December Writing Challenge #14: Christmas Tree


Author’s Note: This piece has been edited and now appears in “Angel Songs, 20 Christmas Short Stories and Poems, plus Recipes” by Dona Watson. Click here for more info.

Ok, today I’m cheating a tad. In my defense, I did write it only a few weeks ago — just before I started this challenge to write something every day in the month of December. Plus, yesterday’s was pretty long and my creative writing cap is a bit lopsided today. All excuses aside, I really want to share it with you guys — and it fits today’s theme quite nicely.

I hope you like it!

Christmas Tree
by D.L. Watson

The first thing I noticed when I awoke was the fragrance of the Christmas tree downstairs.  One of the best things about Christmas, in my opinion.  Like usual, we’d purchased it the night before, the Friday night after Thanksgiving.  As soon as the leftover turkey was bagged and in the fridge, Mom was always ready to jump into the Christmas spirit.  The earlier, the better as far as she was concerned and that was fine with me.

It was only about 6:30 in the morning and, as quiet as the house was, I guessed Mom and Dad were still asleep, taking advantage of the long weekend.  I followed my nose downstairs to where the eight-foot Noble Fir stood in the corner waiting for lights and bulbs, tall and regal as if still in the forest.  A bit out of place next to our leather couch and Mom’s prized Tiffany lamp.

I flopped down on the couch and leaned back, wondering if Mom was going to use the colored lights or the white ones this year.  Then something caught my eye.  A glimmer deep inside the tree.  I tipped my head to see better.  Some little kid must’ve stuck a candy bar wrapper or something in there so he wouldn’t have to find a trashcan.

I hunched down in front of the tree and pushed aside a branch.  Instantly, the glimmer dimmed.  What in the world?  I looked around to see if there was anything nearby I could use to fish out whatever it was.  If it was a mouse or something I sure didn’t want it to bite me, or worse, run up my arm.  I shuddered at the thought, glad my friends couldn’t see me now.  This was not the type of reaction that would bolster the reputation of a 15-year-old guy like myself.

That’s when I heard the musical tinkle.  Wait a minute.  Christmas trees aren’t supposed to chime.

Curiosity roused, I grasped the tip of one branch and pulled it to one side.  Sure enough.  There was something in there.  I breathed a shaky sigh of relief, laughing at myself.  Just a ball of that plastic webbing they use to tie up the smaller trees at the lot before they strap ’em to the roof of the family car.

I reached in, grabbed a few strings and tugged but it was pretty tangled up.  Holding it with one hand, I pried the offending strings away from the tree branch with the other and pulled it out.  I started to ball it up and head for the trashcan when the webbing yelled “Ow!” and wiggled in my hand.  I dropped that ball of string faster than Santa sliding down a greased chimney.  I could’ve sworn I heard a little grunt when it hit the floor.

So there I was, standing in my pjs, barefoot, hands in the air, staring at a twitching ball of string between my feet.  Within five excruciatingly long seconds, a little head about the size of my thumbnail popped out of the tangle, followed by a little pair of shoulders.  A pair of miniature arms pried the rest of its body and legs out.  It looked human but I’d never heard of a human four inches tall.  It stood up, straightened its clothes and with a scowl, kicked at the string with a tiny bare foot, got tangled and tripped.  Catching its balance, I snorted a laugh, which earned me an itty-bitty frown.  I pressed my lips together, trying to still the smile from my face.

“What are you staring at?”  It tugged at its long shirt, which reached down to just above the knees.

“Well, um…”  I racked my brain for something to say but came up blank.  It’s not every day some little creature tumbles out of your Christmas tree.

“What’sa matter?”  It brushed off pine needles that dwarfed tiny shoulders.  “Never seen a fairy before?”

I stepped back before I tromped on the little thing.  “Actually, no, I haven’t.”  What I really was thinking was, This is crazy.  Fairies don’t exist.

“I know what you’re thinking and, yes, we do.”  The fairy crossed its arms.  “And no, I can’t read minds.”  Its voice had a musical quality, kind of like Mom’s wind chimes hanging from the back deck.  “My name is Miss Chevious, but you can call me Missy.”

I grunted, still out of words.

After a few awkward moments, she continued.  “Well?  Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?”

“Um, yeah, sure.  I’m Stan.”  I wondered if I should try to shake its hand, but I’d probably just squish the little fingers like Play-Doh.

About this time I’m thinking that this is the weirdest thing that’d ever happened to me.  “So, uh, how did you get in the tree?”  Ok.  That was lame but it was the best I could come up with.

