It’s that time of the year again, the time when the lights return and the street comes alive with their magic.
Quietly I sit in the back seat of our car, waiting anxiously for the show to begin. My parents tune the radio to the station posted on the sign in the main house’s front lawn. A moment of static passes, then the sound comes through and I start to quiver excitedly.
I press my face to the window as a voice comes on the radio. Out on the lawn, a bear made of an outline of lights has appeared and is talking in sync with the voice in our car. He welcomes us to the show and says he hopes we’ll have fun tonight. I know I will. I always do.
When the music starts, the lights on the streets dim. Another lit outline, a toy soldier playing a guitar, appears beside the bear. He softly strums the instrument as the sound of a real guitar plays through the radio. It starts out soft, then suddenly the music flares up and the decorated houses along the street come to life. Lights flash in colored patterns atop the roofs and in the lawns. My eyes shine wide with wonder; it’s finally begun!
A voice starts to sing over the music and the bear moves his jaws in sync with the words. Around him, the lights dance to the rhythm of the remixed Christmas carol he’s singing. Snowflakes twinkle in alternating patterns on the trees. Reindeer pulling sleighs glow on the rooftops. Christmas trees spin on the lawns and flash in bright patterns in the driveway of a house behind us. Outlines of familiar characters shine through a light grid on the roof. And all the while, every single light keeps perfect time with the music. It’s a magical sight!
My parents and I watch the lights dance to a handful of Christmas songs, many old favorites, some new tunes, and each more amazing than the last. Finally, the bear returns to speaking to thank us for watching the show and to ask us for donations to a children’s hospital. My parents must be able to read my mind because they turn around to hand me a $50 bill before I can say a word. I smile as I take it before I rush outside. As I drop the bill into the donation box, I look up at the bear to wink at him. I can almost swear I see him wink back at me.
It’s the most magical time of the year. I can’t wait for next year’s Christmas light show!
(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)
Natalie awoke suddenly to noises coming from down the stairs.
Carefully, she crept out of bed and peeked outside.
She caught sight of reindeer on the roof.
Excitedly, she hurried out into the hall.
He was in the living room.
Placing presents under the tree.
They were for her.
She was certain.
This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
Back to the story
Welcome to the conclusion of “The Monster Under The Porch”. If you haven’t yet, read Part 1 here. Otherwise, enjoy!
Autumn watched anxiously as her mother walked around the porch, peeking under the boards on her way to the far end by the side of the house. Try as she might, the child couldn’t stop imagining what sort of monster might be lurking under their house. Was it a troll? A gremlin? Or what if, with those bright eyes – she shuddered – it was a wolf? The girl shut her eyes tight to keep from crying, but after a minute, she looked up again at the sound of a woman’s voice exclaiming.
“Autumn, come quick!”
Suddenly curious, Autumn hurried to the edge of the porch and looked down over the railing. To her astonishment, she saw her mother kneeling on the ground and smiling up at her. Next to her, a black kitten was sniffing at a few pieces of candy that had rolled off the porch.
“He must have gotten lost and wandered under our house,” she said, stroking the cat as he pawed at the candy. “I think you scared him more than he scared you!”
Autumn grinned as the kitten looked up at her, no longer afraid of his bright yellow eyes. Just then, a group of costumed children appeared in front of the house, heading up the walk toward the front steps. The girl’s mother gently scooped up the cat and rose to her feet.
“Sweetie, can you keep an eye on this little guy while I hand out the candy?” she said as she returned to the door. Autumn eagerly agreed, taking the animal in her arms so her mother could distribute the sweets. The cat was surprisingly calm around her, considering the fright she had given him a few minutes ago.
“Can I please keep him, Mommy?” the girl asked after the other children had left with their candy.
“He might belong to someone,” said her mom, taking a broom by the door to sweep up the mess of confectionery left on the porch. “We’ll wait until Daddy gets home, then he can hand out the candy while you and I go door to door looking for the cat’s owner.”
“And if no one claims him?” said Autumn, her eyes bright with hope.
“Then Daddy and I will talk about it.” And that was the end of the discussion.
For the next hour, Autumn played with the kitten on the porch while her mother sat beside her with the bowl of candy, handing out sweets to every trick-or-treater who stopped by. When her father came home, the girl set off with her mom in search of the cat’s owner, but after knocking on every door on their street and on the neighboring streets, they hadn’t found one person who had ever seen the kitten before, and mother and daughter returned home with the stray animal still purring softly in the child’s arms.
Autumn sat on the living room floor stroking the sleeping kitten in her lap while her parents talked in the kitchen. By the time they returned, her heart was pounding. She was ready to cry and beg to keep the little cat to which she had grown so attached in the last few hours, but to her immense relief, she noticed when they asked her to join them at the table that they were both smiling.
