The Mother

This story is dedicated to my sister, who has always had a mother’s heart.

Papers slid into a folder before Allie secured them in her bag. The assignment she’d given her students always took forever to finish grading, but she loved reading the stories of their mothers. At home, she’d make a few comments on each story; the kids liked that. The rest of the week, they’d work on the handmade gifts. This year, she’d chosen paper flowers in paper mache vases. Each story would be copied to a small scroll and hung with ribbon on a painted vase.

She stepped through the classroom door to the outdoor walkways they called halls. The emptiness of the school, eerie to some, always brought her comfort. Laughter and smiled filled them during the day. Designed with outdoor entrances, sunshine brightened each room, and nothing darkened the halls she walked now, not with the echoes of life lingering so close.

Pushing a graying hair behind her ear, she studied the ground. Home was different.

Within a few minutes of leaving work, she opened the door to her small house and slipped off her shoes. Tension relaxed in her shoulders as her toes wiggled from their pinched positions. Quickly piling a few cookies on a plate and pouring a glass of milk, Allie settled down on the couch with the thirty stories.

Erik’s story fit him perfectly. A day spent racing dirt bikes through the sand. Every time his mom wobbled on her bike, he zoomed over and helped steady her. Allie smiled and attached a dirt bike sticker to the top. She’d spent days searching for those stickers after realizing how much he loved dirt bikes. Encouraging him to learn with dirt bike word problems had made a difference too. Once behind, his work in every subject now showed promise others said he’d never achieve.

A few minutes later, she swallowed some milk, barely containing a snorting giggle. In class, Allie had explained that some children didn’t live with their mothers. Some lived with grandmothers, aunts, foster moms, or their dads. Shelly was one of those kids. After losing his wife, Shelly’s dad continued to raise her alone. Shelly’s story included a lavish tea party where her dad dressed up in a skirt and boa. She took special care to roll curlers in his hair and call him Mrs. Smootsworth.

As she continued to read, her emotions flooded through her as she thought of each student. People tended to think a room full of kids meant someone getting left behind, but not in her classroom. At least she hoped not! With no children of her own, she had to dote on someone.

Sometimes the process left a hole in her heart. Parents sent teacher appreciation gifts, and students drew her pictures and left her notes. But none of that was the same as being a mother. Not this week. This week she prepared all of her students to recognize their own mothers. And they should. After all, Mother’s Day was Sunday. Still, she had never gathered her own baby in her arms in the middle of the night for a feeding. And when she visited the park, no child ran to her crying because they fell. No one called her mama, mommy, or mom. It stung.

Standing to carry her plate and glass back to the kitchen, she stopped when a soft knock sounded at the door. Who could that be?

On her tiptoes, she peeked through the peephole, glad she’d remembered to turn on the porch light. Wendy?

“Well, hello? How’s my favorite niece and grand nephew?”

Tears fell from Wendy’s swollen eyes as she carried a young baby in a carrier through the open door. “Aunt Allie…”

The flustered mother fell into her arms, sobbing as she tried to speak. Only incoherent mumbles reached Allie’s ears, and she wrapped her arms around her niece and walked her to the couch.

Wendy and Allie had a special bond. One they’d developed when Allie opened her home to her sister, Ruth, years ago. For three years they’d lived in the same house. During those years Allie often played with Wendy and her brother after work. Though she never disciplined the children outside of her authority as homeowner, she did had fond memories of late-night conversations and lots of ice cream bars.

“You take that cute little boy out of that seat and curl up on the couch. I’ll get the ice cream bars.”

The corners of Wendy’s mouth rounded up slightly with a grateful sigh.

“Don’t leave me waiting. What brought you to my porch this late at night.” Allie asked. “I thought you were coming Saturday morning.”

“I was. I am,” Wendy stuttered, then bowed her head. “Matt’s out of town on business and…”

Tears filled her eyes again as she accepted the ice cream bar from Allie.

“And?”

Wendy’s chin quivered as she struggled to blink back the tears, staring at the baby. Adam. “He just cries.”

“He’s not crying now.”

“He will.” She twisted her fingers around each other in a continuous movement. “I haven’t slept in days, not really, and I can’t do it alone anymore. Can we stay here tonight?”

“Is that all!”

Allie reached for Adam, whose little body pulled into a tight ball before letting out a wailing scream. Wendy’s eyes glazed over, but Allie never slowed, easing her hands under his head and pulling him close.

“Grab yourself some cotton to plug your years, then get yourself to bed,” Allie said.

“I can’t leave him with you.”

“I won’t hurt him.”

Wendy stared at Allie, who shooed her away as she bounced Adam in her arms.

Allie stared at her great nephew. “Your mama needs to sleep. What have you been doing keeping her up all night?”

He continued crying, and she swaddled him in a blanket, binding his arms and legs.

“I know, life if hard. God plops us here on Earth and everything’s different. Bright then dark. Bodies that hurt. And you’re so little, you don’t understand any of it, do you? Well, you just sit here with me, and we’ll figure it out together.”

A couple of hours later, Allie slid between the sheets she’d laid out on the couch, a sleeping Adam next to her in his carrier. Any crying from a hallway or bedroom promised to wake up Wendy, and Allie would not have that.

The next morning, she scrabbled some eggs and fed Adam a bottle before knocking lightly on Wendy’s door. Her groggy niece opened the door, looking better rested.

“I see you got some sleep. Eggs are on the stove, and Adam’s been fed. You can stay as long as you’d like, but I think your mom might like a visit.”

Wendy pulled a face, her nose crinkling. “Yeah. I wasn’t ready to listen to her nagging.”

“Nagging.” Allie shook her head. “Your mother doesn’t nag, she worries.”

“Worries about what?”

“About you. About Matt and Adam. She’d have done the same thing I did last night.” Her voice softened as she smiled. “I’m glad you came here, though.”

Wendy’s shoulders lowered, the tension leaving. “Me too.”

When Allie returned that evening, Wendy was gone. She ambled through the lonely house to the kitchen and ate a cookie, then cracked open a book. It had been a while since she’d had time to read, and she planned to enjoy it, especially after the day in the classroom.

Billy’s vase broke into a crumpling paper mache heap, similar to his sad, crumpled face. Jane called for her to examine her work’s progress every few minutes, reveling in the praise. On top of that were the usual behaviors, an unintentional pencil stabbing, a couple of scraped knees, and three gabbing girls.

Saturday passed quicker than Allie had hoped, and once again, she woke up to Mother’s Day. After dressing for church, she walked into the building and sat in her chair where she smiled at the people walking past. Some mothers wore corsages, others boasted about breakfast in bed, while more whispered scathingly about how their family never did anything for them.

No one knew how much she wanted children. They didn’t understand that her dreams of a family had never been realized. How could they?

The sermon revolved around motherhood. A godly purpose. At the end of the service, children handed out small potted plants to all of the women. Each bloom emphasized the idea that every woman was a mother in her own right. Even if she had no children, she helped raise others.

Hogwash.

At home, Allie placed the plant on the mantle and snuggled onto the couch with her book. Sentences floated through her mind as she read the words, but Mother’s Day had stolen her focus. Was there something wrong with her? No chance of marriage. No children. Is that what God thought of her, that she wasn’t good enough? That she wasn’t worthy of such love? The thoughts stung, and the burning in her eyes increased. Why not her? Had she not given enough? What had she done wrong?

A knock at the door brought her head up. She turned the knob and found Wendy holding a bouquet of flowers. “Happy Mother’s Day!”

This time Allie scoffed.

“Aunt Allie?”

“Have you had a good day?” Allie asked.

“Matt got home last night and made me pancakes this morning. It’s been nice.” She studied her aunt’s face. “How about you?”

“Normal, I guess. I get all the gifts and appreciation, but none of the children. Win-win, right?”

Wendy ignored the comment and scanned the kitchen cabinets for a vase. Once the ends of the flowers were trimmed and the flowers brightened the table, she pulled Allie to the couch.

“Have you never paid attention to all the children you have?”

Allie rolled her eyes. “Students are not the same thing.”

“Maybe not, but you helped raise me. How old was I when we lived with you?”

“Nine.”

“As I recall, you made me lunch, took me to school, hugged me when I struggled, and listened when I needed to talk. That’s a mother. When I think about raising my children, you’re as much an example as Mom.”

“What else was I going to do. Ignore you while you lived in my house?”

“Aunt Allie, you did so much more, or I wouldn’t have come here earlier this week. I love Mom, but I needed you and your mothering. Can’t you see that?”

