The Return of the Magic

A Christmas Story

By: Sharon Kennison

 

 

          From his view on the porch he watched as people passed by, not paying much attention to the dark-headed cowboy sitting outside the hotel.  They had other things to think about now, things more important than a single cowboy all alone.  But this didn’t matter to the cowboy as it gave him time to watch, watch the faces and actions of the townsfolk.  He had always had a knack for reading the faces of others, a trait which had served him well during the years.  A trait born of necessity, like so many other things in his life.  He watched people and learned, who was lying, who was telling the truth, what people were thinking, or hiding.  He often used this talent at the poker table, where being able to read another’s face could make the difference between being a big winner, or dead if a bluff went wrong.  Yes, his talent had served him well, and had become second nature through the years.

          But it didn’t take a hidden talent to read people today.  People were hurrying around, tucking little packets under their arms, whispering to storekeepers and to each other, conversations ending quickly when another person walked up.  He knew without being told what was happening.  He looked up towards the sky.  It looked like it could snow.  Thick gray clouds hung low to the ground.  The sun didn’t even try to show its face, which made everything seem gloomier.  He turned up the collar of his weather beaten coat against the occasional gust of wind, which carried more than a hint of winter.

          Usually by this time of the year, he and his partner were spending time in southern Texas or New Mexico, instead of in Northern Arizona.  They had hired on to drive cattle to a ranch outside the town.  And the job had taken longer than planned.  By the time they had reached Kingman, the warm weather had departed and snow had threatened.  They hadn’t decided where to go next, so here he sat, on the porch, watching people go by in the early part of December.  He hated December.

          It hadn’t always been like this, there was once a time when the arrival of December triggered in him all the happiness he saw in the people passing by.  He recalled the secrets with this Ma and Pa, planning a special present for his Mother or for his best friend Jed.  He shook his head and silently smiled to himself.  There was the time he had saved for what seemed forever to buy Jed that special knife he wanted, he wondered what had happened to it.  And the pretty lace handkerchief for his Mother.  Christmas had always been a special time in his house, but that had ended many years ago, with the death of his family.  And now Christmas only brought the pain of memories of what used to be, and would never be again. He no longer believed in the magic of Santa Clause and the season.  That he had buried along with his childhood the day he buried his family.

          Hannibal Heyes stood up abruptly, drawing little attention to himself.  If he couldn’t be away from here, at least he didn’t have to watch the happiness around him, which only served to make him more lonely.  What he needed was a drink and he headed in the direction of the closest saloon.  He waked to the bar and ordered a beer.

          “Merry Christmas to you sir,” said the barkeeper as he drew up a mug of beer, placing it in front of Heyes.

          “Yeah,” grunted Heyes.  As he sipped his beer, he looked around.  The mirror behind the bar had an announcement about the town Christmas Party on December 24th.   Decorations were sparse, but a few could be seen here and there.  Someone had even drawn a picture of a man in a suit, which was suppose to be Santa Claus, big beard and all. 

          Heyes looked around at the poker tables, but they were empty this time of the day. He shook his head and sipped on his beer, guess poker would have to wait until later.  He thought about what else to do, but his thoughts were interrupted by the sudden onset of a Christmas tune from the barkeeper.  Heyes looked in surprise at the man, but he just smiled and continued to sing as he dried shot glasses and beer mugs.  It was too much for Heyes to deal with, so after one last pull from his beer, he sat the glass down on the bar and left.

          “Merry Christmas,” from the barkeeper brought Heyes to a stop, but he didn’t turn around. He clinched and unclenched his fists a few times until the urge to hit the man passed.  Heyes was not given to violent outbursts, but there was something about today which was making him into something even he didn’t recognize.  He quickly walked out the swinging doors and onto the sidewalk.  He could hear the barkeeper continue his Christmas tune.  Heyes headed quickly towards the hotel and the quietness of his room.

