Romance Fiction posted December 25, 2014

This work has reached the exceptional level
An Adirondack Christmas and a long ago promise fulfilled.

The Christmas Cabin

by J Dan Francis

   Joe Borden was up early stirring around in his worn-out red long-johns and thick wool socks; evening wear essential for the harsh mountain winters of the Adirondacks. He was stuffing newspaper and kindling into the wood stove while furiously fanning what was left of the dying embers from the night before. There was a cold draft coming through the old tumbledown trailer he lived in with his wife Emily. He only wanted to take the cold bite out of the air before she woke up.
"Nothing worse than being chilled to the bone first thing in the morning," He thought.
   But those defiant embers would have none of it; they turned black and cold, just as he had feared would happen. Joe went to the kitchen and fetched a box of matches from off the gas stove. Shivering, he opened it; some matches fell to the floor. He picked one up and quickly struck it across the gritty cast-iron of the wood stove, its flame flared brightly. His hand shaking, he lit the newspaper and blew on it. The fire was coaxed into growing and soon the kindling was crackling and popping. He threw in two big pieces of split oak and in haste slammed the cast iron door shut.

"Well that wasn't too bright," he whispered to himself, realizing the loud clanking of the door had probably awakened Emily from her slumber.

   The coffee pot on the stove began to boil over, violently hissing as coffee splashed the stove top. Joe rushed into the kitchen and turned the flame down. He grabbed a mug and a bowl of sugar from the cabinet. He opened the refrigerator and retrieved a can of evaporated milk. Grabbing a spoon from the dish rack he scooped three heaping spoonfuls of sugar into the mug then poured the steaming coffee and topped it off with a generous portion of milk.

   As Joe sipped the hot coffee he looked up, none too surprised to see Emily sleepily ambling into the kitchen, yawning and cinching the frayed belt of her flannel bathrobe. That robe was as old and worn as Joe's red long-johns. They were not poor, mind you; just frugal. You had to be, if you wanted to survive up in these parts.

"Why are you up so early?" she asked.

"It's Christmas Eve, I've lots to do."

   Joe kissed Emily on the forehead. She is small and slight, barely five-two, a hundred pounds dripping wet. And pretty, just as pretty as she was the day Joe first laid eyes on her and knew then she was the one for him. That was back in Seventy-Five. He was twenty-three, Emily was twenty. They were head over heels in love, and realizing the same dreams soon married. Her hair is the color of chestnut with a few wisps of grey. And the lines of age on her face only add to her mature beauty and character. Her deep green eyes still make Joe's heart skip a beat whenever he would look into them.
Joe caressed his wife of thirty-nine years reaching above to pull another mug from the cabinet; he placed it on the countertop, then carefully grabbed the coffee pot and poured. Black; it was the only way she drank it. He handed her the mug with a warm smile etched on his face. It was that smile that endeared Emily to Joe.

"I have a lot to do today before I head over to the church to ring in Christmas." he said.

   Once a year, it was Joe's solemn duty to ring the church bells at the North Hill Presbyterian Church at midnight every Christmas Eve. Not that Joe is a faithful church goer; quite the opposite. But, he is a faithful bell ringer, plus he is the only member of the North Hill Presbyterian Church that is willing to stay up past midnight on Christmas Eve ringing the bells.
They call it "ringing in Christmas." No one knows exactly when the tradition of ringing in Christmas started, but the older folks remember the bells ringing even when they were very young. Every church in North Hill and beyond rings their bells at precisely the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, ushering in Christmas. The Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians all ring in unison for thirty seconds which is probably the longest half minute of the year, especially if you are trying to keep your kids bedded down before the Christmas morning mayhem. It is a tradition no one around these parts would have any other way.

   Joe looked around that old trailer. He looked at the worn cracked linoleum floor, the old kitchen cabinets, and the outdated Formica countertops. Their home was looking tired. He didn't know whether to be sad for its rundown condition or happy because he had a secret he'd been hiding from Emily this past year.

"I'm going to get dressed," he said.

"You want breakfast? Of course you do," she answered to herself.

   Emily took out a loaf of bread from the breadbox then went to the fridge and brought out a bowl of eggs and a slab of smoked bacon. "I'll make that egg casserole you like me to make on special occasions."

"I thought you were making that tomorrow. Won't that take a while?" Joe asked as he walked into the kitchen buttoning his shirt.

"I have too much to do tomorrow, you know, with the boys coming over and all. The casserole won't take long to make. That reminds me; could you stop at Halloran's and pick up a roast for tomorrow?"

   Joe stopped mid-button and looked up. Something was bothering him as he rubbed the three days growth of whiskers on his chin.

"Don't know how to tell you this Em, but we're a bit low on cash right now. You know last month's doctors' bills and all. I didn't want to say anything, but my sister Kate's Christmas card came with only a Merry Christmas this year, and that's about it. I guess I was half expecting that nice check she usually sends... I suppose she's feeling the money pinch too."

"Well it's not like she owes it to us, Joe, and you shouldn't expect that."

"Oh, I know." Joe was embarrassed for thinking of Kate that way. "It's just that the money had always come in handy every Christmas. I hid the card. I didn't want you to worry."