Missy cocked her head sideways and looked at me as if I was the stupidest person on Earth.  “I flew, of course.”  Just then, a tiny pair of wings sprouted through slits in the back of her shirt and she flew up to hover in front of my face.

I shook my head and ran a hand over my eyes.  “Oh boy, wait until Mom and Dad see this.  They’re never going to believe it.”

“Oh! No, no, no, no!”  Missy shook her head so hard, her short red hair actually ruffled.  “You mustn’t tell them!

Now it was my turn to put my hands on my hips.  “And why not?”

Missy’s little eyes welled up with tears the size of mist drops and she wrung her hands.  “Please.  I already broke Law Number One in the Fairy Rule Book.”

I hate it when girls cry.  It always makes me feel so helpless and they end up getting anything they want.  Just like Miranda in the second grade and the swings.  Every day.  But that’s another story.  All I could say was, “Ok, ok, I won’t tell them.”  I cupped my hands in front of me and Missy settled down into them, wiping her nose with the back of one hand.  I leaned down to peer into her face.  “Are you ok?”

She gave a big sniff.  “Other than the fact that I’m lost and,” she stretched one leg out in front of her and gingerly flexed her foot, “I think I twisted my ankle.”  Her lip quivered like she was about to cry again.

“Do you want to sit down?”

Missy tipped her chin down and looked at me, eyebrows raised.  After a second she looked at my hand underneath her and I realized she was already sitting down.  Slightly embarrassed, I chuckled, then Missy tinkled a chime of a giggle.  Nothing like laughter to lighten the mood.  A bit more relaxed, I sat on the couch and carefully lowered her to the armrest.

“So what do we do now?” I asked her.  “You don’t know how to get home and I can’t tell anyone.”

“Oh, I know how to get home.  I just don’t know where I am.”  She nodded her head briskly.  “All I have to do is to fix something—you know, make it perfect—and a portal will open up to take me there.”

Now I was really confused.  As if it wasn’t enough to find a fairy in my Christmas tree, now I was supposed to help her make something perfect?  “How do you do that?”

“I don’t know.”  She waved dismissively with her hand.  “You just do.”

“O…k…So what is this Fairy Law Number One that you’ve broken?”

Missy sighed deeply, shoulders slumped.  “Never let a human see you.”

“Meaning me.”

She nodded dejectedly.

“And in order to make it right, you have to make something perfect.”

She nodded again.

I took a deep breath.  Time to get this little thing back where she belonged before things got really crazy.  “So how about if I break something so you can fix it?”

She shook her head.  “No, that won’t do.  It has to be something that occurs naturally.”

Whatever that means.  “So we have to hunt for something that’s broken.”

She nodded.

“Meanwhile, what do I do with you?  How are we going to hide you?”

Missy’s face brightened.  “You don’t have to hide me.  I can be invisible to whoever I want to be invisible to.”

“Really?”  I found that hard to believe.  “Then why did I see you?”

Missy hung her head.  “I had to let you find me.”  Her voice grew so quiet I could barely hear her chime, “I was stuck.”

Ah.  That explains that.  Well then…

The shuffle of Mom’s Tweety Bird slippers sounded down the stairs.  I clamped my mouth shut, afraid she’d hear us talking.  Mom appeared around the corner, running her fingers through mussed-up, bed-head hair.

“You up already?”  She stifled a yawn and headed for the kitchen.

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”  I glanced at Missy, who was craning her neck to see around me.

“Hungry?”

I was, of course, but now that I was a fairy-sitter, I didn’t know what to do.  Do I eat or do I find somewhere to hide her first?  Missy stood up and gestured grandly with one little hand as if inviting me to the kitchen, kind of like Vanna White displaying the next puzzle on Wheel of Fortune.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.  “Yeah, sure, Mom.  Coming.”  It felt weird leaving the fairy behind but there was nothing to do about it.  I scooped up the ball of plastic twine and headed for the kitchen.  But no sooner had I turned my back on Missy, a missile zoomed past my head, parting my hair as it flew by.  I ducked and covered my head with one hand, then looked up to find Missy sitting on the edge of the kitchen island, swinging her feet over the edge.  Mom was looking at me with one eyebrow raised.

“Are you ok?”

“He he,” I tried to chuckle.  “Felt like there was something in my hair.”  I brushed at it as if to make sure.  “But I guess nothing’s there.”  I dropped the twine in the trashcan.

