Solstice 2019

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Just Old Al
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Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Wed Dec 04, 2019 10:44 pm

Author;s Note: This yammered in my ear till I put it down on 'paper'. After sharing it with Dave he strongly suggested i share it with you all as well.

"Bugger. Buggerbuggerbugger...damnit..”

Al pushed back from the worktable in the back shop, rubbing his eyes. He’d dozed off again.

“Enough of this, then. Time to go home – Rosalynd is going to be very unamused if I am not home for dinner.” He glanced at his watch and cursed – dinner had already been and gone, and not having his phone in the back shop…he’d missed any calls placed to him.

“Time to go home and face the music. This…is not going to be a pleasant evening.” Of late Rosalynd had been rather upset with him, as MIB had been monopolizing his time and attentions. Not that he’d exactly neglected her, the family, or his business, but his mind had been elsewhere. This was not exactly an optimum situation during the holidays, but the powers that be at MIB had been insistent that this required a quick solution.

However, that was done. The thorny problem in engineering archaeology set him by MIB had been unraveled, and the report wrapped and sent off a few hours earlier. Exhausted, he’d closed his eyes – for just a moment, mind – and was now going to pay for his exhaustion.

Exiting through the airlock with a wave at the MIB officer on duty, he made his way to his car. The lights in the front shop were on maintenance made, coming on in front of him then going off again as he’d passed.

Climbing into the Aston he rubbed his face, then debated calling Rosalynd. “No, I think not…better to just go home and face my dear dam in person. At least Christmas will be unencumbered tomorrow.”

Starting the car and backing out of his space, he trundled toward the door which responded to the car’s transponder and opened. The gate performed the same trick, and Al pulled to the end of his drive, and as any good driver does, looked both ways.

To the right was Chesnut Lane and the highway home. To the left…Al squinted a bit as two dim amber lights flashed irregularly. Behind them Al made out the hulking mass of an automobile, pulled to the side of the road.

Something – some oddity with the lights, perhaps- made him look again. A passing car outlined the shape of the vehicle – angular, boxy, in one look old yet not old.

Al turned left.

Pulling over on the other side of the road Al looked again, his eyes adapting to the dark and assisted by the floodlights on the outside of RE.

“A Checker. Odd.” While looking at the vehicle Al noticed motion in the front seat, and did not see exhaust coming from the tailpipe despite the cold temperatures and the intermittent snow.

Al got out of the car and walked over to the Checker. Rapping on the window he asked “Are you all right?”

A young, scared face peered out at him through the frosted glass – one that looked cold, and unhappy. “I’m all right.”

“Obviously not. There’s no place here for you to be waiting for someone, and the plants are long-closed for the holiday. I ask again – are you OK?”

The young, mobile face cycled through a range of emotions before settling back on despair. “No. The old bastard’s given up on me.” Somehow, Al didn’t think she was referring to just the Checker.

“Do you have anyone you could call? I have a phone you can use.”

The despair returned to her face. “No, no one.”

“All right then. Let’s at least get you off the road – can it move at all?”

“Yeah. Not much and not far – it’s barely running.”

“See the driveway ahead? Pull into it. The gate will open, and a door will in the building. Drive in.”

She was almost set to refuse, but something in Al’s manner or gaze, perhaps, convinced her to accept. Chattering and quaking the Checker found a reserve of strength and shuddered its way into the gate, then through the access door on the building. Al pulled in as well, turning into his parking spot.

The Checker quivered and then with a wheeze shut down, sagging into silence. The driver’s door opened and the driver stepped out. Short, black-haired and obviously pregnant she looked simultaneously cold, frightened and uncomfortable.

“My dear, I am Al Richer, and this is my business. What are you doing out on a night like this?”

The girl looked around dully, too far gone in despair to take an active interest. “Old man got stupid drunk and took a poke at me for not havin’ his dinner ready. I broke his arm, packed a bag and got out. Was headed home to my Ma and Dad, but the car…just won’t go anymore. It’s been bad for a while, but now…it’s done.

“And so am I.” With that her shoulders sagged and she began to cry, her tears silently dripping to the floor as her shoulders heaved.

While Al was stricken at the sight, he knew better than to try and comfort her. “Somehow, I don’t think things are as dire as they could be, young lady. I think we can set it right – at least I hope to.” Al pulled his phone from his pocket, then put it back again. A call to Rosalynd at this point was moot – better to just leave that aside.

“What do you want?” She looked at him, and in her eyes Al saw hopelessness, and despair. That needs to be addressed – now. he thought.

“I want nothing. If I have the parts that will fix the issue they and the installation are yours. Let me do what I can.”

She raised her shoulders slightly, then let them droop again – a slight shrug. “Why not. Can’t screw it up any worse.”

“Before that – would you like a bathroom? There’s one right there. The door next to it is a refectory – lunch room – and there’s coffee, tea and food in the refrigerator. Help yourself to whatever you want there, and let me move the Checker to a work bay.”

She looked up at him. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why’re you helping me? What the hell’s in it for you? Why do you give a fuck?” She squared her shoulders and looked at him, defiant in her questioning. “What’re you, some kinda creeper?”

Al was disgusted – not with the questions but with the suggestion he was some sort of deviant.

“One – I have not gotten where I am without the help of others – and I will pass it along where I can. Two – you could easily freeze to death out there – it will be in the single digits by morning. Three – I am not a predator. I am very happily married and to be honest, ducks, pregnant or no you are hardly my type.” He chuckled, and said. “Let me get the Checker to a bay, and you go have a washup and a snack while I see what ails the old beast.”

She turned and walked toward the bathroom, and Al turned to the Checker. Opening the driver’s door he saw her story was essentially true – what looked like her life’s possessions were in the back seat of the elderly vehicle.

Starting it, Al limped it to his work bay, stopping to turn the plant lights on in the areas needed. With that he took off his coat and fedora, and rolled up his sleeves.

“Oh, you poor thing.”

Obviously unloved, the old Chevrolet engine under the bonnet of the Checker loped on four or five cylinders, staggering the body of the vehicle. Donning a vinyl glove, Al started to disconnect spark plugs one by one, determining that the issue was with specific cylinders rather than general.

Shutting the car down he reached for a sparkplug socket and pulled all of the plugs, wincing as he saw the erosion and fouling on all of them. Grabbing a compression gauge he ran a quick test on the cylinders, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw they were all more-or-less even and functional.

Next, he turned to the distributor cap – the HEI ignition type used by Chevrolet for decades. Stripping it he noted the carbon tracking and burns on the cap, denoting many miles of wear.

As he’d worked his guest had entered the bay, drawn by the lights in the otherwise shadowy building. As he turned she held out a cup of coffee, a twin to the one she held.

