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  • Charles Zitta

CRACKED! A Christmas Tale (Part I)



It had been a difficult year for the Finkleton family. Father had accepted a cut in pay to keep his business afloat, while Mother had been struggling with health concerns and was barely able to work at all. All the while, their children Robert, Adeline and Tommy, had remained humble—studying hard, helping with chores, and doing what they could to put a smile on Mother and Father’s weary faces.

None the less, the time of year where all such things were whisked away had arrived.

The Finkletons were happy to be home…together. Ready to share in the joys of Christmas Eve.

Everyone had gathered in the living room, taking in the warmth of the fireplace, hot cocoa and an assortment of freshly baked cookies. Mother and Father were nestled on the couch, watching as the children added their gifted ornaments to the tree. A family tradition not even the most difficult of times could prevent.

“All done?” asked Mother.

“Just about,” replied Robert.

“Me too,” Adeline added.

The oldest of three, Robert and Adeline, sat down to enjoy the rest of their cookies and cocoa. But little Tommy was struggling to find a place for his new ornament.

“Is there a problem with the ornament, Son?” Father asked.

“Oh no, Father, just trying to find the right place, that’s all.”

Tommy did his best to hide his concern. How could Mother and Father afford such wonderful gifts this year? He thought to himself. The glass nutcracker was the finest ornament he had ever been given, as were the ornaments his brother and sister received.

The young boy secured his gift to the tree. Glancing across the soft-lit room, he said to his parents, “Thank you.”

Not wanting to be shown up, Adeline and Robert were quick to offer their thanks as well.

“You are more than welcome,” Mother replied.


******


The hour was late. Only the ticktock of the foyer clock and the howling winter winds could be heard. Mother, Father and their children were well asleep upstairs. Moonlight beamed through the frosted bay window. Its soft glow highlighting the pet cat Fritz, who was curled up on a sofa blanket. The family dog, Reggie, lay comfortably napping upon the area rug in front of the fireplace, which had long since burnt down to embers.

All was calm this wintry Christmas Eve.

The long hand met the six at the bottom of the hour. A single chime signaling twelve thirty echoed through the sleepy house.

Fritz was unfazed, though Reggie stirred upon the clock’s magical chime. Lifting his head ever so slightly, one eye open, he checked the area for unusual activity then returned back asleep.

A rustling noise rose up from the pine needles.

Reggie’s left eye opened again. Then his right. He raised his head from the floor, ears perked and head tilted.

Fritz, awake as well, had found his way to the sofa’s armrest farthest from the ruckus in the tree.

Ornaments mysteriously rattled and clinked, garland rustled, and branches shook and bounced on the unlit tree.

Fritz leapt atop the sofa back. Staying low, he cautiously inched forward for closer observation.

Reggie stumbled to his feet and approached the tree from the other side of the room.

Neither was sure what to make of the unusual situation.

The click-clack sounds of dueling weapons erupted within the tree’s shadows.

Fritz began to meow, growling in low tone—the gray hair on his tail fully alert.

Reggie whined with concern, emitting muffled woofs and growls, as not to wake the family…but even the subtlest of noises travels well in the quiet of the night.

Tommy, had left his bedroom door slightly ajar for precisely that reason—hoping to catch a glimpse of the jolly fellow laying presents by the tree, stuffing stockings, or enjoying milk and cookies.

Wakened by the stirring sounds of Reggie and Fritz, the young boy crept out of bed and quietly tip toed to his door, opening it ever slowly. The hinges creaked as silent anticipation found its way into his room. This was the big moment. The moment he had planned for…it had to be. Santa Clause!

Tommy entered the hallway, blindly making his way down the hall to the top of the stairway. The view below was mixed with darkness, shadow and a ray of moonlight—which highlighted the empty sofa blanket where Fritz had once laid asleep. Not at all how Tommy had pictured this moment in his dreams, he cleared his sleepy eyes, then refocused on the tree. Trying to spot the jolly, red-suit man.

Nothing.

The young boy stepped softly down the stairs, past the grandfather clock in the foyer, then quietly into the living room.

Fritz and Reggie continued to stir in the dark. Neither taking their eyes off the tree. Trying to improve his view, the dog paced back and forth from one side of the tree to the other—carefully stepping around presents along the way.

An ornament hit the floor and shattered. All three jumped back. Startled by the sudden noise.

“What is it, Boy?” Tommy said to the dog. “A squirrel? Maybe a mouse?”

Reggie remained focused on the tree.

“That’s it, I’m turning on the lights,” Tommy whispered to himself.

Cautiously, he walked up to the tree, knelt down, and flicked a switch. A soft glow of red, purple, blue, green and yellow light instantly brought the tree to life—filling the room with a magical aura of Christmas.

The young boy lowered himself further, peeking under the tree. Carefully reaching in, he removed a present wrapped in snowflake-patterned, blue foil paper—revealing the most unusual of things.

Three tiny elves…laid out on the floor among the shattered glass ornament.


TO BE CONTINUED...

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