I’m pleased to announce the release of a collection of Christmas short stories, Bright Lights and Candle Glow. You can download this anthology for FREE!
This collection from eight talented authors boasts short stories set during the winter holiday season. These tales encompass sober themes, heartwarming messages, and uplifting endings, appropriate for the winter season or all year long.
Arranged in chronological order, witness winter miracles from the mid-1800s through modern day, running the spectrum from somber to lighthearted.
- Learn the meaning of the season from a Civil War soldier.
- Go from rags to riches with a 1920s mobster.
- Relive a fond holiday activity with a helpful Grinchy neighbor.
- Create new holiday memories with a 1970s ranching family.
- Meet a new friend whose advice rekindles the magic of the season.
- Experience Christmas from a wise, aged perspective.
- Cross cultures and beliefs to create a new holiday tradition.
- Celebrate the season with estranged family after a life-changing revelation.
These stories are sure to enhance your experience of the holiday season. It’s a holiday-themed compilation of short stories with heavy messages and uplifting endings sure to warm the heart in the cold winter months.
I used my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier as my inspiration for writing my short story a Christmas truce. He wrote about the dismal Christmases he spent during the war. And I remembered one story, in particular, he told about encountering a woman aligned with the Confederacy. Through talking, they both reached a truce of sorts after listening to rhetoric, hatred, and lies being told about the Yankees and the Rebels alike. I wanted to write this story as an analogy for what we’ve experienced in this country in the past several months. In some ways, we’ve been embroiled in a type of “civil war.”
Fiction can serve a higher purpose than mere entertainment. It can enlighten and change minds at its very best. Here’s my effort to do a little of all three.
A Christmas Truce
by P.C. Zick
What is Christmas for a soldier such as me? I tried not to think of it. It did no good but remind us of our miserable state of affairs with the winter rains pounding down upon our heads and our huts, hastily built in the mud-covered mess of the Union army.
My family helped me along by not reminding of what I was missing, but some of the soldiers weren’t as lucky as I was. They received letters from home telling them of the holiday preparations—the parties, the decorations, the baking, the gifts—all the things that would be missed sorely by those of us in the sodden misery of Virginia wearing nothing more than the scratchy wool of our winter uniforms. My mother and sisters must have known better than to send letters that would make me ache and yearn for that which could not be. At least not for Christmas of 1862, as my troop from Michigan awaited orders to march.
The winter rains had begun the week before and already roads were rutted and spirits dampened. While we waited for the rain to stop, and the war to begin again, I took little comfort in my crowded and tiny hut with its smoking fireplace, earthen floor, and cloth roof. Without comforts, conveniences, or accessories, I had nothing much to do. I knew at any time, once the rains stopped, and the sun was able to shine down on the muddy roads, all of my energies would be focused on active service.
Too much time to reflect left me wondering what it all meant. Did my family miss me, especially now that Christmas was upon them, and I wasn’t there to help Father cut down the Christmas tree from my grandfather’s farm on the outskirts of the small community from which I hailed? I thought back to previous years in my worst moments and remembered the party that awaited our return from the woods with the perfectly shaped tree. How could I face my rations of hard bread, bacon, and coffee when memories of sugar cookies and roasted turkey filled my senses? All the days passed one like the other in camp with our regular military duties, which amounted to very little while at rest.
After the last round of steady rain for days, we received a few supplies and a newspaper full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. But no packages from home arrived, which meant any that had been sent would not be there in time for Christmas.
Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible with the wet and soggy conditions. The clamor of newspapers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, discouraged and demoralized our ranks. It was bad enough for some of the youngest to be away from their homes for the first time at Christmas. The men felt they were enduring hardships and sacrificing lives without adequate results and all because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel, and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee-deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.
Finally, on Christmas Eve the sun overpowered the clouds, and the incessant patter of drops on canvass stopped. I almost felt light-hearted to step outside of my hut. To break the monotony, a comrade, Jonathan, happened by and asked if I might enjoy a ride. It was the first day of sunshine we’d seen in more than a week. We both had friends in the 4th Michigan who were camped about four miles in our rear, and I decided the change of pace might very well make me miss my family less if I spent time in the company of other young men who missed home in equal measure. Our commanding officer even allowed us to take two of the horses instead of the regular mules we soldiers used for traveling with our packs. Both Jonathan and I had done extra picket duty on the stormiest nights, so we were in good stead with our superiors.