          This room was like so many others he had been in over the years. Different towns, different states, different hotels, but the rooms remained the same.  Twin beds topped with quilts, a dresser along one wall, a single window, a pitcher with water, and a coat rack where Heyes now placed his coat and hat.  He walked over to one of the beds and stretched out, gunbelt remaining around his waist and tied down on his leg, hands tucked behind his head.  Usually he would find a book to read, but he had already looked in every conceivable place in this room and had found nothing.  So he found himself faced with a long day alone.  Kid had ridden out early this morning, following a lead on a job, and Heyes didn’t expect him back before nightfall. Heyes was not a man given to being idle.  He planned to lie here for a short time, than to get up and find something to occupy his time, but he found his eyelids slowly closing over dark brown eyes.  Too many sleepless nights were catching up to him, and it was only a short time before soft snoring could be heard from his room.

          Hannibal, get out of that cake.  You know it is for dessert after supper.”  His mother tried to be scolding, but Hannibal knew she could never really scold him for testing the icing.

          “But Ma, I was just tasting it to make sure it is as good as you usually make.”  He smiled towards his mother, and was rewarded when she hugged him to her and ruffled his hair.

          Hannibal, you are such a charmer.  But stay out of the cake until after supper.”

          “Yes Ma.”  Hannibal watched as his mother continued to prepare for supper that night, but not an ordinary supper.  The Curry’s were coming over tonight and they were exchanging presents.  He had that bridle he had made for Jed’s horse, and couldn’t wait to see his face.  He loved Christmas.

          “Now Hannibal, be sure to fill the wood box, don’t want to run out of firewood.  And be sure to remember to feed the animals early tonight.  Your father is due back from town just after dark, so hopefully we can eat soon after he gets home.”  Hannibal loved watching his mother work. She had an almost regal way to her walking, not that he knew exactly what that meant, but he knew it sounded very good.  As he was walking towards the door, his Mother reached out and grabbed his arm and pulled him towards her.”

          “Heyes, Heyes.  Wake up.”

          Heyes was instantly awake, grabbing for his gun. Kid Curry leaned forward and kept him from drawing his weapon.

          “Heyes, wake up, it’s me.”

          It took a few seconds for the sleep-induced fog to lift.  Standing over him was his friend and partner Kid Curry.  When he had decided he wasn’t going to be shot, Kid straightened up and looking down at Heyes said, “ Did you have a nice nap?”

          Heyes sat up, rubbing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes.  “When did you get back?”

Kid took off his hat and placed it on the rack next to Heyes'.  “Just now.”

          Heyes looked towards Kid.  “What did you find out?”

          Curry shook his head, “Not much, it was a dead end.  No job there.”  He walked over to the second bed and sat down.

          “Where do you think we should go now?”  He trusted Heyes to come up with a plan.

          Heyes shook his head, swinging his legs off the bed and onto the floor, sitting up.  “Not sure.  We could head back down south, see if Big Mac has any work for us.”

          Curry shook his head, golden curls swaying slightly.  “We could.  But you know that since he settled the feud, there hasn’t been much work down his way.”

          Heyes knew Kid was right.  But right now he couldn’t think. The memory of his dream was too fresh in his mind.  And this was making him very quiet.

          “Heyes?”

          “Yeah Kid?”

          “What were you dreaming of when I woke you?”
          Heyes looked into the face of his long tie friend, took in the knowing look in his eyes, and knew he knew.  Somehow they always seemed to know.

          Kid knew he had to proceed with great caution, because if he didn’t Heyes would get mad.  And one thing he didn’t want on his hands was a mad Heyes.

          “Because I heard you talking to you mother.”

          Heyes dropped his head into his hands, resting his elbows on his knees.  He wanted to tell Curry to mind his own business, but for some reason he really wanted to talk about it.

          “I was dreaming about that last Christmas at home.  Do you remember?”  Heyes looked up and saw Kid nodding.  “We were waiting for Pa to get home, and you and your parents to show up.  Ma was trying to be mad at me for licking the icing on the cake, but somehow she could never pull it off.”

