Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Christmas Lesson

The night was icy and still. Sleet whooshed through the trees morphing from bright sparkling diamonds to dirty water before pelting the ground. Bernadette swiped the wetness from her bangs with the back of one hand. Some liquid escaped and rolled down her nose to drop off the tip in luxurious defiance to her efforts.

"Why in the hell didn't you fill the car with gas before we left! I told you to!" She screamed at her younger brother, polluting the wet, dark night with her high-pitched shrill.

"I forgot. Okay? I forgot."

"Now we're stuck in the middle of nowhere on Christmas eve. Aunt Polly will wonder where we are."

Blank, faceless sleet pounded down harder as the two continued their trek along curvy Hilty Road. No street lights, they walked in total darkness except for flashlights they carried. An oncoming car would have been a welcome sight, but an unlikely one on Christmas eve.

Bernie's mouth watered for Aunt Polly's Christmas turkey. She always raised the bird herself on the farm. The whole family always gathered for Christmas Eve at Aunt Polly's.


"What?" Her icy reply telegraphed a lingering annoyance with her brother.

"This road is so desolate. To tell you the truth, I'm scared."

Bernie stopped to turn around and glare at him. "BE A MAN!" she bellowed.

"I'm just saying...anything can happen out here."

She ignored him. The sleet-rain continued to pelt her face. The icy mess did little to appease her frustration.

After an hour's walk the two realized they were lost, no small wonder on the unlit country road. Finally, Bernie dropped to her knees, exhausted. Her clothes were soaked. Her hair was saturated, her hopefulness washed away. "Well, genius, what do we do now? I have no idea where we made a wrong turn, but this sure isn't the road to Aunt Polly." She noticed the sleet had turned to snow. The road ahead was dressed in white. The sight gave her a chill.

David dropped to his knees as well. "Well, since we're both in the right position, maybe we should start praying!" He folded his hands and bowed his head.

Bernie snorted. "I'm sure that'll work. When you're done, St. David, we'd better start walking some more."

"I'm done."

They started again, finally reaching a fork in the road. Black cascading trees lined the path, their thick branches blocking out all moonlight. Only one small star pulsated in the sky. But it had little light to offer. The two stopped, unsure which road to take. They paused, lost in time and gently mesmerized by the silence and the dancing star. The rest of the world stepped back out of the way for an amazing moment. Then a voice broke into the dream.

"Who the hell are you?"

Bernie yelped and turned on her heel flashing a light on the man who had spoken. He gawked back. The guy sported hair long enough to reach his shoulders, and he dressed all in black. The dark clothes were tinged with streaks of gray, a sure sign of weeks of wearing. A stiff, salt and pepper beard surrounded his grimy face. He glared at her with eyes that burnt and drilled into her.

"Holy Moses! Where did you come from?" she exhaled it out in a hoarse whisper.

"I think it doesn't matter so much where I came from as where you're going."


"You look lost. Where are you trying to go? Timbuktu?" His words came drenched in sarcasm.

Bernie paused before replying. His attitude threw her. "Boxcar Road. Our car ran out of gas."

"Boxcar? It's a sheet of ice. You can't go there."

"And so where should we go?" She shot it out in defiance. The fellow irritated her, and Bernie's spunk returned. Although she felt uncomfortable in the stranger's company, she was ready to defend herself. She was ready to fight, but part of her felt weary from this journey and wished they could run away. David shifted behind her as though he longed to bolt as well.

"Follow me." The words dripped with disgust. He took off like a cyclone. For such an ugly creature, his step was light and quick, demanding the two trot along at his speed, a frantic dance where they had to run while flashing the light to see his path. It wasn't long until they reached the crest of a hill.

"Boxcar Road is at the bottom. As you can see, it's quite an icy drop. You'd be better off to look for a place to wait out the storm." A hand emerged from his coat, and a blackened finger pointed toward a tiny church. "Go there," he said.

Bernie was surprised to see the church. She'd been coming to Aunt Polly's since she was a kid. Although she knew the big hill, she'd never noticed the tiny structure nestled in a grove. She turned to question the man. He was gone.

"Where'd he go?" David asked.

"I dunno," she replied, tiffed that someone has pulled a fast one on her. She turned her attention back to the church "Do you want to go there?" she asked.

"I guess. Where else are we gonna go?"

David made a good point. And it was a church after all.

The little building was ablaze with activity. People filled the social hall where coffee and sandwiches were being served, while in the chapel many gathered to pray. You can imagine Bernie's surprise to spy Aunt Polly and the others sitting at a table munching cookies. When Polly saw them, she motioned the two over.

"I was so worried about you kids. No one could get to the house on that icy road. Everyone ended up here at the top of the hill instead, but you were nowhere to be seen."

"A guy showed us how to get here. We ran out of gas and started walking and got lost. It was touch and go until he came along."

"Must have been an angel," Polly mused.

"Ha! I don't think so! You should have seen him! A devil, more likely!" Bernie frowned.

"He brought you here, didn't he?"

"Well, yeah."

"That makes him an angel. Angels come in all styles and temperaments, I imagine," Polly said. "Just like nieces," she added, glaring at Bernie.

The remark was a slap, turning Bernie's face red. Aunt Polly was her biggest critic for the boorish way she pushed and shoved through life. Angels come in all styles and temperaments, indeed. What a wonderful Christmas lesson! Bernie learned it well.

Copyright 2009 JO Janoski

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Word Catalyst - My Column This Month

A snippet from my column this month in Word Catalyst Magazine. Bragging rights, I'm a 2010 nominee for the Pushcart Prize Award.

When Worlds Collide

Grandmother Hutchinson shifted in her seat. She was too old for train trips, by her estimation. All that rocking and noise! It would have been nice to go by car, but no one offered. Oh well, a wedding is a frantic event with all there is to attend to, flowers, dresses, cakes, reception halls. Small wonder they issued her an invite and then forgot to offer a means of conveyance. Well, a granddaughter only gets married once. Or was that true these days? No matter. She wanted to be there for the nuptials, thus this godforsaken train ride.

With a belch and a hiss, the train pulled into Friendsville Station, the last stop before Oak Run. Two new passengers eased down the aisle. One was a portly fellow in a plaid shirt that bulged along a row of uneasy buttons straining mere thread to the limits. He lifted his suitcase to the overhead rack and risked blowing the shirt wide open in the process. Next, with a grunt, he settled in the seat in front of Grandmother. The other newcomer was a man of obvious refinement, dressed in a clean and pressed black suit, freshly shined shoes, and a bow tie. He lifted his valise and pushed it on the rack with thin, delicate fingers. The slightness of his hands matched his long face and big eyes, the overall impact being cartoonish in its simplicity. But a contrary and elusive dignity lingered in his steady gaze.

Grandmother Hutchinson paid the two newcomers little mind. Glancing at her watch, she wished this mechanical torture chamber on wheels would hurry up. Her granddaughter needed her. A frantic call this morning from Leslie had set Grandmother to fretting. Something about her fiancé's best man in the hospital. An accident. With heavy hearts, they intended to go on with the wedding. The fellow had insisted even though he couldn't be there. Leslie needed her Granny, and the sooner she got there, the better. Read more...