Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: “…and a Spectre in an Oak Tree”

Summary: An unseen visitor attends the Squire’s Isle Christmas festival.

Through the just-below freezing air, across the crowd of people gathered in the park, the disc-jockey’s voice comes through the speakers set up to either side of her mobile booth. The snow has let up, but the radio station is still playing it safe with their sensitive equipment. Rather than staying safe and warm behind the glass, however, Nadine Butler (Nadine Powell in her private life) brings her microphone out so she can interact with her listeners between songs. She’s dressed in a red blouse and green leggings, her ears turned into elfin points by latex and spirit gum. It’s the one day of the year that she’s actually a pixie, and she doesn’t want to ruin the effect by staying behind her console for the entire festival.

“Welcome back,” she says as the last song ends. “You just heard a pretty unique version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I really hope you enjoyed it. Coming up we’ve got giveaways, contests, and I’m taking only live requests. Ask me nicely and I’ll see what I can get on the air for you regardless of genre or era. Right after these commercials, we’ve got a special interview with Mayor Hood-Colby, so don’t… go… anywhere!”

The Visitor leaves the tree and moves unseen through the crowd, brushing past familiar faces before arriving at the platform. Its feet leaves no mark in the snow, and no one acknowledges its appearance on the stage next to Nadine. Long ago the Visitor was seen by a man who immortalized it in a book, but the author was a bit simplistic in portraying its true nature. He saw it as three distinct people, each with a different title. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

In truth it had nothing to do with Christmas. The holiday coincided with the turning of a page, a new dawn, and the Visitor existed in that crossroads to serve as a reminder of priorities, of goals, and a prompt to move people back onto their preferred paths. It moves closer to Nadine, who is crouching at the edge of the stage to listen to someone who is requesting a song. On the other side of the stage comes a woman, a popular woman judging by the people who shout out to her once she’s in sight. She’s bundled in a tan overcoat with a faux-fur collar, and she waves as she approaches Nadine.

“Madam Mayor,” Nadine says when she spots her guest. “Thank you for being here.”

“Call me Patricia. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Well, I know you have a little time-sponge living in your house right now…”

Patricia laughs. “She’s a handful, but we have a nanny who is helping take some of the load off. I actually got five whole hours of sleep last night.”

Nadine whistles. “All in a row?”

“It doesn’t have to be all at once. It still counts.”

Nadine chuckles. “Okay. We don’t have any script or any prepared questions. I figured we’d just wing a quick interview about putting the festival together, everything that went into it, and we’ll let you advertise the New Year’s party you have planned, all righty?”

Patricia shook her fists at shoulder-height in a mock victory dance. “Yay! Sounds perfect.”

The Visitor steps close to the women and they both freeze. Years ago at Christmas, when Patricia was younger and unknown to the people of the island, when she was only Patricia Hood, she worked selling real estate. She went to the dentist with a cracked molar and met Nicholas Costa. He was sweet, handsome, kind, and he didn’t laugh when she said she was scared of the dentist. He helped her through it and as a thank you, she offered to buy him dinner.

Patricia was in her apartment on Christmas Eve a few months later. She knew what was coming, knew what Nicholas planned to give her in the morning. She would say yes, because that was what people did. Nicholas hadn’t done anything wrong and she enjoyed his company well enough. In her pajamas in front of her little Christmas tree, she sat in front of the fire and watched the flames. The Visitor had been with her in that moment as well and it tried to let her know everything would work out. Happiness, children, contentedness. Patricia understood the message and nodded to herself. The next morning she accepted Nicholas’ proposal and became Patricia Costa. The road of her future veered into an unexpected detour but graced her with the child she was destined to have. When she looped back around to her intended path, the second child arrived. A little later than originally planned, but time was flexible. The girl’s destiny was unchanged.

