Hi, there dear readers. Merry Christmas! It’s almost here. And today I’m posting a few excerpts from my Christmas Short Story Anthology: STOCKING FULL OF STORIES. Just five teasers, but hopefully they’ll give you the right idea.
‘What right idea is that?’ you ask. Why, the idea that you should hop over to Amazon and order a copy of the book just for yourself — or maybe someone you love — or maybe both. It’s available in digital and paperback RIGHT HERE.
Now for the teasers:
“I have a family somewhere. I must have. I can feel it. Admittedly, I don’t have a clue where they are, but I’ve made up my mind that I’ll find them.” I spoke the words somberly as Dr. Randall sat looking at me. I’d been thinking those same words over and over for weeks now, but today I’d decided to say them out loud. They sounded good, but they sent a shiver of fear coursing through me.
“But you’re sure you’ve had no flashes of memories since you regained consciousness?” Dr. Randall asked.
“None,” I responded, shaking my head. It still hurt when I moved it to any extent. I winced, and he walked over to the wall-mounted light, slapping up my latest x-ray for us to look at. He pointed to an area we’d been discussing for the past two months. “Well, this is encouraging, Peter (my choice of temporary names we’d resorted to since I had no identification on me.)
“This area right here,” he said, running his index finger around in a circle over one spot on the picture of my brain. “It used to be covered in heavy shadows, if you remember.” I nodded.
“But those shadows are gone now. Yesterday’s CAT scan confirms what I’m seeing here – that the bleeding has stopped completely, and the last of the old blood is cleared away. The tissues look like they are almost normal again.”
“Then why can’t I remember anything?”
He sat back down, relaxing in his chair, his hands on the two armrests. “We don’t know, Peter. As I told you earlier, with memory, it’s sometimes as much an emotional recovery as a physical one that’s required for complete restoration. By the way, any idea yet why you chose the name Peter?”
I shook my head. “The frustration is almost unbearable, you know. It’s now my constant companion, and I fight really hard to keep it from driving me crazy.”
He sighed and straightened in his chair, resting his elbows on the desk in front of him. “I can only imagine – albeit that imagination is helped along considerably by all the research I’ve done and the other amnesia patients I’ve worked with.” He sighed gain. “And I always find myself a little frustrated as well. I want to remember for them, if you know what I mean.”
I nodded. “Yes, I can understand that.”
“I struggled terribly the first time or two that I worked with amnesia patients. All the textbooks and clinical studies didn’t prepare me adequately for the emotional trauma in the patient – or the emotional turmoil that the attending physician can find himself in. “But – ” He smiled suddenly. “The really good news is that in every one of the twenty cases I’ve been associated with, the patient regained either all or most of his memory.
“There were two patients whose memories for certain segments of life remained fleeting. But even those two people were able to recognize close family and friends again and were able to return to their normal occupations – one with a short period of re-training in some complex work that his job required. So the future looks bright, Peter. And, as I’ve said several times already, keeping a positive attitude and positive thoughts can make a world of difference.”
“I’ll keep trying, Doctor,” I said on a sigh as I rose to go.
“And don’t discount prayer, my friend. Pastor Patterson, who’s been visiting you and praying for you, has seen some pretty heavy-duty miracles in his ministry.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
“Oh, have you changed your mind about the online search?”
“Not as of this morning. I understand that, considering I was found beaten up out in a field, the police naturally had to run my picture through their data base. And I don’t mind telling you that I heaved a huge sigh of relief when that didn’t turn up anything. But I still can’t bear the idea of seeing my picture plastered all over the internet with a plea for someone to tell me who I am. Just the thought of how vulnerable that makes me has been too much to deal with.
“But … my resolve on the subject is beginning to weaken. It’s almost Christmas, and although the townspeople have been very hospitable to me, I don’t want to feel I’m the object of charity at some family’s Christmas gathering. I want to be home for Christmas!”
