“What is that?” Molly asked, as Aunt Margie came into the tea room holding a large box. Behind her, Uncle Art had an equally large box. “And what do you expect me to do with it?”
“You? Nothing.” Aunt Margie set the box on the nearest table and wiped sweat from her brow. “These are for the children when they get out of school.”
Schrodinger had been watching from his cat bed. Now he got up and padded over to them. Are you planning on shipping us somewhere?
“Not yet,” Uncle Art said, winking at Molly over Schrodinger’s head. “That depends on how you guys behave.”
“Nonsense,” Aunt Margie said, elbowing her husband in his large belly. “We’re doing nothing of the sort. These are from my friend Ruth.”
Molly’s eyes widened. “You mean the lady who makes those gorgeous quilts?”
Aunt Margie nodded. “That’s not all she does – she’s got a craft store in her house, practically, and thought that if you guys were going to decorate this year, you might need some supplies.”
Oooohhhhh! Schrodinger stood up on his hind legs and sniffed the boxes. I wonder what’s in there!
“Knowing Ruth, it could be anything,” Aunt Margie told him. “But you need to wait until the others are here.”
Scarcely had the words left her mouth when two things happened simultaneously: the front door crashed opened and Lily and Kaylee, followed closely by Zoey, Gideon, Jack, and Aurora came piling in; and DC called Aunt Margie’s name from the back of the store.
“Boss, it’s here! Shall I have them bring it up?”
“Yes,” Aunt Margie called back. “Go ahead.”
“Can they use the front door? It’s a straight line to the stairs that way.”
“Yes, send them in.” Aunt Margie and Uncle Art went to hold open the door, leaving Schrodinger and Molly to explain the boxes to the amazed children.
Or start to, anyways. The large blue mailbox coming through the front doors quickly gathered everyone’s attention.
“It’s here, it’s here!” Kaylee shouted. “Santa sent the mailbox!”
Of course he did, Schrodinger said. Did you think he would forget?
It was well-known that Santa Claus and Aunt Margie had a special friendship. Every year, the big blue mailbox would appear up in the upper level of CrossWinds Books, and there was a table set up for anyone who wanted to send a letter to Santa. Molly had often wondered how her aunt seemed to have (and had always had) a direct line to the North Pole. Aunt Margie and Uncle Art never said, but the Santa that had come to the store to hear the requests of young and old since Molly had been a child was never a substitute, and the four little men who carried the mailbox on a litter as if it were a head of state were most definitely not human. Pointed ears stuck up around their knit caps, the bells on the tips of their curly-toed shoes jingled merrily, and their cheeks glowed red in the cold. There was a slightly taller man in front of them, his tunic frosted with silvery snow and golden bells, and he led them up the stairs through the hush that had fallen upon the crowd. Usually, the mailbox came in when the store had yet to open, but just like it seemed everything was this year, they were apparently running late.
As the procession disappeared up the stairs, Molly shook herself out of her trance and turned back to the children. “Let them put it down before you go running up,” she said.
“We can’t go up yet anyways. We have to do the calendar,” Gideon said.
“Yes! Maybe we can go back and see what that weird lot was,” Kaylee said, clapping her hands. “Let’s go see what’s in the next room!”
They all went into the kitchen. The cat in the Advent calendar was asleep on the seat of the sleigh. Zoey said, “Good afternoon, little cat! What do you have for us today?”
To Molly’s surprise, this woke the cat up. It sat up and blinked, then wiped a paw across its whiskers and stretched, a long, languorous extension of its back and claws. Then it jumped down, nosed the rocking horse in farewell, and padded into the next room. This attic room, in addition to having stairs going down to the next floor, had a fire place with a fire burning merrily in it, and there were bookcases all around the room. It rather reminded Molly of the bookstore, except for the fact that instead of books, the shelves held an entire town of ceramic houses, nestled in clouds of white snow. Lights twinkled in the dim room, the only other light the fire in the grate. The cat moved to a desk that was sitting near to the fire and jumped up on the chair.
“Maybe he’s going to write a letter to Santa too?” Lily said, her voice soft.
It looked possible. The desk was an old roll-top model, richly polished wood. When the cat nosed up the lid, they saw it was liberally stocked for any writing needs: there was a pot of ink, stacks of what might have been parchment or vellum, along with envelopes, stamps, and feathered quill pens stuck into the various cubbie holes in the back. After a few moments of considering the options, the cat reached out with a delicate paw deep into one of the holes that Molly had thought was empty, and tugged. Whatever it was resisted a little, but after a few moments, a rolled piece of paper came out attached to one claw.
