“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
by Bonnie Randall
Andrew Gavin glared at the iPod plugged into the speaker dock. “‘Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer’,” he snapped. “Right. Likely when everybody was hammered.” He poked the speaker off.
His wife, Elizabeth, blinked at him.
“Stupidest Christmas song ever,” he said.
“Wow,” she replied, that and no more as she looped and apron over her head. “I need to get busy,” she said.
And she’d categorically refused all offers of help despite the fact that she was far from a cook and that they were expecting a houseful; alongside him, Elizabeth, and Kyle, would be his sister, his brother-in-law, their baby and Elizabeth’s mother Dez along with her new beau. Cele and Barnabas, his sister’s nearest and dearest, were coming too, as were Elizabeth’s music instructing colleagues Alvin and Reeve—and their yipping Pomeranian, Meg.
“Why the hell don’t Alvin and Reeve just adopt a baby?” he’d grouched, many times, to his wife. “They waste all their parenting potential on that stupid dog.”
“They love Meg, Drew.”
“They’d forget her in an instant if they had a real baby.”
“Then where would that leave the little dog?” Elizabeth was the picture of patience.
“Hopefully wandering amid traffic,” he replied as he wandered through the swinging door into the living room.
And without doubt the couple would bring Meg with them tonight. Because not only did small dog owners assume the entire world to be charmed by their pet—there was also no way in hell that he’d have the good luck of them putting the little beast in a kennel.
“Poor Andrew,” said a voice. “So cursed.”
A swarm of darkness swept together just within his periphery, and before he could turn his head to face it, The Dead Boy had formed and was perched on the back of the couch.
“Don’t sit on the sofa like that.” He scowled at the kid. “You’ll wreck it.”
The entity flipped him the finger.
Andrew closed his eyes. “Why are you here?” he rasped, but sotto voice and with a glance thrown into the kitchen. Elizabeth had no idea that The Dead Boy still visited sometimes—and he had no idea how she’d react if he told her.
The kid snapped his fingers, reclaimed his attention. “I want something for Christmas,” he said.
Andrew lofted both brows and when the kid grinned he was both surprised and not surprised to see that one of his teeth was rotting. Weird. For the most part he saw The Dead Boy differently now; at one time the kid’s entirety was rot, decay, and a stench that tripped his gag reflex. But now he was just a teenage boy—although here and there Andrew could still discern decomposition, and the thing always arrived within a cloud of vaguely septic stink. “You need a shower,” he told it.
The Dead Boy frowned. “No, that’s you. What the hell, Defective? Did your pit-stick fall into the toilet before you smeared it under your arms?”
Now it was Andrew’s turn to flip him the bird.
The Boy cackled and “Aw c’mon,” he said. “You know you love me.”
Debatable. Still, he found himself hiding a grin when he said “What do you mean you want something for Christmas? What could you possibly need?”
“How about a beer?” The kid beamed merrily.
Andrew scowled. “You’re not old enough to drink.”
“Oh, for…” The Dead Boy gawped at him. “Do you hear yourself, Defective?”
‘Defective’. A play on words from back when Andrew used to be a detective, and always The Dead Boy’s favorite insult. He pursed his lips at the thing and blew it a kiss. “I’ve seen you drunk,” he told it. “And you’re embarrassing.”
The kid glowered, moldy eyebrows furrowed down over piercing eyes Andrew knew only too well. Still—“You don’t scare me anymore,” he said mildly. “So pick something else.”
“Okay.” The kid leaned back, an angle far enough to peer through the archway and into the kitchen, where Elizabeth was bent over the dishwasher. “I’d like that,” he said.
“Stop ogling my wife,” Andrew returned.
Again The Dead Boy gaped at him. “She was my girlfriend long before she was your wife.”
“Yeah, but now she’s with me.”
The kid hoisted a brow. “Ah, but who does she love, Defective? Now that’s the mystery.”
Not really. Andrew crossed his arms over his chest. “What,” he said, “do you want?”
“In other words how do you get rid of me?”
“I’m all ears.”
Andrew squinted. “Caroling… as in singing? Christmas songs?”
The kid’s head bobbed and “Yeah,” he said, and looked utterly serious. “You can bring your guitar.”
“Wait. Wha—I don’t play in public.” And he sure as hell didn’t sing in public. Here at home? All the time, and to Elizabeth often. He liked the way her eyes went all Yes whenever he sang her a love song. But performing? “You’re crazier than usual,” he said.
