He was over six feet tall and quite burly, at once bushy, scraggly, and unkempt. His clothes were dirty and cheap, in dire need of mending. He looked like a large, surly tramp.
I swallowed hard. This was not going at all well.
“Wot moikes yew think th’ Virgin Mary’s got any toime fer the loikes o’ th’ tew of yew on Chris’muss Eve?”
“Because she’s a manifestation uff God’s mother’s love for us all,” Stan replied. “She’d never turn us away, nor suffer your doing so on her behalf.”
The man didn’t smile, but the freeze-dried snarl on his face relaxed a bit.
He might have made a good bouncer once; perhaps that’s what he’d been before he’d hit harder times. “Too roight that’s the woy she thinks, and the woy she be. An ’at’s whoy they put the loikes of me in – t’ act as a bit of a filter, y’ moight say. ’Cause she’d wear herself out wid all th’ tossers loike yew wantin’ stuff from her at once this toime o’ year.”
“Who put you in as a ‘filter?’” I replied. “Who gave you the right to say who she helps and who she don’t?”
His eyes narrowed to slits as he shot me a look that seemed to go right through me.
“Never yew moind. Jus’ tink o’me as a koinde o’bodyguard – ’er bodyguard – an angelic bodyguard.”
I sniggered. “Angelic? You?”
His expression remained fixed.
“Wot? Jus’ ’cause I don’ look loike them poncey li’uhl winged foplings in th’ paintings? Y’got a thing or tew t’ learn ’bout angels, boy. Jus’ be groitfull I’m under orders not t’do anyting to ye.”
He placed a large crystal ball in my hand, filled with an endless number of tiny luminous particles.
“Instead, I’ve been instructed t’ give ye this. Take it ‘ome, open it up, use it well. Now get going.”
We didn’t need to be told twice.
Was this why the angels so often needed to announce their presence with the words “Fear not”?
We high-tailed it out of that tree, not slowing down until we neared Grammer’s house.
As I caught my breath, I looked up for a second and spotted something I hadn’t seen in months – a blanket of stars, a stellar canopy in the sky, twinkling down on us. I made a wish, as a star shot across the heavens.
* * *
Grammer was still in the midst of her movie, and it would’ve been rude and very unfair for us to interrupt that, even with something as miraculous as this luminescent ball. Instead, I asked her if it were OK to set up her crèche over the fireplace. She gave us unqualified, if rather distracted, permission (the former no doubt a by-product of the latter), and Stan and I unpacked the box where the pieces and portions of the crèche were stored and set it up.
It filled the entire mantelpiece, complete with the Holy Family, stable and manger, three kings, shepherds, donkey, camels, oxen, sheep, lambs and doves (including one suspended in mid-flight on a wire attached to the stable wall,) as well as the Star of Bethlehem and an angelic chorus suspended from mobile-like hangers affixed to the stable rooftop. Incongruously it also included a Christmas tree-like forest, ostensibly surrounding the stable, complete with fawns, squirrels and cardinals.
We’d just finished the setup as the Beeb was rolling the credits for Bells of St. Mary’s; we asked Grammer to shut off the lights and TV a moment. Many of the candles in the entry way had burned down considerably, but a surprising majority were strangely and remarkably intact, providing enough light for us to open the crystal and release its contents.
The ball came with a crystal hinge and large latch. The latter proved a bit problematic and the three of us took turns fumbling with it, trying in vain to get it to open. It finally took nearly two full hands’ worth of Grammer’s nimble fingers to get the latch to lift and open, and both Stan’s and my hands, working together, to get the top of the ball to lift up and swing open.
At first the contents arose cautiously, tentatively, like the foggy mist that slowly surfaces and spreads across country roads on crisp November evenings.
It was only after a minute or two, as if they needed to reassure themselves that they were truly free of their confinement at last, that they began to spread, first across the lounge, then into the entry. A light flared inside the fireplace and a comforting new light and warmth filled the room.
At first, we all gasped. The flue had been closed, since an open one necessary to let out the smoke had also let in so much water that flames were invariably reduced to embers, then to nothing at all. We quickly realized there was no actual fire in the fireplace and that whatever was generating the heat and warmth generated no smoke, nor anything else that would pollute the room or require anyone to open the flue.
But, in the moment we collectively gasped, we’d inhaled some of the luminous particles. What happened next – well, all I can say is, try to visualize the deepest calm you’ve ever felt, coupled with the greatest burst of energy, add the love for all that comes when one is deeply in love, and the elation and joy that can only come through a deep meditation. That’s how it felt.
The particles swept through the house, like a fast-moving version of the stellar canopy I’d seen in the sky that night, before a fair number returned to the Christmas tree and rested in its branches, giving it a shimmering luminescence, even transcending the glow from the candles. A fair few inundated the crèche, which began to glow, the figures coming alive, reenacting the original Christmas story before us all,
We must have stared for over an hour.
© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall is now available from Amazon Books. So is The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One). Click on the links and check them out further. They both make great stocking stuffers — to say nothing of a bit of seasonal — and post seasonal — reading for yourself.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be out early in 2018. The next book of the Reggie Stone series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018.