Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes

Friday Fiction: Christmas Stockings 

Christmas Stockings

They knew he wasn’t one to shy away from a dare; never in his life had he not taken up any dare thrown at him. 

“We dare ya to do it, Arnie!” Willie chided him.

“No, we double-dog dare ya, ‘cause we know you ain’t gonna!” Bob jabbed at him a little more.

“You boys know better. Or ya ought to anyways,” he answered as his face went from flush to beet-red.

He never stormed around in a child-like maker but he did have a certain way of walking when his temper was flared up. And it was flared up now. Arnie went into the bedroom; all the boys shared a room, not much bigger than would fit two twin size beds.

Times were hard in the 1930’s all across the country. Life was hard in the rural Appalachian Mountains – it always had been – but especially so during the Great Depression-era.

None of them dared go in to see what he was doing; they all knew how riled up he was and what the potential ramifications of further prodding when he was this mad were!

A few minutes later Arnie emerged from the room with a piece of paper in his hand. He walked more calmly now, having an almost arrogant smirk on his face. He shoved the note out for them all to read.

“I don’t believe in Santa Clause, Arnie”, is all the paper said.

The brothers’ eyes were wide with disbelief; he had done it! They actually mad him so mad he wrote the note. But it wasn’t in the stocking yet so the deal was far from done.

“Well,” Willie said, “so what? You wrote it. But now ya gotta put it in your stocking and leave it there for Santa to find. You ain’t gonna do that, Arnie. I know ya ain’t!”

Arnie took the note from Willie’s hand and began to fold it very deliberately as he strode toward the mantle. All of the kids had an old sock, one that had been darned until it could be darned no more, hanging from the hand-hewn wooden beam that served as their mantle. Being the eldest of the children, Arnie’s stocking was the first in line of seven. He looked at them, grinned as big as he knew how and plopped the note into the sock. None of his brothers or sisters could believe he had just done that! And they knew him well enough that if he had gone this far he would leave it in there for Santa to find. They knew it for sure!

After supper May, the youngest of the kids, came to Arnie while he was stacking the firewood he had just brought in for the night.

“Arnie, you really ain’t gonna leave that note in your stocking are you? It will hurt Santa’s feelings mighty bad if’n you do.”
“Yup. It’s staying in there” Arnie answered his little sister, which brought a tear running down her cheek. “But it’s my stocking, May, so if Santa gets mad he will be mad at me, not y’all. Don’t worry ‘bout it sis”, he said trying to comfort her.

“Well, if’n yer sure, Arnie, I reckon it’ll be okay.”

“It will, May. I always tell you the truth, don’t I?”

That dried the tears and brought a smile to May’s face. There weren’t a whole lot of things in the world May knew she could be sure about, but if Arnie said so it was.

“Ah-right! Off to bed now young ‘uns; won’t be no stopping by ole Santy if all y’all ain’t asleep before he gets here. You-in’s know that!” Their father was a stern man, always had been, so when he spoke they moved. Each of them, even young May, had felt the crack of his old leather belt across their bare legs and none of them wanted to ever feel it again, though they knew it was inevitable.

The children scampered to their rooms: the girls to one and the boys the other. Within mere minutes they were all nestled into their spots, ready for Pa’s inspection; he would always look in to make sure no one was trying to stay up late for any reason. Bedtime was when he said, no matter what time it was or what might still need tending to. And as was the nightly case, his silhouetted figure soon peered into each room to be sure all was as he commanded it to be.

Like all kids do, the children woke early, before sunrise, in eager anticipation of what might be in those stockings. No one moved from their bed, not even to go to the outhouse, until their father called for them though. In most houses the kids rouse thier parents on Christmas morning but not in the Plyburn household; Pa said when it was time to get up and no one dared defy him on that, or anything else for that matter.

After what seemed like hours they finally heard stirring about in the house. Then they smelled the coffee Mama was brewing; it wouldn’t be long now.

Soon a gruff voice called out, “Christmas is here! Come see what ole Santy left fer y’all.”

It was pure mayhem when the call came every year as they rushed and pushed, tripping over one another to get to the fireplace. One year Sandy had actually fallen – maybe with a little help – and gashed her head open in the mad dash. Though blood ran down her forehead like sweat on a farmer’s brow in August, she bounced up and continued toward the fireplace; there was only a short delay for bandaging the cut on her head before all was back to normal. Any other day and she would have wailed like a cat caught in mono-thorn rose bush, but not on Christmas! This year all went smoothly; well, in comparison to other years it did.

As they eagerly lined up to wait for Pa to handout the stockings Arnie noticed his looked much less full than the other kids’. In fact, it looked empty. No obvious lumps, such as an orange or apple, no banana peeking from the top, like Sandy had. No, his hung there, seemingly weightless. Arnie was feeling a little sick at his stomach now, wondering what he might have done by leaving that note after all.