“I’m crazy?” The Dead Boy sniggered. “You’re the one standing here talking to thin air.”
A fact not without merit. Andrew eyed him. If there was one thing he knew just as well as his own name, it was that unless The Dead Boy got his own way, he’d never leave. The thing was the epitome of ‘stubborn kid’. So—“Can I carol right here in our living room?” he asked.
“You can.” The thing nodded.
Thank Christ. Andrew’s shoulders unwound.
“—but I won’t like it.”
Oh, for—“I’m not going door-to-door!”
“Drew?” Elizabeth called out from the kitchen. “Why are you shouting?”
“I… uh… ” He floundered and The Dead Boy laughed at him. “—I stubbed my toe.”
“Ah. Well it wouldn’t hurt so bad if you’d pull a pair of socks on, Mr. Barefoot,” she said.
Andrew looked down at his uninjured (and uncovered) feet while The Dead Boy, still perched on the back of the sofa, wiggled his own blackened, bare toes. “We share so many quirks, Defective,” he said.
“Let’s go caroling,” the thing said. “But not door-to-door.” A pause. “How about The Bissell Centre?”
Again Andrew’s eyebrows went up. The Bissell was a tireless, donation-and-grant dependent agency in downtown Edmonton, the most unforgiving climate in the country for the impoverished and homeless. He’d visited The Bissell often back in his days with law enforcement, but hadn’t been back since he’d turned in his gun. Although he and Elizabeth still—
“Donating money isn’t the same, Defective.”
He bared his teeth. “Stop reading my mind.” Dammit, he hated when the thing did that.
“They’re serving turkey tonight,” said The Dead Boy.
Without doubt. It was Christmas Eve and he’d seen, in the hustle of shopping, all the colorful posters for Turkey Dinner at The Bissell downtown; placards clinging to the light posts like over-sized confetti. Still—“We’re having turkey here, too.”
“Yes.” The kid’s face drooped sorrowfully. “Elizabeth is cooking.”
Andrew winced, but—“And she’s so excited to give it a try. She even took cooking lessons to prepare this meal.”
The Dead Boy made no verbal reply and didn’t need to. The skepticism on his face said it all.
“I can’t skip out on her first turkey dinner,” said Andrew.
“Beth won’t be mad at you. Drew.”
He ignored the mocking tone the kid used to drawl out the nicknames and instead angled for reason: The Dead Boy did, after all, love Elizabeth every bit as much as he did. “She won’t be mad but she will be hurt.”
Again no reply, but the thing did look troubled.
“Plus everyone else will think I’ve gone loony again,” Andrew added.
“Because you want to sing to homeless people at Christmas? What kind of heartless family do you have, Defective?”
Andrew looked at the ceiling.
“Just go get your guitar,” said The Dead Boy. “And let me do the rest.”
Elizabeth was rubbing the raw bird with an unlikely and odd-smelling assortment of seasonings when he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned and—“Oh?” Her eyes affixed to the guitar case strapped to his back, a harness she’d bought him last Christmas. “Where are you going?”
He shuffled his feet on the hardwood, aware that he must look as boyish as the kid he’d left back in the living room. “It—uh—it’s hard to explain,” he said.
Her brow rose and—ah, dammit. There was the hurt he’d expected but then… then she blinked in the unmistakable way of someone who’d just been startled, and as he watched her eyes track over his shoulder (and grow ever more large), he braced himself for what he knew she would say. “A-andrew?” It was barely a whisper, and not only that—only when she was really mad or really unnerved did she use his whole name. “B-behind you—”
“Wh-where did he come from?”
“I’m… not sure.”
“Is he making you go out?” Her lips barely moved.
“Yeah,” he answered, then was shocked to see her raise her hand to the thing. Smile.
“He just blew me a kiss,” she said to his questioning expression.
Andrew whirled and affixed The Dead Boy with a glare. “Knock it off!” he said, then turned back to his wife. “He is not charming, Elizabeth. He’s a spoiled brat.”
She laughed and upon her face he could see it, the gentle affection she used to reserve for The Dead Boy and The Dead Boy alone back when she used to see him as often as he did. It both pissed him off and strangely gratified him, he wasn’t sure which one more. “Where’s he taking you?” she asked.
“To The Bissell. He wants to go caroling.”