"I'm not worried, never even gave it a thought."

   Emily wiped her hands then reached up into the cupboard and pulled out an old coffee tin. Taking the cover off, she pulled out a wad of cash with a rubber band around it. Joe had a surprised look on his face.

"I've been saving my quilt money," Emily said. She held the tightly rolled cash up to Joe's face. He could smell that distinctive musty odor that only money has.

"And then some," Joe replied.

"It's for times like this, Joe."

   Emily counted out thirty dollars and put it in Joe's hand.

"This is for the roast."

   She peeled off another ten.

"And this is for your lunch."

   She closed his hand around the money, stood on the very tip of her toes kissed Joe gently on the lips and smiled. Emily always came through in a pinch with money she made from making quilts for the consignment shop in town. She was always a saver; unlike Joe. By tomorrow, Emily's life was going to change. For the better that is.

"Now go sit in the other room and I'll call you when breakfast is ready."

   She ushered Joe out as he grabbed his boots and went into the living room. He sat down in his favorite chair and put them on. Emily looked up and saw that Joe had come back and was now sitting at the kitchen table; he was watching her as she beat the eggs with a whisk. He had this smug look on his face. Joe looked like some little kid who desperately wanted to tell his mother what he got her for Christmas but couldn't just yet. The excitement was almost too much for him.

"Nothing on the television," She asked?

"I thought it'd be nice to sit in here with you."

   Emily picked up the bowl while beating the eggs and poured the mixture over the bread and bacon that neatly lay in an oven dish. She put the breakfast casserole in the oven and set the timer. She then wiped her hands on a dish rag, picked up her mug of coffee and went over to sit down at the table with Joe.

   The still quietness almost made this moment awkward, like one would feel on a first date while trying to make casual conversation which had every chance of turning south. And that is a good thing. Joe and Emily have never in the whole of their wedded union ever fallen out of love. After almost forty years of marriage though, you would think Joe might have had it all figured out. But all he could really do was wonder why on God's green earth this beautiful woman sitting with him in a dilapidated old mobile home had hung on for so long. He would have never blamed Emily if she had left him for better. But as marriages go, this one was on solid ground.

"You never complain Em. Why is that?" he asked.

"You just don't hear me." 

   She laughed nervously then looked out the window through its partially frosted pane to the snow covered pines and rock that defined those mountains. The morning sun was exceedingly bright, but the cold outside dared against its warmth.
Emily sipped her coffee then put the cup down and took Joe's hand while looking into his eyes.

"I have no complaints Joe. Not a one."

"C'mon, look at this place. It's falling apart. Every year since we moved up here I promised you I was going to build you the home of your dreams."

   He saw a familiar Christmas ornament on the table; a snow globe. It was a special gift Joe gave Emily on their first Christmas in North Hill. She would bring it out every Christmas and place it on the kitchen table. Inside the globe was a log cabin with a front porch. Adorning the porch railings was pine garland with red holly berries. A similar looking wreath hung on the front door. Next to the cabin was a frozen pond with two figurines skating and behind that scene three children bobsledding down a snowy hill. Joe picked the globe up and shook it, Emily's heart melted with childlike expectation as she looked at the snow glittering and falling upon the tiny log cabin and its happy contented family. Having a home like the cabin in the globe had been her dream for as long as she could remember.

   Emily thought of the happiness she already knew in spite of those longing dreams that often called her away. She found herself staring through the globe into Joe's magnified eyes and smiled. A tear began to trickle down her cheek. She looked away and quickly wiped the tear away.

"It doesn't matter Joe, I'm happy wherever we are, as long as I'm with you"

"Sometimes I wish we had never left Albany," he said.

"But you hated city life."

"True, except in Albany we had a nice house, good jobs, and no worries."

"We had no life Joe, which was our worry. Isn't that why we moved up here?"

"Yeah, I guess...But soon that's all gonna change Em. I intend to keep my promise, even if I am twenty-five years too late."

"Nothing's broke Joe. As far as we're all concerned you fulfilled that promise a long time ago. This old trailer is more than good enough. I'll take it and all the love that comes with it any day. Love is what you gave us all these years, and that's what makes a home. I couldn't ask for anything more."

   Joe and Emily raised three boys in that old trailer. They were good boys, and now good men. Two were married with kids of their own, the last one still sowing his oats as some would say. Joe shook the snow globe again; Emily reached up and took it from him, looking into it smiling.

"Your dream home," he said.

   She said nothing, but only thought, "It would be nice."

   The oven timer went off, startling them both. Gently putting the globe down, Emily rose from the table and went to the oven, and using a dish towel she pulled the egg casserole out; its aroma began drifting throughout the trailer.

"Smells good," Joe said.

   Emily spooned out portions onto two plates. She grabbed two forks and brought the food over, setting it on the table. She sat down and together, as if they had not a worry in the world, ate their holiday breakfast.
Joe finished quickly, then stood up. He took one last sip of coffee and kissed his wife on top of her head.

"Come home early, will you? She asked.

"I'll try. I promise... but I need you to do something for me."

"What's that?"

"I want you to come with me to ring in Christmas tonight."

   Emily stood up from the table and put her arms around him.

"But we have so much to do," she said.

