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A special Goldendale Sentinel serialized Christmas fable


Dear Goldendale Sentinel Readers,

At this time of planetary strife where the sick worshiping of evil results in the cowardly torture and murder of fellow human beings; where greed for power results in civil wars and mass homelessness; where trafficking of children results in loss of innocence and feelings of total worthlessness or, worse, death; where greed is placed above integrity to the detriment of the air we breathe and the water we drink; where many of our own veterans who served our country walk the streets with no place to lay their heads—despite all of this, we still believe there is good in the Heart of Humankind.

With this in mind, we invite you to spend a few minutes each week over our next four issues to turn from the darkness of bad news and mayhem and toward the light of forgiveness and hope that will culminate on Dec. 23, two days before the celebration of the birth of Divinity Incarnate.

Some may view this story as no more than fictitious entertainment, and that’s OK. Others, though, may see this as a metaphor for how we can and do live our lives, a kind of before and after transformation. So, with no further ado (please forgive the cliché), join us on a journey of …

A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…” wafted through the speakers of the SUV. It was late. Wilson Barnes glanced over at Jennifer, his wife, who was doing her best to stay awake and keep him company on this cold winter’s night drive, but she appeared to be losing the battle as her head nodded yet again. In the rearview mirror his 14-year old daughter, Samantha, was thumbing a text to one of her many friends. At the other end of the backseat, for the umpteenth time, 9-year old Joshua shook the snow globe he insisted on bringing on this trip. Banjo, their Golden Retriever, was asleep between them.

They were driving on a deserted state road through a pine forest in central Washington State toward a lodge in northern Idaho. As a couple of flakes began to fall, Wilson again questioned his wisdom in pulling off the interstate an hour earlier to take this more “scenic” route, especially since it was now so dark he couldn’t see beyond the headlights. And not a single other car had passed in either direction. But the tank was full, and the kids, amazingly enough, seemed content. Wilson was pulled into the hypnotic lull of the highway, along with, unfortunately, his own thoughts—the very ones he had hoped this vacation would bring relief from.

“Barnes,” his publisher had admonished three days earlier, a whiny insistence punctuating every other word. “You’re getting further behind schedule with that story. If you don’t get it here in a week, it won’t make the next issue, and we’ll be in a world of hurt, a world of hurt here!”

“I know Monty.” Wilson’s sigh couldn’t come close to expressing the resignation he had been feeling over this latest project. “But nothing is coming! You asked for ‘warm and fuzzy,’ but I don’t do warm and fuzzy. I don’t even know where to start.”

“Oh, c’mon, Barnes! Everybody knows warm and fuzzy. Think back to when you were a kid at Christmastime, for God’s sake. Write about how warm and fuzzy that felt. Just get it here in a week – that’s seven days, Barnes! Not a minute longer!” The phone clicked off in Monty’s typically abrupt style before Wilson could object, leaving him in an energy of fuming frustration.

Even Jen’s understanding of the situation did little to alleviate his distress.

“You’ve had writer’s block before,” she reminded him. “It never lasts very long. You just need to get your mind off the story for a couple of days. A little recreational distraction should do the trick.”

“Really? And just where are we going to find a little ‘recreational distraction’ this close to Christmas?” he demanded sarcastically with a pout.

Jen smiled conspiratorially. “Funny you should ask…”

Wilson inwardly groaned, in no mood for solutions. He just wanted to sulk.

“Pam called this very morning and asked if we could take their timeshare at a very popular lodge in Idaho she and Bruce reserved almost a year ago. His aunt took a turn for the worse yesterday, poor dear, so they feel they need to be with her instead. Pam told me we were their first choice to go in their place – besides, everyone else’s plans have already been made.”

Jen watched Wilson’s sullen face expectantly. When he said nothing, she went on gently. “Hon, this is the perfect solution, don’t you see? We haven’t had a family vacation in… well, forever. It’s a lovely drive to a beautiful place – I already looked it up on the Internet. And it will be just the break you need to clear you mind.”

Wilson, still resisting without knowing why, tried, “I don’t want their charity.”

“Who said anything about charity? The price is quite reasonable, and Pam said they’re happy for us to pay them back after your next story is published.”

“You mean ‘if’ it’s ever published,” he grumbled.

“Oh, Wil, you’re being overly dramatic.” She smiled and kissed him, an effect that instantly softened any dour mood. “This will work. I just know it will.”

“Seven more days ’til Christmas, and we’ve still got sales galore at Toy Town. But don’t wait! Deals like this won’t last!” The radio blared through the speakers, jarring Wil out of his reverie. He reached over to turn it off. To his surprise everyone else was now asleep. Even more surprising, the earlier flurries had escalated to a full-scale blizzard. He puzzled over this, recalling that the forecasts had been for clear weather. As visibility decreased, he slowed the vehicle to a crawl. The windshield wipers thumped away frenetically, barely keeping up with the accumulation. His anxiety heightened when he found himself in a total white-out, no longer able even to see the road.