The happiness foreseen is now reality. Patricia is fulfilled in career and in life. The bags under her eyes, the new wrinkle or two earned through hard work and dedication, and the Visitor knows that she won’t trade them for anything. Turning its attention to Nadine it sees joy. Nadine finds serenity in her life no matter what’s going on. When she was single, she enjoyed her solitude, and even when she was in a relationship nearing its end she found some happiness. And now…

It sees a bedroom, the room of a couple that has seen a recent fight. Anger and irritation bolstered by feelings of love, which always makes the fury worse, dissipating in the midst of an apology like fog banks broken by headlights. It sees Nadine and Miranda under the blankets, their clothes discarded, sealing their reconciliation with a slow, tender session of lovemaking. Nadine whispers something in Miranda’s ear; Miranda’s cheeks flush and she presses her face into the curve of Nadine’s neck before lifting her hips in response.

The Visitor withdraws and the women continue their conversation as if nothing has happened. Nadine’s cheeks are pink from the cold and the bottom of her ears are red under the flesh tone of her latex ears. The Visitor steps to one side and lifts an arm, blocking the coldest and bitterest of the winds to avoid the two women. It’s subtle enough that neither acknowledges it beyond a slight relaxing of their shoulders.

The Visitor moves on.

Across the field of gathered revelers, it moves from person to person in quick bursts, sliding like a glimmer across their minds. It becomes momentarily waylaid by a woman moving quickly through the crowd, breaking through the Visitor’s presence and forcing it to drag along with her as she hurries toward the woman whose attention she is trying to capture. The target is a woman in a white cap with a bobble on top. She’s holding a baby, her head bowed so she can speak to the child as she points toward the stage.

“Who is that up there? Mom Trish, I think, isn’t it? Yes, it is…”

“Excuse me,” the other woman says, momentarily sheepish but regaining her courage when the woman looks up and meets her gaze. “Mrs. Hood-Colby?”

Jill smiles. “One of them. Can I help you?”

“I’m Jaime Morgan. My daughter Pamela is in your class this year.”

There’s a moment when Jill mentally searches her mind for the name. “Pamela! I remember her.”

“She told me that you’d left a few weeks ago for a maternity leave. I would say things worked out well in that regard.”

“Very well, indeed,” Jill asserts, stroking one gloved finger over her baby’s chubby cheek. The baby seems grumpy and squirms, but Jill holds tight. “This is Isabel.”

Jaime smiles and leans closer. “Why hello, darling. Oh, she’s precious. I wouldn’t impose, but I wanted to let you know that Pamela absolutely raved about you when the school year started. She adores your class. All the students are eager for you to come back when you’re ready.”

The Visitor sees a flash, a quick succession of images: a nervous young woman fresh out of college, wearing an itchy sweater over a blouse with a collar she’s certain is sticking up in the back but she doesn’t dare check it, smoothing her hands over the material of her pants as she wets her lips and begins to speak to a room of ten-year-olds for the first time as their teacher.

Jill smiles at the compliment and nods. “Thank you. That means so much for me. And hopefully I’ll be able to come back after Christmas break. We’ve got the nanny all set up, but we’ll see if I’m physically able to pull myself away.”

“It’s nearly as difficult as giving birth to the little thing.”

Jill says, “So I’m told. But it has to happen eventually.” She sighs and tightens her arm almost imperceptibly around her daughter. “So are you here with your… husband…?”

“My girlfriend. She actually works for your wife at City Hall. Leah Kincaid.”

“Oh, wow! Yeah, I’ve met Leah. I haven’t seen her around.”

“She’s here somewhere, I assure you.” She turns to see if Leah has snuck up on her and the Visitor touches her shoulder. It sees into the past, a small apartment in London with a little tree in the window. It knows this is Jaime’s home between homes, after leaving her husband and taking their daughter, making plans to relocate to America. Pamela only gets two trinkets for Christmas, a stocking stuffer and a slightly larger present that is actually wrapped and under the plastic tree. Funds are tight, but the little girl is so thrilled with her hand-carved owl figure and the fairy-decorated terrarium. Though the little girl (Pamela) is excited beyond measure as all girls her age should be on Christmas morning, her mother is worried. She fears the future, fears taking both feet off the ground and expecting to fly.