"You can't say no to this, please Em, it would mean a lot to me. Besides you always used to come along when I rang in Christmas."

"I don't know."

"Trust me... I have a plan."

"What plan?"

"I can't tell you. It's a Christmas surprise."

   Joe kissed Emily again then grabbed his coat and headed for the door. She was curious as to why he was working so hard these past several months. There was little money coming in from this job. Joe's work as a carpenter had always provided a decent income. He had been good about keeping quiet and not letting Emily know what he was really up to, only to say he was working on a major renovation for some big shot from down state and that when the project was finished by the Christmas deadline, he would be paid the bulk of the contract. Emily knew Joe never did business that way but she had to trust him, although she had been worried about it all the last few months. To Emily, Joe seemed tired, and at times worried. He worked long hours, often not getting home till long after midnight.

   The morning air was cold and crisp, stinging Joe's nostrils. Even with the sun shining there seemed no hope of it warming up. He went to his truck and began brushing the snow from the windshield with his bare hands. Looking back, he saw Emily standing in the doorway. She smiled, gave him a little wave then stepped back and closed the door. When he saw that she was gone he quickly went to the garage and emerged with two pairs of snow shoes and threw them in the bed of the old Ford truck. He went back to get his tool box and threw that in too. He stomped the snow from his boots then climbed in. With steam coming from his mouth and nose, he turned the key in the ignition. The engine struggled to turn over; slowly, sluggishly as if it was going to die from the cold right there. Suddenly, the old Ford came to life, firing up, growling and coughing. Joe revved the engine a few times as black gunk spit out the tailpipe leaving its mark on the fresh snow. He put it in gear, stomped on the gas pedal and the truck fishtailed all the way down the driveway to the main road.

   Joe's first stop was at Alan Johnson's Hardware in town to pick up the last of the supplies needed to finish the job he was working on. To say Joe was in a good mood was an understatement; he was in a great mood, whistling "Jingle Bells" and greeting everyone with a "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." You'd think he was Santa himself the way he was acting. Joe had good reason to be happy, just one more day, today, and it would all come together. This was a big weight being lifted off his shoulders. Or so he thought. 

   He greeted Lynn, one of the sales clerks with a hearty "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you my girl... I 've come for my order Lynn."

   She seemed busy checking stock acting all aloof to anyone nearby. Truth is she was dreading this moment when Joe came in to the store. She didn't even look up from her clip board, just pointed her pen in the direction of Al's office in the back and said,"Al needs to see you right away Joe, before you pick anything up."

   Without missing a step Joe continued on all the way to the back of the store to Al Johnson's office. It was a dusty dingy cramped room with an early seventies decor of plywood paneling and a drop ceiling that had seen better days. There was a large brown water stain radiating from one corner of the ceiling where a drain pipe to the basement protruded through. Two walls were lined with several old mismatched metal filing cabinets, and one very old and very large safe. The safe looked to be from the turn of the century when Al's grandfather started in the hardware business. And then there was Al's huge cluttered oak desk that seemed to have out-grown the room. Sitting in an old creaky wooden swivel chair was Al Johnson, proprietor of "The Alan Johnson Hardware Co." Joe knocked on the door frame as he walked through.

"Merry Christmas Al," he proclaimed loudly and joyously.

   Al looked up and grunted. "Shut the door, sit down Joe, we gotta talk."

   Joe picked up a pile of folders from an old grey industrial metal chair and plopped them on top a file cabinet, raising a plume of dust. He sat down. Al didn't say anything for a while. He was engrossed with a spreadsheet on the screen of his new computer clicking the mouse and typing numbers with one finger. It was all foreign to Al; it might as well had been written in Chinese.

"Damn computers...I hate em. I'm beginning to hate accountants too"... "My accountant doesn't want ledger books anymore. He wants it all on computer... Says I should hire a book keeper... Hell, they don't even call em' that anymore. They're called account managers. Be dammed if I'm gonna pay someone just to sit and play with this thing."

   Al looked up again; he had enough of the computer for the moment. He leaned back in his chair as he picked through a pile of folders in front of him. He pulled one and tossed it over toward Joe.

"You know what that is?"

"I have no idea," Joe replied.

   Joe knew what it was; he was just hoping it wasn't what he thought it was. Better to play dumb he figured. All he wanted was to get out of there and get on the job so he could finish, but Al was about to ruin Joe's day. Al seemed more somber than usual, almost angry by the look on his face, Joe definitely wasn't going to get a Merry Christmas out of him that was for sure.

"That's your bill... for lumber and supplies for that year long project you been on... for which I have been paid little or no money."

   Joe studied the bill, or at least that is what it to looked like he was doing. On it was a confusing array of line items and their prices along with monthly totals and the usual jacked up interest rate all because in big bold red letters was stamped "PAST DUE" in three or four places. He didn't know what to say. What could he say? This was one long agonizing pregnant moment for Joe. He was a bit perturbed that Al would bring the bill up at this stage of the project and wondered what was eating Al.

"So, how's that big project coming along? You been paid yet?"

"You will have a check in your hand by the end of next week... right after New Year's... It's complicated Al, all bank stuff I don't fully understand. You know how it is with banks. Good news is, today I finish the job. I will have your money after the first of the year."

