Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Cooking/Baking (not recipes) (10/16/08)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Surly night winds howl around the stone mansion. Inside, artesian tears trickle down Diamond’s cheeks.
She skulks through corridors lined with memories; her heart thumps in her delicate throat. How can she face Christmas this year while Arnold, her sweet little brother, lies in a cold box in the parlor surrounded by flickering sentinel candles? He's already been dead for a full, long day.
The waiting is like torture. People will arrive in the morning, people she hardly knows. Then Arnold will disappear into the dark earth forever.
Crusty with soot from head to foot, a group of seven haggard coal miners crouch just beyond the whipping wind inside their cave scooped from the side of nearby Great Mountain.
Without warning, the mountain grumbles and shakes.
“Wha wuz at?”
“My, I doe-nut no!”
Panicked, they flail against each other like dominoes to lay face-first on the packed dirt floor.
"What's up, my good fellows?"
A bright Light shines directly into the entrance of the cave as if to shape its door. Trapped, the men shake with fear but are captivated by the warmth of its voice.
"Do not fear, I am the Light of Christmas, and I have a job for you," it continues.
The miners lay frozen, hiding their eyes from the brightness.
"Do ya hear that?" one whispers.
"Yeah, ere my bloody soul, I do!"
"What...where is th’ thang come from, I dare ask ya?"
The fiery Light continues.
"You have neighbors whose holiday is cloaked in need this year. You have been chosen to serve them Christmas dinner."
"Wha - I daresay, whoever you are, we're just po’ miners wid barely eno’ to eat. How'd we feed mo’?"
These bent, broken fellows are shaped by the darkness of their underworld profession; they rarely have visits from or to anyone. And yet their hearts quicken with passion they’ve not known before: sacrificial love.
Stumbling about as if struck by palsy, they scrounge the cave. In the back corner they find several pheasant eggs, a small flask half-full of oil, a small bowl of flour, a tablespoonful of sugar and a smaller one of salt. Twp wild turkeys and a pheasant hang from lashed feet with their wings outspread like crosses.
“This tis the extent of it; it’s all we have.”
The Voice remains silent for a long, slow minute.
"In the morning, do not go to work as usual. Outside your cave there will be apples, nuts, celery, dried sage; more flour and oil and sugar. Add these to your provisions and make bread, stuffed fowl, and apple pies with pecan streusel topping.
“Then take it all to your neighbors in the stone house. This will be your Christmas gift; your calling; your blessing."
The men stare at one another as the Voice dims with the final words: “…your b-l-e-s-s-I-n-g.” Soon it shrinks into nothing. Only a star-studded sky remains.
The miners hardly sleep that night, their white breaths puffing fitfully with dreams of the visage and punctuated with hoarse coughs borne of coal dust.
In the morning bountiful supplies sit outside the door as promised, as well as recipes with detailed instructions. Without hesitation the men scrub the impacted dark coal from beneath their nails, then set to work.
By noon the feast is finished: four loaves of bread, sage-and-celery-stuffed birds, and three apple pies with pecan topping. They place it all in deep buckets, wrap them with blankets to keep the food warm, then march down the road, an army of good Samaritans on their first errand of mercy.
An elderly, pale-faced woman dressed in a flowing silver-white gown opens the door. Diamond mills about with several others in a room behind her where Arnold’s coffin stands as a centerpiece. “Hello; are you also family, come to the wake? What do you have in those buckets?”
A brilliant halo surrounds her hair, her face, her very being. The men cannot tear their eyes from her; they remember too well that voice. Finally one fellow steps forward to unwrap the buckets and set them inside the door. Did she say family?
In the next instant they find themselves strewn on the floor of the cave as if the rumbling mountain has just sent them sprawling.
“Lads … quake struck deep … th’ heart …”
They gawk as if seeing for the first time, then walk out into Christmas Day and stare down the road, darkened men transformed by Light … to serve Light, with Light.
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