Merry and Bright
My sister and I are standing in the police station. People knock into us as we try to walk slowly through the crowd. A husky, gruff man brushes past me; then, I’m hit with the scent of a woman’s pungent perfume. I’m grabbing my sister’s hoody, trying to keep her as close to me as possible. She points to a nearby table. I look in the direction to see a plate of chocolate snowflake cookies. We manage to slip through the crowd of coughing men and laughing children and grab one for each of us.
As we wait in line for hot chocolate, I look at children running through the snow speckled, deep green grass. The band is carrying their stands onto the lawn. Women sip coffee as their husbands talk with friends. And near the police station by the middle-edge of the lawn is the Christmas tree.
Our town, Moorwood, has been having a tree lighting every year for the past five decades. And every year, at this warm, communal gathering to celebrate the holidays and the oncoming of winter, we’ve used the same Christmas tree: a large, old pine, hearty, dark green, with hints of balsam scent. Although, the tree was getting very old. Every few years, it was restrung with new lights, including this one. Regardless, the tradition was still celebrated with just as much energy and gusto than ever.
Before I know it, my sister and I are at the front of the line. I ask for hot chocolate for both of us, and the rosy cheeked lady pours us two cups.
We walk out of the station and onto the lawn of the town hall. My sister crunches her cookie happily. She sees some of her peers and runs to them, and I watch the six year olds leap up and down and chat, bubbling with excitement. I can hear her talking, vaguely.
I was in a bit of an awkward age range here. I was fourteen, bordering on fifteen. I was surrounded by parents, teachers, young children, and the band and chorus members, which were still younger than me. I considered walking around to look for some other kids my age, but I didn’t. My parents weren’t here, so I had to keep an eye on Liz. While they were at my uncle’s house nearby, there was no reason for me to take any risks. But it wasn’t like she was a misbehaved kid. She never ran off or pitched a fit. So what happened tonight truly baffles me. And what she’s doing right now…I just can’t believe it.
After her friends left to join their mothers, she ran back to me.
“Let’s look at the tree,” I said.
We walked over to the edge of the lawn, towards the Christmas tree. That was when something strange happened. Liz shouted.
“Liz, what’s wrong?”
She ran away from the tree, closer to the crowd of people by the chorus. I looked at the tree. What was she scared of? Maybe there were some goony teenagers. Maybe they were jumping around or making stupid faces from behind the tree, and it made her nervous. I rolled my eyes and peered over at my sister.
I hadn’t even realized that the chorus had started singing. They were very quiet. In fact, they were so quiet that the only way I even knew they were singing was because their mouths were moving.
I ran over to join her. If I strained hard enough, I could make out “Deck the Halls.” I saw some parents dancing with their children. Mostly, however, the kids were chasing each other around, falling down, laughing, knocking into teachers and parents, and shouting. A sense of gratitude washed over me. Liz had never acted anything like this.
Teachers and parents talked to one another, and I began to notice people making their way towards the tree. They gazed at it, admiring its longstanding majesty and glory, most likely imagining it lit with Christmas lights. After coming here every year since I was a small child, I must say that it was a beautiful sight. The button would be pushed, and, all of a sudden, the tree would be streaming with hopeful, festive color, merry and bright. In the dark, its evergreen top seemed to melt into the cold, night sky. It was freezing out. I stuck my hands in my pockets, even though I had gloves. The chorus started singing “Sleigh Ride.” Admittedly, I couldn’t really hear them; I could only really hear the band, which is usually the opposite of most school concerts.
Okay, I have to admit…it was pretty ******…yeah. But hey, it’s a communal gathering. They’re kids. This isn’t some world class concert. No world class concert could have this warm sense of community. With that thought, I looked over to see my sister. My stomach dropped.
She wasn’t there.
I ran. I didn’t know where. I just ran. I peered over at the street, praying she wasn’t there. She wasn’t. I looked ahead to see her running to the fire department. She didn’t even look back. I chased her, sprinting as fast as my legs could carry me.
She finally slowed down, her head turning back and forth. Her eyes caught an open door to the other side of the police station. She sped up again and ran towards it.
I followed her, running even faster than before. Now, I was yelling.
“Liz! Liz, what are you doing!?”
I heard the principal of the local school speaking. She was giving her annual speech. We were missing it because of my sister’s misbehavior. How was this even possible? She never acted this way. Sweat beaded on my face. I was hot now, contrasting with the freezing night air that surrounded me.
Finally, I made it into police station. I couldn’t even make out the mumbles of the principal. My face was flushed with heat and anger. I saw my sister trot across the police station floor.
She turned briefly. Something was wrong. I expected her to have a goofy smile across her face; maybe a sneer, at least a hint of playful mischief in her eyes. That wasn’t what I saw. What I saw…troubled me. She looked uneasy. Nervous. Maybe even afraid. I felt something in my gut. I tried brushing it off as nausea from running, but part of me knew something wasn’t right.
