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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A DOWN HOME CHRISTMAS

{Excerpt from BRING ME THE HEAD OF McCORD!}

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. 


The very sight of her made me smile sadly.  The night was somehow better.  Oh, the fear was still there.  We were going to die.  But seeing her love for me in her eerie eyes said the impossible was possible.

 Her ability to turn to mist had been ripped from her by DayStar - but not her love for me or my love for her. 

There were some things Darkness could not steal from you -- you had to throw them away yourself.  And I was holding onto her love with both bruised hands.

Alice sobbed softly, “Victor, our first Christmas together is our last.”

I had taken as many blows for her as I could.

Wasn’t that what Love did? Sacrifice for the one loved? My heart ached at the thought of all Alice meant to me, and I knew that love did more, was more.


Love was a magic garment, spun of a fabric so thin that it couldn't be seen,

yet so strong that even my mother, Death, could not tear it,

a cloak that could not be frayed by use, that brought warmth into what is often an unbearably cold world -

but at times love could also be as heavy as chain mail.

Bearing the mantle of love on those occasions, when it was a sacred weight, made it more precious.  While in better times, it caught the wind in its sleeves like wings and lifted you.  
 
With a low prayer for forgiveness, Alice had buried the statue of the Madonna and taken its shawl. I had done the same 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 thought bitterly.

'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.

“Pere Antoine!”

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.


The world is filled with broken people. The tragedy wasn't that people were broken. The world breaks most of us. The tragedy was that so few were mended.  But if we are loved, we become stronger at the broken places.

I looked to the horrors so near. Though Pere Antoine and Alice had spoken low, the creatures had stiffened.  To speak again would be to bring them to us.


None of us can ever save himself.  We are the means of one another’s salvation, and only by the hope that we give to others can we lift ourselves out of the darkness into the light.

 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. I edged in front of Alice to take the brunt of the charge.


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 a cooing baby. 


Outside the stable, high in the night sky, rippled haunting sounds that only angels could sing. My bones were transformed into trilling tuning forks.

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 - though sometimes it seems that way. 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


7 comments:

  1. Hi Roland .. very evocative post - very thought provoking piece of writing ... and I love the video - Peace of Earth Goodwill to all Men ... interesting - Let the Bells Ring Out ...

    Enjoyed that - cheers Hilary

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  2. Hi, Hilary:
    Sometimes I look around and see the pain we inflict upon others and upon ourselves, and the songs of Christmas seem a mockery. Then, I remember darkness has always been with us ... as has been the dawn. Have a great holiday season, Roland

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  3. "Love was a magic garment, spun of a fabric so thin that it couldn't be seen,

    yet so strong that even my mother, Death, could not tear it,. . ."

    An expressive bit of writing, Roland.

    Also, an inventive way of turning the story to the nativity scene. I have one in my Christmas Village (handpainted by us).

    (However, can't help thinking of the nativity scene in 'Diner'. There weren't any monsters there, only boys 'about' to grow up).

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  4. That was absolutely beautiful, Roland!

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  5. ...you've outdone yourself, my friend.

    A truly fantastic piece for the season ;)

    El

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  6. Thanks, Siv:
    I gave it my all for the Christmas season. :-)

    D.G.:
    I'm glad you liked my words; Victor has matured past his years due to his lonely, painful journey on the streets of harsh cities.

    A favorite personal fantasy of mine is that someway, somehow I would stumble upon the original Nativity scene. I thought I would give it to Victor and Alice.

    I wish you would take pictures of your hand-painted Nativity Scene and post it on your blog.

    Can you believe it? I have never seen Diner! :-)

    Alex:
    That means a lot coming from you.

    Elliot:
    Victor quips, "Hey, I took all the lumps and the thoughts were mine!"

    I'm really happy it meant something to you. Roland

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