A Different Sort of Badge

For twenty years, I wore the badge of a police officer on the East Providence Police Department. Wearing that badge never seemed a burden, and I wore it with pride.

But now, all these years after my retirement from those days, I get to wear an even more important badge.

It isn’t gold or silver or shiny. It takes on many forms and shapes, often showing up in places one wouldn’t expect to find a badge. But it is, to me, the most important badge I have ever worn.

My wife and I have the great fortune of spending much of our day caring for our grandson, Levi, while his parents plod their way through to an onerous, but necessary, workday. While caring for a 6-month-old has its challenges, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Each day, when one gets to experience life through the eyes, smiles, screams, and facial expressions of an infant—especially the ones we recognize as portents of an artistically filled diaper with all its otherworldly colors and consistencies—it opens a window on a whole new world.

Through my sixty-five-year-old eyes, while I strive to hold on to imagination and wonder, so many things have passed by me, I often miss the simple majesty of a leave falling from a tree, or a squirrel burying acorns, or a stuffed animal, animated in my hands, which brings the look of wonder to Levi’s eyes.

Levi makes the world new again.

When he needs something, even absent the power of speech, he can use his powers of persuasion to sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully, lead you to the solution, be it food, a clothing change, or nap time. He does this without words and is better at communication than most people I know.

We learn to be creative in our entertaining skills. While he comes equipped with a plethora of toys and equipment to engage him, we have sometimes found a solution in the most unlikely of activities.

The sound of fingernails scrapped along the couch, something so new to his ears as to border on fascinating, will hold his attention. Or a new game I invented called, “Rolled up newspaper smashing,” where I take a few pages of a grocery store ad, roll it up and whack things — myself, the table, Levi’s legs—something that causes waves of giggling, chortling delight for him.

My only fear is, if he remembers such antics after he gains the power of speech, he may someday tell a story in school about how his grandfather would hit him with a rolled-up newspaper. Context might be lost and I might have some ‘splaining to do.

And the badge, you might ask? Inevitably, after being fed, Levi sometimes sends some of his meal back out into the world and on to me. It has become, for me, a new badge of honor. And while I don’t parade it around for more than the time to wipe it off, I wear it with pride.

All Levi has to do is smile, which he does almost all the time, and all is right with the world. I will bear those daily badges proudly and remember them fondly all the days of my life.


JEBWizard Publishing (www.jebwizardpublishing.com) is a hybrid publishing company focusing on new and emerging authors. We offer a full range of customized publishing services.

In Every Moment Lies Opportunity

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

William Arthur Ward

We have before us one of those moments in history where we face a great upheaval. Often such times are defined by war, ours results from evolution—a mutated virus.

Now in such times we have a choice. We can bemoan the social distancing and shelter-in-place measures necessary to limit the spread of the virus, or we can look for the opportunities within. Wailing and gnashing of teeth about how difficult this is does little to salve our discontent. Crying about the unfairness is a waste of effort. Ignoring the measures out of a selfish sense of inverted priorities is to threaten family, friends, and the whole of the nation.

As a wise woman was fond of saying, “Life’s not Fair.”  That wise woman was my mother and I know, were she alive today, if confronted with someone complaining about the situation would tell them to “get over it and stop acting like a two-year-old.”

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on the fact you have an opportunity—and the time — to do things that often get left aside in our 7X24 connected world.

Write a letter to a friend, relative, or perhaps a person in the service serving their country in a far-off place unable to be here with their family.

Read a book. Read a book to someone, even if they are far away, put Facetime or some other modern form of communication to a good use.

Take a class on-line.

Visit a zoo thru the wonders of webcams.

Go for a walk (if you can do so without coming closer the 6 feet from others)

Write that great American Novel everyone seems to want to do.

Listen to music. Really listen to music, not as background to your day, but to recapture the essence of why music “has charms to soothe the savage breast.” I find in moments of difficulties listening to the music of my youth is a tonic for the soul.

Write a song, write a poem, list the things you will do when the world recovers. And then do them when the opportunity arises.

Sit outside and look for shapes in the clouds.

Write a diary of these moments so, decades from now, you can remember the things you did and how you overcame any tendency to whine and complain.

Free your mind. Now is the time to awaken or reawaken the magic of imagination, of all things in this universe, it has no limit.

Stay well, stay in, stay safe.  This too shall pass.

The Last Christmas Part XII: How Can a Barn Disappear?

