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An Unusual Christmas

When I joined the Lady Lits writers group they were putting the finishing touches on their anthology of short Christmas stories and recipes, "Good Tidings." It was too late for me to come up with a story, let alone edit it, format it, etc., to be included.


But they did challenge me to write a science fiction Christmas story. The story below grew out of that challenge. It's not exactly science fiction so I'll let you decide what genre it falls into. Since many of the stories the Lady Lits wrote about were situations that lacked pat answers, I chose to write in a similar vein.


I hope you enjoy the story below.




“An Unusual Christmas,” Cynthia Zager Godwin (@2000 words)

 

Sausage and bacon aromas wafted through the busy dining room at Uncle Al’s Pancake House. Every time the front door opened the wind blew in, shaking the grungy ornaments on the fake Christmas tree. A tinny version of “Hark the Herald Angels” played on the p.a. system.

 

Jack, wearing a rumpled T-short and jeans, slouched in one of the booths across from his young son, Billy, and his slightly older daughter, Katie. Only Katie bothered to comb her hair. Everyone’s heads were buried behind giant fold-out menus.

 

“Light and life to all He brings!” blared the music.

 

Jack scowled at the ceiling. It’s not like You brought us a bunch of light and life this Christmas!

 

“Oh, boy,” Billy’s seven-year-old voice exclaimed from behind his menu. “I’ll have—”

 

“Save it for the server,” Jack muttered.

 

Katie put her menu down and rolled her eyes.

 

“I saw that,” Jack muttered again.

 

“No, you didn’t Dad! You didn’t even look up!” She glared at his giant menu for added emphasis.

 

Jack sighed. “I don’t have to. You do it every time I say anything these days.”

 

“That’s because you’re old--like out of it!”

 

If she’s like this at ten, what do I do when she hits thirteen?

 

“And how are we today?” a cheerful voice asked.

 

Everyone glanced at the frumpy, gray-haired lady standing at the end of the booth. “I’m Eleanor and I’ll be taking care of you.”

 

Jack stared. What are you so happy about gramma? It’s Christmastime and you get to work in this dump.

 

Eleanor smiled at Billy and Katie. “Looks like Dad got the kids for the weekend. Lucky you!”

 

“Uh, huh,” Jack replied.

 

Eleanor cracked a wider smile. “I was trying to add a little Christmas cheer. It looks like you could all use a little cheering up.”

 

“I have the kids every weekend,” Jack informed her. “And during the week. And every holiday too.”

 

“I get it,” the server replied. “Your wife’s a real deadbeat, huh?”

 

Billy’s eyes widened. The color drained from Katie’s face. Expressionless, the kids glanced at their Dad. Jack straightened up to his full height, placed his palms on the table, took a deep breath and spoke slowly in case Eleanor was hard of hearing.

 

“My wife was the most wonderful woman who ever lived. She adored these kids. They loved her. We all loved her. And—” Jack’s voice trailed off.

 

—I’d strangle you if I thought the police overlooked stuff like that these days.

 

Eleanor frowned. “I don’t get it. If your wife was so wonderful, how come you got the kids all the time?”

 

“She’s at the freaking cemetery!” Katie shouted. “So, you leave my father alone! Freaking, got it?”

 

The restaurant went dead quiet. People three booths over stared. Eleanor’s eyes widened. She backed up, turned around and left.

 

“Come on, kids,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “Let’s find a nice drive through.” Where the speaker box doesn’t ask annoying personal questions.


# # #

 

Jack slouched in his easy chair watching the news on the big screen TV. A golden retriever and gray cat sat side by side in front of the sliding glass door. They stared into the pitch-black night.

 

“And that wraps up all the news you need to know,” the GQ news anchor read from his script. He looked up, winked and pointed at the viewers. “See you tomorrow at eleven p.m. Sharp!”

 

“Maybe you will and maybe you won’t, dufus,” Jack replied. He toasted the TV with an empty wine glass, pointed the remote and clicked the screen off. “I don’t know what you’re so cheery about. You’re working on a Saturday night.” Jack started to get up.

 

“You talk to him,” a silky soft, delightfully feminine voice said.

 

Jack glanced at the TV. He picked up the clicker and pressed it a second time. Sound must not have turned off.