Using its paws to hold the top two corners down, it nimbly jumped up and unrolled the scroll using its back paws. Once the sheet was flat (courtesy of a cat butt sitting on it), it looked out at the children and winked, then tapped the parchment with its paw. The expected smoke floated up and out of the paper.
“Time to write your letter for Santa! This should help!”
The words spun together and arrowed out of the attic room into the kitchen, where it paused briefly before shooting up the stairs to the second floor of the bookstore, the children in hot pursuit. Left alone in the kitchen, Molly looked over at the cat sitting on the desk. It was now cleaning its paws.
“I don’t suppose you could tell me who stole the calendar, could you?” she said.
She wasn’t expecting an answer, but the cat winked at her, and patted the parchment again. More smoke, and the letters said, “Don’t worry. It’s Christmas, after all.”
And then they dissipated. While she watched, the cat yawned, and curled up to sleep again.
“Is that MORE stone?” Drew asked, watching the truck rumble through the Gate arch. He and his best friend Luke were standing by the control panels, making certain the Gate cycled properly through its various Roads.
“Yep. New building going in downtown,” Luke said, his fingers dancing over the keyboard in front of him. “There should be two more trucks behind this one.”
There were, and Drew checked them off on his tablet, waving the driver through. He watched the behemoths trundle out into the cold Cove air. “Isn’t it weird to be building in the winter, though?” he said. “I mean, seriously, won’t it be difficult?”
Luke looked up and raised his dark eyebrows. “Considering they’re using dwarven stone, not really. I’m betting they’ve got stone masons coming from the mines, or the nearby village, to work it. I would, anyways.”
“But it’s cold out,” Drew said.
“It’s winter in Maine. If it was warm, I’d be worried.” Luke shrugged. “Don’t forget, it’s magic. They don’t worry as much about the weather when they’re doing things like that.” He turned back to his schedule. “Looks like we’ve got passengers next.”
“From where?” Drew asked, craning his head to see the notes on the screen.
“Rovaniemi, according to the manifest.” Luke tapped a few more keys. “Looks to be a winter realm as well, not quite Earth-adjacent, but nearby. Humanoid, high magic, major exports are handcrafts and reindeer herding. Makes sense that they’d be relocating here.”
“Yeah, there’s a message from the town council that they’ve been approved to move to the Cove,” Luke said. Because of the Gates in the Cove, there was a bit more to moving to the Cove than just moving, especially from other Realms.
“Well, I’ll have to let Molly know, so she can bake something.” Drew traced a sigil on the tablet he was holding, spinning the Gate to connect with another Road. Once the lights on his tablet turned green, he said, “We’re good to go.”
Luke tapped on the keyboard, and Drew watched as a large cart pulled by two immense reindeer came through the stone arch. “Good lord,” he breathed. “Is that where Old Man Winter gets his?”
It certainly looked like it. The two reindeer towered over him as he stepped up to the cart, and Drew wasn’t exactly short. Muscles rippled under their shaggy grey coats and they stamped their cloven hooves as if impatient to be on. Long leather straps of brown and dark red connected them to the cart.
To his surprise, it was an older woman driving the cart, her face nearly hidden by the large woolen hat that drooped low over her sparkling eyes. “Sure, and this is a welcome!” Her voice was rich and full, with hints of laughter peeking around the edges. “I think I shall like this place!”
She stuck out a mittened hand, and Drew, a little bemused, took it. “Welcome to the Cove,” he said. “I’m Drew McIntyre, deputy Station Manager, and if you need anything, please let us know. Do you have a place to stay set up?”
“Sure do,” she said, shaking his hand briskly. “My friend Brynna is expecting me. Name’s Kris, and I’m very pleased to meet you, Drew McIntyre. You’re friends with young Pavel, correct?”
Drew chuckled a bit to hear Pavel called “young,” but said, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”
“Ain’t no ma’am here,” she corrected him. “Just Kris. Is your wife the kitchen witch, then?”
And how am I not surprised she knows of Molly? “She is. She’ll most likely be by with a welcome package of her own, especially if you’re friends with Brynna.”
Kris’ smile became even broader and she nodded. “Good, good. She’s special, and I’m dearly looking forward to meeting her.” Then she cocked her head. “Is that it, then? I’m good to go?”
“Yes,” Drew said, backing up a bit. “Enjoy your stay in the Cove!”
“Oh yes, I intend to.” Kris shook her reins, and clucked to the reindeer. As she moved off, he heard her say, “I most definitely intend to.”
- (advent) Sunday, December 2
- (advent) Tuesday, December 4