Crimson Gifts // a short story

‘Tis the season (I hate myself for saying that) of Christmas stories, and, like most people, I found myself sucked into the void of holly and tinsel and mutated little gremlins who disrespect the hallowed name of “elf”.

I entered a Christmas short story contest.

And ended up coming in first place.

So that’s a plus.

With Christmas right around the corner and for the sake of my raving fans (yes, that’s a joke — I’m not that narcissistic), I thought now would be a good time to share it. So here you go, people! Find a box of tissues and immerse yourself in what ended up being a lot more serious than I intended.

Behold:

 

Crimson Gifts

 

He would go in this time.

No more icicle fingers and soaking trousers as he knelt in the frigid snow, huddled as close as he dared to the window and the glow spilling from it like warm caramel. This time, he wouldn’t give in to cowardice. He would stand. He would walk to her door. And he would knock, as he’d always imagined himself knocking – tall, smiling, his mittened knuckles playing a drummer’s rhythm against the worn oak.

It was simple. Easy.

Terrifying.

Still, a small flame of determination crackled inside his chest, so hot he almost – almost – gave in to it. His legs were already untangling from his long, ice-crusted trench-coat when a trickle of singing leaked through the frosty pane above his head. He ducked low again. Shivering, he pressed himself against the wall and stared out across the bleak, shadowy farmlands as the singing continued, like a solitary angel’s chorus separating his presence from the night.

Slowly, cautiously, he dared to lift his head again – dared to peer through the glass and into her pocket of warmth.

There she was. Sitting in their father’s chair, as she always had when snow draped the world in barren splendor: Arms wrapped around her legs, chin resting on knees, oversized sweater dribbling yarn across faded red socks. The crimson color tugged at his memory, unraveling the threads that wove their childhood together. What was it she’d once told him? All good things come in shades of red. Like cherries and valentines and Santa Claus.

He’d tried pointing out that swastikas and blood and Hell were red too, but she wouldn’t listen.

“Because of blood, swastikas were defeated,” she’d said with a thoughtful frown. “The same is true for Hell. I think that’s a wonderful thing for a color to symbolize, don’t you?”

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He ducked his head, as though his nostalgic happiness might radiate through the glass and turn her wistful eyes bitter. The dog-eared carol book lay open in her lap, but she didn’t sing anymore. She only fingered the pages as she stared at the tiny tree draped with tinsel and a string of colorful lights.

No presents decorated the threadbare strip of cloth beneath the evergreen trunk.

She sighed – such a tiny sound, but it slipped through the glass and lodged in his ears, rekindling his burning shame. The festive room, lit by the small fire in the hearth, was so empty. Where a mother ought to have been, there was only a dusty worktable and a half-knitted sock still waiting to be finished. (It would be waiting for infinity.) Where a father ought to be, there was only a shadow. A girl with thoughtful eyes now occupied his armchair.

And the brother? His presence had been replaced with a folded scrap of paper – a letter, still resting on the mantle where he’d carelessly left it all those years ago.

The girl shifted her legs, and the carol book closed with a soft rustling of pages. Hair swept over her shoulders – so long and straight, nothing like his own curly mop – and she went, as she did every year, to that place on the mantle where folded paper harbored promises of recklessness and frivolity.

He turned away before he could see her read it. Every year, it was the same. Every year, her trembling fingers unfolded that scrap of notebook paper, and every year, the tears fell as she read it. Every year, she dropped to her knees in the midst of this lonely Christmas paradise and said her prayers – prayers for the boy with the shy smile and mop of unruly hair, prayers for an orphan whose parents dwelt in a cold grave beyond the lonely farmhouse – prayers for a brother who’d left one day and never came home.

The fire blazed to life in his chest again, warming him from the inside out. He should stand. He should knock. He should go in, and put his present for her beneath the tree.

She shouldn’t be alone for Christmas.

Not again.

And yet, as he dug into the deep pockets of his trench coat and fingered the gift he’d brought her – the strawberry-colored scarf purchased during an adventure in Egypt – his mind turned back to the years he’d spent alone, wandering the earth and giving in to boyish recklessness. A prodigal life, a life of sins and regrets and guilt. It wasn’t a life she would smile at, when he told her his story and the adventures that had kept him away all these years.

And when he stood, stepping away from her window on frigid feet, he didn’t go to the door. He draped the scarf across her windowsill, its scarlet folds like a pool of blood in the snow. It would look beautiful on her. Red – the color of all good things.

