to Garrison and really looked at the tangled and twisted up mop of long hair on top of the boy's head, "Hold still, and let me kneed this out before it gets even more tangled. It will pull a little, but I bet if you just let me get it over with, I can do it without too much discomfort."


Seeing Garrison nod, the man knelt and moved his fingers deep into Garrison hair and slowly started to work out the swirled effect of having the hair flushed down a toilet. "Levi, get us some jerky and warm cider then get a fire started under the water heater and fill it. You are about the same size as him, so find a change of clothes so he can get a shower and get this whole thing behind him!"


It took over an hour for Garrison to fully calm down. The shower was a bit disconcerting, because it was a jury rigged thing where water was pumped into a metal drum which was heated by a fire and then could be mixed with cold tap water to make it not so hot, but it was a welcome relief to get the feel of his head being in a toilet off of him. Finally he came out of the bathroom dressed in clothing of a kid he had never met before and sat down at a massive oak table to some really nicely spiced jerky and warm apple cider. It wasn't till then did the man push him relate what had happened.


Lucas' dad, Mr. Wagner, listened and thanked Garrison for helping out Luke with the extra credit. He then reassured Garrison the events at the end of the school day would not happen again, even if his boys had to escort him to each class from now until hell froze over. He also made it clear to his three kids, none of them would get into any real trouble if they had to 'deal with' Ross or the boys friends by 'any means short of permanent damage'. By then the sun was starting dip low in the sky.


Garrison looked over to Miller, "Um, can you get me home? Miss Anderson is going to be getting worried..."


Mr. Wagner eyed Garrison, "Does she have a phone?"


"Yes, sir."


Mr. Wagner glanced over at Lucas, who simply went by Luke when around his dad and brothers, "Luke, take him next door and see if the Murphy's will let him call and check if he can eat dinner with us and maybe stay the night if he wants to. Since he is in almost all your classes, he could give you a hand getting caught back up and I can get to know some of your friends. Levi, why don't you go home with Miller and Darrel to see if they can stay as well? We got plenty of food and room."


Darrel stated to say something, but Levi spoke up, "Dad, any chance I can take some jerky over to their sisters?"


Mr. Wagner glanced over at Miller who looked over with hope in his own eyes. The man gave a firm nod and smiled, "Yeah, take 'em a big bag of what I smoked over the weekend."


This got a big thank you out of both Miller and Darrel. Mr. Wagner nodded with a warm grin, and even patted the two departing boys on the shoulders as they took off with Levi.


The phone call went pretty much like Garrison expected. Miss Anderson was not thrilled in the least to have Garrison stay over at another boy's house who she had not met, and doubly didn't like it since it was a school night, but finally relented on the condition she could get the address and bring him a change of clothes. Luke jumped on the phone and gave her directions while really playing up the fact he NEEDED help with schoolwork after missing a week and agreed to meet her out on the cross street so she could find the house.


Miss Anderson arrived just as Mr. Wagner was putting down very healthy portions of spaghetti with ground deer meat in front of six boys. He quickly pointed over to his oldest, "Luke, grab another chair!"


Miss Anderson started to refuse, but both Darrel and Miller all but dragged her over to the table. With a shake of her head and a smile she finally took the offered chair. The fact was Miller and his siblings had started to grow on her. The conversation was light, as the kids steered well clear of what had happened at school, but the food was outstanding. When she found out she had been eating freshly hunted deer her eyes widened, which only got a laugh out of the boys around the table.


Mr. Wagner made sure all the kids had eaten their fill then directed them to get the dishes cleaned up and get homework started. All of them had some serious making up to do after hunting for a week, and with Miller, Darrel, and Garrison around he figured it was a great way to get his boys some needed help. He then showed Miss Anderson around, pointing out the old house had plenty of room for six boys and he had deer skin, and bear skin blankets a plenty for the boys to curl up in since he made them himself.


While the two adults went outside to talk, Garrison sat down with Luke and went over everything the boy had not completed while they got to know each other a little better. The two actually had quite a bit in common. For even as Garrison explained that Miss Anderson was the lead secretary for the company his dad worked at, and helped take care of him since his mom had been killed in a car accident, Luke related his own story.


"Gee, Gar, I'm sorry. I know how it is to lose a mom."


"Did yours..." Garrison's words stopped in his throat as he simply couldn't finish the question.


"Yeah," Luke answered knowing what was being asked even as he looked down and shook his head, "Her car was hit by some falling rocks. The accident report says the rocks were knocked loose by some blasting at one of the mines, but..." Luke clenched his fist as looked upward with a great deal of anger,  "Dad has been trying to get them to admit fault, but they have all these lawyers and money and junk. Then Dad got fired by Ross' dad, since he is lead foreman for another mine Dad used to work for. Now none of the mines want to hire him, so money is kind of tight.  Dad thinks the other mine paid off the company or maybe even Ross' dad to get him fired for some stupid safety thing to make money even tighter for us. Dad would admit if he had done what he was blamed for, and says it wasn't him."


Even with all this Luke didn't show too much despair, "But we are doing OK, and Dad is saving every penny he can to start his own business. He wants to be a hunting guide, but needs to buy everything to outfit a group of hunters who would then pay him to take them into the mountains and help them get deer or other game. Dad says there is big money in it if he could just get everything put together."


Luke broke into a wide smile as he added, "It would also be something all of us would help out with when we get older too, since we all love to hunt and fish and junk. Dad says it would make a great family business and he's right!"


Garrison, being used to how things were handled back in Seattle, looked over with confusion. "What about a bank loan?"


Luke shook his head, "The only thing we own is this property and house and no bank is going to loan out money to some unemployed miner who has been blackballed by the local mines without Dad putting this place up against the loan." Seeing the rather sad look he was getting from Garrison, Luke shrugged, "It's no big deal. We'll be fine. We can all hunt and fish for most of our food and no matter what Ross' dad says, plenty of people around here know Dad. He no drunk or druggie and he can fix just about anything. He picks up repair jobs all the time, so we have food and electricity. We cut off the phone and gas to save money, too. One of these years he'll get enough money to start his business and then we'll really be able to thumb our noses up at Ross."


The boys retired after all three of the Wagner boys were fully caught up on their work with more than a little help from Miss Anderson who came back in and worked with all three boys for quite a while.


The next morning Mr. Wagner made sure all six boys were well fed again before taking off to help someone down the road do some repairs on a car. The boys walked to school roughhousing and having fun the whole way. As they entered the school, Ross was right there, albeit walking with a bit of a limp, and glaring at them.


Luke glanced down with a gleam in his eyes at his youngest brother, Simon, "Time to get the message out. Go deal with him."


Garrison's eyes went wide and moved to block the much smaller boy, "Luke, he'll get crushed!"


Simon shot Garrison a truly wicked looking little grin. "Only if he falls on me. Dad taught all of us to fight as dirty as we have to when we need to and he took the gloves off all of us on this!" Simon reached behind himself and pulled up on his briefs so the waistband was visible above his jeans and moved forward with pure determination on his face.


Eight-year-old Simon made a straight line right toward Ross, then, just as he got close he darted around the left side of the kid while unslinging his book bag off his right shoulder. While the maneuver looked innocent enough, the bag's trajectory took it right into Ross's groin. Just as the bag hit the target Simon squealed as if in pain.


Even as Garrison cringed, Ross doubled up while shouting a stream of cuss words. He then went after Simon. However, while the book bag to the groin had not been seen by teachers, the following outburst and the lunge at a much smaller child did. Three teachers moved to stop the impending situation.


Simon, on the other hand, took a step back and this time swung his bag with everything he could muster at Ross. The will timed swing, with three heavy books in the bag, impacted dead center into Ross' face just as the first teacher got there. At the same time Simon shouted really loudly, "Your dad has a job, you don't need my lunch money! Now leave me alone and stop pulling up my underwear!" He then turned for everyone to see that his underwear was indeed pulled up well above his jeans.


Never in Garrison's young life had he seen such a perfectly planned firestorm erupt in front of him. Ross went down with blood gushing out of his nose, Simon was pulled back while the teachers actually were asking him if he was all right, and two other teachers rushed forward to check on Ross while yelling at him for assaulting and trying to steal from a younger student.


This left Luke and Levi wide open to move up to Buster and Nelson. Luke took Buster into an empty classroom while Levi pushed Nelson back deep into the locker area well out of the sight of everyone who was focused on the situation in the middle of the hall.


Both Buster and Nelson got the wind knocked out of them by kids who were smaller than them and left with warnings of this only being the start if they so much as touched a hair on Garrison's head ever again. They were also not so gently informed Miller, Darrel, Hanna, and Molly were also off limits. Before Simon and Ross were both taken to get checked out, Luke and Levi returned to Garrison's side cracking their knuckles and grinning. Luke put and arm on Garrison's shoulder, "I don't think anyone will be bothering you again, now let's get to History class, so I am not late. I'm in enough hot water with her already.


Garrison looked around in confusion, not even realizing Levi and Luke had temporarily left his side. "Where are Buster and..."


Levi walked by and put a finger up to his lips in warning, "They're taking a breather. Don't worry about 'em. If they have a brain cell left, they ain't going to touch you ever again!




December 19, 2014


The rest of the two weeks leading up to the Christmas break made the first couple of weeks fade into memory. Not only did he have some super good friends, his dad had come back from the hospital doing a little better and Miss Anderson and Mr. Wagner had even gone out a few times!


The other cool thing was Miller, Darrel, Hanna, and Molly almost never went hungry. Miss Anderson had them over almost every morning for a quick bite and every evening they were invited over to the Wagner's house. It was also becoming very common for Miller to spend the night at Garrison's or all of them over at the Wagner's. It was also clear Miss Anderson was sliding some extra food to Mr. Wagner to help feed all the hungry 'urchins', her words, but she always said them with a big smile.


The rather strange friendship, started over an extra credit question, also helped the Wagner boys. All three had fully caught up on class work and were actually getting some grades above a 'C' in a few classes for the first time since their mother had passed.


The fallout from the planned set-up of Ross in the hall turned out far better than any of the boys could have dreamed, as well. The teachers took the implied assault on Simon at face value and started checking with other students, many of whom admitted having had their own underwear pulled up on by the boy. A few others also admitted to other assaults like having their faces stuck into toilets. Ross was suspended indefinitely and police were even called in to see if there were any other thefts or attempted thefts of lunch money or other belongings. A search of Ross' locker turned up a couple of items and a knife, which was kind of the final straw from what the rumor mill around not just the school, but the whole town, said.


