Thursday, December 22, 2011

Friday Fiction for December 23, 2011

I have the privilege of hosting Friday Fiction this Christmas weekend, so please feel free to post your link in the list and join in the fun!

I love writing the Pod Christmas stories, and this short scene takes place the first Christmas after the events in the story, “Allison.” Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoy all the stories this week!

The Mermaid Under the Mistletoe

Pod Christmas Story, 2011

By Rick Higginson

Every eye in the room turned towards the door as word spread of who had just arrived. Joshua Cardan was accustomed to such attention; there was no company facility or function that he, as owner of Cardan Pharmaceuticals, could ever hope to sneak into.

“Josh,” Marta said beside him. “Is it too late to change my mind?”

He patted her arm. “Probably,” he said. “Of course, you did walk into Diego’s church this way, and for all the times you said you wanted to accompany me to the annual Christmas Party, you really should go through with it now.”

Robert Barron slipped through the crowd and stepped in front of them. “So, we finally get to meet her, eh, Josh?”

“You don’t know how many times over the past few years I wished I could tell you about her, Rob. Yeah, you finally get to meet her. Marta, this is Robert Barron, the Chief Executive Officer of Cardan Pharmaceuticals. Rob, this is Marta.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cardan,” Rob said, extending his hand.

Marta shifted her weight on the walker to take the hand. “Please; it’s just Marta.”

Rob smiled. “Of course; Marta.” He turned towards the gathered employees and gestured for a path to be made. “We’ve had a special table prepared for you tonight.”

Josh took the wrap from her shoulders, and handed it with his suit coat to an attendant. It always seemed strange to see her in clothing, but the bright green holiday dress fit her nicely and looked attractive on her. If one ignored the tips of the fluke sticking out from under the hem, it would have been easy to miss the fact that she was a mermaid.

Rob’s wife was already seated at the table, and she greeted them pleasantly as they approached. A medical style gurney waited at one place setting, draped in festive cloth to mask its utilitarian nature. At Rob’s direction, they stepped up next to the gurney, and a couple of young men gently helped Marta onto it. Josh took a chair next to her, and scooted into place.

The CEO picked up a microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen, Joshua and Marta Cardan. I think this party can officially begin!”

Before and after dinner, a steady stream of people came to the table, introducing themselves to Marta and extending their holiday greetings. Marta seemed to get more comfortable with all the attention as the night wore on, though eating at a table with formal place settings was much too confusing for her. Meals in the Family Room were never formal.

After dinner, tables were cleared and moved out of the way. The DJ changed the music from holiday classics to dance tunes, and couples soon made good use of the open floor space.

“Well, Marta,” Rob said, watching the festivities. “How do you like the party?”

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I think the only thing that would make it better is if I was able to go out there and dance with Josh.”

“Josh said you might feel that way,” he said, and nodded at some of the attendants.

The men pulled the curtains back, and opened two large glass doors. The courtyard outside was decorated for the holiday, and lights shone on a large swimming pool.

“It will be a bit cool out there, but the pool is heated and the music is being played in the courtyard as well.”

She raised up on her arms to get a better look. “Josh? Did you know about this?”

He grinned sheepishly. “I had a hint, yeah. I was told to come prepared to swim.” Removing his tie, he added, “I have my swim trunks on under my suit, and why I suggested the bathing suit top would be good to wear under your dress tonight.”

Rob took his wife’s hand. “You two have fun. I’m going to enjoy the dance floor with Mrs. Barron first, and then we’ll change and join you two in the pool.”

Marta was helped back into her walker, and they made their way through the doors to the poolside. Curious onlookers watched as Josh unzipped the back of the dress, and helped her slip it from her shoulders. There were noticeable gasps as the fabric fell to the ground, revealing the gray tail where hips and legs should be, but Marta didn’t react to them. She lifted her fluke enough for Josh to remove the dress from beneath her, and an attendant took it to hang up.

Scooting the walker closer to the edge of the pool, she turned around to face away from the water. With the mechanical device no longer between her and the water, she fell backwards into the pool and flipped gracefully around.

