Fiction: Juliette and the Christmas Invitation
Erin usually does the fiction, but I figured he shouldn't be the only one to have all the fun. Here's my first short story for Mainlining Christmas, a fantasy piece:
Juliette and the Christmas Invitation
By: Lindsay Stares
The Lady Viola rode over the icy ridge, and an enormous hedge came into view on the horizon. She patted the neck of her steed. “There’s the Maze of Needles, Surefoot. According to the stories, we’ll find the crystal of pure light that will cure the queen there.”
“I hope so, Viola,” Surefoot replied. “We've been looking for so long.”
“Julie!” A light came on by the back door. “It's getting dark, come inside.”
“Fifteen minutes! I need to rescue the queen,” Julie yelled.
“Bring in your toys and you can rescue the queen after dinner.”
Her mom disappeared inside. Now that the light by the back door was on, the sky suddenly seemed much darker. Julie grabbed her doll and horse out of the snow, stuffed them into her jacket pockets, and pushed herself up.
Santa probably wasn’t really watching. Not really. Julie wondered if porch lights at the North Pole made the same kind of deep shadows that theirs did.
She shuffled over to the spreading hemlock tree on the edge of the yard. She had hidden a plastic jewel—the pure light crystal—under the branches when she'd first come outside, before Lady Viola had started her quest on the other side of the house.
With the porch light behind her, the green of the tree looked black; it was hard to see anything. She fell to her knees in her snow pants and looked again. Still no crystal. She pushed through the snowy branches to the open space near the trunk, and took off her mittens to feel around.
“Did you lose this?”
Julie jerked back and ended up sitting on the ground. A growing glow cut through the close darkness under the branches. Two small hands appeared, one holding her plastic crystal, the other holding a gemstone radiating a golden light.
Julie started to reach out, then pulled back. “Yes, that’s mine.” She pointed at the plastic.
“Not this one?” The hand held out the glowing gem. It looked like the stone in the earrings her mom wore on special occasions, but it was more than twice as large and was glimmering with light.
“No,” she whispered.
“Truth!” There was a laugh and the light grew. Julie suddenly remembered a story where the princess had been described as having a musical laugh, like bells. She wondered if this was what it had meant. The laugh had a tone, like a finger on a wineglass: it didn't sound like just a voice.
In a moment Julie could see the speaker was a very small woman, no bigger than Julie herself, also crouched under the bush. She had a small face and pointed ears, and wore a green tunic trimmed in white fur.
Julie felt her mouth hanging open and closed it. Mom always said that she'd catch flies, and while that seemed unlikely in winter, Julie was pretty sure it was rude to gape anyway.
“Thank you for telling the truth, Julie. Here is your jewel.” The small person held the piece of shiny plastic out and dropped it into Julie’s hand.
“Thank you,” she mumbled. The other smiled at her, but Julie didn’t know what else to say. Mom always said to be polite, and Julie supposed that still applied, even if you were talking to someone who might not be human. She looked back at the porch light. “Do you,” she finally managed, “do you live here?”
The other laughed again. “No, I live very far away, but I'm happy I was here to help you.” She cocked her head. “Where do you think I live?”
Julie looked at her small stature, pointed ears, and green clothing. “The, the North Pole?” she asked hesitantly.
Another twinkling laugh. “Good guess!”
"Why are you under the bush?"
"I'm watching children, of course."
"I was going in," Julie said quickly. She had been, too. She didn't believe that the one time she dawdled was going to be the time that one of Santa's elves had been in her yard. That was just rotten luck.
The elf smiled. "Of course you were, and really that doesn't matter to me." She glanced back out at the yard as well. "Although, I was interested in the story you were telling, young one. I'm sorry, what is your name?"
"It's Julie. Isn't there a list or something?" The elf just gazed curiously at her, and she thought furiously for a moment to recall the other question. "I wasn't telling a story."
One small, slim hand gestured at Lady Viola, hanging half out of her jacket pocket.
"I was just playing," Julie said.
"It seemed very important to me," the elf said seriously.