 

“No way,” replied a deep bass voice.

 

“Who’s there?” Jack demanded. He glanced around the room, looked over his shoulder, gazed at the dog and cat. They’re still sitting on the floor, staring into the night.

 

Nothing’s bothering them. What’s going on?

 

“I said you talk to him,” the sugary feminine voice repeated.

 

“Who’s there?” Jack demanded. He bolted out of his chair.

 

Did Billy hide a mic in here or something?

 

“You’re the dog,” the feminine voice said, dripping with honey. “You talk to him.”

 

That doesn’t sound like Billy.

 

“I’m his best friend,” the deep voice responded, an octave lower this time. “I’m not jeopardizing our relationship. He doesn’t like you. You have nothing to lose. You talk to him.”

 

“Fine!”

 

“That’s it!” Jack shouted. “Who’s there?”

 

The cat stretched her haunches, walked over and pawed Jack’s leg. “Down here!”

 

Jack glanced at the half-full wine bottle on the end table next to his chair. “I’m never touching another drop.” He dropped back into his easy chair with an oof!

 

The cat jumped into Jack’s lap and placed both paws firmly on his chest. “You didn’t drink that much and yes; your cat is talking to you.”

 

My cat? How is this possible? And even if it is, cats are self-centered, narcissistic creatures with an attitude who only care about themselves.

 

“Listen, it’s not generally my job to discuss matters with the servants.” The cat flicked a paw at Jack and licked it daintily. “Although, I must say the on-time service around here has been severely lacking since Margaret left us. But for the sake of Billy and Katie you need to snap out of it.”

 

“Snap out of it?” I must be losing it. My cat is talking to me?

 

The cat stood up in Jack’s lap and locked eyes with him. “Those two kids depend on you. Moping around isn’t helping anybody. You’ve been emotionally distant far too long. Get your Bible out. We’re going to read it.” 

 

Emotionally distant? That came from a cat? The most emotionally distant animal on the planet?

 

 Jack stared down at the creature. “You talk and read the Bible?”

 

“We both have the same Creator, Jack. Of course, I talk to Him. But you haven’t spoken to Him in weeks. Not since—you know.”

 

“This is nuts! Animals cannot talk!”

 

 “Yes, we can. The Bible says so. Go to Numbers chapter 22. Look it up.”

 

“After everything that’s happened, I’ve decided the Bible is just a nice story book.” He glared at the cat. And now you’ve proved it if it says animals can talk.

 

The cat jumped down and strutted over to the golden retriever who’d been watching the proceedings from his comfy dog bed. “Rover, take Jack’s Bible over to him.”

 

The dog stood up, bristled and towered over the cat. She dodged a glob of slobber. “My name is not Rover. Muffins, you will address me by my proper name if you want my help.”

 

Jack’s eyes widened. He glanced at the dog. “You talk too?” This gets crazier by the minute. 

 

“Fine,” Muffins said with a snarl. “Laddie, bring the man’s Bible over here.” She jumped back in Jack’s lap.

 

Jack’s mouth dropped open.

 

“You could have added, please!” Laddie said. He ambled over to the bookcase, pawed the Bible off, picked it up in his mouth and dropped it in Jack’s lap.

 

Muffins jumped aside to avoid getting smushed by the heavy book. She hissed at Laddie and turned back to Jack. “What does Numbers, chapter 22 say?”

 

“Fine. But I’m only doing this to get you off my back. Or lap. Where’s Numbers? Who reads Numbers anyway?”

 

“Check the index,” Laddie suggested.

 

My dog knows to check the index?

 

Jack opened the Bible, found the index and leafed through the Bible. 

 

“Stop!” Muffins ordered. “What does it say?”

 

Jack stared, frowned and looked up. “It says a donkey, a donkey, talked to its owner. I don’t remember ever reading anything like that.”

 

“Read the rest,” Laddie said. He put his chin on Jack’s knee and stared up at him with loving brown eyes.

 

“It says the donkey saved the guy’s life. And that was after he beat the poor creature mercilessly.” Jack looked up. “Didn’t they have PETA back then?”

 

“Because if the donkey hadn’t warned the guy,’ Laddie added, “an angel would have offed him right then and there. So, now that we’ve established animals can talk in certain circumstances—and you are not losing your mind—are you willing to listen to us?”

