Christmas Land the novel is coming to Amazon this Christmas season. You can be the first to read it here on Tripp Blog. Please be advised that this version is the rough draft, so suggested corrections or typos are appreciated and can be emailed to the following: email@example.com
“I’m serious; it really talked to me,” Candy exclaimed. Her real name was Candace, but everyone called her candy.
“Yup, okay. I hung out with the monster under my bed last night. We drank some hot coco and played on our phones for a good hour or so,” Cindy replied to her friend.
“Cindy, I’m serious.” Candy let her know she wasn’t joking around.
A moment of silence went by.
And then another as Cindy steadily steered on the evening road. She finally responded, “Was this a real snowman? Like made of snow or someone in a costume?”
Candy pulled back her curly, blonde hair back to explain, “I was walking back home from checking my mailbox, and I went past Mr. Elwood’s old house—you know, Grace’s late grandfather—and there was a snowman in the front yard, probably made by the Gustafson’s kids. So I walk past it, and I hear in a voice that was more in my head but not my own say—.”
“What the heck!” Cindy yelled as she slammed on her breaks. The cute car slid wildly on the icy asphalt until it crunched into a short wall of fresh snow. “Stupid idiots on their phones!”
The two got out of the tiny, red car that Cindy got five years ago when she was in high school. After examining it for damage, she saw it was just a little powder snow that she had ran into. The car in front of them had driven off like nothing had happened. The two girls got back into their car and drove off, talking about how they just almost died.
Cindy dropped Candy off in her front yard. It was almost night now, and Candy’s foot slid a little on the icy sidewalk as she began to walk to her house.
“Shopping tomorrow after work?” Cindy asked.
“Of course, but let’s go down to West Gate again.” West Gate was a large mall about 45 minutes out of town down in the valley.
“Stay dandy, Candy!”
“See you, skinny Cindy.”
Cindy wasn’t the skinny, little girl from their childhood, but the nick name stuck. She had filled out into a still thin but womanly figure, her eyes large and blue with mid-length, wavy, light brunette hair. She had always secretly envied Candy’s golden curls since her own blonde hair darkened and straightened when became a teen. But she hated her nose. It wasn’t the cute button nose that other girls had; it was long and pointed—not ugly but just unique.
Cindy pulled off back into the street as snow began to lightly fall onto her windshield. As she passed the Gustafson’s house, she looked across the street to the abandoned house where her old friend’s grandfather once lived. Grace had grown up with Cindy and Candy but had gone off to college by the beach and never returned to their little, country town of Timberton Heights, as a lot of young people did. When the old man died, no one moved into the house, and it slowly died too.
The Gustafson family were a different group of people. The husband and wife had five children, and like their parents, every single child had fiery red hair and a face full of freckles. They always seemed to get into any mess they could find. A few years ago, they started kidnapping dogs and then waited for reward signs to go up in the town. As soon as the signs went up, one of the children happened to find the lost dog and happily collected the reward. After several dogs people began catching on, and the kids were eventually found out. The owners of the kidnapped dogs demanded their money back from Mr. And Mrs. Gustafson’s, but no one ever received anything.
As Cindy glanced in her rear-view mirror, she noticed a peculiar snowman—sticks for hands like he was waving, rocks for eyes, carrot for nose, and an old scarf wrapped around its neck. It even had an old top hat like the epic children’s tale. She thought if it just had a corn cob pipe, it might even come to life.
At 10:00 that night, a buzzing came from Cindy’s phone on her nightstand. It was a text from Candy’s mother asking if Candy was with her.
Cindy sat in bed that night disappointed that she had nothing helpful to offer Candy’s mother. Candy didn’t have a car. She didn’t appear to be texting anyone else that night. Cindy and Candy shared an honest friendship where she would have mentioned any plans of meeting up with anyone else. She texted Candy’s mother back an empty answer and stared at the shadows on her wall that came in through the window’s curtain from naked, swaying trees.
