By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
The town of Crystal Woods, in the country of Asphodel, is widely known for its celebration of the Christmas season, often nicknamed the Christmas Town. Every house is lined with lights, every chimney is smoking, and every door has a wreath. But one particular tradition is what really earned the nickname, that of the giant pine tree in the middle of town that is decorated elaborately every year, the giant angel at the top of the tree that has weathered many a blizzard, and the presents placed under the tree by Santa Claus for the whole town. On Christmas morning, with the freshly fallen snow that always comes on time, it provides quite the magical sight. But one year, for one little girl, the magic became all too real.
“Annie, get down from there! The tree is heavy enough already with all of the ornaments, we don’t need you to topple it over with your weight and get you severely hurt!”
“But Marie, I didn’t get to see the new angel before they put her at the top!” the younger girl said, halfway up the tree in their living room.
“Anne Dorothy Henault, get down here, or I’m telling Mama!”
“Ugh, fine! I’m coming!” The sandy blonde climbed down the enormous tree and faced her older sister, a brunette of thirteen years peering through her glasses. Anne pushed up her own glasses, a hint of defiance in her eyes, though her sister won this round.
“What is so important about you seeing the new angel, anyway? She’s really not that different than the old one.” Marie asked.
“Every angel is different, you just have to take the time to see it.”
Marie rolled her eyes, “Really, Annie, stop acting like such a little kid.”
Annie scoffed, “Really, Marie, stop acting like you’re trying to be an adult.”
Marie growled at her.
“Besides, I’m only ten, I have every right to act like a little kid.” Annie stuck her tongue out at Marie before dashing down the hallway.
“Hey! Mama! Annie stuck her tongue out at me again!” shouted Marie as she dashed after her younger sister.
“Really girls? Right before your grandparents arrive?” Their mother walked into the room with a pile of presents that she began to gently set under the tree. Marie rushed back to help her. “Thank you, Marie.”
“Mama, may I see the new angel now?”
“Annie, your father has already picked up the ladder, I’m afraid it’s too late now. And don’t go climbing up the tree either, it will just topple over and land on top of you, hurting you severely.” Marie shot Annie an ‘I-told you-so’ look.
Her mother shook her head, “No, Annie, you’ll just have to meet her when we take down the tree. Any more complaining, and you’ll have to wait until next year, understand?”
Annie sighed, “Yes ma’am.”
“Good, now go clean up real quick your grandparents should be getting here soon.”
“Yes ma’am,” chorused the girls before taking off to tidy themselves up. When they returned, their brothers David and Tommy and older sister Elizabeth were already sitting on the sofa, waiting while their parents and the servants were scurrying around, getting a few minor details taken care of for the long-awaited visit. The two girls joined their siblings on the sofa, and in a matter of minutes, there was a unanimous swinging of legs from the three youngest.
“Annie, please stop that, you’re a lady!” Marie hissed.
“David, Tommy, please behave, we’re having guests!” berated Elizabeth.
“Annie, sit nicely!”
“Tommy, don’t pick at your nose!”
“David, feet on the floor!”
“But my feet can’t touch the floor!”
“Doesn’t matter, your feet can’t be on the sofa.”
“Well, I want them to be!”
“David, Tommy, behave!” their father’s voice floated into the living room right as a couple of knocks echoed throughout the house.
Tommy bounced off the sofa, “Grandma and Grandpa are here!” He raced to the front door, followed by his siblings, where their parents were opening the door for their grandparents.
“Hello Mom, Dad, so good to see you!” their mother hugged them.
“Oh, it’s always so pleasant to see you and James, Dorothy, and of course, the children!”
“Grandma, Grandpa!” the children chorused as they rushed in for hugs.
“Oh my goodness, I could just eat you all up! Mm-mm! Oh my, Tommy, you’re getting so big! And you too, David! Such strapping young men! And my, Elizabeth, how you’ve grown! Practically a young lady now! And you as well, Marie!”
“Thank you, Grandma!” the two chorused.
“And little Annie, still full of energy and spunk I see. Oh, I hope you never grow up.”
“Oh, I’m sure I will eventually, Grandma, but I aim to enjoy every minute of my childhood,” quipped Annie.
Her grandmother winked, “Smart girl.”
“Grandpa, Grandpa! You’ve got to come see the fort Daddy helped us build!” Tommy exclaimed as he bounced up and down with excitement.
“Oh I will, don’t worry, but your grandma and I need to get in and pick up our things first, don’t you think?” asked Grandpa with that old twinkle in his eyes.
David snickered, “Right, sorry, Grandpa. Hey Tommy, let’s go make sure the fort is in tip-top shape while they unpack.”
“Ooh, good idea!” Tommy followed his older brother as they dashed down the hall.
“No running in the house!” James shouted after them. The boys slowed down, but they could be heard picking up speed before they dashed out of the house. James sighed as he turned to his in-laws, “Shall we show you to your rooms now?”
“Please do, I want to be able to put up my feet for a bit,” muttered Grandpa.