She gawped then laughed. “Oh, he does now, does he? And do you even know any carols?”
He scowled. “As many as you, Ms. Internationally-Renowned Classical Guitarist.”
“Well, well, well.” She beamed merrily. “What time does he suspect you’ll be back?”
“Who knows?” he replied, and shot The Dead Boy another poisonous look.
Elizabeth giggled and “Go,” she said, and caressed his face with her fingers. “I’ll make your excuses.”
“Please do.” He kissed her fingertips.
“And I’ll save you some turkey.”
Please don’t. “That would be great.” He fake smiled then turned to The Dead Boy, who beamed.
“I knew she’d let me do anything,” the kid said.
“Shut up,” Andrew replied.
He’d forgotten how much the kid loved to ride in his car. “You should let be drive,” it said, and rubbed its rotting hands together. The skin was peeling in a way that made Andrew gag.
“No,” he replied. “What I should do is tell you to sit here and behave and don’t gloat because you got your own way.”
“As usual,” the kid said, and cackled when Andrew snarled at it.
The Bissell was a glare of fluorescent lights and a rush of bodies that all looked like doppelgangers; they wore matching t-shirts and Santa hats as they hustled to set chairs out and spread plastic cloths over seas of tables. The air was redolent with the scents of sage, rosemary, and—Andrew inhaled—turkey. His belly yowled and The Dead Boy jabbed an elbow in his ribs. “Admit it,” he said. “This smells way better than whatever the hell Elizabeth was attempting at home.”
Andrew winced and “Don’t swear” was the only thing he could come up with—’cause what the kid said was true.
Then he immediately regretted talking to no one any others could see, for a volunteer (Santa hat, t-shirt, and an adhesive nametag that read MIKE) approached him, expression a study of compassion reserved for the mentally ill. “Welcome, sir. We’re about to serve shortly. Would you like to queue up for the buffet?”
“Ah… no. I’d actually like to volunteer.”
Andrew patted his guitar. “Could you use… would it be okay if I sang some carols to your guests?”
MIKE opened his mouth, closed it, then said “One sec while I get our coordinator.”
He hurried off, leaving Andrew marooned in an ever-increasing crowd of people filing into The Bissell; some of these guests wore Santa hats, too—but also mismatched and ill-fitting winter gear (donations, no doubt), and while most had made obvious attempts at some grooming, a prevalent smell of stale cigarettes and the funk of unwashed clothing and hair eclipsed the aroma of Christmas dinner as they shuffled past, each searching for an empty seat or a friend.
And all finding a volunteer who greeted everyone with identical jubilation and an open-hearted smile of welcome that made Andrew’s heart both swell and ache all at once.
“Excuse me? Hello?”
Andrew turned and MIKE was back with a miniature woman who wore a shock of white, spiky hair. JODY read her nametag, and she was clearly in a rush. “Mike told me you’d like to sing,” she said, then held out a t-shirt and Santa hat before he could reply. “Put those on and follow me.”
Andrew trailed her to a seat she’d arranged near a cluster of tables. “Not everyone will be able to hear you from here, but it’ll do.”
“It’s fine,” he answered, then looked at The Dead Boy. Was it fine?
The kid nodded.
Jody smiled, also a rushed movement, then pulled a nametag out of her apron and hunched over a table. “Your name?”
She scribbled with a Sharpie then gave him the tag. “Merry Christmas, Andrew. And thanks.”
Andrew nodded then shrugged off his guitar, and wrestled the volunteer t-shirt on before he sat.
“You forgot something.” The Dead Boy pointed at the Santa hat which had dropped to the floor.
Andrew regarded it, grim-faced.
“When in Rome,” prompted the entity.
Andrew sighed and scooped up the hat.
The Dead Boy clutched his belly, laughing, once he had it on. Andrew narrowed his eyes then spoke through clenched teeth. “I’d like to pull this hat down over your eyes then kick you into the middle of traffic,” he said.
“No, you wouldn’t,” said The Dead Boy, then sat back, rocking gently and in a way that melted Andrew’s heart a bit as he strummed into his first carol—‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’.
