11
Dec

Remembering "The Christmas Bird" A Christmas story

The air grew crisper, the nights longer and the whisper of leaves falling on the roof began to awaken each Christmas tree bird from their yearlong slumber. They wiggled with joy, crinkling the crepe paper walls of their divided cubicles in the ornament box. Soon, the Christmas bird ornaments would be lifted from their crinkly crepe paper beds where they had slept in the attic since last Christmas.

As the special day grew nearer, the thrill of the season crept through their springy wire clips, their porcelain gold and silver bodies and their fluffy feather tails.

The youngest Christmas bird lay in the middle cubicle under Gold Bird, wrapped snugly in soft white tissue paper. “Christmas is coming!” He shook with excitement. Soon, he would be high on the tree with his Christmas bird friends and the round ones, who weren’t nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their feather tails and pinchy wire clips.

He closed his little red eyes and dreamed of Christmas Eve. From the top of the Christmas tree, his family would gather by the fireplace. He could almost hear the music and smell the cookies.
“I’ve been thinking, and I think I am the most beautiful Christmas bird in the box,” he whispered to Gold Bird, who lay wrapped in tissue above him.

Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? What makes you think so? Blue glass bird is made of hand-blown glass and has a lovely feather tail. Antique bird is missing his tail feathers, but he’s so fragile, you can see through his porcelain body. Most of us are much more beautiful than you.” He shook as he scolded the young bird.

“I don’t care. The Christmas tree wouldn’t be as beautiful if I wasn’t right near the top.” The little bird twitched all over.

Gold Bird huffed. “It would serve you right if you were left behind this year. You don’t know anything about the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t deserve to hang on the Christmas tree.”

The Christmas bird trembled. That he might not celebrate the season scared him a bit, but not quite enough. His voice trembled. “I didn’t mean to sound conceited. It’s not that I think you aren’t very handsome, but my tail feathers are longer and softer and fluffier than yours, and… my… paint is much shinier−”

“Tut tut,” Gold Bird said. “I won’t listen to hear another word.”
For several days, the young bird lay in his cocoon of crinkly paper, haunted by Gold Bird’s words. “You conceited fellow, it would serve you right …” and he would shudder. Unthinkable! Not to be on the Christmas tree? Not to be part of Christmas Eve? He couldn’t bear the thought.

The days grew shorter and the nights longer. Snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled through the trees, their bare branches just visible through the tiny attic window. The long days of November edged into December.

One morning, the Christmas birds awoke to footsteps clunking up the attic steps. The Christmas bird held his breath, not daring to wiggle. “It’s time! Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree!”

Once down stairs,, his friends were lifted from the cubicles beside him. He heard them squeal as they were hung on the tree. Beneath his tissue coverings, he faintly heard the music. He could hear the children chattering; he could even smell the cookies.

“It’s nearly my turn,” he whispered. But, there was no answer.
Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. He waited. The box was tossed into the corner; empty except for the littlest Christmas bird, hidden under the tissue in the middle cubicle.. His comfortable box now a prison, his beautiful body and fluffy tail lay beneath the crinkly tissue paper. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. "Gold Bird was right. I’ve been conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind."

He lay alone in the corner through the entire month of December. The faint sounds of Christmas filtered through his tissue paper. The Christmas season was nearly past and he had missed everything.

On Christmas Eve, the Christmas tree bird lay in his tissue paper and imagined the tree with his Christmas bird friends hanging with the others, the ones he had scorned. "They may not be as beautiful as I, but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind."

He heard the little girl’s voice. “They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”

"I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like baby Jesus." He imagined the tiny baby wrapped sung and warm, lying in the straw, surrounded by the cows. He imagined the shepherds bringing their sheep down from the hills to worship the babe. He thought of the Wise Men who brought gifts to welcome His birth.

He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby and if we loved and trusted Him, He promised to come again and take us to Heaven and we would not be left behind. The Christmas bird blinked back a tear. "I know what it’s like to be left behind. How terrible it would be if left behind from Heaven. Heaven needs beautiful Christmas birds too."

Then, the tissue paper lifted. “Look, Mommy! Here’s another Christmas birdie, all alone in the box. Oh, he looks like he has a tear in his eye! Can I hang him on the Christmas tree?”

The Christmas bird was whooshed up to the top of the tree where his hook fastened to a branch next to Gold Bird. Looking down from his lofty perch, he saw the family gathered around the tree. There was such love in the room! He even smelled the Christmas cookies! At last, he was exactly where he needed to be.

Gold Bird gave him a stern but loving glance. “Did you learn anything, my little friend?”

As he swung from side to side on the pine branch, the light from the fire reflected in the gold tear in the little bird’s eye. “I understand,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “Christmas is not about who is more beautiful or cookies or even the gifts people give to one another. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s gift to the world, the birth of Jesus Christ. When we accept God’s Gift of love, one day He will come back for his children, and we will never be left behind.”

