I loved winter break. Midterms done to begin with. I got through them, hated them, but I got through them. Sweatshirts, baggy pants, the food, and skiing was the other thing. The best part, there was no waking up at o’dark-thirty in the morning. I had been looking so forward to spending Christmas week in Colorado. Vail, to be exact.
That plan failed big time. Mom and Dad said that plans changed. No going to Colorado to do anything. As in no Christmas and no skiing. When I asked why, they told me the strangest thing I ever heard. They made plans to send me to North Pole, Alaska, while they had business to do. Who works during Christmas?
An eighteen-year-old girl with a driver’s license, capable of buying groceries, cooking food without burning the house down needed to be looked after. Despite them saying otherwise, I knew how to stay on budget. I screamed. How could they?
Monday morning, at the worst part of the day, the three of us made it to the airport. I got on my plane before they got on there’s. Why is that fair?
Ten hours later, I arrived at a woman’s house that I had never seen before. We sent Christmas cards back and forth, but nothing beyond that. I shook my body, not because of the snow on the ground, but I also wanted to be sure to get rid of any bad vibes. Not that it worked.
A woman answered the door. She had grey hair in a pony tail and wore ear muffs. Tank top and cargo shorts with flip flops on top of that. “Well. You did arrive.” She pulled me inside. “Imogen said she did plan on you arriving but she never said you would be here.” She kept a hold of my hand and pulled me into the kitchen. “Do you have any knowledge of what a carrot looks like?”
Either this woman was dense or she slept in a cave. “Yes, I do.” I took off my coat and gloves and lay them on the chair by the door. Almost too afraid to open the coat closet.
“Splendid. Get four of them. Do you know how to count?”
If I guessed right, I would get an A in Pre-Cal and she’s asking me if I can count? “Yes.”
“Terrific. Now for the hard one. Do you how to use a knife?”
Dad and I had cutting contests when it was his turn to cook. I couldn’t blame her for asking, though. She had no idea, so take in a deep breath and smile. “Yes, ma’am.”
“You’re Imogen’s daughter? I only ask because nothing worked when I tried teaching her how to use one. Are you sure you are who you say you are and didn’t imagine any of this? You didn’t look anything up on those weird thingamadoohickies?”
I could tell her or I could show her. I got out four carrots from the refrigerator. I saw a knife and cutting board already out, so I used those. After a glance around to see what kind of dish was being cooked, and not spotting any, I went with the standard carrot coins.
She got out one of those huge stewing pots and dropped the carrot coins in it. After that, she got out three potatoes from a closet in the kitchen, and instead of cutting those into chunks, she cut them into big coins. The same was true for everything else she put into the pot. There should be uniformity, granted, but I never thought about making everything the same shape. Dad and I never did.
If I guessed right, it would be another four hours until that pot would be ready. I could be wrong and it could take longer or shorter. “So… uh… how’s the weather?”
“It’s the winter and winter means cold and snow. That also means the sun won’t be out for long. No sirree boop.”
Was there a possibility that I could maybe run away? This was getting too weird. I didn’t see a TV, and chances were, she didn’t have a computer. So I sat at the table and stared at the fireplace while wondering what thingamadoohickies were.
That was when she put a bowl, dish soap, and a cloth in front of me. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Haven’t you ever cleaned the table before? You see, you get that cloth, dip it into the wet and soapy water, and wring it out before wiping the table down. Then when you’re done with that, do the dishes. After that, make a list of everything in the refrigerator. When that’s done, think about what kind of food we’ll need. Everybody gotta eat, you know. You can’t work without it, although the government sure makes it hard. Maybe they’re coming out with food pills. Take the red for your meat. The green one for the veggies. The orange one for the fruit. The white one for the milk. Yeah, that’s what they’re doing.”
I started cleaning the table as I thought about what she said. Food pills? Never heard of that and wasn’t sure where she was going. The table shined when I finished.