A ragged round of applause came up as he closed off the song, then requests were shouted from every direction: ‘Jingle Bells’. Feliz Navidad’. ‘Walking In A Winter Wonderland’. He played them all, grimacing when he’d hit sour notes that were forgiven quickly and with good-natured laughter. He heard someone call out “‘Silent Night’!” just as a woman, hopelessly obese and wearing the sweet, uncertain smile of one who’s faced far too much rejection, approached him. “Do you know Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’?” she asked, then blushed such a deep, cherry red that Andrew was shocked her whole face did not start on fire.
“I do,” he nodded and beamed back, delighted that her blush became neon. But then—
“I want ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’!” yelled a voice with what could only be called practiced obnoxiousness.
Like hell, Andrew thought, and launched into Blushing Woman’s request.
“Now Grandma!” called Obnoxious when Andrew finished Elvis.
Nope. He sang ‘Silent Night’.
“C’mon, man!” whined Obnoxious.
Andrew ignored him, quickly switching chords into ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ after ‘Silent’.
“I want ‘Grandma’!” called Obnoxious, overtop of the lyrics.
Andrew scowled in the direction of his voice, then capped off ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’.
“‘Grandma’!” yelled Obnoxious again, and as Andrew chorded into ‘White Christmas’, he spotted him, a grizzled face in the crowd who was possibly Native, but possibly not; hard living had a way of erasing even ethnicity from people’s features.
The guy pounded his fist on his table, a rhythmic chant. “I want ‘Grandma’, I want ‘Grandma’.”
Andrew shook his head then cast a look to The Dead Boy. “He reminds me of you,” he muttered, hoping no one could see.
The kid shrugged, but looked… pensive. “Maybe just play it,” he said.
Andrew fixed him with a look. “Never negotiate with terrorists,” he replied, then strummed the opening riff for ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.
The kid’s mouth scootched to one side and he did not banter. What’s more and, to Andrew’s surprise, he did not even smile. “C’mon,” he said solemnly as Andrew finished the carol. “It… it’s Christmas.”
“Grandma!” Obnoxious cried.
Andrew sighed. “If I do it, then can I go home?”
The Dead Boy considered this, still utterly pensive, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Then we’ll go home.”
“Fine,” Andrew muttered, then “Fine!” he yelled loudly.
A few of The Bissell’s guests looked startled.
“‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’,” he snapped, then started to play.
Obnoxious—who was a Native guy, Andrew noted—got closer, glee all over his face as he sang along.
“One more time?” he asked, when Andrew was done.
Oh, for God’s sake. He’d sang none of the others a second time, but….
But hope shone on the guy’s face.
“Oh, all right,” he grumbled.
To his right, The Dead Boy smiled, and the Native dude sang boisterously (if somewhat out of tune) as Andrew played ‘Grandma’ a second time.
“And that’s a wrap!” he announced, when he was done, and it felt good to hear applause as he rose, stretched, then eased his guitar into its case. He was wondering if there was maybe a turkey leg left in the buffet when a hand landed on his shoulder.
It was the Native guy, Obnoxious. He still shone with glee.
“I just love that one.”
And he still hated it. “No worries,” said Andrew, but tightly.
The smile the guy wore faltered a bit. “Can… can I tell you about my Grandma?”
No. It was a reflex, and he was about to say it, but beyond the guy’s shoulder, The Dead Boy caught his eye and nodded—still pensive in a way that was mildly alarming. So Andrew turned to Obnoxious, and waited.
“I had two, actually. Two grandmas. But one was Kookum,” he smiled slightly, then it faded. “And the other was white.”
Andrew listened and noted that The Dead Boy came nearer, face solemn and absent of any regular sauciness.
“The Welfare placed me with her—Old Whitey—when I was just small. They thought she’d be better for me.” A bitter smile tightened his face. “And I never saw my Kookum again.”
But he saw ‘Old Whitey’. That much was all over his face.
“I dreamed about her though.”
“About your Kookum?”
“Yeah. The best thing—the only good thing—about Old Whitey’s place was when I’d finally fall asleep at night and dream. Man. I still smell bannock sometimes in my dreams.”
Andrew closed his eyes because all the obnoxious bravado had fled from the guy’s face. What was left behind was raw—and haunted.
“She used an electrical cord,” the man murmured, and Andrew knew from the shift in tone that they were talking about Old Whitey again. “Said she’d beat ‘the breed’ right out of me.”
Meaning what she would have seen him as the ‘half-breed’. Andrew’s gut clenched.
“See?” The Native guy pulled on the collar of his acres-too-big sweater.
Ropey scars criss-crossed in lumps on the skin of his shoulders.
