Hello once again, on this fine Friday (If it’s Friday when your reading this) and not so coincidentally, on this fine Christmas (if it’s still Christmas). Since I figured why not, I decided for these past days to write based on the theme of Christmas, and thus have produced a few Christmas-ey stories, although, I would digress, I almost never stick to my plans. So as you will read on this story, this supposed “Christmas” story, it may not actually have much relevance and only a small connection. But still, what’s done is done and hey I like what I write so that’s why I write it, right? But less on that, this little short story actually was not supposed to be like this, as in, have this ulterior world and can actually branch into a full on story all on it’s own, but lately I have been trying to make short stories that are more than it is, so that they have in a sense full fledged worlds. Which is something I’ll probably experiment more on. But yeah, Merry Christmas If you celebrate it, if you don’t well, hey, try riding the holiday wave, you may find something you haven’t before. Here you go, “Learning To Give”.
Sounds of pottery breaking and fruits smashing resounded throughout the market stalls as a band of children raced down the streets. There were two girls, and two boys, all holding bags of food and water. They ran as fast as they could, with some of their coin pouches spilling in the process.
“Damn it!” One of the boys exclaimed.
“No time! Keep moving!” One of the girls yelled over. They ignored the loss of money and kept running forward, tipping over food stalls, and making irregular turns and jumps so that their pursuers would not catch them. They were being chased by two uniformed men who had been at the scene when the theft happened. They were big, scruffy, but considerably slower than the children.
“Come on! We’ll never catch them at this rate!” The older one yelled out to his partner. The older one had been on the job ever since the chain thefts had sprung up, and had always been given the slip. His partner had just recently been assigned, and he wasn’t fairing well either.
“They’re too fast!” He cried. The men stopped in their tracks, and sighed as they watched the band of children make off with stolen goods. The older of the two planted his feet into the ground with force and took out a small notepad.
“They gave me the slip again.”
“If they keep this up, then the union will have to station more guards, right?”
“Not likely. They aren’t stealing diamonds or crests. Something like this is considered as petty theft,” the older one said as he began scrawling on his notepad.
“Petty theft is petty crime. At least to them.”
“But it’s still troublesome, isn’t it?”
“It is. It makes cleaning up after them hell,” the older one said as he looked back and inspected the chaos that the band of children brought with them.
“Brings jobs though. Keeps hands busy, and keeps people too busy to do anything else. Almost too busy. And makes people more alert.”
“So that more serious crimes won’t happen?”
“Exactly,” the older one said, smiling at his partners grasp of the situation.
“Well, we’ve got work to do.” Once the band of children had ascertained their safety, they began slowing down, allowing some of them to catch what little breath they still had.
“We’re almost there guys, come on!” Sallie said. She was the oldest of the group. She tried to wear her blonde hair down, but it didn’t manage to be much other than a pointy mess behind her. She never had the time to really manage it, at least, not by herself. Her frame was average, but some would say that she was not getting enough every day. Her face was tired, evidently tired from the dark lines underneath her eyes. She tried her best to mask it, at least, Winter did.
“We’re here!” Winter said as she raced to a house in the middle of the streets. It was a well kept house, and it served as their base of operations. She worked on her complicated lock, which Sallie complimented her on. It made their base that much more reliable, Sallie thought. Winter was the second oldest of the group. She had short light blue hair, and despite the days worth of sweat pouring down her face, she still managed to somehow keep her cheeks reddened and her lips bright. Sallie often enjoyed teasing her for her cleverness.
“Alright! Huddle in!” Winter said as she finished her lock. They all gathered inside the home and gave Winter a moment to lock the door again. Once she was done, she crouched down, and moved a carpet under a table in the living room they were in. The living room served as just that, but to them, it was more of a guise. The house was two floors, one above that served as an extra storage, and the current one that served as an entrance to their real hideout. The kitchen in the back of the house was less than functioning, and again served as a means of storage. However, it did look its part, and it would serve well to stray wary eyes.
“Caeden! We’re coming in now!” Winter said as she handled another one of her complicated locks and opened the hidden cellar door. The rest of the children descended the cellar slowly, with Winter being last. The cellar of the house was much more spacious than one would think, compromising of at least three room spaces underground: one kitchen, one living, and one bedroom. The boy named Caeden, who had been resting by the living room, reading a stolen book, looked up as they all came down. He was the youngest, but also the one with the most potential, Sallie thought. He had dark orange hair, and could come off as Royal, Winter thought.
“All those coins!” Adrian exclaimed. He was the third youngest, and had red hair with tints of brown. He was the thinnest of them all, but he was well fed. His build was just simply that, and his height would soon threaten Sallie’s. He was often praised for his agility, and is renowned amongst them for his sleight of hand. Allowing his pouch of stolen coins dump in front of him created a damper to his mood.
