Joe and Chrissy walked out of class at Ashton School and headed to lunch Just before they got to the lunchroom, Ms. Geddes, the principal, came over to them.
“Joe, go get your coat. Your mother is on her way to pick you up.”
Joe looked at Chrissy then back at Ms. Geddes. “Why?”
“She’ll explain everything when she gets here, now hurry along. Chrissy, you go eat. You can talk to Joe later.”
“Call me and let me know what’s going on, okay Joe?” she said, and disappeared into the lunch room.
When the car pulled up, and Joe saw his mom and dad, he knew something was wrong. In his heart he knew what it was, but he pushed away the thoughts. But the look in his mother’s eyes said it all.
“What’s going on?” he said, as he climbed in the back seat and buckled his seat belt.
His parents glanced at each other. His father nodded as his mother turned in her seat to face him.
“Grandpa is very sick, Joe. He wanted to talk to you one last time…” The words caught in her throat.
His father took over. “Remember how he explained about hospice and spending his last few days at home? Well, the time has come. We need you to be brave about this. Can you do that?”
Through the tears in eyes he looked at his father. “I can do this, Dad. Grandpa explained it all.” He turned and stared out the window as the car headed home. He wondered if he believed his own words.
Following his parents into the room, he peeked from behind them. His grandfather lay on the bed, a slow breath moving his chest. One eye opened, and then the other. A smile crossed his face.
“No need to thank me for getting you out of school early.” He laughed, coughed, then smiled again. “Now come here a moment. I have one last secret for you.”
Joe came around from behind his parents, looked at his mother as she smiled through her own tears, then ran to the bed.
“Now there’ll be none of the sadness nonsense. This is all part of the deal. If you want to live, understand you will someday die. But look at my life.
“I had a wonderful woman that I married, Even though she left us before you came along. I had a special daughter who grew to be an amazing woman, met your father, and brought you into this world.
“And now I have you. I never could have had any of it if I wasn’t willing to see it to the end. I wouldn’t change a thing. Now come here.” He motioned with his hand for Joe to come closer as he sat up in bed.
Whispering so only Joe could here, he said. “Joe, I won’t be here to help you from now on. There’s still much to do before Christmas. Everyone is counting on you to see this through.
“Remember these things. Be brave, be honest, and be willing to listen. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything. If you doubt yourself, you will fail. Never let doubt make your decisions for you, let them come from your heart.”
The old man lay back on his pillow. Catching his breath, the smile still wide on his face, he closed his eyes for a moment.
Turning once more to look at Joe, his eyes twinkling with magic, the smile broad and bright, he seemed full of life. “And hold fast to your memories, for in those memories everyone you love will always be with you.”
The old’s man head slumped to the side. His mother and father moved closer. Joe held the old man’s hand.
“Gotcha’,” the old man said, eyes now wide open. “I believe I have time for one last hot chocolate.”
“Dad,” Joe’s mom said. “That’s not funny.” But Joe and his father were both laughing along with the old man.
“C’mon, you two,” Joe’s mom said. “Help me make the hot chocolate.”
As they left the room, Joe’s grandfather smiled. He knew it was always meant to be this way. He never doubted it for one moment. Happy with the thought of passing on the tradition, he faced the final path in life with a joyful heart.
“I’m so sorry about your grandpa, Joe. He was a really nice man.” Chrissy stood with Joe in his living room as people milled about. His parents sat on the couch as everyone told stories, remembering things about his grandpa.
Joe looked around, motioned for Chrissy to follow him into the other room, then took two large envelopes out of his pocket. He handed one to Chrissy.
“What’s this?” she asked, seeing her name emblazoned in red letters on the gold envelope.
“My grandfather left them in my room for me. Look on the back, it says you’re supposed to open yours tomorrow and I open mine on Christmas Eve.”
“What do you think is in them, Joe?”
He shrugged. “No idea, but they must be important. Let’s meet first thing in the morning and we’ll open yours. It’s Saturday, so we’ll have the whole day to do whatever it says.”
“Okay,” Chrissy said, “See you then.”
Outside the window, two figures appeared. Listening and watching. “He’s given them the final instructions. But they’re new at this calling. This is our best time to stop this once and for all.”
If you’ve enjoyed the story so far, please share it in the spirit of Christmas and the celebration of life with others. And come back tomorrow, and each day, until the exciting final chapter on Christmas Eve.
For most of us, it is the memories of Christmas past that drive the spirit of the season. The innocence of belief in the magic of a Jolly Old Man and his generosity tempered by expectations of good behavior brings a smile to one’s face.
My sister, as she is wont to do, recently posted a picture of one of those Christmas moments. It is not a digital image, not a tweet, not an old Facebook post, but a picture taken with a camera that required one to wait for the result.
A simpler time.
Emblazoned on the image is the “text” of that era; the date the picture was taken, ‘Dec 61.’
I was five years old and my sister was three. We were quite fashionably dressed for the time as you all can see.
A moment in time of an age of innocence. I don’t know if I have ever seen the photograph before now. The moment and the picture are lost in fading memories. My parents would have had the film developed and placed it among their other pictures. Perhaps they showed it to me, perhaps they didn’t. Pictures weren’t so important to me at the time.
I wonder if my eyes were closed to preserve the moment in my mind? I wonder if somehow, I knew the next time those same eyes saw this moment, it would be from a time then long in the future?
Or I wonder if I closed my eyes, so I could enjoy those fleeting moments of that simpler time, somehow suspecting that once my eyes opened time would draw me inexorably to a loss of that innocence.
May your Christmas be Merry and Memorable and may you always keep a part of that innocence alive in your heart.
(A favorite of mine from last year. Hopefully a smile or two during these “interesting” times.)