Gold bird swung around on his hook. “Welcome to Christmas, Christmas bird!”

31
Oct

Halloween Story - The Magic Spell

Until my father’s death, my family lived on a profitable little farm in Killarney, Ireland. Mother would never discuss the nature of his demise or the enchanted manner in which a magic spell had changed me from a boy into a small cat. Even as a cat, she loved me as a son. As time passed, Mother grew frail and I grew into a fine fluffy black cat and a fine reputation as a hunter…

One day Mother called me to her bedside. “Tabkins, Tonite is Halloween, and I can no longer provide our bread and cheese. You must restore our good fortune tonite, or surely we will both perish.” And, so, she recounted the Halloween tale of trickery and enchantment, deviltry and a magic spell.

Some years ago, our farm possessed six orange trees, three cows and a potato patch. A wicked green leprechaun from a nearby mountain-top, coveted, our land, but father repeatedly rebuffed his guiles. So, with trickery and  a magic spell, the evil creature caused him to fall into the river. Then, with a magic wand, he changed me from a comely youth into a black cat. Though the world profited by the addition of an exceedingly good-looking cat, my father drowned. The leprechaun then cast a spell that prevented our six cows from giving milk. The orange trees ceased to bear fruit and the potato patch gave only scant potatoes.

“You must find the leprechaun,” Mother said, “and retrieve the magic wand. Perhaps it will restore you to a human lad and our land into a profitable farm.” The tears in her eyes wrenched my heart, and yet I trembled in horror at the thought of facing the evil creature.

She lifted her frail hand. “Make your way to yonder mountain. High on the top beside a river, you’ll find a cave where the wicked leprechaun dwells,” she said. “Perhaps you can trick him into revealing where he hides his magic wand and can retrieve it. Go, now, Tabkins. Our future lies in your paws.”

Knowing that setting a leprechaun against a small cat, no matter how exceedingly good-looking, my feline cunning would be sorely tested if I was to fool the evil leprechaun and live to tell the tale. With every step toward the leprechaun’s cave, I considered how I might dupe the leprechaun into stealing his magic wand.

“Halt. Who goes there?” The wicked leprechaun called from beneath the log that spanned the river. “Answer, Cat, or I’ll turn you to stone.”

Panic seized my heart. An idea popped into my furry head. “I’m just a harmless pussy-cat out for a stroll. My, what a lovely river you have here, Sir Leprechaun.” (I’ve been told a little honey-talk is always good to sooth a malevolent spirit.) I sashayed across the log, humming, Katie From Killarney, and bowed low. “My name is Tabkins. Pray tell, what might your name be, kind sir?”

The leprechaun’s eyes narrowed. “My name is Merichandrick. What do you seek?”

“Perhaps a spot of tea? I’m weary from my travels.” With a twitch of my whiskers, I looked wistfully toward the cave, conveying abject vulnerability and friendship.

“Come on in, then, and I’ll light the fire,” said he, his green mouth atwitch. I feared he had an ulterior motive.

I followed him, wary of any plan he might have to toss me into his stew pot. I scanned the cave, keeping one eye on my host.

The imp pointed toward his fire. “Sit over there.”

“Oh, what a lovely bird,” I posited, sidling closer to a green and red parrot, hanging from a golden hook. Where was he hiding that blasted magic wand? In a chair near the back of the cave, lay a pot of gold and something long and thin poked from beneath a red blanket. Aha!

The little man turned. “Will you be after spending the night?” A wicked glint gleamed in his eye.

“If I’m so invited,” says I with a yawn, patting my paw against my mouth, “Let us drink our tea and I’ll curl up for the night just yonder on your lovely red blanket.”

He shook his mop of green curls. “Not there,” he shrieked. “Best you should sleep closer to the fire. where it's warmer.”

“As you wish, and I thank you kindly for the hospitality,” says I. Oho! Once the little man sleeps, I’ll snatch the magic wand from beneath the blanket and skedaddle, thinks I.

My host poured two mugs of tea and shoved one toward me. Expecting a trick, I sneezed, and as he reached for a handkerchief, I switched the mugs. Indeed, the mug he intended for me was drugged. Soon after the evil goblin drank, he fell into a stupor. Without further ado, I grabbed the magic wand, printed with the magic words on its side, and raced back down the mountain.

Back at the farm, Mother waved the wand and spoke the magic words. I was instantly changed back to a young man, even more exceedingly handsome than before. Soon, the cows gave milk, the orange trees bore fruit, and this spring, we had a bumper crop of potatoes.

We hear that the leprechaun still lives on the mountain with his parrot, but now that he has lost his magic wand, and his complexion has turned a sallow yellow, he is embarrassed, and rarely leaves his cave.