"That's not good enough Joe; I can't carry you any longer. My fiscal year has ended. I need the money today."

"Don't have it... Just a few more days; please Al. I'm picking up the last of the supplies now. I have the final inspection at ten this morning."

"Who are you kidding? Ralph Curtis isn't doing inspections on Christmas Eve."

"He is for me. He's doing it special. I need that certificate of occupancy today... You know, for the bank."

Al sighed, "I'm sorry Joe; I can't wait any longer. If you want those supplies you have to pay cash for them. Anything after today, you gotta settle the bill first... You've been on the hook too long for this one."

"I don't have it Al... I'm on the home stretch; can't you wait till after New Year's?"

"Look Joe, I have my own set of troubles... I bend for you I gotta bend for the other contractors in this pile of folders, and then what?... Who's gonna pay my bills?"

"C'mon Al, it's Christmas, this is important to me... I wouldn't ask if I didn't need it right now... where's your Christmas spirit?"

"Yeah Joe, it's Christmas. What about my Christmas? How about you show me some Christmas spirit? Pay your bill, that's all I ask."

   Joe stood up to leave. He knew there was no talking any further, it was going nowhere; Al's mind was made up.

"See what you can do... We're closing at three today, holiday and all. Your stuff will be here if you get back before then."

   Joe stormed out without another word, wondering where he was going to get supplies on such short notice, and Christmas Eve of all days. He walked out the back where all the contractors pick up their orders.

"Hey Mister Borden," came a voice from the loading dock.

It was John Abrams, Al's yard man. Joe barely looked up at him.

"Hi John," he said.

"I have your order; I just need to see your paid slip... Sorry, I have to ask you for it. You know how it is sometimes around here when Al gets a bee in his bonnet."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

   Joe looked past John at two boxes setting on the edge of the dock. He could see some of the things he ordered in them.

"That my stuff?" he asked pointing at the boxes.

"Yup," John said.

"I'll be back for em. Just gotta go get some cash."

"They'll be here Mister Borden."

   Joe walked around to where he parked his truck. He wasn't whistling Jingle Bells anymore, that's for sure. He climbed in and sat there a moment with his head bowed resting on the steering wheel. He was stuck between praying and wanting to go back in there and give Al a what for.

   He thought maybe he could run home and ask Emily to let him borrow some more of the money from the coffee tin. "No," he said to himself, "besides she doesn't have enough to pay that bill." Joe put the key in the ignition and started the truck; then as he was about to put it in gear, he turned the engine back off. He got out walked to the end of the building and peered around the corner to where the loading dock was. He wanted to see if John was still hanging around. He was nowhere to be seen and Joe noticed the two boxes of supplies he ordered were still on the dock, right in plain sight.

   Joe was breathing heavily and his head started to swirl. "It's do or die" he thought. He didn't think himself a thief by any stretch of the word he had reasoned in his mind. Joe was an honest man, maybe a little too honest for his own good. Around town people had even said Joe Borden was honest to a fault. He convinced himself that Al was being unfair over this petty matter of the bill. Suddenly, something in him took over. Maybe it was his lesser Angel telling him to ignore that little voice of conscience. Without considering the consequences any further, Joe broke into kind of a dancing run while looking all around. Paranoia was reeling through his head as he ran like a madman sprinting toward the dock. He could justify it a hundred different ways in his own mind, but it was all too overwhelming, besides he couldn't stop now. Joe reached up on the dock and grabbed the two boxes; they were heavier than he thought they would be. The sprint back wasn't as exhilarating and exciting as the sprint to the dock. It was more like a fast stiff walk while trying to hold tight onto the boxes. Joe's knees were buckling and one of the boxes was slipping his grip and was just about to be emptied of its contents as Joe made it just in time to drop the goods in the back of the truck and make his getaway.

   As he quickly drove out of the parking lot, he wondered out loud.

"What the hell did I just do?!"

   But as "honest" thieves go, Joe's final justification was simple. I'll have this stuff paid for before Al notices it missing; if life were only that simple.

   Joe drove straight to the cabin where his sons were waiting for him. He turned off the main road rather recklessly like he was being chased. The truck bumped haphazardly along the narrow crudely graded roadway, barely wide enough for the old Ford. He would properly grade and widen it in the spring after the snow and ice were gone; if he wasn't in jail by then. The truck bounced over train tracks that crossed the road, then over a hill where a log cabin sat next to a frozen pond. That log cabin was the project Joe had been laboring on for the past year.

   He called it Thendara; because that is what Emily called the cabin scene in the snow globe; Thendara. Joe never knew what Thendara meant, but Emily once said it reminded her of a peaceful hamlet up the road deeper into the mountains. Kind of like the scene in the globe. The cabin, Thendara was just up the Old Route 30 on the Orendaga River just outside of North Hill. It seemed mystical and quiet near those peaceful waters. Walking in the woods around Thendara was akin to a page out of Thoreau's Walden.

   The truck slid on ice, almost hitting a boulder marking the entrance to the cabin. As Joe climbed out he hurriedly waved his two sons Mike and Mark over.

"Grab a box," he said to Mark. "You too Mike, where's Joe Junior?"

