A Christmas Short Story
Austin swung his blue and white wings smooth and slow through the air to hover over a tall Christmas tree anchored to cinder blocks on dry red ground. The homemade ornaments made from tongue depressors, colored paper and sprinkled with glitter hung on the thin branch tips and swayed in the breeze from his wings. He turned the best side of the ornaments out before hanging them, they were not fancy but meant something special to each of their makers here in the desert. Nachpi, the old weathered Indian below him, looked like he was reaching too far off his ladder to string lights around the tree and about to fall.
Piper flew down right beside him and landed hard, kicking up a cloud of red dust around her boots. She cradled a dangling Monument Valley ornament about to fall off the tip of a branch. “Hey Austin! Your down wash is going to knock my ornament off. Scoot over.”
Austin moved to the other side. “Well, you put it on that little branch. It was going to fall off anyway.”
Piper curled the ornament’s thin wire hook around the branch. “I like it right here. I can see my family’s picture better. I can’t believe it’s been three months since we took this, it feels like they were just here.”
Jen flew wide circles above him in the moonlight sky under her black and white wings with a long string of popcorn trailing behind her like a knotty ribbon. “Hey Austin, move over. I’m ready to drop the popcorn on. Nachpi, you ready?”
The old Indian nodded and dragged the ladder away, jerking it over the rough red rock ground. He reached under the tree and clipped the light string wires to a dirty car battery. The colored lights sparkled in the tree and provided the only man-made light in their dark corner of the Navajo Nation. The battery was essential, no power outlets were anywhere close to this area. The nearest ones were miles away where the tourists stay.
Austin back winged away. Last year Jen tangled more of the popcorn string on him than the tree. She wasn’t as good of a flyer back then but now, she can blast through the red rock arches and leave anyone struggling to keep up.
Jen descended and made wide turns over the tree until the curving popcorn string behind her circled over it. Her tail feathers snapped up as her wings twisted and down stroked hard, sending her vertical into a spiral. She ascended fast, corkscrewing the popcorn string behind her. She spun six times and let go of the string, letting it fall and encircle the tree.
The popcorn string fell somewhat in place. Most of it made it on the tree this year. Austin landed and wrapped the bottom part around that missed.
Jen hovered above and clapped, “Yes, got most of it this time.”
Piper took off and ascended to Jen. “Hey Jen, can you help me at the Hogan for a minute?”
“Sure. Oh, is it time for that?”
Piper chuckled and led Jen away into the dark sky.
Nachpi gave Austin a big white translucent star. “Here, this is the topper. It’s new, so don’t drop it.”
“Thanks. This is going to look nice. Too bad no one else can see this but us.” Austin flew up and tried sliding it on the flimsy top branch. It bent over, almost letting the topper slide off. Austin took the star off and bent the branch in half then shoved it back into the topper. It seemed stiff enough to stay up straight this time.
Nachpi shuffled around the tree, hunched over from age. “Oh, you’d be surprised how many Avians will see this around the world remotely. I’m going to the Hogan, these old human feet hurt. Finish hanging the ornaments will ya?”
Austin picked up a few more ornaments and heard Piper land with a thump behind the tree. Her landing was as distinctive as her voice. “Hey Piper, want to help me finish putting these last ornaments up? We’re almost done.” He looked up and froze in place when Piper walked around the tree.
Piper playfully eyed Austin. Small red tassels hung off the top of her wings. A small gold bow pulled back her hair. A gaudy pair of tall red boots went up to her knees. The short red skirt and vest trimmed in white covered just enough. “I think we should take a break and enjoy the lights.”
Chris landed next to Austin and stared at her with his voice trembling. “How did you get that outfit? Did you go off reservation? You’ll get in trouble for that.”
Piper nudged the bow on top her head straight. “No, I got it through the mail. Nachpi picked up the package and brought it to the Hogan, he didn’t know what it was. Do you like it Austin?”
Austin stuttered and choked back a cough. His body froze and could barely nod a response, “Well, uh, yeah. It, uh, looks great on you.” Piper rarely showed skin except when swimming, which was never since arriving in the desert. She seemed to know where his eyes wondered and pulled her red vest down until the white fluffy trim covered her belly button. Chris just looked innocently surprised.