If our future fortune should fail, the cows dry up again, or the potato crop falters, the wicked yellow leprechaun still has a pot full of gold, and.... I know where he lives.

 

21
Aug

Daddy's Big Hand

In 1950, I was a first grader, one of the first to attend school in the county’s newest rural school house. Two days a month, the yellow Sonoma County Public Library bookmobile visited the school and we were allowed to select a library book! Without today’s technology of televisions, computer games, videos or CD’s, a book was our gateway to another world of fantasy, imagination, and excitement.

We lined up at the bookmobile door in two rows. Squirming, wiggling and chattering, barely able to contain our excitement, we waited our turn to enter the truck. Finally, it was my turn.

The librarian directed me to the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers, and I made my selection. The librarian lectured me about my responsibility to care for library property, and wrote down my name and the book’s title. She tucked a small card into the back cover. The book was mine to enjoy until the bookmobile returned.

Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and flashed a smug smile at the fidgeting children still standing in the hot sun. Their jealous gaze followed me into the shade of a nearby tree where I sat down to read.

The book was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the Sonoma County Public Library System and personally sent out the yellow bookmobiles to rural schools, as a symbol of truth, justice and the American Way. This, I knew, in my heart of hearts.

I walked home from school that day, carrying my lunch pail, sweater and my precious library book under my arm. One of my companions suggested we take a different route home. Though this was against my mama’s rules, the chanting of “chicken” cinched my decision to agree.

Several blocks from the school, our path brought us to a deep PG&E worker’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and “double-dog dared” us to follow. Another child crossed the teetering boards successfully.

I was afraid, but due to a “double-dog dare,” I had no choice but to give in to peer pressure. Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes, and took a precarious step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands outward to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled down between the boards into the dark hole, and surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we crouched over the hole and peered into the darkness; surely at least a hundred feet deep. I could barely see the pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and too challenging for our six-year-old minds to comprehend. My precious library book was gone!

I contemplated the outcome of this catastrophe. The President of the United States had personally commissioned the book into my hands, and I had failed him…. miserably. Someone was going to jail. I felt sure they wouldn’t put a six-year-old in jail, but if not me, then who? Suddenly, it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay for my grievous blunder.

Tears of regret, shame and panic plagued my walk home, where I hid in the closet for hours, despite my mother’s pleas to discuss the problem. I sat in the darkness, crying, imagining what would become of us. Mama would have to go to work. We would be poor, and everyone would point fingers at me, knowing I was the reason my Daddy was in jail.

When Daddy came home that evening, it took him about four seconds to grab me by the collar and pulled me out of the closet. Then, he whacked my bottom. Daddy always could get to the seat of a problem in about four seconds. He bellowed, “What the heck is going on?”

Between tears and trembling, I confessed my disobedience to come straight home and how I’d lost my library book down a hundred foot deep hole. I decided not to mention the part about him going to jail. He'd know as soon as the library police showed up to arrest him.

After dinner, Daddy drove me back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the boards at least a hundred feet deep, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, the ruination of my family, and my everlasting shame.

“Stand back, now,” He said. Daddy leaned over the yawning cavern, reached down with his long arm…and pulled out the book!

Things were easier back then, when I was six years old. No matter what happened, it seemed that I could always count on Daddy to solve enormous, life- shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand. I remember that I snuggled against his shoulder as we drove home, with my very own library book clutched tightly to my chest.

4
Jul

A "Revolutionary" Concept - Independence- A Short Story

Alice pulled in her driveway and stepped out of her Prius. Her neighbor, Millie, hailed from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Alice! Wait up. Happy Fourth of July!” as she scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Alice wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie’s husband, George, collected Revolutionary War memorabilia. Their house looked like a war museum. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie ran up, breathlessly, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building? It starts in an hour. They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Alice lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff, you know. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. She felt a twinge of guilt. Snubbing Millie wasn’t very nice, but Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her husband’s latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded British shirt. Alice sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference did it make, anyway, two hundred years later?

The 4th of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks always made the neighborhood dogs bark and the next morning, the streets were a cluttered mess.

Alice went to bed early. She pulled the pillow over her head and closed her eyes…It helped block out the sound of fireworks down the street.

Alice jerked and twisted. What? What was that? She opened her eyes to find herself standing in the middle of a battlefield! The boom-boom of nearby firecrackers became the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men wearing brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces as they marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Redcoats? English soldiers? A battlefield? She didn’t belong here! She couldn’t be here. That’s it!  She must be dreaming. Wake up! Wake up! The field would soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned to run.

Someone grabbed her arm, and yanked her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. She could smell the sweat on the man crouched beside her.

Grimaces lined the faces of the older soldiers, knowing what was to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.”

Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as each beat of their drum brought the redcoats closer. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, they had the advantage with the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced, step by step.

Alice had to get away. This couldn’t be real! She knew she was dreaming! Why couldn’t she wake up?