Walking away from the building, the conversation turned toward Ross for about the twentieth time.

Simon snickered as he talked about overhearing one of the teachers talking about a big winter vacation locker inspection since a knife had been found in Ross' locker. He then glanced up, "Do you really think I broke his nose though?"


Miller nodded while reaching down and tickling the smaller boy, "Oh, yeah. It was a really nice shot and I saw it up close before they rushed him to the nurse's station. It was like totally flat!"


The combination of the tickling and the fact he gotten Ross so good caused Simon to chortle in laughter.


December 23rd, 2014:


Garrison, Miller, and Luke continued to grow tighter as did the younger siblings of both Miller and Luke. The first four days of Christmas break the bulk of them spent pretty much every minute with each other. On the occasions where the younger ones, particularly Hanna and occasionally Simon, got in the way Miss Anderson was only too happy to have them over while the older ones did their own thing.


The night before, Garrison ended up at Luke's again and helped Luke and his bothers with catching up on classes they had fallen badly behind in, particularly Math. While the boys got much needed help, Mr. Wagner worked out in the barn on a snow blower engine for someone in town. After breakfast, he thanked Mr. Wagner for allowing him to stay, which only got a laugh and the man thanking him for showing Luke how to do schoolwork. He also reminded Garrison of the plan to have his dad, Miss Anderson, and Miller and his siblings over for a pre-Christmas dinner since the Wagner's were going to head up into the hills for some bear hunting on Christmas Eve day to get a week of hunting before the season closed on them on the New Year’s Eve. The winter hunting provided a great deal of the food for the Wagner home, and they weren't about to pass up on bear hunting season where they could most likely get several hundred more pounds of meat.


Garrison promised he wouldn't forget, then wasted no time heading out to Miller's house. He found the boy outside cutting wood while Darrel appeared struggling to pull a real old Radio Flyer wagon full of five gallon jugs of water up the hill behind the house.


Without hesitation, Garrison moved down to help the smaller boy all but drag the heavy wagon up the hill. "Why the water?"


Even as Darrel lowered his head and said something so softly his voice couldn't be heard, Miller answered, "Water got shot off again yesterday, so Mr. Maston let us use a hose to get good water instead of us having to get it out of a stream and boiling it like we have had to do before..." Miller paused, "Um, is there any chance we could come over and get a shower if this goes on too long?"


Garrison didn't hesitate knowing by this time both his dad and especially Miss Anderson would be a bit angry if he hadn't offered. "Any time! You, Darrel, Molly and Hanna can all come get cleaned up whenever you need to."


"What about your dad? He didn't look to good the last couple of days."


"He's been sick, but he'll understand," Garrison fired back a bit more forcefully than he meant to.


"Anything I can do to help?" Miller asked with clear concern.


"If there ever is, I'll let you know." Garrison sighed then pointed to the jugs of water, "But looks like you all are the ones needing help. Is there anything I can do to help get the water back on for you?"


Miller shook his head, "No, unless you can figure out how to get us just under a hundred bucks to pay what we owe for the last three months of water."


This made Garrison cringe some, since he had more than that in a box in his room. The facial expression was taken in pretty much the opposite way than Garrison's feelings behind making it, as Molly came out and gave Garrison a sad smile, "Yeah, a whole lot of money. Mom thinks she'll get a Christmas bonus, so it'll only be a couple of weeks or so this time. Don't worry about it Gar."


The problem was, it was taking Garrison everything he had in him not to run back to the house and pull out a hundred dollars out of his own money and hand it over. The fact he had more than enough to cover what a family of five needed to get water turned back on made all the suffering of dealing with a jerk like Ross so minor, it was stupid. He rubbed his chin as he thought over a way around the whole situation, then it struck him, "Hey Molly, do you cut wood too?"


"We all do," Miller informed Garrison. "Well, Hanna doesn't, but she can stack what we cut. Why?"


"Um, how about going up to some of the houses by where Miss Anderson lives? Some of them have firewood piles and a few have logs that aren't split yet. What if we went door to door and offered to cut the wood and stack it for them for some money?"


"We only have one old axe..."


"I got two in the garage behind the house and I bet we could borrow another one at Luke's if we really needed! I'm not very good at it, but you are and I'll do the best I can. I don't know what we can make, but maybe..."


Miller glanced over to his eleven-year-old sister, "You up for giving this a try?"


"As long as we can use Gar's place to clean up, sure!"


A quick swing by Luke's got four good axes and three more boys more than willing to jump in on the plan. They all set out with wood axes over their shoulders and started a door-to-door knocking campaign.


Seven hours later eight exhausted kids all but stumbled towards Garrison's small house. The kids couldn't help but notice Luke's father's truck out front, as well as Miss Anderson's car. Garrison cringed, "Oh, crud... We should have checked in!"


"Not much we can do about it now." Luke chuckled, "But I am sure once we tell them what we have been doing, my dad will totally be cool with it. I only met your dad a couple of times now, but I bet he will too."


Garrison took a deep breath, "I sure hope so!"


"Don't worry, I got this!" Miller stated, "I'll take all the blame!" He then pushed open the door and entered.

As the door opened and the group of kids entered the house, Miss Anderson, Mr. Donavan and Mr. Wagner eyed them with a bit of anger. This suddenly changed, at least in Miss Anderson's case, as she noticed a pair of rather large blisters on his hands. "Gar, your hands! What happened?"


Mr. Wagner moved up and looked at the boy's palms and his frown faded some, "I'm guessing some hard work and no gloves. Now where in the hell have you all been and what have all of you been doing?"


"All very good questions." Garrison's dad stated softly as he moved up and looked at the eight ragamuffins standing in his living room before eyeing his son's hands. "You are all filthy and I'd have to concur, you have been doing some hard work, but where and why?!"


Miller's smile was beyond huge as he stepped forward and dug into the right front pocket of his thread bare jeans, "They were all helping us cut wood so we could get enough to turn the water back on!" The boy proudly held up a wad of five tens, one twenty, and three fives. "We only have about fifteen bucks to go now! Even better, Gar is a great talker! There are two more places we can go tomorrow that promised us at least fifteen bucks if we get their wood cut for them! We'll have enough money before lunch time!"


Miss Anderson found herself at a loss for words. The anger over not knowing where Garrison had been all day vanished and was replaced with the revulsion of hearing four kids she had grown a bit fond of had no running water! It was... There was no word she could think of to fit. Somehow a combination of atrocious, sickening, horrific, disgusting, just plain wrong all needed to be blended together in a single word, and such a word just didn't exist. "Oh, my! Well you all are grubby and we are supposed to be getting ready to go over to the Wagner's for dinner... "


Mr. Wagner shook his head, "Dinner being late is not a problem.” He glanced over at his own kids, "You should have told me, and you all know it, but damn, I've got to let this slide! You done good boys!"


Mr. Donavan looked a little more pale than normal. His voice, however, was strong, "I totally agree! Garrison, you ever pull a stunt like this again without telling me first I'll... Oh hell, Brett's right. This is a total pass and I know you get it. Now all of you, take turns getting cleaned up so we can head over to the Wagner's as long as Brett is still willing to have us."


"Are you kidding me?" Mr. Wagner smiled broadly, "After seeing and hearing this, oh, yeah, come on over. The deer steaks won't take all that long and we got to get these kids fed!"


Garrison Jr. nodded in total agreement. "We sure do. Also, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so you won't have the money until Christmas Day and there will be no way to pay a water bill until Friday. Even then, they might not even be open since so many are taking a long weekend. Then there is no telling how long it will take to get it turned back on. Until it does, I expect all four of you to stay here unless your parents are willing to tell me to my face a good reason why you shouldn't. They can come over here for Christmas as well. This way I know all you kids will be clean and well fed through the Christmas break, too!"


Molly looked up, "Really? We could stay here where there is running water AND you have enough food for all of us?"


"I can find enough!" Miss Anderson all but shouted, to prevent Garrison's dad from giving up too much information. "I'll run to my place and get some and go to the nearest city if I need to!"


Luke shot Miss Anderson a smirk, "You'd make a great mom."


Young Hanna cocked her head to the side in confusion, "You aren't Gar's mommy?"


Miss Anderson smiled warmly at Hanna's even as her cheeks turned a bit red, "No, no kids for me."


Molly spoke up, "Too bad, from what I've seen, Luke's right, you'd make a great mom!"


Off to the side Darrel and Miller both nodded in full agreement. While Simon and Levi grinned.


This got some snickers out of Mr. Wagner and Miss Miller, but Mr. Donavan brought the conversation to a quick end by pointing to the bathroom, "Miller, I don't see an inch on you that is clean, so you go first. Darrel, why don't I take you over to your place to get you all a clean set of clothing?"


Miller stopped at the bathroom door and cringed, "Um..."


Luke's dad turned and eyed the twelve-year-old, "Um?"


Molly looked down even as she spoke, "Yeah, uh..."


Miss Anderson's eyes narrowed as her brain quickly put one and one together and came up with a very uncomfortable two. "You all are out of clean clothes and you have not had water for quite a while, right?"


Seeing three of the four kids look down and young Hanna simply nodding her head, Miss Anderson moved up to the group and wrapped them in a group hug, "What about your mom?"


Garrison also put the final piece in place as he saw Miller cringe, "You've been lying about her, haven't you?"


Tears started to spill out of Miller's eyes as he nodded, "The state will split us up and put us in foster care again if they find out!"


"Over my dead body." Miss Anderson stated.


"Not going to happen." Mr. Wagner stated with total conviction in his voice.


While not being in a position to do anything long term, Garrison's father still nodded in agreement. To deflect from the fact he couldn't give such a promise, he asked a question which badly needed an answer. "So where is your mom?"


Darrel and Molly both totally broke down even as Miller looked over at Mr. Donavan with tears rolling down his cheeks. "She left us just before the start of the school year after Dad hit her again."


"Does he hit you too?" Miss Anderson demanded to know with something akin to fire in her eyes.


Realizing there was no hiding anything any longer, Miller shook his head, "No, at least not after the fight with Mom. That was what the fight was about and she left threatening to call the Sherriff... Please don't tell..."


Mr. Donavan looked over with sadness, "I really don't see we have a choice..."


Miller pulled free of Miss Anderson and bolted out the door crying.


