Author's note: As you can tell, I've had a few extra minutes on hand than usual and this somewhat Christmasy story slipped out. I hope you all had a great holiday and enjoy this last farewell at the Christmas that has just come and gone. The dialog was my most favorite part of this, and the MC who I still haven't found the perfect name for...Enjoy!
The headache was worse. It had wrestled with my dreams and won over my consciousness enough to awaken me from a near deep slumber. I tumbled awkwardly out from beneath the covers and felt my way along the wall to the computer chair near the desk where my bathrobe hung.
It took several tries to jam my sleep-filled limbs into the proper passages before I could knot the fabric belt loosely around my waist. Weak streams of moonlight filtered through the edges of the curtains around my bedroom window, providing the bare minimum of light needed for me to focus on the bedroom door itself.
I shuffled towards the door and then pulled it open. The house was as deathly silent as I remembered it from the night before. Everyone sleeping. Everyone dreaming. Everyone, that is, but me.
Stupid headaches. I stubbed my toe on the edge of the door as I shuffled out. My brain was too tortured to come up with an adequate response, so I grimaced and kept moving. I need painkillers of any sort, at this point, something to dull the noise in my mind and ease the pain everywhere else. It was getting to me.
My eyes adjusted to the lack of light and I found it fairly easy to find the refrigerator. A tingling feeling swept over me, briefly, temporarily trumping the horrible headache. It was a feeling of being watched, the kind that forced my tired body to shift into some sort of awareness, preparation if necessary. The reaction manifested itself as sudden nervousness.
I yanked open the fridge door a little rougher than necessary, but relaxed somewhat, when the soft golden glow filled the kitchen. The cool breeze wafted out as I stood, barefoot, studying the contents of the fridge before I realized I ought to be rummaging through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
“oh ugh.” I moaned, stepping back and shoving the door away from me. The feeling urgently repeated itself and as the coolness registered, I felt the hairs on my arm stand up in perfect goosebumps. For a moment, I thought I saw a shadow move.
I'm dreaming. It's a dream. It's all make...believe. It's in my head...because I'm asleep. The thoughts twisted through my head in rapid fire and I winced as a wave of nausea passed over me. Oh snap...what kind of headache is this?
I staggered from the kitchen to the bathroom, clutching my troublesome head with one hand. I wondered if my head was splitting open from the inside out as I flipped the bathroom light on and soon found myself squinting at rows of white bottles with colorful labels on them. The black words blurred into jumbled masses of goo and I grabbed blindly in the corner I last remembered seeing the bottle of extra strength Tylenol.
Holding the bottle close to my face, I was able to confirm my guess was correct. I fumbled with the cap for a few more seconds, then shook two gelcaps into my palm. Replacing the cover and the bottle, I returned to the kitchen in search of a glass of purified water.
The weird feeling returned and I was almost sure I'd seen something move again. This time, I turned the kitchen light on.
Relief did not come. More awake now, I found my way to the cupboard, removed a glass and shuffled over to the bottle of water on the counter. I filled the glass halfway, then popped the pills one at a time into my mouth, swallowing with generous gulps of water.
I took a deep breath, setting the glass in the sink as I turned to go and then I noticed the shadow on the very edge of the wall towards our family room. Common sense instantly left me. I stared first in horror, then in confusion. I should not have been able to see a shadow and above all, there should not have been anything in the room to produce such a...human-shaped shadow.
My feet started towards it and I found myself standing in the doorway and reaching for the lightswitch. I heard something move and saw something shift. Then I flipped the switch.
A quick look showed the room to be empty. Our Christmas tree stood proudly in one corner of the room and the sofas were neat and clean. But I couldn't relax. I'd just turned to go again when the soft whisper of breath skittered by my neck. I whirled around and stared straight into dark brown eyes. My mouth opened as I realized the eyes were set into a face and the face was set in a head that was attached to a neck and made up a real, live human being standing in the doorway of a room that was supposed to be empty.
“Don't scream!” He pleaded, one hand shooting out to cover my mouth. “Please don't scream! I'm not a burglar. I'm only here to bring good things.”
I half-choked, blinked and swallowed in precisely that order. If my brain had been asleep before, it was certainly up now. I jerked away from his warm hand. “Good things. Right. Then what are you doing in my house?”
