short stories





I wrote this story awhile back for a Christmas Short Story writing contest put on by a local paper here.  I decided to post it for a little Christmas cheer... :)  

Note:  It *is* a Christmas story, and there is religious content; I rated it PG for very occasional language...


Unawares - A Christmas Story

by Lisa Ann McLean


The woman ducked, then craned her neck, trying to see past the massive bulk of her husband who stood, arms akimbo, in the doorway glaring at the small boy on the step. He was such a beautiful child-long, golden hair like a sunrise, albeit tousled and sloppy, and clear blue eyes like a frosted winter sky. His face was gentle-almost angelic-but he did not smile. There was very little to smile about in his situation, she supposed. Neither, however, did he look angry or desperate. Perhaps a little sad, but for the most part, he stood void of expression. Even in his dirty rags, though, he almost commanded a sense of... awe... 

"We have little enough f'the nine of us," her husband was saying, his harsh voice grating over the silence of the trees beyond. He's likely to wake the bears, she thought indignantly, feeling a terrible pity for the little boy who had seemed to come out of nowhere to appear on their doorstep.

Reluctantly, however, she had to concede with her husband. He was right. It had been a harsh winter already, and this only Yuletide. They still had many more dark winter days ahead, and food was scarce. Summer had not been kind, and the earth had given little in return for their labour. Still, however, she sighed in frustration. He's only a little boy... 

"We'd all but die o' hunger if we gave t' ev'ry one o' the likes o' you come crawling t' the door an' beggin' fer food," he snarled at the little stranger. His wife cringed, but she dared not speak. It was true. They already had seven mouths to feed, and little Jonathan was only two, and lucky if he survived the winter. 

"Now, be off wi' ya!" the big man barked, pointing with his meaty hand for emphasis. "You're sure t' find lodging in the town, fer a bit o' work." 

She doubted it. He was such a slight boy, and so pale. What kind of work could he possibly do? The small boy looked at her husband for a moment, then turned silently away. 

His feet are bare. Oh, the poor thing... 

"Get back to yer dinner, woman!" her husband shouted at her. 

Her small fists clenched in frustration, but she moved obediently back to the table. 

Dear Lord, watch over that little one... 

* * *

The child continued to walk over the thin crust of snow on the forest floor. The cold reached up its icy fingers to claw his feet mercilessly, turning them blue. He said nothing, and his face showed no pain-just the melancholy that the farmer's wife had noticed. His hands and lips quivered uncontrollably. He walked on. 

Suddenly, he stopped. The tomblike stillness of the night forest brought sound to his ears quickly from afar. He could hear the rapid approach of hoofbeats. 

His eyes brightened. Maybe... maybe this one... 

* * *

The knight shivered beneath his armour as he goaded Onyx, his black steed, to greater speed. Damn, but it was a cold night. He thought of the warm Yule-fires at the court hall awaiting him, and the serving girls with their perfumed hair and white breasts. He sighed, and pressed Onyx faster. He could use some nice, warm mead from a nice, warm girl tonight. Perhaps Meribel... 

Onyx slowed abruptly, throwing him back to reality. What's this, he thought. He took his crop out and snapped at Onyx's rump. Onyx snorted, but slowed still more, stopping in front of a small, golden-haired boy. 

"Ho, you there," the knight boomed imperiously, "stand aside for a Knight of the Realm!" 

"Your forgiveness, my lord," the boy said quietly in a voice like silver bells, "but your horse did stop by me." 

The knight harrumphed. The grimy little vermin was right, which further ruffled his feathers. He was already miffed at Onyx. He had often boasted of his stallion's reputation for unmanageable viciousness. The horse had only one groom besides himself who could care for him with any degree of success. How would he face the jeers at court if anyone could see Onyx now, with his noble head lowered to a guttersnipe and nuzzling him like he was a prize mare? The small boy's tiny white hand could have fit into one of Onyx's nostrils! 

"Nonetheless, we have urgent business," he snapped irritably, and drove is sharp spurs into Onyx's ebony flank. The mammoth head turned back with flattened ears. White-rimmed eyes regarded him severely, but the animal did not move. Once more, he lowered his head to the boy. 

"Please, sir," the child said, directing his ice-blue eyes into the knight's hazel. They were disconcertingly clear. "If you would be so kind - could you spare your cloak? The castle is but a half-league west, and I am so cold..." 

"What?" the knight roared. "You dare ask for the cloak of a Knight of the Realm?" 

The child didn't even flinch at the bellowing threat, but Onyx began to fidget. The knight set his jaw into a hard line. He would show this impudent little waif. He lowered his voice to a menacing growl. 

"Now, get out of my way, or you'll have the pain of a thrashing to deal with, along with the cold!" 

Again, he cut Onyx with the whip. Again, Onyx flattened his ears, but planted his hoofs firmly, continuing to nuzzle the child. 

"What has gotten into you? Go!" 

He kicked Onyx hard with the spurs. Blood showed on the coal-black flank. 

The child stroked the long nose, and whispered: "Go." 

The horse blew a cloud of white steam from his red-rimmed nostrils. Reluctantly, he began to prance forward into a halting trot, with the Knight beating him at every step. 

* * *

The child watched them disappear, his bare feet melting into the snow around them. One small tear glistened in the corner of his eye. 

"Don't even try to ask him for anything. That was Sir Melbourne. The only one good enough for Sir Melbourne is Sir Melbourne." 