Allie shrugged.

“Maybe God didn’t give you children because he knew how much the rest of us needed you.”

Allie reached over and patted Wendy’s knee. “Never looked at it that way before.”

“Well, I have, because I continue to need you.” She grinned at her aunt.

“Motherhood doesn’t determine who you are. You determine what motherhood is.”

Allie lifted herself to her feet. “Stay for lunch. I think I’d like to hear more about Adam while we enjoy our much-needed break.”

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The Healing

Sarah daydreams about the Resurrected Christ and the multitude and discovers her own miracle.

Sarah, holding her mother’s hand, stared at the marble Christus. The hands spread wide, welcoming her closer, the facial expression gentle. Her tight curls bounced across her head as she leaned back and gazed at the large statue. She wondered at the shiny white surface. Sunday school stories of Jesus calling for the children, children like her, sowed a simple peace in her heart. Her mother squeezed her hand.

“I’m going to look at the pictures on that wall. Stay in this room.”

Sarah nodded, resting her hands at her side, careful not to touch the velvet rope that separated her from the Christ. Her focus landed on the soft hands, where carved marks of the nails rested, then to his feet and side. Her heart thrummed in her chest, soft but apparent, as she wondered what it was like for Thomas to feel the nail prints in his hands and the sword print in his side.

As she focused on the statue’s palm, the marble appeared to change, white darkened, a warm golden tone taking its place. Sarah’s eyes widened, but recognizing the signs of a daydream, she remained in place.

Seconds later, she discovered herself surrounded by people. Children rested on fathers’ shoulders. Babes cooed in mothers’ arms. Clothing of every color blurred as it pushed past her, yet happiness and peace filled her soul. Those around her fell to their knees, heads bowed. But she remained, staring into the soft eyes.

With his finger and a wink, he motioned Sarah toward him. Her slippered feet carried her closer. His strong arms ensconced her, bringing her face to his eye level. He smiled. After the gentle hug, he held his hand in front of her, and she reached her fingers toward it. Pulling back slightly, she eyed him from the side.

He nodded.

The mark swallowed her finger as she lightly caressed it. The softness of the skin nothing like the hardness of the nails that had pierced it.

“It hurt?”

“Yes.”

“You could have stopped it, saved yourself?”

He nodded, a twinkle in his eye.

“But you didn’t.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“For you.”

He leaned toward her ear and whispered more. A smile rushed across her face, and she wrapped her arms around his neck before he placed her back on the ground. Moments later, she joined the crowd, the cool ground contrasting the warm feeling coursing through her.

The Savior called for the people to come forward, and Sarah watched as, one by one, men and women, the young and old got to their feet and stepped forward. A warm smile and welcoming arms greeted each one as they received the personal time they desired with the Savior, just as she had. Their fingers touched his hands, feet, and side. Some women cried as they kissed his feet, wiping away tears with the hems of dresses. Men unabashedly wept as they embraced him.

Time passed slowly, but children never fought and babes never cried. Adults talked of miracles and knelt in prayer. No one pushed or shoved to the front. Patience and love intervened, the procession one of reverence.

When the last returned, the Savior called the sick, disabled, and those otherwise in need of healing. The man standing next to her lifted a woman in his arms and carried her forward. Standing with his arms outstretched, Jesus motioned all the afflicted forward.

Pebbles poked at her knees as Sarah knelt on the ground, and she brushed them away. She suffered no ill but thought of her father, who lay in a hospital room ravaged by cancer. Even as young as she was, she knew the harsh treatment he received left him weak for days at a time. Just as he felt a little strength return, it was always time for another round. Prayer after prayer had been said on his behalf. Her mother wept every night for his relief. For her own, too. Tears came to her eyes as she watched the Savior lay his hands on the afflicted, healing them one by one.

As the last of the afflicted leaped from his bed, Jesus instructed the people to pray. Together, they bowed their heads and lifted their voices as he knelt a distance away.

“Hosanna, blessed be the name of the Most High God,” cried the people.

Tears streamed down Sarah’s face as she joined them. Though people often assumed age affected one’s ability to recognize God, she knew the truth. She might not understand everything, but she understood he loved her. She understood he loved those who hung him on a cross. She even understood he loved that mean guy who lived down the street and shouted at her every time she stopped to look at his pretty flowers.

When the Savior returned, warmth from her heart rippled through her arms as he spoke to the crowd. The day had passed, and the people still focused on him, but their eyes appeared tired, and their shoulders drooped with similar strains. Tears filled his eyes as he scanned their faces.

“You’re tired. Rest.”

No one moved. Sarah’s own heartbeat strengthened. She didn’t want to leave either. It couldn’t be time.

Brushing a tear from his eye, Jesus called for the little children. Parents carrying babies and holding the hands of their little ones helped them forward. Boys and girls sat on his lap, and he held a babe in each arm. Sarah’s lip quivered when he called her to join the others.

As she stepped forward, a bright light opened above him. People dressed in white, as beautiful as the Savior, surrounded the children, blessing them. One took her by the hand and walked with her.

“Child, you do not have a wish for yourself, do you?”

Sarah shook her head, eyes wide.

“But Jesus whispered to you. What did he say?”

“Not to worry. That everything would be okay.”

“Have you been worrying?”

Sarah nodded, her lip quivering again. “My daddy’s sick.”

“Do you know who Jesus is?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell me what he did for you?”

“He helps my sins go away, and he died for me so I can return to Heavenly Father.”

“That’s right.”

“Do you think he can heal your daddy?”

Sarah bowed her head and studied her feet.

The angel squeezed her hand, then lifted her chin, encouraging her to answer.

“If it’s the best thing he can. Mama says it depends on God’s will.”

“That’s right. It’s time…”

The daydream faded at the sound of her mother’s voice.

“Sarah. It’s time to go.”

One more glance at the Christus in front of her and Sarah hurried to her mother.

“Where are we going?”

“To the hospital. Daddy had a scan today, and he wants us to hear the results with him.”

“What’s a scan?”

“The scan tells us whether or not the cancer is gone.”

She tugged on her mother’s arm, trying to run faster. “It is. It’s gone.”

Her mother pulled her back and crouched beside her. “We don’t know that Sarah. Most of the scans haven’t been great.”

“He’s better. I know it.”

“I hope you’re right, but if you’re not, it’s okay. God will take care of us and Daddy.”

“I know. He already has.”

Biting her lip, her mother rose from the ground and clasped Sarah’s hand. Tears floated in her eyes.

The quick drive to the hospital soon delivered Sarah and her mother, and they hurried to her father’s room.

“Where’s the doctor?” Sarah eased onto the foot of the bed with her mom’s help and stared at her dad.

“I’m right here.”

She turned in time to see the doctor walk into the room.

“My daddy’s better right?”

The doctor raised a brow, then quickly furrowed them. “Well. Let’s take a look. The last scan showed an increase, correct?”

Her parents both nodded.

A picture of her dad’s insides appeared on a lighted board, and the doctor pointed here and there, talking to her parents. Their faces crumpled, and Sarah stared from one to the other.

“He’s better, right?” A little butterfly entered her belly even though she’d been so sure.

Arms wrapped around her as her mother picked her up and swung her in a circle. “He’s better!”

She eyed her daddy. “You feel better, right?”

The room broke out with laughter.

“No, pretty, I don’t feel better yet. Cancer and my treatments hurt me a lot, but the doctor says my cancer has gone away.”

“I know that.”

Lifting her to stand next to her dad, Sarah’s mother met her gaze. “How did you know?”

“Jesus told me not to worry.”

“He did, did he?”

Her father poked her side, and she giggled.

“Yup.”

“When did he tell you that?” her mother asked.

Sarah looked at her. “Today, at his statue.”

Tears swept into her mother’s eyes. “She stood by the Christus the whole time.”

“What else did Jesus say?” her father asked.

The Resurrected Christ

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Irises and Cattails

After years of marriage, Drew searches for her husband while visiting her favorite mountain.

Drew took another step on the path. With the spring snow melted, the trail remained soft, and the usual dusty puffs that dirtied her socks were absent. At the sound of heavy, flapping wings, her gaze lifted to the sky, and she shaded her eyes with her hand in time to see a large hawk soar upward and out of the pine and aspen canopy.

How do you know it’s a hawk, not a golden eagle? White underside, smaller size, dark beak. The question entered her mind, the answer quickly following.

Where was he now?

