An Early Christmas
This tranquil scene was disturbed ever so slightly when a cherubic face peered into the orb; the girl turned her head this way and that, watching her soft features distort in the reflection. Fluffy silver hair swelled and shrank as her sweet smile spread cartoonishly wide, and the little nubs of her horns stretched until they would have dwarfed her mother’s. She giggled in glee and leaned almost close enough to touch the bauble with her nose before she was interrupted.
“Careful now, that’s older than you are,” her father called from his recliner. The man’s cropped brown hair and stern features lent him an authoritative air, though his pastel red pajamas and the steaming mug of hot chocolate in his hand did detract from it. “Come here. Your cocoa is going to get cold.”
The young Whitehorn pulled back from the tree with a sound of acknowledgment and trotted over to her father. With a slight hop, she clambered up into her father’s lap and cuddled up to him. He let out a little ‘oof’ at the sudden weight of his daughter but passed her a mug and gingerbread man without missing a beat. “You’re getting a little big for this, Seren,” he teased while patting her side, “Might have to cut back on the sweets if you want to keep sitting with daddy.” Seren didn’t dignify his words with a response, beyond puffing up her cheeks and snuggling deeper into him while he laughed.
Time passed in companionable silence, the pair simply enjoying their treats and each other’s company. The warm firelight and gentle Christmas tree lights gave the room a closer, comforting feel. When Seren’s mug was empty, she passed it to her father and asked, “Did you make the ornaments, or did Santa give them to you?”
“I made a few of them when I was a bit older than you,” he said as he poured her more cocoa from the kettle on the side table. “A fair few of them are your mother’s while the rest are store-bought or gifts-“
“From Santa?” she interrupted with a sparkle in her eye. He set the kettle back down to focus his attention on her. The girl smiled at him mischievously but quickly began to fidget under the weight of his gaze. Without a word, he quickly reached over to boop her nose and handed back her mug. His daughter let out a sputtering squeak at the touch and pouted into her cocoa as her father let out a chuckle.
“To answer your question,” he started while pouring himself another cup from the kettle, “No, none of the decorations came from Santa.” He brought the mug to his lips, paused in thought, and then set it back down.
Seren perked up with a gleam in her eye. A thousand different questions came at him in a deluge of excitement. Her words began to devolve into semi-understandable gibberish as she started bouncing in his lap. It seemed almost as if she was about to take off like a rocket, but a calming hand on her shoulder preempted any sudden liftoffs.
“Simmer down, simmer down, and I’ll tell you.” The little Whitehorn drew an imaginary zipper across her mouth while her bouncing settled into an excited vibrating. He emptied his mug, set it aside, and wrapped his arms around his daughter, “Ok, this is a bit of a long one and a bit convoluted, but if you want to know how Santa is involved, we have to start from the beginning.”
“This story began around Halloween, I don’t remember the exact date, but I do remember the day.”
The cool autumn wind buffeted me as I made a beeline for my father’s car; a sudden gust sent me stumbling, but I managed to right myself and keep moving. I clutched the little box in my hand a bit tighter while angling my body against the wind. After my first failed attempt and waiting overnight for the annealing kiln, dropping it wasn’t an option.
The sound of the rushing wind quieted to a whisper once I was safely inside the sedan. “Hey, dad,” a grin that couldn’t be stopped spread across my face, “I finally got it. Thought I messed up, but-“
“Seatbelt,” he grunted. I frowned but pulled on my seatbelt without comment. And he shifted into gear and started down the street without a word.
I tried to engage him again but to no avail. The only indication he heard me was the occasional grunt. An unsettling feeling rolled in my belly. I’d heard some folks felt dad was intimidating until you properly met him, but I didn’t truly understand until he didn’t have the goofy grin of his. For a brief moment, I thought I’d gotten into the wrong car and was driving away with a stranger.
“Dad?” I felt my voice crack before I could suppress it, “You okay?”
My old man blinked and glanced over to give me a reassuring smile before returning his attention to the road, “Sorry Lukas, dad’s a bit distracted. We can talk more when we get home.”