          Heyes became quiet for several minutes.  Kid just watched his friend, knowing better than to say anything.  Heyes seldom spoke of his childhood, so he knew something was bothering his friend, and that he must really need to talk about something.

          Heyes spoke so quietly that Curry could barely hear him.  “Do you believe that it exists?”

          “What exists?”

          Heyes looked into Curry’s eyes.  “The magic of Christmas.  Like we did when we were kids.”

          Curry thought for a few seconds.  He did, but knew that for Heyes childhood had ended a long time ago, and with it all thoughts of a magical realm where anything could happen.  And so, no matter how much he had wanted to celebrate the happiness of the season, he had acted as it if didn’t matter.  Heyes meant this much to him.  But it wasn’t that he didn’t believe.

          “I hope so.  Because without the magic what good is anything.  With the magic, anything is possible, like our amnesty.  Without it, than what are we bothering for?”

          Heyes looked down again and shook his head.  “I just don’t know Kid.  I wish I did.  I remember believing before.  But now, I just don’t know.”

          Kid hated seeing his partner like this.  In all the years, the one constant he could count on was Heyes.  The idea that Heyes didn’t know an answer to a question was so foreign to him that it would be like him not being hungry, just didn’t happen.

          Curry sat for a time, than said, “What I think is we need to get out of this town.  Just ride in a direction until we change it.  See what happens.  What do you think?”

          Heyes looked up again and smiled.  “Sounds like a plan.  Let’s leave first think in the morning.”

          After supper that night, back in their room with the lights out and the sound of Kid’s snoring as background noise, Heyes thought about his dream, his past.  And worried where his future would lead.  And even with his best friend not three feet away he didn’t remember a time when he felt so alone.

          Early the next morning found the pair heading out, following a road and choosing a direction when the road came to a fork.  They picked up odd jobs along the way, played a little poker, and enjoyed the quiet of nature.  But each day found Heyes withdrawing a little more inside himself, and Curry didn’t know what to do to help.  One night they were sitting around the campfire.  A meager supper was over but it was too early for sleep.  Heyes had been unusually quiet for several days now and Kid was worried.  Worrying was becoming a constant companion, one which Kid was not used to.  He usually left the worrying up to Heyes.

          “So do you want to talk about it?”
          Heyes shook his head.  “No, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.”

          “Heyes…” but Heyes cut him off abruptly.

          “Leave it alone Kid, please.  Talking won’t change things, it won’t make it any easier, it won’t bring them back or give us back our childhoods.  So just let it go.”

          “I just thought…”

          “That’s your problem, Kid.  You are always trying to think.  We agreed a long time ago to leave the thinking to me, remember.  So why don’t you try to think about that.”  Heyes stood up.

          “I’m going for a walk,” and headed into a thicket of trees, without waiting for an answer.  Kid just let him go, he knew he would be back.  He always came back after he had a chance to cool down.

          Heyes walked rapidly for several minutes, before he slowed down to catch his breath.  His lungs hurt and his eyes were stinging, but not from the exertion of the walk.  Catching site of a big tree stump Heyes walked over and sat down dejectedly.  He hated being mad at Kid, especially when the person he was mad at was himself.  Why couldn’t he just shut out the past and stop remembering?  Why did remembering bring so much pain

?

          “He only said something because he cares.”

          Heyes jumped up, gun in hand, and turned towards the voice that was behind him.  He was kicking himself for not paying enough attention, to allow someone to slip up behind him.  What if it had been a posse? They could have captured him and Kid too, cause the Kid would have tried to free him, that was just his way.

          What he saw before him brought him up short in his thoughts. Standing in front of him was a man, about 5’10”.  He had to weigh 300 pounds but he didn’t seem fat.  He had a long white beard and collar length white hair.  He was wearing a brown coat and mittens (who wore mittens Heyes thought to himself) and black boots.  He had never seen this man before, yet somehow he seemed so familiar.