I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I added, “In fact, I was at the library yesterday, and I checked out a holiday CD with that song, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ as the first track. I’ve already played it a dozen times.”
Dr. Randall’s eyes lit up. “That’s good; that’s good. Keep playing it. Something within the deepest part of you led you to that song, and who knows what keys it may hold to open doors for you.”
As I put on my coat, I asked one more question: “Now that the bleeding has stopped, can I start working around the farm for the Morgans? They’ve given me free room and board and spending money for five weeks now – ever since I got out of the hospital.”
“I’d say you’re fine to do a little work, but keep it to just three or four hours a day for the rest of this week, and we’ll see how it goes. If the headaches get worse, stop and lie down a while.”
As I left the office I felt lighter than I had for weeks. At least I would be able to repay Edgar and Becky Morgan for their kindness in taking me into their home when I had no place to go – no money – no extra clothes – not even a name. But someday ….
. . .
“Vicky, we’ve got problems,” Dale Springer said as he entered Victoria’s office on the top floor of Springer’s Department Store.
“All those mannequins we ordered to use in our front Christmas window have been in an accident.”
“What kind of accident can dummies get into?”
“A real accident – auto accident – well, in this case a truck accident.”
“Oh, you mean the truck they were shipped in.”
“Right, and evidently all the merchandise in that truck was totaled. There will be no mannequins in time for the display to go in by Black Friday.”
Victoria leaned back in her chair and rubbed the back of her aching neck. She’d been working day and night the past two weeks – partly because she was trying to get Steve Templeton off her mind – and partly because, as head of the window display division at Springer’s, her busiest season was in full swing. She let out a deep sigh. “Well … I’ll have to think of something. Thanks for letting me know as soon as you could, Dale.”
“Sure thing.” He turned to leave, but then turned back. “You know, I thought those mechanical mannequins were a terrific idea. That scene you described to me would really be an eye-catcher. The scenes would have looked like real life. Too bad,” he said and finally started down the hall.
“Yeah,” Victoria said, even though she knew Dale was already too far down the hall to hear her response. “That was the idea. To look like real
li – ” She stopped mid-sentence because an idea had struck full force. It would mean going out on a limb, but did she actually have much choice?
As her mental wheels continued to turn, excitement began to build. “Yep. I really believe it will work,” she told herself out loud and swung around in her chair to reach for her Rolodex. Her list of close acquaintances included two agents in the city who each had a long list of actors who were out of work or looking for more publicity. They should be a lot of help.
The following morning, Dale was back in her office. “Sonya just told me about the all-out search for live actors for our window. Are you sure this is going to be cost-effective, Vicky? It’s a lot of money.”
“Now, Dale, you said yourself that the idea of a scene that looked like real life would attract a lot of attention – and that converts to a lot of buyers – which converts to lots of money. We’ll be a sensation, and just think, we will be setting the bar high this year. All of our competitors will be scurrying to try to catch up.”
“Well … I admit that knowing Springer’s is leading the way in innovative advertising has a nice ring to it. Okay … I’ll back you on this, but … by jingles, girl, you’d better make it good enough to pay off.”
Victoria gave him two thumbs up and grinned at him.
Two days later, Steve Templeton entered her office. He hesitated at the door, but she put on her business face and greeted him with a smile. “Good morning, Steve. I bet you’ve come about the window display.”
“Well, my agent sent me over. He said you were racing the clock on your displays and wanted live actors. But if you’re uncomfortable …”
“Don’t be silly, Steve. Our relationship is in the past. All I’m concerned about right now is getting enough actors to do our front Christmas window. We hope to make a dramatic impact this year, and we need a real hunk to pull it off – after all it’s the window that covers half the front of the store.”
Steve preened and sat down in a chair opposite her desk. “Well, if that’s what you need, this is your lucky day, Vic. It’s just too bad I can’t clone myself, isn’t it.”