The stream edged up to the trail, gurgling beside her. The heavy pack slid off her back with a thud, and she dipped the straw filter into the running water, drinking deeply. Though the straw filtered the dangerous bacteria and parasites, it didn’t change the flavor, and she’d drunk from much more loathsome sources. This natural spring and snowmelt-fed stream always tasted as if it were the source of heaven itself. Cold and delicious. Refreshing.

Rising to her feet, she swung the loaded pack to her back and continued. Three days she’d been alone in the forest. Plenty of food, a fishing pole, the entire stream at her beckoned call. Her sleeping bag kept her warm, and the modest tent kept the dew from coating her hair and bedding. The concern wasn’t for herself.

Three days.

Lavender-hued flowers dotted the small meadow on her left. Wild irises.
She’d spent a day photographing similar perennials once. He’d stopped the car at her behest and waited near the edge of a lake while she photographed blossom after blossom. Fine golden dots had accented the bright yellow center of each petal, just as they did now. It was then that he’d pointed at different long stems growing in the shallows of the water and explained their use.

Cattails, almost completely editable. Root, pollen, tender new leaves up to two feet. Watch for look-alikes. They will not have the brown pollen stems.

No cattails lived on this mountain. However, patches of watercress floated in the stream, and some fir and spruce trees touted new growth.

She had to find him.

His days had been so good recently that when he’d suggested a back-packing trip, she’d agreed. Two miles in, they’d discovered the missing frying pan. It had been her job to slide it into the pack after the previous night at the campground. Still, four miles of flat travel wasn’t that difficult for him. He’d spent his entire life traversing the wild. She hadn’t even flinched when he said he’d go back for it.

That day, the afternoon sun promised to shine for several more hours, and she continued forward, wanting to get camp set up early in hopes of cooking their dinner before dark. Using a backpacking stove with nothing more than a flashlight for dinner was not her idea of fun.

They’d camped on the mountain for decades, and neither worried about the other. Not usually. But when he still hadn’t shown up an hour after dark, she doused the fire and grabbed her flashlight. Worry had creased her brow as she considered the possibilities. How could she have forgotten the pan? With a wandering beam of light focused on the trail, she’d headed toward the parking lot, praying he hadn’t fallen and gotten hurt. Or worse.

Her legs ached from the fast-paced hike to the locked SUV, but she’d forced herself to keep going. Peering through the back window with the flashlight, she’d checked for the frying pan. Gone. She hadn’t passed him.

Head hung low that night, she dragged herself back to camp. Had it been day, she would have followed the stream back. He wouldn’t leave the water. But the flashlight didn’t give off enough light for night travel along the willow and tree-infested bank.

With no sign of him the following morning, Drew climbed from the sleeping bag and started up the mountain. What other choice was there? Five miles to the summit. Without the pack on her back, she’d reached the switchbacks quickly. The steeper incline had slowed her down, but not much. Scanning the forest yielded no results.

Tears pooled in her eyes then, but she’d refused to let them fall.

No reason to cry when things get hard. Just keep moving along. Everything will work out in the end.

Dusk had set in by the time she’d returned to camp. Ten miles with nothing to show. She’d dipped her straw into the stream, then pulled out a granola bar and wondered if she should save it for him. With the uneaten treat placed back in her pack, she’d gone to bed.

Now, she took another step and headed toward the parking lot, again. It was her best chance to find someone, anyone, to help her. No one had crossed her trail in three days. It was a first. The well-traveled trail usually brought a few hellos her direction. Not this time.

Something darted across the trail in the distance, and she stopped. As she squinted, a group of people came into focus. Her hands flew into the air, and she ran toward them, yelling for help. Within seconds, they were running too.

“My husband,” she panted as she looked at the young people standing in front of her. “I can’t find him. Please, I need your help. He has memory problems.”

“Mom. It’s me, Jackson.”

Her brows furrowed. “Jackson?”

“Yup. Do you remember me? Let me take that bag for you.”

The young man, Jackson, took the pack from her. It looked smaller. As he opened it, watercress and young pine needles bulged from the top.

“He’ll be hungry. Y-your father.”

His arm slid around her shoulders. “Mom, Dad died three years ago. Don’t you remember?”

Three years?

“We brought you to your favorite mountain for a picnic, and you wandered off.”

“A picnic?”

“Yeah. Come on back; the kids are waiting to hear more about your adventures with Dad.”

“Well, he’s probably hungry, but I found some watercress.”

“Great. Why don’t we all try some.”

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A Decision of Love

Benny’s saved his money, and the pups are ready for homes. But unforeseen circumstances threaten his deepest desire.

Man's Best Friend

Benny sauntered down the street, money jingling in his pocket and the snow crunching under his feet. Hound pups, born late-December, weaned and ready, waited for him to choose the best of them. He had his eye on the one with the keen nose and perfectly dropped ears. Every time he visited, the pup had his nose to the ground. And when Benny hid a treat, he always scouted it out first. A couple quickened steps, put him that much closer, his excitement barely contained.

“You off to get that pup of yours today, Benny?” Mr. Jansen waved from his shop, broom in hand.

“Sure am. Best of the litter.”

“That’s what Kyle said. With all the work you done, you deserve him. Stop on your way home so I can lay my eyes on him, ya hear!”

The words from the shop’s owner flitted to his ear, but he had no time to acknowledge him. Not in his mind, anyway. As the town’s buildings spread further apart, Benny’s feet struck the frozen ground sooner, picking up speed. What boy could wait for his very first hound? He sure couldn’t.
Jumping the log that lay across the trail, he watched as the Kyle barn peeked through the dense trees, calling him closer. The movement of boots smaller than his and the bottom of a dingy gray skirt caught his eye. Emiline ran toward him. “Hurry, Pa’s got the pups out, ready to go. You gonna get Dozer?”

“I told you that’s not his name.”

They fell in step with each other and hurried toward the farmhouse.

“Well, what is it then?” Her eyes, blue as fine china, blinked, waiting for his answer.

“Don’t know yet. But not Dozer.”

“Okay, but he already answers to Dozer, comes real good when called.”

“He’s a pup, he’ll learn a new name fast enough.”

Emiline shrugged as they continued in silence.

When the trees fell away, Benny’s legs took off, no longer able to wait. The snow crunch under his feet became lost as tiny snowballs flew into the air before crashing back down behind him. Emiline’s shorter legs pumped but eventually slowed. Benny was fast.

“I’m here, Mr. Kyle. I’m here.” His heart pounded erratically as his lungs panted for breath.

“You run all the way?”

“No Sir, just from the trees.”

“Hmm.” Mr. Kyle straightened his hat and narrowed his eyes. “Got the money? Ten dollars, right?”

“Yes Sir, I mean… I got the money, but you said seven, not ten.”

“Did I now?” A new gleam shone in the man’s eye. “Well, tell you what, you muck out that stable, and I’ll make it five.”

“Yes Sir, but you won’t give him to no one else, will you?”

“Pay now, just muck that stable good, or you’ll pay those two dollars, too.”
Benny’s grin spread across his face as his shaky fingers dug the coins he’d saved for so long. As he counted out the money, a dime fell to the ground and he dove after it, unwilling to lose a precious cent, let alone ten. “Five dollars.”

Mr. Kyle eyed the coins. “So it is. Top pick goes to you.”

Everything slowed as he stared at the pups. Each one wagging a short tail and ready to trip over their long ears. No question as to which dog he wanted crossed his mind, but he focused on building a memory. The scent of freshly fallen snow mixed with the mustiness of the barn. He picked up the pup Emiline had called Dozer, fresh puppy breath joining the other aromas as the pup licked his chin. “This one.”

“Dozer’s a fine pup. Great tracker. He’ll train easy for you if that’s what you want.”

Benny nodded, then turned toward the stable. “I’ll get all four stalls real good and clean for you, Mr. Kyle. Don’t you worry.”

Turning, he buttoned his new pup into his jacket, and picked up the shovel. The work promised to take most of the day, but he didn’t care. Not now that he had his pup.

“So what are you going to name him?” Emiline straddled a low wall nearby.

“I’ll think of something.”

“Something like Spot?”

“No. Something that makes him sound special.”

“Whatcha gonna do with him, anyway?”

“Train him to hunt. Help feed my family, maybe make some money from furs.”

“Dozer’ll be good at that. Pa breeds the best.”

“Name’s not Dozer.” With the first stall finished, he moved on to the next.

“ What should I call him, then?” Emiline questioned.