He didn't get far. Mr. Wagner went right out the door behind the distraught boy and put him into a protective bear hug even as the boy tried to kick and struggle.


Tears poured out of Garrison's eyes as he moved outside with his dad, "No, we can't let anything bad happen to them! Dad, come on, there has to be something we can do!"


As if his words were heard, a bright dot streaked across the sky. The words of his mom came to him as he caught sight of it. 'A falling star is to be wished upon...'


He looked up and pointed to the line in the sky and spoke aloud, "God, it is too close to Christmas for this to happen. I just wish for a safe place for Miller, Darrel, Molly and Hanna, even if it means I have to go back to Seattle!"


Garrison Jr. looked up as the shooting star blinked out, "Son, I'm not sure what I can do..."


An idea suddenly hit Miss Anderson. She moved up and looked at  Mr. Wagner, "Let me ask you something, if I could find someone to bankroll your hunting business thing with no risk to your home, would you be willing to take in five kids and still date me?"


Mr. Wagner kept a tight but tender grip on Miller as he turned with total confusion in his eyes, "I'd take them in without... wait, five? Who is the other?"


Garrison weakly held up his hand. "Me."


As all eyes fell on Garrison, Mr. Donavan spoke up, "I have lung cancer and only a few months to live."


The faces of seven kids all fell as this was said. Even with everything else that was happening, Luke quickly moved up and put an arm around Garrison before the boy could fall to his knees. "Dad?"


Mr. Wagner let out a long breath, "It... if we can find a legal way to make it happen and we can really get enough for me to start my business so I have enough so no one goes hungry... I'll need help from the older boys during the summer and....” He looked over at Miss Anderson, "Someone to take care of the kids while I am out..."


"I'd be rather angry if you didn't ask!"


Even as the details stated to get ironed out,  Mr. Donavan placed a call to Saul to get company lawyers on all the needed details including bending arms into pretzel shapes if needed to make sure Miller, Molly, Darrel and Hanna would get pulled out of their current house and placed with Miss Anderson and or Mr. Wagner.


Off to the side Miller put the cash they had earned on the table, "Um, you can have this if you are really willing to take us in. You may need it..."


Mr. Wagner grabbed Miller's hand and forced the boy to make a fist around the wad of bills, "No, but I do think this might just be enough to buy a couple of decent axes for you all to start your own little business and earn some spending money. It will be tight around here for quite a while and there is nothing better than seeing my kids, and it sure sounds like you will soon be one of my kids, earn his or her own spending money.”


Luke grinned at the idea, "Wagner's Wood Whacking!"


This got some laughter for the first time in over three hours.


As they all had a meal together and the truth of what brought Garrison out to War came out, Mr. Wagner stared into the boy's eyes. "You know, if you want there is a home for you right here, just as we have been talking about, but I just want to make sure. You have a great school and a much more comfortable life you could go to. Are you sure about this?"


Garrison's dad nodded, "He's right son, and no matter what you decide, my people will make sure Mr. Wagner gets everything he needs to start his business and will take custody of Miller and the others. Even as we speak, Saul has hired a law firm here in West Virginia to make sure nothing happens to any of them."


"This late at night?" Brett asked with a raised eyebrow.


"Saul has his ways and owes me a favor or ten." Garrison Jr. replied cryptically.


Before more could be said, Garrison looked up, "What if Miller's dad says no?"


Garrison Jr. snorted with a mixture of humor and disgust, "Let's see, jail and lose the these four fine children or a few thousand dollars from me and give up your four friends to a house where there will be love, food, and warmth... I don't care how drunk he is when Saul and his friends come to make the offer, I'm pretty sure he'll come to the right decision."


While the others didn't understand the hidden meaning or the emphasis of Saul and his friends being to make the 'offer', Garrison did. He just smiled at the words.


He then looked over at Miller and the others, "So, um, I lied to you all... are you still OK with me being your brother?"


Even as seven kids moved up to wrap Garrison in a massive group hug, Garrison Jr. realized this was the perfect place for his son.


With a warm feeling in his heart, Garrison looked over at his dad, "So, can I check out the attic now?"


Above the eleven people the night sky lit up over War once more as a larger and brighter shooting star streaked overhead. The time was 12:01, the start of the day of all days, Christmas Eve, where the wishes of the inner child can come true and magic can still happen.


Merry Christmas Everyone!


Kyle Aarons 12/23/14

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Walk in the park

Written By A.B



He walked on the frost, as everything changed around him. He tried to be avoided, people did not really agree with him so he did his best to avoid them.


Near the Serpentine, he saw a boy around his age, sitting on a bench.


Atticus thought he looked positively sad and alone. He sat there on the bench looking at his dangling coltish legs playing absentmindedly with his lean, wiry fingers.


The freckles on his face and hat-like cut hair made him look cute. Cute? Where did that come from? He thought he had left all those feelings behind. He shook his head in bewilderment and continued walking.


For a moment, he thought about trying to talk to that boy, but he knew what the outcome would be. It always ended one way when he tried to talk to people. Badly.


How he wanted to be allowed to rest. However, his torment would not end.


Tom felt alone. Why had he gone and done that? At least before, he had had a friend or two.


So nowadays, he came around the park and either sat or walked after school until he had to go home to do his homework, eat and sleep.


He lifted his head to see an older-looking boy pass by him. He was clothed in a heavy old-fashioned looking raincoat made out of wool and cotton. He had his head stuffed in the coat so that only the brown mop of hair showed.


He walked fast holding his trench coat with his hands close to his face. Somehow, Tom thought he looked cute.


He did not know why, but the more he looked at the strange boy, the more he wanted to get up and talk to him.


Why do that, though, why would a stranger want to talk to him? He probably had friends, a girlfriend.


Not even realising it, he got up.


Why would he even want to talk to him? He had nothing, was nothing. At least he felt like it.


He was walking towards the older boy; why was he walking towards him. Why? He knew how it would end up, he knew it and yet he could not stop himself from walking up to the boy. He screamed inside his head to stop, to turn back and sit back on the bench.


He tugged on the boy’s cloth-covered wrist and felt the boy try to liberate his hand and hurry his pace.


Tom tugged on it again. This time more forcefully.


The boy turned round yanking his hand in the process.


“WHAT D….” He started saying, almost yelling but cut himself when he saw whom it was tugging at his hand. “…o you want…?” He finished in a normal tone of voice.


To Tom, the initial show of anger and raised voice verified in his mind what he had thought would happen. Before the other boy could say another word, he stormed off in the opposite direction.


“No, wait!” Atticus tried to say but the boy was too far away and the wind was gathering force so only he heard himself speak.


Tom ran back home and locked himself in his room, fell on his bed and cried, for in his mind, every boy around his age he met hated him, every single one. Why did he continue to try, why did he continue to hope that one of those efforts would end better.


He did not even hear his mother asking him how his day had been at school. He would not want to answer her anyways. Having hit twelfth year a month ago, he had entered on that new and confusing stage in his life called “puberty”. He had, of course, read about it online and talked about it with some of his friends at school. About all the changes, he would be going through starting soon. Some of them terrified him, some excited him, but one that had started taking affect was the fact that he did not want to talk to his parents about school and stuff as much as before.


No, in fact he preferred not to.


They just did not understand what he was going through. How could they? They were adults.


Lately though, there was other stuff that made him feel gloomy beyond the decreasing amount of conversation between him and his parents.


“Tommas, honey. Dinner is ready!” His mother called out to him from the kitchen.


He got up and cleaned his face from the tears, in his ensuite bathroom.


“Hey honey, how was your day today? School okay?” His mother asked him.


“It was okay…” He answered almost in one word and sat on his chair. “What’s for food?”


“Shepherd’s pie and salad. Anything exciting that happened today?” She tried to spark some conversation.


“No…can I eat in my room, please?” He asked.


“No, Tom. We’ve discussed this before. We will be eating dinner as a family, the three of us.” His father replied setting down the newspaper on the table next to his plate.


“Why…? I am not a little kid anymore! I just want to eat in my r…”


“I am not going to discuss this further, son, for as long as you live in this house, we will eat dinner together. When you grow older there may be weekend days that you eat outside with your friends or girlfriend, but other than that, my word is final.” His father cut him off.


His parents were not bad or unjust or even that strict, but like with many of his peers everything seemed like a punishment to young Tom.


Girlfriend, that was a joke, he did not like girls in the slightest, even though other boys in his school seemed to have started acting differently around them.


“You can go to your room after, until it is time for bed.” His mother told him and served him food.


They ate and talked, well his parents did most of the talking, until the food was finished and Tom was excused from the table.


It did not take him long to sleep and like with most nights his dreams revolved around cute boys. They were not entirely sexual in nature, that part of his brain had only just begun to awaken but they did make him wake up with quite the hard-on in the morning.


His mother was in the living room when he came out of his room. His father reading a newspaper.


“Good morning, sweetheart. Sleep okay? Only a week until you finish school for Christmas, excited?”


He tried to smile at her. She hugged him planting a kiss on his forehead.


“Yeah…sure.” He said and headed to the kitchen to eat breakfast before leaving for school.


She sighed. She knew that Tom hitting puberty would have him change, but she did not like how he did not talk to them anymore.


He had become closed to himself when he used to talk to them about everything.


She looked at her husband.


“You should talk to him…or maybe I should…I don’t like how he does not talk to us anymore.” She spoke to him looking worried.


He sighed and set down his newspaper.


“Stop worrying, he is becoming a teenager, he is no longer your baby or the child that will tell you everything and anything. He may be going through something right now or not. When he wants to, he will talk to us, me, or you. Try to force the issue and he will only bunker down more and shut down towards us. Let him be for now.” He told her calmly and standing up, he headed to their bedroom.


Tom’s school day was much the same, boring classes, older boy or two bullying him.


God he wanted to go home and stay there.


Thinking of home got him thinking about last afternoon’s walk in Hide Park and that boy just off the Serpentine.


There was something about that boy that was just so appealing to him. Tom had not seen much of him, but what little he had seen of his face excited him. The way his upper lip turned upwards just enough, no more no less, the way his eyes closed In with a down angle. Some sparse dimples on his cheeks.


In addition, he seemed to have an air of mystery about him, sad one, but mysterious. The way he held on to his trench coat, close to his neck and face. Was he trying to protect himself from the cold or was there another reason.


“Tom Lovewood would you please grace us with an answer?” The teacher brought him back from his reverie. Did she honestly have to remind everyone of his surname? Really?


