The house seemed too bare. All the Christmas decorations have come down and packed away for another year. Walking from room to room, they wondered how to replace the brightness and magic the decorations had created.
The house seemed too bare. All the Christmas decorations have come down and packed away for another year. Walking from room to room, they wondered how to replace the brightness and magic the decorations had created.
Poppy pressed her face and hands to the icy cold window and looked outside. There was no sign of anyone. Maybe, the stick man shaped like a Christmas tree had disappeared? Poppy wondered about that for a few moments, but then she saw him.
Tree-man was making his way down the pathway and even though he was tiny, the bright green colour Poppy had given him glowed against the white frost.
Poppy opened her mouth to shout to him to come back but then she thought better of it. Hurrying into her wardrobe, she put on some fleece pants, socks and a jumper. Going to her door, she crept out again. The house was quiet and as she passed her parents’ bedroom door, she thought she heard the turning pages of a book.
Downstairs she crept and in the hallway put on her coat and wellington boots. She reached for the keys next and unlocked the door with a bit of difficulty. Pulling the front door open as quietly as she could, Poppy slipped outside.
A cold wind wrapped around her and her breath misted before her. The frost sparkled on the ground looking like someone had spread sugar on the road.
‘Tree-man?’ Poppy whispered.
‘Yes?’ a distant voice called back.
‘Come back here,’ Poppy said.
‘Why? You are there and I am here now. Let’s go see the lights together,’ Tree-man spoke out.
‘You’ll be safe with me!’ Tree-man shouted.
Poppy looked behind her at the hallway. The light was on as her mum had left it lit for her dad’s return. She could feel the warmth also coming from the house and she felt torn.
Tree-man reached the gate, he stopped and waved at her.
‘Just a few minutes. That’d be okay,’ Poppy said under her breath.
Slipping the key into her pocket, she stepped out and closed the door softly. Poppy hurried down the path and bent down to look at Tree-man.
‘Can you pick me up?’ he asked.
Nodding, Poppy held out her hand and he jumped into her palm.
‘Where do we go?’ she asked.
‘Down the street,’ Tree-man directed.
Poppy opened the gate and went though. Even though it seemed the frost would crunch under her boots it didn’t nor was it slippy. Carrying Tree-man loosely, Poppy walked down the street and admired the neighbours Christmas lights.
‘Isn’t this magical?’ Tree-man spoke after a few moments.
‘Yes,’ Poppy replied.
‘Look at that deer and that wreath and that sign,’ Tree-man pointed out.
Poppy did, but she wasn’t as fascinated as he was. She was starting to feel cold and also worried. What if someone saw her and they told her mum?
‘We should go back,’ Poppy spoke up.
‘Just a little more, please! I do so love Christmas and it’s so pretty!’ Tree-man cried.
‘But I could get into trouble…’
‘Look at that!’ Tree-man cut in.
Poppy did and she saw the house at the end of the street brightly light up in blue and red flashing lights.
‘Closer! closer!’ Tree-man called.
Frowning, Poppy walked on then came to a stop before the house. The bushes that lined the front walls were divided into red or blue lights as were other plants in the garden. Two real looking but fake baby white trees were on either side of the door, decorated with shinny red baubles and white fairy lights. The walls of the house was covered with flashing stars and other Christmas themed lights.
‘Wow,’ Tree-man breathed.
‘I’ve seen it before,’ Poppy commented and then without thinking, she added, ‘there’s a house on the next street that has a family of polar bears in the garden.’
‘Oh, I’d like to see that!’ Tree-man said.
‘No. We must go back now,’ Poppy replied and she turned around.
Tree-man put his hands on the lowest triangle on his body, ‘no!’ he shouted.
‘Then you’ll have to get there yourself,’ Poppy snapped.
‘Fine!’ Tree-man shot back and he jumped from her hand.