“You always have next time, Adrian.”
“I know, but still…”
“Don’t let it get you too down! At least we’ve got a week’s worth of food here!” Sallie showed her two bags to the band of children. They all carried two bags, and upon this realization, Adrian smiled, “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”
“Yes ma’am!” Garent replied quite amiably, which always seemed to please Sallie. Garent was only a bit younger than Adrian, but was still considered the second youngest. However, out of all of them, he probably boasted the most physical strength, and thus was ordered by Sallie to help her carry the bags to the kitchen area. Garent had pitch black hair, and was often teased by Adrian because of it.
“Hey, Sallie?” Caeden asked. They had long been done their packing, and Winter and Garent was preparing dinner. Sallie was looking intently at a map she had scrawled on the table in the middle of their living room, while Adrian was sitting nearby, fiddling away at a stolen deck of cards. Their living room was quite normal, and served well to keep them within reaches of humanity as their stolen home is a deterioration of that.
“What’s up Caeden?” Sallie kept her eyes fixed on her map.
“We have a calendar now, right?” It took Sallie a few moments to think, but Adrian had answered before she could, “We do.”
“And it’s December now, right?” Sallie took a few more moments to think, and again, Adrian had answered before she could, “Yeah. December second today. Yesterday was the first.”
“Why the questions?” Sallie finally asked.
“I was reading in this book,” Caeden made a motion to stick his book out in front of him. Sallie looked up for only a second to glance at the cover. Adrian played with his deck of cards while he looked at the cover, trying his best to read it.
“Traditions And Events.” Sallie managed to answer before Adrian this time, leaving her record one to two. She smiled at that thought. A one lead wasn’t too bad, she thought.
“If I remember correctly,” Sallie began, “December was the month for Christmas.”
“Christmas?” Adrian asked.
“Something about a man on a stake, I think,” Sallie meekly replied.
“Christmas is on the twenty fifth day of December. It says here that it is common for people on that day to exchange gifts with their friends and family,” Caeden said as he traced the book with his eyes.
“You exchange gifts? You mean like, you give someone something, and they give you something back?” Adrian said in confusion.
“What makes that Christmas day any different than trade day? That happens at the beginning and end of each week, but this day is only once a year. Makes no sense.”
“It says that Christmas is filled with joy. People you wouldn’t normally see doing nice things start being nice! It’s a day filled with happiness in the air.” Sallie marked a few locations on her map before finally looking up at Caeden.
“Right. I know about this day,” Sallie began, “Used to do it in the old regime. Not so much anymore. Can’t say we’ll even get any snow.”
“Snow?” Adrian asked. Caeden seemed to have already read about the concept of snow, and wasn’t as surprised as Adrian.
“Old news,” Sallie simply replied, “A phenomena caused by weather.”
“A special weather pattern only for Christmas?” Adrian said skeptically.
“Used to be like that. The whole month would turn white, and the air would be chillingly cold. You would begin seeing your breath and every step you take would be heavy.”
“Sounds like a dose of Cloud,” Adrian nonchalantly replied.
“It does. But back then, when it was Christmas day, that’s how it would be.”
“How do you know all this anyway?” Adrian asked.
“We only got this book recently, and I don’t remember you reading it,” Caeden added. He was in charge of the books, so whenever someone did ask, Caeden knew. There was no secrets within their group, that was what kept them together. It was what little shred of humanity they could still muster, and they took it for everything it was.
“When you’re out there,” Sallie started, and then looked at her map once again. She traced the marks she made, and lined her fingers across different routes and streets. She always had a plan, and she was always sure to stick to it. She hated surprises, but she knew that on the job, anything could happen. She understood that the people she worked with, the people she stole from, were just that, people. And she knew that people were unpredictable.
“When you’re out there,” Salle repeated, “You hear all sorts of things. Good or bad, you hear things. That’s that.”
“But those are all rumors, aren’t they?” Adrian asked.
“Some are. Some aren’t. It’s up to the broker to figure out what’s what, and even then, they still won’t care.” Sallie looked down at her map, her eyes were filled with grief and Adrian noticed. Caeden was quiet along the way as well, and was worried for Sallie. They knew that she had went through many things that they would never come to understand. She had brought them together upon a single roof, and she had every right to be bitter, they both thought. That was Sallie.
“Dinner’s ready!” Winter shouted from the kitchen. Everyone in the living room looked instinctively at that direction, and they all had small smiles on their faces.
“Empty stomachs lead to empty minds,” Caeden said as he got up.
“Where’d you learn that?” Adrian asked.
“From a book.”
“Is there anything you don’t know?”
“I don’t know things that aren’t from books, I guess.” Caeden smiled at Adrian, and as Adrian got up, he smiled back, “Fair enough,” Adrian said, “But take a look at this.” Adrian stuck out his deck of cards in front of Caeden as they began walking towards the kitchen, preparing some kind of trick. Sallie was the last to get up and walk, her legs were weak, and her entire being was tired. She was tired.