He continued inching the vehicle forward until the trees crowded in on him. There seemed to be nowhere to go. Fortunately, the tank was full, so he left it running to stay warm as he considered their options. This freak tempest had to let up soon. He wondered uneasily, not for the first time, if they were lost. He pulled out his smart phone to check their location. No signal.

Josh, who Wil had been certain was asleep, startled him upon blurting out, “Hey! Look at that light up there.” He was peering out the right rear window.

This awakened Samantha, who asked with a yawn, “Hey, Dad, why are we stopped?”

Josh remained more interested on the object of his focus and persisted, “Wow, it’s really bright!”

This got Sam’s attention. “That is bright!” she agreed. “Dad, do you think it could be a fire?”

Wil, who had been distracted by their predicament, finally glanced in the direction the kids were pointing. A chill crept up his spine as he looked into the eerie luminescence. “No…” he said cautiously, “I’m pretty sure that’s not a fire. Fires flicker. This looks like a steady glow.”

At this point Jennifer started awake. “Where are we?” She looked around in bewilderment. “Wil, why aren’t we moving anymore?”

“This storm…” Wil gestured. “I can’t see a darn thing except…” He pointed to the light. Jen’s eyes followed the projection of his finger.

Her mouth dropped open. “How can we see such a light but can barely see two feet in front of us through all this snow?”

“Dad, roll the window down a crack,” Josh ordered. “I think I hear something.”

Wil pushed the window button to lower it an inch.

Sam scooted over next to her brother, and leaned forward to press her ear against the gap. “He’s right, Dad! It’s music!”

“Someone must live up there!” Josh suggested.

Wil frowned. “I can’t imagine anyone playing music outside or having their windows open in a storm like this.”

“Is there a town around here?” Jen asked.

“I’m not sure where ‘around here’ is,” Wil muttered dejectedly.

“Are we lost?” Jen could not keep the undercurrent of fear out of her voice. Wil didn’t answer, feeling responsible for their quandary.

“Dad, let’s go see what that music is!” Josh insisted.

Wil shook his head. “I think we need to stay put until this storm passes.”

“Can you at least pull off the road, so no one hits us from behind?” Jen demanded.

“I don’t think we’re even on the road anymore.” Wil looked down sheepishly.

“How is that possible?” Jen exclaimed accusingly. “Well, then turn on the map light, so I can check the GPS on my cell.”

“Don’t bother,” Wil responded dejectedly. “We’re in a dead zone.”

“No, we’re not,” Sam corrected from the back seat. “My phone says we’re in Wassailville.”

“That’s a weird name,” Josh commented.

“Oh, come on, Sam!” Wil managed a chuckle, very familiar with his oldest child’s proclivity toward pranks.

“Don’t believe me, then!” She retorted. “But it sounds like a cool place.”

“OK, let me see what you got.” Wil reached over the seat, and Sam handed the cell to him with a shrug.

“Just as I thought,” Wil said, staring at the screen and tilting the phone back and forth. “There’s nothing here. Not even a single bar.”

“Now you’re fibbin’!” Sam snapped. “I know what I saw!” She leaned forward and snatched the phone back from Wil, pressing the screen.

“See!” She turned the illuminated screen toward him, a look of defiance on her face.

“That’s too far for me to read, Sam. Let me see it again.” She handed it to him, but as soon as his eyes focused, again he saw no signal. “Very funny, Sam.”

“I’m not joking!” Sam’s voice rose in indignation until Wil held the phone up for her to see the blank screen. “That can’t be?!” Now she was confused, taking the phone back from Wil. She pressed the screen multiple times. “This stupid thing!” She flicked the display with her fingernail in irritation.

“Careful with that. Those things aren’t cheap,” Wil warned. Then to assure her, “We’ll get our signals back soon enough. Remember, nothing is ever—”

“—as bad as it seems,” Sam finished in a mocking voice.

Can’t blame her for the sarcasm, Wil thought, especially when things are usually worse.

“Dad, please let’s go see what that music is!” Josh persevered, oblivious to the cell phone grievances. “It sounds like Christmas carols.”

“Well.” Wil looked toward the luminescence. “Maybe I should go…”

“No!” Jen looked petrified. “You don’t know what’s out there!”

“I hardly think anything sinister is going to come from the source of Christmas music.” Wil smiled and reached for his hat and gloves.

“You’ve not watched horror movies, have you, Wil?” Jen asked. “There’s a bunch of films about families getting stuck at Christmas time and –”

“You’re not helping,” Wil interrupted. “I’m sure this is perfectly safe.”

“I’m coming too!” Josh yelled.

“Me too!” added Sam, dropping the useless phone into her back pack.

“Absolutely not!” Jen objected. “We can all stay right here ’til morning.”

“The gas may not last that long, Jen.” Wil reasoned. “And I’ll just bet there’s shelter, warmth, and food there. Besides, we’ll have Banjo with us.”

Jen acquiesced, with nature’s many bodily calls, especially hunger, taking precedence. In a matter of minutes the entire Barnes clan, bundled up in coats, hats, gloves, and scarves, Banjo at the helm, were trudging through heavy snow toward the light.

~ … to be continued in next week’s paper ~


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