He stared into the pups eyes, still gray on their way to brown. “Major. I think I’ll call him Major.” He scratched behind the pup’s ear. “You like that, boy?”

A young bay rumbled in the dog’s throat.

Giggling, Emiline ambled toward Benny. “Guess he likes it. But I’d let him down, or he’ll wet you good.”

Benny nodded, lowering Major to the ground.

About the time he finished the third stall, a thump on the side of the barn lifted his head. “Jed, what are you doing here, scaring me like that?”

“Gotta come home, Pa’s had an accident.”

“Is the doctor there?”

“No. Ma says we can’t afford him. His leg’s real messed up. Come on!”
Benny looked at the pup. “You go ahead. I’ll be there quick.”

After his brother left, he sank to the floor of the barn and picked up Major. Tears filled his eyes and he lifted the pup and himself off the floor of the barn and looked to Emiline. “Where’s your Pa?”

“Out at the fence, fixing it, I think. Why?”

“This pup’s no good. I’m returning him.”

She grabbed at his arm, but he pulled away as she said, “What do you mean he’s no good? He’s the best there is.”

“No, he ain’t.” He yanked his arm away again and rushed to Mr. Kyle.
Mr. Kyle stopped hammering at the fence and gazed at the boy’s blotchy face. “You all done?”

“No Sir. I’m sorry. I can’t take the pup.”

“Well why not, you paid for him?”

“He’s just not right, that’s all. You gotta take him back.”
The man straightened his hat and eyed his daughter and Benny. “If that’s what you want.”

Benny’s voice broke. “Yes, Sir.”

“Did you want to look at the others?”

“No, Sir. I mean to get home as soon as you give me my money back.”

Mr. Kyle dug in his pocket and pulled out the five dollars. “How much of the stable you finish?”

“Three stalls.”

Another dollar fifty fell into Benny’s hand. That’s for the work you did today.

“Thank you!”

Head hung low, Benny took off toward town as fast as he could, and minutes later banged on the doctor’s door.

“Something happened to my pa’s leg. You gotta come.”

The doctor grabbed his bag. “Get my horse saddled, boy.”

Benny did as he was told, and the doctor soon appeared at his side. “Your family able to pay?”

“I have eight dollars and fifty cents. Is that enough?” His teary eyes met the doctor’s, hoping.

The doctor sighed. “Today it is, I suppose.”

A breeze colder than Benny remembered it chaffed his face as he rode home on the doctor’s extra horse—a service rarely afforded to customers. The pounding of his heart matched the galloping of the horse’s hooves. Tears traced his cheeks at the thought of returning the perfect puppy he’d just named Major. No longer could he help feed his family. Momma didn’t want him helping anyway. The memory of the sweet puppy breath caused his face to crumble.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get your Pa all fixed up.” The doctor’s words scratched at his ears.

Of course, he wanted the best for his pa, but anguish batted him from both sides.

Once home, the doctor rushed in the house, Benny trailing slightly behind. A moment later, Momma quietly slipped into the rocking chair behind him on the porch as she held her rounded belly. “Where’s your pup? Jed said you got him.”

“Gone.”

“The doctor said you paid him.”

“Yeah. Mr. Kyle paid me to muck out his barn, but I didn’t finish.”

“He didn’t pay enough to hire a doctor, did he?”

“No.”
Silence permeated the porch until Momma’s soft whisper reached Benny’s ears again. “Thank you. You and me could’ve set the leg, but not well. And I wouldn’t know what to do about the gash from the bone.”

“What happened, Momma. How’d he break his leg like that?”

“Removing a tree, I think. Don’t really know. He’s not talking much yet.”

“Pa’s downed hundreds of trees!”

She stood and squeezed his shoulder. “I know.”

His whole life, all he’d wanted was a puppy, a coon hound. His whole savings was gone. But he held the pup for those few hours. Major—a strong name for a strong dog. Tears fell to the wood below his feet and he wiped them away before traipsing into the house.

Darkness soon turned to dim light, and Benny’s swollen eyes opened as his momma’s voice entered his consciousness.

“Coming.”

Stepping onto the porch, Benny gazed at the wet nose and soft fur resting in Emiline’s arms. Mr. Kyle stood next to her. “Benny, you’re right. This pup’s not right. Fact is, I’ll never sell him. Feeding him takes a lot too.”

Benny stared at the pup. “I lied. He’s a great pup, should be the first to go.”

Mr. Kyle pushed his hat back. “No, you were right.” His eyes narrowed. “I know you wanted a good hunting dog. This one’s no good for that, not good at all, but well, if you want him…”

Emiline held Major out, who wagged his tail, his gray eyes bright and eager. Benny extended shaky hands that wrapped around the pup. Holding him close, he nuzzled his face against the fuzzy ear. The fall of tears sparkled in the rising sun as Benny’s tongue tripped over the short, raspy words. “Thank you.”

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The Exodus

The Exodus is a fictional short story based on occurrences that took place in Missouri after Governor Lilburn Boggs signed the Extermination Order against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838.

Elizabeth awoke to the frigid February air funneling into her home through the front door. An unfamiliar hand clamped over her mouth only a second later. Kicking and flailing, she reached for Ezra but failed to find the comfort her fingertips sought. Hot breath, wreaking of stale beer and tobacco, stung her nose as muscled arms dragged and then thrust her outside,  her hands and knees sinking into the snow. Beside her, her three young children fell.

“Ma?” Peter picked up his two-year-old sister and helped Elizabeth up. “Where’s Pa?”

Heartache set aside, Elizabeth grabbed the hands of her two children, trusting Peter to carry Clara, and ran for the darkened path leading from their property to the Beckers’. “Run, hurry!”

She and the children shivered as the night air whipped through thin clothes and the six-inch snow crunched under bare feet.

“Pa!” Emily cried great racking sobs as the sound of gunfire ignited her senses further.

Warm amber light soon reflected off the glistening ice, and the mob’s horses galloped from the scene.

“Pa.” Peter turned, running toward the glow, chest heaving, and Clara bouncing in his arms as tears flowed freely from everyone’s eyes. Slowed by the toddler he carried, Elizabeth caught him by the arm.

“Take your sisters and go to the Beckers’. I’ll see to Pa.” She stared into the eyes of her oldest, lit by the blazing house, barn, and night sky. “Don’t stop, just run. And don’t let go of your sisters.”

Peter nodded.

The Beckers’ house lay several miles to the north—the only family they could trust since the order for their religious group to leave the state had been given. The others were mostly gone. Rescuers from the neighboring state helped gather families and get them to safety—oxen, horses, and cows often driven to the brink of death. Carts overflowed with the few belongings people grabbed. Others fled with nothing. She and Ezra had planned to leave the next morning. Their meager cart now burned with the barn.

Step by agonizing step, Elizabeth found her way back to their homestead. Wind pricked at her frozen skin through her nightgown. Eyes watered not only from tears but from the cold, bristling air that surrounded her. Feet numb, she picked up her skirt and ran.

Swift legs carried her toward her goal. Refusing to consider Ezra’s death, she considered only the life ahead of them. Thousands of now destitute people migrated from settlements they’d once called home to the neighboring state. People—friends—slept in the yards of rescuers with hardly a blanket for warmth. But they had food. They would rebuild, she and Ezra together.

Inconsistent breaths entered and exited Elizabeth’s lungs as she careened around the house, knees landing in the melting snow next to Ezra. “Please Ezra.”

His eyes found hers. “Help.”

She gazed at his shoulder, blood oozing from the wound. “How? What do I do?” The words stung the tip of her tongue.

“My shirt, Elizabeth, help.” Ezra tried to sit up but fell back into the snow. The melting patterns proved it was not his first attempt.

“You’ll freeze.” Elizabeth removed her undergarment and pushed the waded drawers over her husband’s wound.

“Help me stand.”

Arms around her husband, she pushed, pulled, and lifted until he wavered on his feet instead of the ground. The paleness of his face brought her rushing to support him better.

“Where are the children?”

Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she prayed continuously for their young children. How had she left them alone in the dark?

“I sent them to the Beckers’.”

“They’ll make it. The Lord will see us through.”

Following her earlier footsteps, Elizabeth led her dying husband toward the Beckers’ home. His shivering weighted his body, each movement a struggle for both him and her. The full moon rose higher in the sky, lighting the bloody footprints of their children. They added their own as a testament of their persecution.

