Friday, December 25, 2009

White Christmas (Short Story)

Christmas means many things to many people. For some it's a profound holy day. For others it's a day of gift giving, or just another day. Still others have learned to revere the holiday and what it stands for through other ways and means.

Such is the story showcased here today. White Christmas, by Simon Garte, tells the story of a soldier at war, raised an atheist and what changed it all for him.

It was not a white Christmas that year. At least not for him. He was in a land that had never seen snow. Rain, yes - lots of rain. But no snow. In fact it was raining that Christmas morning. He was sitting by himself in the rain. Alone. The camp was almost empty. He had volunteered to stay since he wasn’t a Christian.

Not then.

And also Snake eyes had asked him to stay. That weird thing had happened two days earlier, when he had been sitting alone in the rain, just like now. Snake eyes had come up to him and started talking. Snake eyes hated him, so that was already weird.

“Hey man” Snake eyes said.


“I need a stabber for Christmas.”

He looked up at Snake eyes dark, inscrutable face.

“Me?” He asked.

“Yeah you. Abdul can’t make it and all the other brothers and crackers are going to that thing down river. But I figgered, you bein a atheist or a Jew, or whatever the f-ck you are, maybe you want to do it.”

He thought about it. He had never done this before, never been asked to.

“OK” he said.

Now he was waiting in the rain for Snake eyes. “It’s Christmas” he thought to himself. His father, a committed atheist, refused to have a tree or any decorations in the house. The family had always exchanged presents on New Year’s day. Christmas meant nothing to him.

Nothing good.

An hour later, he and Snake eyes were walking north on the trail. They were soldiers, and there was a war, but they were not fighting. They hadn’t been fighting for months. There was no point to it.

When they got to a place that Snake eyes recognized, he pointed into the jungle, and the white boy left the trail. He found himself a position with a good sight of the trail and Snake eyes. He rested the M1 on a branch, and settled down to wait. The rain stopped and then started again. Snake eyes was sitting in the mud of the trail.

The two kids in black pajamas came down the trail smiling and laughing. They were the “enemy”, but had been doing business with the platoon for a long time. One of them carried a large sack, the other an old rifle of some kind. The kid with the rifle went into the jungle on the opposite side of the trail from where the white soldier was crouched, and that left Snake eyes and the kid with the sack standing on the trail. Snake eyes started talking to the kid. They were smiling and laughing. At first. But then the kid started saying something that Snake eyes didn’t seem to like. Snake eyes began raising his voice, and the words came through the thick jungle to him sitting with his M1.

“That’s bulls-it, man. That is bulls-it. What the fu-k are you saying?”

The kid answered, but too quietly to be heard. Finally he shook his head, and put down the sack. Snake eyes reached behind him and took out a small stack of bills from his rucksack. The kid took the money and then grabbed the bag and began running.

“Fu-k”, shouted Snake eyes, “shoot the mother.”

He raised the M1 and fired a round which went wild, and then he saw that Snake eyes was down.

“Snake eyes”. He yelled. No response. Except for the rain it was quiet. He scanned the jungle on the opposite side of the trail, and saw nothing, but lay down a lot of fire. Then he ran to the trail. Snake eyes was alive, but there was a hole in his chest and blood was mixing with mud all over.

“Fu-k it man. Its Christmas, I don wanna die on Christmas.”

And then he did.

The white soldier tried carrying the body back, but only got a few yards. He dragged the body into the jungle a couple of feet, and then headed down the trail. His mind was blank. At the camp, he went into his tent and lay down. The chopper had not returned from the party yet, and he still had a couple of hours of solitude left.

The angel appeared as a dark haired, blue eyed young girl of about fifteen. She was dressed in pure white, and she stood in the center of the tent. He knew it was a dream. The angel spoke in a foreign language, but he understood it, as if he were reading the subtitles at a foreign movie. She said this to him,

“Your sufferings will be intense, but the Lord loves you. Never forget this.”

Many decades later, he had forgotten those intense sufferings, but he never forgot the dream of the angel standing in white in his tent on that Christmas day.

His white Christmas.


Simon Garte has published non-fiction and also writes fiction. He's a marvelous storyteller. Simon is a New Yorker currently living on the East Coast.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Cookies and Holiday Joy (short story)

Sarah inhaled the fragrances of cinnamon and sugar and the chocolate chips melting into gooey deliciousness in the oven. Homey smells. Christmas smells.

She wanted to sit, relax, to inhale more than smells. She wanted the peace of the season to wash over her, still her racing mind and ease her fractured soul. But if she stopped moving, sorrow would overwhelm. She knew it. Had given in last Christmas. And again on his birthday. She’d been unable to resist the lure of peace on those two days.

But peace had eluded her. And instead grief had stolen into her home, into her mind and heart. And she’d cried out her anger and sorrow and loss, collapsing on her kitchen floor in a tangle of oven mitts and tears and memories. And standing again, facing life again, had been nearly impossible.

