So many different kinds of death hunted us this Christmas Eve all through the French Quarter,
I would’ve gotten a headache trying to count them all –
If I already hadn’t had one – to go along with the broken ribs, fingers, and nose.
I looked over at Alice, my ghoul friend,
whose ability to turn to mist had been ripped from her by DayStar.
She sobbed softly, “Victor, our first Christmas together is our last.”
I had taken as many blows for her as I could.
Wasn’t that was Love did? Sacrifice themselves for the one they loved?
Alice had buried the statue of the Madonna and took its shawl. As I had done with the statue of Joseph, taking its robe and hood.
We kneeled beside the wooden manger in the St. Louis Cathedral’s courtyard Nativity Scene.
Right in plain sight of the slowly sniffing and scouting horrors prowling for us.
I didn’t even know some of the monsters hunting us. I knew enough to know Alice and I were goners.
Winged Gahe. Starved Amal. Scaled Soyoko.
And the ghosts, given flesh, fangs, and claws by DayStar, of all the people Alice had eaten over the decades.
Who would have guessed a wisp of a girl like Alice had such an appetite?
I stiffened at the tolling in the distance. I heard the bells, ringing their familiar, mocking refrain :
PEACE ON EARTH. GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN.
Peace. Good Will.
In despair, I bowed my head.
‘There is no peace on earth!,' I said to myself.
'For hate is strong and mocks the song. The innocent die. The helpless cry out. Does anybody hear them?’
The night winds became soft words : ‘You kneel on holy ground and dare to ask that?’
I looked up. I recognized the stern ghost of a priest, a book of prayers or some such in his hands. Alice went as pale as I had ever seen her.
He spoke in razored whispers. “For my sins in the Inquisition I am bound to this plane. So Friar Antonio de Sedella is now who I am.”
I saw the self-hate in his eyes. I saw the same look in Alice's.
I looked to the horrors so near. To speak would be to bring them to us.
But I was going to die anyway. Why not die, letting Pere Antoine hear that I believed in him even when he no longer could?
I shook my head and whispered back. “No, before Katrina, you helped me. You’ve helped others before and since.”
The winged Gahe spun at my words, and I blurted out, “With my last words, I say you don’t deserve to be bound here. You are Pere Antoine! You are a ghost of God!”
So many horrors rushed us that I got sick to my stomach. This was going to hurt so bad. Pere Antoine’s head cocked as if he were hearing words spoken into his very mind, and his ghost eyes grew wet.
He gestured, speaking loud :
“Dark Spawns, this is Holy Ground!”
The Shadowlanders must’ve forgotten that in their lust for our deaths. It bought them their own.
Pere Antoine, the prayer book tumbling to the grass, slapped both hands on the shoulders of Alice and me.
A warm tingle cascaded through me. Reality smeared in spirals of fiery, golden stardust as if God were wiping clean a chalkboard.
Sand, not grass, was suddenly beneath our knees. Cutting through me was a cold wind that can only be birthed in the desert.
My mouth got drier than the winds. The manger scene was now real. A young man and a younger woman were looking sheer love at the cooing baby. Outside the stable, high in the night sky, rippled haunting sounds that only angels could sing.
Pere Antoine kneeled beside me.
“God is not dead, nor does He sleep. No matter how dark, He always sees you. You are a special part of His heart, and you are never alone. Due to their very natures, the wrong shall fail. And those who trust prevail.”
The baby locked eyes with mine, His eyes clear and echoing with strange wisdom and delight.
Pere Antoine whispered,
“He wanted you and Alice to have a 'down home' Christmas.”
The baby laughed long and light.
Alice reached over and squeezed my hand. “I was wrong, Victor. Our first Christmas together is THE first Christmas.”
And impossible though it was, the French Quarter bells rang all around us :
PEACE ON EARTH. GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
This is a version I think of as Victor Standish's version : not the tempo, tune, or words you expect. Give it a listen for me. Roland
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