“This isn't your house.” He said automatically, his hand returned to his side. "And I'm not a burglar. Truly."
I took the moment to survey his burglar outfit. It wasn't very professional for starters, he wore a dark hunter green overtunic with matching pants tucked into shiny black boots. The hilarious part was the rich brown fur trim on the ends and the wide bronze belt that cinched at the waist. It was like he was going to play Santa Claus gone wrong, he even had a slightly bulging, medium-sized sack over one shoulder. Black velvet it looked like. Not a bad accessory over all, because he seemed to be a very richly dressed burglar.
I shook my head to clear those thoughts, processing his last remark. “It is too, I live here.” I perked an eyebrow. “Who are you?”
He winced. “That would be rather...complicated to explain.”
“You're standing in my house-”
“Not your house. It is in your father's name. You're just living here until you can find your own place, which makes it...not your house.”
I glared at him. “Look, Mr...uh,”
“Theodore.” He offered a slight tilt of his head. “Theodore McGinty.” He stepped backwards into the room, wariness seemingly to spill over him from head to toe. “If you really don't mind, I have work to do, otherwise I would have left the moment your foot touched your bedroom floor.” He shook his head. “Besides, you're not even awake yet...you're dreaming.”
I tried in vain to make sense of that, but couldn't find a point to argue. “Right.” I said slowly. “Okay, Mr. McGinty, I'm dreaming. Of course...that would make sense, if I wasn't awake.”
“Yeah.” I winced as a shot of pain streaked through my head. “Yeah it would, see, your outfit is crazy to begin with and I have the worst headache in the...” I fumbled for a word. “the world!”
“Right.” He looked down at his shoes. “I highly doubt it.”
“Doubt what?” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Your headache. Mine trumps yours, because I didn't have one until you walked over here.”
“And what's that supposed to mean?”
“You tell me, you're the one speaking in cryptic language.”
“Am not!” I shot back.
“Should I lower myself to your standards and say, are too?” He asked, devastatingly polite. “Besides, what's wrong with my outfit?”
I grimaced. “It's all wrong. It's just....wrong. You look like you're the opposite of Santa Claus. Who, is nothing more than a figment of our imagination with very little in common with the original St. Nicholas who actually was known for his generosity and...I don't even know why I'm explaining this to you. This is ridiculous. Which should mean I'm dreaming, because instead of red and white, you're wearing green and brown. You're also...very skinny. Precisely the sort of thing my head would be most likely to come up with.”
“I see.” He inched further into the room. “Tell you what...why don't you just...uh, come inside, sit down and um...sort that all out.”
I stared at him for a full minute. “I am dreaming, aren't I?” I muttered. “Stupid headache.” I turned on my heel and headed for the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Theodore was right behind me as I flipped the kitchen lights on.
“Need more Tylenol.” I grunted, heading for the sink where I retrieved my barely used glass and painstakingly refilled it with water.
“Gel caps?” Theodore asked.
When I turned around he was offering two dark green gel capsules. “Here.”
I looked from the capsules to him and this time the groan escaped. “I'm not dreaming, am I?” I set the glass on the counter and leaned over the sink. My options filed through my head in an orderly fashion. I could scream or yell for help. I could run, get away and find someone to help me. I could bean him over the head with something...maybe the wooden spoon in the dish rack. I winced.
Wooden spoon? Yeah right.
“I would appreciate it.” He shifted uncomfortably. “very much, if you would not alert anyone else to my presence. I have a job to do and it will be best done if I am not surrounded by half-awake humans.”
I blinked. “Humans?” I shook my head, jerking around to look at him. “You just called us, humans. If I'm not dreaming, then this means that a real, live...alien in standing in my kitchen?”
His mouth opened.
“I know, I know...not my kitchen. This is wrong...somebody help me!” I screamed the words out, waiting, listening.
There was a loud, exaggerated sigh. “I suppose now would be a bad time to mention that no one can hear you?” He asked, pleasantly.
“What did you do to them?” I backed away, common sense slowly ebbing in.
“I beg your pardon?” Disgust filled his honey-warm voice. “I didn't do anything to them. Just you. I isolated your voice and switched off the frequency...temporarily, meaning, no one can hear me but you.”
