Christmas

I wanted to take a break from my manuscripts and write a Christmas story. I ended up with something of a Christmas story, but it didn’t go as planned.

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Angela Green walked home with a bag of Christmas presents, but lights and decorations distracted her, and she turned the wrong way halfway home. She often let herself be distracted. She liked discovering out-of-the-way places and odd treasures no one else wanted.

Holidays lured Angela from her path every year. Her parents gave her string and pebbles to follow home, but she ended up lost no matter their efforts.

No harm had ever come to her though. She’d look up dazed at her surroundings, but she always found someone to bring her home safe and sound. She told her teachers that she was charmed. This got her a detention and a phone call to her parents.

Angela found many amazing things on her wanderings. One year she saw a flock of pink flamingos in a tree. Another year she listened to a retired opera singer singing in her back yard to her dogs. And yet another year she found a circle of polished stones around a tunnel deep into the earth. When she knelt down and looked in the hole, she heard voices from another land. She didn’t tell anyone.

But word spread of the strange schoolgirl who kept getting lost, who scribbled stories in her notebook, and who carried odd things in her bag, like the bones of a sparrow and strands of a mane from a white horse she claimed was a unicorn.

Her parents told her not to draw attention to herself. Angela didn’t understand their warnings. She understood very few warnings. The world was dangerous and wonderful, and what was the point of avoiding danger if it meant avoiding wonder?

Her parents grew more and more impatient. They called a doctor in. He looked at her stories and shook his head. Something about her stories unnerved him. For weeks after reading them he dreamed of giant snow spiders and monsters made of flowers vines. The doctor instructed Angela to focus on her school or she might come to harm. He told her parents that if her stories became any wilder, she’d need closer observation.

This Christmas Eve, she walked back from her grandmother’s house, presents in her shoulder bag and a candy cane she twirled between her fingers. Gingerbread crumbs clung to her jacket. She heard carolers singing a carol she’d never heard before, and that is when she turned right at the corner of 5th and Main when she should have turned left two blocks down.

Angela didn’t recognize the street. She thought she knew all the neighborhood by now. She’d gotten lost down all of the streets at least once, or at least that was what her mother said. But this one felt unknown, and she loved the unknown. The sun was setting behind the houses and porch lights came on along with strings of holiday lights.

However, no people appeared anywhere, and no other sounds reached her except for the carol singers. She walked by picture perfect houses and the sounds of cars faded, as did all the town noises. But Angela focused on the singing.

The street became narrower and narrower, and still she found no sign of the carol singers except for their voices filling the air.

Angela walked and walked, the singing always beyond the next corner. She didn’t know the town went so far. Darkness fell over everything, and she continued on, determined to find the singers and join them even though she didn’t know the songs. She was quick. She knew she’d learn. The voices reminded her of dreams and the taste of clementines.

Of the dreams that rushed back into her thoughts while she walked, one dream loomed over all the others. In that dream she sped along city streets all over the world leaving starlight in her wake. The dream felt so real, she glanced behind her to see if anything glimmered in the air where she’d walked. There was nothing but the empty sidewalk. She kept walking.

Somewhere along the path Angela realized she’d lost the bag of gifts from her grandmother. Her parents would scold her. Perhaps send her to bed without supper. Angela was sorry for the lost of the gifts, but she assumed she could look for the bag on the way back. She was in trouble either way. She was going to be very late, and it was Christmas Eve.

She reached the last house, and the road turned into a path that led into the woods. Stars glittered in the winter sky. She stood at the edge of the pavement, thinking. Go on or turn back?

The singing stopped. The silent night blanketed twelve-year-old Angela Green. A footfall on grass caught her attention and she squinted to see further into the woods. A deer appeared. It stood at the edge of the forest, its black eyes gazing back at her.

Angela imagined the deer called her to follow.

She stepped off the paved road and onto the grass. That’s when she saw the old woman. Angela blinked. How had she not noticed the old woman before? She was tall and elegant, like the movie stars her mother liked to talk about. But she was old. No, Angela reconsidered. The woman had thick white hair that flowed down almost to the ground, but she wasn’t old. Nor was she young. Her skin reminded Angela of her father’s coffee after he mixed in cream. The woman wore a red velvet dress that looked like something out of a picture book.