On this Christmas Season, for your reading pleasure, I offer an opportunity to read to the young, the old, the dog, the cat, those here, or those long gone, the whole story of The Christmas Dragon.
I wish for all of you the merriest memories and jolly times, with more to come. Life is too short and time is too precious. Embrace every moment and hold fast to your memories.
Always remember, it is in what we do with our time, not how much we have, that truly matters. Merry Christmas.
The Christmas Dragon
By Joe Broadmeadow
A Gift of Imagination
When I was five and three-quarters years-old, my grandfather shared a secret with me. While my mother and grandmother worked in the kitchen preparing Christmas Eve dinner, my grandfather smiled and whispered, “I have something for you.”
The lines in his face seemed to vanish as the smile lit up his eyes. He winked, checked to see that no one else was watching, then pointed to his hand.
I looked but saw nothing. I glanced at Pa, then back at his hand. Still nothing.
“There’s nothing there, Pa. Your hand is empty.”
He nodded. “Not if you believe, you’ll see…” He tilted his head, “look again, Joe, look again.”
My grandfather was always playing tricks on me, Nana, and my mother. Once he put a rubber snake in the refrigerator. It fell to the floor when Nana opened the door.
I heard her say some bad words when she dropped the dish she was putting in the fridge. My grandfather blocked my ears, laughed, and then dragged me outside. It was a good thing because I could still hear those bad words all the way in the backyard.
Another time we decided to make a pile of snowballs and ambush my dad when he came home from work. It went well until my mother came out to see who was yelling and one of the snowballs hit her. She was mad at first. But then she made a snowball and knocked my grandfather down with it.
I didn’t know girls could throw like that.
Anyway, back to the secret. I stared at my grandfather’s hand. “What am I looking for?”
Pa’s eyes turned all sorts of colors, like the flashing lights on the tree. His smile took over his whole face.
“There is something my grandfather gave to me, and now it’s time for me to pass it on to you.” He waved one hand over the other, touched me on the shoulder, and said, “Now what do you see?”
I looked and shimmering snowflakes, swirling and sparkling, rose from his hand. For a moment, the white ebb and flow hid everything.
This was cool magic.
And then I saw it, appearing from the misty eddies, a small, rainbow sparkling miniature dragon looked up and blinked his eyes at me.
“Is that a…”
“Yes, it is. A Christmas Dragon.”
Getting to Know a Dragon
I stared at Pa’s hand. “I’ve never heard of a Christmas Dragon, Pa. Where did you get it?”
“Joe, one doesn’t get a Christmas Dragon. One cares for the dragon.”
“So that’s what you do instead of working, Pa, care for the dragon?”
Pa laughed. “Sort of. But now it’s time for me to pass this on to you.” He took my hand and held it to his. The dragon bowed to my grandfather, then stepped onto mine.
He felt warm and wiggly. I held him up to look closer. The dragon closed his eyes, then reared back and opened his mouth. A small flame shot out.
“Holy cow, Pa, what do I do?”
“You’ll learn, Joe. You’ll learn together how to care for each other.”
“Learn what? Can’t you teach me?”
“There is only one thing I must tell you,” Pa smiled again, gently stroking the dragon who nuzzled against his touch. “This is our secret. Between you, me, and the dragon. Promise me you’ll tell no one.”
I blinked at my grandfather, then looked at the dragon. I raised my hand to pet him. He reared back as if to reshoot fire. “Look, he doesn’t like me, Pa. How can I learn if he doesn’t like me?”
Pa patted my head. “He doesn’t know you yet, Joe. You’ll learn, he’ll learn. You need to be ready when the time comes.”
“Time? What time, Pa?”
“The Christmas Dragon is the keeper of the spirit. He is a guardian. Do you know what that means, Joe?”
“Sort of, like how you and Nana take care of me when Mom and Dad aren’t around.”
“Yes, Joe, like that. Only the Christmas Dragon guards the spirit of Christmas. He protects the North Pole and all who live there.”
I glanced at the tiny dragon in my hand. “Him? How does such a small dragon do that?”
Pa put his fingers to his lips. I heard my grandmother walking in.
“What are you two up to?” she said, arms folded across her chest.
I held my hand behind my back and said: “Nothing, we’re just talking.”
Nana nodded. “It’s never nothing with that grandfather of yours. One of his tricks again I suspect. Your grandfather has too much time on his hands. I have some dishes that need drying, how about you read while I put your grandfather to work and keep him out of trouble.” She reached over and grabbed Pa by the collar of his shirt. “Come on, troublemaker.”
Pa winked at me then whispered, “remember, tell no one.” He let Nana drag him to the kitchen. I looked in my hand and around the room, but the dragon was gone. Nana was right, it must have been a trick.
I reached for a book. As I started to read, I felt something on my shoulder. I looked, and the dragon looked back.
“Start from the beginning. Joe. I love a happy story.”
“Dragons talk?” I said, too surprised to think of anything else.
“How else will you know what I’m thinking? Now please read.” I felt a slight nudge as the dragon sat on my shoulder, leaning in to see the book.
I shrugged and started to read.
Nana and Pa stood back in the hall watching me. “What did you do?” Nana asked.
“Nothing, dear, just a gift of imagination.”
Nana shook her head and walked away. Pa winked at me and the dragon, then went off to dry dishes…
Practical Dragon Keeping
It’s tough to hide a dragon in school, even an invisible one if he doesn’t listen. Pa told me I had to take the dragon everywhere, so I did my best. But Max, I named him Max, had a mind of his own.
He’d appear at the worst moment, in the middle of a spelling test or when I was reading out loud, and buzz around the class. No one else could see him, but everyone thought I was weird because I’d watch him fly over and under desks, knocking books to the floor and sending papers flying everywhere.
