Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)
TITLE: Never Too Late
By Beth Muehlhausen
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On a bone-chilling winter evening a few feathery snowflakes float through space to light on the lashes of eyes bright with hope. Others melt on cheeks framing expectant smiles.
Each volunteer carefully grasps a single taper candle, one poked through a hole in the bottom of a paper cup, with a gloved hand. The flames atop these candles flicker passionately inside their isolated, warm cup-shaped-wind-guards - tiny but earnest beacons eager to illumine the frigid darkness.
A dozen well-insulated bodies carry these eternal flames of promise toward an unsuspecting audience. Tromp, stomp, tromp – onward march the rubber-soled boots of the brigade across snow covered, crunchy ice.
The ancient dwellings in this targeted community are minimally insulated and poorly maintained – shanties, in fact. A few houses display holiday yard ornaments; several lighted trees peek through windows. But most wear only the gruesome cloak of night. Stalactite icicles hang from their gutters; snow marks the dips and valleys in their patched roofs.
The troupe practices in unison while gingerly traversing icy sidewalks: “O Holy Night,” they sing, “The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.” Their praise-laden voices seem to hang in the still, crisp air while puffs of warm breath waft toward a star-studded sky.
A sinister presence looms over the town threatening to silence the carolers. But these hearts joined in worship seem oblivious and only raise their voices higher, advancing purposefully as they step out in faith a few inches at a time, step by step by step.
Eventually they stop before a dilapidated house with cracked asbestos siding. Black shutters hang precariously at slanted angles. The place looks like a battlefield. Is anyone home? A dim, spooky glow shines from some back window – the only sign of life.
“Silent night, holy night…”
A man steps out from the group and knocks on the paint-chipped door.
“All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child – holy infant so tender and mild…”
The door creeks open just an inch or so – enough to expose a cold, wary eye.
“Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”
The spokesman peers through the crack. “Hello, we have a gift for you – some homemade blueberry bread.” He extends a rectangular loaf wrapped gaily in shiny foil and curly red and green ribbon.
The door opens a bit more and a face appears to surround the skeptical eye – a tormented face framed by a mushroom cloud of scraggly gray hair. Below this old woman two skinny-armed children grasp her knees and half-hide their sunken eyes in her thin cotton housedress. “What do you want?” she barks. “What business do you have coming out at night like this – luring me out in the cold? You know I can’t pay my bills. Now go away. Leave me alone!”
“We only want to give you this bread – and wish you Merry Christmas!”
“We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” The throng behind breaks out in a boisterous chorus while the granite woman glares, her sunken eyes the messengers of an equally empty heart.
“You might be poisoning me, for all I know. I’m not taking your bread.” She slams the door, clicks the bolt-lock, and rattles the safety chain lock into place.
In that same moment a war rages in heavenly places. Legions of angels cry, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Their powerful wings batter the evil Oppressor’s squawking, ghoulish demons of deception.
Meanwhile, the choir members stand their ground and pray over their gift: the bread of life, a sacrificial love offering. “Let this be an instrument, Lord.”
They strike up another song. “Hark the Herald Angels sing, glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies! With angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Silence. Snowflakes. Stillness. Waiting.
Finally the chain rattles, the bolt-lock flips, and the same two children throw the door wide until it bangs against the wall. “We want that bread; we’ll take it! Give it to us!” They nervously wiggle in the cold; their eyes seem full of wonder and expectancy. “Please mister, can we still have it? Is it too late?”
Dirty hands reach through a rip in the screen to grasp the blessing of Christmas: a promise of hope delivered with joy to receptive, childlike hearts.
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