The woman smiled, and she curled her fingers in a gesture of calling Angela to follow her. Angela did.

The carol singing began again. The two of them headed deeper into the woods, neither speaking until they reached a clearing. Angela started. Wild animals waited—wild rabbits, deer, a stag, foxes, ferrets, and even a couple of wolves. Butterflies and lightning bugs flitted above them all. And in the midst of the menagerie sat a sleigh. Or Angela decided it was a sleigh. She wasn’t that familiar with such things, and something about it struck her as unusual, not quite like the sleighs she’d seen in books, but she settled on calling it a sleigh. She very much wished to touch it.

The woman nodded and stretched out her arm, pointing to the sleigh.

Angela smiled and though her first step was hesitant, confidence settled over her. She knew the woman meant for her to fulfill her wish. She strode through the animals to the front of the sleigh and placed her hand on the highly polished wood. The animals milled around her feet. A fox nudged her with its nose. A wolf howled.

“Why are you showing me this?” Angela asked the woman, though she kept her eyes on the sleigh.

The woman glided over and stood beside her. She too placed a hand on the sleigh. Angela compared the woman’s hand to her own. It was the hand of a very old woman. Carefully, Angela lifted up her own hand and set it back down on the woman’s hand.

The woman nodded.

Angela understood.

This was an opportunity.

Angela didn’t think of her parents. She felt as if she could anything, even fly. The woman nodded towards the sleigh.

The animals moved out of the way, making a path. Angela walked around and climbed into the sleigh. Sitting there, cold came over her. A snowflake drifted down. The woman took her hand from the sleigh and stepped back.

The air wavered. Everything stilled. Angela watched the old woman change. She shortened. Her hair changed as did her clothes. A few moments later, Angela was looking at herself. The woman had become the girl.

Angela looked down at herself, and her school uniform was now a velvet red dress.

Angela picked up the reins as if she’d been doing it her entire life.

“You are now hope in the darkness,” the woman said in Angela’s voice. “It’s your turn.” The woman was a perfect copy of the girl in every way.

Angela nodded. With a tug of the reins, the sleigh lifted into the air.

Once the clearing was empty, the animals wandered away, and the woman, now the girl, turned around and went back the way the original Angela had come. She walked back to the road where she found the bag filled with Christmas presents from the grandmother.

She walked all the way to Angela’s house where impatient parents waited.
“Where on earth have you been?” the mother asked.

“Traveling the world brining hope to whomever I could reach,” the new Angela said.

Her mother frowned. “Well, I guess it’s good you’re home safe.” She then took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Are you excited about Christmas tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“What do you think Santa will bring you?” her mother asked.

Angela smiled but looked out the window as if seeing a far off world. “I’ve already gotten what I wanted.”

Forgetting and Writing

I’ve been rewriting since the last time I posted, but I forgot I wanted to post anything. I just forgot. My brain is a sieve.

But anyway, I’ve added a new scene into the first half of the manuscript. And here it is! Thanks for reading.

Hannah ran like the old woman had told her to. She ran by strange souls lingering in the hall. They were blurs in the corner of her eye. She thought she glimpsed a girl with flame red hair and a boy made of scars.

She was almost to the door when a lone black bird flew into the hall from the shadows of a patient’s room. The bird swooped and cawed. Hannah jerked sideways to avoid its mad flight, and she crashed into a man wearing a doorman’s uniform. She knocked him into the wall.

The lockpick fell from her hand. Hannah stumbled backwards and looked at the floor for the lockpick. It was her favorite.

“Who the hell are you?” the man asked.

She looked up. His nametag reflected the hall light. “George.”

“I’m George.” He looked puzzled and rubbed the back of his head.

Hannah snorted. She tried to keep one eye on him while she searched for the lockpick. He might be able to lunge and take hold of her, but she sized him up. He wasn’t a man who knew how to deal with someone who fought back.