Laughing and joking as they ran along the path, Chrissy beat Joe to the edge of the field. They both stopped dead in their tracks.

The barn was gone.

“Joe, the barn. It’s gone.”

“Like my grandfather always said, you have a gift for stating the obvious. I can see that it’s gone. Now we have to figure out who did this and how do we get it back.”

They walked around the edge of where the barn once stood, looking for something, anything that might help.

Chrissy spotted it first. “Joe, look, there’s a note stuck to that tree over there.”  She ran toward it before Joe could stop her.

Joe yelled, “Chrissy wait.” But it was too late. As she neared the woods, the trees surrounded her, lifted her into the air, and shuffled off into the woods. Joe could hear her muffled voice yelling for them to let her go. Soon, the voice faded.

Joe started to run after her, but a wall of trees blocked the path. He tried to force himself through, but the branches pushed him back. He ran as hard as he could at them, yelling and screaming, but all to no avail.

Each time, they forced him back. This last time, they knocked him to the ground. As he stood back up, ready to charge once more, the trees parted, and a tall, thin creature appeared before him.

Not human, not animal. It towered over Joe. “There, there now, Joe. No need to worry. Your little friend is safe with my trees.” The creature bent down, it’s face more like bark than skin, and came eye to eye with Joe.

“As long as you do as I say, she’ll remain that way. But I am not known for my patience. You do what I want, and we’ll return her to you. Fail me, or try to be clever like Nicholas, and she’ll become one of my pet trees.”

Joe jumped to his feet. The creature terrified him, but he would show him no fear. “What do you want? If anything happens to her, I will hunt you down and no tree army will stop me.” He glared at the creature, angered by the sinister smile on its face.

The creature’s haunting laugh echoed in the woods. “I can see why Nicholas chose you. You have his stubbornness. We’ll see if you have his courage and cunning. But no matter, bring me the envelope your grandfather left you, and I’ll release your friend. But you don’t have much time.”

The creature rose to its full height. “Be back here in one hour, with the envelope, and little Chrissy will go free. Fail in this and she’ll be a tree.”

The laughter once again shattered the quiet. The trees parted and the creature slunk back into the woods. Joe started after it, but the trees once again blocked his way.

There was only one choice. He’d bring the envelope and save Chrissy. Nothing was more important than that.

Running toward the path, a thought occurred to him. Something his grandfather said about believing in himself and not letting doubt make choices for him.

He turned back to where the barn once stood, and it all made sense. The creature’s power came from fear and doubt. Somehow, he’d hidden the barn with magic. But the most powerful magic of all is Christmas magic.

Joe walked back, standing where the door of the barn should be. He saw his grandfather’s smile, heard his laugh, and remembered his words. Hold fast to your memories, he’d said, and Joe did just that.

He remembered the barn, the elves, the sleigh and all that they had done so far, he and Chrissy, and the wind kicked up.

Snow swirled up in front of him and the barn reappeared. He was right. Grandpa was right. All I need to do is believe and anything was possible. He ran inside, gathered the elves together and explained what he needed them to do.

Dashing back outside, he ran home to get the envelope. He would save Chrissy no matter what. He knew he would, deep in his heart, he just wasn’t sure how yet.

XIII The Rescue Mission and a Little Unexpected Help.

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The Last Christmas Part XI Hold Fast to Your Memories

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.”

“Yeeessss, iiiiiitt isssss tiiiiiiime tooooo eeeeeeend Chiiiiiistmaaaas.”

Part XII How Can a Barn Disappear?

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And remember, hold fast to your memories.

The Last Christmas Part X: Flight School

“We’re gonna what?” Chrissy said, as they admired the finished sleigh.

“Take it for a ride.” Joe slapped her on the back, then walked to the front of the sled. The elves were lining up the reindeer, hoisting the harnesses on their backs, and connecting them together.

“Maybe, you’re taking it for a ride, but not this girl. This girl wants to survive until Christmas not be remembered.”

“C’mon, Chrissy. You’re the one who read the instructions.”

The final step before beginning the loading process is a test flight.  All operations of the sleigh are controlled by the onboard navigation system. The front seats must be occupied by a minimum of two volunteers and the rear seat left open until certain conditions are achieved.

“Doesn’t get any simpler than that. Remember what you said about not being afraid or having doubt?”

Several elves came over and handed them fur lined parkas, hats, and gloves. Joe put his on and climbed aboard, aided by the elves. Chrissy was slower to follow.