"Hung over," Mark replied. "He'll be here."

   Joe just shook his head; he had other things on his mind, but right now he needed to get the cabin completed and inspected before the bank closed. For obvious reasons, he couldn't wait till after the holidays to get his money. It's funny how plans never really come together like you need them to in desperate moments. Mike grabbed a box, and started walking back with Joe.

"Nice entrance there, Dad. People would think you were running from the cops, the way you came flying in here!"

"If only you knew," Joe said.

   Then he had a thought. If Al discovered the goods missing and not paid for, he might send the cops right here. "Nah," he figured, but he knew better. Joe turned around and walked back quickly to the truck. He knew Al was pretty sore with him to begin with. So, why take any chances.

"Where are you going?" Mike yelled.

"Long story, just bring that stuff in, I'll tell ya in a minute."

   Joe moved the truck behind a snowbank where it wouldn't be seen. Just then Joe Junior came driving in. He climbed out of his truck, holding a flimsy cardboard tray with four large cups of coffee in it and a bag of cider donuts; an obvious peace offering for being late.

"Let's go," Joe called out clapping his hands.

   Junior held the bag out in front of his father with a sheepish, sorry looking grin on his face, hoping it would make amends.

"Sorry Dad. I just had to take care of business. You know how it is."

"Oh, so staying up all night conquering every pretty girl in town and drinking yourself sick is business now? In my day it was called 'being stupid'."

   The other two brothers had a good laugh at Junior's expense as they tore into the donuts and coffee. Joe was becoming anxious. He kept looking at his watch. He knew they were burning daylight.

"OK boys, coffee break is over. All we have left to do is a little bit of punch-out work and cleanup, and we're home free. There's been a slight change of plans though."

"What's that?" Mark asked.

"Well, for starters, Al wasn't going to let me have those supplies unless I paid cash, on account he's been carrying me for so long on this project."

   The boys looked around at one another and balked and barked a bit.

"What! Does he think we're not good for it?" Junior said.

"I can't say as I blame him," Joe said, rubbing the back of his neck.

"The final check from that builder's loan isn't due to me till we pass final inspection and that check won't come for about a week. So we need to finish up even sooner, so Ralph can inspect this place and pass it. Then I gotta high-tail it to the bank before it closes today and get on my knees."

"So what's the big hurry?" Mike asked. "It's Christmas. It can all wait."

"The big hurry is that I didn't exactly pay for those two boxes of supplies."

"Al knows you're good for it."

"Al doesn't know I took em off the dock without paying... yet."

   The boys had a good laugh, and were surprised at the confession of their father, knowing he was one rung down the ladder of becoming known as "Saint Joe" around these mountains. Now they'd have to settle for having John Dillinger for their old man. They quickly went to work on finishing the cabin for the final inspection.

   The sound of an engine and tires crunching in the snow could be heard from outside. Junior looked out the window and saw that it was the law.

"Who is it?" Joe asked.

"Constable Dan Handsome... he's nosing around out there. You think he's here for you?" Mark asked his father.

"Most likely," Joe said.

"I'll get rid of him."

   Junior told his father to go downstairs in the basement; Joe quickly retreated as Dan Handsome began to ascend the wooden steps leading up to the porch. Junior opened the door just as Dan was about to knock. It startled him a bit. The two men stood there a moment just staring at each other, then Dan cleared his throat.
"Where's your Dad?" He asked. "I need to speak to him."

"Not here. What's it about?"

   Dan looked around, obviously being irritatingly nosey. He craned his neck a bit to look over Junior's shoulder and saw what might be one of the boxes from Alan Johnson's Hardware sitting on the floor.

"Oh, nothing really, I just need to speak with him on a minor matter."He then pointed to one of the boxes.

"Is that box from Johnson's Hardware by any chance?"

   Mike had stepped in between Junior and Handsome before Junior could answer.

"You have a warrant Dan?"

   Dan stepped back a little. Mike was big and imposing when he wanted to be. Dan was always a little afraid of him. This little rivalry goes way back to their days on the high school football team. But Dan firmly stood his ground and his voice now commanded a serious lawful tone; he was all business.

"No need to get your fur up, Mike. We're all friends here... but, I can get a warrant if that's how you wanna play it."

"Well then maybe you should do that."

"Just tell your ol'man I need to speak with him. We don't need to make a federal case out of this... or do we?"

   Mike slowly closed the door in Dan's face, careful not to assault him with it. Dan, somewhat bewildered, turned and walked away. Mike went to the window and stood with his hands on his hips as the constable took his sweet time, looking around for any more clues to the big box caper. He finally climbed into his truck and left. Mike continued to watch as Dan slowly drove away out of sight.

"He's gone." Mike said.

   Joe quietly came up out of the basement. The boys were a bit shook up wondering if their father would have been hauled off to jail.

"Looks like Al knows I took the supplies...I don't feel all that good about what I did," Joe said.

"You're good for it Dad. Al ought not to have sent the law after you." Mark said.

"Like I said, I don't blame him."

   Joe looked at his watch. It was past ten o'clock and Ralph hadn't showed yet.

"Ralph should be here any minute. Let's finish up."