Poppy watched him land on the pavement then walk off. Her mind fully made up, Poppy walked back to her house. Reaching the front door, she turned and looked up the street, but she couldn’t see the Tree-man.
Car headlight lit up the road and Poppy gasped. That could be her dad arriving back!
Fumbling in her coat pocket, she took out the keys and unlocked the door. Rushing in, she closed it and kicked off her boots. As she struggled out of her coat, she heard the car pull up. Tossing her coat on the hanger, she hurried upstairs and took off her clothes.
‘Hello?’ her mum’s voice called.
Poppy stopped trying to take the pants off and got quickly into bed. She pulled the duvet up and shut her eyes. She heard her bedroom door open slightly and then the front door also opened.
Keeping her eyes squeezed shut, she heard her mum go downstairs and talk quietly to her dad. Then they both went into the kitchen or the living room.
Poppy let go of the breath she had been holding and opened her eyes. She thought about Tree-man and where he might have gone. Should she have really left him out there alone? But what choice had she had?
Settling back, Poppy listened to her parents coming upstairs and going to bed. She waited a good few minutes, counting in her head then she got out of bed again. Going to the window, she opened the curtains and looked out.
Tree-man wasn’t there and it had started to snow.
Poppy was just about to wipe away the drawing on her new mini whiteboard when her mum walked into the living room.
‘Time for bed,’ mum said.
Poppy looked up with a frown. She wasn’t feeling tried, even though the fire had made the living room really warm.
‘You’ll get wrinkles if you frown like that. Come on now,’ mum added.
Putting down the whiteboard and pens, Poppy got up and headed out of the room.
‘What was that you were drawing?’ her mum asked as they went upstairs.
‘It was a Christmas tree, but it turned out wrong. So I made it into a tree-man,’ Poppy explained.
‘Oh okay. Go brush you teeth then get your nightie on. I need to check on Oscar.’
Poppy nodded and went into the bathroom whilst mum crept into the baby’s room.
As she brushed her teeth, Poppy thought about the tree-man. He hadn’t turned out how she had wanted either. Maybe tomorrow she’d have another go at drawing a Christmas tree.
Teeth clean, she got changed and into bed. The last of the fire’s warmth left her and Poppy felt cold. Wrapping herself up, she had made a nest when her mum appeared at the door.
‘Would you like a story?’
‘No,’ Poppy said, ‘I’m tried.’
Nodding her mum went to close the door then added, ‘I’ll send your dad up to say goodnight when he gets back.’
‘Okay,’ Poppy muttered.
She settled down and shut her eyes. Poppy lay still for a good few minutes, letting thoughts come and go. Then she threw back the duvet and got out of bed. Slowly, she opened the door and looked out. The light from her parents’ room was on and the door was almost closed.
Poppy sneaked out and went downstairs as quietly as she could. Going into the living room, she found it dark and lit only by the last glow of the fire. Poppy made her away around and found the whiteboard and pens. Picking them up, she took them back to bed with her.
Wrapped up again and with the night light on, Poppy looked at the whiteboard. The tree-man was gone. Frowning, she turned it over, but found the other side empty too. Raising the board above her head, she looked down at the bed. There was a strange green, spiky looking stick figure on the fleece blanket.
Poppy dropped the board on to the floor.
The stick figure let out a small cry and turned around.
A scream escaped Poppy’s mouth and her bedroom door flew open.
‘What is it? What’s wrong?’ her mum said loudly.
‘There was a…thing…’ Poppy cried.
She scrambled from the bed and looked through all the blankets. There was no sign of the green spiky stick man.
‘It was just a dream,’ mum said.
Poppy went to argue with her, but thought better about it. She let her mum help her remake the bed, then Poppy got in and lay down again.
‘Goodnight,’ her mum said and left.
‘Night,’ Poppy called after her.
As soon as her mum had gone, Poppy lent out of bed and picked up the whiteboard. It was still empty on both sides.
‘Where are you?’ she whispered.
