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A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas


Previously on “A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas”: The Barnes family has been driving through a remote section of Washington State to a timeshare for Christmas vacation, intended to give Wil the break he needs to overcome the writer’s block that’s been impeding the story, due to his publisher in only a week. They find themselves stranded by a freak and blinding blizzard. Rather than wait out the tempest in the seeming safety and warmth of their SUV, they’re drawn out into the storm by a strange glow on a distant hill, accompanied by what sounds like Christmas music…

Banjo pranced happily ahead, leading the family through foot deep snow toward the radiance that lit their way, his tail conveying sheer jubilation. The kids rushed ahead to join the Golden Retriever while the parents trudged behind. Jen, who chilled easily, wrapped the thick wool scarf snugly around her neck and head until only her nose and eyes could be seen through the dense precipitation. She took Wil’s arm and pulled him close for added warmth. “What is that light?” she asked, a note of awe in her voice. “It looks like a beacon of some kind.” “Don’t know, but it feels OK, whatever it is,” Wil replied, his breath coming out in white puffs. “Kids, stay close!” Jen called, as they got further away. But the heavy snowfall muffled her voice, and they were quickly out of sight around a bend. The parents’ momentary panic gave way to relief when they heard Banjo barking and the kids’ laughter. They caught up to them in a clearing.

“I told you to stay close!” Jen scolded. But the kids were grinning joyously. “What is it?” Wil asked. “Look!” Josh pointed upward to where the light had been. There was now a single, radiant star beaming down on a softly glowing village. They stood gazing at what could have been a Thomas Kinkade masterpiece. “Oh! How beautiful!” Jen exclaimed. “And, look, it’s stopped snowing!” Sam announced matter-of-factly. Jen snapped out of her state of awe and looked around. “That kind of storm doesn’t just stop that quickly!” But there was no longer a single snowflake in the air, and above them, as a back

drop to the luminous star, an inky blue, crystalline sky was strewn with thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights. She looked at Wil who shrugged, equally bemused. Yet, like the kids, neither felt the slightest trepidation any longer. The family proceeded on, climbing toward the numinous hamlet, a sense of comfort and wellbeing increasing as they drew closer. The last hundred feet or so was steep, and they were quite winded when they finally reached the cobble-stoned entrance to the enchanting village. On the right side of the entrance, “Welcome to Wassailville” had been intricately carved in large, flourishing letters into an ancient, five-foot thick log, nestled on its side for what could have been centuries. “Told ya!” Sam exclaimed, pointing triumphantly to the sign.

On the left was an ornate, iron pole, from which hung a horizontal figure-eight symbol. “Infinity!” Josh pointed this time. “Infinity?” Wil repeated. “Did you learn that in Math, Bud?” “No!” Josh laughed as though his dad were clueless. “Philosophy!” Wil stared at Jen. “Since when are 10-yearolds taking Philosophy?” “It’s a progressive school, remember? That’s what you wanted for him, Hon.” Shaking his head, Wil followed Jen and the kids into a winter wonderland of weathered stone buildings and quaint dwellings with thatched roofs. Icicles hung from all the eaves and glistened as though lit from within. The whole village glimmered. A thick blanket of pristine snow covered everything like a luxurious coat of ivory fleece. The streets were empty with not a snowy footprint to be seen, but they felt aliveness humming all around them. “This looks like my snow globe come to life!” Josh exclaimed. “Yes,” Jen agreed in astonishment, “it does.” “And where’s that music coming from?” Sam wondered. She slowly pirouetted, her face turned upward. The rest of the family looked around for the source of the melody as well, upon realizing it had never stopped. But it wasn’t originating from any single place. There were no speakers and no open windows. The tune seemed to emanate from the structures around them, rise from the ground beneath them, fall from the sky above. “It sounds familiar,” Will commented. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard it before too,” Jen acknowledged. “But I don’t know…” “What’s Banjo doing?” Josh pointed to the dog who was sitting in front of one of the houses across the street, looking up at the front door, tail wagging, as though he knew this house and was extending his canine salutation. They watchedin wonder as the door opened a crack, and a hand reached out to offer him something. Banjo happily accepted it and ran over to join the rest of family. “What is that?” Sam asked as Banjo dropped the treat before them for their approval before gobbling it up. “Bacon?” Wil speculat