          “Who are you?” asked Heyes.

          The man laughed.  “Someone you don’t believe in anymore.”

          Heyes shook his head, “What do you want?”

          The man walked over to the tree stump and sat down.  “Just to talk, and hopefully help you to recapture something that you have lost.”

          Heyes walked around the man, being very cautious in case he had friends in the forest.

          “There is no one else with me.  Here, sit down.”  The man indicated a nearby tree stump.

          Heyes looked into the man’s face, but could only read goodness.  He edged over and sat on a fallen log in front of the man.  Keeping an alertness out for others, he said, “What do you mean recapture something I lost?”

          The man lifted his hands, palms up.  “I want to help you believe in the magic again, like you once did, like your Mother did.”

          Heyes felt like a fist had hit him in the stomach at the mention of his Mother.  “Just leave her out of this.”

          “But she is the reason for this.  She taught you to believe all those years ago, but you have forgotten.  For too many years you have shut out the past.  Now it is time to open the door and remember.  And by doing so, you will be able to see into the future and understand."

          Heyes frowned.  “Understand what?”

          “Why my boy, what you have forgotten.”

          Heyes stood up and paced.  “You are talking in riddles, in circles.”  He stopped in front of the man.

          “What do you want from me?”

          “I want you to remember the time when Christmas was fun.  When you had more happiness than you knew what to do with.  When little secrets were fun and stealing a lick from the icing was expected.”

          This brought Heyes up short and he glanced at the man.

          “You had better start making sense, or else.”  Heyes could feel his heart racing.  That sense of not knowing something yet at the same time knowing it.

          Hannibal, the magic never died, you just shut the door.  It is time for you to let it out again.  For your sake, as well as for Jeddiah’s.  He is tearing himself up with worry, and has no idea how to help you.”

          “He has done nothing but help me his entire life,” Heyes countered to the man.

          “You have helped each other, as it should have be.  But now it is time to remember the past.  Not the sad parts but the happy.  To remember the season and it’s meaning.  And to let Jed celebrate.”

          Heyes felt like he was in a tunnel, and couldn’t find the way out.

          “What does that mean?”

          “For all these years Jed has kept his feeling about Christmas repressed, because he knew that you hated the season, with its celebrations and traditions.  The little boy inside of him longs to celebrate.  But he knows that that would hurt you, so he keeps quiet, out of respect for you.  And so, with each passing year the magic fades a little more.  One day it will be gone.  And you won’t be able to get it back again.  Not for you.  Not for your family.”

          Heyes looked up suddenly.  “Kid is all the family I have now.”  

          The man slowly nodded.  “Yes, for now.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  One day, there will be more for each of you.  But if you continue on this path, it won’t matter. Because that which makes you the person that you really are is dying.  And, as you know, death is permanent.”

          Heyes sat down, winded and exhausted.

          The man stood and walked over to Heyes, placing his hand on his shoulder.

          Hannibal, it is there. All you need to do is remember, really remember. And to believe.”

          Heyes looked up into the man’s eyes.  “What do I believe in?”

          “Yourself.  Your past.  Your dreams.”

          Heyes stood and paced slowly.

          The hour was drawing quickly away, and the man needed to be moving on to his next location.  But he had one last chance.

          Hannibal, you are a gambling man, right?”

          Heyes nodded, “yes, I guess so.”

          “Well son, I will make you a deal.  If I can prove to you that the magic still exists, will you believe?”

          Heyes frowned. He didn’t understand. “What?”

          “If I can make you see that magic still exists, will you remember to believe? If by the end of today you have seen that magic exists, will you believe? And allow Jed to believe as well?”

          “I guess. But how will you do that?” Heyes walked a short distance and turned.  But the man was gone.  Heyes looked quickly both directions but the man was no where to be found.  He had walked away as quickly and quietly as he had arrived.