Josh stripped down to the bathing suit and lowered himself more gently into the pool. He was no sooner in the water, then Marta took hold of him and drew him into the deepest part. With arms around each other, they began to sway and twirl in time to the music. People watched the first dance, and when the next song began, many started dancing in the courtyard.

“If you look up, Mrs. Cardan,” Josh said, after a number of songs. “You’ll notice that we’re under mistletoe.”

A large leafy sprig, wrapped around with bright ribbons, hung from a line stretched over the deep end of the pool. She glanced up and grinned. “I guess this year I don’t need to tell you to stay away from it.” She kissed him, which resulted in loud applause and cheers.

“See?” he said between kisses. “It’s not just the Pod.”

Rob and his wife paddled out near them. “Okay, Josh. You two make this look easy, but I don’t think we quite got the hang of it.”

Marta gave Josh a mischievous look, and he smiled back at her. “Just don’t drown him. He’s the only one who really knows how to run the company.”

She spun from in front of him to extend a hand towards Rob. “May I?” she asked Rob’s wife.

The woman nodded, and relinquished her partner to Marta.

“The first thing to remember,” Marta told Rob. “Is that the water is your friend. Now, deep breath,” she said.

“Huh?” Rob said.

“Take a deep breath,” she repeated. When he did, she wrapped her arms around him and dove sideways, taking him on a quick, tight circle around the bottom of the pool.

“Well, Mrs. Barron, I’m not nearly as good at this as Marta is, but I think I can show you enough that you and Rob will be able to manage.”

“You’re not going to dunk me, are you?” she asked.

“I’m definitely not as good at that as Marta is, so no, I’m not going to dunk you.” He took her hand and guided her into a waltz position. “Biggest trick when it’s two regular people, is coordinating the leg kicks. Dancing with one of the Pod makes it easier, because they can hold us up with little effort on our part. We, though, have to keep kicking if we want to keep our heads above water, so just like dancing on land, we need to time our steps.”

Marta and Rob surfaced again in the center of the pool. “Comfortable with the water now?” she asked.

“I don’t think I dare say no,” he replied.

“Hey, Rob!” Someone yelled from beside the pool. “You’re under the mistletoe!”

Before he had a chance to reply, Marta planted a quick kiss on him. He pulled back, surprised, as the whistles and cheers echoed over the water, and turned a confused look towards his wife and Josh.

Josh laughed, along with Rob’s wife, and returned to the dance instruction.

Before long, others had changed into swimwear and transitioned to dancing in the pool. Festive Holiday tunes kept everyone moving, and the queue for a dance with Marta grew longer than the night would accommodate. Almost all wanted to maneuver the mermaid under the mistletoe, and Marta seemed only too happy to let them. For all her earlier trepidation, she was having more fun than Josh could remember her having on any Christmas since the first in the Family Room.

He spun in the water with the date of Marta’s current dance partner, and smiled. For an evening, she could enjoy being a part of the world of regular people.

When the last dance of the night was announced, he turned to find Marta with her hands held out to him.

“I told the rest of them, that I wanted one more dance with my husband tonight,” she said, pulling him into her arms.

“Are you going to take me under the mistletoe again?” he whispered to her.

She kissed him. “You, Mr. Cardan, have never needed mistletoe with me.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Fiction for December 16, 2011

The talented Sara H. is hosting Friday Fiction this week, over at Fiction Fusion. Don’t miss the terrific stories posted for your enjoyment this weekend!

As promised, this week is the conclusion of the Clockwork Deacon Christmas chapter. Enjoy, and come back next week for the 2011 Pod Holiday Story.

Clockwork Deacon

Chapter 6 – A Clockwork Christmas, Pt. 4

Jacob awoke first in the morning, and ran to the window. The Sun was barely up, but it was no longer night. It was Christmas. He jumped onto his brother’s bed. “Isaac! Wake up! It’s Christmas morning!”

Isaac’s eyes popped open, and he sat up immediately. “Are Pa and Ma up yet?”

The door opened slightly, and their mother peeked in. “Yes, we are up, and you boys know that you must be properly dressed and groomed before you come downstairs. Don’t dawdle – we have much to do today.”