“I’m not sure about this. What if we did something wrong?”

“We didn’t. Now c’mon we’ve got a test flight around the town to complete.”

Chrissy shook head, took a deep breath, and climbed aboard. Joe handed her the book open to the section on the test flight.

“You read the checklist; I’ll go through the system check. Okay?”

Chrissy shrugged. “Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means I am either gonna die or create one incredible memory. Ready?”


Chrissy ran through the checklist, Joe flipped the switches, tugged the reins, and programmed in the codes to the navigation system.

“Everything seems ready to go. Checklist complete.” Joe handed Chrissy the reins. Her eyes got three times bigger than normal. 

“You steer her out of the barn, I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Giving the reins a gentle flip of the wrist, the reindeer pulled the sleigh out into the cold. Joe flipped the last of the switches on the checklist and the heated seats warmed.

“Nice touch, eh? My Grandpa told me how to add it in. Said it would warm his bones although I’m not sure how he’d ever sit here. Okay, anyway, we are ready for takeoff.” Joe took the reins back, hit the button to start the navigation system, then looked at Chrissy.


“As I’ll ever be.” She gripped the edge of the seat as tight as she could.

“Five, four, three—.”

“What are you doing?” Chrissy asked. “There’s nothing about a countdown.”

“I know,” Joe chuckled. “But I always dreamed of being an astronaut. Two, One, blastoff.” Joe shook the reins, hit the engine start control button, and nothing happened.

“Did you follow the instructions?”

“Yup, everything looks good,” Joe said, scanning the dash. “All systems are good.”

Chrissy noticed it first. The reindeer were all looking at them, staring.

“Joe, look at the reindeer. They’re staring at us.”

And then he understood. The story his grandfather told him every Christmas Eve for as long as he remembered was preparing him for this moment.

“Hang on, Chrissy, There’s one more step.”

Chrissy grabbed her seat and leaned back.

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! On Cupid!
On Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As the words came out, the reindeer as one leaped into the air, the engine came to life, and they were flying.

Climbing up out of the trees, the sleigh settled into a smooth flight path. Chrissy relaxed and looked over the edge, Cumberland High School was right below them. Joe tugged on the reins and the reindeer climbed higher.

Turning from Mendon Rd. they crossed over Nate Whipple Highway, over the small Cumberland Reservoir, heading toward the big Pawtucket Reservoir. As they reached Reservoir Road, Joe took out his list.

“Okay, we have to try a couple of things.” He looked at the note, then handed it to Chrissy. “Here, we go.”

Tugging back on both reins, the reindeer slowed and descended. Leveling out just above the water. Gently releasing his tension on the reins, the reindeer responded and brought the skids of the sleigh lower, skimming the edge of the water and sending up a spray.

Joe pulled back again and the sleigh leaped back into the sky. Climbing higher and higher, they circled Diamond Hill twice, then headed home.

“Chrissy, at the bottom of that list are some numbers, enter them into the navigation system for me.”

“What are they?”

Joe shrugged. “Don’t know. My grandfather said to put them in when we finished the tests and were on the way back.”

Chrissy entered the numbers and they both felt the sleigh make slight course corrections. Close to the barn, they both prepared to land. But at the last moment, the sleigh turned slightly away, descended to tree top level, and slowed near Joe’s house.

Hovering just outside the room over the garage, the reindeer brought the sleigh even with the window and held it there.

“What are they doing?” Chrissy said. “Someone’s gonna see us.”

“And that someone would be me.” Joe’s grandfather stuck his head out the window. “I see you can both follow simple instructions. That’s good.” He made a whistling sound and somehow the reindeer brought the sleigh right to the edge of the window.

Joe’s grandfather climbed into the back seat.

“What are you doing, Grandpa? Mom will kill us both if she sees this.”

“No worries, Joe. In my case it doesn’t much matter and in yours, no one would blame you for taking a tired old pilot on one last flight. Now head for that star and take me once around the world.”

“The world?” Chrissy said.

The old man smiled. “Okay, how about once around the town?”

Joe tugged on the reins and they were off.

“You’re a natural at this, Joe. You’ll do just fine.”

“Fine at what, Grandpa?”

“All in good time, my boy, all in good time.” He leaned back, looking out at the stars and the world, a smile spread wide across his face.

Part XI Hold Fast to Your Memories

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.