“I added cream and sugar – not sure how you liked it.”

“That is perfectly fine. Just make yourself comfortable for a bit, either here in the bay or in the refectory. I need to run to my stock room for some parts – the Chevrolet-powered sports cars we service occasionally will share most of the components your old friend here needs.”

She held up a hand. “Stop. Just stop. Why the fuck are you doing this? I got no money and no way to pay for this.”

At that, the Sergeant-Major came out. "Young lady, I require no payment, either in money or in kind, so you can pull your mind out of that gutter right now. As I said before I am doing this simply because you need it – and I owe much to people I can no longer pay.

“Now, may I continue?”

The light in her eyes was fascinating – and her aura and emotional state even more so. Glimmers of hope peering through the veil of despair, and a sneaking suspicion that he might be what he seemed began to appear in her eyes.

She hiked herself up onto the stool at the workspace’s bench and said “Sure.” With that, he left the bay.

Walking upstairs to the office area he badged himself in, and went to Ari’s office. A quick rummage of her file cabinet produced the cash box, and Al relieved it of a sum, scribbling a note “I took this. Details when we meet.”

To the parts room for a set of plugs, wires and distributor parts, then back to the bay took minutes.

As he entered he was surprised to see his guest slumped at the bench, head cradled on arms and asleep.

“Poor thing.”

Stepping back quickly to the Aston he took the blanket from his emergency kit and came back, draping it over her shoulders. That done and her comfort assured for the moment, he set to work on the ailing engine.

The distributor was stripped, and new components installed. All of the adjustments done he then replaced the spark plugs with new, guessing a bit at the gap but assuming they’d be like any other Chevrolet, or his beloved Rover V8s for that matter..

With the distributor and plugs complete he replaced the wires, setting each in its place on each plug and contact.

He reached in and turned the key, and the engine started at a touch, running roughly but leagues better than before. Clamping an exhaust hose over its tailpipe Al warmed the engine and dug into his toolbox for a timing light. A few adjustments and checks later and the old engine ran sweetly. A powerhouse it would never be, but it would carry the young woman anywhere she needed to go, now.

Once done, Al revved the engine, enjoying the sound as it took the fuel smoothly.

As he turned back to the bench to wake his guest he saw she was awake, and had changed. Instead of the scruffy waif that had entered the building she was young, strong and clad in the colours of Winter from her head to her toe.

Al stared, jaw dropping. The vision in white spoke - and Al knew who had come to pay him a visit.

“To quote the faith of your Friend Greg, "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" There is much truth to that statement, no matter the faith is there, old man?”

“My Lady?” Al said, almost hesitantly

The vision in white smiled, and spoke again. “Yes, Al. While We agree that your ‘Sir Galahad complex’ needs to be reined in on occasion, We do approve.

“In this case you could easily have turned away. An angry dam, dinner in the warmer, a holiday night – no one would have thought less of you for going your own way and ignoring the blinking lights in the dark.

“However, We know you – and you showed us the Truth.” She walked toward him, barefoot on the wooden-block floor, stretched up and pulled his head downward, planting a long kiss on his forehead. “Blessed Be, old man.”

Al started upward, still at the workstation in the back room. “How extraordinary.” Pulling his phone from his pocket, he dialed and then began to quickly speak when the connection was established.

“Yes, dear – I know dinner was long ago, but the project is finished. However, I have to tell you the most EXTRAORDINARY dream I just had…”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by GlytchMeister » Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:26 am

I recall the Ancient Greek Gods had a proclivity toward wandering about in the mortal realm as beggars and the like, to make sure people were obeying the laws of hospitality and generally being kind. In the Odyssey, Odysseus was treated well by the... I think it was a pig farmer(?) when he finally returned to his island looking like shit because the people believed any beggar could, in fact, be a God in disguise, testing the locals.

I don’t know if the concept was that effective in real life, but it’s a nice thought.
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by FreeFlier » Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:43 am

That was . . . unexpected.

And I gotta do something about those pesky ninja onions.


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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Dave » Thu Dec 05, 2019 10:49 am

GlytchMeister wrote:
Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:26 am
I don’t know if the concept was that effective in real life, but it’s a nice thought.
Al's tale reminded me of another quotation from the Christian Bible ("angels unaware")... looked it up and found that it was Hebrews 13:2. Very much the same sort of sentiment.

It also brought back the memory of how kindly and graciously Gwen and I were treated, when she fell seriously ill while traveling in Greece a few years ago and ended up needing emergency surgery and several days in the hospital. We were strangers in a strange land, scared and not at all in control of the situation. The kindness and hospitality of people we'd never met before made the situation much easier to handle. It's a memory I'll never lose and a debt I'll be paying forwards for the rest of my life.

So, yeah, it is a nice thought... and in real life that sort of hospitality to strangers can make all the difference in the world.

Zenna Henderson wrote a similar theme into her stories of The People (extraterrestrial immigrants who crash-landed on Earth in the early 20th century).

Mark suddenly lifted himself on one elbow. "Wait," he said, "things are going too fast. Why -- why are you doing this for us, anyway? We're strangers. No concern of yours. Is it to pay us for taking care of Lala? In that case -- "

Karen smiled. "Why did you take care of Lala? You could have turned her over to the authorities. A strange child, no relation, no concern of yours."

"That's a foolish question," said Mark. "She needed help. She was cold and wet and lost. Anyone -- "

"You did it for the same reason we are doing this for you," said Karen. "Just because we had our roots on a different world doesn't make us of different flesh. There are no strangers in God's universe. You found an unhappy situation that you could do something about, so you did it. Without stopping to figure out the whys and wherefores. You did it just because that's what love does."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 05, 2019 11:01 am

GlytchMeister wrote:
Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:26 am
I recall the Ancient Greek Gods had a proclivity toward wandering about in the mortal realm as beggars and the like, to make sure people were obeying the laws of hospitality and generally being kind.
As Dinky pointed out to me, this is not the first time Al's Gods have messed with him in this manner.

In "Holiday", Al was walking along a river on his first night out. He sat and flung stones into the water, and found one odd-looking one which he put into his pocket. Later, the true nature of that stone was made evident.

"One at a time, he picked up items, trying to get that strange effect to happen. It wasn't until he noticed the flat rock on the floor (that had come from the riverbank where he was skipping stones) and picked it up that it all went strange.

Examination of it showed two strange runes that seemed to have been created within, and only uncovered by its constant tumbling in the river.

"What is this, can you read it?"

Her face and manner sobered, and she quoted a well-loved children's book:

"Make your choice, adventurous 'stranger',
Strike the bell, and bide the danger.
Or wonder 'til it drives you mad,
What would have followed, if you had."

"Sure ya wanna go down that rabbit hole?"

"No plans, remember?"