How had people come to hate them so much? They wished only to worship God as they desired—a right given through the Constitution but forgotten by mob and government. Hate legalized the extermination of human beings because of their religious beliefs. Though given until spring, no one stopped those who hunted early. Guards stood to keep them from food and warmth, not as protection. Only those leaving were permitted to pass.

Ezra fell to his knees and clasped her hands, his teeth chattering. “Go.”

She fell beside him, holding him in her arms. “I can’t leave you, Ezra.” Blood seeped from under his hand to her nightdress as they embraced.

“Go.”

Refusing, she wrapped her arms around him. “They’ll come. Someone will come.”

Moving behind him, she pulled him against her bosom, helping him to sit. She pushed her hand against his, her soaked drawers dripping blood down his nightshirt. His eyelids fluttered as he complained about the heat, a sign of hypothermia.

“Stay awake, Ezra.”

Pushing him forward and lifting him up, she raised him to his feet. He tried to fight her, to refuse, but her strength overpowered him. “You’ll walk or I’ll drag you!”

He shuffled his foot forward.

“You can’t die. Not today, Ezra. We’ve too much to do. I don’t build houses, and I can’t raise that boy without you. Take a step.”

He eased his foot forward again.

Elizabeth rubbed her own frozen hands down his arms, attempting to warm him. The sound of wagon wheels and horses broke through the deadly wind, whipping past her ears. Don waved his arms, calling lost words to them.

Needling breaths entered Elizabeth’s lungs, a wan smile crossing her lips. “They’re here.”

They fell to their knees; she supported her husband even then.

Jumping from their seats, Don and David Becker lifted Ezra into the buckboard, where blankets lay atop straw. Wrapping him tightly in a quilt, Don eased Ezra’s hand from the wound and packed it with clean cloths. “A miracle you’re alive.”

Elizabeth, helped into the wagon by David, curled into a blanket next to her husband as their friends layered three more on top of them.

“You should be proud of Peter, Elizabeth. He got your two girls to us before collapsing himself. The three of them are wrapped up warm. Mary’s tending to their feet now.” David said, then looked at his son. “Don, we need to leave tomorrow.”

“But…” With Elizabeth’s strength depleted, her teary eyes shifted between the father and son. “Ezra.”

Her husband still shivered next to her.

“He can ride in the wagon if you and your children will pull a cart.”

She nodded.

“Mary’s got clothes for you—and your boy and girls too. I’ve some leather strips for your feet. Wish we had more to give.”

“People have given less.” She said softly.

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A Lighter Christmas

After a devastating accident Martha isn’t sure her anger can subside, but with a little help, she’s willing to make a change.

arkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?

A Lighter Christmas

Darkness surrounded Martha for a long time before she heard the voices. Gentle hands touched her, and a bright light flashed in each of her eyes. She couldn’t close them. What held them open?

“What h-happened?” The words, so strong in her mind, barely slurred past her lips. Everything hurt, yet only confusion coursed through her.

“You’ve been in an accident. Can you tell me your name?”

Name? What was her name? “M-Martha.”

Questions continued, but Martha’s brain remained sluggish. A thought pounded in the back of her consciousness, refusing to manifest. Where had she been that night?

“John. Where’s my husband? John?”

No one answered. Had the words crossed her lips? Someone sat next to her, holding her hand. John? She couldn’t see him, but he was there. John? Understanding of his death overwhelmed her. Chaos enveloped her as paramedics loaded her into the ambulance. John stayed with her. Annoying utterances called out commands and occasional questions at her. He prompted her answers.

At the hospital, doctors discovered internal bleeding, severe bruising, and a mangled limb. Blurriness clouded her vision then all went black. Passed out or anesthetized, she wasn’t sure, but the pain subsided for a short period. Then she woke up.

Christmas included celebrations with strangers and an extended visit from her adult son, which brought her joy. But with John’s hand no longer holding hers, emptiness and anger oozed from her heart, polluting her body’s ability to heal.

Struck by a drunk driver, missing a leg, and the death of her husband—no one condemned her rage. How could they? But as the physical healing sluggishly began, the hatred still festered.

She’d known the boy for months, a student at the school where she taught. Fourth row, fifth seat, until she’d moved him up. Sixteen and drinking—he received nothing more than a few hours in jail. He’d faced manslaughter charges, but they were soon dismissed. That left her with weeks in the hospital and a stump that suffered endless agony while he hung out with friends.

The following year, Martha shuffled to her car from her church’s Christmas program. The prosthesis rubbed at her skin, despite the sock, but she walked. Stopping to rest, her gaze lifted to the lights and displays that celebrated the Savior’s birth.

In front of her, the worn nativity, placed on the lawn each year, called her forward. Vandalized several times, some plastic figures had spots of splotchy paint and dents. Joseph suffered a crack on his side. She stared at the figure in the manager, a small doll with a mature look.

Though she considered leaving, something kept her there. And her numb fingers clutched the insides of her pockets as warmth swelled within her chest. The shabby doll, one eye a lighter shade than the other, represented the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who walked the earth teaching his gospel of forgiveness. His greatest miracle and example apparent when he suffered for the sins of all men. In return, he asked only that man believe in him and keep his commandments. The scriptures said he sweat great drops of blood. As much pain as Martha had experienced, imagining the misery of bleeding from every pore still eluded her. A softness entered her mind, speaking to her. Focusing, she swept the words forward: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Forgive who? The salty tears of knowledge soon welled in her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered.

You must.

A hand rested on her shoulder, but Martha stood alone. He’d been gone for so long. A warming peace surrounded her—strength overpowering fear and anger.

“Why are you here?” She asked John.

To help you.

“You’re not really here.”

Lighten your burden. Forgive.

“Is it that easy?”

Christ’s burden is light; let him carry yours.

“How?”

The touch at her shoulder faded, but the warmth remained. On the way home, Christmas lights strung on the eaves of homes pricked at her understanding. Over the last year, she’d spent countless months in physical torment. Emotional agony crashed down on her every time memories of that night gained her attention. But remembrances of John had become almost more sweet than painful, a blessing she’d begged to receive from the Lord. The pain from the accident might never go completely away, but if Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, and blessed her to remember John without crying, he would remove her anger. Wouldn’t he?

As her front door opened, Martha’s eyes found the porcelain nativity sitting on her coffee table. White lights from the Christmas tree reflected off each piece. The babe, sent to earth by his Father, died for her. Had he not done the same for the boy who sat in the fourth row, fifth seat?

She knew his name: Jay. She hadn’t allowed it to touch her lips since the accident. Doing so reminded her of his smile and his ridiculous sense of humor.

She sank to the couch. “Father, thank you for sending thy Son, Jesus Christ, and helping me through losing my leg and J-John. I’ve been so angry. Wilt thou forgive my anger and take it from me that I might forgive Jay?”

Thoughts and prayers swirled inside Martha’s head for weeks. Scriptures read by the light of the Christmas tree and prayers uttered from wherever she was helped her learn to trust the lord, and the anger faded. Wanting to put her forgiveness to the test, she devised a plan.

Christmas morning, Martha rose and entered the kitchen. Ingredient after ingredient found its way onto the counter, and she mixed a special treat. Fudge brownies covered with a delicious mint frosting.

Singing along to Christmas music, she focused on the memories she had of Jay in class. She hadn’t moved him from the rear to the front because he talked too much. Another student needed help with his math, and Jay agreed to tutor him. A popular kid, she’d seen Jay say hi to students from various social groups.

She didn’t know why he chose to drink or why he’d climbed in the car and attempted to drive. And although it affected her significantly, she didn’t have to live with the pain. Christ provided a way for her to give it all away if she’d forgive.

The aroma from the warm pan of brownies in the seat next to her soon floated on the air. Hands shaking, she steered the car to the side of the road and parked in front of Jay’s house. Closing her eyes, she waited as a warmth surrounded her. Her hands trembled for a moment as she gathered the dessert and stepped to the door. No hatred clutched her. She rang the bell.

Jay’s mother answered the door and stared at Martha, eyes wide. “May I help you?”

“Hello. I’ve come to see Jay if he’s available.”

The woman’s jaw dropped, her gaze frozen.

“I want to wish him a Merry Christmas.”

“Of course… Jay, door.” She turned back to Martha, “Please come in.”

Jay walked toward the entryway and stopped when he saw Martha. His mother scooted his sisters and father to the other room.

The boy stayed where he was, rigid.

“I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas.” Martha stepped closer to him.

“Why?”

Her single leg twitched. “I’ve been thinking about you and how much I enjoyed having you in my class.”

His brows furrowed. “That’s it?”