While the dryness of her eyes scratched against her closing lids, Cindy finally began to drift as her head weighed heavily into her pillow. Fading images flashed through her mind in the silence of her bedroom until one stuck. It was a childhood memory of her, Candy, and Grace at her elementary school’s Christmas performance when she was in the first grade. It was a special year because her class was telling the nativity story, and Cindy got to play the Christmas angel. All the other girls wanted to play Mary but not Cindy. She had no real memory of her father because he didn’t stay around after she was born. But this Christmas he was in town, and she was going to meet him for the real first time. She didn’t want to wear the rags that Mary wore. She wanted to wear the pretty white dress and the halo that the angel wore. She wanted her father to think she was beautiful and decide to stay in town to be with her.
The evening of the Christmas performance, her class was doing one final rehearsal. She, Candy, and Grace were playing near the stage, but Cindy made sure to be extra cautious not to get her white dress dirty. Their teacher moved them all backstage. Cindy peaked through the heavy side curtains and found her mother and grandmother in the audience. She looked at all the men sitting out them and wondered which one was her dad. She worried about what she would call him. Father? No, Daddy? Dad?
The teacher motioned them to move out onto the stage to take their positions. The stage lights burned bright, and all the of the audience slipped into darkness. She stood up straight and smiled from cheek to cheek like her grandma had rehearsed with her. When her lines came, she said them from memory with absolute perfection. The audience applauded cheerfully as the holy nativity was performed with such brilliant innocence. After the other classes all performed their skits, the principal made his concluding seasonal speech, and the students were released to go back with their parents. The skinny, little angel searched through the tall towers of adults looking for her mother and grandmother eager for the moment that she would see her father. Any one of the grown men around her could be him. She stood straight and walked as she had seen proper little girls on television walk, not knowing if her father was already watching her.
“Absolutely wonderful, my dear!” her grandmother bend over to hug her.
“You were the perfect angel. So beautiful,” her mother sweetly said as she got down on one knee to be on her level.
“Where’s my dad?” she asked with eyes moving back and forth to all the movement around her.
Her mother’s smile turned into a straight line. “Honey, he didn’t make it.”
His name was Jack, and he didn’t make it. That’s all she ever knew of her father. That and supposedly they had the same nose.
Just like that childhood night many years ago, this night was going to be one of those nights as well, where Cindy knew she would sleep without sleeping.
Cindy woke up to the 6:00 alarm that was set on her phone. She quickly noticed three new text messages form Candy’s mother. She scanned through them and texted her back quickly explaining how she really had no idea where Candy was. She figured their plans to go to West Gate would be canceled because Candy’s parents were going to be furious when Candy finally did come home. Although Candy was 22, living at home meant living under her parents’ rules, and staying out all night was inexcusable, if she was okay. Cindy worried a little, hoping that Candy would text soon.
Unlike Candy, Cindy lived on her own in a small apartment. The word her landlord called it was tidy. She grew up in a house with her mother and grandmother. As soon as Cindy graduated high school, her mother married a man named Zack and decided to move away to the coast, which was a few states away. They offered for her to live with them, but it all seemed too different, too weird, and she didn’t want to leave her grandma alone. She liked living at her grandma’s house. There was history to it, and it was on the outskirts of town. The backyard opened up to trees and mountains, and there was an old wedding alter back there that was once hung over her grandma and her grandpa some long history ago. Through years of rain, snow, wind, and sun, her grandma added support to it in the winter and grew vines and flowers on it during the spring. She always called it her magical doorway to the past. She would sometimes go out just to stand under it and smile as if she could see a world of past memories.
Last November, her grandmother suffered a sudden heart attack. She spent three weeks in the hospital trying to cover, but her body began to fail one part at a time until there was no hope.
That house now lay abandoned.
Cindy didn’t want to leave Timberton Heights; she didn’t want to leave her past. She moved into her apartment when her mother sold the family house to an investor from out of town, but no one ever moved into it. No one visited it. It now joined the collection of the other abandoned houses in Timberland that were left to ruin until the land was worth enough to tear down and build something else.