George continued to rub the back of his head. “Go back to your room,” he said. “You patients can’t be running willy nilly out here. Nurse will have us all hung.” He squinted. “What was I doing?”

At that moment, the old woman caught up with Hannah. “He’s one of Them,” she said.

“I don’t think he’s going to bother us,” Hannah replied still looking for her lockpick. The doorman bent over forward and put his hands on his knees.

“I think I hit my head,” he mumbled.

Hannah hesitated. She’d crashed into him hard, but his apparent disorientation unsettled her. “You okay?” she asked, glancing at him sideways.

He stayed bent over, but he laughed. Then he coughed. He hacked. “Can’t say a patient’s ever asked after me like that. Am I okay?” He leaned even farther forward. “My head hurts.”

“What should we do?” Hannah turned to the old woman. “I think I…”

“I told you not to stop for any reason, and here you are, worrying about one of Them.” The old woman stepped over to the doorman.

A thin line of silver flashed a few feet away. It was the lockpick. She knelt down to snatch it up, and when she stood back up, a loud thud startled her. The uniformed man was out on the floor. The old woman stood over him.

“What happened?” Hannah asked.

“He fell.”

Hannah didn’t know what to do. “But he’s unconscious.” The old woman could’ve knocked him out, but that seemed ridiculous. The old woman couldn’t be that strong.

“He fell hard,” the old woman said. “Now go. Run like I told you to.”

She’s still there.

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I’ve got a multitude of writing projects (because I want to work on all them all the time), but I’ve got a writing schedule now and want to continue this story once a week until the end of the story.

In the meantime, this is where the story picks up.

A cloud of blackbirds descended from the sky. The birds swooped and soared over the asylum grounds. They were a black cloud in the night sky and though they didn’t caw, everyone heard the whoosh and flutter of wings.

Lights in the Asylum flickered. A small girl was climbing through a window onto the roof. Unwittingly she stood on the same spot as the boy had earlier. But when she saw the birds, she reached out to them.

They descended. Wings enveloped her, and when they lifted off again, the girl was gone. If anyone looked up at the right moment when a bit of moonlight hit the flock in the right way, they’d have seen a patch of pale blue of a nightdress.

The night was only halfway done.

Thanks for reading.

Not Forgotten

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I haven’t forgotten these characters. But I’m also trying to finish another draft of my next novel, work on a few commissioned art pieces, grade student papers, work on our house, spend time with my family, go to speed skate practice, and sleep.

I’ve cheated though. I’ve skipped ahead. When I finish my novel, I’m going to come back to this, map it out, and fill in all the gaps. My goal is to have something pieced together in a readable form by the time next year’s Story-a-Day comes around. We’ll see how that goes. At least, I don’t have to go to chemo anymore! Yay!

As always, thanks for reading.

Hannah and the old woman waited for Meredith to return. They sat together in the cramped space of the closet in the dark. Maybe not being able to see the old woman made Hannah bold.

“Do you have any children?” she asked. Hannah had come to the Asylum, after all, to find out about her grandmother. Possibly even meet her. Earlier the idea would have horrified her, but she was getting used to the old woman. Calling her a friend seemed unlikely, but she did feel a bond that was hard to explain.

“Nosy girl, you are,” the old woman replied. “Why would you care?”
Hannah could hear the frown in her voice. “There has to be some reason why we came across each other and have been sticking with each other,” she said. “There has to be some reason you’re still with me.”

The old woman didn’t reply. Hannah knew the old woman was there only because of the sound of her breathing and that there really was no where to move.

“Do you believe in horoscopes and fortune telling too?” the old woman asked.

“What?”

“You appear to ascribe happenstance to supernatural or mystical sources.”
In the dark of the closet of the Asylum, muffled sounds beyond the door, the supernatural felt immensely close. “Don’t you believe in the supernatural?”

“I believe in what I can do and what I can not do. The rest I leave to others.”

“But you could’ve taken off without me. But here we are together.”

“You’re welcome to leave any time,” the old woman said.

