“So, let me get this straight. You hate visiting the hospital but now you want to go right after school?” Joe’s mother said as they sat eating dinner. “Why the sudden change?”
“I just want to go see him. I can’t wait until he comes home, I need to talk to him privately.”
Joe caught the look between his parents. Something wasn’t right and they weren’t telling him everything.
“Joe,” his father said, “there’s a good chance your grandfather may come home in a few days. He will be under hospice care. Do you know what that is?”
Joe shook his head.
“How about we go see grandpa tomorrow after school and we can all talk about it together.”
“Great, I can’t wait to tell him what happened—.” As the words came out, he knew he’d said too much.
“What do you mean happened?” Joe’s mother studied him. “Is there something we need to know?”
Joe glanced between his parents and knew what to say. “Well, Grandpa gave me some secret instructions to follow. Chrissy and I brought the small box to the abandoned barn. When I read the words, the box turned into a disassembled sleigh that we have to put together before Christmas.
“Meanwhile, we used the deer feed to gather all eight reindeer into the barn so the elves could take care of them and get them ready for Christmas Eve. Oh yeah, the barn looks abandoned on the outside, but inside it’s a magical place full of elves.
“When we left there the other day, after the engine test fire went crazy, an army of pine trees attacked us. Chrissy was able to save me from one of them. I need to see Grandpa so he can tell us how to defeat them and get back to the barn.”
Joe waited a moment to let it sink in. “Other than that, not much.”
Joe’s father sipped his water and his mother just stared at him.
“Where in the world does that imagination of yours come up with this stuff?” she said after a moment of silence. “You should write a book, Joe.”
“I will, Ma. After this adventure is over, I will.” Joe brought his dish to the sink then ran upstairs. He had lots of questions for his grandfather. Even if his parents thought he’d made it all up, the piney army was still out there and the voice, whatever was behind that, was another problem.
Standing at the edge of his grandfather’s bed, he waited for his mother to leave.
“Are you sure about this, Dad?” his mother said.
“Go, Peggy. Let me explain things to Joe and it will be fine.” He waved his hand towards the door. “Now go get those nurses some coffee and pastry. They deserve it for putting up with me.”
“I am sure about that,” Joe’s Mom said, and headed out the door.
As the door closed, Joe’s grandfather motioned for him to come closer. “Sit on the edge of the bed, Joe. We have a few things to take care of.”
There was always one thing about his grandfather that Joe loved most. He always talked to Joe as if he were just like him. He told him the truth—good, bad, or indifferent—no matter what.
This truth hurt the most, but he knew in his heart his grandfather wanted him to be ready and he was glad he thought him old enough to handle it.
“There are a few things I want you to remember, Joe. First, never be afraid to do the right thing no matter how others might try to talk you out of it. Second, the pine trees can only stop you if you’re afraid. Trees can’t think. They are controlled by Doubt. Doubt is a specter. Do you know what that is?”
Joe shook his head.
“A specter is a ghost. While it lives as a being, it can enter any creature. Doubt is the one thing that can cause you to fail. Never let doubt tell you what you cannot do.”
His grandfather pointed to the drawer next to the bed. “Open it up and hand me the small back case in there.”
Joe pulled the drawer open and pulled out the case, handing it to his Grandfather.
Opening the case, Joe’s Grandfather pulled out a medal on a gold chain. A Good Conduct medal he’d gotten when he was in the Marines.
“Take this, Joe. Keep it with you to remind you about the things I said. Everything you need to know, and do, is in your heart.”
Joe took the medal, turning it over in his hand, then placed it around his neck. “You’ll be coming home soon, won’t you grandpa? Then we can talk more.”
His grandfather smiled. “Like I explained, Joe. I’ll be coming home, but I won’t be with you long. This is the end of my time here, but it’s not the end of you and I being partners in this.
“Go back and build the sleigh. Don’t let a pine tree army or Doubt get in your way. There is a great adventure ahead. One that has lasted a thousand years. Soon, you’ll understand.”
The door opened and Joe’s mother returned. “Ready Joe?”
“Yup,” Joe said, jumping from the bed. He tucked the medal into his shirt.
One nurse came in. “Are you comfortable there, NM?”
“NM?” Joe’s mom said. “Who’s NM?”
“He is,” the nurse said, pointing at Joe’s grandfather. “Nicholas’s Magic. It’s what we all call him because he makes us smile all the time, no matter what. We’re gonna miss him when he leaves.” She went to his side, checking the various machines.
Joe’s mom kissed his grandfather. “By, Dad. We’ll be ready for you tomorrow.”
As they walked out, the light went on in Joe’s head. NM. NM like on the blanket. I wonder…
“Mom, can I use your phone for a minute?”
Joe called Chrissy. Whispering into the phone, he said. “I just talked to my grandfather. I know how to get past the piney army. Meet me at the same place after school.” Joe turned his head so his mother couldn’t hear what he said next.
“Remember the initials NM on the blanket the elf put over me? I think NM is my grandpa.”
Part VIII Doubt Comes to Visit
P.S. If you’re interested in the previous one from Christmas Past here’s a link. Please share this and this new story with all your family and friends.