I laughed out loud once when he landed on Mrs. Butler’s head. Her puffy hair squished down like a nest. She sent me to the principal’s office. But I couldn’t say anything, no one would believe me anyway.
I made it through the first school year and the next few. By the time I was ten and a half years-old, Max could barely fit in my house. He had to duck down to get in my room. And he flew higher and further until he was just a dot in the sky.
That summer, between baseball and playing with my friends, I’d watch Max fly around the backyard. He was getting good at it. Feeding him was becoming a problem, though.
When he was small, I shared my lunch with him. Now, he was getting bigger, and hungrier, by the day. Pa helped, but he got sick. Soon after, Pa and Nana were gone. I missed them, but Max kept me busy.
He would fly off and come back with corn stalks hanging out of his mouth. He loved mice and bugs and especially ice cream. I would buy three ice cream sandwiches from Peter Palagi’s truck, and the other kids would stare.
It was embarrassing, and I was spending all my allowance on feeding him.
Just before school started, Max and I were lying in the sun in the backyard. Dragons love to lie in the sun. Anyway, I had my eyes closed and my head against Max when I heard a voice.
“Okay, Joe, time to learn to fly this dragon.”
I opened my eyes, blinked into the bright sun, and tried to make out who was standing there. Max jumped up and danced around. I lay on the ground looking up.
Standing before me was an Elf.
An actual Elf, but not like any other Elf I’d ever seen. Not that I’d ever seen many, just pictures or on TV, but still this Elf was different.
“You’re a girl,” was all I could manage.
“Of course, I’m a girl. We want you to learn the right way to fly your dragon. Boys are not good teachers. I’m not sure what they’re good for.” She paused for a moment. “Now let’s go. We’ve got a lot to do before Christmas gets here.”
“Ah, what’s your name?”
“Galadriel Merry Christmas Joy to the World Jingle Bells Elf, but you can call me El.”
“Yup, I like short and sweet. That okay with you?” She glared at me, tapping her foot.
I shrugged then looked at Max who was still dancing around. “Why’s he so happy?”
“Because he knows your time to protect Christmas is coming. It’s what Christmas Dragon teams do.” She reached down and pulled me to my feet. “Let’s go, Joe. You have a lot to learn.”
“Go? Go where?” As the words came out of my mouth, Max stuck his head between my legs, lifted me up, and I slid down his neck onto his back. To my left, El was riding a reindeer with a, I know it’s hard to believe, shiny nose.
“El, is that Rudolph?”
“Rudolph is real?”
“Duh,” El smirked, “said the boy sitting on a flying Christmas Dragon.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot that part.”
“Rudy likes to check out all the new Christmas Dragon teams. And he enjoys the next part.”
Rudolph hovered nearby, bouncing in the sky, pawing at the air.
Max raised his wings, they quivered as he stared at El. She nodded.
“What’s the next parrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt…………” my voice trailing off as we rocketed into the sky. I wrapped my arms around Max’s neck as the wind whipped by.
“This part,” El yelled as she flew alongside. Rudolph grinned from antler to antler.
“Wwwwhhhhhaaaaatttt dddooo IIIIIII dddddoooo….”
She laughed. “First lesson, hanging on.”
The one thing I figured out right away was hanging on. I held on tighter than I ever had before.
“Whoa, Max, whoa,” I screamed, trying to slow him down. El laughed. I think even Rudolph laughed. I didn’t. Max dove and spun. Climbed into the sky, then rolled in the air.
I was terrified.
“He’s not a horse, Joe, whoa will not work.” El flew alongside, sliding up to whisper in Max’s ear. He slowed down and leveled off, gliding through the air with just a slight jostle at each beat of his wings.
“Better?” she asked.
“No,” I yelled, my arms wrapped tight around Max’s neck. “I don’t want to die,”
“No one’s gonna die,” she grinned, “as long as you pay attention. Okay? Relax. Enjoy the ride. How many people do you know get a chance to ride a flying dragon?”
I sat up just a bit, looking around. The sky was a deep blue, I knew I should be cold this high up, but I wasn’t. I felt warm. El slid up alongside me.
“Ready to try a few things?”
“I think so.” I was scared, but I did my best to pretend.
Believe it or not, flying a dragon is kinda easy. Just a few commands to learn, a couple of touches with the hand to steer, and I was flying a dragon.
We’d practice every day, all day, until school started. Then, I had to sneak out the window at night to continue to practice. Once, my mom almost caught me. I had just climbed back in. Max was halfway in when my Mom knocked on the door.
“Can I come in?”
“Ah, well, can you wait a minute I’m just getting into my pajamas.”
“Joe, I’m your mother. Nothing I haven’t seen.” The door opened. I stood there still fully dressed.
“A new kind of pajamas I see,” Mom said.
“I, ah, I was just getting started.”
“Why is the window open? It’s cold in here.” She started toward the window. Max was half in and half out. His eyes grew wide as he tried to back out before….
Down came the window, right on Max’s hand.
“Why is this window stuck?” Mom said as she slammed it again.
Up until that point, I’d only heard Max speak in a quiet voice. He yanked his hand back and let out a roar like a jet plane.
Mom pushed hard on the window. “What was that?”
I shrugged, “probably a plane or something.” I stood next to her, watching Max clutching his hand and spinning in the air. His wings made the trees sway and the bushes shake.
“Let’s pull down the shades, shall we?” Mom said. “Why don’t you put on real pajamas and get to bed, it’s late.” She closed the blinds, kissed me on the head, and walked out. “Don’t stay up too late reading, early day tomorrow and it’s supposed to snow. Looks like a White Christmas this year.” She closed the door on the way out.
I waited a couple of minutes until I heard Mom and Dad talking downstairs, then opened the shade. Max’s face filled the window. He still clutched his hand to his chest. I opened the window as quietly as I could.