Mostly alone now, Cindy refused to leave her hometown. The original buildings that lined the downtown area contained both wooden logs and red brink, and they made up most of the downtown area with the mom and pop stores and restaurants. Hills and mountains surrounded the town with snowy caps for half the year. This year, Timberton Heights had already experienced early snow that came right after Thanksgiving, making the town already feel like Christmas.
Cindy’s grandmother, who she called Nana loved Christmas, and Timberton Heights was what people called a Christmas town. Cindy had a year to prepare on how she would celebrate Christmas this year without Nana. She finally decided on putting up a waist-high Christmas tree in her apartment, a wreath on the front door, and a few other Christmassy decorations around the small space, which wasn’t much at all compared to how Nana would decorate. But like Nana, she did put out cinnamon scented pinecones, which made her white-walled space feel a little more like home.
It was 6:15 now, and she finally pushed through her weighing blankets to get out of bed. She turned on her Christmas tree lights and went to her refrigerator for a class of cold milk, ignoring the cold chill that broke through the thin walls of her apartment. She stared at the colorful lights on the little tree, and thought about how Nana would be proud of her. After making her bed and waking up in a warm shower, and getting ready for the day, she stepped out into a few inches of fresh powder snow. The streets were already plowed, so she would be fine getting to work this Friday morning.
She worked for a small app development company that was working hard to take off. They were called Alter Dimensions, and they were the most technological company in the town of Timberton Heights. The town was known for its distribution of firewood throughout the country, so an app company was rare and unusual. There were only five employees who were a part of Alter Dimensions. Cindy was one of the two graphic designers, so she spent most of her time behind a computer screen on Adobe Illustrator meticulously creating vector images for every part of the company’s newest app.
Alter Dimensions’ work space was simple with one enclosed office for the owner Cliff and open wide desks for the rest of the employees. Cliff was about forty and known for his multitasking. He always appeared to be busy but not necessarily always productive. The other graphic designer in the office was Tyler Jamison. People called him TJ. It wasn’t really shorter than Tyler, but it’s what people did called him. He was really into video gaming and running his YouTube video game channel, and he always wore his red hoodie over his head. There were also two programmers who sat in the corner and didn’t really speak that much to anyone. They did the crutch of the work of the company, but you wouldn’t even know they were there most of the time.
Right before lunch the door burst open, and Mr. Woolworth came pushing through with his arms holding warm drinks. “Merry Christmas!” he hollered. “I have hot chocolates for all of you.”
Mr. Woolworth was Alter Dimensions’ main and only investor. He was in his sixties and retired. His wife ran off after her retired, and he never bothered to go after her. He was now obsessed with the youthful app company and wanted to live vicariously through its success, so he normally came in on Friday’s for a few minutes to hang out and steal some of the youth of the office.
Cindy said, “Thanks, Mr. Woolworth, but it’s only December 1st today.”
“Exactly, and the Christmas season started after Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sorry I’m late.”
TJ went for his hot chocolate, “Hey, I’m not complaining. Let’s have Merry Christmas all year long.” He lightly toasted his drink to Mr. Woolworth.
After the usual greetings, Mr. Woolworth always shared his newest idea of an app, although he barely used his own smartphone; he was still fascinated with the idea of technology and its association with youth.
“So I’ve been thinking …” is how he always started. “How about an app for walking your dog? We can call it Dog’s Best Friend. It can include GPS maps of all the streets and trails that are dog friendly.”
And after these weekly ideas that almost never got carried out, the entire team would nod and agree excitedly as if they were eager to drop everything they were doing to take on a whole new project.
What was really special about Mr. Woolworth was that he came in each year and decorated the workspace with for the Christmas season. This reminded Cindy of Nana.