He sighed. “I did not hear the question, Mrs. Cooper.” He said truthfully. He knew this would irritate her. The fact that he did not cower before her when caught not paying attention.


He did not care for her class either. Modern British history? He could laugh at being made to attend this class. Not because he did not think, history was important, far from it. Just simply because his mother was a research historian of post War history in the British library and his father wrote historical novels that were mostly based in the eighteen hundreds to nineteen hundreds era. Ever since he could remember, his parents had taught him, history be it modern or older. The important people, the facts, the dates, he knew most of it. Definitely what they had to learn at school and more.


“What did you say?” She asked him almost angry at him.


“I said I did not listen to the question, ma’am.” He replied to her knowing that she had asked everyone to call her Mrs. Cooper and not ma’am. Tom suspected because calling her ma’am made her sound old or at least older than she was. At least in her mind.


“Well then…let me repeat it your “grace”…” She said, sarcasm dripping from her lips. “What was the peace treaty that ended WWI?”


Tom grinned, making her falter, “There was no peace treaty ma’am, there was an armistice that only served to deepen poverty and unemployment in Germany and aided in the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, the treaty of Versailles was a failure, admitted even by those that signed it.” Tom said, not even bothering to get up as Mrs. Cooper usually wanted.


Someone giggled behind him, but Mrs. Cooper was none too pleased. “It ended World War one, it was thus a peace treaty.” She said trying to end the conversation, but Tom would not have it.


“No, ma’am, you are wrong, an armistice is a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, since it might be just a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace. It is derived from the Latin arma, meaning weapons and statium, meaning a stopping. A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, which formally ends a state of war between the parties. It is different from an armistice. I think we can all agree which one was the treaty of Versailles.” Tom finished. Mrs. Cooper was practically fuming from her ears but she said nothing.


“After the peace at Versailles…” She continued lecturing. Tom did not care. He knew the truth. History books knew the truth, if she chose not to accept it, as to not accept knowing less than her pupil did, it was not his problem. He got lost in his thoughts again mainly about that boy from Hide park.


The moment school was off, he practically ran to the park.


He continued to hope, for all his disappointments so far in his young life, he would not stop hoping. Would not surrender. So he kept walking to the park knowing, in his mind, what the outcome would be.


He reached the park. It was drizzling as usual. He sat under a tree on a bench overlooking some of the park and the lake.


The brown-haired boy was not there, yet. He got his textbooks out and started going about his homework.


“So much has changed in London, and London has changed so much.” Atticus thought as he walked down the damp, moody streets to his destination. He hoped the kid would be there. He had not meant to yell at him, but he had been caught by surprise.


Storeowners as it seemed had already prepared for the festivities from weeks if not months before. Yes, a lot had changed.


He made his way over the serpentine, almost running. Why he felt such need to see the unknown boy was beyond his understanding.


He saw him sitting there, under the tree on the bench. He looked so incredibly cute sitting cross-legged on the bench, looking down at his books. He wanted to run over to him and squash him in a tight hug. Instead, he stood there arguing with himself on the validity of that approach and if that boy would even want to talk to him.


He shook his head and with a fast-beating heart thundering in his ears, he paced to that bench on that spot in the park where all his concentration lay.


“H…hi..” He said in a trembling voice. Why did this boy make him feel like this? Atticus did not like it. He was not supposed to feel like this for another boy. That is what his society had drilled in his mind.


Tom raised his head and his heart skipped a beat. Half of him wanted to run half wanted to stay so there he was rooted to the spot not knowing what to do.


Atticus saw his hesitation and spoke swiftly.


“N...no please don’t go, I’m sorry about yesterday. I…” He paused for a second. “I was scared…I thought you’d react like everyone else…see the monster in me, the one I am and….I…” His voice trailing he fell silent.


“Monster? You are not a monster, why would you think that?” Tom asked perplexed.


Atticus’ eyes bulged out. He had not heard that for a very long time, everyone saw him for what he thought he was.


“Y…you don’t think…but can you not see me?” He asked.


“No, I see you…have you done something that bad? Why would you think that you are a monster?” Tom continued his questioning.


“I…there was someone who would say I have…I don’t know…I think I have….”


“I am Tommas…I prefer Tom…please sit.” Tom said scooting off to the edge of the bench from the center of it.


Atticus turned to leave but could not make a single step. He turned back and sat down feeling ever so awkward toying with his fingers on his lap not knowing what to do or say. He looked down on the ground.


Tom didn’t know what to say either, so he left the next move to the boy.


“Tom…Tommas…Tommy…Can I call you Tommy? I am Atticus.”


It actually made him giggle, Atticus’ hesitation and question. “Sure, no one calls me that…you can if I can call you Ati…?”


Atticus shrugged his shoulders. “Sure…I guess…how old are you?”


“Twelve, you?”


“Uhh…fourteen. You like Hide park a lot, don’t you?”


“Yeah…No one here to ask me questions I don’t want to answer.”


“Parents, huh?”




“It would seem some things in London have not changed…”




“Nothing…yeah parents can be…like that.”


“Yeah…why can’t they take a hint? I don’t want to talk to them….right now.”


“Yeah, parents are not like that.” Atticus said giggling. Tom laughed as well. He couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed the last few weeks.


“Should you not be in school?” Atticus pressed on.


“No, it has ended for the day…I could ask you the same, you know!” Tom replied.


Atticus smiled, “Yes, I guess you can…so what do you do for fun? Entertainment?”


“Uhm…dunno…play video games I guess...maybe read a book, but not often…some TV…”


“Uh…okay…I like reading books…not much else…”


“Parents won’t allow you?”


“You…could say that.”


“You’re not from around here, are you?”


“Not really…I am, just been a while since I was here.”


Tom looked at his watch. “I have to go home…will you be here tomorrow?” He hoped Atticus would say yes.


Atticus nodded smiling. When was the last time he had smiled he could not remember.


“Bye Tommy, I’ll see you tomorrow.” He said and got up. Atticus tried to shake his hand. Tom tried to bump knuckles with him. The result was funny and made them both laugh.


“Yes, definitely not from around here.” Tom said giggling and started walking away.


Atticus found himself smiling at Tom’s figure walking away.


“Why…? How can I love a boy…?” He thought as he himself walked away.


“Oh…damn I forgot to get his phone number. He is so cute.” Tom whispered to himself and turned to see if Atticus was still there but the boy had vanished.


Tom sighed. He could see his breath in the cold of the setting sun. It always reminded him of a dragon’s breath.


He walked home clenching to his overcoat. It was getting colder and colder as the heart of winter and Christmas drew closer.


Next day, he almost contemplated skipping school to go to the park earlier. He would have if he knew or could be sure that Ati would be there, but in all likelihood, he had school as well.


The day could not go by fast enough though, so when the final bell rang, Tom ran as if his life depended on it. He ran out of the school building, down the street and waited at the bus-stop practically bouncing up and down from the anticipation of it all. In just a short three days, Ati had become quite important to him.


“Maybe I can ask him to come over for the holidays…or maybe I can go over to his place…yeah he’s older but they were friends now and he wasn’t all that older…” His mind raced a million miles per hour from the moment he got on the bus to the moment he got off at the bus station near Marble Arch underground station and ran down carriage drive over the lake to his spot.


When he got closer, he saw Atticus standing there. He was not sitting but then again he rarely did.


“Hello.” Tom said grinning.


“Oh…hello.” Atticus said as if coming out of a trance.


Tom sat down on the bench.


“How are you today?” Atticus asked him.


“Uh…good I guess…” Tom semi lied.


“I…look I know we don’t know each other that long, but…I can see you are not okay…I…we are friends, yes?”


“Yes!” Tom said emphatically.


“Then I want you to talk to me…even if we don’t really know each other.


“I…I don’t know…I trusted someone…didn’t end good…”


“I promise I won’t react bad…how bad can it be?”


“I am gay.” Tom said bowing his head low, twiddling with his fingers on his lap.


“And why would that be bad? We are all gay, strange, different to one another.” Atticus stated matter-of-factly.


Tom didn’t know whether to laugh of feel shocked. Then something clicked inside him from one of his father’s books.


“What century are you from? I don’t mean gay like they meant it three hundred years ago! I mean that I…like boys and not girls.”


“Oh…” Atticus said turning his head away from Tom.


“No...please not you, too…” Tom nearly cried ready to bounce up and leave.


Atticus snapped his head back to his friend.


“What…? Oh no, no, no, nothing like that. I am not angry or ashamed to be your friend…just…just thought of something. It really has nothing to do with you.” Atticus said.


“Oh…what did you think?”


“I can understand why that though would make you feel…worried but why would it make you feel…so sad?” Atticus changed the subject expertly.


“Oh…uuhhh it’s not that alone…it’s…It’s…I…” Tom looked at Ati’s deep eyes. He took a deep breath and spoke after releasing it in an almost loud sigh.


“I told someone…a real close friend of mine…actually I sort of told him I have had a crush on him for like years now, and that if he was interested I would kill for us to….be together…you know boyfriends…but he…he…just left. He said nothing, not even to reject me. He hasn’t talked to me since…and it has been like three weeks now…I miss my friend. I should have never come out to him like that.” A tear streaked down his rosy cheek.


There was a moment of silence, not awkward silence but silence, then Atticus spoke.


“I am sorry to hear that…I can understand why it would make you feel bad.” He spoke softly, almost non-audibly.


Another long silence.


“So where are you from?” Tom asked him trying to change the subject to something, anything else.


“London.” Atticus said vaguely.


“Yeah me too…where from London?” Tom pressed on.


“I…think it goes by a different name now.” Atticus continued to be evasive.


“Names don’t change all that often you know…come on tell me please…why don’t you want to?”


“It’s not so much a matter of where…rather of when but…Lewisham…I live…there.”


“There…that wasn’t so difficult was it?” Tom teased him making him smile sadly.


“So why did you not want to tell me?” Tom pressed on.


“I…it’s complicated…one thing will bring another and then you’ll probably hate me…like everyone else.”


“I don’t hate you. You are my friend…”


“No, but you will…everyone does.”


“that’s what I thought about you…turns out you don’t, why not give me the chance? If you are so sure I’ll hate you why even, come here? Some part of you must believe the truth.”


“And what is that? I don’t know anymore.” Atticus said looking at him, his back hunched, his hands on his thighs.