The day was filled with laughter and boasting and sunshine, and we enjoyed our visit very much. One of the soldiers told a story that had a somewhat sobering effect, although there were humorous aspects to it.
The soldier had heard about a lieutenant camped near Fredericksburg who had become enamored of a young woman who lived in an old-fashioned brick house with her mother.
The young lieutenant, whose duties called him to visit them, became acquainted with the young lady, and at her invitation called frequently upon her. He became quite taken with her charms after only a few visits that were social in nature. It wasn’t usual considering both of their ages.
“Was she Confederate or Yankee?” Jonathan asked.
“It seemed he never bothered with that formality,” came the storyteller’s response. “He said later that because of her friendliness, he assumed her to side with us.”
He continued to tell us that the lieutenant proposed marriage, and the young lady accepted with the blessing of her mother.
“Not a long courtship that,” one of the soldiers said. “But then if she was charming, why wait?”
We all laughed, but when we’d settled down, the story continued.
“One evening while calling upon his intended, during a brief lull in the conversation, the heavy atmosphere bore to his ear what he judged to be the click of a telegraphic instrument,” Samuel continued. “Instantly, his interest and loyalty were awakened and a suspicion of treachery aroused. Without betraying that he had heard the sound, he chatted on, his keen ear strained to catch and locate the clicking.”
“How could he ever suspect his beloved?” I sang out in a high-pitched tone.
“It is wartime, gentlemen,” Jonathan said. “Never trust a soul, especially an innocent maiden.”
The rest shushed us and urged for the story to continue.
“At the usual hour he left, convinced that a contraband communication was going on with the enemy,” Samuel said. “The next evening, taking with him a strong guard and leaving them in the yard, he again called upon the young lady.”
We listened attentively to the rest of the story. Receiving him with the warmth of an expected bride, the young woman conducted him to a sofa, where clasped in each other’s arms, they indulged in fond caresses and endearing words until the ominous sounds of the clicking telegraph again greeted his ear. Excusing himself for a moment that he might clear the phlegm from his throat, he opened the door and motioned vigorously to his guard despite the darkness. While the door was still open, the guard pressed in and exhibited an order from General Burnside to search the house.
“That ended the kissing, that is to be sure,” one of the soldiers said. “What happened then?”
“Everything changed in an instance, it did.”
The young lady, so recently the devoted lover, became a tigress. With flushed cheeks and blazing eyes, she let loose a torrent or rage and abuse upon the Union soldiers.
“Yankee brutes, Lincoln hirelings, scum of the North, and cutthroats” were hurled at the men as she let loose her hatred of the Union. Familiar with the favorite expressions of southern ladies, the guard with due deliberation proceeded with the search. Down in the cellar, they unearthed a young man with complete telegraph offices, the wires leading underground to Fredericksburg. They brought the cringing knave up into the habitable world, and he pleaded piteously for his cowardly life. The sight of his abject fear aroused the genuine affection of the young lady, and she begged in tears with the lieutenant to spare the life of her dear husband.
“A married woman!” I said. “And here she thinks we’re brutes?”
It seems that she had played lover to the lieutenant for the sake of the little information she could squeeze out of him for the use of the rebels.
This was only one such story I’d heard since joining the cause very early in the war. There were many instances where southern women served as decoys, and then their men were taken prisoner. Some were even taken to their deaths. They did not hesitate at anything, if they could cripple a Yankee. As a reasonable man, I knew that the same thing might exist on the other side, if given the chance. Neither side was exempt from fighting the battle of war however they might be able to win.
Jonathan and I soon made our good-byes as we knew the light of day would soon be gone. At least we’d found a way to forget about being away from home on Christmas Eve. As we rode away, I felt pleased with my decision to leave camp for a few hours. But dark clouds descended when we were gone not much more than a mile. At first, I thought we’d stayed too late and nightfall descended upon us.
The rain began in great big dollops of water, and then came faster until we were hard pressed to see the rutted road before us. When we met a group of officers on horseback, who were shouting and obviously had enjoyed some Christmas spirits, I struggled to keep my horse steady. They shouted insults to us when we ignored them.
“Too stuck up they are,” one said.
“They couldn’t win this war any better than two pups still sucking on their mother’s teats,” hurled another.