“Where you going?” Adrian asked as Sallie got up from the living room. They were done eating, and they were all meddling around. Caeden was reading. Winter was mixing some powder together. Garent had fallen asleep, and Adrian was playing with a few loose coins. Sallie packed up her map, and had left it in a corner of the room. She wasn’t planning to leave on a mission, Adrian concluded.
“Out,” Sallie blandly replied. They didn’t have a clock or a watch to tell time, but they all had a basic grasp of time. Adrian knew that it was nighttime now, and that going out would be dangerous.
“I’ll come with you,” Adrian said. Sallie looked towards Adrian, who looked back with determined eyes. The market was still open, but the stalls were different from daytime. New and exotic goods sprung up, and there was a greater amount of guard activity during this time. They couldn’t afford to let children wander about at nighttime.
“Fine.” Sallie gave in. They both ascended the cellar, and left the house as Winter followed them to lock the doors. Sallie had told her that she would only be gone for about an hour, and to have everything unlocked by then. The nighttime air was cold, Adrian thought. It was chillingly cold, and the darkness of it all made it seem almost dream like. Adrian knew the streets very well, but from not seeing it, it made him shutter. He knew what was there, but could not see what was there. It was truly frightening for him. Adrian thought that the darkness was a disease. He thought that nighttime was a contagion. They were taught from a young age never to go out at night. And here he was, with Sallie, who didn’t seem to be at all afraid of this disease. This made it slightly more comforting.
“You can’t see, right?” Sallie asked.
“Yeah. Completely blind here,” Adrian lightly added. The thought of it was strange. The question was obvious, Adrian thought.
“We’re going to head to the market now, stay low.”
“Yeah. I have business there.” Adrian wanted to ask why, but before he could, he felt Sallie motion for him to stay quiet. She did, she placed one finger on her lips and urged him to save the questions with her eyes, although, she knew that he couldn’t see. They made their way to the market, with Sallie guiding them with her voice.
“We’re here, but careful. The guards like to make rounds in deprived streets.” Adrian looked up at the market. There were many lights on, and it seemed almost like the festivals that he read about in Caeden’s books. However, he didn’t see any guards stationed.
“They’re down there.” Sallie pointed out behind them, the direction they came from, to what seemed to be complete darkness to Adrian. Sallie could see two uniformed men making their way back up towards the market, but Adrian could not. After a few moments, the men appeared before Adrian in the low light, almost like a magic act, he thought.
“Okay, let’s get out of cover and move to the other side,” Sallie urged Adrian to move as quickly as he could. They scuttled to the other side of the market, with Sallie motioning for Adrian to follow her closely. They scaled stalls and store fronts until Sallie had finally found what she was looking for. It was a store that had two entrances, one in the front for those who were allowed, and one at the back, the one where Sallie was, for those who were not.
“What is this place?” Adrian asked.
“A place for misfits,” Sallie answered. She knocked on the door, and then waited. A slit on the door opened, and a pair of eyes fell on Sallie. The door opened shortly after, and they both entered. It was a common style pub, Adrian thought. However, the people who sat at the chairs and the people who drank the drinks were less than common. He wanted to ask what exactly and who exactly these people were, but restrained himself. He was in a different environment now. Sallie led Adrian to the main counter, where a bartender stood idly. His eyes were closed, and Adrian wondered if he was sleeping while standing.
“Regular dose; Rhodopsin.” The bartender, with his eyes still closed, reached down under the counter, and brought out a bag containing pills. Adrian had a plethora of questions, but remained silent, which was much to Sallie’s relief.
“If it isn’t miss Sallie,” a voice resounded behind them. Adrian didn’t know who to put that voice to, but Sallie instantly knew who she was. It was Mrs. Snnow, a compatriot to Sallie. They were good friends, and she was the one who introduced Sallie to this pub.
“Those drugs do you good?” Mrs. Snnow asked, pointing at the bag in front of Sallie.
“Yeah. I’m supposed to go see Mr. Flaake soon. He said that if I continue taking these, then I’ll soon be able to see the deprived without their help.”
“That’s good. Most adults can’t. But if you can, you’ll have the upper hand,” Mrs. Snnow shook Sallies head with a bright smile. She looked over to Adrian, and gave Sallie a questioning look.
“He’s with me. Don’t worry.”
“Part of your little band?” Sallie nodded. Adrian’s eyes widened, but Sallie gave him a reassuring look. They were to be trusted, Sallie tried to convey. Each and every one of the people in the pub were to be trusted. Adrian couldn’t grasp this world, nor could he grasp what Sallie was involved in. It was always like this, Adrian thought.
