By John Thomas Tuft

It was a long, wearying journey. I arrived at my destination late at night, seeking lodging in a run-down inn, The Motel Calvinia. The Corrs were singing “Breathless” as I steered the pickup into the raggedy looking lot, the dogs were quietly sleeping the sleep of the virtuous—as all dogs do on Christmas Eve—and when Neil Diamond started singing “Lonely Looking Sky” my half blue tick hound, Jake, woke up, licked my hand and went back to sleep. Journeys have beginnings and ends, as does life itself. As I collected the key and made my way to the room, the Hooters were swinging to “And We Danced,” the closest thing to Christmas music I wanted that evening. The dogs needed no convincing that it was time for bed, other than having to push them aside to make room for myself. As I fell asleep, the tones of Loreena McKennitt singing “Dante’s Prayer” filled my headphones, which may help explain what happened next.

I woke with a start, knowing it was the wee hours because, well, any hour after midnight is wee. I sensed someone else in the room and the rattle of chains gave it away. I peered into the corner and there on a chair sat the earliest incarnation of Yoda, my seminary mentor Dr. Gordon Jackson. Small, cute, white hair sticking out in tufts. He laughed and waved, setting the chains to rattle some more. “They make us wear these when we do this schtick! Pretty cool, huh?” Dumbly sleep drunk, I asked, “Am I late for class?” I also noticed that the dogs couldn’t be bothered, still snoring away. “Every generation judges the one before it while insisting they themselves do not judge,” he said in his soft voice. “Didn’t Mike and the Mechanics have that in a song?” I asked, and we both laughed. He looked me over and stroked his white Fu Manchu. “So, you’re a writer these days? Remember when I preached at your ordination? By the way, that means nothing over on this side, just so you know. I turned to your father, who I taught in seminary, and said, well, all he’s got are stories. Let’s see how that works out.” Unbidden, tears came to my eyes. “Is he okay?” Yoda/Dr. Jackson shrugged. “That’s not a soup question, now is it?” and got up and passed through the door before I could say another word, giving the chains one last playful rattle.

I fought to stay awake but before long, warm among the dogs, I slept again. “Jack. Hey Jack. Jack Goo, c’mon it’s almost Christmas.” I stirred. Blinked. Blinked again. “Sue? Susan? Wait a minute, you’ve been dead for twelve years! No chains?” She shot me a questioning look. “Chains, why the hell would I have chains?” “Never mind,” I said. “What are you doing here?” Her eyebrows went up. “Those are my dogs you keep using in your stories. I wanted to see how they’re doing.” I gulped. “Well, Britches and Petey and Jake have all died but I like keeping them around in stories.” She stood up and stretched. “I guess we could go find Mom and Dad and have memory time about Christmas. Remember when I told them I was gay and they me kicked out of the house? Good times, right?” I didn’t know what to say. She gave me her signature mischievous smile. “I’d use the f word but then you might need a trigger warning! Take care of my dogs, brother.” She turned to go, turned back. “I’m sorry about your pain, Jack.” I reached for her. “I’m sorry about yours, Putt.” As she faded from view I heard her say, “You get one more tonight.”

I sank into the chair where she’d been sitting and stared at the bed. One more tonight? I hit the play button and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Don Quixote” filled the room. My eyes got heavier as I fought to stay awake. When my eyes snapped open, Eva Cassidy was singing “Songbird.” On the bed was a vision of beauty, a young woman of perhaps 13. She was lost in a dance, leaping and twirling, laughter tripping from bright eyes. I watched, mesmerized, not recognizing her from my past. When the music stopped, she collapsed onto the bed and the dogs slobbered all over her, vying for attention. “Who are you?” I asked. She laughed easily. “Don’t you recognize me? I’m Poopsie.” I couldn’t breathe for a moment. “Poopsie?” More laughter. “Yes, silly man. It’s Christmas Eve. You always share my story with your readers on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t going to miss this one!” She perched on the edge of the bed. “I’m hungry, got anything to eat?” “Spirits can eat?” She shot me a puzzled look. “What’s a spirit?” I handed her the ever-present bag of M&Ms.

I watched her devour a handful. “This is all imagination?” I asked. “What isn’t?” came her reply. “Be it spirits, or afterlife, or faith, or any of it, for that matter?” she went on after another handful. She nodded to the pen and paper on the nightstand. “Don’t read this story. When the real Christmas Eve comes this year, don’t read this story. Live that one.” She grabbed the bag of candy and made to leave. “Merry Christmas.” A pause, then, “Next year I’m asking if I can use the chains!”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.