The drumbeat stopped. Silence! What happened? She peeked around the rock. There stood the redcoats, frozen in time, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped, unmoving. The drummer’s drumstick hung above his drum, suspended in mid-air.

Alice lifted her head toward the brilliant sky where scattered patches of clouds gathered as though suspended from wires. Overhead, a bird hung motionless...

She opened her eyes and blinked against the darkness in her room. “I was dreaming!” Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind, and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless minds. She shuddered, thinking of the day when her dream had been the reality for young men and old who would not live to see another sunrise.

She turned toward the window. Rivulets of rain streaked the glass, curving and twisting as they traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the breeze of an unseasonable summer shower. The Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks must have ended by now. Alice put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream.

Alice rose from her bed and found a book about the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read:

For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries, and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 American Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 more Revolutionary soldiers died later from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were wounded or maimed
1 in 20 men

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Alice called and left a message on Millie’s answering machine. “This is Alice. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Alice returned to her bedroom. Boom! Another firecracker cracked in the night. Alice stared at her reflection in the dresser mirror. “Does that child have any idea what he’s celebrating or why? We all take so much for granted.”

 

28
Apr

Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer - An Excerpt

Re-read my 2015 novel again this week and was surprised what a wonderful story it was. Here is a short (edited) excerpt from Brett and Kimberlee's ride across the Texas prairie. Hope you purchase the book.

Heavy clouds formed overhead as Kimberlee’s mare plodded behind Juan with Brett as they rode single file through the underbrush into the valley. Kimberlee caught her breath as she reached the grassy meadow and the wild horses came into view. A streak of lightning crackled across the sky and distant thunder rumbled.

Quantum reared, and took off at a gallop, his black mane whipping as he led his mares away.

Brett gave his mount a kick and sprinted past Kimberlee and Juan. Kimberlee’s horse lunged after him. Kimberlee gripped the body of the horse with her knees. The wind beat at her face. Her heart thumped in time with the thundering hooves. Brett raced beside her, creating a cloud of dust and wind and noise. Adrenaline mingled with terror as she reveled in the exhilaration.

Her body throbbed with each stride of the beast’s surging muscles, driving through her legs. The breath in her throat burned as her mare rode neck to neck with Brett. His horse’s mane whipped against her hands, stinging like fire. Never had she felt so close to death and yet… so alive.

She turned and stared into the horse’s giant brown eye, the dark and the light of it looking like land and water on a distant planet floating through the universe. Her heart soared as she became one with the wind and the grass and the dirt and the noise, overcome with abounding joy. She swallowed a sob, as the ecstasy of the moment washed over her and she wished it would never end. Quantum’s herd pulled away and seemed to disappear in a cloud of dust. Kimberlee’s mare skidded to a halt beside Brett.

Juan pounded up behind them and pulled his horse to a halt. “What’s the big idea?” His face was as dark as the clouds overhead. “You both could have been killed!” Lightning streaked and thunder rumbled.

Wow! That was great. I’ve never had such a thrill.” Brett beat his hat against his leather chaps. Still panting from the exertion, Kimberlee could only nod. Her body tingled, unable to express what she felt.

“We need to get moving. These summer storms can be vicious. We don’t want to be caught out here on the prairie.” Juan turned his horse back toward the ranch. As great drops of rain pelted down, Kimberlee sniffed and tasted the scent of it. Little puffs of dust bounced in the dry earth. The smell of damp earth would forever remind her of this wonderful afternoon.

An unexplained lump rose up in her throat. The exhilaration of following Quantum’s herd filled her heart to overflowing. She couldn’t gulp down her sobs. Rain mingled with tears streaming down her face.

Brett slid off his horse and handed the reins to Juan. “What is it, honey?” He pulled her from the saddle and wrapped her in his arms.

“It was all so wonderful. The wind, the lightning... I… I’ve never felt anything like that before. I needed to be a part of it, to become one with all this. I needed to remember that God is in control and we are powerless to change what happens around us. I don’t know how to explain it.” Tears trickled down her face.

Brett dabbed her cheeks with his handkerchief. “I understand. I−”

Kimberlee pulled her head back. “No. You don’t. I don’t understand it myself. We were riding and the thunder and lightning… It was like, all at once I understood.”

“Tell me, honey. Understood what?”

“With all that’s happened here on the ranch, I didn’t think I could go on. I was losing control, losing… me. I didn’t think I could bear it.”

Kimberlee looked out across the meadow where the rain poured onto the dry earth, and then back at Brett. “Now I understand. It’s not important, none of it. What’s important is you and me, our family.” She waved her hand. “The land… and this. Quantum and his herd. They’re important and the lightning and the thunder. She smiled. “I’m ready now. Let’s go home.”

A streak of lightning slashed across the sky and distant thunder crashed as the storm moved further across the plains. As suddenly as it started, the rain stopped and the sun came out.