"Loosely translated, it means, 'Gift of Truth.' While you have that, nobody can ever lie to you. No spell or glamour can hide or deceive.

Look at me Al if you don't believe me. Here's your chance to find out who I really am."

Carefully looking straight ahead, Al asked, “And I take it a cute little pixie with an odd colour palette and a taste for industrial footwear isn’t it?”

“Wellllll, no. No, not really. Not by a long shot.”

Al stood still, balancing and weighing the thoughts.

“All right then. How do I get rid of this thing safely?”

“Hand it over.”

He passed the stone back over his shoulder. There was a dry, gritty sound of someone cleansing their hands with pumice and a softly intoned chant.

“Turn around.”

He did, and on the tiny countertop was a pile of glittering dust, sitting on the tea towel he’d used for the dishes.

“Why don’t you take that down to the river and then come on back – we need to talk a bit.”

As bidden, he took the contents of the towel and emptied them back into the waters, which swiftly swallowed them and carried them away.

Later, Ialin revealed the truth of the item.

"That stone was not sheer serendipity – I smell the hand of my bosses on it...I'm really not happy about that either, believe me Al. It's unseelie droppings...which make lousy fertilizer."

Personally, i think the Gods do this to him on occasion to assure Themselves that there is still Honour and Truth in the world.

Bottom line though - it is not what you believe, but what you DO that matters...and the message I was trying to pass along.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Thu Dec 05, 2019 11:03 am

FreeFlier wrote:
Thu Dec 05, 2019 9:43 am
That was . . . unexpected.
Al is a chaos demon - NOTHING is ever straightforward.

And I gotta do something about those pesky ninja onions.

Yeah, good luck with that. I keep trying and the sorry buggers keep finding me.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 06, 2019 7:39 pm

I have been nagged, nudged and otherwise besieged with folks wanting to know the "And then?"

And, here you go...Nothing is ever simple, is it?

There was a dusting of snow on the ground the January morning when Al returned to the office. Ahead of him the building looked stately with its covering of white on the crenelated roof border, offsetting the dark red of the brick walls.

Pulling into his spot he shut off and safed the Aston, and went to his office. A mug and a half of coffee and several dozen pages of paperwork later Arania knocked and walked in.

“Al, what’s this about?” she asked, holding a scrawled note. Handing it to him, he read,

“I took this. Details when we meet.”

Al was highly puzzled. The dream – and he thought it WAS a dream – had been remarkably real, but he’d never thought it was anything but a product of his sleeping mind.

“Before I explain, can we walk down to my work bay?”

Arania looked puzzled. “Sure…why?” she asked.

“Because I need to find an answer or two there.”

With that, the pair left the office level and traipsed to the chilly work floor. The heating system had come on in earnest, but the long time on maintenance mode had allowed the building to chill. Through the haunting quiet of the building they went – Al focused on the quandary and Arania mystified at the circumstance. Al is acting weird - er. Wonder what's up this time?

Finally, they walked into Al’s work bay. Al was surprised – there was no vehicle in it (he'd half expected to find the Checker still there), and was as tidy as usual. One jarring note, however, was the hose of the fume extractor – rather than being neatly coiled on its reel, it lay across the floor untidily.

“Hmmm…Odd, that.” Motioning Ari to stay by the door, he walked over to the bench. An Army wool blanket was tossed untidily across the back of the workbench's stool, and the bench top still bore two congealed paper cups of coffee. Pulling the trash bin from its recess Al looked inside, to be greeted by a distributor cap, plugs and wires, along with gloves, cleaning wipes and the usual detritus of a repair job. As the building had been untenanted over the holiday week the cleaning staff from AHI had not been in, and the bay was as he'd left it on Christmas Eve.

Thoroughly confused, Al stood motionless.

“Okayyyyyy, what’s going on? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Arania dear, I’m not sure I know what happened. Let’s go back up to the office and have a cuppa, and I need to tell you a story of a Christmas Eve, and a quiet encounter…” With that he took her arm and they walked from the bay.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Dave » Fri Dec 06, 2019 8:04 pm

So... in whose pocket or wallet did that money end up? :twisted:

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Fri Dec 06, 2019 10:20 pm

Dave wrote:
Fri Dec 06, 2019 8:04 pm
So... in whose pocket or wallet did that money end up? :twisted:
GOOD question.

Considering gods in general don't tend to have pockets (or wallets) figure it out. :)

Consider the ending..indeterminate. The Checker certainly existed - witness the leftovers in the bin.
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by FreeFlier » Fri Dec 06, 2019 10:41 pm

For a somewhat . . . flexible . . . definition of existed.


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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by jwhouk » Sat Dec 07, 2019 9:39 am

A sudden $750 donation to a homeless shelter in Minnetonka?
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Sat Dec 07, 2019 10:19 am

jwhouk wrote:
Sat Dec 07, 2019 9:39 am
A sudden $750 donation to a homeless shelter in Minnetonka?
Could well be...
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:56 am

The earlier missive on the Checker Marathon got the usual suspects chatting over Christmas and the meaning of the various winter solstice holidays to various folks.

The result of this conversation - inspired by an oh-so innocent comment made by ChicGeek, is presented here. I'm not bothering to sort out who wrote what bit - this is the usual everyone contributing here and there and yours truly putting it all together with a bottle of Elmer's Dialogue Glue.

No matter what your faith or beliefs, please accept this as a gift from all of us:

Sgt. Howard

And yours truly.
Just Old Al.

"WAKEY, WAKEY! Happy Yule ! MEEEERY Christmas!" Al bounced into the room from his trip to the kitchen, bearing a tray of coffee and pastries.

The imprecations directed at him by the semi-conscious redhead in the bed were nothing if not the exact opposite of the good will and cheer Al was expressing, from the slitted, glaring eyes all the way to the legible and not-so-legible curses leveled in a muttering voice. Starting again, Rosalynd pulled herself to a sitting position on the bed and was promptly served a steaming mug of coffee and a plate of pastries, butter and clotted cream.

Taking a deep draught of the coffee and then another, she set it aside and began to butter and jam a scone, movements slow and fumbling due to her semi-awake state. Biting into the scone she worked to form a question, finally managing to articulate it after finishing the half of the scone.

"Merry Christmas and Happy Yule to you too, old man. What has you up and about this morning in such a hurry?"

"Simple, dear. My heart is just filled with the joy of the season, and the thought of spending Christmas morning in the warmth of your love. It is TRULY a brilliant day, both for being the turning of the year and the celebration of the birth of your Savior-" At a wave, Rosalynd cut him off. Finishing her cup she speared him with another glare, and asked, "All right, old man, what the hell are you up to?"