Without a word, Mom returned to rummaging through the refrigerator.  Her voice came muffled from deep within, somewhere I’d probably never go.  I was afraid of what I’d find back there in the refrigerated Netherworld.  “Looks like we’re out of milk, want some toast?”

I agreed and as she placed bread in the toaster and then went back in to troll for some butter, I took a seat on one of the two barstools, all the while trying to ignore Missy.  But apparently that wasn’t in the fairy’s plan.  She jumped up and skipped across the counter with abandon.  I tried to ignore her antics but I’m not sure I was doing very well.

“Are you sure you’re ok?”  Mom snagged me with that piercing stare she used when I’d been playing basketball instead of doing homework.

“Yeah, really, I’m fine.”  I buried my face in my hands, scrubbing at my eyes with the heels of my palms.  At least that way I wouldn’t have to pretend I couldn’t see the fairy doing back flips over the butter dish.  I heard the toast pop up and sneaked a peek to find Mom’s back to me.  I gritted my teeth and glared at Missy, putting as much force into my expression as possible, willing her to behave herself.  But maybe I tried too hard.  The joyful fairy stopped in her tracks, shoulders wilted, a sad pout on her face.  Oh great.  Now I felt guilty.  Just before Mom turned around, I mouthed, “Sorry,” and was rewarded with an apologetic little fairy grin.

Mom smeared butter on the toast and pushed the plate across to me, then took a bite of her own.  “Mm, this needs honey,” she mumbled around the chewy bread and turned back to the cupboard.

As soon as she turned around, Missy spied the bread on Mom’s plate, a half-circle bitten from the corner.  Her face brightened and she clapped little hands together, producing the sound of a tiny bell.  In an instant, the toast was perfectly shaped as if it had never been bitten.  Mom returned with the honey bear squeeze bottle and, hand poised over the bread, she stopped and stared.  I pushed crumbs around my plate with my toast and waited for the inevitable reaction.

“That’s weird,” she breathed.  “I know I took a bite but…”  Her voice just trailed off into the ether and I was happy to let it go.  I dared a glance sideways at Missy and found her standing stock still, a horrified expression on her face, both hands over her mouth.  I guessed that raising an unsuspecting person’s curiosity wasn’t exactly the way a fairy was supposed to accomplish her task.  Maybe that was Rule Number Two.

Thank goodness Mom just shook her head and poured the honey.  As for me, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Little Missy hugged her arms to her chest and sank down to perch on the edge of the butter dish.  A rather subdued little fairy watched me eat my breakfast and realizing she might be hungry, I remembered what Mom had always said.  Share what you have.  So I pinched off a corner of the bread and when Mom wasn’t looking, laid it on the counter in front of Missy.  With a grateful little smile, she picked it up and nibbled off the teensiest crumb of a bite.

I shoved the remaining toast into my mouth and carried the plate to the sink and thanked Mom.

“No problem, kiddo,” she said, reaching for the coffee canister.

I headed upstairs, Missy balanced on my shoulder, hanging onto the collar of my t-shirt with one hand.  Once in my room, she fluttered down to the desk, sat cross-legged and bit off another tiny crumb.  I settled onto my bed and took a deep breath, wondering if my life would ever be normal again.

Missy gestured toward the door.  “I saw downstairs that you have a deer that’s missing its body.  I could fix that.”

I held up my hand as if motioning for an approaching semi-truck to stop.  “Oh no you don’t.  Bad idea.”  Clearly she was talking about the deer head my dad had taxidermied and mounted on the wall after his Colorado hunt.  When Missy tipped her head sideways curiously, I added, “That doesn’t need fixing.  It’s exactly like it’s supposed to be.”

Missy looked at me as if to say, “I don’t get it,” so I added, “Trust me.”  She shrugged her shoulders and resumed breakfast, popping the last tidbit into her mouth.  She brushed off her hands and cast her gaze around my room, settling on my F-22 Raptor model plane suspended from the ceiling.  Uh oh.  That gaze looked like trouble.  Time to run some interference.

“So, Missy…”  I waited until she turned her head back in my direction.  “What do you fairies do out in, uh, Fairyland.”

She puffed through her bangs.  “It’s not Fairyland.  We live in a forest.  And we fix things.”

“Fix things? Like what?”  I couldn’t imagine anything in the forest that would need fixing.

“Oh, you know, flowers, trees, stuff like that.  If they break, we fix them.”

“And animals too, I suppose,” I said, thinking of the mounted deer head downstairs and how close we came to having a live deer prancing around the living room.

Missy nodded her head.  “Sometimes.”