   As the minutes ticked by Joe became more anxious and nervous waiting. Ralph Curtis didn't exactly build his reputation on punctuality that's for sure. Back in North Hill, Al Johnson was swearing out a warrant for Joe's arrest. If Dan Handsome caught up with Joe it was going to make for an interesting Christmas. At worst it was going to ruin all that Joe had planned for this one special Christmas moment. Joe looked at his watch again.

"I need to go to the bank and see Bill Jameson. Maybe I can convince him to let me have the final installment on the builder's loan, so I can pay Al. I don't want this getting any worse than it is. When Ralph gets here, have him start the inspection. Maybe he can drop the paperwork off at the bank on his way back to town."

   At the bank, Joe waited outside Bill Jameson's office. It seemed like forever. It was eleven-thirty by the time he got to see Bill. After listening to Joe's lengthy spluttering explanation, all Bill could promise was that he would expedite the funds once the paperwork for the final inspection was in order and in hand. And that Joe probably would not see any money until maybe after New Year's. And floating Joe a thirty day note was out of the question. Joe left Bill's office about as encouraged as when he walked out of Al Johnson's; it was a bitter pill to swallow. Nothing was going his way. His only hope now was to go back to the cabin and get it cleaned up and ready for its new owner to inspect and hope he didn't run into Dan or Al until after the holidays. He figured maybe it would all blow over by then.

   Ralph Curtis, North Hills overweight and always late and out of breath building inspector finally showed up at the cabin for the final inspection. It took him only five minutes to complete the inspection and to sign off on it. Because that's how long it took Ralph to eat the last two cider donuts that Junior had bribed him with. The man was too easy. For another donut the Titanic would have passed inspection under Ralph's watch. The boys were happy, Ralph was happy, and they knew that Joe would be happy.

   Joe was coming down the road, about to pull in where the cabin was, when all of a sudden, coming up from behind him was the flashing of red and blue grill lights. He then heard a short burst of a siren. It was Dan Handsome. Joe stopped and stared at Dan through the rear view mirror. The siren was now blaring loudly. Dan loved blowing that stupid siren all over town. I think it started back in the fifth grade when he was on the school Safety Patrol walking around with a screeching whistle that hung around his neck, directing foot traffic in the school hallway. The man was obsessed with law enforcement then and he was obsessed with it now. And that siren he kept blasting was just an extension of Dan's manhood it would seem. Joe laughed then stomped on the gas pedal as the old Ford sputtered then roared to life. With the wheels spinning, Joe pulled away. He began heading down the road toward town with Dan in hot pursuit. Actually, it was more like at an OJ Simpson kind of pace. I mean the slow moving white Ford Bronco, not the hundred yard bolt of lightning dash the former famous footballer was known for.

   Soon they entered North Hill proper, passing by Johnson's Hardware Store. Al was outside tying a Christmas tree to a customer's car roof, when Joe tooted his horn and gave Al a wave and then the one-finger nasty. Al saw that Constable Dan was on the job giving chase at his usual snail's pace. Al was not amused, nor was he about to let Joe get away with that little insult, so he quickly ran to his truck, started it up and tore out of the parking lot falling in behind the Constable as he caught up with them, who seemed quite bored meandering after Joe Borden with his lights and sirens blaring and glaring in all the glory. Joe led them up and down Main Street, around in circles and through every side road he could find. He was beginning to think it quite funny by the time they passed by the North Hill Savings and Loan for about the fourth time.

   Bill Jameson heard the siren bursts and Dan Handsome calling out over the intercom in his official police voice for Joe to pull over. He looked out his office window to see Dan chasing Joe and Al following. He mumbled something that made everyone standing at the counter take notice.

"What in blue blazes is Joe Borden up to?"

   Bill got up from his desk, hurried out to the lobby and leaned out the door for a better look. Glancing back at the tellers, he yelled that he would be back in a bit and proceeded to run to his car furiously fishing around in his pockets for his keys and sliding in his loafers till he slid smack-dab right into the side of his car. He climbed in, started the engine, dropped it in gear and quickly joined in the chase.

   A couple of fellas standing in line at the bank had followed Bill out the door, curiosity seeming to get the better of them also. They had decided to join in the commotion rolling down Main Street falling in behind Bill Jameson. By that time, many of the townsfolk were taking notice of the chase and all the trouble Joe Borden was stirring up. Some made a bee-line for their cars too as others ran along the street cheering Joe on, who seemed to be enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame. He decided to make another turn around the block; kind of like a victory lap and partly because he wasn't sure if he should give up and turn himself in. Maybe he just plain liked the attention he was garnering, when out of nowhere, crossing in his path and stopping right in the middle of the road was a dark blue State Police Cruiser with its many bright and multicolored lights flashing blinding Joe and anyone else within a five block radius. This was no ordinary garden variety State Police Cruiser. This was what was called an "Interceptor." It sat low to the ground; had a five-hundred horsepower engine that rumbled like thunder and was devastatingly menacing if you happened to be on the wrong side of the law. Trooper John, Constable Dan Handsome's nephew; (his sisters kid), was behind the wheel. He looked just as menacing as the Police Interceptor. If that car were a woman, Trooper John would have married it. Trooper John stood six foot two with broad shoulders, huge biceps, and tree trunks for legs, and a neck that made a telephone pole look like a toothpick. Even his muscles had muscles, and Trooper John did not look amused about this act of maleficence that was unfolding before him. Joe stopped and saw Trooper John sitting there waiting to pounce on his cornered prey. Joe knew he had few options. Actually, he had no options. Well, maybe one. He put his truck in four-wheel drive and gunned the engine, blasting through a snowbank onto the side walk, driving past the growling Police Interceptor then through another snowbank back onto the road, thus having gone successfully around Trooper John. Joe grinned and waved as he drove by, leaving everyone behind who were surrounding Trooper John as he tried to untangle North Hill's only ever traffic jam.