ed. “That was… very kind… ,” Jen commented, her eyes trailing back to the house. “Who lives in this town?” Sam queried to no one in particular. “Well, whoever they are, they seem to like dogs,” Will responded. They were startled

to suddenly hear footsteps crunching the snow behind them and spun around to see a young couple approaching, arm-in-arm, beaming smiles of welcome. They were dressed all in white: long winter coats, woolen hats, and mittens. Even their boots matched the ensemble. “Where’ve you been?” The man asked. “We’ve been waiting for hours,” the woman added.

Parents and kids looked at each other and then behind them to see who the couple could possibly be talking to. “You are the Barneses, right?” The woman inquired with a knowing grin. Four jaws dropped simultaneously. After a moment’s silence, Wil ventured, “H-how do you know who we are?” “Oh, we’ve been expecting you for a long time,” the man replied. “You are a little late, though.” Mother, father, and children were speechless. Only Banjo seemed delighted to see the couple. “I’m Ben,” the man offered, stepping forward to present a mittened hand to Wil. “Nice to meet you, Ben…” Wil shook it. The grip was firm. Then, almost as an afterthought, “and I’m—” “Wilson, of course,” Ben finished for him. He turned to the rest of the family “And you must be Jennifer, Samantha, and Joshua.” He shook each of their hands in turn. “And last but not least, Banjo.” The dog offered his paw amicably. “And I’m Belle,” the young woman announced with a slight curtsy. “That’s spelled with an ‘E’ on the end.” “We’re confused,” Jen said slowly after a pause. “We’ve never been here before. And, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember ever meeting you.” “Really?” Ben laughed. “You don’t know your own family?” Wil, as though suddenly snapping awake from a dream, said, “Wait, wait, wait! It’s time for a reality check.” “Oh, you don’t want to do one of those.” Belle smiled with a toss of her head. “Why not?” “Around here reality checks always bounce.” The couple laughed. The Barneses were more bewildered. Ben looked at Wil and asked, “How is it we know your names?” “I can’t explain it,” Wil shook his head. Then added a bit forcefully, “But I expect you to.” “Details, details. You don’t want to think too much about it.” Ben gently slapped Wil’s back in a jovial manner. “In the meantime, how about some wassail?” “I heard of that in a Christmas carol!” Josh said excitedly. “It’s like hot cider, right?” “Indeed it is!” Belle put her arm around his shoulder, leaned down, and whispered, “Only much better! In fact it’s so good, our town is named after it.” No one had any objections to the image of such culinary delectability. “This way,” Ben motioned. He took Belle’s hand, and they started toward the village center. Josh and Banjo ran up to join them. Wil and Jen exchanged a glance; their brief sense of feeling like they were losing control was instantly replaced with an attitude of ‘Why not?’ Sam trailed behind. As they proceeded further into town, shutters began opening on either side of the street and heads popped out, some from the second stories, others at street level, and all of them were hailed by name. “Hi, Ben and Belle! Glad you finally found them!” “Josh, you sure are looking grown up!” “Jen, you’re gonna love the wassail! Just like your grandmother used to make.” “They made a huge fire just for you, Wil.” “Don’t let Banjo eat all the bacon!” Laughter followed. “Welcome, Sam. We sure have missed you!” Upon hearing this, Sam, with eyes like saucers, mumbled, “Where are we?” Belle, up ahead, laughed and called back over her shoulder, “Why, Sam! You’re home, of course.” Sam rushed forward and pulled on her mother’s sleeve. “How could she have heard that?” She whispered. “Who?” Jen responded. “Heard what?” Stupefied, Sam dropped back again, wondering how she was ever going to explain this confusing conundrum to her friends. ~ To be continued next week… ~


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