Jonathan and I concentrated on the narrow roadway. I worried that my horse might take a wrong step and end with us both in the ditch. We passed by them without giving any mind to the officers. One of them turned his horse back toward us after we passed.
“Why did you not salute your superior officer?”
“We weren’t aware that we must salute every jackass we meet,” my friend said.
I secretly applauded the rejoinder, but hoped it wouldn’t lead to an altercation. We hadn’t meant any disrespect, but were concentrating on passing without incident with our horses since the road was rutted from the rains of the previous weeks, and there was a precipitous drop off to our right.
In great rage, the officer demanded our names with regiment and company. These we truthfully gave him. He was young and green, and probably quite drunk, or he would not have turned back for such a condescending purpose. It was bound to be a very long war indeed for someone demanding salutes in precarious or even dangerous situations. It made me wonder how we could defeat the Confederacy if we practiced warfare amongst our fellow soldiers.
“I fear the winter rains have returned,” Jonathan shouted to me as he drew abreast.
“If this keeps up, it will be even more impossible to get supplies,” I said. I peered through the rain that had only let up a bit and saw flickering on the other side of the field to the south of us.
“Jonathan, look over there!” I pointed to the light.
“It’s a house. It may be filled with Confederates, but what have we to lose?”
“Just don’t be taken in by any fair maidens.” I led my horse across the field and toward the warming light of Christmas Eve candles and fires.
As we drew closer, I could see that it was a modest farmhouse, but the candles on the Christmas tree blazed from the front window. We tied up our horses to the front porch railing. A small barn stood behind the house, but I could just make out its outline in the cloud-filled gathering dark. A woman opened the front door. She walked out onto the porch, all the while peering at us.
“You’re not the doctor,” she said. “Who are you, and what is your business here?”
“We’re about two miles from our camp,” I began. “It began pouring, and our horses were having trouble on the road.”
“You’re Yankees.” She spoke in a flat voice. We would not be welcomed here.
“We are, but we mean no harm.” Jonathan pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket and waved it above his head.
“Are you expecting a doctor?” I asked. “You seemed surprised that we weren’t the doctor.”
I wanted desperately to climb the steps to the covered porch, but she was not welcoming.
“My sister is in labor, and we sent for the doctor hours ago.”
“The roads are terrible.” I swept my arm out over the rain that had started to pick up. “How far apart are the pains?”
She pursed her lips. She didn’t want to respond, but then I heard a noise from inside, and she turned her head toward the front door.
“Five minutes, maybe closer together by now.”
“I spent much of my childhood on my grandfather’s farm,” I began. “I don’t know much about humans, but I’ve assisted on plenty of births of our animals. I could perhaps provide some assistance.”
Her face went through a gambit of emotions until worry for her sister seemed to win out.
“I suppose I don’t have any choice. I’ve never seen anything born before in my life.”
“My name is William Bradford, and this is Jonathan Cameron.” I took a couple of steps toward the door, and then considered what might put her most at ease. I pulled my rifle from my shoulder and set it down on the step. Jonathan did the same thing.
“I’m Susanna Wolfson. Please come onto the porch where it’s dry while I warn my sister. She’ll be none too pleased that her help comes in the form of a Yankee soldier.”
We waited in the cover of the porch while our clothes dripped. She soon returned with towels.
“I’ve asked the house maid to rustle up some dry clothes. My father recently passed, and I’m sure there is something in his room that will do for now.”
After I’d changed into some dry, albeit large clothes, Susanna led me into a darkened bedroom at the top of the stairs. I found the sister, Elizabeth, in the throes of a labor pain. A Negress, I assumed a slave, stood fanning her.
“How long since the last one?” I asked her.
“Four minutes gone.”
I nodded and turned to Susanna. “Do you have someone who can start the boiling of water and making us compresses?”
“We have water boiling.”
I asked them to bring me hot towels that could be laid on her swollen belly.
“You’re a Yankee,” Elizabeth muttered from her bed once the pain stopped. “Are you going to cut my baby out of me and leave me to die?”
“Of course not,” I said. Her question left me nonplussed, but I supposed not out of order, when to her mind, I was the enemy.
“There are no gentlemen in the Yankee army,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth. “You are all villains and cutthroats.”