The Last Christmas Part IX: Facing Doubt

“Grandpa!” Joe yelled as he saw the old man sitting on the couch. “You’re home!” He ran to him, wrapping him in a hug.

“You have a talent for stating the obvious, Joe.” The old man smiled.


“Never mind. I am here. Tell me about this problem your mother said you wanted to talk to me about.”

Joe explained the battle with the trees, and his trick with the glow stick. He told him about the progress they made with building the sleigh. Then he told him about the book’s disappearance.

“It’s my fault. Chrissy told me not to take it home, but I didn’t listen to her.”

“I see. Well, Joe, just a little advice. Unrelated to our immediate problem, but a little secret to remember as you grow up. When someone who cares for you, especially a nice little girl like Chrissy, gives you advice it would make your life much happier if you listened. But you’ll figure that out later.

“Now, we have to get the book back. I know where it is, and who has it, but getting it from them will not be easy.”

“I don’t care what it takes, I lost it and I will get it back.” Joe stood in front of his grandfather waiting to hear what he had to do.


“Are you sure your grandfather knows what he’s talking about?” Chrissy asked.

“He said we had to walk to the north side of field. One we got there we’d know what to do.”

“But how, Joe, how?”

“I don’t know yet, but he told me to pay attention to the things you say and listen more to your advice.”

“Well, it would seem your grandfather is a smart man. Let’s do this.” Chrissy moved past Joe, striding through the snow to the edge of the woods.

A light, dim but visible, flickered from within the woods. Shadows moved between the trees. Then the voice of the specter called out to them. Raspy and cold, the chilling words carried on the wind.

“Soooo, yoooou’ve coooome foooor thaaaa booook haaaave yooou? IIIII doooon’t thiiink yooou haaaave thaaa couuuurage tooooo taaaaaake iiiiiiit.”

“Chrissy, you stay here. I’ll go get it.” Joe started into the woods, but Chrissy grabbed his arm.

“And what did your grandfather say about listening? We will both go. I know the power behind this thing is fear. If we are not afraid, it will be afraid of us.”

She took his hand and the two slipped behind the trees and walked toward the light.

The flickering shadow of the specter fluttered back and forth. The book lay on a fallen tree stump. It was the magic within the book lighting the woods.  As the specter passed by, the book would fade then reappear, a little dimmer each time. Chrissy understood what was happening. The specter was drawing away the magic.

“Joe, you go one way, I’ll go the other. We have to act fast before all the magic is gone.”

“I don’t know about this, Chrissy. That thing looks strong.”

Chrissy pulled him closer. “Remember what your grandfather told you, listen to me and don’t let doubt control us. I’m telling you what we should do and that’s doubt right there in front of us. We can do this, Joe.”

The light dimmed once again.  

“Now, Joe, now.”

Chrissy dashed to one side, Joe to the other. The specter, surprised by the sudden movement, pulled back.  Joe grabbed for the book, but the specter recovered and blocked his way. It enveloped the boy in the swirling darkness.

Chrissy saw her chance. Grabbing the book, she ran toward the field, then stopped. Looking back at Joe she knew she couldn’t leave him.

“Run, Chrissy, run. I can take care of myself.”

But she was already on her way back. Running straight at the specter, holding the book out in front of her, she screamed, “Let my friend go. You can’t stop us.”

The light from the book grew ten times brighter. The specter fled from the light back into the shadows. Joe collapsed to the ground. Chrissy ran to him.

“You okay?”

“I am now, thanks.”

“C’mon, Joe. We need to get the book back where it will be safe. I’m glad we’re done with that specter. ” She helped Joe to his feet, and the two headed out of the woods.

“Not that we’re keeping score. But that it the second time I’ve saved you. See, your grandfather is right. Listen to me and we’ll be fine.”

As the two made their way back to the barn, the specter trailed behind them, hiding in the shadows. Thiiiiiisss isssss faaaaar froooom ovvverrr, we’eeerrr juussst geettttttting staaarrrted.

Part X Flight School

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.


The Last Christmas Part VIII: Doubt Comes to Visit

“Do you want to tell me how we’re gonna get past an army of pine trees?” Chrissy asked as they walked along the bike path. “In case you forgot I had to save you from them last time.”

“I know, and I appreciate it. But my grandfather said we can’t let doubt stop us. Doubt is the problem, not the trees.”

“Doubt? He’s apparently never seen trees like this then.”

As they approached the old path into the woods, several of the trees shook snow off their branches and moved right to the edge of the paved path. The wind picked up, shaking the branches even more.