James chuckled, “Alright, here, let me take these bags.”
“Oh, thank you,” the grandparents chorused. James took a couple of the bags while Dorothy took a third, and the girls each took a hand of their grandparents, Annie between them.
“Your house looks so lovely all decked out. It’s been way too long since we’ve been here,” commented Grandma as they walked up the stairs.
“It has been too long, Mom. How are Jessica, Oliver, and their children?”
“Oh, they’re doing just wonderful, their only problem is the same that you have, the children are growing up way too fast.”
“Grandma!” exclaimed the girls as the adults chuckled.
“Unfortunately, Mom, I have to agree, they are growing up way too fast,” chuckled Dorothy as she glanced at each of her daughters.
“Yes, unfortunately, but that is one of the crosses of being a parent, having to watch your children grow up. Well, here we are,” stated James as they entered a room.
“Oh, you haven’t changed it a bit.” Grandma said.
“Oh yes they did, Clara, look, they changed the bedspread!” Grandpa grinned and winked at the girls, who giggled.
Grandma swatted him, “Really, George.”
Dorothy chuckled. “Well, we’ll leave and let you get situated. Dinner’s at six, as usual.”
Grandma nodded. “We’ll be down soon, don’t worry.”
“I still have to see that fort the boys were telling me about,” commented Grandpa.
“Right, it’s outside, once you’re ready to look at it,” James told them.
“Alright, thank you, we won’t be long,” stated Grandpa. The five left them in the room and went downstairs to prepare for dinner.
George went and saw the fort, much to the boys’ delight, before the three had to come in for dinner. Talk over dinner was light and joyous, though the children were bombarding their grandparents with questions about their trip, which were answered enthusiastically. But, too soon, it was all over, and it was time for bed. The children were unceremoniously marched off to bed amid their moaning and groaning, but it wasn’t long after they had their bedtime story that they were sound asleep.
The clock chimes tolled midnight when Annie’s eyes popped open. She let her eyes become accustomed to the dark before putting on her glasses and silently rising out of her bed. The house was in total darkness as everyone else was sound asleep. Annie tiptoed through the hall and down the stairs as quietly as she could. Her feet found a couple of squeaky boards, but the squeaks were soft enough that it did not rouse the rest of the household. Annie paused each time there was a squeak as she listened to see if anyone woke up. When no one did, she continued on, until she reached the tree. Moonlight streamed through the windows, bathing the tree in a delicate light. Several of the ornaments sparkled as they caught the moonlight, but Annie’s eyes went to the top of the tree, where the angel stood. She gasped, at least, where it was supposed to stand. The top of the tree was bare!
“Oh no! Ma . . .” she paused. Should she wake up her family now? They’d ask her why she was up and wandering the house so late at night, she would certainly be in trouble for it. But she had to find their angel! She glanced around the room to see if it had fallen off when her eyes fell upon the window. Her mouth dropped open as she saw it to be three toys waving frantically at her, a stuffed snowman, a nutcracker, and a teddy bear. She rushed to the door and opened it, with the three tumbling in with a few snowflakes.
“You have to help us!”
“Someone, or something, is stealing all the angels!”
“There’s a little bit of the Christmas spirit in each angel, without them, Christmas will be lost!”
“What? How are you alive? What’s really going on? And why me?”
The three repeated what they had just said, that someone, or something, was stealing the angels, without which there would be no Christmas spirit. “As for why you, well, you’re the only human who’s up! And we need someone to climb the big tree to ask the Big Angel what needs to be done to save the smaller angels!” the snowman finished.
“Oh! Well, I’ll be happy to help, but, I need to get a few things on before we go, it’s getting awfully chilly out there.”
“Alright, but make it quick, we’re running out of time!” the nutcracker reminded her. Annie nodded and dashed up the stairs quietly, so as not to wake anyone while she gathered her shoes and robe. She went back downstairs and grabbed her coat before following the toys outside and to the center of town where the giant pine stood. Even with as big as the pine tree was, and as small as Annie was, she could still see the large angel perched on the topmost branches. Annie didn’t hesitate; she began climbing the tree upon reaching the trunk.
“Be careful Annie!” called the toys.
“I will!” she called back before continuing her ascent. She climbed the tree fairly easily, having done so many times before, but it was a little slower than usual, simply because she had no desire to destroy the hard work of the adults who had decorated it so elegantly. Yes, she wanted to climb the tree back home, but she would have done it so carefully so as not to upset the tree. But now, this tree had deep roots, and time was of the essence.
Letting out a huff, she finally reached the top, and there stood the angel, almost as tall as her sister Marie, and looked very much alive.
“Hello Annie, I have been waiting for you.”
Annie nodded as she got her breath back, “Well, I’ve been waiting to get up here. A little basket and pulley would work wonders, you know.”
The Angel laughed. “So it would, but your trip up the tree has proved that you are determined to help us.”
“Why can’t you do anything?”