She was wrong.

He wished he could tell her so. Not all red was good; not the heathen idols of foreign lands, dripping in scarlet paint, or the diseased flush of a dying child’s face as she starved in an alley, or poisonous scorpions, or sunburn. The crimson fury of rebellion and a boy leaving home wasn’t good. Nor were the blotchy, puffy eyes of his sister, red-rimmed with tears.

“Blood overcame Hell,” she’d once said.

Maybe blood could overcome those things, too. He didn’t know.

The dark, snow-crusted fields beckoned him as he started back the way he had come, but even as he turned away, he caught one last glimpse of her through the frosty pane. She knelt in the middle of the floor, her eyes lifted to the small porcelain nativity scene on the mantle.

She prayed.

Prayed, as she did every year when he laid his crimson presents on her windowsill. And as his own glance moved to the mantle, he saw what he’d never taken the time to notice before:

The cross behind her nativity was painted crimson, too.

Before his quaking heart had time to rebel, he’d snatched his gift off the snowy sill and climbed the steps to her door. Snow gather in his coppery hair as he paused in the darkness. Mittened fingers trembled as they lifted toward the door. Lips twitched into the shy, earnest smile his sister had always loved as he breathed a prayer of mercy into the chilly Christmas sky.

Shame wouldn’t get the chance to stop him. Not this time.

He knocked.

 


 

Believe it or not, the original ending was a lot more tragic, but I figured Santa Claus would probably spit in my cereal if I kept it that way.

So yeah. Happy endings win the day.

Speaking of which, a dumptruck load of thanks and chocolate belong to Abby @When Words Fly for hosting her “Write Christmas” contest and choosing me as the speechless winner. I’m honored, love.

So talk to me, people! What do you think of the story? What’s your favorite part of Christmas? Has “Jingle Bells Rock” infected your brain yet? (I swear, if I hear that song playing in ONE. MORE. STORE. this week, you’re going to find a pile of charred elf flesh on my bedroom floor.)

On that pleasant note, I bid you farewell.

~Sarah

57 thoughts on “Crimson Gifts // a short story

  1. *Slow claps*
    Ever since I read your story off of Abby’s post I’ve not been the same.
    You, Ms. Sarcastic Elf, are alarmingly good at messing with people’s minds, and emotions, and everything else.
    (yes, you should take that as a compliment).
    I, shall never see red in the same way again.
    *wanders away with a faraway look*

    Ps. Christmas songs are the bane of all existence – they infect your mind and make you listen to them even though it causes you torture to hear them over and over. They’re like parasites.

    Like

    1. I sorry for causing you… mental damage. *pours ruefulness and sympathy upon you* Here, have some… uh… RED velvet cake.

      *snickers* See what I did there…

      PARASITIC CHRISTMAS SONGS. That analogy is a blessing to this world. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *Wipes away a tear*
        *takes red cake*
        *whispers* I shall keep it forever and it shall be my precious.
        *wanders away to write about the great mysteries of life, and its meaning*

        XD

        Like

  2. It was really nice of you to take Santa Claus’ possible retribution into consideration.

    GAAHH.

    OH, we used to sing “Jingle Bells Rock” all the time when we were young for the express purpose of making fun of it. It was quite…distorted at times.

    Like

    1. *chokes on saliva-free cereal* Is that… is your… *horrified whispering* Your gravatar thingy is yellow.

      *sobs into the sunrise* I can’t take all this chaaaaaange…

      (And WE DID THE SAME THING. 😂😂 It’s such a fun song to make fun of. Probably because it’s stupid. Stupid things are easy to mock.)

      Like

          1. *pathetic sniffling* *hangs head* I know. I deserve such censure. You may be sure I go into an abbey from this day forward.

            However, you will remain MY favorite person, and perhaps that will soften your heart of stone, and you mayhap will look kindly on your servant one day when she is long gone and the solitary leaves fall on her cold grave.

            Like

      1. I KNOW. IT’S TERRIBLE. I’m working on fixing it. Trying to make a somewhat interesting account thing, if only to set my own mind at rest. 😐 Yellow’s so much worse than blue.

        (YES PRECIOUSSS.)

        Like

                1. What is your deal, Gravatar. C’mon. I’ve changed it twice now.

                  Guess what it told me when I changed it? ‘Looking sharp!’

