Every holiday for a great many years I write a story to acknowledge the holiday and the end of the year. This is my 2010 holiday story and odds are the last story I will write for what has been a very eventful year. Hope you like it.
I can feel the snow beneath me melting from the heat of me. I can feel it melting and know that beneath the thin crust of snow is the soft stuff, the powder, and beneath the powder is the ice and beneath the ice is the deep, deep water and beneath that is the darkness. I close my eyes and feel the warmth flowing out of me and across the ice and smile as tiny pin pricks of snow touch my face, throat, and hands. I hear distant thunder and close my eyes to it, to the noise, to the heat, to the fire, to all of it but the darkness and the falling snow. I can feel myself slipping, falling layer by layer into the darkness and wonder if there are still bells to ring in the dawning day. And is today the birth of a god or the end of a year, I can’t seem to recall.
Are there bells anywhere anymore?
Bells and people to ring them.
More thunder out here on the Edgelands and shouting follows it and is it children laughing or men screaming that I hear? I can’t quite tell and don’t quite care. It’s snowing and I am sinking layer by layer and that’s where I keep my mind.
I remember being one Christmas day when I was still a boy and I remember hearing the news that for that day, for one day, for one day war stopped and the world was still and I smiled. I smiled and wondered what the world would be like if it were Christmas every day. If whatever magic that filled that day spread like a white stain across a black world and stilled all those hands. And I smiled to think of it again but the smile left me as three men ran screaming past me, none stopping as they ran on, the ice cracking around them as they went. A moment later another comes by and stops, kneeling down and mumbling words I cannot hear over the roar of the snow. I open my eyes a little see myself in the boy kneeling before me, the boy in the uniform, but in a moment he is an explosion of red and the my face is hot as the thunder and screaming gets closer, closer, closer still.
And I close my eyes and think of that Christmas, the last with my brother before he went off to war. The last before he was lost. And I see his smiling face and his favorite red sweater and the shaggy black hair that always hung in his face. I focus on that and the pin pricks of snow and I hold that I as fall, hold it as I melt into the darkness and the deep black places. The earth shakes beneath me and I can feel the heat in me leaving as it spreads out across the snow and leaves red behind. I can feel the darkness tugging at me and open my eyes and see a ragged, faceless man standing at the periphery of my vision, standing with his hand out to me and the wind whipping around him as the men and the machines trample by. None of them see me, none look down as the ice cracks beneath them and none feel the water bubble slowly up, none but me. And I smile.
The figure kneels down and I see the stars and I see forever in his face and reach for him. I reach knowing we go to the Edgelands together, joining the long parade and I look again and see only strangers passing by, eyes to the sky and each dressed in red. And the darkness reaches up and I am soaked in the ice water as the cracks spread out like the fingers of a great unseen hand and screams ring out and are gone in again just as quickly as that hand closes. I look away from the stranger beside me that holds my hand and I reach my free hand to the sky and open my mouth to catch the gray snowflakes on my tongue. The snowflakes taste warm and bitter but I swallow them because in the end everything is ash, everything is dust and somewhere the Christmas bells ring and the stranger squeezes my hand and the war is over, the war is over, the war is over and I am free.
We are free.
We are free.
God, we are free.