photo from Pexels by artist Erik Mclean
a short story by Joshua Brown
In between the rows of towering shelves stacked high with toys and glittered gifts sat a little boy, furiously reading a book. I couldn’t tell what book it was but it must have been a good one. His brows were furrowed and his shoulders hunched. He was sitting cross legged with his back against one of the large boxes of children’s paint supplies. The bright Christmas colors of the boxes around him contrasted with his simple gray jacket and barely blue jeans (they were very faded.)
A child walked past with eyes darting around, taking in all the sights and the gentle hum of Christmas music wafted through the store, adding to the mysterious magic of collective culture mixed with a basic consumerism that valued human experience over fiscal conservatism. I snapped. Why was I overthinking during this magical moment? Here in front of me was a child, happily consumed with a fake world, an alternate universe of make believe and yet I demanded of myself a deep muted reality.
Actually, no. I’m leaving.
I sat down beside the little boy who was shaken out of his trance for a moment. I grabbed his book and began to read.
Flowers danced along the hallway. Their gentle petals waved as they ran. One called out and they all, unified, began to shift, undulating as they went, until finally they collapsed into a giant heap, together, tired from their frolicking.
The roses made their way back to the kitchen, laughing until their heads exploded in a violent confetti of their petals. That was it. Their mirth ended so quickly, but, God, were they happy. You could see outside, the bees were unfazed by the raucous and explosive merriment from inside the building.
There were only stained glass windows. And the sun shining through the jagged pieces gave a unique color scheme to each building. But there were only a few in between the large expanses of open fields that stretched across the horizon.
Instead of wild beautiful flowers, humans grew in the fields. Their feet were planted deep into the soil. The wind blew through their long greasy hair and their arms swayed gently as if to say hello to all the little flower boys and girls.
Bells rung in the distance, warning any intruder flower-eaters that the community was unified around common beliefs and that they would defend their own, no matter how short lived their lives were.
I woke up, laying on the floor of a dark department store aisle. No music, no children. The book was still in my hand. I sat up and looked around, a bit dazed for a few minutes. I walked to the entrance. Outside it was clearly dark, who knows how late it was. I took a few wrinkled dollars out of my pocket and placed them on the register and carried the book with me out into the night.
Snow was coming down pretty hard. But it was incredibly quiet. And no wind.
The parking lot was covered in several inches of snow, maybe even a half a foot at this point and I carefully walked back to the bus stop. As I walked the shadows of the parking lot street lamps followed me, almost as if they were detectives, keeping track of where I went and making sure I didn’t get up to no mischief.
I sat down on the bench. Thankfully there was a shelter, not all the bus stops had a shelter. The snow piled up right near my feet. The red boots I was wearing stood out in the kind of white, kind of gray shadowland that I had woken to. When was the bus coming? I opened the book, but this time the pages were blank.
The flowers eternally continued their birthing process. From new sprout to wilted leaves and fading stem, they steadily moved on, happy with their lives. When the rain came, they rejoiced. When the sun came, they danced. When the wind came, they exercised their core muscles.
But that was it.
They lived. They died.
No need to write it in a book. They existed and that was all that mattered.
I pretended to read for a little while, but really I was thinking.
I was doing it again. Thinking rather than doing. I stood up and began to dance in the snow.
As I danced, something began to happen. The snowflakes began to dance with me, their motions affected by mine. In the distance, I could see the bus headlights peering through the snowstorm. I danced harder, there was no music but the music inside my head. It was mostly bells and maybe a flute. My hands and feet were the percussion and the snowflakes were the backup singers.
The bus stopped and the light poured out when the driver opened the door. But I didn’t stop dancing. The driver was unimpressed but as I kept dancing and because the bus was empty and the snowstorm was strong, finally he came out to join me and his dance was even more joyous than mine.
We were two crazy people dancing in at least 6 inches of snow, in the middle of the night, outside of a closed department store with a book with blank pages as our only inspiration.
There was one flower that stood out from the rest. His petals were so incredibly shiny and his stem so incredibly strong that even the stiffest wind couldn’t bend him. Some of the flowers wanted to be like him, but nearly all of the flowers just didn’t care.
As each generation passed, the pretty flower remained. Plastic flowers don’t die.
We were exhausted and collapsed into the snow, our faces red with exhilaration, our bodies steamy from exertion, and our smiles large from exploration. The bus door looked at us in wonder, but nobody could be seen for miles in this quiet deserted hour.
We stood up and as I went to give the bus driver a hug, I paused because I recognized his face. The bus driver was the little boy that I had read the book with in the department store. I looked in the mirror and realized that I was no longer the young man that sat on the floor with the little boy with the gray jacket. I was an old man. My hairs although white with snow was also gray with age.
And as we hugged, I imagined what it would be like to be an old dusty book.
Thanks for reading "Christmas Time." If there was one aspect of the idea of "sin" that I feel like was misrepresented to me as a child, it was the idea that "sin nature" was unique to children and that adults somehow had this amazing power to not be influenced or even controlled by "sin nature." So I began to self censor, by choice, admittedly, but that only led to many disastrous consequences. If "sin nature" is human, than ALL of us have it, including the people that moralize things like music, clothing and all manner of preferential and aesthetical matters.
Anyways, I've written quite a bit over the years and would love for you to check out more of my writings. My most recent post is called "Was Jesus a Spy?" and is a bit of a thought experiment and collage of all the things I've learned about spycraft, propaganda and religion. I think it's super interesting anyways.
Thanks again for reading! I would love to hear your feedback. Do you prefer fiction? Poetry? Let me know here in the comments or on Telegram or Facebook. I did go back on Twitter recently, but only to snag my username, I really want nothing to do with the platform that censored and abused me.
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ps. this short story was written to Winter Lofi Holiday Mix 2022 from lofi geek