The Visitor moves forward two years, skipping over mother and daughter’s hectic first Christmas on the island to find that very Christmas morning. There’s a woman in Jaime’s bed, wearing only a button-down shirt that is sloppily buttoned to cover her modesty as she types on the computer balanced on her folded legs. Her hair is mussed, she’s wearing glasses instead of her contacts, and Jaime wakes from a peaceful sleep to see her poised over a shining screen.

The peace and gladness in the moment is such a vast contrast to the previous images that the Visitor is almost taken aback by it. She smiles and leaves the women to listen as Nadine begins her interview with the mayor, their voices echoing from the speakers. The mayor makes a joke and the crowd laughs as the Visitor retreats to the next place to alight.

To the edge of the park, along the small shrubbery that separates well-tended grass from well-trod sidewalk, there is a small stand selling hot cocoa. Here the Visitor spots two women speaking as they warm their hands with the tall red-and-white cups. Nicole Bronwyn has grown her hair out since the last Christmas she was Visited, and she smiles so much she looks like a completely different person. The Visitor sees into years before, the years when Nicole was half a world away in a sandy place. She was embedded and recorded a war with the lens of her camera. It sees the woman Nicole loved there, the tomboy who called her “Nick,” the forbidden embraces.

It was a love affair without consummation. They never made love, but they touched more intimately than many couples ever had. The soldier told Nicole her fears, and Nicole provided comfort where she could. Nicole wasn’t unhappy in her situation but she also was far from fulfilled. She ached for a physical relationship that she knew would be impossible. When she was reassigned, she left her soldier a note saying goodbye. To this day she doesn’t know if the soldier ever got it, but the Visitor knows. She knows the soldier kept the note in her vest every day, that she read it at every opportunity, and the Visitor knows that one day that soldier will come looking for the woman who left her behind.

The woman with whom Nicole was speaking was a unique soul. She had been touched by stardust. Tracy Finch, an astronaut, a visitor to the International Space Station now firmly planted on terra firma. The Visitor had seen many bad Christmases in this woman’s past, lonely holidays and New Year’s spent trying to forget the prior twelve months. This year would be different. This year would bring sobriety, clarity, and love.

The Visitor swept away from the astronaut and the photographer, touching couples and eavesdropping on histories. The firefighter who descended into hell in order to save her lover spoke to a woman who had risked her job to support a friend. The reporter and the restaurant owner, the coffeehouse owner speaking with the doctor who had been saved by the firefighter. Lives intertwined, destines linked by the frailest of cords that had wound in and around and over each other until they were inextricable. Strangers and lovers, old friends and those waiting to be met, the island was full of people who had gone through trials and tribulations in order to wash up on this special shore.

A bullet nearly shattered the firefighter’s leg as she was choked by smoke in a burning apartment.

An astronaut drank herself into unconsciousness as her home burned down around her.

A mayor whose affair destroyed her marriage but opened the door to a true family and absolute bliss.

The coffeehouse owner who ran away from home, who descended into the depths of the prison system only to come back home and find a unique life in the ashes of what she left behind.

The Visitor watched as the women interacted, as the schoolteacher carried her baby off somewhere warmer so she could feed her. It watched the station manager whisper something into the disc-jockey’s pointed ear as the mayor descended from the stage and was taken aside by her chief of staff for a quick discussion. The Visitor circled the park and drifted back to the tree where it had started.

The women of this island had gone through their trials. Their “Christmas Pasts,” as Dickens would have it, were filled with bad decisions, heartache, sorrow, and regret. But those roads, however rough, had led them all to this moment. Some of them still had a fair distance to go, and the Visitor knew that there were tribulations waiting to be overcome, but it had faith that they would withstand the flames of whatever was thrown to them. There was no need to make its presence known, nothing that required a supernatural touch.

It let its presence fade from the island, leaving its perch in the oak tree. There were other places that required its help more than anyone here.

The people of this island were all, for the time being, precisely where they were supposed to be.

2 Responses to “12 Days of Squire’s Isle Christmas: “…and a Spectre in an Oak Tree””

  • Hello, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but
    when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, awesome

  • Hm, there is some overlapping issue but I thought it only affected the first line/summary. Thanks for letting us know!

    – Geonn

Morgan (Webmaster) on August 6th, 2014 at 12:53 am