‘Here!’ a small voice cried.
Poppy grabbed the night light and shone it on the floor. Crawling out from underneath the bed was the tree-man she had drawn. His body was three thin green triangles on top of one another. His legs were long and his feet flat. His arms and hands were the same, but he had long fingers. His head was made of a smaller triangle with large black eyes in the middle and there was a fuzzy green outline all around him.
‘What are you?’ Poppy breathed.
‘Tree-man,’ he replied and he give her a wave.
‘How did you come off the whiteboard?’ Poppy asked.
‘No idea,’ Tree-man replied.
He wandered across the room and stopped at the large teddy bear which guarded the foot of Poppy’s bed. He reached out and poked the bear’s foot pad with a long spiky finger.
‘He’s not alive,’ Poppy said as she slipped out of the bed.
‘He is,’ Tree-man spoke, ‘you just can’t see it.’
With a nod to the bear, he moved on and began climbing the curtains.
‘What are you doing?’ Poppy asked.
‘I want to see the Christmas lights,’ he answered.
Reaching the window sill, he went behind the curtains.
Puzzled, Poppy pulled back the curtains to make a gap of her head. She looked out and saw the house across from her light up by white lights. There was a small deer in the garden and the two small bushes by the door were sparkling with flashing fairy lights.
‘It’s so pretty,’ Tree-man said.
‘Yes,’ Poppy replied.
‘We should go out and see more.’
‘No,’ we can’t! It’s night time and I’m not allow too,’ Poppy explained.
Tree-man looked at her reflection in the window, his expression unreadable because she hadn’t given him a detailed face.
‘I’m going back to bed. It’s cold,’ Poppy announced.
She closed the curtains and went back to bed. Settling down, she ignored the sounds coming from by her window. Then though, she felt a blast of freezing air. Tossing the bedding back, she got up once again and went to the window.
One of the top windows was open and Tree-man was nowhere to be seen…
To Be Continued…
The night sky was a blaze with stars. From the edge of the world, he could see all of this and more.
And after the madness what happens? I wondered as I stood by the sink still washing pots from yesterday. Life returns to normal and the Christmas glow disappears. It was a true conclusion, but not the one I wanted.
Placing another plate on the drying rack, I wondered what was the conclusion I wanted. Behind me in the living room came the sounds of children at play. My two younger brothers, one sister and two step-sisters, were going through presents again. Arguments were breaking out backed by the sound of electric toys playing music and other sounds.
My parents were still slummed in bed; tried, drunk and stuffed from yesterday. They had done a great job though and it had been another Christmas to remember. Today, was their day off, but there was so much to do.
Blocking out the now loud sounding voices, I started cleaning a pan. It was easy scrubbing having been left to soak. What really was the point in this whole Christmas thing? I thought, going down a different path to try and figure out the answer to my first question. Wasn’t once a celebration of winter and the final harvest? Then it was religious and now it’s mix of those and consumerism.
Finishing the pan, I shook the water off and towered it on top of the pile. I went to sweep a loose strand of blonde hair back but stopped as I caught sight of the yellow washing up gloves. I tried shaking the hair away, but it didn’t work. Sighing, I tucked it behind my hair and felt a slight wetness.
The sounds from the living room increased and one of my step-sisters burst through the door.
‘Chis just hit in the face!’ she shouted.
‘I didn’t!’ Chris called from the hallway.
I rolled my eyes and let the next pan I had grabbed sink into the soapy water. I looked at her face, there was a slight red mark on her left cheek.
‘She started it anyway!’ Chris cut back in.
Someone started crying in the background and I knew it was time to give up on the washing up again. Taking off the gloves, I left them by the sink.
‘Both of you say sorry and forget,’ I spoke.
Sweeping past them I went into the living room and saw my other siblings sitting amongst wrapping paper and cardboard boxes. It was the youngest who was crying; my other step-sister. I picked her up and all thoughts about Christmas went out of my head. Even though That madness was over, more were sure to happen in this house.