They hurried to change from their pajamas to the nice clothes they had been told to wear for the day, and gave as fast a combing to their hair as they could get away with. With the kind of enthusiasm that was never exhibited for either school or church, they fairly flew down the stairs, and were met at the door of the living room by their mother.

“I declare, boys,” she said, fussing over their clothes and hair as though they were to meet President Roosevelt himself. “One would think you two had never dressed yourselves before. Santa Claus has already been here, and the gifts beneath the tree aren’t going to disappear if you take the time to get ready the proper way.”

“Yes’m,” they both said, trying to see around her to the tree and its waiting treasures.

“Tch, and your hair. Isaac, did you bother to comb it at all?”

“Yes’m, I did,” he said.

“With what? A stable rake?”

“I used a comb, Ma!”

“Well, after breakfast you are to comb it again the right way. I won’t have you going out looking like you’ve been standing in a whirlwind, you hear?”


“Now, you two are to walk CALMLY to the tree, is that clear?”


She stepped out of their way, and immediately reminded them to WALK.

They dropped to their knees beside the tree, and began to search beneath it.

Pa walked in from the entryway, carrying two small boxes. “Odd,” he said. “There were two boxes on the front step, one with Isaac’s name on it, and one with Jacob’s. Who do you suppose left these here?”

Both boys bit back a laugh. “Pa,” Isaac said. “Shouldn’t we bring Deacon in for the gifts, too?”

“Deacon?” He gave Isaac a quizzical look. “We’ve never worried about including Deacon in our Christmas Morning before. Why this year?”

“Well, Deacon’s part of the family, too, ain’t he?”

“Isaac, what have I told you about ‘ain’t’?” Ma interjected.

“Deacon’s part of the family, too, isn’t he?” Isaac corrected his question.

“Not in the same way you boys are, or your mother and I,” Pa answered.

Isaac’s eyes cut momentarily to the two boxes in Pa’s hands. “Please, Pa?”

The glance did not go unnoticed. “Does Deacon have something to do with these gifts?”

“You’ll see when we open ‘em, Pa. Deacon should be here, though. Please, Pa? Ma?” He gave them both a pleading look. “I’m not gonna open any presents ‘till Deacon is in here, too.”

Pa fixed him with a searching look. “You would really delay opening your gifts, to wait for Deacon?”

“Yes, sir, I would.”

Jacob stepped forward. “Me, too, Pa. I want Deacon in here, too.”

His expression softened. “Mrs. Randolph, I believe our sons are becoming fine young men.” He handed them their respective boxes from the porch, and then went back to the door. “Deacon,” he called outside. “Deacon? Would you come in here?”

A couple of minutes later, Deacon rolled through the door, still wearing the Santa accessories from the night before. He stopped just inside the room, and waited for instructions.

“Deacon, Isaac and Jacob request the pleasure of your company for our Christmas Morning celebration. Would you care to join us?”

Deacon processed the question, then gave his single nod. He moved to a position out of the way, and settled into his quiet waiting mode.

“Now,” Pa said. “Since you boys seem to know something about these mystery gifts, why don’t you go ahead and open them, and then you can enlighten your mother and me.”

Isaac opened his, and unwrapped the paper from around the miniature Automaton toy. He turned the key on the back, and then set it on the wooden floor. The tiny Airship Mechanic Automaton moved about the floor, its arms swinging a tiny wrench in one hand, and an oil can in the other.

“Well, I’ll be,” Pa said.

Jacob likewise wound his, and released it to run about the floor.

“I take it that Deacon had something to do with these,” Pa said.

“Yes, sir,” Isaac said. “Deacon, and Syl, the man with the wooden leg. Syl gathered all the metal, and Deacon made them. There’s one for every boy an’ girl in town.”

“And just how long have you two known about this?”

“Since last night, Pa. We went to see if Deacon was in the shed, and he was workin’ on the last ones. We helped Syl with wrappin’ ‘em, and he asked us to not tell anyone. Well, he did say we could tell you and Ma, but he asked we not do so ‘till this mornin’.”