The child turned to find that the owner of the voice was another child as shabby as himself, with nut-brown hair and eyes, and a cheerful face. He took a few steps closer to him, leaning heavily on a walking stick, for one of his legs was badly deformed. 

"It's a wonder he didn't run you through," the brown-haired boy continued. "I'm Christopher. Do you have a name?" 

The golden-haired child said nothing, but he almost smiled. 

"Look at you!" A wave of pity rippled over Christopher's face. "You have no shoes! Mean old Sir Melbourne! Wouldn't give you his smelly old cloak! He probably has hundreds of them!" 

He took his own thin cloak and covered the shivering shoulders of the child with it. With his free hand, he then took the small white hand of the golden-haired child, and pulled him along. 

"Come with me. I'll help you. The Lord Christ was born this night," he beamed, "no one should be without charity on the eve of Christ-mas!" 

Truly, it was only a few more steps to the small town, and Christopher continued pulling the small, silent child into the torch-lit streets. 

"Usually, Father Matthew lets me help clean the church for some food, and I think I still have some left," he prattled on cheerily. "I love to go and pray to the Christ-child while I work. I always wish him a happy birth-day this time of year - oops!" 

He stumbled hard and almost fell, but the small, white hands of the golden-haired child lifted him with surprising strength. Christopher's eyebrows raised for a moment. 

"Th... Thank you," he stammered. 

The golden-haired child smiled - a beautiful, radiant smile - and his face transformed into something almost... heavenly. 

"Does the Christ truly make the blind see," the golden-haired child asked, becoming serious again, "and the lame walk?" 

For a moment, Christopher was silent. An angry line slowly creased his forehead. 

"Yes, He does!" he said, almost defiantly. Then the angry line softened into an expression of earnest entreaty. "You speak of my lameness, I know. Truly, I hardly notice it - most of the time. And is that not the work of the Lord?" 

A hint of wistfulness blew across Christopher's features for only a moment before the smile returned. 

"It is hard, sometimes. After all, I was abandoned as a baby. I suppose my mother could ill afford to have a lame child," he sighed, but brightened again, adding stoically, "but I live! So many like me have not. That, too, is God's mercy, through the hands and hearts of others. I try to do what I can for Him - after all, the Lord Christ said that if we take care of His Kingdom and His righteousness, He would take care of us. And He has! Really! I'm seven years old!" He smiled proudly, "if not for Him, I would have died before one!" 

By this time, Christopher's cheeks were flushed with exertion, and he stopped, breathless, by a small lean-to beside the mossy, stone walls of a churchyard. With a final pull, he unceremoniously yanked the golden-haired child behind the skins that covered the open side. 

"Here is where I live. It's pretty warm, but if I get really cold, Father Matthew lets me sleep in the church. With the Lord and His Angels," he added with a smile. 

He pushed the golden-haired child onto a mound of old, tattered blankets. He took one and covered the cold, small feet. 

"Now," he said, "see how the Lord takes care of you? Now, you have the warmth, and me! And I have you, so we can share!" 

He reached into an old basket in the corner, and pulled out a stale piece of bread. After inspecting it for mouse-holes, he broke it in half. 

"Here," he smiled, "and let us give thanks for what we have this Christ-mas Eve!" 

The golden-haired child took the bread. Smiled at Christopher... 

...and began to glow... 

* * *

Christopher threw himself down before the child, terrified. 

"Oh, my Lord!" he cried, trembling and afraid to look up. 

The lean-to was filled with silver light. He felt the warmth of a hand on his head, and another beneath his chin, raising it so that he looked once more into the frost-blue eyes of the angel. White, feathered wings folded around him, and he found himself weeping without even knowing why. The angel was still smiling. 

"Nay, but rise. I am only a servant, like yourself," he said softly. 

Quaking, knees shaking, Christopher rose. 

"Rejoice this day, Christopher, for the Lord has looked with favour upon you." 

The angel bent his head and gently kissed the forehead of the trembling boy. 

"Be blessed, child of God." 

He was gone. 

Christopher stood, blinking, in the dim tent for he didn't know how long. Then he leaped up and ran... 

* * *

Father Matthew sighed, looking out at the rising sun. Christmas Day... 

So many poor, oppressed souls here, he thought despairingly, unlike the revelry at the castle beyond. No one was full of the festive light of this Yule. No one could afford to be. There had been far too many raids on the village. Too much hardship. No one believed anymore, except... 

Except little Christopher. God, what would he do if something happened to that boy? He brought so much cheer with him wherever he went, the poor little wretch. He was so lame, he could barely walk ten steps without falling. But he was always so happy... 

Suddenly, he heard his voice from afar. 

"Father Matthew! Father Matthew! I have seen the Angel of the Lord! Father Matthew!" 

What was he blathering about? Father Matthew suddenly felt a chill of fear. Maybe the cold of last night was too much. Perhaps the boy was feverish, ill... Hell, he knew he should have told him to sleep in here last night. He always went on those blasted midnight walks... 

He threw the door of the church open, and saw... 

Christopher was running. 

Leaping, bounding like a gazelle. Running like a normal child. 

Father Matthew stared, mouth ajar. A miracle... 

He fell on his knees, heart too full even to pray. He couldn't even voice his thanks to the Almighty. So he did the only thing he could do: He closed his eyes... and believed. 

* * *