It took five seconds to do the two dishes in the sink. I didn’t see a dishwasher, so I did them by hand. As for the refrigerator, nothing in there but eggs, bread, milk, and butter. Out of curiosity, I opened the freezer to see bags of meat. That’s all there was in it. I didn’t want to know any more than that, so I closed it.
I made a list based on what we ate back home. All done while wondering why I didn’t notice anything when I was in there earlier. It was pretty straightforward with meatloaf on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, whatever Wednesday and so on.
“Oh, no dear. Don’t do that. I’ll make the food list. You just clean the table. You young people don’t know how to write, anyway.”
I bit my tongue to keep from answering back at that comment.
She walked over and stared at the table. Against the wall, across from the table, sat a storage cabinet. She opened a drawer and pulled out a piece of cloth. A square on a circle didn’t look bad, but looked odd. At least to me when the cloth was smaller than the table.
“Well, it’s too dark to do anything else. So just go to bed and we’ll continue tomorrow. Don’t stub our toes, don’t forget to brush your teeth, put some clothes on, and don’t forget your underwear. Lights out at six-thirty.”
I scanned the living room and the kitchen for a phone. She didn’t have one. I got out my cell to text Dad one simple message. It seemed like I waited hours instead of the five minutes it did to check for a response. Either he didn’t get it or he’s ignoring me. “Just get me out of here. Dad. Help.”
“Why are you still awake?” Grandma asked from the hallway. “You’re supposed to be sleeping. Whatever it is can wait until morning.”
“It’s only six-thirty. I’m not a little kid who goes to sleep at that early hour. Geeze, Grandma.”
“No. No. No. No. And no. Six-thirty is the perfect time to sleep. You’re a little kid because you don’t have grey hair yet.” She stood there looking at me. “On the other hand, you did spend a day in those big metal contraptions without a chance to get up and do an obstacle course. Your body must still have energy in it if you can’t sleep. Maybe Imogen needs to find that phone number for the Sandman again. You need his help.”
She walked over to the chair and grabbed my coat and gloves before she herded me into another room. Each wall was decorated with a different holiday. One wall was Halloween, another was Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and then New Year’s. I couldn’t get over it. One wall led to another as if it told a story.
She put the coat and gloves on me before placing keys in my hand. “Those keys unlock the lock that keeps it from running away. Bikes do that, you know. When they’re neglected, they run away never to be found again so don’t lose the lock or the keys. Cross your heart and say you will never lie, the keys will always be with me.”
I did what she said while still waiting for the padded truck to arrive. Along with the latest in fashion for crazy wear. OK, maybe I was being too judgmental, but this woman was far beyond anything rational. It was a wonder Mom came out like, well, Mom.
She patted my hand. “That’s a good little princess.” She pinched my cheek. “Now you go on. Be back by Eve.” She left the room.
What Eve and my cheek hurt. That woman could pinch. I looked at the keys and only one of them looked funny, almost like the keys found in computer games.
On my way out, Grandma stopped me in the hallway. “Oh, and by the way, the bike won’t let you slip. If you don’t tell it what to do, it’ll do it for you. And… and… oh I’ll remember later.”
Uhm. Yeah. OK. Definite candidate for the funny farm. As soon as possible, I’m telling Mom and Dad no more Grandma visits. That woman’s loony with a capital L.
I went outside and found the bike. The locks weren’t difficult. Insert key and turn.
It looked sort of small and wondered if I would be able to ride it without feeling like my knees would hit my nose. I got on anyway and prayed to anyone who would listen that I wouldn’t end up dead.
I started pedaling and the bike got bigger. It didn’t feel child sized. It felt my size. I was all of five foot eight and my knees had room. OK, so where to now?
They say the words pitch black was like saying black black but that was the perfect way to describe the scenery. After the light turned on, all by itself I might add, I could see for a foot in front of me. “OK, so where do I go? I could go to the airport and fly home. This is too weird.”
Without my knowledge, the bike went up into the air and flew on its own. My hands may have been on the handlebars, but I was not turning it. It turned and pedaled itself. I had a haunted bike.