A hiss of rage left Andrew’s lips. The guy grinned. “Don’t look so shocked, Singer. And don’t feel bad. No matter how much she beat me, I never, ever did feel white.”
Andrew’s stomach went sour.
“And there were times that were good. Like Christmas. At Christmas she’d pretend like she loved me. Parade me around like a dog in front of her family and friends. And I… I liked it.” At this the guy looked both baffled and ashamed.
An ache held Andrew’s insides and he shot The Dead Boy a venomous look. “Why’d you bring me here?”
The kid did not wear his typical ironic expression. “Because you were hurt badly once, too.”
Yeah. But… not like this guy.
“So now you know why I like it when Grandma gets run over by a reindeer,” said the dude, and when the corners of his eyes crinkled Andrew noticed how they were a startling blue—a hat-tip, albeit a sour one, to his half-European, and hence Metis, ancestry.
“Too bad the reindeer wouldn’t have ate her,” he replied, and the ragged man bellowed with laughter.
“If your guitar wasn’t locked up in its case I’d make you play it one more time.”
“They might start throwing Christmas oranges at me if I did,” he replied.
They beamed at each other for a moment, then—“You get enough to eat tonight?” Andrew asked him.
“I’m alright,” the guy said.
“You got somewhere warm you can sleep?” ’Cause if not, he had a credit card, and there were lots of hotel rooms in town.
“Stayin’ right here,” said the man.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The guy grinned and “Rudolph,” he answered.
Was he bullshitting? Andrew awarded this with a dubious smile, then said “Can you wait here a sec, ‘Rudolph’?” There were gift cards for Tim Horton’s for sale at the entrance. He’d go buy a handful for him.
Rudolph shrugged and Andrew held up a finger—wait!—then hurried up to the front, made his purchase. When he returned Rudolph was nowhere in sight.
“But he said he was staying,” Andrew murmured, to The Dead Boy, and the thing trailed him, silently, as he pecked through the crowd to find Jody.
“You have a fella here, a regular, but I’ve lost him in the crowd.”
A current of questions raised her eyebrows.
“Rudolph?” he said. “Native guy with really blue eyes?”
She looked startled and Andrew’s gut sank as he drew the dots all together. Christmas. ‘Rudolph’ requesting ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’. He had been bullshitted. And played. He swore in silence then pinned The Dead Boy with a granite stare.
The kid leaned back, unperturbed, and pretended to snitch a turkey leg off a platter as a harried volunteer hurried by.
Beside him, Jody said “Rudy is one special guy.”
Wait, what? “So that is his real name?”
“Well, y-es,” replied Jody, but slowly, and visually probing him. “Rudy—that is, Rudolph—Goodstriker is his name.”
Okay. This lifted the bristle from his shoulders. “So where is he? I’ve got these gift cards—”
Jody shook her head. “Andrew… where did you see him?”
He tossed a thumb. “Over where I was playing. He requested a song and then… and then he told me a little about himself.” A lot about himself. Those scars would wend their way through his dreams. He shifted his shoulders, slid the gift cards between his two fingers.
“You chatted with him,” said Jody, and her tone was telling for all it didn’t say. Then she cocked her head and “Andrew,” she said, looking at the gift cards. “Rudy won’t need those.” Her smile was kind but her face was peculiar with a look he knew well for how often he’d worn it himself; an expression that said ‘Sit down,’cause we need to talk. Sit down ‘cause I’ve got some bad news.’
“Rudy loves to show up at Christmas,” said Jody, “’cause he says Bissell smells good then and he likes how it’s so full of well wishes.”
I smell bannock in my dreams. Andrew’s eyes strayed to the mountain of flat-bread steaming in the buffet.
“And he especially loves it when we sing,” added Jody, and found his gaze, her eyes gentle—but sad. “But other than Christmas, Andrew… no one ever sees him.”
‘Christmas she’d pretend she loved me. Parade me around like a dog in front of her family and friends. And I… I liked it.’ Because that had been the only time he’d ever felt love… yet even then it was just an illusion.
Yet how was that unlike the time-limited cheer being offered at places like here, where volunteers came out in droves during the holiday season… but were razed to a skeleton crew any other time of the year? Shame seared Andrew’s insides, and he clung to Jody’s soft-eyed expression, said “What are you trying so hard to tell me without actually saying it?”