Max flew in, curling up into his spot, which was almost all of my room, and put his head on my bed. “If she weren’t your mother I would–.”
“Max, mom can’t see you. It’s not her fault. Next time when I say time to go in don’t waste time. Just come in.”
Max gave a harrumph, closed his eyes, and ignored me. I yawned and fell fast asleep.
“Joe, wake up. Wake up.” A voice whispered in my ear, and someone shook my arm. I opened one eye. “It’s too early, Mom. I’m still sleeping.”
“Joe, it’s El. We have to go.”
I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Max was standing up, rocking back and forth. El stood at the end of my bed.
“Time for you to go to work, something’s happened at the North Pole.”
That got my attention. “What happened?” I looked around. “Where’ Rudy?”
“That’s the problem. Santa needs you and Max. Rudy and all the other reindeer are gone.”
To the North Pole
Max hovered just outside my window, waiting for me to jump on. “Wait, what about my Mom and Dad?”
“No worries, Joe,” El said. “They won’t even know you’re gone.”
“My Mom notices everything.”
“There’s nothing to notice,” El pointed to my bed. Someone was in it. The covers moved and I couldn’t believe my eyes. In the bed, waving at me was me.
“How did…?” I looked at El.
She smiled. “I may not be part of a Christmas Dragon team, but I do have a team. That’s Bartholomew Christmas time Jingle Bells Dashing through the Snow Elf. He wants to be an actor.”
“Let me guess, you call him Bart.”
El scrunched her face and shook her head. “No, why would you think that?”
“Never mind.” I waved back at myself and he, I mean I, waved back. Even I was confused. I climbed onto Max. He snorted and I felt his muscles tense. As much as I’d learned to enjoy flying with him, his need to take off like a rocket made me nervous.
El climbed on Max’s back, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “No time to waste, Joe, steer Max to the North Pole.”
“I don’t know the way,” I answered, twisting around to look at her.
“Think about it, North Pole. There might be a hint there.”
“North?” I said.
“Boy is a regular genius, let’s try that shall we?”
I nodded, leaned over to Max, and gave him the command. In a flash, we were off. I steered him toward the North star and hoped for the best.
On the way, El explained what had happened. In the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, Santa does practice runs with the reindeer. He likes to make sure everything, and everyone, is prepared and ready for the big night.
This morning, Santa, El, and the rest of the Elf pre-flight team went out to hook up the reindeer. When they got to the reindeer barn, the doors were torn off their hinges and the reindeer were gone.
“Any idea who did this?”
“Whoever it was, they have powerful magic,” El said. “Reindeer are tough. They wouldn’t be easy to capture.”
“Powerful magic? How am I supposed to fight magic? I’m just a kid.”
El hesitated a moment, which made me more nervous. Then she yelled over the wind, “Believe in yourself, Joe, believe.”
Max flew on, climbing up over mountains then diving down over the snowy north. We crossed over Greenland and deeper into the Arctic Circle. I steered Max lower, trying to see if I could spot something, anything.
Max slowed, beating his wings just enough to keep us moving.
“Hear that?” El said.
“Hear what? I don’t hear anything.” Then, off in the distance, I heard a faint sound like someone yelling Yahoooooo….
I looked through the swirling snow. All I could see were pine trees and snow drifts. Suddenly, a mountain of snow loomed in front of us. I tried to steer Max around it, but it was too late.
I could feel El’s grip tighten around me and I braced for the crash.
We slammed into the mountain, were swallowed up in the white, then bounced back, falling into a snowdrift.
“El, you okay?”
“I think so, you?”
“I think so. What did we hit? It was warm and furry. Where’s Max?” I felt a hand grab my foot. I yelled and heard El yell at the same time. “Aaaaarrrrgh.” I flew out of the snowbank and hung upside down in the air. El hung upside down next to me.
“Cornelius,” she yelled. “Is it really you?”
Whoever held me dropped me to the ground. I shook the snow off and looked at the man standing before me. “Yukon Cornelius? You’re Yukon Cornelius. Are you real too?”
Cornelius laughed. “Of course I’m real.” He turned to El. “This is the new Dragon team?”
Cornelius reached down and helped me stand.
“You look different than I remember.”
“Yeah, I didn’t like the guy who played me on TV. He wasn’t handsome enough.”
Max shuffled over, nuzzling against me. He was covered in white fur. “What happened to you?” I asked.
Cornelius chuckled. “I’ll tell you what happened, you flew your dragon into my Bumbles.” As he said this the mountain behind him began to shake, and laugh.
I backed up, leaning against Max. “What is th..th..that? I asked.
Cornelius turned around then poked the mountain. “That is Bumbles, formerly the Abominable Snowman, now my prospecting partner.”
The mountain bent and a face appeared. A giant face. He smiled at me with a full set of teeth. “He’s real too? Wait, didn’t that Elf dentist pull his teeth?”
“Yup,” Cornelius said, “and then he put the back. Herbie is a full-service dentist now.”
El came over to stand next to me. “Why are you here, Cornelius, is there more news?”
Cornelius’s face turned serious. “I’m afraid so, El. Santa sent me to look for you,” he looked at Max and me, “although he didn’t tell me I needed to duck.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Let me tell you what happened while we head to see Santa. We need to hurry, there are just a few days to Christmas.”
The Mysterious Elf
The group, led by Cornelius on Bumble’s shoulder, made its way north. The wind howled, and Cornelius had a tough time finding his way. He filled in Joe and El on the latest.
“Right after the reindeer vanished, Elves started to disappear. One minute they’d be hard at work, singing Elf songs and building toys and the next they’d fade away.” Cornelius shook his head. “Santa says they stopped believing in Christmas.”
“How can an Elf stop believing in Christmas,” I asked. “I mean, they are Christmas.”