The rest of the ride back home passed in uneasy silence, slowly eating away at my nerves. Every so often, he’d crack a goofy joke or try for a pun, but I could feel his heart wasn’t in it. Watching the soft yellows and brilliant reds of the autumn scenery pass in the window, helped me take my mind off it until we were pulling into the garage.
We’d barely walked into the living room when a fluffy ball of white lint slid off the couch to waddle up to us. The harsher lines of dad’s face smoothed out and leaned down to pick up my sister. “It’s a lovely Luna come to greet us,” he sang softly and kissed her cheek.
“It’s a daddy!” Luna squealed, wrapping her little wings around his neck and snuggling into him.
“Hey Lint,” I said as I idly watched them.
“Luna, is that your father and Lukas?” a woman’s voice called from the kitchen. A second later, a snowy-white owl mage walked in with a coffee mug floating along beside her. My mother’s intense yellow eyes grew warm and gentle at the sight of us.
Something shifted in my chest oddly, and I hurried over to hug my mother. Warm, soft feathers surrounded me as she returned it, wrapping her wings around me. An unspoken conversation passed between my parents before Mom pulled away from our hug and Dad handed Luna off to me.
“Mom and I have to talk. Why don’t you show Luna what you made today?” he asked. Once I’d given him a nod, the pair of them disappeared into the other room. My curiosity getting the better of me, I set Luna down and crept closer to the door to listen.
Just when I thought I could make out a few words, a little feather duster struck me. “Show me whatcha made,” Lint whined as she shifted from foot to foot.
“Oh,” I’d nearly forgotten about it. A smile spread across my face as I hefted up the puffball and brought her back to the couch. With fluffy sister cuddled in my lap, I opened the little box with a flourish, “Behold!”
The little birb peered into the box before turning to look at me. “Its glass ball?” she asked with a till of her head.
“I made an Ornament,” I clarified. “Like the kind we put up for Christmas.”
Luna chirped excitedly as she looked at the bauble with new eyes, “Whatcha gonna put on it? Santa? It’s gotta be Santa.”
“Haven’t completely decided, yet. Do you remember that edible gold leaf they passed out at Charlie’s birthday party? Well, Mr. Wilson told me how to gild it onto glass…” As I explained my plans to Luna, I could feel the stress from earlier fading away. I let myself forget about trying to figure out what was wrong and enjoyed some time with my sister. I’d figure things out later.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Later that night, I found out dad had lost his job. He and mom tried to be positive about it, talking about how dad would have more time with us until he found a new one. Luna was genuinely happy, of course, mom was as calm and composed as ever, but I could sense dad stewing over it.
In the days coming up to Halloween, a sudden energy seemed to come over him, sending him overboard in preparation for the day. Every spooky decoration we had was put up at record speed, and he started adding little extra touches. Cotton cobwebs were in every window with pipe cleaner spiders, bloody feet and handprints crawled along our driveway to a broken tombstone in mom’s herb garden, he even took the time to knit some ghosts after finishing Luna’s costume.
“Wait a minute,” the deer daughter interjected, “Grandpa knits stuff? I thought he crowsays.”
“Crochets,” Lukas corrected, “He does both. Grandpa picked it up when he was in the military and kept at it.”
She let out a long ‘oh', before falling silent. “Daddy, what's the difference between Crowsays and-“
“You can ask grandpa when he and grandma arrive,” he said with a kiss to her brow. “Try to keep questions for the end.”
“Now where was I?”
When Halloween came, dad was left to hand out candy while mom took us trick or treating. But before we left, he entrusted me with his eagle standard.
“It wouldn’t do for a Legionary to march without one,” he said with a horribly concealed grin before turning to narrow his eyes at the puffball riding my shoulders. “Even if he's traveling with a vandal,” he said with a boop of Luna’s nose, setting her giggling.
After a quick kiss with mom, we were off. Luna stole the show of course; with her woolen vandal ‘helmet’, thick crochet beard, and cloak, none could withstand her cuteness. But I’d say mom and I represented Rome well with her toga and my legionary armor.