It took a split-second for that to register. “No one can hear me?” I fairly shrieked. “Get away from me!”
“Gladly.” He muttered, skipping back a few steps. “Please don't try running anywhere either, I'd hate for you to hurt yourself...the sound shield extends to your hallway, meaning that I am not letting you out of my sight until I'm finished.” He held up a hand. “If I let you help me, do you think you could be calm and quiet?”
“Help you?” I repeated, incredulously. “Calm and quiet?”
He sighed again. Loudly. “Never mind. It's all wrong anyway.” He turned away, heading back to the family room.
“Where are you going?” I half-started after him, darting a quick glance around the kitchen. There had to be something I could grab to use in self-defense.
This time, he grunted.
I tip-toed after him, snatching the wooden spoon from the dish rack the moment he disappeared around the corner. When I rounded the corner as well, I found him kneeling beside the Christmas tree and rummaging through the stack of gifts below.
“Leave those alone!” I barked, flying towards him, spoon upraised.
Without so much as even pausing in his methodical sorting, one hand shot upwards and caught the spoon before it came crashing down on his head. He gave it a jerk, pulling me down to the floor with it. “Please don't do that.” He said calmly. “It isn't helping my headache.”
“Your headache?” I sputtered, scrambling away from him. “I'm the one with the headache, you're the one twisting my reality!”
He half-smiled, reaching for a small, neatly wrapped package. He held it up for a moment, squinted at it and then set it in a corner and reached for his sack.
“Put that back!” I lunged forward again.
This time, he moved with lightening speed and cushioned my charge with a pillow from the sofa. The polite smile on his face did not reach his eyes. “I am only going to repeat myself this once and ask that you please, do not do that again.” His upper half disappeared into the sack and he emerged a moment later with a larger, wrapped present in hand and set it next to the original package. “Hmmm.” He mumbled. “Don't remember which one...” His voice trailed off and he held his hand over the two gifts. Soft gold glitter showered down and the packages unwrapped themselves, the contents hovering up in mid-air, above their wrappings.
I gawked openly.
“Tell me,” He began, conversationally, studying the handheld gaming systems. “Which would your brother prefer? The limited edition or the luxury?”
I swallowed. “They were out of the limited edition...” I focused on the carpet. “I could only find the luxury one.”
The dark head swiveled towards me. “True...but, which would he prefer?”
I shrugged, helplessly. “You're a guy. Answer it yourself. That's a totally unfair question.”
“Is it?” He asked. The gifts slowly re-wrapped themselves and he swapped the larger box for the smaller one. “Is it all right if I switch them?”
My head snapped up to look at him. “You can't do that...!”
He arched a perfectly groomed eyebrow.
I shook my head. “I mean...I can't let you do that...it's too expensive, I'm already over budget. But thanks anyway.”
There was another sigh, this time quiet. “You don't owe me anything.” He murmured softly, trading the gifts anyway. “I work all year to be able to earn the credits to do this.”
A slow, sinking feeling wormed into my stomach, it was punctuated by another sharp jab of pain through the center of my head. “To earn the...credits?" I swallowed. "And this would be...?” My voice trailed off.
He smiled, crookedly. “You haven't figured it out yet?” He reached under the tree for a new present and the scenario repeated itself as he exchanged an older model for a newer one and smiled as the new package was nestled beneath the tree.
He shrugged. “Some people would give everything they have and more for their family.” He continued his methodical searching and switching. “Some only care about pretty packages and bows. Some truly wish to surprise the recipient and gift them something that will last for years. I find it to be incredibly sad when the reason some things are not quite as...perfect as the giver would like them to be, is due to a lack of funds or bad timing.” He snapped his fingers and the packages repacked themselves neatly under the tree as he rolled upwards to his feet and offered a hand.
“You're playing Santa Claus.” I tried to claify.
He shook his head. “No.”
“The outfit...” I tried again.
He chuckled. “Green Velvedae...it works best for our-er-my, method of travel. And this isn't real fur.” He hoisted the sack over one shoulder. “Sorry to scare you, but it would be best if you just went back to bed and forgot about all of this. Merry Christmas.”
“Whoa! Hold up here!” I dodged in front of him. “You just...” I gestured towards the tree. “And now you're just going?”