Bumbles stopped short. Cornelius patted him on the shoulder. “I know, buddy, I’ll explain it to him.” He jumped down from his perch and waved me over.
“Christmas lives on because we believe in it. The moment you stop believing, the spirit of Christmas fades a little. The fewer people who believe, the more it fades. Maybe those elves think we won’t be able to save Christmas. I don’t know. But we are going to try. Aren’t we?”
I looked at El, then back at Cornelius. “But I’m just a kid.”
“Yeah,” Cornelius gave out a laugh, “a kid with a giant Christmas Dragon. I think you’ll do.”
El laughed, Max laughed, even Bumbles laughed which shook snow and fur all over us.
“Hi,” a voice said, interrupting the moment. We all turned to the sound. There stood an Elf staring at us from the back of a polar bear.
El and Cornelius moved in front of me. “Who are you?” El said, her eyes narrowed as she studied the strange looking Elf.
With a slight bow of his head, he replied, “My name is Frank, Santa sent me to find you. We have no time to waste. You have to follow me, I found the reindeer.”
El took a step toward the Elf. “What kind of name for an Elf is Frank? How come I’ve never seen you? I know all the Elves.”
Frank disappeared for a moment, then reappeared standing next to Max and me. El and Cornelius had to turn around to watch.
“Joe, I need you to trust me. You and Max are the only hope we have. I can get you close to Mount Doubt, but you’ll be on your own from there. Are you ready?”
El stepped between Frank and me. “Hold on there, pal. How can we trust you? I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
Frank leaned around El to look me in the eye. “Remember what your grandfather said, Joe? He said you must believe. Remember?”
I nodded, remembering Pa’s words when he first gave me the dragon. “I’ll go with you. I know it’s the right thing to do.”
“Not without us, you’re not,” Cornelius said. He and El stood with Bumbles behind them as reinforcement.
Frank nodded. “We can all go to the valley before Mount Doubt. But from there, it will be up to Joe to do the rest.”
“I don’t think so,” El said. “wherever he goes, I go.”
“And us too,” Cornelius added, “we are a team.”
Frank disappeared again and reappeared on the back of the bear. “I’ve no time to argue, follow along if you like, but you’re on your own. My job is to guide Joe to the mountain. His job starts once we arrive.” He tapped with his right foot, and the bear turned and began to run. Looking over his shoulder, he said, “I will do what can to protect us all, but if I can’t the most important thing is Joe and Max, understand?”
El glanced at Cornelius. “We can take care of ourselves, Frank, I don’t need you to protect me.”
Frank shrugged, “up to you, let’s go.”
The group of five headed off into the raging blizzard and vanished in the snow. The shadow of Mount Doubt loomed in the distance.
The journey to Mount Doubt was long and hard. We crossed frozen rivers, deep valleys, and steep mountains. As we drew closer to Mount Doubt, the colors faded from the land. The snow, once sparkling and shiny, lay dull and grey. Majestic evergreen Christmas trees turned brown and lost their needles.
The land was frigid and barren.
Then, rising in front of us into the clouds like a giant beast, loomed Mount Doom.
Frank signaled for us to stop. As he climbed off the polar bear, it ran away. Whimpering and crying.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
“No living creatures come here. The place is filled with nothing but doubt and gloom.”
I glanced at the others, then swallowed hard. El, Cornelius, and Bumbles all tried to pretend they weren’t scared, but I could tell they were.
“You’re sure the reindeer are here?” I asked Frank.
“As sure as I can be.”
“What does that mean?” El said, moving to stand in front of Frank.
“Yeah,” Cornelius added. “What does that mean? You said you found the reindeer.”
Frank pointed to the ground. “Look for yourself.”
We all looked and saw the hoof prints of reindeer, lots of them, all heading toward Mount Doom.
“Why would the reindeer walk here on their own?” I asked.
“I am guessing here, but it had to be powerful magic. The only one I know of with such magic is Iris the Ice Queen, and she lives here.”
“Now what?” I asked. “Do we climb Mount Doom?”
Frank shook his head. “Not we, Joe, you. From here on it’s just you and Max.
At the sound of his name, Max sprung to his feet, pawing at the ground and stretching his wings.
“Well, at least one of us is excited,” I said.
El stepped in front of me. “No way, Frank. Wherever Joe goes, I go.”
“I am afraid that won’t be possible, El.” In the flash of an eye, Frank turned into a snarling wolf. All the dead trees began to close in around us. We scrambled for a way out. Even Bumbles wasn’t strong enough against all the trees.
A voice, screeching and cackling, rose out of the snowy mist. “There’ll be no saving Christmas now. Come along nicely and join the reindeer and your Elf friends.”
The branches of the trees wrapped around us. I saw El manage to snap off a limb, but five more replaced the broken one. None of us could move.
I felt myself being lifted from the ground.
“No, stop. Put me down.” I screamed. I tried to break free. Max was lifted into the air as well. I could just see his face; the rest was covered in branches. He managed to wink and smile. I could hear his voice in my head.
“Don’t worry, Joe, I’m here with you. Just believe in what we have to do.”
As we started to move, a dark cave appeared before us. The trees carried us into the darkness, just before we headed further in, I turned to see my friends struggling to get free.
I wondered if I’d ever see them again.
Iris the Ice Queen
The darkness of the cave swallowed us. The light from outside faded. After a few minutes, I was tossed to the ground. An eerie pale glow surrounded me. I looked for Max, but he wasn’t with me.
“So,” a cold voice hissed like air escaping a balloon, “this is who they choose to protect their precious Christmas? A mere boy?”
I spun around trying to find where it came from but could see nothing. Swirling wisps of snow rose from the ground, twisted like a tornado, then took shape before me.
I backed away, pressing against the chilled rocky wall of the cave. Gliding along the ground, the creature came closer, until it was right before me.