“For today it is.”

“You’re not mad?”

“Mad about what?” She lifted an eyebrow.

His head bowed, and Martha saw a tear fall to the floor.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I haven’t had a drink since then and never will. That’s a promise I made to myself.”

Martha nodded, surprised by her sincere smile. “I know you won’t. You messed up pretty bad, but it’s time we both let it go.”

His tear-stained face raised, and he met her gaze. “How?”

“Well, if your parents allow it, I’d like to tell you.”

Read more Christmas and other short stories at KameoMonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird Has to Fly.

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A Christmas Prayer

With Bria gone, Christmas dulled my life, but then I discovered she still lit everything around me.

Loosely based on a true story. A Christmas Prayer remembers grief while celebrating life.

A Christmas Prayer is loosely based on a true story.

A Christmas Prayer

The blaring beep from my alarm sent waves of stress through my body, and I slammed my hand against the off button. My pillow soon dampened as sobbing wails found themselves lost in its fluff. No one should expect me to get out of bed, not today. Not this month.

“Why Christmas?” The words slipped past my lips though no one listened. Lights and baubles, reindeer songs, and happy wishes adorned the world outside. Everyone else forgot. Not me. I couldn’t. With only dry laments remaining, I crawled from my bed and sank to the floor.

Slurred words and stumbled steps filled my memory. Bria had left her bedroom expecting an exhilarating Christmas only to find herself rushed to the hospital instead. We lived a nightmare that day.

Pulling myself from the rug, I dressed without worry of what I wore and staggered to my car. With the steering wheel in my hands, I repeated the same mantra I had for several weeks: work will force my mind to other things. I never believed the lie.

At work, happy faces blurred as I walked past co-workers. I bowed my head and clutched my purse. Smiling hurt when my sincerity failed.

Bria always knew when I faked smiling. She would never have forgiven my sallow behavior. The year I lost my job, she forced me through the front door and down the street. Pointing at every light we passed, she’d mentioned something that made her happy. Then, after a block, she looked at me.

“Your turn Mom.”

I shook my head and backed away. “We should go home.”

“Not until I see you smile.”

My lips parted and I flashed my teeth at her. It probably looked like a grimacing growl. “There.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Look,” she pointed, “what do the lights on that house remind you of?”

“I don’t know… The electric bill I can’t afford.”

Her head flung back and she stared at the sky. “M-o-o-m.”

“Okay.” I stomped my cold feet. “It reminds me of…tucking you in at night.”

“That’s better.”

A few houses away, I pulled her into a hug, a genuine grin on my face. “Bria, I’ll forever be happy as long as I have you.”

“I still expect a big Christmas gift.”

A snort escaped me but was accompanied by a smile. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Good. And I suppose I can give up cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “But don’t burn the oatmeal, okay?”

The office relaxed through the holidays, and once the party started, I slipped out. I might not get away from all the celebration, but I wouldn’t ignore the presented escape either. Leaving my car in the lot, I walked down the street. My fingers reddened in the cold breeze, and I slipped my gloves from my jacket pocket.

The city always set up an ice rink in the winter. It was right around the corner. Ice skating was Bria's favorite winter activity. As she and her friends got older, they went without parents, but Bria still found time to drag me onto that ice. She twirled and skated. I shuffled and fell.

People said the pain would wane. They were wrong. I missed her more each day.

Recent snow lined the walks, and I listened to it crunch under my shoes as I passed the rink. The local churches had set up nativities under the picnic ramada for the week, and a vendor cart with warm drinks greeted people at the park’s entrance. I joined the queue.

My eyes fell on a young girl dressed in a worn coat dancing in the distance. Her long ponytails swirled behind her with every graceful pirouette she made. The woman with her heartily applauded. She could only be the girl’s mother. With a drink in my hand, I found a bench and sat, captivated. How many times had I watched Bria the same way? My eyes burned and I blinked rapidly, then followed the crowd of people toward the nativities.

A year of pent-up anger surged within me, and I clung to it with all my might. How could I celebrate without Bria? God could have stopped it. She would still be with me if He’d allowed it. But He hadn’t.

Blinking no longer satiated the burning in my eyes. I swept tears away with my gloved hand, then stilled as a quiet voice spoke in my mind. Listen.

I stepped down the aisle, gazing at the various nativities. Porcelain. Wood. Some were Precious Moments. One was Peanuts—Woodstock played the Christ child.

Listen.

I tried but heard nothing.

I took another step.

Listen.

The crowd buzzed quietly among separate groups. I waited.

“Why?” a young voice asked.

“We can’t afford it this year,” an older voice answered.

“But we always have a tree.”

I spun. The same mother and daughter I had seen before stood near the nativity behind me.

“I want one too.” The mom bent down, holding her daughter’s shoulders. “What if we take old boxes, color them green, and make a tree?”

Bria would have loved that.

The girl bounced on her feet. “Okay. Can I color ornaments on it too?”
“That’s a great idea!”

As they passed, the girl met my eyes and smiled. I smiled back—not a fake smile—a sincere one. A warmth surrounded my heart, and I reached for the mother’s arm. She turned.

“I heard your conversation.” My fingers dug through my purse. “Something told me to listen. I think God placed you in my life today.” Money slipped from my hand to hers, my chin trembling. “My daughter died on Christmas day last year from a brain aneurysm. She still lights up my life when I let the happiness in. Please buy a tree.” I bowed my head. “But will you do one thing for me?”

The mother’s eyes glistened. “I can’t take this.”

“You can. It means everything to me. Please.”

She nodded and squeezed her daughter’s hand.

“One thing, though. Buy an angel ornament, too, and hang it on the tree.” I tilted my head as my face crumpled. “Say a little prayer for my Bria.”

The mother reached her hand toward mine. “We will. Thank you.”

As I headed toward the office parking lot, I smiled sincerely for the second time. “God, please send me a family to help every Christmas. Bria would like that.”

Read more short Christmas stories on kameomonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.

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A Town of Angels

A Town of Angels

Chamomile and peppermint laced the air as it floated on the steam of Rebecca’s tea. The porcelain cup warmed her hands, and she brought the first sip to her lips. Tension from her mind and muscles relaxed. It always did. That’s why tea time meant so much. Childhood had brought moments of happiness, but she lived a lonely life in a too-big, drafty house as an adult. Another sip passed her lips, and she closed her eyes, savoring the combination of earth and spice. Maybe one day she’d find the money to move. She snorted. Old age had come long ago. And not all big houses come with rich people. The worn interior, only slightly better than the exterior, still held the rugs and furnishings of her childhood. The wooden floor, long ago scuffed, lost its shine, and when she walked carelessly, the old planks poked her with slivers.

Finishing her evening tea, she peeked through the living room curtains at the dimming street. Winter had come, but no snow. Good. Snow meant shoveling. The rusted wrought-iron fence stood between her and the rest of society—a jailer or a friend—she wasn’t sure which. The plants had long overgrown their planters. Brown from the cold, they twisted together in a kind of brambled thicket. For years, Rebecca kept the family garden until her knees no longer lowered her to the ground. She had loved the feel of the moist dirt between her fingers and the fragrance of newly planted flowers.

Sighing, she dropped the curtain and clutched the rickety banister, then started toward her room. Other than meals and tea, that’s where she spent her time. No phone. No entertainment. Just her, the bed, an old rocker, and an occasional book. Most of the time she didn’t bother with the book. Pulling the covers tight, she closed her eyes. Groceries would be delivered tomorrow.

The next morning, Rebecca waited for the delivery. The boy was never timely like his father had been. She glanced out the window. Dragging her weak legs to the front door, she swung it wide. “Where?”

Her feet shuffled onto the covered porch where several slats were missing, but that wasn’t new. They’d been gone for years. Gently grasping the stair railing, she eased her weight against it and lowered herself to the walkway. A branch whacked her back after she’d pushed it out of the way, but she ignored it.

Reaching the edge of the yard, she gasped. Her wrought-iron fence hadn’t fallen over. It had disappeared. “Where did it go?”

Rick’s car parked in front of Rebecca, and she waited for him to get out.

“Hi, Miss Rebecca, enjoying the brisk morning, are you?”

“My fence is missing.”

“Let me carry your groceries in for you.”

“Have you seen my fence?”

“Can’t say I have. Did you have someone remove it?”

“Of course not.”

Rick laughed. “Consider it a work of God. Would’ve fallen over with the next wind, I bet.”

Rebecca shuffled back inside and paid Rick. He was probably right.