   Joe finally led them all out of town, back toward the cabin where the procession of cars passed Ralph Curtis who was heading back to town. Ralph wondered what all the commotion was about and slammed on the brakes, craning his fat neck as he looked behind him, wondering why Joe Borden was being pursued by the Town Constable, Al Johnson, Bill Jameson, and what seemed like half the town.

"Well, this is interesting," he thought.

   Ralph turned his truck around and caught up to the parade leap-frogging around vehicles, trying to catch up to Joe and almost causing several accidents in the process. Joe's sons were waiting, when cars suddenly came flying in off the main road, sliding and slipping, doing one-eighties and three-sixties; some crashing through snowbanks and some ending up in the woods nearby. They were not expecting to see all this. It was quite hilarious to watch as the boys ran for cover to get out of the way.

   Joe pulled in to the driveway between the two big boulders leading to the cabin almost sliding sideways into a big ol' pine tree the boys had just finished decorating with Christmas lights. He went over a hill sliding to a stop. Joe got out of his truck, put his hands in the air then on the hood and spread his legs like the dangerous criminal he was; laughing of course. By this time he figured his Christmas was ruined, so why not have a little fun.
Dan and all the others followed Joe in. Dan jumped out just as Alan Johnson slid to a stop, right smack into the back of Dan's Jeep. Bill Jameson slid into Al, and Ralph Curtis finished it off by bumping into Bill Jameson, taking out a tail-light on his brand new Lincoln. It was just a chain reaction all the way back to the train tracks. Everyone jumped out of their cars yelling and pointing and some even erupted into shoving matches. Trooper John eventually showed up and calmed the situation. It was nothing a little pepper-spray and the threat of a Taser couldn't handle.
Joe and Dan stood there a moment staring down one another like it was high noon. Soon, all eyes were on them. They sure had a mess to untangle if Dan was going to have to take Joe to the county lock-up.

"What in hell is wrong with you Joe?" Dan yelled while walking over to him.

   Joe laughed as Dan pulled handcuffs from his belt. Joe had never been arrested in his life; ever. Al came running up. He was still pretty sore about Joe taking those boxes of supplies without paying, and wanted to see justice being done up close. He was trying to conjure up a good comeback to Joe's one fingered salute back there. You know something like, "Was that your IQ you were showing us?" But all he could think to say was, "You talk to your mother with that finger?"

"Another one of your original thoughts Al," Joe shot back.

   Al wasn't known for being quick with the quips. He just stood there with a menacing smile on his face. What he really wanted to do was punch Joe in the nose; and I think he would have if Dan wasn't standing between them.

"Aw hell, go on, arrest me, I don't care. All I wanted was to pass that stupid inspection so I could collect on a builder's loan I took out. Then I could pay you, Al. Guess my timing was a bit off... I just wanted to give Em the best Christmas ever, and I guess I messed that up too."

   Dan pulled the warrant from his pocket and put it in Joe's hand.

"Here, take this. It's a Christmas card from Al, all nice and legal."

   He then proceeded to slap the handcuffs around one of Joe's wrists. Joe's son Mike came running up to stop Dan, but Mark and Junior cut him off and held him back. Ralph stepped in, pulling the results of the final inspection off his clip board.

"Well, while I got ya, here's your final inspection. It passed,...if it'll help... and thanks for the doughnuts."

"On the take again Ralph," Dan said laughing.

"I didn't hear any complaints about your deck passing inspection after serving me lunch, Dan."

   Ralph put the inspection report in Joe's other hand. Bill Jameson then stepped in and immediately grabbed the inspection report.

"Let me see that," he said.

   Bill studied the inspection report, then eyed Joe standing there looking all pitiful. The smile had left his face when he realized he was probably going to be spending Christmas in the County Lock-up. All of a sudden it wasn't funny any longer. Sighing, Bill reluctantly pulled his check book out and proceeded to write Joe a personal check. Al Johnson and Dan Handsome stood by looking more than a little confused. Bill made it clear to all who observed.

"This is a personal loan between you and me Joe...not the bank. We'll settle after Christmas."

   Joe defiantly pulled his cuffed wrist away from Dan and then reached out; his hand was shaking as he carefully took the check from Bill. Joe did not know what to say. He was dumbfounded by the gesture, but he was also grateful. He turned and passed the check right over to Al.

"Merry Christmas Al," Joe said.

   Al took the check and studied it. He saw that it was in the full amount of all that Joe owed him. He muttered in disbelief.