“That I don’t hate you, and I won’t, and that…that…” Tom paused for a second trying to remember something he had heard of from the TV one day. “You are projecting your fear and hatred of you to me.” He finished looking like a million dollars at having remembered something so difficult.


“I don’t know what that is or what you mean but…no look I don’t want to talk about it…you’ll hate me.”


“I didn’t say no when you asked me and I told you that you would hate me.” Tom tried to hold Atticus’ hand.


“No, please. Look I know what I’m talking about, especially after what you just told me. You’ll hate me.” Atticus said and jerking his hand he got up and almost ran away.


“No, Ati…please… wa..” Tom tried to call out to him but Atticus was already too far.


“Oh bugger…come on! Every single time I get a new friend something shitty will happen….and lose him…” Tom exasperated as he picked up his backpack and headed home. It was getting dark after all.


Next day Tom was at the usual bench. Atticus was nowhere to be found or seen.


Three days later Tom stopped going to the park altogether. It was two days before Christmas eve. School was out for the holidays but he felt like he had no reason to be happy and merry.


Then on the morning of Christmas Eve, he woke up different.


“I’ve had it feeling sorry for myself.” He thought and got out of bed.


He picked up his mobile phone and called Henry, his best friend.


It rang.


“Yes, hello. Who is i…”


“It’s Tom. Look, I don’t know why you have been avoiding me. Yes I came out to you and yes I told you that I hav…had a crush on you, and you did not have to accept what I asked you obviously if you did not feel as I did, but to shun me after knowing me for almost eight years is horrible of you. You should have just said no and let's be friends and that would have been that. I still don’t want to lose you as my friend so if that’s what you want as well you know where to find me.” Tom said almost in one breath and hang up before Henry could reply.


He felt suddenly good about himself of having done this. Next was Atticus but the problem was he knew not of how to find him the boy had not given him an address or a phone number and going to the place where he lived was also probably a waste of time. Finding a single child in a large area would not work.


He did not have too much time to ponder over it, though. Being the Eve of Christmas his mum had plenty of chores for him to do. Come the twenty fifth lots of family members and family friends would be coming over and stuff needed to be done. He did not mind helping out, it actually helped him pass the time and he always loved cooking with his mother.


When night came, he lay on his bed thinking. Thinking of if Henry would come by one of these days and they would continue being best friends or not. Thinking of Atticus and…


Then it clicked. Tom nearly jumped out of bed. He tried to make absolutely no sound. It was after hours, his parents were asleep, but his father was like the lightest sleeper of them all and he did not want to get grounded on Christmas for heaven’s sake. On the other hand…he had to get to Hide Park…even if it was almost midnight.


He put on his clothes and walked tip toe to the front door, closed it behind him and walked down the stairs again very light-footed so that the doorman would not listen to him descending the marble stairs, awake and then wake up his parents. No thanks, he did not want to have to explain that mess.


He was out of the building and ran to the Park. He had not felt such excitement and fear before in his life. Yes, he was in a safe part of London but still it was almost midnight and he was only twelve.


He reached the Serpentine, ran over it. There was no one else around. Even the squirrels had gone to sleep.


He reached the bench and looked around.


“It’s not a matter of where…but of when…” He whispered.


“After what I told him…” It all makes sense…now.


“Atticus…I don’t care what you did in your past…I don’t. I won’t hate you no matter what you’ve done. But if I am correct, time is passing away and…and…I like you…you are so cute and…if as I think you are not really from around this time, I want…I want someone to like me back. Someone to make feel special and warm and…and…like he cares about me and make my worries go away…I don’t care if you hurt someone’s feelings in your past. We’ve all made mistakes…I am still a child I’m sure I’ll make many more just don’t leave me as well…please.” He did not yell but he spoke clearly and loud.


Time passed. It was getting closer to midnight. Closer to Christmas.


He thought he heard a sound like a whip cracking against the wind.


He turned around to try find out what it was and he saw Atticus standing there tears in his eyes, his hands hanging by his sides.


“You…you mean all that? How can you? I am such a monster…”


“No, Ati you are not. Please tell me what happened?” Tom said closing the gap between them.


Atticus looked at him in his eyes and wiped some tears from his cheeks.


“You figured it out, didn’t you?”


“Yes, but don’t change the subject, please!”


“Okay…I lived in London. I was fourteen when Queen Victoria ruled our great empire…back then…back then, it was not as it is now. If anyone found out you were…homosexual…you hoped for prison and not worse. I…I think I always had my…concerns on the matter, but I was a teenager so I did not give it much attention. Then one day…” He stifled a tear and a sob and continued, “one day my best friend, the person who we had been friends with since before we could walk told me that he liked me and that he thought I liked him and….before he could continue, I slapped him and run away. Three days later I found out that his father had overheard us and confronted him…told him that he would send him to be a monk and maybe heal him and…and…” Atticus fell to his knees not able to stand anymore.


First stroke of midnight.


“I found out that Benedict had chosen to end his life…hang himself…I felt so much guilt…but I swallowed it…I said nothing to anyone… I said nothing when they bigoted over his dead body like crows and vultures. I said nothing when they blamed him and gays for all the wrongs of the fucking empire. I said…nothing…” Atticus was crying by now. Tom kneeled down and hugged him tight. He said nothing.


“I said nothing, I did nothing and he had been my best friend…but above all, I feel guilt because…because…because…”


“Because you felt the same for him?”


“Yes, oh god, yes…why…? Why did I slap him? Why did I not tell him I liked him back? Why…why…?” His voice trailed off.


“You…I…what could you have said or done…? You were a kid yourself…if his father had heard you he would have told your father…society was…is…can be so cruel at times…You got scared…not of what he was telling you…”


“No….I got scared shitless of what I felt so strong for him as he told me of his feelings for me…what it meant for me…and I chickened out…and now…now he will never know…I lived out my whole life, got married had kids…died…and he’ll never know. I don’t know why I keep coming back every Christmas, but I do.”


Second stroke of midnight.


“Yes, he will never know…but there is one thing you can do.”




“Forgive yourself.”


Third stroke of midnight.


“I…how can I?”


“Why not? It has been so long...have you not punished yourself enough?”


“Have I? I betrayed my best friend.”


“You have…you are a good person, Ati…you’ve just not told yourself and you have forgotten.”


Fourth stroke of midnight.


“And if I cannot?”


“Then my guess is I’ll be seeing you next Christmas.”


“You think?”


“What else can it be…? It is the only thing that has remained the same since your death.”


“Why…how can you see me not like the monster everyone else saw in me?”


“Fifth stroke of midnight.”


“I don’t think anyone saw you as a monster…you saw yourself as one and saw it in the faces of everyone else as well not because they saw it but because you could see nothing else.” Tom placed his hand on Atticus’ chest.


“I…guess you’re right.”


Sixth stroke of midnight.


“Then say it.”


“I forgive myself…oh god Benedict please forgive me…”


Seventh stroke of midnight.


“He cannot, you can.”


“I do…I want to rest…I forgive me…as much as I can.”


Eight stroke of midnight.


“Now, what?” Atticus asked.


“I guess when it strikes twelve…you’ll go…you’ll rest.”


“I like you, too, you know…maybe that’s why after all this time I saw not a monster in your face.”


Ninth stroke of midnight.


Atticus leaned forward.


“What…are you doing?” Tom asked surprised.


“I’m making your wish true…I’m liking you back.” Atticus brought his face only inches away.


Tenth stroke of midnight.


“If you kiss me…you’ll go away…then I’ll have no one again.”


“You still have your parents, you are only twelve you’ll meet many new people…I’m going away anyways I think. It is time.”


Eleventh stroke of midnight.


Tom sighed and closed the remaining inches separating their lips.


They kissed. Their lips brushed soft silk against soft silk and at that moment Tom thought it would last forever. Atticus’ hand on his cheek caressing him ever so softly.


Atticus broke the kiss. “Thank you, Tommy…thank you…”


Twelfth stroke of midnight.


Then he was alone grasping at air between his hands were Atticus’ body had been a moment ago.


“Goodbye, Ati…I…I love you…goodbye…” He whispered crying.


It took him a moment to get up but up he walked home and fell asleep.


A loud noise woke him up. It took him a moment to realise where he was and that it was light outside.


He got up, out of his room. “Mum…the doorbell…ugh never mind.” His mum was running around minding the final details to the decorations of the house, the festive table, the food in the oven. She was always so busy this time of year.


He opened the door rubbing sleep from his eyes.


“Hello, My name’s Victor, Victor Heinz. We just moved in with my mum the other day…I think you told off the history teacher nicely. Can I have some sugar please?”


In an instant, Tom was wide awake and feeling very self-conscious at being seen by a stranger boy in his pyjamas, his hair all messed up from sleeping…oh god Victor looked so incredibly cute right now. Short build, lean legs, oval shaped face, cute looking nose and a pair of turquoise eyes that could suck the soul out of you.


“Uhm…hi my name’s Tom…or Tommy…pleased to meet you…sure come in I think mum will have sugar somewh…what are you doing?”


Victor had come impossibly close to him. So close that he could feel his breath on his face.


“Mistletoe silly…” Victor said biting his lower lip giggling.


“It would seem, Atticus that you have the last piece of wisdom and laughter, rest well.” Tom thought and leaned in. Yes, this would be an incredible Christmas.


The end


Have a merry wonderful Christmas everyone!!!!

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“Tis the season…..Yeah Right!!”

By David Spowart

Danny Aims has never had a happy Christmas, not even as a child.  He was orphaned at the age of three, after his parents died in a car crash on Christmas eve 1992.  At the age of 8, his foster parents  returned him to social services, as they were heading off on vacation for the festive season.  They never came back for him.  He was heartbroken, as he had grown attached to them.

A series of events concocted to always see he had a miserable Christmas.  Now, approaching the 20th of December, his memory of the previous year still very fresh in his mind, when he had planned to end his bad streak of cursed Christmases by proposing to his long-time partner.  He bought Champagne and red roses, he bought a ring.  But, when he returned to their home in Manhattan he discovered the closets empty and a note; “Sorry Dan, see ya” was all it read.  He had sunk to his knees and begun to sob; why was God punishing him this way.  He threw the roses and the bottle at the wall, and spent the next few days in bed, crying.  He had never felt so alone, well, not in years, anyway.

He sat pondering the events of previous years; he had become so cynical for a guy so young, and let’s face it, who could blame him.


Present day


“Plans for Christmas, Dan?” Sheila asked.

“Just me, myself and I” was his reply.

