A Collection of Holiday Short Stories
Six stories about the unexpected and unexplained at the holidays: Cold chills and hot soup, must be the flu; a strange boy, some red shoes, and a daring rescue in the snow; Santa’s son and his favorite elf; an after hours ballet lesson; less than ideal holiday preparations; shoes that deliver more than comfortable walking.
A child, perhaps about age ten, had come in. He was alone, dressed in raggedy clothes and wearing ill-fitting work boots. His face was filthy. There were holes in the thin coat he wore; his hat and gloves were in the same condition.
Jeanine felt sorry for the boy. She wondered how far he had had to walk to find the place. The little diner was on the easternmost edge of the nearest town; houses and other shops didn’t start for at least another mile. As far as Jeanine knew, there was nothing but the railroad tracks and the train yard farther east.
Her eyes followed the boy as he approached the counter. Mary stepped out from the kitchen, a dish towel in her hand. She bent down to speak to the boy. Jeanine leaned in, hoping to catch what they were saying. All she could make out was something about shoes and Christmas.READ MORE
After a brief conversation, the boy turned away from the counter. As he spun around, his eyes met Jeanine’s. An icy tingle crawled up her spine. She wasn’t sure what she saw reflected in the boy’s face, but whatever it was, it it made her stomach clench. Without another word, the boy walked out into the snowy night.
Jeanine shook herself. He was only a child, after all, and presumably homeless. There was no reason for her to feel such dislike toward him. Since when had she had so little compassion?
Mary was still standing there at the counter, watching the door. Jeanine slid out of her booth and went over to her.
“Who was that?”
“Homeless kid. He’s been in here every night for the last two weeks.”
“Asking for food?”
Mary shook her head. “No. That’s what’s so strange about it. I offer him something every time, but he doesn’t take it.”
“What does he want, then?”
“He keeps saying something about his mother and needing new shoes for her. He wants red ones—always red. Claims she’s dying.”
“Red shoes? For his dying mom?”
“Huh. And then he just leaves?”
“Yep.” Mary raised her shoulders in a dismissive shrug.
“Where’s he live?”
“Probably the old train yard. There’ve been transients living in the abandoned cars for years now. Most nights, one of the customers offers to drive him home.”
“Does he take them up on it?”
“Well, that’s the thing. I honestly don’t know. They always just follow him out there. They don’t come back in, so I assume so. But the last four or five have left without paying, and never returned to make good.”
Jeanine furrowed her brow. This was making less and less sense as Mary talked. It sounded like this homeless kid might have some family, possibly someone waiting to take advantage of the kindness of the truckers who stopped at Mary’s. Jeanine didn’t like the sound of anyone preying on Mary or her customers.
“You ever call the police?” Jeanine wanted to know.
“What for? What am I going to tell them, that a homeless kid wants some shoes?”
“What about the truckers who follow him out?”
“What about them? I’m out a little cash, but most of ’em are just blowing through town. I’ve got no way to track them. Look,” she sighed, “I appreciate your concern, but there’s not much I can do about it. There’s not really a crime being committed here.” She started wiping down the counter with her towel.
Jeanine considered what Mary had said. Without something to identify them, Mary was right. She had no way to send the police after them for their failure to pay. Of course, the others who left had done nothing wrong. Still, it gave Jeanine a strange feeling in her gut.COLLAPSE