Julie shrugged and pushed the plastic crystal into the pocket with Lady Viola. She picked up one mitten from the ground and looked down at it. No one had ever thought her stories were anything special before.
The elf leaned closer, and her silver hair fell forward over one shoulder. "What will happen next? Is the queen saved?"
Julie nodded. The elf just stared with wide eyes. Finally Julie managed, "They'll take the crystal back up to the castle - that's on the shelves in my bedroom - and the court wizard will make the queen better." She picked at her mitten. "Or I'll do it. Morris is usually the wizard, but sometimes he hides in the basement." The elf seemed to still be waiting for something. "Morris is our cat."
Another beat of silence passed, then the elf's face changed from one moment to the next, shifting from attentive listening to joyful mirth. "Well, that's good to hear."
Julie wondered if there was a lag between when she spoke and when the elf heard her. It had probably been five minutes by now, and she was getting cold. She took a breath to say so, but the elf cut her off.
"Do you have many stories like this?"
Julie shrugged again. "I guess. I mean, I think of a lot of things, but they're not as good as stories from books or anything."
"They are better, because they're uniquely yours." The elf smiled again, wider than before. "Julie, would you like to come see my home?"
"At the North Pole?"
"You can meet my friends. I'm sure they'd all like your stories."
Julie was sure her smile hadn't been that wide a minute ago. "Thanks, but I'm supposed to go inside."
"Don't worry, Julie, your mother won't even know you're gone."
"Wouldn't it sort of be cheating to see my presents before Christmas?" Her dad had been upset last year when she'd been using the upstairs closet as a bear's cave and stumbled into a pile of presents early.
"We'll play such games, and you won't have to worry about being late for dinner or school or anything." She pointed at Lady Viola, still dangling from Julie’s pocket. "I'll make you a dress like that one."
Julie looked down. Lady Viola was wearing both a ballgown and pieces of battle armor from some of her brother's old toys. Julie had never worn anything like that.
The elf whispered, "You deserve beautiful things, Julie. You should have grand days where you dance the sunrise from the tops of the trees and dine with the princess of the snowflakes at midnight."
"At - at the North -"
The elf's voice rose sharply, "You can tell us all stories and we will dress you in spidersilk and call you Lady Julie. Just give me your hand."
This was nothing like any Christmas special Julie had ever seen, and she began edging backwards towards the house. "Thanks anyway, but I should go inside."
"No. You really must come, Julie." The elf’s eyes were golden like an owl's and they glowed like the gem she held. "Give me your hand, Julie."
The branches overhead seemed to spin slowly, and Julie could hardly keep her eyes open. She flung up one bare hand to try to pull herself up and the sharpness of the twigs against her skin cleared her daze a little.
A buzzing in the air began, like a horde of invisible wasps. Julie clapped her hands to her ears, but the buzzing vibrated in her jaw and made her face itch.
"Julie, don't you want to come with me? Just say yes, and this will all stop."
Julie wanted it to stop. She wanted to just fall asleep. It felt easy and warm. "Y... No, no I don't. I don't want to go." She shook her head and kicked out her legs, moving another inch back toward the yard.
"You can't really leave now, Julie." The elf sounded frustrated. “Julie.” The buzzing increased. “Julie.” It increased again. "You can't...Take my hand, Julie!" Julie felt a slow pull toward the elf's outstretched hand.
"Stop it, stop saying that!" Julie was crying now, but couldn't take her hands off her ears to wipe her face. "Let me go! I want to go home!"
Julie closed her eyes and pictured her mother waiting for her in the kitchen. She pictured being tucked into bed and kissed goodnight. In her mind, she heard her mom’s voice: May only sweet dreams find you, my Juliette.
Her eyes flew open, and the buzzing stopped. She didn't feel tired at all, just cold, and sore from sitting on the ground. "Julie’s not my name," she said.
Juliette ran for the porch, and didn't look back until she’d slammed the back door behind her. When asked about her missing mitten, she claimed to have brought it inside already and wouldn't let anyone go outside that night to check.