“Oh, why no plans, babe?” she asked, as she sipped her coffee.  They had worked at the same firm for almost three years, and she helped him through his dumping the previous year.

“You know me and Christmas” he replied, and she smiled sadly.

“Yeah, sorry” was her reply.

“Sweetie, you might meet Mr. Right, spirits up” she said, sickeningly  cheerful.

“I thought I already had him….remember?” Dan responded, and her face sank just a little.

“Christopher was never Mr. Right, he was more Mr. Right now, his spirit was too free to be tied down, you know that; I mean, where is he now?” she asked.  Dan had received postcards from all over the world from him.  In the beginning, they had ended up in the trash; but his latest ones he had kept, well, at least for a while.


“Babe, all I am going to do is go home, watch a movie, and let the day pass.  If I already expect nothing, I won’t be disappointed” he added.

A few hours later, while again sitting in the canteen, Jolene wandered around with a bucket of names.

“Secret Santa, no more than $25 for your pick” she said.  This annoyed Dan no end, people trying to thrust the Christmas spirit on him.

“Come on, Dan, pick” she insisted.


Dan reached in and pulled out an envelope and stuffed it inside his jacket for attention later.

“You not going to see who you picked?” Jolene asked.

“Why spoil the surprise?” he responded, and Sheila smiled at his candor.

They watched as she moved around the cafeteria, picking out new victims.

“Okay, she’s gone, who did you get?” Sheila asked, and Dan just sipped the remainder of his coffee and stood up.

“See you later” he replied and walked off.


“If I have you, you are getting $25 of tinsel and wrapping paper” she yelled as he left the cafeteria, and she sighed for her friend.  She knew he has had it tough.

He walked back to his cubical, sat and stared at the computer screen, and just sighed to himself.  He hung his jacket over the back of his chair and retrieved the envelope.

He opened it and read the name.

“Janet Link, allergies none” he read.

“Great, the office gossip, Merry freakin Christmas” he muttered to himself.

It was 5pm, and Danny’s day was over.  He decided to head down town to get this gift buying thing out of the way.  He hailed a cab and soon it began to snow.


“Great” he muttered again.  By the time he reached the stores, the snow was beginning to stick to everything.  He stepped out of the cab, paid the cab driver, turned, and soon was sliding onto his ass.

“Fuck!!” he again bemoaned the jolly season.

“Hey man, are you alright?”  He looked up, and a guy with eyes of ice blue stared back at him.

“You hurt?” he asked.


“Just my pride, oh, and my ass” Danny replied.

“Here, give me your hand, I’ll pull you up” the guy replied.

Danny reached up and the guy pulled, but soon both were flat on their asses.

“Don’t they put salt on the sidewalks anymore?” Danny commented, after they both got up.

“Yeah, but its 10 below zero, and it freezes just as fast as it melts; and a fresh layer of snow is not a gift, it’s a hazard” the guy replied.

“Danny Aims” he stuck out his hand to introduce himself.

“Mike Leach” the guy replied.  His hand shake was firm, and they both held it a little longer than necessary.

“You wanna grab a drink, or coffee or something, Danny?” Mike asked.

“I’m out gift shopping, but yeah, I could use a drink” Danny replied, and they headed, carefully, across the road to a bar.  They ordered their drinks and sat in a booth.  A roaring fire in the fireplace at the end of the room had the bar warm and welcoming.

“The wife, girlfriend, boyfriend?” Mike asked.

“Huh” was the very well educated response from Danny’s lips.

“Gift shopping” Mike replied, taking a drink of his scotch.

“Oh, none of the above, secret Santa” Danny replied.

“Oh, I hate those.  I just started working in New York; well, when I say 'started', I was offered the job and I have just accepted it.  I start in January” Mike replied.

“You just moved here, then” Danny enquired.

“Yeah, last week.  I was looking for some furnishings, or ideas, anyway” Mike replied.

“Can’t your Wife - Girlfriend - Boyfriend help with that?” and Mike smiled at the question.

“Single” Mike replied.

“Me, too” Danny replied.

“Another?” Danny asked.

“Yeah why not, stores don’t shut till ten” Mike replied, and they ordered a fresh round of drinks, and found they could hold a conversation without any gaps or pauses.

“Your eyes are the iciest blue I have ever seen.”  The drink was lowering Danny’s inhibitions a little.

“Yeah, my last partner found them a huge turn on” Mike replied.

“She back where you came from?” Danny asked.

“Idaho, yeah, and she was a he, by the way.” Mike’s barriers were coming down just as fast as Danny’s were.

“Look Mike, I need to get going, but do you wanna do this again, sometime?” Danny asked, and it was hard for him.  He didn’t date, his heart would take a lot convincing, and his most hated season was again at play.

“How about tomorrow?” Mike asked.

“Sure, it’s a date” Danny replied, and bit his tongue as soon as he said it.

“You have gone red, Danny, something wrong?” Mike asked?

No, it's just...oh, never mind.  Tomorrow, here, okay?” Danny said, recovering his composure.

“I don’t know, do you want to have dinner, like a real date?” Mike asked, his face expressionless.

“I’d like that, yeah” Danny replied, and stood up to leave, his legs a little loose.  He was a little drunk, not plastered, but not far off.  Danny didn’t drink, as a rule.

“It was nice meeting you, Mike” Danny said, as he headed for the door.

They had exchanged cell numbers during the night; and, as he climbed into the cab heading back home, he received a message.  Gift shopping was long forgotten.

“7pm okay? Mike” was the text, and Danny replied with a short text “Looking forward to it”

Danny rode the elevator to the eighth floor and opened the door to his apartment.  He closed the door, hung up his coat, and just stood there, the vision of Mike’s eyes still filled his thoughts.  He liked the guy, but his heart still needed some convincing; his heart still had the scars of so much heartbreak.

He went to the bathroom and noticed something he had not seen in a while, he was smiling.  A goofy smile, but a smile, none the less.  He was going on a date, and with someone he had met by pure chance; oh, and a slippery sidewalk.

He went to bed shortly after eleven and fell into a contented thought filled sleep.  He dreamed of Mike, and the way they had met.  He had earlier checked his ass in the mirror and saw no bruising from the fall, so just his pride was bruised.

The following day he only  had thoughts of his impending date with Mike.  How has this guy he had only met less than twenty four hours earlier gotten such a hold on him.  Was he that starved for genuine attention?  Well yeah, but..

“Earth to Danny” Sheila said, as they ate lunch

“Huh” his educated brain reacted again.

“You were staring off into space.  Does old Jack have you panting?” she said, looking at old Jack from accounting.  “Distracted?” she asked.

“Just a little” he replied.

“Come on, spill” she said.

“Secret Santa... I have no clue what to buy” he replied.

“Bullshit” she responded, and Danny recoiled.

“You kiss your man with that mouth?” he asked.

“Oh, Danny boy, you do not want to know what this mouth does to my man; you would have nightmares for months” she snickered back.

“Thanks” Danny replied, with a disgusted look on his face.

“So, give” she asked again

“Okay, when I left last night, I decided to get this secret Santa thing sorted and out of the way.  I sort of fell out of the cab, and Mike...” she interrupted..

“Whoa, slow down there, pilgrim” she replied.

“Who is Mike?” she added.

“I tried to tell you.  I fell, he tried to help me up, but he fell onto me, and it was like kismet.  His eyes, Christ, Sheila, he has the most beautiful ice blue eyes” he gushed, well, a little, anyway.

“So” she pushed.

“We got up and he asked me for a drink; and over the next couple of hours, we sort of, well” he tried to explain, but couldn’t find the words.

“You slept with him…. you slut” she replied.

“No….no I didn’t, we just talked.  We sort of skirted around what we were; and, after a few drinks, he told me his last relationship was with a guy, and I sort of told him mine was, also.  No real details, I didn’t wanna curse it; you know me and Christmas” he shrilled.

“So what happened?” she demanded more details.

“I told him I would like to see him again; and, well, we are having dinner tonight.  I like him, Sheila, and I think he liked me” Danny replied.

“Oh sweetie, go slow, okay?  I don’t want to see you hurt again.  I mean, yeah, take a risk, but please go slow.  Let him make the first move” she said.

“Yeah, I know, my inner me has been battered and I am still bruised, but fuck!!! Don’t I deserve a break?” he was almost whining.

“Nobody more” she said, squeezing his hand.

She stood and was about to kiss his cheek.

“Whoa there, missy, I think I know where that mouth has been, so stay away from me” he snickered, and recoiled.

The rest of Friday really dragged for Danny.  He had to get home and decide what to wear.  Shit, a first date he thought to himself.  Fuck, am I reading more into this?  Is Sheila right, am I rushing this? Fuck!!!.


At 5pm, he was on the street, the snow was relentless; his coat keeping him warm.  He hailed a cab and climbed in; the smell of body odor was overpowering.  Despite the arctic conditions, he rolled down a window just to stop him from throwing up.  He gave the address and soon he was home.

The elevator, not for the first time, was out of order.  He thought his curse was returning to hit him yet again.  He climbed the seven floors, got his breath back, and entered his apartment.  He was in the bedroom, looking at his wardrobe, and couldn’t work out what to wear.  He knew whatever it was would involve a thick sweater… a very thick sweater.

After forty five minutes, he decided on a white Aron sweater and Black distressed Jeans and ankle boots, black, good tread.  No repeat of falling on his ass tonight!  He also took out his Camel hair coat.. it worked.

He looked in his long hall mirror and smiled. “Yeah, I’d do me” he laughed to himself.

He headed down the stairs and hailed what he hoped was a cleaner cab.  His luck changed and the cab was clean.  He soon arrived at the bar they had had a drink in the day before.  He walked in and Mike stood to greet him.

“Hey” Mike said.

“Waiting long?” Danny asked.

“No, just got here” he replied.

“Scotch?” he asked.

“Yeah, but add some coke, please, I’m not much of a drinker” he replied.

“No problem.  Would you rather share a bottle of wine?” he asked.

“Perfect” Danny replied.

“Preference?” he asked.

“You choose” Danny replied.

Soon, they were back in the same booth at the back of the bar, the fire roaring at the other end.  The room was warm and Danny was second guessing the sweater.

“You look good” Mike commented.

“Thanks, just threw this on; you look good, also, may I add” Danny said sipping a drink of his chardonnay.

“We have reservations at Antonio’s for 9” Mike said, taking a sip of his wine.