“They don’t look happy, Joe. How we gonna get by them?”

“Remember what I said, doubt is our real enemy. Do you trust me, Chrissy?”

“I do. Do you think I’d be wandering around these woods in the freezing cold facing an army of trees if I didn’t?” She paused for a moment. “I either trust you or I’m just crazy, but either way here I am and there they are,” pointing at the angry trees. “Now, what?”

Joe reached into his pocket and pulled out two glow sticks. “I had these left over from Halloween, take one and break the seal when I tell you to.” He handed one to her and kept the other.

“What are we gonna do with these? Light the way? I’m not the crazy one here, you are.”

“Listen to me, what is the one thing every tree fears?”

“Beavers?” Chrissy said, “or termites?”

“No,” Joe raised the glow stick in front of him. “Fire. These glow sticks look like they’re burning. All we have to do is act like they are fire and the trees will get out of our way.”

Chrissy looked at the glow stick, then at the giant trees rocking back and forth in the wind. “Really, you think it will fool them?”

“Have no doubt, Chrissy, have no doubt.” Joe broke the seal, shook the stick until it glowed brightly, then ran at the trees waving the stick back and forth.

And it worked. The trees backed away, shrinking back into the forest.

“C’mon, Chrissy, it’s working.”

Breaking the seal on her own stick, she followed behind Joe. Taking delight in scaring giant trees just by believing she could, she’d never doubted it for a moment.


Five minutes later, they arrived at the barn. Sliding open the door, they found the elves busy with the reindeer and polishing the parts of the sleigh.

They got right to work, Chrissy read the instructions while Joe and the elves hammered, tightened, stretched, and snapped together the various parts. It took several hours, but it was looking like a sleigh.

“The next few steps are critical to the safe operation of the navigation and flight control systems,” Chrissy read aloud. “Use extreme caution in assembling each part, following each step precisely.” She looked up from the book. “Maybe we should take a break, we’ve been at this awhile and it will be dark soon.”

“Good idea,” Joe said. “We’ll come back tomorrow

Crissy placed the book on the bench and came over to admire their work. “Can you believe we’re building Santa’s sleigh?”

“I know, it’s amazing. I wonder when Santa shows up to check things out?” Joe saw the elves exchange glances as he spoke. “They’re not telling us something,” he whispered to Chrissy.

“Let’s head home.” Joe walked over to the bench. “I’ll take the manual with us so I can read it when I get home. Might make things go faster if I have time to study it.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea, Joe? Shouldn’t we leave it here?”

“Nah, it will be fine. C’mon let’s go.”

Grabbing their coats, they headed out the door. After a few feet, Joe stopped.

“Oh, wait a minute. I forgot the other glow sticks in case the trees come back.” He handed her the book. “Hold this, I’ll be right back.”

He ran back inside the barn. As he started back, a scream shattered the air. “Chrissy,” he yelled and ran outside, followed by several elves. Chrissy was lying on the ground rubbing her head.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. A sudden wind came up and I turned away from it. Next thing I knew something hit me in the head and I fell down.” She rubbed her head, checking her hand for any blood.

Joe helped her up. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m okay, I’m okay. Must have been a branch blown out of a tree or something. Let’s go.” She looked around on the ground. “Where’s the book? I had it in my hands when I fell.”

The book was gone!

Part IX Facing Doubt

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.


The Last Christmas Part VI: Building a Sleigh (Deluxe Model)

Joe and Chrissy spent several hours organizing and assembling parts. Slowly, the sleigh began to take shape.

Turning the page in the manual, Joe read the next step. Engine testing, part 1. He handed the book to Chrissy, found the controller test button, and gave that to her.

“Just follow the instructions while I get things ready.”

“Are you sure about this, Joe?” Chrissy said, studying the manual. “It doesn’t look right.”

“Look, I know what I’m doing. When I say so just push the button so I can test it.” Joe stood at the back of the sleigh near a huge exhaust pipe.

“Why does Santa’s sleigh even need a booster engine?” Chrissy asked. “I mean isn’t that the job of the reindeer?”

Joe looked around the sleigh. “Grandpa said they added the booster when the number of kids got huge. Even flying reindeer have limits. He ducked back behind the sleigh. “Now push the button.”

“Okay, here it goes.”  All the elves came over to stand next to her. Although she noticed some hiding behind the reindeer stalls. Hmm, she wondered, maybe they know something I don’t know. She shrugged, grabbed the controller, and pushed the button.