Throughout the day, clouds rolled in and the sky darkened. After taking tea early, she added a blanket to her bed and climbed in. Any time she might have spent outside ended. She’d rather enjoyed her walk through the brisk air that morning, but no more.

When the sun rose, she peeked through her worn curtains. Snow covered her yard everywhere but the walkways. Not a single overgrown branch hung over the concrete either. The cold air glanced across her cheeks as she opened the door. Hobbling onto the porch, she discovered the missing slats replaced. God might blow away fences and snow, and she supposed Jesus was raised by a carpenter. But did he garden too? The brambled thicket now lived as a clean, cared for yard, covered by fresh, crisp snow.

Hurrying back inside, she opened all her cupboards. Flour, sugar, butter. Did she have any chocolate chips? The stool dipped in the middle, and she clung to the pantry shelving. Three bags of chocolate chips scooted toward the edge. She brushed the dust from the bags and opened them, the aroma of chocolate rising into the air.

Ingredients combined in a bowl as she made three batches of chocolate chip cookies. Rebecca mixed while wondering if her neighbors had tired of her unkempt home. If they had, she’d pay them somehow. Without money, that meant food, and her chocolate chip cookies beat everyone else’s. She knew, whoever the elves were, they worked for themselves and not for her. She had no friends—hadn’t since childhood. That wouldn’t stop her from saying thank you.

That night, Rebecca could hardly sleep. Dressed in her robe and slippers, she snuck downstairs and perched on the sofa where she could see out the living room window. She felt like a child searching for Santa on Christmas Eve, but Christmas was still two days away. Sliding her finger between the curtains, she peered outside. Nothing had changed, but it was still early. She covered herself with the knotted afghan spread across the back of the sofa and continued checking outside late into the night. Each time, her excitement diminished just a little, until her eyes grew too heavy.

The next morning, she woke up and shot to her feet as quickly as an old woman could. Peering through the curtain, she saw nothing. Had her elves finished their work? Her feet hurried across the floor and to the door. No animal would feast on her chocolate chip cookies. She inched outside to the table where she’d set the treats. But the plates were empty. Not a single crumb remained. The elves must have enjoyed their payment. Grabbing the plates, she rushed back toward the house, tears burning her eyes. She had so hoped, but without reason. Silly old woman.

She stopped and stared at the front door, then dropped her eyes to the porch. Slowly, she scanned the front of the house. There was no bare or rotting wood. No chipped paint covered the eaves or the siding. Instead, fresh paint coated every inch of her home. A bright white. Her door, once brown, now swayed in the breeze, a bright red. And from it hung a beautiful Christmas wreath.

Her shoulders lifted. The elves had come. This time they seemed more like angels. Only angels could paint a house overnight.

Rebecca needed to thank her angels somehow. But how? She donned her best everyday dress and grabbed her purse. Frigid air met her as she teetered down her cleared walkway and onto the sidewalk. The store wasn’t that far. With the outside of her home fresh and clean, the angels had no work left to do. Cookies wouldn’t be enough. She hoped Rick would help her. Once in the store, she gazed at the Christmas decor. Choosing two strands of lights and a set of inexpensive ornaments, she stepped to the counter.

“Miss Rebecca, how nice to see you,” Rick said.

The corners of her mouth lifted. “Rick, I need your help.”

Rick didn’t make a peep as she explained her needs.

“I’d love to help, but my shift doesn’t end for a bit.”

Rebecca nodded and began to say goodbye when Rick took her by the arm and walked her to another part of the store.

“Miss Rebecca, it’s cold out there, and it might snow again. You come rest in our coffee shop with a nice cup of tea, and I’ll take you home when my shift ends. Would you like to read a book?”

She wanted to get home and work on her gift to her angels, but without Rick, there wasn’t much she could do. And the chair did look nice, so did the Christmas story he handed her. She shuffled to the chair and sat down in time for a young woman to hand her a wonderful cup of chamomile peppermint tea.

It seemed like minutes later that Rick patted her arm. “Miss Rebecca, my shift ended. Shall we go?”

He helped her from the chair and led her to his car. “So you want me to hang lights?”

She nodded.

“I can help with that.”

At the house, Rick curled and twisted the lights into the pattern Rebecca requested. She carefully stepped through the snow and hung ornaments from the lower branches of her recently trimmed trees. Though not as visible at night, they would brighten her yard during the day. When finished, she and Rick stepped back to the sidewalk. Tiny dots of light spelled out two simple words: thank you. And though Rebecca never expected the ornaments to shine at night, they reflected the Christmas lights of the neighborhood enough that the snow below them sparkled.

Rick walked her to the door, and she heard a scuttling sound from inside. “I may need you a minute longer, young man. Something is in my house.”

A new gleam in his eye sparkled, but he nodded, ready. “I’m here, Miss Rebecca.”

Before she could grasp the doorknob, the door swung open.

“Who…” Rebecca’s words dropped from her lips.

Hands guided her into her home where shouts of Merry Christmas floated to her ears. The wood floors shined again, and the furnishings were clean, some new. The banister and stairs looked new too. A large Christmas tree graced the center of her living room, and people stood everywhere. “Is this the whole town?”

Laughter rang through the room.

“Just about,” Rick said.

“Your thank you isn’t big enough, but it’s hanging outside.” Rebecca’s heart warmed, overwhelmed by the love shown to her.

She slid onto a chair, and a gentleman stepped forward, twisting a hat in front of him. As she acknowledged him, he dropped his gaze. “I have your fence at my shop, Miss Rebecca. I’m sorry I didn’t finish it in time. All the rust is gone, and I can bring it tomorrow if you’d like.”

She searched the faces of the people in her home, each one smiling bigger than the next, then rested her eyes on him again. “I think I’m done with fences. I recently discovered a whole town of angels, and I’d like to be a part of it.”

Read more short stories and book reviews at KameoMonson.com

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Flash Fiction: Sinkhole Christmas

Flash Fiction: Sinkhole Christmas

I seen my share of disasters. Monsoons, flash floods… Once a twister slammed into the center of the desert and took out a pile of rocks and a few prickly pear. Those things took place in the summer when no one was outside anyway. But I never seen nothing in the winter.

Winter’s a time to sing, dance, and eat. The whole town comes out of their houses and gathers together. Some years we wear shorts and eat snow cones; others we dress in coats ‘n scarves and pretend our sixty degrees is closer to twenty like our northern friends get. Either way, we’re out there, shaking hands, exchanging smiles, and spreading cheer all while standing in the soft green of our ryegrass lawns.

A week or two ago, Bobby and I drank our warm hot chocolate while wearing light sweaters. We stood next to Old Man Ezra while the community choir sang O Come All Ye Faithful and Rudolph for the town’s tree-lighting ceremony. People ‘round us ate iced cookies and children ran in circles around the ten-foot tall tree set in the park’s middle. Bobby was hummin’ a few bars of Jingle Bells along with the choir when the ground below our feet moaned and spat dirt. Parents lunged for children, and the rest of us lunged for them. As one, the citizens of our little town took a giant step away from that Christmas tree. Good thing too, otherwise we’d a disappeared, just like that tree, into a hole with no bottom. Why, after that hole opened up, Bobby yanked up his pants and stepped cautious-like to that abyss and threw a rock in, but no thump ever came.

The whole town figured the earth swallowed Christmas and walked away, faces hung low, shoulders drooped lower. No one looked at one another. We just went home and stayed there. Answers from one person to another varied as to where that hole come from. Some said it was God threatenin’ us because of our outrageous iniquities. Some thought it was some kinda bad joke. The sheriff said it was an underground cave formed by an old river that collapsed. Lived here my entire life, never seen nor heard of a river ‘round here. But that sounded better than a threaten’ god or a bad joke. Still, I didn’t want to join in the crazy arguments everyone was having.

Two days after the tree lighting people started stepping back outside. Parents held their kids real tight, ran their errands, and went straight home again. Same thing with the old folks. No one shook hands. No one smiled. No one said Merry Christmas. Now, Bobby and me live right in the center a town and I watched hour after hour, day after day, as the merriest time of the year turned into the sourest.

“Bobby,” I said, “you had courage to throw a rock in that hole. How d’we fix our town.”

He opened his mouth and said, “They need to remember,” then stuck his pipe back in his mouth and said nothin’ more.

“Remember what?” I swung around, wishing he’d tell me, but every time I asked, all he said was they need to remember.

