Summary: All these years he had been listening hard for the song of the stars only to be disappointed. But now… his soul was at peace as he accepted what would be….
Written in response to Rider’s 2013 Christmas Challenge.
Rating: K (760 words)
Adam Cartwright leaned against the open sash of his bedroom window and gazed out at the yard, its familiar outlines made strange by the ghostly whiteness of the moonlit snow.
The house was quiet. Pa and his brothers had gone to bed. Even though they were adults now, some of the childish excitement of Christmas Eve still persisted inside each one of them. The living room downstairs was rich with the scent of pine and wood smoke, and the lingering scent of brandy. There were presents under the tree. Adam smiled to himself, remembering the way Hoss and Joe had giggled together as they’d arranged the packages beneath the green boughs of the Christmas tree, all decked with glittering glass and shining beads, twinkling in the candlelight. There was mischief wrapped up in one of those parcels. Adam thought back to the year Joe had wound a clockwork mouse before wrapping it. When Adam had torn off the paper, it had leaped from his startled hand and rattled away across the floor, leaving Joe in helpless fits of mirth on the hearth rug. Then there was the year he’d unwrapped a small, wooden box that had turned out to be full of pepper. Hmmm. He would have to be on his guard in the morning.
Pa had brought out the big Bible and read the age-old Christmas story, the way he had done every Christmas Eve, for as long as Adam could remember. Then Adam had picked up his guitar and they’d sung Christmas carols, while the fire blazed in the hearth and a few snowflakes drifted lazily beyond the darkened windows.
No snow fell now. The sky was clear, the stars needle-sharp sparks in the deep blue blackness. The air was bitingly cold. He should shut the window, keep the warmth inside, but he wanted to breathe the clear frosty silence of this, his last Christmas Eve on the Ponderosa.
Yes, he knew it now. The brooding sense that had been growing inside him all year had finally, tonight, reached its fullness. He had looked around the familiar room, cosy in the lamp light, at the contented smiles on the faces of his family, and somewhere, deep inside him, he had known that the time had come. This would be his last Christmas on the Ponderosa. He was thirty-five years old. The restless spirit inside him would no longer be ignored. When the snows melted and the green grass sprang in the meadows, he would pack his bags and be on his way.
He hadn’t told anyone else. And he wouldn’t. Not yet. Let them enjoy this one last Christmas together. There would be time for the inevitable sadness, disappointment, arguments, later. For now, he wanted to savor every moment he had left, soak up every sound, every smell, every taste, and hoard them away, like precious treasure, deep in his soul. So that he’d never forget. He smiled to himself again. How could he ever forget? The notion was unthinkable. If he traveled to the furthest side of the world, he would carry this place with him. And one day – one day – he would be back. He’d promised himself that much.
The stars were startlingly bright. Adam leaned his head further out into the frosty stillness. Once, on another Christmas Eve, many years ago – before they’d even reached Nevada – Pa had told him that, if you listened hard enough on a cold, clear night, you could hear the stars sing. Like the angels, Pa had said, bending near the earth. Adam had listened many times since that night, but he had never heard anything. He strained his ears one last time. The cold air bit deep into his lungs and turned his breath to smoke, but he heard nothing. Nothing but a stillness so complete, it was almost magical. Maybe, he thought – just maybe – he’d be listening for the wrong thing all these years. Maybe the music of the stars was actually…silence. Not just an absence of sound, but this all-enveloping stillness, as though the universe and everything in it was frozen in eternity, suspended for a fragile moment between past and future.
Downstairs, the clock struck midnight, shattering the silence of the stars. Adam Cartwright turned from the window as the chimes ushered in his last Christmas day on the Ponderosa.
Other Stories by this Author
- Of Men and Angels (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Unto Us a Son (by Inca / aka Tye)
- Men of Steel (by Inca / aka Tye)