"Up to? Me? Why in all that is holy at this blessed time of the year would I be up to anything, my love? You and you alone are the captain of my heart, and were I up to anything-"

"All right. Enough minotaur shit. Spill it." Rosalynd was not buying the nonsense, and Al could see it.

"Well, you might want to get out of bed and get cleaned up - we'll be having company for lunch. The Sergeant and his esteemed spouse are coming in for lunch, as are Sterling and Sledge - but we have places to go first! So get your lazy centaur backside out of bed, chop chop!" With that, he grabbed his mug of coffee and a chocolate doughnut and headed for the bath, consuming a hurried breakfast as he went.

Grumbling, Rosalynd poured herself another cup of coffee and took another scone, waiting for her husband to emerge and explain further. Once he did, though, no explanations were available, merely a cheery exhortation to get herself ready. "Oh - call your lazy children, too - have them meet us in a half-hour in the atrium."

"Why? What in hell are you up to, you son of an ape?"

"You...will see. You will see indeed." With that, shockingly, he giggled a bit and proceeded to get dressed.

A half-hour later everyone living in the house was in the atrium. Rowdy and his doctor companion were there, grumpily surveying the day, as was Cinnamon and her mother. Al was there, cheerily rubbing his hands together, and the party was completed by Buck and his family coming in, rubbing their hands against the cold.

"All right then! It is go for a walk! Nice run in the snow - we can get some fresh air, then come back and have a wonderful lunch."

"Al, it is Christmas morning. Are you honestly trying to tell me that you GOT US UP FOR A WALK IN THE SNOW? Two-legs, you've lost it." I'm going back to bed." Daisy was incredulous - all this for fresh air and exercise? Not on a bet! However, the sheer level of glee and mischief in Al's emotions stopped her from walking away, though she so richly wanted to.

"Oh, trust me, dear. You will appreciate it. Now, all of you centaurs scurry off and go shift - I for one would appreciate a chance to ride if the snow is too deep. Go on, then. You girls have your snowshoes? Good."

A few minutes later the centaurs were back, equipped for an outing. Despite heavy coats they wore outdoor hats, and each had sunglasses to protect their eyes from the blinding glare from the fresh snowpack in the fields.

"Good, good! Let's be off, then!" Out the back door toward the paddocks they went, but Al veered from the path toward one of the outbuildings.

"What the hell, Al - you wanted to walk and you're going to grab a quad? No! You get to walk, too!" Buck said, laughingly.

"I am not grabbing a quad - and the method to my madness will be evident momentarily. Please come along." Obediently, the family straggled along behind Al, as he walked to the outbuilding, flung open the door and entered. Gasps, OOHs and AAHs erupted from the family as they followed him in.

There in the center of the floor was a two seat sleigh, with a driver's platform in front of it. The body of the sleigh was painted in a bright red, and the leather upholstery, properly held with rows of buttons, was a pine green. The iron underpinnings of the sleigh were in black, with gold tracery on the runners and braces. The tongue was painted in the same black colour, and the leatherwork of the harnesses (made for a centaur, so a breast harness rather than a collar) was stitched in gold thread on red leather.

It was magnificent.

"Oh my God, Al...where did you find it?" Rosalynd breathed.

"Dear, this is, believe it or AHI sleigh."

"No!" Buck exclaimed. "Where did you manage to find one of these? AHI never built more than a thousand or two of them, and that was back in the early horse-drawn equipment days. Near as I know most of those were work sleighs with one seat and a box on the back, not vis-a-vis designs like this one. did you find one in this condition?"

"The answer to your first question is lots and lots of searching of farm sales by hired agents - and the answer to the second is a Mennonite woodworking shop I know of that has manufactured parts of Morris and Rover cars for me in the past. I gave them the sleigh back in September and they rebuilt it for me including the woodwork and upholstery. The upholstery is traditional looking and it is - done up with all traditional materials except horsehair - I made them use synthetics."

Rosalynd ran her hand over the bolsters of the upholstery. "So pretty. This will almost let me forgive you for dragging my backside out of bed on Christmas morning."

"Somehow it seemed to me that you might appreciate this, dear, especially given it's an AHI product come home, so to speak. Buck?"

Hypnotized, Buck tore his gaze from the sleigh and looked at his stepfather. "Yes, Al?"

"I don't believe that the AHI Museum has one of these on display. Could it go there other than in the Winter for visitors to enjoy?"

Buck smiled - the thought had occurred to him as well. "Barring the harnesses absolutely - this would be a fantastic add. Why not in the Winter, though?" he then asked, then slapped himself on the forehead.

“Of want it here in the Winter. Great idea, though. Gotta ask - what made you think of this?"

Al paused, collecting his thoughts, and then spoke. "I was over visiting Cal and we walked through the museum. He remarked how little they had of the company's early history, and that led to a look through the preserved ephemerae and catalogues in the stacks. I expressed some sincere amazement at the sleighs in an early catalogue, and Cal laughed. John Deere built them, AHI built them - this was back in the horse-drawn implement days of course."

“Now, we need a team for this wonderful sleigh – and I see two…yes, you, and you!” With that Al pointed at Daisy and Cinnamon, both of whom responded with surprise.

“Me! You think I’m going to haul this thing through the snow, Two-Legs, you’ve got another think coming!” She stood, arms crossed until the act collapsed and she laughed.

“Dear, if we had two Clydesdales like our eldest son I wouldn’t ask, but he’d be mismatched badly. I do think that you and our darling daughter will be a delectable pair – matched strawberry roans and all. Please, indulge an old man this morning.”

Cinnamon looked down at Al, face creased in a grin. “Daddy dearest I wish you still had that amulet. I would take great pleasure watching you try to haul this thing yourself. However, it being Christmas and all – fine.”

Ten minutes later they were harnessed, and Al took great pleasure in handing Katherine and the girls into the passenger seats of the sleigh. Taking his place in the driver's position, he asked, "Shall we proceed?"

Daisy and Cinnamon turned back and stared, and then laughing, took up the strain. The runners slid along the boards placed on the concrete floor, then with a hiss hit the packed snow on the path.

As the centaurs pulled the sleigh over the snow in Minnesota conversations were taking place in other parts of the world - and they were not completely happy.

Annie stared at her man, obviously irritated at the request he’d just made. “So what the HELL is this invite all about?!? You're getting me up at the buttcrack of dawn for lunch and I haven't had breakfast?!?" Annie growled at her husband.

"Trust me pretty Mama- you're gonna want to do this. We need you in "Full Victorian Frilly" for what's about to happen..."


"Al's got a sleigh."

Annie was dumbfounded for a heartbeat or two- "A... a sleigh...?... as in 'One horse open' variety?"

"I think Al said it was a team rig on the thing, but I am not sure... most likely open cockpit..."