Victoria pasted on another false smile and said, “The hours are 10:00 to 6:00 with a break for lunch, and the actors will take turns working every other day so that no one gets too tired.”
“Hey, that’s not necessary. I can do every day from now ’til Christmas if you want. And let’s face it, there aren’t too many of us who can fill the bill,” he added, sliding his hand lovingly over his trendy hair.
. . .
FIVE VIGNETTES: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
(A Futuristic Look at Characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol )
# 1 Ebeneezer the Suitor
Ebenezer had never felt his heart stop beating before. Was that what was happening, or was he just forgetting to breathe? He wasn’t sure, but He did know he was looking at the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen, and he was glad he’d worn the new suit.
“Ebenezer, meet my cousin, Marilee Cratchit,” said Bob.
Marilee extended her hand, and Scrooge took it, becoming submerged in the magical cloud of her cologne. He’d been nervous about attending this party, but since his regeneration on Christmas day last year, he was welcomed everywhere. Right now he felt ten feet off the ground. It seemed being a kind, generous man really was the most important thing in life.
“Ebeneezer, I’ve been very eager to meet you,” Marilee cooed. “Come sit with me and talk.”
He was so thrilled he could have danced. He couldn’t believe anyone so beautiful and fragile would be interested in spending time with him. His heart skipped a couple beats as he wondered: was he actually going to get another chance at love?
“What shall we talk about?” he asked her, contemplating ways to express his renewed heart to her. Ever since his transformation, he found that he wanted to tell everyone how good life was when you learned that people are more important than money.
“I’d like to talk about your money, of course!” she said.
. . .
# 3 The Spirit of Christmas Past: Request For Transfer
“Mr. Alexander, the Spirit of Christmas Past is here for his 2:00 appointment.”
“Send him in.”
As the door opened, his boss could see that Past was unhappy.
“Good to see you, Past. We haven’t had a talk in – what – three or four years?”
“Four years, Sir,” Past said, taking a seat.
“I get a lot of good reports about your work. But you look unhappy. Is something wrong?”
“Yes, Sir. Something’s very wrong!”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Can I help?”
“Well, Sir, I was wondering if I couldn’t trade places with Christmas Present for a while.”
“But you’re an expert at what you do, Past. Why would you want to have to learn a whole new job?”
“Because I never get a chance to use any of the new stuff, sir – any of the new technology and advanced equipment and devices that men have invented in the last several decades. I never get to play video games, or use cell phones, or those gadgets they call iPods. Why, do you realize I’ve never even had a chance to use a computer?”
“Well, I have to admit that I hadn’t given that point any thought, Past, but you don’t need any of those devices in your work, do you?”
“That’s just the point, sir. I don’t need any of those things in my work, so I get none of the fun involved with using them. And there’s something else that’s just recently come out – a brand new thing-a-ma-jig that they call Google Glass. Wow! It looks like a blast!”
“Google glass, huh?”
Mr. Alexander just shook his head in consternation. He didn’t understand all this new-fangled equipment either, but that fact hadn’t bothered him before now. Maybe he was starting to fall behind himself. He looked back at Past, unsure what to say because he knew there was no way The Boss would go along with moving Past to a totally new time dimension.
Past looked at him hopefully. “It just isn’t fair, Sir! And that’s why I’m asking for a transfer. I was sure you’d understand when I explained.”
Mr. Alexander leaned back in his chair and looked at Past kindly. “Let me think this over for a bit, Past, and, of course, I’ll have to run it by The Boss.
One week later, Past walked back into Mr. Alexander’s office, having been summoned there to discuss the troubling issue again.
. . .
The old woman knelt shivering before the tombstone as her husband pulled away a pile of decayed leaves that seemed to cling defiantly to its base in spite of the wind that whipped at them repeatedly. It wasn’t bitterly cold — at least not like it had been many other Decembers in this city. But the wind was always stronger up here at the cemetery, and today, with no sun smiling down its warmth, the chill just seemed to beat its way into their elderly bones. Of course, sorrow had its own chill, and sometimes it was hard to tell if the icy feeling came more from the weather or from the pain within.