“I couldn’t just leave.” Hannah wrapped her arms around her knees and gripped her hands more tightly. “We’re a team.”

The old woman laughed and then coughed. “I’d love to hear the doctors discuss my suitability for a team. Have you never been taught how teams work, child?”

Hannah was glad the old woman couldn’t see her reddening face. “We have worked together.” It wasn’t that she believed in fate or serendipity, but she didn’t not believe in them either.

“We’ve managed not to die,” the old woman replied.

“Do you think dying is likely?”

“Dying is certain. It’s the timing that’s unknown.”

Hannah pushed images of the dead security guard and the dead patient away. Thinking about who they were wasn’t going to help her. “I don’t see what has to be certain about it.”

“Maybe you won’t die here. But you will die some day. You can’t deny that.”

“Well…no, but that’s kind of morbid to think about.” Hannah thought she saw a glint of the old woman’s eyes in the darkness. In her normal life she liked talking about death and dying, but now that it felt as if these things were close at hand, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.

“Meredith will be back soon. And everything it going to be fine.”

“Right. If she doesn’t give us away.”

“She’s on our side now.”

“Is she?”

“Doesn’t she have to be?”

Silence again hung between them. “They won’t let her walk away from this either. As a traitor, she should be the most frightened.”

Hannah wasn’t sure about her feelings for Meredith, but she’d placed her trust in the nurse and perhaps the nurse had put trust in her as well.

But she didn’t want to think about Meredith now. There wasn’t anything she could do for her. Meredith would either succeed, or they were all in deep trouble.

Right now in the dark and waiting, she hoped that maybe the darkness would encourage the old woman to talk. “What happened to you here?” Hannah asked.

“This is a closet. Not a confessional.”

This time Hannah didn’t reply. She resisted the urge to fill the silence. Her dad once told her you had to give people time to answer rather than rush in to hear your own voice.

The old woman breathed in deeply. Hannah imagined she could feel her exhale.

“Maybe I was young once,” the old woman said. “Do you believe that? Youth is a fairy tale, don’t you know? Can’t you tell?”

Hannah sucked in her bottom lip to keep herself from talking. She didn’t move. Anything might quiet the old woman, and a moment like this would likely not happen again.

“Once upon a time there was a girl they called Zeenia. Her parents adored her, of course. Adored her more than good sense allowed, and so no one prepared this child for the real world because why bother when everyone thinks you’re a princess? A princess must never sully herself with the real world. Never mind that she will grow old one day. No one ever thinks of this. Do you?”

“What?” Hannah asked, surprised the old woman seemed to expect a real answer. “I guess I never thought about it.” Cinderella old? Sleeping Beauty? Snow White with gray in her hair and crow’s feet at her eyes?

“They think about it here,” the old woman said. “Here in the Asylum they think about it. They think about everything and plan accordingly.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nobody wants an aging princess with a mind she knows how to use.”

“Were you a princess?” Hannah hoped her voice sounded as if she believed what she was hearing. Where did princesses still exist? “Are you from another country?”

“I’m from another plane of existence.”

Hannah stayed silent. Her questions weren’t getting her anywhere. Maybe the old woman needed to be locked up in the Asylum. Maybe all the patients were truly sick and she had this all wrong.

The old woman snorted. “I wore beautiful dresses once upon a time, my dear, but I tired of their weight. I complained to my husband, my prince, and he showed me that jewels and brocade are so heavy when wet that they’ll drag you down to the bottom of the sea.”

Hannah tried to make sense of what the old woman said. Sitting in the dark for so long was affecting her senses. She lost track of time and wondered if she were dreaming.

“But I was saved, if that’s what this life is called. Saved.”

The door startled them both. The room beyond the pantry was a paler darkness and they could just make out Meredith’s shape. “Hurry,” she said. “Your lives depend on it.”

I have not given up.

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I have not given up on my story. Even though I missed the end of Story-a-Day May, I’m going to keep working on this. It was hard though, getting back into the plot. I haven’t written an outline or taken notes, so I get stuck. I know only a fraction more than you do about what is going to happen next. When I try to outline, the desire just to tell the story gets the better of me.

