Christmas Coal

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La Befana, the Christmas witch, and Old St. Nick sipped eggnog in front of an electric fire.

Befana said, “Here’s to generosity and goodwill.”

St. Nick said, “How long have you been giving gifts?”

“A lady never reveals her age, but I’m from that old time religion.”

Nick said, “Eons?”

“You’re right and also very wicked. I’d leave you coal in your boot, but it’s out of fashion.”

St. Nick said, “Don’t I wish. If they keep burning that stuff, the North Pole will melt away. Mermaids will replace elves in the workshop. For the sleigh, porpoises instead of reindeer.”

Grandpa, How Did You Meet Grandma?

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“My favorite story.” Surrounded by many grandchildren, King Charming smiled. “I needed a wife. ‘A commoner,’ my father said. ‘Why else invite every young lady to the ball?’ ”

“It seemed fair, reasonable, and what better way to find love at first sight than a full dance card? Your grandmother appeared and before I knew it, midnight had arrived.

She hurried out of my arms and lost her crystal slipper. Touching the glamoured glass turned it to an ashy wooden sabot.

“I took it to every house in the kingdom. But it only fit your uncommon grandmother, to my great delight.”

Peace on Stage

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The ballerinas found runs in their tights, tiny smelly turds in their slippers, and nibble marks on the blocks at the bottom of their satin toes. They took it as a declaration of war. But Clara insisted that evidence of merriment is a sign of the season; like peppermint sticks in a stocking, brandy in eggnog, and fireplace ashes.

She said, “Think of it, other dancers mirroring your steps at night.” They stood backstage, where telltale claw marks had opened holes in the velvet backdrop. Peeking after dark confirmed their hopes. They joined the mice to dance the night away.

Can’t Catch Me

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It was the season for gingerbread. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other delicious smells wafted through the village from the bakery at the edge of the forest. It was the year the old woman who had baked him and the old man he called father had passed.

The Gingerbread Boy kept the business going, paddling cookies in and out of the ovens. On the day he learned that the estate went to the man’s brother, who did not accept him as a nephew, the orphan decided to make headlines. He ran for his life, beating every Olympic record and securing his future.

The Golden Cake

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“Ma, we’ve got a ground-floor opportunity with these magic seeds.” But, it wasn’t the partnership that had convinced Jack to trade Milky-White. It was the sweet milk the green-skinned magician coaxed from her dry udders.

“Dear fool,” his mother said, and took to her bed.

Still, they prospered. Stalks grew into the clouds where the giant harvested and ground the wheat. His wife baked cakes using milk, flour and goose eggs. Jack sold the dainties, famous for a penny-weight of gold in each, to bakeries across the kingdom.

On Sundays, an incantation transported him to Milky-White, who never aged.

Sweet Revenge

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“Can I help you?” Hansel noted the dated, rather dusty costume the elderly woman wore. Like Halloween instead of almost Christmas. “Cookies for the grandchildren? Or cakes?”

Her voice cracked like old parchment paper. “The gingerbread houses interest me.” Holding up a fairy tale collection, she pointed a spindly finger at the cover. “That one is mine.”

“The book?”

“No, I mean I designed the house.”

“No kidding.” Her hair infused with cinnamon, Gretel appeared, setting a hot tray down. “You’re an illustrator?”

“A baker.”

“Oh, you’re here to apply for the job? It’s temporary.”

“That’s perfect,” the witch said.

Princess, Awake.

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The castle hall, full of guests, reverberated with infant squalls. “May she always be heard,” the Queen toasted. The Fates agreed. The King frowned.

Sixteen years later, the Fates returned to grant one wish. Atropos wanted to stay a maiden. The King objected, claimed the wish for himself, and conjured a curse. “Give my daughter a long, forgetful rest and a husband to awaken her.”

The princess shouted, “No.”

The spinner and the weaver consulted, deciding together to negate the King’s curse. Starting the sentence with do not changed everything. Atropos apprenticed with the Fates. And now, there are three.

An Apple Princess

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An old woman wrapped in a cloak of stars bent over a plucky young woman’s apple pyramid. The market sang with hawking, but the farm stand was quiet. “Your fortune is written in your face.”

“Come again.”

“Don’t be coy, dear.” The old woman accepted an apple bribe. On the way home, she conjured up a prince, instructing him to expect a royal visitor bearing fruit.

Long journey short. Magic rain- an excuse to stay over. Mattresses and eiderdowns, numbering forty like thieves in the night. Young woman uncomfortably atop a pea. Most important, a plucky face deserves a happily-ever-after.

Reflecting on Fiction

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A story is a cocoon from which to see the world. It might be exciting. It might be pointed. It might give a glimpse into another world or a look at another side of this one. It might use flowing language, plain language, or the kind of terse language that cuts to the quick, leaving the reader wounded by a lightning strike aha. Sometimes the picture says more than the words. Sometimes the words create a picture. There are so many possibilities. Here’s hoping that in 2020 we can find respect for the story no matter who tells it.

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Wishing all a happy and productive year in 2020. In case you didn’t see this New York Times Op Ed, I’ll pass it on as a follow up to something I wrote after the fire. Hoping for good news about the cathedral next year.

There Will Be No Christmas at Notre-Dame December 24, 2019 New York Times

The Star and the Magic Fish

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When the fish landed on shore, it talked so glibly that everyone thought it must be magic. Lines formed to ask for wishes. People shook their heads when they found themselves hoping for better roads and cleaner water, not personal fortunes. His silver scales reconfigured into a shooting star, he streaked away saying, “Work together and your dreams will come true.”

Two leaders arose. One saw the dangers of talk with no action, the other advocated action with no talk. Some chose the quickness of autocracy. Most bided their time. Talk takes longer, but the results are worth the wait.