The bushes sparkled with clustered rain droplets, catching the sun and glistening like diamonds. The hills jutted up from the prairie floor like mounds of cookie dough. A brilliant rainbow of red, yellow, green and blue circled the top of the canyon. And, there again was the contrariness of the prairie, intense and challenging one minute, and God’s beautiful garden the next.

I can send you an autographed paperback for $15.00 (free shipping).  Email: Elaine.Faber @mindcandymysteries.com or Amazon e-book is just $3.99

8
Feb

The Valentine's Day Chocolate Kiss

This is a repeat post, but always a good one when Valentine's Day is near.

We quarreled this morning. I threw his favorite blue cup across the room. It shattered when it hit the hearth. I screamed “I hate you!” and ran out the door. I kicked the tires on my car.

I was angry all morning. Every time the phone rang, I was sure he was calling to apologize. Why didn’t he call? I wouldn’t call him. He was wrong, right?

The afternoon dragged by. It’s 5:00 P.M., and I’m leaving the office. … The traffic is terrible and I’m anxious to get home. It’s not that I’m going to apologize. It was his fault that we quarreled, but it’s too tiring to stay mad. I want everything to be okay between us again.

The cars creep along the freeway and I check my watch.

He should be home by now, waiting for me, listening to music, probably drinking a glass of red wine. I’m sure he bought me flowers for Valentine's Day. I can’t wait to see what kind he chose.

It started to rain and the leaves swirl across the highway, gathering on the edge of my front window. The windshield wipers swish. They seem to say, “hate-shoo, hate-shoo, hate-shoo.”  I remember how I said those words and tears sting my eyes. I didn’t mean it. I reach for the cell phone in my purse and touch instead, a melted chocolate candy kiss. I lick the chocolate off my fingers and smile, remembering the night, not so long ago and his words, “This kiss signifies my love.”

Now I'm ready to tell him 'I’m sorry', even if he was wrong. I want his arms around me. I want his lips to caress my throat. I want us to be together.

I don’t see his car.  It must be in the garage. I know he heard me pull in the driveway, and even now, I can almost see him rushing to the door with a glass of wine and the flowers. In a minute, he will kiss me and whisper, “I’m sorry…”

I turn the handle on the front door. Why is it locked? I turn my key in the door and call his name. The room is empty. There are no Valentine flowers. Where can he be?

A gust of wind rushes in, slamming the door behind me. My eyes are drawn to a chocolate candy kiss as it rolls off the table. A single sheet of paper flutters for a moment, then settles to the floor...

****

Hope your Valentine's Day has a better ending. Don't let the day begin or end without saying, "I love you."   Elaine Faber

 

9
Dec

The True Meaning of Christmas

The days grew shorter, the air crisper, the nights longer, and leaves whispering on the roof awakens each Christmas tree bird wrapped snug in their tissue paper in the attic. Something sang to them, called to them, until they wiggled with joy, crinkling their crepe paper walls. Soon, each Christmas bird ornament would be lifted from his crinkly paper bed where he slept since last Christmas.

As the year neared its end, the Christmas birds felt a thrill from their springy wire clips and gold porcelain bodies to their bright feather tails. The littlest Christmas bird lay warm and snug beneath Gold Bird. How he anticipated the coming holiday season. Soon he would be on the Christmas tree with his fragile glass friends and the others…the round ones with bright colored paint. They were not nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their springy wires, delicate glass and pinchey clips that clasped them firmly to each tree branch. And though all his friends were lovely, he felt he was the most beautiful Christmas tree bird of all.

He closed his little red eyes and dreamed of Christmas Eve. From the top of the tree, he would look down on the family gathered by the fireplace. Being part of the celebration made him feel truly alive. “I’ve been thinking,” he whispered in a trembling voice. “You are lovely, Gold Bird, but, you know, I’m the most beautiful Christmas bird.”

Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? Blue glass bird was made in Germany with hand-blown glass and a blue feather tail. Antique bird is missing tail feathers, but so fragile, you can see right through him. We are all unique, and as beautiful as you.” His tail feathers shook as he scolded the young bird.

“It’s true,” said the saucy little bird. “But, the tree won’t be complete if I’m not right near the top.”

Gold Bird, being older and wiser, turned his head. “You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. It would serve you right if you got left behind this year.”

The Christmas bird trembled. “That couldn’t happen, could it? It’s not that you aren’t handsome, but my tail feathers are fluffier than yours, and…my…paint is─”

Tut tut. Not…another…word.”

For several days, the little bird lay in his crinkly paper as the thought haunted him. “It would serve you right …” Not to be there on Christmas Eve? He could not bear the thought.

The days grew shorter and a soft sprinkle of snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled past the attic and the dark days edged toward December. Early one morning, the Christmas birds heard footsteps on the attic steps. They held their breath, as their box was lifted from the shelf and carried down the stairs. “Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree,” the little Christmas bird whispered to Gold Bird.