All around the world today people are gathering together.
They are swapping presents, eating feasts and celebrating.
It’s a time for happiness and to see the magic of tradition.
Willow placed the sweet minced fruit pie on the plate then licked the sugar off her fingers. For a moment, she nearly snatched the pie back and put it in her mouth, but then her mother bustled over.
‘And a carrot for Rudolph,’ her mother announced as she placed the bright orange carrot next to the plate.
Willow looked up at her mum and almost asked the question that had popped into her mind.
‘Now, we need a bowl of water and some whisky…’ her mum said suddenly, ‘Will you get the water?’
With a nod, Willow followed her into the kitchen. Her mum got a bowl, filled it with water and handed it to her. Willow carried it carefully back into the living room and placed it on the coffee table next to the carrot.
She stood for a few moments and took the room in. It was heavy decorated with a real pine tree in the corner draped with multi-coloured fairy lights, shinny red and gold balls, red and gold tinsel and atop was a golden star. The mantel had real holly and berries laying across it and stockings hung up above the fire place. From the ceiling, lights and thin plastic shapes hung down.
Willow’s mother came back in with a tumbler glass half full of amber liquid. She placed it next to the plate.
‘All set. Right, it’s time for bed now. Santa will be on his way.’
‘But mum, why do we need to do this?’ Willow finally asked with a wave of her hand at the carrot.
‘Well….I guess…because it’s tradition,’ mum answered.
Willow stared at her waiting for more.
‘I think that Santa and the reindeer get hungry. They are doing a lot of travelling, so they need the energy.’
‘Then why don’t they stop? Or take food with them?’ Willow asked.
‘They can’t stop, they don’t have time. They have to get around the world in a whole night. Maybe though, Mrs. Claus makes them sandwiches,’ mum answered.
‘Do reindeer eat sandwiches?’ Willow wondered out aloud.
‘Also, we are thanking Santa for coming,’ mum added, ‘and it’s a nice thing to do.’
Willow looked at the coffee table, she wasn’t sure she believed in this anymore.
‘Plus, also,’ her mum said quickly, seeing the still puzzled look on her daughter’s face, ‘Santa has been asleep for much of the year and he’s really hungry.’
Willow frowned harder and looked from the food and drink offerings to her mother.
‘It’s bedtime now, sweetie, come on,’ her mum broke in.
Shrugging and deciding to let this conversation drop, Willow let her mum shoo her from the room. Saying goodnight, first to her father who was sat reading a book in his study then her mother, Willow went to her bedroom and lay on her bed pondering about Santa till she fell asleep.
Downstairs, her mother finished off wrapping presents. As she finished putting them in the stockings, her husband appeared in the doorway. He went to the coffee table and picked up the tumbler of whisky.
‘I don’t think we can pull this off next year,’ she said softly, ‘Willow is asking too many questions and not accepting my answers.’
Willow’s father picked up the mince pie and went to his favourite armchair. He sat down and took a bite out of the pie.
‘We’ll have to tell her. She’s grown up so fast,’ Willow’s mother added.
‘Maybe she’ll figure it out. It’s what we did.’
Standing up, Willow’s mother picked up the carrot and began eating it. In her mind, she was trying to figure out the best way to tell her daughter the truth.
‘Twas the night before Christmas. Okay, Okay it wasn’t, it was actually the day before, so the eve of Christmas eve, if you will. But I bet you don’t even care about that do you? No, you just want to hear a story.
Okay, fine. So, I was standing at the street corner, smoking and freezing to death. When she stepped out of a shop doorway. She was a Betty Boop type; perfect hourglass figure, short black hair, large eyes framed by long lashes. She was wearing a long fur lined white coat and red high heels. A proper doll.
She walked towards me, stopped and took me in. I knew what I must look like to her; a shadow wearing a long brown coat and black beat up fedora hat. I stubbed out my cigarette on the wall.