The Reverend looked towards the Automaton. “I assume you have been working on this for a while, Deacon?”

Deacon nodded.

“Deacon delivered all of ‘em last night, just like he delivered ours,” Jacob said. “He went around, just like Santa Claus.”

“Do you boys know why Mr. MacKenzie and Deacon did this?”

“Syl said he thought every child should receive a toy for Christmas, and he said that Deacon had been so helpful when he was learnin’ to walk again, that he thought everyone should have a Deacon,” Isaac said.

“I see,” Pa finally said. “Well, I suppose that I’ll need to speak with Mr. MacKenzie myself later today, and hear what he has to say for himself on this.”

“You ain’t mad at him, are you, Pa?”

“Isaac,” Ma said.

“You aren’t mad at him, are you, Pa?”

Pa smiled. “Do you think I should be, Isaac?”

“No, sir. I think what he did was a good thing.”

He tousled the boy’s hair, earning him a disapproving look from his wife. “I am inclined to agree. I just want to hear the story behind this directly from him.” He cut his eyes at the Automaton. “I’ll certainly not get it from Deacon, that’s for sure.” He picked up one of the toys from the floor, and looked it over carefully. “At the moment, I rather wish I were a child in this town, so that I were getting one of these, too.”

“You got the real Deacon,” Jacob said.

“I sometimes wonder, if we really have Deacon, or whether he simply stays around because it suits him,” Pa said. “Now, I believe the real Santa Claus left something for each of you under the tree, and I am just dying of curiosity to see what you might have received.”

The boys turned back towards the tree, just as Deacon rolled up to Pa. He held out one of his mechanical hands to the Reverend, palm down and fingers closed. Pa held one hand, palm up and open below the mechanical hand, and Deacon opened his fingers.

Something small, shiny, and copper dropped into the waiting hand, and Pa brought it close to his face.

“What is it, Pa?” Isaac asked.

Pa lowered it so the boys could see.

“I didn’t see any like that last night,” Jacob said.

Isaac could not remember a time when his father had been at a loss for words, and even years later, he would remember this as one of the few times it ever happened. Pa would later tell him that it hadn’t been the little model of Deacon that had left him so awed that he couldn’t speak.

It had been the tiny Bible held in Deacon’s hands.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Fiction for December 9, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week at “My Back Door” by Vonnie. If you need a little boost to your holiday spirit, don’t miss her wonderful story, “Tony and Tisha.”

Keeping with the Christmas theme as well, this week I have the third part of the “Clockwork Christmas” chapter from “Clockwork Deacon.” There is just enough of the chapter remaining after this for one more part, and then I need to write this year’s Pod Christmas story. Until then, I hope you enjoy this little tale from an alternate history.

Clockwork Deacon

Chapter 6 – A Clockwork Christmas, Pt 3

Isaac divided the boxes into two piles, and showed Jacob how to put one together, and they proceeded to race to see who could finish their stack first. The placed each finished box on the bench, and Syl would take one at a time, place a toy in it, and then write a name on the top. He scratched the name off his list, and placed the boxed toy into the bag.

Deacon, meanwhile, tinkered with one or two of the toys, apparently giving them a final once-over before they got wrapped.

With the two boys working on the boxes, they finished all of them well before Syl finished boxing the toys. For a few minutes, they watched him rolling each toy in a small piece of paper, placing it in the box, and then slowly writing the name in boxy letters on the top of the box.

He noticed their watching eyes. “You boys mind your schoolin’, y’hear? You might think writin’ and such ain’t too important to you now, but I wish now I’d worked harder at it back then.”

“Ma makes sure we do our letters,” Isaac said. “You want me to write the names on some of ‘em?”

“I would, but I said I would write every one of ‘em myself. It’s somethin’ I gotta do.”

“Why, Syl?”

“It’s kinda hard to explain.” He turned one hand over and back in front of his face. “It’s got somethin’ to do with what your Pa told me, when they first brought me back down from the mine after I lost my leg. He said the Good Book says that God would not forget me, that my name was written on His hand, and that was true for any child of God. Well, boys, I can’t write the name of every child in Loma Roja on my hand, so instead, I figgered I’d write their names with my hand.” He lowered his hand to the bench for a moment. “Sounds kinda foolish, don’t it?”