One by one, the Christmas birds were lifted from the box. The young bird heard his friends squeal as they were hung on the tree. He heard music and children laughing. He even smelled cookies!

“It’s almost time,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “It’s nearly my turn.”…but Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. The ornament box was tossed into the corner; empty, except for the little Christmas bird. “What happened? I’m still here.” Overlooked, his comfortable bed was now a prison, his beautiful body still swaddled in crinkly tissue paper. He heard muffled Christmas sounds. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. “I was conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.”

Christmas Day approached and he lay alone in the box. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Christmas tree bird imagined his friends hanging on the tree branches. “The round ones may not be as beautiful as me,” he lamented,” but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.”

After supper, the family gathered by the Christmas tree. The little girl read from the Bible. “They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”

“I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the baby Jesus.” The little bird imagined the tiny baby sung and warm, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of the surrounding animals. He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came as a tiny baby, and if we loved and trusted Him, He would take us to heaven and we would never be left behind.  The Christmas bird sniffed, “I know what it’s like to be left behind. How much worse it would be, to be left behind from Heaven.”

Then, the crinkling tissue paper in his box lifted and he felt the warmth from the fireplace. “Look, Mommy! It’s another Christmas birdie. He has a red tear in his eye. Can we hang him on the Christmas tree?”

Daddy raised her up and she hung the little bird near Gold Bird. The joyous Christmas bird felt the love as the family opened gifts. The spicy aroma of gingerbread drifted in the air. Christmas bird wiggled with joy as the family sang carols. At last, he was exactly where he wanted to be. Gold Bird swung around from a nearby branch. “Welcome to Christmas, little bird. Did you learn anything?”

The tear in his eye shimmered in the light from the fireplace. “I understand,” he whispered. “Christmas is not about who is most beautiful, who has the brightest springy tail. It’s not about carols or turkey dinner, or even about presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is celebrating the birth of Jesus, God’s gift for us. When we accept His love and believe in Him, we will never be left behind.”

 

19
Oct

Harvest Jack's Rebellion - A Holiday Story

“If I’ve told you once,” Papa Red Warty Thing said. “I’ve told you a dozen times not to stray so far. Look at you. You’re already at the end of your tendrils and into the road. When the tractor comes, you’ll be smashed flatter than a fritter!”

Turning toward his parents, Papa Red Warty Thing and Sweet Sugar Pie, unruly Harvest Jack huffed, “I’d rather be a fritter than bored to death, lying face up in the sun like my cousins, Baby Boo, Wee-be-Little, and Jack-be-Little. They never stray past the first twist in their vines.”

Harvest Jack’s pumpkin cousins gasped. Such disrespect! Such defiance! And with Halloween and Thanksgiving right around the corner. Unheard of in polite Cucurbita Pepo society! They turned away from the disobedient cultivar and buried their tendrils and stems beneath their prickly leaves.

“That child shall be the death of me yet,” Sweet Sugar Pie declared. “How does he ever expect to become a pumpkin pie acting like that? It’s your fault. Your ancestors never looked like the rest of us. They were always rebellious.”

Papa Red Warty Thing shivered. “If the lad doesn’t change his attitude, he’s likely to end up gutted, with an ugly smirk carved on his face.”

Sweet Sugar Pie waved her sticky leaves in dismay. “Don’t even think such a thing. My family has a proud history of becoming harvest pies for the past 72 generations. Grandma Sirius Star would roll over in her mulch if she heard of such a vulgar future for one of our clan. I know that some of the Rock Star and Howden crew across the field plan to be gutted and carved up. Some even look forward to lighted candles stuck where their innards used to be. That’s not the future I want for our boy.” A drop of morning dew trickled from her stem, down her rounded middle, and plopped into the dirt.

“Now. dear. Don’t carry on so. The season isn’t over yet. It’s just growing pains. I’m sure he’ll come to his senses when he matures a bit.”

Papa Red Warty Thing was wrong, for by now, Harvest Jack had wandered into the road and lay directly in the path of the giant tractor grinding its way down the road, swooping up all in its path, and dumping the unfortunate ones into a hopper to be carried off to an uncertain future. Sweet Sugar Pie shrieked, “It’s coming! Beware!”

Harvest Jack heard the engine and turned toward the sound. “Uh Oh!” The seeds in his belly shook in terror. Papa Red Warty Thing was right. He was about to be crunched into a fritter.

A raven swooped down and landed on his stem. “It serves you right for wandering into the road. Papa Red Warty Thing warned you.”