It took a moment for Annie to get her voice back- then she replied, "Then YOU, Sir, Need your finest frock and silk cravat..."

Greg continued the litany. "AND fancy walking stick and watch and spats..."

Annie smiled grudgingly. "At least... get me some coffee you rogue..." Turning away, she made for the closet where her wool finery hung, humming a Christmas carol quietly.

On the other coast a similar conversation was taking place.

Glytch walked over to where Brandi was sitting at the table, enjoying her coffee. Slipping her arms around her shoulders he hugged her deeply and contentedly. A minute went by as they enjoyed the simple contentment of holding each other, then Glytch stood and spoke.

“So...I kinda signed us up for something today.” he said deferentially.

Brandi smiled. “And what would that be, and does it involve adding nitrogen to anything that shouldn’t have more?”

“Nononono....nothing like that! Actually, it’s kind of a human thing - we’re invited over to Al’s for lunch.”

Brandi smiled. “How wonderful! It’ll be good to see the crazy old man and his family. Why the invite? Normally today's not a day they entertain.”

Glytch grinned broadly. “Well, Al has a surprise on for his family - and we got invited along for laughs. That OK?”

“Works for me. What’s going on?”

As Glytch started to explain Brandi smiled broadly. Oh, this is going to be FUN.

And in between a third conversation was taking place. Unlike the other two, this was going less than well.

"Damn it, Sledge - this is exactly what Al and I were talking about. You know as well as we do that sitting here alone is going to do you no good at all. You may be an introvert, but there is being an introvert and there is being a hermit. Now, Al invited you, and you should go."

Slege was unrepentant. In a nearly accentless voice he said "Sterling, I don't see the point of it, or the need. This is a time you and they need to be with family - and taking care of me is just not needed. You’re family there, or might as well be considerin'.

"I just don't like it. This time of year is just too damn commercial - and the whole presents thing...yeah, not up for it. I'll stay here - you go on."

Steerling snorted, flustered and getting angry. "First off you dumb Texan, no one is 'taking care' of you. This is friends and family getting together for lunch. No presents, no commercial silliness, just people enjoying each other and a beautiful Winter day. Hell, Al is not even a Christian and this is HIS idea. Anyway, Rosalita's a fantastic cook and I know you don't have anything here half as good as whatever she's got planned.

"So, suck it up, buttercup - get some warm clothes on and 'git yer ass movin'. " She stared at him flintily, and finally he relented.

"Fine. Don't see the point, but obviously I'm not gettin' away without it. With that he turned, then turned back and asked "How cold?"

"25 or so. Not too cold, and the sun will be out. If you need cold weather gear Al will have something, so jeans, good boots and whatever you can layer up will do for the moment."

"25. Not too cold, she says. Damn cold if y'ask me. Fine." With that Sledge turned to his room and went to change.

A bit after noon Al was in the kitchen, fretting. Rosalita, on the other hand, was unperturbed, checking a large pot on the stove and occasionally giving it a stir.

"Everything all right?"

"Si, Señor Al. Your friends will be here in a little while, and lunch is ready for them."

Al walked over to Rosalita and took her hands. "Rosalita, I do apologize for inflicting this on you. I know that normally Christmas morning here is quiet. With me finding the sleigh...well, I just had to share it with the family - and when the word family is said...the Usual Suspects come to mind. Again, I'm sorry."

She chuckled, clearly not at all upset. "Señor Al - this is not a problem at all. Dinner tonight will be as it always is, and most of this was put together yesterday before my staff left." She lifted the lid of the pot, and a savoury cloud of steam wafted out.

"See? A good hearty vegetable soup. I have shredded chicken to serve in it for those of you who like it as well." Pressing a button on the oven a light flashed on inside, illuminating crusty loaves. "To go along, fresh hot bread and butter, or margarine who prefer to avoid animal fats. There are big salads in the walk-in as well, all ready to go."

Al shook his head in awe. "As I have said before, dear - I have no idea what we would do without you. Thank you for humoring an old man."

She TSKed, then shooed him out of the kitchen. "Now, go on - your friends will be here soon. Lunch will be on the table in twenty minutes or so, served family style. Edward will be looking for you." Turning, she started to remove the loaves from the oven, putting them into a towel-lined basket to keep warm.

Al left the kitchen and headed to the atrium. Rosalynd waited there, as did Rowdy with his doctor friend and Cinnamon.

"Buck and brood not joining us for lunch?"

Rosalynd shook her head. "No. A deferred Christmas morning and a late breakfast is in the offing there. They have different traditions than us - which is just fine. What time did you tell your friends to get here?"

"Just about any time now...and Sledge and Sterling are here." As he said that the door was opened by Edward, and Sterling and Sledge walked in.

Al held his arms out and Sterling walked straight into them, and they hugged deeply like the old friends they were. Letting her go Al turned to Sledge, and was disconcerted at how dark the mage's aura was. Showing none of this on his face Al smiled broadly and clasped the younger man's hand.

"Welcome, Sledge. Greetings and welcome to our home - we're thrilled to have you here." Al very carefully didn't mention the holiday or anything about it - keeping this on a personal level seemed the better idea.

"Thank you, Al. Sterling wasn't letting me get away with not comin' - nothing against you, but this isn't my favorite time of the year."

Al wasn't going to push the issue - up till he had found his loves Sledge's attitude and his own would have been identical. "I understand, but we're still very pleased to have you here. If you wander into the great room I'm sure there's a beer to be had, or coffee or whatever you'd like. Lunch will be in fifteen minutes or so."

"Thank you, Al. I may not act it, but I do appreciate the invitation."

"I understand completely. Be welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I hear an old Sergeant arriving."

The door opened again, and Greg and his bride walked in. As they did, spontaneous applause started from the gathered group.

Annie was a sight straight from a Currier and Ives painting. Her over-skirt and vivante top were red wool, trimmed in fine ermine as was her matching wool cloak and snow bonnet. Her hands were pushed into an ermine muff, matching the fur lining of her white snow boots. Ever the gentleman, Greg relieved her of the cloak as she undid its catch, handing it off to Edward.

Under the cloak she wore a white silk blouse with full ruffle front and high Edwardian neck - the perfect accompaniment to the red wool of the rest of her outfit.

Greg was also attired to the heights of Victorian fashion, in dark grey wool trousers, weskit and frock coat, with the weskit decorated with a heavy silver watch chain to match his glasses and the pin in his salmon ascot. His hat, in black and polished silk matched his highly polished oxfords in gloss.

Like all proper gentlemen he also carried a heavy oak cane (which Al knew concealed 25 inches of fine steel blade).

Al laughed and applauded. "You just CANNOT resist an opportunity to dress up in finery, can you?" Al exclaimed, heading over to Annie for a deep hug.