I faced an angry looking, ice-covered, woman. She stroked the head of a wolf standing by her side, once Frank the fake Elf. He curled his lips at me, baring his teeth.
“Who…who…are you?” I said, my voice quivering. I fought against my fear.
“I am Iris, the Ice Queen.”
Her words came on gusts of frigid air, stinging my ears. “What do you want with me? Where’s Max?”
“You, my dear boy, and your sad little dragon are my guests. You’ll stay until the world knows Christmas is no more.”
“I want to see Max,” I took a step towards her. I could tell she didn’t expect this.
“Very well,” she began to fade, “but it will do you no good.” In a flash, she was gone. The wolf gave me one more flash of his teeth then ran off. Something odd about this. Why would she do what I asked?
After a few moments, the wall behind me gave way, light filtered through. I took a step closer, trying to see in. Another step. Then another. I squeezed through the narrow opening and stuck my head out. Max licked my face. He covered me with Dragon slime, but I didn’t care.
Max was okay. That was good. As to me, I wasn’t so sure.
I squeezed through and stopped dead in my tracks. Max danced in the middle of the giant cave, leaning over to lick my face when he got close, then bounced some more. All around him, looking pale and tired, were Santa’s reindeer team and the missing Elves.
While I tried to take this all in, the wall behind me slammed shut. We were sealed in a cave, no way out, deep in a mountain, guarded by a powerful magician, a snarling shapeshifting wolf, and surrounded by an army of dead trees.
I was alone and not sure what to do.
Then, Max slid his head between my legs and lifted me onto his back. He moved to the center of the room. The Elves and reindeer all gathered around us, looking at me.
“Tell’em what you’re gonna do, Joe,” Max said, smiling and bouncing on his feet. “Tell’em how we’re gonna save Christmas.”
I looked around at all the faces staring at me, a mixture of hope and fear shown in their eyes.
“I will,” I said, trying to sound confident, then whispered, “as soon as I think of it.”
Remembering to Believe
It was hard to think. Elves and reindeer stared at me. Max leaned against the wall, following me with his eyes as I paced the room. He had this look of anticipation on his face like any moment I would announce I knew how to escape.
No matter how much I paced back and forth, Max still had the look of certainty.
I, on the other hand, was filled with doubt. If we could fly, Max and I might blast our way out. His fire-breathing talents had toasted trees in the woods around my house, but we had never tested full power. The problem was in here, there was no room to fly.
One of the Elves came over to me. He appeared older than the others although it’s hard to tell with Elves, they all look mostly the same.
“Joe, can I ask you something?” he said, hands folded in front of him.
I stopped pacing and looked at him. “Sure, what is it?”
The Elf glanced around as the others gathered behind him. “We are here because, well, some of us started to wonder what happened to the spirit of Christmas. When the reindeer disappeared, we worried it meant the end of Christmas. It seemed that all over the world people had forgotten about us.”
A small tear trickled from his eye, zigzagging down the lines of his face. “The Ice Queen used that against us, and we ended up here. What I…” he waved his hand around, “what we all want to know is, how did she trick you here? Don’t you still believe in Christmas? Because if someone like you no longer believes, maybe the Ice Queen is right.”
I studied all the anxious faces. Each of them waiting for what I would say. Me, a ten-and-a-half-year-old boy. I thought for a moment. I knew whatever I said would affect how things worked out.
“Yes, I still believe. I came here because it’s what Max and I have practiced for, knowing this day would come. I came because we are a team and we must save Christmas. I came here because it is the right thing to do, no matter how scared I am of the Ice Queen. So yes, I believe.”
As the words came out of my mouth, a small piece of rock fell from the wall. No one saw it except Max and me.
Max stood and smiled. The cave brightened ever so slightly.
It was then I knew. I knew how we could save Christmas.
A Return to Elvish Magic
Max bounded off the wall, whacking his head on the roof of the cave in the excitement then howling like a baby.
“Max, stop whining, we’ve got work to do.”
He rubbed his head and bent lower. I waved to the others. “Gather ‘round, I have an idea.”
They listened as I explained my plan.
“Will it work?” the old Elf asked.
“It will if we believe it can. But we have to convince Iris.” I looked at all the Elves and reindeer. Some looked hopeful, others unsure. To pull this off, I had to make them all believe.
I whispered in Max’s ear. “I need light. Any ideas?”
Max glanced around, then a big smile crossed his face. He waddled through the crowd to a large boulder in the middle of the cave floor, swishing his tail to move the group back. Satisfied they were at a safe distance he reared up and shot a flame at the rock.
The heat turned the rock red hot. The glow illuminating the room. Max smiled, proud of himself and his fire. I climbed onto his back and looked at the group. The eerie red glow lit their anxious faces.
I wasn’t sure what to say, but I knew it mattered. Then, I heard my Pa’s voice echoing in my mind. “If you believe, you can achieve.” I took a deep breath and let the words come from my heart.
“Christmas is not about things you get or stuff you have. Christmas is about making others happy. The spirit of Christmas doesn’t come in a box or wrapped in shiny paper. Christmas is being loved and being with the ones you love.
“Christmas is not just one day, it is the days leading up to it, the days after it, and the days all year long until it comes again. Christmas isn’t a time or place. It is every time and place if we keep it in our hearts.”
I had their attention now.
“The Ice Queen thinks by keeping us away, by holding us here, she can stop Christmas. She’s wrong. As long as we have Christmas in our hearts, she can’t win. Santa flies around each year to remind us of this, but he wants us to feel the spirit of Christmas all the year.
“All of you do more than just play a part in Christmas. You are Christmas. Iris can never take that away.
“When my grandfather gave me Max, it wasn’t just because he knew this day would come. It was because he knew he was giving me the spirit of Christmas to hold in my heart always.”