Also, I’ve got notes back from a reader on my second novel. I’ve got to go through those. Then the publisher looks at the what-I’d-like-to-think-is-final draft and makes more notes. Then the publisher works on the formatting and the cover. Then it will be published. Eventually. It is not a fast process.

I’m trying to get more of my art out in the world too. In spite of a few shows and festivals, I’m woefully naive about the art world. Certainly, I know more than I used to, but how to make a go of it still eludes me.

And I’ve got an idea for other stories. You know those ridiculous boxes that a person can stand in while money is blown around by a large fan and the person tries desperately to catch as many dollar bills as possible in the allotted amount of time? I feel like my brain is like that.

Anyway, here is the next installment of the story. Thanks for reading!

*

Tommy forgot the way he’d come from the Asylum. He took several turns and suspected the roads were purposefully taking him in the wrong direction. That was crazy, of course.

He gave up on finding the back entrance headed to the entrance everyone in town knew, the front gates. Hannah’s father had said nothing since they pulled away from his house. Tommy wasn’t sure if he should make small talk, but he’d been taught to let the adults take the lead in a conversation. Silence felt right for the situation anyway.

What met them at the Asylum gates surprised them both. A crowd of people stood at the gates staring out. Tommy stopped the truck, the headlights shining through iron bars and over the crowd. Many of them were in pajamas.

“My Hannah responsible for this?” her father asked staring through the windshield back at the patients.

“I don’t rightfully know, sir,” Tommy said. “But you know, Han. She does what she thinks is right.”

Mr. Wygant sighed. “It’s a lovely day, my boy, when what she thinks is right and what actually is right align.”

“But she’s smart.” Tommy didn’t take his eyes away from the crowd. They didn’t appear concerned or interested in the arrival of the truck. They didn’t even blink in the glare of the truck’s headlights.

“I just wish she were smart enough to stay out of trouble.” He didn’t stop watching the crowd either. In the crowd were boys and girls, adults and children, the healthy looking and a few with oxygen tanks and canes.

“Ain’t nobody that smart all the time, sir,” Tommy replied.

Hannah’s father let out a hint of a laugh. “You ready?” he asked.

“Ready for what?” Tommy gave Mr. Wygant a quick look. He figured he knew what the man meant, but he hoped otherwise.

“Well, I think we both know Hannah isn’t going to be waltzing through that gate on her own. We’re going to have to go in. We’re going to have to deal that crowd.”

“Maybe I could drive the truck through the gates, sir. Smash right through. They’d all take off runnin’ and we’d be in.”

Mr. Wygant frowned.

Tommy cleared his throat. “Sorry, sir. I wouldn’t. I’m just a little afraid of all those people. They don’t look right.”

“Imagine how we must look to them. No, my boy. You and me, we’re going to walk up to that gate and talk them like decent folks.”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll tell them what we’re going to do and let them move out of the way.” Mr. Wygant put his hand on his door handle.

“Sir,” Tommy said. “What do you think they’ll do when the gate’s open?”

“I suspect some of them will end back where they started, and a fair few will act free. But we don’t need to worry ourselves about that now. We’re here for Hannah.”

The teenager and the father sat in the cab another minute in silence watching the unmoving crowd. Finally, the boy spoke. “I’m ready when you are, sir.”

Mr. Wygant sat up straighter. “Remember,” he said. “I’m doing this for Hannah.” And with that he opened his door.

Day 26 Not Quite Written

I didn’t think I’d get to go to a friend’s wedding this week, but surpassing things happened, and tomorrow I’m leaving!

The day has gotten away from me, and tomorrow I’m not taking my laptop with me. So, I’ll try to write thing by hand. We’ll see what happens. I’m a bridesmaid and will be doing wedding-esque things. Which, because my friend is who she is, involves a morning spent driving bulldozers. That’s right! Playing in the dirt. Apparently it is a thing. Go Las Vegas!

I’m looking forward to it.

But not sure how much writing will happen.