 

“Do I have a choice?”

 

“You always have a choice,” Laddie said.

 

These two have an answer for everything. Jack sighed. “Okay, now what?”

 

“We all loved Margaret,” Laddie said. “We miss her terribly. Margaret was always there for us. But now she’s gone and even though you have two kids, you’ve checked out. Billy and Katie need you. You’re all they have now.”

 

“You don’t understand,” Jack said glancing at the animals. “Margaret was the best part of me. Without her I don’t know how to go on. Or if I even want to. It’s like someone cut off both my arms. I’m not a whole person anymore. And my heart? It’s so broken—it’s a wonder it still beats.

 

“How am I supposed to be strong for Katie and Billy when I’m such a wreck? I know they need me and I feel terrible checking out on them, but I don’t have anything left to give.”

 

“You haven’t talked to your Heavenly Father about any of this since Margaret died,” Laddie said softly.

 

“He’s the cause of all of this!” Jack cried. “He let her die! Why would I talk to Him?”

 

“He knows you’re hurting,” Laddie said. “He can help. His resources are infinite. But you have to ask.”

 

Jack gazed at Laddie and Muffins. He took a deep breath.

 

Before he could answer, everyone’s heads turned. A very sleepy Billy stumbled into the room in his PJs. He rubbed his eyes, glanced around, checked the TV and looked at Jack. “Dad, who are you talking to?”


“Ah,” Jack managed.

 

Billy glanced at Laddie. Laddie trotted over to his dog bed and lay down. He covered his muzzle with his paws, letting one eye peek out. “Was Laddie talking to you?”

 

“What makes you say that?” Jack asked.

 

Billy climbed into his Dad’s lap. “Laddie started talking to me after mom died. He felt really bad for me since you’re always busy and Katie hangs with her friends all the time.”

 

“She does?”

 

“Yeah. On her phone.”

 

“She has a phone?”

 

“Mom’s. Anyway, Laddie said not to tell anyone about our talks. Otherwise, I’d get hauled off to the school psycho somethin’.”

 

“I see. What did Laddie tell you?”

 

“He said losing Mom was hard for all of us. But especially for you. And to try and understand. But Dad, I really miss her.” Tears rolled down the little boy’s cheeks.

 

Jack pulled Billy close. “From now on, son, I’ll be there for you.  Anytime you’re sad or lonely you just let me know. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” came a muffled reply.

 

“What’s going on?” Katie asked. She stood in the doorway still in jeans and a T-shirt. She glanced at her tearful brother snuggled in Jack’s lap. “I heard you guys talking.”

 

“I thought you were in bed,” Jack said.

 

“Laddie talks to dad!” Billy exclaimed.

 

Katie stared. “And I thought I was going crazy.”

 

“Does Laddie talk to you too?” Billy asked.

 

“No,” Katie replied. “Never.”

 

“Oh.” Billy looked downcast.

 

“Listen,” Jack began, “this is going to sound a little weird, but—”

 

“Muffins talks to me,” Katie said.

 

Jack’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. I should have known the way this night’s been going.

 

Katie glanced at Jack. “I heard what you told Billy about being there for him. Do you think you could do that for me too, Dad? I mean, sometimes I act like I don’t need you, but I really, really do.”

 

Jack held his arms out and Katie rushed into them. She climbed into her Dad’s lap next to her brother.

 

“Can we talk about mom too?” Katie asked. “You never talk about her anymore and I miss her.”

 

Jack winced, but hugged both kids close. “Sure thing.”

 

Laddie got up from his dog bed and sat down in front of Jack. He looked Jack in the eye. “Now that we’ve got that worked out, there’s that other thing we talked about.”

 

"Yeah." Jack turned his attention to the ceiling. “Okay, Lord, things have been pretty rocky between us lately. Sorry about that. I don’t know why You do a lot of what You do, and I know You have Your reasons being God and all.

 

“So, if You’ll help me be strong for these kids, I’ll try and work out some of my hurt and anger with You. It may take a while, but I think You’ll understand.

 

Laddie gave a loud bark. Muffin meowed, puffed up to twice her normal size and marched over to Laddie’s dog bed where she curled up.

 



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