The old man finished his work and then joined her, slowing sinking to his own knees and removing his warm felt hat. Tears glistened in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He had to be strong for her right now. He glanced sideways at her, seeing the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. She kept pressing her handkerchief to her face, to try to stem the bitter stream, but it did no good.
It had been a year and a half now since they had lost their second son. He had followed his brother into military service and then into war … and, finally, into the grave.
The old man shuddered out a deep sigh. He had brought his new bride to this country just one year before their first son had been born, and it had been a time of promise and happy expectation. The Lord had blessed them with two handsome, healthy sons, and they had been the sweetest blessing life had to give. He sighed now as he thought back over the years of raising two strong-willed, but tender-hearted boys. They had all been so happy … until ….
But he shook off the heaviness of those years of war … and the funerals … and the nights of wishing he could have gone in their stead. He knew his boys weren’t really in these graves here. He knew that for certain. They had believed in Jesus Christ, both of them, from the time they had been tiny little curly-haired boys. And they were in Heaven now. He couldn’t grieve for them, but for himself and his beloved wife … he couldn’t not grieve.
He leaned over toward her and put his arm around her shoulders now. “The wreaths look lovely, my dear. You’ve done yourself proud. I think these are the most beautiful you’ve ever made.” And she had made some beautiful flower arrangements, this wife of his. It had been her life’s work and a great joy at one time. Now, it seemed to always remind her of the need for flowers on these graves, and she took no joy in the work of her hands. Still … it kept her from sitting and mourning all the time, so he encouraged her to keep the business going.
And the money helped. There was no doubt about that. His pension and the little bit he made working as the church custodian were just enough to enable them to keep their house, modest as it was, and to cover their basic utilities.
But … with both their incomes … and with a little extra help from the Lord from time to time … they lived well enough. And every year at this Christmas season they pulled out their special bank … the little treasure box where they had put aside a very small offering each morning during their prayer time with the Lord. They paid the tithes on their monthly income faithfully, of course, but this little extra offering represented their desire to do more than just what was expected of them. And each Christmas they asked the Lord what He would have them do with the money to help someone not as fortunate as they.
The old man smiled to himself now. Christmas Eve was just three days away. They needed to get to asking the Lord what His plan was for this year. He leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “Come, Mama. We need to get into the warm. The wind is getting bitter.” She allowed him to help her rise from her knees and pull her coat tighter around her neck.
The wool scarf she wore on her head had almost blown off, and he straightened that too and then placed his hands tenderly on either side of her worn face. “Our wonderful boys are warm and safe in Heaven, Mama … looking down on these wreathes you have made for them and feeling proud. Now … we will go home and fix some hot cocoa and take out our silver bank and have our talk with the Lord about His plans for the money, hmm?”
She nodded her head in agreement, and they turned together to plod arm-in-arm out of the cemetery and down the lane to their car.
As they entered their back door, he stopped a moment and breathed deeply. “Ahhh . . . your kitchen still smells like molasses cookies and shortbread, Mama,” he said, pinching her cheek tenderly and grinning at her. “What do you say we have some with our cocoa?”
His wife was taking off her scarf and coat and hanging them on the pegs beside the door. “You’ll ruin your supper if you eat all that sugar right now, Papa,” she scolded him. It never occurred to either of them to refrain from calling each other by those names, even though they had no children living now. They had rarely called each other anything else since their two little ones had started talking and calling them by those names. It had thrilled them so to be parents that they took pride in the names and wore them like crowns of honor.
Now he hung his coat and hat beside hers and grabbed her around the waist with both hands and began waltzing her around the kitchen. “Well, I have the solution to that!” he announced boldly. “We’ll just have molasses cookies and Scottish shortbread for our supper!”
“Now listen to you go on. What kind of supper is that?”