"Welcome! You're just in time - Rosalita's about to put lunch on the table. I do have to say, though, that you've made the rest of us look a dowdy lot of pigeons with your peacock finery!"

"Well, somebody's gotta show you how it's done! Anyway, figured ya might want to get some character shots for the museum - can't display that sleigh without adding some shots'a what it should'a looked like in the day."

"Very good point - and I heartily concur. Now, we're just waiting for Brandi and her consort to get here and we'll be ready to sit and eat-" and at that a muffled VORP was heard from the carriage path outside the door.

Edward opened the door a third time and Glytch walked in, Brandi on his arm.

"Hi, folks. We're not late, I hope?" Glytch eyed Annie and Greg, and with an excess of humor and utter lack of survival instinct remarked "Al - you didn’t tell me this was a costume party! I could'a come up with something...but nothing as...fancy!"

Greg immediately bridled. "Why you young ...."

"Greg, Enough! While I will confess that our young madboy has a point in his observations...let us discuss it later." Al went over to the latest arrivals, collecting a hug from Brandi and one from Glytch, as well.

Stepping back, he raised his voice a bit and said "Welcome! Lunch will be ready momentarily, so if you'll all follow me we can go and sit in the dining room."

Midafternoon had rolled around before the group straggled from the dining room and headed for the door. Stopping at the closet and with Edward’s assistance they all sorted out their outdoor gear, donning coats, hats, boots and sunglasses against the glare.

Al looked at Sledge, realizing that his outdoor gear wasn’t quite up to the cold. Boots, jeans, a layer or two, but he needs an outer coat and gloves. Ah, well…into the closet we go.

Reaching into the closet Al pulled out his patchwork-leather bomber jacket and held it up to Sledge. “This is a bit large, but between it and the gloves you’ll find in the left pocket you’ll be quite comfortable. It’s wonderfully warm – one of Sterling’s sisters gave it to me, and I’ve never been cold in it.”

“Thanks, Al.” Sledge shouldered the coat on and added the gloves and a knitted watch cap Al tossed him.

For himself he borrowed Rosalynd’s leather coat, once his but given to her long ago in a very bad time. Adding his fedora he was more than comfortable given the sunshine – he’d long since adapted to Minnesota.

“Shall we, ladies and gentlemen?” With that, all of them walked out, some two-legged and some four.

Again, the chorus of Oohs, AAHs and exclamations of pleasure sounded as the lunch guests had the pleasure of seeing the sleigh.

“Damn, AL – this thing is gorgeous. The Mennonites do her up for you?”

“Yes, indeed. They are absolutely fantastic woodworkers and metalworkers despite their aversion to modern technologies. I knew all along who was going to be doing the work – this is nothing that either the prototype shop or RE was equipped to handle as routine – and I have no problems paying for expertise. You approve?”

“Yep. Damn nice piece of work.” Al looked around – the centaurs were stomping around and greatly enjoying the snow on Alexander’s lawn as the humans milled around admiring the vehicle. With that, Al raised his voice and called out.

“Now, I see a lovely couple of centaurs over there who'd make a perfect pair for this sleigh. Rowdy, Doctor?"

"Dear, would you mind?" Rowdy asked as he eyed the contraption. "I've never pulled a wagon or a sleigh before, but this seems like it could be fun."

Rowdy's companion laughed. "Oh, you city people. Back at home logging was done by hand in the older-growth parts of the forest, and that did NOT allow for roads being cut in. Logs were hauled out with harness by our people. I have had the pleasure, this little sleigh should be nothing." That said, she walked over and backed into the right position. After a moment Rowdy did so as well, stepping to the left.

As in the morning harnessing in the centaurs took little time. As Al had set the bands and harnesses in place, the two-legged members of the party had arranged themselves in the sleigh – Greg and Annie to the back with Sledge, and Glytch, Brandi and Sterling in the front seat facing backward.

“Lovely, just lovely. Shall we be off, then?” Al climbed onto the driver’s seat and said ”Walk on!”

Rowdy and Dawn looked at each other, then looked back at Al, and the sleigh load of people trying hard not to laugh.

“Well, he did go to all the trouble of having this rebuilt…I guess we could humor him.”

Rowdy thought for a moment. “Yeah, let’s let him have his moment…Mom would get mad if we trampled him on Christmas.” With that both of them turned forward and leaned into the breast harnesses and the sleigh began to move – surprisingly easily given its load.

As that happened, everyone relaxed – both from the beauty of the season and from the sheer novelty of a quasi-horse drawn conveyance. Under the runners the snow hissed, and the inhabitants of the sleigh settled in to enjoy the ride.

“So, Al – what do people DO on a sleigh ride?” Brandi asked. “Have to be honest – I don’t remember ever riding in a sleigh – wagons and other conveyances, but never a sleigh.”

Al, feeling puckish and fully realizing the trouble he was about to cause, replied, “Carols?”

“Euargh...” an exaggerated scowl came from the back. Al could feel Glytch’s eyes rolling.

“Oh, hush. If there ever was a good time and place for caroling, here and now is it! C’mon, Glyyyytch.” Brandi cajoled.

“Bah, I got enough of carols... and wintry princess independence anthems... from retail.”

“But Glyyytch!” This time, Al nearly got caught in the backblast of a well-practiced pout.

“No... I said no... oh... fine. I got one that wasn’t abused...” His voice shifted and Al recognized the act he put on last Halloween. “Oh Sterling! Sterling, be a dear and put on your Brooklyn.”

Sterling, immediately understanding what the little bastard was up to, grinned as she replied, “Sure thing, Puddin’!”

Glytch tapped off a quick countdown and the two broke into a somewhat disconcerting rendition of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”, Glytch leading the way with an almost completely talentless but palpably insane voice, held aloft almost entirely by Sterling’s big-city-accented voice making a harmony where one would think harmony had no business being.

"Crashing through the roof,
In a one-horse open treeeee...
Busting out I go,
Laughing all the wheee-ah ha ha haha haaaaaa!"

If it wasn’t for her contribution, Al likely would have kicked Glytch off mid-song.

The reaction among the inhabitants and walkers about the sleigh were palpable. Greg and Annie looked disgusted, whether by the rendition or the content Al wasn’t sure. Sledge grumbled quietly, whether at the content as well or Sterling’s antics only he knew.

“...Aaand the Joker gooot aaaaaWAAAAAAY!” With that, a pair of well-thrown snowballs impacted on Glytch, with one swerving from Sterling as she made a hurried gesture to ward it off.

Glytch sputtered from the unexpected impact, as Cinnamon and Daisy howled in laughter. Cinnamon whistled and laughed, shouting “THAT will teach you to be a Grinch!”