Piper yelled over to the Hogan, “Jen, are you changed yet?”
“Sure am. Ta-dah!” Jen hopped out wearing red tunic that looked like an old dress with a white rope tied around the middle. Red and white candy stripe stockings were pulled up over her knees, a green elf hat sat limp on her head, and glittery green shoes finished out her costume. “Hey guys, how do I look?” She jumped in the air and twirled, showing off her outfit.
Chris elbowed Austin and whispered, “What’s going on? Why are the girls dressed up? Do we have to dress up too?”
Austin lowered his head. “No, but you better say you like Jen’s outfit or Piper will pummel you.”
Chris whispered, “Got it.” He smiled big and ran up to Jen. “Jen, you’re so cute. The best looking little flying elf I know.”
Jen giggled, “I know you’re lying. You always say my outfits don’t match.”
Piper slipped up by Austin and hooked her arm in his. “So, if you’re done with the tree would you like to come to Hunt’s Mesa with me?”
Chris looked excited at Piper. “Can I come too? We can see the lights from there.”
Piper smiled at Chris and pinched his cheek. “Not this time big guy, I have to give Austin his Christmas present. Why don’t you and Jen finish the tree?”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Ugh, go away. We’ll finish it.” Chris grabbed the bag of ornaments and took off with Jen, tossing ornaments in the air over the tree that she skillfully caught and zipped down to hang on the tree with care.
Piper nodded toward the sky, “You ready?”
Austin grinned, “Yes, after you.”
Piper took off and ascended toward the Mesa. Austin’s heart leapt when he looked up, he felt like such a perv but couldn’t help it. He sighed right away, he should have known she would wear black shorts underneath her skirt. He launched and followed her across the dark desert.
Piper flared her wings wide and landed on the edge of the Mesa. She raised her tail feathers and sat on the dry and creaky bench Nachpi placed there years ago overlooking the Valley. She patted the seat. “Sit here. Now, this isn’t much, but I wanted to give you something for saving my life twice earlier this year. I’m not the best girl for giving thanks I know, but I do, er…want you to know, I want us to always stick together.” Piper reached in her vest pocket and pulled out a small box. She pushed it in Austin’s hands and blushed.
“Thanks Piper. I feel bad though, I don’t have yours yet.”
Piper blushed again, “Don’t worry about it, this is a surprise. We never gave each other presents before anyway.”
Austin smiled and unwrapped the box. He cracked it open and found something shiny inside reflecting the moonlight. He pulled out a polished silver feather necklace that sparkled. “Oh Piper, this is amazing.” He ran his fingers across the engraved barbs and found the Maker’s mark on the back. One of the Navajo Silversmiths made it. He lifted it over his head and hung it around his neck.
Piper leaned over and rested her forehead against his. She ran her fingers through his hair. “You needed something nice. You never wear a watch or rings.”
“Thank you Piper, I’ll wear it always.” Austin put his wing around her and pulled her into a kiss. She snuggled into his wing feathers as her lips moved soft and slow.
Below them, colored lights sparkled on the Christmas tree. They held each other tightly as they watched Chris and Jen dance around the tree singing about Rudolf, also a decent flier according to the song.
“Merry Christmas Austin.” Piper nestled her head against his neck.
Austin kissed her forehead. He loved the scent of flowers in her hair. His blue & white wings curled around her and glowed softly in the moonlight.
She squeezed him and giggled at the off-key but happy singing below. “I think this is a good first Christmas in our new home and I’m glad we made it here. I just wish our families could visit more often.”
Austin felt a hot tear land on his arm. “I bet they feel the same, but I’m sure they wouldn’t change anything to have us here safe right now.”
Piper sniffled. “Yeah, too bad they didn’t have wings so they could stay.”
“Hopefully someday the hunting will stop and it won’t matter anymore.” Austin tightened his wings around Piper and kissed the top of her head. “We’ll get stronger in our magic and make it happen.”
Piper sniffled. “I’m going to make that my New Year’s resolution, to find my magic and get powerful enough so our families can be together again.”
“I agree, let’s talk to Nachpi tomorrow.”
Piper patted his chest. “Yes, let’s do. Next Christmas I want to be with Mom and Dad. Yours too.”
Austin held Piper and gazed at the tree. Nachpi would help, wouldn’t he?