The Gift

A Christnas story

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1. The Gift

Carl woke with a start from a terrible nightmare, he blinked hard as his eyes began to get used to the early evening twilight with his breath instantly turning to cold steam. The street lights were turning on one by one, Carl stretched from his cold, newspaper cardboard box, his stomach rumbled with the lack of food. It was his sixth month on the streets, he had only come for a job, which fell through and he seemed to stay where he was. He lost his wife and children, and he was fighting to get back into society. He became despondent with life and living on the streets became his only option. It had been snowing over night; the streets lay with dunes of snow and ice. He walked slowly; he really didn’t need a broken leg on Christmas Eve of all days. He turned his head to where he had been sleeping; Max a street friend was still asleep as with a few others that lay underneath the giant motorway bridge. Max was coughing badly, very badly now, but he had shown him the ropes to survive, especially the cold in winter.

The bitter Christmas wind blew on his face like an invisible ice cold dragon's breath. He turned into Hilled Spring Street as three cars lay like metallic prey on an urban savannah. The cars were distorted like mediaeval gargoyles of the winter road. The snow fell again like a frozen ice flower curtain locked in time. His nose began to run as a cold chill raced down his spine. The city lay ahead like a light of bejewelled concrete fingers that clawed into the darkening grey sky. The snow was hard to get through in the back streets, they were almost dunes; his feet were like blocks of ice, he couldn’t feel his feet. Suddenly he entered the city centre and the bright window lights of the consumer Christmas. Rudolph and his fellow reindeer lunged in a display; jewellery shone out like sparkling points of greed, ‘Weather Warning’ said a large 3D led flat screen from the BBC flashed from the Christmas electrical warehouse. Shoppers sniffed the air as he walked passed in his torn and bedraggled clothes. Even the Police scanned him ready to move him on. He smiled as ‘so this is Christmas, look what you have done’ sang itself out of a House of Fraser. He sniffed and rubbed his runny nose with an old handkerchief that had seen better days as a cold, cold shiver raced down his gaunt face and spine that made him cough just like his friend under the motorway. He sneezed and looked down at snow and couldn’t believe his eyes as a shiny pound coin looked at him quickly he picked it up and into his pocket. Minus twelve said a weather display from the Burnbridges County Council board with the large smiling face of the ‘new’ mayor. Carl snarled under his breath and remembering the opening of nineteen eighty four and the ‘big brother’ poster.

Suddenly through squinted eyes as a very cold gust of wind that came out of nowhere shed a tear that froze down his face. An old Victorian church loomed out of the horizontal blizzard like a mystic lighthouse with its chorus of bells chiming the dark night. He entered slowly, he knew churches really didn’t like the unwashed, Jesus did, but. ‘Staying for the Christmas service,’ asked the sidesperson in a kind, warming voice and manner. ‘Yes,’ he said not believing his ears. Someone actually didn’t mind, was this one church that was real? Carl sat down with his hymn book, service book and their newsletter. ‘Happy Christmas from all at St. Nicholas,’ it said in a nice Christmassy font. Carl almost burst out laughing; he was in Father Christmas’s own church as he sat down and noticed the large Christmas lit pine tree with bright white star at its top and in the sanctuary down the far left of the church. The service began to run, carols came and went, but at least he was getting slightly warm. ‘The next carol is 28 and our offertory hymn,’ said the woman vicar snugly in the choir stalls. Carl sighed; he knew he had to pay for something! Suddenly he noticed to his right, a gold decorated icon of Jesus and his mother, Mary. He gasped as the manger; child and halo glowed in a golden hue. He blinked not believing his eyes. It was still there, glowing like a mystic vision. He blinked once more as the icon returned to its normal state. He turned to a member of the congregation in the next pew. He turned to see the icon once more, but it had gone, replaced with just a blank clean cream coloured wall. Carl dropped his hymn book to the floor like a lead balloon, it shattered the tones of ‘Oh come all ye faithful.’ Smiling he put his hand into his pocket as the sidesperson came closer and closer with the dreaded collection plate. Suddenly he looked at the shiny pound coin. Carl thought as he placed it onto the plate. ‘This is for my friend, Max,’ he thought. ‘This was his gift this Christmas.’ The End.  

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