I started thinking about what the people in town might a forgotten. Mrs. Morris forgot to feed her cat sometimes, but that didn’t seem right. Besides, that’s one person. This was a whole town. Occasionally, Joe came from the next town over, and we’d all forget to wave goodbye, just used to seeing him, I guess. But Joe hadn’t been around for a while, so we didn’t forget to say goodbye.

Spent the better part of a day thinking about what the town coulda forgot. Thought about it while I scrubbed the floor. Thought about it as I rinsed the dishes. I even thought about it as Bobby watched a game. Nothing came to mind.

“Bobby, did I forget too?”

He scanned the house and his morose visage clouded even worse. “’Spect so.”

I investigated every part of the room. What told him that I needed to remember too was the only thing crossing my mind. Touching the print of a giant cactus, I thought it might be the dusting. I’d definitely forgotten that. I glanced out the window when I’d finished. Nothin’ changed. Clearing out the corner of the room where I sometimes piled blankets and laundry didn’t help either.

My sour mood deepened. First, the earth swallowed the community Christmas tree whole, then everyone stopped being nice to one another. Now my house was clean, but Bobby said I was forgetting something too. I turned to him, pointed my finger and said, “Bobby, you tell me right now what I need to remember. Right now!”

He shook his head, a tear dropping from his eye. Now I seen lots of things, and just a few days ago I seen a Christmas tree swallowed whole, but nothing surprised me nearly so much as seeing Bobby cry. I bent down next to him and touched his face. “I’m sorry, Bobby. I miss our happy town, the Christmas songs, friends waving in the streets, smiles. I even miss eating snow cones while we watch kids run through fake snow. Please tell me how to fix it.”

“What makes you happy?”

I thought about the question Bobby asked, and I decided Christmas made me happy. Since the tree disappeared none of the town had decorated. Had we forgotten Christmas?

Pulling out our boxes of decorations, I hung the lights and set up a tree. Stockings and mistletoe hung from mantle and ceiling. I even made Santa songs play from my doorbell. Still, nothing changed. I looked at the totes, stacked empty in the corner, and wondered if my last decoration, stored in the shed, would make any difference at all. Grumbling over the work, I carried the large pieces of cut wood from the garage to the front grass. Sweat gathered on my forehead, and I turned away from the low-hanging sun to rest for a mite. Joe and Sarah perched on my picket fence, gawking at my yard. Ignoring them, I latched a couple more pieces together, then Sue Ellen called my name. I raised my head to see more gathered. Some smiled, others waved. I wondered. As I put the last piece in place, I heard the voices of the community choir begin singing Silent Night. Bobby came out, put his arm around me, and led me to the street where we joined the town.

My eyes burned with tears of joy. I remembered. The town remembered. The sun set as we swayed and sang and smiled. Tiny lights and the stars in the sky, one brighter than them all, lit that last decoration. In a season lit by God, we finally remembered His Son.

Learn more about me and download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird Has to Fly by visiting my website: kameomonson.com
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Flash Fiction: A Crib for Jesus

Martin’s arm hung around Kate’s shoulders. “You need something to take your mind off it. Pull the decorations out and start decorating.”

“I don’t feel like decorating this year.” Kate brushed a tear from her eye and laid her head against the couch.

He rose from the floor where he’d been kneeling. “I’m gettibg the boxes down anyway; you might change your mind.”

“Whatever.”

Nothing could cure the emptiness she felt. Her body betrayed her, taking away the one thing she’d yearned for for so long. How could anyone recover from such a loss? Sinking lower into the cushions, she curled into a ball, sobs racked her body once again. Grabbing the blanket near her feet, she brought it up to her neck, clinging to it, praying for comfort to come. It didn’t. It couldn’t.

Four stacked tubs soon towered near the couch, and faint noises polluted the air from the corner. With eyes shut, Kate knew Martin worked to set up the tree. She always set up the tree, fluffing each branch. She clenched her eyes tighter and rubbed her belly.

“Which skirt thingy do you put around the bottom of the tree?”

“I don’t care.” She imagined Martin’s soft smile as he stood still, waiting. “The gold.”

“You sure you don’t want to help?”

“Positive.”

“You’ll like it better your way.”

She curled tighter. “I don’t care.”

The crinkling of plastic and newspaper announced the unwrapping of various hand-painted Santa Claus figurines, elves, reindeer, angels, and stars. Kate cracked an eye and watched as Martin placed them around the room. “You forgot the lights.”

“Lights? Where are they?”

“In the other tub. They go on the shelves and table.”

“I better get those.”

Slowly easing her way to a sitting position, Kate started to give her husband instructions for each decoration. Every time she did, his smile grew. When the room sparkled from top to bottom, he looked at her.

“There’re still two more bins.”

“Those go in the other room.”

Martin picked up the tubs and carried them into the front room.

“The other tree is in the closet upstairs,” Kate said.

As Martin walked up the stairs, Kate carefully opened one of the bins. She spread a cloth across the piano and set a few stuffed snowmen on the floor. Trembling, she sank to her knees, clutching an ornament in her hand that read First Christmas—a tiny baby in the arms of a mother worshipping a babe in a manger.

Setting down the smaller tree, Martin picked Kate up and carried her to the couch. “What happened?”

She handed him the ornament and peered at him as a single tear escaped his eye.

Years of wanting children, more of fertility treatments, and when they’d finally given up, news of her pregnancy came, lighting their lives. That night they’d gone to the store and purchased the crib she’d dreamed of since their wedding day. The next week they purchased a swing. The tradition continued through the five-month pregnancy, each week buying one item for their unborn baby. Tiny flutters joyfully interrupted one shopping trip. Kate and Martin celebrated with Orange Julius, hoping for a longer show. And after the big ultrasound, the couple purchased a beautiful, white suit for the son Kate carried.

Martin took her hand. “Help me. We can decorate together.”

“I can’t.”

“You can. What’s left?”

Kate scanned the room and her eyes fell on the remaining tub. Her chin trembled. “Nativities.”

“Your favorite.”

“Not this year.”

Martin sank to his knees next to the couch. “Why not?”

“God abandoned us, our baby.”

His brows furrowed, and except for the Christmas music, the room fell silent. Away in a Manger.

Martin disappeared, and Kate listened as noise echoed from the room she’d chosen for the baby. As the minutes passed her curiosity peaked. Easing to her feet, she stepped to the hall where Martin pushed the collapsed crib through the door and toward the living room.

“No. What are you doing?”

Martin never answered. Instead, he moved the table where Kate usually placed several nativities and pushed the crib into its place. Within a few minutes, the crib was whole again. He immediately picked up the table and retreated down the hall.

“Martin, stop.”

Ignoring Kate, he returned to the room carrying the gorgeous suit they’d purchased for their son and the soft blue blanket Kate found the week before. Soon the lamb-shaped lamp came out. Martin spread the blanket across the mattress and set the lamp in the corner. He held the suit out to Kate.

“What are you doing?” Tears ran down her face. “These are our baby’s.”

“We can’t give our baby a place to sleep, dress him, or keep him warm. We can’t light his room, but we can do that for another baby, one that never had those things.”

He shook the suit gently, urging Kate to take it in her hands. Shuffling forward, she allowed her fingers to skim across the soft silk. So many of the suits in the stores used rough synthesized fabrics. She refused them, searching longer and paying more for a soft natural fiber.

“He abandoned us, Martin.”

“Did He?”

“We’ll never hold our child, we won’t see him smile or laugh. He’ll never run or play or get in trouble. None of it, because he died. He died before he could live. A single breath. God took our baby and left me with nothing.”

Martin held Kate’s crumpled body in his arms, letting the tears sink into his shirt. Silence passed between them. Kate tried to avoid the truth, but it pricked at her heart, begging to be heard.

She turned away and reached into the last tub, removing the pieces of her favorite nativity set. One by one, she placed each piece. The shepherds. The wise men. The sheep and cattle. The last three pieces she clung to. Her pain lifted, if only for a moment, as she considered that family’s story. A loving man accepted the Son of God as his own. With no bed, a mother gave birth in a barn and laid her son in a manger. Years later, that same mother watched her son give his life for all of mankind.

The pain of losing her child might always be there, but she wasn’t alone.

With stronger hands than she’d had in weeks, she placed the three remaining pieces of the nativity and hung her son’s suit on the back of the crib—a simple symbol of her love for the boy who lay in the manger and made it possible for her to see her son again. Anguish receding, she reached for her husband’s hand giving it a squeeze she hoped said I can do this.

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