“They say Christmas cheer is in the air,” Mrs. Snnow said, as she took a seat at the counter. She pointed one finger up, which prompted the bartender to grab a glass and pour a pure white liquid into it.
“You mean, like in the books?” Adrian asked meekly.
“Like in the books?” Mrs. Snnow repeated mockingly. She laughed and called out to a man with one arm and one leg who was sitting at the back of the pub, “Hear that? Like in the books!” The pub resounded with laughter. Adrian immediately felt enclosed, and his every being shrunk. Sallie whispered to him, “It’s okay. They’re always like this.” Adrian swallowed his spit and took her word for it.
“That’s a good one kid, I like you. You got a name?”
“Adrian,” he answered.
“Adrian. Never heard of you. You from the slums?” Adrian nodded.
“Got no books in the slums though. Only for Royals.” Adrian didn’t answer, which prompted Mrs. Snnow to continue, “I jest. Anyway, Christmas is among us, kid. Can’t you see?” Mrs. Snnow howled in the pub, and the people roared again. Glasses collided with one another, and chairs turned and hands raised in the air. The atmosphere was so uplifting that Adrian thought he was at another pub.
“It’s Christmas, guys! Hah!” Mrs. Snnow raised her glass this time, with a big cheery smile on her face. Sallie couldn’t help but smile along with the notion, and even Adrian felt more at ease now. If in another world, Adrian truly thought that this feeling was what Christmas was. It was a feeling of joy and a feeling that everything in the world didn’t matter. Adrian was truly in the moment now, and he had been swept up in the airs of the pub.
“Is this what Christmas is like?” Adrian asked.
“Of course, Adrian! This is what Christmas is like! This is joy! This month is joyous! Be proud!”
“Can you tell me more about Christmas?” Adrian asked. Mrs. Snnow ruffled Adrian’s hair as he asked, and for the rest of the time, she told stories of Christmas. She told stories of Santa, of reindeers, and of her own encounters in Christmas. Her stories dated to a time long past, and of a time where traditions had long been passed. But they had all seemed so entrancing to Adrian. He would never forget her stories.
“Are we really going with this?” A few weeks had passed, and it was now the week of Christmas. Adrian and Sallie were on a mission together. They had stockpiled on food the week prior, and were simply out for extras. Sallie knew that it was always good to have Adrian with her. She would usually go about these extra runs by herself, but having Adrian was too much of an asset to let down.
“Don’t think you can do it?” Sallie replied back.
“No. I can do it.” They quietly watched a child, who was standing alone at the edge of a jewellery stand. He was a child of a Royal, who’s guardian was busy talking to the stand owner. The child was asked to hold onto the purse, and Sallie saw that as the perfect opportunity to snag away at some extra goods.
“But,” Adrian continued, “It’s the week of giving, isn’t it?” Sallie was brought aback by Adrian’s words. She would have never thought that the thought of compassion would spring about in Adrian when he so brazenly stole from others. The idea perplexed Sallie, and she couldn’t help but ask why.
“It’s Christmas time, isn’t it? It’s not the time to be doing these kinds of things.”
“Right. And this one day, this one week is going to atone for every other kid and every other time you’ve stolen and made someone else’s life miserable?”
“It won’t. I know that. It won’t. Whatever I do won’t ever make up for how much I’ve taken, Sallie, I know that!” Adrian’s voice threatened their position, and he knew that. He quickly calmed himself, and spoke back in his whisper.
“Nothing I ever do anymore will ever make up for what I’ve done, Sallie, but please…. allow me this one time, to at least feel like I can make this world a better place. Just this once.” Sallie looked at Adrian with sullen eyes. She got the answer she wanted, and she knew that Adrian had resolve. Above all else, that was all Adrian had. He had resolve. He was a trickster, a magician, a thief. But he had resolve. Sallie sighed, and answered, “Fine. Do what you want.”
“No. No thanks. It’s Christmas, right?”
“Yeah.” Adrian gave a warm smile to Sallie, who couldn’t help but return it. Adrian pulled out a small coin, it was a gold coin, quite a commodity around the market. He shifted forward towards the child, making sure not to make too much sound, and making sure not to fix his gaze on him. Once he was within reach, Adrian quickly shuffled towards the child, dropping the coin and a small note into the child’s pocket, while acting as if he had lost his step. He promptly apologized, and walked forward, with Sallie lagging behind.
“Royals like him don’t need compassion,” Sallie said with disgust, “But, I won’t judge. It is Christmas. The time of giving, huh?” Sallie gave Adrian a small smile and sighed.
“Except, we don’t have any friends or families to give us gifts. Only us, and only ourselves,” Sallie added.
“Even then, it’s still nice, right?” Sallie considered his words, and couldn’t help but agree. She followed Adrian to a small gift stall.
“Traditions may die hard, but, it’s up to people to relive them.”