“Alright, you two! That’s quite enough of that, if you don’t cease and desist in this horseplay I’ll leave you both for Krampus!” Al tried his best to be grumpy, but Glytch’s infectious laughter fought back.

“Oh, poppycock. Fiiine, have your earworm carols, I’ll just have to dig em out of my brain with a melon baller tonight.” Glytch, satisfied in his parody, sat back and flashed Brandi a shit-eating grin, who tried to reply with narrowed eyes but couldn’t keep a straight face. “Ugh, you goof.”

Glytch wrapped an arm around her and gave Sterling a nod, slipping back into his character voice for a moment. “Wonderful singing, Sterli-Q, I’d be lost without you.”

Sterling rolled her eyes but grinned.

Greg spoke up. ”Ah’m tired of you folks not getting in the spirit of things. It’s time for me ta get you folks in the mood.” Knowing Greg’s talent as a musician they all paid attention, as he began to sing a capella.

First, he hummed the first few bars of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – a perfect tune for the Victorian finery he wore. Then at the proper spot he began to sing, his voice having no trouble carrying in the quiet of the day.

The restroom door said gentlemen, so I just walked inside
I took two steps and realized I've been taken for a ride
I heard high voices, turned and found the place was occupied
By two nuns, three old ladies and a nurse
What could be worse?
Than two nuns, three old ladies and a nurse

The restroom door said gentlemen, it must have been a gag
As soon as I walked in there I ran into some old hag
She sprayed me with a can of mace and smacked me with her bag
I could tell this wouldn't be my day
What can I say?
It just wasn't turning out to be my day

As he swung into the chorus yet again the sleigh stopped, as the two pullers were having issues with breath control – as the occupants of the area all were. Glytch started applauding, saying “Now THAT is a carol I can enjoy! Who the heck did that, Greg?” For this, he received a slap at the back of the head from Brandi accompanied by a “Behave!”

Greg, sitting back, answered “Gentleman by the name of Bob Rivers. Twisted Christmas is a favorite round our house at this time of the year.”

Trying to scowl Al sighed, and remarked “Ms. Oduya, I do apologize for this reprehensible redneck winding up the puckish nature of your consort. I assure you, this was not my intent in inviting that elderly bag of comic relief-“

At that Greg bellowed, “Well, will you listen to Charles Dickens! Put up or shut up, old man!”

Al sighed again, though Sterling and Daisy could feel the glee as Greg gave Al the opening he wanted.

“Very well, you reprehensible redneck – I shall.” Turning to Rowdy and Dawn he asked, “May we continue?” At that, they began to pull again, sliding along at the treeline.

With a complex wiggle of his hand a tune started in the air – flute, mandolin and a riddle drum. After a few bars the occupants of the sled settled down and Al began to sing – tolerably for once.

Through long December nights we talk in words of rain or snow
While you, through chattering teeth, reply and curse us as you go.
Why not spare a thought this day for those who have no flame
To warm their bones at Christmas time?
Say Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow.

Now as the last broad oak leaf falls, we beg: consider this ---
There's some who have no coin to save for turkey, wine or gifts.
No children's laughter round the fire, no family left to know.
So lend a warm and a helping hand ---
Say Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow.

As holly pricks and ivy clings,
Your fate is none too clear.
The Lord may find you wanting, let your good fortune disappear.
All homely comforts blown away and all that's left to show
Is to share your joy at Christmas time
With Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow.

At the end the invisible instruments played in the air, then fell silent. Brandi looked at Al and said, “Now that’s more like it! Surprised you didn’t sing something for Solstice.”

“No, today is the Christian holiday – no need to mix. In any case, Jethro Tull and the sentiments of that song are perfect for the day. In any case, anyone got anything else?”

Dawn spoke up. “Given what we’re doing right now – hauling an old fat man’s sleigh, that is” and at that she turned and blew Al a kiss “there’s a perfect song for this. It’s called December of Cambreadth, by a fellow named Bob Kanefsky. It is, after all, the reindeers' song.”

With that she began to sing, her voice carrying well even with her position at the front. The rhythm of the song settled down to match the pounding of their hooves in the snow – an almost hypnotic rhythm.

Antlers clash. Horse whips sting.
Shiny sleigh bells’ piercing ring.
Flanks half numb from the arctic cold.
Muscles strain with weight untold.
Midnight run with flame-red nose.
Climb to where the jet stream flows.
Half a billion girls and boys.
How many of them can we bring toys?

Follow flight plans as you’re told,
Lest their little hearts grow cold.
Air raid from the land of ice.
We’ll make sure they all act nice.
Buzz each child’s neighborhood.
Work ’til every one is good.
Naughty thoughts that hope destroys.
How many of them can we bring toys?

Guard your payload of presents well.
Thieves could steal a lot to sell.
Light upon each chimney top.
At speeds like ours, it’s hard to stop.
Use your hooves and use your head,
Don’t let down the man in red
Lifting off with grace and poise.
How many of them can we bring toys?

Dawn is near, the time is short.
(Human aircraft: hard to port!)
We eight creatures of the night
Work as one in silent flight.
Let not one damn house pass by.
(Who taught that guy how to fly?)
Each year brings more girls and boys.
How many of them can we bring toys?

As the song ended on the first lyric, the pace of the pullers slowed back from the hypnotic march. The rest of the group was silent, then broke out in applause at the wonderful song sung by the filly.

Brandi turned to Glytch. “See, not everything is the same half-dozen damn stupid carols you hear at the mall every time – with THIS crowd you should have known better!” She kissed him on the forehead and said “Stop being such a grump!” and then hugged him, leaving her arm over his shoulder and pulling herself in close.

Cinnamon walked up next to the pullers and asked “Where did you come up with that? It’s a fantastic Christmas song.”

Dawn chuckled. “Simple. You think this is the first time I’ve pulled a sleigh? Remember where I grew up.”

Cinnamon laughed and agreed. “I forget. City folks you called us, and city folks we are. Got any others?”

Al interjected. “Let me mention here and now that a certain ice princess’ anthem that Glytch mentioned earlier will NOT be permitted, eh, Elsa? I am not in the mood for drama.”

Sterling answered “Oh, Warhose, you wound me! Would I inflict that saccharine sweetness on this wonderful, wholesome Currier and Ives moment you have inflicted upon us?” With that she held her hand over her heart with the most mournful expression she could manage – which moved the old engineer not one whit.

“Maaaage….do not try my patience. I may not have a pack of wolves handy but I have no compunctions about heaving you into a snowbank if need be.”

Al heard in his mind, Keep right on digging Warhorse.

Sterling heard the mental chuckle, Bring it Elsa.

She then set to with a sweet, yet impish grin.