Jody patted his hand. “I’m telling you that Rudy’s been dead almost longer than I’ve been coordinating this dinner. We lost him to the elements way back in the 90’s: he closed his eyes one night out in the cold and never woke up.”
‘I liked going to sleep. I’d see my Kookum in my dreams.’
Andrew’s throat worked, and Jody said “You’re not the only one who’s seen him. But—” she stood. “You are the only one I know of to whom he’s talked. Come.” She beckoned him beyond the buffet line, to a closet-sized office in the back.
The place was cluttered with piles of papers, and coats, and baskets of wool socks that appeared to need darning. “We don’t waste a lot of things here,” she told him, then rummaged in a file cabinet that released the smell of incense and cigarette smoke when she pulled it open. “Aha,” she said. “Here.” She turned and opened her hand.
A miniature set of moccasins were parked on her palm, each small shoe roughly an inch in length and bound together by a leather strap running from heel to heel.
Andrew raised his eyebrows, all of his questions in his eyes.
“Rudy was desperate to get back to his culture. He attended every lecture and every workshop our Elders had to offer. This here is the last example I have of his leather and beadwork.”
The tiny moccasins were perfect, each feature to scale right down to the miniscule bit of beadwork on top.
“Do you have a Christmas tree, Andrew?”
Absolutely. He and Elizabeth had invited Alvin and Reeve (and Meg, to his chagrin) over and given them free rein to decorate. As a result, their tree looked like something out of a hoity-toity magazine.
“Please, take them.” Jody set the moccasins in his hand. “He gave a disclosure to you. I… I think he’d like you to have them.”
“Yeah, Defective.” The Dead Boy spoke up from his well of silence, and when Andrew looked, he was sitting yoga-style atop Jody’s file cabinet. “He’d like you to have them.” Their eyes bore into each other and Andrew knew they both could hear Rudolph say: I never felt white.
“And nor should you have,” Andrew murmured.
“Pardon?” Jody said.
“I said you really shouldn’t have.” He smiled. “But I’m grateful.”
He had no intentions of hanging the moccasins on his tree. Instead when he climbed into his car, he scrolled through the contacts on his phone. Hannah Bancroft was a child protection worker here in the city. He hit speed dial to call her.
She answered “Your wife know you’re calling me?”
Talk about the final nail in his Christmas coffin—missing Elizabeth’s first attempt at turkey dinner then calling his old lover, all within 24 hours.
“Pftt.” The Dead Boy slouched in the passenger side of his car. “Like you’d even be able to remember what Hanna looked like naked if you tried. There’s only one person you see in your fantasies.”
True. Andrew smiled a little.
The Dead Boy scowled. “Now’s not the time for your dirty mind, Defective.”
True again. “Can you still affiliate people on your database?” he asked Hannah. “Find out who their family are?”
“Yes and thank God,” she said. “Foster placements are at an all-time low. If we couldn’t guilt family into taking these kids we’d have every hotel room in the city full of kids and one-to-one workers.”
He winced and, for the countless time, was grateful that Hanna’s world—which was also his old world, one populated with broken people, shattered lives, and no beauty or music—was no longer his day-to-day backdrop.
“Just for tonight,” said The Dead Boy and, to his credit, did sound contrite.
Nonetheless, he mouthed ‘I hate you’, then into the phone said “Rudolph Goodstriker. It’ll be an old entry.”
Hanna did not reply, but he could hear her keyboard clacking. Then—“Whoa. There are pages here, Gavin.”
He could imagine. The name Goodstriker would not be unlike the name ‘Smith’. Still, if the affiliates all came up under Rudolph, they were at least all from the same family. “Is there a date for a female who’d be about the right age to be his Kookum?”
Hannah, like he, was versed enough to know the term meant ‘Grandmother’. “There’s one, but it says that she’s dead.”
“We’re never dead,” said The Dead Boy, and Andrew grimaced at the finality in his tone, but—“I still need to find her. You got a last known address?”
“May-be,” drawled Hanna, and more clacking resounded, then—“Your wife know what an odd, fixated duck you can be, Gavin?”
“My wife has a name,” he bit off. “And she knows me better than anyone.”
The Dead Boy grinned and shot him a thumbs up while over the phone line a chill emanated, much deeper and darker than anything from outside.
“Pfft,” The Dead Boy shrugged but shuddered, clearly feeling it too. “She started it.”