Many of those looking at me nodded. The dull grey of the cave brightened a bit.
“To remember Pa and Nana and everyone who has been before us. To share those memories and hopes to all of those to follow. That is the spirit of Christmas.
“Max reminds me of who made me what I am. It’s not the power of the dragon that will rescue Christmas, all we need do is remember to believe. Never let the spirit fade no matter what others do.
“I, for one, will always believe.” I stood on Max’s back turning around in a circle to make sure they were all with me.
“Are you ready to believe? To keep the spirit of Christmas alive?”
Heads nodded. Reindeer pawed the icy ground. One Elf started to sing. Others joined in. With each passing moment, the cave grew brighter. Icicles melted. The red and green of the Elves clothes showed once again.
A shudder, like an earthquake, shook the cave. A loud crack echoed off the walls as a vast crevice opened. Iris and the wolf stormed into the cave.
“Thought it would be that easy, didn’t you?” Her hissing cold voice thundered off the walls. “We’ll see how long they believe after I finish with you.”
A blinding flash flew from her hands, surrounding me. I was lifted off Max’s back and into the air. I tried to struggle, but the magic was too strong. In a blink of an eye, Iris and the wolf strode back through the crevice, dragging me along. The wall slammed shut behind me.
I was alone with the Ice Queen.
A Christmas Spy
The magic surrounding me faded. I found myself on the floor of a large room. The air was stinging cold, large icicles grew from ceiling to floor. Before me, Iris sat on a throne of ice, her eyes locked onto mine.
“Did you really think a little speech and a song could win over me?”
I forced myself to stand. I put my hands behind me so Iris couldn’t see them shaking. I was terrified but knew this was my time. If the things I said were to mean more than just words, the time was now.
I took a step forward. For a moment Iris’s eyes flashed uncertainty.
She doesn’t know what to do with me, and she’s afraid of something.
Iris rose and let out a loud whistle. She glanced around the room and whistled again. “Where did that wolf get himself to?” She raised her hands as if to send another capture spell toward me.
I stood my ground, I understood now. Iris’s power over others came from fear. If I gave in, I would be at her mercy. If I faced my fear, no matter how scared I was, she had no power over me.
“I’m not afraid of you, Iris. You cannot stop Christmas. Not now, not ever.” I took another step.
She hesitated, then let out another whistle. The wolf was nowhere to be seen.
“When I get my hands on him… No matter, I can deal with a little boy myself.” Her hands came up once more, the flash of light grew in her hands then flew at me.
I stood my ground, shaking and terrified, but I held firm. I believed, and nothing would change that.
The light surrounded me, but I could still move. I took another step toward Iris. She stepped back, and the light disappeared. The look in her eyes said it all. I took away some of her power by standing up to her, by facing my fear.
She waved her hand once again. The room filled with her tree army. They grabbed my arms, pinning me down. I couldn’t move.
A smile crossed Iris’s face. “Let’s see how brave you are now. I think I need a bigger army. I’ll turn the Elves into my Ice Soldiers and use the reindeer to pull my Ice sled when I steal all the toys from Santa Claus.”
Her laugh sent chills through me. She spun and waved her hands, the wall behind her glowed then turned to clear ice. I could see into the cave. Max and the others gathered around the fading red rock. Their sad eyes told me they were losing the will to believe.
Iris raised her hands. Words of a language I didn’t understand screamed from her mouth. Inside the cave, I could see Elves starting to turn icy grey. Max tried to heat the rock again to warm them, but it wasn’t enough.
I pleaded for her to stop. She just laughed.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the wolf creeping into the room. Silent and sneering. He looked at me, eyes burning with anger, then did the most remarkable thing. He winked at me.
The wolf winked at me.
He took a few more steps, then pounced on the Ice Queen. Catching her by surprise and knocking her to the ground, Her spell was broken. The tree army released me and went to help her. The wolf ripped branches and tore at the trunks of the trees as he held Iris on the ground.
I stood frozen in place.
The wolf tossed a tree against the wall, then looked at me and shouted, “Joe, now would be a great time to get back to our friends. Get them to listen to you.”
“Frank?” I said, shocked by the words.
“Yeah, it’s me. No time to explain. I told you my job was to get you here. Now, it’s your turn to save our friends.”
The Ice Queen let out a yell and tossed Frank to the side. She turned toward me. Frank pounced again and yelled, “Now, Joe, now. I won’t be able to hold her here forever.”
I dashed toward the door, dodging branches trying to stop me, then ran down the hall. Just before I made it out, I turned back to see Frank, surrounded by trees, dragging Iris across the room. Backed into a wall, there was nowhere for him to go.
I hoped he’d be okay, but I had no time to think about it. I knew what I had to do.
The Memory of Imagination
I made my way along the dark corridor, trying to retrace the route the trees carried me. I ran down one dark hallway after another, only to hit dead ends.
I’m never gonna find my way.
I heard my Pa’s voice from long ago when I first met Max. “You’ll learn together, you’ll learn how to take care of each other.” And once again, I knew I should follow my heart. I ran back to the main hall and listened.
Faint at first, then growing louder, I heard Max flapping his wings. Just like when he would disappear into the sky learning to fly, I heard him long before I saw him. I followed the sound, and it led me to the cave.
I crawled through the once hidden passage. “I’m back,” I shouted. Everyone ran to surround me.
“We thought you were a goner,” El said.
“Yeah,” Cornelius added, “Bumbles and I thought it was curtains for you, and us.”
“Well, I’m not. Come on, we’re getting out of here.”
“How?” El asked.
“We’re going to walk out.”
They all looked at me like I was crazy.
“But how? What about Iris the Ice Queen?”
