Friday, December 26, 2014

The Joy of Christmas: A Christmas Short Story

*  *  *

Merry Christmas, my dear readers!  I know it's a day late, but since yesterday I was so sick that I spent most of the day sleeping, I thought now was as good a time as ever to wish you happy holidays.  

A few years ago, I wrote this short story to post on a forum.  Now I thought I'd bring it out again to share it with you this Christmas.  Enjoy!

* * *

The Joy of Christmas

A small fire flickered weakly, doing its best to spread its feeble warmth to the three poor soldiers who huddled near it. The sandbag walls did little to shelter them from the bitter cold snow-flurries that blasted over the hills.
Shivering, a soldier pulled his blanket tighter around his shoulders and held his fingers closer to the flames. The holes in his worn, shabby mittens revealed pale, chapped fingertips, eager for a bit of warmth.
Jimmy, mate, it's freezing! I don't know if I can stand it any longer.” He complained, his voice quivering.
Across the fire, Jimmy smirked. “You always did have a profound knack for stating the obvious, Sam.” He said sarcastically.
Oh, come on, Jimmy, I'm just trying to make some conversation!” Sam protested.
Well, save your breath, you'll need it to keep warm!” Jimmy replied.
Alright, fellas, break it up. It wont' do us any good to argue. We're supposed to be on watch.” Said the third soldier.
Good old Tru, always level-headed.” Jimmy sighed. “Are you really still thinking about duty? We're freezing our fingers off, and your mind is on duty?
Tru shrugged. “I don't claim to be any less upset than you are, I just know it won't do for us to argue.”
The three fell silent for a time. After a while, Sam spoke up again. “I keep trying to think of something on the bright side... say, fellas, do you know what day it is?”
When the others failed to answer, Sam tried again. “I said, do you know what day it is? Tru, I know you've been keeping a calendar...”
It's Christmas Eve.” Jimmy stated, staring into the fire. Sam looked down.
Yeah.. and we're stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. I hate this war. I wish I'd never signed on! I'd give anything right now to be home with my family.” Sam laughed a little, shaking his head at the memories.
Ma will be baking the apple pie- her own recipe! Pa will be bringing in some firewood, making sure the house is nice and toasty. And my little sisters, Jane and Anna, will be running around the Christmas tree, trying to guess what's in their presents.
Tim, good little lad, he'll be reading a book by the fireplace. And maybe Gramma and Grampa have arrived with Aunt Rudy and Uncle Jack. They always bring the best meat loaf. And cakes. And these special little cookies with frosting!”
Smiling, Sam looked up, wishing with all his heart he could somehow magically get back home; maybe in time for dinner. Dinner would be nice right about now.

Well, what about you? What do your families do at Christmas?” Sam asked, trying to keep the conversation going. “If we can't celebrate with our families, we can at least tell each other about what it's like.”
Alright, Sam.” Jimmy said, “If you really want to... I suppose I can humor you tonight.”
Jimmy scooted closer to the fire and began. “I don't usually celebrate Christmas with my family anymore... I guess you could say I'm a bit of a black sheep. But my sister, Jenny, still asks me every year. She and her husband, John, have four kids. Kyle, Jacob, Maria, and Katy.”
Jimmy, in spite of himself, began smiling. “Katy's just little. She and Maria are really sweet.” He laughed. “You know, it's funny how they take to me. Whenever I come to visit, they just run right up to me and jump in my arms. Especially Katy. She calls me Unkoo Dimmy. She and Maria will sit on my lap for hours and tell me about all the games that they like to play.
Kyle and Jacob are a little older. And they're practically inseparable. Jacob follows Kyle everywhere. Every time I come, Kyle will come up to me and tell me that he's getting to be a man, and ask if he can see how tall he is compared to me.”
Sam smiled. “They sound like great kids. Do you give a lot of presents at your house? That was always my favorite part when I was little.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. But Jenny always scolds me a little for spoiling the children with too many presents. She doesn't really mean it, especially when I give her her own present- usually some kind of cooking spice. She loves those.”
Jimmy fell silent suddenly. Talking about Christmas was reminding him how much he really missed his family, even though he didn't like to admit it. He wondered if they missed him as much as he missed them.

