I wrote this story a few days ago, on the plane to Colorado. The idea actually came to me back in November, when I visited the display at Seattle’s Armory Center, but I just now got around to writing it. Hope you enjoy it and Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Joseph really didn’t want to be at the Christmas Village on the 23rd of December. Or any day, really. He’d loved the Christmas Village they set up outside the mall food court when he was kid. He was sixteen now. Much too old to be at all amused by it.
But his little sister, Marley, wanted to go. His parents had promised to take her, but now his dad was stuck over at grandma’s house, fixing the hot water heater. His mother was elbow deep in Christmas cookies, having gotten a late start after her car slid off the road into a snow drift on the way back from the grocery store. Joseph had walked the two miles to dig her out and in thanks, he was now forced to take Marley to the Christmas Village.
Marley was an okay kid most of the time. She was nine, which meant she was already showing glimpses of the pre-teen brat she would become. Like the Hulk, Marley could erupt into a full-on tantrum without warning.
As they entered the doors by the food court, a wall of sound immediately accosted his ears. His stomach turned at the smell of too much fried food in one place. A baby was howling, which was about what Joseph wanted to do, too.
Marley grabbed the sleeve of his coat and hauled him towards a dense knot of people, crowded near the edge of the tables. Joseph allowed himself to be propelled along behind her.
“Look at the train!” Marley cried, shoving herself between people to press her nose against the glass. Joseph nodded apologies to the people who shot them dirty looks.
The sheet of plexiglass only came up to his stomach. A large, plastic train chugged around the track on the outside of the display. Little kids could pay fifty cents to go into the “conductor’s booth” and take a turn driving it. A coating of glittery fluff lay over everything, giving the impression of new-fallen snow.
He hadn’t been to the display in several years. Joseph noticed some new structures in the village, along with some small, printed sheets of paper tacked up at intervals on the plexiglass.
“Let me use your phone,” Marley said.
Rolling her eyes dramatically, Marley held out her hand. “I want to take pictures.”
With a sigh, Joseph reached into his coat pocket and handed it over. Marley scuttled away, a triumphant smile on her face.
Joseph stared at the village. Someone had obviously put in a lot of work to make it. Which didn’t make it any less lame.
To his right, a couple and their two kids stepped away from the display. He slid over to take a look at what the small paper said. A brunette girl about his age was standing there, watching the train go around. Her red wool coat was still buttoned up to the top. Joseph gave her a brief smile.
Someone had devised a series of fake newspaper issues about the town and put them up around the display. The Daily Herald was printed on the top. He glanced at the date in the upper right-hand corner. December 19th, 1897. More than a hundred years ago. He squinted at the town again. There certainly wasn’t anything modern about it, but now that he really looked, it did look very turn-of-the-century.
“Do you see it?” the girl asked.
Startled, he glanced over at her. “See what?”
She tapped a finger on the glass. Her gold nail polish was badly chipped. He looked beyond her hand to the article she was pointing to.
On Sunday, Mrs. Hendricks reported her dog, Max, missing. Please be on the lookout from a large sheep dog.
“The dog is missing,” explained the girl.
Joseph stared at her, not sure what he should say. She certainly didn’t look crazy.
“You know the article’s fake, right?” he asked.
She shrugged. “It’s fun to look, though.”
Joseph grunted and turned back to the display. But the girl wasn’t content to leave him alone.
“Brigitte,” she said, extending her hand.
He shook, tentatively. Her skin was cool and dry. “Joseph.”
She nodded to the display. “My favorite part is the ice skaters.”
Joseph peered between two buildings until he located the thick slab of plastic that amounted to a frozen pond. A few figures twirled around the ice, to the whirring sound of machinery.
Brigitte waited, expectantly.
“To be honest, I’m not really that into it. I’m only here because I had to take my sister.” He pointed at Marley, standing on the far side of the display. She held Joseph’s phone out in front of her as she took a picture.
“She’s cute,” Brigitte said.
He nodded, though he never thought of Marley that way.
“It was nice of you to do this for her.”
He felt himself flush a little. “My mom made me.” He glanced at Brigitte.
She gave him a wink. Her eyes were very dark blue and lined with thick black lashes, the combination of the two standing out against her very pale skin.
“Why don’t I know you?” he asked. “You must go to Silver Lake.” There was only one high school in the area and Brigitte really didn’t look old enough to have graduated.
Brigitte looked back at the display. “Marina Heights,” she said.
“But that’s across town.”
“You came all the way over here for this?”
A smile curled her lips. “You can’t put a price on something you enjoy.”
“But why this?” He gestured at the village, all wood and plastic and tiny trees and mounds of fake snow. “What’s so special about it?”
She took his hand. “Help me look for the dog.”
As they slowly moved around the outside of the display, he tried to really look at. With Brigitte’s hand closed in his, the snow glittered a little more. He noticed the tiny embroidery stitches on the clothes of the figurines. An owl roosted in the hayloft of the barn. A cow nudged her calf in the snow. The soft glow of embers shone from the blacksmith’s shop.
And the Christmas Village seemed just a little more magical.