How he wished to be alongside little, white, cousin Baby-Boo, or little cousin Wee-be-Little’s tiny, orange body. Their future was assured. They would become cute little decorations, perched alongside a costumed vampire doll in the middle of a mantle, or maybe in a wheelbarrow surrounded by harvest leaves and acorns and a couple Rock Star or Howden’s. Even his distant cousin Lil’ Pumpkemon with his white body and orange stripes might end up on the front porch with his larger cousins.

Directly in the path of the tractor, Harvest Jack’s future was destined to be ground into pulp.

Suddenly, he heard guttural, humanoid sounds reverberating through his stem. Harvest Jack felt himself lifted and then felt the cool earth beneath his bottom. What happened? He was lying just inches from Papa Red Warty Thing and Sweet Sugar Pie. Somehow, he’d escaped the wheels of the tractor and was back in his own row of cultivar cousins. “Oh, Papa Red Warty Thing! You were right,” Harvest Jack cried. “I’ll never disobey again. I promise I’ll grow up and become a Harvest dinner pie, but… do I get to choose which kind of pie I want to be?”

“Of course you can, my dear,” Sweet Sugar Pie cooed, stretching her loving tendrils over her son. “Your great aunt was a pumpkin streusel pie with a gingersnap crust, and your great-grandfather was a pumpkin cheesecake.”

“Good! When I grow up, I want to be… let me think! I know just the thing. I want to be a cherry pie!”

Sweet Sugar Pie glared at Papa Red Warty Thing and shook her sticky leaves in anger.

“What’s wrong,” Harvest Jack cried. “You said I could choose what kind of Harvest pie I wanted to be.”

“My dear, you can’t be a cherry pie, because you’re a pumpkin.” Papa Red Warty Thing patiently explained.

Sweet Sugar Pie screamed. “According to today’s media, if the lad wants to be a cherry pie, then he’s a cherry pie! It’s your fault, Papa Red Warty Thing. You were always too lenient with the lad!”

 

8
Oct

A Halloween Story - Jenny's Shopping Trip

Jenny’s shrieks followed Tom as he skipped down the sidewalk to his 57’souped-up T-bird parked at the curb. Like many times before, when his girlfriend’s grew tiresome, he’d walk away. Women were like shoes. When the shine wore off, you got a new pair. Women always expected commitment and Tom wasn’t the committing type.

Tom checked his rear-view mirror as he ran his hands through his carrot-red hair. Not to worry. He’d have another girlfriend within the week. He stomped the gas and sped away.

****

Jenny clutched her black cat to her breast, “I should never have allowed myself to care so much.” A brown Maltese, a golden-eyed, pure white cat, and a tan blue-eyed beauty with Asian ancestry, hunkered nearby, commiserating with her sorrow.

Reflections from the high window bounced off Jenny’s wine glass and cast a rainbow across the far wall. She took a sip and lifted her head. “Lord knows, an orange one won’t make me feel any better, however…” A faint smile twitched her lips. “On the other hand, perhaps an orange one is just what I need.”

The black longhaired cat in her lap gazed into her eyes and yawned. “Come on, guys, let’s get a snack. Then, I’ll go shopping.” Her feline menagerie followed her to the kitchen.

Jenny gazed at the four cats hunkered around a pile of Friskies like four spokes of a wheel; black, brown, white and tan. Didn’t Tom have a lunch meeting today at a little restaurant on Main Street? Jenny whispered. “Let the games begin.”

Jenny lifted a dusty box from a garage top shelf and removed a black hat sporting a long black feather. She ran her fingers over its velvety texture, from nib to tip. “This will do nicely.” Dust rose from the feather and disappeared in a wisp of breeze.

In her closet, she found a black pantsuit. The height of 1980’s fashion with shoulder pads in the jacket and bellbottom pants. She shook the wrinkles from the jacket and frowned at the tiny moth hole in the left sleeve. Had it been that long since she got the last one? She could have sworn it was just a couple years before. It was definitely time for a new one.

Jenny donned the pantsuit and the black feathered hat and topped off her ensemble with a bangle bracelet and a lion head medallion necklace. She nodded, satisfied with the image reflected in her hall mirror.

Jenny drove downtown and parked a half-block from Marvelous Marvin’s Magic Shop, next door to the restaurant where Tom was having lunch.

She stood outside the magic shop, staring at the items in the window. In a few minutes, Tom strode down the street, his head held high, his bright red hair blowing in the wind. He spotted Jenny just as she dashed into the magic shop. Once inside the door, eerie shrieks and squeals of organ music, enough to chill one’s soul, blared through an elaborate sound system.

Startled to see her there, Tom followed her into the store. “Jenny, is that you?”

Jenny hurried through the darkened aisles toward a dimly lit corner piled high with boxes, capes, and baskets heaped with assorted Halloween decorations and magician’s paraphernalia.

Tom followed her into the furthest dark corner, where the black light overhead reflected a neon aura off the logo on Magic Marvin’s Magic Shop black shopping bags.