Well, what about you, Tru?” Jimmy asked irritably. “Sam and I have talked about our Christmases, it's your turn now!”
Tru breathed on his hands, which were covered only by tattered, fingerless gloves, and nodded his head. “Alright, be patient.” He sighed. “Oh... where to begin?”
Jimmy and Sam waited expectantly.
Back home, my family likes to work. A lot. So every Christmas, the men- that's my father, my four uncles, my three cousins, and I, all go out into the forest to cut a tree. Meanwhile, my sisters and my mother stay home with my aunts and my Gramma to get supper ready.
We have lots of treats- everything from cookies to candy, cakes to pies, scones to muffins. My Aunt Bridget makes Bacon-Watercress rolls.” Tru closed his eyes. “Those are my favorite. Anyway, by the time they've set the table and laid the food out, the men and I have usually found a tree, and we're dragging it in.
After that, we all sit down and have our meal, and by the time we're done, every one of us is stuffed full. Then we set up the Christmas tree and let the children decorate it. There's a lot of noise because everyone wants to visit with everyone else at the same time.
After that, my grandfather reads the Christmas story from the Bible.  Then we sing songs for a while. My uncles all play the guitar, and the kids sing as loud as they can. My mother, aunts, and Gramma all sing in harmony together. I just try to carry the melody without having my voice break. They always play the songs too high.”
Smiling, Tru continued. “After that we open presents- and let me tell you, there's a lot of presents. The children go wild and start dancing around for joy at their new gifts. Someone always gives me a sweater. My uncle Tim gave me a jack knife last year, and I've still got it, tucked away in my boot.”

Sam grinned. “Sounds like a good Christmas to me!”
Jimmy spoke up. “Sam, I'm not going to lie, but I agree with you. I wish I was at home now. Even if the rest of my family doesn't really want me there, I'd give an arm and a leg just to see their faces again.”
The others nodded in agreement. “Well,” Sam said at last, “I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend this Christmas griping in the cold. Just because we're on our own out in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean we can't have a good Christmas. We've got each other, right?”
Tru and Jimmy didn't answer right away, but at last, Tru put his hand on Sam's shoulder. “You've got me.”
Smirking at himself, Jimmy had to agree. “Alright, fine. You've got me too. We're all together in this war, even if we don't have our families.”
Then what are we waiting for?” Sam asked. “It's Christmas Eve! This is a time to celebrate the Savior's birth!”
Lifting his voice, Sam began a song.

Silent night...Holy night...”

Tru and Jimmy joined in, each picking out different parts- Jimmy on the tenor, and Tru on the base.

"All is calm, all is bright...
round yon virgin, mother and Child
Holy Infant, so tender and mild...
Sleep in Heavenly peace,
Sleep in Heavenly peace.”

* * *




5 comments:

  1. Sweet story, Rayne. :) If I could make a couple of suggestions, I'd say trim your dialogue tags. You use a lot of "he commented" and "he continued" and the like, when you don't really need them. And I felt like you dropped in an out of each of their heads, which was a bit distracting. But I liked the way each of their Christmas stories was different, and you've got something really neat at the heart of this story. :) My favorite part was "They always sing too high." :D I'm glad you got up the courage to post this, Rayne. That's always a big step. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the story! Thanks for the critique, I appreciatre it. You're right about the dialogue tags. This piece is several years old, and unedited. I have since improved greatly, although it's still something I have to watch. As for the dropping in and out of characters' heads, that was on purpose. It's a style I tend to favor. Usually I like to do it more slowly, but in a short story, I had limited time to visit each character's perspective. Looking back at it now, I'm sure I could go back in and make it less jarring. :)

      "They always sing too high" is actually from personal experience. Tru's Christmas is similar to mine.

      Delete
    2. Glad I could help, even a little! :)

      *laughs* Personal experience, huh? That's hilarious.

      Delete