She pushed it again.

“Did you push it?” Joe yelled.


“Okay, whatever you do don’t push it twice.”

“Uh-oh,” she said as the rest of the elves began to scatter. It started as a low rumble, then grew to an enormous roar. A huge flame shot out the back of the nozzle, igniting a pile of hay. The engine went silent. Elves poured water to douse the flames.

Then one more explosion erupted from the engine followed by a huge black cloud.

Joe stumbled from behind the sleigh. All she could see of his face was his eyes. Black soot covered everything else. He brushed himself off as he leaned against the sleigh rail.

“You pushed it twice, didn’t you?”

“Perhaps you should have told me that before we started the test.” Chrissy handed him the controller. “Stupid boys, never tell you the whole story.” Then she started to laugh. “You look ridiculous. You better clean up or your mother will kill you if you drag all that soot into your house.”

Joe tried to look angry, but then joined in the laughter.  Several elves ran over and poured buckets of water on him. “Hey, how am I gonna explain being soaked to my mom?”

With that, one elf opened a compartment in the sleigh’s side. Pulling an enormous red blanket with initials NM from inside, he wrapped it around Joe. Within seconds he was dry and warm.

“What is this?”

“That,” said the elf, “is Santa’s warming blanket. He hits all kinds of weather in his travels; ice, snow, wind, and rain. The blanket keeps him warm and dries him if he gets wet.”

Joe handed the blanket back to the elves. Spotting the initials again, he said, “Who is NM?”

The elves looked at each other and scurried away, all except for one. He put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “When the time comes, you’ll learn the whole story. You’re not ready, yet. I think you’ve done enough for today.” He placed the blanket back in the compartment and moved off.

“Well, I guess that’s it for the day. Let’s go.” Grabbing their jackets, they headed back out into the cold. As they got to the edge of the woods, Joe stopped.

“Did you hear something?” he said.

“I did, and I think it’s over there.” She pointed to a huge pine tree.  At least she thought it was a tree until it moved. Another one moved. Then a whole army of trees began moving toward them.

A voice—raspy and hissing—came to them on the wind. “I warned you to stay away. Now, you’ll learn to listen.”

“Run, Chrissy, run.”

They took off with Chrissy in the lead and Joe right behind her. The trees tried to cut off their escape. Joe dodged one of the swinging branches, but another caught him from behind, knocking him to the ground. He could feel the roots of the tree wrapping around his feet.

Chrissy, realizing Joe was not with her, ran back.  Grabbing a large stick, she wacked at the roots until Joe was free. Helping him to his feet, they dodged their way back to the bike path.

“Thanks,” Joe said, “I thought I was a goner.”

“No worries, that’s what friends are for.” She pointed to the wall of pines, stopped at the edge of the path, blocking the way. “How we gonna get back there?”

Joe didn’t hesitate a moment. “Let’s get back to my house. My grandfather will know what to do.”

Part VII Defeating the Piney Army

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.


The Last Christmas Part V: Care and Feeding of Reindeer

Joe looked out the window as the snow swirled in the wind. Please, please, please, call it off. Please. He listened to the muffled sounds of his mother and father talking as they listened to the radio.

The familiar voice, bringing joy to kids throughout Rhode island, wafted up the stairs as he lay in bed.

“No school Foster-Glocester. No school Barrington. No school Bristol.”

Please, oh please, call it off.

“No school East Providence.”

What? What? They skipped us!

“Sorry there, folks. I missed one. No school Cumberland.”

Joe stopped listening; the rest didn’t matter. In seconds he was dressed and down the stairs. Running to the table, he wolfed down his breakfast.

“Be nice if you would move that fast when you have school,” his mother said.

“Ah, the simple pleasures of youth,” his father sighed then headed off to work. “No rest for the cops though, we go no matter what. See you all later. Oh, almost forgot. That bag of deer feed is in the garage. Do I want to know why your grandfather had me pick that up?”

Joe swallowed the last of his milk and smiled. “Nah, Chrissy and I want to put some feed out for the deer since it’s been so cold. That’s all.”

His father stared for a moment. “Yeah, right. Okay, we’ll assume the best. Have fun.”

Joe brought his dish to the sink and ran for his boots. “I’ll be back later, Mom. Did you need anything before I go?”