“Well … we’ll have a chunk of that delicious cheese you bought yesterday along with it, for protein,” he announced, as if that solved the whole question, whirling her around one last time and depositing her in a chair beside the table. At least she was laughing now, and that gave his heart a little ease. “You make the cocoa, and I’ll go get the treasure box.”
So while the milk warmed on the stove, Mama set the food out on the table. She was pouring out the cocoa when he returned carrying a small silver box that looked a little like a treasure chest. “Here it is, Mama,” he said setting it in the middle of the table and taking a seat beside her. “Now, let us thank the Lord for our food and enjoy it while the cocoa is good and hot, and then … then we shall count the money!”
When they had eaten their fill, and their faces were rosy with the warmth of the kitchen and the good food, they moved their utensils out of the way, and Papa pulled the box to him, unlocking it with the key that he always kept tucked away in his top dresser drawer. He dumped out the contents and began to straighten out the paper and sort the coins. “You count the coins, Mama, while I count the bills,” he said, and so they sat quietly, adding up their respective parts of the treasure.
When he was done, Papa picked up the little pad and pencil that he also kept in the box and wrote down his amount. Then he wrote down the amount Mama had in coins and added them together. He looked up at her beaming. “Mama, God has truly blessed us this year. We have put a total of six hundred, fourteen dollars, and seventy-two cents in our bank!”
“Oh, that’s more than last year or the year before either one!” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So after having a cozy breakfast, the couple loaded the flowers into the car and headed into the main part of the city. As they passed the corner one block from the church, they noticed a small boy sitting on a concrete bench on the sidewalk. “Would you look at that little tyke, Papa,” Mama said with a chuckle. “He’s bundled up all the way to his nose.”
“Well it is awfully cold,” Papa answered. “Wonder what he’s doing sitting there all by himself.”
“Oh, his mama probably told him to stay put while she ran into the bank behind the bench there.”
“Mmmm, probably, but … I don’t know … in these times, I don’t think I’d leave my little boy sitting by himself for even that long in a city this big.”
Mama sighed, “I know, Papa. Sometimes it seems to me that parents don’t take the dangers waiting for their little ones seriously enough.”
“Well, here we are,” Papa said in a more cheerful voice as he slowed down to look for a parking place close to the first store. “Are you sure you want to walk back down to the church? I can come and get you, you know.”
“Oh, Papa! Don’t be silly. It’s only two blocks. You just carry in one of the arrangements for me, and as soon as I’m done here, I can manage to carry the last one on to the shop two doors down. I’m sure they’ll both want to talk a few minutes, and then I’ll come down to the church to meet you.”
“Okay,” he answered, sliding into one of the few parking spots left on the street in this part of the city. While Mama carried the arrangement for the proprietor of this first shop, Papa carried in the other piece and set it down where Mama could get to it easily. He went on to the church and began his work, stopping almost an hour later when he realized that Mama had not returned yet. But just as he started down the hallway to the outside door to check on her, she walked in, bringing the biting air from outside with her, but flushed with a smile and twinkling eyes.
“Oh, Papa, they raved about my arrangements! They said they’d never seen anything they liked any better!”
He hugged her. “Well, of course, Mama! What else did you expect with your talent for working with flowers?”
“Thank you, Papa, but I happen to know you’re just a little prejudiced,” she said, pinching his cheek gently. “But come … I’ll help you with your work.”
So they worked side by side, finishing up the day’s list of tasks by noon, and left the church together. As they drove back the way they had come, they noticed that the small boy was still at the same corner, sitting on the bench alone.
“He’s been there all morning, do you think, Papa?” Mama asked, her tone beginning to sound worried. Papa looked at the boy as they passed and noticed that he kept looking in both directions, stretching his neck as if looking for someone or something in particular.
. . .
To read the rest of these stories — and all eleven stories — hop over to the Amazon store and get your copy.
I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I enjoyed the writing. 🙂