I tried to sound nonthreatening, not wanting to scare her away.
“Liz, what are you doing? We’re missing the tree lighting! Santa’s about to come.”
She stood there, contemplatively, like she was in deep thought. I looked at her, my eyebrow cocked in confusion. All was silent. I heard the principal hollering something. Liz’s eyes widened. Before I knew it, she had darted out of the police station and out onto the lawn.
“LIZ!!” I screamed.
At this moment, the fire truck is making its way slowly down the road, far to the left of us. My heart thumps as I’m trying to fathom what is happening, hoping she doesn’t do something stupid. Hoping and praying she doesn’t put herself in danger.
As I sprint after her, I hear the chorus again with the band in the background, this time singing “Here Comes Santa Claus”:
Here comes Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus
The firetruck comes into full view of all the people, which were huddled near the tree. My sister starts screaming at the top of her lungs, sprinting through the lawn as I chase after her as fast as I can. People stare at us, some of them even moving away from the Christmas tree, which is lit usually right after Santa passes through. He then stops and goes into a miniature house near the tree where children sit on his lap.
Right down Santa Claus lane…
My sister is shrieking so loud, I can’t even believe she has this much air in her lungs. I speed after her, people starting to walk towards us. Oh no. She can’t be.
Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer pullin’ on the reins
The firetruck is closer now, starting to near towards the tree as it rides down the street. Santa is sitting on top of it, a smile on his jolly, rosy-cheeked face as he waves at the crowds. No…
Bells are ringing children singing
This isn’t her. This isn’t. I can’t think. How could she? I burn with rage as she sprints after the fire truck. I’d run faster, but I’m running out of energy. Almost everyone is staring at us as she runs straight into the road.
all is merry and bright
Out of nowhere, she jumps in front of the fire truck and squeals. I try to make out her face. She doesn’t seem happy to see him. She seems absolutely terrified. What is going on?
So hang your stockings and say your prayers
“LIZ!!” I scream helplessly. The fire truck slows down. It’s right next to the tree, almost as close as it could get while still staying in the lane.
Cause Santa Claus comes tonight
Liz is jumping in the middle of the road, flailing her arms as Santa and the firemen stare in confusion.
Here comes Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus
My face burns with heat, anger and total confusion. Many people move away from the tree, trying to get away from the screaming child, which was absolutely ruining the tree lighting.
Right down Santa Claus Lane
At this moment, my stomach drops. I’m filled with a deep dread…I’ve never felt this way before. I run as fast as I can into the road, near the fire truck.
He’s got a bag that’s filled with toys
My sister is close by.
For boys and girls again
The firemen stare at her in confusion as people either start leaving or going towards the chorus in an attempt to drown out my sister’s screams. The truck goes nowhere. It’s just sitting in the middle of the road. Santa is no longer waving or smiling.
Hear those sleigh bells jingle jangle
“LIZ!!” I shout at the top of my lungs, using the rest of my breath.
oh what a beautiful sight
Nobody is anywhere near the tree anymore. They’re all leaving in irritation and disappointment. Many of them peer back at her as they walk away.
So jump in bed, and cover your head,
What has she done?
’cause Santa Claus
The Christmas tree bursts into flames. The firemen gaze in terror. People start screaming as my sister runs through the street, away from the tree. All I can do is stare in awe. Everyone else runs away…except the firemen. They jump out of the truck and start blasting the tree with water. All I can do is watch. I’m staring at the burning tree. Burning so brightly in the dark night sky. Like Christmas lights. It was just like Christmas lights.
I’m at my aunt’s house right now. I’ll be staying over for the night. My parents think my sister and I should because of what happened.
I’m sitting on the living room sofa. My aunt and father are in nearby lounge chairs, and we’re watching TV together. My father flips through channels until it lands on the local news. On the screen is Moorland’s humongous Christmas tree, burning.
“At the annual Moorland town tree lighting, the long used Christmas tree had caught fire not long before it was about to be lit. Fortunately, since the fireman were nearby, the fire was able to be put out relatively quick.”
Footage now showed the tree’s flames being extinguished by the firemen.
“Right now, we are not entirely sure how this happened, but according to James Langin, who runs a great deal of the operation, new lights were put on the tree this year and were a brand that had never been used before. Langin believes that after the lights were tested, a branch was ignited and had most likely been smoldering for over a week before the fire.
“Our reports show us that the citizens of Moorland were very lucky to have the fire truck so close to the tree, while the people weren’t. People who went to the tree lighting claim that this most likely only happened because of a young girl that reportedly ran out into the middle of the street screaming and stopped the fire truck while it was near the tree.”