‘Is it done?’ her voice whispered.
I give a single nod and from my pocket drew out a man’s heavy gold wrist watch. I hand it to her. She looks at it in the streetlight then kisses me…
Okay, okay. That didn’t happen.
She walked right passed me, not even seeing me in her hurry. I watch her checking the road, then crossing it. The tapping of her heels muffled by the snow. Car headlights flash on the road, but she’s over and gone by the time the car drove passes.
I sigh and reach in my pocket for my whisky flask. The snow starts to fall again. big, fluffy balls that stick on top of the slush that’s been made during the day. I lean against the wall and sip from the flask, feeling the burn in my mouth. My mind moves back through time to that moment of her in the doorway again.
She steps out on to the street and starts walking. As soon as she reaches the alleyway, I jump out before her. Startled she cries out, a hand rising and pressing against her chest. Then she sees me and starts laughing.
‘You scared me! What were you doing back there?’ she asks.
‘Waiting for you,’ I says huskily.
She laughs more. I take her hand and we walk to the edge of the road. It starts snowing as we begin to cross.
‘It’s such a pretty night. I can’t believe it’s Christmas eve tomorrow,’ she says.
‘You’re more pretty then any snowy night,’ I cut in.
She giggles and we walk back to her place…
And now we both know that didn’t happen. But you really wanted to believe it that time didn’t you? A couple so in love walking through the snow at night in New York. The shop fronts and houses all light up with Christmas lights. A man dressed up as Father Christmas ringing his bell and collecting money for charity. See how I paint the picture so perfectly?
But none of it every happen. It was in a movie I once watched I think, but can hardly remember. I’m not stood in that downtown New York alleyway, dressed as a detective and waiting to walk my girlfriend home. Nor am I a hired killer, having just murdered a woman’s husband and now trying to make her fall in love with me. I’m just a nobody in a place far from America, dreaming of what could have been.
The High Priestess had heard the crying at the temple door for some time now. She had been hoping that one of The Sisters Of Syreth, her followers, servants or anybody else taking shelter in the temple tonight would have opened the door by now. Wondering why that was, the High Priestess swished down a connecting hallway in her large and heavy blue dress.
Going through a small door, she entered and passed through the huge nave down a side corridor. The air was heavily scented with hot wax, incense and winter flowers from the mountain sides. Flickering candle light glowed from clustered candle groups, but it was not enough to keep the shadows away. A handful of people were sitting in the large, cold wooden pews. Most were silent in prayer or sleep, but every now and then sobbing, moans and whispered voices could be heard.
The High Priestess stuck to the shadows and hurried past. It was late in the night and she had all ready given a long service this evening then spent time with a number of different people. She was tried and had been trying to fall asleep, but the crying had disturbed her.
Going through the large doors into the small welcoming area, she saw the door opposite which led to the porch was all ready open. Voices and light were drifting from the area. Not bothering to be quiet she walked on and came to a stop behind a small group of people. There were five of them; two Sisters of Syreth in there pale blue robes, a male servant and a tall man dressed in a travelling cloak.
‘I am telling you, do not let them in!’ the man was saying.
‘Everybody is welcome in this temple of Syreth. She is the Goddess of protection and guardians. It is our duty to offer whatever we can to anybody who comes to our door,’ the High Priestess broke in.
The two Sisters turned and did little bows. The male servant, who was holding a lantern bowed too, but his was a lot lower. The traveler did not move and the High Priestess saw the tiredness and worry on his face. But he was also trying to mask his fear. Behind them all and coming from the other side of the temple’s double front doors the loud crying continued.
‘What is it? Who is crying out there?’ the High Priestess demanded to know.
There was a pause then the traveler spoke out, ‘creatures. I saw them on my way here and I think they followed me. You must not let them in for surely they are demons.’
‘What do they look like?’ The High Priestess asked.