"Well I'll be, Merry Christmas, Joe."

   Al looked over at Dan and nodded. Dan snatched the warrant out of Joe's hand and tore it up and threw the pieces into the air and then unlocked the handcuffs from Joe's wrist.

"Merry Christmas everybody," said the confused, exasperated, Constable.

   Putting his hands up as if surrendering, Dan walked back to his truck, climbed in and waited patiently while the other men lingered behind shaking hands, wishing one another a Merry Christmas until they had all finally left. Joe stood there, rubbing his wrist and kicking at the torn pieces of the arrest warrant lying in the snow. His sons had gathered around him.

"Better clean that don't want your mother to see it." The boys laughed and Junior put his arm around his father.

   It was late when Joe arrived home. But there was still time to spend one last Christmas Eve in the old trailer with his beloved of thirty-nine years. He looked around; he was going to miss that place. A feeling of nostalgia came over him. Oh, the memories, he thought. But Joe took joy knowing that he and Emily were finally going to realize their dream; her dream. He was beginning to feel like that young man of twenty-three whom so long ago, had knelt on one knee with butterflies in his stomach, his heart beating through his chest, and proposed marriage. Only now it was the fulfilment of a promise that had brought it all back. A promise, had he never kept, would not have made any difference to Emily, because it was the man she loved, not some silly distant dream of a house; for she always knew where her home was. It was wherever Joe was.
Putting the roast on the counter (an amazing feat of memory after all he had been through), he hung his coat on a hook, as Emily came into the room. She stood on her toes and kissed Joe on the cheek.

"How was your day?" she asked.

" was my day?

   He looked back in his mind on all of the events of that Christmas Eve day and wondered how he even made it to this moment.

"Oh, just your normal Christmas Eve as all the others...I guess; nothing exciting, but hey, I remembered the roast," he said as he pointed to it.

   After a quiet dinner, Joe and Emily went into the living room and spent the evening alone relaxing under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree until it was time for them to go and ring in Christmas.

   Joe and Emily stood inside the bell tower of the North Hill Presbyterian Church. Together they held the rope that led all the way up to the tower bells. The two of them anxiously watched the hour hand, minute hand, and second hand of the clock on the wall all tick in unison across the number twelve at precisely midnight, this night, Christmas Eve, ushering in Christmas Day. They pulled hard and excitedly on the rope, causing the clappers to bang against the bells as they rang out, joining in with a disjointed cacophony of all the bells of all the churches across all of North Hill and across these mountains called Adirondack. It was an epiphany of sorts for Joe; the end of a long arduous journey. He kissed Emily as they pulled and the bells pulled back. It was like his wedding day all over again and he couldn't wait to carry his bride across the threshold again. Only this time it would be across the threshold of their dreams.

   After what seemed a long half minute of ringing, Joe let go of the rope and Emily released her grip also. They both hugged and Joe kissed her again.

"Come with me on one more little journey Em. I have a surprise for you."

   Joe took Emily's hand and they hopped in the truck and together drove to the cabin called Thendara. Joe pulled off where a newly cut trail off the Sequoia Road awaited them. He shut the truck off.

"Feel like snowshoeing in with me?"

"Snowshoeing, this time of night?"

"Sure...It'll be fun, you'll see. I brought our snowshoes."

   Emily did not want to disappoint her husband, and she wondered what he could possibly be up to after midnight on Christmas Day, in the woods of all places. Joe had a smile a mile wide on his face and it melted her heart.

"Oh, why not?" she said.

   Joe jumped out and reached in the back of the truck for their snowshoes. In the light of the moon that reflected off the fresh white snow, they began to trek down the trail into the woods. They came upon a graded berm level across some train tracks that carried the Adirondack line through those mountains then another three hundred yards till they crested a slight hill. Emily could see the warm glow of a night fire flickering through the trees. It lit up the woods and made her curious as to what was next on this little journey.

   They came in sight of a cabin. It seemed a familiar log cabin. Emily felt as if she knew the place; like she had been there before. She had, but only in her dreams. There was a porch across the front. The railings were adorned in pine garland, and pine cones, and holly berries. On the carved wooden front door was a Christmas wreath decorated just like the garland around the railings. To the cabin's right was a frozen pond. At one end of that pond sat a single log bench by a roaring bonfire. Two pairs of ice skates rested against the bench. To the left was a hill; high enough to go sledding down. And leaning against the cabin was a long wooden toboggan. Now it all started to come together for Emily. It was all just like the scene in the snow globe she had dreamed about for so many years; the cabin, the frozen pond, ice-skates, and toboggan. It was all there.

   Emily stood there with her mouth wide open in stunned silence as Joe came up behind, wrapping his arms around her. He held Emily close. He reached inside his jacket and carefully pulled out the snow globe with the winter scene that had so often mesmerized Emily. Finally it had all come true. Joe shook the globe and held it up to the moonlight.


Christmas Story contest entry


This piece was originally titled Christmas In Thendara. It was originally written for a contest a couple of years back. For some reason I cannot find a way to delete contest from the entry. I have edited and rewritten parts of the story and changed the title to "The Christmas Cabin"
I hope you enjoy the story and I welcome all reviews and advice.
Thank You
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