“I am stationed here by the adults; they have done a good job, as always, making sure I stay here. Have you never wondered why I am always so able to survive blizzards?”
“Oh, they do that good of a job, huh?”
The Angel nodded, “They do, which means that whatever entity is stealing the other angels will have a hard time of taking me down. That should give you enough time to find the items I need; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
“Gold, frankincense, and myrrh? The presents from the three Wise Men to the Christ Child?”
The Angel nodded, “Yes, the key ingredients to preserving the Christmas spirit as they remind us of the reason why Christ was born.”
Annie nodded, “I see. So, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Where can I find those this late?”
“You will have to go into the forest on the outskirts of town and look for a hole beneath a pine tree; there you will find the real reason for the town’s Christmas spirit. A stash of gold, frankincense, and myrrh lies buried there, planted there by the genies many years ago.”
“So there’s a stash of gold, frankincense and myrrh in a hole underneath a pine tree in the forest?”
“Yes, now go, quickly, there is not much time. Return to me once you have those items.”
Annie nodded. “Right, I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”
“Good, may God guide you, and I will buy you as much time as I can.”
“No, thank you.” The Angel smiled at Annie as she descended the tree. The three toys were waiting for her at the bottom.
“What did the Angel say?” asked the teddy bear as soon as her feet touched the ground.
“I have to get some gold, frankincense, and myrrh from a hole under a pine tree in the forest,” Annie quickly explained as she began walking.
“Alright,” quipped the snowman as the three followed her.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re not letting you go in by yourself, what if that entity tries to stop you? We need to make sure you get the gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Angel,” stated the nutcracker.
Annie smiled, “Alright, thank you.” The three toys nodded and walked with her into the forest. As they had thought, the entity did try to stop them, by sending his minions after them. But three toys were able to defend them, allowing Annie to get the items from the hole, and they discovered that the entity was none other than the demon Krampus.
With this new information, and the gold, frankincense and myrrh, the four rushed to the Angel’s tree. To their dismay, the tree had turned into a battlefield; other toys were fighting Krampus’ demons while the Angel was fending off Krampus himself with what little power she had.
“Get the gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Angel, we’ll distract them!” shouted the nutcracker as he unsheathed his sword and charged. The snowman and the teddy bear climbed on Annie’s back and held on tight to her coat as she climbed. The snowman got off at about the halfway point to battle some demons, leaving the teddy bear to make sure she got to the top.
“What’s that sound?” asked the teddy bear. Annie paused to listen, words could be heard over the din of battle.
Annie gasped, “The Angel’s singing ‘We Three Kings’! We need to hurry!” Annie and the teddy bear made it to the top, where a little treasure chest stood open.
“Now what?” asked the bear.
“Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain; Gold I bring to crown Him again…” the angel sang.
“The gold!” exclaimed Annie. She and the teddy bear began taking the gold out of her pockets and tossing them into the chest at the top of the tree.
“Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh…”
Annie and the bear tossed in the frankincense. Annie let out a little shriek as a demon tried to push her off. The bear jumped on it and the demon flew away, trying to get it off.
“Get the myrrh in!” yelled the bear.
“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume; Breathes a life of gathering gloom…”
Annie quickly threw in the myrrh. The last piece had just entered the chest when a demon pushed her off the branch. Annie screamed, but the words of the song washed over her with a sense of calm as the Angel finished up with a chorus as loud as the sea. “Glorious now, behold Him arise; King and God and Sacrifice. Alleluia, alleluia; Earth to heaven replies. Ohhh star of wonder, star of night; Star with royal beauty bright, westward leading still proceeding; Guide us to thy perfect light.” As the end chorus reached its crescendo, a light grew with it and burst forth like a star exploding. Annie found herself falling gently, ever so gently into a dreamless sleep.
“Annie, Annie, wake up! It’s Christmas!” shouted Tommy.
“Come on you lazy old slowpokes, Mama and Papa are waiting for you to get downstairs before we leave for the Pine Tree!” exclaimed David. The three girls bounded out of their beds, Annie in particular bounded in surprise. Wasn’t she just falling from the Pine Tree? But she said not a word, thinking it might have been just a dream, and quickly got dressed. The family made their way to the center of town where the great Pine Tree stood, where everyone in town had gathered. The Mayor stood underneath the tree and began calling out names and handing out presents. Annie tried to get a good look at the Angel on top, but she couldn’t make out anything, though, for a moment, she thought the Angel seemed to sparkle even with the cloud cover.
When it came time for the Henaults to get their gifts, Annie felt the same excitement that she felt every year before opening the presents Santa Claus had left. But imagine her surprise when she opened up her present, and three familiar faces stared back up at her.
“What? Why would Santa give you a plush snowman, a nutcracker, and a teddy bear?” asked Marie.
Annie just smiled, “He knew what I wanted.”
“Whatever,” shrugged Marie, as she went off in search of her friends to show them what she got from Santa. Annie just glanced back at her toys with a smile on her face.
“So it was real.” she whispered. The bear winked.