“She’s coming with us,” I said. By the looks on their face, they were sure I was nuts. I had to make them believe.
I moved to the center of the cave, staring at the ice wall, and waited.
Within moments the ice shattered. Frank, still disguised as a wolf, ran in. “They’re coming, are you ready?”
El stepped forward, followed by Cornelius and Bumbles. “Traitor,” she yelled, shaking her fist, “I’ll show you what we do to traitors.”
I moved in front of them. “Frank’s not a traitor, he’s a spy. A Christmas spy.” I spun around as the wolf faded away, replaced by a battered and bruised, but smiling, Frank.
“What?” El said. “He’s on our side?”
“I’ll explain later, the real show is about to start.”
The hole in the ice wall grew wider. The sound and fury of a raging wind flooded the cave. In a moment, Iris stood there glaring. The Elves and reindeer backed away. Max stood next to me. Frank held El and Cornelius back.
“This is for Joe and Max to do,” Frank said. “He has to do this alone.”
All around Iris stood her dead tree army. I took a step forward.
“Stay where you are or I’ll—”
“You’ll do nothing, Iris. You’re going to let us go and come with us to help with Santa and his deliveries.”
Iris let out a laugh, but the sound was different, hesitant, unsure. She kept watching me as I walked closer. I put out my hand.
Iris stared at me.
“Take my hand, Iris. I know you just want a friend.” As I said the words, her icy gray shade began to brighten. A rainbow of colors bubbled to the surface. The cold darkness in her heart fell away. The tree army turned back into a forest of green Christmas trees. The cave disappeared and stars filled the sky.
We were free.
Where once stood the Ice Queen, now stood Lady Iris and her unicorn.
Iris bowed. “How did you know? How did you know what to do?”
“I wasn’t sure at first, but when I said the word ‘believe’ in the cave, a rock broke free and fell. I knew then that powerful magic must have hidden what you truly were. I remember how my grandfather always told me to look for the good in everyone. No matter how hard it may be to see.”
I patted Max on the shoulder. “When I first met Max, I thought he didn’t like me. After some time together, that all changed. I realized you were all alone here and needed someone to see the good in you. So, I looked for it.”
Iris nodded. “Many years ago, a sorceress tried to make me take her to Santa’s hidden village. I refused. She cast a spell that could only be broken if I helped destroy Christmas or by someone who saw the good hidden inside me. Until now, I had lost any hope of ever being free, unless I did what she wanted.”
El stepped forward. “We better get going, it’s two days until Christmas, and we have a long journey ahead of us.”
“I can help with that,” Iris smiled and waved her hands. The unicorn rose into the air, flew a circle around the group, and lifted Cornelius, Bumbles, and the Elves. I climbed aboard Max, and the reindeer all lined up behind us with El on Rudy and Frank on Dasher.
As we took to the air, I saw the snow sparkle like diamonds and the lights from Santa’s Village brighten on the horizon.
Christmas was saved. I just hoped my mom hadn’t noticed I was gone.
“Joe,” my mom’s voice whispered in my ear. “wake up sleepy head it’s Christmas.”
I opened my eyes. I looked around the room, but Max was gone. “I, I, was flying on Max and we had to go to the North Pole.”
My mom smiled, “It was a dream, honey, just a dream. You were here all night. Now come on downstairs, we’re all waiting for you.”
A dream? Could it be it was just a dream? I looked around once more. Nothing had changed. No giant dragon sleeping in my room. No one staring at me from outside the window. I guess it was a dream…
The Rest of the Story
“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream so shall you become.” James Allen
I gazed into the night sky, as I’d done all my long life, staring at the stars. Wondering, where does our time go?
A rustling of trees drew my attention. I saw nothing, at first, then I felt a warm breeze and heard the old familiar flutter of dragon wings.
Max settled in for a perfect landing. His colors still bright. His eyes still sparkling.
I struggled for words, “You’re real? It wasn’t a dream.”
Max smiled. “Of course, I am real. If you believe, anything is possible…and we all know you, more than most, believe.” A breeze picked up, swirling the newly fallen snow into the air. The sky was filled with Christmas Dragon teams.
El hovered in the midst, riding on Rudy. Cornelius and Frank sat astride their own reindeer. Bumbles sat atop the most massive dragon I’d ever imagined
Another dragon settled next to Max.
The familiar voice of my grandfather filled my ears and my heart. “I told you all you had to do was believe, Joe, didn’t I?”
“But how? How is this possible?” I asked. “I thought it was all just the memory of imagination.”
Pa smiled. “If one believes, one achieves. Even the impossible.”
Max bent his head down to me.
“Christmas lives in the hearts of children and the memories of all of us. We never left you. There was a time for you and me to be a team and a time for you to be on your own to raise your family. I knew, when the time was right, you would return to the world of your imagination and remember.”
Max handed me a small shiny diamond. “Hold the diamond tight in your hand.”
I squeezed my fingers together and felt the stone warming. I looked at Max. He nodded. Opening my fingers, I saw a small, wiggling dragon.
“What do I do now?”
“Now it is time for you to continue the legacy. Share the spirit of The Christmas Dragon. Then, in a couple of more years, you and I will fly off together just like we did all those years ago.”
I watched as the tiny dragon opened her eyes and flapped her tiny wings.
“Who’s that dragon you’re talking to, Grandpa?” The voice of my five-year-old granddaughter drew my attention. Max and the others faded, then vanished.
There was no fear in her eyes, just the innocent look of a child.
“You see him, Kelsey? Really see him?”
“I did,” she grinned, then pointed. “The dragon was right there. But now he’s gone.”
Glancing around to make sure no one else was around, I reached for her hand. “I have something for you…”
(I hope you all enjoyed the story of The Christmas Dragon. May this, and every Christmas, create memories that never leave you and always make you smile.)