Hope you have a good week.

Day 25 of Story-a-Day May.

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Trying to understand my characters. Almost to the end of Story-a-Day May! Woo!

Thank you for reading.

*

Tommy’s inability to make a decision grew the closer into town he drove. Going home seemed a bad idea. His parents would call the police. They’d never liked Hannah, and this would confirm their suspicions that she was a wholly unsuitable girl.

He took turn after turn driving to where he hadn’t consciously decided to go, Hannah’s house. The sight of Hannah’s dad standing in the driveway took Tommy by surprise.

Tommy parked in the street in front of the house. He rolled down the window. “Mr. Wygant,” he called.

Hannah’s dad titled his head to the side. “Tommy?”

“Hannah home?” Tommy asked.

“Isn’t Hannah with you?”

Tommy frowned. “She ain’t with me, Mr. Wygant. That’s why I’m asking.”

Gerald Wygant shuffled over to the truck. “Why are you driving this truck thing?”

“I think Hannah’s in trouble?”

“That’s why you’re driving a truck?” Mr. Wygant touched the truck door.

Tommy always found Hannah’s dad frustrating, but he was brought up to be polite to anyone older no matter what. “Sir. If you get in the truck, I’ll take you where Hannah probably is.”

“I thought you drove that Chevy pick-up.”

“Yes, sir. I borrowed this. All right?”

Mr. Wygant nodded, and he walked around the front of the truck through the glare of the headlights to the passenger side door. He pulled himself into the truck. “You look like you’ve got blood on your face,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” Tommy replied. “I got myself into something of a scuffle.”

“Is Hannah all right?” He buckled his seatbelt.

“I hope so, sir. I really do. But that’s why I’ve come to you, sir. I thought a proper grown up was necessary.”

Mr. Wygant looked alarmed. “She’s not in jail?”

“No, no, no,” Tommy said, pulling the truck back into the road. “Hannah’s too smart to end up jail, sir.”

“What’s she done?” He fussed with the folds of his bathrobe. “I’m in my pajamas, you know.”

Tommy stumbled over what to say. “It don’t matter none about what you’re wearing.” He wasn’t sure that was true, but he hadn’t paid attention to what Hannah’s father was wearing.

They were nice pajamas, and the robe was monogramed. Her father didn’t look half bad. “Hannah…” He trailed off. He didn’t want to get Hannah into more trouble, but he saw no way around it. “Hannah went to the Asylum. I don’t think she’s come back out yet.”

Mr. Wygant’s head snapped up. “What’s she done? Say that again?”

“She’s gone into the Asylum, sir.”

“Why in blue blazes has she done that?”

Tommy saw no reason why the truth would be helpful. “Just curiosity. You know how she is, sir. She’s always wanting to know things.”

Mr. Wygant opened his mouth the say something, but ended up saying nothing. He stared out the windshield. “I’ve warned her. I’ve warned her a hundred times not to go the Asylum. Why does she never listen to me?”

Tommy considered Mr. Wygant, and he weighed his words carefully. “All due respect, sir, and I really ain’t meaning to offend you in any way. But have you ever told Hannah anything useful?”

Mr. Wygant’s eyes widened. “Tommy Adams. I’m her father.”

Tommy kept his eyes on the road. There was no traffic, and most of the town’s lights flashed yellow. He was making good time back to the Asylum and his stomach was in knots. “I know that, sir. I do. And you’re darn good dad. You put food on the table and you never raise a finger to your family. Why, I think you’re the nicest dad I know. But your daughter is smarter than the two of us combined, and when you don’t answer her questions, she figures out how to find out for herself. No disrespect meant, sir.”

“She’s gone to find out about my mother, hasn’t she?”

“I reckon she has, sir. It burns in her, wanting to know. I don’t claim to understand it, but she isn’t going to have no peace until she knows.”

Mr. Wygant nodded. “I tell you what, Tommy. If we find my Hannah safe and sound, I promise you that I’ll tell her everything she wants to know. All right?”

Tommy nodded. Silently he prayed that they weren’t too late.