Al, not yet noticing her grin, had a sudden frission of icy cold run down his spine that had nothing to do with the weather.

She turned to Brandi and whispered something, which terminated in giggles. It was then that Al noticed her grin. "Bugger," he thought.

Snapping her fingers, Brandi's outfit transformed into a form-fitting velvet gown trimmed in white fur, white fur stole around the shoulders, and shiny black heeled boots completing the look.

Sterling waved at Al sheepishly as her outfit turned into a similar style, drew her finger to her lips in a perfect, "Shhh!", as they turned the perfect shade of icy-toned red.

With a final snap, the sound of a gramophone needle touching vinyl began, a slinky intro began playing in the air.

Sterling grinned, and began to sing:

"Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree for me
Been an awful good girl
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight"

Brandi continued where Sterling left off:

"Santa baby, a '54 convertible too, light blue
I'll wait up for you, dear
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight"

Together they winked and sang together, voices blending harmoniously:

"Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the fellas that I haven't kissed
Next year I could be also good
If you'll check off my Christmas list"

Sterling picked up the next verse, and so it continued:

"Santa baby, I want a yacht and really that's not a lot
Been an angel all year
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight"


"Santa honey one thing I really do need, the deed
To a platinum mine
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight"


"Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex and checks
Sign your 'x' on the line
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight"

Together again:

"Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me"


"Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing, a ring"


"I don't mean on the phone
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight"

Together with a wink, and a blown kiss:

"Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry, tonight"

Again the applause from the crowd was loud and long. Sterling said "Let me change your outfit back, Brandi." and Brandi demurred, saying "No, I kind of like the look, eh, Glytch?" she purred into the hoodie by his ear.

While Glytch's answer may not have been audible, Al could detect the emotional state of a blush battling with frustration at having a carol stuck in his head with ease, and chuckled quietly at the scientist's bemusement. If anyone could break his brain, it was Brandi.

The ride continued, with the camaraderie, songs and laughter spreading around the sleigh like a warm blanket.

However, far too soon despite the warm clothing and lap rugs the occupants wore, the humans in the sleigh began to get chilled. The lack of movement combined with the chill air added up to discomfort, and Al asked the pullers to head back toward the mansion.

Even the four-legged participants grew tired - walking in snow is hard work even with hooves, and a warm coat helps but does not render its wearer impervious to the cold.

Daisy walked up next to the sleigh, her chests heaved from the exertion, and she looked a bit tired. “Al, I love this, but I’m getting tired and a little cold. Time to head back for the house and a cup of tea?”

Al nodded, and shivered as well. “A lovely thought, dear. I’ve asked Rosalita to put together dessert for us, with plenty of coffee, tea and cocoa. I think that to be the perfect end to the ride, especially by the fireplace in the great room. Agreed?”

“Agreed, love.” she said as she held her hand out for his. He took it and gently kissed the back and they separated again.

“Rowdy, Dawn, can you head for the equipment barn? I’d prefer not to leave the sleigh outdoors if you think we can back it in.”

“Hell, Al – worse to worst we can pick it up and carry it in. It doesn’t weigh that much, and there’s plenty of us.” Greg added, and Glytch and Sledge agreed.

“Very good, and quite true. However, I think our stalwart team can push it in especially if we dismount before we do.”

A few minutes’ travel saw the sleigh and its occupants back at the shed, and Rowdy and Dawn, with a few false starts, managed to push the sleigh back onto the planks. At that Al and Sledge unharnessed them and hung the leatherwork on the sawhorses placed for it.

Laughing, hugging and supporting each other (for the ground was slippery) the group headed for the great room and promised refreshment. Al and Sledge, mindful of the condition of the centaur tack, made sure to support it so that it would dry properly – later that day Al would be out to clean it and ensure it was properly cared for.

Finally they finished and headed for the house. As they left the shed Sledge stopped, looking over the frozen meadows, their windbreaks of bare maples standing sentinel and sleeping till the weather warmed.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sledge was startled as Al spoke softly, a few paces away. Wryly, Sledge appreciated the caution the old man showed, and appreciated the consideration.

“Yes. Very peaceful, though damn cold.” Sledge shrugged down into the jacket, though he was chilled but hardly frozen.

“Given the amount of work that’s been done here to get it that way, it’s quite deliberate. It always was peaceful here with the water and wind keeping it that way, but the work of Sterling’s clan and others has made it truly a haven.

“I know this is not home for you, but you are welcome here whenever you wish. I am here, Sterling can be…and we care. Keep that in mind.” Al stepped forward and gently clapped the other mage on the shoulder.

“Don’t stay out too long. There’s coffee, tea, cocoa and people who appreciate your company by a roaring fire – and that is the best celebration of the day.

“Happy Solstice, Sledge.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by FreeFlier » Mon Dec 23, 2019 2:14 pm

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:



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Just Old Al
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:02 pm

FreeFlier wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 2:14 pm
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:


Next time I'll warn you and Wolf-Who-Watches earlier and we can re-enact the Russian aristocracy tossing peasants to the wolves to make the sleigh faster... :)

I will make sure any peasants tossed are well-armed with toasted squeakers.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by FreeFlier » Mon Dec 23, 2019 4:07 pm

Her pack's preferred attack in such situations is the dreaded cold-wet-nose poke!.


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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Warrl » Mon Dec 23, 2019 9:07 pm

The Soundtrack Album:

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen

Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow

December of Cambreadth

Santa Baby

Aside: December of Cambreadth is a parody of March of Cambreadth. Which is seriously not a Christmas song.

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Just Old Al
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Just Old Al » Mon Dec 23, 2019 9:42 pm

Warrl wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 9:07 pm
The Soundtrack Album:

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen

Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow - from the album "Broadsword"

December of Cambreadth

Santa Baby

Aside: December of Cambreadth is a parody of March of Cambreadth. Which is seriously not a Christmas song.
FTFY...the version of "Jack Frost" on Broadsword is much better...

THANK YOU - this is a fantastic idea!
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."

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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by jwhouk » Mon Dec 23, 2019 11:50 pm

The ultimate irony is that the original version of "Santa Baby" was done by Eartha Kitt - who I believe Pablo has admitted to being something of an inspiration for Brandi's look.

Oh, and I believe that the lyric is the possessive form of Tiffany and Co. (Tiffany's)
"Character is what you are in the dark." - D.L. Moody
"You should never run from the voices in your head. That's how you give them power." - Jin

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Sgt. Howard
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Re: Solstice 2019

Post by Sgt. Howard » Thu Dec 26, 2019 10:15 pm

Shoulda added THIS one... patience, it starts out slow-
Rule 17 of the Bombay Golf Course- "You shall play the ball where the monkey drops it,"
I speak fluent Limrick-
the Old Sgt.

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