“Now I am worried. Up, dressed, put the dishes away with me asking, and you want to know if I need anything. Something’s up here and I see the hand of your grandfather mixed up in this.”

Joe stood still, not sure what to say.

“But, no, I don’t need you for anything. Just be home before dark and whatever it is he’s got you doing, please be careful.”

“I will.” And he was out the door.

Ten minutes later, dragging a sled with the deer feed on it, he met up with Chrissy.

“Where are we gonna find these reindeer?” she asked.

“We don’t. The find us. Now help me pull this thing, it’s heavy.”

Dragging the sled behind them, they struggled up a small hill in the woods. Joe kept stopping to look around.

“What are you looking for?”

“Dunno, my grandfather said look for the reindeer signs but I don’t know the difference between reindeer hoofprints and other animals.”

Chrissy joined in the search, looking on the ground for something helpful. She stopped and turned, looking up at the treetops.

“You ain’t gonna find reindeer hoofprints in the trees. They fly, they don’t climb.”

“Listen, smarty pants, there’s a reason your grandfather asked me to help,” she pointed up and behind Joe. “It’s because I’m smarter than you.”

Joe spun around and hanging from the trees was a big sign.

“Hi, Joe. Start the trail here.”

“What the…” Joe starred at the words.

“Not animal signs, real signs. Obvious once you think about it. I bet we walked right past others. I should have known better than to listen to you. So now what?”

Joe pulled out a small knife and cut a hole in the bag.  Grabbing a handful of feed, he tossed it on the ground then headed back to the barn.

“I’ll pull the sled, you scatter the feed so it leads them to the barn.”

“Okay, but they’ll just eat the feed and run off when it’s gone,” Chrissy said, grabbing a handful of feed.

“We’ll see,” Joe said. “We’ll see.”

An hour later, they stood outside the barn, the trail of feed winding its way back into the woods.

“Now what?” Chrissy said, huddling against the wall of the barn trying to block the wind.

“Now, we wait.” Joe said. “But let’s go inside. At least it will be better than out here.”

“Not much, there are—” Chrissy stopped pointed over Joe’s shoulder. “Joe, look.”

Converging through the woods, following the trail of feed, came eight reindeer. They walked to the door of the barn, all lined up, and waited.

“You think they want to go inside?” Chrissy asked.

“I guess so. My grandfather said to just follow their lead, they know what to do.” He walked between the reindeer, petting their heads, then stood at the door. “Ready?”

“I suppose,” Chrissy said, making her way to his side. “But I don’t understand why they want to go inside this place. It’s so full of holes and….” Once again, she stopped mid-sentence.

As the door swung open, the inside was lit by a roaring fire. Elves stood by waiting to lead the reindeer into their warm stalls. The parts of the sleigh were all organized on the floor.

Chrissy blinked twice, not believing what her eyes were seeing.

One elf came over to Joe

“So, you’re the lucky one I see. You’ve much to learn Joe.” He turned to Chrissy. “And you, young lady, you’re the most important part of this. You have much to learn as well. But that can wait.  Now we need to get the reindeer ready for training. You’ve done well, so far. But take care on your travels from now on.” He glanced around the room. “The spirit of doubt will soon learn of your presence. Be on guard.”

He let them back to the door and hustled them back out into the weather. “Take care now and come back as soon as you can.”

Closing the door behind them, the barn once again took on the appearance of an abandoned shell.

Part VI Building a Sleigh (Deluxe Model)

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.


The Last Christmas Part IV: Gathering the Herd

Did you bring them?”  Joe called out as he stood on the bike path

“Yes,” Chrissy answered, running over to him. “Seems a little crazy since you don’t have a dog.” A smile crossed her face. “Unless they’re for you, boys can be weird like that.”

“NO! they’re not for me, but my grandfather said we would need them.”

“Need them for what?”

“The wolves.” Joe turned and headed down the path. “Now c’mon, we have to be quick about this and back before dark.”

“Wolves? Did you say wolves? We’re gonna give dog biscuits to wolves?”

Joe didn’t answer, and she ran to catch up with him.

“There are no wolves around here anyway,” Chrissy said, falling into step with him as he headed down the old dirt path. She looked around the dark, grey woods.  “This is another one of your tricks.”

“Shh,” Joe said. “Listen.”

Chrissy stopped and looked around. The cold wind swirled the snow from the evergreens and shook the branches. She heard nothing but the sounds of the wood.

“Joe, this is crazy. There haven’t been wolves in New England since—.”