The impatient sigh returned. “I believe that is what I meant.”
My temper sparked again. “You know, for a guy that should be at least polite with the sneaking into people's houses and upgrading their gifts, you're worse than a-”
“Than a what?” He asked, stiffly.
“That is so like a guy.” I stepped aside and waved him past. “Should I offer you some cookies or something before you leave?” The sarcasm slipped out.
He scowled. “Thank you, but no thanks. I'd best be on my way. Lots of other places to be you know.”
I made a face behind his back and turned back to the tree. The headache reminded me of its presence by a soft, painful twinge. I winced. That had been rather nice of him, whoever he really was. I trailed awkwardly behind him. “Do you need anything for your headache?”
“No.” He said shortly. “But I'll be able to leave when you're back in your bed, sound asleep.”
“Right.” I swallowed. “You know...I bet you're grumpy because you haven't had anything to eat...all night. I mean, cookies and milk is probably pretty awful after awhile. Especially if you're lactose intolerant and you have to watch your blood sugar. Guys are always grumpy when they're hungry. No worries. I can fix that.”
His hand went to his forehead. “I think I'm missing something here.” He began. “So I'm going to ignore it. Would you mind just going back to bed, so I can leave now?”
“It probably gets cold out there too.” I babbled, pushing past him and into the kitchen. I hurried to the kitchen pantry and quickly found a few teabags, before rushing to the opposite end to turn on the coffeepot. “Some tea would be nice, don't you think? Some nice, hot tea. Gives you some energy and warms you up a bit.”
“I don't need any tea.” He spoke each word deliberately. “I am fine. Could you please-”
“And toast!” I whirled around again, the twinge in my head slowly melting away. “Tea and toast. I'll make some green tea, the kind with lemon, that gives you energy you know. And antioxidants. Coffee isn't a good thing this time of night. I mean, at least, you wouldn't want me to make coffee for you. I'm not very good at it. But tea I can make. Tea is good. So is toast. That's a good combination. Filling too, it'll just be a few minutes.”
He moaned softly. “What part of please, go back to bed, you don't understand?”
I paused in mid-whirl to look at him. “The part that doesn't let me do anything in anyway to thank someone who has just helped me, whether he is real or truly a figment of my imagination, as evidenced by this being all a dream of some sort.”
“Are you always this bossy in your dreams?”
“Are you always so horribly stubborn?” I shot back, pushing some of the table junk to the corner. “Sit. Now.”
He sat, eyes following my every move as I selected cups and plates from the cupboard and set them in front of him.
The toast was put in the toaster and I stood, anxiously by the coffeepot as the water slowly trickled through.
“Watching it won't make it happen any faster.” He ventured after a moment. “And I'm quite fine, really.”
“Theodore.” I began, testing his first name for the first time.
“Yes?” He was the picture of innocence.
My eyes narrowed. “Shut up.”
“Yes ma'am.” His head bobbed, a smile tugging stubbornly at the corners of his mouth.
The tea brewed and the toast finished. Our conversation between refills and toaster minutes was interesting and unbelievable in several points. When at last he'd gone through a loaf of bread and an entire pot of tea, I finally concluded he was full.
“Sorry to keep you back.” I rinsed the plates and set them in the rack to dry.
He chuckled, softly. A lovely sound of bells over whipped cream. “This has been the best conversation, company and refreshment I've had in quite some time.” He offered a bow, before picking up his bag from the floor. “Thank you very much.”
I shrugged. “You're welcome.”
He chuckled. “Off to bed. I can't leave until you're at least inside your bedroom again.”
“Company policy?” I asked lightly, already heading for the hallway.
His laughter followed me. “Something like that. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you too.” I whispered, rounding the corner and stepping into my room. “Oops. Lights.” I muttered, turning around in the same moment and heading back to the hallway.
I blinked. The house was pitch black. I took another step forward and banged my toe again. I opened my mouth, then shut it and turned back to my bedroom where I aimed for the bed and flopped across the top. I was dreaming. It had to be a dream.
A smile slipped onto my face. But not a bad dream really, it had actually felt rather real. I snuggled into the blankets when I heard the chuckle again. I sat bolt upright as the chiming laughter faded away into the night.
Copyright 2008. Sara Harricharan