When we got home, dad swept mom off her feet so quickly he nearly knocked off her chaplet. He kissed her soundly and turned to hug me and Luna as well.
“Just got off the phone, I got the job!” he said with a grin.
We were all happy for dad, of course. But it came with changes we’d all sooner do without.
Every day, dad left well before the sun rose and wasn’t home till after it set. Every day, he’d wearily slump into his recliner and sneak in a few minutes of rest before dinner. Every day, he seemed to grow weaker and lethargic; he could barely stay awake to read Luna her bedtime story.
For my part, I had to cut back on my afterschool activities and take a bus straight home to help around the house. Dealing with more chores, looking after Luna, even taking more time to help mom out with her magic classes, I did it all. But as much as it irritated me, as much as it upset me, I’d have happily taken it all and much more, if dad didn’t have to go through the grinder.
As it got closer to Thanksgiving, I could see it starting to weigh on mom too; just little flickers under her composure, but they were there. I spent that time wracking my brain for something that could help, something that could at least take the edge off.
Whenever I was called to help mom with her classes, I’d take the time to scour through her library of magic books, looking for something that could potentially help. Most of the potentially useful enchantments I could find were either, far beyond what mom had taught me or required tools and reagents I didn’t know how to find.
By the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I’d given up on the more potent workings and started looking at some of the lesser enchantments in the hope I could kludge something together. The notebook I’d started was all but used up and I was reaching under my little desk for a second when there was a loud ‘woom’ of something landing on my desk. I jumped in my seat and sat up to see an elderly man with a pile of books in front of him.
“Sorry about that,” Klaus smiled bashfully. “My back isn’t what it was used to be. Word of advice, don’t get old.” He patted the pile in front of him with a calloused old hand, “Just returning these to your mother.”
The old retiree had been taking classes with mom for a while now, ever since we moved in across the street from him. A bit of an odd one out among all the teenagers and young adults, but he was eager to learn and everyone was fond of him. It certainly didn’t hurt that his wife was one of the finest bakers in the neighborhood and he tended to bring some to share.
“Of course, let me get my record book.” As I went through the ledger marking each book as returned, I caught Klaus looking over my filled-up notebook with interest. Before I had a chance to say anything, he’d flipped it around to face him and looked through a few pages.
“An enchanted blanket or pillow to promote wellness, reduce fatigue, and provide good sleep, huh?” he muttered to himself. His hands moved with a swiftness I wouldn’t expect from a man his age and he plucked a slim tome from the pile and handed it to me. The title read ‘Enchantments of the Hearth’ in gold embossed letters.
He tapped the top of the tome, “I think you’ll find it a lot easier to work with these enchantments than modifying something else.” The old man made to leave but paused to pull a bag of brownies out of his backpack. “The misses wanted me to drop these off too, have a good Thanksgiving,” he said with a wave and a smile. And then he was gone.
I took a quick skim of the text and I was amazed at what I found. The workings in there were exactly the sort I was looking for. And they were surprisingly easy to set up and get running. I quickly cleaned up my things and went to gather the materials I’d need.
One of dad’s crocheted pillowcases was easily procured; as was the spare needle and cloth I’d need. I felt a wince at taking the gold leaf I’d saved for so long, but it was for a good cause. A bribe of a brownie and a promise this was going to help dad, got me access to Luna’s shed feathers, but I still didn’t have everything I needed.
“It looks like there's enough,” Luna said, her chocolate-smeared face peering into the pillowcase. I pulled her back before she could stain it and took a handkerchief to her cheeks.
“Your feathers can absorb and store magic,” I said while patently cleaning her face. “They’re not just needed for stuffing, they help keep the enchantment running. And I don’t think yours have the oomph to do it.”
The little ball of lint tilted her head and asked, “Why not use Mom's then?”
“You know where she keeps them?” my sister bobbed her head and waved a wing to follow her.
A little rummaging around the linen closet later, I had my prize. Almost immediately after picking up the bag of feathers, I could feel a pair of eyes settle on me.