‘There is two of them,’ the traveler replied, ‘one small, the other tall. They look like ghosts to me. I heard them whispering and calling out to me. But I did not stop. I rushed here and closed the door upon them and since then they have been crying,’ the traveler explained.
The High Priestess fell into thought.
‘We want to open the door to see for ourselves,’ one of the Sisters spoke.
‘Perhaps in the darkness the gentleman was mistaken,’ the second Sister finished.
‘I am not blind! I know what I saw!’ the traveler snapped.
‘Of course,’ the High Priestess murmured, ‘please see to his needs,’ she said to the servant.
The servant give a nod and led the man away. The traveler began to mutter under his breath, but he followed the servant and the steady lantern light.
The High Priestess went to the door and opened it. She peered out then stepped aside.
A strong winter wind blew harsh snowflakes into the temple and set the candles flicking violently. Coldness seeped in and snatched what little warmth there was within the stone walls away. The sound of the river gargling and the rattling of bare tree branches echoed through the temple.
The crying stopped. A large white and light brown cat padded inside followed by a pure white young female deer. Snow dusted their coats, but they seemed unharmed.
‘Do you seek shelter here?’ asked the High Priestess.
‘Yes,’ the cat spoke in a clear voice that was not male or female.
The two Sisters gasped and backed away. They reached for each other, holding hands tightly. Fear passed across their faces, but they did not run away.
The High Priestess shut the door. Snowflakes were melting in her long loose blonde hair and the wind was tugging at the edges of her dress like a naughty child.
‘You are both welcome here,’ the High Priestess continued.
‘Thank you,’ the cat replied.
‘What are your names and how can we help you?’
‘I am known as Horven, the druid,’ the cat spoke, ‘and she is the Princess Graceuvial.’
The white deer nodded and seemed to give a little bow with her long neck.
‘A Princess?’ The High Priestess breathed.
‘We have become lost in the snowstorm,’ Horven added.
‘Yes. It is quite a bad one,’ the High Priestess responded, ‘please let me take you to some warm rooms. There you can rest and I shall see to it you have everything you need.
‘Thank you,’ the cat said.
The High Priestess held out her hand then led the way into the Temple.
It had been a struggle, but finally, Macy had brought her last Christmas present. Laying spread eagle across the sofa and catching her breath, she heard the muffled sounds of Christmas songs coming from a neighbouring apartment. She tried to guess the song and though it’s tune was familiar without the lyrics she couldn’t recall it.
Getting up, she left her shopping next to the coffee table and went into her bedroom. In a large grey plastic moving box in the far corner the rest of her presents were stored as well as wrapping paper and cards. Macy picked it up then decided to drag it into the living room.
Putting a Disney Christmas movie that she had seen countless times into the DVD player, she began wrapping up presents, labelling them and writing cards. The sound of the movie blocked out the muffled music, but Macy wasn’t watching movie anyway.
About two hours later and Macy placed the last present into the box. Sighing, she collapsed on to the sofa. She shut her eyes and dozed for a few minutes. Then stirring herself awake, she dug out a list from her pocket. Unfolding it, she went through the names, the gifts and the ticks. Everyone and every gift had been brought.
It’s really finally over, she thought, not fully believing it.
Macy looked at her small Christmas tree which was twinkling in the corner. There were a few presents under it all ready. Soon though, she’d be packing them with her clothes and other stuff to go to her parents for the Christmas weekend. She might have only moved out a few months ago, but with her new roommate gone home all ready, Macy didn’t fancy Christmas alone.
‘I should double check,’ Macy spoke aloud to herself.
Finding a pen, she went through the people and presents, making sure to double tick them off the list.
‘Yep, all done. It really is over,’ Macy said, ‘and now I can totally enjoy Christmas.’
From the Realm of Royal Family
-musings of a wild book dragon-
Wrangling Literary Arts for Writers: Words for People!
...moments of unexpected clarity