Tom’s gaze followed the drifting feather on Jenny’s hat, caressed by the air conditioned breeze. “Jenny? Are you headed to a costume party?” His gaze stayed locked on the swaying feather.

“No,” Jenny whispered, “I was waiting for you.”

“For me? Don’t be tiresome. I told you… We have nothing more to talk about.”

“Oh, yes. I think we do.” She tapped her long red fingernail three times on the stack of black Marvelous Marvin’s Magic Shop bags and whispered, “Dinkle, Dinkle, Catzenwinkle.”

Tom disappeared. The top shopping bag now displayed the a vivid orange-striped cat with glowing eyes, staring wildly from its paper prison.

Jenny laid the bag on the counter. “I’ll take this one.” She paid and left the store.

Back home, Jenny poured another glass of wine, and filled a plate with crackers and cheese, and set the shopping on the floor. “Come my lovelies,” she cooed.

They came from under the table, from the top of the sofa, from under the bed, off the fireplace mantle, stretching and yawning. Like four spokes of a wheel, black, brown, white and tan, they circled the shopping bag decorated with the vivid face of the cat with glowing eyes.

Jenny sipped her wine and tossed each cat a bite of cheese, grasped the shopping bag and tipped it upside down, “This is Tom,” she said.

Out spilled a carrot-orange striped cat. He gazed wildly around the room, his big round eyes filled with horror… The four cats nibbled their cheese and glared at the newcomer with amusement.

“Tom has come to live with us. Welcome your new changeling companion.” Jenny tossed Tom a bite of cheese, folded the shopping bag and shoved it into the trash .

26
Aug

A Chance Encounter = A short story

Rolling thunder drowned out the clanging church bells across the street. Lightning zig-zagged across the sky. Fear clutched my heart as Mother Nature crashed around me. Was this reality, or had I been caught up in a time warp that transported me to another place–magical, ethereal, and terrifying? Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. A torrent of water rushed down the Austrian cobbled street, threatening to overflow the gutters onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Had war been declared? Had someone assassinated the President? Did Austria even have a President?

Cold spines of rain stung my face and bounced off the pavement onto my legs. Another clap of thunder and a flash of lightning made me jump. I pulled my sweater tighter around my chest and huddled closer to the wall beneath the narrow, striped canopy. And then a man stepped beneath the awning and tilted his umbrella over my head. “Do you wish to share my umbrella?”

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fear. My pattering heart slowed. “The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.”

“Sudden storms are not unexpected at this time of year.”

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky, chatting about bells and clouds and weather. I tilted my head toward the church towers. “Why are they ringing the bells? Is there an emergency? The street is flooded.”

“The priests ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward the next village.”

I suppressed a smile, doubting that bells could drive away the clouds. “If that’s true, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining buckets for twenty minutes.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” A smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells, and the storm clouds get confused, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”

I was pleasantly amused, but did not wish to dispute his quaint belief in the magical power of the bells. As we talked, we stood shoulder to shoulder. His scent comforted me–a woodsy manly scent, strong and secure.

A train whistle pierced the air. At the sound, he turned. “My train... I’m sorry, I must go. You will be alright?”

“I’ll be fine. Thank you for sharing your umbrella and for the secret of the bells.”

He caught my hand and lifted it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to… Good-bye.”

We looked deep into each other’s eyes and in those few seconds, as his lips brushed my fingertips, I was whirled through another time warp. In that instant, surrounded by the lightning and the chiming of the bells, it was as though we shared a lifetime together, infinite days and endless nights of love. I heard the blare of a hundred marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a fifty years of New Year’s Eve fireworks, felt the coolness of a thousand springtime rains, the color of a hundred rainbows, and an untold myriad of golden sunsets…

The rain stopped as he released my hand, waved a final farewell and strode toward the train. As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands…became the tinkling bells around the cow’s necks in a nearby field. A final streak of lightning…replaced the image of fireworks in the night sky. The sun came out…and cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the awning.

His scent lingered, but as I reached for the place where he had stood, the memory of his touch melted through my fingertips. I ran toward the station, “Wait! I don’t even know your name. Wait!”

The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken. Was it a crack in time and space? Was it another lifetime of love that two strangers shared in those few moments, or was it just a dream caused by the magic of the bells and the storm clouds?

****

Years have passed. I’ve had the best life one could hope for–marriage, a satisfactory career, and children. But, every time I hear church bells, I close my eyes and remember a summer storm in a faraway land.

I am reminded of church bells echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop, as the storm clouds scramble from village to village in their frantic search for a silent, peaceful place. Finally, they drift onto a quiet hillside where the only sound is the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they amble across the meadows and disappear into the mist…. and I remember the man I loved who was only a dream.

*****

If you enjoyed this story, please go to Amazon and look for my eight cozy mystery/adventures ($3.99 e-book) and an anthology of 'cat' stories ($2.99).

 

 

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