“Mmm, Italian, good choice” Dan complimented, unable to take his eyes off of Mikes ice blue eyes. They captivated him.

“So, Dan, what’s your story?” he asked.

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

“Whatever you want to tell me” Mike replied.

“Well, okay, I was orphaned at 3, spent most of my youth in foster care or children’s homes” he started.

“Whoa, sorry man, didn’t mean to drag up bad memories” Mike apologized.

“No, Mike, my life has had some good points; but yeah, I’ve known enough heartache to be a world class country artist” he forced a snicker.

“No kidding” he replied.

“You want me to go on?” Dan asked.

“Sure” he replied.

“Mom and Dad were killed on Christmas Eve.  My grandparents didn’t like my dad, and his folks had died a few years earlier, so social services took me.  I had a few foster families, never stayed long” he continued.

“I stayed for eight months with one family, got attached to them.  I really thought they were the ones, you know?” he went on.  It was good to share and Mike looked like he wanted to know the real Danny.

“What happened?” he asked.

I was eight years old.  My foster mother took me to buy a new winter coat, and when we got back, a woman from social services was waiting in a car.  My suitcase was already in the trunk.  My foster mother just got out of the car with me, and she walked up the path, went into the house and closed the door.

“Wow, so cruel.”

“It was Christmas Eve” he added.

I spent my teenage years in homes of one form or another; but once I hit high school, I applied myself and studied like crazy.  I got a full scholarship to college and got educated.

“So, what is it you do?” Mike asked.

“Advertising, one of the biggest firms in New-York” he replied.

“And?” he asked.

“Oh, I met Christopher as soon as I arrived in Manhattan.  He was perfect, or so I thought” he said, and lowered his head and sighed just a little, still stung.

“Bad break-up?” he asked.

“No, he just left, and believe it or not...” he was interrupted.

“Christmas Eve?” he responded.

“Yeah, see a pattern yet?” Dan added.

“So, Christmas must be a painful part of the year for you, then” he added.

“Yeah, usually, let’s hope it changes” Dan said, looking into those Ice blue eyes again.

“Okay, what is your story then, Mike?” he asked, taking a sip from his glass.

“Oh, only child of a single mother.  Step dad hated that I existed, but that story can wait for now.  I went to Harvard and graduated.. just.

I have had two what I call good relationships: one, a college thing that lasted almost three years, and Steve, in Idaho.  He wasn’t as faithful as I thought he was; I don’t share” he concluded.

“Drink up!  We have reservations” Mike said, standing up, holding out his hand to pull Danny up.  He liked that.

They sat in a corner of the restaurant and enjoyed each other’s company.  The conversation lifted over the next couple of hours.

“When was the last time you danced, I mean really danced?” Mike asked.

“Wow, it’s been a while, Chris….. sorry!” he stopped himself.

“Why?  He is a part of your past, he is part of you; so, the last time you went dancing was with Christopher, yeah?” he asked.

“Yes, sorry” he replied.

“Want to go dancing tomorrow, hit a couple of clubs?” He asked.

“I’d love that” Danny replied, gushing a little.

“I’d love to get hot and sweaty with you on the floor” Mike added.

Danny just busted out laughing, he couldn’t help himself.  “Does that line actually work?” he continued to laugh.

“Sexual innuendo; I love to see how people react, and you didn’t react how I thought you would” he replied.

“What?  You expect me to blush and say yes, I’d love to get sweaty with you; and, by the way, just so you know, I’d love to get hot and sweaty with you; but not in any hurry….okay?” Dan countered.

“Touché” he replied.

“So, dancing?” Mike added.

“Yeah, can’t wait” he responded, and smiled.

Both guys talked for a couple of hours; they were comfortable with each other.  They talked as though they had known each other for years, instead of just over thirty hours. 

They talked about their pasts, and how they coped.  Dan eventually heard how Mikes mother brought him up alone, until he was sixteen; when she met Chuck, a real redneck asshole.  He still held a little back, the emotional scars still fresh.

“Look it’s almost 1am, let’s call it a night.  We have talked about our experiences and its …. well, brought me down a little” Mike said, and Dan looked a little sad at the statement.

“Sorry, I didn’t want to make you sad” Dan replied.

“No, No, No, look, if we are going to spend a little time, or a lot, we’ll see, we needed to have that talk; and perhaps soon we can get to our old demons” Mike replied.

“Look Mike, if I’m honest, I have a difficult time at Christmas, trusting people.  I get let down a lot.  All I feel is dread; but, with you…… I don’t know….. I have hope” he said softly.

“Hey, hey, why the tears” Mike asked, rubbing a tear away from Dan’s cheek.

“I can’t tell you… not yet” he replied.

“Come on, let’s get you home; it’s been an emotional night” Mike said quietly, rubbing Dan’s cheek. Dan was leaning into the touch.

An hour later, Dan, a little drunk and very emotional, sobbed into his pillow.  He didn’t know why. Okay, he could work out the why.  It is the season to be jolly, but he was far from it.  He had met the guy of his dreams, but he knew his Christmas curse would strike at any moment and break him one more time.

He woke up the following morning, his eyes sore from crying.  He stood in front of the mirror and decided to call off his date with Mike.  He knew he would be hurt, but at least he could control the depth of pain he would have to endure.

He picked up his cell and pressed speed dial, but hung up before it connected.

“Take the risk, but be careful” the words Sheila said yesterday still ringing in his ears.

Since he started working in New York, and this not being his favorite part of the year; he saved up vacation days so he would not have to go through the office parties, pretending to be happy when he was not even close.  In fact, the only time he had even been close to happy was with Christopher, and he remembers how that turned out.  He couldn’t say he loved him, though; comfortable was as close as he came to describe it, and for what his life has been, he was ready to settle for comfortable.

So, after he did his grocery shopping and bought the small gift for his secret Santa, and dropped it off at reception; he headed back to his apartment to ready himself for some bump and grind.  They had decided on club Persia, a popular gay club.  Mike knew it, Dan did not.  It would be busy as it was yes you guessed it. It was Christmas Eve eve, 1 day away from his cursed day.

Mike stood by the cab as Dan came down.  He now just wanted to enjoy Mike, before all his worries came to fruition.

“Mike, you not cold?” he said, looking at Mike, wearing a ripped Tee and Jeans, and it being minus eight and dropping.  Dan was wearing roughly the same style, but also wore a jacket.

“Freezing” he replied as they climbed into the cab.  Jingle bell rock played over the radio and it turned Dan’s stomach a little.  They drove downtown, Christmas lights, trees all decorated, and people milling around, just staring at the sights.

They pulled up outside the club and rushed in.  The guy on the door recognized Mike and let them through.  The dance floor was packed with shirtless bodies, grinding against each other; the music was loud and rhythmic.

“DRINK” Mike yelled, and Dan could hardly hear him.  Mike made a hand gesture and Dan nodded.  Soon, they were on the floor and holding each other as a slow song was played.

No words were exchanged, but glances spoke volumes.  If only Dan could shake this feeling of impending doom and just embrace the moment; but he couldn’t.

Trust and real trust was needed, and time would bring that; but his feeling that his perfect guy would end what they have within…. he looked at his watch and it was just after ten… within the next 26 hours.

They danced and rutted like young gay viral men in a gay club.  Both had been aroused for a very long time, the sweat pouring down both their bare backs, as others did the same.  The smell of musk and fresh sweat filled their nostrils and stimulated them further.

They stared into each other’s eyes and kissed softly.  Dan was in heaven and he wanted to stay; but the doubt still remained.  He was in a happy place, but he could not quite grasp it… not yet, anyway.

“You have gorgeous eye’s Dan… but sad at the same time” Mike said, as they stood outside in the very cold air.

“What do you mean sad eyes’” Dan asked

“The eyes are the windows to your soul, and it looks sad” he replied.

“Oh, I have…. had issues” Dan replied.



“Those marks on your back, I couldn’t help notice them” Dan enquired.

“Oh, those… Step-dad issues” he replied.

“He beat me when he found out…. You know ..I was gay” He added.

“Your Mom?” Dan asked.

“Took his side.  I moved out… slept rough for a few weeks, a shelter took me in, eventually.  I tried going home, but he slammed the door in my face.  I was broken for a while” he replied, and Dan could see the hurt written on his face.

“Sorry, Mike” Dan replied.

“Look, Dan, I know its short notice, but what are you really doing for Christmas” Mike asked

“Dinner for one and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey” Dan responded.

“Wanna spend it with me?” Mike asked.

Dan thought for a few seconds “I’d like that, thank you”

“Well, we can plan some things tomorrow; get a turkey and the vegetables to go with it.  Wanna get a tree?” he asked, like an excited kid.

“Not my thing, Mike, sorry” he replied in a sorrowful tone.

“The turkey?” he asked.

“The decorations, the tree” Dan replied.

“Cool, most of my shit is still in boxes, anyway” Mike replied.

The time was getting on, the snow persistent.  “You want to come back to mine?” Mike asked.

“Yeah, like you wouldn’t believe” Dan replied.  They hailed a cab and soon they were deeper into Manhattan and outside Mike’s apartment block.

“Nice building” Dan said, looking at the architecture.

“Should be, for what I am paying for it” he snickered back.

They rode the elevator to the 33rd floor and opened the apartment door to Mike’s home.  He flipped the light on and the place was nice; a bit dated in the décor, but homey.

“Very nice” Dan said, scanning the rooms as he walked.

He noticed only the bare essentials out, and the rest still in cartons. the leather sofa looked new, as did the oak coffee table and lamp.

Dan looked at the clock on the mantel and realized it was Christmas eve, his day of doom.

“Hey, your face just dropped” Mike said, looking over at Dan.

“Christmas Eve” Dan replied.

  Mike walked over, stood in front of him, placed a finger under his chin and lifted his face up.

“Do you remember sayings like if you constantly believe that things were meant to go wrong, and the more you look for things to go wrong, your mind finds a way to make it so?” Mike asked.

“Sort of” Dan replied.

“What I am saying is, if you expect things to go into the crapper, you will look for a way for it to happen” Mike added.

“Dan, from now on, look for the positive and concentrate on that; forget about the negative….. okay?” Mike added.

“Look at this point of view: if all the shit that has happened to both of us had not happened, we would have never met” He added.

“No, I don’t believe that.  I think we were always destined to meet, at some point” Dan added.

“What, like as soul mates?” Mike asked, now snuggling closer on the sofa.