The plaintive cry of the wolf, echoing off the valley wall of the Blackstone River, sent a chill up her spine.

“What was that?” she said, moving to stand next to Joe.

“A wolf. C’mon, let’s go. And put a dog biscuit in your hands so they can see them.”

Joe left the path and headed down the slope toward the river. Chrissy, holding onto a handful of biscuits, clung close behind.

“Was that a real wolf?” she asked.

“Sort of,” Joe said. “My grandfather said they’re special wolves. They guard the reindeer during the year until Christmas comes around. We need to let the wolves know we are friendly and that my grandpa sent us.”

“What happens if they don’t believe us?”

“Then they eat us, and someone else will have to do this.” Joe smiled. “But don’t worry, my grandpa is very smart. He knows if something happened to me, my mom would kill him.  He’s brilliant like that.”

“Somehow, that does not make me feel better.”

The wolf’s call echoed one more, closer this time. The trees began to thin out, and a field appeared through the branches.

Chrissy ran in front of Joe, backpedaling along as she faced him. “What do we do after we find the wolves?”

“We feed them, and they lead us to the reindeer,” Joe said, stopping dead in his tracks.

A soft crunching of snow and the crack of several branches caused Chrissy to turn around. Emerging from the shadows, a lone wolf stood staring at them. A low growl reverberated from deep within his throat.

“Give him a biscuit,” Joe said.

“You give him a biscuit,” Chrissy answered, frozen with fear.

“O, o, okay, I will.”

Joe held out the biscuit, and the wolf raised his snout sniffing the air. In one leap, he was next to Joe, towering over him. Joe barely held onto the biscuit because of his hand shaking. The wolf leaned down, gently took the biscuit, and swallowed it whole.

Chrissy stood transfixed at the sight of this giant animal just feet away. The wolf turned to her.

“Here, here you go, boy, or girl, or whatever you are.” Holding out several biscuits.

Once again, the wolf gently took the biscuits. After finishing them off, he rolled onto his back right in front of Chrissy.

“I think he wants his belly scratched,” Joe said, kneeling next to the wolf.

Chrissy bent down, hand still trembling, and ran her hand down the warm fur. The wolf wiggled with delight.

“Why he’s just a big baby,” Chrissy said, rubbing the wolf’s belly as the giant creature nuzzled against her. “So now what do we do?”

“Now, we let the wolf decide.”

“Decide what?”

“To help us or eat us.” Joe laughed. “Just kidding, Grandpa said we had to pass this test first, meaning not get eaten, and then the wolf will lead us to the reindeer when we’re ready.”

“Ready? How do we get ready?”

“We build the sleigh and prepare the barn to hold the reindeer until Christmas.”

Chrissy shook her head, still rubbing the wolf’s belly. “I wonder about all this, Joe. I still think it’s one of your—.”

The snap of a twig brought the wolf to his feet. He sniffed the air and moved between the two kids. His head swung back and forth, searching the woods for the source of the sound.

A dark shadow emerged from the wood. A swirling mass of nothing and something all at the same moment. The wolf’s growl grew deeper and louder.

A voice, raspy and chilling, rose from the apparition.

“I see this year’s assistants are very young. Nicholas must be desperate for his last time. It will make it all the easier to end this Christmas nonsense.”

The wolf leaped at the apparition, which dissolved away.  Off in the distance, fading in the rising wind, the voice reached them once more.

“Mark my words, Joe and Chrissy, you’ll regret helping that old man. If I were you, I’d run as fast as I could and leave this place.”

The voice faded, and the wolf nudged Joe toward the path.

“Time to go, Chrissy, We’ll come back tomorrow and start gathering the herd.”

“Come back? Come back? Are you crazy? Did you hear that thing? I’m not coming back.” At the sound of her words, the wolf snuggled against her. The warmth and strength calmed her.

“You have to come back, Chrissy. We’re in this together. Come on. Look, with that wolf next to you and me, no one’s gonna do anything to us.”

Chrissy leaned into the wolf, whispering in his ear. “You’ll take care of us?” To her surprise, the wolf turned to look in her eyes. She could swear his head nodded, and he smiled. Her mind raced with both fear and wonder.

“I’ll think about it.”

The wolf licked her face and then bounded away into the woods. The wolf call now different, almost like a song, echoing in the forest as if spreading the good news.

Part V Care and Feeding of Reindeer

Please follow along with the adventure.

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.