At ten o’clock that night, Fred returned from his friends’ party to find his family seated around the living room waiting for him. He was about to ask what was going on when he caught sight of a small mass of black fur on the carpet, staring up at him with round yellow eyes. When he took a step toward it, the animal hissed and scurried off to jump into his sister’s lap. Stunned, the boy looked up to see his parents laughing from the couch.
“Welcome back, Fred,” said his mother. “I see you’ve met the newest addition to the family.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll warm up to you soon,” said his father, though his smile suggested he looked forward to seeing their new pet put his rambunctious son in his place.
“Yeah,” Fred muttered, realizing that a lot had happened since he deserted his sister on the street. “So, um… what’s his name?”
Autumn, still in her costume, smiled from the armchair across the room, stroking the black cat affectionately as they both eyed her brother like a real witch and her loyal companion would a frightened child.
Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!
“Mommy, I don’t wanna go!”
“But it’s Halloween, Autumn! You love trick-or-treating!”
“I know, but I wanna stay home this year.” The ten-year-old girl turned nervously to the front window as her mother placed the finishing touch of her costume, a witch’s hat, on her head.
“Let her stay,” said an older boy standing by the front door in a werewolf costume. “Then I can hang out with my friends without having to drag her around.”
“Fred, you promised to take your sister trick-or-treating this year.” His mother gave him a stern look as she handed a pumpkin-shaped candy bucket to her daughter. “You can meet up with your friends after you and Autumn visit all the houses on this street and the next one over.”
“Mom, I’m 13 now! I’m too old to go around begging for candy like a baby! Can’t you take her?”
“Dad’s working late tonight, so I have to stay home to hand out the candy, remember? Just go, it’ll be a good chance for you to bond with your sister.”
“Fine,” the boy sighed, rolling his eyes as he idly swung the skull-shaped candy bucket in his hand. “Autumn, let’s go!”
Fred walked over to his little sister, who had been staring out the window through the whole argument, and took her by the hand. Their mother called after them as they stepped out the door onto the front porch.
“Fred, bring Autumn back before it gets dark, and don’t come home too late! Have fun, kids!”
And with that, the door closed and the children were left to enjoy Halloween on their own.
“Freddy”, the girl whispered as they walked down the front steps, “does the… kid-munching monster really come out every Halloween night?”
A week ago, Autumn had started hearing strange noises coming from beneath her bedroom window. Ever since asking her brother about it on the first night, she had been terrified of going outside for fear of seeing the monster he told her was hiding under the porch. According to Fred, every October the creature would choose a random house to stalk, then appear on Halloween night to gobble up the children who came back with buckets full of candy. Autumn had always been afraid of monsters, and it never occurred to her that the noises might be the work of the wind or a harmless animal, nor that her brother had made up the story to avoid having to take her trick-or-treating.
The siblings paused on the sidewalk and the boy looked down at his sister with a smirk.
“Only after it gets dark”, he assured her, “so we’d better get this over with fast. Let’s start over there.”
Over the next hour, Fred escorted Autumn to each house on their street and on the neighboring street. When the sun disappeared completely, they started heading home with buckets full of candy, and by the time they came within sight of their home, the moon could be seen peeking through the clouds. Before the siblings reached their house, however, they heard voices calling out from behind them.
“Hey, Fred! Ready for the party?”
The boy turned around to see a group of teenagers standing at the other end of the street and beckoning him over. Suddenly awkward, he glanced back at his house before turning to his little sister.
“Listen, I gotta go.” He handed her his bucket. “Take these back for me, ok? Don’t tell Mom I left early and you can have a piece.”
“But…” Autumn glanced nervously up at the darkening sky. “What about the monster?”
“You’ll be fine! The house is right there and it’s not that dark yet. You can make it if you run. Happy Halloween!”
And he ran off to join his friends, leaving his little sister trembling and teary-eyed alone on the sidewalk.
Autumn continued on her way home, trying not to think how much more enticing she would be to the child-eating monster now with twice as much candy on her. By the time she reached the front steps, the sky had grown dark and the street was lit by the full moon and the flickering glow of jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep. To a frightened ten-year-old, it was an eerie and unnerving sight.
The girl placed a foot on the bottommost step, ready to bolt up to the door and into the house, but at that moment, she heard the strange creaking sound from beneath the porch again. Autumn dared to peek into the dark space under the wooden boards… and jumped back at the sight that met her eyes: a pair of bright yellow eyes staring back at her!
Quick as a flash, the child leaped up the steps two at a time, screaming as she hurried for the safety of her house. She was so startled that she tripped on the top step and fell flat on the doorstep, dropping both buckets and spilling candy all over the porch. Two sounds followed: a loud screeching from under the floorboards and the creaking of the front door being thrown open.
“Sweetie! Are you okay?” Autumn looked up to see her mother in the doorway, bending down to help her to her feet. “What happened? Where’s your brother?”