“No, sir.”

“It took getting’ buried in that dark mine, for me to see just how dark my life was, boys. I was so lost without Him.”

“Pa says Christmas is all about light comin’ to Earth.”

He nodded, picking up another toy to wrap in the paper. “Your Pa is a good man. You boys is lucky to have ‘im.”

Isaac looked towards the door, and the lighted window of the church just visible through the gap. “Ma says the same thing.” He extracted the toy from his pocket, and held it out to Syl. “If you gotta write the name of every child in Loma Roja on those boxes, then maybe you oughta go ahead and wrap this one up, too.”

Jacob looked hesitant to surrender the toy, but finally also held it up for Syl to take.

“Much obliged,” Syl said. “You boys don’t need to act surprised in the mornin’, if you ain’t a mind to. You can tell your folks about this, or you can keep it our Christmas secret, as you see fit.”

As if that had been the cue, their mother called for them, from just outside the church. “Isaac! Jacob,” she called. “It’s getting late, and the sooner you two get to bed, the sooner it will be Christmas for you! You know Santa won’t come while you’re awake!”

Isaac looked from the door, back to the bench. “We gotta go,” he said.

“Well, thank you for your help, boys,” Syl said. “You best mind your Ma, and get to bed. I’ll likely see ya tomorrow at the Christmas dinner at the church.”

“You won’t be with your family for Christmas?”

“Ain’t got no family,” he said. “Save for the church, so I reckon you could say that I will be with my family for Christmas. Now, your Ma is callin’, so you’d better get on.”

They ran to the door. Jacob squeezed out through it without opening it much, and Isaac paused with just his head sticking back in the shed. “Hey, Syl? Merry Christmas.” He closed the door, and caught up with Jacob, just as they reached their mother.

“What were you two up to?” she asked.

“We were just out with Deacon in the shed,” Isaac said.

“I declare, sometimes I think you two would rather spend time with Deacon than with anyone else. You boys should really put more effort into making friends with other boys your own age, instead of always relying on Deacon for companionship.”

“But we like Deacon,” Jacob objected.

“We all like Deacon,” Ma said. “But Deacon can’t help you to learn how to properly relate to other people. A proper young man has to learn how to discuss without arguing, how to listen and not just speak, how to ask forgiveness when he does wrong, and how to give forgiveness when he is wronged. You must learn how to love one another, just as Jesus commanded us, and I’m sorry, but Deacon is just too easy to love for him to be an effective lesson. You need to learn how to get along with other boys that are just as ornery as you two.” Her smile took any sting from the rebuke.

“Yes’m,” Isaac said.

“Now honestly, boys, do you think a real person would have put up with your interrupting them all day, just to try out different parts of a Santa Claus suit you found in a closet?”

“Grandpa would have,” Jacob said.

“Your Grandpa is the one person I’ve ever known, that might have had more patience than Deacon has.”

“He said he had to, after raisin’ you and your sisters,” Isaac said.

“He would tell you that, wouldn’t he? Well, I can also tell you that he would be one of the first to remind you that Santa Claus will skip our house, if you two boys don’t get yourselves to bed, and get to sleep.”

“Yes’m,” Isaac said, and then turned towards Jacob. “Race ya!”

They tore off around the church, towards the parsonage, with their mother calling after them to be careful. Bursting through the house door, they bounded up the stairs and to their bedroom, where they peeled off their clothes and put on their pajamas.

Their father came to the door of the bedroom. “Remember, boys, that just because it’s Christmas Eve, doesn’t mean you can skip your prayers. If anything, you have all the more to be thankful for tonight, since we remember the precious gift that God gave us on that first Christmas.”

“Yes, Pa,” Isaac said, and dropped to his knees beside his bed. He waited until Jacob had also assumed the proper position for prayer, and then started to hurry through the recitation.

“At the proper pace,” Pa reminded him. “Prayer is a privilege, and we should not treat it as an inconvenience that we must rush.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, and made the effort to slow down.