“Hmph.”  I pushed yesterday’s shirt off my bed onto the floor.  “So what else do fairies do?”

“We play, make music.”  Her eyes brightened and she seemed to glow just a tiny bit.  “Sometimes we have the most marvelous parties.”  Somehow I didn’t find that hard to believe.  As I sat there imagining little glowing fairies cavorting about the forest, I noticed Missy’s eyes took on a far-away look, shoulders relaxed, suddenly looking very tired.  Hm.  A sleepy fairy could be a good thing.  I looked around for something that might serve as a cozy nest and spied my NHRA ball cap, the one I got when Dad and I went to the Winter National Drag Races in Pomona last year.  I snatched the cap off my bookshelf, turned it upside down and layered in a couple of socks.  I made sure they were the clean ones.  Missy watched with quiet interest.

I set the cap on the desk.  “Here’s a bed if you’re sleepy.”  Missy gave me the warmest, sleepiest smile, then crawled over the brim and snuggled down into the socks.  Kind of reminded me of my friend Enrique’s puppy when it would crawl into its blankets and fall asleep.  One tinkly sigh and she was out.

I stole silently across the room and eased down onto my bed, picking up Fahrenheit 451, the Ray Bradbury novel my English teacher swore I’d love.  It wasn’t Star Wars, but I had to admit it wasn’t half bad.  I dove into the book, turning page after page.  I must have fallen asleep because when I awoke, the book was open facedown on my chest.  Missy was perched on the spine watching me, chin in hand.  I shifted slowly, trying not to knock her from her precarious perch.

“Um, hi?”  It’s an odd feeling to wake up and find a fairy staring at you.

“You’re the nicest human I’ve ever met,” she sighed.

“Aren’t I the only human you’ve ever met?”

“Well, yes, but I’ve seen others.”  Her musical voice took on an indignant quality.

This was one of those times it was probably best to not say anything at all.  I excused myself, grabbed my jeans and a mostly clean t-shirt and headed for the bathroom.  Once dressed, I headed down to the garage and was just fishing out my basketball when I heard my dad’s voice.

“Stan, there you are.  You didn’t forget about the lawn, did you? We need to get it trimmed down so we can put out the Christmas decorations.”

I grimaced inside.  Yeah, I’d forgotten.  “I’m on my way,” I called back, reluctantly returning my basketball back to the shelf and heading for the lawnmower instead.  I wrested the machine out of its cubby next to the workbench and rolled it out onto the driveway to check the gas and oil levels.

That’s then I heard the horrendous squeal of tires on the pavement and looked up to see Mr. Beaulieu’s car jerk to a stop in front of our house.  Lying under the front bumper was Snowflake, Mrs. Ferguson’s little Bichon Frise.  I dropped the dipstick on the driveway and sprinted toward the accident, knowing how much that little dog meant to the old lady.  She’d be heartbroken if anything happened to him.

I reached the scene just as Mr. Beaulieu came scrambling out of his car, horror written on his face.

“He just ran out in front of me.  I couldn’t stop.”

I nodded, certain he was telling the truth.  Snowflake didn’t escape often, but when he did, he could run fast as a top fuel dragster.  I knelt on the ground and wrapped my arms around the little dog, who whimpered as I gently slid him out from under the car.  I carried Snowflake over to the curb and sat down, cradling him in my lap.  Within seconds, Missy came streaking from the house like a shooting star, hovered over us for just a second and then gently settled down onto the Bichon’s furry shoulder.  Stroking his neck, she crooned a sweet melody that would have put me to sleep had I not been so worried about the dog.  Snowflake’s head in my hand, he squeaked a little whine and I could swear he was watching Missy out of the corner of his eye.  Then I felt him sigh and fall limp.  My heart sank.

“No, come on, boy,” I coaxed.  “It’s gonna be ok.  Come on.”  What I was thinking was Don’t die.  Mr. Beaulieu shifted nervously from one foot to the other.

“Shhh.”  Missy continued to stroke the little dog and hum in a soft, musical purr.  After about a minute, Snowflake lifted his head, turned his nose toward Missy and gave her the softest little doggy kiss.  Her face broke into a warm smile and she wrapped her arms around the little muzzle, giving it a kiss in return.  Suddenly I realized this is what fairies were made for.  We fix things.  Now it made sense.

Snowflake struggled to sit up and licked the bottom of my chin.  I couldn’t help but chuckle.  Trying not to let Mr. Beaulieu see, I whispered to Missy, “You fixed him, didn’t you?”