“I’m okay,” said the girl, brushing some fallen candy off her witch costume as she stood up. “Freddy… dropped me off before he left with his friends.”
“Why were you screaming?”
“I…” Autumn looked down at the wooden flooring under her feet. “I thought I saw something. Down there.”
The girl pointed at the floor, still shaking from the scare of seeing those eyes. Her mother looked down in surprise.
“Well, let’s check it out.” And against her daughter’s protests, she stepped down from the porch to investigate, leaving Autumn shaking in anticipation of whatever horror was about to unfold.
To be concluded next Friday
Welcome to the conclusion of “Dance of the Fairies”. If you haven’t yet, read Part 1 here. Otherwise, enjoy!
The music gradually died down as Cindy, Joey, Shea and Eldan moved toward the center circle. The next thing the children knew, the fairies were all staring at them in awestruck silence as they stood before the queen.
“Your Majesty”, said Shea, bowing deeply alongside Eldan while the children stood wide-eyed behind them, “we found these two humans watching from the outskirts of our sacred field. We beseech your judgment of their permission to stay.”
The queen fluttered down from her high throne, and Shea and Eldan moved aside to allow her passage to the children. Cindy and Joey gazed at her in wonder; though she was considerably smaller than them, they felt humbled in her presence. The great fairy studied them seriously for a minute, then broke into a smile.
“Welcome, children,” she said kindly. “I see you’ve discovered our secret festival. Please tell me your names.”
The children glanced at each other awkwardly before turning back to the fairy. The girl was the first to find her voice.
The queen considered them both for a moment before nodding, never breaking her smile for an instant. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Cindy and Joey. I’m Queen Tianna. Welcome to our magical field!”
“The pleasure is all ours!” Cindy replied. The queen’s kind smile had melted away all her fear.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” Eldan spoke up, “but what should we do with these…visitors? You have only to say the word, and Shea and I will readily escort them out.”
Queen Tianna grew serious again. Without taking her eyes off the humans, she fluttered down to lift each of their hands as Shea had done. She held onto their forefingers for a full minute, the silence deafening around them… until at last she smiled once more.
“There’s no need for that, Eldan,” she said sweetly, still gazing intently at Cindy and Joey. “These children are pure of heart. They will be our honored guests tonight!” The queen announced this to the entire field, then lowered her voice again as she addressed the visitors directly. “What do you say, children? Would you like to dance with us?”
“Would we ever!” Cindy exclaimed, then suddenly catching herself, she added with a polite bow, “I mean, it would be an honor, Your Majesty.”
Joey bowed as well, and the entire field of fairies cheered as the music started up again. Immediately, two pairs of fairies carrying a crown of flowers each came forth and placed them lightly on the children’s heads. The two were then escorted toward the center circle, Cindy giggling as she caught sight of Shea triumphantly sticking her tongue out at Eldan.
The rest of the night passed by like a dream. Cindy and Joey twirled together in the light circle to the cheering of the fairies around them. They gleefully lead lines of dancers around the field, clapped and chanted along to the music, and joined hands with the fairies to spin around the great center circle. They even had the honor of joining the final dance with Queen Tianna herself. It was a night they would never forget for as long as they lived.
At last, the night passed away and the morning sun began to glow on the horizon. As the music and dancing finally stopped, the queen fluttered before her guests to share a few final words with them.
“Thank you for joining us tonight, children! You have made this a most magical evening indeed! Know you are always welcome to our full moon festivals. May the Mother Earth always bless you both!”
“Thank you, Your Majesty!” Cindy and Joey exclaimed in unison, grinning and bowing deeply.
The other fairies had already begun to disappear, one by one in little fading balls of light. Shea waved her new friends goodbye, and even Eldan smiled as he disappeared with her. Queen Tianna was the last to vanish, leaving the warmth of her kind smile hanging in the air. The light circle faded away, and before they knew it, Cindy and Joey were standing in the middle of what appeared to be nothing more than an ordinary field at dawn, with no sign that anything magical had ever happened there.
Joey reached up to take the flower crown off his head, and stood staring at it as if in a daze while Cindy started walking back toward the rocks. Timidly, he turned his head up and called to her.
Cindy stopped and turned around to face her friend. Joey shuffled his feet awkwardly for a moment, gathering courage as he glanced at his crown, before looking her in the eyes again and speaking up.
“…Do you think we could come back here, at the next full moon?”
A smile spread across Cindy’s face. She walked up to Joey and took his hand in hers.
“It’s a date!”
Joey grinned and squeezed Cindy’s fingers as she replaced the flower crown on his head. Holding hands, the children left the field together, laughing and skipping all the way home. It had been more than a magical evening, a night they knew even then that they would remember for the rest of their lives together. Every full moon from then on would bring about the same cheerful thought: the next dance of the fairies could never come soon enough.
Hope you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!