When they had finished, their father came over, placed his hands on their heads, and said his own prayer over them. When he had spoken the amen, he leaned down, kissed them on the forehead, and gave them a gentle boost into bed. “Your mother will be in to tuck you in directly,” he said. “Sleep well, boys.”

“Good night, Pa,” they both said.

After their mother had tucked them in, kissed them, and said her good night, they lay awake in the dark room for a while.

“Isaac?” Jacob whispered.


“You suppose Deacon is goin’ around, playin’ Santa yet?”

“I don’t know. He could be, I guess.”

“We could look,” Jacob ventured.

They slipped out of their beds and went to the window. The church building was dark, and the moon had not yet risen to cast any light on the ground outside. Deacon’s shed, visible just beyond the back of the church, was likewise dark, though the Automaton seemed less in need of light to see, than most humans.

“You see anything?” Isaac asked.

“Naw. You?”

“Nope. I sure wish we could have gone around with him tonight.”

“Me, too, but if we did, then Santa might not have stopped by our house, since we’d’ve been awake.”

They heard a noise from outside. “Was that sleighbells?” Jacob asked.

Both boys bounded back to their beds, and immediately closed their eyes as if asleep.

to be continued...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday Fiction for November 25, 2011

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene, over at Dancin’ In the Rain. Take a break from all the busy-ness of this Holiday Weekend, and enjoy some great fiction reading from the wonderful folks participating this week!

Clockwork Deacon is finished for the first draft. It’s a bit shorter than I normally like for a novel-length project, tallying in about 50,400 words (NaNoWriMo Official Tally amount, which differed slightly from MS Word’s count), but I suspect the length will change when I go back and begin the revision process in the near future. Still, it takes its place as my sixth straight NaNoWriMo win, and my twelfth novel finished. Now, I can get back to work and FINALLY finish “Precocious by Consent.” For this week, though, please enjoy the next portion of Chapter 6.

Clockwork Deacon
Chapter 6 – A Clockwork Christmas, part 2

The service opened with a joyful carol, followed by the more pensive God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Their father welcomed everyone, and extended holiday wishes, before declaring the good news that Christ was born. He gestured towards the back of the sanctuary, and added, “Even Deacon is filled with the spirit of the season! Good tidings of great joy, indeed, which shall be to all people, and – apparently – to machines like Deacon as well.”

If Deacon had any reaction to the statements, he did not show it. He simply stood quietly at the back, as he always did for services. With no voice, he could not sing the hymns along with the congregation, but he also never showed any outward signs of participation in the worship in other ways. He was no more animated than the podium itself during the service, and for Christmas Eve, he was no different beyond the costuming the boys had attached to him. His face stared straight forward, and his arms remain folded at his side.

The congregation sang a few more Christmas carols, and then came the Christmas message. Isaac and Jacob had heard such messages every Christmas of their young lives, and their attention drifted elsewhere as their father preached.

The two boys would rather have been at the back of the church, next to Deacon. It would have been a challenge to see what else they could do in decorating the Automaton, without anyone in the church noticing that they were doing it. Holiday service, or just the regular service, though, their mother had a firm rule that they were to sit up front as a family. It was important, she often told them, for them to set an example for the other children in the church. They had to remember, she always added, that their behavior reflected on their father, and if they did not respect his authority, how would anyone else in the congregation respect him?

Unfortunately, such logic failed to make the sermons interesting to the boys. By the time their father concluded the message, and the final song was sung, they were practically ready to explode from the pew. The church members came forward to decorate the tree after the service, but Isaac and Jacob ran to the back to find Deacon.

Except Deacon wasn’t there. “Where’d he go?” Jacob asked.

“I dunno,” Isaac answered. “Maybe the tool shed? Seems he’s been out there a lot lately.”

“Let’s go see.” Jacob ran for the door, and Isaac followed after him. They hurried through the darkness, around to the back of the church, and the fairly new tool shed that Deacon had built a couple of months before. Isaac, being the older and larger boy, had reached the shed first, and slowly pulled the door open.

Deacon stood inside at a bench, and gave no attention to the arrival of an audience. His gaze, and his hands, were turned towards something unseen in front of him.