Missy beamed.  “It’s what I do!”

“Well, you did a great job.”  I would have given her a hug right there if I hadn’t thought I’d hurt her.  Not to mention the fact that Mr. Beaulieu would’ve thought I’d lost my mind.

About that time, my dad came around the corner of the house with a box from the shed.  “What’s going on?”  He spotted the car in the middle of the road, driver’s door open, then me sitting on the curb, Snowflake in my lap.  He practically tossed the box on the ground and within seconds was at my elbow.  “What happened? Is he ok?”

“The little dog,” Mr. Beaulieu wrung in his hands the black beret he always wore.  “He ran out in front of my car…”

Dad eyed Snowflake, who looked up, panting.  “Well,” he whooshed a relieved sigh and ruffled the dog’s ears.  “He doesn’t seem too worse for the wear.  Do you, boy?”  Snowflake woofed in response and with a chuckle, Dad returned to the box of decorations.  Crisis over.

“Come on, boy.”  I stood up, the little white dog tight in my arms, unwilling to put him down just yet.  “Let’s get you home.”  Missy perched on the back of Snowflake’s neck as if riding an elephant, hand clutching his collar.

“Wait,” Mr. Beaulieu rushed to his car.  “Let me move my car and I’ll come with you.”

Soon he and I were walking side-by-side six houses down to Mrs. Ferguson’s.  Face still pale, Mr. Beaulieu kept glancing sideways at Snowflake.

“You think he’s ok?”

I grinned.  “Yeah, I think he’ll be fine.”  We stepped up onto the porch and Mr. Beaulieu pushed the doorbell button, then continued strangling his hat.  Soon the door creaked open.  Mrs. Ferguson stood hunched over as always, white hair curled and sprayed, thick glasses perched halfway down her nose.  She pushed them up with one finger and peered at us.  When he saw her, Snowflake struggled to get down.  Missy buzzed up into the air away from the bucking bronco of a dog as I lowered him to the ground.  He pranced to his mistress and danced circles around her feet, then pointed his nose up toward Missy and yipped.  She pressed both hands to her mouth and blew him kisses.

Meanwhile, Mr. Beaulieu was explaining what happened, telling Mrs. Ferguson how sorry he was and that if Snowflake developed any problems to please call him and he’d pay the vet bills.  Mrs. Ferguson shuffled out onto her porch and eased down into the old-fashioned cane-backed rocker she always kept there.  Snowflake launched himself into her lap and wiggled excitedly.

“I don’t know how he got out,” she said.  “But thank you so much for bringing him home.  I don’t know what I’d do without him.”  Her voice cracked and she wiped a tear.  “If I don’t get another Christmas present all season, this would be fine.  Having Snowflake home safe is the most perfect present I could hope for.”

I glanced at Missy out of the corner of my eye and shook my head.  She’d done it.

Mr. Beaulieu and I said our goodbyes and he returned to his car, then drove away very slowly.  I stood by the curb and leaned back against the pine tree growing between the sidewalk and street, Missy resting on my shoulder.

“I need to go,” she chimed.

I nodded.  I hadn’t known Missy long, but I already knew I’d miss her.

“Thank you for rescuing me.”

“Thank you for saving Snowflake.”

“Like I said, it’s what we do.”  Her words came out matter of factly, but I could tell from her grin that’s what she lived for.  What she was made for.  A disk-shaped glimmer appeared in the air a few feet in front of us and opened into a small gateway the size of my hand.  The portal.

Missy hovered in front of me, one tiny hand on each of my cheeks, and placed a soft kiss on the end of my nose.  It tingled all warm and fuzzy-like.  With one last smile, she turned and buzzed to the gateway, stopping at the entrance.  One hand on the edge of the portal, she looked over her shoulder for three or four seconds, smiled warmly, then she was gone and the portal winked out.

I rubbed the tip of my nose, the magic from her kiss already fading and thought about how glad I was to have met her.  “I’ll bet Fairyland is quite a place,” I whispered to myself.  I could have sworn I heard a tinkle in reply.

“Yes, it is.”

THE END

This story is part of a Writing Challenge I have undertaken to write something every day in the month of December on a pre-selected list of topics. Photographer Jacqueline Ashford is keeping pace with me on the same list of topics, her with a camera and me with a keyboard. You can see Jacqueline’s gorgeous photos here. We’re having way too much fun with this mutual challenge. (You can see the list of topics here.)

Tomorrow’s Topic: Favorite Holiday Song

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