During her lunch Cindy texted Candy multiple times to try to find out where she was last night. She never received a text back. She really started to worry now, but maybe Candy’s mom took away her cell phone, or maybe the battery died. She tried to reason with herself all the possibilities of why her friend wasn’t texting her back. She finished out her long day with all of this on her mind and went home.
It was one of those Friday nights that you look forward to until it actually arrives because you remember that there’s nothing to do. There wasn’t really much to do at all for a single girl in her twenties in Timberton Heights. Cindy decided that she would walk around the corner to the local bookstore. At least she wouldn’t be alone.
She crunched her way through the flattened snow as it reflected street lights mixed with the Christmas colors on houses nearby. This street, like many streets in Timberton Heights during the Christmas season, exhibited stringed Christmas decorations hung across it, garland with bells and angels; the decorations varied from street to street.
The bookstore was an old bank building converted into a welcoming bookstore. Different rooms were set up for different genres of literature. This was an amusing setup that the locals in town enjoyed, especially since the horror and suspense novels were kept in an old safe with the thick door unhinged but still leaning against the wall for nostalgic purposes. As Cindy walked through the bookstore, the old wooden floor creaked with every step and even sank in a little. A section of the bookstore featured used books that smelled like ancient libraries, but most of the books in the store were new.
She walked around as her hand lighted grazed the illustrated covers on the bookshelves. She thought about all the stories. Each with a character. Each someone a little bit like her. She wondered if she would ever have a story, or would she just design apps for people to entertain themselves to escape life a little more.
A Christmas display caught her eye, and near the top of the display was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, along with other popular classics like The Gift of the Magi and Twas the Night Before Christmas. Elaborate Christmas cards sat at the bottom on the display featuring scenes of painted snow and lights—not too different than Timberton Heights. It was littles things like this that made Cindy like her town, and if Nana were there with her, she would marvel at the display with her and probably comment about the first time she read A Christmas Carol and talk about an old Christmas painting that her father once painted that was similar to the cards.
Cindy couldn’t image a Christmas without snow, especially one at the beach. Yes, she enjoyed the beach in the summer and definitely went out to visit her mother and stepdad, but it was Christmastime, and at Christmastime she wanted to be in a Christmas Land. Nana understood this; her mother, not so much. This brought Cindy an odd sense of abandonment—not because her mother moved away but because she actually didn’t care too much for Christmas.
Cindy would agree with her mother that the snow was sometimes hard to live in, and it was definitely cold, but that’s what brought people together—the cold.
Christmas was an odd sort of paradoxical holiday for Cindy. What should have been a dark, cold, and bleak time of year was actually warm, as people would come out and be with each other around a fire. It was colorful, as people put up bright lights that reflected off the snowy grown to create even more light. It was hopeful and full, and streets, homes, yards, malls were all decorated with icons of seasonal stories that pointed to hope for all.
Yes, this was Christmas.
Where people say, “God bless us, every one!”
Where people sing that war is over.”
Where people dream of the pure snow washing over the town.
Where people go rockin’ around the Christmas tree.
It truly was the most wonderful time of year.
But Cindy looked around the bookstore and didn’t see anyone. The music that was on when she first walked into the store was turned off. She thought that maybe they were closing.
It was silent now.
She decided to go back home.
Cindy was careful not to slip on the outside sidewalk that was bordered with snow. As she walked only a few cars drove by, and it felt much darker than it had before. Her footsteps echoed on the cold concrete. Her hands sunk deeply into her coat pocket, wrapping her coat tightly around her.
She felt something nearby.
But when she looked, it was nothing.
Her speed increased, and she glanced more quickly this time to find a figure behind. She looked around for nearby cars or other people walking on the street, but there was nothing.
Her body shivered with the cold. She looked behind her again to check on the figure. It appeared to be a man in deep, dark clothing, hood hanging far over his face.
She sharply turned the corner of her street and walked even faster.
The figure did the same.
Her shoes tapping the ground echoed off the quiet building walls, and the sound soon doubled with his. Looking over her shoulder one last time, he was there.