“What’s he doin?” Jacob asked. “I can’t see.”

“I don’t know. Why’n’t you go ask him?”

“I ain’t gonna ask him. You ask him.”

“All right, I will. I ain’t chicken.” Isaac entered the shed, boldly at first, but the closer he got to Deacon, the more timid he acted. “Um, Deacon? What’cha doin?”

Deacon turned to look at him. The Santa hat and beard were still on his head, but the bag was now resting on the floor beside him. He rolled backwards just a bit, and gestured with his right hand towards the bench.

Several rows of little copper automatons stood on the bench, of various different configurations. A few were similar to Deacon’s design, while others were more similar to other designs the boys remembered from Schenectady.

“Where’d you get these?” Isaac asked.

“We made ‘em,” a voice answered from the door.

Isaac spun around, and Jacob ran across the floor to hide behind his brother. Standing in the door, leaning on a cane, was the miner that Deacon had rescued. He walked towards them, an obvious limp with each step of the wooden leg.

“Well, let me correct that,” the man said. “Deacon built ‘em, and I collected the metal he used.” He placed the cane atop the bench, and picked up one. There was a key on the back, and he turned it a few times. When he set it back on the bench, the miniature Deacon rolled across the bench, with his arms going back and forth. “No one was s’posed to know about ‘em yet, though.”

“Why?” Jacob asked, peeking out from behind Isaac.

“I ain’t got much, but I wanted to make sure every kid in Loma Roja got a toy for Christmas. Deacon was helpin’ me to learn to walk again, an’ I joked that every kid learnin’ to walk needed a Deacon to help ‘em, and then I started thinkin’, mebbe there was a way that every kid could have somethin’ like Deacon.” He picked up one of the other toys, and held it out to Jacob. “Since I can’t surprise you with ‘im now, here’s one for you. Just got to promise to not show him to any other kids until tomorrow, when all the kids find theirs.”

Jacob took the toy, still a bit cautious, but unable to resist the shiny metal miniature.

“I don’t know what kind that one is. Deacon jus’ made them all, and the only kind I recognize are the ones like him,” the man said.

Isaac looked at it. “That looks like one of the Automaton Porters that works at the big train station in New York.”

“Kinda thought it might be somethin’ like that, with the way it looks like it was made to carry lots of stuff.” He handed a different one to Isaac. “How ‘bout this one?”

Isaac took it, and turned it over and over in his hands. “This is the kind that works on the big engines that make the airships go.”

“You’ve seen the airships?”

“Yeah. They fly all over New York.”

“Are they as big as folks say?”

“Huge,” Jacob said.

“Bigger’n a house,” Isaac added. “They’re like big silver clouds, flyin’ along, with hotels stuck beneath ‘em.”

“An airship,” the man laughed. “Now, that’d be the way to deliver toys to kids on Christmas, huh?”

“So, how’re you gonna deliver ‘em?” Isaac asked.

“Deacon’s gonna deliver ‘em, late tonight. I’m gonna wrap ‘em up, and put each kid’s name on ‘em. I got this map that shows where each kid lives, and Deacon’ll leave the presents on the door of each house.”

Jacob’s eyes lit up. “Deacon is gonna really play Santa Claus?”


“Can we help? Please? We been makin’ Deacon up to be Santa all day, and this would be the best Christmas ever, if we could help really make him like Santa.”

“Well,” the man said. “I got all these little boxes here, that I need to put together so’s I can put the toys in ‘em. If you boys wanna help put the boxes together, that’ll make my job go a lot faster.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Syl, by the way.”

“This here’s Jacob,” Isaac said, shaking the hand. “An’ I’m Isaac.”

“You’re the Rev’rend’s boys, ain’t’cha?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I thought I’d seen ya before. Your folks ain’t gonna get worried ‘bout you?”

“Naw,” Isaac said. “It’ll be a while yet, before they’re done with the Christmas tree in the church, and then with the socializin’ that always goes on after, we got a while before they’ll come lookin’ for us.”

“Well, then,” Syl said. “We best get to work, before they do.”

To be continued…