As was tradition, the stockings were handed out from youngest to oldest so Arnie had plenty of time for his anxiety to build as the other kids got their stockings. Finally, the last stocking was taken from the mantle and handed to him. His father smirked as he lay the very light feeling sock in Arnie’s hands. He could tell there was something inside when it touched his skin. It didn’t have fruit, nuts, or small toys like the other kids, he was sure of that. But being the oldest and the hardest working of the kids maybe it was money he thought, anxiety now turning more to excitement.

Arnie reached quickly into the stocking and felt paper – but it didn’t have that special feel of money. His excitement began to swing back toward a stomach ache. He slowly pulled the paper out to see a folded piece of notebook paper – just like what he had placed inside it. Had Santa not even looked inside, he thought? But as he unfolded the note he realized Santa had looked, read, and replied.

“I don’t believe in you either Arnie. SANTA” the note read. His seven year-old heart began to break reading those words. Maybe he was reading them wrong. Or maybe it wasn’t real, one of Pa’s mean-spirited jokes? But looking up from the note at his father confirmed he was reading it right, and it was very real.

“You ain’t nothing special, Arnie. What’d you think you’d get from Ole Santy, leaving him a note like ya done?” It was clear the old man was mocking him. Enjoying it, too.

Arnie figured his Pa had somehow talked Santa into doing this; Santa knew everything so he had to know that Arnie really did believe in him, didn’t he? Arnie was confused, not sure how he should react, until he looked at his mother; there was a tear running down her cheek.

Arnie wadded the note up and threw both paper and sock into the fire. “Who cares about any of that old junk anyways!” He turned, heading for his bedroom, careful to walk as normal as he could. And even more careful to make sure no one heard or saw that he, too, was crying. 

© Greg Wolford 2015

This piece is linked, albeit a little late, to Ronovan’s Friday Fiction Challenge #5; comments and constructive criticism welcome.

Movie Night: part two

(Part one may be tead HERE.)

She stared at the blank Skype chat-box for what seemed like hours, only her reflection looking back at her. Finally she said “Stop it!”, as she tossed the iPad onto the sofa beside her. A tear ran down her cheek as she thought about the nightmares that had haunted her recently. 

Maybe it’s because he’s so close to coming home
, she thought. That has to be it; my imagination just running wild. 

The evenings were so lonely these past months. The nights were the worst; an almost unbearable hush filled the once vibrant home. The house felt so empty with just her there. Thankfully she had reminders of him everywhere she looked. Be it in “things” or memories, his essence was still present, though it diminished a little with each passing day, like the light of a lamp dimming as it burns it’s last drops of fuel. 

Six more weeks!
, she thought, that seemed so long. But it’ll go by fast – I hope. 

The last few months she had been taking a cooking class at the local community center every Friday night. One of her co-workers had suggested it, knowing that Friday evenings were especially hard for her. It had been an excellent idea, too, though she strenuously resisted it for weeks. Now it helped replace their movie nights with something constructive – more so than sitting sobbing on the sofa. 

She picked up the iPad to put it away, thinking about those last words she’d said to him, Be careful tonight, wishing she could take them back. She hadn’t told him, or anyone, about the nightmares; he didn’t need to know her extra worries and she didn’t want the extra council from her friends about them. 

(Linked to Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes.)

Movie Night: short fiction 

This week is the first for a new event called “Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes“. I am probably a little rusty but I thought I’d give it a try. Click the link above for more information or to join in. 

“Honey, is it cold in here?”, she called out from the couch. That was her way of asking me to bring her favorite blanket to her, an essential movie-watching accessory. 

“Feels fine to me. But I’ll get you a jacket if you need one”, I answer playfully. 
Friday nights used to be our night, a time to relax and unwind with no distractions. And they were always perfect. Rarely did I care what the movie was; as long as we had our time I was happy. 

Things were so different now; those nights seem like they belong to someone else. I can’t even remember what the last movie we watched together was. All that stands out is that night she wanted chocolate ice cream for dessert. And that I had forgotten to pick it up in my way home. 

“Captain, it’s about time”, the squadron leader said, poking his head in my tent. 
“Get the men ready. I’ll be along in a minute, Sergeant”, I replied, waving him dismissively away. 

“You have to go already?”, she asked from the other side of the world. 

“Yeah, babe, I do. I’ll Skype you tomorrow, same time as always, okay?”

“Yeah. Be careful out there today, okay?”

“Always am. I have a candlelight dinner and movie date coming up in six-weeks, can’t risk missing that”, I smiled at her image on the screen, wondering if I’d ever see her face-to-face again. 

We said our goodbyes and disconnected the chat session. As I powered down tbe computer the sergeant stepped back through the opening of the tent.

“We’re ready, Captain.”

“Let’s roll out then, Sergeant.”