“You said I had sad eyes and my soul was sad; don’t you find that a little strange to say​” Dan asked.

“Ermm….Well, yeah, a little; it just seemed the right thing to say at the time” Mike responded, then leaned in and kissed him.

“Well, it’s like that for me, every year at the same time.  I feel….. I don’t know how to describe it…. dread, apprehension, fear.  I have never looked forward to Christmas….. ever” Dan replied.

“You have to want to change the way you approach it.  If you make a plan to have a good time, and you look forward to having that good time, and it just happens to be Christmas Eve; well, the date should never matter.  Look, you are spending Christmas day with me.  You already said you do not go back to work until the new year, so stay with me till then.”

“I need clothes” Dan replied.

“No, you don’t” Mike said with a lascivious expression on his face.

“I’ll stink” Dan replied.

“Yep, and we will shower” Mike replied.

“Hot and sweaty, I stink now” Dan replied.

“I like your stink” Mike replied, again leaning in and capturing his lips.

“Oh God, Mike, what are you doing to me?” Dan moaned out as Mike slid his hand into the waistband of his Jeans.

“I want you” Mike said in a sexy husky voice.

“I need to be in you, I need to taste you” he added.

“Fuck!!!” Dan moaned out as Mike popped the top button of his jeans and pushed his hand further into his groin, groping as he advanced.

Mike gripped the leaking length of Dan’s now engorged cock as he spread the leaking pre-cum over the head of his cock, then bringing his fingers to his own lips and tasting Dan’s essence.

“Stand up” Mike demanded.

Dan stood as instructed and Mike stayed on his knees.  He pulled down Dan’s jeans and his shorts and his cock sprang from its cloth prison.  It took only seconds before Mike’s mouth cocooned the length within his warm welcoming mouth.

“Oh……..My………God” Dan moaned out as his legs began to buckle.  He held on to Mike’s shoulders for support.  He could not help himself as he thrust in to Mike’s mouth, which received a moan from both their lips.  It had been over a year since Dan had been sucked like this, but never this good.  It never felt this good.

Mike stopped and stood up.  He looked into Dan’s eyes, and for the first time since they'd met, they did not look sad.  He saw hope, he saw desire, he saw want, need, lust.

He reached down and took Dan by the hand and led him to his bedroom for more exploration, more desire,  more lust and want, and most definitely need.

Within seconds, both men were naked and holding each other and kissing with more passion than either had experienced.  Perhaps Dan was right about soul mates connecting.

Mike returned to the lustful attack of Dan’s senses, devouring his cock to the base.  He took him like a pro, and the appreciative moans coming from Dan told him he was pushing the right buttons. While he was working his magic, he also worked Dan’s pucker open with first one finger, then two, and again the moans told him don’t stop, don’t ever stop.

Dan’s biggest ever craving in life was true human contact, the desire for another human being to want him like he wanted them; not a quick fuck at the end of the night, and he sensed that from Mike, or at least he hoped he was sensing that.

It was not long before Dan gave up what he wanted since he met Mike.  His heart had been taken, and he was trusting that the curse of Christmas Eve would be dispelled, and he would be allowed to experience joy.  Mike was now part of him, and the feeling of Mike thrusting hard and deep inside his body told him he was where he had to be, where he needed to be, where he wanted to stay.

“Fuck Mike, oh Fuck, oh Fuck” he screamed, as his ass was being punished in the most delightful way possible. “You like?” Mike asked, and did not need a reply.

They both came in a crescendo of noise and desperate breathing.  The sweat poured from every pour of their bodies.  Mike collapsed on top of Dan, and the weight of his body was like a blanket of love, and Dan was enveloped in it.

Christmas Eve morning…….

Dan woke up more contented than he ever thought possible.  The other side of the bed was empty and a note lay on the pillow.

“You looked so peaceful lying there, I did not have the heart to wake you.  Gone to get some groceries for our lunch and for the dinner tomorrow.  Going to see if I can find a turkey.  Wish me luck… Mike”

Dan smiled to himself.  The lovemaking he had experienced with Mike had given him hope for the first time in his life.

His cell phone rang as he climbed out of bed.

“Hey” he said, after seeing Mike’s number.

“Did I wake you?” he asked.

“No, I was getting dressed.  I missed you” he replied, sounding soppy and not giving a shit.

“Me too, I’m on my way back.  I’ll park the car and come straight up.  You want Starbucks?”  he asked.

“Mmm, Americano, no sugar” he replied.

“See you soon” and the phone went dead.

He decided to take a shower to get rid of the sweat from the previous night’s activity’s.

He let the hot water cascade down his body, and the water pounded his muscles into life.  It felt good, he felt good.  He must have been in the shower for almost 15 minutes before he climbed out. As he dried, his cell rang again.  He picked it up and again saw Mike’s number.

“Hey, what’s keeping you?” he asked.

“Sorry, Is this Danny Aims?” a strange voice asked.

“Yes it is” he again looked at the caller I.D.

“Why do you have Mike’s phone?” he asked in a panicked voice.

“I’m sorry sir, your number was the last number dialed.  There has been an accident” was all the words he could remember, he was again being pulled into a Christmas eve nightmare.  He was soon at mercy hospital, sitting in a waiting room as a detective talked to him.

“It seems he jumped a red light, and well….. that’s when the snow plough hit him.

“Do we know how he is, yet?” Dan choked out the question.

“He’s in a bad way sir, I won’t sugar coat it” the detective replied, as a Doctor walked in to talk to him.  He talked to the detective for a few seconds and then walked over to Dan.

“Mr Aims?” he started.

Dan stood up and shook his hand.

“Dan” he replied.

“Dan, do you know how we can contact Mr. Leach’s next of kin?” he asked.

“No, sorry, he does not have any contact with them” Dan sobbed out.

“Is he okay?” he asked with hope.

“No’ I am so sorry, the damage was too extensive.  He passed away a short time ago.  I am so sorry for your loss” he replied.

Dan’s world had come to an end.  His curse claimed the life of yet another he loved.  Dan sat there, totally numb, for over an hour.  He stood up, somehow without collapsing, and walked out of the hospital.  His cell chirped and he ignored it.  he sat on a park bench, the air freezing; but he didn’t care. He experienced love for the first time and it had been cruelly taken from him.

He hailed a cab and headed back to Mike’s apartment.  His home keys were still there and he needed them.

He rode the elevator and stood outside the door, crying.  He opened the door and received the shock of his life.  Mike, sitting on the leather sofa, eyes red from crying.  He looked up and saw Dan, his eyes looking shocked and blood shot.

Mike jumped up out of the seat and pulled Dan into his arms.

“Where have you been?” Mike asked, frantic.

“I’ don’t understand, you died “ Dan struggled to say.

“What, hang on, died?” Mike asked, looking into the most confused eyes he had ever seen

“You were in a car crash, you died” Dan replied.

“No, babe, I didn’t.  I took $10 out of my wallet and left my jacket on the seat and went to get coffee and some low life stole my fucking car” he replied.

Dan couldn’t control himself any longer and grabbed Mike and held on for all he was worth and cried like a baby.  He thought he had lost the one thing that meant anything to him.  He knew what he felt, he knew why he felt it; he loved Mike with every inch of his being.

“Dan, hey, hey” he said softly.

“Hey, look, I’m fine.  I’m here.  I’m not going anywhere….. okay?” he added.

“I thought I’d lost you; I have just found you and I thought……” he sobbed.

“Christmas Eve” Mike responded.

“Yeah” he whimpered.

“Can I tell you a secret Danny Aims?” he asked.

“Yeah” he replied.

“I’m in love with you” he said, and that melted Danny completely.

“I love you, too” he replied, as Mike wiped the tears and the hurt away.

They sat on the black sofa and just held each other close.  The Christmas eve curse of Danny Aims, hopefully broken; despite all the hurt and doom he had felt just a few hours earlier.  He knew he would be spending a lot of his life with Mike Leach and he liked the idea.  Mike was his family… yeah, family.



The guys, despite no traditional Christmas dinner, had the perfect day.  They did not exchange gifts .. well, not in the traditional sense, and what they gave each other could not be found on a hallmark card.

One year later, Dan was now living in Mike’s apartment with their springer spaniel, Charlie.  They were happy, Mike’s job was perfect, and Dan had been promoted.  He looked on this time of year with more hope than he had ever, in the past.  They had both discussed the possibility of marriage and adoption or surrogacy.  Dan knew Mike loved him and never doubted that fact.  He also knew he was in love with this man more every passing day.

They lay in bed later that same night, Charlie snoring at their feet as the clock on the mantle struck midnight.

“Merry Christmas, Mike” Dan said, as he kissed his lover.

“Merry Christmas to you, babe” he replied, as he welcomed the kiss as his erection grew almost immediately.

“Ohh, is that for me?” Dan smirked as he went down to unwrap his first “Present” of the day.


The End



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Ken, I loved this story. My dad was a WWII vet. was a prisoner of War in Germany, near the end of the war. His Left leg had to be amputated just below the knee. Gangrene or however you spell it. The Germans just cut it off, and didn't do a very good job of it, Dad had pain in his leg to one degree or another, from then until his dying day. Dad was very stoic and hardly ever laughed. Mom said that he suopped laughing sometime after he lost his leg, She was never able to make him laugh after that. Once in a while something would catch him as funny, and he would actually laugh out loud. but those times were very rare... that is until he had a mild storke, once he recovered from the stroke, he would laugh at almost anything the least bit funny.


Some friends of mine and I used to point out that most of the time when a song mentioned love, they really were talking about sex and not love, so we started to talk about changing the titles of songs to reflect what they actually meant, "Fu** Is A Many Splendered thing' for example.


I brought that up to tell you this, I was visiting my folks one weekend and Mom had the radio on in the kitchen, and "I Love" by tom T. Hall came on. I started giggling when I heard it say I bleep little baby ducks,,, My mom asked me why I was laughing. I tried to ignore her question, but she wouldn't let up, so I finally told het what I was laughing at. She came up with an answer, telling me it wasn't funny, all the while she was sort of laughing quietly, under her breath.


Dad had heard it too, and he heard her tell me it wasn't funny, but he told her it certainly was funny, and pretty soon he started coming up with some names that we hadn't thought of. We had a really good time, and even Mom got to really laughing... I can't actually remember another time they both sat there laughing.


God I miss them.


Merry Christmas


Your Friend,

Darryl The Radio Rancher

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