She reached for the oven door just before the timer buzzed, and pulled out the tray of perfect cookies. His favorite. She baked them every year. He couldn’t get enough. And she’d watch as he devoured one after another, following every third bite or so with a gulp of cold milk. And he’d grin, crumbs clinging to his lips, knowing she got a kick out of his passion for home-baked cookies made just for him.

She scoured the kitchen; focusing on making perfect and whole those things she had control over. And pushed far from her mind the events she couldn’t influence or change. But she left the cookies mounded on wax paper since Mac liked them that way. Liked reaching across the counter and plucking one or two or five whenever he wanted them.

The reflection from the tree beckoned her to the living room and the large glass windows that framed it. She’d stop for only a moment, her heart promised her head. Just a brief passage of time to watch the snowfall, to admire the twinkling lights as they pushed against the darkness both inside and out. Just a moment . . .

When the clocked chimed nine, Sarah jumped. Then smiled. Silly to feel guilty over losing herself in memories of her husband. She wouldn’t break down this Christmas. She’d learned that lesson. Plus, the news had been better this year. The better news being they’d actually heard news. The first reliable report since her captain had gone missing sixteen months earlier.

Chaplain Anderson had called in October. One of the Resolute Seven—prisoners held for over four months in a no-name cave in Afghanistan—had mentioned Mac—someone who sounded like Mac, please God—in his briefing. So this year she’d added hope to her arsenal of determination and faith and prayers. This year she wouldn’t give in to despair.

She pressed her fingers against the cold glass. Closed her eyes and lowered her head.

“Keep him warm tonight. Please. Hold him in Your arms since he doesn’t have mine. Fill his heart with Your love, with my devotion. And give him Your peace.”

Sarah leaned against her hand and stared into the night. So quiet. So pure.

So lonely.

“And please hold me. Because I’m afraid I can’t hold on any longer.”

She returned to the kitchen. In the near dark she pulled milk from the fridge and poured a tall glass. She piled cookies on a plate and arranged plate and milk on the reindeer placemat at the head of the table. She fussed with a linen napkin, flattening it again and again until she realized what she was doing and yanked her hands away. Enough of that. She still had presents to wrap, gifts for her brother’s family. She turned. And blinked.

The front door was opening, three men stepping through.

Chaplain Anderson, removing his hat. Colonel Ryan, Mac’s CO, holding the arm of another man. That other man dangling a key from his fingers.

The third man lifted his head at her gasp. Then grinned. And then he was rushing to her and squeezing her and kissing her face.

“Sarah. My God, Sarah.”

And then Sarah was on her knees, holding Mac, holding a dream, and kissing him back. Touching him everywhere. Crying and laughing and shaking so much she thought she’d finally snapped and lost her mind.

But when Mac pulled back and grasped her face between his hands, when she could see his eyes and into his soul, she knew he was not imagined but real and in their home.

In her arms.

She stared in wonder for a timeless instant, then sobs burst from her chest and she burrowed into Mac, clutching him, trying to breathe, trying to think. Trying not to feel because the emotions were stretching her beyond her limits and shattering her mind.

“I smell cookies.” That was the colonel.

Mac laughed. He laughed. Sarah gripped him even tighter.

“Sir, those are my cookies. All mine. I’ve been dreaming of them for days. And I’m sorry to say, you won’t get a single taste.”

Sarah wiped her face against Mac’s coat. Trust her man to get to the heart of any matter.

“Sarah? You ready to stand now? I wanna get this coat off and hold you properly.”

“Major, I believe this is where Chaplain Anderson and I bid you goodnight. And Merry Christmas.”

Sarah scrambled to her feet, pulling at Mac, searching his face. Thin. Lined. Hers. “How? When?” She squeezed her eyes shut and drew in an uneven breath. He was still there when she opened her eyes. “Major?” She twisted to look at Colonel Ryan, but turned immediately back to Mac. “I was just asking God to hold you, since I couldn’t. And now you’re here. You’re here.

Mac saluted the other men as they eased out the door, but didn’t turn from Sarah. “He held me, baby. Every day I felt His protection and your love entwined, binding me in strength and hope.” He stepped close to her and again wrapped her face in his palms. His hands were shaking. “Tonight we hold each other.”

She lifted her hands to his where they framed her cheeks. His gaze was locked on her face. “Why didn’t you call? Have you seen a doctor? What happened? Mac . . . What happened?”

He leaned his forehead against hers, still unwilling to relax his hold. “I needed to be with you before the news broke, baby. I need you at my side to get through the rest of this. To he—” His voice broke and he hauled her against his chest.

“I’m here always. Forever.”

“I know,” he whispered against her neck. “And that’s what saw me through.” His entire body shook, vibrating against hers. “I didn’t break, Sarah. Not once. Not until a couple of Special Forces guys hauled me out. And then I cried like a baby.”

“Mac . . . ”

“My Sarah.” His lips feathered over hers. “Merry Christmas, wife.”