“I assure you, I was raised to respect all living things,” I said. “It’s this war that has caused us to be enemies on opposite sides of the field. I have no intention of anything other than helping you bring your child into the world.”
“Even if I name him Johnny Reb?”
“Even if you name him Jefferson Davis.”
That brought a smile to both of the sisters. Finally headway.
“From what I know of the birthing process, it will still be some time before your little Johnny makes his way into the world. I’ll leave you for now. Try to rest when you can.”
Susanna and I walked out into the hallway.
“You and your friend must be hungry. We have the remnants of our supper that we can share.”
“That would be surely appreciated.”
Jonathan and I sat at the kitchen table eating the pork and potatoes laid out before us. There was cornbread as well. It was the best meal we’d seen in weeks, and we made it disappear in no time.
“We hate the Yankees, you know.” Susanna poured us steaming cups of coffee. “You may be acting like gentlemen right now, but I have no faith that you won’t rob us blind before you leave.”
“Have you known any Yankees before tonight?” I asked.
“No, but we’ve heard all the stories. Yankees have no regard for the dignity of life. You are scourges upon the earth.”
I saw Jonathan squirm in his seat. I struggled to keep my temper. I even managed to smile at her pronouncement.
“So I take it all the Confederate soldiers are gentlemen?” I asked in as mild a tone as I could muster under the circumstances.
“Yes, every one.”
“Think again. Is there not at least one man in the Confederate army whom you would hesitate to associate with?”
“Well, yes, perhaps one.” Susanna’s response came slowly, but at least there was the opening I wanted.
“Now, really aren’t there many?” I asked
She looked at me with a frown. I thought I might have stepped over a boundary, until she responded.
“Well, I’ll be honest with you. There are many, but most of them are gentlemen.”
“That is exactly the case with the Yankee army.” I had gotten through to her. “The great majority of its numbers are gentlemen, but it is to be regretted that a few are not, and tonight maybe we’ll prove the truth of this statement.”
“He’s right, you know,” Jonathan interjected. “Just tonight we were almost run off the road by a Yankee officer who thought we should have been saluting him instead of keeping our horses from falling into a ravine. We might still be court martialed since he took down our names.”
Susanna stood and began pacing. “It’s so hard when all you hear are the horrible things, and we’re all on edge right now.”
“That’s what war does,” I said. “It’s even harder when we’re fighting our fellow countrymen. Do you know sometimes when we’re out on picket on quiet nights, either one of us or one of the Confederate soldiers will raise a white handkerchief, and then we’ll both come to the line to pass the night away in conversation?”
“That’s hard to believe.” Susanna stopped pacing and sat down at the table.
We heard commotion at the front door and went with Susanna to see what might be happening. Relief flooded through me, when she greeted the man as Dr. Johnson. I wouldn’t have to birth a baby after all. She led him upstairs, but when she came back down, she invited us into the parlor. She went to the piano.
“It always calms me down to play, but I’m afraid I only know Confederate songs.”
“We will take no offense, but will enjoy the entertainment,” I assured her.
She played the Confederate Wagon, the Bonnie Blue Flag and others. Afterwards, she whirled upon the piano stool to face us.
“You have been so kind, I think I will play the Star Spangled Banner for you.”
By the time she had finished, the rain had stopped. Jonathan and I decided we should head back to our camp. All appeared calm in the upper region of the house.
“Thank you, Susanna,” I said as we prepared to leave after donning our damp uniforms. “It has been a pleasure to meet a true southern lady.”
“And I to meet two Yankee gentlemen.” She grasped my hand to shake it. “I shall tell Elizabeth to keep the faith that her husband may be in the hands of men such as you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He was taken prisoner of war in Fort Lafayette last month,” she said. “We’ve heard nothing since then.”
“I shall look into this,” I promised. “And send word either in person or through a courier as to his well-being.”
“Then please stay the night until the baby is born so you may send him word that he has a child.”
“Nothing would please us more,” I said.
As we settled on the living room floor for a dry night’s rest, I reflected on our day. I suddenly remembered that in a few hours it would be Christmas.
“Merry Christmas, Jonathan. It may not be home, but we’ve all been given a great gift tonight.”
“We’ve all learned that we are much more than this pointless war.”
And as we drifted off to sleep, the strains of a baby’s cries wafted down the stairs. New life pulsed as night settled over us, and I fell asleep with hope for the first time in almost two years.
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