Yeah, but that didn’t make it wise to get all bristly with her when he was the one calling her for help.
“I have an address,” she announced finally, voice crisp and brittle as she rattled it off. He rapidly scratched it down, knowing damn well she wouldn’t repeat it if he needed her to.
“Merry Christmas,” he told her.
“Screw you.” She hung up.
There were three cemeteries within the scope of Kookum Goodstriker’s last known address, and he should have known that his luck would find her buried in the last one he checked.
He should have also known that his would not be the only fresh footprints in the unblemished snow leading up to her tombstone. He crouched before her grave and brushed the dusting of powder from her marker. “He liked to see you in his sleep,” he whispered. “He got hurt for just being who he was, still he longed to only, ever be that person. And that was probably due to you. ’Cause he loved you, and he never forgot—see?” He dangled the little moccasins from their strap on his finger. “I hope these can somehow lead his feet back to you.” He made a little well in the snow up close to her tombstone, dropped the wee moccasins inside. “I don’t know how to pray,” he said then, aloud, and noted that The Dead Boy waited a respectful distance away.
“I don’t think you need to, Defective,” he said.
They rode back home in silence and he wasn’t sure how to feel—hopeless because a corny gesture had accomplished nothing? Or deeply sad because no matter what it did, it could not change the past.
A whoop of welcome rose up as he came through the door and it felt good to hug and be hugged by everyone who had already eaten and were now gathered ’round the magazine-perfect tree. “Andrew!” Alvin clapped his hands. “Reeve made you cinnamon buns,” he trilled.
Because besides being beyond belief at décor, Reeve and Alvin were also some of the most thoughtful people he knew, and so would totally remember how crazy he was for sweets. “Fantastic,” he said. “I’m famished.”
Reeve beamed, and Meg, their Pomeranian, yapped.
Andrew worked hard to smile at the dog and The Dead Boy rushed at it, teeth bared and roaring.
The Pom yipped in alarm then fled under the sofa, cowering.
The Dead Boy grinned at Andrew. “Merry Christmas,” he murmured.
Andrew laughed and said “Anyone want some music?” He shouldered off his guitar and was no longer a soloist as he ran through many of the same numbers as he had at The Bissell; here at home everybody joined in and Elizabeth, with her own guitar, played in harmony. “Now this one,” Andrew said, and watched her shock as he launched into ‘Grandma’.
When he finished, she was laughing and leaned over to kiss him. “You never cease to amaze me,” she said.
He kissed her back, long enough that it lingered, then said, simply, “Thank you.”
She glanced surreptitiously around then whispered “Is he still here?”
The Dead Boy was fishing a finger through a bowl of nuts and bolts on the coffee table. Andrew lifted a subtle hand to the thing before a flash of movement out the window caught his eye. He looked and The Dead Boy wrenched around too.
Outside, and in the new-falling snow stood Rudolph. “Thanks for singing, man.”
Andrew heard him as readily as he would had the man been sitting amongst all of their guests, and You’re welcome. He projected the thought, hoping Rudolph would somehow hear it.
The man beamed, then lifted one hand. Andrew squinted. A set of fingers was laced between Rudy’s gnarled knuckles and when he looked, really looked, he could make out a second figure—a small, rotund lady standing next to him. She had gray braids and an aged, pleated face.
“Kookum!” croaked The Dead Boy.
Andrew nodded, and as the spectres faded from sight he heard her. “Now they’re your shoes,” she said, and pointed.
His gaze shifted in the direction of her wrinkled, aimed finger.
The tiny moccasins hung upon their magazine-perfect tree.
The Dead Boy gaped first at them, then at him. “T-told you that you didn’t need to pray,” he said, but sounded more unnerved than cocky.
“Shut up,” Andrew murmured, and stared at the little shoes. “And Merry Christmas.”
Bonnie Randall lives in a forest at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada.
Scribbling stories in coil-bound notebooks from the age of 9, her first attempts at prose featured wicked dolls, evil grandmothers—oh, and a romantic hero who just happened to be a professional ice hockey player (go figure). Clearly much has changed yet nothing has changed; Bonnie is still a sucker for true love, soul mates, smudgy shadows and things that go bump in the night. Her stories explore what love looks like in the face of paranormal peril for “Till death do us part” is, after all, only an illusion… Love never dies. Read a review of one of her novels in this edition of Abyss & Apex.