Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a holiday story off the top of my head

[written on Christmas Eve -- 2009]

Once upon a time, there lived a boy and girl -- brother and sister. They lived in a cottage with their parents, in a village in a far-away land. Winter came, deep snow. It was Holly-Day's Eve. Tomorrow, would be a day of gifts to celebrate something old that no one understood...a legend...something to do with a laughing spirit.

All that anyone remembered was that long ago, a famine had set on the land. When winter came, there was an insufficient store of food set by. Deeper into winter the days back then went. The people grew nervous, began rationing their food. On this night all those years ago, the food ran out. Grown men wept and wailed. The womenfolk tried to calm them down (women are always braver), so the children wouldn't be frightened. The womenfolk knew things were dire, so they called a gathering in the village lodge to talk things over. To see if they should brave the snow and ice and try to find another village that might offer them food to bring back. While the womenfolk considered this and that option, all the men shuffled their feet and looked helplessly at one another.

Night deepened. All the children were left alone in their own cottages. Sometime after midnight, the men and women returned to their respective homes. They were astonished! The table and even the floor were covered with baskets of bread and fresh vegetables! Branches of berry-covered holly were strewn amid the edible treasure. The children were all asleep, so no child could report the next morning on how the food had arrived. But many of them reported hearing a strange laughter in their dreams.

Ever since, on that Eve of Holly, a similar visitation has occurred. Each anniversary night, the village adults congregate in the old lodge, drinking ale and waiting in suspense. All the children are tucked in their beds at home and told to not make a peep. As the years wore on, the food was complemented with little gifts, wooden animals and dolls...warm scarves and pipes.

Well...tonight is the night! Brother and sister were snuggled in their one big bed, while their parents were off to the village lodge. As minutes turned into an hour and then some more, brother and sister grew very sleepy. They nodded off finally to dreamland.

Suddenly! They shot up in bed. The strange laughter in their dreams had taken on an even stranger quality and tone. It had turned into words: "Come see me!"

They got out of bed and cautiously went to the window. And they saw it!

Coming down the road was a square wooden cart with two large wooden wheels. But this was no ordinary cart. Growing into it and from inside it was a tall holly tree! At least twenty feet tall and covered in brilliant red berries. Snow dusted all the limbs. A large root extended from either side to the ground and was propelling the cart like great arms! In the center of the trunk was a bole, and from this opening seemed to issue a strange laughter. A laughing, moving holly tree cart! Were the boy and girl still dreaming? How else could they hear the laughter and know it came from that peculiar hole in the trunk?

The tree-cart stopped right in front of their cottage. They heard their front door open. They tip-toed to their bedroom door and opened it just enough. What to their wondering eyes should appear? Living holly limbs came slithering and scooting into the front room. Each branch was laden with baskets and toys. In a flash, it was done! And as the limbs retreated through the front door, a scattering of berry branches were left as decoration!

The brother and sister looked at one another in astonishment. What would they tell their father and mother? Before they could decide, they heard a rustle at their window. They ran to it and looked out again. The big holly tree cart was only a few feet away! And they both saw the dark bole of the trunk move like a mouth. And they both heard it say: "Don't tell!"

The living holly tree wagon rolled off down they road, and curious laughter drifted from it on the quiet, dark winter air.

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