She slid her arms inside his coat and dug her fingers into his back. “Merry Christmas, major. I love you.” She closed her eyes. Thank You. For holding him. For bringing him home. For returning my heart.

My pleasure, Sarah. My very great pleasure. Merry Christmas to you and peace to this home.


Beth Hill writes fiction and loves words. She thinks that being a writer is the most satisfying and best job, hobby, career, and/or addiction one can pursue.

Beth loves the joys of Christmas.

You can reach Beth at her website, Read Write and Edit

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lakeshore Christmas And Cookies

My guest today, is Romance Author, Susan Wiggs. I've been reading Susan's books since 1990. Susan has written such a variety of books over her long career, historicals, women's fiction, and contemporary romance. Susan makes no bones about the fact she is a militant romance writer and I have to say, I'm glad of that. :-)

Susan's topic today is Christmas and a subject dear to my heart, cookies. I love collecting cookie recipes and experimenting with different ones. Of course, it must be done with appropriate music...

I made a lot of key discoveries while writing Lakeshore Christmas. One is that everybody–and I mean everybody–associates the holidays with a particular flavor, be it cinnamon, anise seed, ginger, chocolate, name it. The flavors of the season reach back deep into our roots, triggering sentiments and emotions we like to savor like a rich butter cookie with a cup of tea.

This caused a bit of a dilemma when it came to creating the very special holiday cookie recipes that appear in Lakeshore Christmas. I ended up testing dozens of options, offered to me by friends, family, librarians and booksellers–and sometimes the choices were as excruciating as my resistance to sweets. How can the Silver Palate cookies edge out Aunt Martha’s Molasses Stars?

This led to another little epiphany about the holidays. I finally figured out exactly why the Cookie Exchange came into being. It’s a way of sharing your special flavors with friends. My way of sharing is through my books, and for this novel in particular, I had an embarrassment of riches. Tons of glorious recipes, dripping with butter and sprinkled with sugar. So many that I couldn’t include them all–which is why I’m glad for this opportunity to share a few more. Here are some wonderful, amazing cookie recipes that didn’t quite make the cut, but they’re still worth baking up a batch.

I’m also eager to share something else with you. From my own childhood come rich memories of baking with my family in very specific ways. We had to use the wavy-tree cookie cutter, and the rainbow-colored nonpareils...and we absolutely, positively had to have music playing in the background. We played records on my parents’ totally mod stereo, everything from the Nutcracker Suite and Handel’s Messiah to Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones and Peaches en Regalia by the Mothers of Invention. So in addition to providing you with cookie recipes, I’ve included song suggestions for your listening pleasure while you bake.

Of course, since this is a Susan Wiggs book, there’s a world of difference between the main characters, so I had to create two different playlists. Maureen is the town librarian and a complete traditionalist when it comes to Christmas. Her nemesis–and the one man she can’t resist–is Eddie Haven, who lives up to his bad-boy reputation right down to the music he chooses.

Yet this novel is more than a love story featuring food, friends and family. Lakeshore Christmas is also a passionate drama involving something near and dear to my heart–the public library. I don’t have to tell you that this most precious of institutions is facing serious economic troubles. In the novel, the cookie exchange is held to benefit Avalon’s own public library, keeping it open for generations to come.

So I’ll end with a big idea: Bake some cookies. Save a library. Save the world.

  • What flavors and scents do you associate with the holidays?


Classic Christmas Cookies

"If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift, give cookies." –Maureen Davenport, in Lakeshore Christmas

3 cups flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 cup sugar
6 T butter, softened
6 T shortening
3 eggs separated
1 1/2 t. almond extract
1/4 c orange juice

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in butter and shortening until dough resembles coarse meal. Mix in egg yolks.

  • In a clean bowl, beat egg whites and almond extract with mixer until soft peaks form. Fold whites into dough. Mix in orange juice.

  • Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Roll out dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes.

  • Create "cookie paint" with egg yolks mixed with food coloring, and paint to decorate. Sprinkle with sugar and nonpareils.

  • Bake until edges are lightly browned–7 to 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.


Susan Wiggs's life is all about family, friends...and fiction. She lives at the water's edge on an island in Puget Sound, and she commutes to her writers' group in a 17-foot motorboat. She serves as author liaison for Field's End, a literary community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, bringing inspiration and instruction from the world's top authors to her seaside community. (See She's been featured in the national media, including NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and is a popular speaker locally and nationally.

According to Publishers Weekly, Wiggs writes with "refreshingly honest emotion," and the Salem Statesman Journal adds that she is "one of our best observers of stories of the heart [who] knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book." Booklist characterizes her books as "real and true and unforgettable." She is the recipient of three RITA (sm) awards and four starred reviews from Publishers Weekly for her books. The Winter Lodge and Passing Through Paradise have appeared on PW’s annual "Best Of" lists. Several of her books have been listed as top Booksense picks and optioned as feature films. Her novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have made national bestseller lists, including the USA Today, Washington Post and New York Times lists.

The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible golfer, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Readers can learn more on the web at and on her lively blog at