Smoggit’s Apprentice: Part 5 (Christmas Eve Special)

It was late in the evening when Pamela Gausón woke with a slight chill. It was not like the night not too long ago, when she had woken up in a cold sweat. No, this night she woke slowly, as if the cold were an affectionate ice beast nudging her away.

Pamela opened her eyes and rose out of bed. Something was different than any other night. The very molecules in the air seemed to be visible, frozen into a transient, swirling mist.

She reached out, grabbed her robe, and slipped it on. Her feet curled as they hit the floor. It felt like ice. She darted, leaped, over to her worn-out shoes. Now, fully dressed, she ventured out into the living room.

The room was empty. The mist was less visible now, melted into oblivion by the innate and eternal warmth of the room.

She looked about.

“Master Smoggit?” she said.

No one replied. She kept on walking, proceeding with reticent eagerness to the front door. The doorknob was frigid to the touch. It almost burned her hand to pry it open, but it was a good burn, and well worth the effort. She turned the knob and opened the door.

Outside, in the middle of the clearing, sat Master Smoggit, bathed in the ethereal light of the world’s twin moons. He hummed a tune of unknown origin, while snow danced about him. The surrounding evergreens, now glazed with frost, swayed to the the tune.

She gazed out upon the scene and gasped in amazement.

“Evening, Pamela,” he said, softly, with his eyes closed.

She approached him, making her footsteps as light as possible so as not to intrude upon the beatific scene.

“This is amazing, Master Smoggit. Your finest work yet. You’ll have to teach me this spell.”

He opened his eyes and patted the dirt beside him. She came and sat down.

“There is no magic here, other than that inherent in nature.”

“The song, though…” she countered.

“Is an ancient one, but more of a conversational piece than anything. It reminds the snow of the day it was born, just as there are those who dance to remind the rain of the same thing. There are many who imagine the earth to be daft and soul-less, but any gardener knows that it is as responsive as you and me, with a character and life of its own. When we both to listen, we can hear it. When we bother to love it, we can delight in watching it grow.”

Pamela nodded.

“Could you teach me this song, so that I might join in the conversation?”

He smiled.

“I’d be happy to,” he said.

Smoggit thus proceeded to teach her strange words and tunes, foreign to her usual linguistic and musical sensibilities. At first, she judged them, but then she remembered that these words and notes, the perplexing phrasings of both, were of old, and everything she knew was new. So, she listened and she learned, and the snow swirled around her all the while, and the universe beamed with ecstatic light.

As she learned, as she sang, she could feel the world responding, which compelled her to try even harder to learn all she could. When finally she picked up even the smallest phrase (the song, being so ancient, was quite long, after all), and began to sing it with him, the Universe seemed to explode with joy. In that moment, they were one: with each other and in nature.

They sat together in the elements, singing in perfect harmony. After a while, she began hearing the world singing back: every single snowflake, an angelic soprano; every tree, a resounding bass. The symphony of the cosmos was not played on any instrument outside of themselves, but was strummed within; and the music, being the quixotic science that it is, was both personal and universal, a mixture of exacting truth and exotic wonder. Pamela could not get enough of it.

***

The next morning, she woke up, not remembering if she had ever went to bed. Smoggit was making breakfast, as usual. She was about to ask him if it had all been a dream; but as she approached, she could hear him humming the tune. Perhaps, it had been a dream; but if a dream, it had been one they had had in concert with one another: a communal dream, a heightened awareness, one which gave them a deeper appreciation of each other and the world around them. That was a most splendid dream, indeed.

Saving the Seasons

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Author’s Note: This short was awarded an Honorable Mention in Area of Effect Magazine’s 2015 Christmas Short Story Contest.

It was a cold wind that blew in that day, unseasonably cold.

The Children of the Fall shivered as the icy wind arrived. It was then that they saw him: the man in white. Christmas was coming, indeed.

“Ready your resolve,” said their captain, Jacques, the old Pumpkin-Head himself. “Steady as it goes!”

Above their heads, the corpulent man called Claus rode a rusty dirigible, from which he commanded his elfish legions. He had a globular, all-seeing eye and wore a coat stained red with the blood of all that had stood in his way. So far, he and his men had taken Thanksgiving and begun forming a second front in July. Soon, they would have the whole year- that is, unless the children could stop them.

But, these children were no warriors. Clutching their tiny flashlights and pails, they seemed little match for Claus and his hordes.

“I’m s-scared, Jacques,” said one child.

“Everything will be all right,” he replied, “you’ll see. Just stay the course till then.”

Even still, Jacques found his own knees knocking as Claus closed in.

“Wait for my signal,” said he.

An overwhelming sea of cinnamon swept up into the children’s nostrils as the elves, dressed in moldy green uniforms, closed in. Jacques studied their approach, then threw his hand defiantly forward at the proper time.

“NOW!”

From behind the front lines, a volley of incendiary apples launched into the sky. They burst into the enemy ranks and splashed up against the side of Claus’ dirigible. It took only a moment for the Northern forces to reconstitute themselves. Claus’ lead elf looked up to his commander-in-chief, who straightened out his crinkled robe and gestured for him to advance. The elf then turned back to his fellows and, with a shrill cry, ordered them forward. At that signal, they charged.

Jacques spurred his obsidian horse as the enemy made their move,.

“For the seasons!” he cried.

Then he charged forward, with the Children of the Fall, bedecked in monochromatic, threadbare costumes, at his side.

As the two forces clashed, Claus shouted at his legions, “I know when you are sleeping! Don’t fail me now.”

And so, the bloodshed began. Elves and children kicked and bit and screamed at each other. Jabs and blows, like fatal gifts, were exchanged. The battle carried on long into the night and then into morning. At last, the snow settled. Jacques and his children warriors emerged victorious.

Wounded and wearied, they glared up Claus. He, in turn, glared right back down at them.

“Not so jolly are we now, huh, old man?” said Jacques.

Claus spit out a mass of licorice chew as he jerked his ship about. With a burst of coal dust, it shot off towards the Northern Lands… and home.

“‘And to all a good night,’” said Jacques with a wave.

Those who had survived looked about, surveying all they had won and who they had lost.

“He’ll be back, won’t he?” said one child.

Jacques absently nodded and set a hand upon the child’s head while brushing his boney fingers through the tousled locks.

“Yes, but we’ll be ready.”

They looked to the horizon then, and watched the Sun rise into the sky, casting not a silvery shadow, but a warm, orange glow upon the land.