                  😂😂😂

                  Like

                    1. Sadly, I’m… changing it now. *swallows hard* Someday you may find it in your heart to forgive such a wretched ingrate as myself.

                      But it is not this day, I understand.

                      Like

    1. Aw, thank you! 💜 The limit was 1,000 words and I was genuinely struggling to get everything important down without going 10,000 words over. XD (I… may or may not be guilty of blathering too much in my writing…) But quantity does not always mean quality, I suppose, and It’s so cool to read all the positive responses despite how much I struggled with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. O.O

    -pulls Vytanni-

    Wow, Sarah. This is amazing. Woooooooow. I’m gonna go read it again. -scrolls up and pulls another Vytanni-

    ~Ace

    Like

  4. (Hello! I have been pushed over here by Kendra Lynne, and figured I should introduce myself. XD I be MiddleEarthMusician. *bows* I like your blog very much (especially the sarcastic sayings you have put around XD). Very pleased to meet you, and I believe I may have escaped brain frying today. XD)
    Your story is lovely!!! I liked the symbolism you created around the color red, and I LOVED the ending. <333 Great job!!! And congrats on winning first place!!! That's awesome!

    Like

    1. Well hello to you too! A friend of Kendra Lynne’s is a friend of mine. (I feel like I’m quoting something there, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it’s from. Oh well. 😬) Congratulations on escaping the brain-fry. You are a lucky being. 😉

      And thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed writing it, so I’m glad y’all enjoy READING it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sarah…

    WOW…

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

    The color red USED to be one of my least favorite colors (next to orange) but now…

    (Can you tell I am pretty much speechless at this point?)

    The story was amazing. Can we say FEELS? The deep philosophical meaning was…wow…
    Okay, so I was confused at first who the boy was. I thought he was a young boy, like ten-ish, until close to the end, at which realization the whole story suddenly made a ton more sense, but even before that point, I was like…wow…

    I like red now…

    (And yes, I am intentionally commenting with this account. I am tired of hiding in the shadows! *lifts a fist in the air defiantly*)

    ~Katy

    Like

    1. I had this weird double-take moment of, “Oh, Katelyn commente– oh, KATELYN commented?!” Come forth from the shadows, my dear! It’s lovely to see your name here.

      AHHH, THANK YOU MY FWIEND!! Believe it or not, red is one of my least favorite colors too. (Oh the irony… 😂) I am glad to have reformed your (and my) opinions of it.

      Like

  6. This is beautiful!!! It’s so poignant, and then… almost gently triumphant.
    And we’s is glad you’s used a happy ending. *sighs contentedly*
    Thank you so much for sharing!!! And congratulations on winning the contest! 😀

    Like

    1. One can almost say that the happy outcome was the plot-twist.

      *contemplates that statement*

      You know, that says a lot more about my writing style than I’m comfortable with…. 😏

      Like

  7. GAH!!! THE BEAUTY….. *mouth hangs open* This is such an amazing little story!

    And YAY you’re not the murderous character-killer I feared you’d be. 😛

    Like

      1. I am new, so hello to you, too!😉👋🏼 I think I commented on your new church post, but it may not have gone through.🤷🏼‍♀️ I would love to read more stories with that vibe- it was excellent!😉

        Like

  8. *Emerges from hole*
    You, Ms. Sarcastic Elf must now face your DESTINY! The message I carry today may be the most important one you will ever receive in all of your elfy life.
    That is, I tagged you for my NEW blog tag made for all the bookworms out there who are fans of the Hobbit and LOTR.
    So take the ring and forge your fellowship, YOUR DESTINY AWAITS!

    Link to tag: https://litaflame.blog/2018/12/23/forging-the-fellowship-a-blog-tag/

    Like

    1. AHAHAH, THIS IS THE BEST IDEA EVER. Quite possibly the most important message I have ever received in my entire elvish lifespan.

      *snatches tag thing* I am totally doing this. You are a genius for coming up with it.

      Like

  9. *tries to imagine how Sarah originally ended the story* *shudders* I’m rather glad you decided on the happy ending. I think I’ll probably cry the imagery and story in my head the rest of the day; it’s beautiful. 🙂 Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m sorely late to your Christmas party, but i just read this (along with a few of your other awesome posts), and it’s amazing. ❤ Definitely made me feel things – a sweet and bittersweet mix of sorrow and hope and depth and power. I love sibling stories and redemption stories. And the writing is fabulous. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s