OK, breathe in and out. In and out. In and out and it was not working. OK, I needed to remain calm. If there was the possibility that that old lady put a magic spell on this bike, it wouldn’t last forever would it? There had to be an expiration date. Right?
Before I knew it, we landed somewhere by a river. I did what the old stories said to do and that was to follow the river. It led to a set of golden gates with a face on it. I could’ve sworn it even smiled.
“Well. Greetings. Happy to see a newcomer here in Christmas Village. I am the Gate Keeper. What are you called?”
“Uh… My… my name is Marlowe.” Things went from weird to bizarre.
“Greetings, Marlowe. What would you like?”
How to answer that question. “Could I take a look around?”
“Of course. You must bring me a holly wreath before you enter. Are you willing?”
It laughed. “So silly. The holly is around you. Take a look behind you and gather as much as you need. Shape it the best you can and bring it to me. Your gift will be granted to you.”
The gate was right. The leaves were poky so I had to be careful. The more I looked, though, it seemed there was a choice between those that were and those that weren’t. I picked the ones without pointy ends and used those. The gloves made it hard but not difficult. When done, I held it up to look at it. It was round with a lot of holly leaves and berries on it. Not the greatest but I got it done.
I held it out when I got to the gate.
“Oh my. That is beautiful. It needs to be hung above me.”
A little hook hung above its head so that’s where I put it. The gate opened.
I almost forgot about the bike but it followed behind me. It brought me here in one piece so it couldn’t be so bad. It didn’t run me over or anything.
Gingerbread and snow sculptures ran around and decorated the streets. There were snowflakes that skated on the frozen waterways. Trees decorated with bright lighted orbs and berries.
A hidden place where magic was a part of everyday life. It had to be. Bakeries and candy stores of every kind lined the street. A reindeer corral with all of them in their place, even Rudolph, in a stable by the road.
A large castle sat on top of the hill. It could be Santa’s house. He wouldn’t have a castle would he? He could but I didn’t think so.
About to go up the hill, the bike got in front of me and wouldn’t let me pass. It looked like a bull ready to charge the way it was going.
“Look. I don’t know what your problem is but I am curious as to who lives up there. So if you’ll excuse me… .”
It transformed into a motorcycle and revved its engine. It kept pushing me back and that was when I backed into something hard. I turned around and read the sign. Welcome to Christmas Village. Magic lives forever.
It sorta kinda pushed me towards a small building. Town Archives.
“Let me guess. I’m supposed to go in there and find out who’s up there. Right? Forget that. I ain’t doin’ it. I’m on vacation here, at least I’m supposed to be. I’m eighteen and do not, I repeat, do not have to do anything you tell me to do. So you’re taking me home and that’s final.”
It shutdown. The lights went out and the motor stopped. I tried to turn the key and engine wouldn’t turn on. That was when it turned into a tricycle.
“Great. Just great. How am I supposed to get out of here? While I’m stuck here I might as well let Mom and Dad know they can rent out my room seeing as how I no longer live there. Is that what you want?”
It didn’t budge.
“OK. Fine. I’ll go. Is that what you want? Look at me. I’m arguing with a tricycle. I lost my mind. Wait until everybody hears about this. They’ll think I went bonkers which wouldn’t be too far from the truth.”
Archives were a place with old books and papers. Why would I even bother? This was not home. A quick check of the gate and it was closed. The face disappeared.
I tried texting Mom and Dad to get me out of here and it wouldn’t go through. I turned it off and back on again, checked my connection, and that was where I had the problem. No sign or info indicating anything about a Wi-Fi password. Wonderful. Of all the places I get stuck and it was out in the middle of Snowy Nutsville. I screamed as long and as hard as I could. It didn’t work.
My feet were frozen, I couldn’t feel my face, and I wasn’t sure I still had my hands. My solution was to take that hike all the way up the hill. Maybe some physical activity would help to warm me up.
Holy friggin’ sugar. God, help me get out of this crazy place.