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.
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.
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?”
“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.”