          Heyes slowly walked back in the direction of the camp, a thousand thoughts on his mind.  He had so much to sort out. And like a bolt of lightening, it hit him.  All the talk about Kid and what he had done.  About the past.  But it couldn’t be, could it?

          When Heyes arrived back at the camp, Curry was still sitting at the fire, which had burned down to embers.   Heyes sat down and looked at Kid.

          “Well Kid, I guess it is time to get some sleep.  Ya know what tonight is, don’t you?”

          Kid wasn’t sure what to make of this remark, but knew what he shouldn’t say.  “Yeah, the end of a very long day.”  And with that, he rolled himself inside his blanket and went to sleep.

          Heyes sat for a while thinking over what the man had said.  Hours later he too rolled himself into his blanket and went to sleep.

          He was once again back in his home, watching his mother work.  He was headed out to get the chores done, when his mother grabbed his arm and pulled her towards him.

          He woke and lay there.  He looked around at the trees, at the now cold fire.  He could see Kid sleeping across the fire, his back to Heyes.  And for the first time in a long time, he felt peace.  Because this time her remembered, everything.

          Kid Curry woke slowly.  Having a sparse supper last night meant he was very hungry this morning.  So hungry he could smell coffee and hear the bacon frying.  Kid sat bolt upright and turned towards the fire.  There sat Heyes, pouring a cup of coffee, a smile a mile long on his face.

          “Morning Kid.  Did you sleep well?  Do you know what today is?”

          Kid shaked his head to clear it.  “Fine. Heyes, what are you doing?  And where did you get that?”  He indicated the food.

          Heyes laughed.  “I went for a ride this morning, to see if I could find us something special for this morning.  It isn’t much, but well, Merry Christmas!”

          Kid frowned at Heyes.  “Heyes, what's gotten into you?”

          Heyes looked at his friend.  “The past.”

          “What?”

          “I was riding out when I came to a cabin.  Not much there, but a wonderful couple, up doing the morning chores.  I asked about buying some supplies, and they, well they gave me some bacon and eggs, some coffee, and the missus had made some biscuits this morning, and gave me some of them too.  Was their Christmas present to me.

          Heyes reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small package, wrapped in his bandana. He handed it to Kid. “I want my bandana back.”

          Kid slowly reached out to take the gift.  He unwrapped the gift and saw inside a small knife.  Just like the one Heyes had given to him when they were small.

          “I don’t understand.”

          “Well, when I was at the cabin, I saw this lying there.  When I asked about buying it, the man sold it to me.  Said he didn’t have any use for it.  And I thought of you.  Do you remember that year when I gave you one like this for Christmas?”

          “Yeah, but Heyes….I don’t understand.”

          So Heyes told Kid about the visitor he had the night before.  Kid listened as he ate, not totally understanding.

          “And than this morning, when I woke, it all made sense.”

          “What did, cause none of this make sense to me.”

          “Remember that dream I had a few weeks ago.  Well, this morning I remembered the ending.  But even more so, I realized that it wasn’t a dream, it was a memory.  That last year at home.  I was headed outside when Ma grabbed me and pulled me towards her.  And she whispered in my ear, “Hannibal, never forget the magic.”  She knew, somehow in the Mother’s way she knew.  But with the excitement of everything, I forgot.”

          “So what does that mean?”

          “That she would not want me forgetting all the wonderful times we had.  And she would want me to pass them along to my family.”

          The morning was very confusing to Kid already.  But he ventured on.  “But Heyes, what can I give to you.”

          Heyes looked at his partner, smiled, and said, “Kid, never forget the magic.  And don’t let me forget it ever again.  Magic is all there is.  It is all around us.  In the past, in the present, and in the future.  Our future.  Our amnesty.  Our families.”

          Kid knew that someday this would all make sense, but for now it was enough to know that he would not have to keep tapped inside the joy he always felt during the holidays.  Because he was were he wanted to be, celebrating the day with his best friend.

          Heyes, thanks. And Merry Christmas.”

          “Merry Christmas Kid.”