“What do you think you’re doing with that?” said a soft, yet firm voice. I slowly turned around and saw the yellow eyes boring into me.
There was no point in hiding it, I’d only make things worse for myself.
“I’m making something for dad,” I said deliberately. “Something that’ll make life a bit easier for him.”
The intensity of my mother’s gaze decreased and she tilted her head at me, “Show me.”
And show her I did, the book, the items I’d collected, and even all the notes I’d taken for the last month or so. Her expression didn’t shift that much as she looked through everything and I laid out all my plans.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked. A nervous energy was making my stomach flip.
“This isn’t one of mine,” her eyes skimmed the pages of the tome again before turning her gaze up to me. “Where did you get it?”
I blinked in surprise, “Klaus gave it to me. Said he borrowed it from our library.”
Mom studied me for a moment longer before she shut the book and handed it back. “You can do it. But next time you want to do something like this, you come to me. Alright?”
“Of course. Won’t happen again.” I tried to control my smile and failed. Mom cuffed me with one of her wings, “Alright, Alright. I’ll get to work.”
Once I’d gathered up everything, I put the finishing touches on the pillow. Mom observed me, occasionally offering bits of advice or asking why I was doing something. Luna on the other hand, simply hopped around the room fluttering her wings as I worked.
With one last stitch and a crackle of magical power, the enchantment was finished. I’d set it down and was doing one last check over when a little sister happened.
With a hop, hop, hop, Luna belly-flopped onto the pillow and snuggled into it. The moment her head touched the pillow, the ball of fluff started softly snoring. My laughter didn’t make her stir in the slightest.
Luna whined feebly as I pulled her off it, but the promise of her own quieted her down. Now we just had to wait for dad.
My old man was surprised, to say the least, but happily accepted his gift. “I’ll have to get you a proper staff and wizard’s hat,” he said with a yawn and settled down in his chair.
The moment his head hit the pillow, he was asleep. I let out a pent-up breath I didn’t notice I’d taken. Mom gave both Luna and me a deep hug and whispered, “Thank you.”
I didn’t say anything back and just rubbed her back. As I pulled away, a thought struck me like a thunderbolt.
“I’ll be right back,” I said before heading out the door and crossing the street. Klaus was loading up his red van and waved as I made my way over.
“Worked like a charm, didn’t it?” he called out with a smile. “It worked wonders for the misses, slept like a babe ever since she got her pillow.”
“Yeah, wanted to thank you,” I said as he lifted one last box into the back of van and shut it. “I also wanted to ask you where you got it. Mom said it wasn’t one of hers.”
“Really?” he asked, raising a bushy white brow. The old man paused in thought before shaking his head, “You mom can keep it. I don’t recall where I got it, and I’ve already gotten my use out of it. Just be sure to hand it off to someone else when you’ve done the same.”
He climbed into the van and started the engine, “Sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to get going.” The old man dug around in his pocket until he pulled out a slim paper bag and handed it to me. “I’ll see you come December, but I’d thought I’d give you an early Christmas gift.”
I took the package and looked from it back to him, “Thank you, for everything.”
“Go on and open it. Take care and I’ll see you soon,” he said, his eyes sparkling.
Just as I began to open the package, I hear the sound of hoofbeats, the jingle of bells, and a distant hearty laugh. When I looked up, Klaus’s van was gone as if it had never been there. I returned my attention to the package and pulled out a few slips of gold leaf.
Seren looked up at her father googled-eyed as he finished his story. She sipped at her cocoa and asked, “Hey dad?”
“How come Santa didn’t give grandpa a magic pillow before? And why did he give you gold? And why-” she started, but the sound of a clacking lock interrupted her.
“That’ll be your mother, up you go,” Lukas patted his daughter’s shoulder and helped her to her hooves. “Why don’t you show her the cookies you helped make?” he said handing her the plate of gingerbread men.
The deer daughter eagerly accepted it and headed off with a bounce in her trot. Her father took one look at the bright gold orb hanging from the tree with a smile, went to greet his wife.